This post is excerpted from the
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I found this tweet from Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, particularly incisive. He wrote: “.@realDonaldTrump is now set for war on 3 fronts: political vs Bob Mueller, economic vs China/others on trade, and actual vs. Iran and/or North Korea. This is the most perilous moment in modern American history—and it has been largely brought about by ourselves, not by events.”
- “The most perilous moment in modern American history,” and Donald J. Trump is at the helm. God help us all. I’ll look at each of these three things separately—developments in the Mueller case first, then China, and finally, the appointment of John Bolton. But they all have connective tissue: this is Trump being Trump, unbridled and untamed, acting on his id and disregarding the advice of the adults in the room. If you’re not frightened, you’re not paying attention.
Yesterday, Trump’s lead lawyer in the Russia probe, John Dowd, abruptly resigned, less than two weeks after Trump promised the world on Twitter that he couldn’t be happier with his legal team. The issue, according to The New York Times
, was whether Trump should submit to an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller.
To sum up:
- “Mr. Dowd viewed an interview as too risky; the president reiterated shortly after Mr. Dowd resigned that he wanted to clear his name. ‘I would like to,’ the president told reporters at the White House when asked about meeting with investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. ‘I would like to.’”
- Beyond that, though: “Mr. Dowd’s departure cleared the way for the president to embrace a more aggressive posture toward the investigation and marked another reshuffling of personnel for Mr. Trump. In the most politically consequential investigation in decades, the president has refashioned his legal team several times, a revolving door that mirrors the high turnover among senior White House and campaign aides. … Now, as he weighs whether to be interviewed by Mr. Mueller, the president will be advised by a cadre of lawyers better known for their television and advocacy work than their courtroom triumphs.”
- “Last weekend, amid the fallout from the firing of a top F.B.I. official, Mr. Dowd called on the Justice Department to end the special counsel investigation. Mr. Dowd, who had forged relationships with the special counsel’s office, said at first that he was speaking for the president, but later backtracked. The president was angered with Mr. Dowd’s handling of the episode, telling people that it was ham-handed and that Mr. Dowd should not have backed off his initial statement.” (Which is to say, the president wanted his lawyer to call for Mueller to be fired.)
- Mueller, meanwhile, is now investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to the shady-as-hell Cambridge Analytica firm, according to the AP: “Mueller’s investigators have asked former campaign officials about the Trump campaign’s data operations, particularly about how it collected and utilized voter data in battleground states, according to a person with direct knowledge of the line of inquiry but not authorized to discuss it publicly. … Chris Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee who became a whistleblower, told The Washington Post that Cambridge had begun testing phrases like ‘drain the swamp’ and ‘deep state’ well before Trump launched his campaign. The president began incorporating those concepts into his stump speech in the stretch run of the campaign, soon after Bannon came on board. Wylie has said he fears the data was turned over to Russians who aimed to interfere with the U.S. election.”
- And last night, The Daily Beast came out with a story that Guccifer 2.0, the DNC hacker, was in fact a Russian intelligence officer. Mueller is said to be investigating Guccifer, who communicated with Trump adviser Roger Stone.
Trump wants to take a harder stance against Mueller, while Mueller seems to be closing in on Russian interference, Cambridge Analytica scheming, and who knows what else.
As expected, Trump announced stiff tariffs against China
, in retaliation for what the U.S. considers China’s theft of American intellectual property.
To sum up:
- “President Trump put China squarely in his crosshairs on Thursday, imposing tariffs on as much as $60 billion worth of Chinese goods to combat the rising threat from a nation that the White House has called ‘an economic enemy.’ The measures are Mr. Trump’s strongest trade action yet against a country that he says is responsible for thousands of lost American jobs and billions in lost revenues. Financial markets plunged on fears of a potential trade war between the world’s two largest economies, with the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropping by 2.5 percent.”
- The Dow tanked by more than seven hundred points on the news.
- China, in response to previously announced tariffs on aluminum and steel, announced that it will impose tariffs on $3 billion worth of American-produced pork, wine, steel pipes and other goods, which would face 15 percent tariffs. When Trump’s new tariffs go into effect, the Chinese will probably tack on more, possibly including soybeans. China is the world’s largest buyer of U.S. soybeans; soybeans are North Carolina’s second most valuable cash crop, behind tobacco, worth more than $638 million in 2017. You can see how a trade war might not go well for us.
- This quote, from the Times, is rather ominous: “‘We do seem to be entering a trade war,’ said Eswar Prasad, a senior professor of trade policy at Cornell University. ‘The U.S. has unsheathed its sword after an extended period of saber rattling and the Chinese are now unsheathing their weapons. I hope this will not spiral into a very broad set of sanctions on both sides,’ Mr. Prasad added. ‘But I think, given Mr. Trump’s instincts and his very keen desire to deliver a political win whatever the political fallout might be, I don’t think it can be tamped down now.’”
We need China to help with North Korea, and now we’re getting into a costly trade war with the world’s second-largest economy.
JOHN EFFING BOLTON:
And now, the big one. But before we get there, it’s important to consider the summary firing of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in the context of the larger chaos consuming the White House. Think of all the departures and firings in recent weeks. And Trump wants more: according to Politico
, the White House also planned to fire HUD Secretary/dining-room-table-buyer Ben Carson and VA Secretary/European-vacationer David Shulkin at the same times as McMaster. But chief of staff John Kelly wanted to wait until inspector general reports came in on Shulkin and Carson to pull the trigger, but Trump abruptly canned McMaster. In addition, NBC reports that Trump has mused about firing John Kelly and going about things without a chief of staff at all
. But let’s get back to the matter at hand: John Bolton.
To sum up: Of course
- From WaPo: “President Trump said Thursday that he was naming former ambassador John Bolton, a Fox News commentator and conservative firebrand, as his new national security adviser, replacing Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. The president announced the news in a tweet, saying that Bolton would take the job starting April 9, making him Trump’s third national security adviser in the first 14 months of his presidency. … Trump and McMaster never clicked on a personal basis and often seemed at odds on matters of policy related to Iran and North Korea. The appointment of Bolton, which doesn’t require Senate confirmation, could lead to dramatic changes in the administration’s approach to crises around the world.” That’s putting it mildly.
- “His appointment is certain to scramble the White House’s preparations for a proposed summit by the end of May between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Bolton is a fierce North Korea hawk who, in his prolific writings and television commentary, has said that preemptive war would likely be the only way to stop North Korea from obtaining the capability to attack the United States with a nuclear missile. Bolton has touted ‘the legal case for striking North Korea first’ in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. … Bolton has been even more hawkish than Trump on Iran, pushing for the president to withdraw from the nuclear agreement that the United States and five other world powers reached with Tehran during the Obama administration. In January, Bolton told Fox News that Trump should dump the nuclear deal, reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran, and work toward an overthrow of the government there.” (Regime change!)
- Bolton, of course, was an architect and big-time proponent of the Iraq War, which went splendidly. ThinkProgress has helpfully compiled some of the scarier things he’s said over the years: In 2015, he wrote a column titled “To Stop Iran, Bomb Iran.” He has similarly argued for a preemptive strike against the nuclear-armed North Korea. He still believes the Iraq War was a good idea, and would much prefer if U.S. forces were still dying over there. He has said we have no obligation to allow Syrian refugees into the U.S. and doesn’t believe in a two-state solution for Palestine.
- Some South Koreans are understandably freaked out. From Reuters: “‘This is worrisome news,’ said Kim Hack-yong, conservative lawmaker and head of the national defense committee of South Korea’s parliament. ‘North Korea and the United States need to have dialogue but this only fuels worries over whether the talks will ever happen.’ Former South Korean intelligence official Nam Sung-wook said Trump may not even get the opportunity to deliver that message. ‘Bolton being tapped for this position makes for a very difficult situation where the U.S.-North Korea summit may not even happen,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be a rocky path even before the summit.’”
- A weird side note: in 2013, Bolton made a video for a Russian gun-rights group in which he praised a “new era of freedom for the Russian people” under Vladimir Putin in an effort to convince the president to loosen gun laws.
- More than just Bolton himself—like that wasn’t bad enough—Trump’s selection only solidifies a much more hawkish direction in the West Wing, as CNN reports: “John Bolton promised President Donald Trump that ‘he wouldn't start any wars’ if he were hired to be the third national security adviser at the White House in just 14 months—a claim that generated skepticism across Washington. Bolton, a hawkish neoconservative, has advocated war with Iran and a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, and remains an unapologetic supporter of the Iraq War despite the flawed intelligence used to justify the US invasion. So the claim that Bolton would avoid conflict, described to CNN by a source familiar with negotiations between the President and the former ambassador to the UN, raised eyebrows when news broke Thursday that Trump was ousting H.R. McMaster and replacing him with the 69-year-old Baltimore native. For many, the concern is that the appointment of Bolton—exactly the kind of advocate for US overseas intervention that Trump pilloried on the campaign trail—marks a belligerent turn for the Trump administration that could doom attempts to save the Iran nuclear deal, increase the possibility of a clash with North Korea and ratchet up tensions with Moscow.”
Bolton starts wars, for the same reason that when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It’s the only thing he knows how to do. And the president isn’t sophisticated enough—or, frankly, smart enough—to keep him in check. And that is why John Bolton is so incredibly dangerous.
WHAT IT MEANS:
Step back and look at these things in total. They show a president gaining confidence—however misplaced—in his instincts, reverting to half-baked campaign dogma and machismo rhetoric, surrounding himself with yes men and sycophants, and trusting himself to go it alone in a dangerous and complicated world. More and more, I get the creeping sensation that this isn’t going to end well.