Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

FOLLOW THE MONEY

The media continues to follow Robert Mueller’s investigation into the relationship between Donald Trump and Russia. A fuss was made this past week about Trump knowing that his national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, lied not only to Vice President Mike Pence but also to an FBI agent before Trump fired him. Don’t get excited. This represents some of the what of the matter. But it’s just part of the story.

The investigation will bear fruit only when we understand why Trump turned his back on, and even condemned, the United States’ top security agencies for reporting that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Why he admires Putin and his governing style yet has chided leaders of allied governments. Why he fired FBI head James Comey. And why, early this week, he trashed the FBI.

We know Trump believes good relations with Russia can be to our advantage. But that’s like advocating mom and apple pie. It’s always preferable to establish good relations with all nations— even those with whom we have conflicts, such as Iran and North Korea. But Trump has never assumed the role of statesman and geopolitical thinker. He has never written or delivered cogent speeches or position papers detailing the ways American-Russian engagement can make the world safer and freer.

So back to the key question: Why all the contacts between Trump’s people and Russia? Why did members of the Trump team mention the easing of sanctions imposed by Barack Obama before the inauguration? Why the guilty pleas from Trump team members, which may cripple or end the careers of those who entered them? And why the constant discovery of more questionable contacts between the Trump campaign and transition teams, and Russia?

Follow the money!

On Tuesday, Thompson Reuters reported Mueller subpoenaed global banking giant Deutsche Bank for information regarding Trump and his family’s accounts and transactions. Might this relate to past New York Times and Vanity Fair articles on Russians laundering money through Trump condominium projects in New York and Florida? Will it reveal other Trump-Russian financial arrangements? Whatever, this form of inquiry represents the search for key answers.

It’s also critical to know why Trump refused to release his tax returns as all other candidates have over the last forty years. Look for Mueller’s team to review Trump’s tax returns soon—if they’re not doing so now. Their examination will go way past the tasks performed by the IRS. A tax expert told me that the IRS doesn’t look for illegal activities when individuals or entities state appropriate revenues, claim reasonable deductions and pay appropriate taxes. Additionally, sources of revenue and recipients of expenses don’t draw attention. It’s all about the numbers.

Mueller’s forensic accountants and investigators will dig deep. They’ll search for sources of revenue and recipients of financial obligations not listed on Trump’s returns. They’ll seek to uncover layers of shell companies to find the real people and organizations behind Trump’s business dealings.

When Mueller and his staff reach conclusions, they’ll know if Trump sought to enable Russians to profit from equity positions in some of his projects and to collect on large debts he owes Russian banks, oligarchs and mobsters. The truth is out there. To find it, Mueller will follow the money.

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WHAT PUTIN TOLD TRUMP

A week ago, at an economic conference in Da Nang, Vietnam, Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin to discuss vital issues concerning the United States and Russia. According to President Trump—again—Russia did not attempt to sway America’s 2016 presidential election. At least, that’s what Putin said and, according to Trump, Putin’s a stand-up guy. And if you haven’t heard, Putin also cleared the air with Trump on several other important matters.

— The “little green men” who fought in Eastern Ukrainian for Russian-speakers’ separation from Kiev were Martians. Russia long has been a global leader in astronomy and space exploration, and communicated with Martian visitors well before “The X Files” became a hit on American television. Russia and the Martians kept the matter quiet to avoid panicking our planet.

Trump’s response: “Who knew that Martians spoke Russian? But it makes sense since Martian and Russian end in the same three English letters.”

— The gas purportedly used by Syria’s Assad regime on its own people—with Russia’s knowledge and guidance—was not Sarin or anything else poisonous. Instead, Assad sprinkled war zones with laughing gas to raise the spirits of people whose neighborhoods had been shattered, those suffering grievous injuries from purported barrel bombs (“no wine casks were damaged in the bombings”) and refugees. The gas was purchased from the Russian Institute of Advanced Dentistry over a decade earlier, and the Kremlin has all the receipts. Humanely, the gas did not prompt belly laughs which injure internal organs but produced only small chuckles as revealed by the grimaces grins on the faces of motionless Syrians photographed while napping.

Trump’s response: “I bet you and Assad also mixed in some pixie dust like I brought with me on Air Force One. I hear it’s a hell of an aphrodisiac.”

— Accusations by international sports doping bodies that Russian athletes take banned drugs reveals fake news at its most fake and un-newsiness. Russian athletes do test new types of vitamins, which Russian scientists continually refine for the betterment of health worldwide. This further proves Russia’s advanced research and production capabilities. History has long acknowledged that Russians invented baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet along with rhythm and blues, the button-down shirt and Buffalo chicken wings.

Trump’s response: “Can you invent something that makes Robert Mueller disappear?”

— Like George Washington, Vladimir Putin has never told a lie. Honor and integrity represented key values in his training and career with the KGB, the Soviet Union’s intelligence agency responsible for keeping foreign powers—aka the United States—from soiling the spirit and legacy of Communism. Such admirable traits—and the occasional doing away with journalists and political opponents opposed by 99.9 percent of the people—impelled Russians to keep Putin in power since 1999 with no end in sight.

Trump’s response: “If I tell only the truth, do you think my fantastically high approval ratings of 38 percent will go even higher? And can you make Robert Mueller disappear?”

This straight talk should enable you and people across the globe—including Kim Jong-un—to sleep better. Or, as Mr. Trump tweeted on his “personal” account: “Nothing wrong with a man-crush as long as you still try 2 grab women by the pussy.”

With a snafu patched, my novel THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT again is available for the Kindle at Amazon as well as in softcover.

The blog will take off for Thanksgiving and return on Friday, December 1.

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DON AND VLAD AT THE G-20

While the mainstream media lacked access to the conversation between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the recent G-20 conference, sources of mine with digital flies on the wall produced a transcript of the first part of their private meeting. It’s kind of interesting.

Don: “So, Vlad, we finally meet face to face. My face, of course, being much more manly and handsome than yours. I mean, the tan. And the hair. But I envy you. You get to be in a room with Donald Trump and his lackey. Sorry, Rex. No one held a gun to your head. Anyway, Vlad, you have anything worthwhile to say while I make you look important?”

Vlad: “Mr. President…”

Don: “I’m glad you called me that, Vlad. Because I am president. And I’m making America great again. Wait. Since I’m President, America is great again. That’s what my other lackeys tell me. Sorry, Rex, but I’ve always had lackeys. They’re beautiful. Know why, Vlad? And you, too, Rex. Because I can say and do anything, and my lackeys go, ‘Fabulous, Mr. Trump. May I kiss your ass again? It’s been so long. Since yesterday.’ When you’re the billionaire President of America, you’re big. Huge.”

Vlad: “Mr. President…”

Don: “There you go again with that Mr. President thing. You respect me. You love me. Not in that way. Or maybe. But a guy with the three wives Donald Trump has had doesn’t swing the other way. Jesus, I’ve had women you can’t imagine. Remember my 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow? Beautiful girls all over me. Know why? Because I’m big, Vlad. Spelled h-u-m-o-n-g-o-u-s. You? You like to ride stallions. Me? I am a stallion. Not that you’re ever going to ride me. Maybe you swing that way. Is that a Russian thing? I don’t know anything about Russia. Except maybe nukes. You have nukes. Big deal. The frickin’ French have nukes. I mean, a guy like Macron has his finger on the button. Or whatever they use. Incredible. He could run the Miss Universe pageant in frickin’ Paris and never get laid.”

Vlad: “Mr. President, that’s what I want to speak with you about. Several contestants at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant have had babies. They claim you are the father. We provided DNA tests, since we have, of course, your DNA. You may have some explaining to do.”

Don: “You think I don’t use protection? Or maybe I didn’t. Doesn’t matter. Donald Trump controls his baby making thing at will. So, don’t think you can make up some ridiculous story to get me to make you a big shot by inviting you to the White House. And don’t tell me you made me President. Although I hear Russians are as good with computers as 400-pound guys in Jersey. See, America loves me. Look at this hair. I won the electoral college in the biggest landslide ever. Plus, I won the popular vote by ten million. Don’t tell me you win by more, because you’re always the only real candidate. And don’t have a cow. I’ll pay back those loans I took out from you guys by the end of my first term. Maybe after two. Possibly three. Four even. Why not more? Like you. Unless, after Christmas, I bail.”

Now you know.

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MOSCOW, ANKARA AND WASHINGTON

A look at three of the world’s prominent capitals reveals something disturbing. Although Russia, Turkey and the United States represent three very different cultures, Moscow, Ankara and Washington increasingly have come to share much in common.

Russia, primarily but hardly solely an Orthodox Christian nation, long has evidenced a strong penchant for autocracy. Its leadership’s ideology has covered many different ideological approaches—monarchy, communism and now kleptocracy. It’s the last trait on which I focus. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s post-communist foray into free markets has produced sparse capitalism aside from sales of oil and gas, and plentiful oligarchy. Putin’s friends and associates enjoy government contracts, cozy relationships with banks and permission to corner markets. Political and journalistic opponents face prison or death in startling numbers.

Turkey, a member of NATO, evolved from the Ottoman Empire that waned in the nineteenth century as “the sick man of Europe” then following World War One suffered its death blow. Under Kemal Ataturk, a secular government arose. Military rule slowly morphed into democracy producing a vital economy and a major geopolitical role in the Middle East. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist, has steadily guided the rise of Muslim influence in Turkish life accompanied by an erosion of Turkish democracy. Last July, he cracked down on a coup and imprisoned large numbers of politicians, military officers, academics, artists and journalists. This past Sunday, his constitutional referendum narrowly won. It will abandon Turkey’s parliamentary system and make Erdogan president with broad powers while negating the legislature and courts.

How does Washington fit here? How does it not? Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner maintain offices in the White House, represent the nation in meetings with foreign government officials yet still run their businesses. They represent a real threat of cronyism as witnessed by Ivanka’s company being granted three copyrights by China on the same day she had dinner with her father and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Ivanka denied any violation of ethics. After all, she said, she didn’t apply for the patents. Her lawyers did. What could be more tone deaf? Of course, her lawyers filed the papers. Companies of almost any size hire in-house and/or outside legal counsel to perform both specialized and routine tasks. Now, Chinese businessmen—and government officials connected to them—will expect periodic favors from the White House in return for preferential treatment granted Ivanka. To deny that represents not naïveté but callous cynicism.

Can a true kleptocracy be far behind? Mr. Trump insists he will not release his tax returns since he’s being audited. Some time ago, however, the head of the IRS stated that release of his returns was fine. What then is the problem? Do Trump’s returns hide investments and/or loans from Russian companies and individuals close to the Kremlin? Would they reveal legal tax breaks Mr. Trump has taken and wishes to extend in tax-reform legislation? Does businessman Trump seek to use the presidency for financial gain? Is he okay with relatives and friends doing the same?

Three capitals. Three cultures. One dishearteningly similar approach to government of the leaders, by the leaders, for the leaders. Sadly, many of the Americans who will be hurt most are voters who giddily put Donald Trump in a position to screw them.

Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

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CHEMICAL ATTACKS AND CRUISE MISSILES

Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad’s April 4 Sarin gas attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun drew a quick response from President Trump. U.S. naval forces rained down 59 cruise missiles on Shayrat air base, destroying or damaging 23 Syrian planes. Many Republicans—far-right conservatives were opposed—Democrats and allied governments found the action intoxicating. It’s time to sober up.

I neither support nor condemn Mr. Trump’s decision. But I caution that the matter is far from simple—and far from over. Mr. Trump’s response certainly stands in contrast to Barack Obama’s setting a red line regarding chemical attacks, looking to Congress for approval to take military action, finding none then accepting an offer by Russia’s Vladimir Putin to negotiate the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Some of which apparently were held back.

Mr. Obama’s mistake was not withholding American force, which may or may not have accomplished much while possibly igniting a political firestorm at home. It was declaring a red line publicly rather than privately notifying Assad, Putin and Iran that using chemical weapons could provoke a U.S. military response.

Mr. Trump chose to make a “statement.” Despite the initial chest-thumping, it likely will prove meaningless. After our cruise missile delivery, several of Assad’s planes took off from Shayrat—whose runways were left untouched—to again bomb Khan Sheikhoun. Assad made his own statement. While feeble, it was backed by Russia’s military presence in Syria.

Frederic C. Hof, a Syria policy maven at the State Department under Mr. Obama, who later became an Obama administration critic, stated that Assad “now counts on the West again to leave him free to kill as long as he does so without chemicals” (The New York Times, 4-9-17). The Pentagon later suggested that barrel bombs may cross another “line.” So what?

Take Mr. Trump’s mention that “many lines had been crossed” by Assad’s latest chemical attack. Apparently, no lines were crossed when Mr. Trump assumed the presidency ten weeks earlier. Syrian helicopters continued dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods. Syrian and Russian artillery, mortars and conventional bombs maintained the slaughter. The mass killing of civilians seemingly crossed no lines for Mr. Obama, as well. The Syrian death toll reportedly stands at or near 500,000.

Are we going to war? Despite the brutality, many Americans, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, exhibit no desire for the U.S. to get deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, particularly given the risk of a miscalculation with Russian forces. This represents not cynicism but pragmatism (see Iraq: Invasion of).

Referencing Frederic Hof, is it wrong to kill 87 civilians with Sarin gas but okay to kill 150 with run-of-the-mill ordnance? If half-a-million deaths doesn’t cross a line spurring concerted United Nations action—impossible with a Russian veto—is a line demarcated at 600,000 deaths? A million?

I’ve written that violence in the Middle East will continue for years and probably decades until the people of the region—not America—have had enough or totally exhausted themselves. While that position jeers at our humanitarian values, it remains valid lacking a truly global will to intervene and the ability to restore not only order to the Middle East but also civility. Honesty, no matter how gut-wrenching, will guide us more wisely than political showmanship.

Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

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EASTER/PASSOVER 2021

March 31, 2021—Washington, D.C. Responding to bitter invective launched by the America First party, formed after the 2018 midterm elections, Adam Schiff reassured the nation that the White House’s annual Easter Egg hunt will be held this Sunday. “That I’m Jewish and just hosted a family Passover Seder in the White House should not and will not alter a beautiful tradition,” said the 47th president.

During his campaign, President Schiff pledged that being the first Jewish president would not affect his conduct in office “beyond holding to the high moral principles on which I was raised.”

Former president Mike Pence, interviewed on CNN, disavowed America First claims that the annual White House Easter egg hunt would be canceled or that President Schiff would not attend. Mr. Pence, whose 25-month presidency was marked by an inability to move forward initiatives first proposed by his predecessor Donald Trump—including health care, tax reform and infrastructure—has kept a low media profile.

However, he stated, “It’s my duty, especially after last November’s stinging defeat, to speak out against the hateful rhetoric with which a small percentage of Americans assaulted President Schiff during and after the campaign.”

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, himself Jewish, was “gratified that Mr. Pence stood up to this kind of anti-Semitic hatred that dishonors our country.” Blitzer sought an interview with former president Trump. A spokesperson responded that Mr. Trump “was busy.”

Since resigning in December 2018 after Democrats won majorities in both the House and Senate, Mr. Trump has spent almost all his time at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. His wife Melania visits from New York one weekend a month. Mr. Trump is only the second president in American history to resign his office. Richard Nixon did so on August 9, 1974.

In late-April 2018, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), current House minority leader, spoke out that Mr. Trump’s presidency was untenable following the White House’s failure to respond when Russia annexed East Ukraine. Holding fast, Mr. Trump proposed no U.S. response in early June when Russian agents fomented demonstrations in Latvia and Lithuania leading to the establishment over the summer of pro-Russian governments pledged to withdraw from NATO. “Why does NATO need those guys?” he asked.

Mr. Trump’s resignation proved inevitable when in mid-November, “Classic Republicans” insisted that the nation be spared further congressional inquiry and embarrassment. They responded to the joint revelation of a “smoking gun” by then-Representative Schiff (D-California) and then-Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), who complemented Mr. Schiff’s winning ticket. Both played critical roles in confidential House and Senate reviews of Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

The Justice Department ordered Mr. Trump’s returns made available to Congress in August following media revelations that for over a decade, close associates of Russian president Vladimir Putin made major investments in, and loans to, various Trump companies.

Critics also noted that Mr. Trump wasted more than a billion dollars on the design phase of an unbuilt wall on the Mexican border. A pre-Thanksgiving Gallup poll placed Mr. Trump’s approval rating at eleven percent.

“Easter, like Passover, offers people hope for the future,” said President Schiff. “The United States is beginning a new day. It’s better that we hide colorful eggs children can discover on the White House lawn than bury truth in the Oval Office.”

Reality (absolutely): You can read the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t be there? Go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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FAKE NEWS

One of my favorite comic strips is “The Knight Life” by Keith Knight. Tuesday’s included a schoolteacher’s statement: “Facts are overrated!! All you need is a loud mouth & some Macedonian teenagers!!” Websites with fake news created by kids in Europe abound—fake news many Americans give credence.

On December 9th, Yahoo News (real) reported that Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, considered by President-elect Trump for Secretary of Agriculture, posts unsubstantiated stories on Facebook, such as the U.S. Communist Party endorsing Hillary Clinton and the FBI restrained from acting after discovering a jihadi training compound in Texas. Said Miller: “I’m not a news source. I shouldn’t be held to that standard…. I’ll put it up there and let the readers decide.” Reasonable?

Ten days ago, Edgar Welch, 28, of Salisbury, N.C., fired a shot in a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. Welch went there to investigate online “news reports” of a child sex slave ring linked to Hillary Clinton. He told the New York Times (12-7-16), “I just wanted to do some good and went about it the wrong way.” He added, “The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent.” Welch refused to dismiss the online claims.

Around the same time, President-elect Donald Trump selected retired army general Michael Flynn as his national security advisor. CNN Politics (12-7-16) reported that Flynn has “spread false stories and re-tweeted anti-Semitic threats.” He also refused to disavow the “Pizzagate” story, which led Welch to fire a semi-automatic weapon at Comet Ping Pong. Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., also promoted the “Pizzagate” story. Flynn Jr. was dropped from his father’s transition team. General Flynn remains Trump’s selection.

So how do we respond to real news? The Central Intelligence Agency believes with “high confidence” that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee. The rest of the U.S. intelligence community does, too. (The FBI takes a neutral stance.) Russia’s purpose may have been to embarrass Hillary Clinton and swing the election to Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton believes Vladimir Putin was out to get her. Republican Congressional leaders have expressed concern. Mitch McConnell (Senate majority leader), Paul Ryan (House speaker) and Senator John McCain all support an investigation.

President Obama says that the U.S. will act against Russia. He likely knows details unavailable to the American public. What will he do? Stay tuned.

As to the broader issue, knowing the truth remains a requisite for democracy to thrive. The real media play a critical role by reporting what’s happening in our world, as well as questioning authorities at the highest level. Sometimes, leading news purveyors get it wrong. But America’s mainstream media deserves high grades and serious attention from the public.

Sadly, the digital age has polluted what we call news. Yes, there are websites offering serious, professional reporting. But as Keith Knight points out, anyone can post a “news story,” which many Americans will accept at face value and pass on via social media. Witness “Pizzagate.” That’s why our political leaders must embrace truth to keep themselves grounded and help us do the same.

Donald Trump’s response to broad concerns about Russian hacking? “I think it’s ridiculous,” he told Fox News. “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it.” It’s possible to live in an alternate reality, believing or disbelieving anything and creating your own truth—if facts don’t get in your way.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And follow the sound advice to think before you speak—and read (legitimate media) before you think.

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TRUMP IN 2020

Following George W. Bush’s election in 2000—I voted for Al Gore—I hoped to vote for President Bush in 2004. For the nation’s good, I wanted “W” to prove me wrong. He didn’t. Now, I want to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. That’s a long way off. So let’s look at possible scenarios for 2017.

Russia puts more pressure on Eastern Ukraine and Eastern Europe. With President Trump seeing no American interest at play, Vladimir Putin effectively splits Ukraine and brings the Baltic states back into Russia’s orbit. Disclosure: I’ve long believed that bringing Eastern Europe into NATO instead of guaranteeing its neutrality was a mistake, ignoring Moscow’s long-standing concerns about its “near abroad.”

Marine LePen, head of France’s right-wing National Front party, rides the Brexit/Trump wave to the presidency this spring. France seeks independence within NATO or abandons it. With American approval, Ms. Le Pen leads France out of the European Union and away from the Euro, reasserts France’s control of its borders and strengthens secularism in the face of Muslim public religious/cultural practices. This imposes burdens on business people and vacationers but makes transiting Europe more challenging to Islamist terrorists. Recent attempts at unifying European Union intelligence gathering unravel. President Trump doesn’t care; he doesn’t want to share intelligence.

ISIS collapses as a “caliphate”—this already underway—but Islamist terrorism increases on the Continent. In Syria, Trump lets Russia reestablish Bashar al-Assad’s nationwide rule.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickens the pace of settlement building in the West Bank. President Trump talks about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Rumors loom of a Third Intifada. Trump amends or terminates the nuclear deal with Iran. In response, Iran backs limited hostilities against Israel emanating from Lebanon, encourages greater Shiite control of Iraq and increases tensions with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis express interest in acquiring or developing nuclear weapons.

A tentative trade war tests the waters with China. Beijing more boldly asserts sovereignty in the South China Sea. President Trump orders the U.S. Navy to stand down. Jitters rack Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, who move closer to China. President Trump broaches removing all U.S. troops from South Korea.

Existing walls along the Mexican border undergo symbolic lengthening—at U.S. expense. Relations chill with Mexico City. Anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. grows more fervent. Washington increases deportations but modestly.

The wealthy enjoy major tax cuts while federal programs are slashed, including environmental protections. America burns more coal. (I was in Delhi, India three weeks ago. The air was awful. Last week it became unlivable.)

Job growth in the Upper Midwest and Southeast remains meager since automation cannot be undone. Obamacare is gutted. Private insurers compete to lower premiums for healthy millennials, raise them for everyone else. Millions lose coverage.

Trump proposes a major infrastructure program. Democrats support it. Republican fiscal conservatives oppose it. Trump supporters take solace in a conservative Supreme Court pick, efforts to ban abortion and overturn LGBTQ rights, and the first draft of a new immigration policy. The stock market rises as does volatility.

I hope most of these scenarios don’t take place—infrastructure projects and an intelligent discussion of immigration being exceptions. Really, I’d love to eat crow so I can support President Trump in 2020. What are the odds?

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. Let’s give thanks to all our veterans today. And check in next week for a political suggestion whose time has come.

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ALEPPO

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson infamously responded to a question about the tragic war in Syria with “What is Aleppo?” I’ll answer. You won’t be comforted.

Aleppo—not the capital Damascus—was Syria’s largest city and business hub with 2.1 million inhabitants (2004 census). Since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, nearly 500,000 have been killed nationwide. Aleppo’s population has dropped. What is it? No one knows.

What we do know is that Aleppo, the Syrian civil war and widespread violence in the Middle East present a conundrum. The United States is damned if we do get more involved, damned if we don’t.

Start with refugees. Turkey hosts 2.6 million, Lebanon one million and impoverished Jordan over 628,000 (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees). Eastern Europe hasn’t the resources, ability or will to accept many—if any. Germany takes the lead in the West. It accepted over one million asylum seekers in 2015. That’s dropped to 220,000 in 2016 (Deutsche Welle). Germans said, “No more.”

Regrettably, Western Europe long has done a poor job assimilating Muslims. In counterpoint, many Muslims have resisted integrating into Europe’s secular culture. America does much better, but no matter how many refugees we accept, we won’t come close to meeting existing needs.

Militarily—despite Donald Trump’s assertions—we also face limits. In Syria, U.S. weapons, training and airpower have failed to oust President Bashar al-Assad. (ISIS will soon be driven underground.) Diplomatic efforts face intransigence by Vladimir Putin. Inserting traditional American ground forces into Syria risks a violent clash with Russia. No one will win.

In Iraq, we see progress. The crucial battle for Mosul is underway. It will be long and bloody. Clearing Mosul of booby traps and rebuilding will take decades. Estimates place 5,000-6,000 American trainers, advisors, forward air controllers and special operations personnel on the ground. The U.S. could send in 25,000 or more traditional combat troops. But Washington probably would face massive protests at home, particularly with many Americans embittered after a nasty presidential campaign. We’d also see protests throughout the Middle East.

What if we send in combat troops anyway? Following victory, Iraqis will demand we leave. If we stay, we’ll face a new insurrection featuring improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and sniper attacks. After we go, Iraq will descend into renewed chaos with no dominant indigenous force controlling the fragmented nation.

Feeling conflicted? Who isn’t? Recently on TV, a Syrian man asked how the West could let such brutality continue. Another Syrian man interviewed some months earlier presented another perspective: “Nothing good ever comes from the West.”

We are witnessing a war within Islam between those who accept the twenty-first century and those who long for the seventh. Throw in nationalist/sectarian (Sunni-Shia) and tribal conflicts, as well as political thuggery, and we’re left with a witches brew too toxic to consume.

Limiting our response seems inhumane but reflects reality. Only the peoples of the Middle East can create lasting peace for themselves. This may not happen until the middle or later stages of this century when they’ve been exhausted by death and destruction. It may not happen at all.

What is Aleppo then? A final two words: frustration, angst. I suspect you can come up with many more.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. The post will take a break and return on November 11.

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MISGUIDED EXCEPTIONALISM

Who among us does not feel special? See himself or herself at the center of the universe? Think that if everyone does what I do, the world will be a better place? The answer: precious few. Which explains why not only individuals but also nations often come to grief.

The belief that I or “we” are different and thus better seems near universal. In “Russia’s Perpetual Geopolitics” (Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016), Stephen Kotkin of Princeton, and Stanford’s Hoover Institution, explains that “Russians have always had an abiding sense of living in a providential country with a special mission — an attitude often traced to Byzantium, which Russia claims as an inheritance.” Essentially, God made Russia spiritually greater than its neighbors. Russian dominance of Eurasia represents the natural order.

But Vladimir Putin’s Russia, despite its considerable nuclear arsenal, plays a limited role on the world stage. (For my earlier take on Russia, see “Irrelevance.”) According to Kotkin, Russia shares much with England and France—once great powers—as well as Germany and Japan. The former pair came to terms with the erosion of their prominence. The latter “had their exceptionalism bombed out of them.”

America and China also claim heavenly mandates. This, I propose, is based on ego fostered by historic power. Now, don’t get me wrong. While I oppose the idea of American exceptionalism—which often translates to “we can do no wrong”—I believe that America is an exceptional country. Although exceptional is not a synonym for perfect.

The United States, unlike its European forebears, never saw itself as a tribal or ethnic state. True, some people define real Americans as white Protestants. But the nation ultimately opened its doors to everyone and defined American as citizen. Yes, our history of slavery and racism is shameful. Still, America evolved under the rule of law. If the law has not always been adhered to, it nonetheless has offered great protection to citizens and non-citizens alike. Lack of perfection does not negate great accomplishment.

Exceptionalism can also be claimed on the religious front. I wrote in God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters with God in the Hebrew Bible that Christianity and Islam often see themselves as universalistic religions of a particularistic God. Translation: there is only one way to believe, and God loves only adherents of whichever specific faith makes such a claim.

Judaism takes a different stance. It sees its exceptionalism not in being chosen for privilege but for responsibility. Performing the 613 commandments (many impossible since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE) does no more to earn a Jew a place in the World to Come (of which there are multiple concepts) than a monotheist who follows the seven Noahide commandments established by the Sages. Judaism thus stands as a particularistic religion—only Jews need follow all 613 commandments—of a universalistic God not concerned about which religion people follow, as long as it’s monotheistic.

During the presidential campaign to come—or at least its final segment—I hope both major candidates will refrain from references to American exceptionalism. Flag waving often conceals a bent for tyranny. Of course, humility is not a trait that impels individuals to seek the White House or voters to put them there. Still, downplaying exceptionalism could help the winner be a better president.

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