One wacky nut job to another – Trump v Coulter

Once a strong support of Donald trump for president and as president, Ann Coulter has turned against him. In the weekend she blasted Trump over lack of progress on the US-Mexico border wall, and as he does when criticised, Trump has turned on her. In a recent tweet he called Coulter ‘a wacky nut job’, which is pot, kettle stuff.

Fox News has also been a strong supporter of Trump, and this is playing out on Fox.

Fox News in January:  Ann Coulter rips Trump over border wall on Bill Maher’s show after attacking president via Twitter

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter both blasted and defended President Trump during an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday night — hours after she ripped into the president on Twitter for cutting a deal with Democrats to temporarily end the partial government shutdown without funding for his border wall.

“I promise you the country would be run much better if I had a veto over what Donald Trump is doing. It’s crazy that I expect a president to keep the promise he made every day for 18 months”.

“Why hasn’t Trump been able to get it through for the first two years? Because the Republicans don’t want it.”

She also said “someone has got to read the Constitution to him” when asked if she thought Trump would declare a national emergency on the southern border in order to get work started on the wall.

During Trump’s State of the Union address to Congress in February, Coulter labeled the speech as “the lamest, sappiest, most intentionally tear-jerking SOTU ever.”

During the weekend:

Coulter, a far right commentator, may only have a relatively small support base, but Trump seems to be gradually pissing off more and more former supporters.

Jess Watters and Donald J. Trump aren’t being very honest. Trump’s approval rating dropped from 45.5 (aggregate) soon after he took office and hasn’t recovered since, peaking at 43.1 last October and now on 41.8.

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/

Meanwhile  In budget, Trump to ask Congress for $8.6 billion for border wall

President Donald Trump on Monday will ask the U.S. Congress for an additional $8.6 billion to help pay for the wall he promised to build on the southern border with Mexico to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking, officials familiar with his 2020 budget request told Reuters.

The demand is more than six times what Congress allocated for border projects in each of the past two fiscal years, and 6 percent more than Trump has corralled by invoking emergency powers this year.

Democrats, who oppose the wall as unnecessary and immoral, control the U.S. House of Representatives, making it unlikely the Republican president’s request will win congressional passage.

Asked on Fox News Sunday about the new funding request and if there would be another budget fight over Trump’s wall, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said, “I suppose there will be … He’s going to stay with his wall and he’s going to stay with the border security theme. I think it’s essential.”

Trump’s wall request is based off a 2017 plan put forward by Customs and Border Protection officials to build or replace 722 miles (1,162 km) of barrier along the border, which in total is estimated to cost about $18 billion.

So far, only 111 miles (179 km) have been built or are underway, officials said. In fiscal 2017, $341 million in funding was allocated for 40 miles (64 km) of wall, and in 2018, another $1.375 billion was directed to 82 miles (132 km).

For fiscal 2019, Trump demanded $5.7 billion in wall funds, but Congress appropriated only $1.375 billion for border fencing projects.

Following the rejection of his wall funding demand, Trump declared the border was a national emergency – a move opposed by Democrats and some Republicans – and redirected $601 million in Treasury Department forfeiture funds, $2.5 billion in Defense Department drug interdiction funds and $3.6 billion from a military construction budget, for total spending of $8.1 billion for the wall.

Trump’s wall spending is being contested from the left, and the lack of wall building is being slammed from Coulter on the right.

North Korea restoring missile site, threats of further sanctions from US

The meeting in Vietnam last wee between Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un ended abruptly last week, with a luncheon and signing ceremony cancelled.

Now relations between North Korea and US seem to be deteriorating.

Wall Street Journal –  North Korean Launch Site Is Being Built Back Up Again

Disclosure comes in the wake of failed U.S.-North Korean summit in Hanoi last week

North Korea is restoring a missile launch site it previously claimed to be dismantling as an overture to the U.S., according to newly released commercial satellite photos and people briefed on South Korean intelligence.

The move has sparked concerns that North Korea may be wavering on some of the gestures it made to demonstrate its willingness to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Reuters – U.S. will look at ramping up sanctions if North Korea does not denuclearize: Bolton

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said on Tuesday that the United States would look at ramping up sanctions on North Korea if Pyongyang did not scrap its nuclear weapons program.

Bolton told Fox Business Network that following the Hanoi summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Washington would see whether Pyongyang was committed to giving up its “nuclear weapons program and everything associated with it.”

“If they’re not willing to do it, then I think President Trump has been very clear … they’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them and we’ll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact,” said Bolton, a hardliner who has advocated a tough approach to North Korea in the past.

His comments came days after the Feb. 27-28 denuclearization summit between Trump and Kim broke down over differences on how far North Korea was willing to limit its nuclear program and the degree of U.S. willingness to ease sanctions.

Earlier on Tuesday, two U.S. think tanks and South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that North Korea had restored part of a missile launch site it began to dismantle after pledging to do so in the first summit with Trump last year.

Yonhap quoted lawmakers briefed by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) as saying that the work was taking place at the Tongchang-ri launch site and involved replacing a roof and a door at the facility.

Satellite images seen by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project, showed that structures on the launch pad had been rebuilt sometime between Feb. 16 and March 2, Jenny Town, managing editor at the project and an analyst at the Stimson Center think tank, told Reuters.

That alleged rebuilding was taking place in the lead up to the meeting between Trump and Kim in Hanoi.

It looks like peace in Korea may be more difficult to achieve that Trump anticipated, but North Korea’s history suggests it was always going to be difficult.

Clinton rules out 2020 run for presidency a win for Putin?

Hillary Clinton has ruled out another run for the US presidency in 2020. This may be seen as a win for Vladimir Putin, with it being pointed out “how much Vladimir Putin hates Hillary Clinton” – the misogynist versus the sort of feminist.

Could Russia target Ardern and New Zealand democracy? Have they already done this?

CNN:  Hillary Clinton rules out 2020 run, but says ‘I’m not going anywhere’

Hillary Clinton said Monday that she is not running for president in 2020 but will continue to speak out about politics, saying, “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’m not running, but I’m going to keep on working and speaking and standing up for what I believe,” the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee told CNN affiliate News 12 Westchester.

“I want to be sure that people understand I’m going to keep speaking out. I’m not going anywhere,” Clinton said.

When asked if she would consider running for governor, mayor or any elected office again, Clinton told News 12, “I don’t think so,” adding that she loves living in New York and is grateful for the time she spent as senator of the state.

“What’s at stake in our country, the kinds of things that are happening right now are deeply troubling to me.” She said the country has become “not just polarized, we’ve gotten into really opposing camps unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my adult life.”

Clinton said that “we’ve made a lot of progress” but “we still have a long way to go on women’s rights, on gay rights, on making sure that every person has the same chance to have their dignity and their identity respected.”

This may be why Russia got so involved in the 2016 US election. Whether Trump’s campaign ‘colluded’ with Russia, or whether Russia used Trump to dump on Clinton, are still unanswered questions. The Robert Mueller report may or may not provide answers.

More from Erynn Brook:

It’s basically impossible to say HRC’s name without being bombarded with memes and trolls and propaganda. And that’s all intentional. I’m not talking about her policies. I’m talking about the interpersonal dynamic between Putin and HRC playing out on a world stage.

Oh the dog incident with Merkel isn’t just “related”, it’s more evidence. It’s in the intelligence briefings that’s she’s afraid of dogs. He gave Merkel a stuffed dog the year before. It’s straight up psychological warfare.

Foreign Policy: Putin uses dog to intimidate Merkel

Remember that Hillary Clinton was First Lady when Putin became Prime Minister and then President. Remember that Hillary is widely cited as being the driving force behind her husband’s political career.

Remember that she had an objectively successful political career, AFTER her husband’s impeachment. I don’t mean a while after, I mean like while it’s happening she’s running for state senator in NY. Which she won. That should have been impossible.

Love her or hate her, that’s not what I’m talking about.

Hillary Clinton is demonstrably, a very, very good politician. It’s likely she decided she wanted to be president when she was a kid and that influenced a large majority of her life choices.

So Clinton becomes Secretary of State when Putin is Prime Minister for the second time, and she is a force to be reckoned with. AND she’s the wife of his former American counterpart. She’s the woman he used to tell his wife to entertain. She’s fucking decor to him.

I am begging you to get this: refusal to see the role misogyny played in all of this, in the state of our world right now, is making things worse.

Don’t take my word for it, do your own research. Do some real, substantial research.

And ask yourself: if the richest, most powerful, most dangerous misogynist in the world, thought that the woman who had been coming for him for decades, who saw through all his shit and wasn’t afraid of him, if she was about to get the one job she could get to take him down.

If he saw that coming towards him, if this dangerous man who built a career on crushing political dissidents iduring Cold War, if this “world class misogynist” felt threatened by a WOMAN…

What would he do? What could he do?

Here, I’ll even give you a few places to get started. By all means, if you can show me I’m wrong while still addressing all the Russia crap, without resorting to more misogyny, and with actual, demonstrable, critical analysis, I’d love to hear it.

Brook links to another thread:

And it’s a wider problem.

What are the implications for New Zealand? Jacinda Ardern has positioned herself in stark contrast to both Trump and Putin. New Zealand may not matter much to Russia, but it’s possible Putin could start taking potshots at Ardern. And at our democracy.

Has it already happened? Why did Cameron Slater and Whale Oil actively promote Winston Peters in our 2017 election?

A year ago Peters was in the news here for promoting a trade deal with Russia, and for fudging around while other Western countries condemned Russia for their involvement in the Salisbury nerve agent attacks.

Noted noted: What’s with Winston’s crush on Russia?

With Winston Peters, it’s the Secret Samovar. He has this thing about Russia, and no one can explain why. There was the suggestion, when he began harping on about restoring full trade relations with Russia some years ago, that his close ties with the fishing industry had made him hyper-sensitive to lost trade opportunities in seafood.

This week, Peters has repeated his scepticism that Russia shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine in 2014 and expanded that refusenik-ism to cover the growing suspicion that Russia just poisoned a spy and his daughter in Britain.

He also averred that our getting a free-trade deal with Russia would be just as good, and should be just as big a priority, as scoring one with the European Union.

It may be that Peters admires Putin’s strongman approach in the way he shares some heartland electoral territory with Trump over immigration and protectionism. Among his startling comments as Foreign Minister this week was one expressing sympathy with the US’s proposed new tariffs on aluminium and steel – which had immediately to be contradicted by Trade Minister David Parker.

Anyway, Peters’ preoccupation with Putin’s Russia goes back years; it’s not something he’s just manufactured as a handy coalition prying bar. And dying in a ditch over Russia is hardly the gesture lost NZ First voters – or any other voters, for that matter – would rally around.

It may be a stretch to suggest a Russian-Peters-Slater conspiracy.

It could simply be that to different degrees Peters shares a similar misogynist view with Putin and Trump, seeing themselves as superior to female leaders, and attracted to each other in a ‘strongmen unite’ sort of empathy.

 

Cohen: Trump is a racist, conman, cheat

Michael Cohen, an ex lawyer and so called ‘fixer’ for Donald Trump, is testifying before the US congress.

MSNBC – Michael Cohen: ‘I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.’

For a preview of Cohen’s statement see this thread on Twitter:

In typical fashion Trump has responded in advance.

With help from family:

That’s rather ironic.

Cohen is answering questions through the day. Lunchtime summary (Guardian live)

In explosive public testimony before Congress, Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen has cast the president as a “racist” and a “conman” who engaged in criminal activity after taking office as president to cover up an illegal hush money payment to an adult film actor.

  • Cohen said Trump had prior knowledge that his longtime adviser, Roger Stone, was communicating with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election regarding the release of hacked Democratic emails.
  • He also said Trump was aware of the infamous Trump Tower meeting between members of his presidential campaign and a Russian lawyer.
  • Cohen, who spent a decade as the president’s fixer, testified publicly for the first time in detail about a six-figure sum that was paid to silence adult film actor Stormy Daniels, who alleged an affair with Trump.
  • Cohen presented checks he said were signed by the president and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, to reimburse him for the hush money payments.
  • Cohen also added that he was instructed by Trump to lie about the affair to the president’s wife, Melania Trump, stating: “Lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets because she is a kind, good person.”

Questioning is continuing.

Michael Cloud, Republican of Texas, takes over, and asks Cohen if he is aware of the significance of the date May 6.

Yes, Cohen says. It’s the day he is going to prison for three years.

Cloud runs through Cohen’s crimes, sticking to that trusty Republican playbook. How are we supposed to find anything out today, Cloud says, “when the best witness” we can summon has “already been convicted of lying before us”.

And then we’re back to this book deal. According to Cloud the deal – which Cohen does not currently have – will be worth millions of dollars.

The GOP plan seems to be two-pronged:

a) Cohen is a criminal, we can’t trust him and it’s a disgrace that he’s here,

b) Cohen is only doing this because he thinks he can make money from it.

Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat from Illinois: Nothing at the Trump organization was done unless it was run by Donald Trump, is that correct?

Cohen: “That’s 100% certain.”

Cohen says he cannot discuss that as it is being investigated by the Southern District of New York.

Krishnamoorthi asked Cohen for details on when he last spoke with Trump or his agents:

Cohen: “Unfortunately this topic is actually something that’s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York, and I’ve been asked by them not to discuss and not to talk about these issues.”

Krishnamoorthi asks if there is any other wrongdoing or illegality by Trump that Cohen is aware of:

“Yes and again those are part of the investigation that’s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.”

Trump and Kim predict success in Vietnam, media excluded

It’s hard to know what will actually come out of the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Young Un in Vietnam. It will take time to see what progress is made.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pose before their meeting during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

An odd looking pair – photo from Reuters

Reuters:  Trump and North Korea’s Kim predict success in high-stakes nuclear summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met in Vietnam on Wednesday for a second summit that the United States hopes will persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises of peace and development.

Kim and Trump shook hands and smiled briefly in front of a row of their national flags at the Metropole before heading to dinner together.

Trump told reporters he thought the talks would be very successful, and when asked if he was “walking back” on denuclearization demands, said “no”.

Kim said they had overcome obstacles to hold the second summit and praised Trump for his “courageous decision” to begin a dialogue.

“Now that we’re meeting here again like this, I’m confident that there will be an excellent outcome that everyone welcomes, and I’ll do my best to make it happen,” Kim said.

Trump and Kim held a 20-minute, one-on-one chat before sitting down to dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Kim’s top envoy, Kim Yong Chol, and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.

Reuters:  White House excludes reporters from Trump-Kim dinner after they asked questions

The White House barred reporters from Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg from covering a dinner between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday after two of them asked Trump questions during his initial interactions with Kim.

The pool was present when Trump and Kim first met and shook hands. During that short initial meeting, while cameras were rolling, Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason asked Trump what he wanted to achieve at the summit and whether he had backed away from his demand for North Korea’s denuclearization.

Reporters in the pool regularly shout out questions to leaders and on Wednesday they asked Trump about the summit and the testimony in Congress of his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, in two separate opportunities known as “pool sprays.”

The reporters were later excluded from covering the dinner because of what White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said were “sensitivities over shouted questions in the previous sprays,” the Washington Post reported.

It’s unlikely media will get much from answers from Trump and Kim, but this looks petty from the White House. And it iis an attack on the freedom of the press and their essential role in reporting and holding to account.

Reuters said it was “deeply troubled” by the exclusion of Mason and other reporters from covering the dinner.

“We believe it is essential that government provide access to – and the ability to ask questions of – officials and hold them to account,” Reuters said in a statement.

The Associated Press said it opposed White House efforts to restrict access to the president.

“It is critically important that any president uphold American press freedom standards, not only at home but especially while abroad,” said AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton.

While Trump appears to be working on peace with North Korea he looks a long way from making peace with US media.

Misunderstanding a Memorandum of Understanding

Donald Trump answering questions on the negotiations for a trade agreement between the US and China:

I think the MOU is going to be very short term.

I don’t like MOU’s because they don’t mean anything. To me they don’t mean anything. I think you’re better off just going into a document. I was never a fan of an MOU.

He was then contradicted by his top trade representative Robert Lighthizer:

A memorandum of understanding is a binding agreement between two people.

This was in front of  a Chinese delegation.

They obviously have different ideas about how to negotiate trade deals. They may both be wrong.

Investipedia: Memorandum of Understanding:

“A memorandum of understanding (MOU) is a nonbinding agreement between two or more parties outlining the terms and details of an understanding, including each parties’ requirements and responsibilities. An MOU is often the first stage in the formation of a formal contract.”

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) is not legally binding but is viewed as a serious document by the law. In the United States, an MOU is the same as a letter of intent, which is a nonbinding agreement stating a binding agreement will soon follow. MOUs are most often used as part of multinational international relations because, unlike treaties, they are quick and can be kept secret.

An MOU signals a legal contract is imminent. However, an MOU itself is not legally defensible but should still clearly outline specific points of an understanding. An MOU should describe the parties are, the project on which they are agreeing, the scope of the document, each parties’ roles and responsibilities, and more. An MOU can help two parties move in the right direction toward an agreement.

An MOU, while not an enforceable document, still holds a lot of power because of the time, energy and resources needed to draft an effective and fair document. An MOU forces the participating parties to reach a semblance of a mutual understanding, and, in the process, the two sides naturally mediate and figure out what is most important in moving toward an eventual future agreement that benefits both sides.

The misunderstanding about an MOU:

There were mixed responses, from:

Much as I hate to say this, but Trump is right. Any MoU I have negotiated included clauses that made it clear it was non-binding. It’s not a contract. Poor choice of a Trade Rep who doesn’t understand this though. The below is the official UK government definition.

To:

Jesus Christ Dom…. this is Government not commercial law…. MOUs are how trade deals are made functional. They bind countries.

It doesn’t surprise me that Trump gives no weight to an MOU – he dumps full trade agreements he doesn’t like, and starts trade wars as a way of forcing changes to trade practices and regulations.

The understanding from this is that anything goes with Trump, regardless of normal practice on negotiating trade agreements.

I don’t think that Trump’s rubbishing of the value of an MOU will give the Chinese any confidence about trade negotiations, and will negate the value of any Memorandums of Understanding.

US to leave 200 ‘peacekeepers’ in Syria

Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in December that the US troops would withdraw from Syria took the world by surprise, and serious concerns were expressed in the Respected US. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis resigned immediately.

Trump said in a video released on Twitter:

“We have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

That was questioned and ridiculed as fighting continued against ISIS.

And a  complete US withdrawal would have left Syria, Iran, Turkey and Russia in positions of influence.

The plan has now been adjusted, with 200 peacekeepers to remain.

Reuters:  U.S. to leave 200 American peacekeepers in Syria after pullout

The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a U.S. pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 American troops in Syria, saying they had defeated Islamic State militants there, even as U.S.-backed Syrian forces continued a final push against the group’s last outpost.

But Trump has been under pressure from multiple advisers to adjust his policy to ensure the protection of Kurdish forces, who supported the fight against Islamic State and who might now be threatened by Turkey, and to serve as a bulwark against Iran’s influence.

“A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The decision was announced after Trump spoke by phone to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. A White House statement said the two leaders agreed, regarding Syria, to “continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone.”

Leaving even a small group of U.S. troops in Syria could pave the way for European allies to commit hundreds of troops to help set up and observe a potential safe zone in northeast Syria.

The commander of U.S.-backed Syrian forces has called for 1,000 to 1,500 international troops to remain in the country to help fight Islamic State and expressed hope the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

It would also have left the Kurds, who the US had supported in Syria, in a precarious position with Turkey.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

And it would have strengthened Iranian and Russian influence.

US senator Lindsey Graham had been strongly against the announced withdrawal.

Real Clear Politics (20 December 2018) – Sen. Graham: Trump Withdraw From Syria “A Stain On The Honor Of America”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night blasting President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Graham called Trump’s declaration that ISIS has been defeated “fake news” and leaving the country would be a “stain” on America.

Graham Statement on Syria (11 January 2019):

“From an American point of view, we have strategic objectives that must be accomplished in northeastern Syria.  The Iranians, Russians and Assad should not be allowed to be the biggest winners of our withdrawal.

“The mission in Syria is not yet complete and we must continue to work with our partners and allies to ensure that ISIS is destroyed and never returns.”

ABC News (17 January 2019):  Graham says Trump’s statements have emboldened ISIS in Syria

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top ally of President Donald Trump, expressed concerns on Wednesday that Trump’s comments about withdrawing troops from Syria have emboldened terrorist groups like ISIS, and that he hopes Trump thinks “long and hard” about his next moves when it comes to withdrawing troops from the war torn country.

“My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we are fighting. You make people we are trying to help wonder about us.”

Task and Purpose (20 February 2019): Sen. Graham tells Shanahan that leaving Syria is ‘the dumbest f*****g idea I’ve ever heard’

“That’s the dumbest f******g idea I’ve ever heard,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reportedly replied when Shanahan confirmed the Trump administration still plans to complete the Syria withdrawal by April 30.

Later, Graham told Shanahan, “I am now your adversary, not your friend.”

The blow up came during a Feb. 16 meeting in Munich with Shanahan and three dozen lawmakers from both parties, according to Breitbart, the Washington Post, and NBC.

Graham’s spokesman Kevin Bishop did not dispute media reports of Graham’s comments during the meeting, adding the senator declined to comment for this story.

While he rarely criticizes the president, Graham initially called Trump’s decision to pull all U.S. troops from Syria a “huge Obama-like mistake.”

The pressure on Trump to think long and hard – something that seems alien to his personality – seems to have worked.

After the announcement that the US would leave troops in Syria, Graham issued this statement:

“This will ensure ISIS does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew. This also ensures Turkey and SDF elements that helped us defeat ISIS will not go into conflict.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria”.

“With this decision, President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice. This decision will ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, in Syria. For a small fraction of the forces we have had in Syria, we can accomplish our national security objectives.

“Well done Mr. President.”

It still won’t be easy keeping all the different forces at bay and counter the influence of Iran, Turkey and Russia, but at least the US will have a base presence to work from.

There is a heck of a lot of sorting out still to do in Syria.

The Syrian civil war started in 2011, with the US getting involved with an international coalition in  2014. It’s been complicated. From Wikipedia:

The Syrian government and Syrian Armed Forces and its international allies, a loose alliance of majorly Sunni opposition rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadistgroups (including al-Nusra Front), and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with a number of countries in the region and beyond being either directly involved or providing support to one or another faction (Iran, Russia, Turkey, the United States, as well as others).

Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah support the Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Armed Forces militarily, with Russia conducting military operations since September 2015.

The U.S.-led international coalition, established in 2014 with the declared purpose of countering ISIL, has conducted airstrikes primarily against ISIL as well as some against government and pro-government targets.

Since 2015, the US has also supported the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and its armed wing, the SDF. Turkey, on the other hand, has become deeply involved against the Syrian government since 2016, actively supporting the Syrian opposition and occupying large swaths of northwestern Syria.

Between 2011 and 2017, fighting from the Syrian Civil War spilled over into Lebanon as opponents and supporters of the Syrian Arab Republic travelled to Lebanon to fight and attack each other on Lebanese soil.

Furthermore, while officially neutral, Israel has conducted airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian forces, whose presence in southwestern Syria it views as a threat.

The 200 US troops that will remain in Syria have a few challenges – but will no doubt have a mass of ships and planes and troops not far away in support if needed.

And one of the biggest ongoing battles may be in limiting the damage Trump does with spur of the moment announcements on Twitter that can have serious implications for the Middle East and the world.

I hope Trump has not been given the ability to order nuclear strikes by tweet.

Trump’s campaign of pressure and intimidation against investigations

If this is anywhere near accurate it is alarming – and it is obviously at least partly true as Trump has openly attacked aa number of aspects of investigations into what he and his campaign have done.

This examination by , , and reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by President Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement unlike any before seen in American history.

Interviews with dozens of current and former U.S. government officials and others close to President Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a 2-year drama.

The White House and the Department of Justice declined to comment for this article. Matthew Whitaker referred inquiries to the Justice Department.

Our reporting details how President Trump has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and how he has turned the effort into an obsession.

President Trump has publicly attacked the federal inquiries into contacts between his campaign and Russia more than 1,100 times, according to our analysis of nearly every public statement or tweet that he has made while in office

During a lunch with one of his longtime allies, Chris Christie, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, Mr. Trump said that firing Mr. Flynn would end the Russia inquiry.

“This Russia thing is all over now because I fired Flynn,” Mr. Trump said, according to a new book by Mr. Christie.

Mr. Christie disagreed with that assessment. “This Russia thing is far from over,” Mr. Christie wrote that he told Mr. Trump, who responded: “What do you mean? Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.”

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was also at the lunch with Mr. Christie and viewed the firing the way his father-in-law did. “That’s right, firing Flynn ends the whole Russia thing,” Mr. Kushner said, according to Mr. Christie’s book.

So Trump and Kushner thought he had successfully stopped the investigation into himself. That the president should even attempt to stop investigations into himself is bad enough (but seems to be largely accepted as just what trump does), but thinking he had done something to stop the investigation completely shows clear intent to put himself above and beyond the law,

That should be alarming.

So should Trump’s predictable response.

This is a pathetic continuation of his attempts to paint himself as the victim of persecution, and to paint media who investigate him and hold him to account as enemies. The only thing not alarming about this is that he has done it so often it has become normal behaviour from him.

Media have been far from perfect in how they have dealt with the Trump phenomenon, and the investigations, but Trump’s attacks against them, and his attempts to discredit any media that doesn’t laud and applaud him, and his attempts to make his own Twitter feed as the only authority on him, is quite disgraceful in a supposed open democracy and free society.

Despite his success in trivialising serious matters and creating a numbness in response to his ongoing outrageous behaviour, it is gradually backfiring on Trump. He has many loyal supporters but his support is not increasing to a popular level, Poll ‘approval’ has not been above 45% since just after he took over in early 2017, and disapproval has not been below 50% (RCP).

Much of his entrenched support is because the people wanting certain things done want them done regardless of democracy or proper process so are willing to excuse his attempts to abuse his power. But he is gradually disappointing different groups through his failures and his u-turns and his excuses.

His attacks on media are forcing them to be more accurate in their investigations of him. And he has challenged and provoked them into doing better investigations. This is exposing him as a bullying buffoon who would be dangerous if the US checks on power and a compliant media allowed him.

“A majority of French and Germans now trust Russia and China more than the United States”

Donald Trump is shaking up international relations. Some of this may eventually be for the better. He things he deserves a Nobel Peace prize – see Trump boasted at a news conference on Friday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had given him a copy of a five-page letter he’d sent to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selects the annual Peace Prize laureates – but that is debatable.

But the Trump doctrine (chaos and shoot from the tweet) is also very risky and threatens the established super power balances.

And at increasing risk is relationships between the US and Europe.

Longtime analyst of German-American relations Karl Kaiser: “Two years of Mr. Trump, and a majority of French and Germans now trust Russia and China more than the United States.”

NY Times:  Rift Between Trump and Europe Is Now Open and Angry

European leaders have long been alarmed that President Trump’s words and Twitter messages could undo a trans-Atlantic alliance that had grown stronger over seven decades. They had clung to the hope that those ties would bear up under the strain.

But in the last few days of a prestigious annual security conference in Munich, the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry and concrete, diplomats and analysts say.

A senior German official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on such matters, shrugged his shoulders and said: “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken.”

The most immediate danger, diplomats and intelligence officials warned, is that the trans-Atlantic fissures now risk being exploited by Russia and China.

The Europeans no longer believe that Washington will change, not when Mr. Trump sees traditional allies as economic rivals and leadership as diktat. His distaste for multilateralism and international cooperation is a challenge to the very heart of what Europe is and needs to be in order to have an impact in the world.

But beyond the Trump administration, an increasing number of Europeans say they believe that relations with the United States will never be the same again.

International relations never remain the same, they keep evolving, but the Trump thump could end up being a seismic shift in power balances.

If Europe moves closer to Russia and China this will further isolate the US. To an extent this is what Trump wants, he puts nationalism well ahead of international interests, but he may not understand the potential repercussions and unintended consequences.

The most visible pushback against Washington came from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany — who delivered an unusually passionate speech — and from her defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen. They spoke about the dangers of unilateral actions by major partners without discussing the consequences with allies.

They cited Mr. Trump’s recent announcements that American troops would leave northern Syria and Afghanistan, as well as the administration’s decision to suspend one of the last remaining arms-control agreements: the ban on land-based intermediate range missiles.

That decision affects European security, and there has been no alternative strategy, Ms. Merkel said. Abandoning the treaty, despite Russia’s violations, helps decouple Germany from the American nuclear umbrella.

“We sit there in the middle with the result,” Ms. Merkel said.

The Syria pullout, she continued, could only help Russia and Iran. That view was echoed by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who called American policy in Syria “a mystery to me.”

Trump’s Syrian policy is contentious within the US. Immediately following his announcement of the US pulling out of Syria, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis resigned.

Last week: Russia, Iran, Turkey to hold fourth round of Syria talks in Sochi

Thursday’s meeting between Putin, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan will focus on the long-term settlement of the Syrian crisis, the Kremlin said in a statement on Monday.

But the three leaders will also discuss projects and coordination on the international arena.

The Syria talks run in parallel to the Geneva talks organised by the United Nations.

But Russia distrusts the negotiations organised by the West. On Wednesday, Russia stayed away from a Middle East conference organised by the United States in Poland, a NATO member.

Last month (Fox News):  Trump administration riles European Union with diplomatic snub

President Trump has angered European Union officials by downgrading the E.U. delegation to Washington’s diplomatic status — and not telling them.

The move by the State Department, reported by Germany’s Deutsche Welle, downgraded the E.U.’s Washington delegation from member state to international organization.

“We don’t exactly know when they did it, because they conveniently forgot to notify us,” an E.U. official told the outlet, which reported that the move initially happened in October or November.

Two days ago (Fox News): In Munich, Pence doubles down on criticism of Europe over Iran nuclear deal, urges removal of Maduro

Vice President Mike Pence asked European allies to follow Washington’s lead and withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and urged the European Union to recognize Venezuelan politician Juan Guaido as the country’s president during a speech to world leaders at the Munich Security Conference.

“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining sanctions” against Iran by offering economic incentives in exchange for limiting its nuclear program, Pence said Saturday, speaking after German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

MSNBC: Pence met with silence; Merkel hammers Trump

While speaking at the 55th Munich Security Conference, VP Mike Pence was met with silence after mentioning President Trump. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the Trump administration’s foreign policies.

Wall Street Journal:  Munich Conference Highlights a Divided U.S.

A divided America was on display this weekend in Munich where Vice President Mike Pence and Democrats including his predecessor Joe Biden offered competing visions of the trans-Atlantic relationship that could shape the world for years to come.

Both Mr. Pence and the Democrats claimed to stand for U.S. leadership on the world stage and accused each other of wrecking a world order that is under threat by rival powers, namely China and Russia.

Mr. Pence presented a strong defense of the Trump administration’s “America First” policy to world leaders gathered for the annual Munich Security Conference. The theme this year, “Picking Up the Pieces,” reflected a view widely shared among European nations: that the world order is in danger because of a breakdown in the relationship between the U.S. and its European allies.

Politico.eu: Munich Insecurity Conference

The Munich Security Conference — a forum conceived during the Cold War to discuss security threats and challenges — has never been an event for the faint of heart. Even so, the mood at this year’s gathering, the 55th, would best be described as funereal.

It’s no secret Europeans and Americans (i.e. the Trump administration) have been at odds over a laundry list of issues including the Iranian nuclear deal, climate policy, trade and commitment to NATO. Yet the interaction between the two sides in Munich — which bordered on the caustic, both in public and behind the scenes — left some participants warning that the estrangement threatens to hobble the transatlantic security alliance at a time of growing instability.

Instability heightens risks.

James Stavridis, a retired American admiral who served as NATO’s supreme allied commander until 2013, said the alliance’s paralysis was most apparent where it can least afford it: hybrid warfare, an area that all sides agree poses a severe threat to the stability of democratic systems.

The threat to democratic systems is not just in the US and Europe.

ABC (Australia): Scott Morrison reveals foreign government hackers targeted Liberal, Labor and National parties in attack on Parliament’s servers

He confirmed earlier reports, revealed by the ABC, that the nation’s cyber security agencies believed a foreign government was behind the attacks.

“Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” Mr Morrison told Parliament.

Investigations into hacking and foreign interference in elections in the US are controversial, but connstitutes a major threat to democratic systems.

Back to Europe: Angela Merkel Ruffled at Prospect of More Trump Hardball Tactics, Sources Say

Merkel’s chancellery team is concerned at the prospect of further hardball tactics from the Trump administration after fending off U.S. efforts to turn her European Union partners against a new gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, the people said, asking not to be named discussing private conversations.

The U.S. effort to drive a wedge between Germany and its EU allies had helped spur Merkel to deliver one of her most impassioned speeches when she addressed the meeting earlier in the day. Her defense of the multilateral order challenged by Trump earned a standing ovation from the audience of presidents, prime ministers and senior defense officials.

She also added a geopolitical dimension to her argument, warning that isolating Russia at a moment of tectonic shifts in global relations was not in Europe’s interests.

“Consciously shutting Russia out politically, I think that’s also wrong,” Merkel said. “Europe can’t have a geopolitical interest in halting all relations to Russia.”

If Trump keeps pissing other countries off he will get what he wants to an extent, a more isolated US. What fills that power vacuum could constitute a major shift in international power balances.

Trump declares national emergency to get border wall built

President Donald Trump has been promising for years to build a wall because of security threats. He has been threatening for weeks to declare a national emergency over border security in order to get funds to build more wall between the US and Mexico.

There must be a sudden emergency, because he has just declared one.

President Donald Trump plans to spend about $8 billion on border barriers, far more than Congress has given him for that purpose.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney says Trump will tap various other sources of money beyond the nearly $1.4 billion in a government funding bill that Congress passed. Trump is expected to sign the bill.

Besides the money from Congress, Mulvaney said Friday that Trump plans to spend $600 million in Treasury forfeiture funds and $2.5 billion in Defense Department counterdrug money. Trump is also tapping about $3.6 billion worth of funds set aside for military construction projects.

BBC:  ‘Walls work’: Trump confirms emergency move

President Trump confirms he’ll use emergency powers to build a wall on Mexico’s border, saying “walls work”.

But it’s far from certain if his declaring an emergency will work.

Reuters – Explainer: Trump risks legal fight with emergency threat on wall

President Donald Trump will almost certainly face legal challenges over his decision to declare a national emergency to get additional funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, circumventing the power of Congress to set spending policy.

Legal scholars say it is unclear how such a step would play out, but they agree a court test would likely focus on whether an emergency actually exists on the southern border and on the limits of presidential power over taxpayer funds.

Trump is unhappy with a bipartisan border security bill that is going through Congress to avert another government shutdown, because it contains only a fraction of the funds he demanded for his promised border wall. The White House said Trump would sign the bill but declare a national emergency to try to obtain funds for the wall.

That will likely trigger a long legal fight possibly stretching into Trump’s 2020 re-election bid, and embolden critics who already accuse him of authoritarian tendencies and unpredictable swerves in policy-making.

Congressional Democrats are already vowing legal challenges.

They have balked at giving Trump money for what they say is a wasteful and unnecessary wall.

CNBC:  Trump will sign spending bill, declare a national emergency and ‘other executive action’ to build wall

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “may” file a legal challenge and will review her options, she told reporters Thursday.

“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall,” she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Thursday. They added: “This is not an emergency, and the president’s fearmongering doesn’t make it one.”

As Trump moves to declare national emergency to build wall, border crossings at record lows