Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Arrow Points Downward.

In the past 4-5 months, I've devoted posts on at least four occassions defending Bill Maher.  The comedian denounced President Trump's proposal fo r a military parade, only somewhat joking "we better get used to that- tanks in the streets."   He criticized former Democratic party chairperson Donna Brazile (who has been on his program) for what she termed "failed policies" of both parties.  Maher even took on the patron saint of the Republican Party, Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6)- whom even Democrats assiduously avoid criticizing- for being given credit for a great foreign policy accomplishment because "we stopped fighting the Cold War but the Russians never did."

He called out the state auditor of Alabama- the heart of the Bible Belt- for defending Roy Moore by implying that Joseph was an "adult carpenter" who became the father of Jesus. It's telling when it's left to an imabashed atheist to notice that the point of the Biblical account is that Jesus did not result from a sexual union of Joseph and Mary.

But he was wrong, uncharacteristically, on his central point Friday night pertaining to the decision by Donald J. Trump to travel to Pyongyang to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Maher made a legitimate point when he began his monologue with North Korea and commented

I was watching cable news last night. so all these liberals reflexively hating on this. A) Obama- remember him? He proposed the exact same thing in 2008 and they loved it and b) F_ _  - you, you don't live on the west coast,where a nuke can get here faster than an Uber from North Korea.

Obama did in fact promise in 2008 to "initiate tough diplomacy with our enemies," albeit "without preconditions, although with preparation."  It is likely, however, that Trump would do so with little preparation, presumably part of the rationale for one of Maher's guests, comedian Trae Crowder, to remark "I think there's one key difference there... Donald Trump is not Barack Obama."

Still, the allegation that Obama advocated largely the same thing is largely accurate.  (At the time, liberals backed Obama on his aspiration, with conservatives far more negative than they have been about Trump's plan.)

But Maher's remark during the panel discussion about the potential danger in negotiations is troubling. He contended

But the worst actually has happened, instead of the bombs actually exploding.  It kind of reminds me when they talk about mass shootings and somebody says the a liberal talking point and I'm certainly not for arming people but they say if somebody else was in the room it would be made even worse. Really? Really, it could have gotten worse than just the guy who's a nut spraying the room? 

It can get worse- much worse- even short of a nuclear exchange.

Trump is not going only for the photo-op, though he's undoubtedly looking forward to that. He's determined to make a deal and he'll make any he can, lest his trip be branded a failure.  "I alone can fix it" he maintained while accepting the Repub presidential nomination. He once told Laura Ingraham "the one that matters is me. I'm the only one who matters."

Thomas Wright of The Atlantic understands that the President might offer to withdraw American troops from South Korea in return for the North dismantling (with verification) its intercontinetal ballistic missiles.  That would "signal that the United States cares little for its friends and is only concerned about direct threats to the homeland," he recognizes. Reasons such a proposal is particularly likely include that

Trump cares about the direct threat to the American homeland more than anything else. President Obama warned him of the North Korean ICBM threat immediately after the election and he has taken it to heart. He has pursued a unilateral policy and has held open the possibility of a preventive strike without prior approval from Seoul. This is the essence of “America First”—narrow U.S. interests supersede all other concerns. It is a significant conceptual break with traditional American policy since the late 1940s, where the United States treated threats to the homeland and to the allies equally.

The second is that Trump has always had concerns about alliances in general and the U.S.-South Korea one in particular. Since the mid 1980s, he has argued that America’s alliances are a bad deal. Initially his wrath was focused on Japan and the Arab states but in 2013, he said, “How long will we go on defending South Korea from North Korea without payment? … When will they start to pay us?” In an interview with NBC in 2015, he said, “We have 28,000 soldiers on the line in South Korea between the madman and them. We get practically nothing compared to the cost of this.” Perhaps Trump may think that an end to the ICBM program and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea is a win-win.

Bill Maher should know better. In Ohio in August, 2016, Trump rhetorically asked black and hispanic voters "what do you have to lose?" a few days after asking black voters in Michigan "what the hell do you have to lose?"

A lot, it turns out, as Maher is aware. A good civilian with a gun can make mass shootings even worse- and there is no situation that Donald Trump can't, and probably will, make worse.

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