Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cruising the Web

Mark Hemingway writes about the increase of anonymous sources being used in the media, particularly when it comes to covering the Trump administration.
Flynn is just the most prominent and recent example of this media phenomenon. Anonymous sources have dominated media coverage of the Trump presidency, on topics ranging from the president's private conversations with the president of Mexico to the White House reaction to Saturday Night Live sketches. It's been the defining characteristic of Trump coverage so far. Some of this is par for the course for any new administration. But with Trump, the anonymity dial has been turned up to 11. And this for an administration doing plenty of radical or questionable things in plain sight that can be reported on with pungent on-the-record interviews.

The media may protest that the Trump presidency is uniquely threatening and dishonest, and thus merits uniquely aggressive coverage, outside of the usual journalistic norms. But in so doing, they may paradoxically help him. Trump already won an election campaign in which his ostentatious denunciations of the dishonest media were a prominent theme
Given that a lot of the anonymous quotes could well be coming from career employees in the government who are appalled at working under a President Trump, we have no idea how much we should trust such leaks. We should all employ a healthy skepticism when we see stories that are composed of all or mostly all anonymous quotes.

Whatever was behind the firing of Mike Flynn for National Security Advisor, I think the country and the administration are better off with Trump's choice to replace him, U.S. Army lieutenant general H.R. McMaster. McMaster sounds like a very admirable man with the background from being one of the key planners of the surge.
After his success in Tal Afar, McMaster was among those who developed the surge strategy with General David Petraeus. Military journalist Thomas Ricks described McMaster as one of the "two most influential members of the brain trust" around Petraeus's planning for the surge. His reputation as a shrewd analyst of military strategy was boosted by the publication of his Dereliction of Duty. The 1998 book, which criticized the execution of the Vietnam War, focused particularly on mistakes made by President Lyndon Johnson, Defense secretary Robert McNamara, and the Joints Chiefs of Staff.

Most recently, McMaster was involved on a government panel to study how the United States should respond to a newly mobilized Russian threat.
His book, Dereliction of Duty, has suddenly become a best-seller on Amazon. I like the idea of having someone with the historical knowledge of what went wrong in both Vietnam and Iraq to be advising on national security. And now he's been part of a study group to figure out how to combat the rise of Russia's military action around the world.
POLITICO has learned that, following the stunning success of Russia’s quasi-secret incursion into Ukraine, McMaster is quietly overseeing a high-level government panel intended to figure out how the Army should adapt to this Russian wake-up call. Partly, it is a tacit admission of failure on the part of the Army — and the U.S. government more broadly....

McMaster’s response is the Russia New Generation Warfare Study, whose government participants have already made several unpublicized trips to the front lines in Ukraine. The high-level but low-profile effort is intended to ignite a wholesale rethinking—and possibly even a redesign—of the Army in the event it has to confront the Russians in Eastern Europe.

It is expected to have profound impact on what the U.S. Army will look like in the coming years, the types of equipment it buys and how its units train. Some of the early lessons will be road tested in a major war game planned for June in Poland. Says retired Army Chief of Staff General Gordon Sullivan: “That is all designed to demonstrate that we are in the game.”
I bet the Putin regime is not excited to see Flynn replaced with someone who has a background of trying to figure out how to confront Russia.

David French calls McMaster the "Neil Gorsuch of Generals" because he seems willing to criticize an executive and faulty advisers.
There’s something else, however, that McMaster shares with Gorsuch — a known hostility to executive overreach and a keen awareness of his proper role in a constitutional republic. Gorsuch has famously questioned the explosive expansion of the federal bureaucracy. In his seminal book, Dereliction of Duty, McMaster famously called out civilian and military leaders for their profound mistakes in the run-up to the Vietnam War. Central to his argument is the notion that generals can and should (consistent with the chain of command and respect for presidential authority) provide their independent judgment to the president, including by criticizing and pointing out the shortcomings of the president’s tactical and strategic plans. In other words, effective military leaders shouldn’t simply roll over when confronted with unreasonable presidential demands.

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General McMaster is going to need that knowledge of how administrations can get involved in unwinnable wars because of President Trump's vow to defeat ISIS> As M.G. Oprea writes, that is not going to be easy without major military involvement, something Trump has long opposed.
Shortly after entering office, President Trump asked his staff for a “comprehensive strategy” to defeat ISIS within 30 days. After all, this was one of his campaign promises—to do what the Obama administration had left undone. As this deadline approaches, we should ask ourselves what would actually be required to destroy ISIS.

The reality is, it would most likely necessitate a holistic and long-term approach in Iraq along the lines of George W. Bush’s 2007 surge. But this would cost the president significant political capital, especially with a public that has little taste for overseas adventures. Trump, despite his bluster, is unlikely to do this, which is why his “comprehensive strategy” on ISIS could be a non-starter.
The surge was a comprehensive strategy and General McMaster was one of his main architects. I assume that, before taking this job, he must have spoken with Trump about what he thinks would be involved in fighting ISIS. Somehow, I just don't see Trump going along with another surge-like approach to achieve that. President Obama's approach has proved that.
The comprehensive approach of the surge only works with a president who is willing to go all in. This strategy worked under the Bush administration, because Bush was willing to use all of his political capital in the last two years of his presidency to fully implement it. It failed under Obama, because he was not.

After U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011, the Obama administration fought terrorists in Iraq, including ISIS, with only one element of the comprehensive strategy proposed during the surge—drone strikes. This followed directly from Obama’s campaign promise of getting American troops out of Iraq, no matter the cost. He did not want to be a wartime president.

This strategy was always doomed. You can’t fight a group like ISIS and win over the disenfranchised Sunnis from a bunker in the Nevada desert. It requires a holistic approach, including outreach—which means boots—on the ground.
Trump campaigned on not getting further involved in the Middle East. Perhaps his supporters wouldn't mind if that is one promise that he wouldn't fulfill, but Trump has also made much of his criticisms of Bush for getting involved there in the first place.
The comprehensive approach of the surge only works with a president who is willing to go all in. This strategy worked under the Bush administration, because Bush was willing to use all of his political capital in the last two years of his presidency to fully implement it. It failed under Obama, because he was not.

After U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011, the Obama administration fought terrorists in Iraq, including ISIS, with only one element of the comprehensive strategy proposed during the surge—drone strikes. This followed directly from Obama’s campaign promise of getting American troops out of Iraq, no matter the cost. He did not want to be a wartime president.

This strategy was always doomed. You can’t fight a group like ISIS and win over the disenfranchised Sunnis from a bunker in the Nevada desert. It requires a holistic approach, including outreach—which means boots—on the ground.

When Trump said he would destroy ISIS, his supporters generally liked it. It made America sound strong. But ultimately it’s not what the working-class voters in the Rust Belt care about. They care about infrastructure, jobs, the economy, and getting a fair shake. They don’t care much about the Sunnis.

Most people, whether they voted for Trump or not, have no idea what would be involved in truly defeating ISIS. If they were told today that ISIS could be defeated, but that it would require billions of dollars and most of the administration’s attention for the next four years, few would support it.
And even if Trump did support such action, would he continue to support keeping the troops there indefinitely to forestall a return of ISIS or some other incarnation? I doubt it. That's why it always irritated me when Trump would make these grandiose promises on the campaign trail when I didn't sense that he had any idea of what would be involved to achieve that goal. He now has a National Security Advisor who knows what would be involved. We'll have to hope that the President listens to him.


Karol Markowicz highlights
the ignorance of basics civics by some prominent people on the left. Sally Kohn seems to think that Trump and Pence can be impeached and then we can have a special election in which Hillary could be elected. Double face palm. Star Trek's George Takei seems to have missed that Harry Reid engineered the nuking of the filibuster of presidential appointments. And several Democrats don't realize that the job of National Security Adviser doesn't have to be confirmed by the Senate. Michael Moore seems to think that the courts can choose between the winner of the popular vote and the Electoral College vote. Did he miss the 2000 election?
Everyone makes mistakes, of course. The bigger problem with this widespread lack of knowledge is that it leads to scary places. Is Kohn really that blasé about a “constitutional crisis”? Does Moore really not care that our entire political system would be in jeopardy if “the court” did what he asked?

Are people really willing to throw away the American political framework because a candidate they don’t like won an election?

I didn’t vote for Trump, but for all the concern that Trump is going to destroy America, the lack of faith and lack of support for our extremely successful democracy is what’s most worrisome. Thanks to the separation of powers, Trump can only do so much (shout-out to my second-grade teacher, Ms. Benson).
I suppose this sort of ignorance of the basic ways that the American political system works is a result of people getting all their news from Twitter and Facebook. All I can say is that I do my bit every year to make sure that the students I teach understand not only how the system works, but wy it was designed that way.

John Fund recently visited the LBJ Presidential Library and noticed similarities between LBJ and Trump.
As president, he cut a grandiose figure. He was a braggart and a frequent liar. He was suspicious of other countries, frequently saying, “Foreigners are not like the folks I am used to.” He had a reckless disregard for limits. He belittled and browbeat others to intimidate them and give him what he wanted. Historian Robert Dallek said that he “viewed criticism of his policies as personal attacks” and opponents of his policies “as disloyal to him and the country.”

He would bully and insult reporters, saying of one that he “always knew when he was around, because he could smell him.” He told whoppers about voter fraud in his elections. But he did get things done, dominating the political scene for good and for ill.

No, we’re not talking about Donald Trump. During a visit to the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, I was struck by just how many parallels there are between Lyndon Johnson and Trump. Liberals knew all about Johnson’s faults in the 1960s. But it was a different, more respectful media era, and his faults were underreported. The media were also willing to overlook them until Vietnam became a fiasco, because reporters liked his domestic-policy priorities in civil rights and his new government spending.
After having read Robert Caro's enthralling books on Lyndon Johnson, particularly Master of the Senate and The Passage of Power, about his first year as president, I can say that LBJ was the true Master of the Art of the Deal.

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The search for historical parallels to Trump continues. I enjoy reading all of the efforts to find some sort of comparison to former leaders, but suspect that Trump is sui generis. Jeff Jacoby makes the effort to find comparisons to one of least-known presidents, Millard Fillmore.
When Millard Fillmore became the nation's 13th president upon the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850, he immediately plunged the White House and the Whig Party — one of the nation's two dominant political parties — into turmoil. On the day he took the oath of office, Fillmore petulantly dismissed every member of Taylor's Cabinet, which he resented for having ignored him when he was vice president. As a result, it took weeks — in one case, more than two months — before the new president's Cabinet members were approved. The Whigs, already riven by patronage quarrels and North-South tensions, grew even more polarized over Fillmore's policies. He was off to a bad start.

To an American looking back from 2017, the disorder that followed Fillmore's accession might almost prefigure the pandemonium in the Trump White House.

There are other echoes.

Fillmore presented himself as a loyal Whig, but his political career had begun with the Anti-Masons, a political movement tied to a bizarre hostility toward Freemasons. He was attracted, writes Paul Finkelman, a legal historian at Albany Law School, "to oddball political movements, conspiracy theories, and ethnic hatred." Even after becoming a Whig, he trafficked easily with anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant groups.
Jacoby traces through the history of Fillmore's administration, most known today for his having supported the Compromise of 1850 which did settle the question of how to treat the issue of slavery in the new territories won from the Mexican War but also included the most despicable law in American history, the Fugitive Slave Act.
When Millard Fillmore became the nation's 13th president upon the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850, he immediately plunged the White House and the Whig Party — one of the nation's two dominant political parties — into turmoil. On the day he took the oath of office, Fillmore petulantly dismissed every member of Taylor's Cabinet, which he resented for having ignored him when he was vice president. As a result, it took weeks — in one case, more than two months — before the new president's Cabinet members were approved. The Whigs, already riven by patronage quarrels and North-South tensions, grew even more polarized over Fillmore's policies. He was off to a bad start.

To an American looking back from 2017, the disorder that followed Fillmore's accession might almost prefigure the pandemonium in the Trump White House.

There are other echoes.

Fillmore presented himself as a loyal Whig, but his political career had begun with the Anti-Masons, a political movement tied to a bizarre hostility toward Freemasons. He was attracted, writes Paul Finkelman, a legal historian at Albany Law School, "to oddball political movements, conspiracy theories, and ethnic hatred." Even after becoming a Whig, he trafficked easily with anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant groups.
We'll have to wait and see how Trump fits Jacoby's comparison. Personally, I've long thought that the ante-bellum presidents from Fillmore through Pierce to Buchanan retired the prize for worst presidents. I am not thrilled with Trump as president, but I don't think he's going to sink to those depths and, actually has the opportunity to do some good things on tax reform and decreasing government regulation. I already think he's hit a home run with the Gorsuch nomination. So, while the bits of evidence are there for a facile comparison to Fillmore, I doubt that Trump, despite all the outrage across the country, will not come near to sinking to those depths.

I'm already enthusiastic about Nikki Haley at the United Nations. Unlike the Obama administration, she's willing to call out that institution for its anti-Israel bias. The Trump administration would never have abstained the odious resolution calling out Israel as Obama did.
The ambassador made clear that the Trump administration will not support the kind of resolution from which the Obama administration’s ambassador — Samantha Power — shamefully abstained, though Mrs. Haley was too polite to name the humiliated Ms. Power. “The outrageously biased resolutions from the Security Council and the General Assembly only make peace harder to attain by discouraging one of the parties from going to the negotiating table.”

“Incredibly,” Mrs. Haley said, “the U.N. department of political affairs has an entire division devoted entirely to Palestinian affairs. Imagine that. There is no division devoted to illegal missile launches form North Korea. There is no division devoted to the world’s number one state sponsor of terror, Iran. The prejudiced approach to Israeli-Palestinian issues does the peace process no favors, and it bears no relationship to the reality of the world around us. The double standards are breathtaking.”

The ambassador warned that it is “the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias that is long overdue for change,” and said America will not hesitate to speak out in defense of its friend in Israel. All this was going on while the press was questioning President Trump on what he was going to do about anti-Semitism. If his ambassador to the world body is any example, the answer is plenty. She has the principles of a Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the grit of a John Bolton, and the star power of a Jeane Kirkpatrick, and in her first press briefing she certainly made her point.

For all the constant fears of an anti-Muslim backlash across the country, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic threats and attacks in the U.S. There have been a rash of threats being called in to Jewish synagogues and community centers across the country.
In all, 48 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January, according to the JCCA, an association of JCCs. Most were made in rapid succession on three days: January 9, 18 and 31. A number of JCCs, including Orlando's, received multiple threats.
On Monday, another wave of bomb threats hit 11 JCCs across the country, bringing the total to 69 incidents targeting 54 JCCs in 27 states, according to the JCCA.
As Mark Oppenheimer points out, this is nothing new.
But here’s the thing: As bad as 2017 has been for anti-Semitic incidents, 2016 wasn’t great, either. Nor was 2015, when the Anti-Defamation League reported 90 anti-Semitic incidents on campuses, twice as many as the year before — a slow drip that has continued into this school year.

A journalist could stay very busy writing about anti-Semitic graffiti in higher ed — and not at right-wing Christian schools, but at ostensibly liberal ones. Last August, students at Swarthmore College, the progressive Quaker college outside Philadelphia, found two swastikas painted on a stall in a bathroom of the main library. A week later, they found another swastika on a tree in the school’s woods. There have been reports of anti-Semitic incidents at Oberlin College, the University of California at Los Angeles, Brown University and Northwestern University.
This is not due to Trump's election; it's been going on for years.