Friday News Roundup—January 8, 2021

It is Friday in Washington, DC. Inauguration Day is in less than 2 weeks and yet the political temperature in the nation’s capital is higher than ever. We were all glued to our television screens and Twitter feeds as an armed insurrection took place in our city. Fear mixed with anger and sadness because our patriotism dedicates us to the ideals of this Republic and there is nothing as inimical to those ideals as an armed assault on an election and the legislature. There is too much shame to go around.

This week, CSPC Abshire Chair Mike Rogers published an op-ed in the Washington Post calling on his former colleagues in Congress to move on from talking about the election and get back to work. Joshua looked past this week’s events to talk about how Washington should redefine the U.S.-Russia relationship. Since our last roundup, Mike Rogers also published op-eds in the Wall Street Journal about how we respond following the massive SolarWinds hack, as well as how pardoning Edward Snowden would embolden our enemies.

This week in the Roundup, we start with a statement from CSPC leadership on the week’s events. Dan looks at this as an attack on us all and CSPC Policy Team alum (and current Policy Team Friend) Chris Condon also tries to frame this violation in its historical context. Michael shares his thoughts on the need for consequences — legal and political — for the rioters and those who inspired them. Ethan covers the latest developments from DOD leadership As always, we end with some stories you might have missed over your holiday break.

Statement on Behalf of the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress on the Lessons of January 6, 2021

Rep. Glenn Nye, President and CEO
Amb. Thomas Pickering, Chair
Pamela Scholl, Vice-Chair
Rep. Mike Rogers, David M. Abshire Chair

The dramatic events of January 6, 2021 reveal that America is facing a dark moment, one that should cause us all to reflect on its lessons. It was shocking to watch an American president exhort a crowd of angry supporters to forcefully break into the U.S. Capitol in order to interrupt a proceeding of the Congress, especially one historically designed to symbolically show the coming together of elected officials from both parties to formally end an election campaign and turn the attentions of themselves and the country to the necessary work of the nation. It was a credit to the Vice President and Members of Congress to reconvene that same day in order to complete the constitutionally required business of counting the official electoral slates from each state. The violent episode was brought to an end and the mob dispersed, but it remains incumbent on all of us to take the lessons of the day to heart as we seek to end this period of deep division and heal our country.

American elections are always contentious and inevitably leave huge numbers of our citizens disappointed with the outcomes; our divisive politics and the commonness of vitriolic campaign rhetoric from all corners often leaves many voters sadly fearful of the direction our country may take if their favored politicians are not elected. The meanness of our politics has unfortunately been steadily worsening for many years, but we have always managed to pull the country through it and find rare moments of bipartisanship, despite a set of political incentives under which the simple act of working with the other political team creates electoral peril. We cannot now fail to see how polarized we have become, nor to minimize that challenge to the success of our country. The notion promoted by the president, after all legal and proper means of challenging an election outcome have been exhausted, that our presidential election was a sham and that the office of the presidency was stolen, is a monumental barrier to the healing that must follow. This lie, if allowed to fester in the minds of millions of our citizens, will severely hamper our ability to move forward as a country.

There is no excuse for the violence perpetrated at the Capitol on January 6th. Those who have protested peacefully the result of the election have the right to do so, protected by our constitution. But voter anger has sadly been stoked by the president’s insistence the election was a fraud. There are undoubtedly tens of millions of citizens at home who believe the president, whose statements are given credence by some others they trust, and who now question the very nature of our democracy. Senator Mitt Romney defined the most important next step succinctly in his speech in the Senate on the same day, saying “the best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership.” It is unquestionably difficult for any elected official to tell voters something they do not want to hear, particularly when the president is saying the opposite, but accepting election outcomes is a fundamental baseline for a democracy to exist. Whatever measures our political leaders decide to take in the wake of these incidents, the establishment of the truth that our elections work, with all their quirks and room for improvement, must be our first order.

At CSPC we recognize that our politics are overdue for reforms that would make it easier for elected officials to work better together, avoid demonizing each other and our institutions, and also be able to win re-election. We seek to incorporate in our work a sincere effort to encourage politicians to look to our better angels and work together for the betterment of our country. As Senator Mitch McConnell stated in his senate speech: ““we cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes; with separate facts, and separate realities; with nothing in common except hostility toward each another and mistrust for the few national institutions that we still share.” It’s time to get to the work of governing, and to look for ways we can come together across the divide to refresh the faith of all our citizens in our electoral system.

America Under Attack

Dan Mahaffee

December 7th, September 11th, and, now, January 6th, are days that will resonate through our history as days that America came under attack. The images of crowds surging forward, officers with guns drawn defending the house floor, and insurgents “presiding” over the Senate show an enemy attacking — not from abroad, but from at home. Like when under attack in the past, it is time for American unity.

No matter how engaged or estranged one feels from current politics, an assault on and siege of the U.S. Capitol is an attack on our shared political home. Attacking the Vice President and our elected representatives during the course of the lawful and peaceful transition of power, the insurgency aimed to replace the will of the people and rule of law with the rule of the thug. With a Capitol Police officer beaten to death by the mob, other officers severely injured, pipebombs disarmed at the headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic National Parties and Molotov cocktails discovered nearby the Capitol, what else can this be called but domestic terrorism? With rioters convening from throughout the country, as well as armed groups in several state capitals, what do we know about the underlying network?

Like past tragedies, there will be the reckonings that lay bare the blame, as well as the stories of heroism to inspire. First, there is the heroism of those willing to defend the chambers of Congress and the staff who secured documents including the electoral certificates. But the reckonings will be many.

Despite the desperate struggles of individual officers to secure the Capitol, there are questions about their colleagues’ behavior, as well as the failure in leadership given the momentous occasion and the growing crowds.

Then there are those in our politics and media who continued to fuel spurious theories about the election, even though courts at state and federal levels had ruled against the Trump campaign. Rather than displaying leadership, these figures disregarded the will of the people — and fundamental reality — for the sake of political opportunism, fundraising, and jockeying for 2024. Draping themselves in patriotism, they have tried to repackage conspiracy theory and populist grievance in slightly more respectable terms.

Finally, there is the president who felt the need to bring a mob to Washington, and his words, along with those of his attorney and son — driving a mob to attack Congress. For the first time in the history of the Republic, a president has prevented a peaceful, timely transfer of power. Before January 6th, the call to Georgia Secretary of State Raffensberger is evidence of just how far the president and his supporters were willing to go to subvert the will of the people — and how deeply seated conspiracy theories are in the president’s mind. His mob boss phone call wasn’t enough, as only bossing an actual mob would suffice. While it will echo throughout history, we must also consider the immediate dangers of President Trump’s actions, his state of mind, and the realities of the chain-of-command when the president stalled and ignored advisors’ pleas while his supporters attacked the Vice President and Speaker of the House.

Like the past attacks on America that laid bare the threats from abroad, this attack shows us the threat of the authoritarian mob within. The foundation of American democracy, the rule of law, came under assault. Still, an overnight survey Wednesday-Thursday found that 45% of self-identified Republican respondents approved of the rioters’ deadly assault. From Charlottesville to Lafayette Square, from the Proud Boys “standing by” to the attack of January 6th, the forces of authoritarianism, white supremacy, and violence have shown their faces and true colors. This threat to democracy, to America, will not just melt away. The challenge we face then, is not one of the Republican vs Democratic Party, but those who believe in the democratic republic on one side and those who believe in the rule of the authoritarian mob.

A House Divided Against Itself

Chris Condon

The Capitol Dome under construction, 1861

This week, a mob of traitors desecrated the seat of our Republic. These insurrectionist traitors set out to disrupt the verification of the results of a free, fair, legitimate democratic election by Congress, a largely ceremonial tradition stretching back to the dawn of our nation. They stormed past ineffectual lines of Capitol police, police who were meek as lambs mere months after their violent repression of largely peaceful civil rights protests last summer. Members of Congress were rushed to an undisclosed location, helpless as they watched insurrectionists enter the hallowed chambers of our legislature, pillaging for souvenirs like the barbarians of old. The traitors eventually departed and order was restored, but the physical and moral damage was done.

Few times in our history has such a disturbing event occurred on Capitol Hill. Perhaps the closest analogy is the burning of the Capitol in 1814 at the lowest point of the War of 1812, when King George III’s forces ransacked and destroyed much of our nascent nation’s seat of government. One could argue that that occasion was less destructive in the sense that it was wrought by a foreign enemy, and could be taken as an opportunity to unite Americans against a common enemy. In the end, the Capitol was rebuilt, stronger and more resilient than in the turbulent early years of the Republic.

That Capitol weathered our darkest hours as a nation even in the face of subversion from within. As expansion of the building was in progress at the onset of the Civil War, many expected construction to cease to preserve funds and materials for the war effort. Abraham Lincoln, a new and untested president at that point, disagreed — stressing the importance of finishing the expansion, he said “[i]f people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on.” The Capitol as Lincoln saw it completed has stood the test of time, withstood a host of national crises, and seen the coming and goings of many of our nation’s most storied leaders.

This week, on the other hand, we saw the ultimate manifestation of our current leader’s unfaithfulness to our nation’s most foundational principles. The President of the United States first solicited his insurrectionists to swarm Washington and later encouraged the traitors, releasing vile video messages reassuring them throughout the day. While we often see tyrannical executives encouraging the subversion of the legislative process in young democracies of the developing world (sometimes hypocritically aided by the U.S. government), it is difficult to express how extremely rare such behavior is in the history of the United States. The only conceivable historical precedent is the decision of former President John Tyler to side with the confederacy upon their secession in 1861. Hopefully, like John Tyler, our current president is remembered for what he is: a traitor to our Republic and our Constitution.

Beyond the current president, Wedesday’s events indicate a rot that runs to the core of our Republic. This rot of authoritarianism has infected swaths of the electorate, and while many will say that only a small number of people support the disruption of Congress’ certification process, many more countenance such behavior and even make excuses for it. I have written about such people before in these very pages; those who call for the violent suppression of peaceful protests and the invalidation of democratic elections are enablers of insurrection. The people must take heed, and everyone not actively in league with these traitors must focus our energies on purging these authoritarian impulses from every corner of our government. Liberty must be our ultimate goal.

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln was a young member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Perhaps sensing the dark days ahead, he articulated the following in a speech before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield: “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” If the insurrection at the Capitol on Wednesday wasn’t death by suicide, it was a striking portent of things yet to come if our nation’s course remains unchanged.

There Must Be Consequences

Michael Stecher

Rioters Storm the Capitol — Photo Credit: John Minchillo, Mooresville Tribune

Precedents do not stop where they begin. However narrow the path upon which they enter, they create for themselves a highway on which they may wander freely. Once the path of right is abandoned people quickly hurry into wrong, and no one thinks an action is disgraceful for himself if it has brought profit to others.

V. Paterculus, History of Rome, II.3

Wednesday was a hard day for our country. An angry mob, fed by lies, encountered the physical defenses set up around the Capitol and overwhelmed them. President Trump’s supporters, whom he had addressed just a few hours earlier, set out to attempt their own Insurrection of 10 August 1792, storming the seat of government and replacing it with one more of their liking. We have now broken our streak of consecutive peaceful transitions of power, and we must admit that it could have been worse. Insurrectionaries appear to have planted explosives near the Capitol complex, and Members of Congress nearly became hostages. A handful of guns would have turned the incident into a horrifying tragedy.

What we saw on Wednesday was not something akin to free speech. It was not a demonstration that got out of hand. It was an attempt to overthrow the political order by disrupting one of the ceremonial elements of the transfer of power. It failed, at least in part, because it appears to have lacked a plan. After getting into the Capitol, the insurrectionaries appear to have engaged in merely performative violence. That should not distract from the fact that the Electoral College Insurrectionaries and their supporters demonstrated something horrifying this week: violence just might be a viable strategy in national politics in the United States. There is nothing else as damaging to the survival of a republican government; if we do not demonstrate that this strategy cannot work, we have much grief to look forward to.

Two of the fixes are technically easy, even if one is a political challenge. The leadership of the Capitol Police Department will need to answer some very difficult questions. The Capitol Police Department has around 2,000 officers, about the same as Atlanta or Cleveland, but they appear not to have taken the threat seriously. It is a good thing that the Capitol Police is usually light on the ground and it is possible to get into Congressional buildings without an appointment, just passing through a metal detector. Congress will need to hold hearings, however, to determine how intelligence and leadership failed and why officers were under-equipped and under-supported before the insurrectionaries insurrectionaries arrived.

The more politically difficult issue is why the Capitol Police did not have more support once the size and nature of the crowd became clear. At any state capitol, a disturbance like this would be met by the National Guard. Some elements of the DC National Guard appear to have been activated but may not have been on the scene and the approval for further reinforcements was delayed for several hours. This is because the District of Columbia, not being a state, does not have authority over its own Guard and its deployment has to be approved by the Secretary of the Army. Defense Department officials learned over the summer that it is not a credit to the military to be seen to be participating in crackdowns in Washington, but the National Guard exists to support civil authorities in the face of violence, without the Pentagon getting involved. DC Statehood, and the transfer of power over the DC Guard to the Governor (or whatever), would allow for the intermediate level of response that was missing on Wednesday.

But the bigger fixes will require exemplary justice. It is encouraging the Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen has already pledged Justice Department resources to identifying perpetrators and charging them. I was shocked that only a handful of insurrectionaries were arrested at the scene, and federal law enforcement agencies have to show that they can find, arrest, and eventually convict people who conspire to by force prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of the laws of the United States. Failing to do that will demonstrate that the United States is not prepared to defend itself from organized violence from its citizens, and they will respond with more organized violence.

There will be no charges for cynical political leaders who have spent the last nine weeks claiming in public to have compelling evidence of widespread fraud that had cost President Trump the election — though never actually demonstrating any in court. Taking action to protect a democratic process that was being subverted might be noble, but that is not what Senators John Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) were doing; they were merely appropriating the language of protecting democracy in order to advance their own claims to leadership of the die-hard audience of far-right conspiracy theorists. Rudy Giuliani has tried to make it clear that he was speaking in metaphor when he called for trial combat to settle his meretricious claims about election fraud. Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) was also being rhetorical when he said “you [have] got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa.”

Cynicism, metaphor, and rhetoric all have a place in our democratic system, but these leaders were counting on the institutions of government to protect them from their irresponsibility. That is a good strategy until a mob shows up. A popular delusion had real consequences this week and if the people who have used their positions to fan and encourage it cannot come to terms with the outcome of their playacting, they ought to be publicly reminded of it for the rest of their careers. When Henry II asked “will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” and his retainers did not understand that he was being rhetorical, he crawled on his knees in sackcloth in Canterbury Cathedral. I expect no such penance from these men and women, but if they are allowed to pantomime undermining the Republic, we will be treated to even more lifelike simulations in the future.

The final and greatest problem, of course, is President Trump himself. The president has played footsie with political violence since before the 2016 election, as when he said that maybe “Second Amendment people” could stop Hillary Clinton from appointing judges if she was elected. He has called on his supporters to “liberate” state governments he dislikes — and the armed demonstrators who pushed their way into the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan, should probably be understood as part of this same phenomenon. And then he promoted the rally on Wednesday and called on the attendees to go to the Capitol to tell Vice President Pence to use his imaginary power to overturn the result of the election.

It is not enough to say that President Trump will be ex-President Trump in 2 weeks. He has spent the period since Election Day trying to pull down the edifice of our system of government to hold on to power. Congress has the impeachment power specifically to check the power of the president to abuse his office. Donald Trump has revealed that he is what the Founders most feared in creating a constitutional republic with a single executive. There are still plenty of abuses the man could inflict on us in his remaining 12 days. If the Congress wants to demonstrate that they truly believe in our system of government, only impeachment and removal will suffice.

The United States is great at coping. We have adapted to the mass securitization of our lives, even as we have adapted to the ever-present risk of what we have decided to call “active shooters.” But we cannot adapt to what we saw this week. There are no rights or liberties that can protect people once violence becomes an acceptable mode of adjudicating political disputes. Without fixing the systems that allowed a mob to take control of the Capitol and appropriate consequences for participants and supporters of that mob, that is exactly what will happen. The best time to stop a wave of political violence is before it starts, the second-best is right now.

Planning to fail: “JADC2 is a new approach, not a network”

Ethan Brown

Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, USMC, DOD Photo

New year, same old “defense section” of the roundup — I opted to lead off my column in 2021 with a return to Joint All Domain Command and Control. This go around the sun, I’m arguing against the same old rhetoric that has torpedoed previous versions of ‘improved’ command and control networking and systems for the military.

That particular rhetoric returned this week to undermine a perfectly good initiative for critical defense modernization. USMC Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, the DoD’s J6 chief (J6 being Command, Control, Communications, & Computer’s/Cyber in military lingo) stated that JADC2 “isn’t just a network to link all sensors to all shooters, but is a new approach to military decision-making”.

No, and no. The proclamation that JADC2 is this vague and ethereal strategy, one that is somehow separate AND linked inside the Joint Warfighting Concept, is the first beep of a ticking time-bomb for letting this system fall victim to lobbyism and proprietary system turf-wars. These are the very same issues that killed the LandWarrior System, which also brought on the intercommunication issues between existing 5th-gen systems that JADC2 aims to solve (and has already proven capable of fixing).

When leaders talk about command and control systems, the purpose must be explained, followed by the ways and means of achieving the endstate. Much like executing a mission in combat, a commander establishes intent, and the actioning arm of the command executes the vision of the system, using resources provided. However, when those same key operators rely on descriptions verbose and condescendingly ambiguous, those asking questions (such as congress when it wants to understand exactly what it is appropriating huge sums of the defense budget for) are all but certain to reject the known risk of pursuing such a lofty goal.

Initiatives like Joint All Domain C2 carry an inherent risk, and it is because those leaders recognize that proceeding down a particular path means they will be responsible for making it happen, and failure is quite obviously not an option. The concept of creating a truly Joint C2 system is not a new idea, nor is the effort to develop a literal system [of systems] for making information sharing new. But the recent initiative to create the Joint Warfighting model that speeds up data sharing via commercial technology integration, transcending service rivalries, under the growing threat of rising peer adversaries, is certainly a risky endeavor.

Lt. General Crall offers up a game plan for letting the JADC2 efforts fail, by use of circuitous labeling that doesn’t really explain what JADC2 is or how it is to be achieved. By summarizing the efforts as a concept that feeds into another concept, rather than setting the table for lawmakers to consume facts, progress reports, and proof positive of tests and prototypes, it’s no small wonder that the leading test bed for Joint C2 (the Advanced Battle Management System spearheaded by Dr. Will Roper with the U.S. Air Force) is potentially on the congressional chopping block.

I’ll give the answer to the test, and it’s an outline that we’ve been looking into here at the Center for some time now. Tactical level experts need to be given a commander’s intent [achieve a truly Joint data-sharing system, provided with resources and leeway to seek partner collaboration, and then demonstrate to congress that a literal system is able to support the data-sharing necessary for achieving battlespace supremacy in an information age. I say all this in hindsight, because as the previous hyperlinks demonstrate, this is already a process that is well underway.

The tactical level military personnel are a little too busy with their charge of safeguarding our national security to wax poetic on the theoretical roles of All-Domain C2, they need to develop and utilize the systems that support warfighting. It is why I take issue with the press release that the DoD’s J6 has offered as an update — the actual capabilities are at risk of being lost in the sauce of defense buzzwords, and as I’ve written previously, buzzwords are never a good thing when laying out warfighting doctrine.

Without seeming too critical of a single media event related to the All-Domain efforts, I’ll give some space to commend Lt. Gen. Crall’s words on the matter. As a comm troop, he is at the top of the responsibility food chain, which means his job is to direct making the system function: “What good would it be to build an apparatus that we just described if the network was too fragile to carry it and deliver it in the area that you would want it to go?”. Needless to say, developing a defense enterprise wide connectivity network is a monstrous affair, and he needs to craft a strategy for unifying the lines of effort between the services. This means fusing competing commercial systems, algorithms between weapons software, operating standards, the whole nine-yards (a phrase which, funny enough, originates in another joint system in military lore).

Of course, this space is not deliberately ignoring the political realities of the day. While events this week cast a grim shadow and seditionist veneer over the operational environment, they portend a very real risk to the ongoing JADC2 program — these efforts largely owe their rise to the outgoing administration, does a changing of the executive parties signal a stark departure from these modernizing efforts? Lt. Gen Crall could very well be keeping updates deliberately vague, awaiting how the new defense strategies will shake out.

A better use of the air time to update on JADC2 progress would be refining commander’s intent across the services for how All Domain C2 is going to proceed, keying in on the success to date, and squashing the rivalries and proprietary ‘isms’ that have led to the failure of previous Joint C2 endeavors. There is far too much riding on the success of All-Domain operations in the great powers paradigm to risk losing congressional support over pontificating about concepts.

News You May Have Missed

USS Nimitz Retreats From — and Then Re-Enters — the Persian Gulf

Thomas Triedman

Just before New Years, the USS Nimitz, a 100,000-ton aircraft carrier, was ordered by the Pentagon to come “directly” home. A few days later, Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller apparently changed his mind, directing the Nimitz to remain in the Gulf and citing “threats…against President Trump and other US government officials.” Although it is still unclear, Miller was most likely referencing a warning from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to President Trump on Twitter. Perhaps even more worrying for Miller: The day after Zarif’s statement, thousands of protesters hit the streets in Tehran and chanted “revenge” and “no to America,” indicating that there is still pressure from below on Iranian public officials to avenge the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike. The in-and-out of the USS Nimitz highlights the Pentagon’s extreme concern about Iran, but it also suggests that the military is struggling to act strategically at a time when there is no Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense and the transfer of power to the Biden administration is just over a week away.

Immigrants Increasingly Leaving the United States

Citing the political environment, growing nativism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on service and hospitality industries, a growing number of immigrants are opting to leave the United States. For many industries, particularly agriculture and food processing, the reliance on migrant labor continues to be demonstrated, even as they are disproportionately affected by the virus—while being locked out of economic aid, and, in some cases, vaccination programs. Data suggests that the immigrant population decreased by 2.6% in 2020, with a 6% drop in California alone.

The views of authors are their own, and not that of CSPC.

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