We are at the time of year sometimes referred to as the summer doldrums. The noun “doldrum” is used to describe a period of inactivity or listlessness.
However, the current period could more accurately be characterized as a time of storms and turbulence, marked by severe weather alerts. (Dare we mention climate change?)
So much for doldrums.
As we gaze across the horizon, we see political squalls and policy tempests.
Let’s begin by acknowledging that whatever season it might be, we live in the era of the permanent campaign – and the epoch of continuing chaos.
Over the years, I have regularly addressed the reality of the permanent campaign, particularly at the presidential level. There was a time when we considered Labor Day every fourth year as the beginning of a presidential campaign. Now, of course, we have much greater emphasis on party primaries and caucuses scattered over many months, plus escalated media intensity, including numerous debates. And fund-raising, generating many millions of dollars, moves into the center of campaigns.
We know that President Donald Trump is seldom upstaged. He’s a master of stagecraft and showmanship and tends to see everything in a campaign frame.
This was evident in the round of hopscotch with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
It is a significant and historic step, but we don’t know how much more than a photo-op it will prove to be.
And will a visit to the U.S. by Kim, who rules a brutal and highly repressive dictatorial regime, be forthcoming? What about North Korea’s nuclear weaponry and resistance to “denuclearization?” What is clear is that Kim enjoys being in the international spotlight and covets the attention he is receiving from Trump.
Meanwhile, U.S.-Iran relations continue to simmer, as Trump maintains his “maximum pressure” policy.
Trump’s talk of obliteration of Iran serves to stiffen Iranian nationalism, as it increases its stockpile of enriched uranium, although it isn’t yet close to building a nuclear bomb. International monitors say Iran has surpassed the limit of enriched uranium allowed by the international nuclear deal, the deal which Trump has trashed early and often in his presidency — and which Iran, predictably, may be moving away from.
National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both long-time hawks, are said to be pushing for military action.
In 2015 Bolton argued that “to stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.” As determinations are made about military action or intervention, Congress should be involved.
Matters of nuclear proliferation and dictatorial decrees shouldn’t be taken lightly. And we must be mindful of the “bumble factor,” when nations drift into conflict.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has been a foremost critic of Iran and its regional role.
Cotton recently addressed a significant issue that troubles some Trump foes — the danger of bumbling into war.
In Cotton’s view, however, “Nations don’t bumble into war.” He says some raise the prospect of “endless war,” such as the wars we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. “They’re long. We’ve made lots of twists and turns along the way.” Cotton says. And he reminds that many Democrats in Congress voted to authorize those wars. “We didn’t bumble into those.” Cotton says, “They were considered, deliberate decisions.”
Clearly, there are those who would strongly disagree and don’t interpret history that way.
In addition to North Korea and Iran, we can’t overlook the autocratic regime in Russia, with its Putin-led U.S. campaign interference. Then there’s China and the multi-billion-dollar tariff battles, with significant damage to states such as Arkansas with major agricultural interests.
All these relationships figure prominently in U.S. foreign policy and in our domestic politics. There is no shortage of topics and issues that will garner attention in the weeks ahead.
Immigration issues aren’t going to disappear, with disputes over the wall, family separations and talk of mass deportations. There is something new every day. as record numbers are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border, many from violence-torn Central American nations, requesting asylum. It has created a humanitarian crisis.
In all these cases, we should be answering the question of where policies and actions will take us.
We should have learned from experience that is essential to have exit strategies. However, President Trump says, “I don’t do exit strategies.” And he said he would have no need for an exit strategy if we got into war with Iran.
That attitude, the weighty agenda and Trump’s penchant for subject shifting and stirring controversy assure that this won’t be an inactive or listless time.
Yes. So much for summer doldrums.
Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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