Home / Politics / Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Moral failings, legal rumblings, and debating explosions

Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Moral failings, legal rumblings, and debating explosions


Moustafa Bayoumi is unimpressed by the actions of the US in Syria.

The bombing of Syrian government targets by the United States, Britain, and France is a disgraceful and ineffectual act masquerading as a noble gesture. Far from preventing a more vicious war, the bombing instead legitimizes the continuation of the conflict. In fact, what this barrage of weapons really reveals is how little interest the global powers have in ending Syria’s ghastly war.

America clearly loves the Syrian people. Where love means is unwilling to accept Syrian refugees into the country, and only willing to take no-risk actions that generate a profit for arms manufacturers.

Similar to the attacks on Syrian government targets that Donald Trump ordered just over a year ago, the airstrikes this time will not seriously damage Bashar al-Assad’s larger military capacity, nor are they intended to. Instead, we’re told that the western bombing campaign has specifically aimed munitions at locations where the storage and testing of chemical weapons occurs.

But wasn’t last year’s attack meant to put an end to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and aren’t these the weapons that he was supposed to have destroyed under international auspices in 2014? At this rate, should we expect that an aerial bombing mission to finally and completely destroy Assad’s chemical weapons will be launched every April?

Yes. Yes you can. Or more often, depending on the temperature of the current scandal.

Max Boot doesn’t think Trump has the spare neurons to pay attention to Syria.

It tells you something about the chaos engulfing the Trump administration that the U.S. airstrikes on Syria had to jostle for public attention with the voluminous news of the president’s scandals.

Friday began with President Trump labeling his former FBI director “an untruthful slime ball.” He was responding to James B. Comey’s new book, which calls Trump an “unethical” man “untethered to truth.” Such invective, both from and against a former FBI director, is unprecedented. But then it’s also groundbreaking for a former FBI director to say, as he did in an interview released Friday: “I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It’s possible, but I don’t know.”

At this point, I feel I should deliver a warning — Max Boot, and / or his ridiculous hat, has authored no less than three op-eds in the last nine hours. This has been your Boot warning.

It is hard to imagine how Trump can do his job — for example, approving military strikes on Syria — while drowning in this rising tide of scandal. There is an old tradition, more honored in theory than fact, that issues of national security are kept separate from domestic politics, but Trump is utterly incapable of making any such distinction. For him, everything is political — and all politics is personal.

It’s easy to imagine how Trump does his job — poorly, re-actively, and with total disregard to the consequences in lives or dollars. Just like every day.

Kathleen Parker can feel the wag, wag, wagging of the dog.

“I would love to be able to bring back our country into a great form of unity,” [Trump] said. “Without a major event where people pull together, that’s hard to do. But I would like to do it without that major event because usually that major event is not a good thing.”

So true, Mr. President, so true.

Trump doesn’t have to throw missiles at something to bring the nation together. He could resign. That would work much better, and create much more joy.

What could be more unifying than World War III? …

In 2013, Civilian Trump was apoplec­tically ALL-CAPS TWEETING his disapproval of Obama’s weakness in the same position he finds himself now. Later, Candidate Trump painted himself more as an isolationist than as a crusader ready to wage war to protect the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention outlawing the use of those types of weapons.

Every single account of Syria must include at least one (1) misstatement about what happened to Barack Obama when he attempted to come to the congress for authorization — an authorization that Republicans insisted he needed. And then nothing happened. Republicans simply refused to hold a vote on approval, leaving Obama hanging after the UK had already pulled out of a joint mission. And then everyone pretended that being the only person who took the Constitution seriously made Obama weak. They’re still at it.

Jonathan Freedland believes there’s a better way to actually help in Syria.

We are caught between a rock, in the form of the recklessness of Donald Trump, and a hard place, shaped by the cruelty of Bashar al-Assad. This is the choice that now confronts citizens and their representatives in Britain, France and the US. The reasons to resist signing up for any project led by Trump should be obvious, with the newly published testimony of James Comey, the FBI director he fired, providing a fresh reminder.

Trump is a congenital liar who is devoid of empathy, a narcissist with a nihilist’s view of the world. These are not mere character defects; they have a bearing on the decisions the de facto leader of any action in Syria would take. Among the reasons I opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq was my fundamental distrust of George W Bush and his circle, especially on the matter of motive. Trump, with his tweeted mood swings – first, vowing to withdraw from Syria altogether, then threatening an imminent missile bombardment, then signalling a delay – makes Bush look like a statesman.

Actually, vainglorious narcissist with a side order of sociopath sounds like way too many war leaders in world history. So long as the military continues to win — which is pretty easy when “win” in just defined as blowing things up on a semi-random basis — a solid contingent on the right will declare Trump a military genius. 

The notion of inaction, of standing by and watching as Assad kills and kills and kills, racking up a death toll in Syria of 500,000 and turning millions into refugees – that prospect too should sicken us. And yet that’s what we’ve done. For seven slow years, Assad has been allowed to play butcher, uninterrupted in his work as he cuts down the people of his own country, with barely a hand raised to stop him. …

Are there no good options then? I can’t see any. But perhaps the least bad comes from a voice we hear rarely, that of the democratic Syrian opposition and the groups which represent Syrian civil society, now scattered and in exile. The Syrian Negotiation Commission has called for action to deter Assad from killing civilians. What they envisage is that each time Assad launches a deadly attack on noncombatants, allied forces reply by taking out one of the strategic assets he uses to kill civilians.

What they’re talking about is not a chest-thumping exercise called up only when Trump needs to focus the camera away from scandals at home, but a regular, predictable, guaranteed action that would follow not only attacks with whatever chemical weapons are on the bad list this week, but conventional weapons as well. It’s hard to see how this could be implemented without imposing a complete no-fly zone, but … read the whole thing. Because anything that looks like an alternative to the current situation needs to be considered.

Trump—Russia investigation

Randall Eliason thinks that Mueller doesn’t need Trump to sit in his chair.

The reality is that prosecutors frequently don’t get to interview those who may end up as defendants. An interview is voluntary, and in most cases, defense attorneys will see little upside to having their client sit down for a chat with the prosecutors looking to indict. In rare cases, the client may be able to persuade prosecutors to reevaluate their position. But the more likely outcome is that the client ends up providing information that simply helps prosecutors build the case against him. And if the client lies during the interview, he opens himself to additional charges.

Note the nouns—defendant. Case. Charges. That’s exactly why Mueller isn’t issuing a subpoena for Trump to come before the Grand Jury. Most prosecutors simply do not do that with the person who they expect that jury to indict.

In a case such as this, with all of the evidence of potential obstruction that already exists, most criminal-defense lawyers would advise the client not to agree to an interview. That’s particularly true in the president’s case, given the likelihood that he might lie about something and put himself in even greater legal jeopardy. Indeed, his own lawyers have voiced their concerns that Trump might lie as a reason they were reluctant to have him talk to Mueller.

Considering that from the outset just letting Trump talk was seen as a “perjury trap,” the best thing that his attorneys can do is say no, and hope that Trump can go five minutes without ruining their plans.

Max Boot (again) on Comey and McCabe.

I can’t decide if Trump defenders are credulous or cynical. Do they honestly believe the official explanation for the firing of the FBI’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe, or are they only pretending to believe it because they feel compelled to defend el jefe no matter what?

Neither. They know Trump fired Comey and McCabe because they were threats. That’s what they like about Trump — the mob boss mentality. 

The Trumpistas claim to have been vindicated by Friday’s release of a scathing report on McCabe from the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz. The IG found that McCabe “lacked candor” — i.e., he lied, sometimes under oath — in denying to investigators that he had authorized a leak to the Wall Street Journal about an FBI investigation of the Clintons. The Journal had previously reported that McCabe’s wife, Jill, received $467,000 from a political committee linked to Gov. Terry McAuliffe in her campaign as a Democrat for the Virginia state Senate. This was deemed newsworthy because McAuliffe is a Clinton ally and Andrew McCabe oversaw the FBI’s Clinton email investigation — although not until after his wife lost the election.

McCabe was understandably eager to rebut accusations that he was showing political favoritism to the Clintons. So his aides revealed to the Journal that the FBI wanted to aggressively investigate corruption allegations involving the Clinton Foundation despite Justice Department skepticism.

That’s okay. Trump’s claimed reason for firing both men is that they were mean to Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t have to make sense.

Joe Scarborough and the tightening noose.

These are desperate times for the quislings of Trump. The cost of collaborating with President Trump in the continued debasement of American democracy is becoming far too high. Fifteen months into his presidency, Trump has seen a national security adviser, a former campaign chairman, a foreign policy adviser and another high-ranking campaign official face charges of serious crimes. This week, the president must have felt the walls closing in even more tightly around him when FBI agents searched the home, office and hotel room of his longtime personal lawyer, whom associates call Trump’s “fixer.”

But that was before boom booms made it all better.

DiGenova, Gingrich and Sean Hannity — beneficiary of the president’s Twitter news promo — seem all too comfortable attacking an American war hero who has spent his life honorably serving this country in times of war and peace. In fact, Mueller’s record has been so spotless that none other than Gingrich himself tweeted 11 months ago, “Robert Mueller is superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down.”

What Republicans themselves said in the past is now Fake History. We have always been at war with Robert Mueller.

Trump’s moral rot

Leonard Pitts and the immorality of the right.

“We kind of gave him — ‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.”

– Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, on the white evangelical response to Donald Trump’s alleged tryst with a porn star …

“Let’s not judge the president on what he says.”

– Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci, on reports that Trump called Haiti, El Salvador and Africa “shithole countries”

Assume that the lengthy list of statements in the middle of the list are just as egregious as these bookends.

Our topic for the day (as if you couldn’t tell): “Excuses for Donald Trump.”

Spoiler alert: There aren’t any. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped people from trying.

Indeed, 16 months into this crisis presidency, one of the most troubling things about it is not the revolving door White House, the indictments, the lies, the sex scandals, the racism, the decline in American prestige, nor the daily drumbeat of war, but rather, the refusal of his followers to hold the Dear Leader accountable for any of it.

That’s the way it is in cults of personality. Here. Have a visualization.


Taking that last little jog to the right won’t “put us in a constitutional crisis,” it will end one. 

Dana Milbank on the swipe-right administration.

Early in this second year of the Trump presidency, the administration bears an eerie resemblance to a matchmaking service. As the president cycles through advisers the way other people do contact lenses, the quality that draws him to hire is neither credentials nor competence nor even ideological compatibility but a Trumpian impulse that he has chemistry with the applicant. It’s less like OkCupid, on which people seek prospective partners, than Tinder, where people go for a hookup.

Signs of a Tinder presidency: Of the 23 officials who took the oath of office on Trump’s first weekday in office, 14 are now gone, the Post’s Philip Bump reported. That’s 61 percent. A quarter of Trump’s core Cabinet members have departed. This week alone, Trump’s homeland security adviser quit, as did the deputy national security adviser for strategy and the National Security Council spokesman. This came with the arrival of Trump’s third national security adviser in 15 months and his second national economic adviser.

And yet, the worst of the bunch — Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, Ryan ZInke — hang in there. Because … they’re the worst.

Paul Ryan

Max Boot (I know, I know) on the departing speaker.

For someone reputed to be a deep, long-range thinker, outgoing House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) showed a surprising lack of foresight in his handling of President Trump.

Imagine what will happen if special counsel Robert S. Mueller III concludes that Trump’s campaign knowingly colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election and that Trump obstructed justice in an attempt to bury the evidence. That outcome is by no means certain, but it is certainly possible — and, when it comes to a finding of obstruction, probable. How will a Democrat-controlled House react? Because that prospect, too, seems increasingly likely with every Republican retirement — including now Ryan’s own.

Ryan’s supposed brilliance and wonkishness wasn’t a match for 1) The Freedom caucus, or 2) Devin Nunes, or 3) Donald Trump. In fact, the search for either Ryan’s intelligence or his spine will require a new instrument — the one that came up with the Higgs-Boson is simply not powerful enough.

If Mueller delivers the goods (and maybe even if he doesn’t), a Democrat-dominated House would likely begin impeachment proceedings on, oh say, Jan. 21, 2019 — and it wouldn’t take long to pass the articles of impeachment because in the House the minority can’t block action. The Senate, in all probability, will still lack the 67 votes to remove Trump from office. If the Mueller findings are damning enough, however, at least a few of the more moderate GOP senators will abandon him — as will some percentage of Trump-friendly but not Trump-fanatical voters. Trump might well decide that, rather than prolong the agony, he will call it quits after one term and return to his “truly classy” lair at Trump Tower — so much nicer than the “stupid” White House.

What does it say when Max Boot is laying out my dreams? It can’t be good.

Election 2020

Ian Haney López , Anat Shenker-Osorio and Tamara Draut have a strategy for Democratic victory.

We’ve heard this line over and over again: Democrats need to woo the white working class. Of course, Democrats should endeavor to reach these voters – just as a basketball team that wants to win should score every possible basket. But the people arguing this position aren’t merely mouthing a truism about elections. They’re staking a position in an increasingly contentious debate.

Arguments for courting white working-class voters are bound up with a corollary, often unspoken, claim: Democrats must choose between non-college white voters and voters of color. Baked into this is the conviction that appealing to one group necessarily imperils Democratic chances with the other.

Consider this your “read the whole thing” assignment for the morning.

We have important new evidence that we discuss below that shows this is wrong.

We believe there’s a way to talk about racism that garners support from both people of color and white people. We are leading a large-scale research project to develop and test an integrated narrative that can bridge the divide between those who would focus on race and those who would focus on class, to create a multiracial progressive coalition for economic and racial justice.

That’s a big deal. Read it. Learn it.

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