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“When Is It Okay To Exploit Fear?”: Deliberately Increasing People’s Sense Of Insecurity To Make Them Vote For You

When I saw that President Obama had remote-psychoanalyzed Trump voters, I knew that the right would go crazy and say that it reminded them of his infamous bitter-clinger comments from 2008. At this point, it’s Pavlovian. What I saw from right-wing blogger Tom Maguire was a little unexpected, however.

He took a screenshot of the New York Times headline, which read: Obama Accuses Trump of Exploiting Working-Class Fears. And then he posed a rhetorical question for all of us:

The headline is baffling – exploiting fears is now a political no-no? – and shows a failure of nerve somewhere in the editorial process.

For a moment it was me who was baffled. It took a second to process what exactly Maguire was getting at. To me, “exploiting fears” is a moral failing. Full stop.

For Maguire, exploiting fears is a given in the political process and unworthy of notice.

At first, I was offended. Then I realized that we’re both probably correct in our own way, but with limitations.

I’m sure if I challenged him, Maguire would recite countless examples of Democratic politicians exploiting the fears of the electorate. These would be fears about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, or fears about NSA surveillance, or fears about grandma losing her Medicare or Social Security. No doubt, talking about the bad things that may result if the other party wins is a core element of all political campaigning, and it always has been.

I think this is different in kind, though, than using fear itself as a political tool. It’s hard to draw a hard line, and it’s partly about the merit of the threat you’re talking about. Jim Geraghty tried to get at the distinction in a piece he just wrote at the National Review that complains about Democratic accusations of fear-mongering.

…all of other threats that we’re told are more likely to kill us than a terrorist — other drivers, the ladder at home, the stove, the local swimming pool – aren’t deliberately trying to kill us.

…You may fall off your ladder while putting up the Christmas lights on the roof, but it’s not like there’s a sinister group, al-Laddera, plotting to wobble when you’re leaning over to put that last string up above the gutter. There’s not much the government can do to stop you from falling off a ladder, other than PSAs saying “be careful!” But there’s an awful lot the government can do to target terrorists and mitigate the threat they present.

In other words, for Geraghty, it’s legitimate to continually alarm the electorate about a very low-probability threat to their personal safety because there is at least something the government can do to minimize that threat.

For me, though, the responsible thing to do as a political leader is to calm people’s fears both so that they won’t be needlessly or disproportionately afraid and so that they don’t freak out and make unreasonable demands on their political leaders.

What’s really bad, in my opinion, is to deliberately increase people’s sense of insecurity not primarily so that they will demand policies to keep them safe but to make them more inclined to vote for you and your political party. Making people afraid for political gain is cynical and almost cruel.

So, naturally, I see it as dubious when someone like Donald Trump ramps up people’s anxieties and provides nothing solid as actual policy prescriptions. To me, that’s totally different than arguing that electing Hillary Clinton will result in a Supreme Court less inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade or energy policies less favorable to coal. You can scare and motivate people to vote based on accurate information. That’s not a political no-no, and it never has been.

But “exploiting” fears is a little different, especially when part of your pitch is to create fear when none ought to exist (“The president is a secret Muslim”) or to ramp fear up beyond any rational level, which is what the terrorism vs. wobbly ladder comparison is meant to illuminate.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 22, 2015

December 23, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fearmongering, Politicians, Terrorism | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Its Not Just About Bombing ISIS”: Organizing Global Action Related To Financing Of Terrorism

I’ve written previously about the strategy behind President Obama’s containment policy with regards to ISIS.

Its [U.S.] containment policy, Watts explained, is designed to wall ISIS into increasingly restricted territory and letting it fail due to its own mismanagement, economic problems, and internal discord, rather than because of the actions of a foreign oppressor.

If you want to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and engage in an apocalyptic battle with the West, you need financial resources to do so. Hence, the United States has been pursuing a financial as well as military containment policy.

But those efforts won’t succeed unless the countries of the world join us in both abandoning any financial transactions with ISIS and policing private entities within their own borders who might attempt to do so. That’s why, as U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power wrote, last week Treasury Secretary Jack Lew took on the role of foreign diplomat.

…to defeat these terrorist groups — as we must and will do — the United Nations must reach beyond the expertise of foreign ministries, and our traditional means of countering State aggression.

Instead, we must look to the policymakers who are developing innovative tactics to fight these groups, from strengthening border security and countering violent extremism in communities to choking off various sources of ISIL’s financing.

On Thursday, Secretary Lew is chairing the first-ever meeting of U.N. Security Council finance ministers to intensify international efforts on combating terrorist financing. We recognize that if we want to cut off ISIL’s access to the international financial system and prevent it from raising, transferring and using funds, we need other countries on board.

That is an innovative approach to how the U.N. might function in a world of asymmetrical threats. The idea that it is not simply a place for foreign ministers to discuss state-on-state military matters, but is also a place to organize global action related to terrorism financing means that it can be a vehicle for strategies that address 21st century challenges.

I am reminded of the approach a lot of Republicans have taken to the United Nations – from former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton’s casual reference to “losing 10 stories” of their building in NYC to continuous efforts by Congressional Republicans to defund it.

What we have seen from the Obama administration is a strengthening of the United Nations (and other coalitions like NATO) as a way to establish the kinds of partnerships that are necessary to accomplish everything from a global climate accord to a plan to end the Syrian civil war to cutting off the flow of financial resources to ISIS.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 21, 2015

December 22, 2015 Posted by | ISIS, Republicans, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Foreign-Policy Party No More”: On Foreign Policy, The GOP’s Candidates For President Are Either Ignorant Or Insane

Fairly early on in this week’s Republican presidential debate, Ted Cruz was reminded about his recent quote in which he vowed to “carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion,” testing whether “sand can glow in the dark.” Asked whether he’s prepared to decimate a populated city like Raqqa, informally known as the ISIS capital in Syria, the Texas senator hedged.

“You would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops,” Cruz said, adding, “[T]he object isn’t to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists.”

This plainly didn’t make any sense. It’s as if Cruz referenced carpet bombing – indiscriminate bombing of large areas, without regard for collateral damage – without having any idea what it means. To hear the Texas Republican tell it, there’s such a thing as precision, “directed” carpet bombing, which is a contradiction in terms.

The gibberish, however, was par for the course. Writing in the Washington Post, Dan Drezner, a center-right scholar, said yesterday, “When it comes to foreign policy, the GOP’s candidates for president in 2016 are either ignorant or insane.”

The overwhelming bulk of what the GOP candidates had to say last night was pure, unadulterated horses***. […]

When I came of political age, the Republican Party had a surfeit of smart, tough-minded foreign policy folk: Brent Scowcroft, Robert Gates, James Baker, Bob Zoellick, Richard Haass, and Lawrence Eagleburger. I pity these people having to listen to what was said on the GOP main stage last night.

Keep in mind, this isn’t so much about subjective questions. Knowing what we know now, was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a good idea or a bad idea? Marco Rubio says it was a good idea; most people who’ve been conscious for the last 12 years say the opposite; and it can be a topic of spirited conversation.

When a center-right observer like Drezner talks about Republican presidential candidates being “either ignorant or insane,” he’s not referring to debatable judgment calls. He’s referring to an entire field of GOP candidates who at times seemed lost as to what foreign policies actually are.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan noted the debate was “devoted to national security and terrorism, about which most of the nine major candidates proved they knew nothing, a fact that some tried to conceal by making stuff up.”

How did the party that used to dominate on foreign policy fall to such cringe-worthy depths?

Part of the problem is likely the result of the demise of the Republican Party’s elder statesmen. In the not-too-distant past, the GOP was guided on foreign policy by responsible, learned hands – experienced officials like Dick Lugar, John Warner, and Brent Scowcroft – who approached international affairs with degree of maturity. Those Republicans now tend to agree with President Obama.

Which leads to another potential explanation: the more Obama represents some kind of “sensible center” on matters of foreign policy, the more his radicalized Republican critics feel the need to move even further to the right.

I also wouldn’t discount the role of post-policy thinking of the broader debate: the national GOP candidates are speaking to (and for) a party that has no patience for substantive details, historical lessons, nuance, or diplomacy. Heck, we’re talking about a party that has convinced itself that the key to defeating terrorists is literally using the phrase “radical Islam,” as if the words have magical national-security implications. That’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s emblematic of a party that approaches foreign policy itself with all the maturity of a Saturday-morning cartoon.

Finally, some context is probably in order. At the end of the Bush/Cheney era, the GOP’s entire approach to international affairs was discredited and in tatters. It needed to be rebuilt, reconsidered, and molded anew into something coherent. That never happened – the intra-party debate never really occurred, except to the extent that Republicans agreed that Obama is always wrong, even when he’s right, and those who agree with him must always be rejected, even when they’re Republicans in good standing.

Taken together, there’s something genuinely pathetic about the Republican Party’s once-great credibility on these issues. As Rachel put it on the show last night, “We really need two parties who are good at this issue in order to have good policy on this issue. We need good debate because this stuff is hard and our best decisions will come out of good, robust debate. Can the Republican Party hold up its end of the debate?”

It’s hard to be optimistic, isn’t it?

 

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

December 21, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Middle East, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Put Fear In Perspective”: Don’t Let The Republican Candidates Fool You; The U.S. Has Dealt With Much Worse Than ISIS

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Franklin Roosevelt’s historic statement was not exactly the mantra at this week’s Republican presidential debate.

As I listened to the apocalyptic predictions from the Republican candidates Tuesday night, I could not help but compare the concerns about the Islamic State group to what many of us faced during the Cold War – the very real threat of nuclear Armageddon and fear of the mushroom cloud.

The fallout shelters that people were building in their backyards (they make nice wine cellars now), the drills where we crouched under our desks at school, the sounds of air-raid sirens testing the early warning system, the fear we felt during the Cuban missile crisis, living with the mutual assured destruction policies of the U.S. and the Soviet Union – these all combined to create much more of a threat than a group like the Islamic State group – the nuclear arms race was viewed as truly potentially catastrophic.

The devastation of the world-wide 1930s depression that FDR was addressing was truly catastrophic.

The 1918 flu pandemic that infected 500 million people across the globe, killing 50 to 100 million and 500,00 to 675,000 in the U.S. – that was catastrophic.

I understand the fear of the Islamic State group, but in comparison, please, this we can deal with rationally and pragmatically.

Sadly, this past Republican debate leads us to the conclusion that when it comes to using fear to incite voters, this field of candidates will go to nearly any lengths.

Not to go over the top here, but this is what noted Nazi official Heinrich Himmler said about the use of fear: “The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Cruelty commands respect. Men may hate us. But, we don’t ask for their love; only for their fear.”

This is what the Islamic State group is counting on – bringing America to its knees simply by using terror to create fear. By reacting with a “war on Muslims” as many Republican candidates seem to be advocating, the real terrorists gain control and are handed a golden recruiting tool.

This makes no sense. We can defeat this movement. We can organize the nations of the world to unite against their terrorism. We can surely be victorious without resorting to scare tactics and whipping the American voter up into a frenzy.

We have faced much worse, but just as the spread of Ebola became a daily concern and created close to a panic a year ago, the reality is our media and out politics whip the public into a frenzy when calmer heads should prevail.

During the Republican debate the words terror, terrorist and terrorism were used 81 times. The word attack was used 50 times, according to reporting from Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune.

As he pointed out, here are just a few quotes from this week’s debate:

“We need to understand that our nation is in grave danger.”

“We have people across this country who are scared to death.”

“ISIS and Iran have declared war on America, and we need a commander in chief who will do everything necessary to keep our children safe.”

“Our country doesn’t win anymore. … We can’t defeat ISIS.”

OK, I get the politics of all this. I get the perceived need of these performers to out-do one another, but isn’t it time we had some reasoned leadership that acted responsibly to understand the true nature of the threat and deal with it properly? Isn’t there one person on that stage who could put this in perspective and not demagogue the Islamic State terrorists?

The threat is real but does not deserve the draconian response of nearly every Republican candidate for President. If we ever needed cooler heads like FDR, Eisenhower, and Kennedy, certainly that time is now.

 

By: Peter Fenn, Democratic Political Strategist and Head of Fenn Communications; U. S. News and World Report, December 18, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Fearmongering, GOP Leadership, GOP Presidential Candidates, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Forever Active Or Proxy Warfare”: Republican Lies And Distortions About The Middle East

One of the reasons it is difficult to comment on the actual content of what the Republican presidential candidates said last night is that so much of it was simply untrue. By the time you are done fact-checking, there isn’t much there there.

The debate produced a lot of material for the fact-checkers to work with. But most troubling, given the topic they were focused on, was the complete lack of understanding and/or truthfulness about what is actually going on in the Middle East. A perfect example of that was the claim from Ted Cruz that the Obama administration “toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.” One can only assume that Cruz is ignorant of the whole “Arab Spring” rebellions of 2010/11 and the fact that it was the people of Egypt who forced him to step down.

For a more comprehensive review, Ishaan Tharoor has written: The Middle East dreamed up at the Republican debate doesn’t really exist. He begins by talking about Cruz’s proposal to “carpet bomb” ISIS.

Cruz’s emphasis is on tough, withering, relentless action, but you can’t bomb the Islamic State to smithereens without contemplating an enormous civilian death toll. That places Cruz in the same camp as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has for years now been bombing civilian areas in his own nation’s cities with barrel bombs and other crude, indiscriminate forms of munitions…

Cruz and, to varying extents, other candidates onstage appeared to view the Middle East as a kind of set for “American Sniper” — a woebegone place of dusty towns crawling with bad guy extremists and not much else.

It wouldn’t be the first time a Republican confused the real world with the movie version.

Tharoor goes on to talk about Carson’s proposal to move Syrian refugees to the Hasakah governorate in northeast Syria, which “is still a theater of war and the site of bitter clashes between Kurdish militias and the Islamic State,” as well as the complex realities of working with various Kurdish parties and militias. But then he got to what I noticed in the proposals we heard last night from Kasich, Rubio and Christie.

But none of this was being deliberated in Las Vegas, of course.

Instead, there was a vague embrace of Sunni Arab elites — namely the ruling royals of countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia — and a parallel demonization of Iran, a regional bogeyman on the other side of a sectarian divide with the Saudis.

The truth is that the neocons in the Republican Party want the United States to take sides in the centuries-old battle between the Shia and the Sunnis in the Middle East. Specifically, they want us to take the side of the Sunni majorities in countries like Saudi Arabia against the Shiites in Iran. That means aligning with the country whose oil wealth has been used to support groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. Here is how Kasich put it last night:

Assad is aligned with Iran and Russia. The one thing we want to prevent is we want to prevent Iran being able to extend a Shia crescent all across the Middle East. Assad has got to go…

I don’t want to be policeman of the world. But we can’t back off of this. And let me tell you, at the end, the Saudis have agreed to put together a coalition inside of Syria to stabilize that country.

He must go. It will be a blow to Iran and Russia.

In the Republican mind, we have friends and we have enemies. Saudi Arabia – which has one of the worst human rights records in the world – is a “friend.” Russia and Iran are “enemies.”

That is exactly why Republicans are so vehemently opposed the the deal that was recently negotiated with Iran to stop their development of nuclear weapons. As President Obama told David Remnick prior to the conclusion of those negotiations, it sets the stage for a potential geopolitical realignment in the Middle East.

Ultimately, he envisages a new geopolitical equilibrium, one less turbulent than the current landscape of civil war, terror, and sectarian battle. “It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren’t intent on killing each other,” he told me. “And although it would not solve the entire problem, if we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion—not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon—you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.

For all their bluster about the President being weak and ineffective, this is the real reason Republicans oppose his strategy in the Middle East. They can’t conceptualize peace in the Middle East short of a military solution that provides a win for our friends and defeat of our enemies. In other words…forever active or proxy warfare.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 15, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Middle East, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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