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Posts published in “McKee”

Of alternative facts

mckee

Just one year ago, in the midst of the diversions of family and holiday, we were anticipating with rapt fascination the day coming in mid-January where control of the world’s richest and most powerful ship of state was going to be handed off to a total unknown.

Those of a mind were determined to give Trump a chance, to see if he would grow into the job and actually see it through with some degree of competence and élan. We weren’t happy, to be sure, but this had all happened before and the country had survived.

We thought of Harry Truman, the small town haberdasher elevated to national prominence by machine politics, who was suddenly thrust into an office for which he was totally unprepared. We thought of Gerald Ford, the back-bencher plucked from obscurity to rescue us from the scandal of Spiro T. Agnew, who unexpectedly found himself in a job he had never wished for in his fondest of dreams. We even remember Ronald Reagan, the B grade movie actor of little demonstrated substance, but with a charm and charisma that had propelled him through the governorship of California and onto the national stage.

All of these men seized the reins of power in the midst of significant economic or domestic or international upheaval and proceeded to guide our country successfully through difficult and challenging times, elevating themselves to places of remarkable heights, far above the marks that history might otherwise have consigned to them. Was there any chance we might eventually say the same of Trump?

This week, in the midst of the same diversions of family and holiday, and after a full year of unbelievable hullaballoo, we can answer that question with conviction. The answer, in a word, is no.

Trump is incapable of following the pattern of any other President in history. While there are some who continue to cling blindly to their optimism, most of us are now convinced that the country is in the hands of an incompetent fool. He is, in the reasoned words of his own Secretary of State, a fucking moron, perhaps even mentally impaired, and very probably a criminal. Not only is there no chance of every seeing the common sense of Harry Truman, or the consensus building aplomb of Gerald Ford, or the charm and charisma of Ronald Reagan, the reality is that it is going to get much, much worse.

Of all of his failings and incompetence, Trump’s willingness to ignore the truth is the worst. His willingness to adopt anything from fabricated versions to bald face lies, and his intransigent refusal to correct even the slightest misstatements mark the complete absence of a moral compass. This failing was suspected of Trump from stories of his prior dealings and business relationships, but the clear demonstration of his complete disregard for the truth has provided incontrovertible evidence of this mortal failing – he is fundamentally a dishonest person, and this has become the standard of what the national press and the rest of the world have come to expect from the Trump White House.

As the year unfolded, Trump’s stupefying aversion to admitting any fact that was even the slightest bit adverse to him or his position, boggled. His penchant for reshaping even the most trivial of events to recast the circumstance into his favor, no matter how obvious the wrong or how easy it might be to ascertain the truth, and to insist that his version be the only acceptable report uttered from any official White House source – also boggled. If there was even the slightest negative cast to whatever event was being examined, a new version reshaped in Trump’s favor became the “alternative fact” – a phrase coined by KellyAnn Conway – to be repeated as often as required with an earnest and sincere look and without apology, and without any attempt to reconcile or harmonize anything to the actual events that really transpired.

To reinforce the distinctions, Trump began accentuating the differences by referring to the national or mainstream press version of events as “fake news” whenever there was an “alternative fact” distinction that Trump preferred. And yet, all of this is pure fiction, made up for the moment, coming from the Whitehouse is of no consequence for nothing of it seems to stick. As incredible as it may seem, these machinations on the part of Trump and his minions seem to be working. Remember Hesse’s predictions to the Third Reich on the value of propaganda?

Gallup Polls has surveyed American trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news fairly and accurately for the last 20 years. When Gallup first asked this question in 1998, over half of both Republicans (52%) and Democrats (53%) had confidence in news organizations generally. Until 2008, the overall percentage of those who generally trusted the media either a great deal or by a fair amount – both Republican and Democrat – was consistently above 50%. During the Obama years, the overall percentage slipped somewhat, to percentages in the mid 40’s, with the Republican responses trending somewhat below the Democrats.

But then, during the campaign of 2016 and first year of the Trump administration in 2017, the bottom fell out. The polls suddenly diverged significantly between Republican and Democratic responses, with Democrats generally staying much higher and indicating continued trust and confidence in the mass media while Republican responses plummeted to levels indicating significant corrosion. In the most recent examination, released in September of 2017 and reporting on polls conducted in March and July of 2017, Gallup reported that, of the Americans who believed the news media generally got the facts right, the Republican responders stood at 14%, the lowest percentage ever, with the Democrats at 62%, an increase well over prior periods.

Trump’s intent here seems obvious: to insulate and inoculate the hard right base from the growing mountain of facts pertaining to Trump’s fundamental incompetence - the boneheaded mistakes, the hair raising risks, and the firehose stream of faulty promises, misrepresentations, exaggerations and just plain pants-on-fire lies pouring out of every opening at the White House.

With his Cabinet sufficiently behind him and Congress in Republican hands, the machinery set forth in the 25th Amendment for declaring him incompetent poses no practical danger. He only has Mueller to worry about, and the danger of impeachment or indictment presented if Mueller finds criminal involvement. But if he can tamp the media response down, and slander Mueller sufficiently to cast doubt in the minds of the public upon anything he might report, he might weather the storm no matter what. If he can hold the public response to Mueller’s action to be nothing more than political outcries, it doesn’t matter what Mueller says; if its impeachment, the House probably won’t act. If it does, the Senate won’t convict. And if he makes it through without being convicted, the hard right might just renominate him anyway, even if Mueller does call him a crook.

If this is not enough to leave you talking to yourself, consider this. If Trump can keep his base insulated or inoculated from the mainstream caterwauling, and if Trump’s constant stream of lies, alternative facts and cries of fake news can wear down the barricades and crack the Independent voter’s level of trust and confidence in the media, or just leave him fed up and determined to go hide until it’s over, quelling the potential strength of any backlash uprising or protest demonstrations even further – Trump might just take the risk and fire Mueller outright, shortstopping the whole works.

And a Ho, Ho, Ho, to you, too.

(photo/Gage Skidmore)
 

How about listening (for a change)?

mckee

North Korea’s budding developments in nuclear weaponry coupled with its belligerent intransigence to world pressures for non-proliferation presents a significant risk to the entire world. These are not happy times, and most desperately hope that something can be done.

But mislabeling this tiny nation as a terrorist state is the wrong way to go.

Our President has already exacerbated the unfolding situation by an inexplicable stream of insults and derisive comments aimed at Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s dictator. He has confused the developing situation even worse by causing inconsistent and confusing diplomatic declarations to emanate from the Whitehouse, the Department of State, and the Department of the Defense. It does not appear that there is any coordination by President Trump or any of his Whitehouse spokespersons with either Secretary Mattis or Secretary Tillerson, as Trump repeatedly contradicts statements emanating from both.

He has deliberately cut the legs out from under Secretary Tillerson every time Tillerson appeared to be attempting to open channels for diplomatic discussions with North Korea, despite this being where the solution has to be found and despite this being what China’s Xi Jinping is advocating.

The upshot here is that circumstances in North Korea continue to appear unstable, and our action of unilaterally listing it as a terrorist state will not be helpful.

Shortly before setting out on his trip recent trip through Asia, Trump finally declared that he intended to allow China’s Xi Jinping to take the lead in working out a solution to the North Korea situation. This is a step that most experts in Asia affairs believe essential if any long term solution is to be found. Most noted with interest that once Trump made this declaration, the provocative actions and messages emanating from North Korea appeared to slow to a crawl. There were no tests or threats of tests of either missiles or weapons for some time, and no provocative tweets from the leader, Kim Jong-un. It is as if Kim was watching to see what China would propose and how Trump would respond, and was giving it all a chance by his inaction.

Trump, however, could not keep his mouth shut and has not kept out of Xi Jinping’s way. Our President continues to deride Kim Jong-un personally in in tweets and in speeches throughout his Asian tour. He continues to pressure Xi Jinping to impose harsher economic sanctions upon its neighbor. Finally, Trump recently announced that the United States would return North Korea to its list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” thereby paving the way for harsher economic sanctions to be imposed unilaterally by the United States.

By this action, the United States links North Korea with Syria, Iran and the Sudan, all notorious hot beds of radical Islam, fostering terrorist activities by al Qaeda and ISIS and their offshoots. There is no evidence that North Korea has any interest in radical Islam, or any connection to the activities of al Qaeda or ISIS.

To many knowledgeable students of Asian affairs, listing North Korea as a terrorist nation is a huge mistake. Although North Korea is a brutal dictatorship with few if any saving characteristics, it does not fit the description of a sovereign state sponsor of terrorism, and mislabeling the country will make diplomatic resolution of the problems that are actually presented that much harder. Trump has repeatedly expressed the importance of other nations demonstrating “respect” for the United States, but he has no understanding of the importance of the United States reciprocating with a demonstration of respect for others.

In particular, Trump clearly has no comprehension of the importance of “face” to the Asian culture. North Korea was insulted when George Bush lumped it together with the problem countries of the middle-east, referring to them all in an address to Congress as the “Axis of Evil.” The insult sabotaged efforts then to re-open negotiations towards nuclear non-proliferation. Trump’s actions today re-ignites the same insult, and may have the same result.

North Korea got itself put on the terrorist list once, for the 1987 incident of blowing a civilian South Korean airliner out of the sky, killing all aboard. It had also been selling weapons to known terrorist groups and harboring known terrorists who had fled to North Korea and sought sanctuary. North Korea renounced all terrorist activities shortly after being placed on the list, and kept itself out of this caldron of trouble until finally, in 2008, then-President George W. Bush de-listed it. This was as part of some attempts by the U.S. to move North Korea back into the non-proliferation pact nations, and was in exchange for North Korea’s agreement to dismantle a nuclear facility at Yongbyon. Although further attempts to get North Korea under the non-proliferation pact were unsuccessful, Bush did not renege on his agreement to de-list North Korea from the terrorists list.

Throughout all of Obama’s term, the United States repeatedly considered requests to put North Korea back on the list, but declined. The episodes raised as grounds for re-listing the country as a terrorist nation were considered military actions, not terrorist, or not sufficiently connected to terrorists activities. The decision of who to add to the list is exclusively that of the United States; this is not an international list in which any other country participates. The terms are not defined. The United States can do what it wants.

Kim Jong-un has consistently repeated the same explanation offered by his father and grandfather for building and maintaining a nuclear weapon capability: that he is not a terrorist but only intends to defend his country and the Kim legacy from being overrun by the West. It is plain wrong-headed diplomacy to lump North Korea in with al Qaeda, ISIS and the Arab nations supporting radical Islam, or with ISIS directly in the sponsorship of terrorist activities. The world’s particular immediate problem with North Korea is centered exclusively on its potential for developing a working nuclear weapon delivery system and the potential for a thermonuclear disaster. This is universally considered to be a military threat by a nation at war, not a potential terrorist activity.

The basic logistical requirements and the technical demands of sophisticated nuclear weaponry take any real threat of thermonuclear weaponry out of the realm of the terrorist entities. It is conceivable that terrorist groups might make use of nuclear devices that are less sophisticated – the so-called dirty bombs that might fit in a suitcase – but this technology is already widespread and not particularly exclusive to North Korea. There is no actual evidence that has been made available to the public that North Korea has any significant interest in these low-level terrorist activities. The world generally does not consider North Korea to be a threat through support of radical Islam, nor from any sudden and unexpected participation in terrorist activities there. From all appearances, its entire effort has been towards the development of thermonuclear devices and intercontinental delivery systems capable of reaching the entire world – which by definition and practical application is considered to be a national military endeavor.

It is time to overhaul our thinking in this area from the ground up. Get a big table set up and invite Kim Jong-un to come sit at it. Give Kim the stature and recognition he requests as a world leader on the nuclear stage. Consider, with the interests of China and Russia in mind, conditions under which North Korea may continue to control its arsenal of weapons for purposes of national defense. Examine the potential for economic development of North Korea, rather than economic oppression, as a more productive force for encouraging change. Leave the issue of reunification alone, to be dealt with over time by the people of the peninsula working independently and without external pressures.

Finally, after over 63 years, replace the general’s truce and get a peace treaty up to end the damn war. Then we can bring the tiny and unnecessary token combat force we have stationed over there home.

Maybe it’s time to take our foot off Kim’s neck and our thumb out of his eye and actually listen to him for a change.
 

Tillerson and the way out

mckee

Tillerson is an enigma. Most of the comment, from both sides of the aisle and all of the media, is that he is proving to be the least skilled and most ineffective Secretary of State in history. He has an inadequate staff and little support from those within his own department. He has developed no reliable connections in Congress. He has completely isolated himself, by his own choice, from the press. And he has more recently managed to wall himself into a corner with the White House.

In any ordinary times, his resignation would be inevitable. If General Kelly were not insisting that Trump make no more major staff changes until next year, he would probably be gone by now.

But these are not ordinary times. The world is on the brink of nuclear disaster unlike any presented since the height of the cold war, brought to a head by an ongoing volley of insults between Trump and the dictator of North Korea. Tillerson, alone in the Trump administration, advocates a diplomatic solution. He has expressly declared that a military solution would not be tolerable. His efforts are not, however, in line with the tenor of comment coming from the Whitehouse and elsewhere.

Trump, and the cabal of sycophants he has surrounded himself with, are far more inept and ill qualified to meet the international challenges than is Tillerson, as inept as he may be. Of all of the other voices within the administration weighing in on this matter, the most reliable sounds come from three hard edge military generals, who can only see military solutions to any problem, and a former hill-billy governor, who is trying hard but is already in way over her head.

The military solution does have a seductive appeal. So long as China stays out of it, the U.S. would probably prevail in any conventional military action on the Korean Peninsula, albeit at a horrible cost. Unless China comes to its aid, which it has said it will not do, North Korea does not have the economic capacity or the industrial substructure to sustain extended, full scale warfare. In the long run, this would mean success under the military approach, but a cost of potentially millions of lives in South Korea and perhaps Japan and Guam. Most objective commentators see this cost as too great to warrant the risk. Also, despite its promise, there is no guarantee that China would stay out, which would dramatically change all odds.

A diplomatic solution is not an off-the-wall pie-in-the-sky. North Korea was a full party to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty from 1984 to 2003. Kim Jong-il, then dictator of North Korea, walked away from the treaty obligations following the hostile remarks of President George W. Bush, who lumped North Korea in with Iran and Iraq in what he termed the “axis of evil.” When Bush launched the U.S. attack against Sadam Hussain and invaded Iraq, Kim Jong-Il disappeared into hiding for over two months, convinced that the U.S. intended to pursue him and invade North Korea next.

Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il and currently the dictator in sole control of the North Korean regime, has repeatedly stated that his buildup of nuclear and missile arms is for defense only, intended to prevent outside influences from attempting to overthrow his government. He is convinced that the United States intends to oust him from office, collapse the North Korean government, and bring about a reunification of the Korean Peninsula. This fear is neither surprising nor unreasonable, for this is exactly what every President from Dwight Eisenhower forward has declared to be the United States’ policy objectives for North Korea.

In response to world efforts to convince North Korea to return to the non-proliferation movement, the North Korean leaders have repeatedly stated five requests to be considered at any such discussion: (1) that the West stop promoting regime change or regime collapse; (2) that the West stop advocating reunification of the peninsula; (3) that the U.S. withdraw all forces from South Korea; (4) that the economic sanctions against North Korea be extinguished; and (5) the U.S. and its allies complete and ratify a formal peace treaty to formally end the Korean Conflict of the 1950s.

Up to now, the United States has refused even to discuss any of these requests. Instead, the U.S. has established what it terms is a non-negotiable, non-debatable condition that before any discussion of any issue with North Korea can occur, North Korea must first and immediately surrender all of its nuclear weapons. The United States insists that North Korea capitulate to this demand in its entirety before any discussion on any other topic will even be considered.

Every expert who has studied the issues and is familiar with Far Eastern cultures has expressed the view that this demand makes any accord impossible; no Far Eastern leader would willingly accept the loss of face and mark of disrespect that the capitulation demanded by the United States would entail.

Currently, Tillerson is the only voice actually advocating diplomacy. As long as he can hang on and weather the firestorm swirling around him, there exists the Pollyanna hope that he may prove to be the shining knight, due to arrive in the nick of time with a true solution. While Trump and Kim Jong-un are continuing to exchange insults and accelerate threats of disastrous consequences, Tillerson, according to David Ignatius of the Washington Post, is quietly working in backchannels, silently and away from the spotlight, to craft a broad diplomatic strategy to resolve the crisis. His plan is aimed at persuading China to take charge and lead a multi-national conference on the issue.

Most experts believe that for any diplomatic solution to succeed, participation by China is essential. China has a strong economic interest in sustaining a peaceful, diplomatic solution, as it has a common border with North Korea of almost 900 miles, shares a cultural history with the Korean people going back thousands of years, and has no desire to be dragged into a land war on the Asian Continent. The deep and long standing relationships between the two countries put the Chinese well positioned to understand, draw out, develop and implement the cultural underpinnings necessary to the success of any diplomatic resolution with the North Koreans – something the United States has repeatedly proven itself incapable of accomplishing, even with competent leaders running the show.

The huge problem Tillerson faces is convincing foreign officials that he speaks with any authority in light of the barrage of contradictory statements and twitter messages emanating from the Whitehouse, and Trumps’ demonstrated penchant for cutting the legs from under his cabinet officers. While Trump initially appeared to support allowing China to lead in the search for a diplomatic solution with North Korea, he almost immediately clouded the issue by first criticizing Xi Zenping in the manner of his approach and then threatening to impose sanctions upon China, because Trump did not believe Xi was acting swiftly enough. Trump appears to be incapable of keeping his nose out of it, but insists on continuing to direct and criticize, even when the outcome is in the control of others.

Tillerson, in his discussions being held behind the scenes with both Chinese and Russian resources, has indicated an interest in at least opening discussions with North Korea along any lines, just to get talks started. He is looking for China or Russia to broker and manage the beginning of any discussions, with the United States staying out of the way. He seems to indicate an understanding that any solution with North Korea will have to afford an acceptable degree of respect for the regime and its leader, and will have to be structured to allow Kim Jong-un the opportunity to save face.

An appropriate response to these proposals seems obvious to many onlookers: why not? Get the players around a table somewhere and get the talks open. See where it goes. Listen to the other side. Find out what they want. There is no necessity for an extensive pre-condition to just opening talks. No deal will happen without everyone’s agreement, but that agreement does not have to be pre-ordained to make the conference productive.

So far, Trump’s provocative tweets, and the formal statements emanating from the generals and others to explain Trump’s tweets, have all looked towards the military solution. Nevertheless, despite the firestorm of bad press, Tillerson is still at it, and has recently declared that he has no intention of quitting. Trump has declared that he has complete faith in Tillerson, and no intention of firing him. If this latter part is true, and Tillerson can keep from getting his rear end fired, he just might be able to find the way out.

He will, of course, have to stop calling Trump a fucking moron.

And nobody seems to care

mckeelogo1

What was once considered the immensely capable and respected United States Department of State, the entity responsible for carrying out the complicated details of our political, economic, cultural, humanitarian and military foreign policy throughout the entire world, and the entity most responsible for maintaining what was once the United States’ dominant position as the leader of the free world, is crumbling into oblivion. It is being systematically dismantled through the deliberate destruction, the negligent inattention, and the amateurish bumbling of President Trump and the bungling of his cabal of amateurs, including his Secretary of State Tillerson. Most of us are not paying attention, and nobody seems to care.

We have been refining and honing this massive administrative behemoth of a department to implement and carry out our foreign policy for over 75 years – through 37 Congressional elections, 19 Presidential elections, and 9 complete reversals in administration from one party to another. The tradition has long been that the core machinery of the State Department is apolitical – unchanged and unchanging throughout the entire period, despite the political swings of the nation and the various changes in administration.

At the beginning of 2017, the department was a huge, labyrinthine web of interconnected diplomatic resources headquartered in Washington, with tentacles to every corner of the world. It employed over 70,000 individuals. It was a Department that, on a moment’s notice, could marshal the knowledge of thousands of employees worldwide and channel the specifics on any subject directly to the office of the Secretary, making him the best informed principal in the world at any given time and on any given subject. No country could come even close to matching the depth of resources and thoroughness of the U.S. Department of State.

All of this is changing, and much of the change is irreversible. On the day President Trump took office, he demanded that every political appointee of a predecessor administration within Department of State resign or be fired. These were not requests for “as soon as your replacement is appointed” actions, but rather “clear out your desk right now” demands. All of the political appointees were gone by the following weekend. Of the political appointees at the very top level of State, only a handful of positions have been filled. The critical position of deputy secretary, and most of the key undersecretary posts, remain vacant.

As soon as Tillerson assumed his office at the head of the department, he began to weed out and discharge career service employees – the core of the department that usually does not change with changes in administrations. He announced an intent to implement a 37% reduction in force. Tillerson encouraged the early retirement of many senior foreign service officers and career specialists in his plans of reorganization, while others were just laid off upon the grounds that their positions were being eliminated in the downsize. Lateral transfers are prohibited. Tillerson cancelled the incoming class of foreign service officers – a step akin to the military deciding to forgo commissioning the graduating classes from the service academies. Current managers are being told that three positions must be eliminated to support replacing one open vacancy. One result of this meat-ax approach is that the seventh floor of the Department State – the true nerve center of foreign policy for the entire world – is virtually empty.

The crushing impact of all of these moves upon the career officials throughout the department is telling. Morale is very low. Resignations and early retirement from frustrated career employees are pouring forth, with few applications from qualified individuals to replace them. The remaining career employees, excluded from consideration of policy issues, with normal channels of reporting and networking disrupted or eliminated completely, and without access to information or guidance from leadership, are appearing to wander aimlessly.

All of the ambassadors who had been politically appointed by any previous administration were recalled and dismissed. Only a handful have been replaced, and none of these are in any critical hot spots. Most of the European countries and most of the Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan, have no ambassadors. In the critically important Pacific Rim, we have no ambassadors in Australia, China, Japan or South Korea. We only recently designated an ambassador to Russia.

The expectation that Tillerson would surround himself with knowledgeable experts in the specific areas where he lacked experience, did not happen. Instead, Tillerson has gone to outside consultants with no foreign service experience for the reorganization, ignoring the expertise available from within the department and paying no apparent attention to the relative value or importance to any of the particular positions and operations being eliminated. Tillerson eschewed building a personal staff with experience that he could rely upon; his staff, which in past administrations has approached 25 specialists in various areas, now consist of a chief of staff with no experience in state affairs and a former long range policy wonk. Two people. Period.

Both operate without immediate technical staff support and, according to some sources, are completely overwhelmed. They are not utilizing the resources of the department. They are suspicious of anything coming up the pipeline from career officials and yet do not have the knowledge personally. The result is that the entire operations of foreign policy being conducted by the Secretary or the President on almost a purely ad hoc basis. This has already involved critical interchanges where significant blunders have been made, involving China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, other states of the Middle East, the NATO allies, and Great Britain, Australia, Mexico, and even Canada. Canada!

While everybody is watching the machinations within the White House itself, no one is paying attention to the surging tides of foreign policy and the inadequacies of the United States’ responses that are forthcoming from State. While all of our attention is on the amateurs continuing to spin the White House into shambles, or upon the President continuing to fumble his way from one media disaster into another, nobody is paying any attention to what is happening a few blocks away at Foggy Bottom.

The marginalization of the core of our foreign service and the major disintegration of the diplomatic corps needed to carry it out is occurring right under our nose. The only one clearly cheering is Bannon from his new perch on the outside, crowing at last that the demise of the deep state is at hand. Experienced watchers now predict that it will take years to repair the damage already done the machinery of State, with worse yet to come.

And nobody seems to care.

On the media and crisis

mckee

We watch with slack-jawed disbelief as the unending gaggle of media – main stream, up-stream and other – completely swamp the 24 hour news cycle with the same subject, over and over. For way too long the media’s selection of the crisis de jour has been Russia’s Vladimir Putin in any direct activity in the United States, or any conceivable offshoot thereof. The scrutiny includes the principals of our new government and extends to all of the henchmen and hanger’s-on clear to the very top – into the oval office and upon the desk of our own old fool. The offshoots, also being thoroughly examined, include fibbing to any degree, money in all of its illegal permutations, and anybody just getting in the way.

All is the topic of legislative hearings by germane committees of the House and Senate, and all are on the plate of the special prosecutor. This amounts to picking over the bones of past events, which will take months before the pieces and parts will be identified and connected up sufficiently to draw any meaningful conclusions.

The absence of hard news or the existence of real evidence has not slowed down the media circus a whit. When they cannot find actual evidence or witnesses with knowledge to question, they interview each other and trade predictions and speculations back and forth with abandon. There are occasional interruptions for the snippet of a speech or press interview by somebody with actual knowledge, but save these few exceptions, the on-air time is overwhelmingly devoted to panel after panel of media notables interviewing each other.

Meanwhile, the world turns from one truly international catastrophe to another. There are the rumblings and endless fighting in Syria and Afghanistan, and the darkening clouds of war over Yemen and now Qatar. Trump has turned all of this over to the generals, and the generals are treating everything as a military problem. Nobody is paying attention. We are finding out about events in the press summaries and wrap-ups, with no examination of the why’s or wherefore’s.

The realities of Trump’s disastrous tour of the Middle East is beginning to spill forth. He is pressing Congress to approve a billion dollar arms deal with the Saudis despite strong, historical objection from the diplomatic interests, and mounting vociferous objection from the human rights crowd. Never mind that it will reverse what has been our policy for decades to move with great caution before providing arms to the Saudis. Nobody seems to care. The Saudis, believing they had our Old Fool in their pocket from the smarmy speech he delivered, jerked the rug out from under Qatar, a close ally of the U.S. and the location of a significant U.S. naval support facility and a major regional airbase. We are just now in the process of delivering an arms shipment to Qatar, including a passel of F-15 fighters. The whole works is rapidly turning into a roiling regional crisis, but nobody is paying attention. No one is listening.

Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia was obviously not cleared with the Secretary of State. It included a totally misguided diatribe against Iran, without mentioning that Iran had just re-elected a moderate leader, over significant objection of the Ayatollah and the hard liners, meaning huge prospects for improving future relations with the West. Our old fool slammed Iran, and continues to do so, without any consideration to the moderating government actions that may well stem from the renewed Rouhani regime. As should be obvious by now, stability in the region depends upon the development of stable, peaceful relations with Iran. Some cautious progress had been made in this direction under Obama; our old fool is doing his best to undo it all. Nobody seems to care.

In another jaw-dropping remark, he complemented Erdogan, the emerging dictator of Turkey, on the success of his obviously rigged election, as that country was continuing its apparent descent into totalitarianism. Turkey, still a member of NATO, is beginning serious overtures towards Putin’s Russia. The magnitude of international crises that is about to erupt because of these conflicts boggle; yet, nobody seems to be minding the store.

Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in the U.K. with disastrous consequences to the Tories, and probably to her hold on government. All of this may have lasting effect on the U.K.’s exit from the European Common Market. The U.S. is more interested in the personal insults the Trump handed to the Mayor of London. Trump had omitted a vital reference to our commitment to NATO from the speech he delivered to the European powers. His three senior cabinet officials, State, Defense and NSA, thought they had a deal that he would include the reference, and he thumbed his nose at them – and the rest of NATO – and left it out at the last minute. In the uproar that followed, Trump had to spend hours walking back this omission and assuring all who would listen that we truly do support NATO; in the process, and in the fashion we have come to expect, he managed to wing the Chancellor of Germany, the Prime Minister of Belgium, the new President of France, and the Mayor of London. His once planned formal State visit to the U.K. is now on hold until the public reaction to this most recent faux pas dies down.

In other times, any of these issues would be white-hot and on the front burner of every cooker in the media. Today, however, the media fastened on the delicious aroma of scandal, money and criminal involvement swirling around the Trump and his cabal of sycophants, to virtually the exclusion of all else, as the cognoscenti happily dismantle the hyperbolic fancies of Russian intrigue and clandestine money laundries, predicting with gleeful fervor exactly how the special prosecutor will probably plunge into his tasks and begin hauling miscreants before grand juries any day now. The mere fact of anyone on the other side of the fence even talking with a lawyer has become breaking news.

There is nothing to be done about this, of course. The “media” is a headless fiction driven by a myriad of influences, and certainly beyond the control of any single set of individual interests. And in any event, the problem is really not the media, it is the fire-hose volume of mishaps, accidents, oversights, slip-ups, errors, and bone-head mistakes spewing forth from the paralyzed, incompetent and ill-prepared office of the supposed leader of the free world. There is no way to keep up with any of it, let alone try to force a triage upon the media to analyze it all and rank the issues from most to least.

Congress has abdicated all responsibility here; it has become petrified, mired in its own intransigence, and incapable of any significant action. The rest of government is equally ill-equipped to respond to any important question. Most have unqualified leaders at their helm and all are only half staffed, if that. Hundreds of critical undersecretary positions spread through every cabinet agency are vacant because the Trump has declined to fill the positions. The Whitehouse itself is staffed with witless sycophants and bickering amateurs. And even here, nobody seems to care.

When will it all change? When again will reason and common sense return to the media, and we will again see the actual critical stories of the day, appropriately rated, ranked and analyzed with true efficiency?

It’s three years, six months, three weeks and a few days until the inauguration of our 46th president, but then, who’s counting. Take a deep breath and relax. How could it get any worse?

A matter of face

mckee

The Western cultures have misunderstood and underestimated the Oriental societies – China, Japan and the Koreas – and their levels of civilization, culture, political objectives and abilities for centuries. Some think we are no better at it today than the followers of Marco Polo and Jorge Alvares were in the 1500’s. As we watch the evolving failures in our attempts to meet the crisis presented by North Korea developing a nuclear threat of world class proportions, one wonders.

This tiny country, sometimes referred to as a hermit kingdom, has an economy that staggers along at the bottom of the bottom quartile, completely beholden to China for its basic existence. Its GDP, when last measured, was an estimated $25 billion in 2015 (compared with South Korea currently approaching $2.0 trillion) placing it 125th in the world (compared with South Korea at 11th.) The two nations were approximately equal in 1970.

Yet North Korea today possesses a nuclear capability second only to the major world powers in its ability to construct weapons. It has a refined intermediate range ballistic missile capable of reaching Japan and the U.S. military bases there, as well as any target in South Korea, and is on the brink of refining an inter-continental range delivery missile, capable of reaching the West Coast of the United States.

But to what end? While it might deliver a single weapon or two at these ranges, it has no capacity to sustain a nuclear attack on multiple targets, or to defend against the predicted mass retaliation that would result if it started something. We classify it with terrorist nations, but it has not sponsored terrorist activities itself since an airline disaster over 30 years ago, and has no apparent intention of doing so now. It does not consider itself an imperialistic nation nor is it beholden to any controlling religion. According to some close observers, the motive for the hermit kingdom’s quest is not to actually mount any attacks on South Korea, Japan or the United States, but merely to hold this power and this capability as a safeguard for their leader, first Kim Jong-il, now his son, Kim Jong-un, so he will not see the same end as Qaddafi in Libya or Hussein in Iraq.

To the mind of the North Korean, their strong nuclear capability is security; it is the only reliable guaranty of the country’s basic sovereignty, to ensure the continued Communist control and the rule of its despotic leader, Kim Jong-un. Once established, the maintenance of this position becomes a matter of “face,” a concept that does not translate accurately and Westerners have difficulty understanding. In this area, we appear to be missing it completely.

The United States keeps tripping over itself in missing or ignoring the Oriental concept of face, and the necessity of saving face, and the abhorrence of losing face in any transaction. From 1992 through 2002, North Korea was a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and there were no problems – at least not in this area. But it had aligned itself with Russia during the cold war fallowing the Korean Truce agreements, and this eventually lead George W. Bush to lump North Korea into the “axis of evil” countries in a speech he delivered in 2002. In the face of this insult, and with nowhere to turn, North Korea announced it was pulling out of the NPT and no longer considered itself bound.

When the U.S. started the Iraq war to upset Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il, father of Kim Jong-un and then leader of North Korea, disappeared for close to two months. Later, observers said he feared an assassination attempt from the United States.

From 2003 through 2009, North Korea reluctantly participated in multinational talks to attempt to resurrect the nonproliferation treaty. All during this time, North Korea was requesting unilateral talks with the United States, which would be consistent with the North Korean objective of being treated with the prestige due a world member of the nuclear club, and clearly an element of “face.” But the United States refused, and would only meet with North Korea in multinational conference. Finally the talks broke down in 2009, with officials from Pyongyang declaring that North Korea would never return to multilateral conferences. The United States has remained just as adamant that it will not participate in unilateral talks with North Korea. This stalemate continues to this day.

Into this background, Secretary of State Tillerson arrived and arranged a state visit to South Korea during the time of the annual joint military exercises. These exercises, which are an annual event for South Korean and U.S. forces in country, are typically based on defensive operations against aggression from the north. This year, however, they included several exercises involving hypothetical missions into the far north by special operations teams, to cut off or neutralize North Korean leadership. The change in mission structure was not missed by North Korean watchers.

In a speech in South Korea, Tillerson said that the United States was about to embark upon a “different approach” with North Korea, as the efforts of the past 20 years had failed. He said he was traveling to South Korea, Japan and China seeking views on the new approach. He did not, however, approach anyone from North Korea, nor in any way solicit their view on what was needed. According to the New York Times reports, he concluded his remarks by saying that he hoped to “deepen cooperation among the United States, Japan and South Korea ‘in the face of North Korea’s dangerous and unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs.’” He has provided no details.

Most recently, Tillerson ruled out reopening any negotiations directly with North Korea, stating, “The policy of strategic patience has ended.” He advised that capitulation by North Korea in denuclearizing and giving up their weapons was the only acceptable step.

To anyone paying attention, the demeaning and condescending aspect of the United States’ position towards North Korea as it has unfolded over the years seem obvious. If face was important, as it surely would have been, we consistently ignore that facet in our manner of action; we were and are and have been, in a word, the Ugly American personified. We are accustomed to being the world’s cop, or thinking that we are such, and having nations listen and obey to what we say. We manhandled North Korea over the years in the manner we bullied every minor country of lesser significance, and economic standing and totally dependent upon richer neighbors. We justify this by insisting that we were in the right; our interests were pure, justice was on our side, and world peace depended upon us. We could not be bothered with the arcane, inscrutable, and to us totally irrelevant, mysteries of saving face.

Except we must. It should be obvious that with very minor adjustments in the manner and timing of communications, the United States could convey exactly the same messages to North Korea, provide it with ample assurance of its sovereignty and the security of its leaders, and do so in a manner that allows the country and its leaders to “save face” and not “lose face,” as it complies with the world demands on nuclear proliferation.

At least, it would be worth a try. Do you suppose anyone will catch on before it’s too late?

Opportunity, challenge

mckee

After watching and listening to the charades between Trump and the President of China at Mar a Lago, together with the dearth of information coming from the Secretary of State as he continues his whistle-stop tour around world, the notion that our President and his posse of amateurs are going to get the best of China’s President Xi Jinping in anything more complicated that a game of rock-paper-scissors is more than worrisome.

While Xi neatly shuffled the economic issues down the road with a 100 day plan to continue “discussions,” of significantly more importance today is China’s position with regard to North Korea. In this area, we are acting like the spoiled child and China is the responsible adult in the room. Whether Trump and his advisers will see this and change course in time is becoming crucially important.

Secretary Tillerson, continuing our course down the wrong path, placed the United States right behind the eight-ball when he declared that no further discussions would be had with the North Koreans on the matter of nuclear proliferation; a declaration that is exactly 180 degrees from where we need to be. To make sure that the forthcoming disaster was not ignored, President Trump then told Xi Jinping at their dinner, and then confirmed it all in a series of tweets, that if China did not take steps to neutralize North Korea’s nuclear threat, the United States would do it alone.

This single-sentence threat to Xi has to rank among the dumbest things Trump has uttered on the international stage in his short term as President. Just exactly who does the Old Fool think is being backed into a corner? It sure as hell is not China! “Oh, you think you can do this without us? Well, why don’t you just go ahead and try?” Slam.

Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, of North Korea, is not backing down. He promptly announced an intent to conduct a nuclear test within the near future, and threatened that if the U.S. took any aggressive action at all towards North Korea, it would respond with attacks on U.S. bases in Japan and South Korea.

Not to be deterred, and in typical fashion, Trump doubled down and dispatched a carrier strike group, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson and its coterie of missile cruisers and destroyers, to the Sea of Japan off the Korean Peninsula, due to arrive in the next week or so.

So far, every threat from us has been met with a counter-threat from the North Korean government, increasing the stakes and repeating the positon that we, not they, are the aggressors here, and that any aggression from the United States will be met with immediate counterattack. Although it may be uncertain what China’s position would be if North Korea strikes first, China is treaty-bound to come to North Korea’s aid if we preemptively attack.

Now, if there is a war on the Korean Peninsula, and China stays out of it, there is no question from a military standpoint that North Korea would completely and quickly lose. North Korea may have a first-strike capability of intermediate range missiles and nuclear warheads that would inflict great damage upon all of South Korea and as far as the remote coasts of Japan, but it has no staying power, and it is completely incapable of sustaining any kind of war term. Our immense military capability would eventually prevail, no matter how extensive the initial destruction might be. However, although we would win this in the end, the devastation to South Korea and perhaps Japan from just the first strike would be horrendous.

If military action is started and China does get into it on the side of the North Koreans, the long term outcome is not at all certain. If it could be contained to the Korean Peninsula that would be one thing; if it spilled over, the premonition is WWIII. Macarthur’s caution of over 65 years’ ago, to avoid at all costs war on the mainland of Asia, which we repeatedly ignore to our everlasting regret, is as timely today as it was then. What has to be obvious is that is if we are to continue to attempt to escalate the military situation anywhere in the Orient, things cannot improve – ever. So long as a military intervention appears imminent, any action by either side will mean an utter and complete world-wide catastrophe.

What is required of us is that we totally upend our present foundations and foreign policy thinking towards China and North Korea and completely reset the dialogue in a new direction. We must realize that the despotic leader of the hermit kingdom can only be cajoled off the ledge of thermonuclear war, and ideally into coughing up his stash of nuclear weapons, through diplomatic means, and that the increasing demands and threats of military action from us do not work but will lead to disaster.

This means we must abandon our time-honored bullying tactic of threatening forthcoming military action if our demands are not being promptly obeyed. We must de-fuse the situation militarily. We should take back the threat we made to Xi, recall the Navy strike force, and assure the Koreans – both North and South – and all of Asia that we have no intention of precipitating military action of any kind. And then we must get out of China’s way in order to allow it to work out a negotiated agreement with North Korea.

We must recognize that we are the wrong entity to lead on a diplomatic solution to this problem. The country with the depth of knowledge, cultural skill and political clout sufficient to pull this off is the despot leader’s next door neighbor, China, which also has an intense interest in seeing North Korea back into the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, and the elimination on its northern border of the war-like attitudes of the supreme leader. China understands the North Koreans, understand its leader, and understands the importance and nuance of “face” and of allowing Kim Jong-un a way out of this mess without a loss of face. It is clearly in China interest to see this happen, and Xi has as much as said so. He does not need blustering threats from our Old Fool to do what needs to be done.

While remonstrating against Trump for his overbearing position, China has still invited the U.S. to cooperate. “Military force cannot resolve the issue,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned recently. But then he said, “Amid challenge there is opportunity. Amid tensions we will also find a kind of opportunity to return to talks.”

The huge question remains, is there anyone listening who can get this to Trump in time, or will the generals win out and insist on blowing something up first?

Hawks take charge

mckee

Dozens of civilians, including more than 20 small children, living in the rebel held Idlib province of northern Syria, were killed by poisonous gasses – perhaps sarin – claimed to have been delivered in a Syrian air strike on the command of Bashar al Assad. The entire world is appalled, with a groundswell of outrage erupting from all quarters.

The immediate reaction of the President of the United States was to blame Barack Obama. Secretary of State Tillerson answered press inquiries with a terse “No Comment.” The only adult response came from former governor Nikki Haley, now U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Haley, whom many thought was in way over her head, took to the floor of the General Assembly to assail the perpetrators of the heinous act, to lambaste the Russians for their probable roll in it, and to demand a full international investigation. There was a plausible if improbable claim by Russia, Iran and Syria that the gas was in rebel storehouses, set off accidently by the conventional air attack. A draft resolution, joined by Britain and France, called for a full investigation by the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the proper United Nations body charged with responsibility for such outrages.

However, without waiting for any action by the U.N., without conferring or consulting with any of our allies, without conferring with any Congressional leaders, and without any confirming evidence on the facts surrounding the tragedy to make sure we had it right, President Trump did an abrupt U-turn from an unbroken chain of campaign promises and previously declared statements of policy, and ordered a retaliatory airstrike on a Syrian airbase near Damascus. It is reported that he staffed the mission with General McMasters and Secretary Mattis but not Secretary Tillerson, indicating that consideration was given only to a military response; a diplomatic solution was not even considered.

That the attack might violate international law, be contrary to the United Nations Charter to which we are a signatory, was without authorization of Congress, and was contrary to the repeated promises made during his campaign and the first three months of his term, apparently were of no concern to the White House and its cabal of advisers.

Cost of the attack to the U.S. is close to $94 million. The unit cost of firing a Tomahawk missile from a naval resource is $1.59 million a pop, and we deployed two Navy destroyers into the Eastern Mediterranean to deliver 59 of them into Syria. Reported results include some aircraft shelters and military fortifications blown up, 17 aircraft destroyed, and some reparable damage to runways and tarmac. The airbase was back in operation within hours.

Five soldiers on the base were killed, including perhaps one Russian. Two stray missiles struck villages near the airbase, killing nine and wounding thirteen civilians, including women and at least four children.

When the news was announced, we started by exchanging high-fives and congratulating ourselves for a “proportionate” response. By Sunday morning, as the full extent of the action and the beginnings of the consequences that are going to flow started to sink in, more sobering thoughts began to surface.

Russia has cut the communications link with us in Syria that allowed the two countries to coordinate ground and air operations to avoid firing upon each other. Future operations in country will be immeasurably more dangerous until and unless this communications link is restored. No one knows yet what reaction our soldiers in Syria will encounter from individual Syrian soldiers for the U.S. airstrike – if any. The irony of the death of innocent children being included in as part of an appropriate response to the death of innocent children cannot be explained – so it is simply being overlooked; it is not being mentioned. It is uncertain what Trump’s policy is now – was this strike a one-off, not to be repeated, or the start of a new policy to be put into place in the Middle East? Secretary Tillerson says it’s nothing new, but Trump talks about “being flexible.” It is not clear what this means.

One thing is certain: our foreign policy position worldwide, our relations with Russia, our standing the Middle East, and our position with our allies will not be the same. Obama’s developing policy of cooperation and conciliation has gone out the window. There is no question that the sudden attack on Syria sent a strong message around the world to our allies and foes alike – but it is not at all certain exactly what that message was. A prominent Senator on a morning talk show characterized it as a loud “Bleep you!” to anybody who opposes us.

The hawks are back in charge and are serving notice that the U.S. is once again the world’s top cop. And judge. And jury. And executioner.

How could it get any better?

Once more

mckee

What a mess. Escalation in the Middle East should have our hair on fire. Instead, our attention is focused on the fascinating machinations of the Old Fool and his minions trying to stay out of their own way, as the connections between his cohorts and Putin’s Russia continue to unravel.

The situation could be safely under the watchful eye of Secretary Tillerson, but with his undermanned and poorly resourced State Department, he is already fully occupied with a disturbing situation evolving in North Korea and a major state visit from the Chinese leader Xi Jinping due within a week. The reticent Secretary has released no details of these events or his intentions – but they both have world shaking possibilities embedded within. They have captured what is left of the imagination of the commentariat, when it is not focused on the Russian conspiracies, real or fictitious. There does not appear to be any time in the Secretary’s schedule for matters pertaining to the military situation in the Middle East.

As to the media, with these new events coming on stage soaking up all the spotlights, the U.S. involvement in the Middle East has apparently become passé, a matter of ho-hum, to be relegated to the end roundup on the nightly news and the back pages of the daily tabloids. Nobody seems interested, and nobody wants to be bothered. Nothing could be worse.

Consider: Contrary to Obama’s promises and the campaign promises of everybody, American forces are now fighting on the ground at the front lines in the Syrian siege at Raqqa, with close to 500 troops on the ground and more expected. We have become central to the Iraqi siege of Mosul, in both ground and air operations there, with over 5,000 troops in country and more expected. We have expanded our involvement in Yemen considerably beyond that of last year; drone attacks last month, for example, exceeded the strikes of last year. Increased support is expected to continue. Military operations in Afghanistan continue without let-up, which has slowed if not stopped the once-planned reduction in forces there.

All of this is being accomplished without fanfare and without any uptick in political or diplomatic planning, without any redefinition of the military mission or any end strategy in any of these areas, and without Congressional authorization. Information flow from Defense has been curtailed considerably, and from State is non-existent.

With the burgeoning influence of ISIS and Al Qaeda, Obama was being drawn into evolving events in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but was attempting to limit the actual engagement of American forces in any fighting on the ground, trying to emphasize that diplomatic solutions and political planning were the key to any significant progress in these regions. Major command decisions on all military operations, down to specific air strikes and drone attacks, were kept in the Whitehouse, in an endeavor to maintain tight control over any escalation of military operations, and to reduce civilian casualties.

Since the administration change in January, responsibility over Middle East affairs appears to have been transferred to or assumed by the Department of Defense under Secretary Mattis. The reports are that General Mattis is coordinating everything with the National Security Advisor McMaster and Secretary of State Tillerson, but since the involvement is primarily military, General McMaster and Secretary Tillerson consider General Mattis, at Defense, to be primary.

The White House has no expertise in the area of military management of operations. The Old Fool has demonstrated that he is not capable of assimilating complex details of anything beyond bumper-sticker simplicity, and he has no one on his personal staff that is any better qualified. Bannon has some military experience, but nothing in the area of foreign policy or Middle Eastern affairs. No one else comes close. Most of the Whitehouse staff positions that existed under Obama remain unfilled – and deliberately so.

The State Department under Secretary Tillerson has been severely hampered in carrying out its responsibilities by the lack of resources. The entire top-tier level of the department was either fired or resigned when Trump took office, and none of the major positions have been filled. Tillerson’s attempt to secure an experienced deputy of his choosing was derailed by Whitehouse infighting or intervention. The department’s critical positions of both deputy secretaries, all six undersecretaries, and most of the assistant secretaries remain empty. Tillerson is apparently operating the entire Department with little more than his personal staff.

This means that the U.S. involvement in the Middle East is now essentially under military control of the Pentagon and without civilian oversight. Under General Mattis’s direction, operational control of military operations below policy level has been moved forward to Central Command, and from there to subordinate units as required. The immediate result has been easier and faster airstrike and ground response. However, while there has been no change in the rules of engagement or in the requirement for consideration of civilian casualties in operational planning, there has also been a dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties being suffered in the areas of U.S. involvement. While under the existing military conditions, the military defeat of ISIS seems inevitable, ISIS keeps evolving and the tactical considerations keep changing. The military, political and diplomatic complexities boggle.

Does history repeat itself? Reliance upon the generals was what got us up to our collective necks in Viet Nam. Secretary of Defense McNamara and President Johnson both admitted long ago that they abdicated their responsibility of civilian oversight and allowed the generals to hold sway over both military and policy decisions in Viet Nam, and that this was a huge mistake.

I do not question the capabilities or motivations of General Mattis and the military command out of the Pentagon. I have no doubt that Mattis firmly believes he has the best interests of the nation at heart. But there is truth to the adage, “Where the only tool is a hammer, all the problems become nails.”

History teaches that it is essential that there be broad policy oversight from the civilian perspective to counterbalance the military point of view. It is essential that all the tools available be out of the box and included in the planning and implementation of policy. As it stands, this important civilian counterbalance appears to be missing in the oversight structure in place over operations in the Middle East at this time. The Whitehouse does not have the capacity or capability and the Department of State does not have the resources to monitor the developing situation effectively.

The numbers are relatively small today – just as they were in Viet Nam in the middle 1960’s. But surely we recall how quickly those numbers accelerated.

What could possibly go wrong?

Three questions

mckee

Three huge questions remain after Trump’s signature objective of repealing and replacing Obamacare imploded with a resounding fizzle last week.

First, will the Democratic center stop strutting and cackling and get down to the business of repairing the Affordable Care Act?

Second, will the Republican center stop griping and blaming each other, and get busy working something out with the Democrats?

Third, if reason and common sense finally prevails, and Congress demonstrates an ability to actually govern by passing a true coalition bill that patches up the problems and gets the ACA on its feet in all areas, all tuned up and ready to perform as promised – will Trump sign the bill so we can get on with it?

The Freedom Caucus hard-liners on the extreme right are already beginning to fold their arms and declare their intention to do nothing, in the expectation that Obamacare is about to collapse. Yet, despite what the Republican mantra has been, the overwhelming evidence is that the ACA is not in any danger of imploding or blowing up, and is not in any semblance of a death spiral. Enrollment is up, premiums are up some, but not nearly as bad over-all as the Republicans have claimed, and by most economic measures and in most areas, the act is stronger this year than last. While there are serious problems in some areas, and the problems area are more likely to get worse unless something is done, the predictions generally are that overall, the program is more likely to continue to improve. There is simply no serious question that the ACA is here to stay.

The notion that Trump and the hard liners can just wait for the end to arrive on its own means disappointment for everybody all around. The pockets and neglected areas will suffer, and some of these are good sized areas – a few whole states, for example. If this continues, when the counting-up time comes, the Republicans will get the blame if they sit on their hands and refuse to help, since they are the ones with their hands on the levers.

On the other hand, the left edge has suddenly come to life and has begun to promote the virtues of government sponsored and financed single payer – the concept of Medicare for everybody. They point with sincere enthusiasm to all of Europe and the rest of the industrialized world, where health care is considered a fundamental right, a responsibility of the government, and otherwise free to all. Every other country uses some form of government sponsored, single payer except us. And we even use it for our most precious – our children, our elders and our injured warriors. Senator Bernie is already on the stump, and others are beginning to rumble. If a groundswell gets started, and the gals in their funny hats decide to climb aboard, it may be difficult to redirect the effort.

The Democrats could not get single payer, or Medicare for everybody, or government sponsored health care, even out the starting blocks the last time this subject was on the table, eight years ago when the ACA was actually adopted, and when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency. They barely got the ACA adopted, and had to use the ruse of budget reconciliation to get that done. It would seem the height of political naiveté to believe that now, just because the right wing got dumped for being too far right, that there is some momentum to look at a far left solution. By everything that is real and practical, the solution has to come from the middle.

This being said, there are still plenty in Congress – both houses – who march in the vicinity of the middle and who, if their leadership will get out of the way, could pull off a deal with no more consternation than a walk in the spring rain. The measures needed to improve the ACA are well known. Some were actually included in the Republican bill. If deals are honored, if markups are constructive rather than tactical sabotage, if the House drops the Hastert rule and the Senate suspends the filibuster rule – no problem.

Actually, all that really has to happen is for both sides to give up ownership of the fix and of the right to blame. Just make it a true coalition effort.

Pies in the sky? Probably, unfortunately. One drumbeat of the Freedom Caucus, for example, has been to get the federal government out of the picture and leave it to the states. Look at our own Idaho legislature; it has completely bottled up every single effort by anybody to address the issue of healthcare for the uninsured in Idaho. It has refused to go along with the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, and has thereby lost hundreds of millions of dollars to Idaho. Our Congressional delegation stands in a tight circle right in the center of it all, resolute, eyes tight shut, with dueling pistols at the ready, pointed inward. The politics may simply be insurmountable.

And then, even if it did happen over all this hoopla, the $64 thousand final question would still have to be, will the Old Fool sign the damn thing? Any bets? Any predictions?

Anybody holding their breath?