"Does Trump really need to make still another enemy, this time among the mullahs in Tehran?"
Most people know what “wag the dog” means, being the title of a 1997 film by Barry Levinson about an American president who declares war on Albania—of all places—to divert public attention from his involvement in a sex scandal just days before the elections.
It’s a film that seems to have been taken unduly to heart by Bill Clinton, who just the following year ordered airstrikes on Iraq that helped to delay his pending impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair. This in turn seems to have made an impression on real estate tycoon Donald Trump, who in 2011 accused Barack Obama of plotting to bomb Iran in order to again redirect public attention elsewhere.
Well, as they say, sauce for the goose…. Last weekend that tycoon, now the American president, ordered the assassination of a top Iranian general in retaliation, apparently, for the orchestrated break-in into the US Embassy grounds in Baghdad. This was no fugitive terrorist, mind you, but a ranking military officer of a country with which the US is not (yet) at war. Tehran has already promised “severe retaliation.”
This assassination—coming as it does on the eve of a Democrat-orchestrated impeachment effort against Trump—reeks of the opportunism displayed by those two earlier presidents. Opportunism in itself is not bad; it is a trait for which the markets richly reward businessmen like Trump. Where it can go wrong is in the political arena–where self-interest can be mistaken for the public interest, where consequences of mistakes can be masked by government’s taxing and money-printing fiats, and where bad decisions can cost lives, not just livelihoods.
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There are many reasons for conservatives to support Trump so far:
In the American culture wars, he’s taken public positions against abortion and same-sex unions, even if these are already sanctioned by current law there. I think it’s this behavior that particularly outrages the liberals and lefties who’re hell bent on bringing the US back to the dark ages of heathenism.
On the economy, he’s presided over an economic resurgence that may well deliver him another four years in office in 2020, if we’re to believe some credit analysts. The question, though: Is this growth fast enough for the military-industrial complex—a term, I should add, that was coined, not by the Left, but by the great wartime general and Republican president Dwight Eisenhower? Does this complex want the extra oomph from war spending?
Abroad, he’s displayed a disinterest in international entanglements, which partly explains his chumminess with our own president. Conservatives abroad, like me, can only cheer this restraint on typical American triumphalism. But the so-called “deep state” inside the Washington DC beltway—a menage of career bureaucrats and ideological neo-cons—aren’t happy at all, and in fact have been implicated as the sub rosa driving force behind the Trump impeachment process.
With so many ulterior agendas pulling him this way and that, does Trump really need to make still another enemy, this time among the mullahs in Tehran? As of writing, we’re still waiting for a more detailed exegesis from his administration. But for now, we can only prepare ourselves for higher oil prices, greater dangers to our OFWs in the Middle East, and—quite possibly—tougher security inspections at the airports.
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Here in Manila, the very public row between Duterte and the business groups behind the two private water concessionaires—the Ayalas and MVP—quickly escalated into a wider conflagration that has now also dragged in the Lopez family and their ABS-CBN media empire. Given the popularity of the President and—by definition—his populist arguments, nobody can be envying the position of these embattled oligarchs.
Amid all the noise, it can be easy to ignore the good things that are still going on. In water, for instance, Duterte has ordered the completion of the P12.2-billion Kaliwa Dam in Quezon as well as the P20.2-billion Wawa dam in Rizal, which are being pushed by Chinese investors and port entrepreneur Ricky Razon, respectively. For all the noise he’s making about retail water, Duterte clearly understands that the problem is wholesale water supply, for which only government is responsible—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
In fact, he’s gone so far as to threaten the courts not to issue TROs against these projects, which he says he will just defy. Lawyers may quibble that this is probably unconstitutional—and they’re likely to be right—but after decades of a water problem that only got worse under one administration after another, who’ll be complaining about Duterte’s strong-arm approach, really?
On the sewerage side of the issue, even as the concessionaires work out the balance of their obligations, DENR Secretary Cimatu is reassuring us that the Manila Bay rehabilitation program is doing quite well, thank you. Some 10,000 business establishments by the bay have been inspected for compliance. Over 2.3 million kilos of waste were also collected from the shoreline by around 70,000 volunteers last year.
At that, this is just the first phase of Cimatu’s program, devoted to clean-up and water monitoring. The second phase will call for the relocation of over 40,000 informal settlers away from the shoreline and polluting waterways. And the third phase will comprise education, protection, and sustainment initiatives to lock in the dream of a fully beautified Manila Bay.
The big picture, always the big picture. Duterte clearly understands this. For Trump, is there also one behind his latest moves? Let’s wait and see.
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Today’s readings are about love. In the first reading (1 Jn 4: 7-10), the evangelist John—the disciple “beloved by Jesus”—variously reminds us that “love is of God” (v. 7), “God is love” (v. 8), “God loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (v. 10). In the face of such sacrificial love, how can we fail to at least try and do the same with each other?
At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel account of the feeding of the five thousand (Mk 6: 34-44), the same Son’s heart is “moved with pity” for the vast crowd awaiting Him at a deserted place, “for they were like sheep without a shepherd”. That kind of love works miracles; it is what transforms five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed five thousand, with 12 baskets left over.
“Everyone who loves is begotten by God….Whoever is without love does not know God.” As the world careens into yet another conflict in the Middle East, as Washington drumbeaters trade threats with Persian mullahs, it’s obvious that a lot of people haven’t been paying attention to John.
Readers can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.