Opinion | Why Does Trump Put Russia First? – By Susan E. Rice – The New York Times

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Ms. Rice is a former national security adviser.

Credit…Rahmat Gul/Associated Press

“Since at least February, and possibly as early as March 2019, the United States has had compelling intelligence that a committed adversary, Russia, paid bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to kill American troops in Afghanistan. American service members were reportedly killed as a result.

To this day, the president of the United States has done nothing about it.

Instead, President Trump dismissed the intelligence as not “credible” and “possibly another fabricated Russia hoax, maybe by the Fake News” that is “wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”

Mr. Trump also claimed that neither he nor Vice President Mike Pence was ever told about this critical intelligence before it was first reported in The New York Times. Setting aside for a moment the credulity of that claim, whenever the president learned of this deeply troubling intelligence, why did he not publicly condemn any Russian efforts to kill American soldiers and explore options for a swift and significant U.S. response?

None of this adds up.

As a former national security adviser, I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that no one told Mr. Trump about this intelligence.”

Opinion | Don’t Buy John Bolton’s Book. But Don’t Ignore Its Revelations. – By Michelle Goldberg – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The American news cycle has become so manic and surreal that there hasn’t been much time to reflect on the revelation, in the new book by the former national security adviser John Bolton, that Donald Trump encouraged President Xi Jinping of China in the building of concentration camps for its Muslim Uighur minority.

Bolton’s “The Room Where It Happened,” which I received this week in advance of its release on Tuesday, describes a conversation Trump had with Xi at the opening dinner of the Group of 20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, with only their interpreters present: “Xi explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do.”

It is impossible, at this late date, to be shocked by the behavior of our depraved president. Nor is it surprising, given Trump’s treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, that he is pro-concentration camp.

But Americans should know that China’s detention of over a million people largely on religious grounds — a project that reports say includes torture, sterilization and forcing Uighur women to sleep with members of China’s Han majority to promote “ethnic unity” — is happening with our president’s behind-the-scenes approval. (In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump denied the account in Bolton’s book.)”

“. . . .  All the same, there is information here that deserves whatever attention people can muster in the midst of plague and mass protest. Bolton provides, albeit belatedly, firsthand confirmation that Trump did exactly what he was impeached for — leveraging American military aid in exchange for Ukraine’s help in smearing Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden: “Aug. 20, I took Trump’s temperature on the Ukraine security assistance, and he said he wasn’t in favor of sending them anything until the Russia-investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over,” Bolton writes.

Such behavior was nothing new for Trump; earlier Bolton describes him “pleading with Xi” for help in the 2020 election by making agricultural purchases from farm states. Though Bolton writes that the government’s pre-publication reviewers prevented him from using Trump’s exact words, Vanity Fair saw an unredacted version of the passage: “Make sure I win. I will probably win anyway, so don’t hurt my farms. … Buy a lot of soybeans and wheat and make sure we win.”

That Bolton did not testify to this earlier is to his immense disgrace. But it is a national disgrace that his confirmation of the Democrats’ impeachment case probably won’t matter, so inured are Republicans to staggering corruption.

Bolton’s warning to his ideological allies should be heeded, though it won’t be. Should Trump win in 2020, he writes, “conservatives and Republicans should worry about the removal of the political guardrail of Trump having to face re-election.”

Don’t buy this book. John Bolton doesn’t deserve to be rewarded for withholding testimony he had a duty to provide months ago. But don’t dismiss it either. The president cheered China’s concentration camps. At this point in the Trump era, it’s a constant challenge not to let oneself be bored by evil.”

Opinion | What John Bolton and His Book Say About Trump’s Washington – by John Gans – The New York Times

“. . .  Whichever way Mr. Bolton wanted to go public with what he knew — a network interview, a press conference at the end of his driveway, an epic Twitter thread, an early launch of the book — a big disclosure would’ve guaranteed that he never again ate alone in Washington. Yet January, and impeachment, came and went without much more than a peep from him.

There were a few factors that surely contributed to his taciturnity. There was and remains a clear risk of legal jeopardy, including potential criminal and financial penalties for revealing classified information. He also had a book to promote and paid speeches that pay more for exclusivity. And he dreams of being the future of Mr. Trump’s Republican Party, not a darling of either the resistance or the Democratic Party.

Yet, aside from Mr. Bolton’s idiosyncrasies, his no-show when it mattered says something about what Washington has become in 2020. It is hard to see any more in Mr. Bolton’s crusade beyond self-interest: for vengeance, attention and sales of the book, which cravenly opened for pre-order in the hours after the first story with details from his manuscript went live.”

“. . . .  Mr. Bolton was willing to feed information to the Democrats, but not side with them. He was willing to leak to reporters but not speak publicly. He was open to impeaching Mr. Trump, but not on the crimes and misdemeanors as written. He was willing to testify, but only under a subpoena from the Senate. In short, Mr. Bolton wanted to have his say and do it his way. With the book coming out, he has — thanks, in part, to an all-too-willing public. But because it’s only a story about Mr. Bolton versus Mr. Trump, few will ever rally to his side.

As Mr. Bolton finds himself alone at the center of the week’s conversation, one could wonder whether there’s any reason for hope in Washington. Yet, amid the Bolton news storm was a far less noticed story: The Washington Post reported that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who worked for Mr. Bolton on the National Security Council and testified openly during the impeachment inquiry only to be dismissed by Mr. Trump, may not be promoted to colonel because of presidential pressure.

Why is that a hopeful sign? Mr. Vindman’s ordeal is a reminder that there are still heroes in Mr. Trump’s Washington, willing to pay the price to do what’s right — not just what’s in their interest.

During his testimony, Mr. Vindman appealed to and embodied the principles that we all at least claim to hold dear. The contrast with Mr. Bolton, and his book, could not be more stark. After all, what do you call a hero without any followers? Just a guy having lunch all alone.”

Opinion | The Doom Where It Happened – by Bret Stephens – The New York Times

“. . . . It took cynicism to work for a president whose character he disdained and whose worldview he opposed. It took gullibility to think he could blunt or influence either. It took cynicism to observe the president commit multiple potentially impeachable offenses and then sit out impeachment on the pathetic excuse that Democrats were going about it the wrong way and that his testimony would have made no meaningful difference. It took gullibility to assume his book would have any effect on Trump’s re-election prospects now. It took cynicism to reap profits thanks to a president he betrayed and a nation he let down. It took gullibility to imagine he’d be applauded as a courageous truth-teller when his motives are so nakedly vindictive and mercenary.

Above all, it took astonishing foolishness for Bolton to imagine that his book would advance the thing he claims to care about most — a hawkish vision of U.S. foreign policy. That vision will now be forever tarred by its association with him, a man considered a lunatic by most liberals and a Judas by many conservatives.

I write all this as someone who shares many of Bolton’s hawkish foreign-policy views. I’m also someone who urged Bolton, while he was still in office, to resign on principle. It’s a shame he didn’t do so while he still had a chance to preserve his honor, but it isn’t a surprise. Only the truly gullible can act totally cynically and imagine they can escape history’s damning verdict.”

Seth Bates, I enoyed what you wrote earlier about Bolten, and I do hope you find the time to read this. Even though Stephens and I often have very different policy views, I second his opinion of Bolton, who he describes as a pathetic opportunist. I am disgusted by Bolten’s position that Trump as president is a menace to the United States, but that he, as a pure hard-liner hawk, would never vote for Joe Biden. Bolten implicates himself in the mud slung by his accusers.

The Return of the Platypuses – The New York Times

Photographs by 

Text by 

“Sarah May, watching, marveled at its glossy coat and the smoothness of its movement. It was like a Slinky, she said: “It almost poured over the ground.” The platypus reached the still pond, slid in, and was gone. Dr. May had been anticipating this moment for months, but now that it had arrived, she found herself surprised at just how deeply moved she felt.

The glossy platypus, along with two others, arrived at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, a 45-minute drive from the Australian capital of Canberra, on April 30. They had been away for four months, sheltering at a zoo in Sydney. The cold, wet and windy day of their release could not have been more different from the day in late December when they had left the reserve.

Back then, Tidbinbilla was parched from extreme heat and drought and menaced by an approaching bush fire. Dr. May, the wildlife team leader for the reserve, and her crew were working long hours in thick smoke, trying to protect their lungs with face masks, their eyes red and burning. It was a grim and apocalyptic-feeling time, she said: “Fires had taken over everybody’s psyche.” But the team worried most about their animal charges, the rare, endangered and iconic wildlife that make the reserve their home.”

Idlib Was Their Last Refuge. They Couldn’t Hide From the Bombs.The New York Times video

Idlib Was Their Last Refuge. They Couldn’t Hide From the Bombs.

Millions of Syrians have fled to Idlib Province seeking safety. During a rare reporting trip, The Times found that President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies are still bombing them.

Putin’s Long War Against American Science – The New York Times

On Feb. 3, soon after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus to be a global health emergency, an obscure Twitter account in Moscow began retweeting an American blog. It said the pathogen was a germ weapon designed to incapacitate and kill. The headline called the evidence “irrefutable” even though top scientists had already debunked that claim and declared the novel virus to be natural.

As the pandemic has swept the globe, it has been accompanied by a dangerous surge of false information — an “infodemic,” according to the World Health Organization. Analysts say that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has played a principal role in the spread of false information as part of his wider effort to discredit the West and destroy his enemies from within.

The House, the Senate and the nation’s intelligence agencies have typically focused on election meddling in their examinations of Mr. Putin’s long campaign. But the repercussions are wider. An investigation by The New York Times — involving scores of interviews as well as a review of scholarly papers, news reports, and Russian documents, tweets and TV shows — found that Mr. Putin has spread misinformation on issues of personal health for more than a decade.

His agents have repeatedly planted and spread the idea that viral epidemics — including flu outbreaks, Ebola and now the coronavirus — were sown by American scientists. The disinformers have also sought to undermine faith in the safety of vaccines, a triumph of public health that Mr. Putin himself promotes at home.

Opinion | On Afghanistan, Trump Gets Taken – By Susan E. Rice – The New York Times

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Ms. Rice, a former national security adviser, is a contributing Opinion writer.

Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock

“Sometimes, foreign policy consists of trying to make lemonade out of lemons.

In the case of the recently signed U.S.-Taliban agreement on Afghanistan, President Trump provided the lemons, and the lead U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team did the squeezing. Mr. Trump made clear that he intended to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan — with or without a “deal.” Then NATO partners pressured the United States not to reward the Taliban by conceding their long-held objective of forcing an American withdrawal for free. So, the president reportedly gave his negotiators a finite window to explore whether some deal was achievable.

Lacking the backing of a resolute American commander in chief, Mr. Khalilzad got what he could — a deeply flawed agreement that has the potential to lead to peace but is very unlikely to achieve it. In short, the United States gave away a lot and got relatively little in return.

To start, the United States dropped its longstanding, principled opposition to negotiating directly with the Taliban (including the terrorist Haqqani network, which has killed countless American service members) without our key partner, the Afghan government, at the table. Next, following a seven-day, roughly 80 percent “reduction in violence,” the United States acceded to the Taliban’s primary demand — that America fully withdraw all of its own and NATO forces as well as intelligence personnel from Afghanistan.

Mr. Trump agreed to draw down from our current force level of approximately 12,000 U.S. troops to 8,600 (the level he inherited from President Barack Obama) within four and a half months. Within 14 months, he will drop American and NATO troops to zero — leaving only an embassy-based diplomatic presence.”

Opinion | No, President Trump: You’ve Weakened America’s Soft Power – By Joseph S. Nye Jr. – The New York Times

No, President Trump: You’ve Weakened America’s Soft Power

Armed forces aren’t the only power America projects. Its values stir admiration around the globe. But they’re taking a beating in the White House.

By 

Professor Nye coined the term “soft power” in 1989.

Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

“President Trump claims he “made America great again.” The facts show just the opposite. The United States has lost credibility since 2017. The president’s looseness with the truth has debased the currency of trust that is needed in a crisis, and his continual disdain for our allies means we have fewer friends.

There is clear evidence that Mr. Trump’s presidency has eroded America’s soft power — the power to attract rather than command. According to a new Pew poll, only 29 percent of people surveyed in 33 countries trust Trump. He ranks as low as President Xi Jinping of China. A year ago, Gallup polled 134 countries and similarly found that only 30 percent of the people held a favorable view of the United States under Mr. Trump’s leadership. That was a drop of almost 20 points since Barack Obama’s presidency. And an annual British index, the Soft Power 30, showed America slipping from first place in 2016 to fifth place in 2019.

Our power comes not only from our military and economic might. Most previous presidents have understood that power also comes from being able to attract others. If we can get you to want what we want, then we do not have to force others to do what we want. If the United States represents values that others want to follow, we can economize on sticks and carrots. Added to hard power, the soft power of attraction is what the military calls a force multiplier. And that makes our values a source of American power.

Indeed, our absence of government cultural policies like those China promotes can itself be a source of attraction. Hollywood movies that showcase independent women and a free society in action can attract people in countries that lack those opportunities. So, too, does the charitable work of American foundations and the benefits of freedom of inquiry at American universities. On the other hand, when our policies appear hypocritical, arrogant and indifferent to others’ views, the government can undermine our nation’s soft power. When Donald Trump interprets “America First” in a narrow way, he makes everyone else feel second class.”

The End of Australia as We Know It – By Damien Cave – The New York Times

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Photographs by 

“SYDNEY, Australia — In a country where there has always been more space than people, where the land and wildlife are cherished like a Picasso, nature is closing in. Fueled by climate change and the world’s refusal to address it, the fires that have burned across Australia are not just destroying lives, or turning forests as large as nations into ashen moonscapes.

They are also forcing Australians to imagine an entirely new way of life. When summer is feared. When air filters hum in homes that are bunkers, with kids kept indoors. When birdsong and the rustle of marsupials in the bush give way to an eerie, smoky silence.

“I am standing here a traveler from a new reality, a burning Australia,” Lynette Wallworth, an Australian filmmaker, told a crowd of international executives and politicians in Davos, Switzerland, last month. “What was feared and what was warned is no longer in our future, a topic for debate — it is here.”

“We have seen,” she added, “the unfolding wings of climate change.”

Like the fires, it’s a metaphor that lingers. What many of us have witnessed this fire season does feel alive, like a monstrous gathering force threatening to devour what we hold most dear on a continent that will grow only hotter, drier and more flammable as global temperatures rise.”

David Lindsay:  Horrid, excellent story, and good comments, such as:

Hugh Garner
Melbourne
Times Pick

The gravity of this article is well founded. For me, as an Australian, it is more than heart-breaking. I feel like the burnt countryside, scarred by the inferno. It has changed me forever. An enduring image for me is the picture of the Australian Prime Minister, Morrison, standing in the Parliament with a fatuous grin, holding a large lump of coal, in his apology for a mind, making a point against the environmentalists. This man and his supporters, denying reality, must be thrown out. There is no forgiving. Morrison, the Prime Minister, and his lackeys, are nothing but “fossil fools”.

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