Britain it would not ban equipment made by Huawei from being used in its new high-speed 5G wireless network, the starkest sign yet that an American campaign against the telecommunications company is faltering.
Despite more than a year of intense lobbying by the Trump administration, which has accused Huawei of having ties to China’s Communist Party that pose a national security threat, the British government announced it would allow the company to provide equipment in some portions of a next-generation network to be built in the coming years.
But by limiting Huawei gear to less-critical parts of the new network, Britain also gave the Trump administration a partial victory that would allow it to claim that its message about the Chinese company had gotten through.
“This is a U.K.-specific solution for U.K.-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now,” said Nicky Morgan, the secretary for digital, culture, media and sport, the government agency that oversaw the decision.
“It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers,” she said.
The British decision was crucial in a broader fight for tech supremacy between the United States and China. Britain, a key American ally, is the most important country so far to reject White House warnings that Huawei is an instrument of Beijing. Britain’s membership in the “five eyes” intelligence-sharing group of countries, which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand, gave the outcome an added significance.
Many countries have been caught between the United States and China in their tech cold war. American officials have threatened to withhold intelligence if countries do not ban Huawei, while Chinese representatives have warned of economic retaliation if they do.
Britain has attempted to find a middle ground. The rules announced on Tuesday did not mention Huawei by name, instead referring more broadly to “high-risk vendors” that “pose greater security and resilience risks to U.K. telecoms networks.” Such vendors will be limited to certain parts of the wireless infrastructure, such as antennas, that are not seen as posing a threat to the integrity of the system.
No single high-risk vendor will be allowed to exceed a 35 percent market share of the network, the rules said, an effort to encourage new competition.
Huawei has long denied that it is beholden to the Chinese government.
“Huawei is reassured by the U.K. government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G rollout on track,” Victor Zhang, Huawei’s vice president, said in a statement. “This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future.”
The crown jewel of China’s tech sector, Huawei is the largest provider of equipment to build systems based on fifth-generation wireless technology, known as 5G. That technology is seen as essential infrastructure in an increasingly digitized global economy. The networks will provide dramatically faster download speeds, as well as new commercial applications in industries such as transportation, manufacturing and health care.
Huawei’s prominence has made it a target of the United States. Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, is fighting an extradition order in Canada stemming from an American indictment on fraud charges.
The Trump administration’s global effort against Huawei has had some success. In 2018, Australia imposed a ban on Huawei gear, and Japan put restrictions on purchasing Huawei equipment for government use.
But in Europe, the White House has had more trouble. While the European Union has warned of national security risks related to 5G, it has not called out China or Huawei by name or recommended a ban. In France, the government said it didn’t believe a ban was necessary. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has shared similar views, though a final decision has not been made and some in the government are calling for a harder line.
Perhaps no country was lobbied by the United States and China as hard as Britain, delaying the country’s decision-making about building its new 5G network. Earlier this month, an American delegation visited London to make a last-minute case against Huawei. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit Britain this week.
Huawei first began working in Britain more than 15 years ago and now employs 1,600 people in the country, helping it gain acceptance and a foothold to expand to other parts of Europe. Combined with the Middle East and Africa, Europe is now Huawei’s largest market outside of China.
Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London, said the British announcement is “a big deal” that gives Huawei “a level of credibility that it craves.”
British officials have said the risk Huawei presents can be managed through oversight and by limiting its access to more critical areas of the network that handle sensitive data. Huawei would be limited to providing antennas and other equipment that send data directly to consumer devices, and kept out of areas considered the nerve center of the network, such as servers that route traffic within the system.
American officials disagree that the risks can be contained since software plays a bigger role in 5G networks, with constantly-updating code making it harder to maintain complete oversight.
“Digital technology is being upgraded regularly and a level of risk with present-day technology that is manageable today may or may not be so four or five years down the line,” Mr. Tsang said.
The decision over whether to use Huawei equipment in Britain’s 5G network would usually be a technical one made by agencies that oversee cybersecurity and the nation’s digital infrastructure. But it became a political dilemma that spanned two administrations — first Theresa May when she was British prime minister, and now Boris Johnson.
British officials and executives at wireless companies have said the United States did not share smoking-gun evidence that would justify a ban of the Chinese company. American officials emphasized the vulnerabilities it could create within a national communications network in the event of a future confrontation with China.
Under the rules announced on Tuesday, high-risk firms would be excluded from providing technology at sensitive geographic locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases.
“There is definitely a potential security risk,” said Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert and visiting professor at the University of Surrey. “Is it manageable? That is the big question out there.”
Britain is in a precarious position as it negotiates an exit from the European Union. The country must forge new stand-alone trade deals in the aftermath. So while maintaining close ties to Washington is vital for Britain’s security and economy, it also needs to foster ties with China, a growing buyer of British goods.
“Post-Brexit Britain will increasingly have to rely on China even more than we already do,” said Anthony Glees, professor emeritus at the University of Buckingham, where he was head of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies.
Britain has always kept Huawei out of parts of the network that handle sensitive data to limit the vulnerability to espionage or eavesdropping. In 2010, British officials set up a lab where Huawei’s equipment could be reviewed for security flaws. The lab has identified security vulnerabilities in the equipment, but officials have said the problems weren’t a result of interference from the Chinese government and could be managed.
Mr. Woodward said Huawei provides the best technology at the most affordable price for components like antennas and equipment that are needed to operate new networks. A ban, he said, would leave the country’s network overly dependent on Huawei’s biggest rivals — Ericsson and Nokia.
British telecommunications companies have warned banning Huawei would be costly and cause delays because old equipment would have to replaced.
Kenneth Starr, the lawyer whose investigation led to the impeachment of former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1998, told the Senate on Monday that the process was happening all too often in what he called an “age of impeachment” as he spoke in defense of his client, President Donald Trump.
Starr told lawmakers that impeachment has become an all-too-common political weapon as he argued that the Senate should not remove Trump, a Republican, from office, but let voters decide in the November 2020 election.
“The Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently. Indeed, we are living in what I think can aptly be described as the age of impeachment,” he said.
Democrats accused him of hypocrisy.
“The man who spent all those dollars of taxpayers’ money, to come up with, ‘oh my God, the president has to be impeached because of sex’ … is probably not the person who should talk” about an “Age of Impeachment,” Senator Patrick Leahy told reporters.
Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on charges that he pressured Ukraine to help him smear a Democratic political rival.
Starr noted that presidential impeachment was invoked only once in the 19th century, against President Andrew Johnson, but has occurred three times in recent decades, against Trump, Clinton, and former President Richard Nixon.
No president has ever been convicted by the Senate on impeachment charges.
The House Judiciary Committee in July 1974 adopted articles of impeachment against Nixon, but the Republican president resigned less than a month later, before the full House had a chance to vote on impeachment. Johnson, who was impeached in 1868, was acquitted by the Senate.
Even Trump’s supporters seemed a little underwhelmed by Starr’s deliberate, lawyerly presentation, which focused on history and the U.S. Constitution.
“This defense needs a little less Atticus Finch and a little more Miss Universe,” Republican Representative Matt Gaetz wrote on Twitter, referring to the fictional lawyer in the Harper Lee novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Most senators remained in their seats for Starr’s speech, and several Republicans were seen chatting with him during a break.
Starr was appointed as a special counsel in the 1990s to investigate Clinton over a real estate investment. His probe widened to include Clinton’s sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives. However, the Republican-controlled Senate failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to remove him from office.
“Like war, impeachment is hell,” Starr said.
President Trump on Monday pushed back on a firsthand account from his former national security adviser, John R. Bolton, about tying military aid for a foreign ally to his own personal agenda, as senators consider the president’s future in the Oval Office.
“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Mr. Trump wrote just after midnight, referring to a widely debunked theory that the president had pursued about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter.
In an unpublished manuscript of his upcoming book, Mr. Bolton described the White House decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine until he left the White House in September. As national security adviser, Mr. Bolton would have been involved in many of the high-level discussions about Ukraine.
I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book. With that being said, the…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2020
Mr. Bolton’s account directly undercuts one of Mr. Trump’s defense arguments, that the frozen funding was not connected to his petitioning of Ukraine’s leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky, to help him in the 2020 presidential election by announcing an anticorruption investigation into the Bidens.
The new details come at a time when senators approach making a final decision — possibly by the end of the week — on whether to allow new evidence and new witnesses, like Mr. Bolton, to be introduced in Mr. Trump’s trial in the Senate. Mr. Trump’s defense team started presenting his defense on Saturday and has through Tuesday to argue against his removal from office.
Hours after his midnight posts, Mr. Trump falsely stated that the Democrats never asked Mr. Bolton to testify during the House impeachment inquiry last year. Republicans and Mr. Trump’s defense team have argued that to call witnesses at this stage in the impeachment proceedings amounts to Democrats telling the Senate to do the work the House did not.
Mr. Trump also falsely claimed that his White House released the critical military aid to Ukraine ahead of schedule.
Democrats have been pushing the Republican-led Senate to allow new witnesses, and others could include Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff who played a key role in the Ukraine pressure campaign. A handful of Republican senators had indicated they would be open to hearing new witnesses, but by the end of last week, there were few signs that they would vote with Democrats on the matter.
“There can be no doubt now that Mr. Bolton directly contradicts the heart of the president’s defense,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, said in a joint statement on Sunday after The New York Times’s article about Mr. Bolton’s account was published.
Mr. Bolton’s potentially explosive details about Mr. Trump’s motivations for freezing the military aid could provide the impetus that could potentially sway some Republican senators to reconsider hearing new testimony.
Mr. Bolton’s lawyer blamed the White House for the disclosure of the book’s contents, which Mr. Bolton submitted for a standard security review 12 days after the House impeached Mr. Trump. It is possible that the submission of Mr. Bolton’s book to the White House deepened desires to keep Mr. Bolton from testifying.
In his manuscript, Mr. Bolton describes an effort, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, to push Mr. Trump to release the aid. Mr. Bolton said he also spoke with Attorney General William P. Barr about his concerns over the parallel diplomacy with Ukraine led by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani. Mr. Barr, whom Mr. Trump mentioned in his July phone call with Mr. Zelensky, has tried to distance himself from Mr. Giuliani and the Ukraine matter.
Mr. Bolton, who has said he would testify at the Senate trial if he was subpoenaed, wrote in the manuscript that Mr. Pompeo told him privately that there was no basis to criticize the American ambassador to Ukraine at the time, Marie L. Yovanovitch. Career diplomats have testified that there was no justification to fire Ms. Yovanovitch. Mr. Giuliani and two of his associates had been pushing Mr. Trump to fire her since the spring of 2018.
Last Sunday on Fox News’ Chris Wallace showed to Alan Dershowitz (Donald Trump’s impeachment defense attorney) a 1998 video wherein he argued “exactly the opposite of what you’re arguing today” on impeachment.
Wallace first challenged Dershowitz on his constitutional basis for fighting Trump’s impeachment.
“I want to talk about the framers, because you keep bringing them up,” Wallace began. “In Federalist 65, Alexander Hamilton argues that a criminal offense is not essential to impeachment.”
Explaining that founder George Mason was concerned by the conduct of a “former British official in India who had been accused of mismanagement,” Wallace told Dershowitz, “Neither of these cases is there any mention of breaking a specific criminal statute.”
“Let’s start with mismanagement,” Dershowitz replied. “Yes, that was a criteria in England and that was rejected by the United States. That was one of the elements that was introduced by the framers and it was rejected.”
“That’s not true,” Wallace shot back. “George Mason was one of the people who came up with ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ and he meant to include things like misconduct and abuse of power.”
Later, Wallace resurfaced the 1998 clip of Dershowitz discussing former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
“I do want to point out that, we want to listen to a couple of people who — you bring up the impeachment trial — who argued exactly the opposite of what you’re arguing today,” Wallace said, rolling footage vintage Dershowitz insisting there “certainly doesn’t have to be a crime” for a president to be impeached.
“Professor Dershowitz, let me ask about this, because when you argue that case … I find it very hard to believe that you had not studied the only other presidential impeachment in history, which was the [Andrew] Johnson impeachment,” Wallace said. “So suddenly discovering that the key issue is what Justice] Curtis argued in 1860, you’re too good a lawyer not to have studied that back in 1998.”
Dershowitz attempted to argue that in 1998, Clinton was charged with a crime, but Wallace zeroed in on the recorded argument. “We just put the sound up … you said it doesn’t have to be a crime.”
“I did say that then,” Dershowitz replied. “And then I’ve done all the extensive research, I’ve been immersing myself in dusty old books and I’ve concluded that no, it has to be a crime. It doesn’t have to be a technical crime.”
The lawyer went on to list other people who’ve changed their views since the Clinton impeachment.
“That’s what scholars do,” Dershowitz claimed.
“It’s also what lawyers do,” Wallace retorted. “Which is depending on the facts of the case and the side they’re arguing, they find an argument to make.”
When reporter Mary Louise Kelly asked U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Ukraine and the ousted American ambassador to Kiev in an interview he cursed her and repeatedly used the F-word in a shouted.
Mary Louise Kelly conducted a testy interview lasting about nine minutes with Pompeo for NPR’s “All Things Considered” program, asking him about Iran and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted by President Donald Trump last May. Yovanovitch’s removal was a key event in the actions that prompted Trump’s impeachment in the House of Representatives last month.
“Afterwards, Pompeo proceeded to shout his displeasure at being questioned about Ukraine. He used repeated expletives, according to Kelly,” NPR said in a statement.
“He asked, ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’ He used the F-word in that sentence and many others,” Kelly said in an interview of her own with NPR later on Friday.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kelly said Pompeo shouted at her “for about the same amount of time as the interview itself.” Pompeo then had aides bring a blank map of the world and asked Kelly to show Ukraine.
“People will hear about this,” Pompeo said after Kelly pointed at Ukraine on the map, she said.
When Kelly turned her questioning to Ukraine in the latter part of the interview with Pompeo, he said he had agreed to discuss only Iran.
Kelly said she had informed Pompeo’s aides that she would ask also about Ukraine, and posed several questions, including whether Pompeo owed an apology to Yovanovitch, who testified last year in the House impeachment inquiry about her ouster. The incident also has figured in Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
“I have defended every State Department official. … I’ve defended every single person on this team,” Pompeo replied.
In November, Pompeo declined to defend Yovanovitch after Trump attacked her on Twitter.
Yovanovitch was removed by Trump following a negative campaign against her by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others. Giuliani at the time was pushing to have Ukraine investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden.
Iowa’s caucuses are the first nominating contests in presidential election cycles, giving the largely rural, Midwestern state an outsized role in choosing standard-bearers from each party.
The Des Moines Register newspaper endorsed Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in the crowded race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination late on Saturday, a coveted show of support that could boost her campaign in the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus on Feb. 3.
“I just heard about it and I’m delighted,” Warren told supporters after an event in Muscatine, Iowa. “It really means a lot to me.”
Warren, the Register’s choice, is a progressive who backs a single-payer healthcare system and reforms throughout the nation’s economic, political and criminal justice systems.
In its endorsement, the newspaper said Warren would “push an unequal America in the right direction.”
But the Register’s editorial board went on to insist that Warren, viewed by some as too far left, is no radical.
“The senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts is not the radical some perceive her to be,” the newspaper said. “She was a registered Republican until 1996. She is a capitalist.”
In an Iowa poll released on Saturday by the New York Times, Warren came in third among Democratic voters, behind fellow progressive Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.
While Donald Trump, an incumbent who enjoys high favorability ratings within his party, is expected to handily win the Republican nomination, the Democratic field remains wide open, with five candidates leading a pack that started with more that two dozen contenders.
Top finishers in Iowa’s nominating contests frequently go on to lead their parties in the final election match-up.
This is the March for Life’s youth rally, an event designed to gear kids up before America’s largest annual anti-abortion march, due to be held in Washington DC on Friday and attended by Donald Trump, who would be the first US president to speak at the event.
“You already know the pro-life issue is the human rights issue of our day,” said Charlotte Pence Bond, Vice-President Mike Pence’s middle daughter and an anti-abortion public speaker.
People who get abortions are not evil, however, Bond told the crowd. The pro-choice movement is “mostly full of people who are really hurting”, she said, although, “I believe abortion is evil.”
This national March for Life, a protest held every yearsince the landmark US supreme court decision in Roe v Wade legalized abortion in 1973, regularly attracts 100,000 people to the Capitol, with side events such as an exposition, conference and dinners.
Many Catholic schools bus students to the March for Life as an annual field trip. Even more teenagers come with church groups or their anti-abortion parents. Together with white evangelical Protestants, they are the lifeblood of the anti-abortion movement.
A majority of Americans support legal abortion, and do not want Roe v Wade overturned, public sentiment that has changed little over the decades. Young people, in general, are even more likely to support abortion rights. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found people aged 18-24, the youngest polled, were almost 10% more likely to support abortion rights than seniors.
But young people are “not a monolith”, the survey notes. And two religious traditions bucked the trend – white mainstream Protestants and Jews. Only 51% of young, mainstream Protestants believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 60% of seniors in this group. Among young Jews, 66% believe abortion should be legal, compared with 77% of Jewish seniors.
Young people at March for Life are bucking the trend, and they are aware, even if some said they had never been confronted with pro-choice arguments.
One teen attending the rally was 15-year-old Catherine Halbmaier. “I was sort of born into it,” said Halbmaier, who attends Catholic Faustine Academy in Irving, Texas, and was attending the rally as a field trip. She said she was not aware of ever meeting someone who was pro-choice. “I was always pro-life, but I really started to agree with it in seventh grade.”
Conversations on the sidelines of this rally sound like any other gathering of American teens. Do you have a Nintendo DS? What are you posting on Instagram? What kind of car do you want? But there are other touchstones for these kids.
One is Abby Johnson, who worked as a Planned Parenthood director in Texas until she became a darling of the anti-abortion movement. Her story was turned into the feature-length movie Unplanned. Many of the teens, like Halbmaier, saw the movie at school before they came here.
“We watched Unplanned too,” said 13-year-old Adam Jordan, a student at Immaculate Conception in Union, Missouri. “It was very, very bad,” he said. The film is graphic at times, and his school had to seek parental permission to show it.
This rally shows the permutations the anti-abortion movement has gone through. In the 1990s, aggressive anti-abortion protesters would scream at women from the sidewalks of abortion clinics. Women seeking abortions still have to walk that gauntlet, but leaders have sought to move attention away from those protesters to soften the movement’s image.
It is a love movement, they tell the kids.
At the same time, several speakers told children “don’t be afraid to offend” or to get into disagreements.
“My school’s teachers are very left,” said Christian Hepburn, a 16-year-old public school student from Springfield, Massachusetts. “I’m very Christian and open about my beliefs – I get into debates or confrontations, you could say.” His mother is an ultrasound technician and is anti-abortion.
This year is likely to focus the nation’s attention on women’s rights as the country prepares to vote in the November election. In just a couple of months a new conservative US supreme court bench of Trump’s making will hear oral arguments on an anti-abortion case in Louisiana. It is the first the court will take up on abortion.
That is when the real work will begin, Bond said, “when we see a post-Roe America, as I believe we will”.
On stage, a speaker from Texas named Angelica Park told a story about why she lost her race for class president. She had posted a video by an anti-abortion doctor on Instagram, and was met with disgust by her classmate. The football team campaigned against her. She described each abortion as a divine flash.
“The only difference between them and you is they were extinguished,” Park said. “But not tomorrow. Tomorrow we will march in their light, because we are the pro-life generation!”
In March 1906, on the heels of the U.S. Army’s massacre of some 1,000 men, women, and children in the crater of a volcano in the American-occupied Philippines, humorist Mark Twain took his criticism public. A long-time anti-imperialist, he flippantly suggested that Old Glory should be redesigned “with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.”
I got to thinking about that recently, five years after I became an antiwar dissenter (while still a major in the U.S. Army), and in the wake of another near-war, this time with Iran. I was struck yet again by the way every single U.S. military intervention in the Greater Middle East since 9/11 has backfired in wildly counterproductive ways, destabilizing a vast expanse of the planet stretching from West Africa to South Asia.
Chaos, it seems, is now Washington’s stock-in-trade. Perhaps, then, it’s time to resurrect Twain’s comment — only today maybe those stars on our flag should be replaced with the universal symbol for chaos.
After all, our present administration, however unhinged, hardly launched this madness. President Trump’s rash, risky, and repugnant decision to assassinate Iranian Major General Qassem Suleimani on the sovereign soil of Iraq was only the latest version of what has proven to be a pervasive state of affairs. Still, that and Trump’s other recent escalations in the region do illustrate an American chaos machine that’s gone off the rails. And the very manner — I’m loathe to call it a “process” — by which it’s happened just demonstrates the way this president has taken American chaos to its dark but logical conclusion.
The Goldilocks Method
Any military officer worth his salt knows full well the importance of understanding the basic psychology of your commander. President George W. Bush liked to call himself “the decider,” an apt term for any commander. Senior leaders don’t, as a rule, actually do that much work in the traditional sense. Rather, they hobnob with superiors, buck up unit morale, evaluate and mentor subordinates, and above all make key decisions. It’s the operations staff officers who analyze problems, present options, and do the detailed planning once the boss blesses or signs off on a particular course of action.
Though they may toil thanklessly in the shadows, however, those staffers possess immense power to potentially circumscribe the range of available options and so influence the future mission. In other words, to be a deft operations officer, you need to know your commander’s mind, be able translate his sparse guidance, and frame his eventual choice in such a manner that the boss leaves a “decision briefing” convinced the plan was his own. Believe me, this is the actual language military lifers use to describe the tortured process of decision-making.
In 2009, as a young captain, fresh out of Baghdad, Iraq, I spent two unfulfilling, if instructive, years enmeshed in exactly this sort of planning system. As a battalion-level planner, then assistant, and finally a primary operations officer, I observed this cycle countless times. So allow me to take you “under the hood” for some inside baseball. I — and just about every new staff officer — was taught to always provide the boss with three plans, but to suss out ahead of time which one he’d choose (and, above all, which one you wanted him to choose).
Confident in your ability to frame his choices persuasively, you’d often even direct your staffers to begin writing up the full operations order beforethe boss’s briefing took place. The key to success was what some labeled the Goldilocks method. You’d always present your commander with a too-cautious option, a too-risky option, and a “just-right” course of action. It nearly always worked.
I did this under the command of two very different lieutenant colonels. The first was rational, ethical, empathetic, and tactically competent. He made mission planning easy on his staff. He knew the game as well as we did and only pretended to be fooled. He built relationships with his senior operations officers over the course of months, thereby revealing his preferred methods, tactical predilections, and even personal learning style. Then he’d give just enough initial guidance — far more than most commanders — to set his staff going in a reasonably focused fashion.
Unfortunately, that consummate professional moved on to bigger things and his replacement was a sociopath who gave vague, often conflicting guidance, oozed insecurity in briefings, and had a disturbing penchant for choosing the most radical (read: foolhardy) option around. Sound familiar? It should!
Still, military professionals are coached to adapt and improvise and so we did. As a staff we worked to limit his range of options by reverse–ordering the choices we presented him or even lying about nonexistent logistical limitations to stop him from doing the truly horrific.
And as recent events remind us, such exercises play out remarkably similarly, no matter whether you’re dealing at a battalion level (perhaps 400 to 700 troops) or that of this country’s commander-in-chief (more than two million uniformed service personnel). The behind-the-scenes war-gaming of the boss, the entire calculus, remains the same, whether the options are ultimately presented by a captain (me, then) or — as in the recent decision to assassinate Iranian Major General Suleimani — Mark Milley, the four-star general at the helm of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Soon after President Trump’s egregious, a-strategic, dubiously legal, unilateral execution of a uniformed leader of a sovereign country, reports surfaced describing his convoluted decision-making process. Perhaps predictably, it appears that The Donald took his military staff by surprise and chose the most extreme measure they presented him with — assassinating a foreign military figure. Honestly, that this president did so should have surprised no one. That, according toa report in the New York Times, his generals were indeed surprised strikes me as basic dereliction of duty (especially given that, seven months earlier, Trump had essentially given the green light to such a future assassination — the deepest desire, by the way, of both his secretary of state and his then-national security advisor, John Bolton).
At this point in their careers, having played out such processes at every possible level for at least 30 years, his generals ought to have known their boss better, toiled valiantly to temper his worst instincts, assumed he might choose the most extreme measure offered and, when he did so, publicly resigned before potentially relegating their soldiers to a hopeless new conflict. That they didn’t, particularly that the lead briefer Milley didn’t, is just further proof that, 18-plus years after our latest round of wars began, such senior leaders lack both competence and integrity.
Bush, Obama, and the Chaos Machine’s Tragic Foundations
The current commander-in-chief could never have expanded America’s wars in the Greater Middle East (contra his campaign promises) or unilaterally drone-assassinated a foreign leader, without the militaristic foundations laid down for him by George W. Bush and Barack Obama. So it’s vital to review, however briefly, the chaotic precedents to the rule of Donald Trump.
Guided by a coterie of neoconservative zealots, Bush the Younger committed the nation to the “original sin” of expansive, largely unsanctioned wars as his chosen response to the 9/11 attacks. It was his team that would write the playbook on selling an ill-advised, illegal invasion of Iraq based on bad intelligence and false pretenses. He also escalated tensions with Iran to the brink of war by including the Islamic Republic in an imaginary “axis of evil” (with Iraq and North Korea) after invading first one of its neighbors, Afghanistan, and then the other, Iraq, while imposing sanctions, which froze the assets of Iranians allegedly connected to that country’s nuclear program. He ushered in the use of torture, indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition, illegal domestic mass surveillance, and drone attacks over the sovereign airspace of other countries — then lied about it all. That neither Congress, nor the courts, nor his successor held him (or anyone else) accountable for such decisions set a dangerous new standard for foreign policy.
Barack Obama promised “hope and change,” a refreshing (if vague) alternative to the sins of the Bush years. The very abstraction of that slogan, however, allowed his supporters to project their own wants, needs, and preferred policies onto the future Obama experiment. So perhaps none of us ought to have been as surprised as many of us were when, despite slowly pulling troops out of Iraq, he only escalated the Afghan War, continued the forever wars in general (even returning to Iraq in 2014), and set his own perilous precedents along the way.
It was, after all, Obama who, as an alternative to large-scale military occupations, took Bush’s drone program and ran with it. He would be the first president to truly earn the sobriquet “assassin-in-chief.” He made selecting individuals for assassination in “Terror Tuesday” meetings at the White House banal and put his stamp of approval on the drone campaigns across significant parts of the planet that followed — even killing American citizens without due process. Encouraged by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he also launched a new regime-change war in Libya, turning that land into a failed state filled with terror groups, a decision which, he later admitted, added up to a “shit show.” After vacillating for a couple years, he also mired the U.S., however indirectly, in the Syrian civil war, empowering Islamist factions there and worsening that already staggering humanitarian catastrophe.
In response to the sudden explosion of the Islamic State — an al-Qaeda offshoot first catalyzed by the Bush invasion of Iraq and actually formed in an American prison in that country — its taking of key Iraqi cities and smashing of the American-trained Iraqi army, Obama loosed U.S. air power on them and sent American troops back into that country. He also greatly expanded his predecessor’s nascent military interventions across the African continent. There, too, the results were largely tragic and counterproductive as ethnic militias and Islamic terror groups have spread widely and civil warfare has exploded.
Finally, it was Obama who first sanctioned, supported, and enabled the Saudi terror bombing of Yemen, which, even now, remains perhaps the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. So it is that, from Mali to Libya, Syria to Afghanistan, every one of Bush’s and Obama’s military forays has sowed further chaos, startling body counts, and increased rates of terrorism. It’s those policies, those results, and the military toolbox that went with them that Donald J. Trump inherited in January 2017.
The Trumpian Perfect Storm
During the climax to the American phase of a 30-year war in Vietnam, newly elected President Richard Nixon, a well-established Republican cold warrior, developed what he dubbed the “madman theory” for bringing the intractable U.S. intervention there to a face-saving conclusion. The president’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, recalled Nixon telling him:
“I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button’ and [North Vietnamese leader] Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”
It didn’t work, of course. Nixon escalated and expanded the war. He briefly invaded neighboring Cambodia and Laos, secretly (and illegally) bombed both countries, and ramped up air strikes on North Vietnam. Apart from slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocents, however, none of this had a notable effect on the ultimate outcome. The North Vietnamese called his bluff, extending the war long enough to force an outright American withdrawal less than four years later. Washington lost in Southeast Asia, just as today it’s losing in the Greater Middle East.
So it was, with the necessary foundations of militarism and hyper-interventionism in place, that Donald Trump entered the White House, at times seemingly intent on testing out his own personal “fire and fury” version of the madman theory. Indeed, his more irrational and provocative foreign policy incitements, including pulling out of the Paris climate accords, spiking a working nuclear deal with Iran, existentially threatening North Korea, seizing Syrian oil fields, sending yet more military personnel into the Persian Gulf region, and most recently assassinating a foreign leader seem right out of some madman instruction manual. And just like Nixon’s stillborn escalations, Trump’s most absurd moves also seem bound to fail.
Take the Suleimani execution as a case in point. An outright regional war has (so far) been avoided, thanks not to the “deal-making” skills of that self-styled “stable genius” in the White House but to Iran’s long history of restraint. As retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former top aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell, recently put it: “The leadership in Tehran is far more rational than the leadership in Washington.”
In fact, Trump’s unprecedented assassination order backfired at every level. He even managed briefly to unite a divided Iranian nation, caused the Iraqi government to demand a full U.S. troop withdrawal from that country, convinced Iran to end its commitment to restrain its enrichment of uranium, and undoubtedly incentivized both Tehran and Pyongyang not to commit to, or abide by, any future nuclear deals with Washington.
If George W. Bush and Barack Obama sowed the seeds of the American chaos machine, Donald Trump represents the first true madman at the wheel of state, thanks to his volatile temperament, profound ignorance, and crippling insecurity.
The Rapture as Foreign Policy
All of which raises another disturbing question: What if this administration’s chaos-sowing proves an end in itself, one that coheres with the millenarian fantasies of sections of the Republican Christian Right? After all, several key figures on the Trump team — notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence — explicitly view the Middle East as evangelical Christians. Like a disturbing 73% of evangelicals (or 20% of the U.S. population), Pompeo and Pence believe that the Rapture (that is, the prophesied Christian end of the world) is likely to unfold in this generation and that a contemporary conflict in Israel and an impending war with Iran might actually be trigger events ushering in just such an apocalypse.
Donald Trump is, by all indications, far too self-serving, self-absorbed, and cynical to adhere to the eschatological blind-faith of the two Mikes. He clearly believes only in Donald Trump. And yet what a terrible irony it would be if, due to his perfect-storm disposition, he unwittingly ends up playing the role of the very Antichrist those evangelicals believe necessary to usher in end-times.
Given the foundations set in place for Trump by George W. Bush and Barack Obama and his capacity to throw caution to the wind, it’s hard to imagine a better candidate to play that role.
Danny Sjursen, a TomDispatch regular, is a retired U.S. Army major and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now lives in Lawrence, Kansas. He has written a memoir of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his podcast “Fortress on a Hill,” co-hosted with fellow vets Chris Henriksen and Keegan Ryan Miller.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.
Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen
President Trump lashed out at Democrats on Thursday over their impeachment efforts on his first morning back in Washington since his trial in the Senate began hearing the arguments against him.
Most of the president’s early-morning Twitter blitz was reprisals of his favorite insults and quoting personalities on Fox News.
The Democrats & Shifty Schiff, whose presentation to the Senate was loaded with lies and misrepresentations, are refusing to state that the Obama Administration withheld aid from many countries including Ukraine, Pakistan, Philippines, Egypt, Honduras, & Mexico. Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2020
Mr. Trump returned from Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday evening after attending the World Economic Forum. He is scheduled to travel to Florida on Thursday afternoon, at the same time House impeachment managers present their case for the second day. The Democrats’ arguments are expected to last eight hours.
It is not clear how much of the trial Mr. Trump has watched live. Democrats acting as prosecutors and the president’s legal defense team each have 24 hours over three days to make their cases for and against removing Mr. Trump from office. Under the trial rules, senators must remain silent in the chamber or face imprisonment. And no electronics are allowed in the space for easy tweeting.
So far, this has meant long segments of presentations from the Democratic impeachment managers without interruptions from the president’s lawyers or Republican allies who could push back against the accusations.
Mr. Trump repeated his argument that he was not allowed lawyers or witnesses during the Democrat-led House impeachment inquiry, though in fact he was invited to take part in the House Judiciary Committee’s inquiry. He refused, and blocked administration witnesses from testifying.
During an impromptu news conference in Davos on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said he would like witnesses from his administration to testify during the Senate trial but, that in some cases, his hands were tied because of national security concerns.
Mr. Trump also took time Thursday morning to attack Michael Bloomberg, one of the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to run against Mr. Trump in the presidential election later this year.
The portraits of President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have become a destination for visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington ever since they were unveiled in 2018. Next year, the acclaimed paintings — by the artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald — are going on the road with a five-city tour that the museum announced on Thursday.
“The portraits are going to be shared with people who did not have the opportunity to see them,” Ms. Sherald said in a telephone interview, adding that for some, visiting the paintings has been something of a “pilgrimage.”
In mid-May 2021, the portraits will temporarily come down from the walls of the Portrait Gallery, which is also publishing a book — “The Obama Portraits” — in partnership with Princeton University Press, to be released Feb. 11.
The tour will start at the Art Institute of Chicago in June 2021 and continue through May 2022 with stops at the Brooklyn Museum; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
“Since the unveiling of these two portraits of the Obamas, the Portrait Gallery has experienced a record number of visitors, not only to view these works in person, but to be part of the communal experience of a particular moment in time,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a statement. “This tour is an opportunity for audiences in different parts of the country to witness how portraiture can engage people in the beauty of dialogue and shared experience.”
Mr. Wiley and Ms. Sherald were the first African-American artists to have been selected for the National Portrait Gallery’s official portraits of a president or first lady.