“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
Yes, it looks like Bibi Netanyahu has a better shot than Bougie Herzog does of forming the next government. There are many moving parts here, so it’s not completely set in stone. But the clear consensus by 5 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, an hour after the polls closed, was that Netanyahu and Likud have a clearer path to 61 seats than Herzog and the Zionist Union party do.
I’ll leave it to others who know the intricacies of Israeli politics better than I to parse all that. But let’s talk about the impact of a possible Netanyahu victory on our politics here in the United States. The answer is appallingly simple, I think: Though we won’t see this happen immediately or sensationally, it seems clear that, month by month and inch by gruesome inch, a Netanyahu win will move the Republican Party further to the right, to an unofficial (and who knows, maybe official) embrace of Netanyahu’s pivotal and tragic new position of opposition to a two-state solution.
Netanyahu declared said opposition, as you know, the day before the voting, when he stated, in a videotaped interview: “Whoever today moves to establish a Palestinian state and withdraw from territory is giving attack territory for Islamic extremists against the state of Israel. Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand.” When his questioner asked if this meant a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch, the prime minister said: “Indeed.”
Now, it’s been known in Israel and America that this was Netanyahu’s true view of things for some time. He partially gave the game away last summer during a press conference. But he never quite said it as directly as he did Monday, in the culminating event of his final, frenzied, fear-mongering campaign. Israeli leaders of the major parties have at least officially supported a two-state solution for many years. But as of Monday, opposition to a two-state solution is official Israel policy, and as long as Bibi’s the boss, it will remain so.
The United States has officially supported a two-state solution at least since George H.W. Bush was president. Presidents of both parties, and even virtually all serious presidential contenders from both parties, have been on record in favor of a two-state solution. Each president has put varying spins on what it means, and has invested more (Bill Clinton) or less (George W. Bush) elbow grease in trying to bring such a solution about. But it has been the bipartisan position in the United States for 25 years or more, and that has meant there at least was a pretense—and sometimes more than that—of a shared goal somewhere down the road between Israel and Fatah (admittedly not Hamas).
Now Netanyahu has ditched that. How will our Republicans react? Well, they love Netanyahu. As they recently demonstrated to us all, he is, in effect, their president, at least on matters relating to the Middle East and Iran. Is it so crazy to think that what Bibi says, the Republicans will soon also be saying?
Now throw Sheldon Adelson into this stewpot. There are many reasons the Republican Party as a whole has become so epileptically pro-Israel in recent years: their ardor for Bibi, the power of the lobby, the influence of the Christian Zionist movement, and more. But another one of those reasons is surely Adelson. When you’re that rich and that willing to throw multiple millions into U.S. and Israeli electoral politics (to the GOP and Likud), you become influential. Adelson is completely opposed to a Palestinian state. “To go and allow a Palestinian state is to play Russian roulette,” he said in October 2013.
There is already a history of GOP candidates making their hajjes, so to speak, out to Adelson’s Las Vegas base of operations and saying what he wants to hear. John Judis wrote about this in The New Republic a year ago. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and John Kasich trotted out to Vegas and filled Adelson’s ear with pretty music. Judis: “The presidential hopefuls made no attempt to distinguish their views on Israel and the Palestinians from Adelson’s.” Christie even apologized for having once used the phrase “occupied territories”!
So here we are today: Bibi, their hero, has said it openly, and “proved” (for the time being) that saying it pays electoral dividends; their base certainly believes it; and Adelson and his checkbook make it potentially quite a profitable thing for them to say. So watch the Republican candidates start announcing that they’re against the two-state solution. Some will be coy about it (Bush, probably). Others—Ted Cruz, and I suspect Walker, who’s already been acting like foreign policy is just a little make-believe game anyway, an arena that exists merely for the purpose of bashing Barack Obama and pandering to the base—will likely be less coy.
If this happens, do not underestimate the enormity of the change it heralds. As of now, I am told by people who know, no Republican legislator in Washington has explicitly disavowed a two-state solution. The closest Congress has come to doing so was on a 2011 resolution offered by then-Representative Joe Walsh that called for congressional support for Israeli annexation of “Judea and Samaria.” Walsh got a number of co-sponsors, 27 of whom are still in office.
But that was then. Four years later, Bibi is the American right’s über-hero, and there’s every reason to think Republicans will follow where he leads. And so a rare point on which our two parties were, however notionally, united, will likely be yet another point of division—and given the intensity of feeling here, bitter division. Republicans will think they can increase their percentage among Jewish voters. The current polls indicate that three-quarters to four-fifths of U.S. Jews (about the percentage that votes Democratic) back a two-state solution. But if Bibi proved anything these last few days, he proved that demagoguery and lies can alter percentages. Brace yourselves.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 17, 2015
It’s been a while, so you may have forgotten just what a great time it was for the national security hawks widely known as neoconservatives back in 2002 and 2003. With the memory of September 11 still fresh and Republicans controlling the White House and Congress, there was little to stand in the way of the dream of remaking the map of the Middle East, the region that had so vexed us for so long. Democrats sure weren’t going to—most of them were only too eager to show that they weren’t lily-livered pacifists, so they provided barely any impediment at all to a new war.
Sure, when it came to justifying an invasion of Iraq, the hawks had to exaggerate a little here, twist the facts a little there, spin out ridiculous scenarios everywhere. But it would all be worth it once victory was won. Saddam Hussein would fall, we’d quickly set up a new government, and democracy would spread through the region as a glorious new age dawned, brought forth by the beneficent power of American arms.
Then, of course, everything went wrong. Four thousand Americans dead, a couple of trillion dollars spent, Iraq ripped apart by sectarian conflict, and one clear victor in the war: Iran, which saw a dangerous enemy removed by the U.S. and a friendly government installed in Baghdad. Back at home, the neocons saw themselves mocked and scorned, and even worse, saw Barack Obama become president of the United States.
But they stayed true to their faith. They did not abandon for a moment the idea that with the proper application of military force, any country in the Middle East can be made to bend to America’s will. They knew their time would come again.
And maybe it has, or at least that time is growing closer. Forty-seven senators, nearly all of the upper house’s Republicans, sent a letter to the Iranian government intended to persuade it against signing a deal currently being negotiated with the United States and five other countries. It may have been a P.R. fiasco, but it clarified Republican thinking. They all agree with Benjamin Netanyahu that a “bad deal” with Iran is worse than no deal at all. As far as they’re concerned, any deal the Iranians would agree to is bad almost by definition. And if there’s no deal, then the case for war becomes so much clearer.
On Sunday, one such hawk, Joshua Muravchik, wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post stating bluntly what many of them were probably thinking but were afraid to say: Iran’s leaders can’t be reasoned with, sanctions won’t work, and that leaves us with only one alternative. “Does this mean that our only option is war? Yes, although an air campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would entail less need for boots on the ground than the war Obama is waging against the Islamic State, which poses far smaller a threat than Iran does.” In other words: Urgent as the need for war is, this will be easy. You might even call it a cakewalk.
How many neocons read Muravchik’s piece and went aquiver with delight? Sure, some people reacted with horror. But now it’s been said: War isn’t something we should fear or something to avoid. It should be welcomed and advocated without apology. There will be assurances of reluctance, of course—we wish it hadn’t come to this, truly we do!—but there will be no shame.
That’s particularly important; for such a long time, those who cheered us into war with Iraq have been told that shame is precisely what they ought to feel. But that kind of shame is not in the constitution of those who know that if you want to make an omelet, sometimes you have to bomb a few chicken farms to dust. And what Iran offers now is redemption. The success of this next war will wipe away everything that went wrong with the last one. This time, we’ll get it right.
We’ll destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities from the air in a series of precision strikes that leave their targets in rubble and produce no collateral damage. The people of Iran will cheer the American warplanes, then take the opportunity to overthrow the regime that has oppressed them for so long. With the Iranian problem solved, Israel will be safe and all the conflicts of the region will quiet, fade, and then disappear. Democracy and freedom will spread, for real this time. And everyone will look to the neocon hawks with admiration in their eyes and say, “You were right. You were right all along.”
That is their dream. And it will be easier to realize than you may think—at least up until the point where the bombs start falling. Spend the next year and a half sowing the seeds, writing the op-eds, going on television, giving the speeches, making the dark predictions of cataclysm should we fail to muster the courage to act. If the Iranians walk away from negotiations, declare that we now have no choice but to use force; if there is an agreement, declare that its weakness is precisely why we have no choice but to use force. Condemn those who disagree as weaklings who refuse to stand up to the ayatollahs and their plan to destroy Israel and then the United States. Pressure the Republican presidential candidates to take the most hawkish position possible, as they compete to see who’s the toughest and strongest. If next November brings the blessed return of a Republican to the White House, with a Republican Congress behind him, the war will be all but begun.
Yes, the neocon moment may be at hand once again. Aren’t you excited?
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 15, 2015
“Slavishly Beholden To A Small, Vocal Wing Of The Party”: Can John Boehner’s Catastrophic Speakership Get Any Worse?
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is not very good at his job. Or maybe he just hates the Republican Party. It’s impossible to tell anymore.
On Tuesday, Boehner finally threw in the towel on his foolhardy attempt to block President Obama’s immigration order via a fight over Homeland Security funding. It was a doomed attempt from the start, premised as it was on the belief that Democrats would magically give in to his demands. In the end, Boehner admitted a DHS shutdown was “simply not an option” and accepted the Senate’s bipartisan bill to fully fund DHS.
So what did Boehner accomplish from all this? Aside from placating his caucus’ insatiable right flank for a few months, nothing.
The DHS funding gambit was an exercise in cynicism from the start, and a transparent one at that. Boehner insisted for weeks that blame for a DHS shutdown should lie with Senate Democrats. But polls showed that a significant majority of Americans would have blamed Republicans. Even Fox News didn’t buy it.
By picking the losing fight anyway, Boehner once again painted his party as obstinate and clueless, and himself as slavishly beholden to a small, vocal wing of the party. It could have been worse. Had Boehner really allowed a DHS shutdown to occur — and weeks ago he said he was “certainly” willing to let that happen — it would have been a PR disaster for the party. Terrorism in the Middle East and Europe have dominated headlines for months, and a Homeland Security shutdown would have given Democrats a golden opportunity to assail Republicans for leaving America vulnerable.
Speaking of PR disasters, Tuesday also saw another calamity of Boehner’s creation, when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a divisive speech to Congress blasting the Obama administration’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. The speech was condemned as a partisan stunt, in large part because Boehner invited Netanyahu without first informing the White House. Many Democrats refused to attend, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who did go, came away calling it an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.”
Tuesday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Boehner, but it was only the latest dismal chapter in his disastrous speakership.
Since grabbing the Speaker’s gavel, Boehner has been unable to figure out how to get around his party’s right wing. In every battle, Boehner must weigh the demands of an obstreperous cadre that considers “compromise” a four-letter word against a course of rational governance. And when the hardliners’ demands win out, Boehner forges ahead with no game plan to extricate his party from disaster. The fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling standoff, the government shutdown, the DHS fight, and on and on — all are products of Boehner’s floundering political machinations.
At times, Boehner’s stumbles have blown up in epic fashion. On multiple occasions, he canceled votes at the last minute when it became clear he lacked the votes to avoid humiliating revolts from his own caucus. In his race to please the base, he couldn’t even sue Obama properly, as two law firms quit his long-promised litigation over the Affordable Care Act.
Boehner’s bumbling makes sense to a point. In limp fits of self-preservation, he kowtows to the right before making a show of grudgingly dealing with Democrats. This would be perfectly understandable if not for the fact that Boehner keeps harming his own party in the process. The government shutdown torpedoed the GOP’s image. More petulant brinksmanship will only bring more of the same.
And to what end? Either Boehner truly believes he can stare Democrats into submission — and now that he’s formed a pattern of caving in fight after fight, there’s no reason why Dems would ever crack in the future — or he’s doing this all to save his own skin. Either he’s a horrible tactician, or a self-interested leader willing to save himself at his party’s expense.
In other words: Boehner is either terrible at his job, or he hates the GOP.
By: Jon Terbush, The Week, March 9, 2015
“Strength, Toughness & Resolve Is All It Takes”: On Display At CPAC; How The Presidential Primary Makes GOP Candidates Simple-Minded
The Conservative Political Action Conference is always guaranteed to produce head-shaking moments, as one future presidential candidate after another tells the crowd of activists what they want to hear, and then some. It’s a concentrated version of the long Republican primary process, with everything that characterizes contemporary American conservatism cooked down to its viscous essence over the course of a few days.
You may have already heard about Scott Walker’s comments yesterday at the conference, in which he made an analogy between his fight to crush unions in Wisconsin and the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first I want to look at something Marco Rubio said this morning, because they go together in a way that tells us a lot about what we’re going to be hearing from these candidates for the next year and a half.
Speaking from the CPAC stage, Rubio said that “if we wanted to defeat [ISIS] militarily, we could do it.” But we haven’t done that, because President Obama “doesn’t want to upset Iran.” I’m sure many in the crowd nodded their heads. First you have the implication that despite the thousands of air strikes we’ve launched against ISIS, we’re not really trying to defeat them, and that doing so would be simple if only Obama had the backbone. But he won’t, because he’s so solicitous of another of our enemies, Iran. If you know that this president is a Muslim-coddling, terrorist-sympathizing weakling, it makes perfect sense.
But in reality, Iran, a Shiite country, despises the Sunni extremists of ISIS. ISIS threatens the government of Iraq, which is Iran’s ally (or lapdog, depending on how you look at it), which is why Iran has sent troops there to fight the terrorist group. Eliminating ISIS is exactly what Iran wants us to do.
Perhaps Marco Rubio understands that, and if given the chance he’d revise his comments. But doing so wouldn’t play too well with the people whose votes he needs, because it would be an acknowledgement that — guess what — things can get pretty complicated in the Middle East. We can be trying to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons yet still have shared goals with them when it comes to another issue.
That simplifying impulse is what got Walker in trouble, too. When he said yesterday in answer to a question about ISIS, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” the problem wasn’t, as many people said, that he was comparing Wisconsinites exercising their free speech rights in opposing his efforts to crush unions to brutal terrorists (he clarified later that that isn’t what he meant to say). The problem was that he was arguing that serious problems, whether it’s your own constituents who disagree with you or a terrorist organization, have essentially the same solution: strength, toughness, resolve. That’s all it takes, and he’s got it. He may not know a lot about foreign affairs, but he doesn’t need to know a lot about foreign affairs.
This is hardly new in the GOP. In 1964, Ronald Reagan said in a speech supporting Barry Goldwater, “They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.” Republicans have seldom veered from the conviction that in foreign affairs in particular, there are nothing but simple answers.
The trouble is, we’ve seen where that gets you. George W. Bush knew in his gut that every problem had a simple answer. Just as Rubio sees Iran and ISIS in a fictional alliance, Bush thought that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda must have been working together, because they’re all Bad Guys, right? And once we show our strength and resolve, the problems will melt before us. We all know how well that worked out.
Try to imagine a Republican presidential candidate who saw the world as a complicated place where sometimes we have to choose between bad options, being strong only gets you so far, and you have to consider the possibility that your actions could have unintended consequences. Would he be willing to say that to his party’s primary voters? Or would he tell them that actually, the answers are all simple, if only we have the courage to see them clearly and act?
I think we all know the answer to that. Campaigns in both parties are seldom going to be full of nuanced exploration of policy issues. But the GOP primary campaign forces its contenders to be particularly simple-minded, whether that’s who they really are or they’re just pretending.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 27, 2015