Democrats sharpen case on second day of arguments | TheHill


Democrats on Thursday sharpened their case for removing President Trump from office, kicking off the second day of opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial by zeroing in on the first of the House’s two charges: abuse of power.

The proceedings come on the heels of Wednesday’s arguments, in which Democrats laid out a broad, if detailed, chronology of Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukrainian leaders last year.

Source: Democrats sharpen case on second day of arguments | TheHill

Adam Schiff’s Show: Impeachment Performance Draws Praise | US News


.. while it is not the sort of job the mild-toned Schiff seemed to want when he came to Congress, he has embraced it with an understated ferocity, standing for hours on end as he has invoked history, facts and evidence, constitutional law and the stakes for American democracy to make his case against President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, he delivered his opening statement, starting with Alexander Hamilton’s warnings of a despotic government and then laying out the evidence Schiff said proves Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress. As the House case – mounted entirely by Democrats – proceeded, Schiff would pass the prosecutorial baton to other members of the team but often came back to argue the case himself, at length.

Source: Adam Schiff’s Show: Impeachment Performance Draws Praise | The Report | US News

The West must reassess its record on foreign intervention


An international conference hosted by Germany on Sunday secured a promise from several outside powers to stop interfering in the armed conflict in Libya. It also provided a sobering glimpse of the future of conflict diplomacy in the 21st century.

The two main actors vying for control of the country — the head of the U.N.-backed government, Fayez al-Sarraj, and the rebel general Khalifa Haftar — were present but not at the table. (Still, they agreed to staff ceasefire talks.) The key signatories were Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia, whose supplies of arms and mercenaries have fanned the conflict into a conflagration. China, another co-signer, has long-term oil industry and infrastructure investments to protect.

Source: The West must reassess its record on foreign intervention

Trump impeachment prosecutor, Adam Schiff, is becoming Exhibit A in president’s defense | Reuters


Over the first three days of Trump’s impeachment trial, the head of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, has led a team of Democratic lawmakers serving as prosecutors as they lay out their evidence that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential contender.

Even a few of Trump’s fellow Republicans have said Schiff has made an effective case.

Source: Trump impeachment prosecutor, Adam Schiff, is becoming Exhibit A in president’s defense – Reuters

The Bezos Hack and the Dangers of Spyware in the Hands of Autocrats


What is more shocking is that anyone truly believes that another investigation into Saudi malfeasance will curb the use of spyware by autocratic governments against their perceived critics at home and abroad. To be sure, for the sake of accountability, the FBI should heed the call by U.N. experts Agnes Callamard and David Kaye to open an investigation into how the heir to the Saudi kingdom apparently used Israeli-made spyware to breach the personal phone of the world’s richest man, who owns a leading American newspaper and runs one of the world’s most valuable publicly traded companies.

But in the grand scheme of things, investigating the hack of Bezos’ phone might not make all that much difference in preventing these kinds of abuses.

Instead, the best defense against dangerous surveillance technology is to treat the spyware that MBS deployed against Bezos the same way that the U.N., the United States and others deal with weapons of mass destruction: regulate it as much as possible and insist on more global oversight.

Source: The Bezos Hack and the Dangers of Spyware in the Hands of Autocrats

Trump’s Incoherent Iran Policy Undermines U.S. Priorities Everywhere Else


No president has lived up to the Project Solarium standard, but U.S. President Donald Trump has set a new one on the opposite side of the scale. The current White House runs a foreign policy with irreconcilable objectives, no internal coherence, and no pretense of gaming out critical decisions before they are taken. Maximalist objectives are set with little thought to what might be required to achieve them. When the real world intrudes, with adversaries, competitors, or allies pursuing their own objectives independent from the United States’, Trump lurches from doubling down on risky bets to quitting the field altogether, as happened recently in Syria, leaving friends bewildered.

Nowhere is this incoherence more apparent than in policy toward Iran. On December 18, 2017, Trump signed his National Security Strategy, followed one month later by the National Defense Strategy. These documents set priorities among competing interests and direct U.S. departments and agencies to follow suit. Those the Trump administration issued emphasized a new “great-power competition” against Russia and China—with Asia now the priority region for U.S. engagement.

Those of us working on the Middle East following the adoption of Trump’s new National Security Strategy understood that we should not expect significant new resources, even for the military campaign against ISIS. In fact, resources would be cut. In early 2018, Trump eliminated long-planned stabilization funding for Syria, allocated military resources only where strictly necessary for defeating ISIS, and declared, “It’s time to come back home.”

And yet, despite these resource constraints and a supposed grand strategic shift toward Asia, the Trump administration expanded American aims across the Middle East—focusing above all on Iran. The administration stipulated that all Iranians must leave Syria, even as Trump himself made clear that he wanted to see all Americans leave Syria. Within months of endorsing the National Security Strategy, Trump unilaterally pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal, increased sanctions on Iran, and embarked on a policy of economic strangulation—known as “maximum pressure”—with no objective on which his administration could agree.

Trump said that the objective was to ensure that Iran could never produce a nuclear weapon. His national security adviser at the time said that the objective was regime change. His secretary of state articulated 12 demands—among them, that Iran mothball its nuclear and missile programs, end support for proxy groups, and remove all militias from Iraq and Syria—that few Iran experts believed Tehran could meet absent regime change. In announcing these maximalist goals, moreover, nobody in the administration discussed new resource commitments to the Middle East. To the contrary, the acting Secretary of Defense told the Pentagon that the priority was “China, China, China.” The Iran policy was all ends and no means.

The assumption that drove this resource-free policy was that economic pressure through sanctions would force Iran either to return to the negotiating table on its knees or to collapse altogether. A contrary assumption—that Iran would not return to the table but instead fight back asymmetrically and draw the United States deeper into the region—does not seem to have been seriously considered.

This cycle of actions and reactions has drawn nearly 20,000 additional U.S. military personnel back into the Middle East since May of last year. Washington appears to have narrowly avoided a significant conflict mainly because Iran’s ballistic missiles narrowly missed American service members. Trump implausibly claimed that Iran was “standing down” the morning after it had fired over a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. troops, and despite Tehran’s having promised further reprisals.

Trump himself said he intended to end wars and move forces out of the Middle East region altogether. The unforeseen escalatory cycle is evidence of a policy not working as intended.

As for the aims the secretary of state listed two years ago, the maximum pressure policy is failing to achieve any of them. Iran is now behaving more provocatively, not less.

The policy justifications are increasingly circular: when Iran attacks U.S. interests in the Gulf, American officials claim that this shows “panicked aggression” due to economic pressure. When the attacks pause, American officials claim that they’ve “restored deterrence,” at least until the next attack, requiring further economic pressure and a bolstered U.S. military presence in the region. There seems to be no serious effort, either within the administration or in Congress, to measure the policy against the goals declared from its outset.

More sanctions are unlikely to change Iran’s calculus.

Worse, the maximum pressure campaign allows Tehran to externalize the blame for its dysfunction and to justify further crackdowns on Iranians striving for reform and accountability.

The continued application of maximum pressure absent recalibration in either direction, however, is an insolvent policy. Its unlimited ends misalign to limited means, and initiative rests dangerously in the hands of Tehran, which has a greater interest in its own survival than the United States does in forcing its demise.

This strategic muddle is the focus of discussion in regional capitals, as well as in Moscow and Beijing. Foreign leaders see Washington as pursuing maximalist policies under a minimalist president with no clear, let alone achievable, aims. Their shared assessment is that Iran can continue to harass U.S. friends in the Gulf, intrigue against the U.S. presence in Iraq, and consolidate Assad’s grip on Syria. So long as Tehran does not draw Americans into its fire, Trump will do little. If Americans are drawn into its fire, then risks of a major and uncontrollable conflict are extremely high. All with no serious prospect for diplomacy, which most view as a prerequisite for sustained de-escalation.

Such an assessment has drawn Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates toward Russia and China—and even Iran—as hedges against a careening and uncertain Washington. In this respect, not only is the U.S. pressure campaign against Iran failing to achieve its stated aims but it is also benefiting the two great powers that the National Security Strategy is designed to confront.

The United States has increasingly imposed what are known as “secondary sanctions” on Iran. These constrain U.S. allies, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, as well as their private companies, from engaging in trade with Iran that is otherwise legal. Washington is effectively using its economic might to coerce allies into enabling a policy that those allies believe is self-defeating and unacceptably high-risk. This strong-arming may have lasting consequences for American stewardship of the global economy, which has long been based in part on the assumption that Washington would not weaponize the dollar’s dominance in pursuit of purely unilateral aims. China and Russia are seeking to exploit these concerns by developing trading networks, including with India and Turkey, that avoid the net of American sanctions.

At bottom, Washington’s policy today is defined by incoherence: maximalist ends, minimalist means, false assumptions, few allies, all pressure, no diplomacy. The Middle East in turn is stuck on an escalatory ladder, and Iran’s proxy groups may prove even less predictable with Soleimani dead. By Trump’s new standard, any attack that draws American blood may warrant an enormous retaliatory response. Yet with no diplomacy, plus additional sanctions, the risk that such an incident will occur—and the danger to Americans in the region—has only increased. And so the United States must maintain a significant military force forward and ready in the Middle East, even as its fight against ISIS has stalled and its guiding grand strategy calls for shifting resources out of the region altogether.

The administration lacks a process to resolve these contradictions, but Congress can force them into the open. Even after four decades of hostilities, Congress has never authorized the use of military force against Iran. But Trump’s maximum pressure campaign now requires the continuing threat of such force. With economic tools largely exhausted, Iran promising further reprisals, and no prospects for diplomacy, the United States must retain a significant military force in the Middle East region with a credible threat to use it.

There is no reason to avoid this debate until the next inevitable crisis, or to keep it behind closed doors hidden from the American people. If the Trump administration truly believes that the United States must be in a position to finish a war with Iran, then it should make the case to Congress and seek its authorization. Even the administration would gain by being forced to clarify its objectives, the means for achieving them, and the metrics by which it should be held accountable.

The current crisis in the Middle East should be a moment to demand a return to the most basic principles of sound foreign policy, with clarity in objectives and the alignment of resources necessary for achieving them. Objectives that cannot be met absent unacceptable tradeoffs, costs, or risks should not be pursued.

Source: Trump’s Incoherent Iran Policy Undermines U.S. Priorities Everywhere Else

Joe Biden’s Plan to Rescue U.S. Foreign Policy After Trump


By nearly every measure, the credibility and influence of the United States in the world have diminished since President Barack Obama and I left office on January 20, 2017. President Donald Trump has belittled, undermined, and in some cases abandoned U.S. allies and partners. He has turned on our own intelligence professionals, diplomats, and troops. He has emboldened our adversaries and squandered our leverage to contend with national security challenges from North Korea to Iran, from Syria to Afghanistan to Venezuela, with practically nothing to show for it. He has launched ill-advised trade wars, against the United States’ friends and foes alike, that are hurting the American middle class. He has abdicated American leadership in mobilizing collective action to meet new threats, especially those unique to this century. Most profoundly, he has turned away from the democratic values that give strength to our nation and unify us as a people.

Meanwhile, the global challenges facing the United States—from climate change and mass migration to technological disruption and infectious diseases—have grown more complex and more urgent, while the rapid advance of authoritarianism, nationalism, and illiberalism has undermined our ability to collectively meet them.

Democracies—paralyzed by hyperpartisanship, hobbled by corruption, weighed down by extreme inequality—are having a harder time delivering for their people. Trust in democratic institutions is down. Fear of the Other is up. And the international system that the United States so carefully constructed is coming apart at the seams. Trump and demagogues around the world are leaning into these forces for their own personal and political gain.

The triumph of democracy and liberalism over fascism and autocracy created the free world. But this contest does not just define our past. It will define our future, as well.

First and foremost, we must repair and reinvigorate our own democracy, even as we strengthen the coalition of democracies that stand with us around the world. The United States’ ability to be a force for progress in the world and to mobilize collective action starts at home.

But democracy is not just the foundation of American society. It is also the wellspring of our power. It strengthens and amplifies our leadership to keep us safe in the world. It is the engine of our ingenuity that drives our economic prosperity. It is the heart of who we are and how we see the world—and how the world sees us. It allows us to self-correct and keep striving to reach our ideals over time.

As a nation, we have to prove to the world that the United States is prepared to lead again—not just with the example of our power but also with the power of our example. To that end, as president, I will take decisive steps to renew our core values. I will immediately reverse the Trump administration’s cruel and senseless policies that separate parents from their children at our border; end Trump’s detrimental asylum policies; terminate the travel ban; order a review of Temporary Protected Status, for vulnerable populations; and set our annual refugee admissions at 125,000, and seek to raise it over time, commensurate with our responsibility and our values.

I will reaffirm the ban on torture and restore greater transparency in U.S. military operations, including policies instituted during the Obama-Biden administration to reduce civilian casualties. I will restore a government-wide focus on lifting up women and girls around the world. And I will ensure that the White House is once again the great defender—not the chief assailant—of the core pillars and institutions of our democratic values, from respecting freedom of the press, to protecting and securing the sacred right to vote, to upholding judicial independence. These changes are just a start, a day-one down payment on our commitment to living up to democratic values at home.”

I will also take steps to tackle the self-dealing, conflicts of interest, dark money, and rank corruption that are serving narrow, private, or foreign agendas and undermining our democracy. That starts by fighting for a constitutional amendment to completely eliminate private dollars from federal elections.

During my first year in office, the United States will organize and host a global Summit for Democracy to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world. It will bring together the world’s democracies to strengthen our democratic institutions, honestly confront nations that are backsliding, and forge a common agenda.’

Economic security is national security. Our trade policy has to start at home, by strengthening our greatest asset—our middle class—and making sure that everyone can share in the success of the country, no matter one’s race, gender, zip code, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. That will require enormous investments in our infrastructure—broadband, highways, rail, the energy grid, smart cities—and in education.

I will make investment in research and development a cornerstone of my presidency, so that the United States is leading the charge in innovation. There is no reason we should be falling behind China or anyone else when it comes to clean energy, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, 5G, high-speed rail, or the race to end cancer as we know it. We have the greatest research universities in the world. We have a strong tradition of the rule of law.

The wrong thing to do is to put our heads in the sand and say no more trade deals. Countries will trade with or without the United States. The question is, Who writes the rules that govern trade? Who will make sure they protect workers, the environment, transparency, and middle-class wages? The United States, not China, should be leading that effort.

China represents a special challenge. I have spent many hours with its leaders, and I understand what we are up against. China is playing the long game by extending its global reach, promoting its own political model, and investing in the technologies of the future. Meanwhile, Trump has designated imports from the United States’ closest allies—from Canada to the European Union—as national security threats in order to impose damaging and reckless tariffs. By cutting us off from the economic clout of our partners, Trump has kneecapped our country’s capacity to take on the real economic threat.

The United States does need to get tough with China. If China has its way, it will keep robbing the United States and American companies of their technology and intellectual property. It will also keep using subsidies to give its state-owned enterprises an unfair advantage—and a leg up on dominating the technologies and industries of the future.

The world does not organize itself. For 70 years, the United States, under Democratic and Republican presidents, played a leading role in writing the rules, forging the agreements, and animating the institutions that guide relations among nations and advance collective security and prosperity—until Trump. If we continue his abdication of that responsibility, then one of two things will happen: either someone else will take the United States’ place, but not in a way that advances our interests and values, or no one will, and chaos will ensue. Either way, that’s not good for America.

We can be strong and smart at the same time. There is a big difference between large-scale, open-ended deployments of tens of thousands of American combat troops, which must end, and using a few hundred Special Forces soldiers and intelligence assets to support local partners against a common enemy. Those smaller-scale missions are sustainable militarily, economically, and politically, and they advance the national interest.

Yet diplomacy should be the first instrument of American power.

Diplomacy also requires credibility, and Trump has shattered ours. In the conduct of foreign policy, and especially in times of crisis, a nation’s word is its most valuable asset. By pulling out of treaty after treaty, reneging on policy after policy, walking away from U.S. responsibilities, and lying about matters big and small, Trump has bankrupted the United States’ word in the world.

He has also alienated the United States from the very democratic allies it needs most. He has taken a battering ram to the NATO alliance, treating it like an American-run protection racket.

In order to regain the confidence of the world, we are going to have to prove that the United States says what it means and means what it says. This is especially important when it comes to the challenges that will define our time: climate change, the renewed threat of nuclear war, and disruptive technology.

The United States must lead the world to take on the existential threat we face—climate change. If we don’t get this right, nothing else will matter.

We must once more harness that power and rally the free world to meet the challenges facing the world today. It falls to the United States to lead the way. No other nation has that capacity. No other nation is built on that idea.

We have to champion liberty and democracy, reclaim our credibility, and look with unrelenting optimism and determination toward our future.

Source: Joe Biden’s Plan to Rescue U.S. Foreign Policy After Trump

Watchdog Finds Serious Staffing and Leadership Problems at State Department | Government Executive


The State Department’s mission is compromised by “staff shortages, frequent turnover, poor leadership, and inexperienced and undertrained staff,” the department’s inspector general warned in a new report.

“Workforce management issues are pervasive, affecting programs and operations domestically and overseas and across functional areas and geographic regions,” the watchdog reported Wednesday.

Source: Watchdog Finds Serious Staffing and Leadership Problems at State Department – Government Executive

Another Poor Cybersecurity Audit at State Department Draws Scrutiny | Nextgov


The latest publication in a long line of reports drawing attention to the State Department’s failure to secure its information technology-dependent systems from cyberattacks reflects a general mismanagement of resources.

“Notwithstanding the expenditure of substantial resources by the Department,” reads a report State’s Office of the Inspector General released Wednesday, “the OIG continues to identify significant issues that put its information at risk.”

The report follows a Jan. 14 letter Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking what steps he’s taken to address the shortcomings detailed in previous IG reports.

Source: Another Poor Cybersecurity Audit at State Department Draws Scrutiny – Nextgov

Meet the Young People at the Heart of Hong Kong’s Rebellion | Time

Young people around the world, in the Middle East and Latin America and beyond, are railing against sclerotic regimes, economic frustrations and backsliding democracy. In Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous enclave of China with liberal traditions, the protesters are seeking to “reclaim” their city from authoritarianism.

At the movement’s core are high school and university students who cast themselves as urban street fighters, willing to gamble away their futures if it helps preserve their home.

Source: Meet the Young People at the Heart of Hong Kong’s Rebellion | Time