Category Archives: Donald Trump

Wrong!

OK, I was hoping that Trump and Co would do something clever in Syria. I was wrong.

Shiny, new, smart missiles – well cruise missiles by and large – rained down on long evacuated targets in Syria last night. Another billion dollar fireworks display.

On the one hand I am delighted that there are no boots on the ground in this particular shit hole. On the other, there was so much more which could have been done with the Russians, Iranians and Syrians stuck in their bolt holes by Trump’s tweets.

Trump has made his point. There is a red line and he’s not letting it fade. But, as my elder son said over dinner, for 100 million the Syrians would probably have blown up their own buildings.

Sad.

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War by Tweet

So yesterday Trump tweeted that he had “new, shiny and smart missiles”, or words to that effect, and he was thinking about answering the Syrian gas attack. The Russian fleet at Tartus scattered, The Iranian and Syrian forces rushed to Russian bases hoping that Trump is not going to start WWIII by hitting those bases.

Today Trump tweeted, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?””

This is fun but it is also a fairly calculated effort to sow disarray in Syria.

The fact is that the Russian fleet is not particularly seaworthy. A lot of deferred maintenance. Floating around in the Med is not their best look and, in a week or two, ships are going to start breaking down. Nor is cowering beside the Russians a good look for either the Syrian regulars or the Iranian mercenaries. They may be safe – although likely not as safe as they think – but they are rendered ineffective.

“Keep’em guessing.” is a rather good tactical move by Trump and his commanders. There is no rush.

Scattering the cockroaches with a bright light is a painless way of making their position very clear indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boom!

syria, donald trumpPresident Trump is rattling the sabres.  Tweeting that missiles, “nice and new and smart”, would be incoming to Syria.

The Russians, not being idiots, take the threat seriously enough that they have put their Syrian fleet – based at Tartus – out to sea. No point in restaging Pearl Harbour.

Hitting Assad and his Iranian allies is certainly something the Americans might want to do in the wake of yet another gas attack. But a missile barrage, even with shiny, new, smart missiles is not likely to do much other than annoy the Russians without defeating them. Is that worthwhile?

I don’t think much of Trump as a tactical thinker, he is more a limited strategic thinker able to identify “bad guys” and “America’s interests” without having any great insight into what to actually do. However, there are plenty of people in and around the White House who can figure out the tactics beginning with Defence Secretary Mathias. Mad Dog is not really a “fire and forget” kinda of guy.

The trouble with a missile barrage is that it really changes nothing. Some targets are obliterated, some low-level bad guys are killed. Its principal advantage is that it poses very little risk to American personnel. Tactically, a missile attack runs a small risk of interception by the Russian made air defences which are presently in Syria and taking out those defences ups the chances of escalation. But strategically, a pure missile attack is not going to move any needles.

Which is why, I suspect, Trump is tweeting about it. Telegraphing an attack is something Trump maintained he would not do. He likes secrecy when American forces are going into harm’s way. Trump haters will say Trump is incapable of keeping quiet but I don’t think they are right. Trump is making characteristically Trumpian noises and I suspect it is misdirection. If you are Secretary Mathias you know that you have a President who likes nothing more than to shake his tweeting fist. Why not use it?

The Americans are perfectly capable of inflicting real damage on the Syrians – and more importantly, the Iranians – but it will not be by means of shock and awe tactics. Special Forces, stealth munitions and precision artillery with down range spotters can have a devastating effect on people expecting an attack from a bunch of missiles. It is a more personal sort of warfare and it puts American troops at risk; but it would send a very clear message to the Syrians, the Iranians and their Russian backers. “We are willing to fight and fight smart.” A much more compelling message than a very expensive fireworks display.

At the same time, a very blunt message needs to be delivered to the Russians. “You need to leave Syria.” That message is only partially military – although silently taking out several of the S-400 air defence sites would underscore the message – its real thrust needs to be diplomatic and economic. As an economy, Russia is not doing very well in a world of inexpensive oil. Sanctions, plus accelerating the pace of LNG deliveries to Europe would hurt. So would leaning on the assorted oligarchs who prefer to live in the West while retaining Russian citizenship. Scouting around for Russian assets to sequester would also add to the pressure. Critically, the US needs to be very clear about what it wants.

I would think the ask would be along the lines of “Get out of Syria and support us in the sanctions we are about to drop on Iran.”

Get all that done and the US and its allies will not have to fire a single, nice and new and smart missile.

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The Deal

Donald Trump, Kim Jong UnThe Spectator speculates that The Donald a) might be in line for a Nobel Peace Prize over North Korea (never happen, look at the Committee), b) might be willing to follow Bannon’s advice and pull US troops out of South Korea in exchange for denuclearization.

I suspect “b” will be on the table if only because, after 60 years, it is sort of pointless to keep troops in South Korea. The South Koreans have a perfectly good army and really, seriously, advanced weapons. The US can pull out, save money and reassure the NORKs.

But my bet is that Trump, like the Sham Wow guy before him, will say, “Wait, there’s more.”

Trump sold condos for years and part of the condo sale was the “amenities” package. The pool, the gym, the roof top party room. In North Korea’s case the amenities package is investment, economic growth and trade. Getting rid of the sanctions pulls them up to a few points below zero. But, say, 5 billion from South Korea into factories and another 5 billion from China into infrastructure begins to look like a real deal.

For sixty years the whole American approach has been about a lot of stick and very little carrot. This has not worked.

Trump sitting in a room with Kim Jong Un is making a sale. “We’ll stop kicking you if you drop the nukes.” is an opening, but it is not a close. Dropping sanctions makes the pain go away, but it is not an enticement. Trump has done a lot of deals and part of deals is giving people more than they expect.

Something Trump knows.

Trump does not need this deal. He can rachet up the sanctions and, at any moment, vaporize North Korea. To say he has bargaining power is to entirely understate the case. But Trump would benefit from a real, enforceable, deal on the nukes. So would China, so would South Korea, so would Japan.

So, instead of playing “hardball” Trump has the luxury of closing the sale. Tossing in the Wolf Stove and the marble foyer. And he won’t even have to pay for it. In fact, by pulling the US troops, he is saving billions a year.

Should be fun to watch.

Endgame

Donald Trump, US politicsAt the beginning of last week, before the State of the Union and before the release of the Nunes memo, the Democrats could still hold out hope that, somehow the not very Presidential Trump would be taken out either by a rather vigorous reading of the 25th Amendment or by Special Counsel Mueller finally finding proof of Russian collusion and then proof that President Trump covered up that collusion in a manner which would attract an indictment for obstruction of justice. These were pretty implausible to begin with, but after a brilliant performance at the SOTU and the confirmation that the FBI/DOJ played silly buggers with the FISA process I think it is safe to say Trump will be serving out his term.

Which is not to say that the FBI/DOJ follies will now be buried. Quite the opposite. The Nunes memo raises more questions than it answers. And other Committees of both the House and the Senate are investigating the FBI/DOJ as well as the State Department. The behaviour of the top echelons of the FBI/DOJ revealed in the Nunes memo and factually uncontradicted suggests that there was a pattern of partisan behaviour which should never exist in a police force or a Department of State responsible for prosecuting the law. And that pattern of behaviour goes well beyond the (Trump) Russian collusion fable. In the first instance, it raises the question of the Clinton Russian collusion. After all, the DNC and the Clinton campaign financed the efforts of a foreign national to obtain information from, well, Russians to compromise an American Presidential candidate. Those Russian individuals were closely tied to the Russian state. And the Clinton campaign and DNC made it their business to push the dossier into the hands of the FBI/DOJ. How all that happened and how to prevent it from happening again is an obvious matter of national interest.

Then we have the emerging, and very queer tale, of the Clinton emails on the Weiner computer and the bizarre spectacle of FBI Director Comey announcing, ten days before the election, that the Clinton email investigation was being re-opened. It appears that now “retired” Assistant FBI Director McCabe had known about the Clinton emails for a month before it occurred to him to tell the Director that there might be a tiny problem. Comey must have been furious but realized that he had no choice but to re-open the investigation. Particularly as FBI agents in New York, as well as NYPD personnel, were aware of the emails. This might appear to be small potatoes however many political observers suggest that the re-opening of the investigation re-enforced the doubts many people had about Clinton and caused more than a few to stay home rather than vote for the likely criminal Clinton. It may not have added any votes to the Trump tally, but Comey’s announcement certainly took a few away from Mrs. Clinton. Figuring out how that happened and trying to make sure it does not happen again is another, obvious matter of national interest.

We are looking forward to the Inspector General’s Report on the Department of Justice which is likely to focus on the overall behaviour of the department with respect to the Clinton emails and, perhaps, with the decisions surrounding the investigation of the IRS targeting of conservative groups. While the Nunes memo has been attacked as “partisan”, the IG’s report will not be vulnerable to such attack. It should be very interesting and should open up many avenues for Congressional Investigation.

My own view is that the “original sin” of the FBI/DOJ was the decision to ignore the clear wording of the law and find that there was a requirement for “intent” in the law regarding the handling of classified materials. This novel interpretation – apparently worked out by the FBI before it had actually done interviews with the principals involved in the Clinton email disaster – of the law allowed Mrs. Clinton and her people to avoid prosecution. In hindsight that corrupted the FBI in a profound way. The FBI should not interpret the law in any case, that is the DOJ’s responsibility. (The recusal of Mrs. Lynch after her tete a tete with Hilly’s husband needs to be looked into as well.) But if the FBI is stuck interpreting the law it needs to stick to the letter of the law rather than inventing requirements which the law does not contain. While it might have been shocking to see Mrs. Clinton charged it would have been less shocking than seeing the Director of the FBI contort the plain words of a law he is pledged to uphold. (I note that had Clinton and her aides been charged the matter would likely have been pled down to a misdemeanor level and life would carry on. Even with a guilty plea to a minor charge, Hilly would have been in better shape to explain her conduct to an electorate which would likely have forgiven it.)

Digging down to that “original sin” and the circumstances which surrounded will take some time. Time which will only be available if the Republicans can manage to hold at least the Senate and, ideally, the House. In the fevered imaginations of Democratic partisans, the Democratic party will win the House in November and begin impeachment proceedings as soon as a new House of Representatives has been seated. Which is why the SOTU speech and Trump’s overall performance is so important.

To get to the bottom of the Obama administration’s corruption of the justice system in the United States there needs to be a Republican House and Senate. Otherwise, the committees will be chaired by Democrats and all this will be swept thoroughly under the carpet. And for the Republicans to win they need a leader for their party. For better or worse, Trump is that leader and how he does and how he perceived to be doing is critically important. While Trump will never be treated fairly by the American mainstream media, he seems willing to end-run that media. Events like the SOTU give Trump the opportunity to be the President for all Americans. It also gives him the opportunity to underline what a partisan, sour and rather nasty bunch the Democrats actually are. He has nine months to close the sale with the American people. The Democratic Party is broke and in a state of civil war as the “woke” shoot up the “business Democrats” and Mrs. Clinton remains like a bad smell. The Trump tax cuts are about to kick in and the Atlanta Federal Reserve is forecasting 5.5% growth in Q1. American companies are bringing home their offshore billions and showing willing to hire Americans. The Democrats have locked their ankle to the DACA anchor and are seen as putting America last when it comes to immigration. And so on.

To win, Trump and the Republicans do not have to be brilliant, they simply have to be less stupid than the Democrats. Fortunately for Trump this is not difficult.

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Won’t take “Yes” for an answer

Last week we had the hilariously abortive two and a half day government shut down when the Democrats refused to fund the government unless their immigration demands were met. That went well. The Democrats caved in record time and, in the process, pretty much destroyed the “shutdown” as leverage.

Then Trump floats a comprehensive immigration/Dreamer/wall/visa lottery/chain migration package.

The nationalist right went crazy. 1.8 million Dreamers, 15 million related family, villagers…Froth, foam…Betrayal. Never going to vote for Trump again and so on.

But the reaction of the Democrats, particularly their base, was brilliant. “The burning cross,” was mild. Faucahantus is livid tweeting “By ending DACA, @realdonaldtrump subjected 800k Dreamers to deportation. Now he wants to hold them hostage to Steven Miller’s anti-immigrant wish list. It’s insulting.” And so on.

Both reactions were entirely predictable.

From the Democratic side of the table, the deal Trump offered is never going to be acceptable because the Democratic base sees immigration as a must “win” piece of the “resistance”. Winning on the Dreamers while conceding on the wall, etc. is essentially out of the question because it would give the hated Trump something he might want. So long as wall/chain/visa lottery we included the Democrats will support no Trump proposal.

Which Trump knew going in.

What Trump also knows, but which the Democratic base has not taken on, is that the Dreamers turn to pumpkins when the Obama executive program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) expires in early March. Trump didn’t renew the program so, as it required an Executive Order to be renewed, it is dead. Deportations will not follow immediately, but they will most certainly be on the horizon unless Congress can enact some sort of legislation. (Which, Trump says, is exactly what Congress should do rather than relying on a continuing, likely unconstitutional,  bit of Presidential legislation by pen.)

If DACA ends there is very little downside for Trump and minimal downside for the majority of GOP Representatives and Senators. Illegal immigration is not particularly popular in the US. But if DACA ends and is not replaced with legislation the Democratic base will go nuts. Unfortunately for the base, the legislative proposal floated by Trump is far and away the best offer he is going to make. His base is already furious that he has gone this far and while Chamber of Commerce Republicans and GOPe types are in favour of more permissive immigration solutions, Trump Nation is not.

DACA supporters are very likely to go over the top in the next few weeks bringing home the idea that these are not the sort of people America wants to bend over backward to accommodate.  The Kamala Harris/Elizabeth Warren wing of the party will grow shriller and loonier as the days pass. Chuck Schumer might try for another government shutdown but the politics of that are unattractive after the previous failure.

All of which Trump and his people know.

So what happens? Schumer has no choice but to turn down a very generous deal. Then, “tick tock”. The deadline approaches. Mitch McConnell makes good his pledge to let a bill “legalizing” the current DACA regime reach the floor of the Senate for a vote. That bill, I suspect, will be much less generous than the current offer and it will certainly have the wall/visa lottery/chain migration provisions baked in. And then? Well then the genius Democrats will vote against it and, with no time left on the legislative clock, the Dreamers will lose their, always provisional, status.

Trump will have maneuvered the Democrats into voting against legislation which their core constituency desperately wants. DACA will die, but it will die at the hands of the Democratic Party.

At that point, Trump can dictate his terms. He does not have to deport every dreamer the day after DACA dies; in fact, there is pending litigation which will prevent deportation for months if not years. But now Trump can cheese slice immigration reform. He can work with the Republican majority to create legislation which will provide routes to citizenship and he can work with that majority to fund the wall, eliminate chain migration and kill the visa lottery. There is no legislative necessity for more than a simple majority on any of these measures except and unless the Dems decide to filibuster. Tough to filibuster a bill that lets, say, 400,000 or so of the registered Dreamers in provided that they meet fairly strict criteria.

It has taken Trump a while to figure out the game in Washington. Lots of errors and missteps along the way. But The Donald seems to be a quick study and he certainly knows how to drive wedges between Democrats. As the economy continues to improve and as the Mueller investigation descends into farce for want of any actual evidence of any actual crime, Trump is building political capital. He is beginning to understand how to deploy that capital. As he gets better at the job my bet is that his approval ratings will rise. If he breaches 50%, because the media have created such low expectations, he is going to be seen as a serious and effective President.

And then the indictment of Clinton cronies will begin. Do you think Huma will sing? I do.

Can’t wait.

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Bannon Eruption

The internet is going a bit nuts today over purported quotes from Steve Bannon vis a vis Trump and Trump’s reaction to them. (“lost his job and lost his mind”)

A few points. The author of the book from which the quotes are taken, Michael Wolff, is a fairly notorious inventor of quotes and takes which bear only a glancing contact with reality. (See here for example.) And the quote from Bannon which is making the most waves is as follows (Guardian version):

“The meeting was revealed by the New York Times in July last year, prompting Trump Jr to say no consequential material was produced. Soon after, Wolff writes, Bannon remarked mockingly: “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers.

“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.

Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.””

I fear that Steve Bannon thought that Don Jr. and the other people involved were dummies. Which, frankly, they were.

If there were some political professionals in the White House the response to all of this would be a) Steve is entitled to his opinion, b) looks like the book has more than a few errors, c) the President has more important things to do than respond to six-month-old gossip.

As there are no political professionals in the White House – generals and ex-Ralph Lauren models are not political pros by definition – Trump took it upon himself to respond early.

The term clusterfuck does not even begin to describe Trump’s statement:

Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.

Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans.

Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself….”

And so on.

There are many things wrong with Trump and one of the biggest is his inability to simply absorb a few shots while getting on with the job. The Wolff book is no threat to the Trump Presidency and would have been discredited in due course. It would have been in the rearview mirror in a matter of days as more and more of its assertions were proven incorrect or exaggerations. However, by jumping on it before it was even published, Trump has ensured that it will sell, be discussed and, potentially, be damaging.

By doing that Trump is confirming the kernel of Bannon’s thesis, Trump and his White House are not very smart.

When Bannon left the White House my interest in defending Trump dropped to nearly zero.

I still want to see the US do well. I still think that Trump is making many of the right moves – largely by instinct – both domestically and internationally. And I still think it is vitally important to the interests of the United States that the corruption of the Obama Justice Department, FBI and White House be exposed and that the gunsels of Clinton Inc. face their day in Court. But that does not mean I don’t think that Trump is a vindictive, short sighted little man whose only claim to fame was the sheer good luck of being nominated to run against the worst Presidential candidate since WWII. Just when he seemed to be getting a handle on the job along comes a minor issue and he loses sight of the job he was elected to do.

Sad.

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Finding His Sealegs

The American Presidency is not a job you can train for. Even if you have been VP or Secretary of State or a State Governor, the fact is to be President is an entirely different role.

A little less than a year ago Donald Trump, perhaps the least likely of all the US Presidents, was sworn into office. The Democrats, many Republicans and virtually the entire American and world media were convinced that he was unfit, insane, delusional and generally a very tacky person who was most certainly “unPresidential”. And, for the first few months of his Presidency, Trump flailed. He could not get things done, his Executive Orders were found (almost certainly incorrectly) to be unconstitutional, he was Putin’s stooge and the proof of “collusion” would lead to impeachment…and so on.

Years ago I used to teach kids sailing. The first few times you would put an experienced kid in with someone who had never sailed and hope for the best. There would be a few on the dock lectures, a fair bit of safety talk and then, one day, you let the kid who had never helmed a boat helm a boat. Which was usually an exercise in frustration because to sail you have to “use” the wind not fight it. There would be surprise gibes and occasionally the boat would tip over; but, gradually, the kid would work out in practice what she had heard about in theory. All of a sudden the boat would make way in the direction the kid wanted it to (more or less). And once that happened the kid was transformed into a sailor.

To stretch the metaphor, the American ship of state spent a few months fighting the wind, being surprised, nearly being capsized as Trump learned the ropes, picked a crew and figured out a course. In fact, he had known the course all along but the day he was sworn in he had almost know idea how to sail to that course. Now he does.

The Democrats and the Rinos and the media and the “nice” people in America and the world had a window of only a few months to sink Trump. They failed. This year, 2018, will see Trump in full. He has found his sealegs and taken command of the bridge. He has his judges, his tax reform, his deregulation; more importantly, he has routed his detractors. The Russia story lies in shambles, ISIS is destroyed, the world community clear on the fact that Trump really does not care what it thinks on issues, like Jerusalem, where Trump thinks it matters.

It will be an interesting year.

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What the US needs right now

Beverly McLaughlin, the swamp, Mueller, Comely, Donald Trump, Mark Steyn is soooooo mean. He is pointing out that the “independent counsel” and his minions are not independent at all.

“My sweetly naïve understanding of an “independent counsel” is that he should be “independent”. For example, even in the presently desiccated condition of the Commonwealth, it’s generally understood that, when you’ve got a problem and you want someone independent to investigate it, “independent” means outsider.” mark steyn (go read the whole thing, tons of fun)

The Daily Caller is just one of the outlets bringing out the fact that the Mueller investigation is very deep in the swamp:

“A series of new revelations about the FBI under James Comey has provided more evidence that partisan agents may have abused their agency positions for political purposes during the Hillary Clinton email investigation and 2016 presidential campaign.

Top FBI agent Peter Strzok, the public now knows, was removed from the Mueller investigation after a Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (IG) investigation revealed damning text messages between Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.” daily caller

The American mess is deep and sordid and, frankly, needs to be cleaned up. But by who?

The fact is that virtually any special counsel appointed by the DOJ will be tainted one way or another. And so, apparently, will investigators drawn from the FBI. It is a mess but it also needs to be resolved.

So, a friendly suggestion from Canada.

Our deeply respected, longest serving, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is retiring at the end of the year. Beverly McLaughlin, while I disagree with some of her opinions, is tough, fair-minded and very, very, smart. By the nature of her position, she is “read in” on intelligence and security cleared.  She’ll be bombarded with job offers but, if asked nicely, might be willing to lead an investigation into the whole ball of wax which the 2016 American election created. Russians, Hilly’s server and how it was dealt with by the FBI, Lynch on the tarmac with Bill, Mueller, Comely: the whole thing.

But Bev is not enough. Sending a small detachment of the RCMP – white collar and intelligence – with her, with really serious investigative powers, would get the whole mess cleared up in six months. (The scarlet tunics would be optional but would make great tv as they raided offices and homes of the swamp creatures.) McLaughlin would not proffer charges, rather she would write a report and recommend such charges as arise.

Better still, the Chief Justice and the Horsemen would be paid for – independently – by the Canadian government with a bill to be presented to our American cousins at the end of the investigation.

Sometimes the mess is so big you need an independent professional to clean it up. This is one of those times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Plenary Power

A conversation:

Aide: They are charging Mr. X with obstruction of justice.

The President: What did he do?

Aide: He had a conversation with a Russian. Then he lied about it to a guy who turned out to be your Veep.

The President: The dirty dog. Tell him to plead guilty and I’ll pardon him that day.

Aide: But you can’t do that.

The President: Just watch me.

Aide: But that might be obstruction of justice right there.

The President: Counsel, what’s a plenary power?

White House Counsel (shaking slightly): It is an absolute, unqualified, power.

The President: And is that the Pardon Power I have per ” Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution which states that the President “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment“. I looked it up on Wiki.

White House Counsel: Well, in a manner of speaking, Sir.

The President: Good to know. And Counsel, would you tell Mueller that any more chickenshit charges are going to be pardoned. And do that with a public letter. He’s going to have to do way better than this to get something to stick. And how are you coming on the “dirty” dossier to the FISA Court and the FBI dropping the Uranium One investigation about Bill and Hilly. I don’t want to waste my time dealing with chickenshit when there are real crimes to look into.

Aide: Thank you Mr. President.

 

 

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