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“The New Politics Of Foreign Policy”: Steadier, More Sober, More Realistic—The Balance We Have Been Seeking

Over the last decade, Americans’ views on foreign policy have swung sharply from support for intervention to a profound mistrust of any military engagement overseas. Over the same period, political debates on foreign affairs have been bitter and polarized, defined by the question of whether the invasion of Iraq was a proper use of the nation’s power or a catastrophic mistake.

This contest for public opinion has taken place in the shadow of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. For understandable reasons, the United States was thrown off balance by the horrific events of 13 years ago, and we have never fully recovered.

The emergence of the Islamic State and its barbaric beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff have shaken public opinion again. It is, of course, possible that the public’s guardedly increased hawkishness is another short-term reaction to an enraging news event. But there is a strong case that, after all the gyrations in policy and popular attitudes, we are on the verge of a new politics of foreign policy based on a steadier, more sober and more realistic view of our country’s role in the world and of what it takes to keep the nation safe.

And it fell to President Obama on Wednesday night to take the first steps toward building a durable consensus that can outlast his presidency. The paradox is that, while polls show Americans more critical than ever of the president’s handling of foreign affairs, the strategy he outlined toward the Islamic State has the potential of forging a unity of purpose across a wide swath of American opinion. In many ways, it is an approach that goes back to the pre-9/11 presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Two things are clear about where the public stands now: It is more ready to use U.S. power than it was even a few months ago. But it remains deeply wary of again committing U.S. combat troops to the Middle East. Thus the wide popularity of using air attacks to push back the Islamic State.

Obama’s strategy seeks to thread this needle. As the president explained Wednesday night, the bombing campaign the United States has undertaken is aimed at supporting those — including the Iraqi army, the Kurdish pesh merga and, perhaps eventually, Syrian opposition forces — who are bearing the burden of the fighting. Although the circumstances are quite different, Obama’s reliance on air power is reminiscent of Clinton’s actions in Bosnia and Kosovo. Obama said he was sending an additional 475 U.S. troops to Iraq “to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.” But he was again at pains to insist that they would “not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”

More generally, Obama is pushing a tough-minded multilateralism. His stress on building “a broad coalition of partners” and the administration’s aggressive courting of allies in both the Middle East and Europe recalls the intense rounds of diplomacy that former secretary of state James A. Baker III led on behalf of the first President Bush before the successful war to drive Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991.

Obama’s diplomatic exertions have extended to pressuring Shiite politicians in Iraq to create what he called “an inclusive government” that Sunni Muslims could regard as their own. It was the creation of such a government, he said Wednesday, that now made the rest of his strategy possible. Above all, Obama went out of his way to describe his new effort as a “counterterrorism strategy,” tying it back to the cause that large majorities of Americans embraced after the 9/11 attacks and have never stopped supporting. His new effort, he insisted, “will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Some who championed the Iraq war will, no doubt, object to this implicit criticism of a venture they still defend. Others will point to the risks of relying on Iraqis and others to take the lead on the battlefield. In the meantime, anti-interventionists — who still loom large in the president’s party and in Republican libertarian quarters — will continue to be wary of any re-escalation of U.S. military engagement. And a bitter election season is hardly an ideal moment for building bipartisanship.

Nonetheless, circumstances have presented Obama with both an opportunity and an obligation to steer U.S. policy toward a middle course that acknowledges a need for American leadership and the careful use of American power while avoiding commitments that are beyond the country’s capacity to sustain. It is the balance we have been seeking since an awful day in September shook us to our core.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 10, 2014


September 11, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, ISIS, Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The New Touchy-Feely Organization”: All Of A Sudden The NRA Doesn’t Want To Mention Guns

Two weeks ago, coincidentally on the same day that the unfortunate 9-year old girl accidentally shot and killed a firearms instructor in Arizona, the NRA kicked off a series of Netflix-style video ads that are perhaps the organization’s most disingenuous effort to present itself as something other than what it really is; namely, an organization devoted to ownership and use of guns. In fact, having watched all 12 one-minute productions, I can tell you that the only way you would know that this is an effort of the NRA is that each commentator ends his or her spiel by telling the viewer that their wholesome and didactic script was produced by the “National Rifle Association of America” with a slight pause and then heavy emphasis on the word ‘America’ even though officially the NRA is still just the NRA, not the NRAA.

This new media blitz by the people who used to bring us messages like “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is significant insofar as the word “gun” is never mentioned in any of these videos, not even once. You would think that the NRA had become some kind of touchy-feely civics organization devoted to uplifting our moral virtues rather than a trade association committed to getting everyone in America to own a gun. And not only are the minute-long lectures all about honesty, and decency, and respect for everyone’s point of view, but only four of the homilies are delivered by white males, who just happen to own most of the guns in America — seven of the commentators are women, one is Asian-American and, of course, there’s always room for Colion Noir, aka NRA’s African-American spokesperson.

When I first started watching these videos I thought I was looking at a remake of the Reagan “it’s morning again in America” campaign ads from 1984. Those were slickly-produced messages which never showed Reagan, who was beginning to look his age, but instead had a variety of American families proudly standing in front of a farmhouse, a factory gate, a well-manicured suburban lawn, all smiling, all happy, all gently reminding us that if we just remembered to vote Republican that all those things we cherished and loved would never be taken away.

The NRA scripts flow back and forth between a kind of Tea Party-lite condemnation about the problems we face — government spying, unlawfulness in high places, fear of crime — and an immediate sense of setting things right with the help of the “good guys,” the real Americans who can be counted on every time to keep us safe, honest, decent and sound. And who are these good guys? They are your neighbor with a decal on the back of his truck which reads: N-R-A.

I can’t imagine anyone actually watching one of these messages and coming away having learned anything at all. But I don’t think that’s the point. What the NRA is trying to do is cast itself in a softer, more reasonable and, if you’ll pardon the expression, less combative way, because for the first time they are up against an opponent whose money, smarts and media access can sway lots of people to go the opposite way. And not only does Bloomberg have that kind of dough, for the first time he might be able to energize non-gun owners to stay active and committed to the gun control fray.

This week we have another retail chain, Panera, which is walking down the path blazed by Starbucks and Target and asking gun owners to leave their weapons at home. Like the other chains, Panera isn’t posting a gun-free sign on their front doors, but if any of the 2nd-Amendment vigilantes believes that this isn’t a victory for the folks who want more gun control, they better think again. The fact that Panera’s announcement coupled their concern about guns with their desire to build social “communities” in their stores should tell you why, all of a sudden, the NRA has stopped talking about guns.


By: Mike Weisser, The Huffington Post Blog, September 10, 2014

September 11, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Oil And Gas”: The Combustible Mix Of Ted Cruz And The House GOP

Congress will have to act fairly soon to approve a new stopgap spending measure, called a “continuing resolution,” to prevent a government shutdown at the end of the month. Leaders in both parties and both chambers seem fairly optimistic – especially now that President Obama has postponed an announcement on immigration executive actions – that an ugly fight can be avoided.

But as we learned during the Republican shutdown last fall, congressional leaders don’t always get what they want.

Sen. Ted Cruz again met with a small group of House Republicans late Tuesday night, this time to discuss over pizza a conservative strategy on the continuing resolution.

While many of the Cruz meetings have seemed to lack a specific agenda or resolution, members trickled out of Tuesday’s nearly two-hour meeting repeating a similar refrain: We want a new expiration date on the CR.

The House GOP leadership seems to have adopted a let’s-not-screw-this-up-again strategy. They’ll advance a “clean” spending measure that will keep the government open through mid-December, then act again during the lame-duck session that will follow the midterm elections. No muss, no fuss.

Cruz isn’t sure he likes that plan. The far-right Texan, for example, yesterday suggested members use “any and all means necessary” to prevent President Obama from using his executive powers to further address immigration policy. In the context of the continuing resolution, that presumably means Cruz would like to see measures added to the spending bill to tie the president’s hands – and if those measures aren’t there, then the spending bill should be blocked, regardless of the consequences.

The senator and his allies also have concerns about the length of the CR and a possible extension of the Export-Import Bank.

Whether their concerns have the traction necessary to shut down the government again is another matter entirely.

The fact remains that most House Republicans appear eager to spend as little time as possible on Capitol Hill before the elections. The goal, in general, is to keep the government’s lights on and get back to the campaign trail. Luckily for the GOP, most voters no longer seem to remember last year’s ridiculous shutdown, and so long as Republicans don’t do it again, they probably won’t face any real consequences for their actions at all.

And so when Cruz interjects to argue that he and his far-right cohorts should do it again, it’s a tough sell for the Texas Republican.

Still, strange things happen when Cruz and House Republicans huddle for private meetings.

As we discussed earlier in the summer, Cruz met privately with a group of House Republicans in late July to urge them to ignore their own leadership and oppose their party’s border bill. Less than a day later, House GOP leaders were forced to pull their preferred legislation – too many of House Speaker John Boehner’s members were listening to Cruz, not him.

It’s part of a growing pattern. Last September, for example, Boehner presented a plan to avoid a government shutdown. Cruz met directly with House Republicans, urged them to ignore their own leader’s plan, and GOP House members followed his advice. A month later, Cruz held another meeting with House Republicans, this time in a private room at a Capitol Hill restaurant.

This year, in April, the Texas senator again gathered House Republicans, this time for a private meeting in his office. In June, less than an hour after House Republicans elected a new leadership team, Cruz invited House Republicans to join him for “an evening of discussion and fellowship.”

In July, as Congress prepared for some 11th-hour legislating before their month-long break, Cruz and House Republicans met to plot strategy, and a week later, they huddled once more.

The Texas Republican doesn’t seem to get along with other senators, but he spends an inordinate amount of time huddling with House Republicans who actually seem to listen to his advice.

This time, though, the odds are against Cruz’s success. Will the House GOP majority really move towards a government shutdown – two months before Election Day – in the hopes of blocking executive actions on immigration that haven’t even been introduced? The fact that Cruz and his allies would consider such a tactic is itself remarkable, but he’s nevertheless likely to lose this round.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, September 10, 2014

September 11, 2014 Posted by | GOP, House Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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