war

Wag the Dog


Reading time – 3:24; Viewing time – 4:37  .  .  .

This is from the Sunday New York Times:

“At [national security advisor John] Bolton’s direction, the National Security Council asked the Pentagon last year to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran .  .  .”

Let’s put this into perspective.

Gen. Colin Powell warned us against doing military stupid stuff in his Powell Doctrine decades ago. It’s grounded in the painful lessons of Vietnam and, while it has weathered criticism for being incomplete, it’s hard to disagree with Powell’s cautionary message. Sadly, we’ve pretty much ignored it time and again.

Not stated in the Powell Doctrine is another of his admonitions, the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it. And so we do in Iraq and Afghanistan, the longest wars in our history. Now John Bolton, always eager to flex US muscle, has asked for plans to strike Iran.

Can you imagine Donald Trump being a calming voice of reason to tether John Bolton to reality? Neither can I. If Bolton gets his way we will break yet another country where we will then be in perpetual war. And this story gets worse.

We are mired in the longest government shutdown in US history. The president is threatening to declare a national emergency in order to overpower Congress and get his useless wall. You need to understand what such a declaration can mean.

In a time of declared national emergency the president has vast powers. Here’s a partial list:

Suspend the Constitution – yes, SUSPEND THE CONSTITUTION!

Redirect money in blatant conflict with Congressional intent

Declare martial law

Deploy our military in-country

Seize control of the internet

Shut down communications (telephone, radio, television, etc.)

Freeze bank accounts – including yours

Suspend habeas corpus (i.e. imprison Americans without charge and without due process of law – Think: Guantanamo in Des Moines, IA)

Control the states’ voter databases

Sanction Americans without charge and leave them without recourse

Effectively, the president can become a monarch. Perhaps he’ll prefer autocrat or generalissimo or kommisar or general secretary or chairman. Regardless of the label, it will be the end of American democracy.

This president has repeatedly shown that he has no regard for Constitutional limits, much less respect for legislative and cultural norms. He’s given us no reason to suspect that he would refrain from outrageous behavior following his declaring a national emergency. And with the help of Mitch McConnell for the past two  years, Trump has packed the courts and his cabinet with people who likely would refuse to stand up to him.

A declaration of national emergency, whether for his fantasy claims of crisis at our southern border or for a pending or hot conflict with Iran would be just the thing for Trump to consolidate power. Beyond fulfilling Trump’s bottomless ego needs, such a declaration will completely divert attention from his conspiracies with Russia. It’s the ultimate distraction and, perhaps, the negation of any investigation into his possible criminal activity. Did I mention that this story gets worse? It does.

We never vote leaders out of office during war time and very rarely during any other national emergency. The only contrary example I can think of is Herbert Hoover, who lost the 1932 election to Franklin Roosevelt for his mishandling of the Great Depression. Nevertheless, the point for us now is to be clear that a declaration of national emergency, regardless of the justification Trump uses, would likely ensure Trump’s reelection in 2020, if, indeed, we even have another election.

And that will make Vladimir Putin very happy. His only regret will be that he won’t have any more kompromat on Trump, because exposing Trump’s money laundering, his tax fraud, his obstruction of justice and his treason will no longer matter.

Wag the dog.

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Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Tariffs, Afghanistan and Republicans


Reading time – 3:45; Viewing time – 5:00  .  .  .

Frequent reader, insightful commenter and friend John Calia directed me to a blog by John Mauldin discussing the issue of tariffs and trade wars. Mauldin is comprehensive and clear in his work and I urge you to link through and read his offering.

I was at one time an undergraduate econ major and I recall clearly a lecture by my professor, Dr. George Thatcher at Miami University. He talked about tariffs in great detail and showed how counter-productive they are. He was far too much the gentleman to use the word “idiotic” to describe them, but that word comes to mind as I conjure his clarity of description. He convinced me then of the certain backfire of tariffs and I have seen nothing in the intervening decades to change my mind.

Mauldin is spot on, especially as he invokes the obvious, now called “game theory,” in which other countries will not sit idle as we attempt to stack the deck in favor of the U.S. Other countries will adjust and act in their own best interests. Tariffs will backfire and hurt us greatly.

The Trump administration is focused on two – and only two – objectives. The first and most important is that everything is entirely about Trump getting continuous applause and accolades in his reality-TV-show administration. Declaring us victims of unfair trade deals and promising protective tariffs stokes his “base” and delivers a thundering applause line that feeds his narcissism. And there is a complete absence of people who actually know something about tariffs. What those experts say doesn’t trigger applause, so they’re of no use to Trump.

The second objective is driven by Stephen Bannon, who proudly proclaims that he wants to bring the establishment crashing down. If destroying the established order in its entirety is what is most important to Bannon and, by extension, is important to Trump, tariffs will be a huge aid in the effort. The result will not be pretty for the rest of us, but Bannon will be smiling and thumping his chest and congratulating Trump on how brilliant he is. I’m not sure, though, that even the America Firsters will be thumping their chests when we see hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear and former international friends being not at all friendly to us.

For now, pity General Kelly, who has taken a job where internecine warfare in the White House is the norm. Sadly, I think the likelihood of his success at establishing order and, in the present context, preventing worldwide disorder by means of tariffs, is next to nonexistent. Kelly and the nation deserve better.
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And another thing  .  .  .
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Our war in Afghanistan began with President George W. Bush declaring that we were going after the al Qaeda bad guys who attacked us on 9/11, this following his pulling our CIA people out of Tora Bora and allowing Osama bin Laden to escape. One would think, then, that once al Qaeda had been essentially eliminated that we’d bring our troops home. That didn’t happen.
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Instead, the mission morphed to ensuring that future al Qaeda bad guys wouldn’t have safe haven in Afghanistan. Did you ever see a statement defining that? What would a “no safe haven” Afghanistan look like to our troops slogging through the Afghan desert and mountains? How would we know that we had achieved that goal?
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Then the mission morphed again, this time to fighting the Taliban. I don’t recall the stated goal, nor a justification for warring against them. Note that the Taliban was composed of Afghans – they were religious fundamentalists waging a civil war in that most uncivil country. Why were we involved in that?
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Then the mission changed again to supporting the Afghan military, this with no specifically stated end goal other than, “until they can stand on their own,” something that has never happened in recorded history. How will we know when that has happened?
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The goal posts keep getting moved and this is by far the longest war in American history, continued now through three American presidencies. Somebody please tell me why we are making war in Afghanistan and how we’ll know we’ve accomplished our goals so that we can bring our people home.
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And finally  .  .  .
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Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) published a stunning article in Politico entitled My Party Is In Denial About Donald Trump. It is a call to courage and action and I urge you to read it, keeping in mind that this was penned by a Republican from a very red state,

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Somebody Please Tell Me


Obama - Afganistan drawdown

October 15, 2015 – President Obama announcing he will keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of his term in office

Reading time – 69 seconds  .  .  .

We were told by President Bush that we should invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and because he was in cahoots with al Qaeda in the 9/11 attack. Besides, Saddam was a bad guy. Okay, at least he got the bad guy thing right. So we attacked a nation that had done us no harm. In fact, they had been our ally just 20 years earlier.

Before that we invaded Afghanistan. At the time I thought about the British, who tried to subdue that country (1839-1842) and were humiliated, with thousands of British killed. A hundred years later the Soviets tried to subdue Afghanistan and gave up after ten years of frustration, death and enormous expense. How is it that our leaders didn’t see the pattern? How is it that they still don’t?

We were told the invasion of Afghanistan was to go after (i.e. kill) the al Qaeda members hiding there, plus to deny al Qaeda safe haven – as though preventing their use of that geography would somehow prevent any further al Qaeda training for attacks on America. Then the purpose was somehow stretched to include driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan, or at least removing them from power. We weren’t given much of a reason for the stretch; the goal posts were just moved to include waging war against people who had not attacked us. It was the same song as with Iraq a couple of years later, including that they had been our ally just a few years earlier.

Afghanistan is a country that has never had a strong central government and which was mostly a bunch of tribal clans within Afghanistan’s geographical borders. Oddly, after deciding that we were going to drive the Taliban from power we once again adjusted our purpose for making war there to include planting a national democracy. What could possibly go wrong with that? Oh wait – that’s exactly where and how we failed in Iraq.

President Obama campaigned in 2007-2008 promising to end the war in Iraq. At least most of our troops were withdrawn, but we left behind the chaos that the world continues to deal with now. Then we were going to have all of our troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. That didn’t happen and now the President has informed us that not only will at least 5,500 troops remain in Afghanistan through the end of his second term in office, but that he will be leaving the entire mess for the next president.

What remains perfectly opaque is the reason that the U.S. should have any troops in Afghanistan. What is the compelling national security purpose of putting our troops at risk, such that some number of them will be killed and about 8 times as many will be wounded? How are we better off by intervening in that country, killing some of its people and continuing to be the chief recruiter for yet more angry Islamists to want to attack the U.S.? What is the return on our investment of trillions of dollars?

Somebody please tell me why we should continue to be at war in Afghanistan.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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