Is America in eclipse? After a strange Veterans Day weekend, it is decidedly unclear.
As I feared for more than a year, a deeply troubled and profoundly perturbed America has fallen through the looking glass into Trumplandia. How different will America be under President Donald Trump? It may be quite a lot, all the way into the fascism that Trump so obviously flirted with throughout his campaign. Or it may be not so much, since Trump seems motivated more by an ethic of success than any coherent ideology.
And then there is his erratic nature to consider. As I wrote repeatedly during the campaign, it was Trump's own all too frequently intemperate style that kept him from what could have been a truly substantial victory over a very vulnerable Hillary Clinton. That's why I rated the race as up in the air in my final pre-election column, just as I did all the times when Hillary seemed to have a very large lead. The opportunity for a Trump victory was always obvious; what was not at all obvious was whether he would ever settle down and seize it.
He did in the end, barely, putting two weeks of stable campaign messaging together at the last even as the result ended up more than a little, well, up in the air. A big breakthrough in the Democrats' vulnerable underbelly of "free" trade policy leading to a windfall of industrial states and a clear edge in the Electoral College. Coupled with a loss to Hillary in the national popular vote. Trump had a clear popular vote lead before California's votes came in. With the world's fifth largest economy, beacon of the anti-climate change fight Trump has ludicrously claimed is a Chinese hoax, going against Trump by nearly 2 to 1, Trump is now more than 600,000 votes behind. The California Democratic edge for Clinton is over 2.7 million votes now and that margin will increase as millions of late ballots are processed.
President Barack Obama delivered his final Veterans Day address at Arlington National Cemetery Friday, following a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Earlier he hosted a breakfast for veterans and their families in the State Dining Room of the White House. President-elect Donald Trump attended no Veterans Day events, though he did send out a Tweet.
But, in the end, so what? (Other than indicating that Trump has a limited mandate and needs to get more in line with Californian views if he hopes for a majoritarian approach.) Trump did what he needed to do within the present rules to win an impressive, "shocking," victory. That his mandate is most uncertain if not at the vanishing point does not detract from the fact that he did what nearly the entire media and political class claimed over and over again was impossible.
All-but-certain statistical models, the inevitable demographics of "the Obama coalition," the "Blue Wall" in the Electoral College. Poof! All imploded in billowing clouds of dust and debris, like so many old casinos destroyed for the new.
This Veterans Day weekend certainly made for an odd harbinger of the new-build Trump casino for America's future.
The president-elect, who consistently evaded military service in his youth, during a war he strongly supported, gave remarkably short shrift to the veterans he claims to hold in such high regard. Trump, rather amazingly, attended no Veterans Day events and celebrated, as it were, with a mere Tweet of less than 20 words.
I'd be very offended, but for the fact that Trump is undoubtedly scrambling, hunkered down out of public view because he is beset by a wave of protests around the nation, including at his own Manhattan digs, and is hurriedly trying to jump-start a transition process hamstrung by having been headed by a freshly disgraced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I get it. He's still a largely do-it-yourself guy and he has never ever been even remotely near a situation like this.
Nevertheless, though he did and said absolutely nothing of substance with regard to Veterans Day over the long Veterans Day weekend, unlike President Barack Obama, who again impressed with his dignity and thoughtfulness for the occasion, some things are already clear with regard to how Trump will deploy the precious and vulnerable resource known as the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Foremost of these is that the rapidly emerging new cold war with Russia is almost certainly cancelled.
Trump may respect and admire Russia for the wrong reasons (i.e., "Putin is cool!") rather than the right reasons (Russia is a historically great nation with some core interests worthy of our deep respect), but the bottom line is the same.
The reality is that Hillary Clinton, while a clearly steadier hand overall, has, with her husband, repeatedly stoked what became a very bad and deeply foolish feud with Russia since the early 1990s. That is when the Clintons began pursuing the expansion of NATO up to the borders of post-Soviet Russia, a nation nearly decapitated by historic invasions. As a result, the Russians prefer a sort of neutral zone on their borders. This became obvious to me while trying to help the sort of Russian democratic reformers who were ultimately crushed by their putative ally Vladimir Putin. No one of consequence in Russia could support the Clintons' fateful NATO expansion.
I've written at length about this, and the problems with Hillary's central role in the doomed Russia "re-set" policy a number of times, including last July.
The theme music for 'Air Force One' has been a staple of Trump appearances and was the intro music for the president-elect when he made his very late night presidential victory speech. The action thriller, about a terrorism-fighting president whose plane is hijacked by ex-Russian special forces troopers, is one of Trump's very favorites, and deserves its own piece discussing it in that context. Ironically, the theme, by the late great Jerry Goldsmith, my favorite film composer, was also a favorite of President Bill Clinton. For a time in the '90s, it was ubiquitous in Democratic campaigns and conventions.
The idea that Russian intelligence would intervene to delegitimize the Clintons here and around the world was anything but a surprise. In the Russian view, if ever acknowledged, of course, it would simply be payback for Clinton-inspired U.S. meddling in Russia and its neighbors, not the least of which was the spectacle of Hillary's former State Department spokesperson showing up in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, to personally egg on regime change protesters. That Ukraine's Russia-friendly, democratically-elected president was overthrown at the height of Putin's painstakingly planned Sochi Winter Olympics was, as I pointed out at the time, the height of dangerously foolish bear-baiting.
In any event, another new development is that Hillary's long-planned greatly heightened intervention in the Syrian civil war, complete with a no-fly zone that would almost certainly lead to war, is clearly off the table. The Syrian rebels, who can't win, can end the humanitarian crisis of Aleppo by declaring it an "open city" as MacArthur did with Manila in World War II.
Still, Trump needs to make sure Putin doesn't get too bold. The Baltic states are no threat to Russia, especially without big NATO forces there, so Putin needs to commit to keeping hands off. And long-range Russian bomber patrols near our bases in the Pacific are completely unacceptable. Each such flight should be intercepted early on and given very close-range U.S. fighter escort until they are ended altogether.
What else in national security is clear now with the advent of Trump? We will know that when the president-elect makes his top national security picks. The candidates for those spots suggest very different directions when it comes to historic alliances, burden-sharing, proliferation, and overall orientation on the spectrum of interventionism/non-interventionism.
After all, pick one set of Trump quotes and he is a bombastic man of peace. Pick another set, and he is an hysteric man of war.
The balance, like all but the very end of the campaign just past, seems up in the air.
Yet a couple of other things are already clear.
Trump's denial of climate change, which is surprising in that he is obviously a bright guy, an Ivy Leaguer from New York who once backed my candidate, Gary Hart, is not only bad for the future habitability of this planet, it is also bad from the standpoint of likely future conflicts.
As the DoD noted when it released a very enlightening report on the global security threat of climate change: "Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict."
One of the very first people to turn me on to the climate change issue, back in the '70s, was a close associate and friend of my original faculty advisor, dean of naval historians E.B. Potter. Admiral Noel Gayler, the first triple Navy Cross-winner, who went on to become CINCPAC and the director of the National Security Agency, saw nuclear weapons and climate change as the greatest across-the-board threats to world peace and the habitability of the planet. Any consideration of geography and resources makes the security challenge of climate change all too clear. Too bad the fighter ace admiral, a favorite of Nimitz and Halsey, is no longer around to set the president-elect straight on a few things.
It is also clear that Trump has an opportunity which could gain him great credibility with a still largely suspicious America. He should convene a commission to assess the effectiveness and wisdom of our still largely secret "Long War" operations.
While many are aware that there is simply too much we do not know about the secret drone wars being carried out in our name, I don't think many are aware of how our arms sales have accelerated under the Obama administration.
The Obama administration has approved nearly $280 billion in global arms sales, more than twice the total rung up by the Bush/Cheney administration. Yes, this is counter-intuitive. That's why you don't know about it.
By far the most in arms deals, nearly half the total, have gone to Saudi Arabia. Which Hillary Clinton herself identified in leaked e-mails as a prime funder of Isis. So what exactly are we accomplishing by covertly flooding a tinderbox world with arms?
Another of Jerry Goldsmith's great scores, 'Patton,' contains both stirring martial music and haunting material evoking the mists of history and the sense, as Oscar-winning screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola had it in the George C. Scott voice-over at the film's end, that "all glory is fleeting." Something for the president-elect to keep in mind.
And back on drone strikes, while some enemies do need killing, it seems increasingly likely that a program originally justified as a way to prevent imminent attacks on Americans has become so undiscriminating that it creates more problems than it solves.
Trump claimed throughout the campaign, with some merit, that what we are doing isn't working. So let's move beyond the rhetoric and determine the reality.
There is a chance that Trump will turn out to be better than I have long feared. He clearly represents something more than mere hatred, namely a grave discontent with a failing and frequently self-dealing establishment and concern that events are spinning away from the interests of most people. That was clear to me when I predicted in the summer 2015 that he would soon fall after fatefully dissing John McCain as not a true war hero. I thought that super-rich draft dodger vs. famous war hero would lead to disaster. But no. Trump got away with it. So I quickly realized, much to my chagrin, that Trump was on to something very powerful and had a real shot at the White House.
Yet there is also a large chance that Trump is very bad news. Much of what he has said is appalling and disastrous. And, following Brexit, it may be a harbinger of the further decline of Western civilization.
I'm sure that will be on the minds of participants at a mini-summit at the end of the week in Berlin. There President Barack Obama, on a week-plus international trip, will huddle with the heads of Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Great Britain. They have much to discuss.
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