Emboldened in his job, Mr. Trump has rebelled against Kelly’s restrictions and mused about doing away with the chief of staff post entirely. It’s all leading White House staffers and Trump allies to believe that Kelly is working on borrowed time….
Mr. Trump recently told one confidant that he was “tired of being told no” by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all, according to a person who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
This morning Trump appeared on Fox and Friends and rambled on for 47 minutes. At the end of the interview, Steve Doocy expressed some surprising hostility toward the fake “president.”
Wow! Doocy’s getting a little fed up with Trump’s word salad, I guess. He even offered equal time to Joe Biden.
In another headline-grabbing moment, Trump told his Fox and Friends pals that he wanted to assassinate Syria’s Bashar al-Assad awhile back.
The Washington Post: Trump confirms he wanted to assassinate Assad. In 2018, he denied it was even considered.
In the Fox interview, Trump criticized former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who has in recent months warned the country strongly against reelecting Trump. But in the course of making that case, Trump offered an odd claim: He said Mattis had effectively stood in the way of his efforts to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I would’ve rather taken him out,” Trump said. “I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general.”
When asked whether he regretted not taking Assad out, Trump added: “No, I don’t regret that. … I had a shot to take him out if I wanted. Mattis was against it.”
The first problem with this argument is that Trump is disparaging Mattis for opposing something that Trump doesn’t even say he regrets. The second is that the commander in chief makes these decisions, full stop. If Trump wanted to do it, Mattis couldn’t block him.
In 2018, Woodward published “Fear.” In the book, he reported that Trump had considered assassinating Assad. Trump, on Sept. 5, 2018, flatly denied it.
“I heard somewhere where they said the assassination of President Assad by the United States. Never even discussed,” Trump said, adding: “No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated.”
He even held it up as evidence that the book shouldn’t have been published.
Breaking news: Trump is a pathological liar.
Lets see . . . what else is happening in the United States of crazy?
As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, Trump seems determined to continue holding super-spreader rallies that threaten the lives of his own supporters and staff. The Washington Post suggests that Trump is using these events to “rebuke” Democratic governors and mayors who have established restrictions on public behavior in order to protect their citizens.
President Trump’s first indoor rally in months was staged as a rebuke to Democrats he accuses of using coronavirus restrictions against him, but the campaign event in Nevada also prompted sharp denunciations from critics on Monday as a symbol of the president’s failure to effectively confront the deadly covid-19 crisis.
The Sunday night gathering came as the pandemic has caused at least 190,000 deaths in the United States, with the number expected to pass 200,000 sometime before Trump holds his next official campaign events on Friday. The Nov. 3 election had already become a referendum on the president’s often dismissive approach to the pandemic before revelations last week that he had told Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward he knew the severity of the virus but preferred to play it down in public….
On Monday, Trump held another indoor campaign event at a luxury hotel in Phoenix that was billed as a roundtable with Latino supporters. The White House pool reporter traveling with Trump described the scene as looking much like a rally, with more than 100 people crowded closely together inside a ballroom. Television footage showed mask-free supporters waving campaign signs.
“I know this was supposed to be, you know the fake news, they said that this is supposed to be a roundtable, but it looks like a rally,” Trump said. “But it is a rally because we love each other.” He then added that “it is a roundtable.”
President Donald Trump is running as the “law and order” candidate. But that hasn’t stopped him and his campaign from openly defying state emergency orders and flouting his own administration’s coronavirus guidelines as he holds ever-growing rallies in battleground states.
Democratic governors and local leaders have urged the president to reconsider the events, warning that he’s putting lives at risk. But they have largely not tried to block the gatherings of thousands of people, which Trump and his team deem “peaceful protests” protected by the First Amendment.
“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the President of the United States,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said in a statement….
Trump’s campaign insisted that it takes appropriate health precautions, including handing out masks and hand sanitizer and checking the temperatures of rallygoers.
But images of thousands of maskless supporters standing shoulder to shoulder remain jarring in a country where sports are still played in empty arenas and concerts have been largely banned. That’s especially true for those who have lost loved ones or spent months isolating at home and worry that rallies will further spread infection, undermining hard-fought progress. An indoor rally that Trump held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June was blamed for a surge of virus infections there.
In an interview yesterday, Trump demonstrated that he couldn’t care less about threatening the health of his supporters, as long as he himself is protected. The New York Times: Trump Defends Indoor Rally, but Aides Express Concern.
President Trump and his campaign are defending his right to rally indoors, despite the private unease of aides who called it a game of political Russian roulette and growing concern that such gatherings could prolong the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m on a stage, and it’s very far away,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Las Vegas Review-Journal on Monday, after thousands of his supporters gathered on Sunday night inside a manufacturing plant in a Las Vegas suburb, flouting a state directive limiting indoor gatherings to fewer than 50 people.
The president did not address health concerns about the rally attendees, a vast majority of whom did not wear masks or practice any social distancing. When it came to his own safety, he said, “I’m not at all concerned.”
He is simply incapable of caring about anyone but himself.
Yesterday afternoon, Trump met with California officials and told them they are clueless about how to deal with wildfires. Forbes: ‘I Don’t Think Science Knows, Actually’: Trump Dismisses Climate Science In California Wildfire Discussion.
After multiple California officials confronted President Donald Trump Monday about ignoring climate change’s role in the raging west coast wildfires, the president dismissed their concerns and raised skepticism about the “science” that has concluded the Earth is warming.
“It’ll start getting cooler,” Trump said in response to California Natural Resource Secretary Wade Crawfoot, who pressed the president to acknowledge the fact untamed vegetation is not solely responsible for the wildfires in the Golden State.
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crawfoot replied back, to which the president replied, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
Trump’s solution to the wildfire problem:
In other insane news, Trump loyalist Michael Caputo, who “interfered with CDC reports on Covid-19” made wild claims about a conspiracy involving the CDC and “left-wing hit squads.” The New York Times: Trump Health Aide Pushes Bizarre Conspiracies and Warns of Armed Revolt.
The top communications official at the powerful cabinet department in charge of combating the coronavirus made outlandish and false accusations on Sunday that career government scientists were engaging in “sedition” in their handling of the pandemic and that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.
Michael R. Caputo, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of harboring a “resistance unit” determined to undermine President Trump, even if that opposition bolsters the Covid-19 death toll.
Mr. Caputo, who has faced intense criticism for leading efforts to warp C.D.C. weekly bulletins to fit Mr. Trump’s pandemic narrative, suggested that he personally could be in danger from opponents of the administration. “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get,” he urged his followers.
“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” Mr. Caputo said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.” He also said the mounting number of Covid-19 deaths was taking a toll on him, telling his viewers, “You are not waking up every morning and talking about dead Americans.” [….]
To a certain extent, Mr. Caputo’s comments in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page were simply an amplified version of remarks that the president himself has made. Both men have singled out government scientists and health officials as disloyal, suggested that the election will not be fairly decided, and insinuated that left-wing groups are secretly plotting to incite violence across the United States.
Read more at the NYT link.
Also at The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie argues that there’s a serious side to these conspiracy theories, even though they make no sense to normal people: Trump’s Perverse Campaign Strategy: If the president’s allies are talking about the moment “shooting will begin” and “martial law,” it’s not by accident.
On Sunday, Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, warned of left-wing insurrectionists and “sedition” within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a video he hosted live on his Facebook page. After predicting victory for President Trump in the upcoming election, Caputo warned that Joe Biden wouldn’t concede. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing.” [….]
…Trump isn’t actually running for re-election — or at least, not running in the traditional manner. He has a campaign, yes, but it is not a campaign to win votes or persuade the public outside of a few, select slivers of the electorate. Instead, it’s a campaign to hold on to power by any means necessary, using every tool available to him as president of the United States. Caputo, in that sense, is only taking cues from his boss.
Of course, Trump would like to obtain a proper victory. But it’s clear he’s not counting on it. That is why the most visible aspect of Trump’s campaign for continued power is his attack on the election itself. If he doesn’t win, he says again and again, then the outcome isn’t legitimate….
Along with this warning comes Trump’s call for supporters to act as “poll watchers” to prevent imaginary fraud at voting locations….
There’s also the president’s rhetoric toward his political opponents. Asked on Fox News about “riots” if he wins re-election, Trump said he would “put them down very quickly,” before adding:
Look, it’s called insurrection. We just send in and we do it, very easy. I mean, it’s very easy. I’d rather not do that because there’s no reason for it, but if we had to we’d do that and put it down within minutes.
Trump also indicated that he supports extrajudicial killings.
Later in the interview, Trump commented on the Sept. 3 killing of Michael Forest Reinoehl by U.S. marshals. Reinoehl was suspected of shooting a member of the far-right group Patriot Prayer during a protest in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 29. Trump, who swore to uphold the Constitution when he was inaugurated, claimed to have essentially called for an extrajudicial killing:
Now we sent in the U.S. marshals for the killer, the man that killed the young man in the street. Two and a half days went by, and I put out “when are you going to go get him.” And the U.S. marshals went in to get him. There was a shootout. This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. marshalls killed him. And I’ll tell you something — that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution.
Instead of making a conventional appeal to voters to give him another term in office, Trump is issuing a threat, of sorts: I cannot lose. If I do lose, the election was stolen. Anyone protesting my effort to hold onto power is an insurrectionist. And sometimes, “there has to be retribution.”
I guess that’s enough crazy for today. Take care of yourselves folks and check in if you can to let us know what’s happening where you are. We’ll be thinking of those of you who are in the paths of wildfires and hurricanes.
Could we finally have reached a turning point? Suddenly Trump is getting blowback from some powerful and respected quarters. Former presidents, the current Secretary of Defense, Trump’s former Secretary of Defense, retired generals, and former presidents are speaking out about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his misuse of the military. Even some in his evangelical base are speaking out.
James Mattis, the esteemed Marine general who resigned as secretary of defense in December 2018 to protest Donald Trump’s Syria policy, has, ever since, kept studiously silent about Trump’s performance as president. But he has now broken his silence, writing an extraordinary broadside in which he denounces the president for dividing the nation, and accuses him of ordering the U.S. military to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens.
“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis writes. “The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.” He goes on, “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.” [….]
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” Mattis writes. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”
He goes on to contrast the American ethos of unity with Nazi ideology. “Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that ‘The Nazi slogan for destroying us … was “Divide and Conquer.” Our American answer is “In Union there is Strength.”’ We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.”
For some of us, it may be too little too late, but it’s possible Republicans will be influenced by retired general and former Defense Secretary James Mattis’ condemnation. Read the full statement at NPR.
Yesterday the current Secretary of Defense also distanced himself from Trump’s attempt to use the military to put down protests. Elizabeth N. Saunders at The Washington Post: The secretary of defense spoke out against Trump’s approach to the protests. Yes, this is a big deal.
At a Pentagon news conference Wednesday morning, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper said he opposed invoking the Insurrection Act and using active-duty military forces to help calm the largely peaceful protests that have been taking place around the country. Esper’s comments directly contradict President Trump, who in a nationally televised speech Monday threatened to use the military to “quickly solve the problem,” implicitly suggesting that he would invoke the 1807 law.
Esper’s comments also came after many criticized him for walking across Lafayette Square with the president and posing for a photo in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, as well as using language like “we need to dominate the battlespace” on a Monday call with governors. On Tuesday evening, James Miller, a member of the Defense Science Board, which advises the Pentagon, wrote to Esper a letter, published in The Washington Post, to resign his position and to urge Esper to “consider closely both your future actions and your future words.”
It is tempting to dismiss Esper’s comments as words rather than action. He is not resigning in protest, as his recent predecessor, Jim Mattis, did in December 2018.
However, for Esper to give televised remarks from the Pentagon podium — something that is rare in this administration in normal times — is a significant development.
Click the link to read the reasons why this is so significant.
Retired Marine General John Allen at Foreign Policy: A Moment of National Shame and Peril—and Hope.
The slide of the United States into illiberalism may well have begun on June 1, 2020. Remember the date. It may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.
The president of the United States stood in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday, railed against weak governors and mayors who were not doing enough, in his mind, to control the unrest and the rioters in their cities, and threatened to deploy the U.S. military against American citizens. It was a stunning moment. But, in particular, it was notable for three important reasons.
First, Donald Trump expressed only the barest of condolences at the murder of George Floyd, but he also said nothing about the fundamental and underlying reasons for the unrest: systemic racism and inequality, a historic absence of respect, and a denial of justice. All of these factors are centuries old and deeply engrained in an American society that systematically delivers white privilege at the expense of people of color.
Yes, he mentioned George Floyd, but he did not touch on long-standing societal problems at all. He sees the crisis as a black problem—not as something to be addressed by creating the basis and impetus for a move toward social justice, but as an opportunity to use force to portray himself as a “law and order” president. The reasons were irrelevant to the opportunity. Remember the supposed invasion of the southern border and his deployment of federal troops ahead of the 2018 midterm elections? The president’s failure to understand the reality of the problem was on full display when, on Saturday, he attempted to explain that his supporters, the so-called Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement, “love African American people. They love black people. MAGA loves the black people.” Evidently his movement, MAGA, is a coherent thing, and it’s white, which leads to the next point about his speech.
Second, Trump was clear he views those engaged in the unrest and criminal acts in these riots as terrorists, an enemy. He said so, ostensibly as justification to deploy the U.S. military to apply federal force—his “personal” force—against the riots. Indeed, the secretary of defense used the military term “battlespace” to describe American cities.
Read the rest at Foreign Policy.
The Washington Post: All four living ex-presidents draw a sharp contrast with Trump on systemic racism.
Four U.S. presidents spoke this week about systemic racism and injustice. They used their platforms to illuminate the humanity in all Americans and to decry the dehumanization of some. And they summoned the nation to confront its failures, make change and come together.
A fifth U.S. president spoke instead this week about using military force to dominate Americans who are protesting racial injustice. He declared winners and losers among state and city officials trying to safeguard their streets. And, with his reelection campaign in mind, he sought to apply a partisan political lens to the national reckoning over racial inequities.
The outlier was President Trump.
Of course, Trump has long zigged when his four living predecessors zagged, and proudly so. But rarely has the dichotomy been clearer than this week, when Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter injected their voices into the national discussion of race and justice following last week’s death of George Floyd.
Though each weighed in separately and in his own distinctive voice, the four former presidents were measured and compassionate in tone and conveyed an urgency in their lengthy messages. It presented a sharp contrast with the incumbent’s hard line and unemotional leadership.
“They’re all saying, essentially, that Donald Trump is not doing a very big part of his job, and we have to stage an intervention, even if that intervention is not coordinated,” historian Michael Beschloss said. “Foremost in the president’s job is to try to unite the country, especially in crisis. . . . These statements and gestures are saying, ‘Donald Trump is not carrying out these essential functions of the presidency, so we have to step in.’ ”
Head over to the WaPo to read the rest. Read Jimmy Carter’s full statement here.
Even some evangelicals are unhappy with Trump’s performance with a bible on Monday. The Guardian: Trump’s Bible photo op splits white evangelical loyalists into two camps.
On Monday when Donald Trump raised overhead a Bible – the Sword of the Spirit, to believers – he unwittingly cleaved his loyal Christian supporters into two camps.
His most ardent evangelical supporters saw it as a blow against evil and described his walk from the White House to St John’s Episcopal church, over ground violently cleared of protesters, as a “Jericho walk”….
But evangelicals are not monolithic: some saw the gesture as cynical, a ploy by a president whose decisions, both private and public, do not align with biblical principles.
But that’s not true, Trump’s emerging evangelical critics say: an objective measure is contained in the very book Trump wielded.
“Blessed are the peacemakers! Blessed are the merciful! It’s right there in the Sermon on the Mount,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College. “Just read Jesus.”
“Pelting people with rubber bullets and spraying them with teargas for peacefully protesting is morally wrong,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “What we need right now is moral leadership – from all of us, in the churches, in the police departments, in the courts, and in the White House. The Bible tells us so. So do our own consciences.”
The day’s events left Moore “alarmed”, he said.
Even crazy Pat Robertson is unhappy with Trump.
The staunchest of evangelicals, 90-year-old televangelist Pat Robertson, split from Trump on Tuesday.
He told his television viewers of the president: “He said, ‘I’m ready to send in military troops if the nation’s governors don’t act to quell the violence that has rocked American cities.’ A matter of fact, he spoke of them as being jerks. You just don’t do that, Mr President. It isn’t cool!”
More important stories to check out today
Jonathan Allen at NBC News: Trump lacks the consent of the governed.
The Washington Post: Trump and allies try to rewrite history on handling of police brutality protests.
Matt Bai at The Washington Post: The Carterization of Donald Trump.
Susan Glasser at The New Yorker: #BunkerBoy’s Photo-Op War.
The Washington Post: A dangerous new factor in an uneasy moment: Unidentified law enforcement officers.
Masha Gessen at The New Yorker: Donald Trump’s Fascist Performance.
What do you think? What stories are you following today?
Trump threw a tantrum and forced a partial government shutdown that will force some government employees to work with out pay and others to be furloughed without pay. Merry Xmas from the fake “president.”
The Washington Post Editorial Board: Trump’s shutdown stunt is an act of needless stupidity.
As it became apparent Friday that no agreement could be reached on a stopgap spending measure, President Trump warned that a shutdown would “last for a very long time.” Affected is about a third of the government workforce — about 800,000 employees — in key departments, including Homeland Security, State and Justice. Because of the weekend and upcoming Christmas holidays, the impacts of a shutdown may not immediately be felt, but there should be no mistake that curtailment of these government agencies will impose costs across Washington and the country.
That seemed to be of little matter to Mr. Trump, who last week boasted he would be “proud” to shut down the government, glad to “take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.” He changed his tune on Friday in trying to shift the blame to Democrats for not going along with his demand for money to build a border wall he once promised would be financed by Mexico. Nothing better illustrates the needless stupidity of the shutdown than Mr. Trump’s claim to be taking a stand for border security when one of the agencies being caught up is Customs and Border Protection.
Any doubt that it is politics — not principle — driving Mr. Trump was erased when he flip-flopped this week on the stopgap spending bill. He signaled he would sign on to a measure, passed by both House and Senate, without wall funding, but then buckled to criticism from the conservative media.
The likes of Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh are determining Trump’s domestic policies. His foreign policy are being run out of Moscow and Istanbul and he is being celebrated by the Kremlin, Iran, and the Taliban for his decisions to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan.
Julia David at The Daily Beast: Russia Gloats: ‘Trump Is Ours Again.’
The Kremlin is awash with Christmas gifts from Washington, D.C. and every move by the Trump administration seems to add to that perception. On Wednesday, appearing on the Russian state TV show “The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” Director of the Moscow-based Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Semyon Bagdasarov said that the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is “struggling to keep up” with the flurry of unexpected decisions by the U.S. President Donald Trump. The news that Mattis decided to step down sent shock waves across the world, being interpreted as “a dangerous signal” by America’s allies.
Meanwhile, the Mattis departure is being cheered in Russia. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, has said that “the departure of James Mattis is a positive signal for Russia, since Mattis was far more hawkish on Russia and China than Donald Trump.” Kosachev opined that Trump apparently considered his own agenda in dealing with Russia, China and America’s allies to be “more important than keeping James Mattis at his post,” concluding: “That’s an interesting signal, and a more positive one” for Russia.
Jubilation was even more apparent on Russia’s state television, which adheres closely to the Kremlin’s point of view. The host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Olga Skabeeva asserted: “Secretary of Defense Mattis didn’t want to leave Syria, so Trump fired him. They are leaving Syria.”
The Washington Post: U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria is ‘a dream come true for the Iranians.’
BEIRUT — One of the biggest winners of President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria will be Iran, which can now expand its reach across the Middle East with Washington’s already waning influence taking another hit.
The abrupt reversal of U.S. policy regarding its small military presence in a remote but strategically significant corner of northeastern Syria has stunned U.S. allies, many of whom were counting on the Trump administration’s seemingly tough posture on Iran to reverse extensive gains made by Tehran in recent years.
Instead, the withdrawal of troops opens the door to further Iranian expansion, including the establishment of a land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean that will enhance Iran’s ability to directly challenge Israel. It also throws in doubt Washington’s ability to sustain its commitment to other allies in the region and could drive many of them closer to Russia, an Iranian ally, analysts say.
“This is a dream come true for the Iranians,” said Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a defense consultancy in Dubai. “No longer will Iran take the Trump administration seriously. It’s an isolationist administration, it will no longer pose a threat, and Iran will become bolder in its actions because they know this administration is more bark than bite.”
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — News that the White House had ordered the Pentagon to draw up plans for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan provoked widespread criticism that the move would kneecap efforts to broker a peace deal to end America’s longest war.
But there was one group on Friday celebrating the reports — the Taliban.
Senior members told NBC News the news was a clear indication they were on the verge of victory.
“The 17-year-long struggle and sacrifices of thousands of our people finally yielded fruit,” said a senior Taliban commander from Afghanistan’s Helmand province. “We proved it to the entire world that we defeated the self-proclaimed world’s lone super power.”
“We are close to our destination,” added the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the group’s leadership had prohibited members from talking to the media about current events. He added that all field commanders had also been told to intensify training efforts to capture four strategic provinces in the run up to the next round of talks between the U.S. and Taliban, which are expected in January.
Are you tired of winning yet?
The Syria pullout has “Thwarted ‘Major’ Operation Targeting ISIS,” according to Bob Corker. From The Daily Beast:
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed on Friday that the U.S. military was planning a “major clearing operation” targeting ISIS before President Donald Trump decided abruptly this weekto withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.
“One thing that hasn’t been reported is, we were six weeks away from a major clearing operation that has been planned for a long time. I got briefed on this a year ago—with ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Friday on Capitol Hill, referring to the area where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to be hiding.
Trump’s decision, which at least partly led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, has rattled congressional Republicans, who have questioned the wisdom of withdrawing from Syria before ISIS is fully eradicated. In defending his decision, Trump claimed that the extremist caliphate has been defeated, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a top Trump ally, called that claim “fake news,” and said America’s adversaries will benefit from Trump’s order.
I’ll wrap this up with three opinion pieces:
Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: It’s official. We lost the Cold War.
Perhaps the timing of George H.W. Bush’s death last month was merciful. This way he didn’t have to see America lose the Cold War.
Bush presided over the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. But the triumph he and others earned with American blood and treasure over 71 years, defeating the Soviet Union and keeping its successor in check, has been squandered by President Trump in just two.
Trump’s unraveling of the post-war order accelerated this week when he announced a willy-nilly pullout from Syria, leaving in the lurch scores of allies who participated in the campaign against the Islamic State, throwing our Kurdish partners to the wolves, isolating Israel, and giving Russia and Iran free rein in the Middle East. Then word emerged that Trump is ordering another hasty withdrawal, from Afghanistan. Trump’s defense secretary, retired Gen. Jim Mattis, resigned in protest of the president’s estrangement of allies and emboldening of Russia and China.
The TV series “The Man in the High Castle” imagines a world in which Nazis won World War II. But we don’t need an alternative-history show to imagine a Soviet victory in the Cold War. We have Trump.
David Rothkop at The Daily Beast: Mattis’ Message to the World: Trump Is Out of Control. The gist:
Mattis, who took his duty very seriously, came to the conclusion that the value of such checks was now gone. Repeatedly—in Helsinki with Putin, in Singapore with Kim, in his defense of Saudi Arabia’s murderous crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, in his attacks on the FBI and the intelligence community, in his rejection of facts obvious to all—Trump has shown he cannot be controlled from within the administration.
Now, we can expect even worse. The checks on his relations with Putin within the administration are gone. The experienced hands are few and far between and the policy process is non-existent, the most dysfunctional in U.S. history—which suits both Trump and Bolton. Bolton and Pompeo, Iran hawks and apologists for the Saudis, the Israelis, and other Gulf states, will have more freedom. Relations with the military, already bad, will sour. Stephen Miller will gain stronger control over our border and immigration policies which suggests more human rights abuses are ahead. Our allies will have few champions and even less trust in the administration.
All this will happen because today Trump’s most highly regarded aide sent a message to the world and in particular to those responsible for presidential oversight on Capitol Hill. The president is not only outside the mainstream in his thinking, he is out of control. The man who controls the world’s most powerful military and the resources of the world’s richest government, is beyond assistance, beyond redemption, beyond influence other than by our enemies and his greed and narcissism.
Susan Glasser at the New Yorker: The Year in Trump Freakouts.
President Trump is ending the year as he began it: outraging Washington with a Twitter diktat, one that was cheered in Moscow and jeered on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday morning, the city awoke to an unexpected Presidential announcement that Trump was unilaterally pulling American forces out of Syria, despite having agreed this fall that U.S. troops would remain on the ground there indefinitely. Trump portrayed the decision as both a final victory over the Islamic State, which had overtaken much of the country from the Russia-supported regime of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and the fulfillment of a campaign promise to exit the Middle East. A full-scale bipartisan freakout ensued, culminating late Thursday with the long-awaited, long-feared news that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would join the procession of Trump officials calling it quits. Was it a direct result of the abrupt about-face on Syria? “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote in his resignation letter to the President, “because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.” What we do know is that all the chaos at year’s end is a powerful reminder that the manner in which the President operates is so outside of any normal parameters for governing, so disdainful of process, and so heedless of consequences that his decisions don’t resolve crises so much as create them.
It is, of course, possible to have a reasonable policy debate over whether U.S. forces belong in Syria, given the military’s small footprint (about two thousand troops), the haziness of American objectives, and the fact that there is no political appetite for an expanded intervention in the country’s long-running civil war. But it is not possible with Trump. The retired Admiral James Stavridis, the former commander of nato forces, called the President’s decision “geopolitically the worst move I have seen from this Administration.” Others disagreed, seeing in Trump’s move a disaster in process that otherwise resembled President Barack Obama’s desire to withdraw from the endless conflicts of the Middle East. “Trump is very capable of doing intelligent things in very stupid ways,” Ian Bremmer, the head of the geopolitical-analysis firm the Eurasia Group, said in an interview with CBS on Thursday morning.
It is hard to get past the stupid, though.
It certainly is “hard to get past the stupid” with Trump. I haven’t even scratched the surface of today’s news. What stories are you following? Please share.
I’ve been trying to find out where Trump is this weekend. I haven’t heard anything about him going to Florida, and I’m afraid that may mean there will be more chaos in the White House over the weekend. Will Scott Pruitt lose his job? Or will Trump really try to use him to replace Jeff Sessions? Is Trump really preparing to talk to Robert Mueller, as CNN reports?
President Donald Trump has begun the initial steps of preparing for a possible interview with the special counsel, a White House official and a person familiar with the situation said Friday, a sign the President’s legal team is intensifying its deliberations over whether to allow him to come under Robert Mueller’s questioning.
One source familiar with the proceedings stressed the preparation efforts is “in its infancy.”
The preparations have been short and informal and included going over potential topics with the President that Mueller would likely raise in an interview, the people said.
The President has not formally agreed to sit for an interview with Mueller.
But word of early preparations is the clearest sign yet that Trump and his team remain open to an interview with Mueller, despite concerns from some people close to the President that such an interview could expose him to possible charges of perjury.
According to Tina Nguyen at Vanity Fair, Trump is now targeting one of his last “adult” advisers: Running Out of Punching Bags, Trump Turns on Mattis.
Until recently, Donald Trump’s campaign to purge naysayers had spared the Pentagon. In the absence of more proximate targets, however, it appears the president has turned his attention to foreign policy, jeopardizing his relationship with perhaps his only remaining sane adviser. Indeed, in the past week, Trump has made James Mattis’s job nearly impossible by declaring that he would send the military to guard the border with Mexico (the White House later clarified that he meant the National Guard), and insisting that the U.S. pull out of Syria (something Mattis promised last year would not happen), leading to a spectacular showdown on Tuesday, when the conflict between Trump and his generals reportedly boiled over during a meeting of top aides in the Situation Room.
According to the Associated Press, Mattis argued “that an immediate withdrawal” from Syria “could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way,” and offered a one-year timeline as an alternative—to which Trump responded that five or six months ought to do the trick, and “indicated that he did not want to hear in October that the military had been unable to fully defeat the Islamic State and had to remain in Syria for longer.” A person familiar with the meeting told CNN that attendees left Tuesday’s meeting “beside themselves,” arguing that Trump’s lack of desire to put together any sort of recovery plan for Syria—restoring basic needs such as water, power, and roads—would most certainly tip the country back into ISIS’s hands. “It is a huge gamble that ISIS is not going to come back and that we are going to rely on others to stabilize Syria,” an official said.
The same official noted the hypocrisy in Trump’s choice: “The president blasted Obama for a timeline in Iraq, but that is in essence what we have been given.”
It wasn’t the result top national security aides wanted. Trump’s desire for a rapid withdrawal faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, all of which argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.
But as they huddled in the Situation Room, the president was vocal and vehement in insisting that the withdrawal be completed quickly if not immediately, according to five administration officials briefed on Tuesday’s White House meeting of Trump and his top aides. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations and requested anonymity.
If those aides failed in obtaining their desired outcome, it may have been because a strategy that’s worked in the past — giving Trump an offer he can’t refuse — appears to have backfired.
Rather than offer Trump a menu of pullout plans, with varying timelines and options for withdrawing step-by-step, the team sought to frame it as a binary choice: Stay in Syria to ensure the Islamic State can’t regroup, or pull out completely. Documents presented to the president included several pages of possibilities for staying in, but only a brief description of an option for full withdrawal that emphasized significant risks and downsides, including the likelihood that Iran and Russia would take advantage of a U.S. vacuum.
Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.
Will Mattis resign if Trump insists on pulling the U.s. military out of Syria? Or will Trump fire him? John Bolton is expected to begin his job as National Security Adviser on Monday. Will he agree with Trump’s newly formed foreign policy?
Chief of Staff John Kelly has also lost influence on the newly “emboldened” Trump according to CBS News: Trump freezes out chief of staff John Kelly, says he’s “tired of being told ‘no.'”
When President Donald Trump made a congratulatory, White House chief of staff John Kelly wasn’t on the line. When Mr. Trump to be his next national security adviser, Kelly wasn’t in the room.
And when Mr. Trump spent a Mar-a-Lago weekend stewing over immigration and trade, Kelly wasn’t in sight.
Kelly, once empowered to bring order to a turbulent West Wing, has receded from view, his clout diminished, his word less trusted by staff and his guidance less tolerated by an increasingly go-it-alone president.
The stock market isn’t happy with Trump’s push for a trade war. Yahoo News (AP): Stock Market Plummets After Trump Explores $100 Billion in New Chinese Tariffs.
Another increase in trade tensions has stocks falling sharply Friday as the U.S. considers an even larger set of tariffs on imports from China and the two countries exchange pointed statements. Technology companies and banks are taking some of the worst losses.
Stocks have changed direction again and again this week as investors tried to get a sense of whether a trade dispute between the two nations will escalate, an outcome that could have major consequences for the global economy. The market didn’t get any help from a March jobs report that was weaker than expected.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell dropped 581 points, or 2.4 percent, to 23,916 as of 2:15 p.m. Eastern time. Earlier it fell as much as 620 points.
The S&P 500, which many index funds track, lost 53 points, or 2 percent, to 2,608. The Nasdaq composite slid 135 points, or 1.9 percent, to 6,940. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dipped 29 points, or 1.9 percent, to 1,513.
The Dow average, which contains numerous multinational companies including industrial powerhouses Boeing and Caterpillar, has swung dramatically this week, with about 1,300 points separating its highest and lowest marks. It fell as much as 758 points Monday, then recovered all of those losses, and late Thursday it was up as much as 519 points for the week. It’s down 0.7 percent for the week.
Donald Trump has decided to gamble his presidency on the idea that he can threaten big tariffs on China and force the world’s second-largest economy to back down.
If he fails — and the odds are that he will — the fallout from a tariff battle with China could derail an otherwise strong U.S. economy, threaten Republican majorities in the midterm elections and turn the second half of Trump’s first term into a dismal slog to avoid impeachment votes.
So far, the exact scenario that free traders inside the White House and on Capitol Hill feared is playing out. China scoffed at Trump’s initial $50 billion in threatened tariffs and announced their own, aimed directly at Trump’s red-state base with levies on agricultural and manufactured products.
Although Trump has repeatedly bragged about stock market gains since he has been “president,” Bloomberg reports that Trump is now in 8th place in rankings of presidential success with the markets:
The Republican president’s renewed ramblings on trade dominated U.S. equity markets this week, with a tweet-induced swoon on Friday leaving the S&P 500 Index 1.4 percent lower than where it started on Monday. The gauge swung wildly, notching four moves of at least 1 percent in the five days, and the Cboe Volatility Index spiked above 20, nearly double its level for the past year.
All of which has dented Trump’s reputation as the stock market president.
Dow Jones Industrial Average return, if you invested in that basket of stocks, for a president’s first 444 days (ranked since 1900,) per Bloomberg:
FDR : 70.4%
Teddy Roosevelt: 37.4%
Bill Clinton: 32.2%
George H.W. Bush: 21.4%
BTW, according to Think Progress, Trump doesn’t want his trade war to interfere with his daughter’s self-dealing: Ivanka Trump’s clothing company will be spared from tariffs, thanks to her dad.
U.S. officials say they used an algorithm to determine which goods to exclude from new tariffs. According to the Washington Post, the list was drafted to achieve “the lowest consumer impact,” ensuring goods like clothing and toys were excluded so as not to raise the cost on domestic consumer goods.
Exempting clothing from the tariffs provides a big break to American clothing companies that hold trademarks in China. One of those clothing companies belongs to the First Daughter of the United States, Ivanka Trump.
A recent report by the Huffington Post found that the president’s daughter and closest adviser rakes in a total of $1.5 million a year from the Trump Organization while still working at the White House.
Her dual role as adviser to the president and private business executive has continuously raised ethical red flags. No one can be entirely sure that public policy by this administration isn’t being driven by business motives, or whether countries may pursue business deals with the Trump family as a means to curry political favor with the administration.
Once again, I’ve barely touched on all the important news that has broken over the past couple of days. I’ve reached the point of having to shut down for part of every day, because I’m so overwhelmed. Of course I’m not alone it that. In this vein Brian Klaas asks at The Washington Post: Can democracy survive information overload?
Last month, President Trump floated the idea of executing drug dealers; got sued by a porn star and a Playboy model; repeatedly attacked the FBI, his own attorney general and the Justice Department; instigated a trade war that punished long-standing U.S. allies; explicitly praised authoritarian consolidations of power in China and Egypt; “joked” about becoming “president for life”; congratulated Vladimir Putin on winning a sham election and reportedly invited him to the White House right after Russia’s government allegedly attempted to murder a former spy on the soil of the United States’ closest ally.
He also bullied a journalist for his physical appearance; boasted about making up statistics in meetings with Canada’s government; live-tweeted his favorite TV show; fired his secretary of state on Twitter; lost his Veterans Affairs secretary, national security adviser, chief economic adviser, communications director and a personal aide whose reported gambling habit was deemed a security risk; hired a new national security adviser who has repeatedly called to bomb North Korea and Iran; lashed out at the special counsel, who is investigating the president for potential crimes; and threatened to beat up the former vice president of the United States until he cried.
That’s just a small selection of news from March 2018: one crazy month of one crazy presidency.
This inescapable, overwhelming and disorienting flurry of activity, which has become the new normal since Trump’s inauguration, begs two simple but profound questions: Can democracy survive information overload? And can it survive a president who knows how to use the resulting chaos to dodge democratic accountability?
Authoritarian rulers have long understood that controlling and manipulating information are crucial to subverting democracy and getting away with breaking the rules. That’s why dictatorial governments such as China and Russia not only work overtime to control media and censor inconvenient facts but also use troll armies to spew out 24/7 torrents of disinformation. Despite Trump’s obvious envy of such methods, he’s stuck with American democracy, so he has innovated out of necessity. He can’t shut down the press or censor Democrats, but he can blind the American electorate with a steady smokescreen of bewildering stories pouring out of the White House.
From Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, any one of those stories above would have captivated national attention for weeks, or more likely, months. But with Trump, even the most scandalous topic soon disappears into a never-ending flow of revelations. By the time the morning news shows end, it’s on to the next spectacle of dysfunction. We’re living in a chronic state of whiplash.