Two Sudden Moves

The summer of 1966 – after that freshman year of college in Ohio – was cool – pumping gas during the day and playing in a salsa band at night, on Saint Croix in the United States Virgin Islands. But why were those old men in Christiansted speaking Danish?

Look it up. That was because the Danish West Indies of the Kingdom of Denmark–Norway were sold to the United States by Denmark in the Treaty of the Danish West Indies of 1917 – a good deal for both sides. Beet sugar was cheaper than cane sugar. The islands’ economy was collapsing. Denmark could no longer prop them up. Denmark had to cut its losses. And at the time Germany was eyeing those particular Caribbean islands as a way to extend the Great War our way. They might seize them. The United States decided they might be useful to keep their navy out of that part of the world, so we bought them. Saint Croix and Saint Thomas and Saint John became an organized unincorporated United States territory.

They proved useless as a naval base and the Germans lost the war two years later, but there are economic and geopolitical reasons that these things happen. The United States had been eyeing those three islands as a naval base since the Andrew Jackson administration. We finally bought them. We’d been thinking about that for more than fifty years. This was not a sudden move.

This was a sudden move:

President Trump has pushed top aides to investigate whether the U.S. government can purchase the giant ice-smothered island of Greenland, two people with direct knowledge of the directive said.

The presidential request has bewildered aides, some of whom continue to believe it isn’t serious, but Trump has mentioned it for weeks. The two people with knowledge of the presidential demand spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to reveal such White House planning.

There is that, but perhaps they didn’t want their names associated with something that might be nothing:

As with many of Trump’s internal musings, aides are waiting for more direction before they decide how seriously they should look into it.

Among the things that have been discussed is whether it is even legal, what the process would be for acquiring an island that has its own government and population, and where any money to purchase a giant landmass would originate.

Trump does not seem to have considered any of that, and this is an odd target:

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Greenland is 2.2 million square kilometers, with 1.7 million of that covered in ice. It has considerable natural resources, such as coal and uranium, but only 0.6 percent of the land is used for agriculture. It has about 58,000 residents, making it one of the world’s smallest countries by population.

It is a self-governing country that is part of the kingdom of Denmark. Trump is scheduled to visit Denmark in two weeks.

Will they sell again? But this isn’t 1917:

Trump had touted his career as a real estate developer during the 2016 presidential campaign and made clear that he has retained an eye for real estate opportunities during his tenure in the White House. For example, he has said that North Korea could build famous hotels and resorts along its oceanfront properties, even though many foreigners are afraid to visit the country out of fear for their lives.

There is that, but if things worked out he could get even richer, because those would be Trump hotels and resorts on the rocky and bitter-cold coast of North Korea, where guests would fear for their lives.

No, that might not work, but there are other factors with Greenland:

With melting ice making the region more accessible, the United States has been firm in trying to counter any moves by Russia and China in the Arctic. China declared itself a “near-Arctic nation” last year and has defended its desire for a “Polar Silk Road” in which Chinese goods would be delivered by sea from Asia to Europe.

China recently sought to bankroll the construction of three airports in Greenland, drawing concern from then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and prompting the Pentagon to make the case to Denmark that it should fund the facilities itself rather than rely on Beijing.

Trump may or may not know anything about that. Mattis quit because Trump preferred to listen to Fox and Friends rather than anyone in defense or intelligence. So no one knew what to make of this:

“This idea isn’t as crazy as the headline makes it seem,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) said in a tweet. “This is a smart geopolitical move. The United States has a compelling strategic interest in Greenland, and this should absolutely be on the table.”

Most, however, responded with mockery.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) shared a news story about Trump’s idea and mused: “A Great place for his ‘presidential’ library.”

And Jonah Goldberg, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, tweeted that MAGA – the acronym for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan – is “an anagram of Make Greenland American Already.”

So it was the usual. Trump makes an absurd sudden move. No one knows what to make of any of it. And then they wait. It could be nothing. That happens quite a bit. But the day’s stunning sudden move was far more serious:

Under intense pressure from President Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on Thursday barred two members of the United States Congress from entering Israel, reversing a previous decision to admit two of the president’s most outspoken critics.

This was as shocking as his deciding to buy Greenland:

By enlisting a foreign power to take action against two American citizens, let alone elected members of Congress, Mr. Trump crossed a line that other presidents have not, in effect exporting his partisan battles beyond the country’s borders. And he demonstrated the lengths that he will go to, to target his domestic opponents, in this case two of the congresswomen of color he has sought to make the face of the Democratic Party heading into his re-election campaign.

In blocking the visits of the two Democratic congresswomen, who are both Muslim, Mr. Netanyahu cited their support for boycotting Israel, acceding to the wishes of the American president, who declared on Twitter shortly before Israel’s announcement that letting them in would “show great weakness.”

He was goading Netanyahu. Do this or I’ll tell the world you are WEAK in my famous Trump Tweets of Death. The world will laugh at you. Do you want that? Are you feeling lucky, punk?

Netanyahu would give in:

The congresswomen, Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, are vocal supporters of the Palestinians and the movement called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS.

The president has repeatedly attacked them, along with Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, at one point demanding that they “go back” to their home countries, even though they are all American citizens.

Netanyahu now agrees with all of that, and that was awkward:

Israel’s decision was criticized not only by Democrats but also by some top Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, also said it was a mistake.

In a statement, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel respects Congress but defended the decision. “As a free and vibrant democracy,” he said, “Israel is open to critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for, and work to impose, boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prevent the entry of people believed to be damaging to the country.”

Ah, it was the law there. He had no choice, but Trump wasn’t making things any easier:

Mr. Trump, who has sought to elevate a handful of controversial but relatively powerless liberal freshmen of color into symbols of the opposition, promptly welcomed the decision on Twitter. “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!” he wrote.

Follow the logic. Now the whole Democrat Party hates Israel. Netanyahu had better bar them from Israel too, and never speak to them again. And most American Jews are liberal Democrats, so can Trump get Netanyahu to declare that they will no longer be considered Jews at all. Will Israel now strip them of their right to be called Jews at all, unless they become Republicans? What will Trump demand next? Netanyahu may worry about such things.

But of course Trump blindsided his people too:

The decision put Israel at odds with Republicans like Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader. “I think all should come,” he said during his own visit to Israel last weekend.

Mr. Rubio also spoke out against the move. “I disagree 100% with Reps. Tlaib & Omar on #Israel & am the author of the #AntiBDS bill we passed in the Senate,” he tweeted. “But denying them entry into #Israel is a mistake. Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.”

Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is typically in lock step with Mr. Netanyahu, broke with him, saying that while it disagrees with Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib, “every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally, Israel, firsthand.” It did not mention Mr. Trump’s role, nor did Mr. Rubio.

And then there’s Netanyahu:

An Israeli official close to the prime minister’s office said on Thursday that a call came from the Trump administration as recently as this week pressing Mr. Netanyahu to bar the congresswomen. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate information, said the prime minister found himself in a “lose-lose” situation, having to choose between upsetting Mr. Trump or the Democrats.

Yes, the Democrats may one day win the White House again:

Ms. Omar, who learned of the cancellation from news reports, had been scheduled to arrive on Saturday night. An aide said she planned to meet with an Arab member of the Israeli Parliament and hoped to schedule a meeting with Jewish members as well. The two congresswomen were to tour the West Bank, partly under the auspices of Miftah, an organization headed by a longtime Palestinian lawmaker, Hanan Ashrawi.

“What are they afraid of?” asked Ms. Ashrawi, referring to Israeli authorities. “That they might find out things?”

Netanyahu already appears weak, and Josh Marshall sees this:

Israel is supposedly doing this because the two support BDS. As it happens, I’m not even sure this is entirely true. Tlaib, who is Palestinian American and has relatives in the territories, does. Omar has actually made contradictory or equivocal comments about BDS. Regardless, it simply doesn’t matter. They are elected members of the United States Congress. They are part of the US government and their treatment bears directly on the respect accorded our system of government or interference with our democratic system. The idea that a government which has long benefited from US protection and aid would do such a thing is outrageous.

Even more outrageous is that President Trump has encouraged this decision.

But there’s no surprise there:

This betrays an established and dangerous pattern with Donald Trump: his personal alliances always come before allegiance to country, law and Constitution. This is not surprising and it is of a piece with his collusion and tacit alliance with Russia during the 2016 election.

But this is bigger than that:

What you think about Omar and Tlaib is irrelevant. I have criticized Omar when I think it is merited. All that matters here is that they are elected representatives. Punishing or excluding them is a strike against our democratic system. An ally should never do such a thing.

And there was no reason to do this thing:

This does not even make sense from the point of view of narrow Israeli self-interest – not in Israeli or Zionist terms. The US has two major parties and they frequently rotate in power. Omar and to a lesser extent Tlaib are controversial in US politics but they have many ardent supporters in the Democratic Party. They are both women of color. The Israeli government under Netanyahu has increasingly identified itself with the GOP and actively worked with the GOP against Democrats as the GOP has become more associated with white nationalism.

Democrats will be back in power again. The party is increasingly based on a multiracial political coalition. Sowing antagonism at a level so deep and visceral is obvious folly.

Netanyahu, however, has decided to stand with the white nationalists from here on out, but perhaps he had no choice:

The truth is that this isn’t Israeli policy or even precisely Netanyahu policy. This is an electoral gambit. Israel has an election next month and Netanyahu is in a fight for his political life. He may even be in a fight for his freedom since remaining in office is his best play to delay or quash corruption charges. This is an effort to juice outrage and support from the Israeli far right.

There is that, over there, but the Washington Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa, is concerned with what is over here:

By pressuring the Israeli government to bar entry by two members of Congress, President Trump once again used the power and platform of his office to punish his political rivals.

It’s a pattern that has intensified during the first two and a half years of Trump’s presidency, as he has increasingly governed to the tune of his grievances.

The president has grounded a military jet set for use by the Democratic House speaker, yanked a security clearance from a former CIA director critical of him, threatened to withhold disaster aid from states led by Democrats, pushed to reopen a criminal investigation targeting Hillary Clinton and publicly called for federal action to punish technology and media companies he views as biased against him.

Taken as a whole, Trump’s use of political power to pursue personal vendettas is unprecedented in modern history, said Matthew Dallek, a political historian who teaches at George Washington University.

“It’s both a sign of deep insecurity on his part and also just a litany of abuse of power,” he said. “I don’t think anyone really has done it as consistently or as viciously as Trump has.”

And he is vicious:

Trump has wielded his authority over the federal budget to intervene in spending decisions related to various natural disasters. He has publicly shown disdain toward disaster-stricken states where Democrats outnumber Republicans, and in some cases threatened to withhold disaster funding from them.

As historic wildfires ravaged California earlier this year, Trump lamented the amount of money the federal government was spending to provide relief.

“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen,” Trump tweeted in January. “Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”

FEMA did not ultimately end its disaster funding for California, but the threat alone sparked outrage among Democrats.

After hurricanes crushed the island of Puerto Rico in 2017, Trump also personally intervened to block aid funding. For weeks, as Congress debated a disaster aid package earlier this year, Trump told his advisers that he did not want any additional funds going to Puerto Rico – a U.S. territory where the government estimates about 3,000 people died after Hurricane Maria.

The mayor of San Juan had been publicly critical of Trump’s response to the hurricane, leading the president to call her out on Twitter.

The stories go on and on. Now he’s roped in Netanyahu to help out. But he’s not helping himself:

Trump’s intervention in Israel’s decision about whether to let Tlaib and Omar visit – and to take a position against the U.S. lawmakers – was an especially aggressive move, said Dallek.

It comes as Trump has increasingly been accused of racism, with polls showing a majority of Americans view him as a racist.

And now he has a friend:

Trump is seeking to drive a wedge between Jewish Democrats and the rest of the party over policy toward Israel in his campaign for reelection. Netanyahu, who has his own Sept. 17 legislative elections to contend with, has wholeheartedly embraced the American president.

“There’s not much daylight between Netanyahu and Republicans, at least Republican elected leaders,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Brooks’ counterpart, Jeremy Ben-Ami of the Democratically-aligned group J Street, agreed but in harsher terms.

“Netanyahu is essentially an Israeli Republican,” said Ben-Ami.

Brooks loves that. Ben-Ami hates that. But that just is:

While Obama was president, his administration denied a U.S. entry visa in 2012 to a right-wing member of the Knesset, Michael Ben Ari, for allegedly having ties to a terrorist group.

The relationship between Netanyahu and Democrats – specifically Obama – continued to deteriorate, culminating in Netanyahu’s decision to accept a 2015 invitation from GOP leaders to criticize the president’s nuclear deal with Iran before a joint session of Congress. Trump subsequently scrapped the deal.

But that did not lead to the Conversion of the Jews, into Republicans. That made things worse:

The speech by Netanyahu marked a turning point in perceptions of Netanyahu from the U.S. Jewish community, according to J Street pollster Jim Gerstein, who said his surveys showed the prime minister began steadily losing support after 2015. Another J Street survey of Democratic primary voters, in May, showed that they favored Israel by a net of 25 percentage points but disfavored Netanyahu by 27 points.

So who won here? No one won. Trump had a brief “brilliant” idea. He strong-armed Netanyahu into doing the dirty work – ban the two women – something that Netanyahu knew was folly. And now Aaron Blake reports this:

It’s a process we repeat every couple of days with President Trump: He does something controversial that seems like a bad idea on its face, and we’re quickly assured he’s playing three-dimensional chess. That was the prevailing analysis shortly after Trump successfully urged Israel to ban Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) ahead of their planned visit.

But even some conservatives and Trump supporters are suggesting Trump and Israel got played.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted that they were effectively giving Omar and Tlaib what they wanted.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro said it was “a PR mistake for Israel to hand this kind of club to them.”

Townhall’s Guy Benson agreed that Israel is within its rights to prevent the congresswomen from visiting – which Israel did by citing a law against encouraging boycotts – but said, “Blocking the pair is a shortsighted and unwise move in terms of optics and narrative control.”

Blake, however, notes this:

It’s not mutually exclusive that this could be beneficial for both Trump and the congresswomen. Trump, after all, is more concerned about winning reelection in 2020, while Omar and Tlaib seem more preoccupied with making the case against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. By elevating the two of them, he could help them make their cause on a policy level and still help himself to turn them into 2020 boogeywomen.

He wins the battle. They win the war. Netanyahu is left looking like a fool.

This wasn’t a quick brilliant idea. Go ahead. Buy Greenland. That makes more sense than any of this.

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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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