‘Rational Republicans”

Heather Cox Richardson Oct 12


Both the New York Times and the Washington Post today ran op-eds from Republicans or former Republicans urging members of their party who still value democracy to vote Democratic until the authoritarian faction that has taken over their party is bled out of it.In the New York Times, Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman wrote, “We are Republicans. There’s only one way to save our party from pro-Trump extremists.”

Taylor served in the Department of Homeland Security and was the author of the 2018 New York Times piece by “Anonymous” criticizing former president Trump. Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, after which she headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.

 Taylor and Whitman note that “rational Republicans” had hoped after Trump’s defeat that they might take back the party, but it is clear now, they write, that they are losing the party’s “civil war.” But while they originally hoped to form a new party, they now agree that the only way to stop Trumpism “is for us to form an alliance with Democrats to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year—including a strong contingent of moderate Democrats.”

To defend democracy, they write, “concerned conservatives must join forces with Democrats on the most essential near-term imperative: blocking Republican leaders from regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives” and the Senate.They call for Republicans to put country over party and back moderate Democrats, while also asking Democrats to concede that “there are certain races where progressives simply cannot win and acknowledg[e] that it makes more sense to throw their lot in with a center-right candidate who can take out a more radical conservative.”At the Washington Post, Max Boot takes an even stronger stand: “I’m no Democrat—but I’m voting exclusively for Democrats to save our democracy.”

Boot is a Russian-American specialist in foreign affairs who identifies as a conservative but no longer supports the Republican Party. He writes: “I’m a single-issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. Simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans win power. Thus, although I’m not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats—as I have done in every election since 2016—until the GOP ceases to pose an existential threat to our freedom.”

Boot singles out the dueling reports from the Senate Judiciary Committee about the nine ways in which Trump tried to pressure then–acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to back his claims of election fraud. The Democrats on the committee established these efforts with an evidence-based report, only to have the Republicans on the committee, led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), respond that the president was simply trying to promote confidence in the election results and that since he did not ultimately replace Rosen with another lawyer who promised to use the Justice Department to challenge the election—after the other leaders of the Justice Department threatened to resign in a mass protest—he did not actually abuse his office. 

Boot writes, “It is mind-boggling that a defeated president won’t accept the election outcome…. What is even more alarming is that more than 60 percent of Republicans agree with his preposterous assertion that the election was stolen and want him to remain as the party’s leader.” Taylor, Whitman, and Boot are hardly the first to be calling out the anti-democratic consolidation of the Republican Party.

Yesterday, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, managed Trump’s first impeachment trial, and sits on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, gave an interview to CBS’s Face the Nation in which he called the Republican Party “an autocratic cult around Donald Trump” that is “not interested in governing” or “maintaining the solvency of the country.” 

But what makes today’s op-eds stand out is that they are from former Republicans, that they are calling not for a separate party but for Republicans to shift their votes to the Democrats, and that their identification of the Republicans as an existential threat to our democracy is being published in major newspapers.  Mainstream television and newspapers have been slow to identify the radicalization of the Republican Party as a threat to democracy.

The Eastman memo, uncovered by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa at the end of September in their new book Peril, flew largely under the radar screen, explained away as more of Trump being Trump even as it laid out, in writing, the steps to overturn the 2020 election and even as we knew that the former president tried to put that plan into place. A study by Media Matters showed that ABC, NBC, and CBS all chose not even to mention the memo; they reach more than 20 million Americans. 

On Saturday, a monologue by comedian Bill Maher about the Eastman memo titled “Slow Moving Coup” laid out in 8 minutes how Trump tried to steal the 2020 election and how, when officials resisted him, he set out to solidify his power for 2024. Maher woke people up to the ongoing crisis in our democracy. Maher’s monologue, along with the draft Senate Judiciary Committee report, which sets out in detail the efforts the former president made to bend the Department of Justice to his will, seems to have driven home to members of the press the fact that they cannot present today’s news as business as usual, especially after their presentation of the debt ceiling crisis as a political horse race when one side was trying to save the country and the other to destroy it. In the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, journalist Will Bunch wrote: “The future of American democracy depends, frankly, on whether journalists stop burying their head in ‘the work’ of balanced-but-misleading reporting and admit that, yes, actually, we are at war.” 

 Bunch pointed out that on Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize went to two journalists, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia. Both have braved political persecution and threats to hold the autocratic leaders of their countries—Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin—to account, battling against the online disinformation and attacks on the press that shore up their support.”In a battle for facts, in a battle for truth, journalism is activism,” Ressa said in 2020. Disinformation, she said, “is how you transform a democracy.

This is death by a thousand cuts. The same thing is happening in the United States. I think the goal of influence operations or information operations is to seed it, repeat it, incite hate and…change the way real people think, and that impacts the real world. This is happening all around the world. That’s what the research has shown us, that’s what the data shows us.”In 1854, the elite slaveholders who controlled the Democratic Party at the time pressured Congress to bow to their will and overturn the Missouri Compromise that had kept enslavement out of the western territories. Northern men, who disagreed among themselves on party allegiance, and immigration, and economic policies, and women’s rights, and Black rights, recognized that the acquisition of new western slave states would mean it was only a question of time until the enslavers took over the federal government and made their oligarchical system national. 

Northern men recognized they must put their political differences aside until they saved democracy. Abraham Lincoln later remembered that men were “thunderstruck and stunned” by the passage of the law that overturned the Missouri Compromise, “and we reeled and fell in utter confusion. But we rose each fighting, grasping whatever he could first reach—a scythe—a pitchfork—a chopping axe, or a butcher’s cleaver…. “‘[O]ur drill, our dress, and our weapons, are not entirely perfect and uniform,” Lincoln said, but “[w]hen the storm shall be past, [men] shall find us still Americans; no less devoted to the continued Union and prosperity of the country than heretofore.”—

HEATHER RICHARDSON

Christine Todd Whitman

Why isn’t Trump in jail? Former George W. Bush lawyer says Biden’s DOJ is protecting him

If this report is true, it is appalling (Blogger’s Note)I

Onetime White House lawyer Richard Painter: Federal prosecutors love presidential power more than actual justice

By CHAUNCEY DEVEGA
PUBLISHED JUNE 25, 2021 5:40AM (EDT)

Donald Trump, Merrick Garland and Joe Biden  (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)Donald Trump, Merrick Garland and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)Facebook3.6KTwitterReddit111Email7save

Donald Trump’s regime turned the United States government, and in some sense the entire country, into a crime scene. Given that, why isn’t Trump in jail? Why are the collaborators and co-conspirators in his multitude of apparent crimes not in jail with him?

These are questions I have asked myself many times during the Age of Trump and these months after his coup attempt and the Capitol attack, especially as more “revelations” have emerged about the vast scale of Trump’s crimes against democracy, the rule of law and the American people.

Many other Americans have the same questions about justice and consequences for Donald Trump and members of his regime, which at this point includes nearly the entire Republican Party.

There are various plausible answers to these questions. Of course there are actions that may be immoral, wrong or evil but not technically illegal. Perfidy, lies, cruelty and bigotry are in most cases not offenses that can successfully be prosecuted in court.  Advertisement:

Joe Biden’s administration and the senior leadership of the Democratic Party appear to feel that a proper investigation into the Trump regime, for example through convening a truth commission or some similar independent body, would be a “distraction” from their policy agenda.

Perhaps Biden and other Democratic leaders feel that the scale of the Trump regime’s obvious criminality is so great that to reveal the truth in full would cause an even greater crisis of legitimacy in the country’s governing institutions. In essence, the Democrats may be trying to “protect” the American people from the truth.

There is also the raw and ugly fact that rich white men in America are rarely held accountable for their actions, and that goes double for Republicans and conservatives. If Trump were black or brown or a Democrat, he and his cabal would in all likelihood have been convicted and sent to prison months or years ago.

In an effort to understand why Trump and his regime are not being prosecuted for their many apparent crimes — and may never be — I recently spoke with Richard Painter. He was White House chief ethics counsel under President George W. Bush and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN and other news networks. His most recent book, co-authored with Peter Golenbock, is “American Nero: The History of the Destruction of the Rule of Law, and Why Trump is the Worst Offender.”Advertisement:

“The Fixers” author: Trump built an “abusive relationship” with Cohen00:07 / 01:39

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In this conversation, Painter explains why there appears to be little if any interest from the Department of Justice in prosecuting Donald Trump. This is partly because its leadership under Attorney General Merrick Garland is afraid of setting such a precedent, but more importantly, the DOJ is now institutionally committed to the idea that there are few limits on presidential power.

Painter also discusses the absurdity of the Department of Justice under Biden choosing to defend Donald Trump in court against the many lawsuits that are being brought against him, including those concerning his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and larger coup attempt. 

Painter also warns that this refusal to investigate and prosecute the Trump regime, which will only empower future presidents to commit crimes without consequence, could lead to the collapse of American democracy and its descent into authoritarian rule — not altogether different from the fate of Ancient Rome.

This conversation has been edited, as usual, for clarity and length.Advertisement:

Given all their public crimes and other misdeeds, more of which are emerging every day, why are Donald Trump and his inner circle not in jail?

I am not sure that prosecutors want to go after Donald Trump and his cohorts. We will have to see what happens in New York. But at this point in time, it has been pretty obvious that the U.S. Department of Justice, if anything, is going to be defending Trump in a number of civil lawsuits. These include the Lafayette Park case, and the Freedom of Information Act requests from CREW [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington] over the DOJ memo about whether they could indict Donald Trump back in 2019 [at the time of the Mueller report].

The DOJ will not disclose that memo. CREW has sued, and guess what? The Biden Department of Justice is defending the executive privilege of the Trump administration with respect to that memo. They do not want to release it. Biden’s Department of Justice also restrained former White House counsel Don McGahn about what he could say when testifying before Congress, even though he had been subpoenaed by the House of Representatives.Advertisement:

The Department of Justice once again is asserting attorney-client privilege and executive privilege over some of the communications between Trump and McGahn. There is now a rumor that the Department of Justice might actually defend Donald Trump with respect to his conduct on Jan. 6 and during the insurrection, in the private litigation against him.

I believe that the Department of Justice should indict former President Trump for obstruction of justice, as laid out in the second part of the Mueller report. He should also perhaps be indicted for inciting the insurrection and riot on Jan. 6, among other criminal offenses. But the Department of Justice is going in the opposite direction. Biden’s DOJ wants to defend Donald Trump and the idea of presidential power and presidential prerogatives. I think that’s most unfortunate. There is a great deal of timidity and apprehension about going after a former president.

How do DOJ lawyers and other legal professionals and scholars reconcile protecting Donald Trump when he was and is a dire threat to the country’s democratic institutions? There is this obsession with “institutions,” but those institutions will be further imperiled if Trump and members of his cabal are not held responsible for their obvious crimes. In essence, not to punish them is to encourage another coup.Advertisement:

That is the danger. I believe that the lawyers and legal scholars can be separated into two distinct groups. There are those who are worried about too much presidential power. I am among that group. I believe that a sitting president should be indicted for any crimes he commits in office. A former president should certainly be indicted if he committed crimes while in office. The notion of executive privilege — keeping communications confidential from Congress and from prosecutors — is way overblown. And the idea that the president could somehow fire the FBI director, or threaten to fire Bob Mueller, is clearly obstruction of justice. The president of the United States is not above the law.

There is another view of these questions. Sometimes the phrase “unitary executive theory” has been used to describe this belief in heightened presidential power. There are both liberals and conservatives in that camp.

There are people who believe, as [former] Attorney General Barr does, that a president can fire anybody at will, because he is in charge of the executive branch. For example, the president can just fire the FBI director in the middle of an investigation if he wants to — that’s what Barr has said.Advertisement:

There are supposed liberals who believe pretty much the same thing. Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School is among that group. He has also said that you cannot indict a sitting president for a criminal offense he commits while in office. Sunstein is working for Joe Biden right now.

Many people in the Justice Department — and who filter in and out of the Justice Department in different administrations — are committed to this latter view of presidential power. As such, the unitary executive theory tends to be the predominant view in the Department of Justice. I think it’s wrongheaded. It’s not consistent with the United States Constitution to have that much power and privilege, in essence legal immunity, in the hands of the president.

How would they respond to the basic observation that the president of the United States is not a king or an emperor? Their commitment to the unitary executive theory basically means, in practice, that a president, especially a Republican president, can overthrow the government if they do not like the result of an election.Advertisement:

That is where we could end up as a country, where the president can do anything he wants while in office. If the president cannot be indicted and has broad power to hire and fire anybody he wants without criminal accountability, and he can use the military for whatever he wants, then he will commit crimes and use his official powers to stay in office. That is a pattern in countries that become dictatorships. It happened with the Roman Empire almost exactly that same way, with power being concentrated in the hands of a single individual.

What if Biden had exercised bold leadership by immediately signaling to the Department of Justice that they should aggressively pursue Donald Trump, his inner circle and others who have committed crimes?  

If I were Joe Biden, I would not have done that. Instead, I would have said, “We’re going to bring in an independent counsel who will make this decision. It’s not a political decision.” If Donald Trump committed crimes, he should be prosecuted. That should not be a political decision. I do not believe that Joe Biden or any appointee of Joe Biden should be making that decision.Advertisement:

Again, if someone commits a crime they should be prosecuted. They should go to jail if they committed a felony. The second part of the Mueller report shows that there was obstruction of justice by Trump and his inner circle. Part two of the Mueller report is an outline of an indictment. But the Department of Justice does not want to do it.

If Donald Trump committed crimes, he should be indicted. It is pretty clear to me that is in fact the case.

What are these “institutionalists” afraid of when it comes to prosecuting Trump, his coup plotters and other members of his regime?

Part of it is that the DOJ’s lawyers have been defending presidential prerogative, presidential privilege, and the like across many administrations. They have been doing this in both Democratic and Republican administrations. These people are political appointees of the president, which explains the ideology at work. These political appointees may have different views on political issues and different political affiliations. But many people in the DOJ have a view that they are there to protect presidential privilege and power and immunity. It is very bad for our democracy. We are not getting the pushback from Congress that we need right now. It is a very frustrating situation.Advertisement:

Why didn’t more people in the federal government who were a witness to these crimes, and Trump’s assaults on democracy more generally, stand up and speak out? We needed many more whistleblowers and other patriots.

The real problem is the people in Congress who supported Donald Trump and the extremists and the conspiracy theorists. It is very hard to root out the people who are from congressional districts that are extremely conservative and consistently vote Republican.

I hope the Republican Party will clean out the worst people, like Marjorie Taylor Greene and others who spread conspiracy theories. I do not know if it’s going to happen, but we need to hold the Republican Party accountable. I was a Republican for 30 years. They still have some good people. But it’s very, very hard now, because Republicans either endorse Trumpism or they are scared and therefore won’t speak up against it. We need some courage in this country, and we are not getting it right now.

What were your thoughts as you watched those events on Jan. 6? How do you assess the investigation so far?Advertisement:

A bunch of Trump followers invaded the Capitol. Those people were being held to account, such as the Proud Boys. But at this point, the only people being indicted are the people who were actually there. I have not seen a lot of activity going to the next level and finding out who the political operatives were, whether from the Trump campaign or other people behind the scenes, who were orchestrating the events of Jan. 6.

This was a conspiracy. It’s pretty obvious that people were planning some of this in advance. Donald Trump inspired them to go down there to the Capitol and do what they did. Trump did not say, “Go kill a police officer,” but it was pretty clear he was instigating a riot, an insurrection, with the false rumors about election fraud and the rest of it. I want to see investigation from the DOJ go to the next step. But thus far, we are not seeing that.

Do you think a signal was sent by the Biden administration to not prosecute the ringleaders for reasons of “stability” and protecting the “institutions”?Advertisement:

There are a number of signals at play here. Primarily that “we’re going to look forward.” The Obama-Biden team sent that message with respect to the torture lawyers in the Department of Justice.

And guess what? They just came back in the Trump years, pushing for more executive power. This is not a good situation. We need to have a clear message that people who violate the law, when they hold positions of public trust, are going to be prosecuted and the lawyers involved will be disbarred.

What happens next if such presidential power is not curtailed?

If the Democrats want to put a stop to it, they need to rein in executive power and make it clear that even with a Democrat in the White House, we’re not going to put up with it. We’re not going to defend presidential privilege and confidential communications of criminal conduct. We’re not going to do that. We do not need to have an all-powerful president to live in a democracy. Congress passes the laws, the president signs the laws. But we don’t need to have a president who can do anything he wants, whether he’s a Democrat or a Republican. That needs to be the overriding principle here.Advertisement:

If the Department of Justice actually ends up defending Trump against civil and other charges for his role in the coup and the Capitol attack, what does that do to the DOJ’s credibility? What message does it send to the public about the presidency?

It creates the impression that presidents are just interested in power. And that means that the concept of presidential power and presidential prerogative and privilege is what really matters to the Department of Justice. By implication, it means that is what’s important to Joe Biden. That he’s willing to defend everything Donald Trump did so that he in turn can do what he wants. That’s the impression it’s going to give. Now, I do not see Joe Biden abusing his power. But there is no reason for the DOJ to defend Donald Trump.

What advice would you give Joe Biden about Trump’s crimes and this torrent of new information about his extreme wrongdoing while in office?

I’d say, Mr. President, you need to have the attorney general appoint an independent prosecutor. Or maybe it’s going to take two or three independent prosecutors because of the amount of criminality here. Have those independent prosecutors make the decision about whether Donald Trump ought to be indicted or not. I’d say, second, the Justice Department should stop defending Donald Trump in any and all civil litigation, or defending his presidential privilege. His communications with his White House counsel should be revealed to the United States Congress. CREW should get a copy of that memo the DOJ wrote in 2019 about whether Donald Trump could be indicted. There needs to be complete transparency, no more secrets. That’s the bottom line.

CHAUNCEY DEVEGA

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.MORE FROM CHAUNCEY DEVEGA • FOLLOW CHAUNCEYDEVEGA • LIKE CHAUNCEY DEVEGA

OPINION

Brianna Keilar Thoroughly Dismantles Nikki Haley’s Erratic Opinions on American Racism and Donald Trump

By Colby Hall Oct 6th, 2021, 7:30

Nikki you are one of the better of a bad batch of Republicans. But you keep trying to have your cake and eat it too.~ FLS BLOGGER

Nikki Haley is not just the former Governor of South Carolina; she also more recently served as ambassador to the U.N. under former President Donald Trump. Tuesday night, she spoke at the Reagan Library and gave a speech that many saw as her first step back into the political spotlight, perhaps with ambitions of running for President in 2024 in mind.

But Brianna Keilar isn’t buying what she’s selling. Or at least, she clarified that many of the positions laid out in Haley’s speech were inconsistent with what she said in the past. Yes, Keilar dismantled Haley’s political rhetoric thoroughly and dispassionately and even brought receipts to her viewers.

“A large portion of our people are plagued by self-doubt or even by hatred of America. It’s a pandemic much more damaging than any virus,” Haley said at the Reagan Library, a clip of which played on New Day. Keilar noted how “the former ambassador to the U.N. is not letting more than 700,000 covid deaths and counting get in the way of minimizing a pandemic politicized by the administration she served, as she suggests liberals hate America, and the country doesn’t have a racism program, as she recounted growing up in the South.”

Haley grew up in rural South Carolina as a member of a Sikh family, and it’s fair to say that her positions on racism that she experienced and then ostensibly has later ignored have been inconsistent. This was on full view as Keilar introduced a clip of Haley insisting that America is not racist, but then followed with earlier clips in which Haley described her youth, and her run for Governor, that any reasonable person would see as, you know, racist.

But the coup de grace was Keilar’s noting how Haley came out strong against Trump shortly after the Capitol attack on January 6th, saying that she and other Republicans were at fault for following him down an unjust and dangerous path. Later Haley tried to visit Mar-a-Lago and “kiss the ring” of Donald Trump, said Keilar, but was denied.

“She may be right that history will judge Donald Trump harshly,” Keilar concluded, “but Nikki Haley will not because she’s too busy trying to ride his coattails.”

Watch above via CNN.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Africa Is Changing—and U.S. Strategy Is Not Keeping Up

Washington Needs to Rethink Its Approach to the Continent

By Jon Temin

October 8, 2021

Construction in Kigali, Rwanda, August 2003Sven Torfinn/ Panos Pictures / Redux

It is amazing how little we know about goings on in Africa, especially in the United States. There is far more coverage of masking disputes on US airplanes than there is about this continent of over 1 billion people. The British do a much better job on this (BBC).

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Africa has never been a top priority for the United States. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all launched impactful initiatives there—helping advance trade, health, and energy, among other things—but their administrations devoted only limited, episodic attention to the continent. President Donald Trump gave it even less thought: he was the first U.S. president since Ronald Reagan not to travel to Africa, and his Africa policy, to the extent it could be discerned, focused on the narrow goals of competing with China, reducing the U.S. military footprint, and expanding private-sector engagement.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been similarly slow out of the blocks on Africa. Aside from its focused diplomatic response to the horrific civil war in Ethiopia and a few hints about other areas of emphasis, such as trade and investment, Biden has not articulated a strategy for the continent. Yet powerful demographic, economic, and political changes are sweeping across Africa, expanding the opportunities for positive U.S. engagement there and underscoring the need to elevate Africa on the list of U.S. foreign policy priorities.

In the coming months, the Biden administration should set out a bold strategy that reframes American thinking about Africa from a focus on the sub-Saharan region to a wider look at the continent as a whole and from an overemphasis on U.S.-Chinese competition to a broader engagement with Africans themselves. Doing so will require lengthening the time frame for U.S. objectives, especially those concerning democracy and human rights, and focusing more on bolstering institutions than on preserving relationships with individual African leaders. 

AFRICAN CENTURY

In a speech on the eve of the new millennium, former South African President Thabo Mbeki called this the “African century”—and for good reason. Between 2020 and 2050, Africa’s population is expected to roughly double, growing far faster than the population of any other region. Nigeria alone is expected to exceed 400 million people by 2050, overtaking the United States as the third most populous country. Africa’s population is also overwhelmingly young compared with other regions, meaning that it will have a substantial workforce well into the future. The COVID-19 pandemic has dampened short-term economic growth, but the long-term outlook is strong: population growth—especially in cities, where most innovation happens—combined with the continent’s enormous capacity for creativity and innovation translates into tremendous economic potential. Furthermore, Africa’s 54 countries can form a powerful political block on the global stage and are showing an increasing ability to act in unison—through the newly formed African Continental Free Trade Area, for instance. If African countries, especially the most influential ones, can find a truly united voice, they will be a political force.

Demographic, economic, and political trends all make Africa increasingly important to the United States.

These demographic, economic, and political trends all make Africa increasingly important to the United States. In addition to powering growth and innovation, the continent can be an engine of democratic expansion—including in unexpected places, such as Sudan and Zambia—that can advance U.S. and global efforts to reverse democratic backsliding. Prominent African countries also are potential allies with the United States on many of the most pressing global issues, such as climate change.

At the same time, however, security concerns are growing in the Sahel and in eastern and southern Africa along the Indian Ocean: by some estimates close to 70 percent of the UN Security Council’s agenda is devoted to peace and security in Africa. China, Russia, Turkey, and Middle Eastern countries are expanding their spheres of influence on the continent, often strengthening authoritarian governments and factions that are hostile to American interests.

AFRICA REFRAMED

Moving Africa up the list of priorities on the U.S. foreign policy agenda will require rethinking how the continent is framed—both geographically and geopolitically. Most of the U.S. government draws an imaginary bureaucratic line between sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, with the latter being treated as part of the broader Middle East. But this delineation is increasingly illogical. People, goods, and arms all flow freely across the Sahara desert, and the power vacuum in Libya has contributed to instability in Sahelian countries such as Chad, Mali, and Niger. The African continent, in other words, is a single interconnected entity.

The African Union, in which North African countries wield substantial influence, makes no distinction between North Africa and the rest of the continent. North African countries could make greater economic and diplomatic contributions across the continent if they turned more attention south—a shift that the United States should encourage. To its credit, U.S. Africa Command has already done away with this anachronistic division, but the rest of the U.S. government should do the same. Treating the continent as a whole will help officials respond to challenges, such as migration and terrorism, that cross the Sahel and the Sahara—an unstable region poised to grow substantially in population and geopolitical importance in the coming decades—unencumbered by bureaucratic seams. Doing so would also drive more attention to a continent that borders the Mediterranean and Europe, helping secure more resources for understaffed teams focused on Africa within the U.S. government.

The United States should abandon the narrative that it is battling China for primacy in Africa.

Washington should also reframe its geopolitical understanding of Africa, especially its understanding of how many African countries relate to the Gulf states across the Red Sea. Over the past decade, political and economic ties between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East have greatly expanded. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have increased much-needed investment in the region as well as in the Sahel, but rivalries among those countries have been exported to the Horn, especially to Somalia, further destabilizing already fractured political systems. The trajectories of Ethiopia and Sudan—arguably the two highest priorities in Africa for Biden so far—have been strongly influenced by Middle Eastern interests. Many Sudanese fear that their revolution, which overthrew the dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019, could be hijacked by outside forces opposed to a democratic Sudan. Biden was right to create the new position of U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa and to fill it with the seasoned diplomat Jeffrey Feltman. The Biden administration should reinforce that move by enhancing collaboration across bureaucratic departments and agencies in order to elevate both shores of the Red Sea to core national security priorities. 

Finally, the United States should abandon the narrative that it is battling China for primacy in Africa. To be sure, there is an element of strategic competition animating both countries’ activities there, and Chinese actions clearly bolster authoritarian regimes. But framing U.S. Africa policy this way, as the Trump administration did, treats the continent’s more than 1.3 billion people as bystanders to a larger geopolitical collision in which they have little stake. It also ignores the fact that China engages in Africa in ways that the United States does not, offering loans and other forms of support that are not matched by others. The terms of those deals may be stacked against the recipients—although there is debate on this point—but in many instances the United States simply does not offer an alternative, making its criticism of Chinese behavior ring hollow. The United States needs to demonstrate to Africans that it cares about them because of their inherent value and potential, not because of their role in great-power competition. That will mean abandoning tired talking points and offering competitive alternatives to Chinese economic support.

VALUES IN FOREIGN POLICY

On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to put values at the center of U.S. foreign policy. To remain true to that commitment in Africa, his administration will have to do more than reframe its understanding of the continent; it will have to elongate its policy timetable and focus more on strengthening institutions than on maintaining relationships with individual leaders. Advancing values such as democracy and respect for human rights is a long-term endeavor. Too often, however, these objectives have taken a back seat to short-term interests, especially those tied to security. When the leaders of Guinea, Ivory Coast, the Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda all manipulated term limits in recent years to extend their rule, for instance, the U.S. response was muted. Washington issued some carefully crafted statements, and U.S. diplomats surely conveyed their feelings behind closed doors, but none of these leaders faced any meaningful consequences for evading their term limits. Opinion surveys show that Africans overwhelmingly support two-term limits for their leaders. Yet U.S. policymakers weren’t willing to risk a short-term disruption in U.S. relations with these leaders (and the supposed stability they guarantee) to defend the integrity of African democratic institutions.

Survey data also shows that a majority of Africans share many of the values that the Biden administration seeks to emphasize, such as support for democracy, free and fair elections, freedom of association, and freedom of expression. In many cases, it is their leaders who don’t believe in these values. Too often, the United States has sided with the authoritarians because of short-term uncertainty about who will succeed them, fear of chaotic transitions, or the desire to preserve security partnerships. Such was the case when Mahamat Déby, the son of Chad’s longtime strongman Idriss Déby, seized power upon his father’s death earlier this year contrary to the succession plan laid out in the country’s constitution. The United States chose not to call this what it was—a coup—presumably in order to preserve its long-standing counterterrorism partnership with Chad. 

But the longer unpopular leaders (or their offspring) remain in office, the more chaotic the eventual transitions are likely to be. (After evading term limits in 2020, for instance, Guinea’s President Alpha Condé was overthrown in a coup earlier this year.) The Biden administration should therefore pursue a multiyear strategy for the continent that is grounded in the values that Americans and Africans share and have the patience to see that strategy through. That will mean resisting the temptation to let short-term interests drive adherence to the status quo when it is clearly inconsistent with African popular sentiment, keeping in mind that a commitment to democratic principles sets the United States apart from countries such as China and Russia in the eyes of many Africans.

Advancing values such as democracy and respect for human rights is a long-term endeavor.

The United States must also elevate institutions over individuals. Washington has learned hard lessons by doing the opposite. For instance, when South Sudan gained independence in 2011, U.S. policymakers wrongly believed that their long-standing relationships with the country’s most influential politicians would enable them to persuade those politicians to compromise and lead the country toward stability and democracy. But at every turn, South Sudan’s leaders put their own self-interest ahead of the nation’s, defying American appeals.

U.S. officials made the same mistake in Ethiopia, embracing Ahmed Abiy when he became prime minister in 2018 without asking many questions. To be sure, Abiy made a number of early moves that were genuinely encouraging and suggested that Ethiopia was making a turn toward respect for human rights. But the United States—along with many other countries, the Nobel Committee, and some commentators (including this author)—were too quick to elevate Abiy and portray him as a new type of leader. (The United States made the same mistake with his predecessor Meles Zenawi.) Far from leading Ethiopia toward a democratic future, Abiy has fanned the flames of ethnic hatred and led the country into a horrific civil war.

The safer and better bet is on the institutions that check executive overreach, uphold the rule of law, and expose kleptocracy—the courts; legislatures; the media; and commissions that focus on elections, combating corruption, and defending human rights. Many South Africans credit the courts and the media—along with civil society organizations—with helping the country survive the disastrous presidency of Jacob Zuma. Since Zuma’s departure from office in 2018, South African authorities have continued to investigate his administration’s corrupt activities, leading to the former president’s recent imprisonment for defying the courts—a remarkable example of accountability. In Kenya and Malawi, the courts have made bold decisions to invalidate flawed elections, angering sitting presidents. Substantial U.S. aid already goes to supporting these types of institutions, but U.S. policy and diplomacy needs to keep up. Senior officials should invest as much in relationships with these institutions as they do in relationships with heads of state. They should also defend these institutions when they come under attack, including by imposing sanctions. Biden’s upcoming Summit for Democracy should emphasize—and include representatives from—these kinds of pivotal democratic institutions.

AFRICAN VOICES, GLOBAL DEBATES

In August, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland traveled to South Africa to co-chair the Working Group on African and Global Issues, which seeks to elevate South African engagement on pressing global debates. Initiatives such as this one should be expanded. Conversations about the forces shaping the world—from climate change to technology to migration—are dominated by developed nations, but the impact of these forces is universal.

The United States should push for more African leadership in the global institutions where these issues are debated—and then genuinely listen to what Africans have to say. This is not a matter of the United States and other powerful countries being magnanimous: it serves their interests to have African countries that are directly affected by climate change take part in the push for solutions, including by putting pressure on major polluters, just as it serves their interests to include African countries in discussions about the factors that drive migration, such as the lack of economic opportunity. 

In the case of climate change, Africa bears the least responsibility of any region but could end up paying the highest price: extreme heat and variable rainfall already threaten human survival in the Sahel, and rising sea levels will soon put whole cities at risk. Each of Africa’s 54 heads of state is a potential voice in the climate debate, as are the continent’s dynamic civil society organizations, which are too often ignored.

Reforming the UN Security Council to give Africa a more prominent role would be a good first step. It is difficult to imagine the Security Council being more dysfunctional than it already is; reform could offer the jolt that is sorely needed while also addressing an important African demand. The G-20, which currently has just one African member (South Africa), should also consider adding Nigeria, which has become an economic force. And in ad hoc gatherings such as Biden’s Summit for Democracy, Africa’s democratic leaders (and not only heads of state) should be featured prominently. The Biden administration should push for these changes proactively, acknowledging that reform of long-standing institutions is overdue. Doing so would go a long way toward demonstrating to Africans that the United States sees their continent’s potential and is invested in their future.

The key question Joe Biden must answer in his debut UN General Assembly speech

Can’t wait to see what happens here. fls

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

Updated 5:23 AM ET, Tue September 21, 2021

This will be most consequential week of Biden’s presidencyCNNThis will be most consequential week of Biden’s presidency 01:53

(CNN)As President Joe Biden makes his presidential debut at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, the question is not whether America wants to lead the world any longer, but whether it can.During his inaugural address, Biden promised that “we will not lead merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” But eight months on, that shining example is looking a little tarnished — even as the US remains the indispensable anchor of Western democracy.Increasing doubts surround Biden’s self-described foreign policy expertise and his capacity to both quell America’s raging domestic political chaos and to put a superpower’s stamp on a world bristling with challenges to US authority.

Global uncertainty about Biden’s presidency runs deeper than the debate over whether he is pushing a kinder version of ex-President Donald Trump’s “America First” creed, following the chaotic US exit from Afghanistan and a spat with France after the US and United Kingdom subverted their longtime ally’s submarine deal with Australia.

Trump used his UN addresses to lay out his vision of a world of individual sovereign powers individually pursuing self-interest. Biden, for all his current domestic focus, has long been an internationalist committed to US alliances.

But for 70 years following World War II, the United States for the most part offered strength, predictability and strategic certainty. Its might at home translated to power abroad and it bankrolled and bolstered the West against totalitarian threats to democracy, despite periods of domestic political strife.That ended with Trump’s erratic, temperamental presidency, which put US postwar alliances in Europe and Asia to their greatest test. And while Biden lacks the ex-President’s volcanic character, a new age of friendship with allies did not suddenly dawn with a new leader in the Oval Office. The new President has exacerbated, rather than eradicated, questions about US staying power abroad in defense of its vital national interests. And amid China’s rise, Russia’s power games and emerging threats like cyberwarfare and climate change, America’s reputation as a bulwark against global threats is in doubt.

Doubts over Biden’s vow that ‘America is back’

Biden set to address world leaders at the UN General Assembly

Biden set to address world leaders at the UN General AssemblyThe United States still has plenty of advantages. Its easy access to capital powers technological innovation. A young, diverse population is a growth engine. Its state-of-the-art military technology has few peers. Millions want a piece of US culture and markets — the fury of European powers over pandemic travel restrictions for vaccinated citizens, which the administration only announced on Monday it would soon lift, proves that.But America’s fierce political polarization, supercharged by Trump’s presidency, will still undercut Biden’s vows Tuesday that “America is back.”When he warns that democracy is in peril around the world, Biden will do so from the extraordinary position of being falsely accused by his predecessor of stealing the last election. US presidents usually use the UN to blast coup attempts. Biden is the first to appear before the world body in the wake of a homegrown assault on the world’s most important democracy, following the Capitol Insurrection by Trump supporters on January 6.Questions about American resolve abroad are only deepened by national divides that are broader now than since the Civil War. And if Trump does not return for the 2024 campaign, many US allies fear one of his acolytes will still win the White House.An eighth of the way through Biden’s term, the refusal of Trump to accept his defeat and successful attempts by Republican legislatures to suppress voting have only exacerbated concerns that US democracy may be yet to face its greatest threat.Some of the President’s own decisions may also undercut his speech.If he chooses to speak out in favor of human rights, including women’s rights — another plank of his foreign policy — his message will be weakened by harsh new Taliban restrictions imposed on women and girls following the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pledges to pursue relentless “over the horizon” military action against terrorists will recall the tragedy of an Afghan family, including seven children, killed in a mistaken drone strike in Kabul. Biden’s vows to restore American alliances look less convincing amid the worst diplomatic showdown with France in decades and after what appeared to perfunctory consultations with allies over leaving Afghanistan.

How Washington could destabilize the world

Joe Biden's challenge at his first UN General Assembly: Convince allies he's not another Trump

Joe Biden’s challenge at his first UN General Assembly: Convince allies he’s not another TrumpUS economic might is a vital element of Washington’s power. But it could cause chaos within weeks since Republicans are refusing to agree to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, a crisis that could tip the US economy into default and the global economy into crisis.Biden’s attempts to lead the world in the battle against climate change risk being undone not by Republicans but his own Democratic Party. Splits between moderates and progressives are imperiling spending and infrastructure bills containing billions of dollars for a green economy and climate mitigation. If the US can’t set an example, the UN Climate Summit that will take place in Scotland in November could founder and worsen a coming age of extreme weather.Biden will speak at the United Nations amid a glaring lack of global leadership on another threat to humanity: the worst pandemic in 100 years. While the US led the way in developing vaccines in super-quick time and has bought hundreds of millions of doses for developing nations, vast areas of the world remain unvaccinated, meaning the pandemic is nowhere near over.American leadership is undermined by its own struggles with Covid-19. On Monday, it recorded its 675,000th death in the crisis, passing its total in the 1918 flu pandemic, as the virus exposed many of the county’s cultural and political chasms.”We have lost 100,000 Americans since April or May — almost all of them unvaccinated, almost all of those deaths preventable,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor College of Medicine’s National School of Tropical Medicine, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday.

Foreign policy begins at home

President Joe Biden meets with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the Intercontinental Barclay Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, in New York.

A boyband, Boris and Biden’s debut. UNGA gets underway 02:18Biden understands that domestic disunity and turmoil weaken the United States abroad. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spelled it out during his first major speech in office in March.”More than at any other time in my career — maybe in my lifetime — distinctions between domestic and foreign policy have simply fallen away,” Blinken said. “Our domestic renewal and our strength in the world are completely entwined.”Both Biden and Blinken believe that for foreign policy to be successful, it must receive buy-in from working- and middle-class Americans. The withdrawal from Afghanistan was a clear case of this approach in action, as Biden promised working Americans they’d no longer have to send their kids off to war.Meanwhile, Biden’s huge $3.5 trillion spending plan, currently in limbo on Capitol Hill, is stuffed with health care, education, home care and other social programs meant to restore American strength — literally, nation building at home. And increasingly, US economic, diplomatic, military and soft power is being trained across multiple sectors on the next great American mission: maintaining an edge over a rising Chinese superpower.To that end, Biden will host the leaders of Japan, India and Australia in Washington this week, in a summit of so-called Quad powers, in a rare show of continuity with the Trump administration, which pushed the grouping in an unmistakable message to Beijing.

Missteps and oblivion

Joe Biden's self-created image of foreign policy savvy has taken a serious blow

Joe Biden’s self-created image of foreign policy savvy has taken a serious blowOne surprise of the Biden era has been the ham-handedness of foreign policy management.The showdown with France was triggered by a US desire to quickly scale up its military posture in Asia in the face of China’s aggressive naval expansion. The deal among the US, UK and Australia — dubbed “AUKUS” — will see a fleet of new nuclear-powered submarines head down under and canceled France’s previous agreement to build conventional boats for Australia.But in bolstering one alliance, Washington badly damaged another. France saw the deal as a betrayal by its anglophone partners and recalled its ambassadors to Canberra and Washington. While Biden is expected to try to ease tensions in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron this week, the estrangement is bound to fuel a belief in Europe that — in its zeal to meet the rising threat from China — the US is turning away from Europe.

It’s hard to believe that there wasn’t a way for the Biden administration to pursue its goals in Asia without insulting a friend in Europe. The chaos of the Afghan withdrawal, which left the US effectively relying on its Taliban enemies of 20 years to secure Kabul’s airport — a scenario that resulted in the deaths of 13 American service personnel and more than 170 others in a suicide bombing — was emblematic of a poorly planned operation, even if the military managed to extract more than 120,000 US citizens and allies. After the withdrawal, Biden barely mentioned the sacrifices of US allies in a war they joined to defend the US after the September 11 attacks.Ultimately, however, US allies have little choice but to learn how to deal with the Biden team, accept its missteps and adapt to its new foreign policy goals. Because if the US can’t or won’t lead, who will?

Donald Trump’s Legal Troubles: A Guide

Donald Trump’s Legal Troubles: A Guide

From tax evasion to election tampering to inciting an insurrection, a comprehensive list of the criminal and civil allegations against the former president

ByTIM DICKINSON&RYAN BORT Rolling Stone

  • Blog question: Why does this seem to be taking so long?
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: U.S. President Donald Trump exits the White House to walk toward Marine One on the South Lawn on January 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. Following last week's deadly pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill, President Trump is making his first public appearance with a trip to the border town of Alamo, Texas to view the partial construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is no stranger to legal trouble, but it’s never been anything he couldn’t solve with his checkbook. Just after he won the White House, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges that Trump University swindled thousands of students. He later paid another $2 million for misusing his charitable foundation, which was shuttered after authorities documented a “shocking pattern of illegality” and “repeated and willful self-dealing.”

But Trump isn’t going to be able to buy his way out of criminal charges, which he could soon be facing now that he’s the subject of an array of serious criminal investigations — including over shady business dealings and real-estate tax arrangements, as well as his incitement of the January 6th siege of the Capitol. (Trump has made light of the probes against him, writing: “There is nothing more corrupt than an investigation that is in desperate search of a crime.”)

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Trump also faces myriad civil actions, ranging from allegations he violated the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act (which prohibits the intimidation of public officials), to multiple claims that he defrauded people, including a family member, an investor that bought into his troubled hotel ventures, and “economically marginalized people” looking to “pursue the American Dream.”

The prosecution of a former president would be unprecedented, and the notion that Trump could face dire consequences is hard to fathom given his ability to elude them. As president, he was shielded from prosecution; this is no longer the case. “This is a significant concern for him because he’s no longer in office,” says Rebecca Roiphe, an a professor at New York Law School and former assistant DA in Manhattan. “If he committed a crime like anyone else, I don’t exactly understand how he could escape it.”

Trump will still be able to cry “witch hunt” as the investigations continue to develop, leading some to believe his legal trouble could actually help him should he decide to run again in 2024. And in case you’re wondering, a federal conviction would not disqualify him from doing so.

Below, we cover the waterfront of Trump’s legal troubles:

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS

Manhattan District Attorney

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance battled all the way to the Supreme Court to obtain eight years worth of Trump’s tax returns and other records — reportedly comprising millions of pages of documents. Vance now has a team poring over these records, and the two-year investigation that began over hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal ahead of the 2016 election now appears to include potential bank and insurance fraud, as well as other potential financial crimes.

In May, a grand jury convened to hear evidence from prosecutors, a signal that the investigation could be entering its final stages. The DA’s office is zeroing in on longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, probing whether he failed to pay taxes on fringe benefits he received from the company — including cars, apartments, and private school tuition for his grandchild. Prosecutors are also investigating whether Trump Organization COO Matthew Calamari enjoyed similar tax-free benefits, indicating the alleged illicit activity could be a company-wide issue. (Neither Weisselberg nor Calamari have commented on the probes or been formally accused of wrongdoing.)

On July 1st, the DA’s office charged Weisselberg and the Trump Organization with 15 counts of various financial crimes, including federal tax fraud, falsifying business records, grand larceny, and scheme conspiracy. The indictment described a 15-year scheme to provide tax-free benefits to top executives, including Weisselberg, who is alleged to have skirted paying over $1.7 million in taxes. “To put it bluntly, this was a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme,” Carey Dunne, general counsel for the Manhattan DA, said in court.

Weisselberg and the Trump Organization both pleaded not guilty, with the latter describing the charges as “politics.” A week after they were charged, the Trump Organization began removing Weisselberg from his leadership positions within the company, according to the Times.

Trump was not charged, but the “sweeping” nature of the alleged scheme could open him up to liability. “If this is the way the entire organization is run, then I think we’re getting into the realm where it’s far more dangerous for Trump himself,” says Roiphe, the former assistant DA. “As long as it’s rogue actors and he can push it off on them, then he’s fine. The more pervasive it is and the more people who have high-level responsibility are included, the more likely it is that he’s in some way involved.”

The question now is whether Weisselberg will flip on Trump. Weisselberg has so far refused to do so, but that could change if he’s indicted. “It’s one thing to be loyal to somebody, up until the point where you’re doing jail time for them,” says Roiphe. “It’s quite another when you’re facing that reality.”

New York Attorney General

The state of New York began investigating a civil fraud case against the Trump Organization for its real estate business practices in 2019. But in May of this year, the office of Attorney General Letitia James announced a serious evolution: “We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the company is no longer purely civil in nature,” said spokesperson Fabien Levy. “We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA.”

Collaboration between the two offices is unusual, but it makes sense considering the overlap in their probes. According to The New York Times, two assistant AGs from James’ office have joined the DA’s team, and James’ office is not conducting its own independent criminal investigation.

In addition to the Weisselberg issues, James has reportedly been investigating potential financial fraud relating to several Trump Organization properties, including the Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, New York. Trump bought the estate for $7.5 million in 1995, failed to turn it into a golf resort, and later claimed a $21 million tax break for conserving its grounds as open space. Trump is infamous for inflating the paper value of his assets, and he reportedly secured an appraisal that valued the full estate in excess of $56 million. Local authorities, by contrast, believed the entire property, Tudor-style mansion and all, was worth only $20 million, less than the deduction Trump claimed for the protected land.

James’ office is also said to be scrutinizing the Trump Tower in Chicago. One of Trump’s lenders reportedly forgave a debt of $100 million on the property in 2012, and authorities are looking into whether Trump paid the necessary taxes on the debt forgiveness. The finances of Trump Organization properties in Los Angeles (Trump National Golf Club) and New York City (40 Wall Street) also appear under the AG’s microscope.

It may seem like Trump is a sitting duck, but Roiphe, the former assistant DA, stresses the difficulties prosecutors will face. “There are a lot of these sorts of crimes that go unpunished,” she says. “There are times when you can be convinced 100 percent as a prosecutor that a crime has been committed, you can know who committed that crime, and you are incapable of bringing that case. It’s frustrating, but it’s the way it works.”

The greatest challenge is not demonstrating wrongdoing, but criminal intent. “It is extremely hard and extremely resource intensive to prove,” Roiphe adds. “There is still a chance that even if he did all of this, and orchestrated a company that was corrupt through and through, he might get away with it.”

ELECTION TAMPERING

Georgia (criminal)

In his crusade to overturn the results of the 2020 election and promote the Big Lie that Joe Biden’s victory was illegitimate, Trump turned up the pressure on Georgia election authorities. Fulton County DA Fani Willis is now investigating whether Trump pressuring Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on a recorded phone call to “find” sufficient Trump votes to overturn the election violated state law, specifically: election fraud conspiracy, criminal solicitation of election fraud, and/or interference with elections duties.

Read letters sent by the DA announcing the investigation.

Michigan/NAACP (civil)

Voting rights activists in Michigan, joined by the NAACP, are suing Trump for conduct alleged to violate the Voting Rights Act. Trump’s Big Lie pressure campaign included lobbying Wayne County Republican officials against certifying the election totals for the jurisdiction that includes Detroit. The Voting Rights Act forbids the intimidation of voting officials. “[B]y exerting pressure on state and local officials,” the complaint reads, “defendants attempted to and did intimidate and or coerce state and local officials from aiding Plaintiffs and other residents of Detroit, Milwaukee, and other major cities with large Black populations from having their votes ‘counted properly and included in the appropriate totals of votes cast.’”

The suit seeks a declaration that Trump violated the Voting Rights Act and a restraining order forcing the former president to obtain court approval “prior to engaging in any activities related to recounts, certifications, or similar post-election activities.”

Read the complaint.

JANUARY 6th INCITEMENT

Washington, D.C., Attorney General (criminal)

The Attorney General for the District of Columbia announced a criminal investigation into the 45th president’s activities on January 6th, and is reportedly looking at bringing charges against Trump under a local statute that makes it “unlawful for a person to incite or provoke violence where there is a likelihood that such violence will ensue.” The charge reportedly carries a sentence of up to six months in jail.

U.S. Capitol Officers (civil)

Two Capitol police officers who were beaten, maced, poked with flag poles, and pinned against the doors of the Capitol have filed a civil suit against Trump for inciting the violence they endured. “As the leader of this violent mob,” their complaint reads, “Trump was in a position of extraordinary influence over his followers, who committed assault and battery“ on the officers. Conspiracy claims added to the suit allege Trump was in cahoots with the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, violent groups whose members stormed the Capitol. “Defendant Trump conspired with the Proud Boys and others to, among other things, incite an unlawful riot on January 6 with the goal of disrupting congressional certification of President Biden’s electoral victory,” it reads. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Read the complaint.

Seven Capitol police officers in August filed a separate lawsuit alleging Trump others violated the Ku Klux Klan Act, which was passed during Reconstruction after the Civil War to beat back violent white supremacists in the South, and which forbids conspiracies “to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat” U.S. officeholders from discharging their duties or forcing them to leave the location where those duties must be performed. The suit claims the defendants’ “unlawful efforts culminated in the January 6 mass attack on the United States Capitol and the brutal, physical assault of hundreds of law enforcement officers.” It also alleges that Trump worked “in concert” with far-right extremists to push the election lie that led to the attack.

Read the complaint.

Members of Congress (civil)

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and the NAACP have filed a civil suit alleging a “violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act.” Thompson and the NAACP claim that “Defendants Trump, Giulini, Proud Boys and Oath Keepers plotted, coordinated and executed a common plan to prevent Congress from discharging its official duties in certifying the results of the presidential election.” The suit seeks a declaration that Trump violated the KKK Act and an order enjoining him from future violations.

Read the complaint.

Former presidential candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) has also sued Trump for inciting the insurrection. “Trump directly incited the violence at the Capitol that followed and then watched approvingly as the building was overrun,” the complaint reads. (Swalwell also names as defendants Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani, and GOP colleague Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who spoke at the rally and whom Swalwell alleges “directly incited the violence at the Capitol that followed.”)

Read the complaint.

SEX AND LIES

E. Jean Carroll (civil)

In 2019, E. Jean Carroll wrote a book claiming Trump sexually assaulted her in the mid-90s in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room. Trump brushed off the accusation, claiming Carroll was “totally lying,” that he didn’t know her, and that the advice columnist and magazine journalist was “not my type.” Carroll sued for defamation. Trump got the Justice Department to stand in as his legal representation, arguing the allegedly defamatory conduct was committed as part of his official duties. Last October, a federal judge ruled the DOJ shouldn’t be standing in for Trump, writing that the president wasn’t a protected “employee” of the government under the statutes in question and that, “Even if he were such an ‘employee,’ President Trump’s allegedly defamatory statements concerning Ms. Carroll would not have been within the scope of his employment.” But the Trump DOJ took the case to federal appeals court. The Biden DOJ is now defending Trump’s claim that the alleged defamation was part of the president’s official conduct.

Carroll’s lawyer Robbie Kaplan tweeted: “The DOJ’s position is not only legally wrong, it is morally wrong since it would give federal officials free license to cover up private sexual misconduct by publicly brutalizing any woman who has the courage to come forward. Calling a woman you sexually assaulted a ‘liar,’ a ‘slut,’ or ‘not my type’ — as Donald Trump did here — is NOT the official act of an American president.” The suit seeks to force Trump “to retract any and all defamatory statements” as well as to pay compensatory and punitive damages.

Read the complaint.

Summer Zervos (civil)

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, filed a suit alleging Trump defamed her in 2016 when he called her a liar after she accused him of sexual assault in 2007. Zervos was one of several women who publicly accused Trump of sexually predatory behavior prior to the 2016 election, claiming that he kissed and groped her without her consent on multiple occasions. Trump called her story “phony,” prompting the lawsuit. “Donald Trump lied again, and again, and again, and again,” the complaint reads. “In doing so, he used his national and international bully pulpit to make false factual statements to denigrate and verbally attack Ms. Zervos and the other women.”

Trump tried to block the suit, arguing that as president he was immune from legal action. The suit was hung up in the courts for the remainder of Trump’s time in office, but this March the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that it could proceed. The decision could result in Trump being forced to testify under oath. “Now as a private citizen, the defendant has no further excuse to delay justice from Ms. Zervos and we are eager to get back to the trial court and prove her claims,” said Zervos lawyer Beth Wilkinson, according to the Times.

Read the complaint.

FAMILY FORTUNE FIGHT (civil)

Mary Trump, the former president’s niece and author of a tell-all book about her uncle, was an heir to the family fortune when patriarch Fred Trump died. After The New York Times’ 2018 expose about the trajectory of Donald Trump’s fortune and how he routinely manipulated the price of his assets, Mary realized she’d been bought out of her share of the Trump fortune unfavorably. She sued Donald and others in the family, alleging they’d carried out “a complex scheme to siphon funds away from her interests, conceal their grift, and deceive her about the true value of what she had inherited.” Mary, the daughter of Donald’s brother Fred Jr., accused Donald and her other relatives of having “willfully, egregiously, and repeatedly abused their position of trust” to rob her “in order to maximize their own profits.” The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Read the complaint.

PROFITING FROM HIS OWN INAUGURATION (civil)

The Attorney General of D.C. has sued Trump over diverting 2017 inauguration funds to Trump properties, alleging that the nonprofit inaugural committee “wasted approximately $1 million of charitable funds in overpayment” to Trump businesses that charged exorbitant rates, including $175,000 for a ballroom that usually rented for $5,000. The AG alleges “the Trump Entities … unconscionably benefited from nonprofit funds required to be used for the public good.” The suit seeks to have the ill-gotten gains from the Trump properties donated to public-serving nonprofits.

Read the complaint.

MULTI-LEVEL MARKETING (civil)

In 2018, the Trump family was hit with a class-action lawsuit from a group of anonymous Americans who claimed they were duped by Trump into joining a multi-level marketing scheme — run by a third party called ACN — which Trump was secretly paid to promote. (ACN, itself, is not being sued in this litigation.) The lawsuit alleges that Trump, his company, and his offspring executives Ivanka, Eric, and Don Jr. “operated a large and complex enterprise with a singular goal: to enrich themselves by systematically defrauding economically marginalized people looking to invest in their educations, start their own small businesses, and pursue the American Dream.” The suit asks for class-action status, which would allow others to join the litigation, and for “actual, compensatory, statutory [and] consequential damages.” It also seeks the “disgorgement of all ill gotten gains” by the Trumps.

Read the complaint.

HOTEL DEALS GONE BAD (civil)

The Trump Organization managed a 70-story, sail-shaped high-rise hotel and condo complex in Panama City from 2011 to 2018. In 2019, the investment group Ithaca Capital Partners filed a suit alleging it was fraudulently induced to buy a majority stake in the business by Trump, who’d warranted that the luxury complex was well maintained and successful as a business. In fact, the suit alleges, the Trump Organization was “grossly mismanaging its operations of the former Trump International Hotel & Tower Panama including causing intentional damage to the Hotel Amenities Units and failing to pay income taxes to the Panamanian government.” The suit seeks “not less than” $17 million in damages plus attorney fees.

Read the complaint.

In This Article: Allen WeisselbergCy VanceDonald TrumpE. Jean CarrollLetitia JamesMatthew CalamariSummer ZervosTrump Organization

Biden’s Authority to Mandate Vaccines Stems From Law Protecting Workers From ‘Grave Dangers’

Shiels Blog intro:

We are at a turning point: two great swirling political nebulae: 1. yes, more government (e.g. Biden) will protect progressive (worker, climate, environment, underserved, women’s autonomy/agency, stimulation of the economy by government Action v. 2. No, less government (Republicans’): free market, less State interference, less concern about government “climate science”, less affirmative action, limits to abortion, rejection of federal gun legislation. This administration, more than those of Obama and Clinton, appears pushed by elements of the Democratic Party to a truly Progressive experiment, perhaps helped by the Covid Plague, to attempt truly ambitious feats not seen since the 1960’s or 1930’s.

White House officials believe the law is a legitimate and legal way to combat the pandemic, though they acknowledge it has never been used to require vaccines.

President Biden’s assertion of far-reaching executive authority this week appeared to be on strong legal ground, experts said.
President Biden’s assertion of far-reaching executive authority this week appeared to be on strong legal ground, experts said.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times
Michael D. Shear

By Michael D. ShearSept. 10, 2021Updated 1:41 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s far-reaching assertion of presidential authority to require vaccines for 80 million American workers relies on a first-of-its-kind application of a 51-year-old law that grants the federal government the power to protect employees from “grave dangers” at the workplace.

White House officials believe the emergency authority provided by Congress under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is a legitimate and legal way to combat the coronavirus pandemic. But they acknowledge that the law’s emergency provisions, which were employed in previous decades to protect workers from asbestos and other industrial dangers, have never been used to require a vaccine.

The novelty of the effort is at the heart of legal threats from Republican lawmakers, governors, pundits and others, many of whom vowed on Thursday to challenge the president’s use of the workplace rules. Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, called the Mr. Biden’s actions “utterly lawless.” Gov. Brian Kemp, Republican of Georgia, said the move “is blatantly unlawful, and Georgia will not stand for it.”

In a fund-raising email sent on Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who has issued antimask orders, wrote, “Joe Biden has declared war on constitutional government, the rule of law, and the jobs and livelihoods of millions of Americans.”

But top aides to the president do not appear to be shaken by what they say was an expected response from those quarters. At a middle school in Washington on Friday morning, Mr. Biden responded to threats of lawsuits from his adversaries.

“Have at it,” he said.

And experts said the administration appeared to be on strong legal ground because it was relying on existing authority granted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration by the legislative branch and supported by decades of judicial rulings.

“The OSHA Act gives employees a right to a safe and healthy workplace,” said Robert I. Field, a law professor at Drexel University. “Having a vaccinated work force is an essential component of having a safe and healthy workplace. Being exposed to a potentially deadly virus is neither safe nor healthy. So OSHA would have that authority.”

Mr. Biden’s call to use that authority was a sharp shift in tone and approach. Flinging aside the caution that has characterized his administration’s earlier tack toward vaccine mandates, the president said he would use the OSHA rules to require vaccines for as many as 80 million workers in private companies across the country, along with health care workers, teachers, federal employees, government contractors and more. Those who still refused would be required to submit to at least weekly testing to prove they were not infected.

For months, the president tried gentle persuasion. Anything more, the White House worried, would backfire in a polarized country where tens of millions of people viewed the Covid-19 vaccine as a political Rorschach test.

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But having declared himself out of patience with the unvaccinated, Mr. Biden is now testing the limits of government’s authority to compel personal health care decisions in the interests of confronting a pandemic.

“This is not about freedom, or personal choice,” he said Thursday. “It’s about protecting yourself and those around you.”

The argument may provoke exactly the kind of blowback Mr. Biden’s team worried about.

“Federal government mandates, of dubious legality, will further alienate the skeptical, undermine our institutions, and punish ordinary business owners and their employees,” Senator Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, said Friday.

But in a statement, White House officials said the president was “committed to pulling every lever possible” in the fight against the pandemic. The statement said, “The reason that the Department of Labor is able to take this critical step to protect Americans from Covid-19 is that Congress passed a law that requires the department to take action when it finds grave danger to workers.”

“This action is both clearly legal and needed to help save lives and stop the spread of Covid-19,” it said.

White House officials said that OSHA, an agency in the Labor Department, would draft an “emergency temporary standard” over the next several weeks that requires companies to take certain actions.

To impose an emergency standard, the law requires the administration to show that “workers face a hazard in the workplace that poses a grave danger to their health or safety.” They must also prove that the method being used to mitigate those dangers would be effective in keeping workers safe.

In the case of the Covid-19 vaccine, the administration will argue that the death and illness caused by the Delta variant of the coronavirus poses a “grave danger” to workers across the country, and that the vaccine is an extremely effective way of preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Those arguments will likely be included as part of a preamble to the regulatory language that officials at OSHA and the Labor Department are drafting, according to a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss regulations that are still under development.

Once the regulations are in place, OSHA will enforce them using the usual tools provided to the agency: They will collect reports of violations and will send inspectors out to businesses. And for those businesses that refuse to enact the rules, the agency can impose $13,600 fines for minor violations and $136,000 for major ones.

Kathryn Bakich, a senior vice president at Segal, an employee benefits consulting company, noted that “this is the first vaccine mandate ever applicable to private employers.” But she added that many employers were already “moving toward mandatory vaccination policies at great speed.”

Wendy K. Mariner, a professor emeritus of health law, ethics and human rights at the Boston University School of Public Health, said that the administration’s logic made legal sense.

“Employers have a duty of care to maintain a safe workplace under the Occupational Safety and Health Act,” she said. Given the transmissibility of the virus, she said “it is quite sensible to require vaccination (or testing/masking for those with contraindications to the vaccine; and accommodations for those with disabilities under the A.D.A.) to protect all employees, as well as customers, clients, and patients.”

In his remarks on Thursday, Mr. Biden said it would take weeks, if not longer, for many of his proposals to take full effect — a delay that has real-life consequences as the Delta variant of the virus fills hospitals with severely ill patients who had refused to be vaccinated. The president did not say why he waited until early September to take steps that many health care experts were calling for in July.

But one thing was clear: He is done with coddling, urging, persuading, pleading and even begging people to get vaccinated. Those without the shot are endangering everyone else, he said, preventing the country from putting the pandemic behind them once and for all.

“We cannot allow these actions to stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who’ve done their part, and want to get back to life as normal,” he said.

‘Afghans don’t deserve this’: ‘The Kite Runner’ Author Khaled Hosseini Laments Afghanistan’s ‘nightmare’, Taliban’s Rise

Last Updated: 30th August, 2021 19:53 IST

‘Afghans don’t deserve this’: ‘The Kite Runner’ Author Khaled Hosseini Laments Afghanistan’s ‘nightmare’, Taliban’s Rise

Stressing that now is not the time ‘to turn our backs to Afghanistan’, Khaled Hosseini urged the US & its allies to keep their borders open for Afghan refugees

Written By Gloria Methri

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Afghanistan crisis

AP/Instagram

Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini has shown readers worldwide a side of Afghanistan that goes side-by-side with the war and terror that has mired the region over the last several decades. His debut best-seller “The Kite Runner” was published in 2003, two years after the deadly 9/11 attacks and the subsequent US-led invasion in Afghanistan.

Millions of people were captivated by the tale of two young boys –  Amir and Hassan – from opposite ends of society, whose lives transform after the Soviet invasion.

The world’s attention is once again on Afghanistan as the barbaric Taliban regained control of the war-torn nation, putting countless lives at risk. For Hosseini, watching the nightmare unfold in his hometown has been utterly gut-wrenching.READ | Pakistan NSA tries to pull back warning of ‘another 9/11’ attack if Taliban govt ignored

Though Hosseini left Kabul in 1976, his ties with the country and its people run deep. The author, who moved to the US with his parents in 1980, has described the past week as the bleakest days that Afghanistan has seen in decades.READ | Kabul: 10 people including children killed in US’ ‘self-defensive’ airstrike till now

“Afghanistan is a beautiful country filled with beautiful people who have poetry in their souls, who are humble, hospitable, and kind. They do not deserve 40 years of violence, persecution, and the cruelties that they have endured,” said Hosseini in an interview with NBC host Mehdi Hasan. 

Stressing that now is not the time ‘to turn our backs to Afghanistan’, he called on the US and its allies to stand up for the war-stricken country, and keep their borders open for Afghan refugees. He urged America to continue to support those Afghans who are fleeing the brutal regime of the Taliban and are looking for safety. READ | As US abandons army outposts in Afghan, high-end arms, helicopters fall into Taliban hands

“The American decision (to withdraw troops) has been made. And the nightmare Afghans feared is unfolding before our eyes. We cannot abandon a people that have searched for forty years for peace. Afghan women must not be made to languish again behind locked doors and pulled curtains. The United States has a moral obligation to admit as many Afghan refugees as possible,” said Hosseini. 

‘What will America do about Afghan crisis?’

In a series of tweets posted over the last week, the author posed several questions before the US government over its response to the Afghanistan crisis. 

“President Biden failed to answer the fundamental question. What will America do about Afghanistan’s looming humanitarian crisis? Who will protect the men, women, and children left behind?” asked Hosseini. 

He recalled that after the fall of Vietnamese city Saigon, the Indo-China Migration and Refugee Assistance Act allowed 130,000 refugees from South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to enter the United States under a special status. Hosseini said the same should be done for Afghan refugees today.READ | Kabul Airport attack: Slain US Marine who cradled Afghan baby, avowed she loved her jobhttps://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=republic&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1426771678709780481&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.republicworld.com%2Fworld-news%2Frest-of-the-world-news%2Fthe-kite-runner-author-khaled-hosseini-laments-afghanistans-nightmare-talibans-rise.html&sessionId=12770ae79d223b38f4268822872ce1ad960530bf&siteScreenName=republic&theme=light&widgetsVersion=1890d59c%3A1627936082797&width=550px

A goodwill ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency, Khaled Hosseini also informed that almost 300,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the start of the year, in light of the Afghanistan crisis. In video messages shared by the UNHCR on its official Twitter handle, the author has urged people to help in providing life-saving support to Afghans in need during this heartbreaking moment in time. Besides Khaled’s contribution to the United Nations, his Khaled Hosseini Foundation delivers aid to Afghan women and children.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=republic&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-1&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1428680745292271623&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.republicworld.com%2Fworld-news%2Frest-of-the-world-news%2Fthe-kite-runner-author-khaled-hosseini-laments-afghanistans-nightmare-talibans-rise.html&sessionId=12770ae79d223b38f4268822872ce1ad960530bf&siteScreenName=republic&theme=light&widgetsVersion=1890d59c%3A1627936082797&width=550pxFirst Published: 30th August, 2021 19:53 IST

SARAH CHASE ON RE-THINKING AFGHANISTAN

  • One of the most insightful writers on the all consuming Afghan problem (or what they would call “the American problem”. Well worth the read. Something NEW here!
    Sarah Chayes

The Ides of August

Updated: 8 hours ago

Credit: AP/Rahmat Gul
Credit: AP/Rahmat Gul

August 15, 2021

I’ve been silent for a while. I’ve been silent about Afghanistan for longer. But too many things are going unsaid.

I won’t try to evoke the emotions, somehow both swirling and yet leaden: the grief, the anger, the sense of futility. Instead, as so often before, I will use my mind to shield my heart. And in the process, perhaps help you make some sense of what has happened.

For those of you who don’t know me, here is my background — the perspective from which I write tonight.

I covered the fall of the Taliban for NPR, making my way into their former capital, Kandahar, in December 2001, a few days after the collapse of their regime. Descending the last great hill into the desert city, I saw a dusty ghost town. Pickup trucks with rocket-launchers strapped to the struts patrolled the streets. People pulled on my militia friends’ sleeves, telling them where to find a Taliban weapons cache, or a last hold-out. But most remained indoors.

It was Ramadan. A few days later, at the holiday ending the month-long fast, the pent-up joy erupted. Kites took to the air. Horsemen on gorgeous, caparisoned chargers tore across a dusty common in sprint after sprint, with a festive audience cheering them on. This was Kandahar, the Taliban heartland. There was no panicked rush for the airport.

I reported for a month or so, then passed off to Steve Inskeep, now Morning Edition host. Within another couple of months, I was back, not as a reporter this time, but to try actually to do something. I stayed for a decade. I ran two non-profits in Kandahar, living in an ordinary house and speaking Pashtu, and eventually went to work for two commanders of the international troops, and then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (You can read about that time, and its lessons, in my first two books, The Punishment of Virtue and Thieves of State.)

From that standpoint — speaking as an American, as an adoptive Kandahari, and as a former senior U.S. government official — here are the key factors I see in today’s climax of a two-decade long fiasco:

Afghan government corruption, and the U.S. role enabling and reinforcing it. The last speaker of the Afghan parliament, Rahman Rahmani, I recently learned, is a multimillionaire, thanks to monopoly contracts to provide fuel and security to U.S. forces at their main base, Bagram. Is this the type of government people are likely to risk their lives to defend?

Two decades ago, young people in Kandahar were telling me how the proxy militias American forces had armed and provided with U.S. fatigues were shaking them down at checkpoints. By 2007, delegations of elders would visit me — the only American whose door was open and who spoke Pashtu so there would be no intermediaries to distort or report their words. Over candied almonds and glasses of green tea, they would get to some version of this: “The Taliban hit us on this cheek, and the government hits us on that cheek.” The old man serving as the group’s spokesman would physically smack himself in the face.

I and too many other people to count spent years of our lives trying to convince U.S. decision-makers that Afghans could not be expected to take risks on behalf of a government that was as hostile to their interests as the Taliban were. Note: it took me a while, and plenty of my own mistakes, to come to that realization. But I did.

For two decades, American leadership on the ground and in Washington proved unable to take in this simple message. I finally stopped trying to get it across when, in 2011, an interagency process reached the decision that the U.S. would not address corruption in Afghanistan. It was now explicit policy to ignore one of the two factors that would determine the fate of all our efforts. That’s when I knew today was inevitable.

Americans like to think of ourselves as having valiantly tried to bring democracy to Afghanistan. Afghans, so the narrative goes, just weren’t ready for it, or didn’t care enough about democracy to bother defending it. Or we’ll repeat the cliche that Afghans have always rejected foreign intervention; we’re just the latest in a long line.

I was there. Afghans did not reject us. They looked to us as exemplars of democracy and the rule of law. They thought that’s what we stood for.

And what did we stand for? What flourished on our watch? Cronyism, rampant corruption, a Ponzi scheme disguised as a banking system, designed by U.S. finance specialists during the very years that other U.S. finance specialists were incubating the crash of 2008. A government system where billionaires get to write the rules.

Is that American democracy?

Well…?

Pakistan. The involvement of that country’s government — in particular its top military brass — in its neighbor’s affairs is the second factor that would determine the fate of the U.S. mission.

You may have heard that the Taliban first emerged in the early 1990s, in Kandahar. That is incorrect. I conducted dozens of conversations and interviews over the course of years, both with actors in the drama and ordinary people who watched events unfold in Kandahar and in Quetta, Pakistan. All of them said the Taliban first emerged in Pakistan.

The Taliban were a strategic project of the Pakistani military intelligence agency, the ISI. It even conducted market surveys in the villages around Kandahar, to test the label and the messaging. “Taliban” worked well. The image evoked was of the young students who apprenticed themselves to village religious leaders. They were known as sober, studious, and gentle. These Taliban, according to the ISI messaging, had no interest in government. They just wanted to get the militiamen who infested the city to stop extorting people at every turn in the road.

Both label and message were lies.

Within a few years, Usama bin Laden found his home with the Taliban, in their de facto capital, Kandahar, hardly an hour’s drive from Quetta. Then he organized the 9/11 attacks. Then he fled to Pakistan, where we finally found him, living in a safe house in Abbottabad, practically on the grounds of the Pakistani military academy. Even knowing what I knew, I was shocked. I never expected the ISI to be that brazen.

Meanwhile, ever since 2002, the ISI had been re-configuring the Taliban: helping it regroup, training and equipping units, developing military strategy, saving key operatives when U.S. personnel identified and targeted them. That’s why the Pakistani government got no advance warning of the Bin Laden raid. U.S. officials feared the ISI would warn him.

By 2011, my boss, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Taliban were a “virtual arm of the ISI.”

And now this.

Do we really suppose the Taliban, a rag-tag, disjointed militia hiding out in the hills, as we’ve so long been told, was able to execute such a sophisticated campaign plan with no international backing? Where do we suppose that campaign plan came from? Who gave the orders? Where did all those men, all that materiel, the endless supply of money to buy off local Afghan army and police commanders, come from? How is it that new officials were appointed in Kandahar within a day of the city’s fall? The new governor, mayor, director of education, and chief of police all speak with a Kandahari accent. But no one I know has ever heard of them. I speak with a Kandahari accent, too. Quetta is full of Pashtuns — the main ethnic group in Afghanistan — and people of Afghan descent and their children. Who are these new officials?

Over those same years, by the way, the Pakistani military also provided nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea. But for two decades, while all this was going on, the United States insisted on considering Pakistan an ally. We still do.

Hamid Karzai. During my conversations in the early 2000s about the Pakistani government’s role in the Taliban’s initial rise, I learned this breathtaking fact: Hamid Karzai, the U.S. choice to pilot Afghanistan after we ousted their regime, was in fact the go-between who negotiated those very Taliban’s initial entry into Afghanistan in 1994.

I spent months probing the stories. I spoke to servants in the Karzai household. I spoke to a former Mujahideen commander, Mullah Naqib, who admitted to being persuaded by the label and the message Karzai was peddling. The old commander also admitted he was at his wits’ end at the misbehavior of his own men. I spoke with his chief lieutenant, who disagreed with his tribal elder and commander, and took his own men off to neighboring Helmand Province to keep fighting. I heard that Karzai’s own father broke with him over his support for this ISI project. Members of Karzai’s household and Quetta neighbors told me about Karzai’s frequent meetings with armed Taliban at his house there, in the months leading up to their seizure of power.

And lo. Karzai abruptly emerges from this vortex, at the head of a “coordinating committee” that will negotiate the Taliban’s return to power? Again?

It was like a repeat of that morning of May, 2011, when I first glimpsed the pictures of the safe-house where Usama bin Laden had been sheltered. Once again — even knowing everything I knew — I was shocked. I was shocked for about four seconds. Then everything seemed clear.

It is my belief that Karzai was a key go-between negotiating this surrender, just as he did in 1994, this time enlisting other discredited figures from Afghanistan’s past, as they were useful to him. Former co-head of the Afghan government, Abdullah Abdullah, could speak to his old battle-buddies, the Mujahideen commanders of the north and west, and their comrades within the Afghan armed forces. You may have heard some of their names as they surrendered their cities in recent days: Ismail Khan, Dostum, Atta Muhammad Noor. The other person mentioned together with Karzai is Gulbuddin Hikmatyar — a bona fide Taliban commander, who could take the lead in some conversations with them and with the ISI.

As Americans have witnessed in our own context — the #MeToo movement, for example, the uprising after the murder of George Floyd, or the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — surprisingly abrupt events are often months or years in the quiet making. The abrupt collapse of 20 years’ effort in Afghanistan is, in my view, one of those cases.

Thinking this hypothesis through, I find myself wondering: what role did U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad play? An old friend of Karzai’s, he was the one who ran the negotiations with the Taliban for the Trump Administration, in which the Afghan government was forced to make concession after concession. Could President Biden truly have found no one else for that job, to replace an Afghan-American with obvious conflicts of interest, who was close to former Vice President Dick Cheney and who lobbied in favor of an oil pipeline through Afghanistan when the Taliban were last in power?

Self-Delusion. How many times did you read stories about the Afghan security forces’ steady progress? How often, over the past two decades, did you hear some U.S. official proclaim that the Taliban’s eye-catching attacks in urban settings were signs of their “desperation” and their “inability to control territory?” How many heart-warming accounts did you hear about all the good we were doing, especially for women and girls?

Who were we deluding? Ourselves?

What else are we deluding ourselves about?

One final point. I hold U.S. civilian leadership, across four administrations, largely responsible for today’s outcome. Military commanders certainly participated in the self-delusion. I can and did find fault with generals I worked for or observed. But the U.S. military is subject to civilian control. And the two primary problems identified above — corruption and Pakistan — are civilian issues. They are not problems men and women in uniform can solve. But faced with calls to do so, no top civilian decision-maker was willing to take either of these problems on. The political risk, for them, was too high.

Today, as many of those officials enjoy their retirement, who is suffering the cost?

My warm thanks to all of you who have left comments, for taking the time to write, and for the vibrancy of your concern. A number of you have asked some excellent questions. I have provided some answers in my subsequent post, “Failing States?“.

John Dean: Trump has set quite the trap for himself with lawsuit against Facebook and Twitter

US President Donald Trump visits the American Cemetery of Suresnes, outside Paris, on November 11, 2018 as part of Veterans Day and the commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I. (Photo by CHRISTIAN HARTMANN / POOL / AFP)        (Photo credit should read CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/AFP/Getty Images)

Why are we not surprised by this?. The theater continues but the stakes are actually high for the country.~ fls, editor

Donald Trump is a different kind of beast. It’s been clear for some time that he’s completely untethered from the truth, and that his army of sycophants is dutifully orbiting Planet Bullshit right along with him. Trump tends to engage with the truth the same way he addressed COVID-19: just ignore it, the thinking goes, and it will disappear on its own. Or, like mixed vegetables, you can hide it in your hulking mound of mashed potato lies so your gape-mouthed troglodyte horde will never even know it’s there.

I sometimes wonder what it feels like to have no shame and absolutely no fealty to the truth. I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to bask in Walter Mitty-like fantasies about myself—like how I’ve won prestigious-sounding, decidedly nonexistent awards and how Madonna was begging to date me at the height of her fame—but I’m constrained by consensus reality and the fact that I didn’t inherit $413 million from my dad.

Well, as COVID-19 proved to Trump that there’s also a limit to his lies, his latest cranial methane blast may end up being a comeuppance as well.

You probably saw that Donald Trump has decided to sue Facebook, Twitter, and Google for supposedly violating his First Amendment rights … by enforcing their own terms of service. As lawsuits go, this one is pretty embarrassing. If lawsuits could walk up stairs with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of their shoes while their flaccid, flaxen shocks of corn husk hair decamped from their helmetless Darth Vader heads, that’s what this cosmic yak shart of a lawsuit would be doing right now. 

Unfortunately for Trump, lawsuits trigger depositions, and it’s very unlikely that he’ll want to sit for another one of these—especially since his Twitter and Facebook bans were directly tied to his actions on Jan. 6.

For the nontweeters:

This is the dumbest thing Trump has ever done. It’s wonderful. I remind you from personal experience that when you sue somebody you have to give a multi-day deposition on anything relevant to the topic … in this case, like your role inspiring the 1/6 Coup

Not to be outdone, John Dean, the former White House counsel who famously flipped on Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal, quoted Olbermann’s tweet, making it clear that he’s very much looking forward to Trump’s deposition