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Slope #1: Mattis Trump, a study in opposites

Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Mattis and Jalaluddin Rumi ]
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Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker, James Mattis Is Out; What Comes Next?

From the beginning, Mattis and his boss, President Trump, were nearly perfect opposites. Trump, lazy and self-indulgent, appears to think, when he thinks at all, almost entirely of himself. Mattis, by contrast, is a picture of self-restraint, driven by a sense of loyalty to the country and his ideals, symbolized by his high and tight haircut and forty-four years of military service. While his boss revelled in his own hedonism, Mattis walked the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq carrying a copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman stoic.

Neatly done there: Mattis‘ hair is specified, Trump‘s implied..

Seriously, though, it’s both obvious and surprising that Filkins tackles Mattis, on the occasion of his retirement, in geometric or logical terms of the opposition between the man and his boss.

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In the first of his sermons in Fihi ma Fihi, Jalaluddin Rumi offers us the paradox that when a sage visits the court of a prince, it is the prince who visits the sage:

when scholars do not study to please princes, but instead pursue learning from first to last for the sake of truth — when their actions and words spring from the truth they have learned and put to use because this is their nature and they cannot live otherwise .. Should such scholars visit a prince, they are still the ones visited and the prince is the visitor, because in every case it is the prince who takes from these scholars and receives help from them. .. Their trade is giving, they do not receive. The Arabs have expressed this in a proverb: “We have learned in order to give, we have not learned in order to take.” And so in all ways they are the visited, and the prince is the visitor.

Mattis is a scholar of strategy, and Trump not much of a prince.

**

The point is, there’s a downhill slope here, and the man of service holds the high ground over his sad little master.

Mattis writes in his resignation letter:

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. [ .. ]

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

**

  • NYT, Jim Mattis Kept His Country From the ‘Dark Side’
  • **

    As we all now know, Mattis eventually felt the inverted slope was untenable. Hence:

    Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.

    Jesus, take the wheel

    Friday, December 7th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — despair or certain hope? ]
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    **

    Under the headline The White House Has No Plan for Confronting the Mueller Report, we read (upper panel):

    An Urban Dictionary entry captures the sense of helplessness..

    **

    Carrie Underwood‘s song, from which the phrase “Jesus, take the wheel” is drawn, uses driving too fast and spinning out of control on black ice as its example of a situation where that prayer arises, setting the scene with the despairing line:

    she was running low on faith and gasoline

    In her despair, she finds surrender:

    Jesus, take the wheel
    Take it from my hands
    ‘Cause I can’t do this on my own
    I’m letting go
    So give me one more chance
    And save me from this road I’m on
    Jesus, take the wheel

    The car comes to rest on the shoulder of the road, and —

    And for the first time in a long time
    She bowed her head to pray
    She said I’m sorry for the way
    I’ve been living my life
    I know I’ve got to change
    So from now on tonight

    Jesus, take the wheel..

    Listen:

    **

    For reasons outside my control, when I first played this song it was followed automatically and much to my surr[prise by this, from Handel, and apt for the season:

    Perhaps there’s an answer here to the White House staffers’ despair — speaking of the Christ child, Handel, quoting Isaiah, instructs us:

    And the government shall be upon his shoulders

    The government..

    Princes & saws DoubleQuote

    Monday, November 19th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — not exactly a knife (or sayf) to a gunfight, but .. ]
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    Here:

    **

    The obvious MBS DoubleQuote is with Jared Kushner, as in the Medium article, Two Princes: Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman. Prince Hamlet offers a third and more ambiguous choice..

    When the wind is southerly, Hamlet [Act 2 Scene 2] says, I know a hawk from a handsaw — but tell me, who knows whence [John 3.8] the wind blows?

    What poetry has to say about “the mob at the gate”

    Friday, October 26th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — Donald Trump and Joy Reid. meet CP Cavafy ]
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    Donald Trump has been repeating a mantra tying Dems to the word mob recently — here’s one example:

    **

    Belay that! For Trump “the mob at the gates” might equally, scarily, be that “caravan” in Mexico, making its way up to a confrontation with US troops at the border, and no doubt paid for their troubles by George Soros

    Take your camera. Go into the middle. You’ll find MS-13. You’ll find Middle Easterners..

    Hold it: that’s a powerful image.

    But Joy Reid saw the mob differently:

    The mob are WOMEN.

    **

    Democrats, the caravan, women — take the mob at the gates as you will, there’s a considerable force, on the outside, massing and pressing to come in. And poetry has something to say about that (recurrent) situation. In the words of CP Cavafy‘s celebrated poem, Waiting for the Barbarians:

    What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

    The barbarians are due here today.

    Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
    Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

    Because the barbarians are coming today.
    What’s the point of senators making laws now?
    Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

    Why did our emperor get up so early,
    and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
    in state, wearing the crown?

    But I’ll invite you to read the answer to that question, and the rest of the poem, powerful as it is, on the Poetry Foundation site..

    Cavafy has one possible outcome — but there may be as many as there are mobs, or people perceiving them.

    In any case, enjoy the poem, and vote.

    Of Note: Tim Furnish, & Trump’s National CT Strategy

    Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — and a few ppl whose views on trump’s strategy document I’d also like to read ]
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  • Tim Furnish, Trump’s New Counter-terrorism Strategy: The One-Eyed Man is Still King
  • Trump, 2018, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Obama, 2011, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Tim Furnish, Sectsploitation: How to Win Hearts and Minds in the Islamic World
  • **

    I wanted to draw your attention to our blog-friend and sometime contributor Tim Furnish‘s post, which offers a lucid introduction to the Trump administration’s National CT Strategy paper, situating it in contrast to the Obama admin’s version, and linking it to a very helpful breakdown of what we might call (remembering William James, but in mostly lower case) the varieties of Islamic experience.

    Let me just say that from my POV:

    1) Tim Furnish has a way superior understanding of the said varieties than John Bolton ever will have — plus he has a taste for pop culture asides!

    2) that the key issue to be further explored could be expressed in terms of the overlaps, Venn diagram-wise, between “literalist”, “mainstream” and “authentic” Islams.

    That’s a project I’ve been circling for more than a decade, and the closer I get, the more subtleties arise to be considered. Still circling in..

    Thomas Hegghammer, JM Berger, Leah Farrall, Adam Elkus, Will McCants and John Horgan are others whose varied voices and opinions regaarding the new CT Strategy text I’ll be watching for.

    **

    Tim’s essay and associated matters: Warmly recommended.

    Zen — pray chime in.


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