Worst-Case Scenarios Could Now Beckon

It’s worth repeating that an ironically ominous political scenario would be Trump supporters having to say: “Yeah, he was my guy. Damn right. He hated what I hate, grabbed what I grab and sounded like my drinking buddies. I was with him every step of the way right up until …” Fill in the foreboding blank. We may have reached that menacing point.

It happens when you assassinate an iconic official, however heinous, of another country in a de facto declaration of war. Gen. Qassim Suleimani was no Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, stateless terrorists. The Baghdad Airport assassination of this general, the second-most important person in Iran, is an act of war. As a result, the U.S. also created a rally-around martyr that is unifying a country–one that had been unraveling domestically–against America.

Now we face the fraught reality of the Muddled East with its ballistics and bluster, an impulsive imposter as U.S. president and a necessarily go-it-alone strategy sans allies that returns us to terror alert. And now we are sending 4,500 more Army troops into harm’s way into Iranian–and Iranian-proxy–cross hairs.

The impetus was President Donald Trump unconscionably withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. Yes, it was imperfect; but it was perfectly counterproductive to opt out unilaterally. Trump never liked it principally because his predecessor, Barack Obama, signed on. But so did Iran, England, France, Germany, the European Union–as well as China and Russia. The 2015 deal also had the approval of the United Nations Security Council, NATO and the International Atomic Energy Agency. But Trump wanted the U.S. out; hell, he had campaigned on it along with getting out of the Climate Control accord. Can’t disappoint the base, even if it makes the U.S. and the rest of the world worse off. What ramifications of recklessness?         

For those speculating that part of the Trump strategy was a diversion from impeachment and to look like a tough guy, well, Iran does diversions and tough-guy theatrics as well. They had been enduring sanction-induced turmoil and bloodshed in their streets with plenty of animus directed at their own. Now this. Game-changer. Iran rallies around a “martyr” against the “infidel” and “God is great; America is evil” chants are back as daily optics. Thanks again, Mr. President, and, oh yeah, Iran has now exited the nuclear deal and the Parliament of Iraq, where so much American blood has been spilled, has officially told the U.S. to get the hell out.

Retaliation and escalation, including cyber attacks, are givens; as are impulsive, chaotic responses, including American threats to target Iranian cultural sites. Collateral damage, likely asymmetrical, is coming. But American lives will be lost. Again.

One other thing. Go back to America’s Vietnam experience. We were the French Indo-China and domino-defending aggressor napalming another country. Over time, many Americans expressed outrage. But supposing, say, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had been assassinated by the Vietcong. No, it’s not a precise analogy to Suleimani, but could have been, however perverse, rally on.

Trumpster Diving

* “It Can’t Happen Here.” “1984.” “The Manchurian Candidate.” “Night of Camp David.” “Seven Days in May.” The list keeps growing. Will we add  “Dr. Strangelove”?

* Don’t look for  Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Acolyte,  to be any less sycophantic toward Trump despite the White House’s lack of Congressional consultation over matters of war. But let’s not forget that not long ago he sponsored legislation that would have mandated that the president obtain explicit congressional approval before going to war with Iran. That was Gaetz then. Fealty to the Oval Orifice matters above all.

* “Gangster-like.” How North Korean leader Kim Jong Un characterized U.S. pressure on his country’s nuclear capabilities. Imagine how he would have referenced it if he and Donald Trump didn’t have a world-stage bromance going on.

* Donald Trump, who wouldn’t know a communion plate from a collection plate, returned to his new home state for a bible-fondling love-in with duped and deluded evangelicals in South Florida. How unsurprising that he began his remarks by celebrating an assassination. It went over well. Nothing surprises when the fawning, hypocritical King Jesus International Ministry is officially launching and celebrating the oxymoronic “Evangelicals for Trump.”

* Rudy Giuliani would be perfectly cast by Goethe. A respected prosecutor. “America’s Mayor” after 911. Now he’s Trump’s miscalculating, all-purpose lotion boy. From Fox to Ukraine. Speaking of Trump, he’s not a Faustian sort. Have to have a soul to begin with.

Dem Notes

* No, there are no defensible upsides to what the U.S. has escalated by taking out Iranian Gen. Qassim Suleimani. But it’s likely that former Vice President Joe Biden benefits politically.  He has first-hand foreign policy chops and no learning curve. He would be the polar opposite of an uninformed, impulsive narcissist trying to look like a tough guy when he’s not trying to look like a guy who hates stupid wars. However flawed and gaffe-prone, Biden’s been an international player and knows the game. Yes, there will be that congressional vote regarding Iraq, but the WMD lies had everything to do with it–as Hillary Clinton and most other non neo-con members of Congress can attest. When the foremost priority is removing an existential threat–before pivoting to domestic priorities–Biden benefits.

* Julian Castro is officially out as a Democratic presidential candidate and has officially endorsed Elizabeth Warren. But his proposal for a “Marshal Plan” for Central America should still be very much in play. Moreover, he’s still in the mix for a place on the ticket–just as he was in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was the nominee.

* “The answer is, I would, but I can’t think of one right now.”–Joe Biden, in answer to a stump question asking if he would consider choosing a Republican as a running mate.

* “We cannot afford the degree of recklessness and political immaturity among some who conclude that unless my candidate wins, I’m taking my ball and going home. That is what delivered Donald Trump the first time.”–Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., a member of the House Democratic leadership.

* “Yang Gang.” What Andrew Yang’s online following is known as. BTW, Yang, nationally unknown barely a year ago, raised more than $16 million last quarter, more than Biden had raised in the previous (third) quarter. Never know anymore with debate optics, a protean electorate and nanosecond news cycles. But at least they’re not known as the Yang Bangers.

Media Matters

* Another sign of the times: The Tampa Bay Times recently included a note to readers about making tax-deductable donations to the paper to support investigative journalism. We get it. These are challenging times and investigative journalism, never more necessary, is imperiled. But it would be prudent if the Times would also promise to invest donations in copy editors, proof readers and seasoned news judgment.

* Spoiler alert: If you’re planning on checking out Amazon’s “One Child Nation” documentary, be prepared for more than interviews and rationalizations about that beyond-shameless Chinese family-planning policy. More graphic than sonograms: That’s when we stopped watching.

Foreign Affairs

* Japan made news recently for executing its first foreigner–a Chinese man convicted of murder–in 10 years. It was also a reminder that Japan and the U.S. are the only two countries in the Group of Seven advanced nations that retain the death penalty.

* Say what? Russia’s Vladimir Putin, hardly an avatar of geopolitical veracity, also has a revisionist shtick. He recently claimed that Poland bears blame for the outbreak of World War II. “Fake news?” Not, presumably, if it emanates from on high. No wonder he gets along well with his American counterpart.         

* If Boeing wants to do everything it conceivably can to make sure that the international market for its 737 Max is convinced of its safety, here’s a suggestion. Make sure there’s a serious Boeing corporate presence, starting with new CEO Dennis Mullenburg, on board for high-profile test flights and a number of early prominent commercial flights, starting with Ethiopian Airlines and Indonesia’s Lion Air. Boeing has to be totally on board as it repairs relationships with regulators, airlines and, most importantly, passengers.    

Quoteworthy

* “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.”–President Donald Trump, on ordering a drone strike that killed Iran’s top military leader, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

* “He doesn’t crave war, nor do I.”–Rep. Matt Goetz, R-Fla.

* “The message to all those who mean harm to America is loud and clear.”–Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

* “First step toward regime change in Iran.”–Former national security adviser John Bolton.

* “Harsh retaliation is waiting.”–Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

* “The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operations.”–Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in announcing that Iran will no longer abide by the limits contained in the 2015 nuclear deal.

“As reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”–Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn.

* “The world cannot afford another war.”–U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

* “A further escalation that sets the whole region on fire needs to be prevented.”–German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

* “What always kept both Democratic and Republican presidents from targeting Suleimani himself was the simple question: Was the strike worth the likely retaliation, and the potential to pull us into protracted conflict?”–Rep. Elissa Slottkin, D-Mich., a former CIA and Defense Department official.

* “Beijing’s dilemma is that ‘one country, two systems,’ always an exercise in creative ambiguity, is broken.”–Roger Cohen, New York Times.

* “Stay tuned, there will be more actions aimed at restricting their sources of income. We’re looking for ways to restrict, restrict, restrict their freedom of action until they change their ways, which is a hard thing to foresee given their history, 61 years of nothing but repression and decline.”–Michael Kozak, acting assistant secretary of state for Latin America, on the current U.S. policy of maintaining “maximum pressure” on Cuba.

* “I have been in some kind of fight–for freedom, equality, basic human rights–for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”–U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., in announcing that he has advanced pancreatic cancer.

* “In an era of data overload and short attention spans, it’s not the most reliable, trustworthy material that goes viral–it’s the loudest voices, the angriest, most outrageous posts that get clicked and shared.”–Michiko Kakutani, author of “The Death of Truth.”

* “It’s a strategy that we have to expose because they insist on these politics of fear. It’s a return to McCarthyism.”–Leopoldo Martinez, the first Venezuelan-born member of the DNC, on the Republican strategy of playing the “socialism” card.

* “Developed economies that are maturing that have demographic headwinds are going to face many of the same things Japan has been facing over decades. It’s almost inevitable.”–Joseph Amato, president and chief investment officer of equities at Newberger Berman.

* “We have to say unapologetically that we believe in capitalism, except we believe in a more compassionate form of it.”–Former Tallahassee mayor and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

* “Teamed with a resilient job market, low mortgage rates have helped boost home buyer demand.”–Matthew Speakman, economist at (real estate data provider) Zillow, on the impact of mortgage rates falling from 4.6 percent to 3.7 percent in the past year.

* “Overall, consumer sentiment among Floridians remains high.”–Hector Sandoval, director of the economic analysis program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the nation’s economic output.

* “We definitely think it ought to be Florida.”–Dale Ketcham, Space Florida’s vice president of government and external relations, on where the command center for Space Force, the nation’s newest military branch, should be located.

* “I made a promise during my campaign that the NRA would have no influence over me or our department. I stand behind that promise.”–Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Trumpster Diving

* I hope I’m wrong, but I think that ultimately Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who’s been critically outspoken about the impeachment proceedings and is hardly a Trump sycophant, will vote to acquit. For the record, Murkowski has said she is “disturbed” by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge to collude with the White House. She doesn’t want to “pre-judge.” She doesn’t want to work “hand in glove with the defense.”

But will she paint herself into a non-fealty, Democratic-siding corner?

She could pull a Marco Rubio, known to occasionally differ with Trump to affirm that he’s still his own person, and then vote to support the big priorities. Murkowski could say, in effect: “I am nobody’s rubber stamp. I won’t rush to judgment because that’s what my party and this president want. I won’t support a sham trial with a pre-ordained verdict. That’s not who I am or what the American people want–or need.

“But having objectively looked at all the evidence, I honestly don’t find it so compelling that it reaches the level of impeachment. Deeply disturbing, to be sure. I get the uproar, but it’s shy of why we should remove a president elected by the people. I can live with my vote because I’ve done my due diligence, not because I slavishly follow party and presidential dictates.”

I hope I’m wrong. And that goes for the equivocating Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mitt Romney (Utah), who might still want to be secretary of state–and maybe long shots Cory Gardner (Colorado) and Rob Portman (Ohio) too.

* Trump was impeached over abuse of power involving the strong-arming of Ukraine, a vulnerable ally, for personal political gain. Why should anyone be surprised? It’s the geopolitical extension of the Trump MO. Not unlike using overwhelming leverage against Queens sub-contractors.

* So look who spent Christmas Eve with the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago: The Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin and his wife. BTW, Ovechkin is a close friend of Vlad Putin. At least Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov weren’t there.

* We now know that Trump retweeted, then deleted a post that included the alleged name of the anonymous whistleblower whose revelation ultimately led to the president’s impeachment. If nothing else, this is at serious odds with federal protection laws that exist to protect the identity, careers and, possibly, lives of those who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. Unfortunately, we can’t delete the reality that Trump tweets to 68 million followers.

* “… Foster a culture of deeper understanding and respect, traits that exemplify the teachings of Christ.”–That’s what Donald Trump urged Americans to do in his Christmas message. Maybe Mike Pence fell for it.

* It’s weird that England, a critical geopolitical and trade partner of the U.S.–especially in the post-Brexit era–still hasn’t appointed an ambassador to the U.S. The previous ambassador, Kim Darroch, was basically run out of town this summer after his cables disparaging the Trump White House as “dysfunctional” leaked to the media. Can only imagine how Darroch couched his comments when not observing diplomatic protocols.

* The stock market, as we’ve been seeing, continues to climb to historic heights. Overall, that’s very good, of course, even if doesn’t directly impact the bootstraps demographic. But at some point, one of the immutable laws of economics could kick in: Uncertainty is always unwelcome. That ominously remains an ever-present reality, if not certainty, in an era when the most powerful and influential person in the world remains unhinged, unpredictable and dangerously unfit.

Dem Notes

* Cory Booker hasn’t qualified for upcoming debates, but he still has, ironically, a forum that some of his rivals don’t. He’ll be part of the Senate’s impeachment jury. No, it’s not the same as sharing the candidate stage with your competition, but it’s a reminder that he remains a player in this beyond-bizarre, multi-faceted process. And Booker, as we’ve seen, is not reluctant to take advantage of such an opportunity.

* “This is about making markets work.”–That was Elizabeth Warren recently in a pragmatic pivot to get some separation from Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist who is closest to her on the progressive spectrum. Hard-core Democrat Warren has ardent supporters; the politically ambiguous Sanders has a rabid, zero-sum fan base and the endorsement of media-courting Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Separation isn’t that hard.

* Sanders remains the elephant in the room. He will not be the nominee, but not unlike 2016, enough of his “Bernie or Bust” zealots could sit out the election and help enable Trump to triumph AGAIN. America loses when stubborn ideals morph into stupid self-destruction. Maybe Larry David can hit the hustings and help make the case for what’s at stake if we’re saddled with another four years of this un-democratic, non-Democrat alternative.

* “No Malarkey”: Joe Biden’s campaign bus.