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Daniel Larison

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By Daniel LarisonAugust 1, 2018, 12:38 PMwhite Slide Black Crocs LiteRide M qwC8wX4
President Trump and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com, European External Action Service/Flickr

Andrew Bacevich has stopped taking Trump’s statements seriously:

The bottom line is that Trump has changed the atmospherics of policy, very much for the worse. As for substantive change, it has been much less consequential than the hysterical press commentary would suggest.

I take Prof. Bacevich’s point, and I agree with much of what he says in this piece. It is tempting to discount everything that Trump says as vacuous ranting, but when it comes to threats of military action we cannot afford to assume that he is always bluffing. The alarming thing about Trump’s unhinged, all-caps threat against Iran last week was that it was such an irrational overreaction to generic Iranian warnings to our government not to attack them. Only someone looking to pick a fight would have reacted so angrily over nothing. One of the common reactions to Trump’s threat was to laugh it off as a diversion from his other problems, but launching a diversionary war would be extremely effective in changing the subject.

When Trump was threatening to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, his National Security Advisor at that time was very seriously arguing in favor of preventive war. It was appropriate to take that rhetoric seriously, and it was because it was taken seriously in Seoul that the South Korean government worked so hard to defuse the standoff. McMaster is gone now, replaced by the even more fanatical Bolton, but Trump’s inclination to listen to such horrible advice has not changed.

It is often asserted without proof that Trump is averse to military intervention, but his record in office shows no such aversion. He reportedly latched onto the idea of invading Venezuela for a while until the concerted opposition of everyone else in the administration and the governments of the region dissuaded him from pursuing that course of action. Trump escalated the war on ISIS and the war in Afghanistan, and he increased U.S. support for the war on Yemen. He has twice ordered illegal attacks on the Syrian government. His current National Security Advisor has repeatedly called for attacking Iran, and his Secretary of State has argued for the same thing in the past. The president is surrounded by hard-line advisers and he is being encouraged by reckless regional clients to be more aggressive against Iran, and his administration has for all intents and purposes made regime change the goal of their policy. We know that Trump is impulsive, has terrible judgment, and doesn’t think through the consequences of his decisions, so we can’t assume that his threats are just so much hot air. It is not a stretch to imagine that a generally hawkish president already obsessed with and hostile to Iran would follow through on his bellicose rhetoric one day.

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14 Responses to Why Trump’s Bellicose Rhetoric Matters

  1. Kent says:

    While I don’t disagree with Mr. Larison, I simply can’t imagine the excuse President Trump would give to the nation to shed American blood in Iran of all places.

    Why should Americans die to stop the current Iranian government from supporting Shia based states in the region? There can’t be a reason I can imagine.

    It would be so unpopular that it would devastate the Republican Party.

  2. connecticut farmer says:

    Totally agree that Trump is bellicose and engages in flights of rhetorical fancy but, somehow I think–dare I say “hope”?–that if push came to shove even he would stop at the water’s edge vis-a-vis Iran.

  3. Myron Hudson says:

    I’d like to agree with Bacevich and others, but I’m more convinced that this President is an unhinged loose cannon and we’re the frogs in the pot of water being brought to a boil.

  4. b. says:

    Trump is hardly alone, and I am not refering to the various bolt-ons, but his “business interests” on behalf of America, First:

    “The Intercept has learned of a previously unreported episode that stoked the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s anger at Tillerson and that may have played a key role in his removal. In the summer of 2017, several months before the Gulf allies started pushing for his ouster, Tillerson intervened to stop a secret Saudi-led, UAE-backed plan to invade and essentially conquer Qatar, according to one current member of the U.S. intelligence community and two former State Department officials, all of whom declined to be named, citing the sensitivity of the matter.”
    https://theintercept.com/2018/08/01/rex-tillerson-qatar-saudi-uae/

  5. b. says:

    “it has been much less consequential than the hysterical press commentary would suggest”

    Tell that to the people of Yemen.

  6. b. says:

    Andrew Bacevich might want to get together with William Perry on the next anniversary of November 9, 1979, and discuss various scenarios involving the TrumPOTUS:

    “A computer error at NORAD headquarters led to alarm and full preparation for a nonexistent large-scale Soviet attack. NORAD notified national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski that the Soviet Union had launched 250 ballistic missiles with a trajectory for the United States, stating that a decision to retaliate would need to be made by the president within 3 to 7 minutes. NORAD computers then placed the number of incoming missiles at 2,200. Strategic Air Command was notified, and nuclear bombers prepared for takeoff. Within six to seven minutes of the initial response, satellite and radar systems were able to confirm that the attack was a false alarm. It was found that a training scenario was inadvertently loaded into an operational computer. Commenting on the incident, U.S. State Department adviser Marshall Shulman stated that “false alerts of this kind are not a rare occurrence. There is a complacency about handling them that disturbs me.” In the months following the incident there were 3 more false alarms at NORAD, 2 of them caused by faulty computer chips.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_close_calls

    A Reality TV “drama queen” celebrity is perhaps the most qualified person to initiate Suicide-On-Warning.

  7. b. says:

    “One of the common reactions to Trump’s threat was to laugh it off as a diversion from his other problems, but launching a diversionary war would be extremely effective in changing the subject.”

    That implies a level of cunning that we could rightly attribute to “Wag The Big Dog” Clinton or maybe the flat-footed Bush of 9/12, but I doubt that Trump is terribly concerned with diversions, or would earnestly feel a pressing need for a “sound” tactical reason.

  8. b. says:

    Bacevich states: “If there is a U.S. foreign policy, it comes from the permanent government of which Mattis is the preeminent representative.”

    So we can’t blame Trump for Yemen, or the illegal attacks against Syrian government forces or their Russian “Private Military Contractors”, or Gaza, and if there should be a Gulf War Three or an end to the armistice on the Korean peninsula after all one day, we are to assume that Mattis was behind it?

    Espadrille Sandals Rebecca Black Minkoff Gabriel Platform Pace Bacevich, at this point the one and only thing we can confidently blame Mattis for is his insistence to continue to serve in this administration, and all that implies. I’d also take him to account for his crush on the Emirati conquerors from “Little Sparta”, and he might well be “aligned” with Trump & The Bolt-Ons on Iran.

    Trump’s foreign “policy” might be void, vapid, and non-existent, but the man does not get off as “inconsequential”. I suspect that “policymakers in the world’s capitals” are a bit less blase than Bacevich here, especially with Great Recession 2.0 being just one incident of rational hysteria away – with Trumps “inconsequential” sanctions, tariffs and oil price speculations pushing even the most exuberant to much overdue doubts.

  9. Minnesota Mary says:

    I have finally figured out who Donald reminds me of—The Man of La Mancha.

  10. Monroe Doctor says:

    “He reportedly latched onto the idea of invading Venezuela for a while until the concerted opposition of everyone else in the administration and the governments of the region dissuaded him from pursuing that course of action. “

    Pretty ironic, that. So his advisors and the rest of the neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment are dead-set against invading Venezuela, a failing state in our own hemisphere. And yet they’re just fine with invading Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, countries that are half-way around the world. Invading them because of the continuing consequences of the stupid Middle East entanglements that led to 9/11.

    They will do anything and take any risk for Israel and Saudi Arabia, won’t they? No mistake or blunder is too expensive for those two.

    Wow.

    But suggest something that might advance US interests here in our own neighborhood rather than the Middle East? Forget it! Too risky! Took expensive! The neighbors might not like it! Most horrible of all, it might distract us from the important work of doing favors for Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the US resources and focus demanded by Israel and Saudi Arabia might be squandered on America’s own regional interests instead!

  11. Whine Merchant says:

    All of the reading of tea leaves and deciphering of smoke signals is interesting, but the surest guide to Trump’s actual decisions comes from his true boss. No, not Vlad, but Bibi.

    Just look: moving the embassy, remaining in Syria, and tearing-up the JCPOA. This is not about Israel’s security, it is about Netanyahu remaining in power for as long as he can. No term limits on his prime minister job.

  12. EliteCommInc. says:

    Escalation —

    Minkoff Rebecca Platform Black Gabriel Sandals Espadrille stop reminding me.

  13. Mother124 says:

    Rudy Giuliani just said that we shouldn’t pay any attention to what Trump says on Twitter.

    I guess unless we’re told that we should.

    http://therightscoop.com/watch-giuliani-answers-the-big-question-about-trumps-tweet-to-sessions/

  14. amspirnational says:

    Rand Paul okayed Pompeo after initial opposition, showing once again he’s no Ron Paul.

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