“Rosy Pronouncements” About An Unwinnable War

On December 9 the Washington Post broke this story:

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I’ll leave it to others to interpret, analyze, yea or nay the Afghanistan Papers.

My takeaway can be summed up in one sentence, a 2003 quote in the article from then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld:

“We are woefully deficient in human intelligence.”

Rumsfeld was referring to information from the U.S. Intelligence Community, but I think his statement describes the entire war in Afghanistan:

We are woefully deficient in human intelligence in our leaders, who led us into, and have kept us in, an 18-year unwinnable war.

We are woefully deficient in human intelligence in those same leaders who, according to the article, were advised – repeatedly – by experts that “the war had become unwinnable,” and instead continued making “rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”

We are woefully deficient in human intelligence when we don’t challenge a war that since 2001:

  • Has deployed more than 775,000 U.S. troops.
  • Has caused 2,300 U.S. deaths, and 20,589 U.S. wounded in action.
  • Has cost $1 trillion, and counting.

Why have we allowed this tragedy to continue for so long?

Because I/you/we are woefully deficient in human intelligence for believing:

George W. Bush, October 11, 2001:

“We learned some very important lessons in Vietnam.  People often ask me, ‘How long will this last?’  This particular battlefront will last as long as it takes to bring al-Qaeda to justice.  It may happen tomorrow, it may happen a month from now, it may take a year or two.  But we will prevail.”

Barack Obama, December 1, 2009:

“The days of providing a blank check are over…It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless was in Afghanistan.”

Donald Trump, November 28, 2019:

“The Taliban wants to make a deal and we’re meeting with them and we’re saying it has to be a cease-fire and they didn’t want to do a cease-fire, and now they do want to do a cease-fire.  I believe it’ll probably work out that way… We are winning like we haven’t won in a long time…We’ve made tremendous progress and at the same time we’ve been drawing down our troops.”

Here, instead, is the truth:

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It’s Right There, In The…

This is not a movie review, though it is mostly about a movie.dictators-playbook-dvd cropped

And it’s a “movie” in the sense that it’s six one-hour segments.

Each segment focuses on one dictator.

It’s called The Dictator’s Playbook.

The documentary began airing on PBS in January 2019.  I saw it only recently, but long before I saw it, I was struck by the timing.

I have to believe this was not a coincidence – producing a series about dictators when we have, in the White House, the closest thing to a dictator our country has even seen.

Trump:  A would-be dictator who openly expresses his preference – love, even – for other dictators including:

Kim cropped smaller Putin_04 cropped larger mohammad-bin-salman cropped smaller
Trump’s pals, above left to right:  Kim Jong-Un, Vladimir Putin, Mohammad bin Salman; below left to right:  Rodrigo Duterte, Xi Jinping, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
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As I watched all six hours, I saw many similarities.  Though it doesn’t state this on the PBS website or in the program, it was clear to me that The Dictator’s Playbook was intended to educate us about the common strategies that past dictators share – their “playbook” – and as a warning to alert us to similarities in Trump.

Here’s the list of playbook strategies I made note of as I watched, and the dictators featured.  None of the dictators practiced all these, but all the dictators used many of them:

Dictator’s Playbook


1.    Learning from other dictators

2.    Creating a common enemy

3.    Creating a need for scapegoats

4.    Creating terror; a culture of fear and intimidation

5.    The carrot and the stick

6.    Unifying elites

7.    Using violence to seize power and take control

8.    Crushing the enemy

9.    Using propaganda

10. Controlling the secret police

11. Spinning defeat into triumph

12. Using indoctrination

13. Using war as a distraction

14. Creating a desire for a “strongman”

15. Manipulating votes/elections

16. Controlling the press to support the dictator

17. Appealing to underprivileged and forgotten people

18. Controlling information

19. Making an example

20. Gaining consent

21. Purging enemies

22. Creating a gulag

23. Diverting public attention from his failures

24. Cult of personality

25. Theatricality of personality

26. Populist charm

27. Increased exaggeration of dictator’s own glory and abilities

28. Rising racism

29. Disaffection for traditional forms of government

30. Military path to power

kim il sung

Kim Il Sung (1912-1994)
Country:  North Korea, in power 1948-1994


Saddam Hussein (1937-2006)
Country:  Iraq, in power 1979-2003

benito mussolini

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945)
Country:  Italy, in power 1922-1945

manuel noriega

Manuel Noriega (1934-2017)
Country:  Panama, in power 1983-1989

francisco franco

Francisco Franco (1892-1975)
Country:  Spain, in power 1939-1975

idi amin

Idi Amin (1925-2003)
Country:  Uganda, in power 1971-1979

Something else that several of the six dictators had in common (though certainly not listed in the playbook) was how often the crowds cheered him when he was in power – and jeered him when he fell from power.  Like Mussolini:

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Left, 1937:  Mussolini greets a cheering crowd.  Right, 1945:  Mussolini, his mistress and three senior Fascists were executed, then put on display for a jeering crowd.

So, the parallels to Trump are unmistakable – how the six dictators in the film were fervent believers in nationalism, even as Trump declared himself a “nationalist” at a rally in Houston in October 2018.

That Franco was convinced he was the only man who could save his country from all the “challenges from the left.”  Trump is “saving” the country by telling politicians on the left to “go back to where they came from.”

And Amin, who launched a “nationwide charm offensive, promising better jobs, housing, a better future.”  The people “love me,” he declared, just as Trump continues to promise the same, and frequently identifies himself as “your favorite president” on Twitter.

I highly recommend The Dictator’s Playbook for both the information about the past – and the warning about the future.

As CNN put in it this article:

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“The prevailing message serves as a reminder that the methods on display carry a not-so-subtle warning that while America has been shielded from dictatorships, it is not necessarily immune from forces that have shaped and defined them.”

But – I know six hours is a huge time commitment.

So I’ve provided a checklist of those same 30 items as above and invite you to see how many you would identify as Trump behaviors.  I did, and my count was 19:

□          1.  Learning from other dictators
□          2.  Creating a common enemy
□          3.  Creating a need for scapegoats
□          4.  Creating terror; a culture of fear and intimidation
□          5.  The carrot and the stick
□          6.  Unifying elites
□          7.  Using violence to seize power and take control
□          8.  Crushing the enemy
□          9.  Using propaganda
□          10.  Controlling the secret police
□          11. Spinning defeat into triumph
□          12. Using indoctrination
□          13. Using war as a distraction
□          14. Creating a desire for a “strongman”
□          15. Manipulating votes/elections
□          16. Controlling the press to support the dictator
□          17. Appealing to underprivileged and forgotten people
□          18. Controlling information
□          19. Making an example
□          20. Gaining consent
□          21. Purging enemies
□          22. Creating a gulag
□          23. Diverting public attention from his failures
□          24. Cult of personality
□          25. Theatricality of personality
□          26. Populist charm
□          27. Increased exaggeration of dictator’s own glory and abilities
□          28. Rising racism
□          29 Disaffection for traditional forms of government
□          30. Military path to power
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I’ll mention one last behavior all six dictators had in common:  Making promises they didn’t keep.  This was especially true during their rise to power.

In January 2016 the Washington Post compiled this list:

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Here are a few of them:

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11/29/19 Update:

Trump has added another strategy to the Dictator’s Playbook list:

Create chaos within the military:

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If You Want A REAL ID – Get In Line At Your DMV…

Our federal and state governments are doing a piss-poor job – no surprise there – of educating us about REAL ID.

REAL ID – that thing you need to get on a commercial flight starting October 1, 2020.

Our governments are also doing a piss-poor job – again, no surprise – of educating us that you don’t need a REAL ID to get on a commercial flight starting October 1, 2020.

which is it croppedWell, which is it?

Don’t bother asking our governments.

Oh, you can slog through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website, where they’ve got a timer counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the Date of Doom, October 1, 2020:

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But I promise it will strike terror into your heart when you read this:

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You see where it says, “If you’re not sure”?

The TSA should update that to,

“If you’re not sure because we’ve done a piss-poor job of giving you the simple, straightforward facts about REAL ID even though we’ve had plenty of time since this became a law back in 2005…”

So you read “contact your state driver’s license agency,” which is a multi-word government way of saying…

“Contact your DMV.”

And you want to get this resolved, so you call your DMV, and they put you on hold and you wait so long that…


But it’s not enough to just contact your DMV – you can’t just call them and say, “Those REAL ID things?  Could you pop one into the mail to me?”

If you want a REAL ID, you must go to your DMV:

Think the lines at your DMV are bad now?

long line at DMV

Lines at your DMV as we get closer to the October 1, 2020 deadline:

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And since, according to this New York Times article from early October:

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Which says,

“99 million Americans do not have the REAL ID-compliant identification”

And half of them don’t even know about the REAL ID deadline.

That line to the DMV in September 2020 will turn in to this:

pile of skeletons cropped

And these folks still won’t have gotten their REAL ID.

Earlier I said you don’t need a REAL ID to get on a commercial flight starting October 1, 2020.

And that’s a fact.

To get on a commercial flight starting October 1, 2020 you need:

A REAL ID-compliant driver’s license*

Or cropped

A state-issued enhanced driver license.*

Or cropped

Another acceptable form of ID* such as a passport.

*This language is verbatim from the TSA website.

Otherwise, as of October 1, 2020 – the Day of Doom – when you arrive at airport security, which will look like this:

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Because of conversations like this:

“But your passport is expired, sir.”  “Nobody said it had to be a %#!@*%! CURRENT passport!”

If you don’t have the proper documentation you will not be allowed through security and onto your flight.

And come October 1, 2020 that’s going to affect a lot of us:

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Though I think “affect” is an understatement:

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“What do you mean, I can’t get on a plane?  I’ll %#!@*%! show YOU who can’t get on a plane!”

Quoting the U.S. Travel Association, the New York Times article also said:

“If Real ID went into effect tomorrow, almost 80,000 people trying to board a plane would be denied on Day 1.”

My recommendation?

Don’t be one of them:

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And speaking of doing a piss-poor job…

Update, 11/13/19 Los Angeles Times:

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The airlines also aren’t doing squat about educating people about REAL ID and October 1, 2020, the Day of Doom.

Amidst all the bad news in this article was a problem that hadn’t occurred to me:

“Make sure you don’t leave on a September 28 flight and can’t come home after October 1 because you don’t have the proper documents.

The article leaves us with a very sad image, indeed:

“Imagine the novice traveler, a grandma who only travels once or twice a year.  She can’t come home to her family.”

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And Now…Little Donny-Wonny Trump Jr, Also Known As “Mr. Ride On His Daddy’s Coattails”

The New York Times Best Seller List is something of a Holy Grail for book authors.

Holy Grail:  a thing that is being earnestly pursued or sought after.

Few authors achieve a place on the list, and a few of those are totally undeserving of that coat_tails_feature croppeddistinction.

Case in point:

Donny-Wonny Trump Jr, aka “Mr. Ride On His Daddy’s Coattails.”

His book Triggered has been variously described as “forays into politics and views on liberals from the executive vice president of the Trump organization” and, “a reminder that people thought Mein Kampf was an excellent book, too.”

So here’s the book on November 23, in first place on The New York Times best seller list:

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But wait.

Let’s look at that image again:

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See that red arrow?  It’s pointing to a little dagger.

What does that dagger mean?

This article from The New York Times explains:

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That dagger means “bulk purchases of the book.”

That’s right!  The Republican National Committee (RNC) spent almost $100,000 buying copies of Donny-Wonny’s book!

Which, the Times article point out,

“…is unusual in that the committee is promoting a book written by a candidate’s son who isn’t a politician and isn’t running for office.”

Well, hope you enjoyed it while it lasted, Donny-Wonny.  Because it didn’t last long.  Here’s The New York Times best seller list for December 7:

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NOTE:  No “bulk sales” dagger on A Warning.

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For A Change, How About Some…

On the Friday before Thanksgiving – when many of us were thinking about family and food and a holiday weekend – a SeaWorld San Diego rescue team was thinking about something very different:

A humpback whale.

A 35-foot humpback whale that had become entangled in a 900-foot weighted fishing line off the coast of La Jolla, CA:

Whale 2

The SeaWorld team knew the whale was not able to swim freely and forage for food because of the line, and would have died if it had remained entangled.

The SeaWorld team also knew they were the only ones who could give a second chance at life to that whale.

A chance at life, so it would be free to do this:


And this:


And maybe this:


SeaWorld has gotten some of bad publicity, especially since the 2013 movie Blackfish.  Its stock tanked in 2014, and again in 2017.

During all that, it was easy to lose track of the fact that SeaWorld as a company recently reached an impressive milestone:

36,000 animal rescues over the last 55 years.

SeaWorld San Diego alone has rescued more than 20,000 of those animals, which include seaworld_t658 croppedsea lions, seals, dolphins, whales, turtles and birds.  Their goal with every animal is to rescue, rehabilitate and return it to the wild for that second chance at life.

On November 22 the SeaWorld team was well-prepared for the humpback rescue.  They have specific large-whale entanglement response training, and work under the authority of National Marine Fisheries Service, the government agency that oversees the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.

The team walked their walk:

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And after four hours, freed the whale to keep doing this:


And this:


And definitely this:


Good news for the whale, for us, and for the planet.

I Miss The Good Old Days Of…

Just a few years ago, if you had told me, “You’ll choose not be friends with someone because of their politics,” I would have absolutely disagreed.

Pass on a friendship because of politics?

No way would I do that.

But – I did that.

Jane and I had worked for the same company, different departments, for several years.  When we saw each other in the hall or lunchroom we’d chat, mostly about work.  I enjoyed Jane’s sense of humor and her take on company politics.

Jane moved on to another company, but before she left, she invited me to lunch.  I thought it could be fun, so we set a date.

And our lunch was fun.

Until Jane brought up politics:

“Did you hear what those dumbass Democrats did?”

I kept quiet as she then recounted the latest offensive things the “dumbass Democrats” said about Trump, the bills they were wasting their time passing in the House because Mitch McConnel (“Thank God for him!”) would never bring them to the floor, and sang the praises of Lindsay Graham (“Brilliant!”).

All of which I disagreed with.  Vehemently – but internally.

I was resolved to “disagree without being disagreeable.”  I thought Jane and I had a potential for friendship, and in the future we could just agree to disagree.


Then she said, “I wish people would just leave Trump alone to do his job.”


To say I loathe Trump would be putting it mildly.

And I was struggling with the hard evidence that Jane actually believed what Trump says, and lauds what he does.

Jane was an intelligent woman, after all.

I said, “You don’t think Russia interfered in the 2016 election?”

“No way.”

“Trump and Ukraine?”

“The Democrats failed in their first witch hunt and impeachment will fail, too.”

I paused, realizing I was about to put the last nail in the coffin of this potential friendship.

“And the 24 women who’ve accused Trump of sexual assault?”

“Thy’re lying.”

All of them?” I said.

All of them.”

Now Jane had a question of her own:

“What do you think of Trump?”

In my calmest tone I told her.  Jane’s eyes grew wider as I used the words “psychopath,” “narcissist” and “misogynist.”

We sat in silence for a moment, then moved onto other topics.

But not for long.  We split the bill, said good-bye, and before I’d even arrived at my car, I knew I wouldn’t see Jane again.

And I knew Jane felt the same way.

I just couldn’t respect a Trump supporter – and I believe respect is a critical part of any friendship, any relationship.

I’d passed on a friendship because of politics.

“Agree to disagree” doesn’t work anymore in a country as polarized as ours.

And it gets worse.

Because This Polarization Is Dividing Families, Too

My friend Deborah had been invited to lunch by her adult son.  Deborah had had run-ins with her son before about Trump – he’s a strong supporter and she’s exactly the opposite – and she’d realized that if they were going to have quality time together, it was best to not discuss politics.

They met for lunch and all was going well.  At some point Deborah started telling her son about a movie she’d seen – a good, safe topic, since they both loved movies.

The movie was Icebox, about the horrendous conditions that immigrant children are subjected to.  “But immigrants come here and break out laws,” her son insisted, “and deserve to be locked up.  What happens to their kids is their fault.”

“This was by far the worst run-in we’ve had,” she later said to me.  “He threw all kinds of things at me verbally, then got up and walked out of the restaurant.

“I thought I was just talking about a movie.”

This wouldn’t have happened three years ago.

Where does this leave Deborah and her son?

Where does this leave any of us?

Right where Trump wants us:

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I – we – have allowed Trump to divide and conquer us.

Thanksgiving 2019:  Now Trump’s “Divide and Conquer”
Has Divided My Family

My younger brothers have always been close, and probably closer than most:

They’re identical twins.

They not only look alike, they share many personality traits and preferences.

But over the years, one way they’ve differed is politics.

And over the past three years, that difference has become much more pronounced.

One brother is conservative.

One brother is liberal.

Conservative is single.

Liberal is married and has a stepdaughter.  His wife and stepdaughter are also liberals.

Liberal had invited Conservative for Thanksgiving and an overnight stay.  Conservative had gladly accepted, and offered to bring the pie.

The four sat down together for a beautiful dinner of turkey and all the trimmings.  “We turned off the TV,” Liberal told me later, “so we could talk and focus on each other.”

And everything went well.

Until someone mentioned Trump.

Voices were raised, then raised voices became shouting.  Conservative insisted, “Why can’t you see the good things Trump has done?”

The three liberals insisted just as strongly that Trump does no good at all.

What started so well had deteriorated into a Trump-divided-and-conquered disaster.

Deteriorated so badly that Conservative packed his things back into his overnight bag, and left.

The pie went uneaten.

Divided families.

Divided country.