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Hillary Clinton

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Who Would ISIS Vote For?

“Hillary Clinton’s weakness while she was Secretary of State has emboldened terrorists all over the world to attack the US, even on our own soil,” wrote Donald Trump on Facebook after the bombing in New York on Saturday. “They are hoping and praying that Hillary Clinton becomes president, that they can continue their savagery and murder.”

Mrs. Clinton replied on Monday by branding the Republican presidential candidate a “recruiting sergeant for the terrorists.” Indeed, in an interview on Israeli television this month, Mrs. Clinton said Islamic State was praying for a Trump victory. There’s clearly a lot of praying going on, but whose victory are the jihadi fanatics really praying FOR?

There’s no point in asking them, because they are likely to lie about it . At least half of them are smart enough to realise that if Islamist extremists openly express a preference for one candidate, American voters will tend to back the other. (Tactical voting is a time-honoured practice, but it does encourage tactical lying.)

Besides, it’s really hard for the opinion pollsters to contact a statistically valid sample of the fighters of Islamic State by phone. We’re going to have to figure out their views without their help – but happily, this is not very hard to do. Their weapon is terrorism, and there is a clear, universally acknowledged doctrine on how that weapon works.

Well, it was universally acknowledged in the 1970s and the 1980s, when the world was littered with revolutionary movements using terrorist methods. The leaders themselves wrote about how terrorism served their goals, and a generation of Western military leaders studied how best to combat it. Unsurprisingly, they came to the same conclusions about how terrorism actually worked – and that it didn’t work very well.

So the revolutionary movements either won (occasionally) or else gradually faded away. The generation of Western military leaders who had actually confronted terrorism and learned how to respond to it got old and retired, and the knowledge was lost.

Some truly stupid things were said and done in the first years after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. “They are attacking us because they hate our values!”, for example, or “We’ll invade Iraq and root them out!” (There were no terrorists in Iraq before the invasion.) But a new generation of Western soldiers has finally grasped how terrorism works. The terrorists themselves, of course, knew it all along.

Three basic facts about terrorism. First, it is the weapon of choice for the weak, because it does not require a large army, sophisticated weapons or a lot of money.

Secondly, without those assets, terrorists must not engage in frontal assaults and stand-up battles against powerful opponents (usually governments) who do have them.

Thirdly, it can therefore only succeed by tricking those more powerful forces into doing things that really serve the terrorists’ purposes.

What is the ultimate goal of Islamic State and similar jihadi groups? Obviously, it is to come to power in various parts of the Muslim world. If they ever manage to become a government they may develop further ambitions (for then they would have a large army and lots of money), but taking power is the crucial first step.

Clearly the terrorists do not have mass support in their own countries, or they would already be in power. In order to build that mass support – it doesn’t have to be majority support, but they do need a lot of people behind them – they need a villain that will push people into their arms.

That villain can be either the government that currently rules the country, or a foreign power that invades the country, but in either case it must be provoked into behaving very badly. Only torture chambers and/or cluster bombs will make the mass of the population so desperate that they turn to the revolutionaries for help.

To get the torture and the bombing going, the target government must become so frightened and enraged that it starts using them on a large scale. That’s what the terrorism is actually for: to make governments over-react and behave very badly. Then the terrorists might actually build enough support to win.

Terrorism is not just blind hatred. It is a technique used by ruthless but intelligent leaders with coherent strategies and clear political goals, and the violence is never “senseless”. Bin Laden’s strategy in carrying out the 9/11 attacks, for example, was to provoke the United States into invading Muslim countries.

It worked, and the invasions gave a huge boost to the popularity of the jihadi movement. Indeed, Islamic State and its clones could never have gained power without those invasions.

All terrorism is a kind of political jiu-jitsu, in which a relatively weak group tries to goad a far stronger force into doing something very big and stupid. Terrorism doesn’t just thrive on over-reaction. It cannot succed without it.

So now ask yourself: which of the American presidential candidates is more likely to over-react to a terrorist provocation?

Okay, so now you know whose victory the terrorists are really praying for.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 6. (“Well…lost”)

Donald Trump and Groucho Marx

“These are my principles, and if you don’t like them…Well, I have others.”
Groucho Marx

The odds have lengthened against a Donald Trump presidency after his Wisconsin defeat, and they were probably already ten-to-one against. If he wins the Republican nomination, which is still very likely, he will almost certainly face Hillary Clinton in the November election, and lose badly.

Or at least that is the orthodox calculation, for Trump is far behind Clinton with key voter groups like women, Latinos, African-Americans, and young people who bother to vote. But she is an uninspiring campaigner, she is the ultimate Washington insider in a season where insiders are out, and there are a few skeletons that might come rattling out of her closet during the campaign. A big terrorist attack could also change the odds.

So President Donald Trump is still a small but real possibility. You wouldn’t be a fool to put a dollar down if somebody offered you twelve-to-one odds. That frightens a lot of people quite badly, especially when it comes to foreign policy, for he is the loosest of loose cannons – or so it seems.

There he goes, starting a trade war with China, pushing Japan and South Korea to get their own nuclear weapons, trashing NATO, building a wall to keep Mexicans out, and closing the US border to all Muslims. He’s even in favour of torturing suspected terrorists. But would he really be as rash and ignorant in the White House as he is while in campaign mode?

All of his present positions are calculated to appeal to the group whose support he must win to get the Republican nomination: “angry white men” who feel that they have been cheated of their right to a good job and a central role in American politics by unseen economic and demographic forces and clever, wicked foreigners. The internal politics of the Republican Party is now largely dominated by their concerns.

Trump is so focussed on getting their support that he even opposes the traditional Republican policies that have contributed to their marginalisation and impoverishment: free trade, low taxes for the rich, deep cuts in welfare programmes. And he gets away with it, although no other Republican candidate would.

Once Trump wins the nomination, however, he must appeal to a broader audience to win the election, and he is a past master at changing his tune. Five years ago his publicly declared principles would have qualified him to run for the Democratic presidential nomination – but, like Groucho Marx, he can come up with other principles in a flash when it serves his interests.

Take abortion rights: five years ago he defended women’s right to choose, last week he wanted to jail women if they chose abortion – and in the face of a public outcry, he rapidly retreated and said he just wanted to punish the doctors who did the abortions. Whatever the audience wants, it gets.

Once the Republican nomination is in the bag and the audience Trunp must address a broader audience to win the election, he will have to shift his ground, and he will do it. (The angry white men will just have to tag along, because they have nowhere else to go.) Then, if he should win the election, he might change his policies again. Who is the real Donald Trump?

The answer is that there is no real Donald Trump, in terms of policies and principles. He will do anything and say anything to get what he wants – but beyond being elected president, it isn’t clear that he wants anything in particular. If ideologues frighten you, then you needn’t worry about the Donald.

What does legitimately frighten people about Donald Trump is his ignorance (which is not just a show to appeal to his current audience) and his impulsiveness. On the other hand, he is actually quite intelligent, and as president he would have to rely on military officers and civil servants who really do not want to uproot and overturn everything. Moreover, they can generally block or sabotage truly stupid decisions, if that becomes necessary.

The result might be a presidency with a foreign policy like Richard Nixon’s: paranoid, unscrupulous, but not ideological at all and not given to needless provocations on the international scene. The trickiest bit would be Trump’s first few months in office, because he has definitely frightened the horses internationally and they are getting ready to bolt.

It is hard to overstate just how frightened other governments are about Trump in the White House. The word “fascist” gets used a lot in private even by national leaders, and of course it used publicly every day by the mass media in most other countries. Perhaps the biggest danger is that America’s allies and enemies would react preemptively to his rhetoric without waiting to see what he actually does in office.

So, on mature reflection, it really would be a very bad idea for Trump to become the president of the United States.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 9. (“Trump…would”; and “Take…gets”)

Trump vs. Sanders – vs. Bloomberg?

The outcome of the US presidential primaries was supposed to be Hillary Clinton, the wife of an ex-president, vs. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of other ex-presidents: both worthy but somewhat boring candidates, and both definitely members of the “establishment”. Less than a week before the first primary, the Iowa caucuses, Bush is dead in the water and even Clinton is looking vulnerable.

In Bush’s place as the Republican front-runner is Donald Trump, billionaire property developer, TV reality star and demagogue, who told a campaign rally last Saturday “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” His arrogance is not misplaced: to the despair of the Republican Party’s hierarchy, he probably has the party’s presidential nomination locked up.

Three months ago, Democrats thought this would virtually guarantee Hillary Clinton’s election, as a majority of Americans would refuse to vote for such a crude clown. That was probably correct, but it’s irrelevant if Clinton doesn’t get the Democratic nomination. Ominously, her “socialist” rival, Bernie Sanders, is neck-and-neck with her in Iowa and clearly ahead in the next primary, in New Hampshire.

Sanders is also raising as much money from small voluntary donations as Clinton has raised from her rich frends and corporate donors. He can stay in the race right down to the finish, and the belief that he will fade when the more populous states vote in the later primaries is based on the shaky assumption that Americans will never vote for universal government-provided health care, free college tuition and soak-the-rich taxes.

Sanders is not really a socialist – fifty years ago he would have been an unremarkable figure on the left wing of the Democratic Party– but in any case “socialist” is no longer a curse-word in the United States. When pollster Frank Luntz asked “Would you be willing to vote for a socialist?” last June, nearly 60 percent of the Democrats surveyed said yes – and an astonishing 29 percent of the Republicans.

Both the major parties are facing a mutiny among their traditional supporters this year. A presidential race between Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders (the Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street) is entirely possible. But both Trump and Saunders are too radical for at least a third of American voters. That would leave the middle ground of American politics unoccupied.

Enter Michael Bloomberg, another billionaire, who started out as a Democrat, became a Republican to run for mayor of New York City in 2001, and now calls himself an independent. He won’t run if Hillary Clinton still seems likely to win the Democratic nomination – but if Sanders is pulling ahead, he probably will.

In a three-way race featuring Trump, Sanders and himself, Bloomberg would be the one “moderate” candidate, and he might even win. The probability that all this will come to pass is still well below 50-50, but the fact that it exists at all shows just how far American politics has departed from the usual track. Why?

The rise of Trump is mainly due to the fact that gerrymandering has turned 90 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives into safe seats for one party or the other: win the nomination, and the seat is guaranteed. So would-be Republican candidates have to appeal to the party’s strongest supporters, white working-class people without a college education, not to voters in general.

A lot of these Republican stalwarts are very, VERY angry. Their incomes are stagnant or falling, and as demography change gradually turns the United States into a country where the minorities are a majority, they feel that they are being marginalised and forgotten. They want their candidate to be angry too, and Donald Trump intuitively understands this and plays to it.

Paradoxically, Sanders appeals to some of the same people, because he also represents a radical break with business as usual. Anecdotal evidence suggests that for many people whose first choice is Trump, their second choice is Sanders. But most of Sanders’s support comes from people who are not so much angry as despairing.

In the new documentary “Dream On”, comedian John Fugelsang sums up what has driven them farther left than they ever imagined they would go. “America has become a reality show,” he said. “Food, Medicine, Rent: Pick two.” Median US household income in constant dollars is still $4,000 a year lower than it was in 2000, and the ‘American Dream’ is dying if not dead.

So it’s a horse-race that anybody could win, unless Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, in which case she would be the odds-on favourite to win. She even promised last Sunday to “relieve” Michael Bloomberg of the obligation to run by winning the nomination herself.

But if she does win, of course, nothing will really change, including an unreformed financial system that is setting us all up for a rerun of the 2008 crash.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraph 4. (“Sanders…taxes”)