Americans keep their politics simple. The Democrats are the Mommy Party. The Republicans are the Daddy Party. Democrats want everyone to get along, even if that’s often clearly impossible. Republicans want everyone to comply – the rules are the rules. Democrats seek understanding – diplomacy is their thing. Republicans seek order under time-tested tradition that shouldn’t be tossed aside lightly – and they bomb things. Democrats seem to think that the way to peace in this troubled world is through cooperation and gracious compromise, by both sides. Republicans seem to think that the way to peace in this troubled world is through slapping down the troublemakers. And so on and so forth.
That’s all anyone needs to know about American politics. Democrats and Republicans will never agree on anything. That’s not even possible. It’s not the issue at hand. America has two different concepts of how the world works, or should work – and to prove their concept of how the world really works, Republicans often point to Ronald Reagan. He ended the cold war. The Soviet Union collapsed, because he goosed up our military. We scared them to death – and Ronald Reagan tore down the Berlin Wall with his bare hands.
He didn’t? Well, at least he was strong. No one would mess with America. That’s what brought peace to the world – the end of history as Francis Fukuyama put it. This was “peace through strength” – although Fukuyama would later admit he got it all wrong. America soon found itself slapping down troublemakers in the Middle East – and from the Middle East – and we’re still at it.
Republicans did their thing. This called for more strength. That would bring peace to this troubled world – so we were off to Afghanistan and then Iraq. That didn’t work out, even with this “surge” or that, but Dick Cheney was committed to the Reagan way of fixing things. Even torture was fine, even if he didn’t call it that. Torture may or may not work, but that didn’t matter. It mattered that everyone knew that America would do such a thing. Troublemakers would be scared shitless. They’d never fly another jetliner into a skyscraper ever again.
The troublemakers found alternatives. A subway in London would do, so would a mess hall at Fort Hood – so would an office Christmas party in San Bernardino. No one was scared shitless.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink that Reagan thing. In fact, he was not what Republicans had been saying he was. The real Ronald Reagan, in 1983, suddenly pulled all our troops out of Lebanon when an obscure group calling itself ‘Islamic Jihad’ claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed 241 of our Marines in their barracks in Beirut. That’s all we did. We left. The real Ronald Reagan wasn’t going to start a major war over there, to fix things once and for all. We left and Reagan immediately invaded Grenada – that would do, to make folks feel better, and it was easily done and over quickly – but as a show of strength it was a bit of a joke. We took care of the Cuban Menace – and the Islamic Jihad smiled – and the rest is history. Fidel Castro died of old age and his brother still runs Cuba. America has decided to just get along with those folks.
Still, Ronald Reagan is an American hero. Slapping down troublemakers makes some sense, even to Democrats. Sometimes that has to be done. Sometimes you have to lob fifty-nine cruise missiles into Syria. All Americans like that sort of thing, but that troubles Bill Moyers:
The theatrics were perfect. The Pentagon shopped to the media a video of the missiles as they were lofted up and away. MSNBC’s Brian Williams was among those moved by the aesthetics of violence: “We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two Navy vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.'”
When I heard those words, I thought back to that night in 2003 when another president lit up the skies over Baghdad with the “shock and awe” of his air attack on Iraq. Suddenly the press was talking about George W. Bush as if he were George Washington, George Marshall and George Patton rolled into one. A touch of George III came later, as our newly refurbished president donned a flight suit and strutted aboard the aircraft carrier with the banner behind him that read: “Mission Accomplished.” Not quite.
That’s an understatement, but Donald Trump would like to be George Washington, George Marshall and George Patton all rolled into one, so this was inevitable:
The United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” – the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal – on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan on Thursday, the Pentagon said, unleashing a weapon so massive that it had to be dropped from the rear of a cargo plane.
The strike was the first combat use of what is formally named the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast. President Trump has bestowed additional authority on the Pentagon in his first months in office, which the military has argued will help it defeat the Islamic State more speedily. Mr. Trump did not say whether he had personally approved Thursday’s mission.
“What I do is I authorize my military,” Mr. Trump said after a meeting with emergency workers at the White House. He called the bombing “another very, very successful mission.”
ISIS is the big problem in Iraq and Syria – Afghanistan was lost long ago and doesn’t much matter now – but this was a big beautiful bomb, and he one-upped the imaginary Ronald Reagan. He didn’t even order that this big beautiful bomb be dropped – he just told our military to do its thing.
He trusts them. They’re real men, or something. Obama didn’t understand that, but Trump needs to be careful:
In a separate announcement, the Pentagon said that an airstrike in Syria by the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State there had killed 18 Syrian fighters allied with the United States, raising concerns about whether the White House is applying any rigor to the process of approving airstrikes in hot spots from Afghanistan to Syria.
The Syria strike – on Tuesday near the town of Tabqah, which Syrian fighters and American advisers are trying to capture – was the third American-led airstrike in a month that may have killed civilians or allies. Earlier bombing runs killed or wounded scores of civilians in a mosque complex in Syria and in a building in the west of Mosul, Iraq.
“We have the greatest military in the world,” Mr. Trump said. “We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing, and frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”
That depends on how you define success:
American commanders in Iraq and Syria have been given more authority to call in strikes, a loosening of the reins that began in the last month of the Obama administration. But some national security experts said that Mr. Trump and the Pentagon risked inflaming anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world with their approach to fighting the Islamic State.
Donald Trump doesn’t seem concerned with that, but maybe he should be concerned with that:
In addition to the greater leeway granted to commanders in Iraq and Syria, Mr. Trump has relaxed some of the rules for preventing civilian casualties when the military carries out counterterrorism strikes in Somalia and Yemen.
“Trump has ceded responsibilities to his military commanders, and it appears he’s paying little attention to operational details,” said Derek Chollet, who was the assistant secretary of defense for international affairs in the Obama administration.
“Here’s the question,” Mr. Chollet added. “Trump takes great pride in his authorizing the military when things go well, but one wonders if he’ll have the same sense of shared accountability when things go wrong, as they inevitably do.”
That’s a worry, but so is this:
Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Pentagon was being given leeway to carry out strategy without being told what, exactly, the overarching strategy is. “What they haven’t been given is a lot of strategic guidance to work with,” he said. “They can affect things, but without a guiding strategy, it’s hard to be sure you’re having the desired effect.”
Just bomb things… That’s not a strategy. Even Ronald Reagan knew better. He didn’t level Lebanon. Bye-bye Beirut and hello Grenada. But there may be a strategy here:
President Donald Trump said Thursday that he does not know whether the U.S. military’s use of the so-called “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan will send a message to North Korea, but he said “the problem” with that country “will be taken care of,” regardless.
“I don’t know if this sends a message,” Trump told reporters in the White House. “It doesn’t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.”
That was a bit coy, but this isn’t:
The U.S. is prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea should officials become convinced that North Korea is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test, multiple senior U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.
North Korea has warned that a “big event” is near, and U.S. officials say signs point to a nuclear test that could come as early as this weekend.
If the big beautiful bomb we just dropped in Afghanistan didn’t scare the North Koreans shitless, then these intelligence officials blabbing to NBC news should do the trick. We do preemptive stuff – at least Republican presidents do. We took out all of Saddam Hussein’s WMD – including his nukes – and took him out too – and Saddam Hussein didn’t even have any WMD or nukes. That chubby young fellow with the bad haircut needs to think about that. This was signaling, and it came with details:
The intelligence officials told NBC News that the U.S. has positioned two destroyers capable of shooting Tomahawk cruise missiles in the region, one just 300 miles from the North Korean nuclear test site.
American heavy bombers are also positioned in Guam to attack North Korea should it be necessary, and earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group was being diverted to the area.
The U.S. strike could include missiles and bombs, cyber and special operations on the ground.
And then all hell breaks loose:
The danger of such an attack by the U.S. is that it could provoke the volatile and unpredictable North Korean regime to launch its own blistering attack on its southern neighbor.
“The leadership in North Korea has shown absolutely no sign or interest in diplomacy or dialogue with any of the countries involved in this issue,” Victor Cha, the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told NBC News Thursday.
So, what are you going to do? There are no other options here, but still, the price is high:
On Wednesday, North Korea said it would “hit the U.S. first” with a nuclear weapon should there be any signs of U.S. strikes.
On Thursday, North Korea warned of a “merciless retaliatory strike” should the U.S. take any action.
“By relentlessly bringing in a number of strategic nuclear assets to the Korean peninsula, the U.S. is gravely threatening the peace and safety and driving the situation to the brink of a nuclear war,” said North Korea’s statement.
North Korean has no nukes that can reach the United States, but they don’t seem scared shitless, and this becomes a game of signals:
The U.S. is aware that simply preparing an attack, even if it will only be launched if there is an “imminent” North Korean action, increases the danger of provoking a large conflict, multiple sources told NBC News.
“It’s high stakes,” a senior intelligence official directly involved in the planning told NBC News. “We are trying to communicate our level of concern and the existence of many military options to dissuade the North first.”
That doesn’t seem persuasive – there are things we could do in the next hour but we don’t really want to do those things – and there’s this:
Implementation of the preemptive U.S. plans, according to multiple U.S. officials, depends centrally on consent of the South Korean government. The sources stress that Seoul has got to be persuaded that action is worth the risk, as there is universal concern that any military move might provoke a North Korean attack, even a conventional attack across the DMZ.
There are things we could do in the next hour but we might not be allowed to do them. That’s a threat?
A week earlier it was this:
The National Security Council has presented President Donald Trump with options to respond to North Korea’s nuclear program – including putting American nukes in South Korea or killing dictator Kim Jong-un, multiple top-ranking intelligence and military officials told NBC News…
The U.S. withdrew all nuclear weapons from South Korea 25 years ago. Bringing back bombs – likely to Osan Air Base, less than 50 miles south of the capital of Seoul – would mark the first overseas nuclear deployment since the end of the Cold War, an unquestionably provocative move.
“We have 20 years of diplomacy and sanctions under our belt that has failed to stop the North Korean program,” one senior intelligence official involved in the review told NBC News. “I’m not advocating pre-emptive war, nor do I think that the deployment of nuclear weapons buys more for us than it costs,” but he stressed that the U.S. was dealing with a “war today” situation.
He’s not advocating pre-emptive war, but he is, one way or another:
Two military sources told NBC News that Air Force leadership doesn’t necessarily support putting nuclear weapons in South Korea. As an alternative, it’s been practicing long-range strikes with strategic bombers – sending them to the region for exercises and deploying them in Guam and on the peninsula as a show of force.
All of this seems insanely dangerous, but these folks have their orders:
The Trump White House, through the National Security Council, asked for blue sky options in early February, a senior official told NBC on background. “Think big,” the official said that the agencies were instructed.
They thought big. Perhaps we should invade and occupy Portugal, just for the hell of it, as a warning to everybody everywhere. That would scare everybody everywhere shitless. No one anywhere would mess with us. They missed that one. That’s thinking big too.
There may, however, be a reason that all this is happening now, and that would be this:
Donald Trump’s true believers are losing the faith.
As Trump struggles to keep his campaign promises and flirts with political moderation, his most steadfast supporters – from veteran advisers to anti-immigration activists to the volunteers who dropped their jobs to help elect him – are increasingly dismayed by the direction of his presidency.
Their complaints range from Trump’s embrace of an interventionist foreign policy to his less hawkish tone on China to, most recently, his marginalization of his nationalist chief strategist, Steve Bannon. But the crux of their disillusionment, interviews with nearly two dozen Trump loyalists reveal, is a belief that Trump the candidate bears little resemblance to Trump the president. He’s failing, in their view, to deliver on his promise of a transformative “America First” agenda driven by hard-edged populism.
That’s nothing a big beautiful bomb, the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever used in any war, wouldn’t fix, or maybe not:
“Donald Trump dropped an emotional anchor. He captured how Americans feel,” said Tania Vojvodic, a fervent Trump supporter who founded one of his first campaign volunteer networks. “We expect him to keep his word, and right now he’s not keeping his word.”
Earlier this week, Vojvodic launched a Facebook group called, “The concerned support base of President Trump,” which quickly drew several dozen sign-ups. She also changed the banner on her Facebook page to a picture of Bannon accompanied by the declaration: “Mr. President: I stand with Steve Bannon.”
“I’m not so infatuated with Trump that I can’t see the facts,” she said. “People’s belief, their trust in him, it’s declining.”
That calls for a big bomb, as does this:
The deflation of Trump’s base threatens to further weaken a president who’s already seen his public support drop to historic lows. Frustration among the president’s allies has intensified in recent days, with many expressing worry that Bannon, the intellectual pillar of the nationalist movement that catapulted Trump to the presidency, is being pushed out.
As Bannon’s influence wanes, on the rise is a small group of Wall Street-connected advisers, whose politically moderate and globalist views are anathema to the populist cause.
Forget those Wall Street-connected advisers. Look at that bomb! And we’re going to bomb North Korea! We’ll get them before they get us!
That should work, but then again, maybe not:
Many of Trump’s most stalwart supporters, including radio show hosts Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham, called last week’s bombing of Syria a betrayal of Trump’s pledge to be an “America First” commander in chief who would avoid unnecessary conflicts overseas.
Okay, that’s a problem, but Trump can still pull a Reagan. Forget Beirut. Trump should liberate Grenada again – and use that big bomb. Everyone, guided by the beauty of our weapons, likes big bombs – even Democrats, now and then. Otherwise, it’s real war.