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“So Very 2002”: A National Amnesia About Our Experience In Iraq

Anyone who for some reason checked out of U.S. politics a month ago and then checked back in this week might well be startled to realize that the “problem” of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq had become a crisis, and for some an existential threat to the United States. What changed in that span of time? Did IS conquer some major new territory? Did Nouri al-Maliki hang on to power and thwart U.S./Iranian efforts to build a stronger Iraqi state? Is there evidence of IS possessing weapons of mass destruction?

I just threw in that last one as a reminder of how these things can get out of hand.

What actually seems to have happened is that IS cruelly executed two American journalists after trying to extort vast sums of money or perhaps even a change of U.S. policies. They’re threatening to execute more westerners in captivity, presumably with the same grim and barbaric ritual of videotaped beheadings. The images and the savagery behind them has momentarily produced national amnesia about our experience in Iraq over the last quarter century or so, and a decided bipartisan burst of war fever.

The President, Vice President and Secretary of State have issued various “this will not stand” declarations. According to an excellent report from HuffPost’s Sam Stein, there’s an instant consensus in Washington for more airstrikes and special ops attacks on IS; an effort to round up international support and commitments of assistance; and a reconsideration of U.S. wariness to engage more directly in Syria, where, of course, we have been supporting an anti-Assad coalition while avoiding the inconvenient fact that its most powerful component is IS.

You get the distinct sense the Obama administration is trying to preempt the lust for war emanating from a suddenly bellicose Republican Party, where even Rand Paul is strapping on the gunbelt and swaggering around making loose commitments of other people’s lives. Check out this report on the mood of the GOP from WaPo’s Sebastian Payne and Robert Costa:

A roiling national debate over how to deal with the radical Islamic State and other global hot spots has prompted a sudden shift in Republican politics, putting a halt to the anti-interventionist mood that had been gaining credence in the party.

The change is evident on the campaign trail ahead of the November midterm elections and in recent appearances by the GOP’s prospective 2016 presidential candidates, with a near-universal embrace of stronger military actions against the group that has beheaded two American journalists.

A hawkish tone has become integral to several key Republican Senate campaigns, with a group of candidates running in battleground states calling attention to their ties to veterans and their support for the U.S. military at every turn.

In contests in Iowa, Arkansas and Alaska — where Republicans are running for seats held by Democrats — the GOP candidates are military veterans and focusing much of their time extolling their expertise.

A thirst among many conservative activists for a more muscular U.S. foreign policy was clear over the weekend at a meeting of Americans for Prosperity, the tea-party-affiliated group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers. The loudest applause came when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a potential presidential candidate, called for bombing the Islamic State “back to the Stone Age.”

It’s feeling very, very 2002. The difference, of course, is that an opponent of the Iraq War is president at the moment, while Dick Cheney raves and snarls from the sidelines instead of deploying troops and crafting official lies. Like Digby, I hope Obama’s reluctance to articulate a “strategy” for “destroying” IS reflects an understanding that this task could indeed involve unacceptable costs and could definitively produce unintended consequences in an unstable region with multiple threats to U.S. security interests. But she’s right this hope could be naive:

Hysteria is building. The hawks sense that there’s action afoot. The Republicans are aroused at the prospect that this could change the dynamic in 2016. The Democrats are freaking out that someone might call them wimps.

The warship is sailing out of the harbor and once again we’re all just standing here on the shore screaming into the wind.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 4, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Iraq War, Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Moderates Fight Back”: Middle-Of-The-Road Republicans Are Now Attacking The GOP From The Outside

The missing component in the machinery of American politics has been moderate-to-liberal Republicanism, and the gears of government are grinding very loudly. You wonder if Kansas and Alaska have come up with a solution to this problem.

In Kansas, Democrat Chad Taylor shook up the Senate race by dropping out last week, giving an independent candidate, Greg Orman, a clean shot at the incumbent, Pat Roberts.

At least one poll showed Orman with a 10-point lead over the 78-year-old Roberts in a two-way race. Republicans are so afraid of Orman that Kansas’s Republican (and unabashedly ideological) secretary of state, Kris Kobach, used a technicality to keep Taylor’s name on the November ballot anyway. Taylor is challenging the decision.

In Alaska, Democrat Byron Mallott ended his candidacy for governor and chose instead to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket led by an independent candidate, Bill Walker. By combining forces, Walker and Mallott hope to oust Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.

Because of the revolution in Republican politics spearheaded by the tea party, these should not be treated as isolated episodes. They are both signs that moderates, particularly moderate Republicans, are fighting back.

The safe journalistic trope is that both of our major parties have become more “extreme.” This is simply not true. It’s the Republican Party that’s veered far off center. To deny the fact is to disrespect the hard work of conservatives in taking over the GOP.

By contrast, there are still plenty of moderates in the Democratic Party. They include Sens. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. All of them are threatened in this fall’s elections by conservative or right-wing Republicans. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is another moderate on the ballot this year, but so far, he seems safe.

On the other hand, outright liberals have been losing primaries in the Republican Party since the late 1960s, particularly in Senate races. In the House, the few remaining liberal Republicans (one thinks of Maryland’s Connie Morella and Iowa’s Jim Leach) were defeated because Democrats in their districts finally decided that electing even Republicans they liked only empowered the party’s increasingly conservative congressional leadership.

As for the Republican establishment, it may have overcome many tea party challenges this year, but it is increasingly captive to the right wing.

This summer, conservative writers Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru offered an insightful analysis of the tea party-establishment dynamic in an article in National Review appropriately titled “Establishment Tea.” Lowry and Ponnuru argued that the establishment candidates who triumphed did so largely on the tea party’s terms, though the authors put the matter somewhat more politely. “Candidates who make the case that they will fight for conservative ideas, and not just serve time,” they wrote, “can win tea-party support.”

What’s happening in Kansas is particularly revealing of the backlash against the right from moderate Republicans. Although Roberts is not a tea party candidate — indeed, he defeated a tea party challenger in last month’s primary — the Senate race could be influenced by the state’s contest for governor, one of the most important in the country.

Incumbent Republican Sam Brownback has championed an unapologetic tea party, tax-cutting agenda and has sought to purge moderate Republicans who opposed him from the state legislature. Many GOP moderates have responded by endorsing Brownback’s opponent, Democrat Paul Davis. A Brownback defeat would be a major blow to the right.

“The moderates have said, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,’ ” said Dan Glickman, a moderate Democrat who represented the area around Wichita in Congress for 18 years. In an interview, Glickman argued that the rightward tilt is antithetical to the GOP’s history in Kansas, a state that sent both Bob Dole and Nancy Landon Kassebaum, in her day a leading GOP moderate, to the ­Senate.

“The Republican Party in Kansas was always a heartland, common-sense, moderate or moderately conservative party,” Glickman said, adding that at times, it has had a strongly progressive contingent as well.

Orman has been almost maddeningly disciplined in not revealing which party he would caucus with if he defeated Roberts. With national Republican operatives pouring into the state to save the three-term incumbent’s floundering campaign, the battle will get a lot tougher.

But already, Republicans are learning that the cost of driving moderates away could get very high. What middle-of-the-roaders could not accomplish inside the party, they may achieve by attacking from outside the gates.


BY: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Moderate Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Company He Keeps”: Tea Party Unloads On ‘Complete Imbecile’ Rick Perry

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted last month on two felony charges stemming from how he dealt with a misbehaving Democratic state official, the image of the stuttering 2012 Republican primary challenger was replaced with that of a hero-cowboy in the eyes of many conservatives. Perry was under attack from the left wing, and his response was not to apologize but to walk through a hail of blue-hued bullets and emerge laughing, without a mark on him. But some conservative true believers have begun to notice something rather suspicious: The company Perry keeps seems more suited to a mainstream Republican—or a right-of-center Democrat—than to their hero-cowboy.

Perry is associated with three operatives who have concerned some members of the die-hard right wing: lobbyist Henry Barbour, former Bill Clinton aide Mark Fabiani, and McCain-Palin campaign chief and MSNBC pundit Steve Schmidt.

Well, maybe “concerned” is putting it somewhat mildly.

“The only two options are that Rick Perry is a complete imbecile and he has no idea who these people are and what they’ve done and how the conservative base—who votes in primaries—feels about these guys, or he’s doing it on purpose because that’s the kind of message he wants to send,” said Keli Carender, the national grassroots coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots. Either way, she assured: “It will be an issue. We will make it an issue.”

Barbour is already working on Perry’s 2016 bid for the White House. But conservatives know him best for his role running the political action committee Mississippi Conservatives, founded by his uncle, Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi. In this year’s Magnolia State primary fight—and “fight” is an understatement—between U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, Barbour reportedly played an influential and controversial role. According to National Review, his PAC funneled money to produce ads against McDaniel that alleged he would set back “race relationships between blacks and whites and other ethnic groups.” The ads, which seemed intended to drive African-American voters to the polls, enraged McDaniel’s Tea Party supporters.

As reported by Breitbart News, some conservatives loathe Barbour so much that they tried to get the Republican National Committee to censure him, to no avail.

“Republicans should not hire Henry Barbour unless and until he apologizes for the tactics he helped fund in Mississippi…I don’t think [keeping Barbour around] necessarily means Perry is endorsing what he did, but it means he’s certainly not properly condemning it or taking it seriously enough,” Quin Hillyer, a conservative writer and activist, told The Daily Beast. “What he helped finance was so far beyond the pale that he should be blackballed by conservatives, and if Perry wants to be considered a conservative, he should no longer employ Henry Barbour.”

Rick Shaftan, a Republican consultant who involved himself in the Mississippi primary, offered a somewhat different view of Barbour to The Daily Beast: “I don’t like what he did in Mississippi, but you know what? It shows he’s a ruthless, cutthroat operative, and there’s something to be said for that on the Republican side. Because we don’t have enough of them. If the force of evil can be brought to do good, then that’s a good thing.”

Normally, staffers don’t matter much to voters, Carender noted. But Mississippi is different for many on the far right. It’s become the ultimate test of Tea Party fidelity, a measuring stick for whether a conservative will sell out his principles to inside-the-Beltway Washington RINOs or will stay true to the cause and the grassroots activists who are the heart and soul of the movement.

People don’t recognize, Carender said, just “how plugged in the conservative base is to Mississippi…If you’re a man of integrity, you don’t associate with Henry Barbour as far as we’re concerned.”

Perry has associated with Barbour since at least 2012, when Barbour served on his ill-fated but memorable presidential campaign. (Haley Barbour, for his part, supported Newt Gingrich.)

Publicly, Perry may have shrugged at last month’s indictment—but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been taking Lone Star State-size measures to ensure it doesn’t sink him for good.

As part of his legal team, Perry has hired the Harvard-educated Mark Fabiani, best known for his ties to the Democratic Party. From 1994 through 1996, Fabiani worked as special counsel to President Bill Clinton. He then served as Al Gore’s communications director during his 2000 presidential campaign. Fabiani has worked for the Democratic former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom as well.

Perry also has hired Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and former consultant to John McCain in 2008. Schmidt has long enraged Tea Party conservatives with his candor about members of his own party. Schmidt has called McCain’s VP pick, Sarah Palin, “someone [who] was nominated to the vice presidency who was manifestly unprepared to take the oath of office should it become necessary and as it has become necessary many times in American history.” Asked whether Palin would have a future in politics, Schmidt once remarked: “I hope not…And the reason I say that is because if you look at it, over the last four years, all of the deficiencies in knowledge, all of the deficiencies in preparedness, she’s done not one thing to rectify them, to correct them.”

Then Schmidt described Palin’s unflattering qualities, which could, unfortunately for Perry, double as descriptions for most members of the Tea Party: “She has become a person who, I think, is filled with grievance, filled with anger, who has a divisive message for the national stage…”

Conservative radio host Mark Levin wondered of Schmidt, “Why would Perry hire this conservative attacker and Palin hater?”

Schmidt made those comments on MSNBC, where he is employed as a political analyst. Shaftan said of Perry hiring the strategist: “If they have Steve Schmidt working for them, why are they telling people? That I don’t understand.”

Perry has been basking in the glory of the conservative credibility his fight with Texas Democrats has lent him—so much so that his mugshot features a prominent smirk, one you can wear on a T-shirt being sold by his PAC for just $25. Some Republicans made that same image their Facebook profile pictures in a show of support, in the way some do for gay marriage, or to end violence against children. But you’re only as good as the company you keep, according to some members of the far right who have in the past proved themselves to be loud enough to get their way.

Conservative HQ columnist Richard Viguerie wrote of Perry’s team: “When you hire a consultant, you hire his reputation, strategy, and tactics. We doubt that Governor Perry plans to win the Republican presidential nomination by race-baiting, recruiting Democrats to vote in Republican primary elections, and trashing as ‘poisonous’ conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh…”

Hillyer agreed: “A very important law of politics and government, as emphasized again and again by conservative movement leader Morton Blackwell, is that personnel is policy. If somebody wants to get a sense of how a political leader might govern, it certainly is important to see who he hires.”


By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, September 4, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Rick Perry, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Must Stop Inflating Our Elected Leaders”: No More “His Excellency” For Men Who Are Anything But Excellent

What are we to make of the conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, an erstwhile presidential aspirant, and his wife Maureen on a bevy of federal corruption charges? The case held plenty of entertainment value for the schadenfreude-prone among us, but was there any broader meaning in it? It’s tempting, after all, to dismiss it as a sui generis story, given the uniqueness of the McDonnells’ predicament (dallying with a vitamin-supplement promoter?) and Virginia’s absurdly lax landscape (the state has virtually no limits on gifts to elected officials.)

But I would argue that there is a larger lesson to be taken from this tale. The McDonnell saga is, to me, just the most glaring recent example of a tendency in American politics and government that has bothered me for some time: our weird, unhealthy inflation of executive elected office at all levels of government. As the McDonnell revelations unspooled, first in the dogged reporting of the Washington Post’s Roz Helderman and Laura Vozzella and then in the trial itself, it became clear that driving much of the McDonnells’ behavior was their extremely exalted conception of the office of governor.

This conception not only contributed to the McDonnells’ extraordinary sense of entitlement but also fed the pressures that led them to accept the favors of the vitamin-supplement salesman, Jonnie R. Williams Sr. For one thing, Maureen McDonnell felt great anxiety about being sufficiently well turned out for her husband’s 2010 inauguration and, generally, about living up to the expectations for being the First Lady. Think about that for a second: in the 21st century, a woman needed to worry about performing a role called “First Lady” because her husband was the elected head of one of the nation’s 50 state governments. Does this happen elsewhere? Does the wife of the head of Germany’s state of Lower Saxony (whose population is roughly the same as Virginia’s) fret about living up to the role of “Erste Frau?” Is the wife of the premier of British Columbia or Saskatchewan worrying about whether her wardrobe will measure up?

Sure, one could write some of these anxieties off to Maureen McDonnell’s personal insecuritiesbut not entirely. After all, her husband was taking on a role in which it was deemed appropriate, by traditional protocol, for him to be referred to as “His Excellency.” (Virginia is hardly alone in thisConnecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and West Virginia all use this royalist language, a holdover from colonial times.)

The title was hardly the only trapping of office that could’ve led the McDonnells to believe they were monarchs of a sort. They lived in an official mansion, after all, with an executive chef (who, it turned out, was the man who got the scandal rolling when he reported the McDonnells for Williams’ $10,000 check to pay for McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding catering.) The chef, Todd Schneider, recently noted to The Post that he would “often get texts from the first lady about the mansion’s food late at night, sometimes after midnight.” Yes, the wife of the democratically elected governor of one of our 50 states was sending notes to the taxpayer-paid chef at her taxpayer-paid mansion to express her menu preferences. Since when did we become “Downton Abbey”?

This inflation was especially extreme in Virginia, which has an especially grandiose notion of its state governmentThomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, “the Virginia way,” and all that. But you see the puffery of executive office all around the country, in members of both parties. You see it in Texas governor Rick Perry traveling the country with a veritable platoon of state police troopers at his side. You saw it in the reports of Maryland’s attorney general, Democrat Doug Gansler, who got a kick out of having his official state-police driver turn on the siren and drive on the shoulder while on routine business. You see it in virtually every utterance and step taken by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who bestrides his state like some latter-day King George III (except when he’s being flown by helicopter to his son’s baseball game and then driven by car for the remaining few hundred feet from copter to bleachers.) And you see it at the federal levelnot just in all the pomp that has come to surround the presidency (that’s a whole story in its own right) but in the puffery that attends even anonymous Cabinet secretaries. I remember once seeing Ray LaHood, the amiable and utterly anodyne head of the Department of Transportation, being swept into a convoy of tinted-window SUVs, with earpiece-adorned guards, as he was leaving Capitol Hill after testifying on bike paths at a minor committee hearing. Heck, even the acting head of the White Office of Drug Control Policya man who, truly, not 10 people in this country could pick out of a lineuphas a security detail.

How did this happen? How did a country that was founded in rebellion against royal overlords become so prone to its own sort of executive self-importance? Part of it has to do with the problem that my editor Frank Foer laid out in an essay in the current issue of this magazine, on the ways in which our federalist system and delegation of powers to countless fragmented municipalities has created thousands of little princes with their own fiefdoms and aggrandizing tendencies. But it may go even deeper than that, to some ancient feudal habits deep within us that allow and even encourage our elected leaders to think they’re lords of their domain. Regardless, it’s time it stopped. No more “His Excellency” for men who, more often than not, are anything but excellent.


By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, September 5, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Bob McDonnell, Elected Officials, Public Corruption | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Senator Divided Against Himself Cannot Stand”: Rand Paul Disagrees With Rand Paul, Again

Republican condemnations of President Obama’s counter-terrorism efforts are clearly growing louder, but there’s still some disagreements within the GOP itself.

When discussing ISIS and the national-security threat, for example, one prominent Republican senator recently said, “What’s going on now, I don’t blame on President Obama. Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution.”

Another prominent Republican senator later argued the opposite, writing an op-ed that read, “Our recent foreign policy has allowed radical jihadists to proliferate. Today, there are more terrorists groups than there were before 9/11, most notably ISIS…. [W]hy, after six years, does President Obama lack a strategy to deal with threats like ISIS?”

Wait, actually both quotes came from the same guy. Benjy Sarlin highlighted the contradiction.

After expressing reluctance to intervene against ISIS over the summer, Sen. Rand Paul abruptly shifted gears on Thursday and announced that he supports military action to eliminate the Islamist group. […]

Paul’s hawkish turn comes after months of hedging and skeptical comments regarding U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria. Yet Paul boasted on Thursday that as president he would have committed to a grand plan to eliminate ISIS earlier and more effectively than President Obama.

I haven’t the foggiest idea how anyone can take the Kentucky Republican seriously on the issue. Rand Paul seems to have very strong disagreements with Rand Paul, and there’s little hope for reconciliation – one has no use for “interventionists” and the “hawkish members” of his own party; the other is eager to support U.S. military intervention abroad to destroy ISIS.

One has “mixed feelings” about an expansive military operation in the Middle East; the other is outraged by President Obama’s cautious approach to pursuing expansive military operation in the Middle East.

Simon Maloy noted that the same conservatives the senator has spent years disagreeing with about foreign policy are delighted by Paul’s dramatic flip-flop.

In less than a week he went from “let’s be realistic about what we can do militarily” to “destroy ISIS militarily.” The Weekly Standard happily clipped Paul’s remarks under the headline “Rand Paul Supports U.S. War in Middle East to Destroy ISIS.” Neocon pundit Jennifer Rubin — whose Washington Post blog is basically a free-form screed against Rand Paul’s foreign policy — writes today: “Well, welcome aboard, Sen. Paul.”

Of course, the senator’s evolution goes beyond foreign policy.  Sarah Smith recently noted that the Kentucky Republican has also changed his mind about federal aid to Israel, use of domestic drones, immigration, elements of the Civil Rights Act, Guantanamo Bay, and even accepting donations from lawmakers who voted for TARP.

And so, I’ll ask again: at what point do Rand Paul’s loyal followers start to reconsider whether Rand Paul actually agrees with them?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 5, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, ISIS, Rand Paul | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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