Small World: Good, bad, fake and rejected news

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

After weeks of ignoring the problem while a woodchuck nibbled away at my freshly emerging vegetables, I armed a Have-A-Heart trap with peanut butter, carrots and parsley and set it out. The result: two squirrels and a skunk captured, along with another skunk pacing and fuming about in sympathy. All of them were sent into career-ending exile, one hopes. But maybe not; time will tell.

Just like the Trump presidency — hoped for good news, then disappointing downers and fabricated corrections.

As I write down these words, our president is ending his voyage to Europe. He has been criticized by our wise heads for going soft on Putin and Russia and hard on NATO, the European Union, Germany and Great Britain. It’s like nature playing its game: You might set your trap for a woodchuck and end up with a skunk. But let us blow aside the bad odors and reflect on the positive initiatives.

Trump has been attacked for dumping on NATO. I think he is right. NATO was created to defend against the Soviet Union. That threat doesn’t exist anymore. And when the multilateral body might have defended our friends against Moscow — i.e., in Georgia and Ukraine — it failed to show up. NATO members came to our aid in Afghanistan and Iraq and a bit in Syria, but they acted as independent states, not as members of a multi-billion-dollar organization. When the Cold War ended, we expanded NATO membership eastward in Europe. Feel safer?

We could well have invited Russia to join in a continent-wide security grouping. But that would have removed an enemy and every respectable great power needs at least one enemy. (It seems Mr. Trump might be searching for new add-ons in his self-declared trade wars.)

For the record, I think our president is way wrong to take on so many trading partners — from China to Canada and Europe — in a series of hostile battles over tariffs. Nothing good will come of it, I fear, for legions of American producers and consumers. It suggests an unwillingness to listen to wise advisors or perhaps the lack of a solid background in international economic history and experience.

Speaking of criticism of the president, he has been slammed for making little of the charge that Russian agents hacked their way into Democratic Party and Clinton computer files during the 2016 election. Maybe so; maybe not. If true, where’s the harm done? Don’t we believers in free speech want all the facts out in the open for discussion? Was any vote cast by you readers changed by what you learned from the hacking of a Russian agent?

And hasn’t the United States itself had a long history of interference in the politics and elections of other countries. Didn’t we block communists and others we found distasteful from coming to power after World War II and later — right up to Ukraine some months ago? Didn’t we encourage Putin’s opposition in Moscow? Hillary Clinton was an outspoken enemy of the Russian leader. Wouldn’t any nation that fancied itself a great power connive to prevent her elevation to the presidency? Politics is a tough, dirty business on every continent. Even the nicest nations sometimes engage in the game.

The larger, overriding question is what is the international role for the United States that Mr. Trump envisages for our nation? I’m not sure that his grasp of world politics is any more informed by history and ideals than his role as economist-in-chief. To the extent that he wants to work for peaceful solutions to tensions, I’m all for him. When he tries on the role as bully (against Iran, trade partners or China), I think he is a false guide for our country.

As a coda to this hymn of agreement and dispute, let me add a soothing, reassuring balm. I have recently had to deal with healthcare professionals in this state and I have nothing but high praise for their skill, empathy, understanding and hard, dedicated work. Whichever direction we are led by Washington, we are in excellent hands in Maine.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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