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“Shared Values, Shared Goals”: Another Data Point Against False Equivalence

Via MoJo’s Molly Redden and Dana Liebelson, here’s a little taste of the conversation on a conference call held by Bishop E.W. Jackson on which the junior senator from Kentucky was a participant:

During the call, Paul generally gave routine answers to questions on abortion, border security, and the size of the military. One caller did ask Paul if he supported Obama’s recent declaration that June was LGBT Pride Month and if he believed homosexuality is an illness. The question was reminiscent of a tweet Jackson wrote in June 2009, when Obama designated June as Pride Month: “Well that just makes me feel ikky all over. Yuk!”

“I don’t think that there’s really a role for the federal government in deciding what people’s behavior at home should be one way or another,” Paul said. “It’s not something the federal government needs to be involved in.”

After Paul left the conference call, Jackson said he suspected the caller who asked about Pride Month was trying to harass them. “Thank god he was respectful,” Jackson said. “But I just want to encourage everybody, that they are going to talk about us like [we’re] dogs because all they know is hatred, because all they know is anger and bitterness, because there’s something wrong with them on the inside…And by the way, they also want to destroy us…We are in a fight for our very lives, for our survival.”

Jackson then discussed Obama’s announcement of the release of Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier captured in Afghanistan. He said that the president “could not help but smile” when Bergdahl’s father, Robert, said “allahu akbar—or whatever it is they say” at the press conference.

Jackson continued: “I have been roundly criticized for saying the president has Muslim sensibilities. That’s not my statement—that’s just a statement of fact…In this situation you would think he would have restrained himself. But he could not help but smile when that man said ‘Praise be to Allah.'”

None of this, of course, was particularly unusual for Jackson. So what on earth was Rand Paul doing on this conference call? And lest anyone of the False Equivalence tribe dismiss the incident as an example of the craziness that can be found in the “extremes” of both parties, let’s remember Jackson was a Republican nominee for statewide office in Virginia just last year. Is there anyone remotely “equivalent” to Jackson among statewide Democratic nominees anywhere? And even if you can scrounge up one, is there anything on the progressive side of the political spectrum remotely like the dozens of Republican pols who sound just like Jackson in their homophobia, Islamophobia, and crazy-talk about Obama every single day? And if there were, would any Democrat running for president do anything other than run away from these people as rapidly as they could, maybe attacking them for good measure?

No, no and no. And the sad thing is that we barely even notice any more that to an alarming extent the GOP is divided between these people and those who curry their favor and hasten to assure them they share their values and goals.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 4, 2014

June 5, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Rand Paul, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama Reflects On A Sacred Rule”: We Don’t Leave Our Men Or Women In Uniform Behind

The political discourse over the last few days has been rather surreal. It seemed hard to imagine that the release of an American prisoner of war would spark a fierce partisan backlash, but the announcement that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been freed from his Taliban captors in Afghanistan seems to have done exactly that, with much of the right condemning the move.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz warned his allies, “Attacking the actions that led to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a surefire way to lose in 2014,” but so far, conservatives have ignored the suggestion.

President Obama, in Europe this week, spoke to reporters while in Poland this morning and responded to the burgeoning controversy.

“The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule and that is we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind,” he said. “We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange to recover Sgt. Bergdahl.” […]

“I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought it was detrimental to our national security,” he said. “We will be in a position to go after them if they are engaging in activity that threatens our defenses.”

There have been multiple reports that Bergdahl may have been a deserter at the time of his capture. And though we don’t yet have all of the details about what transpired, the president made clear that some of those details aren’t quite relevant to the underlying principle.

“Let me just make a simple point here: regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that,” Obama said.

I’m not sure why so many on the right find this hard to understand.

The United States prioritizes the return of American POWs. It’s just what we do. What if the troops were captured due to their own negligence? It doesn’t matter. What if they were taken prisoner as a result of incompetence? It doesn’t matter. What if they gave up their post? It doesn’t matter.

Even by the standards of our contemporary discourse, the past few days have been hard to believe. U.S. officials secured the release of an American prisoner of war and for much of the right, the first instinct was to condemn the president. The second instinct was to condemn the prisoner. And as yesterday unfolded, the third instinct was to go after the prisoner’s dad.

I don’t expect much from the far-right, but this is surprising.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, said in a joint statement that the prisoner swap that led to Bergdahl’s release “may have” adverse consequences and could put U.S. forces “at even greater risk.”

It’s difficult to say with certainty whether their warnings have merit. But Glenn Thrush asked a good question on Twitter overnight: what endangered the U.S. homeland more: a prisoner swap or invading Muslim country based on fake intelligence resulting in tens of thousands of deaths?

Predicting what U.S. foreign policies “may have” adverse consequences and/or could put U.S. forces “at even greater risk” is tricky, but if we’re making a list, I can think of a few things that would come above “prisoner swaps.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | POW's, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“Release Of American POW Sparks Partisan Dispute”: In Practice, The United States Has Negotiated With Terrorists Plenty Of Times

Under normal circumstances, when U.S. officials secure the release of an American prisoner of war, it would seem like a happy occasion for the country, regardless of political considerations. We were reminded over the weekend that these are not normal circumstances.

President Obama announced on Saturday that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan, was finally free after five years as a prisoner of the Taliban, In exchange for his release, U.S. officials agreed to release five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar.

In his White House announcement, the president said, in reference to the Taliban detainees, “The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security.”

The complaints from congressional Republicans were immediate.

Amid jubilation Saturday over the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity by the Taliban, senior Republicans on Capitol Hill said they were troubled by the means by which it was accomplished, which was a deal to release five Afghan detainees from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Top Republicans on the Senate and House armed services committees went so far as to accuse President Obama of having broken the law, which requires the administration to notify Congress before any transfers from Guantanamo are carried out.

Throughout the weekend, prominent GOP lawmakers condemned the move with varying degrees of outrage. Several Republicans described the policy that led to Bergdahl’s release as “shocking,” “disturbing,” and “dangerous.”

Any sense of national joy that might otherwise come with the knowledge that an American POW is on his way home disappeared within minutes of the announcement – Bergdahl’s freedom quickly became the latest partisan fight, and the prospect of congressional hearings are more a matter of “when,” not “if.”

For Republicans, this is an outrage: as Karen Tumulty reported, the administration is required to notify relevant congressional committees 30 days before prisoner transfers, and this clearly did not happen. For Democrats, there were extenuating circumstances that required a legal shortcut: without immediate action, the opportunity to rescue an American POW would probably be lost forever, and Bergdahl’s life would be in severe jeopardy. “We did not have 30 days to wait,” Susan Rice said yesterday.

Who’s right? In this case, probably both.

But Republicans went on to raise a separate concern. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), among others, condemned the White House for having “negotiated with terrorists.” The Michigan Republican added that the move marked a “fundamental shift in U.S. policy.”

That’s a nice soundbite, but it’s also wrong.

In principle, the United States does not negotiate with terrorists, which is a sensible policy intended to discourage terrorism. In practice, the United States has negotiated with terrorists plenty of times.

For example, when terrorists hijacked TWA Flight 847 in 1985, the Reagan administration negotiated with the hostage takers, despite the U.S. policy, and despite fears that it might create an incentive for future hijackings.

More recently, and more to the point, military leaders appointed by the Bush/Cheney administration, at David Petraeus’ behest, endorsed negotiations with the Taliban years ago in the hopes of improving national security conditions in Afghanistan*.

The politics surrounding negotiations to free Bergdahl have been ugly for a long while, so this weekend’s rhetoric hardly came as a surprise. What’s more, many of the questions that have been raised about the move deserve answers.

But let’s not pretend that talking to the Taliban represents some kind of shocking twist.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, June 2, 2014

June 3, 2014 Posted by | Politics, POW's, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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