Rational Security

The Lawfare Institute

A Weekly Roundtable on All Things National Security

  • 1 hour 11 minutes
    The “Million Dollar Babydog” Edition

    This week Alan, Quinta, and Scott were joined by Lawfare Executive Editor Natalie Orpett to talk through one of the most eventful weeks in national security news in recent history, including:

    • “Too Close for Comfort.” Former President Trump narrowly avoided an assassination attempt this past weekend that ultimately left one rally-goer dead and two others critically wounded. While Trump and President Biden both made calls for national unity, several of Trump’s close allies were quick to blame the Biden administration’s rhetoric painting Trump as a threat to democracy. What will this historic event mean for the 2024 election—and for the rise in political violence and related rhetoric that’s preceded it?
    • “Cannon Fodder.” After months of glacial judicial proceedings, federal District Court Judge Aileen Cannon finally did what many of her critics had long expected and dismissed the special counsel’s criminal case against former President Trump, based in large part on an aggressive reading of the Appointments Clause and narrow reading of the legislation allowing for the special counsel’s appointment. How credible is her holding? And what will it mean for the future of the trial?
    • “Hillbilly Pedigree.” Former President Trump opened the Republican Party’s national convention this week by announcing his new pick for Vice President: J.D. Vance, the first-term senator from Ohio, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” and a one-time critic of Trump who has since become one of his most aggressive ideological allies, going even further than Trump on issues ranging from economic populism to opposition to U.S. support for Ukraine. What does his nomination mean for the race, for the Republican Party, and for the future of national security policy? 

    For object lessons, Alan shared how he rediscovered his love of video games. Quinta brought us another update from the Garden State, regarding the conviction of its senior senator. Scott shared a great story from political history, about the origins of the weird relationship between Richard Nixon and NBA star Wilt Chamberlain. And Natalie endorsed her latest TV indulgence: the HBO show Hacks.

    Promotion: Use code RATIONALSECURITY at the link here to get an exclusive 60% off an annual Incogni plan: https://incogni.com/rationalsecurity.


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    18 July 2024, 4:00 pm
  • 1 hour 11 minutes
    The “Pétanque-a-Donk” Edition

    This week, Quinta and Scott were joined by Lawfare Managing Editor Tyler McBrien and Lawfare Contributing Editor Eric Ciaramella to talk over all the national security news causing traffic issues in D.C., including:

    • “Ukraine in the Membrane.” NATO is hosting its 75th anniversary summit here in Washington, D.C., this week. But its members’ eyes are uniformly locked on Ukraine, whose (eventual) membership several will voice support for this week—even as others worry about what a future Trump administration might mean for the alliance and its commitment to the ongoing conflict there. What trajectory is NATO headed on? And what should the alliance be doing to prepare?
    • “So Gauche.” Left political movements emerged victorious over populist right-wing movements in two major elections in Europe this past week. In France, the left-wing New Popular Front squeaked out a narrow plurality over President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist coalition and the right-wing National Rally. And in the U.K., a resurgent Labour movement finally ended fourteen years of increasingly unpopular Conservative control. What do these results tell us about political trends in Europe? And can they shed any light on what the United States might experience in its own election later this year?
    • “Hindsight is 20/25.” This week, former President Donald Trump tried to distance himself from Project 2025, denying any awareness of the Heritage Foundation-led project that has produced a 900-page book of policy proposals for the potentially returning conservative president—even though several of his former advisers contributed to the project and a number of its proposals seem to be included in the platform that Republican Party leaders adopted this week. How does this agenda compare to what the Trump administration pursued in its first term? And what role is it likely to play if Trump does return to the White House?

    For object lessons, Quinta recommended James McBride's latest book, “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store.” Scott highlighted two great pieces on the continuing relevance of the classic movie “Chinatown,” in light of both its 50th anniversary and the death of its author Robert Towne—and urged director David Fincher to keep at his plans to produce a prequel series for Netflix. Tyler shared the earnest welcome to the NATO summit produced by D.C.'s own wholesome influencer, Tony P. And Eric expressed his passion for the great Finnish pastime of hobby horsing.

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    11 July 2024, 4:00 pm
  • 1 hour 9 minutes
    The “Gluten-Free Clam Pizza is the Best Pizza” Edition

    This week, a Scott-less Alan and Quinta sat down with Lawfare Tarbell Fellow Kevin Frazier and law school-bound Associate Editor Hyemin Han to talk over the week’s big national security news, including:

    • “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.” Unlike Ronald Reagan, Joe Biden’s underwhelming performance at the first (and perhaps only) presidential debate has put his party in a panic about his chances to win the presidential election. Was Biden’s performance as bad as the pundits and betting markets seem to think and, if so, what should he do about it, both with respect to his staying in the race and even his ability to finish out his presidential term?
    • “When you’re the president, they let you do it.” After promising an opinion “for the ages,” the Supreme Court, in a 6-3, party-line decision, held that presidents enjoy at least some degree of absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts. Did the opinion, as the dissenting Justices argued, make the president above the law? And what does the opinion mean for the ongoing criminal prosecutions seeking to hold Trump accountable for crimes he allegedly committed while in office?
    • "Tell it to my face…ial challenge." The Supreme Court continues its pattern of not squarely addressing difficult legal questions about the Internet. In Moody v. NetChoice, the Court sent back two challenges to state social-media moderation laws to the lower courts, instructing them to examine the laws on an as-applied, rather than facial, basis. What guidance did the Court give to the lower courts on remand, and what questions about the scope of the platforms’ First Amendment protections remain unanswered?

    For object lessons, Alan gave himself a post-tenure present in the form of a fancy grill, Kevin recommended a Parisian shark week movie, Quinta suggested an animated science fiction adventure, and Hyemin enjoyed a book about the geopolitics of shame.

    To receive ad-free podcasts, become a Lawfare Material Supporter at www.patreon.com/lawfare. You can also support Lawfare by making a one-time donation at https://givebutter.com/c/trumptrials.


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    4 July 2024, 4:00 pm
  • 1 hour 4 minutes
    The “God Given” Edition

    This week, Alan, Quinta, and Scott were joined once again by Lawfare Tarbell Fellow Kevin Frazier to talk over the week’s big national security news, including:

    • Wiki-plea-ks.” After more than a decade in effective confinement—first at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, then in a British prison—Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is set to plead guilty in a U.S. federal court in Saipan to a single violation of the Espionage Act for his role in securing and publishing troves of classified U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010, at which point he will walk free. What can we learn from Assange’s saga?
    • “Houthi Can’t Fail.” After months of sustained hostilities—and a U.S.-led multilateral military response—the Houthi campaign against shipping through the Red Sea has once again ratcheted up a notch, disabling a number of ships in sometimes fatal attacks and teaming up with similarly Iran-affiliated Iraqi militia groups. As global supply lines strain, is it clear that the international community’s strategy failed? What more (or different) could it do?
    • “iAI.” Apple is set to enter the artificial intelligence game with its new Apple Intelligence, which it will be rolling out on Apple devices in the Fall. But not in Europe, in part due to its regulatory posture. What does this tell us about the pros and cons of AI regulation, and how the industry is likely to react?

    For object lessons, Alan shared a piece asking, “What happened to the libertarian party?” Quinta confirmed her millennial status by recommending the new album from The Decemberists, “As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again.” Scott threw his endorsement to the very BBC film, “The Lost King.” And Kevin urged everyone to check out Kygo’s death defying piano performance

    To receive ad-free podcasts, become a Lawfare Material Supporter at www.patreon.com/lawfare. You can also support Lawfare by making a one-time donation at https://givebutter.com/c/trumptrials.


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    27 June 2024, 4:00 pm
  • 1 hour 11 minutes
    The “Up in Flames” Edition

    This week, Quinta and Scott were joined by Lawfare Contributing Editor and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Eric Ciaramella to talk over the week’s big national security news, including:

    • “Prime Deliverables, in Two Days or Less.” The Biden administration and its European allies coughed up a number of big wins for Ukraine at a meeting of the G7 and subsequent Ukraine peace summit this past week, ranging from a new U.S.-Ukraine security agreement to a commitment to provide $50 billion in assistance derived from frozen Russian assets. But are these measures game-changers—especially with political changes in both Europe and the United States on the horizon?
    • “Trying to F Us.” Policy advisors to former President Trump reportedly have some big plans for government employees if he is elected to a second stint in the White House—including the return of Schedule F, an reorganization of the civil service that would have gutted job protections and made it easier to replace civil servants with partisan loyalists. How big a problem are these plans? And how feasible are they really?
    • “Revenge of the Nerds.” A little known intelligence agency within the State Department—the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR—has gotten some great press of late, celebrating several notable analytic victories it’s secured, often in dissent from the rest of the intelligence community. Is there some secret to INR’s success? Or is it overblown?

    For object lessons, Quinta shared more important NJ political corruption news. Scott awarded his song of the summer to “Right Back to It,” the single off Waxahatchee’s phenomenal “Tiger’s Blood.” And Eric recommended “Sovietistan,” a travelogue about Central Asia by Norwegian anthropologist Erika Fatland.

    To receive ad-free podcasts, become a Lawfare Material Supporter at www.patreon.com/lawfare. You can also support Lawfare by making a one-time donation at https://givebutter.com/c/trumptrials.


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    20 June 2024, 4:00 pm
  • 1 hour 18 minutes
    The “Miami Vices” Edition

    This week, Alan, Quinta, and Scott were joined by Lawfare Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Wittes to talk through some of the week’s biggest national security news stories, including:

    • “Save the Last Gantz.” Leading opposition figure Benny Gantz has left Israel’s war cabinet over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to establish post-conflict plans for Gaza, raising serious questions about the stability of Netanyahu’s far-right government. What does Gantz’s departure mean for the future of the conflict?
    • “Congress Shall Make No Law…Abridging the Freedom of [BEEP], or of the [PRESS ENTER KEY].” California is on the verge of enacting one of the country’s first AI safety laws. But critics are arguing that the type of restrictions it imposes may run afoul of the First Amendment. How does AI fit with the freedom of speech—and does the First Amendment put it beyond regulatory reach?
    • “A Stale Macron is One Tough Cookie.” Recent elections to the European Parliament saw a surge in right (and particularly far-right) parties across the continent, and most specifically in France and Germany. Fearing what this groundswell might mean for his centrist coalition, French President Emmanuel Macron has sought to cut it off at the pass by calling for snap national parliamentary elections. Is this a risky strategy or a sound one?

    For object lessons, Ben asked listeners how they intended to celebrate #RussiaDay on June 12. Alan celebrated an inedible apple. Quinta followed up on last week’s discussion to share the American Immigration Council’s analysis of the new border executive order. And Scott sang the praises of Roka, a brand of glasses that finally stays on his dumb flat face.

    To receive ad-free podcasts, become a Lawfare Material Supporter at www.patreon.com/lawfare. You can also support Lawfare by making a one-time donation at https://givebutter.com/c/trumptrials.


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    13 June 2024, 4:00 pm
  • 1 hour 11 minutes
    The “Morning After” Edition

    This week, Quinta and Scott were joined by Lawfare Managing Editor Tyler McBrien to discuss how he is coping with the end of the New York trial and to run through some of the week’s big national security news stories, including:

    • “A Perfect Conviction.” Last week, after less than two days of deliberation, a jury in New York state criminal court found former President Trump guilty of all 34 criminal counts on which he was being tried. He’s now scheduled to be sentenced just days before the Republican National Convention this summer, where he is expected to be named the party’s 2024 presidential nominee. What does this conviction mean for Trump’s campaign? What are his prospects for appeal? And what happens if he still wins?
    • “Biden Time.” Last week, President Biden laid out a three-step cease-fire plan for Gaza, sending the clearest signal yet that he is intent on ending the conflict there. Both sides have accepted the plan in principle but have yet to reach agreement on the particulars—and, meanwhile, Israel’s Rafah operation has continued. Is this finally a sign of the Gaza end game? Or that the end is nigh for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, which is under increasing domestic and international pressure?
    • “Order on the Border.” This week, the Biden administration unveiled a new executive order that will make it harder for migrants crossing the southern U.S. border to apply for and receive asylum during periods of high border traffic, facilitating their prompt removal. Is this move a reasonable policy measure, cynical election politics, or something else entirely?

    For object lessons, Quinta recommended Zadie Smith’s new-ish novel, “The Fraud.” Scott shared a note from the archives about high cetacean fashion. And Tyler passed along an inspirational story about Osaka airport’s amazing luggage record.

    To receive ad-free podcasts, become a Lawfare Material Supporter at www.patreon.com/lawfare. You can also support Lawfare by making a one-time donation at https://givebutter.com/c/trumptrials.


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    6 June 2024, 4:00 pm
  • 1 hour 17 minutes
    The “Cute Little Ears” Edition

    This week, a Quinta-less Alan and Scott sat down with Lawfare all-stars Natalie Orpett, Eugenia Lostri, and Kevin Frazier to talk about the week’s big national security news, including: 

    • “Waiting to Expel.” The New York Times reported this week that the anticipated transfer of almost a dozen detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Oman was halted in the wake of the Oct. 7 massacre. This as Oman is reportedly preparing to expel a number of former detainees already resident there with their families. What do these developments mean for the effort to resettle detainees and ultimately close Guantanamo?
    • “The First Law of Robotics is Don’t Talk About the Law of Robotics.” AI safety is back on the front pages again, after the resignation of much of OpenAI’s “superalignment” team, which had been tasked with preventing the AIs being developed from becoming a threat to humanity. A bipartisan group of senators, meanwhile, has laid out a roadmap to guide legislative efforts. But is it on the right track? And just how much should we be sucking up to our future robot overlords?
    • “20,000 Leaks Under the Sea.” Strategic competition is slowly leading U.S. officials to give more careful consideration to the network of undersea cables on which much of the global telecommunications system relies—and which China and Russia seem increasingly intent on being able to access or disrupt. But what will addressing this threat require? And is the antiquated legal regime governing undersea cables up to the task?

    To receive ad-free podcasts, become a Lawfare Material Supporter at www.patreon.com/lawfare. You can also support Lawfare by making a one-time donation at https://givebutter.com/c/trumptrials.


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    30 May 2024, 4:00 pm
  • 1 hour 19 minutes
    The “Closing the Clubhouse” Edition

    This week, Alan, Quinta, and Scott were joined by Lawfare Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Wittes, fresh from his New York rumspringa, to talk over the week’s big national security news, including:

    • “You Don’t Have to Go Home, But You Can’t Stay Here.” That’s the message that will soon be going out to those Lawfare team members that have been camping out at our temporary Manhattan studio, as, after weeks of proceedings, it is officially closing time for former President Donald Trump’s criminal prosecution in New York. How has the trial proceeded? And what have we learned up to this point, before the verdict comes in?
    • “Spinning the Wheels of Justice.” The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has made a landmark request for arrest warrants targeting Hamas’s three most senior officials as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on the grounds that they have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Is this a step towards justice? Or towards an end to the conflict?
    • “Take a Hayek.” The Biden administration has now followed in the Trump administration’s footsteps in imposing major tariffs on imports from China, and both parties seem comfortable with a level of trade protectionism that would have been inconceivable just a few decades ago. Is this the end of the neoliberal experiment? And what seems set to come about in its wake?

    For object lessons, Alan recommended pianist Víkingur Ólafsson’s reworking of Bach's Organ Sonata No. 4. Quinta shouted out two cartoonists illustrating the Trump trial: Liza Donnelly for the New Yorker and Josh Cochran for the New York Times. Scott recommended the new book forthcoming from friend-of-the-pod Michel Paradis, a new portrait of Dwight Eisenhower in the lead-up to D-Day entitled “The Light of Battle.” And Ben gave an unlikely endorsement to one of Trump’s legal counsel, the somewhat vampiric but nonetheless effective Emil Bove.

    To receive ad-free podcasts, become a Lawfare Material Supporter at www.patreon.com/lawfare. You can also support Lawfare by making a one-time donation at https://givebutter.com/c/trumptrials.


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    23 May 2024, 4:00 pm
  • 1 hour 16 minutes
    The “Active Listening Noises” Edition

    This week, Alan, Quinta, and Scott were joined by Lawfare Executive Editor Natalie Orpett to go over the week’s big national security news, including:

    • “Does NSM Stand for No Such Memo?” Last week, in a long-awaited report required by National Security Memorandum 20 that President Biden issued earlier this year, the Biden administration concluded that there were credible reasons to believe that Israel may well have violated international law and obstructed U.S.-backed humanitarian flows in its conduct of the war in Gaza. But it still declined to find Israeli assurances to the contrary lacking in credibility enough to interrupt U.S. security assistance. What does this tell us about the state of U.S. support for Israel—especially as Israeli forces appear increasingly set to pursue an offensive on Rafah that Biden has openly opposed?
    • “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting.” A sharp global decline in birth rates—often below replacement levels, especially (but not exclusively) in highly developed countries—has some academics and policymakers panicking about everything from the global balance of power to the future of social support systems. But are these concerns misplaced? And how (if at all) should we be thinking about the relationship between national security and family planning?
    • “AzerbaiSCAM.” The Justice Department has indicted a second Democratic legislator—Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas—for working as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, this time that of Azerbaijan, even as a federal court in New York seats a jury for the prosecution of Sen. Bob Menendez for allegedly doing the same on behalf of Egypt and Qatar. Is this reflective of a broader problematic trend? And what should policymakers be doing about it?

    For object lessons, Alan lamented the passing of great Canadian Alice Munro. Quinta celebrated the semi-resolution of a long-running mystery involving Prague. Scott renewed his call for people to grill more pizza this summer and shared some tips before handing the mic to producer Noam, who shared that he’s performing at the DC Improv on May 23. And Natalie reminisced fondly (?) on her time living in New York

    To receive ad-free podcasts, become a Lawfare Material Supporter at www.patreon.com/lawfare. You can also support Lawfare by making a one-time donation at https://givebutter.com/c/trumptrials.


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    16 May 2024, 4:00 pm
  • 1 hour 17 minutes
    The “B- B-Roll” Edition

    This week, Alan, Quinta, and Scott were joined by Lawfare’s Fellow in Technology Policy and Law Eugenia Lostri, to hash through the week’s big national security news, including:

    • “Digital Solid Parody.” The Biden administration is making major moves when it comes to emerging technologies, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken rolling out a new multilateral strategy for “digital solidarity” this week at the annual RSA cybersecurity conference, among other actions. What is new about what the Biden administration is doing? And where will it lead? 
    • “Avengers’ Endgame.” Israeli military operations in Gaza may be entering a final stage, as forces may have begun an assault on Rafah—one that U.S. policymakers have warned against, as it could harm the countless Gazan civilians that have sought refuge there. Will this be a breaking point for U.S. support for Israeli military operations? And how will it impact ongoing ceasefire negotiations?
    • “Stomp and Circumstance.” College campuses around the country are at a standstill due to student protests over U.S. support for the war in Gaza. Some universities have agreed to consider student demands, including divestment, while others have worked with local law enforcement to arrest protesters and break up encampments. How should universities (and the Biden administration) be responding?

    For object lessons, Alan endorsed the new period miniseries Fellow Travelers. Lacking any Menendez updates, Quinta broadened her beat to cover the new indictment of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). Scott sang the praises of a childhood classic he and his son have rediscovered, James Gurney’s “Dinotopia.” And Eugenia celebrated the early look at retirement provided by one of her favorite video games, Sims 4.

    To receive ad-free podcasts, become a Lawfare Material Supporter at www.patreon.com/lawfare. You can also support Lawfare by making a one-time donation at https://givebutter.com/c/trumptrials.


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    9 May 2024, 4:00 pm
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