Trump Is a Danger to U.S. Security

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His isolationist views and erratic thinking and style would post even greater risks in a second term.

When I became President Trump’s national security adviser in 2018, I assumed the gravity of his responsibilities would discipline even him. I was wrong. His erratic approach to governance and his dangerous ideas gravely threaten American security. Republican primary voters should take note.

Mr. Trump’s only consistent focus is on himself. He invariably equated good personal relations with foreign leaders to good relations between countries. Personal relations are important, but the notion that they sway Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and their ilk is perilously wrong.

Mr. Trump’s most dangerous legacy is the spread of the isolationist virus in the Republican Party. The Democrats long ago adopted an incoherent melding of isolationism with indiscriminate multilateralism. If isolationism becomes the dominant view among Republicans, America is in deep trouble.

The most immediate crisis involves Ukraine. Barack Obama’s limp-wristed response to Moscow’s 2014 aggression contributed substantially to Mr. Putin’s 2022 attack. But Mr. Trump’s conduct was also a factor. He accused Ukraine of colluding with Democrats against him in 2016 and demanded answers. No answers were forthcoming, since none existed. President Biden’s aid to Ukraine has been piecemeal and nonstrategic, but it is almost inevitable that a second-term Trump policy on Ukraine would favor Moscow.

Mr. Trump’s assertions that he was “tougher” on Russia than earlier presidents are inaccurate. His administration imposed major sanctions, but they were urged by advisers and carried out only after he protested vigorously. His assertions that Mr. Putin would never have invaded Ukraine had he been re-elected are wishful thinking. Mr. Putin’s flattery pleases Mr. Trump. When Mr. Putin welcomed Mr. Trump’s talk last year of ending the Ukraine war, Mr. Trump gushed: “I like that he said that. Because that means what I’m saying is right.” Mr. Putin knows his mark and would relish a second Trump term.

An even greater danger is that Mr. Trump will act on his desire to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He came precariously close in 2018. The Supreme Court has never ruled authoritatively whether the president can abrogate Senate-ratified treaties, but presidents have regularly done so. Recently enacted legislation to stop Mr. Trump from withdrawing without congressional consent likely wouldn’t survive a court challenge. It could precipitate a constitutional crisis and years of litigation.

Mr. Trump is unlikely to thwart the Beijing-Moscow axis. While he did draw attention to China’s growing threat, his limited conceptual reach led to simple-minded formulas (trade surpluses good, deficits bad). His tough talk allowed others to emphasize greater Chinese misdeeds, including massive theft of Western intellectual property, mercantilist trade policies, manipulation of the World Trade Organization, and “debt diplomacy,” which puts unwary countries in hock to Beijing. These are all real threats, but whether Mr. Trump is capable of countering them is highly doubtful.

Ultimately, Beijing’s obduracy and Mr. Trump’s impulse for personal publicity precluded whatever slim chances existed to eliminate China’s economic abuses. In a second term, Mr. Trump would likely continue seeking “the deal of the century” with China, while his protectionism, in addition to being bad economic policy, would make it harder to stand up to Beijing. The trade fights he picked with Japan, Europe and others impaired our ability to increase pressure against China’s broader transgressions.

The near-term risks of China manufacturing a crisis over Taiwan would rise dramatically. Mr. Xi is watching Ukraine and may be emboldened by Western failure there. A physical invasion is unlikely, but China’s navy could blockade the island and perhaps seize Taiwanese islands near the mainland. The loss of Taiwan’s independence, which would soon follow a U.S. failure to resist Beijing’s blockade, could persuade countries near China to appease Beijing by declaring neutrality.

Taiwan’s fall would encourage Beijing to finalize its asserted annexation of almost all the South China Sea. Littoral states like Vietnam and the Philippines would cease resistance. Commerce with Japan and South Korea, especially of Middle Eastern oil, would be subjected to Chinese control, and Beijing would have nearly unfettered access to the Indian Ocean, endangering India.

And imagine Mr. Trump’s euphoria at resuming contact with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, about whom he famously boasted that “we fell in love.” Mr. Trump almost gave away the store to Pyongyang, and he could try again. A reckless nuclear deal would alienate Japan and South Korea, extend China’s influence, and strengthen the Beijing-Moscow axis.

Israel’s security might seem an issue on which Mr. Trump’s first-term decisions and rhetoric should comfort even his opponents. But he has harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since the Oct. 7 attacks, and there is no foreign-policy area in which the absence of electoral constraints could liberate Mr. Trump as much as in the Middle East. There is even a danger of a new deal with Tehran. Mr. Trump almost succumbed to French President Emmanuel Macron’s pleading to meet Iran’s foreign minister in August 2019.

Mr. Trump negotiated the catastrophic withdrawal deal with the Taliban, which Mr. Biden further bungled. The overlap between Messrs. Trump’s and Biden’s views on Afghanistan demonstrate the absence of any Trump national-security philosophy. Even in the Western Hemisphere, Mr. Trump didn’t carry through on reversing Obama administration policies on Cuba and Venezuela. His affinity for strongmen may lead to deals with Nicolás Maduro and whatever apparatchik rules in Havana.

Given Mr. Trump’s isolationism and disconnected thinking, there is every reason to doubt his support for the defense buildup we urgently need. He initially believed he could cut defense spending simply because his skills as a negotiator could reduce procurement costs. Even as he increased defense budgets, he showed acute discomfort, largely under the influence of isolationist lawmakers. He once tweeted that his own military budget was “crazy” and that he, Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi should confer to prevent a new arms race. Mr. Trump is no friend of the military. In private, he was confounded that anyone would put himself in danger by joining.

A second Trump term would bring erratic policy and uncertain leadership, which the China-Russia axis would be only too eager to exploit.

This article was first published in The Wall Street Journal on January 31, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Kim Jong Un Drops the Mask

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North Korea officially repudiates ‘peaceful reunification’ in favor of total domination.

North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un last week eviscerated any remaining pretense that his regime seeks peaceful reunification with South Korea. Now that Pyongyang has nearly developed the ability to deliver a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile, Mr. Kim has decided to scrap almost 80 years of intra-Korean policy.

In a Castro-length speech filled with rhetoric about America’s “policy of confrontation,” Mr. Kim announced his decision to strip the North’s “constitution” of all vestiges of peaceful reunification and to eliminate the government offices handling the issue. By effectively recognizing that there are two states on the Korean Peninsula, Mr. Kim has ensured there is no turning back. If war breaks out, he said, the North plans on “completely occupying, subjugating and reclaiming” South Korea and annexing it “as a part of the territory of our Republic.”

Mr. Kim’s belligerence and constitutional changes are bell ringers, the strongest possible signals of his intentions. The audience is both domestic and global. His rhetoric exposes how the South Korean left’s “sunshine policy” of détente and appeasement is not only wrong but dangerous. Mr. Kim refers to Seoul as Pyongyang’s “primary foe and invariable principal enemy.”

Over the years, many credulous South Korean and American leaders have accepted the North’s claims that it pursued nuclear weapons only because it was afraid of being attacked. These observers decided that persuading the Kim dynasty to abandon its nuclear objectives was a matter of proving that the U.S. had no “hostile intent” toward the North. This argument failed to grasp that the regime wanted nuclear weapons to pursue reunification its own way—the North absorbing the South, not the other way around. Using nuclear weapons to threaten Seoul’s allies and neighbors, Pyongyang sought U.S. withdrawal from South Korea. Mr. Kim wanted to convince the Americans to abandon the South Koreans in the event of an invasion.

Counting on weak U.S. leaders who didn’t see South Korea as a strategic asset, and whom they could subject to nuclear blackmail, the Kims followed a version of Deng Xiaoping’s “hide and bide” approach: concealing their growing nuclear and ballistic-missile programs and awaiting a docile regime in Washington. Today, the North sees its moment at hand in a weak Joe Biden—or a feckless Donald Trump, who unilaterally canceled joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises in 2018 without receiving anything in return.

Moreover, despite the “no-limits partnership” between Moscow and Beijing, Mr. Kim has regained sufficient leverage to be able to play Russia against China. His grandfather Kim Il Sung did the same during the Cold War. In 1950, neither Joseph Stalin nor Mao Zedong was enthusiastic about North Korea attacking across the 38th parallel, which they both feared would provoke war with the U.S. Kim Il Sung nonetheless persuaded both leaders that the other supported invasion. On June 25, 1950, Pyongyang caught Seoul and Washington by surprise and nearly drove U.S. forces into the sea.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Moscow’s influence in Pyongyang waned considerably, increasing the North’s reliance on Beijing for its survival. Now equipped with nuclear capabilities and increasingly potent delivery systems, Mr. Kim remembers his grandfather’s game plan. Russia’s failures in Ukraine opened an opportunity for realignment that Mr. Kim swiftly seized, arming Russia at a critical time. Vladimir Putin will soon have a chance to say thanks in person. The Russian leader has announced plans to visit North Korea at “an early date.”

The U.S. failure to repulse Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Iran’s “ring of fire” strategy against Israel is undoubtedly prompting considerable deliberation in China. While Ukraine wasn’t overrun, it is far from being victorious, thereby proving to the world that the West will tolerate unprovoked aggression. In the Middle East, Americans and Israelis disagree on how to prosecute the war on Hamas, likely to the detriment of both countries. Mr. Trump’s only contribution to date has been to say that he’ll resolve both conflicts quickly, details to follow.

With the Biden administration overwhelmed and a presidential election looming, Pyongyang and Beijing may well believe their window of opportunity has arrived. By rallying the North’s people, rewriting its constitution, and abolishing the machinery of reunification diplomacy, Mr. Kim could be preparing to jump through it.

This article was first published in Wall Street Journal on January 25, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Is Senator Rand Paul Right?

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“He’s flatly wrong, and I don’t think he’d recognize the framers of the Constitution if he ran into them in the hallway.

“The issue here is not any kind of NSA surveillance of individuals — not listening to your conversations, not reading your emails, not shadowing you on the street, or not even taking your records. The records at issue here are the record of the phone companies. They are no different than the records of your bank, your department store, or any other variety of other things you purchase services from. 

“Whenever the NSA wants to focus specifically on an individual, they must get a 4th Amendment compliant judicial warrant, which they do.” 

“That’s part of the trouble with this debate. It’s filled with so much hype and hoorah, and in some cases outright McCarthyism, that’s it’s been hard for the defenders of the Patriot Act to make their case. That’s why I think we’re in the situation we’re in today.”

Ambassador Bolton discusses the Patriot Act reauthorization. 

Why John Bolton supports extending NSA surveillance program

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“Giving the implication that Americans are having the NSA listen to their phone calls, read their e-mails, the information’s presented in such a confusing and confused way, that I think there is a lot of demagoguery going on here. 

“And I think that’s one reason why the votes in Congress are so up in the air. Because even many members don’t fully appreciate how this program works, what it does, and what protections are built into it.”

Ambassador Bolton discusses NSA reauthorization, ISIS, and more.

Marco Rubio: ‘Not a single documented case of abuse’ of NSA program

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by David Sherfinski

In a new opinion piece, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is defending the NSA’s phone-snooping program that a federal panel recently ruled is not authorized under the post-9/11 Patriot Act, saying the program remains essential to the country’s security.

The government’s bulk metadata collection includes phone numbers, the time and duration of calls — and nothing else, Mr. Rubio wrote in USA Today.

“The government is not listening to your phone calls or recording them unless you are a terrorist or talking to a terrorist outside the United States,” Mr. Rubio wrote. “There is not a single documented case of abuse of this program. Internet search providers, Internet-based email accounts, credit card companies and membership discount cards used at the grocery store all collect far more personal information on Americans than the bulk metadata program.”

He said the program has been found legal and constitutional many times by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Mr. Rubio cited FBI Director James Comey’s recently warning that potentially thousands of terrorist sympathizers in the United States are being self-radicalized online by associates of the Islamic State terrorist group, urging them to conduct attacks on Americans inside the United States.

“Given these threats, now is not the time to end this program, which remains essential to our security,” Mr. Rubio wrote. “Congress has until the end of May to act before the current authorities expire. We must renew these authorities and provide those we charge with protecting us every tool they need to do so.”

Many Republicans, including other 2016 presidential contenders and possible contenders, are split on the NSA program. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said the “best part” of the Obama administration is the continuance of such programs, while Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas both hailed the federal panel’s recent ruling.


All views are attributable only to the author. We encourage discussion of the viewpoints expressed by the author.

NSA Decision Doesn’t Help Paul

by Jonathan S. Tobin

Senator Rand Paul was exultant yesterday when a federal appeals court ruled the Patriot Act didn’t authorize the National Security Agency’s collection of phone records. The decision is a victory for both the libertarian extremist wing of the Republican Party as well as the far left that has cheered, as Paul has done, the massive betrayal of official secrets by Edward Snowden. The decision, which will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, was made on a legalistic point about the language of the Patriot Act rather than a more sweeping one that could have decried the metadata collection as an infringement of the constitutional rights of citizens whose records have been collected. But the verdict certainly bolsters Paul’s view that the government overstepped its authority. However, if the senator thinks this will give his presidential candidacy a much-needed shot in the arm, he’s probably mistaken. Coming as it did after a failed attack in Texas and in the wake of the rise of a terror threat from ISIS that may be as potent as that of al Qaeda, aligning himself with Bernie Sanders on national security issues is not going to be winning formula in GOP primaries for Paul.

Paul still believes he has tapped into a vast reservoir of voter suspicion of government among conservatives. He’s right in the sense that President Obama’s policies and other administration hijinks such as the IRS scandal have inspired more cynicism on the right about big government. Seen from that perspective, the ruling not only vindicates Paul’s views about the way the intelligence community gathers information about terrorism but it might also make him seem less like the fringe candidate that his father was and more like a potential national leader. But the problem for Paul is that, the court decision notwithstanding, the isolationist moment in American politics is over.

In 2013, the terrorist threat that animated so much of the conversation about foreign policy and security since 9/11 seemed to be very much in the country’s rear view mirror. Many believed President Obama’s talk about Osama bin Laden’s death heralding the end of al Qaeda. And many were also prepared to think that much of what the government had done to prevent another mass terror attack on the homeland was either no longer necessary or more a function of a desire by the administration to amass Orwellian powers over the citizenry than to defend them. Not everyone took Paul’s over-the-top rhetoric about drone attacks being used against U.S. citizens sitting in a Starbucks seriously. But since a lot of Republicans were willing to believe Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder capable of all sorts of law breaking — a state of affairs for which administration’s actions rather than the paranoia of the right are responsible — Paul’s star rose.

But if Paul has fallen back into the pack of 2016 hopefuls it’s not only because his brittle personality rubs a lot of voters the wrong way. Two years after his brilliant drone policy filibuster, Paul finds himself swimming upstream in a time of concern about Obama’s foreign policy disasters. Though the hard left in the form of Sanders and the rest of the Edward Snowden fan club still agrees with the senator on scaling back efforts to stop the terrorists, Paul’s legalistic approach to counter terrorism is out of step with the times and the needs of the nation.

More to the point, as our Max Boot pointed out yesterday, the court was flat out wrong about both the need for the metadata collection and about the theoretical threat that it supposedly poses to civil liberties. It is to be hoped the Supreme Court will reverse this decision. But in the meantime, the court ruling puts Paul on the wrong side of a debate in the Senate about the need to reauthorize the Patriot Act. Rather than wrong-footing Paul’s opponents, the court has only made those, like Senator Marco Rubio, who denounced the decision on the floor of the Senate, appear more in touch with the sensibilities of a Republican Party which is still dominated more by those who care about national security than those who fear the government is listening to their phone calls.

After working so hard to appear more like a foreign policy “realist” than a neo-isolationist (or a full-flown isolationist extremist like his father Ron), Paul now finds himself aligned with Bernie Sanders against the mainstream of his party. Instead of helping him, the appeals court has reminded Republicans that the senator really is to the left of Barack Obama on foreign policy. That is the comfort zone for the libertarian shock troops that helped Ron Paul win a number of GOP caucuses in 2012. But it is no way to win the Republican nomination in 2016.


All views are attributable only to the author. We encourage discussion of the viewpoints expressed by the author.

NSA Activities Key to Terrorism Fight

by John R. Bolton

Congress is poised to decide whether to re-authorize programs run by the National Security Agency that assess patterns of domestic and international telephone calls and emails to uncover linkages with known terrorists. These NSA activities, initiated after al-Qaeda’s deadly 9/11 attacks, have played a vital role in protecting America and our citizens around the world from the still-metastasizing terrorist threat.

The NSA programs do not involve listening to or reading conversations, but rather seek to detect communications networks. If patterns are found, and more detailed investigation seems warranted, then NSA or other federal authorities, consistent with the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, must obtain judicial approval for?more specific investigations. Indeed, even the collection of the so-called metadata is surrounded by procedural protections to prevent spying on U.S. citizens.

Nonetheless, critics from the right and left have attacked the NSA for infringing on the legitimate expectations of privacy Americans enjoy under our Constitution. Unfortunately, many of these critics have absolutely no idea what they are talking about; they are engaging in classic McCarthyite tactics, hoping to score political points with a public justifiably worried about the abuses of power characteristic of the Obama administration. Other critics, following Vietnam-era antipathies to America’s intelligence community, have never reconciled themselves to the need for robust clandestine capabilities. Still others yearn for simpler times, embodying Secretary of State Henry Stimson’s famous comment that “gentlemen don’t read each others’ mail.”

The ill-informed nature of the debate has facilitated scare-mongering, with one wild accusation about NSA’s activities after another being launched before the mundane reality catches up. And there is an important asymmetry at work here as well. The critics can say whatever their imaginations conjure up, but NSA and its defenders are significantly limited in how they can respond. By definition, the programs’ success rests on the secrecy fundamental to all intelligence activities. Frequently, therefore, explaining what is not happening could well reveal information about NSA’s methods and capabilities that terrorists and others, in turn, could use to stymie future detection efforts.

After six years of President Obama, however, trust in government is in short supply. It is more than a little ironic that Obama finds himself defending the NSA (albeit with obvious hesitancy and discomfort), since his approach to foreign and defense issues has consistently reflected near-total indifference, except when he has no alternative to confronting challenges to our security. Yet if harsh international realities can penetrate even Obama’s White House, that alone is evidence of the seriousness of the threats America faces.

In fact, just in the year since Congress last considered the NSA programs, the global terrorist threat has dramatically increased. ISIS is carving out an entirely new state from what used to be Syria and Iraq, which no longer exist within the borders created from the former Ottoman Empire after World War I. In already-chaotic Libya, ISIS has grown rapidly, eclipsing al-Qaeda there and across the region as the largest terrorist threat. Boko Haram is expanding beyond Nigeria, declaring its own caliphate, even while pledging allegiance to ISIS. Yemen has descended into chaos, following Libya’s pattern, and Iran has expanded support for the terrorist Houthi coalition. Afghanistan is likely to fall back under Taliban control if, as Obama continually reaffirms, he withdraws all American troops before the end of 2016.

This is not the time to cripple our intelligence-gathering capabilities against the rising terrorist threat. Congress should unquestionably reauthorize the NSA programs, but only for three years. That would take us into a new presidency, hopefully one that inspires more confidence, where a calmer, more sensible debate can take place.