June 7, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 183

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Topics: Hunger crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria; Trump’s move to privatize air traffic control. People: Bill and Nate Produced: June 5th, 2017.

Episode 183 (50 min):
AFD 183

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Selected reading materials on the humanitarian crises

Washington Post: UN aid chief in Yemen warns of cholera rise without more aid
Washington Post: UN: 3,000 to 5,000 suspected new Yemen cholera cases daily
Washington Post: UN food agency warns South Sudan conflict is fueling famine
Washington Post: The untold story of how Africa’s poor are rescuing people from famine
Washington Post: UN food agency warns South Sudan conflict is fueling famine
Washington Post: Somalis are fleeing famine — only to find death in a place of refuge

Apr 12, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 177

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Topics: Universal public childcare; Trump’s missile strike on Syria, 2003 deja vu, and Clintonian missile strikes of the 1990s. People: Bill, Rachel, and Nate. Produced: April 10th, 2017.

Episode 177 (53 min):
AFD 177

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This awful Syria escalation

It’s reckless and irresponsible for the United States to launch missiles at a Russian air base in Syria, as we did today on President Trump’s orders. That’s really an understatement, too. And it’s ridiculous that former Secretary of State Clinton endorsed this plan publicly earlier today.

There are three realities, beyond the risks of attacking Russia, that have to be acknowledged regardless of the use of chemical weapons:
1) The US does not have the capacity to lead a successful regime change in Syria and it’s wildly foolish to “Just Do Something” with zero plan and zero capacity to execute it beyond the opening shot.

2) Chemical weapons are repugnant, but it is not a “proportional response” to risk a war on this scale, particularly considering that far more people have been killed already (and will be killed by escalation) by conventional arms, which are also horrible. Dead is dead, as Stephen Walt said.

3) This war would have been over years ago (with far fewer deaths or calamities and without the use of chemical weapons) if the United States (and allies) had not supplied dangerous and deadly major conventional weapons systems and light arms to extremist insurgents, many if not most of whom are not Syrian, thereby keeping the war going but with no one able to prevail definitively.

Getting involved further in the Syrian war than we already are, instead of pulling back and cutting off aid to the insurgents, can only increase the catastrophe.

Op-Ed | Trump: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

The subtitle of the 1964 classic Stanley Kubrick nuclear war farce “Dr. Strangelove” is “or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

While that subtitle is part of the film’s satire – nuclear weapons are indeed very serious and frightening and cannot be brushed aside – there is something to be said for knowing when to keep a level head about the problem.

Many of my fellow Democrats have expressed that they might prefer the equally conservative but more mainstream Vice President Mike Pence to Donald Trump, due solely to the president’s authority to launch U.S. nuclear weapons.

To me, the risk of a nuclear war still remains fairly small, while the Pence agenda – in concert with Paul Ryan – remains a very high risk with huge ramifications as well.

So, how have I found a way to “stop worrying and love the bomb” or at least relegate it to a lower-tier fear?

Regarding Russia

A recent public remark by President Trump and a glance back toward Ronald Reagan, his predecessor in the Oval Office as a television aficionado turned conservative tribune.

At a recent press conference, rambling well past an hour, Trump said that the best way to show his independence from Russia would be to fire missiles at a Russian Navy submarine off the U.S. coast – but that he would not do so, of course.

By way of explanation or proof, Trump uttered the incredible (and accurate) phrase:

I’ve been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say, because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.

By this remark, Trump meant that launching a (nuclear) World War III by attacking Russia directly would end poorly for everyone, which is why he could not even consider it.

Nuclear holocaust

Back in 1983, President Reagan and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were given an advanced screening of the made-for-TV sensation, “The Day After.” That film, which rocked the nation, depicted exactly the scenario Trump described, in as horrifying terms as possible.

Ronald Reagan, in his diary and memoirs, said that he began shifting the country’s nuclear war policies in response to the film, which had made him “depressed.”

It is almost certain that Trump himself has seen the film as well – probably at the time – considering his voracious consumption of television.

True, Trump is known for his uncontrolled and impulsive remarks. True, he clearly did not hesitate to authorize smaller, ill-conceived military actions such as the recent failed raid in Yemen.

But it is probably reasonable to believe him when he says that he would not be starting World War III because a “nuclear holocaust would be like no other.”

The real threat

Trump and his agenda are absolutely a threat, but most of that threat is a very real and already very present one. The damage will be less instantaneous and less visible than a nuclear war, but it is exceptionally much more likely.

Vice President Pence shares that agenda and a record to back it up. But he won’t generate the matching level of opposition that both men deserve, and so I don’t prefer him to Trump.

And at any rate, as “Dr. Strangelove” shows – after all the arguing is over, the other outcome is over pretty quick.

Originally published at The Globalist.

March 8, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 172

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Topics: What the heck is going on in Syria these days? Who is Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka and which wing of Hungarian politics does he come from? People: Bill and Nate. Produced: March 6th, 2017.

Episode 172 (52 min):
AFD 172

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Nate’s Reading Corner:

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Op-Ed | (Non-) Nuclear Trump: The Ahmadinejad of the West?

This past weekend, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad abruptly launched an English-language Twitter account and released a video, in English, of himself announcing the account.

It was an unlikely development from someone who was nearly toppled from office by street protests in 2009 organized via Twitter – especially given the U.S. government’s request at the time for the company to ensure smooth operations of the service.

But on the other hand, Ahmadinejad has likely felt muzzled since leaving office in 2013 due to term limits. His relationship to the state had deteriorated anyway in his second term between the protests and the sanctions on the country.

Supreme Leader Khamanei also recently suggested that it would be bad for the country if Ahmadinejad were to seek a new term in 2017.

Trump and Ahmadinejad

Twitter, as demonstrated by the new U.S. President, Donald Trump, allows totally unfettered messaging to supporters and the media, without interference by anyone.

Perhaps the former Iranian president decided to follow suit.

In February 2017, Ahmadinejad sent a lengthy letter to Trump, officially objecting to the Muslim ban, which affected Iran, but also offering advice and personal experience on leadership – from one “human to another human.”

He noted that Trump’s election had been an upset:

It can be inferred from the political and media atmosphere in the US that the result of the election has been (in spite of) the status quo, and beyond the will and prediction of the governing body and the main system behind the scene of the U.S. political stage.

Like Ahmadinejad in 2005, Donald Trump was elected as the hardliner candidate. Both rose to win an upset victory from the back of the pack, running on a conservative but populist and nationalist message.

Similar loose talk

In Ahmadinejad’s case, his policy pronouncements and speeches were not the final word in policy, subject to the Supreme Leader’s support ultimately.

To some degree, that appears to be the case with Trump as well, surprisingly. (Sometimes, someone like Steve Bannon sticks an order in front of him and Trump signs it without reading it.)

What is certainly true for both men, of course, is that their off-the-cuff remarks or deliberated provocations still terrify half of their respective home countries and most of the countries around the world.

For all his loose talk about nuclear weapons, it was always a bit difficult to tell whether Ahmadinejad was really perpetually hovering over the launch buttons on the country’s (non-nuclear) arsenal or just blustering. Trump keeps everyone guessing in much the same way.

Would he or wouldn’t he?

At a recent press conference Trump said unprompted that the best way to show his independence from Russia would be to fire missiles at a Russian Navy submarine off the U.S. coast – but reiterated that he obviously would not do so.

Change a few nouns and it would be Ahmadinejad threatening to reduce Strait of Hormuz sea traffic – including U.S. vessels – to smoking wreckage.

Trump also added, as justification for his restraint:

I’ve been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say, because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.

A hidden restraint?

That attitude, too, is familiar to fair-minded Iran observers. Throughout Iran’s controversial nuclear energy program development, Iran’s leaders have been very careful to point out that they believe nuclear weapons are immoral and proscribed, and that the program is peaceful.

Ahmadinejad, himself, was a staunch defender of the civilian nuclear program on the grounds of sovereignty and anti-colonialism, but he also called nuclear weapons “illegal” and immoral and supported global non-proliferation.

Typically, Iran’s leaders point specifically to the Iran-Iraq War and Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons on young Iranian soldiers as a reason Iran does not want WMDs. They also sometimes cite religious reasons for a ban.

At one point, in 2008, the Supreme Leader even indirectly urged Ahmadinejad to dial back his over-enthusiastic rhetoric on the nuclear issue, which (unlike in the United States) is not really under presidential authority anyway.

One must hope along similar lines, therefore, that when the White House under Trump “considers all options” in situations such as North Korea’s recurring threats, it is not seriously contemplating the literal nuclear option.

Originally published at The Globalist.

Feb 1, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 167

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Topics: Reactions to the first week of the Trump Administration and the emerging protests. People: Bill and Jonathan. Produced: Feb 1st, 2017.

Episode 167 (55 min):
AFD 167

Discussion Points:

– Who’s calling the shots inside the White House?
– What are the opportunities in the emerging street protests against the Trump Administration’s overreaches?

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