The Year Justice Caught Up With Trumpworld

In 2018, impunity came to an end.

Ever since the 2016 election, it’s been common for some people to refer to whatever year we’re in as a synonym for dystopian weirdness. (Last year, for example, CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted “Peak 2017” about a headline saying, “US ambassador denies own comments, then denies denial.”) The world has felt continuously off-kilter, like a TV drama whose writers developed a sudden fondness for psilocybin. Last month astronomers at Harvard wrote that a strange oblong space object “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,” and it barely made a ripple in the news. There was simply too much else going on.

Amid this ceaseless barrage, things many of us have taken for granted have been called into question, including the endurance of liberal democracy, the political salience of truth and the assumption that it would be a big scandal if a president were caught directing illegal payoffs to a pornographic film actress. Often it feels like in American politics, none of the old rules still apply.

.. But in 2018, they did. (At least some of them.) Alien probes aside, this was a year in which things started to make sense again. The Democratic landslide in the midterms proved that the laws of political gravity haven’t been suspended; Trump’s incompetence, venality and boorishness had electoral consequences. Further, it was a year of justice and accountability for at least some of those who foisted this administration on the country. An awful menagerie of lowlifes was swept into power by Trump’s victory two years ago. In 2018, at least some of them started to fall back out again.

.. At the beginning of 2018,

  • Michael Cohen was still Trump’s loyal personal lawyer.
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was sleeping in his own bed at night.
  • Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy, had not yet made a plea deal with Robert Mueller, the special counsel.
  • Mueller’s investigation hadn’t yet sent anyone to prison.
  • The Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about work he’d done with Gates for the former Ukrainian president, became the first, in May.
  • He was followed by Richard Pinedo, seller of fake IDs and fraudulent bank accounts,
  • and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

When this year began,

  • Scott Pruitt was still indulging in spectacular corruption as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Omarosa Manigault Newman had just been fired from her senior administration job and had not yet revealed her stash of secret recordings.
  • Rob Porter, who has been accused of abuse by two ex-wives, was still White House staff secretary.
  • David Sorensen, accused of abuse by one ex-wife, was still a White House speechwriter.

At the start of 2018, the

  • casino mogul Steve Wynn was the Republican National Committee’s national finance chairman. He resigned after The Wall Street Journal reported that he’d been accused of committing multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault. (Wynn denied assaulting anyone.)
  • Elliott Broidy, owner of a private security company, was an R.N.C. deputy national finance chairman. He resigned after The Journal reported that he’d paid hush money to a former Playboy model who said she’d had an abortion after he got her pregnant.
  • (Cohen was also a deputy chairman; he resigned in June.)

As this year began,

  • Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign head and chief White House strategist, whose sympathy for white nationalists did so much damage in so little time, was still running Breitbart News. He’d not yet burned his bridges to Trumpworld with his comments in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury,” which was published in January. Since then, Bannon has lost considerable pull. He most recently made headlines after he was scheduled to speak at a conference on sex robots; a backlash to his invitation led to the conference being postponed.

In January,

  • McClatchy reported that the F.B.I. was investigating whether Russia funneled money through the National Rifle Association to aid the Trump campaign. Throughout the year, as evidence of sketchy connections between the N.R.A. and Russia kept emerging, many on the right poo-pooed it. (“This attempt to turn the N.R.A. into another cog in the Russian conspiracy is laughable, but the mainstream media apparently still find it deeply compelling,” wrote Breitbart editor Joel Pollak in March.)
  • On Thursday, Maria Butina, a Russian who’d nurtured ties to N.R.A. leadership and to Trumpworld, pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent. The plea described how, after arranging a junket to Moscow for a “Gun Rights Organization,” she wrote a message to her handler that was translated as, “We should allow them to express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”

Trump likes Mattis. Will it last?

The trickiest challenge for Mattis next year will be North Korea. The defense secretary backs Tillerson’s strategy of diplomatic pressure; the goal is slow asphyxiation. But Trump wants military options, too, and the Pentagon is working hard to deliver them. Dunford must be prepared for a possible North Korean nuclear-missile launch, anytime.

Homeland Security Chief Resisted White House Pressure on Immigrant Program

White House officials were pushing the Department of Homeland Security to announce this week that they were ending those protections for Honduras and Nicaragua ..

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly telephoned Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke and pressed her on the matter, a White House official said. The official said the point of his call was to get her to make a decision, saying she was delaying too long. Others said the pressure from the White House was to end the protections.

“As with many issues, there were a variety of views inside the administration on a policy. The acting secretary took those views and advice the path forward for TPS and made her decision based on the law,” said Jonathan Hoffman, spokesman for Homeland Security.

.. Mr. Kelly, when he was Homeland Security secretary, offered a limited extension of the same protective status for Haitians earlier this year and advised immigrants protected by the program to prepare to leave. He also signaled that protections for people from other nations were likely to end, as well.

.. “The White House came down on her really hard” before and after the decisions were announced.

.. On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the protected status for Nicaragua would end, but the roughly 5,000 immigrants in the U.S. under the program would have until January 2019 to either leave the country or apply for another immigration status if they are eligible.

.. Ms. Duke is expected to leave the agency when a permanent successor is approved by the Senate. Mr. Hoffman, however, said he knew of no plans for Ms. Duke to leave.

The MacArthur Model for Afghanistan

Consolidate authority into one person: an American viceroy who’d lead all coalition efforts.

Afghanistan is an expensive disaster for America. The Pentagon has already consumed $828 billion on the war, and taxpayers will be liable for trillions more in veterans’ health-care costs for decades to come. More than 2,000 American soldiers have died there, with more than 20,000 wounded in action.
For all that effort, Afghanistan is failing. The terrorist cohort consistently gains control of more territory, including key economic arteries

.. First, he should consolidate authority in Afghanistan with one person: an American viceroy

The coalition has had 17 different military commanders in the past 15 years, which means none of them had time to develop or be held responsible for a coherent strategy.

  1. .. In Afghanistan, the viceroy approach would reduce rampant fraud by focusing spending on initiatives that further the central strategy, rather than handing cash to every outstretched hand from a U.S. system bereft of institutional memory.
  2. .. Troops fighting for their lives should not have to ask a lawyer sitting in air conditioning 500 miles away for permission to drop a bomb. Our plodding, hand wringing and overcaution have prolonged the war—and the suffering it bears upon the Afghan population.
  3. .. Third, we must build the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces the effective and proven way, instead of spending billions more pursuing the “ideal” way. The 330,000-strong Afghan army and police were set up under the guidance of U.S. military “advisers” in the mirror image of the U.S. Army. That was the wrong approach.     .. frequent defections, which currently deliver the equivalent of two trained infantry divisions per year to the enemy.

.. a different, centuries-old approach. For 250 years, the East India Company prevailed in the region through the use of private military units known as “presidency armies.” They were locally recruited and trained, supported and led by contracted European professional soldiers. The professionals lived, patrolled, and—when necessary—fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their local counterparts for multiyear deployments. That long-term dwelling ensured the training, discipline, loyalty and material readiness of the men they fought alongside for years, not for a one-time eight-month deployment.

.. the viceroy would have complete decision-making authority in the country so no time is wasted waiting for Washington to send instructions. A nimbler special-ops and contracted force like this would cost less than $10 billion per year, as opposed to the $45 billion we expect to spend in Afghanistan in 2017.

.. The military default in a conventional war is to control terrain, neglecting the long-term financial arteries that fund the fight, and handicaps long-term economic potential.

The Taliban understand this concept well. They control most of Afghanistan’s economic resources—including lapis, marble, gold, pistachios, hashish and opium—and use profits to spread their influence and perpetuate the insurgency. Our strategy needs to target those resources by placing combat power to cover Afghanistan’s economic arteries.

.. We need to encourage the growth of legitimate industries to raise tax revenue while choking off the Taliban’s sources of income. It’s absurd that Afghanistan—which holds an estimated $1 trillion worth of mineral resources—still doesn’t have a mining law, after 15 years of American presence and “advice.”

.. Our failed population-centric approach to Afghanistan has only led to missed opportunities

.. A smarter, trade-centric approach will boost Afghanistan’s long-run viability by weaning it off donor welfare dependency.

.. Mr. Trump must not lose sight of the reason we became involved in Afghanistan: to deny sanctuary to those who want to destroy our way of life.

.. The U.S. should adjust course from the past 15-plus years of nation building and focus on pounding the Taliban and other terrorists so hard that they plead for negotiation. Until they feel real pressure and know the U.S. has staying power, they will win.