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Scaramucci creates a second act

By Rebecca Nelson
Scaramucci creates a second act
Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Mark Mann

It's early to be on cable news, but really, it's early to be anywhere. It's 5:56 a.m., yet neither the hour nor the darkly lit green room deters Anthony Scaramucci from firing on all cylinders, by which I mean schmoozing and cracking jokes and asking people for selfies. As his wife had warned me: "He's nuts, even early in the morning."

Scaramucci, the (short-lived) former White House communications director, simply loves to talk. He commiserates about the Mets with a production guy ("Dude, what's going on with our team?"), asks the woman patting concealer under his eyes about her young son ("When was his birthday? God bless him."). As he gabs to another makeup artist, she suddenly notices me and my notebook. Alarmed, her eyes dart back to Scaramucci. "Why is she taking notes?"

He explains that I'm a reporter, and she blanches. "Everything I even mutter is off the record," she says. Scaramucci lays on the charm. "She knows that," he assures her.

But: I don't know, because we hadn't actually discussed it. It's a jarring redux of the blunder that ended his 11-day tenure at the White House in July 2017. Thinking he was off the record (according to widely understood media protocol, he wasn't), he launched into a profanity-laced screed while talking to a New Yorker reporter. He was out of a job days later.

Two years after this flameout - or, as he likes to call it, when he "got his a-- lit up in the White House" - Scaramucci, 55, apparently hasn't yet figured out how to tell a journalist when something is off the record. But no matter: He has successfully converted his 15 minutes of fame into a steady stream of speeches, talks and cable news appearances. If you're paying attention, you can see Scaramucci everywhere: at an Upper East Side social club, sermonizing about how to reelect President Donald Trump; sharing a house with Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and Kato Kaelin, the O.J. Simpson murder trial witness, on the reality show "Celebrity Big Brother"; in a truly surreal video for the New York Post where he did an interpretive dance for each of his 11 days in the White House; on the cover of the May issue of Resident, an "aspirational luxury lifestyle" magazine, the bejeweled American flag pin on his lapel aglitter; and, of course, on Fox News, waxing political about the latest White House drama.

He's honed quippy, self-deprecating laugh lines - he's got "orange Cheeto stain" on his hands from his association with Trump; he thought his White House tenure would last "longer than a carton of milk" - and uses them constantly. Throughout our time together, everyone in his orbit seems utterly taken with him. "He's one of those guys who's always going to try to charm you, even if you don't agree with him," says Bill Maher, who does not agree with him most of the time. Scaramucci appeared on Maher's HBO show last year, and they became friendly, going to a Mets game together. "He's a likable guy," Maher says.

It's possible that in the history of American politics, no one has done more with less experience at the seat of power. Scaramucci has turned his moment of public humiliation into a rousing comeback tale, rising (at least in some circles) above his status as a national punchline. You could attribute it to pure persistence, pure ego or a complete absence of shame. But at heart, it's a triumph of self-deprecation. In a political climate where absolute certainty is rewarded and no one ever apologizes - or even signals self-doubt - about anything, Scaramucci is creating a second act simply by being in on the joke.

- - -

When I arrive at the News Corp. building in Midtown Manhattan for his Fox Business appearance, I greet Scaramucci - aka "the Mooch," a sobriquet coined by his second-grade P.E. teacher, who decided his last name was too long - in the lobby. He's holding a venti Starbucks iced coffee in one hand and a bottle of Evian in the other; drinking liters of water a day, he tells me, is an absolute must for great skin. He's hobnobbing with another guest on the show, financier Alfred Eskandar. As I introduce myself to Eskandar and explain that I'm writing a story for The Washington Post Magazine, the Mooch interjects: "As Trump says, the 'Amazon Washington Post.' " He lowers his voice conspiratorially and says of Trump, "He's so f---ing crazy."

It's not that he thinks Trump is crazy crazy - like, impeach-him crazy. The president's policies have been good for the country, the Mooch insists (though he notes that he takes issue with Trump's treatment of the media, his approach on trade and his rollback of LGBT rights). It's Trump's style he chafes at. Of the zingers he frequently deploys about the president and his time in the White House, one of his favorites is: "Trump's campaign slogan should be 'Same policies, less crazy.' "

Following his three-hour stint on Fox Business, we meet back up. Fox kicked me out of the building after learning I was a reporter; Scaramucci hadn't told them I'd be coming. I clarify our rules of engagement: We're entirely on the record, unless we explicitly agree otherwise. Of course, Scaramucci says: "We're having an on-the-record discussion. Talk about anything you want."

We drive (or rather, are driven; the Mooch has a dedicated driver behind the wheel of a hulking Cadillac Escalade) to the Bronx, where he's due to speak at the Riverdale Country School, a private high school so elite it looks like we're on a college campus. He's still wearing his TV makeup. He loves getting his makeup done - "You can never have enough makeup or hair spray," he tells me - and sometimes books himself on a news show just so he can put his face on.

The gym at the school is nearly full. He tells the 200 or so kids seated in the risers about his career, his politics and his "not appropriate" New Yorker interview. "Raise your hand if you've never cursed in your life," he commands the crowd. (In the car back to Manhattan, he flips it to me: "You didn't raise your hand. I think you must have said at least one curse word in your life." When I tell him that I curse like a sailor when I'm not in a professional setting, he cackles and gives me a fist bump.) At the end of his remarks, some kids cheer, some boo, but nearly all want selfies. He stays for a full hour after his speech to keep talking to the 30 students who swarm him.

Next, he hustles to 30 Rockefeller Plaza for an appearance on MSNBC as one of five panelists weighing in on Donald Trump Jr. agreeing to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Then he films a segment for a British news show. Then it's on to the Cosmopolitan Club, a swanky social club on the Upper East Side, where he speculates on Trump's 2020 prospects. Before the event starts, I notice that nearly every member of the packed crowd is holding a copy of his book, "Trump: The Blue-Collar President." The book - which Center Street, an imprint of Hachette, published in the fall - is part memoir, part Trump hagiography. (The president, he writes, "might have been the only truly authentic candidate in history.") Wow, I think. These people really love the Mooch. Just then a woman takes the lectern to introduce him and thanks him for donating all the copies of his book so that everyone could take one home. He steps to the mic from behind her. "My wife said I needed to get them out of the basement."

He gives a version of what I've come to discern as his stump speech: Trump, he says, needs to "dial down the rhetoric." Washington, he discovered the hard way, isn't a swamp, but actually a "gold-plated hot tub without a drain." Americans need to "put the country back together" and heal our deep political divisions. He tells the whole story of his New Yorker interview. "I could do this all night," he says. Afterward, the crowd, mostly glitzy old-money types, rushes him for photos and autographs. Proclaims one man who looks to be in his 60s: "You're a pioneer!"

At every stop, he's treated like a political authority, a Trump Svengali who can impart his deep wisdom about how Washington works. Never mind that in reality he was there for about as long as a self-guided tour. "I don't have any Washington smarts," he tells me. "Just saying I'm politically naive would be an understatement."

He doesn't have illusions about the source of his popularity. "If I wasn't blown from the White House like that," he says, "these people don't even know who I am." We're in the back of the Escalade, stuck in traffic on the West Side Highway on the way back from the Bronx. He'd never be invited to speak at these events had he not spent those 11 days as White House communications director.

In May, the Mooch put on the 10th edition of his Las Vegas hedge fund conference, SkyBridge Alternatives, known as SALT. He's back to running SkyBridge Capital, the investment firm he founded before his foray into politics. The company is a "fund of funds," which invests in hedge funds for people who are wealthy but not the 1 percent. When those people see him at a talk, or on TV, maybe they'll think about putting their money with him. Even infamy is good for business.

As we inch through the lunchtime gridlock, I ask him what the biggest lesson he learned in the White House was. He thinks for a beat. "I didn't learn the lesson," he says. "Don't talk to reporters." He cracks a wide smile and gives me another fist bump.

- - -

The Mooch was doing well in business, but, well, he wanted more. He had already far surpassed the expectations of the average working-class Italian American kid from Port Washington, a hamlet on Long Island. His mom, Marie, told me that Anthony wasn't drawn to the spotlight growing up - it found him naturally. "He was very, very, very well liked as a kid, and he was very, very well liked in the neighborhood," she recalls. She says his friends called him "Moses" because he was so strait-laced.

He was the captain of his high school football team and student government president, had the popular girlfriend. Life always seemed to work out for him. "He never had that fear of embarrassment," says his friend Paul Montoya, who has known him since kindergarten. "Anthony's got so much confidence that he's going to say what he feels."

The Mooch studied economics at Tufts and went on to Harvard Law, where he stood out with his Long Island accent and blue-collar background. Richard Kahlenberg, a classmate at Harvard, tells me the Mooch regularly cracked jokes in class. "He was willing to puncture the pretensions of this very serious set of students and professors," he says. "He certainly didn't take himself too seriously."

After law school, he failed the bar twice before finally passing; he was also fired from his first post-law-school job, at Goldman Sachs (but was later rehired in a different division). He started two investment firms, including his current company, and made himself a millionaire. In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, he initially signed on as a fundraiser for then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who dropped out of the race just two months after joining, and next floated to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. When Bush dropped out, the Mooch turned to Trump, whom he'd known for two decades. (Scaramucci had once approached him to invest in his nascent hedge fund, and the two ran in the same wealthy Manhattan circles.) "He's clearly drawn to having a voice and a role," says Andrew Klein, who co-founded SkyBridge with him. "I think, through Trump, he saw a way to kind of get in the game at a higher level."

During the transition, he was promised a job running the White House Office of Public Liaison, but he says that then-chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon thwarted him because he was "a wild card" who wasn't entrenched in politics, and they were threatened by his long-standing relationship with Trump. In July 2017, despite their objections, Trump made him communications director. (Neither Priebus nor Bannon responded to requests for comment.)

After his first, and only, news conference, the late-night hosts had a field day with his tough-talking persona. Seth Meyers called him "the human embodiment of a double-parked BMW," while Stephen Colbert likened him to "a lawyer whose ad is above the urinal." Sean Spicerresigned as press secretary in protest of Scaramucci's dearth of communications experience. Priebus followed days later.

The Mooch came in with a mission: Find - and fire - whoever was leaking to the media. That quest would lead to his downfall when he called then-New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza late one evening, demanding to know who had leaked a small piece of news. It devolved from there: He launched into an extended, obscene tirade, lambasting his fellow West Wing aides in graphic terms. The Mooch thought it was off the record, but he and Lizza had never discussed it. (He insists it was "implied" and that Lizza knew this.) In the time I spend with him, he brings up this moment approximately 47 times. He felt betrayed by Lizza, whom he thought he could trust. "You're talking to an Italian American from the next town over whose dad knows your dad for 50 years," he says. "Al Scaramucci and Frank Lizza were close friends." (Lizza told me he'd never heard the name Scaramucci until he met the Mooch at CNN one night. "I don't know who his family is," he says.) Another time, of Lizza's publishing the conversation: "Was that a nice thing to do?"

The call, along with his evocative quotes, rocketed through the political world, and he was fired a few days later. (The Mooch maintains that, because he arrived at the White House at 6 a.m. the day he was fired and stayed until 2 p.m., it should count as a day he worked there, and so: 11 days.) He saw it coming, of course. He's self-aware enough to know he made a mistake. "I never said, 'Hey, by the way. On the tape, this is off the record.' That's my stupidity. I own that." (He also points out the irony of getting fired for making off-color remarks by a president who has arguably said much worse: "It's sort of funny in the Trump administration, where we were grabbing them by the p---y in the campaign. Now, you get blown out for saying something like that." Then again, he concedes, he's not the president.)

What came next was brutal. His marriage was in a shambles: His wife of three years, Deidre, had filed for divorce, and the tumult was splashed across Page Six. He had missed the birth of their son, who was due in August but was born right in the middle of his brief tenure, when Deidre went into premature labor. The Mooch was at a Boy Scout event with the president and couldn't make it to New York in time for the unexpected birth. Headlines lambasted him for appearing to love Trump more than his newborn. That's hard stuff to read about yourself, he tells me, that you don't care about your family.

Otherwise, though, he's surprisingly sanguine about it all. He likens himself to George Bailey, the doleful protagonist in "It's a Wonderful Life": His 11 days in office and national humiliation, he tells me earnestly, were "a wake-up call to make me realize I need to appreciate more of what I had." He reconciled with his wife after going to a marital "life coach." Last year, they launched a podcast, "Mooch and the Mrs.," where they talk about their relationship and squabble over the news. "He was just really caught up in the whole scene and totally enamored with the relevancy of everything he was doing," Deidre tells me of her husband's time with Trump. "You get this inflated sense of self, which is totally not who he is."

He could have retreated to the shadows. Some would say he should have. But he's never been one to back down. "I didn't want the machinery around what happened to me to totally define me," he says. "I want my kids to know that you can take risks, fall on your ass and still be okay."

Does it ever hurt, I ask, to be known as a punchline? "It's f---ing funny," he says. "What're you going to do? You going to cry about it? You're asking me if my feelings are hurt that people think I'm an idiot. Who gives a s---. F---ing did the best I could." He's not the type, in other words, to be easily embarrassed. He's an entrepreneur who failed the bar twice before finally passing, who was fired from his first job out of law school. He's used to bouncing back. And all he can do, really, is laugh along with everyone else.

- - -

The Mooch gives a bad first impression, he'll be the first to admit. He's a Capricorn with Aries rising, and if you understand the signs, you get that that's a dangerous combination. (He's very attuned to astrology, and after finding out I'm a Taurus informs me that I'm extremely stubborn and loyal, which, yep.) When they first meet him, "people find me to be way more fiery than I actually am," he explains. "I'm way more down to earth."

He's an easy target for satire. His tough-talking New York accent, his oleaginous flattery of Trump, his unabashed love for the movie "Goodfellas" - it's easy to flatten him into a gym-tan-laundry "Jersey Shore" stereotype. "He's very different than the public caricature," says former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who was in the Mooch's class at Harvard Law. "He really has a good heart." He's generous with his time and money. One of his good friends died on 9/11 and left behind young kids. The Mooch stepped in to make sure they had a father figure in their life, taking them to Disney World every year. They're still close today.

Over the few days I spend with him, the Mooch is warm and welcoming. He asks about where I'm from, about the details of my upcoming wedding. (His marriage advice? "You have to show up every single day for your relationship.") He shares genuine concerns about the country's increasingly hostile partisan divide. "I think that he probably gets a bad rap because he is prone to exaggeration or dramatics, but he is a very thoughtful, intelligent, somewhat introverted human being," says Deidre, whom he met when she started working under him at SkyBridge. ("This was before the #MeToo movement," she notes.) She insists he'd be much happier staying home to read a biography of Abraham Lincoln than going out to a party.

He's also really funny. In the car on the way to tape his podcast one afternoon, he tells me about the time he and Paul Montoya went to a high school Halloween party in drag. "I had a f---ing very hot dress on. I had fake boobies. I had pantyhose. I had, like, makeup on."

Man, I say. I'd love to talk to one of your high school buddies. He pulls out his iPhone and dials Paul, who picks up after the second ring. "I'm in the back of the car with a woman by the name of Rebecca Nelson," he says, putting Paul on speaker. "I'm telling her about how we went in drag to the Halloween party. You remember that?" Paul doesn't miss a beat. "I remember it all. And we made good-looking women," he says.

For a working-class Italian American kid from Port Washington, the Mooch thinks, he's done pretty well. "From my vantage point," he says, "whether I lasted one minute in the White House, 11 days, four seconds, the whole thing is, like, a miracle." He's been invited to parties that no way he would've been invited to before. "I probably shouldn't say this to you, but I'll say it to you," he says, lowering his voice in the back of the Escalade. "I haven't gotten a speeding ticket since I left the White House." He'll get pulled over by police officers after doing 90, he says, and when he rolls down his window to plead his case, the officers can't believe their luck that they've stopped the Mooch. (They always want a photo.)

It's become inevitable for former White House aides to cash in on their status and know-how in some way or another. When they exit the revolving door, they exchange their political savvy for a cushy lobbying job. But the Mooch didn't need Big Pharma or Big Oil or big anything. He was already wealthy beyond measure. The payoff, for him, comes in a different form. Rapt audiences. Reality show fame. People who stop him on the street and say: Hey, aren't you that Trump guy? Innumerable selfies.

With his 11-day political education, he's the ultimate example of how, in America, even the perception of proximity to political power can take you far. But it's his personality that's made it possible: He's so self-deprecating and good-natured about the gaffe that put him on the map, so utterly self-aware, that he wins people over.

Of course, being aware of what you've done doesn't make it retroactively OK; being able to laugh at yourself doesn't excuse complicity in an administration that, in the eyes of many Americans, has done truly appalling things. Shame does serve an important purpose, after all. And yet, in a society where our public figures take themselves all too seriously, there's value in the art of self-deprecation, in self-awareness. Perhaps the fact that Anthony Scaramucci is still talking, and people are still listening, shows just how starved we are for these things. Even if it comes from someone who's kind of ridiculous, someone whose politics you may abhor, couldn't we all use a reminder to laugh at ourselves?

In his memoir, the Mooch characterizes himself as "a supercharged sales machine who might drive you nuts or charm you, or both. But I guarantee one thing," he writes. "You're not going to forget me." He'll keep talking till he's sure of it.


Video Embed Code

Video: Pop Culture host Hannah Jewell caught up with Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci at his offices in New York City.(The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

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How Qatar's cows show the growing resistance to a Saudi-led boycott

By Steven Mufson
How Qatar's cows show the growing resistance to a Saudi-led boycott
Baladna's Holstein cows are seen inside a dairy farm on circular platform with automated milking tubes on July 9 in Al Khor, Qatar. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges

AL KHOR, Qatar - Three times a day, the Holstein cows on this dairy farm north of Doha placidly step onto a circular platform to get hooked up to automated milking tubes.

Afterward, they get sprayed with cool water and go back to one of the 40 state-of-the-art barns where misting and cooling systems keep the summer temperature at roughly 82 degrees, well below the brutal 110 degrees it is outside on Qatar's scrubland.

The cows, about 20,000 of them, rest on beds of cooled sand. They do everything but yoga, joked Saba Mohd N.M. Al Fadala, the farm's public relations director highlighting the comfortable conditions.

Two years ago, none of this was here.

Qatar imported all its milk needs. But then neighboring Saudi Arabia and its regional allies declared they would blockade Qatar over disputes that included claims that Qatar supported Islamist factions such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

That left Qatar - rich in oil and natural gas - having to rethink how to get everything from construction materials to milk.

Now this farm, called Baladna, or "our country," and its five "milking parlors" provide enough milk for the domestic market in addition to making products such as cheese and yogurt. The company has even started exporting small amounts to Oman, Yemen and Afghanistan.

"This is one of the biggest successes since the blockade," said Adam Peffer, a Michigan native who has worked in Dubai and other countries before coming to Qatar to manage the dairy farm operations. "If there had been no blockade, this wouldn't be here. It shows the importance of food security."

The blockade has turned into a rallying cry for Qataris.

"The economy is getting stronger," said Yousef Al Horr, founding chairman of an environmental group, the Gulf Organization for Research & Development. He listed the new food industry, more direct supply routes and a boost for local logistic businesses tied to new port facilities.

"Now we have direct access to original suppliers and we're cutting out those middlemen," he said.

Overall, Qatar has adapted to the sanctions imposed more than two years ago by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. Those countries - angered by what they alleged was funding for extremist groups and support for Arab Spring movements - took direct aim at the Qatari economy and flagship brands such as Qatar Airways.

The sweeping diplomatic and commercial snub was an unprecedented move among gulf Arab nations that had usually tried to present a united front. But Qatar had increasingly faced regional pressures over its independent-minded polices and the growing clout of the Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera across the Arabic-speaking world.

Qatar also has the money to ride it out.

Qatar relies heavily on liquefied natural gas, which accounts for about 85 percent of its total exports. Those massive LNG exports, including production joint ventures with ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell have continued unobstructed. In January, Qatar, which also produces only 600,000 barrels a day of oil, quit the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC.

While President Donald Trump initially sounded sympathetic to Saudi complaints, the signals have changed. Qatar's leader, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, met the president in the Oval Office this month and discussed investments, circumventing the blockade in a rare break in U.S. support for Riyadh.

Qatar has "successfully absorbed the shocks" from a drop in oil prices from 2014 to 2016 and the Saudi-led boycott imposed in June 2017, the International Monetary Fund said in its spring assessment. Qatar's inflation-adjusted GDP growth is estimated at 2.2 percent, up from 1.6 percent in 2017, the report said.

S&P Global, which had changed Qatar's outlook to negative in 2017, has changed it back to stable.

Qatar has also rerouted much of its trade. Much of it previously flowed through Saudi Arabia - Qatar's only land border - or by sea through Dubai. Now, many ships to Qatar come from Turkey, India and Oman.

And Turkey, which made a deal last year with Qatar's central bank that helped stabilize the Turkish lira, is happy to boost trade, too.

The next World Cup, which will take place in Qatar in 2022, hangs over everything. There are more than $200 billion in major construction projects - eight new or renovated stadiums, a new metro system, and an entire new city on the northern edge of Doha. And Qatar has also fallen back on its sovereign wealth fund, which diverted about $20 billion of its roughly $320 billion of assets back into Qatar.

Many of the construction supplies for the stadiums, roads and metro projects no longer come from or through Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Instead, Qatar has activated backup plans that were part of its World Cup proposal. The Al Rayyan stadium, for example, was supposed to use steel from one of the boycotting countries and instead imported supplies from Oman.

To be sure, there have been bumps.

Because they must avoid Saudi airspace, commercial flights must take longer routes. That inconveniences the foreign workers who make up about 90 percent of the 2.7 million people here. The trip from Sudan's capital Khartoum to Doha, for example, doubled to almost seven hours. A consultant in Saudi Arabia must fly through Kuwait to visit relatives in Doha. He visits less often.

Students from Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia who used to attend the more than a dozen U.S.-run university programs had to return home and most have not returned.

Yet enrollment went up at those Doha-based universities, which include Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University and Cornell University's medical school, among others.

"There is a lot of demand for U.S. degrees," said Konstantinos E. Kakosimos, associate professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University at Qatar.

Luckily for Qatar, it had just completed a port expansion project when the blockade was imposed, making it much easier to import directly from suppliers and to jump over regional logistics hubs in places such as Dubai or Saudi Arabia.

The Baladna farm is the most prominent example of Qatar's push for self-sufficiency.

When the blockade was announced, Qatar was able to get milking machines delivered quickly by paying an Irish company also seeking to buy the equipment to step aside for a rush order.

Then it airlifted cows from Europe using Russian cargo planes. Large numbers of those cows died of heat stress, but that was before the barns and cooling systems were completely constructed. The farm also has a 17-person veterinary team and hospital.

Since then, more cows have been imported from the United States and Canada. And 30 to 50 more cows are being born here every day.

To raise a hardy breed accustomed to relatively hot conditions, the newborns sleep on sand in open air cages beneath high rooftops with fans. They move to the barns after a year.

There are disadvantages to raising cows in Qatar, where the summer heat routinely tops 115 degrees. Cows can't be left outside to chew grass; there isn't any. Hay comes from places such as the United States, Spain, France, Germany and Romania.

In addition, Baladna uses a lot of water to cool the cows in a country that relies heavily on desalinization plants. Each cow uses 185 gallons a day of water for misting, so the farm reuses as much as it can.

The farm could use solar energy, but Kamel Abdallah, the Baladna chief executive, says that it's cheaper to use the subsidized 35 megawatts of gas-fired electricity on the grid.

The company is planning to sell a majority of the shares in a public offering later this year. That will be a test.

"Fifty percent of the job is to think past the blockade," said Abdallah. As a result, he is trying to build brand loyalty "very quickly." One tactic: Student groups visit during the school year.

He added, "Now we have the market to ourselves."

The dairy also hasn't solved the economic problem of getting Qataris to work in Qatar. People with Qatari origin account for barely a tenth of the 2.7 million people here. The privately owned Baladna enterprise has created 1,800 jobs - but the company just hired its first genuine Qatari employee, Al Fadala. The rest come from around the world.

The daughter of a diplomat, she studied life sciences in London, focusing on bacteria on fruits and flora. A few years ago, she started a business growing flowers.

"Previously I grew roses in the desert," she said. "Now I help grow cows in the desert. Nothing is impossible for us."

Explore five iconic spacesuits

By Christian Davenport and Robin Givhan
Explore five iconic spacesuits
The Mercury suits developed for flights in the 1960s were modeled after the suits worn by military pilots after World War II. MUST CREDIT: The Washington Post

Explore five iconic spacesuits and more than 50 years of spaceflight in a dialogue between The Washington Post's space industry reporter Christian Davenport and fashion critic Robin Givhan.

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The Mercury suits developed for flights in the 1960s were modeled after the suits worn by military pilots after World War II. The pilots were beginning to fly at higher altitudes and needed a pressurized suit that could keep oxygen flowing and protect the pilots in the case of a high-altitude ejection. The Mercury suits were not designed to operate in the vacuum of space, but rather to help the astronauts in the case of an emergency.

Christian: The helmet was designed to be tight fitting so that if the astronaut moved his head, the communications equipment inside the helmet would move with him.

Robin: This suit could be from any country, really. You take away the patch there and there is nothing that screams U.S. or that looks particularly patriotic. When I look at it, it seems like it is advertising technology, not advertising patriotism.

Christian: The harness that stretches across the chest was used to help secure the astronaut to his seat and hold him tight through the vibrations he would experience in flight.

Robin: This silver sets the ground rules for how we imagine spacesuits to be - everything that we think is futuristic is always silver and reflective. Whenever there would be anything related to the future in fashion shows and people imagining what the next century would look like, they always started with metallic fabrics.

Christian: The suit was silver for a number of reasons, according to Cathleen Lewis, a curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum. First, it would make the astronauts stand out in case they needed to be rescued. It helped reflect sunlight and keep them from heating up, especially in the outer edges of the atmosphere, where the sunlight is unfiltered. Finally, NASA really wanted to set these guys apart from the other pilots with a very space-agey silvery suit.

Christian: The gloves are currently stored detached from the suit and not included in the 3-D model. They had lights on the fingertips so that in an emergency, when the lights in the spacecraft went out, they would be able to illuminate the instruments and control panel.

Christian: The biometric connector was used to monitor the astronaut's vital signs - such as heart rate and body temperature - to see how they responded to the conditions of microgravity. At the time, NASA had never sent a person into space and didn't really have a sense of the effects of space travel on the human body. You could see the nervousness and how scared they were about sending these guys to space in the suit - it looks over engineered, there are all these straps because they worried about anything that could possibly go wrong in an uncharted territory.

Robin: I love these boots, they remind me of Doc Martens, of work boots. But they seem so complicated to get into. Everything seems so complicated to get into, the exact opposite of this idea of aerodynamics of space travel. This looks like someone heavy, earthbound, slogging through something.

- - -


The Apollo suits worn by the astronauts on the lunar surface were "essentially a spacecraft that is human form and human fitted," said Cathleen Lewis, a curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum. The suits were designed to keep astronauts alive outside their spacecraft. Custom made for each astronaut, the suits were based on 47 measurements and tested repeatedly. What you see here is "probably the closest thing of a body print of Neil Armstrong," Lewis said.

Christian: For Apollo, NASA needed a more robust helmet than the kinds used during the Mercury and Gemini missions, one that allowed the astronauts to see their feet. This is important "especially if you're walking on strange new territory," Lewis said.

Christian: The metallic gold visors could be pulled down. Lewis called them "oversized ski goggles."

Robin: You can't really see their face, their name is so small, they were not even trying to turn the astronauts into personalities. Which would be so natural now, just as a way of ginning up interest and getting people excited, by having a personal connection.

Christian: Unlike mission patches for other flights, the patch for Apollo 11 did not have the names of the crew members. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins felt their names should be left out because the flight represented all of humankind and the 400,000 people involved in the Apollo program.

Christian: Tubes connected to the suits through these nozzles served as connections to life support systems and communication and electrical systems, as well as water to help moderate body temperature.

Christian: Armstrong left his backpack on the moon in order to ensure that the ascent module was well below its weight limit, Lewis said. The pack contained the astronaut's life support system, which provided a supply of oxygen while also taking carbon dioxide away.

Robin: I love that there was so much attention paid to the idea that we are doing this for peace, for exploration and for scientific discovery. Despite how big and potentially intimidating this suit could be, it is not, it looks like a happy uniform. And the patches are so Boy Scout.

Christian: Moon dust is still visible on the legs and boots.

- - -


After the Challenger space shuttle orbiter exploded after launch in 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board, safety became paramount. This shows in the design of the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), which astronauts started using inside the shuttle in the mid-1990s during liftoff and return to Earth.

Robin: They look much more like something you could envision a Navy SEAL wearing, or a NASCAR driver. It doesn't have that otherworldly silver what-could-that-possibly-be aspect to it. And the helmet looks like something a motorcyclist would wear.

Christian: Often referred to as the "pumpkin suit" because of its color, the suit is orange so that in case of emergency astronauts could be easily spotted.

Christian: The suit came with a survival backpack loaded with parachutes, flotation devices, drinking water and even emergency oxygen supplies.

Christian: Astronauts were able to take off their gloves without losing pressure in the suit, so they could work the controls of the shuttle in flight.

Christian: Anything that is not nailed down floats away in space. Astronauts need pockets to stash pens or other objects so they don't lose them.

Robin: This suit reminds me of a military uniform. I think it's the boots; they look like a camouflage-y shade of olive or gray. Also, compared to the previous suits, it doesn't look as space-ish.

Robin: There's nothing cool about it, there is nothing surprising, nothing that some kid would look at and have their imagination sparked by it. It is so mundane that all you have to do is go to the local construction worker uniform store and buy one and stick a motorcycle helmet on it and you have the suit.

- - -


The Boeing suit was designed to be as light as possible, about the same "weight and complexity as a flight suit," said Shane Jacobs, spacesuit design manager with the David Clark Co., which made the suit for Boeing. With gloves, boots and head protection, the suit weighs 16 pounds, almost half the weight of the orange shuttle suit. Astronauts will wear it throughout launch and ascent into orbit, and on the way back to Earth.

Christian: This is a soft helmet, which essentially acts as a hood: It can be unzipped and allowed to flop down the astronaut's back. However, the visor is made of a clear hard material.

Robin: This suit doesn't look special, it reminds me of contemporary men's sportswear. Instead of looking at the spacesuits and seeing this futuristic idea, it seems that the creators of the suit are taking ideas that already exist in our mundane little gravity-rooted life and transporting them into outer space.

Christian: Throughout the suit there are fasteners that will allow the suit to be tweaked to meet the astronauts' particular dimensions or adjust for different postures.

Robin: It still looks male-centric because so much of the language of functional sportswear comes from menswear. Whenever you look at women's clothes and they are defined as being incredibly functional it's usually something that could be unisex.

Christian: The gloves are designed to be used with a touch screen.

Christian: The pocket on the thigh is integrated into the suit, but the ones on the shin are removable.

Robin: The pockets are quite fashionable: the more fitted shape, the way they hang off. I feel like I've seen that on a runway somewhere.

Robin: It seems like this was designed with the thought of knock-offs and derivation in mind. You can see these boots sold out at some hipster sneaker store, in black or silver.

Christian: These Reebok boots weigh less than a pound each. They are designed to be comfortable and tight-fitting. The material is fire-retardant, and the sole is non-slipping, like a basketball sneaker.

Robin: The whole outfit looks very relatable. Actual astronauts wearing these don't look heroic as much as they look accessible. The earlier spacesuits seem completely removed from reality, and there was the sense that all the pockets and the little cords hide some complicated technology. With this one, you're like, "OK, my iPhone is in this pocket, and I've got a Clif Bar in the other one." It's just saying "You, too, can do this."

- - -


The SpaceX suit is one piece, with the boots, helmet and gloves all connected - minimalist, efficient, inspiring. A version of this suit has been flown to space on a mannequin in 2018, when SpaceX famously launched a red Tesla Roadster into space aboard the first Falcon Heavy rocket, and again on a mannequin earlier this year in a test flight of the Dragon spacecraft. Astronauts will wear the suit throughout launch and ascent into orbit, and on the way back to Earth.

Robin: This is a spacesuit every space tourist wants to wear. It is social-media friendly, you want to take selfies in that, and it screams badass. Even the way the helmet is designed, with that black facade, is a little intimidating, but not full Darth Vader.

Christian: The helmet is 3-D printed, with padding customized to each astronaut's head. The visor is designed to give astronauts a broad field of view and can rotate open.

Robin: Everything is completely understated, which makes it so cool. If you know that is the SpaceX logo you are inside the club.

Christian: The suit's outer layer is made with fire-retardant materials. The gray parts are Nomex, a flame-resistant material. The whites are a Teflon-like material.

Robin: The sides are darker and they create the perfect swimmer's physique, a silhouette of strength. That is a fashion trick, to create the illusion of a particular shape. It could even turn into an hourglass if you are a woman inside that suit. From all five suits, this one is the most amenable to a woman's figure.

Christian: Zippers on the wrists allow astronauts to use their bare hands on the controls. But the gloves also work with the touch screens inside of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft.

Robin: Aesthetically, it is sleek and incredibly elegant. With the earlier ones, the technology was so obvious in the suit. They looked complicated, and it took an enormous amount of skill to be able to wear them. This looks so easy to wear, devoid of anything that looks highly technical or complicated.

Robin: If you pay a bazillion dollars to go into space and you get this - I'm assuming you get to keep it - you will wear those boots again! It seems you can pull it apart and continue to wear it and keep the bragging rights going.

- - -

About the story: To re-create the spacesuits in 3-D, The Post took 2,500 photos of the original suits and stitched them together through a process called photogrammetry. This involves using an algorithm to analyze the images and find common points to build a 3-D model. The helmets were modeled manually from reference images, not through photogrammetry.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Republican leaders are shilling for a bigot

By michael gerson
Republican leaders are shilling for a bigot


(Advance for Tuesday, July 23, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, July 21, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- American politics is now caught in an odd and dangerous form of escalation.

The cycle begins with President Trump engaging in some form of divisive prejudice, either out of calculation or compulsion. (A group of elected, progressive women of color, say, should "go back" to their hellhole countries of origin.) There is a public outcry, including from some morally offended members of the media. Elected Republicans then blame the media for ideological bias and not focusing on "real" issues. Then Trump, either out of political calculation or personal compulsion, doubles down on bigotry. ("I don't believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country.") Another outcry ensues ...

What is the damage? Well, if you believe that constructive leadership can elevate, it follows that irresponsible leadership can debase. Particularly in a democracy, political rhetoric has high stakes. A politician can side with the angels or unleash the beast.

Trump's reelection strategy is clearly beast liberation. And this has implications for his political followers, who must abandon morality or rationality or both.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., is a case in point. Based on considerable political skills, Cheney has risen rapidly to the third highest leadership position in the House Republican caucus. It is her great misfortune, however, to become a GOP leader during the Trump era.

Being in the leadership of a caucus brings complications even in normal political times. It generally requires public fidelity to the party's official line. And this can involve a venial type of political deception: feigning enthusiasm for policies and arguments a leader would not normally embrace. It is a requirement of being part of the team.

But Cheney's recent performance on CBS' "Face the Nation" illustrates how difficult that membership in Trump's team has become. Under close questioning, she admitted that the chants of "send her back" at a Trump political rally were "absolutely wrong" and "should not have happened." But since the chant is a variant of Trump's own words, she could not admit (BEG ITAL)why(END ITAL) this was wrong without indicting the original author. She was left to insist that Trump's words were ideologically rather than racially motivated -- a case of bad manners rather than evidence of a corrupted heart. But Trump did not tell the congresswomen to go to hell; he told them to "go home" to a foreign country (though three members of the group were born in the U.S). Then Trump added they are not "capable" of loving America. These elements are what turns an ideological attack into a nativist and racist attack by any reasonable standard.

Having abandoned both logic and principle, Cheney fell back to a last redoubt of denial. "We are focused on policy," she said, "and we will continue to do that no matter what the mainstream media attempts to do." But when has the president shown the slightest interest in policy? And why, exactly, would the political world be focused on racist tweets if Trump had not repeatedly tweeted them?

These justifications are no longer the typical, venial deceptions required by party loyalty. In this case, loyalty requires mortal lies that effectively excuse racial prejudice. In this case, Republican leaders are shilling for a bigot.

Trump sorts other politicians into two categories: enemies or servants. And he defines service as a willingness to defend his most offensive actions and attributes -- with enthusiasm and on television. One by one, Republican leaders have faced a choice between keeping the president's favor and maintaining their own integrity. Only a few -- a very few -- have chosen the better and harder path.

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan's reputation, for example, was deeply damaged by his service under Trump. Ryan -- whatever his intentions -- sent a message that the wealth of the country is a "real" issue, while the character of the country is a sideshow. But what brand of conservatism would elevate wealth above rectitude, decency and concern for the common good? Ryan's accommodation of Trump's worst instincts eventually became a form of ideological surrender -- replacing the gospel of equal opportunity with an angry creed of white identity.

In the Trump era, Republican leaders generally suffer from a kind of moral stunting. By defending the malicious impulses of a petty and prejudiced mind, they lose their credibility and their dignity. They become inured to things that should shock and offend them. And they forget something foundational: There is no definition of honorable public service that includes dishonoring the deepest values of the nation.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Historical reenactors wish America had picked a nicer bit of history to repeat

By alexandra petri
Historical reenactors wish America had picked a nicer bit of history to repeat



(For Petri clients only)


Across America, historical reenactors gazed baffled at footage of the latest Trump rally on their vintage television sets, stunned by what appears to be a sudden decision to reenact history on a pretty grand scale.

"Don't get me wrong," commented Dingle Gruble, pausing a moment from her butter churning. "I love it any time people get together and decide to repeat history. That is why I spend my weekends in this uncomfortable bodice and stiff bonnet, tramping around a historic farm and rooting out cabbages with a wooden trowel. There is so much about the past that is exciting and fun. Do you want to make a doll out of a corncob?"

Her colleague, Morton Sault, tipped his tricorn hat as he leaned his blunderbuss up against the side of the house. "I guess -- I would -- just personally, for myself, have picked something like this to reenact! Something that revolved more around barn dances or fiddle playing. I would not have leaped straight to some of the more disturbing events of the 20th century! All the creepy rallies, xenophobic and racist shouting ... "

"I do appreciate the authenticity they're bringing to this," Gruble added. "The chants, the faces, the signs. The finger pointing and hand wringing and non-disavowals from people who should be speaking up. The level of detail -- people being shocked, but then not shocked, and then sort of ... overwhelmed, but inured, but in a kind of denial -- all very realistic, all quite compelling. But I just wish they'd asked us about what periods of the past we found fun and rewarding to occupy. Because I sure would not have said any of the ones they appear to be going for! It seems like they're drawing elements from several, but none of them are good!"

"Exactly!" said a man dressed as Comely Young William Howard Taft who refused to give his name. "I know that one of the fun things about really digging into the past is that there are no small parts! Everyone, in their own way, gets to be involved -- whether you are simply buying a wooden hoop for your child's amusement, or keeping an authentic tavern, or one of three guys dressed as Patrick Henry. Similarly, I understand that this current reenactment has lots of little parts, even for people who don't think they're playing any part at all -- like people who are changing the channel or people who are pretending not to notice, not just people shouting hateful rally things. It's really immersive, with lots of opportunities to participate."

"But what do they see in it?" Dingle asked. "Is it the aesthetic? Because that gets old fast, let me tell you."

"Yes!" Taft shouted. "There's so much better history to pick! How about the part of history where Edison was really bothering Nikola Tesla? We could all gather around a glowing doughnut-shaped thing! We could reenact the part of history where they increased voting rights! Or when they impeached Andrew Johnson! That could be cool to attempt!"

"One upside to this," added Lydia Bingley, breezing in dressed in an enormous hoop skirt, "is that -- you know, one worry is people don't want to maybe get into Civil War reenacting because we know who won there, and, well, who wants to be on the losing side?"

"But we haven't had that problem lately!" Sault added. "If anything, we have had the opposite problem."

"They don't even bother with the period gear!" Bingley said. "I guess they've put so much work into really perfecting the attitudes? But for me, half the fun is the period gear."

"And that afterward, you get to stop and have some root beer."


For a moment, there was silence.

"And, look, the best part of reenacting a great historical triumph over injustice is seeing someone do the right thing in the face of the motionless bystanders and shouting mobs, so it is, again, great that so many folks want to be bystanders or shouting mobs. We just need more sign-ups on both sides of that equation."

Reenactors also said they were confused by the decision to bring back measles.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The 2020 election is a fight for the soul of our nation

By eugene robinson
The 2020 election is a fight for the soul of our nation


(Advance for Tuesday, July 23, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, July 22, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Bring it on.

If President Trump and the Republican Party want the 2020 election to be a referendum on unabashed white supremacy, then that's their choice. Voters who embrace the views of David Duke and other proud racists will have Trump to vote for. Voters who disagree will have a Democratic alternative. Simple as that.

At the moment, it is hard to see the coming contest in any other light. Make America Great Again has completed its sinister transformation into Make America White Again, and it's foolish to pretend otherwise.

No sensible person should want such a fight. In such a sprawling, diverse nation as ours, with such a long and troubled history on issues of race, a certain amount of pretense is necessary. We try to bury our ugliest fears and resentments beneath a nobler commitment to the pluralistic ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. At our best, we subsume our private prejudices beneath a sense of civic responsibility.

But Trump is no sensible person, and he obviously does not represent our best. He is a demagogue with one highly effective political move: driving wedges. He is now trying to open a chasm between white and non-white Americans, and he wants to force his potential supporters to choose a side.

I hope and expect that Trump's race-baiting will fail -- but hope and expectations are not enough. His shamefully divisive tactic must be called out, labeled with its proper name and fought without quarter. Based on Trump's public comments and his Twitter feed, it seems obvious that race is what he wants the nation to be talking about right now, as opposed to his administration's incompetence and corruption. But to ignore his white-power tactic would be a much bigger mistake than facing it head-on. Trump may believe his political opponents lack the stomach to confront him. He must be proven wrong.

Trump has chosen as his foils four first-term members of Congress -- Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. -- who all, not coincidentally, happen to be women of color. The president has demanded they "go back" to the countries they came from (all but Omar, a naturalized citizen, were born in the United States) and claimed they have no right to express their progressive views.

Last week, at a campaign rally in North Carolina, Trump was blasting Omar, who came to this country as a refugee from Somalia, when the crowd began a shocking chant: "Send her back! Send her back!" Before continuing his speech, the president paused to let the chant gather force and then gradually die out.

Members of the White House staff were reportedly appalled -- but nobody quit in protest. Republicans in Congress were reportedly aghast -- but almost all of them refused to directly criticize the president.

After making the perfunctory (and apparently false) claim that he disliked the chant, Trump went on to amplify it. He demanded that those who do not love the United States -- by which he clearly means his vision of the country -- should leave it. On Sunday, he tweeted, "I don't believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country. They should apologize to America." On Monday, he called them "a very Racist group of troublemakers."

This will surely be a theme of Trump's white-power appeal -- that minorities who have the nerve to raise their voices are the "real" racists who should be blamed for any and all hardships afflicting whites. It is incredible that our national political discourse has sunk to this kind of hideous scapegoating, but here we are.

Democrats, independents and Republicans disgusted by Trump's use of race as a wedge cannot pretend this is a normal election. Republican officeholders and candidates who stand by Trump, perhaps for reasons of self-preservation, must be pressed: Do they believe all Americans, regardless of race, have a right to participate in our democracy, or not? Do they believe Americans who disagree with Trump's policies should leave the country, or not? Do they agree with white supremacists that whites are somehow threatened by "racist" minorities, or not?

Anyone tempted to support Trump because of his economic or foreign policies should be constantly reminded that this is not an a la carte menu. If you plan to vote for Trump because of his tax cuts, for example, or his uncritical support of Israel, you're also voting for his racism.

This is nothing less than a fight for the soul of the nation. Everyone needs to take a stand.

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

My mother loved America. Trump would have broken her heart.

By richard cohen
My mother loved America. Trump would have broken her heart.


(Advance for Tuesday, July 23, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, July 22, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cohen clients only)

WRITETHRU: 4th graf, 5th sentence: "'radicals,' including Emma Goldman, were deported" sted "'radicals were deported"


My mother would have been 107 this month. She died just seven years ago, and I think about her often -- for the usual reasons, of course, but also because I now wonder what she would have thought of Donald Trump. She was an immigrant, after all, 8 years old when she arrived in 1920 at Ellis Island from Poland, not even knowing her birth date. The United States of America fixed that. It gave her July 4, and if entertainer George M. Cohan was, as he wrote, "a real live nephew" of Uncle Sam, Pearl Rosenberg Cohen was Sam's resplendent niece.

It is inconceivable to me that my mother would have approved of Trump, although as an inveterate gambler, she once liked him for his casinos. My only question is not whether she'd be furious at him, but how sad as well. Next to her family, she loved America the most, and I think Trump would have broken her heart. He is the most un-American of all American presidents, a boorish man who has erased the distance between the mob and the speaker. He is both at the same time.

My mother had dark memories. Her very first was of hunger, of a childhood in Poland during World War I, of feasting on the single potato my grandmother filched from a field. She remembered the loaf of bread secreted at the top of a chest of drawers and how the household's children boosted one another up so they could sneak a quick bite. She remembered when the communists rode into town and "liberated" the food warehouse and how, sometime later, the Polish army returned and executed the liberators. She remembered pogroms and then the voyage to America, a shampoo in steerage with urine to kill head lice and then, off in the distance, the Statue of Liberty.

Trump's call for congresswomen to "go back" would have chilled her. Back? Back to that? It's not as if deportations didn't happen. In 1919, 249 so-called "radicals," including Emma Goldman, were deported to Russia. They had been incarcerated on Ellis Island, of all places, and then loaded on an old tub of a ship, the U.S.S. Buford. J. Edgar Hoover, on his way to becoming the FBI director, had reportedly witnessed Goldman's deportation himself, probably as a taunting goodbye. Hoover hated Goldman, whom he called "the most dangerous woman in America." She believed in free speech and free love. Hoover believed in neither.

Trump, too, has a problem with free speech. He thinks American critics of America ought to keep their mouths shut. This is something he has never done in his entire life, but he has come to see himself as the personification of the nation. "Treason," as some of his supporters yelled at a recent North Carolina rally, is any criticism of America. Un-Americanism is pointing out where this country falls short. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., has been a consistent critic. For Trump, she is the perfect foil: Muslim, radical, a woman, dark-skinned and an immigrant from Somalia. It is she, above all, who Trump and his supporters want to send back. It is she and people like her who in fact need the support of political leaders. Trump, though, is the president of white people.

Trump apologists who measure morality by basis points celebrate the vibrant economy. They say he has made a difference -- lower taxes, fewer regulations -- that will not only endure but provide economic guidance for future administrations. Many of them also believe that Trump is a passing cloud on the American horizon. He casts a dark shadow, but soon the sun will shine. America will revert to America. The special character of Americans will make sure this happens.

Others wonder and worry. They look not to American history and its periodic dark moments, but to the European experience and the sudden emergence of fascism. It is this example that is so troubling about the North Carolina rally. It was so fundamentally not American. It was fundamentally so European. It was fundamentally so ugly.

My mother had seen crowds like that. She had seen that kind of hatred and her America was the antidote. It was racist, yes, and anti-Semites held public office and radio microphones. But America welcomed her and made her feel secure. Now new immigrants are shaken. Now expressions of hate are routine. When my mother arrived, her father, who had immigrated years earlier, greeted her with a bright orange, a fitting symbol of America. I like to think it caught the sun. I fear now the sun is gone.

Richard Cohen's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Uncertainty clouds the path forward for Afghanistan

By david ignatius
Uncertainty clouds the path forward for Afghanistan


(Advance for Tuesday, July 23, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Monday, July 22, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Normally advance for Wednesday, July 24, 2019, and thereafter.)

(For Ignatius clients only)


KABUL -- At the military headquarters here where commanders oversee America's longest war, an official explains in one sentence the U.S.-led coalition's bottom-line objective: "Peace is a situation where we can leave, and we don't have to come back."

But how will the United States move toward this endgame, as U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad nears conclusion of his secret peace negotiations with the Taliban jihadists that America has been fighting for 18 years? Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is said to have complained late last week that a draft of Khalilzad's agreement contains "mere promises" from the Taliban and major concessions by the United States, according to a knowledgeable Afghan source.

Ghani is particularly concerned, according to this Afghan source, about a U.S. pledge to release 13,000 Taliban prisoners, a reference to the Taliban as an "emirate," a deal for "safe passage" of American troops but not Afghan forces, and other measures that in Ghani's view would diminish the sovereignty and authority of the current Afghan government. He also fears that presidential elections scheduled for September will be shelved.

A visit here shows there aren't clear answers yet to the questions about transition that vex Ghani and others who want a stable Afghanistan. When officials try to describe the future, many begin with the word "uncertainty." Nearly everyone supports peace, but none of the half-dozen U.S., Afghan and European officials I spoke with is sure just how it would work.

Army Gen. Austin "Scott" Miller, who commands U.S. forces here, says he's focused on preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a sanctuary for terrorists who could strike the United States and its allies. "The outcome in Afghanistan should be about safeguarding the national interests of the U.S. and our allies" by protecting their homelands, he explained in an interview.

The hidden danger is that if the Taliban does accept a peace pact with the United States, die-hard jihadists will move to the black flag of the Islamic State's Afghan affiliate, which has built a base in the territory it calls "Khorasan." A U.S. intelligence analyst who focuses on "ISIS-K," as it's known, says the group is recruiting operatives who can cross borders, reach "seam cities" such as Tehran, Baku and Istanbul, and then operate in the West.

The strange dynamics of the ISIS-K fight became clear over the past two years in Jowzjan province, along the northern border, and Ghor province, in the northwest, the intelligence analyst says. Recruiters appealed to disaffected Taliban fighters, and ISIS-K was gaining ground, with about 350 supporters in Jowzjan and 200 in Ghor. But then it faced an unlikely double whammy: U.S. counterterrorism forces struck the top leadership, and mainstream Taliban fighters cleaned up the rest.

The growth of ISIS-K, and its dual threat to the United States and the Taliban, raises an intriguing possibility. Could the United States and the Taliban quietly cooperate against a common enemy, after a peace deal? Khalilzad's draft agreement is said to contain language about the "elimination" of ISIS-K. This shared interest could provide a rationale for the United States to maintain a residual counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan, even after withdrawing its main force.

It would be a neat double-cushion shot, but analysts are cautious. "Can the Taliban existentially make the leap to letting us stay?" asks one official. "Their self-definition is that they exist to get out the Americans and their hirelings." If the mainline Taliban did agree to this counterterrorism presence, would that cause more hard-liners to defect to ISIS-K?

The best hope for Afghanistan might be the simple fact that the nation is exhausted by war, and the younger generation is sick of the warlords and thieves who wrecked the country and profited from its misery. "Even if these talks fall apart, they have engraved 'peace' as the only way forward. Even the warlords are recalculating," says one Western official who advises the U.S.-led coalition.

A glimpse of what the future might look like came in an interview with Nasrat Rahimi, the 31-year-old spokesman for the Interior Ministry. He deplored a new attack that killed eight people outside Kabul University. The ministry blamed the Taliban for the attack, though the group denied responsibility. "People hate this," he said. "The only hope that my generation has is to see the end of the 40 years of war."

Afghanistan's modern history is a caution against optimism. "You can always default to the negative in Afghanistan," says the Western official. But Khalilzad has pressed ahead, and he seems near a breakthrough agreement, whatever its defects.

The United States has spent so much blood and treasure here that the one unforgivable mistake would be to leave without a clear counterterrorism strategy to prevent our ever having to return.

Follow David Ignatius on Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Send GOP congressmen home

By dana milbank
Send GOP congressmen home


(Advance for Sunday, July 21, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, July 20, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Milbank clients only)


If only we could send them back.

Republican lawmakers have long cut profiles in cowardice during the Trump presidency, but never before have the consequences of their leadership vacuum been as vivid.

GOP legislators professed dismay when a crowd at President Trump's North Carolina rally, riled by his attacks on a member of Congress who emigrated from Africa as a child, broke into a racist chant of "Send her back!"

"Not acceptable," proclaimed Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"That's offensive," judged Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, the House GOP conference vice chairman.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., likewise declared there is "no place in our party and no place in this country" for such words.

Yet when Trump himself said a few days earlier that four nonwhite members of Congress, including three born in the United States, should "go back" to the countries they came from, Republican lawmakers responded with near-complete silence. When the House, 48 hours before the chanting in North Carolina, took up a resolution condemning these "racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color," only four of 197 House Republicans joined the denunciation.

But they're appalled when thousands of people in an arena chant sentiments much like the ones they tacitly bless when Trump says them? Even after the grotesque display at the rally (Trump, who later distanced himself from the chant, could be seen savoring it at the time), Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said that "the president is onto something."

The lawmakers' behavior is in a way worse than Trump's. He has long demonstrated that he has no sense of propriety -- only an instinct for the expedient. We can expect no more of him. The real injury comes when elected officials who know better nod and wink at Trump's behavior, thereby signaling to the public that it's acceptable.

Some Republicans have belatedly found their voices this time, likely because they sense political damage. A USA Today/Ipsos poll this week found that 65% of Americans believe it's racist to tell minority Americans to "go back to where they came from." Even 45% of Republicans believe this. These ordinary Americans -- including many Trump supporters -- take a stronger moral position than their so-called leaders.

What's more, 72% of Americans, including 68% of Republicans, believe it's patriotic to point out where America falls short -- the offense for which Trump attacked the nonwhite lawmakers.

Leaders shape public opinion. That's why Republican voters' views of immigration and free trade have soured during Trump's tenure. Republican members of Congress, if they chose to lead, could counter his excesses. Instead, for fear of losing their jobs, they cower -- and their silence normalizes the obscene.

Only after they're out do they manage to find their voices. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who just quit the GOP, correctly judged that the "send her back" chant "is the inevitable consequence of President Trump's demagoguery. This is how history's worst episodes begin."

Former Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci, likewise, had his invitation to address the Palm Beach County GOP yanked after he criticized Trump's words. He warned that Trump is "turning into" a racist.

And then there's Paul Ryan, who, during his troubled speakership, maintained a pro-Trump posture, rarely breaking with him publicly. Now out of power, Ryan told Politico's Tim Alberta for his new book, "American Carnage," that Trump "didn't know anything about government."

Belatedly, Ryan laments the injuries to institutions and moral standards. "We've gotten so numbed by it all," said the man who for two years served as chief anesthetist.

All but a handful of the 250 Republicans in Congress are sensible enough to know that the now-former British ambassador, Kim Darroch, had it right when he predicted, in a leaked document, that Trump's administration won't "become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept."

Yet the Republicans remain silent. And Trump pronounces himself once again to be a "stable genius." And threatens to defy a Supreme Court ruling before reversing himself. And bids farewell to his ninth Cabinet officer -- a modern record -- in yet another scandal. And sends mixed messages to Iran, North Korea and Turkey. And hosts conspiracy theorists at the White House. And now launches a racist attack on dark-skinned members of Congress.

So it will continue. Republican lawmakers made their choice to give Trump their tacit approval. The ugliness in North Carolina is what happens when leaders become mere followers.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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