Bombs and Chocolate

For liberals who saw last week’s missile strikes in Syria as a belated but welcome act of humanitarianism, Donald Trump was always going to be an awkward president to share the moral high ground with.   One minute he might be talking about beautiful babies and the children of God, but then he gives interviews with a Fox News ‘journalist’ named Maria Bartiromo, which contains sequences like this:

BARTIROMO:   You redirected navy ships to go toward the Korean Peninsula. What we are doing right now in terms of North Korea?

TRUMP:  You never know, do you? You never know. I don’t want to talk about it.  We are sending an armada, very powerful.  We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier, that I can tell you. And we have the best military people on Earth.  And I will say this.  He [Kim Jong Un] is doing the wrong thing.  He is doing the wrong thing.

BARTIROMO:  Do you…

TRUMP:  He’s making a big mistake.

BARTIROMO:  — do you think he’s mentally fit?

An interesting question, particularly when directed at Trump, who remains enigmatic and replies:

I don’t know.  I don’t know.  I don’t know him.  But he’s doing the wrong thing

This doesn’t actually answer the question of ‘what we are doing right now’ in North Korea, but the bragging about the power of American weapons and the barely-concealed threat in these observations ought to be as alarming as North Korea’s equally deranged and reckless nuclear diplomacy.   Things do not get any better when Trump and his interviewer turn their attention to  the bombing of Syria that thrilled so many liberal hearts:

BARTIROMO:  When you were with the president of China, you’re launching these military strikes.

TRUMP:  Yes.

BARTIROMO:  Was that planned? How did that come about that it’s happening right then, because right there, you’re saying a reminder, here’s who the superpower in the world is, right?

This is the kind of question that gives journalists a bad name.  In Bartiromo’s world,  it’s perfectly normal and acceptable for a US president to order military strikes over dinner in order to remind a foreign head of state ‘who the superpower in the world is’.  And Trump is as excited as she is:

TRUMP:  You have no idea how many people want to hear the answer to this.  I have had — I have watched speculation for three days now on what that was like (INAUDIBLE).

BARTIROMO:  When did you tell him?

TRUMP:  But I’ll tell you (INAUDIBLE)…

BARTIROMO:  Before dessert or what?

Another crucial question, which gets the following astonishing answer:

TRUMP:  But I will tell you, only because you’ve treated me so good for so long, I have to (INAUDIBLE) right?  I was sitting at the table.  We had finished dinner.  We’re now having dessert.  And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.  And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?  And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.  And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you.  This was during dessert. We’ve just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing.

So it turns out that the man who expressed the will of the ‘international community’; who finally stood up to evil after all these years of Obamesque caution and vacillation; who bombed Syria because he couldn’t stand the sight of dead babies, is also a man who boasts of firing missiles while eating ‘the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.’   And when he does so, he does it with the approval of a ‘journalist’ who can only shake her head in admiration and say:

Unmanned?  Brilliant.

That ‘brilliant’ is a darkly hilarious counterpoint to Trump’s troglodyte braggadocio. Bartiromo is clearly still stuck in the low-tech world  where US pilots strapped themselves to missiles and waved stetson hats, which is sooo last century.    Trump, on the other hand, knows that things have moved on.  William Tecumseh Sherman did not love war, even though he waged it harshly.  George Patton thought war was hell but loved it anyway.  Trump just loves it, almost as much as he loves chocolate cake:

TRUMP:  It’s so incredible.  It’s brilliant.  It’s genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.  I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.  So what happens is I said we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.

Even the unctuous Bartiromo has noticed that these weapons were not fired at Iraq, and feels the need to point this out to the president:

BARTIROMO:  (INAUDIBLE) to Syria?

TRUMP:  Yes. Heading toward Syria. In other words, we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading toward Syria.  And I want you to know that, because I didn’t want him to go home.  We were almost finished.  It was a full day in Palm Beach.  We’re almost finished and I —what does he do, finish his dessert and go home and then they say, you know, the guy you just had dinner with just attacked a country?

Let no one say that Trump doesn’t understand strategy or diplomacy.  Just because he won’t shake Angela Merkel’s hand doesn’t mean he is going to eat dessert with the Chinese premier and not tell him that he’s, like, attacked a country.

Several possibilities come to mind while considering these astounding words.  Clearly Trump is a moral imbecile, who is too stupid to consider that juxtaposing making war and eating chocolate cake and dessert might be considered inappropriate, and perhaps just a little flippant, shallow and lacking in presidential gravitas.  It’s also possible that war actually is a trivial activity for Trump, of no more importance and significance than eating chocolate cake, in which case he is probably a deranged psychopath who ought to struggle even to get a firearms license – let alone run the world’s only superpower.

But whatever the glaring defects in Trump’s monstrous personality, his psychopathic behaviour is also a systemic consequence of American militarism.   It’s the same unlimited global military power that enabled Ronald Reagan to order the bombing of Tripoli on no evidence.  It’s why Bill Clinton could fire missiles at a Sudan medical facility while he was being investigated for having weird sex with an intern, and why George Bush could invade Iraq on the basis of lies and fabrications.  It’s why Hilary Clinton could giggle ‘ we came, we saw, he died’ following the extrajudicial execution of Gaddafi.  And it’s also why the former community leader Barack Obama could sign off on a weekly kill list during his ‘Terror Tuesday’ meetings.

They did this because they could.  Because America has a unique ‘right’ and the ability to fire missiles and bombs at any country or target anywhere in the world for whatever reason.  Trump – despite his previous aversion to gratuitous military adventures during his campaign – has now taken up this role with a dangerous gusto and a total lack of understanding of the world he is operating in or the potential consequences of his actions.

Domestic political considerations partly explain this volte face, but Trump’s childlike enthusiasm for all things military also exhibits alarming signs of megalomania that are more commonly associated with Kim Jong Un, with their references to ‘my military’ and ‘my generals’, and his glassy-eyed worship of America’s powers of destruction.

Following last week’s MOAB bomb strike on Afghanistan, Trump was quick to suggest that he was responsible for it, bragging ‘Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do is I authorize my military.  We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job as usual. So we have given them total authorization.’

Trump’s choice of wording hinted that he had given the order to drop the largest non-nuclear bomb in history, even though one of ‘his’ generals has since said that the decision was taken without consultation with the White House.   Either way, the satisfaction that Trump has taken from it is not an encouraging sign, for those who would rather not see this crazed clown stagger into World War III with Boris Johnson’s head sticking out of his pocket like a pet gonk.

Because it is impossible to believe that the US would drop a 21,000-bomb simply to eliminate some 30-odd Islamic State terrorists.  To do such a thing would be such an incredibly disproportionate concentration of resources that one could only conclude that Trump and ‘his’ generals have lost the plot.

It is far more likely that the MOAB is a message aimed at America’s other ‘adversaries’, including North Korea and Iran.   That is the only thing about the use of this horrendous weapon that makes any sense, insofar as there is anything sensible about Donald Trump, and this possibility really ought to give some pause to those who believe that a man who conflates bombing with eating chocolate cake is the great moral hope of a new international order.

 

The Russians are coming!

Fancy a war with Russia, chaps?   After more than two decades in which Western leaders have staggered from one foreign policy train wreck to another with the reckless indifference of stag night drinkers on an epic pub brawl, it now looks as though they are lurching dimly towards exactly that outcome.

Of course it’s not their fault, because nothing ever is.  This is why British defence secretary Michael Fallon has warned that Putin could ‘repeat the tactics used to destabilise Ukraine in Baltic members of the Nato alliance.’

Some might suggest that the EU/NATO’s disastrous decision to draw Ukraine into their sphere of influence also played a part in destabilising Ukraine.  But not  Fallon, who now says that ‘Nato has to be ready for any kind of aggression from Russia, whatever form it takes. Nato is getting ready.’

Good to know.  But the problem is that NATO has been ‘getting ready’ for a long time, and Russia also interprets this readiness as a form of aggression, which is one of the reasons why it has reacted the way it has in Ukraine.   It’s one thing to criticize Russia’s ruthless manipulation of the Ukrainian crisis, but it’s quite another to portray its support for Russian separatists as part of some Hitleresque attempt to reestablish the Soviet Union or the Tsarist Empire.

But this is now what virtually everyone seems to be doing, whether it’s more serious commentators like Timothy Garton Ash or the frothing imbeciles at the Daily Mail, which screeched ‘Britain at the mercy of Putin’s planes,’ today in one of the most cretinous frontpages in the paper’s long and inglorious history.   Supported by photographs illustrating the ‘aggression of the Russian bear’  the Mail described how ‘RAF fighter jets scrambled to intercept two Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear missiles as they flew menacingly off the coast of Cornwall.’

Off the coast of Cornwall I tell you!  And what were the Ruskies doing?  They were ‘lurking’ with evil intent, perhaps looking to encourage Cornish separatists and annexe a bit of the UK while they’re at it.   And Russian submarines are also ‘lurking’ near Scotland, probably waiting to bring the Yes voters back into the streets so that they can populate the Highlands with little green men.

It’s a damned cheek I tell you.  But even worse it turns out that Britain is ‘defenceless’, according to the  ‘top brass’ and ‘military chiefs’ who the Mail loves so much.  According to Sir Michael Graydon, former head of the RAF, defence cuts have ‘decimated’ our capabilities to the point when: ‘I very much doubt whether the UK could sustain a shooting war against Russia. We are at half the capabilities we had previously.They know it is provocative and they are doing it at a time when defence in the west is pretty wet compared to where they are.’

Well the sound of wood and willow echoing from the playing fields of Eton can definitely be heard in that description of our bombers and nuclear missiles and submarines as ‘pretty wet.’

All this would be good for a laugh, if it weren’t so bleakly disturbing.  Because wars sometimes happen because of political calculation, but they also take place because of paranoia, stupidity and pigheadedness, or because heavily-armed states engage in tests of geopolitical strength or fatally misunderstand the motivations of each side, compounding the worst expectations of their opponent to the point when war seems logical and inevitable.

This process appears to be unfolding now.  There is no doubt that Russia has carried out frequent incursions into the air space of its neighbors, even though it didn’t in this case.  But only last month Russia condemned NATO’s decision to deploy its forces in six East European states, declaring that

‘Along with other measures already being undertaken, including a series of ceaseless exercises, continuous rotation of the US and its allies’ forces, reinforcement of naval and air groups in the Baltic States and in the Black Sea, creation of missile defense sites and strongholds of the alliance for various purposes – all this will substantially weaken the military stability and security in the region.’

In the eyes of the West and its supporters, such arguments are only lies and excuses, because when it comes to Russia – and pretty much everyone else for that matter –  ‘aggression’ is only ever on one side.

The dangers of this dynamic cannot be overstated.   In the early years of the Cold War the cooperation between the World War II coalition broke down in part, because Western leaders were unable or unwilling to understand why the Soviet Union was so determined to surround itself with a security ‘buffer zone’ of the states that it liberated/conquered.

Russian security objectives certainly had an imperialist dimension, particularly when pursued by a leader like Stalin, but there is an abundance of evidence to show that global military conquest – or even the domination of Western Europe was not their intention.  Has the West recognized this, it might have responded differently.

Western leaders are rapidly slipping into a similar misreading of Russia’s intentions.  To point this out does not mean that Russia is the ‘good guy’ in this confrontation.  There is no doubt that Russia has supported separatists in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine militarily, even if the degree of control that Putin has over events in Ukraine is sometimes overstated.

But it is also clear that  the US/EU/NATO were incredibly stupid, naive and shortsighted in thinking that Russia would not oppose their attempts to bring Ukraine into the Western sphere of interest – politically, economically and militarily, let alone that it would accept a government in Ukraine that almost immediately alienated its Russian-speaking minorities.

Even Henry Kissinger recognizes this, for god’s sake, and has pointed out how the EU’s ‘bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis.

In this situation we don’t have to choose between Moscow and Washington/Brussels, and nor should Ukraine be forced to make this choice.  But to achieve a better outcome  we do need cool heads.  We need a critical media, and politicians and commentators willing to question the hysterical Russophobia that was on display today, and hold the self-serving delusions behind it up to scrutiny.

And we must not, we cannot, allow our leaders to take us into a war that would make all the disasters and conflicts of the last two decades look like minor quarrels by comparison.