The Actual Job

Here it is, ten days into August, of the summer the year before the 2016 election, and America is deciding whether Donald Trump is a misogynist pig or whether Megyn Kelly owes him an apology because he’s the “pure” one – or so says the man who says his own daughter is so hot he’d date her, if she wasn’t his daughter. Imagine him then pausing for effect – he’s a stud. And how does he feel about women? He’s on record as having said “you have to treat them like shit” – but then he treats everyone like shit. That’s why the Republican base loves him. They hate what has been happening to “their country” and everyone in power who got us to where we are – so when he treats even the other Republican candidates like shit, and then even Fox News like shit, they’re happy. They’re all fools, and he’s smart, and he’s rich – very, very rich. If the Republican convention were tomorrow he’d be the Republican nominee – but the convention is next summer. By that time, perhaps, most Republicans will have figured out none of this has anything to do with being president – or not. But this man has no policy positions at all. If elected, what would he do? No one knows.

This came up in 2011:

After weeks of keeping his thoughts about Donald Trump largely to himself, President Obama on Saturday night ridiculed the real estate magnate in front of a live televised audience at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington, D.C.

As Trump and wife Melania sat among the guests gathered at the Washington Hilton, Obama poked fun at Trump’s reality show, said Trump lacked the “credentials” to be president, and mocked the businessman’s recent crusade to get Obama to release his long-form birth certificate.

“I know that he’s taken some flack lately,” Obama said of Trump. “But no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald.”

But then the president quickly changed gears. “And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like – did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?” Obama said, referencing rap icons Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.

And then Obama twisted the knife:

Obama then chose to reference a recent episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” that featured Trump, the star of the program, firing actor Gary Busey instead of singer Meatloaf and rapper Lil Jon in an Omaha Steak challenge. “And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night,” Obama said as the audience roared with laughter and applause. “Well handled, sir. Well handled.”

What no one knew at the time was that the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was getting underway – Obama has just come from the Situation Room and would go right back. Presidents have other things on their minds – terrorism, war and peace, life and death, and now, with Iran, the spread of nuclear weapons, and the possibility of regional nuclear war in the Middle East, or global thermonuclear war if everything goes wrong. That’s the job. Let Donald Trump call Megyn Kelly a useless bimbo, and then defend himself when others call him an arrogant prick. Who cares? Just don’t let him near the actual job. He hasn’t a clue.

The actual job really is hard:

President Obama took on critics of the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers in an aggressive speech on Wednesday, saying they were the same people who created the “drumbeat of war” and played on public fears to push the United States into the Iraq war more than a decade ago.

“Let’s not mince words: The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some form of war – maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon,” Mr. Obama told about 200 people in a speech at American University. “How can we in good conscience justify war before we’ve tested a diplomatic agreement that achieves our objectives?”

He wants them to back the deal:

Delivered in stark terms that surprised some foreign policy analysts and left no room for questioning whether the agreement is good for American security – “It’s not even close,” Mr. Obama declared at one point — the president’s speech was a striking display of certitude about a diplomatic deal that has split the American public and presented a dilemma for lawmakers, including many in his own party.

Mr. Obama criticized Republicans who are pressing forward with legislation to block the accord, which is on track for a vote in September. Opposition to the agreement, he said, stems from “knee-jerk partisanship that has become all too familiar, rhetoric that renders every decision made to be a disaster, a surrender.”

He said hard-liners in Iran who chant “Death to America” were “making common cause with the Republican caucus.”

Maybe he shouldn’t have said that:

Lawmakers who oppose the deal said they were not persuaded, and some said they resented the president’s tone. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said the speech had done a disservice to lawmakers in both parties who “have serious and heartfelt concerns.”

Their feelings were hurt, not that it mattered:

Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations, said that Mr. Obama’s speech seemed intended to leave no doubt “that those who oppose it are either uninformed or, in the case of the Iraq war comparison, recklessly marching to the next war in the Middle East.”

Mr. Miller called the speech a “stunning” show of boldness by a president who feels empowered in the final stages of his presidency to pursue an accord he believes could be transformational.

That is the actual job, and five days later it was this:

While President Barack Obama is in Martha’s Vineyard, 22 House Democrats are in Israel being lobbied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to oppose the Iran deal. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, speaking in Israel with CNN on Monday, said he still hasn’t made up his mind on the deal – and neither have the 21 other House Democrats on the trip – but that he believes the President could have negotiated a better deal and conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reinforced concerns he has.

“I intend to go back and spend a week with my family, but after that to give this very careful consideration, because I think it’s one of the more important decisions that I will be asked to make as a member of Congress,” Hoyer said.

That may be for show:

Despite the undecided Democrats on the trip and the high-profile opposition of the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, Chuck Schumer, announced last week, the President can still probably breathe easy on his vacation when it comes to the votes needed to on his legacy-sealing agreement curbing Tehran’s nuclear program.

If all House Republicans voted to override the veto, they’d still need to convince 44 Democrats to join the effort to succeed. As of Monday, nine have officially said they would vote no, and 146 voting House Democrats out of the 188-member caucus signed a letter in May supporting the Iran negotiations before a deal was reached. None of those signatories have yet come out against the deal. In the Senate, a united GOP would need six Democrats to clear a procedural hurdle and 13 to override a veto, and only Schumer has publicly said he would oppose the deal.

On Monday, Obama picked up another Democratic supporter when Sen. Brian Schatz came out in support of the deal. The Hawaii Democrat put out a statement extolling the deal and the impediments it places on Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

Chuck Schumer was the only defector:

Though Schumer was also largely expected to oppose the deal, as the powerful Jewish lawmaker from New York has a strong constituency that is against it, his detailed and public announcement on the eve of the first Republican debate last Thursday caught some Democrats off guard. They had expected Schumer to wait until much closer to a vote on the bill when lawmakers return in September to make his opposition official. On Monday, Schumer made his first public remarks since the announcement, calling it one of the hardest decisions he’s wrestled with.

Kevin Drum doesn’t think so:

He announced just as Congress was going into recess.

This means he has a good excuse for not twisting arms over the next few weeks, but can still meet with donors and voters without having lots of awkward discussions about why he hasn’t come out against the deal.

He also waited until Democratic support for the deal was nearly airtight. At this point, Schumer would have to persuade virtually every undecided Dem to vote No in order to kill the deal.

And just for good measure, he made a low-key announcement on the same day that the big Republican debate dominated the news cycle.

To me, this has the smell of someone who wants to oppose the deal, but doesn’t really want to kill it. Schumer will go through the motions when Congress reconvenes, but I suspect he won’t be trying all that hard to undermine support for a deal negotiated by his party’s president. Far from taking this as bad news, I’d say it’s a very good sign that the Iran deal will survive when it goes to Congress.

It will. The Republicans won’t have the votes to override Obama’s veto. The carefully negotiated multi-nation deal will stand. Could Donald Trump have done anything like this? But he did fire Gary Busey.

Is this a good deal? Some think so:

Twenty-nine of the nation’s top scientists – including Nobel laureates, veteran makers of nuclear arms and former White House science advisers – wrote to President Obama on Saturday to praise the Iran deal, calling it innovative and stringent. The letter, from some of the world’s most knowledgeable experts in the fields of nuclear weapons and arms control, arrives as Mr. Obama is lobbying Congress, the American public and the nation’s allies to support the agreement. …

The first signature on the letter is from Richard L. Garwin, a physicist who helped design the world’s first hydrogen bomb and has long advised Washington on nuclear weapons and arms control. He is among the last living physicists who helped usher in the nuclear age. Also signing is Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford professor who, from 1986 to 1997, directed the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico, the birthplace of the bomb. The facility produced designs for most of the arms now in the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Other prominent signatories include Freeman Dyson of Princeton, Sidney Drell of Stanford and Rush D. Holt, a physicist and former member of Congress who now leads the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society.

Most of the 29 who signed the letter are physicists, and many of them have held what the government calls Q clearances – granting access to a special category of secret information that bears on the design of nuclear arms and is considered equivalent to the military’s top secret security clearance.

They think this does the job:

The body of the letter praises the technical features of the Iran accord and offers tacit rebuttals to recent criticisms on such issues as verification and provisions for investigating what specialists see as evidence of Iran’s past research on nuclear arms. It also focuses on whether Iran could use the accord as diplomatic cover to pursue nuclear weapons in secret.

The deal’s plan for resolving disputes, the letter says, greatly mitigates “concerns about clandestine activities.” It hails the 24-day cap on Iranian delays to site investigations as “unprecedented,” adding that the agreement “will allow effective challenge inspection for the suspected activities of greatest concern.”

It also welcomes as without precedent the deal’s explicit banning of research on nuclear weapons “rather than only their manufacture,” as established in the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, the top arms-control agreement of the nuclear age.

They think this was an amazing bit of negotiating, but others disagree:

A group of Iraq war veterans is launching a million-dollar effort to oppose President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, trying to counter the president’s argument that those who are against the deal are in favor of war. …

The group, Veterans Against the Deal, was founded last month as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, and it does not disclose its donors. Its national campaign starts today, including television ads in states whose members of Congress are undecided on the Iran deal. Lawmakers will vote on it in September.

The first of the group’s videos features retired staff sergeant Robert Bartlett, who was badly injured by an Iranian bomb while serving in Iraq in 2005. “Every politician who is involved in this will be held accountable, they will have blood on their hands,” he says in the ad. “A vote for this deal means more money for Iranian terrorism. What do you think they are going to do when they get more money?”

They have nothing to say about whether Iran gets the bomb or not. This is about lifting sanctions. Iran will have a ton of money now. That’s the problem, and E. J. Dionne covers the Republicans’ issues with the deal:

If you wondered why President Obama gave such a passionate and, yes, partisan speech on behalf of the Iran nuclear deal Wednesday, all you had to do was tune in to the Republican presidential debate the next night.

Anyone who still thinks the president has any chance of turning the opposition party his way after watching the candidates (or listening to Republicans in Congress) no doubt also believes fervently in Santa Claus. In fact, the case for Santa – made so powerfully in “Miracle on 34th Street” – is more plausible.

The candidates gathered together by Fox News in Cleveland suggested that the hardest decision the next president will face is whether killing Obamacare or voiding the Iran deal ought to be the first order of business. All who spoke on foreign policy sought to paint the “Obama-Clinton” international strategy as “failed” and “dangerous.”

We’ve been here before:

The president was not wrong when he said that “many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.” And in light of the language used by Cleveland’s Cavaliers of Unilateralism, it was useful that he reminded Americans of the run-up to the Iraq invasion, when “those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak – even appeasers of a malevolent adversary.”

Lest we forget, in September 2002, shortly before the midterm elections, Bush dismissed Democrats who called for U.N. support before American military action in Iraq. “If I were running for office,” Bush said, “I’m not sure how I’d explain to the American people – say, ‘Vote for me, and, oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I’m going to wait for somebody else to act.'” Now that’s partisan.

In foreign policy, the past isn’t even past because we have not resolved the debate over how to use American power that opened after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the most recent Gallup survey this June, Americans were as split as ever on whether the war in Iraq itself was a mistake: 51 percent said it was, 46 percent said it wasn’t. Among Democrats, 68 percent said it was mistaken; only 31 percent of Republicans did. Independents split much like the country as a whole.

Those who counsel Obama to be more conciliatory toward Republicans in defending an agreement that could block Iranian nuclear ambitions for at least a decade (and probably more) are nostalgic for a time when many Republicans supported negotiated settlements, saw containment policies as preferable to the aggressive rollback of adversaries, and were committed to building international alliances.

Such Republicans still exist, but there are not many of them left in Congress. And we should have enough respect for the party’s presidential candidates to believe that they mean what they are saying when, for example, one of them (Scott Walker) insists that “Iran is not a place we should be doing business with,” while another (Jeb Bush) declares that “we need to stop the Iran agreement, for sure, because the Iranian mullahs have … blood on their hands.”

This dispute cannot be resolved:

Obama is defending a long bipartisan tradition of negotiating even with adversaries we deeply and rightly mistrust, the prime example being the old Soviet Union. For now, the consensus across party lines in favor of such diplomacy is broken. Many of us would like to see it restored, but the evidence of Obama’s time in office is unambiguous: Friendly gestures won’t win over those determined to block his policies.

That’s why Hillary Clinton let it rip:

Hillary Rodham Clinton made her most forceful defense yet of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran on Monday, saying that “all bets are off” if Congress were to reject the deal and warning of the potential impact to America’s standing in the world.

“The Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, they’re going to say, ‘We stuck with the Americans. We agreed with the Americans. We hammered out this agreement. I guess their president can’t make foreign policy,'” Clinton said at a campaign stop in Manchester. “That’s a very bad signal to send in a quickly moving and oftentimes dangerous world.”

As Republicans warn that the deal could pave Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, Clinton noted how Iran was able to advance its program during the last Republican administration.

“When George W. Bush was president the Iranians mastered the nuclear fuel cycle,” she said. “They also build covert facilities and stocked them with centrifuges, and they were spinning away trying to get enough highly enriched uranium to be able to, if they so chose, to move toward a weapon. That’s what we inherited.”

She was secretary of state. She knew:

“I went to work immediately to persuade China and Russia and other powers to join with us with international sanctions, passed by the U.N. It was really hard to make the case to the Chinese and the Russians, but we did,” she said.

Clinton also said that if elected president, she will form a new coalition to target Iran’s other destabilizing activities. The Obama administration has criticized Iran for its support of terrorist groups and record on human rights.

“We have a lot of other challenges posed by Iran. But personally as your future president, I’d rather be dealing with those challenges knowing that we have slowed down and put a lid on their nuclear weapons programs,” she said.

What would Donald Trump do, fire somebody, or complain that some useless blond bimbo was picking on him? There are more serious people, like Andrew Bacevich – the expert of foreign policy and military history at Boston University, who used to teach at West Point, the formal Army Colonel (armored) whose son, also a career Army officer, died in Iraq. This guy knows a thing or two, and he sees what Obama is really up to here:

Hidden within the Iran deal are the seeds of a radical shift in United States policy in the Middle East, a shift that holds great promise while entailing equally large risks.

At least since 9/11 and arguably for two decades before that, two propositions have informed U.S. policy in the Mideast. The first is that U.S. interests there are best served by the United States establishing a position of unquestioned preeminence. The second is that military might, wielded unilaterally if necessary, holds the key to maintaining that dominant position. Call it the Big Enchilada policy, with attitude.

As implemented, however, that approach has yielded almost uniformly unfavorable results. Iraq and Afghanistan provide exhibits A and B, of course. But Libya, Somalia and Yemen don’t look much better. Even so, some hawkish types argue that trying a little harder militarily will produce better outcomes. Their ranks include a platoon of Republican presidential candidates vowing if elected to get tough on the ayatollahs.

Maybe they have to do that for political reasons, to win the base, or maybe they should be worried:

When Mike Huckabee accuses Obama of marching Israelis to “the door of the oven,” he’s actually signaling his fealty to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These days, to become a viable Republican candidate, this is just one of those things you have to do. It’s like promising to close down the IRS, prohibit abortions or repeal Obamacare. It’s nakedly cynical posturing. Yet in another sense, the hawks have every reason to be exercised by the implications of Obama’s Iran gambit. If successfully implemented, the agreement that terminates Iran’s nuclear program will also end Iran’s isolation, allowing it over time to resume its place as a major regional power.

This is a high-risk high-reward gamble:

Obama is gambling that the dynamics of Iranian domestic politics – a young population more desirous of enjoying the fruits of modernity than in pursuing a revolutionary Islamist agenda – will result in Iran choosing ultimately to play a responsible and stabilizing role rather than an irresponsible and destabilizing one.

Should that gamble pay off, the result may take the form of an ironic reprise of the Nixon Doctrine. In an effort to lower the U.S. profile after Vietnam, President Nixon had looked to the shah of Iran to bear the burden of policing the Persian Gulf. As Obama peers a decade or more down the road, he may glimpse Iran playing a comparable role by choosing order over disorder and prosperity over antagonism.

That’s the best case:

Rather than vainly seeking preeminence, U.S. policy could pursue a multilateral approach. Rather than engaging in continuous and futile wars, it could gather its strength and find more productive ways to expend its limited resources. Instead of our problem, the Middle East could become their problem.

The debate over Iran serves as a proxy for a far more fundamental question. The real issue is this: When it comes to the Middle East, will the United States persist in failure or will it try something different? This deal with Iran is the most prominent indication to date that Obama is serious about embracing the latter.

This, then, is a big deal:

The White House wants the president’s American University speech to be compared to one that President John F. Kennedy made there in 1963 when he proposed limits on nuclear testing. A better comparison just might be to President Ronald Reagan’s willingness in the 1980s to reach out to the leader of what Reagan himself called the Evil Empire. His partnership with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev changed history. It’s the possibility that Obama might accomplish something similar that has his critics so upset.

Of course they’re upset. Obama’s critics, each of these Republicans planning to follow him for their turn for four or eight years in the big job, the ultimate big job, don’t seem to understand what the actual job is – changing things for the better in a fundamental way. They just want the job, to have the job. The same might be said of the persistently prosaic Hillary Clinton. And then there’s Donald Trump. No one knows what he wants. But he really wants it. The world is about to get smaller.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to The Actual Job

  1. Rick says:

    My god, that was so cleansing!

    Yes, the reminder of that night in 2011 at the Correspondents’ Dinner, when Obama ruthlessly ridiculed Donald Trump on national TV over his hard decision on whether to fire Gary Busey or Meatloaf, and then went back into the White House Situation Room himself and fired Osama bin Laden. That was delicious, even if it was just another Trump story. I can’t seem to get enough of those.

    In fact, I just had to follow that link to Trump telling someone, presumably in reference to dealing with women, “You have to treat ’em like shit” — the someone being his friend Phillip Johnson, according to New York Magazine, who reportedly replied:

    “You’d make a good mafioso,” Johnson replied.

    “One of the greatest,” The Donald assured him.

    Which happens to echo Jon Stewart’s standard Donald Trump impersonation, making him sound like a don from one of New York’s famous “five families”.

    That same link (to The Daily Beast) says this:

    Trump “boasts about having poured a whole bottle of wine down Marie Brenner’s back after she wrote a story on him that he hated,” New York magazine reported in 1992. …

    In 1990, Brenner profiled Trump and then-wife Ivana for Vanity Fair, brutally detailing the dissolution of their marriage.

    “How can you say you love us? You don’t love us! You don’t even love yourself. You just love your money,” 12-year-old Donald Jr. told his father, according to Brenner’s profile.

    “What kind of son have I created?” Trump’s mother, Mary, reportedly asked Ivana.

    His own mother! But back to the cleansing.

    It’s mostly in hearing all these discussions of policy matters, such as the pros and cons of the Iran deal, that no one could ever imagine any of the Republican contenders intelligently engaging in. Listening to all this, after weeks of immersion into the dark world of Republican partisan politics, is like a return to civilization after spending too much time in some ruthless third-world country, where truth and rationality and human decency have absolutely no currency.

    And so it’s not just Donald Trump. In fact, as Paul Krugman suggested in his Monday column, maybe one reason we’re all spending so much time talking about Trump is that none of the rest of the pack, as demonstrated by their performances at last week’s debate, has virtually anything to say:

    Well, there were 19 references to God, while the economy rated only 10 mentions. Republicans in Congress have voted dozens of times to repeal all or part of Obamacare, but the candidates only named President Obama’s signature policy nine times over the course of two hours. And energy, another erstwhile G.O.P. favorite, came up only four times. …

    And there was a good reason they seemed so tongue-tied: Out there in the real world, none of the disasters their party predicted have actually come to pass. President Obama just keeps failing to fail. And that’s a big problem for the G.O.P. — even bigger than Donald Trump.

    Krugman may be overstating that problem. It’s only a real problem for the GOP if most people understand it to be true, or even care about it, but it still has to be a blaring embarrassment to the eighty-something-percent of Republicans that don’t support him that their presidential front-runner is a lounge-lizard.

    That party truly is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

    Rick

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