Petraeus: Take Rebel Names Off US Army Bases

It is time to remove the names of traitors like Benning and Bragg from our country’s most important military bases.


By David Petraeus

As I have watched Confederate monuments being removed by state and local governments, and sometimes by the forceful will of the American people, the fact that 10 U.S. Army installations are named for Confederate officers has weighed on me. That number includes the Army’s largest base, one very special to many in uniform: Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. The highway sign for Bragg proclaims it Home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces. I had three assignments there during my career. Soldiers stationed at Bragg are rightly proud to serve in its elite units. Some call it “the Center of the Military Universe,” “the Mother Ship,” or even “Hallowed Ground.” But Braxton Bragg—the general for whom the base was named—served in the Confederate States Army.

The United States is now wrestling with repeated instances of abusive policing caught on camera, the legacies of systemic racism, the challenges of protecting freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights while thwarting criminals who seek to exploit lawful protests, and debates over symbols glorifying those who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The way we resolve these issues will define our national identity for this century and beyond. Yesterday afternoon, an Army spokesperson said that Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy is now “open to a bipartisan discussion” on renaming the bases. That’s the right call. Once the names of these bases are stripped of the obscuring power of tradition and folklore, renaming the installations becomes an easy, even obvious, decision.

My life in uniform essentially unfolded at a series of what might be termed “rebel forts.” I made many parachute jumps with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, and I also jumped with 82d Airborne paratroopers at Fort Pickett, in Virginia (a National Guard post), and Fort Polk, in Louisiana. I made official visits to Virginia’s Forts Jackson and Lee, to Texas’s Fort Hood, and to Alabama’s Fort Rucker. In Georgia, I visited Fort Gordon, and I attended Airborne School, Ranger School, and the Infantry Officer Basic Course—rites of passage for countless infantry soldiers—at Fort Benning. At the time, I was oblivious to the fact that what was then called the “Home of the Infantry” was named for Henry L. Benning, a Confederate general who was such an enthusiast for slavery that as early as 1849 he argued for the dissolution of the Union and the formation of a Southern slavocracy. Fort Benning’s physical location, on former Native American territory that became the site of a plantation, itself illustrates the turbulent layers beneath the American landscape.

It would be years before I reflected on the individuals for whom these posts were named. While on active duty, in fact, I never thought much about these men—about the nature of their service during the Civil War, their postwar activities (which in John Brown Gordon’s case likely included a leadership role in the first Ku Klux Klan), the reasons they were honored, or the timing of the various forts’ dedications. Nor did I think about the messages those names sent to the many African Americans serving on these installations—messages that should have been noted by all of us. Like many aspects of the military, the forts themselves were so shrouded in tradition that everything about them seemed rock solid, time tested, immortal. Their names had taken on new layers of meaning that allowed us to ignore the individuals for whom they were named.

In the course of their professional development, soldiers often study the tactical and operational skills of leaders who fought for dubious causes. Learning how to win a particular kind of battle is different than learning how to win a war. Intellectual appreciation of a given general’s tactical genius, however, should not become wholesale admiration or a species of devotion. When I was a cadet at West Point in the early 1970s, enthusiasm for Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson was widespread. We were not encouraged to think deeply about the cause for which they had fought, at least not in our military history classes. And throughout my Army career, I likewise encountered enthusiastic adherents of various Confederate commanders, and a special veneration for Lee.

It also happens that—Lee and Jackson excepted—most of the Confederate generals for whom our bases are named were undistinguished, if not incompetent, battlefield commanders. Braxton Bragg, for example, left a great deal to be desired as a military leader. After graduating from West Point in 1837, he served in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican War. His reputation for physical bravery was matched by one for epic irascibility. Bragg’s temper was so bad, Ulysses S. Grant recounted in his memoirs, that an old Army story had a superior once rebuking him, “My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarrelling with yourself!” Bragg’s inability to cooperate diluted his effectiveness until his resounding defeat at the Battle of Chattanooga, in November 1863, precipitated his resignation from the Confederate army.

Had Bragg, like most of the rebel honorees, not been elevated by the effort to memorialize the “Lost Cause”—promoted by organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy as well as by some sympathetic historians—he would probably have been consigned to historical obscurity.

Fort Bragg and most of the other posts in question were established either during World War I, at one peak of the Lost Cause movement, or in the early 1940s, as the country was feverishly gearing up for World War II. Army leaders, to say nothing of political figures at the time, undoubtedly wanted to ingratiate themselves with the southern states in which the forts were located. They bowed to—and in many cases shared—the Lost Cause nostalgia that also sponsored so much civilian statuary, street naming, and memorial building from the end of Reconstruction through the 1930s, when the trend tapered off but did not end completely. In many cases, the Army’s sentiments simply mirrored those of the society it served.

For an organization designed to win wars to train for them at installations named for those who led a losing force is sufficiently peculiar, but when we consider the cause for which these officers fought, we begin to penetrate the confusion of Civil War memory. These bases are, after all, federal installations, home to soldiers who swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention. Now, belatedly, is the moment for us to pay such attention.

It gives me considerable pause, for example, to note that my alma mater, West Point, honors Robert E. Lee with a gate, a road, an entire housing area, and a barracks, the last of which was built during the 1960s. A portrait of Lee with an enslaved person adorns a wall of the cadet library, the counterpoint to a portrait of Grant, his Civil War nemesis, on a nearby wall.

Lee’s history is, in fact, thoroughly woven through that of West Point and the Army. Before he was the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Lee was an outstanding cadet, a distinguished chief of engineers in the Mexican War, and later the West Point superintendent. I do not propose that we erase his role in this history. We can learn from his battlefield skill and, beyond that, from his human frailty, his conflicting loyalties, and the social pressures that led him to choose Virginia over the United States. If we attempt to repress the fact of his existence from our institutional memory, we risk falling into the trap of authoritarian regimes, which routinely and comprehensively obliterate whole swaths of national history as if it never happened at all. What distinguishes democracies is their capacity to debate even the most contentious issues vigorously and in informed, respectful, deliberate ways and to learn from the errors of the past. But remembering Lee’s strengths and weaknesses, his military and personal successes and failures, is different from venerating him.

Confederate memorialization is only the most obvious expression of formerly acceptable sentiments now regarded critically by many Americans. Once unreservedly celebrated figures like Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, to name just three, held convictions and behaved in ways we now find deeply troubling. It is indicative of the complexity of the problem that while the stained-glass window honoring Robert E. Lee in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., was removed, that of Wilson, an ardent segregationist, remains (after a healthy debate).

But Confederates leaders are different from these other examples not simply in degree, but in kind: Plainly put, Lee, Jackson, Bragg, and the rest committed treason, however much they may have agonized over it. The majority of them had worn the uniform of the U.S. Army, and that Army should not brook any celebration of those who betrayed their country.

A long-standing maxim for those in uniform that one should never begin a war without also knowing how to end it. And this is a kind of war—a war of memory. The forts named for Confederate generals were established before the formulation of the rules now codified in Army Regulation 1-33, which sets the criteria for memorializing soldiers. But, as is so often the case when the Army is found to have fallen short of its elemental values, it also possesses the remedy. While the regulation states, “Rememorializing or rededicating actions are strongly discouraged, and seldom appropriate,” it also outlines a clear administrative process to follow when they are. This is the moment to pursue that process.

We could probably disqualify the rebel generals on a technicality: After all, none of them were actually in the U.S. Army when they performed the actions for which they were honored. Nonetheless, I would prefer to disqualify them on the grounds that they do not meet the letter or spirit of the regulation’s second criterion: “Memorializations will honor deceased heroes and other deceased distinguished individuals of all races in our society, and will present them as inspirations to their fellow Soldiers, employees, and other citizens.”

The magic of the republic to which many of us dedicated our professional lives is that its definition of equality has repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to broaden. And America’s military has often led social change, especially in the area of racial integration. We do not live in a country to which Braxton Bragg, Henry L. Benning, or Robert E. Lee can serve as an inspiration. Acknowledging this fact is imperative. Should it fail to do so, the Army, which prides itself on leading the way in perilous times, will be left to fight a rear-guard action against a more inclusive American future, one that fulfills the nation’s founding promise.

Confederate Military Base Names Just Met Their Gettysburg
By Kevin Baron

Say goodbye to Fort Bragg. And Forts Benning, Lee, Hood, and all the other U.S. military installations named for Confederates from the Civil War.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the four people who will replace Trump administration appointees on a Congressionally mandated commission to study base renaming. It will be interesting to see what this esteemed group comes up with, but let’s be real: this is now an exercise for show. Start thinking up some new names while you read on.

Recall why this panel exists. Last summer, Donald Trump blocked his defense secretary and other Pentagon leaders from ordering the base names changed. Trump then threatened to veto any defense authorization bill that ordered the Defense Department to change the names. House Democrats and Senate Republicans decided to require only that a commission be formed to study the issue. Four members would be chosen by the Pentagon and four by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. 

Trump’s Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller in January named four peopleto the panel, but they lasted barely a month before Austin and the newly Democrat-controlled Senate replaced them.

The new panel is a slam dunk against the Lost Cause. It includes Michelle Howard, a retired 4-star Navy admiral, who is Black; Robert Neller, the most recently retired Marine Corps commandant; Ty Seidule, a retired 1-star Army general and emeritus professor of history at West Point; and Kori Schake, director of defense programs at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in Washington. 

This is a stacked deck. Howard is the highest-ranking Black naval officer in history. Seidule is famous for posting a viral 2015 video while in uniform at West Point. It slammed Confederate apologists and revisionists and explained why slavery was the main cause of the Civil War. His book, released last month, is titled, “Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause.”

Schake, who served in the second Bush administration, is among the most respected national security strategists and historians. She’s also an outspoken never-Trumper, one of the conservatives who rejected the rebel president five years ago. Earlier this week, her fellow conservative Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, publicly quit the Republcian Party over its continued support for Trump. I asked Schake if she would be following him out the door. “I weigh changing my political affiliation often, but believe the Liz Cheneys and Adam Kinzingers deserve my continued support,” Schake said of the House members from Wyoming and Illinois battling Trumpists and their support for the Confederacy.

Neller, the former commandant, is as gruff a Marine from central casting that you’ll ever meet. Yet after his successor made the Corps the first service branch to ban Confederate symbols from its bases, Neller posted a public mea culpa about his own failure to issue such a ban. “I failed to do so. No excuses. And I will regret that failure to act for as long as I live.”

Neller explained that the Stars and Bars “represents a group of states that seceded from our Union in order to preserve the institution of slavery. Not to protect states’ rights or an economically based culture of a different region and its’ [sic] people, but quite simply the right to own another human being. This Nation fought a brutal and horrific war over this fact and those that supported the right to subjugate another human being lost that fight. Yes, they fought with courage and tactical skill, but what they fought for was not honorable. In legal terms those that supported the secession of their state committed treason against the United States.”

Neller thus joined other prominent former generals, including David Petraeusand Stan McChrystal, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, in speaking out against Confederate fetishism and hagiography.

And those are just the white men. The addition of Howard to this commission is no surprise. If the military has a moral center, she is it. Howard is a revered leader who has embraced her role as a symbol of the military’s progress on advancing women and people of color — and of how much farther there is to go. Was there another 4-star woman of color that Austin could have appointed?

All to say that the era of Confederate revisionism is as good as dead, at least in the American institution of the military. Unfortunately, it will take much more for the racist sentiment at the core of Confederate fetishism to die. 

In his LinkedIn piece, Neller recounted confronting a Marine from Michigan about the Confederate flag sticker on his truck. (I’ve seen similar flag stickers on vehicles at the Pentagon and at Joint Base Andrews.) “How can you be from that same state and fly the Confederate flag? And how do you reconcile having that flag on your truck while wearing the uniform that says, ‘US Marines,’ and having taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States?” the general asked. The other Marine had no answer. They shook hands and parted, but the sticker remained.

The reality is that Confederate names and bumper stickers can be taken down and retired to the dustbins of history, by order or free will. We know better, now, what they really meant to the 20th-century revisionists who propped them up long after the Civil War. But the white supremacy and racism they represent will live on in the hearts of minds of many Americans, including some who make it into the military’s ranks. 

At the Pentagon, Austin, his fellow Biden appointees, and the Joint Chiefs face the enormous task of figuring out how big this problem really is, and showing that they are serious about cracking down on it with new rules, regulations, and punishments across the Defense Department. Too many of their predecessors have failed. Already, right-wing media personalities who have defended Confederate flag-flying and base names have turned on the U.S. military, calling the effort to ban extremism from the ranks a “purge” — Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., a Navy veteran, called it an exercise in “thought control.” 

Neller had a message for them in his June letter, too.   

“And for those Americans not serving in the military who persist in flying this flag for whatever misguided reason, I will continue to support your right to do so on your property.  But do not expect me to see you for anything else but someone who still supports the bondage and oppression of another human being who does not look like you. Period full stop.” 

Todd Bowles and Byron Leftwich: Super Bowl victory a big win for Black coaches

Tampa Bay’s Black coordinators played major roles in defeating the vaunted Chiefs on the game’s biggest stage. NFL owners, are you paying attention?

By Jason Reid

TAMPA, Fla. – As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dismantled the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV on Sunday, Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles, the Buccaneers’ offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, remained in the spotlight all night.

Yes, head coach Bruce Arians received the majority of the credit, and deservedly so, for the Buccaneers’ surprising 31-9 upset victory. But the two men – the two Black men – whom Arians empowered to lead the NFC champions’ offense and defense also earned a bunch of attaboys. Make no mistake: Bowles and Leftwich played major roles in planning and executing a party that continued deep into the night at Raymond James Stadium.

That’s exactly what Arians hired them to do.

“I thought our three guys had great plans,” said Arians, whose special teams coordinator, Keith Armstrong, is also Black. “Byron did a great, great job, I thought, of just mixing up run and pass, and pounding [with the running game] when we needed to. And Todd had a great plan to keep ’em [the Chiefs’ receiving corps] in front of us and let our front four get after him [Mahomes]. They chased him around all night.”

Sure did.

And before we examine the X’s and O’s, permit us a moment to explain why what Leftwich and Bowles put on film in the Buccaneers’ upset victory could – and likely would, if NFL owners were colorblind – benefit Black NFL assistant coaches. Despite commissioner Roger Goodell’s best efforts to improve diversity and inclusion from the front office to the field at the club level, the recently concluded hiring cycle left many Black assistants feeling frustrated again about their overall lack of advancement to head-coaching positions.

For coordinators, Leftwich and Bowles delivered virtuoso performances in the Super Bowl that should elevate them to the top of the list during the next cycle. Considering the owners’ ongoing aversion to fully embrace inclusive hiring for their top-rung coaching positions, however, it’s fair for one to wonder whether owners will choose to ignore what they achieved. Goodness knows, it has happened before. Just ask Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

At the very least, Bowles said, the Buccaneers’ overall performance on the game’s biggest stage shows that Arians hires people who know what they’re doing. And when it comes to Black assistants, that point can’t be driven home enough.

“It shows that we’re good at our jobs … and it gives younger people inspiration, hopefully, to see us as coaches and to see that we can be one of these type of people [head coaches] if we put our mind to it,” Bowles said. “That anything is possible.”

Objectively, their ability to coach well cannot be in dispute.

In avenging a 27-24 loss here in Week 12 to the AFC champions, the Buccaneers – the first franchise in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl on its home field – precisely followed the leads of their offensive and defensive playcallers. The results couldn’t have been better for an organization that won its second Vince Lombardi Trophy. Leftwich and Bowles pushed so many correct buttons from start to finish, the Chiefs looked like, well, definitely not like the Chiefs.

During the historic start to quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ career, NFL fans have grown accustomed to the Chiefs producing yards and points at a dizzying pace. Mahomes has a knack for making multiple eye-opening plays on a single offensive series. And the Chiefs’ defense has done its part: The combination has enabled Kansas City to become the first franchise to host three consecutive AFC Championship Games.

Simply put, the Chiefs, who were attempting to repeat as Super Bowl champions, are as good as it gets in the NFL. But with Leftwich and Bowles doing their things as the world watched Sunday, not in the final game of the 2020-21 NFL season.

Leftwich and quarterback Tom Brady (more on the GOAT later) were clearly in sync. In the first half, Leftwich was in a playcalling groove and Brady made him look marvelous, connecting with tight end Rob Gronkowski for two passing touchdowns and adding another to wide receiver Antonio Brown. The Buccaneers led 21-6 at halftime, and with the way the Buccaneers’ defense was harassing Mahomes and blanketing his deep options, the game was all but over.

Bowles positioned Tampa Bay’s safeties superbly to help in coverage against stunningly fast wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Superstar tight end Travis Kelce wasn’t able to easily evade the underneath coverage as he usually does against most Chiefs opponents. And on the few occasions when Hill, Hardman or Kelce briefly created separation, Mahomes lacked the requisite time to link up with them.

Just the way Bowles drew it up, Arians said.

“Patrick wasn’t going to beat us running,” he said. “We let him run all day. Just keep chasing him around and see if we could make some plays.”

Besides Bowles’ top-notch plan, the Chiefs clearly missed injured starting offensive linemen Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. After injuring his Achilles in Kansas City’s AFC Championship Game win over the Buffalo Bills, Fisher was sidelined for the Super Bowl. Schwartz has been out for some time with a back injury. The combination of Bowles having had two weeks to prepare and the Chiefs’ O-line deficiencies without Fisher and Schwartz proved way too much to overcome.

The Buccaneers are one of the few teams capable of consistently generating a strong pass rush without blitzing, relying on their front four, especially outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. Bowles got exactly the pass rush he needed and made the right adjustments in the back end from the Week 12 matchup – in that one, Hill torched the Buccaneers’ secondary early and often – to keep the Chiefs out of the end zone. Really, that’s a next-level accomplishment in and of itself.

Mahomes completed only 26 of 49 passes. He finished with 270 passing yards (a paltry 5.5-yard average) and two interceptions. Tampa Bay sacked Mahomes three times, including one by Barrett.

It seemed as if Mahomes backpedaled 10, 15 yards on every dropback in futile attempts to extend passing plays that, uncharacteristically for the Chiefs, didn’t work well. Some perspective on Mahomes: Over the past three seasons, including the playoffs, Mahomes ranks first among NFL quarterbacks in victories, passing touchdowns, passing yards, 300-yard passing games, yards per attempt and Total QBR.

The rematch, decisively, went to Bowles.

“The biggest thing was trying to take away the first read,” Bowles said of sparring with Mahomes. “He can run and he can make plays with his feet. But we didn’t want him just sitting in the pocket, zinging dimes on us all day, either. The D-line got some pressure on him, was making him run and making him uncomfortable, and that was the key for us.”

Usually, Mahomes’ signature plays come from a variety of arm angles. Against the Buccaneers, however, he was forced to use his entire repertoire to merely throw away the ball to avoid sacks. With Bowles on the attack from start to finish, it was that type of night for the player widely perceived to be Brady’s heir apparent.

Now, back to Brady.

En route to winning his fifth Pete Rozelle Trophy, awarded to the Super Bowl MVP, Brady completed 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards and the three first-half passing touchdowns. Perhaps some would argue that Leftwich had it easy, with being the primary playcaller for the greatest quarterback in NFL history (Brady extended his record totals to 10 Super Bowl appearances and seven Super Bowl victories). Brady has played in 18% of all the Super Bowls ever played, so he definitely knows his way around at this time of year.

Leftwich and Brady, though, are in their first year together after Brady spent 20 years building his first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials with the New England Patriots. Earlier in the season, the Buccaneers had issues on offense that had to be resolved. They worked through them, obviously, very well.

As Arians previously mentioned, much to his delight, Leftwich also leaned on the running game: Tampa Bay rushed for 145 yards (with a 4.4-yard average). Running back Leonard Fournette led the way with 89 rushing yards (a 5.6-yard average), including a 27-yard touchdown run that extended Tampa Bay’s lead to 28-9 midway through the third quarter.

On Zoom calls with reporters after their work was finished, Tampa Bay’s players, one after another, praised Leftwich and Bowles as much for their leadership as men as their ability to coach. Despite being led by an outstanding head coach and the greatest passer of all time, Tampa Bay wouldn’t be on top of the mountain without Leftwich and Bowles, they said.

“Coach Bowles, he puts his players in the right position to win,” cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting said. “He believes in them [as people] and he believes in their abilities. He doesn’t go off script.

“He just sticks to it and he sticks with you. He’s always motivating you. He’s always telling you really good information that you take off the field in real life, and can use it [in] being a better man.”

Leftwich and Bowles are coaches. They’re teachers. They’re leaders of men. And after doing their parts to help the Buccaneers dispatch the gifted Chiefs and end the NFL season, they’re also Super Bowl champions. NFL owners, are you paying attention?

The True Power of Social Media Restrictions

The way in which authoritarians use social media is somewhat akin to the manner in which Adolf Hitler used the then-emerging radio technology to appeal to the German people above the heads of the traditional media of the time. Without radio, he still might have become chancellor, but at least it would have been more difficult.

By Eric Farnsworth 

Twitter’s decision to ban a sitting U.S. president raises an intriguing question for the new Biden administration: should foreign leaders sanctioned for human-rights abuses, drug trafficking and gross corruption, and crimes against humanity be booted from social media? The answer is yes. It’s time to update the U.S. foreign policy toolkit for the social media age. Much as visa privileges and access to the U.S. banking system are routinely denied for sanctioned individuals, access to relevant social media should also be treated as a privilege, not a right.

Obvious targets for social media denial would be senior officials of countries designated as State Sponsors of Terror or otherwise under significant sanction, including individuals designated under the Global Magnitsky Act. It is astounding, for example, that despite significant U.S. foreign policy interests and severe existing sanctions, Iran’s leader Khamenei is able to tweet without consequence about the destruction of Israel, and Venezuela’s Maduro can use Twitter to threaten harm to the leaders of the internationally-recognized democratic opposition. If this isn’t incitement to violence, it’s unclear what actually would be.

Three significant objections to implementing such a policy stand out. The first is the symbolism of denying free speech rights to foreign officials even as the United States claims to stand for free speech, as well as the “right” of the United States to take such steps. But we are not talking about free speech for people generally or censoring ideas that Washington may not like, and certainly not for U.S. citizens. We are not talking about restricting access to non-U.S. social media platforms over which the United States has no jurisdiction. Rather, the targets are foreign officials already under U.S. sanction for egregious abuses and who may be using U.S.-based social media, among other tools, to maintain power and control over their citizens and security forces and to project an image abroad that fuels the energies of international supporters and fellow-travelers, undermining core U.S. foreign policy interests.

Individuals such as Khamenei, Maduro, Cuba’s Diaz Canel, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and their respective inner circles and propaganda mouthpieces. In any event, sanctioned leaders are not guaranteed First Amendment protections under U.S. laws and can have no expectation of such rights and freedoms particularly when engaged in crimes against humanity.

The second obvious objection is that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like are private social media platforms and must remain independent from government authorities. So long as the “community standards of use” policies of each platform are generally adhered to, the argument goes, the government has no business policing who can use what platform. But in the realm of foreign policy, the government tells private entities all the time whom they are allowed to do business with. By definition, sanctions against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela, among others, severely limit the ability of U.S. corporations to engage in commercial activities there.

For their part, social media companies monetize users’ personal information and are therefore engaged in commercial activities in sanctioned nations so long as they have users there. They should be bound by the same rules as, say, energy companies and financial institutions. Where it gets tricky is in nations where authoritarian leaders exert strong influence or control over traditional media sources, and social media is sometimes the only way for opposition movements to organize and coordinate actions. Outright bans against nations and their populations would be counterproductive. Rather, the policy would better be applied only to senior individuals in targeted regimes.

Finally, there is the knotty issue of which individuals specifically should be prevented from access to social media, and whether such categories won’t expand to include officials from regimes that Washington simply doesn’t like or those who may be promoting policies that may not rise to the level of criminality or crimes against humanity but rather amount to little more than differences on social issues, say, or climate change and the environment, or other areas of disagreement, no matter how intense. There must therefore be strict policies and guidelines that focus on those who are credibly accused of legally-sanctionable behavior.

A presidential “finding” or Congressional action may be warranted to define the specific, narrow, and very rare instances when the social media sanction should be applied in furtherance of U.S. foreign policy goals. The way in which authoritarians abroad use social media is somewhat akin to the manner in which Adolf Hitler used the then-emerging radio technology to appeal to the German people above the heads of the traditional media of the time. Without radio, he still might have become chancellor, but at least it would have been more difficult. So it is with State Sponsors of Terror and human-rights abusers. Without the oxygen of mass communications, their actions, including remaining in power, become markedly more difficult. There is no legal or moral obligation for the United States, or its social media companies, to assist them in their efforts.

Eric Farnsworth heads the Washington office of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. He served at the State Department, USTR and the White House. He was a senior adviser in the office of the special envoy for the Americas from 1995 to 1998.

Putin’s disinformation campaign claims stunning victory with Capitol Hill ‘coup’

Russian information warfare ops have had one goal ever since the Cold War began: to sow chaos and undermine Americans’ sense of a shared reality. Trump was just a means to that end

By Omer Benjakob

As a shirtless, horned man stood at the dais of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, the words Harvard Law School Prof. Yochai Benkler told Haaretz ahead of the 2020 election sprang to mind. Since the Cold War began, Soviet – and then Russian – information warfare campaigns have never been about pushing out a single message.

Prof. Benkler, one of the leading authorities on disinformation online, explained that the primary role of Russian propaganda “is to create a world where nothing is true and everything is possible.

“As the chaotic scenes played out on Capitol Hill, I also recalled what researchers at the Rand Corporation said after completing a massive study into disinformation efforts on Twitter ahead of November’s election: The Russian campaign’s goal was never to push out a coherent, pro-Trump message, but instead to subvert America’s democratic institutions and sow distrust. President Donald Trump was just a means to that end.

Morgan J. Freeman (@mjfree) January 6, 2021

We tend to think of disinformation as a social media problem. We also tend to think of it as a new issue. However, research such as Benkler and Rand’s shines a light on the infrastructure of the #StopTheSteal campaign, which morphed into Wednesday’s violent attack on democracy.

Research into disinformation paints a more complex picture, helping us understand the events that led up to the ridiculous yet seemingly sincere bid to prevent the formation of a democratically elected U.S. government. It also helps explain why Trump’s attempts to send his saboteurs “home” – or Facebook and Twitter’s decisions to remove his “call-to-arms” videos – failed to be as potent as the lies he propagated through social media in the previous months.

The fraud that led to a coalition of far-right conspiracy theorists besieging the Capitol was one founded on a baseless, thoroughly debunked and intentionally distorted perception of the election. Benkler’s study, conducted by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, actually focused on disinformation about the U.S. presidential election’s integrity – the purported justification for the Trumpists’ assault on the legislature that was voting to certify President-elect Joe Biden‘s victory.

Titled “Mail-In Voter Fraud: Anatomy of a Disinformation Campaign” and published in early October, it found Trump’s efforts to cast doubt on the validity of the voting process to be “the central disinformation campaign of this election.” That campaign, Benkler explained, was specifically designed to “raise doubts about the validity” of vote counts, and the goal was “generally to raise questions about the election’s legitimacy.”

A supporter of President Donald Trump carrying a Confederate battle flag on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol near the entrance to the Senate, January 6, 2021. 

Mike Theiler/REUTERS. The fact that such claims were given front-page coverage – even in The New York Times and other outlets that toiled to debunk them – gave them a credibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin could only dream of.” They only win if we retell their story as if it’s true,” Benkler told Haaretz last autumn.

Yet retell it the U.S. president did: ahead of the election, on Election Day itself, and in the subsequent months following his defeat. But other stories were also told. The Rand study, led by former marine-turned-social scientist William Marcellino, focused on online foreign interference in the 2020 election. It mapped out the different networks of Russian bots active on Twitter. More importantly, the study provided a small glimpse into the actual content different U.S. political groups were being targeted with.

“The pro-Trump troll camp could actually have been labeled the pro-QAnon camp,” Marcellino explained. “It’s always the same type of story: Someone has some devastating information that would help Trump take down the swamp or deep state, but someone – usually the Jews or the media – is preventing them from making the information public.” Jake Angeli, 32, sporting horns and body paint, yells his thanks to President @realDonaldTrump and Q.

The latter is presumably a reference to QAnon, a controversial far-right group. @azcentralpic.twitter.com/RJ990L0xA2

BrieAnna J. Frank (@brieannafrank) After the election, with swamp-draining information no longer a viable political flag to rally around, the talk online increasingly shifted to the coming “storm” – and storm the capital its proponents eventually did. But they were not alone. This conspiratorial logic, the Rand researchers found, was a particularly viral idea. As a theme, it was disproportionately used in the Russia campaign to target the U.S. right and far right, extending well beyond QAnon.

However, this logic was also used against far-left voters by, ironically, enhancing conspiratorial claims that Trump was Putin’s puppet, that the Kremlin had compromising material on the U.S. president, and that Trump colluded with Moscow to steal the election from Hillary Clinton in 2016.

As Marcellino put it at the time, “This is how [the Russians] undermine America’s democracy – by fostering mutual distrust and polarization that will keep us so busy that we won’t have time to focus on them and what they’re doing to us.”

It’s not the first time such parallelism has been employed. Emails leaked online in 2016 that were purportedly from Putin’s adviser and chief ideological spin doctor Vladislav Surkov revealed a similar plan to foment chaos in Ukraine.

According to the so-called Surkov leak, the Russians planned to “support both nationalist and separatist politicians, and to encourage early parliamentary elections in Ukraine, all with the aim of undermining the government in Kiev.”

The tactic of pushing contradictory forces as well as disinformation campaigns was also seen in Georgia and, more recently, Belarus. Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber, January 6, 2021, in Washington.

Win McNamee – AFP Truth decay Benkler’s report caused a minor storm by defying the conventional wisdom regarding fake news and social media, claiming that Trump, his GOP surrogates and the network of far-right media outlets serving as their mouthpieces were actually the main sources of disinformation. They created an ecosystem of lies, of which social media was but one small facet, he observed.

The Russians, both offline and online, were merely amplifying them. “I’m not a Russia expert, but everything I’ve read from what I consider to be good work on Russian propaganda suggests that its primary role is to get us not to trust anything anymore,” Benkler told Haaretz. In the United States, this tactic tapped into what another group of Rand researchers called “truth decay.” This is the social process in which the question of what constitutes a fact is politicized, its distinction from opinion becomes blurred, and trusted institutions of truth are rendered obsolete – a process certainly aided by social media, and more so by Trump, but also extending far beyond it into the wider media ecosystem and back in time.

“From the perspective of Russian propaganda efforts, if your goal is to disorient your opponents’ population, then nothing is better than the mainstream media saying that we live in a post-truth age,” Benkler said. “There’s only a small segment of American society that actually lives in a post-truth world. But it’s like that because it has been subjected to decades of disinformation and propaganda,” he added, citing Fox News and climate change denial as pre-social media examples.

Russia’s social media campaign ultimately played a marginal role, according to Benkler, but the media was elevating both its importance and its messaging. “The media is taking all the remaining trust and authority it has not yet lost to Putin, and using it to say exactly what he wants” – that Americans no longer have a shared sense of reality, Benkler explained. All of these facets were on display Wednesday when self-described “proud American nationalists” desecrated one of America’s holiest political sites at one of its most sacred moments.

No matter how hateful, false or inciting tweets may be, it takes more than just 140 or 280 characters to create the conditions necessary for an adult man sporting horns to seriously attempt a raid on the capital of his own country. Watching him on that dais, with no plan and no shirt, a bewildered look on his face, brings to mind what Trump’s former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, called the biggest threat to the election – and it wasn’t Russia.

Rather, he said last October, “It’s what we’re doing to ourselves. The Russians cannot create these fissures in our society, but they can widen them.”

Omer BenjakobHaaretz Correspondent

Tehran’s 20 percent enrichment is designed to extort Washington | Opinion

Newsweek · by Behnam Ben Taleblu and Andrea Stricker

Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is now enriching uranium to 20 percent purity at its underground Fordow enrichment facility. The move is Tehran’s most egregious violation of the 2015 nuclear deal, officially titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to date.
It serves as a dangerous reminder that the regime has always retained the ability to weaponize its nuclear program-both literally and for extortion and intimidation-at any time of its choosing. The Islamic Republic is reportedly using six cascades of its 1,044 currently installed first-generation IR-1 gas centrifuges at Fordow to increase the concentration of uranium-235 in 4.1 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride feedstock to 20 percent.

In other words, it’s producing uranium that qualifies as “highly enriched”-the level needed for nuclear weapons. Although states prefer to enrich uranium to higher purities for nuclear weapons-typically to 90 percent or “weapons-grade”-producing 20 percent enriched uranium takes most of the overall effort required to make weapons-grade uranium. In other words, Tehran’s 20 percent gambit drastically cuts down the time needed to get “weapons-grade” uranium.

Technically, Iran is resuming 20 percent enrichment, having previously attained this level from 2010 to 2013. While the United States and the European Union had traditionally diverged in their approaches to Iran, that historic peak in enrichment was key to bringing them together to address the nuclear issue through tough sanctions.

In November 2013, the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran reached an interim nuclear deal known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). Starting in 2014, in exchange for partial sanctions relief, Iran halted 20 percent enrichment but retained the equipment and knowledge to resume it at will. With the attainment of the JCPOA in 2015, despite continuing to enrich at lower levels, Iran managed to score another victory and keep the Fordow facility open. Iranian officials prize Fordow for its alleged “invulnerability” to military strikes, and was initially built in secret to produce weapons-grade uranium for its early crash nuclear weapons effort.

Fast forward to the aftermath of the killing of Iran’s top military nuclear scientist in November 2020. The country’s hardline parliament passed a law calling for a resumption of enrichment at 20 percent purity, among other escalatory measures. Seen in this light, Tehran’s decision to go to 20 percent avenges the loss of a key scientist, but still aims to elicit sanctions relief from the incoming Biden administration, should the new president hesitate to reenter the JCPOA, exited in May 2018 under President Donald Trump.

The move also signals, however, a greater tolerance for risk taking, which if not met with equal pressure, will be a harbinger of greater challenges. The Islamic Republic embarked in May 2019 on a policy of graduated escalation, designed to raise American security risks while overtly violating the JCPOA. But even then, it still did not cross the 20 percent threshold. That is, until now.

A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility. 

ATTA KENARE / AFP/Getty

Two factors helped to dampen Iran’s drive to resume 20 percent enrichment. The first was the Trump administration’s demonstrated willingness to meet pressure with pressure, and the second was the regime’s desire to keep the transatlantic community divided and Europe in Tehran’s corner. Now, with the Trump administration’s term in office nearing a close and Europe unable to serve as a foil to American economic pressure, elites in Iran understand that greater nuclear boldness is likely to result in a greater reward.

Specifically, given that the incoming U.S. administration seeks a departure from the Trump administration’s policies, the recent escalation is perfectly timed to add leverage to the Iranian position if nuclear negotiations commence. Today, Iran’s resumption of 20 percent enrichment at Fordow positions it to quickly and consistently reduce the time it requires to make adequate fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

Selling this policy on Twitter, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif framed 20 percent enrichment as a “reversible” move. But in so doing, he inadvertently shined a light on a fact American policymakers failed to heed before, but must now acknowledge if they seek a durable non-proliferation agreement with Iran: any deal that relies on political compromise alone to check the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions is a non-starter.

President-elect Biden would be wise to recognize that staying the course on American pressure is the only hope for reaching a better deal and addressing Iran’s nuclear threat once and for all.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Andrea Stricker is a research fellow.The views expressed in this article are the writers’ own.

Time To Ditch The 60/40 Rule

By: Jussi Askola

Summary

  • The 60/40 rule is a common yardstick that investors to rely on in constructing their portfolios.
  • It says you should put 60% of your portfolio in stocks and 40% in bonds.
  • The problem is that it isn’t suited to the realities of today’s market.
  • In this article we propose an alternative to investing according to the 60/40 rule.
  • Looking for a portfolio of ideas like this one? Members of High Yield Landlord get exclusive access to our model portfolio. Get started today »

The 60/40 rule is an approach to investing that worked well in the past. If you’re not familiar with it, it says that you should put 60% of your money in stocks and 40% in bonds. And rebalance every year so that the weightings always are at 60/40. The stocks increase your expected return while the bonds provide income and reduce volatility.

By all accounts, the 60/40 portfolio has a good track record. According to Schroders, it provided better returns from 1988 to 2018 than stocks or bonds alone:

By rebalancing, you would have achieved better returns with a 60/40 portfolio than with stocks – the higher return asset – alone!

So as we’ve seen so far, the 60/40 portfolio with rebalancing boosted total returns over the last 30 years. It undeniably lowers risk, by getting bonds into the mix. And on top of that, the lower volatility means you’ll have a less stressful experience over the course of your life.

That all sounds good on the surface. But there’s just one problem. 

In 2020, both assets in the typical 60/40 portfolio have serious problems with them. Stocks are extremely overvalued and volatile, and bonds yield next to nothing.

Past performance does not predict future performance. And there are good reasons to think that a 60/40 portfolio might do much worse over the next 30 years as it did over the last 30.

In this article, we make the case that you should avoid investing by the 60/40 rule and buy real assets instead. We’ll start by reviewing the flaws with stocks and bonds and move on to why real assets are superior today.

Stocks are Overvalued

According to the Wall Street Journal, the S&P 500 (SPYhad a 41 P/E ratio as of Dec. 11.

That’s more than double the historical average.

Historically, stocks tend to fall back to the point where their P/E ratio is at about the mean. That would imply they have a long way to fall.

source

That doesn’t guarantee that stocks are going to be losers over the next 10 or 20 years. But the higher they rise relative to earnings, the riskier they become.

To be sure, corporate earnings have soared over the last decade. But look at what made that possible. We’ve seen continuously low interest rates, culminating in near zero interest rates today.

Low interest rates stimulate spending, which drives corporate earnings higher. But now that interest rates are near zero, where do we go from here? The only option left is negative interest rates, and central banks are reluctant to go there.

So there are few monetary policy options left to stimulate the economy. This is why Ray Dalio recently forecast a “lost decade” with 0% returns, and Jeremy Grantham forecast negative returns.

There’s just a lot of risk factors impacting stocks right now. So far this year, we’ve seen mostly a positive trajectory with extreme volatility in between. But you never know when a new crash will occur that will take a decade to recover from.

Bonds Have Next to No Yield

Now that we’ve reviewed the problems with stocks, we can move on to the second asset class in the 60/40 portfolio: Bonds.

In a traditional 60/40 portfolio, bonds provide the safety and return smoothing component of the portfolio. They return less than stocks but they have more stable, and dependable returns. Having bonds in your portfolio in the first place reduces volatility. If you rebalance, they can even boost total return.

The problem is that today, bonds have so little yield that they’re almost pointless. As of this writing, the 10-year Treasury yield was 0.91%. That doesn’t keep up with inflation most years. Of course, you could up your yield by getting into a junk bond ETF. But that dramatically increases your risk, which defeats the purpose of having bonds in your portfolio in the first place.

Consider the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays High Yield Bond ETF (JNK). This year it went on a wild ride, dropping 22% at one point. And its price is barely up (2.47%) over five years.

Chart

Sure, it has yield. But from a total return perspective, it hasn’t done well. And in the meantime, it has delivered a fairly volatile ride this year. So such a high risk bond play isn’t going to smooth out your portfolio.

So, on the one hand, we’ve got the genuinely “safe” bonds that have no yield. On the other hand, we have high-yield bonds which are very risky – going against the whole thesis of holding them in your 60/40 portfolio. So what’s an investor to do?

Here’s What We Are Buying Instead

Having established the flaws with stocks and bonds in today’s market, it’s time to dive into what we recommend as an alternative:

Real assets. 

Real assets are assets with a real, physical substance that often produce substantial cash flows.

They include:

  • Apartment buildings.
  • Warehouses.
  • Railroads.
  • Hospitals.
  • Farmland.
  • Timberland.
  • And more.

Today, I invest about 50% of my net worth in real assets that are resistant to recessions. While some real assets get killed in recessions (e.g. hotels), others are very stable. It’s that latter category I’m focused on. Some of the biggest sub-sectors in my real asset portfolio include:

Apartment communities in business-friendly Sun Belt states:

Waller Creekside on 51st Austin, TX | Welcome Home

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Service-oriented net lease properties with 10-year leases or longer. Our tenants are major chains such as Taco Bell (QSR): 

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Healthcare facilities that are set to profit off the aging population.

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Warehouses that are leased to Amazon (AMZN) and other rapidly-growing e-commerce companies.

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These real assets allow us to enjoy many of the features you can’t get with most stocks and bonds today. These include:

  • High yield. My portfolio is made up of assets that yield 5%-8% and have regular dividend increases.
  • Predictable cash flow. The assets I own are backed by long-term leases that ensure revenue stability.
  • Upside potential. Most of the assets in my portfolio are trading at their highest yield spreads in a decade. They have 30%-50% upside as yield spreads return to normal.

How Do I Invest in Real Assets?

After having worked in private equity and bought real assets directly in the private market, I have today shifted my focus to the REIT market. 

If you’re used to investing in stocks, then REITs (VNQ) are by far the easiest way to get into real assets. You can buy and sell them through your brokerage account just like stocks, and they’re backed by portfolios of real assets.

Over the past 20 years leading to the recent crisis, REITs easily outperformed the 60/40 portfolio strategy and most other asset classes: 

Today, REITs look poised for another decade of outperformance. After falling in the COVID-19 market crash, many REITs are trading at substantial discounts to fair value, and as a result, yields are higher and the potential upside is greater than usual.

Of course, sometimes assets go down for a good reason. Yet many high-quality REITs remain down even despite not being greatly affected by the crisis. 

Take the example of W.P Carey (WPC). It owns mainly industrial properties that are in great demand and enjoy >10-year leases with high credit tenants. Throughout the whole year, WPC has collected nearly 100% of its rents and has kept buying new properties to grow the cash flow. It also has a strong BBB-rated balance sheet and plenty of liquidity. By all accounts, things are going well for the business, and it has even increased the dividend in 2020, continuing its 20-year-plus track record of dividend growth. 

Yet it’s down 23%, so you can invest in WPC’s real assets, lock in a 6% yield, and enjoy ~30% upside as the REIT returns to a fair valuation. 

High yield. Significant upside. And lower risk. That’s nearly impossible to find in the stock and bond market today. 

WPC-owned distribution center that is leased to Advance Auto Parts (AAP):

source 

Bottom Line: You Need to Adapt Your Portfolio

A 60/40 portfolio has performed well over the last 30 years, but now bonds yield close to nothing, and stocks are overvalued. 

What are your other options?

If like me, you want to earn income and position yourself for double-digit total returns, then nothing beats real assets in today’s market.

As more investors come to the same conclusion, we expect a lot more capital to rotate toward real assets. The time to act is now while others are still fearful, valuations are low, and yields are high.