The Trump administration is dealing with a lot. Just consider the agenda this week: a nuclear war for its Supreme Court nominee on Capitol Hill, dueling investigations and political fights over contacts with Russia and the previous administration’s handling of intelligence, a renewed push on health care, a visit of the President of Egypt and the King of Jordan to discuss peace in the Middle East, and of course the two-day visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Mar-a-Lago.
Imagine you are a young midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy processing the news that Jim Webb—Annapolis class of ’68, recipient of the Navy Cross, former senator and secretary of the Navy, former member of the Annapolis faculty, bestselling novelist and journalist—has been forced by political pressure to decline an award for distinguished alumni at your school this week.
The speed of now-former South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s spectacular fall from power took many foreign observers by surprise. After all, the initial reports last autumn that were to snowball into a generational political crisis seemed pretty bland. The daughter of the president’s family friend and “spiritual adviser” Choi Soon-sil had apparently been accepted into a prestigious women’s university as a result of political pressure. An “equestrian scholarship” had been invented as a pretext for getting her in despite comparatively weak grades. Students at the school—not fans of the conservative president, unsurprisingly—were protesting.
Just over twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton responded to Chinese missile tests and amphibious exercises designed to intimidate Taiwan by dispatching two U.S. aircraft carriers to the vicinity of the island, which lies about 100 miles off the coast of the Communist mainland. Times change. In January of this year, China sailed an aircraft carrier—purchased from Russia and commissioned in 2012—leisurely around Taiwan.
Yesterday the Pentagon presented its recommendations to the White House for how to defeat ISIS. It is likely that the military campaign that will follow President Trump’s final decision will look a good deal like President Obama’s, albeit with looser restrictions, and possibly a dimmer view towards Iranian influence in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Council are all hard at work formulating a new approach in Afghanistan. They must resist the temptation to recommend a “more-of-the-same-but-with-a-freer-hand” approach to the president.
As someone who once went out after dinner as a graduate student and spent my last remaining dollars on a used book, figuring that I could squeeze an advance on my next stipend disbursement out of the college dean the next morning, I get what Count Carl Gustaf Tessin was about. Tessin was a Swedish politician, man of letters, memoirist, and art lover who, following the success of his party in 1738, accepted an appointment as an ambassador to the court of Louis XV. Once in Paris, he embarked on a glorious binge of collection, commissioning, and buying vast numbers of paintings and prints.
The American predicament in Afghanistan is at once ridiculous and tragic. More than 8,000 American troops remain in the country, prosecuting the longest war in our nation’s history. Overlapping networks of insurgent groups—most prominently the Taliban—had a good year in 2016, seizing terrain and conducting terror strikes to destabilize the U.S.-backed Kabul government. The American commander in the country wants a “few thousand” more troops. Despite the supporting role that the U.S. contingent is meant to play, casualties are still being sustained, sometimes in places with depressingly familiar names—as in Sangin, seized from the Taliban a few years ago at the expense of gallons of British and U.S. Marine blood. Two Americans were wounded there last week.