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).
Monday, April 10, 2017
COMMANDER IN A BOX
77 Days of Trump
By Jack Random
We have survived ten weeks of the Trump White House. Trump has failed to pass healthcare legislation. He has failed to get his Muslim ban past the courts. He has failed to secure a down payment on The Wall. He has failed to withdraw from NAFTA and CAFTA.
The president has succeeded in stripping away regulations that deter polluters. He has made it legal to dump toxic wastes in rivers and streams. He has pushed through major oil pipelines that will inevitably break and contaminate drinking water.
In the shadows of the Pentagon while our attention was focused elsewhere, Trump has quietly raised troop levels in Iraq and Syria. Without official announcement 400 marines were deployed to Syria in early March. Three hundred paratroopers were added to Iraq. What appears to be mission creep is underway as civilian casualties rise under Trump’s reign.  There are now 5,200 official troops in Iraq and 500 in Syria. There are an additional 1,000 soldiers with “temporary” status and several thousand mercenaries. Our bombs and air strikes have killed over a thousand civilians in March alone as Trump fulfills his promise to “bomb the hell out of them.” 
The problem is: We were supposed to bomb the enemy.
This is the eleventh installment of the Trump Diaries.
DAY 71: TRADE POLICY RUNAROUND
March 31, 2017
Trump signs executive order on trade policy – one calling for study of the causes of imbalance and the other calling for stronger reactions to unfair dumping. These are hardly the vision of trade policy reform that the candidate trumpeted during his campaign. Remember when he knew better than anyone what the causes of trade imbalance were? He has discovered that his own party is the strongest opposition to fair trade. They may give him the power to impose selected tariffs but they will not upend the free trade mandate.
His Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin says they are preparing to renegotiate our trade agreements. Whatever happened to withdrawing from NAFTA and CAFTA? Trump could have posted notice on day one; now he wants to study the issue.
Secretary of State and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson announces that sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine will remain in place until it reverses its actions.
Is this a gambit meant to placate the nation’s growing suspicion that Tillerson and Trump are assets working for the Russian government?
Secretary of Defense Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis expresses concern in London regarding Russia’s recent support for the Taliban – America’s enemy in Afghanistan. Should that support take a military turn we could find ourselves on opposing sides of an Afghan battlefield. Dangerous games.
DAY 72: PREEMPTIVE STRIKE
April 1, 2107
Late at night, Trump calls his team to the situation room and orders preemptive strikes on Pyongyang (North Korea) and Tehran (Iran). The president announces he will bring down the wrath of God on anyone who opposes the mighty will of the United States of America. Experts fear hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, are dead as counter attacks are launched on Seoul (South Korea) and Tel Aviv (Israel). 
The president tweets an attack on NBC’s Chuck Todd for not covering the Obama surveillance scandal.
DAY 73: GOLF WITH RAND PAUL
April 2, 2017
Trump plays golf with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul ostensibly to discuss the future of healthcare in America. That should be a short conversation. Senator Paul fundamentally does not believe in government healthcare – including Medicare.
Trump teases the idea of using trade leverage on China to force them into dealing with the North Korea problem. He will retract the notion in less than twenty-four hours.
DAY 74: EGYPT COMES TO WASHINGTON
April 3, 2017
Egyptian President-Dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi pays an official visit to Trump at the White House. Trump expresses admiration and support. “You have a great friend in the United States and in me.”
El-Sisi is responsible for a brutal crackdown in the wake of a coup that overthrew elected president Mohamed Morsi, killing hundreds if not thousands of political opponents. He has secured his power through torture, mass arrests, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killing and abolishing the right to dissent, the right to assemble in protest and the right to a free and independent press. 
Still, Trump is downright effusive in his praise of el-Sisi. Well, we’re all killers anyway, aren’t we? We’re all strong men. We do what we have to do to obtain and secure power.
The war on terror makes strange bedfellows indeed.
The Senate Judiciary Committee puts forth the name of Neil Gorsuch as a nominee to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court. The Democrats claim enough pledges to block the vote from coming to the floor in what passes today as a filibuster. With pained expressions, the Republicans swear they stand ready to invoke the dreaded “nuclear option.”
The Democrats better hold on this one. Goodbye, filibuster! You will not be missed.
DAY 75: BLACKWATER BACKCHANNEL
April 4, 2017
The Washington Post reports that the United Arab Emirates arranged a clandestine meeting between Trump supporter Erik Prince and an unidentified Putin surrogate on January 9th of 2017.
Prince is the founder of mercenary contractor Blackwater and a major contributor to Trump’s “self-financed” campaign. The alleged purpose of the meeting, according to unnamed UAE sources, was to explore a deal exchanging Russian concessions on Iran and Syria for reduced sanctions. 
What scandal would be complete without the involvement of a mercenary army? As noted above, there are several thousand mercenaries under American contract in Syria and Iraq.
Breitbart and Fox News go crazy over the revelation that former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice sought to identify Trump associates inadvertently recorded in surveillance operations.
While the Trump propaganda machine believes it has the real scandal in hand, to the rest of us it seems reasonable if Trump’s associates were suspected of colluding with an adversarial foreign government.
Something’s got to give.
A chemical attack in Syria kills dozens of innocent civilians. The international community blames Bashar al-Assad and waits for a coherent statement from the White House. After hours formulating a response, Trump blames Barrack Obama.
Back in 2013 when Assad used chemical weapons in Ghouta, Trump pleaded with Obama not to intervene.
North Korea launches yet another ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, once again challenging Trump to act or back down. No response from the president.
Clearly, Trump is in over his head. He’s already given Iraq, the Middle East and reorganizing the federal government to his son-in-law. At some point he’s going to have to take on the presidency himself.
DAY 76: THE BUTCHER’S BILL
April 5, 2017
Images of the victims of the chemical attack in Idlib province arouse the indignation of the international community. The latest death toll is seventy-two – including twenty children. Russia holds up the possibility that the attack is the result of rebels blowing up a chemical weapons depot.
British clown and foreign minister Boris Johnson lays the “butcher’s bill” at the feet of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley goes beyond blaming Assad, demanding that Russia act. Days after proclaiming a hands-off policy on Assad, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joins the chorus of denunciation. Finally, standing in the Rose Garden next to King Abdullah of Jordan, Trump points the finger firmly at Assad.
One day after blaming Obama for drawing a line in the sand and not following through with military action (Obama negotiated an agreement with Russia for the removal of chemical weapons), Trump tells a reporter the events at Idlib go “beyond a red line.”
It is the first time in his presidency that Trump has personally challenged a direct ally of Vladimir Putin. Having drawn the line, he is obligated to act. If he does we may soon find out what if anything Putin has on our president.
In a stunning presidential rebuke, Steve Bannon – the dark mastermind of Trump’s rise to the Oval Office – is relieved of duty on the National Security Council. The move reportedly comes at the request of Trump’s new national security advisor, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. There’s a new sheriff in town.
Bye, bye Bannon! We hardly knew you. You should have known the boss would not long stand for anyone getting credit for his success.
DAY 77: SENATE REPUBLICANS KILL THE FILIBUSTER
April 6, 2017
Senate Republicans in a fit of righteous indignation revise the antiquated rules of the Senate so that only a majority is required to confirm a nominee to the Supreme Court. The revision keeps the filibuster (60 vote requirement) alive for legislation but enables Neil Gorsuch to take his seat on the nation’s highest court.
Congratulations to the Senate Democrats for holding their ground. Ultimately, this decision may have the most enduring impact on the future of the nation. The balance of the court could move to the far right with two of the court’s liberal leaning justices – Ginsberg and Breyer – ages 84 and 78 and the traditional swing vote – Kennedy – age 80. With the 49-year-old Gorsuch taking his seat, if Trump is allowed two more nominees, the corporate court could be cemented for decades.
Representative Devin Nunes steps down from his role as chair of the House Intelligence Committee under the pressure of an internal ethics investigation.
As the death toll in Syria’s Idlib province climbs to 86, including 26 children, Trump raises the possibility of military action. This is of course the first occasion where our president has broken from the Putin playbook. The Russians are challenging Trump to state his policy and take whatever actions he will. Trump has painted himself into a corner. If he negotiates with the Russians and Syrians he will have done precisely what his predecessor did. If he engages troops to take on Assad as well as ISIS he will put us in military conflict with Russia and in the crossfire of a civil war – precisely what he promised he would not do.
What he does next may be the most important decision of his presidency.
Thursday evening Trump orders a Tomahawk missile strike at the Syrian airbase where US officials believe the chemical weapon attack was launched. The Russian military was given prior notice but nine are reportedly killed.
This action marks a new and more aggressive direction in the Trump administration. It is a political coup for an unpopular president, winning praise from hawks on both sides of the aisle.
What do presidents do when they have lost the support of the American people? They launch an attack and raise the flag. In this case, the greater question is: What does Vladimir Putin do? The next move is his.
1. “Trump administration stops disclosing troop deployments in Iraq and Syria” by W.J. Hennigan. Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2017.
2. “Under Trump U.S. Military has allegedly killed over 1,000 civilians in Iraq, Syria in March” by Jason Le Miere. Newsweek, March 31, 2017.
3. “Breaking News: Trump to Resign” by Kimberly Morin. The Federalist Papers Project, April 1, 2107.
4. “We Agree on So Many Things: Despite Human Rights Abuses, Trump Heaps Praise on Egypt’s Al-Sisi” by Andrea Germanos. Common Dreams, April 3, 2017.
5. “Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel” by Adam Entous, Greg Miller, Kevin Sieff and Karen DeYoung. Washington Post, April 3, 2017.
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES, GHOST DANCE INSURRECTION AND A PATRIOT DIRGE (CROW DOG PRESS).