American and British Carelessness

Washington was waiting in breathless anticipation for the Mueller hearings to begin. The man who investigated Trump was going to tell all, except he’d already said he had nothing more to add – read his report – that’s all he has to say. But there will be questions. And there may be no answers. Robert Mueller may say nothing more than “read the damned report” and of course the justice department has told him NOT to say one word that is not in the report, about anything at all, or he’ll be in deep trouble. Anything else he might mention, even what he had for breakfast, is privileged information – presumptive privileged information. Really, just assume anything else he says he shouldn’t say. Proceed from that assumption. Attorney General Barr makes some strange arguments, but Mueller had better be careful. Trump will be watching. But the rest of the nation might have already tuned out. The man who doesn’t want to say anything more has now been forbidden from saying much of anything at all about anything at all. Those people in Washington are crazy. Why watch this nonsense?

There’s enough other nonsense anyway. The nation has a president who doesn’t understand the job:

President Trump believes the Constitution gives him a wide breadth of power. That’s the message he delivered – not for the first time – on Tuesday while addressing a crowd of teenagers and young adults at the Turning Point USA Teen Student Action Summit in Washington.

Trump said this before, and he’ll say it again, and it still sounds stupid:

There are numerous viral video clips from Trump’s 80-minute speech at the conference, but one of the most controversial moments came as he discussed Article II of the Constitution, which describes the powers of the president.

Trump lamented the duration and cost of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which he has repeatedly said found “no collusion, no obstruction.”

“Then, I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president,” he said. “But I don’t even talk about that.”

He seemed to be saying that he could have had Robert Mueller taken out back and shot, but he’s a nice guy and he’d never do something like that, but he could do just that. Everyone says so. Well, not everyone:

Article II grants the president “executive power.” It does not indicate the president has total power. Article II is the same part of the Constitution that describes some of Congress’s oversight responsibilities, including over the office of the presidency. It also details how the president may be removed from office via impeachment.

That should not be all that startling:

William C. Banks, a professor of law at Syracuse University, told the Washington Post on Tuesday that Trump’s comments are an affront to “basic points that every schoolchild learns in civics.” Trump took an oath to support and defend the Constitution when he became president, Banks noted, meaning he can only do what the Constitution permits him to.

“It’s certainly not a grant of unlimited power,” Banks said. “He’s not a monarch, he’s the chief executive… and he’s bound to uphold the rule of law.”

The lawsuits Trump faces in federal courts serve as a reminder of that notion, Banks said.

The professor cited various delays to Trump’s border wall, as well as the challenges the president has faced while implementing immigration reform. Last week, the Post reported that plaintiffs led by the American Civil Liberties Union had sued the Trump administration to stymie a new policy that disqualifies most asylum seekers who cross through Mexico en route to the United States.

And of course Trump keeps losing these cases. His right to do whatever he wants, as president, because he’s president, seems to be the result of a misunderstanding:

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said Trump may have been referring to the position of his legal team – that the president could fire the special counsel without committing obstruction.

“I think he was inartfully repeating that position of his legal team,” Turley said. “That position happens to be wrong, by the way.”

But it may be more than that:

In broader context, Turley called Trump’s comments “chilling” and fundamentally at odds with the language of the Constitution – namely Articles I and III – which impose a series of conditions upon the president’s power. Turley recalled that some of the Constitution’s framers were against having a single president and sought to divide executive powers among multiple people.

That might have been a good idea:

Trump is not the first president to be expansive in his reach. Barack Obama, Turley said, “routinely engaged in unilateral actions some think were unconstitutional.” He also cited Abraham Lincoln, who famously suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1863 – a move Turley said was “directly and flagrantly in violation of the Constitution.”

“There is a tendency for presidents to lose of sight of the language of the Constitution,” Turley said. When courts have ruled against Trump, he added, the president has complied with court orders.

He has so far, but there are no guarantees. He might change his mind about that. He might change his mind about anything, and drag his party with him, as Robert Costa reports here:

In 2011, with the nation still climbing back from the Great Recession, Republicans threatened global markets by refusing to raise the federal debt limit unless President Barack Obama and the Democrats agreed to steep across-the-board spending cuts for years to come.

Eight years later – and $7.7 trillion more in debt – President Trump and GOP lawmakers have agreed this week to lift the debt ceiling again without a fuss, and with hundreds of billions in new spending on top of it.

What were we saying before? Were we saying anything at all? Who knows? Who cares? We have our president:

The deal marks a significant capitulation to Trump after years of brinkmanship from Republicans claiming the mantle of fiscal responsibility, underscoring the president’s far-reaching hold over his party and a disregard for the budget-cutting and debt reduction that conservatives long claimed as priorities.

The move has sparked cries of hypocrisy from many Democrats, who endured routine GOP lecturing about spending and the federal deficit throughout Obama’s two terms in office.

But really, no one cares:

Few Democratic leaders or presidential candidates are calling for fiscal austerity as Republicans shift away from a message of fiscal conservatism. Most 2020 Democratic contenders are instead calling for increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and expanding long-term spending programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who made fiscal responsibility a cornerstone of his 2012 presidential bid against Obama, declined to comment Tuesday on the pact or on the GOP’s drift. “I really don’t have anything for you today on that,” he said.

So it was all a joke:

Under Trump, federal debt has surged to $22 trillion and the annual deficit is expected to reach $1 trillion this fiscal year. Trump claimed during the 2016 campaign that he could eliminate the debt in eight years; instead, it has grown $3 trillion during his tenure.

Yet the current agreement, which would raise spending limits by $320 billion and suspend the federal debt ceiling until 2021, has only generated scattered grousing among some Republicans and few signs of revolt.

It doesn’t matter any longer. Nothing is certain any longer. This president is openly faking it all.

That’s what Slate’s Fred Kaplan sees here:

President Donald Trump has made the United States into an unreliable ally, a loose cannon on turbulent terrain, and a careless superpower – careless in both senses of the word, meaning reckless and without care, oblivious to the consequences of its conduct.

Four incidents, just this past week, clinch the case.

And this one is distressing:

First, and most notorious, was Trump’s comment, during a state visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, about the war in Afghanistan. “If I wanted to win that war,” Trump said, “Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth.” He added, “I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.”

That’s because he’s a nice guy, but not really:

On an obvious level, the remark was merely stupid and callous. On a deeper level, it reflects a profound ignorance about war in general and the war in Afghanistan in particular – and should give ulcers to the leader of any country that depends on the U.S. for its security.

Trump doesn’t seem to realize that the U.S. is not fighting a war against Afghanistan. The whole idea of putting U.S. troops there (however mishandled and probably futile) has been to stabilize the Afghan government and to protect the Afghan people. Killing 10 million of those people and wiping the country off the Earth satisfy no measure of “winning.”

But that’s the misunderstanding now:

Trump has long believed that the point of war – and the definition of winning – is to kill as many bad guys as possible. Shortly after winning the 2016 election, he boasted that he was filling his Cabinet with “the greatest killers of all time.” He didn’t seem aware – and still doesn’t, two and a half years into the job – that wars have political aims and that they’re won by accomplishing those aims, a feat that has nothing to do with the tactical matter of how many people are killed in the process.

He seems to think that forgoing the mass murder of Afghan citizens is a compromise, struck for humanitarian motives, on the road to victory – when, in fact, it has nothing to do with victory.

But wait, there’s more:

Trump’s second blunder came during the same meeting, when he told Khan that he would like to mediate between India and Pakistan in their dispute over Kashmir and that, two weeks earlier, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had asked him to do just that.

Now, the politics of the 70-plus-year-old conflict between India and Pakistan are complicated, which is why presidents should stick to their notes when discussing them – or, better yet, stay away from discussing them entirely. (Of course, Trump has no notes, so it’s a hard rule to enforce.) India, which has in recent years been a far closer U.S. ally than Pakistan, has long insisted that the fate of Kashmir is a matter to be worked out between India and Pakistan, with no outside interference. It is inconceivable that Modi made such a request of Trump – Modi’s spokesman quickly denied the claim – and for Trump to put the idea on the table marked a diplomatic triumph for Khan and has sparked a political crisis within India.

And this was just supposed to be a casual half-hour get-together to discuss the future of Afghanistan in as amiable a manner as possible.

He was faking it and made a mess, but he’s not alone:

The third revealing moment came from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said, in an interview on Fox News, that the sole source of current tensions with Iran is the nature of Tehran’s Islamist government.

“This is a bad regime,” Pompeo said. The recent back-and-forth, involving seized tankers and shot-down drones, is happening not because of Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and his imposition of sanctions, but rather “because the theocracy, the leadership in Iran, their revolutionary zeal to conduct terror around the world, for now four decades, continues.”

He added, “I am ultimately convinced that the Iranian people will get the leadership behavior that they so richly deserve.”

If anyone still needed proof that regime change is the true policy of the Trump administration – or at least of its top diplomat – there it was.

And that was unfortunate:

Pompeo’s remarks came amid Britain’s explicit disavowal – more explicit than usual – of Trump’s “maximum pressure” toward Iran. U.K. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt and other European officials are seeking a diplomatic solution to the escalating crisis. Pompeo clearly is not. If the root problem is the nature of the Iranian regime, then there is no point in returning to the nuclear deal or resuming some other negotiations.

As long as Pompeo’s message is regime-change-or-nothing (and as long as Trump says nothing to contradict this), the Iranians will have no incentive to return to the talks, and EU nations will keep seeking ways to circumvent Washington’s policies. Allies are good to have in wars and diplomatic confrontations; by alienating them, Trump and Pompeo are thus weakening their own position.

Trump, however, has often said our allies are always and forever taking advantage of us and laughing behind our back at what fools we are, and in return we have to humiliate them. Then they’ll give in and do exactly what we say. And we have to keep them humiliated. That’s our power. That’s the plan with Iran and with Canada, but Kaplan saves the best for last:

For the final exhibit of American carelessness, there is Trump’s meeting last week with human rights activist Nadia Murad, an Iraqi who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out about the plight of her fellow Yazidi and about her own torture while in the Islamic State’s captivity.

In as many ways as body language can allow, Trump conveyed the message that he really didn’t care. He remained sitting while she stood. (Can’t this guy rise in respect for anybody, or if he can’t manage that, couldn’t he have offered her a chair?) He avoided so much as eye contact while she beseeched him to help her people. If he’d been briefed ahead of time, on who this woman was, he’d forgotten by the time they met.

“And you had the Nobel Prize, that’s incredible – they gave it to you for what reason?” he asked at one point, with what seemed a mix of indifference and envy.

And at one point she had to mention that both her parents are dead, and Trump’s response was pure Trump – “Oh really, where are they now?”

Kaplan was not impressed:

Murad met Trump in the Oval Office along with two dozen other foreign visitors who had suffered persecution because of their religion. (They all stood, too.) Trump treated them with no more courtesy.

It’s one thing for a president to relegate human rights to a minor place in the priorities of foreign policy; it’s another to be so blatantly bored while surrounded by some of the most renowned human rights activists, who became activists because of their own hideous treatment.

The United States fought ISIS for several reasons, but one of those reasons was to defend people like Nadia Murad, and the least the president can do is acknowledge her bravery.

Don’t expect that. The nation has a president who doesn’t understand the job, but now, at least, he’s not alone:

Boris Johnson, the brash standard-bearer for a British exit from the European Union, won the contest to become the next prime minister on Tuesday, at a critical moment in his country’s history and with less political clout than just about any of its leaders since the Second World War.

His Conservative Party holds only a slim working majority in Parliament. But he has nonetheless promised to carry out Britain’s labyrinthine exit from the European Union by Oct. 31 – a challenge that confounded his predecessor, Prime Minister Theresa May, for the three years she held office.

He will also enter 10 Downing Street at a moment when the country is confronting a crisis with Iran over its seizure last week of a British-flagged oil tanker, threatening to draw Britain into a larger showdown between Tehran and Washington.

And the new prime minister inheriting these challenges is arguably the most improvisational and least predictable politician in recent British history.

That is, he’s the British Donald Trump:

Mr. Johnson has a long track record of statements about Iran, Brexit and other subjects, but there is no consensus on how he might actually act as prime minister.

“That is what concerns me: none of us really know what Boris stands for,” said Michael Stephens, a scholar at the Royal United Services Institute who has worked under Mr. Johnson in the Foreign Office.

Even after recent campaign debates, “I still don’t know what he stands for,” Mr. Stephens added.

Well, he is for making Britain great again, a nation that stands alone, proudly, on its own, not part of any trade or currency union – his Britain will take orders from no one, anywhere. And he’ll bring manufacturing back. He’ll bring everything back – and no Brit will ever again buy anything made elsewhere. No one ever again will take orders from the folks at the EU in Brussels, or even suggestions. And once again the sun will never set on the British Empire. He’s in favor of the Hard Brexit. Cut all ties and end all agreements with the EU right now. England will stand alone. And thus there was this:

Mr. Johnson, 55, is a former journalist and the author of a Winston Churchill biography whose ambition as a child was to become “world king.” His singular brand of bluster, at once upper crust and irreverent, carried him to two terms as mayor of London. Then his pro-Brexit leadership propelled him to become foreign secretary under Ms. May, and now her successor.

President Trump tweeted congratulations. “He will be great!” the president added.

But others like being part of the EU so there was this:

The debate over Brexit has prompted renewed talk about possible Scottish independence and a united Ireland, raising questions about the durability of the United Kingdom itself.

Scotland and Ireland, North and South, have thrived as part of the EU and will do all they can to stay in, perhaps as independent countries, and add Wales to that list. Johnson won’t be World King. He’ll have only England to rule, not Great Britain, if that. This is moving backwards, but the man is who he is:

Mr. Johnson has visited Tehran as foreign minister, and last year he made an emergency trip to Washington in an unsuccessful effort to press the Trump administration to stay in the nuclear deal.

Mr. Stephens, of the Royal United Services Institute, said Mr. Johnson showed a solid command of the details and knew how to stay on message.

“But then there is Boris the Showman,” he said, “and it just takes Showman Boris to do something stupid and then we are all in trouble.”

That sounds familiar and that happens when the man, with the big ego, in charge, doesn’t really understand the job. So does it matter what Robert Mueller says or doesn’t say? There are other issues. There are bigger issues.

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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