There's a big conference going on at the moment in Brussels, where the bipartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy – a group of journos, pols, and intelligence vets from around the West – is holding a conference to discuss how to rebuild the world order in a "time of distrust."
Speakers like Madeline Albright, Senator Chris Murphy, New York Times correspondent Steven Erlanger, U.S. NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and a host of other CNN panelist types are getting together to discuss how to solve that whole "The people are revolting!" problem Beltway pols have been stumbling over for years now.
The Alliance is part of the German Marshall Fund, which in turn is the group that built Hamilton 68, whose "digital dashboard" blacklist site exists to remind us daily that Russians are lurking behind basically all unorthodox opinions here in the U.S. Such opinions apparently include any desire to not get into a nuclear war.
For instance, according to Hamilton 68, five of the Russian bots' current six "top trending topics" are "South Korea," "Kim Jong Un," "Kim," "Jong" and "Un."
This comes in the wake of Thursday evening's news that Trump met in the White House with South Korean envoys, who in turn announced that Trump would be meeting with Kim Jong Un "by May, to achieve permanent de-nuclearization."
I stupidly thought it was good news that Trump had been convinced to sit down with Kim Jong Un to negotiate an end to the nuclear standoff, as opposed to letting him continue to egg Kim on to launch via Freudian name-calling sessions and late-night tweets.
Obviously, whenever Donald Trump is involved in any meeting of import, and particularly a peace negotiation, it would be preferable to have him gagged, perhaps with the straitjacket-and-mask setup they used to allow Hannibal Lecter to speak with Senator Ruth Martin in Silence of the Lambs. Certainly you don't want him making any sudden movements toward the nuclear football in a meeting with Kim. But talking is for sure better than trading warheads. Right?
Nope. According to David Ignatius, the well-known Washington Post reporter who apparently is also on the board of this Alliance For Securing Democracy, Trump's negotiation plan is a sign of weakness.
Ignatius wrote as much in a column this morning called "Trump is Wile E. Coyote," in which the Post writer relayed that his CIA buddies think Trump is getting pantsed by Little Rocket Man. Here's the lede:
"Beep beep" was the subject line of an email message I received a few weeks ago from former CIA analyst Robert Carlin, as Kim Jong Un was accelerating his diplomatic charm offensive. "So typical," wrote Carlin in his brief text. "The North Koreans as Road Runner, the U.S. as Wile E. Coyote."
So to recap: Russian bots are pushing Korean peninsula-related hashtags, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, whose board member David Ignatius is simultaneously telling America that negotiating an end to an unprecedented nuclear danger there makes us look like loser cartoon characters.
As Ignatius wrote: "We'll probably be chasing Kim around a negotiating table for a while, which is better than 'duck and cover.' But as Carlin says, 'Beep beep.'"
I wrote to Ignatius to ask him what would be good, if negotiating an end to a nuclear standoff is bad. He hasn't answered.
While the Trump White House has been fumbling to coordinate a response to the whole "The President of the United States apparently cheated on his wife with a porn star and then paid her off" problem, and fighting off the anaconda-like Mueller criminal probe, Trump's political opposition has been spending more and more time pushing our president into aggressive military stances.
Continuing a theme that really began last year with Trump's much-praised decision to lob missiles into Syria while eating cake with horrified Chinese leaders, Beltway voices continue to demand, for instance, that Trump escalate America's on-the-ground opposition to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Both Ignatius and Kenneth Pollock of the American Enterprise Institute are examples of think-tankers arguing the widespread D.C. consensus, that Syria is the perfect place for American forces to dig in and take on Iran, Assad, and by extension Russia as well.
Americans seem to be in denial about the tinderbox nature of this lunatic Syrian situation.
Things took a serious turn in early February, when a mysterious news story suggested Russian contract fighters were killed by American weapons in a town called Deir al-Zour. The incident reportedly happened on the night of February 7th, as part of a counterattacking raid conducted across the Euphrates River by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
News outlets in both the east and the west seriously buried the lede when this incident first took place. The BBC and the AP were classic examples. This was the second-to-last line in the BBC's February 8th article: The Russian defense ministry said the U.S. strike wounded 25 pro-government volunteers…
What? Were any of those "wounded" by our strike Russians? Were they planning to retaliate? What was going on?
The Russians similarly downplayed the incident at first. There were reports from the Russian government that first suggested "five Russian citizens" had died. That later became dozens "injured."
Then on February 14th, Novaya Gazeta, historically the most trustworthy and independent of Russian news outlets, ran a piece called "Mistake or Treason?" that asserted 13 Russians had died that night. The paper claimed Russian officials let private Russian "Wagner" contract fighters join pro-Assad forces in a troop advance Russian military leaders had assured their American counterparts would not take place.
Novaya Gazeta said the Russians died under fire from Apache helicopters, F-15s, drones, and ground batteries. There were later rumors that the casualties were in the hundreds, but subsequent investigations by outlets like Der Spiegel failed to bear that out.
Still, the mere fact that Russian citizens were killed by American forces in an ongoing proxy war that both sides seem determined to escalate should be absolutely terrifying to ordinary citizens here and there – especially given that aggressive rhetoric is at an all-time high, again on both sides.
Vladimir Putin recently gave a frightening speech in advance of the March 18 presidential "election" in which he spent most of his time boasting about the size, modernity, and potency of Russia's military.
Pooty-poot boasted of new "unlimited range" nuclear missiles. He paused mid-speech to show a pulled-straight-from-Dr.-Strangelove animated clip of a missile weaving through snow-covered mountains on its way to the American continent (the presentation ended up including simulated explosions over Florida).
"Nobody in the world has anything like this," Putin bragged.
Meanwhile here in the States we've had a constant drumbeat of "new Pearl Harbor" stories describing the troll farm indictment as an "act of war," with politicians and pundits alike calling for escalations of hostilities with Russia.
Putin's boasts are completely in line with what he's always been about, using nationalist rhetoric and military imagery to cover up his almost total incompetence as an economic leader. He's just the latest in a long line of Russian heads of state, dating back to the Soviet days, who reflexively try to cover up for empty shelves and crumbling infrastructure with marches and missile parades.
Meanwhile, in the States, the only thing about Donald Trump that any sane person ever had to be grateful for was that he entered the White House claiming to be isolationist and war-averse. That soon proved to be a lie like almost everything else about his campaign, but Jesus, do we have to help this clown down the road toward General Trump fantasies?
We have the dumbest, least competent White House in history. Whatever else anyone in America has as a goal for Trump's remaining time in office, the single most important priority must to be keeping this guy away from the nuclear button. Almost anything else would be survivable.
Which is why it makes no sense to be taunting Trump and basically calling him a wuss for negotiating with Kim Jong Un or being insufficiently aggressive in Syria. In the middle of a shooting conflict, our troops are currently stationed right across the river from large numbers of both private and official Russian forces. Who doesn't think this is crazy?
The rhetoric we're hearing now about Trump's weakness from the likes of Ignatius and Max Boot is essentially identical to the stuff we heard directed at Barack Obama when he had the temerity to express willingness to talk to leaders of nations like Iran.
There is a segment of D.C. thinkluencers who seem to think the U.S. is setting a bad precedent if it doesn't bomb and threaten its way through every foreign policy conundrum, from Libya to Yemen to Iran to Syria to, apparently, even Russia.
It seems like the smart thing to do would be to wait until we had someone with an IQ over 9 in office before we start demanding that the White House play war with nuclear opponents. Of course, I might be biased because I have kids and live in a major population center. Can we chill on the gunboat diplomacy for a couple of years at least? And if not, why not?