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“Never As Consistently Anti-Intervention As Advertised”: Vetting Bernie: He Never Voted For Intervention In Iraq — Except Twice

The only topic that preoccupies Bernie Sanders more than income inequality is his vote against authorization of war in Iraq, which he mentions at every debate and whenever anyone questions his foreign policy credentials. Fair enough: Sanders turned out to be right on that vote and Hillary Clinton has admitted that she was wrong to trust George W. Bush.

But the socialist Vermont senator is under fresh scrutiny today on the (further) left, where his support for intervention in Bosnia and Afghanistan has raised sharp questions. In Counter-Punch, the online magazine founded by the late Alexander Cockburn, his longtime collaborator Jeffrey St. Clair complains that even on Iraq, Sanders is a “hypocrite” who was never as consistently anti-intervention as advertised:

In 1998 Sanders voted in favor of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which said: “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”

Later that same year, Sanders also backed a resolution that stated: “Congress reaffirms that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic  government to replace that regime.”

According to St. Clair, Sanders has dismissed those votes as “almost unanimous,” but that implies an absurdly elastic definition of the term. Looking up the actual vote, St. Clair found that 38 members of varying ideology and party affiliation voted no. To him, this means Sanders should be held responsible for the bombing campaign that followed, as well as the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children who allegedly perished as a result of US sanctions (which seems to absolve the late dictator of any culpability for the sanctions regime, but never mind).

Certainly it is fair to ask Sanders — who strives to distance himself from his rival on foreign and security policy – why he cast those fateful votes to support Bill Clinton’s Iraq policy in 1998.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Foreign Policy, Iraq War | , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

“Agent Of (Message) Change”: Hillary Clinton Went After Bernie Sanders’ Strengths In New Hampshire

Would it be impolitic (this being a Democratic debate and all) to say that Hillary Clinton came out with guns blazing? She may be on course to a Granite State thrashing, but she showed up at the University of New Hampshire loaded for Bern.

She tempered a broad hug of Sanders’ liberalism (“We have a vigorous agreement here,” she said at one point when discussing financial reform) with the assertion that she is better positioned to advance that agenda.

Beyond that, go through the issues that have animated the Democratic race recently or are central to the Sanders case: Is he running a more inspiring campaign? Only because it’s a more fantastical one: “Let’s go down a path where we can actually tell people what we will do,” she said. “A progressive is someone who makes progress.” (That’s better phraseology, by the way, than the “progressive with results” formulation she had been using, which sounded like a rip-off of George W. Bush’s “reformer with results” message from 2000.)

And is she indeed a real progressive? She had a whole soliloquy prepared in answer: “I have heard Senator Sanders’ comments, and it’s really caused me to wonder who is left in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” Clinton said. “Under his definition, President Obama is not progressive because he took donations from Wall Street.” Ditto Joe Biden (Keystone XL) and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota (Defense of Marriage Act). Then a pivot to Sanders’ progressive weak underbelly: “I don’t think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady [gun control] bill five times.”

Bonus points to moderator Chuck Todd for pressing Sanders on whether President Barack Obama is a progressive; the Vermonter’s answer seemed to be that Obama is progressive despite failing some litmus tests because he’s actually made progress. (Which is rather like the argument that Clinton is making.)

Is she in the establishment? Hell no – she’s a woman running for president which by definition means she’s not establishment. This answer was glib if, as Ezra Klein noted, nonsensical:

If Clinton is not part of the establishment than there is no such thing as the establishment. And there is such a thing as the establishment

— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) February 5, 2016

Is she part of the corporate-money-corruption problem that is central to Sanders’ political message? That’s a “very artful smear,” an “insinuation unworthy” of the Vermont progressive, she fumed.

Did she vote for the Iraq War while he voted against it? “We did differ,” she said. “A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat [the Islamic State group].”

Indeed foreign policy was easily Sanders’ weakest portion of the evening. A question about Afghanistan sent him on a verbal tour through Syria, Iraq, Jordan and the battle with the Islamic State group, prompting Todd to follow up: “Can you address a question on Afghanistan?”

Saying we need allies is not foreign policy. Example: We can’t get Sunni allies w/o taking on Iran. What does Sanders suggest?

— Walter Russell Mead (@wrmead) February 5, 2016

I hated the Iraq War as much as anyone, but “I made the right call on a vote 13 years ago” is really not a foreign policy vision for now.

— Paul Waldman (@paulwaldman1) February 5, 2016

If there’s one takeaway from this debate it is that Sanders is woefully unprepared, on foreign policy, to be president

— Michael Cohen (@speechboy71) February 5, 2016

For his part Sanders was standard-operating-Bernie. It’s a compelling message but it’s limited and he did little to address the arguments against it. Take the entirety of his agenda: How will he get something passed? “No, you just can’t negotiate with [Senate Republican Leader] Mitch McConnell,” Sanders said. “Mitch is gonna have to look out the window and see a whole lot of people saying, ‘Mitch, stop representing the billionaire class. Start listening to working families.'” The revolution will come and Mitch McConnell will cave.

Sanders believes a sufficiently large crowd outside McConnell’s window would make him support campaign finance reform. I do not.

— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) February 5, 2016

Chait’s right; Sanders is basing his would-be presidency on the kind of tea party thinking that informed Ted Cruz and the shutdown crew. And it won’t work any better for the left than it did the right.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, Managing Editor for Opinion, U.S. News & World Report, February 5, 2016

February 8, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Republicans Have No Sense Of Recent History”: President Obama’s Critics Demand He Be More Like George W. Bush

Today President Obama made another public statement about how his administration is trying to take down ISIS, and I can promise you one thing: his critics will not be satisfied. That’s because a new question has emerged, one that anyone with any sense of recent history ought to be shocked to hear: Why can’t Barack Obama be more like George W. Bush?

Here’s part of what Obama said today:

Let me remind the American people of what our coalition of some 65 nations is doing to destroy these terrorists and defeat their ideology. So far our military and our partners have conducted more than 8,000 airstrikes on ISIL strongholds and equipment. Those airstrikes along with the efforts of our partners on the ground have taken out key leaders, have taken back territory from ISIL in both Iraq and Syria. We continue to work to choke off their financing and their supply lines, and counter their recruiting and their messaging…So we’re stepping up the pressure on ISIL where it lives, and we will not let up, adjusting our tactics when necessary, until they are beaten…

The bottom line is this: I want the American people to know, entering the holidays, that the combined resources of our military, our intelligence, and our homeland security agencies are on the case. They’re vigilant, relentless, and effective…While the threat of terrorism is a troubling reality of our age, we are both equipped to prevent attacks and we are resilient in the face of those who would try to do us harm. And that’s something we can all be thankful for.

You could almost hear Obama’s critics rolling their eyes and saying, “Boo-ring! Where’s the anger, the outrage, the Churchillian resolve?” In recent days, Obama has been getting a lot of criticism in the media not just for the fact that he hasn’t yet vanquished ISIS, but for the quality of his emoting when he talks about terrorism. To cite only one example, here’s what Peggy Noonan said in her critique of Obama’s response to the Paris attacks:

Finally, continued travels through the country show me that people continue to miss Ronald Reagan’s strength and certitude…What people hunger for now from their leaders is an air of shown and felt confidence: I can do this. We can do it.

Who will provide that? Where will it come from? Isn’t it part of what we need in the next president?

There’s been a lot more like this. Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with critiquing the president’s performance qua performance. One of his jobs is to be a communicator, to guide the public through complex and troubling events. But the essence of the current criticism seems to be that Obama needs to do more of what George W. Bush did: tough talk, oversimplifying the challenges we face, and fooling us into thinking that this is all going to be over soon.

Which is curious, to say the least. In the wake of September 11, the news media were flooded with stories about what an extraordinary leader — how masterful and glorious and just short of god-like — Bush had become. All pretense of objectivity was cast aside as reporters rushed to assure us that the previously callow man was transformed by events into precisely the leader all Americans needed. As Newsweek described him in December 2001, “He has been a model of unblinking, eyes-on-the-prize decisiveness…He has been eloquent in public, commanding in private…Where does this optimism, the defiant confidence, come from?…He feels destined to win — and to serve.” That’s the kind of hard-hitting journalism we saw from the liberal media in those days.

But as we would soon find out, standing atop a pile of rubble and promising vengeance made people feel very good in the moment, but weren’t a substitute for taking wise actions. Bush got us into two wars whose effects we’re still feeling, with nearly seven thousand American service-members dead, a couple of trillion dollars spent, and our goals in both Iraq and Afghanistan still unfulfilled over a decade later.

So you might think that experience would help contextualize what’s happening right now. Of all the things you can criticize Obama for, it seems odd to focus on his unwillingness to pretend that ISIS is a simple problem that can be easily dispatched with enough resolve.

That, however, is exactly what the candidates say. But if you’re been looking for a realistic plan to deal with ISIS from them, you’ll likely be disappointed. What most of the Republicans have offered is a mix of things the administration is already doing (such as work with our allies in the region!). This includes Hillary Clinton, who hasn’t offered much beyond Obama’s plan, except perhaps for more air strikes and a “no fly” zone.

Meanwhile, some Republican candidates have offered things that have zero relationship to this particular conflict (increase the military budget!), or notions so vaguely worded as to be essentially meaningless (put pressure on Iran!), and utterly unrealistic fantasies. In this last category you find things like Marco Rubio saying: “I would build a multinational coalition of countries willing to send troops into Iraq and Syria to aid local forces on the ground.”

Well, that sounds nice. Who’s in this coalition willing to send their troops into Syria’s civil war? Why haven’t they done it up until now? Is it because they’re just waiting for a leader of Marco Rubio’s stature to ask?

To be fair, multiple candidates have advocated a greater role for U.S. troops — forward air controllers, more special forces troops, the establishment of “safe zones.” But they haven’t grappled with one of the central problems: obliterating ISIS on our own, or even with the limited help our allies are willing to give, would require a large troop presence, essentially another invasion, and then we’d have to stay there indefinitely to secure the peace, probably watching while that invasion creates a whole new generation of anti-American terrorists. In other words, we’d be doing the Iraq War all over again. And it worked out so well the first time.

That’s the thought that has plainly restrained Obama, both in what he’s willing to do in the Middle East and in his willingness to act triumphal about it. You can say his performance on this topic hasn’t reached the emotional heights you’d like. But you can’t say he doesn’t have good reason for being restrained by that thought.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributer, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 25, 2015

November 26, 2015 Posted by | George W Bush, ISIS, National Security, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One-Dimensional Foreign Policy Thinking”: Leon Panetta Is What’s Wrong With D.C.

When Harry Truman apocryphally said, “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog” he might have had someone like Leon Panetta in mind. Not content with letting Republicans pummel his old boss, President Obama’s former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense released a new memoir this week that attacks Obama for “losing his way” on foreign policy, for sending “mixed messages” to allies and enemies alike and for failing to use military force more promiscuously in protecting US interests in the Middle East.

There is more here, however, than just DC-style situational loyalty. In Panetta’s obsessive focus on the politics of national security, his fetishization of military force and his utter lack of strategic vision, what is also evident is the one-dimensional foreign policy thinking that so dominates Washington—and which Panetta has long embodied.

None of this should come as a surprise. When Panetta became CIA director in 2009, he was demonstrably unqualified for the job. He had no background in foreign policy, intelligence or national security. His most apparent and highly-touted skill was that he understood his way around bureaucratic Washington.

At both Langley and the Pentagon he became a forceful advocate for—or, some might say, bureaucratic captive of—the agencies he ran. As CIA Director he pushed back on efforts to expose the agency’s illegal activities during the Bush Administration —in particular, the use of torture (which he had once decried).

At DoD he ran around with his hair practically on fire denouncing cuts to the defense budget in out-sized, apocalyptic terms. The “catastrophic,” “draconian” cuts would initiate a “doomsday mechanism” and “invite aggression,” he claimed and always without specific examples. Ironically, when Panetta was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early 1990s, he took the exact opposite position and pushed for huge cuts to the defense budget.

For Panetta, principles appear to be determined by wherever he happens to be sitting at any given moment.

However, his irresponsible threat-mongering and his constant stream of gaffes and misstatements (like the claim that the US was in Iraq because of 9/11 and that the war was worth it) masked a stunningly narrow and parochial foreign policy vision. It wasn’t just that Panetta was saying crazy things. As his new memoir shows, he apparently believed them.

Take, for example, Panetta’s now oft-repeated position on troop withdrawals from Iraq in 2011, a move that as Secretary of Defense he praised but now three years later labels a failure. While Panetta acknowledges that the adamant refusal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to maintain a troop presence in Iraq was a key impediment, he has a brilliant after-the-fact solution: the US should have just turned up the heat on Maliki.

According to Panetta, the US could have simply said that we would withdraw both reconstruction and military aid to Iraq until Maliki bent to America’s will. That Panetta thinks that threatening and demeaning the Iraqi leader was a worthy step to make in order to maintain a US force that the Iraqis clearly didn’t want is remarkably short-sighted. Panetta seems utterly uninterested in the question of what happens if Maliki called the US bluff or, if he said yes, how would that affect the long-term relationship between the US and Iraq. For Panetta, the only thing that mattered in 2011 was maintaining a residual US military force in the country, which he says—without much in the way of evidence—would have helped prevent the rise of ISIS.

Panetta is fond of such retrospective certainty. He asserts that if the US had backed Syrian rebels militarily it would have built up a moderate counter-weight to ISIS. He also labels the president’s failure to use force against Syria when it crossed Obama’s “redline” and used chemical weapons against his own people a damaging “blow to American credibility.” According to Panetta, “the power of the United States rests on its word, and clear signals are important both to deter adventurism and to reassure allies that we can be counted on.” The implication is that if the US had merely bombed Assad, those clear signals would have been sent and received by enemies and allies alike.

Of less concern to Panetta are not only the potential negative consequences from using force but also the actual diplomatic agreement negotiated by the US to completely destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons. While he gives a perfunctory nod to this “important accomplishment” in his memoir, he complains that “hesitation and half-steps have consequences.”

As for what those specific consequences are, other than vague platitudes about credibility and signals: your guess is as good as mine. For Panetta, the act of using force is seemingly more important than the actual tangible result achieved by using force.

Nowhere is this mindset of war as a presentational tool more evident than Panetta’s discussion of the 2009 surge in Afghanistan. While Panetta says the focus on the Taliban, rather than al Qaeda, was misplaced and he complains that the military actively tried to box in Obama on troop levels … he says that there was no reason for the decision on the surge to have taken so long.

“For him to defy his military advisers on a matter so central to the success of his foreign policy and so early in his presidency would have represented an almost impossible risk,” says Panetta. Translation: the surge was a bad idea, but the politics of national security demanded that Obama send American troops to fight a war that Panetta in his memoir calls “not a ringing success.”

Ironically, in his public appearances Panetta has been forcefully stating that a commander-in-chief must keep all options on the table—an implicit criticism of Obama’s refusal to put troops on the ground to fight ISIS. But in Afghanistan, the one option that Panetta appears to believe we should not have had on the table was defying the military and not surging, which is nothing if not an interesting twist on the principle of civilian control of the military. For Panetta, “all options” means only one thing—use of force.

Here, Panetta could not be more explicit. He says President Obama was a “strong leader on security issues” in his first term and cites as evidence Obama’s support for CIA military operations and the fact that he was “tough on terrorism.”

Now, however, Panetta believes that the president has “lost his way” because since then because he’s shown greater “ambivalence” about using military force. If Obama is willing to “roll up his sleeves” on ISIS he can restore that strong legacy. For Panetta, might always equals right.

Panetta likes to present himself an “honest,” “straight-talking,” aw-shucks kind of guy—the son of Italian immigrants who has lived the American Dream. But in reality he is the quintessential example of how Washington corrupts. Principles are conditional and where you sit is where you stand; politics trumps policy, even bad policy that puts American lives at risk; military force is a magic elixir not only in solving international problems but in burnishing one’s public image (though it appears for Panetta that this mainly applies to Democrats); it’s also the most important criteria in how you judge a president’s national security decision-making and his or her requisite strength.

During a recent interview on CNN, Panetta took a break from bashing the president who appointed him to two Cabinet offices to offer one of those platitudes that long-time DC denizens love to state without a moment of introspection. “Logic doesn’t work in Washington,” he said.

You can say that again.

 

By: Michael Cohen, The Daily Beast, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Leon Panetta, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where She Always Was”: Everyone Suddenly Remembers That Hillary Clinton Is A Foreign Policy Hawk

There are few things the political press loves more than an intra-party squabble, so it wasn’t surprising that when Hillary Clinton gave an interview to The Atlantic about foreign policy that offered something less than fulsome support for everything Barack Obama has done, it got characterized as a stinging rebuke. The Post’s Chris Cillizza described her “slamming” Obama. The New York Times said the “veneer of unity…shattered.” “Hillary slams Obama for ‘stupid’ foreign policy,” said an absurdly misleading New York Post headline (she never called anything Obama did “stupid”).

If you actually read the interview, you’ll see that Clinton actually didn’t “slam” Obama (even Jeffrey Goldberg, who conducted the interview, overstates the disagreement in his report on it). She was careful not to explicitly criticize the administration, even when she was articulating positions that differed from what Barack Obama might believe. But there were clear indications that Clinton will be staking out a more hawkish foreign policy than the president she served as Secretary of State, on issues like Iran and Syria.

That isn’t because of some cynical calculation, or because she wants to “distance” herself from a president whose popularity is currently mediocre at best. It’s because that’s what she sincerely believes. If people didn’t have such short memories, they wouldn’t be surprised by it. Hillary Clinton has always been a liberal on social and economic issues, but much more of a moderate (or even a conservative) when it comes to foreign policy.

From the moment Clinton began forging her own distinct political identity in her run for Senate in 2000, it was clear she was a hawk on foreign affairs and defense, placing herself in the right-leaning half of the Democratic party. She wasn’t looking to slash military spending or avoid foreign interventions. Look at how the National Journal ranked her on foreign affairs during her time in the Senate (the NJ rankings are idiosyncratic, but they have the benefit of examining foreign affairs distinct from other issues):

  • 2001: 28th most liberal senator
  • 2002: 28th most liberal
  • 2003: 15th most liberal
  • 2004: 42nd most liberal
  • 2005: 30th most liberal
  • 2006: 36th most liberal
  • 2007: 19th most liberal
  • 2008: 40th most liberal

When Clinton ran for president in 2008, the primary issue distinction between her and Barack Obama was that she had supported the Iraq War, while he had opposed it. There was no issue that made more of a difference in the primaries. Even as Secretary of State, while carrying out the President’s policies, in private she counseled more aggressive moves. As Michael Crowley wrote in January, “As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action.”

As we move toward the campaign, it’s likely that liberals are going to start finding reasons to be displeased with Clinton on foreign policy. In the Atlantic interview, for instance, they discuss the Gaza situation at some length, and she practically sounds like a spokesperson for the Netanyahu government, putting all the blame for the conflict and all the casualties squarely on Hamas, while refusing repeated opportunities to say Israel has done anything wrong at all.

Over the next two years there will probably be more situations in which Clinton winds up to the right of the median Democratic voter. That would be more of a political problem if she had a strong primary opponent positioned to her left who could provide a vehicle for whatever dissatisfaction the Democratic base might be feeling. But at the moment, there is no such opponent. Her dominance of the field may give her more latitude on foreign affairs — not to move to the right, but to be where she always was. Neither Democrats nor anyone else can say they didn’t see it coming.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 12, 2014

August 13, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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