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“Honor Our Armed Forces By Avoiding Unnecessary Wars”: Our Kids Should Not Be Used To Bend The World To Our Political Will

With recent military victories by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, President Barack Obama’s critics are once again ratcheting up their rhetoric, blaming him for the spreading violence in the Middle East. Beginning his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) chimed in:

“If you fought in Iraq, it worked. It’s not your fault it’s going to hell. It’s Obama’s fault,” he said.

That’s been more or less the tack taken by all the declared and potential candidates in the Republican presidential field: Pretend that George W. Bush’s invasion had nothing to do with the disastrous escalation of war and terror from Syria to Iraq to Yemen. Blame it all on Obama. Play to a public nervous about the gruesome videos of Islamic State jihadists beheading their captives.

But here’s the one thing that you’re unlikely to hear from those armchair hawks: a plan to put large numbers of U.S. forces on the ground. The graves that are being spruced up for Memorial Day are too fresh, the memories of our Iraqi misadventure too raw.

Then again, GOP politicians still want to pummel the president for allegedly pulling troops out of Iraq too soon. Speaking to a crowd in New Hampshire recently — and trying to recover from a dumb defense of his brother’s invasion — Jeb Bush accused Obama of following public opinion rather than sound military advice.

“That’s what the president did when he abandoned, when he left Iraq. And I think it was wrong,” he said.

That’s a glib answer from a man whose children don’t serve under fire, whose friends and fat-cat donors keep their kids far away from the duties and demands of the U.S. armed forces. And that’s true for the vast majority of the GOP field. Graham was a military lawyer who never saw combat, but at least he served. Most of them did not.

Indeed, the drumbeat for war depends on the service of a relatively small percentage of Americans. Fewer than 1 percent of our citizens currently serve in the armed forces, and they are disproportionately drawn from working-class and lower-middle-class households.

As a rule, members of the 1 percent don’t go. (None of Mitt Romney’s five sons ever served.) For that matter, neither do the members of the top 10 percent.

And it’s especially irksome that those armchair hawks refuse to acknowledge that George W. Bush’s decision to depose Saddam Hussein set up the conditions for the current chaos in the Middle East. (Young Ivy Ziedrich, a college student, was right when she confronted Jeb Bush at a Reno, Nevada, event: “Your brother created ISIS,” she said.)

The Islamic State jihadists are largely Sunni; while they claim many grievances, they are chiefly waging war against their fellow Muslims who are Shi’a. Saddam was a Sunni who cruelly repressed Shiites and granted special favors to Sunnis, but his iron-fisted rule kept the peace.

Had the invasion of Iraq depended on a military draft, it’s unlikely Bush would have attempted it. It’s hard to imagine that the U.S. Senate would have given him the authority to go in. The news media, which were largely quiescent in the face of Bush’s warmongering, would probably have asked more questions.

After all, it was clear even then that members of the Bush administration — especially Dick Cheney, who received deferments to avoid service in Vietnam — were exaggerating or distorting intelligence claiming ties between al Qaeda and Saddam. And while most Republicans now claim that faulty intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was to blame for the invasion, the fact is that should not have mattered. Even if Saddam had WMDs, they were no threat to us. A few months before 9/11, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had said as much.

If we’ve learned anything (and it’s not clear that we have), it should be this: As brave and capable as they are, the men and women of the U.S. armed forces cannot calm every conflict, destroy every dictatorship or bend the world to our will. The best way to honor their service is to refrain from sending them recklessly to war.


By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, May 23, 2015

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Iraq War, Memorial Day, Middle East | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hillary Clinton Has Already Crushed Republicans On Immigration”: It’s Heads She Wins And Tails They Lose, Regardless Of What They Do

You can question Hillary Clinton’s political scruples. But don’t doubt her political smarts.

There is no better proof of either quality than her U-turn decision last week to go all out in embracing amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Clinton’s gambit is a major flip-flop — one that will put Republicans in a bind that they’ll have a hard time extricating themselves from. It’s heads she wins and tails they lose, regardless of what they do.

Clinton stunned everyone — even Latino activists — when she boldly called for a “path to full and equal citizenship” for all of the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. Speaking at a gathering of handpicked young immigrants in a high school in Nevada, a Latino-heavy swing state, she rejected the notion of a mere path to legalization — like the sort Jeb Bush and some of the more immigrant-friendly Republicans have skittishly backed. “That’s code for second-class status,” Clinton declared. She promised to go much further than even President Obama’s recent executive action and “defer” deportation proceedings not only against some illegal immigrants, but virtually all of them, while working toward comprehensive immigration reform that included citizenship.

This was a remarkable shift for someone who has not only maintained a studious silence for months about Obama’s executive action, but also previously opposed drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. Indeed, her flip is so dramatic that instead of raising questions about her credibility, it has changed the conversation so much that we’re immediately asking what Republicans need to do to catch up.

No doubt her proposal, which she offered no realistic plan for pushing through an unfriendly Congress, is designed to deflect attention from “Emailgate” and any number of other scandals that might yet derail her candidacy. But that’s not all its aimed at doing.

Its chief purpose is to compound what pollster Whit Ayres calls the GOP’s “daunting demographic challenge” in 2016.

Ayers points out that Mitt Romney got 59 percent of the white vote in 2012, the highest percentage of any Republican challenging an incumbent president, and still lost because he got only 18 percent of the overall minority vote and 27 percent of the Latino vote. However, the white share of the national electorate is on track to drop by three percentage points (from 72 percent in 2012 to 69 percent in 2016) — and the minority share, likewise, to rise by the same amount.

This means that the GOP candidate has to do one of two things to win against Clinton: Improve his or her performance with whites to about 65 percent, a feat only Ronald Reagan has accomplished in the last 50 years, or boost his or her minority vote to 30 percent, which would require drawing about 45 percent of the Latino vote — as George W. Bush did.

But here’s the thing: While Democrats’ white and minority supporters are united on the issue of immigration (or at least not hopelessly divided), the GOP’s are not. This means that the more Republicans question and condemn Clinton’s support for “amnesty,” the more they’ll dig themselves in a hole with Latinos and make her more popular. On the other hand, it they stay mute — which is what most of them have done (with the exception of Lindsey Graham) — they’ll risk alienating the anti-amnesty white base that they have spent the last decade riling up.

In other words, if Republicans fight Hillary’s call for amnesty, they’ll lose Latinos, which will benefit Hillary. But if they don’t, they’ll lose whites, which will also benefit Hillary.

The dilemma is particularly acute for Jeb Bush, whose broad support for immigration (along with his Mexican-American wife and Spanish fluency) has made him perhaps the best-placed Republican to do well among Latinos. Yet even he doesn’t come anywhere close to the 45 percent mark yet. He has been rather equivocal in his support for a path to citizenship and has been assuring GOP voters that whatever course he charts for the undocumented, it will require them to jump through all kinds of hoops, such as paying fines and passing English tests and possibly “touching back” to their home country. Still, a recent Bloomberg poll found that 41 percent of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire, far from the most restrictionist state in the country, considered his immigration views a “deal-killer.”

By positioning herself as even more pro-immigration than the most pro-immigration GOP candidate — and potentially picking as her running mate Julian Castro, secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the former mayor of San Antonio who is wildly popular with Latinos — she will basically lock up the Latino vote. This will mean that the Republican nominee, even Jeb Bush, would have to go whole-hog for the white vote by hardening his or her opposition to amnesty and immigration, further cementing the GOP’s reputation as the anti-minority, white man’s party.

Some pundits pooh-pooh this problem, noting that like all voters, Latinos list jobs and the economy as their top concerns, not immigration. That’s true. But, also like all voters, Latinos won’t put their economic faith in someone they don’t trust politically. They will have much more confidence in Clinton solving those problems, not because they necessarily buy into her liberal tax-and-spend plans, but because they have more confidence in her personally, thanks to her appeal for them on immigration issues.

What’s more, life will get only more miserable for Republicans once Clinton enters the White House and makes comprehensive immigration reform her signature issue. That’s because if Republicans go along with her plans to extend full-fledged amnesty, they will basically be handing her a whole new block of Democratic voters. But if they don’t, Democrats will be able to milk this issue in subsequent elections, when the electorate is even more Latino.

Regardless of where one stands on the merits of the issue, the political reality is this: Republicans’ harsh anti-immigration rhetoric has left them no good options. They have created their own vulnerability. And Hillary Clinton has just zeroed in on it.


By: Shikha Dalmia, The Week, May 22, 2015

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Amnesty, Hillary Clinton, Immigration | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Iraq War, 1%; Climate Change, 97%”: Jeb Bush Needs More Evidence For Climate Change Action Than He Does To Start A War

Former Florida governor and likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush had a lot to say about climate change this week, putting to rest prior speculation that he might take a more reasonable position on the issue than his Republican opponents. At a campaign event in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Bush said, “I don’t think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted.” Though he said the “climate is changing,” Bush isn’t convinced that mankind has contributed or that we have a mandate to do something about it. “For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you,” he continued. “It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it, even.”

On foreign policy, however, Bush needs much less certainty. The bar is so low, in fact, that he’s said he would still have invaded Iraq, even knowing what we do today about the bad intelligence. “I would have,” he told Fox News earlier this month. “And so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.” As with climate change, it’s hard to pin down exactly how Bush views the Iraq War, and he’s tied himself into knots trying to explain it, later backtracking with, “I would have not gone into Iraq.”

Under George W. Bush’s administration, the White House subscribed to the hawkish war philosophy known as the One Percent Doctrine, which got its name from former Vice President Dick Cheney’s post-9/11 strategy and which was codified in a book of the same name. “If there was even a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction—and there has been a small probability of such an occurrence for some time—the United States must now act as if it were a certainty,” the author, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind wrote. Cheney insisted that “our response” was more important than “our analysis.” The administration presented its severely flawed intelligence as a certainty, in order to convince the public that Iraq had nuclear, chemical, and biological capabilities.

The Bush administration’s troubling approach to foreign policy isn’t a perfect parallel to the case for climate change action, because the certainty is much higher than 1 percent—97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists say that humans are responsible for our changing climate. Still, it exposes the fallacies in Bush’s argument that the U.S. should wait to act on global climate change until the science is more sure. Not only is perfect certainty a stupidly high bar to set for climate action, but it’s irresponsible to insist on perfect knowledge. Climate scientists are still improving their models to forecast the precise effects of warming the planet 4 degrees Fahrenheit and higher, but they agree on this: The longer the world waits to act, the more it risks and the more catastrophic the consequences become. If we waited another few decades to do something while Republicans like Bush misrepresent reality, the damage will already be done. It will be too late.

Advocates for government action on the climate often liken it to taking out insurance for a car or home. The point of investing now is to mitigate the most severe consequences of climate change. “Confronting the possibility of climate catastrophes means taking prudent steps now to reduce the future chances of the most severe consequences of climate change,” a 2014 White House report said. “The longer that action is postponed, the greater will be the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the greater is the risk.”

In another world, Cheney might have said something like: If there’s a chance that we can forestall the worst impacts of climate change, the U.S. must do what it can. It’s about our response, not just our analysis. What if he had?

Compared to going to war, acting on climate change isn’t a risky bet.


By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, May 22, 2015

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Iraq War, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Iraqi Army That Can’t Or Won’t Fight”: Why Fight For The Iraqis If They Are Not Going To Fight For Themselves?

If Iraqis won’t fight for their nation’s survival, why on earth should we?

This is the question posed by the fall of Ramadi, which revealed the emptiness at the core of U.S. policy. President Obama’s critics are missing the point: Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many troops he sends back to Iraq or whether their footwear happens to touch the ground. The simple truth is that if Iraqis will not join together to fight for a united and peaceful country, there will be continuing conflict and chaos that potentially threaten American interests.

We should be debating how best to contain and minimize the threat. Further escalating the U.S. military role, I would argue, will almost surely lead to a quagmire that makes us no more secure. If the choice is go big or go home, we should pick the latter.

The Islamic State was supposed to be reeling from U.S.-led airstrikes. Yet the group was able to capture Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, and is now consolidating control over that strategically important city. Once Islamic State fighters are fully dug in, it will be hard to pry them out.

Among the images from Sunday’s fighting, what stood out was video footage of Iraqi soldiers on the move — speeding not toward the battle but in the opposite direction. It didn’t look like any kind of tactical retreat. It looked like pedal-to-the-metal flight.

These were widely described as members of the Iraqi army’s “elite” units.

In their haste, Iraqi forces left behind U.S.-supplied tanks, artillery pieces, armored personnel carriers and Humvees. Most of the equipment is believed to be in working order, and all of it now belongs to the Islamic State. The same thing has happened when other government positions have been overrun; in effect, we have helped to arm the enemy.

Obama pledged to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. His strategy is to use U.S. air power to keep the jihadists at bay, while U.S. advisers provide the Iraqi military with the training it needs to recapture the territory the Islamic State holds.

But this is a triumph of hope over experience. The United States spent the better part of a decade training the Iraqi armed forces, and witness the result: an army that can’t or won’t fight. The government in Baghdad, dominated by the Shiite majority, balks at giving Sunni tribal leaders the weapons necessary to resist the Islamic State. Kurdish regional forces, which are motivated and capable, have their own part of the country to defend.

If the Islamic State is to be driven out of Ramadi, the job will be done not by the regular army but by powerful Shiite militia units that are armed, trained and in some cases led by Iran. The day may soon come when an Iranian general, orchestrating an advance into the city, calls in a U.S. airstrike for support.

The logical result of Obama’s policy — which amounts to a kind of warfare-lite — is mission creep and gradual escalation. Send in a few more troops. Allow them to go on patrols with the Iraqis. Let them lead by example. Send in a few more. You might recognize this road; it can lead to another Vietnam.

What are the alternatives? One would be to resurrect Colin Powell’s doctrine of overwhelming force: Send in enough troops to drive the Islamic State out of Iraq once and for all. We conquered and occupied the country once, we could do it again.

But the Islamic State would still hold substantial territory in Syria — and thus present basically the same threat as now. If our aim is really to “destroy” the group, as Obama says, then we would have to wade into the Syrian civil war. Could we end up fighting arm-in-arm with dictator Bashar al-Assad, as we now fight alongside his friends the Iranians? Or, since Obama’s policy is that Assad must go, would we have to occupy that country, too, and take on another project of nation-building? This path leads from bad to worse and has no apparent end.

The other choice is to pull back. This strikes me as the worst course of action — except for all the rest.

The unfortunate fact is that U.S. policymakers want an intact, pluralistic, democratic Iraq more than many Iraqis do. Until this changes, our policy goal has to be modest: Contain the Islamic State from afar and target the group’s leadership, perhaps with drone attacks.

Or we can keep chasing mirages and hoping for miracles.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 21, 2015

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Iraq, ISIS, Syria | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Literally Since Day One”: GOP Hostility Towards Compromise Runs Deep

When an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found earlier this year that a plurality of Republican voters believe GOP lawmakers compromise too much with President Obama, it seemed hard to believe. Congressional Republicans have refused to work with the Democratic White House on anything, literally since Day One. Maybe respondents didn’t understand the question?

No, that’s not it. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted yesterday that rank-and-file Republicans just want as much confrontation as humanly possible. The latest report from the Pew Research Center makes this clear:

The survey finds deep differences in how Republicans and Democrats want President Obama and GOP leaders to deal with issues. Fully 75% of Republicans want GOP leaders to challenge Obama more often; just 15% say they are handling relations with the president about right and 7% say GOP leaders should go along with Obama more often.

Fewer Democrats (49%) want Obama to challenge Republicans more often; 33% say he is handling this about right while 11% want him to go along with GOP leaders more often.

That’s quite a bit of asymmetry. In the overall population, the number of Americans who want GOP lawmakers to go along more with the White House is roughly identical to the number of Americans who want Republicans to “challenge” the president more often.

But among GOP voters, the results are lopsided. This actually explains a lot.

We like to think there’s a natural resistance to gridlock – the public doesn’t like it when policymakers can’t agree on anything, and nothing gets done because institutions are paralyzed by partisan and ideological differences.

But results like these paint a very different picture. Republicans don’t just have an aversion to bipartisan cooperation, they also look at six years of near-total GOP opposition to everything the president proposes – including instances in which Obama actually agreed with the Republican line – and conclude, “It’s not good enough. We want even more partisan confrontations.”

This is broadly consistent with Pew findings from a year ago, which showed that liberals expect and support compromise, but conservatives are hostile to the very idea of compromise.

Christopher Ingraham noted at the time, “A party that is ideologically predisposed against compromise is going to have a very hard time governing, particularly within a divided government.”

It’s an important detail for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the reminder about who has Republican officials’ ear. It’s tempting to think elected GOP officials would see polls showing broad support for cooperation and compromise, and then adopt a constructive posture to align themselves with the American mainstream. Clearly, however, the practical realities show otherwise – Republican policymakers are listening to Republican voters, and no one else.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 22, 2015

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Congress, GOP | , , , , , | 3 Comments

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