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“Their Own Genre Of Stupidity”: On Iraq, Let’s Ignore Those Who Got It All Wrong

At noon today, President Obama issued his first statement on the deteriorating situation on Iraq. “This is not solely or even primarily a military challenge,” he said. “The United States will do our part, but understand that ultimately it’s up to the Iraqis as a sovereign nation to solve their problems.”

Obama left the door open to unspecified “actions,” but repeated that the Iraqis themselves had to seize the opportunity that the years of American effort gave them.

This will no doubt be greeted by the President’s opponents with something akin to apoplexy. They will be arguing that in fact the problem does have a military solution, that the U.S. can solve it, and that whatever is happening, everything would be better if we applied more force.

We have now reached the rather ironic situation in Iraq where we find ourselves allied with Iran in an effort to save the corrupt and thuggish government of Nouri al-Maliki, while the army we spent eight years training falls apart. I’m not going to pretend to have unique insight into Iraqi politics (I’d suggest reading Marc Lynch, for starters, as a way of getting up to speed on what has led to this point).

But there are few people who understand Iraq less than the Republican politicians and pundits who are being sought out for their comments on the current situation.

As you watch the debate on this issue, you should remind yourself that the most prominent voices being heard are the very ones who brought us the Iraq War in the first place, who promised that everything was simple and the only question was whether we’d be “strong” and “decisive” enough — the same thing they’re saying today. They’re the ones who swore that Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaeda, that he had a terrifying arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, that the war would be quick, easy and cheap, that since Iraq was a largely secular country we wouldn’t have to worry about sectarian conflict, and that democracy would spread throughout the region in short order, bringing peace and prosperity along with it.

We can start with the man on every TV producer and print reporter’s speed dial, John McCain. McCain does provide something important to journalists: whatever the issue of the moment is, he can be counted on to offer angry, bitter criticism of the Obama administration, giving the “balance” every story needs. The fact that he has never demonstrated the slightest bit of understanding of Iraq is no bar at all to being the most quoted person on the topic.

For context, here’s a nice roundup of some of the things McCain said when he was pushing to invade Iraq in the first place. When asked if Iraqis were going to greet us as liberators, he answered, “Absolutely.” He said, “Post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is going to be paid for by the Iraqis” with their oil wealth (the war ended up costing the American taxpayer upwards of $2 trillion). And my favorite: “There is not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias, so I think they can probably get along.”

The conflict between Sunnis and Shiites is the central dynamic of the Iraq conflict, of course. Yet today, the media once again seek out John McCain’s wisdom and insight on Iraq, which is kind of like saying, “Jeez, it looks like we might be lost — we really need to ask Mr. Magoo for directions.”

Of late, he has a habit of walking out in the middle of briefings where he might actually learn what’s going on so he can head to the cameras and express his dudgeon. His current genius idea is for the administration to rehire David Petraeus and send him to Iraq, where he’ll…do something or other. He showed his deep knowledge yesterday by saying “Al Qaeda is now the richest terrorist organization in history,” apparently unaware that ISIS, the group sweeping through Iraq, is not in fact the same thing as Al Qaeda.

And the rest of the neocon gang is getting back together. Here’s Lindsey Graham advocating for American airstrikes — and I promise you that if the administration does in fact launch them, Graham will say they weren’t “strong” enough. Here’s Max Boot saying that what we need is just short of another invasion of Iraq: “U.S. military advisers, intelligence personnel, Predators, and Special Operations Forces, along with enhanced military aid, in return for political reforms designed to bring Shiites and Sunnis closer together.” Former Bush administration official and torture advocate Marc Thiessen is appalled that Barack Obama squandered George W. Bush’s glorious Iraq victory.

And Bill Kristol, who may have done more than any single person outside the Bush administration to make the war a reality, and whose predictions and assessments about the war were so spectacularly wrong they constituted their own genre of stupidity? He’ll be on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday, so he can enlighten us about what’s really going on.

We’re facing yet another awful and complex situation in the Middle East where we have a limited set of options, and none of them are good. But whenever you hear anyone say that the answer is simple and that being “strong” is the key — as one conservative after another will no doubt be saying in the coming days — don’t forget what happened the last time the country listened to them.


By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, June 13, 2014

June 17, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iraq, Iraq War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Yes He Could”: Health Care And Climate, President Obama’s Big Deals

Several times in recent weeks I’ve found myself in conversations with liberals who shake their heads sadly and express their disappointment with President Obama. Why? I suspect that they’re being influenced, often without realizing it, by the prevailing media narrative.

The truth is that these days much of the commentary you see on the Obama administration — and a lot of the reporting too — emphasizes the negative: the contrast between the extravagant hopes of 2008 and the prosaic realities of political trench warfare, the troubles at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the mess in Iraq, and so on. The accepted thing, it seems, is to portray Mr. Obama as floundering, his presidency as troubled if not failed.

But this is all wrong. You should judge leaders by their achievements, not their press, and in terms of policy substance Mr. Obama is having a seriously good year. In fact, there’s a very good chance that 2014 will go down in the record books as one of those years when America took a major turn in the right direction.

First, health reform is now a reality — and despite a shambolic start, it’s looking like a big success story. Remember how nobody was going to sign up? First-year enrollments came in above projections. Remember how people who signed up weren’t actually going to pay their premiums? The vast majority have.

We don’t yet have a full picture of the impact of reform on the previously uninsured, but all the information we do have indicates major progress. Surveys, like the monthly survey by Gallup, show a sharp drop in the percentage of Americans reporting themselves as uninsured. States that expanded Medicaid and actively promoted the new exchanges have done especially well — for example, a new survey of Minnesota shows a 40 percent drop in the number of uninsured residents.

And there’s every reason to expect a lot of additional progress next year. Notably, additional insurance companies are entering the exchanges, which is both an indication that insurers believe things are going well and a reason to expect more competition and outreach next year.

Then there’s climate policy. The Obama administration’s new rules on power plants won’t be enough in themselves to save the planet, but they’re a real start — and are by far the most important environmental initiative since the Clean Air Act. I’d add that this is an issue on which Mr. Obama is showing some real passion.

Oh, and financial reform, although it’s much weaker than it should have been, is real — just ask all those Wall Street types who, enraged by the new limits on their wheeling and dealing, have turned their backs on the Democrats.

Put it all together, and Mr. Obama is looking like a very consequential president indeed. There were huge missed opportunities early in his administration — inadequate stimulus, the failure to offer significant relief to distressed homeowners. Also, he wasted years in pursuit of a Grand Bargain on the budget that, aside from turning out to be impossible, would have moved America in the wrong direction. But in his second term he is making good on the promise of real change for the better. So why all the bad press?

Part of the answer may be Mr. Obama’s relatively low approval rating. But this mainly reflects political polarization — strong approval from Democrats but universal opposition from Republicans — which is more a sign of the times than a problem with the president. Anyway, you’re supposed to judge presidents by what they do, not by fickle public opinion.

A larger answer, I’d guess, is Simpson-Bowles syndrome — the belief that good things must come in bipartisan packages, and that fiscal probity is the overriding issue of our times. This syndrome persists among many self-proclaimed centrists even though it’s overwhelmingly clear to anyone who has been paying attention that (a) today’s Republicans simply will not compromise with a Democratic president, and (b) the alleged fiscal crisis was vastly overblown.

The result of the syndrome’s continuing grip is that Mr. Obama’s big achievements don’t register with much of the Washington establishment: he was supposed to save the budget, not the planet, and somehow he was supposed to bring Republicans along.

But who cares what centrists think? Health reform is a very big deal; if you care about the future, action on climate is a lot more important than raising the retirement age. And if these achievements were made without Republican support, so what?

There are, I suppose, some people who are disappointed that Mr. Obama didn’t manage to make our politics less bitter and polarized. But that was never likely. The real question was whether he (with help from Nancy Pelosi and others) could make real progress on important issues. And the answer, I’m happy to say, is yes, he could.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 16, 2014

June 17, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Climate Change, Politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“No, Eric Cantor Did Not Lose Because He’s Jewish”: There Were No Other Elephants In The Room

Eric Cantor’s primary defeat by David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, sent the pundits scurrying. Shocked and bewildered, they searched around for theories to makes sense of what they had not anticipated happening. Hundreds of articles were written and dozens of explanations were offered.

One of the more fascinating threads that emerged from the cacophony of ideas put forward in the days following the primary was the effort to find a Jewish dimension to the story. Cantor, the House Majority Leader, was the highest ranking Jewish lawmaker in American history, with aspirations to be Speaker of the House. When one adds to that the fact that Brat is a religious Christian who speaks frequently of his faith, the temptation to uncover a Jewish angle became irresistible. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the leading Jewish weekly the Forward, and a variety of other publications duly turned out articles examining, from every perspective, the Jewish and religious sides of the election.

The problem was that there was no Jewish angle, at least not one of any consequence.

David Wasserman, a normally sensible political analyst, got things going with a much-quoted statement to the Times suggesting that anti-Semitism was at play in Cantor’s defeat. Cantor was culturally out of step with his redrawn district, according to Wasserman, “and part of this plays into his religion. You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.” Sensationalist headlines soon followed. The Week, a news magazine, ran a story entitled “Did Eric Cantor lose because he’s Jewish?” And the Forward ran an opinion column with the headline “Did Eric Cantor Lose Because He’s Jewish? You Betcha.”

But there was no elephant in the room. There wasn’t even a mosquito in the room. Nobody could turn up a single statement or piece of literature coming from the Brat campaign or anyone else that was even remotely anti-Semitic. And sensationalism aside, the ultimate consensus of virtually everyone was that anti-Semitism was not a factor of any kind in Cantor’s loss.

Conservatives, including Jewish conservatives, cried foul, charging that the point of the coverage was a deliberate attempt by liberals to smear Republican voters as bigots. Perhaps, although my own view is that it reflected media sloppiness and obsessiveness more than political conspiracy.

Another claim was that even in the absence of explicit anti-Semitism, the Brat victory represented a victory for evangelicalism and Christian politics and therefore a long-term threat to Jews and all non-Christian minorities. Vigilance about church-state separation is always appropriate, of course, but it is hard to see the threat here. Brat is often described as aligned with the Tea Party, which is a motley collection of organizations and activists; it has ill-defined religious positions not at all identical with those of evangelical groups, which are diverse themselves. Most important, there is much evidence that Americans are becoming less religious and not more so, and, as the gay marriage issue demonstrates, more tolerant in their religious outlooks.

Mr. Brat, of course, likes to talk publicly of his belief in God, and that is distressing to some people, both Jews and Christians. But God talk is acceptable in America, and people with liberal religious outlooks, President Obama included, also make reference to their religious beliefs from time to time. The key for politicians is to be sure that they ground their statements in a language of morality that is accessible to everyone; Americans need a common political discourse not dominated by exclusivist theology. As long as Brat—and others—stay on the right side of that political line, there is no reason to see this election as a religious watershed for Jews or anyone else, or a victory for religious coercion.

A third claim is that the Cantor defeat represents a disastrous decline of Jewish political fortunes. In this view, Cantor’s defeat is seen as part of a broader pattern: There are 33 Jews in the current Congress, both the House and the Senate, as compared with 39 in the previous one. But here again, this seems like an altogether arbitrary and unfounded assumption. Jews are well represented in all areas of America’s educational, business, and political life, and that is not changed in any way by the defeat of a Jewish Majority Leader in the House of Representatives.

Eric Cantor’s fall from political power is interesting and in some ways important. For decades to come, politicians and professors will study it as an example of what happens when a serious but self-referential politician loses touch with the things that ordinary Americans care about and gets caught up in the big-dollar culture of Washington. But they will say very little about the Jewish dimension of this affair—and that is for the simple reason that it doesn’t exist.


By: Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, a Writer and Lecturer, was President of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012; Time, June 16, 2014



June 17, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Are Our Memories Really So Short?”: It’s Impossible To Reconcile Members Of The Bush/Cheney Team Pretending To Have Credibility

Politico published a piece over the weekend about President Obama’s challenges in Iraq, which was otherwise unremarkable except for a quote about midway through the article.

“This is the education of Barack Obama, but it’s coming at a very high cost to the Syrian people to the Iraqi people [and] to the American national interest,” said Doug Feith, a top Pentagon official during the George W. Bush administration.

“They were pretty blase,” Feith said of the Obama team. “The president didn’t take seriously the warnings of what would happen if we withdrew and he liked the political benefits of being able to say that we’re completely out.”

The piece added that Feith would, true to form, like to see the White House deploying a “residual force” to Iraq.

That Feith disagrees with the Obama administration hardly comes as a surprise, but what was striking about all of this is the context of his criticisms: Politico presents Feith’s condemnations as if they have value. Indeed, Feith is presented to readers as a credible voice whose assessments of U.S. policy in Iraq have merit.

The article never mentions, even in passing, that Feith was a national laughingstock during his tenure in the Bush/Cheney administration, getting practically everything about U.S. policy in Iraq backwards. General Tommy Franks, the former Commander of the U.S. Central Command, once famously referred to Feith as “the dumbest f***ing guy on the planet.”

And yet, there Feith is in Politico, taking shots at Obama, without so much as a hint that news consumers may – just may – want to take his perspective with a healthy dose of skepticism, given his humiliating track record.

Of course, my point is not to pick on Politico alone. It’s not the only major news organization that’s stumbled into familiar mistakes. Take the major Sunday shows, for example.

Bill Kristol, for example, was on “This Week” yesterday, sharing his criticisms of Obama’s handling of Iraq – and no one laughed in his face. On “Meet the Press,” viewers saw Paul Wolfowitz. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made not one, but two Sunday show appearances, popping up on “Face the Nation” and “State of the Union.”

When most media professionals reflect on the period preceding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there’s a general consensus that it was not American journalism’s finest hour. News organizations needed to be skeptical, but weren’t. Reporters needed to push back against dubious sources, but didn’t. Nearly everyone in the business realized that we’d all have to be better next time.

Over the weekend, then, it was hard not to wonder: are our memories really so short?

More broadly, it’s nearly impossible to reconcile members of the Bush/Cheney team pretending to have credibility. Feith is an easy target, but he’s hardly the only one: Dick Cheney is offering guidance to congressional Republicans on, of all things, foreign policy; Donald Rumsfeld still shows in face in public and is sought after in GOP circles; and Condoleezza Rice presents herself as a successful former official.

The political world never fully came to terms with the scope and the breadth of the Bush/Cheney failures. In more ways than one, we’re still dealing with the consequences.

Update: Regina Schrambling reminds me that Paul Bremer has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. It’s another piece of a twisted mosaic.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 16, 2014

June 17, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iraq, Iraq War | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Oh, The Wayward Priorities”: If Republicans Hated War Like They Hate Obamacare, There Wouldn’t Be an Iraq Debacle

The Affordable Care Act might eventually be a terrible idea for the country. Perhaps, as Paul Broun (R-GA) once said, “Obamacare is going to destroy everything that we know as a nation.” Maybe Michelle Bachmann is right when she claimed, “I believe God is going to answer our prayers and we’ll be freed from the yoke of Obamacare.”In addition to GOP lawmakers making statements vehemently condemning the Affordable Care Act, they’ve tried over 35 times to repeal the law in Congress.

When it comes to big government healthcare programs, conservatives have likened the ACA to everything from communism to death panels. However, when it comes to war, the GOP doesn’t see Uncle Sam picking the pockets of citizens. The $4 to $6 trillion that the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars will cost taxpayers never evokes anger from the Tea Party. Rather, it’s funding someone else’s surgery that really gets conservatives furious. Sadly, if Republicans viewed healthcare programs in the same manner as they viewed war over a decade ago, we wouldn’t be in the gigantic debacle called Iraq.

Soon after the death of three thousand Americans on 9/11, Republicans worked vehemently to sell the Iraq War. In 2002, the same Bill Krystal who now bemoans Obamacare believed a war in Iraq “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East.”In 2002, Vice President Cheney in a speech stated the “entire world knows beyond dispute that Saddam Hussein holds weapons of mass destruction in large quantities.”In early 2003, the Bush administration told the UN Security Council, “Either you’re with us or against us.”

Any opposition leading up to the Iraq War Resolution was met with political attacks and even Vietnam War heroes weren’t safe from Karl Rove and a united Republican Party. Rove and Rep. Saxby Chambliss led the charge against Senator Max Cleland and questioned his patriotism for criticizing the impending insurgent war in the Middle East. Chambliss attacked the triple amputee Vietnam Veteran “for breaking his oath to protect and defend the Constitution,” in addition to besmirching his character for having the audacity to be against the Iraq War Resolution. In order to better understand the mood of the time period, it’s important to note that Chambliss got a medical deferment from Vietnam because of a football injury to his knee and Rove has never joined the military.

When General Eric Shinseki advocated a far greater troop level before the invasion-closer to a number like 300,000 soldiers — he too was denigrated by Republicans. However, by 2007, even Lindsay Graham was quoted in a New York Times article as admitting Shinseki was right. As a result of invading and occupying a country as large as Iraq with an insufficient number of troops (in addition to a number of other mistakes), Bush announced a surge of troops in 2007. Essentially, this surge worked as a draft in that it prolonged tours of duty, keeping American soldiers in combat longer than in any other war in U.S. history. This prolonged time in battle directly led to the record number of PTSD cases as well as exacerbating the issue of suicide in the military.

The Iraq War Resolution passed with 215 House Republicans voting for it and 126 Democrats voting against the war. In the Senate, 48 out of 49 Republicans voted for it while 21 Democrats voted against going into Iraq. After the initial invasion, President Bush addressed the United Nations in late 2003 and declared America’s invasion a noble endeavor:

The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction. It used those weapons in acts of mass murder, and refused to account for them when confronted by the world… Across Iraq, life is being improved by liberty.

While the country was still in shock, President Bush spoke confidently about the reasons for U.S. involvement in Iraq.

In 2004, Donald Rumsfeld justified the rush to war (and the fact Humvees weren’t protected from IED’s with extra armor) by saying, “As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” In 2007, after a civil war between Shia and Sunni threatened to destroy Iraq, President Bush addressed the nation in a speech defending a surge in troop levels:

The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Changing his tune from 2003, and possibly forshadowing 2014, Bush advocated widening the war because “the consequences of failure are clear.”

Today, after all the monumental sacrifices made by American soldiers and their families, and with all the money spent nation building in Iraq, America has to contend with a new threat. Extremist militants named ISIS now have control of Fallujah (a one hour drive from Bagdad) and just recently conquered Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities and the home of two million people. Of course, the GOP is now changing the narrative from Bush’s speeches to a recent call for further military action in Iraq. Interestingly, no word yet has been heard from the Tea Party about the financial cost of further military action in Iraq.

It says something about a political party when a health care law is the end of the world, but an insurgent war is something worthy of attacking even a triple amputee war veteran to defend. If only one could go back in time and tie in an amnesty clause or a nationalized healthcare law to the Iraq War Resolution, then maybe GOP lawmakers wouldn’t have worked so hard to send the United States into the Iraq debacle. The truth is that the ACA, even if it falls short of its promises, won’t do nearly as much damage to this country as the Iraq War. Analyzing the GOP’s reaction to both will give you a good idea of its priorities.


By: H. A. Goodman, The Huffington Post Blog, June 15, 2014




June 17, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Iraq, Iraq War | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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