Former vice president Dick Cheney resurfaced again this week, to sharply criticize President Barack Obama for being on vacation when ISIS murdered American journalist James Foley.
During a Wednesday night appearance on Fox News’ Hannity, Cheney reiterated his belief that President Obama doesn’t understand foreign policy, and slammed him for playing golf after making a statement condemning Foley’s killing and denouncing ISIS as a “cancer.”
“Every day we find new evidence that he’d rather be on the golf course than he would be dealing with a crisis that’s developing rapidly in the Middle East,” Cheney insisted.
Cheney is not the only person to criticize President Obama for taking a working vacation, nor is his criticism the most ridiculous (for example, The Hill recently criticized the president for taking a walk while “the White House grapples with crises at home and abroad”). But the complaints are especially galling coming from the 46th vice president.
For starters, Cheney’s former boss blew Obama out of the water in terms of time spent away from Washington. To date, President Obama has spent about 150 days on vacation. During his two terms, according to accepted presidential vacation expert Mark Knoller of CBS, George W. Bush spent 1,020 days: 487 at Camp David, 490 at his Crawford, Texas ranch, and 43 at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.
But guess who Cheney thinks was better at dealing with crises in the Middle East (never mind the question of who’s responsible for them)?
Cheney himself has some experience with executive branch vacations. Back in 2005, Cheney hesitated to cut his own vacation short after Hurricane Katrina struck, and then pointedly turned down President Bush’s request that he lead a task force designed to speed the recovery effort (White House advisor Dan Bartlett reportedly backed the decision, noting that the vice president “doesn’t do touchy-feely“).
For its part, the White House insists that, like his predecessors, President Obama is perfectly capable of doing his job from outside of Washington. But that won’t stop the media from obsessing over his vacation. After all, punditry is hard during the dog days of summer — and overeager critics like Cheney are always ready for their closeups.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, August 22, 2014
There are few things the political press loves more than an intra-party squabble, so it wasn’t surprising that when Hillary Clinton gave an interview to The Atlantic about foreign policy that offered something less than fulsome support for everything Barack Obama has done, it got characterized as a stinging rebuke. The Post’s Chris Cillizza described her “slamming” Obama. The New York Times said the “veneer of unity…shattered.” “Hillary slams Obama for ‘stupid’ foreign policy,” said an absurdly misleading New York Post headline (she never called anything Obama did “stupid”).
If you actually read the interview, you’ll see that Clinton actually didn’t “slam” Obama (even Jeffrey Goldberg, who conducted the interview, overstates the disagreement in his report on it). She was careful not to explicitly criticize the administration, even when she was articulating positions that differed from what Barack Obama might believe. But there were clear indications that Clinton will be staking out a more hawkish foreign policy than the president she served as Secretary of State, on issues like Iran and Syria.
That isn’t because of some cynical calculation, or because she wants to “distance” herself from a president whose popularity is currently mediocre at best. It’s because that’s what she sincerely believes. If people didn’t have such short memories, they wouldn’t be surprised by it. Hillary Clinton has always been a liberal on social and economic issues, but much more of a moderate (or even a conservative) when it comes to foreign policy.
From the moment Clinton began forging her own distinct political identity in her run for Senate in 2000, it was clear she was a hawk on foreign affairs and defense, placing herself in the right-leaning half of the Democratic party. She wasn’t looking to slash military spending or avoid foreign interventions. Look at how the National Journal ranked her on foreign affairs during her time in the Senate (the NJ rankings are idiosyncratic, but they have the benefit of examining foreign affairs distinct from other issues):
- 2001: 28th most liberal senator
- 2002: 28th most liberal
- 2003: 15th most liberal
- 2004: 42nd most liberal
- 2005: 30th most liberal
- 2006: 36th most liberal
- 2007: 19th most liberal
- 2008: 40th most liberal
When Clinton ran for president in 2008, the primary issue distinction between her and Barack Obama was that she had supported the Iraq War, while he had opposed it. There was no issue that made more of a difference in the primaries. Even as Secretary of State, while carrying out the President’s policies, in private she counseled more aggressive moves. As Michael Crowley wrote in January, “As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action.”
As we move toward the campaign, it’s likely that liberals are going to start finding reasons to be displeased with Clinton on foreign policy. In the Atlantic interview, for instance, they discuss the Gaza situation at some length, and she practically sounds like a spokesperson for the Netanyahu government, putting all the blame for the conflict and all the casualties squarely on Hamas, while refusing repeated opportunities to say Israel has done anything wrong at all.
Over the next two years there will probably be more situations in which Clinton winds up to the right of the median Democratic voter. That would be more of a political problem if she had a strong primary opponent positioned to her left who could provide a vehicle for whatever dissatisfaction the Democratic base might be feeling. But at the moment, there is no such opponent. Her dominance of the field may give her more latitude on foreign affairs — not to move to the right, but to be where she always was. Neither Democrats nor anyone else can say they didn’t see it coming.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 12, 2014
“What Matters Most Is What We Do”: If Having a Foreign Policy Doctrine Is So Important, Why Won’t Hillary Clinton Spell Hers Out?
Jeffrey Golberg has an interview with Hillary Clinton which is being billed as a rebuke of, or maybe a distancing from, her old boss, Barack Obama. While you’ll probably think that an overstatement when you read the transcript, she does express a desire for a foreign policy “doctrine” of her own, even if she doesn’t actually deliver it. While there are a few unsettling things in the interview (her comments on Israel could have come from Bibi Netanyahu himself), the doctrine question is worth paying attention to.
As I’ve argued before , President Obama doesn’t have a foreign policy doctrine, and that’s by design. He explicitly rejected the idea that it was necessary to have some kind of bumper-sticker-ready idea guiding all his foreign policy decisions, a single phrase or sentence that sums up everything he’d be doing in foreign affairs. Even though doctrines don’t have a particularly good track record of late, in this interview, Clinton says that a doctrine is necessary (though she doesn’t use that word). The trouble is, she won’t actually say what hers would be, other than to say she’d have one:
But she also suggested that she finds his approach to foreign policy overly cautious, and she made the case that America needs a leader who believes that the country, despite its various missteps, is an indispensable force for good. At one point, I mentioned the slogan President Obama recently coined to describe his foreign-policy doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shit” (an expression often rendered as “Don’t do stupid stuff” in less-than-private encounters).
This is what Clinton said about Obama’s slogan: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
She softened the blow by noting that Obama was “trying to communicate to the American people that he’s not going to do something crazy,” but she repeatedly suggested that the U.S. sometimes appears to be withdrawing from the world stage.
During a discussion about the dangers of jihadism (a topic that has her “hepped-up,” she told me moments after she greeted me at her office in New York) and of the sort of resurgent nationalism seen in Russia today, I noted that Americans are quite wary right now of international commitment-making. She responded by arguing that there is a happy medium between bellicose posturing (of the sort she associated with the George W. Bush administration) and its opposite, a focus on withdrawal.
“You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward,” she said. “One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.”…
She said that the resilience, and expansion, of Islamist terrorism means that the U.S. must develop an “overarching” strategy to confront it, and she equated this struggle to the one the U.S. waged against Soviet-led communism.
Why, precisely, do “great nations need organizing principles”? Is it because during the next crisis, no one in the White House or the State Department will know what to do if they don’t have that organizing principle tacked up to their bulletin board, perhaps on a poster? I’m all for having an overarching strategy to confront Islamist terrorism, but we’ve been thinking about that for 13 years (or more, depending on how far back you want to go), and terrorism still exists. If Clinton has figured it out, she ought to share what she knows with the rest of us.
This isn’t strategizing, it’s meta-strategizing, strategizing about whether and why to have a strategy, rather than formulating the strategy itself. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy doctrine might be the very soul of wisdom or it might be the height of foolishness, but we won’t be able to judge until she tells us what it is. And it’s worth noting that Bill Clinton had no discernable foreign policy doctrine (almost any president would agree with what passed for one during his term).
The appeal and the danger of doctrines is that they simplify decision-making, assuring you that there’s only one reasonable choice in complex situations and unintended consequences aren’t something to worry your head over. What would the Bush doctrine tell us to do right now about the Islamic State? Go git ‘em! But that would mean pulling the United States back into Iraq at a large scale all over again, with all kinds of negative results sure to follow. On the other hand, if we don’t do enough the result could be a victory for IS, which would be a horrific outcome for the people who will find themselves under its boot. On the other hand, the more we fight them (as opposed to helping others do so), the more interested they’re likely to become in striking at the United States. On the other hand…well, you get the idea. Whatever doctrine you applied to this situation, chances are it would obscure important considerations and give you unwarranted confidence that everything will turn out fine.
When asked pointedly what her “organizing principle” is, Clinton responded, “Peace, progress, and prosperity,” then elaborated as though the question were about domestic policy. The particular views she expresses in the interview are more hawkish than the Obama administration, but people whose memories go back more than a few years will recall that Clinton has always been a hawk on military and foreign affairs. If she decides to distance herself from Obama, it will almost certainly be in that direction, because that’s who she is and what she’s always believed.
If you’re going to criticize her for that, it shouldn’t be because of any alleged lack of loyalty. Having served in a president’s administration doesn’t make you obliged to defend everything he did forevermore, particularly if you held a different view at the time. The question is whether she’s right on the merits of whatever question is at hand.
Finally, on a relatively minor note, the “we don’t tell our own story very well” is something people have been saying for years, and it’s hooey. What matters most isn’t the “story” our government tells the world—”Hey, did you know America stands for freedom? Well it does!”—what matters most is what we do. You know who’s pleased right now with the story America is telling? The Yazidis and the Kurds in Iraq, because we’re helping them. There are some other peoples who aren’t too psyched about America’s story. I hope that by now Hillary Clinton understands that success in foreign affairs isn’t about storytelling.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 11, 2014
“Stop Undermining The President!”: I Am Glad We Have Barack Obama As Our President At This Time In Our History
For a short time after September 11, 2001 anyone who dared to criticize then President Bush was called an unpatriotic traitor. Remember the Dixie Chicks?
But today when international crises occur those same folks pushing that patriotic fervor are quick to find fault with our current Commander in Chief. Whatever happened to putting our country first? It seems to me any global unrest becomes an excuse to bash our President for political purposes.
Take this recent shooting down of Malaysian domestic Flight 17 over the Ukraine. President Obama addressed the disaster the day it happened at an event in Delaware but he was criticized by pundits at Fox News and right wing radio for continuing his speech about building infrastructure. A case could be made that the President wanted to promote calm and business as usual on the home front. On the same day he spoke on the phone with the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, who later put the blame on Ukraine.
The next day our President labeled it an “outrage of unspeakable proportions” and a “global tragedy” and asked for a ceasefire between Russia and the Ukraine and called for an international investigation into the incident. He also spoke on the phone to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razale, and Prime Minister Marke Rutte of the Netherlands over the course of the past two days.
In other words, he took the appropriate steps and actions to lead and stay on top of this international crisis. Yet, Senator John McCain pointed fingers at President Obama for not supplying weapons to Ukraine to help fight off the Russian rebels accused of this dastardly deed (whether it was an accident or not.) In fact, President Obama just two days ago announced even tougher sanctions on Russia for its involvement in Ukraine. So he has been taking actions, just not the military ones that war hawks McCain and others in the GOP have been pushing.
Then the Fox pundits, Sean Hannity in particular, compared this situation to President Reagan‘s reaction to a downed Korean passenger airliner by the Soviet Union in 1983. Yes, President Reagan, great actor that he was, condemned it in strong words, but it took him four days to do it and then he never took any action after that. Plus, it was a totally different world then. We were in a Cold War with the Soviets and things are much more complicated today with all of the unrest in the Middle East.
The conservative pundits will never talk about the Iranian passenger plane Air 655 that we shot down by accident in 1988 under President Reagan’s watch. The United States never apologized for it, paid $61 million for the 290 victims’ families, and no one was fired or held accountable for it. Talk about ironic hypocrisy by those who are so outraged by this.
I, for one, am getting tired of hearing about how “weak” our President is regarding foreign policy. Isn’t it possible that calling him that undermines our country and our reputation in the world? He is not weak. He is not John Wayne (emulated by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) but rather Cool Hand Luke. He thinks before he acts. He doesn’t shoot from the hip. He takes his time and consults his advisors and looks at the big picture of any long term effects his decisions may create. This may infuriate the action hero testosterone crowd but I think it is the better approach.
Sure, there are statements and mistakes the President made that he would like to take back like the “red line” in Syria, providing more security in Benghazi, and domestically the “you didn’t build that” (although that was taken outside of context), and “if you like your plan you can keep it” (which I think he really believed.)
But the vitriol and hatred lashed out against our leader is very disturbing and maddening. Many of it is based on lies told against him by his opponents (remember the so-called “apology tour” and “death panels” and the debacle over his birth certificate?)
A Facebook friend accused President Obama of raising his middle finger to Republicans from the beginning. I had to straighten him out by pointing out that right after Obama was inaugurated he invited the GOP over to the White House for a Super Bowl party, he played golf with Speaker of the House John Boehner after the 2010 election, he said in his address to the American people “even if you didn’t vote for me, I am your President too.” He wanted to unite the country. Remember his 2004 Democratic Convention speech about the red and blue states and how we are the United States?
It was the Republicans who turned against him from the beginning. The first day of his Presidency they had a meeting to devise a plan to defeat him. The Senate Minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said his number one priority was to make Barack Obama a one-term president (we all know how that turned out.) Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said in the midst of our Great Recession “I hope he fails.”
You can only extend the hand of friendship and have it rebuffed so many times until you get the message that it is pointless. And I’m not saying it’s racial although there may be elements of that. The GOP did the same thing to President Bill Clinton, leading numerous dead-end investigations until they latched onto the Monica Lewinsky scandal and actually impeached him in the House of Representatives.
The irony is that the oppositions’ constant barrages have actually strengthened the President. I have never heard him speak with more fire than after Boehner announced the GOP were going to sue him. He has become immune to the chatter on the right and has taken up this latest attack as a battle cry for him to “do his job” for the country as Congress has become the least productive branch of government in history.
President Obama has finally gotten the message that FDR, LBJ, Bill Clinton and even Ronald Reagan learned. You can’t please the opposing party so you have to stick to your principles and do what you feel is right for the country.
I don’t know if other Americans are sick of all of this infighting but I have reached my boiling point. I am seriously considering banning Fox News from my channel surfing as it just irritates the heck out of me.
I just wish we as a nation would get behind our President at times of international crises. Maybe that will happen after the mid-term elections, but I am not holding my breath. In the meantime, I am glad we have Barack Obama as our president at this time in our history. We need his calm, cool, clear headed approach to leadership at this time of unprecedented international turmoil. And if enough of us just get behind him, maybe we can once again become the “United States of America.”
By: Joan E. Dowlin, The Huffington Post Blog, July 19, 20
“Faith-Based Fanatics”: The Ancient Struggle Of My God Versus Your God Is At The Root Of Dozens Of Atrocities
He’s had a busy summer. As God only knows, he was summoned to slaughter in the Holy Land, asked to end the killings of Muslims by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, and played both sides again in the 1,400-year-old dispute over the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad.
In between, not much down time. Yes, the World Cup was fun, and God chose to mess with His Holinesses, pitting the team from Pope Francis’s Argentina against Germany, home of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Well played, even if the better pope lost.
At least Rick Perry was not his usual time-suck. The governor proclaimed three days of prayer to end the Texas drought in 2011, saying, “I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this.’ ” The drought got worse. Two years ago, Perry said that God had not “changed his mind” about same-sex marriage. But the states have. Since Perry became a spokesman for the deity, the map of legalized gay marriage in America has expanded by 50 percent.
Still, these are pillow feathers in a world weighted down with misery. God is on a rampage in 2014, a bit like the Old Testament scourge who gave direct instructions to people to kill one another.
It’s not true that all wars are fought in the name of religion, as some atheists assert. Of 1,723 armed conflicts documented in the three-volume “Encyclopedia of Wars,” only 123, or less than 7 percent, involved a religious cause. Hitler’s genocide, Stalin’s bloody purges and Pol Pot’s mass murders certainly make the case that state-sanctioned killings do not need the invocation of a higher power to succeed.
But this year, the ancient struggle of My God versus Your God is at the root of dozens of atrocities, giving pause to the optimists among us (myself included) who believe that while the arc of enlightenment is long, it still bends toward the better.
In the name of God and hate, Sunnis are killing Shiites in Iraq, and vice versa. A jihadist militia, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, boasts of beheading other Muslims while ordering women to essentially live in caves, faces covered, minds closed. The two sides of a single faith have been sorting it out in that blood-caked land, with long periods of peace, since the year 632. Don’t expect it to end soon. A majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are peaceful, but a Pew Survey found that 40 percent of Sunnis do not think Shiites are proper Muslims.
Elsewhere, a handful of failed states are seeing carnage over some variant of the seventh-century dispute. And the rage that moved Hamas to lob rockets on birthday parties in Tel Aviv, and Israelis to kill children playing soccer on the beach in Gaza, has its roots in the spiritual superiority of extremists on both sides.
The most horrific of the religion-inspired zealots may be Boko Haram in Nigeria. As is well known thanks to a feel-good and largely useless Twitter campaign, 250 girls were kidnapped by these gangsters for the crime of attending school. Boko Haram’s God tells them to sell the girls into slavery.
The current intra-religious fights are not to be confused with people who fly airplanes into buildings, or shoot up innocents while shouting “God is great.” But those killers most assuredly believed that their reward for murder is heaven.
Of late, God has taken a long break from Ireland, such a small country for such a big fight between worshipers under the same cross. There, the animus is not so much theological as it is historical. If the curious Muslim is wondering why Protestants and Catholics can’t just get along on that lovely island, take a look at the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, when about 20 percent of the population of present-day Germany fell to clashes between the two branches of Christianity.
Violent Buddhist mobs (yes, it sounds oxymoronic) are responsible for a spate of recent attacks against Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, leaving more than 200 dead and close to 150,000 homeless. The clashes prompted the Dalai Lama to make an urgent appeal to end the bloodshed. “Buddha preaches love and compassion,” he said.
And so do Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The problem is that people of faith often become fanatics of faith. Reason and force are useless against aspiring martyrs.
In the United States, God is on the currency. By brilliant design, though, he is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders were explicit: This country would never formally align God with one political party, or allow someone to use religion to ignore civil laws. At least that was the intent. In this summer of the violent God, five justices on the Supreme Court seem to feel otherwise.
By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, July 18, 2014