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“The Stench Of Death”: No White House For You, Rand Paul

All happy campaigns are alike, but each unhappy campaign is unhappy in its own way. Those unique experiences of campaign failure provide some of the best entertainment of the long and arduous journey, and the pain is compounded by the observed scientific reality that a political corpse is capable of continuing to trudge forward well after its viability has expired. We begin our study of failure with Rand Paul.

Many failed campaigns are doomed attempts to rise above obscurity. Paul actually began his in a blaze of grandeur. Time put him on its cover and called him “The Most Interesting Man in Politics.” Such disparate pundits as the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza, NBC’s Chuck Todd, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar, The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, and former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele tabbed Paul as not merely a possible nominee but the early front-runner. Paul seemed to combine two opposing traits: He inflamed the passions of tea-party activists, but also had a plausible-sounding blueprint for expanding his party’s general election appeal.

It has not worked out. Paul finds himself languishing in every metric of campaign success: polls, fund-raising, insider support, media attention. Two pre-postmortems today convey the stench of death that clings to Paul’s once-buoyant presidential hopes.

Alex Isenstadt has the most comprehensive autopsy of the things that have gone wrong for Rand Paul 2016. His campaign manager resents his chief strategist. Paul, incredibly, turned down a chance to attend a retreat with the Koch Brothers, who are kind of a big deal in the Republican Party. Staff morale is abysmal. The candidate hates fund-raising. Donald Trump has overshadowed him. Paul has “peppered aides with demands for more time off from campaigning, and once chose to go on a spring-break jaunt rather than woo a powerful donor.” And the campaign has retained the services of an utterly terrifying figure:

The senator was mingling with the crowd while John Baeza, a 280-pound retired NYPD detective and Paul family loyalist, stood behind him and provided security. [Campaign manager Chip] Englander barged over, convinced that the ex-cop was getting in the way of supporters eager to snap pictures with the senator.

“What the fuck, Baeza?” Englander said, grabbing his shoulder. “Why are you always getting in our fucking shot?”

“Don’t ever put your hands on me again,” the bodyguard fired back.

David Weigel and Ben Terris report the campaign’s explanations for its lack of success, which Paul and his minions gamely present as a shrewd long-term plan. Is it bad that Paul has fallen out of the public debate? No, no: “they insist there is minimal downside to being out of the media glare six months before the Iowa caucuses.” Paul, they report, has skipped two Citizens United “freedom summits” and the RedState Gathering. But that’s okay, Paul says, because, “The message of his state supporters is the message from the campaign: Anyone doing more than Paul is probably phoning it in at his real job.” If there’s one thing voters will reward, it’s a sterling record of Senatorial vote-attendance.

Paul is presenting his failure to attract attention as a reflection not of his love for spring break but rather a principled aversion to campaign high jinks. The candidate recently offered, with a touch of pathos, that he would not set himself on fire to compete with Donald Trump — but he’s not above cheeseball antics like setting the tax code on fire.

Perhaps Paul’s problem is that he started off setting things on fire, and, since his election in 2010, has spent his half-decade in office tamping down the flames to make himself acceptable to the party Establishment. Paul’s highest priority has been rendering himself acceptable to the Republican elite, by trimming his positions on issues like Israel and defense spending. Instead of bringing together activists and the Establishment, he has failed to reassure the latter, and bored the former. Paul has no principled aversion to facilitating the influence of the very rich over the political system. He’s just lazy and bad at it.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 29, 2015

July 30, 2015 Posted by | Establishment Republicans, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Any Fool Can Start A War With Iran”: Because Of Our Strength, We Have To Take A Practical, Common-Sense Position

Right now, it’s beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he so prematurely received in 2009.

Perhaps you recall how, during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Obama’s opponents treated his expressed willingness to speak with the leaders of unfriendly countries such as Cuba and Iran as a sign of immaturity.

“Irresponsible and frankly naïve,” was how Hillary Clinton put it.

Joe Biden said it was important for an inexperienced president not to get played by crafty foreigners.

Obama was unrepentant. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them—which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration,” he said, “is ridiculous.”

And so it was. Only ridiculous people talk that way now. With hindsight, it’s become clear that Obama wasn’t simply repudiating the GOP’s melodramatic “Axis of Evil” worldview, but expressing his own considerable self-regard.

Also his confidence in America as he sees it through his unique personal history as a kind of inside-outsider, capable of being more than ordinarily objective about our place in the world. When you’re the most powerful economic and military power on Earth, he keeps saying with regard to the Iran deal, it’s important to act like it: strong, calm, and confident. Able to take risks for peace because your strength is so overwhelming.

President Obama told the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman that if Ronald Reagan could reach verifiable arms agreements with the Soviet Union, a country that posed “a far greater existential threat to us than Iran will ever be,” then dealing with the Iranians is “a risk we have to take. It is a practical, common-sense position.”

As we saw in 2003, any damn fool can start a Middle Eastern war. And while hardly anybody in the United States wants one, even Iranian hardliners should have no doubt who would win such a conflict.

“Why should the Iranians be afraid of us?” Friedman asked.

“Because we could knock out their military in speed and dispatch if we chose to,” Obama said.

That’s the same reason Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and his allies in the U.S. Congress) need to cool it with the Chicken Little rhetoric. Obama thinks it’s “highly unlikely that you are going to see Iran launch a direct attack, state to state, against any of our allies in the region. They know that that would give us the rationale to go in full-bore, and as I said, we could knock out most of their military capacity pretty quickly.”

Of course Netanyahu knows that perfectly well. But here’s the kind of thinking that he and his allies on the evangelical right really object to:

“Even with your adversaries,” Obama said, “I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran. We had in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so…they have their own…narrative.”

Demonizing Iran serves Netanyahu’s short-term political purposes. Ditto Republican presidential candidates. But Obama has a wider audience and a longer view in mind. Much of what he said was directed over the heads of his domestic audience. Besides, GOP war talk makes it easier for Democrats to support Obama.

“Iran will be and should be a regional power,” he told Friedman. “They are a big country and a sophisticated country in the region. They don’t need to invite the hostility and the opposition of their neighbors by their behavior. It’s not necessary for them to be great to denigrate Israel or threaten Israel or engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic activity. Now that’s what I would say to the Iranian people.”

He also focused upon the common enemy:

“Nobody has an interest in seeing [the Islamic State] control huge swaths of territory between Damascus and Baghdad,” Obama said. “That’s not good for Iran.”

Indeed not. More than the Turks, more than Saudi Arabia, more than anybody but the Kurds, Iranian forces are fighting ISIS on several fronts.

The president’s words were grudgingly noted in Tehran. In his own carefully crafted speech expressing guarded blessings for the arms control agreement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei assured hardliners that he hadn’t gone soft on America.

However, he also alluded to Obama’s conciliatory remarks.

“He mentioned two or three points, but did not confess to tens of others,” Khamenei complained.

Which is how conversations begin.

This deal isn’t the end. But it’s an excellent beginning—of what, remains to be seen. Iran has essentially purchased anti-invasion insurance, while the U.S. and its allies have bought relative stability in the Persian Gulf.

Could things go wrong? Things can always go wrong.

But there’s always time to start a war.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 22, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, President Obama | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Rand 2015 Runs From Rand 2007 On Iran”: Changed His Tune To Match The Rest Of The Republican Field

In 2007, Rand Paul gave his first interview to Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist radio host and founder of Infowars.com.

Paul was helping his father, then-Congressman Ron Paul, campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and, Jones said, the entirety of his audience helped to make up the elder Paul’s base of fervent supporters.

Jones was struck by the younger Paul’s similarity to his father. “You know, talking to you, you sound so much like your dad,” Jones said. “This is great! We have, like, a Ron Paul clone!”

When Jones noted that the elder Paul was the only anti-war candidate, Rand replied, “I tell people in speeches, I say you know, we’re against the Iraq war, we have been since the beginning, but we’re also against the Iran war—you know, the one that hasn’t started yet. You know, the thing is I think people want to paint my father into some corner, but if you look at it, intellectually, look at the evidence that Iran is not a threat.”

As evidence of this, he said, you needn’t look further than the fact that “Iran cannot even refine their own gasoline.”

And further, Paul said, “even our own intelligence community consensus opinion now is that they’re not a threat. My dad says, they don’t have an air force! They don’t have a navy! You know, it’s ridiculous to think that they’re a threat to our national security. It’s not even that viable to say they’re a threat to Israel. Most people say Israel has 100 nuclear weapons.”

Eight years later, Paul’s beliefs are very different.

In response to the agreement reached Tuesday between Iran, the United States, the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany to diminish Iran’s nuclear program, Paul, now the junior Senator from Kentucky and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, released a statement outlining his opposition.

“The proposed agreement with Iran is unacceptable for the following reasons:

1) sanctions relief precedes evidence of compliance

2) Iran is left with significant nuclear capacity

3) it lifts the ban on selling advanced weapons to Iran

I will, therefore, vote against the agreement. While I continue to believe negotiations are preferable to war, I would prefer to keep the interim agreement in place instead of accepting a bad deal.”

Asked how Paul’s position had shifted so dramatically since he was campaigning for his father, Doug Stafford, his senior campaign adviser, said, “Foreign policy should reflect events and events change. Senator Paul has always thought Iran getting a nuclear weapon was a bad idea and dangerous. But over the last eight years, as Iran has made progress in their nuclear enrichment program, it’s become more of a threat. Not allowing your opinions to reflect changing threats would be foolish.”

But it’s just frankly not true, as the Alex Jones interview demonstrates.

What is true is that the Iran deal places Paul in an impossible bind. Paul’s positions are usually so nuanced that they escape criticism of flip-flopping, but his shift on Iran is unusually clear—even if it was gradual.

Whether compromise is a wise strategy for Paul in the primary is uncertain. Paul is currently polling at 6.6 percent—behind Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee. Paul is not going to vault back into the top tier by siphoning off votes from more establishment candidates, whose supporters will never buy him as one of their own. And he won’t mobilize his libertarian base by taking them for granted.

In April, reporter David Weigel, outlined in detail Paul’s transformation for Bloomberg Politics. In 2011, while in the Senate, Paul was still vocally opposed to war, telling reporter Zaid Jilani he wanted to “influence” Iran instead. In 2012, while again campaigning for his father, he reiterated their anti-war position while clarifying that Ron Paul “doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons…But should they get nuclear weapons, he thinks that there are some choices.” A few weeks later, Paul explained to CNN that when it came to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, “I did finally come down to the conclusion that doing something was better than doing nothing.”

By 2013, Paul was saying that “the most pressing issue of the day” was how to contend with Iran’s nuclear program, and said that although he still did not want war, if he were in the White House while a deal collapsed, “I would say all options are on the table, and that would include military.”

Back in March, Paul was faced with a choice: sign the open letter penned by his Senate colleague, Tom Cotton, which Cotton explicitly said was designed to halt negotiations, or be the only presidential contender in the Senate to not sign it, and risk losing support in the fallout.

Despite the fact that Paul had maintained—and continues to maintain—that he favors negotiations, he compromised and opted for the first choice, contorting himself uncomfortably in his effort to explain his decision and irking some of the longtime libertarian supporters he inherited from his father in the process.

He has pursued a similar strategy with the deal.

The Atlantic’s David Frum made what on its face felt like a reckless prediction on Tuesday: “The Rand Paul Candidacy for the Republican Nomination Is Over.” Frum’s case was that throughout the course of his short Senate career, Paul has been able to carve out space for himself within his party by mostly focusing on the issue of domestic surveillance, which comfortably placed him in opposition to the hawks he bemoans and to President Obama. The deal presented for Paul a no-win: Were he to support the deal, however, Frum argued, he would “find himself isolated with the old Ron Paul constituency,” but were he to oppose it, he would vanish amid a sea of similar voices in the primary field.

The best explanation for Paul’s new position may come from Paul himself.

In an interview with The Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie in April, the same day two attack ads were released tying him to Obama on the issue, Paul said, “2007 was a long time ago and events do change over long periods of time. We’re talking about a time when I wasn’t running for office, when I was helping someone else run for office.”

So when the facts change—be they the facts of the issue at hand or the facts of Paul’s personal political objectives—Paul changes his mind.

 

By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, July 15, 20116

July 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“On The Crazy Train To 2016″: The Most Endangered U.S. Senator Going Into His 2016 Reelection Race

I know the air is filled with Republican hysteria about the Iran nuclear deal, but it’s still possible to distinguish honest disagreement on a complex topic with politically motivated or just plain crazy treatment of this highly contingent multilateral agreement as one of the worst moments in human history. I mean, it’s one thing to talk about acceptable and unacceptable risks, but some of these birds are acting as though the missiles aimed at Tel Aviv are being armed as we speak.

With that in mind, read this series of quotes served up by Buzzfeed‘s Andrew Kaczynski and see if you can figure out who might have uttered them:

“This agreement condemns the next generation to cleaning up a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf,” ____ said. “It condemns our Israel allies to further conflict with Iran.” ____ added that he thought the agreement will yield “more nukes, and more terrorists, and more irresponsibility by the Iranians,” saying he thought Iran will now increase their influence in Iraq and Yemen.

“This is the greatest appeasement since Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler,” ____ continued, saying he believed Obama only went through with the deal because he has a poor understanding of history and did not realize appeasement made war more likely. _____ said he thought the deal meant that Israel would now have to take “military action against Iran.”

“The president will make this a viciously partisan issue, leading most Democrats to standing with the Iranians and hopefully losing the next election on this point,” ____ said. “He will ask the Democrats all to stand with Iran and make sure that we can’t get two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.”

Asked if any Democrats disagreed with the president, ____ pointed to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, who he believed “has just been indicted maybe on the crime of being against the Iran deal.”

____ said he believed the only reason the president supported legislation from Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, that allowed Congress to review the deal was because he “wants…to get nukes to Iran.”

Okay, time’s up. Who do you suspect? Frank Gaffney? Jennifer Rubin? James Inhofe? Ted Cruz? Lindsey Graham? Tom Cotton?

No, it’s the junior senator from Illinois, Mark Kirk, often described as a “centrist” or a “moderate,” and universally thought of as the most endangered U.S. Senator going into his 2016 reelection race.

I guess this could be some ploy to pursue Jewish voters, though there wouldn’t be this whole meme about Netanyahu’s war with American Jews if that sort of talk was widely popular with Jewish folk. Or maybe he’s making up for lost gabbing after his recovery from a stroke. But it’s weird to see a statewide elected official from the president’s home state–a blue state at that–basically accuse him of deliberate assistance to terrorists right before voters consider him for another term.

 

BY: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 15, 2015

July 16, 2015 Posted by | Iran Nuclear Agreement, Mark Kirk, Terrorists | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Bomb-Bomb-Bomb Iran”: The GOP Is The Party Of Warmongers; What Its Insane Overreaction To Obama’s Iran Deal Really Shows

Whenever an election season rolls around, we too often hear from trolls, contrarians and cynics who wrongfully announce that both political parties are exactly the same.

Wrong.

One party thinks women should make their own reproductive choices; the other does not. One party thinks LGBT Americans should enjoy equal protection under the law; the other does not. One party thinks higher taxes on the rich and lower taxes for everyone else is good for the economy; the other does not. One party thinks the climate crisis is real, is happening now, and is caused by human activity; the other thinks it’s a hoax while insisting that severe weather events are caused by abortion and gay marriage.

We could do this all day. But the most salient contrast came on Tuesday with the announcement that the P5+1 nations finalized an agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Going back to our party contrasts, one party is seeking at least 15 years of continued peace, while the other party wants to kill the deal, then perhaps, depending on their mood, proceed to “bomb-bomb-bomb” Iran, sparking a war not just between the U.S. and Iran, but involving the entire region, including Russia. Simply put: World War III. And that’s not just my forecast, it’s also the forecast of experts like former Bush-era CIA director Michael Hayden and Meir Dagan, the former head of the Israeli Mossad.

Possibly the most ludicrous reaction from the Republican field came from Lindsey Graham:

“If the initial reports regarding the details of this deal hold true, there’s no way as president of the United States I would honor this deal,” Graham told Bloomberg. “It’s incredibly dangerous for our national security, and it’s akin to declaring war on Sunni Arabs and Israel by the P5+1 because it ensures their primary antagonist Iran will become a nuclear power and allows them to rearm conventionally.”

Discontinuing Iran’s nuclear weapons program is like declaring war on Israel? The projection here is insane. Furthermore, I wonder how Israel would fare if we were to bomb Iran and deliberately collapse the region.

The second most ludicrous reaction came from Jeb Bush:

The nuclear agreement announced by the Obama Administration today is a dangerous, deeply flawed, and short sighted deal.
A comprehensive agreement should require Iran to verifiably abandon – not simply delay – its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. […] This isn’t diplomacy—it is appeasement.

That word—”appeasement”—keeps coming up, so let’s take a second to establish some basics. While it’s true that the deal doesn’t eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, as David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times, the deal “is a start,” and a necessary one.

Sanger reports:

Senior officials of two countries who barely spoke with each other for more than three decades have spent the past 20 months locked in hotel rooms, arguing about centrifuges but also learning how each perceives the other. Many who have jousted with Iran over the past decade see few better alternatives.

“The reality is that it is a painful agreement to make, but also necessary and wise,” said R. Nicholas Burns, who drafted the first sanctions against Iran, passed in the United Nations Security Council in 2006 and 2007, when he was undersecretary of state for policy. “And we might think of it as just the end of the beginning of a long struggle to contain Iran. There will be other dramas ahead.”

Negotiations necessarily require compromise, a fact that the Republican field would well consider before they spout off hardline bromides. (Also, perhaps Jeb should’ve double-checked the history of our effort to negotiate a settlement. If he did so, he’d discover that the U.S. first reached out to Iran in 2002 when his brother was president. Oops.)

 

By: Bob Cesca, Salon, July 15, 2015

July 16, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Nuclear Weapons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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