The scariest moment in the Trump occupation so far wasn’t his provocation to Kim Jong-Un of “fire and fury” being rained down on North Korea such as humankind has never seen.
It was the moment he named John Bolton to replace H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser.
In back-to-back events at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, foreign policy experts – people who have been on the front lines and know what they are talking about – gave a grim assessment of where we are headed against the rising tide of anti-democracy and authoritarianism around the globe and even more disturbingly here at home, as Trump, an “aspiring oligarch” and his enablers do more and more to destabilize and dismantle the institutions, norms, values and especially, the Rule of Law, bolstering our democracy.
And that commentary came before he named Superhawk John Bolton as National Security Adviser.
Bolton only weeks ago advocated for preemptive war on North Korea and abrogating the Iran Nuclear Treaty, which will not just free up Iran to immediately reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, but give them a greenlight to simply purchase one from North Korea. With the unceremonial firing by tweet (while on the toilet) of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, what is left of his administration is gung-ho for war and dismissive of diplomacy.
To top it off, Trump, who has stated he sees nothing wrong in torture, intends to replace Pompeo at CIA with Gina Haspel, who oversaw torture at a CIA black site and in 2005, ordered the destruction of CIA torture records.
Bolton, you might recall, was a cheerleader and architect of the Iraq Invasion (predicated on lying to Congress and the American people about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction to justify preemptive invasion), who claimed that the Iraq War would “pay for itself” in no time and give the U.S. a base to spread democracy through the Mideast (not to mention an oil supply to be extracted by US companies).
His hire is particularly ironic since Trump spent most of his campaign saying that the Iraq War was one of the worst blunders in history and regime change was anathema to his “America First”, “we are not the world’s policeman” “philosophy” and now is hinting he will pull out of Syria and cede that thorn to Russia (and Iran).
But Trump doesn’t actually have a “philosophy,” an “ideology,” and especially does not have a fact base or experience or desire to acquire facts or consider long-term consequences to justify his decisions. His entire interest is self-interest.
Trump has now opened war on three fronts – as Richard Haas has stated – and burning bridges behind him: politically, stepping up his attacks on Mueller and the likelihood he intends to fire the special counsel in order to shut down the investigation into Russia’s interference in elections and the Trump campaign’s likely cooperation, not to mention the likelihood of Trump co-opted by Putin and doing his bidding because of some nasty hold, likely financial, possibly personal (though what more could that be?); economically, launching tariff wars against China (which holds $1 trillion in US debt) and the rest of the world and driving Canada and Mexico (now calling to end NAFTA over the immigration issue), the entire Pacific and European Union into the arms of China; and actual wars with North Korea and Iran (could you imagine that Axis of Evil teaming up?) and into the arms of Russia, while at the same time pissing off European and Asian allies (he is still tight with Saudi Arabia and India to bolster his business interests).
Trump is a disaster in domestic policy (environmental protection, health care, immigration reform, tax reform, infrastructure, criminal justice, civil rights), but is the most dangerous in the sphere of foreign policy where he has the most power and least constraint, and is also the most ignorant, incurious and impulsive, where he can feed his narcissism with red carpets, billboards and sycophantic praise.
And more significantly, it is where the shiny objects are – the military, the medals. He would see war, which forces the nation to rally around a leader who is also endowed with martial powers, as a political “get out of jail free” card.
Trump is angling to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead for U.S. Trident and spend $1 trillion to “modernize” our nuclear weapons. He said boo about Putin showing a new nuclear-armed missile designed to evade American defenses (and land on Florida).
He doesn’t seem the least bit perturbed over the prospect of a new arms race – another way to steer billions to cronies and away from domestic programs.
“If Trump wants to use nuclear weapons, whether it’s ‘legal’ won’t matter,” The Washington Post reported.
Putin, who unlike Trump, does have a long-term endgame of reestablishing Russia’s glory as a czarist empire, is getting so much more than he anticipated when he unleashed his disinformation campaign to sow chaos in the American election system and liberal democracies elsewhere, and undermine global alliances (which the US dominated) including NATO and the Paris Climate Agreement, fostering, even funding populist nationalism with their version of “America First.” (An unanticipated win? Collapsing the U.S. economy and its trade alliances.)
Congress needs to reassert itself – yes, even the Republicans, who so far have been content thinking they have a patsy who will do their dastardly work of dismantling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and ending Obamacare.
They need to assert the fact that only Congress can declare war, and pull back on Yemen and the kowtowing arrangement with Saudi Arabia, and make it clear that they will not tolerate a first-strike against North Korea.
They also have it in their power to continue the Iran Nuclear Deal (even congresspeople who were against it before now see the wisdom).
Shortly after the John Bolton appointment was announced, a thought flashed through me: what if we really are seeing the end of times, the end of humanity, in our own lifetimes?
There is the possibility that as the midterms loom and Republicans realize they will get drowned in a blue wave of complicity with Trump that Republican leadership will go to Trump with a deal he can’t refuse: resign “for personal reasons” or be impeached.
This would save Pence and the possibility of retaining the White House in 2020, and even their own hides in 2018.
See transcript of the dialogue between Malcolm Nance and Admiral James Stavridis, at Temple Emanuel on March 18, 2018.Nance and Stavridis talk at Temple Emanuel: http://news-photos-features.com/2018/03/20/foreign-policy-experts-nance-stavridis-warn-of-global-domestic-threats-to-democracy-as-authoritarians-rise/