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“No Dramatic Headlines Here”: Benghazi Select Committee Hearings Begin; Craziness Inevitably To Follow

There’s a lot going on in the world: we have a new war ramping up, Ebola is spreading, and various NFL players are discovered beating the crap out of women and children (and I for one am shocked that a group of men who have spent their lives being rewarded for cultivating their most violent instincts and abilities would turn out to be prone to violence). So it may have missed your notice that today marks the beginning of public hearings in the select committee on Benghazi, or as Ed Kilgore has termed it, Benghazi! In advance, Democrats on the committee have set up a website showing how all the questions the committee is asking have already been answered, while a Republican PAC is already airing Benghazi-themed ads against Hillary Clinton. But if you were hoping to tune in this afternoon for thundering denunciations and dark warnings of conspiracy, you may be disappointed, as David Corn reports:

In a surprising move that might disappoint right-wingers yearning for proof that Benghazi is Obama’s Watergate (or worse!), the session will not focus on whether the White House purposefully misled the public about the attacks on the US diplomatic compound in that Libyan city that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Nor will it probe the favorite right-wing talking point that President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, for God-knows-what reasons, ordered US forces to stand down and not respond to the murderous assault. Instead, the committee will examine the State Department’s implementation of the recommendations made by the Accountability Review Board, an independent outfit that investigated the attack and in late 2012 issued proposals for improving security for American diplomats and US diplomatic facilities overseas.

That’s actually a worthy topic of discussion! I suppose committee chair Trey Gowdy deserves some credit for starting things off by trying to show everyone that this is going to be a serious undertaking. That isn’t to say there won’t be plenty of time given over to bashing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, because there surely will be. But on its first day, the committee looks unlikely to generate dramatic headlines.

So how is this all going to play out? As I see it, there are three general possibilities:

1. For the most part, the committee goes about its work in a responsible way. While there are some angry confrontations with witnesses, on the whole things are pretty boring. Without much in the way of fireworks, press coverage of the hearings is rather perfunctory. Base Republicans wind up feeling disappointed and even betrayed, assuring themselves that the Republicans on the committee wimped out, perhaps because they knew that if they got too close to the truth, State Department assassination squads would take out their families. The true scope of the conspiracy remains buried under a mountain of lies and cowardice. Odds: 37%

2. Full-on circus. Republicans on the committee do a great deal of shouting; photos of the aftermath of the attacks are repeatedly projected on the wall of the hearing room. News coverage is somewhat greater, as nothing draws a crowd of reporters more than politicians yelling at each other. Despite the fact that the “truth” is never fully revealed, the GOP base is pleased. Yet the net effect of the whole thing is to make Republicans look like crazy people. In a cruel irony, this result greatly aids the presidential campaign of one Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is able to say that she’s being attacked by a bunch of crazy people, and say it with a smile that drives Republicans around the bend. Odds: 62.99%

3. The committee actually discovers that there was a sinister conspiracy that led to the Americans’ deaths, with high-ranking administration officials at its center. All their accusations, not to mention the creation of this committee, are vindicated, and the moral rot at the heart of the Obama regime is finally revealed for all to see. Odds: .01%

Those are my predictions, anyway. But who knows — maybe they’ll surprise us.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 17, 2014

September 18, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“de-Baathification Program”: Bush/Cheney Created Conditions That Led Directly To ISIL

It takes a lot of gall for people like Dick Cheney to utter even one critical word about President Obama’s strategy to eliminate the threat of ISIL in the Middle East.

In fact, it was the unnecessary Bush/Cheney Iraq War that created the conditions that led directly to the rise of the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL).

Former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James Baker said as much on this week’s edition of “Meet the Press.” He noted that after the first President Bush had ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, the U.S. had refrained from marching on Baghdad precisely to avoid kicking over the sectarian hornet’s nest that was subsequently unleashed by the Bush/Cheney attack on Iraq in 2003.

But it wasn’t just the War in Iraq itself that set the stage for the subsequent 12 years of renewed, high-intensity sectarian strife between Sunni’s and Shiites in the Middle East. It was also what came after.

Bush’s “de-Baathification program” eliminated all vestiges of Sunni power in Iraqi society and set the stage for the Sunni insurrection against American occupation and the new Shiite-led government. Bush disbanded the entire Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army and bureaucracy. He didn’t change it. He didn’t make it more inclusive of Shiites and Kurds. He just disbanded it. It is no accident that two of the top commanders of today’s ISIL are former commanders in the Saddam-era Iraqi military.

General Petraeus took steps to reverse these policies with his “Sunni Awakening” programs that engaged the Sunni tribes against what was then known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the progress he made ultimately collapsed because the Bush/Cheney regime helped install Nouri Al-Maliki as Prime Minister who systematically disenfranchised Sunnis throughout Iraq.

And that’s not all. The War in Iraq — which had nothing whatsoever to do with “terrorism” when it was launched — created massive numbers of terrorists that otherwise would not have dreamed of joining extremist organizations. It did so by killing massive numbers of Iraqis, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees, imprisoning thousands, and convincing many residents of the Middle East that the terrorist narrative was correct: that the U.S. and the West were really about taking Muslim lands.

And after all, contrary to Dick Cheney’s absurd assertion that U.S. forces would be greeted in Iraq as “liberators,” no one likes a foreign nation to occupy their country.

The War did more than any propagandist could possibly do to radicalize vulnerable young people. And by setting off wave after wave of sectarian slaughter it created blood feuds that will never be forgiven.

The Iraq War — and the Sunni power vacuum caused first by U.S. policies and then Al Maliki — created the perfect conditions that allowed a vicious band of extremists to take huge swaths of territory.

And now many of the same people who caused this foreign policy disaster have the audacity to criticize President Obama’s measured efforts to clean up the mess they created. And they do so often without ever saying what they themselves would do to solve the horrific problems that they created.

It reminds you of a bunch of arsonists standing at the scene of a fire criticizing the techniques used by the firefighters who are trying to extinguish the blaze they themselves have set.

Oh, they say: “If you had just left a residual force after the withdrawal of U.S. troops everything would be hunky dory.”

Do they really think that several thousand U.S. troops would have solved Iraq’s problems when hundreds of thousands failed to do so?

And of course they conveniently forget to mention that neither the Iraqi’s nor the U.S. voters wanted a “residual” force to remain in Iraq. And they forget that the Iraqi government would not agree to conditions that would allow a “residual” force to be stationed in Iraq.

Or perhaps they wish U.S. troops were now going door to door in Iraq cities rooting out adherents to ISIL? Only a few neo-con die-hards want more U.S. troops on the ground in the Middle East.

Or then there is the refrain that President Obama should have helped “arm” the moderate Syrian opposition earlier. Let’s remember that had he acted at an earlier point it is entirely likely that many of those arms would now be in ISIL hands — and we must be extremely careful even now to avoid precisely that problem in the days ahead.

The president’s response to ISIL is supported by almost two-thirds of Americans because it seems to be the only reasonable response where the cure is not worse than the disease.

It recognizes that the problem posed by ISIL must first and foremost be dealt with by other Sunni’s in the region. It is aimed at building an international coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy the ability of this vicious organization to threaten people in the Middle East or elsewhere. And it relies on American airpower to bolster the abilities of other Sunni forces to accomplish this goal.

But most Americans also realize this will not be easy — and they’re right. It won’t be easy to clean up the horrific mess created by the Bush/Cheney policies in the Middle East.

Frankly, I don’t think that any of the architects of the Iraq War should ever be invited on TV to say one word about foreign policy — and especially the Middle East. They have zero credibility to comment. They have been wrong over and over again and created the conditions that spawned the problems we face today.

But if they are invited to act as “talking heads,” interviewers must at least have the common decency to point out their failed track record — and to demand that they do more than criticize the president’s efforts to clean up their mistakes. They must also be required to tell us exactly what they would do to fix it.

And if any of them actually do propose a course of action, you can pretty much be sure that based on their past track records, that course of action is wrong.

 

By: Robert Creamer, Partner, Democracy Partners; The Huffington Post Blog, September 15, 2014

 

 

September 18, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sniveling Little Children”: Boehner Laments ‘Knuckleheads’ Within House GOP

Once in a while, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sounds like a man who isn’t entirely fond of his ostensible followers.

Speaker John Boehner said that he’s got a “few knuckleheads” to deal with, and that’s largely why the Republican majority in the House looks good on paper but doesn’t always pan out with votes.

“On any given day, 16 of my members decide they’re going to go this way, and all of a sudden, I have nothing,” he said, describing the reality of his “paper majority” in the House, The Hill reported. “You might notice I have a few knuckleheads in my conference.”

According to the report in the conservative Washington Times, Boehner went on say, “Dealing with Democrats is one thing. Dealing with the knuckleheads is another.”

Whether he finds one easier to deal with than the other was unclear.

These comments come just five months after the Ohio Republican publicly mocked his own members over their reluctance to work on immigration reform.

“Here’s the attitude: ‘Oh, don’t make me do this. Oh, this is too hard,” Boehner said, in a tone deriding House Republicans as if they were sniveling children. He added, “We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems, and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to.”

Remember, this was the Republican Speaker referring to Republican House members. Now Boehner is also willing to concede an unknown number of his members are “knuckleheads,” too.

The candor is certainly welcome, though the larger point is how understandable the Speaker’s dissatisfaction is.

As we were reminded in late July, when House Republicans killed Boehner’s border bill, the Speaker has surprisingly limited influence over what his members actually support.

A Democratic source on Capitol Hill recently sent around a brutal collection of bills Boehner asked his members to support, only to see his own House GOP conference reject his appeals: a grand bargain, a debt-ceiling bill in 2011, a payroll tax extension, a transportation bill, a farm bill, one fiscal-cliff bill, another fiscal-cliff bill, another farm bill, and then yesterday. I think my source might have even missed a couple, including the collapse of Boehner’s debt-ceiling bill in February 2014.

What’s more, think about how regularly Boehner is pushed around. He didn’t want to initiate a debt-ceiling crisis, but his members didn’t give him much of a choice. The Speaker didn’t want to hold several dozen ACA repeal votes, but his members called the shots on this, too.

Four years after taking hold of the Speaker’s gavel, Boehner has no legislative accomplishments and has developed a reputation as the weakest Speaker in modern times.

The surprise isn’t that Boehner calls his members “knuckleheads”; the surprise is that he doesn’t use stronger language in public.

 

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

September 18, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tax Cuts Don’t Increase Revenue”: This Is What Happens When Republicans Actually Enact Their Radical Agenda

A persistent elite Washington trope, embodied by folks like Ron Fournier, says that bipartisanship is the key missing ingredient in our system of government. The two parties just need to stop their partisan bickering and join hands to hammer out serious, substantive compromises (read: slash social insurance).

It’s certainly the case that because of U.S. constitutional design, compromise is necessary during times of divided government — and the ones who won’t do it are ultraconservative Republicans. But there’s another model of governance that gets short shrift among the lovers of bipartisanship: letting election winners implement their agenda. By providing clear lines of accountability and making clear who is responsible for which policy, allowing an election winner to govern makes democracy work.

We see this today in Kansas of all places, where Gov. Sam Brownback is in an unexpectedly tight re-election race:

Although every statewide elected official in Kansas is a Republican and President Obama lost the state by more than 20 points in the last election, Mr. Brownback’s proudly conservative policies have turned out to be so divisive and his tax cuts have generated such a drop in state revenue that they have caused even many Republicans to revolt. Projections put state budget shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually, raising questions of whether the state can adequately fund education in particular. [The New York Times]

Brownback’s tax cuts were passed back in 2012 with the help of Arthur Laffer, the conservative policy hand who has made his career insisting in the teeth of contrary evidence that tax cuts increase revenue. Multiple experts warned that the Brownback-Laffer plan would actually crater the state revenue collection, but Brownback ignored them and did what he wanted. The results are in, and it turns out when you cut taxes, you decrease revenue:

Kansas has a problem. In April and May, the state planned to collect $651 million from personal income tax. But instead, it received only $369 million. [The New York Times]

Naturally, the cuts have required more cuts to critical government services, and most of the tax benefits have been vacuumed up by the rich. Worse still, the promised job-creating effects have also failed to appear. On the contrary, Kansas has actually been performing worse than its neighbors on the jobs front.

In short, movement conservatism produces garbage economic policy. But the beauty is, now that fact is obvious to almost everyone in Kansas, including a bunch of Republicans. To his credit, Brownback actually believed in his ideas and put them in place. He is now paying the price for taking that risk.

Contrast that to the elite D.C. idea of bipartisanship, in which the ancient grandees from both parties get together, and through the magic of high-minded civil discussion, iron out a compromise to cut Social Security and Medicare, preferably by enough to be called a “Grand Bargain.” This has the not-coincidental effect of making it impossible for most people to figure out who is responsible for what — and very easy for either side to spin negative consequences as the other side’s fault.

Now, Brownback may well pull out a victory in the end. But Kansas is a very conservative state, and he ought to be cruising to a huge reelection. Future Republicans may well try to jam through similar tax policies copy-pasted from a conservative think tank’s guide to enriching the wealthy, but the colossal failure of the Brownback cuts will surely give them pause.

Government by the permanent D.C. establishment used to at least keep the country on two legs, but with ideologically well-sorted parties, one of them increasingly extreme, it’s come perilously close to breaking down multiple times. When considering reforms to the structure of government, as I believe will be necessary sometime in the future, we should keep in mind stories like this one. Democracy works best when the voters have meaningful and comprehensible choices.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, September 17, 2014

September 18, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Republicans, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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