Daniel Ortega Recruits the Head of Donald Trump’s Bible Study

The move reflects both the social conservatism of the Nicaraguan government and its desire for relief from U.S. sanctions.

Screenshot_2019-09-04 (28) Dr Ralph Drollinger transmite mensaje de Paz en el 40 19 - YouTube

Amid thousands decked out in the red-and-black bandanas of a ruling party that once espoused the virtues of Marx and Lenin, a towering, evangelical gringo — the head of a weekly bible study at Donald Trump’s White House — took centerstage. Ralph Drollinger, a professional basketball player turned pastor, donning a suit in the muggy capital of Nicaragua, then sermonized on what it means to be “a Christian nation.”

The target of this July 19 mission trip was not the poor in this country of some 6 million, but the country’s ruling class: a U.S.-sanctioned government that invited him down to celebrate 40 years since the overthrow of a U.S.-backed dictator, following a popular uprising last year that nearly toppled it too.

“In the United States of America, we have found amongst our political leaders that it is essential they have a Bible teacher in their midst,” Drollinger said, his remarks airing on state-controlled TV. “And we are so blessed, Mr. President and Mrs. Vice President, about the opportunity that you see to do the same here in Managua.”

His is a more familiar face in Washington than Managua, which actually helps explain his presence in Central America. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence takes part in his weekly lessons on Christianity and governance, as does U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Trump, reportedly, reads the notes. He “writes me back notes on my bible studies,” Drollinger told the BBC. “‘Way to go Ralph, really like this study, keep it up.’ Stuff like that.”

Few would confuse the stuff Ralph teaches with liberation theology. According to the pastor — a self-described conservative Republican, and an anti-gay ““extremist,” per the Human Rights Campaign — homosexuality is “illegitimate in God’s eyes”; “contentious women” violate God’s teachings by being “unrelenting in irritation”; and “the primary purpose of the state is to punish evil,” with capital punishment suggested as justice for those who violate “the sanctity of human life, which begins at conception.”

The pastor’s lessons stress the ostensibly biblical nature of private property and capitalism — blasphemous to the Sandinistas of the 1980s, perhaps, but not at odds with the 21st century Ortega, who reinvented himself as a reliable guardian of the private sector, winning praise from the International Monetary Fund.

All that makes Drollinger and his group, Capitol Ministries, attractive guests for a socially conservative regime labeled part of a “troika of tyranny” by Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton. “On policy,” Drollinger has claimed, “Trump’s enacting everything I’ve written.” At the July rally in Managua, another man of god, Father Antonio Castro, asked Drollinger to intercede for sanctions relief when back in D.C.

In a letter to Drollinger, Ortega requested that the pastor “establish Capitol Ministries in our government,” explaining: “We know if the people that God has trusted with the destiny of a nation are born again, our legislators will legislate according to the Bible.” A local evangelical minister, Arsenio Herrera, will lead that Bible study.

In 2018, Ortega and Murillo attended a funeral service for Herrera’s mentor, U.S. evangelical pastor David Spencer, who was posthumously awarded Nicaraguan citizenship. Herrera’s oratory, delivered at his Hosanna church in Managua, was circulated by state-controlled media.

Drollinger and his staff spent a total of four days in the Central American state, which last year saw a popular uprising against austerity met with police brutality. “Systemic repression and persecution,” is how the United Nations described the crackdown, which included a 15-hour siege on a church in Managua that saw two student protesters killed. More than 300 people died in the summer of 2018, the vast majority protesters or perceived sympathizers. More than 60,000 people have since fled the country, or about 1 percent of the population.

Capitol Ministries, the group Drollinger started in 1996 to deliver his conservative interpretation of the Bible to politicians, is unperturbed by state repression,

“That is what Capitol Ministries does,” spokesperson Deborah Mendenhall explained in a July 25 email. It “teaches historical, traditional evangelical theology to government leaders,” and is prepared “to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the political arena throughout the world.” Indeed, it previously set up shop in dictatorial Belarus, and its trip to Nicaragua included meetings with the officials who led last year’s crackdown, including Ortega, his wife and U.S.-sanctioned Vice President Rosario Murillo, and Police Inspector General Jaime Vanegas, whom Human Rights Watch has declared responsible for “gross human rights violations.” A member of the group also addressed several hundred police officers, at Vanegas’ request.

“After meetings were held, President Ortega invited Capitol Ministries to establish a Bible study to his cabinet and to the congress,” Mendenhall said. In addition to “weekly, in-depth expository Bible studies,” she said, the group issues written supplements “that examine today’s issues through a biblical lens, such as ‘Solomon’s advice on How to Eliminate a $20.5 Trillion Debt,’ and ‘The Remedy to Racism.’ These studies investigate what Scripture has to say about these issues to inform government leaders of the biblical positions.”

It may seem an odd coupling. In the 1980s, when Ortega led a Sandinista cabal following the popular revolution that toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza, he and Murillo were known as atheists. But a decade and a half out of power changed that, with Ortega emerging as a changed man ahead of the 2006 election, publicly reconciling with the Catholic Church and campaigning as a Christian, his running mate a former Contra. Back in office, he signed a comprehensive ban on abortion, and today his party refers to opposition protesters as “abortionists, delinquents and atheists.”

Rudy Antonio Palacios Vargas, an evangelical minister and a former member of the Sandinista Youth, told me he thinks his coreligionists are over-earnest victims of geopolitical chess.

“Daniel and Rosario speak of a country that is Christian, socialist and caring,” he said. “But that was just the hook they used to get Drollinger to come to Managua. What they really want is to use him to intercede with Trump so that he doesn’t impose more sanctions.”

But if sanctions relief is the goal, it will be an awful hard sell. Less than 24 hours before Drollinger’s address in Managua, one of Capitol Ministries’ pupils, Vice President Pence, delivered a speech in Washington assailing Ortega and his vice president for “their assault on faith and human rights.

Vargas, now in Guatemala after his life was threatened for supporting protests deemed “terrorism” by the state, doubts that another preacher can alter the Nicaraguan government’s behavior, either. “They keep killing, they keep kidnapping, they keep torturing, they keep violating the freedom of the press,” he said, likening it to the Somoza dictatorship that fell in 1979. “Hundreds of pastors have come to Nicaragua to speak the word of God,” he said, “and there has never been real change.”

Charles Davis is a writer in Los Angeles. His work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Guardian, The Daily Beast and Columbia Journalism Review.

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Mike Gravel and His Teens to Endorse Bernie, Snub Tulsi Gabbard, After Appeal From Sanders Camp

Update: The clown “campaign” couldn’t control its “candidate.”

Former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel and the teenagers who managed his social media campaign for the presidency are endorsing Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination, this website has learned, punching above its weight once again.

The Michael endorsement, which the Gravel team said would be announced on Monday, was secured with a phone call from Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir — and the delicate persuasion of the influences who turned him into a meme, nudging the 89-year-old toward the democratic socialist from Vermont and away from Tulsi Gabbard, a conspiracy theorist running for president.

Gravel never registered much higher than 1 percent in the polls in which he was included; in 2007, when he threw a rock into a lake for an ad, few came calling when the Democratic presidential bid ended, Gravel ending up, for a moment, in the Libertarian Party.

The 2020 campaign was also entirely too online. But with a crowded field bringing early talk of a brokered convention, in an age when people use the internet too much, no politician can afford to entirely overlook the ironic vote; neither the Gabbard nor Sanders campaign did, both lobbying up to the finish line, per the Gravel team, which is out of school right now.

Gravel, the man, has not been in public office since 1981, and in 2020 he was more of a logo than a real candidate this time, this “run” the brainchild of a recent high school graduate and a future college sophomore, David Oks and Henry Williams. These guys wanted to inject a maximalist non-interventionism, appropriate for their age, into the debate —  the U.S. out of everywhere. Gravel, himself, failed to make it into the Democratic debates or to expand much on that, and his volunteer kids say they will give his donations to charity.

Some foresaw an inevitable Gabbard endorsement. Gravel, the singular, was publicly leaning that way. But Tulsi is not as popular with the youth, or really anyone on the left, as Bernie still is, her conspiracy-laden campaign, however intriguing, defined by repeat appearances on Tucker Carlson’s broadcasts and a page on her website dedicated to questioning the true, official narrative on chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Gravel has his own eyebrow-raising theories (rhymes with 7-Eleven), but his teens did not prefer the candidate who wants to re-investigate “false flags.” They wanted Bernie, it was always going to be Bernie and should anyone have doubted that?

Oks and Williams will be interning for Jacobin magazine.

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Elite Impunity Matters: Bob Mueller, Valerie Plame and the Left

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Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson

If one of Donald Trump’s oafish sons outed a covert intelligence agent tomorrow — in an angry tweet disclosing their party registration or in a clumsy boast to an Instagram thirst-trap — it would prompt a newscycle of clucking from former national security officials and their conventionally liberal interrogators. A spook would call it “treason,” a cable-news Democrat would say it’s “treasonous,” and the alleged traitor himself would either apologize, half heartedly, or double down in appearance on Fox & Friends. Life, for better or worse, would go on. Nothing matters.

In terms of ultimate consequences, this would not be altogether different than what happened under the presidency of George W. Bush. Back then, the ghoulish vice president’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, got caught leaking the name of clandestine CIA agent Valerie Plame, an act of retaliation spurred by Plame’s ex-diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, and his undermining the White House’s claims about Iraq with more accurate testimony of his own — the “Deep State” conspiracy of the mid-2000s. There was a special counsel and an indictment, albeit not for the underlying crime but for lying to investigators, and while everyone pretty much knew something like this wouldn’t have happened without at least a wink from up top, no one above Libby ever faced a trial.

It was a disappointment for progressives, some of whom had turned prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into a pin-up, but few outside the right considered it an exoneration. “Legal or not, the Plame leak was wrong,” wrote David Corn, then-Washington editor of The Nation. “One doesn’t need indictments — or convictions — to see this case as a clear representation of the way Bush and his crew do business.” The involvement of higher ups like Karl Rove was not in question (the senior Bush operative had been caught misleading investigators), and most suspected Dick Cheney’s chief of staff wouldn’t out a spook without at least a nod from his boss, but neither was charged with a crime.

Fitzgerald may have determined he lacked a powerful enough case, but then weaker cases are prosecuted everyday; one should always be mindful that those with the most power never face the same justice as those with the least (Libby had his sentence commuted by Bush before receiving a full, message-sending pardon from Trump). All on the left who cared about this affair, and were concerned that the world’s most powerful reactionaries were getting away with it, had no illusions about Valerie Plame’s employer and what it did: a lot of evil. Sympathy was tactical; when conservatives attacked the agency and its employees for being pinkos undermining a militarist, there was an understanding that they were doing so for bad reasons; no one cheered this as justice for Salvador Allende.

Could the left maturely address such a matter today, or would the siren’s call of aloof vulgarity prove too strong? To ask is to already know the answer — there is hardly a need for a thought experiment here. We already have this Russia stuff: the emails hacked by the government of Russia, laundered to WikiLeaks and openly welcomed by the Trump campaign, a fact — that this was happening, and that it mattered — mocked by the most avowedly cynical pundits among us even as these same people breathlessly reported on emailed banalities fed to them by the intelligence operation in question. The report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, or the Trump administration’s brief summary of it, has been welcomed with an unsettling glee by those who have long denied what it only confirmed: that the DNC break-in was carried out by the Russian government to help elect the current president.

Forget Valerie Plame: If Watergate were to happen now, righteous commentators would be defending their stories on what G. Gordon Liddy found in the DNC’s office, while at the same dismissing its relevance to an election that saw the Democratic nominee lose 49 states.

It is certainly a disappointment that we live in a world where a former FBI director did not, per the Attorney General’s summary, build a legally viable case for the unprecedented removal of a U.S. president from office. An excitable few may have expected that, but I suspect most of them are made of straw. Even so, it is of note that this is still no official exoneration, either: William Barr’s stated reason for not pursuing televised-and-tweeted obstruction of justice — the sort of thing that can prevent a prosecutor from obtaining the clear evidence needed to successfully prosecute a criminal conspiracy at the highest level — is that the underlying crime was not proven. The logic is more coherent than we’re used to from figures in the Trump administration, but it is nonetheless circular.

It is likewise strange for the successful prosecution of a sitting president, or an official accusation of treason against them, to be a progressive standard for assessing whether a crime was committed. By June 2016 it was known beyond all but a Kremlin apologist’s doubt that Russian military intelligence had hacked the Democrats and created a persona, Guccifer 2.0, to disseminate what they stole. The Trump campaign knew this even earlier thanks to its own contacts with Russian intelligence cutouts. Still, the future president’s son, Donald Jr., nonetheless accepted a meeting that month with a Russian lawyer based on the belief that he was about to receive “high level and sensitive information” on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

I love it,” the son responded, a couple days before the DNC announced it had been hacked. Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, told Congress he believes the future president was aware of the meeting — and that, “yes,” he’d totally do collusion, if he could. Both exchanges read like liberal fanfiction, and would be dismissed as such in most other universes.

But we live in this one, and it is crucial that the left live there too, where an outcome one may not otherwise care about, has real implications for how power, always learning, behaves in the future. It is not a good thing when the most powerful man in the world can openly obstruct justice. Aside from the issue of collusion  — so narrowly defined by Trump’s Attorney General as to exclude anything but an explicit agreement between the campaign and an actual government official, on the specific issue of hacking the DNC — Trump openly sought to prevent others from settling the questions around Russian anti-democratic actions in the 2016 election. This, like the commander in chief’s open fondness for authoritarianism at home and abroad, is another unfortunate lesson for those who will follow him, here and elsewhere.

Charles R. Davis is a writer in Los Angeles whose work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as Columbia Journalism Review, The Daily Beast, The Guardian and The New Republic.

 

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Who Is Charles Redvers? How a Fake Man Got His Start

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I just assumed they didn’t know, because the alternative — a credible news organization publishing a long-time contributor, but giving him a different name and nationality — did not make much sense. I assumed, then, that openDemocracy had been fooled; that when John Perry, a British man, got himself published as “Charles Redvers,” a Canadian, it had been through trickery. Believing this, I told them what I had found: that Perry had been going around telling other publications that he was Mr. “Redvers,” trumpeting his byline at openDemocracy and using the fake identity to circulate a false confession, recorded in a prison, from a Nicaraguan woman who told me she had been tortured.

An editor said “thanks” and then ignored all subsequent communication (questions like: Are you planning to do something about it?). But admitting mistakes is hard, I reminded by wounded ego, and it is entirely possible they think it is I whom is the crank. So I went ahead and published my investigation at The Daily Beast, confident that, once in the public domain, openDemocracy would no longer be able to ignore the fact they had published a man who is not real.

But that is what they did. Only after tagging an editor on Twitter, weeks later, was there the first bit of transparency: it was an inside job. According to social media chief Sunny Hundal, an editor at openDemocracy had published the story from the “Redvers,” ostensibly a Canuck in the Nicaraguan city of Leon, knowing that it was John Perry, a Brit in the city of Masaya — a fact that openDemocracy itself still does not acknowledge on its website.

Screenshot_2018-10-30 Nicaragua_s failed coup openDemocracy

After some more prodding, openDemocracy now asserts that Charles Redvers is “a pseudonym,” of whom they do not say, despite it having been reported. They note the privilege of anonymity is occasionally extended “when there are legitimate security concerns,” a belated disclaimer not to be found, obviously, on any of the Sandinista-run websites that republished the piece.

Screenshot_2018-10-30 Charles Redvers

A couple things jump out here, the first of them perverse: John Perry is not a dissident, but rather a partisan of a Nicaraguan government that has been found responsible, by human rights organizations and the United Nations, of the vast majority of the violence the once-tranquil Central American nation has seen since anti-government protests began in April. He was using his platform, as Redvers, at openDemocracy, to argue that Nicaraguan security forces were literally incapable of torture (and that the opposition was funded by the same arms of the U.S. government as openDemocracy itself); he then used the identity, and the credibility of openDemocracy, to spread a video of a tortured student activist, this time at the far less credible Grayzone website.

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The other thing is that openDemocracy did not actually grant anonymity, in this case. Rather, it lied to its readers: it said a man they knew was somebody else, from somewhere else, living somewhere else. At that point, Redvers is not a pseudonym, but a deception — one coauthored by an editor who had, as all journalists have, a duty to not knowingly lie to their audience.

“This looks like a serious issue to me,” Guardian columnist George Monbiot noted on Twitter. “I love openDemocracy, and want to see its excellent standards upheld. So it seems important that the issue is resolved in favour of transparency asap.”

Mary Fitzgerald, editor in chief of openDemocracy, tells me the editor responsible for this decision has been informed that they screwed up — that the use of a fake name must always be noted. But we already know who “Redvers” is, and that this was a fraudulent identity, not just a pen name, however welcome the acknowledgement that no one exists with that name (at least no one with strong opinions about Daniel Ortega). What we don’t know is why anyone at openDemocracy considered it ethical to cosign and publish claims that were known at the time to be false.

Ethical lapses happen, and one like this does not damn openDemocracy forever. But it owes its readers more. Deception requires an explanation, not just an asterisk and a note where one should have been before. Charles Redvers, which is to say, John Perry, exploited the credibility of openDemocracy to lend legitimacy to his manufactured identity and the torture-confession video he laundered on behalf of the Ortega government. Both he and his editor should come clean.

Charles Davis is a journalist in Los Angeles whose work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Daily Beast, The Guardian and The New Republic.

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Julian Assange Reveals: Holocaust Denier Is a Trusted ‘Friend’

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Julian Assange barely even knows the far-right, Holocaust-denying Russian kook with six different names, the latest being “Israel Shamir.” That was the line in March 2011, per a statement from WikiLeaks, released amid what the head of the former transparency organization reportedly claimed was a Jewish-orchestrated campaign to smear him.

Israel Shamir has never worked or volunteered for WikiLeaks, in any manner, whatsoever. He has never written for WikiLeaks or any associated organization, under any name and we have no plan that he do so. He is not an ‘agent’ of WikiLeaks. He has never been an employee of WikiLeaks and has never received monies from WikiLeaks or given monies to WikiLeaks or any related organization or individual. However, he has worked for the BBC, Haaretz, and many other reputable organizations.

It is false that Shamir is ‘an Assange intimate’.

Months before, Julian Assange himself disputed this. In a letter from November 2010, just obtained by the Associated Press, the WikiLeaks founder wrote:

I, Julian Assange, hereby grant full authority to my friend, Israel Shamir, to both drop off and collect my passport, in order to get a visa, at the Russian Consulate, London.

A month later, Shamir would travel to Belarus, handing the pro-Russian dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, U.S. diplomatic cables, obtained by WikiLeaks detailing America,  interactions with Belarusian opposition figures, some of whom would end up arrested, or dead.

But we already knew Assange was intimately familiar with the odious Shamir; all one needed to do was read what those slandered as MSM smear-artists were reporting, credibly, at the time. For example, as former WikiLeaks staffer James Ball noted in a piece for The Guardian back in November 2011:

Shamir has a years-long friendship with Assange, and was privy to the contents of tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables months before WikiLeaks made public the full cache. Such was Shamir’s controversial nature that Assange introduced him to WikiLeaks staffers under a false name. Known for views held by many to be antisemitic, Shamir aroused the suspicion of several WikiLeaks staffers – myself included – when he asked for access to all cable material concerning “the Jews”, a request which was refused.

When questions were asked about Shamir’s involvement with WikiLeaks, given his controversial background and unorthodox requests, we were told in no uncertain terms that Assange would not condone criticism of his friend.

Assange would subsequently accuse his former colleague of making “libelous” accusations about him. But, despite electing to reside in Britain, rather than defend himself in Sweden from allegations of sexual assault, Assange did not take advantage of the country’s liberal defamation laws.

Thanks to a leak, we have a better idea why  and further evidence that one should not blindly trust the public statements of political celebrities. The question now is not whether Assange is a serial liar prone to bouts of defamatory projection, but whether his friend, Israel Shamir, had an ulterior motive for providing U.S. cables to an ally of the Kremlin just weeks after the WikiLeaks founder had used him to request assistance from Russian officials.

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Despite the Violence, Trump Keeps on Deporting Nicaraguans

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In April, U.S. and Nicaraguan officials signed an agreement aimed at speeding up the removal of undocumented Nicaraguans living in the United States.

More than 200 Nicaraguans are in U.S. custody and facing imminent deportation back to a country where the White House, the United Nations and human rights organizations say the government of President Daniel Ortega is killing its own people. The Ortega government, in fact, will be assisting in the process as one of a handful of formal, authorized partners of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

More than 300 Nicaraguans have been killed, a large majority at the hands of the state and pro-government paramilitaries, since anti-Ortega protests began in April. The Trump administration has responded to the violence by recently demanding the return of vehicles it had donated to the Nicaraguan police, claiming they were used to put down protests. It has not stopped deporting Nicaraguan nationals back to the violence, however, and despite casting protesters as tools of the U.S. government, Managua continues to assist in expediting the removal of its citizens.

Between October 2017 and August 2018, the U.S. deported at least 719 Nicaraguan nationals, according to ICE spokesperson Brendan Raedy. The agency deported 832 Nicaraguans in the prior fiscal year, and 795 the year before.

“With approximately a month left in the current fiscal year,” Raedy said, “you can clearly see removal numbers are very much in line with years prior.”

That is indeed true. However, other officials claims regarding the deportation of Nicaraguans have proven misleading.

“As you may be aware,” Raedy told me, “the most common manner in which illegal aliens come to the attention of ICE is when they break another law in addition to being in the United States without lawful status.”

But the statistics he provided show that the majority of Nicaraguans deported by ICE are not what the agency refers to as “convicted criminals” — a term that can conjure up images of murderers and rapists but which encompasses those guilty of no more than traffic violations. Of the 219 Nicaraguans in ICE detention with a final order of removal, just 97 had convictions on their record.

Charles Davis is a journalist in Los Angeles. His work has aired on public radio and been published by The Daily Beast, The Guardian and The New Republic.

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Woodward’s Book Should Kill the Myth of a Pro-War Coup Against an Antiwar President

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The unhinged, racist demagogue with a non-interventionist mindset is being undermined by the liberal-neoconservative Deep State because he refuses to to let the CIA kill Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator with a massive body count that is none of our business.

It’s a popular notion among those with a soft spot for reactionary isolationists, the notion, popularized by a founding editor of The Intercept, that Donald J. Trump is engaged in an internal war with the U.S. empire. The U.S. president, of course, campaigned on escalating every conflict he would inherit, but he had nice things to say about a once and future CIA partner and his bloody war on terror; confusingly, this meant he was — relative to those looking to start WWIII by saying Russian imperialism is bad — an antiwar lesser evil

In power, Trump has bombed a couple empty Syrian regime targets, sure, but as his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, recently suggested, those strikes were, in effect, an effort to make U.S. condonation, if not de facto U.S. support, of the Assad regime’s scorched-earth total war more palatable. “If they want to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that,” Haley remarked, “but they can not do it with chemical weapons.”

Trump’s unwillingness to deep-six Bashar purportedly stood in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton, who campaigned, let us suppose, on bunker-busting Damascus and Moscow in order to achieve regime change for Syrian al-Qaeda. As The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald explained on Democracy Now! a few weeks after Trump took office:

The CIA and the intelligence community were vehemently in support of Clinton and vehemently opposed to Trump, from the beginning. And the reason was, was because they liked Hillary Clinton’s policies better than they liked Donald Trump’s. One of the main priorities of the CIA for the last five years has been a proxy war in Syria, designed to achieve regime change with the Assad regime. Hillary Clinton was not only for that, she was critical of Obama for not allowing it to go further, and wanted to impose a no-fly zone in Syria and confront the Russians. Donald Trump took exactly the opposite view. He said we shouldn’t care who rules Syria; we should allow the Russians, and even help the Russians, kill ISIS and al-Qaeda and other people in Syria. So, Trump’s agenda that he ran on was completely antithetical to what the CIA wanted. Clinton’s was exactly what the CIA wanted, and so they were behind her. And so, they’ve been trying to undermine Trump for many months throughout the election. And now that he won, they are not just undermining him with leaks, but actively subverting him.

That Trump’s “agenda” was a) coherent, and b) “completely antithetical to what the CIA wanted” was, at the time, a bizarre thing to argue. Some CIA officials, like many others, have surely recognized that the president of the United States is a reckless buffoon, but it is not because he is at war with the agenda of an intelligence community that he has gifted a record-high budget and a blessing to largely do as it pleases. In Syria, the alleged inspiration for an unprecedented deep-state coup d’état, Trump has been killing loads of Syrians — has been bombing mosques — with about as many objections from the deep state as from the anti-imperialists who learned to love the war on terror, which is to say: none at all.

When U.S. munitions have fallen on the regime of Bashar al-Assad (popularly shortened to “Syria”), the strikes have been, from the perspective of those who don’t support Assad or Trump but hate their critics more, blessedly cosmetic. But that is not, according to a new book from veteran journalist Bob Woodward, because Trump is instinctively opposed to Iraq 2.0 (not to be confused with the ongoing U.S. air war, in Iraq).

Per The Washington Post:

After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.

Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” The national security team developed options for the more conventional airstrike that Trump ultimately ordered.

The takeaway here is not that Trump is committed to regime change, but rather that he is constitutionally militaristic, impulsive and, as recognized by everyone around him, an idiot child — one who would soon forget why he wanted to kill the fellow head of a pathetic but deadly personality cult, likely by the time of his next Fox News-induced, white nationalist temper tantrum.

The U.S. president, an adult man, is no doubt aware that Bashar al-Assad is still alive, having just sent a delegation of U.S. intelligence officials, who purportedly want to overthrow them both, to meet with their regime counterparts in Damascus. General Mattis, it seems, correctly gauged that the president was simply mad and raving on the toilet, as is his wont.

It is not the first time, however, that generals have undermined a whimsical urge to steal the day’s headlines by starting another war: the U.S. president earlier floated the idea of invading Venezuela, to the chagrin of all the beribboned figures with whom he has chosen to surround himself. These are neither heroes nor coup-plotters, those natsec establishment types who challenge or on occasion ignore a mentally unfit president’s impulsive desire to kill, but people who have freely chosen to associate with Trump because they are generally pleased by his agenda, including a willingness to let the military and intelligence community manage their own affair; his outbursts are an unpleasant cost of what is by and large business as usual.

Deranged, it always was, to believe a U.S. “deep state” would seek to regime-change such a compliant U.S. president as Donald J. Trump because he wouldn’t given them Assad’s head on a platter. It is poetic justice, if not all that funny, for it to be revealed that it was Trump himself who wanted to knock off, however briefly, Clinton’s “reformer.”

Those who have spent years now arguing for the existence of a deep divide between Trump and the military-industrial complex, so large as to spur a coup — over Syria, incredibly, where the preservation of the regime in Damascus has long been the establishment consensus, with varying degrees of transparency — ought to be seen as no less dangerously clownish than the president they compulsively defend, from enemies real and imagined.

Charles Davis is a journalist in Los Angeles whose work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Daily Beast, The Guardian and The New Republic.

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