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“Rank Hypocrisy”: We Should Negotiate With Terrorists, We Always Have

I’m sure by now you have heard someone on TV say, of the five Taliban returnees, that we were going to have to give them back anyway, on cessation of hostilities. What you may not have heard said quite so often is why that is the case. But the reason is crucially important, because it brings to the fore one of the great hypocrisies under which the United States is forced to—or has chosen to—labor, and one we should do away with posthaste: this ridiculous idea that “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

With respect to the release of the hirsute quintet, here’s the deal. We declared war on the Taliban in 2001. “We,” the Bush administration, did this, although I confess I supported that war (never Iraq, though). Once we declared war on them and invaded their country, the rules of war applied. That means prisoners taken aren’t hostages. They are prisoners of war. And prisoners of war are accorded certain rights, some of which we violated but never mind that, and they are returned, usually at war’s end but sometimes before, through a process of… well, negotiation. It’s been this way since warfare began. And aside from prisoner exchanges, there is of course the matter of ending hostilities in the first place. That also must be negotiated.

“We” also—that is, President George W. Bush, by executive order—declared the Taliban a terrorist organization in 2002.  The group is not on the State Department list, but a presidential declaration has the same legal standing and force.

And so, the conundrum of illogic that these two declarations created: The Taliban are both an enemy combatant with which we absolutely must negotiate, and a terrorist group with which we absolutely must not negotiate.

Obviously, those two realities exist in tension. How do we resolve it? You might say “by not declaring war on them,” and it has to be said, in retrospect, that sounds like a damn good idea. It should never, ever, ever be forgotten, while these Republicans bang on at President Obama for everything he does, that he was put in this position only because we started fighting this 14-year war—the longest in our history; we defeated Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo in less than one-third the time—with fewer than 2,000 soldiers on the ground.  And we—excuse me, “we”—did that because our brilliant leaders knew at that point that they wanted to save the bigger numbers for taking out Saddam Hussein. So yes, in hindsight, no war in Afghanistan, at least as it was waged by the geniuses who created this world-historic catastrophe, sounds a good thought.

But at least in warfare, there are certain rules that go back millennia. The United States’ fight against terrorism is only about 40 years old, and it largely coincides with the years of right-wing backlash. And so, just as we had to start getting “tough on crime” domestically in the late 1970s with a series of policies that are in fact bankrupting states and municipalities and are plainly racist, as even America’s greatest conservative (and evangelical Christian!) criminologist acknowledged before his premature death,  we also had to be “tough on terrorism” abroad.

It’s hard to place exactly when “We don’t negotiate with terrorists” entered the political lexicon. It’s pretty clear that it was Ronald Reagan who first said it, maybe during the 1980 campaign, maybe later. What matters is that it was rank hypocrisy from the moment it flew out of his mouth. His transition team negotiated the Iranian hostages’ release behind Jimmy Carter’s back. That was certainly negotiating with terrorists. And what was the Iran-Contra affair? The overture was made to Iran (a terrorist state in American eyes, then and now) in the first instance in an effort to free some American hostages being held in Lebanon. The president who didn’t negotiate with terrorists negotiated a deal that gave the terrorism-sponsoring state more than 2,000 anti-tank missiles, maintaining in his mind the fiction that he hadn’t negotiated with terrorists through the belief that his people were dealing only with Iranian “moderates.” What these “moderates” were going to do with 2,000 anti-tank missiles except give them to the non-moderate, terrorism-sponsoring regime then engaged in a war with Iraq is one of the puzzles of the Reagan mind, but let’s press on.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 6, 2014

June 10, 2014 Posted by | POW's, Terrorism, Terrorists | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cantor Running Scared”: Facing A Hard-Right Challenger, He Wants No Part Of Immigration Reform

In the latest round of Republican excuses for inaction on immigration reform, there’s a new culprit: Eric Cantor’s actually struggling in his re-election primary. Here’s how Juan Williams puts it at The Hill:

When Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) was recently asked why he has failed to get an immigration bill to the floor, he reacted by saying “Me?” Boehner appeared to be passing the buck to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), who sets the schedule for floor votes….

At the moment, Cantor wants no part of anything that can be labeled “amnesty.” He started backtracking on support for reform during his fight to win Tuesday’s GOP primary in his congressional district. Cantor is facing a hard-right challenger, Dave Brat, who opposes any citizenship or legal status for illegal immigrants as “amnesty.”

Some of you may recall that last month Cantor was humiliated at his own 7th district GOP convention when he was booed lustily by many delegates just before his hand-picked candidate for district chairman was rejected. Tomorrow he faces conservative economics professor Dave Brat at the polls, and though Cantor is heavily favored, it’s not a slam dunk. On Friday a poll commissioned by the Daily Caller showed the incumbent well below 50% in committed supporters, and only leading 52-39 with leaners added in. The poll didn’t show immigration as a red-hot issue, but did show that about a third of GOP voters in Cantor’s district have really hard-core, round-em-all-up views about undocumented workers:

Only 9 percent of respondents in the poll said immigration was their top-most issue. Cantor’s team has flooded mailboxes with flyers  that says he has blocked the Senate’s June 2013 rewrite of immigration laws, and that he opposes amnesty for illegals.

The poll shows that Cantor’s primary voters strongly oppose illegal immigration. Sixty-four percent said government should focus on blocking illegal immigration, while only 26 percent said the focus should be to “deal with the immigrants who are currently in the U.S. illegally.”

Only 23 percent said “there needs to be a humane way for immigrants to come out of the shadows and gain legal status.” In contrast, 33 percent support deporting “every immigrant who is in the U.S. illegally.” Forty-four percent want “something in between” legalization and complete deportation, said the poll.

So if the primary explains Cantor’s lassitude towards action on immigration in the House, will he spring back to life after the votes are in tomorrow (assuming, of course, that he wins)? I dunno. Nothing would give more impetus to a challenge to Cantor next cycle than that sort of screw-you gesture to the conservatives of his district. And Cantor also has to pay attention to keeping a majority of House Republicans in his camp for his presumed ascension to the top House job when John Boehner hangs it up. With each day the odds of any action on immigration reform erodes a bit more. What’s mainly interesting at the moment is when and how House GOP leaders officially throw in the towel.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 9, 2014

June 10, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Immigration Reform | , , , , | Leave a comment

“McCain Just Can’t Seem To Help Himself”: One Of These Days, The Beltway Will Stop Looking To McCain As An Expert

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ran into a little trouble last week. The Republican senator, a little too eager to condemn the Obama White House, complained about the prisoner swap that freed an American POW despite having already endorsed the exact same plan a few months prior. After getting caught, McCain falsely accused his critics of “lying.”

Making matters slightly worse, the Arizona lawmaker, himself a former POW, complained to the media that he hadn’t learned anything from a classified briefing on Bowe Bergdahl’s release, neglecting to mention that he’d left in the middle of it.

Despite – or perhaps, because of – these embarrassments, McCain scored another Sunday-show invitation, where he somehow managed to add insult to injury.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday called the five Guantanamo detainees released in a prisoner swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl “hardcore military jihadists who are responsible for 9/11” and said he expects them to return to fighting against the U.S.

In context, looking at the full transcript, it’s hard to say whether McCain believes these five detainees were “responsible for 9/11” or whether he believes all of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were “responsible for 9/11,” but either way, the senator is plainly wrong.

McCain added, in reference to the Bergdahl prisoner-swap, “I wouldn’t release these men, not these men. They were evaluated and judged as too great a risk to release.”

That’s wrong, too. In fact, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay told msnbc’s Alex Witt over the weekend that at first he didn’t even recognize these detainees’ names. “To trade five of them for a U.S. service member, in my estimation, and I’m often critical of President [Barack] Obama, I think they struck a pretty good deal,” retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis said.

What’s more, just a few months ago, McCain personally endorsed the plan to transfer these exact same Taliban prisoners. When he says he wouldn’t have completed the swap for “these men,” he’s neglecting to mention that he’d already expressed public support for swapping “these men.”

And all of this led to the creme de la crème:

“I believe that there are other prisoners, some of whom we have already released, that we could have released that – in exchange,” McCain argued.

If someone could explain what this means, I’d appreciate it. Putting aside the fact that McCain already endorsed the plan to swap these exact same prisoners before he changed his mind and denied changing his mind, it’s not at all clear how U.S. officials could have swapped prisoners “whom we have already released.”

It’s tempting to think that, one of these days, the Beltway will stop looking to McCain as an expert on matters related to national security and the military, but I’ve been waiting for that day for quite a while. It never seems to arrive.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 9, 2014

June 10, 2014 Posted by | John McCain, National Security, POW/MIA | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Troubling Questions”: How Much Does Right-Wing Rhetoric Contribute To Right-Wing Terrorism?

Yesterday, a man and a woman shot two police officers in a Las Vegas restaurant after saying, “this is a revolution.” Then they draped their bodies in a Gadsden flag. According to reports now coming in, the couple (who later killed themselves) appear to have been white supremacists and told neighbors they had gone to join the protests in support of anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy. It was one more incident of right-wing terrorism that, while not exactly an epidemic, has become enough of a trend to raise some troubling questions.

What I’m about to say will raise some hackles, but we need to talk about it. It’s long past time for prominent conservatives and Republicans to do some introspection and ask whether they’re contributing to outbreaks of right-wing violence.

Before I go on, let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that Republican members of Congress bear direct responsibility for everything some disturbed person from the same side of the political spectrum as them might do. I’m not saying that they are explicitly encouraging violence. Nor am I saying that you can’t find examples of liberals using hyperbolic, irresponsible words.

But what I am saying is this: there are some particular features of conservative political rhetoric today that help create an atmosphere in which violence and terrorism can germinate.

The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns. But that’s only part of it. Just as meaningful is the conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office. If you tuned into one of many national television and radio programs on the right, you heard over and over that Obama was imposing a totalitarian state upon us. You might hear that FEMA was building secret concentration camps (Glenn Beck, the propagator of that theory, later recanted it, though he has a long history of violent rhetoric), or that Obama is seeding the government with agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. You grandfather probably got an email offering proof that Obama is literally the antichrist.

Meanwhile, conservatives have become prone to taking the political disagreements of the moment and couching them in apocalyptic terms, encouraging people to think that if Democrats have their way on any given debate, that our country, or at the very least our liberty, might literally be destroyed.

To take just one of an innumerable number of examples, when GOP Senator Ron Johnson says that the Affordable Care Act is “the greatest assault on freedom in our lifetime,” and hopes that the Supreme Court will intervene to preserve our “last shred of freedom,” is it at all surprising that some people might be tempted to take up arms? After all, if he’s right, and the ACA really means that freedom is being destroyed, then violent revolution seems justified. Johnson might respond by saying, “Well, of course I didn’t mean that literally.” And I’m sure he didn’t — Johnson may be no rocket scientist, but he knows that despite the individual mandate going into effect, there are a few shreds of freedom remaining in America.

But the argument that no sane person could actually believe many of the things conservatives say shouldn’t absolve them of responsibility. When you broadcast every day that the government of the world’s oldest democracy is a totalitarian beast bent on turning America into a prison of oppression and fear, when you glorify lawbreakers like Cliven Bundy, when you say that your opponents would literally destroy the country if they could, you can’t profess surprise when some people decide that violence is the only means of forestalling the disaster you have warned them about.

To my conservative friends tempted to find outrageous things liberals have said in order to argue that both sides are equally to blame, I’d respond this way: Find me all the examples of people who shot up a church after reading books by Rachel Maddow and Paul Krugman, and then you’ll have a case.

In our recent history, every election of a Democratic president is followed by a rise in conspiracy-obsessed right-wing populism. In the 1960s it was the John Birch Society; in the 1990s it was the militia movement shouting about black UN helicopters, and during the Obama presidency it was the Tea Party. Some of those movements are ultimately harmless, but alongside and around them are people who take their rhetoric seriously and lash out in response. After these killings in Nevada, and the murders at a Jewish community center in Kansas, and the murders at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and multiple murders by members of the “sovereign citizens” movement in the last few years, it’s worth remembering that since 9/11, right-wing terrorism has killed many more Americans than al Qaeda terrorism.

And I promise you, these murders in Nevada will not be the last. It may be going too far to say that conservative politicians and media figures whose rhetoric has fed the deranged fantasies of terrorists and killers have blood on their hands. But they shouldn’t have a clear conscience, either.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line; The Washington Post, June 9, 2014

June 10, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Gun Violence, Right Wing, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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