April 14, 2018
The U.S. just bombed 3 sites in Syria. Here’s what we know about why nations choose airstrikes
Following his April 11 tweet that missiles “will be coming” in Syria, President Trump on Friday night announced U.S. airstrikes in multiple sites, including Damascus. The targeted sites were ones believed to be capable of storing chemical weapons and/or chemical precursors. The attacks were carried out in retaliation for last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
This is not the first time President Trump has ordered airstrikes in Syria, of course. Last April, Trump used airstrikes against Shayrat Airbase in the aftermath of another chemical attack by the Assad regime. Even though the strike appears to have been much larger than last year’s, this remained an airstrike-only operation.
Why did Trump opt for airstrikes again to retaliate against the regime? In a recently published paper in the Journal of Global Security Studies, we examine why countries use air power.
Airstrikes are one of many tools that states use to get what they want in the international system. Given that not all policy tools are appropriate for all crises, our research examines the circumstances when states choose to use airstrikes over other options (such as economic sanctions or ground campaigns) as a coercive tool.
Reliance on air power has greatly increased in recent decades as technology and targeting have improved. Drawing on earlier work, we consider the ways that air power is used in modern warfare. Importantly, we find key differences between the choice to use airstrikes alone (as occurred in NATO’s war for Kosovo in 1999) and uses of air power in conjunction with boots on the ground — like the 1991 Gulf War.
Here’s how we did our research
We look at all international crises, based on the Interstate Crisis Behavior Project, that occurred between 1908 and 2006. We used a range of primary and secondary sources to collect new data on whether or not air power was used in each crisis, and how air power was deployed. We also looked at political goals in the crisis to see how a country’s choice of foreign policy tools relates to the stakes of the crisis.
Democracies aren’t more prone to use airstrikes — but rich states are
We looked at some popular expectations about why states would choose air power. Traditionally, there is the perception that democracies are more likely to use airstrikes — and only airstrikes — because democratic leaders are too afraid to put boots on the ground and risk casualties.
Policymakers and even potential target states themselves have shared this perception. Since the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, numerous militarily weaker states have gambled on their ability to outlastAmerican public acceptance of casualties.
Contrary to popular perceptions about the cost sensitivity of democracies, we find that democratic states are not more likely than their autocratic counterparts to employ air-only campaigns. But rich states — and by extension, militarily powerful states — are more likely to use airstrikes. This dynamic helps us understand Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, for instance.
Airstrikes are more likely when the stakes for an intervener are low
The second popular expectation we examine is whether or not airstrikes are a signal of low resolve. Do rich and powerful states just use air power when they don’t care enough to put boots on the ground? Both Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic certainly acted like they believed just that — they attempted to resist U.S.-led airstrikes on multiple occasions.
We found support for the idea that lower stakes make an airstrikes-only strategy more likely. In high-stakes conflicts, states are much more likely to couple airstrikes with ground forces. With airstrikes alone, targets may rightly infer that the crisis is a lower foreign policy priority for the attacking state. Of course, those leaders conducting the airstrikes may argue that airstrikes are a costly signal of future uses of force.
While airstrikes may indeed be used as a means of escalation, states are likely aware that airstrikes are a limited signal — and realize that the most salient crises cannot be resolved with airstrikes alone or without a stronger signal of resolve.
Airstrikes alone as a crisis response may thus lead the target to conclude that the attacker is unresolved. This may lead the state being attacked to hold out, and not make major concessions.
Airstrikes alone are not particularly effective
When states choose to use airstrikes alone, do they work?
In previous research, we found that air power strategies that include efforts to deny targets military capabilities as well as punish target publics and regimes are more likely to be successful. The April 2017 airstrikes on Shayrat Airbase represented only a minimal effort at military denial, and therefore, it is unsurprising that, despite the wealth and military superiority of the United States, there was no long-lasting impact.
The bottom line
President Trump’s decision to employ strikes is not particularly surprising. Leaving aside his own personal views, he is the leader of a rich state with few good military options in Syria, a country where the stakes for the United States are relatively low.
March 20, 2018
Senate, Trump clas over Saudi Arabia
The Senate is headed for a clash with the Trump administration over Saudi Arabia this week.
The chamber is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution directing the U.S. military to stop cooperating with Saudi bombing operations in Yemen, an action the administration strongly opposes.
The vote comes at an awkward time, as President Trump is meeting Tuesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his first trip to Washington since becoming next in line to the throne.
Supporters of the bipartisan Senate resolution, which has the backing of conservative Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are pressing hard for a debate.
As civilian deaths mount in Yemen, where an estimated 10,000 people have died in a years-long civil war, these senators say it’s time for Congress to claw back some of its warmaking authority from the executive branch.
“The Constitution is pretty clear on this point. It says that Congress shall have the power to declare war. Congress — not the president, not the Pentagon, but Congress,” Lee said on the floor last week.
U.S. military advisers are helping Saudi forces target enemies in Yemen for attack and U.S. planes are refueling Saudi-led bombers on combat missions.
“The War Powers Resolution was designed to stop secret, unauthorized military activities such as these. So Congress is well within its right to vote on whether these activities should continue,” Lee said.
Republican leaders are trying to postpone action on the resolution until after Salman’s visit by sending it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I hope what will happen is that we will not in our haste make a mistake that we’ll come to regret,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn(Texas).
“I think the better course is for the Foreign Relations Committee to take this up and to have a hearing and to make a recommendation to the whole Senate rather than just have this pop and have people voting on it and perhaps live to regret it later on,” he added.
Cornyn said he expected that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) will recommend moving the resolution through his committee before bringing it to the floor.
Corker is scheduled to meet with Salman on Capitol Hill this week, according to a spokesman.
Salman has been a leading proponent of the kingdom’s military effort to push Shiite rebels known as the Houthis out of power in Yemen. The Houthis are allied with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s chief military and political rival in the region.
Saudi Arabia is predominately Sunni, a competing tradition of Islam.
“New restrictions on this limited U.S. military support could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counter-terrorism and reduce our influence with the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis,” he wrote.
The Yemen War Powers Resolution is privileged and guaranteed to get a vote on the floor at some point, but leaders could delay action by filing cloture motions on other Senate business.
Lee, Sanders and Murphy, however, have leverage — GOP leaders need unanimous consent to pass an anti-sex trafficking bill and an omnibus spending package before a two-week congressional recess scheduled to begin Saturday.
The tensions come amidst growing criticism in Congress of Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally, over its human rights record and links to terrorist organizations.
Complicating matters is a $110 billion arms deal that Trump is trying to finalize with Saudi Arabia and several other Middle Eastern countries despite some reservations on Capitol Hill.
There are also significant U.S. commercial interests at stake.
Defense contractor Raytheon is pressing for a green light to go ahead with the sale of 60,000 smart bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which is also participating in the bombing of targets in Yemen.
Corker criticized Saudi Arabia last year for not doing more to crack down on financing of terrorists, and put a hold on the arms deal, which he just recently lifted.
In July, he charged that significantly more support for terrorist groups is coming from Saudi Arabia than from Qatar, which Trump accused last year of being a state sponsor of terrorism.
The Trump administration took Saudi Arabia’s side in the dispute last year, just as it has in the current debate over whether to continue U.S. military support of Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen.
Senate sources are split over what chance the bill would have of passing. Because it is a privileged resolution, it only needs a simple majority to pass.
Two Senate aides said it has a good shot of rounding up 51 votes, but Murphy, one of the original sponsors, cautioned that success is far from a sure thing.
He said votes on the Democratic side of the aisle are “fluid,” and the administration is going all-out to persuade Republicans to vote against it.
“I think a lot of members on our side are tying to figure out what a ‘yes’ vote means, what a ‘no’ vote means,” Murphy said. “The administration is spending a lot of energy trying to spin the rationale for this war. I would expect that most Republicans would oppose it.”
Jordain Carney contributed. Source
March 17, 2018
Ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is fired — and fires back
(CNN)Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe late Friday, less than two days shy of his retirement, ending the career of an official who had risen to serve as second-in-command at the bureau.
March 14, 2018
Pennsylvania Special Election Results: 18th Congressional District
Conor Lamb leads by 0.3 percentage points, or 677 votes, over Rick Saccone with 100 percent of precincts fully reporting.
228,141 votes, 100% reporting (593 of 593 precincts)
The Democrat and Republican in a special House election in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Trump country were divided by a few hundred votes in a race that was too close to call early Wednesday — an ominous sign for Republicans in a district that Donald J. Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points. Read more here.
In 2016, Mr. Trump won the district by double digits, but the race between Conor Lamb, a moderate Democrat, and Rick Saccone, a Republican, had become unexpectedly competitive.
Whoever wins will have to decide soon which district to run in this year. The State Supreme Court threw out Pennsylvania’s current congressional map and recently issued a new map with redrawn boundaries. Tim Murphy, a Republican, resigned from the seat last year after reports that he encouraged a woman, with whom he had an affair, to have an abortion.
View Source and interactive map here
March 13, 2018
What Firing Rex Tillerson Could Mean For Trump — And The World
The Tuesday dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made him the third senior official to depart President Trump’s administration in two weeks, along with communications director Hope Hicks and White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn. Secretary of state is, in theory, a much more powerful job than the posts held by Cohn and Hicks. That’s “in theory” because it was never clear if Tillerson had the influence that his title usually conveys. Even so, it’s a major move — compounded by the fact that his named replacement is CIA Director Mike Pompeo, meaning another Cabinet-level position will also soon have a new person in the role.
To make some sense of all this, let’s look at this departure using our rubric of “Five Questions To Ask Every Time Someone Leaves the Trump Administration.”
1. How long was this person on the job?
Tillerson lasted just over a year. This is unusual: The last six secretaries of state all served four years, a full presidential term. A few recent secretaries of state have served short stints at the end of presidencies, but the last comparable departure was in 1982, when Alexander Haig stepped down after a year and a half, citing policy differences with President Ronald Reagan.
2. Was the departure planned?
Not really. There were rumors back in November that Pompeo would replace Tillerson, and Trump and Tillerson have long had a tense relationship. But his exit was announced suddenly, as opposed to other departures that are due to routine government personnel rotations.
3. Is there a clear reason for the departure?
Trump, in remarks explaining the firing, suggested that he and Tillerson differed on foreign policy issues. Trump specifically named the Iran nuclear deal; Tillerson reportedly favors the United States remaining involved in the deal even as the president has pushed for the U.S. to either change the deal or leave it. Trump suggested that he and Pompeo, in contrast, were more in sync on policy. That seems mostly true.
In fact, it’s worth considering this dismissal in the context of Cohn’s resignation last week. Is the president getting rid of advisers who might hold different views than he does, advisers who are more interested in cultivating the Washington establishment than the president? Tillerson’s appointment, for instance, was championed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an influential figure in Republican foreign policy circles.
Pompeo is more hawkish in terms of policy views. (He has long opposed the Iran deal and the Paris climate accord, for example.) Pompeo, while supportive of the intelligence community’s view that Russia interfered in 2016 election, has at times downplayed the Russian role. At Trump’s urging, he met with a man who has suggested that the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 election was a conspiracy carried out by a DNC employee, not Russian figures.
There are rumors that former Reagan administration official and television personality Larry Kudlow will replace Cohn and that former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton will be appointed national security adviser, a post currently held by H.R. McMaster — another official with a tense relationship with the president.
If Kudlow and Bolton get those appointments, along with Pompeo’s promotion this week, Trump would be bringing in figures who are more loyal to him. But I don’t know exactly how this would affect policy, because they are all of the more hawkish and globalist mode that often conflicts with Trump’s instincts. I think Trump is showing signs of not liking the idea that his staff is there to rein him in, and the president may be trying to find people who agree with him already or are more willing to toe his line publicly.
Here’s another caveat to a policy-driven explanation for Tillerson’s departure: If Trump fired everyone who disagreed with him on policy issues, that might lead to the departure of lots more people, including senior figures like Secretary of Defense James Mattis and his daughter Ivanka. So I doubt Tillerson’s policy views are the only reason he’s gone.
4. How senior is the person who’s leaving?
The secretary of state has traditionally been considered the most prestigious job in the Cabinet. It’s fourth in the presidential line of succession (vice president, speaker of the House, Senate president pro tempore). But it was never clear that Tillerson had that much sway. The nation’s chief diplomat, for example, seemed out of the loop on the biggest diplomatic move of the Trump administration: last week’s announcement that Trump will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in an attempt to get Pyongyang to wind down its nuclear weapons program.
It’s hard to know if Trump’s core foreign policy will change that much, since he was largely already ignoring Tillerson. This may be a firing that makes sense in that it aligns the president’s staff more with his own views and removes one of the key Cabinet members who has had friction with the White House.
5. How easily can this person be replaced?
The White House has struggled to find communications directors in part because that job has lots of hassle but relatively limited power. I’m not surprised that Trump was able to announce, as Tillerson was removed, both the appointment of Pompeo at State and Gina Haspel to be the next CIA director. These are both prestigious posts, putting Haspel and Pompeo in charge of huge agencies, and they will likely be able to set policy on what I assume is a wide range of issues where Trump does not have defined views. (That is, if they both get confirmed. Haspel could face resistance from Senate Democrats and even some Republicans because of her work for the CIA in the early 2000s overseeing interrogations at “black sites” that critics say were tantamount to torture.)
The bottom line here is that Tillerson’s departure is not surprising and may not tell us much about the administration’s direction. What Pompeo does in this job is the big unknown and the reason why this switch matters.
If the American secretary of state is very hawkish and not really interested in diplomacy, which is Pompeo’s reputation, that could have important implications. Tillerson was already sidelining the State Department’s diplomatic core. I have a hard time seeing Pompeo restoring the diplomats’ power, and I think he might do more to limit their influence. I suspect that Pompeo, left to his own devices, would look for the U.S. to take aggressive action on Russia and not start talks with North Korea until it abandoned its nuclear program. But those positions are not in line with Trump.
The Tillerson era at State was a lot of noise but few accomplishments. I think Pompeo will do things. I’m just not totally sure what. Source
March 11, 2018
White Evangelical Women, Core Supporters of Trump, Begin Tiptoeing Away
GRAPEVINE, Tex. — Carol Rains, a white evangelical Christian, has no regrets over her vote for President Trump. She likes most of his policies and would still support him over any Democrat. But she is open to another Republican.
“I would like for someone to challenge him,” Ms. Rains said, as she sipped wine recently with two other evangelical Christian women at a suburban restaurant north of Dallas. “But it needs to be somebody that’s strong enough to go against the Democrats.” Her preferred alternative: Nikki R. Haley, the United Nations ambassador and former South Carolina governor.
One of her friends, Linda Leonhart, agreed. “I will definitely take a look to see who has the courage to take on a job like this and do what needs to be done,” she said.
While the men in the pulpits of evangelical churches remain among Mr. Trump’s most stalwart supporters, some of the women in the pews may be having second thoughts. As the White House fights to silence a pornographic actress claiming an affair with Mr. Trump, and a jailed Belarusian escort claims evidence against the American president, Mr. Trump’s hold on white evangelical women may be slipping.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, support among white evangelical women in recent surveys has dropped about 13 percentage points, to 60 percent, compared with about a year ago. That is even greater than the eight-point drop among all women.
“That change is statistically significant,” said Gregory A. Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, who also noted a nine-point drop among evangelical men. “Both groups have become less approving over time.”
If that drop in support translates into a lack of enthusiasm among core Trump supporters in the midterm elections in November, as it did for many of President Barack Obama’s voters in 2010, the Republican Party could be more vulnerable in its efforts to maintain control of Congress. In 2020, it would also possibly open a lane for a primary challenger to the president.
The women in suburban Dallas all conceded they have cringed sometimes at Mr. Trump, citing his pettiness, impulsiveness, profanity and name calling. Still, they defended him because he delivered on issues they cared most about, such as the appointment of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
“Certainly we are all embarrassed, but for the most part he represents what we stand for,” said Ms. Leonhart, who is active in the women’s ministry at her church.
A clear majority of white evangelical women, even in the face of the #MeToo movement and renewed claims of marital infidelity against the president, continue, along with white evangelical men, to form Mr. Trump’s most cohesive block of support.
Mr. Trump’s ability to connect so strongly with evangelical voters was among the most notable surprises of the 2016 campaign. Since his election, he has courted evangelical leaders aggressively and, more important, has delivered on promises to appoint conservatives like Justice Gorsuch to federal courts. Men who see themselves as leaders of religious conservatives, such as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, have remained doggedly supportive.
And the majority of evangelical women remain in his corner.
But it has not been easy.
“I don’t know any evangelical woman who is going to defend the character of the president,” said Carmen Fowler LaBerge, host of “The Reconnect,” an evangelical-centered radio show.
“Many things the president says and does are things that many evangelicals use as examples with our kids of what should not do,” added Ms. LaBerge, who did not support Mr. Trump in 2016. “This is not who we are as evangelicals. This is not how we treat people.”
Some evangelical women simply keep their views private. Gathered at a well-appointed home in Falls Church, Va., last week, eight Christian women agreed to talk about their feelings about the president, on one condition: that they not be identified.
They feared reprisal in the workplace, at their children’s schools, even at their church. They meet in secret and have a private Facebook group, which its organizer said has about 160 members, to talk about their support for Mr. Trump.
They said that Christian voters who backed Trump had been derided as unthinking, unsophisticated hypocrites, but for many of them that only affirmed their resolve. One of the women said that her parents had come to the United States illegally from El Salvador and that she was born a short time later. Her father is now a citizen. She supports Mr. Trump and his hard-line plans on immigration.
“I would say that this year has only made me more of a certain supporter,” said another of the women, Joanna, who agreed to be identified only be her first name. “I’ve been really excited to see him come through with his promises, one by one, against incredible odds.”
Still, there is a tension among evangelical women. They said they largely cast their votes against Hillary Clinton more than for Mr. Trump.
“At least in my experience, it was more of an anti-Hillary vote than a pro-Trump vote,” Ms. LaBerge said.
Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Liberty University who opposed Mr. Trump and voted for a third-party candidate, said, “Now that Trump is in office and we are evaluating his performance then, I am glad to see that people are less in lock step and thinking critically about him as a leader, and it doesn’t surprise me that his overall support would decline from 80 percent.”
“I was one of those culture war evangelicals in the ’80s and ’90s,” Ms. Swallow Prior said. “I was appalled by the candidacy and presidency of Bill Clinton. It was hammered into my mind that character mattered, and that did change when Trump came along. In some ways, I felt betrayed by my evangelical peers who taught me and cemented in me the idea that character matters. I didn’t abandon that belief. I feel like some evangelicals did.”
Her outspoken criticism is all the more notable given that the president of Liberty University, Mr. Falwell, remains one of the president’s most vocal defenders.
Evangelical voters, often portrayed as a monolith, are becoming increasingly difficult to define. The support for Mr. Trump reflects a growing pragmatism among evangelical voters who are willing to accept a less than ideal model of Christian faith in exchange for policies that they endorse.
“I think they’ve become experienced and very practical,” said Frances FitzGerald, the author of the recent book “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America.” “By large majorities they used to believe that to be elected, you had to be of good character. No longer. It’s ‘We want a president to do what we want him to do, and he’s going to do it if we turn out and vote.’”
Mr. Trump also appeals to white evangelicals in other ways with his strong language, disruptive view of presidential norms and his policies on taxes. “Religious right rhetoric has always been very martial, isolationist and martial at the same time,” Ms. FitzGerald said.
In surveys conducted by LifeWay Research in Nashville, evangelical voters in 2016 cited the economy (30 percent) and national security (26 percent) as their top two issues. Abortion was cited by just 4 percent, said Scott McConnell, the company’s executive director.
Evangelical voters began to emerge as a political force with their support for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and became a more coherent movement with the 1988 presidential campaign of the religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and the rise of Christian Coalition. But there are now few obvious leaders of religious conservatism and voters have become more conventional in their assessment of candidates.
And even among religious conservatives, the Pew poll suggests tolerance for Mr. Trump has its limits.
“It may simply be that there’s not a single breaking point as much as a tipping point, the ‘Oh Lord, I can’t stand another one of these,’” said William Martin, a scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and author of “With God on Our Side,” which charted the political rise of the religious right. Source
March 8, 2018
Trump’s Historic Bet on Kim Summit Shatters Decades of Orthodoxy
Donald Trump took the biggest gamble of his presidency on Thursday, breaking decades of U.S. diplomatic orthodoxy by accepting an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The bet is that Trump’s campaign to apply maximum economic pressure on Kim’s regime has forced him to consider what was previously unthinkable: surrendering the illicit nuclear weapons program begun by his father. If the president is right, the U.S. would avert what appeared at times last year to be a steady march toward a second Korean War.
It was classic Trump, showing an unerring confidence to get the better end of any negotiation. But it was also Trump in another way: high risk and high reward, with little regard for those in the foreign policy establishment who worry it’s too much, too soon.
“He’s taking a risk,” said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “By seizing an opportunity for a summit meeting, a decision that would have taken much more time in another administration, the president has said, ‘I’m going to go right now. And we’re going to test this.”’
There is no protocol for Trump to follow or guidebook for him to fall back on: he would be the first sitting U.S. president ever to meet with a North Korean leader.
Regardless of how it turns out, the stunning decision by Trump hands Kim a prize long sought by the regime’s ruling dynasty: the legitimacy conferred by a historic meeting with the sitting president.
So much could go wrong. Kim’s proposal may be a ruse to buy time for North Korea’s weapons program to develop further and to undermine sanctions. The summit might collapse, leaving the U.S. president looking hapless and escalating military tensions on the Korean peninsula.
It’s a startling turnabout for two leaders who have spent the past year trading personal insults. Trump called Kim “Little Rocket Man” and threatened to rain “fire and fury” on his regime. Kim maligned Trump as a “dotard” while demonstrating that his nuclear program had overcome earlier technical hurdles.
The turn of events will bleed attention from Trump’s domestic political troubles, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s continuing Russia probe and porn star Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit alleging an affair with the president. And the announcement came on a day when Trump had already toppled a pillar of U.S. policy dogma, breaking the long-standing commitment to freer trade by imposing stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
Trump and his team recognize the possibility that Kim’s outreach is not in good faith or is some sort of ploy, an administration official said. But the U.S. president’s advisers believe that if the U.S. continues to exert maximum pressure on the North Korean regime as the summit approaches, Kim may be forced to make real concessions even if he enters talks thinking he can avoid them.
The president stressed that Kim would gain no immediate relief in a Twitter post shortly after the meeting was announced. “Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached,” Trump wrote.
Even the technical hurdles to reach an agreement are immense, eclipsing the challenges President Barack Obama faced in making a deal with Iran on its nuclear program, said Alexandra Bell, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington.
“It’s the Iran deal times 100 because they already have a workable nuclear weapons program with the rudimentary ability to deliver those weapons,” said Bell, who served in the Office of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the State Department under Obama.
Still, a prominent hawk among Republican lawmakers offered cautious praise for Trump’s gambit.
While the Kim regime has been “all talk and no action,” Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement, “I do believe that North Korea now believes President Trump will use military force if he has to.”
“A word of warning to North Korean President Kim Jong Un — the worst possible thing you can do is meet with President Trump and try to play him,” Graham added. “If you do that, it will be the end of you — and your regime.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said the talks were evidence the sanctions applied by the administration “are starting to work” while warning that North Korea had “repeatedly used talks and empty promises to extract concessions and buy time.”
Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, applauded Trump’s diplomatic effort.
“Expectations should be low and history demonstrates that skepticism and careful diplomatic work are necessary, but it is better to be talking about peace than recklessly ramping up for a war,” he said on Twitter.
Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, said that while the talks would extend the period of relative warmth that began during the Olympics, denuclearization remained “extremely unlikely.” Nuclear weapons are fundamental to the Kim family’s grip on power at home.
“Kim Jong Un has rational incentives to keep his nuclear arsenal,” Mount said in a phone interview.
Mount also cautioned that the meeting was “a massive coup” for a regime that “wants to be seen as a regular nuclear power.” It could lend Kim insights into how the U.S. and South Korea coordinate, and the regime could test Trump by asking for exorbitant terms in exchange for denuclearization.
“I do worry about a president who has no foreign policy experience getting out-maneuvered,” he said. “I don’t trust Donald Trump alone in a room with Kim Jong Un.”
Watch This Next: Who Is North Korea’s Kim Jong Un?
View Source and Video here
March 6, 2018
Gary Cohn Said He Will Resign as Trump’s Top Economic Adviser
Gary D. Cohn, President Trump’s top economic adviser, said on Tuesday that he would resign, becoming the latest in a series of high-profile departures from the Trump administration.
White House officials insisted that there was no single factor behind the departure of Mr. Cohn, who heads the National Economic Council. But his decision to leave came as he seemed poised to lose an internal struggle over Mr. Trump’s plan to impose large tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Mr. Cohn had warned last week that he might resign if Mr. Trump followed through with the tariffs, which Mr. Cohn had lobbied against internally.
“Gary has been my chief economic adviser and did a superb job in driving our agenda, helping to deliver historic tax cuts and reforms and unleashing the American economy once again,” Mr. Trump said in a statement to The New York Times. “He is a rare talent, and I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people.”
Mr. Cohn is expected to leave in the coming weeks. He will join a string of recent departures by senior White House officials, including Mr. Trump’s communications director and a powerful staff secretary.
Yet the departure of Mr. Cohn, a free-trade-oriented Democrat who fended off a number of nationalist-minded policies during his year in the Trump administration, could have a ripple effect on the president’s economic decisions and on the financial industry.
It leaves Mr. Trump surrounded primarily by advisers with strong protectionist views who advocate the types of aggressive trade measures, like tariffs, that Mr. Trump campaigned on but that Mr. Cohn fought inside the White House. Mr. Cohn was viewed by Republican lawmakers as the steady hand who could prevent Mr. Trump from engaging in activities that could trigger a trade war.
Even the mere threat, last August, that Mr. Cohn might leave sent the financial markets tumbling. On Tuesday, Mr. Cohn’s announcement rattled markets, and trading in futures pointed to a decline in the United States stock market when it opened on Wednesday.
In a statement, Mr. Cohn said he had been pleased to work on “pro-growth economic policies to benefit the American people, in particular the passage of historic tax reform.” White House officials said that Mr. Cohn was leaving on cordial terms with the president and that they planned to discuss policy even after his departure.
Mr. Cohn’s departure comes as the White House has been buffeted by turnover, uncertainty and internal divisions and as the president lashes out at the special counsel investigation that seems to be bearing down on his team.
A host of top aides have been streaming out the White House door or are considering a departure. Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary and a member of the inner circle, resigned after spousal abuse allegations. Hope Hicks, the president’s communications director and confidante, announced that she would leave soon. In recent days, the president has lost a speechwriter, an associate attorney general and the North Korea negotiator.
Others are perpetually seen as on the way out. John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, at one point broached resigning over the handling of Mr. Porter’s case. Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, has been reported to be preparing to leave. And many officials wonder if Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will stay now that he has lost his top-secret security clearance; the departure of Mr. Cohn further shrinks the number of allies Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, have in the White House.
More than one in three top White House officials left by the end of Mr. Trump’s first year and fewer than half of the 12 positions closest to the president are still occupied by the same people as when he came into office, according to a Brookings Institution study.
Mr. Cohn’s departure will bring the turnover number to 43 percent, according to updated figures compiled by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution.
For all the swings of the West Wing revolving door over the last year, Mr. Cohn’s decision to leave struck a different chord for people. He is among the most senior officials to resign to date.
Mr. Trump’s announcement last week that he would levy tariffs on aluminum and steel imports was the most immediate catalyst for Mr. Cohn’s departure, according to people familiar with his thinking. A longtime proponent of free trade, Mr. Cohn believed the decision could jeopardize economic growth. The president, urged to consider the risks of losing Mr. Cohn by several advisers, appeared unconcerned, insisting that he could live without his economic adviser as he makes a more aggressive return to the nationalist policies that helped sweep him into office as the 2018 midterm elections approach.
Mr. Cohn was familiar with Mr. Trump’s nationalist stance on trade, and the president repeatedly asked aides, “Where are my steel tariffs?” over the last eight months. Since last summer, a process for debate and information flow to the president had been in place as he made decisions. But that process has been in tatters since Mr. Porter left the White House, several aides said on Tuesday.
What’s more, people close to the president said, Mr. Cohn had harmed his own ability to negotiate by telling Mr. Kelly last week that if the tariffs went forward, he might have to resign. The president was told by Cohn critics that Mr. Cohn had made the issue about himself, as opposed to Mr. Trump’s policies. That led to Mr. Trump souring on Mr. Cohn by the time his resignation was submitted on Tuesday. But the president was still infuriated by Mr. Cohn’s decision, according to multiple people who discussed it with the president after it was announced. In several conversations that Mr. Trump had with people on Tuesday, he denounced Mr. Cohn as a “globalist.”
The resignation followed conversations Mr. Cohn held with the president in recent weeks about the possibility of replacing Mr. Kelly as chief of staff, said people who were briefed on the matter. The president never formally offered Mr. Cohn the job, those people insisted, but Mr. Trump had discussions with him about whether he would be interested.
On Tuesday, before Mr. Cohn’s announcement, Mr. Trump dismissed talk of chaos in his White House while acknowledging that he deliberately fostered a fractious atmosphere. “I like conflict,” he said at a news conference with the visiting prime minister of Sweden. “I like having two people with different points of view. And I certainly have that. And then I make a decision. But I like watching it. I like seeing it. And I think it’s the best way to go.”
But he insisted that he had no trouble recruiting or retaining people to work for him, despite widespread reluctance among Republicans to join his staff.
“Believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House,” he said. “They all want a piece of the Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing.”
People close to Mr. Cohn said that he had planned to stay for roughly a year, and that he had accomplished a number of things he cared about, including the $1.5 trillion tax cut.
A onetime silver trader who eventually became the president of Goldman Sachs, Mr. Cohn was an unlikely addition to the administration. A lifelong Democrat known for having progressive social views, he had no political expertise and barely knew Mr. Trump. But during an unconventional job interview, Mr. Trump was impressed with Mr. Cohn’s knowledge of economics and the markets, say people who were briefed on the discussion.
As his chief economic adviser, Mr. Cohn quickly ingratiated himself to the president. He gave blunt, practical advice, say people familiar with their interactions, and built a team of experts on issues like infrastructure and taxes. At one point, he was part of a moderate-minded coalition of staff members — including Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump, also an adviser — who pushed for the preservation of workplace rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. He also pushed Mr. Trump to remain in the Paris climate accord, a battle he ultimately lost.
He argued frequently over Mr. Trump’s “America First” approach to trade, jousting most recently with the White House aide Peter Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over the harm he believed nationalist economic policies would generate.
Shortly after his inauguration, Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an Obama-era trade agreement with a number of Asian nations. Then, on at least three occasions last year, Mr. Cohn rebuffed Mr. Navarro’s attempts to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. Mr. Cohn was also part of a group of White House aides who effectively blocked the metal tariffs on several occasions.
Some of Mr. Cohn’s struggles on the job were painfully public. During an interview with CNBC, he once described working for Mr. Trump as a “dream come true.” Yet as the top economic adviser to a president who is often contradictory on matters of policy, he sometimes had to finesse Mr. Trump’s errors, a role that critics regarded as damaging to Mr. Cohn’s reputation.
Mr. Cohn’s rapport with Mr. Trump has been tenuous at times.
In August, after violent nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Va., that led to a woman’s death, Mr. Cohn was so troubled by the president’s response that he wrote a resignation letter, according to people briefed on the document. That time, Mr. Trump persuaded him to stay. But, loath to hide his feelings on the matter, he publicly criticized his boss, saying in a Financial Times interview that the administration “can and must do better”to condemn hate groups.
Late last year, Mr. Navarro was placed under Mr. Cohn’s supervision and asked to copy him on emails, effectively neutering his effect on policy for a time. But a tumultuous period in the White House in February resulted in Mr. Navarro’s re-ascendance, and with that, his protectionist policy agenda.
Mr. Cohn, who officials said has not set a firm departure date, will probably take a month or so to regroup after leaving, according to someone familiar with his thinking. Possibilities he has considered for a next step, said this person, include opening up his own investment firm or, according to two people familiar with his thinking, a more senior job in the Trump administration. Source
March 5, 2018
Town & Country
The Trump Organization Reportedly Ordered Golf Course Markers with the Presidential Seal
They might be illegal.
The Trump Organization ordered tee markers emblazoned with the presidential seal for at least one of its Trump International Golf Clubs, according to a new report by ProPublica. There’s just one problem—that might be illegal.
There is a specific law that governs the manufacture or use of the seal and its likeness, and violations are punishable by up to six months in prison.
In this case an Indiana-based metalworking company Eagle Sign and Design, which has previously made signs for Trump golf courses, “said it had received an order to manufacture dozens of round, 12-inch replicas of the presidential seal to be placed next to the tee boxes at Trump golf course holes. Two tee markers are placed on the ground at the start of a hole on golf courses to indicate where golfers should stand to take their first swing.”
“We made the design, and the client confirmed the design,” Eagle Sign’s owner, Joseph E. Bates, told ProPublica. Bates declined to say who the client was, but a photo album on the business’s Facebook page is called “Presidential Seal” and includes the text “Trump International Golf Course.” (The album is now empty, but according to ProPublica it previously contained a photo of the markers.)
ProPublica also says it reviewed an order form for the tee markers that showed the customer as “Trump International.”
Kathleen Clark, a Washington University law professor, told ProPublica that the law governing the use of the presidential seal “is an expression of the idea that the government and government authority should not be used for private purpose,” and added that it “would be a misuse of government authority.”
Other presidents including Barack Obama and George W. Bush used the seal on custom golf balls, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan had a set of presidential chinamade with it, in both cases for their own personal use or as gifts. The difference in this situation is that a private company—the Trump Organization—is using the seal.
“If we had heard of a private company using it for commercial purposes, we would have sent them a nasty letter,” Richard Painter, who served in the George W. Bush administration as associate White House counsel and is now vice chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the publication.
The Department of Justice declined to comment to ProPublica about whether it was aware the seal had been used by entities outside the government. The White House and the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment. Source
March 2, 2018
Trading partners set to punish Trump for steel tariffs
Foreign governments are threatening to launch stiff retaliatory measures against the United States if President Trump carries through on his threats to impose a 25 percent tariff on all steel and an 10 percent tariff on all aluminum imports to the United States.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a German television station that Europe would retaliate against the sanctions with tariffs of its own.
“We will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans — Levi’s,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hails from Kentucky, where the bourbon industry exported $154 million to the European Union last year alone, according to figures cited by CNBC.
Harley-Davidson’s headquarters are in Milwaukee, Wis., House Speaker Paul Ryan’s home state. Levi-Strauss blue jeans are headquartered in the blue state of California, which is also home to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
In previous trade standoffs, Junker threatened tariffs on Wisconsin dairy and Florida orange juice.
Canada, the largest source of U.S. steel imports, noted that the steel trade was a two-way street.
“The United States has a $2-billion surplus in steel trade with Canada. Canada buys more American steel than any other country in the world, accounting for 50 percent of U.S. exports,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in response to the threatened tariffs.
Last year, U.S. exports of goods and services accounted for 12 percent of the entire economy, so a broad-based reaction from U.S. trade partners could hit the economy hard.
One major U.S. export sector that could be targeted if the tariffs go ahead is agriculture.
“When you’re talking about sectoral actions, the vulnerable industries are the ones that are dependent on exports, and that’s a lot of agricultural products,” said Jeff Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Canada, South Korea and Japan, all major steel exporters to the US, are also big importers of U.S. agriculture, he noted.
“If they’re looking for ways of inflicting pain on the United States, then agriculture is going to be a prime target,” he said.
Agriculture is also a major contributor to key red states, which could put pressure GOP politicians.
“What they’ll be looking for are products where they think there will be a political impact. If you look at agricultural products, they’re all around the Midwestern states, which are Republican states,” said Claude Barfield, an economic expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Countries that want to send the U.S. a strong message on trade could easily hit the aerospace industry by targeting Boeing, which employs nearly 150,000 Americans.
Not only would the company suffer from higher steel prices, but foreign buyers hoping to hit the U.S. could simply opt to buy from Boeing’s European competitor, Airbus.
Beyond concerns over U.S. soybeans, pork and planes, Barfield said that Trump’s decision to sidestep trade law by invoking national security could open up a longer-term threat to U.S. trade.
“Where the U.S. is also in danger right now is that we are setting a terrible precedent on invoking national security for trade,” he said.
U.S. trade partners could easily follow America’s lead and claim all sorts of industries in their countries need protection for national security reasons. In 1975, for example, Sweden invoked national security when it imposed quotas on footwear, claiming that its army’s need for shoes made the industry critical.
China, in particular, is adept at using national security arguments to shape their trade and manufacturing policy, said Barfield.
“This is just a gift to the Chinese,” he added. Source
Feb 28, 2018
White House departures: Who’s been fired and who resigned
Here are the notable firings and resignations of the Trump administration, starting with the most recent departure:
Feb. 28: Hope Hicks
The White House communications director announced her resignation and that she would be leaving in the coming weeks or months. She took on her role in August and has been one of Trump’s longest-serving aides.
Feb. 27: Josh Raffel
The White House deputy communications director, plans to leave the Trump administration in the coming months. Raffel joined the White House last year to work with the Office of American Innovation.
Feb. 7: Rob Porter
Porter’s resignation as the White House staff secretary came after domestic abuse allegations against him were made public.
Dec. 13: Omarosa Manigault Newman
Newman, who rose to notoriety when she was on The Apprentice with Trump, was left her job in the White House’s Office of Public Liaison. She later denied that she had been fired or escorted from White House grounds, though the Secret Service did say it terminated her access.
Dec. 8: Dina Powell
Trump’s deputy national security adviser, who was a driving force behind the president’s Middle East policy, announced her plans to depart the administration in 2018, the White House announced in December.
Sept. 29: Tom Price
The Health and Human Services secretary resigned after revelations that he had racked up around $400,000 in private flights while traveling on official business.
Aug. 25: Sebastian Gorka
When the controversial counterterrorism adviser stepped down, he said Trump’s populist campaign agenda had been hijacked by establishment figures.
Aug. 18: Steve Bannon
The chief strategist, who had a turbulent time at the White House, left his post after pressure to remove him from his post following violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va. For his part, Bannon said he resigned two weeks prior.
July 31: Anthony Scaramucci
The controversial communications director stepped down after 11 days on the job, the same day John Kelly took over as chief of staff.
July 28: Reince Priebus
In his six-month tenure, marked by staff infighting and political reversals, the chief of staff was often a target of Trump loyalists who said he had failed to help the president win congressional legislation.
July 25: Michael Short
The senior assistant press secretary, brought on by Priebus, resigned after Scaramucci said he was going to fire him for allegedly leaking to the press.
July 21: Sean Spicer
The press secretary’s tumultuous tenure, marked by standoffs with the press, culminated in his resignation when Trump went against his advice to hire Scaramucci as his new communications director.
July 6: Walter Shaub
The director of the Office of Government Ethics clashed repeatedly with the president before announcing his resignation.
May 18: Mike Dubke
Trump’s first communications director did not work on the Trump campaign and did not know Trump before his hire. He handed in his resignation after three months on the job.
May 9: James Comey
The White House initially said the FBI director’s firing was based on the Justice Department’s recommendation, over his handling of the Clinton email probe. Since then, Trump has said he had considered firing Comey even without that recommendation and has said the Russia investigation was on his mind when he made the decision.
May 5: Angella Reid
The chief usher was fired for unclear reasons; it is unusual for a chief usher to be dismissed and they typically hold their positions for several years and over a number of administrations.
Feb. 13: Michael Flynn
The national security adviser was mired in controversy after news reports surfaced that he had misled officials, including Vice President Pence, about his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He resigned shortly afterward.
Jan. 30: Sally Yates
The acting attorney general, a holdover from the Obama administration, was dismissed after she refused to defend the first iteration of Trump’s travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.