Aug 21, 2017

Bark like Bannon, bite like Mattis

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Donald Trump is a Jekyll and Hyde president: He pops off wildly about everything from war to walls, threatening the unthinkable. But then he acts fairly conventionally when it comes to the actual policy.

  • This phenomenon will be on display at 9 tonight when Trump addresses the nation on Afghanistan for half an hour from Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., with soldiers in his live audience.
  • A month ago, Steve Bannon and friends thought they were winning their argument for a drawdown, rather than the increase advocated by SecDef Jim Mattis — with Bannonites contending that Americans in general, and Trump country in particular, didn't want to pour more America lives into an unwinnable fight.
  • Now, Trump has settled on a plan that's perfectly satisfactory to the War Cabinet that met with him Friday at Camp David. And we're told the intelligentsia will generally like the plan.

The plan will have the U.S. not winning, but not losing.

The N.Y. Times reports in its lead story that Trump's strategy "is likely to open the door to the deployment of several thousand troops."

Jonathan Swan's bottom line: "Trump has been reluctantly open to the generals' opinion, and I'm told he doesn't want to be the president who loses the country to the terrorists."

Let us count the ways we've seen this movie before:

  • Blowing up NATO.
  • Getting out of NAFTA.
  • Building a wall in first 100 days.
  • Picking a fight with U.S. allies like Mexico.
  • Mass deportations.
  • Trade war with China.
  • Tough talk on North Korea.
  • Threatening to pull out of Afghanistan.

This tendency by Trump, more than anything, is what drove Bannon nuts — and will drive Breitbart's assault on the "globalists," as Bannonites sneeringly call the officials responsible for the more conventional policy actions.

  • Trump has lost both the agitators for radical action to match radical words (Bannon, Mooch), and his enablers (Priebus). He will still talk to them, but power always shrinks on the outside.He's left surrounded by the architects of The Conventional.
  • Be smart: Some of the victories for normality weren't presidential whim, but process victories by inside players who knew how to slow or stall Bannon. This is the hidden hand of the Committee to Save America that we've told you about.
  • Growing Trump threat: GOP lawmakers know his bark is way worse than his bite, and no longer fear his tweet threats or bluster. They not only don't like him, or respect him, they don't fear him, which is power-sapping. Turns out the bully can't throw a punch!

Go deeper:

  • Swan has a cheat sheet on the debate, based on deep reporting from top sources.
  • To get smart fast on the president's decision, our experts recommend "America Needs to Stay in Afghanistan," by Vance Serchuk of the Center for a New American Security, via The Atlantic on Friday: "Rather than following the example of his predecessors in searching for an exit from the outset of his presidency, [Trump] can learn from their experience and commit to stay."

P.S. Josh Rogin on the WashPost opinion page: "Bannon had been busily operationalizing his plan to win the economic war with China. ... The Kushner-Kissinger view holds that the U.S.-China relationship is too complex and important to risk throwing into disarray. They advocate cooperation over confrontation."

Go deeper

Sign of the times: A pro-Warren super PAC

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a rally in Nevada. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of women progressives who back Sen. Elizabeth Warren has formed Persist PAC, a super PAC airing pro-Warren ads starting Wednesday in an effort to boost her performance ahead of Saturday's crucial Nevada caucuses, a spokesman told Axios.

Why it matters: Warren has spoken adamantly against the influence of unlimited spending and dark money in politics. But these supporters have concluded that before Warren can reform the system, she must win under the rules that exist — and that whether she likes it or not, their uncoordinated help may be needed to keep her viable through this weekend's contest and into South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Pentagon policy chief resigns amid reported discord with Trump

John Rood. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

John Rood, the Pentagon's top policy official, will resign from his post on Feb. 28, CNN first reported and President Trump confirmed.

The state of play: CNN said Rood "was perceived as not embracing some of the changes in policy the White House and senior Pentagon officials wanted," such as peace talks in Afghanistan with the Taliban and a decision to cut back on military exercises with South Korea as the president courted North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

Coronavirus cases rise, as warnings of global pandemic grow

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Note: China refers to mainland China and the Diamond Princess is the cruise ship offshore Yokohama, Japan. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

We may be "at the brink" of a global pandemic, warns a top U.S. public health official, as cases continue to spread despite containment efforts. Meanwhile, the global economy is being affected, including the tech manufacturing industry.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,000 people and infected over 75,000 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 136 new deaths since Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health