American and Russian Relations Worsening

Tensions between the United States and Russia continue to worsen, with the conflict in Syria serving as tinder to the fire.

On Sunday an American F/A-18 fighter shot down a Syrian Su-22 bomber which had targeted American-backed fighters in Syria.  The incident was precipitated by Syrian government-backed ground troops attacking the American-backed fighters.  U.S. warplanes “buzzed” the Syrian troops to force them to break off their attack.  American commanders then called the Russian commanders in the region to attempt to de-escalate the situation.   However, a couple hours later a Syrian Su-22 plane bombed positions near the American-backed troops.  It was therefore shot down by the American F/A-18 in order to defend the American allies.

The next day, “Russia responded by saying its surface-to-air missile systems in Syria would begin to track manned and unmanned aircraft from the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition if they go west of the Euphrates River.”  Thus, Russia is threatening to target U.S. aircraft who overfly Syrian government-held positions.

Also on Monday, an armed Russian Su-27 fighter approached within five feet of an American RC-135 reconnaissance plane in the Baltic Sea.  This was the most dangerous of 35 similar incidents in the area since the beginning of June.  It is also consistent with escalating Russian interceptions of U.S. aircraft in other regions, particularly the Black Sea and off the coast of Alaska.

On Tuesday, another incident occurred in Syria.  An American F-15 shot down an armed Syrian-government drone which appeared to be advancing towards American-allied forces.  A couple weeks previously, another armed drone was shot down by U.S. forces under similar circumstances.

In addition, the U.S. has launched strikes against Iranian-backed militias which have threatened U.S-backed forces in Syria.  Turkey has also bombed U.S-backed Kurdish forces.

Put it all together and Syria is a mess.  Within the country are Americans, Russians, Syrian-government forces, American-backed Syrian militias, Russian-backed Syrian militias, Iranian-backed Syrian militias, Turkish forces, and ISIS forces.  Broadly speaking, everyone is “battling ISIS.”  However, the Turks do not want the Kurds to gain power.  President Assad of Syria and his Russian allies want him to remain in power.  The Syrian rebels want Assad gone.  The U.S. wants Assad gone.  It’s hard to determine just who is whose ally in this tangle of alliances.

The risk is high, therefore, that a miscalculation can lead to a greater conflict in the region or see U.S. and Russian forces engage in a direct confrontation which could quickly escalate.  The emerging new “Cold War” between the U.S. and Russia could then get very hot.

 

BREAKING: Russia Says US Coalition Planes Will Be Targets, AP Reports

This is a developing story. AP reporter Josh Lederman, who covers national security and State Department, tweeted this little bombshell.

Since a U.S. Navy F/A-18 downed a Syrian SU-22 Russian-made bomber over the weekend, “coordination” between American assets and Russians in the theater appears to have broken down.

And this…just in case you forgot that Qatar is in the middle of a Mideast kerfuffle with other Gulf states.

We may very soon see a nose-to-nose confrontation between the two militaries. That’s bad news for anyone who thinks Russia is still our friend.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail here. This would be a really good time for Russian President Vladimir Putin to take President Trump up on his “call my cellphone” offer.

BREAKING: U.S. Forces Bomb Assad-Friendly Militia In Syria

U.S. forces staged an airstrike against a militia aligned with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, The Hill reported.

The strike took place in At Tanf near Syria’s border with Jordan and Iraq, the official said. The United States has been using the area to train its partnered local forces.

The [Pentagon] official could not immediately provide more information on the strike, including whether the strike was in defense of the partnered forces and the makeup of the militia that was struck.

CENTCOM will issue an official statement shortly, according to the report.

Assad Built a Death Camp, Including Crematorium, While Russia Cheered

Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad has built a crematorium at a large prison outside Damascus, the U.S. State Department contends based on solid evidence.

“Credible sources have believed that many of the bodies have been disposed in mass graves,” [Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs] told reporters. During the briefing, he showed aerial images of what he said was a crematorium.

The purpose of the crematorium is to dispose of bodies, leaving little evidence. This would make Sednaya prison fit the definition of a death camp.

Amnesty International reported in February that an average of 20 to 50 people were hanged each week at the Sednaya military prison north of Damascus. Between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed at Sednaya in the four years since a popular uprising descended into war, it said.

As Assad continued attacks on his own civilians, Russia stood by and cheered its ally.

“These atrocities have been carried out seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran,” Jones said. “The (Assad) regime must stop all attacks on civilian and opposition forces. And Russia must bear responsibility to ensure regime compliance.”

Syrian rebels have long accused Assad of building a death camp complete with crematoriums, but received little attention in the Obama administration.

President Trump has proven himself to be much more proactive against the Syrian regime’s atrocities, but soft on Russia. Trump’s Tomahawk strike was made after the Russians received specific warnings to avoid potential casualties. The Russians almost certainly alerted the Syrians before the missiles struck.

It’s totally naïve to believe that the Russians, when presented with evidence from the State Department, (a) didn’t know this was going on, and (b) would do anything about it. Past deals to “de-escalate” and broker a ceasefire have failed, and Russia has shown itself to be all-in on Assad’s side.

If the Trump administration wants to stop the death camps, it’s going to fall to America to do it.

Worse Than Bergdahl? An FBI Translator Married the ISIS Terrorist She Was Investigating. And The Government Hid It From The American People.

Credit where credit is due: CNN just broke a massive national security scandal wide open. There’s just no other way of putting it. An FBI translator working on ISIS cases at the Bureau ended up fleeing the United States to marry a member of the very terrorist group she was supposed to be investigating — a vicious terrorist group that has carried out countless bombings, advertised beheadings, resurrected crucifixions, enslaved women, attempted genocide, established a would-be caliphate, and killed Americans. Backed up by unsealed court records, this doesn’t look like “Fake News” but rather like a fairly damning story of deceit, intrigue, and perhaps even downright treachery by a member of our intelligence community with top secret security clearance. In a post-9/11 world, the egregiousness of a member of the intelligence community joining the jihad cannot be ignored. And it’s a scandal that was hidden from the American people by the Obama administration for years.

Strange Bedfellows: The Basics of the Case

The short story is this: the Czech-born, Germany-raised, American-military-wife-turned-FBI-linguist Daniela Greene was in secret contact with ISIS terrorists, passed along classified information to the terrorist group, traveled to ISIS-controlled Syria, married a notorious butcher terrorist named Abu Talha al-Almani, apparently got cold feet, fled Syria, and made her way back to the United States.  Her only punishment was a slap on the wrist and a sentence of less than two years. Again, it bears repeating – she was given only a two-year absurdly lenient sentence for going over to the side of the Islamic State, becoming a terrorist’s bride, and participating in a bit of regrettable treachery that seems to go beyond what even deserter Bowe Bergdahl did (who is currently awaiting trial on charges that could give him life in prison for wandering off base and into the hands of the Taliban). And the seeming cover-up by those involved in the Obama administration’s Justice Department is itself staggering, involving concealing this information from the public and possibly even leaking false stories to create a misleading narrative. All of that will be explained. A summary of the excellent CNN piece is excerpted below:

“An FBI translator with a top-secret security clearance traveled to Syria in 2014 and married a key ISIS operative she had been assigned to investigate, CNN has learned. The rogue employee, Daniela Greene, lied to the FBI about where she was going and warned her new husband he was under investigation, according to federal court records. Greene’s saga, which has never been publicized, exposes an embarrassing breach of national security at the FBI – an agency that has made its mission rooting out ISIS sympathizers across the country. It also raises questions about whether Greene received favorable treatment from Justice Department prosecutors who charged her with a relatively minor offense, then asked a judge to give her a reduced sentence in exchange for her cooperation, the details of which remain shrouded in court-ordered secrecy. The man Greene married was no ordinary terrorist. He was Denis Cuspert, a German rapper turned ISIS pitchman, whose growing influence as an online recruiter for violent jihadists had put him on the radar of counter-terrorism authorities on two continents. In Germany, Cuspert went by the rap name Deso Dogg. In Syria, he was known as Abu Talha al-Almani. He praised Osama bin Laden in a song, threatened former President Barack Obama with a throat-cutting gesture and appeared in propaganda videos, including one in which he was holding a freshly severed human head. Within weeks of marrying Cuspert, Greene, 38, seemed to realize she had made a terrible mistake. She fled back to the US, where she was immediately arrested and agreed to cooperate with authorities. She pleaded guilty to making false statements involving international terrorism and was sentenced to two years in federal prison. She was released last summer.”

So What Makes Abu Talha al-Almani So Bad, Anyway?

Before he was ever Abu Talha al-Almani he was rapper Deso Dogg, and before he was rapper Deso Dogg he was just plain Denis Cuspert. Born in Germany, his Ghanian father would abandon his German mother, and his younger years would be marked by hardship and crime. He’d eventually transform from Denis Cuspert to aspiring rapper Deso Dogg, and he would have a bit of success in that realm, even touring with DMX back in 2006. But he’d eventually convert to Islam, abandon his Berlin rap career, and join the Islamic State as it attempted to build its caliphate in Iraq and Syria, adopting the name Abu Talha al-Almani. The Middle East Media Research Institute would put together a very detailed article on Abu Talha back in 2015, dubbing him “ISIS’s Celebrity Cheerleader” and explaining his integral role in helping promote ISIS’s brutal crimes through social media (again, read the whole thing, but a very relevant excerpt is below):

“Talha now embarked on an odd trajectory, seemingly as a jihadi ‘everyman,’ appearing in or near every ISIS battlefield in Syria. A July 2014 video July 2014 showed glimpses of him in the bloody aftermath of the ISIS takeover of the Al-Sha’er gas fields in Homs. In a field covered with dead bodies, Abu Talha is seen for several seconds beating a corpse with a sandal. Still another video, released in November 2014, dates from the savage ISIS suppression of the Sunni Arab Shaitat tribe in August 2014 in Deir Al-Zor. While Abu Talha is not actually seen killing anyone, he is deep in the gore of freshly spilled human blood, and holding up a just-severed human head. In yet another, short video, he is shown discussing loot taken from Kurds and Yazidis near the town of Kobane … Despite his extensive extolling of his thirst for martyrdom in December 2013, Abu Talha must either live a charmed battlefield life or, more likely, is considered too valuable as a poster child for German jihadi or mixed-race Europeans, or as a media advisor and morale booster. As such, he is likely to continue for a while as a high-profile, if marginal, visual presence. Leaving aside the special case of ISIS’s ‘West African Province’ (Boko Haram), Abu Talha is the most prominent person of color within the ranks of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.”

The Al Hayat Media Center was ISIS’s innovative propaganda arm, formed around 2014 during the height of the now-crumbling caliphate’s power. According to a Vice News article, “In addition to being one of the most brutal militant groups currently fighting in the Middle East, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) might also have the most elaborate public relations strategy.” This extremist outreach effort consisted of slick videos, social media engagement, online English-language magazines named Dabiq & Rumiyah (The Clarion Project has some examples here), and period reports called “Insight into the Islamic State” (MEMRI has some examples here). The goal for all of these varied efforts was to shape false narratives, to recruit new members, and to spread jihad – and by most accounts they were very successful. Indeed, according to one study out of Northwestern University & Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the number of foreign ISIS recruits numbered in the many tens of thousands from all over the globe: “About 30,000 fighters from at least 85 countries have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as of December 2015. Although the great majority of ISIS recruits come from the Middle East and the Arab world, many foreign fighters also come from Western nations, including most members of the European Union, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Thousands of fighters from Russia and hundreds from Indonesia and Tajikistan have also joined ISIS. The recruitment of foreign fighters to join ISIS is a global phenomenon.” (And these stats are backed up by The Soufan Group & other expert groups as well). So, who was the mastermind behind much of the work of the Al Hayat Media Center, this online cesspool of well-crafted terrorist propaganda, this ISIS effort at the center of their recruitment efforts? None other than rapper-turned-terrorist Abu Talha al-Almani — butcher, jihadist, propagandist, and soon-to-be husband. His recruitment skills wouldn’t be limited just to winning over young frustrated Muslim men yearning to join the battlefield, though, because he’d apparently also manage to sway a 38-year-old already-married American FBI linguist over to his side too.

Timeline of the Scandal, Concealment, & Possible Cover-Up

Borrowing some from the CNN article and from numerous other researched sources that are available on the web, a rough timeline of the incredibly strange string of events can now be patched together, all seeming to lead towards suggestions of a woefully lenient sentence for Daniela Greene as well as a possible cover-up (or at the very least a willful concealment) involving the intelligence community and the Department of Justice:

2011: Daniela Greene becomes a translator with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

January 2014: Daniela Greene begins investigating ISIS with a specific focus on Abu Talha himself because of her knowledge of the German language.

Between January 2014 & June 2014: Daniela Greene and Abu Talha begin communicating via a secret Skype connection and work out a plan for her to come to Syria.

June 2014: Daniela Greene deceives the FBI by telling them that she is going to visit family overseas, makes her way into Syria via Turkey, reveals key classified information to members of ISIS about the FBI’s ongoing investigations, and marries terrorist Abu Talha.

August 2014: Daniela Greene gets cold feet, escapes from Syria (somehow), makes her way back to America, and is arrested by the authorities. The arrest is not publicized whatsoever and the American people are not informed that an American intelligence officer that had gone over to the side of the Islamic State has been recovered.

December 2014: Daniela Greene pleads guilty to terrorism-related charges and goes to prison after cooperating with investigators and providing them with relevant information. She will be locked up for just two years. The conviction & sentencing are not publicized whatsoever, the court records are sealed, and the American people are not informed that an American intelligence officer who had gone over to the side of the Islamic State will only be serving out a puny sentence.

January 9, 2015: Secretary of State John Kerry enters the following official statement into the Federal Register: “I hereby determine that the individual known as Denis Cuspert, also known as Denis Mamadou Cuspert … also known as Abu Taha al Almani, committed, or poses a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.” [Nothing in the statement mentions anything about a possible American traitor, of course.]

February 9, 2015: The State Department designates Denis Cuspert a.k.a. Abu Talha as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, stating, in part: “As a result of the designation … U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with him or to his benefit. Denis Cuspert is a foreign terrorist fighter and operative for ISIL, a designated foreign terrorist organization. Cuspert joined ISIL in 2012 and has appeared in numerous videos on its behalf, the most recent dating from early November, in which he appears holding a severed head he claims belongs to a man executed for opposing ISIL … Now calling himself Abu Talha al-Almani, Cuspert has pledged an oath of loyalty to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and appears to serve as an ISIL recruiter with special emphasis on recruiting German speakers to ISIL. Cuspert is emblematic of the type of foreign recruit ISIL seeks for its ranks … Cuspert has been a willing pitchman for ISIL atrocities. Cuspert is also wanted by the German government on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities in his home country.” [Nothing in the statement mentions anything about a possible American traitor, of course.]

February 9, 2015 to February 15, 2015: According to at least one newspaper, US intelligence officials apparently begin leaking the false claim that Abu Talha had married an American spy unbeknownst to him, rather than the exact opposite story (and actually true story) of her running over to the side of ISIS. [Nothing in the leaks mentions anything about a possible American traitor, of course.]

February 15, 2015: The German newspaper Bild publishes the (presumably unbeknownst to them) false story that Abu Talha had himself been duped by U.S. intelligence into marrying a woman that he didn’t know was a spy. Bild cites numerous intelligence officials and provides fairly breathless coverage of the (falsely reported) salacious incident. The original CNN article did not include any link to the original false story (or even provide the name of the German paper where the story first appeared) but I was able to track it down. The original German version is here, a rough English translation can be found here, and some key roughly translated excerpts are as follows (grammatical mistakes are included from the translation):

“What the ex-rapper with the battle name ‘Abu Talha al-Almani’ does not suspect: He is tapped into a love trap of the US federal police FBI! The spectacular secret service operation, confirmed by the German and American security circles against BILD am SONNTAG, sounds like the screenplay to an espionage thriller. The FBI hired an undercover agent into the Islamic terror scene in Syria. Their mission is to build a close relationship with an ISIS leader, and thus provide important information about the terrestrial group … The agent met Denis Cuspert and made him a target … The “Romeo and Juliet Action” was successful: the German ISIS terrorist fell in love with the US agent. He married her according to the Islamic rite. The honey trap snapped: The top spy, who had been prepared for the delicate operation every month, learned more and more from the inner life of ISIS. On secret channels the agent reported regularly during her undercover assignment with her US leadership officers. But suddenly the contact with her broke. The operation and especially the life of the FBI woman seemed to be in danger. This concern was justified: for the agent seemed to be afraid. A ‘concrete threat situation’ is mentioned. ISIS is immediately killed by traitors. While it is speculated in German intelligence circles that the woman actually fell in love with the ex-rapper, the Americans point this back … The agent succeeds in escaping from the ISIS camp. She crosses the border into Turkey. There she is arrested by the Turkish police, the FBI is informed immediately. The US federal police bring the woman to safety, she flies into the home. There, she reports in detail about all that she has experienced and experienced in the months before. It is important information about the organization and communication of ISIS terrorists – and, of course, about Denis Cuspert. To the native of Berlin the Americans have so much incriminating material that they could now put it on their international terrorist list.”

Based on the court records that have been revealed and based on the story broken by CNN, the German story is entirely false, appearing to be a fabricated account planted by American intelligence (if the paper is to be believed on its sourcing). It’s worth noting that the German intelligence officials cited in the article claim that they are (rightly) suspicious that the female spy might’ve actually been the one who had fallen in love with the terrorist, but those reservations are pushed aside by the American intelligence sources that are quoted. A number of other German newspapers like Sächsische Zeitung (English version here & German version here) also run the story (dropping any reference to the doubts that German intelligence has) and then it starts to spread internationally.

February 16, 2015 and onward: A bunch of major news sites worldwide (including Fox News, the Daily Mail, the Express Tribune, and Al-Arabiya) all fall for the narrative provided by Bild and run stories reporting the false allegations of the original German newspaper, such that it becomes the accepted narrative. Of the major outlets that I could find, all of them also stunningly drop the warning from the original story in Bild about the doubts that German intelligence had about the narrative that was being pushed.

October 30, 2015: Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith states that the United States has killed Abu Talha, saying, ““I can confirm that an Oct. 16 airstrike near Raqqah killed Denis Cuspert … [He] was a foreign terrorist fighter and operative for ISIL who used social media to take advantage of disaffected youth and potential Western recruits … [He]  threatened the president of the United States and German citizens … His death contributes to our efforts to stop foreign fighter recruitment.”

August 3, 2016: The Pentagon reveals that Denis Cuspert a.k.a. Abu Talha was not killed after all.

August 4, 2016: Daniela Greene is released after serving just two years in prison.

So What Does All Of This Mean?

If CNN’s reporting is accurate and if the German newspaper Bild‘s reporting was a factual representation of what American & German intelligence sources were telling them, then the following can be deduced. FBI linguist Daniela Greene betrayed her oath of office as a member of the FBI, joining the terrorist group that she had been tasked with investigating and marrying Abu Talha one of its top propagandists. At some point while in Syria she decided that it was a terrible place to be (shocking) and she somehow made her escape out of the country. Once back in the United States, Daniela Greene would be arrested on terrorism-related charges to absolute no fanfare whatsoever and would serve just two years in prison, a drastically shorter period of time than in typical terrorism-related cases, especially ones where charges could’ve credibly included collusion with the enemy and treason. Secretary John Kerry and the State Department would then label Abu Talha as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. Some members of the American intelligence community would then soon leak a false narrative to the aforementioned German newspaper, Bild, claiming that Abu Talha had actually been conned by Daniela Greene rather than the true story about an FBI translator joining up with ISIS. German intelligence officials would cast doubts on that when speaking with Bild themselves, informing the paper that they actually thought that the American spy was the one who’d fallen in love with the terrorist (the truth) instead of the other way around. The story would then jump around in German newspapers before going worldwide in very short order. And in a stunning example of shoddy journalism, almost all (if not all) other news outlets around the world would drop the doubts that German intelligence had from their stories when reporting it (possibly because that got in the way of the straightforward narrative). The Pentagon would incorrectly report that Abu Talha was killed, would be forced to retract the statement roughly a year later, and perhaps just by terrible coincidence Daniela Greene would be released from prison just one day later. All of this done secretly. All of this done without informing the American public of the threats being posed by ISIS’s propaganda machine. All of this done without informing the American public of the vulnerabilities inside its own trusted intelligence agencies. And all of this done with a dose of misdirection (like the apparent misleading leaks that would help shape a #FakeNews narrative worldwide).

The following questions now need to be answered for the American people:

What steps has the intelligence community taken to ensure this never happens again?

Did the American intelligence community purposefully leak false information regarding this case?

And, if they did willfully leak misleading information, on whose orders was it done?

How can something as insignificant as a two-year lenient sentence be justified in a case such as this?

Were larger terrorism charges or charges approaching treason ever considered by DOJ? If not, why not?

If there was purposeful concealment, who in the Obama administration knew about it & who ordered it?

What was the motivation for keeping all of this secret from the American public?

Was the motivation just the utter embarrassment over an FBI translator get beguiled by an ISIS terrorist?

Or was the motivation a desire to hide the fact that the “JV Team” was flipping U.S. agents on their watch?

Few Lasting Achievements From Trump’s First 100 Days

As the Trump Administration passes its 100-day mark, the most striking thing is how ineffective the new president has been thus far. In spite of a plethora of Executive Orders that undoubtedly please most on the right, President Trump has put few lasting marks on the country at this early point in his presidency.

Even though President Trump has signed many bills in his tenure as president, most have not been laws that have lasting significance. For conservatives, passing laws is not an end unto itself. Laws should roll back government and make it smaller and less intrusive on the American people. Politifact notes that several of the bills that Trump has signed are business-as-usual type laws that designate memorials and name buildings, for example.

Not all of Trump’s new laws have been trivial, however. About half of the 28 bills signed by Trump so far were passed under the Congressional Review Act. This law allows Congress to review and rescind last-minute Obama-era rules by federal agencies. The law provides for a 60-day window to review bureaucratic rules that begins when Congress is notified that a rule has been finalized. The Daily Signal has a list of Obama-era rules that run the gamut from gun control to environment to education that have been rescinded by President Trump and the new Congress. Nevertheless, the laws merely preserve the status quo and do not break new ground in shrinking government or rolling back Obama’s legislation. Additionally, the window is now closed to rescind other rules from the Obama Administration.

The most notable legislative story of Trump’s 100 days is the failure to advance a bill repealing or reforming Obamacare. For seven years, Republicans have railed against President Obama’s trademark health entitlement yet, under President Trump’s leadership, Republicans in Congress have failed to advance even a watered-down version of bill reforming Obamacare.

President Trump’s answer was to pivot from health care to tax reform, but he is likely to have the same result and for the same reasons. The Trump coattails left Republicans with tiny majorities in both houses of Congress. The Republican Senate majority cannot defeat a Democrat filibuster and the House Republicans are too divided between Tuesday Group moderates and Freedom Caucus conservatives to pass a health reform bill. Tax reform is likely to be no different.

In order to avert a government shutdown, President Trump even had to give in and omit funding for construction of his wall and crackdown on sanctuary cities from the spending bill that will carry the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. Trump said repeatedly that Mexico would pay for the wall before asking for taxpayer funds.

Trump has done better with Executive Orders. The president has issued many orders that will slow the growth of government and streamline government regulations. An early Trump Executive Order reinstated President Reagan’s Mexico City policy that banned federal funds from international groups that promote abortion. President Obama had rescinded the policy in 2009. Other Executive Orders, such as the travel ban, seem poorly conceived from the beginning.

Good or bad, Executive Orders are limited. The president cannot legislate from the Oval Office with an Executive Order in place of Congress. Executive Orders may also last only as long as the president who signed them. An incoming president could sign Executive Orders rescinding Trump’s orders as easily as Trump reversed Obama’s.

On foreign policy, President Trump, whose views in the campaign ranged from promising a plan to destroy ISIS within his first month to neo-isolationism in other regions, launched what is largely considered to be an ineffective attack on a Syrian airbase in response to a chemical weapons attack before turning his attention to North Korea.

For several weeks, Trump suggested that he would make trade concessions to China in exchange for help in dealing with North Korea. As recently as April 30, Trump suggested on CBS News that he was open to dealing with China on trade, saying, “Trade is very important. But massive warfare with millions, potentially millions of people being killed? That, as we would say, trumps trade.”

Today that has changed. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross seemed to walk back weeks of diplomatic overtures in an interview with CBS, saying, “I don’t think he [Trump] meant to indicate at all that he intends to trade away American jobs just for help on North Korea.”

One hundred days into Trump’s presidency, there is also still no detailed plan to defeat ISIS.

To date, the Trump presidency can be described as lurching from one crisis to another. Some of these crises have been self-inflicted, such as the president’s tweets about wiretapping by the Obama Administration. Others, such as North Korean missile tests and Syrian chemical warfare, have been outside the president’s control. Still others, such as the division among congressional Republicans, reflect a lack of leadership from President Trump.

The one unqualified success that President Trump has had is with the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch seems to be as solid a conservative jurist as anyone could possibly have picked. Nevertheless, the confirmation came at the cost of the filibuster. This was necessary due to unreasonable Democratic obstructionism, but may haunt Republicans in the future.

To have a lasting and positive impact, President Trump is going to have to develop a cogent and consistent worldview on both domestic and foreign policy. So far, the president has been inconsistent on numerous issues in both realms. He needs to make up his mind as to what his goals are and concentrate on those items.

The president also needs to learn to work with Congress. Donald Trump was elected partly on claims that he is a world-class dealmaker. His deal-making skills are sorely needed in hammering out compromises on Obamacare and tax reform, but so far President Trump seems to have little interest in the details of policymaking. The president should realize that the qualities that made him the Republican nominee and that enabled him to win the election don’t necessarily make him a natural leader and statesman.

None of this means that he will have a failed presidency, however. President Trump has assembled a very qualified and capable team. With a few exceptions, the Trump cabinet can truly be called a “conservative dream team.” President Trump should listen to their advice and consider it carefully.

As someone who was a Never Trump conservative and a third-party voter during the election, I must admit that Trump, with all his foibles, has not been the worst-case scenario that I feared. So far, he has undoubtedly been better than President Hillary (shudder) would have been. Neither has he been a valiant, steely-eyed, conservative leader. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

So far President Trump has been erratic and ineffective, but he has trended toward the right. In some cases, such as backing away from his plans to terminate NAFTA, his flip-flops have even be reassuring. In other cases, such as his saber-rattling against North Korea, his actions are downright scary.

After 100 days, the jury is still out.

Making Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 Great Again

[The Congress shall have Power…] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water…
– The Constitution of the United States of America (Article I, Section 8, Clause 11)

 

Some Members of Congress Just Decided to Follow the Constitution

On Friday, April 28th, 2017, some members of Congress did something that they are not exactly known for doing nowadays – they asked that the Constitution be followed and that their status as a co-equal branch of government be recognized. And they did so in bipartisan fashion in a statement directed to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. They were specifically asserting the constitutional role given to Congress in deciding whether & how America is to go to war. Although the principles outlined in the letter can & should likely be applied broadly to threats posed by North Korea & Iran as well, two issues in particular were addressed in the letter: the civil war in Syria and the ongoing battle against the Islamic State. In regards to Syria, the representatives stated unequivocally that constitutionally-speaking the President cannot strike at Syria again without congressional approval. And in regards to the Islamic State, the representatives stated that it’s time that we stop relying only on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed over a decade & a half ago in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and instead craft a new authorization that singles out the threat now posed by the Islamic State’s global network as well. The full letter is below:

 

Dear Speaker Ryan:

We write to you with a sense of urgency and ask that the U.S. House of Representatives immediately begin a serious debate on the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State and express that the President must seek approval from Congress before taking any further military action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. As you know, we represent a diverse group of political views, but on this matter we are united. We believe that Congress has an important role to play, and based on current events, such a debate should occur as soon as possible.

For too long, the United States has conducted military operations against the Islamic State under the justification of the outdated 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The U.S. has steadily escalated its role and military presence against the Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq, including additional deployments over the past two months. It is past time for the House to debate and vote on an AUMF that defines the purpose, nature and limits of U.S. military engagement against the Islamic State.

Furthermore, the U.S. has now carried out its first direct military action against the Syrian regime since the country’s civil war began six years ago, again without any authorization by Congress. We believe the President must present a strategy and seek the approval of Congress before any additional military action is taken against the Syrian regime.

We know that you share our respect for the prerogatives, rights and obligations of the Congress as defined under Article I of the Constitution. Congress cannot continue to remain silent and ignore its responsibilities under the Constitution. Engaging in these debates is the minimum we owe the American people and our brave men and women in uniform.

Sincerely,
[Signed by 46 Members of the House of Representatives]

Syria & ISIS

The strategic case that is made by these representatives is strong. The situation in Syria has become a six-year proxy war between outside powers: Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is backed by the Shiite theocracy in Iran, by Hezbollah, and by Putin’s Russia; various rebel forces are backed by a wide range of actors like the Gulf States & Jordan; a variety of jihadist groups hold significant territory, including al-Qaeda and its offshoots al-Nusra & ISIS; the Kurds battle ISIS while establishing semi-autonomous regions for themselves; and Turkey nominally battles ISIS while also doing everything it can to thwart Kurdish desires for independence. If the United States is to get involved further it should not be done on a whim, but based on a clear strategy backed by both the President & Congress. Likewise the threat posed by the Islamic State globally is significant – despite losing territory in Iraq & Syria, they are actually expanding their influence in places like Libya & Afghanistan while carrying out brutal attacks all across the West. The United States needs to establish a red line against ISIS by declaring war against them. ISIS engages in global jihad, in bombings & beheadings, in crucifixion, in attempted genocide, & in slavery – and just like the use of chemical weapons is a red line, each of those terrible acts should be a red line too. The Islamic State’s crimes are worthy of a declaration of war. And declaring war through Congress his is not only the smart strategic play, but – as leaders like Congressman Justin Amash, Senator Mike Lee, Senator Rand Paul, and others have made clear – it is also likely a constitutional obligation. At least the Founding Fathers thought so.

The Founding Fathers & War Powers

James Madison was by far & away the most influential framer of the Constitution. As delegates gathered in 1787 for a Constitutional Convention to discuss replacing the Articles of Confederation with a new Constitution, James Madison took notes on the wide-ranging debates that took place. One of the more interesting debates that was held concerned war powers and their proper placement under either executive or legislative purview. James Madison’s notes at the convention outlined the discussion in detail:

 

Mr. Madison and Mr Gerry moved to insert “declare,” striking out “make” war; leaving to the Executive the power to repel sudden attacks.
Mr Sharman thought it stood very well. The Executive shd. be able to repel and not to commence war. “Make” better than “declare” the latter narrowing the power too much.
Mr Gerry never expected to hear in a republic a motion to empower the Executive alone to declare war.
Mr. Elseworth. there is a material difference between the cases of making war, and making peace. It shd. be more easy to get out of war, than into it. War also is a simple and overt declaration. peace attended with intricate & secret negotiations.
Mr. Mason was agst giving the power of war to the Executive, because not safely to be trusted with it; or to the Senate, because not so constructed as to be entitled to it. He was for clogging rather than facilitating war; but for facilitating peace. He preferred “declare” to “make”.
On the Motion to insert declare – in place of Make, it was agreed to.
[On the remark by Mr. King that “make” war might be understood to “conduct” it which was an Executive function, Mr. Elseworth gave up his objection and the vote of Cont was changed to – ay.]

 

In this brief exchange between a number of the Founders, a few of our modern debates seem to be resolved in just a few short lines – it is decided that it is up to the legislative branch to begin a war and that it is up to the executive branch to carry out a war or to defend against invasion, with these war powers being divided between the two branches with the specific intention of making it harder to go to war. The idea that the President might be able to go to war on his own is roundly rejected as un-republican and the role of the Congress in making these decisions was made clear. This was the position held broadly by all of the Founding Fathers, as the following selections from their writings clearly show.

 

Alexander Hamilton Federalist No. 69 in 1788:

The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the Legislature.

 

Alexander HamiltonPersonal Papers in 1801:

“That instrument has only provided affirmatively, that, ‘The Congress shall have power to declare War;’ the plain meaning of which is that, it is the peculiar and exclusive province of Congress, when the nation is at peace, to change that state into a state of war; whether from calculations of policy or from provocations or injuries received: in other words, it belongs to Congress only, to go to War.”

 

Chief Justice John MarshallTalbot vs. Seeman in 1801:
“The whole powers of war being by the Constitution of the United States vested in Congress, the acts of that body can alone be resorted to as our guides in this inquiry.”

 

George Washington Letter to William Moultrie in 1793:

“The Constitution vests the power of declaring War with Congress, therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorised such a measure.”

 

Thomas Jefferson First Annual Message in 1801:

“Unauthorized by the Constitution, without the sanction of Congress, to go beyond the line of defense, the vessel, being disabled from committing further hostilities, was liberated with its crew. The Legislature will doubtless consider whether, by authorizing measures of offense also, they will place our force on an equal footing with that of its adversaries. I communicate all material information on this subject, that in the exercise of this important function confided by the Constitution to the Legislature exclusively their judgment may form itself on a knowledge and consideration of every circumstances of weight.”

 

James Madison Letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1798:

“The Constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war & most prone to it. It has accordingly, with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature.”

 

James MadisonLetters from the Pacificus-Helvidius Debates in 1793-1794:

“In the general distribution of powers, we find that of declaring war expressly vested in the Congress, where every other legislative power is declared to be vested …

Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges, whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded. They are barred from the latter functions by a great principle in free government, analogous to that which separates the sword from the purse, or the power of executing from the power of enacting laws …

The power of the legislature to declare war, and judge of the causes for declaring it, is one of the most express and explicit parts of the constitution. To endeavour to abridge or affect it by strained inferences, and by hypothetical or singular occurrences, naturally warns the reader of some lurking fallacy …

In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man; not such as nature may offer as the prodigy of many centuries, but such as may be expected in the ordinary successions of magistracy. War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honours and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honourable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace …

Hence it has grown into an axiom that the executive is the department of power most distinguished by its propensity to war: hence it is the practice of all states, in proportion as they are free, to disarm this propensity of its influence.”

So, Let’s Follow the Constitution:
Declare War on the Islamic State & Don’t Attack Syria Again without Congressional Approval

This basic concept – that the Constitution makes clear that it is up to the Congress to decide if a war was to be conducted or not and that it is then up to the President to conduct said war – was never in dispute during the time of the Constitution’s ratification process. The Founding Fathers could not have been more clear. Aside from repelling invasions & responding to direct attacks, the President was reliant upon Congress to go to war. This was the understanding of the ratifiers of the Constitution and it should remain our working understanding today. So the bipartisan group of representatives calling for direct congressional authorization should be praised for assertion of their Article One constitutional powers, and Speaker Ryan & President Trump should take their request seriously. After all, it was (then-candidate & now-President) Trump himself who made the case for declaring war on ISIS. A nation whose elected officials are actually united behind a smart policy to deal with the disaster in Syria and further united by a new commitment to defeating the Islamic State would be a nation that is safer from terrorism and more loyal to our foundational & constitutional principles. The security of our nation and a fealty to the Constitution are not mutually exclusive – and it’s time our leaders acknowledged that.

To Deny President Trump Any Credit, the New York Times Rewrites +2100 Years of History

In 416 BC, the Greek city-state of Athens decided it had to besiege and destroy Melos so every other Grecian city-state would know Athens was strong. Julius Caesar famously marched his legions through Gaul and camped there to send tribal leaders strong signals that there was a new sheriff in town. The Emperor Claudius invaded and conquered Britain to show he was strong and could do what others before him had not. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid saw American bombers fly over Tokyo to signal our resolve and determination. After becoming President, Donald Trump launched missile strikes in Syria and allowed commanders in Afghanistan to drop the MOAB on ISIS, signaling a change in American policy and a re-engagement from a position of strength.

All these things were not just military strategy, but they were shows of force designed to send a message to rivals. They were historically acknowledged as useful military strategy until three days ago when the New York Times, to deny President Trump any and all credit for military boldness, determined there is no evidence that shows of force do any good.

Before I go on, you should note that the New York Times article is writing by Max Fisher, formerly of Vox, who is a partisan leftist. He famously rewrote Israeli history to undermine the historic existence of Jews in Israeli territory and got basic historic facts wrong about Israel while peddling Palestinian propaganda.

Now, Fisher has tracked down several liberal political scientists who did not vote for Donald Trump and they naturally declared that such signals are of no value and do not really send messages.

This is the state of the American left. They have swallowed up their intellectual honesty to avoid saying anything nice about President Trump. They will rewrite 2100 years of history to avoid concluding President Trump might have done some good. What is troubling is that the New York Times gives a platform to historic revisionism to serve partisan goals. At a time the Times laments the rise of fake news and the lack of respect for science, it allows a partisan leftist the veneer of objectivity to rewrite history.