Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

They Said It:

“Everything in life is luck.” The words are attributed to Donald Trump and they continue to make regular appearances in the press notwithstanding that the president-elect long ago declared it fake news. “I never made this ridiculous statement,” he tweeted in 2014, in language that sounds much closer to the spirit of @realDonaldTrump.

Even so, it takes nothing away from Mr. Trump’s stunning Nov. 8 victory to note that he enters the Oval Office a very lucky president. For notwithstanding the formidable challenges ahead—a dangerous world in which American leadership has been diminished, an anemic domestic economy that has led record numbers of Americans to give up hope of finding work, to name two—the curious politics of the moment has set him up for some bigly successes early on. The irony is that it is not so much Mr. Trump’s friends as his enemies who have put him in this lucky position….

Right now the punditry is chattering on about how Mr. Obama is using his remaining time in office to box Mr. Trump in. Maybe. But so far Mr. Trump has been blessed by his enemies’ bad judgment.

And nothing they are now doing suggests his luck—or their bad judgment—is going to change.

William McGurn, “The Luck of the Donald,” Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2017.

 

FOREIGN POLICY 2017:  A NEW “NEW WORLD ORDER.”

A recurring theme of ours over the past couple decades is that a key difference between liberals and conservatives is that the latter believe in the existence of eternal truths.  This is generally a philosophical observation having to do with a comparison between the Judeo-Christian belief system and liberal post-modernism.  Our contention has been that the future of Western Civilization rests on the outcome of this dispute.

But there are also differences between the Right and the Left that deal with worldly truths; that is, truths that involve routine events in the day to day world.  One of these is the decisive and all-important contrast between President Ronald Reagan’s famous doctrine “Peace Through Strength” and Barack Obama’s operative philosophy borrowed from Rodney King, namely “Can’t we all just get along.”  Our contention in this case is that the future of the United States of American rests on the outcome of this dispute.

For the last half-century or more, the Western Left has insisted that “violence never solved anything.”  This is an absurdity, as such Democratic icons as FDR and Truman made plain to Hitler and Tojo.  Violence can indeed solve many “things.”  More to the point, sometimes, just the threat of violence can solve things, but only if the threat appears credible. In short, red lines must be backed with blood and treasure.

As a species, humans are forever learning, forgetting, and then re-learning these “practical” eternal truths.  Reagan understood that a credible threat of violence was often enough to cow erstwhile belligerent parties.  Of course, Reagan wasn’t the first political leader to stumble upon this insight.  Eighteen-hundred years ago, the Roman Emperor Hadrian pursued “peace through strength or, failing that, peace through threat.”  Reagan, like FDR and Barry Goldwater before him, abbreviated Hadrian’s phrase; he then turned it into the foreign policy doctrine that ended the Cold War and freed millions of people from the dark shadow cast by the iron curtain.

Barack Obama, by contrast, believes that peace can be achieved through the strength of his personality; or by the tempering of American imperialistic tendencies; or by the ascendance of previously oppressed cultures; or by paying that which Kipling called the “Danegeld;” or . . . well . . . something.  He may have forgotten the truth that Reagan employed.  Or more probably, he “learned” in various Ivy League schools that Reagan’s victory was a myth and that strength can be scary.  Whatever the case, over the course of his presidency, he made several threats, but followed through on only a few.  And most of those were directed at friends, not enemies.

Last week, Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard Law Professor and noted liberal commentator, declared that Obama will go down in history as the “worst foreign policy president” in memory.  Eight years ago, at the start of the Obama presidency, Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor and noted libertarian commentator, warned that this would be the case, suggesting that, by the time all was said and done, “a replay of Carter would be a ‘best-case’ scenario.”

Carter, of course, was succeeded by Reagan, who righted his predecessor’s wrongs by threatening to kick ass and take names, but never actually having to do it.  Obama will be followed by Donald Trump.  The question is of whether Trump subscribes to above-noted ancient truth or will find comfort in the Gnostic dream world that Obama inhabited.

And that brings us to….

Forecast #1:  American relations with (most of) the rest of the nations on earth – friends, enemies, and others – will improve in 2017, in many cases dramatically.

When Barack Obama took office eight years ago, he promised to restore America’s standing in the community of nations.  He argued – and a majority of Americans agreed – that the Bush years had tarnished the nation’s global image.  American adventurism was out; American prudence and caution was in.  Whereas Bush was a warrior, toppling regimes throughout the Muslim world, Obama would be a healer, restoring the self-esteem of the Muslim people and allowing them to overcome their oppression and oppressiveness.  He gave his first interview as president to the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network.  He made his first major foreign address at Cairo University.  He, not-so-subtly, titled his speech “A New Beginning.”  He withdrew American troops from Iraq and began winding down the war in Afghanistan.  He reached out to the rulers of Iran, the first time an American leader had done so in almost four decades.

It wasn’t just with the Muslim world that Obama intended to “repair” relations.  He sent Hillary Clinton to Russia with a literal “reset” button.  He offered a hand in friendship to the North Koreans.  He promised to make up for generations of wrongdoing in Latin America.   He apologized to everyone for anything and everything that troubled them, both passively and sometimes actively agreeing that most of their problems were the fault of the United States.   No one really knows for sure why Obama did what he did.  Some people – Dinesh D’Souza and Newt Gingrich, to name two – believe that Obama was motivated by the anti-colonialism and anti-Westernism he learned as a child.  Others believe that he is a victim of his education, that he set out to right all the wrongs he “learned” about from the likes of radical critical theorist Derrick Bell.  No one can really know, obviously.  The aforementioned Glenn Reynolds likes to call liberalism a “mental disorder.”  We wouldn’t go quite so far, though we’ll concede that it is one of the great mysteries of modern times.

Now we have neither the time nor the resources to compile an exhaustive list of nations with which American relations have worsened under Obama’s leadership.  We will note only that Trump has some fences to mend in such places as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, Australia, Iraq, Poland, the Baltic States, Ukraine, and especially Israel.  He will also have some red lines to draw with respect to some potentially hostile rival powers, including Russia, North Korea, and Iran.  Last summer, the historian Victor Davis Hanson termed Obama’s outreach to the rest of the world – and especially the Muslim world – “weak horse contrition.”  Certainly, many potential belligerents throughout the globe took it that way.

Enter Donald Trump.

As we said two weeks ago, we believe that Trump will pursue American interests throughout the world with considerable vigor.  We expect strong support for Israel and an equally strong dislike and distrust of those whom he, like Pat Moynihan before him, called the “jackals” of the United Nations.  We also expect relations with Russia to be a centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda.

Having said this, we do not believe that Donald Trump’s foreign relations will be flawless.  He is a pugnacious and thin-skinned man, steeped the tactics of negotiation but unfamiliar with the fine points of diplomacy.  Cliché alert:  there will be ups and downs in Trump’s first year, especially on the geopolitical front.  And some of the downs could be quite scary.

Nevertheless, we believe that his clear and unambiguous defense of America’s interests abroad will help him right many of Obama’s wrongs.  Clarity has a way of resolving problems, even in the absence of diplomatic finesse.  And no one should doubt that Trump and his foreign policy team will be far clearer about American interests than were Obama, Kerry, and their collection of delusional aging peaceniks.  Bluntness, even coupled with occasional clumsiness will, for most nations and diplomats, be a welcome respite from opacity and obsequiousness.

Forecast #2:  The conventional wisdom – on the Right, on the Left, and in between – has it that the Russians and the Chinese will almost immediately test the new president.  They will want to know precisely what kind of man he is and whether or not their eight-year hiatus from consequences is over.  Color us skeptical.  We think that the leaders of both nations, and Russia especially, will play it safe, for a while at least.

Now, we will readily admit that when making our predictions we run the risk of “mirror-imaging,” which is to say that we will be inclined to expect people to behave in certain situations as we would behave in those same situations.  Nevertheless, we will try to be cognizant, as we proceed here, that our worldview is not necessarily the same as those of the actors whose actions we wish to foretell.

Vladimir Putin is a thug.  He is a murderer.  He is an authoritarian leader of a people who crave authoritarianism.  He is, without question, a global menace. That said, he is also a calculating and cunning leader of a nation of chess players   He has goals and, as a former KGB colonel, he understands that achieving those goals may require patience and subterfuge in far greater quantities than the exercise of raw power.

We do not believe that the intelligence apparatus that Trump will inherit from the Obama administration will be able to provide him with any great insight into the Putin’s wishes or plans.  As our old friend (and former intelligence officer) Angelo Codevilla noted more than twenty years ago, America’s intelligence bureaucracy, like the rest of the ruling class is shockingly uniform in its background, its education, its biases, and its blind spots.   “They came,” Codevilla wrote, “through the government’s front door from Hotchkiss, Harvard, and Yale, and enjoyed the best patronage government can give, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike . . . it would be easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the needle’s eye than for someone to enter the senior ranks at State, Defense, or NSC who favored a U.S. victory in Vietnam, who had cheered Ronald Reagan’s call in 1982 to cast communism on the scrap heap of history, or who had favored building an antimissile defense for the United States.”

In short, we don’t assume that anything that the Obama administration says on its way out the door is necessarily accurate.  The Obama folks have a vested political interest in delegitimizing President Trump, while the intelligence apparatuses have a vested, non-political interest in doing the same.  In both cases, we are likely to read and hear a great deal that is untrue or exaggerated over the next few weeks and months from “insiders.”

The preferred shorthand adopted by the Left and the mainstream press is that the Russians “hacked” the election on Trump’s behalf.  If this be so, it is a not a grievous fault.  The phrase “All is fair in love and war,” is not just a cliché, it is a truth as old as mankind.  For what it is worth, the CIA, in its early days under the direction of Allen Dulles, the brother of John Foster Dulles, did the following, according to Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas’s book The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made.

It organized the overthrow of the governments deemed to be pro-Communist in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954; helped install supposedly pro-Western governments in Egypt in 1954 and Laos in 1959; tried and failed to overthrow the government of Indonesia in 1958; infiltrated refugees to disrupt Soviet-bloc governments in Eastern Europe and ran sabotage operations against China from Laos and Burma; plotted assassination attempts against Chou En-lai of China, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Fidel Castro of Cuba, and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic.

Without doubt, the Russians did their very best to manipulate and influence the American people and to cause chaos in the run-up to the vote.  Moreover, it is fair to say that Putin preferred Trump to Hillary.  After all, he had met her, and, being a survivor in the rough and tumble world of Kremlin politics, he is a good judge of people, which means that he had to have recognized her as a lightweight, and thus dangerous.

In any case, it is not clear whether a long-term rapprochement with Russia would be a good thing.  Last October, one of America’s leading experts on Russia, Dr. Richard Pipes, noted that “Trump is friendly to Putin and Putin is friendly to Trump and that’s not good.”  And when Dr. Pipes says something like that, attention must be paid.  As we have written in these pages for most of the last twenty years, Russia is both massively corrupt and massively corrupting.  George W. Bush thought Putin was his friend too, and he got taken to the cleaners.  In the long-term, playing footsie with a murderous monster will yield nothing but trouble.  Dogs, fleas, and all that.

In the near term, however – the span of a year, for example – cooperation between Putin and Trump will likely contribute to global stability.  After all, Putin has gained a great deal over the last year, from his de facto takeover of the Middle East to the election of a “friendly” American president.  And given everything that he stands to lose from rocking the global boat too quickly or too forcefully, we expect him to lie low in 2017.  He will neither antagonize President Trump and risk compromising the possibility of working out one or more friendly deals of some sort, nor become too cozy, thereby compromising Trump’s domestic standing.  In short, we believe that Putin will be patient, and will arrange his game pieces quietly and behind closed doors.  He will NOT test Trump right away, as so many of the other “experts” presume.

Much of the same logic – sans the friendship bit – applies to Chinese President Xi Jinping.  At present, Xi has to be careful.  He can’t be certain that Trump is not, as his domestic enemies claim, a loose cannon.  This means that he will have to choose the time and place for a confrontation carefully and be prepared for conflict if it comes.  And that will take some time.  Like Putin, Xi is a seasoned player, who will play his hand close to the vest for a while.  In the meantime, he will continue, as he has ever since Trump’s election, to speak of “shared goals” and cooperation with the incoming American administration, even while plotting its demise.

At the same, we should note here that Xi has two considerations that Putin doesn’t have, either of which could affect the Chinese leader’s calculations in troubling ways.  First, Xi has to worry about his country’s economy.  The Russians are poor and always have been, which is a plus for Putin.  The Russian people have suffered so long and so consistently that they have no expectations of better lives.  The Chinese, by contrast, are poor but do not anticipate remaining so, which means that they DO have expectations of continued economic growth and continued relief from the historical cycle of poverty.  If Xi is unable to deliver continued strong growth, he will have to find other ways to maintain and consolidate domestic power.  And as any schoolboy knows, the time-tested strategy for a ruler struggling at home is to look abroad.  With China, the risk here is unremitting.  Additionally, this is the year that Xi names his successor.  Xi has already shown that he is undecided on this matter, having delayed making his choice, and he will not want to choose from a position of weakness.  How that might affect Xi’s behavior over the next year is anyone’s guess.  Still, it’s worth keeping in mind.

Forecast #3:  While the Chinese and Russians are lying low, others will do their damnedest to call attention to themselves.  Chief among those who will do so is North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

This little man, like his father and his grandfather before him, is . . . well . . . a few bricks short of a full load, to put it mildly.  Predicting what he will do, when, and why is therefore not especially easy.  That said, there is one pattern of behavior that has remained consistent throughout his and his father’s reins:  they don’t like to be ignored, and when they feel that they have been, they blow something up and demand a ransom not to blow up anything else. Unfortunately, the leaders of the West have a pattern of behavior too:  they pay the ransom.

Lately, Crazy Kim has been conducting ballistic missile tests and has thus been making a great many of his neighbors – from Seoul to Tokyo – extremely uncomfortable.  Additionally, a recent defector from his regime has told reporters that the Norks see 2017 as the year to make their move.  Just last week, CNN reported the following:

Political uncertainty in the United States and in South Korea could give North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “an apt time” to develop nuclear weapons “at all costs by the end of 2017,” a high-profile North Korean diplomat who recently defected to South Korea said Tuesday.

“Due to domestic political procedures, North Korea calculates that South Korea and the US will not be able to take physical or military actions to deter North Korea’s nuclear development,” Thae Yong-ho, formerly No. 2 at the North Korean Embassy in London, said in a news briefing, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

Thae said Kim has no plans to give up the country’s nukes even if he is offered huge sums of money, saying the leader is “racing ahead with nuclear development after setting up a plan to develop it (nuclear weapons) at all costs by the end of 2017.”…

Pyongyang will try to open dialogue with Seoul’s and Washington’s new administrations as a nuclear-possessing state, Thae predicted of the North’s strategy to obtain a nuclear power status.

Until then, North Korea will continue to launch military provocations and conduct nuclear tests in a bid to frustrate Seoul’s and Washington’s sanctions-concentrated policy towards Pyongyang, Thae said.

Obviously, we have no idea what Donald Trump and his foreign policy team have in store for the North Koreans.  Our suspicion is that the administration will do what all previous administrations have done, that is to watch the little nutcase closely and respond when necessary.  According to Reuters, Trump’s first classified briefing after winning the election was on North Korea.  Additionally, his National Security Adviser-designate, Gen. Michael Flynn, has taken a special interest in Kim et al and has studied all potential options in detail.

In the meantime, Trump might find the “threat” from North Korea useful.  Early this week, Trump – the master Twitter troll – used his favorite social media platform to inform Kim and his minions that their plans to test an ICBM “won’t happen.”  We have no idea how Kim reacted to the tweet, but the mainstream media and Washington establishment ran around screaming that the sky was falling, which, of course is what they are wont to do.  This type of reaction from the people who have prattled on about Korea for decades but have done nothing to address the problem is precisely what endears Trump to his followers.  The more he tweets, the more they hyperventilate, the more reasonable he appears by comparison.  And in any case, if North Korea starts a war, it will lose.

Forecast #4:  Europe will get ugly(er) in the new year.  Islamist terrorism will continue to claim European lives and, eventually, Europeans will begin considering whether it’s too late to fight back.

Obviously, we have neither the time nor the heart to list all of the terrorist attacks in Europe since the so-called “migrant” crisis began more than a year ago.  The “problem” gets worse and worse, and the European elites pretend otherwise.  Eventually something has to give.  Either the Europeans will fully surrender to their new Islamic masters, or they will fight back.

Regular readers may well know that we have long pondered the likelihood of both possibilities, sometimes optimistically, sometimes not so much.  Mark Steyn, one of our go-to writers on this subject has long believed that the question is already settled and that the European surrender is well underway.

At the same time, one of our other go-to sources on the subject, Dr. Daniel Pipes, disagrees.  Pipes, you may note is an old friend, a bona fide world-renowned expert of Islam, and the son of the aforementioned Richard Pipes (a bona fide world-renowned expert in his own right).  Last August, Daniel Pipes penned a short post for National Review’s group blog “The Corner” that we found fascinating.  We’ve been holding on to the post for months, trying to find an opportunity to discuss it.  That sound you hear is opportunity knocking.

A little background:  In February, the German newspaper Die Welt published a story quoting a “leading” German educator who believes that native Germans should be more accommodating of their new Arabic countrymates.   Thomas Strothotte, a professor of computer science and the president of private university in Hamburg, suggested that all German children should be compelled to learn Arabic, so as to facilitate a harmonious multi-cultural nation.

In August, the writer who blogs at Jihadwatch.org under the pseudonym “Hugh Fitzgerald” stumbled upon a Breitbart News write up of the Die Welt story.  He penned a 3,300 word response and, as Pipes notes, expended most of those words calling Strothotte’s suggestion “civilizational surrender.”  Pipes, for his part, thought that Fitzgerald missed the proverbial forest for the trees and fashioned his own response.  We’ll let him take it from here:

I went to the source of the news item in Die Welt and tweeted the news item in exactly the opposite way, noting that 94 percent of respondents answered negatively to a straw poll asking, “Should the Arabic language become a compulsory subject in Germany?” (“Sollte Arabisch in Deutschland zum Pflichtfach werden?”)

That the mildly-conservative Welt-reading public with near-unanimity rejected Strothotte’s suggestion seems to me far more newsworthy than the original suggestion.

More neatly than anything else I can think of, this contrast between Fitzgerald’s and my reporting points to the divergence between two fundamentally different ways of seeing the West’s evolution vis-à-vis Islamism: one focuses on the statements and actions of a diminishing elite appeasement faction; the other follows the increasingly strong negative response by the population at large.  Yes, Islamism is making advances.  But anti-Islamism is growing more rapidly and so, I predict the latter will prevail.

In our little world, we tend to think of the ruling class vs. the country class meme as a purely political phenomenon.  But it’s not.  It’s also economic, and social, and cultural.  And while Europe’s ruling class may be committed to the fantasies of the multiculti, no-borders, one-world Utopia, the members of the country class aren’t, not by a long ways.  And if Daniel Pipes is right, then the European country class may well have decided to fight for its cultural heritage – and its lives.

The risk here, of course, is that all of this could turn ugly.  The Europeans bitched and moaned about the election of the “neo-fascist” Trump, yet as the great Tom Wolfe famously noted, “the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.”  Elsewhere, Pipes noted that the problems plaguing Europe today are not new; they have existed in and around Paris, at least, for better than 80 years.  The difference is that today, the “migrants” are killing people wholesale in the name of their radical religion.

And the European people may be getting tired of it.

Our prediction?  Terrorism in Europe will get worse.  The ruling class will try to cover its backside to no avail.  And the country class revolution will gain momentum but will not reach its apex.

Forecast #5:  Donald Trump and the Republicans will come to Israel’s aid.  Unfortunately, Obama and Kerry have already done much damage that cannot be undone. As luck would have it, though, said damage will likely be brought to bear on the Palestinians far more severely than on the Israelis.

We won’t bore you by reciting the well-known details of the Obama-Kerry stab in the back of Israel.  It should, for our purposes today, suffice to say that both men are shameful cowards.  They waited . . . and waited . . . and waited until they knew that their actions could have no electoral consequences, because they knew that the American electorate – and especially the loyally Democratic American Jews – would find them reprehensible.  Still, they waited . . . and then they broke decades of precedent to join “the jackals of the U.N.” in attacking the only full-fledged liberal democracy in the Middle East.

The good news is that the Obama-Kerry betrayal will be reversed.  The Republican Congress is already moving in the direction of punishing the U.N. for its cowardice, while President-Elect Trump has promised to support Israel forcefully and to right Obama’s wrongs.

The better news is that no one can any longer pretend not to know that the progressive Left sees the Jews as Western oppressors, no different in nature than any other Westerners.  It therefore sees Israel and Zionism as expressions of Western imperialism and oppression (never mind the historical absurdity of the charge).  Some of us have known this for decades.  Now, it is indisputable.  Obama and Kerry let their masks slip.  And the face underneath was grotesque.

The bad news is that the world’s Islamist cretins will undoubtedly now feel empowered.  They finally have the “moral” victory they’ve sought for decades.  The greatest military power the world has ever known is now on record on their side.

What the Palestinian leaders don’t understand, of course, is that the peaceful transition of power means that the next American president can disown Obama’s anti-Israel tantrum and reverse course again.  And so while Hamas and the Palestinian Authority will cling to this victory as if it means something, Israel and the United States will move on without them.  What this means is that the Palestinian people will continue to suffer under the iron fist of a corrupt and delusional ruling class that has just been encouraged by the outgoing American president to be even more corrupt and delusional.  Jackals like Mahmoud Abbas will grow richer, while the Palestinian people will grow poorer and more radicalized.  In the meantime, American relations with Israel will strengthen both publicly and privately.

Forecast #6:  Out-of-Left-Field Prediction:  Trump and Putin will cement their working friendship by dividing up the Islamist world.  Trump and the United States will take – and be given – responsibility for reigning in the Shiite Islamists, while Putin and Russia will be given a free hand to deal the Sunnis as they see fit.

Regular readers will undoubtedly recall that we like to end these forecast pieces with a prediction that is theoretically possible but which has not been addressed by mainline analysts and prognosticators.  We don’t necessarily expect these forecasts to occur, but they do provide us the opportunity to discuss matters that might otherwise not be discussed.  So here goes.

We think that the Mad Mullahs of Iran may be biggest losers in 2017.  Trump and the Republicans have promised to reverse Obama’s unilateral sellout to them.  The Mullahs, in turn, have promised that such a course of action will really make them mad.

Here’s the thing.  What are they going to do about it?  They will certainly carry out terrorist attacks against American interests worldwide and re-double their efforts to achieve nuclear status.  But then, this is no different from what they’re doing right now.  Everyone knows this but pretends otherwise for the sake of Obama’s “legacy.”  Trump won’t be so delicate.  He will fight back.  And then what will the Mullahs do?  Will they running crying to their “friends,” the Russians?  Will they ask Putin to risk war with the United States on behalf of their nukes?  And if they do, will Putin really come to their defense?

We don’t know obviously.  But we’re skeptical.  Putin is definitely the go-to guy in Middle East now, having filled the void left by Obama’s fecklessness.  Indeed, Putin is now firmly ensconced as the master of Syria.  Bashar Assad was once the Mullahs’ toady.  Now he is Putin’s.  As such, it is up to Putin whether he needs the Iranians anymore, or whether he would sell them out to the Americans in exchange for a better deal in the Middle East, one based on common interests.

Happy 2017!

Copyright 2017. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE  68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.