Posted on September 01, 2016 in Countdown

Click here to subscribe to Countdown, AAI's weekly take on news from Washington, around the country, and abroad.


Trump Tries to Have His Taco and Eat It Too

It's been a quick and confusing ride on the Trump train's detour through new options for his immigration plans. After "softening" his deportation policy for undocumented immigrants, Trump allowed his spokespeople to continue down the more humane lane (which was presenting a real challenge to Democratic messaging) until he pulled the rug out from  under their feet with his Mexican rendezvous yesterday. In a strange appearance alongside the unpopular President of Mexico, the equally unpopular Donald Trump made his best go at diplomacy to date. It wasn't a bad showing for what it was - but there's a lot to say about what it wasn't. It left a lot of people crying foul because of Trump’s radically different temperament and glaring omission of his most popular rally cry, "We're going to build a wall. And Mexico is going to pay for it." According to Trump, they talked about the wall but not about who will pay for it. According to Nieto, he made it clear that Mexico will not pay for any wall. While Nieto and Trump tried to cover their tracks on the most electric issue that should have been discussed, Trump put the matter to bed when he took the stage in Arizona shortly thereafter. Trump was unequivocal in stating there will be a wall, Mexico will pay for it, there will be a deportation force to apprehend undocumented immigrants and remove them, there will be no Syrian refugees given safe haven, and there will be "extreme vetting" for any and all visas issued that includes an ideological test. None of this is new for Trump’s radical immigration plan, but it does make the Tump spokespeople look a little foolish for continuing to sell some sort of pivot on the issue. Not gonna happen.


What's Lost in Clinton's Controversies

With just 67 days until the nation goes to the polls on November 8th, Hillary Clinton still can't escape the heat over her email server. Her media strategy seems to be trying to keep Trump's unsuitability as the centerpiece of the conversation, but email after email and hack after hack take away a lot of the punch from the "better than him by a long shot" message. And that's a real shame because the drama-loving news cycle is always going to opt for sensational scandals over a substantive policy discussion. And Hillary has really delivered on the latter. Clinton has given major speeches over the past two weeks that have not only pummeled Donald Trump, but also laid out some huge ideas that the media should be wrestling with. Like Clinton's "alt-right" speech which struck us as an attempt to save the Republican Party by marginalizing Trump and some of his demographically challenged supporters (if “alt-right” can be a euphemism for white supremacists than we thought “demographically challenged” might work for racists). Clinton's strategy is potentially seismic for the two-party American political system (including at least two Arab American Republicans who are alienated by Trump's hostile takeover of their party), but instead of talking about it, the media's talking about the new emails and new information about the infamous server. Something else we should be talking about is Hillary Clinton's speech on "American Exceptionalism" (a phrase that makes us cringe). Her speech to the American Legions was a resounding call for U.S. action abroad, postulating that without American “management” world affairs would be a disaster. Say what you want about that worldview. No really, let's talk about that instead of when Bill Clinton should resign from a Foundation.


The Wild Wrangling of the Anti-ISIL Coalition

The infinitely complicated matrix of actors battling ISIL is only getting more frustrating for the U.S., and more deadly for people on the ground. Over the past few weeks Turkey and the Syrian Kurds as well as Iran and Russia have - for their own realpolitik reasons - made the U.S. plan to destroy ISIL even more muddled. The diametrically opposed interests of U.S.-backed allies required some high level efforts to smooth over this week (some didn't go over well) and to keep the focus on liberating more territory form ISIL. The U.S. is also busy trying to whip the non U.S.-backed members of the anti-ISIL coalition into some semblance of a coordinated effort - and that starts with Russia. But even as analysts are renewing their speculation about some sort of U.S.-Russian agreement on how to stay out of each other’s way, the U.S. and Russia can't even find a way to celebrate the campaign’s successes. After a significant military success this week, the U.S. and Russia are only working together insomuch as spokesmen are squabbling over who should get the credit for the airstrike that took out a senior ISIL figure near Aleppo. There's a long way to go towards cooperation in the skies, but any long term political settlement is going to also require major cooperation on the ground. And while the battle to defeat ISIL is important for pretty much the entire world, bringing an end to the brutal war in Syria can’t be left out of any conversations about the campaign against ISIL.


U.S. Cops Trained by Occupation Forces in Hebron

We're all in favor of maintaining the proud traditions of America - - but our peculiar history of learning the tricks of the Israeli occupation isn't one of them. Alas, the Anti-Defamation League is doing its best to keep the despicable tradition alive by taking U.S. policemen and women to Israel to get an up close and personal education on "strategies and tactics for fighting terror." And where did they go? To Hebron - which is a severe microcosm of everything bad about occupation. That's where some of the most notorious and viral crimes of occupation have happened, and where everyday life is literally untenable because of violent settlers and their personal military detail. Never mind the growing outcry against the militarization of police in America, the ADL and other groups who host these law enforcement trainings in Israel aren't our only problem. The U.S. has a now institutionalized system of learning from Israel. What started with outrageous import of the TSA SPOT program, is now a popular enough premise that Donald Trump openly touts the idea of mimicking Israel's great success using profiling tactics. And let's not pretend Trump is the only one eager to become more like Israel’s occupation forces. At a law enforcement roundtable Trump convened last month, Rep. Peter King made it clear he also wants law enforcement to increase their already invasive and unconstitutional programs that profile Americans for surveillance. All the fluster is missing the point that discriminatory programs Trump and King are asking for have proved a failure in Israel and in the United States. Maybe instead of getting more aggressive in our profiling and law enforcement, we should be getting more effective. 


When an “Adult Conversation” Means “Because Comey Said So”

We got a real chuckle when FBI Director James Comey called for an "adult conversation" between people in the national security and civil liberties worlds about the risk analysis of encrypted technologies. We're not sure what wasn't "adult" about the many, many conversations between those camps up until this point, and we don't want to assume that Comey is just frustrated that he isn't getting his way. Let’s be clear - we're not trying to say any of these conversations have been productive, or that they should be. It's pretty easy to see there is not a compromise to be had - it's winner take all. So we're wondering if by "adult conversation" Comey really means that the civil liberties camp needs to give in to his demands for a way the government can crack encrypted devices. We're no technology experts but it's pretty easy to understand why encryption is a vital, life-saving, democracy preserving technology in the United States and around the world. It's scary to consider a world with back-door access to encrypted technology (aka no truly encrypted technology), but we're more scared that Comey's call for an "adult conversation" is in fact a thinly veiled threat that his cause will win out. Let's hope not, that's no way to have an adult democracy.