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“They Have Earned The Right Not To Be Listened To”: All They’re Doing Is Embarrassing Themselves And Annoying The Rest Of Us

In mid-January 2002, the Weekly Standard published a piece from Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol on the need for a U.S. invasion to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The headline read, “What to do about Iraq.”

Yesterday, the exact same publication published a piece from the exact same authors with a headline that was almost exactly the same: “What to do in Iraq.”

James Fallows mocked the discredited conservatives, highlighting their consistency “in attitude as well as typography and headline writing and page layout,” before lowering the boom.

Am I sounding a little testy here? You bet. We all make mistakes. But we are talking about people in public life – writers, politicians, academics – who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong. Wrong as a matter of analysis, wrong as a matter of planning, wrong as a matter of execution, wrong in conceiving American interests in the broadest sense.

None of these people did that intentionally, and many of them have honestly reflected and learned. But we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.

And yet, listening to them has become harder than avoiding them. As Rachel noted on the show last night, the very same people who were “disastrously wrong about what it would mean for the United States to toss a match into the tinderbox of the Middle East by toppling Saddam, all those guys who were so wrong, they either never went away in the first place or they have recently been dug back up over the last few weeks, simply for the purpose of arguing that we ought to invade Iraq again.”

I’ve seen some suggest that those who got U.S. policy in Iraq completely wrong in 2002 and 2003 need not wear a permanent scar. It’s not an entirely unreasonable point – some sensible people fell for a con job. They know better now and want to contribute to a constructive conversation about U.S. foreign policy more than a decade later. It’s hardly ridiculous to think some of them should have a voice in the discussion.

But that’s not quite what’s happening here.

When we see Kristol, Kagan, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, Paul Bremer, Ken Pollack and their cohorts all over the print and broadcast media, their chosen task is not to be the target of rotten vegetables. Rather, these men still choose to present themselves as experts whose advice has merit.

It would be challenging in its own right if, say, Paul Wolfowitz showed up on a Sunday show to declare, “Look, my buddies and I may have flubbed U.S. policy in Iraq the last time around, but we’re totally right this time.” But neither he nor his pals are saying anything of the kind – the usual suspects still think they were right in 2002 and 2003, and can’t imagine why their words of wisdom would be ignored now.

Accountability may seem like a quaint, almost antiquated, concept in today’s political discourse, but that’s a shame. When life and death decisions are being made, here’s hoping accountability can still make a comeback, forcing the discredited voices among us towards obscurity.

I’m not arguing that everyone who was wrong about Iraq 11 years ago must remain silent now. I am saying that those who were wrong then but remain convinced of their own self-righteous credibility now, certain that the 2003 invasion was wise and that Iraq’s deterioration should be blamed on that rascally President Obama, all they are doing is embarrassing themselves – and annoying the rest of us.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 17, 2014

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Iraq, Iraq War, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Redskins’ Running Out Of Downs”: The Profit Principle Always Trumps Tradition

We interrupt your viewing of the sport the rest of the world calls football in order to take note of a potentially game-changing (or at least name-changing) development in the American version of the game. As many American football fans know by now, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington professional football team’s trademark registration on the name “Redskins” (and also “Redskinettes”) on the grounds that “they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered.” You can’t legally register “marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute,” according to the order.

It’s been clear for some time now that – despite the from-my-cold-dead-hands denunciations of team owner Dan Snyder – there is a realistic path forward for changing the name: not moral suasion as such but the power of the marketplace. Once Snyder, and if not him then his 31 other team-owning National Football League colleagues, start to see their collective bottom line erode, they will do the right thing.

As my colleague Pat Garofalo wrote a little more than a year ago: “The Redskins are the fifth most valuable sports franchise in the world, so cutting off the trademark spigot would likely be more effective, sadly, than the string of Native American leaders who have come forward to explain the derogatory history of the term with which Washington endows its team.” And as’s Michael David Smith writes:

Could Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who insists that he will never change the name, afford to lose that money? Yes. But even if Snyder is so devoted to the Redskins name that he’s willing to lose money over it, losing the ability to trademark the name wouldn’t just cost Snyder money. It would also cost the other teams, and the NFL’s merchandising partners, money. Snyder’s fellow owners aren’t going to stand for that.

Snyder and his colleagues are all people of principle, after all, and in this case I suspect that the “profit” principle will trump its “tradition” counterpart.

None of this should come as a surprise. As USA Today wrote last month (h/t Washington Post):

If the team were applying for federal trademark protection for its “Redskins” name today, it would almost certainly be denied: At least 12 times since 1992 the USPTO has refused to register such marks on disparagement grounds, including seven applications from the Washington team (for terms such as “Redskins Fanatics” and “Redskins Rooters”) and one from NFL Properties (for “Boston Redskins”).

I understand the desire to cling to tradition; and I even get the knee-jerk instinct to oppose things that smack of political correctness, but cultural grounds shift and sometimes in weighing political correctness we need to place more emphasis on the “correct” than on the “political.” Perhaps the name Redskins might have been acceptable in 1933 when then-owner George Preston Marshall changed the franchise’s name from the Braves to the Redskins. (Despite what Snyder says, Marshall didn’t select the name to honor its putatively Indian coach but rather, he said at the time, so that he could keep its logo whilst disambiguating his then Boston-based team from the baseball franchise of the same name.) There was probably also a time when someone could have gotten away with Washington Darkies or Washington Wetbacks, but neither of those names would fly today. Neither should Washington Redskins.

So what’s next? The Redskins have vowed to appeal and as many reports have noted, the team did get a near-identical ruling tossed out in 1999 on the grounds that the people who brought it didn’t have standing. Will they get the same result this time? As Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio notes, the “difference this time comes from the surrounding debate on the name. In 1999, the opposition was far less organized and mainstream. In 2014, the opposition has coalesced and assumed a sense that it will last until the name inevitably changes.”

In the meantime, those Redskin deadenders who deplore the idea of changing the team name can take comfort: Prices are about to drop on the team’s paraphernalia.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, June 18, 2014

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, National Football League, Racism | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Another New Low”: Dick And Liz Cheney Return To Trash Obama Foreign Policy

The neoconservative campaign to discredit President Barack Obama’s foreign policy in Iraq — despite the fact that the critics themselves started, and bungled, America’s military involvement in the country in the first place — hit another new low on Tuesday evening, in the form of an op-ed and accompanying video from former vice president Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz.

“Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many,” the Cheneys write in The Wall Street Journal, apparently unacquainted with the concepts of irony or shame.

“Al Qaeda and its affiliates are resurgent and they present a security threat not seen since the Cold War. Defeating them will require a strategy – not a fantasy. It will require sustained difficult military, intelligence and diplomatic efforts – not empty misleading rhetoric,” they continue.

In fairness, if anyone knows about the dangers of substituting strategy for fantasy, it would be the vice president who promised that Americans would be “greeted as liberators” in Iraq. And if anyone knows about misleading rhetoric, it would be the failed U.S. Senate candidate who can hardly go two sentences without uttering a crazy lie.

In addition to the op-ed, the Cheneys also released a video announcing the formation of their new 501(c)(4) “dark money” group, The Alliance for a Strong America.

“Threats to America’s security are on the rise. Iran is marching towards a nuclear weapon. Al Qaeda is resurgent, establishing new safe havens across the Middle East, including in Iraq where President Obama withdrew all American forces with no stay-behind agreement,” Dick Cheney says in the video, ignoring the fact that President George W. Bush was the one who signed the Status of Forces Agreement mandating that all U.S. forces depart the country by January 1, 2012.

Despite the Cheneys’ bluster, they are unlikely to sway the public back toward a neoconservative foreign policy; both polls and elections have shown that that bridge is burned. And Democrats certainly don’t seem too concerned with the Cheneys’ re-emergence on the national stage. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put it on Wednesday: “Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history.”


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, June 18, 2014

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Foreign Policy, Iraq | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Just Like Us”: Obama’s Iraq ‘Nap’ Represents Who We Are; Sick Of Being The World’s Policeman

Conservative critics of Barack Obama’s foreign policy are right: it’s vague when articulated and contradictory when enacted. He refuses to act decisively and tunes out the rhetorical bravado of foreign leaders. And if the United States is to avoid another round of pointless bloodshed in the Middle East, that’s the kind of foreign policy our country needs right now. Indeed, it’s the one we want.

On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Mitt Romney added to the existing critique of Obama as feckless-bordering-on-fey. The president, his former challenger asserted, was not just ineffectual in his stance toward Iraq and Syria – he was also ignorant. The president, said the former one-term governor of Massachusetts, has “repeatedly underestimated the threats” posed by chaos in Iraq – or “Russia or Assad or Isis or al-Qaida itself”.

The terror that has gripped Iraq over the past week is, no doubt, horrific. When militants claim they’ve massacred 1,700 soldiers, it would be foolish not to give yourself options by moving an aircraft carrier here and toughening up an embassy there – which Obama has done, actively, not through “neglect” or “a nap”, as still more critics claimed over the weekend.

But let’s remember the way we got in too deep: it wasn’t by underestimating the threat Iraq posed to US interests, it was by overestimating it.

“Overestimating” may even be too generous. We created a threat when there was none, not out of whole cloth so much as a web of pride, avarice and insecurity. Obama’s haters on the right – and maybe even some formerly hawkish apologists on the left – need a refresher course on just how much of the Iraq invasion hinged on ego and imagined taunts. It wasn’t all about revenge for Daddy’s loss. Don’t forget the perception in the Bush White House that the president was “weak” in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: the frozen look as he read from My Pet Goat, the hours of hop-scotching around the country, out of sight, as the carnage and panic continued to unfold.

It was Bush’s improvisation of macho defiance – in those moments following his 9/11 lapse into visible doubt – that created the blueprint for these wars that have refused to end. The declaration that the US would “make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them” was made in a speech given less than twelve hours after the first tower was hit. Today, we call that formulation the Bush Doctrine, though anything so hastily conceived hardly merits the title of “doctrine”.

Governments are supposed to be slower to act than people. They are supposed to filter our instinctive desires, not jump on them. It is probably not a coincidence that support for the death penalty in America is at a record low as well. The state’s power to take a life is democracy’s most dubious gift. We have learned that the hard way.

That the Bush administration misled the American people about the reasons for invading Iraq is now all but common knowledge; what we talk about less is why Americans were moved so easily from concern about possible attacks from overseas into almost pornographic nationalism.

Clearly, we were intoxicated by some heady perfume of testosterone and saddle leather that pulled along George W Bush by the nose. When the Iraq war began, nearly 80% of Americans thought it was a good idea. Almost as many approved of how the president was handling it. Irrational exuberance is not just for markets.

How we have sobered since then!

A record high number of people (53%) believe that America is “less powerful and less important than it was ten years ago”; the percentage of those who believe that America should “mind its own business internationally” (52%) is the highest it’s been in 50 years. And support for specific foreign interventions is as wobbly as the reasoning for undertaking them: only 25% of Americans supported air strikes on Syria; just 14% approved of a Nato-led military action in the Ukraine.

The existing members of the GOP leadership, whether visiting Romney’s weekend retreat or a Sunday show set on their way to re-intervention, might well wonder where that reliably woozy patriotism has gone. Certainly, Republicans haven’t developed a tolerance. They sniff the air and howl: “This is another 9/11 in the making,” Lindsey Graham said Sunday on CNN, three days after saying “we’ve got another Benghazi in the making here”. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon blustered: “The White House has a history of ‘considering all options’ while choosing none.”

Would that Bush have been so indecisive.

The mistake by Republicans – and it is one they make in all sorts of situations – is that they confuse a desire for small government and more individual freedom with a government that acts like an individual. They project onto government the desires and fears that animate a person; in the imagination of Republicans “the government” wants all kinds of things: your guns, for instance. And when Republicans have one of their own in the White House, it pleases them to think that he doesn’t just represent the country but is the country.

Perhaps it is a function of having a president who is so radically (including, yes, racially) different from all the ones who came before that Americans seem comfortable with – or at least have accepted the fact of – some distance between who they are, who the president is, and that for which the country stands. It is most certainly a function of having seen so many lives lost, but the American people are comfortable with inaction. Barack Obama’s foreign policy is less of a doctrine than a stance – guarded but cautious, careful but alert … just like us.


By: Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian, June 16, 2014

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iraq, National Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What A Disappointment!”: Ahmed Abu Khattala Arrest Spoils GOP’s Benghazi Party

Oh, I do so enjoy reading the conservative websites and watching Republicans on cable on the days the Obama administration does something they can’t find fault with. The arrest of Ahmed Abu Khattala for leading the attack on the Benghazi consulate in 2011 has them turning the expected rhetorical cartwheels, their displeasure evident across their surly visages at the huge hole blown in their argument that President Obama is objectively pro-terrorist.

California Rep. Darrell Issa, the GOP’s leading rhetorical gymnast on all things Benghazi, called the arrest “long overdue,” implicitly imputing to the administration a dilatoriness that is just about the Republicans’ only line of offense. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who holds the Joe Lieberman chair in John McCain Studies in the U.S. Senate, expressed her pleasure that Khattala is “finally” in custody and huffed: “Rather than rushing to read him his Miranda rights and telling him he has the right to remain silent, I hope the administration will focus on collecting the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks and to find other terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

Poor folks. The House Republicans are gearing up for the unveiling of their big select committee to keep Benghazi in the news, and lo and behold, it turns out that Benghazi is going to be in the news anyway, with the (or an) alleged ringleader facing the bar of American justice. Not exactly the backdrop they had in mind. “Why hasn’t anyone been brought to justice?” has been, admittedly, the second-order question Republicans have been asking, the first-order questions relating of course to whether there was some kind of cover-up. But even so, the question was sure to feature strongly in the GOP hearings. It’s not hard to imagine that a full week might have been slated to be devoted to that question, a week of great merriment and ribaldry over at The Daily Caller and the Free Beacon that will not, alas, come to pass.

The best they can do now is echo the Ayotte line about Miranda rights. The very phrase is guaranteed to spike the blood pressure of right-wingers. But the facts are plain and worth repeating quickly, even though they’re well known: Our track record of convicting terrorists in civilian courts is far superior to the track record of military tribunals.

Up through 2011, according to the NYU Law School Center for Law and Security, the Bush and Obama administrations had commenced the prosecution of more than 300 cases in civilian courts; 204 cases were resolved, with 177 convictions, for an 87 percent conviction rate (PDF). By contrast, we convicted via military tribunal up through 2011 a grand total of seven defendants.

No one that I can find on deadline has been keeping those numbers quite so assiduously since then, but all we have to do is engage the old memory banks for a few moments to know that the more recent years have held to pattern. Why, it was only a month ago that federal prosecutors in Manhattan won the conviction, on all counts, of Mostafa Kemal Mostafa, the British imam who orchestrated the violent kidnappings of American, British, and Australian tourists in Yemen. It took six weeks, and Mostafa himself spent several days on the stand. But he’s headed to the hoosegow, and the jury foreman, a guy from Westchester County who works for Xerox, said there was “no doubt in my mind” that Mostafa got a fair trial.

I don’t know about you, but I rather like the idea of a guy who works for Xerox, otherwise known as a citizen of the United States, passing judgment on someone like Mostafa. That is what we do. Well, that is what we do at our best, when we’re lucky, when a bunch of war-mad demagogues don’t succeed in scaring Americans into thinking that we have to abandon our best principles to keep the country safe.

It does take some gall. Here we sit with Iraq unraveling in precisely the way some of the war’s opponents predicted. Joe Biden’s old suggestion about making three countries out of Iraq may or may not be the best solution here, but it sure doesn’t look crazy now, even though he was sneeringly pooh-poohed by the people who swore that the war would lead to a garden of multiplying democracies. And who’s the guy who said it was a “dumb war”? Oh, right, Obama. And yet he is left to try to fix the world-historic tragedy they created.

We have been led by these lizards into some of the darkest moral dead-ends in our entire history as a people. Did the Benghazi attack, in the larger scheme of things, happen because of a video or because there wasn’t enough consular security? Neither. It happened because the United States went into the Arab world and spent a decade making gratuitous violence. There was justified violence—going after al Qaeda—and then there was gratuitous violence. As we’ve seen, we can decapitate al Qaeda with drones and special-ops raids. No big war needed. But by God, we had to have that war. And when you make war, other people make it back.

If Khattala was one of those people, a civilian jury is perfectly capable of making that determination. I trust one a lot more than I trust the select committee to keep deflecting responsibility for our current low moral standing in the world from where it really belongs.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 18, 2014

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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