A Michigan tie to Trump’s brain trust

Trump would kill for so qualified a brain trust.
Trump would kill for so qualified a brain trust.


Over at the Washington Post, fellow academic Dan Drezner has for months now been making something of a cottage industry of flagging the fourth tier lack of qualifications and/or horrifying background of Donald Trump’s circle of foreign policy advisors and surrogates.

I’ve raised my own concerns about Trump’s foreign policy ideas here and here. In case you need a refresher, here is an updated list of the highlights of the billionaire blowhard’s agenda. He would:

  • Authorize torture against terrorism suspects.
  • Order the US military to commit war crimes.
  • Abandon longstanding alliances, like NATO.
  • Abandon longstanding allies to the tender mercies of predatory neighbors.
  • Walk away from defense commitments to South Korea and Japan even if that means they develop nuclear weapons of their own.
  • Wage trade wars against China and other countries he deems guilty of engaging in unfair trade practices.
  • Close America’s border with Mexico and confiscate remittances from Mexican workers in the US in order to fund the building of Trump’s border wall.
  • Bar Muslim immigrants and refugees from US soil.
  • Introduce an ideological litmus test for immigrants and their American-born children.
  • Try American citizens accused of terrorism before military tribunals.

Until now, though, I haven’t weighed in on Trump’s advisory team, leaving that scathing commentary in the capable hands of Drezner and others. But then I saw this tweet float across my feed:

Turns out the ex-congressman from west Michigan, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was part of a group of national security and foreign policy “experts” flown to Trump Tower yesterday to meet with the candidate and his campaign chiefs to discuss strategies to combat Islamic terrorism.

Hoekstra on the size of Trump's hands?
Hoekstra on the size of Trump’s hands?

Hoekstra told the Detroit News the Trump team put on a “flawless” meeting. At least that’s one thing the fumbling campaign can apparently pull off.

But back to the main point. If Hoekstra, who had endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich during the primaries, has now signed on to Trump’s foreign policy team, we owe it to ourselves to take a look at his qualifications and see if his presence can elevate the overall quality of the crew he’s joining.

A look at his record as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and his post-political career, shows that he really is a great fit for Team Trump:

  • In 2006 Hoekstra claimed that weapons of mass destruction had in fact been found in Iraq, claims that were trumpeted by Fox News but disputed by the Pentagon and intelligence community and  debunked by other media organizations.
  • In 2006, against the advice and with the opposition of the director of national intelligence, Hoekstra spearheaded the creation of a public online archive of intelligence data collected in Iraq called the “Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal” which according to the New York Times included “documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.” The website was subsequently shut down.
  • In 2006 a report released by Hoekstra’s committee on Iran’s nuclear weapons program was blasted by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, as “incorrect and misleading” and described the report’s claims as “outrageous and dishonest.”
  • In 2007 Hoekstra signed on to a letter critical of the Islamic Society of North America, the country’s largest Muslim organization, describing ISNA as “an organization with extremist origins, leadership and a radical agenda.”
  • In 2009 Hoekstra used an alleged connection between failed underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Yemen to block the repatriation of 80 Yemeni prisoners that were being held at Guantanamo.
  • In 2010, he stepped down from Congress to run unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan, then in 2012 ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate. The most notable moment in that lackluster campaign was a controversial Hoekstra television ad aired during the 2012 Super Bowl which was roundly criticized as disturbingly racist in its virulent anti-Chinese imagery and stereotyping.
  • In 2015 Hoekstra published his first book, “Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya,” in which he argued that the United States should not have supported the toppling of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi since the dictator had been a friend and ally of the U.S. whose overthrow destabilized the region and transformed it into a terrorist sanctuary.

So yeah, on reflection, Hoekstra fits right in with the rest of Trump’s crack foreign policy team.

Seven things (revisited)


Almost exactly a year ago (July 9, 2015 to be precise), I posted a little piece called “Seven things I want to believe.” These weren’t predictions, per se, more like short observations, hopes, and expectations.

Even so, I thought it was worth it to look back and see how these panned out. In case you don’t want to read any further, here’s the short take:

I got some right (Clinton-Sanders and the Iran nuclear deal), I got some incredibly wrong (Trump and the Grateful Dead), some partly right but wrong in tragic ways (Confederate flag and dialogue on race, ISIS sympathizers and domestic terrorism), and one (Han Solo origin pic) where it’s too soon to tell but the signs are promising.

On to the original list, with an update for each.

1) Republican voters are not so completely alienated from the political process that they will actually cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

Wow, did I get that one wrong. It’s some comfort knowing that virtually everyone else got it wrong too, but still. Come next week the billionaire (maybe) blowhard (definitely) with authoritarian tendencies will officially go from presumptive to official Republican nominee for the White House. Who saw that coming a year ago? I sure didn’t.

2) The chances of reaching a deal with Iran on its nuclear ambitions are better than 50/50.

This one did pan out, despite intense political opposition in Congress. But in the end, Iran agreed to terms, it’s nuclear weapons program has been almost completely dismantled, most economic sanctions have been lifted, and the way is clear for the country to re-enter the international community.

It also represents an impressive diplomatic victory for Obama’s legacy which will make the US safer and the region more stable. Assuming some psycho blowhard doesn’t become the next president and tear the thing up.

3) Removing the Confederate battle flag from the lawn of the South Carolina statehouse will be the start of a meaningful national dialogue on race.

We’re having dialogue, that’s for sure. But black men are still dying at the hands of police, protests are still roiling American cities in ways reminiscent of the late 1960s, and racial politics still seem paralyzed. And we still have Rudy Giuliani.

4) The Grateful Dead are done.

Dear God, they’re actually on tour. Well, at least the creaky remnants.

5) Bernie Sanders will force Hillary Clinton to actually compete for the Democratic nomination.

Nailed this one. Not only did Clinton have to compete, she had to compete all the way into June before locking up the nomination. Sanders has dragged his feet on endorsing Clinton for the last month, trying to use every last ounce of the influence he won during the primaries to try to push her and the Democratic Party as far to the progressive left as possible.

And it has worked. Clinton has embraced a number of the proposals he championed, like a $15 national minimum wage and free (public) college education. Tomorrow Sanders and Clinton hit the campaign trail together.

6) FBI arrests of supposed ISIS sympathizers actually foiled July 4th terror plots.

Who knows if they did or didn’t. Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. After all, we still got San Bernardino and Orlando. Given the nature of domestic terrorism and patterns of radicalization, we would be foolish to assume that those will be the last.

7) The Han Solo origin movie will be awesome.

This one is too soon to call. But based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the trailers for the upcoming Rogue One, I am more than cautiously optimistic.

Hell, I’m downright giddy.

The company Trump keeps


Donald Trump, speaking to reporters at the reopening of his golf course in Scotland, had something to say about yesterday’s British vote to quit the European Union, the so-called Brexit:

I think it’s a great thing that’s happened. It’s an amazing vote, very historic.

Before going further, let’s take stock of the first day’s Brexit economic damage:

  • Dow down 610 points, or 3.39 percent
  • NASDAQ down 202 points, or 4.12 percent
  • US banking stocks took a pounding (Morgan Stanley -10.15%, Citigroup -9.36%, Bank of America -7.41%)
  • Japan’s Nikkei down 7.92 percent
  • Germany’s DAX down 6.82 percent
  • Moody’s downgraded the UK’s credit outlook from “stable” to “negative”
  • Value of the British pound fell 11 percent to a 30-year low against the US dollar
  • £40 billion was wiped off the bottom line of British banks, equivalent to about $55 billion

So in case you’re wondering, this financial catastrophe, the biggest since the global economic meltdown of 2008, is what Donald Trump was applauding when he congratulated UK voters for walking out of the European Union.

But Trump sees the collapse of Britain’s currency is nothing less than a personal windfall:

When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly. For traveling and for other things, I think it very well could turn out to be a positive.

Of course Trump is not the only one lauding the United Kingdom’s voters for ditching the EU, and that’s the real point of this post. Let’s take a look at the company the presumptive GOP nominee for president is keeping.

European far right parties are fully on Trump’s side

  • In France, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen hailed Brexit as a “Victory for Freedom.”
  • In the Netherlands, far right anti-immigration leader Geert Wilders said, “I think it could also have huge consequences for the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. Now it’s our turn.”
  • In Germany, Beatrix von Storch, of the right wing populist Alternative für Deutschland party said, “The 23 June is a historic day. It is Great Britain’s independence day.”
  • In Greece, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, Europe’s most violent right wing party, released this statement: “Golden Dawn welcomes the victory of the nationalist and patriotic forces in Great Britain against the European Union, which has been transformed into the doleful instrument of loan sharks.”

But that’s not all. On our side of the Atlantic, the racist right is also on the same page as Trump, responding to the UK vote with, as the Southern Poverty Law Center puts it, “euphoric delight”:

“This is VICTORY DAY, brothers,” Andrew Anglin, editor of the anti-Semitic website Daily Stormer wrote on Friday. “Nothing can stop us now. But the fact is, brothers: nothing ever could stop us. God and nature are on our side. The stars themselves declare our ULTIMATE VICTORY over the (((forces of darkness and evil))).” (The parentheses are a new online trope used by racist trolls to single out names and things they believe are Jewish.)

So that’s the company Donald Trump keeps. European fascists and neo-Nazis. American racists and anti-Semites.

And that’s the man Republicans are poised to nominate for president a month from now in Cleveland.