Ferris wheels, grilled corn, drinks with Sarah Sanders and Iran what?
Americans woke up Friday morning to the news the President of The United States called off the bombing of strategic targets in Iran just 10 minutes before the action was to start.
The proposed bombings came after Iran shot down a U.S. drone in international airspace if you believe the U.S. government or over Iranian airspace if you believe the Iranians. Both governments have their credibility issues.
Donald Trump, upon learning that as many as 150 people could die in the bombings (others say the numbers could be potentially higher) decided killing that many people because Iran shot down a large radio-controlled drone wasn’t worth the price of admission.
On that he should be congratulated. Apparently sometimes even Trump can recognize the obvious. Further, despite his bombast, Trump has never displayed the war mongering froth shared by his eager-to-induce-the-rapture friend Mike Pompeo or the bomb-them-back-to-the-stone-age minion John Bolton.
But the United States, by the president’s own admission, came within 10 minutes of escalating a tense situation into a potential war with Iran - a unilateral move with no coalition, only condemnation, no far reaching plan and with only the typical fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality for which Trump is notorious.
A war with Iran wouldn’t be like a war with Iraq. Iran is well supplied, well-trained and is allied with Russia. The country also has proxies all over the world including terrorist organizations it can tap and thus further muddy the waters. On the United States side, no one on the International stage is eager to invite Trump over for a barbecue weekend - including and especially some of our allies who are still smarting from Trump tantrums.
We are in this mess because Trump didn’t like the Iranian treaty engineered and initiated during the administration of former President Obama. Trump walked way from the treaty and then put Iran in a headlock with his rebuke. Most international observers predicted Iran’s next move - shooting down a drone or something similar - was a logical next step to get our attention. Iran doesn’t want a war. We don’t. But here we are at the precipice.
. . . the government of by and for the people is legally obligated to explain its actions taken on behalf of the people by the representatives who claim to represent us. No one should be a party to violence without their consent .
Surprisingly, no one on Friday at the White House Friday seemed to understand the seriousness of what just occurred. Some were even unaware a previous crisis in Iran helped bring about the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration. Others thought it was “no big deal.”
Veteran reporters shook their head in wide wonder. Eamon Javers of CNBC noticed a thick strand of cob webs on the briefing room’s arched doors. “Symbolic isn’t it?” He mused about nothing in particular that afternoon as he tweeted out the picture of the cobwebs.
“It’s like the movie, ‘Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?’” said Debra Saunders, the White House Las Vegas Review reporter and the prime minister of the former “aisle people,” - of which I’m a proud member - at least when they had press briefings. Spoiler alert: We all stood in the aisle. Saunders was our ceremonial leader and also our ambassador to the seated people since she also shared a seat in the briefing room with another news organization.
In the submarine-like press offices of the lower level of the White House, more than a few veteran reporters who showed to work Friday expressed not only frustration but incredulity at the “dereliction of duty,” the president and his Chief of Staff showed by not staffing the White House with senior officials less than a day after threatening a war with Iran. Roll Call's John Bennett smiled in quiet desperation. Nobody was talking.
Some wondered if other reporters were over-reacting. Some didn’t care. And others kept asking everyone else if they were going to go to visit Sarah Sanders at her going away party Monday.
“She wants to drink with me?” I asked in all honesty. “Man, she does want to be tortured.”
After all I’ve had drinks with mobsters and convicted murderers. Slow interview torture is my favorite method of evisceration.
But seriously folks, the government of by and for the people is legally obligated to explain its actions taken on behalf of the people by the representatives who claim to represent us. No one should be a party to violence without consent.
Or if you’re an incompetent politician, you may see it as the American public reserves the right to second guess every move you make. Either works fine. It’s the end result of oversight that is most important.
Tell us what the Hell is going on. Make your case as others have. Then let Congress decide to rubber stamp your efforts. Don’t forego your partner in crime.
Today we do not have that. We cannot even agree the other side of the aisle may have a more plausible argument other than a crude ejaculation of demagoguery that sounds like a wild fox caught in the blades of my father-in-law’s hay bailer. There is little congressional consensus building and Trump contributes nothing to that end. Divide and conquer is never a friend of a consensus.
“Screw you. My way or the highway bitch,” has never been a winning argument no matter how loud or how often it is shouted. Still, there are plenty of people on both sides of the aisle who persist in believing so, thus helping to skew the bell curve lower on test scores.
To that end it isn’t just the president but Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell who is among the gold standard of today’s politicians - if one would consider the sewer today’s gold standard.
Friday none of them were around. Trump was holding court with NBC’s Chuck Todd, and the young wranglers working in the press office were trying to handle a potential “Walk and talk with the president.” Iran? What was that?
If you walked through the Brady Press Room Friday then you saw the usual number of folks gathering to file stories, do live shots, tweet, write, talk and eat as the former briefing room - once an honored stage for world leaders, important visitors from all levels of our own government and for promoting and defending the most powerful nation on the planet - had completed its transformation into a pale imitation of a Greyhound Bus station in rural Texas.
We endured the bus station atmosphere, the fact that the store was being minded by a host of young professionals, some of whom are in their first real job, and the fact that most people that day inside the administration and out only seemed to be talking about an afternoon taxpayer funded congressional picnic complete with grilled corn, chicken and choice ribeye steaks. (For the record they should grill the corn in the husks, but the chef gets points for real wood and open grills and the seasoning on the ribeye steaks.)
There. Done with the minor issues, yes?
No. There was a Ferris Wheel on the South Lawn that got mentioned in the pool reports that day, but nothing significant about Iran.
After the Chuck Todd interview, rumors and promotions began to trickle out, but the president had nothing to say otherwise. No known policy. No hint of a collaborative effort with our allies and no explanation for not having one. The possibility of going to war with Iran - one of the most serious issues handled by this president was treated like a shallow theater production staged for fear, distraction and amusement. Further the American public and press have become so numb to this potentially fatal behavior, on Friday it was readily apparent we weren’t serious about covering it.
Trump has worn the edges smooth, or so he hopes and thinks.
He wants us arguing about Sarah Sanders. He wants us arguing about Iran. He wants us arguing about North Korea, coal, oil, the environment, racism, the weather, porn videos, Puerto Rico, Jamal Khashoggi, allegations of sexual misconduct, the emolument clause and any and everything else - as long as we keep arguing.
Trump thrives in chaos and told Time Magazine’s Brian Bennett this week his “whole life is a bet.” It is the most transparent statement yet made by the Donald.
Meanwhile, Press Secretary Sanders wasn’t in. Rumors of her imminent appearance on the White House driveway were in error. Also not present Friday was Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley or any other senior communication staffer. Kellyanne Conway, who plunged deep into her air raid bunker after the Hatch Act allegations has yet to re-emerge on the White House driveway to entertain the press and public with her sideshow antics. She was not to be found Friday nor was Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. “I haven’t seen him at all today,” one of the young press wranglers said earnestly.
Stay tuned for a week or so and Kellyanne will resurface if she stays on her job. Mulvaney? He’s too busy being yelled while pulling his hair out over air conditioning and inadvertent coughs.
The young crew left to run the show at the White House did an admirable job and are not to be blamed for the Ferris Wheel on the South Lawn. But the potential for disaster is serious and remains palpable in all of the Middle East - even if the White House doesn’t want to recognize it. When handling wars, presidents who technically cannot go to war without Congressional backing, have in the past sought coalitions and bipartisan support for military action that may end up in the loss of life - American and not so much otherwise.
They also always talk to the American public.
The reliance on a junior communication staff and no substantive statement within the same 24 hour time frame as the aborted decision on military intervention in Iran, combined with Trump’s use of a 280 character tweet to govern is a microcosm of the lack of seriousness, lack of understanding and lack of experience that overwhelms Donald Trump’s administration.
The most we got from Trump on Friday was a statement by the press office he'd spoken with his favorite Saudi prince - not about reporter Jamal Khashoggi's murder and dismemberment, but about working together.
Waging war is a serious thing, and Trump should at the very least address the nation as other presidents have when he considers such an undertaking - whether it’s him on camera from the Oval Office with no questions, or in a comprehensive statement that pays at least lip service to a thought process. Or is it that the Trump administration firmly believes it can bomb Iran like it did Syria and Iraq and nothing will happen? That’s a different package to unwrap.
Trump gave no indication he had any long-term plan for Iran
It isn’t just 150 souls that would be lost in the initial bombing raid, but the question is - has our government prepared for hundreds and thousands more - at what cost and what gain? Can the White House assessment and strategy stand up to the scrutiny of independent observation? Peer review is paramount in the field of science, even political science - another fact Trump would like you to conveniently forget along with consensus building and who killed Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump gave no indication Friday he had any long-term plan for Iran. Nothing he said in his tweet or with Chuck Todd addressed anything more than the immediate loss of 150 lives. Mr. President what are your long term plans and desires in Iran? It’s an unanswered question since he abruptly backed out of the Iranian treaty forged by his predecessor. Mind you, he could have actually tried to negotiate a better deal, but never made a serious effort to do so. Trying to bully the Middle East is akin to throwing Br’er Rabbit into the briar patch. Google it.
Friday afternoon I was sufficiently exasperated at the turn of events and the incredibly tone deaf environment at the White House to eagerly seek out a restaurant where I could get a ribeye steak - since I’d been smelling them for the last few days at the White House. Bennett joined me for a drink and shortly after placing my order, we looked up to see former House Speaker Newt Gingrich stroll into the same restaurant to have a drink with his wife.
After exchanging pleasantries, I asked him with tongue firmly-planted in cheek if he had been at the White House interviewing for the Mick Mulvaney job. He looked askance and after I informed him I was teasing, I asked one serious question; “Do you think we are going to be all right in the Middle East?”
After asking me to repeat the question, apparently unable to hear me clearly, I did so and he looked down with a frown. I couldn’t decide if it were me, the question or he was suffering bad gas. Finally, he looked at me and thankfully it wasn’t the gas. I’m not sure about the answer though. Maybe it was gas. “I don’t know. It’s a complex and volatile place,” he shrugged.
At the very least, will somebody please tell that to Donald Trump?
He has been all over the map on Iran - threatening them, telling us he hopes we won't go to war with that country and pushing out mixed signals as if his neurons were misfiring.
After enjoying the steak, and walking outside you could still hear the sound of voices on the White House lawn from the picnic. Earlier you could hear “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey on the sound system. That was over, but the smell of charred beef, chicken and corn could still be detected lingering in the air. So could the overwhelming sense of foreboding and angst instilled by the Trump administration.
A block north on Farragut Square a neighborhood group set up a large inflatable outdoor television screen and an assembled group of parents and children were watching a documentary on Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.”
There was no sense of foreboding there. There was a sense of neighborhood. Parents and young children held hands, laughed and enjoyed themselves. There was soft laughter and murmurs and somewhere the smell of fresh barbecue, though I could see no grills in use. A sound of an ambulance driving by drowned out the sound of Fred Rogers for a few seconds, and then there was silence for an additional moment before you could clearly hear Mr. Rogers say, “I accept you as you are.”
I turned and began to walk to the nearby Farragut North Metro. As I got close to the K Street intersection I detected the pungent aroma of potent marijuana. Suddenly I was struck by a thought and a question.
“Mr. President have you ever been accused of being a bad standup comic?”