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“Rather Difficult To Find”: Wanted; A GOP Presidential Candidate Who Is Actually Serious About Foreign Policy

Today, Jeb Bush will give a speech at the Citadel in South Carolina on defense policy, where he’ll argue that in order to defeat ISIS we need a bigger military than the one we have. From this, I conclude that one of two things must be true: Either he is an ignoramus of Trumpian proportions, or he thinks Republican primary voters are idiots.

Here’s what we know based on the excerpts of the speech his campaign has released:

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is calling for a broad military buildup and says the U.S. armed forces have been left ill-prepared to defeat the Islamic State, blamed for the Paris attacks that killed at least 129 and wounded hundreds more.

The former Florida governor is projecting himself as a potential commander in chief able to handle such challenges, as his presidential bid tries to gain traction in a primary campaign likely to be shaken up after the Paris attacks.

“The brutal savagery is a reminder of what is at stake in this election,” Bush says in excerpts of a speech he plans to deliver Wednesday at The Military College of South Carolina, known as The Citadel.

“We are choosing the leader of the free world,” he said, according to passages provided to The Associated Press in advance. “And if these attacks remind us of anything, it’s that we are living in serious times that require serious leadership.”

Ah yes, serious leadership. So what about Bush’s idea that fighting terrorism means we need a bigger military? That’s simply ridiculous. Yes, there are certain resources that need to be used to fight ISIS, but is there any evidence that the problem we have in meeting this challenge is insufficient personnel and materiel? Of course not. We could invade Syria and Iraq tomorrow if we wanted, and roll over ISIS and Bashar Assad’s government. But we don’t want to, because recent experience has taught us that doing that would cause more problems than it would solve, including, in all likelihood, giving rise to terrorist groups we haven’t yet imagined (don’t forget that ISIS grew out of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq).

You don’t have to be the reincarnation of Carl von Clausewitz to grasp that, and people within the military are now expressing concerns that too many people have already forgotten the complications that come with a large-scale military operation in the Middle East. Like most of the Republican candidates for president, when Bush is asked what he’d actually do to fight ISIS, he offers a combination of things the Obama administration is already doing (Engage with our Arab allies! Use our air power!) and meaningless generalities (America has to lead!). None of it requires a dramatically larger military.

While Republicans always want the military to be bigger than whatever it happens to be at any moment, I don’t think even they believe that its size is really the problem. It isn’t as though ISIS’ leaders are saying, “The United States military is down below 15,000 war planes! If they had 20,000, we could never oppose them, but this is our chance!” No, Republicans believe the problem is will. They think Barack Obama is weak and unwilling to use the military he has with sufficient enthusiasm. They think our enemies don’t fear us enough, not because they aren’t intimidated by American weaponry, but because they aren’t intimidated by the man in the Oval Office.

If Jeb Bush wants to argue that what we really need to prepare for is a land war in Europe against the Russian army, a conflict for which the sheer size of our military might make a difference, then he can go ahead and make that case. But he isn’t. Instead, he’s taking the pre-existing belief all Republicans share — the military should always be bigger — and grafting it on to the thing Americans are afraid of at the moment, which is ISIS.

Right after the Paris attacks, many old-line Republicans expressed the hope that now, in the face of such a grim reality, primary voters would end their dalliance with silly inexperienced candidates and turn back to the serious, seasoned potential presidents. There were two problems with that hope. The first is that there was no reason to believe it would happen; if anything, with their fear elevated the voters will likely lean toward the candidates offering the most simplistic, bellicose answers. The second is that, as Jeb Bush is showing, serious Republican presidential candidates are rather difficult to find.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 18, 2015

November 20, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, ISIS, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Meandering Word Salad”: Ben Carson’s Unawareness Keeps Catching Up With Him

About half-way through last night’s debate for the Republican presidential candidates, Ben Carson was asked about President Obama’s decision to deploy a limited number of U.S. troops to Syria, while keeping 10,000 Americans in Afghanistan. For a split second, I thought to myself, “Wait, that’s not a fair question. Carson couldn’t possibly be expected to have a coherent opinion on the subject.”

But the second quickly faded and I remembered that Carson is a presidential candidate. He’s supposed to be able to speak intelligently about this and a wide range of other issues.

And in this case, Carson seemed lost, leading to a lengthy, meandering response that can charitably be described as word salad.

“Well, putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there, because they – that’s why they’re called special ops, they’re actually able to guide some of the other things that we’re doing there.

 “And what we have to recognize is that Putin is trying to really spread his influence throughout the Middle East. This is going to be his base. And we have to oppose him there in an effective way.

 “We also must recognize that it’s a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there.

 “What we’ve been doing so far is very ineffective, but we can’t give up ground right there. But we have to look at this on a much more global scale. We’re talking about global jihadists. And their desire is to destroy us and to destroy our way of life. So we have to be saying, how do we make them look like losers? Because that’s the way that they’re able to gather a lot of influence.”

Carson went on (and on) from there, blissfully unaware of the fact that the Chinese have not, in fact, deployed troops to Syria, and making terrorists “look like losers” isn’t quite as straightforward as he’d like to believe.

At the end of his bizarre answer, the audience clapped, though it wasn’t clear to me if attendees were just being polite to a confused candidate who seemed wholly out of his depth.

What’s more, it wasn’t just foreign policy.

Asked about the need for possibly breaking up of the big banks, Carson offered a 346-word answer that emphasized his belief that regulations have added 10 cents to the cost of a bar of soap, which “hurts the poor,” and which is something “Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton won’t tell you.”

Um, OK?

As alarming as it was to see a leading presidential candidate seem genuinely lost on practically every subject, I keep returning to the thesis we kicked around last month: the question of whether or not Carson is debate-proof.

The retired right-wing neurosurgeon didn’t make much sense last night, but his first three debate performances were about as compelling, which is to say, he was frighteningly confused, but no more so than usual.

And yet, in the wake of those previous events, Carson’s popularity among Republican voters and standing in GOP polls steadily improved.

Isn’t it at least possible that no matter how awful Carson’s debates answers are, they have no real bearing on his candidacy? And if so, what does that tell us about the state of the Republican electorate?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 11, 2015

November 12, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Primary Debates, GOP Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What I Learned From Watching The Benghazi Hearing”: No One Can Doubt That Hillary Clinton Has Got What It Takes To Do The Job

Yes, I watched the entire 11 hours – although I must admit that my attention lagged every now and then. The Republicans on the committee threw everything they had at Hillary Clinton. Here are my two big take-aways from all that.

The line of questioning that came from Rep. Jim Jordan wasn’t new…it’s been the big accusation against President Obama, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton from the get-go. The claim is that all of them tried to fool the American people into believing that the anti-Muslim video that was sparking demonstrations all over the Middle East (both peaceful and violent) was the cause of what happened in Benghazi, when it was really a “terrorist” attack. I guess they forgot about the shellacking Romney took during the 2012 presidential debate when Obama allowed him to dig a disastrous hole with, “Please proceed, Governor.”

But overall, this argument tells us a lot about Republicans. Clinton got into trouble during a previous Congressional investigation about Benghazi when she basically asked why all that mattered. From a reality-based perspective, she had a point.

It seems that for Republicans, the death of a U.S. Ambassador and 3 other Americans wouldn’t matter as much if they were the result of protests rather than a terrorist attack. That kind of thinking is exactly why they get so perturbed that President Obama won’t call ISIS “radical Islamists.” It’s all about the words you use rather than the actions those words describe.

For as long as I can remember, Republicans have been trying to scare us with the words they use to describe our adversaries. During the Cold War and McCarthy hearings, it was all about “communists.” Reagan called the Soviet Union the “evil empire” and George W. Bush talked about the “axis of evil.” Instead of going after those who were responsible for 9/11, the Bush/Cheney administration launched a “global war on terrorism.”

Given all that, Republicans know that Benghazi isn’t an adequate vehicle for fear mongering unless we call it a “terror attack.” If, instead, it was the result of an angry mob reacting to an anti-Muslim video, that dilutes the message. But in the end, as Clinton said, what difference does it really make? Would our response be any different if there was a slight change in what we learned about what motivated the attackers? I’d suggest that a reasonable response (not the kind we got from Bush/Cheney to 9/11) would not.

As is often the case, reality is a bit more nuanced than Republicans try to paint it. We learned that when one of the leaders of the Benghazi attack – Ahmed Abu Khattala – was captured.

Despite extensive speculation about the possible role of Al Qaeda in directing the attack, Mr. Abu Khattala is a local, small-time Islamist militant. He has no known connections to international terrorist groups, say American officials briefed on the criminal investigation and intelligence reporting, and other Benghazi Islamists and militia leaders who have known him for many years…

On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy’s walls — images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world.

As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.

In other words, one of the leaders of the attack had no known connections to international terrorist groups and used the video as a tool to recruit fighters to join in the attack. On the other hand, it was not a spontaneous reaction from protesters. It was a planned attack. People like Rep. Jim Jordan seem incapable of grasping that kind of nuance. Here he is lecturing former Secretary Clinton:

“You picked the video narrative. You picked the one with no evidence. And you did it because Libya was supposed to be…this great success story,” he said during one of his filibusters. “You can live with a protest about a video. That won’t hurt you. But a terrorist attack will.”

That, my friends, is the best distillation of Republican confusion about Benghazi that you’ll find anywhere.

The other thing I learned from watching the hearing is all about Hillary Clinton. I’ve always known that she is smart. But two things I’ve heard about her – especially during this campaign – is that her age is an issue and she tends to be evasive rather than direct when she feels challenged. Those two critiques were banished as completely irrelevant on Thursday.

The kind of stress a president deals with is only secondarily physical. It is mostly emotional. We need to know that the person we elect to that position is capable of keeping their cool when a lot of difficult things come their way. At 67, Hillary Clinton just withstood 11 hours (minus breaks) of people coming at her with every kind of attack and negative insinuation they could find. She did something I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done under those circumstances…kept her cool and answered every question with intelligence and patience. Here’s how Jeb Lund summarized it:

She didn’t lose her cool under circumstances that would have sent any of us screaming for the exit or climbing over the dais to try to brain someone with a shoe. She was by far the most prepared person at the hearings and the most fluent in the details. She said the two funniest lines of the day, broke into a big natural grin, delivered a fairly riveting account of the fog of war during the events of the compound attack, and became visibly affected when talking about those harmed during it. The Republicans on the Benghazi committee just inadvertently put her through an 11-hour stress test of her intelligence, patience and composure as a leader. They just vetted their own opposition, and they did it through such a protracted, disingenuous, confused and obnoxious display that even people who have every right to feel ambivalent about her doubtless felt a twinge of sympathy.

People will continue to have their policy differences with Clinton. But no one can doubt that she’s got what it takes to do the job.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 24, 2015

October 25, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Fundamental Attribution Error”: What Hillary’s Benghazi Hearing Revealed About Life Inside The Republican Bubble

You’ll be forgiven for not knowing who Sidney Blumenthal is. If you don’t, and you tuned in midway through Hillary Clinton’s testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, you might have concluded that Blumenthal is either a high-ranking al Qaeda leader, a Soviet spy, or some combination of Bernie Madoff and Ted Bundy. In any case, you might have concluded that he’s a world-historical figure whose actions must be understood if America is to move forward into the future.

The ridiculously lengthy discussion about Blumenthal illustrates the problem Republicans have had with this entire investigation: They’re stuck in their own bubble, unable to see what things might look like from outside it.

In case you don’t know, Sid Blumenthal is a former journalist and longtime friend (and sometime employee) of the Clintons. For a variety of reasons, some more legitimate than others, Republicans regard him as a singularly sinister character. When it emerged that he had sent Hillary Clinton lots of emails about Libya (and other matters), they could barely contain their glee, going so far as to subpoena him to testify privately. He apparently failed to give them what they wanted, because up until now committee Chair Trey Gowdy has refused to release his testimony to the public. This is a replay of what happened in 1998 during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when independent counsel Ken Starr forced Blumenthal to testify about what he knew in that case (if you want a lengthy explanation of Blumenthal and his relationship to the Clintons, go here).

The point is that, from within the Republican bubble, Blumenthal’s connection to Benghazi, even if it consisted only of sending Hillary Clinton emails about Libya in general, proves that something fishy was going on. So naturally they’ll waste an hour or two of her testimony talking about the fact that he sent her lots of emails, which proves that…he sent her lots of emails.

This is what happens when you start an investigation that you’re sure will uncover evidence of nefarious goings-on. When you can’t find any malfeasance, you convince yourself that even mundane things are nefarious, like the fact that Hillary Clinton has a friend you don’t like.

Consider another topic of discussion at the hearing: the different stories that came out in the immediate aftermath of the attack explaining why the attack had occurred. The situation was chaotic, in large part because there were nearly simultaneous incidents at other American diplomatic outposts in the Middle East, growing out of protests of an anti-Muslim video that appeared online. At first, the administration said the Benghazi attack was like those in Cairo and Tunis, but it later became clear that it was more organized and planned (though the perpetrators may have opportunistically launched the attack precisely because so many protests were going on in so many places).

How should we understand the administration’s changing explanation? Was it mere spin? A reflection of the information that was available? Or was it scandalous? Throughout, Republicans have treated the Obama administration’s response as though it were not just scandalous, but possibly criminal. For instance, in May of last year, we learned of a memo that a White House communication official wrote at the time, encouraging staffers not to say Benghazi represented a failure of administration policy. In other words, a guy whose job it is to craft spin crafted some spin. But Republicans reacted as though they had caught Barack Obama personally killing those four Americans. “We now have the smoking gun,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. “It’s the equivalent of what was discovered with the Nixon tapes,” said Charles Krauthammer.

A similarly enlightening discussion was brought up in Clinton’s hearing, with Republicans expressing such faux-outrage you’d think they were talking about one of the most diabolical propaganda campaigns in human history, and not a few comments that a few administration officials made to a few television shows. At another point in the hearing, a Republican congressman spent nearly 15 minutes aggressively interrogating Clinton over whether — brace yourself — her press secretary tried to make her look good to reporters. Only a truly diabolical figure could contemplate such a thing.

We’re all tempted to assume the worst about our political opponents. They can’t be just people we disagree with or even people whose values are different from ours. If we’re partisan enough, we end up thinking that everything our opponents do is for the worst motives. Those people on the other side don’t even make mistakes; when they screw up, it just shows how venomous their very hearts are. It’s the political version of what psychologists call the “fundamental attribution error,” in which we attribute our own actions to circumstance, but we attribute other people’s actions to their inherent nature. If I cut you off in traffic, it’s because I didn’t realize you were in my blind spot; if you cut me off, it’s because you’re a jerk.

And if Americans died at Benghazi, well it just had to be an outgrowth of Hillary Clinton’s infinite capacity for evil. She got emails from a guy we don’t like? Proof of just how wicked the whole thing was! Somebody in the administration described the events in a way that turned out to be inaccurate? Yet more proof!

Many conservatives watching the hearing no doubt concluded that it reinforced everything they think about Clinton: that she’s dishonest and untrustworthy, that she’s surrounded by unsavory characters, and that she is utterly at fault for the deaths of those four Americans in Benghazi. They also probably thought the Republicans on the committee were heroic in their efforts to pin her down.

But it’s hard to imagine lots of Americans who would agree, unless they are already committed Republicans. It wouldn’t be the first time Republicans thought they were doing great, while the rest of America saw the situation a little differently.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, October 23, 2015

October 24, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Cleaning Up The Last Bush/Cheney Mess”: There Is Almost Never A Way To Do So That Pleases Everyone

One of the sad realities of the Obama presidency is that he and his administration have had to spend so much of their time cleaning up messes that were left by Bush and Cheney. I won’t try to capture all of them, but two wars in the Middle East, an economy careening towards a second Great Depression and exploding federal deficits are the three big ones. When President Obama titled his 2015 State of the Union Address “Turning the Page,” a lot of what he was saying is that his administration was finally ready to move on from most of that.

But one intransigent mess lingers on…the prison Bush/Cheney built in Guantanamo, Cuba. President Obama is determined to close Gitmo before his term ends and the White House has been clear that they are drafting a plan to do so.

This week right wing media sites have gone a bit berserk over the fact that two more detainees have been released. The first was the man who was reported to be Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard.

The former detainee, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, is from Saudi Arabia, and he was one of 32 Middle Eastern men who were captured by the Pakistani military along the Afghanistan border in December 2001 and turned over to the United States. He was among the first batch of detainees taken to the prison when it opened at the American naval station in Cuba on Jan. 11, 2002.

Second was the last of several British residents and citizens who have been held at Gitmo.

The Obama administration has notified Congress of its intent to send Shaker Aamer, a suspected al-Qaeda plotter held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than 13 years, back to Britain, yielding to a lengthy campaign to secure the British resident’s release, officials said Friday.

For a status update on where things stand with closing Gitmo, the New York Times has some helpful graphs. Of the 771 detainees who have been held there, 657 have been released and 114 remain. Of the 53 who have been cleared for release but are still there, 43 are from Yemen. The Obama administration has been reluctant to repatriate detainees to Yemen due to the chaos that currently exists in that country. Ten detainees have either been convicted or await trial. Finally, as a testament to how badly the Bush/Cheney administration handled all this, the remaining 51 have been recommended for indefinite detention without a trail – mostly due to the fact that evidence has been tainted by their treatment (read: torture).

In December of last year, Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration in their efforts to close Gitmo. This is very likely one of the topics he and the President discussed in their one-on-one meeting this week. I would assume that the Vatican might be most helpful in working with countries to provide alternatives for the 53 who have been cleared for release. No matter how controversial plans for that might be, you can be sure that whatever President Obama proposes to do with the remaining detainees (10 convicted/awaiting trail and 51 to be indefinitely detained), there will be howls from both sides of the political spectrum. The left will suggest that they shouldn’t be held at all and the right will complain because President Obama’s likely solution will be to move them to a maximum security prison(s) in the United States.

I will simply say that one of the problems that is endemic to cleaning up your predecessors messes is that there is almost never a way to do so that pleases everyone. Nothing more ably demonstrates that than Gitmo. Perhaps the one thing that everyone can agree with is that President Obama deserves some credit for his determination to not leave this one to the next president.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 27, 2015

September 30, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Congress, GITMO | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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