Thursday, July 6, 2017

Copernicus—Think of that!

Something very funky about that Krasinski Square setting, chosen, some thought, because it's a lot smaller than the Zamkowy Square where Obama addressed enraptured crowds in 2014, and easier to fill up with President Duda's bussed-in supporters. But looks a lot like a postmodern staging of a Wagner opera. Reuters photo via New York Daily News.

The Emperor discusses his plans for North Korea in response to its test of what seems to have been an ICBM that could carry a nuclear weapon to Alaska or Hawaii if they could make one small enough to fit it, which they apparently will one of these days if things go on the way they do:
“I have some pretty severe things we’re thinking about," Trump said at a news conference in Warsaw. "Doesn’t mean we’re going to do them. I don’t draw red lines."
"It’s a shame they’re behaving this way and they’re behaving in a very dangerous manner, and something will have to be done about it," Trump said.
He has no idea what he's doing because Mattis hasn't told him yet; perhaps the Secretary thought it would be more prudent to wait until after the Putin meeting, since, as we know, Trump can't be trusted to keep information to himself.

Also he thinks he doesn't draw red lines but he drew one just last week, the very same as the old Obama red line that he has mocked so much:

Syria Will ‘Pay a Heavy Price’ for Another Chemical Attack, White House Says
Though it's not clear what threat he thought he was addressing, and the intelligence services sounded like Sean Spicer trying to bluff himself through another tweetstorm:
Brian Hale, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, referred questions to the White House. Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said, “We are letting the statement speak for itself.”
When Mattis managed to talk about it two days later, it was to report that the threat or imaginary threat as the case may be (Mattis refused to clarify whether it existed or not), had vanished in the face of the Emperor's decisive and resolute non-red-line-drawing.
"They didn't do it," Mattis told reporters on his plane as they flew from Germany to Belgium. "It appears they took the warning seriously."
Mattis would not confirm or discuss on-the-record statements by a Pentagon spokesman that the U.S. had observed the movement of chemical munitions at the Shayrat airfield, the same airfield from which a Syrian warplane dropped deadly sarin nerve gas on civilians April 4. 
Victory! A victory, I think, at any rate in Trump's mind, not so much in Syria as in the pages of the Failing New York Times, and less over the Assad regime than over Barack Obama.

It's interesting to note that in his Warsaw speech Trump did manage at last to read the statement affirming Article 5 of the NATO treaty
I would point out that the United States has demonstrated not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment. 
—but that's not quite true: it's all the other countries that demonstrated it with actions, when the US asked them to in September 2001, but nobody else has ever asked, so the US has never really had the chance.

The speechwriters gave him an entire history lesson to read on Poland, which I suppose must have gratified the audience, even giving a shoutout to Copernicus ("think of that!" the president interpolated, apparently startled to realize that he himself had personally heard of somebody from Poland) and Chopin. Then he moved on to the three grave menaces that threaten Poland and the United States and our "entire way of life": (1) radical Islamic terrorism; (2) "powers that seek to test our will", as represented by Russia's "destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere", and its "support for hostile regimes—including Syria and Iran"; and not least (3)
yet another danger -- one firmly within our control. This danger is invisible to some but familiar to the Poles: the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people. The West became great not because of paperwork and regulations but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.
I'd think if it's firmly within our control then it isn't all that dangerous, but that could merely be bad writing. The expression "hostile regimes" is funny—I mean, they're not hostile to Russia, are they?

The denunciation of Russia—he also invited it to "join the community of responsible nations"—is really very remarkable, in that it's something like the first time he's managed to make himself do it (in his NATO speech in Brussels in May it got exactly three words, "threats from Russia"). The Financial Times delicately says "one of his few criticisms of Moscow," and The Atlantic calls these "his strongest remarks yet against the regime of Vladimir Putin" but Dr. Google doesn't give me any sense of what other ones they could be referring to.

Clearly this is meant to gratify the Poles, who are meant to be more capable of appreciating Trump than the snobby West Europeans (same as Donald Rumsfeld distinguishing sucky "Old Europe" from neoconservative "New Europe"—too bad he couldn't just go to Hungary to hang with an openly Russophile fascist government). But it must be disconcerting to Vladimir Vladimirovich looking forward to their little sitdown to hear himself being put in the same basket as scum of the earth like terrorists and regulatory authorities, or maybe not.

On the other hand, he is still unable, as if it were a physical problem, to bring himself to say that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential elections, as The Guardian reported:
“I’ve said it very simply. I think it could very well have been Russia. I think it could well have been other countries. I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere,” Trump said. “Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”
And again brought up the case of the lead-up to the Iraq War:
“How everybody was 100% sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Guess what – that led to one big mess.”
Which is infuriating as ever, because in the first place it's just not the case—
Thirteen years ago, the intelligence community concluded in a 93-page classified document used to justify the invasion of Iraq that it lacked "specific information" on "many key aspects" of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.... Congress eventually concluded that the Bush administration had "overstated" its dire warnings about the Iraqi threat, and that the administration's claims about Iraq's WMD program were "not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting."
Nobody in a position to know—to say nothing of all us hippies—was 100% sure, and those who said they were were lying or stupid. Even Tony Blair, Sir John Chilcot testifies in today's Guardian, was not "straight with the nation", though Chilcot insists he was "emotionally truthful" (I typed "truthy").

And in the second place because there's a profound difference between the question they were dealing with in 2002, as to how likely it was that some group of Iraqis might be committing a crime or about to commit one at some point in the near future, as opposed to 2016, when the crime had already been discovered and the fingerprints of Fancy Bear were all over it.

And then there's that bizarre pivot to tacit admission that it did happen and Russians did it so he can blame it on Obama:
“My big question is, why did Obama do nothing about it from August until November?” Trump said. “They say he choked. Well, I don’t think he choked. I think he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and he said: ‘Let’s not do anything about it.”’

Guess I have to agree that Obama didn't do enough (though we now know Obama successfully ordered Putin to knock it off in their closed-door Hangzhou meeting of September 5). In hindsight.

He's screwing up the trip, of course, in all the usual ways. Compounding his remarkable list of failures to do Jewish things, the scrapping of the annual White House Passover seder, the 15-minute romp through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem ("It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends — so amazing and will never forget!") and skipping the Masada Fortress when the authorities couldn't deliver him there by helicopter, he didn't make the requisite pilgrimage to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial, to a good deal of anger and surprise. Then, in the press conference, the Polish authorities decided to whisk him away after less than half an hour, perhaps because he seemed confused as he wobbled from position to position on Russians and hacking:

He did that wandering away and looking dazed thing again too, just after the speech (via ExpatGirl at Kos):

I don't think he's fully in charge of anything, which is obviously not a bad thing in many respects, except Congress isn't functioning either (except for the investigations of the Russian connection). Nobody elected seems to be running anything: Mattis is pretty well running security and foreign policy on his own (Tillerson at State does nothing but fire people as if aiming to prevent it from working), and Pruitt at EPA has been an unquestioned monarch, though a court has finally intervened in one of his worst plans (trying to halt regulation of methane leaks), and there may be much more judicial action on that front thanks to New York's attorney general Eric Schneiderman and colleagues, and other fronts as well. It's just awful, but it's not sustainable. Something different is going to happen.

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