The Woman in the Shadows

Summer began with another day of Trump news. Not only had he had a bad three weeks of blurting out offensive nonsense, ignoring easy opportunities to hammer Hillary Clinton a bit, resulting in the worst polls numbers anyone had ever seen for any presidential candidate in history, that led to a bit of what seemed like panic. The headline was this – Donald Trump Parts Ways With Corey Lewandowski, His Campaign Manager – and Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine had the inside story – After Months of Loyalty, Trump Finally Decided to Fire His Campaign Manager After a Bad Answer at a Meeting – who was mad at whom, and why, as if it mattered. The wheels were coming off.

Jamelle Bouie at Slate offered this – There Is No Donald Trump Campaign – detailed reporting on how they never even had much of a staff or really much of a plan. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo said that the real news was that Trump is broke – in spite of what he has claimed, he doesn’t have the liquid assets to fund even a tiny part of anything like a normal campaign, and he refuses to ask donors for money, because that would be to admit he doesn’t have much in the way of liquid assets – it was all a lie.

It was chaos, but one could make some sort of lemonade from these sour lemons:

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said that Donald Trump firing campaign manager Corey Lewandowsky was a pivot in the right direction, and the type of “professionalization” will make Trump competitive against Hillary Clinton.

“There was a lot of loyalty but I think you get to the point where you say, look, we’ve got the presidency of the United States on the line. I think this pivot, this seriousness that you’re seeing right now, I think everyone should look at this and say ‘This is good.'”

Priebus also said that Paul Manafort, who will assume Lewandowski’s duties, is a “pro.”

Reince Priebus expects seriousness from Donald Trump, suddenly, starting now. We’ll see a whole new Donald Trump. What does Jakes Barnes say to Lady Brett Ashley at the end of The Sun Also Rises as absolutely everything has finally fallen apart? Isn’t it pretty to think so? Reince Priebus should re-read that novel of the famous Lost Generation – that’s what he’s looking at now.

Fred Hiatt probably has it right. It could be that Trump really doesn’t want to be president:

Last hope for the Republicans: Declare Donald Trump the winner at the convention in Cleveland next month, and then persuade him to go home.

This admittedly would be a delicate maneuver. Nothing like it has happened before. It could work, though, if, as many have believed all along, Trump does not really want to be president.

He wants to be elected, sure, but does he want to serve? He wants to be respected as the champion, but does he want the prize? If this were a beauty pageant, Trump would want the crown and the adoration but not the mandatory year of appearances at charity events and visits to the troops.

Just face the facts:

He seems to have no interest in doing the things that most candidates, and up until now all presidents, have had to do. Listen to advisers, for example. Have advisers. Read policy papers. Read anything but his own reviews.

Certainly there seems to be nothing that he particularly believes in as he campaigns for the White House. This is a man who admires Hillary Clinton one year, and considers her crooked the next; swears fealty to the National Rifle Association one month, and challenges its dogma the next; wants to punish women who have abortions one hour, and pardons them the next.

He believes in Trump. But is it fair or logical to force him to attend four years of NATO summit meetings just to have his faith in himself vindicated?

There’s an obvious solution to all this:

Anyone who has watched the candidate at a rally understands that what this campaign has really brought Trump is what he craves most: an audience. Finally, after years of feeling that his wisdom and humor were not receiving their due, Trump has people listening to him hour after hour, day after day, millions upon millions.

The GOP would have to crown Trump not just the winner, but also the Greatest Winner in the Land. The Winner in Chief! The Champion to End All Champions!

And then it would have to find some way to guarantee him an audience for the next four years. Partly that might just involve showing him the ratings for the president’s Saturday morning radio address. Partly it might require giving him his own radio or television show. In fact, Rupert Murdoch might have to give him a television network.

It would require, in other words, some sacrifices all around. It would not be easy to pull off. But it seems worth a try. Looked at from the point of view of Trump, the party and the nation, it would be a win-win-win.

That’s clever, and what Hiatt says of Trump rings true, and this cannot happen – the Republicans cannot make him an offer he can’t refuse and send him packing. They have no one else waiting in the wings. And it’s also maddening, because this was another day of the nation talking about Donald Trump, not the alternative the Democrats are offering, the woman in the shadows, Hillary Clinton.

Remember her? Trump calls her Crooked Hillary, but the speech he was to give, where he would explain, in amazing detail, exactly why he calls her that never happened. It got preempted by events in Florida, the massacre in Orlando. He and Hillary had to address that, and they did, and Slate’s Fred Kaplan saw this:

The Republican, Donald Trump, proved himself an empty suit with a loud mouth, a set of dangerously shallow ideas, and an ego enormous enough to mistake them for wisdom. Hillary Clinton delivered a very different sort of speech. She was measured and thoughtful, unifying in places and aggressive in others, scrupulous about getting the analysis and the action right. You might call it a “presidential” address.

Kaplan did see a president here:

The widespread wisdom is that Clinton is a hawk. A recent headline in the New York Times Magazine blared, “How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk,” as if the question of whether she is one had long ago been settled. But there are many species of hawks. What kind is she? Compared with her predecessor and her rival, will Hillary’s brand of hawkishness make us safer or less secure – raise or reduce the odds of plunging us into war?

And are these the right questions, or in any case the only ones, to ask? During one of her first briefings on China as secretary of state, Clinton asked, to the surprise of everyone in the room, highly detailed questions about several dam projects that Beijing had begun – referring to them by name – and wanted to know how neighboring India was reacting to them. “She understood that water resources were a national-security issue in the region,” the briefer recalls.

It was a small moment, but it reveals something important about how Clinton sees the world, beyond the hawk-dove binary. It suggests that, in much the same way she sees domestic policy as a series of interlocking problems, Clinton takes a more expansive view than most hawks (or doves) of what “national security” entails.

She actually thinks of these things, although she may be a bit trigger-happy:

In the high-level debates over war and peace in Obama’s first term, when she served as secretary of state, Clinton almost always aligned herself with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his generals. She supported their case for sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan (Obama reluctantly approved 30,000 and then only with a pullout-date attached). She advocated keeping 10,000 troops in Iraq (Obama decided to bring them all home, in part because an agreement signed by George W. Bush required a total withdrawal). She sided with Gen. David Petraeus’ plan to arm “moderate” rebels in Syria (Obama rejected the idea, concluding it would have little effect on Bashar al-Assad’s regime or much else).

The only issue on which Clinton parted ways with the Pentagon was Libya, and in that case, she was more hawkish: she favored armed intervention to help resistance fighters who wound up toppling Muammar Qaddafi, while Gates and the top brass opposed getting involved. 

But then there’s this:

She launched the “reset” with Russia (which accomplished a great deal, in nuclear arms-reduction and counterterrorism policies, until Vladimir Putin resumed control of the Kremlin). She was a champion of international women’s rights and children’s welfare, seeing these causes as vital for development, diplomacy, and global stability. She grasped the gravity of climate change earlier than most senior officials.

Even in her support for sending arms to Syrian rebels, one of her more conventionally hawkish positions, she opposed still more aggressive proposals to deploy tens of thousands of U.S. troops as an occupying force. And while she called for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians, she linked the proposal to consultations with Russia, in order to minimize the risks of escalating conflict. (By contrast, some Republican presidential candidates who supported a no-fly zone salivated at the prospect of shooting down a Russian combat plane.) Similarly, on Libya, she called for armed intervention by a coalition, not by the United States alone.

So we get a bit of ambiguity:

It’s hard to predict how Hillary Clinton will act or make decisions when she’s the one who’s alone in the Oval Office. The calculations of a senator, or the arguments of a cabinet officer, are different from the deliberations of a commander-in-chief. Still, judging from the long record of her votes and recommendations, it’s fair to say that she is more hawkish than Obama – but less hawkish than, say, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, the neo-cons who surrounded President Bush, or nearly all the Republicans who ran for president this year, including Trump. Her stance lies somewhere in between the poles, though, in her case, that’s not the same as saying she’s middle-of-the-road.

“She’s not very shy about using military power,” says Kurt Campbell, her former assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, now chairman and CEO of the Asia Group. “Some Democrats talk about using the military as a last resort. That’s not a natural way for her to think.” To Clinton, military force is but one of several tools of national power, and her mode of thinking, he says, involves “welding or integrating all of them together.”

That means this:

A hallmark of President Obama’s thinking, dating back at least to his 2009 Nobel address, has been an acknowledgment of the limits of American power, especially in the post-Cold War era of global fragmentation. By contrast, Campbell says of Clinton, “The idea of ‘limits of American power’ – that’s not in her. She was not humble about American power. She was always about leadership, took it as a given and a guiding star.”

Another former State Department official who worked with Clinton says, “She is inclined to take action – not necessarily military action, but she believes American inaction can leave a power vacuum, which could make us less safe in the long run.”

This is a key distinction between Obama and Clinton. Obama’s recognition of the limits of power, and his reluctance to act just for the sake of acting, has kept the nation from doing (as he put it) “stupid shit.” But this trait has also sometimes made him appear ambivalent, an apt pose for a scholar-statesman but riskily indecisive for a president. Clinton’s confidence in American power may make her look more resolute as president – but it may also lead the nation more determinedly into war.

All that is hypothetical, but Kaplan saw how it became real in her response to Orlando:

In her speech in Cleveland on June 13, the day after the Orlando shootings, Clinton first noted that not all the facts were yet known about the shooter, Omar Mateen (was he inspired by ISIS or a troubled, violent homophobe who used jihadist social media as an excuse to vent his self-hatred?) and she invoked the fundamental unity and tolerance of American society. Then she laid out her plan for defeating ISIS. It involved “ramping up the air campaign” in Syria and Iraq, “accelerating support” for Arab and Kurdish soldiers on the ground, pressing ahead with the diplomatic efforts to settle sectarian political divisions, and “pushing our partners in the region to do even more,” not least pressuring the Saudis, Qataris, and Kuwaitis to stop funding extremist organizations. At home, she called for an “intelligence surge,” upping the budgets of intelligence and law enforcement agencies, improving their coordination on a local and federal level, working with Silicon Valley to track and analyze jihadist recruiters on social media networks, and working with responsible leaders in Muslim neighborhoods (rather than alienating them by suggesting – as Trump did, in his speech on the same day – that all American Muslims are somehow complicit in the actions of extremists).

Some of these proposals are new, especially the “intelligence surge,” and seem tailored to the evolving domestic threats. …

As for the military and diplomatic aspects of her plan, these are things Obama has been doing for some time. (I asked some of Clinton’s advisers to clarify what she meant by “ramping up the air campaign” and “accelerating support” for ground forces – where, by how much, to what end? – but responses were vague.) The fact is, nobody quite knows how to deal with an organization like ISIS in a region like the modern Middle East, where the jihadists’ most natural and most powerful enemies are unable to fight together because they fear and loathe one another more than they fear and loathe ISIS.

She and Obama seem to agree on that, that this is complicated, even if that other guy doesn’t think so:

Their common ground is highlighted by their common, stark contrast with Donald Trump. The “rules-based order” that Clinton and Obama both cherish holds no interest for Trump; nor does he seem to know anything about its history, its institutions, or its value to American security.

Trump has said that, as president, he would torture suspected terrorists and murder their families, reflecting an indifference or hostility to international law. His idea for beating ISIS is to “bomb the shit out of them” (not realizing, or perhaps caring, that ISIS fighters live among innocent civilians, whose killing by U.S. air power would rouse their friends and relatives into alliance with the jihadists), to ban all Muslims from entering our borders (unaware that this would energize jihadist propaganda), and – in his post-Orlando speech – to throw Muslim American citizens in jail if they don’t report their suspicious neighbors. Trump dismisses NATO as “obsolete” and says, with a shrug, that he’d abandon allies in Europe and Asia if they didn’t pony up more money for their defenses, even if our withdrawal would prompt them to develop their own nuclear arsenals. Yet he also believes that, all on his own, he can negotiate “great deals” – of what sort, he’s never specified – with Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. …

Trump is neither hawk nor dove, but rather some vague mutant hybrid – part isolationist, part international hoodlum – at once a byproduct and aggravator of the era’s teeming resentment, rage, and incipient global anarchy.

The woman that no one is talking about is none of that:

Clinton is less a hawk or a dove than a traditionalist, and a cautious one at that. Amid the exuberance of the Arab Spring and the street protests in Cairo, she advised against cutting off Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, fearing that his successors might be worse. Had she remained secretary of state in Obama’s second term, she probably wouldn’t have stretched out the ill-fated Israeli-Palestinian talks for as long as John Kerry did; yet she might also not have stuck so long with the Iran nuclear talks, which resulted in a remarkable deal that she now fully supports. On the occasions when she called for the use of force, she usually did so in the context of an alliance or coalition, and for the purpose of upholding a regional order rather than toppling one.

She is not Donald Trump, but then she did vote for the war in Iraq:

She has a genuinely strategic mind. Just as she sees the linkages between development and stability, water resources and national security, she understands that diplomatic pursuits require leverage and that leverage often entails a display (with an implied threat) of force. But Iraq stands as a case in point where strategic thinking of this sort can overcomplicate matters. Even aside from the errors in her assumptions (that Iraq had a WMD program and that Bush was really interested in using the Senate vote as a lever for diplomacy), she downplayed – perhaps evaded – the flip side of her calculations: What if Bush had tried to persuade Saddam to readmit the inspectors and Saddam still refused? Would that have been reason enough to invade? Given its risks and America’s competing priorities in the region, was war the wise course? Her vote – and her long delay in expressing regret for the vote – suggests that she thought it was. As president, would she exert leverage against some other nations, in an attempt to prod their leaders to accept her demands or alter their behavior -and take the slippery slide to war if they don’t?

Maybe not:

For instance, when it came to drone strikes, the Obama administration’s preferred instrument of military power, she was sometimes more cautious than the president, less prone to favor an attack. As a matter of protocol, when the CIA proposes secret drone strikes in a foreign country, the State Department is given a chance to weigh in. On the occasions when the U.S. ambassador in a country (usually Pakistan) advised that a strike’s location, timing or target would have politically disruptive consequences, Clinton opposed the attack. When David Petraeus was CIA director, he ceded to Clinton’s judgment in those cases and called the strike off. …

Finally, there’s the case of Obama’s most dramatic decision: the very high-level debate over whether to order the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. It was a question racked with dilemmas and uncertainties; the intelligence agencies were divided over whether Bin Laden was really even there. Clinton filled a legal pad, listing the many pros and cons of acting or not acting. She came down in favor of the raid, but just barely. Her position wasn’t that of an impetuous, adventurous hawk; it was precisely the same position as Obama’s.

The president and his former secretary of state are also speaking in harmony, if not unison, in the wake of Orlando. Notwithstanding her tendency to do more, faster, stronger, the approach she’s prescribed is very similar to his. It’s an approach based on analyzing the facts, understanding the vital role of allies (at home and abroad), and grasping the motives of terrorist groups, what makes their recruitment drives appealing, and what responses from the West might intensify or slacken their appeal.

So there is a choice here:

The difference between Clinton and Trump is the same as the difference between Obama and Trump: It’s the difference between someone who has a sophisticated knowledge of international relations (granting that this doesn’t always lead to the most successful policies) and someone who has no knowledge whatsoever.

Why are we talking about Trump firing his angry thug of a campaign manager? We could be talking about what the Associated Press’ Jon Gambrell notes here:

In the wake of the Orlando killings this week, Hillary Clinton had harsh words for America’s Gulf allies, criticizing them for funding institutions that radicalize young Muslims.

“It is long past time for the Saudis, the Qataris and the Kuwaitis and others to stop their citizens from funding extremist organizations,” the presumptive Democratic Party nominee told an Ohio crowd. “And they should stop supporting radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path toward extremism.”

These were not the kind of incendiary political comments common for her Republican rival Donald Trump – no proposed bans, no generalizations, no stereotypes. But they did provide a window into how a President Clinton might approach the combustible, complex Middle East: polite but harsh truth-telling, with specifics, delivered as if among friends.

That sort of thing matters:

Tellingly, the comments were received without protest from most regional leaders who consider the messenger as much as the message. However, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in Washington on Friday that his government has tight control over charitable giving and has designated entities and individuals suspected of terror finance. He also said that it’s unfair to point a finger at Saudi Arabia if a mosque that it funded years ago begins advocating intolerance and violence.

From her time as first lady to her globe-hopping travel as secretary of state under President Barack Obama, Clinton has formed first-name relationships in the region.

That helps in a region largely dominated by the decades-long reigns. Such continuity can offer comfort and even open minds to criticism.

“She’s very personal, unlike Obama,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at United Arab Emirates University. “They value the strategic relationship, but they value more the personal approach.”

Offer comfort and even open minds to criticism. She might be pretty good at this “president” thing, even better than Obama. And Donald Trump just fired his thug of a campaign manager. Why are we even talking about Donald Trump? There is this woman in the shadows.

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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