Saturday, April 15, 2017
DRIFTING INTO WAR
84 Days of Trump
By Jack Random
The eleventh week of the Trump presidency brought a dramatic turn of events that have yet to play out. On Thursday Trump ordered the bombing of a Syrian air base in retaliation for the apparent use of chemical weapons by the regime of Syrian President and Russian ally Bashar al-Assad. Russia denied that Assad was responsible and condemned Trump’s action.
In a single day all the alliances shifted. Trump’s harshest critics, Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, assumed the roles of the president’s cheerleaders, urging him on to a deeper commitment and greater acts of war. After eleven painful weeks of ignoring the assassinations of political opponents, the suppression of dissent and acts of aggression, Trump finally stood up to Vladimir Putin. Or did he?
It must be noted that the Russian military was forewarned before the attack and the base was back in operation within twenty-four hours. Trump desperately needed to do something in opposition to Putin to counteract the daily drumbeat of collusion with Russia to win the White House.
Was this an elaborate charade or was it a real change in policy? If Trump has taken a stand against Putin, will his former ally retaliate? The plot thickens.
This is the twelfth installment of the Trump Diaries.
DAY 78: BEAUTIFUL DESTRUCTION
April 7, 2017
Neil Gorsuch is confirmed to take his seat on the bench of the Supreme Court. His harshest critics say he is to the right of Antonin Scalia, the man he is replacing. Respectfully, no one is the right of Antonin Scalia. The real damage begins with the next Trump appointee – or the next Pence appointee.
Armed with cruise missiles, a missile defense system, anti-aircraft guns, torpedoes and artillery, the Russian warship Admiral Grigorovich sails to the site of the battleship that launched the missile strike on a Syrian airbase. Beleaguered Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev states that Moscow and Washington are on the verge of military confrontation.
MSNBC anchor Brian Williams – the same “journalist” who fictionalized an account of coming under fire in Iraq – proclaims the launching of American missiles beautiful. Fareed Zakaria of CNN declares that Donald Trump “became president of the United States” by his action. Neocon Elliot Abrams states that Trump’s presidency begins now. Former Defense Secretary William Cohen declares the president a man of action.
Across the board the mainstream media that Trump has so often demeaned has heaped praise on the commander for bombing an airbase and placing us at odds with Russia in the center of a civil war. This is why presidents yield to the drums of war. The media cannot get enough. It clamors for more and the people wave the flag and send their children to far away lands to serve as pawns in the cause of geopolitical chess games.
Here we go again.
Entertaining Chinese president Xi Jingping at Mar-a-Lago, Trump proclaims “tremendous progress” in China-American relations. Translation: Trump beat him by three strokes on the front nine before retiring to watch the Masters golf tournament.
DAY 79: BASKING IN THE GLOW
April 8, 2017
Trump is in seclusion at Mar-a-Lago, basking in the glow of positive reviews from talking heads and media pundits. He takes issue with those critics who claim that the strikes did little real damage. He didn’t even bomb the runway.
Trump needs to learn: On good days you only read the good reviews. On bad days you don’t read at all.
The critics are correct that Trump’s bombing did not have an impact on the conflict in Syria except to incite the Russians and inform Assad that we will not tolerate anything he wishes to do. We have not yet advanced a clear policy.
What the attack did accomplish was that it changed the topic from Russian collusion to Russian retaliation. It is a risky maneuver with unpredictable consequences.
DAY 80: REGIME CHANGE & 18 HOLES
April 9, 2017
On the final day of the Masters Golf Championship, Trump plays golf at the West Palm Beach golf club.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley declares a policy of regime change in Syria – a policy her boss has yet to articulate. The ambassador seems to be writing her own script. This is not the first time she has given speeches or made statements that conflict with those of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson or Secretary of Defense James Mattis. One wonders if she ever communicates with her boss. Her words reflect the president’s policies like a carnival mirror reflects reality.
DAY 81: THE CRY OF PATRIOTISM
April 10, 2017
A CBS polls finds that 57% of those polled support the bombing of a Syrian airbase. They do not support military intervention to affect regime change.
Maybe the American people have learned something from our disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither the media nor the government seems to have learned much of anything. Once the cry of patriotism goes forth and the bombs begin to fall, those who should lead line up behind the warmongers and call for blood.
Neil Gorsuch is sworn in as a justice of the Supreme Court.
DAY 82: TILLERSON GOES TO MOSCOW
April 11, 2017
Rex Tillerson arrives in Moscow and checks into his hotel with two teams of security experts to scan the room for bugs. The French foreign minister reports that Tillerson on his recent visit to Europe expressed the opinion that American voters have no reason to care about what happens in Ukraine.
The Secretary of State is playing both sides against the middle. The only one who has any idea what to expect may be Vladimir Putin and he’s not talking. There are no official meetings scheduled between the old friends.
France and Britain join the United States in demanding United Nations Security Council support for an international investigation of the chemical attack in Syria.
As the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrives off the coast of North Korea the little dictator Kim Jong Un warns that any military aggression by the Trump administration will be answered with nuclear retaliation.
The Washington Post reports that a federal judge issued a FISA warrant to monitor Trump advisor Carter Page way back in July. The walls are closing in on Page. He’ll talk if he gets the chance.
DAY 83: THE SUFFERING OF BABIES
April 12, 2017
Putin welcomes Tillerson by announcing on state television that Russian-American relations have deteriorated. After Tillerson meets with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for three hours, Putin yields to a face-to-face meeting with his old friend and partner in the oil exploitation business. 
Russia continues to proclaim Bashar al-Assad’s innocence and accuses Trump of acting irrationally and defying international law.
Either this is an elaborate charade or Trump is teasing a new cold war. I suspect he has no idea what he’s doing. After all the hype, neither does Tillerson.
Trump explains that his policy or non-policy has not changed. He has no intention of escalating our engagement in Syria despite the fact that he has done exactly that. He simply could not endure the images of babies and children suffering. Now that the world understands what moves our president, you can be sure the White House is being inundated with images of suffering infants and toddlers in all parts of the world – Yemen, Somalia, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Congo, Sudan, Libya, Myanmar, Ukraine, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico – many of them as the result of our policies, drone strikes or bombing campaigns. [2, 3]
This is the president whose proposed budget cuts foreign aid to a skeleton. The childhood misery index will rise as a direct result and the suffering will be chronicled and delivered to the president’s eyes. Who do you bomb for starvation and disease?
When the dust settles nothing but the politics have changed. Nine Syrian military personnel are dead, a Syrian airfield suffered minor damage and Russia will have to replace a dozen or so fighter jets but nothing of substance has changed. We will allow Assad to continue as Syria’s president. We will soon resume coordinated actions with the Russian military. More children and babies will suffer and die. It is not within our power to end this carnage alone and it is beyond the reach of our leader to negotiate an end with others.
Trump tells reporters at a news conference with the head of NATO that American-Russian relations have reached an “all time low.” By that he means big league. Apparently the president has never heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump reveals he will not accuse China of currency manipulation.  He seems to believe he has an understanding with President Xi Jinping: Trump will give China a favorable trade deal if the Chinese help with the North Korea problem.
DAY 84: MOTHER OF ALL BOMBS
April 13, 2017
The US military drops the mother of all bombs – the largest non-nuclear bomb in our arsenal – on a cave complex said to shelter Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan.
This does not appear to be an administration that wants to withdraw from America’s long war in Afghanistan. The eleven-ton bomb had never been deployed. Now it has. It is time to recognize that all that talk by candidate Trump about not getting entangled in foreign wars was just that. If you give a man with an insecurity complex access to weapons of mass destruction, you cannot be surprised when he uses them.
The White House declines to take responsibility for the decision to drop the massive bomb, apparently yielding strategic decisions in Afghanistan and elsewhere to the military. What could go wrong?
For those who were somewhat surprised by the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan as I was, reports refer to ISIS-K or ISIS affiliates. ISIS-K refers to ISIS Khurasan: a province traversing the Afghan and Pakistani border. The peripheral group consists largely of Taliban defectors who have joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. 
The group is capable of isolated attacks but it is not considered strategically viable. ISIS Khurasan is at odds with our enemy, the Taliban, making it exactly the kind of engagement Trump the candidate wanted to avoid. We are attacking the enemy of our enemy. Note that Russia recently made overtures of an alliance with the Taliban. Destroying an enemy of the Taliban may ultimately work to Russia’s favor.
The situation is clear as mud and the one thing candidate Trump got right was: We would be wise to stay out of it. I didn’t believe him then and I don’t believe him now. Trump has no strategy, no philosophy and no guiding principles. He loved the adulation his bombing of Syria engendered so he thought he’d try another in Afghanistan.
TRUMP: What have you got for me, General?
GENERAL: MOAB. The Massive Ordnance Air Blast. We call it the mother of all bombs.
TRUMP: Bigger than the bunker buster?
GENERAL: Bigger. Much bigger.
TRUMP: Where can we drop it?
GENERAL: It has to be rural – preferably isolated. We’ve got our eyes on these caves in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan.
TRUMP: Is that where we lost bin Laden?
GENERAL: I’m not sure, sir.
TRUMP: I like it.
GENERAL: Would you like cover, sir?
TRUMP: How’s that?
GENERAL: If things go wrong, we can assign blame. If everything goes well you get the credit.
TRUMP: You can do that?
GENERAL: Yes, sir.
TRUMP: Drop it, General. And make sure we have pictures. The people love pictures. Big league.
GENERAL: Yes, sir.
Recall that Trump the candidate speculated that we should use whatever weapons we have. He refused to rule out the first use of nuclear weapons and all but welcomed a new arms race. The only promise the president has kept thus far is the promise to be unpredictable. When unpredictable includes the possibility of nuclear annihilation it is not a good thing.
Dropping the mother of all bombs may be a warning and a challenge to our enemies. If Putin takes the challenge, he already has an answer: the father of all bombs.  The Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power reportedly has four times the destructive force as MOAB. It has replaced smaller nuclear bombs in the Russian arsenal of weaponry.
If Putin finds an opportunity to deploy the father of all bombs, he will challenge Trump to take the next step: tactical nuclear weapons.
1. “Putin says trust erodes under Trump, Moscow icily receives Tillerson” by Yeganeh Torbati and Vladimir Soldatkin. Reuters, April 12, 2017.
2. “It had a big impact on me – story behind Trump’s whirlwind missile response” by Luke Harding. The Guardian, April 7, 2017.
3. “10 Conflicts to Watch in 2017” by Jean-Marie Guehenno. Foreign Policy, January 5, 2017.
4. “Trump Says Dollar ‘Getting Too Strong,’ Won’t Label China a Currency Manipulator” by Gerard Baker, Carol E. Lee and Michael C. Bender. Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2017.
5. “What Happened to ISIS’s Afghanistan-Pakistan Province?” by Arif Fasik. The Diplomat, February 2, 2016.
6. “Russia unveils the ‘father of all bombs’” by Luke Harding. The Guardian, September 11, 2007.
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES, GHOST DANCE INSURRECTION, PAWNS TO PLAYERS AND OTHER WORKS (CROW DOG PRESS).