Hard as it may be to remember amid the uproar about Melania Trump’s plagiarism, the keynote to the first note of the Republican National Convention was supposed to be “Make America Safe,” not her tribute to the nominee. The plan was for the speakers to highlight the perilous state of national security created by President Obama and Hillary Clinton and to prove how Trump can improve on their record. But while the mixed bag of GOP speakers can be said to have, on the whole, made the case for the former, the question of what Trump would do better was just as much of a mystery after they had finished as when they began.
Part of the problem with the program was that it was that its definition of safety was overly broad. Trump clearly sees no real difference between analyzing security at home—the attacks on police officers and the way illegal immigration jeopardizes the safety of citizens—and the failures to cope with terrorism abroad. There is a certain logic to this, but that is mostly to do with Trump’s belief that the key to victory for him is to channel Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign of 1968 that provided an effective response to a nation ravaged by riots at home and a stalemated war in Vietnam.
To assess just how damaging a new State Department Inspector General’s report on Hillary Clinton’s email practices is to her political career, one need only take note of the fact that the former secretary of state has disappeared. When trouble arises, Clinton predictably scurries back into her bunker and allows the news cycle to sort itself out — presuming perhaps that the unfocused political media will tire of the story faster if she does not provide them with any new material to parse. That is not an invalid operating theory for dealing with an ADD-afflicted press. 16 months into this scandal however, Clinton should know by now that this story isn’t going away. Further, the IG’s report is objectively damning beyond its trite political value. The report casts doubt on the notion that Hillary Clinton can serve as an unprejudiced commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In fact, to swear Clinton into the presidency may seriously jeopardize American national security.
The IG’s report indicates clearly that, when it comes to the controversy surrounding her “homebrew” email server, Clinton is compulsively mendacious. The Washington Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler took a victory lap after the release of the report, noting that all ten of his department’s checks on Clinton’s claims regarding her server proved true. “[I]t appears Clinton often used highly technical language to obscure the salient fact that her private email setup was highly unusual and flouted existing regulations,” Kessler wrote.
The over 18 million Americans who tuned to CNN on Tuesday night for the first Republican presidential debate since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino might have been pleasantly surprised. American anxieties over the threat of radical Islamic terrorism are nearing or surpassing their immediate post-9/11 peaks, and those who turned on the news to hear a substantive debate over the near-and long-term security challenges facing the nation were privy to one. For Democrats, this has proven frustrating. Theirs is a party that cannot have a serious debate over matters related to national security without condemning their party’s leader and his brand of crisis management and, thus, jeopardizing its own electoral viability in the process.
Debate watchers who hoped to witness some of the frivolous internecine aggression that typified past GOP primary contests were disappointed. The Republican presidential candidates sparred over the threat posed by the Islamic State, both on the home front and overseas. They scuffled over the smartest and most effective strategic approach to combating the terrorist network on its home turf in Iraq and Syria. They argued over how best to contain a resurgent Moscow, and how to respond to incursions into NATO operating space inside Syria by Russian warplanes. They deliberated over privacy rights, communications monitoring programs, regime change, nuclear force posturing, Chinese revisionism, Iranian terrorism sponsorship, and the human cost of war. What’s more, a wide range of opinions were reflected in the candidates’ positions on those issues, and virtually every segment of the Republican Party’s coalition was represented competently.
Last week, Hugh Hewitt continued his quest — so far unsuccessful — to discover the names of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers. Assuming any exist.
Hewitt has been on this beat for some time. At the last Republican presidential debate, he asked Trump, “When are we going to get some names on your military and your foreign policy advisers?” Trump’s response, in its entirety, was this:
What does the Democratic presidential debate tell us about where the Democratic Party stands on national security policy?
It sure isn’t where Jim Webb is. Most of the evening, he sounded as if he would have been more comfortable in the Republican debate. A classic Jacksonian, Webb opposes humanitarian interventions such as the one in Libya or interventions such as the one in Iraq, which he does not believe are firmly grounded in an interest in American self-defense, narrowly defined. But he is a ferocious opponent of America’s enemies. One of the best lines of the night came when he was asked which enemies he was most proud of (a question to which the hapless Lincoln Chaffee answered “I guess the coal lobby”). Said Webb: “I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he’s not around right now to talk to.” Webb was underlining the fact that he’s the only presidential candidate in either party who has actually killed a man or even served in combat.
The Pentagon has released its budget request for 2016, and among the items being digested by the D.C.-based defense community is the reprieve of the storied U-2 spy plane. First built in 1955, the U-2 is, next to the B-52 bomber, the longest-lived airplane in the U.S. Air Force’s inventory. Today’s U-2s are dramatically modified from their original version, being larger and with far more sophisticated reconnaissance capabilities. Crucially, they offer greater flexibility than satellites. Plus, on balance, they still remain cheaper to operate than drones.
During the Bush administration and in the wake of 9/11, CIA interrogation policy and extraordinary rendition became a lightning rod for controversy (never mind that the Clinton administration had also embraced rendition). In short, terror suspects were often snatched and transferred for interrogation to other countries, some of which allegedly engage in torture. Senate Democrats launched an investigation, and Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, planned to release the report this week.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s time at the Pentagon is, counterintuitively, a poor guide to why he’s been thrown under the bus by a flailing, blinkered president growing even more suspicious of outsiders as his second term disintegrates. To understand why Hagel is being shoved out the door, you have to go back to why he was hired in the first place. Additionally, the question of why exactly he’s being let go now can only be fully answered once his successor is chosen.
Republicans can take heart from public opinion polling showing that when it comes to dealing with both the economy and national security they have taken a big lead over Democrats, erasing the deficit they had labored under during the last years of the Bush administration and the early years of the Obama administration. As the Wall Street Journal‘s Jerry Seib notes: “In the September Journal/NBC News survey, Americans gave Republicans a whopping 18-point advantage, 41% to 23%, as the party better able to handle foreign policy. And Gallup’s new survey found the GOP with a 19-point advantage on handling Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.”