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When Ruth Bader Ginsburg Got the Fourth Amendment Right

The late justice was often in error. Yet one of her opinions involving warrants and civil liberties is worth celebrating.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen as she presents the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Inaugural Woman of Leadership Award to Agnes Gund at The Library of Congress on February 14, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was never going to be my favorite thing about the Supreme Court. Revered by progressives who turned her into a pop culture icon—”the Notorious RBG,” they called her—Ginsburg was probably the most left-leaning member of the institution on which she served. She believed in a “living constitution” that changed according to the circumstances of the times, rather than one whose text was settled. She was a friend of legal abortion and a foe of religious liberty.

Yet that doesn’t mean she was always wrong. Witty, urbane, known for her close friendship with the late conservative stalwart Antonin Scalia, Ginsburg seemed periodically to flirt with the very textualism she’d supposedly renounced, especially when it came to civil liberties. She was on the right side of the 2000s detainment cases, ruling against the Bush administration and defending habeas corpus in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Boumediene v. Bush, among others. And in another, often-overlooked decision, Kentucky v. King, she alone upheld the necessity of obtaining a warrant under the Fourth Amendment.

Police in Lexington, Kentucky, tracked a suspect in a drug deal to an apartment complex, where they entered a breezeway and heard a door slam. At the end of the corridor were two doors, with officers unsure which one the suspect had entered. They smelled marijuana from behind the door to the left, knocked, and announced themselves. From within, they heard something being moved, suspected that evidence was being destroyed, and so busted down the door. Inside, they discovered a guest smoking marijuana along with various drugs and drug paraphernalia. Their initial suspect was later found behind the door to the right and apprehended.

Were police justified in forcibly entering the first apartment? Or did they need to obtain a warrant (which they could have gotten easily and expeditiously)? At issue was what’s called “exigent circumstances,” which allow police to disregard the warrant requirement in the event of an emergency. Generally, per a previous ruling by the Court, those exceptions must be “few in number and carefully delineated,” lest the Fourth Amendment be drained of its meaning. Exigent circumstances, though subject to tangling in lower courts, were understood to cover when life and limb was at risk, when a suspect was fleeing, and when evidence would otherwise be destroyed.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled against the police, finding that the entry into the first apartment had been improper. They held that law enforcement cannot create those exigent circumstances if they are reasonably foreseeable in advance, i.e. they can’t cause objects to be moved because they knocked on the wrong door. In an 8-1 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. Sam Alito wrote the opinion:

As previously noted, warrantless searches are allowed when the circumstances make it reasonable, within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, to dispense with the warrant requirement. Therefore, the answer to the question before us is that the exigent circumstances rule justifies a warrantless search when the conduct of the police preceding the exigency is reasonable in the same sense. Where, as here, the police did not create the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment, warrantless entry to prevent the destruction of evidence is reasonable and thus allowed.

At first blush, that seems sensible enough—all the police did was knock on a door, hardly an unconstitutional course of action. Yet as Ginsburg observed in her short and pointed dissent, by taking such a broad view of exigent circumstances, the Court had unwittingly defanged the Fourth Amendment (emphasis added):

In no quarter does the Fourth Amendment apply with greater force than in our homes, our most private space which, for centuries, has been regarded as ‘”entitled to special protection.”‘ …Home intrusions, the Court has said, are indeed “the chief evil against which … the Fourth Amendment is directed.” …How “secure” do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and, on hearing sounds indicative of things moving, forcibly enter and search for evidence of unlawful activity?

That’s the winning point right there. Taken to its extreme, the Court’s logic in Kentucky could see police show up at an apartment complex where drug activity was suspected, knock on every door, and kick them down the second they heard anything they could construe as potential evidence being altered. If that’s allowed, then the Fourth Amendment has no force, no grip. As Ginsburg wrote, “There is every reason to conclude that securing a warrant was entirely feasible in this case, and no reason to contract the Fourth Amendment’s dominion.”

She was a formidable legal mind, and when she was right, she was right. May she rest in peace.

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The U.S. Needs to Abandon Its Dead-End Venezuela Policy

Geoff Ramsey calls for an overdue change to U.S. policy towards Venezuela:

After a year and a half of diminishing returns since recognizing Juan Guaido as interim president and imposing crippling oil sanctions, U.S. strategy in Venezuela has reached a crossroads. Policymakers in Washington have two paths before them: they can either continue down the path of “maximum pressure” and saber-rattling, or they can choose a path of pragmatism, supporting more flexible negotiations towards a democratic transition.

The current path has been disastrous.

The Trump administration’s pursuit of regime change has had two foreseeable results: broad sanctions have worsened already severe economic and humanitarian crises to the detriment of tens of millions of innocent people, and Maduro and his allies have managed to retain and even strengthen their hold on power. By inserting the U.S. into Venezuela’s political crisis and seeking to coerce Maduro into giving up power, Trump effectively bolstered Maduro’s position and gave him no incentive to compromise or negotiate. The president was encouraged to pursue this doomed course of action by exiles and ideological hard-liners, including Marco Rubio and John Bolton, and he was led to believe that it would be a quick and easy “win” that would redound to his political benefit. Having failed to get the “win,” Trump seems to have lost interest, but the awful “maximum pressure” policy continues on its destructive path. After almost two years, U.S. policy has achieved nothing except to make it more difficult for ordinary Venezuelans to obtain food, medicine, and fuel. Ramsey warns against imposing further sanctions:

Now the White House is threatening to impose further sanctions that could limit the importation of diesel to the country, which would have devastating consequences for bulk transport, public transportation, and electricity generation.

The Trump administration has relied heavily on economic warfare in its misguided pursuit of forcing other regimes to capitulate to its maximalist demands, but the stakes for the other government are always so high that it will never be enough. Suffocating the population with sanctions does not make their leaders any more likely to yield, and insofar as the leaders can blame the sanctions for poor conditions in the country it can actually take some domestic political pressure off of them. Hard-liners push for ever-tougher sanctions because they like to think that they are squeezing the other government into submission, but they tend to weaken the government’s opponents more by forcing everyone in the society to scramble to survive. Sweeping sanctions are often a help to the government they ostensibly target, because they steal time, energy, and resources from the very people that are seeking political change.

Mac Margolis wrote recently about the split in the opposition over whether they should participate in the parliamentary elections in December, and he includes another quote from Ramsey:

That diplomacy and political spadework are something that Guaido once got and to which Capriles appears to be committed. “Capriles understands that a growing portion of Venezuela’s opposition is interested in a pragmatic outcome and a negotiated path forward, rather than an all or nothing approach or the fantasy of military intervention,” said Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America. “The literature on political transition is clear: Participating often yields better results than abstaining.”

According to a recent survey of Venezuelan public opinion, there is broad support across the political spectrum for opposition participation in the elections:

Boycotting the elections may seem preferable given the likelihood of irregularities and cheating, but it would cede the field to Maduro and his allies and leave the opposition in an even worse position than they are already in. Most Venezuelans clearly want the opposition to participate even though they must know that it will not be a fair contest, and the U.S. shouldn’t ignore that. For his part, Pompeo has wrongly criticized those members of the opposition that have called for participation in the elections. Pompeo would rather have Guaido and the opposition continue on their self-defeating course. That’s because the administration’s hard-liners aren’t interested in resolving the crisis or even in helping the opposition, but they are happy to use both to justify their ongoing failed policy of “maximum pressure.” Just as they have done with Iran, the Trump administration piles sanctions on Venezuela not to achieve some identifiable goal, but simply to inflict pain and economic destruction for their own sake. They aren’t concerned with what happens to the people living in Venezuela, and they have been using that country as little more than a prop in the election campaign.

At every step, the U.S. has given Maduro every reason to cling to power. Ramsey notes that the decision to unseal the indictments against him and his closest allies has forced them to hang together:

Meanwhile, there are few incentives for Maduro and his inner circle to get behind a plan for a negotiated transition. In March, the Department of Justice unsealed indictments against the head of every single government institution controlled by the ruling United Socialist Party. This was a significant break from the previous U.S. strategy, which sought to drive a wedge between Maduro and members of his inner circle. The indictments helped cement a situation in which Maduro’s inner circle now have little reason to break away and support regime change.

Instead of the dead-end, pressure-only approach that we have seen so far, Ramsey suggests an alternative:

While sectoral sanctions have aggravated the crisis and had a documented negative impact on the work of independent NGOs, there is evidence that targeted sanctions against individuals have had more impact inside the Maduro government. The U.S. government should continue to use these individual sanctions to build internal pressure for change, but abandon a failed strategy of relying on sanctions as a direct tool to force regime change. Instead, U.S. policymakers should consider lifting them in exchange for more immediate concessions like an improvement in electoral conditions, restoring opposition parties, allowing international observation, and freeing all remaining political prisoners.

“Maximum pressure” is a failure everywhere it is tried. It uses an indiscriminate weapon against an entire nation in a vain effort to topple their government, and it devastates the population while leaving the leadership relatively unscathed. It has been a disaster for the Venezuelan people, it has made a political transition less likely, and it has not served any American interests. The U.S. needs to scrap this policy for a much more flexible and smart approach. Our government needs to reject collective punishment and it has to give up on the fantasy of bringing down the government, and perhaps then some progress towards a transition might be made.

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Legal Weed Versus Law and Order, With Democrats Trapped in the Middle

Nancy Pelosi wanted to court voters with drug reform. Now worries about crime have her moderate members balking.

Can’t Americans agree on anything these days? One point of consensus seems to be that we should all be able to light up. Late last year, the Pew Research Center found that Americans support legalizing marijuana by a margin of 67 percent to 32 percent, close to a mirror image of what those numbers looked like 20 years ago. And unlike on some issues, there wasn’t a racial or class-based gap: whites were about as likely to favor legalization as blacks, GED holders the same as postgraduates. Fifty-five percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents thought weed ought to be permitted.

So it makes sense that House Democrats would want to leverage the issue heading into the election. To that end, back in May, they passed the SAFE Banking Act, which included language that would have shielded financial institutions that service the marijuana industry from federal penalties. Now they’re circulating another bill called the MORE Act. (Forget pot: the real money is in euphemistic acronyms for congressional legislation.) The MORE Act would, as Ulrik Boesen summarizes it, “de-schedule marijuana, expunge prior convictions, impose a federal excise tax on marijuana sales, provide access to capital for small marijuana businesses, and allocate revenue to people impacted by prior drug enforcement policies.”

For Democrats, the push on pot isn’t just a criminal justice issue; it’s a racial issue, a way of highlighting the disparities that exist with regard to marijuana arrests. There’s just one problem: by addressing weed, they’re running afoul of another political trend. Politico reports:

Moderate Democrats, such as Reps. Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Max Rose (N.Y.), Lucy McBath (Ga.) and Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.), have been hit by Republicans for supporting a bill to “defund the police” — despite the fact that the bill does not defund police, but rather would create a national database to track offenses and crack down on excessive force. Those attacks, however, have increased worries about how voting to expunge cannabis records will play among voters already uneasy about broad police reform.

House leaders are now talking about punting the marijuana decriminalization bill — which was planned for a vote next week — until the lame duck session, in hopes of soothing moderate worries weeks before the election and getting a higher vote count for the weed bill in return.

There are other reasons the MORE Act has stalled too, notably Congress’ failure to pass another round of coronavirus relief, which the moderate Dems are using as cover, claiming they’re too busy working on economic stimulus to deal with drugs. It may also be that they view the effort as futile: Mitch McConnell’s Senate has made it known it wants nothing to do with either the SAFE Act or the MORE Act. But the greater issue here seems to be a wariness, especially in purple districts, of an electorate that’s feeling increasingly tough on crime and of police unions that are throwing their weight around.

Whatever you think of legal pot, there’s reason enough here for proceduralist despair. How can Congress function when it can’t even take on an immensely popular issue during an election year? But the main takeaway is that the law-and-order backlash is very real (if not necessarily determinative). Pew finds that violent crime is the fifth most important issue to prospective voters, higher than gun rights, climate change, immigration, and abortion. Monmouth University finds that 65 percent of respondents think maintaining law and order is a “major problem” (though almost that same number say Trump is making things worse, another story for another day).

It may thus be that angry riots in the streets end up making a casualty out of a drug that relaxes you. So it goes in 2020, when that doesn’t even rise to the top of our political weirdness.

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Restore Aid to Yemen and End U.S. Support for the Saudis’ War

Democratic members of Congress are pressing the Trump administration to restore humanitarian aid funding for Yemen after it was cut off earlier this year:

U.S. Congress is urging the State Department to reconsider U.S. assistance to Yemen suspended by President Donald Trump’s administration earlier this year after a plea from humanitarian groups last month appeared to fall on deaf ears, redoubling attention on years of U.S. policy missteps in the war-torn country.

Humanitarian relief organizations appealed to the U.S. to resume humanitarian aid for Yemen a few weeks ago because the aid suspension was causing tremendous harm to the civilian population. They noted that the U.S. is the only government using humanitarian aid funding as leverage. The official reason for the aid suspension was Houthi interference and diversion of aid. Interfering with the delivery of aid is wrong and harmful, but halting aid entirely makes the problem far worse. It is unacceptable to hold humanitarian aid funding hostage to the administration’s misguided attempt to apply pressure on the Houthis. Notably, no Republicans will be signing the House and Senate letters on this issue:

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is working on a companion letter to Pompeo in the upper chamber, a former U.S. official familiar with the effort said. But Republicans have refused to sign onto either effort, seeing the push to restore U.S. aid in Houthi-controlled areas as a red line, according to a House aide, though Democrats remain hopeful that Pompeo will consider restoring assistance if it is tied to diplomatic progress.

It is unfortunate that no Republicans will join this appeal, since it should be very easy to support providing humanitarian aid to people in a conflict that our government has made so much worse. It may seem like a waste of time to appeal to Pompeo to do the right thing, but it is important for members of Congress to call attention to this latest shameful chapter of our government’s worst, most inexcusable policy.

In one sense, U.S. humanitarian aid has been a band-aid that our government has applied to a problem that it is actively making worse by backing the Saudi coalition. While U.S. aid funding is critically important and needs to be restored, there would not be such a great need for humanitarian aid if our government weren’t enabling the war that has caused and deepened the humanitarian crisis to begin with. The U.S. ought to restore the aid, but an even better thing that our government could do is to pull the plug on all U.S. military assistance to the Saudis and their allies. The Trump administration has made clear many times that it has no intention of doing the latter, but that is what needs to be done to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis over the longer term.

There was another quote in the Foreign Policy report that demands a response:

Some experts say the United States has backed itself into an impossible corner. “[The United States] ended up in this dilemma where if they don’t help the coalition, the attacks will be worse in terms of the humanitarian impact. But if you do help, you may be accused of culpability in indiscriminate attacks,” said Elana DeLozier, a research fellow and expert on Yemen at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Here we are in this dilemma, and the answer is there’s no good way out except to prevent this dilemma in the future.”

This statement assumes that U.S. involvement in the conflict has lessened its humanitarian impact, but there is no reason to believe this is true. The U.S. has been complicit in Saudi coalition crimes from the start. That is why State Department officials have been worried for years about U.S. officials’ liability for war crimes committed in Yemen, and that is why Trump administration officials at the State Department have tried to cover up the extent of that complicity:

The civilian death toll from Saudi Arabia’s disastrous air war over Yemen was steadily rising in 2016 when the State Department’s legal office in the Obama administration reached a startling conclusion: Top American officials could be charged with war crimes for approving bomb sales to the Saudis and their partners.

Four years later, more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials say the legal risks have only grown as President Trump has made selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Middle East nations a cornerstone of his foreign policy.

Yet rather than taking steps to address the legal issues, State Department leaders have gone to great lengths to conceal them. Even after a State Department inspector general investigation this year revealed that the department had failed to address the legal risks of selling bombs to the Saudis, agency officials ensured that details of the finding were put in a classified part of the public report released in August, and then so heavily redacted that lawmakers with security clearances could not see them.

Our government’s assistance seems to have done nothing to mitigate the harm that the bombing campaign has done. That has always been the convenient lie that top officials have used to defend an indefensible policy of supporting this war. Saudi coalition airstrikes have consistently been hitting civilian targets at least one-third of the time throughout the war, and the Saudis and their allies have repeatedly ignored U.S. recommendations on what they shouldn’t attack. Yemen’s infrastructure has been devastated by the bombing, and there has been a deliberate campaign to target the country’s food production and distribution. By continuing to back the war and provide the coalition governments with weapons, the U.S. has ensured that the coalition will keep the war going, and it is the continuation of the conflict that is driving the humanitarian crisis.

There is no dilemma for the U.S. here. Our government can continue to aid and abet war crimes, or it can withdraw its support from the coalition and make it much more difficult for them to commit those crimes. Pretending that the U.S. is somehow stuck with the Saudi coalition and can’t cut them off is just another weak excuse to maintain a monstrous policy.

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Mrs. Pompeo asked State Dept. Staff to Help with Personal Christmas Cards

Both Mike and Susan Pompeo have been accused before of misusing State Department resources for personal gain.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks out of the West Wing.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Despite rules barring public employees from completing personal errands, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s wife Susan requested the help of top State Department staffers to finish personal Christmas cards during the holiday week, according to newly revealed emails obtained by McClatchy.

In a personal email to longtime aide and State Department employee Toni Porter written on Dec. 19, 2019, Susan Pompeo asked for help with the cards, according to McClatchy.

“I see that you are out of the office all next week. Do you know, is Joe also out? I’m wondering if we are sending the last of our personal cards out, who will be there to help me. Mike will not want to go outside you and Joe for this assistance.”

Porter, who is an adviser to Mike Pompeo, forwarded the email to another senior State Department official, who agreed to complete the cards but warned: “I’d worry about asking others for personal things.”

Porter reportedly felt “uncomfortable” about the holiday card request, according to testimony from the House committee’s probe.

As I previously reported for TAC, while the Democrats are investigating whether State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was fired for probing last year’s expedited $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, The American Conservative found

another, more direct reason for the IG’s abrupt firing: just days before Linick was removed, he sent a request for information about the “donor dinners” otherwise known as “Madison Dinners” that Pompeo has been hosting on the taxpayer dime for corporate and media big wigs.

Before coronavirus cancelled them, the “Madison Dinners” were elaborate, unpublicized State dinners that Pompeo and his wife Susan hosted in Diplomatic Reception Rooms beginning in 2018. A bevy of big wig political donors, corporate CEOs, and conservative news media celebrities were invited to the dinners funded by taxpayers…

The Christmas card errand is not the first unusual personal errand involving the Pompeo family that Democratic lawmakers on the House committee have been investigating. Last year, they began probing “a whistle-blower complaint that Mr. Pompeo, his wife and adult son were asking diplomatic security agents to run personal errands, including picking up Chinese food and the family dog from a groomer. The whistle-blower said agents had complained they were ‘UberEats with guns,’ according to CNN, which first reported on the accusations,” reports The New York Times.

While very few Trump administration officials have managed to secure a political appointee staffer, Susan Pompeo has one at the State Department, even though she is not employed by the State Department. Susan Pompeo also often accompanies her husband on long, taxpayer-funded trips overseas.

“In January 2019, she went with him on an eight-day journey across the Middle East—which raised questions among some officials because most State Department employees, including those supporting the trip, were working without pay during a partial government shutdown,” reports The New York Times. “Mrs. Pompeo has also flown with her husband on multi-night trips to Switzerland and Italy, which included a visit to the secretary’s ancestral home region of Abruzzo.”

Both President Trump and Pompeo have repeatedly denied that there was any wrongdoing involving the removal of the Inspector General. Pompeo has also said he was unaware that Linick was investigating alleged misuse of State Department funds by him and his wife. Pompeo said the idea that he fired Linick because the IG was about to investigate and uncover his own impropriety is a “nasty insinuation” aimed at “misleading” the American people.

In a statement to McClatchy, the State Department responded to the holiday card reports, “It is not a revelation that Mrs. Pompeo, like all the spouses of our dedicated diplomats, is a tremendous force multiplier for our diplomatic mission. We are beyond proud and honored to have Mrs. Pompeo, and all diplomatic spouses, give so much time, voluntarily, to ensure we here at State are One Team with One Mission. All her service is not only legal, but admirable.”

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Podcast: Michael Anton on the Coming Coup and “The Stakes”

Plus, the new Oscar requirements and Trump's announced Iraq drawdown

Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Anton, author of “The Flight 93 Election,” joins the hosts to talk about his new book, The Stakes, and his essay about the apparent coup being planned by elements of the Democratic Party, military and media. In the intro, whether we can trust the troop drawdown announcements, and in the final segment, the new Oscar requirements.

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The Democrats’ Great Surrender on Foreign Policy

Unified behind Joe Biden, they've got the withdrawal blues, as their presidential hopeful pledges to keep troops in the Middle East.

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the parking lot outside the United Auto Workers Region 1 offices on September 09, 2020 in Warren, Michigan. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The battle is on for the foreign policy soul of the Democratic Party, or at least it was on. Stars and Stripes reported yesterday that Joe Biden has reiterated that he’ll leave a troop contingent in the Middle East, even while claiming he wants to bring the “forever wars” to a close. Biden also acknowledged that he doesn’t envisage serious cuts to the defense budget, preferring to redirect the military’s efforts towards larger threats like Russia and China.

That sounds an awful lot like the “pivot to Asia” that Biden failed to help accomplish the last time he held executive office. It’s also yet another slap in the face to what remains of the principled progressive left, which still broadly supports bringing the troops home. And perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Given Biden’s history, given the Grima Wormtongue-like presence of liberal interventionists like Susan Rice and Samantha Power, given the various threats at the convention to impale Vladimir Putin on a flagpole, given the total sidelining of Tulsi Gabbard, it seems the Democratic Party has made its choice.

For a glimpse into this mindset, consider a recent op-ed at Bloomberg by James Stavridis. Stavridis is an accomplished military man and scholar, a retired admiral and former supreme allied commander of NATO; he was also listed as a potential veep for Hillary Clinton in 2016. And he is very worried about Donald Trump’s proposed troop withdrawal from Iraq. He writes:

It will first and foremost embolden the Islamic State. The American presence has been the glue holding together the coalition against ISIS, largely through non-combat functions such as logistics, medical care and intelligence-gathering. While a full-blown ISIS resurgence seems unlikely right now — at least in part because the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has boosted its military presence on its side of the border with Iraq — we still must be mindful that the remaining embers could reignite.

It’s worth remembering that hawks spent years insisting Assad and the Islamic State were not really in opposition, that you could get rid of the former without availing the latter. Yet now Assad is (rightly) being given credit for helping cool the ISIS presence in Iraq. That ISIS presence is sustained by a number of factors: the instability of the Iraqi government, widespread corruption and extortion, deep-rooted underground networks, the coronavirus, poverty. These problems are systemic and protracted; there isn’t much even a substantial American troop presence could do about them, as the George W. Bush years well proved. If we stay until they’re resolved, until all of Stavridis’ “embers” are snuffed out, we’re going to be in Iraq forever.

Stavridis again:

Second, a U.S. departure will be celebrated in Tehran. The Iranians will rightly see this as America walking away from the region it did so much to destabilize. …And it will give Iranian leaders a strong talking point about how they are (finally) pushing the Americans out of the region. And what helps Iran also helps its allies, Russia and Syria — America’s other implacable foes in the region.

Says who? When was it decided that Iran, Russia, and Syria were our “implacable foes”? Did Congress debate this? Was there input from the public? Might it not be a trifle dangerous to use the language of friends and foes against Russia, a nuclear-armed power, over tracts of desert where we have little national interest to speak of? And who cares what the Iranians would think of an American withdrawal? What could constitute a greater surrender to Tehran than allowing their gloating to dictate our foreign policy?

Stavridis sums up the Trump withdrawal this way:

Winners: Islamic State, Iran, Russia and Syria.  Losers: America’s allies. And, of course, the people of Iraq, who will slip further under Iranian control. All with no significant savings in money or lives.

This assumes the Iraqi people have no autonomy of their own, that they’re just chum in the tides stirred up by greater powers. But those same Iraqis are currently demonstrating in the streets against Iranian (and American) influence over their politics, which has genuinely weakened Tehran’s position in Iraq. And if we’re going to invoke the people of Iraq, then we might consider the stated will of their elected representatives. After the Soleimani assassination back in January, the Iraqi parliament voted for our troops to leave.

What’s striking about Stavridis’ arguments isn’t that they’re novel; it’s that they’re the same lines hawks have have been mouthing for years, battle-tested during the Syria debate and persisting ever since. Now the latest Democratic ticket has internalized them, same as the last Democratic ticket. Whether Trump’s cynical, eleventh-hour, politically motivated withdrawals will bring the troops home is an open question; whether Biden will is an on-the-record no.

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Trump Boasts That He ‘Saved’ Mohammed bin Salman After the Khashoggi Murder

Jamal Khashoggi (Al Jazeera/You Tube screen grab)

The president reportedly bragged to Bob Woodward about shielding Mohammed bin Salman from the backlash over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi that the crown prince had ordered:

“I saved his ass,” Trump had said amid the US outcry following Khashoggi’s murder, the book says. “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop.”

The report isn’t so much a revelation as it is a confirmation of our worst assumptions about Trump’s dealings with the Saudis. He takes pride in shielding a despot for the murder of a journalist and regime critic when there is every reason to believe that the crown prince was responsible for ordering the murder, and he boasts about “stopping” Congress as if protecting a foreign political figure from the action of our elected representatives was part of his job description. It’s also worth noting that the president didn’t really “stop” Congress from acting in response to the murder. On the contrary, the backlash to the killing and Trump’s attempted whitewashing was so great that Congress passed a number of resolutions the next year to oppose U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen and to block proposed arms sales to the Saudis and the UAE. He vetoed the resolutions, but by taking the crown prince’s side against Congress and the Constitution he made critics of the U.S.-Saudi relationship even more determined to downgrade it. This is the disgraceful record that the president wants to celebrate.

The quotes taken from the book support what we had already seen back in 2018 and during the Yemen debate in 2019. The president wanted to cover up Mohammed bin Salman’s crimes and continue U.S. support for the Saudis because he was hungry for making more arms sales deals:

“He says very strongly that he didn’t do it,” Trump said. “Bob, they spent $400 billion over a fairly short period of time.”

The $400 billion figure seems to have been invented out of thin air, but the amount is beside the point. Trump is confirming that the crown prince and the Saudis get a pass from him because they buy U.S.-made weapons, and that is the only thing that really matters to him here. It is important to remember that in light of the president’s more recent remarks where he criticized “the top people at the Pentagon” for wanting to start wars and enrich weapons manufacturers. Trump’s public and private statements about the Saudi relationship and his multiple vetoes of Congressional resolutions opposing arms sales make clear that he thinks selling weapons to client states and boosting profits for weapons manufacturers is his priority. No one has been more interested in ensuring that the “companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy” than Trump, and he has done that at the expense of civilians in Yemen, justice for Mohammed bin Salman’s victims, and the Constitution.

Trump repeated something to Woodward that he has said before publicly about the Saudis’ dependence on U.S. support:

“They wouldn’t last a week if we’re not there, and they know it,” he said.

If that were the case, that would make Trump’s complete failure to use this extraordinary leverage all the more damning. The president has had many opportunities to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, and instead he has fought to keep that involvement going at considerable political cost to himself. He boasts to Woodward that he “saved” Mohammed bin Salman from backlash over the Khashoggi murder, and he makes it clear that he did this to keep U.S. weapons flowing to a kingdom that uses them to massacre civilians in Yemen on a regular basis. The latest report from the book doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t know before, but it underscores just how despicable the president’s support for the Saudis and their war truly is.

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Podcast: A Veteran’s View of Trump, Endless Wars, and the 2020 Election with Danny Sjursen

In this week’s episode, Kelley, Matt, and I spoke to Danny Sjursen, an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran-turned-antiwar activist. He talks about the most recent rift between Trump and the military and what veterans really think about the president and his policies. You may be surprised. We also talk about how successful—or not— Democrats will be in trying to turn the military community against him.

Listen to the episode in the player below, or click the links beneath it to subscribe using your favorite podcast app. If you like what you hear, please give us a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher, which will really help us climb the rankings, allowing more people to find the show.

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Trump Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize, Thanks to 39-Year No ‘New War’ Streak

A leader of NATO's delegation recommended the U.S. President, saying he has done far more for world peace than Obama.

Donald Trump at "Keep America Great" rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 2020.  Gage Skidmore/Flickr

President Trump has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, thanks to his role in brokering a historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and for breaking a 39-year streak of U.S. presidents leading the U.S. into a new war.

Trump was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a leader of Norway’s NATO delegation. He said he nominated Trump because he believes the Israel-UAE deal is a “game changer” in the Middle East that could presage several other peace deals. The agreement is far more momentous to world peace than anything done by President Barack Obama before he won the prize back in 2009, he said. 

The deal is only the third Arab-Israeli peace deal negotiated since Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, and marks the first time a diplomatic relationship has been established between Israel and a Gulf Arab country.

“For his merit, I think he has done more trying to create peace between nations than most other Peace Prize nominees,” Tybring-Gjedde said. “As it is expected other Middle Eastern countries will follow in the footsteps of the UAE, this agreement could be a game changer that will turn the Middle East into a region of cooperation and prosperity.”

Tybring-Gjedde also noted Trump’s efforts to reduce the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the President’s global effort to avoid bringing the U.S. into new conflicts. 

“Indeed, Trump has broken a 39-year-old streak of American Presidents either starting a war or bringing the United States into an international armed conflict. The last president to avoid doing so was Peace Prize laureate Jimmy Carter,” Tybring-Gjedde wrote.

A member of Norwegian’s libertarian Progress Party, Tybring-Gjedde said he is not a Trump fan, though he has nominated Trump before — in 2018, for Trump’s peace talks with Kim Jong Un. Trump did not win.

“This president has created peace around the world, drew down endless wars. This is a president who is very much deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News.

Trump’s odds of winning the prize aren’t great — he trails the World Health Organization and environmental activist Greta Thunberg, and his odds are just above those of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to OddsChecker, an odds comparison site.

“Plenty of observers will instinctively turn their noses up at such a prospect, but Trump has broken a 39-year-long streak of U.S. presidents leading the nation into a new war,” OddsChecker spokesman Pete Watt told the Washington Examiner.“Beyond that, he has facilitated a degree of peace between two bitterly divided nations — no mean feat.”

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