Compare and contrast

I’m just going to leave this eloquent and dignified testimony here:

Most of my readers will have no difficulty comparing and contrasting it with the mendacity of the Donald Trump, who tweeted this morning:

I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!

Would someone who respected the families of fallen soldiers react this way?

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Peace picks October 23 – 27

  1. Countering Violent Extremism: Qatar, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood | Monday, October 23 | 11:30 am – 5:15 pm | Hudson Institute (held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center) | Register Here | This full-day event includes two keynote addresses, the first by Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and the second by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, as well as two panels titled “Sinews of Terrorism – Communications, Funding, and Ideological Support” and “New Dynamism in Congress.” General David H. Petraeus, formerly of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Ambassador Hussain Haqqani will also speak at the event.
  2. The Future of Orthodox Christianity in Syria and America | Tuesday, October 24 | 12:00 – 1:30 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | Over the last two thousand years, the Church of Antioch has played a major role in the formation and development of Christian theology and philosophy. Today the Church is facing tremendous challenges in its native homeland, Syria. Six years after the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the country is in ruins and millions of its citizens have become refugees or are internally displaced within Syria. The ongoing war has flamed sectarian tensions that threaten the existence of Christianity in one of its earliest locations. Though suffering at home, the Church of Antioch is flourishing abroad with a growing congregation in the United States. What place do Christians and the Antiochian Church have in the future of Syria? What role has the Church played in humanitarian assistance to the millions in need? Why is Orthodoxy finding renewed appeal in Western countries? For answers to these and many other questions regarding the future of Orthodox Christianity in Syria and America, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom will host a conversation with His Beatitude, John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph, Metropolitan of All North America and Archbishop of New York. Hudson Senior Fellow Samuel Tadros will moderate the conversation.
  3. Tunisia’s Corruption Contagion | Wednesday, October 25 | 12:00 – 2:30 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | Corruption in Tunisia is perceived to be even more pervasive today than under former president Zine el Abidine ben Ali, despite numerous legal measures and civil society initiatives working to fight it. In their upcoming Carnegie paper, “Tunisia’s Corruption Contagion: A Transition at Risk,” Sarah Yerkes and Marwan Muasher argue that corruption has become endemic, as more and more people engage in and benefit from corrupt practices. For the democratic transition to survive, Tunisia must simultaneously address the kleptocracy of the previous regime and the emergence of widespread petty corruption. Can Tunisia’s government and civil society win this fight? Yassine Brahim will provide keynote remarks, and Chaima Bouhlel and Safwan Masri will join Carnegie’s Sarah Yerkes in a discussion of the paper’s findings moderated by Marwan Muasher. Tunisian Ambassador to the United States Fayçal Gouia will provide closing remarks. A light lunch will be served at 12:00 p.m. The discussion will begin at 12:30 p.m.
  4. Trump and the Arab World: First Year Assessment and Policy Recommendations | Thursday, October 26 | 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | Arab Center DC (held at JW Marriott Washington DC) | Register Here | The Arab Center’s second annual conference will begin with an opening keynote titled “US Policy in the Arab World: An Arab Perspective given by Tarek Mitri of the American University of Beirut and will consist of four panels. The first panel, “What Arabs Want: Arab Public Opinion and US Policy,” will feature panelists Tamara Kharroub of the Arab Center DC, Dalia Mogahed of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland- College Park. The second, “US Policy and Political and Economic Challenges in the Arab World” will include Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, Perry Cammack of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hani Findakly of Potomac Capital, and Najib Ghadbian of the University of Arkansas and Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the US. The panel will be moderated by Dina Khoury of George Washington University. The third panel is titled “US-Gulf Relations and US Policy in the Arabian Gulf,” and moderator Khalid Al-Jaber of Qatar University will be joined by Abdullah Baabood of Qatar University, Sheila Carapico of the University of Richmond, David Des Roches of the National Defense University, and Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council. The final panel, “US Policy Recommendations in the Arab World” will feature Marwan Kabalan of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Rami Khouri of the American University of Beirut, Ibrahim Fraihat of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Ellen Laipson of George Mason University, and will be moderated by Laurie King of Georgetown University.
  5. Public Perspectives Toward Democracy | Thursday, October 26 | 12:30 pm | Council on Foreign Relations | Register Here | Panelists discuss global public opinion towards democracy amid the rise of populists and autocrats, and the implications for the future of democracy and U.S. foreign policy. Speakers include Stewart M. Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations, Ken Wollack of the National Democratic Institute, and Katie Simmons of the Pew Research Center.
  6. The Path Forward on Iran: Contain, Enforce, Engage | Thursday, October 26 | 11:00 am – 12:00 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here |  What comes next after President Donald Trump’s decision not to recertify the Iran nuclear deal? Experts from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for a New American Security offer a suggested way ahead in a new joint report: Contain, Enforce, and Engage: An Integrated U.S. Strategy to Address Iran’s Nuclear and Regional Challenges. Carnegie President William J. Burns will introduce the report, and Carnegie’s Jen Psaki will moderate a discussion with some of the report’s authors. Speakers include Ariel E. Levite and Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as well as Ilan Goldenberg and Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Center for a New American Security.
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Imperatives of elected leadership

My first DCM and still friend, H. Allen Holmes (Foreign Service types will recognize the significance of a first deputy chief of mission in a diplomat’s life) writes:

Charlottesville on August 12 was not the first occasion when senior elected officials were expected to assert moral, political and constitutional authority in the face of illegal behavior by white supremacists openly carrying firearms. In thinking about the leadership challenge at Charlottesville, I recalled what my grandfather faced in Kansas when serving as Governor in 1918-1922.

In mid-1921 the Ku Klux Klan penetrated Kansas, organizing local klaverns and spreading their special animus toward Catholics. Given their skill at recruitment—which led to as many as 200,000 Kansas Kluxers by the mid-1920s—Kansas Governor Henry J. Allen described the Klan as “un-American and perniciously founded upon racial and religious prejudices,” and warned that the state would punish any Klan interference with legal processes.

Governor Allen’s first serious clash with the “Invisible Empire” happened when it announced an initiation ceremony of several hundred members in Arkansas City, where mounted horsemen in KKK regalia would lead the new members to erect a fiery cross on a hill just outside town. Allen objected to the Klan demonstration on grounds that it would menace the peace of the town, and notified local officials that he would send troops to stop the parade if necessary. He added that there would be serious consequences if they ignored his orders. The Klan backed down and canceled. Three days later Allen proclaimed wearing masks on Kansas streets illegal on the grounds that such displays created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

According to Patrick O’Brien writing in the Kansas History Quarterly, Allen’s fight with the Klan escalated into a “declaration of war” on October 16, 1922, when the Catholic mayor of Liberty staggered into town with his body a mass of cuts and welts administered by 13 masked Klansmen warning him to keep quiet about the Klan or risk being tarred and feathered.

Allen said “Kansas never has tolerated the idea that any group may take the law in its own hands and she is not going to tolerate it now”. Later, Allen lamented in a campaign speech that the KKK had “introduced into Kansas the greatest curse that can come to any civilized people—the curse that arises out of unrestrained passions of men governed by religious intolerance and racial hatred”.

Finally, on October 30, 1922, Kansas Attorney General Richard Hopkins, executing Governor Allen’s promise of legal prosecution, drafted an injunction to stop Klan recruiting. Three weeks later, Hopkins filed a petition with the Kansas Supreme Court charging the Klan with being a foreign corporation operating in the state without a charter and engaging in civil disruption. When the court rendered its opinion in January 1925, Kansas became the first state to legally oust the Invisible Empire. Even more significant, the Kansas legislature defeated a bill the next month that would have compelled granting a charter to the Klan. On February 28, 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court conclusively settled the controversy when it refused to hear the Klan’s appeal.

In view of today’s crisis, the Kansas story provides good examples of what can be averted when a strong executive acts early and with sustained conviction to protect decency and constitutional principles. My grandfather Allen’s actions were not always supported by the Kansas electorate since there were Protestant groups in many towns across Kansas which were strongly anti-Catholic. Nonetheless, by continuously asserting his fundamental views in public and supporting them in his newspaper, the Wichita Beacon, Allen defeated the Klan’s ambitions in Kansas. In addition, this story demonstrates what can be accomplished when the other two branches of government, the legislature and the courts, carry out their constitutional responsibilities.

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Apologize and resign

John Kelly’s lied about Congresswoman Wilson’s remarks at an FBI building dedication. He claimed she bragged about calling President Obama to get funding for the building and that she ignored the FBI agents whose deaths led to their names being inscribed on the building. Both points were demonstrably untrue.

The White House thinks we shouldn’t quarrel with Kelly because he is a four-star general. The non-Trump world has begged to differ: he is a civilian now, but even as a general there would be no reason not to question his veracity. There is only reason to expect Kelly to measure himself by military standards of honor. He has dishonored himself and needs to fix it.

He should either apologize, publicly and unequivocally, or resign. An apology won’t do much good for Congresswoman Wilson or the family of the slain soldier whose reaction to President Trump’s phone call she accurately described: he seemed insensitive to them, which should have been enough to keep Kelly’s mouth shut on the subject. But an apology would at least demonstrate Kelly’s ability to evaluate himself against an objective standard of truth.

The other possibility is that he resign. Many people will hesitate to call for that, since they see Kelly as a bulwark against Trump’s worst instincts. I doubt that. He has let his own reactionary views be known: he is anti-feminist, anti-abortion, and anti-immigrant. His behavior towards a black Congresswoman, without ever mentioning her name, also suggests that he is a racist (call it white supremacist or white nationalist if you prefer). Kelly is more likely an enabler of Trump’s worst instincts than a bulwark against them.

I’d prefer he resign, thus restoring a modicum of personal honor and stripping Trump of a prime advocate. Only when this Administration starts collapsing will we be able to forge a way out of the cul-de-sac it has taken America into. The departures so far have helped to strip a veneer of legitimacy from this president. But far more is needed to show it rotten to the core.

The fish rots from the head. Trump is an autocrat wannabe under the control of extremist donors: the radical tax plan intended to make the rich richer, the insistence on dismantling healthcare insurance for millions of people, the withdrawal from international agreements that benefit the United States, the threats of war and regime change against Iran and North Korea. These are not mainstream propositions. The speeches by President Obama and George W. Bush this week made clear that Trump is in no way heir to a genuine American tradition.

If Kelly continues to serve without apologizing, he will condemn himself to eternal association with Trump’s mendacity and radicalism. He should do himself, his reputation, and the nation a favor: apologize and resign.

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Dignity, but not in a good cause

I concede to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on all issues related to the procedures regarding American service people killed in action and how to handle condolence calls, presidential or other. If he thinks it is appropriate to mention that a dead soldier knew what he was getting into, so be it. He definitely knows better than I do.

But at about 7 minutes 20 seconds of this video, the dignified Kelly leaves his own area of expertise and goes political, criticizing a member of Congress and giving us a strong whiff of his own radical and reactionary views on American politics. I see no need to concede anything to him on that.

Kelly’s first excursion from things he knows about was a broadside against Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Florida) for listening in on the phone call. He simply ignored the factual circumstances: she happened to be in the family’s car when President Trump’s call was received. She was also a mentor to La David Johnson, the soldier killed, since his childhood. These were well-known facts when Kelly made his statement, so he chose to ignore them.

Then he waxes nostalgic: he bemoans the fact that women, the dignity of life, religion, and Gold Star families are no longer sacred. Women have appropriately asked when was that? When we weren’t allowed to become lawyers and doctors? When we were expected, no matter what our individual talents, to marry and stay home with children? The “dignity of life” is code for Kelly’s anti-abortion views, to which he is entitled. But they are distinctly political views that have nothing to do with the case at hand.

Kelly’s concern that “religion” is no longer sacred I find hard to fathom. Americans are a good deal more religious than their counterparts in other countries. It is true that anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric and crime has increased, but somehow I don’t think that was what Kelly meant. He presumably was referring to the acceptance of things like same-sex marriage. As for Gold Star families, Kelly was clearly referring to Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention last year. That was for me a highlight: yes political, but appropriately so, in an appropriate circumstance. Mr. Khan is entitled to speak out for a candidate he favors and against one he opposes.

After this excursion into things once “sacred,” Kelly goes full-bore against Congresswoman Wilson, though he never names her. He calls her an “empty barrel” for allegedly bragging at the dedication of an FBI building to agents killed in service that she had been responsible for the necessary funding. This ad hominem attack is entirely inappropriate. As the Congresswoman is black, “empty barrel” will be heard by many as a gratuitous racial slur.

In the Q and A with the press, Kelly says he will take questions only from people who know a Gold Star family. That I interpret as code for wanting questions only from friendly forces, but of course there are lots of more liberal journalists who know Gold Star families as well. He then avoids answering the question why the troops killed in Niger were there. Instead he refers to an investigation into the precise circumstances of their deaths. That is not what the correspondent asked. Inability of a top administration official to explain why the troops were in Niger and what they were doing is appalling.

Kelly serves a president who avoided military service, by his own admission assaulted women, switched from pro-choice not long ago, shows not a trace of interest in religious devotion, gleefully accepts the support and counsel of white supremacists (aka racists), and has lied about what he said on the phone call in question. How does Kelly get up in the morning and put on all that dignity to serve such an unworthy master?

PS: So it turns out, Kelly was not telling the truth about what Wilson said at the FBI building dedication. The video shows she bragged about getting the building named quickly after the courageous fallen FBI agents, not about the funding. She paid ample attention to the fallen FBI agents and their courage, as well as to the courage of the law enforcement agents in the audience. Even those with dignity in this administration are unable to tell the truth.

PPS: Here now is the video of the relevant portion of Congresswoman Wilson’s remarks at the 2015 FBI dedication. No surprise. Kelly lied:

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Both Pakistan and the US have options

In August, US President Trump announced a new plan concerning Afghanistan that included a harsh stance on Pakistan, accusing the country of protecting terrorists and threatening to limit financial support. On October 11, the Middle East Institute hosted a panel titled “Where Are U.S.-Pakistan Relations Headed?” to explore Pakistan’s reaction to the plan, the interests of the US and Pakistan in Afghanistan, US policy options, and predictions for the future of US-Pakistan relations. The event featured Daniel Markey and Joshua White of Johns Hopkins University, Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council, and Moeed Yusuf of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute moderated.

Pakistan has reacted mainly by working to create ties with other states in case its relations with the US worsen, while also making efforts to maintain its relations with the US. Nawaz pointed to recent visits of members of the Pakistani government to Washington as maintenance efforts. Efforts to diversify include Pakistan’s strengthening of relations with Russia and Saudi Arabia, and finding alternatives to the benefits it currently receives from the US, such as military support, by looking to countries such as China and Russia to provide equipment.

Yusuf categorized general Pakistani reactions and viewpoints into three camps: one perspective questions the utility of engaging with the US, since the US seems to be intentionally siding with India to “undercut” Pakistan. Another advocates for engagement with the US because of the extent to which Pakistan is dependent on it. A third camp views the US as completely in control of relations between the two countries, suggesting that there are limited options available to Pakistan.

Markey viewed Pakistan’s approach as a sort of negotiation, in which Pakistan is actively pursuing further details on the plan and its possible impacts, and exploring ways in which it can meet US demands in a way that would allow Pakistan to continue pursuing its own agenda.

The clear tension and divisions between the US and Pakistan prompted Weinbaum to ask the panelists whether the two countries have similar interests in Afghanistan and what their respective desired outcomes are. While it may appear that the US and Pakistan have converging interests, such as restoration of stability, the panelists agreed that such a convergence is superficial or limited at best.

White explained that Pakistan’s goals in Afghanistan, and particularly in terms of positive outcomes, are unclear, a point that Pakistan’s lack of strong players in Afghanistan supports. Yusuf mentioned two points of divergence: Pakistan and the US define stability in Afghanistan differently, with Pakistan insisting that India’s absence would be necessary, and the US advocating for an Indian role. The second point of divergence is Pakistan’s view that Afghanistan is becoming the site of a cold war dynamic with Pakistan and China on one side, and the US and India on another, leading to the assumption that the US is using this dynamic “to undermine Chinese influence.”

Most significantly, Markey pointed to a divergence in how the two countries see Pakistan’s overall role in the US Afghanistan strategy. Pakistan has wanted the US to eventually “outsource” its Afghanistan strategy to Islamabad, while US intentions have been quite the opposite: containing Pakistan’s power and limiting its control, ultimately facilitating the achievement of US goals.  

The panelists turned to assessing current US policies and future options with regards to Pakistan. One of the administration’s current tactics is to make clear to Pakistan that it would be more beneficial to the US to cease the relationship than to maintain it, according to White. The US is also working to include other parties, such as its NATO allies, in its Afghanistan strategy. A limitation on US actions is its inability to compel Pakistan militarily, as its current policies prevent it from targeting Taliban militants. Markey noted that the US seems “predisposed” to pursuing compulsion as a strategy and that it has been doing that through actions such as threatening to revoke Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally.

Markey made three main policy recommendations: that the US clarify its goals, that it anticipate Pakistani reactions and plan accordingly, and that it include other countries in the region when studying how policies will affect Afghanistan, suggesting that actions that the US takes in Afghanistan necessarily affect Pakistan and its other neighbors.

Adding a Pakistani perspective, Nawaz stated that Pakistan does not have the same power as the US, particularly in terms of its troops, but it does have its own options should the US exert pressure. One such option is Pakistan’s ability to close its airspace, which is strategic to the US and would force it to resort to other, less convenient routes. Taking this into account, Nawaz reiterated that the US should also be considering other regional actors in its Afghanistan policies, should be aware that Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan each have elections upcoming, and that it should broaden its options, suggesting that it should consider Iran’s role in stabilizing Afghanistan.

Yusuf criticized the US approach to Pakistan as a whole. Compulsion, threats, and other such tactics have all been unsuccessfully employed in the past. There is no reason, therefore, to believe that conditions have changed enough to make this approach successful today. Yusuf reemphasized the importance of having clear messages, plans, and strategies and urged the US to ensure that its demands of Pakistan are realistic and doable in order to engage Pakistan in the restabilization of Afghanistan.

Hypotheticals emerged multiple times throughout the event, with panelists’ analyses dependent on whether or not certain conditions prove to be true in the coming months and years. Thus, the difficulty of predicting the future of US-Pakistan relations and how this relationship will affect Afghanistan was clear. Both countries need to prepare for a variety of scenarios that include other allies and partnerships. Any outcome will have a profound effect not only on Pakistan and the US role in Afghanistan but on many other countries in the region and beyond.

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