Why yes it is. He was over the target, that’s why MoveOn decided to waste our time with a complaint. Meanwhile, we keep learning that the Democrats are more and more ensnarled in a massive scandal.
The WaPo goes to pains to allude there was collusion, but there wasn’t (FISA warrants are usually granted not because there is a suspicion of something factual). So what does this piece demonstrate? Obama purposely spied on Trump in order to try to find some dirt him. Further, it appears from this story, the spying was vast–as it now has wrapped up yet another member of his team.
In other words, Trump was right again. His tweet was spot on that he was spied on. This is a huge scandal for the breadth of the illegal activity.
From June 2016:
What’s Exceptional about American Exceptionalism?
Aaron MacLean at the Washington Free Beacon draws our attention via Twitter to a Mother Jones article quoting Donald Trump on the topic of American exceptionalism. We are happy to offer our thoughts in response, and we do so sincerely and respectfully.
First, Trump said:
I don’t like the term [American exceptionalism]. I’ll be honest with you. People say, “Oh he’s not patriotic.” Look, if I’m a Russian, or I’m a German, or I’m a person we do business with, why, you know, I don’t think it’s a very nice term. We’re exceptional; you’re not. First of all, Germany is eating our lunch. So they say, “Why are you exceptional. We’re doing a lot better than you.”…
Because essentially we’re saying we’re more outstanding than you. “By the way, you’ve been eating our lunch for the last 20 years, but we’re more exceptional than you.” I don’t like the term. I never liked it. When I see these politicians get up [and say], “the American exceptionalism”—we’re dying. We owe 18 trillion in debt. I’d like to make us exceptional. And I’d like to talk later instead of now….
We may have a chance to say it in the not-too-distant future. But even then, I wouldn’t say it because when I take back the jobs, and when I take back all that money and we get all our stuff, I’m not going to rub it in. Let’s not rub it in. Let’s not rub it in. But I never liked that term….
Truth be told, this is one of the most refreshing statements on American exceptionalism that I have heard uttered by a politician in a long time. Conservatives, especially, have come to take for granted chants of “American exceptionalism” as a campaign rallying cry–as something merely to be celebrated rather than an achievement that must continually be renewed. This is one of the underlying problems I see with American conservatism today.
On this point, Prof. Harvey Mansfield offered perhaps the best discussion of American exceptionalism in a 2011 essay in the New Criterion:
The wisdom of the American Founders does not come to us in authoritative phrases such as “Confucius says” or in what we have unfortunately come to call our “values,” but mostly in the form of a Constitution….
Publius announces on the first page [of the Federalist] that the new American Constitution proposes to make an experiment for mankind to see whether a republic can actually be “good government” in practice as well as imagination. America will be exceptional rather than unique: exceptional in being the first to make a republic work, to prove its point by its success, thus to lead the way—rather than unique because of its values or circumstances….
[Anti Federalists] had no care for the weaknesses of republics, amply revealed in the sorry history of republics, which features instability, inaction, and surrender to tyranny. Recent experience in the Revolution and afterward had produced a situation called by Publius “almost the last stage of national humiliation” (Federalist 15)….
The utopian theories behind the [Anti-Federalist] tradition that The Federalist disparaged were republican theories far distant from the realities of politics and human nature. It insisted, rather, that republicanism be held to the standard of “good government,” meaning government that works, one that provides the energy and stability that are requirements of all government, and one that cannot be wished away with the assumption that republicanism is good in itself….
The Constitution, therefore, is not a guarantee of good government; it is not a machine that runs itself. Each generation has the responsibility to make it a success, and the wisdom of the Founders is more a challenge to choose freely and well than a solution we have merely to accept.
Of course, for Mansfield as well as for us, the ideas and principles of the American founding and Constitution are critical aspects of American exceptionalism and American nationhood more generally. We certainly agree with that position and have written about it elsewhere.
But, it must be added, merely celebrating our principles or history does not in and of itself make America exceptional, no more than the many failed republics from the past and the present. Too many conservatives seem to have forgotten that merely pronouncing ourselves exceptional does not make us exceptional. As Obama said, every country does that. In fact, the recent shift in defining American exceptionalism as a fact rather than an aspiration–and the seeming obsession with discussing it–suggests a fundamental and probably appropriate insecurity.
In contrast, by speaking of American exceptionalism as an aspiration to be realized, Trump is on firmer ground. And the aspiration is realized not when we tell the world that we are exceptional but when we are acknowledged by others–perhaps silently, perhaps grudgingly–to be exceptional. That is accomplished not by principles alone but also by demonstrating success–greatness, if you will–through those principles.
Now, admittedly, Trump does not mention those principles (at least in the above quotation) and it is fair to question whether he has any grasp of them at all. That is as much a concern for us as for the many #NeverTrump conservatives who have made that point. As we have said before, we would have designed a more perfect candidate if that were an option.
Yet Trump’s critique of the frankly complacent, conventional conservative version of American exceptionalism cannot be ignored. Indeed, Trump’s version of American exceptionalism, imperfect though it may be, seems much more suited to the present moment than another Independence Day speech.
As Trump says, other countries, if not necessarily eating our lunch, seem to have less and less to find admirable in us. For all our talk about vibrant Constitutional democracy, our legislature abdicates more and more of its responsibilities every year. Our laws are increasingly made by unelected bureaucrats and judges, or, more recently, established by executive ukase. A sizeable portion of our political class seems to think the presidency ought to be swapped back and forth between two or three families every few years. Meanwhile, wages have been stagnant for 30 years; productivity is declining; inequality is extreme while social mobility has fallen; cultural cohesion is shattered; the number of single parent families is through the roof; our education system seems to perform worse and worse every year; drug addiction is up; life expectancy is down; the prisons are swelling, and on and on and on.
So conservatives want us to talk about the wonderful exceptionalism of our democracy? Great. Hugo Chavez did that, too. There’s really nothing exceptional in talking about the greatness of your own system, especially when it is in decline.
Most of the world laughs at the stupidity of both our foreign and economic policy. You want someone to go lecture them about our exceptionalism? The most exceptional thing about this country right now is its inability to win wars despite massive military superiority.
Trump is where he is precisely because he recognized the laziness of TrueConservatism’s™ version of American exceptionalism. His opponents lost because they were too wrapped up in their ideology to see it.
Trump was not afraid to call Iraq a failure because it is (we can have an academic debate about the reasons for that, but, to coin a phrase, what difference, at this point, does it make?). He did not pretend that all our economic problems were simply the result of Obamacare and tax rates. This is not the place for a complete policy discussion, but we discuss these issues at greater length here and elsewhere.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Trump has any solutions to these problems. There are plenty of reasons for skepticism on that score. But admitting the problem is the first step toward solving it, and Trump’s opponents–and too many conservative pundits and intellectuals–could not even do that. Getting over our complacent version of American exceptionalism is a good start.
So go ahead and criticize Trump for a poor grasp of Constitutional principles. Criticize him for an apparent lack of policy depth or for saying inflammatory or stupid things all too frequently.
But refusing to mouth platitudes about American exceptionalism? That’s the best thing any presidential candidate has done in years.
It appears that an unwitting leaker outed herself on the Democrat “news” network MSNBC. Evelyn Farkas, the former Obama administration deputy secretary of defense, admitted it seems that she leaked a lot of Trump/Russia material to the Hill. She also admitted to making sure the information would not be discovered as to “how they know what they know.”
I take that to mean that they may have been engaged in spying, and that’s illegal. If they were following the Russian diplomat’s, then why does it matter covering up how they arrived at their information?
It is unlikely that they do. However, it might be a worthy strategy for the Republicans to force it. A Powerline notes here, the filibuster was meant to not shut down debate, but encourage more of it. So why not force the Democrats to do it the old fashioned way, and that means make them hold the floor. All Senate business would stop, and it would be a nice political strategy for the Republicans to force into public view more Democrat lunacy on whatever they say from the floor.
It is too soon to play that game though. Closer to the midterms would have a better effect. The Republicans should get the nominee confirmed, and then, at a later date when the Democrats filibuster–and they will–make them earn the floor by holding it.
Trump v. the Council on Foreign Relations
Trump’s foreign policy speech is being criticized by all the usual sources for all the usual reasons. If you’ve been following the foreign policy establishment and their cheerleader commentariat for any length of time, it must seem like déjà vu. They always say the same things, almost always in the same words, any time an outsider dares to speak on the sacred mysteries. “Incoherent” is of course the go-to, and it was trotted out many times today, by left and right alike.
But the speech, while not problem-free, was far from “incoherent.” It just said things that the foreign policy clerisy doesn’t like. That clerisy has never been very good at articulating its own policies in ways that the American people can understand—much less, in ways that persuade the American people that those policies are actually good for them. It prefers the smoke-and-mirrors approach: obfuscate, obfuscate, obfuscate. Specifically, insist that the simple is really complicated and the complex actually quite simple. Hence the distinction between victory and defeat in war is too complicated for mere simpleton citizens to understand, while of course it’s well within America’s power to democratize the Muslim world and only a racist Islamophobe would say otherwise.
When this rhetorical squid ink fails—and, surprisingly, it rarely does, which is one reason we’ve been stuck with the same mandarins for so long—they default to the pose and tone that “We, your superiors in wisdom and sophistication, simply know better about these things and you must defer to us.” Now, that is actually an ancient and largely true argument about the conduct of foreign affairs, which in nearly all successful nations has been placed in the hands of an elite. Thinkers from Plato and Aristotle to Machiavelli and Montesquieu to the American Founders saw no way around this and no reason to find it unjust or worrisome.
But it becomes a problem when the elite doesn’t know what it’s doing. Which has been America’s problem since the end of Cold War (if not before). And which Trump pointed out in pungent language. No wonder that, after today, our elite hate him all the more.
Of course, they will say (and already are saying) that their opposition is all about substance. We doubt that explanation is exhaustive. One fundamental objection to Trump is that he threatens the American foreign policy guild—the most closed, arrogant, insular, smug and incompetent guild operating in the world today. Worse, unlike the guilds of old, which in order to join you had to know something—say, how to make beer—to join this one, you don’t have to know anything. You just have to go to the right schools, learn to mouth the right words, and pay your dues by carrying some senior guildmaster’s golf bag for a decade or so, making sure to praise his every slice and hook (and help cover up mulligans now and then). If you do that, no amount or degree of failure will ever be held against you.
But even to the extent that the clerisy does object to Trump on substance, that only further illustrates the problem. Our elites are so out of touch that they freak out over many of the fundamentally sensible things that Trump said.
So let’s look at what he said. The structure of the speech was simple: two main sections—the first outlining five recent or current American foreign policy mistakes, the second explaining three ways that Trump will remedy those mistakes—bracketed by an introduction and a conclusion.
Trump’s proposed remedies:
The most obvious problem with the above is the apparent contradiction between mistakes 2 & 3. How can Trump say in one breath that he is going to squeeze our allies, and in the next lament that Obama has alienated them? Many critics seized on that point. We actually find something problematic here. But first, let’s get something straight. It’s quite possible to be taken for a ride by allies and gratuitously alienate them at the same time, or to insist that allies meet their obligations, just as we meet ours, even as we work toward greater cooperation. There is no inherent contradiction here. “The whole world will be safer if our allies do their part to support our common defense and security,” Trump said. Of course it will. That’s almost tautological.
The question is: how are you going to get them to do it, and what are you going to do if they don’t? We fear that Trump might be being a little pound-foolish here. He doesn’t specify, beyond “NATO,” which allies are free-riding us. Many Trump supporters point to the countries with large American bases and troop presence. We would urge caution on this point. Those bases are a huge benefit—to us. Not, of course, if you believe—as many paleo-Trumpites do—that America should simply “come home.” But as the speech makes abundantly clear, Trump does NOT believe that. If we’re going to have an active foreign policy that defends our commercial and long-range interests, if we want to maintain our ability to project power to defeat ISIS (and other threats), then those bases are essential. And to the extent that they are expensive, they are worth it. It would be great to get allies to pony up more. But to actually cut and run if they don’t would be to cut our nose to spite our face.
The real free riders, incidentally, are the Gulf Arab states—much more so than any country in Europe or Asia. Yes, it’s nice to have the 5th Fleet in Bahrain. But its purpose is to keep the Strait of Hormuz open to keep the oil flowing. What if we didn’t need all that oil? Until the Saudis—the ne plus ultra of the ungrateful “ally” if ever there was one—spiked production in 2014, the US and North America more generally were on track for hydrocarbon independence. The purpose of Saudi anticompetitive dumping is to put American and Canadian frackers out of business. We could fix that with … a tariff! (Once again, we note that this sensible argument appears in the Weekly Standard—and, not incidentally, from the pen of a man past his early 20s and who knows something about economics; yes, that’s meant in contrast to you, NR kidlets. No doubt Kevin Williamson “knows” that anticompetitive dumping always harms the dumper in the long run. But what happens if some of us end up broke in the near- or medium-run? Should they just move?) And once prices stabilize at $50/barrel, putting the frackers back in business and getting U.S. production rising again, perhaps then we could start thinking about whether forward-deploying the 5th Fleet to the Gulf—plus all our other commitments to the Gulf State ingrates—are really necessary. Trump didn’t say any of this, but it’s all quite consistent with Trumpian principles—and anathema to the foreign policy clerisy.
Most everything else on Trump’s litany of errors is spot-on, though he’s almost certainly wrong that ISIS is making money off Libyan oil. We are particularly pleased that he has not succumbed to any paleo-peacenik delusions about Iran, which remains America’s most active nation-state enemy. We think his promise that “under a Trump Administration, will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon” is unfulfillable, but assume was just campaign rhetoric.
On to Trump’s prescriptions. We’re reasonably confident that these must have upset those on the “right” whose sole priority is to see American in retreat everywhere, conceding everything, acknowledging no enemy, avenging no attack or insult, defending no interest. Good! Those people are losers!
Trump is plenty anti-neocon for us. No more nation-building, full stop. No more democracy project. No more messianic, unrealistic crusades. If fact, the bulk of the speech reads like a neocon Penthouse letter: stronger military, rebuild alliances, destroy ISIS, protect Israel, deny Iran a nuke, regain respect. What’s not for Max Boot to like? Ah, this rejection of democracy project. Well, you can’t please everybody.
We’re not sure what Trump means by a “philosophical struggle” in the Muslim world. We hope he doesn’t mean the feckless “public diplomacy” of the post-9/11 era, or the “Let’s-reform-Islam-from-the-outside” dream palace of so many Western intellectuals. A “spiritual war” to attack radical Islam’s calumnies, conceits and errors could be fruitful. But let’s be clear that this would be down-and-dirty propaganda to defend ourselves, demoralize them, and cut them off from as much domestic and international support as possible. We will await further clarification from the candidate.
We’re quite pleased Trump reiterated his support for an immigration pause. We also here note that so much of the criticism of the speech was not actually about the speech. It was rather along the lines of, “Yeah, well, on X date, he said Y, whereas today he said Z.” OK fine. But we’ve known that all along. That’s, as it were, “priced in” to our qualified (but growing) support for Trump. To the extent that Trump remains consistent on the things we care about going forward, that support will grow even more. By that measure, today’s speech was an A+.
Trump was right to threaten ISIS. (Assuming he follows through.) Once again, the paleo-peacniks gnashed their teeth. Trump understands that ISIS (and al-Qaida, which he should have mentioned here but didn’t) want to blow up Manhattan again, and much else. They way to prevent that is not to invade the whole region and try to democratize it, but rather to deliver decisive military defeats that force our enemies to pour all their energies into rebuilding from square one, or as close to square one as we can push them back toward. Trump’s promise to eliminate ISIS is unachievable and may also be dismissed as campaign rhetoric. Still, “Fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here” may have been one of the most abused slogans of the Bush era, but the core of it is correct.
Which leads us to Trump remedy #2: Rebuild our military and economy. All the usual caveats apply: how are we going to pay for it, etc. We don’t know, but he is right about the dire state of our armed forces and the necessity to rebuild. He’s right about the need for nuclear modernization. And he’s right about the foolishness of using the military for leftwing sociology experiments.
The last section was broad and we won’t comment on every point. Trump is right that America has leverage points over China and other countries, which we could use to gain advantages to ourselves but which we don’t. He’s right that it’s at least worth trying to build better relations with Russia—though he underestimates the difficulty, given (for instance) the daily diet of anti-American, anti-Western propaganda the Kremlin pumps out, which rivals the worst of Al Jazeera. His point that NATO should be addressing migration—the greatest threat to Europe right now—is so sensible that it’s no wonder NATO hasn’t even considered it.
His pivot to attacking the “Obama-Clinton” foreign policy (after implicitly, but not by name, criticizing George W. Bush) is clever and effective. Above all, we were delighted by his bracing dismissal of the foreign policy clerisy, which is worth quoting in full:
My goal is to establish a foreign policy that will endure for several generations. That’s why I also look and have to look for talented experts with approaches and practical ideas, rather than surrounding myself with those who have perfect resumes but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war. We have to look to new people.
We have to look to new people because many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing, even though they may look awfully good writing in the New York Times or being watched on television.
The part about “new people” was ad-libbed—and exactly right. And shows that, indeed, on many things, Trump’s instincts are good.
One more longish quote:
Finally, I will work with our allies to reinvigorate Western values and institutions. Instead of trying to spread “universal values” that not everyone shares, we should understand that strengthening and promoting Western civilization and its accomplishments will do more to inspire positive reforms around the world than military interventions.
Leave aside his misplaced use of the word “values.” Only we Straussians know the real problem with it and it’s too hard to convince well-meaning others to ditch it. We also have to overlook the fact, which Trumps seems either to deny or not realize, that “universal values” in fact derive from and are honored only within Western civilization. That said, when was the last time you heard a major Western leader make a full-throated defense of “Western civilization”—using those exact words—and declare that strengthening and promoting the West is his core purpose? That alone should turn around a lot of pro-Western anti-Trumpites.
A final note. The first thing that struck me when listening to the speech was the use of the word “peace” in the second paragraph. Naturally, being Straussian, I later went to the text to count words. “Peace” or a variant appears a total of nine times in the prepared text and ten in the actual delivery. Compare that to a mere five times in Mitt Romney’s 2012 VMI speech, only one of which actually referred to his own aspirations for his administration or his country. (Seven of Trump’s ten refer to his own desire for peace.) On this score, Trump actually compares favorably to John McCain in 2008 (13 times) and George W. Bush in 1999 (16 times). Yet Trump is a dangerous neophyte unfit for the Presidency compared to the Republican Party’s recent, more statesmanlike entries?
Trump passes perhaps the most important test for a statesman charged with grave matters of war and peace: he understands that war is for the sake of peace and that peace should always be the goal of war. We give credit to Bush and McCain for saying the right things about peace. Bush, we are willing to believe, would have followed through absent 9/11. But it didn’t work out that way.
In fact, we are struck by just how similar Trump’s speech today and Bush’s at the Citadel really are. Both talk about rebuilding the military. Both promise to honor commitments to veterans. Both promise to review existing deployments and alliances, and to scale back where our presence no longer makes sense. Both promise that focus will replace incoherence. Both promise to defend America against unconventional threats. And so on.
The differences only emerge when you compare what we can only assume will be Trump’s single address on foreign and defense policy to Bush’s other campaign foreign policy speech, which focused on diplomacy as distinct from the military. There, Bush is much more committed to internationalism, multilateralism, free trade, democracy promotion, and the “moral” element of foreign policy. In other words, to things that one might charitably say made sense at the time but that subsequent events have rendered much more questionable.
When the clerisy insists it opposes Trump on substance above all, we presume that these points of departure from Bush—which is to say, from the post-Cold War bipartisan consensus—are what they have in mind. When Trump says “many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing,” it is, similarly, these elements that he has in mind. Whatever was true in 1999, in 2016 Trump is right and the clerisy is wrong.