Perhaps more newsworthy than Stormy Daniels

Me in January, on the subject of Donald Trump and North Korea:

His detractors won’t see it this way, but after Obama’s flip-flopping and prevaricating, Trump is injecting some much-needed clarity into the situation. Everyone knows the Russians and the Chinese would not tolerate a nuclear attack on their interests and allies; Trump is merely restating that the same is true for the US. Personally, I think this makes the world a touch safer than it was.

Me 2 days later:

Kim Jong Un has done the only sensible thing left open to him: back down. We’ll have to wait and see whether this is the start of a new era of North Korea being relatively benign, but I’m hoping it is. If so, we can be sure everyone will line up to say this is despite Trump’s bellicose approach, not because of it.

Me in March:

A couple of months ago we were told Trump’s rhetoric on North Korea and juvenile tweeting was bringing the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Turns out bitch-slapping Rocketman has given him pause for thought.

The BBC today:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says he has suspended all missile tests and will shut down a nuclear test site.

“From 21 April, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the country’s state news agency said.

Mr Kim said further tests were unnecessary because Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities had been “verified”.

The surprise announcement comes as North Korea prepares for historic talks with South Korea and the US.

Mr Kim is due to meet his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in next week for the first inter-Korean summit in over a decade, and US President Donald Trump by June.

Both countries have been pushing Pyongyang to denuclearise and they reacted positively to the latest development.

If Trump keeps this up, Obama should gift him his Nobel Peace Prize.

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Fair Weather Friends

From the BBC:

Lance Armstrong has agreed to pay $5m (£3.5m) to the US government to settle a long-running lawsuit that could have cost him $100m (£71m) in damages.

The American, 46, was accused of fraud by cheating while riding for the publicly funded US Postal Service team.

I was aware that Lance Armstrong was facing a colossal lawsuit from the federal government, but didn’t know the details. I always assumed it was because sports doping is seen as a criminal matter in the US, which it generally isn’t elsewhere. Then I listened to the Joe Rogan podcast with Armstrong and found out it was for different reasons. As the BBC says:

The US Postal Service team ran from 1996 to 2004, with Armstrong winning seven Tour titles between 1999 and 2005.

So the reason the federal government is suing Armstrong is because the US Postal Service sponsored his team when he was doping. Now sure, there’s a case to answer but because it’s the federal government, well:

The team were paid about $32m (£23m) between 2000 and 2004, with the government potentially able to pursue ‘treble’ damages under the lawsuit, resulting in the $100m figure.

I suspect the reason why the case has been settled at “only” $5m is because, as Armstrong’s legal team always claimed, this is about damages and (according to the podcast) no less than 3 studies were carried out demonstrating that the US Postal Service benefited enormously from the publicity surrounding Armstrong’s victories (which was the whole point). I doubt the US Postal Service suffered any noticeable monetary or reputational loss when, 8 years after his last win and 9 since they stopped sponsoring Tour de France teams, it transpired their talisman was doping. I strongly suspect the $5m is symbolic, a chance for a few individuals in the federal government to advance up the career ladder and show the public they disapprove of cheating. Armstrong made the point that the reason cycling has been hit so hard is because the sport has no lobbyists in Washington DC working on their behalf, unlike banks for example.

The lesson here is never, ever do business with the government in any form unless you have protection in place, like a Russian krysha. If things go sour, and someone is looking to make a name for himself*, you could find the full force of the state bearing down on you, making up the rules as they go along.

*Ask Martha Stewart about that.

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Professionals at Work

From the BBC:

A woman who was partially sucked out of a window of a US passenger plane after an engine exploded in mid-air has died.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after a window, wings and fuselage were damaged. Seven passengers were injured.

Initial findings say an engine fan blade was missing. In a recording, one of the pilots can be heard saying “there is a hole and someone went out”.

That’s the background. Now listen to this conversation between the female pilot and an air traffic controller at Philadelphia airport:

You can hear the pilot struggling to contain the emotion in her voice, but she does a tremendous job of keeping calm. The guy in the tower is as cool as ice, and that’s due to professionalism and training rather than the fact he’s safe on the ground and not up there in a crippled plane. That the pilot, Tammy Jo Shults, managed to handle this situation brilliantly perhaps ought not to surprise:

Shults applied for the Air Force after she graduated. She wasn’t allowed to test to become a pilot, but the Navy welcomed her. She was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy’s history, and the first woman to fly F-18s. She later became an instructor.

She’s now an American hero, and deservedly so. I suspect Trump will shortly be hanging a medal around her neck and saying something well-meaning but cack-handed as he does it.

I find the calmness with which Shults and her interlocutor handle the situation almost mesmerising, but I often find that when watching a real professional go about their job. Oddly, the scene I most enjoyed from the the film Captain Phillips is when the corpsman aboard the US Navy ship examines Tom Hanks for the first time. The way she went about giving him direct, clear, and repeated instructions with completely calm, professional body-language made me think this was a very good actress. Or:

Tom Hanks claimed that the scene of Captain Richard Phillips’ medical examination was improvised on the spot with real-life Navy Corpsman Danielle Albert, who was told to simply follow her usual procedure.

Which explained it. A friend later told me he’d also been struck by the same scene. Calmness is vital to thinking clearly, and the best way to remain calm is to follow an established procedure and practice as much as possible. If you panic you’ll make mistakes and, panic being highly infectious, you’ll cause other people to make mistakes too.

A Russian friend was flying from Paris to Lagos with Air France once, and a Nigerian lady started having some sort of seizure in her seat. The passengers alerted the stewardess who, frankly, had no idea what to do and her body language let the entire aircraft know it. The passengers began to get agitated, and the stewardess (who was not joined by a couple of others) go the lady to lie down in the aisle. Then she started going into convulsions, and the stewardesses started to panic. They called the head steward, a Frenchman, who arrived and immediately panicked himself. The passengers lost control of themselves and started screaming and shouting. Somehow the air crew regained control of the situation, the woman stopped flapping around, and she got back to her seat. My Russian friend was very unimpressed, and said he had little confidence the pilots would do much better under duress. Given Air France’s safety record, nor have I.

By contrast, I was once flying Aeroflot from Moscow to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk when my companion ate the wrong thing in the in-flight meal and had an allergic reaction. Her throat began to swell and her breathing got difficult. Normally she carries medicine with her, but either didn’t have it with her or forgot where it was. I alerted the stewardess – the usual slim woman with bleached-blonde hair and painted nails – who took one look and asked my companion firmly what she’d eaten. She asked a few more questions, never raising her voice, then calmly told her colleague to fetch the medicine chest. My companion’s face was swelling up and she was breaking out in spots. A helpful chap in the seat behind thought she was simply airsick and offered her a tumbler of cheap cognac, which I still laugh about today. The stewardess returned with the medicine chest, they confirmed with my companion that it was the correct one, and gave her the tablets. Within a few minutes everything was back to normal, and only those sat nearby had any idea anything had happened. Aeroflot might be the butt of a lot of jokes, but the air crew knew their stuff and didn’t panic, and you can be damned sure the pilots wouldn’t either even if they plane had lost a wing, was upside down, and on fire.

I’ve noticed in my professional life that Frenchmen are prone to panicking under pressure, and letting their emotions get the better of them. By contrast, I don’t think I ever saw a Russian man panic, and there are numerous videos of Russians walking nonchalantly away from horrific car crashes and this legendary one of a pilot lighting up a cigarette after ejecting from his MiG-29. That’s not to say Russians never panic and Frenchmen always do, but propensity to panic is probably cultural in part, and training is needed to overcome it.

Whoever they may be, I find something awesome about a professional calmly going about his or her business, especially in a situation which would render most people unable to function at all. That might be because absolute professionalism is something I don’t see as much as I should. Clearly, the Americans flying planes and manning control towers still have it in spades. Good for them.

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Barbara Bush

On the death of Barbara Bush, I am reminded of this quote of hers:

“Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is.”

Forget the political point, it’s a funny remark. I don’t know much about Barbara Bush, but she seems to have lived her life well. The fact that she is receiving praise from unlikely sources suggests that’s the case:

Naturally there are still many who are hurling vitriol about, but I think on this occasion we can agree they really do lie at the hate-filled extremes of US politics.

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Words from on high

I see this sentiment expressed a lot by establishment types:

The latest salvo by former FBI Director James Comey in his feud with President Donald Trump included the charge that the president was morally unfit and may have obstructed justice.

When asked if he considered Mr Trump fit to lead, the former FBI director said he did not believe claims about Mr Trump’s mental health, but did see him as “morally unfit” to be president.

Perhaps Trump is morally unfit to hold the office of president, but I thought that’s why they have an election in which everyone can pass judgement on such matters. What Comey means is that he and other like-minded people think he is morally unfit, and thus shouldn’t be president.

There are clear rules regarding eligibility to run for elected office – age, nationality at time of birth, criminal convictions, etc. – which are objective and easily verified (or at least, one would have thought so) – but everything else quite rightly is left for the voters to decide. Otherwise it’s not really an election, is it? The claim that Trump is “morally unfit” for office is the flip side of bleating that Hillary was the “most qualified” candidate ever. Despite being demonstrably untrue, who cares? She’s running for elected office, not an appointed position. If qualifications matter – and nobody mentioned them before the 2016 presidential campaign, and certainly not when a “community organiser” was running – then why have elections at all? Why not just appoint the person who ticks the most boxes?

And that’s what Comey’s remarks come down to: they don’t like how the plebs voted, and think only they – being clever people – should get to decide who’s in charge. Fortunately, most people who saw Comey’s interview realise this.

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Teaching the wrong things

This isn’t surprising:

For seven decades, “never forget” has been a rallying cry of the Holocaust remembrance movement.

But a survey released Thursday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, found that many adults lack basic knowledge of what happened — and this lack of knowledge is more pronounced among millennials, whom the survey defined as people ages 18 to 34.

Thirty-one percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.

There’s a reason for this, but I think part of it might have been missed:

“As we get farther away from the actual events, 70-plus years now, it becomes less forefront of what people are talking about or thinking about or discussing or learning,” said Matthew Bronfman, a board member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which commissioned the study. “If we wait another generation before you start trying to take remedial action, I think we’re really going to be behind the eight ball.”

Bronfman is right that 70 years ago is a long time: I was born in 1977 and WWII ended a mere 32 years previously, but I’m no more connected to that event than a millennial is. Where he’s going wrong is thinking “remedial action” is required, which will no doubt consist of reminding everyone what Auschwitz was along with harrowing pictures and dark warnings of a rise in antisemitism. But it’s not Auschwitz or the Holocaust that needs to be remembered so much as what brought them about. Alas, it’s not difficult to see why those lessons have been forgotten. For example:

And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.

Well, yes. When people are told incessantly that democratically elected governments are by definition virtuous, it might be hard to imagine someone like Hitler could come to power peacefully. Rather than warning of the dangers of an overly powerful head of state, we have elected presidents ruling by Executive Order, deliberately bypassing Congress as his supporters cheer and the media explains it’s best for the country. Instead of a Supreme Court ruling on the law as it stands, we have them making overtly political decisions which the people in power say is what the people want. As the federal government gets its tentacles into every nook and cranny of public life and branches of the state security apparatus attempt to thwart the election and then the presidency of Donald Trump, few seem interested in pointing out that the Holocaust was first and foremost an abuse of state power which cared little for due process or individual rights.

At the site of the Monument to Six Million Jewish Martyrs, the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation has been developing an interactive memorial plaza, scheduled to open in October. Visitors will use a new app that will, among other things, feature survivors’ recorded testimonies.

In one part of the plaza, train tracks that carried prisoners to the Treblinka death camp will be embedded in the pavement. When visitors step onto the tracks, the app, using geocaching technology, will pull up videos of Philadelphia residents “who were on those very trains that led to Treblinka,” said Eszter Kutas, the remembrance foundation’s acting director.

I’m sure this is very interesting from a historical perspective, but wasn’t the whole point of “never forget” to ensure the Holocaust was never repeated? I’m a lot less concerned that the population is slowly forgetting a terrible event which occurred over half a century before they were born than their being unaware of the importance of things like limited government, freedom of speech, and individual rights in preventing another.

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Too Much To Lose

In the comments of this post, MC makes a good point:

I read something about California recently in which the author described how the state will fine people like him thousands of dollars for a wrongly-laid drain, while ignoring the illegal plumbing of illegal immigrants.

This is related to the Hither Green Chavshrine™ and a comment made by The Manc:

It could cause a flash point, but it won’t, because decent law-abiding people have too much to lose to bother getting caught up in something like this.

I’m starting to believe that western societies, once they reach a certain level of wealth and comfort, will start to implode. One of the ways this will happen is the middle classes – who provide the the ruling classes with legitimacy – will have too much to lose to even raise their head in opposition to obvious abuses of state power. Now the masses having a lot to lose is generally a good thing: it stops them taking to the hills and enduring immense hardships while fighting pointless civil wars, for example. But as with most things, there appears to be an inflection point where the population goes from being generally satisfied to being utterly cowed. The state authorities, which by their nature look for soft targets, find it all too easy to threaten the comfortable existence of the middle classes with ruinous fines, reputational damage, and other punishments which overnight could upend their entire lives. By contrast, those who don’t have as much to lose, e.g. illegal immigrants in California or travellers in Hither Green, take a lot more effort for the ruling classes to keep in line.

You see a similar thing happening in large corporations, which interestingly Tommy Robinson mentioned in his recent podcast with James Delingpole. Robinson said the reason there is so little pushback from the masses against the ruling classes over scandals such as the Rotherham and Telford abuses or terrorism is because they enjoy extremely comfortable lives paid for by taking on colossal quantities of debt. This in turn means they are desperate to hold onto their jobs, terrified they may lose it along with their living standards. It’s not that people won’t find another job, but more they won’t find one which pays the same money: the tendency is for people’s lifestyles to expand to match their wages, meaning taking a lower paid job is not an option unless they wish to downgrade their lifestyle. If ever you’ve watched one of those programmes on TV where an expert takes a person faced with bankruptcy and tries to get them back into the black, this is an exceptionally difficult thing to do. But the expenditure which cripples most people is housing; years of government manipulation has forced the middle classes to extend themselves well beyond what is sensible, and people will put up with anything to avoid losing the only job which pays for their home. Managers in companies know this only too well, mainly because they are in a similar situation themselves, and use this leverage in the form of veiled and not-so-veiled threats to obtain compliance from their subordinates. If this goes on long enough, normal management practices are abandoned entirely and this leverage becomes the standard tool. The result is an ubiquity of moral cowardice in the workplace.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if the aims of the ruling classes and corporations were separate, but the line between the two is becoming increasingly blurred. Governments have realised they can police people’s behaviour and political opinions by outsourcing it to employers. Whether by accident or design, companies were forced to employ sprawling HR departments to remain compliant with the growing thicket of government regulations, but now serve to ensure anyone who expresses unapproved opinions gets booted from their job. As I’ve written before, what makes the situation worse is you have people on the right queuing up to defend this practice.

In summary, you have the vast majority of the population paying off mountainous debts on their homes, terrified of losing their jobs; you have managers and HR departments using this leverage as a matter of course; and you have those same managers and HR departments increasingly doing the bidding of politicians. If there is a better way of keeping a population cowed short of Gulags and mass murder, I’d be interested to hear of it.

So it’s not surprising the law-abiding in California or Hither Green are being shoved around by the authorities while illegals and travellers are free to do as they please. The shoving around is a feature of the system, not a bug. The other part of The Manc’s comment completes the picture:

The only angry young men we have couldn’t give a shit about this type of thing. It’s not the type of flashpoint that created the 2011 riots.

The only people prepared to take on the authorities are those who have little or nothing to lose by the criteria set by the ruling classes. Until that criteria changes, ordinary people are going to keep finding themselves on the wrong side; until they start voting differently, the criteria won’t change.

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Fraudsters Enabled by Modern Government Practices

A month or two ago, the ZMan included in his podcast a segment about this story:

For years, people living in a quiet neighborhood in the Northland ignored the invoices that arrived in their mail demanding payment to a homeowners association.

“Just want to let you know it’s a scam,” Tony Navarro said he was told when he moved to the Summerfield subdivision. “This is not an HOA neighborhood at all. There are no monthly fees.”

But then, just before Christmas, a $445 lien was filed against Navarro’s home and more than 30 others.

The reason? For not paying dues to the Summerfield Homeowners Association. An HOA that has no board and provides no services.

The filing of fake liens and other documents has become a big problem in Missouri. The owners of a $4 million mansion in St. Louis had to go to court to prevent a woman they accused of filing a fake quit claim deed from taking possession of their home.

This is the sort of scam the government should be shutting down immediately it comes to their attention and the perpetrators jailed for fraud. But instead we learn:

We also wanted to speak to the other person behind the fake Summerfiled HOA, but he was even harder to reach.

Al Roberts is in federal prison, convicted of $3 million in mortgage fraud. Roberts, a retired Kansas City school teacher, formed Column’s Park, the company behind the HOA. Roberts also sent out the initial invoices to homeowners.

How is this guy able to run a fake company issuing fraudulent demands for payments from federal prison? I have no idea, but it’s clear the government isn’t much interested in stopping this sort of thing. But there is a deeper point here, one which is reinforced by this tweet:

Only in a society where the laws are numerous, vague, and arbitrarily and aggressively applied with punitive sanctions for non-compliance can a scammer get away with sending dodgy demands and threats to random people with the hope of getting payment. In effect, the fraudsters are mimicking the behaviour of the state, which is key to making the scams work. The whole thing relies on the recipient being terrified of being judged to be non-compliant with an obligation they didn’t know about, and having their life ruined.

The root cause of the problem is not the scammers, but the nature of the government in the places they operate. Back when government was smaller, less complex, and applied some common sense these sort of scams wouldn’t have been possible. But those days are long gone, and criminals have stepped forward to take full advantage.

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The Defenestration of Kevin Williamson

There’s a big fuss going on in the US right now over the decision of those running The Atlantic to fire the writer Kevin Williamson, who was only recently hired. This came after several days of liberals calling en masse for his sacking because in a recent podcast he had said he thought abortion should be illegal, and women who have them be treated the same as anyone else who commits homicide. He then went further and said they ought to be hanged.

Note that he didn’t say all women who have had an abortion should be hanged. He was simply arguing that abortion should be made illegal, and when it is illegal, women who have abortions should be charged with homicide. As a conservative position this is rather unremarkable, but these days expressing views which Obama held in his first term makes you a Nazi in liberal circles. His remarks about hanging women who breach any future laws on abortion were clumsy in hindsight, but he was speaking on a podcast not writing policy.

Anyway, liberals smelled blood in the water and screamed blue murder, and The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg fired Williamson:

The top editor emphasized that Williamson’s firing was not a result of his being anti-abortion—a common position for deeply religious Americans of all political stripes—but because of how his especially violent belief conflicts with the “values of our workplace.”

What he means is that employees at The Atlantic didn’t want to work with someone who held Williamson’s views, just as Google employees demanded management fire James Damore when they learned he held different opinions to them. Naturally, demented liberal feminists stepped forward to exaggerate, misrepresent, lie, and try to convince people they would actually feel unsafe around Williamson:

Such is the level of political debate in the US these days.

I don’t have an awful lot of sympathy for Williamson, however. People call him a conservative but I think at this stage it’s fair to ask any influential American who’s worn that label for more than 10 years what exactly they have conserved. From what I can tell, they’ve ceded so much ground to liberals they might as well stop pretending they’re anything else. Most Republican politicians would much rather be Democrats, and much the same could be said about the likes of Williamson: it goes without saying he was a “never Trumper” and would rather see Democrats running government than a Republican he doesn’t like. They made a decent living from saying stuff that was a little to the right of liberals, but never so far they’d upset them and be excluded from polite company in whichever metropolitan coastal city they reside. Ben Shapiro’s another one who’s done well at this, dismantling lunatic lefty arguments but making damned sure he doesn’t stray too far off the reservation and get tossed off any list of invitations. Consider the serious, right-wing concerns that any ordinary American conservative might have and see how many people outside the Alt-Right are actually speaking bluntly about them, and not just skirting around the issue with so many caveats and contradictions they might as well not have kept quiet.

The problem Williamson has, and this will catch people like Shapiro too, is the Overton window is narrowing at such an alarming rate that even opposing abortion can now get you hounded from your job by a baying mob of lunatic women and castrated men making ludicrous claims they’re being threatened with violence. Jeffrey Goldberg obviously has no balls, or is an idiot, or perhaps both, but if you build an entire career – as Williamson did – which is dependent on people like that, and consists mainly of keeping a close eye on not offending lunatics who despise you, then I can’t say I have much sympathy. Perhaps if he spent less time bashing Trump supporters he’d have seen this coming?

The real concern here is that a baying mob of lefty lunatics are expanding the scope of who they can hound from a job. It started in academia, now it’s moved onto journalism. It’s already creeping into tech. How long before this becomes commonplace, with anyone who expresses perfectly reasonable political views suddenly finding themselves fired from their jobs, and perhaps blacklisted from their industry? A lot of people are defending Goldberg and The Atlantic on the grounds that a private company should be able to hire and fire anyone they like, but we’re on dangerous territory. What are these blacklisted people supposed to do for a living, then? Others defend the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube closing accounts of those with unapproved opinions, many of which are quite benign but fall foul of the self-appointed moral guardians of the left. Sure they’re private companies, but so are banks, insurers and electricity providers. How long before the wrong comment online causes a howling mob to descend on your health, travel, or car insurer, who suddenly pulls coverage? Or you find your credit card frozen? What options do wrong-thinkers have, short of starting their own company providing every kind of service they could ever want? And how long before everyone reading this blog is a wrong-thinker?

Something’s gone badly wrong, and liberal rent-a-mobs have found a way to seriously screw with the lives of those with different opinions while the government sits back and says “nothing to do with us”. Even if those mobs turn violent, as we see every time a “controversial” speaker is invited anywhere, we get the same line. We also get a lot of conservatives and libertarians defending the right of employers and service providers to fire someone or close their accounts when lunatics like Antonova bombard their email inboxes and Twitter feeds with unhinged rants like the one above, which makes me wonder if the right has grasped the gravity of the situation and where it could lead.

I don’t know what the solution is, and government intervention will only make things worse, but they could at least get out of the way. Having tens of millions of people in protected, unionised government jobs or working in taxpayer-funded organisations who are able to mobilise and demand CEOs of private companies clobber their political opponents is something which probably ought to be addressed. Otherwise I don’t really know, but I can see there is a problem and I’m confident in saying it won’t end well.

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Banging the War Drums

Given both sides of the American Establishment detest Trump I can’t tell if this article is supposed to appeal to Republicans or Democrats, but its language is illuminating:

President Donald Trump has spoken: He wants U.S. troops and civilians out of Syria by the fall. But don’t call it a “timeline.”

It wasn’t the result top national security aides wanted. Trump’s desire for a rapid withdrawal faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, all of which argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.

But as they huddled in the Situation Room, the president was vocal and vehement in insisting that the withdrawal be completed quickly if not immediately, according to five administration officials briefed on Tuesday’s White House meeting of Trump and his top aides.

There was a time when Democrats would be extremely happy that a president would face down hawks in the military, but nowadays they’d back nuclear strikes on Tehran if Trump advised against it.

Rather than offer Trump a menu of pullout plans, with varying timelines and options for withdrawing step-by-step, the team sought to frame it as a binary choice: Stay in Syria to ensure the Islamic State can’t regroup, or pull out completely. Documents presented to the president included several pages of possibilities for staying in, but only a brief description of an option for full withdrawal that emphasized significant risks and downsides, including the likelihood that Iran and Russia would take advantage of a U.S. vacuum.

Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.

Sorry, what US vacuum? Nobody has any idea what the US is actually doing in Syria, let alone why it is doing it. The US was rightly criticised for creating vacuums in Iraq, firstly by deposing Saddam Hussein and then by pulling its troops out before the Iraqi army was ready to defend the place. But unless you believe the nonsense that the CIA were behind the uprising which led to the civil war, the US is in no way responsible for any vacuum that forms in Syria. While some neocon lunatics probably believe it is America’s moral duty to insert itself into any vacuum which appears around the globe and make things worse, most normal people aren’t sold on the idea.

Besides, this assumes there would be a vacuum anyway. Assad remaining in power was assured the minute the Russians stepped in to prop him up, and Iran poured into whatever was left. So if there was a vacuum, it was rapidly filled by Russia and Iran years ago. Are American operations so significant that their cessation would radically alter the balance of power in Syria? I doubt it. But most importantly, so what? The one thing I’ve never got my head around is why anybody cares whether Russia or Iran are in Syria. The place has absolutely no strategic value for the US, and the only justification I hear for American involvement is a product of demented zero-sum thinking that what is good for Russia must automatically be bad for the US. There is absolutely no chance that Assad, the Russians, the Iranians, neighbouring Turkey, the Kurds, and roaming bands of jihadists will be able to create a functioning state that threatens American interests in any meaningful way, unless they step outside the borders of Syria. In which case, let’s keep and eye on things and cross that bridge when we get there, eh?

Granted, a Syria with a large Iranian military presence could cause problems for Israel, but my guess would be Iran will have its hands full trying to deal with the Russians, Turks, and Assad. If in the event Israel is seriously threatened, that is another bridge we can cross when we come to it. And in any case, I do hope Israel isn’t the reason America is getting itself bogged down in another Middle Easter quagmire, because that would look very bad indeed.

But the article doesn’t consider any of these points, preferring to paint Trump as an imbecile ignoring the advice of national security experts who, ahem, haven’t put a foot wrong, ever.

The president had opened the meeting with a tirade about U.S. intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, repeating lines from public speeches in which he’s denounced previous administrations for “wasting” $7 trillion in the region over the past 17 years.

What has the U.S. gotten for the money and American lives expended in Syria? “Nothing,” Trump said over and over, according to the officials.

It speaks volumes that this authors of this piece believe this reflects negatively on Trump. What I want to know is why the hell the press haven’t been publishing such tirades and asking these questions themselves? And remember, Trump ran on a platform of not getting America bogged down in pointless foreign wars and the public liked it, so why the surprise he’s trying to follow through on that?

The intensity of Trump’s tone and demeanor raised eyebrows and unease among the top brass gathered to hash out a Syria plan with Trump, officials said: Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary James Mattis, CIA chief Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of State John Sullivan.

At one point, Dunford spoke up, one official said, telling Trump that his approach was not productive and asked him to give the group specific instructions as to what he wanted.

Trump’s response was to demand an immediate withdrawal of all American troops and an end to all U.S. civilian stabilization programs designed to restore basic infrastructure to war-shattered Syrian communities.

Sounds clear enough.

Mattis countered, arguing that an immediate withdrawal could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way, without risking the return of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in newly liberated territories, the officials said.

This reminds me of Brexit. The public were asked what they wanted, and they said they wanted to leave the EU. Cue howls from the ruling classes that this would be impossible and irresponsible. So why ask the question if you already know what’s best? Until I read the above statement I had high opinions of Mattis, but I think they’re due a revision. Calling an American withdrawal from Syria irresponsible implies America is somehow responsible for ridding the country of ISIS, which is nonsense. Have the American people been asked if they want the US military to assume this responsibility? Has Congress been consulted and their agreement secured? No, they haven’t.

As for ISIS, the only people who could be accused of arming jihadists in Syria are the Americans. The Russians have proven themselves far more willing and able than the Americans to deal with ISIS (and anyone else who threatens the Assad regime), even if we don’t much like their methods. So why not leave it to them? And note that one minute we’re being told an American withdrawal will leave a vacuum which Russia and Iran will fill, the next it will leave the field clear for ISIS to regroup. Well, which is it? I can’t see a Russia-backed Assad having much tolerance for ISIS.

And even assuming that nothing I have written thus far is true and we dismiss it all as absolute nonsense, what the hell is the Americans’ plan in Syria? What is the strategy? What is the end game? Who will run these “newly liberated territories”? And why aren’t the media demanding Mattis & Co. answer these questions and present a coherent plan, instead of looking for any excuse to bash Trump for doing precisely what he was elected to do?

What a mess. You have a civilian government which has lost control over its military which is hell-bent on fighting endless, disastrous wars on as many fronts as possible, and the media are supporting it because they don’t like the president. Who is representing the public’s interest in all of this, especially those who will be called upon to fight and die? Aside from Trump, there’s nobody that I can see.

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