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The ‘Nightmare’ of a Failed North Korea Policy

This is the result of the president's vanity and his instinct to side with hard-liners and maximalists.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with U.S. President Donald Trump during the Singapore summit June 12.

North Korea marked the second anniversary of the Singapore summit by declaring diplomacy with the U.S. dead:

North Korea on Friday said that two years of diplomacy with President Trump had “faded away into a dark nightmare,” and vowed to increase its nuclear weapons capabilities.

“Even a slim ray of optimism for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula has faded away into a dark nightmare,” the country’s foreign minister, Ri Son-gwon, said in a statement on Friday marking the second anniversary of a historic summit meeting between Mr. Trump and the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

The danger of Trump’s pseudo-engagement has always been that it could never lead to a substantive agreement, and then when it inevitably failed it would sabotage any chance for real negotiations. The souring of U.S.-North Korean relations has also undermined President Moon’s engagement policy, which is now on life support as North Korea has cut off communications with Seoul. Pretending to pursue a diplomatic solution without doing any of the legwork or preparation needed to make diplomacy successful ended up producing nothing more than high-profile photo ops, and it tantalized the North Koreans with the possibility of sanctions relief without delivering on it.

The president wanted the spectacle of summits, but refused to do any of the work that would be required to secure meaningful concessions. He was never willing to settle for a modest arms control agreement, and he kept listening to the bad faith advice of hawks who urged him to demand a “big deal” that North Korea would never accept. The administration’s North Korea policy was the result of the president’s vanity and his instinct to side with hard-liners and maximalists. In the years to come, hawks are going to try using this fake engagement as a reason to oppose the real thing.

The reason for the impasse is the same as ever. The Trump administration remains wedded to a fantasy of North Korean disarmament, and that is something that North Korea has never had any intention of doing:

Although Washington continues to make “nonsensical remarks that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is still a secure goal of the United States,” North Korea’s strategic goal is “to build up a more reliable force to cope with the long-term military threats from the U.S.,” Mr. Ri said​ on Friday​.

Many hawkish critics have faulted Trump’s effort because it supposedly gave away too much to North Korea in exchange for nothing. It is a measure of how badly the policy has failed that the North Koreans feel the same way:

“In retrospect,” Mr. Ri said on Friday, all Washington has been doing was “accumulating its political achievements.”

“Never again will we provide the U.S. chief executive with another package to be used for achievements without receiving any returns,” he said.

It seems clear that the failure of Trump’s North Korea policy will make it much more difficult for a future administration to reenter negotiations with their government. Making impossible demands and refusing to offer even meager concessions have been the defining features of Trump’s “maximum pressure” policies, and they have predictably yielded nothing but greater antagonism and distrust.

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Podcast: Empire Has No Clothes Episode 6, How to Exit the Empire

TAC talks the end of American hegemony and the perils of listening to Tom Cotton.

This week on Empire Has No Clothes, we talked with Dan Nexon and Alexander Cooley about their new book, Exit from Hegemony: The Unraveling of the American Global Order, and the direction of U.S. foreign policy in a post-hegemony world. Kelley, Matt, and I also discussed Tom Cotton and why his proposal to use the military in American cities is so terrible.

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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Sanction-Happy Trump Slaps Some on U.S. War Crime Investigators

Embargoes are the tools of empire in its late stage, but they are also starting to smack of temper tantrums.

“This is about empire in its late stage,” said one sage student of military history in a recent conversation about the growing use of sanctions to bring countries and international people we don’t like to heel.

I would tend to agree. The most recent administrations have racked up the number of sanctions at a dizzying pace. According to regular TAC contributor Doug Bandow, the number of individuals under some sort of U.S. embargo is now up to 8,000—some 3,100 were added by the Trump Administration alone! When George W. Bush took office, five countries were under sanctions—now there are 21.

All despite a bounty of evidence that they don’t work, and are counterproductive. They strengthen the hand of the regime we are trying to hurt while condemning ordinary people with no political power to change anything to grinding poverty and a growing animus towards the U.S. (see Iran).

Now the Trump Administration is adding—get this—International Criminal Court workers, to the long list of embargoed souls.

According to the Associated Press today, the president has signed an executive order “authorizing economic sanctions and travel restrictions against court workers directly involved in investigating American troops and intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.” More:

The executive order authorized the secretary of state, in consultation with the treasury secretary, to block financial assets within U.S. jurisdiction of court personnel who directly engage in investigating, harassing or detaining U.S. personnel. The order authorizes the secretary of state to block court officials and their family members involved in the investigations from entering the United States. The ICC-related travel restrictions go beyond what the State Department issued last year….

…(White House press secretary Kayleigh) McEnany said that, despite repeated calls by the United States and its allies, the ICC has not embraced reform. She alleged the court continues to pursue politically motivated investigations against the U.S. and its partners, including Israel.

The U.S. is not a signatory to the ICC. Washington has always, to varying degrees, been a strong opponent of the court and a critic for the reasons raised by McEnany. According to a report by The New York Times this morning, the latest fracas surrounds an investigation into accusations of torture and violence by U.S. troops during the Afghanistan War, as well as U.S. use of “black sites” in Eastern Europe, to which terror suspects were spirited, outside the laws of the Geneva Convention and internationally accepted rules of war, to be tortured in clandestine CIA facilities.

From the NYT: 

Last year, (Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, after she had signaled her intent to pursue the allegations. He also vowed to revoke visas for anyone involved in an investigation against American citizens.

Ms. Bensouda has said that the court had enough information to prove that U.S. forces had “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence” in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and later in clandestine C.I.A. facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania — all three countries that are party to the international court.

TAC has written exhaustively about the torture during the Global War on Terror, war crimes committed by civilian parties and soldiers under the authority of the U.S. government in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere. There has been zero accountability or punishment for those who had committed these crimes, except for low-level perpetrators and those who blew the whistle on it.

So, it comes to no surprise that the Trump Administration is actively shutting down any attempts to investigate this and that he and Pompeo are especially attacking the ICC for making it a priority. What is extraordinary is the repeated use of sanctions to punish those we do not agree with, as if that will magically disappear the underlying disagreements and force silence on our international critics. There must be other ways to not comply with an investigation by a court to which we have no party. But we have allowed our diplomatic tools to rust and degrade while we used the military to solve our problems for the last 20 years. Now, we deploy crushing economic punishments like a cudgel to get our way. The ‘do as we say not as we do’ approach to war and international order has made us a paper tiger among our enemies, and our allies too. 

Embargoes (agree with them or not) once announced Washington’s position with a weight incomparable on the world’s stage. Now they are as numerous as Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous “snowflakes” and outside of the aforementioned harm they do to real people, look more like temper tantrums than serious policy. Late stage of empire indeed.


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Mission Creepy: DEA Swims In Alphabet Soup of Protest ‘Security’

An agency known for its illegal searches and spying jumps into the free for all. Here's how it affects you.

Drug Enforcement Administration police are seen as demonstrators marched to Freedom Plaza from Capitol Hill to honor George Floyd and victims of racial injustice on Saturday, June 6, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Not surprisingly, the federal government is now using the excuse of the protests to give its federal drug warriors a piece of the action—the action being ginormous crowds of Americans gathering in centralized places, ripe for mass data collection, secret identification and tracking, and maybe even a narcotics bust for good measure.

According to this document reported by Buzzfeed last week, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been deputized with policing powers to conduct surveillance and intelligence sharing and other activities during the protests, including interviews, searches, “intervening” in protection of other federal officers, and making arrests outside its official mission of drug enforcement.

In addition to the National Guard inside D.C. and U.S. troops (including infantry soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne) standing “at the ready” outside the city, the Justice Department started deputizing law enforcement officers across the agency spectrum beginning early last week to secure the protests, which have since calmed considerably since May 31 when the DEA memo was signed. No doubt the FBI’s own agents had already infiltrated the crowds in all major cities and were conducting the kind of “intelligence gathering” aka spying, that the DEA wants to do. The need for the DEA now, especially as the violence has largely subsided, is questionable.

But the DEA wanted to leap in and requested they be tasked with this extra duty. For those still unconvinced there is little self-restraint by government when it comes to flexing its “policing” power over its own people, here you are. Remember, this is the same DEA that has used the largely failed Drug War to ramp up a massive spying program on Americans, one that preceded the NSA’s controversial wiretapping by years, according to reports in 2015. Federal agents, including DEA are frequently involved in numerous lawsuits in federal court over intrusive, illegal surveillance and searches.

Make no mistake, this is an aggressive, well-funded  arm of the federal law enforcement state with wide ranging powers to spy, search, arrest, and put away suspects for life.

So for all we know now, DEA agents are infiltrating the George Floyd protests, ostensibly to ferret out violent actors, but who is to say they don’t get a free hand to use the mass gatherings to build DEA databases, eavesdrop, track drug suspects and their friends, and cruise the crowds for busts? This makes the memo all that more troubling. The black community has been on the short end of the 40-year war on drugs for so long it has become a sad cliche: the minimum sentencing and three-strikes laws beginning with the crack epidemic in the 1980’s literally destroyed inner-city communities, exacerbated gang violence, and left millions of young black men incarcerated to this day. 

That the AG invited this aggressive agency into the current mission creep says so much about the Deep State, its absolute need to self-sustain and justify itself and jump on any available bandwagon. Not only does this cost the taxpayers’ money and resources, it puts all of our basic rights—to peacefully assemble, express our opinions and be free of unconstitutional spying, searches, and excessive force by armed authorities—at risk. Remember, if it’s not BLM today, it may be a Second Amendment demonstration tomorrow. As long as you are protesting the government, you’re fair game.

None of this is escaping public scrutiny or the attention of some members of Congress, particularly after reports of surveillance planes over protests last week. In a letter sent to the Department of Justice’s General Council on Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers expressed “deep and profound concerns that the surveillance tactics of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Guard Bureau, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) during the recent protests across the U.S. are significantly chilling the First Amendment rights of Americans.”

These lawmakers will no doubt be called out for their partisanship, but their concerns should be shared by all. They cite the “dirtboxes” on those aforementioned surveillance planes over Washington D.C., which we know can collect cell phone location data of individuals below. They also called attention to authorities’ use of facial recognition technology, license plate readers, and “stingray” devices which are similar to the dirtboxes in that they mimic cell phone towers allowing police to pinpoint and track individuals’ location (and all of their contacts) using the targets’ own cell phones. Most importantly, all of this technology can be used as a dragnet, extending the long arm of the law well beyond the suspects of actual violence and criminal wrongdoing and into the swell of law-abiding demonstrators. From CityLab in 2017: 

Cell site simulators have aroused the ire of privacy advocates because they can seize data from thousands of phones nearby that may be irrelevant to an ongoing police investigation. What is known about police use of these tools suggests that these invasive data pulls are not distributed randomly. A recent CityLab analysis, for example, found that interceptions were overwhelmingly deployed in low-income and black neighborhoods. Black Lives Matter and left-wing activists have reported the suspected use of cell site simulators at numerous political demonstrations over the last fifteen years.

According to this report, the DEA was generous enough to lend its own helicopter for surveillance above the Black Lives Matter protests in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Saturday.

“Based on the footprint of the planned event, we felt that an overall aerial view was paramount in ensuring the safety of all participants,” Kevin Watts, local police spokesman, told reporters in an email. “DEA’s asset was available and we took advantage of it.”

Sadly, like conjuring a genie, that’s all it takes.

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How Interventionists Hijack the Rhetoric of Morality

Even a bog-standard hawk like Biden gets criticized for lacking moral conviction if he isn't gung-ho for every unnecessary war.

Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden during a CNN town hall Friday March 27. (CCN Screengrab)

Kori Schake objects to Biden’s foreign policy record on the grounds that he is not hawkish enough and too skeptical of military intervention. She restates a bankrupt hawkish view of U.S. military action:

This half-in-half-out approach to military intervention also strips U.S. foreign policy of its moral element of making the world a better place. It is inadequate to the cause of advancing democracy and human rights [bold mine-DL].

The belief that military intervention is an expression of the “moral element” of U.S. foreign policy is deeply wrong, but it is unfortunately just as deeply-ingrained among many foreign policy professionals. Military intervention has typically been disastrous for the cause of advancing democracy and human rights. First, by linking this cause with armed aggression, regime change, and chaos, it tends to bring discredit on that cause in the eyes of the people that suffer during the war. Military interventions have usually worsened conditions in the targeted countries, and in the upheaval and violence that result there have been many hundreds of thousands of deaths and countless other violations of human rights.

Destabilizing other countries, displacing millions of people, and wrecking their infrastructure and economy obviously do not make anything better. As a rule, our wars of choice have not been moral or just, and they have inflicted tremendous death and destruction on other nations. When we look at the wreckage created by just the last twenty years of U.S. foreign policy, we have to reject the fantasy that military action has something to do with moral leadership. Each time that the U.S. has gone to war unnecessarily, that is a moral failure. Each time that the U.S. has attacked another country when it was not threatened, that is a moral abomination.

Schake continues:

Biden claims that the U.S. has a moral obligation to respond with military force to genocide or chemical-weapons use, but was skeptical of intervention in Syria. The former vice president’s rhetoric doesn’t match his policies on American values.

If Biden’s rhetoric doesn’t match his policies here, we should be glad that the presumptive Democratic nominee for president isn’t such an ideological zealot that he would insist on waging wars that have nothing to do with the security of the United States. If there is a mismatch, the problem lies with the expansive rhetoric and not with the skepticism about intervention. That is particularly true in the Syria debate, where interventionists kept demanding more aggressive policies without even bothering to show how escalation wouldn’t make things worse. Biden’s skepticism about intervention in Syria of all places is supposed to be held against him as proof of his poor judgment? That criticism speaks volumes about the discredited hawkish crowd in Washington that wanted to sink the U.S. even more deeply into that morass of conflict.

One of the chief problems with U.S. foreign policy for the last several decades is that it has been far too militarized. To justify the constant resort to the threat and use of force, supporters have insisted on portraying military action as if it were beneficent. They have managed to trick a lot of Americans into thinking that “doing something” to another country is the same thing as doing good. Interventionists emphasize the goodness of their intentions while ignoring or minimizing the horrors that result from the policies they advocate, and they have been able to co-opt the rhetoric of morality to mislead the public into thinking that attacking other countries is legitimate and even obligatory. This has had the effect of degrading and distorting our foreign policy debates by framing every argument over war in terms of righteous “action” vs. squalid “inaction.” This turns everything on its head. It treats aggression as virtue and violence as salutary. Even a bog-standard hawk like Biden gets criticized for lacking moral conviction if he isn’t gung-ho for every unnecessary war.

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Podcast: Trump and the Protests

Featuring TAC's own Curt Mills

This week’s special edition is fully devoted to events in Washington following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, featuring TAC senior reporter Curt Mills, and a final section on the religious dimensions, both on Trump’s side and the protestors’, of the conflict.

Right Now: A current affairs podcast hosted by Arthur Bloom, Helen Andrews, and Ryan Girdusky

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Cotton’s Appalling Militarism

The same fanaticism and militarism that warp Cotton's foreign policy views are on display here.

Tom Cotton calls for military intervention in the United States:

One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers. But local law enforcement in some cities desperately needs backup, while delusional politicians in other cities refuse to do what’s necessary to uphold the rule of law.

Cotton made a version of this argument earlier in the week when he was calling for sending active military units into American cities to show “no quarter” to looters. In other words, he was openly calling for committing war crimes against American citizens just days before this op-ed ran:

“A no quarter order is a war crime, prohibited even in actual insurrection since Abraham Lincoln‘s signed the Lieber Code in 1863,” conservative attorney David French tweeted. “Such an order is banned by international law and would, if carried out, be murder under American law.”

Cotton’s vile statement provoked a great deal of criticism, so there is no way that The New York Times‘ editors didn’t know this background when they published the later piece. He doesn’t use the “no quarter” language in the op-ed, but we know this is his position and it is implicit in his statement that an “overwhelming show of force” is required. He repeatedly refers to rioters as “insurrectionists.” This misrepresents the nature and extent of the disorder, and Cotton conflates riot with insurrection to provide an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act. Cotton makes no effort to demonstrate that deploying the military to American cities is actually necessary. He asserts that local law enforcement needs backup in some places, but he offers no proof that the situation demands such an extreme response. He says that many cities are “in anarchy,” but he cannot back up that claim anywhere because it isn’t true.

Using the military domestically is an extraordinary measure that should be considered only in catastrophic conditions. It is dangerous and outrageous to call for such extreme action when it is not absolutely necessary. The governors in the states that have been most affected by unrest don’t want military intervention, and as recently as this week the Secretary of Defense said that invoking the Insurrection Act was not warranted. Cotton’s eagerness to use the military in this way reflects both his own horrible judgment and his knee-jerk, hard-line approach to every security problem. The same fanaticism and militarism that warp his foreign policy views are on display here. Cotton’s argument is particularly obnoxious under the circumstances. The unrest across the country has been sparked by the excessive use of force by police, and over the last week we have seen many more examples of gratuitous police brutality against peaceful protesters. Putting soldiers on the streets risks inciting more violence and inviting more abuse.

One of the growing problems in the U.S. is the ongoing militarization of the police. Police officers are not only being equipped with military gear and vehicles that should have no place in domestic law enforcement, but in some cases they are behaving as if they were an occupying force rather than as the protectors of their communities. That in turn leads to more unjustified uses of force against American citizens. Further militarization of law enforcement by deploying troops to our cities will make these problems worse, and it will further erode public trust in both their local police and the military.

Just as the military shouldn’t be used to police other countries, it should not be used to police this one. The American people aren’t insurgents to be opposed by occupying forces. Americans should recognize Cotton’s idea for the ugly authoritarian poison that it is, and they should reject it.

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‘Mad Dog’ Mattis Rips Into Trump’s Photo Op and Troop Deployment Threat

More military voices are dissenting.

Outgoing Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (Office of the Secretary of Defense).

President Trump’s former Secretary of Defense James Mattis has taken umbrage with the current Secretary of Defense’s use of the term “battlespace” referring to a federal security crackdown to recent protest-inspired violence on U.S. city streets. And that’s not all.

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

He referred to reports yesterday that peaceful protesters around the White House—as well as media and Episcopal clergywere forcibly removed with pepper balls, flash bangs and the aggressive use of plastic shields from the area to make way for the president’s photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. The county government of nearby Arlington, Virginia, was so incensed by the spectacle that they removed all of their police officers from the city by 8 p.m. that night.

Monday night’s staged sojourn by the president also included Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley, who said later that they had no idea “where they were going” when asked to walk with the president, though they were seen overseeing “their troops”  while cameras rolled.

The stagecraft accompanied Trump’s announcement that federal troops would be ordered to D.C. and to cities across the country —against governors’ wishes if need be — to quell the violence in the streets. A move that has been endorsed by some of my fellow writers on this page. 

[Many have cited the June 1, Morning Consult poll that found that 58 percent of respondents favored “calling in the military” to quell the violence on city streets. Note from the actual language that it suggests the choice of governors to do the “calling,” not imposition by Washington. This has been a hotly debated issue among commenters here at TAC.]

Nonetheless, Trump’s law and order declaration did not, however, go down well with everyone inside the military, as TAC’s Mark Perry pointed out on TAC yesterday. But James “Mad Dog” Mattis is the highest ranking former officer to say it publicly.

When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict— between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.

Some will no doubt criticize Mattis, who left the administration shortly after Trump had announced he wanted an immediate pullout of U.S. troops from Syria in December 2018, for playing politics. Mattis went on in his released statement to criticize the president for not uniting the American people, a familiar refrain of Trump’s political opponents:

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. 

This passage sent Trump’s supporters into a rage, but the more interesting from this writer’s perspective is the timing of the statement regarding troop deployment to the cities. He was joined yesterday by Gen. John Allen, the former commander of American forces in Afghanistan, who published his own broadside against Trump’s photo op in Foreign Policyyesterday, saying the crackdown on peaceful protesters and the threat of federal troops in the state “may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.”

“It wasn’t enough that peaceful protesters had just been deprived of their first-amendment rights—this photo-op sought to legitimize that abuse with a layer of religion,” wrote Allen, speaking directly of Trump’s use of the bible in the photos in front of the church, which had sustained damage from in the violent protests the night before.

Unlike other presidents in which the military has staying virtually silent—particularly under Republican leadership—there appears to be a splitting in the ranks and a willingness for service members, retired and active duty, to speak out on matters of national politics. In a way, this has been encouraged: the politicization of the military, starting in recent times with celebrity generals like David Petraeus, the media’s cooptation of military figures as “message force multipliers” and pundits, the rabid use of veterans to exploit hot button stories like the pardon of Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher or the firing of Captain Brett Crozier. Social media does not discern between active duty or veteran—everyone has an opinion.

But the military was supposed to be the one institution that was four square behind the president and he has long looked to the military to embolden his lack of foreign policy and national security experience. It is also the institution, that, for better or worse, is the most well regarded by the American people in poll after poll, year after year. It could be that this is more than anti-Trumpism (though Trump’s approval ratings have been slipping with active duty military year-over-year). Maybe the old sages like Mattis and Allen sense that their own politicization is about to undermine that regard. For those of us who are skeptical of federal armies being sent out to conduct law enforcement duties without the consent of governors, this is welcome news for us, whether we personally like these guys or not.









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To Establish Justice, America Must First Quell the Riots

Political games—quite often by Republicans—are dulling the country’s response to a reign of terror.

People cheered as the plywood on the door at Wells Fargo went up in flames near the Fifth Precinct. (Photo by Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

The good senator from Missouri — the state in which Michael Brown was killed six years ago and one of the major flashpoints of our country’s present racial strife — took to the floor this week to grapple with the nation’s rolling crises. 

“It was one week ago today that George Floyd died in the streets of Minneapolis,” Hawley said on Monday, “at the hands of Minneapolis police officers employing incredible, illegal — unconstitutional — violence. … Words cannot begin to describe the injustice that this has done to Mr. Floyd — to his family, to his community and to millions of Americans who feel caught up, who feel judged by, endangered by, imperiled by these actions. And too many others like them, over two many years, for too long in this country.”

Sen. Hawley went on to condemn reactive rioting. But dare I say he got it backwards. 

Since his impressive ascent to the United States Senate in 2018 — a year of bloodletting for most other Republicans — I have covered Hawley with great interest. He’s the upper chamber’s greenest member. At forty, he’s a rare exception to our country’s shameful gerontocracy — one need only to look at the presidential finalists this year to bear witness to America’s greatest internal liability. 

Unlike the vast majority of his colleagues, Hawley ‘gets it’: the country really is in trouble — and not from a failure to pass grander tax reform, or repeal Obamacare or to annex Iran (indeed, the Senator’s work on foreign policy is particularly visionary). Whether Hawley is acting out of sharp-eyed ambition or profound convictions (or, as is most likely, a mix of both) is both unknowable and, for the moment, irrelevant; the result would be largely the same. He has proven himself to be a refreshing force for the good. 

However, the construction of his most recent address revealed a rare misjudgment– and one that is tempting to many like-minded politicians. But the preeminent challenge is now the riots themselves.

What has been on display in the streets of American cities this week has been neither purely insurrectionary —  acts of political violence — nor simply nihilistic criminality: rather, it’s been a frightening admixture. But its emergence has now killed far more people than just Mr. Floyd and have put many American cities under a de facto fourth month of house arrest, just as they were carefully opening up. And in a development that might have been thought unconscionable mere weeks ago, mass demonstrations have further exposed the population to a virus the country just devoted three months to fighting in spectacular, unprecedented fashion. 

Those violating curfew in cities like the one I live in — our nation’s capital, now an icon of self-induced chaos — are not naive, peaceful protesters. Whether they participate in the pillaging themselves is immaterial: they are party to a riot. They are making their community less safe, and contributing to the violations of rights dearer and more fundamental than that of assembly.

As this demonic year drags on, at risk are others’ rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness —  the credo embossed on Washington’s now-desecrated national monuments. That, if I may suggest, should have been Hawley’s lede. In failing to do so, he cedes the stage to figures like Tom Cotton, a sinister, but superior politician— and one who wants shock troops in American cities. A military response is already under way — in Washington, at least — and if the chaos persists, it could be expanded nationally. Let us hope it does not come to that — but if proved necessary — it should be supported and managed responsibly.  


We should remain uncomfortable with adjudicating individual criminal cases in a mob setting. This nation has legitimate courts of law it has spent two and half centuries building — despite our manifold flaws, it’s still one of the best systems around. We should trust it more. 

It’s what helped make this country great. To abandon that for a society in which accusation alone is evidence of guilt, a Maoist conception of political justice meted out by the mob, would be a terrible mistake. One can acknowledge the obvious — the video of Floyd’s video is shocking and cries out for justice — while giving the accused their days in court and trusting the law to accomplish its purpose. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of our values.

Mr. Floyd is dead. Legislation may prevent similar tragedies in the future, and if Mr. Hawley or anyone else can come up with a coherent proposal to accomplish this, more power to them. But sermonizing has limited policy or political benefits. And I doubt it helps Mr. Floyd’s family. 

The killing of unarmed black men by police — one is too many — is a serious problem, and only one among many facing America’s poorest and most downtrodden demographic. But its extent is overstated, inflated by symbolic politics and exacerbated by the manifold other problems of our declining society. According to the Washington Post’s own statistics, there has actually been a 75% drop in such incidents over the past half decade, from 38 in 2015 to 9 in 2019.

Meanwhile, in a climate of disorder no doubt exacerbated by the riots, 84 people were shot and 23 killed in Chicago’s majority-black neighborhoods over Memorial Day weekend alone. The irony here is that this could be actually be akin to society’s spasm over illegal immigration —  just as border crossings peaked before the issue propelled Donald Trump to the White House, police abuses are trending downward just as its past consequences become clear – triggering a a psychic meltdown as its consequences are laid bare. A larger problem may be the sheer difficulty of the job of policing our heavily armed, depressed, and heterogeneous nation.

I think — tragically — there is no acceptable alternative to law and order, which remains a tough and unpleasant business.

Law enforcement is far from perfect, and grievous mistakes continue to be made. But considering the enduring public pressure on police departments and recent efforts at reform — including the White House-shepherded First Step Act — there is a case to be made that accountability for racial incidents has never been higher, with cameras on every police vest (and in everyone’s pocket). That’s how we know about George Floyd’s murder in the first place. The officers in Mr. Floyd’s case have been charged — Wednesday saw the escalation of those charges at the behest of the state’s hardline attorney general, Keith Ellsion — and if a jury of their peers decides so, they are going away for a long time. That’s our system and it’s a flawed, but fine one. Both history and the present are replete with ghastly alternatives to adjudicate the disputes of men. To abandon the rule of law would be to give the benefit of the doubt to nihilism, which consumes everything and offers nothing.

Consider the future on offer from those who so glibly celebrate the destruction of our urban spaces. In this environment, who — exactly — is going to sign up to join law enforcement? Who — exactly — is going to start a small business in a city? 

Licking their chops in all this are amoral, multinational corporations. Far from opposition, they have offered studied silence on the violence. They can take the hit. In fact, for companies like Amazon and Netflix, social atomization helps their bottom line. 

Sen. Hawley is hardly alone in his well-meaning but misguided approach. The only future the Republican Party will have in a further diversifying country will be one of standing shoulder to shoulder with those left behind: the cop putting it on the line in a collapsing American city, the minority business owner with squalid insurance, the young mother who wants to be able to walk with her kids at sundown. Begging for scraps from the table of depraved elite with a tendentious reading of this country’s history is not something that should be supported— and not something that will win.

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