Sometime in the next 15 days, the last American troops will leave Iraq — and the War that began almost nine years ago will finally come to an end.
Today, President Obama addresses some of those returning troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The big difference between those troops and many others who have returned from the War in Iraq, is that none of them will be deployed on yet another tour to Mosul or Kirkuk or Baghdad — or any of the other Iraqi cities that became so familiar to Americans over the last decade.
The end of the War in Iraq is a major event in American history, since in many ways, that War was the defining historic event for an entire generation of Americans.
There are those who would minimize the importance of the final withdrawal of our troops from Iraq by pointing to the unfinished business of the War in Afghanistan, or the use of civilian contractors. Those are important issues, but they should not diminish the extraordinary significance of the fact that the Iraq War has come to an end.
Most importantly, Progressives — and all of those who fought for a decade to prevent and then to end the Iraq War — should take a moment to celebrate the fact that they have won a critical, historic battle.
There is a lot of cynicism in America — a sense that it doesn’t matter what you do — that ordinary people can’t really have an impact on the big decisions and big institutions of our society. The end of the War in Iraq shows that the cynics are wrong.
What began in 2002 as an effort to avert the war in Iraq, grew to a chorus of millions who changed the political landscape and who kept fighting until all of our troops came home. That movement elected a president who promised to end the war — a president who this week has kept that promise.
In September 2002 — a year after 9/11 — President George Bush began what he and his aides called a “marketing program” to convince Americans that our country should invade Iraq. That campaign ultimately included some of the most egregious lies ever told by an American president.
Bush told Americans that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. His Secretary of State warned that we could not wait for a “smoking gun” to prove these allegations, because it might prove to be a “mushroom cloud.”
Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, argued that Iraq was the central front in the “War on Terror” — even though there was never one shred of evidence that Iraq supported the 9/11 terrorists or had anything whatsoever to do with Al Qaeda. Bush and Cheney actually said — with a straight face — that “If we weren’t fighting them in Iraq, we could be fighting them in the United States.”
Much of the nation — newly traumatized by the 9/11 attacks — supported the president. And of course, who could imagine that a president would simply fabricate the rationale for a war?
Just a month after Bush launched his campaign to get support for war with Iraq, State Senator Barack Obama was invited to speak to a rally in Chicago’s Federal Building Plaza. There he stated firmly and unequivocally his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. At the time, that position was unpopular — particularly for a politician with ambitions for higher office. But the organizers of the rally did not have to coax Obama to take his tough stand. Obama was eager to be part of the nascent movement that opposed the potential War in Iraq.
When he ran for United States Senate two years later, Obama continued his strong opposition to the Iraq War. And there can be little doubt that he became the Democratic nominee for President in 2008 in large measure because of his consistent, principled opposition to the War.
In his campaign for president, Barack Obama promised to end the War in Iraq. Now he has kept that promise.
When he took office there were nearly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Within the next two weeks there will be none.
The Republicans that started the War — Neo-cons like Dick Cheney, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — as well as the major Republican Presidential candidates — have all spoken out against the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. They have made clear that they would never have signed the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that set up a time-table for withdrawal, had they not intended to change it. Obama’s Republican opponent, John McCain, has been particularly outspoken in his opposition. McCain, after all, once said that he had no objection to American troops remaining in Iraq for a hundred years.
It is virtually certain that had John McCain become president, our War in Iraq would have continued for years to come. After all, one of the major Neo-Con goals for the war was a permanent base of operations in Iraq.
But President Obama and the movement against the Iraq War have decisively won the battle for public opinion. Last month’s ABC/Washington Post poll found that 78% of Americans support Obama’s decision to leave Iraq at the end of the year.
In the end, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz believes the War will have cost America over $3 trillion — including the cost of rehabilitation and care for the tens of thousands of soldiers who were wounded in Iraq.
Whatever the final figure, most Americans have a profound belief that it is time to use the funds we save by ending the Iraq War to rebuild America and the American economy.
Every dollar that went to fight the Iraq War was a dollar that did not go to repair a highway, build a mass transit system, educate a child or invest in new sources of energy.
Everyday Americans, and economists of every stripe, understand clearly that one of the principal forces that converted the budget surpluses of the Clinton Administration into the largest deficit in American history was Bush’s decision to launch extravagantly expensive wars at the same time he cut taxes for the wealthy.
And everyday people understand that the end of the War in Iraq — and ultimately the end of our engagement in Afghanistan — will, contrary to Republican doctrine, strengthen America.
The War in Iraq was used by terrorists worldwide to stoke hatred for our country and to recruit young people to their ranks. It sapped our country of trillions of dollars, stretched our military to the breaking point, caused popular support for America to plummet around the globe and dealt a powerful blow to America’s moral authority.
Most Americans realize that the decision to launch the War in Iraq was one of the biggest foreign policy disasters in modern American history.
But there is also a deep well of respect and support for the million men and women — both military and civilian — whose sacrifice allowed a hopeful outcome to be salvaged from a disastrous series of decisions by the Bush Administration.
Progressives must be resolute in preventing Republicans from using cuts in the benefits or care for returning warriors to pay for their tax breaks for millionaires.
And Progressives should do something else as well. While we recognize there is much to be done — let’s take a moment to celebrate an historic success. The end of the Iraq War demonstrates that “Yes We Can!” is more than a campaign slogan. It reminds us once again that everyday people can successfully organize to change history.
By: Robert Creamer, Published in The Huffingto Post, December 14, 2011
For most of the year, Mitt Romney has had a serious problem that’s mostly been obscured by the absurd volatility of the GOP race: He’s a very tough sell in the South.
Politico touches on this today in a story that acknowledges the unique obstacles Romney seems to face in the region while ultimately concluding that “the contest for the allegiance of Southern conservatives in the 2012 race is as wide open as ever.” That’s one way of looking at it, but there’s a more disheartening possibility for Romney as well: that with the rise of Newt Gingrich, Mitt-phobic Southerners finally have a consensus alternative with some staying power.
First, consider Romney’s plight in Dixie.
South Carolina, which holds the historically pivotal first-in-the-South primary, has long been a problem for him. In 2008, when he pitched himself as the kind of true believer conservative that Southerners tend to find attractive, Romney finished fourth in the state, with just 15 percent of the vote — half of what Mike Huckabee, who nearly knocked off John McCain in the state, received. And in polling throughout 2011, South Carolina Republicans have made their yearning for a non-Romney candidate clear. Both Rick Perry and Herman Cain opened up double-digit leads over Romney when they were seen as his main foe earlier in the fall.
Polling has been less intense elsewhere in Dixie, since the other states don’t vote as early as South Carolina, but the signs are just as ominous. A Gallup poll released last week showed Romney getting just 15 percent of the vote across the region. That’s about where he’s been stuck all year; Gallup’s survey over the summer had him at 12 percent. This broad resistance in what for the GOP is a voter-rich region is dragging down Romney’s overall support, a major reason he’s failed to push past 30 percent in national polling.
Now factor in Gingrich’s potential impact. He’s not a native-born Southerner and doesn’t speak with a Southern accent, but the region is responding to his presidential candidacy with more enthusiasm than any other. South Carolina is a perfect example of this. The two most recent polls there show Gingrich mauling Romney by 23 and 19 points. So is North Carolina, where a new PPP poll puts Gingrich 37 points ahead of Romney, 51 to 14 percent. Or take Mississippi. The last poll conducted there was in early November, when Cain was still the hot commodity on the right and Gingrich was still barely cracking double-digits nationally. And yet a PPP survey of Mississippi Republicans still showed Gingrich in first place with 28 percent, followed by Cain and Perry. Romney was all the way back in fourth place with 12 percent.
For Romney, the implications of this are worrisome. If Gingrich manages to “win” Iowa (that is, he’s declared the big winner by the press), it will probably be the death knell for Perry, who is trying to make a campaign-saving stand in the state. And without Perry, a Texan with natural Dixie appeal, Gingrich will be well-positioned to capitalize on the potential that clearly exists for him in the South — starting with South Carolina and potentially carrying over to Super Tuesday on March 6, when five states from the old Confederacy will vote.
In his ’08 campaign, Romney fared respectably in the South, finishing near the top in a handful of states. But that might have been deceptive, with Huckabee and John McCain generally gobbling up about two-thirds of the vote, making Romney seem more competitive than he actually was. This time there’s a chance Romney will only have one main opponent in the South.
The region’s apparent hostility toward him could come from several places. Maybe it’s a reflection of his supposed “Mormon problem” that’s been so widely discussed. Or it could just be his Northern roots. Or maybe it’s ideological. In the Obama-era, the South has been particularly kind to Tea Party Republicanism, which has meant new scrutiny of Romney’s moderate-to-liberal Massachusetts past. It’s also unclear what’s driving Gingrich’s Dixie appeal. His ties to Georgia, which he represented in the House for 20 years, surely help. But it may just be that the region is looking for someone, anyone who’s (a) viable; and (b) not named Mitt.
By: Steve Kornacki, Salon War Room, December 13, 2011
Once again, CNN
philanthropist journalist Erin Burnett has used her show to give voice to the voiceless, to seek out the powerless to offer opinion on the day’s news. She debuted her show “OutFront” in early October by mocking Occupy Wall Street and defending the industry that destroyed the economy.
On Monday night Burnett gave a platform to a man almost as loathed as his Wall Street buddies, former Vice President Dick Cheney. And Cheney, predictably but contemptibly, took the opportunity to bash President Obama for not authorizing “a quick airstrike” to retrieve a predator drone that was recently downed in Iran.
Cheney told Burnett:
The right response to that would have been to go in immediately after it had gone down and destroy it. You can do that from the air. You can do that with a quick airstrike, and in effect make it impossible for them to benefit from having captured that drone. I was told that the president had three options on his desk. He rejected all of them. [...]
They all involved sending somebody in to try to recover it, or if you can’t do that, admittedly that would be a difficult operation, you certainly could have gone in and destroyed it on the ground with an airstrike. But he didn’t take any of the options. He asked for them to return it. And they aren’t going to do that.
The former vice president has been insulting Obama since Inauguration Day, insisting his policies will make the country “less safe.” Two months into his administration, Cheney charged that the new president “is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.” He’s accused Obama of “half measures” and “dithering” on foreign policy. And more than once he’s criticized the president for not taking a tougher stance on Iran.
Even after Obama authorized the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden, who Bush and Cheney essentially let run free thanks to their discretionary war with Iraq, Cheney wasn’t happy. “I still am concerned about the fact that I think a lot of the techniques that we had used to keep the country safe for more than seven years are no longer available. That they’ve been sort of taken off the table, if you will.”
So Cheney’s carping is nothing new. But suggesting that the president launch “a quick airstrike” to retrieve the downed drone is ridiculous, even for Cheney. There’s no such thing. Cheney has to know that any new U.S. incursion, following on the drone discovery, would sharply escalate tension with Iran, and to do that to recover a drone isn’t at all worth the risk.
It was left to CBS Early Show co-anchor Rebecca Jarvis this morning to ask the follow-up question Burnett did not: “Would not, though, an airstrike on Iran have potentially led us into a war with them?” Cheney replied:
Well, if you look at what Iran has done over the years, they’ve been the prime backers of Hezbollah, of Hamas, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 that cost us 241 American lives. These were Iranian-supported ventures. It’s not as though they haven’t already committed acts that some people would say come close to being acts of war.
For us to go in and take out the drone that crashed would have been, I think, a fairly simple operation, and it would have denied them the value of the intelligence they can collect by having that aircraft,” he said. “But the administrative basically limited itself to saying, ‘Please give it back,’ and the Iranians said no.
ThinkProgress made a good catch: When a U.S. spy plane ventured into Chinese airspace in April 2001 and crashed with a Chinese fighter jet, the Bush-Cheney administration wound up apologizing in order to get 11 soldiers released from Chinese custody. They didn’t send in “a quick airstrike.”
For the record, Cheney sounded bullish on Newt Gingrich in 2012, though he hasn’t endorsed anyone formally. “I wouldn’t underestimate him,” Cheney said, praising Gingrich’s political skills. “The thing I remember about Newt, we came to Congress together at the same time, ’78, and when Newt showed up, he said, ‘We can become the majority. We can take back the House of Representatives. We hadn’t had the House since the 1940s. And initially, none of us believed it, but he was persistent. And he was tenacious. He kept it up and kept it up and kept it up. And finally by ’94, he’s the newly elected speaker of the House of Representatives with a Republican majority.”
Cheney declined to describe the way Gingrich crashed and burned in the years that followed. You’ve got to count that among the nicest things anyone who’s worked with Gingrich has said about him during the whole campaign. Stay tuned.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon.com, December 13, 2011
As a former Republican House speaker and veteran of the culture wars of the 1990s, Newt Gingrich understandably earned his share of liberal detractors. But who knew how many enemies he’d made among the Republican political elite? As Gingrich’s recent surge in the polls moves ever closer to bearing electoral fruit in the Iowa Caucuses, it’s fair to say that the GOP political establishment is freaking out. Here’s just a sampling of the nice things Newt’s Washington colleagues have had to say about him lately.
George Will: “Gingrich … embodies the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive. … There is almost artistic vulgarity in Gingrich’s unrepented role as a hired larynx for interests profiting from such government follies as ethanol and cheap mortgages. … His temperament—intellectual hubris distilled—makes him blown about by gusts of enthusiasm for intellectual fads, from 1990s futurism to ‘Lean Six Sigma’ today.”
Wall Street Journal Editorial Page: “In Mr. Gingrich’s telling, his ideas are bold and even radical, but the irony is that they’re often much less revolutionary than his rhetoric suggests. … Take Mr. Gingrich’s 49-page manifesto on entitlement reform, which his campaign rolled out shortly before Thanksgiving. It is a fundamentally Newtonian document, both in its ambition—it promises to ‘reduce federal spending by half or more’—and in its lack of discipline.”
Gene Healy, Cato Institute vice president: “[Gingrich is] Mitt Romney with more baggage and bolder hand gestures. … It seems that, if you clamor long enough about “big ideas,” people become convinced you actually have them. But most of Gingrich’s policy ideas over the last decade have been tepidly conventional and consistent with the Big Government, Beltway Consensus. … There’s no denying that Newt is smart, but there’s a zany, Cliff Clavin aspect to his intellect. At times, Gingrich, who’s written more than 150 book reviews on Amazon.com, sounds like a guy who read way too much during a long prison stretch.”
Karl Rove: “He is the only candidate who didn’t qualify for the Missouri primary, and on Wednesday he failed to present enough signatures to get on the ballot in Ohio. … [It’s] embarrassing to be so poorly organized.”
Ramesh Ponnuru: “Conservatives who dislike George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism have Gingrich to thank for it. After Gingrich lost the budget battles with President Bill Clinton, it took 15 years for any politician to take up the cause of limited-government conservatism that he had discredited. Although Gingrich isn’t solely responsible for the Republican policy defeats of those years, his erratic behavior, lack of discipline and self-absorption had a lot to do with them.”
Charles Krauthammer: “Gingrich has his own vulnerabilities. The first is often overlooked because it is characterological rather than ideological: his own unreliability. Gingrich has a self-regard so immense that it rivals Obama’s—but, unlike Obama’s, is untamed by self-discipline.
Representative Peter King: “He’s too self-centered. He does not have the discipline, does not have the capacity to control himself.” If Newt were elected president, “The country and congress would be going through one crisis after another, and these would be self-inflicted crises.”
Christopher Barron, head of GOProud: “Newt is the establishment. He’s antithetical to what the Tea Party is talking about.”
Senator Tom Coburn: “There’s all types of leaders. Leaders that instill confidence, leaders that are somewhat abrupt and brisk. Leaders that have one standard for the people that they’re leading and a different standard for themselves. I just found [Gingrich’s] leadership lacking.”
Jennifer Rubin: “[W]hen he does think big, it is often in clichés. … When not predictable, Gingrich’s ideas can range from irresponsible (go see his website for the list of tax cuts, but no talk of spending cuts) to the crazed.”
Ross Douthat: “[Gingrich’s] candidacy isn’t a test of religious conservatives’ willingness to be good, forgiving Christians. It’s a test of their ability to see their cause through outsiders’ eyes, and to recognize what anointing a thrice-married adulterer as the champion of “family values” would say to the skeptical, the unconverted and above all to the young.”
Joe Scarborough: “When [Gingrich] puts on his political helmet he is a terrible person. … Let me tell you something: the Republican establishment will never make peace with Newt Gingrich. They just won’t! They won’t. This is an important point. Because the Republicans I talk to say he cannot win the nomination at any cost. He will destroy the party. He will re-elect Barack Obama and we’ll be ruined. That’s going to happen. I mean Newt Gingrich would possibly win 100 electoral votes.”
By: The New Republic, Staff, December 9, 2011
In his New York Times opinion piece, “Let’s Not Talk About Inequality,” Thomas B. Edsall does a good job of tracing the change in public attitudes toward Republican economic policies in the wake of the 2008 meltdown.
Edsall quotes Gingrich’s and Romney’s pious pronouncements about workers needing to “become more employable” (Newt) and achieving “success and rewards through hard work” (Mitch), which is a little hard to digest, coming from a guy who gets six figures for a speech and another who made his fortune in hedge funds. This in “an American economy sharply skewed towards the affluent, with rising inequality, a dwindling middle class and the persistence of long-term unemployment.”
Not all Republicans are quite so clueless. Edsall quotes GOP framing guru Frank Luntz, “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort” because “they’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.” Edsalll also quotes Democratic strategist Geoff Garin, who explains “…The Republican/Tea Party narrative about the economy has been superseded by a different narrative – one that emphasizes the need to address the growing gap between those at the very top of the economic ladder and the rest of the country.”
Garin cites poll data indicating stronger support for “a set of policies generally favored by Democrats calling for the elimination of tax breaks for the rich and tougher regulation of major banks and corporations” and that the public believes the federal government should “pursue policies that try to reduce the gap between wealthy and less well-off Americans.” He also cites polling data spelling big trouble for the GOP:
The job ratings of Republicans in Congress have tanked at 74 percent negative to 19 percent favorable, dropping more steeply than Obama’s, which are 51 negative-44 positive. But the Post survey also found that congressional Republicans run neck and neck with the president when respondents are asked “who would you trust to do a better job” on handling the economy (42-42) and creating jobs (40-40). On an issue on which the public traditionally favors Democrats by wide margins, “protecting the middle class,” Obama held only a 45-41 advantage over congressional Republicans.
Republicans are scrambling to figure out how to blame Democrats for worsening inequality, explains Edsall. But “The issue of inequality is inherently dangerous for Republicans who are viewed by many as the party of the upper class.” Further,
An Oct. 19-24 CBS/New York Times poll asked respondents whether the policies of the Obama administration and the policies of Republicans in Congress favor the rich, the middle class, the poor or treat everyone equally. Just 12 percent said Obama favors the rich, while 69 percent said Republicans in Congress favor the rich.
And when Ryan’s budget scheme is explained to voters, they “are horrified by it,” according to Garin. Edsall marvels at the GOP’s blindness in making it possible for their two front runners to get bogged down in arguments about how much more to give the wealthy while weakening Medicare benefits for the middle class — “in a climate of stark economic adversity for millions of unemployed Americans.”
Edsall is right. Democrats could not have hoped for a more self-destructive scenario in the Republican camp. If Democrats can project a credible message that offers hope for a better future for middle class voters in the months ahead, the optimism that has begun to emerge in Democratic circles will be justified.
By: J. P. Green, The Democratic Strategist, December 13, 2011