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The economy or the people? Or Is the cure worse than the virus?

 

President Trump said Tuesday during a Fox News virtual town hall that he wants the country’s economy re-opened by Easter amid questions over how long people should stay home and businesses should remain closed to slow the spread of coronavirus. Speaking from the Rose Garden alongside others on his coronavirus taskforce, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” The holiday this year lands on April 12.

The President also reiterated his argument that he doesn’t want “to turn the country off” and to see a continued economic downfall from the pandemic. “We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” Trump said during the interview. He added: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call up the automobile companies and say stop making cars. We have to get back to work.”

The President’s optimism of course is countered by all of the panic and anti-trump rhetoric of the media.  Have you heard the media report the praise for the actions of the president from unlikely leaders like the governors of California and New York?  Some of the closures are clearly the result of the panic created by the media.  The rest is truly to ease of contagion of the virus.

The president’s prediction that the U.S. economy would be up-and-running by Easter, however, is tempered by comments earlier in the day by top officials at the Pentagon who predicted the COVID-19 outbreak could last anywhere from 10 weeks to three months.

Trump’s thoughts about getting people back to work sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.

For weeks now, millions of Americans have been practicing “social distancing” in an effort to “flatten the curve” of increasing Chinese Coronavirus infections. Governors in California and New York have issued “stay at home orders” and closed “non-essential” businesses in an effort to stem the growth of the illness. Other states have made similar or more limited declarations or are considering them.  Most states have ended the school year and are trying some form of remote education.  This would be more practical if every school child had a computer and every home had the internet.  (This will be the subject of a whole new article as I learn from the experience of our grandchildren.

While more than 40,000 Americans currently are infected with Chinese Coronavirus, hundreds of millions of others are suffering from the outbreak’s related effects. The U.S. economy is in shambles. The stock market has seen catastrophic losses. Out of an abundance of caution, millions of workers have been sent home. Thousands have been laid off. Restaurants and businesses have been shuttered, and many — especially small ones — may not re-open.

The negative financial impact of the shutdown/quarantine strategy gets worse every day. But are these widespread, but hopefully short-term, economic losses necessary? Will they avert a long-term economic crisis that could potentially kill hundreds of thousands?

As we come full circle from the Rose Garden’s hope of today about opening the country by Easter to the risk of opening the government prematurely maybe there is a compromise solution.

Some places like Wyoming and many of the other mid-western states have few cases of the virus.  Many locales in even New York have few cases.  Such an analysis of the country suggests that there are large pockets of minimal contamination.  Also we know that the vulnerable population groups are the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.  Younger Americans my get the virus but the effects are minimal.  This suggests another way to dice who can go back to work—non-threatened folks.

It is only smart to continue to limit large gatherings but many other social interactions can be resumed in selected locales.

To me the biggest threat while living is Kansas is flying on commercial aircraft.  The airlines should use some of their stimulus money to devise methods of purifying the air inside their planes while they are in flight. 

Of course travel is one of the biggest threats to the selective isolation that I have suggested (age and locale) as the virus can be brought from one of the isolated pockets to a relatively clear zone.

As the country and its leadership struggle with the dilemma pointed out here it would be terribly helpful if the media could stop the hate Trump rhetoric and substitute a support for America theme—why not try telling folks what is good? Or be truly complete in its reporting—“New York City is out of certain needed items because the administration forgot to order them and the government has not been able to fill all of its needs yet.” “Areas critically impacted are in New York, where they did not cancel Lunar New year celebrations.” Complete and accurate reporting and positive stories about women in Kansas making facemasks for a local hospital would also be nice to hear.

I ask my readers to consider the closure of the society and the risks from that versus the closure of the economy and the much longer and possibly worse impact from that.  What is worse—some deaths from the virus or a depression?

Extension of the New START Treaty?

A senior US State Department official told a seminar in London on 11 February that there remains time for Russia and the United States to work through processes for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that is due to expire in February 2021.  There are several extension possibilities in the treaty.

Rumors are that John Bolton wanted to try and lure China into a tri-lateral nuclear control agreement.  There are no rumors to date on what the president or his new National Security Adviser might be thinking.  I know from personal experience that time is actually short to decide to try for a treaty extension and then negotiate it.  Let alone add in the Chinese.  There has not been any evidence of the agencies—State, Defense, Energy, or Intelligence—manning up for such an effort.

The New START Treaty is the only strategic nuclear arms control agreement still existing between the United States and the Russian Federation. It was negotiated by the Obama administration and approved by the Senate. It limits both sides to no more than 1,550 strategic offensively deployed nuclear weapons on no more than 700 deployed launchers. Further, it provides the United States with access to and information about Russia’s nuclear arsenal and vice versa. Both signatories are reportedly fully complying with the agreement, as verified by the U.S. intelligence community.  The new nuclear capable missiles deployed by the Russians into Eastern Europe are not covered by the treaty.

The agreement entered into force in 2011 and will expire on February 5, 2021. However the agreement can be extended by executive agreement for up to five years, a step that would not require further Congressional approval. Both the Joint Chiefs and the U.S. intelligence community allegedly support such an extension. Russia, for its part, has repeatedly and unconditionally offered to extend the agreement.

The Trump administration has been in office more than three years and has yet to determine whether it is interested in extending the New START Treaty. It is easy to see the administration holding such a negotiation as a carrot for after the election.  This might attract more moderates and some Democrats to support Trump.  Conversely new allegations of the Russians meddling in the election and supporting Trump could dissuade the administration from offering such a negotiation lest it appear soft on the Russians.

It is in this context that one should consider any reports of interest by the US in negotiating a new broader multilateral strategic arms control agreement either independently or with both Russia and China. Some American military and security officials are reported to be eager to expand strategic conversations with Russia to protect American interests, and also right to want new and expanded strategic conversations with China, whose actions and capabilities pose growing military and security challenges to American interests in East Asia. Those that are eager feel that discussions are urgently needed to prevent conflicts and diffuse unnecessary tensions in volatile areas and develop new rules for our growing competition with these states.

Before going any further one must determine who the people are that are reported to be eager for such negotiations.  To carry the day in the Trump administration they must be completely without any swamp smell.

What are the arguments for such an extension of the existing agreement and then its expansion into a tri-lateral agreement? It is well known that Russia is developing new strategic nuclear systems, some of which would be covered under the New START if it remains intact. Allowing the agreement to expire or trying to expand it in an unrealistic way and in an unrealistic time frame means Russia would be free after 2021 to develop as many of these new systems as it chooses without any constraint or rights of American access. Of course the US would have the same rights, but in a deficit cutting world there might be strong voices to avoid another nuclear arms race.

There is also nothing that prevents the Trump administration from extending the current agreement and at the same time beginning negotiations on new ones with Russia, China, or both.

As we go forward we will keep an eye on this area as there is the potential for much to happen..

Vindman follow-up

The news reports today that additional 70 staffers have been reassigned away from the NSC staff.  The reported goal is to do two things:

  1. Reduce the NSC staff to about 100 people–the same size as it was during George H W Bush’s conduct of the Gulf War.
  2. Eliminate the Obama holdovers–potential dwellers of the swamp

So much as the Democrats want to paint LTC Vindman as a hero,the reality is that his reassignment was just the leading edge of the NSC restructuring.  The news is reporting that Vindman is on the list for attending the Army War College is this coming August.  This surprises me!  Attendance at the War College is usually reserved for former battalion commanders and other LTCs that are upwardly mobile.  As pointed out, Vindman’s career, based upon reported adverse reports, should be on hold.  More to follow.

Will we be receiving notification of similar housecleaning throughout the rest of the bureaucracy?

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Alexander Vindman—a hero in his own mind

“Fight hard for what you believe in, but if you lose, salute the flag and

execute the policy with the same vigor that you opposed it.”

 

Most of the main stream media portrayed LTC Vindman’s removal from the White House on Friday as his being fired.  That is not a true description.  He was reassigned as he should have been several years ago. Most people don’t understand the staffing of the National Security Council (NSC).  So let’s start there.

Every position in government is listed on some authorization document that is used for personnel management and funding, except those on the NSC.  The NSC is authorized very few posts, even though in the Obama administration it had more than 400 people working in it.  How it works is that the NSC advisor puts the word out to the executive branch that there are so many positions that he needs to fill.  He seeks people to be interviewed and if acceptable to be seconded (people sent to augment a staff) to his staff.  There are also a small number of experts from academia who can be seconded or paid by the US government. Those seconded continue to be paid by their parent organization.

Usually the building of an NSC staff begins immediately after a presidential election so that by the middle of February following a presidential election the staff is fairly completely filled and the national security decision-making process and organization are clearly defined.  (I was involved in this process during the transition to the Reagan administration.)  A short vignette.  In those days the Army had been truly left behind budget wise during the Carter years and we were trying to place officers on both the NSC and State Department staffs.  We wanted some friendly voices in those organizations.)

In LTC Vindman’s case he was an Obama holdover who was expected to be politically neutral and a team player as an Army officer.  This, as we now know, was quite distant from the truth.  If one reads his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee he can see that Vindman’s biggest concern was that the president did not follow the talking points that he had drafted (and maybe even coordinated with other NSC and department staffers, if he was doing his job).  That is what staffers do.  That does not mean that principals always follow the talking points provided.  In the case of policy makers this can often be the case because of knowledge they have or agendas they have that they haven’t shared.

In Vindman’s case he had shared experiences with both the “whistleblower” and members of Representative Schiff’s staff—all of whom had been on the NSC staff together. Did Vindman share his concerns that the president was not following the policy position that he and his cohorts supported? Probably!  We will find out soon.  Is this a crime? Maybe? Was it disloyal? You bet!  Vindman knew better than his boss and was determined, as a member of the swamp, to share his frustration while pursuing his policy.

Did Vindman violate the law when he testified to Congress?  Most likely!  He disobeyed a lawful order of the commander in chief.  Will he be tried—most likely not.  What will happen to him?  He will be assigned a position on the Army Staff—maybe even one specially created for him.  He could easily lose his security clearance or get it downgraded to confidential (lowest clearance out there) based upon his recent transgressions and demonstrated lack of loyalty.  Hence the need for a special position.  He will be watched very carefully in whatever position he is assigned as his loyalties have been shown to be to the swamp, not the current administration.

There is a dictum that applies to all military leaders and staffers: “Fight hard for what you believe in, but if you lose, salute the flag and execute the policy with the same vigor that you opposed it.”

 

Post script:

With respect to the swamp one should expect to find similar people throughout the government.  Senator Schumer and the democratic minority did everything that they could to slow down the staffing process following the 2016 election.  This insured that there were Obama holdovers as someone had to keep the government running.  One would expect that these holdovers are being eliminated or at least identified and contained.  If this is , the Trump government remake will accelerate into 2021.  And if he is re-elected by 2025 the whole makeup of government could/should be changed and the swamp drained, or at least swim-able.

War power limitations on the president—putting the recent House resolution in perspective

The War Powers Resolution was passed in 1973 by both Houses of Congress, overriding the veto of President Nixon. It was passed to reassert Congressional authority over the decision to send American troops to war.  After President Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia without Congress’s consent, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973, intended to limit the president’s authority to conduct war.

At the time, President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill on constitutional grounds, arguing that the measure would define presidential war powers “in ways which would strictly limit his constitutional authority.” Nonetheless, a two-thirds majority in each congressional chamber overrode the veto.

The War Powers Resolution requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without a congressional authorization for use of military force or a declaration of war by the United States.

There have been several instances when the President has not notified Congress within the required 48 hours.  In the case of the attack on General Soleimani the Trump administration made such a notification.  However it would be easy to argue that Congress has already authorized military activities in Iraq and therefore that such a notification was not required.

Yesterday Congressional Democrats, seemed  blissfully unaware of then-President Barack Obama’s rather expansive interpretation of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 during his strategically disastrous 2011 operation to oust Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi, suddenly seemed to care an awful lot about constitutional norms and separation of powers principles. Intellectual hypocrisy again.

Specifically, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives debated whether to Congressionally impose War Powers Resolution limitations upon President Trump’s unilateral ability to ratchet up militancy actions with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In their crusade to hamstring the president’s conduct of his foreign policy vis-à-vis the Iranian regime, House Democrats even found several libertarian-leaning Republican allies.

In my opinion this exercise was misguided, because the War Powers Resolution is, and always has been, unconstitutional.  It has never been challenged in the courts.  This most recent effort was really an attempt by the Democrats to embarrass the president.

The Constitution divides foreign affairs powers between the legislative and executive branches. Among other enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8, Congress has the ability to “declare War,” “raise and support Armies,” “provide and maintain a Navy,” “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces,” “provide for calling forth the Militia,” and “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia.”

On the other hand, Article II of the Constitution provides that “[t]he President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” The very first clause of Article II also vests the president with “[t]he executive Power” — meaning a “residual” foreign affairs power that encompasses all those powers not expressly delegated to Congress in Article I, Section 8.

Many legal scholars have conducted a careful, line-by-line overview of Congress’s enumerated powers and have concluded that the constitution does not provide a legislative means that could feasibly justify the War Powers Resolution. The most likely candidate is the Declare War Clause, but that provision happens to be woefully misunderstood by many lawyers and politicians across the ideological spectrum.

Congress can intervene to halt a president if it views a reckless warmonger is using the manifold tools it has at its disposal:

  • Decreasing the size of the Pentagon’s budget by going line item-by-line item and removing various offensive-oriented materiel from the Department of Defense’s arsenal, or using its more general power of the purse to defund a war effort in its entirety
    • This was what eventually happened in the Vietnam War case.

This interpretation of the Declare War Clause should not be nearly as controversial as it is. At the 1787 constitutional convention, the Framers actually conscientiously substituted out “make War” with “declare War.” In so doing, James Madison explained that it was imperative to leave to the president the “power to repel sudden attacks.” This ought to make a great deal of sense; as Alexander Hamilton would explain only six months after the constitutional convention in The Federalist No. 70, “[d]ecision, activity, secrecy, and despatch will generally characterize the proceedings of one man in a much more eminent degree than the proceedings of any greater number.”

Finally, in Article I, Section 10, the Constitution precludes a state from “engag[ing] in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.” The Framers were therefore aware of multiple verbs — “make” and “engage” — that could have clearly conveyed the meaning of an initiation of hostilities. But they didn’t use those words, and they didn’t use them for a reason. The Framers understood that there was great merit to leaving decisions such as the commencement of hostilities to one man, and not to a fractious Congress.

Congress already has a number of tools at its disposal to push back against a crusading commander-in-chief. As Andrew McCarthy wrote this week at Fox News, “No statute is needed to provide Congress with the power to frustrate unauthorized presidential war-making. The Constitution empowers the legislature to do so by simply refusing to appropriate funds for military action.” But the Declare War Clause means something fundamentally different than what many believe it does.

No president, to date, has abided by the war powers act!  Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Libya being cases in point. They have avoided a legal show down by advising Congress after the fact of military action.  President Obama in 2016 wrote: “I am providing this supplemental consolidated report, prepared by my Administration and consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148), as part of my efforts to keep the Congress informed about deployments of U.S. Armed Forces equipped for combat.”  The term “consistent with” has been used by multiple presidents.  They were saying that their notification was not “as required” by the resolution, but “consistent with” it..  This wording was used to avoid a legal challenge to the requirements for notification of Congress for fear of the president losing to a liberal judiciary and thus a resulting limitation on presidential power.

The debate over the war powers of the Congress versus the President will continue and in most cases it will be highlighted when a house of Congress is controlled by a political party that does not control the White House.  This is what we have just observed.

The strategic question is highlighted by the preemptive attack versus defensive reaction.  If the War Powers goal of the House Democrats was to take away the president’s ability to preempt an Iranian attack it is both a strategic mistake and inconsistent with the war powers resolution.  This is precisely what the Democrats sought: The resolution “requires the president to consult with Congress in every possible instanced before introducing United States Armed Forces in hostilities.” As a perceived new limitation on the ability of the president to use the military to protect US interests it would be tantamount to strategic surrender to the Iranians by denying the president multiple strategic options.  This action thus must surely be nothing more than the Democrats expressing their angst against a successful presidential action.

The debate over war powers will most likely continue and will most likely never been  finalized because the extreme answers available are strategic mistakes and such is realized by most clear thinking personnel.

Where are we going

One thing about getting older is that my personal data base has gotten much larger, however through all of the political battles and discussions of war and peace that I have observed and participated in I have never seen a political party that through its hypocrisy, lies and lack of constitutional grounding do so much to destroy our republic and divide the country.  I am going to list some activities and then focus on the international situation in the post-Soleimani era.  The Democrats have:

  • Weaponized impeachment such that every future president who is opposed by the other party in the House of Representatives is an odds on favorite to be impeached for looking cross-eyed during the state-of-the-union.
    • Now we hear that the House Intelligence Committee may consider the Soleimani attack as ground for another article of impeachment. (This could be an event filled with hypocrisy as all of Obama’s drone strikes are discussed.)
  • The Speaker of the House is now seeking to micro-manage the President by proposing legislation that would limit the President’s authority in the current dust-up over the death of General Soleiman. The result would be to contribute to the overall lessening of presidential power that the Democrats seek given their lack of competitive candidates for the 2020 election.
  • The left and their media allies are treating General Soleimani as a hero, not the butcher that he was. Of course they couldn’t congratulate the President for exploiting intelligence and attacking General Soleimani before he could launch his next terrorist attack.
    • These critiques include questioning every military move made by the administration. The current media frenzy suggests that Saddam Hussein was correct when he determined that the US center of gravity was/is the body bag.  Unfortunately, military operations are dangerous events and there will be casualties.  But preemptive actions are designed to limit civilian and other casualties.
    • By being afraid to suffer casualties (or even to appear that way) we are emboldening our enemies to try and inflict casualties. Thus, we should blame the Democrats and their media cohorts for every soldier, sailor airman or Marine who may become a casualty.  My liberal friends will challenge this logic only because they know that it is correct and that hurts.  Deterrence is about perceptions and the media and the Democrats are providing the wrong perceptions. 
      • Deterrence can include bluster. They have 35 targets and we have 52.  Have they tried to hit 2 of their targets with their attack in Kenya and the cyber-attack against the national library?  If so then we should expect several reactions in the coming days.  The management of these targets will tell us a lot—whether there is an attempt to manage escalation or not.
      • The composition of targets will also tell us a lot—casualty producing targets versus infrastructure/war fighting capabilities.

So where are we going?  The Iranians are most likely emboldened by all of the political noise coming from the Democrats.  This in ways seems like Deja vue all over again.  The North Vietnamese could never defeat the United States on the battlefield but they undermined the political will to finish the fight.  The current messages that our opponents are seeing is that the political will to fight has again been undermined—not by the acts of the Iranians or any of their proxies but by the desire of the left and the media to destroy this President and our current form of government.

We can only hope that people with reason will step forward as new leaders of the Democratic Party.

Draining the swamp

The swamp is not a new phenomenon—it is just a new name for a reality that started in the Roosevelt administration.  When government began growing at a rapid rate political appointees hired civil servants who shared their vision of what a new policy to be implemented would bring.  This large number of oriented civil service grew over time.

Throughout the years as political leaders changed they tried to change the civil service as new positions were created and older bureaucrats retired.  I can remember during the Nixon administration a long debate about how to neutralize Kennedy/Johnson liberal bureaucrats. During the Reagan administration a bureaucrat who opposed his arms control policy was given a closet sized office with no phone or computer.  He hung on until Clinton became president and sought to get even with policy prescriptions during the Clinton years.

This hangover of bureaucrats thus is not a new thing.  What is new is how emboldened some of these bureaucrats have become.  NSC staffers personally talking with Presidents of foreign countries and advising them how to “deal” with President Trump.  Such bureaucrats are coming out of the woodwork in their attempt to impeach President Trump.  These hangovers from the Obama years are risking much—pensions and promotions.  This suggests that someone outside of government is offering them a safety net—employment, etc.  Some have gone to CNN and MSNBC, but others are not in poverty as the swamp supporters step up to their aid.

Conversely, one hears little of such behavior in the United Kingdom.  The UK is known for its politically neutral civil servants who serve their political masters devotedly.  The critical difference is one of political culture.  Do US political appointees demand more from civil service appointees than they should?  Does advancement depend upon political orientation?

I have not performed a statistical analysis but given the “drain the swamp” orientation of President Trump one can believe that the administration is finally getting around to “liberal” bureaucrats.  Their cries for support have not been heard by the liberal press as it focuses on impeachment.

Some months ago I argued that behind the smoke screen of Trump’s tweets and other statements the transformation of government was occurring. This related to policy but probably also should be applied to the realignment of civil servants.

The Intelligence Community seems to be a special case.  In observing the activities of members of this group of self-declared elites I am reminded of the Pakistani Intelligence Service (IIS).  The IIS is the power behind the throne and the country.  It has its tentacles throughout Pakistan and has changed the political leadership several times.  Is this the power that the US intelligence community seeks?

What do you think?