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“Any Fool Can Start A War With Iran”: Because Of Our Strength, We Have To Take A Practical, Common-Sense Position

Right now, it’s beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he so prematurely received in 2009.

Perhaps you recall how, during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Obama’s opponents treated his expressed willingness to speak with the leaders of unfriendly countries such as Cuba and Iran as a sign of immaturity.

“Irresponsible and frankly naïve,” was how Hillary Clinton put it.

Joe Biden said it was important for an inexperienced president not to get played by crafty foreigners.

Obama was unrepentant. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them—which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration,” he said, “is ridiculous.”

And so it was. Only ridiculous people talk that way now. With hindsight, it’s become clear that Obama wasn’t simply repudiating the GOP’s melodramatic “Axis of Evil” worldview, but expressing his own considerable self-regard.

Also his confidence in America as he sees it through his unique personal history as a kind of inside-outsider, capable of being more than ordinarily objective about our place in the world. When you’re the most powerful economic and military power on Earth, he keeps saying with regard to the Iran deal, it’s important to act like it: strong, calm, and confident. Able to take risks for peace because your strength is so overwhelming.

President Obama told the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman that if Ronald Reagan could reach verifiable arms agreements with the Soviet Union, a country that posed “a far greater existential threat to us than Iran will ever be,” then dealing with the Iranians is “a risk we have to take. It is a practical, common-sense position.”

As we saw in 2003, any damn fool can start a Middle Eastern war. And while hardly anybody in the United States wants one, even Iranian hardliners should have no doubt who would win such a conflict.

“Why should the Iranians be afraid of us?” Friedman asked.

“Because we could knock out their military in speed and dispatch if we chose to,” Obama said.

That’s the same reason Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and his allies in the U.S. Congress) need to cool it with the Chicken Little rhetoric. Obama thinks it’s “highly unlikely that you are going to see Iran launch a direct attack, state to state, against any of our allies in the region. They know that that would give us the rationale to go in full-bore, and as I said, we could knock out most of their military capacity pretty quickly.”

Of course Netanyahu knows that perfectly well. But here’s the kind of thinking that he and his allies on the evangelical right really object to:

“Even with your adversaries,” Obama said, “I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran. We had in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so…they have their own…narrative.”

Demonizing Iran serves Netanyahu’s short-term political purposes. Ditto Republican presidential candidates. But Obama has a wider audience and a longer view in mind. Much of what he said was directed over the heads of his domestic audience. Besides, GOP war talk makes it easier for Democrats to support Obama.

“Iran will be and should be a regional power,” he told Friedman. “They are a big country and a sophisticated country in the region. They don’t need to invite the hostility and the opposition of their neighbors by their behavior. It’s not necessary for them to be great to denigrate Israel or threaten Israel or engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic activity. Now that’s what I would say to the Iranian people.”

He also focused upon the common enemy:

“Nobody has an interest in seeing [the Islamic State] control huge swaths of territory between Damascus and Baghdad,” Obama said. “That’s not good for Iran.”

Indeed not. More than the Turks, more than Saudi Arabia, more than anybody but the Kurds, Iranian forces are fighting ISIS on several fronts.

The president’s words were grudgingly noted in Tehran. In his own carefully crafted speech expressing guarded blessings for the arms control agreement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei assured hardliners that he hadn’t gone soft on America.

However, he also alluded to Obama’s conciliatory remarks.

“He mentioned two or three points, but did not confess to tens of others,” Khamenei complained.

Which is how conversations begin.

This deal isn’t the end. But it’s an excellent beginning—of what, remains to be seen. Iran has essentially purchased anti-invasion insurance, while the U.S. and its allies have bought relative stability in the Persian Gulf.

Could things go wrong? Things can always go wrong.

But there’s always time to start a war.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 22, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, President Obama | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Incessant Flailing”: GOP Peddles Hard The ‘Hillary Can’t Be Trusted’ Line

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is the runaway pick among voters when asked who among the presidential candidates is the most credible, honest and trustworthy, and even the most compassionate. Her rank on the voter trustworthy meter is far higher than that of Barack Obama and easily tops that of all other GOP presidential contenders. The problem with this is the AP-Ipsos poll that gave Hillary high marks on trustworthiness was taken in March, 2007.

The two big questions are: What happened in the eight years since that poll was taken and today to change voter’s attitudes on the trust issue toward Clinton? The other even bigger one is: Does this pose a real problem for Clinton’s campaign?

The trust issue and Hillary has been the sole fixation of the pollsters and they seem to crank out a new poll monthly hitting that theme. If one believes the barrage of polls, one comes away with the notion that voters, especially Democrats, simply don’t trust Hillary.

Playing up Clinton’s supposed free fall in integrity has been the one constant in the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign. The Republican National Committee early on put Hillary dead in its hit sights to do everything possible to render her candidacy stillborn even before it officially became a candidacy. It not so subtly recycled the old trumped up scandals of the past from Whitewater to the Lewinsky scandal. It then cranked out a sneering “poor Hillary” video that touted Hillary’s quip that she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House. It then intimated that she shook down poor cash strapped universities for her alleged outrageous speaking fees.

There was little doubt that the first chance the GOP got it would seize on a real or manufactured Obama foreign policy flub and make Clinton their hard target. The Benghazi debacle seemed to be just the right flub. In August 2013, the Republican National Committee rammed the attack home with a half-minute clip of her Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony earlier that year on the Benghazi attack.

The aim as always was to embarrass and discredit her not because of her alleged missteps as Secretary of State, but as a 2016 presidential candidate. Republicans got what they wanted when their phony accusations against her of cover-up and incompetence got tons of media chatter and focus and raised the first shadow of public doubt. The GOP then tirelessly searched for something else that could ramp up more public doubt about Clinton’s honesty. It didn’t take long to find.

This time it got two for the price of one. Congressional Republicans jubilantly waved a fresh batch of Clinton emails to the media, claiming that it proved that she deliberately mislead Congressional investigators, and the public, on what she knew and how she handled or allegedly mishandled the Benghazi debacle. This ties in with the GOP’s and the media’s incessant flailing of Clinton for supposedly hiding, deleting or misusing her private emails for some sinister and nefarious reason during her stint as Secretary of State. There will be more to come on this rest assured.

Meanwhile, the GOP mockingly ridicules Clinton’s attempt to reimage her campaign and herself as a hands, on in the trenches with the people, caring, feeling candidate as just more of the Clinton con, and an ineffectual one to boot. The supposed proof of that is to finger point her plunging favorability numbers in the polls. Of course, what’s conveniently omitted from the Hillary smear is that every one of her GOP rivals is doing an even lousier job trying to convince voters that they are any more “trustworthy” than Clinton. In the case of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and especially Jeb Bush, their integrity meter score with the public fall somewhere between Watergate Richard Nixon and that of a used car salesman.

There’s more. A USA Poll and an ABC-Washington Post poll found that not only does Clinton have solid numbers in terms of approval with voters, but bags big time general favorability numbers from Democrats. This is even more impressive given the spirited, and populist issues run that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is making at Hillary.

It’s certainly true that voters do want a president that they can trust to say and do the right thing both on the issues and in their dealing with the public. But they also want a president who is experienced, well-versed, thoughtful, and firm on dealing with the inevitable crises that will confront the country, here and abroad. There’s absolutely no hint in the polls or anywhere else that the general public has shut down on Clinton in this vital area of public policy. But this won’t stop the GOP and those in the media obsessed with depicting Hillary as two-faced from peddling that line.

 

By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Associate Editor of New America Media; The Blog, The Huffington Post, July 19,2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Hillary Clinton, Media | , , , , , , | 8 Comments

“How Do You Solve A Problem Like Donald Trump?”: All Media Is Political, Without Exception; Best To Be Honest About It

As Donald Trump has implausibly moved into a tie for first place in the GOP primary, there has been much discussion in media circles about how to treat his candidacy. Most media organizations (including The Week!) have published an inordinate amount of stories about Trump. The Huffington Post, on the other hand, recently announced it would move all coverage of Trump’s campaign to the entertainment section.

This sparked a backlash from some reporters, such as The Daily Beast‘s Olivia Nuzzi, who argued that such a move is an improper delegitimization of the tens of thousands of Trump supporters out there.  “[P]olling competitively and being a registered candidate makes him legitimate. End of story,” she wrote on Twitter.

It’s certainly true that The Huffington Post‘s action is a swipe against Trump’s many supporters. But it is also simply impossible for reporters — who are human beings, after all — to avoid some sort of judgment on the legitimacy of a presidential candidate.

As I’ve argued before, normative judgments are inherent to the practice of all but the very simplest journalism. To demand that Trump be covered like any other “legitimate” presidential candidate is to demand that journalists implicitly legitimize his ideas. On the contrary, it is right and proper for publications to decide how they view a candidate’s policy platform and overall persona; signaling that he will be treated like a trashy celebrity is one way of doing that.

I respect The Huffington Post‘s right to make coverage choices as it sees fit. I’m also not sure I agree with the decision to move Trump into the entertainment section. As Matt Yglesias argues, Trump’s highly unexpected success — especially given that it came immediately after he started up with bilious racist rants against Mexican immigrants — suggests there is a fairly wide constituency for gutter nativism. That is an important truth of our politics and our nation that should not just be shrugged off as some carnival sideshow.

Instead of banishing Trump to the land of Kardashians and superheroes, the media would probably be better off simply reporting on Trump with open contempt. His ideas are disgusting and he’s a vicious, racist bully. But it’s not wise to write him — or the ideas that he champions — off as a self-aggrandizing joke. There are a great many people who would eagerly sign on to an immigration-restriction agenda, and Trump would definitely not be the first colossal buffoon elected to the head of a major state.

And that brings me to Bernie Sanders, who has been the subject of multiple comparisons to Trump (including one from my colleague Damon Linker) as representing the two “extremes” of American politics. This, too, is a mistake by the media.

We’re all grasping for ways to deal with this brainless, hate-spewing hurricane who has somehow managed to attract the support of tens of thousands of Americans in spite of — actually, let’s be honest: because of — his hateful racism. Just as The Huffington Post‘s decision to write Trump off as “entertainment” is understandable, so too is the media’s search to find Trump’s polar opposite on the left in order to give some context to this flagrantly foolish carnival barker.

But to compare Sanders, a serious person with serious ideas, to a clown who rants about how Mexicans are mostly criminals and rapists, is inherently delegitimizing. Putting Trump in the entertainment section makes The Huffington Post‘s perspective clear. So does grafting Trump to Sanders — but in a backhanded and cheap way that’s unfair to the socialist senator from Vermont.

Trump’s racist views do have the support of a substantial minority. But Sanders’ agenda is far more popular. About three-quarters of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10. Social Security is likely the most popular government program of all time — and 82 percent would raise the payroll tax across the board to keep it solvent. Sixty-eight percent support increasing taxes on the rich.

Now, that is not to rule out all positive coverage of Trump, or negative coverage of Sanders. Conservative publications will do both, no doubt, as is their right. The point is that coverage should be grounded in a clear normative view, not some faux-omniscient view from nowhere. All media is political, without exception. Best to be honest about it.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, July 20, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Bond Far Stronger Than Politics”: Trump Awakens Kerry’s Vietnam Anger With Slam On McCain

John Kerry was angry.

“Listen to this. Listen to what Trump just said about John McCain,” Kerry was saying over the phone. “‘He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.’

“That’s unbelievable,” Kerry said. “That’s beyond outrageous.’”

“John and I have some serious differences on a lot of things but he is nothing other than a hero and a good man. Where was Trump when John got shot down over North Vietnam? In school? At a party? Where was he?”

For many months now, years even, Kerry has been point man in Barack Obama’s attempt to restrict Iran’s plan to develop a nuclear bomb. He has been a walking high-wire act, traveling a region that is nothing less than a geographical bonfire filled with the debris of failed nations, countries that have collapsed into chaos and terror largely because of the contrived plans of men like Dick Cheney who dreamed of the day when Saddam Hussein could be toppled. The conservative ideologues got their wish while the United States got a larger, longer war and the Middle East became an even bigger source of horror and death.

Trump’s assault on McCain evoked immediate anger in Kerry because it resurrected feelings within him that are always there, certainly beneath a surface calm but always, always there: a long gone war called Vietnam.

“All of us sat for weeks and months around a table trying to get this deal done,” Kerry was saying. “The Russians, the Chinese, the French, the British, the Germans, all of us. And every once in awhile I thought about that other table, that other time, and that was nearly a half century ago.”

He was talking about the Paris Peace Talks that began in 1970 and concluded with an agreement signed on January 23, 1973. Henry Kissinger represented another president, Richard Nixon. John McCain was in Hanoi, in captivity. John Kerry had returned from Vietnam to help organize Vietnam Veterans Against The War. Donald Trump was somewhere else.

As talks in Paris dragged on, more than half of the 58,195 names carved into the wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington were killed. Thousands more were wounded and carry those wounds still, today.

Both Kerry and Obama are firm believers that conversation is a better starter-kit than combat when it comes to dealing with a country like Iran. Neither man is naive about that nation’s aspiration to dominate the region.

“But the Iranians are not suicidal,” Kerry pointed out.

Clearly, the Iranians are well aware that Teheran would be turned into a field of glass and sand if they ever stepped toward open war with Israel or Saudi Arabia. And every nation around that table in Vienna knew that the sanctions that crippled the Iranian economy and caused Iran to accept a deal would soon collapse under the weight of countries like France, Russia and China that were eager to begin doing business in Teheran, the dollar emerging as the strongest weapon of all.

So as he shuttled back and forth between Washington and Vienna, his leg broken, his spirit determined, Kerry found himself thinking about that other time and those other talks. He is a student of history and in his mind’s eye he saw another president, Lyndon Johnson, broken by a long war that still lingers in the American psyche. He thought about the Ivy League sophisticates that surrounded John F. Kennedy and then Johnson, men named Bundy, Rostow, McNamara, and others who spent the lives of so many younger men pursuing their old men’s dreams of defeating communism in the lethal laboratory of Vietnam.

In a trick of history and irony communism collapsed on a deathbed that Ronald Reagan helped make up by…talking; talking to Mikhail Gorbachev. A wall fell. One continent, Europe, changed forever. Two nations, Russia and the United States, altered their behavior toward each another because of a handshake and a conversation.

Last week, John Kerry returned to the United States. After months of discussion, Germany, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Putin’s Russia along with the U.S. had a deal with Iran. Now it goes to a Congress more than half full of politicians who place a higher priority in defeating anything Barack Obama supports than educating the country and the world with an honest debate about a deal structured to insert more than a decade’s worth of roadblocks in Iran’s drive to develop a nuclear weapon.

And as John Kerry came home, his mind filled with facts, the ups, the downs, the potential, and the politics of getting an accord with Iran through the Congress, he was brought back to his own war five decades ago. A war that won’t go away. A war that awoke him one more time because of a libelous slur uttered by a real estate man against a friend of Kerry’s who will line up against him on the treaty with Iran. But that didn’t matter because brothers in arms form a bond far stronger than politics.

 

By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, July 19, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, John Kerry, John McCain | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The United States Is Not Omnipotent”: Republicans Need To Stop Childishly Pretending That American Power Is Limitless

When President Obama almost taunted critics of the Iranian nuclear deal by challenging them to describe their alternative, it was hardly a surprise that no detailed plans were forthcoming. Even the most hawkish Republican knows it would be politically disastrous to say that what we need is to launch another war in the Middle East. But there isn’t another readily available course for handling this situation if you reject what the administration negotiated.

Indeed, what infuriates Republicans as much as anything is that Obama took the country down diplomacy’s path — a path that accepts from the outset that compromise is inevitable.

More than ever, compromise seems outside the worldview of the GOP. You can see it in Congress, where the party’s base has elected more and more representatives who would rather have a noble, even disastrous failure than a partial success — if success means coming to an agreement with a president they despise. No matter how many times conservatives attempt to shut down the government and wind up with an ignominious defeat, they continue to believe that next time will be different — that Obama will surrender, and all their goals will be achieved.

You can see it in how hawkish Republicans have thought about Iran for years. Republicans were smitten by Benjamin Netanyahu’s fantasy vision of a “better deal” with Iran, which involved Iran ending its nuclear program, giving up support for Hezbollah and every other terrorist organization, becoming a force for peace in the region, and maybe also baking Netanyahu a delicious pie, all while asking for nothing in return. If you actually thought that was possible, then of course the deal that was negotiated looks like a capitulation. As Peter Beinart recently wrote, “When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent.”

That fact is the assumption underlying diplomatic negotiation: If we were omnipotent, then we wouldn’t have to negotiate. We could just impose our will. Republicans find President Obama’s willingness to acknowledge that America is not omnipotent to be utterly maddening.

When you listen to them talk about foreign affairs, what comes through clearly is that they believe that if America is not omnipotent, this is merely a temporary situation that can be remedied with more military spending, a stiffening of the spine, and a Republican in the White House. There is no situation that cannot be resolved with precisely the outcome we want, if only we are sufficiently strong and tough. For instance, here’s how Mike Huckabee describes the world he would create if he were to become president:

“And here is what we have to do: America has to have the most formidable, fierce military in the history of mankind,” stated Huckabee.

“So when we have a threat, whether it is ISIS, Boko Haram, al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranians, whatever it is, we make it very clear that we plan to push back and destroy that threat to us. And we won’t take 10 years doing it, we hopefully won’t even take 10 months, it will be like a 10-day exercise, because the fierceness of our forces would mean that we can absolutely guarantee the outcome of this film. That’s how America needs to operate in the world of foreign affairs, and foreign policy.” [Huckabee, via BuzzFeed]

Since one of my rules for campaign coverage is to assume unless you have countervailing evidence that politicians are sincere in what they say, I’ll assume that Huckabee genuinely believes that a complex problem like ISIS could be solved in 10 days, if only we were fierce enough. While his opponents might not go quite that far, with the exception of Rand Paul they all believe that the reason there are unsolved problems in the world is that we haven’t been strong enough. They quote action movie lines and say that increasing the size of the military will give us the strength we need to bend every country and non-state actor to our will.

Huckabee may not realize this, but we already have the strongest military in the history of mankind. Could it be even stronger? Sure. We could shut down Social Security and use the money to double the size of the military (a plan I think more than a few Republicans would embrace). But even that military would confront some problems it couldn’t solve, because that’s just how the world is.

What may be most remarkable is that it was George W. Bush — who, you may remember, was not given to nuanced thinking, worrying about unintended consequences, or talk of compromise with “evildoers” — who brought us the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, Republicans say (though obviously not in so many words) that if only we could be more like Bush, our foreign policy would be an unending string of unequivocal triumphs, as every danger to ourselves or our friends evaporated before our terrifying might.

It’s an inspiring vision, one in which perfect outcomes are not only possible but relatively easy to obtain. It’s also an outlook more appropriate for children who have no experience to learn from, than for a party asking to be given control of the world’s last superpower.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, July 20, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Iran Nuclear Agreement, U. S. Military, War Hawks | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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