“Obama Has A Response For The ‘Not Tough Enough’ Crowd”: The Greatest Terrorist Hunter In The History Of The Presidency
The latest report from the Pew Research Center offered generally good news for President Obama – Democrats’ favorability is improving, while Republicans’ favorability is sinking – but there was one trouble area for the White House that stood out.
Just over half of Americans (53%) continue to say that Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy and national security is “not tough enough”; 37% say he handles these matters about right, while just 4% say he is too tough. These attitudes are virtually unchanged since November 2013.
Republicans are far more critical of Obama’s approach to foreign policy than Democrats or independents.
Indeed, the partisan split matters. A 53% majority believes the president’s approach to national security isn’t “tough enough,” but that’s exaggerated a bit because a whopping 80% of Republicans have convinced themselves this is true. The numbers of Democrats and Independents who agree is significantly smaller.
Still, it’s a deeply odd thing for a majority of Americans to believe. Consider something Obama said this week during his address to the VFW National Convention:
“I’ve shown I will not hesitate to use force to protect our nation, including from the threat of terrorism. Thanks to the skill of our military and counterintelligence professionals, we’ve struck major blows against those who threaten us. Osama bin Laden is gone. Anwar Awlaki, a leader of the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen – gone. Many of al Qaeda’s deputies and their replacements – gone. Ahmed Abdi Godane – the leader of the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia – gone. Abu Anas al-Libi, accused of bombing our embassies in Africa – captured. Ahmed Abu Khattalah, accused in the attack in Benghazi – captured. The list goes on. If you target Americans, you will have no safe haven. We will defend our nation.”
As of yesterday, Abu Khalil al-Sudani, the al Qaeda operative “in charge of suicide bombings and operations involving explosives” was killed by U.S. forces, which means he can be added to Obama’s “gone” list.
I’m reminded of Jeffrey Goldberg’s point from last year: “Obama has become the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency.”
So, what’s with the “not tough enough” concerns?
As we talked about a while ago, I suspect Republican rhetoric is a key factor in Republican perceptions. The more Obama orders strikes on terrorists, the more GOP officials feel the need to pretend the president is indifferent to matters of national security, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Note, for example, just how many Republican leaders, candidates, and officials have said the president is doing “nothing” about ISIS, even as the president orders literally thousands of airstrikes on ISIS targets in the Middle East.
What’s more, Republicans have gone to extraordinary lengths to move the goal-posts – what really matters, the GOP argues, isn’t whether the Obama administration kills terrorists, but rather, whether the Obama administration uses words and phrases Republicans find ideologically satisfying.
Sure, killing bin Laden is nice, but for many on the right, if the president doesn’t explicitly use the phrase “Islamic terrorism,” preferably every day, a successful counter-terrorism strategy doesn’t really count.
There is, of course, an entirely different side of the debate, including questions from the White House’s progressive critics. Do U.S. strikes deter or prevent future terrorist threats? Is the U.S. policy entirely consistent with the law? What are the implications of a policy reliant on drones? Should Americans expect the current national-security policy to remain in place indefinitely? What happens when one terrorist leader is killed, but he’s replaced by someone worse?
The answers to these questions matter, and shouldn’t be overlooked by chest-thumping.
But there’s still the matter of mistaken public perceptions, which appear increasingly divorced from reality. If a president with Obama’s record isn’t “tough enough,” who is?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 24, 2015
“Any Fool Can Start A War With Iran”: Because Of Our Strength, We Have To Take A Practical, Common-Sense Position
Right now, it’s beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he so prematurely received in 2009.
Perhaps you recall how, during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Obama’s opponents treated his expressed willingness to speak with the leaders of unfriendly countries such as Cuba and Iran as a sign of immaturity.
“Irresponsible and frankly naïve,” was how Hillary Clinton put it.
Joe Biden said it was important for an inexperienced president not to get played by crafty foreigners.
Obama was unrepentant. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them—which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration,” he said, “is ridiculous.”
And so it was. Only ridiculous people talk that way now. With hindsight, it’s become clear that Obama wasn’t simply repudiating the GOP’s melodramatic “Axis of Evil” worldview, but expressing his own considerable self-regard.
Also his confidence in America as he sees it through his unique personal history as a kind of inside-outsider, capable of being more than ordinarily objective about our place in the world. When you’re the most powerful economic and military power on Earth, he keeps saying with regard to the Iran deal, it’s important to act like it: strong, calm, and confident. Able to take risks for peace because your strength is so overwhelming.
President Obama told the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman that if Ronald Reagan could reach verifiable arms agreements with the Soviet Union, a country that posed “a far greater existential threat to us than Iran will ever be,” then dealing with the Iranians is “a risk we have to take. It is a practical, common-sense position.”
As we saw in 2003, any damn fool can start a Middle Eastern war. And while hardly anybody in the United States wants one, even Iranian hardliners should have no doubt who would win such a conflict.
“Why should the Iranians be afraid of us?” Friedman asked.
“Because we could knock out their military in speed and dispatch if we chose to,” Obama said.
That’s the same reason Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and his allies in the U.S. Congress) need to cool it with the Chicken Little rhetoric. Obama thinks it’s “highly unlikely that you are going to see Iran launch a direct attack, state to state, against any of our allies in the region. They know that that would give us the rationale to go in full-bore, and as I said, we could knock out most of their military capacity pretty quickly.”
Of course Netanyahu knows that perfectly well. But here’s the kind of thinking that he and his allies on the evangelical right really object to:
“Even with your adversaries,” Obama said, “I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran. We had in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so…they have their own…narrative.”
Demonizing Iran serves Netanyahu’s short-term political purposes. Ditto Republican presidential candidates. But Obama has a wider audience and a longer view in mind. Much of what he said was directed over the heads of his domestic audience. Besides, GOP war talk makes it easier for Democrats to support Obama.
“Iran will be and should be a regional power,” he told Friedman. “They are a big country and a sophisticated country in the region. They don’t need to invite the hostility and the opposition of their neighbors by their behavior. It’s not necessary for them to be great to denigrate Israel or threaten Israel or engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic activity. Now that’s what I would say to the Iranian people.”
He also focused upon the common enemy:
“Nobody has an interest in seeing [the Islamic State] control huge swaths of territory between Damascus and Baghdad,” Obama said. “That’s not good for Iran.”
Indeed not. More than the Turks, more than Saudi Arabia, more than anybody but the Kurds, Iranian forces are fighting ISIS on several fronts.
The president’s words were grudgingly noted in Tehran. In his own carefully crafted speech expressing guarded blessings for the arms control agreement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei assured hardliners that he hadn’t gone soft on America.
However, he also alluded to Obama’s conciliatory remarks.
“He mentioned two or three points, but did not confess to tens of others,” Khamenei complained.
Which is how conversations begin.
This deal isn’t the end. But it’s an excellent beginning—of what, remains to be seen. Iran has essentially purchased anti-invasion insurance, while the U.S. and its allies have bought relative stability in the Persian Gulf.
Could things go wrong? Things can always go wrong.
But there’s always time to start a war.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 22, 2015
John Kerry was angry.
“Listen to this. Listen to what Trump just said about John McCain,” Kerry was saying over the phone. “‘He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.’
“That’s unbelievable,” Kerry said. “That’s beyond outrageous.’”
“John and I have some serious differences on a lot of things but he is nothing other than a hero and a good man. Where was Trump when John got shot down over North Vietnam? In school? At a party? Where was he?”
For many months now, years even, Kerry has been point man in Barack Obama’s attempt to restrict Iran’s plan to develop a nuclear bomb. He has been a walking high-wire act, traveling a region that is nothing less than a geographical bonfire filled with the debris of failed nations, countries that have collapsed into chaos and terror largely because of the contrived plans of men like Dick Cheney who dreamed of the day when Saddam Hussein could be toppled. The conservative ideologues got their wish while the United States got a larger, longer war and the Middle East became an even bigger source of horror and death.
Trump’s assault on McCain evoked immediate anger in Kerry because it resurrected feelings within him that are always there, certainly beneath a surface calm but always, always there: a long gone war called Vietnam.
“All of us sat for weeks and months around a table trying to get this deal done,” Kerry was saying. “The Russians, the Chinese, the French, the British, the Germans, all of us. And every once in awhile I thought about that other table, that other time, and that was nearly a half century ago.”
He was talking about the Paris Peace Talks that began in 1970 and concluded with an agreement signed on January 23, 1973. Henry Kissinger represented another president, Richard Nixon. John McCain was in Hanoi, in captivity. John Kerry had returned from Vietnam to help organize Vietnam Veterans Against The War. Donald Trump was somewhere else.
As talks in Paris dragged on, more than half of the 58,195 names carved into the wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington were killed. Thousands more were wounded and carry those wounds still, today.
Both Kerry and Obama are firm believers that conversation is a better starter-kit than combat when it comes to dealing with a country like Iran. Neither man is naive about that nation’s aspiration to dominate the region.
“But the Iranians are not suicidal,” Kerry pointed out.
Clearly, the Iranians are well aware that Teheran would be turned into a field of glass and sand if they ever stepped toward open war with Israel or Saudi Arabia. And every nation around that table in Vienna knew that the sanctions that crippled the Iranian economy and caused Iran to accept a deal would soon collapse under the weight of countries like France, Russia and China that were eager to begin doing business in Teheran, the dollar emerging as the strongest weapon of all.
So as he shuttled back and forth between Washington and Vienna, his leg broken, his spirit determined, Kerry found himself thinking about that other time and those other talks. He is a student of history and in his mind’s eye he saw another president, Lyndon Johnson, broken by a long war that still lingers in the American psyche. He thought about the Ivy League sophisticates that surrounded John F. Kennedy and then Johnson, men named Bundy, Rostow, McNamara, and others who spent the lives of so many younger men pursuing their old men’s dreams of defeating communism in the lethal laboratory of Vietnam.
In a trick of history and irony communism collapsed on a deathbed that Ronald Reagan helped make up by…talking; talking to Mikhail Gorbachev. A wall fell. One continent, Europe, changed forever. Two nations, Russia and the United States, altered their behavior toward each another because of a handshake and a conversation.
Last week, John Kerry returned to the United States. After months of discussion, Germany, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Putin’s Russia along with the U.S. had a deal with Iran. Now it goes to a Congress more than half full of politicians who place a higher priority in defeating anything Barack Obama supports than educating the country and the world with an honest debate about a deal structured to insert more than a decade’s worth of roadblocks in Iran’s drive to develop a nuclear weapon.
And as John Kerry came home, his mind filled with facts, the ups, the downs, the potential, and the politics of getting an accord with Iran through the Congress, he was brought back to his own war five decades ago. A war that won’t go away. A war that awoke him one more time because of a libelous slur uttered by a real estate man against a friend of Kerry’s who will line up against him on the treaty with Iran. But that didn’t matter because brothers in arms form a bond far stronger than politics.
By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, July 19, 2015
“The United States Is Not Omnipotent”: Republicans Need To Stop Childishly Pretending That American Power Is Limitless
When President Obama almost taunted critics of the Iranian nuclear deal by challenging them to describe their alternative, it was hardly a surprise that no detailed plans were forthcoming. Even the most hawkish Republican knows it would be politically disastrous to say that what we need is to launch another war in the Middle East. But there isn’t another readily available course for handling this situation if you reject what the administration negotiated.
Indeed, what infuriates Republicans as much as anything is that Obama took the country down diplomacy’s path — a path that accepts from the outset that compromise is inevitable.
More than ever, compromise seems outside the worldview of the GOP. You can see it in Congress, where the party’s base has elected more and more representatives who would rather have a noble, even disastrous failure than a partial success — if success means coming to an agreement with a president they despise. No matter how many times conservatives attempt to shut down the government and wind up with an ignominious defeat, they continue to believe that next time will be different — that Obama will surrender, and all their goals will be achieved.
You can see it in how hawkish Republicans have thought about Iran for years. Republicans were smitten by Benjamin Netanyahu’s fantasy vision of a “better deal” with Iran, which involved Iran ending its nuclear program, giving up support for Hezbollah and every other terrorist organization, becoming a force for peace in the region, and maybe also baking Netanyahu a delicious pie, all while asking for nothing in return. If you actually thought that was possible, then of course the deal that was negotiated looks like a capitulation. As Peter Beinart recently wrote, “When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent.”
That fact is the assumption underlying diplomatic negotiation: If we were omnipotent, then we wouldn’t have to negotiate. We could just impose our will. Republicans find President Obama’s willingness to acknowledge that America is not omnipotent to be utterly maddening.
When you listen to them talk about foreign affairs, what comes through clearly is that they believe that if America is not omnipotent, this is merely a temporary situation that can be remedied with more military spending, a stiffening of the spine, and a Republican in the White House. There is no situation that cannot be resolved with precisely the outcome we want, if only we are sufficiently strong and tough. For instance, here’s how Mike Huckabee describes the world he would create if he were to become president:
“And here is what we have to do: America has to have the most formidable, fierce military in the history of mankind,” stated Huckabee.
“So when we have a threat, whether it is ISIS, Boko Haram, al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranians, whatever it is, we make it very clear that we plan to push back and destroy that threat to us. And we won’t take 10 years doing it, we hopefully won’t even take 10 months, it will be like a 10-day exercise, because the fierceness of our forces would mean that we can absolutely guarantee the outcome of this film. That’s how America needs to operate in the world of foreign affairs, and foreign policy.” [Huckabee, via BuzzFeed]
Since one of my rules for campaign coverage is to assume unless you have countervailing evidence that politicians are sincere in what they say, I’ll assume that Huckabee genuinely believes that a complex problem like ISIS could be solved in 10 days, if only we were fierce enough. While his opponents might not go quite that far, with the exception of Rand Paul they all believe that the reason there are unsolved problems in the world is that we haven’t been strong enough. They quote action movie lines and say that increasing the size of the military will give us the strength we need to bend every country and non-state actor to our will.
Huckabee may not realize this, but we already have the strongest military in the history of mankind. Could it be even stronger? Sure. We could shut down Social Security and use the money to double the size of the military (a plan I think more than a few Republicans would embrace). But even that military would confront some problems it couldn’t solve, because that’s just how the world is.
What may be most remarkable is that it was George W. Bush — who, you may remember, was not given to nuanced thinking, worrying about unintended consequences, or talk of compromise with “evildoers” — who brought us the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, Republicans say (though obviously not in so many words) that if only we could be more like Bush, our foreign policy would be an unending string of unequivocal triumphs, as every danger to ourselves or our friends evaporated before our terrifying might.
It’s an inspiring vision, one in which perfect outcomes are not only possible but relatively easy to obtain. It’s also an outlook more appropriate for children who have no experience to learn from, than for a party asking to be given control of the world’s last superpower.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, July 20, 2015
“Negotiating A Good Iran Deal”: Negotiators Are On The Right Track To Resolve The Iranian Nuclear Crisis Peacefully
The United States, its international partners, and Iran will soon likely reach a final agreement to limit Tehran’s nuclear program. Judging by the framework reached in April in Lausanne, Switzerland, the finalized deal will not only greatly enhance American and regional security by preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon, it will also eliminate a source of great tension between the U.S. and Iran — freeing America’s hand to deal with other undesirable Iranian behavior.
Yet you can be sure that war hawks will be screaming “bad deal” — insisting on a better one.
What they mean by “better deal” is one in which Iran completely capitulates, gives up its entire nuclear program and changes its bad behavior on a wide range of issues outside the scope of the nuclear program, all without the United States having to give up much in return.
But that’s not really how negotiating works. Successful deals involve give and take. Most of the time, all parties walk away with something they like and something they don’t.
Don’t just take my word for it. Some of those closest to the negotiations agree. “[W]e do not live in a perfect world, and the ‘better deal’ proposed by the critics of the Lausanne framework is a fantasy,” said Phillip Gordon, who, until recently worked on the Iran issue in the White House and is now a senior fellow and the Council on Foreign Relations.
Those arguing for a better deal also believe that if only the United States increased sanctions on Iran, Iran would agree to even better terms. But, as former National Security Adviser to President Clinton, Sandy Berger wrote recently, more sanctions would not have their intended impact. Instead, they “would mystify and alarm the rest of the world, isolating and weakening us. Such sanctions would crumble under their own weight — amounting to, as Shakespeare said, “Sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Former national intelligence officer and Middle East expert, Paul Pillar, agrees. “[T]here is nothing in the Iranians’ record to suggest that at some level of economic pain they would cry uncle and capitulate to hardline demands,” he wrote earlier this year. “If this were possible, it would have happened by now after many years of debilitating sanctions.”
While the “better deal” crowd may continue to crow, the reality is that there is an overwhelming consensus among the nuclear and security expert community that the Lausanne Framework is a good deal, a deal that the six powers can be confident will prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. “When implemented,” a statement from 30 leading nuclear nonproliferation specialists reads, the agreement “will put in place an effective, verifiable, enforceable, long-term plan to guard against the possibility of a new nuclear-armed state in the Middle East.”
And it’s not just the experts: Numerous polls show that a majority of Americans support the framework. Moreover, a recent survey done in conjunction with pro-Israel group, J Street, found that 59 percent of American Jews support the framework; a result that can perhaps mitigate concerns that U.S. Jews feel the deal could be bad for Israel. The poll also found that a 78 percent of American Jews support the agreement when additional details of the deal are provided.
It’s rare to have such a large consensus on any particular issue these days. But it’s no fluke that the White House, many in Congress, experts and the American people support diplomacy with Iran over war and will support a good final nuclear deal. I am hopeful that Missouri’s Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt are part of that mix of support.
It is difficult to dispute that Iran is led by a dictatorial regime that oppresses its people, supports terror and wreaks havoc in the region. It is for these reasons that we should prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon and ink a good final agreement that is done on our own terms.
It appears that the six international powers and Iran will get past the finish line, but as the saying goes, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” President Obama has repeatedly stated that he prefers no deal to a bad deal. Fortunately, the negotiators are on the right track to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis peacefully, allowing all sides to walk away knowing that what they’re getting is better than they’re giving up.
By: Stacey Newman, Missouri State Representative, The Blog, The Huffington Post, July 5, 2015