Friday, January 26, 2018

Blind Man's Bluff

Fred Kaplan at Slate has a fairly decent summary of the problems facing the current U.S. administration's conduct of the legacy wars in the Middle East and southwest Asia. The tl:dr is that 1) for all his bluster about "dealmaking" Trump has no geopolitical knowledge or understanding, and 2) the flag officers that comprise his geopolitical team are deeply sunk in the sunk-cost views of those wars.

The black hole at the center of this mess is that the U.S. policy- and decision-making apparatus has been and remains exceptionally poor at analyzing strategic situations, teasing out what the U.S.'s actual "vital interests" are in them, and then formulating approaches to those situations that have a genuine potential for succeeding in advancing those vital interests.

Instead, that apparatus seems to latch onto whatever short-term enthusiasm dominates the U.S. domestic political scene. In the Middle East it started with enthusiasm for Israel in the Forties, graduated to suppression of what looked like local "Communist" impulses in the Fifties and Sixties (that led to steps like the Iran coup in 1953), then to support of local dictators like Saddam in the Seventies and Eighties to counter the "Iranian menace", then to a fixation on Saddam's Iraq in the 90's and Oughts. Since then, of course, it has been the "War on Terror" with the sort of nonsensical geopolitical decisions that a conflict based on "fighting" a tactic implies.

One thing I should note from the Kaplan piece is that when he asks " wonders what happened to the Donald Trump who decried the former war as a “total disaster” and bellowed over and over “It’s time to come home”—and who pledged to do nothing in the latter war but “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” Kaplan, like an unfortunately large group of other citizens, is taking the Tangerine Toddler's mouth noises seriously, which is always a mistake.

Remember, Trump remains what he always was; a real estate grifter and Ponzi schemer whose "brand" depended on distracting the rubes while he mulcted his cut out of whatever enterprise he was running into the ground. I mean, the guy went bankrupt running a fucking casino, a "business" where people give you their money. It takes a special breed of schmuck to do that.

So Trump's blather about "coming home" and those wars being "total disasters" were the distraction, simply his usual bullying towards his Democratic opponents and especially Obama and Clinton whom he loathed personally. He had no particular geopolitical conviction on the subject; he just wanted to mulct domestic political advantage by convincing the rubes he did. How could he? He barely knew enough to find the places on a map. He believed that thousands of Muslims had danced on rooftops as the Twin Towers fell. He hated and feared all foreigners outside of nice white Norwegians as he is supposed to hate and fear sharks and germs. He was, and remains, a bloviating fool.

So on the subject of Middle Eastern wars he is a toddler, being fed and diapered by the same sort of people who ran with the Bushies when they went into Iraq thinking that they could create their own reality. Trump, for all his bluster, is monstrously ignorant of the world outside his Twitter feed. His mind, as we have seen over the past year, is rutted into a handful of vindictive, white-nationalist, egotistical tracks that make it nearly impossible for him to gain the sort of knowledge, let alone the wisdom, that would allow him to climb out of those tracks and assist in remaking the U.S. foreign policy apparatus into something less shortsighted.

How can a blind man teach blind men to see?

These mess-o-potamias are not of Trump's making. But it is long past the time to abandon the idea that somehow Trump will "tell it like it is", will "shake things up".

He can no more see his way out of these disasters than a child blind since birth. In this sting he's not just the con man; he's the mark. He's conning us as he's getting conned by both his generals and his enemies. He's hustling us while he's being hustled, by the East and by his own people.

So, nope. Unless We the People stop kidding ourselves about electing these sorts of people - and by that I mean not just Trump but the sorts of people who think that fighting a "war on terror" is an actual good idea - we will remain as we are now; so, so, so, SO fucked.


  1. You forgot to mention that Mr. Trump is also beholden to the Israeli Far Right and their domestic boosters. The Jerusalem change did not come from the existing Washington foreign policy apparatus.

    1. I think that falls under this same heading, tho. I don't get any sense that Trump could give a shit about Jews (other than wanting them, not blacks, counting "his money") in general and Israel in particular.

      But, as you point out, the Jerusalem thing has been an objective of the Likudniks for a long time. Trump has no clue of the implications, he knows only that his wingnut and Christopath fanbois will like the idea - again, it's mulcting. So his advisors sell it to him as good grifting, he does it, and then, boyhowdy, who'd a thunk all those A-rabs'd get their camels in such a twist?

      But so far as the usual suspects, the original "national interests" goof was going all-in on Israel in the first place. It was always an indulgence; the U.S. doesn't need anything out of the Middle East that Israel has to give, and the old State ME hands cautioned Truman that he was poisoning the well with the Arab states. And so he was, to the extent that the well is now SO poisoned that I doubt anything can unscrew that pooch.

      The Jerusalem move, though, that was the cherry on top of this shit sundae.

    2. I suppose that move was simply a success for Kushner.
      That dude is officially tasked with peace in the Mid East, but what he does is he sides 100% with Israel's hardliners/hawks.

  2. And I don't want to let the press off the hook on this. The cable news ensures that this cluster of fuck is stuffed down the memory hole. Some Trump bobo will say something fatuously ignorant about these wars - something clearly and obviously refutable if you glance for a moment at recent history or the actual conditions - and it gets reported as fact. That's nonsensical. The public, which in general knows about the Middle East as little or less than Trump, needs to be reminded of things like the Bush lies and stupidities that got us here and that trusting people like Kelly or Bloody Bill Kristol to be anything but 100% wrong on the region and U.S. policy is insane.

    Our press has really served us poorly on this whole problem.

    1. There is a "policy aversion field" to modern mainstream reporting.

      They gleefully report on personalities and gossip, but avoid foreign and domestic policy discussions with single minded determination. *Comedians* are a better source of policy insight than the news media!

    2. I'm not sure which one is the chicken and which the egg, but I think there's something about visual "news" that leads inevitably to Teh Stupid.

      If you look at the Sixties network news programs they're almost shockingly static. There's very little actual "film" and lots of talking heads. The typical CNN feed now has a ton of images but very little actual discussion, and no actual discussion of the background issues, or attempts to put whatever the "news" is in perspective.

      What I don't know is whether this is because the nets don't think people will watch if they include a lot of deep background, or whether people DON'T watch when they throw in the deep background; whether WE are the problem, or they are.

      IMO the news channels have the responsibility to inform the public. If they become stenos for the government, or allow obvious lies and deceptions to pass unchallenged they're not doing that. News shouldn't be fun, or entertaining, or profitable. It should be, like citizenship, hard work.

      Sadly, We the People don't seem to want to do that, either.

    3. There might be a different influence factor. The media tends to produce celebrity journalists, and those became very powerful regarding the design of their shows, and very rich. The second generation of such celebrities was already raised all in the radio and TV business, not in print.

      A journalist can only know so much and be only fluent in so many topics, celebrity or not. A celebrity journalist in control of his own show will thus limit his show to his comfort zone, and it's plain human nature that this comfort zone cannot include in-depth discussions on 300 different topics in a year.

  3. "...the U.S. policy- and decision-making apparatus has been and remains exceptionally poor at analyzing strategic situations,..."

    Someone (?) smart once said that "without strategy, power is a loose cannon on the deck of the ship of state". But alas the USA's Homo Strategicus is extinct. Gone the way of Homo Erectus buried somewhere in the modern Olduvai Gorge of toxic politics. Where is the Leakey family when we need them?

    But we go on with undeclared wars, oblivious to the after effects and negative consequences. A few voters for the cesspool-in-chief undoubtedly were suckered by his newfangled spin on a neo-isolationist strategy, i.e. his campaign rhetoric on NATO and international trade. But so far it is same-old same-old.

  4. Regarding the media, AEL's comment that journalists "gleefully report on personalities and gossip," seems to me the reason why five-deferment Donny was elected. They gave him endless facetime. Why? To increase ratings for the electronic media. And to increase sales for the newsprint guys (or clicks in the digital age). So what if it was negative? It drowned out other voices as the Trump campaign itself admitted.

    1. >"They gave him endless facetime."

      And therein is the crux of the issue...

      The Media went with the entertainment value of the election, policies both foreign and domestic?


      But talking about Cruz's wife like she was one of Trump's ho's?

      Oh yeah, lets focus on that!

      I think Trump's election was foretold at the W. Roast headed by Steven Colbert who, rightfully, and righteously made that room full of heathen reporters squirm in their seats as he lampooned them just as much as he took W. to task.

      I highly recommend watching it a second time...

      Seriously watch all of it...even though couched in humor, Mr. Colbert ripped that entire room a new asshole.

      So...can we blame Trump for being elected?
      Nah, other than he wanted to run (though I suspect he wasn't expecting to win...I think he wanted to get his brand out there, and probably start a competitor news cycle to Fox News with Trump News...or some shit like that)

      But the Media...oh yeah, there is all sorts of blame for them in this...when they could have asked hard hitting questions about Trumps hand-waving Tax cuts, or Sander's glorified future and where all that money was going to come from...the Media was silent.

      Now, we've got FOUR FUCKING WARS we're dealing with...FOUR...because the fuckwads from ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, CNBC, and every fucking print media in the US was and is covering only stories that will get readers to read their shitty "cat actually bit the mail man this time!"

      4 fucking wars




      And motherfucker of all motherfuckers...starting shit with N.Korea, and we're in a Cyberwar with Russia AND fucking China.

      We are so thoroughly fucked...and now, we got Mad-Dog Mattis telling Trump, "you should try negotiating", John (Fuck the terrorist Immigrants) Kelly talking about immigration policy, Stephen (Sieg-Heil Trump) Miller enabling Trump's intransigence on Government Shutdowns, and the entire shit-show in the Middle-East is ramping up, not dying down.

      All because that blood is in the water, oh, oh my...fucking now...the Media wants to pretend that they're doing their job.

      This shit is going 'splode...and it's going to go up in an epic way for us.

      Four wars.


    2. I agree that the newspeople, and especially the cable nets, bear a huge amount of responsibility for the Trump Problem, sheerah.

      That said...I ain't the sharpest pencil in the drawer, and I could see what electing that fucking numbskull was going to bring with it. He was running as a Republican, after all. Remember a year and a half ago when I wrote something here about how "Republican" now meant nothing but stooging for plutocracy, racism, and imperial war? I'm not some sort of Nostradamus; that stuff was bluntly obvious if you'd payed ten seconds attention to politics since the Reagan years.

      Yet even here, where pretty much everybody agrees in the stupidity of these idiotic "war(s) on terror", Jim and Lisa and to an extent PF pushed back against the idea that Trump wasn't going to bring the boy home. Hell, over at RAW Jim and Lisa STILL aren't particularly pissed off about what's happening in DC. Multiply that by several million and you get Orange Foolius' margin of victory.

      So, while the news corporations helped, it took good ol' Mr. and Mrs. America to vote in these sonsofbitches. And it'll take us, and them, to vote them out. Reality isn't THAT hard to see. Anybody who is baffled by the "news" problems isn't really bothering to look THAT hard

  5. The thing about my comment's that Jim and Lisa and PF are VERY smart, savvy, worldly people. And if THEY were - and, at least from what I read at RAW, Jim and Lisa still are - sold on Trump's con...what hope is there for my country?

  6. They are NOT sold on Trump's con. What they are sold on like millions of others is 'eeevil hypocritical libruls'. So the old Sanskrit proverb of the enemy of my enemies can be my friend applies.

    1. Which is itself part of the GOP (and, thus, the Trump) it amounts to the same thing.

      But the problem with the whole "enemies of my enemy" thing is that only works when you correctly identify "the enemy". As I kept trying to point out to them here in the late summer of '16; the Sanders movement shows that the evil hypocrites can be redeemed. Where's the equivalent on the Right? Trump? Nope. And outside the wingnuts there's ..WORSE wingnuts, neo-Nazis, Birchers, Christopaths, and rapacious plutocrats!

      Since Jim and Lisa are no more in the 1% than you or I are...THOSE are their "enemy", meaning that the evil lib'rul hypocrites are...the enemy of their enemies!

      But that's my point; what hope is there for our country when smart people like that can be spun around by bullshit into siding with the racists, plutocrats, and thieves?

  7. I don't believe Jim was ever conned or spun around by anyone or anything. And I still like and admire the man regardless of the fact that he (or was it more his bride?) supported Cadet Bone Spur.

    We are all in this together - the ones that voted for Donny against Hillary, and those of us that saw through the BS of the reality show entertainer. So we are all stuck. Subject to the whims of Donny's narcissistic personality disorder. He is going to turn us all (those for him and against him) into one of his third world sh!t-holes. How do we get out of this mess is the question?

    1. If you believe that in Jim's case, Mike, how do you account for shilling for a draft-dodger given Jim's relentless hatred of Bill Clinton for the same offense? Someone had to get spun, somehow, to produce two very different reactions to those issues I know Jim considers dealbreakers. If not spun...what?

      And the problem I see with your formulation is why I'm so irked with Jim and Lisa. Yes, we SHOULD be "all in this together" against the Near Enemy. Instead we are fighting among ourselves, with the RAWsters more chuffed about liberal hypocrisy than Republican wrecking in service of a new Gilded Age, like the French Right of 1940 preferring Nazi conquest to the domestic rule of Jews and socialists.

      So while part of the solution has to be a genuine appeal to the New Deal America, another has to be the conviction that it's NEVER okay to be for Nazis, no matter how much you dislike the socialists.

      I still respect Jim and Lisa for their uncompromising stand against the idiotic "war on terror". But so long as they continue to ignore - and, worse, minimize - the danger the GOP presents to the America we grew up in they are part of the problem of that war, not part of the solution.

      A liberal democracy may be reformed from within. A Trumpist kleptocracy cannot.

  8. FDC -

    I would surmise that those French who flocked to Petain and Vichy did NOT prefer Nazi rule. They accepted it because just two decades earlier they had suffered 1.7 million deaths in WW1. And they had 4.3 million legless or armless veterans, enough for every street corner in the country. Plus the WW1 devastation of the northeast quadrant of France, which was the industrial heartland of the nation.

    Jean and Jeanne Doe would have accepted the devil himself before being put through that wringer again. Jews? Leon Blum's government fell in April 1938, two years and two months prior to Vichy. Socialists? The major socialist party at the time, the Radical-Socialists, were a moderate center-left party known for their championship of the lower middle class, small businesses, and the defense of private property. The other socialist groups never had a chance until after WW2.

    1. Alistair Horne's"To Lose A Battle" points out the problematic divisions in French politics in the Thirties that helped contribute to the fall of France. The Right saw the Left - which was much as you point out, a moderate coalition - as no better than the Reds. The Left saw the Right as monster raving royalist loonies looking to restore the Bourbons(and some were, in fairness...)

      The divisions hamstrung the Army, as the Left fought any increase in Regular units because they considered the officer class Rightist, anti-Republican stooges. The dysfunction continued well into the late Thirties until reforms were too little, too late.

      So while the French Right, no more than our modern anti-Left "centerists", may not have been active Nazi partisans, their inability to recognize those Nazis as a more dangerous enemy than their "evil hypocritical lib'rul" domestic rivals doomed both.

  9. FDC -

    Many winters ago I tried to slog thru Horne's book on Verdun. Too stilted or perhaps just my anti-Brit slant. And I never liked his book on the Algerian War, despite the gushing of the Bush clique.

    I did read William Shirer's "Collapse of the Third Republic". A good one. I don't think you could find a better account in English by any author. Shirer lived in France for eight years between the wars and spoke and read the language fluently. And as a neutral war correspondent he accompanied German troops on their way to Paris. He was present at the Armistice.