I need to be about five people to keep up with all the craziness these days. Note that Jeff Sessions just got confirmed, with one Democratic vote — Sen. Joe Manchin III (Turncoat-W.Va.). Manchin is up for re-election in 2018 and had damn well better be primaried.
But I want to focus on the most chilling things I read today. Let’s start with Paul Waldman’s post on last month’s special forces raid in Yemen.
It’s safe to say that if Hillary Clinton had ordered the special forces raid in Yemen on January 29th that went so terribly wrong, by now there would be five simultaneous congressional investigations underway, not to mention blanket coverage in the news media. But despite multiple deaths including one American servicemember, Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer has insisted that the mission was a smashing success. “The goal of the raid was intelligence gathering,” Spicer said yesterday, “and that’s what we received and that’s what we got. That’s why we can deem it a success.”
Spicer went even further today, asserting that no one should be allowed even to raise questions about the raid. “It’s absolutely a success, and I think anyone that would suggest it’s not a success does a disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens,” Spicer said.
And Donald Trump knows all about doing disservice to fallen heroes. Believe me!
In case you haven’t followed this story, in the first week of his presidency, Donald Trump approved a raid on an Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) compound in Yemen, and pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The team encountered strong resistance, Owens was killed, an Osprey aircraft was disabled in a “hard landing” and had to be destroyed so it wouldn’t fall into AQAP’s hands, and according to the Yemeni government, 15 civilians, including at least one child, were killed.
Then, making things worse, the Pentagon released a training video it had seized as evidence of the high-level intelligence the raid produced. But it turned out that the footage was ten years old and had been distributed on the internet some time ago. According to some reports, the true target of the raid was AQAP leader Qasim al-Rimi, who is now gleefully mocking the United States.
Yemen has since withdrawn permission for the U.S. to conduct antiterrorist ground missions within their borders, although that might be at least partly in response to being put on Trump’s “banned” list.
How did this raid come about?
A look at the way this decision was made is not encouraging. While the plan had been circulating within the Pentagon for a few months (there’s some dispute about whether it actually reached the Obama White House), it was approved by President Trump at a dinner that included not only the relevant national security personnel but also his senior adviser Steve Bannon and his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Waldman throws in a quote from NBC News that Defense Secretary James Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Trump that the raid would be a “game changer” and that the Obama Administration wouldn’t have been bold enough to try it.
This is where it gets troubling. Simply put, we’ve never seen a president who combined complete ignorance with rampaging overconfidence quite the way Trump does. Despite having no experience in military affairs or foreign policy, he claimed during the campaign that “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me,” and when asked whom he consulted on foreign policy, said, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lotta things.”
And what happened to his secret plan to defeat ISIS?
This is where things get really frightening: The person with the most pull over Trump is probably Bannon, who remains Trump’s most important adviser. But Bannon doesn’t seem likely to rein in Trump. Bannon harbors a visionary agenda for the United States government. He believes that “there is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global,” a war between Islam and the Christian west. “Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is — and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it,” he said in a 2014 speech, “will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.” Those are not the words of a man who will be advising restraint in any given situation.
If that’s the mentality behind national security, the world is about to become much more violent.
And they’ve noticed this elsewhere, such as in Sweden — Anne Applebaum writes from Stockholm —
A winter evening in Stockholm, lights glinting in the harbor, snow falling outside. “And what about us,” I am asked, “up here in the North? What happens to us?” My Swedish companions are journalists, analysts and civil servants, people who care about their country’s national security. Though neither elite nor wealthy, they do share a worldview. They think their country’s prosperity depends on the European Union and its open markets. They also think their safety depends on the United States’ commitment to Europe. And since President Trump took office, they suddenly find themselves staring into an unfathomable abyss. …
… Sweden’s economic and political model depends on Pax Americana, the set of American-written and American-backed rules that have governed transatlantic commerce and politics for 70 years — and they fear Trump will bring Pax Americana crashing down. Nor are they alone: Variations of this conversation are taking place in every European capital and many Asian capitals too. …
… None of my companions go as far as the extraordinary editorial in the German magazine Der Spiegel, which has just called on Germans to “stand up for what is important: democracy, freedom, the West and its alliances,” and which asks Europeans to start planning political and economic defenses “against America’s dangerous president.” But, yes, these Swedes would like to create new forms of European security. A Baltic-Nordic security pact should be on the table. European defense structures should get attention and investment.
The world is more dangerous than they imagined; the alliances and institutions they have long relied upon may be crumbling. “We are on our own here,” one of them writes to me the next day. Which pretty much sums up how the rest of America’s allies feel right now too.
As I said yesterday, the era in which the president of the United States was considered “the leader of the free world” is officially over.
Elsewhere, Trump has now threatened a Texas state senator. He offered to destroy the senator’s career for supporting Texas legislation Trump doesn’t like.
We can’t keep this up for four more years.