Toward Disgrace and Downfall

This was the weekend things did not go as planned:

A Fox News journalist giving a live broadcast in a sports bar in France didn’t go unnoticed by the Americans who were right there with him on Sunday.

Fox News correspondent Greg Palkot was reporting from a sports bar in Lyon, France, where jubilant Americans were celebrating U.S. national women’s soccer team’s victory in the Women’s World Cup.

Palkot began with “We are here in a sports bar in Lyon, France-” before he was promptly cut off by the crowd’s chants of “Fuck Trump! Fuck Trump!”

Oops. Fox News was not prepared for that:

Palkot tried to speak over the yelling, which lasted over ten seconds. A few minutes later, the reporter spoke to random members of the crowd how they felt about the game.

“Did you have any doubt that they would lose?” Palkot asked the man who started the chants (it’s unclear if Palkot knew he had done so).

“None, none whatsoever,” the man responded. “Now we need to win in 2020. Democrats!”

“USA Democrats!” a woman wrapped in an American flag cheered.

“Get that racist out of the White House!” the man yelled into Palkot’s mic.

And then there was only one thing to do:

For his part, Palkot seemed to take it all in stride.

“They are very happy,” he said with a smile. “It’s a political thing too, as you can see.”

And of course it was also personal:

The U.S. national women’s soccer team beat the Netherlands 2-0, with soccer star Megan Rapinoe scoring one of the goals.

Rapinoe, an openly gay athlete who’s also very outspoken against President Donald Trump, ignited the President’s rage in late June after she said that she’s “not going to the fucking White House.”

“I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS!” Trump tweeted.

That was followed by a few days of conservative websites filled with the voices of those who said they would now cheer the French on, in hopes they’d knock off this American team led by this bull-dyke pervert who hates America. France lost. Then these folks cheered on the women from the Netherlands, because they loved America and Megan Rapinoe didn’t, so the Dutch women should win. They didn’t. And now Megan Rapinoe can talk. Donald Trump said so after all. And she’ll talk, among other things, about Trump pushing those new “religious freedom” laws – no one has to offer goods or services to anyone who their religion says is a sinner and pure evil – no wedding cakes from Truly Christian™ bakers – no medical treatment from Truly Christian™ doctors. And don’t get Megan Rapinoe, and that whole team, started on equal pay for women. Trump has said that doesn’t apply to sports. People PAY to watch men. And now Trump is stuck:

He also claimed at the time that he would invite Rapinoe’s team to the White House “win or lose.”

On Sunday, Trump offered a brief congratulatory message to the team with no mention of a White House invite.

This didn’t go as planned. But this will continue – US Soccer Star and Trump-Basher Megan Rapinoe REFUSES to Sing National Anthem in Protest Before Final Game of World Cup – one of many items Trump can use to turn America against this woman and this team. He will make America hate these particular women.

He won’t. They’re cool. He’s not. He’s getting desperate. Cristina Cabrera reports on that:

President Donald Trump on Sunday accused the New York Times of publishing “phony and exaggerated accounts” in its expose on the child migrant center in Clint, Texas.

“The Fake News Media, in particular the Failing @nytimes, is writing phony and exaggerated accounts of the Border Detention Centers,” Trump tweeted. “First of all, people should not be entering our Country illegally, only for us to then have to care for them.”

And this wouldn’t have happened if Democrats allowed Congress to pass the immigration laws he wants – no asylum for anyone or something – but that’s the problem:

Many of the migrants kept in the centers are seeking asylum, which is not illegal. According to the Times’ report, agents are seeing outbreaks of chickenpox and scabies, children forced to sleep on the floor, and a quarantine room with no toilet.

Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told CBS reporter Martha Raddatz that the situation at the border facilities was “challenging,” but that allegations of kids going hungry or sleeping in dirty cells were “unsubstantiated.”

However, it’s not just the Times that has come out with a shocking report on the center. The New Yorker and the Associated Press both confirmed the facility’s squalid conditions, as did several House Democrats who visited it.

In fact, the DHS’ own inspector general released a report and photos last week revealing the dangerous and unsanitary conditions of several of the migrant detention facilities.

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan rejected his own inspector general’s report. That just cannot be true. His inspector general must be wrong. Trust him on that.

Who should one trust? Slate’s Daniel Politi reports on the president’s own problems with that:

President Donald Trump spent Sunday night criticizing the media. And that really wouldn’t be notable except that he slammed an odd target: Fox News. The president let his anger at the conservative cable news channel be known by expressing it in an unhinged tweetstorm that targeted the weekend anchors. It seems his anger against Fox News had been building up and it burst open Sunday night, with the president warning that the network is “changing fast” and even claiming that Democrats are somehow responsible for its programming.

“Watching @FoxNews weekend anchors is worse than watching low ratings Fake News @CNN, or Lyin’ Brian Williams,” the president began. He then went into a tangent about “Lyin’ Brian Williams,” calling him a “dishonest journalist” and claiming he had been fired. That isn’t entirely accurate since Williams is still working for MSNBC, but he was demoted from anchoring the NBC Nightly News.

Politi has much more, but this stands out:

Trump went on to aim fire at “Comcast (NBC/MSNBC) Trump haters,” and claiming “NBC is also way down in the ratings.” But the commander-in-chief then proceeded to once again attack Fox News, suggesting something changed after the network “failed in getting the very BORING Dem debates.” Since then, Trump said, Fox News is “loading up with Democrats & even using Fake unsourced @nytimes as a ‘source’ of information.”

Fox News did note what the New York Times has reported, and that set off Trump:

Trump ends his rant by warning that “@FoxNews is changing fast, but they forgot the people who got them there!”

Politi adds this:

What exactly triggered Trump to go on an anti-Fox News rant? It isn’t quite clear. Earlier in the day Fox News went live to a bar in Lyon, France where patrons celebrating the U.S. women’s team World Cup victory suddenly broke into a “Fuck Trump!” chant.

Whatever the cause, it did come on a day when Trump appeared to be particularly sensitive about media coverage and he also ranted against his usual foe the New York Times. In particular, Trump accused the Times, and other media outlets, of “writing phony and exaggerated accounts of the Border Detention Centers.”

It all adds up, but anyone can tweet:

The Times replied to Trump’s attack. “We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting on the U.S. Border Patrol’s detention centers,” the newspaper tweeted from its PR account.

This did seem to be spinning out of control, and Politi adds this:

President Donald Trump reportedly said that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminded him of Eva Perón, popularly known as Evita. And Ocasio-Cortez didn´t seem to mind the comparison very much, using the opportunity to tweet out two famous quotes attributed to the former Argentine first lady.

This was odd:

Trump made the comparison during an interview for the book American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump by Politico’s Tim Alberta. The book is scheduled to be published July 16 but the Guardian obtained a copy and published some excerpts in which Trump claims he first noticed Ocasio-Cortez during the 2018 primary race against incumbent Joe Crowley. Trump was allegedly watching television with advisers when the young politician caught his eye.

“I see a young woman,” he says, “ranting and raving like a lunatic on a street corner, and I said: ‘That’s interesting, go back.'” Trump then “became enamored” and “star struck” by Ocasio-Cortez, according to Alberta. “I called her Eva Perón,” Trump says. “I said, ‘That’s Eva Perón. That’s Evita.”

When Ocasio-Cortez won the primary, Trump saw it as an example of how he is “good at talent” because he “spotted talent.”

When speaking to Alberta, Trump tempered that praise, noting that while “she’s got talent” she also “doesn’t know anything. She’s got a good sense, an ‘it’ factor, which is pretty good, but she knows nothing.”

And thus it was time to tweak Trump:

Ocasio-Cortez linked to a story about the report and wrote a quote that she attributed to the former first lady: “I know that, like every woman of the people, I have more strength than I appear to have.”

She quickly followed that up with another quote: “I had watched for many years and seen how a few rich families held much of Argentina’s wealth and power in their hands. So the government brought in an eight-hour working day, sickness pay and fair wages to give poor workers a fair go.”

That was a warning. You like Evita? You may get Evita. You may not like that, but this is what it is:

Trump has been public about his love of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical Evita about the former first lady. In his 2004 book, Trump said that it was his “favorite Broadway show,” claiming he had seen it six times.

Sure, but he didn’t “get” it.

There’s a lot that he doesn’t get. People do notice that:

In a series of leaked diplomatic cables, Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch, described President Trump as “radiating insecurity” and his administration as diplomatically “clumsy and inept,” a withering assessment that threatened to damage bilateral relations at a delicate moment for Britain.

That’s an understatement:

The cables were published late on Saturday by The Mail on Sunday, span a period from 2017 to the present and include candid assessments of American domestic politics and Washington’s treatment of Iran over its nuclear weapons program.

The most closely held of the cables was intended as an update on the new Trump administration for a narrow audience of top British officials. It described the chaos inside the new administration, the concerns about the future of the Atlantic relationship and the struggle to figure out who had the president’s ear.

It was unclear who leaked the documents and how The Mail obtained them. But the British news outlet identified only one recipient in Britain: Mark Sedwill, a longtime British diplomat who succeeded Mr. Darroch as national security adviser and became cabinet secretary in 2018.

So this was a heads-up. There’s trouble ahead. But there’s nothing to see here, folks:

A statement by the British Foreign Office made it clear that the documents were authentic. It said: “The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country. Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government.”

“But we pay them to be candid, just as the U.S. ambassador here will send back his reading of Westminster politics and personalities.”

So this was no big deal, unless it was:

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office said later on Sunday that it would start “a formal leak investigation.”

The White House did not immediately comment on Sunday, but Mr. Trump has been known to react badly to criticism. The British government recently hosted the American president for his first state visit, which included a lavish banquet at Buckingham Palace and a 41-gun salute – gestures apparently aimed at winning his good will.

That’s gone now:

In the cables, the British ambassador says that British analysts do not believe that the Trump administration “is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”

The diplomat noted that Mr. Trump has regularly survived scandals in the past, and suggested that he could win a second term as president. “Trump may emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of ‘The Terminator,’ ” Mr. Darroch wrote, referring to the 1984 science-fiction film.

He warned of “real risks on the horizon,” as Mr. Trump guided United States policy away from consensus with Britain. “This ‘America First’ administration could do some profoundly damaging things to the world trade system: such as denounce the WTO, tear up existing trade details, launch protectionist action, even against allies,” he wrote. “It could further undermine international action on climate change, or further cut U.N. funding.”

He noted that Mr. Trump’s decision to order a missile strike on a Syrian air base had been a political success, but warned that “a less well judged military intervention is not inconceivable.”

But wait, there’s more:

In a confidential letter dated June 27, 2017, and addressed to Mr. Sedwill and a handful of senior Downing Street figures, Mr. Darroch says allegations that the Trump camp colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign “cannot be ruled out.”

Another memo, sent on June 10, 2017, expresses skepticism about the project of deepening trading arrangements after Brexit, saying that “divergences of approach on climate change, media freedoms and the death penalty may come to the fore.”

Ambassador Darroch’s six-page letter gave a harsh assessment of Mr. Trump’s domestic accomplishments, writing, “Of the main campaign promises, not an inch of the Wall has been built; the executive orders on travel bans from Muslim countries have been blocked by the state courts; tax reform and the infrastructure package have been pushed into the middle distance; and the repeal and replacement of Obamacare is on a knife edge.”

In that letter, the ambassador described the White House as “a uniquely dysfunctional environment” and said that Britain should be prepared for more outbursts from Mr. Trump. “There is no filter,” Mr. Darroch wrote. “And we could also be at the beginning of a downward spiral, rather than just a roller coaster: something could emerge that leads to disgrace and downfall.”

Disgrace and downfall may be a long way off, but quite possible. Samantha Vinograd, who served on Obama’s National Security Council from 2009 to 2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush, offers some thoughts on that:

The confidentiality of this means of internal communication is supposed to guard against moments like we’re experiencing now. Diplomats need the privacy to communicate so foreign counterparts, including their hosts abroad (in this case Trump), don’t get embarrassed by them, or get tipped off to confidential analysis in a way that would unnecessarily harm diplomatic relationships.

Even before we had a President who was so uniquely thin skinned, foreign diplomats kept their personality assessments about US leaders primarily private so that they could have the time and space to operate without insulting anyone. US diplomats rely on the same operating principles when they make their own private analyses of foreign leaders…

Cables are supposed to be a safe, classified space to share analysis. Leaking them, no matter how predictable the content, at a minimum puts unnecessary pressure on diplomats who write them and on bilateral relationships more broadly.

And this is that problem taken to the extreme:

The US-UK “special relationship” has been under pressure under Trump, especially when he’s interfered in British politics and criticized the UK. Now, we have the added knowledge that the ambassador said he believes Trump might be indebted to “dodgy Russians.” There is even more reason to think that the British are handling Trump with kid gloves and keeping a safe distance from a leader who could, according to Darroch, “crash and burn.”

Logically, if Darroch’s superiors and the Prime Minister put credence in his analysis, there is little chance that they have engaged as broadly and deeply with Trump as they did with his predecessors, fearing that he may be influenced by Russia on one hand or marked by disgrace and downfall on another. While Queen Elizabeth rolled out the red carpet for Trump during his recent UK visit, Darroch’s assessments, if shared more widely within the UK government, likely show a retrenchment from working as closely with the Administration because British officials think so poorly of the American leadership.

This will have serious impacts on key policy issues, like Iran. Darroch reportedly questioned Trump’s reasoning for calling off a strike on Iran, which likely indicates a broader mistrust of what Trump says on strategic security issues. At a time when tensions with Iran are escalating and we need to be in sync with our allies, the British Ambassador doesn’t trust what Trump is saying.

Who does? Kevin Drum adds this:

In fairness, it doesn’t look like Darroch actually said much that you couldn’t glean from the front page of the Washington Post. Everyone already knows that Trump is an incompetent buffoon, after all.

So there’s nothing new here, other than the obvious consequences:

Iran said on Sunday that within hours it would breach the limits on uranium enrichment set four years ago in an accord with the United States and other international powers that was designed to keep Tehran from producing a nuclear weapon.

The latest move inches Iran closer to where it was before the accord: on the path to being able to produce an atomic bomb.

So what was fixed is broken again:

President Trump withdrew the United States from the accord last year and in May dealt a crippling blow to Iran’s economy by implementing sanctions intended to cut off its oil sales anywhere in the world.

In recent weeks, Tehran has retaliated by making deliberate but provocative violations of the accord as part of a carefully calibrated campaign to pressure the West into eliminating sanctions that have slashed the country’s oil exports and crippled its economy.

Last week, Iranian officials broke through similar limits on how much nuclear fuel the country could stockpile.

Trump wanted to do far better than Obama and somehow did far worse:

In violating the limits on uranium enrichment, Tehran still remains far from producing a nuclear weapon. It would take a major production surge and enrichment to far higher levels for Iran to develop a bomb’s worth of highly enriched uranium, experts say. It would take even longer to manufacture that material into a nuclear weapon.

But for Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who signaled in May that he would order the country’s engineers to cross both thresholds if Europe did not compensate Iran for American sanctions, the breach of the enrichment limit would be a watershed. He is betting that the United States will back away from crushing sanctions or that he can split European nations from the Trump administration, which the Europeans blame for setting off the crisis.

If he is wrong, the prospect of military confrontation lurks over each escalation.

Obama tried diplomacy. He got an agreement – ten years or more of Iran not doing this stuff. Trump prefers punishment. He got this, and a confused fellow in Israel:

In Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often vowed never to allow Iran to acquire such a weapon, a member of his security cabinet said Tehran’s announcement on Sunday means “it is brushing off the red lines that were agreed.”

“It has begun its march, a march that is not simple, toward nuclear weaponry,” the cabinet member, Yuval Steinitz, said in a television interview.

So, Iran crossed the red line that Trump erased a year ago because that red line was stupid, because the red line was Obama’s red line. Kim Darroch was right:

In a phone conversation on Saturday seeking to head off a confrontation, President Emmanuel Macron of France had asked Mr. Rouhani to explore by July 15 whether a new negotiation was possible. Mr. Rouhani agreed, according to news reports, but said that “lifting all sanctions can be the beginning of a move between Iran and the six major powers.”

That won’t happen:

So far, Mr. Trump and his top aides have vowed to continue using “maximum pressure” to force Iran to return to the negotiating table and to accept more stringent restrictions. But some of those who had negotiated the last deal say that reaching another one may now be much harder.

The Trump administration “has discredited the very concept of negotiations, and it has strengthened the hand of those inside Iran who would argue that it is no use talking to the Americans because you can never trust them,” said Rob Malley, a former National Security Council official who helped negotiate the 2015 accord.

That’s what Kim Darroch was saying, so expect this:

Iran has helped allied militias build up and dig in around the region, including in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and those militias may in turn help Iran retaliate against the United States.

Its cyber corps, built after an American-Israeli cyberattack on the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in the years before the 2015 accord, is capable of hitting American infrastructure – and has proved it with attacks on American banks.

“You are probably going to see a few things go pop in the region over the summer weeks – like oil facilities being targeted,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, who studies Iran at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Iran may try “to try to raise the cost not only for the Saudis and Emiratis, but also to try to raise the cost for Trump personally in the run up to his election,” she said.

Mr. Trump, often caught between his desire to flex muscles and his aversion to another Middle East war, must now decide whether to negotiate, lower the sanctions pressure or consider military options.

How did it come to this? Disgrace and downfall cannot be inevitable. It may be time to call in Megan Rapinoe. Maybe she can fix this. She does know how to win.

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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