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Dave Brat on Why There Are No Free Markets

Also, looking to 2022 and getting deposed by a CIA agent

Former Congressman Dave Brat has been at the center of some of the biggest political dramas of our times, starting with his upset defeat of Eric Cantor. In 2018 he became the latest elected official deposed by CIA agents, when he was beaten by Abigail Spanberger. Arthur and Ryan talk to him about 2022, and why there are no free markets.

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Michael Flynn Pardoned: A Probable End to a Weird, Winding Saga

For most on the left, he acted with craven criminality. But for many on the right, the former national security adviser’s plight became a cause célèbre.

National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn (WPRI /YouTube)

President Trump announced the pardon of his initial national security adviser, the retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, on Wednesday.

“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon. Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family,” the president tweeted. He noted a holiday timing: “I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!”

Flynn originally resigned amid reports he had misled Mike Pence, then the incoming vice president, during the 2016-2017 transition between administrations. He later pled guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his communications with Russia’s envoy in America, Sergey Kislyak, after drawing the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. 

Flynn’s downfall was perhaps the most significant of the winding “Russiagate” saga that dominated much of Trump’s term and now remains a source of furor on the right. After Flynn exited the White House in February 2017, what followed was a complex array of legal twists and turns, including a move to withdraw his plea, the later intervention of Trump’s attorney general William Barr, several sentencing delays and Flynn’s sacking of his own counsel in favor of Sidney Powell, now a celebrity attorney most recently involved in Trump’s doomed effort to reverse the results of the 2020 election.

Trump’s pardon on Wednesday was a downright expected open salvo, that is, in a possible flurry of clemency actions initiated by the president in the concluding days of his administration. Such action by Trump could plausibly include an attempt to pardon himself, something legal experts are hardly unanimous is even allowed. 

Of the president’s various political contacts, ex-Trump consigliere Roger Stone, ex-Bush aide Lewis Libby, and ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich have notably been given an out from the justice system. Stone’s troubles were Russia-related while the latter duo was made up of figures from past political eras that attracted Trump’s sympathy. It is not clear if Trump will try to wipe the slate clean for his former top campaign men Paul Manafort (under a legal dragnet for separate, murky Russia ties since Trump took power, and who was briefly incarcerated) and Steve Bannon (recently indicted in an unrelated matter) before all is said and done.

But it has been Flynn’s case that the right has charged as the apotheosis of a broader political witch-hunt. Trump’s acolytes and others, including some leftist critics of the intelligence community, say the inquiry constituted an essentially baseless assault on the president from the start of his days in Washington. 

A counterterrorism whiz, Flynn served in the Army and as President Barack Obama’s Defense Intelligence Agency chief. He flamed out with the 44th president, and later became a prominent surrogate for Trump during his rise to power (he was even vetted for vice president). Obama specifically counseled Trump against retaining Flynn’s services, wary of what he saw as the ex-general’s proven, reckless style. 

Flynn was known at DIA as an uncompromising Iran hawk, later co-authoring a book with neoconservative godfather Michael Ledeen and forging a political identity in his own right. It wasn’t always pretty. While under consideration for Trump’s ticket, Flynn’s off-hand revelation (later reversed) to a reporter that he favored abortion rights betrayed a lack of understanding of the seriousness of that apostasy on the American right, and essentially sunk his outsider bid to be Trump’s principal deputy. That he joined in on the calls to incarcerate Trump’s political rival Hillary Clinton, essentially the marinade of Trump’s rallies in 2016, inspired horror among some in the military elite.

But Trump looked past the concerns of his predecessor, the ups and downs of the campaign and the snipes from Flynn’s rivals in the brass. In his briefest of tenures atop the National Security Council, Flynn notably installed Bannon on the powerful body and declared that Washington was putting Iran “on notice.” Both moves attracted controversy, though Obama had also given a senior political aide, David Axelrod, that kind of power when upon entering office and Flynn’s pronouncement presaged a ferocious line on Iran out of the White House that his demise hardly altered.

To his defenders, Flynn’s ordeal has been a political hit job of the highest order. His tale has attracted the sympathy even of those who have rejected the president, such as the columnist Eli Lake, who in a lengthy essay pronounced Flynn’s prosecution as a “railroading.”

Others have more or less argued that if there wasn’t smoke on the Russia matter, there was fire in other areas of Flynn’s professional life. Notably, Flynn had extensive, paid ties to Reccip Tayyip Erdogan’s government in Turkey that were not widely disclosed to the public ahead of his attempt at capstone government service. Trump and his team’s management of the relationship with Ankara has made critics uneasy, with some alleging, like Flynn once did, that Trump is angling for a financial cut. It’s a contention that’s fiercely denied by the president’s devotees. Others have defended Trump’s moves, which include pulling back from the alliance with Erdogan’s Kurdish opponents, as sound policy and in the U.S. national interest.

But the Turkish connection could plausibly bedevil Flynn further, or so observe some. “To my great frustration,” said Benjamin H. Friedman of Defense Priorities on Wednesday. “Reporting on Flynn’s crimes and pardon inevitably leaves out how, alongside his retracted guilty plea about lying to the FBI, he admitted to being an unregistered agent for Turkey.”

Friedman pointed out: “It’s unclear if the pardon covers that felony.”

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Back to the Brink of War Again?

President Trump and Supreme Leader Ali Khameinei. CreativeCommons, Shutterstock.

Last week, I said that there was still a danger that the U.S. or Israel might launch an attack on Iranian targets before the new administration takes over. Axios reports today that Israel is preparing for a possible U.S. attack on Iran:

The Israel Defense Forces have in recent weeks been instructed to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. will conduct a military strike against Iran before President Trump leaves office, senior Israeli officials tell me.

This report comes just a few days after news that the president had recently asked for military options for just such an attack. Earlier this week, the administration announced that it was sending a number of B-52s to the region on short notice. Last week, there was also a statement from an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader that a U.S. attack could lead to “full-fledged war.” We have to assume that an attack is being seriously considered.

It should go without saying, but the U.S. has no justification for attacking Iran. If the U.S. did attack, it would be a flagrant breach of the U.N. Charter. If the president ordered such an attack without Congressional approval, it would be yet another attack on the Constitution and a violation of his oath of office. Congress has to state unequivocally that the president has no authority to order this attack. Americans need to speak out against a new unnecessary war now before the president has presented us with a fait accompli.

Decades of Congressional abdication of their role in matters of war have had a terrible distorting effect on our system. Presidents assume that they can initiate hostilities against anyone without any consequences because Congress refuses to hold any of them accountable when they trample on the Constitution. There is no accountability for previous illegal wars, and there seems to be no political or professional price paid for starting one. That always leaves open the possibility that a president might launch an attack as he is on his way out the door. That can’t be allowed to happen. Not only would an attack on Iran almost certainly trigger a larger conflict of unknown duration and cost, but it would give Iran every incentive to pursue nuclear weapons as a deterrent against further attacks.

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Yemenis Are Being Starved to Death

The U.N. Secretary-General warned last week that Yemen faces the worst famine in decades:

Like most modern famines, the famine in Yemen is entirely man-made. It is the result of the Saudi coalition’s military intervention and economic war against the country. The U.S. has been supporting the Saudi coalition in these policies for more than five and a half years. Yemen suffers from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis because of the predictable and predicted consequences of waging a senseless war in this country, and the U.S. shares culpability for the enormous harm done to innocent civilians from the Saudi coalition’s bombing and blockade. The humanitarian crisis has worsened this year as international donations have dried up and the Trump administration has suspended aid funding to the part of Yemen where most of the people live in a destructive bid to pressure the Houthis.

As I noted last week, the administration is considering a terrorist designation for the Houthis that will cause even more harm to a population that is already struggling with widespread starvation and disease. A bipartisan group of senators has warned against issuing the designation because of the devastating effects that it would have on the people of Yemen. Sens. Murphy, Young, and Coons released this statement yesterday:

We are concerned about the adverse consequences of designating the entire Houthi movement in Yemen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. We have reason to believe that this designation would further destabilize the country, which is already the home of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, make it harder to negotiate a peace agreement, and stop the important work of the many NGOs providing lifesaving assistance in the country. This designation would almost certainly prevent the critical delivery of food, medical supplies, and other items necessary to combat both COVID-19 and famine. Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, one that on occasion has been exacerbated by ill-advised policies in recent years. Creating new, additional obstacles to the delivery of food and medical aid — during a global pandemic — is not in the best interest of the United States, our regional allies and partners, or the people of Yemen.

Peter Salisbury issued a similar warning, and he pointed out the familiar danger of overcompliance by financial institutions and companies:

The designation announcement is expected to come in December. More members of Congress need to speak out against making this disastrous decision, which will push countless innocent Yemenis into the abyss of starvation. The Postreports:

“If this is rushed through, we might see trade and financial flows dry up across Yemen, the diplomatic process blown up and the Houthis deciding they need to repay the favor by increasing the tempo of attacks into Saudi Arabia while turning to Iran for more support,” said Peter Salisbury, senior analyst for Yemen at the International Crisis Group.

As we know from other pressure campaigns, the humanitarian exemptions rarely work as they are supposed to. Even if aid groups can obtain the necessary permission, the process will be cumbersome, expensive, and time-consuming. It will inevitably impede the delivery of aid if it does not completely stop it, and that guarantees more Yemenis will die from starvation and disease when their lives could have been preserved. Strangling an economy that is already badly damaged by war and pandemic is completely unjustified collective punishment against tens of millions of people. If the administration does this, their scorched earth tactics will be responsible for a huge number of preventable deaths. It seemed impossible that the Trump administration could make their evil Yemen policy any worse, but they are determined to try.

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Tony Blinken Shows Biden’s Premium On Loyalty

Biden’s choice of secretary of state shows his personnel strategy— including its pitfalls, as the world quickly adjusts.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at a drive-in election night event as Dr. Jill Biden looks on at the Chase Center in the early morning hours of November 04, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Antony Blinken, a veteran Washington foreign policy hand and longtime consigliere to the president-elect, will be nominated secretary of State this week, most major media are reporting.

Blinken previously served as deputy secretary of State and deputy national security advisor to then-President Barack Obama and national security advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden. He has worked off-and-on for Biden in some capacity for decades, dating back to the president-elect’s marathon tenure in the U.S. Senate.

Blinken claimed territory as Biden’s chief foreign policy advisor early in his primary campaign for president, and never let go. He stayed notably close as Biden went from prohibitive front-runner to a forgotten man to then the comeback kid; Biden secured the nomination just as the planet began to shut down amid the Coronavirus catastrophe. 

Blinken’s selection echoes other early choices by the president-elect. The future White House’s political staff is already chalk full of veterans of Bidenworld, including Ron Klain as chief of staff and Mike Donillon as senior counselor. A relatively newer face with the president-elect, 2020 campaign manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillion, has been tapped as deputy chief of staff. 

But Blinken is the first loyalist whose installation requires Congressional consent.

Blinken’s nomination is seen as likely to succeed whether the Republicans triumph in Georgia in January — and hold the Senate — or not. The apparent naming of Blinken also comes as President Trump is technically contesting the election, while his campaign suffers legal defeat after legal defeat and his team of attorneys has been revealed to be in utter shambles. The blowout between the Trump and Biden teams means the transition process has not formally begun, though leading Republicans are increasingly cutting off Trump from further avenues of denial. Considered a hawkish centrist, the choice of Blinken is a relief to the American foreign policy establishment, as well as those in the GOP willing to turn the page. Top Republicans such as Sens. Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio have signaled they’ll play ball on nominees that are conventionally seen as mainstream. 

Blinken beat out Sen. Chris Coons, from Biden’s home state of Delaware, who would likely have been confirmed, as well— senators are loath to sabotage the nominations of one of their own. Sen. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, would have attracted the ire of Iran hawks. 

The leadership of the interventionist Foundation for the Defense of Democracies hailed the choice of Blinken, as it attempts to persuade the incoming administration to toe the line on Iran; the outgoing Trump administration had a de factoregime change policy on Tehran. Susan Rice — who is controversial among Republicans, and was national security advisor under Obama, as well as runner-up to be Biden’s running mate — was again denied Foggy Bottom, as she was in 2012. Veteran State hand Nicholas Burns, who served George W. Bush (and Clinton) but has since crossed over more explicitly to Democratic circles, was also passed over.

America’s would-be top diplomat was trained in the family business. Blinken is the son of Donald M. Blinken, a titan in the investment banking business and President Bill Clinton’s man in Budapest; Blinken is also the nephew of Alan Blinken, Clinton’s ambassador to Belgium, and the husband of Evan Ryan, who served as an assistant secretary of State under Obama.

The putative support for Blinken from outfits such as FDD gives some foreign policy realists the willies. Former Trump national security advisor H.R. McMaster, now with the outfit, told CBS on Sunday that President Trump’s plotted withdrawal from Afghanistan was “abhorrent.” But the organization, officially non-partisan, heavily staffed the Trump administration and is unlikely to be nearly as welcome by Biden’s team. The organization was a leading antagonist of the Obama administration — and raised hackles over the 44th president’s nuclear deal with Iran, which Biden backed and has pledged to re-enter. 

The Trump team is working hard in its waning days to tie Biden’s hands on Iran — unveiling a barrage of new sanctions and deepening its critique of the regime as terroristic. Saudi Arabia’s man in Turtle Bay, U.N. ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, told Fox News this weekend that Biden would not be “naive enough” to re-enter the old deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said U.S. re-entry into the original agreement is unacceptable. In recent hours, he is said to have flown to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the most powerful man in Riyadh. If so, it is considered their first known meeting— an encounter made more palatable in the region by the Arab-Israeli normalization process pushed hard by the Trump administration.

The concern, for some, over Blinken is not that he is a wild-eyed radical. Rather, it is that his policy views are emblematic of a broader rot within the American establishment— an establishment which has closed ranks in recent days to oppose moves such as leaving Afghanistan. Blinken was among those in the Obama administration, including Secretary of State John Kerry, who advocated privately for ramped-up military action against Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. Obama, after considerable oscillation, eventually rejected such an enhanced policy during his second term. The decision was to the disappointment of those like Kerry— as well as Blinken, who would one day be named the next Democratic secretary of State. Blinken’s critics also note that he was staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations committee in 2002– when Biden was its chairman and the upper chamber, including the future president, assented to the Iraq War. Blinken’s devotees insist, however, that he seeks — as previous administrations have tried, and failed — to focus less on the Middle East and place U.S. attention squarely on China.


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Podcast: To Build a Better Party

Pedro Gonzalez joins the podcast for a discussion on populism, Congress and the GOP

In this episode, Arthur and Ryan are joined by Pedro Gonzalez, associate editor of American Greatness, for a conversation about lessons from the 2020 election, what to expect in the next Congress, and how to realign the party.

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Attacking Iran Would Be Colossally Stupid

Iran President Rouhani and U.S. President Trump. Drop of Light/Shutterstock and Office of President of Russia.   

Last week, the president asked what options there were for attacking one of Iran’s nuclear facilities:

President Trump asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks. The meeting occurred a day after international inspectors reported a significant increase in the country’s stockpile of nuclear material, four current and former U.S. officials said on Monday.

The president’s Iran obsession has been one of the few consistent things in his foreign policy views over the last five years, and it has been one of the most dangerous. Even though he clearly lost his re-election bid, he was still entertaining the possibility of launching an unjustified and illegal attack on another country in the closing weeks of his presidency. It seems that he brought this up because of a reported increase in Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material, which was a direct result of his decision to renege on the JCPOA and wage an economic war on Iran while it was still fully complying with the deal. Having created the problem, he was considering making it far worse by launching an attack that would guarantee war with Iran. The episode is alarming for what it says about the president’s judgment and the possibility that he might try to start a war before he leaves office, and it encapsulates much of what has been wrong with his foreign policy.

Trump’s hostility to the nuclear deal makes no sense if he were really interested in preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons. Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon and it has not had a nuclear weapons program for 17 years, but attacking them for modest increases in their stockpile of nuclear material would be a good way to encourage them to do just that. In addition to being illegal and wrong, attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities would be colossally stupid if discouraging their government from developing nuclear weapons were the real goal. The president has ordered illegal military attacks against another government several times before. His openness to ordering another such attack reflects not only his knee-jerk hawkishness, but it also once again proves his contempt for the Constitution and international law. It is good that he was dissuaded from ordering the attack this time, but it shows how close the U.S. and Iran still are to a completely unnecessary war because the president violated a successful nonproliferation agreement two and a half years ago.

Benjamin Armbruster pointed out that the article, while valuable, contained a number of mistakes and framed the story in a bizarre and misleading way:

Unfortunately, that’s about where the usefulness of this report ends, as the piece engages in what many call “threat inflation” by painting a misleading picture of Iran’s nuclear program, ignoring key context —such as what might be motivating Iranian behavior — and dancing around the fact that this is a crisis of Trump’s own making.

The article makes it seem as if Trump’s willingness to order an attack is somehow reasonable. The report says, “The episode underscored how Mr. Trump still faces an array of global threats in his final weeks in office.” In fact, the episode showed how the president could become a threat to international peace and security over the next two months. There is no threat coming from Iran’s nuclear program, so there is nothing that could conceivably justify military action against their facilities. The idea of bombing Iran has become so normalized in our foreign policy debates that people tend to forget that it would be an act of unprovoked, criminal aggression by one state against another. If we are ever going to have a more restrained foreign policy, we have to insist that preventive war is an absolutely unacceptable option that should never be considered.

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Podcast: Empire Has No Clothes: The Last Days of President Trump

TAC talks last-minute troop withdrawals and eleventh-hour plots to bomb Iran.

On this edition of Empire Has No Clothes, Kelley, Daniel, and I speak to Justin Logan of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship. He discusses why the Middle East isn’t that important and whether anyone has the faintest idea what to do about China. We also talk about the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency, troop withdrawals and a possible bombing of Iran.

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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Designating the Houthis Is Another Senseless Attack on Yemeni Civilians

Yemeni child eats ready-to-use therapeutic food bag in 2017. Credit: UNICEF/USAID/Flickr

The Trump administration is preparing to go through with the terrible idea of designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization:

The Trump administration is preparing to designate Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi insurgents a terrorist organization before leaving office in January, fueling fears the move will disrupt international aid efforts and upend United Nations-brokered peace efforts between the Shiite movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, according to several diplomatic sources.

Designating the Houthis is a mistake on the merits. but It will make it more difficult to reach a negotiated settlement to end the war. It will make an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis even worse. All of this was true when it was being floated earlier this year, and it is still true today. On top of all that, there is good reason to believe that this decision is being made as a last-minute gift to the Saudis. It is also another attempt to tie the hands of the next administration:

“They have been contemplating this for a while, but Pompeo wants this fast-tracked,” said one diplomatic source. “It’s part of the scorched-earth policy the sour grapes in the White House are taking.”

The Trump administration’s Yemen policy has been a disgrace for the last four years, so it isn’t really surprising that they would do the wrong thing on their way out the door. This is just about the worst thing they could do after having already suspended U.S. aid to Houthi-controlled territory, which is where roughly 80% of the population resides. The U.N. special envoy has urged the U.S. not to do this, as have several of our allies and the Secretary-General of the U.N. Even the Pentagon and experts at the State Department are against doing this:

The U.S. Department of Defense and career experts in the State Department are said to be against the move. A coalition of international charities, meanwhile, are preparing a joint statement anticipating the designation, comparing the potential impacts to the famine in Somalia after the U.S. designated al-Shabab as a terrorist group in 2008.

The expected designation has already prompted evacuations of American U.N. staff and Americans working for other organizations from northern Yemen:

American staffers for the United Nations and some workers at nongovernmental organizations have been relocated out of northern Yemen in anticipation of the Trump administration’s possible terrorist designation for the Iran-backed Houthi rebels that is likely to complicate aid deliveries and further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country.

Humanitarian relief organizations have pleaded with the administration not to designate the Houthis because of the serious impediments this would create in doing their life-saving work in northern Yemen. A designation would not do much to harm the Houthis, and it would do nothing to Iran, but it would punish millions of innocent Yemenis who are already suffering from widespread malnutrition, starvation, and disease. Yemeni civilians will be made to suffer simply so that the administration can cater to its despotic clients one last time:

“The lives of millions of vulnerable children in Yemen are already at risk—this policy will only deepen their suffering by further restricting humanitarian access to vulnerable communities. Recent evidence continues to point to a worsening malnutrition crisis for children,” said Janti Soeripto, the president and CEO of Save the Children. “Even if a humanitarian exemption is permitted, this designation will likely make reaching children and families more difficult and could also heighten security risks for our staff and hinder the fragile peace process.”

In addition to impeding the delivery of aid, a designation gives the Houthis no incentive to compromise and encourages them to keep the war going as long as they can:

“The reality is that the Houthis must be part of any final negotiated settlement to the conflict in Yemen, and designating them a foreign terrorist organization could be taken by the Houthis as a signal that they cannot achieve their goals at the negotiating table,” said Kate Kizer, the policy director for the advocacy group Win Without War.

“That’s a recipe for more war and suffering for the Yemeni people, not peace,” she said.

Designating the Houthis is the sort of senseless, harmful posturing that the Trump administration specializes in. It makes an end to the war less likely, it will further exacerbate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and it aligns the U.S. even more closely with the wretched client states that it has been supporting for the last five and a half years. Many more innocent Yemenis will needlessly die if the administration makes this designation, and the U.S. will bear responsibility for their preventable deaths.

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‘Precipitous,’ ‘Unilateral,’ and Vietnam-like: Congressional GOP Slam Trump Afghan Plan

They're not clear on what the U.S. should, or can, achieve by remaining in Afghanistan - but withdrawing will lead to another 9-11.

With few exceptions, Congressional Republicans united in slamming President Donald Trump for his announced decision to reduce the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan to 2,500 by Jan. 15. One Republican senator even compared Trump’s Afghanistan  drawdown to the situation in Saigon during the Vietnam war.

There are currently roughly 4,500 U.S. service men and women deployed in Afghanistan.

Republicans described the drawdown plan as “precipitous” and “unilateral” — even though the war in Afghanistan has been proceeding for 19 years, Trump promised the drawdown during his 2016 campaign, and the proposed plan leaves a residual force in Afghanistan.

“A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday.

Speaking from the Senate floor, McConnell said a U.S. drawdown would “embolden” the Taliban and give al-Qaida “a big, big propaganda victory and a renewed safe haven for plotting attacks against America.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) slammed the decision to withdraw and said the Trump administration has “yet to explain why reducing troops in Afghanistan… is a wise decision for our national security interests.”

“You can’t simply unilaterally draw down troops,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Armed Services Committee. “I think it’s a serious mistake to unilaterally walk away.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, compared the drawdown to Vietnam.

“The concern would be it would turn into a Saigon-type of situation where it would fall very quickly and then our ability to conduct operations against terrorist elements in the region could be compromised,” said Rubio, in a brief interview with Politico. “That’s my primary concern right now.”

Rubio’s bizarre statement, which implies that the U.S. should have kept fighting in Vietnam, is representative of the disjointed responses from GOP members of Congress. They’re not clear on what the U.S. should, or can, achieve by remaining in Afghanistan — but they’re certain that withdrawing will lead to another 9-11.

The aim of the war in Afghanistan, launched just after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, was to destroy al Qaeda. The war’s aims soon mushroomed to include conquering the Taliban and creating a Western-style democratic Afghan government capable of ruling and protecting the Afghan people.

Over 2,300 Americans have died in Afghanistan. The U.S. has spent $2 trillion on the war. Yet today, the Taliban controls more territory than it did when the U.S. invaded in 2001. By some estimates, Kabul controls only a third of Afghanistan’s 407 districts.

Last February, the U.S. and Taliban agreed that the Taliban must renounce al Qaeda and terrorist attacks as a precondition for a U.S. withdrawal. That hasn’t happened. In October, Afghanistan had its highest civilian death toll in over a year.

“It is imperative, for our own national security, that a counter-terrorism force remain in Afghanistan until conditions warrant their removal. A counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan is an insurance policy against another 9/11,” said Trump confidant and hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Graham then explicitly rejected the terms of the withdrawal agreement the U.S. made in February saying he is  “hopeful but very suspicious of any efforts by the Taliban to reject al-Qaeda in any meaningful way.”

“Withdrawing troops rapidly might make some people feel better, but it won’t be good for American security,” wrote veteran Rep. Dan Crenshaw. “We will be right back in the same place as pre-9/11. No deterrence, no situational awareness, vulnerable to emboldened terrorists.”

Crenshaw and many Congressional Republicans are ignoring some key facts.

Since 2001, U.S. forces have killed Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

Today, “al-Qaeda is in crisis” and “is no longer capable of conducting large-scale attacks,” according to Christopher C. Miller, the new acting secretary of defense and recent director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Although the Taliban hasn’t been vanquished, it is unlikely to risk the territorial gains it has achieved by allowing Afghanistan to launch a 9-11 style terrorist plot.

Despite the united images conjured by so many Republicans in their response to Trump’s drawdown announcement, the facts provide little grounding for their fears.

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