What if the FBI Had Probed Obama?

By the bureau’s Trump standard, he looked like an agent of Iran.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly opened a counterintelligence investigation in 2017 to find out if President Trump was a Russian agent. What if the FBI had similarly looked into whether President Obama was an agent of Iran?

Counterintelligence agents would have examined the target’s personal and professional networks. The FBI investigated at least four Trump campaign figures for supposed ties to Russia. Only one, Mike Flynn, worked in the administration, and for less than a month. The Obama administration had a few senior officials with personal ties to Iran.

Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett was born in the Iranian city of Shiraz and reportedly led back-channel talks with the Iranians in 2012. Secretary of State John Kerry’s daughter quashed right-wing rumors that her Iranian-American husband’s best man was the son of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. But under the FBI’s Trump procedures, that denial might have made her suspect. A month after Trump adviser Carter Page publicly asked then-Director James Comey for an interview to clear his name, the FBI obtained a warrant to wiretap him.

As Mr. Trump’s desire for improved relations with Russia raised eyebrows at the bureau, a 2008 article written by John Brennan—who went on to serve as White House counterterrorism adviser and Central Intelligence Agency director—advocated a grand bargain with Iran. In 2009 the Obama White House conducted secret negotiations with Tehran.

Mr. Obama later sidelined Project Cassandra, an investigation of illicit trafficking networks employed by Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese franchise. Launched in 2008, the investigation was run by a multiagency task force, including the FBI itself. Then for 18 months in 2014-15, the Obama White House gave the Iranians $700 million a month in sanctions relief. In January 2016, Mr. Obama sent Iran another $1.7 billion in cash. The administration also had a habit of leaking news of Israeli strikes on Iranian arms convoys and depots in Syria.

All these Obama actions are easily explained: Inducing Iran to sign a nuclear agreement was the former president’s top foreign-policy priority. I believe this pro-Iran policy was disastrous. But it wasn’t collusion or treason or any of the other crimes of which Democrats and their media allies have accused Mr. Trump.

The FBI’s suspicions about Mr. Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin were reportedly piqued by, among other things, a May 2017 television interview in which he said he fired Mr. Comey for the “Russia thing.” He’s also staged a series of brazenly public events where he professed his hopes of warmer ties with Vladimir Putin. Like Mr. Obama’s pro-Iran policies, Mr. Trump’s hope for better relations with Russia was anything but clandestine.

Yet critics of the Russia investigations are wrong to suggest the attacks on the president and his associates reflect the increasing tendency to criminalize policy differences . It has nothing to do with policy, for Mr. Trump’s Russia policy has been as hard-line as that of any post-Cold War administration, including Mr. Obama’s. The FBI’s motive for investigating Mr. Trump looks more like pure politics.

‘Riling Up the Crazies’

As long as I’ve covered politics, Republicans have been trying to scare me.

Sometimes, it has been about gays and transgender people and uppity women looming, but usually it has been about people with darker skin looming.

They’re coming, always coming, to take things and change things and hurt people.

A Democratic president coined the expression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But it was Republicans who flipped the sentiment and turned it into a powerful and remorseless campaign ethos: Make voters fear fear itself.

The president has, after all, put a tremendous effort into the sulfurous stew of lies, racially charged rhetoric and scaremongering that he has been serving up as an election closer. He has been inspired to new depths of delusion, tweeting that “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.

He has been twinning the words “caravan” and “Kavanaugh” in a mellifluous poem to white male hegemony. Whites should be afraid of the migrant caravan traveling from Central America, especially since “unknown Middle Easterners” were hidden in its midst, an alternative fact that he cheerfully acknowledged was based on nothing.

The word “Kavanaugh” is meant to evoke the fear that aggrieved women will hurtle out of the past to tear down men from their rightful perches of privilege.

Naomi Wolf told Bill Clinton, and later Al Gore, they should present themselves as the Good Father, strong enough to protect the home (America) from invaders.

The Military Is Not a Political Prop

For at least the past seven presidential election cycles, candidates on both sides have sought to use veterans, military leaders and the military itself to validate their credentials as potential commanders in chief.

In 1992, Bill Clinton received the endorsement of retired Adm. William Crowe, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Each election cycle has escalated this use of veterans as stage props, or useful attackers, such as in 2004 with the deployment of Swift boat veterans to attack John Kerry. To some extent, this politicization of the military has carried forward into office, with presidents from each party carefully using military audiences or imagery to frame policy statements or political activities.

.. In a public speech shortly after his inauguration, Mr. Trump delivered a blistering attack on the press before an audience of intelligence officers at the C.I.A. headquarters.

.. Seven days later, Mr. Trump used the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis standing by, to sign his controversial travel ban. Last February, he politicked before a crowd of troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., the home of the military’s headquarters for Middle East operations and special operations. In July of last year, during the commissioning of the aircraft carrier Gerald Ford, Mr. Trump told the assembled sailors that “I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it,” referring to his budget, adding, “And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care.”

.. Vice President Mike Pence followed the president’s lead last month in a speech before American troops in Jordan, on the border with Syria, attacking Democrats in the middle of a budget fight that caused a brief government shutdown.

.. Mr. Trump’s proposed parade fits this pattern of politicizing the military and using it to further his political interests — not those of the military or the nation.

.. But beyond the costs and distraction of a parade, we should be wary of its long-term corrosive effects on our military, which must continue to serve and defend our country long after the Trump presidency ends.

Bashir Assad and the Syrian Air Force Had a Blast Thursday Night

Trump’s foreign-policy comments could be contradictory, boasting that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning one moment and insisting “we should take the oil” the next. Sometimes he would argue, “Let Russia take care of ISIS,” and sometimes he would pledge to “bomb the s*** out of them.”

.. There is now a consequence to using chemical weapons. Not an all-out war, not an invasion, not even a full effort at regime change, just… consequences.

Oh, and we ended up getting much closer to a Marco Rubio foreign policy than anyone ever expected.

.. Poor John Kerry was left to bring about [Bashir Assad’s exit] in the last years of the administration with very few carrots and no sticks at his disposal. President Obama did not want to strike the regime

.. We initially offered up carrots—such as increased military and intelligence cooperation with the Russians against Islamist extremists—if they would help us remove Bashar al-Assad from power, but by the end, we were practically begging the Russians to just let humanitarian aid shipments into East Aleppo.

.. The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that it plans to bolster and increase the effectiveness of the air defense system in Syria following the attack.

.. The Russians and Iranians are furious, and our traditional allies are cheery. It’s a good day for America.

.. It must have been a shock when Mr. McConnell took that bet and waited for the results of the 2016 election to decide the future direction of the Supreme Court. He won. Mr. McConnell deserves great credit both for holding his ground then and for holding his caucus together on breaking the filibuster Thursday in the face of a cynical Democratic narrative about their “stolen” Supreme Court seat.

Kristof on Kerry’s Israel Speech

I thought Kerry’s speech was excellent, the best explanation a senior official has made about why settlements are poison. As Kerry notes, Israel is on a path that increasingly makes a two-state solution impossible, and at that point if it wants to remain a Jewish state it will not be a democracy and will have no chance of enduring peace.

It’s not that if the settlement policy ended, peace would break out. Bibi Netanyahu is right that there are other obstacles on the Palestinian side. But we should work toward a situation where peace is possible in 20 years — and settlements foreclose that possibility.

.. it’s already striking that the most consistent supporters of current Israeli policies are not American Jews but rather American evangelicals. That trend is likely to continue under Trump and his extremist pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a strong supporter of settlements.

Kerry Rebukes Israel, Calling Settlements a Threat to Peace

Secretary of State John Kerry warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday that the Israeli government was undermining any hope of a two-state solution to its decades-long conflict with the Palestinians, and said that the American vote in the United Nations last week was driven by an effort to save Israel from “the most extreme elements” in its own government.

.. With only 23 days left as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry, the former presidential candidate who made the search for peace in the Middle East one of the driving missions of his four years as secretary, spoke with clear frustration about Mr. Netanyahu’s continued support of settlements “strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible.”

.. “The status quo is leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation,” Mr. Kerry said, his voice animated. He argued that Israel, with a growing Arab population, could not survive as both a Jewish state and a democratic state unless it embraced the two-state approach that a succession of American presidents have advocated.

.. He dropped most of those niceties on Wednesday, especially about Mr. Netanyahu’s government.

“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements,” he said. “The result is that policies of this government — which the prime minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history’ — are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.”

.. But Mr. Kerry’s warning, that a collapse would lead to another intifada, also did not come true. Instead it has led to stagnation and a hardening of positions.

.. Mr. Kerry wanted to deliver Wednesday’s speech more than two years ago, current and former aides say. But he was blocked from doing so by the White House, which saw little value in further angering Mr. Netanyahu,

.. Mr. Trump has nominated an American ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, who has rejected the idea of a two-state solution — a concept that President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton also embraced — and who has helped finance the new settlements that the United Nations condemned.