The Morning Jolt

White House

Tulsi Gabbard’s Discomforting Dictator Alliance

Representative Tulsi Gabbard speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., July 26, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: An ABC News reporter warns that people closest to the Mueller investigation say the final report is almost certain to be “anti-climactic”; Democrats contemplate their string of difficult defeats in Florida while President Trump considers a policy choice that would be political suicide in the Sunshine State; Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard throws her hat into the ring, a decision that should spur serious debates about when and why this country is willing to have alliances with dictators.

ABC News Reporter on Mueller: ‘This Report Is Almost Certain to be Anti-Climactic’

An easily overlooked comment from ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl, during the Sunday morning roundtable:

 . . . what I am getting is that this is all building up to the Mueller report and raising expectations of a bombshell report. And there have been expectations that have been building, of course, for over a year on this. But people who are closest to what Mueller has been doing, interacting with the special counsel, caution me that this report is almost certain to be anti-climactic.

And if you look at what the FBI was investigating in that New York Times report, you look at what they were investigating, Mueller did not go anywhere with that investigation. He has been writing his report in real time through these indictments and we have seen nothing from Mueller on the central question of, was there any coordination, collusion, with the Russians in the effort to meddle in the elections? Or was there even any knowledge on the part of the president or anybody in his campaign with what the Russians were doing, there’s been no indication of that . . .

A lot of folks won’t want to hear this, of course. And if Mueller’s report really does turn out to be not so dramatic, and concludes that there’s no collusion or evidence that Trump knew what his campaign staff was doing . . . how quickly will the Democrats’ opinion of Robert Mueller change? Will Robert DeNiro stop playing him as the ultimate tough guy on Saturday Night Live, and will he start playing him as Inspector Clousteau or Mister Magoo?

Will Democrats Ever Win in Florida Again?

The sun still shines on Republicans in the Sunshine State. In a year when Republicans had trouble up and down the ballot and from coast to coast, where Republicans governors who had survived tough challenges before fell (like Scott Walker in Wisconsin) and some winnable senate races slipped through their fingers (Nevada and Arizona), Republicans held on in Florida’s big races. Democrats flipped only one of the state’s Congressional races. Republicans kept their majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Democrats did win one statewide race, for state agriculture commissioner.

And Democrats are starting to ask if the state is just slipping away into “permanent red” territory.

Democrats started organizing Latino voters too late, didn’t tailor their message for an increasingly diverse community and ultimately took Latino support for granted, a Florida pollster told about 50 members of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Broward County.

Democrats will lose again in 2020 if they don’t move swiftly to win over Hispanics, the pollster, Eduardo Gamarra, told the group. “You just need to start now,” he said . . .

“We just live in a red state here,” said Alex Sink, a former Democratic state official who once narrowly lost a bid for governor. “I think it’s just tilted toward the Republicans now, and I hate to say that.”

It is worth noting that this year’s state referendum to restore voting rights to felons after they’ve served their time could add 1.4 million new voters. Trump’s margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 was about 113,000 votes.

But for Trump to really lose support in Florida, he would have to do something amazingly self-destructive and stupid, something like, I don’t know, take money designated for recovery from a terrible hurricane in the Panhandle and shift it towards the border wall or something.

Ron DeSantis hasn’t even finished his first week as Florida governor and he already appears to be on a collision course with the man who helped him get the job: President Donald Trump.

On Friday, DeSantis said that it would not be acceptable for Trump to take funds from hurricane relief to be used toward the border wall.

“We have people counting on that,” he told reporters. “If they backfill it immediately after the government opens, that’s fine but I don’t want that to be where that money is not available for us.”

But Trump would never do something like that, right?

Tulsi Gabbard’s Presidential Bid Will Inspire a Major Fight about Alliances with Dictators

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard threw her hat into the ring in the ever-growing 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Longtime listeners to the Three Martini Lunch podcast will note that she’s simultaneously our favorite and least favorite House Democrat in recent memory — surprisingly unorthodox in criticism of the Obama administration’s defense policies (particularly on ISIS) and standing up for the Knights of Columbus, but also capable of mind-boggling decisions like a surprise visit with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and questioning whether his regime actually used chemical weapons.

If Gabbard gets any traction in this primary, you’re going to hear a lot about that meeting with Assad in Damascus. On Friday night, Tanner Greer laid out probably the most well thought-out defense of her philosophy and decision-making you’re going to read.

The secular Arab dictatorships that have managed, through tyrannous means, to keep the fractious tribal, ethnic, or religious groups they rule over from fighting each other. Take away a Hussein, a Gaddafi, or an Assad and what do you get?

Civil wars that kill hundreds of thousands and chaos that provides a haven for terrorists.

All of those decrying contact with Assad need to ask themselves this question: would the world be a worse place right now if Assad had crushed the rebels in, say, 2013? That would be a Europe without a refugee crisis, a ME without an ISIS, and a Syria 100,000 dead still living.

It’s a fascinating question, but arguably a pretty moot one. Assad didn’t crush the rebellion in 2013. And while military and Middle East experts can debate why, it seems clear that Assad didn’t fail in that objective because of a lack of ruthlessness or brutality. The first allegations of using chemical weapons stemmed in December 2012, and by mid-2013, the White House said that the U.S. intelligence community has “high confidence” that the Assad regime attacked opposition forces by using chemical weapons multiple times over the past year.

Sometimes brutal dictators can keep fractious factions from fighting each other through tyrannous means; sometimes their brutal methods inspire more people to take up arms in opposition.

American history is full of alliances of convenience and less-than-savory allies: Stalin’s Soviet Union during World War Two, the Shah of Iran and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines during the Cold War, and supporting Saddam Hussein’s regime because he was fighting the Iranians. Today we still have the Saudis, and we’re still technically allies with Pakistan, despite doubts about how much we can trust their government. Heck, Bashar al-Assad’s father was on our side in the Persian Gulf War.

But if we’re going to have an alliance with a brutal dictator and turn a blind eye to massacres and brutality, we had better make sure that the benefits of the moral compromise are worth the cost — and those unsavory dictators had better always know that they’re on a short leash. The patience of the United States is not infinite.

Separately, Greer summarizes Gabbard’s view regarding the entire Middle East, “We cut deals with the dictators SO THAT we can get out. The United States has no interests in this region, our presence is unwelcome there, and (by and large) only makes things worse. We need to cut ourselves our of this mess altogether.”

Undeniably tempting, and not too different from Trump’s vision on the trail in 2016, minus the “take the oil” and “bomb the s*** out of them” flourishes.

But it’s not difficult to picture scenarios where we get out and things get worse for us. We didn’t intervene in Syria, and then we got waves of refugees flooding Europe. America leaving the Middle East isn’t likely to force everyone to get along; it’s likely to generate a thousand little Sunni-Shia proxy fights like Yemen in our wake. With America no longer enforcing any consequence for the use of chemical weapons, there’s reason to think it would be used more frequently instead of less frequently. If the Saudi regime were to ever collapse, you could see Mecca and Medina controlled by forces even friendlier to jihadist extremists. We were much less involved in the Middle East in the 1980s and that era saw bombings at American embassies, European airports and Pan Am Flight 103, West Berlin discos, airline hijackings, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship . . . there’s no reason to think that the terrorism driven by Middle East conflicts would remain contained in the Middle East. No one wants to invest or start businesses when bombs are detonating and poison gas is flying, so we can expect an economic collapse across the Middle East. Poverty, disease, and even further abuse would follow. And in a scenario like that, just how stable do the regions adjacent to the Middle East look? How steady do North Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia, or India and Pakistan look?

And we haven’t even gotten to Israel and its fate.

ADDENDUM: Perhaps my funniest typo in a while: writing about the development of human civilization and how Western Civilization stands upon the accomplishments of preceding cultures, I wrote, “The first civilization in Europe was the Minoans on the island of Crete, starting around 2,700 A.D.” Hey, the Minoans are due for a comeback.

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