The Administration Versus Reality

The Iraqi parliament has voted to direct the government to expel all foreign troops — meaning U.S. troops, of course. The prime minister is expected to sign it. As I understand it, this directive would not expel troops immediately but would work out a timeline for troops to leave.

Along with alarm over the death of General Soleimani, the Iraqis are understandably peeved that this military action was carried out in their country with no notice whatsoever.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry filed a complaint via two letters to the President of the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General about the “American attacks and assaults against Iraqi military locations,” according to a Foreign Ministry Statement.

The complaint was also about the death of Al-Muhandis, the militia leader, and others on Iraqi soil.

“These attacks represent a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty and the conditions of the presence of the American forces in Iraq,” the statement read, adding, “Iraq called on the Security Council to condemn the bombing and assassinations.”

This is not unreasonable.

SecState Pompeo said that the Iraqi people are fine with whatever the U.S. does, because we are their liberators, or something.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday dismissed calls by Iraq’s caretaker prime minister for a timetable for all foreign troops to exit the country, in the wake of a U.S. strike that killed top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, arguing that the Iraqi people want the United States to remain and continue the fight against terrorism.

Pompeo also blames the entire current situation on President Obama. Obama should have taken out Soleimani! Except that most of the deaths of U.S. troops attributed to Soleimani happened during George W. Bush’s watch, and he didn’t take out Soleimani either.

In fact, conscious decisions were taken under the George W. Bush administration, even when Soleimani was in the crosshairs, not to pull the trigger. Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote last year, he had a shot in 2007 but let Soleimani go: “The decision not to act is often the hardest one to make—and it isn’t always right.”

But, um, sometimes the decision not to act is right. Notice that most of the people lining up to praise Trump’s actions are the same geniuses who thought invading Iraq in 2003 was a great idea. They don’t learn.

This happened yesterday:

President Donald Trump on Saturday warned Iran that a strike on “any Americans” or “American assets” in retaliation for the killing of its top general would result in the US targeting 52 sites — including “Iranian culture” sites.

But deliberately targeting cultural sites or cultural heritage sites could amount to a war crime.

Even better, now Iran is saying it is suspending all commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal. So much winning.

 

About Those Imminent Threats …

There are several accounts in various news media about how Trump came to the decision to have General Suleimani killed. The official story is that Suleimani was killed to stop some imminent threat to Americans, somewhere. From WaPo:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Friday that Soleimani “was actively plotting in the region to take actions, the big action as he described it, that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk. We know it was imminent.”

On Capitol Hill, officials briefed lawmakers and staff but did not provide any details about the alleged Iranian targets or what made them imminent, according to people who were present.

I am trying to remember the last time the U.S. got into a war in which the official story about why turned out to be pretty much the truth. I’m thinking December 7, 1941, but I’m sure there are people who will want to argue with me about that. (Word to the wise: Don’t.)

Some analysts were skeptical about the need to kill Soleimani.

“There may well have been an ongoing plot as Pompeo claims, but Soleimani was a decision-maker, not an operational asset himself,” said Jon Bateman, who served as a senior intelligence analyst on Iran at the Defense Intelligence Agency. “Killing him would be neither necessary nor sufficient to disrupt the operational progression of an imminent plot. What it might do instead is shock Iran’s decision calculus” and deter future attack plans, Bateman said.

That was my thought. If there were indeed such plans somewhere, I don’t see how killing Soleimani would have stopped the plans from being carried out. Trump crowed that Soleimani was “caught in the act,” but doing what? All we know was that he was at the Baghdad airport. And we don’t know if killing Soleimani would be a deterrence or a provocation. I fear the latter.

And then if one keeps reading, one gets the impression that there were no specific imminent threats.

Officials reminded Trump that after the Iranians mined ships, downed the U.S. drone and allegedly attacked a Saudi oil facility, he had not responded. Acting now, they said, would send a message: “The argument is, if you don’t ever respond to them, they think they can get by with anything,” one White House official said.

Trump was also motivated to act by what he felt was negative coverage after his 2019 decision to call off the airstrike after Iran downed the U.S. surveillance drone, officials said. Trump was also frustrated that the details of his internal deliberations had leaked out and felt he looked weak, the officials said.

And Trump really hates looking weak, you know.

Trump also had history on his mind. The president has long fixated on 2012 attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya, and the Obama administration’s response to them, said lawmakers and aides who have spoken to him, and he felt the response to this week’s attack on the embassy and the killing of an American contractor would make him look stronger compared with his predecessor.

This deliberation went on over a period of days. I’m not seeing a lot of alarm over imminent threats.

The Los Angeles Times also provides an account of how the decision was made. According to reporter David Cloud, the decision to take out Soleimani caught the national security team (Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) off guard. They had gone to Mar-a-Lago to brief Trump about the eroding situation with Iran. Targeting Soleimani was one of several options they presented, but they didn’t expect him to choose it.

“The president’s decision was spurred on in part by Iran hawks among his advisors,” Cloud writes. WaPo also tells us that Lindsey Graham visted Mar-a-Lago about that time and urged Trump to get tougher with Iran.

These news stories — plus another account in Politico — quote administrative officials about new intelligence that Soleimani was plotting this or that. But given Soleimani’s history it’s probably accurate to say that he was always plotting something. The administration has failed to make a case that there was some new and uniquely terrible imminent threat that was any different from the many imminent threats he has posed over the years. And the administration’s arguments were undermined by Mike Pompeo on CNN, who responded to questions about imminent threats by talking about Soleimani’s past record.

“I’m not going to say anything more about the nature of the attack, but know this was not just in Iraq,” said Pompeo. “It was using the proxy forces he has manipulated for so long to bring so much destruction to the Shias, Sunnis and Muslims throughout the region. He inflicted harm not only on American lives but created terrible activities supporting Hezbollah, Hamas. Qassim Suleimani was at the center of all of it.”

In other words, same stuff that’s been going on for years. And the timelines provided in all of these accounts tell us there was plenty of time for the administration to notify the Gang of Eight, the key members of Congress who by law must be at least briefed before such actions are conducted.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said he was not briefed on the operation and criticised the president for conducting it “without specific authorisation and any advanced notification or consultation with congress”.

“The need for advance consultation and transparency with congress was put in the constitution for a reason – because the lack of advanced consultation and transparency with congress can lead to hasty and ill-considered decisions,” he said, adding that such decisions should not be made in a vacuum.

“The framers of the constitution gave war powers to the legislature and made the executive the commander in chief for the precise reason of forcing the two branches of government to consult with one another when it came to matters of war and a peace,” he continued. “It is paramount for administrations to get an outside view to prevent group think and rash action, to be asked probing questions, not from your inner and often insulated circle, but from others, particularly congress, which forces an administration before it acts to answer very serious questions.”

In a statement, Ms Pelosi said the entire US congress “must be immediately briefed on this serious situation and on the next steps under consideration by the administration, including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region”.

If the administration refuses, I suggest writing another articcle of impeachment.

Wagging the Dog

If you missed Chris Hayes last night — this is a good, brief (5 minutes) explanation of the Pentagon documents released yesterday that clearly show Trump ordered the Ukraine aid to be held up. And then a few hours after these documents were made public, the U.S. military on Trump’s order kills Qassim Suleimani at the Baghdad airport.  Coincidence?

News stories are tellling us that the operation was planned after a rocket attack killed an American contractor in Iraq a few days ago. If so, this was a totally disproportionate retaliation. And, the U.S. had already disproportionately retaliated by striking Iraq and Syria and killing 25 people. I still say this was more about impeachment than protecting Americans.

We’re hearing that this strike was done with no notice to or clearance from Congress, although some Republicans claim to have been briefed. Many people also have unearthed a series of old tweets by Trump predicting that President Obama would start a war with Iran to help his re-election chances in 2012. Trump obviously thinks that starting a war is politically smart. If the situation escalates, we can also count on Mitch McConnell declaring that we can’t very well have an impeachment trial while there’s a war going on.

Of course, this provocation was utterly unnecessary. A number of people who served in the Obama and Bush II administrations have stepped up to say that taking out Qassim Suleimani was something considered but rejected by their bosses. It was too incendiary. But fools do rush in where angels fear to tread.

Trump and SecState Pompeo are claiming that Suleimani was planning an “imminent” operation that could have taken “hundreds of American lives.” Of course I don’t believe this is true. Congress must demand that Trump share whatever intelligence he has to prove this statement. Even so, if there were such plans the plans still exist, as does the military force Suleimani headed. There is no reason to think that killing Suleimani would put an end to the alleged plans.

In short, this was a colossally stupid move on Trump’s part that almost certainly will have disasterous consequences. Republicans are falling in line behind Trump to support his decision. What are Democrats doing? Most of the 2020 candidates for the presidential nomination have denounced Trump’s act as dangerous and reckless. And then there’s Bernie —

I hope we’re all clear on that.

Stuff to Read:

Fred Kaplan, Trump Just Declared War on Iran and Trump Is Clueless on Iran and North Korea.

Zack Beauchamp, Trump’s Iran War Has Begun.

Charles Pierce, Trump’s Order to Assassinate Qasem Soleimani Has Kicked Over the Hornet’s Nest. (Pierce provides quotes from an old Hugh Hewitt interview in which Trump plainly had no idea who Qasem Soleimani was and complained that the U.S. was being unfair to the Kurds.)

Greg Sargent, Trump’s Iran strike demands a serious response from Democrats.

More Evidence

Matt Shuham at TPM:

Newly leaked emails from the Pentagon add to the pile of evidence showing that President Donald Trump himself ordered a freeze on U.S. money destined to Ukraine, which officials have testified was part of an effort to pressure Ukraine to do Trump’s political bidding.

The emails, which were leaked to Just Security, show communications between the Pentagon and the White House Office Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

For example, after a key meeting between the Defense Secretary and Trump on Aug. 30, two days after the aid freeze had become public, OMB political staffer Mike Duffey emailed the Pentagon.

“Clear direction from POTUS to hold,” he said.

The brief, explosive sentence was one of several emails detailing the President’s orders.

The White House blocked the documents from the House of Representatives’ impeachment probe.

Nancy Pelosi’s decision to hang on to the articles of impeachment is looking more and more brilliant.

Dodging Another Bullet

The crisis at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad appears to be cooling off.

The Popular Mobilization Forces, the umbrella organization of several Shiite militias, ordered protesters to leave the embassy “out of respect” for the Iraqi government’s directions Tuesday, according to the newspaper.

Several hundred rejected the order initially until a Kataib Hezbollah official declared victory and told them to depart from the area.

This is good, because the last thing we need is a genuine international crisis while The Cretin is in charge of foreign policy. The embassy has suspended operations, however, so things are still not normal.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong “Rocket Man” Un appears to have given up pretending to be charmed by Trump

North Korea is planning to adopt a hard-line policy toward the United States that involves taking denuclearization off the table amid perceptions that President Donald Trump is vulnerable politically, a source familiar with the North Korean leadership’s current mindset told CNN.

The source said this new policy is likely the so-called “Christmas gift” floated by a top North Korean official earlier this month. It is expected to include abandoning negotiations with Washington and consolidating Pyongyang’s status as a nuclear weapons state.

Pyongyang will also no longer pursue sanctions relief as a means of achieving economic development either in the short-term or long-term, but will instead increase its commitment to the state’s ideology of self-reliance, known as Juche.

David Sanger writes at The New York Times,

The protests in Iraq calmed on Wednesday, at least for now, and Mr. Kim has not yet lit off his latest “strategic weapon.” But the events of recent days have underscored how much bluster was behind Mr. Trump’s boast a year ago that Iran was “a very different nation” since he had broken its economy. They also belied his famous tweet: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Today the most generous thing one could say about those statements is that they were wildly premature. Many foreign policy experts say he fundamentally misjudged the reactions of two major American adversaries. And neither seems to fear him, precisely the critique he leveled at Barack Obama back in the days when Mr. Trump declared America’s toughest national security challenges could be solved as soon as a president the world respected was in office.

As in all things, Trump came into office — and retains — childishly cartoonish beliefs about foreign policy.

Going back to Iraq — I was alarmed when I heard about the military strikes in Iraq and Syria in retaliation of the death of an American contractor. I feel bad about the contractor, but at this point we should have learned that retarliation just encourages more violence.

Max Boot — and I can’t believe I’m quoting Max Boot — wrote,

The only effective U.S. response to the Iranian threat since Reagan’s tanker war was President Barack Obama’s decision to conclude a deal with Iran in 2015 that would freeze its nuclear program. The deal did nothing to curb Iran’s regional power play and may have even fueled it by lifting economic sanctions — which is why I and others opposed it at the time. But it did at least stop Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. President Trump blundered by exiting the nuclear deal in 2018 and imposing economic sanctions on Iran in 2019, even though it was complying with the agreement.

Nice of you to almost admit you were wrong about the treaty, Max Boot.

Pushed into a corner, Iran and its proxies have lashed out by allegedly attacking oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, shooting down a U.S. drone, hitting a major Saudi oil facility with cruise missiles — and now rocketing a compound near Kirkuk, Iraq. The latter attack, which killed an American contractor and injured four U.S. troops on Friday, led Trump to retaliate with airstrikes across Iraq and Syria that killed 25 members of Kataib Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia blamed for the rocket attack, and sparked anti-American outrage. The embassy invasion on Tuesday was Iran’s riposte to make clear that it will not bow to American pressure. Your move, Mr. Trump.

Let’s hope Trump goes back to tweeting about Nancy Pelosi. Anything he might do will be wrong.

But Trump shows little interest in either seriously negotiating or fighting. He has waged economic warfare on Iran while doing nothing to curb its regional aggression; indeed, by withdrawing U.S. troops from part of northern Syria, he has allowed an extension of Iranian influence. So we are left with the worst of all possible worlds: Iran is once again waging a low-intensity conflict, and America once again has no effective response.

Some guy at CNN wrote,

Like a modern-day Gulliver, President Trump is metaphorically wandering around a Middle East where he’d rather not be, tied up both by smaller powers whose interests are not his own — and by America’s illusions about the region, perpetuated by Trump who somehow believes he can force Iran to bend to his will. The odds are that the situation for the US in Iraq and Iran is likely to get worse before it gets still worse.

See also At U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Trump’s Middle East Rhetoric Meets Reality.

So Busted

If you haven’t already read the NY Times’s Behind the Ukraine Aid Freeze: 84 Days of Conflict and Confusion (The inside story of President Trump’s demand to halt military assistance to an ally shows the price he was willing to pay to carry out his agenda), don’t wait too long to do so. It’s fascinating stuff.

Interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials, congressional aides and others, previously undisclosed emails and documents, and a close reading of thousands of pages of impeachment testimony provide the most complete account yet of the 84 days from when Mr. Trump first inquired about the money to his decision in September to relent.

What emerges is the story of how Mr. Trump’s demands sent shock waves through the White House and the Pentagon, created deep rifts within the senior ranks of his administration, left key aides like Mr. Mulvaney under intensifying scrutiny — and ended only after Mr. Trump learned of a damning whistle-blower report and came under pressure from influential Republican lawmakers.

The name Mulvaney keeps coming up in this thing. As Charles Pierce says, lots of people are feeding Mulvaney to the wolves. He was, the article says, a “key conduit for transmitting Mr. Trump’s demands for the freeze across the administration.” And all kinds of people scattered through many offices of government were involved in at least a piece of this mess.

Greg Sargent has a good synopsis of the piece and argues that life has just gotten a lot harder for Mitch McConnell.

What makes all this new information really damning, however, is that many of these officials who were directly involved with Trump’s freezing of aid are the same ones Trump blocked from appearing before the House impeachment inquiry.

This should make it inescapable that McConnell wants a trial with no testimony from these people — Democrats want to hear from Mulvaney, Bolton, Duffey and Blair — precisely because he, too, wants to prevent us from ever gaining a full accounting.

We now have a much clearer glimpse into the murky depths of just how much more these officials know about the scheme — and just how much McConnell and Trump are determined to make sure we don’t ever learn. That’s so indefensible that it might even breach the levee of the media’s both-sidesing tendencies.

Colin Kalmbacher writing for Law and Crime points to the illegality of the whole mess.

Attorneys for the White House and the Department of Justice (DOJ) scrambled to piece together a legal justification after President Donald Trump withheld military aid to the Ukraine earlier this year.

According to the New York Times, those efforts were focused on sidestepping the Impoundment Control Act of 1974–a law which requires the executive branch to notify Congress if and when already-appropriated funds are being withheld. And, in service of that goal, various attorneys developed a somewhat novel legal theory.

Basically, the argument was that the hold on the funds had to be kept secret because of ongoing negotiations about “corruption.” But Kalmacher goes on to explain that the law doesn’t give the administration any discretion on funds appropriated by Congress. If for some reason he doesn’t want the money to be spent as appropriated, he has to go back to Congress about it.

So busted.

The Boy Commander in Chief and His Soldier-Toys

The New York Times has a must-read account of the testimony against Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher from fellow Navy SEALS.

“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.  …

…Video from a SEAL’s helmet camera, included in the trove of materials, shows the barely conscious captive — a teenage Islamic State fighter so thin that his watch slid easily up and down his arm — being brought in to the platoon one day in May 2017. Then the helmet camera is shut off.

In the video interviews with investigators, three SEALs said they saw Chief Gallagher go on to stab the sedated captive for no reason, and then hold an impromptu re-enlistment ceremony over the body, as if it were a trophy.

“I was listening to it, and I was just thinking, like, this is the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Special Operator Miller, who has since been promoted to chief, told investigators.

Gallagher was pardoned by Trump, as were two other soldiers convicted of war crimes. Trump considers these men to be his personal pets.

President Donald Trump’s took part in a Saturday night rally in South Florida, bringing two accused war criminals on to the stage as honored guests.

According to the Miami Herald, during his speech at Florida Republicans’ annual Statesman’s Dinner, Trump brought Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Matt Golsteyn in front of the crowd. Trump controversially pardoned the two—along with former Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher—last month against the recommendations of senior military leaders. Lorance was serving a 19-year prison sentence for murder after ordering soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men in 2012, killing two. Golsteyn had been charged with premeditated murder after admitting to shooting a detained, unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn killed the prisoner off-base and buried his body, only to dig it up later, bring it back to the base, and burn it in a pit used to dispose of trash, according to the Washington Post.

The men’s appearance at a party rally and fundraiser confirm that Trump sees political value in his interventions on behalf of soldiers who were charged by uniformed military prosecutors with the most serious crimes. After the pardons, the Daily Beast cited two sources who said they heard the president talk about how he would use the pardoned soldiers as political props in his 2020 reelection bid, with one saying they heard the president discuss “making it a big deal at the convention.”

However, a Military Times poll published this month says support for Trump among military personnel is going down and not up.

When asked specifically about Trump’s handling of military issues, nearly 48 percent of the troops surveyed said they had an unfavorable view of that part of his job, compared to 44 percent who believe he has handled that task well. That marks a significant drop from the 2018 Military Times poll, when 59 percent said they were happy with his handling of military issues, against 20 percent who had an unfavorable view.

See also the video.

The Military Times article didn’t go into much detail as to why Trump is falling out of favor among the troops. It did mention the firing of Gen. Jim Mattis as defense secretary as a big issue with the troops. Many were also disillusioned by the pullout from Syria.

It’s been said before that Trump has an adolescent boy’s view of warfare, and his view of soldiers borders on cartoonish.

Depicting soldiers as dehumanized “killing machines” is something one used to see on the anti-war Left. It’s an insult to professional soldiers. But Bonnie Kirstian believes Trump identifies with war criminals. Like him, they are people who break rules.

The president’s affection for violence beyond the laws and norms of modern warfare is well-established. He expresses total confidence in the efficacy of torture, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and insists it should be employed even if it doesn’t work (“They deserve it anyway for what they do to us”). In a 2016 op-ed, for example, Trump argued it is only political correctness that prevents the United States from drowning and beheading our enemies in the style of the Islamic State. He has waxed rhapsodic about the prospect of killing the families of terrorists — which is to say, murdering children because of the misfortune of their birth and slaughtering women who very possibly had no choice in their marriage. He has no interest in confining the U.S. military to the rule of law, whether domestic or international, instead envisioning himself as the war crime commander-in-chief: “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”

Thus the twisted mercy Trump offers in pardoning war crimes is not a boon to the U.S. military. It is a degradation, a blood offering to Mars.

This enthusiasm for cruelty might be sufficient to get Trump to issue pardons for war crimes. He has made clear he doesn’t care whether these soldiers are innocent of what they are accused of doing and in fact believes they were right to do it if indeed they are guilty. But I think there’s another factor at work: Trump in a sense identifies with the men he has pardoned. He is giving them the indemnity he hopes for himself.

Adam Serwer wrote at The Atlantic,

On the campaign trail, Trump frequently invoked a false story about General John Pershing crushing a Muslim insurgency in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, declaring, “There was no more radical Islamic terror for 35 years!” He vowed to impose torture techniques “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Trump declared that he would “take out the families” of terrorist suspects, assuring skeptics that the military would not refuse his commands, even though service members have a duty to refuse orders that are manifestly illegal. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”  …

…Many former officials have warned that Trump’s war-crimes pardons undermine “good order and discipline,” a jargony way to say that they signal the rules don’t matter. A military force where the rules don’t matter is not one that can fight effectively or with the necessary moral or strategic restraint.

Defenders of Trump’s pardons dishonor service members by treating them as conscienceless automatons who need make no distinction between combatants and civilians. But murder, under color of authority, is still murder. …

… Every service member who has faced combat has experienced the anguish of losing comrades, the difficulty of facing an enemy that disguises itself and does not obey the laws of war, and the frustration of a conflict seemingly without end. The Uniform Code of Military Justice provides for juries made up of service members to ensure that those who render verdicts are themselves cognizant of the exigencies of warfare. But the fact that a relative handful of service members responded to those difficulties by desecrating corpses, deliberately killing civilians, or engaging in premeditated murder illustrates that calling them “killing machines” is a profound insult masquerading as praise.

“I will always stick up for our great fighters,” Trump told the crowd at a rally in Florida yesterday. “People can sit there in air-conditioned offices and complain, but you know what? It doesn’t matter to me whatsoever.”

The seven Navy SEALs who told investigators that Gallagher shot unarmed civilians from his sniper nest, including “a girl in a flower-print hijab who was walking with other girls on the riverbank,” after being warned that doing so could “cost them and others their careers” were not sitting in an office. The soldiers who testified that Lorance ordered his unit to fire on unarmed Afghans who were “definitely not any type of threat” were not luxuriating in an air-conditioned building. They were at just as much risk on the battlefield, and yet they chose to adhere to the rules they were charged to uphold.

In another Atlantic article, Mark Bowden writes what he’s hearing from senior officers:

In 20 years of writing about the military, I have never heard officers in high positions express such alarm about a president. Trump’s pronouncements and orders have already risked catastrophic and unnecessary wars in the Middle East and Asia, and have created severe problems for field commanders engaged in combat operations. Frequently caught unawares by Trump’s statements, senior military officers have scrambled, in their aftermath, to steer the country away from tragedy. How many times can they successfully do that before faltering?

It’s very much worth reading Bowden’s piece all the way through. The top brass complain that Trump disdains experise; he is reflexively contrary; he seems not to grasp the concept of “strategy.” And he has a simplistic and antiquated notion of soldiering.

“He doesn’t understand the warrior ethos,” one general said of the president. “The warrior ethos is important because it’s sort of a sacred covenant not just among members of the military profession, but between the profession and the society in whose name we fight and serve. The warrior ethos transcends the laws of war; it governs your behavior. The warrior ethos makes units effective because of the values of trust and self-sacrifice associated with it—but the warrior ethos also makes wars less inhumane and allows our profession to maintain our self-respect and to be respected by others. Man, if the warrior ethos gets misconstrued into ‘Kill them all …’?” he said, trailing off. Teaching soldiers about ethical conduct in war is not just about morality: “If you treat civilians disrespectfully, you’re working for the enemy! Trump doesn’t understand.”

Having never served or been near a battlefield, several of the generals said, Trump exhibits a simplistic, badly outdated notion of soldiers as supremely “tough”—hard men asked to perform hard and sometimes ugly jobs. He also buys into a severely outdated concept of leadership. The generals, all of whom have led troops in combat, know better than most that war is hard and ugly, but their understanding of “toughness” goes well beyond the gruff stoicism of a John Wayne movie. Good judgment counts more than toughness.

At the same time, Trump’s recurring dissing of Gold Star families he believes are insufficiently loyal to him reveal that his claims to respect the troops are pretty damn hollow. He respects the troops only so far as they reflect his presumed power and glory. He’s fine with using them as props, such as in his ridiculous July 4 military parade that was really all about him.

So let him trot his toy boy soldiers out at his stupid rallies; let him show them off like prize steers. I suspect this will hurt his re-election chances more than help them.

Have a Happy

I hope everyone has a lovely holiday, whatever it is to you.

Christmas card depicting children and holly from The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection published by L. Prang & Co. Original from the New York Public Library. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

What’s Happening Now

Boeing announced today that CEO Dennis Muilenburg has been fired. Boeing probably decided somebody had to be sacrificed to appease the public relations god.

Speaking of sacrifices, you’ve probably heard that Saudi Arabia has sentenced five people to be executed for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The trial was closed, so we do not know for certain how these five people were connected to the murder, or even if they were connected at all but were just expendable.

The Wapo editorial board writes, the “two men who are known to have directed the operation, former deputy chief of intelligence Ahmed al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were exonerated. Most likely they were excused at the direction of the crown prince, who, according to the CIA, is the real author of the crime.”

In the Some Things Are Certain category — Maggie Severns writes for Politico that grifters gonna gift:

As President Donald Trump raises money for his reelection campaign, he’s competing for cash with a growing mass of pro-Trump PACs, dark money groups and off-brand Facebook advertisers neither affiliated with nor endorsed by Trump’s campaign. And they have pulled in over $46 million so far.

The groups mimic Trump’s brand in the way they look and feel. They borrow the president’s Twitter avatar on Facebook pages, use clips of Trump’s voice in robocalls asking for “an emergency contribution to the campaign” and, in some cases, have been affiliated with former Trump aides, such as onetime deputy campaign manager David Bossie. But most are spending little money to help the president win in 2020, POLITICO found.

The article goes on to document lots of money being raised and paid to “consultants” and staff, but not so much for anything directly related to Trump’s re-election.

Paul Waldman writes that this is part of a pattern that has infested the Right since the 1960s.

In those days, the resource was lists of addresses, and the pitch came in direct mail, both with urgent appeals to save the country from godless liberals and in offers for a thousand different products. What those early right-wing go-getters learned was that miracle arthritis cures and requests for donations to fly-by-night political groups were merely different varieties of the same snake oil.

Each new political movement on the right, whether it was the rise of the religious right in the 1980s or the tea party in the 2000s, brought with it a new set of grifters looking to cash in. Sometimes they have something to sell, such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee hawking “biblical” cures for cancer. But there’s no easier grift to pull off than the one Severns documents, because the donors don’t expect anything for their money apart from the warm feeling of knowing they’re helping Trump get reelected.

So all you need to do is come up with a name that sounds legit (“Trump MAGA 2020 Committee” or some such); buy yourself a list with email addresses of marks (or, ahem, leads); start blasting out emails begging for donations to hold off the despicable Democrat secularist socialist elites who want to destroy America; and watch the money pour in.

See also House Floats Possibility Of More Impeachment Articles If It Gets McGahn’s Testimony.  Then see Trump administration says courts shouldn’t weigh in on McGahn testimony.

Plain As Day

The Center for Public Integrity went through the Freedom of Information Act to obtain copies of emails that, while heavily redacted, add more evidence that Trump directly ordered Ukraine military aid halted to pressure President Zelensky.

From Axios:

The Office of Management and Budget ordered the Pentagon to withhold military aid to Ukraine 91 minutes after President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, emails released to the Center for Public Integrity show.

Details: The 146 pages of heavily redacted emails between the OMB and the Pentagon obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and court order also show Trump asked about withholding aid to Ukraine the month before his July 25 call with Zelensky.

Today Chuck Schumer used the emails to argue for witnesses at the impeachment trial.

On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) zeroed in on newly disclosed emails from Mike Duffey, an Office of Management and Budget official, which show he had requested the hold on the military aid to Ukraine about 90 minutes after President Donald Trump’s infamous July 25 call with the Ukrainian president.

In the emails, obtained via FOIA request by the Center for Public Integrity on Friday, Duffey told OMB and Pentagon officials to keep information on the request “closely held to those who need to know to execute direction.”

“If there was ever an argument that we need Mr. Duffey to come testify, this is that information,” Schumer told reporters during a press conference on Sunday. “This email is explosive.”

“A top administration official, one that we’ve requested, is saying ‘Stop the aid’ 91 minutes after Trump called Zelensky, and said ‘Keep it hush-hush,’” the Democratic leader added. “What more do you need to request a witness?”

Mitch McConnell is holding out for a unicorn, or maybe a note from God. There is nothing that would justify holding a real trial.

White House officials are predicting that Nancy Pelosi will cave on the impeachment articles, but I don’t think so. We may be in a holding pattern for a while.