Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405

Facebook: Digby Parton

@BloggersRUs (Tom Sullivan)

thedigbyblog at gmail
satniteflix at gmail
publius.gaius at gmail
tpostsully at gmail
Spockosbrain at gmail
Richardein at me.com


Mother Jones
Raw Story
Huffington Post
Crooks and Liars
American Prospect
New Republic

Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 July 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 December 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013 December 2013 January 2014 February 2014 March 2014 April 2014 May 2014 June 2014 July 2014 August 2014 September 2014 October 2014 November 2014 December 2014 January 2015 February 2015 March 2015 April 2015 May 2015 June 2015 July 2015 August 2015 September 2015 October 2015 November 2015 December 2015 January 2016 February 2016 March 2016 April 2016 May 2016 June 2016 July 2016 August 2016 September 2016 October 2016 November 2016 December 2016 January 2017 February 2017 March 2017 April 2017 May 2017 June 2017 July 2017 August 2017 September 2017 October 2017 November 2017 December 2017 January 2018 February 2018 March 2018 April 2018 May 2018


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?


Monday, February 20, 2017

One month report card

by digby

Via The Shadow Government blog at Foreign Policy:
Has it really only been a month? We wish we could say that Trump surprised us, but from the minute he took the oath of office one month ago today, he hasn’t: This has been the worst, most unsettling start of a new president in modern memory. This period is supposed to be the honeymoon. Yet there has been so much churn and breaking news it’s hard to keep up. While the drama has provided plenty of fodder for the readers (and writers) of Shadow Government, it has been very damaging to the country. But how much? It’s important to step back and reflect on the top ten things we have learned in recent weeks — and what this means for the future.

1. Process, process, process. Washington wonks love to talk about process, but the sloppy and rushed way in which the administration rolled out its Executive Order on immigration makes the best case for why process really matters. On the merits, we think the EO is a terrible, self-defeating policy to address a phony threat. As Michael Morell pointed out, there is little evidence that refugees or immigrants are terrorist threat to the United States — the real risk is homegrown radicalization, which the discriminatory EO may contribute to. The suspension of legal migration from seven Muslim-majority nations also risks complicating cooperation with counterterrorism partners across the Muslim world (with Iraq being a notable case in point).

But even for those sympathetic to Trump’s actions, the EO could have been met with far more applause among Republicans if the administration had shown basic competence — taking the time to include the interagency, brief Capitol Hill, line up its surrogates, and ensure that organizations like Customs and Border Control had a clear understanding of how the order would be implemented in practice, particularly in regards to Green Card holders. Beyond the EO debacle, other failures of process include the green lighting of the Jan. 8 Yemen raid (in which one U.S. Navy Seal and numerous civilians were killed) over dinner without interagency deliberation, and the absence of any clear process to review responses to early provocations by Russia and North Korea. (The frantic review of documents on the North Korea missile launch by cell phone light at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort doesn’t count).

2. Who is speaking for whom? The administration continues to present two sides to every story — one presented by the White House (often in the form of a presidential tweet) and another presented by cabinet officials like Secretary of Defense Mattis. The mixed messages are making it hard for anyone — Trump supporters, the press, or our allies — to get the ground truth on U.S. policy on Russia, North Korea, the Islamic State, alliances like NATO, and Iran. One month in, what’s striking is that aside from all the noise and bluster, U.S. policy on these issues has not changed much from the Obama approach. The outcome may or may not be good (depending on your perspective), but the confusion and contradiction is dangerous. It befuddles allies and emboldens adversaries.

3. Staffing gaps are a YE-HUGE problem. Trump prides himself on the speed with which his administration has made cabinet picks (which in reality was an average pace). But his team has been setting records for the slowest appointment of second and third tier political appointments — the folks who actually make the machinery of government run. Four weeks in, not a single foreign policy official has been named below the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.

Partly this reflects a reluctance of many qualified candidates to be associated with this administration (such as retired Navy Vice Admiral Bob Harward, who passed on the National Security Adviser job); partly it reflects Trump’s own vindictiveness toward anyone who criticized him during the election (as the torpedoing of Elliot Abrams demonstrates); and partly it reflects the disorganization and total lack of preparation to govern on display during the transition that persists today. And even if they start naming deputy, under, and assistant secretaries soon, this problem will go on for several months given the time it takes to get nominees confirmed.

The NSC staff, meanwhile, is in a full tailspin. Professional NSC staff have been marginalized from the outset, and many of the political appointees who had been hired at the senior director level were Mike Flynn people not well known to the Trump team or the foreign policy establishment. With Flynn gone, their futures are very much in doubt.

4. Kremlingate isn’t going away. Given Flynn’s unceremonious departure over his calls to the Russian Ambassador during the transition and his supposed misrepresentation of those calls to his own colleagues (including Vice President Pence), the story about Trump’s ties to Russia can’t simply be swept under the rug (as both the administration and some Republicans in Congress hope). There are too many unanswered questions: Why would Flynn reassure the Russians that their interference in the U.S. election could be smoothed over? Did Trump know about Flynn’s engagements ahead of time (given that Trump clearly approved of the outcome — Russian restraint in the face of Obama’s sanctions — after the fact)? Was there collusion between those in the Trump campaign and Russian officials involved in passing hacked information to WikiLeaks? These are only some of the questions likely to dog — and potentially consume — the administration in the coming months. The demands to launch a bipartisan investigation — or, potentially, a 9/11-style commission — into what Russia did during the election last fall and the connections between Trump campaign officials and Russia are only getting louder.

5. Competing centers of gravity at the White House only bring dysfunction. At present, the U.S. government and our friends and allies have to navigate three separate centers of power inside the White House: the NSC, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s newly minted Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG), and Jared Kushner. We’ve heard that key ambassadors are being told to engage with Kushner, not the NSC staff. In addition to creating real uncertainty about who is in charge, those three centers of power are raising serious questions about the decision-making process more broadly. And as the vacuum and dysfunction at the NSC persists (see problem 3), the influence of parallel national security structures that involve no interagency input — especially the SIG — will likely grow (worsening problem 1).

6. For all the big talk, major shifts in national security policy have yet to be seen. Trump’s rhetoric, early-morning tweets, erratic personality, and scratchy phone calls have unsettled many of our closest allies and partners, and left many around the world worried about the course Trump plans to set. Yet despite expectations that the Trump team would shred the Iran deal, cut a grand bargain with Russia (starting by lifting sanctions), launch a new plan on defeating the Islamic State, move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and push back on China from an economic and trade perspective, the world has seen little in terms of major changes in policy. Maybe this is because of incompetence, lack of bandwidth, or White House infighting (see 1, 3, and 5) — or maybe it is because like so much else,

Trump just talked his way into these policies without any real desire to follow through. Trump just talked his way into these policies without any real desire to follow through. We hope it is the latter, because actually following through with Trump’s foreign policy agenda would create massive problems for U.S. national security. 
7. Mattis is becoming too big to fail. Allies and many across Washington (including some of us) regularly cite Secretary of Defense Mattis as the guy that will save us by injecting sanity into the administration. His stature has only grown in the last month, as he has been sent abroad to sooth allies in Asia and Europe (and soon the Middle East), and by the fact that Trump says he would defer to his favorite Mad Dog on issues like torture and the campaign against the Islamic State. Senator John McCain is putting it all on Mattis as well, almost encouraging him to just pretend the White House doesn’t exist. So Mattis is quickly becoming too big to fail: Just imagine how the press, the Washington community, and the world would react if rumors started speading that Mattis was ready to walk because he couldn’t work with the Trump White House.

But Mattis’s job is not going to get any easier: His comments in Brussels this week about European defense spending — in which he tried to reassure NATO of America’s commitment, while suggesting that commitment may be “moderated” if NATO allies to pay more for their own defense — show how challenging his tightrope walk will be. What will happen when Trump overrules Mattis on an issue that could fundamentally compromise U.S. security or American values? And what will happen if the gap between what Mattis and the president believe — and what Mattis does contrary to White House desires — grows over time?

8. Trump will not change. Last year, all of Trump’s opponents — in the Republican primary, and Obama and Clinton during the general election — agreed on one thing: that he is temperamentally (and many would drop the “temper”) unfit to be leader of the free world.

Trump is erratic, self-absorbed, intellectually un-curious, and vindictive.
Trump is erratic, self-absorbed, intellectually un-curious, and vindictive. And he lacks two of the most important traits a successful president must have: humility and empathy. Even the most talented team managing the most rigorous, well-run process can’t make up for the fact that Trump is Trump; he will not change. Remember all those folks who thought that once in the White House, Trump would become more normal? Sad! 
9. Checks and balances sort of working? Despite all the drama, we’ve also seen early signs that, despite all the fears of creeping authoritarianism under Trump, elements of America’s democratic system are pushing back. Civil society has mobilized enormous protests and marches across the country. Courts have blocked the immigration EO (for now). The professional bureaucracy is raising concerns, and bringing them to light (the State Department dissent cable on the EO, signed by more than 1,000 diplomats, is a good example). And the media (not to mention every late night talk show, led by Saturday Night Live) is calling out Trump and speaking truth to power (the Flynn resignation is an early sign of impact). So far, the one institution doing little to rein in Trump’s abuses is Congress. Democrats in the Senate have doggedly grilled Trump nominees, and support is building on both sides of the aisle for a thorough investigation into Kremlingate. But the big question remains: when Trump’s actions compromise our security and shared values, will the GOP leadership in Congress step up?

10. Strap yourselves in, because the real test is still coming. Trump likes to claim that he inherited a mess at home and abroad that he alone can fix. But what’s remarkable is how every part of this month of perpetual crisis has been self-created: The world has not thrown him many curveballs — the closest one was the North Korea missile test that will forever be remembered for christening the Mar-a-Lago SitRoom. Trump has brought all of this on himself. And in a weird way, he’s been lucky: Unlike Obama in 2009, Trump inherited a situation at home and abroad that was relatively good (the United States is not in the midst of an economic meltdown and does not have 170,000 troops in combat).

So this brings us to the scary part: There is nothing we have seen in the last month to suggest Trump or his team will handle a crisis well. In fact, there are ominous signs to expect the opposite. When there is an Orlando-style attack; or a North Korea ICBM test; or a meltdown in Venezuela that sparks a refugee crisis in our hemisphere; or a natural disaster like the 2010 Haiti earthquake; or something we’re not thinking of (one of the scarier scenarios is a terrorist attack on a Trump hotel abroad), we have to expect that Trump and his team will not only act with incompetence, but use such events to justify all sorts of policies at home and abroad that will only further undermine America’s position in the world — and test our constitutional system.

I dread the day the inevitable crisis hits. I just don't know what will happen.