Obama’s response to Charlottesville violence is the most liked tweet in Twitter’s history

The Washington Post reports: Unlike some former presidents, Barack Obama is showing no signs of completely abandoning public life.

Since leaving office, Obama has commented on major events or controversies, including the terrorist attack in Manchester, England, and Sen. John McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis. He did so again on Saturday, after the deadly violence in Charlottesville.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love … For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite,” Obama said, quoting former South African president Nelson Mandela in tweets.


The first tweet, which shows a picture of Obama smiling at four children, has been retweeted more than 1.1 million times and liked 2.723 million times as of Tuesday evening. [Continue reading…]

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Does Trump have a point about Obama and Russia?

Susan Glasser writes: Did President Obama “choke,” as his successor has now taken to claiming, by failing to respond more aggressively to the Russian hacking of the 2016 election?

For President Trump to say so carries more than a whiff of hypocrisy given that even now he refuses to unreservedly accept that the Russians were responsible and in nearly six months in office has done nothing about it himself. But even top Democrats are now increasingly acknowledging that he may have a point about Obama.

Obama’s former national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, says as much in a new interview for The Global Politico, telling me there’s “no doubt about it” that Obama should have publicly pinned the blame on the Russians much sooner and taken more aggressive steps to retaliate.

Donilon, a Washington lawyer and longtime Democratic player going back to his days as a junior staffer in Jimmy Carter’s White House, advised Obama through many of the key moments of his early presidency and went on to help lead the national security transition for what he expected to be the Hillary Clinton administration. Normally cautious, careful and exacting, Donilon argues that Obama as early as last summer should have made “aggressive public attribution” that Russia was responsible, long before the president ultimately did so last October just a few weeks before the election.

“Given the fact that they were attacking a fundamental element of our democracy,” Donilon says in the interview, the Obama administration should have been “pushing back harder and publicly” rather than worrying so much about appearing to use the national security apparatus for partisan ends or assuming a Clinton victory would end the matter. That “would have been a better course of action, frankly.” [Continue reading…]

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Under Trump, favorable views of U.S. decline worldwide, except in Russia

The Washington Post reports: President Trump has alarmed citizens of the nation’s closest allies and others worldwide, diminishing the standing of the United States in their eyes, according to a wide-ranging international study released Monday.

But in the survey of 37 countries, Russia is a bright spot for Trump. As beleaguered as the president is at home, a majority of Russians say they have confidence in him. And Russians’ attitudes toward the United States have improved since Trump took office.

Elsewhere, though, and with remarkable speed, Trump’s presidency has taken a toll on the United States’ image abroad.

The international survey by the Pew Research Center found that favorable ratings of the United States have decreased from 64 percent of people across all countries surveyed at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency to 49 percent this spring. The new figures are similar to those toward the end of the George W. Bush administration.

The president himself has fared even worse: A median 22 percent are confident that Trump will do the right thing in global affairs, down from 64 percent who had confidence in Obama. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault

The Washington Post reports: Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks. [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump actually pulled out of Paris

Michael Grunwald writes: Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement was not really about the climate. And despite his overheated rhetoric about the “tremendous” and “draconian” burdens the deal would impose on the U.S. economy, Trump’s decision wasn’t really about that, either. America’s commitments under the Paris deal, like those of the other 194 cooperating nations, were voluntary. So those burdens were imaginary.

No, Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from this carefully crafted multilateral compromise was a diplomatic and political slap: it was about extending a middle finger to the world, while reminding his base that he shares its resentments of fancy-pants elites and smarty-pants scientists and tree-hugging squishes who look down on real Americans who drill for oil and dig for coal. He was thrusting the United States into the role of global renegade, rejecting not only the scientific consensus about climate but the international consensus for action, joining only Syria and Nicaragua (which wanted an even greener deal) in refusing to help the community of nations address a planetary problem. Congress doesn’t seem willing to pay for Trump’s border wall—and Mexico certainly isn’t—so rejecting the Paris deal was an easier way to express his Fortress America themes without having to pass legislation.

Trump was keeping a campaign promise, and his Rose Garden announcement was essentially a campaign speech; it was not by accident that he name-dropped the cities of Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, factory towns in the three Rust Belt states that carried him to victory. Trump’s move won’t have much impact on emissions in the short term, and probably not even in the long term. His claims that the Paris agreement would force businesses to lay off workers and consumers to pay higher energy prices were transparently bogus, because a non-binding agreement wouldn’t force anything. But Trump’s move to abandon it will have a huge impact on the global community’s view of America, and of a president who would rather troll the free world than lead it.

Of course, trolling the world is the essence of Trump’s America First political brand, and Thursday’s announcement reinforced his persona as an unapologetic rebel who won’t let foreigners try to tell America what to do, even when major corporations, his Secretary of State, and his daughter Ivanka want him to do it. He was also leaning into his political identity as Barack Obama’s photographic negative, dismantling Obama’s progressive legacy, kicking sand in the wimpy cosmopolitan faces of Obama’s froufrou citizen-of-the-world pals. [Continue reading…]

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Trump struts onto the world stage only to become a laughingstock

When the word from his own staff inside the White House is that Donald Trump is increasingly being viewed as “a complete moron,” it should come as no surprise that outside the U.S. he now commands just as little respect.

Having been duly flattered by the Saudis with a reception fit for a king, Trump not only showered them with weapons, but also added his own unexpected diplomatic touch by offering his host an impromptu curtsy:

 

Having proffered the deference that Trump obviously thought royalty expects, he then adjusted the gold bauble for comfort as though then wondering: did I get to keep this? I want to show it to Don King.

Had Trump followed Barack Obama’s example eight years ago, he would have realized that gold ornaments do not sit well on the shoulders of a dignified American president.

 

Susan Glasser writes: Many [of the European officials] I spoke with said they had made a fundamental mistake of viewing Trump primarily as an ideologue with whom they disagreed rather than what he increasingly appears to be: an ill-prepared newcomer to the world stage, with uninformed views and a largely untested team that will now be sorely tried by a 9-day, 5-stop world tour that would be wildly ambitious even for a seasoned global leader.

“People are less worried than they were six weeks ago, less afraid,” a senior German government official with extensive experience in the United States told me. “Now they see the clownish nature.” Or, as another German said on the sidelines of a meeting here devoted to taking stock of 70 years of U.S.-German relations, “People here think Trump is a laughingstock.”

“The dominant reaction to Trump right now is mockery,” Jacob Heilbrunn, the editor of the conservative journal the National Interest, told the meeting at the German Foreign Office here while moderating a panel on Trump’s foreign policy that dealt heavily on the difficulty of divining an actual policy amid the spectacle. Heilbrunn, whose publication hosted Trump’s inaugural foreign policy speech in Washington during last year’s campaign, used the ‘L’ word too. “The Trump administration is becoming an international laughingstock.” Michael Werz, a German expert from the liberal U.S. think tank Center for American Progress, agreed, adding he was struck by “how rapidly the American brand is depreciating over the last 20 weeks.” [Continue reading…]

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Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed – after being paid as its agent

McClatchy reports: One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent.

The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president.

Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months.

If Flynn explained his answer, that’s not recorded, and it’s not known whether he consulted anyone else on the transition team before rendering his verdict. But his position was consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed the United States partnering with the Kurdish forces – and which was his undeclared client. [Continue reading…]

To refer to Flynn’s representation of Turkish interests as being “unbeknownst to anyone in Washington,” seems a bit premature. Trump’s unwillingness to fire Flynn, rather than being an expression of loyalty — not something Trump is famous for — may be an indication that whenever Flynn finally tells his own story, it’s going to destroy Trump.

So far, Trump’s ties to Flynn have largely been portrayed as an error in judgement. The real story, however, may reveal Trump’s complicity in Flynn’s corruption — that Flynn was far more transparent than we thus far know and that Trump and Pence with the hubris of victors thought they were immune from facing any repercussions.

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Why Obama just endorsed Emmanuel Macron for president of France

Zack Beauchamp writes: Former President Barack Obama has endorsed his first candidate for office since leaving office — and it’s not a fellow Democrat. In fact, it’s not even an American.

“I am supporting Emmanuel Macron to lead you forward,” Obama said in English in a video addressed to the French people just days before Macron faces far-right candidate Marine Le Pen Sunday in an election that will determine the country’s next president.

Obama closes the minute-long video in French. “En Marche! Vive la France!”

The endorsement is highly, highly unusual — I can’t think of a time when a former US president explicitly endorsed a candidate in a foreign election. But it makes a lot of sense. [Continue reading…]

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U.S.-China climate relations: Beyond Trump

Jackson Ewing writes: The days of cooperative climate change action in Washington and Beijing were short-lived.

After decades of friction in the climate arena, the United States and China spent the last three years of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term in office building a partnership that caught even close observers by surprise. In a March 2016 joint presidential statement, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping declared climate change a “pillar of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship” and committed to ratifying the lauded Paris Agreement. The countries were by then drawing on more than two years of bilateral agreements on clean energy and emissions reduction targets, along with subnational agreements between cities, states, and provinces to bolster technical cooperation in areas ranging from carbon pricing to clean energy to sustainable urban infrastructure.

This cooperation reversed a history of recriminations and posturing that long defined the Sino-American climate change relationship. China would often emphasize its continuing poverty challenges, development needs, and relative lack of historical culpability for the climate problem, while the United States trotted out the common refrain that holding negotiations is well and good, but ultimately pointless if China fails to reduce emissions in internationally verifiable ways. For years, this divide between Beijing and Washington stubbornly persisted.

The Obama-Xi rapprochement was significant because it moved past these arguments and looked for opportunities in a nascent global climate regime based on voluntary commitments by all countries regardless of development levels. This played to the preferences of both China and the United States to chart their own paths without feeling overly constrained by international accords. It also dovetailed with China’s growing determination to solve its domestic pollution crisis, and with a realization in both capitals that clean energy was an economic growth sector.

The Trump presidency has ended this relatively brief period of national climate cooperation between the world’s two largest emitters. U.S. President Donald Trump has removed any mention of climate change from the executive branch agenda, and has moved to dismantle the U.S. Clean Power Plan (CPP), open up federal lands to fossil fuel exploration, reduce vehicle emissions standards, and broadly defund and de-emphasize environmental regulation and enforcement. Whether or not he attempts to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which is not a straightforward process, Trump is already disregarding the American commitments detailed in the pact.

Rather than sending the United States and China back to their adversarial positions of the past, Trump’s moves have taken climate change off the bilateral agenda completely. This eliminates a valuable mutual confidence-building measure and sets back global climate change efforts significantly.

In this context, climate change hopefuls can take solace in three countervailing trends. [Continue reading…]

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Obama accepts $400,000 fee for a speech

The New York Times reports: Former President Barack Obama has agreed to accept $400,000 to speak at a health care conference this year sponsored by Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street investment bank.

The lucrative engagement, reported earlier by Fox, was confirmed by a person familiar with the speaking agreement. A spokesman for Mr. Obama declined to comment on the speech.

Out of office for about three months, Mr. Obama has begun the process of cashing in. In February, he and his wife, Michelle, each signed book deals worth tens of millions of dollars. And Mr. Obama’s spokesman confirmed last week that he is beginning the paid-speech circuit.

A $400,000 speaking fee for addressing the Cantor Fitzgerald conference is a sharp increase from the amounts typically paid to his predecessors. Former President Bill Clinton averaged about $200,000 per speech while former President George W. Bush is reportedly paid $100,000 to $175,000 for each appearance.

Mr. Obama, who was paid $400,000 a year as president, frequently criticized big banks and warned against what he said was a growing inequality in the country that was undermining civic life and the economic fortunes of the middle class. He also pushed for the Dodd-Frank law that regulated Wall Street. [Continue reading…]

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Chemical attacks underline the failure of U.S. policy on Syria under Obama

The New York Times reports: When it came time to make his case for the judgment of history, President Barack Obama had a ready rebuttal to one of the most cutting critiques of his time in office.

Although friends and foes alike faulted him for not following through on his threat to retaliate when Syria gassed its own people in 2013, Mr. Obama would counter that he had actually achieved a better result through an agreement with President Bashar al-Assad to surrender all of his chemical weapons.

After last week, even former Obama aides assume that he will have to rethink that passage in his memoir. More than 80 civilians were killed in what Western analysts called a sarin attack by Syrian forces — a chilling demonstration that the agreement did not succeed. In recent days, former aides have lamented what they considered one of the worst moments of the Obama presidency and privately conceded that his legacy would suffer.

“If the Syrian government carried out the attack and the agent was sarin, then clearly the 2013 agreement didn’t succeed in its objective of eliminating Bashar’s C.W.,” or chemical weapons, said Robert Einhorn, who was the State Department special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control under Mr. Obama before the agreement. “Either he didn’t declare all his C.W. and kept some hidden in reserve, or he illegally produced some sarin after his stock was eliminated — most likely the former.”

Other former advisers to Mr. Obama questioned the wisdom of negotiating with Mr. Assad and said last week’s attack illustrated the flaws in the agreement, which was brokered by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as a way to prevent the United States from using force.

“For me, this tragedy underscores the dangers of trying to do deals with dictators without a comprehensive, invasive and permanent inspection regime,” said Michael McFaul, who was Mr. Obama’s ambassador to Russia. “It also shows the limits of doing deals with Putin. Surely, the Russians must have known about these C.W.”

Putting the best face on it, former Obama advisers argued that it was still better to have removed 1,300 tons of chemical weapons from Syria even if Mr. Assad cheated and kept some, or later developed more. “Imagine what Syria would look like without that deal,” said Antony J. Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state. “It would be awash in chemical weapons which would fall into the hands of ISIS, Al Nusra or other groups.”

Still, the administration knew all along that it had probably not gotten all of the chemical weapons, and tried to get Russia to help press Syria, without success. “We always knew we had not gotten everything, that the Syrians had not been fully forthcoming in their declaration,” Mr. Blinken said.

Even before last week’s chemical attack, many veterans of Mr. Obama’s team considered his handling of Syria his biggest failing and expressed regret that their administration could not stop a civil war that has left more than 400,000 dead and millions displaced. [Continue reading…]

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Trump just exposed the ‘moral depravity’ of the Obama administration — says former Obama administration official

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes: “I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria…we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail.”

Those are the words of an American president who launched military strikes against the Syrian regime after pictures of babies gasping for air under grey medical blankets seized the world’s attention and punctured international indifference to the Syrian civil war, now entering its seventh year.

The speaker is not Barack Obama, the president who won the Nobel Prize and argued for ‘just wars,’ but his successor, Donald Trump, who tried to keep Muslims and Syrian refugees out of America.

Overnight, those who worked to convince the Obama administration to act against Assad — especially from Foggy Bottom — are watching Trump do what Obama would not: act decisively against the regime and send the message that more will not be tolerated. They sound as shocked as anyone that it was Trump who carried out the path they counseled.

“This shows the moral depravity of the last administration,” said one former Obama administration official. “I am stunned.” [Continue reading…]

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Former Obama administration officials credit Trump for doing what their boss failed to do

Antony J. Blinken, a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, writes: President Donald J. Trump was right to strike at the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using a weapon of mass destruction, the nerve agent sarin, against its own people. Mr. Trump may not want to be “president of the world” but when a tyrant blatantly violates a basic norm of international conduct — in this case, the ban on using chemical or biological weapons in armed conflict, put in place after World War I — the world looks to America to act. Mr. Trump did, and for that he should be commended.

The real test for Mr. Trump is what comes next. He has shown a total disinterest in working to end Syria’s civil war. Now, the administration has leverage it should test with the Assad regime and Russia to restrain Syria’s air force, stop any use of chemical or biological weapons, implement an effective cease-fire in Syria’s civil war and even move toward a negotiated transition of power — goals that eluded the Obama administration.

At the same time, it must prevent or mitigate the possible unintended consequences of using force, including complicating the military campaign against the Islamic State. All this will require something in which the administration has shown little interest: smart diplomacy. [Continue reading…]

Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the Obama administration, writes: Donald Trump is president; he now bears full responsibility for addressing the tragedy in Syria, and for the consequences of the response he has chosen. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reflect on America’s response to the Assad regime’s previous chemical weapons attacks—for how we interpret the difficult and debatable choice the Obama administration (in which I served) made not to use military force when Assad last used nerve gas against his people will shape our thinking about this and similar crises for a long time to come. The lesson I would draw from that experience is that when dealing with mass killing by unconventional or conventional means, deterrence is more effective than disarmament.

After Assad’s horrific 2013 sarin gas attack on civilians, President Obama settled first on deterrence—threatening a punitive military response—then changed course when Assad agreed to disclose and surrender his chemical weapons. There were many reasons for Obama’s decision to forego military action, from his own concerns about the risks of getting involved in Syria’s war to the shameful refusal of most members of Congress to back him up. In any case, the administration and many outside observers argued then that the U.S. had achieved a better outcome by threatening force and then negotiating a deal than if we had actually used force. Air and cruise missile strikes could not have eliminated Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal, but the diplomatic deal, proponents argued, did.

That argument was never persuasive to Syrians being killed by the barrel bombs and rockets that the chemical weapons deal allowed Assad to keep using. But even if one accepts that there is something uniquely awful about poison gas, the Syrian regime’s repeated use of chlorine weapons after 2013, and now its apparent reuse of sarin, shows the difficulty of relying on disarmament alone to stop a dictator from killing by all means at his disposal. No disarmament regime is foolproof, and it was always understood that Assad likely hid some elements of his chemical weapons production capacity from inspectors. A state that calculates that using a weapon or tactic of war is in its interest will generally find a way to do so.

The more effective strategy is to establish that the costs of using such a weapon or tactic will outweigh its benefits, even if a state keeps the capacity to do so. [Continue reading…]

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Inaction over Syria has exacted a terrible price

Jonathan Freedland writes: Let’s not speak of our horror. Let’s not hold emergency meetings or pass urgent resolutions expressing our outrage at the poisoning of Syrian children and adults in Idlib province through a nerve agent, probably sarin gas. Let’s have no declarations worded in the “strongest possible terms”. Let’s utter no more cliches about acts that “cannot be ignored”. Let’s not even condemn these attacks any more – because our condemnations ring so hollow.

We know what the use of this kind of chemical weapon does to people. If you have a strong enough stomach, and you make yourself look at the photos, you can see the bodies of dead children, arranged like sardines, under a threadbare quilt. You can read the accounts of how they died: “writhing, choking, gasping or foaming at the mouth,” according to the New York Times, killed by a substance so toxic that “some rescue workers grew ill and collapsed from proximity to the dead”.

We know that the poison spread after warplanes dropped bombs – and that the warplanes came again a few hours later, hitting a small clinic ministering to the victims. The injured and the dying were being treated there because the area’s larger hospital had been hit by an airstrike two days earlier.

And we almost certainly know who did it. Every sign points to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Sure, Damascus blamed the rebels who hold the town of Khan Sheikhoun, as they always do. And, yes, Assad’s enablers and accomplices in Moscow offered a variation on that theme, saying that Syrian planes had struck a rebel stockpile of nerve agents, accidentally releasing them into the atmosphere.

We know how seriously to take such pronouncements from the regime of Vladimir Putin. More credible is the word of Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, who once led the British army regiment responsible for dealing with chemical weapons and is now a director of Doctors Under Fire. He told the BBC that the Moscow explanation was “fanciful” and “unsustainable”. As he explained, “if you blow up sarin, you destroy it”.

So we know all this, and we also know that for six long, bloody years atrocities have continued in Syria – and nothing happens. Indeed, impunity may not just be the consequence of this latest crime, but also its cause. In recent days, the Trump administration has all but told Assad that he has a free hand to kill as many people as he wants, in whatever way he chooses. [Continue reading…]

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After begging him not to attack Syria in 2013, Trump now blames Obama for latest chemical massacre

Julian Borger writes: The scale and horror of Tuesday’s gas attack on civilians in Idlib highlighted the vacuum in the Trump administration’s foreign policymaking: the incident was met first by silence, then by criticism of Barack Obama.

Donald Trump described the attack, which killed scores of victims, including many children, as a direct “consequence” of his predecessor’s Syria policy.

“These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the last administration’s weakness and irresolution,” he said in a statement. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.” [Continue reading…]

Shortly after the Ghouta chemical attack in which hundreds of Syrian civilians died, Trump tweeted:


Charles B. Anthony provides a reminder of 17 Trump tweets in which he implored Obama not to attack and said the U.S. should “forget Syria.”

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Why Obamacare defeated Trumpcare

Jonathan Chait writes: With the collapse of the House health-care bill, the cause of repealing Obamacare, a right-wing obsession for seven years and a day, has died. The flame will never be fully extinguished in the hearts of the true believers — after all, in right-wing think tanks and other places far removed from electoral politics, anti-government zealots still dream of phasing out Social Security or Medicare. But the political project dedicated to restoring the pre-Obamacare status quo, in which people too sick or poor to afford their own insurance without the subsidies and regulations of the Affordable Care Act could be safely ignored, is gone forever. And it is dead for the best possible reason, the reason that undergirds all social progress: because a good idea defeated a bad one.

Conservatives have already collapsed into mutual recriminations for their failure. Reporters have blamed Trump’s deal-making skills. Trump’s loyalists are loudly blaming Paul Ryan. “I think Paul Ryan did a major disservice to President Trump, I think the president was extremely courageous in taking on health care and trusted others to come through with a program he could sign off on,” Chris Ruddy, CEO of the right-wing site Newsmax and a longtime friend of Trump’s, tells Bloomberg. “The president had confidence Paul Ryan would come up with a good plan and to me, it is disappointing.” David Brooks blames both Trump and Congress. “The core Republican problem is this,” he writes. “The Republicans can’t run policy-making from the White House because they have a marketing guy in charge of the factory. But they can’t run policy from Capitol Hill because it’s visionless and internally divided.”

The American Health Care Act is a truly horrendous piece of legislation. But it did not become the vehicle for the Obamacare repeal effort because Trump, or Ryan, or anybody insisted on it over some other option. It became the repeal bill because nobody in the Republican Party had a better idea. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s foolish effort to blame GCHQ and Fox News for a diplomatic mess of his own making

Former NSA analyst and counterintelligence officer, John Schindler, writes: Napolitano has zero background in intelligence and has no idea what he’s talking about. His accusation against Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, London’s NSA equivalent, was patently absurd, as well as malicious, demonstrating that neither Napolitano nor Fox News have the slightest notion how intelligence works in the real world.

Yet here the White House was publicly endorsing this crackpot theory—and blaming perhaps our closest ally for breaking American laws at the behest of Barack Obama. Our domestic crisis thereby became an international one, for no reason other than the administration has gone global in its efforts to deflect blame from its own stupidity and dishonesty.

This is no small matter. NSA and GCHQ enjoy the most special of special relationships, serving since the Second World War as the cornerstone of the Anglosphere Five Eyes signals intelligence alliance (the others are Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) which defeated Hitler and won the Cold War. This constitutes the most successful espionage alliance in history, and just how close NSA and GCHQ are would be difficult to overstate.

Affectionately calling each other “the cousins,” they interchange personnel and, in the event of disaster—for instance a crippling terrorist attack on agency headquarters—NSA would hand most of its functions over to GCHQ, so that Five Eyes would keep running. It’s long been a source of consternation at Langley that NSA appears to get along better with GCHQ than with CIA. I once witnessed this issue come up in a top-secret meeting with senior officials, in which a CIA boss took an NSA counterpart to task when it became apparent that a piece of highly sensitive intelligence had been shared with “the cousins” before Langley was informed. The NSA senior official’s terse reply silenced the room: “That’s because we trust them.”

Publicly attacking the NSA-GCHQ relationship was therefore a consummately bad idea, particularly by a White House that has already gone so far out of its way to anger and alienate our own spies, and the British reply was one for the record books. Late yesterday, GCHQ issued a remarkable statement:

Recent allegations made by media commentator judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.

American spy services are famously tight-lipped in their public utterances, falling back on “we can neither confirm nor deny” with a regularity that frustrates journalists. And our spooks are positively loquacious compared to British partners, who seldom say anything on the record to the media. Calling out Fox News and the White House in this manner has no precedent, and indicates just how angry British officials are with the Trump administration. For Prime Minister Teresa May, whose efforts to build bridges with the new president have been deeply unpopular at home, this had to be galling. [Continue reading…]

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