Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trump doesn't play Bush's game

I disagree with Atrios. I don't think that Trump dismal approval ratings will be treated by the media the same way they treated Bush's low approval ratings. The media kept insisting he was popular and/or just about to have some comeback because they basically liked him. He was the guy they wanted to have a beer with even as they reported that he didn't drink beer. They liked him because Bush spent some effort schmoozing the press and the press loves to be schmoozed.

Trump just doesn't have that in him. He is too vindictive and impulsive to wage an ongoing media charm campaign . If anyone reports anything negative about him, Trump will strike back. He won't dole out perks to reporters. There won't be any invites to ride with him on Air Force One. If he has a tire swing, Trump won't let them swing on it, at least not any member of the non-Fox mainstream media (friendly media like Breitbart and RT will be swinging on that tire whenever they want). There won't be a documentary like Journeys with George because he won't give anyone who isn't committed to fawning coverage that kind of access (and he certainly won't give that access to Nancy Pelosi's daughter).

W wasn't the brightest knife in the drawer, but he knew how to curry favor and he knew that currying favor with the press would pay off for him. Trump is going to treat the media like his enemy. While the media might not have the guts to stand up to him, they are not going to like him either.

Monday, January 16, 2017

MLK Day at the dawn of the Trump era

I have gotten used to Republicans using this holiday to play lip service to some bland watered-down version of Martin Luther King's legacy, usually coupled with some self-serving easily proven wrong claim that MLK would have supported the GOP's current position on affirmative action or labor rights. So in a sense it's refreshing that Trump isn't even bothering with bullshit reverence for the reverend today. Thanks to Trump, the Republican Party is making it clear that it is a welcome home for white supremacists.

Never mind the fact that with demographic trends in mind this strategy is a long term loser. Who cares about the long term? Trump never does! You take one victory at a time and revel in the moment. Let the wild rumpus start!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Fantasy Trump

It is interesting that Trump is so popular across various competing factions in Libya and that would present an opportunity for a new U.S.-brokered settlement to the Libyan civil war.

But that idea only makes sense if you completely ignore how Donald Trump actual acts. The odds of him wanting to stick his neck out to get involved in that country are basically zero. He is not into spreading stability or democracy around the world. He is not interested in nation-building. He is not going to appoint a special presidential envoy to broker a resolution. Trump has no business interests in Libya, which means he has no interests in that country. Whatever popularity he may have among Libyans, there's nothing in it for him to take advantage of that popularity to do anything constructive there. So nothing constructive will happen.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


The race to see who has the bigger turnout in their competing event can be entertaining, but it rarely means very much.

But with our incoming president, a remarkably insecure man who craves validation from ratings and crowds, it will be really delicious if the number of protesters overwhelms the number of celebrants that weekend.

A missed opportunity

Trump should have appointed a 400 pound guy who lives in a basement, not this lunatic. I suppose Rudy is an expert as "cyber" because he happened to be mayor of a city that was attacked by al Qaeda. You know, the same thing that made him a foreign policy expert.


Whether all of the allegations about Trump and Russia are true, or only some are true, or even if all all false, these allegations are going to hang over every foreign policy decision of the Trump Administration. If Trump does something that Russia likes, a substantial number of people will assume he only did it because he is a Russian puppet. If he does something that Russia does not like, that decision is going to be viewed as an effort of Trump to rebut the Russian puppet allegation. The question of how much Trump is controlled by Russia is going to be the frame to evaluate every foreign policy move he makes when he is in office. It will sap the strength of any claim Trump makes that he is prioritizing American interests.

That's what Trump gets for his knee-jerk rejection of the hacking allegations, his refusal to release tax and other financial information to rebut rumors of Russian financial ties, etc. Because we don't know whether any of these allegations are true, we can't say whether Trump had any hand in creating those problems in the first place. But Trump's recent actions have definitely made the problem with his own foreign policy credibility a lot worse.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Creating their own reality

I agree with JMM, Trump's current 37% approval rating is a huge deal. For many presidents, the peak of their popularity is on inauguration day. It usually goes down from there. Other than potential spikes like wars and 9/11-scale incidents that cause people to rally to the person in charge, this week will probably be the highest approval Trump will ever get. A 37% at this point is ridiculously low.

By comparison, Obama's approval rating at the time of his inauguration (3-day average, 1/22/09-1/24/09) was 69%, which was the highest approval rating recorded during his 8-years as president. That a 32 points higher than Trump's current rating, almost double.

And yet the President-elect and his allies in Congress are charging ahead with their agenda. While any other politician in his situation (with a narrow electoral win, a loss of the popular vote, and a record-low approval at the start of his term) would be reaching out to the opposition and seeking the more popular (and politically tenable) middle ground, or at least the perceived middle ground, Trump and his allies in Congress are charging ahead with his agenda and shoving through the confirmation of his fringe cabinet choices. They are acting as if Trump has the mandate of an overwhelming win.

Maybe they think that this may be their only chance to shove their agenda through. As I said, Trump's rating will only get worse from here. As soon as the last election fades from view and the next campaign begins those low ratings are going to be an issue for members of Congress even if Trump continues to fantasize about being incredibly popular.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

You can't compete with a fantasy

I think it is foolish to insist upon labeling something as complicated as U.S. policy toward Syria since 2011 as simply a "success" or "failure." For anything that complex there will rarely be a clear verdict, and except in the extreme cases, the any policy will be a mix of successful and unsuccessful elements. But this successful element of Obama's Syria policy, I think, gets too little attention:
Judis: What’s your assessment of the Obama administration’s intervention in Syria. How has it gone? Is it a success or a failure?
Landis: You know, I think that in one important respect, it’s a success. That’s because he kept his foot on the brakes and resisted what he has called “the playbook” of foreign policy circles in Washington, which is to get sucked into these civil wars in the Middle East. There is no way that the United States was going to solve the Syria Problem in any constructive way – and just keeping us out of it to the extent he did was a boon. 
Everyone wanted us to solve their Syria problem, whether it was Lebanon or Israel or Turkey or Iraq, because they couldn’t figure out how to do it themselves. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, they all had different visions of who we should be helping and what kind of Syria would come out of the other end of the meat grinder. And had the United States gotten in there, it would not have made a better sausage. We’ve seen that regime change has been a bad idea.
Americans (and even some non-Americans) seem to have this unshakable belief that the U.S. military is inherently a force for good and they assume that any time the U.S. military gets involved in a problem it will necessarily improve the situation. For the past 50 years there have been numerous instances of U.S. military intervention around the world and almost none of those examples support this belief. However noble our intentions, it seems clear to me that sending the U.S. military into an ongoing conflict rarely solves the problem and often makes it worse.

The fact that Obama repeatedly resisted calls for greater intervention in the Syrian civil war is really to his credit. Very few foreign policy wonks view that as an accomplishment, but that is because they are comparing the current horrible state of Syria with their fantasy of what they imagine might have been if the U.S. went in and did everything exactly right this time. There really is no reason to believe that is how things would have gone down. And there are plenty of recent historical examples that suggest that the outcome would probably not be so rosy.

Bathroom madness strikes again

I guess you could call this a "jobs bill."

Monday, January 09, 2017

Hey look over there, a big battle

It is interesting just how little coverage there is of the current battle over Mosul in American news sources. I realize that foreign news often gets short shrift in the U.S. and Trumplestiltskin keeps saying mean things about celebrities on Twitter. But the offensive to retake Mosul is getting less coverage than even the Assad-Russian offensive against Aleppo a few weeks ago, which is odd because:

1. The U.S. military is directly involved in the Mosul operation, while it was not involved in Aleppo.

2. The Mosul offensive is against ISIS, America's current Hitler and a group that ordinarily has no problem getting outsized coverage for anything it is even remotely involved in.

3. The U.S. sunk a lot of resources into Mosul during its occupation of Iraq and before ISIS took the city. I don't know how many Americans served in Mosul,1 but I bet its a pretty substantial number and I would also bet that a whole lot more Americans have been to Mosul than have been to Aleppo.2

1- Like my brother, for example.
2- I am the weird counter-example of an American who has been to Aleppo but not Mosul. Actually, come to think of it, my brother is an even weirder counter-example of an American who has been to both Mosul and Aleppo. But he spent a lot more time in Mosul than Aleppo and I bet most, if not all, of the soldiers he worked with in Mosul never set foot in Syria.