There’s a scene in the comedy film “High Anxiety” in which a driver meets Mel Brooks at the airport and offers to pick up his cumbersome trunk. “I got it, I got it, I got it,” the driver insists as he struggles to lift the luggage before gasping, “I ain’t got it!” It lands with a thud.
The sequence came to mind recently as I thought about why I’m so skeptical of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential prospects — and it doesn’t concern the scandal surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane closures.
Having observed Christie on the national scene for a number of years now, I’ve been left with the impression that he isn’t aware of what he doesn’t know. He’s in love with his image as a tough-talking pragmatic governor and thinks he can go before just about any audience and rock em’ and sock em’ with his New Jersey humor and war stories about budget battles. I imagine that he goes before new audiences thinking to himself, “I’ve got this,” without doing the homework necessary to really understand the nuances of national or international politics.
This struck me for the first time when I saw Christie speak at the annual dinner of the Cato Institute in May 2012, in which he rattled the libertarian audience at the outset by referring to them as “a small group of committed conservatives.”
Anybody who has a basic understanding of the intellectual traditions of the limited-government movement would know that libertarians take great pains to differentiate themselves ideologically from conservatives. Referring to a Cato Institute audience as “committed conservatives” is kind of like speaking at a jazz conference and mixing up John Coltrane and Kenny G.
I was reminded of this incident when controversy ensued following Christie’s appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas in late March. After failing to mention Israel at all during his opening remarks, he was asked to offer his reflections on his 2012 visit there.
“I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day,” Christie said during his remarks.
Christie’s overall intention, of course, was to tell the pro-Israel audience that he’s with them in steadfastly supporting the traditional U.S. ally. And yet he sloppily used the terminology “occupied territories.” Not only is the term inaccurate (as even the internationally accepted definition of occupation requires that the area in dispute is part of another sovereign nation), but the term endorses the Palestinian narrative that says any Jewish presence in the area is illegitimate.
According to a source who works within the pro-Israel community, Christie has repeatedly declined offers from those friendly to the idea of his candidacy to receive more advice and briefing on the issue. So it’s no surprise that the savvier RJC audience members were left with the impression that whatever his sympathies, he had little understanding of the dynamics of the Middle East.
To be clear, neither of these dustups are likely to be remembered much by the time the 2016 Republican primaries heat up. I’m not predicting a series of attack ads centered around his “occupied territories” remark. But Christie’s candidacy will be killed in its crib if he thinks he can rely on razzmatazz to impress Republican audiences — especially ones who are already suspicious of him.
His ego may have been inflated by the rousing reception he would receive when campaigning for Mitt Romney in Iowa, New Hampshire and other key states. But there’s a huge difference between being the warm-up act and undergoing the scrutiny of a candidate himself, where every slip-up gets magnified.
If he continues to take his “everything I need to know I learned in New Jersey” approach to national politics, Christie’s presidential candidacy is likely to end with a thud.
By: Philip Klein, Columnist, The Washington Times, April 10, 2014
We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The same pattern can be seen even in America – especially in American politics.
Before the rise of the nation-state, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the world was mostly tribal. Tribes were united by language, religion, blood, and belief. They feared other tribes and often warred against them. Kings and emperors imposed temporary truces, at most.
But in the past three hundred years the idea of nationhood took root in most of the world. Members of tribes started to become citizens, viewing themselves as a single people with patriotic sentiments and duties toward their homeland. Although nationalism never fully supplanted tribalism in some former colonial territories, the transition from tribe to nation was mostly completed by the mid twentieth century.
Over the last several decades, though, technology has whittled away the underpinnings of the nation state. National economies have become so intertwined that economic security depends less on national armies than on financial transactions around the world. Global corporations play nations off against each other to get the best deals on taxes and regulations.
News and images move so easily across borders that attitudes and aspirations are no longer especially national. Cyber-weapons, no longer the exclusive province of national governments, can originate in a hacker’s garage.
Nations are becoming less relevant in a world where everyone and everything is interconnected. The connections that matter most are again becoming more personal. Religious beliefs and affiliations, the nuances of one’s own language and culture, the daily realities of class, and the extensions of one’s family and its values – all are providing people with ever greater senses of identity.
The nation state, meanwhile, is coming apart. A single Europe – which seemed within reach a few years ago – is now succumbing to the centrifugal forces of its different languages and cultures. The Soviet Union is gone, replaced by nations split along tribal lines. Vladimir Putin can’t easily annex the whole of Ukraine, only the Russian-speaking part. The Balkans have been Balkanized.
Separatist movements have broken out all over — Czechs separating from Slovaks; Kurds wanting to separate from Iraq, Syria, and Turkey; even the Scots seeking separation from England.
The turmoil now consuming much of the Middle East stems less from democratic movements trying to topple dictatorships than from ancient tribal conflicts between the two major denominations of Isam – Sunni and Shia.
And what about America? The world’s “melting pot” is changing color. Between the 2000 and 2010 census the share of the U.S. population calling itself white dropped from 69 to 64 percent, and more than half of the nation’s population growth came from Hispanics.
It’s also becoming more divided by economic class. Increasingly, the rich seem to inhabit a different country than the rest.
But America’s new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).
Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property).
Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn’t); and its own media that confirm its beliefs.
The tribes even look different. One is becoming blacker, browner, and more feminine. The other, whiter and more male. (Only 2 percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were African-American, for example.)
Each tribe is headed by rival warlords whose fighting has almost brought the national government in Washington to a halt. Increasingly, the two tribes live separately in their own regions – blue or red state, coastal or mid-section, urban or rural – with state or local governments reflecting their contrasting values.
I’m not making a claim of moral equivalence. Personally, I think the Republican right has gone off the deep end, and if polls are to be believed a majority of Americans agree with me.
But the fact is, the two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest – which is not that different from what’s happening in the rest of the world.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, March 23, 2014
Last May, Mitt Romney was reportedly “restless” and decided he would “re-emerge in ways that will “help shape national priorities.’” And the failed presidential candidate hasn’t stopped talking since.
One can only speculate as to why Romney refuses to quietly, graciously step aside, but it appears he takes a certain satisfaction from bashing the president who defeated him, as often as possible, on as many topics as possible.
Today, the former one-term governor with no foreign policy experience decided to try his hand at condemning President Obama’s policy towards Ukraine and Russia, writing a Wall Street Journal op-ed, complaining about “failed leadership.”
When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community – and to the White House – that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more.
Wrong. U.S. intelligence officials didn’t think Putin would try to take Crimea. For that matter, Russian officials didn’t think so, either. It wasn’t a smart strategic move, which made it that much less predictable.
That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.
That’s wrong, too. Daniel Larison’s take rings true: “The U.S. was in no position to reassure Moscow that it would not lose influence in Kiev, since the Kremlin assumed that the U.S. and EU were actively seeking to reduce its influence by encouraging Yanukovych’s overthrow. Romney thinks that the U.S. could have headed off the crisis by threatening Russia with punishment for things it had not yet done, but that ignores [the fact] that Russia has behaved the way that it has because it already thought that Western interference in Ukraine was too great.”
The time for securing the status-of-forces signatures from leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan was before we announced in 2011 our troop-withdrawal timeline, not after it. In negotiations, you get something when the person across the table wants something from you, not after you have already given it away.
That’s wrong, too. Romney fails to acknowledge that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan were prepared to negotiate over a long-term U.S. troop presence beyond 2014 back in 2011. (He also fails to acknowledge that he personally endorsed a troop-withdrawal timeline in 2008 – three years before 2011.)
It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.
That’s wrong, too. The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project documents countries that have a more favorable opinion of the United States now than when President Obama was first inaugurated, and more importantly, the same study shows an even larger list of countries that respect the U.S. more than when Bush/Cheney brought our international reputation down to alarming depths.
Taken together, Romney’s op-ed doesn’t amount to much. But what’s especially odd is that the failed candidate is even trying.
Foreign policy has never been a signature issue for the Massachusetts Republican, and when he tried to broach the subject, Romney generally failed. Indeed, looking back at 2012, let’s not forget that Romney’s own advisers said “they have engaged with him so little on issues of national security that they are uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.”
On the Middle East peace process, Romney said he intended to ”kick the ball down the field and hope” that someone else figures something out. His handling of the crisis in Libya “revealed him as completely craven.” On Iran, Romney and his aides couldn’t even agree on one policy position. On Afghanistan, Romney occasionally forgot about the war.
Remember the time Romney “fled down a hallway and escaped up an escalator” to avoid a reporter asking his position on the NATO mission in Libya? Or how about the time he said there are “insurgents” in Iran? Or when he flip-flopped on Iraq? Or when he looked ridiculous during the incident involving Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng?
Perhaps my personal favorite was when Romney tried to trash the New START nuclear treaty in an op-ed, but flubbed every relevant detail, prompting Fred Kaplan to respond, “In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and – let’s not mince words – thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney’s attack on the New START treaty.”
Thomas Friedman noted shortly before the election, “For the first time in a long, long time, a Democrat is running for president and has the clear advantage on national security policy.” Part of this, the columnist argued, is that Mitt Romney acts “as if he learned his foreign policy at the International House of Pancakes.”
So why is this guy writing WSJ op-eds as if he’s a credible voice on international affairs?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 19, 2014
“Putin’s War, Not Obama’s”: Hear This Republican’s, Putin’s Halo Will Disappear The Moment Russian Troops Kill Innocent Ukrainians
There’s a fallacy afoot in the efforts to blame President Obama for the crisis in Ukraine. It goes like this: Because American’s hand on the global tiller is unsteady and President Obama failed to enforce his “red line” in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin feels empowered to threaten and perhaps make war with Ukraine because he does not fear repercussions. Moreover, by letting Russia invent the solution to Syria’s transgression, Putin has earned some political capital that he feels he can spend. There’s a veneer of plausibility on these allegations. The president’s refusal to endorse some type of kinetic, military punishment against Bashar al-Assad stands as a moral failure to many, and could conceivably have further opened the aperture for murderous misbehavior by other tyrants. And Russia enjoyed its (rare) moment in the sun as the international peace-broker.
But the “if we had only done this” school of foreign policy can easily hang itself by its own noose. The reason why President Obama did not intervene in Syria has more to do with domestic and international norms collected after the disaster of the Iraq War. For the sake of argument, it is more plausible to assume that Americans would be less opposed to military action in Middle Eastern counties if the torment of Iraq were not on their minds. Also plausible: Had the military not learned about modern Middle Eastern adventurism and had generals not developed their own (probably correct) biases against one-off “signaling” military strikes outside the realm of counter-terrorism, Obama’s military advisers might well have forecast different outcomes had he decided to punish Assad by, say, airstrikes against the command and control structure, or by a bigger commitment to Syrian rebels.
One undeniable truth: Iraq weakened the U.S. more than anything done since. Maybe Obama overlearned its lessons; maybe we all have. But nothing empowered Vladimir Putin more than America’s squandering of moral standing in the early part of this century.
I also find Ukraine and Syria to be different genotypically and phenotypically. Syria was never part of the Soviet empire. The Ukraine was a critical part of it. There is no equivalent Crimean problem in Syria; the duly, if unappealingly elected president of the Ukraine, has asked for Russia’s help here. (Yes, we might think that Viktor Yanukovych’s election was not legitimate, but that is not a very solid principle upon which to base a recognition of legitimacy; if it were, America really should never attend U.N. generally assemblies and ought to withdraw from half of the treaties it has negotiated.) Crimea has also directly appealed for Russia’s military assistance.
None of this is to say that Putin faces a clear path forward. Any post-Sochi halo will disappear the moment Russian troops kill innocent Ukrainians. The West will regroup against Russia for the duration of the conflict. Putin’s domestic political standing is at stake, too. War would be disastrous, but Russians don’t want to lose Ukraine to the West, and they are particularly protective of ethnic Russians in the Crimea. What I don’t know, in other words, is whether the United States’s protests would have mattered any more to Putin if Obama had somehow used the U.S. military to punish Syria.
By: Marc Ambinder, The Compass, The Week, March 1, 2014
“Self-Awareness Is A Virtue”: Karl Rove Has Taken The Practice Of Projecting One’s Flaws Onto One’s Foes To A Level Of Performance Art
Despite his missteps, Republican strategist Karl Rove still has a weekly column in the Wall Street Journal, and his latest submission is a gem that shines bright.
Most of the 700-word op-ed complains about the Affordable Care Act, but it’s the conclusion that captures a failure of self-awareness that was unintentionally hilarious.
Mr. Obama’s pattern is to act, or fail to act, in a way that will leave his successor with a boatload of troubles. The nation’s public debt was equal to roughly 40% of GDP when Mr. Obama took office. At last year’s end it was 72% of GDP. […]
Then there’s Medicare, whose Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will go bankrupt in 2026. For five years, Mr. Obama has failed to offer a plan to restore Medicare’s fiscal health as he is required by the law establishing Medicare Part D. When Medicare goes belly-up, he will be out of office.
From the record number of Americans on food stamps to the worst labor-force participation rate since the 1970s to rising political polarization to retreating U.S. power overseas and increasing Middle East chaos and violence, Mr. Obama’s successor – Republican or Democratic – will inherit a mess.
So, let me get this straight. Karl Rove, a former deputy of chief of staff in the Bush/Cheney White House, is worried about a president who will leave his successor with high deficits, a weak economy, a divided electorate, and violence in the Middle East.
Did he even read this before submitting it? Did it not occur to him how ironic his complaints might seem, given that his former boss turned a massive surplus into a massive deficit, saw the economy suffer a near-catastrophic crash, and left two disastrous wars for Obama to clean up?
As for the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, one wonders if Rove realizes that it was Obama, not Bush, who extended the program’s fiscal health?
The larger takeaway, however, is that Karl Rove has taken the practice of projecting one’s flaws onto one’s foes to a level of performance art.
It’s a pattern I started documenting a few years ago, but which Rove somehow manages to add data points to with alarming regularity.
* Rove has tried to buy elections, so he accuses Democrats of trying to buy elections.
* Rove has relied on scare tactics, so he accuses Democrats of relying on scare tactics.
* Rove embraced a permanent campaign, so he accuses Democrats of embracing a “permanent campaign.”
* Rove relied on pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted political events, so he accuses Democrats of relying on “pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted” political events.
* Rove snubbed news outlets that he considered partisan, so he accuses Democrats of snubbing news outlets that they consider partisan.
* Rove had a habit of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons, so he accuses Democrats of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons.
But despite all of this, for Rove to complain about a president bequeathing high deficits, a struggling economy, and a mess in the Middle East breaks new ground in failures of self-awareness.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 14, 2014