As the 2020 election nears, The Means Report is working to get you set for everything ahead as election season gets underway. They talk about the primaries that will begin in just a few weeks, who the Democratic frontrunners are – as well as who might emerge from the pack – and, of course, the impeachment impact. To do all of that, Dr. Craig Albert from Augusta University returns to the show.
Brad Means: Dr. Albert, always so kind with his time, especially here as school gets started for the new semester. Thanks for being back.
Dr. Craig Albert: Thanks for having me.
Brad Means: It’s our pleasure. So I tried to think of what to start with and so many things have happened since we last met. Let’s start with the killing of the Iranian General Soleimani and whether you think it was a good time for us to take him out and if that helps make a dent in the war on terror, if you will.
Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t know if it helps the war on terror or not. I think it was a major action of deterrence by the United States. So I question President Trump’s timing of it just because it seems to have been so far away from the time when Soleimani was really active and engaging in building or managing roadside bombs against Iraqi and American troops in Iraq. So it seems a little postponed. But with that said, it took us 10 years to get bin Laden as well, so, I mean, how long is too long before you get somebody that’s been hurting your soldiers or troops? But I think the major point we should be considering is that it was a deterrent action, not necessarily towards Iran, but maybe towards North Korea. Targeting this general, who was a member of the Iranian State, so a member of the regime, a government official, shows the whole world that the United States will do what it needs to to make sure that your regime doesn’t overstep his boundaries and we will take action, and that was a very aggressive and bold move by President Trump to do that.
Brad Means: Look at the Iranian response just a few hours later when they fired a bunch of missiles that did nothing to us. Of course, they took out, it looks like a passenger jet. But they didn’t do anything to US targets. Do you think they missed on purpose?
Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely, they missed on purpose. They had to do something to show the domestic population of Iran that they were going to do something so they fired about a couple dozen ballistic missiles. We also knew about it well ahead of time and they knew that we were gonna know about it well ahead of time, so we moved and stationed all of our troops, civilians, and contractors out of the area, put them in bunkers, so we knew that they would be safe. So this is something that Iran had to do for its population, but it did not want to risk escalation with the United States. So if they killed a United States personnel member, that would’ve forced Donald Trump’s hand to escalate even more and perhaps cause a regional war. So I think that Iran backed down on what we call it, they blinked, knowing that President Trump would probably be the aggressor if they did something that hurt a US personnel member.
Brad Means: How easy is it for the bad guys to replace Soleimani? He was a key figure. He, they say, was planning a lot of attacks on US targets in the near future. Is it next man up? Is it that easy?
Dr. Craig Albert: It is not that easy. So he was well regarded, well liked by regime officials and by the population. He’s been in power for about 20 years, so that’s a long time, and he had a legacy. But this is also why the United States was able to target him because he got sloppy with handling himself and with going out in public and we could track him very easily. So we’ve known where he’s been for quite a number of years, actually. And he felt safe and secure in his popularity that the United States would never strike him because of how high ranking he was. So that can’t easily be replaced. Neither can his generalship or his commandship. So he was in charge of the Quds Forces and was in charge of the unconventional warfare elements as well. So he was in charge of implementing roadside bombs, pretty much, that were responsible for killing about 700 American soldiers during the war in Iraq. So that’s a hard person to replace if you look at it from their side, strategic-wise.
Brad Means: We sent a drone over there to kill him. Is this what modern day warfare looks like where you don’t have to have an assassin hiding in the shadows, just program a drone?
Dr. Craig Albert: Yeah it’s Special Operations Forces and drones. That’s what the future of warfare is. We’re still managing and we’re still preparing for conventional warfare on two fronts, so that’s what the United States military doctrine is prepared for. So let’s say we have to fight North Korea and then Russia gets in the mix. We can still take on two conventional foes at once right now, that’s our military doctrine, but we would like to keep it maintained within Special Operations Forces and drone strikes if we can, and President Obama really set that precedent for drone strikes.
Brad Means: We’re gonna talk about impeachment a little bit later in this broadcast, but do you have any concerns about the timing of the Soleimani killing that it may have been done by the president to take attention away from impeachment proceedings?
Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t think so. I don’t think it was as catchy in the news as that would have needed to be to take away from impeachment. And I actually think President Trump likes being in the news even with impeachment,
Brad Means: Yeah?
Dr. Craig Albert: …so I don’t think he wants to take that away at all. He likes being in the headlines. Whether it’s good or bad news, he knows that news sells and he’s in the business of selling news.
Brad Means: So even if you thought that he did do it, or if one thought that that is why he made the attack, to call attention away from impeachment or whether you just don’t like him in general, why can’t people stand up as one and cheer when a bad guy gets taken out like that? Why can’t this be the thing that everybody gets behind, or is that never going to happen?
Dr. Craig Albert: We’re so partisan now…
Brad Means: Yeah.
Dr. Craig Albert: …it’s just beyond doubt. We just can’t do that. We are not a unified country anymore. There were some legality concerns with this because of Soleimani being an actual member of the government of Iran and it taking place in a third party state without that state’s permission. So usually we give a request, action in Iraq, and we did not do that this time. We didn’t do it in Pakistan when we killed bin Laden either. So usually, when you go after high value targets, you don’t let the state member know that you’re going after those targets because it’ll tell that person that you’re going after them. So the legality here is a little bit of what the Democrats are really calling foul on President Trump, that they think he did something illegal according to international law by hitting a regime member. So the United States calls the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which Soleimani was the leader of, a terrorist organization. So according to that, we can go after and attack them without any international norms because he’s a terrorist and he is a member of the terrorist organization. But the Democrats and lots of international humanitarian experts say that they should not be labeled as a terrorist group, and so that’s where the debate really goes on the legality. Is it proper to name a regime military arm a terrorist organization?
Brad Means: Should we fear war with Iran, or any other country right now for that matter? Do you think something like that is imminent?
Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t think it’s imminent. It scared me a little bit to see what Iran was going to do, but to see how they responded, they responded very maturely. They did something to show the United States you can’t just do that without having something done back to you, but they didn’t escalate, at least yet. We can assume there’s some kind of cyber escalation going on that the public doesn’t know about right now, and we may never know about it, but that’s really where Iran wants to target the United States, is in cyberspace. So we can assume that something like that’s going on. And I was also expecting some kind of attacks from Hezbollah, perhaps in Israel or perhaps bases in Iraq or in Lebanon, even, again, some US friendly forces over there, but none of that has occurred yet. So I think Iran was really tested and I think they’ve backed down at the hands of an aggressive Trump. I don’t think they expected him to be that aggressive.
Brad Means: You know, we saw Iranians protesting in the streets, “Death to America.” You see things like that all the time. Why don’t, and I’m sure I’ve asked you this question once in the years that we’ve known each other, why don’t Americans ever take to the streets and say, “Death to Iran,” and if we did, what would happen?
Dr. Craig Albert: It’s just a, it’s not a very liberal thing to do. So we’re in the business of human rights. I mean liberal as in human rights, as in the philosophy, as in the enlightenment. That’s just not the way American citizens have ever behaved really. We can think of a few times where that’s actually occurred, after the death of bin Laden, for instance. They were cheering and protests in front of the White House…
Brad Means: That’s right.
Dr. Craig Albert: …and at the World Trade Center site and there were a few other protests like that. But usually, for the American population, even if you think it’s a good deed that we’ve killed a bad guy, you don’t really go out there and celebrate it the way other countries do. And you don’t really want to elevate the bad guy to that level where your population is out there celebrating their death because that gives him a lot of credence, it gives him a lot of credibility. So Americans tend not to do that. We don’t want elevate them. We don’t want to make martyrs of them.
Brad Means: The Taliban, ISIS, these organizations have bene diminished certainly in recent years. Who’s next for us? Who do we have our sights set on to take out next?
Dr. Craig Albert: You have to look at cyber terrorists. This is going to be the domain of the next four to six years are remnants of ISIS that have gone and formed the cyber caliphate and we have to be wary of what they’re gonna do to target our critical infrastructure. We know that China and Russia, for instance, have malware in some of our critical infrastructure and could react and shut down a dam or shut down an electrical grid, but we have a deterrent effect against them. So if they do that, we’ll do it as well. They don’t want that. It’s much harder to have a deterrent force against a cyber terrorist online. That’s where we don’t know what we’re going to do. How can we prevent or deter ISIS from targeting these critical infrastructures? I don’t think that you can.
Brad Means: When “The Means Report” continues, we’re going to continue our conversation with Dr. Craig Albert of Augusta University and talk about impeachement. We hit on it briefly in this segment. We’ll go more in depth on that. And of course, we’ll tackle the 2020 election year and what we can all expect in the coming months on “The Means Report.”
Brad Means: Welcome back to “The Means Report.” We are covering the hot political topics of the day. Love to dive into these with Dr. Craig Albert, political scientist from Augusta University. Impeachment was another big issue, Dr. Albert, in the headlines in recent days. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House seems intent on making Americans realize that impeachment is a permanent stain on a president’s legacy. So I think about presidents who have been impeached, Johnson and Clinton and Trump. I don’t necessarily instantly think that they were horrible presidents and that there’s a stain. Am I just naive? Is this something that will always make people think less of these men?
Dr. Craig Albert: I think it ought to make people think less of certain things that they’ve done in their presidency. The idea is that, if you got impeached, you are guilty of committing high crimes and misdemeanors, and that should be a mark upon one’s presidency. The problem for President Trump or the environment we live in is that it’s so partisan. A lot of people aren’t buying the arguments of each side, period. And so it kinda seems, and we were talking earlier, like wow, impeachment is still going on. That’s the way the general population of the country feels, is that how is this still going on when you have half the country thinking it’s a political ploy, the other half saying, calling impeachment since the day he was inaugurated, so it’s a really odd time in American history where the founders meant for impeachment to be a permanent stain held for the highest crimes that you could possibly think of, and I’m not sure that the general American population believes that that’s the case now, or if they do, they don’t really care about it or don’t think it’s that important because he won’t get removed in the Senate trial.
Brad Means: You think future lawmakers are gonna be quicker to impeach future presidents after this?
Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely.
Brad Means: You do?
Dr. Craig Albert: I think there was not a lot of evidence, or at least they haven’t shown a lot of evidence that Trump should be impeached. I think it was a lot of circumstantial evidence based on analysis that was just circumstantial. They have a lot of hearsay and things of that nature. And if you put that together with the fact that they’ve been arguing for his impeachment since the day he took over as president, I think the Republicans are gonna use that same type of apparatus, that same type of strategy if a Democrat becomes president and they don’t like him or her for some reason. They’re gonna do the exact same thing. Let’s try to impeach him or her and just get rid of ’em. So I think this was a bad call I think.
Brad Means: If President Trump wins reelection, will they impeach him again?
Dr. Craig Albert: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if that’s constitutionally possible, and I think if he wins reelection, that’ll provide a larger what they call mandate for his rule, so that would be very unpopular if the Democrats did try to do that.
Brad Means: You know what though, and this is a theory. You tell me if it’s true. 100 years from now, Trump will be listed as a president who was impeached. The history books aren’t gonna say a whole lot about yeah, but it was really partisan and they didn’t have a ton of evidence. You’re just gonna think Trump impeached. And isn’t that sort of what Pelosi’s saying?
Dr. Craig Albert: I think so, and that’s the way she views it and that’s the way a lot of Americans view it, and I view it like that analytically as well, that here is a president that was impeached. That is a stain on our Constitution, on the American republic, and it is a stain on President Trump. The interesting thing is that Trump is such a great messenger, he’s such a great narrator, he doesn’t care, and the fact that he doesn’t care and he’s kind of ignoring the issue is making a lot of his base and Republicans and independents feel the same way, that it’s a sham, that it’s not real, that nobody really cares. And I think part of that is because he knows that the Republicans in the Senate aren’t going to remove him. So it’s a stain, but it doesn’t really matter unless you get removed from office by the Senate, and that’s never happened in American history.
Brad Means: I think at one point, you told me that it got to the point where President Trump wanted to be impeached.
Dr. Craig Albert: I think he did. I think he thinks it’s good for his reelection campaign strategy. I think it was poor timing by the Democrats when they did it and I think they fell into his trap. He was calling for it so that he would have six months of a campaign of saying, “See, since day one, “they’ve been trying to do this, “but I wasn’t convicted in the Senate “so it was a sham trial.” And that’s what he’s gonna do. He’s not gonna get convicted and he’s gonna say because of that, it was a sham to be impeached in the first place, and that’s gonna rile up more people who weren’t gonna turn out for the presidential election this time to turn out.
Brad Means: I feel like this is the calm before the storm right now as we record this broadcast on a quiet January afternoon. The primaries are about to really ramp up. Do you see a Democrat yet who can be a formidable opponent for Trump?
Dr. Craig Albert: I think the only person that can beat Trump is Biden. I’ve said that for four years now…
Brad Means: You sure have.
Dr. Craig Albert: …and I’m still holding to it. Warren is putting on a great campaign. I think it’ll come down to Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden fighting it out. But I think, at the end of the day, Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee. And it’ll be a good fight, a good campaign against President Trump. Both of them have the same rhetoric. Both of them have the same debate style. Joe Biden, of course, is much more involved in the government apparatus for decades, so he has a little bit more experience and hands on for a longer period time than does the president, but the president’s been the president and so he can bring all the weight of that office against Biden and so these will be interesting debates.
Brad Means: If it is going to be Biden and if President Trump realizes that right now, do you think he’ll take advantage of the Senate trial portion of impeachment to try to cast as much dispersion on Biden and his family as he can?
Dr. Craig Albert: Oh, absolutely.
Brad Means: Yeah?
Dr. Craig Albert: Yeah, Trump will be at his most Trumpian during this trial. Look for his tweets to do that. You can look for him calling attention against anything that any Democratic candidate running for president is doing that Trump doesn’t like. He’s gonna be loud and he’s gonna be ferocious right now, and that’s what he wants to do because being that way gets him more attention, free attention we should say, in the media, and that name recognition and calling attention that he is president gets more people out to the polls even in his favor.
Brad Means: How long do we have to wait before we will really know a front runner? I know the Democratic Convention is coming up, I think in June. When will we have a feel for it and when will the Democrats say, “Okay, time to get behind one person.”
Dr. Craig Albert: We’ll know by April, for sure.
Brad Means: April.
Dr. Craig Albert: Yes, even though the convention won’t be until June, I think we’ll have a clear front runner by April.
Brad Means: What happens to the rest of the folks who did well, the Warrens and the Sanders of this world? Do they just hold out hope for cabinet jobs?
Dr. Craig Albert: Perhaps, or vice president job, so I think that’s what some might be looking out for is to side with one of the two primary candidates right now hoping that, in return, they’ll get a VP nod.
Brad Means: I always like to give props to your students when I’m interviewing you and I want to ask you now, are they into impeachment? Are they following this? And not because you assign them to. Do they care?
Dr. Craig Albert: I think they do care. I think, more than anything, they care about the divisiveness of the entire process. So they see this as something sad for America, period. Regardless on whether they’re pro-Trump or never Trump or they’re Democrats, they see this as, this process as kind of a strain to the Constitution and they feel sad that half the country is against the other half and there’s not much that will unify us. That’s what I’m hearing most from my students.
Brad Means: What about the deal that was just reached, a preliminary deal, between the US and China to get trade back on track? The tariffs they say may go away in the next phase of this deal. Is that a good sign for our economy and do you see this as a permanent solution?
Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t know if it’s a permanent solution. It is a good temporary, short-term sign for our economy, but economists are pointing that we’re teetering very closely to a recession, so President Trump needs to make good on all of his trade deals that he promised the American population when he became president to make sure that we don’t go into a recession because that type of economic, not meltdown, but partial slowdown is imminent, it’s due. It should be coming up just based on the political election cycle of the economy, of the political economic cycle.
Brad Means: Simon Metcalf of Augusta University says Augusta shouldn’t expect one this year. I kind of breathed a sigh of relief. He said at least the Augusta metro area gets through this year without a recession. So does President Trump just need a good economy until November and you think, I don’t want to get you to predict yet, but do you think that’s gonna be hugely in his favor if the economy stays strong?
Dr. Craig Albert: Well, it goes two ways. The stock markets are strong and the industrial indexes are strong, but I’m not sure if the typical American voter’s pocketbook is strong. I’m not sure if the average, typical blue collar work that voted, usually Democrat, but voted for Trump this time for their personal income and their household income, I’m not sure how much happier or wealthier they are right now, and so those people that voted for him in the hopes of seeing an increase in their paycheck might not turn out to vote for him this time because it hasn’t been as expansive as he made it out to be. So he would have to have something fantastic happen in the next six to eight months to change that person’s mind that expected a lot but isn’t feeling a large impact.
Brad Means: I meant to ask you this when we were talking about Biden versus Trump. Do debates make a difference? Do voters make decisions after they watch those debates? Are they swayed?
Dr. Craig Albert: Most of the time, no. You’re already made up before you watch those debates. But just for entertainment value, that will be a debate I would pay money to see.
Brad Means: No question. You have to watch those debates no matter who versus who it is. Probably last question. What about an October surprise? Do you see that coming? It seems like every four years, the party that’s trying to get in unveils something at the 11th hour. Will that happen again?
Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t know how we could have anything unveiled against Trump by the Democrats because it’s…
Brad Means: No.
Dr. Craig Albert: …everything has been unveiled, unveiled, unveiled against Trump since he’s been elected. I think what you’re likely to see is Trump take some kind of aggressive action overseas or announce some killing of a high valued target or something to that effect to bolster his foreign policy credentials. And that’s the weakest area where I think Biden will be able to challenge Trump is Trump pulled out of Syria, Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Trump has done a lot of, they can question the killing of Soleimani. So he’s done a lot of questionable things in the foreign policy realm and that’s where Joe Biden is very strong. So I would look for that type of scenario to play out, where Trump does something to make his foreign policy credentials more credible.
Brad Means: Are the Georgias gonna be key in this whole thing? You still think Georgia’s gonna be a big player?`
Dr. Craig Albert: I still don’t think it’s as purple as most analysts say it is, but I think it’s growing and growing more towards that, so I think it’s still gonna go pretty favorably, 4-6% towards Republicans, towards Trump, but I think this might be the last year we see that rate of an advantage for Republicans. Look for 2024 to be a solidified purple state.
Brad Means: But still non-stop political ads on TV in Georgia, right?
Dr. Craig Albert: Get used to it.
Brad Means: I mean, it’s gonna be just non-stop. Craig Albert, thanks for what you do for our community and for this program. We appreciate you.
Dr. Craig Albert: Thank you.
Brad Means: And you’ll be, you know, our political guy through this whole season, right?
Dr. Craig Albert: I look forward to it.
Brad Means: Yeah, no, me too. The viewers do as well. You help us understand all these complicated issues.