Streetwise Professor

September 12, 2020

I’m So Old I Can Remember When Trying to Prevent Panic Was Considered a Hallmark of Leadership

Filed under: China,CoronaCrisis,Politics — cpirrong @ 12:27 pm

In what perhaps may become a new feature, in response to a Twitter request by @Esq_SD, here are my thoughts regarding (a) the new Woodward book, and (b) the Israel-UAE (and now Israel-UAE-Bahrain) peace deals.

With respect to the Woodward book, I wouldn’t read his has-been droning on a dare, a bet, or for a date with Gisele Bündchen. So all I can do is respond to the alleged bombshell in the book, namely that “Trump lied [about COVID] and people died!”:

“To be honest with you…I wanted to always play it down. I still want to play it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

This is a completely defensible, and indeed laudable, course to take. Panic makes bad situations worse. Panic kills. Always.

Historically, those in authority who have panicked, or more importantly through intemperate word or deed, caused those who they led or governed or ruled to panic, have created disaster. Those who contributed to maintaining calm even in dire straits have often proven instrumental in overcoming those circumstances.

I’m so old that I can remember being taught in school about a president who said “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”–and that he was admired for saying so.

But now, that president’s political heirs are saying in effect “the only thing we have to sell is fear.”

I am reminded of the first lines of Kipling’s If:

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

Kipling thought this was admirable. It’s now apparently worthy of contempt.

And ain’t it an accurate description of the situation Trump faces?

My criticism–more of a lament, actually–is that Trump did not succeed in stemming panic. Even before Trump spoke to Woodward on 19 March, I had started to call the policy response to COVID-19 a “panicdemic.”

And it only got worse from there. And in certain quarters, the panic continues unabated. This is particularly appalling, given that perhaps, given the ignorance of the early days, there were grounds for fear in March. But given all of the evidence amassed in the past six months, it is now beyond obvious that those fears were vastly overblown.

Yet the fear mongers keep mongering. Just look at the UK, where BoJo (whose erratic behavior makes Trump look like Seneca the Younger) has clamped down again. Or Victoria, in Australia (I’m being specific as an acknowledgement to Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break’s admonition that there is more to Australia than Melbourne), or New Zealand, both of which have adopted the insane eliminate-the-virus strategy

The panicked policy responses have wreaked havoc, and inflicted far more damage than the virus itself. So would that Trump’s efforts to tamp down the panic been far more successful. But I certainly will not join the baying chorus attacking him for going against character, and choosing understatement over hyperbole.

As for the Mideast peace deals. What? You haven’t heard about them? Well, that’s understandable, because the media has been speaking sotto voce on the subject. And that tells you just how epochal the deals are.

They obviously can’t say the deals are a bad thing. They clearly are a good thing, but they can’t say that, because that would be a boon for Trump, and we can’t have that, can we? Especially with an election in 7 weeks. So the media silence (and the silence of the Democrats) is as ringing an endorsement as one could imagine.

You can bet your bottom dollar that if Obama had shepherded such a deal to completion, the media would be singing his praises from the rooftops. (As if Obama ever could have achieved this, given his inveterate hostility to Israel and his obsession in consummating a deal with Iran.) But since Trump’s fingerprints are on it, the most substantive diplomatic realignment in the Middle East in decades is all but ignored.

As is the deal in another allegedly intractable conflict, between Kosovo and Serbia. Richard Grenell’s scathing takedown of the press for its indifference to and palpable ignorance of the the importance of the rapprochement was fully justified. (Ironically, Grenell would check various intersectional boxes, but one box that he checks–Trump Republican–puts him beyond the pale of the pale.)

These two achievements also give the lie to the oft-repeated slander that the Trump administration is isolationist, withdrawing America from the world, and in particular, abandoning the Middle East.

Letting Syria go to shit–stay shit would be more accurate–is not abandoning the Middle East. It is prudent to avoid getting involved in . . . what’s the word that Democrats always used to throw around? . . . ah . . . quagmires, that’s it. Drawing down in Iraq–after largely vanquishing ISIS–is prudent. Economy of force and concentration on strategic priorities is prudent: getting involved and staying involved everywhere is strategic idiocy.

It is particularly ironic that Trump has been routinely savaged as a war monger, yet he–in the teeth of furious opposition from the Pentagon and the State Department apparatchiks other elements of the Deep State–has steadfastly–and patiently–whittled away at American military presence in fruitless conflicts, and used diplomacy to advance American interests and reduce conflicts, thereby avoiding additional military commitments.

We are well into a new era of great power rivalry, specifically with China. Prudent strategy focuses on those arguably existential conflicts, and avoids peripheral ones, or attempts to mitigate them through diplomacy. The peace deals, the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the waging of asymmetric conflict against China (cf., TikTok, Huawei, visas to Chinese students, prosecuting academics who whore for China) are all elements of such a prudent and foresightful strategy. Trump’s adoption thereof is more likely instinctual than intellectual, but his instincts are correct and he has had the fortitude to pursue them despite the inveterate opposition of the idiots in the Establishment. These policies do not represent an abandonment of American influence, but a concentration on The Objective.

Clauswitz–and Sun Tzu–would understand, even if the DC Mandarins are clueless.

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  1. Versailles on the Potomac as 4th generation warfare guru Bill Lind described DC.

    Comment by The Pilot — September 12, 2020 @ 2:51 pm

  2. Along these lines, was it ever a positive intention of US foreign policy to encourage Putin and Xi into each others’ arms?

    I ask because I’d have thought that the American interest would have demanded being on good terms with Russia.

    Comment by dearieme — September 12, 2020 @ 3:04 pm

  3. But the whole UAE/Bahrain thing wasn’t really newsworthy, was it? Two tiny Gulf states and we should be rejoicing, really? Come back and tell us when you’ve got Saudi to sign up. Now that would be newsworthy.

    Also, I did wonder whether this happened in spite of – rather than because of – Trump? There do appear to be arms of your government which seem intent on carrying on as usual despite the chaos at home, the military being a case in point. By way of example, it may have not made the news stateside that the air force sent three Buffs (B52s) into Ukraine last Friday, exercising just off Crimea. Would Trump have been briefed and/or authorised this? Seems unlikely.

    Regarding Woodward’s book, I think the comment more highlights Donnie’s inability to process big complex policy issues, not some innate grasp of how the public would react (not that that is exactly revelatory).

    Comment by David Mercer — September 13, 2020 @ 5:34 am

  4. The military “carrying on as usual” is something that I’d like to think Trump could stop. Though it can’t be easy; as well as his personal shortcomings he’s got virtually the whole government machine agin him.

    Comment by dearieme — September 13, 2020 @ 9:44 am

  5. Great piece.

    All I can say is: Hasn’t Bob Woodward been proven by prior action and deeds to be the mouthpiece of the “Deep State”?

    I have thought this far longer than Trump has been President.

    I hold it against Trump that he talked with Woodward. What upside was there for Trump to do such a thing? I guess it fed his ego to talk to Woodward.

    Comment by JavelinaTex — September 13, 2020 @ 11:50 am

  6. Yes, going back to “Deep Throat”; aka FBI weasel with an ax to grind, Woodward is just a hack controlled by those with secret political agendas. Except, of course, when it’s his agenda,

    Comment by The Pilot — September 13, 2020 @ 2:09 pm

  7. Trump would without doubt be briefed by SecDef on the B-52 operation.

    Comment by The Pilot — September 13, 2020 @ 2:11 pm

  8. @The Pilot. Woodward, from day 1, has been a willing dummy for Deep State ventriloquists. It’s been a very good living for him.

    And his agenda aligns 100 pct with the Deep State agenda. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.

    Comment by cpirrong — September 13, 2020 @ 3:55 pm

  9. @JavelinaTex. Thanks. See my reply to @The Pilot. Yes, he’s always been the dummy to DS ventriloquists. He’s not alone at either the WaPo or NYT.

    Trump was stupid to talk to Woodward. He is often his own worst enemy.

    Comment by cpirrong — September 13, 2020 @ 3:56 pm

  10. Thanks for discriminating between what we call Victoriastan and the rest of Australia. Needless to say every one of our states is behaving in a totalitarian manner, some less than others, however Victoriastan led by Chairman Kim Jong Danny Boy is by far the worst. For many Australians of my vintage we just can’t believe this is happening. Apart from one member from both sides of the federal parliament not one politician has come out against what is happening. Perhaps they are talking sotto voce, not to be heard because they are gutless. Well what we need now are some politicians with guts not craven sycophants. Surely it is time for the Second Coming, and I’m not even religious!

    Comment by Alessandro — September 13, 2020 @ 5:58 pm


    andrew neil (uk journalist) has an interesting summary of different arab newspapers reaction to the peace deals.

    Consider this from the state-backed Saudi Gazette: “Palestinian politicians have sabotaged negotiations and rejected all peace initiatives for six decades in order to keep the aid funds flowing to their private bank accounts.”

    That is a big story

    Comment by ian parkinson — September 14, 2020 @ 1:18 am

  12. David Mercer

    “Two tiny Gulf states…”

    Well, since the UAE is four times the size and three times the GDP of Israel…….

    Don’t even pretend that if this had been Obama, Clinton or any notTrump you wouldn’t be thinking this a great result.

    And you have left a great big hostage to fortune with your Saudi Arabia comment: they are already, as of now, allowing direct flights over their territory – something they had never even considered before – and almost certainly planning on greater engagement, up to, and including, recognition.

    Comment by Recusant — September 14, 2020 @ 1:47 pm

  13. I suppose that if I were the big boss of Saudi I’d look at Iran, I’d look at their proposed alliance with China, I’d look at what’s going on in the USA, and I might decide that Israel is a potential future ally. Because an alliance with the soon-to-be ex-USA wouldn’t have much value.

    That, at least, would be one scenario I’d have my more intellectual soldiers and diplomats mulling.

    Comment by dearieme — September 14, 2020 @ 3:05 pm

  14. @Recusant. Overflights??! Let the street parties commence!!

    They’d better crack on and get it signed off before November, otherwise Joe will claim it as his work and you guys will dutifully lose your sh*t.

    @Pilot. Given dimwit Donnie doesn’t actually read anything, do you really think the SecDef would really spend the time verbally briefing him on this stuff? Its big picture or nothing, I tell you. And I mean really big picture stuff.

    Comment by David Mercer — September 14, 2020 @ 4:01 pm

  15. ‘Epochal’ is right on the money. No way I was expecting that. After a bumpy start with unwarranted missile strikes on Syria (I know we disagree about this, that’s ok), Trump finishes his (first) term having avoided starting another war and creating chaos, and instead bringing peace to what had been considered intractable enmities. As the man himself would say: ‘Big league!’ And with no pallets of cash having to be moved at dead of night either! Q has dropped some hints as to where some/all of that untraceable cash ended up, in no way endearing him to Barry Soetoro and the rest of his gang in the process. As the Italians say, ‘When someone gives you a pot of honey, your fingers get sticky’!

    I agree with Alessandro. This behaviour by the authorities in Oz is deeply shocking. There was always a latent authoritarian streak in the Australian character, it emerged clearly about two decades ago in the crowd-control methods at sports events, and as happens with bad ideas this unwarrantedly violent response to unorthodox or eccentric behaviour has now spread to the police, and it culminated yesterday with the Victorian coppers addressing the problem of a mentally-ill man wandering around without a mask – yes, that was his crime – by first ‘bumping’ him with a squad car and then when they had him tackled on the ground, stomping on his head. The unfortunate man is now in a coma. What really pisses people off is the hypocrisy and favouritism: the heavy-handed tactics were deployed only in response to people objecting to the unwarranted lockdown, and not in response to the gratuitous BLM protests we experienced here after George Floyd died – yes, would you believe the leftist morons here are so cognitively vacant that they aped what was going on in the US despite the fact that we are separate countries.

    By the way, did you hear Kamala Harris talk today about ‘a Harris administration, together with Joe Biden …’? I reckon, should the Dems stuff enough ballot boxes with mail-in votes, Joe gets two weeks in the Oval Office before he unfortunately falls asleep under a pillow, Justice Scalia-style.

    Lastly: how about if Gisela Bundchen were to read Woodward’s potboiler to you in person? Die of boredom, but in a state of profound, heavenly content 😉

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — September 15, 2020 @ 4:53 am

  16. @Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break – did you really just cite Q from qAnon fame as a source? no comments….

    @cpirrong. you missed the point… yet again …. the problem is not that he tried to not create a panic. The problem is that he lied.

    Comment by [email protected] — September 15, 2020 @ 9:30 am

  17. @Ex: So you complain about police brutality and in the next breath complain about people protesting police brutality? Cognitive dissonance much?

    As for citing Q, what can I say? I hear qAnon is rife with bullsh*t conspiracy theories ATM (even more so than usual, if that’s possible). You guys must love it.

    Comment by David Mercer — September 15, 2020 @ 1:50 pm

  18. @David Mercer,

    You might read Sheik Abdullah of the UAE in today’s WSJ, peace between Israel and Arab ME is a big deal, the Palestinians have finally been kicked to the curb. And, “dimwit Donnie” is presiding over the ceremonies. Sixty years of Arab refusal is gone. You’ll see more events before the election.

    Comment by The Pilot — September 15, 2020 @ 4:01 pm

  19. @David: I’m fine with people complaining about police brutality; what I can’t process is why people in Australia want to complain about a man dying of a drug overdose in the United States!

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — September 15, 2020 @ 6:31 pm

  20. Virtue signalling happens even in the Southern Hemisphere.

    Comment by dearieme — September 16, 2020 @ 4:27 am

  21. No, srsly, it’s good to have the miserable david mercer in these here threads. For illustration of alternative mentality of the despicable left.
    In architecture, we typically add a schematic human figure to elevations and 3d perspectives, to indicate true scale of the design in relation to a person.
    Mercer serves the opposite purpose – to provide comparison and true scale relationship of normal people and a damaged mind.

    Comment by Tatyana — September 17, 2020 @ 4:45 pm

  22. @Tatyana – wow, an architect! What do you design – trailer homes? Seriously – sorry srsly – though, SWP’s blog is one of the funniest things on the ‘net. Your contributions, less so.

    Comment by David Mercer — September 23, 2020 @ 4:06 pm

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