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“Obama Again Gets The Last Laugh Against Putin”: Republicans Putting Their Praise For The Russian Leader On Hold Once More

By late 2014, Republican affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the wane. After months of gushing praise for the autocratic leader, American conservatives saw Putin struggling and isolated, prompting his GOP fan club in the United States to fall quiet.

That is, until a few months ago, when the Russian president deployed forces to Syria, rekindling the American right’s love. Republican White House hopefuls once again praised Putin’s bold “leadership,” as did like-minded pundits. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin argued, “In taking this action just days after meeting with President Obama, Putin is delivering one more finger in the eye of a president whom he continues to out-wit and out-muscle.”

Remind me, how’s that working out for the Russian president?

Putin had hoped his late September intervention would kick off a decisive three-month offensive producing major territorial gains for the Syrian regime, according to Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. […]

[I]ndependent experts see trouble signs for the Russian president, including a surprisingly stiff response from Syrian rebel fighters.

The Politico piece quoted the Israeli defense minister saying about Putin’s military offensive, “It seems to be a failure.”

Bloomberg also reported this week that Russian officials “underestimated” what the mission entailed. Putin expected the offensive to last a few months, but officials in Moscow are now left to hope “it won’t last several years.”

And who predicted this exact outcome? That would be President Obama and his administration’s foreign-policy team. From the Politico piece:

…Obama officials increasingly offer a “told-you-so” line towards Putin’s intervention, which caught the White House off guard when it began in late September. At the time, Obama warned that Putin risked getting caught in a quagmire abroad while courting terrorism at home. […]

Now Putin confronts a stalemated battlefield and, according to some sources, tensions with his allies on the ground in a Syrian war theater that U.S. officials liken to a concert mosh pit.

And wouldn’t you know it, many of the American conservatives who thought Putin was the tough, strategic mastermind, showing that rascally Obama who’s boss, have again decided to lay low, putting their praise for the Russian leader on hold once more.

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote two months ago, “[T]oday’s reigning cliche is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart…. Putin stupidly went into Syria looking for a cheap sugar high to show his people that Russia is still a world power.”

Friedman was right. More importantly, so was the Obama White House. Republicans, meanwhile, who always seem to assume military adventures in the Middle East will turn out well, were not.

It’s a familiar dynamic, isn’t it?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 11, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans, Syria, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Empowering The Ugliness”: The Strategies Elites Traditionally Used On Those Angry Voters Have Finally Broken Down

We live in an era of political news that is, all too often, shocking but not surprising. The rise of Donald Trump definitely falls into that category. And so does the electoral earthquake that struck France in Sunday’s regional elections, with the right-wing National Front winning more votes than either of the major mainstream parties.

What do these events have in common? Both involved political figures tapping into the resentments of a bloc of xenophobic and/or racist voters who have been there all along. The good news is that such voters are a minority; the bad news is that it’s a pretty big minority, on both sides of the Atlantic. If you are wondering where the support for Mr. Trump or Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Front, is coming from, you just haven’t been paying attention.

But why are these voters making themselves heard so loudly now? Have they become much more numerous? Maybe, but it’s not clear. More important, I’d argue, is the way the strategies elites have traditionally used to keep a lid on those angry voters have finally broken down.

Let me start with what is happening in Europe, both because it’s probably less familiar to American readers and because it is, in a way, a simpler story than what is happening here.

My European friends will no doubt say that I’m oversimplifying, but from an American perspective it looks as if Europe’s establishment has tried to freeze the xenophobic right, not just out of political power, but out of any role in acceptable discourse. To be a respectable European politician, whether of the left or of the right, you have had to accept the European project of ever-closer union, of free movement of people, open borders, and harmonized regulations. This leaves no room for right-wing nationalists, even though right-wing nationalism has always had substantial popular support.

What the European establishment may not have realized, however, is that its ability to define the limits of discourse rests on the perception that it knows what it is doing. Even admirers and supporters of the European project (like me) have to admit that it has never had deep popular support or a lot of democratic legitimacy. It is, instead, an elite project sold largely on the claim that there is no alternative, that it is the path of wisdom.

And there’s nothing quite like sustained poor economic performance – the kind of poor performance brought on by Europe’s austerity and hard-money obsessions — to undermine the elite’s reputation for competence. That’s probably why one recent study found a consistent historical relationship between financial crises and the rise of right-wing extremism. And history is repeating itself.

The story is quite different in America, because the Republican Party hasn’t tried to freeze out the kind of people who vote National Front in France. Instead, it has tried to exploit them, mobilizing their resentment via dog whistles to win elections. This was the essence of Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” and explains why the G.O.P. gets the overwhelming majority of Southern white votes.

Sooner or later the angry whites who make up a large fraction, maybe even a majority, of the G.O.P. base were bound to rebel — especially because these days much of the party’s leadership seems inbred and out of touch. They seem, for example, to imagine that the base supports cuts to Social Security and Medicare, an elite priority that has nothing to do with the reasons working-class whites vote Republican.

So along comes Donald Trump, saying bluntly the things establishment candidates try to convey in coded, deniable hints, and sounding as if he really means them. And he shoots to the top of the polls. Shocking, yes, but hardly surprising.

Just to be clear: In offering these explanations of the rise of Mr. Trump and Ms. Le Pen, I am not making excuses for what they say, which remains surpassingly ugly and very much at odds with the values of two great democratic nations.

What I am saying, however, is that this ugliness has been empowered by the very establishments that now act so horrified at the seemingly sudden turn of events. In Europe the problem is the arrogance and rigidity of elite figures who refuse to learn from economic failure; in the U.S. it’s the cynicism of Republicans who summoned up prejudice to support their electoral prospects. And now both are facing the monsters they helped create.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 11, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | Austerity, Donald Trump, Election 2016, France | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ted Cruz’s Plan For ISIS Is Disastrously Inhumane”: The Scary Thing Is That Cruz Might Actually Believe His Campaign Rhetoric

Ted Cruz never says anything good just once — when he finds a line or a joke that gets applause, he repeats it over and over. And one of his big crowd-pleasers at the moment is this little ditty about the Islamic State: “We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!”

In front of audiences that want to know who’s going to be most ruthless in fighting those terrible terrorists that are terrifying us, it never fails. And it reflects prevailing Republican sentiment, which says that ISIS hasn’t been defeated only because Barack Obama is weak, and with the application of enough force, this problem can be solved.

Just last week, I praised Cruz for being nearly alone among the Republican candidates (Rand Paul joins him in this) in realizing the pitfalls of nation-building. He has said repeatedly that it’s a bad idea for us to go in and occupy a place like Syria in the hopes that we can create a thriving and peaceful democracy there, and that if we were to depose Bashar al-Assad, the vacuum created by his departure would likely be filled by a theocratic regime. But Cruz’s apparent willingness to entertain the idea of unintended consequences obviously has its limits.

Does Cruz actually want to drop nuclear weapons on places where ISIS is operating? That’s what’s implied by the bit about sand glowing in the dark, but he’d never cop to that. How about carpet-bombing? After all, part of the difficulty with fighting ISIS from the air is that they control cities full of civilians. The American military doesn’t lack for ordnance; we could level those cities if we wanted. But doing so would mean thousands and thousands of civilian casualties, killing the very people we’d be claiming to want to save. That’s not only morally abhorrent, it would be extremely likely to produce the kind of hatred towards America that helped Al Qaeda thrive, helped ISIS replace Al Qaeda, and would help the next terrorist group take ISIS’s place.

In an interview Wednesday with NPR, Cruz got asked about this problem, and put his finely honed evasion skills to work. Asked by host Steve Inskeep whether he wanted to “flatten” cities where ISIS is located, Cruz said, “I think we need to use every military tool at our disposal to defeat ISIS.” Inskeep pressed him: “You can flatten a city. Do you want to do that?” Cruz responded, “The problem with what President Obama is doing” is that he’s too soft, noting that in World War II we didn’t worry about the welfare of the German people, we just fought. “FDR carpet-bombed cities,” Inskeep noted. “Is that what you want to do?” Cruz answered, “I want to carpet-bomb ISIS.”

Now perhaps President Cruz’s powers of persuasion would be so extraordinary that he could convince ISIS to leave the cities it controls, where its members sit amongst the innocent civilians it’s oppressing, and march out to the desert so we could more efficiently carpet-bomb them. But I doubt it.

Of course, Cruz is hardly the only presidential candidate offering absurdly simplistic ideas about how to solve this problem. But one might think that the destruction we could wreak upon civilian populations in the Middle East would be a matter of particular concern given our recent history. Estimates of the civilian casualties in the Iraq War range somewhere between 165,000 and 500,000, but conservatives seem convinced that all that suffering and death had nothing to do with the rise of ISIS, and repeating it would be regrettable but not produce any blowback. It appears to be gospel on the right that the people in countries we’ve invaded or bombed are so understanding and forgiving that none of that matters to them; those who become radicalized only “hate us for our freedoms.” Which doesn’t explain why ISIS doesn’t hate Japan or Costa Rica or Switzerland just as much, since in those countries they also have freedoms.

Perhaps we have trouble understanding what it’s like to have a foreign army bombing or occupying your country because it’s been so long. We haven’t had such an army on our soil since the War of 1812, and though we were attacked at Pearl Harbor and then 60 years later on 9/11, those were events confined to a single day. So we can’t seem to grasp the kind of resentment and even hatred that an extended military campaign can foster, no matter how noble the ideals of the country that sent the army carrying it out. When the Bush administration assumed we’d be “greeted as liberators” in Iraq (as Dick Cheney put it), they simply couldn’t contemplate that Iraqis might not be excited to see us rain down bombs, destroy their infrastructure, and then occupy their country, even if they didn’t like the dictator they were living under.

Grasping that requires empathy and a little imagination, neither of which is in good supply in the GOP these days, let alone among its presidential candidates. It’s the luxury of running for office that you can make all problems sound simple, pretend that you can carpet-bomb a city and kill only the bad guys and not the people living there, and act as though strength and resolve are all you need to solve problems. The scary thing to contemplate is that someone like Ted Cruz might actually believe his campaign rhetoric, and put it into action if he became president.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, December 10, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, ISIS, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“America Needs To Get A Grip”: Want Less Terrorism? Start By Rejecting Trump’s Crusade

America needs to get a grip.

Since the slaughter of 14 innocents by two radicalized Muslim terrorists in San Bernardino, California, common sense has been a collateral casualty. Leading a wave of hysteria has been Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, with his harebrained ideas for denying various civil liberties to Muslims.

None of them would pass constitutional muster, thank goodness, and while his diatribes have found fertile ground among his party’s base, the Republican establishment has begun to push back against Trump.

That’s good sign, because we do have a terrorism problem that requires clear thinking and sober judgment. Our actions and policies must be grounded in accurate and detailed information. A report that received relatively little press at the time of its release in early December deserves a spotlight.

It’s far from comforting. The main message is that there is no snapshot profile to identify the jihadist on the block. That fact alone renders much of the blather we’re hearing about restrictions on this group or that beside the point.

“ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa” is the result of a six-month study by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. It studied online chatter, arrest data and other information in the cases of the 71 people arrested since March 2014 for crimes related to support of the Islamic State, along with counter-terrorism research. Fifty-six were arrested in 2015, a record number in a single year since the 9/11 attacks.

The report asks a crucial question, in the context of students and others caught heading to Syria, intending to join the Islamic State: “How could these seemingly ordinary young American men and, in growing numbers, women, be attracted to the world’s most infamous terrorist organization?” The answer is that we don’t know, “as each individual’s radicalization has its own unique dynamics.”

Average age of those studied was 26, but they ranged in age from 15 to 47; 86 percent were male, and most were U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Another point that might surprise those who obsessed with Islamic immigrants: Converts to the faith were 40 percent of the people arrested.

In some ways, the study proved to be a bit prophetic about San Bernardino. It noted a decrease in the numbers traveling to join the Islamic State overseas, which raises the possibility that homegrown terrorists will increasingly focus on U.S. targets.

At less than 1 percent of the total adult population, Muslims in America are at a disadvantage with respect to public perception. Many Americans literally don’t know a single one of the estimated 1.8 million adults in the U.S. who are Muslim.

Assimilation and acceptance, as opposed to isolation, the report notes, are key to blocking radicalization. That’s actually a hopeful point we can look to. Despite the caustic debates about Islam playing out in our media of late, America’s Muslims are far more integrated than their coreligionists in many European countries. That’s a huge strength — and one that should not be undermined.

About 63 percent of Muslims in the U.S. are immigrants. They are also more likely to hold a college degree than native-born citizens, and Muslim women stand out for educational attainment. They’re an asset to our nation, and it’s in everybody’s interest, in the measures we take to protect ourselves from terrorism, not to alienate them.

If American citizens are truly to follow the “if you see something, say something” mode of alertness, we need to be knowledgeable. A mentality of Muslim-equals-terrorist will not help keep us safe.

Here’s a more helpful attitude. How about taking up some of the burden? Read up on the politics and history of the regions and countries where Muslim immigrants and refugees come from, on the conflict now ravaging Syria and Iraq, on the Islamic State and how it is recruiting and how its tactics morph. And get to know more Muslims.

This is an awkward time in our history when Muslim Americans are being expected to speak out after each radical attack, to defend their faith, to denounce bloodshed.

The presumption is offensive.

God forbid if I had to answer for every horrific deed committed by any Latino, or any woman, or any Catholic, or any journalist, or any other member of a group with which I could identify.

That’s a burden that can be lifted from Muslims in America only when the rest of us gain more insight into the faith, its members and the horrific ways that the Islamic State seeks to radicalize.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, December 12, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Muslims, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Immediacy Of The Harm”: This Is No Time For The Soft Rebuke

Earlier this week, I was wandering around a department store in suburban Cleveland, when a clerk spotted me and mercifully offered to help.

When I told her what I was trying to find, she laughed and said, “You are definitely in the wrong department.” Then, almost immediately, her smile vanished and she took a step back. “I didn’t mean–.”

She was wearing a hijab to cover her head, and we were standing face to face just days after the San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack and within hours of Donald Trump’s widely publicized attempt to cast all Muslims as potential terrorists. Like so many other Americans, I am appalled by his racist vitriol, but this encounter with a clerk just trying to do her job drove home the immediacy of the harm. This woman with the kind face was afraid, and in that moment, both of us knew it, and we knew why.

I began to babble, assuring her that I am as likely to get lost in a department store as I am on a country road in rural Ohio. She smiled and nodded, but her eyes were moist as she pointed to the escalator. “Thank you,” she said. As she turned and walked away, I realized she was thanking me for being nice to her.

This is what we’ve come to — a country where innocent Americans fear that their every encounter with a stranger in this country could be their last.

You don’t have to be a Muslim to experience this anxiety. You just have to be someone Trump and his fellow Republican candidates insist on casting as “the other,” which always means someone who isn’t white. Such political posturing threatens to cripple discourse in our communities, as Deepinder Mayell learned recently.

Mayell is an attorney and the director of the Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program in Minneapolis. This fall, however, he was hoping to be just one of thousands of Minnesota Vikings fans as he showed up with friends for his first NFL game.

In an op-ed for StarTribune, Mayell wrote what happened after a man pushed others aside to make a beeline for him, demanding to know whether he was a refugee.

“In that moment, I was terrified,” Mayell wrote. “But what scared me the most was the silence surrounding me. As I looked around, I didn’t know who was an ally or an enemy. In those hushed whispers, I felt like I was alone, unsafe and surrounded. It was the type of silence that emboldens a man to play inquisitor. I thought about our national climate, in which some presidential candidates spew demagoguery and lies while others play politics and offer soft rebukes. It is the same species of silence that emboldened white supremacists to shoot five unarmed protesters recently in Minneapolis.”

The man who presumed he had the right to demand proof of Mayell’s citizenship had no idea whom he was picking on. He didn’t know that Mayell was born in Queens, New York, and grew up on Long Island. He also didn’t know that Mayell’s parents are Sikh Americans, not Muslims.

After summoning a security guard to his side, Mayell confronted the man and told him that he had frightened him and that what he had said was racist. The man apologized, but Mayell said that wasn’t enough. He wanted the man to be ejected. That didn’t happen.

In the newspaper’s online comments section under Mayell’s op-ed, the usual ugliness flourished like maggots on a carcass. He should have a thicker skin, commenters said. Many called him a liar, accusing him of making up the incident. A number of commenters assumed he is Muslim. Because, you know, his name isn’t Jim Bob or John-Boy and his face isn’t white.

“The man shouted, ‘You’re a refugee!’” Mayell said in a phone interview this week. “Not ‘you’re a Muslim’ or ‘a terrorist,’ just ‘refugee.’ It says so much about how national dialogue affects others.”

Fortunately, Mayell fielded far more positive responses to his op-ed. “In texts, phone calls and emails, there was overwhelming support,” he said. “People are pretty shocked this happened.”

What struck me about his essay and our conversation was how alone and vulnerable he felt in that crowd. “I wish somebody else would have stuck up for me. I understand how stunning it was, that they were in disbelief, perhaps. … But speaking out goes a long way for the person who is afraid — and for everyone in the public sphere.”

But in the moment, no one said a word.

We keep having this conversation in this country, asking ourselves: When is it appropriate to speak out against bigotry and racism? As if there were ever a bad time to stand for what is right or a right time to stay silent.

Our silence is our acquiescence. The time to stand up is now. The appropriate place to speak out is everywhere.

 

By: Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist; The National Memo, December 10, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Donald Trump, Muslim Americans, Terrorists | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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