The Derelict Is At It Again: McMaster at the Reagan Library

December 6, 2017–In Simi Valley the thing folks still talk about is how Air Force One made it into the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Granted, the aircraft was not the one which President Reagan got approved and funded on his watch, it was the older Boeing 707 version that had served presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter, not the plush Boeing 747 version of today. The newer aircraft would hardly have made it through the suburban avenues, much less up the steep, winding two-lane hillside road that is the only approach into the Library. Even the older aircraft had to be taken apart to make it.

They still talk about Air Force One. I don’t think that will happen for the visit of Harold Raymond McMaster, today’s national security adviser, who spoke at the Reagan Library last weekend at an event billed as the Reagan National Defense Forum. I’ve written before about McMaster as practitioner of the same sort of “dereliction of duty” of which he accused the Vietnam-era generals in his book of that name. General McMaster, as security adviser, is acting as enabler and defender of President Donald Trump’s fractured foreign policy. At the Reagan Library McMaster continued in his now-standard mode–he sought to lay claim to the mantle of Reagan, proposing Trump as the Gipper’s true descendant. Saying the nation must design its policy to counter Russia and China, reclaim confidence in American values, and align diplomatic, military, intelligence, and law enforcement [read immigration] policies, McMaster the Derelict dug his hole deeper. For myself, I had little use for the Reagan national security policy at the time–it sought unbridled military superiority, carried out a weapons build up that caused domestic economic problems, nearly triggered a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and was confrontational across several continents in conducting aggressive covert operations. However, the Reagan program was a policy–that is, the different elements were planned, fit together, and corresponded to some concept of overall strategy. It would be a mistake–one Harold McMaster is even now making– to represent Trump national security policy as following a strategy in any way. For example, his “America First” stance is antithetical to the nation’s longest, closest alliances. His pro-Russia and pro-China rhetoric is contradictory to the proposition that forces must be built to defend against Russia and China. Trump’s opening to Saudi Arabia is fueling instability on the Arabian peninsula and in the Persian Gulf which it has long been U.S. policy to avoid. Trump’s Syria policy is incoherent altogether. In Africa and Asia there is no policy worth the name. The Afghan war is being pursued in a brainless fashion while the Afghan government–our Afghan government–disintegrates before our eyes. Then Mr. Trump makes nice with a rightist Indian government which hates Pakistan, with whom we have to work in order to fight the Afghan war. And, if national security is being designed to counter Russia and China, what is Trump doing kicking up an unnecessary conflict with North Korea where he wants Russia and China to help us resolve it. To garnish this pastiche of disparate elements with the name “strategy” is, in a word, to create fake news.

I have been on Reagan’s Air Force One. It is the centerpiece of the largest gallery in the museum portion of the facility. The plane is not all that impressive after all, given the inherent limitations of a Boeing 707 fuselage. What is truly remarkable is the planning effort necessary to get that thing to this place and then build a museum gallery to hold it. That kind of planning is not happening in the Trump administration today. Their hopes for a bigger, plusher -747 amount to a bunch of component parts littered about on factory floors. The problem is that we’re not really talking about inert objects. Trump’s arbitrary diktats and vertiginous changes of direction will ultimately lead to complete immobility and confusion. –And Derelict McMaster helped make it happen.

Flynn Flips : The Art of the Deal

December 2, 2017–Yesterday General Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to counts of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) when being questioned on aspects of the Russian Caper, which readers of this space will know we have been following since the summer of 2016. Flynn’s confession–and commitment to turn state’s evidence in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller–give us a suitable moment to take stock of developments.

The conventional wisdom in scandals like this has long held that the coverup is worse than the crime. Although I had some qualms about that formula, which emerged during the Watergate affair–which, after all, represented an attempt to determine the course of a presidential election–I think the Russian Caper challenges conventional wisdom even more. This time we have not only the political manipulation but an effort to benefit from the influence and actions of foreign states. That both contravenes United States law but may turn out to amount to espionage–high treason. Of course the coverup is bad–Mike Flynn will be just the tip of the iceberg–and it has directly involved the president. (Until very late in Watergate, Richard Nixon managed to keep the president’s hand hidden.) By his own admission, President Donald J. Trump fired FBI director James Comey for purposes of squelching investigation of the Russia Caper. Trump is also revealed to have intervened with congressional authorities in both the House and the Senate for favorable actions, including shutting down their own investigations of the Caper. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is by now neck deep in dubious refusals to answer legally justified questions and in outright perjury. Various officials in the Trump White House are far out on thin limbs in parroting Trump’s “there’s no there there” rhetoric, which every day seems more transparently false.

Mike Flynn’s flip cracks the ice. Expect to see even more Trump officials hiring lawyers–and lining up to make deals of their own. Nothing that has emerged so far refutes the theory of the case advanced here last year : the Trump campaign signaled Russia it was open to Russia’s assistance. General Flynn himself was one of the emissaries. A crucial waving of the hands, if not a full scale pow wow, took place in April 2016 at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel. June meetings between Donald Trump Jr. plus senior campaign officials and new Russian emissaries conveyed illustrative examples of help. In July the Trump campaign signaled back by working to weaken the Republican Party platform on sanctions against Russia. On at least two occasions–promising compromising information on Hillary Clinton at the time of the June meeting, and when asking Russia to find “Hillary’s emails,”–Mr Trump suggested he had some personal knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes. By now the documented instances of Trump campaign contacts with the Russians have reached nearly a dozen.

The art of Trump’s deal was to have kept himself away from touching elements of the political manipulation. But in the coverup his fingerprints are everywhere–in tweets, declarations, demonstrable falsehoods, actions, and so on. It is regrettable that the Republican Party has stooped so low, and abandoned its long-held principles, to curry favor with this man.