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“One Step Too Far”: Bibi Netanyahu — aka ‘The Republican Senator From Israel’ — May Have Made A Fatal Political Mistake

Set aside, for the moment, the diplomatic row being sparked by Speaker of the House John Boehner as he seeks to create two conflicting foreign policies for the United States—one pursued by the President and the other pursued by the Congress.

Boehner’s hubris, in conjunction with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s desire to interfere with American policy while seeking to bolster his re-election campaign, may turn out to be the very political screw-up that will allow the joint ticket forged by the Labor-Hatnuah political parties to bring an end to Netanyahu’s long reign atop the Israeli government.

According to a Channel 10 poll out this past Thursday in Israel, the joint ticket offered by the Labor-Hatnuah coalition currently stands to grab 24 seats in the Israeli Knesset in the coming election—up one seat from the previous poll—while Netanyahu’s Likud Party is holding steady with just 20 seats.

The poll also projects that the party leaders atop the Labor-Hatnuah ticket, Issac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, have an increasingly good chance of forming the next Israeli government by assembling a coalition of between 61 and 68 seats in support of their government.

It turns out that there are no shortage of Israeli voters who don’t care for the idea of their Prime Minister jumping into the middle of America’s internal disagreements over foreign policy and further understand that, at the end of the day, Israel remains deeply dependent upon the United States for critical assistance in the never-ending battle to preserve and protect their nation.

According to Hatnuah leader, Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu is sabotaging israel’s critical relationship with Washington.

“A responsible prime minister who first thinks of the good of his country’s citizens does not do such a thing,” Livni said, adding, “A responsible prime minister would know to work with the president of the United States — with any president — and protect our most important interests.”

If the polls are to be believed, there are quite a few Israelis who share Livni’s take on the subject.

So, how did all this happen?

It turns out, the plan to have the Israeli Prime Minister speak to Congress, without first discussing with the White House, was the brainchild of Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer who has, for weeks now, been endorsing the re-election of Bibi Netanyahu on American television programs despite explicit Israeli Civil Service regulations prohibiting him from doing so.

An example of Dermer’s breaking his nation’s rules to play politics?

As reported by Israli newspaper Haaretz, Dermer broke those rules while being interviewed by Jorge Ramos on American cable network, Fusion.

During the discussion, Dermer said, “I have no doubt that when they [the Israeli public] look at all the people that stand for the leadership of the country, that they will have confidence in the leadership of prime minister Netanyahu.”

Dermer’s words came despite an admonition issued by Israel Civil Service Commissioner Moshe Dyan noting that, “A state employee must be careful that his actions or behavior cannot be interpreted as being aimed at promoting the interest of any particular party or candidate.” Anyone violating these instructions, Dyan said, “will face criminal or disciplinary proceedings in accordance with the law.”

In addition to Dermer’s apparent violation of Israeli law, he also revealed his penchant for duplicitous behavior by meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry just one day before Speaker Boehner announced his invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu, yet never once mentioned to Kerry what was about to happen.

Making it all the more offensive, the White House has explicitly gone out of its way, since the announcement of the Israeli elections, to avoid saying or doing anything that could be interpreted as support for the Herzog/Livni ticket.

At least the American President had the good sense not to further endanger his relationship with Netanyahu and the Israeli people.

In reviewing Netanyahu’s political ploy, and his ambassador’s duplicitous behavior, it seems fair to ask whether this is really how friends treat friends?

While you may entirely agree with Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu to address the Congress, can you possibly not be disturbed that the Israeli ambassador to our country went out of his way to not tell our Secretary of State of his plan to interfere with our foreign policy and seek to embarrass our president in the process?

Israeli voters know these details and, by many accounts, are not all that happy with the way Netanyahu is inserting himself into the politics of the United States. What’s more, Israelis understand that, should Netanyahu win re-election, they are now looking at two years—if not more should a Democrat take the White House in 2016—of a very cold relationship with the White House at a time when this is likely not in the best interest of Israel.

Of course, just as Netanyahu has already pushed the date of his speech—originally scheduled for February 11—to a date in March just two weeks before the election, my prediction is that Netanyahu will realize his mistake (or take note of the polls) and seek to push the speech well past election day.

By then, it may be too late as this latest insult to the American President may prove to be one step too far for the man many Israelis have dubbed “the Republican Senator from the great State of Israel.”

As for Boehner’s behavior, I’ll have more on this later.

For the moment, suffice it to say that using the Israeli Prime Minister in an attempt to embarrass the President of the United States is beyond shameful.

I get that the Speaker doesn’t like the President or his policies. I get that many readers of this piece will have snarky responses about how this President already embarrasses himself and our nation, etc., etc., etc.

But what neither the Speaker, nor those who cannot manage to think beyond their distaste for this president, understand is the truly unprecedented step Boehner has taken by joining with the leader of a foreign nation against his own president.

Presidents come and go. However, respect for the office of the presidency, particularly on the part of the man who is second in the line of succession to the presidency, should not.

Through his actions, Boehner may have scored some points for his party and for his preferred policy option vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear negotiations. But in the process, the Speaker of the American House of Representatives has succeeded in embarrassing the Office of the President.

Considering that Speaker Boehner has failed to accomplish anything of note during his Speakership, I can only wonder how it must feel to have his legacy be his effort to disgrace the American President in the effort to bolster the political chances of a foreign leader.

I can’t imagine it would feel very good, unless Boehner has now become so consumed by party politics that he no longer can be bothered to consider what is best for his country in the long run.

While I have often disagreed with Speaker Boehner, I have always kind of liked him in the belief that, while our solutions might be at odds, he wanted to do what he believes is best for America.

It would be a struggle for me to harbor such positive feelings going forward.

Seeking to damage any American President by helping a foreign leader embarrass our own leader can never be considered something that is best for the nation. And that is simply the truth no matter what your political persuasion or your feelings about the current occupant of the Oval Office.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Contributor, Forbes, January 25, 2015

January 27, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, John Boehner | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fable Of Rand Paul”: Less Of A Thoroughbred With Stamina Than A One-Adjective Pony

“The most interesting man in politics” is what Politico Magazine crowned Rand Paul in September, when it placed him at the top of a list of 50 people to keep an eye on. And Time magazine used those exact six words, in that exact order, next to a photograph of Paul on its cover last month.

The adjective bears notice. Interesting. Not powerful. Not popular. Not even influential.

They’re saying that he’s a great character.

And that’s not the same as a great candidate.

You could easily lose sight of that, given the bonanza of media coverage that he has received, much of it over the past week and a half, as journalists eagerly slough off the midterms, exuberantly handicap the coming presidential race and no longer digress to apologize for getting into the game too soon. The game’s on, folks. From here forward, it’s all 2016 all the time.

And in order to keep the story varied and vivid, those of us chronicling it will insist on stocking it with players who break the rules and the mold, who present the possibility of twists and surprises, whose surnames aren’t Bush or Clinton, whose faces are somewhat fresh.

Cue Rand Paul. He gives good narrative.

He’s an ophthalmologist who never held office before his successful 2010 Senate race. He’s got that sporadically kooky dad. He’s a dove in a party aflutter with hawks. And he’s a gleeful nuisance, which he demonstrated when he commandeered the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours and filled Ted Cruz with filibuster envy.

All of that has made him a media sensation. But none of it would necessarily serve a quest for the Republican presidential nomination. At this point Paul is as much a political fable as a political reality, and his supposed strengths — a libertarian streak that appeals to some young people, an apparent comfort with reaching out to minorities and expanding the Republican base — pale beside his weaknesses. They’re many.

And they’re potentially ruinous.

The dovish statements and reputation are no small hurdle. No Republican nominee in recent decades has had a perspective on foreign policy and military intervention quite like Paul’s, and there’s little evidence that the party’s establishment or a majority of its voters would endorse it.

Nor is there any compelling sign that the party is moving in his direction. In the wake of Russia’s provocations and Islamic militants’ butchery, Americans just elected a raft of new Republican senators — including the military veterans Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Joni Ernst in Iowa and Dan Sullivan in Alaska — who are more aligned with John McCain’s worldview than with Paul’s, and that raises serious questions about the currency of his ideas and his ability to promote them. He gets attention. But does he have any real sway?

He himself seems to doubt some of his positions and has managed in his four short years in the Senate to flip and flop enough to give opponents a storehouse of ammunition.

Adopting a stark, absolutist stance, he initially said that he opposed all foreign aid. Then he carved out an exception for Israel.

First he expressed grave skepticism about taking on the Islamic State. Then he blasted President Obama for not taking it on forcefully enough.

His language about Russia went from pacific to truculent. His distaste for Medicare went from robust to tentative.

These adjustments suggest not just political calculation but, in some instances, amateurism. He’s a work in remarkably clumsy progress, with glimmers of recklessness and arrogance, and he often seems woefully unprepared for the national stage.

The most striking example was his assertion in an interview with Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast in September that John McCain had met and been photographed with members of the Islamic State. Paul was parroting a patently suspicious story that had pinged around the Internet, and the problem wasn’t simply that he accepted it at face value. He failed to notice that it had been thoroughly debunked, including in The Times.

At best he looked foolish. At worst he looked like someone “too easily captivated by the kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories that excite many of his and his father’s supporters,” as Mark Salter, a longtime McCain aide, wrote on the Real Clear Politics website.

Paul can be prickly and defensive to an inappropriate, counterproductive degree, as he was when dealing with accusations last year that he had used plagiarized material in speeches, an opinion article and a book.

In a story in The Times by Jim Rutenberg and Ashley Parker, Paul conceded “mistakes” of inadequate attribution. But he hardly sounded contrite. He lashed out at the people who had exposed the problem, grousing, “This is coming from haters.” And in promising to have his aides use footnotes in future materials, he said, “What we are going to do from here forward, if it will make people leave me the hell alone, is we’re going to do them like college papers.”

People are not going to leave him the hell alone, not when he’s being tagged in some quarters as the Republican front-runner, and his struggle to make peace with that is another liability.

But why the front-runner designation in the first place?

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll last month, 21 percent of voters who lean Republican named Mitt Romney as their preferred candidate in a primary or caucus, while 11 percent named Jeb Bush, 9 percent Mike Huckabee and 9 percent Paul. Two other national polls don’t show any growth in support for Paul over the course of 2014, despite all the coverage of him.

In one survey of Iowa Republicans in October, he trailed not only Huckabee and Paul Ryan but also Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon. And in a survey of New Hampshire Republicans, he trailed not only Huckabee and Bush but also Chris Christie.

What really distinguishes him, apart from some contrarian positions that are red meat for ravenous journalists, is that he’s been so obvious and unabashed about his potential interest in the presidency. He’s taken more pains than perhaps anyone other than Ted Cruz to get publicity. He’s had less competition for the Republican spotlight than he’ll have in the months to come.

And that’s given him a stature disproportionate to his likely fate. It has made him, in the words of a Washington Post headline last June, “the most interesting man in the (political) world.” There it is again, that one overused superlative. Makes you wonder if he’s less a thoroughbred with stamina than a one-adjective pony.

 

By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 15, 2014

November 17, 2014 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Executive Orders To Undo Executive Orders”: Does Rand Paul Want To Repeal All Executive Orders? Depends When You Ask

Does Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) want to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation? It depends on when you ask him.

Senator Paul raised the subject during a Thursday night appearance in Manchester, New Hampshire. During a question-and-answer session with Republican activists, a young man reportedly asked Paul, “If you were to receive the presidency, would you repeal previous executive orders and actually restrain the power of the presidency?”

“I think the first executive order that I would issue would be to repeal all previous executive orders,” Paul replied, as quoted by Real Clear Politics.

This would be problematic for a number of reasons. Although Republicans would presumably love to do away with President Obama’s executive order protecting some young immigrants from deportation, for example, repealing others would be a tougher sell. Would Paul really want to reverse President Lincoln’s order freeing the slaves, President Truman’s order desegregating the armed forces, or President Kennedy’s order barring discrimination in the federal government?

Well, not when you put it that way.

“Well, I mean, I think those are good points, and it was an offhand comment, so obviously, I don’t want to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation and things like that,” Paul told Real Clear Politics when questioned on the broader impact of his plan. “Technically, you’d have to look and see exactly what that would mean, but the bottom line is it’s a generalized statement that I think too much is done by executive order, particularly under this president. Too much power has gravitated to the executive.”

In reality, President Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any president since Franklin Roosevelt. But still, Paul’s point is clear: He was speaking extemporaneously, and doesn’t actually want to repeal all executive orders.

That excuse would be easier to swallow if Paul hadn’t made the same promise to the Louisville Chamber of Commerce in August:

Asked directly if he would issue executive orders as president, Paul said the only circumstance would be to overturn the ones made by his predecessors.

“Only to undo executive orders. There’s thousands of them that can be undone,” said Paul. “And I would use executive orders to undo executive orders that have encroached on our jurisprudence, our ability to defend ourselves, the right to a trial, all of those I would undo through executive order.”

Paul later backed away from that comment in much the same way, telling reporters that “It wasn’t sort of a response of exactness.”

In fairness to Senator Paul, it seems highly unlikely that he really wants to resegregate the military in an effort to roll back executive overreach. But his clunky attempt to get on both sides of the issue has become a theme for him, which has repeated itself on Medicare, immigration, foreign aid, and a multitude of other topics.

His Democratic rivals have taken notice.

“Rand Paul’s problem isn’t that he changes positions — it’s that he insists that he can simultaneously hold multiple, contradictory positions on a litany of key issues,” Democratic National Committee press secretary Michael Czin said in a statement. “As Paul gears up for a presidential run, he changes positions to suit the moment or to match the views of the group in front of him. From confronting ISIL to ending aid to Israel to whether he supports the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, Rand Paul disingenuously tries to have it every way.”

Paul may be able to get away with clunky flip-flopping in the Senate, but it will become a major liability for him if he pursues the presidency in 2016. Clearly, Democrats are ready and eager to attack his lack of consistency. If Paul isn’t careful, they could set the narrative for him long before the first votes are cast.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, September 15, 2014

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cheney’s Iraq Facts Are Still All Wrong”: Factual Errors, Misleading Statements, A Continuation Of His Eight Years As Vice President

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s September 10, 2014 speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was particularly bad from both a timing and protocol perspective given that the President was going to lay out his strategy to confront ISIS that same day. But more importantly, the many factual errors and misleading statements about the Obama administration in his speech did not contribute to a “fair and balanced” debate about the foreign policy challenges facing this country. The abundant factual errors and misleading statements in Cheney’s speech are very serious. Jarring to the ear, they should remind us of Cheney’s lack of foreign policy skill and his poisonous decisions over the past decades. Let me mention but a few.

The most obvious was Cheney’s praise of President’s Nixon for making the tough choice of “standing by Israel in the Six Day War,” and implying that Obama was not doing so. Unfortunately for Cheney, the Six Day War actually occurred two years before Nixon took office, in 1967. Nixon was president during the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt in 1973, but Cheney’s recollection of staunch support for Israel is mistaken. Nixon’s National Security advisor, Henry Kissinger, persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir not to launch a preemptive strike against the Egyptian forces massing on Israelis’ border, as well as slowing our resupply of Israel during the battle. By contrast, Obama rushed extra funds to Israel for its Iron Dome anti-missile system during its recent conflict with Gaza.

Cheney is also wrong in trying to blame Obama for his “arbitrary and hasty withdrawal of residual forces from Iraq.” It was President Bush and Vice President Cheney himself, who in December 2008 signed the Framework Agreement with the Iraqi government, requiring all American troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Since this original agreement was ratified by the Iraqi Parliament, any modifications to the Bush-Cheney agreement would also have to be ratified by the Iraqi Parliament — something US military lawyers also insisted on. Obama was willing to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq. But when Maliki told Obama that there were not enough votes in the Iraqi Parliament, all the troops had to leave.

Cheney is also wrong to blame Obama for the establishment of the Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate in Iraq. It is Malikis dictatorial and narrow-minded governing style and politicization of the Iraqi security forces that created distrust among the Sunnis and weakened the Iraqi Army, allowing ISIL to seize the territory they now control. Maliki was Bush and Cheney’s handpicked candidate for Prime Minister.

Cheney’s comments about the defense budget are also way off the mark. According to him, the Nation’s Armed services constantly are being “subjected to irrational budget cuts having nothing to do with strategy.” However, this has nothing to do with Obama. The caps on the defense budget are mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, pushed by the Republicans after they took control of the House in 2010 in order to reduce the deficit. In fact for the past two years, Obama has sought to mitigate the impact of the cuts by proposing over $115 billion in additions to the regular defense budget over the next five years, and used the Overseas Contingency Budget (OCO) to fund about $30 billion in regular budget items.

But Cheney’s most egregious mistake is to ignore the fact that the chaos in the Middle East is a direct result of the mindless, needless, senseless invasion and occupation of Iraq that he helped engineer. He seems to forget that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003 he pushed for. There would be no ISIS without the U.S. invasion. Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, was a nobody until we imprisoned and tortured him.

Cheney is also wrong in arguing that Obama has a distrust of American power. I guess he missed the hundreds of drone strikes and Special Forces troops that Obama has launched against Al Qaeda and terrorist leaders throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to Osama bin Laden, Obama’s use of American power and the American military took out the head of the Al-Shabab terrorist group behind the Kenyan mall shootings.

Cheney’s hypocrisy is best summed up in his comments about our Armed Forces. He credits them with maintaining the structure of our security that has been in place and defended by the United States since World War II. However, Cheney’s public support rings hollow. During the war in Vietnam — which claimed the lives of over 60,000 young Americans — Cheney dodged the draft, racking up five deferments. His praise for the armed forces now stands in contrast to his actions then.

Cheney’s factual errors, misleading statements and hypocrisy are a continuation of his eight years as vice president. Blaming Obama for everything that is not right in the world does not help this country deal with the challenges it faces in the Middle East. As a starting point, Cheney should have acknowledged his own errors in the Middle East that destabilized the region in the first place.

 

By: Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; The Huffington Post Blog, September 12, 2014

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Foreign Policy, Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

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