Weekly Review — May 16, 2017, 4:20 pm

Weekly Review

It is reported that Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russians, the White House calls the report “false,” and Trump confirms the report.

U.S. president Donald Trump, whose attention span NATO officials announced they will accommodate by limiting their speeches to four minutes, fired FBI director James Comey, who had been overseeing the FBI investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government. The president stated that he made the decision based on the recommendation of his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein; Rosenstein threatened to resign because he had never made any such recommendation; and Trump said that “regardless of recommendation” he was going to fire Comey because “Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”[1][2][3][4][5] Trump’s principal deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who once tweeted that “you’re losing” when “you are attacking FBI agents because you’re under criminal investigation,” said that “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence” in Comey, and the acting director of the FBI told Congress that Huckabee’s statement was “not accurate” and that Comey “enjoyed broad support within the FBI.”[6][7][8] Trump, who once tweeted without evidence that former president Barack Obama had carried out a “Nixon/Watergate” plot against him, tweeted that “James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations.”[9][10] Trump held a meeting in the Oval Office with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, inviting one Russian photographer, but no U.S. journalists, to attend; a White house official said the Russians had “tricked” them into allowing the photographer in; and the photographer published a photo revealing that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak was also at the meeting, despite not being on the White House schedule, not being shown in any official White House photographs, and not being mentioned in any subsequent White House accounts of the meeting.[11][12][13][14][15][16] It was later reported that during the meeting Trump revealed “highly classified” information concerning the Islamic State to Kislyak, whom current and former U.S. intelligence officials have described as a top spy, and whom several Trump campaign surrogates and administration officials have falsely claimed not to have communicated with. Trump’s national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, who took office after it was discovered that his predecessor, Michael Flynn, had lied about his communications with Kislyak, said that “the last place in the world” he wanted to be was with reporters.[17][18][19][20] One senior Trump aide said, “We all know how this looks,” while others hid from reporters in their offices, and a former KGB spy said he was “shaking” his head at “the incompetence” of the White House staff.[21] A German lawmaker said that if Trump shared classified information with “other governments at will” he would become “a security risk for the entire Western world”; a European intelligence official said that his country may stop sharing intelligence with the United States; Trump’s deputy national-security adviser, Dina Powell, said that reports about the president sharing classified information were “false”; a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry described the reports as “yet another fake”; and Trump, who once called for the execution of Edward Snowden because the former NSA contractor had “given serious information” to Russia, tweeted that he did in fact “share with Russia.”[22][23][24][25] A former U.S. intelligence official referred to the situation as a “nightmare,” and Public Policy Polling found that more Americans now support than oppose impeaching Trump, who once told a reporter that, when he isn’t having a nightmare, the content of his dreams is “always fucking.”[26][27][28]

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Within about fifteen years, China’s economy will surpass America’s and become the largest in the world. As this moment approaches, meanwhile, a consensus has formed in Washington that China poses a significant threat to American interests and well-­being. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), has said that “China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025.” The summary of America’s 2018 National Defense Strategy claims that China and Russia are “revisionist powers” seeking to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.” Christopher Wray, the FBI director, has said, “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-­of-­government threat, but a whole-­of-­society threat . . . and I think it’s going to take a whole-­of-­society response by us.” So widespread is this notion that when Donald Trump launched his trade war against China, in January 2018, he received support even from moderate figures such as Democratic senator Chuck Schumer.

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Without a Trace·

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In December 2015, a twenty-­two-year-­old man named Masood Hotak left his home in Kabul, Afghanistan, and set out for Europe. For several weeks, he made his way through the mountains of Iran and the rolling plateaus of Turkey. When he reached the city of Izmir, on the Turkish coast, Masood sent a text message to his elder brother Javed, saying he was preparing to board a boat to Greece. Since the start of the journey, Javed, who was living in England, had been keeping tabs on his younger brother’s progress. As Masood got closer to the sea, Javed had felt increasingly anxious. Winter weather on the Aegean was unpredictable, and the ramshackle crafts used by the smugglers often sank. Javed had even suggested Masood take the longer, overland route, through Bulgaria, but his brother had dismissed the plan as excessively cautious.

Finally, on January 3, 2016, to Javed’s immense relief, Masood sent a series of celebratory Facebook messages announcing his arrival in Europe. “I reached Greece bro,” he wrote. “Safe. Even my shoes didn’t get wet.” Masood reported that his boat had come ashore on the island of Samos. In a few days, he planned to take a ferry to the Greek mainland, after which he would proceed across the European continent to Germany.

But then, silence. Masood stopped writing. At first, Javed was unworried. His brother, he assumed, was in the island’s detention facility, waiting to be sent to Athens with hundreds of other migrants. Days turned into weeks. Every time Javed tried Masood’s phone, the call went straight to voicemail. After a month passed with no word, it dawned on Javed that his brother was missing.

A screenshot of a December 2015 Facebook post by Masood Hotak (left), in Istanbul
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When Philip Benight awoke on January 26, 2017, he saw a bright glow. “Son of a bitch, there is a light,” he thought. He hoped it meant he had died. His mind turned to his wife, Becky: “Where are you?” he thought. “We have to go to the light.” He hoped Becky had died, too. Then he lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes again, Philip realized he wasn’t seeing heaven but overhead fluorescents at Lancaster General Hospital. He was on a hospital bed, with his arms restrained and a tube down his throat, surrounded by staff telling him to relax. He passed out again. The next time he came to, his arms and legs were free, but a drugged heaviness made it hard to move. A nurse told him that his wife was at another hospital—“for her safety”—even though she was also at Lancaster General. Soon after, two police officers arrived. They wanted to know why Becky was in a coma.

Three days earlier, Philip, who was sixty, tall and lanky, with owlish glasses and mustache, had picked up his wife from an HCR ­ManorCare nursing home. Becky had been admitted to the facility recently at the age of seventy-­two after yet another series of strokes. They drove to Darrenkamp’s grocery store and Philip bought their dinner, a special turkey sandwich for Becky, with the meat shaved extra thin. They ate in the car. Then, like every other night, they got ice cream from Burger King and drove to their home in Conestoga, a sparse hamlet in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Philip parked in the driveway, and they sat in the car looking out at the fields that roll down to the Susquehanna River.

They listened to the radio until there was nothing more to do. Philip went into the house and retrieved a container of Kraft vanilla pudding, which he’d mixed with all the drugs he could find in the house—Valium, Klonopin, Percocet, and so on. He opened the passenger-­side door and knelt beside Becky. He held a spoon, and she guided it to her mouth. When Becky had eaten all the pudding, he got back into the driver’s seat and swallowed a handful of pills. Philip asked her how the pudding tasted. “Like freedom,” she said. As they lost consciousness, the winter chill seeped into their clothes and skin.

Illustration by Leigh Wells (detail)
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America in the Middle East: learning curves are for pussies.
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In January 2017, following Donald Trump’s inauguration, his national security staffers entered their White House offices for the first time. One told me that when he searched for the previous administration’s Middle East policy files, the cupboard was bare. “There wasn’t an overarching strategy document for anywhere in the Middle East,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told me in a coffee shop near the White House. “Not even on the ISIS campaign, so there wasn’t a cross-governmental game plan.”

Syrian Arab Red Crescent vehicles in eastern Ghouta, March 24, 2018 (detail) © Anas Alkharboutli/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Amount Arizona’s Red Feather Lodge offered to pay to reopen the Grand Canyon during the 2013 government shutdown:

$25,000

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