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Yet, at this point, eccentric populist/conservative Donald Trump is getting more media attention than any public figure except the president. Trump, a lifelong attention-seeker and TV personality, barely makes sense in his frequent television interviews. On many issues, he is a less meandering Glenn Beck. He makes even former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee seem restrained and knowledgeable. Palin and Huckabee, who are paid Fox TV commentators getting constant prime-time exposure, also are rabble rousers in their own right, although Huckabee projects publicly as down-to-earth and sensible. It is absurd that Trump, Palin, and Huckabee are being so featured because they attract a certain demographic viewing audience.
If you are a Democrat, you might see good news in Trump's constant public exposure. But think again. The overall political context shifts when such people gain an audience. In 1992, you may recall, Ross Perot gained great notoriety — and important short-term popularity — when he emerged at a time when debt and deficits also were a salient issue. Early polling that year showed Perot running ahead of both President Bush and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the two major-party nominees, in the presidential race. In time Perot made a fool of himself, 10 times over, and fell in the polls. Yet, on Election Day, he nonetheless got 19 percent of the total popular vote — a scary number.
Meantime, offshore: Domestic budget debate has in recent days obscured the ongoing conflict in Libya. There, the U.S., France, and United Kingdom have agreed on a Qaddafi Must Go policy. American planes are again actively taking part in bombing missions against Libyan forces — despite the declaration by Defense Secretary Bob Gates two weeks ago that such U.S. missions had ended and would-be taken over by NATO partners. CIA trainers are on the ground with rebel forces. So are U.S. special-operations teams. We also apparently are providing arms to the rebels and, at the same time, trying to sort out promising leaders among them.
Yet, as of today, they do not appear close to seizing the capital or displacing Qaddafi. More than $1 billion already has been spent by the U.S. on the intervention. A long, drawn-out conflict will not be tolerated either here or in Europe, where some NATO countries have opposed the intervention from the beginning.
We are scheduled to depart Iraq later this year. Gates recently visited Baghdad to see if a continuing presence would be necessary — or sought by the Iraqi government — after that time. As it turns out, just about all Iraqi factions are calling for our departure. Our continued presence would be unpopular. We shall see what happens in 2012, once Americans are gone, and how the balance of power may shift among moderate and radical Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and Al Qaida types. Iranian-associated Shiites have increased their numbers in Iraq in recent months and reportedly are organizing for the post-U.S. period.
U.S.-Pakistani and U.S.-Afghan relations are increasingly tense. Pakistan has demanded a reduction in CIA personnel in the country and in the number of drone strikes in tribal areas on the Afghan border. The U.S., for its part, sees Pakistani intelligence services as protecting and even nurturing Taliban and Islamic fundamentalist groups on Pak territory. Afghan President Karzai, partly for domestic consumption, has challenged the U.S. frontally over the issue of Afghan civilian casualites, in the fight against the Taliban, and on other matters. In both Pakistan and Afghanistan, indigenous leaders clearly are looking beyond our anticipated departures and making longer-term arrangements with fundamentalist forces in their countries.
It is entirely possible that, next year, the question will be asked: Why did we spend all those lives and all that money in these places when, in the end, things are much as they were before? Good question. With all our domestic difficulties, I am more optimistic about their solution than I am about happy endings where American forces presently are engaged.
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