Saturday, October 21, 2017

Coup who?

Giraffe, Air Mountain, Niger via African Rock Art.

Masha Gessen's New Yorker article noting the resemblances between General John Kelly's speech style and the language of the military coup:
Before walking off the stage, Kelly told Americans who haven’t served in the military that he pities them. “We don’t look down upon those of you who haven’t served,” he said. “In fact, in a way we are a little bit sorry because you’ll have never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our servicemen and women do—not for any other reason than that they love this country.”
You know who in particular that applies to, right? The guy with the heel spurs, from which he may still suffer, judging from the style in which he exercises, riding his little golf cart from fairway to hole to fairway, getting on foot only those 36 times to make his brief gestures with the clubs and then climbing back in. I'll never forget that golf cart ride he took in Taormina last spring while the rest of the G-7 leaders were walking uphill 700 yards to the town piazza (The Hill notes that he did join them on the way back down).

Why would General Kelly be publicly humiliating the president that way?

What was the point of that pantomime of limiting questions to reporters from "Gold Star families" or their friends—

So I’m willing to take a question or two on this topic. Let me ask you this: Is anyone here a Gold Star parent or sibling? Does anyone here know a Gold Star parent or sibling?
O.K., you get the question.
—at a press conference specifically called to proclaim that the draft evading president was in the right, and the congresswoman, mentor and personal friend of the Sgt. La David Johnson who was just killed under somewhat unexplained circumstances in Niger a couple of weeks ago, was in the wrong? Maybe he was so concerned with making the journalists feel bad that he wasn't even thinking about what that said on the comparison between Donald Trump and Rep. Frederica Wilson—that if they were journalists he'd be taking Wilson's question and stiffing the president. Has anybody but me even noticed it?

I'm not too refined to mention, for my own cred, that I've known some of those Gold Star parents or siblings, and especially remember hitchhiking 200 miles with my best friend to visit his mother in Staten Island after her other son was killed in Vietnam, so I guess General Kelly would have to answer me if I wanted to ask him a question. I've never met a vet from that era, by the way, who disrespected me for being an open draft dodger as opposed to a sneaky one like our president, and I've never felt like spitting on one of them either. (Hippies, as I was saying over at Roy's the other day, never spat on Vietnam vets—why would you want to spit on somebody who might be carrying some Thai stick? It was the small-minded, fearful schmucks of the bourgeoisie who spat on them, by refusing to give them jobs, after seeing too many movies where the Vietnam vet goes nuts.) Oops, do I sound a little angry?

Also Air Mountain, Libyan warrior with round head and face, wearing four feathers and dangling earrings on head, breeches and decorated vest, hands raised, one holding two javelins with metal heads.

Anyway, when Gessen refers to the coup as a "nightmare scenario" of which Kelly's press conference could be a "preview", I think she's missing the possibility that it might have already taken place, which is the kind of thing I've been thinking about a lot since Kelly took over the White House chief of staff position in August, with the more or less express mission of keeping the president isolated, trying (hopelessly) to separate him from his usual sources of information and (with somewhat more success) to stop him from interfering with the operations of not just the military, who are clearly under military control in the form of General Mattis, but also Trump's new enemies Sessions and Tillerson, as Trump grinds his teeth in impotent rage.

When Gessen thinks of coups I wonder if she's thinking classical coups where the emperor gets murdered by the palace guard, or put under arrest, or shipped to the UAE. The coup she knows from personal experience was a soft and squishy one, in the Soviet Union of the Brezhnev stagnation, where a doddering emperor stumbled through the motions of rule while the power was held and wielded by out-of-control government-departments satrapies, especially the basically autonomous military, which virtually ate the economy with its relentless demands while the wider public remained hypnotized with May Day parades and mawkish movie memories of Stalingrad and the widows of 1942.

That's the kind of uncoordinated departmental dictatorship we can see in the way Chad got senselessly pasted by State into the #MuslimBan 3.0, the rightfully pissed off Chadian troops left Niger, and four Americans got killed for no apparent reason by people who likely didn't even know there were Americans there:

Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rudy Atallah, the man Trump nearly hired as his National Security Council's’ senior director for Africa, said that Niger is a difficult posting for U.S. service members due to the lack of communication between their camps, the Nigerien military, and the civilians they are purportedly there to help protect. “We don’t have very good intelligence information on what the threat looks like or how it’s growing and [U.S. troops] don’t have the support of local population,” Atallah said. “Our folks don’t spend a lot of time gripping and grinning with the locals, and the locals don’t know what our guys are doing.”... While nailing down the motivation behind the assault will be difficult, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if the attackers thought they were only attacking Nigerien troops.
Trump himself certainly knows nothing whatever about what US troops are doing anywhere in Africa west of Somalia, if that—one reason why it took him almost two weeks to mention that incident in public is that it hasn't been reported on Fox News, and he pays no attention to his briefings, and so it hasn't become real to him yet. It's another sense in which he really isn't president.

Then there was yesterday's mysterious executive order allowing the armed forces to get rid of various restrictions against calling retired military back into service,
in furtherance of the objectives of Proclamation 7463… which declared a national emergency by reason of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Good gods, I thought, they're going to pull Petraeus and Flynn out of their criminal careers and put them in charge of the Pentagon! But Salon (from which the quote there is taken—with the old computer I could hardly stand visiting their memory-eating website, and it's nice being able to go there again!) says it's not that: it's really about Air Force pilots:
the Air Force has been particularly crucial in military operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, the Air Force has had a pilot shortage brewing for over a decade. In September 2017, military leaders interviewed by United Press International (UPI) that the military was in a crisis. “We're 1,500 pilots short, and if we don't find a way to turn this around, our ability to defend the nation is compromised,” Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff, told UPI. Likewise, a report by the RAND corporation, a think tank, stated that the shortage was partially because “employment opportunities are excellent in the private sector.”
But it's also, nota bene, an affirmation that the state of emergency declared 16 years ago is still in effect; a time when you can expect the normal constitutional niceties not to apply with the usual strictness. Usually when there's a traditional coup the colonels come out to announce a state of emergency; but in the postmodern style, they get the president (he may cause a lot of trouble with his inability to learn anything or follow a script, and his out-of-turn outbursts, but they can count on him to sign anything and feel pleased with himself for doing it) to agree with a statement that the national emergency we all forgot about isn't over yet.

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