Playing Chess in the Sea of Asov

A rare [and brief ;)] second note on the same day – hearkening back to Part I of the 2020 GOP Tea Leaves post, in which I suggested that President Trump may face long odds in any quest for a second term …

For any not conversant with the Russians’ hostile actions on November 25 against Ukrainian vessels seeking to enter the Sea of Asov, a link is provided below.  The Russians’ activities clearly indicate an attempt to seal off Ukraine’s use of a waterway that it shares with Russia.  These actions have been condemned by the international community.  This Russian effort is possible only because of its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Russians are renowned for their ability at chess.  I would guess that President Putin is an above-average chess player, and I am confident that he well understands his place on the board.  (I would also assume that he fully appreciates the adage, “Possession is nine tenths of the law.”)  If Mr. Putin has determined, based upon the 2018 election results, that President Trump is unlikely either to seek or win a second term – and further surmised that Mr. Trump’s conduct of his office is likely to be constrained if not crippled during the next two years – he may have concluded that this is the time to begin moving aggressively to advance his position on the world board …

Link to Senior Administration Official’s Anonymous NYT Op-Ed

It is likely that everyone that has an interest has already read the anonymous op-ed piece published today in the New York Times authored by a senior political appointee of the Administration (i.e., an official that cannot be labeled a part of the President’s fantasized “deep state”).  Nonetheless, this was worth posting in the event that there is anyone having an interest that wishes to access it.

McCain’s Final Message

Although I suspect that most that care to have already read this, there is no better summation of America’s place in the world and current struggles than Sen. McCain’s last message.

My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for sixty years, and especially my fellow Arizonans,

Thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.

I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else’s.

I owe that satisfaction to the love of my family. No man ever had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine. And I owe it to America. To be connected to America’s causes – liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people – brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.

“Fellow Americans” – that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process.

We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.

Ten years ago, I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with the heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening.

I feel it powerfully still.

Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.

Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America.

A Monday’s Sundry Thoughts

Of assorted items in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

  1. An Op-Ed piece by Mike Solon, former adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, entitled, “Tax Cuts Bust ‘Secular Stagnation’,” in which Mr. Solon asserts that the 4.1% second quarter GDP growth “… should finally discredit three popular claims made by opponents of the president’s policies: that tax cuts would blow a hole in the deficit, that corporate tax cuts would serve only rich investors, and that secular stagnation was a valid excuse for the slow growth of the Obama era.”

That we have had recent and fast economic growth is a fact.  I’m a bit surprised that Mr. Solon is willing to claim lasting vindication for the Republican measures so quickly.  A significant majority of the economists quoted in Journal pieces over the last six months have opined that the tax cut and attendant spending bill have given us a short-term economic boost akin to one’s feeling after downing an expresso … while they fear we will have a similar economic letdown as the burst wears off.  That said, this is an instance where the long term score will be what it is.  I intend to paperclip this piece to my January calendar for each of the next few years to see how Mr. Solon’s assertions bear out over time.

  1. An article entitled, “China Says It Isn’t to Blame for Failure of NXP-Qualcomm Deal,” citing China’s State Administration for Market Regulation’s recent failure to approve Qualcomm’s acquisition of NXP – which the regulator claims was due to its concerns with the deal’s anti-competitive aspects. The piece indicates that the regulator denies that its failure to approve the acquisition was related to the U.S.- China trade friction.  The account included the following:  “[Despite the regulator’s denial,] people with knowledge of the situation have told the Journal that the friction is the main reason for [the regulator’s withholding of approval].”  The article added the following observation by a China economist:  “For Beijing, which is seeking to develop its own semi-conductor industry, blocking the NXP acquisition pays an added dividend:  It hinders the growth of Qualcomm, which has a commanding position in cutting-edge chip technology.”

I can’t fault China for utilizing legal (or at least colorably legal) measures that serve as counter-measures to our retaliatory tariffs and/or slow our advancement in a strategic industry; it’s Foreign Policy 101:  “You make a move, then I make a move.”  As per a post I made a while back, I do question the Trump Administration for literally saving China telecom giant ZTE, whose activities in this country create national security issues for us and better enable China to compete against the U.S. in the race to 5G technology.  The billion dollar fine that the Administration has assessed against ZTE is pittance in the scheme of things.

  1. Yet, I would submit that the most noteworthy item was a story in the middle of the paper entitled, “In Afghanistan, U.S. Sees Signs of Peace.” The piece is not really very long, but manages to state all of the following in neutral terms:  Afghanistan’s “beleaguered” soldiers have failed to recapture significant new ground from the Taliban; civilian deaths have hit historic highs; Afghanistan is struggling to build a reliable air force and expand its elite fighters; the number of Afghan districts controlled by the government has dropped from about a half to a third in the last six months; our troops want the Afghans to close some remote check points because they’re easy targets for the Taliban; a suicide bomber killed at least 20 people at the entrance to an airport a few hours before our Gen. Joseph Votel, who oversees U.S. Afghan war operations, arrived there;  “[i]n western Afghanistan, local officials warned the American commander that the Taliban were making gains with the help of neighboring Iran”; “U.S. officials in southern Afghanistan said they needed more time to prop up an Afghan military capable of securing the country without American help”; and “[NATO] allies in the north warned that internal Afghan political divisions posed as big a risk to stability as the Taliban.”  [My italics].

At the same time, as the account dutifully records the above facts, it reports that American officials “don’t believe that the numbers tell the whole story”; that U.S. and Afghan officials have stated that the Taliban have shown a new willingness to negotiate; and that Gen. Votel indicates that the U.S. forces’ assessment “… has to account for both an objective and subjective evaluation of the situation,” that “[i]f we only focus on objectives aspects, you will miss something,” that “[w]e’re seeing some things that are moving in the right direction,” and that the state of play still leaves him feeling “cautiously optimistic.”

What follows is in no way a criticism of President Trump; I would submit that he inherited an untenable situation created by President George W. Bush that might well have been better handled subsequently by President Obama.  It’s most certainly not intended as a criticism of Gen. Votel or the American command; they’ve been given a mission, and no one ever effectively executed an endeavor by being pessimistic.  However, the juxtaposition of objective facts and American statements in this piece (which I recommend be read by anyone able to access it) sounded for me – and perhaps would for others with longer memories – unnerving echoes of 1960s’ accounts of the Vietnam War.  This is one area in which I suspect that Mr. Trump and I might privately agree:  it’s hard to see how we can achieve stable and durable conditions in Afghanistan enabling us to depart; if we can’t secure the situation, our people are sacrificing to simply postpone the inevitable; like the North Vietnamese, the Taliban and other Afghan factions understand that we’re fighting in their homeland, undoubtedly recognize that we’re weary, and realize that they can win by simply waiting us out; but – unlike the Vietnam conflict, where the North Vietnamese were simply satisfied to have us leave – it’s hard to see how any agreement enabling us to withdraw won’t ultimately facilitate terror’s following us home.  A terrible dilemma; an area in which I have genuine sympathy for the President, and heartache for our people fighting this battle …

President Claims Russia Favors Democrats

In case you missed it, President Trump tweeted the following earlier this week:

“I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!”

What precipitated this note was an observation a good friend made in an email about the President’s tweet:  “ … IF the Dems win big in the mid-terms, [President Trump and the Republicans] will challenge the results and want special investigations, or at the very least, spread discord that the midterms were affected by the Russians … Either way [i.e., whether the Democrats or Republicans do better in the midterms], Putin wins .…”

Putting aside for just this one post whether or not it is in our best interest for the President to have adopted the attitude toward Russia and President Putin that he has, any citizen with any power of discernment undoubtedly recognizes that his approach has been one of conciliation – bordering on if not constituting obsequiousness.  Mr. Putin himself said last week that he wanted Mr. Trump to win in 2016.  The body language between the two men at the Helsinki news conference could not have been more fraternal.  Even a number of Republicans that hadn’t previously had the courage to speak out against other Administration policies voiced criticism of Mr. Trump’s Helsinki performance.

Although I have grave concern that our friend is correct about the ultimate effect of the President’s latest stratagem, even the most ardent of his supporters should be offended by this tweet.  Given the intelligence community’s unanimous assessment that Russia did interfere in our election processes in support of Mr. Trump, for the President to assert that Russia didn’t do that (which he has done repeatedly since taking office, and did again in a tweet this week) while at the same time claiming (1) that no President has been tougher on Russia than him (contra, at least:  H. Truman; D. Eisenhower; J. Kennedy; R. Nixon; and – far from least – R. Reagan) and (2) that Russians will favor Democrats in the midterms so strains credulity that it seems … that the President must believe that his followers have super stretching and swallowing powers.

In that spirit, I took a minute to look for those that might have the capacity to accept the President’s claim.  Below is a link to the site, “Category:  Fictional Characters Who Can Stretch Themselves.”

The only character I could locate with super swallowing powers was Vice President Pence.

President Trump and the Russians, whether through coherence or by coincidence, have regularly sought to undermine our citizens’ belief in our institutions and electoral processes.  I hold out the hope that few of our citizens, no matter how substantively conservative, can either stretch or swallow enough to credit Mr. Trump’s latest bull … oney  …

Letter to U.S. Rep. Pocan, re: His bill to Abolish ICE

A letter I’ve just mailed [I cling to the old hard copy approach 🙂 ] to Mr. Pocan, the U.S.  Representative for Wisconsin’s Second Congressional District:

Dear Representative Pocan:

I am writing to express my deep disappointment at your ill-considered introduction of a bill to terminate the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).  While I abhor both the policy under which we separated parents and children at the border and our apparent treatment of many of those reaching our border as rabble rather than human beings, the fact remains that we need enforcement of our immigration laws.  I’m confident that ICE agents undertake dangerous and difficult responsibilities on a daily basis that those of us in our ivory towers prefer not to think about.  Your meat-axe approach seems to lack any substantive solution to the immigration enforcement challenges we face.  I assume that you are feeling suitable embarrassment if, as The Wall Street Journal reports, you intend to vote against your own bill if the House Republican leadership submits it for a vote.

On a less important level, liberals seem determined to be their own worst political enemies.  Our state and a number of other states and districts are closely divided.  Judging by the President’s polling numbers, he’s lost support during his time in office.  Today, it seems likely that few of those that voted for Secretary Clinton would vote Republican, while a significantly higher number of the more centrist voters that ultimately voted for the President rue their vote.  Right now, Democrats are on the Republican side of the 50-yard line.  While it may be exhilarating to strike a gesture for a party’s most ardent supporters by taking actions like you did, it’s not the way to win elections.  There’s no need to stoke the enthusiasm of Democratic loyalists; their fervor against the President and Republican policies is so strong that they’ll come out and vote.  What you and other Democratic office holders should do – if you wish to win, and not simply feel exhilaration — is focus on earning the confidence of those 2016 Republican voters that have developed misgivings about the Republican actions over the last 18 months.  Many of these voters fear that their values no longer have a place in our country, have the impression that our immigration policies are too lax, fear crime, etc., etc.  To vote for Democrats, they must be assured that their justifiable concerns will be taken seriously by Democratic office holders.  If Democratic Party strategists advise that providing these sorts of assurances will require the party to renounce the societal openness it also champions … then the party needs new strategists.

In an early chapter in his book, The Best and The Brightest, David Halberstam wrote the following about John F. Kennedy’s assessment of his chances for winning the Democratic Party nomination in 1960:

“[The liberal intellectual wing of the party was] not only dubious of [Kennedy] but staunchly loyal to Adlai Stevenson after those two gallant and exhilarating defeats.  That very exhilaration had left the Kennedys, particularly Robert Kennedy, with a vague suspicion that liberals would rather lose gallantly than win pragmatically, that they valued the irony and charm of Stevenson’s election-night concessions more than they valued the power and patronage of victory.  [My emphasis].”

Although it is unusual for me to align with House Speaker Paul Ryan on domestic issues, I agree with his comment quoted in this weekend’s Journal:  “[Democrats advocating abolishing ICE] are tripping over themselves to move too far to the left.”

Will it be exhilaration or pragmatism?  Has the party learned anything over the last 60 years?