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“Most Simplistic And Mindless Solutions Imaginable”: Breaking; GOP Candidates Admit American Military Force Has Its Limits

Amid the competition in last night’s debate to see which candidate could make Americans more terrified that we’re all going to be killed by terrorists any day now, an actual substantive policy difference emerged on national security. While none of the candidates took positions they hadn’t taken before, it was the clearest explication of what actually is a real division within the Republican Party on foreign policy.

Though we sometimes think of the GOP as divided between Rand Paul on one side and everybody else on the other — one lone candidate skeptical of foreign interventionism up against a bunch of unreconstructed hawks — the truth is more complicated. And as we saw last night, the candidates currently in first place (Donald Trump) and second place (Ted Cruz) in the race represent a foreign policy vision that acknowledges that American power has its limits. That’s a stark contrast with their opponents, who essentially believe in George W. Bush’s vision, which says that American military power can solve nearly any problem and plant the seeds of democracy anywhere.

There are reasons not to give too much credit to Cruz and Trump, which I’ll get to in a moment. But their beliefs on the fundamental question of the limits of American power, particularly in the Middle East, were clearly laid out last night. Here’s part of what Cruz had to say:

So let’s go back to the beginning of the Obama administration, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama led NATO in toppling the government in Libya. They did it because they wanted to promote democracy. A number of Republicans supported them. The result of that — and we were told then that there were these moderate rebels that would take over. Well, the result is, Libya is now a terrorist war zone run by jihadists.

Move over to Egypt. Once again, the Obama administration, encouraged by Republicans, toppled Mubarak who had been a reliable ally of the United States, of Israel, and in its place, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood came in, a terrorist organization.

And we need to learn from history. These same leaders — Obama, Clinton, and far too many Republicans — want to topple Assad. Assad is a bad man. Gadhafi was a bad man. Mubarak had a terrible human rights record. But they were assisting us — at least Gadhafi and Mubarak — in fighting radical Islamic terrorists.

And if we topple Assad, the result will be ISIS will take over Syria, and it will worsen U.S. national security interests. And the approach, instead of being a Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter, we ought to hunt down our enemies and kill ISIS rather than creating opportunities for ISIS to take control of new countries.

We didn’t actually topple Mubarak and we didn’t exactly topple Gadhafi, but in any case, Cruz is articulating a realist foreign policy vision here: We should focus on direct threats to American national security and not try to impose democracy, because overthrowing dictators creates volatile situations in which the outcome can be even worse than what came before. This is a direct contradiction to George W. Bush’s expansive vision in which the right invasion or two would spread democracy across the Middle East in a glorious flowering of freedom. (And yes, we should acknowledge that this vision was always selective — nobody proposed overthrowing the government of Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive dictatorships on earth).

After Cruz’s statement, Marco Rubio and John Kasich chimed in to argue that we actually should overthrow Assad, then Donald Trump came back with a statement that could have come from Bernie Sanders:

In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.

We have done a tremendous disservice, not only to Middle East, we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have wiped away, and for what? It’s not like we had victory.

It’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized. A total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart.

The typical telling of the Iraq story Republicans offer is that everything was going great until Barack Obama came in and screwed it all up. But here, Trump isn’t even bothering with that — he’s saying that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was a bad idea from the start and had all kinds of negative unintended consequences.

It’s important to understand that Trump and Cruz aren’t doves. In fact, they have wedded this skepticism toward nation-building with the most belligerent attitude toward the Islamic State. Trump says he wants to “bomb the s— out of them,” while Cruz proposes to “carpet-bomb” them. So on the one hand they have a broader approach that seems grounded in history, while on the other they’re offering the most simplistic (you might even say mindless) solution imaginable to the immediate problem of the Islamic State.

For many of the other candidates, it’s precisely the reverse. Against all evidence, they still talk as though American power is essentially limitless and there are no unintended consequences we need to concern ourselves with when we do something like inject ourselves into a civil war in the Middle East. Yet on the Islamic State, they try to sound like they have a nuanced plan that’s built on an understanding of the complexities of the situation. Marco Rubio’s Islamic State plan might be wrong in all its particulars, but at least it has particulars, meant to demonstrate that he knows what he’s talking about. (You may have noticed that Rubio spends a lot of time trying to demonstrate that he knows what he’s talking about.) The same could be said of Jeb Bush.

As last night’s fear-fest made clear, the candidates know that their electorate is on edge and looking for a strong leader who will make them feel like the threats they perceive around them are being confronted. Trump and Cruz are offering instant gratification in the form of a glorious bombing campaign against the Islamic State, combined with a more careful approach over the longer term that would seek to avoid quagmires in places where, as Cruz likes to say about Syria, “We don’t have a dog in that fight.” The question is whether that’s appealing to a significant portion of the Republican electorate. We don’t yet know the answer, but eventually we’ll find out.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 16, 2015

December 18, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Terrorism, U. S. Military | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Carly Fiorina Trips Over Fact, Fiction Distinction”: Caught Once Again Saying Something That Was Plainly Untrue

At this week’s Republican presidential debate, Carly Fiorina hoped to get her struggling campaign back on track by pointing to her military bona fides:

“One of the things I would immediately do, in addition to defeating [U.S. enemies] here at home, is bring back the warrior class – Petraeus, McChrystal, Mattis, Keane, Flynn. Every single one of these generals I know. Every one was retired early because they told President Obama things that he didn’t want to hear.”

For Fiorina, it was a two-fer – she could boast about personal connections with top U.S. military brass while simultaneously condemning President Obama for dismissing generals who disagreed with him.

The problem, of course, was that Fiorina wasn’t telling the truth. David Petraeus, for example, didn’t retire because of a conflict with the president; he retired from the military to become the CIA director, but was forced to quit after a sex scandal in which he shared classified information with his mistress.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, the even more striking example is retired Gen. Jack Keane, who retired in 2003 – when Obama was still a state senator. The idea that Keane, who has never even met this president, was forced out of the military because of a disagreement with Obama doesn’t make any sense. Keane said as much during a Fox News interview yesterday.

But that’s not the funny part. What makes Fiorina such a bizarre presidential candidate is how she handled the follow-up questions the day after the debate.

Talking with reporters Wednesday after a town hall here, Fiorina was asked if she misspoke about Keane given the timing of his retirement.

 “No, I didn’t misspeak,” she said. “But he has been someone of great experience who has been highly critical of the way this administration has not taken threats seriously and unfortunately he hasn’t been listened to. I would listen to him.”

The CNN headline on its piece read, “Despite facts, Carly Fiorina stands by claim about retired generals.”

It would have been easy for Fiorina, less than a day removed from the debate, to say she accidentally referenced Keane, but that’s just not how she likes to campaign. The same thing came up in September, when Fiorina was caught lying about Planned Parenthood, but instead of walking back her bogus claims, the Republican insisted that fiction is fact.

To be sure, Fiorina isn’t the only presidential hopeful to have been caught saying things that aren’t true. But she is the only national 2016 candidate to respond to incidents like these in such a ridiculous way.

As we discussed in September, Americans can learn a lot about presidential candidates by reviewing their records and proposals, but how they respond to challenges tells us something important, too. In this case, a candidate for national office was caught once again saying something that was plainly untrue, which in turn created a test: how would Carly Fiorina defend a lie? What would her defense tell us about her readiness for national office?

The answers should be alarming for her campaign supporters.

Indeed, in recent months, as Fiorina has seen her poll numbers steadily collapse, there’s been quite a bit of chatter about how the Republican businesswoman managed to fall so far, so quickly. There’s more than one explanation for her failures, but incidents like these are a reminder about Fiorina herself creating doubts about her preparedness for the White House.

Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 17, 2015

December 18, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Dr. Ben Carson Is On Life Support”: Slowly Fading, Just One Step Away From Hospice

Moments before Tuesday night’s fear-mongering GOP debate, Ben Carson gave a preview of the utter strangeness that was to emerge from his mouth during the night’s proceedings.

During a visit to the media spin room, Carson was asked if he would need to ramp up his rhetoric in the ensuing debate. His response was nothing short of bewildering.

“Um, well maybe I’ll bring some weapons with me, spice it up a little bit,” he told ABC News, chortling at his own odd suggestion. This off-hand remark was strangely prescient, characterizing the night was to come.

Instead of the foreign policy “slam dunk” he promised in a campaign video, Carson sunk into the background as the top-tier candidates—Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and to some degree Christie—duked it out in varying dour and vicious tones.

What little stage time Carson got (some 10 minutes and 27 seconds approximately) was consumed by a highlight reel of ill-fated remarks about bombing children and disruptive coughing, and, of course, a complaint about not getting enough time.

Hugh Hewitt asked a question about the former neurosurgeon’s ability to declare war where children would inevitably end up as casualties. The response could have served as a demonstration of strength, a label which often evades Carson next to the bombastic yelling of Trump, but ended up as an ill-fated comparison to his medical experience.

“Well, interestingly enough, you should see the eyes of some of those children when I say to them ‘We’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor,’” Carson tangentially responded. “They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me.”

“And by the same token,” he went on, “you have to be able to look at the big picture, and understand that it’s actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job, rather than death by a thousand pricks.”

Hewitt pressed him by bluntly asking if Carson would be OK with the deaths of thousands of civilians and children in an effort to fight terrorism. Amidst the boos that erupted in the Venetian Casino, Carson awkwardly replied, “You got it,” seemingly not believing the words he himself was actually saying. Even when Carson leaned on what little applicable experience he has, referencing the scholars fund he created to demonstrate leadership abilities, he misfired.

“One of the things that you’ll notice if you look through my life is that I don’t do a lot of talking,” Carson said. “I do a lot of doing.” But Carson gave more than 141 paid speeches between the start of 2014 and the beginning of his campaign, not to mention an extensive, quasi-illegal book tour wedged in the middle of this campaign cycle.

His floundering in the debate may not have been so noticeable if there weren’t as much at stake for Carson. It wasn’t that long ago that Carson bolted to the front of the GOP pack, drawing the attention of Trump’s oxygen-extinguishing ire (remember when he analogized him to a child molester?).

But November’s terrorist attacks in Paris pivoted the conversation to national security and foreign policy, causing Carson, who was woefully unprepared for any in-depth conversation on either topic, to plummet in the polls.

His campaign tried to make adjustments to mold the quiet doctor into an overnight foreign policy wonk, including a trip to Syrian refugee camps, which resulted in the badly worded summarization: They were not that bad. Carson is scheduled to take another trip, this time to Africa, this month.

Carson’s campaign even released a seven-step plan to “protect America” ahead of the debate, that includes a call for a declaration of war against ISIS. Only special ops forces would be needed on the ground for the time being, his communications manager Doug Watts told The Daily Beast yesterday.

Yet in the debate, Carson seemed to be all but certain that there would be ground troops in this war.

“If our military experts say we need boots on the ground, we should put boots on the ground and recognize that there will be boots on the ground and they’ll be over here, and they’ll be their boots if we don’t get out of there now,” he said during a particularly meandering answer.

But the seventh step of the procedural is the one that probably gives the most pause. The final proposal of the Carson Doctrine to make America safe again calls for an investigation of “the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and a supporter of terrorism.”

“Given the precarious situation America is in with sleeper cells and jihadists making threats from within, and CAIR’s background, publicly stated affinity with Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, we believe further investigation is in order,” Watts elaborated.

The United Arab Emirates did in fact put CAIR on its own version of a terrorist watch list in 2014, but experts balked at the suggestion that the organization poses a viable threat in the United States.

“Carson’s remarks are typically silly,” Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institutes in Washington, told The Daily Beast. “He pontificates a great deal about Muslim and Islamic matters, and every time he opens his mouth, he reveals himself to be exceptionally ignorant and informed entirely by bigots and a hateful rhetoric.”

The bigots to whom Ibish is referring include Islamophobe and recent GOP darling Frank Gaffney Jr., who has suggested that CAIR is waging a “stealthy, pre-violent” jihad against the United States. (Gaffney also insists American Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist is secretly working to help Muslim Brotherhood moles infiltrate the U.S. government.)

Ibish explained that while CAIR may have had “origins in Brotherhood-supporting or sympathetic causes,” the organization is by no means “connected to terrorism or in any practical, material sense supportive of terrorism.”

“If Dr. Carson doesn’t realize that CAIR has been ‘investigated’ since 9/11 as thoroughly as any American organizational entity has ever been investigated by the government, he hasn’t got a clue,” Ibish added. “But then again, he is a fool.”

For their part, CAIR condemned Carson a long time ago when he said that he was against a Muslim being president.

“Ben Carson is a failing candidate grasping at straws and seeking payback for CAIR’s previous criticism of his anti-Muslim bigotry,” Corey Saylor, the national legislative director for the organization, told The Daily Beast. “He found that Islamophobia gave him a boost in the past, so he is using it again.”

But there are no obvious signs that it will give him a boost now.

Carson fell from 22 percent to 11 percent in two Washington Post-ABC News polls taken less than a month apart. And even as the campaign attempts to right the sinking ship, private tensions between business manager Armstrong Williams and other staffers are getting played out in public.

And if last night’s debate was any indication, all Carson can do is smile and feign toughness on a stage with loudmouth bigots and opportunistic politicians simply out-muscling him.

It doesn’t work to play nice anymore.

 

By: Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast, December 16, 2015

December 18, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Islamophobia, National Security, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crying About The Deficit Is A GOP Tool”: Can We Stop Pretending That Republicans Care About The Deficit Now?

Congress is about to pass a package that will keep the government operating through next September. And in order to sweeten the deal for conservative Republicans who would rather not spend money to have the government operate, they’ll also be voting on a $680 billion package of tax cuts. These bills contain both things Republicans want (like allowing oil exports, extending a research and development tax break for businesses, and delaying the “Cadillac Tax” in the Affordable Care Act) and things Democrats want (like extending the child tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit).

But whether you’re happy with the overall balance of line items in the bill, one thing’s for sure: it will increase the deficit rather substantially.

While there are some Republicans complaining about that, what they’re really mad about is the things they didn’t get, like banning Planned Parenthood from getting Medicaid reimbursements. In short, what mattered for both sides was the substantive details, and to some degree the politics (i.e. Republicans not wanting to suffer the fallout from another shutdown crisis).

Let’s be honest: despite all their talk about what we’re handing to the next generation and how government should balance its books just like a family does, when it comes down to actually making choices, Republicans are no more concerned about deficits than Democrats are. Crying about the deficit is a tool they use to constrain policies they don’t like. When it comes to the policies they do like, how much the government will have to borrow to fund them is barely an afterthought. So can we stop pretending they actually care about deficits?

There’s no denying that Republicans have wielded the fear of deficits and debt with extraordinary effect. They often convince the public that deficits are a serious problem that needs addressing, because most voters have only the vaguest understanding of how the government operates, and words like “debt” become a stand-in for “the economy.” And they have allies among those sometimes referred to as the Very Serious People in Washington, who gravely intone that government can’t do things like mitigate the effects of a recession if doing so will add to the debt. But when Republicans actually have to make choices, there’s a simple calculus at work: the programs they don’t support anyway, like food stamps or Medicaid, should be cut because we just can’t afford them. But the programs they do support, like military spending, not to mention tax cuts that will increase the deficit? Well, we just have to do those things, because they’re necessary.

Consider that the biggest Democratic policy initiative in recent years was the Affordable Care Act, which was completely paid for through taxes and budget cuts within Medicare. The ACA not only didn’t increase the deficit, it decreased it. The biggest Republican policy initiatives in recent years, on the other hand, were the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq War. The former cost somewhere between $2 trillion and $3 trillion (see here and here), while the latter cost around $2 trillion. There was no attempt to pay for either one, meaning the cost was just added to the deficit.

And why wasn’t there an attempt to pay for them? The simple answer is that when Republicans have something they want to do, they do it. Trying to pay for what you want to do just complicates things (as the authors of the ACA could testify). When George W. Bush took office, they wanted to cut taxes, particularly on the wealthy, so they did. They wanted to invade Iraq, so they did. If any Republican said, “It would be nice to do this, but it’s going to increase the deficit, so we shouldn’t,” they would have been laughed out of the room. And all those Republicans who today say that they don’t think Bush was a real conservative because he didn’t curtail spending? If you don’t remember them loudly objecting at the time, that’s because they didn’t.

The main reason Republicans are free to set aside concerns about the deficit right now is that it has dropped so dramatically over Barack Obama’s presidency, so it’s much harder to argue that it’s an urgent problem. The deficit peaked at $1.4 trillion in 2009, Obama’s first year in office, when the country was still in the depths of the Great Recession. By 2014 it had fallen to $484 billion, a decline of two-thirds. It went from 9.8 percent of GDP in 2009 down to 2.8 percent of GDP in 2014.

There are multiple reasons why, including sequestration, the improving economy, and the tax increases Obama negotiated. But if you want to grant presidents credit or blame for what happens with the deficit on their watch, in the last forty years, Presidents Obama and Clinton reduced the deficit as a proportion of GDP, President Carter kept it almost exactly where it was, and Presidents Bush the Younger, Bush the Elder, and Reagan increased the deficit. Notice a pattern?

And all the Republicans running for president have tax plans that would send the deficit into the stratosphere. They wave away the consequences by saying that they’ll come up with some package of (yet unspecified) budget cuts, or even better, that despite all historical evidence, this time cutting taxes will lead to such an explosion of economic growth that the deficit will actually fall (this is known as a belief in the “Tax Fairy”). But the truth is that they just want to cut taxes, and if one of them becomes president, that’s what he’ll do. And nobody on the Republican side will care what it does to the deficit.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 17, 2015

December 18, 2015 Posted by | Deficits, GOP, Gross Demostic Product, Tax Cuts | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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