We pay the most, field the most in NATO, and that has added to our power…

May 31, 2017

My personal take on NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is that it is a convenient cover for projecting United States power, plain and simple.

It gave us an excuse to install our own military bases in places such as Germany, Spain, and Italy after World War II, allowing us to have forward staging areas in our face-off with our ally (from World War II) turned enemy, the old Soviet Union.

A side benefit was that the Western European democracies got an almost free ride being relieved of the cost of maintaining strong national defenses of their own. In turn they were able to rebuild from the rubble of WWII, with the added help of our monetary assistance through the Marshall Plan.

So why were we willing all this time to let them slide? And yes, the European nations did (do) supply their own troops and equipment and some monetary contribution, but way below that of what the U.S. did. The answer is obvious. Since we paid the biggest bill, we held the most power.

Having those European bases came in handy when we needed to respond to crises in the Middle East, as an example.

But now President Trump has chastised member nations for not paying enough dues and although finally indicating continued U.S. membership in NATO, has previously questioned its relevance in the post Soviet world (of course Russia is still expansionist, particularly in bordering East Europe).

All I am saying is that I always figured NATO was just a convenient method for the U.S. to project or maintain its power.

Even though I am not big on interventionism, I continue to believe it is in the best interests of the United States to maintain its power.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has warned her European neighbors that they can no longer depend upon the United States alone.

Right now the economic power house in Europe is Germany. Germany is no longer militaristic (over time that could change), but is does take part with us in our Middle Eastern conflicts.

President Trump has criticized Merkel and Germany.

I personally think we ought to stay on Germany’s good side.

And there is an argument for dropping out of NATO, but we ought to consider what we will lose in the form of the strategic staging of our military forces.

As far as pressing other members of NATO to pay their fair share, well that is fine, but it could be done more quietly.

And why are we complaining about being king of the hill?

Sadly, under Trump, the U.S. is losing its status all over the world at this time.

The emperor has no clothes and there is no real method to his madness.


Secrecy can have its value even in a democracy, but Trump can’t keep a secret anyway…

May 30, 2017

While it is troubling that President Trump and his administration (and his preceding campaign) seem to have or have had so much secret communication with the Russians and that Trump seems to respect dictators more than the leaders of the Western democracies, it would be good if he and his administration could work behind the scenes, perhaps with China and Russia (and anyone else who could help) to deal with threats posed by North Korea. Since it is in the mutual interest of some of even our adversaries to arrest the growing cancer that is Kim Jong-un’s North Korea they would likely be willing to help us under the cover of secrecy.

However, in the Trump administration it seems secrecy does not exist.

I mean most of us who want good government call for transparency. Well in a way we have it with the Trump administration, that is to say it is transparently inept. And it is doubtful its leader, President Donald Trump, could keep a secret if he had to. He bragged to the thug dictator of the Philippines about submarines we have deployed off the coast of North Korea (military commentators said that is supposed to be classified info). He reportedly shared tidbits of intelligence we got from Israel with his Russian buddies, and well, if you keep up on the news you know the rest.

Ok, I’ll go on: his son in-law Jared Kushner, it has been brought out, tried to open a secret back channel with the Russians during the presidential transition.

Now actually, who knows? This could be or could have been a positive thing. If the Russians are willing to work with us in secret for our mutual benefit, it does not have to be a bad thing. Basically for the thirty years of the Cold War we worked with the Russians (to a degree) as the world’s two superpowers of the time under the threat of mutual destruction, not only of each other but the whole world.

Not much has changed, except now there are more players in a way. The U.S. is the only remaining superpower (at least for the moment) but various adversaries have realized that they can wield power or threats over their own size by getting the bomb — Iran (working on it), North Korea (very close to full nuclear attack capability it would seem), and who knows? So-called Islamic terrorists?

It would also be good if the United States could work more closely with the Russians in the Syria situation in which both nations are trying to fight Islamic terrorists there but are at odds over the Assad regime in Syria (Assad is a Russian ally but a ruthless dictator who murders his own people by the thousands as far as the U.S. in concerned). Syria is vital if for no other reason than the instability it creates and the refugees it produces who have swamped Europe.

A more conventional administration with sober and experienced hands could use all this intrigue to all of our benefit (although history shows we did some intrigue that was really not).

But so far I don’t see much real promise in the Trump government by chaos, sprinkled with ignorance (mostly at the top) style of governance.

Another problem is that evidence that keeps coming out indicates the Trump administration has ulterior motives in working with the Russians — it all has to do with private business arrangements to line the pockets of Trump and his family and associates — that is the implication. One wonders if they would be willing to sell out their own country in the name of the all-mighty dollar.

p.s.

And Trump and his tweets: So tweeting is I guess kind of like instantly transmitting random thoughts that zip through your mind to the whole world. If we all just automatically did this we would live in a glorious world of, using that current pet word of the good governance crowd, transparency. True chaos and mayhem would also ensue. Some of those random thoughts are involuntary and some don’t  take into consideration all the evidence and, besides, in civil society there is such a thing as discretion.


We should always honor our war dead, but we also have a right and duty to ask: why the sacrifice?

May 28, 2017

I will guess the year was 1967 or it could have been 1966 but one day in high school gym class we were given a presentation buy a couple of Green Beret Army soldiers, fresh from a tour in Vietnam, one of whom at least was a local boy. In fact, his mother was on the local draft board.

Outfitted in their army dress uniforms with those distinctive green berets, which marked them as elite troops, and their pant legs tucked into shiny black combat boots, airborne style, they were impressive to us teenaged boys.

In a fairly casual and sometimes it seemed almost gleeful manner they talked of how they set up claymore mines around the perimeter of their camps. If tripped, presumably by enemy soldiers, most of which at the time were the black pajama-wearing Viet Cong guerilla fighters, they would send out a deadly spray of nails.

I don’t know what the other young men thought really, I don’t even know precisely what I thought, maybe most of us thought something like, cool, as long as it is the enemy.

I just looked it up to remind myself, several young men from the small town which I went through high school in died in Vietnam. Two of them I knew. One only casually. He was in Future Farmers of America as was I. He was a likable sort, who many automatically would want to be a friend with and who teachers appreciated. The other as far as I was concerned was a pint-sized bully. But that was childhood. I respect them both equally as fallen veterans. And what a terrible loss for their families. And both I am sure felt they were fulfilling a sacred obligation to their country. And maybe too they were adventurous.

Memorial Day of course is officially about honoring all of those military members who have died in combat in our many wars.

I served in the army but was safely out of the line of fire in Germany in the late 1960s and early 70s.

And fortunately one of my two older brothers served in the army in Vietnam but came back home safe and sound. And just as fortunately, my oldest brother served 20 years in the U.S. Navy and is still around to talk about it.

But like all men of my age, it was Vietnam which turned the romantic notion of playing army into the reality that war is hell and for real and when you are hit you don’t just get up to play another day. And you not only can die, but leave loved ones behind – maybe a young wife, children, and devastated parents. And just as bad you have to question the notion – and this will seem unpatriotic to some – that if you die in combat you die so other citizens can be free. That’s a comfort to those left behind and perhaps the soldier in the field in imminent danger, but I am not sure that it is always necessarily so.

No, since World War II, which was the free world against the forces of tyranny, represented by Nazism, Fascism, and militarism, most of our wars since have been ones of geopolitical strategy, mapped out by politicians and others who know they will not have to face the bullets and bombs themselves, and today many of them never had to or never did serve in the military.

But still I have to, and I truly do, respect all veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, but especially the ones of my age, some of whom were still under the compulsory military draft. They were doing their duty for their country.

And what if we had a country in which no one wanted to do their duty? It’s a mean world, the terrorists prove that every day. We no longer have the draft, which died with our loss in Vietnam and a public who could no longer stomach the fact that young men could be scooped up into the military to face death for questionable purposes.

We lost the Vietnam War, maybe because it was simply unwinnable, and maybe because the politicians got in the way, and maybe out of exhaustion. Communist North Vietnam absorbed South Vietnam and the world kept on turning and today you can go to Vietnam as a tourist and the nation is a trading partner with us. Oh, and we are still free.

Young men are still required by law to register with the Selective Service but there is no mandatory draft at this time.

But our all-volunteer forces (which now include men and women in combat roles) still get gravely wounded and killed.

We should always gratefully recognize their sacrifice in the name of their country, our country.

But from time to time we have a right, and I would say a duty, to ask:

Why the sacrifice?

 

 

 


The man who is making U.S. foreign policy (Trump) doesn’t even know what ‘Middle East’ means…

May 23, 2017

The humiliation of at least generally intelligent Americans never ends when Donald Trump is president.

The dunderhead in chief just informed his hosts in Israel that they are not the Middle East.

A slip of the tongue? He was tired? Yada, yada, yada.

No, we know from his public history that he is actually not well informed, not curious, and incapable of holding on to a thought for more than maybe a few seconds.

And this is the man who is making our foreign policy.

Now I realize that in this world of jet travel one can go to far-off places and never see much more than an airport and then maybe the hotel.

I’m a long-haul truck driver but what do I mostly see? The interstate, the truck stop, the industrial area, and then back home again. Sadly it is completely possible to travel and see and learn nothing.

But I do have curiosity. I have done some traveling outside of truck driving. And I have seen and learned things.

If you share my level of curiosity or even mildly so, you and I would be better at making foreign policy than Trump.

Trump was telling his Israeli hosts how he just visited Saudi Arabia, the Middle East. “We just got back from the Middle East”, he said. One official briefly covered his face with a hand in discomfort no doubt.

You might dismiss it as a gaffe.

No it’s called Trump.

The great masses of the uninformed and uninterested got their man in the White House.

I hope they are happy. I’m not.

p.s.

Geographical terms can be tricky because they have changed somewhat through the years. But even with all of that, just look it up and you will see that Israel is, well just about in the middle of the Middle East.

Trump geography:

https://www.popsugar.com/news/Donald-Trump-Middle-East-Comment-Israel-43565034

 


Have to agree with at least one part of Trump speech to Muslim nations: U.S. security is the prime concern…

May 22, 2017

The good news is that President Trump apparently did not say anything stupid or insulting to his Saudi Arabian hosts and to others in a major speech to leaders of Muslim nations in which he urged them to join with the U.S. to fight world terror.

While I have neither listened to all the speech nor read the full transcript (from which he may have deviated a little from time to time) I think I agree with this excerpted paragraph, as provided by The Atlantic site:

—————-

America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.


Back to my words:

I think our problem in the Middle East and elsewhere is nation building. We work with cultures we do not understand and stir up resentment even among people thought to be friendly to us.

But at the same time, just like Trump said, the safety and security of our citizens is our first priority — and of course how we get there in world hot spots is another question.

Example: we have no right to tell North Korea how to run its internal business. But the hands-off approach to the crazy-man regimes there has now come to a point where we are in peril.

We went into Afghanistan ostensibly in a search for Osama Bin Laden or maybe him and his Taliban but we got bogged down — not learning from the disaster the Russians had years earlier when they invaded that country — and at the time we supported Bin Laden against them. It gets so complicated.

There has already been criticism that Trump ignored the issue of human rights in Muslim nations he wants to work with us in the fight against terrorism.

We can encourage, sure, but it is not our business. Somehow I think the evolution in the Middle East will eventually lead to democracy. Some thought it would have happened rapidly during the so-called Arab Spring like it did for much of Eastern Europe when the old Soviet Union fell apart. It spent so much time using police and military force to repress its people and building up armaments and sowing seeds of socialist revolution around the globe that it caved in of its own weight. It failed to address the needs and aspirations of its people.

And back to the present. And then there was this is Trumps speech:

“Yesterday, we signed historic agreements with the Kingdom that will invest almost $400 billion in our two countries and create many thousands of jobs in America and Saudi Arabia.

And it all comes down to this. An arms deal. We want their oil and they want our armaments.

Nothing ever changes.

But if Trump made no major gaffe that’s good.

And perhaps the realpolitik approach is better than the Obama apology approach. I understand they respect power or at least the attempt to project power and self interest in that part of the world — that is how they operate.

(Obama is a better man. He is a grownup. Despite his age, Trump does not seem to be much of the time. But in this instance the practical approach seems best. He did not write his speech.  But if he can stick to the script and lay off Twitter, we might all weather it for the time being.)

And really isn’t it about time we told the Muslim world to quit fighting among themselves over how to believe in God and drawing the rest of us in? Even Trump could not have said that, but isn’t that how you feel?


The current guy is not only like Nixon but he has a little Carter in him too…

May 20, 2017

Lots of comparisons between Nixon’s Watergate and the current Russia scandal (Russiagate??), and it does seem that although the fact patterns and political and historical background differ in many ways, that things are coming down at the rate of drip, drip, drip, with the drips getting faster and faster, like Watergate.

But it occurs to me that although you could compare Trump with Nixon on the malevolent side, there is a Jimmy Carter similarity there too.

Both Carter and Trump arrived at the presidency with no Washington experience and apparently no willingness to play well with the hometown crowd. Carter at least did have political experience as the governor of Georgia and a state legislator before that. But both came to Washington proclaiming things were not going to be done the old way. And even more importantly, they both depended on and/or took too much advice from people with no idea or interest in how things are done in Washington.

(And about this time anyone reading this might say, well that is the point, those ways needed or still need to be changed. Well certainly corruption needs to be eliminated but you really can’t take the politics out of politics and politics to me basically is the struggle for resources among disparate groups. It’s all about give and take and always will be unless we go to a dictatorship, and I don’t think even an often complacent electorate would put up long with a true dictatorship, not to mention the congress and the Supreme Court.)

But anyway what made me think about this was another thought:

Jimmy Carter has to be the Rodney Dangerfield of presidents. He just gets no respect. I’ve noticed through the years that every time someone wants to refer to a weak or inept or failed presidency they almost if not always single out Jimmy Carter’s.

(I confess, I think I have been guilty of that in this lowly blog.)

I was reminded of this while reading a piece the other day out of the Wall Street Journal. There was this in reference to the ongoing administration:


The historical analogy isn’t Richard Nixon, whose advisers were effective in their abuses until they were finally discovered. This is more like Jimmy Carter —outsiders who arrived to drain the swamp and are swamped by incompetence.

 


 

And then to refresh my memory of the Carter administration I ran across this zinger in Wikipedia:


In polls of historians and political scientists, Carter is usually ranked as a below-average president.


And in a New York Times story still another unfavorable comparison/mention:

In recent days, the radio host Michael Savage has acknowledged “the administration is in trouble.” John Podhoretz in the New York Post and later The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page each compared Trump to Jimmy Carter — the most damning of all conservative indictments.


 

Geez, give the guy a break. Wasn’t he a Sunday School teacher and a U.S. Navy veteran and didn’t he do all that good work for Habitat for Humanity after his presidency (of course that is after), and didn’t he oversee the Camp David Accords that gave a little peace or the promise of it to the Middle East? And today he is noted for working for world peace through his foundation (of course after the fact as far as the presidency is concerned).

And then I watched a biography of Carter on the internet (source of it PBS) and felt I had a better handle on it all, even though I lived through his presidency — gas lines, stagflation where inflation soared even as wages did not, and the humiliating Iran Hostage episode. And really informative and interesting, his wife, Rosalyn, offers for the camera that she urged him to just do something about the hostages — she felt like I did. But then the fact is pointed out that they all came back alive. Under pressure, Carter did order a rescue attempt, but it failed. But had the attempt gone on or maybe some multi-pronged assault been tried one could quite imagine that all the hostages might all have been killed. The story is that the hostages were not released until one minute after Carter handed over his one-term presidency to Ronald Reagan, thus the final humiliation. Carter had negotiated their release, Reagan got the credit.

The unpreparedness and unwillingness is where the Cater/Trump comparison ends.

Well, another damaging characteristic of Carter was that he did not see the big picture often because he was too busy micro-managing every detail every day, down to who was authorized to play on the White House tennis courts.

I guess in some respects Trump in a control freak, not that it has done him much good. His administration seems out of control, and some of his underlings find themselves having to lawyer up and one has even reported to have asked the White House for legal help (anonymous so far).

Shades of Watergate.

P.s.

It would seem that anything good that may come of Trump’s current overseas trip will have to be really, really good, like fabulous, to counter his Watergate at home.

On the other hand, if the economy does well and the nation as a whole feels secure, that will go a long ways in his favor. Even with Trump’s troubles, the Democrats need a savior, and then there is always Vice President Mike Pence ready (and getting readier with a new political action committee) and waiting in the wings.


Trump could be successful overseas if he keeps his yap shut (and he stops tweeting) …

May 19, 2017

Just because something comes to your mind does not mean you should say it out loud. I know all of those people who voted for Donald Trump often were reported to have said things like: I like a person who just says what he thinks.

I myself have been guilty at times of just spouting off what I think, not that there is anything wrong with speaking your mind, but there is such a thing as using discretion and realizing who the audience is and thinking through and not just blurting out a passing thought that might not even turn out to represent your true feelings once you have had time to digest all of the different angles of any issue or situation. And then sometimes you just don’t want to hurt anyone´s feelings — or get punched in the nose or worse.

With that in mind, I think this new (relatively new) phenomenon of important people instantly tweeting their immediate thoughts should go away — of course it will not, I suppose.

Worst of all is having the president of the United States tweet his immediate thoughts. If you have followed the news about him and seen him on TV you know that he can change thoughts in mid sentence. I mean it’s good to be opened minded, have an ability to assess facts and change one’s mind, but in mid sentence or in hours or overnight, constantly?

This is not meant to be a continued diatribe against Donald Trump. In fact, as bad as he is, I think the foreign trip he leaves on today (5-19-17) could be a success even though he is about as ignorant as they come of the world. From reports I have read, he has impressed or perhaps unnerved both the Saudis and the Israelis and others, and the United States is still on top as the super power of the world. Action he took in Syria (the air raid in reaction to continued use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime) and the sending of an armada to off the coast of North Korea (in reaction to its continued missile testing and threats of nuclear attacks) have sent a message of power (even if the actions themselves may not have really done much) to the world — I mean no one knows how far Trump would carry it, but it beats just standing there and taking it (maybe).

But I think for real success it would be best if Trump mainly smiles and listens and just says diplomatic things and lets the old experienced and knowledgeable people (he does have some, doesn’t he?) do the real work behind the scenes. Trump needs to keep his yap shut for the most part: “Hi glad to be here, beautiful country, our relations with you are going to be so good you will beg us to stop being so friendly, by the way, do you have a golf course? If not I can build you one.”

(Sorry, I was trying to be somewhat serious here but could not stop myself from adding the satire.)

But really, if Trump could just learn to keep his yap shut.

It’s like one of my favorite scenes in the movie Patton where George C. Scott portrays Gen. George Patton as the irrepressible showboat (albeit talented professional) who just insists on having his way, sometimes to his own detriment. Karl Malden, playing the part of Gen. Omar Bradley, the somewhat more subdued soldier’s soldier, says:

“George will you just shut up…”.

I say:

“President Trump, will you just shut up”.