James Comey is about to be ubiquitous. His book will be published next week, and parts may leak this week. Starting Sunday, he will begin an epic publicity tour, including interviews with Stephen Colbert, David Remnick, Rachel Maddow, Mike Allen, George Stephanopoulos and “The View.”
.. Yet anybody who’s read Greek tragedy knows that strengths can turn into weaknesses when a person becomes too confident in those strengths. And that’s the key to understanding the very complex story of James Comey... Long before he was a household name, Comey was a revered figure within legal circles... But he was more charismatic than most bureaucrats — six feet eight inches tall, with an easy wit and refreshing informality. People loved working for him... If you read his 2005 goodbye speech to the Justice Department, when he was stepping down as George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general, you can understand why. It’s funny, displaying the gifts of a storyteller. It includes an extended tribute to the department’s rank and file, like “secretaries, document clerks, custodians and support people who never get thanked enough.” He insists on “the exact same amount of human dignity and respect” for “every human being in this organization,”.. Above all, though, the speech is a celebration of the department’s mission... Many Justice Department officials, from both parties, have long believed that they should be more independent and less political than other cabinet departments. Comey was known as an evangelist of this view... Comey sometimes chided young prosecutors who had never lost a case, accusing them of caring more about their win-loss record than justice. He told them they were members of the Chicken Excrement Club.. Most famously, in 2004, he stood up to Bush and Dick Cheney over a dubious surveillance program.
But as real as Comey’s independence and integrity were, they also became part of a persona that he cultivated and relished... Comey has greater strengths than most people. But for all of us, there is a fine line between strength and hubris.
Fifteen years ago this week, Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, spoke at the United Nations to sell pre-emptive war with Iraq. As his chief of staff, I helped Secretary Powell paint a clear picture that war was the only choice, that when “we confront a regime that harbors ambitions for regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction and provides haven and active support for terrorists, we are not confronting the past, we are confronting the present. And unless we act, we are confronting an even more frightening future.”.
.. President George W. Bush would have ordered the war even without the United Nations presentation, or if Secretary Powell had failed miserably in giving it. But the secretary’s gravitas was a significant part of the two-year-long effort by the Bush administration to get Americans on the war wagon.
.. the Trump administration is using much the same playbook to create a false impression that war is the only way to address the threats posed by Iran.
.. It’s astonishing how similar that moment was to Mr. Powell’s 2003 presentation on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction — and how the Trump administration’s methods overall match those of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
.. Iran, a country of almost 80 million people whose vast strategic depth and difficult terrain make it a far greater challenge than Iraq, would be 10 to 15 times worse than the Iraq war in terms of casualties and costs.
.. The strategy positions Iran as one of the greatest threats America faces, much the same way President Bush framed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
With China, Russia and North Korea all presenting vastly more formidable challenges to America and its allies than Iran, one has to wonder where the Trump team gets its ideas.
.. a campaign built on the politicization of intelligence and shortsighted policy decisions to make the case for war.
.. It harks back to the C.I.A. director George Tenet’s assurances to Mr. Powell that the connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden was ironclad in the lead-up to his United Nations presentation. Today, we know how terribly wrong Mr. Tenet was.
.. Today, the analysts claiming close ties between Al Qaeda and Iran come from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear deal and unabashedly calls for regime changein Iran.
.. It seems not to matter that 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudis and none were Iranians. Or that, according to the United States intelligence community, of the groups listed as actively hostile to the United States, only one is loosely affiliated with Iran, and Hezbollah doesn’t make the cut.
.. the Foundation for Defense of Democracies seems like the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans that pushed falsehoods in support of waging war with Iraq.
.. these seemingly disconnected events serve to create a narrative in which war with Iran is the only viable policy.
.. it didn’t seem to matter to us that we used shoddy or cherry-picked intelligence; that it was unrealistic to argue that the war would “pay for itself,” rather than cost trillions of dollars; that we might be hopelessly naïve in thinking that the war would lead to democracy instead of pushing the region into a downward spiral.
Bill Clinton chose his boyhood friend Thomas “Mack” McLarty, a pliable figurehead, because he wanted to function as his own chief of staff. Richard Nixon chose the crew-cut enforcer H.R. Haldeman to instill fear and deliver the bad news that Nixon himself often shrank from imparting.
.. In Priebus, Trump first tried the kind of low-key, steady hand that what’s left of the GOP establishment thought he needed as a novice politician.
Surely the longest-serving national chairman in the Republican Party’s history, who had held the Republican Party together through fractious years and helped it reclaim the presidency, could be a calming, rational manager in the White House.
.. Priebus had repeatedly beseeched Trump to modulate his message and play well with the other candidates in the crowded Republican field. Trump, who has always been his own chief strategist, communications guru and political director – and who was winning by running his way — saw that as a sign of weakness, and responded accordingly.
.. In retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, Trump has now turned to the kind of military strong man he thinks he wants, one he hopes will kick keisters and take names. But the president might want to be careful what he wishes for. There is a model for that kind of chief of staff, and it’s probably not one that Trump would be comfortable with.
.. “Wouldn’t it be awful if Sherman Adams died and Eisenhower became president?” There will never be any doubt about who’s the real boss in the Trump White House.
.. Each day brings fresh evidence that the most unpredictable, undisciplined figure in this administration is the president himself. The very manner of Kelly’s surprise appointment – announced without warning in a presidential tweet – might give any new chief of staff pause.
.. But if he is to be an effective quarterback, his president has to give him the ball. It seems far from clear that Donald Trump is willing to share the football with anyone. Will Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump report to the president, or to Kelly? Scaramucci has already said he answers directly to Trump. What does that portend for Kelly’s authority before he even takes the job?
.. But when Ford left office, his powerful chief of staff, Dick Cheney, got a going- away present from his own aides: A bicycle wheel mounted on a piece of plywood with every spoke between the hub and the rim broken – except one.
.. Donald Trump’s rise, if not his presidency, represents everything that Reince Priebus had argued against in the wake of his party’s 2012 electoral defeat, when he commissioned an autopsy for the Republican National Committee that concluded the party had to attract younger, more diverse swing voters if it were ever again to be competitive in presidential elections
Where Donald Trump is undisciplined and entertaining, Mike Pence is very disciplined and boring. But that discipline will not benefit the Americans at large.
Pence: Worse than Trump
It could be argued, superficially, that where Trump is undisciplined and highly entertaining, Pence is somewhat more disciplined and very low-profile, perhaps even boring. The actual news is far worse.
Vice President Pence is a complete nutcase, to put it bluntly. Where Trump adopts extreme positions to stay in the news, Pence’s views are actually built on conviction.
Pence is, admittedly, smoother than Trump. But his folksy Midwestern demeanor masks extreme views. As early as June 2006, when he was a U.S. Representative for Indiana, Pence introduced legislation for “self deportation” as part of immigration reform.
It was one of 90 bills and resolutions he introduced while in Congress, none of which ever passed in 12 years, most of which he served in the majority (thus giving him a powerful perch to craft legislation that passes).
As outwardly smooth a Republican all-star operator as Pence comes across, that is a devastating statistic. It underscores that he is a conservative radical, not a bridge-builder and consensus seeker.
The stereotype of a wolf in a sheep’s clothing captures Pence quite well.
.. Pence also presided over a large outbreak of HIV in his home state of Indiana that stemmed from the ongoing U.S. opioid crisis. Rather than moving speedily to resolve the crisis, he hemmed and hawed publicly over whether an emergency needle-exchange program would conflict with his decades of strident anti-drug policy.
.. Cheney but worse
If Pence were to become U.S. President, it could truly spell the end to many liberties. He is more dangerous than Cheney (as far as U.S. domestic politics are concerned).
On foreign policy, purely by contrast to Trump, he appears to be more predictable and therefore more acceptable to other nations. In reality, he is Cheney-esque, with a fondness for “enhanced interrogation” (= torture) and a fondness for military interventions.
.. Aside from his likely unpredictability abroad, where he would have the least restraint as president, domestically, a Pence Presidency would mean the true arrival of Speaker Paul Ryan’s public disinvestment agenda.
.. The Pence-Ryan agenda, outlined in the 2012 “Ryan Plan” and already hinted at by White House Budget Director (and former House member) Mick Mulvaney, calls for slashing U.S. social welfare programs to ribbons purportedly to balance the budget, even if they have little to no budgetary impact.
.. It is important to realize that Mike Pence and Paul Ryan are not targeting generous, European-style social welfare programs. They do not exist in the United States.
The Midwestern duo consider basic programs as excessive that serve as many people’s last line of defense between scraping by and sheer destitution.
Mike Pence and Paul Ryan would voucherize Medicare that keeps elderly Americans healthy. They would obliterate the food benefits that keep families from starving to death.
They would roll back the Medicaid program that gives poor and disabled Americans healthcare access and pays for elderly Americans’ nursing homes. Social Security privatization would likely follow.
Even the United States’ already severely underfunded budgets for infrastructure repair would be cut to the bone. Pence and Ryan would be a disaster for the long-term future health of the United States, its allies and its economic partners.