The Dangers of a Trump Loyalist as Director of National Intelligence 

Joseph-Maguire DNI

Last week’s appearance of Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI), highlighted the importance of an obscure position. Maguire deferred to the Trump Justice Department’s tortured argument for withholding a whistleblower’s complaint from Congress but insisted he was following the law, not covering up. Democrats were unconvinced.

Trump ousted the previous DNI, Dan Coats, because he did like Coats’s endorsement of intelligence community findings on Iran (that it was complying with the 2015 nuclear deal) and North Korea (that it was unlikely to fully denuclearize).

In Lawfare Austin Carson argues the DNI position can be used to thwart election security measures that Trump opposes.

It is hard to know how a new director more closely aligned with the White House might use this agenda-setting power. Easier to anticipate, though, is that existing initiatives that were not White House priorities—but that Coats chose to act on—could be in jeopardy. After all, agenda-stopping power is the flip side of agenda setting.

A case in point is election security. One of the last acts Coats took as DNI was to create a new position for “overseeing and coordinating election security,” called the Election Threats Executive. According to Coats, the individual would “coordinate and integrate all election security activities, initiatives, and programs.” He also ordered the various intelligence agencies to appoint their own senior officials to oversee foreign influence attempts in the run-up to the 2020 election.
It’s too early to know whether this particular initiative is meaningful or mere window dressing. What is clear is that Trump and key aides are no fan of such efforts

Source: The Dangers of a Loyalist Director of National Intelligence – Lawfare

Axis of Trump: Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia Campaign for the President

Benjamin Netanyahu
Ilhan Omar
Ilhan Omar (Credit: Creative Commons)

After the Israeli government’s decision to bar Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting Israel and Palestine, the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders rallied around the two congresswomen, and the Israeli government did not favor to its supporters in the party.

With a blatant show of support for President Trump’s strategy of racial polarization, Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu not only signaled his government’s support for Trump in the 2020 election. He also served to unify an often-fractious Democratic party around a more anti-Israel message that resonates across the party’s left-center spectrum.

Israel’s early intervention in the 2020 campaign is not like the more subtle underhanded approaches that President Putin and his Russian agents used to help the Trump campaign in 2016. Netanyahu’s gambit isn’t the IRA troll factory exposed by Robert Mueller. In Israel’s case, the prime minister is troll factory.

The social media binary tends to divide Democrats into two hostile camps on the question of foreign interference in the 2020 election. Centrists and their cable TV spokesmen, see Russia state interference as the primary threat, while leftists deprecate Russia’s secret and extensive efforts to help Trump and complain that Saudi and Israeli interference is actually much greater.

The partisans of this war do their best to convince each other and the public that the differences in the party are apocalyptic: Rachel Maddow is “Russia conspiracy theorist.” No, Tulsi Gabbard is “a Russian agent.” In reality, there’s less of a contradiction than the rhetoric suggests.

It should now be clear that the Russian, Israeli and Saudi governments are all authoritarian regimes that are seeking to keep authoritarian Trump in power. All of these governments–and their intelligence services–intend to “interfere” in the United States 2020 presidential election, that is to say, they will take secret action in order to secure a second term for Trump.

The Pro-Trump Axis

Bibi Tweets

It is not “anti-semitic” to say that Netanyahu is scheming against American democracy. It is not a “hoax” to say Putin (and operatives like Yevgeny Prigozhin) want to hobble Democrats and help Trump. It is not a “conspiracy theory” to say the Saudis run influence operations in Washington. Rather, there is abundant evidence that the three pro-Trump powers will likely extend covert assistance to the man in the White House.

To be sure, Israeli, Russian, and Saudi interests diverge in some areas. Russia has no interest in the U.S-Saudi-Israeli campaign against Iran. When Trump claimed Iran shot down a U.S. drone in international air space, Russia sided with Tehran. Russia state media promotes Tulsi Gabbard. Israeli and Saudi media demonize her.

Putin Vacation
Russian President in Tuva, August 2018.

But the pro-Trump axis has enough commonalities that Democrat need not bicker about the details. Putin and Steve Bannon, apostle of Trumpism, are making common cause with the populist right in Europe. So is Netanyahu.

Their methods can be lethal. Two GRU officers were dispatched to assassinate turncoat agent Sergey Skripal; Saudi intelligence officers were involved in the liquidation of regime critic Jamal Khashoggi. The Israelis assassinated five Iranian nuclear scientists.

And they have infrastructure. Just as Israel has a burgeoning spy ware industry fostered by the Israeli intelligence services, so Russia’s GRU has created at least two hacking units to wage cyber war. Both act in their own national interests, against Trump’s opponents in the United States.

(See my piece, “Spooks for Hire: How Mossad Seeds the Private Intelligence Industry.”)

MBS
Mohammed bin Salman.

Israel’s banning of the congresswomen, like the indictment of the Russian troll factory, and the whitewashing of Khashoggi’s murder, exposes the intent of foreign powers to thwart American democracy.

Backlash

Thanks to Netanyahu, it has never been more respectable for Democrats to criticize Israel. From the corporate Obama-Clinton center to the progressive and bleeding-edge socialist left, Israel is now under fire. The disgrace of a president and a prime minister who prevented an American representative from visiting her 90 year old grandmother for the sake of racist political advantage is something that Democrats can agree on.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders, geopolitician.

To be sure, the Israel lobby remains powerful in the party. Many Democrats in Congress are on record with doubts about the legitimacy and the viability of the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment) movement. But after Omar and Tlaib’s exclusion, the critical tone about Israel grew notably harsher this week.

The travel ban undermines Democrats who say the Israeli government policy isn’t racist. The only two U.S. representatives forbidden from visiting Israel/Palestine are women of color. How do the 41 Democratic representatives who have travelled to Israel explain that? They suddenly face the question: will they stand up to Israel racism?

Maybe. Maybe not. Nonetheless, the party’s rhetoric is gravitating, once again, toward the formulation of a certain plainspoken Jewish guy from Vermont “Opposing Netanyahu’s policies is not ‘hating the Jewish people,” Bernie Sanders tweeted Thursday.

The Israel-friendly Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand denounced the Israel’s action as “dangerous.” Booker emphasized the danger of Trump’s racist rhetoric. Gillibrand called it “un-American.”

Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg: The P Word

Pete Buttigieg used the p-word–Palestine–rarely heard in the party’s pro-Israel discourse in 2016. When Buttigieg went to Gaza in 2018, he repeated the talking points of the Israel lobby and the Israeli security forces. Now he speaks, like Sanders, of reconciling the interests of America, Israel, and Palestine..

The banning of Omar and Tlaib was “appalling,” said Julian Castro. “An affront to American values,” said Kamala Harris. Jay Inslee called it “state-sanctioned Islamophobia.” No one among the Democrats uttered the a-word-=-“apartheid.” But they’re saying American and Israeli values are distinct, which is new.

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris: ‘Affront’ (Credit: Wikipedia)

Two of the weakest tweets came from Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke. They responded to Trump’s claim that Israel would be showing “weakness” by admitting the two congresswomen. The Minnesota Senator and former El Paso congressman countered that Trump is showing “weakness” by (in Gillibrand’s words) “exporting intolerance.” It’s more convoluted than convincing.

Joe Biden, who has a been getting a lot of grief for his gaffes, didn’t distinguish himself with the claim that Israel “shares our democratic values.” The banning of Omar and Tlaib was a very clear statement that the current Israeli government does not share the democratic values of the Democratic party in 2020.

That’s the issue, whether Biden likes it or not, and it’s not cutting Israel’s way. To the contrary, the Democratic party is more anti-Israel than it was a week ago, and the triple threat of Israeli-Russia-Saudi interference in 2020 is clearer than ever.

Bill de Blasio: Amazon Crucial to International Community

Bill de blasio

NYC Mayor de Blasio hasn’t discussed much of international affairs and security while on the 2020 campaign trail, although his record in public service has some telling incidents.

De Blasio has mostly framed his response to foreign policy in terms of immigration and climate change.

Back in 2012, as the public advocate for New York City, de Blasio instituted a watch list for Iran and encouraged city residents to boycott Iranian-manufactured cars and those who did business with Iran.

On the Campaign Trail:

On Israel:

In March 2019, de Blasio spoke at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington DC, where he spoke out against the BDS movement and declared his progressive support for Israel.

“Good morning, everyone. I want to say something straightforward. No honest person can deny the dangers that the Jewish people face all over this world. We woke this morning to news of this horrifying rocket attack on civilians in Israel, and my heart goes out, our hearts go out to the families. 

Our prayers are with them, but we have an obligation to tell our fellow Americans, to help them understand what it must be like out of nowhere to hear that siren go off, know your family is in danger, to innocent civilians. We have to help people to understand that. So there are threats all over this world. 

Now, I want to talk to you about how we address this because the threats are on the rise. The threats to the Jewish people are on the rise in Europe, here in the United States, and in the Middle East. And for me this is deeply personal. This is a community I represent, a community I love. 

As Mayor of the largest urban Jewish community on earth 1.2 million strong, I’ve been called to neighborhoods whose menorahs were smashed. I’ve spoken at shuls defaced with swastikas. I’ve sat with a mother whose son was attacked just for wearing a kippah. I know that anti-Semitism is dangerous, and I know it leads to violence, and that reinforces my commitment to the survival and the security of the state of Israel because the Jewish people cannot be safe without the state of Israel. 

As a progressive, here’s what I see when I’m in Israel. I see a multi-racial democracy. I see universal healthcare, free college, a strong labor movement. You’ve often heard it said that Israel’s America’s closest ally in the Middle East and a great center of innovation, and although that is true, I’m moved by something more than that. Israel at its core is there to shelter an oppressed people. That is why I am here to make a simple, clear, progressive case for the state of Israel. So here’s a straightforward definition for you. Progressives fight oppression. Progressives shelter those in danger. We embrace inclusion. We fight against exclusion. 

And now, here are the facts. The Jewish people have faced thousands of years of exclusion and expulsion and violence, and that history didn’t end in 1945. It didn’t end in 1948. Those anti-Semitic forces never went away, and in fact, they are growing. And just like racism and sexism and Islamophobia are antithetical to everything I believe as a progressive, so too are fascism and nativism and white supremacy and the anti-Semitism that goes with them. Every day we in New York City fight those dangers with everything we’ve got, and that fight has just begun. 

Now, as a progressive I have some real disagreements with the current Israeli government. I imagine many of you do too, but that does not detract, it cannot detract from the requirement that Israel must be defended. If I or anyone criticizes some policies of today’s Israeli government, it’s because I want the powerful and necessary idea of the Israeli nation to thrive forever. 

As a progressive Democrat and mayor of the most diverse city in the world, let me also say this. I deeply oppose the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. I believe BDS is contrary to the progressive imperative to protect all oppressed people everywhere and always. BDS doesn’t just seek to change a specific policy. 

It affronts the very notion of Israel as a guaranteed refuge for the Jewish people, and I fear that BDS could undermine the Israeli economy and thus undermine a two-state solution, a solution I believe is key to ending the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis alike, key to bringing peace to the region. So we must confront the threat to progress that is BDS, and Arthur Brooks is right. The way we confront it is every community, every college, every neighborhood, every city, let’s have this debate. Let’s prove that BDS is wrong. 

As I conclude, let me tell you about a moment I will never, ever forget. Once my family was invited to a Shabbat dinner in a Brooklyn home, and a wonderful older woman named Frieda was seated next to my daughter Chiara who was just then ten years old. And at one point the conversation turned to Frieda’s life, and it became profoundly serious. 

And she talked about the loved ones she had lost, and my daughter asked her how it was possible that she had lost so many of her family. And Frieda then rolled up her sleeve, and there were the numbers they tattooed on her arm in Auschwitz. Watching my little girl confront the worst consequences of anti-Semitism was chilling, and I could tell she would never see the world the same again. That moment brought home a powerful truth to me. I think William Faulkner said it best. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” 

My friends, never again means we must never forget the horrifying cost humanity has paid for anti-Semitism. We must never tolerate indifference and complacency with their lethal consequences. We must never listen to those who tell us we no longer need to worry. As a progressive, as a Democrat, as an American, I am here to say we must never, ever ask the Jewish people to defend their lives alone. 

We must all stand beside you, and America, our good and progressive America must always protect the state of Israel. Thank you.”

Sources:

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/what-will-bill-de-blasios-foreign-policy-be

http://www.policyconference.org/article/transcripts/2019/blasio.asp

Steve Bullock: Judgement over Photo Ops

Steve Bullock

Governor Steve Bullock of Montana is the Democratic governor of a state that went for Trump in 2016. His foreign-policy views are unclear, as he has focused his campaign so far on campaign finance and free trade.

On the Campaign Trail:

On Israel and a Two-State Solution:

I support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict which would provide Israel with security and the Palestinian people with a better future. Under the Trump Administration, efforts to reach a two-state solution have reached a standstill as the U.S. negotiating team does not have credibility with both parties. I would use the fresh start of a new Administration to reinvigorate efforts to get Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table and consult closely with regional partners whose support would be necessary to implement a final status agreement.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On Alliances:

On China and Human Rights:

China’s oppression of the Uighurs including the detention of a massive number in internment camps is a gross violation of their human rights. A fundamental component of American foreign policy must be to promote human rights and democracy. That means having a president who has the moral authority to encourage our allies to share in the job of speaking up and hold China accountable for these human rights violations. We must speak out about any nation’s abuse of its minority populations or infringement upon the civil liberties of its citizens. The U.S.–China relationship is complex and touches security, trade, human rights and climate change. We need to confront China on both human rights and unfair trade practices, while at the same time pursuing our mutual interests on combatting climate change. A foreign policy that prioritizes working with our partners and allies will put pressure on China to improve its treatment of the Uighurs and ensure that it keeps its word to the people of Hong Kong.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On Iran:

On Russia and Ukraine:

Russia’s unwarranted and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine demonstrates its lack of regard for the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors and the extent to which it is willing to go to maintain its so-called “sphere of influence.” Such action has set a dangerous precedent for several of our allies in Central and Eastern Europe, and we must work closely with these allies to ensure that they have the necessary military capabilities to deter future Russian aggression. We must coordinate with our NATO allies to ensure there is adequate military preparation and readiness in the case of such an incident, particularly in the Baltic region. Simultaneously, we must also continue, in coordination with our allies and partners, effective sanctions against entities connected to the ongoing occupations of Crimea and the Donbas to make it explicitly clear to Russia that its unlawful infringements of Ukrainian sovereignty is unsustainable and counter to its long-term interests.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On Afghanistan:

On North Korea:

Any agreement with North Korea must include credible commitments – and verifiable progress – toward significant reductions in its nuclear weapons arsenal. North Korea is an irresponsible
 
 regime whose nuclear capabilities pose a threat to not only the security of the United States and our allies, but to every nation around the globe. A nuclear North Korea would pose an immediate and existential threat to our security if left unchecked, and that’s why we must work with our regional allies to ensure that this situation is properly monitored and managed. While President Trump has legitimized the Kim regime in North Korea and on the international stage without anything in return, I would work to ensure that North Korea provides more than hollow promises but demonstrates real progress towards denuclearization.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On Venezuela:

Venezuela has gone from one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America to one of the poorest due to decades of governmental incompetence, corruption, and indifference towards the suffering of its own people. Maduro is a dictator whose regime has lost legitimacy in the eyes of both the Venezuelan people and the world. His corruption and abuse of human rights are completely unacceptable. The U.S. must support Juan Guaidó as the Provisional President of Venezuela and his National Assembly colleagues as they advance a constitutional transition that includes new elections and the restoration of democracy in Venezuela. As part of that support, the U.S. must work closely with our allies and partners to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on the Maduro regime in order to facilitate that transition.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On Greenland:

On War and Peace, Democrats Don’t Say Much

Tulsi Gabbard
July 31, 2019 debate in Detroit

Issues of war and peace were barely mentioned in last night’s Democratic debates. Maybe it was the moderators’ fault, but the candidates didn’t seem too eager to talk either.

The ongoing U.S.-sponsored wars (“interventions”) in Syria, Yemen, and Somalia went unmentioned. Only two candidates spoke about Afghan war, now in its 19th year. Cory Booker and Tulsi Gabbard, both said they would withdraw U.S. troops, though Booker said he would not impose an “artificial deadline,” which is what Bush, Obama, and Trump officials have said while not withdrawing.

Joe Biden apologized for supporting the Iraq war and Gabbard doubled down on her criticism.

Only three candidates spoke about Iran, which is suffering under harsh U.S. sanctions and has shot down a U.S. surveillance drone. Andrew Yang, Jay Inslee, and Bill DeBlasio called for de-escalation of President Trump’s policy of provocation. When DeBlasio insisted on saying “we have to stop the march to war,” he was shushed and the foreign policy discussion was over.

Here’s the totality of the exchange.

TAPPER: Thank you, Governor Inslee. I want to turn to foreign policy, if we can. Senator Booker, there are about 14,000 U.S. services members in Afghanistan right now. If elected, will they still be in Afghanistan by the end of your first year in office?

BOOKER: Well, first of all, I want to say very clearly that I will not do foreign policy by tweet as Donald Trump seems to do all the time. A guy that literally tweets out that we’re pulling our troops out before his generals even know about it is creating a dangerous situation for our troops in places like Afghanistan.

And so I will bring our troops home and I will bring them home as quickly as possible, but I will not set during a campaign an artificial deadline. I will make sure we do it, we do it expeditiously, we do it safely, to not create a vacuum that’s ultimately going to destabilize the Middle East and perhaps create the environment for terrorism and for extremism to threaten our nation.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Gabbard, you’re the only veteran on this stage. Please respond.

GABBARD: This is real in a way that’s very difficult to convey in words. I was deployed to Iraq in 2005 during the height of the war where I served in a field medical unit where every single day I saw the high cost of war. Just this past week, two more of our soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.

My cousin is deployed to Afghanistan right now. Nearly 300 of our Hawaii National Guard soldiers are deployed to Afghanistan, 14,000 servicemembers are deployed there. This is not about arbitrary deadlines. This is about leadership, the leadership I will bring to do the right thing to bring our troops home, within the first year in office, because they shouldn’t have been there this long.

For too long, we’ve had leaders who have been arbitrating foreign policy from ivory towers in Washington without any idea about the cost and the consequence, the toll that it takes on our servicemembers, on their families. We have to do the right thing, end these wasteful regime change wars, and bring our troops home.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: Thank you. Thank you, Congresswoman.

Mr. Yang, Iran has now breached the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal, and that puts Iran closer to building a nuclear weapon, the ability to do so, at the very least. You’ve said if Iran violates the agreement, the U.S. would need to respond, quote, “very strongly.” So how would a President Yang respond right now?

YANG: I would move to de-escalate tensions in Iran, because they’re responding to the fact that we pulled out of this agreement. And it wasn’t just us and Iran. There were many other world powers that were part of that multinational agreement. We’d have to try and reenter that agreement, renegotiate the timelines, because the timelines now don’t make as much sense.

But I’ve signed a pledge to end the forever wars. Right now, our strength abroad reflects our strength at home. What’s happened, really? We’ve fallen apart at home, so we elected Donald Trump, and now we have this erratic and unpredictable relationship with even our longstanding partners and allies.

What we have to do is we have to start investing those resources to solve the problems right here at home. We’ve spent trillions of dollars and lost thousands of American lives in conflicts that have had unclear benefits. We’ve been in a constant state of war for 18 years. This is not what the American people want. I would bring the troops home, I would de-escalate tensions with Iran, and I would start investing our resources in our own communities.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: Governor Inslee, your response?

INSLEE: Well, I think that these are matters of great and often difficult judgment. And there is no sort of primer for presidents to read. We have to determine whether a potential president has adequate judgment in these decisions.

I was only one of two members on this panel today who were called to make a judgment about the Iraq war. I was a relatively new member of Congress, and I made the right judgment, because it was obvious to me that George Bush was fanning the flames of war.

Now we face similar situations where we recognize we have a president who would be willing to beat the drums of war. We need a president who can stand up against the drums of war and make rational decisions. That was the right vote, and I believe it.

TAPPER: Thank you. Thank you, Governor. Vice President Biden, he was obviously suggesting that you made the wrong decision and had bad judgment when you voted to go to war in Iraq as a U.S. senator.

BIDEN: I did make a bad judgment, trusting the president saying he was only doing this to get inspectors in and get the U.N. to agree to put inspectors in. From the moment “shock and awe” started, from that moment, I was opposed to the effort, and I was outspoken as much as anyone at all in the Congress and the administration.

Secondly, I was asked by the president in the first meeting we had on Iraq, he turned and said, Joe, get our combat troops out, in front of the entire national security team. One of the proudest moment of my life was to stand there in Al-Faw Palace and tell everyone that we’re coming — all our combat troops are coming home.

TAPPER: Thank you.

BIDEN: I opposed the surge in Afghanistan, this long overdue — we should have not, in fact, gone into Afghanistan the way…

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I want to bring in…

INSLEE: Mr. Vice President — I’d like to comment.

TAPPER: I would like to bring in the person on the stage who served in Iraq, Governor — I’m sorry, Congresswoman Gabbard. Your response to what Vice President Biden just said.

GABBARD: We were all lied to. This is the betrayal. This is the betrayal to the American people, to me, to my fellow servicemembers. We were all lied to, told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was working with Al Qaida, and that this posed a threat to the American people.

So I enlisted after 9/11 to protect our country, to go after those who attacked us on that fateful day, who took the lives of thousands of Americans.

The problem is that this current president is continuing to betray us. We were supposed to be going after Al Qaida. But over years now, not only have we not gone after Al Qaida, who is stronger today than they were in 9/11, our president is supporting Al Qaida.

LEMON: Thank you, Congresswoman.

DE BLASIO: We didn’t talk about Iran.

LEMON: Let’s talk about — thank you, please.

DE BLASIO: We didn’t talk about Iran.

LEMON: Please.

DE BLASIO: We’re on the march to war in Iran right now, and we blew by it.

LEMON: Please, Mayor. The rules — please follow the rules.

DE BLASIO: I respect the rules, but we have to stop this march to war in Iran.

LEMON: Mayor, thank you very much. We’re going on…

DE BLASIO: And the Democratic Party has to stand up for it.