Trump Nominees Say ‘No’ To Torture – But Questions Remain

In my new piece I consider the implications for interrogation policy of the week’s Trump nominee confirmation hearings (including for CIA Director):

“Those of us who have been sceptical that Trump would try to resuscitate the CIA interrogation program were vindicated by last week’s confirmation hearings. One after another, Trump’s nominees condemned waterboarding and insisted they would not use torture…”

Read the whole piece here.

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Why Trump (Probably) Won’t Bring Back Waterboarding

Torture is supposed to be my beat, but I’ve been neglecting it a bit of late to work on other issues. So, I’ve decided to churn out quite a bit of material about it this month, before Trump’s inauguration. This is the first installment, looking at the likelihood (or lack thereof) that the president-elect will reinstate “enhanced interrogation techniques”. An excerpt:

“With Trump’s national security team now in place, we are in a better position to consider his administration’s likely approach to interrogation. Bottom line: don’t panic, because the CIA probably won’t relaunch its torture program anytime soon.

The New York Times ran an interesting story earlier this week showing that Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense, retired General James Mattis, has a long record of opposing torture. Mattis had already told Trump, at a meeting last December, that he never found waterboarding to be “useful”. And now, thanks to the Times, we learn that Mattis had cracked down on prisoner abuse while serving as a Marine commander in Iraq from 2003.

This could further complicate Trump’s campaign proposals to bring back enhanced interrogation techniques. Given what we know about Mattis’ views, and his tendency to speak his mind, it is hard to imagine him sitting idly by while the US again goes down the waterboarding route. But he might not have to protest, as the president-elect’s enthusiasm for torture seems to have dimmed anyway…”

Read the rest here

Trump/Nixon: similar, but not identical

My latest piece at Prospect (available here) identified some parallels between Donald Trump and former president Richard Nixon, not least their shared dislike for the CIA.

But, while there are clearly similarities between the two men, there are also various differences, which I didn’t note in the article and want to mention here.

First, upbringing. Nixon was the son of a poor grocer and grew up in the Depression. Trump is the son of a wealthy real estate developer and didn’t.

Second, personality. Nixon was shy, socially awkward, bookish and introverted. Trump appears to share none of these attributes. You wouldn’t find Nixon hosting a show like The Apprentice or dating a woman like Melania. He’d be alone in his office reading a book, taking notes, and listening to loud classical music. Also, Trump doesn’t drink. Nixon certainly did (Kissinger apparently referred to him as “our drunken friend”).

Third, experience. Nixon came to the presidency with eight years as Eisenhower’s vice-president under his belt, not to mention spells as a congressman. Trump can boast of no such background, having spent his life in business, not politics.

Four, style. Nixon, as we know from the taping system he had installed in the White House, said (and did) many outrageous things. But these were generally said behind closed doors. Compare that with Trump, whose outrageous comments are tweeted or uttered on television. The CIA is a case in point. Nixon hated the agency but did not say so in public (while he was president). Trump has not yet taken office, and he has already vilified the Intelligence Community in tweets and tv interviews. This is quite unprecedented, and it’ll be interesting to see how Trump’s relations with the spooks play out over the ensuing months (and years).

Five, environment. Nixon took steps to help the environment, setting up the EPA in 1970. Trump is clearly no eco-warrior, even though the precise contours of his policies are still to be determined.

Six, context. When Nixon ran for office in 1968, America was undoubtedly in great distress, with widespread rioting, two assassinations that year (MLK and Robert Kennedy), an extremely destructive war in Vietnam, and so on. Trump’s America might have its problems, but he doesn’t face the same set of crises as Nixon. For example, data shows that violent crime has dipped significantly in the past few decades (see this excellent piece by Charlie Cooke for evidence). Read the start of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail to get a flavour of how dangerous it was in Washington, DC, during the Nixon era (yes, I know it can be sketchy now, too, but it was even worse back then).

This is a somewhat random (and no doubt incomplete) list. But it does show that Trump is no replica of Nixon, whatever their similarities.