Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TV Panels Mean Much is Left Unsaid: Afghanistan Edition

Dale Smith teased me a bit after my appearance on Power and Politics today that I had much more to say.   Maybe, maybe not.  I said much at the Globe and Mail, on various radio programs and here at the Spew.  The challenge is that we have little time to chat, and when the other guy says stuff, I often don't have the chance to respond.  Shuvaloy Majumdar is smart and sharp on this stuff with real policy experience (first time I met him), so I didn't disagree with what he said, but perhaps with his optimism.  I guess the key things I wanted to say or respond to are:
  • Afghanistan is not as remarkably progressed as Shuvaloy suggests--the last election was a shitshow (we don't know who got how many votes), the resulting ad hoc coalition is not working out so well, and the messed up institutions we implanted way back in 2002 still screw stuff up. So, I took exception to the idea that it is all about Pakistan.  Corruption and warlordism are also just a wee bit problematic
  • The Taliban is not simply = Pakistan.  The Taliban may be agents of Pakistan's intel agency, but heaps of principal-agent problems here.
  • Pakistan's observer status at NATO is just a trifle--something that they don't care much about.
  • That Shuvaloy's things that Canada and NATO could do are all things that fall far below any threshold of counting as much in the eyes of Trump.  It is about troops on the ground and maybe money.
  • That assertions about other partners--the Emiratis, the Russians, the Chinese--are about wishes and not realities.  Nobody is going to rescue the US from this war.  Some might put pressure on Pakistan, but Pakistan is used to pressure and will continue to be America's worst or second worst ally.
My best move was to trash Tillerson before the cameras went on, so that Rosemary Barton put some skepticism in her voice when mentioning him. 

Anyhow, TV is fun, traffic is not, getting soaked in a downpour not fun in a suit.  But an interesting media day today: four radio programs, one op-ed, and one TV hit.

Trump Asking for Loyalty?

While I have my qualms about yet another ride into Afghanistan, plus I am not thrilled with the state of civil-military relations in the US that got us this decision, I must say that the speech started so badly that it probably colored my reaction to the rest.  Trump started by talking about how the US military was a model for the rest of American society.  This rubbed me the wrong way in three ways different dimensions: the military as authoritarian entity, Trump's sudden love for "unity", and Trump's own loyalties.

Yes, the US military is more multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious, more heterogeneous than pretty much any other employer or institution in the US.  My year in the Pentagon made that clear to me--no university I worked at before or since had as much diversity among its staff as the US military.  Admirable?  Absolutely.  But it is also an autocracy---that there is a chain of command and people follow orders.  It is not a democratic society.  So, there is only so much American society can and should imitate from the US armed forces.  Calling on America to be more like the US military is also very scary when the speaker is someone who has been destroying the norms of American democracy since he started running for President.

Which gets us to the second problem: Trump calling for unity and love among all is galling because he has based his campaign and then his presidency on division.  Day one of the campaign?  Calling Mexicans rapists. He continues to refer to immigrants as animals.  Trump hired a team of white supremacists--Bannon may be gone, but Sessions is still Attorney General and Stephen Miller is still somewhere in the White House--so spare me any faked remorse since Charlottesville.  If he were sincere, he'd be pushing Sessions and Kris Kobach to drop the #voterfraudfraud campaign.  As Dana Carvey as George HW Bush would say: not gonna happen. 

Worst of all: Trump harped on the theme of loyalty.  This is wrong in so many ways, but the one I will focus on here is this: who has Trump shown loyalty to?  Most of all: Vladimir Putin.  He has refused to criticize the Russian leader even when Putin sanctions the US embassy in Moscow.  Other than that and nepotism for his family, it is not clear that Trump has been loyal to anyone ever. 

So, yeah, with that start, I was already on edge.  But Trump is good at that.  I am sure this part of the speech was partly designed to appeal to his base (since he is mostly the President of his base and not so much the rest of us)--to make them feel better about the Afghanistan policy that contradicted his promises to them.

Anyhow, when Trump talks about loyalty, I scoff.  When he says Americans should be more like the US military, I worry.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Key Rules of US Civ-Mil and Trump's New 'Strategy'

I wrote something for a newspaper for tomorrow, but have much more to say about Trump's speech.

This post will not focus on how icky the first part on loyalty was.  Instead, I focus on the rules of US Civil-Military Relations:
  1. the US military does not like to start new wars (see Deborah Avant)
  2. once involved in a war, the US military likes to escalate.  They want more troops, as if more means better.  More can be better, but that really depends on the strategy and the adversary and the conditions.  
  3. Washington, DC establishment prefers MORE ... something.  It prefers action.  
  4. Everybody hates micro-management.  But no one wants to be held accountable.  Ooops.  The US military likes to talk about how they are accountable, but the costs for bad decisions are borne by the local commanders (captains of ships, battalion commanders), not those making the bigger decisions in Kabul (Bagram) or the Pentagon.  
  5. People complain about the rules of engagement, but these conversations tend to forget basic Clausewitz: war is politics by other means. Despite all of their sins and arrogance, Petraeus and McChrystal got that right.  If you want the public to support our adversary, then use more force and more recklessly.  How did being more brutal work for the Soviets in Afghanistan?
  6. Kicking the can down the road is the American way.  This additional four or five thousand works will not lead to victory but it might help stave off defeat for a while.  Woot?

I really don't know if some more troops is good policy or not.  I do know our troops need decent rules of engagement.  Barbarism may sound like fun, but is not a good look.  It offends the allies, it antagonizes the locals, and I do think we learned it is better to be more targeted, more careful than not.  The US has not lost wars because the troops' hands have been tied.  The US lost wars (Vietnam) and are not winning recent wars (Afghanistan) because we simply have less resolve, less interest, less commitment than our adversaries.  Oh, and counter-insurgency is really, really hard and takes heaps of patience, which is not something that Americans tend to have.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Iron Laws of Moving Kid to College

Today was the last time I had to help my daughter move to college.  She was just moving across town, but I was already bringing her back down from our family vacation, so I helped out.  Oh, and I helped her get a used car.  Anyhow, this experience reminded me of the Iron Laws of Moving Kid to College:
  1. Despite there being many floors in most dorms, somehow the kid is almost always on the top floor.  
  2. Kid's stuff is like a snowball--it gets larger and larger, the farther you have to move it.  I have told her roomies to Luna her--to hide/steal her stuff--so that there is less stuff to move back home.
  3. Moving in and out is always on the warmest day of the year.  Caveat: if it occurs in January at the start of the winter term, then it will snow hard (H/T to RP). 
  4. It gets easier to leave the kid behind, but it never gets easy.  
Oh, and we will have far more fun and test the caveated version of rule 4 in January, as she will be moving to California for an internship and then, well, her post-college life.  And I will be the Chewie to her Rey on that cross-country trip.  Damn, it will be one dusty ride.  I can feel it already.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Obi-Wan and Steve Bannon

I have always thought that Obi-Wan had overrated himself, telling Darth Vader: "If you strike me, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."  What does Obi-Wan do after that confrontation?
  • Ghost Obi-Wan provides some modest guidance to Luke as he makes the Death Star run: "use the force."
  • Ghost Obi-Wan tells Luke to go to Dagobah.
  • Ghost Obi-Wan told Luke not to go to Bespin.  Oops.
  • Ghost Obi-Wan explains to Luke why he lied about Vader--from a certain point of view.
  • and that's about it.  Not so impressive.
So, now we have folks saying that Bannon will be more powerful as he would be unchained outside of the White House.  How was he unchained?  How was he restrained?  Probably not so much.

The advantages of Bannon being out of the White House:
  1. The symbolism of Bannon in the WH is awful--a white supremacist and otherwise awful person in the White House.  One less is at least one less.
  2.  Bannon will have less info.  He could still get intel leaked to him, and Trump can tell him whatever he wants, but he will be further from the seat of power and all that flows through it. Trump simply cannot be on the phone with Bannon all the time, so Bannon will have some distance.  Less access is a good thing.
  3. Trump tends to listen to the last person who talks to him.  That will not be Bannon as often.  He will simply not be in his ear as much.  Sure, Bannon can try to trigger Trump via Breitbart or Fox, but it is not the same as whispering in his ear.
Bannon is not irrelevant now, but he is less relevant.  He can rabble rouse outside the White House, but he was doing that anyway.  Unchained?  Please.

Anyhow, this is a win--not a huge win, not a game changing win, but a win.  Trump is still President and still a white supremacist.  So, the battles continue, but this is a good day and we must take these good things when they happen as there are more shitstorms ahead and more pain to be inflicted on the American people and our allies.

So Many Labels, But All White

I was listening to the Pod Saves America podcast on Charlottesville, and one of the speakers argued that the Alt Right is a thing since they are the white supremacists who consider themselves above and different from Nazis (swastikas are bad for PR) and KKK (we are not rednecks), etc.  Yet the Alt Right are clearly racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-semitic, and misogynist.  The broader label that applies to them all? White supremacist.  Sure, that glosses over all of the other hates they have, but all that stuff seems to travel together. 

Anyhow, I made this to illustrate:

The Alt Right may be a separate group from the others (or not, hard to tell, as some Nazis wear khakis).  But they are all white supremacists, which means they all need to be confronted, mocked, and marginalized.  That the Alt Right folks may wear nicer clothes does not make them more acceptable.  That they are not rednecks does not make them more acceptable.  They are all ... deplorable. The key is not so much converting them, although there are folks who have been able to do that one on one.  The key is to make it politically painful for those in power or running for office to appeal to/play to these people.  The goal is to return them to the criminals that many of them are, to make them isolated and irrelevant racists rather than empowered terrorists and militias who are encouraged by the President and his party. 

It will not be easy, and there is no one right way to do it.  Sometimes, it will mean turning the spotlight away, sometimes it will mean confronting, and sometimes it may mean, yes, violence.  I am not a pacifist so I can't tell folks to turn one's cheek as the Nazis swing their clubs.  I do think the best way for the most part is non-violence, but defense may be necessary at times.  Fleeing may be necessary at times.  But one of the core logics of ethnic conflict is that when the extremists are outnumbered, they tend to go away. Riots happen where the rioters of ethnic group x outnumber the other ethnic groups in that area.  So, the best way to deal with these folks is to show up.  But with the white supremacists being armed to the teeth, this can be hard to do.  So, I really have no ideas except to call out those who are white supremacists, such as:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rebel Rabble

As much of a fan as I am of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, I can't help but notice that The Rebel, a far right media enterprise in Canada, might be named after the Confederacy more than the good guys in Star Wars.

Here's the thing: if one is a southerner in the US, one might plausibly claim that a stars & bars patch or flag might have some other meaning than white supremacy.  One could pick up some affinity via osmosis, relatives, peer pressure, bad history teachers, whatever.  I tend not to buy that excuse, but I can see how it might mitigate things a bit. 

However, if one is attaching oneself to the Confederacy while living in Canada, Europe or any place other than the old South, one is attaching oneself to white supremacy deliberately.  And, yes, Confederacy = White Supremacy as the movement was based on the idea that whites can/should own black people (read any of the articles of secession), making it the highest form of White Supremacy (borrowing a smidge of Lenin).  So, yes, affinity for Confederacy and its symbols means affinity for White Supremacy, and, yes, all that almost always comes with it--anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia and even misogyny. 

The outlet is now trying to distance itself from white supremacy, but it may have a hard time doing so.  Why? Because it has long been more than a smidge racist.  Stephanie Carvin pointed it out quite clearly today:
The skittles, as folks might remember, were reference to the "poisonous" Muslims among the Syrian refugees.  So, yeah, not so cool.

And the folks jumping of the Rebel ship now should still be considered tainted by their previous association since its racism and other fatal flaws are nothing new.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Certainties in the Uncertainty Engine: Vain, Greedy, and Racist

I have been arguing for quite some time that Trump is an uncertainty engine, but there are a few key consistencies that have long been true and actually pretty obvious. He is greedy, he is vain, he is lazy and ignorant, he doth project too much, and, yes, he is a white supremacist. 

Trump has long discriminated against African Americans going back to the lawsuits over discriminating in rental housing in NYC in the 1970s.  He criticized his casino employees for having Black accountants rather than Jews.  His birtherism was grounded in racism.  His campaign kicked off by calling all Mexican immigrants rapists.  He often calls immigrants animals.  Oh, and it is probably not an accident that he has surrounded himself with white supremacists:
  • Jeff Sessions who was too racist to be a federal judge in the 1980s (more than a few GOP Senators agreed with the Democrats) but sufficiently racist to be Attorney General;
  • Stephen Miller, who was reviled for his racism and xenophobia going way back to when he was in high school;
  • Steve Bannon, who is often said not to be really racist, but just uses racism as a political strategy.  Sure, go ahead and try to make that distinction.  I don't buy it.  Not at all.  
So, as I tweeted, there really are two Trump's Razors to explain his behavior.  The first, as enunciated by John Scalzi: “ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts” and that answer is likely correct." The second: Trump is a white supremacist, so he picks policies that favor whites over all other groups (African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Native Americans, etc.).  Is he anti-semitic? Perhaps not in beliefs but certainly in who he allies with.  For those who tut-tut and say that Trump can't hate Jews because his daughter married one and some of his grandchildren are Jewish, I scoff and I scorn. And I point out this, of course:

Trump will not be impeached because of his white supremacy as the GOP relies on it to stay in power.  But perhaps people will stop calling out the Democrats' identity politics given that Trump's and the GOP's white identity politics is now a wee bit more obvious to all.  Or not.

What to do?  See something, say something, of course.  Call out the white supremacy, rather than referring to alt-right or other glosses.  Put pressure on any and all politicians to take a stand so that we can identify who needs our opposition and our support.  Put pressure on the media to stop the false equivalence machines--perhaps Trump's latest statements will at least put those machines on pause.

 It will take more than just 2018 and 2020, as this stuff is not new, but Trump has given these deplorable people cover and permission.  We need to return to a time where these people were ashamed and embarrassed and marginalized.  As always, the only way out is through.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reacting During Limited Computer Access: Nazis? I Hate These Guys

I haven't seen much coverage of the Nazi in Charlotteville, as internet access has been intermittent.  However, I have seen enough to be disgusted and impressed and confused, mostly confused. Disgusted that these hateful assholes are getting any benefit from the various false equivalence machines.  Impressed by those who are protesting despite much risk to themselves.

And confused: should we make fun of the douchebros?  Should we post memes reminding us all that the Americans died to defeat Nazism?  Should we keep in mind that the US was built on white supremacy in its purest form--slavery?  Is it UnAmerican to carry flags with the swastika on them despite the US history of racism?  The answer to all these questions is the same: hells yes. 

We should:
  • mock these guys.  We should diminish them as their cause is pathetic.  That whites are now sharing more and more power and resources and privilege with non-whites is a good thing--that makes the US a better place to live, a stronger economy, and all the rest.  These douchebros are not oppressed.  They just fear that those who gain more power might abuse it as these guys have and would--the problem of projecting too much. 
  • remember US history--the good stuff and the bad.  Yes, the US helped to defeat the Nazis (via a coalition, by the way).  It is one of the best things the US has ever done if the US did it slowly and reluctantly at first.  The US could have chosen Nazism in the 1930s, but turned away from that, from America Firsters and the rest.  But as Obama kept saying, the history of America is an effort to perfect the union--which still suffers from the legacies of slavery, which still incubates white supremacy and other forms of hate, and which still gives too much cover to the allies of the hateful.
We, indeed, have an administration full of white supremacists from Sessions to Bannon to Miller to Trump.  These folks and their incitement have given the douchebros of white supremacy the confidence to come out and voice their hate.  How to counter that? Other than eventually defeating Trump, we need to call out the white supremacy.  Fuck this white nationalism, alt-right bullshit--if they adopt Nazi slogans and symbols, then let's call them Nazis with no modifiers.  Let's remember what the Nazis wrought not just to neighboring countries to but to Germany itself--utter destruction.  Let's remember their targets: Jews, gays, the left, the disabled, and on and on.  While Islamophobes may find the Trump's islamophobia appealing, the brown Islamophobes should keep in mind that white supremacy is for whites only.  Eventually, the non-white Islamophobes will be treated the same as all non-whites.

The good news is that we have Republicans heaping much scorn on the Nazis.  The bad news is that, as both George RR Martin and Brett Freidman would say, words are wind.  We should pressure Congress to put more $ and more investigations into fighting white supremacist terrorism.  Let's get Orrin Hatch, John McCain, and the others to put money where their mouths are. 

Oh, and let's drop the whole bullshit that the Dems lose because they play with identity politics.  White identity politics is white supremacy politics, something that both parties have played with but one party now relies so very heavily on it that their President refuses to clearly condemn the white supremacists.

Hopefully, this will all be resolved by the time our ship docks, but I doubt it.