Trump’s Rapid Shift to an Establishment Agenda

President Trump

As it turns out, Donald Trump isn’t quite as repulsed by the Washington establishment as he had led us to believe throughout the campaign. As president (in just the past few weeks alone), he has managed to abandon much of the populist sentiment that many believe handed him the election, and instead has embraced traditional D.C. approaches on a host of issues.

As Steve Bannon’s White House influence quickly diminishes — to the beat of fervent nationalists (who’ve been decrying “globalists” and “neocons” for the past two years) suffering through a hysterical identity crisis — it will be interesting to see what other positions our president waffles on.

So far, we’ve seen sharp reversals on Syria (and broader foreign policy), NATO, universal health care, the Ex-Im Bank, Chinese currency, and Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet L. Yellen.

We’ve also witnessed a far less accommodating tone on Russia, and a rapid downplaying of expectations for the border wall with Mexico.

Axios’s Mike Allen, who refers to the phenomenon as “Operation Normal,” offered an interesting take on Trump’s political transformation in a recent piece:

“Trump goes where the applause is loudest. If that means being a full-throated birther, fine! If that means inciting hysterics about Mexicans, game on! If that means hugging NATO or smiling at corporate cronyism, Trump’s your man! It would be a hoot if he came full circle and morphed into Michael Bloomberg.”

While I’m not sure that turning into Bloomberg would constitute a “full circle” maneuver for Trump, Allen’s theory holds water, and he’s far from the first person to make this point.

During the election, for example, Fox News’s Greg Gutfeld sometimes referred to Trump as a “rhetorical chameleon.” The inference was that the candidate would say anything — no matter how reckless, contradictory, or hypocritical — as long as he thought it could help him at that particular moment.

You see, when Trump was a candidate, it was the voters that were his audience. They were drawn in by his charisma and celebrity, and his populist rhetoric helped win them over. Slogans like “Make America Great Again” and “Drain the Swap,” however, aren’t guiding principles, and they don’t translate into cogent policy.

Incidentally, this is why principles are important, and it’s also why many people on the Right were concerned about Trump’s expressed lack of them during the primary.

Now that Trump is our president, his audiences are no longer fawning crowds. They are instead his presidential advisors and the responsibilities that come with his job. And without relevant principles to guide him, and with his naivety as a candidate being chased away by the realities of his role as our nation’s leader, he’s falling back on a standard establishment platform.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Conventional wisdom has its merits, and “the establishment” isn’t always wrong. I’d much prefer that Trump hypocritically do what’s right, rather than stubbornly cling to what’s wrong. And that’s what these recent shifts have reflected.

To his credit, Trump put together a cabinet of competent, knowledgeable people (for the most part anyway). And some of these individuals (establishment or not) have served him particularly well, even appearing to be out in front of him on key issues (see Nikki Haley).

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s cheerleaders have been using these flip-flops as an opportunity to once again tout the president’s greatness — this time for his willingness to adapt to evolving situations. Of course, these situations haven’t exactly evolved. Even the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria was just a continuation of al-Assad’s murderous methods.

Jonah Goldberg had it right in a recent piece when he wrote: “The strike on Syria is the single best proof that Trump has no overriding commitment to any ideological position — and I say that as someone who supports the strike. ”

What Trump’s reliable defenders (including those in the media) can’t bring themselves to acknowledge is that these “adaptations” are putting the president’s positions remarkably close (in some cases identical) to those held by his primary competitors — the very positions that Trump (and his anti-establishment faithful) absolutely excoriated at the time. This makes it extremely difficult for the Trump Train to continue to insist that they backed our president for his ideas and not simply his persona.

But the fan-base is no longer much of a consideration when it comes to policy (or perhaps they never have been). With Trump having demonstrated that his populist war-cry from the campaign trail was little more than a means to an end (and can be sidelined at a moment’s notice), I’d like to go ahead and make a personal request:

Mr. President, let’s start treating the National Debt like the catastrophic problem that it is, and do something about our entitlement programs. Sure, you promised not to…but hey, what does that matter?

Broken Slate

The Obama Administration’s Dishonesty on Syria

ricePresident Trump received a fair amount of ridicule back in February, when he publicly complained that he “inherited a mess” from the previous administration. Because the rhetoric mirrored statements made by President Obama eight years earlier (in regard to Bush and the economic collapse), critics were quick to point out that Obama left the U.S. economy in a much better state than he had found it.

But Trump was not simply referring to the economy. His words were aimed at a multitude of issues (both domestically and abroad) including his categorization of the Middle East as a “disaster.”  In reference to the situation Trump came into regarding Syria alone, it’s difficult to say that he didn’t have a point.

One can certainly argue that it’s unbecoming of a president to openly complain about the environment he “inherited,” whether we’re talking about Trump or Obama (who played the Blame-Bush game for the entirety of his first term in office). After all, presidents are hired by the American electorate to address big problems; it comes with the job.

It can also be argued that Trump demonstrated breathtaking hypocrisy last week when he said, “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.”

As many have pointed out, President Trump was an outspoken advocate for not taking action to deal with Bashar al-Assad back in 2013. Trump even went as far as to mock President Obama on multiple occasions for merely considering using our military against the Assad regime. Trump insisted that the situation in Syria was not our country’s problem. And in the end, Obama proceeded exactly as Trump wanted him to.

What cannot be argued is that Obama’s policy on Syria was a success. It was an extraordinary failure, and the result of that failure has been daily violence, hundreds of thousands of deaths, expanded Russian influence in the region, and a terrible refugee crisis. And as we’ve recently learned, the 2013 chemical weapons agreement between Syria and Russia — that the Obama administration repeatedly assured us had removed WMDs from the conflict — was an utter joke.

“We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiable give up its chemical weapons stockpile,” former national security advisor Susan Rice bragged in an interview back in January of this year.

The horrifying images we saw on television last week of dead children and convulsing victims fighting to stay alive dispelled that myth once and for all. And as it turns out, the Obama State Department likely knew as early as a year ago that the U.S.-brokered agreement was bunk.

In a piece on Monday, The Weekly Standard’s Jeryl Bier drew attention to a State Department report from April of 2016 which included the following passages:

“The United States cannot certify that the Syrian Arab Republic is in compliance with its obligations under the CWC. The United States assesses that Syria has used chlorine as a chemical weapon systematically and repeatedly against the Syrian people every year since acceding to the Convention…”

“…the United States assesses that Syria did not declare all the elements of its chemical weapons program, required by Article III of the CWC and that Syria may retain chemical weapons as defined by the CWC.”

“In addition to assessed CW use and maintenance of a residual CW capability, Syria failed to meet most of its milestone destruction dates.”

“The Syrian declaration contained obvious gaps, discrepancies and omissions, as detailed above, thus placing Syria in non-compliance with the CWC declaration requirements and the additional declaration requirements[.]”

These findings support new statements from former Obama officials who are now admitting that the administration knew all along that there were still chemical weapons in Syria.

Despite that, President Obama himself made this statement in a speech just four months ago [emphasis added]:

Just think about what we’ve done these last eight years without firing a shot. We’ve rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. That’s not just my assessment, that’s the assessment of Israeli intelligence, even though they were opposed to the deal. We’ve secured nuclear materials around the globe, reducing the risk that they fall into the hands of terrorists. We’ve eliminated Syria’s declared chemical weapons program.

Anyone who still has confidence in our “roll back” of Iran’s nuclear program might want to start worrying.

This begs the question: What consequences are there for the Obama administration, having once again misled the American public on a very serious issue? The short answer is likely “none,” as was the case with the administration’s assurances (while still in power) on Obamacare, Benghazi, I.R.S.-targeting, and more.

For a news-media industry that is always quick to point out President Trump’s dishonesty (as it should), it would be nice if some of that aggression could be reserved for the often-more consequential dishonesty that comes from the other side of the political aisle.

Broken Slate

Gary Johnson’s ‘Aleppo’ Gaffe Is Far From Disqualifying

johnsonI’m not a fan of Gary Johnson as a presidential candidate. I gave him a look after the Republican party nominated Donald Trump, but while I appreciate his honesty and his small-government philosophy, his positions on foreign policy and national security really bother me. In fact, every time he speaks on these topics (and a few others), I find myself increasingly disappointed.

I guess I was hoping he’d throw disaffected Republicans and conservatives like me more of a bone than he has. Instead, he’s helped remind me of why I’m not a Libertarian. Libertarians tend to be non-interventionists when it comes to foreign affairs, and Johnson, of course, is no different. While his hands-off approach to Middle Eastern conflicts and Islamic terrorism may strike a chord with war-weary Americans, it also feeds into an attitude of relative disinterest in global strife.

That’s why it shouldn’t have been all that surprising that Johnson drew a blank the other day when asked about “Aleppo,” the city at the heart of the Syrian battle between Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups.

It was a bad gaffe. Someone running for president (even if they’re only polling around 10%) shouldn’t have had to ask what “Aleppo” is.

What I found even more remarkable, however, was how the media reacted to Johnson’s flub.

The incident earned Johnson the most attention (by far) he’s received throughout his entire candidacy, spawning big headlines in every major newspaper in the country. It spread like wildfire across social-media punditry, and quickly became a huge topic on the cable and network news shows. The overwhelming sentiment (from the hard-lefties on The View to the Trump lackeys on Fox News) was that it was a disqualifying moment for Johnson. Yes, disqualifying.

Clearly these people have been watching a different election cycle than I have, because nothing…I repeat, nothingis disqualifying this year.

Let’s look at foreign policy alone…

As U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton stored top-secret government information (of the highest level of classification) on a private email server with less security than a Gmail account. She then deleted tens of thousands of those emails to escape accountability for what she did over her four years in office, and has been lying exhaustively about her role in all of it ever since. These revelations came, of course, as a result of her scapegoating a YouTube video and its creator for the Benghazi terrorist attacks.

If none of that is disqualifying, nothing is.

Donald Trump didn’t know what the nuclear triad was. He didn’t know the difference between “Quds” and “Kurds.” He wasn’t aware of the annexation of Crimea. He said he would force the U.S. military to commit war crimes (torturing terrorists and killing their families). He claimed that President George W. Bush lied about WMDs to start the Iraq War, and that President Obama was the “founder” of ISIS. He touted (and continues to tout) Vladimir Putin as a model for national leadership, even praising Putin’s contrived approval ratings.

If none of that is disqualifying, nothing is.

Yet, when Gary Johnson is asked about “Aleppo,” and doesn’t identify the word with the civil war in Syria, he might as well end his candidacy? Give me a break.

In a normal election year, the critics might have a point. In this election year, such criticism is absolutely meaningless.

The deeper irony is that a number of Johnson’s harshest detractors over this controversy (whether they be professional commentators or amateur bloggers) have gone well out of their way over the past year to gloss over, excuse, and run interference for the very conduct from Clinton and Trump that I described above (respective to which candidate they’re pulling for, of course). It’s the height of hypocrisy, and unlike Clinton and Trump, Johnson actually took responsibility for his screw-up — something almost unheard of these days.

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Get your signed, personalized copy of John Daly’s thriller BLOOD TRADE

Furthermore, I’m not convinced that half of these analysts — had they heard the word “Aleppo” without the word “Syria” attached to it — would have immediately associated the two either. Perhaps I’m being overly cynical with that charge, but I suspect I’m not…which makes their sanctimony all the more nauseating.

Many voters and many in the media decided months ago that presidential candidates in the year 2016 can’t do or say anything to disqualify themselves from contention. So let’s get off our high horses when it comes to the guy who didn’t have a shot to being with. Okay?

America’s Ongoing Humiliation on the World Stage

Putin-winkEarly Wednesday morning, reports began streaming in that Russia had begun launching air-strikes in Syria, just minutes after demanding that U.S. planes immediately leave Syrian airspace. In what has become an unmistakable pattern over the years in the midst of significant acts of international aggression, the White House was caught totally unaware and unprepared for the situation.

Struggling to catch up with the escalation of events, Secretary of State John Kerry tepidly voiced that he wouldn’t object to the Russian airstrikes as long at they targeted ISIS forces (Russia’s stated intent), but said that strikes beyond that, intended to strengthen the hand of Syrian President Bashar Assad (in defiance of U.S. policy on Syria), would be “worrisome.”

Hours later, it was confirmed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and several news reports that the Russian strikes were, in fact, not targeting ISIS forces (despite Russia’s claims), but rather pro-Western, pro-United-States rebel groups that pose a threat to the Assad government. One of the strikes even took out a top officer who America had been supporting.

What makes this incident even more humiliating is that Russian president Vladimir Putin met personally with President Obama just this week, and apparently saw no point in divulging his plans. According to White House press secretary Josh Earnest, the leaders’ discussion had revolved around “political transition” inside Syria.

In other words, our country has become so weak, and our interests have become so meaningless in the era of Obama, that embarrassing the United States on the world stage is now an international sport.

One can hardly blame Putin for treating us like a chump. He watched our country forfeit a long, hard-fought victory in Iraq just so our president could fulfill a bumper-sticker campaign promise and project national humility as if it were a virtue. He watched us sit back and do nothing while ISIS conquered city after city in Iraq, filling the vacuum we created there with our needless withdrawal. He watched us negotiate a deal with Iran that gave them everything and us nothing (other than a bullet point on a presidential legacy).

It’s not hard to imagine how ecstatic Putin was over President Obama’s over-willingness to end our missile defense system in Poland in 2009, in exchange for absolutely nothing. And God only knows what Obama delivered to the Russians behind closed doors after the 2012 election, once he had the proper “flexibility.”

Still, I’m guessing it was our president’s mopish, politically-expedient retreat from the “red line” he laid down for the Assad regime a while back that finally convinced Putin he could work any strategy he wanted with Syria and Iran without consequence. After watching John Kerry’s pathetic joint statement with Russian diplomat Sergey Lavrov that capped off the day, it appears he was right. We’ve been reduced to writing off our country’s disgrace as a simple, logistical road-bump in order to try and save some face (which no one’s buying).

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Breaking: Presidential candidate Donald Trump endorses John A. Daly’s new novel.

It was clear even before Barack Obama was sworn into office, of course, that he wanted his presidency to be defined by domestic policies, and not our country’s dominance on the world stage. Long ashamed of the perception of American imperialism, the president has favored a naive “lead from behind” approach to foreign policy that has often guided him away from the advice of his military advisers. He believed an America less involved in international affairs would earn us the respect of the global community. Instead it has made us incredibly weak in the eyes of not only our enemies, but also our allies.

Some countries may like us more than they did during Bush’s tenure, but none of them respect us as much. I don’t think any intellectually honest person would disagree.

Whoever the next president is will inherit a world far more dangerous than the one President Obama inherited, and the absence of American leadership in foreign affairs is the primary reason for that. Voters might want to consider this when evaluating presidential candidates in this election season.

Monkey Business

The worst thing about liberals is not that they’re wrong on the issues, but that they are hypocrites and liars. The basis for my claim is that the same things they thought were hanging offenses when Bush was president are perfectly okay with them so long as one of their own is the guy keeping Gitmo open, extending the Patriot Act and attacking Syria even though they haven’t attacked us. I could list other acts of hypocrisy, but of course I already have in hundreds of earlier articles.

The notion that Syria is really expected to hand over its chemical arsenal and that Russia is going to compel al-Assad to do so at the best of times is laughable. The idea that he’s going to do so in the midst of a civil war is even more ludicrous. Combine all that with a deadline of mid-2014 and the threat of a U.N. resolution if they don’t comply is proof the whole thing’s a farce.

Why the United States or any other democracy feels it has to keep pretending that an organization that is jam-packed with gangster states and in which Russia has veto powers has any moral standing is beyond me. What, after all, will the U.N. do if Syria doesn’t surrender its poison gas? The likeliest guess is that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will threaten to hold his breath.

If John Kerry, aka Mr. Ed, wasn’t such a pompous oaf, I would probably feel sorry for him. After all, there he was, delivering pep talks calling for our attacking Syria, and the next thing he knew Obama yanked the rug out from under him. If I were Kerry, I would probably decide that Hillary Clinton had the right idea when she took advantage of the travel allowance that went with the job, but otherwise did nothing in four years, up to and including sending Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens the additional security he spent months requesting.

With mid-term elections less than 14 months off, it is not too soon to start urging Republicans to get out the vote for any Republican who winds up on the ballot. Always keep in mind that unless you happen to be lucky enough to live in certain states or certain congressional districts, you will not have a Ted Cruz or a Paul Ryan on your ballot. What you will surely have is a Democrat who will fall into line behind Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi and do whatever he or she can to push ObamaCare and help Obama seat the likes of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan on the Supreme Court.

In fact, whenever I hear conservative purists insist they’d rather stay home than vote for a Mitt Romney, I find myself wondering just how deluded they are. Are they unaware that, while governor, Ronald Reagan raised my state taxes twice and signed the most liberal abortion bill in the nation, and that as president, he signed the amnesty bill that opened the floodgates to illegal aliens?

Even George Washington would have a tough time winning an election if he happened to find himself on a ballot in 2016. For one thing, he was in his time as rich as Romney. He was too religious for some, not religious enough for others. Moreover, he had a military background and owned slaves.

I have long argued that even in America, it is absurd that everyone can vote. It seems to me that instead of there being a minimum age requirement, at the very least proof should have to be shown that a voter had paid taxes for at least three years, and not merely filed a return. Otherwise, as we see time and again, too many people merely vote for the cluck who promises them the most, with no concern over the source of the goodies and with no concern over the cost.

A great many people were upset that Obama, on the same day that we all learned that 12 people were murdered at Washington’s Navy Yard by Aaron Alexis who, by the way, looked something like Trayvon Martin, decided to give a speech lambasting Republicans. Mr. Alexis, a paranoid loon with a criminal record, was allowed to join the Navy by the very same military that chose to turn a blind eye to Nidal Hasan and Bradley Manning. Is it just me or do other people also notice a pattern here?

As lousy as the timing of Obama’s speech was, it showed what an absolute ingrate the man is. Just a week or so earlier, Speaker of the House John Boehner voiced his support for Obama’s decision to attack Syria, even though it cost Boehner plenty of capital in his own party. It’s time for House Republicans to take off the gloves and to start treating Obama with the disrespect he’s worked so hard to deserve. Keep in mind that all of you were elected with larger margins than Obama’s measly 51% mandate.

Finally, some people — and I use the term loosely because I’m referring to liberals — will leap to the conclusion that because I titled the piece “Monkey Business” and then went on to attack Obama, I was engaging in racial politics. That of course is untrue. I would attach that same title to an article dealing with Biden, Reid, Pelosi, Waxman, Schumer, Durbin or Mrs. Clinton, if any of them, God forbid, happened to be turning the Oval Office into the moral and political equivalent of a pigpen.

Besides, why on earth would I compare Obama to a monkey? I happen to like monkeys.

©2013 Burt Prelutsky. Comments? Write