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42:43there is actually a table in the Truman42:45White House where he played poker every42:47night and before he went to bed they42:49would actually put a cover on the poker42:51table to disguise the fact that Truman42:54was playing poker because it was bad or42:58seeing you know unfortunately I’m I’m43:00wondering in in light of this and in43:02light of this president um I used to43:04sort of respect the office of the43:06presidency and in in you know even the43:09ones that I disagreed with and that you43:11know several um now that we have seen43:15this guy you know go crazy on Twitter43:16and the potential for having colluded43:19with the foreign power which ruins me at43:22my core was in potential ruins me43:25I Corps do you ever see the sanctity of43:28office ever returning in the future yeah43:32I’m gonna actually shock you with43:33something because either the most43:35effective theme that was tested during43:37George Bush’s W Bush his run for the43:39White House the most successful themed43:42after compassionate conservatism which43:44actually really people believed it43:45bought it was restoring honor and43:47dignity to the White House because Bill43:50Clinton ran it like a frat house now I43:52think it’s gonna take a long time for43:53people to get back to a point where43:56probity and dignity look George43:57Washington he thought the most important44:00characteristic of a president was first44:02not to become a king but the second was44:04dignity and you got a guy upstairs rage44:07tweeting in the Oval Office are in the44:09executive bedroom every night you know44:11surrounded by a bed full of filet-o-fish44:12rappers and rage tweeting all night and44:15it’s hard to think of him as as you know44:19a dignified person you got a guy with a44:21gigantic chin waddle who thinks he’s44:23like babe meat and and he just the whole44:27effect of Trump is clownish and so that44:30makes it harder to believe in the in44:32that stature of the presidency so but44:34look it’ll come back there will be the44:37next person who’s president one hopes44:39will recognize that there’s a value to44:41be had by a president who shows dignity44:44and strength and quiet rectitude44:46sometimes as opposed to being a giant44:48rectum all the time so thank you hi44:54there hi I know that you have said that44:58you have friends in the administration44:59and that they call you to moan from time45:03to time from time to time yesterday was45:06a bad day I bet it was do they do they45:11seriously think because at some point a45:13credible conservative administration45:15will come back to this government is45:19anyone in the Trump administration short45:21of maybe Jim mattis should probably seek45:26employment at say a gas station45:28somewhere in the Midwest after this45:29because this is going to scar them and45:32mark them forever right I mean it it is45:35one of the predicates of the book and45:37it’s proving itself out time and time45:38they don’t even get credit for being45:41competent no and here’s the thing when45:43they call you what I tell them every45:45time for advice45:46quit walk out the door now and tell the45:48truth walk out the door now and say45:51what’s going on but moon do you shred it45:54we make him take you to court make him45:56make him go to discovery and and they45:59they a lot of these people that Trump46:01brought in let’s put it this way when46:04Trump sends us people to work in the46:06administration he’s not sending his best46:09thank you thank you46:13question out yes I wrote it down because46:16I can’t remember what I did 20 seconds46:19ago so I say this is someone a young46:25recently recent college graduate who’s46:28unemployed who probably makes Bernie46:31Sanders look like a centrist I actually46:34asked Noah Rothman this last year at an46:37event at my college and I was looking at46:42a University of Chicago poll that said46:45that a majority I think it’s 60% of46:48people aged 18 to 35 don’t see46:53capitalism the sort of core of46:55conservative conservativism as the thing47:00that can solve the most pressing issues47:02of our time and what I asked no last47:05year and I’d love to hear it from a you47:07know rock-ribbed conservative like47:09yourself what can you do to steer maybe47:14not people like me but maybe people47:16flirting with the idea or the left back47:19to the ideas one of the things is that47:22my party has to get its head out of its47:23own backside on crony capitalism because47:26what we’ve done for a long time and what47:28this tax bill did was take care of a47:31specific industry in the legislation now47:33I was told when Barack Obama was47:35president that picking winners and47:36losers was a bad thing the tax bill47:39picked 150 some winners on in the hedge47:42fund and wall street world and about 6047:44guys out there in the economy and they47:46got 85% of the benefits of a tax bill47:48that is that requires five percent47:51economic growth47:524.1% economic growth to sustain itself47:55it’s ridiculous we’re picking winners47:58and losers by protecting the coal47:59industry which but should be dead by now48:02so Republicans have not been a good48:04example of free-market capitalism in48:07Congress for a long time this goes back48:09before Trump I’ve been a critic of this48:11of my own party of this before Trump48:13where we have decided that free-market48:16capitalism is capitalism is great except48:18if a guy gave us a big enough donation48:20to the super PAC then we’re gonna make48:22sure that his industry including it48:24could be you know like a dead industry48:27industrial sector completely that48:29Congress says ok we’re gonna keep buying48:32buggy whips from the sky because you48:34know the buggy whip industry is the48:36heart of American commerce capitalism48:39works when it’s tried and you know48:43socialism often leads to people starving48:44and freezing in the dark so you know and48:47I know everyone’s you say oh then48:48Norwegian Nations ended our and and and48:50the scanty nations yes they’re lovely48:52but there be few examples of this that48:55don’t scale necessarily to macro48:58economies like ours but anyway it’s a49:00hard road and it’s gonna have to be49:01something that requires some some reform49:03and self correction side the GOP to get49:05back to a free market and free trade49:08capitalism system so thanks thank you I49:10right yeah BRIC big fan a great look49:14plus one all those lot yes49:17does the Trump administration have any49:19policy successes for the remainder of49:23the Trump administration except by49:26tearing down Obama you’re a regulation49:29well Donald Trump proved in the very49:34first weeks of his administration that49:36he can’t pass the legislation I mean the49:38the house and the Senate had Obamacare49:41repeal cocked and locked it was going to49:43be smooth they were going to jam it49:44through they were gonna day we’re gonna49:46as a leadership member said to me pull49:48up Pelosi and smash Obamacare repeal49:51through and then the giant man-baby came49:54in and started and started interrupting49:56and started saying things on Twitter and49:58then describing the billa’s meme and so50:02there’s a reason they’re sending Trump50:04bills to sign that are like50:06naming bridges and the post office50:09Reform Act you know it’s small ball50:11stuff because they don’t trust him with50:13the big important stuff so they’re gonna50:16keep doing policy changes they’re gonna50:18keep doing the pen and the phone that50:19they hated Obama for and they’re gonna50:22keep doing executive orders even though50:24conservatives used to scream their heads50:26off Barack Obama is acting like a50:28dictator because he’s passing you know50:30he’s signing these executive orders and50:34he’s got a limited portfolio of things50:37he can do I predict he’s gonna keep50:39trying to keep the coal industry thing50:41moving and the steel tariffs moving50:42because he believes those are the key to50:44the two West Virginia Pennsylvania Ohio50:49you know the whole pencil tucky region50:51there and all that so thanks excellent50:53great book thanks a lot thank you so50:55much a question I haven’t heard from50:57anybody is one about the Russians the51:01Russian money and the oligarchs what do51:04you have to say about that and where are51:06the Republicans on this there’s a sort51:09of let me give this sort of technical51:11description of that there’s a lot of it51:14he’s been taking it for a long time51:16well well beyond 2016 he is deeply51:21embedded with a whole bunch of Russian51:23mobsters and has been since the 80s when51:28they peel this back and there I’ll tell51:31you the reason Donald Trump lives in51:32absolute mortal terror where it’s like51:35strap on the extra diaper when he51:37mentions when they mentioned getting his51:39taxes because this is a man who knows51:42once they start peeling apart the51:43relationships with the banks and with51:45the Russian lending and the glown51:47guarantees from Russians from like the51:49Bank of Cyprus to Deutsche Bank and all51:51these other things and they’re by the51:52way they’re people who are experts on51:53this bike well beyond my knowledge Craig51:55ungar’s book is great about this but51:58we’re gonna learn that this whole I have52:01no business with the oceans I don’t know52:02any Russians we’re gonna discover that52:04that is a complete fabrication and and52:07and the behavior of their campaign yeah52:10look Paul Manafort is not a guy you hire52:12because you’re like I need someone who’s52:14really dedicated to clean government52:17he’s a guy you hired because he brings52:19in a bunch of money from his friends in52:21Moscow and the oligarchs have gotten52:23used to buying elections in a lot of52:24countries and they played a big role in52:26this one and I think you’re gonna see52:27that come out not only in the52:29investigations that peel back Trump’s52:31business and financial and tax records52:32but also in the mobile investigation52:34itself thank you52:34who are the Democrats strongest in52:37weakest candidates in 2020 that is a52:39great question and I’m not gonna answer52:41it I’m gonna tell you what they need not52:44who it is the Democrats in 2020 I’m52:47gonna give you a scale like a52:48thermometer scale right up here right up52:51here I’m gonna stand up low higher right52:52up here be great on TV kick ass on TV be52:57engaging smart witty funny take it to53:00Trump let’s just kick his ass on TV all53:03the time now so that disqualifies about53:0640% of all Democratic candidates we’re53:08thinking about it and of course Hillary53:11Clinton with the broken robot Act could53:13never be that charismatic person okay53:15second part raise a butt ton of money53:18cuz you’re gonna need it because Trump53:20is gonna get the same media vacuum he53:23got last time so you’re gonna have to53:24buy that exposure you’re gonna have to53:27get in that fight and buy it it sucks53:29it’s horrible but there’s a lot of money53:31out there opposed to Trump and that’s53:34the next part now let me give you the53:36important part about policy the policy53:37part voters didn’t vote for a policy53:41with Trump they voted for an emotion53:42that emotion was rage they loved it they53:46loved that whole act so the Democrats53:48need somebody that can activate their53:49people and who has great I fight on the53:53battlefield we’re gonna actually fight53:54on so I look at an Elizabeth Warren that53:58schoolmarm technocrat yeah you may love54:03her but make her secretary of the54:04Treasury or something you know54:07and I know people like Oh what about54:09avenatti maybe the guys got smack the54:12guys got he can shit talk like nobody’s54:14business and he’s under Trump’s skin so54:17far and you may find somebody else that54:19can do that there may be some otherwise54:21you start lookin beta or work wins in54:22Texas is a long shot that guy wins in54:24Texas he’s gonna be a rocket in the54:28Democratic Party he will be a guy who54:30can54:30he’s a giant killer and he’s good on his54:33feet and he’s smart and his answer the54:35other day on the on the anthem question54:37was as good I mean I sat there watching54:39that going I wish I’d written that damn54:42so thank you we have time for this one54:46last question all right54:47hook it up thank you54:51so I work in polling and I’m very54:54curious tell me who so I’m just curious55:06what you think where we’re going with55:08political polling for the next55:10presidential election and really how you55:13know I think from my work I’ve seen that55:15the general public’s trust in polling55:17has just been demolished based yeah yeah55:20I think you and I can both acknowledge55:21that that 600 sample national polls are55:24no longer effective as a tool you know I55:28I have a couple of researchers and firms55:33that I’ve used and helped put together55:34over the years and everything counts in55:37large amounts so we’re doing thousands55:39and thousands more interviews than we55:40ever have and we’re doing robo’s but you55:42know we’re overcoming the the inaccuracy55:44of it with just sheer volume sheer55:47tonnage I think we’re gonna have to55:51continue to merge polling with other55:53data a consumer data and behavioral data55:55and stuff we’re seeing online we were55:57able to get much quicker than we have in55:59the past but I think as a tracking56:03mechanism its god-awful56:05as a quantitative exercise it’s it’s a56:10train wreck but fortunately as a media56:14prompt there’s almost nothing that that56:17drives media faster during a campaign56:19season than a poll showing somebody up56:20down good bad so it’s a longer56:24discussion that we could have here and a56:25fairly technical one but I’m a big fan56:29of way more interviews and and I don’t56:33even care about the the the you know the56:35trivialities of the inside campaign56:37stuff it’s mostly junk these days so56:39thank you all right56:42[Applause]56:58you
Maybe seven or eight years ago I had a memorable conversation with a former Marine who had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and was honorably discharged after being severely wounded by an I.E.D. (He made a full recovery.) Like other military officers I’ve spoken with, he was thoughtful and well-informed, almost a bit of an intellectual — very much someone I could talk to, despite his having had experiences I can’t imagine.
But he was, he said, finding his post-military experience somewhat unsatisfying, because “there’s no honor in civilian life.”
Strange to say, I felt that I understood him. I’ve had a wonderful professional life, getting well paid to do work that I enjoy and even amounts to a vocation. Yet I sometimes feel the hankering for something more — a sense of serving a larger purpose, including being willing to make big sacrifices if necessary. And I don’t think I’m alone in having those feelings, or in having special admiration for those public servants, not just in the military, who do live by an honor code.
But if you’re both powerful and corrupt, you don’t admire women and men who serve with honor. On the contrary, you hate and fear them, because their sense of duty may stand in the way of your schemes. And you especially hate the admiration most of us feel for honorable public servants, which makes it hard to brush them aside.
This hatred of honor, I believe, is the link between two big Trump-related stories of the past few days.
One story involved Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine whom Trump fired. Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, so this firing wasn’t in itself illegal. What became clear over several days of testimony, however, was that Trump wanted Yovanovitch gone precisely because she insisted on doing her job and serving the nation rather than Trump’s personal interests.
And the reason Trump tried to smear Yovanovitch even as she was testifying was his fury at how she was coming across: as an official who tries to serve with honor. One can only imagine his rage at the standing ovation she received at the end.
The other honor-related story was Trump’s decision — against the wishes of military leaders — to pardon three servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes.
Why did he pardon them? When he first tweeted that he was reviewing their cases, Trump declared, “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill.” But it’s precisely because soldiers have the terrible power and responsibility to kill people in the nation’s service that they’re expected to do everything they can to avoid killing indiscriminately. Honorable behavior isn’t an annoying impediment to the use of force, it’s an essential part of what makes our military more than a gang of thugs.
But Trump hates those who serve with honor, and prefers thugs.
That’s the thing about Trumpism. It’s not just an ideology I disagree with; it’s not even merely a cult of personality that celebrates a leader nobody should admire. At its core is a rejection of the values that we used to think defined us as a nation. You might say that Trump is at war with truth, justice, and the American way. And that is, terrifyingly, a war he might win.
Paul Ryan — remember him? — claims that he didn’t realize that Trump was insulting him by calling him Boy Scout. But of course Boy Scouts are supposed to be honorable.
Some years back, new members of the Foreign Service were told about how professional diplomats have often been unsung heroes. No wonder Trump hates them.
The Founding Fathers passed a resolution honoring whistle-blowers who revealed official misconduct — in 1778!
Why we have rules of war.
If Pompeo has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan.
It isn’t hard to guess what Mike Pompeo, the hawkish congressman from Kansas, would say about the Afghan exit deal that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, is negotiating with the Taliban.
The details of the negotiations, which are being conducted in Qatar by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and could be finalized by the end of the month, are a closely held secret. So close, in fact, that I’m told Pompeo won’t allow White House officials to review details of the agreement except in his presence.
But the basic outline is this: a complete withdrawal of America’s 14,000 troops from Afghanistan within 14 months — that is, by October 2020 — in exchange for a promise from the Taliban not to attack our forces on the way out, along with some kind of vague assurance from them that Afghanistan will not again become a base for global terrorism. A source familiar with the deal says there is no explicit requirement for the Taliban to renounce its ties to Al Qaeda.
Even those who want the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, come what may, should be dismayed to see an American strategic decision be so nakedly dictated by the electoral needs of a president who wants to take credit for ending “endless wars.” They should be no less dismayed by the idea that we are doing so in plain indifference to Afghanistan’s government, which wasn’t invited to the talks because the Taliban won’t deign to speak to what it considers a puppet government.
That “puppet” government is, for all of its well-known flaws, internationally recognized and democratically elected. It does not wantonly massacre its own people, or wage war on its neighbors, or sponsor terrorist groups that seek to wage war on the West. And it’s also all that will stand between the Taliban’s murderous misogyny and Afghanistan’s 18 million vulnerable women.
Then again, progressives have been pining for an Afghan exit for at least a decade, and Barack Obama set a timetable for full withdrawal (which he was later forced to reverse in the face of Taliban gains) in 2014. Foreign-policy hawks in the mold of Pompeo used to take a different view about the wisdom of U.S. retreat — at least before they became Donald Trump flunkies.
For starters, they had no patience for the lie that the Taliban was to Al Qaeda merely what a flea motel is to a fugitive on the lam. The Taliban lied to Clinton administration envoy Bill Richardson in 1998 by telling him they didn’t know of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts when they were harboring him, and then refused to give him up after the 9/11 attacks.
They’d have even less patience for the convenient fantasy that the Afghan Taliban has, or ever will, part ways with its brothers in global jihad. The deputy leader of the Taliban is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the Haqqani Network that has been entwined with Al Qaeda since its earliest days.
“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the network is willing to break with Al Qaeda,” notes Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Even if the Taliban were to renounce A.Q. and attacks on the West, which they have never done, you’d need a verification mechanism. But if you withdraw all Western troops, there is no verification.”
What about the case for ending a long war? That’s always desirable, and every death in war is a tragedy. But a hawk might also note that U.S. endured just 14 fatalities in Afghanistan in 2018, and that a U.S. service member is far more likely to die in a training accident than in combat. At some point, describing our current involvement in the country as a “war” stretches semantic credibility when compared to past U.S. conflicts.
Against the human (and budgetary) cost of our presence in Afghanistan, hawks would tally the cost of withdrawal. Even liberals like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized Obama for withdrawing too hastily from Iraq, thereby creating the power vacuum that ISIS quickly filled. It was a fiasco that ended only when Obama was forced to return U.S. troops to Iraq a few years later.
Why should a similar scenario not play out in Afghanistan? It’s true that ISIS and the Taliban are rivals, but any administration willing to entrust the Taliban with being a bulwark against global terrorism is even more gullible than the poor saps who paid money for a Trump University training program.
Hawks once understood this — just as they understood that America paid a steep price in strategic and moral credibility when it bugged out of its international commitments, squandered the sacrifices of American troops for the immediate political benefit of a sitting president, and betrayed the vulnerable populations we had endeavored to protect against a barbaric enemy.
Don’t just take it from me. “As a former Army officer, it is gravely concerning to see any president of the United States play politics with critical national security issues,” one conservative lawmaker said in 2011 of Obama’s initial decision to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces. “This decision puts both the lives of American troops and the gains made on the ground in Afghanistan at risk.”
That lawmaker was — who else? — Mike Pompeo. If the secretary has a sense of shame, he might consider apologizing to Obama for adopting the same policy he once so loudly denounced. If he has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan. I’m confident he’ll do neither.
A former dean of the Yale Law School sounds a warning.
Anyone who has followed the news from college campuses over the past few years knows they are experiencing forms of unrest unseen since the late 1960s.
Now, as then, campuses have become an arena for political combat. Now, as then, race is a central issue. Now, as then, students rail against an unpopular president and an ostensibly rigged system. Now, as then, liberal professors are being bullied, denounced, demoted, threatened, sued and sometimes even assaulted by radical students.
But there are some important differences, too. None of today’s students risk being drafted into an unpopular, distant war. Unlike the campus rebels of the ’60s, today’s student activists don’t want more freedom to act, speak, and think as they please. Usually they want less.
Most strange: Today’s students are not chafing under some bow-tied patriarchal WASP dispensation. Instead, they are the beneficiaries of a system put in place by professors and administrators whose political views are almost uniformly left-wing and whose campus policies indulge nearly every progressive orthodoxy.
So why all the rage?
The answer lies in the title of Anthony Kronman’s necessary, humane and brave new book: “The Assault on American Excellence.” Kronman’s academic credentials are impeccable — he has taught at Yale for 40 years and spent a decade as dean of its law school — and his politics, so far as I can tell, are to the left of mine.
But Yale has been ground zero for recent campus unrest, including a Maoist-style struggle session against a distinguished professor, fights about “cultural appropriation,” the renaming of Calhoun (as in, John C.) College, and the decision to drop the term “master” because, to some, it carried “a painful and unwelcome connotation.”
It’s this last decision that seems to have triggered Kronman’s alarm. The word “master” may remind some students of slavery. What it really means is a person who embodies achievement, refinement, distinction — masterliness — and whose spirit is fundamentally aristocratic. Great universities are meant to nurture that spirit, not only for its own sake, but also as an essential counterweight to the leveling and conformist tendencies of democratic politics that Alexis de Tocqueville diagnosed as the most insidious threats to American civilization.
What’s happening on campuses today isn’t a reaction to Trump or some alleged systemic injustice, at least not really. Fundamentally, Kronman argues, it’s a reaction against this aristocratic spirit — of being, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “beyond responsibility to the general masses of men, and hence superior to both their degraded longings and their no less degraded aversions.” It’s a revolt of the mediocre many against the excellent few. And it is being undertaken for the sake of a radical egalitarianism in which all are included, all are equal, all are special.
“In endless pronouncements of tiresome sweetness, the faculty and administrators of America’s colleges and universities today insist on the overriding importance of creating a culture of inclusion on campus,” Kronman writes.
This is a bracing, even brutal, assessment. But it’s true. And it explains why every successive capitulation by universities to the shibboleths of diversity and inclusion has not had the desired effect of mollifying campus radicals. On the contrary, it has tended to generate new grievances while debasing the quality of intellectual engagement.
Hence the new campus mores. Before an idea can be evaluated on its intrinsic merits, it must first be considered in light of its political ramifications. Before a speaker can be invited to campus for the potential interest of what he might have to say, he must first pass the test of inoffensiveness. Before a student can think and talk for himself, he must first announce and represent his purported identity. Before a historical figure can be judged by the standards of his time, he must first be judged by the standards of our time.
All this is meant to make students “safe.” In fact, it leaves them fatally exposed. It emboldens offense-takers, promotes doublethink, coddles ignorance. It gets in the way of the muscular exchange of honest views in the service of seeking truth. Above all, it deprives the young of the training for independent mindedness that schools like Yale are supposed to provide.
I said earlier that Kronman’s book is brave, but in that respect I may be giving him too much credit. Much of his illustrious career is now safely behind him; he can write as he pleases. Would an untenured professor have the guts to say what he does? The answer to the question underscores the urgency of his warning.
On Saturday, the Times reported that President Trump has requested paperwork that would allow him to quickly pardon several Americans who have been accused or convicted of war crimes, and who have become causes célèbres on Fox News. They include a former Green Beret who has been charged with murdering a man in Afghanistan and a Navy seal platoon chief who has been accused of murdering multiple people in Iraq, including a schoolgirl walking along a river, and whose trial is scheduled to begin next week. A third potential exoneree is part of a group of former Blackwater military contractors who were found guilty of murdering fourteen unarmed Iraqis in 2007. The Times reports that Trump is pursuing an expedited pardon process so that he can officially pardon these men over Memorial Day weekend.
To discuss what this decision would mean, and to understand the history of Americans wanting to place their own actions above the laws of war, I spoke by phone with Scott Shapiro, a professor of law and philosophy at Yale. Shapiro is the co-author, with Oona A. Hathaway, of “The Internationalists: How A Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World,” about the attempts after the First World War to institute a legal regime that would prevent a second one. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed why the most outwardly patriotic Americans have long been skeptical of military law, the message President Trump is sending the military, and the dangers of placing troops above the law.
When you saw the news that these pardons were a possibility, what was it that went through your mind? Were there historical parallels, or did it seem like we were in another era?
I thought, immediately, Oh, pardon the war criminals to own the libs—that this was an attempt to trigger me and people like me. The reason I say I’m a little bit surprised at myself for having that reaction was that there is a long history, especially among conservative thinkers, of mistrusting the laws of war and thinking that the prosecution and punishing of American service personnel for defending our country, but not being punctilious about the particular rules of engagement, is unjust and unfair. This brought to mind the My Lai massacre—that was as horrific an act as a violation of the laws of war as you get.
And yet William Calley [a lieutenant who led the Charlie Company’s massacre of hundreds of civilians at My Lai] was somewhat of a folk hero in the United States. The heroes of My Lai, who saved many civilians and reported Charlie Company for what they had done, were vilified by many in the political establishment. Nixon was incredibly upset that William Calley was being prosecuted. He only got three and half years [of house arrest, after Nixon had him removed from prison]. It’s not clear to me how different what Trump is doing is from what Nixon did in the nineteen-seventies.
When you say that there is a long history of conservatives being mistrustful of laws of war, do you mean both international ways of regulating what our troops can do in war, like some sort of world court, and also our own laws or the military’s own laws?
Yes. So John Bolton, for example, has waged a war on the International Criminal Court for many years, since the beginning of its existence, and spent an enormous amount of time when he was in the State Department going around the world, trying to get countries to sign what we’ll call the Article 98 agreements, which basically said that these countries would not coöperate with the court in prosecution of American service personnel, and then denied them foreign aid if they didn’t.
But his objection has been very much about the notion that an international tribunal will prosecute American service personnel. Whereas there is another strand that objects even to our own government, our own military, prosecuting our own service personnel, and there are several strains to it, some of them being understandable, some of them being quite reprehensible. When I say understandable, I think that there are arguments. I don’t think they carry the day, but let me just say that there are at least arguments that make sense.
So one of them is war is hell, and shit happens, and it’s very hard to hold soldiers to such high standards. Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous expression, that “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife,” comes to mind—the idea being that, if you’re in that situation, you can’t be expected to follow all the rules perfectly. There’s also the idea that there are too many rules, and that the rules are too constraining and that we’re tying, as they say, our boys’ hands. And it’s especially problematic in cases where there’s an asymmetry, where the U.S. military is fighting a group that doesn’t follow the rules. So it’s not just that we have a lot of rules, we’re fighting other militaries who are ostensibly bound by those rules, too. But, also, what do we do when they’re not following the rules, they hide among civilians.
Those, I think, are arguments that need to be taken seriously, and people have obviously debated them, and it’s not obvious what the solution should be in particular cases. I went and I watched a lot of the Fox News clips about these cases that it seems like Trump was responding to. And they sometimes use these arguments, but they also use the arguments like, “These are our guys and you need to protect them. They’re risking their lives for us and we have to protect them.” And it’s tribalism. Like, “These are our people and it’s ungrateful to turn on them.”
There’s also a sense, I think, that they’re killing terrorists, so what’s the problem? They’re eliminating evil people. And I think that there’s a particular Trumpian flavor to the assault here, which is that they’re attacking the integrity of the military-justice system much in the same way that Trump does when he attacked Mueller. The idea here being, Look, you can’t trust anyone.
Yeah. It’s particularly interesting to go after the military, which is, of course, the most trusted institution in the United States, about the worst people in the world, that is, the war criminals.
Trump had this aspect of his campaign where he would basically say, “I’m smarter than all the generals.” Do you remember that? Everyone remembers the McCain P.O.W. stuff, but there was this weird, understated, The military is not tough enough or smart enough anymore. It’s just another institution that’s been corroded with establishment figures.
And yet, one of the things that Trump has done is devolved a lot more responsibility down to the military, reversing the Obama scheme whereby military plans had to get extensive vetting by the political branches. So Trump is, on the one hand, saying, “I’m smarter than the military,” and yet, “Don’t bother me with this stuff. You deal with it.”
I assume, over time, the military has over all got better about investigating abuses within its ranks. Do you have some sense of even a hundred years ago, the period you wrote about, how much there was a system for investigating the American military for misbehavior?
So I can tell you that my colleague John Fabian Witt has written a lot about this. In “Lincoln’s Code,” he talks about how the system that we have now really evolved from the military commissions set up in the Mexican-American War and then the Civil War, whereby the U.S. military had to figure out what they would do with people who violated the laws of war.
And so, at least from the perspective of the U.S. military, we’ve been working on this for almost two hundred years—and, funnily enough, so much of the laws of war in their modern form was American-driven. It’s a classic example, I think, of Trump trying to undermine institutions that Americans helped create. So it’s this strange feature, but a lot of times there’s a sense that the laws of war are foreign impositions on the American military, interfering with our sovereignty, when in fact they were developed by the U.S. military as a way of enforcing military discipline.
That’s, in some sense, the general point that people misunderstand about the laws of wars: that they really have their origins in military discipline, that militaries around the world recognized the need to have constraints on soldiers for the sake of having a well-run military. And so it’s usually in the military’s interest for service personnel to be constrained in the way that they are. I would imagine that many military commanders are unhappy about this move.
Trump is often compared to authoritarian figures in history. He’s often been compared to Andrew Jackson. But to what degree does Trump remind you of a certain type that you’ve written about, which is someone from a hundred years ago having a certain isolationist streak, but also just a very warlike personality, with extreme jingoism and nationalism, and a contempt for or racism toward other countries and other people. This pardon news being paired with Trump’s apparent uninterest in a war with Iran was interesting.
Well, bellicosity and racism and Eurocentrism contributed enormously to imperialism and colonialism and genocidal wars of the past, for sure. What is interesting is that these attitudes normally led to war rather than what is happening with Trump, which is that it’s being matched with a kind of isolationism. My own view—and I obviously can’t substantiate it—is that the reason Trump is an isolationist is because I don’t think he wants to spend money on brown people. That is, I think he feels, Why are we spending our money and spending lives trying to bring democracy and improve Iraq, or Syria, or spending money on fighting in Iran, where we’re just going to have to pour money into that country? Here, the xenophobia and racism actually contribute to isolationism.
The America Firsters don’t want to get into World War Two in part because they think, Why are we trying to save the Jews? Why are we pouring money to protect these ethnic minorities in Europe when who the hell cares about them? There are definitely strong historical echoes.
I’m not trying to draw a direct parallel, but the America First types who did not want to get America involved in a war in Europe had no problem asserting the Monroe Doctrine in the Western Hemisphere and insuring business interests in the United States were taken care of and expanded. And that would be my hunch about the type of war that Trump would be at least open to.
I think that’s right, though it’s hard to imagine what that case would be like. I’ve actually been surprised that Trump hasn’t said, “If Mexico doesn’t pay for the wall, we’ll just go take the money from them somehow.” I’m surprised that he hasn’t threatened some war in order to get the money back for the wall. He has said crazy things—“fire and fury”—about North Korea. Threatening a nuclear war is an outrageous thing to do. Saying, “If Mexico doesn’t pay for the wall, we’ll get it in some way,” doesn’t seem that much crazier. Of course, he seems to have no interest in Venezuela, so it’s hard to see what, exactly, the economic interests would be there. It’s so hard to know, and also tiresome to try to guess, what are you going to do next?
What are your biggest concerns, going forward, about what pardons like these would do?
I’m very worried about it. I think, historically, the origins of these rules emanate from military discipline and the sense that the military has to have control over soldiers and control their behavior and keep them focussed on the military mission at hand. And to follow the rules is extremely important for the success of the mission. The golden rule of counterinsurgency is, you want to make sure that you kill more terrorists than you make.
One of the cases that the New York Times reports about is pardoning this group of marines who urinated on deceased Afghans. Is it really helpful for our counterinsurgency mission for people to know that that’s what U.S. military personnel do, and the President just pardons it because it’s no big deal to pee on a dead Afghan?
There are so many ways that this is both an insult to the military and bad for the military. And the ironies of that are plenty.
Yeah, right. So there’s that. This is also really bad for morale. I’ve taught in R.O.T.C., I’ve taught these young officers in training, and they’re taught that these rules are super serious and that they really go to the essence of what it is to be an honorable officer. And then to have the President of the United States say, “Actually, the rules don’t really matter”—what does it do to their sense of what enterprise they’re participating in, No. 1? No. 2, how do they get their men to follow the rules if the Commander-in-Chief is saying it doesn’t matter? It’s just a recipe for disaster.
There are so many ironies here, but one of the cases that Trump is considering, based on the New York Times reports, is the case of the Blackwater military contractors. The Bush Administration tried so hard to get the Iraqis not to prosecute these people, because, they said, “Don’t worry, trust us. You can trust the American criminal-justice system. We’ll take care of it.” And they really held the Iraqi government at bay at a very difficult time with the idea that, We can take care of it.
Why would countries accept that going forward? They’d say, “Look what you’re doing.” So it’s not only bad from a military-mission perspective, but it’s also bad from the sovereigntist perspective. If what you’re really worried about is other countries exerting control over American service personnel, you’re giving them every reason to do it if you do this.
Or to want to create an international system where these things are taken care of, since America’s not going to take care of it on its own.
Yeah, exactly. It’s just more fuel for the people who say, “America has lost its moral way. We can’t trust them. We really need an international criminal court.”
I should also say that, for all these complex reasons of history and how Americans think of this stuff, at the same time, there’s probably a fairly simple thing going on, which is that, if this was not going on in Muslim countries, this probably would not have become a cause célèbre on Fox and the President might not be doing this.
Yeah. When Charlie Company mowed down men, women, children, old people, on the one hand, they were Vietnamese, and so, “Who cares?” But also, talk about historical parallels, after William Calley was convicted of murder, George Wallace visited him and said, “Look, I don’t see why we should be so upset about a soldier killing more communists.” And so, there is a way in which when you dehumanize and vilify a group, the fact that the military killed some more of them, well, how bad, really, is it?
When we look at history, it’s clear that Christianity is an evolving faith. It only makes sense that early Christians would look for a logical and meaningful explanation for the “why” of the tragic death of their religion’s founder. For the early centuries, appeasing an angry, fanatical Father was not their answer. For the first thousand years, most Christians believed that the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross—the “price” or the ransom—was being paid not to God, but to the devil! This made the devil pretty powerful and God pretty weak, but it gave the people someone to blame for Jesus’ death. And at least it was not God.
Then, in the eleventh century, Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109) wrote a paper called Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Human?) which might just be the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written. Thinking he could solve the problem of sin inside of the medieval code of feudal honor and shame, Anselm said, in effect, “Yes, a price did need to be paid to restore God’s honor, and it needed to be paid to God the Father—by one who was equally divine.” I imagine Anselm didn’t consider the disastrous implications of his theory, especially for people who were already afraid or resentful of God.
In authoritarian and patriarchal cultures, most people were fully programmed to think this way—working to appease an authority figure who was angry, punitive, and even violent in “his” reactions. Many still operate this way, especially if they had an angry, demanding, or abusive parent. People respond to this kind of God, as sick as it is, because it fits their own story line.
Unfortunately, for a simple but devastating reason, this understanding also nullifies any in-depth spiritual journey: Why would you love or trust or desire to be with such a God?
Over the next few centuries, Anselm’s honor- and shame-based way of thinking came to be accepted among Christians, though it met resistance from some, particularly my own Franciscan school under Bonaventure (1221–1274) and Duns Scotus (1266–1308). Protestants accepted the mainline Catholic position, embracing it with even more fervor. Evangelicals later enshrined it as one of the “four pillars” of foundational Christian belief, which the earlier period would have thought strange. Most of us were never told of the varied history of this theory, even among Protestants. If you came from a “law and order” culture or a buying and selling culture—which most of us have—it made perfect sense. The revolutionary character of Jesus and the final and full Gospel message has still to dawn upon most of the world. It is just too upending for most peoples’ minds until they have personally undergone the radical experience of unearned love. And, even then, it takes a lifetime to sink in.