The Democratic House of Representatives is starting its push against the Trump White House.
The Monitor Analysis this week looks at the Democratic strategy of investigating Trump. We don’t see impeachment as the final goal as much as damaging Trump’s reputation so he will lose the 2020 election.
SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES
Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)
The Washington Institute looks at “light footprint” options for America in Syria. Some of the options include covert U.S. presence, rotational U.S. presence, non-U.S. airstrike controllers, Syrian airstrike controllers, and increased use of artillery systems. A final option is to seek Iraqi government approval for moving more coalition tube artillery and long-range rocket artillery to the border with Syria. Artillery is highly responsive, and fire missions can be called by less-qualified forward observers, potentially including trusted local partners. If additional range is needed, coalition artillery could temporarily deploy into Syria with Baghdad’s permission. Such operations are already undertaken from time to time, involving airmobile insertion of artillery into Syria for specific fire missions.
The CSIS looks at America’s strategic goals in the Middle East after Syria. They conclude, “The current focus of America’s short attention span – on withdrawing from Syria and making exaggerated claims about the defeat of ISIS – will only make things worse. The same is true of the U.S. failures to try to shape some coherent approach to a wide range of other issues in the region. These failures include key challenges like focusing on burden sharing and arms sales rather than security and stability, failing to reduce the critical divisions between its strategic partners in the Gulf, focusing on the military and civil steps necessary unite Iran and make it an effective check on Iraq, the Gulf, finding better options to dealing with Iran’s growing asymmetric threats, failing to cooperate with its European allies in areas like the JCPOA and Syria, find ways to help heal Yemen, reducing Israeli and Palestinian tensions, and helping its Arab partners address both the civil and security causes of extremism and terrorism…What the U.S. cannot afford to do, however, is to keep on focusing on short-term issues, lurching from one set of poorly defined goals to another, and spending more on defense without far better-defined plans and strategic objectives.”
The Washington Institute looks at the concept of a Turkish “safe zone” in Syria. A problem they note is the Kurdish demographic. They write, “Most of affected inhabitants would be Kurds, despite the zone’s presumed exclusion of Qamishli (a large Kurdish-majority city under partial Syrian army control) and Kobane (a Kurdish-majority border town that would likely remain a YPG-controlled enclave). Many of these Kurds no doubt prefer the status quo and would view Turkey as a hostile occupying power, favoring Syrian rule if they had to choose between the two. Anecdotal reports indicate that many Arab residents prefer the status quo as well, though they seem more willing to align with Turkey if it intervened. In short, a unilateral Turkish safe zone could become an arena of contention between the Assad regime and Ankara, between Turkish-sponsored Arab groups and the YPG, and between Kurds and returning Arab refugees. This could in turn provide a favorable environment for IS to reemerge. None of these scenarios is in Turkey or Washington’s interests, which is why Ankara has tried so hard to convince the U.S. to work with it on a zone that is not predicated on Turkish intervention.”
The Cato Institute says the US should withdraw from Afghanistan. They conclude, “Afghanistan is not a very free and liberal place even with an indefinite U.S. military presence. The Kabul regime is certainly better than Taliban rule, but by no means is it a shining success: It ranks low on democracy, political rights and civil liberties, while ranking one of the highest in the world on corruption. Watching democracy roll back in Afghanistan will be difficult, but it should serve as a reminder that the nation-building mission we elected to adopt after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 was a lost bet from the beginning. We’ve been at it for nearly 18 years, at great cost, and it has failed. Policymakers must learn the limits of U.S. power and refrain from adopting ambitious missions for peripheral interests. Refusing to fight unwinnable and unnecessary wars is the first step to not losing them.”
The Heritage Foundation looks at Pakistan’s problems in light of renewed tension between Pakistan and India. They note India sees Pakistan in its rearview mirror and is focused on its role as an Indo-Pacific power and a rising global economic player. They conclude, “it doesn’t look like Pakistan can leverage either the U.S. or China to pressure India. Yet dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and accompanying web of corruption that riddle Pakistan presents tremendous challenges as well. On the other hand, a Pakistan that muddles through in South Asia just risks being left further behind. There should be no joy in Washington at Pakistan’s problems. What is in the best interest of the U.S. is a peaceful and prosperous South Asia. But that’s not possible without a Pakistan that can partner with others and deliver the kind of regional economic integration that would jumpstart progress. Washington can’t sugarcoat the problem. Pakistan needs to make some fundamental changes. It must stop indulging terrorism and tolerating corruption. It can begin by remaining engaged with those who are willing work for a better national – and regional – future and by punishing those who make trouble for neighboring countries.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at the Pakistan-India tension and says Pakistan will not change. They note, “Consequently, persuading the international community to press Pakistan on terrorism is something that India does because there are few other good solutions. But expecting that to produce a reformed Pakistan would be expecting too much and is not worth undue investment. India must recognize that Pakistani terrorism can at best be mitigated—not eliminated—in the absence of a fundamental transformation within Pakistan. Mitigation may occasionally require punitive military or covert action but, even when these are tactically successful, their larger effects are rarely enduring. Even targeting of terrorist leaders rarely produces permanent benefits. Not only would they require repeated applications of force inside Pakistan, they would also open the door to destabilizing retaliations inside India with consequences that could spiral out of control.”
“The Democrat’s Anti-Trump Strategy – Looking towards 2020
Although the Senate’s probe into the alleged Trump-Russian collusion reported that both Democrats and Republicans found “no collusion,” and it appears that the Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report will find no smoking gun evidence that Trump and the Russians colluded, Democrats are still pursuing the impeachment will-o-the-wisp.
For Democrats, who based their 2020 presidential campaign on Trump’s guilt, there appears to be a concerted effort in Democratic circles to redefine the battlefield, no matter what Mueller’s verdict may be on Russian “collusion.”
Time Reporter Renato Mariotti explained the Mueller report this way, “Mueller’s report will almost certainly disappoint you, and it’s not his fault. It’s your fault for buying into Trump’s false narrative that it is Mueller’s’ job to prove “collusion,” a nearly impossible bar for any prosecutor to clear.”
Despite banking on the report in the past, Democrats appear to be moving beyond it as a foundation for impeachment. Earlier this week, on ABC News, George Stephanopoulos asked House judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler “Do you think the president obstructed justice?”
Nadler’s response was unambiguous, “Yes, I do. It’s very clear that the president obstructed justice.”
On Meet the Press, Democratic Virginia Senator Mark Warner said, “lawmakers have found enormous evidence of possible collusion between President Trump’s orbit and Russians during that election…what we already know is bad enough.”
Although many think the House Democrats have taken the first step in removing Trump from office, the constitutional restraints still make impeachment and conviction nearly impossible.
Although the Democratic controlled House of Representatives make articles of impeachment an easy hurdle, with a simple majority of representatives voting in favor of it, the route through the Senate is much harder.
In order to convict Trump, 2/3 of the Senate must vote to convict – an unlikely scenario as the Republicans control the Senate. It would take a total collapse in Trump’s current approval ratings to convince Republican senators to abandon the president (a recent Quinnipiac poll shows 59% of Americans oppose the impeachment of Trump).
Another factor in Trump’s favor is Senate minority leader Schumer’s difficulty in finding top quality candidates to run against vulnerable Republican senators. It seems that several potential candidates, who were governors, are more interested in running for president. This makes vulnerable Republican Senators more likely to support Trump in the lead up to the election.
What all this means that taking the impeachment route is next to impossible. Which raises the question, “what are the Democrats doing to get rid of Trump?”
Why is Nadler, who heads the committee in the House that originates articles of impeachment, not moving forward with impeaching President Trump right now? Nadler’s talk with ABC was the clearest indication yet that Democrats have decided to impeach Trump and are now simply doing the legwork involved in making that happen. And that means the debate among House Democrats will be a tactical one — what is the best time and way to go forward — rather than a more fundamental discussion of whether the president should be impeached.
Other House Democrats are sending similar messages – that the process of impeachment is more important than the reason for it. “There is abundant evidence of collusion,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-Calif), said on CBS Sunday.
Impeachment or Death from a Thousand Cuts?
While Washington debates the need to impeach Trump, the anti-Trump grassroots is already starting its campaign. Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer is setting his sights on two of President Donald Trump’s fiercest defenders in Congress: Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina.
Steyer’s Need to Impeach PAC is launching a week-long TV ad campaign in districts currently held by the two GOP members of the House oversight committee — one week after Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, presented evidence to the committee of alleged criminal conduct committed by the president.
The new ads are the latest turn in Steyer’s effort to impeach Trump, which began in 2017. Need to Impeach decided to target Jordan and Meadows after their comments at the Cohen hearing.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the Democratic plan is coming into sharper relief. The impeachment decision has been made even though the House committees have yet to receive any evidence supporting articles of impeachment.
Various committee chairs are moving forward in gathering and organizing the formal justification for removing the president. The timing decision is still up in the air, as is an overarching communications plan — selling impeachment to the American public, or more specifically those Americans who don’t already support impeachment…whatever the stated rationale, impeachment is on.
The Democratic strategy according to the internet site Axios is not to push impeachment over the next year-plus, but rather to execute a slow-bleed of politically damaging charges of potential crimes over that time span. The idea would be to cripple and overwhelm Trump’s presidency all the way up to Election Day, then let the voters oust him from office.
“The smart play is to do what they’re doing, launching an open-ended investigation that will dig up plenty of dirt on Trump and grind on to Election Day next year,” the website Hotair insists. “Instead of passing articles of impeachment and seeing them die in the Senate, they’re probably going to produce a Democratic counterpart to the Mueller report, laying out everything they find in gory detail and publishing it next summer so that the Democratic nominee and the media have a treasure trove of opposition research to use against Trump.”
A sign that the Democrats will be aggressive is the news that Chairman Schiff has hired two prosecutors from the Southern District of New York to pursue the Trump-Russia case. He maintains Trump’s interest in building a tower in Moscow led Trump to curry Putin’s favor.
One of the newly hired prosecutors is former NBC News legal analyst Daniel Goldman – an outspoken critic of President Trump – as senior adviser and director of investigations.
The problem for Schiff, however, is that the Senate, the House, and Mueller have investigated the Trump-Russia link and come up with nothing concrete.
In that case, what would be the reason for impeaching Trump? Nadler intimated it in the ABC interview: President Nixon was threatened with impeachment for obstruction of justice. President Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice.
There’s a political reason for avoiding the Trump-Russia charges. The heart of these claims is based on a shady and unverified Clinton/DNC opposition research document. It has impacted the political landscape but will not erode Trumps popularity within his base at this point in time.
Will the Democratic Strategy work?
Interestingly, not all Democrats agree that Nadler’s sprawling, open-ended investigation is a smart move. Many remember that the Republicans took a similar tack against Clinton in 1998 and lost seats in Congress in a midterm election that they should have won.
Former Obama advisor David Axelrod warned, “Maybe I’m missing something, but the hazard of an omnibus document demand by House judiciary versus discreet, serial ones is that, however legitimate the areas of inquiry, the wide-ranging nature of it is too easily plays into the “witch-hunt” meme.”
Alan Dershowitz famed attorney and Trump defender warned Tuesday that House Democrats may have gone “too far” and could face lawsuits for allegedly abusing their oversight powers.
“Congress has a legitimate oversight function to perform but it has to make sure it doesn’t go too far. It can’t use that oversight function, which is really designed to help get legislation, in order to really prevent a president from finishing out his terms and acting. They’re interfering with the executive branch if they do so,” Dershowitz said on Fox News.
“A balance has to be struck between the legitimate function of Congress to investigate,” Dershowitz said. “The framers didn’t intend for Congress to become another prosecutorial branch, yet another investigative branch, they’re supposed to pass laws. So, it seems to me these investigations look like they’re going too far.”
There is also a serious question if the Democrats accusations are actually illegal. The Wall Street Journal said this week, “A president cannot obstruct justice when he takes actions that are consistent with his Article II powers under the Constitution. That includes firing inferior executive branch officers such as Mr. Comey.”
The House Judiciary Committee may also find itself hard pressed to get the evidence they want as it appears that the White House and associates of Trump will use the same tactics that Obama used against the Republican Congress. Michael Caputo, a former aide with the Trump campaign who was interviewed on Fox News on Wednesday afternoon, has already told the committee he does not have any relevant records and that he “does not plan to testify in front of the panel.”
The Democrats are also facing a president with higher ratings. President Trump’s approval ratings continue to climb, as this week he reached his highest average approval rating since the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in October.
Trump’s RealClearPolitics average approval rating, which aggregates data from several well-known polls, has the 45th President at an average approval rating of 44.4 percent Tuesday. His highest average approval was 46 percent, just after his inauguration in January of 2017. The average rating has hovered between 44 and 46 percent for most of his presidency, despite two years of accusations about colluding with the Russians.
According to an NBC/WSJ poll, Democrats are also having a crisis of character. When asked whether it was more important that the 2020 Democratic Party nominee can beat Trump, or whether the voter agreed with the nominee’s policies, only 40 percent responded by saying that beating Trump was more important.
If most voters don’t think defeating Trump is important, the chances that they will win next year are slight.
The PJ Media website condensed the polling data this way:
“Trump is beginning to display a Reaganesque vision of optimism and confidence that has always appealed to Republican voters.”
“But the 2020 presidential race is…going to be decided, like these things always are, by the relative health of the economy and the large vision of the future the different candidates put forward. As the economy continues to expand (however anemically compared to historical averages) and he continues to avoid credible charges of impeachable offenses, Trump is becoming sunnier and sunnier while the Democrats are painting contemporary America as a late-capitalist hellhole riven by growing racial, ethnic, and other tensions. National elections over the last decade have not been a battle for “moderates.” Barack Obama created a hyperpartisan political culture that Donald Trump is only exploiting for his own benefit and will tap into in order to win in 2020.”
“There is no “center” in American politics anymore. Elections are won or lost based on how many of your partisan supporters you can get to the polls by any means. Trump’s sky-high numbers among Republicans is a sign that he is in pretty good shape going into the campaign that will begin in earnest next fall.”
Problem-Plagued Pakistan Faces Incredible Challenges Beyond Rivalry With India
By James Jay Carafano
March 7, 2019
Pakistan fears two things more than war with India: pressure from Washington and indifference from Beijing. In the latest round of tit-for-tat fighting with India, Pakistan saw a bit of both – more evidence that the country may be heading for the strategic dead-end of South Asia geo-politics. That’s not the best outcome for Pakistan or the United States. Islamabad and New Delhi have been rivals since the partition of India created Pakistan in 1947. Their enmity wasn’t dampened when both sides got nuclear weapons in the 1980s.But some things have changed. Today India sees Pakistan in its rearview mirror. India is focused on its role as an Indo-Pacific power and a rising global economic player.
Let’s Withdraw from Afghanistan, and Learn the Hard Lessons
By John Glaser
March 5, 2019
A new joint resolution introduced in the Senate calls on the executive branch to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan within one year. President Trump has already expressed a desire to draw down, and with negotiations with the Taliban showing promising signs, it seems America’s longest war is coming to an end. However, politics always lag substantially behind reality. While polls show public support for withdrawal, much of Washington opposes bringing the war to a close. Policymakers must face some hard truths on Afghanistan. We lost. The core of our nation-building mission in Afghanistan has failed. We have not been able to pacify the Taliban insurgency, nor have we created a viable democratic government that can maintain order without external support. The Taliban now hold more territory, about half the country’s districts, than at any point since 2001. Last year marked the highest recorded number of civilian deaths since 2009.
Don’t Allow McConnell to Thwart Vote on Yemen
By Christopher A. Preble
March 4, 2019
Last week, before Michael Cohen and the collapse of U.S.-North Korea talks in Hanoi, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a House resolution cutting off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen would not have “privileged” status in the Senate, due to unrelated language that had been inserted at the 11th hour. This means that the measure’s supporters are unable to force a vote and pass it with a simple majority. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) plan to reintroduce a resolution similar to one they sponsored (with Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut) last year, and hopefully it will be voted on this week. But the delay means that U.S. involvement in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, threatens millions more, and undermines American security and values, will continue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has previously tried to block efforts at ending American involvement in foreign wars, and it is reasonable, therefore, to suspect that he was behind this latest move. But he’s hardly the first GOP leader to employ such methods.
Looking Beyond Syria and ISIS: America’s Real Strategic Needs in the Middle East
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
February 28, 2019
When Secretary of Defense James Mattis left the Pentagon, he was quoted as describing Washington as a “strategy free zone.” Secretary Mattis was all too accurate in noting the lack of effective United States strategies and strategic planning. However, he misstated the core problem that has affected virtually every key aspect of U.S. strategy since the end of the Cold War. Washington has always had something that at least masqueraded as a strategy, even if it has almost always been little more than a broad concept or goal tied to short-term efforts that only addresses a fraction of the key issues involved. Washington’s real problem is not that it is a “strategy free zone.” It is rather that is has become a “wrong strategy zone.”