Monday, February 27, 2017

Trump says Obama behind leaks

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By Eli Watkins

Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump said he believes former President Barack Obama has been behind the leaks within his administration and the sizable, angry town hall crowds Republicans have faced across the country.
Trump was asked in an interview on Fox News' "Fox and Friends" if he believed Obama was responsible for the town hall protests against Republicans this month.
"It turns out his organization seems to do a lot of these organizing to some of the protests that these Republicans are seeing around the country against you. Do you believe President Obama is behind it and if he is, is that a violation of the so-called unsaid presidents' code?" Trump was asked.
    "No, I think he is behind it. I also think it is politics, that's the way it is," Trump replied.
    Trump then discussed the leaks that have disrupted his first month in office.
    "You never know what's exactly happening behind the scenes. You know, you're probably right or possibly right, but you never know," Trump said in the interview, a clip of which was released Monday night. "No, I think that President Obama is behind it because his people are certainly behind it. And some of the leaks possibly come from that group, which are really serious because they are very bad in terms of national security. But I also understand that is politics. In terms of him being behind things, that's politics. And it will probably continue."
    Trump did not offer any evidence for his claim in the clip released by Fox Monday night. CNN has reached out to Obama's office for comment.
    A broad coalition of groups including Organizing For Action, the SEIU, and the Center for American Progress have been working to help with grassroots organizing around GOP town halls.
    Organizing for Action, the group formed from Obama's campaign organization, has 14 professional organizers, for example, who are involved in teaching local activists skills to effectively vocalize opposition to the GOP's top agenda items.
    Earlier this month, Trump told Fox News that reports of his calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia were caused by leaks from "Obama people."
    Trump's administration has been beset by leaks within his administration to the media, and he has continually railed against those doing the leaking and the media since taking office. He has said the leaks are damaging to national security.

    Op-Ed What happens when the 'bad hombres' are ICE agents? The finer points of immigration law get ignored

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    By Sandra Hernandez

    Whenever U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement insists it is just doing its job, Americans should take a closer look at what is happening.
    With an executive order signed in his first week in office, President Trump has “taken the shackles off” ICE and Border Patrol officers, according to the White House, expanding the priorities for deporting immigrants.  Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly claims his agents will focus on those convicted of or charged with crimes, but immigrant advocacy groups and the news media already have documented arrests, detentions and deportations of  immigrants who in no way represent a threat to public safety.
    From 2006 through early 2010, I reported on Immigration and Customs Enforcement. What I learned was that no matter the ostensible priorities of federal agencies — or even settled law — ICE was an agency prone to overreach.
    In those days, immigration agents liked to roll out press releases touting the successes of their  “fugitive operations.” The releases detailed how violent gang members, sexual predators and other criminals were taken off the streets. Time and again, I pressed the agency for detailed information on those arrested only to discover the detainees were neither fugitives nor serious criminals. 
    Instead, I found longtime green card holders who had been convicted decades earlier of minor offenses.  Or who were ordered deported in absentia, in some cases because they had moved or the wrong paperwork had been filed.  Among the detainees without green cards, many simply didn’t come close to fitting the description “danger to society.” They were street vendors, construction workers, janitors and small business owners, albeit without papers. 
    Enforcement efforts outside the fugitive program had problems as well.
    One case I reported on involved a U.S. citizen who had once before been wrongly deported to Mexico. When I met him, he was a candidate for deportation after he’d been convicted of drug possession.  Again and again he told ICE he was an American, born in California’s Madera County. His family produced a birth certificate, but neither the agents nor the immigration judge were convinced. Instead he was threatened with an added charge: impersonating a U.S. citizen. It took publishing a newspaper story about his plight  to gain his release. 
    In another case, agents attempted to deport a Senegalese man who had a legal stay from a federal court allowing him to remain in the U.S. while his case was adjudicated. ICE dealt with him under a covert program that forcibly drugged immigrants with powerful psychotropics so they wouldn’t resist as they were loaded onto commercial airliners for the trip “home.”  At LAX, airline officials refused to transport him. He eventually succeeded in court and is now a legal permanent resident.
    Victoria Arellano, a 23-year-old HIV-positive transgender woman, was stopped at a DUI checkpoint and eventually turned over to ICE. She was held in a federal detention center and denied the life-saving drugs she took daily despite clear case law that says denial of care is unconstitutional.  When Arellano died, she was bound to a hospital bed even though she was too weak to raise her arms to hug her mother, who had feared visiting her daughter because of her own immigration status.
    ICE also detained green card holders with mental illnesses and sent them to a network of private hospitals where they were illegally held incommunicado. Once they were deemed stable — in the cases I covered, such judgments were questionable — they had to appear in immigration court, often without representation despite laws that require the state to provide the mentally disabled with legal help. One such green card holder was detained because of a domestic violence conviction. I spoke to him shortly before his hearing. He couldn’t focus, he told me, because of the voices in his head. Days later, his mother called sobbing. Her son had been deported to Mexico, a country he barely knew and where no one could take care of him.
    I found another case in Haiti. David Gerbier, a green card holder with two U.S. citizen children, was deported to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, in 1999 after an immigration court illegally bumped up a minor drug charge to an aggravated felony. A federal appeals court ruled that Gerbier’s offense was indeed a misdemeanor and tossed out his deportation order. Nonetheless, U.S. officials in Port-au-Prince repeatedly denied Gerbier reentry into the United States. It took 10 years and a pro bono lawsuit before he was finally reunited with his family.
    Given ICE’s disturbing track record for ignoring legal limits, the excesses we’re hearing about now shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s the young man in Washington state with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. He was rousted from bed and accused of being a deportable gang member. His lawyers say the charge is only supported by doctored documents.  On Wednesday, federal agents removed a Salvadoran woman, reportedly scheduled for emergency brain surgery, from a Texas hospital bed.  
    Some people will shrug and say that if you’re in this country illegally you should be detained and sent packing. But enforcement is always a matter of priorities.  The Trump deportation guidelines are extreme in their scope compared with the priorities set as far back as the late 1990s. And anyone on U.S. soil — citizen or not — ought to be entitled to due process. The president says he will keep our country safe. ICE appears to have decided that when it cannot find serious criminals, it will protect us from the depredations of students, nannies and strawberry pickers.

    Trump's ‘dark brilliance’ explains why he keeps getting away with lies: Editorial

    The challenge in the age of Donald Trump is to insist on the integrity of facts in the face of a politics that simply denies their relevance.

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    Donald Trump lies. He lies constantly, compulsively, brazenly. He does it even as he accuses others (usually the “disgusting and corrupt media”) of twisting the truth. One suspects he does it just to keep in practice, or because he’s simply forgotten how not to lie.
    All that is old news, though not “fake news.” Trump has been at it so long that only the most naïve among us retain the capacity to be surprised by his mendacity. The question is not whether he lies, but why. And, most important, how he keeps on getting away with it.
    Some clues to this mystery come from an unlikely source, a highly respected editor and columnist at the Wall Street Journal, a newspaper broadly sympathetic to Trump’s agenda as president.
    Bret Stephens, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for his commentary, is a staunch conservative who nonetheless has opposed Trump all along as a man morally unfit for high office and a stranger to long-standing conservative tenets like free trade. And unlike most conservative pundits, he has resisted the temptation to bend the knee to power and hop on board the Trump train.
    He sees Trump for the charlatan he is, and as such is a man worth listening to about what makes the president do what he so shamelessly does.
    Stephens gave a lecture recently in memory of Daniel Pearl, the Journal correspondent murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. It led him to reflect on journalism, the nature of truth and the method in the madness of Donald Trump.
    When confronted by one of his blatant falsehoods, Stephens notes, Trump often doesn’t even attempt to back up what he said. He’ll simply reply that “many people say I’m right,” transforming the argument into a test of personal credibility and effectively denying the validity of what is usually known as “facts.”
    “It’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb,” says Stephens. “We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant – if not in intention then certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.
    “He isn’t telling (his opponent) that he’s got his facts wrong. He’s saying that as far as he is concerned facts, as most people understand the term, don’t matter. That they are indistinguishable from, and interchangeable with, opinion, and that statements of fact needn’t have any purchase against a man who is either sufficiently powerful to ignore them or sufficiently shameless to deny them – or, in his case, both.”
    The bottom line: “There you have the Trumpian view of the world. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, it would be this: Truth is what you can get away with.”
    This is the motto of both tyrants and showmen through the ages. Eventually, though, they get caught out, at least most of them. Why is Trump seemingly immune from the normal rules? How does he keep getting away with it?
    Stephens offers a few reasons. First is the sheer volume of his lies: “If a public figure tells a whopping lie once in his life, it’ll haunt him into his grave. If he lies morning, noon and night, it will become almost impossible to remember any one particular lie. Outrage will fall victim to its own ubiquity.
    “It’s the same truth contained in Stalin’s famous remark that the death of one man is a tragedy, but the death of a million is a statistic.”
    Second is Trump’s sheer entertainment value. The fact that he’s liable to say anything at any moment turns us into gawking spectators: “We have been given tickets to a spectacle, in which all you want to do is watch.”
    Then there are changing standards of judgment, in which politics becomes a matter of perception rather than actual performance. If people out in the heartland see Trump as successful, then that very fact makes him more successful.
    Finally, there’s the powerful temptation among some people to rationalize the behaviour of the man in the White House, however bizarre. Conservatives rush to praise a man who disdains the globalist world-view they have preached for decades; moralists embrace a man who has turned his personal life into a tabloid saga.
    Some of this is pure hypocrisy or simple power worship. But it’s also linked to a powerful desire to be on the right side of what seems to be a historical force, propelled by genuine (though misguided) sentiments among the people. It’s the impulse to make sense of Trump’s nonsense, to discover rationality amid the irrational.
    The challenge is to resist these temptations, to insist on the integrity of facts in the face of a politics that simply denies their relevance. In Stephens’ words, “to believe in an epistemology that can distinguish between truth and falsity, facts and opinion, evidence and wishes.”
    It’s appalling that such elementary principles must be re-stated in 2017. But in the age of Trump, it’s more important than ever.

    Truth vs. Trump

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    By Lawrence Davidson

    During the presidential campaign I often referred to Donald Trump as a congenital liar, but it is possible that in doing so I made a “category mistake.” By definition liars, even chronic ones, belong to a category of people who know that there is truth from which their lies deviate. I am not sure that accurately describes President Trump’s state of mind. Perhaps a more accurate way of describing Trump’s outlook is that it presents as a grandiose delusional disorder.

    People with this sort of disorder seem not to be able to discern what is real from what they want to be real. Their beliefs do not have to be bizarre but can appear as persistent misrepresentations that are either false or gross exaggerations. One sort of delusional disorder is called “grandiose.” Here the person has “an over-inflated sense of worth, power, knowledge, or identity.” Trump seems to fit this description.

    Here are a few of Trump’s misrepresentations and exaggerations that appear to underpin his alternate reality.

    — According to the president, the nation was in deep trouble when he took over. He insists that he inherited “a mess.” No one challenged this description, although it is plainly an exaggeration. In truth the economy (including job production and employment rates) under his predecessor was doing well and no new foreign wars had been launched by Washington. Civil rights were being extended to more and more minority groups. Where there was dissension it was over such things as police violence (which Trump seems not to see as a problem).

    To tackle this exaggerated “mess” Trump claims to have put together a “well oiled machine.” This is a misrepresentation. By all evidence his early administration is disorganized, amateurish and plagued by internal dissension. When the situation was reported in the press, Trump got very angry at this challenge to his preferred view of reality and declared that the media is the “enemy of the American people.”

    — President Trump claims that a key to the safety of the nation is the imposition of his immigration ban blocking immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations. However, the statistical evidence showing a lack of violence on American soil by such immigrants makes Trump’s claim insupportable. Just so his grossly exaggerated assertion that immigrants generally hurt the economy by taking jobs away from citizens.

    — He (along with that other deluded leader Benjamin Netanyahu) describes Iran as the greatest terror state in the world, even though, in practice, Iran has been a discreet ally of the U.S. in the “war on terror.”

    — And, of course, Trump continues to insist on his overwhelming popularity, as exemplified by claims for his Electoral College numbers and an alleged record inauguration attendance, despite the fact that each claim can easily be shown to be a misrepresentation of reality. Trump’s real approval rate now hovers around 40%, lower than every other post-World War II president at this point in their term.

    To these instances of misrepresentation and exaggeration can be added other evidence, such as the fact that just about all contrary views appearing in the media are now described by Trump as “fake news.” In his own opinion, nothing he says or does is ever wrong or mistaken. If something does go wrong it is because some other person or group has maliciously sabotaged his efforts, while twisting the truth he knows to exist into a maligning falsehood. This is why he can’t work with anyone who has previously criticized him or who is likely to do so to his face.


    There is another way to understand what Trump is doing. This is explained in a 2005 book by Harry Frankfurt entitled On BullshitActually, an older and less crude way of describing this is “humbug.” Whatever you call it, this way of relating to the world is, according to Frankfurt, worse than lying because it is “indifferent to the truth.” Those who consistently engage in bullshit “quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant.” You do this enough and you lose your capacity to tell what is true and what isn’t. Frankfurt believes that Trump does often lie, but even more often he just bullshits, and he really cares little about what is actually true. Perhaps he has reached the stage where truth is just whatever comes out of his mouth.

    The Road to Power

    How are we to understand the millions of Americans who respond to Donald Trump with uncritical enthusiasm – as if these large numbers are following a pied piper into a promised world. I think we have to see them as an archaic subset of any population. In the U.S. case, this is a largely white American subgroup which has been obsessively angry since the 1960s over both economic and cultural changes. In other words the progressive political and social reality that most Americans have created beginning with the Civil 
    Rights movement is anathema to them. For these discontented people, the changes happening around them appeared unstoppable until now. However, Trump’s language, his attack on the political system per se, his choice of targets such as immigrants, have given voice and direction to the frustrations of this subgroup. Trump’s alternate reality is one that they are comfortable with. This situation is not unique to the U.S., nor is it unique to our historical period.

    Even though there is no eliminating such a class of malcontents entirely, it is to be emphasized that, despite the publicity given emotional Trump rallies and the Tea Party movement, Trump devotees are a minority of the national population. If that is the case, how is it that Donald Trump occupies the White House? We can answer this question by accounting for the outlook of the rest of the adult U.S. population.

    First, it is important to understand that a large percentage of American adults (perhaps 40 percent) don’t vote. In my opinion, most of them are just not interested in politics. It is not an important part of their local reality. Thus, they do not show an interest in, much less an understanding of, politically important issues beyond their own immediate locale. This accounts for the chronic low turnout for American elections both national and regional. The default position of this very large number of citizens is one of political passivity.

    Second, during the past campaign season a large number of traditionally Democratic Party voters became disaffected. The party was essentially split by the Bernie Sanders challenge. When that proved of no avail against an entrenched leadership mindset more beholden to special interests then to the needs of the ordinary citizen, the party lost millions of votes. Some of these defectors probably became closet Trump supporters. Others voted for third party candidates or simply stayed home on election day.

    You put all of this together with other voting variables such as gerrymandered voting districts, the usual barriers to minority group voting, and the distinct lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton as a candidate, and the mystery of Trump’s victory gets less mysterious. 

    Actually, Donald Trump’s delusional worldview, and the reinforcing support given to it by his enthusiastic followers, does not prevent him from occasionally coming out with accurate observations. Unfortunately, these occur almost spontaneously, in what appears to spur-of-the-moment situations. For instance, in an interview with Bill O’Reilly aired just before the Superbowl, Trump responded to the assertion that Vladimir Putin was “a killer” by saying, “we’ve [the U.S.] got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country is so innocent?”  This complemented his on-again – off-again desire to reach an accommodation with Moscow. Then, during Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington, Trump questioned the continuing viability of the two-state solution (of course, without contextualizing the statement by pointing a finger at Israeli policies).

    Yet these relatively rare public displays of reality-based insight are of little reassurance to the rest of us just because they are intermittent and apparently not characteristic of any disciplined analytical way of thinking. So, we are still left with guy who, for most of his waking hours, lives in his own world of “humbug.”

    So what can we expect from this delusional, morally suspect personality who now occupies the White House? My guess is that as things get more contentious, Trump will retreat from the policy business of governing.  He will turn that over (if he hasn’t already) to his accomplices: Stephen Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Vice President Pence. Having done so he will devote more and more time to his so-called reelection campaign where he can vent his spleen amongst the adoring crowds of supporters who serve, collectively, as a stimulant for the man’s immense ego.

    New Declassified CIA Memo Presents Blueprint for Syrian Regime Collapse

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    Brad Hoff

    A newly declassified CIA document explored multiple scenarios of Syrian regime collapse at a time when Hafez al-Assad’s government was embroiled in a covert “dirty war” with Israel and the West, and in the midst of a diplomatic crisis which marked an unprecedented level of isolation for Syria.
    The 24-page formerly classified memo entitled Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change was produced in July 1986, and had high level distribution within the Reagan administration and to agency directors, including presidential advisers, the National Security Council, and the US ambassador to Syria. The memo appears in the CIA’s latest CREST release (CIA Records Search Tool) of over 900,000 recently declassified documents.

    A “severely restricted” report

    The memo’s cover letter, drafted by the CIA’s Director of Global Issues (the report itself was prepared by the division’s Foreign Subversion and Instability Center), introduces the purpose of presenting “a number of possible scenarios that could lead to the ouster of President Assad or other dramatic change in Syria.”
    It further curiously warns that, “Because the analysis out of context is susceptible to misunderstanding, external distribution has been severely restricted.” The report’s narrowed distribution list (sent to specific named national security heads, not entire agencies) indicates that it was considered at the highest levels of the Reagan administration.

    The coming sectarian war for Syria

    The intelligence report’s contents contain some striking passages which seem remarkably consistent with events as they unfolded decades later at the start of the Syrian war in 2011:
    Although we judge that fear of reprisals and organizational problems make a second Sunni challenge unlikely, an excessive government reaction to minor outbreaks of Sunni dissidence might trigger large-scale unrest. In most instances the regime would have the resources to crush a Sunni opposition movement, but we believe widespread violence among the populace could stimulate large numbers of Sunni officers and conscripts to desert or munity, setting the stage for civil war. [pg.2]
    The “second Sunni challenge” is a reference to the Syrian government’s prior long running war against a Muslim Brotherhood insurgency which culminated in the 1982 Hama Massacre. While downplaying the nationalist and pluralistic composition of the ruling Ba’ath party, the report envisions a renewal and exploitation of sectarian fault lines pitting Syria’s Sunni population against its Alawite leadership:
    Sunnis make up 60 percent of the Syrian officer corps but are concentrated in junior officer ranks; enlisted men are predominantly Sunni conscripts. We believe that a renewal of communal violence between Alawis and Sunnis could inspire Sunnis in the military to turn against the regime. [pg.12]

    Regime change and the Muslim Brotherhood

    The possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood spearheading another future armed insurgency leading to regime change is given extensive focus. While the document’s tone suggests this as a long term future scenario (especially considering the Brotherhood suffered overwhelming defeat and went completely underground in Syria by the mid-1980’s), it is considered one of the top three “most likely” drivers of regime change (the other scenarios include “Succession Power Struggle” and “Military Reverses Spark a Coup”).
    The potential for revival of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “militant faction” is introduced in the following:
    Although the Muslim Brotherhood’s suppression drastically reduced armed dissidence, we judge a significant potential still exists for another Sunni opposition movement. In part the Brotherhood’s role was to exploit and orchestrate opposition activity by other organized groups… These groups still exist, and under proper leadership they could coalesce into a large movement… …young professionals who formed the base of support for the militant faction of the Muslim Brotherhood; and remnants of the Brotherhood itself who could become leaders in a new Sunni opposition movement… [pp.13-14]
    The Brotherhood’s role is seen as escalating the potential for initially small Sunni protest movements to morph into violent sectarian civil war:
    Sunni dissidence has been minimal since Assad crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, but deep-seated tensions remain–keeping alive the potential for minor incidents to grow into major flareups of communal violence… Excessive government force in quelling such disturbances might be seen by Sunnis as evidence of a government vendetta against all Sunnis, precipitating even larger protests by other Sunni groups…
    Mistaking the new protests as a resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the government would step up its use of force and launch violent attacks on a broad spectrum of Sunni community leaders as well as on those engaged in protests. Regime efforts to restore order would founder if government violence against protestors inspired broad-based communal violence between Alawis and Sunnis. [pp.19-20]
    The CIA report describes the final phase of an evolving sectarian war which witnesses the influx of fighters and weapons from neighboring countries. Consistent with a 1983 secret report that called for a US covert operation to utilize then US-allied Iraq as a base of attack on Syria, the 1986 analysis says, “Iraq might supply them with sufficient weapons to launch a civil war”:
    A general campaign of Alawi violence against Sunnis might push even moderate Sunnis to join the opposition. Remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood–some returning from exile in Iraq–could provide a core of leadership for the movement. Although the regime has the resources to crush such a venture, we believe brutal attacks on Sunni civilians might prompt large numbers of Sunni officers and conscripts to desert or stage mutinies in support of dissidents, and Iraq might supply them with sufficient weapons to launch a civil war. [pp.20-21]

    A Sunni regime serving Western economic interests

    While the document is primarily a theoretical exploration projecting scenarios of Syrian regime weakening and collapse (its purpose is analysis and not necessarily policy), the authors admit of its “purposefully provocative” nature (see PREFACE) and closes with a list desired outcomes. One provocative outcome describes a pliant “Sunni regime” serving US economic interests:
    In our view, US interests would be best served by a Sunni regime controlled by business-oriented moderates. Business moderates would see a strong need for Western aid and investment to build Syria’s private economy, thus opening the way for stronger ties to Western governments. [pg. 24]
    Ironically, the Syrian government would accuse the United States and its allies of covert subversion within Syria after a string of domestic bombings created diplomatic tensions during the mid-1980’s.

    Dirty tricks and diplomacy in the 1980’s

    According to Patrick Seale’s landmark book, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East, 1986 was a year that marked Syria’s greatest isolation among world powers as multiple diplomatic crises and terror events put Syria more and more out in the cold.
    The year included “the Hindawi affair”a Syrian intelligence sponsored attempt to hijack and bomb an El Al flight to Tel Avivand may or may not have involved Nezar Hindawi working as a double agent on behalf of Israel. The foiled plot brought down international condemnation on Syria and lives on as one of the more famous and bizarre terror conspiracies in history. Not only were Syria and Israel once again generally on the brink of war in 1986, but a string of “dirty tricks” tactics were being utilized by Syria and its regional enemies to shape diplomatic outcomes primarily in Lebanon and Jordan.
    In March and April of 1986 (months prior to the distribution of the CIA memo), a string of still largely unexplained car bombs rocked Damascus and at least 5 towns throughout Syria, leaving over 200 civilians dead in the most significant wave of attacks since the earlier ’79-’82 war with the Muslim Brotherhood (also see BBC News recount the attacks).
    Patrick Seale’s book speculates of the bombings that, “It may not have been unconnected that in late 1985 the NSC’s Colonel Oliver North and Amiram Nir, Peres’s counter-terrorism expert, set up a dirty tricks outfit to strike back at the alleged sponsors of Middle East terrorism.”*

    Consistency with future WikiLeaks files

    The casual reader of Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change will immediately recognize a strategic thinking on Syria that looks much the same as what is revealed in national security memos produced decades later in the run up to the current war in Syria.
    When US cables or intelligence papers talk regime change in Syria they usually strategize in terms of exploiting sectarian fault lines. In a sense, this is the US national security bureaucracy’s fall-back approach to Syria.
    One well-known example is contained in a December 2006 State Dept. cable sent from the US embassy in Syria (subsequently released by WikiLeaks). The cable’s stated purpose is to explore Syrian regime vulnerabilities and weaknesses to exploit (in similar fashion to the 1986 CIA memo):
    PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE: There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business.
    Another section of the 2006 cable explains precisely the same scenario laid out in the 1986 memo in describing the increased “possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction” on the part of the regime.:
    ENCOURAGE RUMORS AND SIGNALS OF EXTERNAL PLOTTING: The regime is intensely sensitive to rumors about coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and military. Regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to meet with figures like [former Vice President Abdul Halim] Khaddam and [younger brother of Hafez] Rif’at Asad as a way of sending such signals, with appropriate leaking of the meetings afterwards. This again touches on this insular regime’s paranoia and increases the possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction.
    And ironically, Rif’at Asad and Khaddam are both mentioned extensively in the 1986 memo as key players during a speculative future “Succession Power Struggle.” [p.15]

    An Islamic State in Damascus?

    While the 1986 CIA report makes a case in its concluding paragraph for “a Sunni regime controlled by business-oriented moderates” in Syria, the authors acknowledge that the collapse of the Ba’ath state could actually usher in the worst of all possible outcomes for Washington and the region: “religious zealots” might seek to establish “an Islamic Republic”. The words take on a new and special importance now, after the rise of ISIS:
    Although Syria’s secular traditions would make it extremely difficult for religious zealots to establish an Islamic Republic, should they succeed they would likely deepen hostilities with Israel and provide support and sanctuary to terrorists groups. [pg.24]
    What continues to unfold in Syria has apparently surpassed even the worst case scenarios of intelligence planners in the 1980’s. Tinkering with regime change has proven itself to be the most dangerous of all games.

    America’s Interest in a Global Rule of Law

    Will Trump destroy the global order that the U.S. has led?

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    By Will Hutton

    The United States may no longer be the hegemonic world power that it was in 1945, but it remains unambiguously the world’s leader. America’s willingness to lead in multiple forums—the United Nations, climate change conventions, NATO, trade agreements—sets the tone for global rule of law. Yes, America has its blemishes and so does the global system, among them tensions over the unequal gains from globalization and double standards on human rights. But U.S. leadership of the international treaty system, with multilateral rules and shared processes of mutual respect, is still the first and last line of defense against worldwide forces that insist on brute assertion of self-interest justified by appeals to each nation’s special culture.
    The threat to the globe, and to the United States, is that Donald Trump personifies those self-same menacing forces. His contemptuous attitude toward the international system he now leads will shatter the framework that however imperfectly has created a global society and pursuit of international rule of law. Trump could mark the end of an epoch—and the opening of a perilous new one of dog-eat-dog competition, ruthless assertion of individual national interest, and a hardening of enmities. Bluntly, it is pure poison.
    Trump’s view of the world is based on a profound misreading of how the system works, how asymmetrically it is organized to benefit the United States, and the terms on which the rest of the world has accepted, albeit grudgingly, what is an extraordinarily biased bargain. The United States is not the victim of the current international framework. It is one of its principal beneficiaries. American-led globalization is the foundation of America’s astonishing corporate success. The great West Coast high-tech multinationals—Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon—and the wave of startups and scale-ups that are following them astonish the globe.
    These multinationals could not exist without an open trading system and the ongoing pre-eminence of the dollar as the world currency. Wall Street and Silicon Valley are the unambiguous centers of global financial and technological power. Trump talks as if the United States were an economic down-and-out. In fact, America has created proportionally more jobs than any other leading country since the financial crisis. Its unemployment rate is at a nine-year low—4.6 percent. Its companies, banks, and brands straddle the world. It has created a global supply chain to support its dynamic continental economy: About two-thirds of U.S. imports are brought in by American companies. A genuine challenge—and one that helped bring Trump to power—is the uneven distribution of those benefits within the United States. But that will not be improved by blowing up the system, much less by bullying one U.S. company or imposing one impulsive tariff at a time.
    Trump doesn’t see it or recognize it, nor does much of the U.S. public on either the left or the right—but America enjoys a new form of global dominance. If you are China, Japan, or the European Union, it is not very satisfactory being part of someone else’s movie. But America’s allies, including my country, Great Britain, go along with it because the experience of the last 70 years tells them the process is ultimately benign. Better to be part of a growing supply chain and try to use the system for their benefit than for there to be no system at all. Until now, much of the world has trusted the United States as a force for good. The country’s values of democracy, rule of law, and insistence on justice and humanity are celebrated in its movies, culture, and music. America may make huge mistakes, but in the end it has been on the side of good.
    Economically, the World Trade Organization, from which Trump threatens to walk away, serves both U.S. and global interests because it is the mechanism by which the world system stays open. The balance of benefits both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other nations remains a fair debate, but one that requires an overall WTO framework. The world accepts that the United Nations is based in New York and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington precisely because it knows that the United States is the indispensable capstone on which hangs the world order—diplomacy, finance, economics, trade, security. Some might chafe, China especially, from the astonishing potential force the possession of a worldwide system of military bases, fleets, nuclear missiles, and armies confers. But the majority of the world accepts it because the United States is trusted to use its power judiciously more often than not, and ultimately to underpin the global system from which we all benefit. One should not underestimate the vacuum that would result if the United States were to withdraw from its leadership role. Neither China nor Russia holding such power would be benign—nor benignly regarded.
    Geopolitically, NATO complements the U.S.-led economic system, but more overtly. It is the vehicle that legitimizes U.S. military power. It deters Russia’s expansionist ambitions in either the Ukraine or Baltic republics. The Japanese-U.S. defense treaty plays the same role in Asia, legitimizing the U.S. system of bases in Asia and deterring China from territorial ambitions in Taiwan or the South China Sea.
    Moreover, global concerns of common interest need some standing forum in which they can be discussed and joint action can be legitimized, acted upon, and then adjudicated impartially when there are disputes. It could be developing a common response to a noxious new virus like Zika or checking the growth of emissions of greenhouse gases to limit global warming. It could be ensuring that nuclear energy plants are built to common safety standards or that there are guidance systems and overflying rights for civilian aircraft anywhere in the globe. It is all but impossible to achieve such goals unilaterally or even bilaterally.
    Over the decades, the United Nations has developed a family of agencies—the World Health Organization, successive climate change conventions, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the International Civil Aviation Organization, to name just a few—to pursue common standards and goals. It is easy to dismiss the U.N. as ineffectual because of the scale of global problems it confronts, or because so many of its members are not democracies, or even because it includes nations that do not defer to the United States. Indeed, Trump has been quick to do so, declaring that it is not a “friend to democracy, to freedom—it’s not even a friend to the United States.” But for all its weaknesses, the U.N. is what is there. Trump may scorn it, but how would he replace it?
    The entire U.N. system is only as strong as America’s committed participation. It was only when the United States signaled in 2015 that it was prepared, along with China, to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that the way was opened to the extraordinary Paris Agreement, a deal to limit the growth of global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius, with each country determining its contribution and finding the finance for developing more carbon-efficient energy sources. If Trump pulls out of the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, it will fall.
    His disdain and insistence on bilateral deal-making similarly menaces the entire U.N. structure, from funding for the World Bank and the IMF to its capacity to act in the world’s hot spots. There is a global—and U.S.—interest in making this apparatus function. Without the United States, it will fragment. And the United States will find it far more difficult to deal with new menaces like ISIS if Trump tries to go it alone, or links up with dictators (such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin) who have a very different conception of national interest and global interest.
    The United States has stood at the apex of a treaty framework for global peace and a multilateral framework for the governance of global issues—even if they are tilted for U.S. benefit. However imperfectly, it has worked.
    IT IS THUS BEWILDERING that the president-elect labors under the illusion that the country is seen as weak, a victim that needs to thunder back and brutally assert its interests, as if they had been neglected. Strongmen like Putin with a vigorous portfolio of conservative views to which Trump is instinctively sympathetic—anti-Muslim, Russia first, anti–gay marriage—are not exemplars to be emulated, but dangers to an already fragile world order who need to be confronted and contained. There is not an array of one-sided deals to be done around the world in which the United States, newly unafraid to use its muscle under an America First president, can take all the prizes and leave nothing for its partners. This is the road to perdition, conflict, and economic stagnation.
    A core Trumpian proposition, that U.S. military supremacy is under threat, is sheer hokum. American military spending outstrips that of the rest of the world combined by a comfortable margin. Its capacity to project military power is the most awesome the globe has witnessed. Its battlefield mastery of information and communication technology is light-years ahead of any adversary. Everybody—from China’s President Xi Jinping to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un—knows that you don’t tweak this tiger’s tail: It can and will bite back very hard. The assassination of Osama bin Laden—a technological marvel, whatever its contestable legality—is remembered by everyone.
    This is a country that drives hard bargains, whether when selling its real estate to foreigners or when organizing trade deals. For example, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), proposed by President Barack Obama—dismissed by Trump as a weak patsy—is regarded in Europe as an appalling attempted one-way exercise of U.S. power. U.S. negotiators have succeeded in insisting that Europe lower its environmental regulations to U.S. standards in the name of “regulatory convergence” and that it open up parts of its public sector to de facto privatization by U.S. multinationals (with their interests promoted and protected by Europeans courts), in return for not very much—a slight lowering of U.S. tariffs. What does Trump think he can achieve instead? For Europe to drop all ambitions to protect its environment and to give the United States unqualified access to its public and health services?
    The America of the 1940s and 1950s has disappeared forever. Nothing is going to bring it back—not even trying to refashion the international trade system so that all plant closures are in any country but the United States and all the employment gains are at home.
    TRUMP PLAYS WITH FIRE. The same forces that brought him to power in the United States are at work elsewhere. All around the globe, there are political forces that put the visceral forces of identity politics first, that want to insist that in some form their culture, their race, their being-ness, their blood contract with generations past and future is under threat from the current global system. It could be Marine Le Pen in France, leader of the right-wing National Front and a genuine contender for the French presidency in 2017, thundering about the uniqueness of La France and the need to exit the EU, or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi insisting on the unique and sacred traditions of the Hindu. Everywhere, peoples and electorates that are suffering stagnating real incomes and growing inequality feel they are victims of how the world order is structured. They want leaders who put them first. When Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost the referendum on constitutional reform in early December, Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing Northern Leagues (who want Italy to leave the euro and even the EU), heaped praise on his three heroes—Putin, Trump, and Le Pen—who challenge the global political establishment’s attempts at multilateral cooperation.
    It is this same detestation of the liberal global system that has helped fuel Islamist terrorism. The culture and attitudes that have underpinned the global institutional framework, and its readiness to accept the asymmetry of the global bargain with the United States, are everywhere fraying. What the world needs desperately—and what Obama, under such heavy fire from the Republican right, provided—is for the United States not to attempt to play the same dark game. The anchor country has to anchor the system, and reform the system where reform is needed. Instead, the United States now threatens to destroy it.
    The open question is how much of Trump’s embrace of strongmen and his America-first, bomb-the-shit-out-of-troublesome-enemies approach will survive into office. In his 1987 book, he argues that the great deal-maker looks after the downside, and then uses all the leverage available to maximize the upside. The hope, perhaps wishful, is that when it comes to defense and security issues, Trump will be much more cautious than his campaign rhetoric suggests. The downsides are very obvious, as hard analysis by the U.S. defense and security establishment will make clear. What’s not clear is whether Trump will listen.
    Trump may talk about befriending Putin, but he won’t want to watch TV pictures of Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine’s Kiev or the Baltic republics. He may get the Europeans to harden their promises to increase their defense budgets, but if he were to go beyond that and undermine NATO by qualifying the U.S. commitment unless everyone pays up, the downside is just too great. Nor will he or Defense Secretary–designate James Mattis pull the plug on the successful offensive against ISIS in Iraq. Trump will only let the United States get sucked into the maelstrom of the Middle East if he is confident of success: Dealmakers avoid failures. Nonetheless, world history is replete with catastrophic miscalculations, and the risk is that colossal misjudgments will be made, in particular with China, even as the whole international order becomes disordered.
    MY READING IS THAT TRUMP will first be tempted by what seems to be the soft option of trade, where the downsides of unilateral action appear very limited and the upsides (if you are blind to risk) are apparently enormous. After all, this is what his “movement” wanted above anything else. No more plants moving abroad. No more closures because of cheap imports. No more sales of great companies to foreigners. No more stagnating blue-collar wages. No more illegal immigration. It may be that there are jobs and great prospects aplenty, driven by global trade, in the burgeoning tech and service sectors of big U.S. cities (which in any case vote Democrat), but those in his “movement” don’t care. They are hurting and nobody has taken decisive action to help them. Whatever else, Trump intends to change that. It is where his presidency can and will be decisively different.
    But the risks are immense and the ensuing rupture will be a paradigm shift. For 70 years, the open rules–based global trading system has been the quintessential expression of the international framework underwritten by the United States (and Great Britain). The two countries have spearheaded successive rounds of tariff cuts and multilateral trade deals and stood by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and its successor, the WTO. They have cut regional trade bargains, jointly promoted the European single market with the U.K. joining the EU and, above all, kept their markets open.
    Trade is not fashionable to defend on either the right or the left these days, but it has brought huge national and international benefits, including an avalanche of inward direct investment for both the United States and the U.K., powerful international financial and business-service sectors, rising global living standards, and the economic and democratic transformation of Asia. True, China and Germany have, with their well-developed export sectors, over decades taken advantage of the system to run structural trade surpluses and have refused to accept that they are imperiling the system. But solve that within the rules—it is no reason to blow the whole framework up.
    What is wrong with NAFTA, for example, is not the trade it promotes: It is that it has been unaccompanied by any policy to support U.S. wages, U.S. trade unions, or U.S. jobs. Policymakers at the state and federal levels have for too long not acted in any concerted way to spread the benefits of globalization.
    Decades of consistent manufacturing trade deficits have exacted a cruel toll, and it has been voters at the receiving end who swung the election for Trump, even though he lost the overall popular vote by two million against a blemished candidate. After all, it was Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, with their tiny 100,000-vote margin, that gave Trump the Electoral College votes for victory. He might be a billionaire, but he styles himself a “blue-collar billionaire.” Blue-collar (post-)industrial workers don’t benefit from free trade and immigration, as he has consistently said for 18 months, challenging the Republican mainstream, who remain free-traders. Now he intends to deliver. His flight to Indiana to stop Carrier from moving some 800 jobs to Mexico—for a cool $7 million—days before we learned that unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in ten years is a harbinger of the self-defeating priorities that lie ahead.
    Deporting undocumented immigrants and building the wall on the Mexican border—in effect an extension of what Obama was already doing—will be of symbolic importance. But it is destroying rather than refining the world’s trade arrangements, and thus violently disrupting the associated flows of goods and finance, where the impact could be the most destructive and far-reaching. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is already dead. Thirty-five percent tariffs are promised on Mexican imports, in violation of WTO rules. The remaining 20 trade agreements the United States has signed are to be reviewed or abrogated. Cumulatively, the impact will be devastating, killing multilateralism by exposing the already enfeebled WTO as helpless, inciting Chinese and Mexican trade retaliation, and destabilizing the entire global system of trade and finance.
    THE MOST PROFOUND RISK of economic warfare is with China. Beijing is to be named a currency violator within Trump’s first 100 days in office, allowing the unilateral imposition of across-the-board tariffs of up to 45 percent. In Trump’s eyes, China is a threatening behemoth that has grown into a threatening superpower by manipulating the system. It needs to be confronted to mend its ways, beginning with tariffs. The truth is much more complicated.
    The United States cannot wish China away, nor can it wish China to stay poor. It surely wants a collaborative rather than a competitive relationship, and it also wants to support China’s transition from a communist one-party state to a multi-party democracy that supports the rule of law at home and abroad. China, despite its phenomenal economic development, remains beset by contradictions. The ruling Communist Party is losing legitimacy. Corruption is rife. Although enormously ambitious, Chinese capitalism is hobbled by the intrusion of the party into every nook and cranny of Chinese life. The government, unable to raise taxes for fear of backlash, spends and becomes ever more indebted. Chinese debt-to-GDP ratios are similar to those in Britain and Japan before their financial systems collapsed: Chinese banks carry vast loan impairments that if ever accurately accounted would bankrupt them. The whole apparatus is set at best for a root and branch overhaul and at worst for an implosion.
    U.S. policy to date has been wise: patient containment, and not allowing China to win a propaganda war over soft power but instead waiting for weaknesses to manifest themselves. What the United States should not do is provide a cartoon enemy for the Chinese government, giving China an excuse for bellicose behavior in Asia, or, more subtly, allow China to define itself as one of the good guys in trade and climate change.
    Trump is walking straight into the trap. The TPP was only a limited counterweight to China’s trade leadership in the Pacific; now China has even freer rein. By threatening not to honor the United States’ signature to the Paris climate change accord, he allows China to position itself as the friend of the planet. By labeling China a currency manipulator and unilaterally raising tariffs, he damages U.S. users of Chinese products, undermines the legal framework for trade, and offers China the enemy it needs to unite behind.
    The policies also set in motion a dangerous dynamic. There is an element in the Chinese government that believes the country is encircled by U.S. military power. Suppose China invaded Taiwan, or demanded concessions that Taiwan could not make? Taiwan is in China’s sphere of influence, as Crimea was in Russia’s. How would Trump react? With a nuclear attack? A wise president would never get his country into such a situation. But Trump is anything but wise.
    The same dynamic operates in Europe. The U.S. interest is to keep the EU together and to support NATO. Being the inspiration for those ultra-right-wing nativist forces, growing in support across the continent, that want to break up the EU and befriend Putin is not wise politics. If the hegemonic power insists that it is not interested in multilateral governance but rather in a series of one-sided trade bargains, nationalist and populist movements in the EU—as around the rest of the globe—will take their cue from the United States. Germany still wants to rally behind an open EU, but France under a President François Fillon or a President Le Pen will want to play the same game as Trump. So will the countries in Eastern Europe. Putin’s Russia will exploit whatever openings are available to cement greater Russia. The EU’s disintegration, with incalculable consequences for the euro, global trade, and finance, is not impossible. It is truly bizarre that the big winner of Trump’s nationalist victory could be Putin.
    There was an emergent global society, albeit with its dark side of left-behind communities and bitter inequalities. Their grievances could and should have been addressed. Instead, Trump—if we are to believe what he says—is set to lead the world into trade war, stagnation, growing nationalism, an upending of 70 years of the trans-Atlantic alliance, and perhaps even military conflict. This is an election that could change the world.