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War is the theme of our time.

There is the talk of real military war, notably involving North Korea. It may be a war of words thus far, but it is a serious and alarming subject, too serious for bellicose banter.

Headlines tell us "Trump Ready for War" or "Trump vs. the World." However, the cacophonous references to war are much broader and there seem to be wars of the non-military variety all around us.

Beyond the portentous matters of North Korea and the Iran nuclear agreement and our continuing role in Afghanistan -- to cite the more obvious example -- we have trade wars, wars on the media, on the environment, on immigration, on Obamacare, on civility, on social injustice, on the NFL. And we hear talk of ending what some have seen as "the war on coal."

Much of this relates to what is labeled as a cultural war or the cultural wars.

Our president seems to delight in these conflicts, whether rumblings of war or targeting what he portrays as "the enemy." He regularly and infamously calls the news media "the enemy of the American people" and shows little regard for the First Amendment, bringing back memories of the Nixon-Agnew attacks on the press and threats to revoke broadcasting licenses. (Trump has threatened to suspend TV network licenses, but it is individual stations, not networks, that are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.)

Trump is very comfortable in the role of provocateur-in-chief. This has been evident in the heated controversy involving the NFL, the flag, the national anthem, social justice, slurs by Trump, and related matters with President Trump doing his best to keep things stirred up.

Among the political figures incurring Trump's wrath recently is Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Corker, who won't run for re-election, has been engaged in a Twitter feud with the president, and says Trump's recklessness may be putting us "on the path to World War III." Mention should also be made of Trump's cavalier (and uninformed) attitude toward nuclear weapons.

And what's to be gained from Trump's exhaustive diatribe on Iran and the nuclear agreement? It may be satisfying to Trump supporters. There are legitimate concerns about the agreement and Iran is a troublesome factor in international relations. But key members of Trump's national security team favored remaining in the agreement, which also involves Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, all of which, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency, say Iran is complying with the deal. Interestingly, Corker and Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton say they are working to overcome what they see as "major flaws" in the agreement.

Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations, said Trump's stance on the agreement is a dangerous "reckless, political act."

On the cultural warfront, speaking up for Trump is right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan, who has long been a cultural war agitator. Some will remember that at the 1992 Republican Convention, Buchanan sought to hijack the Republican nomination away from George H.W. Bush, declaring "a cultural war," which he said was as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself." Buchanan recently said, "In the culture wars, Trump has rejected compromise or capitulation and decided to defend the ground on which his most loyal folks stand."

Throughout history, leaders and aspiring leaders have focused on "enemies" to serve as a political rallying point. It was Karl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist, in "On War," who wrote, "War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means." To put a different spin on that dictum, Trump seems to see politics as war, focused on enemies and invoking stereotypes, scapegoats, exaggerations and threats.

Perhaps Trump is following the advice of a more ancient sage, the Chinese philosopher and strategist Sun Tzu in "The Art of War," who wrote that "all warfare is based on deception." But Sun Tzu, who has become something of a guru for modern business management, also wrote, "No leader should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no leader should fight a battle simply out of pique." Sun Tzu said, "The enlightened leader is heedful, and the good leader full of caution."

That's advice President Trump should heed.

Commentary on 10/18/2017

Print Headline: War is the word

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