This Is Bad. Let’s Fix It.

The president had a senior Iranian official killed on the basis of a non-existent “imminent” threat. He tried to have at least one other official killed but the guy survived. This charade led to almost 200 people being accidentally killed (“collateral damage”). Now he’s made up a story about four of our embassies being attacked (the Secretary of Defense said it wasn’t true but since the president may have believed it, everything’s fine). Individual-1 also announced that Saudi Arabia deposited a billion dollars in a bank account to pay for American troops (aka “mercenaries”), although nobody seems to know which bank account (one of his?). House Democrats have asked the Secretary of State to come over and explain the situation. He says he doesn’t plan to appear.

Nancy Pelosi seems to be ready to send at least one article of impeachment to the Senate, even though there’s no evidence the Republicans will allow a fair trial. They say the trial shouldn’t allow new evidence, because Clinton’s impeachment trial didn’t, even though (1) there was no need to allow new evidence in Clinton’s trial, since everybody involved gave evidence before the House impeached President Clinton and (2) this president (the bastard being impeached) told everyone with direct knowledge of his behavior not to give evidence to the House! “I didn’t allow my senior advisers to testify before the House, so it’s too late for them to testify before the Senate.” That’s some “catch”, that Catch-23.

How about some good news?

There was an online seminar (yes, a “webinar”) run by a progressive religious group this weekend. The topic was volunteering in the next election. Usually,  200, maybe 300, people sign in. There were 500 this time. Perhaps we should be more optimistic about November.

On that subject, there are reasons to think that Elizabeth Warren may be the best candidate to unify the Democrats. That’s what former presidential candidate Julian Castro said when he endorsed Warren this week. A new poll in Iowa says she has the highest favorability rating of anyone in the race:

Warren’s improved standing overall in the Iowa poll comes on the heels of a stronger showing in recent national polls and is bolstered by an increasing positive favorability rating (75% have a favorable view, the best in the field, and she is one of only four candidates who have improved their net favorability since the June CNN/DMR poll), as well as a growing percentage of likely caucusgoers who say she is either their first choice, second choice or someone they are actively considering. All told, 71% are at least considering Warren’s candidacy, ahead of the next best candidate on that score by 11 points (Biden at 60%).

Finally, a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch, who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Pennsylvania primary, is now supporting Warren:

If the stakes were high in 2016 — when I naively and foolishly believed that [Individual-1’s] campaign was the last throes of a doomed white supremacy, and that America was ready then for a political revolution — then they are off the charts in 2020….Saving the American Experiment requires a new president who will stop the downward spiral of authoritarianism….

I plan to vote for Warren [in the primary] for two reasons. One is simple, the other a bit more abstract. For starters, the two-term Massachusetts senator has run the best campaign, pure and simple. Her accidental rallying cry was handed to her by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who blocked Warren’s principled stand against the nomination of unqualified attorney general Jeff Sessions on the Senate floor and added, “Nevertheless, she persisted”.

Since announcing her candidacy last year, persistence has been the hallmark of Warren’s campaign. She’s stuck to her plan and remained true to herself even as the Beltway crowd wrote her off again and again, and in doing so she’s remained a top contender in spite of those naysayers. Her decision to shun big donors for small contributions and play up personal voter contact …was ridiculed even as her money and support grew. Rather than ignore her biggest stumble — the Native American heritage missteps — she’s owned it through unprecedented outreach to indigenous voters.

Yes, Sanders’ half-century-plus of consistency as a democratic socialist is remarkable, but the story of Warren’s political conversion from somewhat conservative Republican to fiery progressive after she saw firsthand the unfairness of America’s bankruptcy laws is just as compelling and relatable, arguably even more so. Yet Warren and her team know that — with the nation in crisis — personal fortitude, an appealing campaign style and a good personal story aren’t enough.

Warren’s diagnosis of what ails the United States — massive political corruption and a rigged economic playing field against the middle and more struggling classes — is right on the money, pun intended. It’s why she was the first Democratic candidate to see the need for impeaching Trump, and why she’s had a forceful reaction to the president’s reckless actions toward Iran. But it’s also why her detailed plans — for a wealth tax on America’s kleptocracy to help fund universal health care and higher education and eliminate crippling college debt — are her centerpiece and biggest selling point.

The TV talking heads seem to take special pleasure in nitpicking the details of Warren’s plans, in a manner that’s not applied to any of the other candidates. But here’s the thing: her supporters know … to take her plans seriously but not literally. Whatever is typed in a report in 2019-20 won’t be what emerges from the sausage grinder of Capitol Hill. What matters is that President Elizabeth Warren will fight for those sweeping goals with persistence … and passion.

In addition, … I think a Warren nomination would ensure the most passion from the activists — primarily women — who led the Women’s March and the airport resistance to [the Muslim] travel ban in 2017 and knocked on millions of doors to get us a Democratic House in 2018. Although Warren isn’t yet winning among young voters or nonwhites, I believe she has a potential for growth that simply is not there for youth with Joe Biden or for both groups with Pete Buttigieg. Her stance as an ultra-liberal, reform-minded capitalist is arguably a better place to be in November 2020 than Bernie’s lifetime socialism.

So why isn’t Warren the clear front-runner? I blame two things that are deeply intertwined: fear and misogyny. In politics, the second most dismaying thing so far about 2020 — after [the president’s] growing instability — has been the fear bordering on a paralyzing panic that has overcome the Democratic electorate that I’ve just joined. This weekend, that much anticipated Des Moines Register/CNN poll, while showing Sanders and Warren at the top, also showed that — at what should be a time for choosing — “not sure” more than doubled from 5 to 11 percent.

Democrats seem to be focused not on the strength of their field but on making long mental lists of each candidate’s supposed weaknesses against Trump in the fall. No one has suffered from this exercise more than Elizabeth Warren. Her experience is written off as old age (despite boundless energy and mental acuity), her policy chops downgraded as schoolmarm-ish wonkery, and her enthusiasm for the campaign sometimes described as dorky. A lot of this can be boiled down to one word, or maybe two. Sexism. Or, misogyny.

Just because Gandhi didn’t actually say, “Be the change you want to see in the world” doesn’t mean that it’s not great advice. When I said earlier that I and my perceptions of America’s problems have changed since 2016, nothing has changed more than my awareness of the pervasive and highly toxic effect of the prejudice and often thinly disguised hatred of women that permeates far too much of society.

You see it at [the Toddler’s] Nuremberg-style hate rallies, which are animated by angry chants of “Lock her up!” toward Hillary Clinton long after any political threat from Clinton had dissipated. Or in the current trial of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the poster child for a litany of men in media, politics, entertainment and high tech who got away with unhindered sexism and sexual abuse for decades. And you see it in the way that Warren’s chances of winning in 2020 are dismissed, by voters who agree with her ideas but are certain she’ll be “Hillary-ed” if she gets the nomination.

This infuriates me, and if you care about women’s place in American society it should infuriate you as well. In the current wave of fear gripping Democrats, too many voters are throwing up their hands and saying, in essence, misogynists will tip this election … so how can we get a few more white dudes onboard. I find that morally appalling….

America will not be saved by fear. It will be saved by courage. We’ve seen courage from scores of women who’ve come forward to accuse … powerful men. Now, given the nattering nabobs of negativism who’ve weighed in on a Warren presidency, it will also take a type of courage just to vote for her.

In 2020, electing the best and most qualified candidate would also mean electing the first woman president in American history — 100 years after women’s suffrage and, morally, ridiculously overdue. What a powerful statement! Instead of cowering in fear, Democrats should be counting their blessings in having two revolutionary candidates for president, and a dozen others who’d be 100 times better than the current occupant. But among that strong field, it’s Warren — and what she stands for — that offers the fierce urgency of now. Simply put, voting for her on April 28 is the change I want to see in the world.

Current Events

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark contrasts the killings of Saudi Arabia’s Osama bin Laden and Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani:

[Unlike bin Laden] Soleimani was no stateless outlaw. He was a decorated public figure in a nation of more than 80 million people. He was the most renowned of the Iranian generals, hugely popular within Iran — and in Iraq, where supporters of an Iranian-backed militia stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad early this week. If the killing of Soleimani was a response to that attack, it was clearly disproportionate…

… nothing in the 40 years of American struggle with Iran has indicated that it will back down from a military challenge. When [the president] stepped away from the Iran nuclear agreement in 2018 and opted instead to crush Iran with economic sanctions …, the administration should have anticipated a long, difficult struggle….

The conflict enters a new phase now: Reciprocal, escalating military actions are a good bet…

Campaigning in Iowa, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was asked if she would have ordered the attack on Soleimani:

No… Much of this started back when [the president] decided to pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal. Even though the Iranians had been certified as adhering to the terms of the deal. Even though our allies all stayed in the deal and wanted us to stay in the deal. [The president] off on his own, started escalating, escalating, escalating, until now, he has taken us to the edge of war. It is dangerous for the United States and it is dangerous for the world.

Asked about the administration’s claim there was an imminent threat, Warren said “the administration has no credibility in truth telling, either at home or around the world”.

As we wait for Iranian retaliation, Republican politicians and their propaganda machine are offering vague and inconsistent justifications for the president’s decision. Anyone who expresses doubts about the attack is already being accused of “siding with terrorists” or “not supporting the troops”. One crank with a Fox News program says we need to honor our “obligations” to “this leader” who is doing so much for us.

Shortly after it happened, Rukmini Callimachi, a correspondent for The New York Times, reported on the genesis of the attack:

I’ve had a chance to check in with sources, including two US officials who had intelligence briefings after the strike on Suleimani…. According to them, the evidence suggesting there was to be an imminent attack on American targets is “razor thin”.

In fact the evidence … came as three discrete facts: (a) A pattern of travel showing Suleimani was in Syria, Lebanon & Iraq to meet with Shia proxies. (As one source said, that’s just “business as usual” for Suleimani).

More intriguing was (b) information indicating Suleimani sought the Supreme Leader’s approval for an operation. He was told to come to Tehran for consultation and further guidance, suggesting the operation was a big deal – but again this could be anything.

And finally, c) Iran’s increasingly bellicose position towards American interests in Iraq, including the attack that killed a U.S. contractor and the recent protest outside the American embassy.

But, as one source put it, (a) + (b) + (c) is hardly evidence of an imminent attack on American interests that could kill hundreds, as the White House has since claimed. The official describes the reading of the intelligence as an illogical leap.

One official described the planning for the strike as chaotic…. Killing Suleimani was the “far out option”….

Since the strike, Iran has convened its national security chiefs. Chatter intercepted by American intelligence indicates they’re considering a range of options. Cyber-attacks, attacks on oil facilities and American personnel and diplomatic outposts have all been cited so far. But among the “menu options” … were: (1) kidnapping and execution of American citizens. (This might explain why the State Department has ordered the evacuation of all US citizens in Iraq, not just government and embassy employees).

Another is attacks on American diplomatic and military outposts not just in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, but as far afield as UAE and Bahrain. The official I spoke to was particularly concerned for American troops stationed in Iraq, some of whom are co-located with Shia militias.

… Let me just say the obvious: No one’s trying to downplay Suleimani’s crimes. The question is why now? His whereabouts have been known before. His resume of killing-by-proxy is not a secret. Hard to decouple his killing from the impeachment saga.

It sure is.

The Times published an article partly based on Callimachi’s reporting:

When [the president] chose the option of killing General Suleimani, top military officials, flabbergasted, were immediately alarmed about the prospect of Iranian retaliatory strikes on American troops in the region.

Why anyone with working neurons would present an option to the Toddler that they considered too extreme, assuming he wouldn’t choose it, is a terrific question.

A great way to understand the president’s “thinking” in this instance is to review his Twitter account. From Nancy LeTourneau of The Washington Monthly:

One of the themes that has emerged in [this era of politics] is that “there is a tweet for everything.” It refers to the fact that whenever the president says or does something, there is a tweet from his past demonstrating his hypocrisy. For example, even as the current occupant of the Oval Office has spent twice as much time on a golf course as Obama, [he] regularly complained that his predecessor played too much golf, tweeting about it 27 times from 2011 to 2016.

There is no great mystery about why there is a tweet for everything. Anyone as sociopathic as [him] engages in projection when attacking their opponents. That is because they are incapable of empathy or being able to see another person’s point of view. Absent any other point of reference, they simply project their own reactions onto others. [He] is obviously obsessed with playing golf, so regardless of the facts, he projected that obsession onto Obama.

The assassination of Qassem Soleimani and escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran led to another moment of “there is a tweet for everything” on Thursday night.

Before the Electoral College screwed us, he repeatedly claimed Obama would start a war in the Middle East in order to insure his re-election:

“@BarackObama will attack Iran in the not too distant future because it will help him win the election,” [he] tweeted on Nov. 14, 2011.

Days later, he said, “Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak and he’s ineffective. So the only way he figures that he’s going to get reelected – and as sure as you’re sitting there – is to start a war with Iran,” according to a video posted this week by a Washington Post video editor.

“In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran,” he followed up on Nov. 29, 2011.

Nearly a year later, on Oct. 22, 2012, [he]repeated the same claim, writing, “Don’t let Obama play the Iran card in order to start a war in order to get elected – be careful Republicans!”

In October 2012, [he] also suggested that Obama would “launch a strike in Libya or Iran” because his “poll numbers are in tailspin.”

The president’s poll numbers haven’t gone down (they’ve been consistently negative since 2017), but he is facing re-election and, as the Times correspondent said, there is the impeachment saga. The evidence for his impeachment and removal from office continues to grow. Newly-released emails from the Office of Management and Budget to the Pentagon confirm that the president personally delayed military aid to Ukraine. A judge is allowing one of the president’s shady Ukrainian pals to give the contents of his cellphone to House Democrats. Last week, one of the president’s aides was ordered to obey a House subpoena. And there is a report from a small investigative news site that those mysterious Deutsche Bank loans were underwritten by VTB Bank. VTB is owned by the Russian government (if true, that would certainly explain a lot!).

It should also be noted that Secretary of State Pompeo and Vice President Pence have been pressuring their boss to assassinate Soleiman. Why? Because they think it might lead to something truly wonderful: the end of the world.

Again, from Nancy LeTourneau of The Washington Monthly:

[In July, Pompeo gave a speech] to a group known as Christians United for Israel (CUFI) that was the brainchild of [Texas televangelist] John Hagee… Vice President Mike Pence addressed the same group in 2017.

One of the things Hagee is known for is the elaborate charts he has created to predict the rapture and events leading up to the end times….

What we are witnessing is a secretary of state who is conducting U.S. foreign policy in alignment with Christian Zionism, with the support of the vice president. While neoconservatives like John Bolton have their own twisted logic for wanting regime change in Iran, it is the belief that events in the Middle East align with Biblical prophecy about the end times that motivates Christian Zionists like Pompeo, Pence, and Hagee.

…. Rising tensions in the Middle East are a feature, not a bug, for these folks. That’s because all of this was prophesied thousands of years ago as a prelude to the rapture. In other words, they welcome the escalation.

Enough said.

In Foreign Policy, Smarter Works Better Than Tougher

The world will be a better place when normal relations are established between the United States and Cuba. But right-wing politicians disagree. They think we should treat Cuba even worse than we do now. If we tighten the screws on Cuba, the Cuban people will eventually rise up or their government will see the error of its ways.

Likewise, it will be a step forward when the United States and Iran establish better relations. Right-wing politicians disagree. They think we should treat Iran worse than we do now. We shouldn’t negotiate with Iran. We should tighten the screws even further and threaten military action. The Iranian people will rise up or their government will see the light.

The Atlantic has an interesting little article called “Why the Iran Deal Makes Obama’s Critics So Angry” that helps explain the Republican obsession with “toughness” in foreign policy:

When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present [Iran nuclear] deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent. This isn’t surprising given that American omnipotence is the guiding assumption behind contemporary Republican foreign policy. Ask any GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul what they propose doing about any global hotspot and their answer is the same: be tougher. America must take a harder line against Iran’s nuclear program, against ISIS, against Bashar al-Assad, against Russian intervention in Ukraine and against Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea….

.[Behind Obama’s] drive for an Iranian nuclear deal is the effort to make American foreign policy “solvent” again by bringing America’s ends into alignment with its means. That means recognizing that the United States cannot bludgeon Iran into total submission, either economically or militarily. The U.S. tried that in Iraq.

It is precisely this recognition that makes the Iran deal so infuriating to Obama’s critics. It codifies the limits of American power. And recognizing the limits of American power also means recognizing the limits of American exceptionalism. It means recognizing that no matter how deeply Americans believe in their country’s unique virtue, the United States is subject to the same restraints that have governed great powers in the past. For the Republican right, that’s a deeply unwelcome realization. For many other Americans, it’s a relief. It’s a sign that, finally, the Bush era in American foreign policy is over.

A Different View of “Peace For Our Time”

The recent deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program evoked lots of references to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiating with Hitler in 1938. Chamberlain infamously came back from Munich, waved a “scrap of paper” and promised “peace for [not “in”] our time”. Germany immediately absorbed part of Czechoslovakia and eleven months later invaded Poland.

How could Chamberlain have been such a fool? If only he had stood up to Hitler! Was he a coward? What happened in Munich was appeasement at its worst.

chamberlain-plane-ticket-pic-collect-178249005

As is often the case with famous or infamous historical events, the common view isn’t necessarily correct. Historians who suggest a new interpretation of the past are called “revisionists”. Sometimes they’re right, especially when their revisions are based on new evidence.

I’m not qualified to judge the merits of the standard view of the Munich Agreement, but, according to this article at Salon:

… among historians, that view changed in the late 1950s, when the British government began making Chamberlain-era records available to researchers. “The result of this was the discovery of all sorts of factors that narrowed the options of the British government in general and narrowed the options of Neville Chamberlain in particular,” explains David Dutton, a British historian who wrote a recent biography of the prime minister. “The evidence was so overwhelming,” he says, that many historians came to believe that Chamberlain “couldn’t do anything other than what he did” at Munich. Over time, Dutton says, “the weight of the historiography began to shift to a much more sympathetic appreciation” of Chamberlain.

The author suggests several reasons why, in his opinion, Chamberlain made the right decision: (1) most historians believe the British military wasn’t prepared for war with Germany in 1938; (2) Chamberlain’s military advisors told him that British forces couldn’t stop Germany from invading Czechoslovakia, but could eventually defeat Germany given time to prepare; (3) by 1938, Australia, New Zealand and Canada were no longer required to participate in a British war; (4) the Soviet Union was considered a potential enemy, not an ally; (5) America’s neutrality laws made it unlikely that America would join the fight; (6) although France was a likely major ally, British authorities had a very low opinion of France’s unstable government and the French military; (7) the British public, still traumatized by World War I, was strongly in favor of negotiation; (8) preserving the territorial integrity of Czechoslovakia wasn’t seen as justification for war, partly because Czechoslovakia had only existed for 20 years and many ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia wanted to be part of a Germany; (9) the British generally believed that Hitler was similar to Mussolini, a fascist leader they knew, who was “more bravado than substance”.

The Munich agreement between the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy was greeted in Britain as a success: “cheering crowds filled the streets and the press rejoiced”. The French reaction was similar. When Germany took more of Czechoslovakia six months later, however, Chamberlain realized that war was inevitable, increased the pace of British rearmament and instituted Britain’s first peacetime draft.

Maybe Chamberlain and his supporters should have known better. After all, some of the British, as well as observers in other countries, correctly predicted that Hitler’s ultimate goal was the subjugation of Europe. We know the rest.

Still, it’s impossible to say whether Hitler would have been stopped sooner or more easily if Chamberlain (and the French president Daladier) had never made a deal in Munich. Nick Baumann, the author of the Salon article, concludes:

The story we’re told about Munich is one about the futility and foolishness of searching for peace. In American political debates, the words “appeasement” and “Munich” are used to bludgeon those who argue against war. But every war is not World War II, and every dictator is not Hitler. Should we really fault Chamberlain for postponing a potentially disastrous fight that his military advisers cautioned against, his allies weren’t ready for, and his people didn’t support?

At any rate, removing some economic sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program isn’t the same as letting Hitler take part of Czechoslovakia in exchange for a promise of peace. 

By the way, the author of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, the book I’ve been writing about recently, argues that we can learn nothing from history, since circumstances are always changing. In other words, history is bunk. But that’s consistent with his view that science is the only true path to knowledge. A more reasonable view is that there are recurring patterns in history, even if history doesn’t repeat itself. Looking back, it’s reasonable to conclude that negotiation is generally better than war.