Postscript to future historians from Xmas 2016 (OAG #8)

[T]he facts are what they are — email server management, rather than any deeper or more profound root cause, was the dominant issue in Donald Trump’s successful rise to power.

The facts are what they are: Even intelligent, knowledgeable, sophisticated, and articulate writers for successful websites dedicated to usefully explaining events and issues for well-educated readers were, in America 2016, utterly incapable of usefully explaining events and issues for well-educated readers.

Matthew Yglesias apparently believes, as the sub-head in his Christmas Day article has it, that “Big events sometimes have small causes.” The notion is suggestive of chaos theory, which describes how small variations in initial conditions can sometimes produce radically outsized differences in eventual outcomes, but the situation in question is better evoked by the saying on straws and camel’s backs. Yglesias tweet for his post re-stated its conclusion, quoted above, even more illustratively:

The “hook” is precisely the absurdity – and self-inter-exponentiating meta-absurdity – of the notion it entails, and of the co-absurdifying and absurdified political culture and political system it reflects. Read more ›

Posted in Internet, notes, Operation American Greatness

Commenter Ignore Button 0.99

Commenter Ignore Button Demo

As previously noted, this plug-in is or will be the greatest gift to humankind in all of history heretofore. It is now in “Late Beta”, meaning I think it’s just about ready to be distributed, and to begin improving the lives of billions or more forever. For a limited time, I’m offering free installation, configuration, and styling to anyblogger who wants to try it (so that I can iron out any last hinks I happen to find, collect feedback, and maybe produce some additional use cases).

Read more ›

Posted in Meta, WordPress Plug-Ins Tagged with:

Si Vis Bellum, Part 3: Always Again

If members of the present younger generation in particular seem unable to articulate or comprehend the basis of a still operative policy consensus, they can hardly be faulted if their elders, even those running for the highest office in the land, can no longer do so either. We seem to be preparing and in effect demanding – perhaps cannot help but to require – a repetition, or at least a reinforcement, of the very old lesson.

The rationality and utility of the concept informing American strategy or grand strategy since World War II, in some sense merely an elaboration of simple practical wisdom in relation to geographical facts of life, as much a result as an intention, or as much objective as subjective, have been taken to have been confirmed repeatedly, painfully, and incontrovertibly by historical experience. American opinion, as expressed via accountable democratic processes, has accepted and ratified this strategy or strategic premise – or, less pretentiously, this general approach to America’s peculiar position in the world – as on balance both materially successful and morally defensible. Both the American strategy and the popular acceptance of it by Americans have defined the status quo as well as a durable center of gravity in international relations and global affairs for three generations.

We can therefore re-frame the argument made previously in relation to “conventional wisdom” and electoral politics: Read more ›

Posted in Neo-Imperialism, Operation American Greatness

Operation American Greatness: Russiagate Links 19 Dec 2016

(updated as time permits)

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Gustav Gressel, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told The Cipher Brief that NATO allies do not feel good about Trump’s lack of confidence in America’s intelligence services. But he also said the problem goes beyond that. “It is more than distrust in intelligence. It is Trump’s erratic behavior and egomania.”
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President-elect Trump repeatedly stressed during the campaign that he would not elaborate on his plans to counter adversaries, arguing the need for the element of surprise – don’t tell your adversaries what you’re going to do. So is there a rationale for Trump’s often inflammatory claims, and if so, to what end?

Historically, strategists from Sun Tzu to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to Richard Nixon have preached that bewildering an adversary allows one to maintain initiative. But the same cannot be said for bewildering an ally.

From: Trump, Russia, and the CIA: Allies and Adversaries Confused | The Cipher Brief

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There are several possible explanations for Trump’s position. They are not mutually exclusive. First, he may be trying to shore up his political standing before the Electoral College vote on Monday. Second, he may be attempting to undermine the credibility of US intelligence agencies in advance of his taking office so that he can intimidate them and have a freer hand in reshaping the intelligence product to suit his objectives. Third, he may be testing his ability to go over the heads of intelligence professionals and congressional critics and persuade the American public to follow his version of the truth about national security threats. And finally, he may be seeking to cover up evidence of involvement or prior knowledge by members of his campaign team or himself in the Russian cyberattack.

In each case the president-elect is inviting an interpretation that his behavior is treasonous. The federal crime of treason is committed by a person “owing allegiance to the United States who . . . adheres to their enemies, giving them aid or comfort,” and misprision of treason is committed by a person “having knowledge of the commission of any treason [who] conceals and does not disclose” the crime. By denigrating or seeking to prevent an investigation of the Russian cyberattack Trump is giving aid or comfort to an enemy of the United States, a crime that is enhanced if the fourth explanation applies — that he is in fact seeking to cover up his staff’s or his own involvement in or prior knowledge of the attack.

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Arizona Senator John McCain said Sunday that Russian hacking during the 2016 election threatens to “destroy democracy.”

The Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee pushed for a special select committee to investigate the CIA’s finding that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and a top Hillary Clinton aide in an effort to help elect Donald Trump as President.

“We need a select committee,” McCain said on CNN’s State of the Union. “We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to find out exactly what was done and what the implications of the attacks were, especially if they had an effect on our election.”

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Putin confidently executed a strategic spy operation against our election, specifically to harm the Democrats and their presidential nominee. Russia’s president didn’t fear retribution, as he correctly assessed that Obama was too timid and eager to win Russian favor to respond in any meaningful way. After all, the White House in 2015 quashed a tiny State Department effort to counter Kremlin disinformation, which was taken in Moscow as a green light to put their spies-telling-lies machine into overdrive.

Moreover, Putin knew what the Obama administration would (and would not) do about this massive and aggressive jump in the SpyWar thanks to his moles in Washington. It seems highly likely, based on available evidence, that Russian intelligence has been reading secret U.S. communications for years—that’s what moles inside NSA are for—which would give Putin the ability to beat American spies every step of the way, not to mention deep insights into top-level decision-making in Washington.

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I have a sense that Americans are only now beginning to realize what has happened. Even leading Republicans are demanding to know what is going on. But unless something even more extraordinary occurs in the next few weeks, Russia’s American coup has already succeeded. No matter what happens next, the United States, its institutions, its place in the world, all have been left dangerously weakened, fractured, diminished.

European leaders are openly questioning America’s role in NATO. Beijing is flying nuclear bombers over the South China Sea. Russian and Syrian troops are retaking Aleppo from the rebels. That’s the sound of thunder in the distance; the world has changed.

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Posted in notes

Operation American Greatness: Russiagate Links 15 Dec 2016

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Putin confidently executed a strategic spy operation against our election, specifically to harm the Democrats and their presidential nominee. Russia’s president didn’t fear retribution, as he correctly assessed that Obama was too timid and eager to win Russian favor to respond in any meaningful way. After all, the White House in 2015 quashed a tiny State Department effort to counter Kremlin disinformation, which was taken in Moscow as a green light to put their spies-telling-lies machine into overdrive.

Moreover, Putin knew what the Obama administration would (and would not) do about this massive and aggressive jump in the SpyWar thanks to his moles in Washington. It seems highly likely, based on available evidence, that Russian intelligence has been reading secret U.S. communications for years—that’s what moles inside NSA are for—which would give Putin the ability to beat American spies every step of the way, not to mention deep insights into top-level decision-making in Washington.

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I have a sense that Americans are only now beginning to realize what has happened. Even leading Republicans are demanding to know what is going on. But unless something even more extraordinary occurs in the next few weeks, Russia’s American coup has already succeeded. No matter what happens next, the United States, its institutions, its place in the world, all have been left dangerously weakened, fractured, diminished.

European leaders are openly questioning America’s role in NATO. Beijing is flying nuclear bombers over the South China Sea. Russian and Syrian troops are retaking Aleppo from the rebels. That’s the sound of thunder in the distance; the world has changed.

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Would such revelations weaken Putin’s hold on power? Perhaps not, most of his citizens are under no illusion over the reality of their ruling regime. But it would send a clear signal to the kleptocrats in the Kremlin as well as adversaries around the world that such asymmetric warfare tactics can and will be answered to in kind. It would make those engaging in business with Russia think twice about the reputation cost they could suffer. And it would help the American people better understand the true nature of Russia as an emerging adversary.

While the Obama administration may take a hit for making these revelations during a lame duck period, such a move could be deftly exploited by his successor even if he choses to re-engage with Moscow. After all, Donald Trump could easily distance himself from President Obama’s revelations while still benefiting from the added leverage it will offer, alongside a path to lifting sanctions. A book once said “Leverage: don’t do a deal without it.” That book? The Art of the Deal.

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“I don’t think we have even begun to wake up to what Russia is doing when it comes to cyber warfare,” the MP said during the parliamentary debate on the crisis in Aleppo.

“Not only their interference, now proven, in the American presidential campaign, probably in our referendum last year – we don’t have the evidence for that yet but I think it’s highly probable – certainly in the French presidential election they will be involved, and there are already serious concerns in the German secret service.
“We’ve got to wake up to this! When are we going to wake up to this?”

From: Labour MP Says It Is "Highly Probable" Russia Secretly Intervened In The EU Referendum - BuzzFeed News

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...[I]n 2014 and 2015, a Russian hacking group began systematically targeting the State Department, the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Each time, they eventually met with some form of success,” Michael Sulmeyer, a former cyberexpert for the secretary of defense, and Ben Buchanan, now both of the Harvard Cyber Security Project, wrote recently in a soon-to-be published paper for the Carnegie Endowment.The Russians grew stealthier and stealthier, tricking government computers into sending out data while disguising the electronic “command and control” messages that set off alarms for anyone looking for malicious actions. The State Department was so crippled that it repeatedly closed its systems to throw out the intruders. At one point, officials traveling to Vienna with Secretary of State John Kerry for the Iran nuclear negotiations had to set up commercial Gmail accounts just to communicate with one another and with reporters traveling with them.

Mr. Obama was briefed regularly on all this, but he made a decision that many in the White House now regret: He did not name Russians publicly, or issue sanctions. There was always a reason: fear of escalating a cyberwar, and concern that the United States needed Russia’s cooperation in negotiations over Syria.“We’d have all these circular meetings,” one senior State Department official said, “in which everyone agreed you had to push back at the Russians and push back hard. But it didn’t happen.”

So the Russians escalated again — breaking into systems not just for espionage, but to publish or broadcast what they found, known as “doxing” in the cyberworld.

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As analysts who have spent years studying Russia’s influence campaigns, we’re confident the spooks have it mostly right: The Kremlin ran a sophisticated, multilayered operation that aimed to sow chaos in the U.S. political system, if not to elect Trump outright. But you don’t need a security clearance or a background in spycraft to come to that conclusion. All you need to do is open your eyes.

So how did Putin do it?It wasn’t by hacking election machines or manipulating the results, as some have suggested. That would be too crude. The Kremlin’s canny operatives didn’t change votes; they won them, influencing voters to choose Russia’s preferred outcome by pushing stolen information at just the right time—through slanted, or outright false stories on social media. As we detail in our recent report, based on 30 months of closely watching Russia’s online influence operations and monitoring some 7,000 accounts, the Kremlin’s troll army swarmed the web to spread disinformation and undermine trust in the electoral system.

And America was just the latest target.

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Former CIA acting director Michael Morell called the intelligence agency’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election to help President-elect Donald Trump “the political equivalent of 9/11.”

“A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11,” Morell said in an interview posted Sunday on The Cipher Brief. “It is huge and the fact that it hasn’t gotten more attention from the Obama Administration, Congress, and the mainstream media, is just shocking to me.”

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Just as the Central Bank was involved in recent mobilisation exercises, predicated (rightly) on the fact that any major conflict with the West would also be fought with economic instruments, I wonder how far Moscow is coming to terms with the fact that the one-way ‘political war‘ currently being waged against the West might become a two-way one, at least to a limited extent. Those who live by the hack risk dying by it, too.

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Obama is famously resistant (some have said he’s “allergic”) to escalating conflicts, especially if the conflict doesn’t threaten vital U.S. interests. But the United States has few interests more vital than assuring that a foreign power doesn’t tilt a presidential election toward a candidate that it favors. Obama and his White House aides are said to have mulled what to do about this Russian hack for “months.” I’d say they waited too long.

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Posted in notes, Operation American Greatness, Politics, War

Aleppo, D.C. (OAG #7)

Two styles of impotent hand-wringing seem to be in fashion in my virtual circle: over the apparently unexpectedly successful Russian intervention in liberal-democratic political processes, culminating in the election of a uniquely unpopular, deeply disrespected president; over the moral and global-political catastrophe in Syria, whose key turning point occurred in September 2013, and which is climaxing now in the devastation and de-population of the city of Aleppo by a Russian-supported alliance. Read more ›

Posted in Operation American Greatness, Politics, War

Si Vis Bellum, Part 2: Catastrophes

America aims to be as much and as little interventionist and militarist as required in order to avoid ever becoming as catastrophically interventionist and militarist as she, in competition or cooperation with potentially many others, could be.

To understand the meaning of a term is to understand the history of its uses. The two studies, lexical and historical, will be eventually the same study.

Something like a re-consideration, or an indirect dialogue by way of political conflict, occurred on the meaning of the militarism and interventionism during the 2015 – 2016 American presidential campaign in both parties: Both major parties appeared to struggle, and arguably to fail at least for now, to fend off challenges of the sort that thrill dissenters, but have or perhaps had in the United States of America seemed always doomed to frustration.

Read more ›

Posted in Neo-Imperialism, US History, War

Operation American Greatness: Russiagate Links 12 Dec 2016

(You got a better name for it? Anything else you’d like to add?)

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Just as the Central Bank was involved in recent mobilisation exercises, predicated (rightly) on the fact that any major conflict with the West would also be fought with economic instruments, I wonder how far Moscow is coming to terms with the fact that the one-way ‘political war‘ currently being waged against the West might become a two-way one, at least to a limited extent. Those who live by the hack risk dying by it, too.

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Obama is famously resistant (some have said he’s “allergic”) to escalating conflicts, especially if the conflict doesn’t threaten vital U.S. interests. But the United States has few interests more vital than assuring that a foreign power doesn’t tilt a presidential election toward a candidate that it favors. Obama and his White House aides are said to have mulled what to do about this Russian hack for “months.” I’d say they waited too long.

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Perhaps the most amazing revelation in the Post’s report is, “Some of the Republicans in the briefing also seemed opposed to the idea of going public with such explosive allegations in the final stages of an election.” Almost immediately afterward, Republicans in Congress trumpeted explosive (but ultimately empty) allegations from a different agency. Of the many causes of the election outcome, one was simply that Trump’s supporters in government were willing to put the system at risk in order to win, and Clinton’s supporters were not.

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Carle, the retired CIA officer, said Trump’s temperament had played into Russia’s hands and put the president-elect on a collision course with the CIA.

He said: “Look, in my professional assessment as an intelligence officer, Trump has a reflexive, defensive, monumentally narcissistic personality, for whom the facts and national interest are irrelevant, and the only thing that counts is whatever gives personal advantage and directs attention to himself.

“He is about the juiciest intelligence target an intelligence office could imagine. He groans with vulnerabilities. He will only work with individuals or entities that agree with him and build him up, and he is a shockingly easy intelligence ‘target’ to manipulate.”

Were Trump an intelligence officer himself, Carle said, “he would be removed and possibly charged with having accepted the clandestine support of a hostile power to the harm of the United States”.

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Talk of Russian hacking puts Republicans in one last bind. Many senior figures on Capitol Hill distrust Mr Putin. But they know that grassroots conservatives see much to like in a Russian-style approach to fighting Islamic terrorism, if that means an unsqueamish willingness to back secular autocrats in the Middle East, and attack targets in Syria with ruthless indifference as to who is underneath. Mr Trump is clearly tempted to do a deal with Mr Putin in which America applauds as Russian warplanes carry out the Trumpian campaign promise to “bomb the shit out of ISIS”, with little thought for collateral damage. The bet in Trump Tower is that the other side of any such deal, perhaps involving the lifting of sanctions on Russia or a promise not to back any further enlargement of NATO, will be greeted by the American public with a yawn.

...Some may wonder if this latest squabble matters. There is no evidence of actual collusion between Mr Trump and Russia. Mr Putin’s fierce dislike of Mrs Clinton, who as secretary of state questioned the validity of the 2011 elections in Russia, is more than enough motive to want her defeated. It is unknowable whether the last-minute leaks of Democratic e-mails affected the result. Most straightforwardly, a close election is over and Democratic leaders are not questioning the result.This squabble does matter. When the next president of America takes his oath of office in January, officers of Russian intelligence can savour a historic win. And that astonishing, appalling fact has divided, not united, the two parties that run the world’s great democracy. That should be enough to unsettle anyone.

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Was there coordination?

Was information shared in any way, or did anyone directly or indirectly connected to the Trump campaign offer any advice to any foreign entity about where and how to hack—beyond the president-elect’s own public encouragement? What compromising information might Russia have upon persons connected to the Trump campaign—including of course the president-elect himself?

Are there financial ties?

The Senate inquiry should also subpoena any Trump organization business records that might shed light on any debt or obligation that the Trump family might have in Russia and any significant income flows from Russia. Beyond the obvious political ties Trump has to Putin, do Russian interests have any hold upon him and his family—financial or otherwise?

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Trump, being new to Washington, doesn’t know that when you declare war on the spies, the spies always win in the end. The IC cares little if anything for partisan politics, but they will protect their turf and their reputation when they’re impugned by politicians. Our spy agencies fight among each other nonstop, but woe to the pol who gives them common cause by insulting them in public.

True to form, this morning the president-elect was tweeting insults, mocking the CIA assessment of Russian hacking as a “conspiracy theory,” adding, “Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?”

In reality, Western intelligence has caught Kremlin-linked hackers in the act, many times, while this knotty matter was publicly brought up on numerous occasions over the summer and fall, including in my column. We are now living in the interesting times which ancient Chinese sages warned of.

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Posted in The Russian Angle

Thesis on the Great Trumpian Victory (OAG #6)

Thesis: The great victory of the Trumpists would be in the destruction of faith in the American system, now approaching the consensus position.

…to which responds net-friend and former colleague “OG Jaybird“: “Where you see destruction, I see manifestation of evidence of it already having been destroyed years prior.”

Far be it from me to refuse the resort to context and history: For me it goes without saying that any particular event, to be understood, must be understood concretely: as realization of a process or development, as conditioned rather than random incident. So, we can say that the Soviet Union did not defeat Nazi Germany in Berlin, but over the course of titanic battles fought to and from Moscow and Stalingrad all across Central and Eastern Europe, and, furthermore, we can say that the Red Army would almost certainly have failed without allies. We can go a step further and say that the hopelessness of the Nazi position was itself pre-figured in the hopelessness of the German position in the general European and global conditions of the era, as already understood by German strategists at what seemed the last possible moment to alter them by intervention, on the eve of what became the First World War. Read more ›

Posted in Featured, Operation American Greatness

Patti Smith Sings “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize Ceremony

Patti Smith – A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (ceremonia Nobel 2016)

See Amanda Petrusich for background on the performance, which, noting that Smith’s stumbles helped break through the setting to common human ground, I called “seering” in a tweet, though I meant “searing,” though fear I meant seering, not least in the verse that Petrusich quotes: Read more ›

Posted in Music Tagged with: ,

Noted & Quoted

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My hope is that you will continue to live our values and the mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.

DONNIE TRUMPO HAS INVOKED A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS AND HE’S WIPING HIS ASS WITH OUR MOST SACRED DOCUMENT THIS IS THE FOURTH TIME I HAVE EXPLICITLY TOLD YOU THAT YOU HAD BETTER STEP UP

If you do that, you too will be sad when you leave, and the American people will be safer.

SORRY YOU’RE GOING TO BE FIRED AS WELL BY THIS CANCER ON THE AMERICAN STATE IT’S GOING TO BE WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER BUT THE COUNTRY’S FREEDOM IS ACTUALLY AT STAKE HERE DESTROY HIM LIKE A GREAT AVENGING EAGLE

Working with you has been one of the great joys of my life. Thank you for that gift.

IF I EVER MEANT ANYTHING TO YOU MY G-MEN AND G-WOMEN YOU WILL BURN THIS MOTHER DOWN

Jim Comey

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Quinnipiac finds: “By a 54 – 38 percent margin, American voters want the Democratic Party to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives. This is the widest margin ever measured for this question in a Quinnipiac University poll, exceeding a 5 percentage point margin for Republicans in 2013.” You wonder whether that number has to hit 20 percent before Republicans stop circling the wagon around an incompetent, scandal-plagued and uniquely dishonest administration. (At least Richard Nixon’s White House could keep its story straight.)

And yet Republicans (in Congress and in right-leaning media) by and large embarrass themselves by defending the president, eschewing calls for a special counsel, remaining unconcerned with the precedent of firing an FBI director investigating the White House and confirming some of the worst nominees in history, including an attorney general who appears to have reneged on his promise to recuse himself and raised questions about his participation in a scheme to fire Comey under false pretexts.

You do wonder when a political survival instinct will kick in.

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Inside the White House, opponents of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump’s second national security adviser, want him out. This week, they’ve made their campaign against him public, leaking to reporters details about the rocky relationship he has with his boss and trying to paint him as someone hell-bent on overseas nation-building projects that are doomed to fail. The timing isn’t accidental. The effort to damage McMaster comes as the Trump administration decides what its policy should be in Afghanistan, a debate that’s pitting McMaster against Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist.

“McMaster is pushing this Afghanistan policy through. I think some people are giving him the rope to get it through, hoping he hangs himself with it,” one senior intelligence official said.

The Afghanistan strategy McMaster is pushing, with the support of Defense Secretary James Mattis, would send roughly 3,000-5,000 U.S. and NATO troops to Afghanistan, according to a separate source familiar with the internal deliberations. These troops would be sent to help bulk up the Afghan National Security Forces, which, after years of U.S. assistance, are still struggling against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and a small Islamic State presence in the country.

...But the NSC is not walled off from the internal power politics of the Trump White House, and staffers reading the tea leaves see they still need to curry favor with people like Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, if they’re to have their voices heard and survive in what one source described as the White House’s “Game of Thrones for morons.”

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