Killer Politicians

What rulers crave most is deniability. But with the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own government, the poisoning of former Russian spies living in the United Kingdom, and whispers that the head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, may have been executed in China, the curtain has been slipping more than usual of late. In Riyadh, Moscow, and even Beijing, the political class is scrambling to cover up its lethal ways.

Andrew Jackson, was a cold-blooded murderer, slaveowner, and ethnic cleanser of native Americans. For Harry Truman, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima spared him the likely high cost of invading Japan. But the second atomic bombing, of Nagasaki, was utterly indefensible and took place through sheer bureaucratic momentum: the bombing apparently occurred without Truman’s explicit order.

.. Since 1947, the deniability of presidential murder has been facilitated by the CIA, which has served as a secret army (and sometime death squad) for American presidents. The CIA has been a party to murders and mayhem in all parts of the world, with almost no oversight or accountability for its countless assassinations. It is possible, though not definitively proved, that the CIA even assassinated UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.

.. Many mass killings by presidents have involved the conventional military. Lyndon Johnson escalated US military intervention in Vietnam on the pretext of a North Vietnamese attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. Richard Nixon went further: by carpet-bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, he sought to instill in the Soviet Union the fear that he was an irrational leader capable of anything. (Nixon’s willingness to implement his “madman theory” is perhaps the self-fulfilling proof of his madness.) In the end, the Johnson-Nixon American war in Indochina cost millions of innocent lives. There was never a true accounting, and perhaps the opposite: plenty of precedents for later mass killings by US forces.

.. The mass killings in Iraq under George W. Bush are of course better known, because the US-led war there was made for TV. A supposedly civilized country engaged in “shock and awe” to overthrow another country’s government on utterly false pretenses. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died as a result.

Barack Obama was widely attacked by the right for being too soft, yet he, too, notched up quite a death toll. His administration repeatedly approved drone attacks that killed not only terrorists, but also innocents and US citizens who opposed America’s bloody wars in Muslim countries. He signed the presidential finding authorizing the CIA to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in overthrowing the Syrian government. That “covert” operation (hardly discussed in the polite pages of the New York Times) led to an ongoing civil war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and millions displaced from their homes. He used NATO airstrikes to overthrow Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, resulting in a failed state and ongoing violence.

.. Under Trump, the US has abetted Saudi Arabia’s mass murder (including of children) in Yemen by selling it bombs and advanced weapons with almost no awareness, oversight, or accountability by the Congress or the public. Murder committed out of view of the media is almost no longer murder at all.

When the curtain slips, as with the Khashoggi killing, we briefly see the world as it is. A Washington Post columnist is lured to a brutal death and dismembered by America’s close “ally.” The American-Israeli-Saudi big lie that Iran is at the center of global terrorism, a claim refuted by the data, is briefly threatened by the embarrassing disclosure of Khashoggi’s grisly end. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ostensibly ordered the operation, is put in charge of the “investigation” of the case; the Saudis duly cashier a few senior officials; and Trump, a master of non-stop lies, parrots official Saudi tall tales about a rogue operation.

A few government and business leaders have postponed visits to Saudi Arabia. The list of announced withdrawals from a glitzy investment conference is a who’s who of America’s military-industrial complex: top Wall Street bankers, CEOs of major media companies, and senior officials of military contractors, such as Airbus’s defense chief.

.. Political scientists should test the following hypothesis: countries led by presidents (as in the US) and non-constitutional monarchs (as in Saudi Arabia), rather than by parliaments and prime ministers, are especially vulnerable to murderous politics. Parliaments provide no guarantees of restraint, but one-man rule in foreign policy, as in the US and Saudi Arabia, almost guarantees massive bloodletting.

Politics For some evangelicals, a choice between Moore and morality

“What you’re seeing here is rank hypocrisy,” said John Fea, an evangelical Christian who teaches history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “These are evangelicals who have decided that the way to win the culture is now uncoupled from character. Their goal is the same as it was 30 years ago, to restore America to its Christian roots, but the political playbook has changed.

.. No, the decision to stick with Moore is not just a power play — rather, it’s an evolving view of human nature, said Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 13,000-member Dallas First Baptist Church and perhaps the most prominent evangelical supporter of President Trump.

“For evangelical Christians, morality doesn’t change,” Jeffress said. “But over the last 40 years, Americans have become more aware of the flaws of individuals. Remember how shocked Christians like Billy Graham were when they heard Nixon’s tapes — his foul language, his racist remarks. We’re more aware now because of media scrutiny that our leaders are flawed and morality cannot be the only measure.”

Jeffress argued that Christians have come to see that although morality remains important in choosing candidates, “leadership, experience, morality and faith are all important, and the rank of those changes according to circumstances.”

.. In supporting Trump, Jeffress decided that although the president “may not be a perfect Christian, he is a good leader.” About 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump last year, exit polls showed.

.. Land still believes in a line he attributes to Harry Truman, about how if a man lies to his wife, he’ll lie to me and the American people. “In an ideal world, you wouldn’t want anybody working for you who’d broken his marriage vows,” Land said. “But I understand that would disqualify a number of our presidents.”

.. Context matters, Land said. Trump was “my last choice among the Republican presidential candidates” in last year’s primaries, largely because of character questions, Land said. In the end, he voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton and agreed to serve on a Trump advisory board because “I had to choose between a lesser evil and a greater evil. Mrs. Clinton called abortion sacrosanct, so I already knew what I needed to know.” 

.. Other evangelical leaders have shifted their rhetoric through the years. Ralph Reed, the longtime head of the Christian Coalition, said in 1998 that Bill Clinton’s White House affair with Monica Lewinsky rendered him unfit to serve. “We will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character,” he said at the time.

In 2016, however, Reed, who did not respond to a request for comment, said after the release of videotape showing Trump boasting of grabbing women by their genitals that a recording “of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on [evangelicals’] hierarchy of their concerns.”

.. “A watershed moment was 1980,” he said. “Evangelical Christians chose between a born-again Baptist Sunday school teacher and a twice-married Hollywood actor who had signed the most liberal abortion bill and whose wife practiced astrology. And evangelicals chose Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter.”