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The “Caligula Imperial Presidency”: Is Impeachment on its Way?

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“The Emperor is wears no clothes”–Hans Christian Andersen in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] O [/yt_dropcap]ne can just imagine a conversation between two interlocutors as they walk in the streets of Rome some 2000 years ago: emperor Caligula did what? He made his horse senator of Rome. Nowadays, the daily quip in American cities and around the world seems to be: President Trump did what?

It has been approximately two weeks since what I dub “Caligula redivivus” (Caligula reincarnated) has assumed the reins of the US Presidency as arguably the most powerful man on earth with his finger on the nuclear button. That in itself is scary enough.

True to form, and quite predictably he has been performing one enormity after the other on a daily, even hourly basis, governing by childish whim and impulse, by executive fiats and unvetted decrees, with an eyes to corporate profits, to personal vendettas and slanderous vituperations, often hurled via twits; confusing allies and even his own staff. Clearly, this deranged Caligula style governing is not working very well. The wheels seem to be wobbling off the bus. Rhe man seems to be constitutionally and psychiatrically incapable of distinguishing what is legal and what is illegal, what is normative and what is deviant.

The issue of torture, which he continues to support publicly even when he hypocritically deferring to his aide General Maddox’s views, is a glaring example. It’s as if the Electoral College had elected him dictator of the US. The presidency looks and acts imperially, and deranged. Certainly, the majority of the people, by some three million votes, did not order from that menu and now have to digest it, albeit many misguided people did do so and are satisfied; what they have failed to realize, so far, is that democracy itself is now in peril, wounded and bleeding.

They continue to praise the sartorial splendor of emperor Caligula strutting through the streets of Rome, or Washington, as the case may be, with his invisible clothes. The pundits, meanwhile, continue to offer their Machiavellian, real-politick, analyses missing the bigger point that the Caligula reign was the canary in the mine for the Roman Empire and its Republican-democratic institutions, the beginning of the end. They dare not dare cry out “the emperor is illegitimate.” Only one politician has found the courage to do so (Representative John Lewis), just as one little boy did in Andersen’s tale.

Indeed, the first president of the US must be turning in his grave at the sight of how low the august and dignified Office of the US Presidency has sunk. One courageous prominent citizen has already publicly shouted “The Emperor is illegitimate,” which is equivalent to the little boy shouting “the President is naked” in the famous tale. He has been soundly rebuked by the emperor via twitter for that kind of impertinence: telling the truth and ignoring the alternate facts of the pundits.

Geo-political experts of all stripes are now busy in explaining the irrational after failing to explain why a pathological narcissist managed to be elected imperial president. They continue to analyze, when they ought to know that the only option left is that of sardonic satire and debunking. Even iconoclasm will not do to confront psychopathology.

But the emperor continues on his merry way to court Putin while criticizing allies like Mexico, Australia, Israel, claiming massive voter fraud despite the ridicule of his own party on those claims and refusing to issue an executive order to investigate the fraud. The panic in the party is palpable. It is now frantically trying to figure out how to kill Obamacare without killing patients or Republican re-election hopes. They also see themselves mired in a trade war with Mexico which is not a good omen on their re-election prospects either.

All this after ten days, mind you. What will be left of a democratic American Republic after four years, or, perhaps eight years? The question gaining ground now seems to be: how do we get the man out of office and avoid a potential unmitigated political disaster? We know how the Praetorean guards in Rome, after five years of sheer abuses, ultimately solved the problem. In modern CIA parlance, “with extreme prejudice.” That is not something feasible or desirable in a democracy governed by the rule of law where assassinations are illegal.

What seems to be left is the option of impeachment which is a political, not a medical and not even a legal solution. Here there is some hope. Even Republicans seem to be deserting in droves. It has become quite clear to many of them that the man is unfit for office, is set on disaster, and trying to rein him in is an exercise in futility. Reality is now pushing back. They could have imagined that before they nominated him and elected him, but better late than never.

At this point one can hope that the constitutional legal checks on tyranny hold. So far they seem to be holding. After the deranged effort of Caligula redivivus to selectively ban refugees as potential terrorists (except those terrorist countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt which have Trump business interests), he has discovered, eureka, that American has courts. Get a hold of that.

The reality is that the courts are now the only barrier to Trump’s dictatorial style of governing. Hopefully, the people will also intervene by starting popular impeachment procedures. Free Speech for People has launched a citizens’ campaign to impeach Trump. About 400,000 people have already signed the petition. Senior legal scholars associated with CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) have filed a legal brief documenting the several ways Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits a president from profiting from the actions of foreign governments.

We can only hope now that as the deranged emperor deserts the Constitution, pari passu, his loyal sycophants will begin deserting him, as they realize that they cannot use Trump for their own ends; that, to the contrary, he has and will continue to use them for his own deranged agenda.

If the Caligula episode in Roman history teaches anything is that malignant narcissism (as described by psychiatrist Otto Kernberg) is more severe than ordinary narcissism. It is a pathology characterize by an absence of conscience, grandiosity and a desperate quest for power and validation, not to speak of a sadistic enjoyment of cruelty and the suffering of others. We see that exemplified around the world by authoritarian personalities; some of them call themselves president; they usually flock together and like each other.

In any case, Trump’s impeachment seems almost inevitable, even at this early stage of the Caligula presidency. The only question remaining then will be: how much damage will the US be able to withstand before it finally happens?

N.B. This article, slightly modified for MD, has appeared in Ovi magazine on February 2, 2017.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Israel gives Ukraine intelligence. “The best thing” that could have happened to Israel-NATO relations?

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NATO sources tell ‘Haaretz’ some of the intel is on the Iranian drones in Ukraine, writes Yossi Melman at Israeli newspaper.

Israel has stepped up its intelligence assistance to Ukraine in recent weeks via NATO, sources in Brussels told ‘Haaretz’, with Jerusalem remaining keen to keep its aid to the embattled country indirect.

“Iran’s decision to supply drones and increase its military cooperation with Russia is a strategic mistake by Tehran and the best thing that could have happened to Israel-NATO relations,” an Israeli defense source told ‘Haaretz’.

Only a month and a half ago, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Aviv Kochavi, turned down a proposal by Ukraine’s defense minister to share information on the Iranian drones being shot down over his country. These details would have come in return for the passing on of Israeli intelligence. Israel feared that Russia might respond by hampering the Israel Air Force’s freedom in Syria’s skies, as Iran tries to deepen its presence against Israel to the north.

But American pressure and the stepped-up Iranian aid to Russia have convinced Israel to abandon its policy of apathy.

Last month, senior European officials told ‘Haaretz’ that under American pressure, Israel agreed to underwrite the purchase of millions of dollars of “strategic materials” for Ukraine. The materials were transferred via a NATO country, and Israel agreed to let NATO countries transfer to Ukraine weapons including electro-optical and fire-control systems made by Israeli firms.

Over several years, the Mossad, Military Intelligence, the IAF and the navy have built up a database on Iran’s drones. If Brussels gains access to this data, Ukraine and NATO countries will benefit, as will other states such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia.

In 1994, Israel signed an agreement granting it status as a NATO “partner.” This lets it appoint an ambassador and a military attaché, and take part in the alliance’s air and sea exercises in the Baltic states, Montenegro and the Indian Ocean.

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Berlin doesn’t trust Washington. Scholz doesn’t trust the U.S.

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Image source: twitter @Bundeskanzler

“If the U.S. is involved directly it’s more likely to use military force to defend its allies in Europe,” Carlo Masala, a German military expert with strong ties to the country’s political establishment, said on German public television. “That’s a very strong rationale for Scholz and why he insists that the U.S. is involved,” quotes POLITICO.

The breakthrough on sending Western-made battle tanks to Ukraine sparked hopes in both Washington and Europe that the tortured transatlantic debate over arming the country had been resolved once and for all. But… Just hours after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz cleared the way for the export of German-made tanks to the country, the focus shifted to the who, what, where and when of supplying fighter jets to Ukraine.

Once again, Scholz was the first to slam on the brakes, repeatedly warning in recent days of the dangers of “escalation,” while insisting that NATO would not become directly involved in the conflict. If you feel like you’ve seen this movie before, join the club.

It turns out that an even bigger fear for Scholz than escalation is that NATO, and in particular the U.S., wouldn’t get involved if Russia were to retaliate against, say Germany. That worry — according to an adviser to the German government — is the reason that Scholz insisted that Washington agree to supply Ukraine with M1 Abrams tanks before the chancellor would lift his veto on delivering German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

While the NATO treaty’s Article 5 calls on alliance members to support one another in the event of an attack, it doesn’t require allies to respond with military force. In other words, Scholz doesn’t trust the U.S.

Given that Washington has about 40,000 troops in Germany and has already committed roughly $30 billion in military aid to Ukraine (more than 10 times the German total), one might reasonably question the logic underlying Scholz’s argument.

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How an American ‘Mozart Group’ imploded in Ukraine

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The Mozart Group, one of the most prominent, private American military organizations in Ukraine, has collapsed under a cloud of accusations ranging from financial improprieties to alcohol-addled misjudgments, writes Jeffrey Gettleman at ‘The New York Times’.

Its struggles provide a revealing window into the world of foreign volunteer groups that have flocked to Ukraine with noble intentions only to be tripped up by the stresses of managing a complicated enterprise in a war zone. The Mozart Group was training Ukrainian soldiers and evacuating frontline residents until the money ran out. Its collapse sheds light on the stresses faced by such groups.

Jeffrey Gettleman writes: “Andrew Milburn, a former American Marine colonel and leader of the Mozart Group, stood in a chilly meeting room on the second floor of an apartment building in Kyiv about to deliver some bad news. In front of him sat half a dozen men who had traveled to Ukraine on their own dime to work for him.

“Guys, I’m gutted,” he said. “The Mozart Group is dead.”

The men stared back at him with blank faces.

One asked as he walked toward the door, “What should I do with my helmet?”

“I’ve seen this happen many times,” said one of Mozart’s veteran trainers, who, like many others, spoke only anonymously out of concerns that the Russians might target him. “You got to run these groups like a business. We didn’t do that.”

Hundreds if not thousands of foreign veterans and volunteers have passed through Ukraine. Many of them, like Mr. Milburn and his group, are hard-living men who have spent their adult lives steeped in violence, solo fliers trying to work together in a very dangerous environment without a lot of structure or rules.”

“After months struggling to hold itself together, Mozart was plagued by defections, infighting, a break-in at its office headquarters and a lawsuit filed by the company’s chief financial officer, Andrew Bain, seeking the ouster of Mr. Milburn.

The lawsuit, filed in Wyoming, where Mozart is registered as a limited liability company, is a litany of petty and serious allegations, accusing Mr. Milburn among other things of making derogatory comments about Ukraine’s leadership while “significantly intoxicated,” letting his dog urinate in a borrowed apartment and “diverting company funds” and other financial malfeasance.

When Mr. Milburn showed up in Ukraine in early March last year, the capital, Kyiv, was seemingly on the precipice. Russian forces were blasting their way in from the suburbs and Ukraine was rushing thousands of inexperienced soldiers to the front.

That’s when, through a mutual friend, Mr. Milburn, 59, met Mr. Bain, 58. Also a former Marine colonel, Mr. Bain had been working in media and marketing in Ukraine for more than 30 years. Mr. Milburn, whose career has tracked America’s wars of the past three decades, from Somalia to Iraq, had both the combat experience and the contacts. He counts Marine heavyweights like the author Bing West and a former defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, as friends.

Mr. Bain had the organization. For eight years, since Russia invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, he had been running the Ukrainian Freedom Fund, a charity he set up that turned donations into desperately needed gear for the Ukrainian military.

The two founded Mozart, the name a saucy response to the Russian mercenary force that uses the name of another famous composer, the Wagner Group. They also ran a short-lived podcast called “Two Marines in Kyiv.”

With the Ukrainian military desperate for all the Western support it could get, Mozart quickly expanded from a handful of combat vets to more than 50 employees from a dozen countries. The group’s two specialties became last-chance extractions of civilians trapped on the front lines, which was extremely dangerous work, and condensed military training.

As spring passed to summer, more Ukrainian military units asked Mozart for training. But the Ukrainians could not pay for it, leaving Mozart reliant on a small pool of steady donors, including a group of East Coast financiers with Jewish-Ukrainian roots and a Texas tycoon.

Everyone involved said it became stressful just making payroll. And several employees said that the way the money flowed into the organization, which was overseen by Mr. Bain, was opaque.

On top of that, the people Mozart hired were not the easiest to manage. Many were grizzled combat vets who admitted to struggling with PTSD and heavy drinking. When they weren’t working, they gravitated to Kyiv’s strip clubs, bars and online dating. “There was a lot of cursing, a lot of womanizing, a lot of things you wouldn’t want to take to mass,” said another trainer, Rob.

In September, they lost an important funding stream when a charity called Allied Extract decided to use less expensive Ukrainian teams to rescue civilians.  

Not long after that, a clip of Mr. Milburn disparaging Ukraine’s leadership circulated widely on social media. “I happen to have a Ukraine flag tied to my bag, but I’m not, ‘Oh my God, Ukraine is so awesome,’” he said. “I understand that there are plenty of screwed-up people running Ukraine.” The clip was taken from The Team House podcast, in which guests are invited into a living room setting to drink hard liquor with the hosts.

Mr. Milburn has rented a new office in Kyiv and says he is determined to resurrect the operation. But he’s not going back to the front anytime soon.

Wearing a gray sweatshirt, black sweatpants and running shoes, he spent hours this week in front of his laptop. He’s scouting out new business, such as training courses for hostile environments. He’s writing emails to donors.”

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