Jun 14, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🇺🇸 Good Thursday morning. It's Flag Day. President Trump turns 72 today.

Situational awareness Chicago Tribune: "Autonomous 16-passenger vehicles would zip back and forth at speeds exceeding 100 mph in tunnels between the Loop and O’Hare International Airport under a high-speed transit proposal being negotiated between Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Hall and ... Elon Musk’s The Boring Co.."

If you're in D.C., please join Kim Hart and me at 8 a.m. today for back-to-back Axios News Shapers conversations with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on net neutrality and more, and Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on House Intelligence. Deets and RSVP here.

1 big thing ... Trump's jarring extremes: He "only respects force"
Win McNamee/Getty Images

It took Little Rocket Man just seven months to go from President Trump calling him "a sick puppy," to "very talented" during the post-summit press conference, to this syrupy praise of Kim Jong-un during the president's interview in Singapore with Fox News' Bret Baier:

  • "He is a tough guy. Hey, when you take over a country — tough country, with tough people, and you take it over from your father. I don't care who you are, what you are. How much of an advantage you have. If you can do that at 27 years old, ... I mean, that's one in 10, 000 that could do that. So he is a very smart guy. He is a great negotiator."
  • Trump tweeted, ignoring the absence of verification provisions, timetables, etc.: "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

The shift is jarring but is part of the Trump modus operandi: People come in and out of favor with wind-shear-like abruptness. Anyone in Trump's orbit knows they can be banished on a whim — but have a good chance of coming back.

  • There's no nuance with Trump. He oscillates between extremes, embracing and banishing people, even without real changes in their behavior.
  • Why it matters: When everything is hyperbole, words lose their force and meaning.

Kim is the most extreme example of the swing, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also went through the cycle (only in reverse): fawned on by Trump as a close family friend when he was in the White House, then lit on fire after hosting last weekend's G7 summit.

  • Same thing for West Wing aide after West Wing aide.
  • Trump deploys his doctrine of extreme force extremely, whether it's in a Twitter beef with Robert DeNiro or in geopolitics with Kim Jong-un.

"This is the Trump playbook for dealing with foreign leaders," a source close to Trump tells Jonathan Swan. "Trump does to other foreign leaders what he wishes they would do for him. On the positive side, it's lavishing him with praise, rolling out the red carpet. The Saudis were brilliant at it."

  • "On the flip side, Trump only respects force, only respects balls. And so if he's going to go at somebody, he's going to go at them in the way that he would respect somebody else going at him. No holds barred."
  • "The Saudis were smart, because what did they get for that flattery? I've talked to Trump multiple times since [his visit to] Saudi Arabia. And multiple times he's [talked about] the swords, the red carpet, the palace, the pageantry, the royalty. All of it designed to tell Trump how important he was, and how important their relationship with him was to them."

So Trump allies argue that he could turn on Kim as quickly as he embraced him. As the source put it:

  • "You know how much optics matter to him. Now he's put himself in a position of potential embarrassment. If you don't follow through, you're embarrassing him on the world stage. ... [T]hey know that if they screw him, there'll be hell to pay."

P.S. L.A. Times lead story: "As Trump boasts, details of a nuclear deal await."

2. Trump's "impulse diplomacy"
Courtesy TIME

TIME's Brian Bennett writes: “There may be short-term benefits in abandoning America’s decades-old commitment to strategic predictability. But foreign policy experts on both sides of the political spectrum are worried about the costs."

  • "Already, other countries are retaliating with trade tariffs that could boost prices at home, slow the global economy and spike unemployment."
  • "Trump’s backing of Sunni and Israeli moves against Iran, in addition to his withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, are encouraging a dangerous proxy war in the Middle East, where over 25,000 U.S. troops remain deployed."
  • Why it matters: "Nowhere are the stakes higher than in North Korea, where diplomatic failure could set the course for renewed military confrontation. If Trump misplays his hand, it could endanger millions of lives.” 
3. Pressure grows for Trump fixer to flip

"Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal fixer, will soon be parting from the lawyers who are representing him in a potentially damaging and wide-ranging federal investigation into his business dealings," per the N.Y. Times:

  • "Prosecutors conducting the inquiry have not yet approached Mr. Cohen to seek his cooperation."
  • "Cohen’s current lawyers — a three-man team from the firm of McDermott Will & Emery — are expected to stay with him for at least the rest of the week as they struggle to complete a laborious review of a trove of documents and data files seized from their client in a series of extraordinary early-morning raids two months ago.
  • "The dispute between Mr. Cohen and his lawyers involves the payment of his legal bills, part of which are being financed by the Trump family."
  • As Cohen's case "moves forward, possibly toward criminal charges, he has been thinking for some time about hiring a new legal team with stronger relationships with the federal prosecutors’ office in New York that is leading the investigation."
Bonus: Pics du jour
Barcroft Media via Getty Images

This newly completed horseshoe-shaped, glass-bottom bridge on Fuxi Mountain, in Xinmi in central China's Henan Province, extends 98 feet out from the cliff.

  • That surpasses the 70-foot extension of the world famous Grand Canyon Skywalk, which lets you look 4,000 feet down to the canyon floor.
Barcroft Media via Getty Images
4. Breaking: WeWork revenue soars

WeWork is on pace to generate $1.5 billion in revenue this year, according to a memo sent early this morning to company employees and obtained by Axios' Dan Primack:

  • That's nearly 70% revenue growth over 2017, driven by significantly increased occupancy rates that suggest the co-working giant is figuring out how to successfully scale.
  • Big picture: The updated financials come as WeWork is seeking to raise new equity funding at around a $35 billion valuation, and while its recently-issued bonds continue to trade slightly below par. An IPO is expected to occur sometime in 2019.
  • Go deeper.
5. Researchers say Bitcoin price was artificially inflated last year

"A concentrated campaign of price manipulation may have accounted for at least half of the increase in the price of Bitcoin and other big cryptocurrencies last year, according to a paper ... by an academic with a history of spotting fraud in financial markets," the N.Y. Times' Nathaniel Popper writes from S.F.

  • Why it matters: "The paper by John Griffin, a finance professor at the University of Texas, and Amin Shams, a graduate student, is likely to stoke a debate about how much of Bitcoin’s skyrocketing gain last year was caused by the covert actions of a few big players, rather than real demand from investors."
6. "Biggest enemy"?
7. Where U.S. is bombing ISIS
Expand chart
Operation Inherent ResolveGet the data. Maps: Harry Stevens/Axios

This graphic, based on Pentagon data, shows how the U.S. military's focus has shifted over more than three years of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, Axios' Harry Stevens and Haley Britzky report:

  • The big picture: “ISIS has largely been eliminated as a terrain-holding organization," according to Chris Kozak, senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. But the larger truth that the data doesn't show, he said, is that ISIS "still retains the willpower and safe haven to regrow and potentially regain" the territory it has lost.
  • Explore, share the graphic.
Expand chart
8. Some psychologists describe a new battle scar: "moral injury"
N.Y. Times illustration by Matt Dorfman. Source photograph, head and neck: Aleksandar Nakic/Getty Images; Air Force uniform: Airman 1st Class Sydney Campbell, via DVIDS.

Coming in Sunday's N.Y. Times Magazine ... "The Wounds of the Drone Warrior: Even soldiers who fight wars from a safe distance have found themselves traumatized. Could their injuries be moral ones?" by Eyal Press, who is at work on a book about people whose jobs take them into morally treacherous situations:

  • "It has been almost 16 years since a missile fired from a drone struck a Toyota Land Cruiser in northwest Yemen, killing all six of its passengers and inaugurating a new era in American warfare."
  • "Today, targeted killings by drones have become the centerpiece of U.S. counterterrorism policy. Although the drone program is swathed in secrecy — the C.I.A. and the military share responsibility for it — American drones have been used to carry out airstrikes in at least eight different countries."
  • "According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based organization that has been tracking drone killings since 2010, U.S. drone strikes have killed between 7,584 and 10,918 people, including 751 to 1,555 civilians, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The U.S. government’s figures are far lower. It claims that between 64 and 116 noncombatants outside areas of active hostilities were killed by drones between 2009 and 2016."
  • Why it matters: "The escalation of the drone wars has been met with strikingly little congressional or popular opposition. Unlike the policy of capturing and interrogating terrorism suspects that was adopted after Sept. 11, which fueled vigorous debate about torture and indefinite detention, drone warfare has been largely absent from public discourse."
  • "The sanitized language that public officials have used to describe drone strikes ('pinpoint,' 'surgical') has played into the perception that drones have turned warfare into a costless and bloodless exercise."
  • "Drone warfare hasn’t eliminated ... hidden [combat trauma]. If anything, it has made them more acute and pervasive among a generation of virtual warriors whose ostensibly diminished stress is belied by the high rate of burnout in the drone program."
  • Worthy of your time.
9. First look
Courtesy Foreign Affairs

The forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs presents what Editor Gideon Rose calls "a half dozen choices of grand narrative for an increasingly turbulent era" (with guest-pass links for Axios readers, kindly provided by Foreign Affairs):

10. 1 plane thing
Virgin Atlantic’s airplane-shaped salt and pepper shakers (Virgin Atlantic)

"Business-Class Fliers Are Filching All That Fancy Airline Swag: The more extravagant the amenities, the harder it is for carriers to stop passengers walking off with duvets, memory-foam pillows and silverware" — Wall Street Journal A-hed by Alison Sider and Andrew Tangel (subscription):

  • "The cost of replacing [the luxury items] can add up. Yet airlines hardly want to embarrass their most lucrative customers."
  • "So some have started dropping gentle hints. United Airlines’ in-flight menus advise passengers which items are free to take and steer them to an online store where they can buy everything else."
  • "Years ago, American Airlines produced ashtrays whose backs read: 'Formerly the property of American Airlines.'"
  • "The airplane-shaped salt and pepper shakers on Virgin Atlantic flights proved so irresistible that the airline went along with it, stamping them 'pinched from Virgin Atlantic.' Some 26,700 sets have gone missing over the last 12 months."
Mike Allen

Thanks for reading. See you on Axios.com.