Due to unforeseen circumstances, I will be on the road for the next few days — driving up the East Coast to Boston and then straight back to North Carolina. During this period I won’t be able to update the site. Back soon. PW
David Frum writes: Leaking the transcript of a presidential call to a foreign leader is unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous. It is vitally important that a president be able to speak confidentially—and perhaps even more important that foreign leaders understand that they can reply in confidence.
Thursday’s leak to The Washington Post of President Trump’s calls with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia will reverberate around the world. No leader will again speak candidly on the phone to Washington, D.C.—at least for the duration of this presidency, and perhaps for longer. If these calls can be leaked, any call can be leaked—and no leader dare say anything to the president of the United States that he or she would not wish to read in the news at home.
In March, I warned about the risk of judicial overreach:
In response to the danger posed by Trump, other American power holders will be tempted to jettison their historic role too, and use any tool at hand—no matter how doubtfully legitimate—to stop him. Those alternative power holders may even ultimately win. But in winning, they may discover themselves in the same tragic position as that Vietnam-era army officer who supposedly said: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
The risk of national-security establishment overreach looms even larger. The temptation is obvious: Senior national-security professionals regard Trump as something between (at best) a reckless incompetent doofus and (at worst) an outright Russian espionage asset. The fear that a Russian mole has burrowed into the Oval Office may justify, to some, the most extreme actions against that suspected mole.
The nature of this particular leak suggests just such a national-security establishment origin. It is a very elegantly designed leak. The two transcripts belong to calls whose substance was already widely reported in the media; they give away nothing new. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Reversing himself again, President Trump on Friday delivered a stinging rebuke to Qatar, accusing the Persian Gulf nation of being a “funder of terror at a very high level” and demanding that it cut off that money flow to rejoin the circle of responsible nations.
Mr. Trump’s comments undercut his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, who has thrown himself into an effort to mediate a resolution to a bitter dispute between Qatar and several of its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia. Earlier on Friday, Mr. Tillerson called for “calm and thoughtful dialogue” to resolve the crisis.
The president’s comments were anything but that, and they suggested a continuing divide between Mr. Trump and his advisers about how best to deal with Qatar, which is arguably the nation’s most important military outpost in the Middle East. [Continue reading…]
Josh Rogin writes: Listening to Tuesday’s first ever State Department briefing by new spokeswoman Heather Nauert, one might get the impression that the United States is conducting traditional, balanced and even somewhat nuanced foreign policy on the world stage. The problem is, of course, that President Trump’s own statements on foreign policy destroy that image and there’s no effort by either side to address the resulting contradictions.
Nauert, a former Fox News host, waited five weeks before taking to the lectern to meet the State Department press corps, which is filled with seasoned diplomatic reporters steeped in the nuances of international issues. She was well prepared, firm but not combative and began by praising the diplomatic corps and the media for doing their jobs in service to the United States and the ideals America represents.
The press corps, in turn, treated her with respect without pulling punches, a clear effort to set the relationship on the right foot and give her time to adjust to the new spotlight. But as the briefing wore on, the sheer disconnect between what Nauert was explaining as State Department policy and what the White House and Trump have said was striking. [Continue reading…]
Jamelle Bouie writes: Before the election, when Donald Trump was still just an unlikely presidential nominee, a conservative under the pseudonym “Publius Decius Mus,” wrote a remarkable essay in support of Trump. The pseudonym alone gave a glimpse into the writer’s thinking. The real-life Decius was a Roman consul who sacrificed himself to the gods for the sake of his embattled army. And in the same way, our internet Decius called on conservatives to embrace Trump — to back the vulgarian who mocked their ideals — for the sake of saving the country as they knew it. “The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle,” he wrote, hailing the real estate mogul as the only figure who understood the stakes, who would beat back these “foreigners” and preserve America’s democratic tradition as Decius saw it. Not a tradition of pluralism, but one of exclusion, in which white Americans stand as the only legitimate players in political life. A dictatorship of the herrenvolk.
“Decius” — since revealed as Michael Anton, a former George W. Bush administration speechwriter — now works for President Trump. And he isn’t the only figure in the Trump circle who holds these views. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, his former aide Stephen Miller, and right-wing media mogul Stephen Bannon occupy prominent positions in the present administration. Like Anton, they hold deep antagonism to immigrants and immigration, opposition to their equality within American society, and nostalgia for a time when prosperity was the province of the native-born and a select few “assimilated” immigrants. But these aren’t just ideologues with jobs in a friendly administration. They are the architects of Trump’s policy, the executors of a frighteningly coherent political ideology.
What is that ideology? Most Americans think of “racism” in individualized terms. To call someone a “racist,” then, is to pass judgment on his or her character — a declaration that this person doesn’t belong in polite society. It’s why, when faced with the accusation, Americans often rush to deny any prejudice. I don’t have a racist bone in my body, goes the cliché. But individualized prejudice is just one way to think of racism. There’s also institutional bias or systemic outcomes — the things that lead critics to deem the criminal justice system as “racist.” And beyond the material, there’s racism as ideology — a structured worldview defined by support for race hierarchy and racial caste. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: A federal appeals court early Sunday rejected a request by the Justice Department to immediately restore President Trump’s targeted travel ban, deepening a legal showdown over his authority to tighten the nation’s borders in the name of protecting Americans from terrorism.
In the legal back and forth over the travel ban, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco said a reply from the Trump administration was now due on Monday.
The ruling meant that refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — who were barred by an executive order signed by the president on Jan. 27 would, for now, continue to be able to enter the country.
After a Federal District Court in Seattle blocked Mr. Trump’s order nationwide on Friday, the Justice Department appealed the ruling late Saturday, saying that the president had the constitutional authority to order the ban and that the court ruling “second-guesses the president’s national security judgment.”
On Saturday night, as Mr. Trump arrived at a Red Cross gala at Mar-a-Lago, his waterfront Florida resort, where he was spending the first getaway weekend of his presidency, reporters asked him if he was confident he would prevail in the government’s appeal. “We’ll win,” he replied. “For the safety of the country, we’ll win.”
The legal maneuvering led Mr. Trump to lash out at Judge James Robart of the Federal District Court in Seattle throughout the day, prompting criticism that the president had failed to respect the judicial branch and its power to check on his authority. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: China’s leaders have been accused of delivering a calculated diplomatic snub to Barack Obama after the US president was not provided with a staircase to leave his plane during his chaotic arrival in Hangzhou before the start of the G20.
Chinese authorities have rolled out the red carpet for leaders including India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, and the British prime minister, Theresa May, who touched down on Sunday morning.
But the leader of the world’s largest economy, who is on his final tour of Asia, was forced to disembark from Air Force One through a little-used exit in the plane’s belly after no rolling staircase was provided when he landed in the eastern Chinese city on Saturday afternoon.
When Obama did find his way on to a red carpet on the tarmac below there were heated altercations between US and Chinese officials, with one Chinese official caught on video shouting: “This is our country! This is our airport!”
“The reception that President Obama and his staff got when they arrived here Saturday afternoon was bruising, even by Chinese standards,” the New York Times reported.
Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s former ambassador to China, said he was convinced Obama’s treatment was part of a calculated snub.
“These things do not happen by mistake. Not with the Chinese,” Guajardo, who hosted presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón during his time in Beijing, told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]
Following the death of Daniel Berrigan, S.J., Luke Hansen, S.J. writes: In 1963, Berrigan embarked on a year of travel, spending time in France, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rome, South Africa and the Soviet Union. He encountered despair among French Jesuits related to the situation of Indochina, as the United States ramped up military involvement in Vietnam.
Berrigan returned home in 1964 convinced that the war in Vietnam “could only grow worse.” So he began, he later wrote, “as loudly as I could, to say ‘no’ to the war…. There would be simply no turning back.”
He co-founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship and the interfaith group Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, whose leaders included Martin Luther King Jr., Richard John Neuhaus and Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Berrigan regularly corresponded with Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and William Stringfellow, among others. He also made annual trips to the Abbey of Gethsemani, Merton’s home, to give talks to the Trappist novices.
In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966), Merton described Berrigan as “an altogether winning and warm intelligence and a man who, I think, has more than anyone I have ever met the true wide-ranging and simple heart of the Jesuit: zeal, compassion, understanding, and uninhibited religious freedom. Just seeing him restores one’s hope in the Church.”
A dramatic year of assassinations and protests that shook the conscience of America, 1968 also proved to be a watershed year for Berrigan. In February, he flew to Hanoi, North Vietnam, with the historian Howard Zinn and assisted in the release of three captured U.S. pilots. On their first night in Hanoi, they awoke to an air-raid siren and U.S. bombs and had to find shelter.
As the United States continued to escalate the war, Berrigan worried that conventional protests had little chance of influencing government policy. His brother, Philip, then a Josephite priest, had already taken a much greater risk: In October 1967, he broke into a draft board office in Baltimore and poured blood on the draft files.
Undeterred at the looming legal consequences, Philip planned another draft board action and invited his younger brother to join him. Daniel agreed.
On May 17, 1968, the Berrigan brothers joined seven other Catholic peace activists in Catonsville, Md., where they took several hundreds of draft files from the local draft board and set them on fire in a nearby parking lot, using homemade napalm. Napalm is a flammable liquid that was used extensively by the United States in Vietnam.
Daniel said in a statement, “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.” [Continue reading…]
In an interview, the British-Israeli historian, Ilan Pappé, said: What lies behind the idea of a two-state solution is: if the Jewish national movement and the Palestinian national movement arrive more or less at the same time to the same place, and were unable to settle the question of to whom the land belongs, and were unable to reconcile, and what was needed was kind of a grown-up in the form of the United States and Britain that would help these two sides to reconcile on the basis of a kind-of American, business-like approach, where you divide the land, you divide the responsibility, and so on. And that is a very wrong way of reading the whole history of Palestine since the arrival of the Zionist movement there in the late nineteenth century until today.
This is not a conflict between two national movements fighting over the same piece of land. This is a struggle between a settler-colonialist movement which arrived in the late nineteenth century in Palestine and still tries today to colonize Palestine by having most of the land with as few of the native people on it as possible. And the struggle of the native people is an anti-colonialist struggle. You have to come back to any historical case studies you remember of an anti-colonialist movement fighting a colonialist power and ask yourself, at any given moment was the idea of partitioning the land between the colonizer and the colonized portrayed as a reasonable solution? Especially by people who were on the left or saw themselves as conscientious members of the society? And the answer is a resounding no, of course you would not support the division of Algeria between the French settlers and the native Algerians. And even in places where you had settler colonialism, namely where you had white people who had nowhere to go in a way, like in South Africa, if you would suggest today as a progressive person that you should divide South Africa between the white population and the African population, you would be regarded at best as insane, and at worst as someone who is insincere and a fascist. [Continue reading…]
The Irish Times reports: Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said the gunman who attacked a free-speech event and a synagogue in Copenhagen over the weekend probably wasn‘t part of an organised cell.
“There is no indication“ of that, Ms Thorning-Schmidt said at a press conference on Monday, at which she identified as a Danish citizen the man thought to be behind what she described as acts of terror.
Police killed a 22-year-old suspect during a gunfight on Sunday, ending a shooting rampage that left dead a 55-year-old film maker and a 37-year-old Jewish man guarding a synagogue.
Police have since arrested two men under suspicion of having assisted the suspect. Security services are continuing their investigation as they try to piece together the events that led to the killings.
“We would very much like to get in contact with more witnesses that have seen the perpetrator,” police said in a statement. They have so far declined to name the suspect.
According to Danish media, the killer was Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein. His parents are from Palestine and also lived in Jordan before coming to Denmark, broadcaster TV2 reported.
Mr El-Hussein was described by classmates as a loner with a hot temper and anger toward Israel and Jews, according to newspaper Politiken.
In November 2013, he knifed a 19-year-old on a commuter train and was sentenced to two years in jail for aggravated assault, TV2 said. He was released just two weeks before the weekend shootings, local media said.
While in jail, he expressed sympathy with Islamic State and said he was interested in going to Syria to fight, Berlingske reported. According to a pre-trial assessment, El-Hussein wasn’t found to be insane, TV2 said. [Continue reading…]
16yo #Syria refugee just asked me: "Why has the world forgotten us?" Common refrain amng scores I've met in Turkey, Lebanon+Jordan this mnth
— Lauren Bohn (@LaurenBohn) July 22, 2014
Foreign Policy: As the world focused on Ukraine and Gaza over the weekend, the bloodiest 48-hour period in Syria’s civil war went largely unnoticed. More than 700 Syrians were killed on Thursday and Friday, according to an NGO tracking the conflict, providing a stark reminder that a war that has raged for years shows no signs of winding down.
The Shaar gas field in central Syria saw some of the heaviest fighting. It is a crucial gas supply facility for the country’s central region and among the largest in Syria. Islamic State fighters attacked the field Wednesday night — just hours after Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for a third, seven-year term as president — and seized it Thursday, killing 270 government soldiers, guards, and staff. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO, at least 40 militants from the group formerly known as ISIS were killed. Over the weekend the body count grew by 100. [Continue reading…]
Politico reports: The U.S. Commerce Department is relinquishing its hold over the group that manages the Internet’s architecture amid pressure to globalize its functions in the wake of reports about NSA surveillance.
The National Telecommunications & Information Administration, a Commerce Department agency, said Friday it is transitioning the function to the “global Internet community.” The decision marks a dramatic change. Since the Internet’s inception, the United States has played a leading role in the management of critical back-end Web work, including management of .com and other domain names. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has performed those functions under U.S. Commerce contract since 2000.
The United States will give up its oversight role when the current contract with ICANN expires in fall 2015, NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling said. He set out a series of four principles required for the transition, including that ICANN maintain the openness of the Internet. Some U.S. officials and businesses have expressed fears about the United Nations, or governments like Russia and China, taking over control of the Web.
“We will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an intergovernmental solution,” Strickling said in a conference call.
ICANN, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, has been pushing to transform itself into a global organization without U.S. oversight. European Union officials have strongly backed the globalization campaign, which has picked up steam in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA’s sprawling surveillance programs. [Continue reading…]
Part Eight — On the night of Thursday, March 13 VICE News reporter Robert King captured this scene on the streets of Donetsk, where a large group of pro-Russian activists attacked a group of pro-Ukrainian demonstrators calling for unity.
Part Seven — Simon is back in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, where both pro and anti-Russia demonstrations are dividing the region. Pro-Russia protesters believe that the country’s strong economy will help Crimea, while anti-Russia protesters feel that their land has been taken over by bandits.
Part Six — VICE News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky travels to the Kherson region of mainland Ukraine to both the Ukrainian and Russian checkpoints. At the Ukrainian checkpoint, Simon goes inside one of their tanks, and speaks to the commander, who says that despite his Russian blood he will defend all invaders. But at the Russian checkpoint, the exchange isn’t quite as cordial.
The Associated Press reports: The top U.S. intelligence chief, James Clapper, said this week that the loss of state secrets as a result of leaks by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden was the worst in American history. Clapper backed up his assertion with dire forecasts about emboldened enemies abroad, but some historians and researchers said the U.S. has struggled with even more devastating intelligence breakdowns over the past century.
Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has said Snowden’s disclosures and the resulting media coverage are giving away blueprints for surveillance programs. “Terrorists and other adversaries of this country are going to school on U.S. intelligence sources, methods and tradecraft,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.
At the start of that hearing, Clapper staked a claim he had not previously made in public. Snowden’s leaks, he said, were “the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history.”
Historians and researchers said Clapper’s remark ignores the most devastating intelligence loss of the 20th century — the theft of America’s top-secret atomic bomb design by Soviet spies. Others say a trio of Americans who spied for Russia in the 1980s and 1990s — Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen and John Walker — caused immense intelligence damage that led to the loss of vital secrets and the deaths of American informants. [Continue reading…]
With a high of 26° today and a low of 6° expected tonight, the last two days have not been a good time for our furnace to break down. This is one of those times where taking care of the shelter has to take precedence over maintaining this website.
I recently changed the WordPress “theme” (layout, etc.) for War in Context and inadvertently made the site unreadable on smart phones. The problem should now be fixed. If not, please let me know.
From Saturday through
Thursday Saturday? I will be on the road driving from North Carolina to Illinois and back. I will be updating the site as circumstances allow. During this period, I will be posting fewer news items and more of the free-ranging items that I’m now clustering under my catchall — attention to the unseen. This brief message will remain at the top of the page throughout this period. PW