Ex-Secret Service agent Dan Emmett tells Melissa Leon what it takes to keep the president safe on a trip to the Middle East, where President Obama will arrive on Wednesday.
For President Obama, embarking on a trip to Israel this week is an opportunity to repair relations with America’s primary Middle East ally. For the Secret Service agents whose job it is to keep him alive, it’s an enormous challenge. Dan Emmett spent 21 years in the Secret Service and served on presidential detail at various times during the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush—or, as he sometimes calls them, “41,” “42,” and “43.” After serving six years in the CIA, he is now retired and lives in Auburn, Alabama. The author of Within Arm’s Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service, Emmett talked to The Daily Beast about what it takes to keep the president safe on foreign detail, his prognosis for Obama’s trip, and why he doesn’t have fond memories of traveling abroad for work. Below is his story in his own words, with as much detail as he is allowed to disclose, edited for length and clarity.
Barack Obama, as a U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during a press conference atop a hill at the ancient Citadel, on July 22, 2008, in front of the hillsides of Amman, Jordan. (Paul J. Richards /AFP/Getty)
When they come on board, all new agents start at a field office. You don’t start at protection. That comes later, once you’ve proven yourself in terms of work ethic, your ability with firearms, your ability to think on your feet, your ability to actually show up on time—once all those things are factored in, you might get a chance to go to presidential detail. My first overseas trip on presidential detail was the late summer of 1989. It was to Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, an Asian swing by George Herbert Walker Bush (“41”).
There are a lot of details that go into planning an overseas trip. If you take the difficulty of planning a standard domestic advance and you multiply that by about 20, that’s a foreign advance. You generally get about two weeks to do a foreign advance. A pre-advance goes out weeks before that, though there are a lot of things that have to be ironed out: visas, passports, weapons permits, those types of things. Billeting, hotels—where’s everyone going to stay? Because in addition to bringing over the security detail with the president, you’re going to probably have at least a hundred agents from all around the country that are going to go as post-standers. You have to have a place to store the vehicles because they come over separately on an Air Force transport. The logistics are somewhat staggering on an overseas advance. In order for it to all work perfectly and go smoothly (as, to outsiders, it appears to go), there’s a great deal of preparation and coordination between the Secret Service and the security and intelligence services of the host country.
Time for some tough love—Republicans leaders have dumped a 100-page report that spells out why their party is in dire straits. Caitlin Dickson on the seven biggest problem areas.
Ladies and gentlemen, the moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived! Well, kind of. After months of traversing the country, talking to everyday Republicans and minority groups and taking a good, hard look at why it lost the 2012 presidential election, the Grand Old Party has determined exactly what it needs to change about itself going forward: everything.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty (L
“When Republicans lost in November, it was a wake-up call. And in response I initiated the most public and most comprehensive post-election review in the history of any national party,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said, as he presented the 100-page “Growth and Opportunity Project” report at the National Press Club in D.C. Monday. “As it makes clear, there’s no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement.”
The report is long, quite detailed, pretty blunt. In case you don’t have time to read through 100 pages of the Republican party’s biggest issues, we’re here to break down some of the key revelations for you.
A decade of wild successes—international, economic, ideological—before 2003 eroded America’s caution. But Peter Beinart says on the 10th anniversary of the war, for better or worse, we’ve lost our epic ambition.
In the 10 years since the invasion of Iraq, both liberals and conservatives have developed arguments for why America went to war. The core liberal argument, popularized by people like Michael Moore, is that in January 2001 ideological aliens invaded the federal government. For the prior decade, these neoconservatives had been seeking an excuse to dominate the Middle East and finish the work that Poppy Bush had left undone during the Gulf War. The Supreme Court gave them the White House, 9/11 gave them unchecked power, and so they invaded Iraq.
Abandoned Iraqi T55 tanks on the roadside after bombings by coalition forces in Iraq are inspected by British 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, 16 Air Assault Brigade, on March 31, 2003. (Joe Raedle/Getty)
The conservative argument, best articulated by Robert Kagan, is that America invaded Iraq because that’s what America always does when attacked: it fights back ferociously and seeks to spread its ideals along the way. Spain blows up the USS Maine (or at least we claim it does), we end up taking over Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Japan bombs Pearl Harbor; we end up nuking them and occupying half of Europe. North Korea invades its southern twin; we end marching to the border with China. The Iraq War wasn’t a neoconservative venture, according to this logic. It was a quintessentially American one.
There are problems with both these narratives. What the “alien invasion” storyline misses is the continuity between Bush’s foreign policy and the Clinton foreign policy that preceded it. It was Bill Clinton who in 1998 committed America to overthrowing Saddam Hussein, who bombed Iraq for four straight days in Operation Desert Fox, and who pursued a sanctions policy that made truly concluding the Gulf War impossible for America and Iraq. It was the Clinton administration that in Kosovo launched a preemptive humanitarian war without United Nations approval. It was no coincidence that so many ex-Clinton officials backed the Iraq War. In important ways, the Bushies were building on what they had begun.
A far-right coalition is waging a battle to prove equality for gays restricts the religious liberty of Christians to discriminate. Jay Michaelson says it’s an echo of their fight against desegregation.
Thirty-five years ago, having lost the moral battle for segregation, a small group of evangelicals met to rethink their attitude toward politics. Unlike Catholics and mainline Protestants, evangelicals had tended to stay out of secular politics, believing it to be irredeemable. But with the IRS’s decision to withdraw tax-exempt status from the evangelical Bob Jones University, which discriminated against African-Americans, the Christian right was born. Their mission, they said, was to defend “religious liberty.”
Participants hold up up signs during a rally to protest an upcoming federal mandate that most institutions and businesses provide insurance plans that cover artificial birth control on June 8, 2012 in Augusta, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP, file)
Today is a different age—but the players, and the rhetoric, are the same. Today a far-right coalition of conservative Catholics and evangelicals perceive that they have lost the moral battle against LGBT equality, particularly same-sex marriage. And so, as described in a lengthy report released Monday by the think tank Political Research Associates and chiefly authored by this writer, they are waging a multi-pronged battle against LGBT rights, not on substantive moral grounds but on the premise that equality for gays restricts the religious liberty of Christians to discriminate against them.
Of course, this is rhetoric, not reality. Forty years ago, the newly minted Christian right “played the victim” by claiming that a racist school, rather than the students being discriminated against, was the true victim. And today religious-liberty activists claim that bullies are the real victims because they cannot “express their views about homosexuality.” They claim that businesses who say “No Gays Allowed” are being oppressed because they are forced to “facilitate” gay marriages. And they claim that the real targets of discrimination are not gay people, who in 24 states can be fired from their jobs simply for being gay, but employers who can’t fire them.
With the GOP about ‘as popular as the Ebola virus,’ top Obama strategist David Plouffe says Clinton is ‘probably the strongest candidate’ for 2016 if she decides to run. Lloyd Grove reports.
David Plouffe doesn’t sound too worried about the current strength of the Republican Party, which he called “as popular as the Ebola virus” on Sunday night at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y.
Plouffe, who as Obama’s campaign manager was an ardent foe of Hillary Clinton’s during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, also predicted that the former secretary of state will be “the most interesting and probably the strongest candidate” of either party if she decides to run for president in 2016. Especially against the nominee of a dysfunctional, disconnected GOP.
“If the election of 2014 were held next week, we’d do rather well, because the Republican brand has been tarnished,” President Obama’s top political strategist said during a Q&A with PBS’s Jeff Greenfield. “I think the fascinating question is what are they going to do between now and next November [of 2014], because when you’re as popular as the Ebola virus, that’s not a great way” to wage a campaign. Greenfield pointed out that the election, of course, will not be held next week.
Plouffe, who was Obama’s 2008 campaign manager and, for the past two years, a senior presidential adviser on the White House staff, added that GOP officeholders, especially in the House, seem to be “operating in an alternative universe” when reacting to the demographic realities of the 2012 election. Chief among these realities was the steep fall-off in Republican support from Latino and Asian-American voters, who went overwhelmingly for Obama.
The return of Mark Sanford. The debut of Stephen Colbert’s sister Elizabeth. And 16 other candidates! John Avlon reports from Charleston on today’s congressional primary free-for-all.
South Carolina politics is a full-contact spectator sport, and the 18-candidate special election on Tuesday is shaping up to be a scrum for the ages, with low blows and high expectations. This is an old-fashioned street fight in a state where the Tea Party, evangelicals, and the New South all intersect.
Campaign signs in South Carolina. (Reynolds Avlon)
On the crowded Republican ballot, former governor Mark Sanford is on a redemption tour, trying to fight his way back from the disgrace of hiking the Appalachian Trial with a woman other than his (now former) wife. He faces 15 other Republicans in the conservative First District, including the self-funded high school teacher son of Ted Turner and a bevy of current and former state legislators who are busy lobbing grenades and robo-calls at the presumptive frontrunners, each trying to out-conservative the other. With no one likely to win 50 percent on the first ballot, a bloody cage-match runoff in April is all but guaranteed.
The Democratic field is a comparatively tame two-person race, dominated by the national media love for the only candidate whose volunteer wall features multiple photos of Stephen Colbert: his sister Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. And surprisingly, this is one South Carolina congressional race where the Democrat might not be DOA on Election Day—especially if the GOP nominee is Sanford.
Far-right Republicans are mounting primary challenges and foiling the GOP establishment’s hunt for electable candidates. David Freedlander on who will face the Tea Party’s fury next.
One by one, they have fallen. Bob Bennett in Utah. Richard Lugar in Indiana. Mike Castle in Delaware. Longtime pols, all of them, with long records in the halls of power, or handpicked by national leaders to run for office. And one by one, they and others found their profiles as electable lawmakers with the record to prove it used as a cudgel against them by Tea Party activists determined to purge the Republican Party of any kind of wishy-washy moderation.
(From left to right) Richard Lugar of Indiana, Mike Castle of Delaware, and Bob Bennett of Utah lost their seats in Congress after the Tea Party decided to purge the Republican Party of moderation. (AP; CQ Roll Call, via Getty)
In 2010 it was an aberration. By 2012 it was a trend. And now that the 2014 elections are around the corner, the GOP machine has finally said enough, and enlisted Karl Rove and others to end the trend of far-right-wingers knocking off establishment-friendly candidates in Republican primaries. Those revolutionaries, you see, turned out to be weak general-election opponents against Democrats, and so the revolution was costing the GOP seats in statehouses and the Senate that were rightly theirs.
But revolutionaries have a tendency not to go down quietly, so when word leaked of Rove’s plan the Tea Party swung quickly into action, denouncing the machine for meddling and vowing to keep the heat on the establishment. Now the family dispute is threatening to turn into a full-scale civil war, playing out in states from Maine to Alaska. As the battle drums beat louder and louder, we scout out the field.
The former Republican rock star—that star now seriously dimmed—cracked jokes about her “rack” and drunk college students at the conservative confab’s third day. Howard Kurtz reports.
Sarah Palin called President Obama a liar and compared him with financial swindler Bernie Madoff as she fired up the CPAC conference and tried to propel herself back into the political conversation.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin drinks a large soda for comic effect as she speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 16, 2013. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters, via Landov )
In a punchy but disjointed speech on Saturday, Palin also took swipes at Karl Rove and the Republican Party while insisting that politicians concentrate on rebuilding the country. But she did not offer a single substantive specific, other than her repeated calls to respect the Second Amendment.
She was, however, pretty funny, more stand-up comic than political practitioner.
At day three of the conservative conference, attendees were getting listless—until the congresswoman from Minnesota threw them the red meat they’d been craving. Caitlin Dickson reports.
Saturday seemed like it was off to a slow start, as tired (and possibly hung-over) CPACers filed into the Gaylord Convention Center for the third straight day of conservative consorting.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) waves as she arrives to speak at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 16, 2013. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
The radio and TV news booths that had lined the once-crowded hallway outside the convention center’s main ballroom were now almost all deserted. Jacob Champion, one of the eager Rand fans who was super-psyched to be at CPAC on day one, was still sporting a red tie and jacket adorned with “Stand With Rand” stickers, but by now he looked decidedly dazed. He ambled into the main auditorium, telling me he was exhausted, while Newt Gingrich wrapped up a snooze of a speech.
Everything changed, however, when Michele Bachmann bounded onto the main stage. As the music of tween pop stars One Direction announced her arrival, the audience leapt to its feet to greet her.
At CPAC, the old politics of paranoia are always in vogue, writes John Avlon.
There’s no place where the paranoid style in American politics mixes with presidential aspirants quite like CPAC.
Stu McKay, 19, left, Andrew Hornsby, 20, and Taylor Wright, 19, all with the college group Young Americans for Freedom, roll up posters of Ronald Reagan to hand out at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, March 15, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
At this year’s conservative conclave, held at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland, there is a mood of grim resignation after their rejection in the 2012 election, a determination to look for restoration along even stricter ideological lines.
What was once a decidedly fringe festival that Main Street Republicans have derided as a “Star Wars bar scene” has become a mandatory stop on the GOP presidential circuit, with Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, and Paul Ryan all making speeches this year. For conservative activists, it serves as an annual tribal gathering, selling special knowledge to those who feel at war with much of modern America and all of the Obama administration. And the media happily feed the beast because CPAC offers a one-stop shop for portraying the uneasy coexistence between constitutionalists and conspiracy theorists inside the conservative movement.
The Egyptian activist was set to be honored by the State Department, until her Twitter postings were discovered. How ancient hatreds and modern social media felled a champion for women.
While American women argue about why not enough of them head Fortune 500 companies, women around the world, especially in developing countries, have far more basic concerns. Speaking out against sexual abuse and humiliation, gaining access to education, defending human rights, they look to the U.S. for help and inspiration, and last week the State Department prepared to recognize 10 women who have shown extraordinary courage in advancing democratic values.
File photo, May 21, 2012: Samira Ibrahim, Cairo, Egypt. (Fredrik Persson/AP)
Then one of the women was struck from the list. The day before the ceremony with Secretary of State John Kerry and first lady Michelle Obama, Samira Ibrahim of Egypt had her award withdrawn after anti-American and anti-Semitic postings were uncovered on her Twitter account and reported in various outlets. She initially denied the tweets were hers, said someone must have hacked her site, but after a series of conversations in which her award was at first deferred, then canceled, Ibrahim was sent packing by a somewhat chagrined and embarrassed State Department.
The tweets, reprinted in a column by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, are stomach-churning in the visceral hatred they express toward America, Jews, and Israel. The State Department does not have the luxury of compartmentalizing Ibrahim’s very different views when it comes to advocating for women’s rights. She was one of the women highlighted in the media during the Arab Spring. Time named her one of the “100 most influential people in the world” last year, and she was celebrated for her courage at The Daily Beast/Newsweek’s Women in the World Summit in 2012.
It was a session that was meant to help Republicans transcend the destructive tag. Then a white supremacist started talking segregation and everything went into a tailspin.
At the end of a long hallway, a raucous crowd spilled out of a small conference room. People stood on tiptoes and held camera phones over heads as the conversation heated up.
Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington. (AP; Arthur P. Bedou/Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty)
K. Carl Smith, founder of the Frederick Douglass Republicans, had just finished leading the panel discussion entitled “Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You’re Not One?” during which he insisted that, simply by associating themselves with the slave-turned-Republican politician, white conservatives can trump the race card. While attendees nodded, applauded, and even cheered a little throughout the talk, the question-and-answer session that followed devolved into a bit of a verbal brawl.
It all started when Terry, an audience member from Towson University’s White Student Union, complained that “my people, my demographic are being systematically disenfranchised,” and suggested that instead of following in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass, “Booker T. Washington Republicans” might be a better identity for the GOP—you know, “unified like the hand, but separate like the fingers.” Yes, that was an allusion to segregation, which was received with bug eyes and dropped jaws.
In 2012, Paul Ryan declared that the election would “determine” American policy. But in 2013, Republicans aren’t accepting the result, writes, Robert Shrum.
As President Obama is discovering, election, or more particularly reelection, can be a waning mandate. Yes, he won his top rate tax increases in January—but less because Republicans accepted the verdict of last November than that they feared the blame in November 2014 if they conspicuously shattered the credit-worthiness and economic stability of the United States. And now we are at a point where Obama himself suggests that the differences are just "too wide" to achieve a "grand bargain" on America's fiscal future. The president says he won't yield if the GOP position is "we can only do revenue if we gut Medicare ... Social Security ... or education."
Barack Obama speaks during Organizing for Action dinner in Washington DC, March 13, 2013. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)
Well, although they wouldn't put it in those words, that is exactly the Republican position: voucherize Medicare, mow down Medicaid, and, no surprise, slash tax rates for the wealthy and corporations to 25 percent. From White House officials to Congressional Democrats to liberal commentators like Rachel Maddow, there has been a common reaction: doesn't Ryan know that he and Mitt were beaten, and pretty soundly? To reinforce her point—and Ryan's hypocrisy—Maddow went to the videotape of last summer, when Ryan promised, "[w]hoever wins this election is going to determine what all this"—from entitlements to tax policy—"looks like next year."
In reality, things don't work out that way—and they certainly aren't now. In fact, the Tea-fueled Republican resistance to Obama's approach is both consistent with history, and dangerously ahistorical.
It’s nice that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman now backs same-sex marriage. But why, asks Michael Tomasky, does it always take a gay family member for conservatives to adopt the morally right position?
It’s delightful that Rob Portman now supports same-sex marriage. I don’t know how many conservatives or Republicans follow the lead of Ohio’s junior senator, but it’s a long march to equality, and every step helps. So good for him. But even so, I couldn’t help wondering: what if his son weren’t gay? Were that the case, we have no reason whatsoever to believe Portman would have taken this step. And this brings us to a difference, for my money the single most important difference, between liberals and conservatives: in general, conservatives have no social empathy. It shouldn’t take filial love and loyalty to bring a person to a position that he should reach via a simple combination of compassion and principle.
File photo: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, August 29, 2012. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty)
What makes a person a liberal? Lots of things, but fundamentally, it’s the ability to think beyond self-interest—to examine an issue through other people’s eyes, and to imagine such a thing as the common interest or common good. The obvious example from American history is civil rights. For your average Northern white person in 1963, it wasn’t so difficult to identify with the interests of the Southern black person. Millions of white Americans were thus “liberals” at that point in time, at least with regard to that issue. Whites were able to see the issue through black eyes, in a sense; most even saw that their own self-interest as Americans was bound up in Southern blacks’ self-interest. That meeting place of self-interest and another’s interest is exactly where the common good lives.
That was an easy case, in a way, because Northern whites didn’t have to give anything up to embrace the enfranchisement of Southern blacks. There are harder cases, cases involving questions of taxation and spending, where liberals still think beyond self-interest. This is how I’d define social empathy—the ability to put the interests of those less fortunate ahead of your own. Conservative readers are rolling their eyes, but millions of Americans take this position and live their lives in this fashion. Anyone who makes, say, a six-figure income but votes Democratic is on some level voting against her own self-interest, at least in economic terms. The Republicans are the party that is far, far more likely to look after your interests if you make $100,000 or more (although history shows also that Republicans tend to be the ones who create financial crashes and meltdowns and Democrats tend to be the ones who fix them, but that’s a different column). And yet, many millions of such Americans vote Democratic. They are willing to sacrifice some self-interest for the sake of others’ interests and of what they perceive to be the common interest.
The Donald used his CPAC appearance to skewer the GOP, Obama and the press—and remind folks he’s rich. Lauren Ashburn on his wild speech.
One thing about Donald Trump: he knows how to entertain a crowd.
The hair-challenged gazillionaire blew into Washington to address the CPAC gathering on Friday, knowing full well he needed an act to compete with the likes of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.
Donald Trump, chairman and president of the Trump Organization and founder of Trump Entertainment Resorts Donald Trump, gives the v-sign during his speech at the 40th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland on March 15, 2013. (Shawn Thew/EPA, via Landov )
And he’s no apprentice when it comes to getting folks fired up.
Eric Nordstrom, who worked at the Benghazi consulate on the day it was attacked, choked up during Wednesday's hearings. 'It matters,' he said, that the committee investigate what happened before, during, and after the siege.
Corry Booker’s the hero mayor of Newark, and, yes, he’s running for Senate. By Lloyd Grove
The president’s push for $9 an hour has the GOP on the defensive. Eleanor Clift on the strategy behind the move. But this push could take the politics out of the perennial argument.
Meet the new Treasury secretary, same as the old Treasury secretary. Lloyd Green on nominee Jack Lew.
For John Kael Weston and other men on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes raise many uncomfortable questions. He writes on why we need clearer policy and guidelines for these silent killers.