Will Trump Be the Sage One?

Only one person can save us from the dangerous belligerent in the White House.

And that person is Donald Trump.

How screwed up is that?

Will the president let himself be pushed into a parlous war by John Bolton, who once buoyed the phony case on W.M.D.s in Iraq? Or will Trump drag back his national security adviser and the other uber hawks from the precipice of their fondest, bloodiest desire — to attack Iran?

Can Cadet Bone Spurs, as Illinois senator and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth called Trump, set Tom Cotton straight that winning a war with Iran would not merely entail “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”? Holy cakewalk.

Once, we counted on Trump’s advisers to pump the brakes on an out-of-control president. Now, we count on the president to pump the brakes on out-of-control advisers.

.. “On one side, you have a president who doesn’t want war, who simply wants to do with Iran what he has done with North Korea, to twist the arm of the Iranians to bring them to a negotiation on his terms,” said Gérard Araud, the recently departed French ambassador. “He thinks they will suffer and at the end, they will grovel in front of his power.”

But in a way, Araud said, the face-off with the Iranians is more “primitive and dangerous” because, besides Bolton, other factions in the Middle East are also “dreaming of going to war.”

“Even if Trump doesn’t personally want war, we are now at the mercy of any incident, because we are at maximum tension on both sides,” said Araud, recalling Candidate Trump’s bellicose Twitter ultimatumsin 2016 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards held American sailors blindfolded at gunpoint for 15 hours.

Given their sour feelings about W. shattering the Middle East and their anger at Trump shredding the Iran nuclear deal, Europeans are inclined to see the U.S. as trying to provoke Iran into war. This time, the Europeans will not be coming along — and who can blame them?

I’m having an acid flashback to 2002, when an immature, insecure, ill-informed president was bamboozled by his war tutors.

In an echo of the hawks conspiring with Iraqi exiles to concoct a casus belli for Iraq, Bolton told members of an Iranian exile group in Paris in 2017 that the Trump administration should go for regime change in Tehran.

And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!” Bolton cheerily told the exiles.

When Bolton was the fifth column in the Bush 2 State Department — there to lurk around and report back on flower child Colin Powell — he complained that W.’s Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) was too limited, adding three more of his own (Cuba, Libya, Syria). Then, last year, Bolton talked about “the Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela). His flirtations with military intervention in Venezuela this month irritated Trump.

The 70-year-old with the Yeti mustache is an insatiable interventionist with an abiding faith in unilateralism and pre-emptive war. (The cost of our attenuated post-9/11 wars is now calculated at $5.9 trillion.)

W. and Trump are similar in some ways but also very different. As Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio notes: W. was interested in clarity. Trump wants chaos. W. wanted to trust his domineering advisers. Trump is always imagining betrayal. W. wanted to be a war hero, like his dad. Trump does not want to be trapped in an interminable war that will consume his presidency.

Certainly, the biographer says, Trump enjoys playing up the scary aspects of brown people with foreign names and ominous titles, like “mullah” and “ayatollah,” to stoke his base.

But Trump, unlike W., is driven by the drama of it. “It’s a game of revving up the excitement and making people afraid and then backing off on the fear in order to declare that he’s resolved the situation,” D’Antonio said. “Trump prefers threats and ultimatums to action because that allows him to look big and tough and get attention without doing something for which he will be held responsible. This is who he is at his core: an attention-seeking, action-averse propagandist who is terrified of accountability in the form of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base.”

David Axelrod, who had the military briefing about what a war with Iran would look like when he was in the Obama White House, said: “I’m telling you. It’s not a pretty picture.”

He says he is not sure which movie Bolton is starring in: “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag the Dog.”

If part of your brand is that you’re not going to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars,” he said, “why in the world would you hire John Bolton?

Hope Hicks to Leave Post as White House Communications Director

Ms. Hicks, 29, a former model who joined Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign without any experience in politics, became known as one of the few aides who understood Mr. Trump’s personality and style and could challenge the president to change his views.

Her title belied the extent of her power within the West Wing — after John F. Kelly was appointed White House chief of staff, she had more access to the Oval Office than almost any other staff member. Her own office, which she inherited after the departure of another Trump confidant, Keith Schiller, was just next door.

.. Most significantly, Mr. Trump felt a more personal comfort with Ms. Hicks than he has established with almost any of his other, newer advisers since coming to Washington. And for a politician who relies so heavily on what is familiar to him, her absence could be jarring.

.. Ms. Hicks said that she had “no words” to express her gratitude to the president, who responded with his own statement.

.. But as the person who spent the most time with Mr. Trump, Ms. Hicks became enmeshed in a number of controversies over the past year, including key aspects of the investigations by Congress and the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

.. Her resignation came a day after she testified for eight hours before the House Intelligence Committee, telling the panel that in her job, she had occasionally been required to tell white lies but had never lied about anything connected to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

.. it was reported that she had dated Rob Porter,

.. Ms. Hicks’s departure will coincide with those of other people who have been close to the Trump family members in the White House.

  • Reed Cordish, a policy adviser and friend of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, is leaving his role;
  • Josh Raffel, a press aide whose initial portfolio was primarily focused on Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump, is also leaving; and
  • Dina Powell, who had been a deputy national security adviser who was close to Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump, left weeks ago.

Their absence will deprive Mr. Trump and his daughter and son-in-law of many of the aides who served as crucial buffers and sounding boards as a turbulent and politically uncertain year begins.

.. Ms. Hicks had advised Mr. Trump, according to multiple White House officials, was to tone down some of his Twitter posts or stop sending them altogether, an effort that had mixed results. She also had the

  • ability to stop Mr. Trump from focusing on an issue he was angry about, and sometimes
  • shield other members of the staff from Mr. Trump’s anger.

.. those in the West Wing who did not like her approach feared her power, and worried about crossing her

.. Dan Scavino Jr., the White House digital director, is the only member of the president’s original campaign team still working directly for Mr. Trump.

.. Mercedes Schlapp — who Mr. Kelly brought in as a ballast against Ms. Hicks’s influence

.. She told colleagues that she had accomplished what she felt she could with a job that made her one of the most powerful people in Washington

‘The Russians Have Succeeded Beyond Their Wildest Expectations’

Former intelligence chief James Clapper says President Trump is dead wrong about Russian interference in America’s elections. And they’re going to get away with it again, he warns.

.. “I mean, the Russians succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations. Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded to a fare-thee-well. They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded to a fare-thee-well.”

“They’ve been emboldened,” he added, “and they will continue to do this.”

.. Trump’s rhetoric is “downright scary and disturbing,” Clapper agonized in an extraordinary monologue on live TV in August, amid Trump’s “fire and fury” threats toward North Korea. He questioned Trump’s “fitness for office” and openly worried about his control over the nuclear launch codes. In our conversation, Clapper didn’t back off one word of it, slamming Trump’s lies, “distortions and untruths.”

.. And he is certainly no liberal partisan: just ask Democrats like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who excoriated Clapper for what appeared to be misleading a Senate committee about the intelligence community’s surveillance of private U.S. citizens, information later revealed by Edward Snowden’s disclosures. (His testimony was “a big mistake,” Clapper now says, but not “a lie.”

..  a tough-minded former Air Force lieutenant general who once said, “I never met a collection capability I didn’t like.”

.. “It’s a very painful thing for me to be seen as a critic of this president,” he told me, “but I have those concerns.”

.. what he did when then-President-elect Trump first started attacking the intelligence community’s Russia findings. He didn’t publicly blast Trump—he called him on the phone.

.. more significant Russian arms-control violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. “If you look at what Russia is trying to do to undermine us, and the modernization of their strategic nuclear forces—and they only have one adversary in mind when they do that

.. appearing to lecture Americans on why only that small percentage of citizens who have served in the military could understand the nature of their sacrifice.

.. He took particular issue with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comment that Kelly’s word about the congresswoman should not be second-guessed because he had been a four-star general, a remark Clapper called “absurd.”

.. worried about the Trump era as the new age of militarized government, not only with Kelly as chief of staff but also a sitting lieutenant general, H.R. McMaster, as national security adviser, and a former general, James Mattis, as defense secretary. Clapper said that while he has “a visceral aversion” to generals “filling these political, civilian positions,” he’s nonetheless “glad they’re there.”

.. he fears that “some of this intemperate, bellicose rhetoric” between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could lead to a “cataclysmic” war.

The risk, he said, came primarily from Kim miscalculating as a result of Trump’s heated words.

.. “Kim Jong Un doesn’t have any advisers that are going to give him objective counsel. He’s surrounded by medal-bedecked sycophants, who dutifully follow him around like puppy dogs with their notebooks open, ascribing his every utterance, and pushing back against the great leader is not a way to get ahead,” Clapper said. “And so I do wonder what Kim Jong Un’s ignition point is, when some insult that’s been hurled at him by the president will just ignite him.”

.. The 25th Amendment that people bring up is a very, very high bar for removal, and appropriately so. And if that were to happen—and let’s just say for the sake of discussion there were an impeachment, even less likely a conviction—all that would serve to do is heighten the polarization and the divisiveness, because the base will never accept that, and that would just feed the conspiracy theories.”

Save the Phony Weinstein Outrage, Republicans

Trump is more consistent. He is a pig in public as well as behind closed doors. In 1992, New York Magazine reported that he said the best way to deal with women is to treat them like excrement, though he used a more vulgar term. He has followed his own advice. His first wife, Ivana Trump, accused him of raping her in a fit of rage. (She later denied that the events she’d recounted were rape “in a literal or criminal sense,” but stuck to the underlying story.)

.. He owned beauty pageants and, by his own admission, would barge into changing rooms to ogle the naked contestants. The makeup artist Jill Harth said that he tried to rape her. Multiple women have accused him of groping and sexual harassment.

.. Somehow, in the wake of the Weinstein revelations, the president’s supporters appear to believe they hold the moral high ground. Donald Trump Jr. — a man who once said that women who can’t handle workplace sexual harassment “should go maybe teach kindergarten” — has been tweeting about Weinstein incessantly.

.. For the past 11 months, many feminists have been reeling from the defeat of the first female major-party presidential candidate by a predatory misogynist. The confirmation that a hugely powerful man who is supposed to be on our side is just as bad as Trump is shattering.

.. Yes, Ailes had to leave Fox News after charges that he’d demanded sexual favors from women in exchange for professional opportunities. But in the aftermath, conservatives did not ostracize him. Instead, Trump defended Ailes and defamed his accusers, then brought him on as an adviser

 

Kissinger, a longtime Putin confidant, sidles up to Trump

Back in the 1990s, Henry Kissinger, the legendary former U.S. secretary of state-turned-global consultant, encountered an intriguing young Russian and proceeded to ask him a litany of questions about his background.

“I worked in intelligence,” Vladimir Putin finally told him, according to “First Person,” a 2000 autobiography cobbled together from hours of interviews with the then-unfamiliar Russian leader. To which Kissinger replied: “All decent people got their start in intelligence. I did, too.”

 .. As Putin climbed the ranks in the Kremlin, eventually becoming the autocratic president he is today, he and Kissinger kept up a warm rapport even as the United States and Russia grew further apart. Kissinger is one of the few Americans to meet frequently with Putin, one former U.S. ambassador recently recalled — along with movie star Steven Seagal and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, the likely next secretary of state.
.. Some have expressed surprise that the urbane, cerebral former top diplomat would have any affinity for the brash, shoot-from-the-lip Trump. But seasoned Kissinger watchers say it’s vintage behavior for a foreign policy realist who has cozied up to all sorts of kings and presidents for decades. And in fact, Trump may wind up an ideal vessel for Kissinger — the architect of detente with the Soviets in the 1970s — to realize his longstanding goal of warmer ties between the two Cold War adversaries.
.. “He’s a realist. The most important thing for him is international equilibrium, and there’s no talk of human rights or democracy.”
.. the Manhattan real estate mogul is fascinated by Kissinger as well as other Republican elder statesmen, such as Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice, to whom he has turned for advice on policy and staffing.
.. The president-elect, the person said, “admires the reputation and the gravitas but isn’t necessarily persuaded by the Kissingerian worldview.”
.. “The long-term interests of both countries call for a world that transforms the contemporary turbulence and flux into a new equilibrium which is increasingly multi-polar and globalized,” he said. “Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily as a threat to the United States.”
.. The president-elect’s pick for defense secretary is James Mattis, a retired Marine general who views Moscow as a major threat.
.. “If we’re prepared to accept what they’re doing in Syria, Crimea, and Eastern Ukraine, we can have a better relationship, but we’ve sacrificed other interests and it’s not clear what we get for that.”
.. “He is a man with a great sense of connection, an inward connection, to Russian history as he sees it,”

Trump’s Economic Team: Bankers and Billionaires (and All Men)

He noted that the group was heavily weighted toward developers, hedge fund managers and bankers, with hardly any representatives from Silicon Valley or academia.

.. Kevin A. Hassett, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, was also surprised at how few economists were selected. “Most campaigns tend to balance academics with business folks, like those on this list,”