It was just another Monday. The Stormy Daniels story chugged along – Stormy Daniels Sues Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen For Defamation – Trump Apparently Griping To Folks That Stormy Daniels Isn’t the ‘Type of Woman He Finds Attractive’ – Stormy Daniels’ Legal Strategy Strongly Suggests She Has Photos of Donald Trump – Trump Can’t Stop Tweeting, but Goes Silent on Stormy Daniels – and so forth and so on.
This was hot stuff, but the previous evening’s highly anticipated Stormy Daniels interview with Anderson Cooper was rather tame. The interview explored the money issues. The Stormy Daniels story is certainly about sex but it’s also about financial and emotional intimidation, and alleged threats from Trump goons. Spanking notwithstanding, that may be what really mattered. Donald Trump likes to be spanked, at least by a porn star – but so what? The salacious stuff was mentioned in passing, and there wasn’t much of it. There were bigger issues. Americans were probably disappointed.
Josh Marshall suggests that all of this misses an essential point:
The big takeaway from her account of their relationship was that she quickly asserted a dominant position in her interactions with Trump and maintained that throughout. Some of that you get in the somewhat-for-laughs spanking encounter. The big point there wasn’t some BDSM thing. It’s that she showed she wasn’t intimidated by him. Note that in the second encounter after it was clear he had no real news about an Apprentice appearance, she said no to more sex. She’s continued to assert a dominant position through recent weeks and especially in this interview. Notice the unambiguous statement: she never found him attractive or wanted to sleep with him.
That’s telling. This is an essentially weak man. Donald Trump can be used, and when he’s no longer useful – when she didn’t get that promised shot on The Apprentice – he can be dismissed – as useless. She knew how to play him, and how to walk away – from a useless weakling. Now she can walk away from that stupid non-disclosure agreement too. She signed that under duress – they threatened her and she can prove it. The agreement is null and void – and of course her attorney is ten times the lawyer that any of Trump’s guys are. He refuses to take shit from weaklings too. It’s not hard to dominate these guys – and that reverses the whole Trump narrative. He is not the one strong leader who will slap around Muslims and Mexicans and gays, and every other nation in the world, even our allies. The porn star told him to drop his pants and bend over. He did.
Stormy Daniels has done a lot of damage, but this is a minor matter. Maureen Dowd sees this situation:
It’s unnerving covering a president who is treated like a boy king, requiring minders; who is easily swayed because he is under-informed; who can sit still long enough only for short oral briefings; who swaggers and mocks to mask his insecurities; who tries to replace real news with faux; and who can’t seem to fathom that distorting reality to suit political ends is dangerous.
It’s even more unsettling covering two Republican presidents who fit this description: George W Bush and Donald Trump.
She sees a parallel in these two weak men:
I watched in alarm as W, who had promised a “humble” foreign policy with no nation-building and who had been a bipartisan, genial Texas governor, shape-shifted into a hyper-aggressive and belligerently unilateral president. His ego and inadequacies were expertly manipulated by his regents, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, bureaucratic samurai with their own rapacious agendas.
A prodigal son who floated around drinking and partying until he was 40, W was an empty vessel filled up by the wrong people – iron-asses, to use his father’s epithet about the counsellors and neocons he felt hijacked his son’s presidency “real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything and use force to get our way in the Middle East.”
And there was a key player in this:
In the bitter contest between the Rumsfeld Defense Department and the Colin Powell State Department, John Bolton was a Rummy person who was a fifth column at State, along with Liz Cheney. Like a walrus version of Wile E Coyote, he lived to dynamite treaties, alliances and anything with “global” or “multilateral” in the title.
He was known as the most undiplomatic diplomat ever, with a rip-their-eyeballs-out, foaming-at-the-mouth style. W nominated Bolton as UN ambassador, even though Bolton had once remarked that if the UN lost ten stories, “it wouldn’t make a bit of difference,” and even though the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was reviewing charges that he was using intimidation to distort key intelligence and buttress his hardline positions on Cuba and North Korea. He was accused of trying to fire intelligence analysts and buoying the phony case on WMDs in Iraq.
And of course Trump once knew better about such things:
Bolton rejected the neocon label, preferring to see himself as a Goldwater conservative, but he helped the neocons and Cheney’s henchmen when they shoveled distortions into Secretary Powell’s UN speech making the case for war. His mistreatment of underlings was so legendary – one claimed he had thrown objects – that I once dubbed him the Naomi Campbell of the Bush administration. By far the best thing about the Trump campaign was watching many of those culpable for the Iraq War go ballistic trying to stop the neophyte, who kept pointing out that Americans had been deceived into the historic debacle with Iraq. He even went where no one else had dared and correctly pointed out that W and his administration had dropped the ball before 9/11.
Bill Kristol, Eliot Cohen, Robert Kagan and Max Boot, all of whom pushed to “liberate” Iraq, denounced Trump, saying he would be a foreign policy disaster. Kagan and Boot said they would vote for Hillary Clinton. After lukewarm support for the invasion, Trump often criticized W on Iraq. “No matter how long we stay in Iraq, no matter how many soldiers we send, the day we leave, the meanest, most vicious, most brilliant man in the country, a man who makes Saddam Hussein look like a baby, will take over and spit on the American flag,” he told me in 2006. “Bush will go down as the worst and by far the dumbest president in history.”
And now that has all changed:
Somehow, in his King George madness, Trump has circled back to elevate one of the chief Iraq War hawks to be his national security adviser. That move sent a shiver through the capital, among both Democrats and Republicans, who whispered, “Anyone but Bolton!” Bolton is a clever infighter. He learned from the best. He pushed to go to war in Iraq and still thinks it was a good idea, just as he has pushed to go to war in North Korea and get regime change in Iran and Syria. He is a fervent believer in pre-emptive war.
And the weak man gave in:
The president who loves to push hot buttons and hire Fox analysts must really get a kick out of Bolton’s tempestuous style if he is now willing to overlook the 69-year-old’s unruly moustache and frightening faith in pre-emption. After all those years of criticizing W, Trump is now letting himself be guided by W’s most hawkish adviser.
And the president, whose curiosity only extends to himself, seems determined to stay an empty vessel. That makes him, like W, a magnet for extremists who want to hijack the Oval.
This is an essentially weak man, and Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, points out a few troubling implications of that:
Bolton will be the most powerful national security adviser Trump has had. There are conflicting accounts of how Bolton will run the National Security Council. The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe reports that Bolton sees himself more in the Henry Kissinger imperialist mode of running the NSC. On the other hand, Axios’ Jonathan Swan suggests that Bolton will play a more restrained honest broker role: “Bolton has always admired the way Brent Scowcroft handled the interagency process during the Bush 41 Administration.”
Drezner calls that a distinction without a difference:
What really matters is that Bolton will have tremendous power over Trump’s foreign policy for three reasons. First, Trump does not know a lot about foreign policy. He’s a year into the job, and he hasn’t budged an inch down the learning curve. As Elizabeth Saunders has noted, unprepared presidents automatically give greater latitude to their subordinates.
And there’s this:
Bolton knows far more about the policymaking process than either Michael T. Flynn or McMaster. As someone who possesses genuine foreign affairs experience and has a reputation for being a bureaucratic street fighter, Bolton will be a better bureaucratic player than either of his predecessors.
And there’s this:
By the standards of the traditional NSC-State rivalry, the State Department is severely weakened. Foggy Bottom is hemorrhaging senior staff and in leadership limbo until Mike Pompeo is confirmed. Unless Bolton burns to the ground the staff he inherits (an admitted possibility) he has a serious home-field advantage.
Now add this:
It’s all on the hawks now. The idea that Bolton will act as an honest broker implies that there will be divergent points of view within the national security team. The White House turnover of the past month has homogenized its foreign policy perspectives, however. Gary Cohn is gone, and his replacement is a non-factor on foreign policy questions. Mike Pompeo is much more of a hawk than Rex Tillerson. Bolton is way more hawkish than McMaster. Jim Mattis is the most dovish member of this foreign policy team, and this is a guy who was sidelined by the Obama administration for being too hawkish on Iran.
For foreign policy hawks, this will be the best of times and the worst of times. It will be the best of times because they are running the entire foreign policy show now. There is no bureaucratic constraint, no countervailing faction, and no informed president to block their moves. They have no more impediments. For decades, they have fantasized about the right ways to take out Iran, defang North Korea and checkmate China. Trump has given them the keys to the kingdom.
That’s what a weak man does. They tell him to drop his pants and bend over, and he does.
On the other hand, Drezner suggests this:
Maybe, just maybe, Trump has found a way to signal resolve. To put it bluntly, Trump has developed a reputation for being a man of hollow words and feeble actions. This month, he blustered a ton about applying steel and aluminum tariffs widely, and then backed down and exempted an awful lot of countries with no evidence of any real concessions on their part. This past Friday, Trump threatened to veto the omnibus spending bill and shut down the government and then did no such thing. No one should take anything this White House says at face value.
If Trump’s words don’t matter, that’s a problem for his foreign policy. How can he communicate resolve on the global stage? One way is to hire new people with known brands, and the one thing Bolton has is a brand. It’s a somewhat toxic brand that renders him Senate-unconfirmable. It’s possible that he’ll run into security clearance issues. But while he’s around, he sends a clearer signal than Trump’s chicken-hawk rhetoric. As Matt Fay notes, “After this appointment, anyone who thought Donald Trump was the ‘dove’ in the 2016 election should have his or her pundit and/or analyst card revoked.”
Appointing Bolton may fix that, but Drezner has his doubts:
I am under no illusions that Trump intended to do this as a way of signaling resolve. He does not possess that forethought. But that does not mean the signal hasn’t been sent. I am pessimistic that this will lead to better coercive bargaining in the near future. But at least we will all see whether this is true.
Drezner should have watched that Stormy Daniels interview. She showed that Trump is terrible at coercive bargaining. Others eat his lunch. They can play him. In fact, Wendy Sherman was the lead negotiator for the Iran nuclear agreement, and she says that the appointment of John Bolton as Trump’s national security advisor is a likely disaster of massive proportions:
John R. Bolton, President Trump’s new national security adviser, has never met a war he didn’t want.
Mr. Bolton defends the 2003 invasion of Iraq and he advocates attacking North Korea, too. He believes that the United States should have bombed Iran years ago, rather than negotiating an international agreement to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Since going into force in 2016, that deal has blocked Tehran’s path to a nuclear weapon and prevented a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. By every account, Iran is complying with the agreement, has committed to never obtaining a nuclear weapon and has subjected itself to rigorous monitoring and verification.
And yet, Mr. Trump appears committed to killing it. Mr. Bolton’s appointment has only cemented the expectation that the nuclear deal’s life expectancy is short. May 12 is the next deadline by which the president has to extend sanction waivers and certify Iran’s compliance to preserve the accord. If he doesn’t, the fallout will be profound.
That’s not hard to see:
First and foremost, Iran most likely will move quickly, without any restraint, to enrich uranium, the fissile material needed for nuclear weapons. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the leading edge of Iran’s nefarious actions, will declare that the West can never be trusted and will use the decision to undermine the less hardline president, Hassan Rouhani.
The destruction of the nuclear deal will also increase the Revolutionary Guards’ malign activities in the Middle East, making the challenge to Israel’s security and to America’s other allies even more difficult. These activities, in turn, will increase American calls for military action against Iran as the only viable option, since no Iranian will be able to enter new negotiations with the United States any time soon.
But wait, there’s more:
Beyond this horror show, the decision to destroy the Iran deal will also pound yet another nail into the coffin of the trans-Atlantic relationship. Mr. Trump has so far laid the task of “fixing” the deal at the feet of Britain, France and Germany, America’s European partners in the nuclear negotiations. He has demanded that they agree to new language on Iran’s ballistic missile development and inspections of Iranian military installations, and he has asked for a change in the timeline of the nuclear deal so that the restrictions on Iran will not expire. In essence, he has asked Europe for help changing the terms of the deal itself.
That’s what he’s selling, but they’re not buying:
The Europeans’ greatest objection is on the issue of the “sunset.” They believe, accurately, that Iran has committed to never obtaining a nuclear weapon, is complying with the terms of the deal, and there are mechanisms in the deal to both review and sanction if it becomes necessary. European diplomats rightly feel that Mr. Trump is demanding that they solve a political problem he created by campaigning against the deal.
But wait, there’s even more:
Mr. Trump’s nixing of the deal won’t do America much good with the rest of the world, either. Important allies and partners, like South Korea, Japan and India, greatly reduced their reliance on Iranian oil in service to the negotiations that produced the nuclear agreement. Sabotaging the deal will sour these relationships. Moreover, these countries will balk at economic sanctions on Iran that are re-imposed in the absence of diplomacy. Mr. Trump may get some level of compliance thanks to the reach of American banking sanctions, but he will also spawn distrust and resentment, and push other countries closer to China as a more reliable financial partner.
But wait, there’s even more:
Killing the Iran deal will also be an early blow to the forthcoming nuclear negotiations with North Korea. Mr. Trump most likely believes that nixing the Iran accord will somehow show North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, that he does not make “bad” deals. In reality, Mr. Kim will wonder if he can believe in any agreement offered by an American president.
And there’s this:
Finally, if the White House rips up the Iran deal, it will give the United States exactly what it needs least: international isolation. The deal was negotiated by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, coordinated by the European Union, and endorsed by a 15-to-0 vote in the United Nations Security Council. Mr. Trump will not isolate Iran by nixing the deal; he will isolate America and lead its partners and allies to consider China and Russia as more dependable, predictable partners, even absent Western values.
This is the Stormy Daniels interview writ large – the man is weak and useless – and Martin Longman adds this:
When it comes to making war in Asia, the country is exhausted. Bolton knows this. Trump knew it when he was a candidate for the Republican nomination and the presidency. There can be no frontal argument for war. If there are to be wars, first there must be crises and calamities that stir the American public out of their current mood of cynicism and restraint. Given a choice, the American people will demand diplomacy precede bombings and invasions, so all avenues of diplomacy must be cut off. And conditions must worsen considerably, including our perception of our own vulnerability, before people are frightened enough to once again support the use of extreme violence.
If the Iranians can be provoked into resuming nuclear program activities that are currently in mothballs and to take provocative steps in the asymmetrical war in the Middle East, and if North Korea can likewise be wrong-footed into making menacing moves, then the public will begin to support military action. If all diplomatic alternatives are cut off, America may be conditioned to support another round of mass killing. The more isolated we are, the more dire our condition will appear.
This is how “the march to military conflict” becomes “hard to stop.”
Bolton can pull that off because Trump is a weak man and he isn’t:
As national security adviser, Bolton will be positioned to orchestrate this even against the wishes of the president, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community. If Mike Pompeo is confirmed as Secretary of State, he may even have an ally in the State Department making the failure of diplomacy that much easier to sell to the public.
For Bolton, there can be no other point to taking this position, whether the president realizes it or not.
Trump can be played, and earlier, Longman argued this:
There is a strain of thinking on the left that is permanently weary of confrontation with Russia as a result of battles that took place long ago during the Cold War. At its most noble, this is a simple concern that the likeliest way to end life as we know it is for the United States and Russia to go to war and start launching nuclear weapons at each other. Therefore, anyone recommending reconciliation and negotiation with Russia is a more prudent choice than someone advocating we take a hardline stance against their foreign policies.
Forget that now:
The shooting wars are much more likely to start with North Korea and Iran than with Russia, but that’s no guarantee that nuclear weapons won’t be used by our forces or by our adversaries. Bolton will move to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran despite the fact that it was co-signed by all the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Having made us a pariah on the international stage, he will then try to mobilize the nation for preemptive strikes on Iran that will likely require a nuclear component to be effective in destroying their nuclear program. We will still find ourselves in an actual war with Iran, either directly or by asymmetrical means. A ground war to affect their capitulation will be required, and it’s not likely to go as well as the war in Iraq for a whole host of reasons, including our pariah status.
On North Korea, he is likely to argue that we need to attack now while their missiles are still relatively untested, and to disregard any concerns that much of South Korea will be destroyed in the conflict or that North Korea may still find a way to detonate a nuclear weapon on our allies, our foreign bases, or even on the mainland of the United States. Russia and China will not stand still for such provocations, let alone the unimaginable toll in human lives this will cost.
All of that is quite possible because Trump has been dominated by someone stronger once again:
It’s being reported that John Bolton promised the president that he would not start any wars if he was given responsibility for our foreign policy, but John Bolton wouldn’t want the position if he couldn’t steer the nation toward war with Iran and North Korea. Our only hope is that Trump hired him for his lively performances on Fox News but won’t ultimately follow his advice. But I think that hope is ill-founded because it misunderstands the role of national security adviser as well as the power Bolton will have in the vacuum created by Trump’s lack of engagement and understanding of world affairs.
This is the most dangerous moment for humanity since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
That makes the Stormy Daniels business seem absurdly insignificant, but it isn’t. It’s all of one piece. Donald Trump is an essentially weak man. He’ll always drop his pants and bend over. What does he know? He has no other choice.