Some think that Donald Trump is dangerous, a narcissistic authoritarian who plays to fear and resentment – he will make this country great again, after the Treaty of Versailles humiliated us and left us with no military at all. No, wait, that’s the other guy – but Trump says the same sorts of things, and he tells us who we should despise. No Muslims will enter this country ever again, and he’ll build that giant wall down south to keep the scum of the earth from sneaking in to rape our women and sell our children drugs, and he’ll make Mexico pay for that wall. The Jews got off easy this time – but the white nationalists and neo-Nazis love the guy anyway. He’ll slap people around. No one will ever disrespect America ever again, just as no one will disrespect him, ever, not even Fox News – and a good number of people love this sort of thing. We don’t have to be nice to anyone – not Muslims, not gays, not women, not all those odd people with odd cultures who look funny and dress funny and talk funny. No one will push us around ever again, no one will push us around ever again… that’s the message Donald Trump has hammered home. That sounds so damned good. “No one will push me around ever again, no one will push me around ever again…” – Donald Trump has taken the country by storm.
Those with long memories find this dangerous – Anne Frank’s step-sister finds this dangerous – and this leads to endless discussion of the foolishness of political correctness, if it really is foolish, because treating everyone with a bit of common decency might be a good thing. It’s a matter of whether we really should be nice to people, or can even afford to be nice to people these days, and so on and so forth.
That might be a useful discussion, in a philosophic kind of way, but that makes Donald Trump even more dangerous. It’s a distraction. The world didn’t stop because America decided to have that discussion. When no one was looking we decided to jump into another country in the Middle East:
U.S. commandos have been operating in Libya for months in an attempt to build an alliance of local militia and political leaders who would contribute to a U.S.-led war, designed to thwart the Islamic State group’s efforts to build a safe haven there should the group be driven from Iraq and Syria.
We will lead another war there:
The extremist network has established footholds around the world but none more important than in Libya, where over the last year it has found a source of income and supplies and a lifeboat if its hub in the Middle East collapses. Its success in exploiting chaos in the tumultuous North African nation has now forced the Obama administration to once again consider war in Libya, after dismantling any semblance of order in 2011 through an air campaign that covered the rebels who ousted and killed former leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
Here we go again:
Increased rhetoric from Obama’s top military chiefs about operations in Libya indicates a plan for military involvement is on the way, reportedly in the form of ground-based commandos to gather intelligence, rally local forces and call in airstrikes.
When asked Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook declined to offer specifics on current operations, but indicated the military is forging a plan akin to previous attempts to rally local support for U.S. operations.
“I’m not going to tell you exactly what the disposition of our forces are there,” Cook said. “I can acknowledge we’ve had forces on the ground previously.”
Hell, we’re there already:
Military sources say the special operations forces, like many before them who have infiltrated Libya, have gleaned valuable information and are prepared to launch operations now.
So let’s talk about Donald Trump and about Hillary Clinton too. This story got buried, which the Guardian’s Trevor Timm finds amazing:
Given that Hillary Clinton was the leading proponent inside the Obama administration for bombing Libya and regime change the first time around, this should have a direct bearing on the presidential debate.
It should but it hasn’t:
Libya has devolved into chaos since the US decided to launch airstrikes and overthrow dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and has increasingly become a base for ISIS operations in recent months thanks to infighting among the new government and its inability to control its own territory – a result that the advocates of the first Libyan intervention who hailed the move four years ago are conspicuously silent on now.
And instead of discussing the havoc military campaigns can wreak and the blowback they often engender, Republicans and Hillary Clinton have all been arguing about who is going to increase military action in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
Yep, with our European allies we got rid of Muammar Gaddafi, but there was no one to take his place. Didn’t anyone think of that? Apparently not, with Hillary Clinton now saying this:
Every situation is different. So I want to make sure I stay as close as possible to the non-intervention. That’s why I say no American ground troops in Syria or Iraq. Special Forces, trainers, yes. Planes to bomb, yes. No ground forces.
That is a curious concept of “non-intervention” – as long as the entire US battalions aren’t sweeping across the country, you’re “not intervening”. Special Forces fighting on the ground, bombs being dropped from the sky and weapons pouring into the region are fine though… More “non-intervention” is on the way!
But let’s not talk about it:
Instead of discussing expanding the still-undeclared ISIS war to a third country in Congress, where the debate belongs, it’s being leaked to newspapers by anonymous officials and treated as an inevitability. And no one is giving second thought to the fact that constitutional scholars across the political spectrum consider such a move illegal.
It continues to be amazing that this legal aspect receives almost zero attention: the US government apparently thinks it can expand the ISIS war to a third country without the congressional authorization required by the constitution (they didn’t get congressional authorization for the first Libya war either – they actually went ahead with their bombing campaign after the House explicitly rejected the idea). “The president has made clear that we have the authority to use military force,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the other day, pretending it’s a cut-and-dried issue.
Trevor is not happy with Hillary:
Unfortunately, Clinton’s idea of “ground troops” is consistent with the bizarre new definition Obama gave back in December when the Pentagon announced it would have a of roving Special Forces operating on the ground in Iraq and Syria using the Orwellian-sounding name “specialized expeditionary targeting force”.
Trevor is not happy generally:
If we are really planning on going to war against ISIS in a third country (or actually a fourth, since the Afghanistan war is now expanding too), it sure would be nice if this was debated in front of the American people and decided by our representatives, instead of in complete secrecy.
That would be nice, but what about Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly?
This is why Trump is dangerous. That sort of thing buries news stories like this:
Pentagon officials have concluded that hundreds more trainers, advisers and commandos from the United States and its allies will need to be sent to Iraq and Syria in the coming months as the campaign to isolate the Islamic State intensifies. …
With the liberation of the Iraqi city of Ramadi last month, coupled with recent gains in northern Syria, senior military leaders say that the war effort can now focus on isolating – and then liberating – the Islamic State-held cities of Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria. “The reason we need new trainers or additional trainers is because that’s really the next step in generating the amount of combat power needed to liberate Mosul,” Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the American military in Baghdad, said last week. “We know we will need more brigades to be trained, we’ll need more troops trained in more specialties.”…
The United States has had little success in persuading allies to provide more troops. But Mr. Carter and General Dunford do not want the United States to be the only source of more forces. With ISIS posing a threat to European countries, they are trying again.
We’re going back to war. This didn’t come up at the Des Moines debate, so Kevin Drum fills in the blanks:
I will note a couple of things. First, the Pentagon didn’t call for carpet bombing of ISIS strongholds. Perhaps they know something that Ted Cruz doesn’t? Second, the US has tried repeatedly to get more support from our allies, including those in the Middle East, and gotten nowhere. Some of them are willing to contribute a little bit of air power, but that’s it. None of them have any interest in providing troops. But perhaps Ted Cruz knows the magic words to change their minds.
Last night Cruz said his enthusiasm for carpet bombing wasn’t just tough talk. “It is a different, fundamental military strategy than what we’ve seen from Barack Obama.” Uh huh. In reality, it’s as much a “strategy” as Donald Trump’s call to “bomb the shit out of them.” It’s nothing more than big talk with nothing behind it. The Pentagon has no interest in this because they know it would be useless. They have a hard time finding enough worthwhile targets as it is.
But he sees what’s happening here:
Cruz and Trump really have tapped into Ronald Reagan’s military spirit, and I’m surprised the rest of the field hasn’t figured this out. Reagan basically talked tough and spent a lot of money, but shied away from foreign interventions. The invasion of Grenada and his support for the Contras were small things that never risked any US troops. He pulled out of Beirut when things got tough there, never committed any troops to Afghanistan, negotiated with the Iranians, and to the horror of neocons everywhere, nearly concluded an arms deal in with Gorbachev in Reykjavík that would have banned all ballistic missiles.
This is what Cruz and Trump are doing. They talk tough and promise to spend a lot of money, but both of them explicitly want to avoid much in the way of serious intervention overseas. And this is popular. It’s what a lot of conservatives want. If the rest of the world wants to go to hell, let them go to hell in their own way. Bill Kristol is appalled, I’m sure, but his brand of endless intervention has never really caught on – and after Iraq and Afghanistan it’s even less popular than ever. Cruz and Trump have figured this out.
That’s a charitable view, but Slate’s Fred Kaplan saw something else at that debate:
Sen. Marco Rubio started off by promising that, if – or, rather, when – he’s elected president, “We are going to rebuild our intelligence capabilities, and they’re going to tell us where the terrorists are.” Rubio seems unaware that President Obama has vastly boosted spending on intelligence and that the spy agencies’ No. 1 priority is to find terrorists. But Rubio went further: Under his administration, he said, “If we capture terrorists, they’re going to Guantánamo, and we will find out everything they know.” I think this means that he would bring back torture – a technique that George W. Bush ended in 2006. None of the other candidates, or the questioners, seemed to mind.
Sen. Ted Cruz doubled down on his colorful comment from an earlier debate that he would “carpet bomb” ISIS until the desert sands glowed in the dark – suggesting that the bombs might be atomic…
Cruz also said – obligatory in these settings – that Obama has “dramatically degraded our military,” noting that since the 1990 Gulf War, the number of U.S. planes and ships has diminished by half. Assuming those figures are true, he ignores that the combat power of those planes and ships has dramatically grown. Would Cruz prefer trading today’s military for the one of 25 years ago? That’s the right question, if he’s going to raise the issue. Any general or admiral would choose today’s.
Rubio went further, saying we now have the smallest Army since World War II, the smallest Navy in 100 years, and the smallest Air Force in history. Again, I don’t think any general or admiral would make the trade. The number of ships, planes, and soldiers is not all that counts.
These guys are wannabes talking smack, and although Kaplan doesn’t mention it, there was Obama and Romney in October 2012:
“You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets,” Obama said during the final presidential debate. “We have these things called aircraft carriers and planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”
“It’s not a game of battleship where we’re counting ships, it’s ‘What are our capabilities?'” he said.
He said his administration sits down with the military forces, including heads of the Navy, to discuss what resources they need.
Romney shut up. Some fool had given him a foolish talking point. The same fool seems to be working for Rubio and Cruz now, but those two weren’t alone:
Jeb Bush said, “We need to arm the Kurds, embed troops with Iraqi soldiers, support Sunni tribes,” and help a “Sunni-led force to take out ISIS.” He seemed unaware that President Obama is doing all of those things, though admittedly, the final and crucial piece – organizing a Sunni-led force – is slow going because some of the Sunni nations fear and loathe one another more than they fear and loathe ISIS. How would any of these candidates better deal with that problem when they apparently don’t know it exists?
Rubio, Bush, and Cruz all said they’d loosen the rules of engagement that supposedly constrain U.S. forces fighting and bombing ISIS. But they didn’t specify how they would do this (except for Cruz with his call for carpet-bombing) or what effect the loosening might have.
It was just talk, and there was the fellow from Ohio:
Gov. John Kasich, who casts himself as the reasonable moderate in these shows (he often begins answers by saying, “Look… “), replied, when asked how he would deal with the world’s trouble spots, “We have a unique opportunity to connect with people around the world because there’s an existential threat against all of them … Arabs, Turks …bring them all together” to fight ISIS. Again, it’s not as if Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry aren’t trying to do this – or as if they didn’t actually accomplish this sort of unity, with surprising success, in leading the six countries that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran.
That deal was, of course, problematic:
Of course, a Republican debate wouldn’t be complete without someone promising to cancel that nuclear deal on his first day in the Oval Office. The chore fell to Rubio this time, even though, as the moderators pointed out, the deal is already in effect, the sanctions have been lifted, Europeans are signing business contracts in Tehran, and the Iranians have dismantled much of their nuclear infrastructure, as the deal required. What, one of them asked, would America’s unilateral cancellation accomplish? Rubio replied, “Nations will have to make a choice: They can do business with Iran or they can do business with America.”
Really? He’s going to cancel all business with Europe to get out of a deal under which Iran has surrendered 98 percent of its enriched uranium, two-thirds of its centrifuges, and all its heavy water, and allowed unprecedented measures of inspection on its own soil?
Did anyone listen to what these guys were saying? No, the media was dangerously consumed with Donald Trump, but Chris Christie did score some points:
The New Jersey governor also said, with glee bordering on obsession, that as president he would prosecute Hillary Clinton to the hilt for putting classified information on her private email, saying, “She put America’s secrets at risk for her convenience … America’s intelligence officers at risk for her convenience … American strategy at risk for her convenience.”
Kaplan doesn’t think so:
First, it’s unclear what or how many secrets wound up on her private email, or how or why. Mishandling of classified information is a misdemeanor, which could turn out to be a problem for her; but even the sources of leaks about these incidents have acknowledged that she’s not the target of a criminal probe and that the lapse had no national-security impact. Second, Christie seemed to be saying that, as president, he would put political pressure on a matter that should be left to the Justice Department. But third, it seems that, fully knowing his quest for the White House is hopeless, he’s really angling for a job as President Trump’s attorney general.
That may be so, and at the end of the week things broke his way:
The State Department acknowledged for the first time Friday that “top secret” information has been found in emails that passed through the private email server Hillary Clinton used while leading the agency, elevating the issue in the presidential campaign three days before the hotly contested Iowa caucuses.
The information was contained in 22 emails, across seven email chains, that were sent or received by Clinton, according to a State Department spokesman. The emails will not be disclosed as part of an ongoing release of Clinton’s email correspondence from her years as secretary of state, even in highly redacted form.
The Associated Press adds detail:
The Obama administration confirmed for the first time Friday that Hillary Clinton’s unsecured home server contained some of the U.S. government’s most closely guarded secrets, censoring 22 emails with material demanding one of the highest levels of classification….The 37 pages include messages recently described by a key intelligence official as concerning so-called “special access programs” – a highly restricted subset of classified material that could point to confidential sources or clandestine programs like drone strikes or government eavesdropping.
Kevin Drum smells a rat:
Special access programs are the most secret of all secrets, so this sounds bad. But wait. What’s this business about drone strikes? That’s not much of a secret, is it?
He points out that last April we first heard about top secret emails on Clinton’s server and those turned out to be about drone strikes:
The drone exchange, the officials said, begins with a copy of a news article about the CIA drone program that targets terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere. While that program is technically top secret, it is well-known and often reported on…The copy makes reference to classified information, and a Clinton adviser follows up by dancing around a top secret in a way that could possibly be inferred as confirmation, the officials said.
And a recent Politico piece, when the inspector general’s office was concerned about some of Clinton’s emails, did note this:
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some or all of the emails deemed to implicate “special access programs” related to U.S. drone strikes… The information in the emails “was not obtained through a classified product, but is considered ‘per se’ classified” because it pertains to drones, the official added… The source noted that the intelligence community considers information about classified operations to be classified even if it appears in news reports or is apparent to eyewitnesses on the ground.
Okay then: the emails in question discuss a news article containing information that’s widely-known but nonetheless top secret because…um, why not?
And then he cites this:
The classified material included in the latest batch of Hillary Clinton emails flagged by an internal watchdog involved discussions of CIA drone strikes, which are among the worst kept secrets in Washington, senior U.S. officials briefed on the matter tell NBC News. The officials say the emails included relatively “innocuous” conversations by State Department officials about the CIA drone program.
Drum guesses what happened:
Most likely, this all started with someone sending around a news article about the drone program in Pakistan or Yemen, and then several other people chiming in. It wasn’t classified at the time, and most likely contains nothing even remotely sensitive – but the CIA now insists on classifying it retroactively.
That’s why Clinton’s spokesperson calls this “classification run amok” and says, once again, that they’ll seek to have all these emails released to the public.
Of course, this could just be a clever ruse on Clinton’s part, because she knows the emails will never see the light of day. But there are other people who have seen the emails. How have they reacted? Well, nobody on the Republican side has leaked or even “characterized” any of them, and nobody on the Democratic side has withdrawn their endorsement of Clinton. This suggests pretty strongly that this whole thing is, indeed, just a stupid bit of interagency squabbling.
Ah, but that stupid bit of interagency squabbling might get Donald Trump elected president, even if this was nothing much. It’s all about Donald Trump, even if we’re now missing quite a lot. And what else are we missing? Donald Trump is more dangerous than anyone imagined.