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“Republican Race Is Being Led By A Buffoon”: The GOP Primary Is A Mess. Can Anyone Unite This Party?

Jeb Bush is starting to remind me of someone. Tall guy, former governor, worshipped his politician dad? That’s right, I’m talking about Mitt Romney.

It isn’t just the part about their fathers, or the fact that like Romney, Bush is the representative of the “establishment” and doesn’t get a lot of love from the Tea Party base, or even that he seems to share Romney’s propensity for reinforcing his most glaring electoral weaknesses. (Jeb spent much of the last week explaining how the Iraq War was actually a tremendous success and we just need to bring back the Bush Doctrine, which is a great way to win over the many voters pining for a rerun of George W.’s term in office.)

It’s also that Bush’s only path to his party’s nomination may be to duplicate what Romney did successfully in 2012: use his money (and dogged persistence) to hang around while one ridiculous clown of a candidate after another has their momentary flight then crashes ignominiously to the ground, at the end of which primary voters run out of other options and say, “Oh all right, I guess we’ll go with you.”

All things considered, it isn’t such a bad strategy. And given the sourness of the Republican electorate, there may be no other way to win.

If we look beyond the bizarre candidacy of Donald Trump, the 2016 primary race is looking a lot like the 2012 race. While there were some serious people in that one, just as there are in the GOP campaign today, the overall picture voters got was of a chaotic mess in which a bunch of people you couldn’t imagine being president got an undue amount of attention. Just like now, you had candidates who had been elected to Congress but who had no business running for president. You had amateurs whom voters found attractive because they were different than all those blow-dried politicians. And for a long time, no one was able to move into a clear lead.

At this time four years ago, the only candidates in double digits were Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann. Many of that race’s most amusing developments—Bachmann’s demise, the steep rise then fall of Herman Cain, the same for Newt Gingrich—had yet to occur. Today, there are so many GOP candidates, and other than Trump most of them have the support of so few voters, that it looks even fuzzier. Look at the latest Fox News poll, which shows Trump at 25 percent, Ben Carson at 12 percent, Ted Cruz at 10 percent, and Jeb limping in at 9 percent. Three of those four people are never, ever going to be president. A Reuters/Ipsos poll has Trump at 21 percent, Bush at 12 percent, and nobody else over 8 percent.

The GOP race is being led by a buffoon who, despite his appeal to a certain kind of voter, is widely loathed by the public as a whole, barely pretends to understand the first thing about public policy, and still believes that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Meanwhile, the guys who are supposed to represent the future of the party, like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, are struggling to hold on to the support of one out of every 15 Republicans or so. To call the race a mess would be too generous.

If the party knew what it wanted, it might be able to settle on a candidate who could give it to them. The problem is that it’s made up of people who want different things. There are sober people who just want to find the candidate who can win them back the White House. But there are many more who know a lot more about what they don’t like than whom they might support. For years now, the Republican Party’s leaders (both politicians and media figures) and its voters have been dancing a manic pas de deux of extremism, where the leaders tell the voters to constantly increase their demands and punish anyone who strays from ideological purity, and the voters respond.

No Republican politician could possibly satisfy everyone in the roiling cauldron of anger, suspicion, and disappointment that is today’s GOP. How do you unite a party when the prevalent theme of their internal debate in recent years has been how disgusted they all are with their own side?

You can’t. But someone is going to be this party’s nominee, and it’s likely to be the one who can keep a steady pace while the others flame out. Jeb Bush recently said, “I’m the tortoise in the race—but I’m a joyful tortoise.” It isn’t much of a plan, but it may be the best anyone has. And there sure isn’t a lot of joy going around among Republicans these days.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, August 16, 2015

 

August 19, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Jeb Bush Wants To Bring Back The Bush Doctrine”: Americans May Have Short Memories, But Not That Short

Jeb Bush will be making a speech on foreign policy today, and if the excerpts that his campaign released to reporters beforehand are any indication, it will embody all the thoughtfulness, nuance and sophistication that have characterized Republican foreign policy thinking in recent years. If you were thinking that Bush might be the grown-up in this field — or offer something much different from the approach that was so disastrous for his brother — well, think again. It’s looking a lot like the return of the Bush Doctrine, just with a different Bush.

As Peter Beinart writes in the new issue of the Atlantic, Republicans have embraced “the legend of the surge,” which starts off as a specific belief about what happened in Iraq and why, and then expands outward to justify a return to George W. Bush’s simplistic hawkish approach to any foreign policy challenge. To put it briefly, the change in strategy around the surge, and the “Sunni awakening” that occurred at the same time, were supposed to create the conditions in which a political reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites could take place. But that never happened, and the corruption and sectarianism of Nouri al-Maliki’s government laid the groundwork for the country’s continued civil war and eventually the rise of the Islamic State.

But Republicans tell a different story, one that not only wipes away all the calamitous and naive decisions of the Bush administration but also can be used to justify a renewal of the Bush Doctrine anywhere. Here’s how Jeb will put it today:

So why was the success of the surge followed by a withdrawal from Iraq, leaving not even the residual force that commanders and the joint chiefs knew was necessary?

That premature withdrawal was the fatal error, creating the void that ISIS moved in to fill – and that Iran has exploited to the full as well.

ISIS grew while the United States disengaged from the Middle East and ignored the threat.

And where was Secretary of State Clinton in all of this? Like the president himself, she had opposed the surge . . . then joined in claiming credit for its success . . . then stood by as that hard-won victory by American and allied forces was thrown away.

So: Everything was going great in Iraq and victory had been achieved, until Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton threw it all away. Nothing is the fault of Republicans, or of the people who supported and launched the Iraq war, the single worst foreign policy decision in American history. George W. Bush made no mistakes that might have any lessons for us, and the answer to every foreign policy challenge is to be more bellicose and more eager to use military force.

And what should we do now? If you said that the key is “strength” and “leadership,” then give yourself a gold star:

The threat of global jihad, and of the Islamic State in particular, requires all the strength, unity, and confidence that only American leadership can provide.

Radical Islam is a threat we are entirely capable of overcoming, and I will be unyielding in that cause should I be elected President of the United States.

We should pursue the clear and unequivocal objective of throwing back the barbarians of ISIS, and helping the millions in the region who want to live in peace.

Instead of simply reacting to each new move the terrorists choose to make, we will use every advantage we have – to take the offensive, to keep it, and to prevail.

In all of this, the United States must engage with friends and allies, and lead again in that vital region.

I challenge you to read that passage and tell me a single specific thing Bush plans to do.

And then there’s Bush’s embrace of what has to be the single most inane objection Republicans have to Obama’s conduct in foreign affairs: “Despite elaborate efforts by the administration to avoid even calling it by name,” he’ll say, “one of the very gravest threats we face today comes from radical Islamic terrorists.” I’m not sure what “elaborate efforts” Bush is talking about, but it’s true that President Obama prefers not to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” because he thinks that could serve to alienate Muslims around the world by reinforcing the radicals’ argument that Islam itself is at war with the West. Obama might be right or wrong about that, but it’s a relatively minor point. Yet to hear Republicans tell it, it is literally impossible to contain terrorism if the president doesn’t repeat this phrase on a regular basis. They say this so often and with such fervor that one has to assume they actually believe that the words “radical Islamic terrorism” constitute some sort of magical incantation, one that would turn our enemies’ guns to dust and cause the terrorists themselves to disappear in a puff of smoke if only it were spoken by the commander in chief.

You may remember a few weeks ago when Donald Trump said he had a spectacular, super-classy, guaranteed-to-work plan to destroy the Islamic State, but he wasn’t going to reveal it, lest the terrorists get wind of their impending demise. Then when he finally did, the plan was this: “I would bomb the hell out of those oil fields. I wouldn’t send many troops because you won’t need them by the time I’m finished.” Everyone laughed and shook their heads at the fact that a guy whose policy thinking operates at a fifth-grade level was leading the Republican field.

But how much more sophisticated than that is what Bush and the other candidates are offering on foreign policy? For instance, if you read this recent manifesto from Marco Rubio, you’ll learn that he plans to lead with strength, so America can be strong and full of leadership. And also strength, because that’s what America needs to lead.

Make no mistake: What Jeb Bush and the other GOP candidates (with the exception of Rand Paul) are offering on foreign policy is nothing more or less than a return to the Bush Doctrine. They won’t call it that, because they know that would be politically foolish; Americans may have short memories, but not that short. Maybe in their next debate, someone can ask them how their foreign policy would differ in any way from George W. Bush’s. I doubt they’d have an answer.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, August 11, 2015

August 12, 2015 Posted by | George W Bush, Iraq War, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“How Absurdly Wrong Neo-Cons Were”: To Defeat ISIS, Ignore Partisan Alarmists And Send Smart Diplomats

It is entirely appropriate that the appalling crimes of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which openly declares genocidal intentions, have inspired demands for forceful action to destroy the terrorist entity. Impatient politicians and belligerent pundits express frustration with President Obama because he isn’t bombing more sites or dispatching U.S. troops to Iraq or expanding the conflict into Syria — or just heeding their urgent advice, immediately.

Now any or all of those policies may eventually prove necessary, after careful consideration and consultation with America’s allies. But the president would be wiser to do nothing than to simply parrot the prescriptions of his neoconservative critics. And he would be wiser still to keep in mind that the past enthusiasms and errors of those critics are the underlying causes of the predicament that he and the civilized world confront today.

The undeniable reality is that there would be no ISIS (and no crisis) if the dubious neoconservative desire to invade Iraq had been duly ignored in 2003.

A jihadi movement capable of winning support from oppressed Sunni Muslims in that ravaged country arose directly from the violent overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the installation, under American auspices, of a sectarian Shiite regime. Not only was that regime unwilling to unite Iraqis into a democratic order, but its political allegiance pointed toward Iran rather than the United States.

For anyone who listened to neoconservative “experts” such as William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, these ruinous developments would have come as a wicked surprise. Soon after the U.S. invasion, after all, Kristol had assured us that religious and ethnic divisions among Iraqis would present no significant problems whatsoever. “There’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America,” he told National Public Radio in April 2003, “that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq’s always been very secular.”

And the weapons of mass destruction were just around the corner, and the war would pay for itself with Iraqi oil, and the Iranians would rise up next to throw off the mullahs, while the entire Mideast underwent a miraculous transformation under the benign influence of the Bush doctrine, and blah, blah, blah…

By this point, it seems obvious to nearly everyone just how absurdly wrong all those predictions were. Just as salient, however, is that the Iraq war – and the failure of diplomacy that it represents – was the culmination of an enormous squandered opportunity, whose harmful consequences continue today. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the world rallied around the United States, from Europe to Asia; even the Iranians volunteered to help us defeat Al Qaeda.

Instead of assembling an international coalition to confront Islamist extremism – with diplomacy, technology, information, and humanitarian assistance as well as military force – the Bush administration moved against Iraq. By doing so, it alienated nearly all of our allies, forfeited the world’s sympathy, wasted thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, all to create a divided, failed state that now incubates terror.

So when someone like Kristol urges the president to bomb first and think later, as he did recently, the only sane response is bitter laughter. We need sober diplomacy and smart strategy, which President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have vowed to pursue when the United States takes over the leadership of the UN Security Council this month. And we need the patience to muster at last the broad, invincible alliance we could have led against Al Qaeda from the beginning.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, September 2, 2014

September 4, 2014 Posted by | Middle East, Neo-Cons, War Hawks | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Back To Iraq, But Obama’s Way”: A Foreign Policy Shaped Around Reality

We’ve now begun some very limited military action in Iraq, with airstrikes hitting artillery positions of the Islamic State (IS), combined with airdrops of food and water to the group of Yazidis stranded on a mountaintop where they fled from IS. Naturally, the Obama administration’s opponents are saying it isn’t enough.

In a certain sense, they’re right. Unless we significantly scale up our military involvement there, what we do is unlikely to have a dramatic, lasting effect on IS. The point seems to be to find some way to help without putting American personnel at risk or sucking us back into Iraq in a major way (like Michael Corleone, every time Obama thinks he’s out of that benighted place, they pull him back in). This is Obama’s military doctrine in action. It won’t bring us glorious military victories, but it also won’t bring us military disasters.

When he ran for president, Obama promised a new approach to military involvement overseas, one defined by limited actions with clear objectives and exit strategies. It was to be a clean break with the Bush doctrine that had given us the debacle of the Iraq War: no grand military ambitions, no open-ended conflicts, no naïve dreams of remaking countries half a world away.

Of necessity, that means American military action is reactive. Instead of looking around for someone to invade, this administration has tried to help tamp down conflicts when they occur, and use force only when there seems no other option — and when it looks like it might actually accomplish something, and not create more problems than it solves.

But even though it’s designed to avoid huge disasters, this approach carries its own risks, particularly when we confront situations like the one in Iraq where there are few good options. We can take some action to keep IS out of the Kurdish north, but that might leave them just as strong, with their maniacal fundamentalism still threatening the entire region. IS is a truly ghastly bunch, with ambitions that seem unlimited. Obama said he was acting “to prevent a potential act of genocide.” What if it happens anyway, and we could have done more?

On the other hand, we could get sucked bit by bit into a larger military involvement to help the fragile Iraqi government deal with this very real threat, and find ourselves back with a significant presence in Iraq — precisely the situation few Americans, not least the President, want. And for all we know that could produce new problems, both the kind we can anticipate and the kind we can’t.

So a cautious approach contains no guarantees, and no one is likely to find it particularly satisfying. And this may ultimately be the point: When your doctrine is built in part on the idea that some problems have no good solutions, and you have to pick the least base one, there will inevitably be situations where even the best outcome doesn’t look anything like success.

Whether or not the public will accept this remains to be seen. But we do know that Republicans are not prepared to accept it. Many of them plainly hunger for glorious military crusades, where we sweep in with all those fancy toys we spend hundreds of billions on every year, and save the day to the cheers of the oppressed populace. This was the spirit that animated the Bush years, when the same people now criticizing Obama were convinced that we’d be “greeted as liberators” in Iraq, then quickly set up a thriving and peaceful state that would spread the light of democracy throughout the region.

The fact that they were so spectacularly wrong about that, and the result was so much death and chaos, doesn’t seem to have diminished their desire for that glory, nor their faith in the ability of American military power to solve problems anywhere and everywhere. Whatever course Obama chooses, in this and every conflict, their position is always the same: we need more. More force, more bombing, more toughness is always the answer. Part of this is just reflexive opposition to this president; if Obama announced tomorrow that he was going to nuke the moon, they’d call him weak for not attacking the sun. But it also reflects a desire that was there during the last Republican presidency and will be there in the next one.

It’s related to the “American exceptionalism” conservatives talk about so rapturously, not only that we’re the strongest and the richest but the best, the world’s most noble people whom God himself has granted dominion over the earth (I exaggerate only slightly). Within this belief lies the conviction that there is almost nothing we can’t do, and nothing our military can’t do.

Barack Obama doesn’t believe that. He knows there are actually many things we can’t do, and the Iraq War is all the proof you need. By shaping his foreign policy around that reality, he has removed from it the potential for glory. “We did what we could, and stopped things from getting worse” isn’t the kind of result you hold a parade to celebrate. But if in the end we can say that, it might be enough.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Published at The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 8, 2014

 

 

 

August 10, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iraq, Middle East | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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