National Security & Defense

Why We Need John Bolton

John Bolton at CPAC 2017 (Gage Skidmore)

John Bolton was a determined opponent of the deal with the Taliban, as this New York Times story notes:

On the Friday before Labor Day, President Trump gathered top advisers in the Situation Room to consider what could be among the profound decisions of his presidency — a peace plan with the Taliban after 18 years of grinding, bloody war in Afghanistan.

The meeting brought to a head a bristling conflict dividing his foreign policy team for months, pitting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo against John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, in a battle for the competing instincts of a president who relishes tough talk but promised to wind down America’s endless wars.

As they discussed terms of the agreement, Mr. Pompeo and his negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, made the case that it would enable Mr. Trump to begin withdrawing troops while securing a commitment from the Taliban not to shelter terrorists. Mr. Bolton, beaming in by video from Warsaw, where he was visiting, argued that Mr. Trump could keep his campaign pledge to draw down forces without getting in bed with killers swathed in American blood….

Mr. Bolton was the leading voice against the deal on the inside as Mr. Pompeo’s allies increasingly tried to isolate the national security adviser. Mr. Bolton argued that Mr. Trump could pull out 5,000 troops while still leaving enough forces to assist counterterrorism efforts without a deal with the Taliban, a group he argued could not be trusted.

This intense internal fight over Afghan policy is why there have been a spate of anti-Bolton stories in the press lately. He wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers speaking forthrightly about why this course was a mistake, even when the decision seemed to be going the other way. It’s important that this president—any president—get unvarnished advice from his aides, and Bolton is always willing to provide it.

World

Politicians and Statesmen

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives to hold a news conference after an extraordinary European Union leaders summit to discuss Brexit in Brussels, Belgium, April 11, 2019. (Susana Vera/Reuters)

“A politician . . . is a man who thinks of the next election; while the statesman thinks of the next generation,” wrote the American theologian, James Freeman Clarke in Old and New magazine in December 1870. Since (as before) then, this maxim has been proven true. For recent application, consider the last two British prime ministers prior to the incumbent Boris Johnson. Both were, by Clarke’s standard, born politicians.

Most recent was Theresa May (July 2016–May 2019) who tried everything in her power to keep a “strong and stable” government and an (at least ostensibly) unified parliamentary party. After her disastrous snap election in June 2017, May became entirely risk-averse, clinging onto whatever power she had left, and forsaking all paths leading to a clean Brexit.

Before May was David Cameron (May 2010–July 2016), who also prioritized his government’s immediate political future when he agreed to the 2011 Fixed Term Parliament Act — a law passed by parliament, which prevents a sitting prime minister from calling a snap election without a two-thirds majority — along with his then-coalition government partner, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Likewise, when Cameron called for a European Referendum (later held in June 2016), he did so for short-term political gain. What else but pure politics could have prompted him, in 2013, to change his mind about holding a referendum and enshrine this promise in his Party’s 2015 manifesto? After all, personally, he wanted Britain to remain in the EU. Politically, he thought that it would. What a drastic miscalculation that turned out to be!

Yet, for the people who truly understood it, Brexit never was some short-sighted game. The same goes for no-deal. An economic aftershock and no-deal planning are of course politically relevant, but for millions of Brits, the question of Brexit — of sovereignty — holds far greater longevity.

I hope readers won’t mind if I remind them of an observation I made about Johnson almost exactly a year ago. As I recall, I was standing in the Palace of Westminster, next to the bomb-damaged Churchill Arch in Members’ Lobby, looking up at four bronze statues that tower over small busts of lesser-known prime ministers. “The looming figures are David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, and Margaret Thatcher,” I observed. But I wasn’t there alone. “Pointing to the latter two, a trusted Johnson aide told me, ‘We are living in as decisive times as these. And we need a prime minister of such stature.’”

Yes. The time for politicians has passed. The time for a statesman is now.

Politics & Policy

Transferring from Community College to a Four-Year College Isn’t Easy

For many high school graduates, community college is a much better choice than enrolling in a four-year institution. But after completing their academic program at the community college, students who have decided to continue their education often find the process rather difficult.

North Carolina has a program that helps such students. In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins interviews the program advisor at Wake Tech, one of the state’s main community colleges. It does seem to help those students who would benefit from going on to a bachelor’s degree.

Elections

Is Joe Biden’s Campaign Really ‘Porcelain’?

Joe Biden speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

Politico reports, “many people expect [Joe Biden’s] campaign to implode any day. It is a sensation underpinning the entire primary, evident not only in the vulturous calculations of Biden’s competitors, but also within his own orbit of supporters — a feeling that the front-runner may be made of porcelain, one direct hit short of falling apart.”

Somebody’s going to have to score a direct hit, then. Four years ago, another unpredictable, gaffe-prone septuagenarian — who also kept getting accused of touching women inappropriately — ran for president, and most of his rivals waited for somebody else to throw the knockout punch. Ask the 2016 Republican contenders how well the plan of waiting worked out for them.

The one time Biden’s lead took a significant drop this cycle in the RealClearPolitics average came after Kamala Harris metaphorically beat him up and took his lunch money in the first debate. Since then, he’s been pretty stable. There’s little sign that a lot of Democrats want to shop around or roll the dice on an untested newcomer. They just want to beat Trump, and they currently think Biden’s the safest choice. If your name isn’t Joe Biden, your job in this week’s debate is to convince everyone watching that Biden will fall apart in a tough general election fight with Trump and that you’re the best choice to beat an incumbent president seeking a second term.

A lot of party loyalists cringe when they see primary opponents attacking each others’ records. They lament that it’s “negative campaigning.” If you are a challenger, it is almost impossible to gain traction against the frontrunner without criticizing the frontrunner’s record. If Democrats don’t have any “negative campaigning” from here on out, the party will nominate Biden.

“But I intend to win this primary on the power of my message!” News flash, Democratic candidates: As far as most primary voters are concerned, you’ve all got more or less the same message. You’re all appalled by President Trump and find him a violation of American values. You all want to raise taxes on “the rich and big corporations.” You all want the federal government to take a bigger role in getting people health care. You all want abortion on demand anytime, anywhere, for any reason. You’re all deeply worried about climate change.

The only way this primary fight will hinge on policy differences is if someone convincingly argues that the difference on policy reflects a difference in values. That’s the kind of tough argument that will be needed to score a “direct hit” on the allegedly “porcelain” Biden.

Politics & Policy

A Modest Reaction to HARPA

The Washington Post reports:

The White House is considering a controversial proposal to study whether mass shootings could be prevented by monitoring mentally ill people for small changes that might foretell violence.

Former NBC Chairman Bob Wright, a longtime friend and associate of President Trump’s, has briefed top officials, including the president, the vice president and Ivanka Trump, on a proposal to create a new research agency called HARPA to come up with out-of-the-box ways to tackle health problems, much like DARPA does for the military, say several people who have briefed.

. . .

Advisers to Wright quickly pulled together a three-page proposal — called SAFEHOME for Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes – which calls for exploring whether technology like phones and smart watches can be used to detect when mentally ill people are about to turn violent.

At first, I was horrified by this idea. But then I remembered that it’s “time for leadership” and that we have to “do something,” and all my objections disappeared upon the instant. Sure, there are obvious Fourth Amendment problems here. But, when you think about it, there’s no way that the Founding Fathers could have imagined cell phones or smart watches (where exactly does the Constitution mention them!?) — and, anyway, if you read the Fourth Amendment’s text you’ll notice that it uses the same “right of the people” language as does the Second Amendment, and that it should therefore be read to apply not to individuals but collectively.

The question we have to ask here is whether the freedom to use a high-bandwidth telephone is really more important than the lives of our kids. As the Trump administration has made clear, HARPA wouldn’t ban cell phones outright; it would just impose some common sense safety regulations on their use. What’s the problem? As one of the project’s architects has asked:

“To those who say this is a half-baked idea, I would say, ‘what’s your idea? What are you doing about this?’ ” said Geoffrey Ling, the lead scientific adviser on the HARPA proposal.

Exactly!

Film & TV

A Movie I Expect To Skip

There is a new film coming about a famous American, born 70-odd years ago, who was an insufferable child of privilege with a half-serious interest in public affairs, who created a ridiculous public persona around a phony populist shtick, and who made a lucrative career out of giving public figures childishly demeaning nicknames. It is truly a shame that Molly Ivins did not live long enough to see Donald Trump take her act to its logical conclusion.

Politics & Policy

Americans View the Democratic and Republican Parties with Equal Disfavor

The Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As David Leonhardt noted in his latest New York Times column, polling from the Pew Research Center shows that the Democratic party’s relative advantage in popularity among the American public has vanished over the course of the last year.

Pew data from last September showed that most Americans had a favorable opinion of the Democratic party. Fifty-three percent of respondents said that they viewed the Democratic party favorably, compared to 42 percent who said they viewed it unfavorably. The Republican party didn’t fare nearly as well last September in the same survey: Forty-three percent of respondents had a favorable view of the GOP compared to 52 percent who said they had an unfavorable view.

Leonhardt hypothesizes that the disparity was due to Democratic politicians having run “a populist campaign in the 2018 midterms, focused on pocketbook issues that dominate many people’s lives, like wages and medical costs.” But one year later, that edge has worn off entirely.

This September’s Pew data show that most Americans view both the Democratic and Republican parties with disfavor, and in exactly equal proportions. Just 45 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Democratic party compared to 52 percent with a negative view; the same is true for the GOP, with 45 percent of respondents saying they view it favorably compared to 52 percent who view it unfavorably.

Leonhardt observes, too, that “slightly more voters say the ‘ideas being offered by the Democratic candidates’ would hurt the country than say would help, according to the NPR poll.” He suggests that Democratic politicians revert to the populist messaging that found success last year, rather than “talking about border decriminalization and mandatory Medicare,” he writes, concluding that the latter would be a boon to Trump.

His analysis likely is correct, and the changes in the Pew survey over the last year seem to prove the point. And it doesn’t bode well for Democrats in next year’s elections. Democratic presidential candidates in particular have, for the most part, responded to Trump’s lack of popularity by shifting aggressively to the left. While this is to some extent a natural tendency during a primary race, most candidates other than Biden will have a difficult time racing back to the center when it comes time to contest the sitting president.

Elections

Valerie Plame: Let’s Just Forget about that Anti-Semitism Thing

Former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson poses at the 36th American film festival in Deauville, France, September 9, 2010. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

Two things stand out in this new ad from Valerie Plame, who is running for Congress as a Democrat in New Mexico.

She declares, “Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff took revenge against my husband and leaked my identity. His name? Scooter Libby.”

This is false. Former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage acknowledged in 2006 that he was the source who first revealed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak back in 2003.

Plame adds, “Guess who pardoned him last year?”

This is technically accurate, but a bit misleading. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was not prosecuted for leaking classified information; he was indicted on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of making false statements when interviewed by FBI agents and two counts of perjury in his testimony before the grand jury. Libby and his lawyers argued that his inaccurate statements to the FBI reflected an inability to perfectly remember details of conversations from two years earlier.

He was convicted on four of the counts and acquitted on one charge of making false statements to the FBI. President Bush commuted the 30 months in prison portion of his sentence, but kept the felony conviction, sentence of two years of probation, and $250,000 fine. Libby completed 400 hours of community service. Trump pardoned Libby, effectively erasing the felony conviction from his record.

Plame then declares, “I come from Ukrainian Jewish immigrants.”

This is no doubt meant to be a shield against those who would bring up Plame’s claim earlier this year that she had no idea that an article entitled “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars” from a website run by a Holocaust denier, which she retweeted in 2017, was anti-Semitic.

New Mexico’s Third Congressional District covers the northern third of the state, and scores a D+8 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Incumbent Democrat Ben Ray Luján is running for the U.S. Senate seat.

Elections

Democrats Hand Trump Another Issue

During last week’s climate town halls, several Democratic presidential candidates endorsed a carbon tax. It’s an idea Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton shied away from. At Bloomberg Opinion, I argue they had good reasons for keeping their distance.

memo for the Clinton campaign estimated that a carbon tax of $42 per ton on greenhouse-gas emissions would raise annual energy costs by $478 for the average household, and by $268 for the poorest fifth of households.

When considering that number, keep in mind another poll finding. In November 2018, the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research ran a survey about climate change that found, in line with other polls, that most Americans believe it is happening and that human activity is causing it. Nearly half of respondents said that recent extreme weather events had influenced their thinking on the issue. But 68 percent opposed paying even $10 extra in their monthly utility bills to address the issue.

Culture

It Must Be Nice Always to Be the Victim

Sayeth Politico:

Ah. So when Republicans wish to change the status quo, they’re waging a culture war. But when Democrats wish to change the status quo, they are . . . playing into the “Republican culture war.” Got it.

Elections

Buttigieg Defends Abortion by Suggesting the Bible Says ‘Life Begins with Breath’

Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks with the media at Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, August 13, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)

In an interview this morning on The Breakfast Club radio show, South Bend mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg attempted to rationalize his support for legal abortion until birth by suggesting that perhaps human life begins at the moment of a child’s first breath. Here’s what he said:

[Pro-life people] hold everybody in line with this one piece of doctrine about abortion, which is obviously a tough issue for a lot of people to think through morally. Then again, there’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath. Even that is something that we can interpret differently. . . . No matter what you think about the cosmic question of how life begins, most Americans can get on board with the idea of, ‘I might draw the here. You might draw the line there.’ The most important thing is the person who should be drawing the line is the woman making the decision. [Emphasis added.]

It’s the latest salvo in a long string of attempts by Buttigieg to paint his entire progressive agenda as the only acceptable set of policies for a moral Christian, insisting that a proper interpretation of Christianity will “point you in a progressive direction.” Time and again, the mayor — who considers himself a faithful Episcopalian — has derided Republicans and conservative Christians for their supposed hypocrisy and immorality, while proclaiming the objective moral correctness of his own policy prescriptions.

But when it comes to abortion, he of the unswerving moral compass thus far has fallen silent, repeatedly demurring on whether it’s ever appropriate to limit abortion legally on moral or religious grounds. That is, until today. Now, Buttigieg apparently has managed to locate “lots of parts” of Scripture that, by his implication, would legitimize a regime of abortion on demand until the moment of birth — or even, I suppose, until a newborn child draws his or her first breath.

Evidently, the mayor has decided that it’s to his advantage to embrace the radical, unpopular position of his party, advocating that a pregnant woman alone should have control over whether the unborn human being inside her is permitted to continue living, even after the point when it is able to survive outside the womb. He should at least have the decency not to twist Scripture in defense of his abhorrent decision, and to cease lecturing us about his superior understanding of Christian morality while he’s at it.

NR Marketing

For a Saner Conversation, There’s NRPlus

Listen: I’ll be the first to admit that I have a problem with social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — I’m on it all, and I’m on it all the time.

The problem with that (other than the fact that it’s, you know, detrimental to my relationships, and I’ll probably get hit by a car someday from crossing the street while being on my phone) is that a lot of the other people on these social media platforms are, well, mean. They’re jerks! All too often, I’ll share one of my pieces on Twitter or Facebook just to get a bunch of horrific comments from people insulting me or even asking me to send them pictures of my feet. (Ew!)

For this reason, I can admit that I was a little nervous to share a piece of my work on the NRPlus Facebook group. But, because I’m not one to live my life in fear, I went ahead and shared a recent piece, about San Francisco labeling the National Rifle Association a “domestic terrorist organization,” anyway. And guess what? I’m so glad I did!

The kind of comments that I received on my post were so much better than the ones I’ve received elsewhere in the cesspool that is the Internet. It was so refreshing to see thoughtful feedback from respectful individuals who appreciate my work — and none of them even asked for a single picture of my feet! I had such a great time interacting with my readers, and I’m sure that I will do so again!

So, join us! Come be part of the respectful, thoughtful community that is NRPlus — unless, of course, you’re into hassling strangers for feet pics. Then you can stay in the trenches where you belong.

Elections

Joe Biden Stays ahead of the Pack in Latest Democratic Polls

Joe Biden speaks at an event at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa, June 11, 2019. (Jordan Gale/Reuters)

In the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll out earlier this week, former vice president Joe Biden maintains a healthy advantage over his Democratic competitors in the presidential primary, with 32-percent support among Democratic-primary voters. A distant second place, Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) comes in with 20 percent, and in third is Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren with 16 percent.

Biden stays solidly in the lead when the poll focused solely on Democratic-primary voters only in early primary states, surveying just over 700 such voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Among those voters, Biden also achieved 32-percent support. Sanders remained in second place, but his support inched up to 21 percent, and Warren shifted up to 17 percent. Both Sanders and Warren have gained slightly in the Politico/Morning Consult data since early last month, while Biden has dropped a bit.

A survey from The Economist/YouGov, also out this Wednesday, tells a slightly less optimistic tale for Biden, showing the former vice president with just a four-point lead over Warren. Biden comes in at 26 percent, Warren at 22, and Sanders in a more distant third place with 14. Though he has consistently held the frontrunner position since entering the race in April, at this stage of the race it seems that Biden is largely being buoyed by the fact that the voters looking for an alternative are splitting their support between two progressive candidates.

Politics & Policy

Six Days of Alabama Graze

President Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to once again vindicate himself on the greatest and most important presidential storm prediction ever made, that Hurricane Dorian would possibly, maybe, sorta hit Alabama.

….This nonsense has never happened to another President. Four days of corrupt reporting, still without an apology. But there are many things that the Fake News Media has not apologized to me for, like the Witch Hunt, or SpyGate! The LameStream Media and their Democrat…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2019

This is the sixth day in a row the president has tweeted on this subject.

Can someone please check in on the president?

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White House

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Elections

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