On “Emboldening” Republicans: Ruining President Obama’s Day Is About All The Grand Strategy Republicans Have Right Now
Good decisions seldom come from worrying whether the other side thinks you’re weak.
I want to expand on something I brought up yesterday on the utility, for the opposition party, of doing nothing more with your efforts than becoming the biggest pain in the president’s ass you possibly can. As of now, Republicans have mounted an unprecedented filibuster against Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense, the latest in a long line of cases in which they looked at a prevailing norm of doing business in Washington and realized that there was no reason they couldn’t violate it. Sure, up until now we had an unspoken agreement that the president would get to appoint pretty much whoever he wants to his cabinet unless the nominee was a drunk, a criminal, or grossly unqualified. But Republicans feel perfectly free to cast that agreement aside. Why? Because screw you, Obama, that’s why. In any case, it looks at the moment as though this filibuster will be temporary, and Hagel will eventually get confirmed.
So now, there are two ways to look at this. Having caused all this trouble, will the Republicans feel like they got it out of their system and calm themselves down a bit? Or will they be emboldened to find new and creative ways to throw monkey wrenches into the gears of government?
As Michael Tomasky points out, the whole idea of appointing a Republican was to avoid this kind of mess:
The only utility to a Democratic president of having a Republican SecDef is that Republicans will cut the guy some slack and not pester him the way they might go after a Democrat. Hagel obviously will not fulfill that purpose, so I’m not sure what good Hagel is to Obama anyway. He’s more trouble than he’s worth. Hagel ought to think about withdrawing his name. I’d rather see a Democrat running the shop anyway. The only problem with Hagel withdrawing is that it escalates this craziness.
I agree with Tomasky in that I don’t particularly care on a substantive level whether Chuck Hagel becomes Secretary of Defense. From what I can tell he’ll be neither the best occupant of that position we’ve had nor the worst. I also think that the idea that he’ll fundamentally shape American foreign policy is overblown; Barack Obama seems to have a pretty clear idea of what he wants, and Hagel isn’t going to steamroll him into doing things he doesn’t want to do. It isn’t like he’ll be Don Rumsfeld, blundering about the world causing destruction while his president is too busy contemplating his place in history to notice. But would it really escalate the craziness if Hagel did withdraw?
I think there’s always reason to be skeptical of arguments that involve somebody getting “emboldened” to act in ways they otherwise wouldn’t. You may recall that we heard this a lot from the Bush administration and its supporters during the long years of the Iraq War. We couldn’t even discuss getting out, they argued, because that would “embolden” the terrorists. But if you will recall, lack of boldness wasn’t al Qaeda’s problem. And no, I’m not saying congressional Republicans are like terrorists, but the principle is basically the same. It’s true that people’s future behavior can be shaped by whether they think they won or lost the last battle. But good decisions seldom come from worrying whether you look weak to the other side.
I’m sure that as far as many Republicans are concerned, they already won on the whole Hagel question, because their goal wasn’t to stop someone they genuinely believe has troubling views, or to move the Pentagon more in a direction they want; their goal was to ruin Barack Obama’s day. And if Hagel withdrew his nomination, it wouldn’t “embolden” them, because ruining Obama’s day is about all the grand strategy they have right now.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 15, 2013
Remember the Republicans’ debt-ceiling crisis in 2011? It was about a year and a half ago when GOP leaders handed President Obama a ransom note: accept more than $2 trillion in debt reduction or the economy gets it. The parties agreed to more than $1 trillion in cuts, but agreed they needed more time to work on a larger agreement.
So, they crafted a mechanism intended to force both sides to the negotiating table — a sword of Damocles hanging over Washington’s head that would be so severe, Democrats and Republicans would have a strong incentive to strike a deal to avoid the drastic consequences.
The mechanism was automatic sequestration cuts — or “the sequester” — valued at about $1.2 trillion, half of which would come from the Pentagon. (Democrats originally wanted automatic tax hikes to motivate the GOP, but Republicans refused — even hypothetical tax increases were deemed outrageous — and deep Defense cuts were used instead.)
These cuts kick in three weeks from today, and so far, the two sides aren’t close. Democrats want a balanced deal the GOP should find tolerable — spending cuts on one side of the ledger, revenue from closed tax loopholes on the other. Republicans, meanwhile, say they’re prepared to simply let the sequester happen, regardless of the consequences to the economy, the military, or the public.
At least, that’s what they say publicly. Behind the scenes, the GOP strategy is on shaky ground.
One thing is becoming clear: Republicans want to find a way to replace the cuts in the sequester, despite some loud rhetoric to the contrary.
Top House Republican aides privately concede that the politics of allowing the cuts to hit — layoffs, furloughs and a stalled economic recovery — are tough to stomach and they would prefer to make a deal, on their terms of course. [...]
A top GOP leadership aide, speaking anonymously to divulge internal thinking, laid out 10 options that the House GOP leadership would be willing to accept, along with savings estimates developed by GOP policy aides, in order to avoid the sequester.
So, the good news is, Republicans are not actively seeking a course that would hurt the country on purpose. The bad news is, they’re still struggling with the whole “compromise” concept.
To date, with just 21 days to go, Republicans leaders have offered nothing — there is no sequester alternative on the table, and in this Congress, no bills to replace the sequester have even been written. There are reportedly 10 different scenarios Republican leaders would be willing to consider, but all 10 are made up entirely of deep spending cuts and would not include so much as a penny in additional revenue.
In other words, Republicans want to replace sequestration with a package that gives them 100% of what they want and 0% of what Democrats want.
This after a national campaign in which Democrats voiced support for a balanced approach, and the American electorate strongly agreed.
It’s nice, I suppose, that there are so many Republican-friendly options to choose from — the menu includes everything from raising the Medicare eligibility age to chained CPI, cutting federal pensions to cutting agricultural subsidies — but so long as GOP officials expect a 100%/0% deal, the likelihood of a breakthrough is remote.
That said, with three weeks to go, I expect some movement away from the intransigent status quo. Put aside the rhetoric and the posturing and we’re left with a picture in which Democrats and Republicans actually have the same goal: to get rid of the sequester. The GOP doesn’t want to admit it, but a bipartisan deal, featuring a combination of spending cuts and revenue from closed tax loopholes and unnecessary deductions could come together with relative ease.
What’s more, if the automatic sequestration cuts happen, and the economy tanks, Republicans probably realize this will be their fault and they’ll likely get the blame. It’s why Josh Green wrote late yesterday that a “Republican crackup over the sequester” almost seems inevitable.
As the process unfolds, I’d like to take a moment to throw in my own suggestion: get rid of the sequester. Don’t try to replace it, don’t struggle to find some satisfying ratio that pleases both sides, don’t delay it for a few months, just cancel it. The deficit is already shrinking, spending has already been cut, and if policymakers want to do even more to improve the nation’s long-term finances, they can work on a deal without some dangerous threat hanging over their heads.
Sequestration was a bad idea. There’s no reason both sides can’t agree to get rid of the darn thing and start fighting over something else.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 7, 2013
“A Congenital Hothead, A Man Of Grudges”: The Bitter Twilight Of John McCain Gives Even Republicans Pause
That one,” John McCain famously snarled in a presidential debate four years ago, referring to his opponent who was a quarter of a century younger and who had been in the Senate 3 years to McCain’s 20. It’s difficult to imagine a better revelation of the McCain psyche than that moment, but if there is one, then it came yesterday at the meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, convened to consider the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. The McCain fury is something to behold, almost irresistible for how unvarnished it is in all its forms. In the instance of the 2008 debate, McCain’s dumbfounded antipathy had to do with facing an opponent he so clearly considered unworthy. In the instance of the hearing yesterday, McCain’s bitter blast was at somebody who once was among his closest friends, a former Vietnam warrior and fellow Republican of a similarly independent ilk, who supported McCain’s first run for the presidency in 2000 against George W. Bush but then appeared to abandon the Arizona senator eight years later.
If all this suggests political differences born largely of personal dynamics and their breach, it’s because for McCain the two are interchangeable. At this moment we should make the effort to remind ourselves of what’s commendable about McCain, an admiral’s son who could only live up to his father’s reputation by way of five years in a Hanoi jail, where he walked—or hobbled, given the crippling abuse he suffered at the hands of his captors—the walk of loyalty and didn’t just talk it. When offered freedom halfway through those five years, he refused to leave behind his fellow prisoners of war who had been there longer and were due their freedom first. It’s a story so formidable that 12 years ago Bush supporters resorted to suggesting McCain was a “Hanoi Candidate,” brainwashed in the manner of cinematic Manchurians. So let’s not question McCain’s courage, or a code that means as much to him as patriotism. In that initial presidential run, admiration for the man trumped what disagreements overly romantic voters like myself had when it came time to mark his name on our ballots (as I did in that year’s California primary).
In the time since, two things have happened to McCain. One was the Iraq War, the worst American foreign policy blunder of the post-World War II era, which McCain wholeheartedly supported from the beginning and about which he’s never intimated a second thought. The other was Barack Obama, electoral politics’ upstart lieutenant whose bid to become five-star general, bypassing stops along the way at captain, major and colonel, wasn’t just temerity to a man who waited his turn to be released from prison, but insubordination. Those two things converged yesterday in McCain’s prosecution of Hagel, no less sorry a spectacle on McCain’s part for the fact that Hagel handled it so unimpressively. Perhaps Hagel was startled, figuring his one-time compatriot would be tough but not vicious. If that’s the case, then he never knew McCain as well as he thought or hoped, because if he did then he would know that McCain is a man of grudges. In his memoir Faith of My Fathers, in which words like “gallantry” appear without embarrassment (and which no one has more earned the right to use), McCain himself acknowledges being the congenital hothead of legend who’s nearly come to blows with colleges. Half a century later, he recalls every altercation with every Naval Academy classmate; as a child, rage sometimes drove him to hold his breath until he blacked out. No need to indulge in untrained psychotherapy from afar to surmise that the ability to nurse such a grudge may be what gets you through half a decade of cruel incarceration.
At any rate, what happened yesterday wasn’t about Hagel at all. It wasn’t even about the Iraq War’s 2007 “surge,” which McCain is desperate to justify because he can never justify the war itself that finds Hagel moved to the right side of history while McCain remains stubbornly on the wrong. It’s about that junior senator from Illinois who crossed McCain early in some obscure backroom Senate deal no one can remember anymore, then denied McCain the presidency in no small part because Obama understood the folly of Iraq better than McCain can allow himself to. McCain’s personal honor in Hanoi was too hard won to be stained now by almost anything he does, including how he’s allowed temperament, pique and ego to steamroll the judgment and perspective that we hope all of our elected officers have, let alone presidents. But his political honor, not to mention whatever might once have recommended him to the presidency, has fallen victim to the way that Obama has gotten fatally under his skin. Even if this once-noble statesman should succeed in denying Hagel’s nomination as he denied Susan Rice’s prospects for Secretary of State (and even the most devout Hagel supporter would have to acknowledge that the Defense nominee’s performance before the Committee was often a shambles), McCain’s unrelenting obsession with the grievance that Obama has come to represent to him is the saddest legacy in memory. The very fact of Obama and all things Obamic has turned McCain into something toxic, maybe even to himself.
By: Steve Erickson, The American Prospect, February 2, 2013
Last year, in 2012, the U.S. government spent about $841 billion on security—a figure that includes defense, intelligence, war appropriations, and foreign aid. At the same time, the government collected about $1.1 trillion in individual income taxes. (And about $2.4 trillion in revenues overall if you include payroll, corporate, estate, and excise taxes.)
In other words, about 80 cents of every dollar collected in traditional federal income taxes went for security.
That’s an astonishing statistic, and it captures the most underappreciated aspect of today’s fiscal challenges: We have a security spending problem. Such spending is significantly higher than all non-defense discretionary domestic spending.
Worse yet, almost nobody in Washington seems interested in seriously curtailing defense spending that is greater in real terms than what the U.S. spent in the Cold War—despite the fact that the U.S. will be officially at peace when we withdraw from Aghanistan next year and the U.S. faces no major global adversaries.
While the Simpson-Bowles Commission advocated over a trillion dollars in defense cuts, President Obama’s budget would only reduce spending modestly, and even that’s a hard sell on Capitol Hill. Both parties happily suspended planned defense cuts under sequestration as part of the fiscal cliff deal.
Given all this, it was great to read a new report by the Project on Defense Alternatives entitled “Reasonable Defense: A Sustainable Approach to Securing the Nation” and written by Carl Conetta. PDA has long been a leading voice for responsible defense spending. But today, with the fiscal heat on, their work is more timely and important than ever.
The new report sets the defense challenge in it’s proper context: Which is that the United States is operating in a much more competitive global economy and needs to rethink its ideas of national strength, along with its budgetary priorities:
Today, the challenge that will most affect America’s future prospects lies in the economic sphere, not the military one. In this respect the current era is distinct from the period of the Second World War and the Cold War. How America handles current fiscal challenges and reorders government priorities should reflect this fact. . . . In all areas of policy, new economic realities compel national leaders to adopt a longer view, set clearer priorities, seek new efficiencies, and attend more closely to the ratio of costs, risks, and benefits when allocating resources.
A centerpiece of the report’s strategic framework is the idea of Adaptive Security. This approach focuses:
America’s armed forces on deterring and containing current threats, while working principally by other means to reduce future conflict potentials and strengthen the foundation for cooperative action. This would move America toward a future in which threat potentials are lower and security cooperation greater. While the United States uses its military power to check real and present threats of violence, it would employ non-military instruments to impede the emergence of new threats and reduce future conflict potentials.
This strategy makes a whole lot of sense in a world where America’s real enemies, like Iran and Al-Qaeda, are quite weak while our main potential enemy, China, is very strong.
While many in the Pentagon—with their worst-case mindsets—may be inclined to maintain a military that could deal with all potential enemies, the Adaptive Security formula suggests that the U.S. focus other kinds of resources on making sure such enemies never materialize. If money were limitless, one could argue the merits of either approach. But in today’s fiscal climate, Adaptive Security is the only affordable path.
In any case, the rise of China in particular underscores how economic challenges are the biggest challenges facing the United States, as Conetta argues. If we’re really worried about being dominated by China, we should be focused on training more engineers not more fighter pilots.
Beyond its big picture contributions, “Reasonable Defense” makes many smart points about how to create a more cost-efficient defense sector and a leaner military—and reduce defense spending by a half trillion over the next decade.
Let’s hope this report gets widely read in Washington.
By: David Callahan, The American Prospect, January 7, 2013
After word leaked from the White House late last week that Chuck Hagel was in line to become the next secretary of defense, Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard manned the Patriot missile batteries to shoot down that trial balloon.
The neoconservative journal, no fan of the iconoclastic former Republican senator, published a smear under the headline: “Senate aide: ‘Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.’ ” In the posting, this anonymous aide went on to accuse Hagel of “the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is.” As evidence, the article included a doctored quotation from Hagel referring to the “Jewish lobby.”
Other right-wing publications and conservative Zionist groups inevitably joined the chorus, including a column by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal saying Hagel’s prejudice has an “especially ripe” odor.
The Hagel hit is wrong on the merits, but it’s particularly egregious because the former senator from Nebraska is among the best and bravest public servants. He was an enlisted man in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts in jungle combat. In his legislative career, he was a powerful voice against the chicken hawks who have recklessly sent American troops to their deaths; he became one of the most outspoken critics of George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq war.
Hagel would probably be swiftly confirmed by the Senate, and he should be: A man of unassailable military credentials who regards war as a last resort is exactly the sort of person to head the Pentagon.
Kristol’s criticism of Hagel included a variety of supposed sins in various categories: terrorism (“Hagel was one of 11 senators who refused to sign a letter requesting President Bush not meet with Yasser Arafat. . . ”), Israel (“Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a letter expressing support for Israel during the second Palestinian intifada”), and Iran (“Hagel was one of only two U.S. senators who voted against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act”).
It’s fair criticism to say Hagel isn’t sufficiently pro-Israel, although much the same is said of the man who would nominate him. But Kristol, and then others, went further, publishing a passage from a 2008 book in which Hagel is quoted as saying: “The political reality is that . . . the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”
That was a dumb phrase — many Christians are pro-Israel and many Jews aren’t — and Hagel said he misspoke (he used the phrase “Israel lobby” elsewhere in the interview). But, as an American Jew who has written about anti-Semitism in political dialogue, I don’t see this as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. As Slate’s Dave Weigel points out, the actual quote in the book includes nothing about “the political reality,” and the sentence preceding the quote said that “Hagel is a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values.”
Hagel was explaining why he didn’t sign all of those nonbinding letters from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, justifiably calling them “stupid.” He further said: “I’m a United States senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”
Hagel’s foes claim groundlessly that this means he was accusing others of divided loyalties; that, they say, and his less-than-perfect record of voting AIPAC’s position disqualify him from running the Pentagon. But let’s examine Hagel’s record further:
He voted for the Iran Nonproliferation Act, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act and the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act. He co-sponsored resolutions opposing any unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and praising Israel’s efforts “in the face of terrorism, hostility and belligerence by many of her neighbors.” He also co-sponsored legislation urging the international community “to avoid contact with and refrain from supporting the terrorist organization Hamas until it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm and accept prior agreements.”
Such gestures won’t satisfy the neocon hard-liners, and Hagel’s occasional criticism of the Israeli military’s excesses doesn’t help. But this isn’t indicative of anti-Semitism, or even of anti-Israel sentiments.
It’s indicative of an infantry sergeant who isn’t opposed to war (he voted for the conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq) but knows the grim costs of going to war without a plan. And it’s indicative of a decorated military man who, unlike some of his neocon critics, knows that military action doesn’t solve everything.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 18, 2012