February is the dark dull month. There’s no major holiday. Groundhog Day doesn’t count. That’s a curiosity. No one gets the day off. Valentine’s Day doesn’t count. No one gets that day off either. Men just hope they got it right this time, for once. They probably didn’t – it was supposed to be roses, not candy, or the other way around. There’s no winning. Men dread that day – but everyone kind of dreads the whole month. The days are short and there’s not much to do but hunker down and get to work. Do your job. The month is short. It will end soon enough.
That’s the task that Donald Trump faces. Inauguration Day was long ago, or seems so. Was his crowd bigger that Obama’s? He was very angry that no one believed that, and even angrier that the facts of the matter showed otherwise, but obsessions die in February. It doesn’t matter now. He’s stopped talking about it. There’s work to do – February work – because February is Black History Month. The president is required to say nice things about that. Even if he received a new Republican record low percentage of the black vote, this must be done. It’s a February thing – kind of like Valentine’s Day. You give it your best shot and hope you don’t screw it up.
He screwed it up. Dana Milbank has the video and the sad story:
Addressing a small group of African American aides and supporters to kick off Black History Month, the new president not only offered pro forma praise for the usual suspects – Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. – but also singled out somebody who recently caught his attention.
“Frederick Douglass,” Trump said, “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
Amazing job, Frederick! Great work!
This was an embarrassment:
It’s unlikely anybody could recognize Douglass today, because he died in 1895. And though Trump may not have noticed it previously, Douglass has long occupied a revered place in American history: escaped slave, iconic abolitionist, world-renowned author and publisher and counselor to presidents.
But Trump’s awkwardness was not limited to placing Douglass in the present perfect tense. He also declared: “During this month, we honor the tremendous history of the African Americans throughout our country – throughout the world, if you really think about it, right?”
Well, if you really think about it, being African American is, by definition, limited to Americans. But no matter. He was on a roll.
Trump said he’d “gotten a real glimpse” of African Americans when Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and lone black person named to Trump’s Cabinet, took him to “places that I wasn’t so familiar with” during the campaign. Trump’s judgment: “They’re incredible people.”
It brought to mind Trump’s Cinco de Mayo tweet of a taco bowl and the words “I love Hispanics!”
Right – and he wants to meet this Frederick Douglass person, who’s doing such fine work, as people are beginning to notice – but he couldn’t even keep his mind on that:
Trump’s Black History Month celebration was a carefully choreographed assembly of black administration officials and Trump supporters. It was billed as a “listening session,” but the press was brought in only for Trump’s talking. He was seated between Carson and Omarosa Manigault, one of his former contestants on “The Apprentice” and now a White House official.
Trump had papers in front of him, but he didn’t rely on them. He did what came naturally. He attacked the press. He complained, again, about an erroneous report saying a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office. Turning to pro-Trump CNN contributor Paris Dennard, he said: “I don’t watch CNN so I don’t get to see you as much as I want to. I don’t like watching fake news. But Fox has treated me very nice – wherever Fox is, thank you.”
His black supporters shifted uneasily in their chairs. CNN is awful! Fox News is wonderful! What was this meeting about again?
February is when you hunker down and get to work and do your damned job. You reluctantly settle down and do what’s necessary, if you can – but that’s the problem here:
President Donald Trump threatened in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them, according to an excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.
The excerpt of the call did not detail who exactly Trump considered “bad hombres,” nor did it make clear the tone and context of the remark, made in a Friday morning phone call between the leaders. It also did not contain Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s response. Mexico denies that Trump made the threat.
That may not be true:
The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.
“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”
A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided only that portion of the conversation to The Associated Press. The person gave it on condition of anonymity because the administration did not make the details of the call public.
The Mexican website Aristegui Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontational conversation.
This is not good, and Kevin Drum adds this:
We’re supposed to believe that Trump threatened to invade Mexico? We all know that Trump is a bit of a hothead, but even he wouldn’t lose his shit like this with the leader of a close ally during a… wait. What’s this about Trump’s call on Saturday with the Australian prime minister?
That went like this:
It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief – a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.
Instead, President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his Electoral College win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.
At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day – including Russian President Vladimir Putin – and that “this was the worst call by far.”
Okay, settle into the new job by insulting your closest allies, but Trump has his reasons here:
“This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.
Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admissions of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”
Trump returned to the topic late Wednesday night, writing in a message on Twitter, “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”
U.S. officials said that Trump has behaved similarly in conversations with leaders of other countries, including Mexico. But his treatment of Turnbull was particularly striking because of the tight bond between the United States and Australia – countries that share intelligence, support one another diplomatically and have fought together in wars including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And there’s this:
Even in conversations marred by hostile exchanges, Trump manages to work in references to his election accomplishments. U.S. officials said that he used his calls with both Turnbull and Peña Nieto to mention his election win or the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
One official said that it may be Trump’s way of “speaking about the mandate he has and why he has the backing for decisions he makes.” But Trump is also notoriously thin-skinned and has used platforms including social-media accounts, meetings with lawmakers and even a speech at CIA headquarters to depict his victory as an achievement of historic proportions, rather than a narrow outcome in which his opponent, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote.
Kevin Drum is amazed:
Trump hung up on the prime minister of Australia, one of our oldest, closest, and most reliable allies? I don’t have the words. In any case, that’s the leaders of Mexico, Australia, and “other countries” that Trump has apparently insulted on phone calls. I wonder what the body count really is. How many foreign leaders has Trump yelled at so far?
How about Vladimir Putin? Apparently not. In fact, Republicans in Congress are rushing to do a big favor for oil companies that do business in Russia. It all has to do with Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which requires drilling and mining companies to disclose any payments they make to foreign governments.
Congress will get rid of that:
This is likely to be the very first bill that Congress sends to Trump’s desk: a big wet kiss to oil companies and Vladimir Putin. It’s nice to know that we have our priorities straight.
And what about this very cool Frederick Douglass person? Elliot Hannon puts it all this way:
To say Donald Trump is a binary thinker is to give the president of the United States too much credit for the complexity of his views. Trump is a cartoonish thinker. Terrorist Muslims are storming the gate, conniving criminal Mexicans are doing the same, inner-city Chicago is worse than Afghanistan, and it goes on and on and on. It’s a school of thought cultivated by a steady diet of Fox News with a helping of Breitbart on cheat days. Completely unaware of what he doesn’t know, and utterly uninterested in discovering it, Trump storms around saying outlandish things and padding his ongoing narrative by explaining the things everyone knows already. It’s like the class clown who didn’t do the homework got called on by the teacher and, after embarrassing himself in front of the entire class, got elected president of the whole country…
You might want to brace yourself now for when Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping speak on the phone.
Anne Gearan notes that there’s something else you might want to brace yourself for:
President Trump is advancing a combative and iconoclastic foreign policy that appears to sideline traditional diplomacy and concentrate decision-making among a small group of aides who are quickly projecting their new “America First” approach to the world.
Just before the Senate confirmed Trump’s new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, on Wednesday, national security adviser Michael Flynn made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room to deliver a tight-lipped warning to Iran over its most recent ballistic missile test.
“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” Flynn said.
No one quite knew what he was talking about. Were we going to nuke Iran for Israel? It seems the new secretary of defense – “Mad Dog” Mattis – had taken Flynn aside and told him to tone it down. The result was ambiguity. Now the Trump administration is saying that all options are on the table – another way of saying that they’re not saying. No one thought this through. That’s the Trump way. Things are not settling down in February:
Trump campaigned on blowing up business as usual in Washington, apparently including the courtly traditions of U.S. diplomacy. Still, the administration’s tone has surprised allies and government employees who expected the new president to first spend time offering diplomatic niceties.
The severity of an order suspending the country’s refugee resettlement program and temporarily banning entry from seven Muslim-majority nations blindsided even Republican supporters in Congress.
Even before the order Friday, Trump’s first days in office were marked by actions and statements that former U.S. officials and some foreign diplomats saw as intentionally confrontational, such as a public spat with the Mexican president and dismissive comments about the European Union.
Trump used his inauguration address to blast America’s trade partners and global outlook, and his first hosting of a foreign leader to praise Brexit as a stroke for British “sovereignty.” He recounted his own frustrations dealing with the European Union in a real estate deal. “I had a very bad experience,” he said. He called the 28-member body “the consortium.”
Trump didn’t get his building permits, and now the European Union has added the United States to its list of direct threats to Europe:
On Tuesday, European Council President Donald Tusk included “worrying declarations” from Trump among the challenges or threats to the EU, along with China, Russia and radical ideologies.
“Capitals around the world are anxiously looking at how the new administration starts engaging with friends and foes,” said Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to Washington. “If the U.S. treats a neighbor, partner and ally like Mexico, a nation so relevant to the prosperity and security of the U.S., with ultimatums and bullying, they will probably feel that they themselves may be in for a rough ride.”
A European diplomat who recently met with Trump aides and pressed for cooperation at the United Nations and elsewhere to promote peace in the Middle East recounted a startling exchange with Jason D. Greenblatt, then Trump’s in-house lawyer and now his chief of international negotiations.
“We are business people,” the diplomat quoted Greenblatt as saying. “We are not going to govern this country with diplomatic niceties. We are going to govern it as a business.”
Fine – they’re business people – but perhaps they should be a bit more than that:
Just five days after taking office, over dinner with his newly installed secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Trump was presented with the first of what will be many life-or-death decisions: whether to approve a commando raid that risked the lives of American Special Operations forces and foreign civilians alike…
With two of his closest advisers, Jared Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, joining the dinner at the White House along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Mr. Trump approved sending in the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, hoping the raid early last Sunday would scoop up cellphones and laptop computers that could yield valuable clues about one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups. Vice President Mike Pence and Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, also attended the dinner.
As it turned out, almost everything that could go wrong did. And on Wednesday, Mr. Trump flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to be present as the body of the American commando killed in the raid was returned home, the first military death on the new commander in chief’s watch.
The death of Chief Petty Officer William Owens came after a chain of mishaps and misjudgments that plunged the elite commandos into a ferocious 50-minute firefight that also left three others wounded and a $75 million aircraft deliberately destroyed. There are allegations – which the Pentagon acknowledged on Wednesday night are most likely correct – that the mission also killed several civilians, including some children. The dead include, by the account of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Qaeda leader who was killed in a targeted drone strike in 2011.
This was a screw-up likely caused by a businessman who said just do it:
The mission’s casualties raise doubts about the months of detailed planning that went into the operation during the Obama administration and whether the right questions were raised before its approval. Typically, the president’s advisers lay out the risks, but Pentagon officials declined to characterize any discussions with Mr. Trump.
Trump will not listen to those daily intelligence briefings – he knows more about ISIS that the generals, as he has often said – so he probably blew off the boring and wimpy risk assessment that the Pentagon wanted to present in this case. The Pentagon won’t say, but the implication is clear, and those risks mattered:
In this case, the assault force of several dozen commandos, which also included elite soldiers from the United Arab Emirates, was jinxed from the start. Qaeda fighters were somehow tipped off to the stealthy advance toward the village – perhaps by the whine of American drones that local tribal leaders said were flying lower and louder than usual.
Through a communications intercept, the commandos knew that the mission had been somehow compromised, but pressed on toward their target roughly five miles from where they had been flown into the area. “They kind of knew they were screwed from the beginning,” one former SEAL Team 6 official said.
With the crucial element of surprise lost, the Americans and Emiratis found themselves in a gun battle with Qaeda fighters who took up positions in other houses, a clinic, a school and a mosque, often using women and children as cover, American military officials said in interviews this week.
The commandos were taken aback when some of the women grabbed weapons and started firing, multiplying the militant firepower beyond what they had expected. The Americans called in airstrikes from helicopter gunships and fighter aircraft that helped kill some 14 Qaeda fighters, but not before an MV-22 Osprey aircraft involved in the operation experienced a “hard landing,” injuring three more American personnel on board. The Osprey, which the Marine Corps said cost $75 million, was badly damaged and had to be destroyed by an airstrike.
Donald Trump is not settling into this job. February is when you hunker down and get to work and do your damned job. You reluctantly settle down and do what’s necessary, if you can. Sometimes you can’t.