US to pull half its troops?


Staff & Wire Reports

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2018 file photo, U.S. Marines stand guard during the change of command ceremony at Task Force Southwest military field in Shorab military camp of Helmand province, Afghanistan. The Pentagon is developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, marking a sharp change in the Trump administration's policy aimed at forcing the Taliban to the peace table after more than 17 years of war. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini, File)

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2018 file photo, U.S. Marines stand guard during the change of command ceremony at Task Force Southwest military field in Shorab military camp of Helmand province, Afghanistan. The Pentagon is developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, marking a sharp change in the Trump administration's policy aimed at forcing the Taliban to the peace table after more than 17 years of war. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini, File)

Large US troop pullout planned in Afghanistan, officials say


Associated Press

Friday, December 21

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Thursday, marking a sharp change in the Trump administration’s policy aimed at forcing the Taliban to the peace table after more than 17 years of war.

One official said the troops could be out by summer, but no final decision has been made.

President Donald Trump has long pushed to pull troops out of Afghanistan, considering the war a lost cause. But earlier this year, he was persuaded by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and others military leaders to keep troops on the ground to pressure the Taliban and battle a stubborn Islamic State insurgency. Officials said the latest White House push for withdrawal was another key factor in Mattis’ decision to resign Thursday.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

U.S. troops stormed into Afghanistan in November 2001 in an invasion triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Since then, America has lost more than 2,400 soldiers and spent more than $900 billion in its longest war. Three U.S. presidents have pledged to bring peace to Afghanistan, either by adding or withdrawing troops, by engaging the Taliban or shunning them, and by struggling to combat widespread corruption in the government.

The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014, but American and allied troops remain, conducting strikes on the Islamic State group and the Taliban and working to train and build the Afghan military.

Taliban insurgents, however, control nearly half of Afghanistan and are more powerful than at any time since a 2001 U.S.-led invasion. They carry out near-daily attacks, mainly targeting security forces and government officials.

In recent months, however, there has been a renewed effort to make progress on peace talks with the Taliban. Officials now worry that any move to withdraw U.S. troops this year could dampen those prospects and simply encourage the Taliban to wait it out until they can take advantage of the gaps when the forces leave.

The Conversation

What Aristotle can teach us about Trump’s rhetoric

December 21, 2018


Anthony F. Arrigo

Associate Professor, Writing Rhetoric and Communication, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Disclosure statement: Anthony F. Arrigo does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Massachusetts provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

From Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats to Ronald Reagan’s reputation as the “great communicator” to Barack Obama’s soaring oratory to Donald Trump’s Twitter use, styles of presidential communication have varied over time.

But what is similar across all presidents is their ability to create persuasive messages that resonate with large segments of the U.S. population.

Whatever your opinion about Donald Trump, he is highly effective at doing this. The question is why, and how does he do it?

As someone who teaches rhetoric and communication, I am interested in how people connect with an audience and why a message resonates with one audience but falls flat with another. Whether intentional or not, Trump is using rhetorical strategies that have been around for more than 2,000 years.

What makes something persuasive?

There have been many definitions of rhetoric over the past two millennia, but at its most basic level it is the practice and study of persuasive communication. It was first developed in ancient Greece, and arose from the need for people to defend themselves in law courts – a brand new invention at the time.

One of the world’s most influential thinkers in this regard was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived from 384 to 322 B.C.

Aristotle was a student of Plato and the teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote about philosophy, poetry, music, biology, zoology, economics and other topics. He also famously wrote about rhetoric and came up with an elaborate and detailed system for understanding both what is persuasive and how to create persuasive messages.

To Aristotle, there were three main elements that all work together to create a persuasive message: a person’s use of logic and reasoning, their credibility and their use of emotional appeals.

Aristotle wished that everyone could be persuaded with detailed logical arguments – what he called “logos.” However, that approach is often tedious, and, frankly, Aristotle felt most people weren’t smart enough to understand them anyway. Facts, documents, reasoning, data and so forth are all important, but those alone won’t win the day. So, he claimed, we need two other things – and this is where Trump excels: credibility and emotion.

Trump: The credible leader

Aristotle argues that someone’s credibility – or “ethos” – is one of the elements that people find most persuasive.

However, he also said credibility is not a universal trait or feature. For example, a degree from Princeton gives you credibility only to someone else who has heard of Princeton, understands its cultural cachet and respects what it represents. The Princeton degree itself doesn’t give you credibility; it’s the perception of the degree by someone else that’s important.

Aristotle also said that an important feature of credibility is to appear to have the audience’s best interest in mind by sharing and affirming their desires and prejudices, and understanding and amplifying their cultural values. In politics, the person who does the best job of this will get your vote.

So when Trump states that climate change is a hoax or that the “news media is the enemy of the American people,” what makes that effective for certain audiences has nothing to do with the truthfulness of those statements.

Instead, it’s because he’s channeling and then reflecting the values and grievances of his audience back to them. The closer he gets to hitting the sweet spot of that specific audience, the more they like him and find him credible.

Very often, politicians “evolve” or “pivot” from a position that has earned them intense loyalty from a small group to a position they think will resonate with a larger group in order to get more supporters. This works for some people. But that’s not Trump’s strategy.

Instead, he goes all-in with his core supporters, establishing stronger bonds and identifying more closely with that group than someone with a more moderate message would. This also creates extremes on both sides: passionate supporters and intense detractors.

President Trump the communicator, then, has a laser focus on one particular segment of the population. He doesn’t mind if you don’t agree with him because he’s not talking to you anyway. His strategy is to continue nurturing his credibility with core supporters.

Trump: The emotional leader

Peppering your credibility with emotional appeals – what Aristotle calls “pathos” – is particularly effective. As Aristotle once wrote, “The hearer always sympathizes with one who speaks emotionally, even though he really says nothing.”

Anger, for example, is an emotion that a speaker can provoke in an audience by using real or perceived slights. In Book 2 of his “On Rhetoric,” Aristotle writes that anger is an “impulse, accompanied by pain, to a conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight.” He details how an audience will channel their “great resentment” and revel in the “pleasure” of their expectation of “revenge” against those who have wronged them.

In another passage, he writes, “people who are afflicted by sickness or poverty or love or thirst or any other unsatisfied desires are prone to anger and easily roused: especially against those who slight their present distress.”

Using slights to channel and rouse anger is a near daily strategy that Trump has used against the FBI, the news media, the Mueller investigation and other perceived enemies.

Anger over the slighting of one’s “present distress” also helps explain why, for example, Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment was such a rallying cry for Republicans. They didn’t like being dissed.

Trump’s language style

A speaker’s style of language is also important. Trump is very effective with this, too.

Aristotle recommended that a speaker should first identify feelings that their audience already holds, and then use vivid language that resonates with that specific audience to intensify those emotions. Trump has repeatedly put this tactic to work, particularly at his rallies.

For example, Trump regularly invokes a familiar adversary, Hillary Clinton, at his rallies. By drawing on his audience’s known animosity toward her and encouraging them in the “lock her up” chant, calling for her to be jailed and describing her election night loss as “her funeral,” he is using an aggressive style of language that reflects and heightens the preexisting emotions of his audience.

The downside is that the more he uses language that is strongly incompatible with other groups, the more they dislike him. But that seems to be something Trump embraces, which only gives him even more credibility with his supporters.

Whether this approach is a smart electoral strategy in the future remains to be seen.

The Nation

As Trump Rages, God Bless Us Every One

The departure of Jim Mattis has destroyed the childish illusion that the “adults” will save us. We have to save ourselves.

By Joan Walsh

Thursday, December 20, will go down in history as the day Americans had to face a devastating truth about the dangerous charlatan in the White House: Trump cares more about the policy wisdom of right-wing grifters like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter than of a lifelong military leader and public servant like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who announced his resignation Thursday evening.

Trump opened the day wounded by complaints from Limbaugh, Coulter, and some Fox News anchors that he was caving on his delusional promise of a border wall if he signed a bill to keep the government open without demanding funding for it, as he planned to do. Trump thought he could fool his followers by claiming the wall is being built (it’s not); when they didn’t fall for his lie, he flip-flopped and said the bill must give him his $5 billion for the wall, or he’d shut down the government. Apparently, Trump told Limbaugh about his change of heart in a personal phone call. It’s good to know who’s in charge here.

Just hours later, his beleaguered defense secretary came to him and asked him to rethink his plan to precipitously withdraw American troops from the conflict in Syria. When Trump refused, Mattis submitted a resignation letter that Trump lied and called an announcement of retirement but that was, in fact, the most thoroughgoing and scathing critique of Trump’s foreign policy we’ve seen by anyone who’s not a Democrat.

Mattis’s letter sizzled with alarm that Trump has disrespected our allies and propped up totalitarians in Russia and China. “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects,” he wrote, “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”

And the world gasped.

I admit: So did I. But shock and a little fear were quickly replaced by relief that we are done with one of the comforting canards of the Trump era: that there were “adults in the room” who could protect us from the incompetent president’s worst instincts. For one thing, Mattis has been rolled on multiple occasions, blindsided by Trump’s decisions to reject transgender troops, to meet alone with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, to “summit” with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un without preconditions or much planning, to send military units to the Mexican border to back up the inhumane and possibly illegal treatment of lawful asylum seekers, and, finally, to withdraw quickly from Syria (oh, and later in the evening came the word: Afghanistan, too!).

Like many on the left, I think we’ve stayed in both countries too long. I’m also aware that Mattis, while broadly respected, clashed several times with President Obama on policy in Iran and Syria, with Mattis holding more hawkish views. Still, I don’t know how anyone could possibly think Trump should pull the US out of Syria without consulting his national security team or our allies—as apparently happened here. If a monkey hits a crazed gunman in the face and stops a murder, we would not make that monkey the police chief. President Trump does not deserve praise for a policy decision driven by…God knows what, but certainly not careful consultation with others and sober deliberation.

Still, the good news about Mattis’s departure is that the so-called “adults” in the Trump administration—former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly, former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster—are now all gone. That formulation always disturbed me, since it made American citizens “children” who must be protected by three military leaders (Mattis’s appointment violated the norm that the defense secretary be a civilian) and a rapacious Exxon CEO. That’s not the way democracy is supposed to work.

Historic turnout in the midterm elections, along with historic Democratic victories in the House of Representatives, was a bracing corrective to this state of affairs. I’ve heard it said repeatedly in the last day that because Mattis was popular with congressional Republicans, his departure might shock them out of their collusion with a corrupt president and into their proper oversight role. There have been some expressions of concern about Mattis leaving from Republicans—but the most forceful have been off the record. The notion that Republicans will do the right thing and rein Trump in—or even use their power to get him out of the White House—may be as delusional as believing the “adults” can save us. We can only save ourselves. Enjoy the holiday—and then let’s get back to work on that.

Joan Walsh, The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent, is the author of What’s the Matter With White People? Finding Our Way in the Next America.

Hungary’s ‘Slave Law’ Has Sparked Nationwide Protests

New legislation allows businesses to impose a massive amount of overtime on workers—and citizens are furious.

By Jordan Stancil

The first time I talked with Botond Doszpoly, in early April, he was running for a seat in the Hungarian parliament in the eastern city of Miskolc on the ticket of a small green party with the hopeful name Politics Can Be Different. Doszpoly, back then, was very sure of one thing: He wasn’t interested in cooperating with the Socialists, whom he called Hungary’s “biggest problem.”

But when I spoke with Doszpoly this week, his tune had changed. Now the biggest problem was getting people into the streets to protest Hungary’s authoritarian leader, Viktor Orbán. What’s happening in Hungary now, he said, shows that “guys can have a very different view of things but can go together to the street without wanting to eat each other.” And people have been in the street for the past week now—as many as 15,000 in Budapest, with smaller contingents in numerous cities all around Hungary.

A shift like Doszpoly’s is an example of why opposition leaders and activists are sensing new possibilities in Hungary, as a new protest movement seems to be building against Orbán and his Fidesz party. In Orbán’s “illiberal democracy,” as he proudly calls it, opposition parties are allowed to operate, but the system is transparently rigged against them. Building an illiberal democracy has been made easier for Orbán by infighting among the opposition parties, which is why any new sign of cooperation across parties makes observers of Hungary wonder if something big could be afoot.

The current protests erupted on December 12, when a group of parliamentarians from across the political spectrum tried to filibuster a legal change that opponents say would allow Fidesz to enhance its already-impressive manipulation of elections, as well as a bill that would increase from 250 to 400 the number of annual overtime hours businesses can “ask” their employees to work.

Critics have termed this second bill “the slave law,” and it seems to have galvanized Orbán’s opponents in a way nothing else could so far, in part because the government tried to sell the law by arguing that it would help relieve purported labor shortages in Hungary’s big auto factories. These factories are, truth be told, German auto factories located in Hungary, where the going rate for labor just happens to be significantly lower than it is in places like Bavaria. This has allowed some protesters to turn Orbán’s nationalism against him: He claims to defend Hungary, but he’s really making you work overtime for the Germans. “Rumors are spreading all around the country that this is the reason for the law,” Andras Pulai, a pollster with Publicus Research in Budapest, told me.

László Andor, an economist close to the Socialist Party and a former European Commissioner, told me that the slave law, an attempt to deal with a labor shortage by getting the current labor force to work more hours, is the logical outcome of Orbán’s broken labor-market policies, which have featured anti-union measures that have “facilitated wage stagnation and boosted emigration.” Andor thinks the slave law runs afoul of the EU Working Time Directive anyway, but rather than waiting to get it overturned in court, “apparently for trade unions, like for many others in Hungary, this was the last drop in the glass, and anti-Orbán emotions have erupted.”

Those emotions have demonstrators feeling excited but also unsure that they can successfully keep the government under pressure. Ambrus Halász, an activist and former communications director for Politics Can Be Different, told me that “the most important thing” about the rallies he attended in Budapest was that the protesters “accepted all the speakers: There were liberals, greens, conservatives, socialists, and people were applauding for the [far-right] Jobbik speaker as well, which couldn’t have happened one or two years ago.” For the first time, the main thing was unity against Fidesz, but Halász said he was “afraid of the opposition parties’ ability to keep this topic alive.”

Keeping it alive might depend on drawing the previously apathetic into the streets. Whether that is happening is not clear yet. Doszpoly, in Miskolc, told me he doesn’t think he’s seeing anybody beyond the hard core base of activists, the true believers who always show up. But many observers have noted their surprise that protests, after starting in Budapest, have also broken out in a number of provincial cities. Adam Sanyo, a data analyst and opposition activist based in Budapest, told me that even his conservative hometown, the eastern city of Debrecen, a Fidesz stronghold, had seen demonstrations and that some of his friends “who have never been ‘political’ have been getting in touch asking [him] for tips about protests, like how to deal with tear gas.” (Sanyo said he tells the novitiates “to stay in the back” their first few times on the street.)

Pulai, the pollster, argues that “what’s most important is that the public see unity and that Orbán has to respond, which might change the attitude of people watching,” even if they don’t participate. He tells me “the Hungarian opposition has reached a milestone because the voters are listening to them now, adding to the credibility of these leaders.”

To understand why these protests could be a milestone, it’s important to know a bit about how Hungary got into this mess in the first place. In fact, the last time public anger really boiled over in the country was in 2006, but the object of that anger was the then-ruling Socialist Party, whose leader, Ferenc Gyurcsány, was recorded telling a party meeting in a rambling, unhinged, and profanity-laced speech that of course he had lied about the country’s real economic condition in order to stay in office. As protests have now broken out against “the slave law,” back then they broke out over what everyone in Hungary calls “the lie speech.” The lie speech destroyed the credibility of the left in Hungary, and the global financial crisis two years later, during the government of Gyurcsány’s successor, the charisma-poor technocrat Gordon Bajnai, didn’t exactly help.

Orbán’s Fidesz party was the beneficiary of all this, coming back into power after the 2010 elections. So far, so good—but from that point on, Fidesz slowly but surely chipped away at the institutional foundations of democracy to make it nearly impossible for it ever again to be voted out of office. Orbán’s project was made all the easier by the opposition’s very obliging tendency to remain both fractured and unstable, with no clear, strong leaders emerging anywhere else on the political spectrum. The current protest movement still hasn’t produced a charismatic single figure for opponents of Fidesz to rally around.

This recent history has been interlaced with a deeper skepticism in Hungary about democracy and a suspicion that maybe not much good really comes of it anyway. I asked Gergely Karácsony, the Dialogue party candidate for prime minister in the last national election, about this. Karácsony had just given an important address, one day before the election, but had not said anything about the threat Fidesz poses to democracy. I asked him why he hadn’t. Karácsony replied: “You will never win votes in Hungary campaigning on democracy. Democratic periods in Hungary were always very short and followed by problems. And by 2010, democracy was perceived as a failure here.” Karácsony argued that his campaign needed to focus on concrete issues and social justice instead. Indeed, the so-called slave law has seemed to motivate the protesters more than the other bills at issue. After all, technical judicial matters can’t focus the mind the way extra overtime work can, in Hungary or any other country. But the shallowness of democratic experience in Hungary is clearly an important backdrop to Orbán’s project, and it’s hard to imagine a top-of-the-ticket politician in countries further west making these kinds of comments about democracy.

But Bernadett Szél, an independent member of parliament who was the prime minister candidate for Politics Can Be Different in the last election, told me that the popular mood in Hungary might now be changing, that maybe Orbán has overreached this time. “They have two-thirds of the seats, but without having two-thirds of the votes,” she said, alluding to the egregious gerrymandering that has benefited Fidesz. “And people are starting to see that the game is rigged.”

Szél’s optimism is supported by the most recent poll, released December 20 by Publicus Research for Népszava newspaper. Sixty-six percent of the respondents—and even 38 percent of Fidesz voters—said they supported the protesters.

More rallies are planned in the upcoming days, including a demonstration in Budapest on New Year’s Eve and labor walkouts in mid-January. Clearly, the opposition isn’t finished yet; but this also isn’t the first time Orbán has faced a challenge from the street. The 2014 protests against a tax on Internet usage were successful in getting the tax repealed, but did nothing to stop Orbán’s consolidation of power. Orbán has shown that he knows how to lose a battle while still winning the war.

Jordan Stancil is a writer based in New York City. He has been a Fulbright scholar at the University of Vienna and served as a US diplomat in Jerusalem and Berlin. He has taught international affairs at the University of Ottawa and at Sciences Po in Paris.

FILE – In this Jan. 15, 2018 file photo, U.S. Marines stand guard during the change of command ceremony at Task Force Southwest military field in Shorab military camp of Helmand province, Afghanistan. The Pentagon is developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, marking a sharp change in the Trump administration’s policy aimed at forcing the Taliban to the peace table after more than 17 years of war. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini, File) – In this Jan. 15, 2018 file photo, U.S. Marines stand guard during the change of command ceremony at Task Force Southwest military field in Shorab military camp of Helmand province, Afghanistan. The Pentagon is developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, marking a sharp change in the Trump administration’s policy aimed at forcing the Taliban to the peace table after more than 17 years of war. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini, File)

Staff & Wire Reports