My life out on the mean streets of the world as a CIA case officer – out in the cold – taught me some lesson.
Like realty in the field is often different from perception in Washington.
Most vivid example was in the closing months of our involvement in South Vietnam, where I knew like few others, what was happening out in the countryside, but it was far different from what policymakers in Washington believed. Problem in this case was the insulated crystal tower fantasy thinking of the US Embassy in Saigon. History clearly shows the responsible people there, then, didn’t have a clue, and put out a lot of fantasy and misinformation back home.
We see the same thing nowadays with the media putting out a lot of "fake news" and misinformation created or tailored in crystal tower media “news” rooms. Polls they use to say what the people are thinking is a good case in point. As the last presidential election proved, the “polls” said what the media want them to say. But. They were statistics, statistics and damn lies. Plus they take us for idiots. If a “poll” reflected results the media didn’t like, or confused their bias, they just wouldn’t use it. Am I right?
The media read on the Trump administration is that it is an unqualified disaster. And. They toss around words like “impeachment” and “dysfunction.”
Well as a brand new entity in the political arena, with the historical rules and accepted behavior in that slaughterhouse of good intentions, yea – it is not functioning to media approval, and they’d sure like to impeach that smart-alecky Trump and send him packing back to the market place where he came from.
He has met a payroll his whole adult life. To him, his business decisions had consequences. He has been dumbfounded with the lack of responsibility in Washington. Politicans are not held accountable and face little personal consequences when things they propose don’t work. There is much difference in the US business reality as compared to WDC government work. Trump sees himself as the USG CEO. The media is like labor unions. Politicians, the workers.
Media and the politicians don’t see themselves that way of course. But with Trump in communication with his American constitutions with his tweets, the media and the professional politicians have lost most of their power... to the brash, confident CEO.
One of the great reports I read of the Trump campaign – that made me a believer - was that his people were disorganized when the Republican presidential convention was convened. All the political pundits said he doesn’t know how to do the big business of US presidential politics… and I said, YES! Great! Because Obama and his people did know how to do the “business of US Presidential Politics,” and Hillary Clinton, she knew.
I was so pleased that his convention wasn’t slicky smooth.
I’m saying you absolutely cannot trust the media to tell how things are goin’. I never watch TV “news.” Not CNN or Fox or ABC or NBC or CBS.
I do read the local Las Vegas paper from front to back every day and the WSJ week-end edition.
This is what I know. The stock market just broke the 22,000 mark. That tells me, not only do American savers trust the Trump government model, but foreign investors like it too.
Pretty convincing evidence there that the practicalities of US government is – finally – in the hands of adults.
That’s because of Trump.
Also consider this, conceded by the Washington Post’s Karen De Young this morning: “Nearly a third of territory reclaimed from the Islamic State of in Iraq and Syria since 2014 has been won in the past six months, thanks to new policies adopted by the Trump administration, a senior State Department Official said Friday.”
Those are the policies of Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis.
And coming into the White House is Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Here’s what Peggy Noonon, a creditable observer, had to say about Kelly today.
I realized as I wrote this that I've never met a Kelly I didn't like, who wasn't admirable.
[There was the great journalist Michael Kelly, lost in Iraq in 2003 and mourned still by anyone that has a brain: What would he be making of everything now? There's Gentleman Jim Kelly, formerly of Time and an award-winning journalist. Ray Kelly was one of New York's finest police commissioners. Megyn Kelly is a brave, nice woman. I wrote once of a small miracle in which a group of friends arrived, late and in tears, to see John Paul II celebrate mass in New York. The doors of the cathedral were shut tight. A man in a suit saw our tears, walked over, picked up a sawhorse, and waved us through. As we ran up the steps I turned, “What is your name?” I cried. “Detective Kelly!" and he disappeared into the crowd.
Grace was occasionally brilliant and always beautiful. Gene Kelly was a genius. There is the unfortunate matter of the 1930s gangster “Machine Gun Kelly,'' but he is more than made up for by Thomas Gunning Kelley (an extra e, but same tribe), who in 1969 led a U.S. Navy mission to save a company of Army infantrymen trapped on the banks of a canal in South Vietnam's Kien Hoa province. He deliberately drew fire to protect others, was badly wounded, waved off treatment, saved the day. He received the Medal of Honor. There are other Kellys on its long, illustrious rolls.
So Gen. John Kelly (retired), U.S. Marine Corps, veteran of Anbar province, Iraq, and new chief of staff to President Trump: onward in your Kellyness.
Everyone wonders what he'll do, what difference he'll make. He is expected to impose order and discipline, tamp down the chaos. I suspect his deepest impact may be on policy and how it's pursued, especially in the area of bipartisan out reach.
American military leaders are almost always patriotic, protective, professional, practical. They're often highly educated, with advanced degrees. Mary Boies, who for two decades has worked with the military as a leader of Business Executives for National Security, said this week: "In general, military top brass are among the most impressive people in our country."
It's true. And in a nation that loves to categorize people by profession, they can be surprising.
Generals and admirals are rarely conservative in standard or predict able ways, ways in which the term is normally understood. They've been painted as right-wing in books and movies for so long that some of that reputation still clings to them, but it's wrong.
They are not, or not necessarily, economic conservatives. Top brass are men and women who were largely educated in, and came up in, a system that is wholly taxpayer funded. Their primary focus is that the military have what it needs to do the job. Whatever tax rates do that, do that. They are not economists, they don't focus on Keynesian theory and supply-side thought. They’re like Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who saw the historically high tax rates of the Roosevelt-Truman era and thought fine, how we won World War II. He didn’t seem concerned about tax rates until he’d been president for a while and started hearing about the problems with business while playing golf with CEOS.
Generals are not romantic about war, because it’s not abstract to them. Ms. Boles: “Army officers know better than anybody the limits of military hard power. Military people hate war because they’ve seen it and know both its limitations and its devastating effects.
In my observation general are both the last to want to go in (“Do you understand the implications of invasion? Do you even know the facts on the ground?”) and the last to want to leave (“After all this blood and sacrifice, this hard-won progress, you’re pulling out because you made a promise in a speech?”) They hate hotheads, full-of-themselves civilians who run around insisting on action. Those civilians are not the ones who’ll do the fighting, and as public allies they’re not reliable.
On social issues they generally ten to be moderate to liberal. I have never to my knowledge met a high officer who was pro-life. They largely thought Don’t ask, Don’t tell a reasonable policy, but they are realists: Time moves, salute and execute. They don’t want to damage or retard their careers being on the wrong side of issues whose outcome seem culturally inevitable. You don't die on a hill that is not central to the immediate mission.
They are as a rule not deeply partisan. Those who work in the Pentagon have to know how to work with both parties and negotiate their way around partisan differences. (Enlisted men in my experience are more instinctively conservative, though often in interesting ways.)
* * *
When things are working right, chiefs of staff have an impact on presidential thinking. They guide discussions toward certain, sometimes directed conclusions. They're expected to give advice, and it's expected to be grounded in knowledge and experience.
It may be easier for Mr. Kelly to impose order than people think. Sacking Anthony Scaramucci sent a message. The warring staffers around Mr. Kelly know it won't be good for them if they don't support him, at least for now. If they fight him with leaks, they're revealed as part of the problem of the past six months. If they are compliant and congenial, it will look like they weren't the problem; someone else was. Also they're tired of being part of a White House that has been famously dysfunctional. It will help their standing in the world to be part of something that works. Similarly with Mr. Trump: If it works with Mr. Kelly, the first six months were Reince Priebus's fault, if it doesn't work, it was the president's.
Beyond that, a good guess is that Mr. Kelly will not be especially interested in partisan differences; he will not be ideological. He will guide Trump in the direction of: Solve the problem.
On tax reform, for instance, his instinct will be to figure the lay of the land and try to get to the number it takes to pass a bill with both parties. A friend who once worked with Mr. Kelly said: "He won't go 'This has to be comprehensive, historic.' He'll figure the few things both sides agree
on and build out from there. You'll get a compromise. It won't solve everything, but it will be good for the country and it will get Trump on a path to somewhere, because right now he's on a path to nowhere.''
Generals are not known for a lack of self-confidence. If he goes up against Mitch McConnell it won't be big dawg versus eager puppy, it will be big dawg versus big dawg. And Mr. McConnell has already disappointed the president. Mr. Kelly hasn't.
Mr. Trump, whatever his public statements, doesn't need to be told things haven't gone well; he knows. He has nowhere else to go, and the clock's ticking.
Mr. Kelly has the power of the last available grown-up.
Another advantage: He doesn't need the job. He's trying to help, as a patriot would. But this is not the pinnacle for him. His whole career has been pinnacles.
Again a look at the Executive Branch of the USG a year ago:
Also consider this: