“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
— Maya Angelou
Following Tuesday’s national embarrassment, a disgusting display of attempted bullying, there is a lot to think about. Probably, Donald J. Trump acted the role of the out of control drunk at the end of the bar because he knew he could not win a debate. He does not have control of the facts, has barely put together a complete sentence in his entire term, and knows that former Vice President Joe Biden has plenty of experience in such a format. Mr. Trump was probably not concerned about criticism for telling more lies — he has already accumulated over 20,000 documented lies since his inauguration — but he was concerned about losing. The answer was to blow it all up, burn the place down, and attempt to look “strong” in an attempt to make Mr. Biden look weak. He failed in every respect and in the process broke the rules of democracy and decorum and deprived the American public of the chance to assess both candidates, their policies, and their fitness for the job.
With all of the outrageous statements and shenanigans, two stand out above all and should alert every one of us to the clear and present danger to our country that exists in the persona of Mr. Trump. We need to look no further than his two statements near the end of the debate. When given the opportunity to clearly and forcefully condemn the antics, tactics and goals of white supremacists, he demurred. (“The Proud Boys: stand back and stand by.”) Indeed by all accounts by those that follow such things, the white supremacist groups took his answer as a call to arms. (Several incorporated the words into their new logos and one leader tweeted out “Standing by sir!”) Even on Wednesday as Mr. Trump claimed he did not know, then or now (really? c’mon man!), who the Proud Boys were, he still passed up the opportunity to publicly condemn white supremacists.
The second issue was his continued declarations that if he lost the election it was only because it was rigged against him. In other words, he will accept no other result than his own victory and explicitly said that he didn’t know if he would allow for a peaceful transition of power should he lose. Tuesday night he said that he is “urging his supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully.” If Mr. Trump sees “thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.” When asked about what he meant by that he said “it means you have a fraudulent election.” When asked specifically if he would warn his supporters against “civil unrest” and tell them to keep calm if the vote counting goes on longer than Election Day, he refused.
So let’s put this all together and then see what he, and unfortunately Attorney General William Barr have been saying over the last few weeks.
First, on Tuesday night Mr. Trump gave a green light to white supremacists and other supporters to use violence if the election goes for Mr. Biden. Additionally, he told his supporters to engage in voter intimidation by going to polling places to keep people from voting or to claim voter fraud if they are not allowed into the polls (in most states poll watchers have to be certified and there are rules about their behavior).
Please do not say that Mr. Trump did not really mean what he said or that his words are being overly exaggerated. He knew exactly what he was doing. More importantly, the folks on the receiving end of his message know what he meant and will act on it, regardless of what “he meant to say.” He encourages vigilantes and is a major league fearmonger. There are people that believe him. So get real. The threat to a fair and open election is staring us in the face.
As I have written in this space before, autocrats tell you exactly what they are going to try and do before they do it. Mr. Trump is no exception.
Here is the playbook as I see it.
Mr. Trump’s goal is to make things look so bad that he can claim, as he already has, that he alone can fix it. As the pandemic continues to spread, the economy is ready to take another hit (today alone 35,000 airline employees are set to be laid off), schools are mostly still remote, demonstrations continue across the land, and golly, no one can even rely on the Postal Service anymore. All of this and more creates a sense of crisis.
In a crisis, people want action. By demonstrating that he is not afraid to break the rules — be it holding a political convention on the White House lawn or not abiding by debate rules — he is attempting to demonstrate that he is willing to do anything. Anything. Rules, norms, laws do not apply in a crisis and he is not afraid to throw all of them out the window to achieve “results.” Without a bit of shame as to the illogical nature of his argument, he now tends to claim that things are so bad now (remember, he has been the president for the last four years and precipitated many of these crises himself), he needs a second term to restore order. He argues that Democrats are the real problem and that they want anarchy. “Law and Order” is required to bring back the America you love (read: white male Christian dominated society). Contempt for the law is part of the message. It is necessary to get things done. Straight textbook Autocracy 101.
He knows he is losing, so now he needs to bring it all home by suppressing the vote for Mr. Biden, and claiming that the election was a fraud.
In recent weeks he has railed against any and all mail-in ballots as being rigged. He continually claims that all vote counting must stop on Election Night. The Attorney General went on CNN and claimed that foreign entities were going to counterfeit absentee ballots and other cheaters were going to pay people for their votes, buy up blocks of blank ballots and fill in Mr. Biden’s name. Indeed he even implied that postal workers might do that.
And on and on. The point? They are trying to lay the ground work for a legal challenge to the election results when Mr. Trump loses. I suspect that they will have people try to forge ballots and pay for ballots and send in lots of crudely duplicated ballots in order to prove their point. They are telling us what they are going to do. Add to that some nut cases or groups of nut cases (I’m looking at you white supremacists) that hear that a county election office threw out some ballots (does not have to actually happen, just put it out over social media and they will come) and they storm the building to confiscate the “illegal” ballots.
The number of scenarios are vast. We already know that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr have no bottom for shameful and immoral behavior. The only goal is to retain power. Mr. Trump cannot stand the thought of losing — especially since he may end up going to jail in the not too distant future. Mr. Barr is on some bizarre crusade to shape American society in the way that he thinks it should function and Mr. Trump is his blunt instrument to achieve his ends.
All of it sets up the conditions for a legal (yes legal) attempt to steal the election. I am not a Constitutional law expert and I am not an attorney. My understanding is it can work as follows:
- Claim that the results in certain swing states (enough to give Mr. Trump a win) are suspect because of all the “illegal” ballots that were submitted by mail and because of improprieties at voting places. Remember that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr have already encouraged voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to vote twice. Those two men know that is illegal, but if enough people try it, it really gums up the works and they can also claim that legitimate voters were turned away at the polls.
- Go to the courts to invalidate the election results in enough precincts to change the state’s electoral outcome. If that doesn’t work, go to state legislatures and claim that the Electors voted into the Electoral College from that state were illegitimately determined. Under the law, state legislatures determine the Electors and certify their validity to the Congress. Many states have laws that the legislature must certify Electors as voted on by the people, but not all. Additionally, the laws are often vague and some experts believe that the courts could decide in favor of legislatures over those voted on by the people. Reports from Pennsylvania already reveal that members of the Trump Campaign have talked to the leaders of the the Republican controlled legislature to do just that.
- If the courts do not rule as to which slates of Electors are the legitimate ones, or the states decide to send the competing slates to the Congress, the Electors seated in the College are determined by a vote in the Congress. The House and the Senate both vote. Although new Representatives and Senators will be seated by then, Vice President Pence will still be the tie breaker in the Senate.
- Should the House and the Senate vote to seat different slates of Electors, then the vote goes back to the House, but with different rules. In this vote, each state votes as a block. One state, one vote. Thus South Dakota has as much power to decide the president as does New York. Even though the Democrats have a large majority in the House, when decided on a state by state basis, currently 26 have Republican majorities (or only one Representative from that state) and 22 have Democrats. The other two are split.
- Meanwhile a parallel effort will go in in the courts. If it makes it to the Supreme Court the result could go either way. However, Mr. Trump specifically mentions Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as the ninth justice he “needs” in order to “win” in the Court. In her pre-hearing submission to the Senate answering a host of questions, she indicated that she would not recuse herself from any 2020 election cases that may come to the court.
Many people compare all of this to the 2000 election and the “hanging chads” in Florida. Historically, it is closer to the election of 1876 where Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and came up one Electoral College vote shy of winning that over Republican Rutherford Hayes. The electoral slates of three Southern states were in dispute and the decision came to the Congress. After deliberation and the formation of a bipartisan commission comprised of Representatives and Senators, and the departure of the lone tie-breaking independent on the commission, replaced by a Republican, the disputed Electoral College votes were awarded to Mr. Hayes to give him a one vote Electoral College win. In exchange for giving up their candidate, the Democrats secured the end of Reconstruction in the South. It was a shameful and dirty chapter in the history of our country.
I am concerned that we may face another Constitutional crisis in this election. Barring an overwhelming landslide in favor of Mr. Biden, I think that we may be in for a long final three months of the year full of unrest and probable violence.
Mr. Trump makes it abundantly clear that he has no qualms about ignoring the Constitution and bringing the full weight of the Federal Government to preserve his power. One pundit likened it to the old saying that “if I’m going down I’m taking all of you with me.” In his Attorney General he has an accomplice that will help him bend the law if not outright ignore it in the name of allegedly preserving the safety and security of our city streets.
Meanwhile we have a Republican Senate that has lost its backbone, its allegiance to the Constitution and its voice. The president might Tweet about me!
We must all vote. We must all be vigilant. We must all be vociferous in our opposition to such a blatant attack on our Constitution.
I take solace in the fact that there are still good upstanding Americans in our midst. For the scenario to unfold as I’ve sketched it here, an awful lot of people would have to go along with what is clearly a power grab by a budding autocrat and his cronies. I have faith that enough people along the way will stand up to the bully and refuse to compromise or cooperate.
God Bless America.
While you were enjoying the holidays with friends and family, you may have missed that the United States conducted a drone strike killing five people including Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The strike took place at the Baghdad Airport as the general was reportedly on his way to a meeting with Iraqi officials. It was done without the knowledge of the Iraqis.
Killing General Soleimani, and the U.S. and world reaction in the aftermath, shows a real Policy-Strategy mismatch in the stated goals of the Trump Administration.
Mr. Donald J. Trump campaigned on a policy, and continues to reiterate it on the 2020 campaign trail, of pulling our troops out of the Middle East and to not pursue what he calls “endless wars.” His administration’s stated policy for the future is to focus on realigning our military forces and deployments to get away from the War on Terror and to instead focus on near competitors such as China and Russia. This action in Iraq furthers none of these goals.
Killing General Soleimani was in itself not a bad thing. On one important level, the world is much better off without him. He was, in the vernacular, a “bad guy.” No tears are shed in this space for his demise. The question is whether it was wise or not. The problem is that I suspect the Trump Administration had no long-term plan. No next steps. No branches and sequels that anticipated the understanding of, or planning for, probable Iranian retaliation. When taking such an action, proper planning requires thinking through the consequences and preparing for the inevitable reaction. I don’t see that that was done. An old military saying is that no plan survives contact with the enemy. They get a vote on what happens next. It is imperative that before taking such a drastic action that planners think through the probable consequences and prepare for them.
They should know that the Iranians will retaliate. Period. They must in order to keep their position as a power broker in the region. Most likely they will do so in an asymmetrical way. Cyber attacks. Terrorist attacks. Surrogates attacking US interests in third countries. Interfering with shipping in the Persian Gulf through rocket or mine attacks. Probably in a way that allows for plausible deniability that makes it more difficult for the U.S. to respond. The Iranians know that they cannot go toe to toe with the US military, but they also know that they can do a lot of damage — especially psychologically and economically. And Americans are likely to die.
There is a reason that over the last thirty years we attacked Iraq rather than Iran. Iran has always been a bad actor — by far much worse than Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Iran is the main source of terrorism in the Middle East and has been since their revolution in the late 1970’s as they try to export that revolution. Not unlike the Soviet Union in their heyday. We attacked Iraq twice because they were bad actors, but more importantly, it was doable. Iran is a completely different ball game. Despite stereotypes, Iran is a modern, technologically savvy nation with a large and capable military. Not in the US league, but good, and probably the best of those in the region.
When analyzing the attack, the evidence given by the Administration for carrying out the killing does not make sense. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argues that it was in response to intelligence that indicated an “imminent threat” to U.S. forces. This is important if one is considering the legal reasons for the killing. The President continually states that it is retribution for past actions by Iran, directed by General Soleimani. Not a legal reason for the undertaking under either U.S. or international law.
I don’t want to get hung up on the legality of the attack as in some ways, it is a distraction. It is important in another way if we want international support for our actions. The attack could be easily considered an assassination. Killing him was roughly equivalent to taking out our Director of the CIA or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. General Soleimani was an official of the sovereign nation of Iran. Additionally, the killing took place on the sovereign territory of Iraq, without their knowledge. In international law, and in practical support, this has consequences. It is definitely not the same as taking out Osama bin Laden or any other terrorist leader. He was an official with diplomatic standing in a sovereign government conducting official business in another sovereign nation. More importantly to the follow-on actions by Iran, the general was in all practicality the number two official in Iran and a national and regional hero.
Despite Mr. Trump’s pronouncements, we are considerably less safe in the Middle East now than before his death. Thousands of U.S. forces are being deployed to protect US bases, embassies, and civilians throughout the region. The forces already deployed to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria have ceased all operations against the terrorists in order to focus on self-protection, known in military parlance as force protection. NATO forces in the region stopped training Iraqi forces and have departed or hunkered down. The State Department warned all US citizens to depart Iraq. The Iraqi parliament voted to demand the departure of all US military personnel. The US military in Iraq informed their counterparts that they are “re-positioning troops” in Iraq In preparation for withdrawing all or part of the force.
Today, the Iranians officially declared they will no longer adhere to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which eliminated the near-term pursuit of their nuclear weapons program. Expect them to start building nuclear weapons.
The list goes on. We are definitely not safer. It doesn’t help when the world knows and documents that Trump has told over 15,000 lies since taking office. The support for this action from allies and friends is either non-existent or extremely muted. His reasons for attacking now lack credibility on the world stage. There have been imminent threats in that region for decades. It is a dangerous place. To date, the administration offers no evidence of any new or significant change to the situation.
Additionally, while General Soleimani was charismatic, there are other qualified generals to take his place. He personally did not carry out attacks. The troops and covert assets under Iranian control do. They still exist and are in place. Killing him will not tactically or operationally stop any attacks.
To me, concerns of an all out war are premature. But Trump’s decision was immature. It was a feel good, “aren’t I tough” move rather than a thought out strategic decision. Although I do not think that all out war is imminent, there is clearly a great opportunity for a miscalculation on each side which could lead to a larger conflict. There will be a series of tit-for-tat measures taken by both sides. If the military responses are not proportional and relevant, then the chance for escalation is high. Unfortunately, since Mr. Trump has tripled down on threats to purposefully and deliberately destroy Iranian cultural sites (a war crime under the Geneva Convention) the indications are not ones of restraint by the president. As Mr. Trump threatens to destroy 52 targets (one for each American hostage in 1979) the Iranians have indicated that they could hit 290 targets (one for each passenger and crew killed by the 1988 shootdown of an Iranian civilian Airbus by the USS Vincennes).
There is another scenario, however. The Iranians under General Soleimani, with the concurrence of the Ayatollah, was conducting an escalating campaign against American interests to test the limits of what they could get away with. Since there was no US response, to numerous provocations (shooting down a U.S. drone, mine attacks on tankers, a missile attack on Saudi oil fields, etc.) they were slowly ratcheting up their activities. They thought that Mr. Trump was afraid of conflict in the Gulf region. They were trying to get the president to accelerate his promise to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq by making it painful to stay. They were trying to do so without crossing the line into provoking an all out American response. Since their economy is in dire straits, they desperately want to have sanctions lifted. This attack on the second most important man in Iran may cause them to recalibrate their thinking, even to the point of starting back channel negotiations with the U.S. The danger is, that even if such negotiations come to pass, it will literally go up in smoke if the US or Iran miscalculates on its military response.
It is well known in international relations that one cannot deter an opponent if they don’t know what it is they are supposed to be deterred from doing. With the, at best, uneven, at worst, ignorant, Trump foreign policy, it is difficult for friends, enemies and allies to know what is expected of them. Surprises and unpredictability are assets in actual combat. They are a detriment in trying to implement a strategy to fulfill any policy, especially in the Middle East.
We are in dangerous times. All out war is not inevitable. However, current events are disconcerting given the context that there seems to be no clear strategy to implement our policy, should it be a possible to discern a clear U.S, policy in the region in the first place.
Careening from tweet to tweet does not help us with our allies, our friends or deter our enemies. Mr. Trump and his advisers need to step back, but not step down, and think through exactly what they are trying to achieve. They need to think five or six steps ahead and not just react to day to day developments.
I know that there are still conscientious and professional people in the intelligence community, the State Department and the Department of Defense. The question is whether decision makers will understand what they are being told and will they listen?
On Wednesday, the President of the United States defended his decision to abandon the Kurds in northern Syria as “strategically brilliant.” With scores of Kurdish fighters and civilians killed and approximately 200,000 people fleeing the fighting as refugees, he went on to say of the situation, “It’s a problem we have very nicely under control. It’s not our problem. They’ve got a lot of sand over there… There’s a lot of sand they can play with.”
Yesterday the president sent Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo to confer with Turkish President Recep Erdogan to stop the slaughter of the Kurds. Mr. Trump congratulated himself for solving a crisis that he started by giving a “green light” to Turkish plans to conduct an operation perilously close to ethnic cleansing. In reality, Mr. Trump gave away the farm and tried to make it sound like it was the cows’ fault.
If this is Mr. Trump’s idea of a “great deal” I want to sit down with him because I will walk away with everything that I want. Our negotiation with the Turks was totally one sided — theirs. Turkey got everything they set out to achieve when they crossed the border last week and the Kurds got nothing — maybe not even their lives. Fighting continues today during the supposed “pause” — and the Turks emphasized that it was not a cease fire, merely a pause in an ongoing operation.
In exchange for the Turks’ five day pause in the fighting, the Kurds got a directive to leave their homes and flee or surrender to their fate at the hands of the Turks. And the United States looks weak and foolish.
The Russians got everything they wanted in Syria. And we look weak and foolish.
The Syrians got everything they wanted. And we look weak and foolish.
The Iranians got everything they wanted. And we look weak and foolish.
Last night this is what the President of the United States said about the abandonment of our Kurdish allies.
“Sometimes you have to let ’em fight. Like two kids in a lot, you gotta let ’em fight and then you pull them apart.”
It is clear that Mr. Trump has no appreciation for human life or respect for anyone not named Donald Trump Sr. These callous remarks reflect so much about his outlook on, well, everything. He even seemed to endorse ethnic cleansing when he said of the Turkish attack on the Kurds that Turkey had to do it, because the Turks “had to clean it out.”
It is a national embarrassment, except that Mr. Trump knows nothing about shame.
Turkey got their “safe zone” in the former autonomous Kurdish region of Syria. In return, the United States promised to lift all sanctions imposed or threatened. Syria re-occupied parts of northern Syria without firing a shot after years of not having the ability to go there. Iran increased their influence in the Middle East and now has an uninterrupted supply line from Tehran to their surrogate Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as access to the Israeli border. Russia is now the primary power broker in the Middle East. ISIS is taking advantage of the chaos to make attacks in the region and coming dangerously close to freeing their thousands of fighters from prison camps. (Several hundred are known to have already escaped. Mr. Trump said that the Kurds released them just to embarrass him.)
Here is what the world saw of some of our country’s best fighters. Abandoned camps left so hastily that food was left out and personal items forgotten. Russian television loved showing the videos of their troops surveying that scene. U.S. troops are holed up waiting to be airlifted out. U.S. aircraft attacked our own former anti-ISIS headquarters after the troops left so quickly that officials feared useful ammunition, equipment and other assets would fall into the hands of other armed groups.
I am sure Russian President Vladimir Putin is tired of winning. He certainly is getting a fabulous return on his investment in the 2016 election.
Reasonable people could make a case for a U.S. withdrawal from Syria. It could have been done in a disciplined, methodical and diplomatically sensible way over time that protected the interests of the Kurds as well as our NATO ally Turkey. It could have included a viable resolution to the fate of thousands of hardened ISIS fighters imprisoned in the region. Instead we just bugged out and left the world the worse for it.
Other countries certainly took note. Allies, friends and enemies now know that the United States no longer stands by its word and that the president could wake up any day and undo decades of diplomacy on a whim.
Strategically brilliant? About as brilliant as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ceding the Sudetenland to Germany in 1938 and declaring “peace for our time.”
“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime (Syria).” Senator Mitch McConnell (Tr-KY)
“ISIS is not defeated. This is the biggest lie being told by this (Trump) administration.” Senator Lindsey Graham (Tr-SC)
In case you missed it between all of the president’s Tweets, including calling for the impeachment of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and of Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) for “treason” (for the record, Senators and Representatives cannot be impeached), Mr. Trump impulsively called for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Syria.
The reactions above represent the level of consternation this decision created in Congress and the national security community.
It is worth taking a few minutes to consider the difference between what this is, and what this means. They are not always the same thing. Knowing the players makes a difference. What it is is a military re-deployment. What it means is a serious blow to our national security and a possible massacre in the making.
For a few years now, roughly 1,000 U.S. uniformed personnel, mostly Special Operations Forces (SOF) have been in northern Syria working with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to defeat ISIS. The U.S. SOF act primarily as advisers and trained and equipped the SDF to be a very effective light infantry unit. The SOF also coordinated U.S. artillery and air strikes to support the Kurds in the fight against ISIS.
The SDF is a multi-ethnic force of about 60,000 people that includes Arabs, Christians, Assyrians and Kurds, the largest group of fighters in the SDF. Roughly 13,000 of them gave their lives in this effort. They control a large section of Syria in the north along the Turkish border. They also run and guard a camp of ISIS prisoners and their families that numbers about 16,000 battle-hardened fanatics.
The Kurds are from an area in the Middle East that straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. They have pushed for an autonomous state since the early part of the 20th century. None of the countries around them want them to have that state, especially Turkey. Indeed, Turkey considers the Kurds, specifically a group called the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, a terrorist organization. They want them gone. As a result, the Turks intend to move into the Kurdish occupied areas of Syria in order to displace — read militarily defeat — the Kurds and to settle a million Syrian refugees in the area in order to close it to the Kurds.
Since the Turks consider the Kurds to be terrorists, and the Turkish military has heavy weapons and tanks and high tech arms to go against Kurdish rifles, machine guns and low tech weapons, without U.S. air support, the possibility of a massacre is high.
The Turks see Mr. Trump’s decision as a “green light” to invade and destroy the Kurds.
The president decided to abandon the Kurds to their fate late on Sunday night following a phone call from Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Mr. Trump consulted with no national security advisers — civilian or military — before announcing that we would withdraw. Everyone was taken by surprise including the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), militarily responsible for Syria, that announced a new security plan to monitor the area between the Kurds and Turks to ensure the security of all involved. Within 24 hours of the announcement of the new plan, the U.S. was gone from the border.
The Russians, Syrians and Iranians couldn’t be happier to see us bug out.
Remember that the president announced a similar move late last year which caused Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to resign his post. The president then back-tracked on pulling U.S. forces out. This time, Mr. Erdogan’s arguments were more persuasive, I suppose, and Mr. Trump did not consult with anyone so that he could not be talked out of it. All very whimsical with serious consequences.
In a nutshell, here is what this means.
- We abandoned an ally that did most of the fighting and dying to protect our national interests. It will be nearly impossible for the U.S. to convince any group or country around the world that we will have their back in the future when we need their help to protect our own people and interests.
- A foreign leader dictated to our president what actions to take that were counter to our national interests. (Again?)
- The president took unilateral action without consulting any adviser knowledgeable of the situation or otherwise able to explain the dire consequences of this action to our friends and allies the Kurds. The point will be driven home when pictures and video emerge of the loss of Kurdish men, women and children (all are fighters in the SDF).
- The president assured our country that the Turks will not do anything drastic in a Tweet (of course — foreign policy is now conducted almost exclusively by Tweets). I, for one, am not assured. Here is the essence of the rambling Tweet. “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” For a second there I thought maybe the Wizard of Oz was president. But then I realized I think he actually considers himself to be above the rest of us — in a Biblical sense. Are you assured? And what does destroy and obliterate Turkey mean?
- The Kurds stated that they will no longer guarantee the integrity of the prison camp containing the 16,000 battle-hardened ISIS fighters and families. The likelihood of a massive prison break is high. Those ISIS fighters will not go quietly into the night and the result is an immediately reconstituted force that will rejoin other ISIS fighters still scattered throughout the region. Many are former residents of European and other countries outside the Middle East, thus raising the probability of terrorist attacks around the world.
- Like every other decision Mr. Trump seems to make, this one was based on money. Perhaps because he has a Trump Towers in Istanbul? He stated that it would save the taxpayers money. One should ask how expensive 1,000 troops in the field leveraging a a non-U.S. fighting force of 60,000 people might be compared to U.S. and other nations’ lives lost when ISIS becomes a viable fighting force again?
The bottom line is that this decision is a major blow to our national security. It was made without any understanding of the consequences. It undermines our relationship with every ally we have now and might wish to have in the future. It allows for the reconstitution of ISIS. It shows that our national policy making apparatus is broken. It shows that the president believes himself when he says that Article II of the Constitution allows him “to do whatever I want.” It shows that he believes himself when he says “I alone can fix it.” It shows that he believes himself when he says it’s easy to work for him because “I make all the decisions. They don’t have to work.” It shows he believes himself when he says “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.” It shows that he believes himself when he says that he is a “stable genius” with “great and unmatched wisdom.”
It also shows just how dangerous this man is as president.
Here we go again. More mass shootings and more “thoughts and prayers.” As of this writing twenty-two people died in El Paso, Texas and nine in Dayton, Ohio with dozens more wounded and injured. This comes on the heels of a mass shooting at a Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California that left three dead and sixteen wounded. There is an epidemic of violence in our country that is aided and abetted by the cowardice of politicians to deal with the issue in any practical way.
No piece of federal legislation concerning guns has reached a president’s desk since the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 — and that law expired in 2004. More specifically, no law regulating the use of fire arms has passed since then. Two others, however, have been passed. In 2004 an Act was passed that allows current and former law enforcement officers to carry concealed fire arms in any jurisdiction. In 2005 an Act passed that prevents fire arm manufacturers and licensed dealers from being held liable when crimes are committed using their products. That’s it.
There is a more pressing issue to deal with right now, however.
The acts of these despicable individuals, of which more and more are occurring in all segments of our society, including churches and synagogues, are not really the work of lone wolfs as some would like to depict them. They are the acts of white supremacists that increasingly act in concert. Instead of being lone wolfs, they are more like wolf packs.
There is little difference between these white supremacists conversing with each other, supporting each other, giving ideas to each other, helping each other in on-line chat rooms and on the internet, especially 8chan, than 80 years ago when a bunch of white guys in sheets would congregate in the back room of a warehouse in a small town. It is the same, they just don’t have to travel any further than the lap top in their bedrooms to get their hateful ideas. The FBI and other reputable agencies tracking these trends know the threat and they know that it is increasingly likely that the members of these hate groups will take action. They are “heroes” to each other. One may debate as to whether their psychological profile leads certain types of individuals into joining these groups, but they are not “crazy” or clinically mentally ill. They are purposeful in their actions. They have plans. They have goals. They have the means to work towards achieving their ends.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in Congressional testimony on July 23 this year that “homegrown violent extremists” are the biggest threat to the United States. He went on to say, “I will say the majority of domestic terrorism cases we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”
I am concerned that we are on the way to another terrorist attack that will be the “new” attack of September 11, 2001, only this time it will be carried out by one or more young white guys. Think Timothy McVeigh and the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995. 168 men, women and children died that day. Hundreds more were wounded. It is possible, and some believe probable, that something similar will happen again.
We need to call it what it is. These attacks are not the result of video games, or drugs, or not going to church or mental illness or anything else. Every country in the world deals with these same issues and they do not have the pervasive and never ending attacks on their fellow citizens that we do here in the United States.
These acts are increasingly the work of white nationalists who want to eliminate anyone in our country that they deem “impure” — in other words anyone that is not white and not Christian. (It would be laughable that they call themselves Christians if it wasn’t such a deadly issue.)
It is staring us right in the face. Call it what it is. Call out the president when he says that Hispanics are conducting an “invasion” of our country. Call out the president when he calls Mexicans “rapists” and “murderers.” And on, and on, and on he goes with spiteful, hateful rhetoric towards people of color. In a rally in Florida just this May he talked of the “invasion” from Mexico and then laughed along with the crowd when someone yelled “shoot them.”
Mr. Trump is not the one that pulled the trigger in El Paso or elsewhere. He didn’t order it. He does inspire these white nationalists when he uses hateful language that leads them to violence. His barely disguised racist language is a deliberate campaign strategy to rally his “base.” Shame on him. Shame on us all. We are better than this as a country.
More importantly, we need to take action as a country and tell the government to use the same tactics against domestic threats that we do to protect ourselves against foreign terrorists. The oath I took as a Navy officer says in part “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” We have a clear and present danger from domestic terrorists.
The biggest threat to our security and safety walks among us.
The president is at it again and incited a crowd in Greenville, North Carolina to engage in racist chants during one of his campaign rallies last night.
Again attacking specific Congresswomen of color he got the crowd to chant “Send her back.”
Shameful. Horrifying. Dangerous. Un-American.
Most frightening, I invite you to look at rallies in Germany or Italy in the 1930’s and compare them to Mr. Trump’s rallies. The similarities are ominous.
The president clearly relishes his racist attacks on other Americans. I hope — perhaps in vain — that the good people of North Carolina woke up this morning embarrassed by their actions. They should be.
Should the president work in any other job in the United States, he would be fired for his racist rants as explained by a department he oversees, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
I fear the president of the United States will have blood on his hands when one or more of his white nationalist supporters takes the situation into their own hands based on his overt encouragement of outrageous and indecent behavior.
It is clear to me and to his white nationalist supporters, that when he says “Make America Great Again” it is with a wink and a nod. He really means “Make America White Again.”
All of us are complicit if we condone such actions from anyone, much less from the president.
One has to wonder where the Trump Administration is headed with their policy towards Iran. There are, to say the least, a number of contradictions. However, before I get too far into this, I would like to make three comments.
- For almost forty years the Iranians have been nothing but trouble-makers. The government is the number one source of state sponsored terrorism in the world. The leadership continues to try and export the revolution and to thwart U.S. interests in the Middle East.
- I am glad that Mr. Trump called off last week’s planned strikes into Iran. Unfortunately, like so many of his decisions, he did so for the wrong reasons.
- While on active naval service, I made two port calls in the 1970’s to Iran. One to Bandar Abbas and one to Khorramshahr. Interesting places, but maybe not too relevant to this piece. Since then I made several trips through the Strait of Hormuz on U.S. Navy ships in and out of the Persian Gulf, and every time we were tested by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) armed boats. No shots fired.
As you know, Iran is responsible for a series of attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, near the Strait of Hormuz, in recent weeks. Five total as of this writing. Additionally, they launched surface-to-air missiles against U.S. military drones, missing once and hitting two including the most controversial last week. Why?
The most obvious reason is that their economy is being crushed by sanctions imposed by the U.S. It is having a direct and profound impact on daily life inside Iran. The sanctions are succeeding in that respect. While the United States is demonstrating its ability to succeed in this effort, it forces the Iranians to respond in order to demonstrate their own resolve, show their citizens that they will not bow to the U.S., and to attempt to get relief from the sanctions. In other words, they are demonstrating that they can have an impact on the world’s economy by stopping all Persian Gulf oil, not just Iranian oil, from reaching the market, thus having a direct impact on countries such as Japan and others that rely on that oil for their own economic well-being. If they cannot totally stop the flow of oil, then they can make it so costly — insurance rates, the price of oil, military requirements to protect tankers, etc. — that it will still have an impact unacceptable to many countries. (As a side note, when I worked Middle East issues in the Pentagon, insurance rates for shipping in the Gulf was one of our measures of effectiveness (MOE). If they went up, we needed more resources. When they went down, we as a military were being effective in keeping the sea lanes open and secure.) The point is, the Iranians are not going to stop meddling with the shipping lanes in and out of the Gulf until they feel some sanctions relief.
Here is the mismatch. The Trump Administration claims that the sanctions will be eased when the Iranians come to the table to renegotiate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. Mr. Trump pulled us out of it in May of 2018. One may claim that the JCPOA was a good deal or a bad deal, but in the short term at least it did stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. It opened Iran up to verification of its compliance and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducts regular inspections to ensure continued compliance. The other members of the agreement besides the U.S. (the U.K, Russia, China, France, Germany, and European Union) agree that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement and all remain in the agreement while working with Iran to keep them from violating its terms. Even the U.S. intelligence agencies as late as this spring testified in open hearings to Congress that the Iranians continue to abide by it.
So why would Iran return to negotiate a deal that they had already agreed to but from which the United States withdrew and is now punishing Iran for complying with that treaty? To be fair, one of the main criticisms of the JCPOA is that it addresses only nuclear weapons and not the development of ballistic missiles or Iran’s continued support of terrorism throughout the region. Fair enough. The original idea behind the negotiations was to take it one step at a time. Solve nuclear weapons and then address missiles in another treaty. Solve missiles and then address stopping terrorist activities. A building block approach that would instill trust as each step takes effect and allows for continued negotiations. It may or may not have worked, but now we will likely never know. More to the current point, why would the Iranians trust the U.S? And if this president can tear up a treaty with malice of forethought then what would keep the next president — elections are in 18 months and we may have a new one — from tearing up the Trump Treaty? There is no trust.
Making matters worse for our current strategy is that our trusted allies and friends no longer trust us either. Some, especially Japan and Germany and France, are not even sure that they can trust us when we say that the Iranians are definitely behind the recent attacks. And if they don’t support us now, they will certainly not support us in an armed conflict in the region. The U.S. does not want to go it alone in this arena.
Making it worse, even it if it sounds logical on one level, is Mr. Trump’s tweet that maybe the U.S. would not protect shipping without being compensated.
“China gets 91% of its Oil from the [Strait of Hormuz], Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world!”
While on one level it is imperative for a coalition effort to thwart Iranian attempts to disrupt the shipping lanes, on another it ignores the number one maritime objective of the United States — to protect shipping lanes around the world to ensure the free flow of commerce at sea. Did that just change because “we don’t even need to be there”?
While Mr. Trump once again made himself the hero of a soon to be catastrophe by fixing the crisis he created, still, calling off the strikes last week was the right call. He made himself into some kind of humanitarian savior by implying that no one told him about possible loss of human life. I find that insulting to the U.S. military. He implies that they aren’t doing the job because he didn’t find out about the number of casualties until 10 minutes before the strikes. Hogwash! The president, any president, is offered a series of options for him to choose. Included in the “pros and cons” of any option is the potential loss of life to Americans and to those under attack when the situation is not all out combat but rather a “message” as these were intended to be. He is either lying or cannot comprehend basic information. (By the way, in that series of tweets Mr. Trump tries to sound tough by saying that “we were cocked and loaded” to attack. Anyone that has served in the military would know that no one talks that way in senior, serious discussions and that besides, the expression is “locked and loaded.”)
But I digress.
The best reason for calling off the strikes is that, according to reports from senior, unnamed officials in the Pentagon but thought to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is that there was no second step. There was no consideration for what is called branches and sequels — what happens and what steps do we take when the Iranians inevitably respond. There was no clear understanding of what those strikes would do to enhance our strategy of getting the Iranians to the table. It would in fact, have made that much harder as the Iranians would likely have escalated their attacks and there were no follow-on U.S. plans. Fundamentally, Mr. Trump and his advisers lost sight of the fact that the enemy gets a vote on how things unfold. Without thinking through the next steps, having those strikes go forward would have opened up a potential Pandora’s Box of serious trouble in the Gulf.
Remember this. There is a reason we have fought in Iraq and Syria. They are not Iran. Iran has been a bigger trouble-maker in the region and a bigger counter to our policy goals than the other two ever were or could be. Why haven’t we gone after the Iranians in the same way? Because it will be hard.
In the 1987-88 Operation Earnest Will, the U.S. and other nations escorted tankers to protect them from the Iranians. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians tried to cut off Iraqi oil shipments through the Gulf. Besides escorting tankers, the U.S. and coalition forces fought the “tanker wars” to punish the Iranians for placing mines in shipping lanes and other hostile acts. U.S. Navy ships were hit by mines (none sank) and other Iranian actions resulted in SEAL raids, and attacks on Iranian warships. Operation Praying Mantis resulted in a number of Iranian ships going to the bottom or being put out of action. The point is, the Iranian harassment of shipping quickly came to a stop. The Iranians also learned some valuable lessons in how to combat U.S. forces through asymmetric means.
The Iranian Navy is basically a professional navy built along the lines of most in the world with a recognizable command and control structure. The real bad guys are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that have their own forces, ashore and afloat, and do not answer to anyone in the Iranian government other than the Supreme Leader. Those are the ones to keep an eye on.
So now what? The Iranians probably think that Mr. Trump is all bluster and no action. Will that encourage more dangerous provocations on their side? How will the U.S. respond? If our policy is to corral Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions than how do we do that? No easy answers.
Whether we are officially in or out of the JCPOA, along with the other members of the agreement, it would seem to provide the best frame work for re-engaging with the Iranians. As far as practical, without losing our advantage in the region, talking is better than fighting. Should it come to war, we will prevail. But keep in mind that we are not talking about a few cruise missile strikes into empty air fields in Syria. It will be messy and we will take casualties. They will not be pushovers and they will test our capabilities. Right now, the rest of the world may not be with us. Most importantly, what is the end game? What do we want from the fighting? In 1988 it was for them to quit interfering with shipping lanes. It worked. Today we say it is guarantees about no nuclear weapons. How do we achieve that when everything the Iranians see around them (hello, North Korea) indicates that Mr. Trump responds with love letters to those with the weapons who test them, fire ballistic missiles and threaten the U.S. main land?
The Iranians tried negotiations through the JCPOA and feel like they were tricked. It will not be easy to get them back to the table, no matter how grim their economy. The Trump Administration needs to re-engage with the Iranians, without preconditions, but without easing sanctions until talks resume. Then a measured give and take — known in diplomatic circles as “compromise” — can result in the easing of some sanctions in return for specific Iranian actions. This may be the best way to ease us out of this growing crisis. Without it, expect the Iranians to continue to act out until they find the limit of U.S. patience.
Another mass shooting, this time in Christchurch New Zealand, left at least fifty people dead and many dozens wounded, proving yet again that white nationalism spreads hate and leads to the vilest of acts. Let’s call it what it is — terrorism. For some reason, when Muslim extremists attack a Western target, it is immediately condemned as an act of terrorism. But when a white man attacks two mosques and kills fifty Muslims, it is considered an isolated act of a mad man. While no one can be held accountable for these acts other than those that perpetrate these heinous crimes, let’s not fool ourselves that this is solely the random act of a nut job. He reportedly chose New Zealand precisely because it is arguably the safest country on earth. His attacks on two mosques where he ruthlessly gunned down children, women and men were not random. They were intended to send a message and to instill terror.
Western intelligence agencies work together world-wide to follow and thwart such acts by ISIS and al-Qaeda and other Muslim extremist groups. And well they should. But there is to date, no similar intelligence effort to follow and thwart acts by white nationalists. Make no mistake about it, the far right extremists work together via the dark web and other social media avenues to spread their ideology and to share ideas about how to carry out violence. As explained in a Washington Post article this weekend, white supremacists who are motivated by a right-wing political ideology committed more acts of violence in recent years than any other type of domestic extremist. It is time to recognize that these are not one time random events but rather that these extremists are connected in that they are motivated by and share the same websites, political views and understanding of world events. They feed off of each other. It is a movement, both here in the United States and increasingly in other Western nations around the world. They are connected in ways we may not truly understand. There was a reason this evil person left a 74 page manifesto and live streamed his attack on Facebook. He wanted to share with those like him and in a way, to brag about his ability to carry out with action what others only talk about.
Be aware of the language. Words matter and have meaning. Many experts start with the French writer Renaud Camus and his book “The Great Replacement” which is often referenced by the far right. Indeed, this shooter named his manifesto in homage to this book. In his book, Mr. Camus argues that whites in Europe are being replaced by immigrants from non-white countries and most of them are Muslims. He calls it “demographic colonization” and talks about a “counter revolt” to drive them away. Mr. Camus now has a second book along the same lines called “You Will Not Replace Us!” Remember that in 2017 the white supremacists in Charlottesville marched to the chant “Jews will not replace us!” Other words like “invasion” and depictions of non-white immigrants as criminals, and disease carriers and generally despicable non-human beings fills the pages of the writings and postings of these far right nationalists. They come from “shit hole” countries. They want to take away jobs. Sound familiar?
According to the ADL (formerly the Anti-Defamation League) in the United States from 2008 to 2017 there were 387 domestic extremist murders. Of those, they report that 71 percent of them were committed by right-wing extremists. 26 percent were by Islamic extremists and three percent were by left-wing extremists. Please don’t give me the “both sides” argument. It is time to be realistic about this danger to our citizens.
One might ask where the real “national emergency” is taking place. It may be that the real threat comes from those trying to “Make America White Again.”
We need to move beyond thinking of these incidents as isolated. They are not. Until our leadership realizes that this is a real and present danger these events will continue. When asked if he thought the rise of white nationalists around the world was a growing threat, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.” To think as the president does about white nationalism is to either condone it, or it is the moral equivalent of having our collective heads in the sand. From Saturday morning to Sunday night, Mr. Trump put out 50 Tweets or retweets about everything from formulating the idea that the government should investigate Saturday Night Live for colluding with the Russians (?!) to attacking Senator John McCain. (Still.) Not one concerned the massacre in New Zealand.
Wake up USA.
While many of us were busy with family and friends during the Thanksgiving weekend, spending time appreciating what we have and treasuring the value of those around us, the President of the United States took no time off from his argumentative, derisive, self-centered approach to his office. Whether in the White House or at his gold-plated palace at Mar-a-Lago, he hit on topics wide and far. He raged against the independent judiciary, taking on Chief Justice John Roberts in the process, he stated that no one should worry about the troops on the Mexican border missing Thanksgiving with their families, and many topics in between. His most troubling comments came last Tuesday when he released a statement about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the brutal murder and dismemberment of U.S. resident and Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
As you remember, Mr. Khassoggi was lured into the Saudi Embassy in Turkey and tortured, murdered and dismembered by a hit squad sent to do the deed by the de facto head of the Saudi government Mohammad Bin Salman, commonly called MBS by those that want him to be a positive factor in the future development of Saudi Arabia. Those that know the truth know that he is a reckless and ruthless autocrat bent on solidifying his own power as the Crown Prince in order to ensure that he has complete domination as the future king of Saudi Arabia.
Released on White House letterhead, this is the complete transcript of the statement, a statement that could only have been written by the president himself given the syntax, grammar and punctuation therein. We would be lucky if it only exhibited poor writing skills, but instead it runs counter to everything the United States stands for during the last seventy years or more.
The world is a very dangerous place!
The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.
After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!
The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!
That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!
I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!
There is so much wrong, facts as well as policy, that it is difficult to know where to start. Let’s start at what should have been the beginning, the death of Jamal Khassoggi. Instead of starting with that fact, he does not address his brutal murder until the fourth paragraph, coming even after he has to congratulate himself on his trip to Saudi Arabia. To add injury to insult, he repeats the canard that Mr. Khassoggi was “an enemy of the state and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Even the Saudi government did not state that he was, after a trial balloon using that as a mitigating factor was vehemently denounced by multiple countries around the world. Mr. Trump brings it in as if it was some acceptable reason for murder. One of the president’s typical tricks. He paints someone negatively and then denies doing so saying that he didn’t say that, they did.
Even more troubling is Mr. Trump’s denouncing the American media as the “enemy of the people” and then using the term “enemy of the state” to describe a murdered journalist. No subtlety there, Mr. Trump just gave every dictator and two-bit autocrat in the world the green light to eliminate any journalist that they designate as an “enemy.”
As I and countless others have pointed out, the president grossly exaggerates the so-called “record amount of money” the Saudis will spend and invest in the United States. So far the Saudis only committed to spending about 14 billion dollars for a missile defense system. The other “hundreds of billions” of purchases and investments are only possibilities, ideas or something for an unspecified future. There is nothing on paper to justify the claims made by the president. Certainly, there is nothing to support the claim that any of it will “create hundreds of thousands of jobs.” The idea that the Saudis would spend that money buying Chinese or Russian goods and military equipment is, in a word, preposterous. Since World War II the Saudis sought out and continue to use U.S. training, equipment, spare parts, ammunition and logistical support for their military. They can not and would not turn to any other country over night to spend money on military items.
Once again for the record, Mr. Trump seems to be influenced by no other world events since the 1973 oil embargo when it comes to assessing the impact of Saudi oil on the market. The U.S. is a larger producer of oil than Saudi Arabia (thanks to fracking and shale oil, but that’s another story). The entire Saudi economy (and all of those claimed purchases and investments in the U.S.) depend on oil. They can impact prices, but not to the extent that Mr. Trump claims. Indeed the crown jewel of ARAMCO refineries, the national Saudi oil company, is in the United States in Port Arthur, Texas. Would they really cut off oil shipments to their own refinery? (The products from the refinery ship to many places in the world, not just the United States.) And oh by the way, the Saudis do not work “closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world.” They do what is best for them. Lower oil prices right now, according to economic analysts, are due primarily because the impact of the embargo on Iran was minimal (its oil is still mostly on the market), the world economy has not expanded as quickly as expected and thus demand is lower, and other economic reasons, not Mr. Trump’s relations with the Saudis.
I could go on and on debunking the myths and out right lies in Mr. Trump’s statement. You get the idea. Here is the worst part in my opinion. The President of the United States clearly states that “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event” but that it doesn’t matter to the president because their money and the price of oil is more important than upholding human rights, American values and freedom of the press. Yet another signal to any dictator or would be autocrat that not only will we allow journalists to be killed if they are an “enemy of the state” but that if you pay us enough money, we’ll look the other way. Unbelievably, the president finishes his statement by saying “maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t!” (are we in the fifth grade?). In other words, it just doesn’t matter.
Anyone that reads the paper and follows this story knows that the preponderance of evidence is that Mr. Khassoggi was murdered and that the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States calculates that there is the highest probability that the Crown Prince was behind the entire sordid affair. (That is about as close as the CIA will come to saying he all but dismembered the guy himself.) Not to worry. Mr. Trump assures us that he personally talked to the Crown Prince and to the King and that they “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder.” Just as he accepted President Vladimir Putin’s vigorous denial that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, despite the conclusion of the entire intelligence community of the United States.
Once again, as happens in case after case after case with Mr. Trump, he refuses to believe what he does not want to believe and will look for any out available be it an opinion expressed on Fox News, a piece on an alt-right blog, or “the word” of ruthless dictators and autocrats. Merely deny any wrong doing and the best intelligence agency in the world cannot convince him of anything else. If one doubts that words have consequences when spoken by the president, consider that Mr. Trump continually belittled U.S. intelligence agencies because they were wrong about WMD in Iraq in 2002. This weekend the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia used that same argument to say that the CIA’s conclusion that the Crown Prince was involved in murder was wrong.
The real reason Mr. Trump will not come down hard on Saudi Arabia and especially the Crown Prince is because he likes them. More accurately, he liked the way that they played him during his visit to Riyadh and treated him, literally, like visiting royalty. He has a misguided view of the Saudi ability, or desire, to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They can act as a counter weight to Iran, but not without U.S. backing which could suck us into a war that we do not want. In particular, Mr. Trump frequently expressed his appreciation to the Saudis for bailing him out of one of his many bankruptcies. Likewise his son-in-law Jared Kushner has particularly close ties with the Crown Prince and his company was also intimately involved with Saudi bail outs in the past.
Make no mistake about it. I am not advocating for breaking diplomatic or military ties with Saudi Arabia. The world is indeed a dangerous place and we should use all assets at our disposal to promote our national security interests. That said, Mr. Trump speaks as if the Saudis hold all of the cards. They do not. We have vastly more leverage over them than the other way around if Mr. Trump had the ability to utilize the advantage. He either chooses not do so (because of his personal financial ties?) or is lost in the 70’s with a misguided view of the world, or he is incompetent.
There are numerous ways to make clear our disgust and dissatisfaction with Mr. Khassoggi’s murder. Here are only a few examples of actions we could take:
- Sanction the Crown Prince or parts of his world-wide investments and hurt him where it counts. The 17 Saudis Mr. Trump says we sanctioned include 15 relatively low-level security (hit?) men. Those assessed by the CIA as primarily responsible for ordering the murder are not sanctioned.
- Stop supplying the Saudi military in Yemen. The U.S. is providing assistance that, should it be with held, would severely limit their ability to continue the war in Yemen. The United Nations assesses the situation in Yemen as the biggest humanitarian crisis taking place in the world. Their calculations indicate that roughly 85,000 young children have died of hunger during the war. About 2 million are homeless. 22 million are in need of assistance, especially food. 1.1 million suffer from diarrhea and cholera. The war is portrayed as a proxy war with Iran to stop Islamic terrorism but in fact, Mohammad Bin Salman intervened in a civil war for his own purposes. Iran supports the opposition but the Saudi involvement is far larger, bloodier and indiscriminate in hitting civilian targets.
- Push Mohammad to actually get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and take concrete steps to help the Palestinians form a functioning government and offer substantive proposals for resolving the situation. Put some of that oil money to use providing for investment in the West Bank and to raise the average Palestinian out of the depths of poverty. (Fun fact: Many mid-level to upper-level bureaucrats in Arab countries are of Palestinian heritage. They make the countries run. The Arabs have no desire to resolve the situation because it is a convenient scapegoat for distracting their own people by providing a cause to rally around and to continue to rant against Israel.)
- Stop the Saudi economic and diplomatic attacks on Qatar. (The headquarters for U.S. forces in the region are in Qatar and it is the location of the largest U.S. air base in the region. Mr. Trump supports the Saudi assault on the integrity of Qatar.)
- Stop Mohammad from meddling in Lebanon. (Last year he kidnapped the Prime Minister of Lebanon while he was in Saudi Arabia, forced him to resign and held him hostage until world diplomatic pressure caused his release. Theoretically this was to put pressure on Iran and to lessen the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon.)
These are but a few ideas off the top of my head. I am sure the regional experts at the State Department and CIA could come up with many more. Instead, the United States capitulated lock, stock and barrel to the murderous whims of a 33-year-old autocrat in the Middle East.
The president’s statement is really “Saudi Arabia First!” Bipartisan efforts in the Senate to make Saudi Arabia feel the pain are talked about, but only time will tell if they can get a bill together during the lame duck session coming up given all the rest of the issues they have to deal with in the interim. Realistically, it could be months before the Congress takes action, if at all. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince goes his merry way having learned the lesson that he can con Mr. Trump out of anything with a little flattery and some money.
The President of the United States betrayed American values. He pretends that the facts are unknowable but asserts that they are irrelevant in any case. He bases his decision on a widely discredited claim that they are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. and keeping oil prices low, when in fact, the Saudis are espousing a cut in their oil production in order to try to increase prices. He disparages the victim by falsely hinting that he was a member of some terrorist network, a claim originally floated by Mohammad in a phone call to the White House and then denied when the world condemned the allegation as totally false. (Parts of Mr. Trump’s statement were clearly word for word restatements of things the Saudi Crown Prince told him.) He belittles and ignores the best analysis by his own intelligence agencies. He shows the worst of his talents and little disposition to take appropriate actions if it does not meet his personal needs, desires and perceptions. Again, Mr. Trump demonstrates that under his leadership, the United States is weak.
In short, Mr. Trump sold out the United States and our values. Dictators and autocrats around the world now know that they can kill journalists with impunity if they flatter the president and pay enough money.
The United States is fast losing its place in the world as a leader. Congress must act to rectify this situation and to set the standard that we will not forsake our values or place in the world for a few dollars more.
As we head into the final days before Election Day, and in the wake of two domestic terrorist attacks including the tragic loss of eleven lives at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the ridiculous claims, lies, fear mongering and fomenting of hate by the President of the United States of America continues unabated. He has no shame. When repeatedly asked about his vile tactics he offers some version of “it works — we won.” Maybe he won, but the “we” — the citizens of this great country — are losing. The president may feel no shame, but I do. I am ashamed that this is the face of the United States that the world sees.
As I have written before, the president uses words that have distinct connotations for people who consider themselves white supremacists, anti-Semites, and others. “Nationalist,” “globalist,” “international bankers,” and other similar words have distinct anti-Jewish meanings to those filled with hate. It stokes the fires raging inside of the haters. Here is one thing to understand. These people don’t just hate Jews as a religion, they see a vast international conspiracy where “Jews” rule the world. Literally. The haters see a hidden web of conspiracies and connections throughout the world that the rest of us know nothing about. They believe that the Jewish conspiracy controls everything that happens politically and especially economically. All the suffering by those that are not part of the cabal can lay their problems at the feet of those that “belong.” The nationalists unfounded hate may take the form of religious intolerance, but it is important to understand that in their minds it goes way, way, deeper. It is a world-wide conspiracy and everything is controlled by “the Jews.”
Thus the murderer that attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue (Etz haChayim in Hebrew in the Book of Genesis) reportedly picked this particular house of worship because of their well-known involvement with the Jewish charity known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) whose motto is “Welcome the stranger. Protect the refugee.” Founded in 1881, HIAS sought to help Jewish refugees coming to the U.S. In 1975 it expanded its scope to help Vietnamese refugees coming to the U.S. following the fall of South Vietnam to the communists. It works world-wide to help the poor and misplaced and refugees of all religions, nationalities and ethnicities. Currently they are helping the refugees coming from Central America.
Enter the “caravan.” Enter the George Soros (an internationally known Jewish billionaire) funded caravan. To the haters, it is all connected.
The synagogue murderer was incensed that the congregants were helping these poor migrants. He is said to have posted on social media that these impoverished people were “invaders” that were brought here “to kill our people.” He went on to post that “I can’t just sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.”
Hmmm. Where did I hear that before? Oh, right. From the President of the United States of America.
Among other lies he tells at his campaign rallies, he claims that most of the refugees are members of “MS-13” and “Middle Easterners” coming here to spread illegal drugs, murder people, spread disease, and take away jobs. As he said earlier this week, “We’re being invaded. When you look at that, thousands of people — when you looked at that bridge loaded up with thousands of people, that’s called an invasion of our country.”
Reality check. There are currently less than three thousand people, many women and children, and they are approximately 900 miles away on foot walking across Mexico. This is one of many such “caravans” that have formed in recent years. Mostly the migrants travel together for safety from criminals and others willing to exploit them. The last one to arrive at the U.S. border was last April and resulted in the arrest of 14 people. Under U.S. and international law we have an obligation to at least listen to and decide on the merits whether these individuals and families, who turn themselves in at the border and ask for asylum, in accordance with the law, should in fact be given asylum.
They are not law breakers and they are not illegal aliens. Nearly all of them, turn themselves in. For the April caravan the president sent approximately 2100 National Guard troops to beef up the border. I am no math major, but that amounts to roughly 150 soldiers for every person arrested from the caravan. Now the president has issued an order for about 5200 active duty soldiers to move to the border this week. A few fun facts about that. This will be the greatest number of troops on the Mexican border in over a century. We will have about the same number of soldiers on the border with Mexico as we have now in Iraq and Syria combined fighting ISIS. He promises at his campaign rallies that he will send 15,000 soldiers to the border “soon.” (It is unclear whether this number includes the 5200 already ordered there.) That number is nearly equivalent to the total number we have fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Which is the greater threat? Impoverished families from Central America or the Taliban? ISIS?
Here is a couple of things to consider. He is sending active duty troops because the National Guard now there are under the control of the state governors that supplied them. Not the president. He wants troops he can control. There is a law known as the Posse Comitatus Act signed by President Hayes in 1878 that has come to be interpreted as prohibiting U.S. federal troops from enforcing domestic law. In other words, they have no arrest powers. (Of the military services, only the U.S. Coast Guard has arrest authority. There are some exceptions for the other services under the Insurrection Act and in other specified situations.)
In other words, our active duty forces that are involved in two active wars and numerous other missions around the world, will be sent to the border to satisfy the campaign rhetoric of the president. He has politicized the military and is using it as a personal tool for campaigning. As it is, they can only be used in a support role (non-law enforcement tasks) but so far have been under orders from the Secretary of Defense to have no interaction with the refugees beyond medical or legal aid. To further demonstrate the waste of taxpayer money, the caravan is not expected to arrive at the border for about two more months. That amounts to 15,000 troops sitting on their collective back sides for two months — which may include Thanksgiving and Christmas — rather than being home with their families between combat deployments or training for their next deployment. It impairs readiness.
This is not a matter of enforcing immigration laws. All main stream politicians and candidates, from any party, supports enforcing our laws and protecting the borders. This is not what the president’s rhetoric is about. It is all to stir up fear and anger among people who must be pretty unhappy about their lives.
But it gets better yet.
The President of the United States of America apparently thinks that he can change the Constitution of the United States through an Executive Order. Wow. My prediction is that his plan to do so disappears after the election — most things he promises go out with a whimper — but what if he actually believes it? Here is what he said earlier this week.
“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t. You can definitely do it with an Act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”
So everyone has had it wrong for over two hundred years. I wonder who the “they” are that just discovered that all it takes is an Executive Order.
Specifically he wants to change the “policy” (yes — he actually said that) written in the 14th Amendment. There are five sections to the amendment, but it is the first section that he wants to change. That portion of the 14th Amendment reads:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This is the so called “birthright” amendment and the source of so much hate and misinformation about “anchor babies.” The president claims that:
“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”
Facts take a beating under this president. There are over 30 countries that have the same birthright privilege of citizenship including Canada and Mexico. The baby is not “essentially” a citizen, they are a citizen. “All those benefits” which he claims amount to “billions and billions of dollars” do not take into account that the vast majority of those babies grow up to be productive citizens of the United States that work and pay taxes and contribute to the improvement of our country.
But there is something more sinister about attacking the 14th Amendment. Not only does it continue to vilify those seeking a better life, the 14th Amendment is an anathema to those same self-styled “nationalists” that I have written about before. The 14th Amendment is there to incorporate into law and the Constitution that former slaves and their descendants are full citizens. The amendment overturns counting slaves (and presumably without this change, freed slaves) as three-fifths of a person encapsulated in Article One, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution. So picking the 14th Amendment for an Executive Order does two things. It supports the views of white supremacists and further encourages them by, in the view of many African-Americans, going after one of the most historically important amendments in their lives. It also sends a signal to many African-Americans that they are part of the “other.”
Perhaps he would like to also sign an Executive Order doing away with freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights as well. The president, like Joseph Stalin considers the press an “enemy of the people.” Come to think of it, why stop there? Just overturn any other silly amendments that get in the way.
I see a pattern developing. These are not isolated incidents. All are common to a thread of creating the “other” to hate, fear and vilify. A page from the demagogue text-book. Note that the president is not campaigning on his accomplishments. Pay attention to his rants at his rallies and you will not hear him say anything that might not have already been said during his 2016 campaign. He is trying to convince people that without him and his supporters in Congress, the apocalypse will be upon us.
The stakes are high. The soul of our country is under attack. I find it shameful and it is too high of a price to pay for “winning.”