mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“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

Speaking In Secret Code”: Romney’s Love Letter To The Israeli Right Wing

Usually Mitt Romney’s problem, as we saw in London, is that he says something obnoxious. But on Friday, to the right-wing Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, owned by Las Vegas mogul Sheldon Adelson, he said something that simply made no sense, about George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and the Arab Spring. Check that: it made no sense unless you keep up with the tergiversations and vanishing-commissar new versions of history propounded by the neocons and duly followed by Romney. Once again, Herr Mittens proves that there are times when he emphatically does not misspeak—when he’s sucking up to the right.

Israel Hayom asked Romney: “How do you view the Arab Spring and the way in which the U.S. responded to the uprisings in those Arab states?” Romney’s reply has to be reprinted in full to be savored properly: “Clearly we’re disappointed in seeing Tunisia and Morocco elect Islamist governments. We’re very concerned in seeing the new leader in Egypt as an Islamist leader. It is our hope to move these nations toward a more modern view of the world and to not present a threat to their neighbors and to the other nations of the world.

“The Arab Spring is not appropriately named. It has become a development of more concern and it occurred in part because of the reluctance on the part of various dictators to provide more freedom to their citizens. President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner.”

What does this even mean? If this reads to you like some kind of sign language or secret code, you aren’t far off the mark. Romney is speaking a kind of code. As Daniel Larison points out in The American Conservative, what Romney is trying to do is finesse his way around the two phases of the Arab Spring.

There was a time, see, when the Arab Spring was a good thing to the neocons. That it was happening at all was solely a reflection of Bush’s courageous “freedom agenda” and had nothing to do with anything done by Obama, even though it was all happening on Obama’s watch. That was in the early phase, the hopeful, Tahrir Square-centered, throwing-off-the-yoke-of-oppression phase.

But then the Arab Spring mutated into phase two, the democracy phase, when people started voting and, damn them, started voting fundamentalists into office. Suddenly, the Arab Spring wasn’t a glorious manifestation of the freedom agenda. Now it was a dark turn toward a pan-Muslim hegemony that was to be pinned, naturally, on the Muslim in chief in the White House.

So that explains part of Romney’s answer. The other part requires a leap of faith across some vast Grand Canyon of statecraft. So let’s get this straight: if Obama had continued Bush’s agenda, Romney’s saying, then Mubarak would have felt pressured to give more freedom to his citizens—so we’d have a freer Egypt, but with Mubarak still in charge. Um…sure. Just like he did when Bush was pressuring him, and he did almost nothing, a few fig-leaf local elections that meant little.

In its way, it’s kind of elegant. Romney manages to speak highly and sorrowfully of the freedom agenda, and thus to praise Bush. He disparages Obama. And—and here’s the real key to this puzzle—he signals to right-wing readers of this interview in Israel that we’d all be better off if the whole thing had never happened and Mubarak were still in power, closing off those tunnels in Gaza, never mind how full his jails were of his own people. That was his narrow intent—to speak to a conservative Israeli readership, and, who knows, perhaps Adelson himself.

More broadly, Romney’s remarks betray an odd attitude toward history. First of all, it is worth remembering that Bush’s freedom agenda involved, you know, a war in which tens of thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands more turned into refugees. But second, would Romney really rather the Arab Spring never happened? Yes, we’ll go through a period in which fundamentalist parties will prevail, but those parties will have to improve the lot of the citizens or they will, we hope, be held accountable. It’s a regrettable but inevitable phase of the process, and the region has to pass through it, no matter who the American president is and what kind of speeches about freedom he gives.

In other words, democracy for Arab people is OK, maybe, provided American liberals and Democrats don’t get any credit for helping the cause along, and most of all provided the democratization process causes the Israeli right wing no discomfort. Both conditions, especially the second, render the whole project a nullity.

It certainly and quite directly raises the question of how a President Romney would have positioned the United States during the Tahrir Square uprising. With the batphone to his great pal Bibi beeping and blinking nonstop, would Romney in essence have backed Mubarak? Would he have placed the United States against those striving people in the street because however many months later, they were likely to vote the wrong way?

Romney may not know what he’s saying when the topic is Britons’ collective will or “varmint” hunting or the quality of cookies served by working-class Pennsylvanians. But he knew exactly what he was saying in that interview, and the results are sadder to contemplate than his famous errors.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 28, 2012

July 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Rising Gas Prices Could Backfire On The GOP In November

Eight months before the fall elections, Republican strategists are in a dour mood.

-The economy has begun to gain traction.

-Their leading candidate for president, Mitt Romney, is universally viewed as an uninspiring poster child for the one percent, with no core values anyone can point to except his own desire to be elected.

-Every time Romney tries to “identify” with ordinary people he says something entirely inappropriate about his wife’s “two Cadillacs,” how much he likes to fire people who provide him services, or how he is a buddy with the people who own NASCAR teams rather than the people who watch them.

-The polls show that the more people learn about Romney, the less they like him. The Republican primary road show doesn’t appear to be coming to a close any time soon.

-Together, Bob Kerrey’s announcement that he will get into the Senate contest in Nebraska and the news that Olympia Snowe is retiring from the Senate in Maine, massively increase Democratic odds of holding onto the control of the Senate.

-The Congress is viewed positively by fewer voters than at any time in modern history — and two-thirds think the Republicans are completely in charge.

-Worse yet, the polling in most presidential battleground states currently gives President Obama leads over Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

The one thing Republican political pros are cheering right now is the rapidly increasing price of gas at the pump and the underlying cost of oil.

The conventional wisdom holds that if gas prices increase, it will inevitably chip away at support for President Obama — and there is a good case to be made. After all, increased gas prices could siphon billions out of the pockets of consumers that they would otherwise spend on the goods and services that could help continue the economic recovery — which is critical to the president’s re-election.

But Republicans shouldn’t be so quick to lick their chops at the prospect of rising gas prices.

Here’s why:

1). What you see, everybody sees.

The sight of Republicans rooting against America and hoping that rising gas prices will derail the economic recovery is not pretty.

The fact is that Republicans have done everything in their power to block President Obama’s job-creating proposals in Congress, and they were dragged kicking and screaming to support the extension of the president’s payroll tax holiday that was critical to continuing economic momentum.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell actually announced that his caucus’ number one priority this term was the defeat of President Obama. The sight of Republicans salivating at the prospect of $4-plus per gallon gasoline will not sit well with ordinary voters.

2). Democrats have shown that they are more than willing to make the case about who is actually responsible for rising gas prices — and the culprits’ footprints lead right back to the GOP’s front door.

Who is really to blame for higher gas prices?

-The big oil companies that are doing everything they can to keep oil scarce and the price high;

-Speculators that drive up the price in the short run;

-Foreign conflicts, dictators and cartels — that have been important in driving up prices particularly in the last two months;

-The Republicans who prevent the development of the clean, domestic sources of energy that are necessary to allow America to free itself from the stranglehold of foreign oil — all in order to benefit speculators and oil companies.

The fact is that the world will inevitably experience increasing oil prices over the long run because this finite, non-renewable resource is getting scarcer and scarcer at the same time that demand for energy from the emerging economies like China and India is sky rocketing.

Every voter with a modicum of experience in real-world economics gets that central economic fact.

That would make Republican opposition to the development of renewable energy sources bad enough. But over the last few months the factor chiefly responsible for short-term oil price hikes have been the Arab Spring and Israel’s growing tensions with Iran — all of which are well beyond direct American control.

But with only 2% of the world’s oil reserves, any idiot knows we can’t make ourselves materially more energy independent solely by drilling for more domestic oil. In fact, it is obvious that to have any hope of controlling the prices we pay for energy in the future, we must free ourselves from the dependence on oil in general and foreign oil in particular.

We need an emergency “all of the above” energy independence program that accesses all of the domestic sources of oil that can be developed in an environmentally safe way – plus a major investment in renewable, clean energy sources that free us from dependence on oil – and especially foreign oil.

President Obama has proposed a big first step in exactly that direction, and the Republicans have answered: “Hell no — drill baby drill.”

If they are forcefully challenged by Democrats this year — as I believe they will — that Republican position is simply laughable.

Domestic drilling has increased substantially under President Obama’s administration. And our dependence on foreign oil imports has gone down every year of his presidency. The president has put in place new mileage standards for cars that will save massive amounts of potential oil imports — standards that Republicans have opposed for decades.

But that fact remains, that for all his administration can do on its own to increase energy independence, it is impossible to free America from the stranglehold of foreign oil dependency without the kind of massive national commitment to domestic, renewable energy that must be passed by Congress. The Republicans have said “no” because their biggest energy patrons — the oil companies — oppose a crash program to create renewable energy sources for one simple reason. Every day that we fail to act, the value of their oil goes up — it’s that simple.

If you doubt that Mitt Romney and the Republicans are bought and paid for by Big Oil — just ask the infamous Koch brothers — who finance major Republican “super Pacs” — how much they stand to make personally every time the long-term price of a barrel of oil increases by another dollar.

Simply put, the Republicans have put the profits of their patrons in Big Oil well above the economic and national security interests of the United States of America.

The Republicans even continue to do everything in their power to block the elimination of the astonishing taxpayer subsidy of the oil industry, that continues notwithstanding the fact that big oil companies are more profitable today than any other companies in the history of humanity. And the Republicans do it all the while they blather on about how if we once again install them in the White House, they will bring us $2 a gallon gasoline.

Whoever is pushing those kinds of lines must be studying the techniques of the late, famous circus impresario, P.T. Barnum, who famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

But in fact, polling shows that American voters simply are not so gullible that they buy either of these preposterous positions.

3). Speculators.

A final contributing factor that has recently amplified increases in gas and oil prices is the role of speculators.

In a purely competitive market, oil prices should settle in the long run at the marginal cost of producing the next barrel of oil — currently between $60 and $70 a barrel. Oil closed last week at about $106 per barrel and ran up to twice the marginal cost of production during the Bush era 2008 oil spike.

Currently about 80% of positions on oil commodity markets are held by “pure speculators” — who bet on changes in oil prices — rather than “end users” who actually consume oil and use the markets to hedge against price increases.

Academic studies have demonstrated that there is a big speculative premium in oil prices, above and beyond any “risk premium” that might normally develop from fear of some immediate, short-term shortage. That speculative premium could be materially dampened if steps were taken to limit the market’s domination by pure speculators.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill — which was opposed by most Republicans in Congress and all of their presidential candidates — allows the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to limit the percentage of market positions held by pure speculators as opposed to end users.

Already the CTFC has position limits on the percentage of positions that can be held by individual companies or investors to prevent one from cornering the market. Many economists have proposed imposing similar position limits on pure speculators as a class.

Ordinary voters don’t like speculators. But far from supporting limits on speculation, Mitt Romney wants to go back to the “good old days of yesteryear” where wild, unbridled speculation led to the worst economic collapse in 60 years and costs eight million Americans their jobs.

None of this is good politics for Republicans.

Voters don’t want to be held hostage by the big oil companies or foreign oil. They don’t want to have their pockets picked by oil market speculators. They understand that when world oil prices go up, it benefits oil-state dictators: it’s like allowing Iran’s Ahmadinejad to levy a tax on American consumers. And voters sure as hell don’t want to pay a taxpayer subsidy to oil companies like Exxon that made more in profits in one minute last year (about $85,000) than the average American worker earns all year long.

If Republican strategists think they can reverse their fortunes by focusing on the gas price debate, the odds are good they will be wrong.

 

By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, March 6, 2012

March 7, 2012 Posted by | Energy | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Netanyahu Speech To Congress Shows America Will Buy Anything

A blistering piece of commentary by the esteemed (and leftist) Israeli political commentator, Gideon Levy, in Haaretz today is a must read for anyone who cares to see what progressives in Israel think of Netanyahu’s show today before the U.S. Congress.

Levy begins his piece with these loaded, and to my mind, honest salvos concerning Netanyahu’s speech to Congress today:

It was an address with no destination, filled with lies on top of lies and illusions heaped on illusions. Only rarely is a foreign head of state invited to speak before Congress. It’s unlikely that any other has attempted to sell them such a pile of propaganda and prevarication, such hypocrisy and sanctimony as Benjamin Netanyahu did.The fact that the Congress rose to its feet multiple times to applaud him says more about the ignorance of its members than the quality of their guest’s speech. An Israeli presence on the Jordan River – cheering. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel – applause. Did America’s elected representatives know that they were cheering for the death of possibility? If America loved it, we’re in big trouble.

As Levy notes, Congress today applauded some painful statements by the Israeli head of state, and this applause said much about both their ignorance on the true state of affairs in Israel as well as their willingness to remain ignorant about the true state of affairs in Israel for political gain (see: the vote of Christian conservatives and the campaign contributions of the Jewish elite).

Below is a brief look at a few of the standing ovations Netanyahu received by our representatives in Congress, and why such applause should be troubling for us as American progressives:

1. Jerusalem as Israel’s Undivided Capital – by applauding this statement by Netanyahu, our leaders essentially applauded the death of any possible peace agreement, for, as everyone knows, East Jerusalem is the proposed capital for a future Palestinian state in every iteration of negotiations that have been produced since Oslo. And yet, a standing ovation. And it bears noting: with the Arab Spring spreading throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and a declaration of Palestinian statehood on the horizon by the U.N. in September, the death of peace negotiations no longer mean what they once did: the status quo. Instead, such a death will mean major instability with unpredictable outcomes.

2. Israel is not occupying the West Bank – when Netanyahu claimed, with a straight face, that the Jewish people are not occupiers, and that the situation in “Judea and Samaria” is not an occupation, Congress roared to its feet. That the U.S. Congress could rise in boisterous applause to a known lie is chastening – Israeli leaders past, including Ariel Sharon, have admitted the obvious: that Israel is in the difficult and damaging position of occupying another people’s land.

3. Boasting on the Status of Israeli-Arabs – Netanyahu’s government has backed a series of anti-Palestinian, anti-democratic laws recently, the most notable of which forbid citizens from recognizing, in any way, The Nakba (which is the sorrowful observance Palestinians engage in as Israelis celebrate Independence Day). By applauding, our leaders, wittingly or not, gave sanction to a leader and an administration which has done much to strip non-Jewish citizens of their democratic rights.

Netanyahu’s speech today, more than anything, signaled the official death of the peace process, for none of the “terms” presented by Israel’s leader comes close to acceptable for the Palestinians.

And by standing to applaud 29 times, our leaders today gave sanction to that death. Even the White House, this evening, issued a statement saying that Netanyahu’s speech “reaffirmed the strength of U.S.-Israeli relationship.”

Here’s why what happened today matters: America has incredible leverage with regard to Israel, and has always been capable of using that leverage to talk Israel down off the pathological ledge it’s been toeing for so long due to my peoples’ existential fear of annihilation. (For good reason, I should add, but I digress.) The United States gives Israel unprecedented monetary, military and diplomatic support, all of which could easily be drawn down.

But as we saw today, the tail unfortunately wags the dog. And this wagging may end up being disastrous not only for Israel, but for American interests in the region as well, for a Netanyahu-applauded vision of Israel-Palestine is nothing more than a recipe for confrontation, for instability like we’ve never seen.

The Arab Spring has changed dynamics such that there is no going back. If Netanyahu, and America, stay on the course articulated today, this is where we may be headed:

1. A Palestinian declaration of statehood by the U.N. in September
2. Israeli & American rejection, with possible annexation of lands
3. A conflict that will not end well.

May my analysis be wrong. I hope such is the case. I fear such a case is becoming increasingly unrealistic.

By: The Troubadour, The Daily Kos, May 24, 2011

May 24, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Foreign Governments, Foreign Policy, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle East, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

%d bloggers like this: