Attacking Congressional Oversight to Sell Weapons to War Criminals
Trump is mad that lawmakers were doing their job.
The Trump administration is considering ending the process of giving Congress informal notification about pending arms sales:
While congressional aides were not surprised by the proposed move, which they said the Trump administration has been considering as far back as two years, a decision to end the informal consultation would be seen as a major slight to Capitol Hill’s oversight authority.
“That would be viewed as going nuclear,” said Juan Pachón, the communications director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez.
Arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE have become a point of contention between Congress and the administration because the president is determined to evade Congressional oversight in order to keep the weapons flowing to the war criminals in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Last year, the administration abused a provision in the Arms Exports Control Act to declare an “emergency” that didn’t exist in order to expedite arms sales that most members of Congress wanted to block. The bogus emergency declaration led to the passage of several Congressional resolutionsdisapproving of the arms sales, and then the president vetoed those resolutions. That bogus emergency declaration has since become the subject of investigation by Steve Linick, the State Department’s Inspector General, who was then fired at Secretary Pompeo’s urging earlier this year.
Now the administration is considering another way of restricting Congress’ role in overseeing arms sales. Note that this isn’t happening because Congress is blocking arms sales for frivolous or purely partisan reasons, but because the weapons being solid to these governments are used to commit war crimes against civilians in Yemen. Congress is rightly challenging a monstrous policy of arming war criminals, and the president is looking for every loophole he can find to make sure that the war criminals get the weapons. Both houses of Congress have voted more than once to end U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen, and Trump has stubbornly refused to halt our government’s shameful support for the Saudi coalition. Taking away informal Congressional notification of pending sales is an attempt to destroy Congress’ influence over arms sales in general and the U.S. government’s support for the war on Yemen in particular.
It’s absolutely insane how completely committed Trump is to helping Saudi Arabia obliterate Yemen. https://t.co/svKo6mICA0
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) June 25, 2020
The New York Timesreports:
If adopted, the change would effectively end congressional oversight of the sale of American weapons and offers of training to countries engaged in wars with high civilian casualties or human rights abuses.
As we already know, the administration can’t be trusted to make good decisions about these arms sales, and the Saudi and Emirati governments cannot be trusted to have them. In addition to using U.S.-made weapons to kill civilians, both governments havetransferred weapons to third parties in Yemen in violation of their end-user agreements with the U.S. U.S.-made weapons have been given to militias and terrorists, and there have been no consequences for either government for breaking their commitments. The Pentagon’s investigation into UAE violations was effectively a whitewash to allow arms sales to resume.
The Foreign Policyreport continues:
“I’m concerned that this could facilitate the sale of weapons under less than ideal circumstances and could lead to an almost lackadaisical approach to selling weapons with destructive power around the world,” said Andrew Miller, a former National Security Council director during the Obama administration and now deputy director for policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy. “They’re determined to continue flooding the Gulf with weapons.”
This is particularly disturbing when we know that the administration has been working behind the scenes with the Saudi government to facilitate more arms sales through the shady connections between the Saudi crown prince and Trump’s son-in-law:
Equally concerning to some lawmakers is that the administration is sometimes using channels to grease the wheels for arms sales that aren’t visible to authorizers on Capitol Hill, a congressional aide said, including by private communications between Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman, the de-facto leader of the country.
“That operates in the background on these things,” the aide said. “It was MBS ringing Kushner that really brought that stuff to a head last year.”
Without meaningful Congressional oversight of arms sales, it will be a free-for-all of selling weapons to some of the worst governments in the world. Given the Saudis and Emiratis’ record to date, there is no telling where those weapons may end up in the future or how they will be used.
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NASCAR and Country Music Capitulate to Cancel Culture
The two industries’ woke posturing is a big win for those seeking to fundamentally reframe America.
Cancel culture sure is moving fast. Over at National Review, there’s a live “cancel counter,” detailing the ever-growing number of long-established monuments, people, and brands we’ve suddenly realized are unfit for polite society in the past few weeks. The list is, as expected, completely ridiculous. Among the cancelled are the State of Rhode Island (whose former full name, ‘The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations’, was insufficiently woke) and the TV show “Cops”. Just today, we also say goodbye to Disney’s popular Splash Mountain ride.
It’s most surprising, though, to see former bastions of pop-culture conservatism fully capitulating to wokeness as well. NASCAR’s reputation as the province of red state America is well-earned. Despite its few PC gestures in recent years—most notably its affirmative action-style Drive for Diversity program—NASCAR has remained mindful of its fanbase’s overwhelmingly conservative bent. The NRA has long advertised in NASCAR’s three national series, and is still on board as the title sponsor for this September’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race in Bristol, TN. NASCAR holds a public, televised Christian invocation before every race, which has featured the likes of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson in the past. And just this past February President Trump paced the field at the Daytona 500 to resounding cheers from the crowd.
NASCAR shares much of its fanbase with country music, as former CMA Entertainer of the Year Brad Paisley—an avid NASCAR fan himself—noted before his performance at the Daytona 500 in 2011. So it’s unsurprising that Nashville has been similarly reticent to comment on hot-button cultural issues that could run afoul of its audience’s sensibilities. Taylor Swift, who has become increasingly supportive of en vogue social movements like gun control and gay rights since leaving Nashville, was famously mum on politics while still releasing country records.
Even those country singers who try to address contentious cultural issues have faced backlash. Paisley provoked a firestorm with his 2013 song “Accidental Racist,” an earnest-but-cringey duet with rapper LL Cool J that sought to address racial and regional differences. Despite Paisley’s good intentions, lines like “I’m just a white man coming to you from the Southland, trying to understand what it’s like not to be,” and LL’s “If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains,” were routinely skewered by national media.
The “Accidental Racist” episode should have been a lesson for country music: You don’t get the benefit of the doubt from our cultural elites. Instead, Nashville has doubled down on its attempts to appear woke. Grammy award-winning pop-country trio Lady Antebellum announced last week that they would drop the latter part of their band name: “We are regretful and embarrassed to say that we did not take into account the associations that weigh down this word referring to the period of history before the Civil War, which includes slavery.” Never mind that they chose the name to reflect “the Southern ‘antebellum’ style home where we took our first pictures.” (In a perfect turn of events, the newly-christened Lady A failed to check whether their now-untainted band name was already taken, and were promptly accused of “appropriation” and “white privilege” by long-time Seattle-based blues singer, Lady A.)
The Dixie Chicks followed suit, announcing today that they will now be called “The Chicks”. (Unlike Lady A, they made sure to receive the blessing of their predecessors in nomenclature, a New Zealand-based pop duo.) The Dixie Chicks have long been progressive outliers in the country music industry, so their current woke posturing comes as no surprise. Theirs is the band that was effectively blacklisted from country radio for stating they were “ashamed” to share their home state of Texas with President Bush in 2003. But it’s noteworthy that even despite their progressive politics, the Dixie Chicks did not feel the need to change their name until this woke moment. Such is the unprecedented power of cancel culture.
Over at the racetrack, there’s the increasingly ridiculous saga of the “noose” found in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s stall at Talladega this past weekend. Wallace, the only full-time black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series and himself a graduate of the Drive for Diversity program, has been catapulted into national fame for featuring a Black Lives Matter paint scheme on his historic #43 car, and wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt during pre-race ceremonies in recent weeks. That the “noose” was nothing more than a standard garage door pull doesn’t seem to matter; corporate sponsors, the lifeblood of the sport, will now be lining up to place their logo on Wallace’s Chevy, despite his middling performance on the track.
What’s perhaps most perplexing about this capitulation is its short-sightedness. Our cultural moment is yearning for leadership. Contrary to the constant posturing from corporate media and coastal elites, this is not, in fact, a racist country. The majority of Americans are not on board with cancelling our history and casting aspersions on law enforcement. NASCAR and country music, of all major cultural industries, were best positioned to blow the whistle on this madness. They could have provided a much-needed respite from the woke meltdown—and most likely added to their bottom line in the process.
Instead, they bowed to the pressures of the moment. In response, we’ll see the continued decline of NASCAR’s popularity, the continued transformation of country music into suburban pop, and fans’ continued realization that the suits in Charlotte and Nashville harbor as much disdain for them as do their corporate counterparts in New York and Los Angeles.
NASCAR and country music may be digging their own graves, but their demise is nevertheless lamentable. The two industries were once rare bastions of substantial cultural power that, for the most part, actually liked this country, warts and all. Their capitulation to this woke moment is a big win for those seeking to fundamentally reframe America; it knocks down two of the last remaining cultural institutions not fully beholden to the poison of identity politics. That fans of racing and traditional country music may now turn to local dirt tracks and indie records is little consolation. Let’s hope that Lady A, The Chicks, and NASCAR’s faux-noose saga are more anomaly than trend.
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Podcast: Empire Has No Clothes, Episode 8: Trump’s Cult of the Presidency
TAC talks executive power and the latest tension on the Korean peninsula.
This week on Empire Has No Clothes, TAC‘s podcast about foreign policy, we talked with Gene Healy, author of The Cult of the Presidency, about Donald Trump’s abuses of executive power and whether there’s any hope of reining him in. We also discussed North Korea’s escalation of tensions with the South and whether there could still be a rapprochement between Trump and Kim Jong-un.
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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Twitter’s Woke Left Sans-Culotte LARPers
Progressives have decided to defend the French Revolution. Another 2020 day in the books.
Twitter on a good day is a raging and inextinguishable house fire of ignorance and hatred. So when yesterday “French Revolution” started trending on the platform, you knew it was going to be not just appallingly dumb but a little meta.
It all began when Senator Lindsey Graham—I don’t think I’ve ever defended him in public before—sent this tweet…
It appears the French Revolution has now come to the Democratic Party based on initial primary results from New York and Kentucky.
If you had any doubts about who is in charge of the Democratic Party ALL doubts should have been removed.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 24, 2020
…and went from there as the woke left’s resident historians readied an epic fact check! There was this (since deleted):
The French Revolution, you say? In which rising social and economic inequality led to a democratic overthrow of a monarchy and the establishment of a republic? That French Revolution? https://t.co/A4dSz6FAhh
— Dan Saltzstein (@dansaltzstein) June 24, 2020
And of course this:
Is Lindsey aware that the French Revolution, inspired by the American Revolution a few years earlier, toppled an authoritarian regime in the name of equality and natural rights? Liberté, fraternité, égalité, Lindsey! 🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/wyEmkEbU7e
— James Gleick (@JamesGleick) June 24, 2020
All of which seemed to overlook this:
Yes, the French Revolution was inspired in part by the American Revolution, with Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson acting as kind of intellectual emissaries between the two. But it wasn’t a sequel so much as a demonic mirror image. The Terror sent thousands to the guillotine, not just smug Monseigneurs but people of all classes, including those who themselves had been revolutionaries, as the uprising turned to cannibalism. In the September Massacres, Parisians, fearful of an advancing Prussian army, rioted and slaughtered more than a thousand prisoners in only four days. In the Vendée, tens of thousands of civilians were massacred by “infernal columns” because they’d been deemed counterrevolutionary.
The revolution manifested itself in a febrile Rousseauian nationalism that sank France into a decade of wars with other European powers and culminated in Napoleon. But that nationalism was loyal only to the new republic, and in order for that country to exist, all that came before it had to be wiped out. Hence the slaughter, the revolutionary calendar, the replacement of Christian feast days with cultish “rationalist” ones. It was, in fact, a time of unreason, impassioned by fear, innuendo, and a nihilistic determination to destroy. The notion that this was the same as the American Revolution, whose patriots (at least at first) were fighting to preserve their rights as Englishmen, is nonsense. The argument that it was at all analogous to our own founding ignores the Framers’ fear of direct democracy and the mob. The idea that it had to happen in order for France to become a republic ignores all the other nations that made that transition without first immolating themselves.
As Burke addressed the French Jacobins, “You began ill, because you began by despising everything that belonged to you.” That should sound uncomfortably familiar. Today America has its own revolutionaries—not oppressed sans-culottes, though they like to think they are—who shriek for statues to come down, landmarks to be renamed, the national anthem to be junked. Lindsey Graham goes too far in saying the Democratic Party has internalized the French Revolution. Woke Twitter and the rioting vandals, however—that’s another story.
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Jamaal Bowman Ousts Inveterate Hawk Eliot Engel
The voters removed a long-time, unrepentant interventionist from an influential position in Congress last night.
Democratic primary voters in New York’s 16th district have propelled progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman to a resounding victory over incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel, the current chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee:
Middle school principal Jamaal Bowman is very likely headed to Capitol Hill after unseating New York’s longest-serving Congress member, Rep. Eliot Engel, in the state’s June primary elections.
Engel has been a fixture in the House for decades, and he has been one of the most consistently hawkish Democrats. The primary election was not decided by issues of foreign policy, but there were important differences between Engel and Bowman on these issues. Engel has been a vocal backer of practically every hawkish policy in the Middle East, and he was one of the Democratic House members to vote for the 2002 Iraq war resolution. Bowman used Engel’s foreign policy record to draw a sharp contrast between the wasteful militarism of Washington and the domestic needs that he wants to prioritize:
“You voted against President Obama’s Iran [nuclear] deal. You said on CNN just this past June that you didn’t want to tie Trump’s hands when it came to strikes on Iran,” Bowman tweeted at Engel in January, as he urged his rival to sign on to a Democratic push to strip Pentagon funding for offensive military action against Iran. “You’ve belatedly come around after being pushed by our communities and the grassroots.”
Bowman has attacked Engel for accepting campaign donations from major defense contractors, which regularly contribute to both Democratic and Republican candidates during election cycles.
“My opponent accepts donations from corporations and arms manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. He supports a hawkish and costly foreign policy agenda instead of focusing on the communities in our district that have been neglected for far too long,” Bowman said.
As Bowman puts it, he is running to be “a Democrat who will fight for schools and education, not bombs and incarceration.” The voters removed a long-time, unrepentant hawk from an influential position in Congress last night, and that is something to be applauded.
Engel had become too out of touch with his constituents (he spent most of this year in Maryland), and Bowman’s message tapped into growing dissatisfaction with social and economic inequality. Bowman’s successful primary challenge has understandably been compared to the campaign of fellow New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but Engel’s defeat reminds me more of Eric Cantor’s surprise loss. Like Cantor, Engel lost first and foremost because he had stopped paying attention to his district and his voters. Engel’s absence was all the more conspicuous during this pandemic, and Bowman took advantage of the incumbent’s apparent indifference.
The primary result was a rejection of Engel, but more than that it was a repudiation of the party establishment that rallied too late in an attempt to save him:
The race there had illustrated the sharp schism in Democratic ranks, with Mr. Bowman backed by many of the Democrats’ most outspoken progressives and Mr. Engel, fighting for his political life, seeking rescue from more centrist party leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
In the end, the effort to keep Engel afloat with endorsements from party leaders just underscored how distant from his voters and their concerns he had become. Engel’s leadership position on the Foreign Affairs Committee will most likely go to another similarly hawkish Democrat next year, but Engel’s defeat is a message to Democratic leadership that they cannot continue with business as usual.
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Thomas Massie Crushes and Progressives Trail as Kentucky Stiffs the Culture War
Yesterday's elections in the deep red Bluegrass State remind us that national politics isn't always real life.
The last time we saw Congressman Thomas Massie, he was ticking off everyone in Washington (same as the time before that and the time before that and…). Massie back in March infamously objected to a voice vote on the $2 trillion COVID stimulus package, forcing virus-wary members to return to the Capitol and form a quorum. The hysteria that ensued was, in retrospect, kind of funny. For the crime of forcing congressmen to make like millions of other essential employees and go to work, Massie was denounced as a “third rate Grandstander” by the president, who called for him to be thrown out of the GOP. House Republicans also trashed Massie, only to later file a lawsuit against Nancy Pelosi’s remote voting policy that employed the same constitutional reasoning he had.
That stimulus vote and Massie’s broader reputation as Dr. No were enough to earn him a serious primary challenge this year. His opponent, Todd McMurtry, clung to Trump like cellophane and claimed Massie was obstructing the president’s agenda. In Kentucky’s Fourth District, which voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton 65 percent to 29 percent, that’s a serious charge. The election was yesterday and the results are in:
Rep. Thomas Massie was declared the winner in Kentucky’s fourth district GOP primary Tuesday, despite President Trump’s past calls to “throw” Massie out of the Republican Party.
“Tonight’s victory sends a strong message that Republican voters in the 4th District of Kentucky want someone to represent them in Washington who will consistently stand up on principle, defend life, and support the Constitution,” Massie wrote in a statement Tuesday night.
Massie beat his challenger, Todd McMurtry with an 88 percent lead with 73 percent of the precinct votes in when The Associated Press called the race.
I don’t think, as many do, that this was some bracing repudiation of Trump. Massie also courted the president during the campaign, and McMurtry was found to have made disparaging comments about Trump on social media. I do think, however, that it shows that the boldfaced assumptions we sometimes make about politics aren’t always helpful. Massie is a libertarian who was condemned by the president; McMurtry is a Trump lover who sued CNN on behalf of the Covington Catholic kids. From 20,000 feet up, that looks like McMurtry in a wash. Yet local politics is more granular than that. It draws upon issues and curiosities that national observers can’t always see. And even in these unsettled times, it remains difficult to unseat an incumbent.
At least we can thank McMurtry for inspiring one of the better neocon rope-a-dopes of the year. After Massie stalled the coronavirus aid, a livid Congresswoman Liz Cheney rushed to donate to McMurtry’s campaign. Approximately seven seconds later, it emerged that McMurtry had sent racially inflammatory tweets, including one that complained about “some cartel-looking dude” who was “playing a video of some wild Mexican birthday party at full volume.” Whoops! Cheney promptly tripped over herself demanding that her donation be returned. And here we thought regime change in Kentucky was going to be a cakewalk.
In other news out of the Bluegrass State, Democrats there are deciding who will challenge Mitch McConnell for his Senate seat in the fall. That primary, between Amy McGrath and Charles Booker (among others), is still up in the air, as NBC News reports:
With 10 percent of the vote in by Wednesday morning, McGrath led Booker, 44 percent to 39.6 percent, a margin of slightly over 2,000 votes. But that tally includes only votes cast in person at the polls on Tuesday; none of the substantial number of mail-in ballots that could determine the outcome have been counted and will not be for days.
This is a classic Democratic contest between a shapeshifting establishmentarian with union backing (McGrath) and a progressive true-believer who’s inspired excitement among activists (Booker). McGrath was ordained two years ago by Chuck Schumer as national Democrats’ choice to challenge McConnell. She’s attracted criticism for flip-flopping over Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination she first supported then opposed. Whereas Booker made headlines when he marched against the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. He likes the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.
It was, we should acknowledge, a good night overall for progressives, with Booker still in contention and Jamaal Bowman likely to unseat longtime Democratic rep Eliot Engel in New York. Still, it’s worth noting that in Kentucky, the usual culture war assumptions failed to stick. The dichotomy du jour would dictate that Republicans nominate the Trumpian McMurtry and Democrats the progressive Booker. That this may not happen on either end reminds us that politics can be frustrating to pin down.
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Navy Will Dump Beloved Capt. Crozier After All
They now say he didn't follow guidelines in wake of COVID outbreak which affected more than 1,000 of his sailors.
UPDATED 6/20 9:40 a.m. ET
Maybe the Navy was just buying time or maybe they got more information, but according to reports the service is not going to reinstate Capt. Brett Crozier to his command of the USS Roosevelt.
It also looks like, in order to take politics out of the picture, the Navy is blaming Crozier and his Admiral Stuart Baker, whose promotion is now on hold, for bad leadership and for not following COVID guidelines—and not for Crozier’s controversial April email pleading for help, which got him in trouble (and made him a hero) in the first place. This is a new twist.
From a press briefing by the investigating officers Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations and Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite on Friday:
“While I previously believed Captain Crozier should be reinstated, following his relief in April, after conducting an initial investigation, the much broader, deeper investigation that we conducted in the weeks following that had a much deeper scope,”(Gilday) said.
The deeper investigation concluded that Crozier and the Strike Group Commander, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, “did not do enough, soon enough to fulfill their primary obligation … and they did not effectively carry out our guidelines for events spread of the virus,” according to Gilday.“Both Admiral Baker and Captain Crozier fell well short of what we expect of those in command. Had I known then what I know today, I would have not made that recommendation to reinstate Captain Crozier. Moreover, if Captain Crozier were still in command today, I would be relieving him,” he said.Though Crozier has been relieved of command of the ship, he is expected to remain in the Navy.Baker will also be held accountable for poor decision-making and his promotion is being put on hold, the Navy said in a statement.“They were slow, eggressing sailors off the ship. And they failed to move sailors to available safer environments quickly,” Gilday said. “When obstacles arose, both failed to tackle the problem head on and to take charge. And in a number of instances they placed crew comfort in front of crew safety.”
The Navy described Capt. Crozier responding slowly to the outbreak on the carrier even as his email pushed for a faster response. As the virus spread, Capt. Crozier released sailors suspected to carry the virus from quarantine, Adm. Gilday said. The Roosevelt’s commander also didn’t craft a plan to get sailors off the ship quickly once it docked in Guam.
“This all about what Capt. Crozier failed to do within his span of control,” Adm. Gilday told reporters. “His ship, his crew, his plan.”
The investigation did not fault Crozier for sending the email and attached memo but faulted him for not having all the facts in hand, leaving off people that needed to see it, and not warning Baker in advance that he was sending it.Gilday reiterated Friday that Crozier was not relieved because of the email or the subsequent leak but he made clear they were what sparked the controversy.“The determination that I just mentioned about his not being reinstated to command, and the action holding the strike group commander’s promotion in advance, that’s not about the email that he sent, and it’s certainly not about the fact that it leaked,” he said.
It is convenient for the brass that the news cycle and public attention have since turned to other pressing matters—reopening the country, police killings, protests. Luckily for the crew, out of the ultimately 1,273 sailors with COVID, one in five ended up being asymptomatic, a fact Crozier did not or could not know at the time of his actions.
But the definitive way the case has been closed—pretty much taking the email for which Crozier has been lauded out of the equation and making this more about leadership and process—guarantees we don’t be hearing about this again, one retired top Naval officer told TAC.
“I’ll bet a paycheck no one wants to ever discuss this again,” he said. “We won’t be hearing from Crozier again.”
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Podcast: Empire Has No Clothes, Episode 7: Where West Point Went Wrong
TAC talks with author Tim Bakken who exposes a corrupt admissions process, mediocre academics, and failing culture.
This week on Empire Has No Clothes, TAC‘s podcast about foreign policy, we talk with Tim Bakken, author of The Cost of Loyalty: Dishonesty, Hubris and Failure in the U.S. Military. He blows the whistle on the school’s deceptive admissions process, its “superior standards,” and how all of the U.S. military academies are cultivating cadets who cannot think for themselves. He also talks about how the military culture is broken, and how it’s affecting our ability to fight wars effectively. Kelley, Dan, and I also discuss the revolt among the generals over Donald Trump’s threats to deploy the military on American soil.
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 help us climb the rankings, allowing more people to find the show.
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A Discredited Fanatic’s Last Hurrah
No one is damaged more by Bolton's book than Bolton himself.
Matt Purple is right when he says that John Bolton’s new book is just “career CPR by a war-happy Washington insider.” One of the things that has stood out in the manyreports and reviews of the book this week is how little new information Bolton reveals. An insider account should at the very least contain a lot of things that people couldn’t have already picked up from reading the news or watching television, and according to the initial reports the book doesn’t provide that. For instance, Bolton “reveals” that the North Korea negotiations were just a P.R. stunt and the president had no interest in a real agreement, but anyone paying the slightest attention could see that from the outside. The few newsworthy details that have come out, such as Trump’s willingness to interfere with law enforcement as a favor to foreign governments and his endorsement of the Uighur detention camps in Xinjiang, also show how indifferent Bolton was to the president’s abuses of power and indulgence of authoritarian governments. Bolton was content to let the president do whatever he wanted as long as he got to push for more aggressive policies and new wars, and it was only when he realized that he wasn’t getting his war with Iran that his attitude began to change. Then he saved up whatever he knew about the inner workings of the Trump White House so that he could get a payday instead of doing his duty to the country. No one is discredited more by Bolton’s book than Bolton himself.
Every book Bolton has written seems to be an elaborate exercise in score-settling more than anything else. The thesis of every Bolton book seems to be that he alone was competent and everyone around him was a fool, and he insists on this even when the evidence of his own policy failures mounts from North Korea to Venezuela. Bolton is not a reliable witness and has a record of manipulating and distorting intelligence to push for the policies he wants, so we should treat his account as the polemical and self-serving work that it is. It may contain some evidence that will be useful in reconstructing the history of the Trump administration, but it should be used very carefully with the understanding that Bolton acts and argues in bad faith.
There is a good deal of catty gossip meant to embarrass Bolton’s former colleagues. These claims may be true, but Bolton also has an incentive to make things up to make his rivals look bad. When Bolton was fired last year, the delight on the faces of Mike Pompeo and Steve Mnuchin was impossible to miss, so it comes as no surprise that Bolton makes sure to include anecdotes about both of them that he thinks will damage them. In Pompeo’s case, Bolton exposes the Secretary of State’s private expressions of disdain for the president, and that undercuts Pompeo’s assiduously cultivated habit of bootlicking. Pompeo fired off a short statement denouncing the book and labeling Bolton a “traitor,” but this was such obvious damage control that no one will take these denials from a serial liar seriously. As for Mnuchin, Bolton thinks he is mocking the Treasury Secretary when he recounts his concerns about the overuse of sanctions, but this actually makes Bolton look like the fool who can’t think more than one step ahead. Bloomberg reports:
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin emerges as the chief opponent of the Trump administration’s increased reliance on economic sanctions in John Bolton’s new book, worried that an over-reliance on such measures will weaken the global primacy of the dollar.
Mnuchin’s worry was justified, and we are already seeing how other governments, including allies, are trying to find ways to create alternatives that the U.S. doesn’t control. Bolton’s hostility to this legitimate concern is part and parcel of his bankrupt, hard-line worldview in which the U.S. should always be applying more pressure to compel others to do what Washington wants. Bolton was so obsessed with regime change in Venezuela, for example, that he found Mnuchin’s concern for the effects of sanctions on U.S. firms to be unacceptable:
Mnuchin’s greatest sin, according to Bolton, is his concern about the effect sanctions would have on the U.S. economy, rather than thinking about the foreign policy goals Bolton wanted the administration to achieve. He describes a standoff over Venezuela sanctions in which Bolton said his own view was that “Treasury was not entitled to its own foreign policy.”
“As Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, (a renowned financier much more politically conservative than Mnuchin, who was basically a Democrat) said to me in April, ‘Stephen’s more worried about secondary effects on US companies than about the mission,’” Bolton writes. “Which was completely accurate.”
Bolton thinks he is scoring a huge hit by saying that Mnuchin worried more about how a policy affects Americans than the “mission” of regime change, which just drives home how fanatical and bad for America Bolton’s foreign policy obsessions are. If we learn anything from Bolton’s book, it is that Bolton was a terrible and dangerous National Security Advisor, and the country is better off now that he will never again serve in government. But then, like most of the other things contained in the book, we already knew that.