In Which I … Kinda Side With Trump

This weekend saw a somewhat concerning diplomatic faceoff. North Korea indicated they were going to test a nuclear weapon and Trump had hinted at the possibility of pre-emptive or retaliatory strikes, sparking fears of a second Korean War. It wasn’t clear exactly what was going on because it was all rumors and innuendo. Ultimately, the Nork’s nuclear test failed (possibly due to US cyberwarfare) and the situation was defused.

Today, however, a new chapter in the saga came out. Trump is apparently talking to China to try get them to reign in North Korea. We’ve done that before but Trump is apparently breaking with long-standing US policy and offering trade concessions to China if they reign in Kim.

And … I’m actually not averse to that.

Look, we all know that Kim is China’s pet. China provides almost all their energy and trade. China has long had the ability to at least threaten North Korea, if not reign it in. Trump has been talking big on China for some time. He’s apparently reversed a number of positions after talking to Xi, including backing down on labeling China a currency manipulator. That’s another kettle of fish, of course. But if get China to clamp on Kim AND not have a trade war … that’s a win-win, isn’t it?

I’d like to hear why I’m wrong about this. But if my criticisms of Trump are to have any meaning, I have to point out when he’s done something right. Avoiding a trade war and getting North Korea in line is exactly the kind of “deal” Trump promised.

Virtue Signaling with Bombs

It would appear that we are moving toward getting involved with Syria. Images have emerged of a horrific chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians, including children. Multiple independent organizations are pointing the finger at Assad. And various Trump officials are making noise about attacking Syria in retaliation. So far, a number of politicians have indicated support for such an action, including Hillary Clinton and John McCain, even though it carries the danger of a conflict — by proxy or directly — with Russia.

I have long been wary of intervention in Syria. The reason is not because I am insensitive to the suffering of Syrian civilians or the house of horrors that is Assad. It’s because it’s not clear to me what the hell the goal would be. Sean Davis raised 14 questions that our leaders need to answer before they commit to military action — all good questions that no one has answered. The logic seems to be:

  1. What’s happening is awful.
  2. Let’s drop some bombs.

But what will that do? If we destroy his air force, does that simply drag the war out? If we remove Assad, do we just get more chaos for ISIS to move into? Is this virtue signaling with bombs?

I find myself agreeing with our friend Thrill:

My other thought is that one of the top five reasons I voted for Trump was that I thought he was less War Crazed of the two major candidates. You can argue with me all you like, but Clinton was creaming her pantsuit in anticipation of dragging us into more international conflicts. Trump convinced me that he wasn’t interested in any further needless military interventions and I’d prefer not to be proven wrong.

I’ve seen the images coming out of Syria. Yeah, it’s awful.

But it isn’t our war.

It isn’t our fault either. There’s nothing we stand to gain from it. It isn’t even within our ability to resolve. I’m not indifferent to human suffering, but I don’t support any war that doesn’t further the best interests of the United States. There’s no way I support Trump if he moves forward with military action against the Assad regime.

Something else to think about: why is Assad’s use of chemical weapons the red line here? Why is it so much more horrible than the bombs he’s been dropping on his people or years, bombs that have left many children dead or screaming in pain or maimed for life? Let’s say we eliminate all his chemical weapons — hey, remember when John Kerry said we’d gotten rid of them all? Will that ameliorate the suffering of Syria’s children? Will he not just drop more conventional bombs?

The more I turn this over, the more I think this is virtue signaling with bombs. Something horrible has happened and we want to show that we don’t like it. But that’s not enough for me. You’re going to need more than that for me to support committing blood and treasure to what looks like a massive dangerous quagmire.

Update: As I was writing this post, CNN announced that we have launched 50 tomahawk missiles against airfields in Syria. That was fast. And there was no approval from Congress.

The Flynn Flip

The internet is filled with the new that General Mike Flynn is seeking immunity in exchange for testifying about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. What exactly he would testify about it a bit unclear. And so far, no one has taken him up on the offer.

The Democrats are salivating over this, but let’s keep something in mind: Flynn may not know shit. He may just be trying desperately to evade any consequences of his own actions which, at the very least, included undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Turkey. Even is he does know something, that something may not be the thing that leads to the downfall of Trump.

I’m reminded a bit of Oliver North. During the Iran-Contra Affair, North was given immunity to testify to Congress. In the end, he didn’t give them what they wanted: nothing implicated Reagan. The prosecutors went after North himself and got a conviction but it was subsequently overturned because of the immunity Congress had given him.

Maybe Flynn cracks the Russia thing open. But I suspect this will go the same way. If he is given immunity, the stuff he will reveal will be less than damning or, at worst, implicate Manafort.

As I’ve said many times, the Russia thing demands full independent investigation (especially with Nunes going off the reservation). But I’m not going to say, “This is the end of Trump!” until it’s the end of Trump.

Breaking Up the Order

I’ve been toying with a post on Trump’s foreign policy so far but it keeps running aground on the problem that Trumps doesn’t seem to have a foreign policy apart from pissing off all our allies and sucking up to Russia. In the past few weeks:

  • Trump rejected free trade ideals at the G-20, causing a major rift between us and our major economic partners. I understand being opposed to TPP or even NAFTA. But the principle of free trade is something we should commit to whole-heartedly.
  • Trump hurled baseless accusations that the British GCHQ wire-tapped Trump tower at Obama’s behest, an accusation so stupid the Administration eventually had to apologize for it. I have no doubt the British spy on us, just as we spy on them. But you can’t just run around randomly accusing our allies of spying on you because you misunderstood a Breitbart post. In hearings yesterday, multiple members of the intelligence community indicated there was absolutely no basis to Trump’s accusations.
  • The Secretary of State will reportedly skip out on a critical NATO in order to meet with Russia.
  • FBI Directory Comey indicated that they are investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia (not ties between Trump himself and Russia; a critical distinction). Trump responded with his usual blarney.
  • Trump had a bad meeting with Angel Merkel, head of one of our key military and economic partners.
  • He had an awkward meeting with the Irish PM.
  • Has still not filled many key positions at the State Department, including critical ambassadorships.

None of this is particularly lethal to the country, of course. But it betrays an Administration that remains inept, amateurish and unable to learn.

We’re two months into the Trump years. I understand he’s an outsider but so far we are seeing little indication that he’s learning how this works or has any inclination of learning how it works. I raised this same criticism during the campaign: my problem with Trump was less that he was ignorant about government but that he showed no inclination to learn. And we’re still seeing that he has no inclination to learn.

And it also exposes, yet again, the hypocrisy of at least half the criticism of Obama over the last eight years. If half of this stuff had happened under Obama, the Right Wing would be foaming at the mouth about how he was turning his back on our allies and undoing seven decades of building a functional peaceful prosperous international order.

(The hypocrisy goes way beyond that, of course. We heard for years about Obama’s expensive trips but now hear nothing about Trump spending twice as much to go to Mar-A-Lago every weekend. Ivanka is getting a security clearance and an office despite not having a position; you can imagine the fury if Chelsea had done the same. Pundits raged about Obama’s golfing and have nothing to say on Trump’s golfing. These things didn’t matter so much to me — any time a President spends on a golf course is time he’s not spending interfering with our lives. But some consistency … any consistency .. would be nice.)

First Return Out

So Rachel Maddow had a HUGE announcement tonight that she had secured two pages of one of Trump’s tax returns, apparently leaked to MSNBC in violation of federal law. I didn’t watch her broadcast since I have a low tolerance for her smugness. I knew how it would go: twenty minutes of connect-the-dots condescending intro, a dud of a revelation and back-patting for the remainder. Well, I was right:

Donald Trump earned more than $150 million in the year 2005—and paid just a small percentage of that in regular federal income taxes. Daily Beast contributor David Cay Johnston has obtained what appear to be the first two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal income tax return, and published an analysis of those pages on his website, DCReport.org. The Daily Beast could not independently verify these documents.

The documents show Trump and his wife Melania paying $5.3 million in regular federal income tax—a rate of less than 4% However, the Trumps paid an additional $31 million in the “alternative minimum tax,” or AMT. Trump has previously called for the elimination of this tax.

This is less than a nothingburger. This almost makes Trump look good. So much so that almost everyone in my feeds think that Trump himself was the source of the leak (the White House responded almost instantaneously to the report). 2005 was the last year Trump has a big business deal, selling off two of his assets. It was also before several sources insist he became entangled with Russian interests.

A large segment of the Left, having realize what a dud this was, are now praising Maddow for “keeping the issue at the forefront”. Pfft. The issue was never a big deal for Trump’s supporters. I think we can now make the argument that Trump should release all of his tax returns. But that argument has not changed.