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Trump Leaves Syria With Fight Against Daesh Unfinished and With Putin Ascendant

by D.J. McGuire

Those who know about my long and strange trip through Election 2016 know that I landed on my eventual choice (Hillary Clinton – yes, for those of you who didn’t know, thatHillary Clinton) due to one issue – Syria.

A quick refresher:

…I saw reports from the United States (Reuters) and from the region itself (al-Hayat, although the Jerusalem Post has a better translation, it also gets Akram al-Bunni’s name wrong). They revealed the preference of the Syrian opposition – the real opposition, not the Iraqi Ba’athists who keep Daesh operating – for Mrs. Clinton.

That tipped the balance, and countered Johnson’s superior positions on economic matters, at least to me. This year has been a long-running internal conflict between my inner neoconservative and my inner libertarian…and in the end, the neoconservative won.

For the analyst in me, this is a real leap of faith, but if there is a chance of a free Syria, I have to take it. If that means voting for Hillary Clinton, then God help me, that’s what I must do.

Obviously, we never got to see if Mrs. Clinton lived up to that. Her Republican opponent, by contrast, insisted that all he cared about in Syria was ISIS. He even contradicted his own running mate’s critique of Syrian tyrant Bashar Assad (CNBC).

Only we now know Trump was more interested in the appearance of defeating Daesh (as ISIS is known in the locale) than the reality of defeating Daesh – for he claimed a premature victory this morning and announced he was pulling troops out of Syria (CNN).

Trump issued his first public comments on the decision Wednesday evening in a video message posted to Twitter, in which he pointed to the sky to reference US military personnel who have been killed in Syria.

“We have won against ISIS,” Trump said. “We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home. I get very saddened when I have to write letters or call parents or wives or husbands of soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country.”

There was only one problem with Trump’s assertion: it was a lie – as folks in his own Administration acknowledged:

Resistance to the move was strong among some in the administration. A senior administration official told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the President’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria is “a mistake of colossal proportions and the President fails to see how it will endanger our country.”

“Senior officials across the administration agree that the President’s decision-by-tweet will recklessly put American and allied lives in danger around the world, take the pressure off of ISIS — allowing them to reconstitute — and hand a strategic victory to our Syrian, Iranian and Russian adversaries,” the official said.

No matter, Trump wants his victory lap – and he’ll have it even if the race is still going on.

In the meantime, Russia and Iran now know there is no one to stop them from propelling Bashar Assad to regain total control of Syria. Any attempt to use the area we controlled to allow Syrians to build a future free of Ba’athismis out the window.

Oh, and in case anyone – anywhere – tries to discount the accusations and evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Putin regime with the what-did-Putin-really-get-for-it question, we have the answer right in front of us.

Putin got Syria. He got his chief client state in the region (the Tehran mullachracy) as the pre-eminent power in the northern Middle East. The forces of tyranny are ascendant in the region (and worldwide) as we retreat.

Once again, for emphasis, the battle with Daesh was notover (CNN).

Tobias Ellwood, a minister in the British Ministry of Defense, said in a tweet that he “strongly” disagrees with Trump’s comment on Wednesday that ISIS had been defeated. “It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive,” Ellwood wrote, while the Defense Ministry told CNN there would be no immediate change to its current operation in Syria.

If anything, the only real surprise here is that people are surprised. Trump has been an isolationist for decades, and has always preferred the big splash of symbolism over the hard work of real action. He has repeatedly promised to pull our troops out of Syria; it has been his staff that pulled a Sir Humphrey Appleby and prevented it until now.

I also understand and appreciate those who are concerned about the lack of Congressional authorization. One could argue that this deployment was consistent with the anti-al Qaeda authorization of 2001, given that Deash was once al Qaeda in Iraq, but even I consider that a slender reed on which to lean. A far more robust argument should have been made by Trump himselffor Congressional authorization against this specific enemy at the very least. Instead, Trump is pretending the battle is over as a cover for his decision to cut and run.

When it became clear Trump had defeated Clinton two years ago, I hoped against hope that I would be able to say I was wrong, and that Trump had confounded my very low expectations of him. Instead, he validated them.

Again, this was the issue that led me to switch from Gary Johnson to Hillary Clinton. I knew it was a leap of faith then. I have been proven right now – in the worst way imaginable.

Donald Trump lost Syria – check that, he gave Syria away.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Unseating Trump

by Kevin Kelton

The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.
–Sen. Mitch McConnell, 2010

Every opposition political party has a duty to try to oppose and, when justified, defeat the party in power, and that starts with its highest leaders. Just as the Republicans worked their tails off to unseat Barack Obama in 2012, Democrats have an obligation to their voters to do everything in their constitutional power to unseat Donald Trump.

The question is, How?

For one, Democrats should not be afraid of impeachment and so cowered by the right as to turn the mere mention of the word into a taboo. The “I word” is not a curse; it’s a constitutionally sound legal process that The Founding Fathers created for just this reason. The House is fully in its constitutionally mandated oversight rights to investigate potential high crimes and send articles of impeachment to the Senate if justified. Yet with a “jury” comprised of 53 Republican senators, it’s doubtful (though not inconceivable) that body will achieve the requisite 2/3 vote to remove Trump from office. 

But that does not mean an impeachment trial would be in vain. While the decision to vote for or against an impeachment conviction is a political calculation made by each senator, the damning testimony and evidence that would likely be unearthed in an impeachment proceeding would greatly inform the 2020 election.

The 2018 midterms showed that most Americans have lost patience with the lack of character and moral compass of this president. The revelations that could come out during an impeachment trial would greatly add to that impatience. Like the Titanic taking on water, Trump’s presidency cannot float forever. With each dirty revelation that surely would come out, each compartment of Trump’s illicit ship of state will begin to flood, and the entire administration will quickly submerge.

From Paul Manafort to Michael Flynn to Michael Cohen to Roger Stone – and maybe even Jared Kushner and Don Jr. – the wrong-doings that would come out during testimony in a public impeachment trial will send the Trump dominos falling. The president himself would probably survive thanks to his GOP firewall in the senate, but his presidency would be mortally wounded and on life support just as it heads into the 2020 primary season.

The idea that Trump might emerge from an impeachment acquittal victorious and vindicated is nonsense. He is not as likable as Bill Clinton, and his high crimes will prove much more than a sordid sexual affair. And it cannot be overlooked that even with a bump in Clinton’s approval ratings after his acquittal, that still didn’t stop his vice president, Al Gore, from losing the presidency in 2000.

One could even anticipate a GOP primary challenge to Trump on moral grounds. His poll numbers might get so bad that Trump would be compelled to forgo a re-election run, handing the nomination to Mike Pence in an effort to salvage some scraps of his presidential legacy. (A Hail Mary pass that didn’t work so well for Hubert Humphrey or Gerald Ford.)

But invariably, we will have to unseat Trump (or Pence) at the polls. While right now the pundit banter seems to flitter around who is the most progressive candidate or who is the new, younger face the party needs, I suspect that an impeachment process will change that equation. Voters often lurch from one extreme to the other – from Reagan-Bush old stodginess to Clinton young dynamism; from Clinton philandering to George W. Bush family values; from Bush II recklessness to Obama coolness.

If Trump is proved in a senate trial to be a dirty con artist who scammed his way into office and continues to profit illicitly from it, decency and honor may be the commodity 2020 voters crave.

Joe Biden is well-positioned to make that case. Just as George W. Bush was able to run on restoring honor and dignity to the Oval Office, Biden could run on honor, decency and competence. So might another Democratic candidate who can project a similar sense of honor and character in a way Hillary Clinton could not. A Trump-weary electorate might flock to that message and messenger.

The way to unseat Trump is to hammer his faults relentlessly and then offer a clear contrast. An impeachment trial in the senate, even one ending in acquittal, would magnify that contrast.

Trump’s policies may resonate with conservative voters, but his bankrupt character is what will ultimately defeat him.

 

Kevin Kelton is the founder of Open Fire Politics and cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast.

White Supremacy and Vladimir Putin: They’re the same problem

by D.J. McGuire

The two issues regarding the Trump Administration that have frightened more Americans than anything else seem to be polar opposites: his fealty to Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia and an a blind spot (or even sympathy) to white supremacy in America. However, if one looks beyond the United States (especially to Europe), it becomes clear that the two matters are linked there – and, in all likelihood, here as well. That leads to some disturbing questions that we need to ask.

While most Americans pay little attention to the rest of the world (save the occasional social media meme where a European country appears to support a policy we like), the situation in Europe bears some problematic parallels to recent years in the United States. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been openly evangelizing for “illiberal democracy” (AEI) while taking aim at nearly every Republican’s favorite bedtime scary story – George Soros – with “posters that brought back memories of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s” (same link). Poland is suffering a similar slide toward authoritarianism, complete with an attempt to rewrite Holocaust history (Reuters). Both governments are also getting increasingly cozy with Putin (AEI, The New Republic).

That hasn’t stopped Putin from building ties to outright racist groups like Jobbik in Hungary (Reuters). He has recruited or accepted (depending upon how one sees it) similar far-right allies in France, even as the main center-right opposition also tacks his way (Foreign Policy).

What has enabled Putin – an old KGB bureaucrat – to stretch his regime’s tentacles into democratic Europe? John Henley provides the anodyne answer in a Guardian column from last year.

…variations on a theme of nation-first politics, support for economic protectionism and immigration controls, mistrust of international alliances and institutions such as Nato or the EU, and a rejection of globalism and the liberal consensus

To be fair, the “liberal consensus” has deserved more than a few of the dings its received recently, as any astute observer of the EU will tell you. However, the first three items on the list are part and parcel of a much deeper and sinister common facet among Jobbik, Le Pen, and Putin: white supremacy.

While most of the focus on Russia in the 20th Century centered on its Sovietization, leaders from Stalin on down also emphasize Russian “nationalism.” Terrell Jermaine Starr reveals how Putin inherited – and is using – those supremacist weapons (Washington Post). Others have noticed, including alt-right poster child Richard Spencer and his ideological grandfather David Duke (Newsweek). In fact, the Russian adviser behind Putin’s supremacist policies – Alexander Dugin – is already well-known in alt-right circles (same link), and while nearly everyone remembers the Charlottesville torch-bearers shouting, “You will not replace us,” far fewer also noted their insistence that “Russia is our friend” (same link again).

All of this comes amid mounting evidence that the Putin regime put a thumb on the scales during the campaign, and that the Trump campaign itself – whether or not it actually succeeded in linking up with Moscow’ efforts – certainly tried (Newsweek). Meanwhile, according to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacists murders “killed more than twice as many people in 2017 as they did the year before” (Huffington Post). Most would consider those two matters a coincidence at best, a sign of Trump’s worst two instincts at worse.

But what if the connection goes deeper than that? Have white supremacist groups become the American equivalent of Jobbik? Has the upswing in white supremacist terrorism been due to more than just the emboldening of these groups from Trump’s election?

In other words, have American white supremacist groups themselves become tools of the Putin regime?

To be clear, this is not a rhetorical question. I ask because I truly do not know. Sadly, I don’t expect this Administration to find out. I would like to see the opposition ask these questions, and if my worst fears are confirmed, present policies accordingly.

Even if my worst fears are disproven, we are facing an increasingly globalized supremacist movement (Franklin Foer has further details in The Atlantic). Russophilia and supremacism are in fact the same problem. Whether Putin is the diabolical leader or fortunate figurehead is an open question that needs answering to determine the best tactical response.

Alt-Wrong (Ep. 113)

On this week’s More Perfect Union podcast, the gang looks at the constitutional right of peaceable assembly in the wake of the deadly white nationalism riot in Charlottesville, the fear factor caused by the Trump Administration’s nuclear showdown with North Korea, and the potential repercussions from the FBI raid of Paul Manafort’s home.

Like what you heard? Subscribe on iTunes and don’t miss a podcast! 

And if you like talking politics, join us in our Facebook political debate group, OPEN FIRE, where you can discuss news and politics with Kevin, D.J., Greg, Rebekah, Cliff, Molly, Helena, and lots of other smart, fun people.

The Hillary Treatment (Ep. 108)

In the first part of this week’s “The More Perfect Union” podcast, the gang discusses former President Jimmy Carter, the Don Jr. meeting with the Russians, and how the Trump Administration is getting “the Hillary treatment.”

Like what you heard? Subscribe on iTunes and don’t miss a podcast! 

And if you like talking politics, join us in our Facebook political debate group, OPEN FIRE, where you can discuss news and politics with Kevin, D.J., Greg, Rebekah, Cliff, Molly, Helena, and lots of other smart, fun people.

Alliance for Securing Democracy: We Need More of This

by D.J. McGuire

Listeners to our podcast know that when the subject of Russia comes up, I’m the one trying desperately to ensure at least some bandwith goes to discussion about the Putinist threat to American interests, human rights, and democracy beyond just attempts to impeach Donald Trump. I’ve tried to make that case here, too.

So, naturally, I am thrilled to hear that the German Marshall Fund has launched the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which will “develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions.”

Read More

WrestleMania (Ep. 107)

Episode 107 of “The More Perfect Union” podcast series features discussions about the Trump-CNN Logo wrestling video controversy, the Trump family at the G20 Summit, revelations of yet another previously unreported meeting between Russian lawyers and members of the Trump campaign, and we end with some funny political chants.

Like what you heard? Subscribe on iTunes and don’t miss a podcast! 

And if you like talking politics, join us in our Facebook political debate group, OPEN FIRE, where you can discuss news and politics with Kevin, D.J., Greg, Rebekah, Cliff, Molly, Helena, and lots of other smart, fun people.

Democrats Need to Make the Political Case Against Trump’s Russia Policy

by D.J. McGuire

“It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.” – Joseph Fouché, Chief of Police for Napoleon (though often misattributed to Talleyrand)

For Democrats, the case against Donald Trump is so personal that we risk losing or not gaining support that would otherwise naturally be ours. There is, sadly, no other plausible explanation for the party’s overemphasis on finding legal grounds to remove him from office to the detriment of building a policy case against his affinity for Vladimir Putin.

This is not to say the legal issue stirred up by accusations of collusion between Trump for President and the Kremlin should be ignored, but I think my new-ish party can – and indeed, must – walk and chew gum at the same time. We need to ensure voters – especially Republican voters – understand the inherent danger Putin’s regime poses to American interests, to the democratic world as a whole, and to human rights. Otherwise, there is a great risk that Trump will survive, be re-elected, and do incalculable damage to the matters above. Read More

To What Standard Do We Hold Presidents?

by Rebekah Chodoff Kuschmider

It was 1998. I was a 25 year old liberal. President Clinton, the first president I had ever voted for, was embroiled in an investigation and an impeachment proceeding that was about perjury and obstruction of justice and adultery and real estate and some thread of thick contempt for an arrogant man with a southern accent and not enough Washington gravitas.

I was of the “It’s just a blow job! Chill” school of thought. What was the big deal? He had affairs, he lied about them, a million other people have done the same.

Then someone pointed something out to me: adultery is against the military code of conduct and can result in disciplinary action. Bill Clinton, as president, was Commander in Chief of the military. Why should he not be held to the same standards of behavior as the rank and file?

It was a good question. One I have never forgotten. To what standard do we hold the president? Should it be higher or lower than the standard to which we hold others? Read More