Global U.S. military presence questioned

A U.S. Marine in Afghanistan is pictured. | Getty Images

A Marine looks on as Afghan National Army soldiers raise their nation’s flag during a training exercise in Afghanistan on Aug. 28. | Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images.

Despite President Donald Trump’s pledge to adopt an “America First” foreign policy that disentangles the U.S. military from many global hot spots, Washington just can’t get seem to get out of the business of policing the world — even when its military posture might damage its interests.

That was the takeaway from a spirited debate in Las Vegas on Monday featuring leading experts with starkly different views about the role — or overreach — of the U.S. military that was co-hosted by POLITICO, the Charles Koch Institute, and the Brookings Institution.

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From beefing up NATO to confront Russia to dispatching thousands more troops to the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan and maintaining more than 100,000 troops in East Asia, the American military is operating in nearly every corner of the world much as it did throughout the Cold War.

But does the robust American military presence overseas “shape” the international security situation or merely “nettle” in it, stoking more instability?

“I’d ask you today, after 25 years of a bipartisan policy of deep engagement and primacy, do you feel more secure, more prosperous and more free in your domestic liberty? If not, you ought to try something different,” said Michael Desch, director of the International Security Center at the University of Notre Dame. He advocated for a more restrained U.S. military role in the world.

“I was raised as a good Catholic boy and I learned among other things that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions,” he added. Exhibit A … is Iraq. If you need an Exhibit B, ask if you think things are better in Libya today than they were before NATO’s intervention there. I think the list goes on and on.

“Restraint, which is not isolation — it is a different form of internationalism — is prudent and humble,” he argued.

Desch was joined in his arguments in the debate at the University of Nevada Las Vegas by Eugene Gholz, an associate professor of political science at Notre Dame.

The pair faced off against retired Gen. John Allen, who commanded the war in Afghanistan and is now president of the Brookings Institution, and Mara Karlin, a senior fellow at the centrist think tank and a longtime Pentagon official.

Karlin derided the notion that the United States has the luxury to pull back from the world militarily in any significant way without serious consequences.

“We like unfair advantages and we like to fight away games,” she argued. “And the way we fight away games is by being there — there being Europe, there being Asia, there being the Middle East.”

She said the stabilizing role of the American military in the world is an outgrowth of World War II that continues to pay dividends.

“What you see is a maintenance of this posture,” Karlin said. “Over the last 70 years, you have seen the most economically prosperous and peaceful time in world history and that has happened because we have not only been the big players in the game, we have also been the referees.”

“The world is not self-regulating,” she added. “We should not delude ourselves into thinking it is. … Short of undergirding the system with U.S. military power we will not have stability and security. … Alternatives like let’s let the Russians do it, let’s let the Chinese do it, let’s pull back and see what happens with some sort of anarchic system that comes from a flawed understanding of the U.S. way of war, it comes from a flawed understanding of how we have fought and won.”

Karlin added: “Frankly, I don’t think we want to see a situation where we are so focused on turning inward that we are unable to prevent the eruption and explosion of disarray in this system.”

Allen, who served for 40 years in the Army and was a top adviser to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, also said that in his experience in numerous regions of the world America’s allies — and even some potential enemies — view the American presence as more positive than negative.

“While there could be a sense by some that we are addicted to power,” Allen said, “there was a very clear need in the minds of so many of these leaders that the American presence in the world was a stabilizing presence. In many respects it was a beneficent presence. It was a presence that facilitated a world order that gave the capacity for global economic intercourse but largely was a presence that benefited the world order and benefited humankind.

“We’ve has some spectacular policy failures,” he added, “but it doesn’t lessen the importance of the United States in the world today.”

The participants locked horns on several occasions on the question of the threat posed by Russia.

“The Soviet Union was a serious threat,” contended Desch. “The Russia of today is a rump of the Soviet Union — a country with severe demographic crisis, certainly a troublemaker in its near-abroad but hardly an existential threat.”

Allen countered that Russia poses a serious challenge.

“If we don’t think that Russia is acting as though it is a military threat to the eastern flank of NATO, Zapad 2017, their major exercise this year may have had as many as a quarter million troops involved in it. Along the NATO border. Why would that be necessary if they weren’t trying to intimidate the NATO states on the eastern flank?

But whether discussing Russia or the war in Afghanistan, the participants had starkly different views about the impact the U.S. military has had since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

“As the threats of changed in the world today you have to ask yourself: ‘Is it best for the United States to lead with its military as its mechanism for responding to the world?” asked Gholz, one of the Notre Dame professors who advocated a more defensive U.S. military posture. “How effective is our military in dealing with these threats? Our track record is lousy, and we could do better with a different posture.”

Gholz cited the enormous price tag of U.S. military expenditures — more than other leading nations combined.

“The reason we are spending so much,” he argued, “is we’re spending on high-end technologies and very difficult technologies to enable us to play the away game — to constantly project power. Projecting power is super-expensive, whereas being on defense — if we shifted the kinds of investment we were remaking to stress a defensive posture as opposed to an offensive posture — we would be able to achieve our strategic goals of defending our way of life and even help many of our friends without spending as much as we do.”

Moore, wife blast Washington establishment and media in final appeal

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — A defiant Roy Moore returned to the campaign trail Monday evening, delivering a thundering speech at an election eve rally in which he implored Alabamians to ignore outsiders who he said were bent on stopping him in the Senate special election.

“We dare to defend our rights and we will defend our rights,” Moore, who has been abandoned by much of the Republican Party establishment, told an audience of several hundred packed into a barn. “We’re up to our neck in people that don’t want change in Washington, D.C., they want to keep their power, keep it the same, keep their positions, and we’ve got to change that.”

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The 24-minute speech served as the capstone of a campaign that has thrust the special election into a spiraling national dialogue over sexual harassment. Moore, a twice-removed controversial former state Supreme Court justice, has faced allegations that he preyed on teenage girls as a man in his 30s.

As he has done in the past, Moore denied the allegations against him — this time, calling them “disgusting” and reiterating his belief that they emerged just weeks before the election in an attempt to defeat him. He cast the accusations as part of a broader, establishment-led effort to destroy him and to undermine his character. Neither Republicans nor Democrats, he argued, wanted him in the Senate.

Moore also pointed out that both parties had spent millions against him, first in the Republican primary and then in Tuesday’s general election, when he faces Democrat Doug Jones.

Yet the “verdict” of the race, he said, wasn’t up to the Washington political class or the members of the national media who were also in attendance.

“If you don’t believe in my character,” he added, “don’t vote for me.”

As he made his final appeal, Moore was joined at the rally by two of his most loyal surrogates — both of whom tried to buttress the candidate’s case that he was under siege by a powerful political establishment.

Moore’s wife, Kayla Moore lambasted the national press corps for its portrayal of her husband. At one point, she noted that her husband had been painted by the “fake media” as unfriendly to Jews.

“One of our attorneys is a Jew,” Kayla Moore said in response, adding that she also has close friends and religious partners who are Jewish.

It was the embattled Moore’s first public appearance in six days — an absence that has baffled some Republicans given the closeness of the race. During his speech, Moore mocked reporters who had written stories about his disappearance from the trail, saying that he had spent two-and-a-half days visiting his alma mater, West Point.

It was further evidence, the candidate said, that the media was out to get him.

Also making an appearance was former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, a Moore ally who has campaigned with him twice over the last week. Bannon lit into the GOP establishment for what he argued was its role in trying to marginalize Moore.

At one point, Bannon ripped longtime Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who revealed over the weekend that he didn’t vote for Moore. The broadside drew jeers from the audience.

“There’s a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better. You know what they’re doing is trying to shut up President Trump and Judge Moore,” he said. “They would rather see Roy Moore beaten tomorrow, you know that.”

It was the embattled Moore’s first public appearance in six days — an absence that has baffled some Republicans given the closeness of the race. During his speech, Moore mocked reporters who had written stories about his disappearance from the trail, saying that he had spent two-and-a-half days visiting his alma mater, West Point.

It was further evidence, the candidate said, that the media was out to get him.

While Moore was campaigning with Bannon, Jones was in Birmingham at an appearance with former NBA star and Alabama native Charles Barkley.

“If somebody said to you this was a movie script, you would throw it in the trash. There’s no way possible this other dude could be leading in any polls,” Barkley said. “At some point, we got to stop looking like idiots to the nation. I love Alabama, but at some point we have to draw a line in the and show we’re not a bunch of damn idiots.”

A pair of Monday polls offered conflicting glimpses of the race heading into Election Day. On Monday, Fox News released a poll showing Jones with a surprising 10-point lead, conflicting with other recent public surveys showing Moore as a slight favorite.

A Monmouth poll released later Monday had the race a pure toss-up that will be decided based on which Alabamians show up to vote. The survey reported that a turnout like that of the 2014 midterms would result in a 4-point Moore win. But if turnout tracks with elections earlier this year, the race is essentially tied, and if it looks like the 2016 presidential race, Jones would win narrowly.

As the race entered the home stretch, it took on a decidedly nationalized feel. Jones was the beneficiary of robocalls call from former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden. In an effort to generate black support. Jones campaigned over the weekend with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

In his absence, Moore leaned heavily on President Donald Trump. On Friday, the president held a campaign-style rally in the Florida Panhandle, miles across the state line, in which he expressed support for Moore. Trump also recorded a robocall for Moore.

As he made his final pitch on Monday, Moore appeared to marvel at how much attention the contest had gotten.

“This race,” he said, “has been very odd.”

Spicer writing book about White House tenure


Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned after only six-months as President Donald Trump’s spokesman. | Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced Monday night that he is writing a book about his brief run behind the podium, taking readers “behind the scenes of his turbulent tenure.”

“I’ve decided that it is incumbent on me to set the record straight,” Spicer told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Monday night. “I looked back at the coverage of the campaign, the transition and the first six, seven months of this White House and realized that the stories that are being told are not an accurate represent[ation] of what President Trump went through to get the nomination, to transition to the White House and then his first six months in office.”

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His book titled “The Briefing” will be published by Regnery Publishing, which calls itself “the leader in conservative books,” in July.

Spicer resigned after only six-months as President Donald Trump’s spokesman, but in his short tenure he became known for vocally defending the president’s assertions about his Inauguration crowd size, tussled with reporters and became the inspiration for Melissa McCarthy’s Emmy-winning portrayal of him on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” He resigned in protest after Anthony Scaramucci was hired as White House communications director, a position Scaramucci held for only 11 days.

Tensions boil over in combative WH briefing

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sparred heatedly with reporters Monday over errors made by media outlets in recent stories on President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE.

In a fiery exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta, a frequent critic of the White House, Sanders disputed the notion that news outlets had made “honest mistakes” in their reporting. The errors, she said, were intentional and malicious.

“You cannot say it’s an honest mistake when you’re purposely putting out information you know is false,” Sanders said.

Playboy’s White House correspondent, Brian Karem — a CNN contributor and one of the administration’s frequent foils — tried to interject, but Sanders shut him down.

“I’m not finished,” she said.


“It’s not an honest mistake when you are purposely putting out information that you know to be false or when you’re taking information that hasn’t been validated, that hasn’t been offered any credibility and that has been continually denied by a number of people, including people with direct knowledge of an incident,” Sanders said.

Asked to provide evidence of the media running with information it knew to be wrong, Sanders cited ABC News’s suspension of Brian Ross, for wrongly reporting that Trump had directed former national security adviser Michael Flynn to make contact with Russian officials before the election.

“There’s a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people,” Sanders said.

Acosta disputed the notion that reporters were intentionally getting stories wrong to harm the administration.

“Journalists make honest mistakes and that doesn’t make them fake news,” Acosta said.

“When journalists make honest mistakes they should own up to them,” Sanders responded.

“We do,” Acosta shot back.

Sanders tried to move on, but Acosta repeatedly interjected in an attempt to ask about the women who have accused the president of sexual misconduct.

The White House press secretary said that Acosta had already asked his question and ignored his follow-ups, moving on to other reporters.

The explosive exchange laid bare the mounting tensions between the White House and the news media — and CNN in particular.

On Friday, CNN reported that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had received access to hacked Democratic emails from WikiLeaks more than a week before they were leaked to the public — an allegation that NBC and CBS claimed to confirm and that was presented as potential evidence of collusion with Russians during the presidential race.

CNN later corrected its story to say that someone who was not affiliated with WikiLeaks had emailed Trump Jr. to notify him that WikiLeaks had already published the hacked emails online.

Trump railed against the network over Twitter and at a rally he held on Friday in Pensacola, Fla.

CNN leaned into the feud on Monday, accusing Trump of being a bully after the president tweeted an attack against one of its anchors, Don Lemon, whom he called the “dumbest man on television.”

“In a world where bullies torment kids on social media to devastating effect on a regular basis with insults and name-calling, it is sad to see our president engaging in the very same behavior himself,” a CNN spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “Leaders should lead by example.”

Trump’s tweet against Lemon came in response to an unflattering profile in The New York Times that ran over the weekend, which claimed that the president watches hours of cable news coverage about himself every day.

“Another false story, this time in the Failing @nytimes, that I watch 4-8 hours of television a day — Wrong!,” Trump tweeted. “Also, I seldom, if ever, watch CNN or MSNBC, both of which I consider Fake News. I never watch Don Lemon, who I once called the ‘dumbest man on television!’ Bad Reporting.”

Critics of the administration have fumed at what they view as an effort to discredit the press by casting stories the president doesn’t like as “fake news.”

One reporter on Monday asked Sanders why Trump frequently describes the media as perpetrators of “fake news” but isn’t as vocal in condemning the Russian-backed firms that spread false stories over social media during the campaign.

But some media critics have warned that the frenzy around Russia has led to a relaxation of editorial standards, resulting in some outlets running stories that they have later had to correct or retract.

CNN’s correction on Friday was the latest journalistic misstep for the network, which has made criticism of Trump a focal point of its news coverage.

The network previously forced out three journalists responsible for a story it had to retract that claimed Congress was investigating ties between a Russian investment firm and key figures from the Trump campaign.

CNN also had to correct a story — authored by some of its top on-air talent — reporting that former FBI Director James Comey would dispute Trump’s claim that he had told him he was not the focus of an investigation. Testifying before Congress the next day, Comey confirmed Trump’s claim that he had told the president on three different occasions that he was not being investigated.

Many conservatives complain that the anchors and panelists on CNN have abandoned any pretense of treating the administration fairly. They are particularly put off by CNN’s high-profile “Facts First” ad campaign that mockingly digs at the Trump administration as untruthful and delusional.

Trump and his allies, meanwhile, have seized on embarrassing retractions and corrections at other prominent news outlets in recent days.

The White House last week disputed several media reports that special counselor Robert Mueller had subpoenaed Trump’s personal financial records from a German bank, leading several news outlets to alter their reporting.

And over the weekend, the president demanded that a Washington Post reporter be fired for misrepresenting the size of the crowd that had gathered to see his rally in Pensacola.

The reporter deleted the tweet and apologized for the error, but Sanders hammered him from the White House podium on Monday nonetheless.

“This was nothing more than an individual trying to put their bias into their reporting and something that, frankly, has gotten a little bit out of control,” Sanders said.

“We’ve seen it time and time again over the last couple of weeks, a number of outlets have had to retract and change and rewrite and make editor’s notes to a number of different stories, and some of them with major impacts, including moving markets. This is a big problem, and we think it should be something taken seriously.”

Trump After Dark: One Moore Day edition

President Donald Trump hasn’t gone to Alabama for Roy Moore, the GOP Senate candidate who has been accused of child molestation, but he’s done just about everything else he could.

Tomorrow, he’ll find out if it pays off.

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The final day of a wild race to fill Alabama’s Senate seat contained a fresh wave of developments — revelations about who has been funding a secretive super PAC backing the Democrat, Doug Jones and a wave of polls showing everything from a nine point lead for Roy Moore, who has been accused of child molestation as the race unfolded, and 10 point lead for Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate.

As POLITICO’s Steve Shepard reports, the race has contained so twists and is so unusual that pollsters have basically said they can’t predict the outcome. “Rather than put out a single result that could be viewed as a projection … several polling outfits have simply released a number of different turnout models that explain how the composition of the electorate could swing the election. It’s an approach that they say best reflects the tremendous uncertainty … in a racially polarized state — where one candidate is an accused child molester.”

For Trump, the decision to back Moore has been an evolution over a few weeks but boiled down to his lack of belief in Moore’s accusers, POLITICO’s Eliana Johnson and Alex Isenstadt report. “Trump, according to three sources briefed on the discussions, cast doubt on the claims leveled by Moore’s accusers. Who were these women, he asked, and why had they kept quiet for 40 years only to level charges weeks before an election?”

Tomorrow, Alabama decides.

Elsewhere in President Trump’s orbit:

HIM TOO?: Three women who had previously accused President Trump of inappropriate sexual behavior spoke on TV today and called for him to resign from office. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the results of the 2016 election “answered” the charges.

MNUCH DIFFERENT NUMBERS: The Treasury Department released a report today that contradicts congressional Republicans’ belief that the GOP tax bill will pay for itself, instead finding that the Trump administration would have to provide help for that to be true.

NO MOORE: Joyce Simmons, a Republican National Committeewoman from Nebraska, quit her post after the party went back in to support Roy Moore in Alabama.

CHANGEMENT CLIMATIQUE: French President Emmanuel Macron awarded millions of euros to American scientists who will relocate to France and study the effects of climate change, in a clear shot at President Trump. (The Associated Press)

WRONG TIMES?: President Donald Trump attacked a New York Times report that said he watches cable tv for up to four hours a day and also denied he watched CNN and MSNBC.

CONSPICUOUSLY QUIET: So far, former White House senior strategist Steve Bannon’s name has been conspicuously absent from the Russia investigation, but people close to the investigation believe he will be a key witness.

INVESTIGATING THE INVESTIGATORS: The Washington Post has a comprehensive look at Fusion GPS the secretive firm run by ex-journalists behind the now infamous Steele Dossier.

A-PAUL-ING: POLITICO Magazine’s editor rages against Paul Manafort’s true crime: He is a pretty mediocre editor.

LUNAR IN: President Trump signed a directive that will send the United States back to the moon in an effort that is meant to revitalize the U.S. space program.

There you have it. You’re caught up on the Trump administration. That was Monday.