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“One Twisted Sister”: Wingnuts’ War On The Troops, The Ugly Lesson Of Bowe Bergdahl And Sarah Palin

After nearly five years, Bowe Bergdahl, a 28-year-old Idahoan and the last remaining American POW in Afghanistan, is finally coming home. The Obama administration made the announcement during the weekend, framing the deal that swapped Bergdahl for five Taliban-affiliated Guantánamo Bay prisoners as an example of two U.S. promises: to leave no man behind and to finally, mercifully, and after nearly 13 long years, begin to end the war in Afghanistan. For Bergdahl and his family, the move is a blessing. For those who doubt the administration’s commitment to ending the war, it is a reassurance. And for the loudest members of the far right, it is a mistake, a capitulation, a disgrace.

Their argument, in brief: By agreeing to trade prisoners of war with the Taliban, Obama made the U.S. look — what else? — weak. “You blew it again, Barack Obama, by negotiating away any leverage against the bad guys,” wrote the perpetually enraged Sarah Palin on her Facebook page. The deal, argued Palin, had “destroyed troop morale” while causing “Osama Bin Laden’s partners in evil crime” to “joyfully celebrate.” What really infuriated the half-term governor and former vice presidential candidate, though, wasn’t so much Obama’s actions as Bergdahl’s. The price the administration paid for liberating him, Palin intimated, was simply too high. He didn’t deserve it. How come? Because he expressed “horrid anti-American beliefs” and deserted his fellow soldiers prior to his capture.

As you might expect from any Palin story, there are some issues. For one, whether Bergdahl found himself under Taliban control because of bad luck, as the administration claims, or because he decided to abandon his post is up for debate. (And keep in mind that, even if he had deserted, that hardly makes it ethical for the government to abandon him to his captors.) For another, Palin’s note about the deal lacks some crucial information — like the fact that the men released from Guantánamo will have to spend at least a year in Qatar, or that the U.S.’s impending cessation of the war in Afghanistan would necessitate the release of the Gitmo detainees anyway. But for all it lacked in terms of responding to this relatively simple news story in an informed, accurate and insightful way, Palin’s angry Facebook missive was great in one respect: It was a perfect example of what happens when soldiers refuse to live up to the far right’s fantasies.

We’re all familiar with how conservatives — but especially extreme ones like Palin — deify, romanticize and claim ownership of the men and women in the armed forces. We all remember the 2004 Republican National Convention, when President Bush all but dusted off that iconic green “Mission Impossible” flight suit in order to portray himself and his party as the sole guardians and stewards of the military. We all remember the countless times during the Bush years when a Republican or a conservative would ask an antiwar Democrat or liberal why they so hate the troops. We expect to see right-wingers genuflect before the Platonic ideal of an American warrior. We expect to hear more stories about Marine Todd.

Less understood is that when a member of the military fails to adhere to the far right’s rigid formula of what a soldier should be (nationalistic, religious, obedient; conservative) right-wingers like Palin come down on them like a ton of bricks. Where they once were heroes of almost mythic proportion, now they become charlatans — or maybe even traitors. During these moments, the far right’s hatred for the apostate soldier can only be understood if it’s recognized as a mirror image of their usual reverence. It’s not just that Sarah Palin is disappointed with Bergdahl for loathing the war in Afghanistan so much that he was “ashamed to be an American”; it’s that she now considers Bergdahl to be someone who is worth so little that the president’s acting to secure his life and liberty is, effectively, an insult to the rest. You know that old truism that nothing can turn to hate as quickly as love? This is what that looks like in politics.

It’s not just Bergdahl and Palin, either. Think about how much the far right loathes John Kerry, how ruthless and vitriolic was its campaign to discredit him in 2004. That had much to do with base tribalism, of course; Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president and thus, to some degree, inevitably the temporary locus of all evil. But it also had much to do with the fact that Kerry first made a name for himself as perhaps the ultimate apostate soldier of the modern era, the man who showed that you didn’t have to be a draft-dodging longhair to consider the war in Vietnam a sinful mistake. John Kerry was a soldier, a decorated soldier, and yet he didn’t consider (the draft-dodging) John Wayne the exemplar of American virtue. His comeuppance for that transgression was a long time coming, but when it came, it was, even for politics, remarkably nasty.

But if you think this might all have more to do with partisan politics and believe, perhaps, that the far right’s hatred for Bergdahl and Kerry says more about the current president and secretary of state than anything else, there are plenty of other, less prominent examples. There’s the veteran who was publicly accosted by gun fetishists for having the audacity to be a military man who nevertheless thinks there’s a right and a wrong way to own a gun. There’s the soldier who failed to live up to the far right’s definition of warrior sexuality and was booed in response. There are the parents and brother of Pat Tillman who, once they stopped being useful props for a story of noble martial sacrifice and started asking justifiably angry questions, transformed into “graceless” and clueless pawns of anti-American filmmakers. There’s Cindy Sheehan.

Taken together, the far right’s dehumanization of the American soldier is clear. If he or she is willing to promote the Sarah Palin version of patriotism, honor and masculinity (or at least allow themselves to be used for that purpose), they are not human beings but rather legends and gods. And if they refuse, they lose their humanity once more, now becoming contemptible beyond all measure. Either way, they are not individuals — complex and mysterious and sacred — but rather means to an end that is, fundamentally, about their self-styled defenders’ ideological satisfaction. This, it seems to me, is an exceedingly twisted way to support our troops.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | POW's, Sarah Palin, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Fake Political Outrage Is The Real V.A. Scandal”: Voters Should Blame Hypocrites And Deficit Hawks In Washington

Since the Afghanistan war began in 2001, over 2,700 veterans have taken their own lives. Data from the Department of Veterans Affairs showed that in 2010 alone, 22 veterans committed suicide each day — that’s another wounded warrior gone every 65 minutes. Luckily for Army Reserve veteran Kye Hardy of Ashland, Kentucky, who served for a year in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, none of the soldiers he fought alongside have taken that drastic step yet.

“I was lucky to join a unit of men who knew how to keep younger veteran soldiers safe even after coming home,” Hardy said. “I don’t go a week without calling or receiving a call from someone I deployed with just to chat for a bit.”

Hardy, an E-4 specialist, is diagnosed with muscle damage and potential spinal damage, and qualifies for VA services. However, the years-long backlog has kept him from applying, as he wants those with more serious injuries to get the treatment they’ve been waiting for rather than adding to the backlog. Hardy doesn’t believe politicians’ outrage over the VA backlog is genuine. Rather than the resignation of top VA officials like the recent exit of General Shinseki and a continued top-down bureaucratic structure, Hardy instead wants to see a more community-based, veteran-led approach to VA services.

“Wounded warriors who are on disability for the remainder of their lives oftentimes have serious trouble readjusting to civilian life,” Hardy said. “[They] seem to improve when they’re communicating with other veterans.”

However, the Republicans feigning the most concern for veterans are the ones most at fault for the crisis in veterans’ health care. Paul Ryan, author of three separate GOP-approved budget plans that severely cut VA services, has made no bones about his plans to privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher system. He’s also called for changes in VA services that would cut off care for 1.3 million vets. Outrage over the VA scandal could also be manipulated by Ryan and his ilk to force a similar privatization over veterans’ health care.

The extreme rightists who control the House of Representatives don’t want to privatize the VA to help veterans – if the Republican majority truly cared about veterans, they wouldn’t have repeatedly voted against bills providing jobs, homes, and health care to veterans and their families. The budget deal that Ryan and Senator Patty Murray approved last year cut veterans’ pensions by $6 billion. The GOP actually wants to see the VA fail to score more political points.

By continuously cutting VA services, the far-right wants to reinforce their anti-government narrative by cementing the idea into people’s heads that government is bloated and inefficient, and that private companies unaccountable to voters should seize control of public assets. This is why GOP leaders in Congress don’t seem to mind that the approval rating of Congress has slipped consistently in the polls – they’re counting on voters to blame the president and his party in the months before the next Congressional elections. They’re also counting on voters to grow increasingly mistrustful of government and public services in general.

When Republicans held the White House between 2000 and 2008, they demanded that everyone stand with the troops that they sent overseas to fight a costly war waged on false premises. As President Bush stated, Americans could either stand with the president and his war or be considered sympathizers with the enemy. But now that troops have left Iraq and are soon to be leaving Afghanistan, veterans coming home with multiple physical and mental health issues have been left by the Republican-led House and a relentlessly-filibustering Senate minority to fend for themselves. It’s similar to the GOP’s belief in fighting for children while they’re still growing fetuses in a womb, but cutting off their Medicaid, WIC, and food stamps once they’re born. They’re pro-war, but anti-vets. They’re pro-life, but anti-children.

The American public must not allow themselves to be fooled by the GOP’s blustering over the VA backlog. It’s certainly a tragedy that 40 vets died while waiting for health care in Phoenix, but instead of blaming overworked and underpaid medical staff and an administration dealing with an uncooperative Congress that’s trying its best to make the government fail the people, voters should blame hypocrites and deficit hawks in Washington who have allowed a longtime crisis to turn into a scandal. When someone runs for office on a platform of cutting government services to pieces, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that government services under their leadership have been cut to pieces.

 

By: Carl Gibson, The Huffington Post Blog, June 2, 2014; (This article originally appeared on Reader Supported News.)

June 3, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Truly Something To Behold”: Republicans War-Monger, Then Complain When We’re Overwhelmed By Sick Vets

It took very little time at all for reports of falsified records covering up delays at a Veterans Administration hospital in Phoenix to balloon into just another who’s up-who’s down Washington political story. From the New York Timesfront-page article today declaring in its headline that the “V.A. Accusations Aggravate Woes for White House”:

Republican lawmakers intensified their criticism of Mr. Obama, and some made it clear they intended to use the incidents at the hospitals as fodder for a broader political theme about incompetence in his administration.

“The election of President Obama ushered in a new era of big government and with it a renewed flurry of mismanagement,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican whip, said in a statement. “If the president truly did not know about these scandals and mistakes, we should doubt his ability to properly manage the leviathan government that he helped create.”

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 Republican in the House, told reporters on Tuesday that Mr. Obama had not acted swiftly enough. He added that “it is time for our president to come forward and take responsibility for this and do the right thing by these veterans and begin to show that he actually cares about getting it straight.”

Meanwhile, after Obama addressed the Phoenix scandal at the White House this morning, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell huffed, “Unfortunately [we] have yet to hear” Obama treating the “VA crisis with the seriousness it deserves.”

The hypocrisy on view here is truly something to behold. If V.A. employees in Phoenix, or anywhere else, were engaged in fraud and cover-up of the sort that is being alleged, that is a travesty and heads will have to roll, as one already has. And it’s fair to ask, as we did with the bungled rollout of healthcare.gov, why the White House hasn’t paid more attention to the nuts and bolt functioning of the federal bureaucracy. But for Republicans to expand the scandal into a broader indictment of Obama’s overall handling of veterans affairs means overlooking some relevant context.

For starters, there is the matter of funding. If there’s been one side pushing for greater resources for the Veterans Administration in the age of austerity these past five years, it hasn’t been the Republicans. It was the much-maligned economic stimulus package of 2009 that included $1 billion for the V.A. While the V.A. itself was protected from the budget sequestration that Republicans fought to keep in place last year, many other veterans programs—providing mental health services and housing, among other things—were hit hard by the sequestration cuts. And when the Senate was poised to pass a $24 billion bill for federal healthcare an education programs for veterans three months ago, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, blocked it in a filibuster, saying the bill would bust the budget and complaining that Senate Democrats had refused to allow an amendment on Iran sanctions to be attached to the bill.

But there is a whole other level of context to consider here as well. There is a pretty basic reason for backlogs at V.A. facilities and in the disability claims process, the other ongoing V.A. mess. Put simply: when you go to war, you get more wounded veterans, and in a country without a universal health care system, they are all funneled into this one agency with limited capacity. Every one of the Republican leaders quoted above attacking Obama for the V.A. backlogs strongly supported launching the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in nearly 7,000 fatalities and a huge surge in medical needs and disability claims. Nearly one-half of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have filed claims for permanent disability compensation. These claims need to be assessed for their validity, just as we attempt to do with claims for other programs, such as Social Security disability, unless we want to simply throw open the doors on a compensation program that is already expected to cost close to a trillion dollars for Iraq and Afghanistan vets. Making the assessment all the more challenging is the nature of the disability claims being made. Awarding disability status for a missing limb is easy. Harder are the much larger numbers of claims for traumatic brain injury caused by the IED explosions that were the greatest threat to our service members in these two wars of occupation. Consider this graph:

Something, it appears, happened around 2003 that caused the rate of traumatic brain injuries in the U.S. military to spike. Now what could that have been? Whatever it was, it happened while Barack Obama was in the Illinois state Senate, giving an obscure speech against invading Iraq. He is now having to reckon with the fallout from that event, as is his responsibility to do as commander in chief. But you’d think that those who had actually played a part in bringing about that event would have enough self-awareness to resist scoring political points off of the years-later fallout. Apparently, though, even that is too much to ask.

 

By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, May 21, 2014

May 22, 2014 Posted by | Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Feebled Minds”: Attention Donald Rumsfeld, Barack Obama Has Been President for 4 Years

The former defense secretary says he prefers Mitt Romney because the Republican has more executive experience. Did he miss the top line on Obama’s resume?

Appearing on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, Donald Rumsfeld made two comments of note about President Obama and the upcoming election.

HUGH HEWITT: You’ve been involved in government for a long time, Mr. Secretary. Is President Obama the weakest president of your lifetime?

DONALD RUMSFELD: He may very well be. I suppose the other one that stands out is President Jimmy Carter as a person who had a somewhat different attitude about America and its role in the world, and felt that we needed to kind of be in decline and withdrawal, and not contribute to the peace and stability that exists in the world.

What’s striking here is the emphasis on the alleged attitudes and feelings of Carter and Obama. It would be easy enough to cite actions that they took or policies that they implemented, and to say, “This hastened America’s decline,” or “That did not contribute to peace or stability.” Instead Rumsfeld plays armchair psychologist, guessing at inner thoughts that none of us can know, and that contradict the avowed motivations of the two men he is discussing.

Note too that Rumsfeld served under a president on whose watch Al Qaeda successfully attacked us, and who launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And here he is complaining that the Obama Administration’s policies “do not contribute to the peace and stability that exists in the world.” Is Rumsfeld suggesting that he was prioritizing “peace and stability” as defense secretary?

But it’s actually this second exchange that most seriously calls into question Rumsfeld’s analysis.

HUGH HEWITT: And a last question, what do you make of Mitt Romney’s qualifications to be president?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, I must say, I do feel that a person who’s been in an executive position has an advantage. A lot of legislators run for the presidency and for governor positions, and I think someone who has that background of having to be an executive would come into that office with a head start. I would add that I think that it is, I’m told, I’ve read articles, I assume they’re correct, to the effect that today in the White House, we have the smallest percentage of people who have any background in business whatsoever. And I think that people who think that this country is about government are wrong.

I think this country is about the private sector. It’s about risk taking and investment and initiative, and industriousness and the values that built this country. And I think someone who’s been in business, as Governor Romney has, brings to it that nice mixture of executive experience and government as well as a business background, which is a stark contrast to a community organizer, and a person who served in the United States Senate for about fifteen minutes. (emphasis added)

Yes, aside from the four years Obama has spent as commander in chief and head of the executive branch, what possible experience does he have that would prepare him to be commander in chief and head of the executive branch? Rumsfeld’s analysis would make a lot of sense if it were 2008, and Romney was running against Senator Obama. In 2012, if you think the person with more experience relevant to the presidency should win the election, it’s bizarre to conclude that the candidate who has never actually been president is that more experienced person.

By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, June 5, 2012

June 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Turning The Page”: Obama’s Winning Strategy On Foreign Policy

We expect some hypocrisy in politics, but it was still jaw-dropping to behold Republicans accusing President Obama of politicizing the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Wasn’t it just eight years ago that the GOP organized an entire presidential campaign — including the choreography of its 2004 national convention — around the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and George W. Bush’s response to them?

Obama’s opponents don’t just think we have short attention spans. They imagine we have no memories whatsoever.

Yet very quickly, Mitt Romney and the rest of his party began slinking away from their offensive. It’s true, of course, that Obama played the ultimate presidential trump card. He visited our troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday, the anniversary of the bin Laden raid, and, with military vehicles serving as a rough-hewn backdrop, addressed the nation from the scene of our longest war.

But the GOP retreat reflected something else as well. For the first time since the early 1960s, the Republican Party enters a presidential campaign at a decided disadvantage on foreign policy. Republicans find it hard to get accustomed to the fact that when they pull their favorite political levers — accusations that Democrats are “weak” or Romney’s persistent and false claims that Obama “apologizes” for America — nothing happens.

The polls could hardly be clearer. In early April, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 53 percent of Americans trusted Obama over Romney to handle international affairs. Only 36 percent trusted Romney more. On a list of 12 matters that a president would deal with, Obama enjoyed a larger advantage on only one other question, the handling of women’s issues. And on coping with terrorism, the topic on which Republicans once enjoyed a near-monopoly, Obama led Romney by seven points.

How did this happen? The primary reason, to borrow a term from science, is negative signaling: By the end of Bush’s second term, the Republicans’ approach to foreign policy was discredited in the eyes of a majority of Americans. The war in Iraq turned out (and this is being quite charitable) much differently than the Bush administration had predicted.

It is always worth recalling Vice President Dick Cheney’s interview with Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on March 16, 2003. Among other things, Cheney famously declared that “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.” And when Russert asked whether “we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there” in Iraq “for several years in order to maintain stability,” Cheney replied, “I disagree,” insisting: “That’s an overstatement.”

It was not an overstatement.

More generally, Americans came to see that the war in Iraq had nothing to do with what they cared most about, which was protecting the United States against another terrorist attack. Indeed, the war in Afghanistan, which was a direct response to 9/11, was pushed aside as a priority. At one point, Bush declared of bin Laden: “I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him . . . to be honest with you.”

And this is where negative signaling turns into a positive assessment of Obama. He understood the importance of bin Laden. He addressed the broad and sensible public desire to get our troops out of Iraq. He focused on how to get a moderately satisfactory result in Afghanistan — which is probably the very best that the United States can do now.

The Afghan policy Obama announced Tuesday reflected the president’s innate caution. He wants to withdraw our troops but not so fast as to increase the level of chaos in the country. He imagines a longer engagement with Afghanistan because he does not want to repeat the West’s mistake of disengaging too quickly after U.S. arms helped the mujahedeen defeat the Soviet Union there in the 1980s.

Public opinion is on the side of getting out sooner. But most Americans are likely to accept the underlying rationale for Obama’s policy because it is built not on grand plans to remake a region but on the narrower and more realistic goal of preventing terror groups from regaining a foothold in the country.

And that’s why Republicans finally seem to realize that driving foreign policy out of the campaign altogether is their best option. After a decade of war, Americans prefer prudence over bluster and careful claims over expansive promises. On foreign policy, Obama has kept his 2008 promise to turn history’s page. The nation is in no mood to turn it back.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 2, 2012

May 3, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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