Course Corrections

Politicians hate to admit they were wrong, but they do, and Donald Trump won’t. He’ll imply change course and say he hasn’t changed course at all – that’s what he was going to do all along. Reports that he had said he would never do this or that were fake news. He never said those words that are on record. That must have been someone else, but, like everyone else, he knows when he has screwed up. He knows that this makes him look like a jerk:

During a recent trip to France, the president didn’t attend a ceremony commemorating the centenary of World War I because of the rain, with the White House saying his helicopter couldn’t fly in the inclement weather and a motorcade would have caused too much traffic. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended the ceremony.

Trump didn’t visit Arlington National Cemetery to mark Veterans Day this year because he was traveling home from France and didn’t go to the ceremony or hold any public events to honor U.S. veterans on the Monday holiday. Trump admitted he should have gone to Arlington National Cemetery to mark Veterans Day…

Trump, who attended New York Military Academy but avoided serving in the Vietnam War through draft deferments, also answered questions Sunday about why he hadn’t visited American troops serving in combat zones in Iraq or Afghanistan.

He had an answer to the first one. His staff screwed up, and anyway, he went to another ceremony the next day, and that should have covered it. He also had an answer to skipping Arlington on Veterans Day. He was busy making phone calls – for the country. Veterans would understand. He was doing what a leader does. Ignore the rage tweets about Robert Mueller and whatnot. He was busy. But he had no answer to why he had had never once visited the troops.

That took a day. Now there’s an answer. The Washington Post team reports that he says he was planning this all along:

President Trump has begun telling advisers that he may visit troops in a combat zone for the first time in his presidency, as he has come under increasing scrutiny for his treatment of military affairs and failure to visit service members deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.

See? He was going to get around to this, but reporters speak with other sources:

Trump has so far declined to visit those combat regions, saying he does not want to associate himself with wars he views as failures, according to current and former advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Current advisers said Trump is not expected to visit a war zone during the Thanksgiving break, which he will spend at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida.

In short, he’s reluctant, but he’s trapped himself:

The president has often cast himself as a champion of the Pentagon, invoking the strength and size of the military at his campaign rallies and on Twitter. At the same time, he has frequently criticized U.S. military missions and decisions while personally attacking some former military leaders, contributing to a complicated relationship with the armed forces he commands.

He’s smart. They’re stupid. They’re honored for their valor and character and courage. Everyone should honor him, not them, but he’s their champion and they can count on him. What? It’s complicated, and there’s this:

Although he signed off on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ requests to bolster the American military presence in Afghanistan and Syria and retain the footprint in Iraq, Trump isn’t a fan of U.S. military operations there.

In meetings about a potential visit, he has described the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan as “a total shame,” according to the advisers. He also cited the long flights and potential security risks as reasons he has avoided combat-zone visits, they said.

But he will go:

Questioned last week about why he has not visited American troops deployed in overseas conflicts, Trump indicated during a Fox News interview that a trip was in the works.

“I think you will see that happen,” Trump said in the interview with Chris Wallace that aired Sunday. “There are things that are being planned. We don’t want to talk about it because of security reasons and everything else.”

The president also repeated his erroneous contention that he was opposed to the Iraq War. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker has found that Trump initially expressed support for the invasion and did not register public objections until more than a year after the war began.

“I think it was a tremendous mistake, should never have happened,” Trump told Wallace.

“But this is about the soldiers, sir,” Wallace responded.

“You’re right,” Trump said. “I don’t think anybody’s been more with the military than I have, as a president…”

And then he trailed off into talk about how wonderful he is, which seems to be a defense mechanism:

Trump has spoken privately about his fears over risks to his own life, according to a former senior White House official, who has discussed the issue with the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about Trump’s concerns.

“He’s never been interested in going,” the official said of Trump visiting troops in a combat zone, citing conversations with the president. “He’s afraid of those situations. He’s afraid people want to kill him.”

But there’s that pressure:

Pressure for Trump to make such a visit has been building for months. Eliot Cohen, a former George W. Bush administration official and Trump critic, has raised the issue regularly in public.

“The point is American servicemen and women are on the ground in these places,” Cohen said in an interview. “They are getting killed. I think any good leader would want to see something for themselves. And they would want to do something for the troops other than using them as props.”

They really aren’t props after all:

Since Trump took office, about 60 American service members have died while deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, according to Pentagon statistics, including both “hostile” and “non-hostile” deaths.

And there’s precedent:

The history of presidents visiting American troops on active deployments dates back decades and gives presidents a sense of what is happening on the ground — while sending a message to troops that the government at home appreciates their personal sacrifices.

During the Korean War, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s pledge to go to Korea helped propel him into the presidency over Adlai Stevenson. Eisenhower followed through with a visit in 1952.

Lyndon B. Johnson met with troops at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam in 1966, telling them he had come only to say how proud he was of what they were doing and the way they were doing it. He also visited forces there the next year.

George H. W. Bush spent Thanksgiving with American troops in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield in 1990 and New Year’s with troops in Somalia in 1993. His successor, Bill Clinton, visited troops in Bosnia in 1996 and spent Thanksgiving with troops in Kosovo in 1999.

George W. Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to troops in Iraq months after the invasion in 2003 and went to the country three additional times after that while president. At the time, the U.S. military footprint in the country was building, ultimately numbering about 170,000 troops in Iraq at the peak of a surge in 2007…

The troop presence in Afghanistan grew during the first half of the Obama administration, reaching a peak of about 100,000 in 2011. President Barack Obama visited the country four times as president, most recently in 2014, and made one trip to Iraq shortly after his first inauguration, meeting with American forces each time. He had previously visited the combat zones in both countries as a U.S. senator.

They were busy too. This looks bad, but Trump is who he is:

Trump’s advisers say his lack of a visit does not represent a lack of interest in or disrespect for the military. There are military figures in his administration that he admires, his advisers say: Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of staff of the Army, and retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, a former White House adviser who now works for Vice President Pence.

The president was persuaded to sign a spending bill that he did not like by aides who brought him lists of military equipment the money would buy – even down to the specific planes and ships, current and former White House aides said.

Pictures of nifty planes and ships do help with this man, but not that much:

According to current and former aides, Trump was shaken after visiting Dover Air Force Base shortly after his inauguration to receive the remains of a Navy SEAL killed in Yemen, his first trip to meet a grieving family. He has not returned since.

The president, who attacked a Gold Star family on the campaign trail in 2016, has shown little interest in some of the minutiae of the military and regularly complains about the headaches involved in its entanglements around the world, aides said.

But he can correct an error:

The 5,800 troops who were rushed to the southwest border amid President Donald Trump’s pre-election warnings about a refugee caravan will start coming home as early as this week – just as some of those migrants are beginning to arrive.

Democrats and Republicans have criticized the deployment as a ploy by the president to use active-duty military forces as a prop to try to stem Republican losses in this month’s midterm elections.

The general overseeing the deployment told Politico on Monday that the first troops will start heading home in the coming days as some are already unneeded, having completed the missions for which they were sent. The returning service members include engineering and logistics units whose jobs included placing concertina wire and other barriers to limit access to ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border.

All the troops should be home by Christmas…

It was a false alarm, but Gordon Adams and Lawrence Wilkerson and Isaiah Wilson disagree. Adams is professor emeritus at American University’s School of International Service. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel, is a professor of government and public policy at the College of William and Mary. He was Colin Powell’s chief-of staff. Wilson, a retired Army colonel, is a senior lecturer with Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. All three see a problem here:

A week before the midterm elections, the president of the United States announced he would deploy up to 15,000 active duty military troops to the United States-Mexico border to confront a menacing caravan of refugees and asylum seekers. The soldiers would use force, if necessary, to prevent such an “invasion” of the United States.

Mr. Trump’s announcement and the deployment that followed (of roughly 5,900) were probably perfectly legal. But we are a bipartisan threesome with decades of experience in and with the Pentagon, and, to us, this act creates a dangerous precedent. We fear this was lost in the public hand-wringing over the decision, so let us be clear: The president used America’s military forces not against any real threat but as toy soldiers, with the intent of manipulating a domestic midterm election outcome, an unprecedented use of the military by a sitting president.

And the whole thing was pointless:

Is there truly a threat to American security from an unarmed group of tired refugees and asylum seekers on foot and a thousand miles from the border? Even the Army’s internal assessment did not find this a very credible threat.

Can the president deny in advance what could be legitimate claims for asylum, without scrutiny? Most likely, this violates treaty commitments the United States made as part of its agreement to refugee conventions in 1967, which it has followed for decades.

These three are unhappy with Trump:

James Mattis, the secretary of defense, asserted that the Defense Department does not “do stunts.” But this was a blatant political stunt. The president crossed a line – the military is supposed to stay out of domestic politics. As many senior military retirees have argued, the forces are not and should not be a political instrument. They are not toy soldiers to be moved around by political leaders but a neutral institution, politically speaking.

So there is no excuse for this:

Some might say presidents use troops politically all the time. And so they do, generally in the context of foreign policy decisions that have political implications. Think Lyndon Johnson sending more troops to Vietnam, fearing he would be attacked for “cutting and running” from that conflict – or George W. Bush crowing about “mission accomplished” when Saddam Hussein was toppled. Those are not the same thing as using troops at home for electoral advantage.

Electoral gain, not security, is this president’s goal. Two of us served in the military for many years; while all troops must obey the legal and ethical orders of civilian leaders, they need to have faith that those civilian leaders are using them for legitimate national security purposes. But the border deployment put the military right in the middle of the midterm elections, creating a nonexistent crisis to stimulate votes for one party.

When partisan actions like this occur, they violate civil-military traditions and erode that faith, with potentially long-term damage to the morale of the force and our democratic practice – all for electoral gain.

And that’s that:

The deployment is a stunt, a dangerous one, and in our view, a misuse of the military that should have led Mr. Mattis to consider resigning, instead of acceding to this blatant politicization of America’s military.

Mattis doesn’t have to resign. Donald Trump already quietly changed course. He may have anticipated this blistering argument, but this wasn’t the only course change:

The White House on Monday abandoned its plan to suspend CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press pass for a second time after the expiration of a federal judge’s 14-day restraining order, instead warning Acosta to abide by a series of new rules for members of the media.

The White House has said it will put in place new rules for journalists at press briefings; CNN on Monday reported one of them contained in the letter to Acosta: Each journalist shall ask “a single question” at a time, unless allowed follow-ups “at the discretion of the President or other White House officials.”

One question – that’s it – no matter what the president says in response to that one question. The courts will strike that down too, but Acosta has his press pass for now – for what that’s worth. Still, Trump made a minor course correction. Take what you can get.

But sometimes there’s no possible course correction:

In the wake of a near-political annihilation in California that has left even longtime conservative stronghold Orange County bereft of a single Republican in the House of Representatives, a growing chorus of GOP loyalists here say there’s only one hope for reviving the flat-lining party: Blow it up and start again from scratch.

That harsh assessment comes as Republicans survey the damage from the devastation of a “blue tsunami” in California which wiped out five GOP-held House seats – with more still threatened – while handing every statewide seat and a supermajority to the Democrats in both houses of the state legislature this week…

There’s no fixing this:

“I believe that the party has to die before it can be rebuilt. And by die – I mean, completely decimated. And I think Tuesday night was a big step,” says veteran California GOP political consultant Mike Madrid. “There is no message. There is no messenger. There is no money. And there is no infrastructure.”

“The California Republican Party isn’t salvageable at this time. The Grand Old Party is dead,” wrote former state GOP Assembly leader Kristin Olsen, who startled fellow Republicans with a brutally frank op-ed this week saying Republicans must acknowledge their “serious problem” in California, particularly the effects of toxicity of President Trump.

Even the Terminator knew this:

This isn’t the first time the dilapidated Republican Party in California has faced a dire outlook – or debated the notion that it must be completely overhauled. In 2007, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was lambasted by Republicans when he delivered an address to their state convention warning that the GOP was “dying at the box office” because they lacked inclusive messaging and policies, particularly to minorities who now dominate the state’s demographics.

That does call for a course correction:

Democratic political strategist Darry Sragow says if the party continues on its current path, its complete disintegration is entirely predictable.

“They’re down to 24 percent registration. And the reason is that they have a huge deficit with Latinos, with African Americans and with Asian Americans. And they now have a deficit with whites,” he said. “You’re talking about a party where 77 percent of Republican likely voters in California are white. And the population that’s white here is 39 percent.”

His advice: “They have to take down the ‘whites only’ sign from the clubhouse door,” Sragow says, “And if they’re willing to allow people who aren’t white into the club, they may be able to recover.”

But that won’t happen:

“I think that the GOP is capable of turning itself around, because it’s a well-established brand,” he said, “The problem is, the people who manage the party are going to have to be willing to do that. And by definition, they are the opposite of that. They have no interest in that.”

Nancy LeTourneau adds a bit more to that:

In 2009 Republicans faced a critical choice after the election of Barack Obama. His win came on the heels of a colossal failure of the party’s agenda under George W. Bush. The country was mired in Middle Eastern wars that decimated their interventionist foreign policy and was careening towards another Great Depression as a result of their domestic agenda.

The choice Republicans faced was whether to double down on their failed policies or rethink their entire agenda. We all know what they decided to do. GOP leaders made the choice to simply obstruct anything and everything Obama and the Democrats attempted to do. In order to gin up their base to provide cover for their obstruction, they fanned the flames of racism against the first African-American president and paved the way for birther Donald Trump to emerge as their standard bearer.

And now they’re paying the price for those failed policies, but they do have a plan to avoid changing course:

They’ve decided that “being outnumbered doesn’t have to mean losing.” In other words, anti-democratic strategies like voter suppression and gerrymandering were adopted in response. I expect that as the Republican base shrinks into an even smaller minority, the party will simply ramp up those strategies.

That is the alternative to an embarrassing course correction, but that’s not much of an alternative. Politicians hate to admit they were wrong, but some do, and Donald Trump won’t – and now Republicans won’t either. And then they’re gone. The Titanic didn’t change course either.

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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