Credibility

Former CIA Director Michael Morell said on CBS Morning News today he is persuaded from the evidence Iran is most likely behind the attacks on Japanese and Norwegian tankers. Yet, he also spoke about a credibility problem the US must overcome to convince its allies. He is not alone as newspapers in the European Union and United States have made similar reports.

Morell notes the US faces three credibility issues and he does so with chagrin and in a matter-of-fact way.

First, he said the US is remembered for the ardent and contrived evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction that led to the invasion of Iraq. This information helped build a coalition of support. A UK commission faulted both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair for being less than forthcoming.

Second, Morell said “let’s face it,” the US president is known for being untruthful on a recurring basis. So, anything he says must be verified. America is less trusted because its White House incumbent is untrustworthy.

Third, many allies view the US as contributing to this mess. By pulling out of a nuclear deal between Iran and six countries, when our allies and US intelligence noted Iran was in compliance, set us on a different path forward. It should be noted Secretary of Defense Mike Mattis said at that time we should remain in the deal. By asserting more pressure on Iran, we are pushing buttons that need not be pushed.

Morell said neither country wants to go to war, but all it will take is an attack on US interests or Saudi Arabia or Israel acting aggressively. It could be an actor that wants to instigate a fight. This should worry us.

I do not disagree with Morell and have tended to find him a voice of reason. What also concerns me is a president who is not (nor cares to be) a student of history and is more concerned with perception than reality. Reality is about to bite him on the behind and we have damaged one of our greatest strengths – our allied relationships.

In memoriam

My father passed away in 2006. He was a veteran of the Korean Conflict. For some reason it was not worthy of being deemed a war, but still many people died.

My father was a sailor on board an aircraft carrier during the Conflict. He did not talk much about the fighting, but I do remember two things he shared – the limited 25 second showers and the Blue Nose Society.

The former was divided up as five seconds of water. Stop. Lather up. Stop, Then, rinse off with the final twenty seconds. The latter is a card given to the sailors for morale purposes when the ship crossed the Arctic Circle. It was the Navy’s way of saying, it’s cold, so here is a card.

War or conflict is difficult. People are in harm’s way and too many do not survive or are impacted physically and/ or mentally. Often, harm comes to people for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think of this when I read articles on D-Day. Death was random.

Today, I read of a sailor who let men off on shore at Normandy. As soon as he let the gate down, the bullets riddled in and soldiers were killed before they got out of the boat. The movie “Saving Private Ryan” captures the randomness of those who gave up their lives on that beach.

Yet, to honor these men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, we need for our leaders to do everything in their power to avoid conflict. They need to do everything in their power to staff and supply our people. And, they need to have a clear goal for success. The soldiers and sailors deserve that.

Let’s think good thoughts for our friends and relatives who fought and died on our behalf. And, let’s say an extra prayer for those in harm’s way today.

$60 Billion, James Mattis and ISIS

Here is a sample letter I posted to a few Senators’ websites. Please feel free to adapt and use with your Senators and Congressperson. I encourage people to reach out to their legislators, commenting on good work and needed efforts.

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Senator, three thoughts to chew on:

– the southern border wall will take $30 billion to build and $30 billion to maintain – it is not a just $5 billion issue. It also will do little to solve a problem which is blown out of proportion (per new Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney when he called it a “simplistic solution” in 2015).

– James Mattis’ resignation is very troubling as we lost a brilliant mind who understands the value of global relationships and the history behind them. We lost a key governor of a mercurial and ill-informed man and the world and our nation is a less safe place. A wall cannot overcome these concerns.

– I understand the reason for leaving Syria, but the work is not done and this was handled in a very offensive way, not conferring with allies, Congress and our military leaders. It shows a lack of good faith dealing which is par for the course with this ego-centric President.

Please protect our nation’s interests addressing real problems. Also, please safeguard Robert Mueller, as this investigation may be our best hope to remedy a major problem in the White House, which is fast-getting out of control. The Trump legacy will haunt our planet, nation and the Republican party, which has lost its footing.

Some truths that could shape debate

Things have not always been the way they are. By itself, that should force us to ask questions. Here are a few of those truths.

– Catholic priests used to be allowed to marry. Some who did not get the memo continued to marry hundreds of years after the Vatican stopped the practice. To me, married priests would solve a major problem for the church.

– Marijuana has long been used for medicinal purposes. Prior to the 1930s movie “Reefer Madness,” it was a centuries old treatment. Now, scientific evidence supports Cannabis as very helpful with pain, seizures, anxiety and other ailments. The remaining states who do not allow at least medical Marijuana should reflect on this.

– Bigotry has to be carefully taught. Seeing the movie “Operation Finale,” about the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann in Argentina in 1961, it shed a spotlight on the following. Nazism was alive and well in Argentina as Juan Peron made it more than a safe haven after the war. If we do not remember our moral compass and shine a light on this bigotry, it will continue to fester. This is a key reason the US President tripping over the low bar of leadership against bigotry is so problematic. It is not right to denigrate people saying they have lesser rights than others.

– Finally, hyper-nationalism has been a recipe for problems and poor relationships among countries for multi-millennia. The world is safer and more prosperous the more it works together and trades commerce. This must be remembered as people in the position of power retrench into their own cocoons.

That is all for now. Let me know what you think or offer some other truths.

We should listen to rational experienced voices

In 2002, Jim Webb penned an op-ed in The Washington Post cautioning the US about going into Iraq. Who is Jim Webb? He is a former Marine, Secretary of the Navy and US Senator from Virginia. He has a law degree from Georgetown and has been a member of both political parties serving under multiple Presidents.

Two paragraphs from his pre-invasion op-ed piece are telling:

“The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences — ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. The second is that a long-term occupation of Iraq would beyond doubt require an adjustment of force levels elsewhere, and could eventually diminish American influence in other parts of the world….

Other than the flippant criticisms of our ‘failure’ to take Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War, one sees little discussion of an occupation of Iraq, but it is the key element of the current debate. The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years.”

It should be noted we have been in Iraq for  over fifteen years. Maybe, the chest beaters should listen to those who have fought and have experience rather than people who understand less what fighting and occupying a country mean.This was a crossroad moment in our history and we have not been the same since. Many thousands of American and allied troops died, even more Iraqi troops and civilians died, our reputation has suffered and our debt is much higher. Plus, he was right on the money about American influence being impacted around the globe. Lying to allies and others about weapons of mass destruction has that kind of effect, not to mention misunderstanding the landscape.

Right now, almost 200 former military and intelligence officers have penned letters being critical of the US President’s decision to withdraw security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. This follows earlier criticism of the same President on his siding with Russia over his intelligence officials or not heeding the advice of his more experienced folks.

Call me crazy, but maybe we should listen to the more rational and experienced voices? They may be telling us something we need to hear. We owe it to Amercans fighting for our county to take the time to get it right.

Relationships with countries are vital

There are no perfect people, so we cannot expect perfect leaders. There are also no perfect countries, so we cannot expect perfect agreements among countries. To respond to these short-comings, we must do our best to value relationships.

This works for people as it does for countries. An ambassador noted America’s strengths are its military might and its relationships with other countries. Our relationships predate the existing leadership team, so it is imperative to nurture them. This will help us resolve problems as they arise.

This is not just a US problem where its current front man acts rashly and chaotically, breaks commitments and agreements and lies more than he does not. He has made America less trustworthy and other countries are finding a need to seek better agreements with others that do not include the US.

The imperfect European Union is experiencing significant tension with the pending Brexit, the current difficulties in Italy and the growing nationalistic movements in EU countries. This is made worse by targeted social media efforts by countries that would benefit from a dysfunctional EU and US. Russia is one of those countries and they have been accused of such targeting.

A key part of these relationships is a financial one. The global economy is larger than it otherwise would be due to these relationships. If each country only tried to maximize its own profits in a zero-sum effort, the total pie is smaller and we all lose. This concept is called the Nash Equilibrium, which won John Nash a Nobel Prize in Economics.

Yet, it is more than that. These relationships make the world more secure and safe. The nationalists argue the opposite, but the more commerce is intertwined, leaders work harder to nourish those relationships. A strong EU makes Europe safer and prosperous. A strong relationship with the US and other countries does the same.

Yet, these agreements are imperfect. Not every citizen within a country may benefit equally from a global economy. There is a graph called the “Elephant Curve,” which is a silhouette of an elephant with its trunk raised. The body forms the rampant growth in income of the poorest workers around the world, while the trunk represents the even more significant growth in the highest income earners. The trough inbetween represents the middle income earners who are seeing stagnant incomes, who are in more flourishing economies. This trough has led to populist politicians who over-simplify the problems and come to short-sighted solutions.

Their needs must be addressed, but first we must understand the causes are more than the global economy. The larger threat is techonology advancements. Through our relationships we must invest together on addressing these issues. If we do not, we will create zero-sum contrasts, that will cause even more tension. The rise of fascism in Germany evolved out of dire economic circumstances after WWI.

This last example should inform us of why working collectively is so important. We must value our relationships and make them as beneficial as possible. Going it alone may seem like a good idea to some, but we need to think through the benefit of trade and mutual investment in each other.

If this concept sounds theoretical, let me explain it better by BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Toyota and Nissan making cars in America, with GM and Ford making cars around the world. And, Chrysler is owned by Fiat, an Italian company. Jobs are created as we invest in each other’s countries. This is true for other industries and suppliers. And, we may be less inclined to create war, when so much is invested in each other.

US is going alone again

Unless we alter our course, this period of time will be remembered as when the US ceded its global leadership role. We are following a path of nativism and retrenchment. And, there is one thing for certain – we cannot shrink to greatness.

First, we drop out of an Asia/ Pacific trade partnership early in the Trump presidency. The remaining countries proceeded without the US and inked a deal at the end of last year. Why is this important? When approached to do a bilateral agreement, Japan told Trump to reenter the Asia/ Pacific agreement.

Second, last June we decided to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, leaving an agreement with pretty much the rest of the world. Even ExxonMobil told us to stay in the accord. Fortunately, businesses, cities and states are picking up the dropped baton, but more is needed from our DC leaders.

Third, we do our darnedest to restrict immigration into our country from several countries and are actively seeking to expel both undocumented immigrants and children who came forward under DACA. What we fail to understand is immigration is accretive to our economy and this is a key part of our ideals.

Fourth, we have introduced tariffs on our allies and trading partners. Not only are we acting like a bully, we are acting unwisely, so say 1,140 economists including Nobel laureates and Presidential advisors. We could be precipitating a retrenchment of the global economy, of which we are a key part. The economists say this is how recessions start.

Fifth, by pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, we are heightening global risk. But, we also have turned our back on our allies who asked us to work with them to stay in the agreement. With the reimposed sanctions any EU countries doing business with Iran will also be sanctioned. This will invite sanctions by the EU on the United States’ companies doing business there.

The President views the world in a transactional way which is why he prefers bilateral agreements. He must win the transaction. In multilateral agreements, everyone wins some and loses some. He also does not value diplomacy as we have retrenched in those capabilities. The hard work is done by these folks and China is lapping us in their diplomatic efforts.

We cannot go this alone. We should pay attention to the words of French President Emmanuel Macron when he spoke to the US Congress. He beseeched us to remain involved working with others.

 

Two Western Leaders came to Washington

Last week, the two leaders of the western world met with the US President, who has ceded the US role in the world. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany visited with Donald Trump.

Of course, the US has the most powerful military in the world. We’d better as we spend far more than other countries. Yet, with our pulling back on diplomacy and the number of diplomats, with our imposition of tariffs on even our allies, with our retrenching from global agreements and with an unprecedented level of untruthfulness, we have ceded our global leadership role to China, overall, and Germany and France in the western world. And, while the UK remains important and formidable, I am sad to say Brexit will precipitate its decline from these ranks.

Macron and Merkel beseeched the US President to remain in the Iran Nuclear deal signed by seven parties (including the four countries above). As with other issues, Trump does a lot of chest beating without the benefit of being factually accurate. John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight,” does a nice job of defining the terms of the agreement and noting three untruthful things the US President says about it.

And, at least Macron openly requested the US to remain in the Paris Climate Change accord. We know this as Macron was allowed to speak with Congress and did so with an eye to the future and a statesman like flair. Yet, Merkel did not get such an opportunity. It puzzles me why Trump does not like her as his contempt easily shows.

He dotes on Macron, but he looks like he would rather be elsewhere when he is with Merkel. Is he jealous because Putin will actually listen to her? Is he superficial to not like her because she does not have a model’s shape or looks? Or is it her policies of openness to refugees? Or, it may be she is a student of understanding issues and he is not?

Nonetheless, she sees the future in the appropriate light as does Macron. “Narrow-minded nationalism” is something we must guard against Macron said to the US Congress. Global trade and relationships make the world safer.

I firmly believe if Trump remains in office for four years (and God forbid eight years), history will judge this period as when the US gave up its leadership role in the world. And, this happened with others not firing one shot, just a well-orchestrated influence campaign by the Russians who want a weaker west. But, don’t trust my judgement. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and former State Department official Ronan Farrow has penned a book called “War on Peace” that notes the same premise with definitive examples. The decline in diplomacy is a huge mistake – we sent two people to a global issues meeting, while China sent twenty. They worked the rooms.

This is a sad state of affairs. We have listened to a populist President who does not care to know historical context and is not beholden to the truth. He has listened to people who want us to retrench. And, there is one thing for certain, we cannot shrink to greatness. It matters not what the ball caps say at Trump rallies.

The demise in influence has already begun

I believe historians will look back at this period of time, unless it is reversed, as the time when the US ceded its leadership role in the world. They will also speak of how China easily transitioned into that role.

On the first show of the new season, John Oliver highlighted what is happening on his news-based comedy show “Last Week Tonight.” Although it is a comedy show, the news covered is envied for its depth and veracity. I have seen topics covered here that other sources will later pick up.

On this show, Oliver repeated a Pew survey result that has shown trust in the US leader has fallen from 48% to 30% since the leadership reins have changed. Looking past the ridicule the President is getting from comedians and even leaders around the globe, Oliver discussed two concerning news items.

First, we do not have ambassadors in many countries under this President, including important countries like South Korea, Turkey and Saudi Arabia per Oliver. General Mattis said in 2013 before the Senate Intelligence committee that we need funding for diplomacy because if we don’t then he has to buy more bullets. The current President said in an interview that he is the only diplomat that matters. That is scary to me as he does not know what he does not know. Nor does he want to do the necessary homework.

Second, an equally scary concern is because of our retrenchment, the US is sending only a a couple people to global meetings, while China sends two dozen. The Chinese officials cover all of the meetings to build relationships, where it is difficult for the Amercans to do the same. It should not be lost on people that Xi Jingping has twice now followed Donald Trump at global forums in Davos and Hanoi giving the speech that the US President usually gives. Xi speaks of global trade, whereas Trump speaks of bilateral agreements.

When I hear Trump’s strident fans say what a great job he is doing, I think of his reducing our influence around the globe. Pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is just one example. We must have relationships with our allies to build consensus. The sad truth is this is supposed to be Trump’s strength. Instead we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

I will not be surprised

I will not be surprised if the Mueller investigation finds that the President of the United States has been compromised by Russia. There is too much lying, ignoring and self-preserving going on by the man in the White House. In fact, if it turns out he is not, that will surprise me. At the very least he is an unwitting agent of Russia. Just ask yourself why he did not impose sanctions on Russia nor has he shown alarm over the Mueller findings that Russia has attacked the US and is still doing so?

I will not be surprised if Congress does not do a damn thing about better gun governance. I am so proud of the young people calling for a march begging for action. Yet, Congress and the President don’t have the backbone to do the right thing and do what a significant majority of Americans have asked for – background checks and elongated waiting periods. These actions should be no brainers, but the NRA dictates subservience to Republicans and some Democrats.

I will not be surprised if Congress cannot reach compromise on the immigration bills, especially with the ever-changing President putting his fingerprints on discord. He upset the proceedings on Friday, a few weeks after he stabbed Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin in the back and asked Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue to lie for him. What all legislators have discovered is the famous self-proclaimed negotiator is not trust worthy. If you do so, it is at your own peril.

I will not be surprised if we have more school shootings in the near future. I will not be surprised if the British parliament decides against Brexit. And, I will sadly not be surprised if one of the leader of Norh Korea and United States does something too provocative. On the school shootings and North Korea issue, I hope I am dead wrong. On the former, with our gun laws, it is very hard to stop a dedicated individual shooter. On the latter, I am not confident that judgment can temper ego with respect to these two leaders.