Opinion | Trump’s Code of Dishonor – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Gregory Bull/Associated Press

“Iran’s Qassim Suleimani was an engine of mayhem in the Middle East. His business model was to go to Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq and recruit Arab Shiites to kill Arab Sunnis (and Americans and Israelis) and to create pro-Iranian statelets inside Iran’s Arab neighbors to weaken them from the inside. I followed this man closely. No one should mourn his passing.

So why do I still question the wisdom of his assassination? Because it was done without a clear strategic or moral framework. And the biggest lesson I learned from covering the U.S. interventions in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan is: When administrations are not constantly forced to answer hard questions from the outside about what they’re thinking strategically and morally — when questioners are dismissed as unpatriotic — that administrations’ inside thinking gets sloppy, their intelligence gets manipulated and trouble follows.

Never assume that people who are in charge know what they are doing just because they are in charge.

What is President Trump’s strategic framework? One day, without any consultation with allies or our commanders, he ordered U.S. troops out of Syria, where they were serving as a critical block on Iran’s ability to build a land bridge to Lebanon and were a key source of intelligence. In the process, he abandoned our most important allies in fighting ISIS: the Syrian Kurds, who were also creating an island of decency in their region, where islands of decency are the most we can hope for.

And then, a few weeks later, Trump ordered the killing of Suleimani, an action that required him to shift more troops into the region and tell Iraqis that we’re not leaving their territory, even though their Parliament voted to evict us. It also prompted Iran to restart its nuclear weapons program, which could well necessitate U.S. military action.”

Who Controls Trump’s Environmental Policy? – By Lisa Friedman and Claire O’Neill – The New York Times

“A small number of people at a few federal agencies have vast power over the protection of American air and water.

Under the Trump administration, the people appointed to those positions overwhelmingly used to work in the fossil fuel, chemical and agriculture industries. During their time in government they have been responsible for loosening or undoing nearly 100 environmental protections from pollution and pesticides, as well as weakening preservations of natural resources and efforts to curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Of 20 key officials across several agencies, 15 came from careers in the oil, gas, coal, chemical or agriculture industries, while another three hail from state governments that have spent years resisting environmental regulations. At least four have direct ties to organizations led by the Koch brothers, who have spent millions of dollars to defeat climate change and clean energy measures.

Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted that many Republican administrations had brought in people from regulated industries. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with hiring people from the private sector. But we need to make sure they are making decisions in the public interest,” she said.”

Seven Days in January: How Trump Pushed U.S. and Iran to the Brink of War – The New York Times

“. . . . Nonetheless, Ms. Haspel was convinced there was evidence of a coming attack and argued the consequences of not striking General Suleimani were more dangerous than waiting, officials said. While others worried about reprisals, she reassured colleagues that Iran’s response would be measured. Indeed, she predicted the most likely response would be an ineffectual missile strike from Iran on Iraqi bases where American troops were stationed.

“If past is prologue, we have learned that when we enforce a red line with Iran, when Iran gets rapped on the knuckles, they tactically retreat,” said Dan Hoffman, a former C.I.A. officer who served in Iraq. “The retreat might be ephemeral before Iran probes its enemies with more gradually escalating attacks, but we’ve seen it repeatedly.”

There was little dissent about killing General Suleimani among Mr. Trump’s senior advisers, but some Pentagon officials were shocked that the president picked what they considered the most extreme option and some intelligence officials worried that the possible long-term ramifications were not adequately considered, particularly if action on Iraqi soil prompted Iraq to expel American forces.

“The whole thing seems haphazard to me,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior C.I.A. official who retired last year.”

Opinion | John Kerry: Diplomacy Was Working Until Trump Abandoned It – The New York Times

“Let’s get one straw man out of the way. General Suleimani was a sworn, unapologetic enemy of the United States, a cagey field marshal who oversaw Iran’s long strategy to extend the country’s influence through sectarian proxies in the region. He won’t be mourned or missed by anyone in the West. Occasionally, when American and Iranian interests aligned, as they did in fighting ISIS, we were the serendipitous beneficiaries of his relationships and levers, as were the Iraqis. But this was a rare exception.

That underscores the tragic irony of Mr. Trump’s decision to abrogate the nuclear agreement: It played into General Suleimani’s hard-line strategy by weakening voices for diplomacy within the Tehran regime. What Iranian diplomat would be empowered by a skeptical supreme leader to explore de-escalation with a country that broke its word on a historic agreement and then, in their words, “martyred” arguably Iran’s second most powerful figure?

Presidents make lonely, difficult decisions about the use of force to protect our interests — usually with the solace of knowing at least that diplomacy had failed. The tragedy of our current plight is that diplomacy was succeeding before it was abandoned.”

Opinion | Donald Trump, Manly He-Man – By Frank Bruni – The New York Times

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“The president wants a parade, but not some girlie, frilly procession that limits itself to high-stepping musicians, high-reaching headdresses, flutes and floats.

He wants muscle. Metal. He wants tanks and soldiers and planes. In his Veterans Day vision, Pennsylvania Avenue bulges with artillery, because in his blinkered view, that’s the measure of a nation’s worth. It’s also the affirmation of his potency.

The president wants us to know that if he’d been outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., when the shooting began, “I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.” Can there be any doubt? If Donald Trump is known for one thing, it’s fearlessness. Selflessness comes in a close second.

Ronald Reagan starred as a cowboy in Hollywood westerns. George W. Bush strode across the deck of an aircraft carrier in an olive flight suit and an ejection harness to declare — prematurely — that a mission had been accomplished.”

Opinion | We Can’t Afford Trump as Our Commander in Chief – By Frank Bruni – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“We choose our presidents in happy times and sad, amid bull and bear markets, when we’re trying to conserve what is and when we’re itching to discover what might be.

We should always choose them as if we’re on the brink of war, because it’s impossible to predict when we’ll find ourselves there, in petrified need of a strong, stable leader we can trust.

Donald Trump was chosen in a fit of long-building and largely warranted cynicism, as a gamble and protest. He hadn’t demonstrated any particular strength, only that he could perform a peculiar burlesque of it. He showed zilch in the way of honor, but had a genius for stoking doubts that it still existed in politics at all. His supporters thrilled to a pledge of disruption, not a promise of safe harbor.

And here we are, with an inexperienced, impulsive and perpetually aggrieved commander in chief precisely when we can’t afford one.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | Times Comment:
“We choose our presidents in happy times and sad, amid bull and bear markets, when we’re trying to conserve what is and when we’re itching to discover what might be. We should always choose them as if we’re on the brink of war, because it’s impossible to predict when we’ll find ourselves there, in petrified need of a strong, stable leader we can trust.” This is an amazingly excellent op-ed by Frank Bruni. If I could write like he does, I wouldn’t be the doorman at the hotel he stays in when visiting New York. There is an articulate zinger in almost every other paragraph, such as Nixon’s idea, that it is good for our defense to appear to have a reckless madman at the helm.
David is the author of The Tay Son Rebellion, and blogs at InconvenientNews.net

Opinion | Why Is Mitch McConnell So Afraid of John Bolton? – By Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III – The New York Times

By Neal K. Katyal and 

Mr. Katyal, the author of “Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump,” and Mr. Conway, an adviser to the Lincoln Project, are lawyers.

Credit…Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The importance of John Bolton’s offer to testify if subpoenaed in the impeachment proceedings against President Trump cannot be overstated. In a single stroke, Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser, elevated truth and transparency over political gamesmanship.

The Senate must take him up on his offer, as well as demand the testimony of President Trump and the administration officials he has barred from testifying. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, reportedly has the votes to proceed with the trial despite no agreement with Democrats on new witnesses and to leave it a question to take up after opening arguments. The Senate still must declare that it will call witnesses during the trial.

Everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents — must know that these crucial witnesses will be heard.

The core principle behind the rule of law is that justice is blind and partisan identity should not influence a trial’s outcome. But anyone watching Mr. McConnell twist himself into knots in trying to block witnesses and documents has to wonder whether this notion ever took root in his mind. He has gone so far as to say that “there will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.” He also said, “There’s no chance the president is going to be removed from office.” “

Opinion | Qassim Suleimani’s Killing Will Unleash Chaos – By Barbara Slavin – The New York Times

By 

Ms. Slavin directs the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Demonstrators in Tehran protested after a U.S. airstrike killed Maj. Gen.

Credit…Vahid Salemi/Associated Press

“Few tears will be shed in many parts of the world for Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, whose Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ruthlessly spread Iranian influence and contributed to the deaths of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians, as well as hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq, over the past decade and a half.

But revenge is not a strategy, and the killing of General Suleimani is a major — and incredibly risky — escalation with Iran, a pivotal country of some 80 million people that has been largely estranged from the United States for 40 years. It will cause more instability and the loss of more innocent lives. Any chances for American diplomacy with Iran are dead for the duration of the Trump presidency — if not longer. Instead of one nuclear proliferation crisis, with North Korea, there will most likely now be two, as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal completely collapses. The Sunni fundamentalists who killed Americans in their homeland — something Iran has not done so far — will rejoice. Russia and China will be happy to see the United States mired in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.

It is important to remember who began this spiral. In May 2018, President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement negotiated by his predecessor at a time when Iran was in full compliance with it. When he did so, the Quds Force and its associated militias in Iraq were fighting the Islamic State in indirect coordination with the American military. The Persian Gulf was quiet.

For a year after the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the status quo prevailed. Then in April 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced what amounted to an embargo on the export of Iranian oil. Shortly afterward, Iran moved from “strategic patience” to resistance and retaliation: first against oil tankers, then against an American drone and in September against Saudi oil facilities. In Iraq, Iran-backed militias started lobbing rockets into the Green Zone and other locations where Americans are based. On Dec. 27, rockets killed an American contractor in Kirkuk, and the United States retaliated with strikes that killed two dozen militia members in Iraq and Syria. Iran-backed militias responded with an attempt to break into the American embassy in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve.”

Opinion | American Foreign Policy Is Broken. Suleimani’s Killing Proves It. – By Jonathan Stevenson – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Stevenson is a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“The targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and four others in a precision strike by an MQ-9 Reaper drone at Baghdad International Airport was an impressive display of American military prowess. And it liquidated a destabilizing figure: The general was the commander of the Quds Force, which is responsible for Iran’s covert and extraterritorial military operations. In the scheme of things, he had it coming. Yet killing him made little strategic sense for the United States. In some ways, the most significant thing about his death is what it shows about the breakdown of American foreign policymaking.

President Trump ordered the strike directly, prompted by the death of an American contractor on Dec. 27 in a rocket attack by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored Iraqi Shia militia. Mr. Trump did not bother to consult congressional leaders. As with his other displays of martial fiat, his immediate impulse was probably to shock the liberal domestic audience, vicariously make himself feel tough, and assert raw executive power by going around the normal channels of decision making.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had considered taking out General Suleimani but rejected it — not for lack of nerve, but for fear of undue escalation and an unnecessary war with Iran. The fundamental facts on the ground have not changed, and in the kind of robust interagency, national security decision-making process that the National Security Council staff is supposed to supervise, such concerns would have been systematically raised, dissected and discussed, and a consensus reached to inform presidential action. No such process seems to have occurred here.

The Pentagon has claimed, facilely, that General Suleimani was hit because the Revolutionary Guard was planning attacks on American targets in the region. But in a proper interagency review, the intelligence community could have pointed out that “decapitation” is a patently unreliable means of pre-emption — particularly when the organization in question is the Revolutionary Guard, an integral part of a well-honed security state with considerable depth of command talent.”

David Lindsay:

This is possibly the best of three very good pieces on Qassim Suleimani’s Killing from the NYT which I have posted at my blog InconvenientNews.net
After the first piece, by Thomas Friedman, I wrote an ugly comment, wondering if Trump is trying to help the Russians, since he is certainly weakening the US. The comments section of each op-ed offers more darkness and sadness. One of the most salient issues, is that Iran was off to making peace with the US, until Trump walked away from the denuclearization deal, and started raising old and new sanctions. Suleimani was our ally against ISIS, and only turned his forces against us after we pulled out of the denuclearization deal and reimposed sanctions.

Public Servants: TIME’s Guardians of the Year 2019 | Time

Illustration by Jason Seiler for TIME
BY MASSIMO CALABRESI, VERA BERGENGRUEN AND SIMON SHUSTER
PHOTOGRAPHS BY GABRIELLA DEMCZUK FOR TIME

“There are 363,000 federal workers in the greater Washington, D.C., area. In the first week of September, history turned in the office of one of them. The intelligence analyst who blew the whistle on President Donald Trump had just gotten off the phone with the Inspector General’s office. One of a handful of people who had read the analyst’s report alleging that Trump had solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election, the Inspector General had found the analyst’s concerns “urgent” and “credible.” But there was a problem: higher-ups in the intelligence community had spoken to the White House. Both were blocking the IG from sending the complaint to Congress.

There is a particular kind of silence in the offices of the intelligence community. The buildings have multipaned windows with special protective coatings that prevent eavesdropping so virtually all exterior noise is blocked. There are few conversations in the carpeted hallways—people mind their own business—and everyone ensures their phone calls cannot be overheard. Amid the ambient hum of HVAC systems and the occasional ringing of an elevator bell, the atmosphere is one of monastic isolation. Sitting alone in that silence, the analyst asked, “What do I do now?”

The law provides one answer. In 2014, Congress added a paragraph to the statute that created the role of intelligence community Inspector General. “An individual who has submitted a complaint or information to the Inspector General,” it reads, “may notify any member of either of the Congressional intelligence committees, or a staff member of either of such committees.”

For the analyst, it wasn’t an easy call. The attempt to block the complaint had upped the stakes. What would happen if the analyst came forward? Whistle-blowers are protected from retaliation by law, but President Trump had attacked government officials before, and his supporters were even more threatening. Congress was its own minefield. Republicans on the Hill had backed Trump on Russia, the analyst’s area of expertise. Democrats, for their part, were looking for an edge in the 2020 election and might turn a government employee, like the whistle-blower, into one.

But multiple people had told the analyst that during a July 25 phone call, the President had “sought to pressure” his Ukrainian counterpart to dig up dirt on political rivals and pursue a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. The analyst believed that Trump was using the sovereign power of the American presidency in an attempt to stay in office. It was an affront to democracy, the whistle-blower decided. There was only one ethical choice—going to Congress and telling the truth.”

Source: Public Servants: TIME’s Guardians of the Year 2019 | Time