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“Leading From Behind, And Proud Of It”: America May Just Need To Get Over Its Own Sense Of Paternalism

Egypt and the UAE went forward with air strikes against Islamists in Libya without informing the United States. They did this presumably because they are concerned with the growing influence of Islamist extremists in their region of the world. No doubt their concerns don’t exist in a vacuum; the whole world is watching as Islamists garner more control in Iraq and Syria. Apparently America is supposed to be upset about the move because we should have been informed. The thought is that we’ve provided some of the weaponry, so we should have a say. There’s also the uncomfortable truth that America may just need to get over its own sense of paternalism if we really want to stay out of conflict.

Poll after poll shows an American populace that does not favor intervention overseas. It’s become quite clear since the downturn of the economy that we have enough to work on here at home without getting into multibillion-dollar conflicts. So we don’t want to intervene, but we don’t want to be left out either. The favorite saying of what I would call war hawks is that this is what happens when America “leads from behind.”

Well, here’s my question: Why do we have to lead at all?

I would argue that at this point and time we are in no position to lead anyone. We have record -low unemployment, the middle class that once defined the American dream is dissipating, and we have social issues bubbling under the surface that we should probably start to address. We have serious infrastructure needs that need to be met, and plenty of ingrown homeland-security challenges I’m positive our military could focus on (not to mention millions of families who would be grateful not to send off their loved ones into dubious wars).

I understand that America has serious political interests in the Middle East beyond oil. I understand that leaving the area completely is a pipe dream, largely because leaving Israel to its own devices at this point would be like leaving a kid in the desert to fend for herself. That said, isn’t that kind of what Americans did when we declared independence? Or when we fought our incredibly deadly civil war? What if the superpower of the time got involved in our own now-infamous civil conflict? What if we were not allowed to fight it out but were forced to form ourselves under the influence of a foreign culture that no one understood?

That is what we have been doing in the Middle East, and it is time to stop. It is time to let regional powers figure out their own regional conflicts, and it is time for America to begin addressing our own. We have thousands of people trying to get into our country because the situation below our border is so dire, partially for reasons that are well within our control (e.g., the drug war). Maybe we don’t see that problem as just as much of a threat as those in the Middle East, but we should. As we have seen with the latest incident at the Texas border, we can only ignore our neighbors for so long as we toil along overseas.

The interests are strong, and the history is thick, but I, for one, am happy that Egypt and the UAE made a unilateral decision without us. I am happy that Egypt orchestrated the Israeli/Palestinian ceasefire. I am glad that we are starting to “lead from behind” in the rest of the world, because maybe that means we can lead our own country.

 

By: Courtney McKinney, The Huffington Post Blog, August 28, 2014

 

 

August 29, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where She Always Was”: Everyone Suddenly Remembers That Hillary Clinton Is A Foreign Policy Hawk

There are few things the political press loves more than an intra-party squabble, so it wasn’t surprising that when Hillary Clinton gave an interview to The Atlantic about foreign policy that offered something less than fulsome support for everything Barack Obama has done, it got characterized as a stinging rebuke. The Post’s Chris Cillizza described her “slamming” Obama. The New York Times said the “veneer of unity…shattered.” “Hillary slams Obama for ‘stupid’ foreign policy,” said an absurdly misleading New York Post headline (she never called anything Obama did “stupid”).

If you actually read the interview, you’ll see that Clinton actually didn’t “slam” Obama (even Jeffrey Goldberg, who conducted the interview, overstates the disagreement in his report on it). She was careful not to explicitly criticize the administration, even when she was articulating positions that differed from what Barack Obama might believe. But there were clear indications that Clinton will be staking out a more hawkish foreign policy than the president she served as Secretary of State, on issues like Iran and Syria.

That isn’t because of some cynical calculation, or because she wants to “distance” herself from a president whose popularity is currently mediocre at best. It’s because that’s what she sincerely believes. If people didn’t have such short memories, they wouldn’t be surprised by it. Hillary Clinton has always been a liberal on social and economic issues, but much more of a moderate (or even a conservative) when it comes to foreign policy.

From the moment Clinton began forging her own distinct political identity in her run for Senate in 2000, it was clear she was a hawk on foreign affairs and defense, placing herself in the right-leaning half of the Democratic party. She wasn’t looking to slash military spending or avoid foreign interventions. Look at how the National Journal ranked her on foreign affairs during her time in the Senate (the NJ rankings are idiosyncratic, but they have the benefit of examining foreign affairs distinct from other issues):

  • 2001: 28th most liberal senator
  • 2002: 28th most liberal
  • 2003: 15th most liberal
  • 2004: 42nd most liberal
  • 2005: 30th most liberal
  • 2006: 36th most liberal
  • 2007: 19th most liberal
  • 2008: 40th most liberal

When Clinton ran for president in 2008, the primary issue distinction between her and Barack Obama was that she had supported the Iraq War, while he had opposed it. There was no issue that made more of a difference in the primaries. Even as Secretary of State, while carrying out the President’s policies, in private she counseled more aggressive moves. As Michael Crowley wrote in January, “As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action.”

As we move toward the campaign, it’s likely that liberals are going to start finding reasons to be displeased with Clinton on foreign policy. In the Atlantic interview, for instance, they discuss the Gaza situation at some length, and she practically sounds like a spokesperson for the Netanyahu government, putting all the blame for the conflict and all the casualties squarely on Hamas, while refusing repeated opportunities to say Israel has done anything wrong at all.

Over the next two years there will probably be more situations in which Clinton winds up to the right of the median Democratic voter. That would be more of a political problem if she had a strong primary opponent positioned to her left who could provide a vehicle for whatever dissatisfaction the Democratic base might be feeling. But at the moment, there is no such opponent. Her dominance of the field may give her more latitude on foreign affairs — not to move to the right, but to be where she always was. Neither Democrats nor anyone else can say they didn’t see it coming.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 12, 2014

August 13, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Painful Ritual”: Rand Paul, Not So Independent After All

Rand Paul is discovering that being a libertarian-ish senator with a knack for getting the press to pay attention to your sometimes slightly-contrarian views is one thing, while running for president is something else entirely. Paul has moved to paint himself as an outsider and independent thinker in advance of 2016 — but he’s now learning that taking positions that challenge even secondary elements of Republican doctrine is not going to fly.

When there’s a party consensus, a presidential candidate can only contradict it as long as no one’s paying attention. There’s no such thing as an independent-thinking presidential candidate; only one who is sticking to positions he hasn’t yet renounced, but will eventually. Ironically, it’s the GOP, whose members work so hard to characterize themselves as outsiders beholden to no one, where orthodoxy is most strictly enforced.

Paul has now been confronted with the fact that back in 2011 he proposed ending all foreign aid, which seemed like a good idea for him at the time — after all, did you know that most foreign aid goes to…foreigners?!? Egad. Foreign aid is quite unpopular, in part because people wildly overestimate how much we spend on it.

Paul’s problem: The largest recipient of foreign aid is Israel, which gets about $3 billion per year in American taxpayer money. We might want to debate whether Israel really needs that money from us. But that’s not a debate we’re likely to have any time soon, and is sure as heck isn’t a debate anyone’s going to have in a Republican presidential primary, where “supporting Israel” has become an article of dogma.

So Paul had to backtrack. He tried to argue: “I never really proposed [cutting off aid to Israel] in the past.” That could only be true under some elaborate and tortured definition of “really” or “proposed.” In fact, Paul had even made those points about Israel being able to fund itself without our help. But he won’t be saying that kind of thing anymore.

For someone who has built his political brand on being different than other Republicans — by virtue of being a quasi-libertarian and a relative newcomer to politics — this must be a painful ritual to have to enact.

Two months ago, Paul might have brushed off a question about Israel by saying vaguely that we have to look at all parts of the budget to bring down spending. But with Israel on the front pages, he has to line up behind the rest of the party and pledge to support Israel forever and in every way. If the party is genuinely divided on an issue, a candidate has some room to move; this is true of government surveillance, where Paul takes a more libertarian stance than some other Republicans. But once there’s something approaching a consensus, as there is on Israel, dissent will not be tolerated, no matter what you might have said in the past.

Almost all the 2016 GOP candidates are going to portray the race as a contest between a bunch of establishment Washington insiders and one independent outsider (who just happens to be whoever is telling you this — nearly all of them will try to make the claim). But very quickly, they will all have to jump through the same hoops and take the same pledges, even if in some cases it means renouncing their previous positions. By the time it’s over this process will make them substantively almost identical, whatever minor differences they had at the outset.

So if Rand Paul wants everyone to think he’s an independent-minded outsider, maybe he should forget about using issues to do it. Maybe he ought to get himself a ranch and a cowboy hat. It’s worked before.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Published at The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 5, 2014

August 6, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Faith-Based Fanatics”: The Ancient Struggle Of My God Versus Your God Is At The Root Of Dozens Of Atrocities

He’s had a busy summer. As God only knows, he was summoned to slaughter in the Holy Land, asked to end the killings of Muslims by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, and played both sides again in the 1,400-year-old dispute over the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad.

In between, not much down time. Yes, the World Cup was fun, and God chose to mess with His Holinesses, pitting the team from Pope Francis’s Argentina against Germany, home of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Well played, even if the better pope lost.

At least Rick Perry was not his usual time-suck. The governor proclaimed three days of prayer to end the Texas drought in 2011, saying, “I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this.’ ” The drought got worse. Two years ago, Perry said that God had not “changed his mind” about same-sex marriage. But the states have. Since Perry became a spokesman for the deity, the map of legalized gay marriage in America has expanded by 50 percent.

Still, these are pillow feathers in a world weighted down with misery. God is on a rampage in 2014, a bit like the Old Testament scourge who gave direct instructions to people to kill one another.

It’s not true that all wars are fought in the name of religion, as some atheists assert. Of 1,723 armed conflicts documented in the three-volume “Encyclopedia of Wars,” only 123, or less than 7 percent, involved a religious cause. Hitler’s genocide, Stalin’s bloody purges and Pol Pot’s mass murders certainly make the case that state-sanctioned killings do not need the invocation of a higher power to succeed.

But this year, the ancient struggle of My God versus Your God is at the root of dozens of atrocities, giving pause to the optimists among us (myself included) who believe that while the arc of enlightenment is long, it still bends toward the better.

In the name of God and hate, Sunnis are killing Shiites in Iraq, and vice versa. A jihadist militia, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, boasts of beheading other Muslims while ordering women to essentially live in caves, faces covered, minds closed. The two sides of a single faith have been sorting it out in that blood-caked land, with long periods of peace, since the year 632. Don’t expect it to end soon. A majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are peaceful, but a Pew Survey found that 40 percent of Sunnis do not think Shiites are proper Muslims.

Elsewhere, a handful of failed states are seeing carnage over some variant of the seventh-century dispute. And the rage that moved Hamas to lob rockets on birthday parties in Tel Aviv, and Israelis to kill children playing soccer on the beach in Gaza, has its roots in the spiritual superiority of extremists on both sides.

The most horrific of the religion-inspired zealots may be Boko Haram in Nigeria. As is well known thanks to a feel-good and largely useless Twitter campaign, 250 girls were kidnapped by these gangsters for the crime of attending school. Boko Haram’s God tells them to sell the girls into slavery.

The current intra-religious fights are not to be confused with people who fly airplanes into buildings, or shoot up innocents while shouting “God is great.” But those killers most assuredly believed that their reward for murder is heaven.

Of late, God has taken a long break from Ireland, such a small country for such a big fight between worshipers under the same cross. There, the animus is not so much theological as it is historical. If the curious Muslim is wondering why Protestants and Catholics can’t just get along on that lovely island, take a look at the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, when about 20 percent of the population of present-day Germany fell to clashes between the two branches of Christianity.

Violent Buddhist mobs (yes, it sounds oxymoronic) are responsible for a spate of recent attacks against Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, leaving more than 200 dead and close to 150,000 homeless. The clashes prompted the Dalai Lama to make an urgent appeal to end the bloodshed. “Buddha preaches love and compassion,” he said.

And so do Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The problem is that people of faith often become fanatics of faith. Reason and force are useless against aspiring martyrs.

In the United States, God is on the currency. By brilliant design, though, he is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders were explicit: This country would never formally align God with one political party, or allow someone to use religion to ignore civil laws. At least that was the intent. In this summer of the violent God, five justices on the Supreme Court seem to feel otherwise.

 

By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, July 18, 2014

July 20, 2014 Posted by | Faith, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Higher Consciousness Thinking”: Who Started It Doesn’t Matter, Who Has The Wisdom To End It Does

Remember back in childhood how, whenever a melee erupted on the playground or in a backyard, mothers, fathers or teachers would suddenly emerge to pull wrestling bodies apart while some sweaty kid, with pointed fingers and glaring eyes, would caterwaul, “But he started it!”? That familiar, blurted defense was intended to justify the chaos and fisticuffs, rationalize the bullying and bloody noses, and, usually, it didn’t work.

Because instead of reacting as the finger-pointing child hoped, most intelligent adults would respond along the lines of (and this was my mother’s favorite rejoinder): “I don’t care who started it! I just want to know which one of you is going to end it?” And from there heads hung, consequences were meted, and we’d be on our way, grumbling about how unfair life was.

Yet our parents’ wisdom in understanding that who “started it” was irrelevant to the goal of peace was actually a highly evolved concept pulled right from the tenets of higher consciousness thinking, philosophy that seeks to transcend our biological response to aggression and adversity. Unfortunately, the persistence of human beings to assert that who “started it” matters terribly (with results that usually are terrible), is, in fact, the flawed rationale behind why rockets are blowing up families in the Middle East and passenger planes are being shot out of the sky in service to the Ukraine/Russian skirmish. We are a world beset by tragedy and trauma motivated by the battle cry, “they started it!” and… it’s killing us.

While many question who exactly shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 (according to the latest it was Russian-backed separatists), and media, social and otherwise, is aflame with heated discussions of who’s more right or wrong in the Middle East, there’s no end to the spectrum of finger pointing to be found. Charles Krauthammer’s “Moral Clarity In Gaza” was posted on Facebook today with an assertion that it defined who, at least, “started it,” but my own thought was: does that really matter at this point? Hasn’t the never-ending reality of war proven that defining who “started it” has no bearing on the impact and tragedy of the escalation beyond that inception?

But we continue to go round and round, century after century, for time immemorial, ripping each other to shreds with pointed fingers, bombs and rockets, terrorism and intolerance, in support of nationalism, ethnicity and religion, defended and justified by who “started it.” Seems we’ve not gotten much beyond our schoolyard defenses… except now the costs are so much more grave.

In response to the current state of warring humanity, l can’t help but ponder an oft-asked and existential question: what is a human being? Apart from our ethnic, national, religious and sexual background, what, really, are we? If one has a religious or spiritual bent (and isn’t religion most often cited for our historical attachment to war and violence?), doesn’t one embrace the doctrine that every human is a spirit, has a soul, or is in some way an energy or essence that transcends the physical self? If so, doesn’t it follow that, beyond life, as one transitions to whatever is next, the spirit shakes off those physical identities we hold so dear and fight for so viciously? And if that’s true (and if one has spiritual belief one typically believes some measure of that is true), then it also follows that, in fact, and beyond where we landed on this planet at birth, we are all, truly and irrevocably, made of the same stuff, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or religion. If human beings — particularly those who would kill or die for their religious or national affiliation — instead embraced that spiritual philosophy of oneness, wouldn’t peace, then, be possible?

Certainly it should be. But history tells us peace is the greatest uphill battle. Because the invisible hand of religion, national and ethnic pride, and that unfortunate human impulse to, instead of turning a cheek, push when pushed, shoot when shot at, or rush to the killing field to decimate an enemy rather than negotiate a peace, keeps our warring factions ratcheting to higher and higher levels of discord and devastation. Strange how religious tenets of harmony and oneness are never the rallying cry of those who kill in religion’s name.

It doesn’t really matter who started it, whichever it we’re talking about. If it’s one side this time, it’s another the next. The anatomy of feuds, combat, war and strife depends on enflaming our differences — nationalities, religions, ethnicities – instead of honoring our shared humanity. And until someone on one side or the other finds the humility and wisdom to not shoot back, not point fingers, and not allow ancient wounds and animosities to persistently preempt peace, the human right to pursue happiness and raise our children in health and safety will never be a reality for some in some parts of the world. And that is unacceptable.

Our parents were right… it only matters who ends it. So let’s stop talking about “moral clarity,” and “who’s at fault this time.” Just tell me who will end it. That’s the only analysis I want to hear.

 

By: Lorraine Devon Wilke, The Huffington Post Blog, July 19, 2014

July 20, 2014 Posted by | Middle East, Russia, Ukraine | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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