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By Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Most presidential campaigns focus mostly on domestic issues such as the economy, taxes and health care, not foreign policy. But the 2016 presidential campaign is already shaping up to be an exception to that rule.

For one thing, the world is a mess. The United States is at war in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, even if we don’t have combat troops on the ground, and opportunities for new wars keep cropping up. President Obama hasn’t convinced most voters that his policies are working; in a Fox News poll released last week, a whopping 73 percent of respondents said they didn’t think Obama had a clear strategy in the fight against the terrorist Islamic State.

The likely Democratic candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, will need to show how she would do better than the president she served as secretary of State. Her Republican challengers will want to reassert their party’s traditional advantage on national security, a phenomenon political scientists call “issue ownership.”

But Republicans haven’t quite worked out what their foreign policy ought to be, beyond “not Obama.”

That’s partly because it’s still early in the campaign and the GOP boasts a bumper crop of potential candidates, some of them governors who never needed a foreign policy until now.

It’s also because one probable GOP candidate, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), has already broken from the pack and argued for a minimalist foreign policy with lower defense spending and fewer military commitments. Some of Paul’s opponents have charged that his views add up to isolationism; the senator prefers “conservative realism.”

But the debate isn’t only about Paul. Ever since President George W. Bush’s long misadventure in Iraq, his Republican successors have been struggling to refashion conservative foreign policy in a way most voters would embrace.

“I don’t think the debate exists because Rand Paul is there; Rand Paul is there because the debate exists,” said Danielle Pletka, a foreign policy scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “He represents people who are uncomfortable with American global engagement.”

Divisions have emerged over many issues (sanctions in Iran, arms for Ukraine, trade with Cuba) but the crucial question in the campaign will probably be military intervention in the Middle East, the terrain on which the last Republican administration came to grief. If airstrikes alone aren’t enough to defeat Islamic State, should ground troops be deployed? And should the United States do more to dislodge the government of President Bashar Assad in Syria, including aid to Syrian rebels, airstrikes, and ground troops?

Three rough camps among potential Republican candidates can be discerned. There are interventionists, who want the United States to do more. There’s the lone anti-interventionist, Paul. And, in between, there’s a big group of straddlers who say they would be tougher than Obama but, when pressed, don’t offer much in the way of specifics.

The interventionists include Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has called for more U.S. aid to Syrian rebels. Last week, he dismissed Obama’s request for authorization to fight Islamic State as too limited and suggested he would delete Obama’s proposed prohibition on long-term ground combat. “I think we ought to authorize the president to destroy ISIL, period,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

They may also include Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who told ABC News, “We have to go beyond just aggressive air strikes. … We have to be prepared to put boots on the ground, if that’s what it takes.”

The straddlers include Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has demanded that the Obama administration fight its wars more aggressively but has also said he sees no need for U.S. ground troops. Last week, when Obama requested authorization for the air war in Iraq and Syria, Cruz sidestepped the question of limits and said the main defect of Obama’s request was that it failed to identify the adversary as “Islamic terrorists.”

Paul ducked questions last week about Obama’s request — perhaps because it came uncomfortably close to a proposal he made last year that prohibited using U.S. troops in ground combat and carried a 12-month expiration date.

Democrats were divided over the authorization request, too — perhaps even more deeply than Republicans. But their nomination seems all but settled, and Clinton declined to comment on the issue.

It’s not unusual for a political party to divide over foreign policy — not even Republicans.

“This debate has been going on for a century,” Richard Norton Smith, a noted historian of the GOP, told me. “It isn’t snide to suggest that modern libertarians are the heirs of the old isolationists.” The last time isolationists battled internationalists for the soul of the GOP, it was a very different era — around 1950, at the end of the 20-year-long, five-term Democratic presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

This time, the debate isn’t over how to handle a world transformed by a war the United States and its allies won; it’s about the legacy of the last Republican president, George W. Bush, and a war most people think we lost. So the potential candidate in the most intriguing position is his brother Jeb, the former governor of Florida. He hasn’t spelled out his foreign policy yet, but he’s scheduled to give a speech on the subject this week in Chicago. On national security, Jeb Bush is the candidate to watch.

Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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