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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


A Clear And Present Danger To The Republic

Whenever Donald Trump makes a remark that embarrasses our country before the world, conventional analysis suggests that this is yet another instance of his infantile narcissism. So we were told again when the president of the United States insulted Denmark, one of the founding nations of NATO and a dedicated American ally, by canceling his scheduled trip to meet with the Danish prime minister — supposedly because she had deemed his scheme to buy Greenland “absurd,” which of course it is.

His visit to Denmark was originally requested by Trump, which made its abrupt, petulant cancellation all the more insulting to the Danes. The usual anonymous sources explained that he had other reasons to break the date, such as his aversion to flying overseas and his aversion to Barack Obama, who is also scheduled to visit Denmark next month.

When Trump appears to lose control — and follows up by suggesting that he is “the chosen one” or “the King of Israel” — it seems natural to worry that he is mentally ill. And that is one way to interpret his behavior.

But it isn’t the only explanation.

We consider Trump’s behavior bizarre because it is so incongruous with what we expect from an American president — whose sworn duty, after all, is to act in the national interest. But what if he is consciously acting against the national interest?  That disturbing question arises again and again, as it did during the Russia investigation, because almost everything Trump does can be viewed as inimical to the nation. The Danish incident is only the latest example in the long list that shows a certain method to his supposed “madness.”

In one way or another, Trump has denigrated or undermined American relationships with nearly all of our traditional allies, sometimes repeatedly. He has complained publicly about the French, the Germans, the British, the Australians, to name a few of the most important, and slammed the European Union as a trading and military partner. Indeed, he has strenuously sought to destroy the EU while befriending the so-called populist far right — the heirs of our fascist enemy. That approach to European affairs just happens to coincide perfectly with the political aims of the Russian Federation.

Meanwhile Trump has abandoned long-standing US policy on human rights, not only committing violations on our border but encouraging dictators around the world. Within the space of a few days this year he berated the Canadian prime minister, our friend and ally, while praising the murderous dictator of North Korea. Maybe that was just crazy, or maybe it was something else.

At home, Trump never stops promoting the same divisive themes that pollute our political system, courtesy of the Russian bots sent by his friend Vladimir Putin. For some reason, Trump won’t allow anyone to record his meetings with Putin as would normally be the case. Perhaps he doesn’t want anyone to hear the Russian dictator expressing appreciation for Trump’s long campaign to undermine the FBI counter-intelligence division, which exists to thwart Kremlin espionage.

But then Trump has sought to discredit and disorganize the entire intelligence apparatus of the United States, most recently with his attempted appointment of a lunatic Congressman from Texas as the director of national intelligence. Putin must also be quite grateful for Trump’s systematic effort to destroy American diplomatic capacity, by appointing non-entities to run the State Department while leaving half of its posts unfilled.

Like the trade war that is decimating our agricultural heartland — among the US economy’s most vital sectors — these recurring acts of sabotage are cited by his supporters as evidence of his “nationalism.” They are nothing of the kind. They are inflicting damage that our most determined enemies could never have dreamed possible before he entered the Oval Office.

You can tell yourself it’s all merely proof of his mental instability, his narcissistic compulsions, his ignorance and stupidity. Or you can wonder, as I sometimes do, whether something rational and sinister lies behind this troubling pattern.

Either way, Trump is a clear and present danger to our republic.

A ‘Gift’ To Putin: Retired Army Commander Blasts Trump Attack On Allies

Trump’s relentless attacks on U.S. allies in Europe are a gift to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, according to someone who should know.

“It’s just so unhelpful when he’s kicking the most important allies in the ass publicly,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, told Public Radio International on Wednesday.

When Trump “refers to the EU as an enemy of the United States, that’s a gift to the president of the Russian Federation and also to the president of China,” Hodges added. “This is not helpful.”

Trump has spent much of his tenure in the Oval Office trashing U.S. allies while closely aligning himself with dictators and authoritarian regimes. Trump has repeatedly questioned the value of the NATO alliance, calling it “obsolete” and even threatening to pull out of the long-standing alliance.

Retired Adm. James G. Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, said abandoning NATO would be “a geopolitical mistake of epic proportion.” Using language similar to Hodges, Stavridis said that even discussing the possibility of leaving NATO “would be the gift of the century for Putin.”

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis starkly warned that Trump’s attacks on allies were deeply worrying. “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign acts and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues,” Mattis wrote in his December 2018 resignation letter, adding that Trump does not share these key values.

Trump giving a gift to Putin would be par for the course for this administration. In a July 2018 press conference in Helsinki, Trump stood on a global stage and trashed U.S. intelligence agencies, siding with Putin’s lie that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election. After watching the press conference, former CIA Director John Brennan called Putin the “master puppeteer of Donald Trump.”

Trump has diminished the image of the United States on the global stage, so much so that diplomats openly laugh at him at venues like the United Nations. His attacks on allies only hurt America’s standing in the world, and are, indeed, “not helpful.”

Published with permission of The American Independent.

IMAGE: Lieutenant General Ben Hodges (L), commanding general of the US Army in Europe at January 2018 NATO exercises in Poland. AFP Photo

Hey, Democrats: What Will You Do About The Blob?

If a Democrat is elected president in November 2020, he or she will have two challenges: one global and one municipal.

The first challenge will be how to run the worldwide $643 billion a year military empire of the United States, which surveils the planet while fighting four undeclared wars. The second challenge is much smaller but still formidable: what to do about “the Blob” in Washington, D.C.

No, this isn’t a science fiction joke. The Blob is the nickname that Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s speechwriter, gave to America’s foreign policymaking elite in a May 2016 interview. According to Rhodes, the Blob included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and other supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

More generally, Rhodes was referring the coterie of operatives who have made U.S. foreign policy under every president from Truman to Trump. With his unkind epithet, Rhodes suggested these men and women responsible for the U.S. foreign policy record are a shapeless mass lacking a coherent identity yet somehow ominous.

While Rhodes was reviled inside the Beltway, his coinage has stuck. The Blob is useful shorthand for a recognizable and powerful group: the former officials, analysts, diplomats, writers and military officers who espouse orthodox U.S. foreign policy views.

They are not a secret cabal. They work at think tanks and elite universities and consulting firms. They talk to reporters. They opine on cable TV talk shows. And they rotate in and out of government positions. They range from multilateral liberals to hawkish neoconservatives. While they have had deep differences, they have collectively promoted a broadly consistent set of policies that has defined the United States in the world over the last 30 years.

Right now, they favor a hard line on Russia, intervention in Syria and Venezuela, bolstering NATO, and promoting free-trade agreements. They oppose defense spending cuts, rapid denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and a jobs-driven foreign policy.

At its best, the Blob gave us the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, Cuba normalization, the Millennium Challenge to address global poverty, and the now-abandoned treaty on nuclear weapons in Europe.

At its worst, the Blob gave us proxy wars (leading to failed states) in Central America; expansion of NATO (to the fury of Russia); free-trade agreements (which did little for Americans living inside the East and West Coasts); invasion of Iraq (on false pretenses); the (unsuccessful) occupation of Afghanistan; the implementation of a torture regime (and its removal); the furtive implementation of mass surveillance (since abandoned); the illusory “two-state solution” in Israel/Palestine; and unauthorized wars in Libya, Somalia, Niger, and Yemen, the last with catastrophic human consequences.

What should President Sanders (or Warren or Biden or Buttigieg or Gabbard) do upon taking office on January 21, 2021? Should they follow the Obama strategy of implementing incremental course corrections in the trajectory of current policies? Or force a fundamental change of direction on issues of war and peace?

The answer depends, in large part, on how she or he thinks about the Blob.

Trump has marginalized the Blob. He has abandoned the orderly policymaking process they revere. He ignores their briefings. He scorns their expertise. He demonizes their concept of a (neo)liberal world order. Instead, he uses the U.S. foreign policy apparatus for his own ends: to feed the family business, withdraw from land wars, collaborate with like-minded autocrats, stimulate arms sales, demonstrate belligerence, and dominate the news cycle.

The Blob fears Trump, for good reasons and bad ones.

This is the Democrats’ dilemma. Trump’s successor cannot run, much less reorient, America’s global empire without a policymaking elite. Yet the existing elite—the Blob—is wedded to the status quo ante Trump, and adamant in defense of its unimpressive-to-awful record since 9/11.

Exhibit A: Robert Kagan, liberal-minded neoconservative, adviser to both George Bush and Hillary Clinton. He is using the platform of the Washington Post to offer an alternative to Trump’s foreign policy. Since Trump has no use for the Blob, Kagan is appealing to Democrats and post-Trump Republicans to return to the foreign policies of the Clinton-Bush-Obama era. He wants America to face the challenge of the populist authoritarianism.

Kagan doesn’t spend much time defending the Blob’s record on Iraq’s non-existent WMD, torture, mass surveillance, election-meddling, Libya, or Yemen. He doesn’t spend any time addressing what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have said about the roots of today’s authoritarianism.

Kagan’s eloquent disquisition on the course of world history ends with the argument that to oppose his policy prescriptions is to oppose democracy itself:

“A broad alliance of strange bedfellows stretching from the far right to self-described ‘realists’ to the progressive left wants the United States to abandon resistance to rising authoritarian power. They would grant Russia and China the spheres of influence they demand in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. They would acquiesce in the world’s new ideological ‘diversity.’ And they would consign the democracies living in the shadow of the authoritarian great powers to their hegemonic control.”

One could describe the same reality by saying the repeated failures of the U.S. foreign policy elite—two unsuccessful trillion-dollar wars, the use of torture and mass surveillance, and near-total indifference to the impact of foreign policy on the U.S. economy have generated widespread opposition to the pretensions of the foreign policy elite. It is a “broad alliance” indeed.

The idea that post-Trump U.S. policymakers will act in defense of democracy is belied by the failures of democracy that have occurred on their watch. Kagan’s rhetoric of democracy is about as convincing as when Hillary Clinton tweeted “America is already great.”

The position of the three leading Democratic candidates on the Blob are pretty clear.

Joe Biden, who has not yet announced, was among the most dovish of Obama’s advisers, but he seems comfortable with the national security status quo. He might invite Kagan for an interview but not give him a job.

Bernie Sanders, gruff socialist, is an outsider. Along with his foreign policy adviser Matt Duss, he insists on a fundamental change from Blob policies. Sanders wouldn’t return Kagan’s phone calls.

(See David Klion’s “Who Is Matt Duss, and Can He Take On Washington’s ‘Blob’?” on the Nation.)

Elizabeth Warren, impassioned Harvard professor, is a policymaking insider par excellence (she almost single-handedly created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). She too wants to break with the Blob. Warren would return Kagan’s phone call—and tell him to hold her beer.

In short, Biden would most likely embrace the Blob, Sanders would purge it, and Warren would bend it to her will.

Another Democratic aspirant who has signaled their independence from Blob thinking is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who served two tours in Iraq as a medical specialist. She is an outspoken anti-interventionist, who has flouted liberal sensibilities with her willingness to take meetings with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a brutal dictator. She serves on the board of a foreign policy group funded by the Koch Brothers. She’s a Blob-buster.

Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman, has shown an independent streak. According to Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic, O’Rourke “bucked Obama on several important issues, pressuring him to close Guantanamo, supporting legislation to curtail NSA spying, opposing war in Syria and arming the country’s rebels, and demanding Obama get congressional authorization for his continued war on ISIS.” O’Rourke looks like a Blob skeptic.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, served as naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan, but has not focused on foreign policy or national security issues. He did endorse the suggestion of Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent that all Democratic presidential candidates pledge to abide by the War Powers Act. The oft-ignored 1975 law requires the president to get congressional approval for U.S. military action lasting longer than 90 days. That’s the kind of useful reform the Blob would never propose but could probably live with.

Jay Inslee, governor of Washington state, is running a one-issue campaign: climate change, which implies a U.S. foreign policy agenda very different than the Blob consensus. He’s a Blob skeptic.

The foreign policy views of John Delaney, a Maryland congressman and former businessman, flow from his belief in free trade, long a staple of semi-official Washington thinking. He’s Blob-friendly.

The other declared candidates—Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Kamala Harris, Senator Amy Klobuchar and entrepreneur Andrew Yang—have said little about issues of war and peace beyond platitudes. What they have (or have not) said about Venezuela indicates they are Blob-friendly.

Of course, the 2020 campaign has just begun, and voters are notoriously uninterested in foreign policy issues, at least until they become issues of war and peace. The candidates have just begun to face questions about how they would administer the American empire after Trump. And those questions begin with: What do you think of the Blob?

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


If Only Boss Putin Would Order Trump To End Shutdown

So the world’s greatest negotiator has taken 800,000 hostages and threatens to shoot himself in the foot unless he gets his wall. Too bad the Democrats can’t subcontract the job of confronting his demands to Vladimir Putin. Faced with the Russian dictator, our bold leader rolls over on his back like a puppy dog.
Furthermore, Trump’s been doing it for years. And lying his big, flabby posterior off about it the whole time. For all intents and purposes, the President of the United States is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the organized crime syndicate otherwise known as the Russian government.
In Moscow, they call them “oligarchs,” fabulously wealthy individuals essentially granted monopoly control over large sectors of the Russian economy in exchange for fealty to Putin. It’s a way of doing business our own would-be strong man has always admired. A coarse blowhard with a taste for golden toilets, Trump fits right in.
See, that’s the half-acknowledged reality behind BuzzFeed’s apparent reporting blunder about whether or not Trump told his one-time “fixer” Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his company’s pursuit of “Trump Tower Moscow” during 2016 presidential campaign.
BuzzFeed cited two anonymous law enforcement sources claiming that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators had emails, texts and testimony proving that Trump instructed Cohen to testify falsely about the would-be Moscow real estate deal.
Great excitement ensued on CNN, MSNBC and the rest. “If true” pundits and editorial writers agreed, then Trump basically suborned perjury—a “high crime” under anybody’s definition. But the reason they all added the disclaimer was that other journalists couldn’t confirm BuzzFeed’s story.
Cohen has admitted giving Congress a false timeline: claiming that the Trump organization dropped the Russian deal in January 2016, although negotiations continued right up to the GOP National Convention that June.
(Trump’s TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani has since extended the timeline until the November general election. But he’s not under oath on “Meet the Press.” Maybe Giuliani’s getting ahead of damaging revelations to come, or maybe he’s just a buffoon. Possibly both.
Rudy recently told the New Yorker : “I am afraid it will be on my gravestone. ‘Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump.’” He insisted that he always tells the truth, but that’s definitely not something you want your attorney to say.) 
As even Fox News loyalists know by now, Robert Mueller’s office made a rare public statement: “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.”
Hmm… “Not accurate” can mean a lot of things. The special counsel’s statement was both lawyerly and vague. BuzzFeed is sticking by its story. We shall see. But I am not holding my breath.
So anyway, let’s get real, shall we? Particularly in view of their long history as fellow con-men, Trump didn’t need to tell Michael Cohen to lie. All Cohen needed to do was to follow the master’s example. Trump’s been lying about his dealings with the Russians from the get-go. Virtually every word he’s ever said about the infamous Moscow Trump Tower is provably false.
It’s now come to the point where he’s lying about the lying, falsely claiming that everybody has always known about his Russian business interests, and besides, so what?
So what is that during the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly and indignantly denied any and all business relationships with Russia and Russians. The Washington Post has published a detailed timeline. On January 17, 2017, for example, he tweeted “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” In a same day press conference, he repeated “I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we’ve stayed away.”
Every word was a barefaced lie. And nobody knew that better than Vladimir Putin. What’s more, the relationship goes back decades. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Don, Jr. said in 2008. “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,” Eric Trump told
a reporter in 2014.
Forget Moscow prostitutes, Putin understands that Trump’s bigger weakness is his insatiable greed. What’s more, by lying about it during the presidential campaign, he opened himself to political blackmail.
“He has been totally compromised from at least the day he signed a letter of intent to build that tower, writes Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman. “This is now beyond dispute.” 
Indeed. Trump was Putin’s pawn when he proposed lifting economic sanctions against the Russian regime, when he parroted the Russian anti-NATO and anti-EU line, when he called upon the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, basically during every minute of the 2016 campaign.
Worse, nothing has changed since inauguration.