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Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

The Grand Old Party Is Now The Party Of Violence

A Republican running for Northampton County executive in Pennsylvania gave a heated address on August 29 about mask mandates in schools. Steve Lynch is tired, he said, of providing his school board arguments and data (he apparently thinks the data support letting kids go maskless), but the important thing about his rant is the threat of force: "Forget into these school boards with frigging data. ... They don't follow the law! You go in and you remove 'em. I'm going in there with 20 strong men."

That's the kind of language that Republicans are now employing. Lynch has not run for public office before, but he did attend the January 6 rally in Washington, D.C., and has posted on social media that the violence that day was a false-flag operation meant to discredit Trump supporters.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina spoke last week at an event sponsored by the Macon County Republican Party. He delivered the kind of lies that have become routine among some Republicans. The election was stolen — and not just the presidential contest but also that won by Gov. Roy Cooper (who defeated his opponent by a quarter of a million votes). Cawthorn told the crowd that vaccines are harmful to children and urged them to "defend their children." A woman asked what he plans to do about the "535 Americans who have been captured from January 6." Cawthorn, who has apparently heard this before, thundered, "Political hostages!" When someone in the crowd asked, "When are you gonna call us back to Washington?" he replied, "We are actively working on that one."

Insurrection talk is becoming Cawthorn's specialty: "If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it's going to lead to one place — and it's bloodshed."

Naturally, former President Donald Trump has endorsed him for "whatever he wants to do."

In neighboring Tennessee, the Williamson County school board was disrupted by anti-mask parents. As doctors and nurses testified that masks would help limit the spread of COVID-19, people cursed and threatened them: "We will find you!" "We know who you are!"

In Georgia, a mobile vaccination site had to be shut down after anti-vaccine protesters showed up to threaten and harass health care workers. "Aside from feeling threatened themselves, staff realized no one would want to come to that location for a vaccination under those circumstances, so they packed up and left," a spokeswoman for the state health department told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

A survey of the rest of the country yields yet more examples.

We are all old enough to remember a time when election workers were public-spirited citizens, usually elderly, who volunteered their time (or got very modest compensation) to sit for hours at polling sites scanning names from lists of voters and handing out little stickers. That America is gone, driven out by a radicalized Republican party. A number of states with Republican majorities have passed laws that would impose criminal fines of up to $25,000 for "offenses" such as permitting a ballot drop box to be accessible before early voting hours or sending an unsolicited absentee ballot application to a voter.

But that's not the worst of it. Election workers have been hounded and threatened. Bomb threats have been emailed to election sites. "You and your family will be killed very slowly," read a text message sent to Tricia Raffensperger after her husband, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, declined to "find" enough votes to flip the state to Trump. As many as 1 in 3 election workers has reported feeling unsafe, and thousands are resigning.

When Rep. Liz Cheney made the principled decision to vote for Trump's impeachment, she noted that one reason more Republicans might not have chosen to join her was that "there were members who told me that they were afraid for their own security — afraid, in some instances, for their lives."

Republicans talk incessantly about other people's violence. The rioters who burned buildings after George Floyd's death. The criminals who make Chicago a murder capital. Immigrants who supposedly terrorize their host nation (they don't).

Criminal violence is a problem, but the kind of violence Republicans are now flirting with or sometimes outright endorsing is political — and therefore on a completely different plane of threat.

Kyle Rittenhouse, an ill-supervised teenager who decided to grab an AR-15 and shoot people at a Kenosha, Wisconsin, riot (killing two and wounding one) was lionized by the GOP. His mother got a standing ovation at a fundraiser in Waukesha. Ashli Babbitt has become a martyr. Allen West, former chair of the Texas GOP, speaks approvingly of secession. Former National Security Adviser and Trump confidant Michael Flynn suggests that we need a Myanmar-style coup. Some 28 percent of Republicans respond affirmatively to the proposition that "because things have gotten so far off track" in the U.S., "true American patriots may have to resort to violence" to save the country.

Maybe that's not so bad? Not even a third. Another poll framed it differently: "The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it." Fifty-six percent of Republicans agreed.

They are playing with fire. Nothing less than democratic legitimacy is on the line. These menacing signals suggest that Jan. 6 may have been the overture, not the finale.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com

Looking Right Through Kevin McCarthy

Of all the Republican politicians who have ascended to leadership in Congress during the past few decades, none is a duller and more obvious hack than Rep. Kevin McCarthy. The House minority leader possesses none of the villainous charisma of Newt Gingrich or the ruthless greed of Tom DeLay, the ideological fervor of Paul Ryan or the puppyish desire to please of Eric Cantor, the louche cynicism of John Boehner or the predatory criminality of Dennis "Coach" Hastert.

Nobody expects the transparently empty McCarthy to stand up for principle of any kind. It is giving him a lot to call him a small-minded partisan, an assiduous corporate fundraiser, and a mediocre climber for whom ideas and ideals are so much grist for the Fox News mill. His far-right rivals in the GOP caucus, such as Rep. Jim Jordan, allow him to hold power because they can manipulate him so easily. His theme song should be "Mr. Cellophane" from the musical Chicago.

Weak in both intellect and character, McCarthy embodies the most banal defects of his predecessors — and so it is that he presides over the final stages of Republican decay, as the party formed to preserve the Union and democracy degenerates into an instrument of fascist insurrection.

As a perfectly hollow hack who first rose under Boehner's tutelage, McCarthy makes the hack Boehner now seem like a big man. McCarthy was against Trump's big lie before he was for it. After denouncing Trump, he ran with his tail between his legs to Mar-a-Lago, parroted the big lie and backed a lawsuit to overturn the election results in two states. Then he denied supporting Trump's claims of election fraud and grudgingly admitted that President Joe Biden had won. And then, within hours after the January 6 attack on the Capitol that clearly terrified him, he nevertheless voted against certifying the Democratic victory in two states — after he had told a reporter that he knew Biden was the legitimate victor.

McCarthy has continued this ridiculous dance — both accepting and not accepting Biden's legitimacy — while he obviously covers up the seditious conduct of his extremist members, from Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene to. Matt Gaetz and Madison Cawthorn.

But since his attempts to block any investigation of the conspiracies that led to the Capitol takeover on January 6, have failed, McCarthy has become an even more desperate performer. This week he sought to obstruct the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack by absurdly pretending to be a mob boss, as he made an unconvincing threat against telecom companies if they comply with lawful requests from that panel. Though he didn't specify any consequences, he warned that Republicans "will not forget" when they regain the majority.

Rarely has a politician so obviously exposed such blatant consciousness of guilt. Opening himself to an ethics complaint, which has now been filed against him, McCarthy continues his bad acting, showing his fear that the suspicions and speculations about the gang of loony Republicans in the days before that insurrection are true.

McCarthy led the expulsion of Rep. Liz Cheney from her position as the chair of the House Republican Conference to satisfy his insurrectionist caucus. But there's another reason he purged her. She's got his number. And now she's the vice chair of the January 6 investigative committee. McCarthy has reason to engage in his silly threats, his obvious obstruction of Congress, his false bravado. He's scared. But the more he dances, the more everybody sees right through him.

I tell ya Cellophane, Mr. Cellophane shoulda been my name,

Mr. Cellophane 'cause you can look right through me ...

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Fearful GOP Extremists Threaten Telecom Companies, Cheney And Kinzinger Over Jan. 6 Probe

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

House Republicans who are being reviewed as part of a probe into the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol are up in arms, and now some are targeting their fellow GOP lawmakers.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) — who is among the nearly one dozen GOP lawmakers whose phone records the House select committee is seeking — called for two Republicans on the committee to be banished from the House Republican conference.

In a letter to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Biggs called the two GOP lawmakers — Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) — "spies for the Democrats" and said they should be expelled from the conference.

Biggs downplayed the severity of the January 6 attack and claims it is a "false narrative" to call the riot led by a Donald Trump-supporting mob hoping to stop the transition of power an "insurrection."

In the letter, first reported by CNN, Biggs wrote:

Republican Conference meetings are an opportunity for elected House Republicans to strategize the most effective path to push back on the radical policies of Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats. many of the coming discussions will likely revolve around our defense against the Democrats' perpetuation of the false narrative that January 6th was an insurrection and how to protect our own from their legally questionable investigative methods. ... We cannot trust these members to sit in our Republican Conference meetings while we plan our defense against the Democrats.

Biggs' letter follows a threat against telecommunication companies from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), whose phone records are also being sought as part of the probe.

Greene said on Tucker Carlson's Fox News program Tuesday night that, "These telecommunications companies, if they go along with this, they will be shut down. And that's a promise."

This all follows a similar threat from McCarthy himself, who falsely claimed that the House select committee was violating federal law by seeking the GOP lawmakers' phone records and warned that a future Republican majority "will not forget" if the companies turn those records over.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) — who helped organize the effort to stop certification of Biden's Electoral College victory that helped spur the attack — said in an interview on Wednesday that there is no "probable cause" for the committee to get his records.

The House select committee said it's not deterred by the threats.

"The committee's efforts won't be deterred by those who want to whitewash or cover up the events of January 6th, or obstruct our investigation," the committee tweeted on Tuesday.

On Thursday, it announced that Cheney will be its vice chair.

Cheney said in a news release announcing her new role:

Every member of this committee is dedicated to conducting a non-partisan, professional, and thorough investigation of all the relevant facts regarding January 6th and the threat to our Constitution we faced that day. I have accepted the position of Vice Chair of the committee to assure that we achieve that goal. We owe it to the American people to investigate everything that led up to, and transpired on, January 6th. We will not be deterred by threats or attempted obstruction and we will not rest until our task is complete.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

VIDEO: Watch Angy Mike Pompeo Flip And Flop On Taliban

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

With the Taliban now in control of Afghanistan, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is vehemently criticizing President Joe Biden for withdrawing U.S. troops from that country — neglecting to mention that Biden was essentially following the plan that Pompeo and former President Donald Trump came up with in 2020. MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan, in response, has posted a video showing how badly Pompeo is now contradicting what he had to say about Afghanistan and the Taliban last year.

Some right-wing Republicans have at least been consistent in their views on Afghanistan. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and former National Security John Bolton have been slamming the Trump/Pompeo plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as badly flawed and saying that Biden and his advisers were wrong to go along with it. But Pompeo, as Hasan's video demonstrates, is now contradicting much of what he had to say in 2020.

The video shows Pompeo, in 2020, praising "the senior Taliban leadership" for "working diligently to reduce violence," followed by the Pompeo of 2021 saying of the Taliban, "These are butchers…. These are evil people" and telling Fox News' Chris Wallace, "We never trusted the Taliban."

Pompeo is seen in 2020 saying with confidence, "There are a series of commitments the Taliban have made. We have every expectation they will follow through on them." And Pompeo, in 2020, expressed confidence that the Taliban would "break" their "relationship" with al-Qaeda and "work alongside" the United States "to destroy, deny resources to and have al-Qaeda depart from that place." But in a 2021 clip included in Hasan's video, Pompeo complains, "We have allowed al-Qaeda to run free and wild all around Afghanistan."

The video ends on a mocking note with a clip of Pompeo angrily saying, "No, I'm not defensive at all."

Here are some responses to Hasan's video:

Trump, The Taliban, And The Fall Of Kabul

When we last heard from the Taliban ten months ago, they had an urgent message addressed to the American people. In early October 2020, the same Taliban official now appearing on screens everywhere as their official spokesman took the highly unusual step of endorsing a candidate for president of the United States.

Their man was then-President Donald J. Trump.

"We hope he will win the election and wind up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan," said Zabihullah Mujahid during an October 10 interview with CBS News.

If not quite equal to North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un's "love letters," their endorsement radiated warmth. The Taliban spokesman predicted Trump "is going to win the upcoming election because he has proved himself a politician who accomplished all the major promises he had made to American people."

The endorsement gleefully insulted American democracy, too. Trump, crowed the Taliban, was the man who "could control the situation inside the country," meaning our country. Trump, it emphasized, was the kind of leader that the Taliban admires.

Trump, who disdained wearing masks and social distancing, had fallen ill with Covid-19, and the Taliban leadership expressed their sympathy and concern. "When we heard about Trump being COVID-19 positive, we got worried for his health," another Taliban official told CBS, "but seems he is getting better."

Perhaps the Taliban chiefs were then still hoping for an invitation to Camp David, a prize the American president dangled in 2019. Their peculiar affinity has not received the attention that Trump's bizarre infatuation with the North Korean dictator did. Of course, from gay rights to the subjugation of women, the Taliban share certain fundamentalist superstitions with the Republicans.

But the immediate occasion for the Taliban endorsement was Trump's announcement that he expected to withdraw the last U.S. troops before the New Year. "We should have the small remaining number of our brave men and women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas," Trump tweeted on October 9. His endorsement by the Taliban came the very next day.

The Trump administration's impulsive, often idiotic approach to national security served our Islamist adversaries very well. Among other things, Trump forced the release from prison of over 5,000 Taliban fighters — including the commanders who ultimately led the takeover of Kabul.

Imagine the horror show on the ground in Afghanistan if the U.S. government had tried to fulfill Trump's pledge to pull every American out by Christmas. Or even by last May, the date ultimately negotiated but pushed back four months by the Biden administration, which came into office without any idea what Trump was doing because he denied access to crucial information during the transition. Meanwhile, at Trump's instigation the Republicans were busily spreading lies about the election and plotting an insurrection at home.

So while congressional Republicans and right-wing pundits work themselves up into a lather over the collapse of the Afghan regime and ensuing chaos, we can put their sudden indignation into perspective. Very few have any standing to criticize Biden after silently passing over Trump's withdrawal plan, which they're now trying to erase.

Nor does that smaller faction of erstwhile Republicans — the Never Trumpers — have much credibility to complain about Biden. Most of them, such as Rep. Liz Cheney, who is bravely taking on Trump, are implicated in the Bush administration decisions that led inexorably to this humiliating moment. They cheered the catastrophic Iraq invasion and the concomitant failure to support a successful Afghan occupation.

Those who say that the Afghanistan project was always doomed offer a powerful argument. But if there ever was an opportunity for a government to prevail there, it was squandered in the sands of Iraq.

By the time Biden entered office, the choices before him were extremely narrow. He could follow through on Trump's badly negotiated scheme, or he could resume our role in a slow, brutal, hopeless civil war that might cost another 100,000 Afghan lives along with more American blood and treasure. He promised to end the war and has the courage to fulfill that pledge. Nobody should be surprised by his policy choices.

But Biden should have known better than to believe reassurances about how long the Afghan regime could stand without our troops and air power. The inadequate plans for withdrawal, the premature decision to abandon the Bagram airbase and the failure to begin an early rescue operation for our Afghan friends all deserve criticism and inquiry.

Fortunately, congressional Democrats seem ready to scrutinize these intelligence and policy misjudgments. Were Republicans in charge of Congress during a Trump administration withdrawal, rest assured there would be no searching oversight but only an obsequious rubber stamp.

Keeping his promise to end the forever wars probably won't diminish Biden. He must bend every effort to save the Afghans who assisted the U.S. and those who were building whatever civil society existed there. But Americans should think long and hard about the terrible errors of the last 20 years.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Pompeo’s Hometown Paper Roasts His Afghan Hypocrisy

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

With Afghanistan having been taken over by the Taliban, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slamming President Joe Biden for withdrawing U.S. troops from the country — neglecting to mention that Biden was essentially following the Pompeo/Donald Trump plan for withdrawal, although at a slower pace. The Kansas City Star's editorial board, in a scathing editorial published on August 18, slams Pompeo's total hypocrisy.

"That other Republicans are criticizing Biden's implementation of Trump's deal is one thing," the Star's editorial board explains. "But Pompeo personally oversaw the Trump Administration's Afghanistan withdrawal discussions with Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, whom the CIA had arrested in 2010. He'd been in a Pakistani prison until Trump got him out two years ago. So, it's a little bit stunning to watch Pompeo accuse Biden of 'leading with weakness' by finishing the troop withdrawal that Trump planned to accomplish even more quickly."

The "other Republicans" that the Star is referring to in its editorial could include Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, although the Star doesn't actually mention either of them by name. Cheney and Kinzinger have both been vehemently critical of the Biden Administration in the days following the Taliban's victory in Afghanistan, but they have also been vehemently critical of Trump and Pompeo — arguing that the Trump/Pompeo plan for withdrawal was horribly flawed and that Biden was wrong to go along with it. For that matter, some Democrats and Biden allies have made the same argument.

Pompeo, however, is blaming Biden for embracing a Trump-era policy that he aggressively promoted — which, as the Star points out, is exactly the type of gall, arrogance and "brass" one expects from Pompeo.

The Star notes, "Trump undermined the success of his own team's efforts by bringing more and more U.S. troops home without any concessions from the Taliban. The Taliban was supposed to negotiate a peace agreement with the Afghan government, and when that didn't happen, the withdrawal continued anyway…. Pompeo's gloating that this withdrawal would have gone very differently under the previous administration is unsupported by what did happen when Trump was president."

By slamming Pompeo, the Star's editorial board isn't saying that Biden is blameless in the Afghanistan debacle. But Pompeo, according to the Star, is the last person who should be pointing the finger at Biden over the Taliban's victory in Afghanistan.

The editorial board stresses, "Trump, you remember, even invited the Taliban to Camp David…. Pompeo pushed hard for this plan, which put him at odds with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, who the New York Times reported at the time 'argued that Mr. Trump could keep his campaign pledge to draw down forces without getting in bed with killers bathed in American blood.' Yet in Wichita, we heard the chief proponent of this deal argue that Biden is weak for failing to stand up to the same Taliban that just a minute ago, Pompeo was talking up as our trusted partner in counterterrorism — and the same Taliban that both Trump and Biden failed to hold accountable."

"The execution of this long overdue withdrawal has been ugly," the Star's editorial continues. "How Trump could have somehow done the same thing both faster and more gently is unknowable at this point. A less disingenuous partisan would have acknowledged that, and would maybe even have shown some humility, given his role in what's playing out in Afghanistan."

After 20 Years, Swift Taliban Takeover Damages US Credibility

Washington (AFP) - After two decades in Afghanistan, America's longest war was ending with the image of the United States in tatters.

With the swift collapse Sunday of the government in Kabul, the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks that triggered the US invasion will be marked with the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan, despite a cost to the United States of nearly 2,500 lives and more than $2 trillion.

To some observers, the debacle following the withdrawal of US troops will inevitably weaken the United States on the global stage at a time when President Joe Biden was speaking of rallying democracies in the face of a rising China.

"America's credibility as an ally is diminished because of the way the Afghan government was abandoned beginning with the Doha talks," said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States, referring to the deal last year in the Qatari capital with the Taliban in which the United States set a pullout timeline.

Haqqani, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, noted how US diplomats in the end could do little more than send tweets urging the Taliban to stop.

"That envoys of the mightiest nation on earth can be duped as they were in Doha, and its leaders ignored so easily as they have been in the final days, will encourage others to engage in duplicitous diplomacy," Haqqani said.

Biden faced heated criticism that the withdrawal was mismanaged, with the United States racing to evacuate its sprawling embassy just a month after he played down fears the Afghan government would crumble quickly.

"It is going to have ramifications not just for Afghanistan," said Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican hawk.

"America's adversaries know they can threaten us, and our allies are questioning this morning whether they can count on us for anything," she said in an ABC interview.

Mixed Message To China

The Biden administration is quick to point out that former president Donald Trump negotiated the Doha deal on the withdrawal and that a majority of the US public favors ending "forever wars."

Trump has repeatedly put the blame on his successor, however, calling for him to resign on Sunday "in disgrace for what he has allowed to happen to Afghanistan."

"What Joe Biden has done with Afghanistan is legendary. It will go down as one of the greatest defeats in American history!" he said in an earlier Sunday statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, also speaking on ABC, said the United States had "succeeded" in its primary mission of bringing justice to the Al-Qaeda perpetrators of the September 11 attacks.

"It's also true that there's nothing that our strategic competitors around the world would like more than to see us bogged down in Afghanistan for another five, 10 or 20 years. That is not in the national interest," Blinken said.

China, which the Biden administration sees as the nation's pre-eminent challenge, has already rhetorically pounced, with the nationalistic state-run Global Times publishing an analysis saying Afghanistan showed Washington to be an "unreliable partner that always abandons its partners or allies to seek self-interest."

But Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, said it was simplistic to think that China would be emboldened, for example, to move on Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing that depends on US weapons.

China may instead see the high cost that the United States is willing to pay in exiting Afghanistan as a sign of seriousness in shifting to the Pacific, Fontaine said.

But Fontaine, who opposed the withdrawal, said the United States was taking major risks by effectively ceding Afghanistan to the Taliban, who never formally broke with Al-Qaeda.

"Now that it looks like the Taliban will be running the country, I think the chances of a terrorist threat are pretty high," he said.

"If that's the case, it could well increase distraction from our focus on the bigger strategic challenges in China."

New Attitude Toward Military Engagement?

Some policymakers argued for maintaining a residual force of some 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, but Biden decided the war was over and he should not risk further US lives.

Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, which supports US military restraint, said the ones who have now lost credibility are advocates for a continued war.

"When you see that the whole thing falls apart in nine days, this was nothing more than a house of cards," Parsi said.

He hoped the withdrawal would help end the view, in Washington but also among allies, that the US military should be the first resort.

"Perhaps some of the external pressures on the United States to act as if it is the answer to everything in the world will reduce."