Khan confrontation keys in on human decency — and that could haunt Trump

political correctness is one thing, fundamental sense of decency quite another

Source: Washington Post

Author: Phillip Rucker

Emphasis Mine

Donald Trump, as he has repeatedly over the course of his 14-month presidential campaign, said several things over the past week that could have caused lasting damage to any ordinary candidate.

The Republican nominee invited the Russian government to uncover and release Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s private emails. He showed himself to be at best confused and at worst ignorant about the turmoil in Ukraine. He maligned a four-star general as a failure.

All were shocking in their way, although none is likely to register in a broad or lasting way among voters.

Trump’s belittling of the Muslim American parents of a dead U.S. soldier may be different, according to political strategists in both parties, who say the ongoing episode could challenge the notion of Trump as a Teflon candidate.

So far, they say, Trump’s repeated offenses haven’t doomed his candidacy because many voters see each Trump insult as a dagger at political correctness, every blemish a welcome reminder that the celebrity-mogul candidate is willing to take on the established order.

But in the case of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — whose son Humayun Khan, an Army captain, was killed in Iraq in 2004 by a suicide bomb — Trump is taking on grieving parents, not elites or the status quo.

“Nobody minds when he attacks other politicians; in fact, they like it. He’s instilling an ­accountability that doesn’t exist. But they don’t like it when he goes after real people, and they wish he would stop,” said GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who conducted a focus group about Trump with voters Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

David Axelrod, a former strategist for President Obama, agreed. “I think people appreciate and even enjoy when he kicks the high and mighty in the butt, but I think they recoil when he is unkind to people who are vulnerable or when he is nasty to people who are thoroughly honorable,” he said.

Axelrod added, “I just think people have a fundamental sense of decency, and they want their president to have a fundamental sense of decency, even if they’re tough and willing to take on so-called political correctness.

Trump lashed out at the Charlottesville family after Khizr Khan admonished Trump at last week’s Democratic National Convention. Trump responded by questioning why Ghazala Khan stood by her husband silently and suggesting that she “wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.” She has said she was too overcome with grief to speak on stage. Trump also equated his work as a real estate developer to the sacrifice the Khans made when they lost their son in war.

Trump’s response to the Khans was in keeping with his impulse to attack mercilessly whenever he is slighted, a trait that he, his advisers and others believe has generally worked in his favor.

“There are millions of voters who are willing to ignore their discomfort because he is the candidate of change,” Luntz said. “He does go too far and voters don’t like it, but it proves that he is different and it proves that he is absolutely, positively willing to take on the status quo.”

Critics believe that in the case of the Khans, Trump has gone way too far, comparing it to a famed turning point for McCarthyism in the 1950s. Grilled by then-Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy at a congressional hearing as part of the Wisconsin Republican’s crusade to root out communist sympathizers, then-Army counsel Joseph N. Welch asked, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Initial reports suggest the Khan episode has hurt Trump, at least for now. A pair of national polls taken over the weekend and released Monday showed a ­sizable bump for Clinton, suggesting the Khan affair, coupled with a successful Democratic convention, was working to her advantage. Clinton led 52 percent to 43 percent in a CNN-ORC survey and 47 percent to 41 percent in a CBS News survey. Polls consistently show that Trump’s biggest vulnerabilities are on questions of character and temperament. Three-quarters of Americans said Trump does not show enough respect for people he disagrees with, and 55 percent said this was a “major problem,” according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll in May.

Still, Trump’s race with Clinton has remained relatively close through the summer, in part because Clinton is weighted down by her own troubles, chiefly doubts about her trustworthiness.

The latest example came Sunday, when Clinton claimed in a Fox News interview that FBI Director James B. Comey said her past public statements about her use of private email as secretary of state were “truthful.” In fact, Comey has not said whether her public statements were truthful, and he has said some of her emails contained classified information.

Axelrod and other strategists drew parallels between the Khan clash and an earlier episode that similarly touched a nerve: Trump’s mocking at a rally in November of disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski.

Priorities USA, the leading pro-Clinton super PAC, has conducted extensive research to determine the most effective ways to attack Trump and found that video footage of Trump making wild arm and hand gestures to impersonate Kovaleski registers in focus groups as among the most damning. The footage has been featured in numerous anti-Trump ads.

Voters were willing to overlook comments about Ted Cruz’s family because Ted Cruz is a politician,” said Guy Cecil, the super PAC’s chief strategist. “They may have even been willing to overlook his disgusting comments about John McCain because John McCain is a politician. . . . This is something much meaner. This is something that is completely out of bounds.”

Cecil was referring to Trump’s provocative and unsubstantiated suggestion that Rafael Cruz, the father of the senator from Texas, may have been implicated in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, as well as Trump’s belittling of the Vietnam War service of McCain, a senator from Arizona. Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter, a former adviser to Obama, said Trump’s comments about the Khans are breaking through to voters because they violate people’s expectations of decency and empathy.

“They worry about what kind of role model this sets for their kids,” Cutter said. “They don’t want a president who is insulting people based on their disability or religion or gender or threatening to knock somebody in the head.”

During the Republican primaries, rival campaigns found that political fallout for Trump tended to be limited to the group he was offending. For instance, his incendiary rhetoric about Mexican Americans and illegal immigration hurt him with Latino voters, and his misogynistic commentary hurt him with women.

But research showed that Trump’s mocking of Kovaleski crossed demographic boundaries, said Tim Miller, a top staffer first on former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign and later at an anti-Trump super PAC.

“People found that to just be so vulgar and indecent that they just couldn’t help but be turned off by it, even those that wanted to excuse Trump at every step along the way,” Miller said.

He added, “The big question here with the Khan situation is, will that transcend just the Muslim community or just the community of veterans and be something that is universally regarded as inhuman and indecent?”

Scott Clement contributed to this report.


Huddling With Ukrainian Rebels in a Bunker on the Front Lines

“No way in hell we’ll lay down our weapons while the fascists are still around”


Source:New Republic

Author: Noah Sneider

SAUR-MOGILAFrom the base of a big stone obelisk, the soldiers scour the valley below their hill. They look out from army green binoculars with chipped paint and a hammer-and-sickle insignia. They see fascists and Nazis, and they say they will fight to the death.

They set up a rusty rifle, stamped “1942,” and send a volley into a cluster of trees. They watch smoke rise. They laugh.

“No way in hell we’ll lay down our weapons while the fascists are still around,” says one of them, a burly man named Gena.

This is not 1942. It is 2014, just two days after the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. I am standing on Saur-Mogila, one of the highest points in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, with a group of pro-Russian separatists who have been fending off attacks on this position from government forces since May. Western intelligence suggests that the missile that struck the plane came from somewhere in the fields further down. But to the rebel fighters here, it might as well have come from Kuala Lumpur. They are at war with Kiev and its Western allies, and the plane crash is an enemy plot. They’ve gotta hold this hillside, dammit.

This hill is “a sacred place,” adds Gena, who, like all the fighters interviewed, gave only a first name. Here, the Soviets pushed back Hitler’s army, losing some 23,000 troops along what was called the Mius-Front. During peacetime, local kids search Saur-Mogila (“Hill 277.9” to the Germans) for traces of World War IIold ammo, knives, pistols, rifles, helmets. A monument now towers over everything, an obelisk more than 100 feet tall with an attached cast-iron statue of a “soldier-liberator” raising a gun in triumph. The rebels have raised a Russian flag atop the tower, and the Ukrainians have sent a bullet through the statue’s heart. For the separatists, they are following in their forefathers footsteps. “In World War II our grandfathers held this hill, and now we too are holding it,” says Andrei, a member of the Vostok Battalion, a powerful rebel militia.

There was hope that the tragedy of MH17 would force Russia, Ukraine, and the rebels to wake up from their post-Soviet fever dream. But following the crash, the parallel realities that exist across eastern Ukraine only became sharper. Prospects for peace have all but disappeared. Among rebels, blaming the Ukrainian forces for downing MH17 is an article of faith. Most locals (fed by the Russian media) agree, seeing it as a plot concocted in Kiev to discredit the separatist movement. And the Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, have pressed their offensive further, both at Saur-Mogila and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

When I first arrive at Saur-Mogila, travelling with two colleagues, I notice craters alongside the road leading up to the peak. Ahead are tank tracks, and the asphalt street is split with a big silver shell. All around, dirt and debris and the detritus that speak of airstrikes. Above, at the top of the hill, a pack of rebels mill about. They look like giants from below. But they descend to meet us, and turn out to be small and scruffy.

The encounter is emblematic of the war in Ukraine: fought from afar against inhuman opponents. Neither side wants to look the other in the eye, because to do so would be to acknowledge that, for the most part, they aren’t fighting Nazis and terrorists, but neighbors and countrymen.

When Hitler and Stalin had it out here, George Orwell wrote of a force that he called “nationalism.” He did not mean allegiance to a nation-state though, but the conviction around which one can construct a reality. “Having picked his side, [the nationalist] persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him,” Orwell writes. “Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is alsosince he is conscious of serving something bigger than himselfunshakeably certain of being in the right.”

This is what is missed about the war in Ukraine: Behind the high-profile Russian agents who lead the separatists are scores of men, mostly locals, who believetruly, madly, willing-to-die believethat they are doing the right thing. These are not the mustachioed villains you see on television.

These are factory workers and mechanics who now man checkpoints and lead military operations. The world they live in is filled with fascist threats from far-away lands. It is a world constructed largely on the basis of baseless Russian propagandaeasy to scoff at, but for these men, it’s real.

The gold-toothed commander at Saur-Mogila, Niloka, leads us up the hill, weaving around the craters. “To the right of us, a kilometer out, they’re there,” he says, pointing up beyond the monument. He chats on a walkie-talkie, barking commands with the assurance of a seasoned fighter: “That’s it, got it. I give the order: fire.” Black wires run through the grass. Field telephones, they tell us, Soviet antiques, TA-57s, like the ones their grandpas used. He brings us up to a set of small stone buildings, past a soldier cooking soup on an open flame, and down into a bunker. Two rounds of Grads rockets hit somewhere on the other side of the hillthey are fired in an immediate series and land rhythmically, like a bad dubstep baseline.

In the bunker we sit on a brown leather couch. Belts of machine gun ammunition fill wooden crates on the floor. Two sleeping padsone silver and the other camouflagelie against the far wall. On a messy table stands a can of stewed meat, opened but only half-eaten.

They’ve taken over an entertainment complex that used to welcome tourists to the monumentit once had a bar, a cafe, even a banya. Since mid-April war has crept slowly into the Donbass, filling the sunflower fields and the steppe. Once, in between rounds of shelling last month, a young couple drove up this hill in a Mazda, perhaps looking for somewhere to watch the stars. They didn’t know that their make-out spot had become a regular battle site.

The men here remain resolute, their speech a mixture of banter and braggadocio. They repeat the now familiar litany of complaints about cultural and religious assault, language rights, and western-sponsored “juntas.” They have no plans to back down. “My comrades have already died in this war,” says a fighter named Roma, with black aviators perched on his cap.

Outside the bunker, I run into a Maksim, a young fighter from the town of Druzhkovka, north of Donetsk. We first met nearly three months ago in Slovyansk, around the time he and his dad enlisted in the militia together. Back then, he was kind-eyed and timid, hanging around the fringes of his new base, reluctant to handle his weapon. Now he wears a black balaclava rolled atop his head, and carries his AK with swagger: in one hand, swinging at his side.

This only ends one way,” he tells me, staring up at the clouds. “They leave.”

Noah Sneider is a writer and artist. He works as a journalist based in Moscow, and is on Twitter @noahsneider.

Emphasis Mine


Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit

Source: Consortium news, via RSN

Author: Robert Parry

“You might think that policymakers with so many bloody fiascos on their résumés as the U.S. neocons, including the catastrophic Iraq War, would admit their incompetence and return home to sell insurance or maybe work in a fast-food restaurant. Anything but directing the geopolitical decisions of the world’s leading superpower.

But Official Washington’s neocons are nothing if not relentless and resilient. They are also well-funded and well-connected. So they won’t do the honorable thing and disappear. They keep hatching new schemes and strategies to keep the world stirred up and to keep their vision of world domination – and particularly “regime change” in the Middle East – alive.

Now, the neocons have stoked a confrontation over Ukraine, involving two nuclear-armed states, the United States and Russia. But – even if nuclear weapons don’t come into play – the neocons have succeeded in estranging U.S. President Barack Obama from Russian President Vladimir Putin and sabotaging the pair’s crucial cooperation on Iran and Syria, which may have been the point all along.

Though the Ukraine crisis has roots going back decades, the chronology of the recent uprising — and the neocon interest in it – meshes neatly with neocon fury over Obama and Putin working together to avert a U.S. military strike against Syria last summer and then brokering an interim nuclear agreement with Iran last fall that effectively took a U.S. bombing campaign against Iran off the table.

With those two top Israeli priorities – U.S. military attacks on Syria and Iran – sidetracked, the American neocons began activating their influential media and political networks to counteract the Obama-Putin teamwork. The neocon wedge to splinter Obama away from Putin was driven into Ukraine.

Operating out of neocon enclaves in the U.S. State Department and at U.S.-funded non-governmental organizations, led by the National Endowment for Democracy, neocon operatives targeted Ukraine even before the recent political unrest began shaking apart the country’s fragile ethnic and ideological cohesion.

Last September, as the prospects for a U.S. military strike against Syria were fading thanks to Putin, NED president Carl Gershman, who is something of a neocon paymaster controlling more than $100 million in congressionally approved funding each year, took to the pages of the neocon-flagship Washington Post and wrote that Ukraine was now “the biggest prize.”

But Gershman added that Ukraine was really only an interim step to an even bigger prize, the removal of the strong-willed and independent-minded Putin, who, Gershman added, “may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad [i.e. Ukraine] but within Russia itself.” In other words, the new hope was for “regime change” in Kiev and Moscow.

Putin had made himself a major annoyance in Neocon World, particularly with his diplomacy on Syria that defused a crisis over a Sarin attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. Despite the attack’s mysterious origins – and the absence of any clear evidence proving the Syrian government’s guilt – the U.S. State Department and the U.S. news media rushed to the judgment that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad did it.

Politicians and pundits baited Obama with claims that Assad had brazenly crossed Obama’s “red line” by using chemical weapons and that U.S. “credibility” now demanded military retaliation. A longtime Israeli/neocon goal, “regime change” in Syria, seemed within reach.

But Putin brokered a deal in which Assad agreed to surrender Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal (even as he continued to deny any role in the Sarin attack). The arrangement was a huge letdown for the neocons and Israeli officials who had been drooling over the prospect that a U.S. bombing campaign would bring Assad to his knees and deliver a strategic blow against Iran, Israel’s current chief enemy.

Putin then further offended the neocons and the Israeli government by helping to facilitate an interim nuclear deal with Iran, making another neocon/Israeli priority, a U.S. war against Iran, less likely.

Putting Putin in Play

So, the troublesome Putin had to be put in play. And, NED’s Gershman was quick to note a key Russian vulnerability, neighboring Ukraine, where a democratically elected but corrupt president, Viktor Yanukovych, was struggling with a terrible economy and weighing whether to accept a European aid offer, which came with many austerity strings attached, or work out a more generous deal with Russia.

There was already a strong U.S.-organized political/media apparatus in place for destabilizing Ukraine’s government. Gershman’s NED had 65 projects operating in the country – training “activists,” supporting “journalists” and organizing business groups, according to its latest report. (NED was created in 1983 to do in relative openness what the CIA had long done in secret, nurture pro-U.S. operatives under the umbrella of “promoting democracy.”)

So, when Yanukovych opted for Russia’s more generous $15 billion aid package, the roof fell in on him. In a speech to Ukrainian business leaders last December, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland, a neocon holdover and the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, reminded the group that the U.S. had invested $5 billion in Ukraine’s “European aspirations.”

Then, urged on by Nuland and neocon Sen. John McCain, protests in the capital of Kiev turned increasingly violent with neo-Nazi militias moving to the fore. Unidentified snipers opened fire on protesters and police, touching off fiery clashes that killed some 80 people (including about a dozen police officers).

On Feb. 21, in a desperate attempt to tamp down the violence, Yanukovych signed an agreement brokered by European countries. He agreed to surrender many of his powers, to hold early elections (so he could be voted out of office), and pull back the police. That last step, however, opened the way for the neo-Nazi militias to overrun government buildings and force Yanukovych to flee for his life.

With these modern-day storm troopers controlling key buildings – and brutalizing Yanukovych supporters – a rump Ukrainian parliament voted, in an extra-constitutional fashion, to remove Yanukovych from office. This coup-installed regime, with far-right parties controlling four ministries including defense, received immediate U.S. and European Union recognition as Ukraine’s “legitimate” government.

As remarkable – and newsworthy – as it was that a government on the European continent included Nazis in the executive branch for the first time since World War II, the U.S. news media performed as it did before the Iraq War and during various other international crises. It essentially presented the neocon-preferred narrative and treated the presence of the neo-Nazis as some kind of urban legend.

Virtually across the board, from Fox News to MSNBC, from the Washington Post to the New York Times, the U.S. press corps fell in line, painting Yanukovych and Putin as the “black-hat” villains and the coup regime as the “white-hat” good guys, which required, of course, whiting out the neo-Nazi “brown shirts.”

Neocon Expediency

Some neocon defenders have challenged my reporting that U.S. neocons played a significant role in the Ukrainian putsch. One argument is that the neocons, who regard the U.S.-Israeli bond as inviolable, would not knowingly collaborate with neo-Nazis given the history of the Holocaust (and indeed the role of Ukrainian Nazi collaborators in extermination campaigns against Poles and Jews).

But the neocons have frequently struck alliances of convenience with some of the most unsavory – and indeed anti-Semitic – forces on earth, dating back to the Reagan administration and its collaboration with Latin American “death squad” regimes, including work with the World Anti-Communist League that included not only neo-Nazis but aging real Nazis.

More recently in Syria, U.S. neocons (and Israeli leaders) are so focused on ousting Assad, an ally of hated Iran, that they have cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s Sunni monarchy (known for its gross anti-Semitism). Israeli officials have even expressed a preference for Saudi-backed Sunni extremists winning in Syria if that is the only way to get rid of Assad and hurt his allies in Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Last September, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel so wanted Assad out and his Iranian backers weakened, that Israel would accept al-Qaeda operatives taking power in Syria.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in the interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.”

Oren said that was Israel’s view even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Oren, who was Israel’s point man in dealing with Official Washington’s neocons, is considered very close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reflects his views. For decades, U.S. neocons have supported Netanyahu and his hardline Likud Party, including as strategists on his 1996 campaign for prime minister when neocons such as Richard Perle and Douglas Feith developed the original “regime change” strategy. [For details, see’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

In other words, Israel and its U.S. neocon supporters have been willing to collaborate with extreme right-wing and even anti-Semitic forces if that advances their key geopolitical goals, such as maneuvering the U.S. government into military confrontations with Syria and Iran.

So, while it may be fair to assume that neocons like Nuland and McCain would have preferred that the Ukraine coup had been spearheaded by militants who weren’t neo-Nazis – or, for that matter, that the Syrian rebels were not so dominated by al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists – the neocons (and their Israeli allies) see these tactical collaborations as sometimes necessary to achieve overarching strategic priorities.

And, since their current strategic necessity is to scuttle the fragile negotiations over Syria and Iran, which otherwise might negate the possibility of U.S. military strikes against those two countries, the Putin-Obama collaboration had to go.

By spurring on the violent overthrow of Ukraine’s elected president, the neocons helped touch off a cascade of events – now including Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and its annexation by Russia – that have raised tensions and provoked Western retaliation against Russia. The crisis also has made the continued Obama-Putin teamwork on Syria and Iran extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Like other neocon-engineered schemes, there will surely be much collateral damage in this latest one. For instance, if the tit-for-tat economic retaliations escalate – and Russian gas supplies are disrupted – Europe’s fragile recovery could be tipped back into recession, with harmful consequences for the U.S. economy, too.

There’s also the certainty that congressional war hawks and neocon pundits will press for increased U.S. military spending and aggressive tactics elsewhere in the world to punish Putin, meaning even less money and attention for domestic programs or deficit reduction. Obama’s “nation-building at home” will be forgotten.

But the neocons have long made it clear that their vision for the world – one of America’s “full-spectrum dominance” and “regime change” in Middle Eastern countries opposed to Israel – overrides all other national priorities. And as long as the neocons face no accountability for the havoc that they wreak, they will continue working Washington’s corridors of power, not selling insurance or flipping hamburgers.

Emphasis Mine