God Help Us All

Do you believe in omens? Back in the day, 1985 to be more precise, the Sovs were in political, social and economic crisis. A procession of decrepit old men tottered on the scene only to wheeze, cough and expire in rapid order, from Brezhnev, Andropov to the sublimely pathetic Chernenko.

So the scared old men gathered once again to select another Red Tsar. This time, Andrei Gromyko, Foreign Minister and like Mikhail Suslov, a connection to the ‘good old days’ of Stalinist ‘order and discipline’ nominated the objectively very young and inexperienced Mikhail Gorbachev. We know today much of what transpired at these Politburo sessions. Gromkyo told the gerontocracy ‘This man [Gorbachev] has teeth of steel !’. Six years later that man destroyed the Soviet Empire in a series of purposeful, accidental, random, intended and blind stumbling policies.

So today Joltin’ Joe promises us that of course the world sees what we do in the Boy King: a callow and inexperienced punk youth. But ala Gromyko, Joltin’ Joe tosses off blandishments — the Boy King has ‘a spine of steel’ doncha know.

Lord knows he showed it post Denver. It must take titanium vertebrae to be so passive in the face of unprecedented opportunity. Had the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac/Lehman debacle waited until February 2009 frankly Sarah Palin’s odds of moving into the Old Naval Observatory would be pretty good. It’s actually astounding that it took a financial collapse psychologically akin to 1929 (if not objectively the same) to vault the Democrats into the lead.

As a thought experiment, let’s imagine the “Boy King With Backbone Of Steel” deigns to be carried by events into the Oval Office. Now let’s think about General Jello and the ‘Liberation of Paris’ euphoria over his endorsement within the so-called ‘Foreign Policy Establishment.’

Jello and the Benchpresser lost 2001-2004 for one primary reason they still don’t understand. They have no philosophy of their own other than pragmatism and ‘crisis management’ — think Graham Allison’s almost pornographic worship of the Kennedy Administration’s process during the Cuban Missile Crisis stretched into a bureaucratic, cultural and world view routine. Ad hoc pragmatism always in the end will be vulnerable to a coherent ideology or philosophy simply because one side has a clearly defined agenda, end game and the ability to tack to get there.

Past As Prologue

Zbig was on Morning Joe with his daughter discussing General Jello and an Obama Administration. (We’ve talked with him about his daughter before — his genuine love and pride at first seem to erupt incongruously from his otherwise carefully cultivated stoicism. So to honor the moment, let’s skip the usual and justified snark about *that* show).

We must with regret disagree with him on the Boy King. There is zero evidence to us that he is in fact ‘made of steel’. Nor is there any evidence that we can see of a coherent, overarching world view and philosophy. No one disputes the Boy King is bright. (So is Sarah Palin. Laurence O’Donnell was thunderstruck this morning after standing with Palin on the SNL stage. He said the entire show was stunned by how sharp she is (and how much more charismatic she is in person)).

In fact, let’s delve into Zbig’s own moment in the sun to see what lessons there might be for today. The Peanut Farmer was bright. He also was untutored on foreign affairs. Many thought they could be the consigliere behind the throne. The Peanut Farmer resisted a dauphin presidency and played the factions off each other. The policy and geopolitical ramifications were disastrous.

Within 4 short years the U.S. lurched from one policy to another. First the Peanut Farmer embraced Warnke and Vance’s attempted (and failed) appeasement of the Soviets. Anyone remember Warnke’s ‘Apes on a Treadmill’? Vance’s disarmament mission to Moscow in 1977 remains an epic flameout in diplomatic annals. The Sovs did not appreciate the ad hoc, the unpredictable and above all disdained weakness.

So as the Sovs moved into Ethiopia, etc. Zbig got to drop his Top 40 Hit, ‘detente was buried in the sands of Ogaden’ The Peanut Farmer waivered and tacked back towards Zbig’s more hard line views. The U.S. hosted the ‘chain smoking Communist dwarf’ (ala Pat Buchanan) Deng Tsaio Ping in 1978. We started other collaboration with China that is still not in the public record. The next year? The Peanut Farmer waivered again, watches Samoza fall and only later the U.S. frantically crawls to its own puppet entity, the Organization of American States, to try and belatedly contain the Sandanistas. Sophomoric confusion and ineptitude.

Should we go on? How about the Shah calling the Peanut Farmer asking Carter what he should do. When the Peanut Farmer hems and haws, the Shah blurts out “It’s your world Mr. President !” You know the rest. There’s no point in even rehashing the whole “I learned more in 3 days than in 3 years” when the Sovs went into Kabul.

So that’s what can happen when a very bright, in control but untutored president *presides* over competing agendas and philosophies. Pragmatism/ad hoc crisis management is in a way its own null philosophy. You didn’t have to be a wing nut in 1980 to have been convinced that another 4 years of the ‘bright’, ‘change-bringing’ Peanut Farmer would have left America on her knees.

Joltin’ Joe’s spinal diagnosis of the Boy King aside, we won’t be holding our breath. Among the many Imperial City truisms to keep in mind? ‘Personnel *is* policy’.


  1. Nonnie Mouse says

    I’ve learned there are three things you don’t discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.

  2. Comment says

    Funny (gallowsy) excerpt from Salon’s Greenwald interviewing
    Ken Katzman (Congressional Iranian expert)


    “You’re talking about flying planes over their [Iranians] country, dropping bombs on their country, and even sending special forces inside their country, invading their borders. Wouldn’t that clearly be a threat against their territorial integrity, by definition?”


    “Well, it could be perceived as that”

  3. Anon says

    Did the Surge work? It really depends on what your goals were to answer the question. Interesting – Colin Powell is quoted in an Ed Koch column from Jan 2006 and Powell managed to forcast gloom for the surge in the one area that it definately suceeded:

    “I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for *the* purposes of suppression of this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work.” (Powell on Face the Nation quoted by Koch)

    Note – that was not the reason the Surge was sold because that would not have been a popular use of US troops. So Powell had to tease that out and declare it would not work – You could argue the Surge failed in it’s stated purpose or will fail – but Powell seemed to go out of his way to phrase his opinion so as to maximize wrongness.

  4. Anon says

    This was McCain’s last chance – when Paulson
    was trying to get Pelosi to do all the work and
    he got on his knees.

    It could have worked out for McCain – but the GOP
    scheme was too obvious (get Pelosi to pass the plan and then run against Pelosi-Bush, Newt say).

    This guy at The Atlantic said Paulson doesn’t get it – he got it.


  5. Anon says

    More Republican/McCain/Scheunemann infantilism blowback


    When fear was wax in Bush was riding a crest of reaction
    and ignorance and partisan bluster he pushed this whole line
    about bin Laden.

    McCain and the hapless Mark Salter should have been wise and cool and clever enough to not believe
    their own propagaganda – But as the WaPo article makes
    clear , the McCain people really don’t think (understand) that Qaeda really does want them to win for obvious

    So they are left speechless and sound foolish and they pound the table. Bush could get away with this – but the bubble of hate and fear has shrunk and McCain can’t
    blow past this.

    NB- It’s funny – WaPo censored and/or similar stories in 2004 so as not to b e accused of liberul bias. But
    they are now willing to shove McCain’s face in some reality.

  6. Comment says

    Tweety was on the Ferguson Late Late Show tonight – He was complete embarassment – a total fool.

  7. Comment says

    Much to-do about Palin’s obscene clothing bill – 150k. But should we be surprised? But recall a story that McCain’s wife spends a similar amount of her own money every month – – It all seems strange.

  8. Comment says

    Yeah – we were being restrained when we said impeachment – You know Al jazeera and other foreign media are far more promiscuous showing the morons at McCain rallies. As much as McCain and Salter cry media bias, they are actually lucky that the media does not show much of the crowds – nor do they interview the morons like foreign media does with undisguised relish.

    We just read Rob Draper in the NYT Mag – Our interp is that McCain has Mark Salter to blame – The “brilliant” writer who invented McCain’s mythos did not serve McCain well.

    Salter would have benefitted from reading Sorenson’s books – Sorenson did not pump up Kennedy with delusions when in private.

    We recall reading of the first McCain-Obama tiff from that block-head Joe Wilson on HUff Po when he was shilling for Hillary. It was very clear that Obama won that exchange from an outsiders point of view and that any reading of McCain “schooling” the young punk was purely and insider DC reading that rested on notions of seniority and dissing etc.

    Anyway Salter uses this as the starting point when McCain learned that Obama was just a phony who betrayed the man of honor.

    But the whole topic was small beer and the exchange of letters between Obama and McCain (Salter) made Obama look reasonable and McCain look crotchety.

    But ofcourse Ambassador Wilson also added an imaginary scene
    wherein McCain insults Obama.

    Anyway – long story short – Salter made a number of
    errors that are revealed in that Draper piece.

    Most important – he drank his own Kool Aid.

  9. DrLeoStrauss says

    >Bush has been a complete geopolitical disaster – If
    >half if the same stuff, from 9-11 onward, happened
    >under Obama that happened under Bush, there would
    >have been Impeachment.

    >The right wing is too infantile to admit this to themselves

    Completely and totally agree except perhaps that the right wing might not have stopped with just impeachment. It is as you note absolute lunacy but there it is.

  10. Comment says

    Somewhat related – why did Washington pundits think
    highly of McCain’s “I’m not George Bush – if you wanted to run against Bush, you should have run 4 years ago” line?

    Most people had no idea what McCain was talking about – It wasn’t a zinger. It made no sense. There was no widel shared meme or underlying truth McCain was exploiting.

    David Gregory said it was the line of the night – a zinger. Ah, but it wasn’t. It will not be repeated like RWR somewhat overrated “there you go again” reply to Carter’s
    factual statement about Medicare.

    Obama sort of looked at McCain like “say what?”

    But this has been a big problem with McCain for a while – No one told him months ago that he was making
    factually incorrect assertions about Social Security – No
    one told him how stupid his health care idea was.

    Rudy had the same health care plan and it was very clear when Rudy was talking it up that it was politically flawed.

    So you would think McCain’s staff would have learned
    from Rudy’s errrors.

    But the fact is that much of the MSM is right
    wing on entitlement issues and many were personally
    intrigued by McCain’s health care idea –

    Most MSM people don’t know poor people
    or people who would have to go on medicaide
    if they lose their employer base plan.

    McCain has no responses to these things – he has not
    thought them thru. His staff is ignorant. That hapless
    Mark Salter is a joke of an advisor – he just
    fuels McCain’s delusions.

    McCain has no idea how stupid and callous
    the idea of taxing peoples health benefits
    as ordinary income sounds to normal people.

    Note he never explains or clarifies – Because
    he does not know enough. He wants to
    be a war president – not a health insurer,

  11. Comment says

    We don’t have the link right now – But Larison
    over at amconmag goes thru a typically stupid
    Ralph Peters attack on Obama.

    Peters sort of gives a list of conventional
    right wing thinking about how the world
    will react to Obama and Larison
    points out where Peters is mistaken and where
    is stupid or how he has it all opposite,

    But the point is that Biden would probably
    nod along to some of the things Peters
    “warns” about that actually have low
    probability of occuring.

    As Larison points out – Peters (like many
    of the dumber right wingers)
    warns of things that could happen under
    Obama that actually happened with Bush
    in office. It’s as if Peters is unaware
    that Hezbullah, to take one example, gained
    ground because of Bush and Condi.

    Among the dumb-right, all that stuff is down
    the memory hole.

    Bush has been a complete geopolitical disaster – If
    half if the same stuff, from 9-11 onward, happened
    under Obama that happened under Bush, there would
    have been Impeachment.

    The right wing is too infantile to admit this to themselves –

  12. Comment says

    Meant to say above – McCain is not Ike in 1952. Ike could
    say somethings vague and coded “I will go to Korea” and
    it would be effective.

    When McCain tries to play Ike (“I know how to capture bin laden”} no one really knows what he is talking about. People are like, “wtf? call Bush now and tell him how!”)

    This is not to say McCain lacks his good qualities – It’s just that he does not have Ike-like qualities and when he pretends he does, Obama reminds reporters that Ike’s granddaughter and othet ancestors work for him.

    McCain is poorly served by Mark Salter and other aides that have not disabused him of these poor lines of attack.

    McCain’s lack of self awareness is stunning – Just amazing that he brings up TR in a debate – Why didn’t his aides warn him that would give Obama an easy opening
    to repeat “bomb bomb bomb Iran”?

    McCain’s campaign has been relentlesslt anti intellectual and anti wildlife. TR would find DNA testing for bears to be “Bully.” Sure McCain shares TR’s bellicosity. But he rejected the other TR memes. And Ike left all that right
    wing troll stuff to Nixon. Could Palin have caught Hiss?

  13. Comment says

    Forgot to add- It makes sense that McCain lost more
    ground in polls.

    These media memes have little traction this year. Almost
    everyone we know that will be voting for McCain still
    regards Obama as smoother and smarter and probably better
    in a crisis. True, some of them actually hold
    this against him because, well, you know the type.

    Also – Biden’s gaffe was a trap – It lured
    Republicans into a wasted day of making self-pleasing
    but ineffective attacks.

    Biden may be a hero in error. Kind of like
    when Obama said “share the wealth” and provoke
    the uglies and the tin foil hat types
    to cry socialism – Thus giving pretext for Obama
    to mock them, invoke Bush’s socialism, and
    remind everyone about Warren Buffett etc.

    Socialism accusations had been about culture war – but by attaching them to easily refutable economics, McCain
    allowed Obama to be able to bat them away.

    Look how weird and sickly the crowd at The Corner looks when they try to explain what they mean when they
    try to advance these memes. The Corner types
    don’t realize how weird their private language
    sounds to outsiders. Andy McCarthy sounds like
    a total nutjob when his musings are read out
    loud. Like a paranoid reactionary freak.

  14. Comment says

    The Biden gaffe was overdue – he had showed uncommon discipline and reserve up til now. But it was revealing in many ways – It shows the Biden who has lost elections and the Biden who is popular with “Grownup” and “Serious” DC insider types. Biden has imbibed various narratives and a set of expectations and he was merely regurgitating what passes for sophesticated conventional wisdom.

    It’s very stupid and it shows Biden’s intellectual limitations and his lack of imagination (he prob thinks the opposite).

    Whoever is President will face some sort of test. Maybe. Foreign opinion does not regard McCain as some sort of tested sage that must be respected and reckoned with. Rather, McCain is quite easy to provoke and he reacts rather than leads.

    It’s often stunning how often McCain aides brag about McCain’s willingness to react – And they use that word “react” all the time.

    Obama is far more clever and cooler than McCain, but he should have to worry too – as much from friends and from enemies.

    So what was Biden thinking? – IMO, while Biden has truly grown comfortable with the ticket and is sincere in his Obama advocacy, he has retained some Democratic self-hatred – a Tweety-like twitch that he mistakes for realism. He still has to grant McCain some undeserved status.

    IMO – When Biden said that, conventional wisdom was starting
    to turn against McCain due to his erratic behavior,

    This provoked Palin’s one witty mocking moment since her convention speech,

  15. Tbilisi says

    Good Doktor, don’t be so sure in the Boy King’s inevitable failure: Nihilist pragmatism also led to Blair’s epic riff off Thatcher, which led to as we all know to the hot-running glory days of the Blair era, and the appropriately dark Brown come down.

    I actually would prefer the Peanut Farmer future, because at least he would be voted out of office before he destroyed society. The Thatcher/Blair double tap to the head has crippled Britain, but a Bush/Obama version could be deadly.

  16. inquire says

    For those of us born late the peanut farmer’s tenure, some historical colour of a less than ‘hopeful’ nature is appreciated. Your contrasts are well taken.

    Is there any evidence that Clinton had any enduring commitments beyond surviving a hostile, and conniving, congress? I don’t think so (or at least none that survived first contact with the enemy). It does however seem he was able to muddle along well enough to have at minimum created some orderliness on the home front.

  17. Comment says

    We are Powell skeptics (there was a time when we thought otherwise), but his endorsement of Obama was pitch-perfect in it’s tailoring to the concerns of the MSM media types.

    He was very wise to seperate McCain the man from McCain the Campaign – knowing full well how important it is for many in the media to resurrect a Senator McCain fan club, whilst having a socially acceptable permission slip to dump on the McCain campaign for being hijacked by lowbrows and know nuthins.

    Powell knows the prejudices of this class very well.

    Had Powell ever run for President when his currency was running high in gop circles, he would have fallen on his face

  18. Anon says

    Adelman is sort of a shifty-seeming fellow and he even lays out the predicate for his inevitable future break with Obama.

    Doesn’t he know the gop comeback in 2010 is already discounted in the odds?

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