By MR Josse
TAMPA, FL: The new year has opened on an uncertain note. As much is underscored by futile ongoing negotiations over ending the partial shutdown of government – in its third week – sparked by President Donald Trump’s demand for $ 5.7 billion for funding for building a border wall with Mexico.
Democrats, now in control of the House, have avowed they would not agree to any funding while the White House insists that nothing less will do, although some Republicans have already started calling for ending the government shutdown.
Trump is now focused on his re-election. This has triggered equal and opposite reactions in the Democratic party, where a cluster of presidential hopefuls have openly declared their intent to run. The party is currently divided on a separate but related issue: whether a woman can beat Trump in the election.
The impeachment question has – no surprises – surfaced prominently, with New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, for one, arguing in a forceful write-up that Trump is demonstrably unfit for office and must go. He alleges that the president has been violating his oath of office – the core promise of which is for him “to preserve, protect and defend” the constitution of the United States – virtually since the day he assumed power.
However, Leonhardt explains – very credibly – that a hasty impeachment campaign by the Democrats could backfire, strengthening Trump’s political base and boosting his 2020 election prospect. He believes that the most effective way forward would be for them to ensure Trump’s electoral defeat in 2020.
Meanwhile, not a little flutter was created when Mitt Romney, a Republican nominee for the 2012 presidential election and now a freshman Utah senator, wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post entitled, ‘America needs a president who will pull us together’, bluntly concluding, therein: “Trump’s words and action have caused dismay around the world.”
As news reports have it, at his very first cabinet meeting in 2019, Trump said he “essentially” fired defense secretary James Mattis after he underperformed in Afghanistan.
He was, no doubt, attempting to put a brave face to the detonation of negative comments following his highly controversial surprise decision to peremptorily pull out American troops from Syria – the hot-button subject over which the greatly-respected Mattis resigned.
Speaking of Afghanistan, I was taken aback to read, in the Tampa Bay Times, that Trump, at the aforementioned cabinet meeting, described the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan of 1979, thus:
“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia…They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight.” That flies in the face of conservative American foreign policy doctrine dating back to President Ronald Reagan who viewed the invasion as an attempt to spread communism and aided insurgent forces fighting the Soviet troops.
No wonder, then, that a statement from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office reminded that the battle against the Soviets was “a national uprising for giving freedom”, noting, too, that the Soviet invasion was condemned by the United Nations and the United States, at the time.
All of which brings me to Bob Woodward’s explosive ‘FEAR: Trump in the White House’ (Simon & Shuster, New York, 2018), which I’m half-way through, at this writing. Woodward’s absorbing, interview-clogged book is chock-a-block with quotable quotes, reportedly telling it as it is, including with a shower of expletives by the principals.
“Trump was one of the most outspoken foes of the 16-year-old Afghanistan War…Trump was now saying that Afghanistan was Vietnam, a quagmire with no clear national security purpose, the latest example of incoherence of American policy…But this president’s goal was to get out…
“We’ve got to figure out how to get the f… out of there. Totally corrupt. The people are now worth fighting for…NATO does nothing. There’s a hindrance. Don’t let anybody tell you how great they are. It’s all bullshit.”
Against the backdrop of Trump’s recent public decision to quickly pull out 7,000 American troops from Afghanistan, my sense that all U.S. troop would be withdrawn before the year ends has been reinforced.
There are other glittering nuggets of information to examine, including from Trump’s following comments: “Prime Minister Modi of India is a friend of mine…He told me the U.S. has gotten noting out of Afghanistan. Nothing. Afghanistan has massive mineral wealth. We don’t take it like others – like China…I’m not making a deal on anything until we get the minerals.”
The book, among other things, provides considerable illumination on why Trump made his first international visit to Riyadh – under advisement by his son-in-law Jared Kushner who thought that such a move would go a long way in signaling that the Trump administration has new priorities.
“A summit in Saudi Arabia would also benefit Israel. The Saudis and Israelis, both longtime foes of Iran had both open and backchannel relations…Kushner had important and reliable intelligence that the key to Saudi Arabia was the (then) deputy crown prince, the charismatic 31-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS. The son of the Saudi King, MBS was also defense minister, a key position for launching pad for influence in the Kingdom. MBS had vision, energy. He was charming and spoke of bold, modernizing reforms…”
Kushner also got MBS, on a visit to Washington, to lunch with Trump at the White House – something that was “simply not supposed to be done” in protocol terms.
There’ll be more to write about on the book, in my next piece.
Concluding, I’d like to refer to this memorable quote from Harold Brown, former secretary of defense under President Carter, following his recent death at the age of 91:
“I believe that in the age of mutual deterrence – and we are still in the age of mutual deterrence – the superpowers will behave the way hedgehogs make love. That is, carefully.”
Uncertain, chaotic start to 2019 and potent revelations
By MR Josse