Will Trump Be the Sage One?

Only one person can save us from the dangerous belligerent in the White House.

And that person is Donald Trump.

How screwed up is that?

Will the president let himself be pushed into a parlous war by John Bolton, who once buoyed the phony case on W.M.D.s in Iraq? Or will Trump drag back his national security adviser and the other uber hawks from the precipice of their fondest, bloodiest desire — to attack Iran?

Can Cadet Bone Spurs, as Illinois senator and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth called Trump, set Tom Cotton straight that winning a war with Iran would not merely entail “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”? Holy cakewalk.

Once, we counted on Trump’s advisers to pump the brakes on an out-of-control president. Now, we count on the president to pump the brakes on out-of-control advisers.

.. “On one side, you have a president who doesn’t want war, who simply wants to do with Iran what he has done with North Korea, to twist the arm of the Iranians to bring them to a negotiation on his terms,” said Gérard Araud, the recently departed French ambassador. “He thinks they will suffer and at the end, they will grovel in front of his power.”

But in a way, Araud said, the face-off with the Iranians is more “primitive and dangerous” because, besides Bolton, other factions in the Middle East are also “dreaming of going to war.”

“Even if Trump doesn’t personally want war, we are now at the mercy of any incident, because we are at maximum tension on both sides,” said Araud, recalling Candidate Trump’s bellicose Twitter ultimatumsin 2016 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards held American sailors blindfolded at gunpoint for 15 hours.

Given their sour feelings about W. shattering the Middle East and their anger at Trump shredding the Iran nuclear deal, Europeans are inclined to see the U.S. as trying to provoke Iran into war. This time, the Europeans will not be coming along — and who can blame them?

I’m having an acid flashback to 2002, when an immature, insecure, ill-informed president was bamboozled by his war tutors.

In an echo of the hawks conspiring with Iraqi exiles to concoct a casus belli for Iraq, Bolton told members of an Iranian exile group in Paris in 2017 that the Trump administration should go for regime change in Tehran.

And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!” Bolton cheerily told the exiles.

When Bolton was the fifth column in the Bush 2 State Department — there to lurk around and report back on flower child Colin Powell — he complained that W.’s Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) was too limited, adding three more of his own (Cuba, Libya, Syria). Then, last year, Bolton talked about “the Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela). His flirtations with military intervention in Venezuela this month irritated Trump.

The 70-year-old with the Yeti mustache is an insatiable interventionist with an abiding faith in unilateralism and pre-emptive war. (The cost of our attenuated post-9/11 wars is now calculated at $5.9 trillion.)

W. and Trump are similar in some ways but also very different. As Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio notes: W. was interested in clarity. Trump wants chaos. W. wanted to trust his domineering advisers. Trump is always imagining betrayal. W. wanted to be a war hero, like his dad. Trump does not want to be trapped in an interminable war that will consume his presidency.

Certainly, the biographer says, Trump enjoys playing up the scary aspects of brown people with foreign names and ominous titles, like “mullah” and “ayatollah,” to stoke his base.

But Trump, unlike W., is driven by the drama of it. “It’s a game of revving up the excitement and making people afraid and then backing off on the fear in order to declare that he’s resolved the situation,” D’Antonio said. “Trump prefers threats and ultimatums to action because that allows him to look big and tough and get attention without doing something for which he will be held responsible. This is who he is at his core: an attention-seeking, action-averse propagandist who is terrified of accountability in the form of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base.”

David Axelrod, who had the military briefing about what a war with Iran would look like when he was in the Obama White House, said: “I’m telling you. It’s not a pretty picture.”

He says he is not sure which movie Bolton is starring in: “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag the Dog.”

If part of your brand is that you’re not going to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars,” he said, “why in the world would you hire John Bolton?

Trudeau’s party expels former allies who challenged him in political scandal

The roots of the scandal stretch back to 2015, when SNC-Lavalin was charged by Canadian authorities with using bribes to secure business in Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya.

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported in February that Trudeau’s team “pressed” Wilson-Raybould to cut the firm a deal known as a deferred prosecution agreement.

These deals, which are used in several countries, allow firms to avoid criminal convictions if they admit wrongdoing, pay fines and commit to stricter compliance rules.

Trudeau has said his team did not “direct” Wilson-Raybould’s decision, but few have been satisfied by the response.

In a January cabinet shuffle, Wilson-Raybould was moved from the Ministry of Justice to Veterans Affairs. It was widely seen as a demotion.

The Globe and Mail published its report the next month. Wilson-Raybould resigned as minister of veterans affairs and hired a retired Supreme Court justice to represent her.

.. Wilson-Raybould testified before a parliamentary committee that 11 members of Trudeau’s team had pressured her — some resorting to “veiled threats” — to get her to cut a deal.

Then Philpott resigned from the cabinet in solidarity with Wilson-Raybould.

.. Trudeau appeared for a spell to have weathered the storm, but the scandal burst into view again last week when Wilson-Raybould went public with a recording of a December phone call with Canada’s then-top civil servant.

In the call, she warned Michael Wernick, then Canada’s clerk of the Privy Council, that Trudeau “was on dangerous ground.”

Some have questioned her decision to tape the call.

“I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to. In giving the advice I did, and taking the steps I did, I was trying to help protect the prime minister and the government from a horrible mess,” she wrote in a letter to fellow Liberals.

Shortly after breaking the news of her expulsion, she sent another tweet.

“What I can say is that I hold my head high & that I can look myself in the mirror knowing I did what I was required to do and what needed to be done based on principles & values that must always transcend party,” she tweeted.

The CIA has a long history of helping to kill leaders around the world

According to North Korea’s ministry of state security, the CIA has not abandoned its old ways. In a statement on Friday, it accused that the CIA and South Korea’s intelligence service of being behind an alleged recent an assassination attempt on its leader Kim Jong-un.

Killer Politicians

What rulers crave most is deniability. But with the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own government, the poisoning of former Russian spies living in the United Kingdom, and whispers that the head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, may have been executed in China, the curtain has been slipping more than usual of late. In Riyadh, Moscow, and even Beijing, the political class is scrambling to cover up its lethal ways.

Andrew Jackson, was a cold-blooded murderer, slaveowner, and ethnic cleanser of native Americans. For Harry Truman, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima spared him the likely high cost of invading Japan. But the second atomic bombing, of Nagasaki, was utterly indefensible and took place through sheer bureaucratic momentum: the bombing apparently occurred without Truman’s explicit order.

.. Since 1947, the deniability of presidential murder has been facilitated by the CIA, which has served as a secret army (and sometime death squad) for American presidents. The CIA has been a party to murders and mayhem in all parts of the world, with almost no oversight or accountability for its countless assassinations. It is possible, though not definitively proved, that the CIA even assassinated UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.

.. Many mass killings by presidents have involved the conventional military. Lyndon Johnson escalated US military intervention in Vietnam on the pretext of a North Vietnamese attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. Richard Nixon went further: by carpet-bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, he sought to instill in the Soviet Union the fear that he was an irrational leader capable of anything. (Nixon’s willingness to implement his “madman theory” is perhaps the self-fulfilling proof of his madness.) In the end, the Johnson-Nixon American war in Indochina cost millions of innocent lives. There was never a true accounting, and perhaps the opposite: plenty of precedents for later mass killings by US forces.

.. The mass killings in Iraq under George W. Bush are of course better known, because the US-led war there was made for TV. A supposedly civilized country engaged in “shock and awe” to overthrow another country’s government on utterly false pretenses. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died as a result.

Barack Obama was widely attacked by the right for being too soft, yet he, too, notched up quite a death toll. His administration repeatedly approved drone attacks that killed not only terrorists, but also innocents and US citizens who opposed America’s bloody wars in Muslim countries. He signed the presidential finding authorizing the CIA to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in overthrowing the Syrian government. That “covert” operation (hardly discussed in the polite pages of the New York Times) led to an ongoing civil war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and millions displaced from their homes. He used NATO airstrikes to overthrow Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, resulting in a failed state and ongoing violence.

.. Under Trump, the US has abetted Saudi Arabia’s mass murder (including of children) in Yemen by selling it bombs and advanced weapons with almost no awareness, oversight, or accountability by the Congress or the public. Murder committed out of view of the media is almost no longer murder at all.

When the curtain slips, as with the Khashoggi killing, we briefly see the world as it is. A Washington Post columnist is lured to a brutal death and dismembered by America’s close “ally.” The American-Israeli-Saudi big lie that Iran is at the center of global terrorism, a claim refuted by the data, is briefly threatened by the embarrassing disclosure of Khashoggi’s grisly end. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ostensibly ordered the operation, is put in charge of the “investigation” of the case; the Saudis duly cashier a few senior officials; and Trump, a master of non-stop lies, parrots official Saudi tall tales about a rogue operation.

A few government and business leaders have postponed visits to Saudi Arabia. The list of announced withdrawals from a glitzy investment conference is a who’s who of America’s military-industrial complex: top Wall Street bankers, CEOs of major media companies, and senior officials of military contractors, such as Airbus’s defense chief.

.. Political scientists should test the following hypothesis: countries led by presidents (as in the US) and non-constitutional monarchs (as in Saudi Arabia), rather than by parliaments and prime ministers, are especially vulnerable to murderous politics. Parliaments provide no guarantees of restraint, but one-man rule in foreign policy, as in the US and Saudi Arabia, almost guarantees massive bloodletting.

How, Exactly, Does This Travel Ban Keep Us Safe, Mr. President?

The ostensible purpose of your ban is to keep Americans safe from terrorists by barring visitors, refugees and immigrants from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. So let’s consider, nonhysterically, what such a ban might have accomplished had it come into force in recent years.

It would not have barred Ramzi Yousef, the Kuwait-born Pakistani who helped mastermind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

It would have been irrelevant in the case of Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh, the American perpetrators of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in which 168 people were murdered.

It would have been irrelevant in the case of Eric Rudolph, the Christian terrorist who killed one person at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and later bombed abortion clinics and a gay bar.

It would not have barred Mohamed Atta, ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers. Atta was an Egyptian citizen who arrived in the U.S. on a visa issued by the American Embassy in Berlin in May 2000.

It would not have barred Atta’s accomplices, all in the United States on legal visas. Fifteen of them were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates and another from Lebanon.

It would have been irrelevant in the case of the 2001 anthrax attacks, in which five people were killed. The attacks are widely believed (without conclusive proof) to have been the work of the late Bruce Ivins, an American microbiologist.

It would not have barred Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a Miami-bound airliner in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes. Reid was a London-born Briton who converted to Islam as an adult.

More Chaos as Trump Suggests the North Korea Summit May Be Back On

On Friday, after a North Korean official said that Kim was ready to meet Trump “at any time,” Donald Trump, Jr., linked to an Axios story about this statement and crowed, “The Art of The Deal baby!!!”—as if Trump’s decision to cancel the summit had elicited important new concessions from the North Koreans. But that wasn’t the case.

.. Of course, Kim is willing to meet anytime. It was he who requested the summit in the first place.

To sit down one on one with an American President has for decades been a goal of North Korea’s leaders.

.. At the very least, some detailed preparatory work would make it easier to manage expectations in both Washington and Pyongyang.

.. The evidence suggests Trump acted as he did because he didn’t like the tone of North Korea’s statements, particularly those directed at John Bolton, the national-security adviser, and Mike Pence, the Vice-President, after they both suggested that Libya’s disarmament under Muammar Qaddafi would be a good model for the North Koreans to follow.

.. This language suggests the North Koreans have learned the lesson that Pence and many other people around Trump learned a long time ago: the most reliable way to get him to do something you want is to praise him expansively and publicly.

.. the idea that Trump is some sort of master negotiator, or ace business tactician, is a fallacy propagated by himself. Trump’s actual record in doing business deals is one of overpaying, struggling to make them work, and shuffling some of his companies in and out of bankruptcy.

.. The only art he has perfected is promoting himself as a great dealmaker on the basis of such a checkered past.

.. Trump has displayed virtually no regard for the consequences of his actions on American allies, including South Korea and Japan.

.. without giving any advance notice to South Korea, which had worked for months to set up the summit, was shocking even by his standards.

.. To many people who live in Korea or in nearby countries, it seemed like an American President was behaving erratically on a matter of existential importance.

.. Trump looks impetuous and unreliable.”

.. the Trump Administration is demanding that Kim’s regime agree to scrap its entire nuclear arsenal—which it spent thirty years developing—rapidly and unilaterally.

The North Koreans, in talking about “denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” appear to be envisaging a much more gradual process that would involve reciprocal measures on the U.S. side.

.. China, which is also a key player, has proposed an initial “freeze for freeze” deal, in which North Korea freezes its nuclear program and the United States suspends its military exercises with South Korea.

 

Can North Korea Trust Us?

on a few questions there is real consistency across his years as a public eminence.

  1. One is his belief, which may give us new steel tariffs, that America is a big loser from the international trade system.
  2. Another, which may give us a Trumpian tête-à-tête with Kim Jong-un, is his belief that he alone can solve the problem of nuclear proliferation.

In 1984, near the peak of Reagan-era nuclear fears, he told The Washington Post that he should lead nuclear deal-making with the Soviets.

Six years later, he warned Playboy that “the greatest of all stupidities is people’s believing [nuclear war] will never happen.”

In 1999, flirting with a presidential bid, he promised to “negotiate like crazy” to prevent North Korea from going nuclear.

.. But we also have no clear example to offer Pyongyang of a denuclearization that worked out for the authoritarian regime that accepted it.

.. Where denuclearization has happened successfully, it has generally followed a

  • transition from dictatorship to democracy (as in Brazil and Argentina), been
  • part of such a transition (Ukraine) or been
  • a prelude to regime change (as in South Africa).
.. Ukraine, which gave up its nuclear weapons in return for guarantees from Russia and the United States, only to find that guarantee a dead letter in an age of Putinist aggression
.. Then there is the case of Iraq.
.. Any authoritarian regime observing that history might reasonably conclude that nuclear weapons should be sought and never be given up …
.. Especially since our next president decided to tacitly confirm that lesson, by pursing regime change in Libya after the Libyan dictator had agreed to close down his own W.M.D. program. The spectacle of Qaddafi getting murdered by a Libyan mob, however roughly just, was also an object lesson in the downsides of believing that the Americans will care about a W.M.D. deal if the opportunity arises to remove you afterward.

.. Despite our official commitment to nonproliferation, then, the revealed preference of our foreign policy elite is often for other priorities — NATO expansion, humanitarian intervention, regime change.

.. the deal that Kim dearly wants to extract from us — a limited denuclearization in return for our withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula — would probably have disastrous effects for regional security and the larger Pax Americana.

  1. .. persuade Pyongyang that we might attack if they keep raising the nuclear ante and
  2. that we really don’t care about toppling them otherwise.