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“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

“Hollow Words In Airports”: Today’s All-Volunteer Military Has Been Robbed Of The Sense Of Shared Sacrifice And National Purpose

I don’t know exactly when the habit of civilians publicly thanking uniformed military personnel “for your service” caught on. But as a painful but very informative feature story by David Zucchino and David Cloud of the L.A. Times on the increasing rift between military and non-military cultures illustrates, it’s not making things better:

“We glorify the military in this country in a way that’s really weird,” said Eric Harmeling, 21, a Carrboro [NC]-area resident who often argues with his father, a politically conservative minister, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s like the Roman legions…. It’s like we’re being told to kneel down and worship our heroes.”

That’s not the way military personnel and recent veterans see things:

The military-civilian divide is not marked by particular animosity or resentment on the civilian side. In airports and restaurants, civilians thank men and women in uniform for their service. They cheer veterans at ballgames and car races.

What most don’t realize is how frequently such gestures ring hollow.

“So many people give you lip service and offer fake sympathy. Their sons and daughters aren’t in the military, so it’s not their war. It’s something that happens to other people,” said Phillip Ruiz, 46, a former Army staff sergeant in Tennessee who was wounded twice during three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Douglas Pearce, a former Army lieutenant who fought in Afghanistan and is now a marriage and family counselor in Nashville, said civilians seem to think they “can assuage their guilt with five seconds in the airport.”

“What they’re saying is, ‘I’m glad you served so that I didn’t have to, and my kids won’t have to.'”

Ironically, during the era of mass conscription there wasn’t nearly as much of a brouhaha:

George Baroff, enjoying an outdoor lunch at an organic food co-op in Carrboro one recent afternoon, said he understood the military quite well: He served three years as a draftee during World War II before eventually becoming a psychology professor in nearby Chapel Hill.

Baroff, 90, finds himself startled when people learn of his war record and say, as Americans often do to soldiers these days, “Thank you for your service.”

“You never, ever heard that in World War II. And the reason is, everybody served,” he said.

In Baroff’s view, today’s all-volunteer military has been robbed of the sense of shared sacrifice and national purpose that his generation enjoyed six decades ago. Today’s soldiers carry a heavier burden, he said, because the public has been disconnected from the universal responsibility and personal commitment required to fight and win wars.

So what’s the answer to this growing rift between a “warrior class” that never feels really appreciated and a citizenry engaged in hollow gestures of support? Bring back the draft?

I don’t think so, though some truly robust national service program would not hurt.

What civilians truly owe to the military is consistent material support for veterans–particularly those injured in combat or for the families of those who perished–and a sustained effort to ensure lives are not unnecessarily put at risk in wars big or small that aren’t worth supporting or even knowing about. It may seem kind of obvious to many of us that you do not “support the troops” by sending them into the wrong conflicts with the wrong mission and the wrong leadership. But unfortunately, a lot of people think glorifying warfare itself is the best way to honor our surrogate warriors–along with hollow words in airports.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, may 21, 2015

May 26, 2015 Posted by | Civilians, U. S. Armed Forces, U. S. Military | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Politics Of War”: We Endanger The Peace And Confuse All Issues When We Obscure The Truth

This Memorial Day the nation remembers all those people who died while serving in the American armed forces. More than 1,316,000 military personnel have died during military conflicts in this nation’s history.

The mission of the U.S. military is to fight and win our nation’s wars. The U.S. has the most powerful military in the history of the world, but it should not be utilized as a political tool, or for retribution. The government and its leaders must do their best to make the right decisions, to be truthful with the American people, and to provide all the necessary support needed to fulfill the military’s mission. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.

Following the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush began to plan a response. Vice President Dick Cheney and neo-con members of the administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, immediately set their sites on Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s tyrannical ruler. They were disappointed that Hussein had not been toppled during the first Gulf War in 1991. Soon the administration made the claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that Hussein was linked to the terrorist group al-Qaeda.

But the Bush administration was cherry picking raw intelligence, much of which was unverified. The “evidence” against Hussein was presented to Congress, which on October 11, 2002, passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Forces Against Iraq. In early 2003, the British and Spanish governments proposed a U.N. resolution that gave Iraq a deadline for compliance with previous resolutions on WMDs or face military actions. The resolution was withdrawn because France, Germany, Canada and Russia were opposed to military action; instead they called for further diplomacy. In early March, Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix said that progress had been made with the inspections and no WMD’s had been found in Iraq.

The administration, which rejected Blix’s assessment, began making the case for war to the American people. In February, President Bush conducted a series of interviews with news organizations, including the Spanish language channel Telemundo. I was the head of news for Telemundo at that time, and I was present for our session. The president told Telemundo’s Pedro Sevcec that he had not made a decision to go to war. Following the interview, I asked the president, “What about Jacques Chirac,” referring to the French president. President Bush swatted me on the shoulder with the back of his hand and said dismissively, “Oh, he’ll come around.” “We’re going to war,” I thought.

The American invasion of Iraq began on March 20. Vice President Cheney had predicted we would be greeted as liberators. He was wrong. The Iraqi forces were quickly defeated but the administration mismanaged the occupation. The Ba’athist government had collapsed, Hussein’s military was disarmed, and a power vacuum ensued. Sectarian violence broke out between the Shias and the Sunnis. U.S. backed Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, became Prime Minister in 2006, but his government alienated the country’s Sunni minority.

In 2007, President Bush implemented a troop surge in Iraq. By adding 20,000 additional U.S. troops, primarily in capital city Baghdad, the president hoped to buy time for reconciliation among the factions. The situation on the ground stabilized, but Sunnis still distrusted the Maliki government.

In 2008, the Bush administration negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq granting U.S. troops in the country legal immunities with the understanding the troops would be withdrawn by 2012. When negotiations began to extend U.S. military presence, only a smaller number, Maliki and various Iraqi party leaders agreed to the extended troop deployment, but did not want to continue the legal immunities. These immunities are a condition everywhere U.S. troops are based.

Some critics said President Barack Obama could have done more to secure the legal immunities, but that is debatable. In an interview on CBS News’ Face the Nation Sunday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) once again claimed an agreement could have been reached with Maliki through negotiations. Nonetheless, President Obama withdrew American combat troops and fulfilled a campaign promise.

The Maliki government collapsed in 2014. In the summer of 2014, ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group that had been incubating for more than a decade in Syria, launched a military offensive in Northern Iraq and declared an Islamic caliphate. ISIS, which is Sunni, has slaughtered thousands of people in its expansion in the region. But many Iraqi Sunnis find ISIS preferable to the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Iraq under Hussein had served as a counter balance against Iran, its bitter enemy. With Hussein gone, Iran, a Shiite country, began working closely with the Shiite government in Baghdad. Iran’s influence in the region has grown, especially with the spread of ISIS. Iraq is in turmoil and it is unlikely all of the factions, including the Kurds in the north, will come together again.

The Iraq War has been costly. More than 4,500 members of the U.S military have been killed since the invasion. Hundreds of thousands of casualties have been suffered by Iraqis. Two years ago the “Costs of Wars” project, part of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, estimated that the Iraq War had already cost America more than $2 trillion. And many veterans of Iraq, who have returned home, are unemployed, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or have committed suicide.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and many Republican presidential candidates blame President Obama for today’s chaos in Iraq and the region. Yet these candidates do not offer a plan or a solution. In fact, former Senator Rick Santorum recently said, “If these folks (ISIS) want to return to a 7th-century version of Islam, then let’s load up our bombers and bomb them back to the 7th century.” ISIS and Iraq have turned into political fodder for the Republican base.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq, and subsequent mismanagement by the Bush administration, is the biggest mistake the U.S. has made since Vietnam. It has led to a series of unintended and disastrous consequences. And there is no light at the end of this tunnel for America.

Perhaps the architects of the Iraq War should have heeded the counsel of their spiritual leader, President Ronald Reagan. In a 1985 Veterans Day speech he said, “We endanger the peace and confuse all issues when we obscure the truth.”

 

By: Joe Peyronnin, Hofstra Journalism Professor; The Blog, The Huffington Post, May 24, 2015

May 25, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War, Memorial Day, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Moment Of Respect”: Make Time For Memorial Day’s True Purpose

I have no idea where I will be at 3 p.m. Monday, when a national moment of remembrance takes place, but Memorial Day will be very much on my mind.

Monday is the day to pause and give a moment of respect to those who, regardless of race, religion, gender, national origin or sexual orientation, served, fought and died in behalf of our nation.

Hopefully, time to remember can be found in the din of holiday sales pitches.

“Memorial Day returns May 25. Until then, check back daily for more ways to save,” says the Wal-Mart Web site. “7 Memorial Day Sales You Won’t Want to Miss,” reads a headline in U.S. News & World Report’s Money section. “Chevy Memorial Day Sale, 15% off cash back.” “Memorial Day Sales 2015 — Coupons.com.”

And then there are all those cookouts and barbecues. Will there be any time to pay tribute?

Let’s hope so. Because as we bustle about in hot pursuit of those sales and bargains, and as we gather all that food to cook for the family gathering, it’s worth remembering that American men and women are embroiled in wars fought far from our shores. Their lives could be claimed. They could end up in the graves that get decorated next May with flowers and flags. Next year’s prayers could be recited for them. Parades could take place in their honor.

Next summer’s beginning could be marked with their remembrance.

I’m part of a long line of men in my family to have served in the U.S. military. My great-grandfather, Isaiah King of New Bedford, Mass., was with Company D of the 5th Massachusetts (Colored) Cavalry during the Civil War. My uncles, Marshall Colbert and Robert Colbert, were soldiers in World War I and World War II, respectively. My younger brother, Cranston, was an Air Force captain. And I was an active-duty Army officer from 1961 to 1963. My relatives and I aren’t among the countless number of men and women who died in service to their country. But we all proudly wore the uniform, even though the home front wasn’t always very kind.

My great-grandfather enlisted as a Union soldier at the age of 16 to defend against the great rebellion of the South, and he participated in the Siege of Petersburg, which resulted in 2,974 Union and 4,700 Confederate casualties.

He and his fellow black soldiers were paid less than white troops until, after months of protest, they finally got what they were owed. Getting a pension following his release from service was even more difficult.

His physical hardships and the struggle for his retirement benefit are documented in the book “New Bedford’s Civil War” by Earl F. Mulderink III. It took Great-granddaddy King 13 years, but he finally got his pension, which was $75 a month at the time of his death in 1933.

My uncles returned home from military service to a Washington, D.C., that was separate and unequal in nearly every respect. And the bars on my shoulders in the early ’60s weren’t enough to get me seated and served in southern public accommodations.

We were among the thousands of men of color who responded to the call to arms from a nation that demanded loyalty and discipline from us while often forgetting to reciprocate.

But we served. As did many of my Howard University ROTC classmates, some of whom gave their “last full measure of devotion” in Vietnam.

Do you know the formal declaration made by the men and women sworn to defend America? It’s worth remembering and repeating on Memorial Day. This is the Soldier’s Oath of Enlistment:

“I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

We who served will always remember that oath. In return, not just on Monday, but every day, the nation must remember what it owes to its defenders — all of them.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist, The Washington Post, May 22, 2015

May 25, 2015 Posted by | Memorial Day, U. S. Military, War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Indulging The Lunatics On The Right”: What So Many Republicans Do With The Crazies On Their Side

Ask a Republican about the elaborate conspiracy theories that are so popular with many on the far right, and she’s likely to respond that, sure, those people are there, but liberals have their wackos, too. But there is a difference, in not just how far to the center of Republican power the wackos get (consider how many Republican members of Congress still aren’t sure that Barack Obama was born in the United States), but in the way the wackos are treated by the rest of the party. Which brings us to Texas:

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to monitor federal military exercises in Texas after some citizens have lit up the Internet saying the maneuvers are actually the prelude to martial law.

The operation causing rampant suspicions is a new kind of exercise involving elite teams such as the SEALs and Green Berets from four military branches training over several states from July 15 to Sept. 15

Called Jade Helm 15, the exercise is one of the largest training operations done by the military in response to what it calls the evolving nature of warfare. About 1,200 special operations personnel will be involved and move covertly among the public. They will use military equipment to travel between seven Southwestern states from Texas to California.

On Monday, command spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria attended a Bastrop County Commissioners Court meeting to answer community questions and was met with hostile fire. Lastoria, in response to some of the questions from the 150 who attended, sought to dispel fears that foreign fighters from the Islamic State were being brought in or that Texans’ guns would be confiscated, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman.

So in response to the fact that some of Texas’s dumbest citizens emerged from their doomsday prepper shelters long enough to harangue a colonel about their belief that martial law is coming to their state, Governor Abbott issued an order to the National Guard to monitor the movements of the U.S. military just to make sure they aren’t herding citizens into re-education camps or dropping Islamic State infiltrators into Galveston. I guess we’re safe from that, for the moment anyway.

Every politician encounters nutballs from time to time, and it isn’t always easy to figure out how to respond to them. But what’s remarkable about this is that we aren’t talking about an offhand remark Abbott made, or an occasion in which a constituent went on a rant to him and he nodded along to be friendly instead of saying, “You, sir, are out of your mind.” This is an official action the governor is taking. He’s mobilizing state resources, at taxpayer expense, because of a bizarre conspiracy theory that has some of Texas’s more colorful citizens in its grip.

It’s really hard to keep people from believing outlandish things. But you don’t have to indulge them. And that’s what so many Republicans do with the crazies on their side: They indulge them. Doing so doesn’t reassure them or calm them down, it only convinces them that they were right all along and encourages them to believe the next crazy thing they hear.

So please, Republicans, next time you’re tempted to say that extremism and fantastical thinking are just as prevalent and meaningful on the left as on the right, remember this.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 30, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, U. S. Military | , , , , , | 3 Comments

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