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“Marco Rubio Has No Clue How To Defeat ISIS”: A Collection Of Ideas Ranging From The Irrelevant To The Ridiculous

We ask an awful lot of our presidential candidates. In addition to being forced to shake a million hands, beg for money, and cram any fried foodstuff right into their mouths, they’re supposed to have opinions and ideas about everything. As soon as something important happens in the United States or anywhere else, in short order we expect them to have a “plan” to deal with it, to assure us that once they take office, the problem will be solved forthwith.

A couple of weeks ago, ISIS was a serious challenge the next president will have to deal with, but in the wake of the attacks in Paris, candidates are now expected to have an ISIS plan, a specific set of actions they’ll take that will eliminate the terrorist group once and for all. Not everyone has come up with one yet, but what we’ve seen so far is not going to inspire a whole lot of faith that ISIS’s days are numbered come January 2017.

Consider, for example, Marco Rubio, the establishment’s golden boy and one of the “serious” GOP candidates. When it comes to foreign policy in particular, people will look to Rubio, since by virtue of his seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he’s better informed than most of his primary competitors. Rubio delivered his plan to defeat ISIS last week, and it’s a remarkable document. Let’s walk through its main points.

Rubio begins with the requisite statement of steely resolve: “When I am president, what I will do to defeat ISIL is very simple: whatever it takes.” Inspiring! Then he dives into the details. “First, I would protect the homeland by immediately stopping the flow of Syrian refugees into the United States,” he says. I won’t bother going over again how wrong it is to think that stopping Syrian refugees will protect us from an attack, but we can at least all agree that doing so certainly won’t help “defeat” ISIS.

“Next, I would reverse defense sequestration so we have the capabilities to go on the offense against ISIL,” Rubio says. This is equally silly. You can argue that the budget cuts forced by sequestration are a bad thing, but the reason we haven’t yet banished ISIS from the earth isn’t that our defense budget is too skimpy. It’s not like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is saying, “Mr. President, we could take ISIS out and bring a peaceful, democratic government to that area, but we can’t do it without more tanks and helicopters — and I just don’t have the money.” Our resources are more than ample for whatever military action we might want to take.

Next, Rubio says “I would build a multinational coalition of countries willing to send troops into Iraq and Syria to aid local forces on the ground.” Also, “I would demand that Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government grant greater autonomy to Sunnis, and would provide direct military support to Sunnis and the Kurds if Baghdad fails to support them. I would back those demands with intense diplomatic pressure and the leverage of greater American military assistance to Iraq.” So that’s a mix of things the Obama administration is trying to do (though somehow Rubio would manage to convince other countries to put in troops where Obama hasn’t been able to; maybe Obama’s diplomatic pressure hasn’t been “intense” enough), plus something that sounds like he wants to set up an independent Sunni quasi-state within Iraq, like what the Kurds have. That’s…interesting. Shouldn’t be any complications there.

And finally, “Cutting off oxygen to ISIL also requires defeating Assad in Syria. I would declare no-fly zones to ground Assad’s air force and coalition-controlled ‘safe zones’ in the country to stop his military.” If you read that without knowing anything, you might think Rubio believes that Assad is supporting ISIS and not fighting it. But anyhow, he’ll just “defeat Assad,” whom we’re not actually fighting at the moment. Does that mean an invasion? If not, what? And “safe zones” sound nice, but how many tens of thousands of American troops would be required to create and maintain them?

Now keep in mind: This collection of ideas ranging from the irrelevant to the ridiculous is the best plan the GOP’s best foreign policy candidate can devise.

The problem isn’t that Marco Rubio is some kind of idiot, even if you’d be tempted to conclude that upon reading his “plan.” The problem is that ISIS presents an unusually difficult challenge, where every possible course of action is either foreclosed before it begins or brings huge complications along with it. That’s why when Hillary Clinton — who has more foreign policy experience than all the Republican candidates put together — gave a speech last week outlining the course she’d like to follow on ISIS, it was terribly frustrating, in many ways more hope than plan. Clinton at least acknowledges the complexity of the situation — for instance, our ally Saudi Arabia isn’t helping us fight ISIS, while our adversary Iran is, all while the two countries wage proxy battles against each other. If the next president can untie that knot, it would be a wonder.

Presidential candidates never acknowledge that some challenges are so difficult that success is uncertain at most. They don’t say, “Boy, this one’s a doozy, but I’ll do my best.” They say that if they’re elected, all our problems foreign and domestic will be swept away. It’s when they try to explain exactly how they’re going to get there that the future doesn’t look so bright.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, November 23, 2015

November 25, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, ISIS, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Horse Race Journalism”: Dear Ben Carson, Remember Herman Cain?

Far be it from me to spoil the pleasure of others. Goodness knows, in this vale of tears, enjoyment should be derived wherever it can be found. So please don’t take what follows as the musings of a party pooper.

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, Ben Carson has unseated Donald Trump from the top spot in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. I feel compelled to offer this unsolicited advice to Carson and his supporters: Don’t start dancing in the end zone, at least not before the opening-game kickoff.

The CBS/NYT poll conjures ghosts of past presidential primaries.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to years 2011 and 2007.

In the fall of 2011, with the Iowa caucuses set for January 2012, the country was treated to these headlines:

NBC/WSJ poll: Cain now leads GOP pack,”, Oct. 13, 2011.

Herman Cain tops Mitt Romney in latest CBS/NYT poll,” CBS News, Oct. 25, 2011.

Herman Cain Surges in the Polls as More Republicans Get to Know Him,” Huffington Post, Oct. 26, 2011.

Herman Cain leads as top GOP contender, edges out Mitt Romney, but needs to focus: pundits ,” New York Daily News, Nov. 12, 2011.

On Dec. 3, 2011, GOP front-runner Cain suspended his campaign amid charges of sexual misconduct, which he denied.

The road to the White House is filled with potholes.

In 2007, leading up to the Jan. 3, 2008, Iowa caucuses, the news was all about Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

Poll Shows Clinton With Solid Lead Among Democrats,” The Post, July 23, 2007.

Clinton Sustains Huge Lead in Democratic Nomination Race,” Gallup, Nov. 16, 2007. “48% of Democrats say they are most likely to support Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination in 2008, followed by Obama at 21%,” Gallup reported.

We know how that story ended.

This presidential campaign is unfolding the same old, same old way.

Once again, we in the news media, with the help of the campaigns, are hyping the hell out of an election that is many months away from producing results.

Our journalism is shaped by the need to (cliche coming) “fill air time and column inches.” Clueless about the final outcome, we, the media, focus instead on the horse-race aspect of the contest: “Who’s ahead? Who’s behind? Who’s catching up? Who’s falling back?”

Greg Marx, an editor with the Columbia Journalism Review, and John Sides, a George Washington University professor who writes for The Post’s Monkey Cage blog, have done incisive work on “horse-race journalism” and early campaign polling, respectively.

They would agree, I believe, that the combination of the news media’s horse-race mentality and the fixation on polls conducted months out from an election may add suspense and keep the public’s juices flowing, but they tell us little about how voters will behave on Election Day.

Nonetheless, we press on with our efforts to build excitement and (confession coming) our own reputations.

Then there’s the added attraction of the presidential debates, where the candidates get to audition for the roles of presidential nominee and media critic, and moderators try out as prosecutors hired to match wits with candidates suspected of having some degree of darkness in their pasts. Case in point: Wednesday night’s CNBC Republican debate.

Candidates unlikely to ever reach the Oval Office, except as invited guests — to wit: Carson, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and George Pataki, along with Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley — thrive on debates, as they’re the only way for them to attract media attention.

For many in the viewing public, however, it’s all a great show, sort of like watching the lions vs. the Christians.

At this stage in the campaign season, the question of electability takes a back seat to a curiosity that borders on morbid.

Which brings us back to Carson. He will be repeating Cain’s mistake if he believes the polls suggest that he is being taken seriously. The results say no such thing.

Carson, like Cain, is a novelty candidate, someone unusual: he, a soft-spoken, self-effacing African American retired neurosurgeon and reactionary to the core; Cain, a gregarious African American former Burger King and Godfather’s Pizza executive and a 9-9-9 devotee.

Carson’s newness to Republican politics adds to his standing vis-à-vis a GOP field that is ideologically the same, mainly predictable and, in the case of several second-tier candidates, downright dull.

Today’s polls do not, and cannot, predict how the Republican electorate will vote in next year’s primaries and caucuses.

And that brings into play the old adage, “in politics, overnight is a lifetime.”

Carsonites, keep that in mind.


By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 30, 2015

November 9, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates, Herman Cain | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Real GOP Divide”: One Of The Big Contrasts Between The Two Parties; Democrats Are More Bullish On The Future

Maybe our definition of the Republican presidential contest is a little off.

It’s often cast, accurately enough, as a choice between “outsiders” and “insiders.” But another party division may be more profound — between Republicans who still view the country’s future hopefully and those deeply gloomy about its prospects.

The pessimism within significant sectors of the GOP is more than the unhappiness partisans typically feel when the other side is in power. It’s rooted in a belief that things have fundamentally changed in America, and there is an ominous possibility they just can’t be put right again.

This is one of the big contrasts between the two parties: Democrats are more bullish on the future.

Hillary Clinton has a big lead in the national polls because Democrats broadly favor continuity, with some tweaks. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offers a tough critique of inequality and the outsized power of the rich. But he and his supporters are comfortable with the country’s cultural direction and have enough faith in government to believe it can engineer the reforms that economic fairness requires.

These thoughts are provoked by an evening spent watching last week’s GOP presidential debate with a group of Republicans pulled together here for me by Sarah Stewart, a New Hampshire political consultant.

They were anything but pitchfork-bearing rebels, and many of them are involved with local government. There was not a Donald Trump or Ben Carson supporter in the lot, although Jon DiPietro, a libertarian-leaning businessman, said he gets Trump’s appeal and could imagine voting for him.

The debate watchers shared the media’s view in one respect: They all agreed that Jeb Bush had a bad night. DiPietro’s offhandedly devastating comment: “Bush had a typical poor performance.” Toni Pappas, a Hillsborough County commissioner, offered sympathy that was almost as crushing. “I feel badly for Jeb,” she said. “He’s really a bright guy.”

The consensus was that the strongest performance came from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, not Marco Rubio, the man lifted high by the very media he and the others enjoyed attacking during the event. Rubio gained ground with some in the group, but Newton Kershaw III, a successful developer, said the young Florida senator still hadn’t persuaded him that he had the experience to be president. Rubio, Kershaw said, looked “rehearsed and studied.”

Gary Lambert, a former state senator who chairs Lindsey Graham’s campaign here, was proud of the South Carolina senator’s performance in the undercard match. But he spoke for the group in praising Christie for having some of the evening’s best moments. Lambert also offered his take on Carson’s appeal: “He remains so calm. I could never do that.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) also got some nods of approval.

But the most instructive part of the evening came toward the end when Ross Terrio, a Manchester school board member, took the conversation to a different place, describing his response to President Obama’s time in office. “I have gotten so pessimistic,” he said. “I used to be such an optimistic person. Maybe Obama just sucked the life out of me.” Terrio, who works as a pharmacist, has no complaints about his personal situation but wonders how his neighbors with much more constrained incomes can make it.

DiPietro shared Terrio’s worries that the country’s problems might be beyond our ability to solve, especially if Democrats win the White House again. Terrio, for his part, wrote me later to say that he was pessimistic about the future “regardless of which party wins the presidency.” Reflecting his skepticism about the public sector, DiPietro said he had warned his daughters about a dark future in which “government’s going to be reaching into your wealth.” Lambert’s worries focused more on terrorism and the rise of the Islamic State, one reason he supports Graham’s robust interventionism.

Others in the group pronounced themselves more hopeful, Pappas, perhaps, most of all. She highlighted her faith that the inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit of the next generation would pull the country through.

But that this argument about the country’s long-term viability could break out among these thoughtful citizens — they in no way fit the stereotypes we liberals sometimes hang on conservatives — speaks to a central reality of our politics: Many Republicans see government itself as almost irreparably broken.

This is why there’s cheering on the right for the obstructionism of groups such as the House Freedom Caucus. Throwing sand in the gears of the machine is an honorable pursuit if you believe the machine is headed entirely in the wrong direction. It’s also why Trump and Carson will not be easily pushed aside.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 1, 2015

November 4, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Voters, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Pursuing An All-Purpose Teflon Uniform”: Rubio Assaults The MSM, Which Loves Him

Speaking of Marco Rubio… a big part of his boffo performance at the CNBC debate the other night was his claim that the MSM had become a “Democratic Super-PAC,” with the supposed evidence being its cover-up of HRC “lies” about her behavior after Benghazi! “exposed” by Trey Gowdy’s committee. Yea, verily, the MSM went “around saying it was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

Now before you even unpack this pack of–well, mischaracterizations–it’s worth noting in passing that it wasn’t just the MSM that adjudged HRC’s appearance before the Benghazi! Committee as a triumph for her over her inquisitors; conservative commentators generally agreed.

Beyond that, as WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler concluded, Rubio, not HRC, is the one with the Pinnochios on this subject.

After untangling and refuting Rubio’s claims, Greg Sargent has a pungent interpretation of what Rubio is trying to accomplish here:

It’s important to understand that the claim that the hearing is what unmasked Clinton’s “lie” is crucial to the story Rubio is trying to tell, a tale told to the GOP base…. The narrative that the media deliberately obscured this on Clinton’s behalf helps discredit media scrutiny of Rubio’s own distortions, and that scrutiny will in turn likely be converted into evidence that Rubio poses a dire threat to Clinton — the liberal media perceives this threat, and thus wants to tear him down. But the highest-profile foundational claim Rubio has thus far offered to support this narrative structure just doesn’t hold up.

In other words, Rubio’s pursuing an all-purpose teflon uniform against any slings and arrows that come his way from the MSM, which is obviously shilling for Hil. But here’s the thing: Best I can tell, at this very moment the MSM is busy all but crowning Rubio the Republican nominee. So why is he all but calling them Enemies of Freedom? It could be that GOP rank-and-file media hatred has assumed quasi-religious proportions, and he’s just exploiting it. Or maybe there really is some dirt on Rubio that could soon come out.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 30, 2015

November 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP Base, Mainstream Media, Marco Rubio | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Donald The Sensible”: There’s No Centrist Superman To Save You

You’re all well familiar with Kubler-Ross’s famous five stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Here are Tomasky’s five stages of watching a Republican debate: mockery, rage, double rage, boredom, despair.

I start, as I’d reckon most liberals do, with mockery, which was easy Wednesday night when most of them said in essence that their greatest flaw was that they cared too much (in fairness, Hillary Clinton had earlier said something similar). Then one of them says something unforgivably idiotic—and yes, there’s such a thing as forgivable idiocy—like Carly Fiorina pretending that the characters “401k” were handed down to the human race from God on Sinai and not created by the very federal government she was in that selfsame sentence traducing, and it’s rage time. And so on and so on.

But I end with despair, because the previous two (if we’re lucky) hours have revealed to me that these candidates and the citizens cheering them on just live in a totally different universe than the one I and most of my friends inhabit, and while there can be an occasional meeting of the minds on certain small matters, the sad fact is that we are going to be stuck with the current polarization for a long time yet. I think at least eight more years.

People in my position aren’t supposed to say things like this. We’re supposed to keep telling your sort that bipartisanship is in sight, shimmering in the gloaming just beyond the poppy fields. Now it’s true that Congress did just pass that budget on a bipartisan basis, but that of course is an aberration. And you know it and I know it, and everyone who writes sentences like “Perhaps this will usher in a new era of blahblahblah” knows it too.

I was reading David Brooks the other day, his column fantasizing about “a sensible Trump.” This hybrid ubermensch with “impeccable outsider status but also a steady temperament, deep knowledge, and good sense” would, in Brooks’s telling, bring together the leaders of both parties. He would sit them down and explain to them that we need to help people in the lower half of the income distribution, and that the answer is sitting right there in some research by a Harvard team led by the economist Raj Chetty.

Following the Harvard team’s example means doing some things Republicans like and some things Democrats like, so both sides get a little something but give up something too; but if we can do this, argues Donald the Reasonable, we will have started to solve our two greatest problems, stagnant wages and partisan dysfunction.

I happen to be familiar with the research of which Brooks speaks, and I’d be delighted for Raj Chetty’s work to serve as model for federal government action. But there is, unfortunately, no reason to think in real life that anything like this could happen.

Why? Because before he got elected, Donald the Reasonable would have to take a position on abortion. He would undoubtedly try to find some kind of nuanced lane, to use the au courant word, somewhere in between the standard Democratic and Republican positions. But this of course would just dissatisfy both parties. And as the Republicans appear to be moving toward a position that doesn’t even acknowledge the traditional three exceptions, any deviation from that by D the R will brand him just another baby killer.

He will have to take lots of positions, this fellow. On same-sex marriage. On whether insurers should be compelled to cover contraceptive services. On immigration and citizenship. On who his model Supreme Court justices are. On free trade. On a minimum wage. On how much he’s willing to mix it up with Putin. On whether Hollywood and the universities are ruining America. On climate change. He can’t run for president saying, “Well, sure, all those things are important, but what I’m really all about here is implementing the ideas of Raj Chetty.”

In other words, partisan choices are utterly inescapable. I don’t celebrate this, but I don’t necessarily lament it either, the way a lot of centrist pundits do. These are important things. They’re all worth fighting over, and for. There are plenty of compromises that Democrats and liberals should, and I’m pretty sure would, be willing to make in the climate-change fight, for example. A carbon tax vs. credits, how much fracking and drilling, the mix of renewables, the amount we should contribute to the UN fund—all these and more can be debated by two parties that have different views on the urgency of the problem and the proper role of government in addressing it. But when one party just denies the consensus of 97 percent of the scientific community, you can’t compromise with it. You just have to defeat it.

The hope, if there is one, is this. Hillary Clinton wins. That constitutes the GOP’s third loss in a row (and, in popular-vote terms, sixth out of the last seven). Maybe then the GOP takes a look in the mirror and at the data, which will show them if they study it honestly that they lost, again, because they failed to carry purple states that as a party they’d simply become too conservative to win.

The Ted Cruz “we weren’t conservative enough!” wing will still argue its position. And of course the Republican-led House (or House and Senate, the GOP retains control) will start out by blocking President Clinton in every way it can. But she’d probably win re-election in 2020, simply because most incumbents do, and then the Republicans would be looking at 16 straight years of being locked out of the White House, and the country will be that much more Latino, and Clinton will take Georgia and come close in Texas, and finally they’ll run up the flag. So in 2024, we might have a choice between a liberal-moderate Democrat and a conservative-moderate Republican, which the Republican would probably win, and the party’s conservative wing would be somewhat tamed.

That’s the only hope for the country, really. There are extremists. They need to be defeated enough times so that their less extreme comrades can outmuscle them and guide their party back to a place where we’re all at least agreeing on basic evidentiary propositions. There is no Donald the Sensible who can save us.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 30, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Donald Trump, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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