2021
January
12
Tuesday

Monitor Daily Podcast

January 12, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Gratitude for the heroes of Capitol Hill

There was a moment last Wednesday when Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman was all that stood between an angry mob and the floor of the United States Senate.

The split-second decision he made has been hailed as heroic. He led them away, giving security officers time to get senators, staff, and reporters to safety. Wrote Sen. Bob Casey: “His quick thinking and decisive action that day likely saved lives, and we owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Given the security failures and concern about next week’s inauguration, attention has focused on poor preparation and officers who encouraged rioters. But Mr. Goodman’s act speaks to those D.C. and Capitol police who endured verbal abuse and physical attacks with wrenches, pipes, and fists to protect the Capitol, those inside, and American democracy.

Two officers who served in the Iraq War “said this was scarier to them than their time in combat,” the acting D.C. police chief told The Washington Post. One Black officer sat in the Rotunda after the riot ended, openly crying. “I got called a [N-word] 15 times today,” he yelled to no one in particular, BuzzFeed News reported.

Mr. Goodman’s standoff underlines the progress so sorely needed, a former New York City cop told the BBC: “to see a black man being chased by someone carrying a Confederate flag – there is something wrong with that picture. ... It just reeks of everything we need to correct.”

‘He will do his duty’: How loyalty led to conflict for Mike Pence

Mike Pence’s top task as Donald Trump’s vice president was to be loyal. Now, his loyalty to the Constitution has put him in a political no man’s land.

Mark

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That Vice President Mike Pence has reconciled with President Donald Trump, at least in the public telling, should come as no surprise. 

The vice president is a man of deep faith and loyalty. And so, six days after a deadly riot in the Capitol – spurred on by the fighting words of President Trump and chants of “Hang Mike Pence” – he is back to doing what he’s always done: serving as the low-key ballast to a mercurial president.

After the insurrection, Mr. Pence was urged by some to invoke the 25th Amendment on the grounds that the president is mentally unstable. By all indications, he will not go that route. Instead, the House is poised to impeach Mr. Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” which would make him the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice.

And therein lies the paradox of Mr. Pence: He loyally served a president who proved to be perhaps the most controversial in history, and thus Mr. Pence himself may be finished in politics. 

“Pence clearly did his constitutional and legal duty, and he deserves credit for that,” says Joel Goldstein, an expert on the vice presidency. But until last week, Mr. Pence had gone “way overboard in his public praise of Trump, diminishing the office and diminishing himself.” 

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1. ‘He will do his duty’: How loyalty led to conflict for Mike Pence

That Vice President Mike Pence has reconciled with President Donald Trump, at least in the public telling, should come as no surprise. 

The vice president is a man of deep faith and loyalty, whether it be to his family, the president he serves, or the Constitution. And so, six days after a deadly riot in the Capitol – spurred on by the fighting words of President Trump and crowd chants of “Hang Mike Pence,” followed by the vice president’s certification of Joe Biden’s victory – he is back to doing what he’s always done: serving as the low-key, level-headed ballast to a mercurial president who both excited and repelled the American electorate.

Vice President Pence could never be another Trump, and that was the point. Mr. Trump made him running mate precisely because he would not overshadow the boss or try to usurp his power. And therein lies the paradox of Mr. Pence: He loyally served a president who proved to be perhaps the most controversial in history, and thus Mr. Pence himself may be finished in politics. 

“Pence clearly did his constitutional and legal duty, and he deserves credit for that,” says Joel Goldstein, an expert on the vice presidency and law professor emeritus at St. Louis University. But until last week, he adds, Mr. Pence had gone “way overboard in his public praise of Trump, diminishing the office and diminishing himself.” 

A former Pence aide pushes back on the idea that the vice president is too politically damaged to run for president in 2024. “Never say never,” says the former aide, speaking on background. “I’m not predicting, but I would anticipate that the vice president would do all the things necessary to preserve the right to say yes to running, if that’s what he’s called to do.” 

Consider the incoming president. Mr. Biden himself served as vice president to a more charismatic boss and seemed finished in politics when he left office four years ago. But he rose to become the man for the moment, enough voters decided, both in the Democratic primaries and on Nov. 3, and in eight days, he will become the 46th president of the United States.  

Mr. Biden’s political ascension surely was not lost on Mr. Pence last week when he sat in the Senate chamber, presiding over the counting of Electoral College votes that elevated his predecessor to the presidency. 

After the insurrection, Mr. Pence was given the opportunity to take action against Mr. Trump, with calls for him to invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution on the grounds that the president is mentally unstable. Under its terms, the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet could implement that amendment, making Mr. Pence president temporarily. Mr. Trump would have recourse to fight the move. 

“He will do his duty until noon on Jan. 20”

But by all indications, Mr. Pence will not go that route. Instead, the House is poised to impeach Mr. Trump tomorrow for “incitement of insurrection,” which would make him the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. When a trial would take place in the Senate remains uncertain.

Tuesday morning, as Mr. Trump prepared to take off on Air Force One for a visit to the border wall in Alamo, Texas, he called the second impeachment a “continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics.”

It was Mr. Trump’s first public appearance since the siege of the Capitol, and his banning by Twitter and other social media, yet the day felt like business as usual. Mr. Pence, too, has gone back to his routine, presiding Monday over a meeting of the coronavirus task force, and on Tuesday, leading a video conference with governors on COVID-19 response and distribution of vaccines.

“He will do his duty until noon on Jan. 20,” says the former Pence aide. 

Unlike Mr. Trump, the first president to skip his successor’s inauguration in 152 years, Mr. Pence will also attend Mr. Biden’s swearing-in, and is being received as an honored guest.

To some political analysts, the White House since Election Day has appeared consumed by politics and less focused on the day to day of governing. 

“We’ve had a huge vacuum” of leadership, says Susan Stokes, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and director of the school’s Chicago Center on Democracy. 

In one striking example last Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she spoke to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about making sure an “unhinged” Mr. Trump didn’t launch a nuclear attack.

“As a practical reality, Trump has absented himself since the election, and really a little before, from the business of being president,” says Professor Stokes. “He has shown no interest in the least, despite the cruelty of the pandemic.”

The Biden transition team, in fact, has seemed to fill a bit of the vacuum – increasingly focused on messaging around the pandemic, reassuring the public that they will hit the ground running when they take office, amid a shaky start to the public vaccination program. On Friday, the Biden team announced a plan to release all available doses as soon as possible. 

Perhaps in response, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Tuesday that the administration would no longer hold back the second shots of vaccine, to speed protection of as many Americans as possible.

The breach of Jan. 6

For Mr. Pence, prominently filling any leadership vacuum was never on the table. He knows his lane, and sticks to it. That modus operandi has mostly worked for him, but last week it went terribly awry. Mr. Trump effectively threw Mr. Pence under the bus Jan. 6 when he urged his vice president to overturn the election result.

“I’ve never seen Pence as angry as he was today,” his friend GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma told the Tulsa World last Wednesday night. “I had a long conversation with him. He said, ‘After all the things I’ve done for [Trump].’”

After the Capitol riot, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence reportedly didn’t speak for five days, ending the estrangement on Monday. 

In reality, since then-Governor Pence of Indiana was named as running mate, the two have never been an easy fit. Mr. Trump is a thrice married, not-always-conservative populist known for making his own rules. The vice president calls himself “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican – in that order.” 

Mr. Pence pulled back from Mr. Trump in October 2016, when a tape of the GOP nominee bragging about sexually assaulting women came to light. At the time, he even reportedly told the Republican National Committee he’d be willing to serve at the top of the ticket, a move seen as almost coup-like. 

Memories of that episode have lingered. “Trumpites never liked [Mr. Pence] nor forgave him for saying he should’ve replaced Trump,” says a Republican source close to the White House. Also, nonevangelical and Roman Catholic Republicans have distrusted his “religious side,” the source adds, alluding to Mr. Pence’s conversion away from Catholicism and to evangelicalism when he met his future wife. 

In the end, if Trump enthusiasts and mainstream Republicans alike don’t trust Mr. Pence, he could wind up without much of a base.

But, as his former aide says, 2024 is a ways off and there’s no clear Trump heir apparent. Even if the Capitol rioters were ready to “hang Pence,” the aide says, they represent the radical fringe, not the mainstream.

It may well be that Mr. Pence’s long association with Mr. Trump would doom him in 2024 – both because he stuck with Mr. Trump so long and then ultimately defied him. 

Or it may be that, just like the Democrats in 2020, the GOP will look for something other than a charismatic outsider at the top of its ticket. How the Republicans do in the 2022 midterms, with both Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence expected to campaign for candidates, could be telling. 

And, says former GOP Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi, who served alongside Mr. Pence in the House, his friend can point to the “successes” of the Trump years if he runs, including tax reform, moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and Middle East peace agreements. 

“Mike Pence is one of the finest people I know,” says Mr. Harper. “He’s one who doesn’t take shortcuts. He’s always going to follow the Constitution.” 

Staff writer Story Hinckley contributed to this report. 

How a mob stormed the Capitol – and how to stop another assault

The security failure of the Capitol Hill insurrection was a wake-up call, suggesting that domestic threats to the government will need to be taken more seriously.

Mark
Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Members of the National Guard arrive at the U.S. Capitol as Democratic members of the House prepare an article of impeachment against President Donald Trump in Washington, on Jan. 12, 2021. Securing the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration is a top concern after rioters stormed the building last week.

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The ability of a mob to easily overrun defenses and riot in the halls of the U.S. Capitol last week has caused elected officials and private experts to worry about the security of the nation’s seats of government in advance of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

The assault was far from stealthy, after all.

“The violence was planned in public. ... It’s unbelievable to me that [law enforcement defenses] weren’t better prepared and better sourced,” says Michael German, a former FBI special agent.

One problem was that intelligence agencies did not seem to take the threat seriously, despite fast-growing “Stop the Steal” Facebook groups in which members discussed storming the Capitol. Once the assault began tactics may have been faulty. Police didn’t have fallback positions, or a mobile reserve to step into the breach.

De-platforming is one defense. Twitter and Facebook have banned President Donald Trump from Twitter and Facebook on grounds his communications are inflammatory. The right-oriented social media app Parler has been booted out by app stores and its web hosting services.

But that may just drive people to “darker places of the internet” and make them harder to see, says Renée DiResta, a researcher who studies the spread of malign narratives across social networks at the Stanford Internet Observatory.

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2. How a mob stormed the Capitol – and how to stop another assault

Just as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 raised new questions about the ability of the United States to identify and prevent foreign attacks, the riot that overran the Capitol building on Jan. 6 has exposed blind spots in the nation’s defense against malign domestic threats, raising widespread concerns about the security of America’s seats of government ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

As new details about the attack continue to emerge, officials and civilian experts alike have expressed growing levels of outrage – and incredulity – that such an insurgency was even possible in the U.S. It was a mob incited, organized, and pushed to act in plain sight. Its most dangerous members, such as the Proud Boys and other groups with white extremist ties, are well known and prior to last Wednesday openly boasted about their intentions.

“The violence was planned in public. ... It’s unbelievable to me that they weren’t better prepared and better sourced,” says Michael German, a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice and a former FBI special agent.

When asked to clarify who he means by “they” – the FBI? the Capitol Police? – Mr. German pauses.

“All of the above,” he says.

How it happened

When some 8,000 Trump supporters marched on the Capitol in the early afternoon of Jan. 6, the 1,200 police officers on duty were outnumbered and unprepared. Within 15 minutes the Capitol’s west side was breached. In the ensuing chaos, five people died, including a Capitol police officer.

By Thursday, the U.S. House sergeant-at-arms, the U.S. Senate sergeant-at-arms, and the Capitol Police chief had all announced their resignations. By Monday, the U.S. House introduced an article of impeachment, “incitement of insurrection,” against President Donald Trump. And over the past week, lawmakers from both parties have called for investigations into how the attack was allowed to occur.

Initial analyses by security experts and journalists suggest several missteps leading up to Jan. 6. The biggest may have been intelligence officials’ failure to take online threats seriously.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
The mace of the House of Representatives is carried into the chamber by Joyce Hamlett, the assistant sergeant-at-arms, as the House returns following last week's deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 11, 2021.

A “Stop the Steal” Facebook group was formed the day after the presidential election and soon became one of the fastest-growing groups in Facebook’s history, gaining 320,000 members in less than 24 hours. Although the social media site soon shut down the page for trying to incite violence, the effort spread to new Facebook groups, as well as other social platforms such as Twitter, Gab, Parler, and TheDonald.win, a website that was created last year after Reddit banned one of its subcommittees, or “subreddits,” popular among Trump supporters in late June.

SITE Intelligence Group, a private group that tracks online activity of white supremacists and terrorist groups, published a report Saturday with screenshots of posts from TheDonald.win that anticipated last week’s events, such as calls to “storm the Capitol” and “start marching into the chambers.” Saturday’s report includes a link to a published report from late December that included similar warnings.

Nevertheless, on Friday, a top official in the FBI’s Washington office had said there was no indication that anything other than First Amendment-protected protests were planned for Jan. 6. This claim was further undercut Monday when NBC News learned that the FBI had visited more than a dozen known extremists and warned the Capitol Police about the possibility of violence. And on Tuesday, evidence came forward that an FBI office in Virginia had distributed an explicit internal alert one day before the attack warning of extremists encouraging one another to “get violent” and be “ready for war.”

But Mr. German says the seeds of Wednesday’s insurrection were sown long before the “Stop the Steal” Facebook groups were formed, as many of the participants had already been “conditioned” to think that such behavior is acceptable.

“For the last four years, they have been able to travel, commit violence, and walk away, all with the encouragement of the president of the United States – so of course they would think the government has authorized them to act violently against their common enemies,” says Mr. German. “Just look at all the people who were livestreaming themselves breaking windows. There wasn’t any sense that this was something that was improper.”

The footage has brought in tens of thousands of tips to the FBI, leading to the arrests of more than 60 people thus far. This includes Richard Barnett, the man who photographed himself with his feet on House Speaker Nancy’s Pelosi’s desk, as well as Adam Johnson, who smiled for cameras while carrying Speaker Pelosi’s lectern.

Tactics under scrutiny

Video footage from the scene has also left experts questioning the Capitol Police’s tactical response. Doug Parisi, a police captain for 20 years in Kansas City, Kansas, who ran the local police academy, which included teaching officers about how to handle similar crowds, was surprised by both what he saw – and didn’t see.

Once parts of the lines were breached, the officers outside the Capitol didn’t seem to have “fallback positions” to help them regain control of a small breach before it became bigger, says Mr. Parisi. On top of that, he adds, it didn’t appear as if the Capitol Police had a “quick deployment group” ready and waiting to assist if the officers on duty needed backup.

“You will put those officers a bit back, but visible, so the crowd can see ‘Well if you get past them, then you have to deal with us,’” says Mr. Parisi. “I was surprised that they didn’t have a quick reactionary group.”

So why was law enforcement so outnumbered and underprepared?

Some law enforcement experts suspect the meager response last Wednesday was an overcorrection to the response to Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. After vowing to “dominate” those protesting police brutality in early June, Mr. Trump mobilized an array of federal agencies, including the FBI, the Defense Department, and the Department of Homeland Security – a decision that was met with widespread criticism.

Sarah Silbiger/Reuters
Steven D'Antuono, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Washington field office, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington on Jan. 12, 2021. The acting attorney for Washington and FBI provided an update on criminal charges related to the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol.

Racial and political bias?

Others point to the discrepancy in protesters’ race, with Black Lives Matter activists arguing that law enforcement would have handled the violence differently if the people pushing past the barricades were Black instead of white.

Some research has backed up these claims. An analysis of 2020’s protests by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project found that authorities were more likely to break up a left-wing protest, and when they chose to intervene, were more likely to use force against left-wing protesters. Despite a big disparity in the two groups’ actions on June 1 and Jan. 6, more than five times as many protesters were arrested by Washington, D.C., police in June.

There has long been debate – and conspiracies – surrounding law enforcement’s support for white supremacy. The conspiracy theories extended to last week’s events, as video clips circulated online seemingly showing Capitol Police stepping aside to let the rioters through.

No large-scale plot has been uncovered, but two Capitol Police officers have been suspended due to their response to the riot, one who was captured on camera posing for a selfie with a rioter, and the other captured touring the rioters around the building.

Others point to Washington’s non-state status as a reason why Wednesday’s events were able to reach such a state of chaos. Governors are able to request the National Guard at will, but District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser’s capabilities are limited. The district’s National Guard can only be deployed with approval of the Pentagon, and therefore, the president.

But quite simply, some of the inadequate responses may come down to disbelief, says Juliette Kayyem, a national security expert and former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Despite Mr. Trump repeatedly tweeting and retweeting incendiary messages on Twitter about Jan. 6, many Americans have a difficult time wrapping their minds around the idea of such an event actually happening.

“We learn in third grade civics that there are good presidents and there are bad presidents, but we have a hard time thinking about terror-inspiring presidents,” says Ms. Kayyem. “While the Capitol Police may have been prepared for something … I don’t know if the taking of the Capitol was anticipated.”

Pushing back

Experts say it’s too soon to offer a full breakdown of what happened on Jan. 6, and that more answers will come to light as law enforcement continues to investigate. But there is pressure on authorities to identify and rectify last Wednesday’s mistakes quickly, given that Mr. Biden’s inauguration is set to occur on Jan. 20 on the same risers protesters climbed over just two weeks earlier.

Mr. Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook indefinitely over the weekend. The social media giants charged that the president’s inflammatory tweets and posts violated their terms of service and could incite his followers.

After this move, Parler, a social media platform similar to Twitter that has gained traction among conservatives in recent months as Twitter began to monitor tweets for election misinformation, became the most popular application in Apple’s app store. But by the end of the weekend, Parler had been removed from the app store and Amazon announced it would remove Parler from its web-hosting services, making the entire app go offline until it is able to find a new hosting service.

But Mr. Trump’s supporters, specifically those who intend to continue fighting the results of the 2020 election, still have means to communicate online. And while de-platforming does hinder groups’ ability to grow online by making fellow sympathizers more difficult to find, it also makes extremists – and their plans – more difficult for law enforcement officials to find as well, says Renée DiResta, a researcher who studies the spread of malign narratives across social networks at the Stanford Internet Observatory.

“When removing a platform, you drive people to darker places of the internet and it gets harder to see,” says Ms. DiResta, comparing the current conundrum to a similar debate that officials had several years ago regarding Islamic State and Twitter. “It becomes a different kind of monitoring challenge.”

Recent comments on TheDonald.win site encourage fellow Trump supporters to join Rumble, a video-sharing platform similar to YouTube, and Telegram, a messaging app that allows users to connect based on their location. MeWe, another messaging app recommended by Trump supporters, offers scrolls and scrolls worth of pro-Trump groups, most of them private, some with tens of thousands of members. Members in these groups share images of Jesus Christ hugging President Trump, as well as violent GIFs and death threats against Democratic leaders, particularly Speaker Pelosi.

Although a search on Facebook finds no more groups with “Stop the Steal” in their name, searches of other key phrases such as “MAGA,” “Trump 2020,” and even “inauguration” bring up hundreds of Facebook groups, many of them private. “Is there nothing else that can be done to save President Trump? Is this the end?” asks a member in one of the public groups that surfaces with the search word “patriots.” Many members reply “it’s over” with sad face emojis, but others encourage fellow patriots to “hold the line.” “It’s not over yet!” replies one member. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” replies another.

“PSA: This is just the beginning,” reads a comment posted on TheDonald.win Monday. “MAGA will resonate for decades. Trump will not back down and other patriots will not back down.”

Preparations for inauguration

According to an internal FBI bulletin obtained by ABC News, armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols and at the U.S. Capitol over the next week. The Department of Homeland Security has expanded the window for enhanced surveillance in downtown Washington ahead of the inauguration, which is classified as a National Special Security Event, to begin on Jan. 13 rather than Jan. 19. On Monday, the Pentagon authorized up to 15,000 National Guardsmen to deploy to Washington ahead of Inauguration Day.

At a press conference on Tuesday, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said federal law enforcement has established a task force on the Capitol riot looking at “seditious and conspiracy” charges that carry sentences of up to 20 years.

“You will be charged and you will be found,” he said.

The Department of Justice has already opened more than 170 subject files, naming individuals suspected of committing crimes on federal property, Mr. Sherwin said. Seventy people have already been charged and the numbers will grow into the hundreds.  

“Between now and Inauguration Day, I think people will take more seriously any rhetoric about a call to arms,” says Ms. DiResta. “But the challenge is that there is a big group of people who have been conditioned to believe over months that the election was stolen from them ... and that belief is not going to go away once the inauguration happens.”

Graphic

After Capitol assault, public opinion shifts toward Trump’s removal

What do Americans think about the riot on Capitol Hill? There's broad condemnation, polls suggest, and heightened concern about President Trump among Democrats and independents.

Mark
Alex Brandon/AP
President Donald Trump speaks to the media before boarding Air Force One, at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The president is traveling to Texas Jan. 12, 2021.

When a mob pushed its way violently into the U.S. Capitol last week, drawn to Washington by President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of a stolen election, the events evoked a strong shift in public opinion. 

Several polls show a majority of Americans – though notably, not of Republicans – saying the president should be removed from office or resign before the scheduled end of his term on Jan. 20 – a stunning rebuke.

“A weighted average of [13 new] polls, accounting for their quality, recency and sample size, finds that 52 percent of Americans support Trump’s ouster, while only 42 percent oppose it,” wrote Nathaniel Rakich on Monday for the number-crunching website FiveThirtyEight. 

Support for removing Mr. Trump when the U.S. House impeached him 13 months ago stood around 47% in FiveThirtyEight’s poll tracking.

For comparison, 57% of Americans thought President Richard Nixon should be removed from office at the time he resigned in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate break-in scandal, according to Gallup polling. 

Public opinion will continue to evolve. And voters are split on whether they consider what happened at the U.S. Capitol a coup attempt. In a Quinnipiac University poll, 47% of registered voters say yes, while 43% say no. 

But the poll found near unanimity (91% to 6%) for holding those who stormed the Capitol accountable for their actions. And 3 in 4 see American democracy as “under threat.”

SOURCE: ABC News/Ipsos poll; PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, Quinnipiac University poll
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Beware entanglements? ‘Realists’ fret over Biden foreign policy.

Can you stand for global leadership, democracy, and human rights without becoming ensnared in one foreign intervention after another? That is Joe Biden’s challenge.

Mark

Two ways to read the story

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President-elect Joe Biden has spoken with soaring language about the world’s need for American leadership. He has pledged to convene a summit of democracies. And he speaks of a return to a more robust promotion of human and political rights.

And that has given some U.S. foreign-policy “realists,” who want to avoid a return to the disastrous interventions of the past two decades, plenty to fret about. Some cite a sense of foreboding when they hear Antony Blinken, the secretary-of-state-designate, saying that, “In Syria, we rightly sought to avoid another Iraq by not doing too much, but we made the opposite error of doing too little.”

Yet Mr. Biden also is indicating he has no interest in achieving foreign-policy goals through military intervention. Indeed, some realists say there are signs of an “evolution” in Mr. Biden’s thinking.

“What I’m seeing among my fellow restrainers is that most are taking a wait-and-see attitude,” says Daniel Davis, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities in Washington. As a senator, Mr. Biden was “one of the biggest cheerleaders of the Iraq war,” yet as vice president sought to limit the Afghanistan troop surge, he notes. “I think Biden has shown he’s learned from his mistakes.”

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4. Beware entanglements? ‘Realists’ fret over Biden foreign policy.

When President-elect Joe Biden named Antony Blinken, his longtime foreign-policy aide and a former Obama deputy national security adviser, as his choice to become the next secretary of state, foreign-policy realists shuddered.

Here we go again, they said, with a foreign policy run by idealists and based on American global leadership and promoting democracy and human rights – a recipe, in their view, for a return to the disastrous interventions of the past two decades.

“I wish he’d go with his Joe Biden self who was skeptical of the Afghanistan surge in the Obama administration,” says Michael Desch, professor of international relations and director of Notre Dame International Security Center in Indiana. “But unfortunately, most of the signals are sort of back to the future with a return to the good old days of liberal intervention and American leadership.”

Hadn’t Mr. Blinken, as recently as last May on CBS, bemoaned the Obama administration’s failure to “prevent a horrendous loss of life [and] massive displacement” in Syria as “something I will take with me for the rest of my days”?

Some realists, who advocate a foreign policy based on narrowly defined national interests and modest ambitions for America’s global role, heard their concerns confirmed last week. Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s choice as his national security adviser, took to Twitter to call out Saudi Arabia over its sentencing to more than five years in prison of prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul.

But perhaps the sharpest alarm bell was rung by Robert Wright, a self-described progressive realist, who took to his Nonzero Newsletter last month to lament the imminent arrival at the White House of a “progressive idealist” foreign-policy team that under President Barack Obama was responsible “for much death and suffering and dislocation” in the name of “spreading democracy and defending human rights” abroad.

“Idealists like Sullivan and Blinken have supported past interventions that made things worse,” said Mr. Wright, referring to Syria, Libya, and U.S. efforts in 2014 to bolster the opposition to a sitting president in Ukraine.

“Evolution” in Biden’s thinking

Mr. Biden appears to have given the realists plenty to fret about. He has spoken and written with soaring language about the world’s need for American leadership. He has pledged to convene a summit of democracies his first year in office to stand against a rising tide of authoritarianism. And he has pledged to return to a more robust policy of human and political rights promotion.

But at the same time, the incoming president is suggesting he has no interest in implementing a foreign policy that would achieve its goals through military intervention and other means of achieving regime change.

Omar Sobhani/Reuters/File
U.S. troops at their base in Logar Province, Afghanistan, Aug. 4, 2018. Some foreign-policy "realists" say they're encouraged that Joe Biden, as vice president, sought to limit the 2009-10 troop surge.

Indeed the clash of Mr. Biden’s two dominant impulses when it comes to foreign policy – for America to lead and promote its values around the world, but at the same time to avoid the kind of foreign entanglements George Washington advised against – is likely to determine, at least in part, the success of a presidency that will have substantial domestic policy challenges.

Some foreign-policy realists are holding to what they say are signs of an “evolution” in Mr. Biden’s thinking over the past two decades and are resisting the hand-wringing of some of their colleagues about a new American interventionism.

“What I’m seeing among my fellow restrainers is that most are taking a wait-and-see attitude, and are not being unduly alarmed or apprehensive about what might be coming,” says Daniel Davis, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities, a Washington organization that advocates a strong defense and restrained foreign policy pursuing narrow national interests.

As a senator, Mr. Biden was “one of the biggest cheerleaders of the Iraq war,” yet as vice president was an “adamant advocate for a significant reduction of the 2009-10 [Afghanistan] troop surge,” he notes.

“I think Biden has shown he’s learned from his mistakes,” he adds.

“Idealists” leading the team

Some realists would say Mr. Biden’s choice of what Mr. Wright calls “progressive idealists” to lead his foreign-policy team demonstrates that in fact he hasn’t changed his thinking much. They admit to a sense of foreboding when they hear Mr. Blinken, the secretary-of-state-designate, saying, as he did last year, that, “In Syria, we rightly sought to avoid another Iraq by not doing too much, but we made the opposite error of doing too little.”

But Colonel Davis notes that Mr. Blinken was one of the architects of Mr. Obama’s drawdown of troops from Iraq, and worked “behind the scenes” in 2009 to limit the Afghanistan surge.

“At the least you have to say that Tony Blinken has a mixed record, and I’m not sure he really merits the buzz words of ‘liberal interventionist’ that people are pinning on him,” he says.

Moreover, Colonel Davis, like a number of other foreign-policy realists and anti-interventionists, finds solace in the fact that Mr. Biden has not named to prominent national security posts any of the Obama advisers who became known as the Valkyries for pushing military interventions like the 2011 Libya bombardment campaign that toppled Muammar Qaddafi.

“I don’t see Biden turning to Susan Rice or Samantha Power to fill his national security team,” he says. “So him leaving to one side the architects of those festering wounds, like Libya or Syria or Yemen, suggests he’s leaning towards restraint.”

Biden has chosen Ms. Rice, who served as Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, for a top domestic policy post. And some in Washington speculate that Ms. Power, who served as ambassador to the United Nations under Mr. Obama and is known as an adamant defender of human rights promotion, could still be named to a Biden administration post – perhaps as U.S. Agency for International Development administrator. [Editor's note: On Wednesday, Mr. Biden did indeed name Ms. Power to that post.]

And this week sources with the Biden transition team confirmed that the president-elect has chosen Victoria Nuland, a former NATO ambassador and assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, to fill what is effectively the No. 3 position at State. Ambassador Nuland was a key player in the pro-Western opposition’s 2014 deposing of Ukraine’s Russian-backed president.

Some foreign-policy experts insist that Mr. Biden won’t run afoul of realists alone if he starts to let his interventionist impulses dominate. Notre Dame’s Professor Desch says the president-elect will also have to be prepared for sharp pushback from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party if he shows signs of doing too much – and in particular of turning to the military to intervene.

“Those folks are not going to be thrilled about a return to business as usual in foreign policy,” he says.

Mr. Blinken has acknowledged as “mistakes” some of the U.S. actions under President Obama that progressives most lament – but he has also warned that the foreign policy progressives advocate too often flirts with isolationism, which he says does not serve America’s interests.

Call for “new thinking”

The debate between foreign-policy realists and idealists, progressives and traditionalists, will no doubt carry on into the Biden administration. But what concerns some experts most is not so much who wins those debates as it is their inkling that there is a dearth of “new thinking” in the Biden team about America’s role in the world.

“More than anything I’d say it’s this [incoming] administration’s lack of imagination that I find most disconcerting,” says Professor Desch. “The general approach of the people Biden is choosing is that Trump broke everything, so our objective is to build back. And while Biden may be comfortable with them,” he adds, “I’m not sure how much creative thinking he’ll get from these Obama retreads.”

He’s not alone in his thinking.

Lawrence Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, notes that President Reagan resisted stiff pressure to turn to Henry Kissinger, the architect of Richard Nixon’s vaunted realist foreign policy, but instead took a fresh turn.

“I don’t see the people Biden’s choosing so much as idealists as I do a team of buddies the new president is comfortable with, but that leaves me wondering, where are the thinkers?” says Mr. Korb, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

The problem Professor Desch sees in “building back” as a guiding principle for foreign policy is that it risks turning to policies and approaches for a world that no longer exists.

“The better approach is to say, ‘What does the world of 2021 look like?’” he says, “and to answer the question of America’s role in it based on that.”

From snowy Yukon, a Punjabi dance warms Canadian hearts

Canadian winters can be cold and bleak, all the more so when they coincide with a pandemic. But one man is using the color and joy of Punjabi dance to bring Canadians some unexpected cheer.

Mark
Christian Kuntz/Courtesy of Gurdeep Pandher
Gurdeep Pandher, shown here near Whitehorse, Yukon, where he lives, posts videos and photos of himself dancing bhangra, an ancient dance of Punjabi farmers, in an effort to spread joy and positivity across Canada amid the pandemic.

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On the winter solstice, in a bright blue sweater, an orange turban, and brown snow boots, Gurdeep Pandher posted a video of himself online doing what he calls a “happy dance”: arms to the sky, knees high, and the broadest of smiles. This is what he does in the snow-covered forest behind his cabin near Whitehorse, Yukon.

Mr. Pandher has 42,000-plus Twitter followers, 75% of whom arrived only since the pandemic, who tune in to watch him dance bhangra, originally a farmer’s dance in Punjab. Mr. Pandher has been dancing it since he was a child, and he says there’s no surprise to him that it’s caught on. “If you’re dancing bhangra, and you are not happy, that is not bhangra, even if you are doing all the moves perfectly,” he says.

Mr. Pandher is holding a national concert – virtually – on Jan. 16 to showcase his work. Many people would benefit from tuning in, says Peter Lovatt, the author of “The Dance Cure.” But there is something especially compelling about the synchrony of dance in today’s climate. “When people move together in synchrony, they report trusting the other person more,” Dr. Lovatt says.

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5. From snowy Yukon, a Punjabi dance warms Canadian hearts

He has led firefighters and police officers to the rhythms of bhangra – a centuries-old dance that hails from the farming fields of Punjab. He has danced in front of Canada’s Parliament in Ottawa and amid crashing waves of the country’s Pacific Coast.

But these days, Gurdeep Pandher has more fans than he ever has – by posting videos of himself dancing in the snow-covered forest behind his cabin near Whitehorse in Yukon, Canada’s northwesternmost territory.

At this time of year, it’s not until about 11 a.m. that the sun comes out, filtering through the trees and drawing him outdoors. “It looks so beautiful, to me it looks just like magic,” he says. “I do feel like I live in a winter wonderland.”

On the winter solstice last month, in a bright blue sweater, an orange turban, and brown snow boots, Mr. Pandher posted a new video of himself doing what he calls a “happy dance”: arms raising to the sky, knees as high as they go, and the broadest of smiles. To his followers, he wrote on Twitter: “If you see winter blues in the coming weeks, kick them away with some dance moves!”

And his followers – all 42,000-plus of them, 75% of whom arrived only since the pandemic – seem to be listening. On this day, an iteration of what his fans write with every new video he posts, one gushed: “Thank you. I can feel your joy. Keep sharing please!”

Or another, “Gurdeep you cheer me up no end, thank you!”

“You have to smile”

Bhangra began as a farmer’s dance in Punjab to celebrate a good harvest, but it’s found its way across the globe, from trendy DJ fusions to entertainment on basketball courts of North America. Mr. Pandher has been dancing it since he was a child, and he says there’s no surprise to him that it’s caught on – for its upbeat sounds and its core value of joy. “If you’re dancing bhangra, and you are not happy, that is not bhangra, even if you are doing all the moves perfectly,” he says.

That’s why he believes his videos, one after the other, keep going viral during the pandemic, when there is so much darkness and heaviness.

“There’s a Punjabi saying that when there’s a lot of darkness, we value brightness more. And I’ve noticed that, a lot of the sort of people who never cared about watching my videos before, like lawyers, or politicians, or diplomats, are sending me messages,” he says.

“Before maybe they didn’t feel like something light was professional, or important, but now in these difficult times they realize the importance of someone dancing to create happiness, someone who’s preaching that kindness is important, what our ancestors from centuries have been preaching.”

He’s not the only one feeling a new buzz around bhangra. Harshjot Singh, who founded Power Bhangra with his wife in Montreal, is these days offering popular bhangra fitness classes over Zoom. It’s a physical workout, but he says it’s also the culture of bhangra that he believes keeps his students – who span Canada and even North America – signing up. “You have to smile, it’s just the rule of the dance. And as students learn about it, slowly and steadily, it just comes naturally. Our students just start smiling once they are dancing.”

Mr. Singh has also been dancing since he was a child and represented his university in Punjab in the intense world of bhangra – the  equivalent of playing on a Canadian school’s hockey team, he says – and he sees potential for growth in the ancient dance form in Canada, his new home.

Mr. Pandher’s social media following certainly hasn’t hurt. “It makes me super happy that someone is taking the lead doing it and bringing so much attention to this dance form and culture,” says Mr. Singh of his colleague.

Trust through dance

Mr. Pandher is holding a national annual concert – virtually – on Jan. 16 to showcase his work and the fusions he has created with other artists.

Many people would benefit from tuning in, says Peter Lovatt, the author of new book “The Dance Cure.” He says that dancing, unlike just plain fitness, has four key benefits in the realms of social, thinking, emotions, and the physical - which, fittingly, spell STEP.

All of those areas are suffering during the pandemic, and everyone benefits from things like physical activity or disconnecting from the Internet. But there is something especially compelling about the synchrony of dance in today’s climate. “When people dance in synchrony, it increases how much they like each other,” Dr. Lovatt says. “When people move together in synchrony, they report trusting the other person more.”

This is true, he says, even if you are doing a Power Bhangra class on Zoom, or watching Mr. Gurdeep dancing on Twitter or Instagram.

In the past 15 years as a teacher, Mr. Pandher, who immigrated to Canada and worked in IT before pursuing a degree in education, has focused much of his dancing on breaking down cultural boundaries.

When he became a Canadian citizen in 2011 – which meant losing his Indian citizenship – he traveled across his adopted country before settling in Yukon, the last stop on his journey and the place that reminded him most of his village in Punjab.

Those travels sealed a key lesson for him. He danced with those from different faiths, cultures, or different subcultures in the same community, but he found that everyone was essentially the same once they started dancing.

“I realized that everything is in our mind, we create differences that don’t actually exist and the more we start thinking about these differences the more we confirm that they exist,” he says. “Instead we need to find the goodness in people. And that’s what I’m doing through my dance work.”

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Contrition in a crisis brings out truth

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In North Korea, where inventing enemies has helped keep three generations of Kims in power, the current dictator, Kim Jong Un, displayed a moment of contrition last week. He admitted he has had to learn “painful lessons” as the economy had “immensely underachieved.” 

Humility is rare among national leaders. Yet when such self-reflection occurs, it not only commands attention but sometimes deserves forgiveness. As the COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread damage, more leaders may be recognizing that an admission of mistakes is not seen as weakness. 

When a government leader fails and then apologizes, the public is usually divided on how to react. Yet at a time of great upheaval or political polarization, forgiveness is needed. “Political opponents are often hateful, critical, and cruel with a justification that they are merely telling the truth to their political backers. But contempt for an opponent is easily detected by others who support the target of contempt,” states Everett Worthington, professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Even Mr. Kim, one of the most feared people in the world, understands the need to be humble. Only when genuine humility takes root can a wrong be put in the past and all things become new.

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Contrition in a crisis brings out truth

In North Korea, where inventing foreign enemies has helped keep three generations of Kims in power, the current dictator, Kim Jong Un, displayed a moment of contrition last week. He opened a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party by admitting he has had to learn “painful lessons” in leadership. Over the past five years, he said, the economy has “immensely underachieved.” He acknowledged mistakes that could not be tied to any foreign foe.

Humility is rare among national leaders, especially dictators who claim infallibility and threaten neighbors with nuclear weapons. Yet when such self-reflection occurs, it not only commands attention but sometimes deserves forgiveness. As the COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread damage, more leaders may be recognizing that an admission of mistakes is not seen as a sign of weakness. It might even be a sign of strength.

Last year, for example, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, apologized to Italy for Europe’s failure to support the Italian health system when it was overwhelmed by the coronavirus. Her apology helped unify the Continent’s response to the crisis.

In the United States last month, Army Gen. Gustave Perna, who is in charge of distributing COVID-19 vaccines to the states, apologized for a shortfall of deliveries. “‘I know that’s not done much these days. But I am responsible,” he said. His contrition has perhaps allowed other officials to own up to their mistakes in the rollout of the vaccine.

When a government leader fails and then apologizes, the public is usually divided on how to react, writes Everett Worthington, professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University. Yet at a time of great upheaval and political polarization in the U.S., forgiveness is needed.

“Political opponents are often hateful, critical, and cruel with a justification that they are merely telling the truth to their political backers. But contempt for an opponent is easily detected by others who support the target of contempt,” he states in a paper for the John Templeton Foundation. “This breeds a divisive spirit within the public square ... and the results of ill feeling and civic division will cascade amid the general population.”

In his own admission of responsibility, North Korea’s leader did not ask for forgiveness. But Mr. Kim did skip his usual Jan. 1 address this year and instead released a handwritten letter that gave thanks to “the people” for their trust “in the difficult times.” Even one of the most feared and disliked people in the world understands the need to be humble. Only when genuine humility takes root can a wrong be put in the past and all things become new.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

In need of mental self-care? Try prayer.

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Taking care of our mental well-being is important. And as a working mom of three young children discovered, starting the day with prayer opens the door to divine inspiration, wisdom, and peace – no matter what the day has in store for us.

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1. In need of mental self-care? Try prayer.

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As we were waving goodbye to our kids at the bus stop one morning, my neighbor turned to me and said, “You always seem so calm and peaceful. Would you mind telling me what you are taking for that?”

I realized that she wanted to know which antidepressant I was taking to help me keep calm at that chaotic stage of life. It was a reasonable question; taking care of our mental well-being is important. A 2020 National Center for Health Statistics study showed that during the decade between 2009-10 and 2017-18, antidepressant use increased among women.

But as I explained to my friend, I wasn’t taking any medication. Instead, I’ve found daily prayer to be a tremendous help in maintaining mental poise and joy. For me, this prayer isn’t passive, but an intentional act of turning my thought toward God, and then listening to inspiration from this divine source of overflowing love, comfort, wisdom, and joy.

The Bible has much to say about turning our cares over to God, such as: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:5, 6, English Standard Version). The nature of prayer in Christian Science isn’t just hoping for the best. It’s about listening for God’s wise and tender messages, which lift our thought away from the difficulties of our day and help us realize more tangibly the enduring peace that God establishes and maintains for all of us, His children.

When explaining to his students how to pray, Jesus told them to first “go into your room [and] close the door” (Matthew 6:6, New International Version). Or in other words, to quiet your thought and prepare yourself to listen, away from distractions. Then he says that when we pray this way, “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

This “reward” is thoughts that originate from God, the all-knowing source of wisdom, that open our eyes to spiritual reality. In this mental closet of prayer, we begin to realize that joy, harmony, and stability are our birthright and can never truly be lost, even briefly. In turn, this inspires solutions that meet our needs in just the right way.

Such prayer is something we can turn to as a daily practice to get our day off on the right foot and bring a fuller calm and joy to our day. The goal of such prayer is unique: to increase our awareness of the goodness, joy, and harmony that are already ours, established for us by God.

As a working mom with three small children, I found that my mornings always started better when I woke up before everyone else (sometimes that was really early!) and took time to prepare my thought for the day. I would turn to God and acknowledge that this all-loving source of wisdom and goodness was right with me throughout the day and watching over each of us. My mornings also included reading the weekly Bible Lesson from the Christian Science Quarterly, which was established by Mary Baker Eddy, who also brought us The Christian Science Monitor. The ideas in those lessons really fed my thought with a more spiritual view of the day and of the tasks before me.

On the days when I took the time to do this, I could feel the difference. Rather than the day starting like a fire drill, I felt settled and steady, prepared to meet whatever the day had in store, and I just felt a peace pervading the household.

As I briefly touched on some of this with my friend, she was intrigued by this noninvasive and uplifting approach to mental health care and wanted to learn more about it. I was happy to share.

Through prayer, we learn to trust God as divine Life, Truth, and Love, a very palpable and reliable help. Even if the troubles we’re facing seem insurmountable, this is exactly where God comes in, because to God, who is infinite Mind, nothing is impossible (see Luke 1:37). When we turn expectantly, gratefully, to God, our thoughts and lives better reflect the divine peace that God has blessed us with. Anyone can benefit from daily, deliberate prayer to God, who is always there for us and never fails to help.

Some more great ideas! To read or share an article for teenagers on making progress in the midst of difficulties titled “What can I do when everything's falling apart?” please click through to the TeenConnect section of www.JSH-Online.com. There is no paywall for this content.

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Nature’s hot tub

Kyodo/Reuters
Japanese macaques soak in a hot spring at the Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden in Hakodate on Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido on Jan. 12, 2021.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when our Taylor Luck looks at the deal to ease tensions between two Mideast powers, perhaps the Trump administration’s last big accomplishment.

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