• Trump’s lawyers are going to need better lawyers.
• The FBI raided the law office, home, and hotel room of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s fixer. He paid $130,000 in hush money to the pornographic actress known as Stormy Daniels, who alleges an extramarital liaison with Trump in 2006. Having occurred just before the 2016 election, the payoff is plausibly seen as an in-kind contribution well in excess of legal limits. Potentially, this is a felony, although the dollar amount at issue is dwarfed by the $2 million violation that the Justice Department permitted the Obama 2008 campaign to settle with a $375,000 fine. Though Cohen has been on the special counsel’s radar screen in the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller referred the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. The Trump appointee who runs that office is recused; concerns about attorney–client privilege required that his prosecutors consult with top Trump Justice Department officials before seeking search warrants, signaling that Cohen may be suspected of other crimes. Trump predictably lashed out at Mueller and his own Justice Department, but this is a mess of his own making. He’d be best served to stress the de minimis nature of any campaign infraction and not let himself be provoked into a damaging overreaction.
• Sure, Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to interview the president. But what’s in it for Trump? Mueller has reportedly advised Trump’s personal lawyers that the president is not a target of the Russia probe. That must be of some comfort, since targets are virtually certain to be charged; but Trump remains a subject of the investigation, which means his conduct is under scrutiny and he could become a target. The president figures he’s his own best advocate: Maybe he can talk Mueller into wrapping up the Trump portion of the probe. But Mueller is operating on his own schedule, with no incentive to make decisions about Trump until after his prosecution of former Trump-campaign chairman Paul Manafort is done, perhaps late this year. Meanwhile, and more important, there appears to be no actionable “collusion” case, and the allegations that the president obstructed the investigation are legally suspect. A prosecutor should not even be pressing for an interview with a president unless he can show evidence of a real crime in which that president is clearly implicated. And Trump, being Trump, would best avoid a sit-down with a prosecutor who has specialized in turning interviews into false-statement indictments.
• Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced that he will not run for another term. He never wanted the job he holds, taking it only when the Republican conference had deadlocked on a successor to John Boehner. He leaves having achieved two of his prime public-policy goals: tax reform and a replenishment of the military. He did not, however, achieve the third, which would have balanced the other two fiscally: entitlement reform. He succeeded only in putting House Republicans on record for Medicare and Medicaid reform. If Republicans finish the job in the future, it will be in part thanks to Ryan’s efforts — and, we suspect, to his future contributions as a private citizen, in which role we wish him well.
• After it was reported that Cambridge Analytica had used data from as many as 87 million Facebook users to help Trump during the 2016 campaign, Congress summoned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify. In past years, Zuckerberg has repeatedly apologized for privacy lapses and pledged to do better. But the Cambridge Analytica story seems to have educated many people about the nature of Facebook’s business model. The company presents itself as a kind of public service designed to facilitate human connections, with profit barely on its mind. The product is free to its users, but it is paid for, handsomely, by advertisers. Those advertisers want to be able to make targeted appeals to their audience, which means they want Facebook to collect a lot of data about its users for them to exploit. Some observers say the company should be regulated as a public utility. But it is not anything close to a necessity of life, and the privacy concerns have a ready solution. If people don’t want to give up their privacy to enjoy a free convenience, they should stay off Facebook. If Washington overreaches, however, Facebook will have its own pious dishonesty to blame.
• The student gun-control activists from Parkland, Fla., have gone from media darlings to political enforcers. After Laura Ingraham criticized one of the students, David Hogg, for complaining that he had been accepted by none of the colleges he hoped to attend, Hogg tried to ruin her career. As is the way now, he went directly after Ingraham’s advertisers, encouraging them to pull their support for her show. This some of them dutifully did, prompting Ingraham to take a week’s break from broadcasting. While Ingraham’s jab was unwarranted, it is difficult to see how the contretemps helped Hogg’s cause. Who was convinced by the show of raw power? And what will be achieved when, as is inevitable, one of Hogg’s allies is on the receiving end of the next boycott? Can’t anybody just roll his eyes anymore?
• The last fortnight saw a lot of border theater and a chance for real action. President Trump said he would send 4,000 National Guard troops to the border, adding, “We really haven’t done that before.” In fact, George W. Bush sent 6,000 National Guard troops and Obama 1,200 at different times. Trump also tweeted about a caravan of Central Americans wending its way northward, claiming that the women in it “are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before.” Would-be illegal immigrants are often raped by smugglers, drug cartels, and crooked Mexican border guards, but the rape story happened not to be true in this case. (Trump imbibes news on TV and relays it in tweets — not a careful process.) Trump’s push to end “catch and release,” the policy whereby illegal immigrants are told to show up for a hearing (which they typically miss), marks a step in the right direction. More guards accomplish nothing if they follow bad old policies. Team Trump should spend its time finding ways to implement catch and return, not responding to bogeymen.
• The president has been on a tear against the nation’s leading online retailer lately, suggesting in a series of tweets and comments that Amazon doesn’t pay sales taxes and takes advantage of special low prices from the United States Postal Service. These allegations are false. The reality is that Amazon is a success story of American capitalism: Founder Jeff Bezos and his team have revolutionized retail and branched out, bringing efficiency and high-paying jobs to the United States. But more to the point, it is wrong for the president to target a specific company in this fashion — particularly since Trump has openly tied his anti-Amazon crusade to his hatred of the Washington Post, which Bezos owns. This is not how things work in a country that respects the rule of law and the freedom of the press. The company should be celebrated, not targeted for a presidential jeremiad, whatever the Washington Post decides to publish.
• The Department of Commerce, which oversees the Census Bureau, announced that the 2020 census will ask respondents whether they are citizens of the United States. In response to what should be an unremarkable item of news, some on the left have — of course — forecast a parade of horribles. They warned that Donald Trump was “sabotaging” the survey in a sinister ploy to consolidate power and strike fear in the hearts of immigrants. But the U.S. has included the citizenship question in its census before, first in the decennial survey and later in supplemental long-form surveys. The census is principally for determining the apportionment of House representatives, and federal law requires the census to count citizens and noncitizens alike for that purpose. But it does not follow that the census must preserve public ignorance about the number of citizens, however pleasing that prospect may be to the Left.
• Scott Pruitt, director of the EPA, has been getting conservative plaudits for reeling in regulation and restoring rule-of-law principles to enforcement. But he has been getting bad press lately — about bloated security details, taxpayer-financed first-class air fares, and eyebrow-raising raises for close aides. His retinue reportedly turned on sirens so that his car would make it to a dinner on time. Trump says he is sticking with Pruitt. But the director needs to understand that he has enemies and cannot afford to give them ammunition. He should apologize for the excesses and tighten up his ship.
• In the annals of bad-faith public commentary, few things surpass the response of the New York Times to the jihadist massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. America knew early on that the gunman had publicly pledged allegiance to ISIS during the shooting itself. America soon learned that he’d been on the FBI radar screen previously for his radical-Islamist leanings. But Pulse was a gay club, and the Times editorial board (like other leading voices at such places as CNN and the Washington Post) was determined to view a terror attack through the prism of the American culture war. Omar Mateen attacked Pulse because of his deep-seated homophobia, and guess where that came from? The GOP. Well, that was the Times’ argument, at least. It was specious and malicious — after all, since when are Christians to blame for Muslim hate crimes? — but now we know it was also utterly without foundation. Thanks to evidence presented at his wife’s trial, we know that Mateen had no homophobic motivations at all. He initially planned to attack Disney facilities, changed his mind when he saw visible security, and googled Orlando nightclubs to find an alternative target. He apparently didn’t even know that Pulse was a gay club. This was jihadist terror, pure and simple. Will the Times now apologize for its absurd attack on Republicans?
• Talking to voters in West Virginia, President Trump said, “In many places, like California, the same person votes many times. You probably heard about that. They always like to say, ‘Oh, that’s a conspiracy theory.’ Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people.” Neither the president nor his staff offered any backing for this large and important claim; nor has anyone else.
• President Trump has chosen Ronny Jackson to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. A Navy rear admiral and medical doctor who has served as physician to the last three presidents, Jackson has a difficult road ahead of him: Critics question his nomination on the grounds that he lacks the experience needed to run an organization of the VA’s size and complexity, and if confirmed he will have one of the most difficult jobs in the administration. The VA has been plagued by scandals, long wait times for care, and general inefficiency. Jackson’s predecessor, David Shulkin, was reportedly let go over his opposition to expanding veterans’ options for care in the private sector — but he told USA Today that Jackson can succeed in the role if he can build the right team around him. We agree and wish Jackson the best of luck.
• Earlier this month, Governor David Ige signed a bill making Hawaii the seventh state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to legalize euthanasia. The Hawaii law stipulates that a doctor may prescribe lethal medication if the patient who requests it is mentally competent and has six months or less to live. Much medical prognosis is an art, and patients who are declared terminal may live past their projected expiration by years, even decades. Knowledge of that fact, which is both encouraging and, in the case of those who are euthanized, sobering, ought to curb enthusiasm for the right to die. The American Medical Association and disability and elder-care advocates are in the vanguard of opposition to assisted suicide. Legislation to allow it failed in 27 state legislatures last year, and in the U.S. the practice remains rare where it is legal. Gallup, however, says that 73 percent of the public supports it. America has seen a significant drop in the abortion rate since the 1990s, and public attitudes toward the practice remain at least ambivalent. Assisted suicide now poses the tougher challenge to the pro-life movement, which has proven itself resourceful. Its work will never be done.
• Oklahoma teachers had reason to complain when they began their “walkout”: The state had some of the lowest teacher salaries and education spending in the nation, and state funding had fallen dramatically since the recession. Then the legislature hiked taxes to fund a $6,100 salary boost — but the walkout continued. A few days later, the governor signed even more legislation to fund schools and boost pay for support personnel. Still no dice: At this writing, the walkout has not ended, more than 50 districts have closed, and teachers are demanding (among much else) $100 million in additional funding, to be paid for with capital-gains taxes. As the education scholars Frederick M. Hess and Grant Addison have noted, the changes already passed put Oklahoma teachers in the middle of the pack in terms of salary, even though the state has a low cost of living. “When teachers who have already claimed a massive win are shuttering schools over demands for retiree cost-of-living adjustments and the need to ‘staff up’ other state agencies,” they note, “it seems farfetched to say that student concerns are still front and center.”
• A Maryland dairy farmer has found himself in hot water with the Food and Drug Administration for attempting to label his all-natural skim milk “skim milk.” Because of the program of vitamin fortification, introduced to combat vitamin-D deficiency in the early 20th century, the label “skim milk” means skim milk with vitamin additives; as a result, producers of pure skim milk must sell their product as “imitation skim milk.” This is understandably frustrating for farmers who pride themselves on making the real thing. Indeed, the regulation means that they face the paradoxical situation of needing to lie to legally sell their product. Breaking the labeling ban means a risk of fines or even incarceration — which might be appropriate responses to someone who dishonestly hawks — for telling the truth. The farmer, Randy Sowers of South Mountain Creamery, is working with the Institute of Justice to challenge the ban in court.
• The United States joined Britain and 16 other countries in expelling Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning, by chemical weapons, of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, in March. The Trump administration booted 60 Russians from Washington and New York and shuttered the Russian consulate in Seattle. It also slapped sanctions on a gaggle of Russian government officials and pro-Putin oligarchs. The moves are relatively minor and mixed with other signals (when President Trump called Putin to congratulate him on his “election” victory, he apparently invited him for a White House visit). But Britain has taken great and justified umbrage at the use of internationally banned weapons to wreak the FSB’s vengeance on its soil. Trump is right to stand by our ally.
• Before leaving his job as national-security adviser, Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster delivered a speech before the Atlantic Council. It was part analysis, part cri de coeur. Noting the Kremlin’s various thrusts against the United States, he said that “we have failed to impose sufficient costs.” He also noted the spring in Putin’s step: “The Kremlin’s confidence is growing as its agents conduct their sustained campaigns to undermine our confidence in ourselves and in one another.” In perhaps his most important and most jolting statement, McMaster said, “Even in the United States and in other free nations, some journalists, academics, public officials, and saddest of all young people have developed and promulgated idealized, warped views of tyrannical regimes.” This speech was a service, in a lifetime distinguished by it.
• This year marks the centennial of independence for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the three Baltic states, which pried themselves from the moribund Russian empire at the end of World War I. Two decades of independence followed, then conquest and devastation at the hands of Soviets, then Nazis, then Soviets again for almost half a century. The United States never recognized their extinction, and the thaw of the Gorbachev era was especially warm along the Baltic. Independence for all three came again in 1991; membership in NATO and the EU followed in 2004. Recently, the Russophilia of Donald Trump and his supporters cast a shadow over them; in 2016, Newt Gingrich, who had pushed for NATO expansion in the 1990s, shamefully likened Estonia to a suburb of St. Petersburg. So President Trump’s warm White House meeting with the three Baltic heads of state this month was welcome. Trump praised them for meeting their NATO spending commitments and looked forward to “a very long and beautiful relationship.” So may it be.
• Sadiq Khan, who during his campaign to be London’s mayor promised that he would bring an end to the tactic of “stop and search” (equivalent in function to New York’s “stop and frisk”), has completely changed his mind on the question. Faced with a rising murder rate in the U.K.’s capital — for the last two quarters, London has been the scene of more killings than has New York City — Khan has elected to get tough. In addition to the reintroduction of stop and search, London’s police will be cracking down on knives. “There is never a reason to carry a knife,” Khan insisted in April, while officers across the metropolis made a show of removing from the streets anything they could get their hands on: some pliers, a screwdriver, a butter knife, a pair of kitchen scissors, and so forth. That there is “never” a reason to carry a knife would presumably come as a surprise to London’s tradesmen, chefs, and Sikhs, among others (Sikhs are required by their religion to carry a ceremonial kirpan). But the view is perhaps an inevitable one. When politicians do not know how to keep the peace, they are wont to blame inanimate tools. London’s mayor, alas, is no different.
• “There is no hell,” says Pope Francis, according to the Italian newspaper editor Eugenio Scalfari. There is only “a disappearance of the sinful soul.” So read the transcript of Scalfari’s interview with Francis in the pages of La Repubblica last month. It’s the fifth interview between the two men in the five years that Francis has been pope. Every time, Scalfari attributes to him at least one comment that turns out to be sensational. Vatican spokesmen stress that Scalfari neither records the interviews nor takes notes. He writes up his impressions, paraphrasing here and there but also typing out whole paragraphs that he presents as direct quotes from Francis’s part of their dialogue. Nonetheless, Francis keeps granting him interviews. It’s unlikely that he would do that if he thought that Scalfari was misrepresenting him or using their exchanges to promote a message he disagreed with. It appears that Francis chooses the famously unreliable journalist both to be his mouthpiece for heterodox ideas and then to provide him with plausible deniability. Few are fooled by the exercise. Many are weary of it.
• In China last month, searches for the Bible at online retailers, including Amazon, suddenly began to turn up no results. Online searches for “Bible” soon spiked, and then by April 1 they were down to zero, suggesting that the word — like the Word — had been censored. A bit of background: From 2014 to 2016, the government removed more than 1,500 crosses from churches in Zhejiang Province alone. In the aftermath of the 19th Party Congress last fall, the central-government bureau for religious affairs was eliminated and its powers transferred to a unit that reports directly to the Communist Party. After an underground Catholic bishop was disappeared for three days in Fujian Province during Holy Week, the Vatican threw cold water on the rumor that a deal between it and Beijing was imminent. The deal as reported consisted of Rome’s acceptance of government-appointed bishops. In exchange, the Church would get assurance that Catholics wouldn’t be persecuted. Of course, Beijing would determine what constituted persecution. The pope has no divisions, but he has a voice. The recent crackdown on religious expression in China is a rare topic on which he’s been at a loss for words.
• That was quick. The venerable Atlantic, seeing a good thing, hired Kevin D. Williamson — and then, in a matter of weeks, fired him. The alleged problem was that Kevin, in a tweet and a Mad Dogs and Englishmen chat with Charles C. W. Cooke, had contemplated hanging women who aborted their unborn children. Kevin was being hypothetical and hyperbolic; he in fact leans against capital punishment. James P. McFadden, longtime assistant publisher of NR and founder of The Human Life Review, always said it was the abortionist who should swing, not the mother. But at The Atlantic, supporting 56 million abortions (the U.S. tally, and counting) is fine; discussing punishment, never. So Kevin was ejected. WFB’s lifelong goal was to diffuse conservative ideas in the nation’s mind. Epistemic closure at The Atlantic shows how necessary it is that conservative outlets like NR remain.
• Hollywood’s continuing inability correctly to identify what its audience wants continues to amuse: the massively hyped, once-a-year Academy Awards ceremony on March 4 drew 27.4 million American viewers (including those who watched it live and on DVR), whereas 29.4 million caught the March 27 relaunch of Roseanne (using the same metric). The Oscars had 90 years of buildup behind them; Roseanne, by contrast, was coming off a 21-year hiatus. In truth, its star, Roseanne Barr, and others have oversold it as a Trumpian touchstone; the show largely sticks to familiar network-TV situations, and anyway its stable of writers leans so far left that one of them confessed to having difficulty coming up with jokes about Hillary Clinton. What the show does do is capture something of its characters’ blue-collar milieu without being condescending, which is refreshing enough for Hollywood post-2016.
• From the last redoubts where Kennedy worshipers have retired to maintain their faith, there has come some pushback against the movie Chappaquiddick and its scathing portrayal of Ted Kennedy; one effort by Neal Gabler appeared as an op-ed in the New York Times. More typical was the tweeted reaction of liberal journalist Jeet Heer: “There’s one thing that the American right is correct about: Ted Kennedy should’ve been much more heavily punished for Chappaquiddick.” More than one thing, but yes. After crashing his car and campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne into the waters of Martha’s Vineyard in 1969, Kennedy showed himself to be, at best, weak, dishonest, and concerned above all else with his own and his family’s reputation. Concerned in vain: Though Massachusetts would reelect him to the Senate forever, his manifest failings sidelined him in two presidential cycles (1972 and 1976), while his bad conscience may have caused him to sabotage the Roger Mudd interview that launched, and sank, his 1980 effort. To redeem himself, he hired a staff that made him the liberal workhorse of the Senate. An unfortunate compensation for a terrible episode.
• In small but growing communities across the country, overzealous progressive parents have undertaken the odd challenge of raising their children without gender, which they view as both a spectrum and a social construct. A recent feature piece in New York magazine’s “The Cut” profiled several parents raising “theybies,” babies whose parents consistently refer to them using “they” and “them.” According to the piece, parents hide their babies’ biological sex from family and friends to “create an early childhood free of gendered ideas of how a child should dress, act, play, and be.” Rather than using the term “gender neutral,” they prefer to think of this lifestyle as “gender open,” “gender affirming,” or “gender creative.” One parent says of this approach, “All I can do now is narrate the world how I want them to experience it.” And that’s exactly the problem. Rather than freeing children from societal constraints, this parenting method confines them to a bizarre alternative universe.
• After ultimate fighter Conor McGregor was arrested for hurling a metal barricade and other heavy objects at a bus carrying fellow sportsmen, the first reaction of Dana White, president of the body that governs their competitions, was stern: “This is the most disgusting thing that has happened in the history of the company.” Reflection brought more measured views: “Yeah, in a perfect world it’d be great if Conor didn’t show up and do that.” As Marcus Aurelius wrote (Meditations, Book II): “Say thus to thyself every morning: Today I may have to do with some intermeddler in other men’s affairs, with an ungrateful man; an insolent, or a crafty, or an envious, or an unsociable selfish man. These bad qualities have befallen them through their ignorance of what things are truly good or evil.” Besides, White went on, “we broke a record tonight” for gross ticket sales. “And we didn’t just break it, we blew it out of the water by almost $1 million.” The consolations of philosophy.
• Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Anton Forsberg suffered a pregame, season-ending injury, sending rookie Collin Delia to the net against the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center in Chicago on March 29. In the third period, Delia fell to the ice after a save and left the game with cramps. With no more goalies on the bench, an assistant coach went to the locker room and found 36-year-old accountant Scott Foster, fresh from “typing on the ten-key,” as he later put it. “Scott, put your helmet on and get out there.” For 14 minutes until the final buzzer, Foster faced seven shots and stopped all of them. Fans loved it. Each successive stop of his elicited a louder roar. They chanted his name. Final score: Blackhawks 6, Jets 2. “This is a dream,” Foster told reporters after the game. He plays in a local rec league and was a goalie in college. He was on the list of the Blackhawks’ EBUGs (emergency backup goaltenders), who attend games to be on hand, though they’re seldom called on. They give everyone a dopamine rush when they are. Even if you’re no hockey fan, you have to love the EBUG.
• Walmart announced that it would no longer stock Cosmopolitan magazine in checkout aisles. While some of the magazine’s articles pay lip service to pop feminism, its bread and butter has long been explicit sex tips (e.g., “50 Kinky Sex Moves”) that are easily visible to pre-teens at the checkout. An anti-pornography group, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, had lobbied for Cosmo’s removal for years, objecting to its presentation of women as sex objects. Its crusade appeared to coincide with the desires of consumers: Walmart said that the group’s concerns had been a factor but that pulling the magazine was “primarily a business decision.” (It will still be available for purchase elsewhere in the store.) Presumably many shoppers wished to buy groceries without exposing their children to hypersexualized content. That they’ll now be free to do so is a small victory for common sense and decency.
• Sibley, Iowa, is the home of Iowa Drying and Processing, which makes an animal-food supplement from pig’s blood. The town stinks — and one resident, Josh Harms, says so. City officials, hot and bothered, threatened to sue him, to shut him up. Harms preemptively sued — and won. The city must pay him $6,500 in damages and $20,000 in legal fees. It must issue a letter of apology. And it must hold “First Amendment training” for staff. (The whole country could use First Amendment training, really.) Mr. Harms said, “Personally disagreeing with something that’s been written is understandable, but threatening the writer with a lawsuit while representing the government is censorship. It violates the First Amendment and our freedom of speech.” An American has a right to say his town stinks. Where do you think we are, Canada? Britain?
• In Alaska, just north of Anchorage, a man kicked a moose. The moose, displeased, stomped the man’s foot. In a subsequent news story, there were two quotations that should find a place in Bartlett’s. The first comes from Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the state troopers: “I am not a biologist, but as a lifelong Alaskan I would advise people not to go around kicking moose.” And here is Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the fish and game department: “If you get into a kicking contest with a moose, guess who’s going to win?” Words to the wise.
• Driven from Beijing to southern China during World War II, Anna Chennault, as she was later known, took up journalism. In 1944, at age 19, she interviewed the Flying Tigers’ leader, Claire Chennault. In 1947 she married him. In the United States, she soon emerged as an eloquent, forceful spokeswoman for the China Lobby, which advocated U.S. support for Taiwan in the hope that its government would displace that of the Communists on the mainland. A Republican and a hawk during the Vietnam War, she took a hit for Nixon when on the eve of the 1968 election she was caught on wiretap urging South Vietnamese officials to wait until after the election to enter peace talks. She later criticized Nixon for failing to “clean it all out, go the whole way.” An airline executive and a Washington power hostess presiding over dinner parties at her Watergate penthouse, she was shrewd and went to Beijing and made nice with members of China’s political A-list after the United States formally recognized the People’s Republic. What she thought of the news that Xi Jinping is now effectively leader-for-life, à la Mao, we don’t know. Dead at 94. R.I.P.
• There are people who do humanity proud, and Johan van Hulst is one of them. Born a Dutch Protestant, he lived in his native city of Amsterdam. Soon after the German occupation in 1940, he became deputy principal of the Reformed Teachers’ Training College in the center of Amsterdam. In buildings that happened to be close to the college, Jewish children were first separated from their parents and then housed in a so-called nursery to await deportation. Van Hulst ran an escape route that involved these institutions, at one point arranging to pass children over a hedge and afterwards for them to be hidden somewhere safe in the country. About 600 children were saved like this. He always said that he could think only about children he had been unable to smuggle out, and he never mentioned that if the Germans had found him out he would have been summarily shot. Of such stuff are heroes made. He lived to the age of 107. R.I.P.
Strikes without Strategy
Bashar Al-Assad’s Gas Attack On The Anniversary Of President Trump’s Missile Strike Against His Regime Was An Invitation To Get Hit Again, And As We Went To Press The President Was Promising Another Strike.
We weren’t enthusiastic over the first one. Assad is indeed, as Trump is now wont to say, an animal. He has destroyed his country in order to be able to rule the rubble. He has brought untold suffering by every means possible and has no compunction about using banned chemical weapons as an instrument of terror.
There is obviously utility in maintaining an international norm against the use of these especially cruel weapons. Our worry about Trump’s first act was that pinprick strikes usually don’t accomplish much and would establish an implied responsibility for ensuring that the Syrian regime never resorted to gas again, a foolhardy commitment absent a clear strategy in Syria.
Indeed, Assad’s latest gassing comes on the heels of Trump’s publicly saying that he wants to pull out of Syria entirely. The regime clearly took heed. Now the president is in the position of taking more military action to prevent the use of chemical weapons, on humanitarian grounds, in a conflict he wants to completely wash his hands of. This is awkward, to say the least.
There is no doubt that Trump inherited a mess. As an escape from his red-line fiasco, Obama welcomed the Russians into Syria, and Moscow, together with Iranian forces, buttressed the regime sufficiently that it has all but won the civil war.
Trump retroactively enforced Obama’s red line and in so doing created a red line of his own that he is compelled to enforce, especially with North Korea and China watching. The larger question, still, is “What is our strategy in Syria?”
We have made significant progress against ISIS, but there are other considerations. If Syria remains a running sore, it will continue to destabilize the Middle East and, through its refugee flow, Europe. If Russia and Iran are allowed to work their will uncontested, it is a boon to Russia’s strategic resurgence and Iran’s drive for regional hegemony.
We shouldn’t contemplate overthrowing Assad, nor are we in a position to do it. But we should try to expand the territory held by our allies, toward the longer-term goal of a diplomatic settlement. We should push, via carrots and sticks, the Turks to work with us, their NATO ally, rather than with Russia and Iran. Our reconstruction assistance should flow only to allied forces. We should back Israel in its shadow war with Iranian forces. We should exact whatever price is possible, diplomatically and in increased sanctions, for Russia and Iran’s complicity in Assad’s barbarity.
The episodic over-the-horizon enforcement of a red line should be the least of our Syria strategy, not the sum total of it.
Markets reeled as President Trump announced new tariffs on China — developed ad hoc and, to judge from the public comments of aides, without much consultation — and China prepared retaliatory tariffs designed to hurt red states especially.
Trump has offered several justifications for the tariffs, of which the most convincing is that China needs to be dissuaded from continuing to engage in mercantilist practices that harm the American economy. It has stolen the intellectual property of American companies and required them to provide their technology to Chinese companies as a condition of doing business in China. Trump is thus addressing a real problem — in marked contrast to the steel and aluminum tariffs he imposed earlier, which the administration has advanced under a national-security rationale that cannot withstand a moment’s scrutiny.
We could work with other countries adversely affected by Chinese mercantilism to put pressure on Beijing to soften or abandon it. We could, for example, make a trade agreement, one that reflects our own principles and interests, with other countries along the Pacific Ocean. We could also bring cases before the World Trade Organization (WTO) against China. We have often succeeded in changing the behavior of other countries, including China, though such cases.
But Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, claiming that it was in some unspecified way a bad deal. (His trade negotiators have subsequently tried to insert its helpful provisions into new agreements that have worse prospects of coming to fruition.) He scorns the WTO, claiming it is biased against us even though we have usually prevailed in our complaints there.
And so he is going it alone. Unilateral American trade barriers have had a much worse record in improving other countries’ policies than using the WTO and carry a much higher risk of retaliation. They also alienate countries that would in other circumstances be our allies: Instead of isolating China, they isolate us. China now seems poised to make minor concessions that present it as the savior of global trade.
Our allies do not just disagree with our current course. Having seen Trump’s trade officials insist that there would be no exemptions to the steel and aluminum tariffs and then exempt three-fifths of imports, these countries doubt that we know what we are doing. Their assessment seems painfully accurate.