Category Archives: International news

Why can’t POTUS speak with this kind of clarity?

John Kelly works for a guy who seems genetically incapable of speaking with moral certitude and clarity.

When the president speaks about slain soldiers “knowing what they were getting into … but I guess it still hurts,” he comes off sounding like a heartless buffoon.

When the White House chief of staff offers the same explanation over what his “best friend” told him after his son was killed in Afghanistan, he sounds dignified, heartfelt and sincere.

Donald J. Trump has opened the door yet again to a pointless and needless controversy. This time it centers on how the president sought to console a grieving widow whose husband died in a firefight in Niger several days ago.

The president might have been motivated to do the right thing. Perhaps he intended to sound compassionate. My reading of what’s been reported about what he told Myeshia Johnson, whose husband Sgt. La David Johnson, died in Niger, tells me the president just isn’t good at fulfilling that role.

And yet, Gen. Kelly manages to sound the right tone, despite his criticism of Rep. Frederica Wilson, who reported the content of the president’s phone conversation with Mrs. Johnson.

Weird.

Bergdahl admits it: He’s a deserter

We no longer need to attach the word “alleged” in front of Bowe Bergdahl’s crime.

The U.S. Army sergeant has entered a guilty plea to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He had been captured by the Taliban in 2009 and was held for five years somewhere in Afghanistan.

The desertion charge carries a five-year prison sentence; the misbehavior charge is something quite a bit more severe and Bergdahl faces a potential life term in prison.

What should the military court decide? He needs to serve a significant prison term. A lifetime? I’m not sure about that.

Deserter fesses up

He did expression contrition. He knows he did wrong. He has paid quite a price being held captive by a terrorist organization.

Speaking of which, I was critical at the time of Bergdahl’s release that the Obama administration declined to call the Taliban what they are: a terrorist outfit. That gave the administration license to negotiate with the Taliban to secure Bergdahl’s release.

Should he have remained in Taliban custody? No. The Obama team said its mission to ensure that no American gets left on the “battlefield.” I get that.

However, he now has admitted to deserting his Ranger unit. And, no, he doesn’t deserve to be executed, as Donald J. Trump bellowed before he became the commander in chief.

Prison time? Yes.

Trump continues his rampage

Donald J. Trump is having a busy week, indeed.

The president has taken direct aim at (a) the Affordable Care Act, (b) the Iran nuclear deal and (c) the United Nations. To what end? To show the world he’s putting “America first” and that he doesn’t care what the rest of the nation that didn’t vote for him thinks about the policies he is dismantling.

* Trump this week declared his intention to discontinue the subsidies the government pays to reduce health insurance premiums for Americans who need them to purchase insurance under the ACA. He’s seeking to destroy former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, no matter how many millions of Americans he hurts along the way.

* The president has decided against recertifying the Iran nuclear pact that Obama’s foreign policy team negotiated with five other nations. It seeks to demand that Iran quit developing nuclear weapons. International analysts say Iran is complying with the deal; Trump says the Iranians aren’t complying. Hmm. Who do you believe, the experts or a pathological liar?

* Trump has decided to pull the United States out of UNESCO, a UN-affiliated organization dedicated to developing world peace through collaborative educational, scientific and cultural reforms. That sound pretty nefarious, right? He cites an alleged “anti-Israel bias” in the UN. So, he’ll just pull us out of UNESCO. That’ll teach ’em.

The president just cannot stop doing things that make many of us angry. Sure, he pleases a lot of folks around the country with this so-called “no-nonsense” approach to domestic and international policy.

In my own view, though, he is forsaking policies only because they were crafted by his predecessor, the fellow Trump defamed by suggesting for years he wasn’t qualified constitutionally to serve as president; it’s that “birther” thing.

As for the UNESCO pullout, Trump is managing to anger allied nations who do not view the world through the same distorted prism the president uses.

But, by golly, he’s telling it like it is.

‘Only one thing will work’? Really?

Donald J. Trump sounds like a man intent on leading the United States of America to war.

At any cost.

The tweeter in chief blasted out yet another warning to North Korea today, suggesting that 25 years of negotiation with the communist dictatorship has been so futile, so fraught with frustration that there’s no other diplomatic channel left to explore.

He tweeted this: Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid…… …hasn’t worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, makings fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work!

There you have it. The president of the United States, the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military machine has all but said that there’s no more talking to be done.

“Only one thing will work!” he said. One thing. What do you suppose that might be?

Let’s presume he means the “military option.” What happens when we strike North Korea’s missile launchers, but don’t get all of them? What happens when we hit their thousands of artillery pieces lined up and aimed straight at Seoul, South Korea — but don’t get them all? Does North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un make good on his threat to strike? Gosh, I would think he would do precisely that.

Then comes the consequence. Many thousands of deaths. Perhaps millions. Many of them will be civilians. And yes, we’ve got those 28,000 American troops sitting right in the middle of it all, along with tens of thousands more American civilians.

We are witnessing first hand the dangers of conducting foreign policy by Twitter. The president of the United States needs to weigh his words carefully, no matter how he delivers his message.

Then again, a president cast from the same mold of others would understand that. Not this guy, Donald Trump. He “tells it like it is.”

I believe Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s widely reported description of the president as a “moron” is looking more accurate with each passing day.

Why, precisely, does POTUS oppose the Iran nuke deal?

One of the worst-kept secrets in Washington, D.C., is out: Donald J. Trump plans to decertify the agreement hammered out by the Obama administration to curb Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

The president calls it the “worst deal ever negotiated” in the history of Planet Earth. He said he’d never strike such a deal. He has called it an “embarrassment” to the United States of America. He says it is not in our national interest.

Forgive me if I’ve missed something, although I don’t believe that’s the case, but has the president ever offered a single detail over precisely why he hates this deal with such a passion?

I haven’t heard him articulate a single policy dispute he has with it. He has spoken completely, totally and utterly in platitudes and clichés about why he hates this deal.

I cannot help but wonder whether his opposition stems largely — if not entirely — from the fact that President Obama’s national security team, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, negotiated this deal. Sure, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu hates the deal, too, but he hates any effort to make peace with his nation’s mortal enemies; in a way, I kind of understand Netanyahu’s suspicion, even if it’s a bit overheated.

Details of the Iran nuke deal

However, the president of the United States owes his constituents — you and me — a much more detailed explanation into why he opposes an agreement in which U.S. analysts say is being honored by the Iranians. Trump, though, says otherwise.

We’re supposed to take the president at his word? Is that the deal?

Uh … no thank you.

Trump humiliates Tillerson

You’re the secretary of state, the top diplomat for the United States of America.

You are involved in discussions with officials from another great power, China, about what to do about North Korea and its desire to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal. Then you let it be known that you’ve opened “direct line” to North Korea.

That’s progress — yes? — in this game of diplomatic chicken we’ve been playing with the reclusive and dangerous communist regime in North Korea.

Then the president of the United States — your boss — fires off some tweets that says you’re “wasting your time” in seeking talks with North Korea.

Trump declared in a tweet that the United States is keeping its military options open. The president said: “Save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done.” Huh? What the … ?

There you have it. The president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, has undermined once again the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. He has blistered his top diplomat publicly for seeking a constructive solution to a growing crisis that has no realistic military solution.

What’s the upshot of this? According to the Washington Post: “Humiliating for Tillerson, but worse, renders him useless. He’ll resign, today or after a brief face-saving interval,” predicted former Obama administration ambassador and National Security Council official Dan Shapiro, one of many foreign policy experts who tweeted about Trump’s Sunday comments, sent from his New Jersey golf club.

Read more from the Post here.

Should the secretary of state quit over this latest insult? You know, if it were me — and I’m just speaking for myself — I cannot imagine how Secretary Tillerson can tolerate this kind of continuing public humiliation from the president of the United States.

More bombs did not produce ‘victory’ in Vietnam

“The Vietnam War” is coming to a close this week. I refer, of course, to the landmark public television series, not the actual war.

What are the takeaways from this epic production directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on PBS? I have so many of them, but I think I’ll focus briefly here on just one of them.

It is that the Vietnam War required us to redefine victory.

We fought the communists in Vietnam for more than a decade. We killed many more of the enemy than we lost so very tragically. We emerged victorious from many more battlefield encounters than the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese. As we have learned in the Burns-Novick epic, U.S. commanding Gen. William Westmoreland was obsessed with “body count”; he insisted that the media report that the enemy suffered far worse than our side did.

Merrill McPeak, a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War who later became Air Force chief of staff, noted correctly in the documentary that the United States dropped more ordnance on the enemy than we did in all the combat theaters of World War II. Think of that for a moment. American air power dropped more explosive tonnage on the Vietnam communists than we did against the Nazis, the Italians and the Japanese.

What we didn’t do and the reason we “lost” the war was because we lost our political will. The Vietnamese were fighting on their turf, defending their homeland, battling an enemy they considered to be “invaders.” They had more to lose — and to gain — than we ever did. Thus, it was their fight to win.

Are there lessons to carry forward as we continue to fight an even more elusive enemy, those terrorist organizations that have declared “death to America!”? Yes, certainly.

One profound lesson should be for U.S. politicians — or one in particular — to cease implying that defeating an enemy is “easy.”

We cannot just keep dropping bombs and sending young Americans into cities, killing enemy fighters and then expect the enemy simply to give up. We tried that in Vietnam. It didn’t work out well for us.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have provided a masterful piece of documentary television. Just as Vietnam was the first war to be fought “in our living rooms,” my hope is that the educational benefit that’s being delivered to us via PBS will assuage some of the pain we felt as the fighting raged.

***

Politico has provided a fascinating look at a conversation involving President Lyndon Johnson and U.S. Sen. Richard Russell. The Burns-Novick documentary doesn’t report on it.

Take a look at the story here.

Declaration of war? Not even close, Mr. Foreign Minister

A statement by North Korea’s foreign minister might have gotten muddled in the translation, but I feel the need to set the record straight for this fellow.

Ri Yong Ho has accused Donald J. Trump of “declaring war” on North Korea with his threats of using military force if the North Koreans continue to threaten the United States and our allies.

According to Reuters: “The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters in New York.

Let’s step back here.

I believe Ri needs a quickie lesson on U.S. government civics.

The president of the United States cannot “declare war” on anyone. A declaration of war in this country is a multi-step process, Mr. Foreign Minister — which is something that is alien to you and your dictator/despot Kim Jong Un.

The president prepares a declaration document, which he then presents to our Congress. He then requests the legislative branch of government to issue a declaration. The last time we did that was on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Japan attacked our naval and Army air forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Congress voted virtually unanimously to declare war; by the way, U.S. Rep. Jeannette Rankin of Montana voted “no,” just as she had done when Congress declared war against Germany during World War I. Foreign Minister Ri also should know that Rep. Rankin wasn’t jailed — either time — for her principled votes.

Do I agree with Donald Trump’s bluster and bellicosity with regard to North Korea? No. He’s risking — with his taunts and childish name-calling — the potential for provoking Kim into doing something stupid in the extreme.

But he didn’t “declare war.” That’s not how we do it in this country. Our founders established a system that limited the president’s power to issue such a declaration. He’s got to ask for it from the legislative branch of government.

There. Lesson over.

PBS ‘Vietnam War’ episode misses a key element

I remain utterly transfixed by the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary series “The Vietnam War.”

It contains some of the most compelling television I’ve ever witnessed and I am so proud of PBS for its longstanding commitment to this type of educational broadcasting.

Having tossed out that bouquet, I want to offer this barb at what I witnessed tonight.

The series tonight focused on the Tet Offensive, which the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese launched against dozens of South Vietnamese cities on Jan. 31, 1968. “The Vietnam War” rightly points out that Tet likely was the political turning point, the singular event that turned American public opinion solidly against that bloody conflict.

Tet also produced what arguably was the most singularly graphic moment in that war. It was the photo of Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan’s summary execution of a Viet Cong suspect.

Loan was head of South Vietnam’s police department when he found the suspect and shot him dead on a Saigon street. The picture would earn a Pulitzer Prize for Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams. It also would deliver a lifetime of misery for Gen. Loan, who was vilified because reporting of the incident at the time failed to the tell the whole story.

I wish the Burns-Novick documentary would have told us tonight about the media’s role in demonizing Loan.

You see, Loan shot the man dead because the suspect had been part of a VC hit squad that killed a colleague of the general — and his wife and six children. Loan knew about what had happened to his friend and his family. His men arrested the suspect. Loan ordered one of his officers to shoot the suspect; the officer balked.

So, Loan took out his pistol and shot the man in the head.

Nguyen Ngoc Loan had snapped. He proved to be a human being subject to human emotion,

“The Vietnam War” didn’t tell the whole story tonight, nor did it explain why — because of the lack of full reporting in the moment — that picture came to symbolize the absolute horror of war.

However, by golly, I am going to watch the rest of this utterly spell-binding television event.

I am hooked.

‘Big, beautiful wall’ now becomes ‘see-through’?

For as long as Donald J. Trump has been in politics, he has spoken forcefully — if not always eloquently — about his desire to build a “big, beautiful wall” across our nation’s border with Mexico.

Now he’s saying something, um, quite different — and strange!

The president ventured to Alabama and declared that the wall is going to be a “see-through” structure.

Which begs the question: What in the name of erecting roadblocks is he talking about?

I keep thinking that Trump is considering some sort of Plexiglas structure. Clear plastic. We can look at the other side and see who’s trying to sneak in. Is that what he means?

Trump comments on wall outlined

What does this argument do to the president’s assertion that he’d build a wall as high and as deep as possible into the ground to prevent illegal immigrants from coming across the border?

Then we have this ridiculous assertion that Mexico is going to pay for the wall. Uh, Mr. President? You cannot force a sovereign government to do your bidding unless you have some rather drastic and hideous option in mind — such as invading that country and overthrowing its government. You know and I know that won’t happen. So, what’s the deal with this insistence that Mexico is going to foot the bill?

The wall is, to quote the president, a “loser.” It won’t protect us. It won’t keep drugs from coming into this country. It won’t stop truly bad guys from sneaking in.

For the life of me I cannot understand why we simply cannot beef up existing security procedures to curb what the president describes as a crisis along our southern border. I’m all in favor of cracking down on illegal immigration. But … build a wall — even a see-through structure?

The president is operating in Fantasyland.