Editor’s note: All of the live-blog posts from the Republican debate in Greenville, South Carolina, are collected here for easier reading.
Luntz’s Focus Group Liked the Pizza Man
Frank Luntz’s focus group on FOX News is going nuts about Herman Cain. More proof that focus groups are ridiculous.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:37 PM
Tough Choices, but Doable
Gary Johnson says our country faces “tough choices that are doable.” What does that even mean? Can you do a choice?
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:30 PM
Herman Cain Announces that God Is Blessing America
Now I know who I’m voting for.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:28 PM
She might as well run.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 10:27 PM
Oh, Good—the Obligatory Reality TV Question
Gary Johnson says he would not crawl on his hands and knees like Sarah Palin. “I’ve run thirty marathons,” he boasts modestly. “What are you running away from?” Bret Baier asks him with a straight face.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:27 PM
Bachmann Eclipses Ron Paul Just by Not Showing Up
“Has Michelle Bachmann eclipsed you?” Shannon Bream asks Ron Paul. “She isn’t here tonight,” he quips. His fans go nuts.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:25 PM
The Missing Candidates
FOX is getting even with the candidates who didn’t show up by asking the losers who did to comment about them. That’ll teach ’em.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:23 PM
I can’t believe I passed up the reruns of NCIS on USA for this.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:22 PM
The Winner of the Debate…
…is Fox News. The questions have been spectacularly good—quick, sharp, to the point, well-prepared. Bret Baier is a terrific moderator. The breakout is Shannon Bream, who gives the lie to the idea that the women of Fox News are dumb blondes.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 10:22 PM
The audience boos the idea that Obama might be unbeatable. If Obama or any Democrats are watching this debate, they have to be convinced that they can’t lose next year.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:18 PM
Some Women Like to Work Outside the Home
And others “feel a calling for them to be a wife and a mother,” said Santorum. He tried to save himself by saying he wants society to affirm women working both inside and outside the home, but totally bungled the argument.
Alana Goodman 05.05.2011 – 10:17 PM
Republicans for Heroin?
Ron Paul gets the biggest applause of the night with his rant about opposing drug laws. Alana’s right. The organizers of these debates need to bring in some normal Republicans to balance the libertarian extremists.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:14 PM
Ron Paul and Sascha Baron Cohen
I can’t help it; every time I see Ron Paul’s face I think of the scene in Sascha Baron Cohen’s Bruno when he comes to believe that Cohen’s character is making a sexual advance on him. “He tried to put a hit on me!” Paul rants on a cellphone as the scene ends (he didn’t know Bruno was a put-on).
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 10:13 PM
Could anyone make heads or tails of Rick Santorum’s tongue-tied effort to disentagle radical feminists from working women?
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:10 PM
Rick Santorum, Friend of the Working Girl
Rick Santorum’s explanation of the line from his book taking a shot at working women is playing about as well as it did when he went down to a landslide defeat in 2006.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:09 PM
Cap and Trade Trap for Pawlenty
Pawlenty’s former support of cap and trade earns him some boos. His response is an attempt at sincere repentance. Good damage control even if it is not a small problem for him.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:08 PM
Pawlenty’s problem is not his previous views on “green energy” and “green jobs,” but the perception that he has flip-flopped to appeal to conservatives. He risks becoming the Mitt Romney-on-abortion of 2012.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:07 PM
Pro-Egg and Anti-Chicken
I have no idea what it means, but I like Tim Pawlenty’s farmyard metaphor.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:05 PM
Pawlenty on Intelligent Design
Pawlenty’s neutral position about teaching intelligent design will work in the primaries. Not in the general election.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:05 PM
A Speaking Gig
For Rick Santorum isn’t the presidential campaign merely another occasion to talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk [zzzzzzzzzzzzzz].
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:04 PM
He basically said that to believe in a “truce on social issues” is to “give up on America.” Good Lord.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 10:02 PM
Santorum Deplores “The Truce”
Rick Santorum says anyone who would call for a truce on moral issues doesn’t know what America is about. Mitch Daniels probably thinks Santorum doesn’t know much about anything. But this is Santorum’s wheelhouse. If he can get social conservatives to look at him as their candidate he moves up to the first tier. That is, if he’s taken seriously enough to actually make it to the primaries.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:01 PM
Santorum on Daniels’s “Truce”
“Somebody who calls for a truce on the social issues doesn’t understand what America is all about,” Rick Santorum says when asked about Mitch Daniels’s proposed “truce.” Yes, America is all about the unbridgeable Red and Blue divide.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:01 PM
It was predictable that the first boos of the night would be for Gary Johnson for stating that he isn’t against abortion. He admits that he’s not getting the pro-life vote. He’s not getting too many others either.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:58 PM
Libertarian Free Love
Ron Paul wants the government to get out of marriage. Okay, but his explanation that his support of the Defense of Marriage Act was about federalism was ridiculous.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:56 PM
On Gay Marriage, Ron Paul Hypes His Forthcoming Book
And says (wait for it) that the government should stay out. “One area where it’s totally unnecessary,” he says. His fans go nuts.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:55 PM
Re: Ron Paul and the Audience
Paul’s loud and loyal contingent usually follows him to the major conservative conferences to ensure that he does well in the straw polls straw polls. But are his followers going to flood all of the GOP debates from now on? His grassroots supporters have been organizing for awhile to bring strong numbers to South Carolina tonight, and we can probably expect them to do the same in the rest of the debates. The question is, should other candidates start urging their supporters to do the same?
Alana Goodman 05.05.2011 – 9:53 PM
A Short List of the Missing
A short list of the people I miss hearing tonight: Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, Tommy LaSorda, Chuckles the Clown. Someone with a personality if not a mind.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:52 PM
Is Ron Paul Pro-Israel?
Ron Paul says his proposal to cut all foreign aid will help Israel because we give a lot to the Arabs. True. But that would still leave the Jewish state with the odds stacked against it. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the people applauding him on this were not pro-Israel.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:52 PM
Paul Avoids Israel, Blasts Foreign Aid
Juan Williams invites Ron Paul to bash Israel. “I think they’ve become too dependent on us,” he says—while allowing that Israel doesn’t need to ask American permission to defend itself. The Arab nations receive twice the foreign aid of the Jewish State, he observes. The bell rings. His fans go nuts.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:49 PM
Santorum’s on Both Sides With Pakistan
Pakistan is a complicated issue. But Rick Santorum’s attempt to be both for and against aid didn’t fly.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:48 PM
Pawlenty on Libya and Reagan
Pawlenty’s answer about Libya shows he’s actually read something about the topic. He also gets the prize for the first mention of Ronald Reagan. Scores points with both.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:47 PM
Real Clear National Security Strategy
Bret Baier asks Herman Cain about Syria. “We need a real clear national security strategy,” he replies, before intervening anywhere on earth—including Libya and Syria. Tim Pawlenty correctly observed that Gaddafi has American blood on his hands.
John is right. The loser of this debate—assuming, of course, that Gary Johnson and Ron Paul are irrelevant—is Herman Cain. The winner (so far) is Tim Pawlenty. “If the president says Gaddafi must go,” Pawlenty says, “he must go.” Admirably direct.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:46 PM
Cain’s Foreign Policy
Herman Cain should have just said that he didn’t know anything about Syria and Libya the way he did about Afghanistan.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:44 PM
Watching this debate, one is inclined to compare an early session like this to the minor leagues, or spring training, or something like that. It’s neither. It’s like the first three days of pitchers and catchers.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:44 PM
Sense on Immigration
Gary Johnson’s making sense on immigration. But nothing he says after his whining session will be listened to.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:43 PM
I think the only real loser of this debate is Herman Cain. He had a chance, with a great performance, to take the place of Donald Trump as the businessman populist outsider candidate—which wouldn’t be enough to win but would be enough to give him standing and momentum to go through the race. Instead, Cain is dull and uncompelling.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:42 PM
Bye, Bye, Gary
The moderators are now openly laughing at Gary Johnson.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:41 PM
None of these guys is ready for prime time. Tim Pawlenty gets wonkish about school payments in Minnesota. Gary Johnson, in a whiny voice, complains about Medicare mandates. By now, Barack Obama has turned off the TV, giggling comfortably.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:39 PM
Ignoring Gary Johnson
Gary Johnson whined about being ignored. He should use the down time practicing not waving his hands around like he’s conducting an orchestra.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:39 PM
Chris Wallace sounded like he had Pawlenty cornered on leaving his state with an unbalanced budget. But his answer, that the projection of debt is based on spending that he opposes, sounds convincing.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:37 PM
Hey, What About Me?
Gary Johnson complains he’s not getting enough questions. As if this debate could get any more pointless.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:36 PM
Please Call on Me, Please
Gary Johnson pathetically pleads with Chris Wallace to ask him a question. Very presidential, sir.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:35 PM
The Drug of Government
Rick Santorum’s line about America being addicted to the drug of government is on target. But the way he says it makes it sound more extreme than it actually is.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:35 PM
Ron Paul and the Audience
It appears that the entire national audience for the film version of Atlas Shrugged is there in the auditorium screaming wildly as Ron Paul goes into his incoherent ravings about debt and money and the Federal Reserve.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:34 PM
Cheering Paul, No Matter What
If Ron Paul said, “Boomalacka! Boomalacka!” his fans would cheer wildly.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:34 PM
Militarism and the Debt
Ron Paul is off on another libertarian tangent about the debt. His attack on U.S. militarism would play better to a left-wing audience.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:34 PM
Pawlenty Is Not Breaking Out
. . . but he is slowly pulling away. Except for Ron Paul (who can’t be chased away), he is probably the only one on tonight’s stage who will still be in the running six months from now.
D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:30 PM
Tim Pawlenty is a successful, self-disciplined politician. Rick Santorum, who began by making a relatively recondite joke about being a Catholic and yet wanting a “reformation,” is giving signs of the undisciplined ruminator who helped bring down his own Senate career through foot-in-mouth disease. Pawlenty is positioning himself as the grown-up. It’s not the most exciting place to be, but it’s a place to be.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:27 PM
Paul Makes Sense about Tort Reform
Okay, Ron Paul doesn’t make sense on foreign policy but he’s right about tort reform. It is a state issue rather than a federal one.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:26 PM
Regrets About Free Drugs
Rick Santorum gets asked about his vote for Bush’s free prescription plan for seniors. He was never happy about that vote. But it still isn’t easy explaining how you end it.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:25 PM
Everybody Jump on Mitt
You can almost see the candidates salivating when the first mention of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan was made.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:23 PM
This Debate So Far
Oy. Not good.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:21 PM
Pawlenty’s Mini Stump Speech
Tim Pawlenty is using a question about his jobs ideas to go into a snippet from his stump speech. Only idea is attack on Obama interference in local business. Good applause line.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:21 PM
The Eternal Return
And so here we are, debating waterboarding, with Ron Paul and Gary Johnson sounding like the Center for Constitutional Rights. I had a moment when I thought I was watching a Democratic party debate from 2003.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:18 PM
First Israel Mention Goes to the Pizza Man
Herman Cain wins the prize for the first mention of Israel, quoting Bibi Netanyahu on what the terrorists want: to kill all of us.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:18 PM
Pawlenty Pivots on Waterboarding
Pawlenty is coming across like the most professional politician on the stage. Not entirely a good thing. He’s filibustering before he gets to his answer to each question. It took him a full minute to answer whether he supports waterboarding but never said why he changed his mind.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:17 PM
Rick Santorum, Muslim Reformer
Rick Santorum is right that Islam needs a reformation. But does anyone think Muslims are interested in his opinions about what they should believe?
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:13 PM
What’s interesting about this debate lineup is that it’s two libertarian isolationists (Ron Paul and former New Mexico Gov. Ron Johnson) against two hawks (Pawlenty and Rick Santorum) and a gadfly businessman who says he doesn’t have enough information yet.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:12 PM
Cain Is Clueless on Afghanistan
Herman Cain says he has no idea what he would do in Afghanistan as president, “because it’s not clear what the mission is.”
“It’s not real clear to the American people what our mission is,” he said. “Before I make a decision to send men or women into battle I want to know what our objective is clearly.” OK—but as Commander-in-Chief, wouldn’t the objective of the mission largely be his call? Cain’s able to avoid making a decision on whether to withdraw, but it was an embarrassingly obvious dodge.
Alana Goodman 05.05.2011 – 9:12 PM
Herman Cain, Confused CEO
Herman Cain’s explanation of why he doesn’t know anything about Afghanistan wouldn’t have gotten him anywhere in the pizza business.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:12 PM
Gary Johnson, Junior Isolationist
If Gary Johnson thinks he’s going to get anywhere being a faint echo of Ron Paul, he’s kidding himself. Real isolationists and radical libertarians will always go with the original.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:10 PM
Ron Paul’s Isolationism
Ron Paul’s answer about whether his isolationist policies would have dealt with bin Laden got applause but was utterly incoherent. Opposition to our invasion of Afghanistan is incompatible with a willingness to pursue bin Laden.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:09 PM
Pawlenty’s Maiden Moment
Jon, Tim Pawlenty handled his maiden moment on the national stage very well. Bret Baier asked him to account for a quote he’d given calling Obama “weak,” and he simultaneously congratulated Obama and said the killing of bin Laden “is not the sum total of American foreign policy.” It was elegantly done.
John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:07 PM
Four Out of Five Would Have Released the Picture
Only Herman Cain said he wouldn’t have released the picture of the dead bin Laden. Like to hear why.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:07 PM
Pawlenty on Obama Criticism
Tim Pawlenty leads off the GOP debate making an important point about Obama using the same techniques to catch terrorist that he criticized when George W. Bush used them.
Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:05 PM
Live Blogging the Republican Debate
Must-Reads from Magazine
Are the warplane's secrets safe?
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the newest generation air platform for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marines. Lockheed-Martin, which builds the F-35, describes it as “a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.” For both diplomatic reasons and to encourage sales, Lockheed-Martin subcontracted the production of many F-35 components to factories abroad. Many program partners—Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Denmark, for example—are consistent U.S. allies.
Turkey, however, is also part of the nine-nation consortium producing the plane, which gives Turkey access to the F-35’s technology. “As a program partner, Turkish industries are eligible to become suppliers to the global F-35 fleet for the life of the program. In total, F-35 industrial opportunities for Turkish companies are expected to reach $12 billion,” the warplane’s website explained. “Turkey plans to purchase 100 of the F-35A Conventional Takeoff and Landing variant. Its unsurpassed technological systems and unique stealth capabilities ensure that the F-35 will be the future of Turkish national security for decades to come.”
But is the F-35 safe with Turkey? In recent years, the Turkish government has leaked highly-classified information to America’s adversaries in fits of diplomatic pique. Back in 2013, for example, Turkey leaked to the Iranians the identities of Israeli spies in Iran. Danny Yatom, former head of the Mossad, told USA Today that the incident would damage U.S. intelligence efforts, “because we will be much more reluctant to work via Turkey because they will fear information is leaking to Iran… We feel information achieved [by Israel] through Turkey went not only to Israel but also to the United States.”
On July 19, the Pentagon criticized Turkey’s state-controlled news agency for exposing ten covert U.S. bases in Syria in a way that can enable both the Islamic State and Iranian-backed forces to target Americans. Bloomberg reported that the leak also detailed aid routes and equipment stored at each base.
Both these incidents raise serious questions about whether Turkey can be trusted with the F-35, especially given Turkey’s growing military and diplomatic ties to Russia, and the wayward NATO state’s recent cooperation with China as well. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense is rightly concerned about the security implications of a plan to service its F-35s in Turkey, but such concern should only be the tip of the iceberg.
Should Turkey even receive F-35s and, to the extent the program relies on Turkish factories, is it time to stand up quickly a Plan B? To do otherwise might squander the billions of dollars already spent on the program, risk increasing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ability to blackmail the West, and potentially land America’s latest military technology on Kremlin desks.
Too many martyrs make a movement.
If the GOP is to be converted into a vehicle for politicians who evince Donald Trump’s brand of pragmatic center-right populism, Trump will have to demonstrate his brand of politics can deliver victories for people other than himself. Presidential pen strokes help to achieve that, as do judicial appointments. Nothing is so permanent, though, as sweeping legislative change. On that score, the newly Trumpian Republican Party is coming up short. If the passive process of transformational legislative success fails to compel anti-Trump holdouts in the GOP to give up the ghost, there is always arm-twisting. It seems the Republican National Committee is happy to play enforcer.
The RNC’s nascent effort to stifle anti-Trump apostasy by making examples of high-profile heretics has claimed its first victim: New Jersey’s Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. The Republican is running to replace the nation’s least popular governor, Chris Christie, and the effort has been a struggle. Trailing badly in the polls and facing the headwinds associated with trying to succeed an unpopular outgoing GOP governor in a blue state, Guadagno needs all the help she can get. That help won’t be coming from the RNC. According to NJ Advance Media, the committee’s objection to helping Guadagno isn’t the imprudence of throwing good money after bad. It’s that she was mean to President Trump in 2016, and she must be punished.
“[The president] is unhappy with anyone who neglected him in his hour of need,” said a source billed as an RNC insider. The specific complaint arises from an October 8 tweet from the lieutenant governor said that “no apology can excuse” Trump’s “reprehensible” conduct on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. “Christie was not as stalwart as some people in the party, but at least he didn’t go against him the way she did,” the insider added.
This source’s version of events was supported by former two-term New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman. “She went down there, and the (Republican National) Committee was reluctant to back the campaign in the way one would have expected,” she said. “The implication was, ‘Well you were not a Trump supporter in the primary, and so don’t expect much money.'”
This is almost certainly a pretext. Republicans are facing stiff competition and an unfavorable political environment in November’s gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey. In 2017-2018, 27 GOP-held seats are up for grabs, nine of which are in some jeopardy of falling to Democrats. Republicans are going to have to husband their resources and triage their officeholders. That’s a forgivable, if demoralizing, condition. Declaring Guadagno to have offended the leader and to be cut off from the font of Republican goodwill is not only unjustifiable, it’s terribly foolish.
If Republican women are to be punished for saying that Trump’s comments about sexually assaulting unsuspecting females were unacceptable, there are going to be a lot fewer Republican women. Moreover, the RNC has invited the perception that there is a double standard at play here. A slew of Republicans called on Trump to drop out of the race after that tape, but the RNC is unlikely to withhold support for Senators Rob Portman or John Thune when they need it. Among those calling on Trump to drop out was his own chief of staff, Reince Priebus—a fact the president reportedly won’t let Priebus forget.
Cults of personality can be bullied into existence, but they rarely outlast the personality around whom they form unless that personality can claim some lasting achievements. In lieu of any compelling rationale, the effort to remake the GOP in Trump’s image by force will only create dissidents. The ideological conservatives who once dominated the Republican Party are unlikely to make peace with the ascendant populist faction at gunpoint. And the RNC is not solely to blame for this boneheaded move. Even if the notion that Guadagno is being punished for disloyalty is a pretense, it is a response to a clear set of incentives promoted by this White House.
Maybe the most intriguing question of the present political age is whether or not conservatives in the GOP will come to terms with a man they once saw as a usurper. A heavy hand will only catalyze resistance, and Trump needs his own party as much or more than they need him. Guadagno’s gubernatorial bid is on no firmer ground today than it was yesterday, but the Republican candidate’s allies can now legitimately claim persecution at the hands of personality cultists. Too many martyrs make a movement. The White House and the Republican National Committee should tread lightly.
Podcast: Conservatism in shackles while O.J. goes free?
On the second of this week’s podcasts, I ask Abe Greenwald and Noah Rothman whether the health-care debacle this week is simply a reflection of the same pressures on the conservative coalition Donald Trump saw and conquered by running for president last year—and what it will mean for him and them that he has provided no rallying point for Republican politicians. And then we discuss OJ Simpson. Give a listen.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.
Hyperbole yields cynicism, not the other way around.
Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron surprised almost everyone when he invited President Donald Trump to celebrate Bastille Day with him in Paris, especially after the two leaders’ awkward first meeting in Brussels in May. After all, between now and then, Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and Macron has become perhaps the most vocal critic of Trump among European leaders.
In hindsight, Macron’s reason for embracing Trump might have been to get the president to reverse course on the Paris agreement. From the Associated Press:
French President Emmanuel Macron says his glamorous Paris charm offensive on Donald Trump was carefully calculated — and may have changed the U.S. president’s mind about climate change…. On their main point of contention — Trump’s withdrawal from the landmark Paris climate agreement — Macron is quoted as saying that “Donald Trump listened to me. He understood the reason for my position, notably the link between climate change and terrorism.”
According to Macron, climate change causes droughts and migration, which exacerbates crises as populations fight over shrinking resources. If Macron really believes that, France and Europe are in for some tough times.
First, droughts are a frequent, cyclical occurrence in the Middle East, the Sahel, and the Horn of Africa. The difference between drought and famine is the former is a natural occurrence and the latter is man-made, usually caused by poor governance. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the Horn of Africa, where the same drought might kill a few dozens of Ethiopians but wipe out tens of thousands of Somalis.
Second, the common factor in the wars raging in the Middle East today is neither climate change nor extreme weather, but brutal dictatorship, radical ideologies, and the militias supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yemen could be a breadbasket. Its terraced fields rising up thousands of feet in the mountains grow almost every fruit imaginable. Yemen also catches the tail end of the monsoon. If Yemenis planted exportable crops like coffee rather than the mild drug qat, which does not bring in hard currency, they might be fairly prosperous.
It is not climate change that denied the Syrian public basic freedoms and liberty for decades, nor was it climate change that dropped barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods, tortured and killed 13-year-old Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, or used chemical weapons. For that matter, when it comes to radicalization, the problem is Syria was less climate and more decades of Saudi-and Qatari-funded indoctrination and Turkish assistance to foreign fighters.
Regardless of all this, another obvious factor nullifies Macron’s thesis: When drought occurs in regions outside the Middle East, the result is seldom suicide bombing.
Terrorism does not have a one-size-fits-all explanation but, generally speaking, when it comes to Islamist terrorism, ideology plays a key role. Most terrorists are educated, middle class, and relatively privileged. Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for example, has a Ph.D. Many of the 9/11 hijackers were educated. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas recruits inside schools. Simply put, there is no linkage between climate change and terrorism.
Not only would Trump be foolish to buy Macron’s argument, but environmentalists who believe climate change puts the Earth in immediate peril should be outraged. It is hyperbole. Moreover, it is the casual invocation of climate change as a catch-all cause for every other issue that breeds the cynicism that leads so many to become so dismissive of everything climate activists say. Macron may look down up Trump as an ignorant bore, but Macron’s own logic suggests he is also living in a world where facts and reality don’t matter.
Quid pro quo?
Until now, the notion that Donald Trump was providing Russia and Vladimir Putin with concessions at the expense of U.S. interests was poorly supported. That all changed on Wednesday afternoon when the Washington Post revealed that Donald Trump ordered his national security advisor and CIA director to scrap a program that provided covert aid to anti-Assad rebels in Syria.
The president made that decision on July 7, within 24 hours of his first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The sources who spoke to the Washington Post accurately characterize it as a reflection of “Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia.” That is a fool’s errand but, more important, this move demonstrates that the United States is willing to cede ground to adversaries and bad actors as long as they are persistent enough.
I endeavored to demonstrate as thoroughly as I could why American interests in Syria and those of Russia not only do not align but often conflict violently. The president appears convinced, like his predecessor, that his personal political interests are better served by allowing Moscow to be the power broker in Syria—even if that makes America and its allies less safe.
Moscow has made it a priority to execute airstrikes on American and British covert facilities in Syria, and Donald Trump has just rewarded those air strikes on U.S. targets. Trump has sacrificed the goodwill he garnered from Sunni-dominated Middle Eastern governments when he executed strikes on Assad’s assets and, as recently as June, the U.S. downed a Syrian warplane for attacking anti-ISIS rebels laying siege to the Islamic State capital of Raqqa.
America will continue to provide support to indigenous anti-ISIS rebels, despite the fact that those forces are often under assault from both Russian and Syrian forces. It should be noted, however, that the CIA suspended aid to Free Syrian Army elements when it came under attack from Islamist in February. The agency said it didn’t want cash and weapons falling into Islamist hands, but this move exposes that claim as a mere pretext.
This concession to Russia is significant not just because it removes some pressure on Moscow’s vassal in Damascus. It sends a series of signals to the world’s bad actors, who will inevitably react.
The phasing out of aid for anti-Assad rebels (presumably the indigenous Sunni-dominated factions) gives Russia and Syria the only thing they’ve ever wanted: the ability to frame the conflict in Syria as one between the regime and a handful of radicals and pariahs. A cessation of aid will squeeze the remaining moderate, secular rebel factions in Syria and compel them to seek whatever assistance they can—even at the risk of augmenting the ranks of Islamist insurgents. How that advances America’s interests is entirely unclear.
This move will only further embolden not just Russia and Syria but their mutual ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran. It will convince the region’s Sunni actors that the United States is not on their side—a matter of increasing urgency in Iraq. The insurgency in Syria is unlikely to end so long as regional fighters have a means of getting into the country. America will simply sacrifice its leverage over those groups.
This move will confirm, finally, that the use of weapons of mass destruction in the battlefield is survivable. A truly resolute American administration might fire off a handful of Tomahawk missiles at an abandoned airfield, but regime change is not in the offing. That will only beget other bad actors who will test the parameters of America’s willingness to defend the international norms prohibiting the use of WMDs. Because American servicemen and women are stationed around the world in unstable theaters, the likelihood that they will one day be fighting on chemical battlefields just became a lot more likely.
American covert involvement in Syria also filled a vacuum that the Obama administration allowed to expand in 2011 and 2012. “One big potential risk of shutting down the CIA program is that the United States may lose its ability to block other countries, such as Turkey and Persian Gulf allies, from funneling more sophisticated weapons—including man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS—to anti-Assad rebels, including more radical groups,” the Washington Post speculated. Ironically, American withdrawal from the anti-Assad effort could actually fuel the fire, but in a way that we can neither control nor effectively influence. We’ve seen that movie before. We know how it ends.
And all of this is for what? To garner goodwill with the bloody regime in Damascus? To court Moscow or Tehran? There is nothing to gain from cozying up to these regimes that is not offset by the sacrifice of American national interests and moral authority associated with rapprochement. For all of the Trump administration’s criticisms of Barack Obama’s policy with regard to those regimes, this decision suggests he’s willing to double down on Obama’s mistakes.