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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

When terrorism raises its head, governments often take steps that are supposed to make us safer — banning tiny knives from airplanes, putting metal detectors at stadium entrances, issuing “orange” alerts. Skeptics dismiss these measures as “security theater.” They’re a show, not a genuine obstacle to terrorists.

The Trump administration, obsessed with imagery, has adapted this approach to national security. The president tweets bellicose warnings to North Korea. The vice president goes to South Korea to don a bomber jacket and stare implacably across the Demilitarized Zone. An aircraft carrier steams toward the Sea of Japan — or rather, Trump claims it’s doing so even as it heads the opposite direction, thousands of miles away.

Anyone who heard Donald Trump brag about his choice for defense secretary knows that half the appeal of James Mattis was his nickname, “Mad Dog,” which the president used every chance he got. Had Mattis been known as Peewee or Mouse, he would have been passed over.

With all the noise and spectacle, this presidency often seems less like an attempt at governance and more like a rehearsal for a Broadway musical. It’s just not clear whether it will be a comedy or a tragedy.

Some of the props are real. When the military dropped the biggest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal on an Islamic State position in Afghanistan, it came as a surprise. But you know the Pentagon had Trump at “mother of all bombs.” Once he heard about it, he had to use it.

The problem is that these gestures are no substitute for strategies. This sortie was meant to highlight our power in a way no one could miss. But what happens if you drop your biggest bomb and it doesn’t win the war?

Those on the other side conclude that they can take the worst you can inflict. The rest of the world sees the same thing. It’s known as shooting your bolt.

The most important question in fighting a war is often, “Then what?” It’s one of many questions Trump doesn’t spend hours contemplating. He certainly didn’t let it delay his missile strike on a Syrian air base, which was supposed to punish President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

That attack sent a couple of signals. The first is that if Assad resorts again to chemical weapons, the U.S. may respond with military force. The second is that if the Syrian dictator uses other methods — as he has done in killing some 100,000 civilians — he has nothing to worry about.

Assad can take a hint. In the week after the missile strike, according to the Voice of America, the Syrian Network for Human Rights noted an increase in his use of cluster munitions, incendiary weapons and barrel bombs, which killed at least 98 civilians, 24 of them children.

The 22,000-pound bomb that hit a network of caves used by the Islamic State in Afghanistan was said to have killed 96 enemy fighters while causing no civilian casualties. The latter claim invites skepticism. George W. Bush and Barack Obama both declined to use this weapon because of its indiscriminate effects.

Bush considered it for taking out Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In the end, the danger to innocent bystanders was deemed so great that it was left on the shelf — until now. Trump clearly thinks that worrying about civilian casualties makes you look weak.

But indifference to collateral damage doesn’t mean he will succeed in Afghanistan or Syria. One huge conventional bomb, or two or five, won’t defeat the Islamic State — which isn’t even our chief enemy in Afghanistan. And deploying it against the Taliban, who have a wider and deeper presence, would doubtless spawn more terrorists than it would kill.

The missile strike and the giant bomb drop both amount to an admission of impotence. We can’t win in Syria without dispatching a large number of ground troops, and so far Trump is not willing to do that. We haven’t won in Afghanistan even with large numbers of ground troops.

Trump’s loud but ineffectual tactics confirm to Assad and the Islamic State that winning matters more to them than it does to us. The North Koreans likewise understand that he has no good options for imposing his will.

They are all likely to realize that behind the act is a void. Trump blusters and bombs because he doesn’t know what else to do.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

 

Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.