Qatar and Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, War in Syria: The Dangers of Unserious Leadership in Fragile Times

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I’m not saying that to be a successful President you have to understand what this map means. But you actually kind of do…

America has been rightfully consumed with the subdued opera of the Comey hearings, in which members of both parties accepted as a stipulation that the President was a grotesque, habitual liar, and that his best defense was he literally has no idea what he is doing, so how could he be obstructing justice? I don’t know the legal ramifications of this, but even as the GOP desperately tried to downplay Comey, which seems to imply a return to the status quo, I think there will continue to be a steady drip of revelations. Comey implying that Sessions is dirtier than we (well, the media) thought might be the first major crack. No one is going to want to be the last person to go down for this.

But think again about the essential shrugging reaction even senators from his own party have to the essential nature of Trump: sure he’s dishonest and completely incapable of being President, but is that illegal? Maybe for the former, probably not for the latter. But that’s not the issue: the issue is that it is extremely dangerous. It’s dangerous domestically, and potentially catastrophic abroad.

There could be few worse times to have a blundering, spite-filled, ego-driven ignorant man as President of the United States. The post-WWII order was crumbling, but just as importantly (if unremarked), the post-WWI order in the Middle East (and much or Eurasia) is crumbling and reforming in unexpected and difficult ways as well. This is a hinge moment for a huge part of the world, and with his disaster-junkie approach to things, Trump can’t help but make it enormously worse. And it starts, of course, with Qatar.

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McMasters, Comey, and the Trump Endgame

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The fake king at the end of days

There are two ways that the Trump Presidency could end.

OK, that’s not true. There are many, many ways the Trump Presidency could end, including relatively normally. But that seems impossible, because we’ve elected a spoiled, ignorant, dauphin to become the most powerful person in the world. We’ve elected someone who is, without a doubt, in the bottom 10% of people in this country who should be President. You pull nearly anyone off the street, and the wouldn’t be as implusive, reckless, and vainglorious. They wouldn’t be as poor a manager or judge of people, and they wouldn’t let their ego overtake every affair. I’m not saying most people would be good Presidents (I’d be terrible), but few would be this bad.

And because of that, there are right now two paths that stand out among many, both with terrible repercussions.

The more straightforward one is that with the firing of Comey and the purported memo we’re pretty clearly in an Obstruction of Justice phase. Even Republicans are beginning to come around. Vulnerable ones in Illinois, like Adam Kinzinger, are calling for independent prosecutors, and others are just hiding. They feel the worm turning. Paul Ryan hasn’t come up for air in days, as he basically wants to avoid the parts of his job that don’t involve starving people.

The main counterargument, as Ross Douthat, of all people, points out, is that Trump probably is too stupid to even know he was obstructing justice. He was just asking Comey to do him a solid, lean on him a little bit, etc. No biggie. (Douthat thinks this is true, but says it proves Trump’s manifest unfitness for office).

Now, it is true that obstruction of justice is hard to prove, and it is true that there are enough emotional Trump supporters that the GOP might be scared of offending. They might duck behind the incredibly cynical “oh, so now you like Comey” ploy, as if (not actual!) hypocrisy by Democrats is an absolution for actual crimes. There will be a lot of wrangling as Republicans deal with the full scope of their moral failure, their irrational hatred for Hillary Clinton, their insane partisanship, and most of all, placing their desire to throw millions off health care and cut taxes for the rich over the needs of the Republic.

Will they be able to own up to it? If so, expect a lot of talk of their courage and bravery (mostly self-praise), and the nauseating spectacle of their “rising above partisanship”. A Trump impeachement will unleash all the howling anger that is already shaking this country, and they shouldn’t get praise for stopping, too late, a beast they helped create. But we’ll deal with that when we get to it if, hopefully, we do.

There is a worse scenario, here, and that involves H.R. McMaster, who has long been one of the most respected people in America, and certainly in the military, but who has been tainted and corrupted by proximity to Trump, as is inevitable.  Fred Kaplan captures the sadness of McMaster standing up for Trump, in a statement that is mostly a lie, at best an evasion, and in a way, aiding and abetting our deranged king. There is a part in Kaplan that truly stands out.

At the same time, he is still an active-duty officer, duty-bound to obey all legal orders from his commander in chief and perhaps inclined to regard him with respect. Will he remain conscious of the tension between his obligations and his character, asserting the latter whenever opportunities arise? Or will the former subsume all else?

That’s very true. McMaster is active duty, and sworn to civilian primacy. That’s the founding genius of our nation. But what happens if Trump, facing impeachement and disgrace, orders the military to do something terrible and drastic? What if he tries to bind it to him, instead of the country. In August, I argued that such behavior was the primary danger of electing Donald Trump.

Unlike in Turkey, the armed forces here take pride in the fact that they don’t need to guarantee democracy through domestic force; indeed, the fact that they don’t is why our democracy works as well as it does. But if an order is illegal, and insanely so, what then? Do they refuse the order and go against the basis of their existence? Do they do something illegal, which is also a betrayal of their values, because then it means that the military isn’t loyal to the US, but just its temporary and titular head? What happens? Which betrayal is worse? And at what point do they enact the ultimate betrayal in the name of the country: that is, a legitimate overthrowing of civilian power?…

The crisis can come because Donald Trump is a fascist, and think he can and should rule like one. He has no respect for the rule of law, and believes that everything is his toy, and should be used for his greater glory. He feels that civilian control of the military means that they should be loyal to him. That’s not what we are about. The result of this collision is impossible to know. But if he is elected, you can be sure it is coming, and it will be unlike any crisis we’ve faced since the Civil War.

McMaster obviously isn’t in charge of the military, but he is key to this. How long do they stay loyal? Are there mass resignations? Or do they actually betray one duty to uphold another? This is the most terrifying endgame for Trump, and it is far from outside the realm of possibility. It’s what we might be facing. It’s the question that will get hot as the summer starts to boil and the temper of our President reaches rageful and spiteful tantrumic heights: what will the military do?

That we are even asking that is reason why every politician who supported Trump should be disgraced, forever.

Spicer and Trump: A One-Act Play About Taping James Comey

REPORTER: Moving on to the news of the week, did president Trump record his conversations with former FBI director Comey?
SPICER: I assume you’re referring to the tweet. And I’ve talked to the president—the president has nothing further to add.
REPORTER: Why did he say that? Why did he tweet that? What should we interpret from that?
SPICER: As I mentioned, the president has nothing further to add.
REPORTER: Are there recording devices in the Oval Office or the residence?
SPICER: As I said for the third time, there is nothing further to add on that.
REPORTER: Does he think it is appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?
SPICER: I don’t think that’s a threat. He simply stated a fact, the tweet speaks for itself. I’m moving on.
It is good to know that Spicer talked to the President (who, remember, is Donald Trump) before meeting with reporters. I am sure that was a good conversation.
SPICER walks into the Oval Office, sees no one is in it except for Mike Pence, grinning broadly, and walks into the annex, where POTUS TRUMP is watching 11 TVs. MNUCHIN is in the corner. 
SPICER: Hey boss, just thought I’d ask real quick before today’s press briefing about the Comey thing.
POTUS TRUMP: Tell them that what Don Lemon said was stupid. Tell them it was disgusting and also that a lot of people say my relationship with Xi is very very good. I think he really likes me, and so why are we talking about currency manipulation? I stopped it, ok?
MNUCHIN: You sure did!
SPICER: Yes, of course, we’ll make sure to get that all out. I can’t wait for Lemon to hear it!
(everyone gives each other thumbs-up for 45 seconds)
SPICER: OK, but, they are probably going to ask if there actually are, you know tapes?
POTUS TRUMP: Who’s talking about tapes? All I said was that there might be tapes, in quotes, and the quotes are very important but the Fake News is always like ‘oh, Trump said tapes’, but they never talk about the quotes, and they never mention Trump’s quotes.
SPICER: OK, so, there aren’t tapes then?
POTUS TRUMP: Who knows? I just said he better hope there aren’t, because if there are, he wouldn’t want to talk, because that wouldn’t be nice. It would be really nasty.
SPICER: So, it obviously wasn’t a threat. It’s just a fact that he should hope no one tapes him.
POTUS TRUMP: Of course it wasn’t a threat. He might say stuff, because he’s very disloyal, you know, and I am never the one who brought up loyalty, and now I hear, oh Tump, he wants loyalty, but I only want people who are loyal enough to fire people who aren’t. Tell them that. You look taller today. Did you see what Rosie said?
SPICER: About Comey?
POTUS TRUMP: No.
(11 minutes of silence)
Spicer: So, nothing furth–
POTUS TRUMP: That commercial didn’t have me in it!
SPICER (exits)

Dear GOP: Mike Pence Hates Health Care and Loves Tax Cuts, Too

 

You guys already bond over horrible things! Wouldn’t this be nicer?

 

If I were a Republican (which sharp-eyed and politically astute readers of this blog will recognize I am not), my basic calculations in the wake of the Comey firing would be this:

  • We’ve supported Trump so that we could kick millions of people off health care and cut taxes for the rich.
  • And oh yeah, destroy the environment and the public good!
  • And he’s been super willing to do that, so it’s been ok to ignore the troublesome what-have-yous over his total lack of mental or moral capacities for the job.  He’ll sign anything to get a win so he can pretend to be Mr. Businessgenius President, and anyway, the Mexican and the Muslim stuff has been a great bonus. Aces all around!
  • But ok, this might be too much. You can’t fire the FBI director because he’s investigating your Russian crimes, man. This looks superbad, even though we love the strongman thing. Except when the black guy does it, then it is tyranny.
  • So, can we get through this? If we get rid of him, can we still get our stuff done?
  • Let’s say we impeach. It’s a bad year, really bad. But we look brave! And the media calls us heroic, putting the country ahead of our party. And then we have President Pence, and he hates taxes, health care, the public good, the environment, hippies, and liberals as much as we do. And he hates abortionists and gays way more than Trump!
  • So we can weather this impeachment, because god knows our democracy is literally under assault, and still get stuff done before the midterms. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll actually pick up seats for our courage.

There are flaws in this calculation. For one, what if Trump doesn’t care if he is impeached and refuses to leave? And the drama of displacing a President might overtake everything else, especially this President. And you might lose the base entirely. And you might not be done by 2018.

And I may be assuming facts not in evidence. I am assuming there is a baseline of genuine patriotism here. That despite their love for voter suppression, the GOP doesn’t actually want to see us go full banana. That Trump, whole embarrassing, is sort of exactly what they want. So I might be making a few too many assumptions, really.

But dammit, come on. President Pence will give you what you want! I would loathe a Pence Presidency. He’s a theocrat and a bigot and kind of a dummy and I’d fight every one of his policies, but he is so within the acceptable norms. I even sort of fear a post-impeachment Pence, because the sigh of relief will be so great that he will be sort of unshackled. Any opposition might be seen as gauche.

But things are so bad now, and we’re so close to an epochal constitutional disaster, that I’d embrace that. Even if it is for the wrong reasons–to make it easier to pursue their terrible agenda–one has to hope that the GOP discovers some patriotism, before it is too late.

Trey Gowdy’s Comey Strategy: All Tomorrow’s Conspiracies

 

“Did reverse vampires have access to redacted names?” 

 

Trey Gowdy first came to the national spotlight when he began his relentless investigation into Benghazi, which, to hear the GOP tell it, was the first time something bad had happened to Americans in the Middle East, which is the only reason they spent years and millions of dollars investigating. Gowdy was determined to find out exactly what happened, because that was his solemn duty as an American, and there were no alternative motives.

It was probably just a happy coincidence that, although the main takeaways were 1) sometimes tragic things happen in unstable countries and a nation determined to have a global military and diplomatic presence will bear the brunt of that; and 2) maybe the GOP shouldn’t have cut embassy and consulate security spending, the investigations also helped to hurt Hillary Clinton.

Really, obviously, that was the entire point. The GOP knows the way to work the modern media climate. Keep putting things in the news. Keep hyping up scandals even if they can be disproven easily. People will hear words and phrases bandied about and assume something bad has to be going on. The media will duly report on it, and the initiates in the media and the right-wing noise machine will amplify it. Facts don’t matter; what matters are certain words that enter the ether, sulfurous and redolent of crime. That’s why there were innumerable hearings on Benghazi. It kept the name alive.

And that was their strategy yesterday during the Comey hearing as well. The entire plan, revolving largely around the boss’s unhinged ego-preservation strategy, is that the real crime issue here is leaks. One might point out that Gowdy’s own Benghazi panels leaked like a reefstruck dinghy, in a way that just so happened to consistently hurt Hillary Clinton. One might even argue that was the entire point of the hearings. But no matter: right now, the Republicans are united in fury at the very thought of leaks! This is the most serious issue our country is facing.

As we talked about yesterday, this is part distraction, and part fervent belief that the Obama “Deep State” is hurting Trump. They are unable to believe otherwise. And Gowdy, who pretends to be a serious prosecutor but is really just a skilled manipulator of the media, both normal and alternative, knew his job.

During his interlude with Comey, he commiserated about the seriousness of the crime of leaking (which is a crime in many cases). He then put forth a laundry list of names of people who could, in theory, have access to redacted names that made it to the press. (Times summary, then WaPo transcript)

In an outraged tone, Mr. Gowdy noted Washington Post and New York Times articles citing anonymous sources to report that in conversations intercepted by American intelligence, Mr. Flynn had discussed sanctions against Russia with Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak. Such interceptions are highly classified intelligence, Mr. Comey confirmed.

“I thought it was against the law to disseminate classified information. Is it?” Mr. Gowdy asked.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Comey replied. “It’s a serious crime.”

GOWDY: Do you know whether Director Clapper knew the name of the U.S. citizen that appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post?

COMEY: I can’t say in this forum because again, I don’t wanna confirm that there was classified information in the newspaper.

GOWDY: Would he have access to an unmasked name?

COMEY: In — in some circumstances, sure, he was the director of national intelligence. But I’m not talking about the particular.

GOWDY: Would Director Brennan have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: In some circumstances, yes.

GOWDY: Would National Security Adviser Susan Rice have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: I think any — yes, in general, and any other national security adviser would, I think, as a matter of their ordinary course of their business.

GOWDY: Would former White House Advisor Ben Rhodes have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: I don’t know the answer to that.

GOWDY: Would former Attorney General Loretta Lynch have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name? COMEY: In general, yes, as would any attorney general.

GOWDY: So that would also include Acting AG Sally Yates?

COMEY: Same answer.

GOWDY: Did you brief President Obama on — well, I’ll just ask you. Did you brief President Obama on any calls involving Michael Flynn?

COMEY: I’m not gonna get into either that particular case that matter, or any conversations I had with the president. So I can’t answer that.

This is perfect. He’s just throwing names out there, just in theory, just trying to see who may have had the ability to disseminate this information. Just because the names he threw out there happen to be a rogue’s gallery for the right wing doesn’t mean anything. He’s just doing his damn job.

What he’s doing is giving red meat to the base while trying to force the actual media to look at the “theoretical possibility” that many people in the previous Administration, up to and including President Obama, had access to these names, and could have leaked them. The right wing Twitter armies and talk radio goons will go nuts poring over every name, and tying that to their broad conspiracy that the reason Trump is failing is because a perfidious and traitorous elite, aided by a Bolshy bureaucracy, is undermining him (undermining America).

Dragooning Sally Yates into this is key. She, of course, said that she couldn’t defend the travel ban, and was duly (and rightfully) fired. That was the beginning of the “Obama is still ruling Washington!” campaign, a distraction from the gross illegality and immorality of the ban. And now, Gowdy is continuining to push that, hoping that it’ll work once again.

My guess is no, it won’t. I mean, it’ll be great for Breitbart and Alex Jones and their satellites, and someone will uncover evidence that Ben Rhodes was offered a discount on a Washington Post subscription when he signed up for Amazon Prime, so there is your goddamn quid pro quo, but they are beginning to realize things are different when it is your party in power. You can’t point to the bogeyman. It’s you.

The Republican’s Comey Strategy: The Bubble and the Damage Done

Nope

The story, to any rational person, is that FBI Director and de facto Trump Campaign Chaperone James Comey confirmed that the FBI “is investigating Russia’s meddling in the presidential election, including possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.” He also shot down, in no uncertain terms, Trump’s insane wiretap claims, British involvement and quotation marks and all.

As a lot of people are saying, this might be just the beginning. Comey made it clear that all he will say is that there is an ongoing investigation, and he can’t comment on that. While that might seem like hypocrisy, it fits his very narrow definition that he established with Hillary Clinton.

There is something here, and while it is true that Russia didn’t literally hack the election, there is clearly enough to warrant an investigation. So the GOP strategy, led by Trump? Ask just who is doing the leaking that top security advisors are having secret meetings with Russians while also getting paid by Turkey.

Republicans on the committee focused their questions on getting to the bottom of who leaked to the news media the fact that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had pre-inauguration conversations with Russia’s ambassador.

Sure, part of this is distraction. They don’t want to talk about the real issue here, and are hoping that people will be more offended by the leak. But that’s because, I think, a lot of them actually sort of believe that. Once all this started, the idea of “leaks” being part of the Obama shadow campaign has become axiomatic on the Right. It’s an article of faith. It’s how they explain the disaster everything has been.

This is part Trump, part the broader GOP, and entirely at the intersection between the two (and there is very little difference, really). The GOP has no idea how to govern, and no desire to. They’ve based their entire identity on being not-liberals, and more to the point, not-Obama. So being faced with the reality of government, of course they turn to what it comfortable.

For many, it isn’t much of a turn. These are talk radio kids and internet idiots. They live in the bubble, and what they hear is that people are worried about the shadow government. I think they actually believe it, and that they actually also think it is good politics.

That’s also the world, of course, in which Trump lives. He honestly thinks the only important thing here is the leaks, because that’s the “deep state”, and it’s the only reason he isn’t already being placed on Mt. Rushmore (or a bigger, better mountain, somewhere in Manhattan). His own personal pathologies and vanities make it impossible for him to understand that he’s a know-nothing idiot with no idea how to be President. So of course, the only thing that matters is the leaks.

By temperament, in paranoia and accusatory frenzy, in believing that what 10,000 idiots on Twitter are convinced of, Trump and the GOP are perfect for each other. And so they believe it’s not what we know that matters, but that we know it at all.

And that it’s the black guy’s fault. I mean, that goes without saying, right?