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“Trump’s Big, New, Stalinesque Idea”: A Concept With A Dark And Profoundly Un-American History

In a season full of comments we never thought we’d hear during a modern American presidential campaign, this one, spoken at the debate Tuesday night by of course Donald Trump, is arguably the most shocking: “I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

It’s not the first time Trump has said it, but it hasn’t gotten the focus it deserves. This idea of punishing or somehow threatening the family members of criminals has a name. It’s called collective punishment. And it has a history, which as you’d imagine is not pretty—think, oh, Stalin, for starters. And finally it has a status in international law. Under the Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime.

Collective punishment can take and has taken different forms. It doesn’t have to mean family members. In many cases it has meant the relocation/eradication of entire villages in response to rebellious or perceived treasonous acts by a few. It might also mean a kind of generalized and indiscriminate violence visited upon a population. Scholars debate, but surely Southerners would all agree, that William Tecumseh Sherman engaged in collective punishment during his infamous March to the Sea. You know, the one through that state, Georgia, where in the latest poll Trump holds a 27-point lead.

But in many cases, it does refer to families. Trump’s antecedents here are chilling. The Nazis used collective punishment against Poles and others who harbored Jews. The website of Yad Vashem tells the horrifying story of the Ulma family, who hid a Jewish family on their farm in 1942. They got ratted out, and the entire family, including six living children and one more in utero, was shot.

But Stalin was the master of collective punishment. It was for a time against the law in the USSR to be a family member of a counter-revolutionary or obscurantist or what have you. Stalin said in November 1937: “And we will eliminate every such enemy… we will eliminate his entire lineage, his family! Here’s to the final extermination of all enemies, both themselves and their clan.”

In our own time, Israel is practicing a form of collective punishment every time it blows up the home, often in occupied East Jerusalem, of the family of a suspected terrorist or even in some cases a teenager who got caught throwing some stones at the military. North Korea has been known to imprison the family members of dissidents.

This behavior is covered in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which reads in its entirety: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

The definition of “protected persons” is a little complicated, and you can read it here, but it includes both citizens of a given country (“nationals”) and non-nationals who find themselves in the hands of a hostile power, which President Trump’s America would surely be to Muslim non-citizens, morally if not always legally.

So now comes the question: What does Trump mean by “very tough”? He probably won’t say. Let’s grant that he doesn’t mean execution. He’s not that crazy. In his mind, he might “just” mean detaining family members, putting the screws to them, seeing what they know. Obviously, under any number of circumstances, interrogation of family members of those who commit crimes is reasonable. It happens every day, hundreds of times across the country.

But Trump sounds like he’s talking about more than that. The way he appears to think about these things, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched to imagine that he might envision, say, detaining the family of someone who commits a future terrorist act. You know, just to teach the others a lesson.

A Trump administration could probably find some antique (or not) federal law under which to do such a thing, and then fight the inevitable court challenges and see what happens. And if such a case landed before the right kind of Federal Society judge, well, it seems unlikely that any American federal judge could possibly justify such a thing, but in a country that actually elected Donald Trump president, who knows? And would the GOP really object? After all, we already have the precedent of Republican officials from John Yoo to Dick Cheney telling us that we don’t have to bother with all that Geneva twaddle.

It’s yet another new Trump low, and it raises the specter of a lawless government ditching norms that we’ve (mostly) stood by for decades. And if we ditch them, look out, because others will too. One doubts we will, but the mere fact that the front-runner for the Republican nomination is putting this stuff into the national discourse is horrible enough. And good God, what’s coming next week?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 17, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Geneva Conventions, Joseph Stalin, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Real Danger In Trump’s Rhetoric”: Hurting America’s Standing With Allies And Helping Recruit More Extremists

September, 2015: “I love the Muslims, I think they’re great people.”

Would he appoint a Muslim to his cabinet? “Oh, absolutely, no problem with that.”

Yes, that was Donald Trump three months ago. Now, his campaign’s Dec. 7 press release states: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” This comes in addition to his calls for surveillance against mosques and the possible creation of a national database of Muslims in the U.S.

Many of the Republican candidates for president have not hesitated to echo Trump’s bellicose rhetoric on immigration or other anti-Muslim statements. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz even introduced legislation to keep refugees from coming to the U.S. for at least three years who are from countries where there is a “substantial” amount of control by the Islamic State group or al-Qaida.

But, now, they seem to have had enough: Jeb Bush tweeted that Trump is “unhinged”; Ohio Gov. John Kasich condemned Trump’s “outrageous divisiveness that characterizes his every breath”; former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore called it “fascist talk”; Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted “every candidate for president needs to do the right thing & condemn” Trump; and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said “we do not need to resort to that type of activity.”

Even Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney said, “I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from. A lot of people, my ancestors got here, because they were Puritans.”

But the real danger of Trump’s rhetoric and policies is not domestic or political here at home – though one can argue that it makes us less safe and more vulnerable – it is from our friends and allies abroad.

Here is what the French prime minister tweeted: “Mr. Trump, like others, strokes hatred; our ONLY enemy is radical Islamism.” A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister David Cameron called the remarks “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong … what politicians need to do is to look at ways they can bring communities together and make clear that these terrorists are not representative of Islam and indeed what they are doing is a perversion of Islam.”

A columnist for Israel’s Haaretz wrote: “For some Jews, the sight of thousands of supporters waving their fists in anger as Trump incited against Muslims and urged a blanket ban on their entry to the United States could have evoked associations with beer halls in Munich a century ago.” In Pakistan it was called “the worst kind of bigotry mixed with ignorance” by a leading human rights activist.

Trump’s ban would even include world leaders who are Muslim. They would not be allowed into the United States, let alone tourists or relatives of Americans or world renowned individuals coming for a scientific meeting here.

Just like his plan to deport 12 million people, the absurdity is readily apparent. But put yourself in the shoes of of one of the 1.7 billion people across the globe who is a Muslim, 23 percent of the world’s population; you are watching the leading Republican candidate for president of the United States making these statements.

How many recruits will the Islamic State group gain from Trump’s move toward fascism? How confused will young, angry, poor Muslims in the war-torn Middle East be, and how many Muslims will believe “successful” Donald Trump represents American thought and values and our approach to the world?

How long will it take for us to undo this damage? How many years? What price will we pay?

Those may be the scariest questions of all.

 

By: Peter Fenn, Political Strategist and Head of Fenn Communications, U. S. News and World Report, December 9, 2015

December 10, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, ISIS, World Leaders | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Serving The Cause Of Terrorist Jihad”: Paris Terror; Why ISIS Needs The ‘Useful Idiots’ Who Demonize Muslims

When France’s prime minister Manuel Valls said after last Friday’s attacks in Paris, “nous sommes en guerre” – we are at war – there could be no doubt that the rest of the civilized world, including the United States and NATO, will stand beside our oldest ally in a common struggle to extirpate the barbaric ISIS.

But as this conflict deepens and national emotions surge, it is vital to keep minds clear and principles intact.

Sadly the Republican candidates for president, and too many in their party, will seek to use this crisis as a partisan weapon against President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential contender. They will charge the Obama administration with “weakness” even as American warplanes fly thousands of sorties against ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria. Such political attacks sound ridiculous to anyone familiar with the recent history of the Mideast. As a product of Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS rose directly from the ill-conceived invasion and occupation of that unfortunate country – and the fact that Clinton mistakenly voted to give George W. Bush the conditional authority to wage that war in no way makes her (or Obama) responsible for its botched execution.

The social chaos, religious strife, and massive bloodshed resulting from the US invasion created fertile ground for a new terrorist movement. And as Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick explains in Black Flags, his authoritative new history of the rise of ISIS, the Bush administration elevated its founder, a minor Jordanian gangster named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, into an international terrorist celebrity with its bogus claim that he represented a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

So when historians someday apportion blame, that process won’t flatter the Republicans and their neoconservative advisers, who assured us that “regime change” in Iraq would reshape the region at very little cost to us. Few national security predictions have ever been so confident and so wrong, with such enormous and enduring consequences. Influenced by those advisers, the Bush White House failed to address the terrorist threat before 9/11, and later used it to build a fraudulent justification for invading Iraq.

We might thus hesitate before continuing to follow the counsel of such figures – from William Kristol to Dick Cheney to Jeb Bush, one of the original members of the Project for the New American Century, a powerful lobbying outfit formed 15 years ago to promote war in Iraq, among other misguided ideas. These are the same characters who fought more recently to kill the Iran nuclear deal. Had they succeeded, we now would have no chance of even minimal cooperation with Tehran against ISIS, which is vital.

We would do better instead to reject their ill-conceived notions – and especially their mindless hostility toward Muslims and Islam.

Consider the latest instance: Along with Senator Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and too many other Republicans, “moderate” Jeb Bush today articulates a response to ISIS that includes ominous anti-Muslim overtones. Specifically, he and Cruz urge the government to accept Christian but not Muslim refugees from Syria — and this is merely the most recent in a wave of remarks and statements offensive to Muslims from Republican elected officials and political hopefuls. Whenever a Republican candidate — or any other American — endorses bigotry against Islam and its billion-plus believers, he or she becomes a “useful idiot” serving the cause of terrorist jihad.

As George W. Bush said in his finest hour, our cause is not a war against Islam or the overwhelming majority of Muslims who live peacefully and loyally in the United States and in scores of other nations, from Europe to Malaysia. Indeed, the destruction of ISIS will require an unbreakable alliance with Islam’s true followers, not only in Syria and Iraq but in every place that jihadi terrorists may target. We cannot rely on military, police, and intelligence cooperation from people demonized and demeaned by political leaders and media outlets.

Every imbecile who threatens Muslims is an unwitting agent of ISIS; in fact, it would be unsurprising to learn that ISIS itself is covertly promoting such messages in order to intensify enmity between the peoples of the Quran and the rest of the world. Certainly that is among the primary objectives of attacks like last week’s atrocities in Paris.

What we need now is a diplomatic solution for Syria, which may at last be on the horizon if the Russians are serious about bringing down ISIS. We need a smart, careful, and focused military strategy that builds on recent advances by Kurdish and Shiite forces on the ground. And we need to assure Muslims everywhere – as President Obama has wisely insisted — that they have a place of security and honor in the world we hope to build.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 16, 2015

November 18, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, ISIS, Paris Attacks | , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Poppy Speaks Out At Last — Too Little, Too Late”: The American People Are Still Paying The Price

If only “Poppy” had quit in 1992, after one White House term, then the 41st president’s fruit would not be so bitter. George Herbert Walker Bush would have dined out on German reunification and the multinational coalition in the first Gulf War — a desert cakewalk. Through no fault of his own, the Soviet Union and the Cold War ended on his watch, and that should be enough for any man pushing 70.

“I didn’t finish the job,” Bush I said. He’s now 91.

Out on the stump, the monumentally ambitious president found he could not connect to the American people. A jolly good fellow who wrote a ton of thank-you notes, he went as far as China and Langley for the blue-chip resume, always a team player who never had “the vision thing.”

Earlier, in 1988, he won as Ronald Reagan’s chosen understudy. But like many men of his Ivy League WASP war hero mold, he could not speak straight to the heart of people at home. Not to save his political life. His speech often sounded strangled.

A new biography, an elegant volume composed by author and presidential historian Jon Meacham, is titled Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. It’s based on the former president’s diaries and revealing chats, often at the family compound on the Maine coast.

The result of that sharing is the most generous portrait that the former president, nicknamed “Poppy” since prep school, could hope for. Meacham’s work is written in a gentlemanly spirit, just as his American Lion book on the gruff general and president, Andrew Jackson, glowed. For that he won the Pulitzer Prize. (Meacham once deftly edited a magazine piece of mine.) Meacham excuses Bush’s mean moments in political combat as untrue to his code. (The 1988 campaign was not pretty.) Nor does he pass judgment on Bush’s loyal service to President Richard M. Nixon.

Bush realized late there was no way to win against the young Bill Clinton, who could coax the stars out of the sky. The generational contrast was stark. We learn that Bush confided to his diary that he felt the war-high in his approval rating was thin ice. The future won; the past lost. Bush had been schooled and worked in exclusively male institutions; Clinton was educated in co-ed settings and married another Yale Law School graduate. (Barbara Pierce Bush dropped out of Smith College to marry Poppy.)

Now it turns out, tragically, Poppy’s speech troubles extended to his own firstborn son George W. Bush as wily Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney — who pushed the nation down the path of war in Iraq. More than most, the Bushes have played their family dramas out in public, at our expense. The American people are still paying the bill — and so are Iraq, Syria and other countries bathed in blood. The show was not even fun to watch.

The Bushes are not just genteel from a long New England line. Their manners mask a cutthroat bunch — jocks who don’t crack books much — when they aren’t writing adoring notes to fellow Bushes. Winning and loyalty are cherished, whether it’s horseshoes or the Florida presidential contest in 2000. They have their men, like lifelong friend James Baker, always there to help in a pinch. In Florida, with brother Jeb Bush as governor, the cliffhanger was almost a cosmic family thank-you note to opponent Al Gore, Clinton’s vice president — whom Poppy had once referred to as a pair of “bozos.” (Now he and Clinton are tight.)

Cheney’s war-mongering as his son’s vice president offended Poppy; building up his own power base was the last thing he would have done as Reagan’s No. 2. Bush, ever the good team player, found Cheney’s aggression a terrible influence. Yet Poppy had hired Cheney to be his secretary of defense and so — well, it was all in the tribe. As a seasoned foreign policy hand, Poppy knew the “axis of evil” language used by his son was trouble. But he never spoke “mano a mano” to his son, as columnist Maureen Dowd noted.

So why not say something at the time to us, the American people? It’s clear: We’re not their kind, dear.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 13, 2015

November 13, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, George H. W. Bush, Iraq War | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Why Racial Profiling Is Still An Issue”: The Issue Is Real And We Need To Pay Attention

Back in the early 1980’s, I remember having heard the term “racial profiling.” But it didn’t mean much to me because, given that I’m white, it never happened to me or anyone I knew. One of my good friends at the time happened to be Native Hawaiian (often mistaken for being Mexican) and started telling me stories about how he couldn’t walk across the courtyard at his apartment complex without being stopped by security and escorted to his door to verify that he actually lived there. That’s when I started paying attention to the issue.

I suspect that my experience is probably not that different from a lot of other white people in this country. It’s easy to dismiss the issues around racial profiling if it doesn’t happen to you or anyone else you know. And so, this week when President Obama hosted a panel discussion at the White House on criminal justice reform, he took a few extra minutes at the end to say that, when it comes to the Black Lives Matter Movement, the issue is real and we need to pay attention.

I thought of that ongoing need to convince white people that racial profiling is real when I saw that the New York Times published a front-page above-the-fold story by Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew Lehren on the reality of “driving while black.” To be honest, I had mixed feelings when I saw that. On the one hand, it is an excellent piece and I am thrilled to see such an important topic tackled in a way that puts it all front and center. But I also get discouraged. How long do people need to keep pointing this out before we finally get the message and do something about it? I can only imagine the reaction of African Americans who have lived with this issue for decades. This is not something that started in Ferguson. Eight months before the shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014, the Washington Monthly published an article that reached the very same conclusions we find in the NYT article today.

I don’t take a lot of pride in the fact that it took a friend of mine experiencing racial profiling for me to wake up to the fact that it is a real issue that we need to address. It reminds me of a column Leonard Pitts wrote years ago when Dick Cheney had a change of heart about marriage equality because his daughter is lesbian.

In such circumstances, injustice ceases to be an abstract concept faced by abstract people, but a real threat faced by someone who is known and loved. Makes all the difference in the world, I guess…

Unfortunately for Cheney, conservativism has no place for him on this issue. It does not strive to be thoughtful or even noticeably principled where gay rights are concerned.

To the contrary, being persuadable is seen as weakness and being persuaded proof of moral failure. In Cheney’s world, people do not seek to put themselves inside other lives or to see the world as it appears through other eyes. Particularly the lives and eyes of society’s others, those people who, because of some innate difference, have been marginalized and left out.

Then someone you love turns up gay, turns up among those others.

One imagines that it changes everything, forces a moment of truth that mere reasoning never could. And maybe you find yourself doing what Dick Cheney does, championing a cause people like you just don’t champion. Doing the right thing for imperfect reasons.

As Pitts goes on to say, getting to freedom is going to take a very long time if it requires every conservative home to have a lesbian daughter. And if every white person needs to have a best friend who experienced racial profiling in order for us to finally take the issue seriously, justice comes too slowly.

So in the end, I’ll celebrate that the NYT is highlighting this problem once again and that President Obama continues to tell us that the concerns of the Black Lives Matter Movement are real. I just hope that more of us are listening and perhaps even persuadable.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 25, 2015

October 26, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Minorities, Racial Profiling | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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