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James George Jatras

Did Someone Slip Donald Trump Some Kind of Political Viagra?

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This has been an extraordinary week. After two years of getting rolled by the Washington establishment, it seems that President Donald Trump woke up and suddenly realized, “Hey – I’m the president! I have the legal authority to do stuff!”

- He has announced his order to withdraw US troops from Syria.

- His Defense Secretary James Mattis has resigned. There are rumors National Security Adviser John Bolton may go too. (Please take Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with you!)

- He announced a start to withdrawing from Afghanistan.

- He now says he will veto a government funding bill unless he gets $5 billion for his Wall, and as of 12:01 AM Washington time December 22 the federal government is officially under partial shutdown.

All of this should be taken with a big grain of salt. While this week’s assertiveness perhaps provides further proof that Trump’s impulses are right, it doesn’t mean he can implement them.

The Syria withdrawal will be difficult. The entire establishment, including the otherwise pro-Trump talking heads on Fox Newsare dead set against him – except for Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.
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‘New World Order’ Wine Pompoured into a Pro-‘Sovereignty’ Rhetorical Bottle

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began his December 4 speech in Brussels at the German Marshall Fund with “a well-deserved tribute to America’s 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush,” whom he praised as “an unyielding champion of freedom around the world.” It was fitting that he did so. The heart and soul of Pompeo’s remarks extolling the return of “the United States to its traditional, central leadership role in the world” were little more than a rehash of Bush the Elder’s aggressive internationalism.

Pompeo (or his speechwriter) should be given credit for a masterpiece of misdirection. While the substance of his speech was a blast of stale air from the 1990s, the rhetoric was all Trumpism and national sovereignty – but only for countries obedient to Washington: “Our mission is to reassert our sovereignty, reform the liberal international order, and we want our friends to help us and to exert their sovereignty as well.”

What about the sovereignty of countries the US doesn’t count as “friends”? Well, that’s a different story: “Every nation – every nation – must honestly acknowledge its responsibilities to its citizens and ask if the current international order serves the good of its people as well as it could. And if not, we must ask how we can right it.” [emphasis added]

So according to Pompeo, the United States and our vassals (“we”) have an obligation (“must”) to fix international actors that in our infinite wisdom are not serving “the good of their people.” For example, “Russia hasn’t embraced Western values of freedom and international cooperation.” (Why should Russia care what “we” think of its values – and why should its values be “western,” anyway? Never mind! We “must” do something about it!)
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The ‘America Last’ Express Hurtles On: Saudi Arabia, INF, Ukraine

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As the façade of 2016 Candidate Donald Trump’s promised “America First” continues to crumble away, the baked-into-the-cake pathologies of the foreign and security policy “experts” who monopolize President Trump’s administration plunge forward along their predetermined paths. Any realistic notion of American national interests comes last after the priorities of – well, pretty much everyone else with leverage in Washington.

Case in point, let’s start with Saudi Arabia and all the breast-beating over whether Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) really is guilty of ordering the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. (Spoiler Alert: You betcha!)

American and western media were all a-twitter last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s high five to Crown Pariah MbS at the G20. Amid the faux outrage – come on, does anyone really think MbS was the only killer in that room? – the gesture received America’s highest media tribute: a parody on “Saturday Night Live.”

What a circus. Apart from Putin’s greeting, the assembled hypocrites went out of their way to shun the leprous MbS, even shunting him to the margins of the group picture – as though the killing of one dodgy journalist outweighed their abetting MbS’s business-as-usual slaughter in Yemen. Really! I barely know the guy. We were never actually friends...

Khashoggi’s gruesome death is the gift that keeps on giving, exacerbating as it does both international and domestic American fault lines. Let’s keep in mind that his affiliation was with the Muslim Brotherhood (and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan), the CIA, and (almost the same thing) the Washington Post
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Sayonara, ‘America First’! We Hardly Knew Ye!

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President Donald Trump’s cancellation of his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Buenos Aires G20 is another sign of the now almost certain demise of his declared “America First” agenda – and perhaps of his presidency. Supposedly decided in response to a Ukraine-Russia naval incident in the Kerch Strait, dumping the meeting is universally and correctly seen as a response to the guilty plea of his former lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, to lying to Congress (notice that James Clapper isn’t forced to plead to his perjury before the Senate) and Cohen’s disclosure of Trump’s fruitless business dealings in Russia.
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Britain on the Leash with the United States – But at Which End?

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The “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom is often assumed to be one where the once-great, sophisticated Brits are subordinate to the upstart, uncouth Yanks.

Iconic of this assumption is the mocking of former prime minister Tony Blair as George W. Bush’s “poodle” for his riding shotgun on the ill-advised American stagecoach blundering into Iraq in 2003. Blair was in good practice, having served as Bill Clinton’s dogsbody in the no less criminal NATO aggression against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999.

On the surface, the UK may seem just one more vassal state on par with Germany, Japan, South Korea, and so many other useless so-called allies. We control their intelligence services, their military commands, their think tanks, and much of their media. We can sink their financial systems and economies at will. Emblematic is German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s impotent ire at discovering the Obama administration had listened in on her cell phone, about which she – did precisely nothing. Global hegemony means never having to say you’re sorry.
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Trump’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad National Security Team

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Gareth Porter paints a dismal picture. Time and again, President Donald Trump indicates he wants to do the right thing: get out Afghanistan, get out of Syria, get out of South Korea.

Every time, his national security team – the people he appointed – sends him to “the tank” and hotboxes him with all the reasons he’s wrong and why the US needs to “stay the course” in multiple wars and absurd deployments.

If the account of Bob Woodward is to be believed, Trump’s flailing against his own appointees is nothing less than pathetic, that of a pitiable Gulliver roped down by Lilliputians of his own installation. As described by Tom Engelhardt...
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Will Someone in Washington Play the Ace of Spades before November?

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With regard to American foreign and security policy, President Donald Trump presents a paradox. Aside from some harsh bluster (“fire and fury” directed towards Pyongyang in the lead-up to an unprecedented US-North Korea summit), Trump generally seems to want more peaceful ties with the rest of the world and an end to wasteful and dangerous conflicts. On the other hand, if that is his intention, he’s been unable to make much headway with an establishment that constitutionally is totally under his authority but in practice seems to be almost entirely independent of his supervision.

For example, Trump expresses his desire the get US forces out of Afghanistan but then announces that contrary to his own preferences he’s putting more troops in. He meets in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin to achieve détente but then the State and Treasury Department immediately poison the well with more sanctions and evidence-free accusations of Russian meddling in the upcoming Congressional elections. Trump announces his willingness to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without preconditions but then is immediately overruled by über-President (a/k/a Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo.

Much of this reflects the nature of his appointments. As Lawrence Wilkerson details (“The Neoconservative Comeback”), Trump’s foreign and security policy apparatus is dominated by “the reentry into critical positions in the government of … the people who gave America the 2003 invasion of Iraq, [even] those many of them who declared ‘Never Trump’” in 2016. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a single member of his top team, or even anyone identifiable in the secondary rank, who agrees with the Trump campaign vision of an “America First” national interest-based strategy that means getting along with Russia and China, versus unending, reckless, global hegemonism.
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Have You Committed Your Three Felonies Today?

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Several years ago the Commonwealth of Virginia enacted a law restricting firearms purchases to one per month. This was intended to discourage smuggling of weapons to urban areas outside Virginia with tight gun control laws and (unsurprisingly) high homicide rates. The law didn’t seem to do much good and in a rare outbreak of common sense was later repealed, though there’s recent misguided talk from Attorney General Mark Herring of reviving it.

During its short period in force, the prohibition spawned a popular saying in the Old Dominion: “Buy one gun a month – it’s the law!”

A similar attitude may be appropriate in light of an estimate that due to vague statutes and the proliferation of federal regulations – which have the force of law – we wake up in the morning, go to work, come home, eat dinner, and go to sleep  unaware we may have committed several federal crimes in the course of the day. The number varies but the average number of crimes per American seems to be about three.

The more important point is that every one of us is probably guilty of something. “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime,” retired Louisiana State University law professor John Baker told the Wall Street Journal in July 2011. “That is not an exaggeration.”
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There Will Be No American-Russian Alliance Against China

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Since 1991 and the formal end of the first Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the world has experienced an American “unipolar moment” as the bipartisan US policy establishment sought to consolidate and perpetuate its hegemonic control over the entire plant. Doomed to fail even before it received its fullest articulation in 1996 by neoconservative ideologists William Kristol and Robert Kagan (misleadingly billed as “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy”), that misbegotten moment thankfully is coming to an end.
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