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Looking at Trump as a Turnaround Executive

The 2016 election outcome was an unexpectedly loud declaration by the American people about their dissatisfaction with the direction of the country.

Further, the magnitude of the post-election polarization has ensured the historical habit of “happy talk” promoting the need for bipartisan initiatives that bring us together is absent and not going to happen.

We are in a cultural crisis due to two fundamental and, as yet, largely unaddressed areas of disagreement, disagreements which are so basic that there are no differences to split so we can meet in the middle.

 

Those two areas of conflict are cultural Marxism and the administrative state. Both have spread like invasive kudzu through our cultural and governmental institutions. And each are mortal threats to liberty in America.

Such a crisis creates a clarion call for a turnaround. But turnarounds do not happen without leaders willing to do unpopular things, clarity about the real issues, the building of a large enough coalition, and the ongoing delivery of short-term wins.

Does America have the will to address its deep challenges? How does Donald Trump fit into this picture?

Conventional Wisdom Still Does Not Explain Trump

Many people continue not to understand Donald Trump because they continue to measure him based either on conventional political terms or on conventional ideological terms. Neither approach works. Approaching Trump with conventional assumptions has led nearly everyone to underestimate the impact of his message during all phases of the 2016 campaign.

I believe two themes have emerged that go a long way toward explaining why Trump is unconventional and has succeeded thus far:

  • The Fighting Post-Modern Man:  Part of him is a post-modern man who knows how to match wits with the postmodern Left. He knows how to take them on and beat them at their own game. He knows how to and relishes branding his targets and taking the fight to his opponents, and this quickly set him apart from the GOP establishment politicians of the sort voters had found wearisome and determined were more weak than polite. He has shown himself to be quite clever and has frequently been able to move onto the next skirmish, while the Left finds itself still fighting yesterday’s tired battle. The Left has never had to battle anyone like this before in the public square and it may be that Trump’s skillset is a necessary precondition for neutralizing the Left.
  • The Competitive Businessman: Another part of him is a highly competitive Queens businessman who is used to figuring out how to succeed in the marketplace and then playing to win and this gave him a different mindset from the political elites of both parties. Along the way, he has shown great instincts and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, something business people have to do in a world of transient competitive advantages.

But even these themes do not fully explain Trump and his appeal in this last election and I would like to propose evaluating him through the lens of a corporate turnaround operating executive. Like all analogies, it is an imperfect match but I believe it can provide some missing insights as well as a roadmap to future successes.

Characteristics of a Crisis Situation and How to Respond

I spent an earlier part of my career involved in leading corporate turnarounds and here is what a turnaround executive often finds in a crisis situation:

  • The situation is unstable.
  • Time is the enemy.
  • There is a broken culture that does not talk honestly or openly about what is wrong, about the elephant(s) in the room. This often paralyzes and politicizes an organization.
  • The situation will continue to deteriorate if the status quo remains in place. If that status quo persists too long, it becomes impossible to pull out of the doom loop.

Another characteristic of turnarounds is that many people in the organization know at least something about what is wrong, usually have ideas about what to do, and are blocked from either speaking up or galvanizing action by a leadership team who enabled the broken situation in the first place.

Entering into that cauldron, turnaround executives begin their roles knowing nothing specific, other than that a crisis is present. They have to quickly determine enough about what is going on so they can figure out a plan, build a coalition of people committed to change, and deliver short-term wins that begin to effect a turnaround.

Turnaround executives aren’t paid to be deep thinkers. But they are paid to rapidly identify the problems that will kill the company if left unchanged and to act on them quickly, adapting over time to changing circumstances. They cannot do it by themselves so having some strong colleagues is essential.

Turnaround leaders frequently have different temperaments and management styles from long-term company builders because the nature of their respective leadership challenges are different. Furthermore, turnaround leaders are usually transitory figures because ensuring delivery of significant change often requires major upheaval and a subsequent leader may then be needed to consolidate the restructuring gains.

When I parachuted into companies in crisis, I rapidly took four steps.

First, I interviewed people and asked three questions:

  • What is working?
  • What is not working?
  • If you were in charge tomorrow, what would you do differently?

Then I listened. I found that many of the same themes came up across the interviews. When that happened, I took those comments to be the facts on the ground. Other things might not have been so clear, so I filed them away as “possible facts” to be watched moving forward.

The interviews altered the dynamics in the company. It created subsequent hallway conversations among people where they acknowledged someone was actually listening to them and wanted to hear their ideas. That created hope that change might happen, and hope is something usually missing in a crisis.

Second, I got everyone together and we talked openly about what I had learned from the interviews.

Suddenly it was acceptable to talk openly about the elephant(s) in the room. Now the hallway conversations really exploded about how change felt imminent.

Third, I took the lessons learned from the interviews and group conversation and worked with the team to develop new plans that would stop the bleeding and create the possibility of winning again. These plans made the change real and gave people something tangible to grab onto.

The new goals were then publicized and performance metrics measuring progress against them was publicized on a regular basis. These results meant ongoing change was happening in undeniable ways and short-term wins would begin to follow. The latter is essential to maintaining momentum and hope.

It meant people understood how they could personally make a difference. People like to be part of a winning team. This galvanized the good people to jump in and converted some previous fence-sitters into joining a team dedicated to doing things differently.

I was not shy about firing people who resisted change and openness or who had a bad attitude. The good people already knew who these people were and the terminations only invigorated them more while also removing unnecessary obstacles.

Fourth, I encouraged the formation of non-executive teams to address specific issues close to their work responsibilities.

These teams deepened the personal ownership of change throughout the company, ensuring greater initiative and buy-in to ongoing change.

Finally, a turnaround focuses attention on a limited number of issues that really matter, recognizing that resources are limited and energy cannot be dissipated by tackling too many different initiatives.

America’s Crisis and Turnaround Plan

America needs a turnaround because our crisis is deep and ongoing:

  • We have $20 trillion of national debt, doubling the debt in just the last eight years. We have over $100 trillion of unfunded public sector liabilities for Social Security and Medicare. Those amounts are simply unsustainable, especially given the West’s below-replacement birthrates. Our children and their children will pay dearly for our fiscal irresponsibility.
  • We have also slashed defense spending to pre-World War II levels at a time when many parts of the Middle East have blown up, rogue nations are building nuclear weapon capabilities, and Russia and China are on the move.
  • Radical Islamic terrorism has targeted Western Civilization, creating mayhem in many parts of Europe and creating the possibility of the same here in the United States.
  • Global elites have become dominant, fighting to bring down the cultural identities of nations while many of our citizens no longer know the truth about their own American heritage and have the ability to defend its unique value.

How does knowledge of leading turnarounds impact an assessment of Trump?

Trump’s campaign stops amounted to interviews with the American people. Over time, he figured out what mattered to many Americans who felt marginalized and gave them a voice. In doing that, he accomplished something no other 2016 presidential candidate was able to do, a remarkable accomplishment for a non-politician and another example of how many have underestimated his ability to instinctively grasp what is important. That informed his thinking about what was important and gave them hope that change was possible.

I watched many of Trump’s rallies online as the election drew close and had a distinct sense that his tone had changed and he was connecting to people. He talked openly about the elephants in the room in American society in a way that few others did, challenging the existing political correctness and signaling how he didn’t care about ignoring it. He let people know he had heard and felt their pain and was conveying to them that he understood their plight.

Trump developed many specific plans during the campaign and has been moving on them since his inauguration. Both he and Bannon have said he is laser-focused on delivering on his promises. In a world where politicians lie routinely (and certainly Trump has told a few himself), Trump is treating the delivery of his campaign promises in the same way that a turnaround executive tracks performance against their plans.

But I think the turnaround analogy yields even richer insights when you look more closely at three things Trump has chosen to focus on over the months:

Whether intentional or instinctual, Trump has already grasped and moved on the first two topics and Bannon said at CPAC that the third topic—defeating the administrative state—is critically important to the Trump Administration’s agenda.

As important as a rebirth and recovery of the lost culture is, it won’t happen if these three problem areas are not successfully turned around first. If there is no oxygen, there will be no life. Or, in turnaround lingo, if you run out of cash, it won’t matter how pristine your aspirations for change were.

Much public debate about the administrative state still needs to be led by the Trump team in order to build a societal consensus about how to dismantle it. In parallel, we citizens have to answer two questions that are foundational to constitutional government:  Do we believe in liberty and that our rights come from Nature’s God, not from government? Do we believe in self-government and the personal character required by it?

Building a large enough coalition of people who believe in liberty and self-government, and then regularly delivering short-term wins that free citizens from the clutches of cultural Marxism and the administrative state will determine if America’s turnaround will be successful.

America • Democrats • Foreign Policy • Israel • Middle East • Religion and Society • The Culture • Trump White House

President Trump is More Supportive of Jews than Quasi-Jewish Leftists Are

They are my great protectors — leftist Jews, professional Democrat Jews, Jews in Hollywood and on Broadway, Jews in the liberal mainstream media. For a year and more, they have been in the forefront protecting me from the “anti-Semitism” of candidate — now President — Donald Trump, from Steve Bannon and Breitbart, and from the Republican Party. There they are, yelling “anti-Semitism!” and worrying about me. And oh how they care for Israel!

They are as false as the Fake News they spread about the President of the United States. I know. I am a Jew all day every day. I wear a yarmulka at home, at work, indoors, and outdoors. I walk an hour to and from synagogue on my Sabbath, replete with yarmulka, engaging society around me. My clerical colleagues and friends among the Catholic Diocese where I live, among the Protestant pastors and ministers whom I count dearly, among the non-Jews in all walks of my life, all know I am a Jew. I am not the kind of Jew whose kitchen observes Judaism, while I eat lobster and pork outside. And I am sick and tired of seeing and hearing these professional leftists — liberals and radical left activists who often are employed and paid well for their left-driven agenda activism — manipulating the happenstance of their Jewish birth to justify hurling vile and baseless accusations of “anti-Semitism” against those in the Trump Administration who, if anything, are actually “philo-Semitic.”

If these leftists are so concerned about anti-Semitism, why is it that so many among them never once sought to protect me or Israel from Barack Obama or John Kerry? When Obama and Kerry combined to imperil Israel by entering into an horrific deal with Iran, they were quiet. When Obama insulted the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, treating him like a beggar from Jerusalem, forcing Bibi to wait outside while the Obamas dined, they did not complain. They do not condemn the anti-Semitism of Al Sharpton, nor challenge Obama when he began his second Presidential campaign by meeting with Sharpton’s organization. Where were they when Kerry and Obama ambushed Israel at the very end of Obama’s term, refusing to veto the anti-Semitic United Nations Security Council resolution that declared this outright lie: Jews have no connection to East Jerusalem?

They are not playing with a full deck. This President of the United States, Donald Trump, is the most philo-Semitic President of my lifetime, perhaps in American history. That is why he carried the vote of the Orthodox Jewish community of America in overwhelming numbers. We Orthodox Jews know what anti-Semitism really is, what it sounds and feels like, at work and at play. We are not cardiac Jews who speak of having a “Jewish heart,” as though Mother Teresa or Father Damien had any less compassion, nor do we manifest our Jewishness solely by using Yiddish words like “chutzpah” and giggling over embarrassments like Lena Dunham and Sarah Silverman. Rather, we live Torah tradition and adhere to Torah commandments, and we synthesize our American and Judaic cultures effortlessly.

Donald Trump — unlike a great many of his liberal Democrat critics among the Jewish “leaders” in the United States and the liberal Democrat Jews in Hollywood, on Broadway, and in journalism — actually has Jewish grandchildren. By contrast, many of the would-be Jewish thought leaders have familial lines that have been self-severed. Trump’s own daughter is an Orthodox Jew. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is an Orthodox Jew. Jared and Ivanka do not hide their Judaism; they revel in it proudly though quietly. Unlike Hillary Clinton’s Jewish son-in-law, they did not have a Protestant pastor co-conducting their marriage. Donald Trump did not distance from them; rather, he remains connected with them.

Donald Trump has associated with Orthodox Jews all his life. He has named an extraordinary attorney, David Friedman, to be America’s Ambassador to Israel. The Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of the Trump Organization, Jason Dov Greenblatt, is an Orthodox Jew. In January 2017 President Trump appointed him to be United States Special Representative for International Negotiations. Donald Trump has been a lifelong supporter of Israel. His father, Fred Trump, donated land for the construction of an Orthodox synagogue — and then donated the money to build it. When Prime Minster Netanyahu announced, partly in response to the anti-Semitic U.N. Security Council Resolution the Obama-Kerry ambush allowed, that Israel now will build more than 6,000 new homes in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, the Trump Administration broke with fifty years of American policy and did not speak a single word of condemnation. Days later, President Trump, standing alongside Netanyahu, abandoned the failed and unworkable mantra of the “Two-State Solution,” a formula that never has been realized in fifty years of negotiations because it is fundamentally flawed, and the President instead said America will support any solution — “One State, Two State” — no particular prescribed formula other than what the parties to the situation themselves directly agree to pursue.

Is President Trump perfect? Hardly. Does he sometimes cause even his strongest supporters to close their eyes, take a deep breath, count to ten, then count to a thousand, all while taking more deep breaths? Absolutely. That is President Trump. But that same man is a great supporter of Israel with a lifelong record of great philo-Semitism. Now how dare anyone, particularly a quasi-Jew on some liberal organization’s payroll, call this man soft on anti-Semitism!

Consider some of these “defenders of the Jews,” who regularly and falsely accuse Trump of a vile hatred that is outside his very persona. The newspaper and television “news” programs and reports somehow find them. They create Fake News by finding Quasi-Jews.

There is a Steven Goldstein, the director of something called the “Anne Frank Center.” I am an American Orthodox Rabbi of more than 35 years, a former Vice President of the Zionist Organization of America, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America’s executive committee during most of the past decade, and hold a host of other Jewish organizational affiliations and leadership posts; and I can say unequivocally that this fellow who ranted against President Trump on the same day that the President forcefully condemned anti-Semitism is merely one more professional liberal. Even as the President said that “the anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” this Goldstein was attacking Trump. The “Anne Frank Center” that Goldstein heads arrogates the name of a tragic Holocaust victim to advance a leftist agenda. It is akin to someone forming a “Martin Luther King Center” to sell discount tickets to ski resorts. This Leftist comes straight from a stint as director of a gay rights activist group in New Jersey.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913 amid the horrific era of the Leo Frank lynching in 1915 Georgia, now has been taken over by Democrat Party activists. With the retirement of its venerable leader, Abraham Foxman, the ADL now is run by Jonathan Greenblatt, who arrived straight from serving in the Obama White House as Special Assistant to President Obama and Director of his Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. The Union for Reform Judaism, another regular critic of President Trump, now is run by a hierarchy of liberal reform rabbis marked by their almost-universal fealty to the Democrat Party. And there is no shortage of liberal Jews at the Huffington Post, Slate, Vox, CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other mainstream media who are quick to condemn every imaginable manifestation of Trump “anti-Semitism” that their minds can conjure. If Trump were to say “I don’t like juice,” they would be yelling: “Trump said he doesn’t like Jews!”

When a Trump campaign banner attacked Hillary Clinton and used a depiction that included a six-pointed star, a sheriff’s badge, these sorts saw a “Star of David.” “Anti-Semite!” some yelled. When a sensitive White House statement memorializing the Holocaust, written for the President by a Jewish aide who himself had lost family during the Shoah, failed to use exactly the right wording, some yelled “Anti-Semite!” In seeing anti-Semitism emanating from every corner, they even saw a friendly welcoming wave by radio talk show host Laura Ingraham to the crowd at the Republican National Convention as being a Hitler salute. And yet, after Keith Ellison was exposed for mocking Jews and Israel to a small Muslim group in Minnesota, these “defenders” remained silent.

It is enough already. I do not need the Jewish professional liberal Democrats to protect me from President Trump. I need him to protect me from them.

China • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Middle East • Religion of Peace • Russia • Terrorism • The ME Agenda

Understanding Russia’s Role in Afghanistan

The United States can make a strong and persuasive case to the Russians that they should cease their ongoing support for the Taliban.

Recently, I argued the United States should use India as leverage to pressure Pakistan into abandoning its support of the Taliban (and other jihadist groups) in Afghanistan. In so doing, I believe, the United States finally would be able to formulate a political solution that would allow a majority of American forces to return home with a victory under their belts. Naturally, however, there is a major potential complication to this plan: Russia. What else is new, comrades?

Yes, Russia is, yet again, inserting itself into a wholly American affair. Since 2008, the Russians have been ratcheting up their support of the Taliban. Consequently, a concert of powers now back the Taliban, even as American troops continue to fight and die the jihadist army that had controlled large swaths of Afghanistan prior to the U.S. invasion in 2001. Understand that while Pakistan is the largest (as well as the closest) foreign power supporting the Taliban, both China and Russia have interests in seeing the Taliban prosper in its ongoing war with the United States. Iran does, too.

With Russia supporting the Taliban, the United States will have a higher degree of difficulty coaxing the Pakistanis to assist us in defeating the Taliban. Russia has been a vital component to the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Since 2001, Russia has provided the United States with diplomatic assistance in opening and maintaining the vital supply lines running into and out of Afghanistan.

After all, Afghanistan is in Russia’s neighborhood. With the exception of Pakistan, most of the surrounding Central Asian states are beholden to Russia in some way. Still, it remains shocking that the Russians are assisting the Taliban in any way. Remember, that the Taliban are the heirs to the Mujahadeen who roundly defeated Soviet forces during the Soviet-Afghan War.

While Russian support for the Taliban is an unwanted complication, it is not an insurmountable obstacle. The Trump Administration should use Russia to its advantage in seeking to extricate the United States from this costly and lengthy war.

The first thing America must do is to recognize what Russia wants. For starters, ISIS presents a grave danger to Russia’s national security. President Putin has little faith in the Afghan government’s ability to counter the rise of ISIS in the country. Putin is also concerned that the United States is so busy trying to extricate itself from Afghanistan that it is not taking the ISIS threat seriously. Therefore, the Russians are using any means to prevent the small ISIS presence in Afghanistan from growing beyond where it is today.

After all, Russia has a large and growing Muslim population. Afghanistan is right on Russia’s southern border. With Russia so closely aligned with Assad in Syria, the last thing that Vladimir Putin wants is to have ISIS operating right next door. The United States should signal to Russia that it will take seriously the threat that ISIS poses in Afghanistan and work to destroy them there, so long as the Russians assist the United States in its larger goal of defeating the Taliban.

It is also likely that Vladimir Putin wants to embarrass the United States in much the same way that he believes the United States embarrassed Russia during the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan. Even so, that is but an ancillary benefit for the Russians. What is more likely is that, from a geopolitical perspective, the Russians are looking to push American forces out of what it perceives as its sphere of influence. In this, there are complementary American and Russian interests.

I think it’s safe to say that a majority of Americans want a successful end to the War in Afghanistan. And, while I believe that a small contingent of U.S. counter-terrorism forces will have to remain in Afghanistan for decades to come, leaving a massive military force permanently engaged in combat operations against the Taliban is simply untenable. President Trump being a populist who has routinely questioned the strategy in both Iraq and Afghanistan, likely shares this interest in ending the War in Afghanistan soon. As you can see, then, the Russian and American leadership have mutual interests in this area of the world.

The Trump Administration must communicate to the Russians that it will not abide the perpetuation of the Taliban. Pakistan has been relentless in its support for Taliban, in large part because they view Afghanistan as offering them strategic depth in Pakistan’s ongoing conflict with India. This is why I believe that the United States getting closer to India would persuade the Pakistanis to abandon the Taliban. Ultimately, an Indo-American alliance would empower Pakistan’s mortal enemy of India and isolate Pakistan. Thus, the Pakistanis would have a vested interest in seeing America leave as quickly as possible. Yet, the presence of Russia means that Pakistan may try to get closer with Russia—in order to protect their Taliban allies, to check India’s growing power on the subcontinent, and to rebuff American influence in the region.

President Trump’s national security team will have to communicate to the Russians that if they want America mostly out of their part of the world, then, the Russians must not fall for the Pakistani trap. They must not allow their desire to humiliate the United States by empowering the Pakistani-Taliban alliance to get the better of Russian grand strategy.

Moreover, the Russians should realize that, if they are serious about destroying the Islamic State in Afghanistan, they should not align with the leading jihadist-supporting state (Pakistan) in the region. Further, the Russians should understand that the Taliban may not be as serious about fighting the small ISIS presence in the country as the Russians assume. Indeed, a Taliban spokesman recently reiterated that the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan have formed an informal alliance against the West. Thus, any support that Russia is rendering to Taliban may, in fact, be inadvertently helping ISIS.

Not long ago, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General John Nicholson, gave an impassioned testimony to Congress elaborating his belief that America was in an endless stalemate with the Taliban. Therefore, he called for another troop surge into Afghanistan, in order to break the stalemate. The Trump team should embrace this strategy—so long as it is serious about pushing Pakistan to abandon the Taliban by empowering India. As the troop surge commences (alongside an intensification of Indo-American relations), the U.S. must bluntly tell the Russians that American forces will not leave Afghanistan until we are assured that the Taliban are neutralized.

The increase in U.S. forces will signal to Russia that any attempt at supporting Pakistan against the United States will further distance Russia from its ultimate goal of getting America out of Russia’s sphere of interest. America must recognize that President Putin’s desire to prolong American suffering is strong. The temptation to bring an old U.S. partner like Pakistan closer to Russia’s orbit would be an enchanting opportunity for Putin as well (just look at what Putin is doing in Egypt). Yet, Putin’s big dream of firmly rehabilitating Russian influence in the former Soviet space will only be complicated by increased Russian presence in Afghanistan. Simply put, America will not leave until it knows the Taliban is dead-and-gone.

President Trump must enter Afghanistan with his eyes wide open: Pakistan is disinterested in resolving the War in Afghanistan. They will do whatever they have to in order to keep the Taliban open for business. Since India is the strategic linchpin in this scenario, the Pakistanis will be looking for new allies. Russia is an obvious choice for them. Therefore, the Trump Administration must move swiftly to seriously diminish the attractiveness of Pakistan to Russia.

Indeed, this wouldn’t be the first time that Pakistan attempted to play a rival great power off of the United States. During the historic Bin Laden raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011, one of the two covert stealth helicopters that the Navy SEALs used crashed over Bin Laden’s compound. While the SEALs attempted to destroy the helicopter wreckage, a section of the tail survived. The Pakistanis collected this component and handed it off to the Chinese. In fact, since 2009, Sino-Pakistani relations have reached a crescendo as U.S.-Pakistani relations have soured. This is no accident. The Pakistani leadership is keenly aware that the United States is growing disenchanted with them and is looking for ways at prompting the Pakistanis to serve American interests. Such interests, the Pakistanis believe, are inimical to their national interests.

Playing Russia off of America in Afghanistan would be yet another extension of this Pakistani stratagem.

The only way to diminish Pakistan in Putin’s eyes is to rapidly increase the size of U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan and to give them expanded mission parameters. Putin will quickly back away from supporting Pakistan. He might even back Trump’s play in the region. If he doesn’t, then the Trump Administration will continue America’s policy of war against the jihadist networks operating in Afghanistan. We will empower the Indians, and the U.S. diplomatic strategy should then be able to look for ways at undermining Russian influence in the region.

One way or the other, the United States under President Trump will win the War in Afghanistan. It’s just a question of how much both the Taliban and Pakistan want it to hurt. What’s more, it’s also a question of how much Russia wants to risk in the interregnum between now and America’s ultimate victory in Afghanistan. America is never going to remove Russian influence from Central Asia. Geography prevents this from happening.

So, the real calculation for Putin would be how badly he wants supreme influence over this region in the near term. He can get it quite cheaply if he ignores Pakistani attempts at pulling Russia into its orbit (and maybe even helps the United States force Pakistan into abandoning the Taliban). Or he can get it with far more damage to Russian diplomatic capital and prestige if he forces the United States to remain engaged indefinitely in Afghanistan.

Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Intelligence Community • Middle East • Mike Pence • Republicans • Russia • Terrorism • The Leviathian State • The Media • The Resistance (Snicker) • Trump White House

How Can Trump Survive the Fall of Mike Flynn?

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned Monday in the midst of what looks on the surface to be a fairly overblown scandal. White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Tuesday told reporters President Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation due in part because of the “evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation.” So what happened?

During the transition period between presidential administrations, the retired Army general met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, on behalf of President-elect Trump. At that time, Flynn was tapped to head the National Security Council but was still considered a private citizen. Under the Logan Act, a federal law passed way back in 1799, no private U.S. citizen can conduct diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. government.

Flynn allegedly violated the Logan Act—his accusers say—by discussing with the Russian ambassador certain sanctions the Obama Administration had leveled against Russia over its incursions in Ukraine and Crimea. The meeting was surreptitiously recorded by America’s intelligence services, which they often do whenever Americans meet with foreign persons of interest.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Flynn admits he spoke with the ambassador. The trouble is, he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the details. First Flynn reportedly denied that sanctions had come up in the discussion. Later, after the story made the front page of the Washington Post, Flynn said sanctions might have been mentioned.  But the vice president had already put both his personal reputation and that of his office on the line by publicly defending Flynn when the concerns over his meeting with the Russian ambassador surfaced. The general’s misjudgment threatened to engulf the entire three-week-old administration in scandal.

But there’s more to this than meets the eye. John Schindler, a former National Security Agency analyst, reported in The Observer that unnamed elements of the U.S. intelligence community were revolting against Flynn. The reason had less to do with verifiable intelligence on Flynn and more to do with a disparity in worldviews and the fact that Flynn tends to rub people the wrong way.

“Widely disliked in Washington for his brash personality and preference for conspiracy-theorizing over intelligence facts,” Schindler wrote, “Flynn was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for managerial incompetence and poor judgment—flaws he has brought to the far more powerful and political NSC.”

That’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another side of the story: when Flynn was in charge of the DIA under President Barack Obama, he instituted a series of highly unpopular administrative reforms. He clashed with the Central Intelligence Agency and his management style was disliked by many within the bureaucracy. He also left the Obama Administration under a cloud of suspicion because of strange ties with Russia, as well as a litany of public comments that ran counter to the Obama Administration’s preferred narrative for national counter-terrorism policy.

In terms of personality: Flynn was an abrasive, brash, and very blunt military man. (Is it any wonder why Trump liked him?) He was not a member of the political or military establishment. He fought his way from the bottom up. Flynn became a strong leader and a key member of the U.S. intelligence community. But, his public pronouncements on Islam and other critical foreign policy issues alienated him from many of his co-workers and Leftist political bosses.While being an outsider has its obvious advantages, it also comes with the constant threat of being beset by enemies. This is precisely what took down Flynn.

With all of these factors in play, Flynn fell on his sword and resigned. In so doing, he likely spared President Trump a long, drawn-out ordeal that would have tested the fledgling administration’s already-constrained ability to govern.

Evidently, word of Flynn’s questionable conversation with the Russian ambassador was shared between the Department of Justice and the White House about a month ago. The Justice Department fretted over the fact that Flynn was open to blackmail from Russia. But, the investigation was conducted under Obama Administration official Sally Yates (the former DOJ official who also declined to enforce the president’s travel moratorium). That strongly suggests it was a partisan endeavor.

Keep in mind, too, that the FBI has stated that no specific sanctions were discussed (and therefore Flynn never violated the Logan Act) in the conversations they recorded between Flynn and the Russian ambassador.

There is no proof that anything nefarious happened. What has happened is that a devoted public servant (who shares a controversial worldview with Donald Trump on national security issues) has removed himself from the president’s circle. He did so, it would seem, to quell the controversy and allow President Trump to do what the people put him in the White House to do.

Now the Left has a their scalp just a few weeks into a rocky new administration. They’ll want more—and soon. On Tuesday morning, the New York Times reported that Flynn’s deputy, K.T. McFarland, was also expected to leave her post.

Since the news broke of Flynn’s resignation, CNN contributors have stepped up their criticism of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway for “misleading” the press. Also under fire is long-time Trump adviser, Stephen Miller and Michael Anton, the writer of the brilliant “Flight 93 Essay, who is the National Security Council’s communications chief. Anton is viewed by Trump’s Leftist opposition as the leading intellectual for “Trump’s authoritarianism.” Of course, there is also the hatred of Stephen K. Bannon, a man who the Left has transmogrified into the Svengali of the Trump Administration (or, rather, the Trump Administration’s version of Dick Cheney).

The Left is targeting these individuals because they are the most effective leaders in the Trump White House and the ones who promise to change the way things are now done.

For now, retired Army Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, Jr. has been named to replace Flynn as acting National Security Adviser. General Kellogg has served the country with distinction, serving in the Vietnam War, where he earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with “V” device, and the Air Medal with “V” device. Kellogg also served as the Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division from 1997 to 1998 and ended his career as Director of the Command, Control, Communications, and Computers Directorate under the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Kellogg is a fine man and will do his job well. He is but a placeholder until a permanent replacement can be found.

Another name floating around is retired Army General and former Obama CIA Director David Petraeus. Indeed, he is slated to meet with the President today to lobby for the position. Petraeus has the distinction of having saved the U.S. in Iraq (at least until the Obama Administration ruined it). With the desire of President Trump to surge further into Afghanistan, Petraeus’ previous experience in Afghanistan during the Obama Administration would be helpful to the Trump Administration in securing that goal.

Despite the Petraeus record of fine service to his country, his elevation to this position would be a terrible choice.

There is no skating around the fact that Petraeus compromised national security when he shared privileged information with his mistress. If the argument is that General Flynn opened himself up to blackmail by the Russians because of comments he may or may not have made to the Russian ambassador, then it is difficult to see how Petraeus would be a better fit since he almost certainly made himself susceptible to blackmail by having an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Plus, the image of placing Petraeus (a man who wantonly compromised state secrets) as National Security Adviser would send the wrong message. After a contentious election in which President Trump lambasted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not securing state secrets during her tenure at the State Department, it would be nearly impossible to justify Petraeus’ role. After all, he is guilty of the same kind of carelessness as Clinton.

Some other names that have been mentioned are those of retired Navy Admiral Robert S. Harward, Jr. and former NATO chief, retired Navy Admiral James Starvridis. In the case of Starvridis, you have someone who was ardently anti-Trump. Had Hillary Clinton won the election, he was apparently on her shortlist for a cabinet position. Starvridis recently went ballistic over the Trump Administration’s 90-day temporary travel moratorium from seven countries where ISIS is operating. Therefore, his nomination as National Security Adviser would simply be untenable.

Harward, on the other hand, is a retired Navy SEAL and former deputy commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM). He has extensive combat experience and a deep retinue of experiences in combating terrorism. His experience as a Navy SEAL is likely to endear him to the President in the same way that Trump nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke’s did.

Harward is low-key and well-liked by many people. His nomination would likely defuse a tense situation and would certainly change the narrative. Additionally, his years of experience fighting terrorism would play well into the Trump Administration’s overall goal of destroying ISIS and defeating jihadist terrorism globally.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether any of these people will, in fact, be considered as Flynn’s replacement. But, one thing is certain: Mike Flynn has fallen. His resignation is the first major victory that the Left (and most of the GOP-establishment) can claim since Donald Trump announced his bid for the presidency in 2015. It still remains unclear as to whether or not Flynn actually broke the law or lied to the vice president.

What is clear is that he felt that he needed to resign to save the Trump Administration from controversy and distraction over the long haul. It was likely a noble move on his part. Unfortunately, it does not negate the damage that has been done. Since the president was aware of the Justice Department’s concerns about Flynn for a month, the press and hostile members of Congress will demand answers to “what did the president know and when did he know it?”

If the White House is going to move past this, the president needs to nominate a replacement who both shares his tough view on foreign policy but who also doesn’t attract the level of controversy that Flynn did.

The path forward will be difficult. Trump must select a fellow traveler to run the embattled National Security Council. He would do well, however, to select someone who is far more low key than Flynn was. The next days will be crucial.

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Authoritarians Today Lob Lies from the Left

The reaction to Michael Anton’s elevation to the National Security Council confirms that he is a man of penetrating insight. Anton, of course, was for some time better known as “Publius Decius Mus,” writing at the Journal of American Greatness, the Claremont Review of Books, and, of course, American Greatness. In his famous piece, “The Flight 93 Election,” he wrote that “for two generations at least, the Left has been calling everyone to their right Nazis. This trend has accelerated exponentially in the last few years.” Were he to then be appointed to a significant national office in the Trump Administration, yet not be labeled a Nazi, it might have proven him less the intellectual historian than his works as Decius led people to believe.

Yet if Anton himself is unflustered by this bout of name-calling, I must admit my own attitude is less sanguine. The inappropriate use of terms like “authoritarian” and “racially tinged” has an obvious, chilling effect on free speech. And as a rabbi with a more-than-casual familiarity with anti-semitism, I find the use of Judenhass as a political weapon to be not merely morally contemptible, but dangerous.

Let me be clear: I don’t know Michael Anton. I have no idea whether he in fact harbors any of the repugnant attitudes attributed to him in recent columns and op-eds. But the writers of these pieces presume to judge him based upon his written works, and I have read the same texts. So what I can say is that it appears no more likely that he is an authoritarian, racist or closet anti-semite than any of 243 million other American adults.

We must analyze, then, the basis upon which New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait called Anton “America’s Leading Authoritarian Intellectual,” and then repeatedly accused him of racism. The accusation of authoritarianism against Anton is entirely vacuous, and in fact hypocritical. In his essay, Anton expressed his concern that four years under Hillary Clinton would lead to “vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent”—in other words, authoritarianism. His concern was a recurrence of IRS persecution of conservative charities, and continued financial penalties leveled against private business-owners whose personal moral beliefs required that they decline to assist in celebrating “alternative marriages” and the like.

Chait, who previously claimed that “preventing gay people from marrying each other serves no coherent purpose” (never mind that the majority of Americans until very recently felt otherwise), mocked those sincere bakers and florists as “a handful of oddball characters,” implying that their civil and religious rights were of no concern. So which of these two writers is pro-authoritarianism, and which is pro-limited government?

Yet authoritarianism is hardly the only ugly trait which Chait projects onto Anton. He pounces upon the following sentence from “The Flight 93 Election”: “The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.”

This claim is civil, cogent, and quite possibly true. Most of the world’s poor, undeveloped countries languish under authoritarian governments which actively suppress individual freedoms and teach ideologies radically opposed to Western notions of human rights and civil liberties.

What is certain about Anton’s argument is that it is entirely race-blind. Moldova, Cuba, and Argentina are but three examples of developing countries with struggling (or non-existent) democratic rule and dubious personal freedoms, that are also majority-caucasian. So it is difficult to determine on what basis Chait makes such a repugnant statement as “to Anton, the rising share of the nonwhite population is a foreign invasion”—if not to project his own sensitivity to color and race upon others.

Before you accuse me of overreacting, note that Chait does this twice. He goes on to assert that “[r]ace is integral to Anton’s sense of his own persecution.” His “evidence” is the very point of Anton’s I quoted earlier: that the Left has been using false charges of “Nazi” or “fascist” against the Right since World War II. “The Left was calling us Nazis long before any pro-Trumpers tweeted Holocaust denial memes,” writes Anton. According to Chait, this means that Anton considers “enthusiasm for Trump among avowed white supremacists as more reason to support Trump.” In reality, Anton calls out right-wing racists who “really do seem to merit—and even relish—the [Nazi] label” and says that “alt-right pocket Nazis are manna from heaven for the Left.”

Ludicrous Assertions, Left and Right

Neither is this sort of outrage limited to Chait. Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, tweeted a comparison of Anton to Carl Schmitt, a German political theorist and head of the Union of Nazi Jurists. Not only did Schmitt participate in the burning of Jewish books, but he even called for a purge of any works “influenced by Jewish ideas” and the marking of works produced by Jewish scientists. That even a conservative (and Jew) like Kristol would even contemplate such an odious comparison merely further supports Anton’s contention that the very nature of American democracy is threatened by the current environment.

Not to be outdone, Jessica Schulberg at the Huffington Post ludicrously asserted that Anton “defended the World War II-era America First Committee,” and thus encourages anti-Semitism. On the contrary, Anton said that although he believes the characterization of the America First Committee is unfair, “this is not the place to explain or defend 1940-41’s (unfairly maligned) America First Committee.” He is correct, because that “anti-interventionist” (read: isolationist) organization and its views are irrelevant to Donald Trump’s response to “globalist” policies that placed open trade and open borders ahead of American jobs, economic interests, and security. Schulberg disgracefully attempts to tie Anton to the very organization he clearly dissociates from Trump policies, and further contends that the accusations of anti-Semitism against that organization were proven fact.

If Schulberg is looking for a “news site known for promoting… anti-Semitic views,” instead of taking aim at Breitbart, where she will not find this to be true, she might search closer to home. Just four years ago, the HuffPo’s Douglas Anthony Cooper penned a four-part series in which he blasted the anti-semitic comments appearing in that journal, and asserted that “If you consider Israel to have committed anything that looks remotely like genocide, you are embracing an ignorance that is inseparable from the most vulgar forms of prejudice.” He correctly tied the accusation of genocide to hateful (and murderous) anti-semitic blood libels.

How sad a difference a few short years make. Just a few months ago, the Huffington Post published a piece that barely sidestepped use of the word “genocide” while playing upon a series of other anti-semitic tropes with ancient and deadly roots, casting Jews as “Jewish supremacists” who steal everything (including even their own historic homeland) from others. While an exhaustive examination of the hateful half-truths, distortions and outright lies would take pages, one example clearly reveals the article’s true intent: Hamze portrays the “blockade” of Gaza as unnecessary, capricious, and cruel. In fact, Israel keeps abundant food and supplies flowing—even while the Hamas terrorist organization routinely misuses concrete to build tunnels and attempts to import with which to barbarically murder Israeli Jews. As long as Gaza remains under the iron grip of Hamas, “ending the blockade” would give Gazans the same food, the same medical supplies, and better access to murder weapons.

A journal that publishes propaganda intended to put innocent Jewish lives at risk is in no position to call anyone else anti-semitic. Yet this is characteristic of the whole enterprise, exactly as Anton wrote originally. The Left is entirely blind to the authoritarians and anti-semites in their midst, yet so quick to slander others instead of engaging in a rational debate over ideas. And what is the attempt to silence the opposition, if not an authoritarian trait?

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Farewell Decius and Safe Landing

Regular readers of American Greatness know that among the names on our masthead is Publius Decius Mus. “Decius,” as he is generally known around here, has been a contributing editor at AG and has worked with us since we conceived the idea, early last spring, of reviving a place for sharing the kinds of arguments he and his compatriots once shared at the (now defunct) Journal of American Greatness.  

Decius seized upon that opportunity, and he delighted many of our readers with his fearless ability to take-down movement conservatism’s assumptions that now serve more as thoughtless pieties than as serious principles, as well as his disinclination to spare the rod for the unchallenged heroes of Conservatism, Inc. You can read Decius’s many contributions to revive the truly American character of American conservatism here.

But today we come not to bury Decius—as we hope and trust that his work will be appearing in our pixels once again—but to wish him well in his new endeavor serving as senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council. We are, of course, delighted with his selection, though his presence here will be sorely missed.

As we explained in our founding editorial statement, “although American Greatness owes an intellectual debt and its inspiration to the Journal of American Greatness . . . and to some of its contributors, we are not the re-emergence of that much-admired effort.” We aim to promote and build upon those intellectual arguments, but we are also aiming to reach a larger audience of Americans than just intellectuals. We hope to inspire a new movement of Americans dedicated to recovering the best of what is in our past and applying it to what will be an even better future.

With that, we give you once again, the essay that started all the fuss, “The Flight 93 Election.” Safe landing, Michael. We are grateful beyond measure for your piloting thus far.

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The Arab Narrative vs. President Trump

President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

While liberal governments across Europe and liberal citizens across the United States were reacting angrily to President Trump’s travel ban for immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority had a more urgent concern: António Guterres.

Guterres, the newly installed secretary general of the United Nations, dared to acknowledge that Jerusalem “is holy to three religions today,” and even that “the temple that the Romans destroyed in Jerusalem was a Jewish temple.”

The common thread between these two events? Both are a threat to the efforts by many within the Arab world to invert fact and fiction.

By stating that Jerusalem was the site of the Jews’ Holy Temple, and a holy city to Christians as well, Guterres contradicted the rewriting of history well underway at the United Nations. As the Palestinian Authority’s minister for Jerusalem affairs Adnan Al-Husseini told China’s Xinhua news agency, UNESCO resolutions over the past year have stated that Al-Aqsa mosque is “purely an Islamic heritage.” Thus another Abbas adviser called Guterres’s acknowledgement of this true history “a strike to the credibility of the U.N. as a global organization,” while Al-Husseini termed the secretary general’s remarks “a violation to all human, diplomatic and legal rules” and even demanded that Guterres apologize to the “Palestinian people.”

George Orwell would beam with pride.

Speaking of the “Palestinian people,” why are the Arab states not addressing the Syrian refugee crisis in the same way they dealt with the Palestinian refugee crisis? Why are they not building refugee camps in safe areas, both inside Syria and in neighboring states, so these refugees might return to their homeland? Both Jordan and Lebanon have, after all, hosted Palestinian Arabs in similar camps for nearly 70 years.

There is no consistent logic to the different treatment of the two groups of refugees—or, at least, none that accords with the Arab narrative of a “Palestinian homeland.” This is not to say that there is no logical explanation, merely that the explanation entirely contradicts the things which the Arab states want liberal Americans to believe.

A Tale of Two ‘Refugees’

The reason why Syrian refugees are not awaiting a return to their erstwhile homes is quite simple: Syria is not, and has never been, the Arab homeland. Arabs stem from the Arabian Peninsula—an area of 1.2 million square miles, roughly four times the size of Texas, and twice the size of Alaska. Today, the Arabian Peninsula is home to the countries of Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and, of course, Saudi Arabia.

Yet those comprise but a minority of the Arab states; the majority came under Arab control during a period of military conquest following the death of Mohammed. While some countries, such as Iran, Turkey and Somalia, adopted Islam separately from Arab control, they proved but the exception to the rule. Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya are referred to collectively as the “Maghreb,” the Arabic word for sunset, the western edge of the Arab caliphate. Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan were similarly acquired through violent military conquest—as was Palestine, until it was taken by the Ottoman Turks in 1516, and then the British in 1917. Contrary to the narrative of the “indigenous Palestinian,” Arabs came to Palestine to subjugate it in the name of Islam, and it has not been under Arab rule, save for a brief period in the 1830s, for more than 500 years.

“Palestine” is also merely the Roman name for Judea, the homeland of the Jews. While ethnically cleansing the natives from this desirable piece of real estate joining Europe, Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula, the Romans renamed the territory in order to divorce the land from its historic owners.

In 1945, Palestine was the target of the Arab boycott. The idea of an Arab Palestinian followed the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964; the PLO’s goal, of course, was the destruction of the state of Israel. Zahir Muhsein, a PLO leader, told a Dutch newspaper in 1977 that the notion of a ”Palestinian people” was devised for the sole purpose of separating Judea from the Jews. Abbas himself, in a speech to the Jordanian Football Association, referred to Palestinian and Jordanian Arabs as “one people living in two states.”

So the idea of a “Palestinian refugee” awaiting a return to Palestine is no more real than the idea of a Syrian refugee awaiting a return to Syria. Both groups exist as political pawns, because the dream of a global Islamic caliphate has never died.

Arab Expansion, Jewish Expulsion

The Arab states expelled more than 90 percent of their Jewish inhabitants over the past century. Today we don’t call these persecuted Jews refugees—for the most part, we call them Israelis. It is not as if the Arab states lack the wherewithal to absorb their Arab brethren similarly, and enable them to build new homes and pursue careers in the large and oil-wealthy countries of their homeland. But that would not serve the goal of Muslim expansion.

The claim that a Palestinian state will afford Arabs living in the West Bank “self-determination” has a similarly tenuous tie to reality. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 13th year of his four-year term, unwilling to call a new democratic election his party is certain to lose. Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, of course, meant the average citizen merely traded one military government for another. But while Israeli control brought vast improvements to infrastructure, the introduction of institutions of higher learning, and access to the best medical care available in that part of the world, the Hamas rulers divert needed resources to the construction of an extensive network of underground tunnels and the purchase of missiles and other weapons, all in order to murder the citizens of the previous, far more beneficent government.

The only Arab in that section of the world consistently able to vote in free and fair elections is a citizen of Israel. It is thus unsurprising that Israeli citizens of Arab-majority cities near the border of the 1949 armistice line overwhelmingly reject proposals that their homes be transferred to Palestinian territory in a proposed “land swap,” in exchange for Jewish-majority cities (called “settlements” in international parlance) on the other side of the line.

Thus President Donald Trump is correct in his dealings with both Israel and the “countries of concern” first identified by the Department of Homeland Security nearly one year ago under Obama. Far from being an “occupation” of the land of others, Jewish life in Judea corrects an historic wrong and reverses centuries of deliberate ethnic cleansing. And those of us living in the United States deserve to know that new immigrants are coming here, as our own ancestors did, seeking a life of liberty and the pursuit of mutual progress—rather than to hasten the expansion of the Muslim caliphate onto new territory.