Fox News Halftime Report

Trump at Afghan crossroads

Chris Stirewalt

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On the roster: Trump at Afghan crossroads - Is Kamala Harris laying groundwork for 2020 run? - Three take aways from Russia hearings - Labrador won’t seek re-election, running for governor - Sounds totally legit 

TRUMP AT AFGHAN CROSSROADS
As history sands down the rough edges of Barack Obama’s presidency and reveals a clearer image of his time in office, one burr that will never be removed is the failure of his Afghan war strategy.

History has a tendency to be forgiving about empires that fail in Afghanistan, since so many of them have. But, even so, Obama’s misbegotten efforts will stand out.

You remember that Obama ended the first year of his presidency ordering a large, time-limited surge in that failed nation. This paid off a promise to voters that he would withdraw the United States from Iraq, which he said had distracted the U.S. from the more important objective of pacifying Afghanistan and standing up a Western-style government in Kabul. 

Seven years, an additional troop surge and 1,427 American deaths later, Afghanistan was no closer to the lofty objectives which Obama had laid out.

The great success in that theater of war came not in Afghanistan at all, but rather across the border in Pakistan where an American commando team snuffed out Usama Bin Laden, some rough justice for the architect of the 9/11 attacks. But in terms of preventing Afghanistan from playing host to the next Bin Laden, the ostensible goal of U.S. policy since the fall of 2001, not so much.

Critics of Obama’s strategy, including then-Vice President Joe Biden, argued against deepening the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan from the start – the rationale being essentially that when choosing among bad options, those that expended the least blood and treasure should be given preference.

But military leaders managed to convince, cajole and pressure Obama into action. Still new to office and with a reputation as something of a peacenik, Obama was susceptible to this pressure. Plus, solving a problem that had bedeviled leaders back to Alexander the Great had to be something of an enticement for the newly minted Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Many voices, including that of the man who would become Obama’s successor, assailed Obama’s strategy and its failings as foolish nation building. The good news for Obama, though, is that Americans have developed a pronounced blind spot when it comes to our now almost-16-year involvement in Afghanistan.

Military leaders are now looking to force the hand of a new president, one who seems to be even more desirous of the approval of his military leaders but who also came to office with a track record of opposing U.S. military interventions.

President Trump is under pressure from the Pentagon to order a less ambitious surge than the one Obama instituted in 2009, but one that would be a dramatic departure from the more hands-off approach of recent years.

On one hand, Trump has received great praise for his deference to military leaders when it came to bombing Syria, dropping an enormous concussion bomb on one of the most scrofulous sections of Afghanistan or his move today to directly arm Kurdish Syrian rebels.

On the other hand, Trump’s political base and many of his top advisors are deeply opposed to the idea of putting American troops in harm’s way for the sake of building up other nations. They’re all about “fortress America,” not “arsenal of democracy.”

As has often been the case in this young presidency, personnel conflicts look to play a significant role.

Just a few weeks ago, the main man for the anti-interventionists, Steve Bannon, was declared a pariah and was thought to be living out his days in some White House dungeon. The courtier who bested Bannon, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and the more conventional voices on foreign policy were ascendant.

But maybe not for long.   

Politico reports that Bannon and other allies of the deposed, Russia-tainted former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn are working to undermine Flynn’s replacement, Gen. H.R. McMaster, and his more conventional foreign policy views. Bannon was also apparently able to save the scalp of controversial Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, a sign of strength for the “America first” crew.  
Meantime, Kushner has been in the news for all of the wrong reasons.

A report from Ottawa says that Kushner called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to lobby the telegenic Canadian to “urge” Kushner’s father-in-law to stick with the NAFTA trade pact so despised by Bannon & Co. That wouldn’t be exactly straightforward…

Worse, though, has been the unrelenting barrage of stories on the front page of Trump’s hometown newspaper about Kushner’s family sucking up to Chinese investors by bragging about access to Trump and touting more lenient immigration rules for foreign investors tucked into the spending bill Trump signed last week.

Trump’s decision on Afghanistan will tell us a great deal about the foreign policy he intends to actually pursue – and which faction really is ascendant in Trump World.

THE RULEBOOK: BETTER TOGETHER
“Let candid men judge, then, whether the division of America into any given number of independent sovereignties would tend to secure us against the hostilities and improper interference of foreign nations.” – John Jay, Federalist No. 5

TIME OUT: ‘PICTURES BEING PAINTED WITH TINY BUBBLES’
New Yorker:Erik Weihenmayer is the only blind person to have climbed Mt. Everest. He was born with juvenile retinoschisis, an inherited condition that caused his retinas to disintegrate completely by his freshman year of high school. … He learned to pat the rock face with his hands or tap it with an ice axe to find his next hold… With this technique, he has summited the tallest peaks on all seven continents. A decade ago, Weihenmayer began using the BrainPort, a device that enables him to ‘see’ the rock face using his tongue. The BrainPort consists of two parts: the band on his brow supports a tiny video camera; connected to this by a cable is a postage-stamp-size white plastic lollipop, which he holds in his mouth. … Dark pixels provide a strong shock; lighter pixels merely tingle. The resulting vision is a sensation that Weihenmayer describes as ‘pictures being painted with tiny bubbles.’”

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IS KAMALA HARRIS LAYING GROUNDWORK FOR 2020 RUN?
McClatchy: “Now's the time prospective presidential candidates start taking the subtle but crucial behind-the-scenes steps that get them noticed by the political intelligentsia, and Sen. Kamala Harris is quietly following the script. She’s making speeches to key national constituencies. She’s due for an appearance at a Washington think-tank panel full of chattering-class presidential favorites that the national media will be reporting and analyzing, probably for days. She’s been fundraising for colleagues and making sure that she is forming relationships with key national reporters. They’re all boxes that prospective presidential candidates routinely check. It’s a chance to ultimately convince insiders they’ve got the gravitas and the fundraising chops to be taken seriously. … But the speculation is not going away, not with the absence of a clear Democratic presidential frontrunner and the party desperately in search and in need of a new generation of leadership.”

Klobuchar tests waters with Iowa visit - WaPo: “The last time she came to Iowa was as a Clinton campaign surrogate last fall. She likes to remind reporters that she has campaigned for fellow Democrats in more than 30 states during her 12 years in the Senate. Now, she’s willing to share gentle criticism of what she thinks went wrong — starting with the former secretary of state’s campaign slogan. ‘The phrase ‘Stronger Together’ — as much as it was positive, optimistic words — for a lot of the people in my state — iron ore miners who are out of work — it didn’t feel to them like they were into that. It felt like it was a response to Donald Trump,’ she said in an interview before her visit.”

In Washington, White House keeps an eye on Warren - The Hill: “The White House is keeping tabs on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), viewing her as a potential challenger to President Trump in the 2020 election. The Republican National Committee (RNC), in coordination with the White House, is assembling a research file on Warren and other possible 2020 opponents and frequently circulates memos critical of her to reporters. White House aides, meanwhile, are closely following the senator’s criticism of the president and have aggressively hit back in the media. When The Hill published Warren’s criticism last month of Trump’s decision to drop America’s largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan, the White House press office quickly responded with a rebuttal — an unusual level of attention for a single senator.”

THREE TAKEAWAYS FROM RUSSIA HEARINGS - Tom Rogan breaks down how to read between the lines of the legal jargon: “Another day, a new Russia-spy fest on Capitol Hill. [Monday] it was the turn of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Department of Justice acting Attorney General Sally Yates to testify. The first thing to note is that Trump was largely peripheral to [the] proceedings. … For short-lived National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, however, this was a bad day. Yates suggested that Flynn was compromised by Russia. In a serious way. … Still, there were other interesting intelligence hints from the testimony. For one, Clapper described ‘very sensitive’ intelligence provided by Britain on meetings between Trump surrogates and Russian officials. … Ultimately, today proved three things. Flynn has a problem (and was always a poor choice for national security adviser), Democrats smell blood, and the intelligence community knows a lot more than has yet been made public. The Trump-Russia saga is far from finished.”

Meanwhile Team Trump is radio silent - Politico: “The Trump administration is so far ignoring pleas from both on and off Capitol Hill to denounce the suspected Russian-backed digital assault that appeared aimed to tilt Sunday’s French presidential election toward nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen. The White House’s failure to mention the attack on one of America’s oldest allies has worried Democrats, cyber policy specialists and former White House officials, who say the omission reveals a troubling inability to call out Russia over its digital aggression. ‘This is an issue that should provoke grave concern in both parties,’ Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor Monday afternoon.” 

LABRADOR WON’T SEEK RE-ELECTION, RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR
Bloomberg: “Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) announced Tuesday that, instead of running for re-election in his safe Republican seat, he will run for governor of Idaho in 2018. ‘Idaho needs a proven conservative leader who will stand against the special interests and politicians that have picked the winners and losers in our state Capitol for too long,’ he said in a statement. … The announcement ends long speculation that Labrador was eyeing the governor’s mansion. For years, Labrador has seemed frustrated by the slow pace of lawmaking. He’s bemoaned the erosion of regular order in Congress and been a key player himself in thwarting major pieces of legislation. Labrador, who was an immigration lawyer before joining Congress, quit an immigration group that was working on legislation to address undocumented immigrants in 2013, potentially dealing a death blow to the measure.”

SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -8.2 points
Change from one week ago: +0.2 points

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Study shows cultural, not economic anxieties fueled Trump victory - The Atlantic

House GOP debates tax cut v. tax reform - Politico

Pollsters tell House Republicans not to panic over ObamaCare cuts WashEx

Paul Ryan heads to Georgia to campaign for Karen Handel - AJC

Congressional Democrats with Ivy League degrees now outnumber GOPers three-to-one
- The American Interest

Iowa Congressman walks out on interview after questions about ID checks at town hallPolitico

GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins looks to take on Dem West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin - Politico

Tough or terrible? Assessing the Democrats’ 2020 Senate map - RCP

Is that an AT-AT walker? An open box of Chinese takeout? No, it’s the Obama presidential library - Ricochet

AUDIBLE: PASS
“Don’t go there, Jimmy.” – Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., to late-night host Jimmy Kimmel who joked about Cassidy’s comments that the Republican cuts to ObamaCare had to meet the “Jimmy Kimmel test” for coverage for children born with serious medical problems. Kimmel said he assumed that if a test ever were named for him “it would be for some embarrassing sexually transmitted disease."

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Although some would believe it impossible while others would only hope it were possible, would it not be an idea worth consideration to somehow block all lobbyist participation in the process.  That is, totally deny any lobbyists input.  One does not know the mean, median or mode average intelligence quotient of members of congress, but surely by any measure their collective knowledge is already ample enough to write this legislation and it could be accomplished in short order, say, before the congressional August recess.  One dares to hope.” Tom 
McGrath
, Bellingham, Wash.

[Ed. note: I hate to say it, Mr. McGrath, but lobbyists are people too. One of the worst things about the efforts of recent years to deal with the scourge of special interests has been to treat lobbyists as a special class. The response from lobbyists, of course, has been to stop registering as such. The people who carry that title now are likely to be functionaries who carry out the day-to-day work in administrative back offices dealing with arcane regulations. The people who do the real influence pedaling never register that way and simply engage in “dialogues” with public officials that happen to advance the causes of the clients who pay these lobbying non-lobbyists. Corporations, unions, do-gooder groups, states and municipal governments and every other group you can imagine all want their concerns heard by the government. The Founders called it “redress of grievances,” and it makes sense: those groups have constituencies of their own and need or want the federal government to either do things or stop doing things. Rather than trying to protect lawmakers from the influences of influencers, perhaps we would be better off focusing on holding our lawmakers to account themselves.]

“Your editorial regarding the reaction to politicians ignoring the voters including your chilling warning is right on the mark.  I thought we had yelled as loudly as we could by electing President Trump.  So far, they're still not listening. I sincerely hope the President can pull this off.  What can you do when you've already (in elementary teacher speak) used your words?” – Gail Stetson, Anacortes, Wash.

[Ed. note: Well, Ms. Stetson, I didn’t say which it was. Certainly our civic and cultural institutions are in pretty bad shape these days, especially from the perspective of public confidence. But, I also think that that may be more a consequence of disuse than of misuse. Certainly the failings of our leaders and institutions provide ample reason for skepticism, if not cynicism. But failure and scandal have been with us from the beginning. I would suggest that America’s astonishing wealth and security have allowed us to get flabby as a society. We shared recently a new reflection on Neil Postman’s 1985 book “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which pointed in this direction. It is a condition I call “cultural Type 2 diabetes.” What we don’t know is whether the individuals and institutions on which we rely in hard times will be equal to the task of repairing a culture suffering now for its previous excesses. I happen to believe they will.]

“Thanks for your rather thorough discussion of a topic that explains a good portion of history. The ‘jumps and lurches’ you describe however, have been clearly documented as a theory. With a name. Would it not be appropriate to cite the work of Fichte and Hegel, in the development of what is usually referred to as the Evolving Dialectic?”Joseph Reilly, Scottsdale, Ariz.

[Ed. note: We might, indeed. We might also certainly cite Immanuel Kant, a favorite of mine. But then, David Hume and the boys from the Scottish Enlightenment would probably want to have a word. And then, people would just think we were showing off…]

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SOUNDS TOTALLY LEGIT 
NY Daily News: “A midtown [Manhattan] strip club tried to get out of paying $3.1 million in state taxes by claiming that its dancers are love doctors offering the same nontaxable services that a massage therapist or a sex shrink provides. Penthouse Executive Club made the X-rated argument to the state’s tax appeals tribunal when it tried to have an earlier decision by an administrative law judge tossed. But the tribunal didn’t buy it and instead last month affirmed the judge’s decision, ordering the jiggle joint to cough up the loot. … Penthouse protested the assessment, arguing ‘that what is provided in its clubs is not entertainment, but rather a nontaxable service similar to a therapeutic massage conducted in a sensual manner or personal services provided by a sex therapist,’ the tribunal wrote in its April 19 decision. But in its decision, the tribunal said the club gave no evidence to bolster their argument.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“And Obama did that all through his presidency, always assuming he was on the side of the angels and always the one who was willing to go against public opinion when it was completely the opposite.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.