“Pope Francis Makes Tea Party Heads Explode”: Why Steve King & Louie Gohmert Have It In For The Pontiff
The Bishop of Rome is coming to Washington in September to address a joint session of Congress, and boy are things already getting frisky. Pope Francis is an extraordinarily popular Pope who’s not afraid to wield that popularity for human rights and economic justice. In other words, he’s well to the left of most members of Congress, and he may well get up in their faces about issues near and dear to him. Since you’re sort of required to clap for the Pope, this is going to make for an interesting scene.
In late 2013, not long after his election, Francis wrote an extensive document making economic justice a centerpiece of his papacy. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life,” he wrote, “today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.”
“Such an economy kills,” wrote Pope Francis, denouncing the current economic system as “unjust at its roots” and one “which defend(s) the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.” Such a system, he warned, is creating a “new tyranny,” which “unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.”
On foreign affairs he’s made his priorities known, too. Earlier this year, Francis helped broker the thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba, and just this week,the Vatican announced that it would sign a treaty recognizing a Palestinian state. As Patricia Miller writes in Salon, these sorts of moves aren’t some radical break in policy for the Vatican. It’s just that American conservatives were able to turn a blind eye to these actions before “rock star Francis” commanded their attention. “It’s more accurate,” Miller writes, “to view this particular step in the Vatican’s relationship with Palestine both as a continuation of the Holy See’s long-standing support for Palestinian statehood and as an expression of Francis’ overriding interest in fostering international peace—and his unique ability and willingness to put his finger on the scales to do so.”
The Vatican’s recognition of a Palestinian state under Francis comes at a time when the Republican Party is more reflexively “pro-Israel” — which is to say, pro-Netanyahu — than ever. It’s become routine, if not an outright litmus test, for Republican presidential candidates to reject the pursuit of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a position that both Democratic and Republican standard-bearers have held for decades. The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to veto U.N. resolutions recognizing a Palestinian state as a favor to Netanyahu’s Israel, and yet Republicans still assault Obama as working hand-in-hand with the Iranians to assure Israel’s destruction. And now we’ve got an actual religious and political leader who has recognized a Palestinian state coming to address Congress.
The fine congressional reporters at Politico did that thing where they asked the usual funny, good-for-a-quote Republican suspects for their opinion on Francis’ upcoming speech in light of his treaty recognizing Palestine and other heretical moves, like his criticism of unregulated capitalism. And the members were, indeed, good for various funny quotes.
Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina is stunned to see the Pope getting so “political” and demands he rein in his activities to more traditional church-y stuff. “It’s interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political,” Duncan said, “when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation.” Iowa’s Steve King echoed Duncan, saying he’s not sure that he’s as good of a politician as he is a Pope.”
Know your place, sweetheart.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp holds the interesting position that Catholicism is agnostic on issues of poverty, and Francis should stick to what he describes as Catholicism’s “non-negotiables,” like its opposition to abortion and gay marriage and its support for school choice. “How do you deal with a poverty problem? There’s not a Catholic [fix], contrary to the arguments of certain economists that work at the Vatican… But there’s a Catholic view on life, on marriage, on the rights of parents and education. So I hope he sticks to this.” As for foreign policy, Huelskamp gives Francis his permission to speak to “faith and morals… but on foreign affairs, maybe not.” Because morals certainly have no place in foreign affairs.
The quotiest of them all, Rep. Louie Gohmert, describes the Palestinians as “haters” and wants the Pope to know that they don’t take too kindly to his style of Popin’ down in East Texas. “The Pope is the head of his religion, and he makes those calls for himself,” Gohmert generously concedes, “but I represent 700,000 people from East Texas and a vast majority agree with me.”
There’s a whole lot more in here, including Rep. Trent Franks questioning Pope Francis’s grasp of scripture.
It’s fascinating to see these members trying to impose constraints on what’s acceptable for the Holy See to say in his address to Congress. Just a few months ago, conservatives were apoplectic that anyone would dare criticize Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to trash the President’s foreign policy before a joint session of Congress. The man has a right to speak his mind! It helped, of course, that Netanyahu’s mind and the Republican mind were one and the same. Now the Pope might come and say “Palestinians have rights too” and everyone’s all, Whoa whoa whoa, let’s stick to the fetus here, guy.
By: Jim Newell, Salon, May 15, 2015
“Sheldon Adelson Will Not Be Ignored”: He May Have Built A Lot Of Casinos, But He Doesn’t Understand Much About Politics
Sheldon Adelson has never struck me as a brilliant guy, but I admit I don’t have much to go on in making that judgment. Maybe it’s the spectacularly ridiculous dyed-red combover that makes him seem like such a comical figure, but who knows. What we do know is that all—or almost all—Republican presidential candidates desperately want his money.
But it seems that Sheldon is seriously ticked off at Jeb Bush. Eliana Johnson of the National Review reports:
The bad blood between Bush and Adelson is relatively recent, and it deepened with the news that former secretary of state James Baker, a member of Bush’s foreign-policy advisory team, was set to address J Street, a left-wing pro-Israel organization founded to serve as the antithesis to the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
J Street has routinely staked out liberal views anathema to those held by Adelson and his allies. Adelson sent word to Bush’s camp in Miami: Bush, he said, should tell Baker to cancel the speech. When Bush refused, a source describes Adelson as “rips***”; another says Adelson sent word that the move cost the Florida governor “a lot of money.”
Let’s keep in mind that there’s no question that any of the the Republican candidates will be anything less than fully supportive of the Likud vision for Israel’s future, which is Adelson’s top priority. You’d think that Adelson would be able to live with the fact that former secretary of state and longtime Republican macher James Baker spoke to a liberal group and also is one of what I presume are a dozen or more informal foreign policy advisers to Jeb Bush. But apparently not.
Jeb can live without Adelson’s money; he’s not having any trouble raising funds, and if he becomes the GOP nominee, Adelson will come around. But what’s unusual about this story is the fact that Adelson thinks he can tell presidential candidates whom their advisors can and can’t give a speech to.
That brings things down to an unusually specific level that we don’t ordinarily see. In this relationship, both the billionaire and the politician tell themselves a story in which everyone has the noblest of motives. The donor tells himself that his contributions are motivated solely by his concern for the country, and he only wants to help those who share his philosophy (and defeat those who don’t.) He doesn’t tell the politician what to think and do; he’s just there to offer his wise counsel as a successful businessman and concerned American. The politician might listen to him, or he might not, and when he usually does, that’s just evidence of how wise the billionaire is. The politician tells himself that his integrity is unsullied by money, since he makes his own decisions and is not swayed by the billionaire, even if he just happens to support all the things the billionaire wants.
Had Jeb actually told Baker not to go to J Street solely to make Adelson happy, it would have been hard for him to stay convinced that he was still pure. It’s because the question is so trivial that it necessitated standing up to Adelson.
Adelson may have built a lot of casinos, but I don’t think he understands much about politics, not only what works but which fights are worth having (this is, after all, a man who thought putting $20 million behind Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign was a wise investment). Say what you will about Charles and David Koch, but I couldn’t see them making the same mistake.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 29, 2015
“To The Permanent War Caucus, It’s Always 1938″: When The Hitler Card Won’t Do, Play The Chamberlain Card
If he accomplished nothing else during his presidency, Barack Obama has surely earned a place in the Bad Political Analogies Hall of Fame. According to savants on Fox News and right-wing editorial pages, Obama is both Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who capitulated to Nazi territorial demands in 1938.
That is, to the more fervid exponents of the Sore Loser Party, President Obama is both a psychotic dictator and a spineless appeaser of tyrants.
(I am indebted for this insight to Washington, D.C., attorney Mike Godwin, promulgator of “Godwin’s Law,” which holds that the first person to play the Hitler card in a political argument automatically loses.)
I’m thinking the law also needs a Chamberlain corollary, because the Permanent War Caucus on the Republican right accuses every American president who negotiates an arms pact with our putative enemies of weakening national security. Always and with no known exceptions.
President Nixon got compared to Neville Chamberlain for his (strategically brilliant) opening to China, as well as for the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) with the Soviet Union.
In 1988, something called the Conservative Caucus, Inc. took out full-page newspaper ads arguing that “appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.” The ad mocked President Reagan with Chamberlain’s iconic umbrella, and compared Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to Hitler.
In 1989, of course, the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR imploded.
Jonathan Chait sums up the right’s paradoxical case against Obama, weakling dictator: “He is naive in the face of evil, desperate for agreement, more willing to help his enemies than his friends. The problem is that conservatives have made this same diagnosis of every American president for 70 years…Their analysis of the Iran negotiations is not an analysis at all, but an impulse.”
Despite the fact that Tehran made concessions most observers thought were impossible, the right hates this deal because they hate all deals. Today, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his U.S. supporters, such as the forever-wrong William Kristol, describe Iran’s leaders as the new Führer. The apocalyptic enemy before that was the Tehran regime’s bitter enemy, Saddam Hussein.
Anyway, we all know how invading Iraq worked out.
Iran is five times Iraq’s size, has three times its population, and has extremely forbidding terrain.
No matter. To the Permanent War Caucus, it’s always 1938 and blitzkrieg is eternally threatened. Netanyahu has been predicting Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons for almost 20 years now — although the Wile E. Coyote bomb cartoon is a relatively recent touch.
Israel, of course, has a nuclear arsenal of its own.
But what really makes the Hitler/Chamberlain comparison so foolish isn’t simply that it’s a cliché. It’s that it completely misrepresents the power balance between the U.S., its allies, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, and militarily weak, politically and strategically isolated Iran.
In 1938, Nazi Germany had the strongest military in the world. (Indeed, there’s a revisionist school that holds Neville Chamberlain was wise to postpone an inevitable war while Britain re-armed.)
Shiite Iran, by contrast, can scarcely project power much beyond its borders, and is threatened by traditional enemies on all sides. Examine a map of the Middle East. Tehran is almost 1,000 miles from Jerusalem. Ethnically and linguistically distinct, the Persians are surrounded by hostile Sunni Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, which repress their own Shiite minorities, and are fanatically opposed to the Ayatollahs.
Almost unknown in this country, U.S. client Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran — complete with nerve gas attacks on the Persians and Kurds –remains a bitter memory. ISIS terrorists are massacring Shiites by the thousands in Iraq and Syria. For that matter, check out the U.S. military bases ringing the Persian Gulf, along with omnipresent, nuclear-armed aircraft carriers and submarines.
One needn’t have a particle of sympathy for Iran’s odious theocratic government to see that we’ve got them totally outgunned and surrounded. Economic sanctions engineered by the Obama administration have really hurt. So yes, if they thought they could trust us, it would be very much in Tehran’s interest to make a deal and stick to it — putting the nuclear temptation aside in favor of what amounts to anti-invasion insurance.
But can we trust them?
President Obama explained his thinking to the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman: “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing…people don’t seem to understand.”
“[W]ith respect to Iran…a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”
If you’re really strong, in other words, act strong.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 15, 2015
“The Iran Deal Is About Restraining A Barbaric Regime”: It Neither Legitimizes Nor Appeases That Regime
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, writing about Iran in the New Jersey Jewish Standard on April 1, sought to alter perspectives on that country with some speculation about race. “Imagine if Ayatollah Ali [Khamenei] was threatening to murder all blacks in the Middle East,” he wrote. “What if he tweeted regularly that people of dark skin are of the devil and must be annihilated. Would the American government be negotiating with him?”
Boteach suggested that a U.S. administration would face “international opprobrium for legitimizing a government with racist, genocidal intent against an identifiable ethnic group.” He asked, “Why is it that threatening to murder the Jews is acceptable?”
Boteach referred to President Obama as “a historic figure, the first African-American president” and said that he didn’t doubt that Obama “is a friend of the Jewish people.” But, he added, “We are witnesses to the world’s foremost republic and sole superpower negotiating with a government with a clearly defined agenda of carrying out a second holocaust.”
Boteach declared of Obama: “We need him to stand up for us.”
Boteach, an author, TV host and self-described “America’s Rabbi,” recently took out full-page ads in The Post and the New York Times to tell Obama that any pact that allows Iran to retain a significant nuclear infrastructure will make him an appeaser on par with Neville Chamberlain.
I have no idea how Obama might respond to Boteach’s fantasized Khamenei with murderous intent against blacks. Neither can I presume to speak for other African Americans. For my part, were my family and I in the Middle East and faced with such a threat, I would want my government to take all necessary steps to cut off every pathway that such a racist leader could take to develop a nuclear weapon.
Which brings me to the recently negotiated framework with Iran.
If there happens to be a way to create a comprehensive, long-term oversight effort that includes robust and intrusive inspections of that country’s nuclear program, I say do it.
If my government can deny a genocidal leader the plutonium necessary to build a bomb, go for it.
If my government, working with other world powers, can shut down Iran’s path to a bomb using enriched uranium, that’s a good thing.
Should this president, working with world leaders, get Iran to: agree not to stockpile materials needed to build a weapon, give international inspectors unprecedented access to its nuclear program, set strict limits on its program for more than a decade and impose unprecedented transparency measures that will last 20 years or more, then I say hooray. And, of course, economic sanctions should not be lifted until Iran complies with terms of the final agreement.
Because if a fantasy Iran were to aim to liquidate all blacks in the Middle East or elsewhere, just as the real-life Iran has threatened to annihilate millions of Jews in Israel, I wouldn’t ever want it to become a nuclear power capable of delivering on its threats.
Locking down a barbaric country in an internationally enforced agreement is a start. It neither legitimizes nor appeases that regime.
And it’s something any U.S. president should try to do, not just on behalf of Jewish people, with their long and painful history, or African Americans with painful experiences of our own, but for the sake of all Americans as well as all those worldwide who could be threatened.
Iran is everybody’s business. Or it ought to be.
Yet, it doesn’t — or shouldn’t — follow that U.S. policy toward Iran can be dictated from anywhere other than the United States.
It was, therefore, shocking to read a National Review article titled “Netanyahu, Not Obama, Speaks for Us,” which was posted online March 2.
Who is writer Quin Hillyer referring to when he says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and not the president, speaks “for you and for me”?
Obama speaks on the world stage for this country and its values. He has more than demonstrated a willingness to exercise American power in defense of our national interests. (Ask Osama bin Laden.) To suggest that this president is less diligent in the safeguarding of our civilization, more deficient in moral courage and less likely to pursue justice on our behalf than a foreign leader is as absurd as it sounds.
I also happen to believe that Obama promotes equality, justice and dignity for all, and not because he is black or because he views the world through any racial or religious prism.
By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 10, 2015
“Peace Rather Than War”: If Chuck Schumer Kills The Iran Nuclear Deal, He Should Not Be Senate Minority Leader
The framework for the Iranian nuclear deal is about as good as anyone could reasonably expect. If it were solely up to the negotiators, it would likely be finalized in June. But they are not the only players, and it’s become clear that the biggest danger to the deal are hawks in Iran and the U.S.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) is threatening action that may destroy the bargain, while Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is doing the same. Iran is out of the U.S.’s control — but Democrats can hold Schumer to account. If he destroys the Iran deal, he must not be allowed to become Senate minority leader, a position that was basically bequeathed to him by outgoing Minority Leader Harry Reid.
On the Iranian side, Khamenei said out of the blue this week that any deal must include the immediate lifting of all sanctions and prevent foreign inspectors from visiting military sites, two demands that could blow up the tentative framework negotiated in Lausanne, Switzerland. However, there’s good reason to believe Khamenei is positioning for domestic hardliners. The Lausanne framework provides for the lifting of a big chunk of current sanctions, while keeping others related to Iran’s support for Hezbollah. Khamenei, in other words, could squirrel out of his seemingly tough demands if he wanted.
At any rate, if Khamenei really does want to blow up the deal, there’s no stopping him. Iran will either accept the deal or it won’t. If not, it’s really Khamenei’s loss.
That brings us to Schumer. He has announced his support for a Senate bill sponsored by Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee that would require congressional approval for any final deal with Iran. Since a veto by President Obama is certain, Republicans will need Democratic support to override it. Schumer, as the Senate minority leader heir-apparent, is sending a clear signal to Democrats that betraying the president is fine, while undermining arguments that the Corker bill is a mere exercise in partisanship.
The fact that Schumer is even daring to try this is surely evidence of the continuing weakness of the Democratic Party’s anti-war faction. Even Elizabeth Warren isn’t particularly anti-war.
However, pro-war Democrats have consistently underestimated the long-term political danger behind such casual aggressiveness. Just like Cory Booker, Schumer appears to have forgotten that voting for the Iraq War is the reason Hillary Clinton is not president today.
Many good old liberals were absolutely furious with the whole Democratic establishment for voting for Bush’s war of aggression and getting something like half a million people killed for no reason. They’re not so agitated at the moment, but if Schumer shanks what may be the last best hope at a deal before President Bush III takes the nation on another jolly Middle East crusade, then he will face an enormous backlash. And it should cost him the job he covets so badly.
According to Matt Yglesias, a former Schumer intern, the senator is a “really sincere and committed Israel hawk,” and sees himself as dedicated to protecting Israel’s security. If that is his motivation, it might be possible to convince Schumer that this Iran bargain is actually in Israel’s long-term interests. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thought the Iraq War would be a swell development for Israel, and it turned out to be an epic strategic disaster instead. Chances are that he’s wrong about this one, too, like he is about everything else.
But if Schumer can’t see reason, then someone else should be Senate minority leader — preferably someone who is more interested in peace than war.
By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, April 10, 2015