“Stop Listening To John Bolton”: He Has No Idea What He’s Talking About, And It’s Scary He Was Ever In Power To Begin With
There’s an old joke, or sort of joke, about how bombing for peace is like f*cking for virginity. In that analogy, John Bolton is trying to f*ck us all over.
Bolton, United States Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, has written an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, the United States should bomb Iran. This “reasoning” is as reckless and unreliable as its messenger.
It has been reported that “almost the entire senior hierarchy of Israel’s military and security establishment is worried about a premature attack on Iran and apprehensive about the possible repercussions,” according to Israel’s former chief of defense forces. Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense under both Bush and Obama, cautioned against military strikes in Iran, warning, “A military solution, as far as I’m concerned … it will bring together a divided nation. It will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons. And they will just go deeper and more covert.”
Gates said the only long-term solution is convincing Iranians that nuclear weapons capacity is not in their interest—the goal of current diplomatic talks.
Even the director of the CIA under Bush said that the Bush Administration explored but ultimately rejected a military strike on Iran, concluding it would only “guarantee that which we are trying to prevent—an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.”
News reports suggest that the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China are making headway in diplomatic negotiations with Iran that would halt nuclear weapons development in Iran for at least a decade and submit the country to rigorous inspections. But Republicans, so eager to bash President Obama on any count, have not only immorally (and possibly illegally) undermined U.S. diplomacy and credibility in the international community, they have argued President Obama is somehow causing brinksmanship by relying on smart diplomacy to avoid nuclear war.
We are supposed to believe this because John Bolton tells us to.
Bolton also asserts that somehow, though Israel having nuclear weapons has not been perceived as a threat in the region, “Iran is a different story.” Oh, okay. Why, exactly? “Extensive progress in uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing reveal its ambitions.” So Iran’s nuclear enrichment is extra-threatening because Iran is engaged in nuclear enrichment? I’m not saying we shouldn’t be treating a nuclear Iran as a major and especially-dangerous problem—clearly the Obama Administration is taking the threat seriously. No one is arguing, especially given Iran’s recent expansionist push into Yemen and Iraq, that Iran should be taken in general as anything other than a serious threat to the world, no matter what and even more so with nuclear capacity.
But Bolton is employing “just trust me” reasoning to hype military action. “Saudi, Egyptian and Turkish interests are complex and conflicting, but faced with Iran’s threat, all have concluded that nuclear weapons are essential.”
How do you know that, Mr. Bolton? “Obviously, the Saudis, Turkey and Egypt will not be issuing news releases trumpeting their intentions. But the evidence is accumulating that they have quickened their pace toward developing weapons.”
Would that be the same evidence you relied on to assert that Saddam Hussein was developing WMDs—the same intel the administration used as the justification for going to war in Iraq? Bolton provides little solid evidence of his sky-is-falling assertions. We’re just supposed to trust him, I guess, based on his reputation.
Now, I realize this is the point in the article where Republicans will drone on about liberals reliably pointing to George W. Bush as a way to avoid scrutinizing Barack Obama. Whine away, but the fact is that when veterans of the Bush Administration’s disastrous foreign policy drag their own selves out of the dustbin of history to proclaim their expertise and wisdom, reminding the nation of the bountiful evidence to the contrary is entirely fair game.
When former Vice President Dick Cheney went on Fox News to attack President Obama’s strategy in Iraq, host Megyn Kelly shot back, “But time and time again, history has proven that you got it wrong as well in Iraq, sir.” Kelly listed Cheney’s failings: “You said there was no doubt Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; you said we would be greeted as liberators; you said the Iraq insurgency was in the last throes back in 2005; and you said that after our intervention, extremists would have to, quote, ‘rethink their strategy of jihad.’ Now, with almost a trillion dollars spent there, with 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say you were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many?”
Cheney’s response was to disagree with Kelly’s characterization—and keep asserting his righteousness. And so it also goes with John Bolton.
In 2002, while serving as Bush’s Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Bolton said, “We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq.” And regarding launching war in Iraq, Bolton assured, “I expect that the American role actually will be fairly minimal. I think we’ll have an important security role.” And now Bolton is the foreign policy advisor for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. Which doesn’t exactly burnish his credibility.
Now Mr. Bolton wants to lead the charge, once again, into war. In fact, he’s gone a step further this time. In the case of Iraq, at least Mr. Bolton and the Bush Administration could claim preemptive military action against a tyrannical government that had allegedly actually obtained weapons of mass destruction, even though those allegations ultimately (knowingly?) were false.
But here, Bolton is using the future threat of acquisition of nuclear weapons to justify preemptive military action now. In 1992, right-wing hawk Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Iran was just “three to five years away” from nuclear weapons capacity. Should we have preemptively bombed them then? I mean, facts schmacts right?
Secretary of State John Kerry says that Iran is still six years away from nuclear capacity. Others say it’s more like two or three, but even still: Reasonable people would argue there’s still time to let a diplomatic solution be worked out and tested. And reasonable people would try other plausible solutions before resorting to all-out war. But Republicans are, increasingly, not reasonable—perpetually too eager to both criticize President Obama and pull the trigger on war regardless of the fact that their track record has been a perpetual f*cking mess.
By: Sally Kohn, The Daily Beast, March 26, 2015
“Bibi Makes Israel The Latest Culture War Pawn”: If He Can’t See The Consequences For His Country, He’s Just A Madman
So now Lindsey Graham has called Bibi Netanyahu to congratulate him on his great victory and to reassure him that Congress will be passing its gimlet eye closely over any deal the Obama administration strikes with Iran. This news comes hard on the heels of John Boehner’s announcement that he suddenly feels moved to go visit Israel.
I can’t begin to conceive what these people are thinking. What does Netanyahu think he’s accomplishing by making Israel a right-wing cause? Does he really think this is how he saves Israel? Does he forget that this is a country in which 70 or 80 percent of Jews vote Democratic? Did he not see the recent poll that had his approval rating among Democrats at 17 percent? I see here that last November in a J Street poll, his approval rating among U.S. Jews was 53 percent. I bet after this past month, they’re down in the low 40s or high 30s.
Netanyahu knows this country. He lived here—high school in Philadelphia, college in Boston, and a stint in New York (when he was Israel’s UN ambassador, during the Reagan years). He knows our political culture. He understands what a radical-right party the GOP is becoming, and thus he presumably understands that the vast majority of U.S. Jews are never going to be able to vote Republican, whatever the two parties’ Israel lines. He knows full well that the perfervid support for Israel in evangelical-right precincts has far less to do with love of Jews than with hatred of Arabs, or, for many, the belief that Armageddon in the Middle East means Jesus is coming.
He knows all this as well as most senators and congressmen. So why does he persist in making Israel a Republicans-first issue, and for that matter why do Republicans do it too?
Well, it’s not hard to figure why Republicans are doing it. It’s partly about Barack Obama, and the visceral loathing of him among their base; the Muslim Other-ing of Obama and all that. But they clearly must think this is going to get them more Jewish votes at the presidential level. They think back to Ronald Reagan’s time. In 1980, Reagan got 39 percent of the Jewish vote, against Jimmy Carter’s 45 percent (independent candidate John Anderson got the rest). That’s as close as a GOP presidential candidate has ever come to winning the Jewish vote since Israel became a state. (Amusing side note: In 1948, the year of Israel’s creation, the Republican candidate, Tom Dewey, did worse among Jews at 10 percent than left-wing third-party candidate Henry Wallace, who polled 15 percent; Harry Truman got 75 percent.)
But there’s no remotely Reaganesque figure on the horizon. And anyway, by 1984, things were back to normal—Walter Mondale, even as he was getting pasted by Reagan overall, won 67 percent of the Jewish vote. And more to the point, as I noted above, this Republican Party is not the Republican Party of Reagan’s time. That was a conservative party that still had a large number of old-line moderates, like senators Charles Percy and John Heinz. Today’s party is far more right wing than that one was. Very few Jews are going to vote for a party like that—especially against a Clinton, if Hillary is the Democratic nominee, but in fact against pretty much anyone.
So that’s what they’re thinking, farkakte as it is. But this doesn’t explain Netanyahu. He truly believes that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat, fine. But that doesn’t explain this behavior. If he truly believes that about Iran, then the logical, self-interested thing for him to do, especially knowing that most Jews are loyal Democrats, is to get as many Democrats in Congress as possible to choose his point of view over Obama’s. Given AIPAC’s muscle and the traditional pro-Israel posture of most Democrats in Congress over the years, that should not be a heavy lift.
But instead he does the opposite. Recall that about a month ago, he pointedly refused to meet with Senate Democrats. Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein, who invited him, were obviously tossing him a lifeline, saying to him: However bad your relationship with Obama, come square things with us, and we’ll still have your back. But no. He said he feared it would look partisan, you see, because his speech to Congress, well, that was bipartisan! Once you’ve entered the Hall of Mirrors, it can be hard to find your way out, I guess.
It’s one thing to alienate Obama (and Obama, to be fair, has done his part to sour the relationship as well). But it’s quite another to alienate rank-and-file American Jews, and still another to alienate Democrats in Congress. Not an easy trifecta to hit, but he is managing it.
If he can’t see the consequences for his country, he’s just a madman. Let’s just say hypothetically that the Obama administration follows through substantively on spokesman Josh Earnest’s astonishing comments last week about the potential policy implications of Netanyahu’s pre-election comportment. Let’s say, for example, that the United States decides to stop blocking a vote at the United Nations on recognition of a Palestinian state. Right now, about 135 nations recognize Palestine. Very few Western European countries are among that number. Many of them withhold their support simply or mainly for the sake of not crossing the United States.
Once we signal that we won’t block a vote, the map of nations that recognize Palestine will presumably expand across Europe rapidly. The British and French have worked on the proper resolution language. As it happens, the Arab League is meeting this weekend in Sharm-el-Shiekh, and you can be sure that its officials are alive to this reality. And so Netanyahu might lose Western Europe, and then he’ll come crying to Washington, and it might be too late.
Strange way to save a country.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 22, 2015
“Netanyahu, The Linchpin Of GOP Foreign Policy”: Hooray! Boehner Wins The Israeli Elections! Time For A Victory Tour!
It’s pretty ironic: just as Bibi Netanyahu seems ready to get over the recent unpleasantness with the Obama administration and get back to the status quo ante of unfriendly cooperation, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives is packing for a trip to Israel that is inevitably being called a “victory tour.” According to Josh Marshall, the trip is expected to last ten days. I’m not 100% sure John Boehner has spent ten straight days in Ohio in recent memory.
But since Boehner accommodated Bibi’s wish for a pre-election campaign rally on the floor of the House, the Israeli leader is hardly in a position to say no, though he may feel like a husband who’s tried to make his wife jealous by consorting with her deadliest enemy, only to discover the intended catspaw on his doorstep with a suitcase.
In any event, Boehner’s trip is a vivid reminder of something I’ve been saying off and on since 2012: the current Israeli government has become the linchpin of Republican foreign policy, as central to the GOP’s calculations on how it views the world as the USSR was (in a negative rather than positive sense, of course) before Gorbachev. So of course Bibi’s victory is Boehner’s victory, and he’d want to share in the celebration. He may claim he’s just another Catholic tourist going to the Holy Land for Holy Week. But I suspect it’s Netanyahu’s resurrection rather than Jesus Christ’s we’ll eventually hear him talking about.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, March 20, 2015
The race for the Republican nomination is full of potential candidates who could plausibly claim the mantle of the conservative movement’s electoral champion. Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz — they all want to speak for the right wing of the Republican Party.
Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, on the other hand, despite having plenty to offer base Republican voters, simply cannot check all the boxes of a median conservative-movement voter. Bush is a lead promoter of Common Core education standards. He supports a “path-to-citizenship” for illegal immigrants (known to Republicans as “amnesty”). Rand Paul, meanwhile, is significantly more dovish than the average Republican office-holder, and has tried to leverage his libertarian convictions to reach groups that don’t typically favor Republicans, namely young voters and African-Americans.
The base is skeptical of both men, and it’s not hard to see why. And so far, these two likely candidates have utilized extremely different strategies for selling themselves to suspicious conservative voters. Bush opts for open confrontation. Paul tries for appeasement.
Paul, a first-term senator from Kentucky, sometimes gives the impression that he can’t prevent himself from presenting the least-popular, most-controversy-generating libertarian convictions that lie in his heart. Where he succeeds in selling his rather unconventional non-interventionist and libertarian views to conservative audiences is when he can contrast them to either President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. The most obvious example would be his opposition to intervention in Libya. Paul could argue to skeptical conservatives that in fact, his dovish position was the one consistently opposing the Obama-Clinton foreign policy agenda.
But in a scrum with Republicans, Paul has a harder time. He starts to fudge the differences between his position and that at the core of his party. For instance, his most devoted fans were completely flummoxed when Paul signed Sen. Tom Cotton’s blistering open letter to Iran about the negotiations. Justin Raimondo, the libertarian behind antiwar.com, called Paul “the Neville Chamberlain of the Liberty Movement.”
When first elected by a Tea Party swell, Paul proposed an idealistic libertarian-ish federal budget that cut off all foreign aid, including aid to Israel. But now, instead of arguing that cutting foreign aid makes good fiscal and foreign policy sense, Paul has repositioned himself in a way that gets part of the way to his goal, while ceding much rhetorically to the base. He has introduced legislation that would halt aid to the Palestinian Authority, calling it the “Stand with Israel Act.” This didn’t prevent critics from laughing at his unenthusiastic clapping for Benjamin Netanyahu.
While Paul tries to have it both ways, Bush’s approach has been to confront his critics head on. In an interview with Sean Hannity at CPAC, Bush adverted his views on immigration: “There is no plan to deport 11 million people.” (He did throw a bone in the direction of the movement right, saying, “A great country needs to enforce the borders.”)
When Bush is asked about Common Core, he doesn’t let himself get pulled into the weeds about individual curriculum choices that schools have been developing and making in response to the standards. Instead, he reframes Common Core as a common-sense effort at accountability in public education: “Raising expectations and having accurate assessments of where kids are is essential for success, and I’m not going to back down on that,” the former Florida governor said.
Some conservative commentators have interpreted Bush’s strategies as a a replay of Jon Huntsman’s base-baiting 2012 campaign. But Huntsman seemed to be uninterested in conservative support entirely. Bush’s rhetorical game might actually win their respect.
Bush doesn’t come to conservatives as Mitt Romney did, with a basket full of new convictions. Bush’s efforts to sell his positions to conservative voters is an implicit message that he wants conservatives to support him. It also helps that he keeps hiring political and activist figures who have a devoted following among the most conservative parts of the right.
Even if conservatives can’t get everything they want, they seem to appreciate knowing where the GOP candidate stands, and what they can expect from him. In a way, Bush is giving the movement a compliment by disagreeing forthrightly, and selling his position to them anyway. Paul, on the other hand, is doing his own convictions and his party a disservice by pretending their differences don’t really exist.
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, March 17, 2015
“A Politician Failing A Test Of Self-Awareness”: Cotton Worries About US Interference In Foreign Negotiations
On the Senate floor yesterday afternoon, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) shared some striking concerns about U.S. foreign policy. He also offered a rather profound example of a politician failing a test of self-awareness.
Earlier in the day, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that when it comes to the U.S. policy towards Israel, “We’re currently evaluating our approach.” The comments were important, but not surprising – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent antics were bound to carry some consequences.
But Cotton, the right-wing freshman in his second month in the Senate, called Psaki’s comments “worrisome“ – for a very specific reason.
“While Prime Minister Netanyahu won a decisive victory, he still has just started assembling a governing majority coalition. These kinds of quotes from Israel’s most important ally could very well startle some of the smaller parties and their leaders with whom Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently in negotiations.
“This raises the question, of course, if the administration intends to undermine Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to assemble a coalition by suggesting a change to our longstanding policy of supporting Israel’s position with the United Nations.”
Hold on a second. Cotton is now concerned about U.S. officials “undermining” foreign officials “currently in negotiations”?
Not to put too fine a point on this, but it was literally just two weeks ago that Cotton took it upon himself to organize a letter to Iran from 47 Senate Republicans. The point of the correspondence, by Cotton’s own admission, was to target international diplomacy, undermine American foreign policy, and disrupt officials during their ongoing negotiations.
I’m going to assume the Arkansas Republican remembers this. It caused a bit of a stir.
And yet, there Cotton was yesterday, expressing concern that a State Department official, simply by stating a simple fact about U.S. foreign policy, might “startle” officials abroad. These officials are “currently in negotiations,” so the GOP senator apparently believes Americans should be cautious not to interfere.
The irony is simply breathtaking. The mind reels.
Update: In his remarks on the Senate floor, Cotton added, “I fear mutual respect is of little concern to this administration. The president and all those senior officials around him should carefully consider the diplomatic and security consequences of their words.”
I mean, really. Is this intended as some kind of performance-art statement on the power of irony?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 20, 2015