NATO’s Child

“How smart is that? And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper…We could use that on our southern border…here’s a guy who’s very savvy.”

— Donald Trump’s comments on Vladimir Putin’s military incursion into Ukraine’s Eastern regions, Feb. 22, 2022

I’ll never forget candidate Donald Trump’s first campaign trail attack on NATO in 2016. According to Vanity Fair, the telegraphed threat to our democratic allies came mere hours after Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination. When asked how he would deal with a Russian attack on the Baltic nations, Trump said U.S. aid would be dependent upon whether those countries “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

The question to Trump referenced Article 5, which represents the core mission of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance as embodied in the concept of Collective Defense. It “requires that an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies,” according to NATO. Article 5 was first invoked after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when NATO member states came to America’s aid.

To someone who had grown up in the shadow of NATO — to an American whose father proudly contributed to NATO’s mission in Europe — Donald Trump’s words already sounded like treason. 

But it got worse. Throughout his chaotic presidency, Trump regularly threatened NATO allies and repeatedly told aides he wanted the United States to withdraw from NATO, according to the New York Times

The American president wanted to shatter this 70-year-old mutually protective alliance between the great democracies of Europe and America. 

Does anyone still wonder why?


In 1962, my South Omaha-born Polish father, West Point graduate and recently minted Army Lt. George Wees, was stationed in Heidelberg in then-West Germany. His Signal Corps unit was assisting the newly authorized military of the recently admitted NATO member state. I was born at the spartan Army hospital there, just a few months before the October Missile Crisis. 

World War II had ended for our Heidelberg home some 17 years earlier. Evidence of the Cold War now surrounded us, including Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s brand-new Berlin Wall. 

A decade later, in 1973, Dad was ordered to the NATO command in southern Italy, so off we went. We lived near Pozzuoli, a small town on the Bay of Naples, in a country house. Dad worked for what was then called the Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH) command, located on a bucolic campus in downtown Naples.

I remember when, in 1974, we learned that NATO member state Greece was stepping away from its role in the AFSOUTH military command. This was a result of an attack by Turkish forces on Cyprus. It felt like a shock: The Greek military was leaving us. 

In those days, even such a small ripple in the fabric of our stability was significant. The Cold War was very real to us, though very hushed, like a terrible secret. We kids knew the dangerous business our parents were engaged in, so we listened closely. Hot spots like Cyprus could become another Korea, another Vietnam. Or something much worse. 

NATO’s strength in numbers felt like our strength. Its diminution felt like our weakness.


With the Soviet Union long gone, some now ask, what is America’s interest in NATO? I might respond with the French aphorism: Plus ça change…. Because NATO’s purpose was never to protect Europe from the USSR, as some choose to believe. Its purpose was — and is — to protect all those who value democratic self-determination and the rule of law from those who do not. 

And it’s not just NATO’s job. It’s ours, too. Because as we have been repeatedly reminded lately, some wield power for themselves alone — for their own interests against the interests of peace, against the community of nations and against the rule of law. How well we live up to our ideals is not the question at times such as these. The question is how much we value the preservation of our way of life, the pursuit of our ideals and the legal protections for both traditions afforded by our Constitution. 

A benevolent and peaceful American future is not assured. As we should know by now, the relative peace and economic cooperation that has allowed Europe and America to thrive since the end of World War II is constantly under threat from morally unmoored opportunists like Vladimir Putin — and Donald Trump. 

(The above appeared originally in the online Nebraska Examiner 02/26/2022 under the headline “Ukraine and future of the NATO alliance”)

Politically Motivated (editorial 2)

One of the new arguments designed to prop up the legitimacy of the Iraq war is that although no WMDs were found, the military did uncover massive stockpiles of conventional weapons. So score one for the administration.

Unfortunately, as we learned recently, the U.S. failed to actually secure the masses of conventional weapons they found. Thus, sometime after March 9 of 2003 (when International Atomic Energy Agency representatives confirmed their seals on the materials were in place) 380 tons of high explosives disappeared from the unguarded Al Quaqaa complex, probably into the hands of the enemy.

But not to worry. As we also learned, the revelation of this tactical blunder was “politically motivated,” in that the news came out just a week before the election. That is, it came out to the rest of us just now. The administration apparently has known about it for many months. But their silence was tactical: they didn’t want the enemy (the ones who stole the explosives) to find out about the stolen explosives. So no harm, no foul.

Or, as they say over at the Pentagon, “Don’t’ ask, don’t tell.” You remember Abu Ghraib, right? Donald Rumsfeld knew all about that, too, months before the press broke the story. But he wasn’t telling, because no one asked. Unfortunately, once the press got “politically motivated,” out came the messy facts.

It’s the same over in Congress, where a “politically motivated” bi-partisan ethics committee recently admonished Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay–not once, but twice–for shady practices during his orchestration of the “re-redistricting” of Texas congressional districts. As you may recall, when the Texas Democrats balked at the patently unfair slicing and dicing of districts and left the state to deny Republicans a quorum, DeLay was the one who called on the FAA to help round them up like so many stray dogies.

Said DeLay when questioned about his reprimand, “It’s a month before the election. You do the political math.” Which is amusingly ironic, since “political math”–calculating election-proof Republican districts in Texas in an effort to offset predicted Democratic gains in the House on November 2nd—is exactly what led to his rebuke.

But hey, we’re on permanent spin cycle here, people. You can’t trust a bi-partisan Congressional committee to tell you the truth. Trust Tom DeLay instead.

Or trust Halliburton. Because this week brought another Halloween skeleton out of the closet, one you may have missed since the press didn’t pay it much attention. In this instance, the “politically motivated” chief contracting officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—apparently a bastion of liberal sympathizers—has leveled the bothersome charge that Halliburton was probably unfairly awarded some of its lucrative “no bid” defense contracts and contract extensions.

The chief contracting officer for the Corps of Engineers is worried that the process was corrupted by senior administration officials. I can’t think of who that would be. Maybe you can. But don’t worry. Because of the proximity of the election, a Halliburton spokesperson assured us, such accusations are “politically motivated.”

Sure, there was that matter of Halliburton overcharging the Pentagon many millions of dollars, but they gave that back. Right after the press found out.

Do you see a pattern here? Reports suggesting incompetence in handling the Iraq occupation? Politically motivated. Bipartisan Congressional committee reprimanding Tom DeLay for ethics violations? Politically motivated. Accusations by the chief contracting officer that the administration improperly steered lucrative contracts to Halliburton? Politically motivated.

Economic forecasts of crippling deficits necessitating either massive increases in tax rates or massive reductions in Social Security and Medicare payments once Bush is out of office? Findings by the National Academy of Sciences confirming the contribution of human activity to global warming? Polls showing America’s loss of prestige in the world? The bi-partisan 9/11 Commission’s findings of no connection between Iraq and 9/11 conspirators?

All politically motivated. The economists, the scientists, the bi-partisan committees, the rest of the world–they’re all apparently just pessimistic Bush bashers. As Bush himself might say, they’re “blame America first” types. Some of them are probably Old Europeans or even Massachusetts liberals. So they come up with all this stuff to make his administration and his political allies look bad.

It’s a shame, really. Why can’t these folks just mind their own business and trust the government to do what’s right?

The Neocons and Me

Who can say when the mood will strike? I have been absorbed in my stupid job for the last month or so, interspersed with an intense period of anxiety (with good reason, I might add, but nothing you need concern yourself with) and a couple of trips to Niobrara – one good, one bad (see anxiety, above). More later on that. Maybe.

Meanwhile, here’s a political article–screed?–I wrote the other day for the local newspaper but won’t submit to them because I know they’ll try to “stupidize” it under the guise of editing or, more likely, won’t publish it at all because it’s too RIGHT ON, man.

This is an example of how I write when I think people are listening (as opposed to here, where I assume no one is). Anyway, feel free to quote liberally from it in your own diaries, memoirs, novellas, e-mails to left-leaning friends, and the like.


It has been said that the Bush administration’s approach to governance is so far removed from the way America’s business had been conducted in recent decades that “conservative” or even “ultra-conservative” is the wrong appellation for its agenda. “Radical” is the term for policies that result in unprecedented deficit spending (a projected trillion bucks over the next two years alone); the systematic dismantling of a generation of clean air and water acts and other conservation efforts; a sea change in foreign policy resulting in America’s first “pre-emptive” war and the abandonment of traditional alliances; economic policies devoid of any strategy apart from tax cuts; and…

Well, you get the idea. Remember the “age of consensus” predicted by the pundits after the 2000 election debacle? Remember statements like, “Without a mandate, Bush will be forced to govern from the middle?”

One problem with radical governments is that they don’t tend to listen to reason, nor do they respond to evidence that shows their policies aren’t working. Think Castro. You may have noticed that Bush keeps repeating that he is “confident” that he made the right decision to go it alone in Iraq, he’s “confident” that his tax-cut strategy will strengthen the economy, he’s “confident” that the deficits will not be a burden on future generations, and so on. No doubt an admirable attitude in an individual, the downside of Bush’s confidence, for Americans, is that it is divorced from reality.

The facts are these:

  1. The Iraq war, still costing $1 billion a week, is not the war they sold us (which was a war to protect the U.S. from an Iraqi “smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud,” to quote chief scaremonger Condoleeza Rice). It may be, as Bush’s supporters claim, that Saddam “deserved” to go and the Iraqi people “deserve” liberation. But these notions, in terms of the war we bought into, are irrelevant. We’re not spending billions of dollars and sacrificing American lives to liberate other dictatorships. And that’s a good thing, because it would be a fool’s errand for us to spend untold billions in a Quixotic effort to save the world while our own country falters economically.
  2. The first tax cuts, in 2001, obviously did not turn the economy around. Insisting that more tax cuts are the answer is, to say the least, lacking in imagination. To say more, it is like cutting off your right arm to cure a cold because cutting off your left arm didn’t work.
  3. Deficits are now projected at about $1 trillion over the next two years. But let’s not soften that with an abstract word like “trillion.” The deficit is projected to be $1,000,000,000,000. That’s 1,000 billion dollars. Or, to put it another way, paying off such a debt at a million dollars a year would take a million years. And that’s not including interest. But it won’t be a burden to anyone—of voting age.

One of the defensive refrains from Bush supporters goes like this: Bush “inherited” the sour economy from Clinton, and 9/11 was the end result of malfeasance on the part of the previous administration. The popular argument here is one of “cleaning up someone else’s mess,” which understandably is more difficult than getting into that mess in the first place.

But here’s the problem with that – it is now late 2003. Pretty soon, we’ll be deciding who the next president will be. If we must base our assessment as to responsibility for the current state of the union on the policies and actions of an administration that left office almost three years ago, then our decision becomes quite complicated. In effect, it won’t matter whom we elect, because Bush’s present policies will just be kicking in around mid-2006.
Note to Democrats: keep this argument handy in case your guy gets elected and things stay bad until the 2008 election cycle ramps up.

Politicians campaigning for re-election either love or hate that Clintonian question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” It worked for Clinton in 1992 and, significantly, again in 1996. It may be simplistic, but it’s at least an objective measure people can use—as opposed to trying to gauge the “dignity” level of the White House—to decide who should lead them.

So are you better off? Are we? Is the world?

To paraphrase George Eliot, we can be forgiven if we sometimes mistake brazenness and confidence for actual ability. But we should eventually come around to a pragmatic view of things and put competent people in charge if they can be found. I consider myself a centrist—I have no party affiliation—but to me the situation is plain. We can do better than we’re doing economically because we have in the recent past; we can balance the budget because we have in the recent past; we can protect the environment for the future from those who do not consider the future; and we can find a way to safeguard this country while promoting peace and an open society—because although it’s a new challenge, it’s the right thing to do.