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“Dipping His Toes Into Ugly Waters”: Christie; Americans Have A President ‘Who We Don’t Know’

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delivered a widely noticed speech in September 2011, condemning President Obama in a fairly specific way. “We continue to wait and hope that our president will finally stop being a bystander in the Oval Office,” the governor said. “We hope that he will shake off the paralysis that has made it impossible for him to take on the really big things.”

Even at the time, the rhetoric was bizarre, since Obama has spent his entire presidency taking on “really big things,” and more often than not, succeeding. But this week, Christie revised his entire perspective on the president, complaining Obama acts “as if he is a king, as if he is a dictator.”

I’ve long been amazed at the degree to which conservatives have contradictory complaints about the president, and this is emblematic of the pattern. Obama can be a hapless bystander, doing too little, or he can be a tyrannical dictator, doing too much, but he can’t be both.

On Monday, Christie went a little further. The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe noted this gem from the scandal-plagued governor:

“We have a guy in the Oval Office who we don’t know. He’s been serving us for seven years and we don’t know him.”

I suppose the obvious question for Christie is, “What do you mean ‘we’?” After all of these years, some of us have gotten to know and understand this president quite well. After a two-year national campaign in 2007 and 2008, an autobiography, and seven years of intense scrutiny in the White House in which his every move was analyzed from every direction, it’s hard to imagine the public knowing a stranger better than we know Barack Obama. There is no mystery about who this “guy” is.

But that’s probably not where the governor is going with this.

The New Republic’s Jeet Heer noted the other day that Christie isn’t being literal, so much as he’s “pandering to GOP mythology.”

[Christie’s comments] partially echo long-held Republican complaints that Obama hasn’t been properly vetted. But they also play into the large set of tropes about Obama being alien, mysterious, un-American. As is his wont, Donald Trump proclaimed these themes more loudly when he suggested that Obama might have an ulterior motive (cough, cough, secret Muslim) for the deal he negotiated with Iran. “It’s almost like there has to be something else going on,” Trump said in a speech on Saturday night.

Like many of the other Republican candidates, Christie is trying to play the role of the thinking man’s Trump, and making a fool of himself in the process.

Agreed. When Christie tells Republican audience Americans don’t “know” the president, he’s dipping his toes into ugly waters. The governor must know better, and it’s a shame he appears to see this as necessary for his presidential ambitions.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 8, 2016

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Chris Christie, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Great Fracturing Of The Republican Party”: Appears To Believe In Anything, Which Is The Same As Believing In Nothing

It is no longer possible to think of “the Republican Party” as a coherent political force. It is nothing of the sort — and the Donald Trump insurgency should be seen as a symptom, not the cause, of the party’s disintegration.

I realize this may seem an odd assessment of a party that controls both houses of Congress, 32 governorships and two-thirds of state legislative chambers. The desire to win and hold power is one thing the party’s hopelessly disparate factions agree on; staunch and sometimes blind opposition to President Obama and the Democrats is another. After those, it’s hard to think of much else.

It makes no sense anymore to speak of “the GOP” without specifying which one. The party that celebrates immigration as central to the American experiment or the one that wants to round up 11 million people living here without papers and kick them out? The party that believes in U.S. military intervention and seeding the world with democratic values or the one that believes strife-torn nations should have to depose their own dictators and resolve their own civil wars? The party that represents the economic interests of business owners or the one that voices the anxieties of workers?

All of these conflicts were evident Tuesday night at the presidential candidates’ debate in Las Vegas. It was compelling theater — Trump mugging and shrugging for the cameras, Jeb Bush gamely steeling himself to go on the attack, Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) waging a one-on-one battle, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vowing to shoot down Russian jets over Syria, Ben Carson turning “boots on the ground” into a mantra without actually saying what he thinks about deploying them.

A Republican optimist might praise the candidates for airing “serious” and “important” policy debates. A realist would say this is a party that appears to believe in anything, which is the same as believing in nothing.

One of the more telling exchanges came when Trump was asked whether the United States was safer with dictators running the troubled nations of the Middle East. Trump replied, “In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would have been a lot better off, I can tell you that right now.”

Carly Fiorina was aghast. “That is exactly what President Obama said,” she declared. “I’m amazed to hear that from a Republican presidential candidate.”

Indeed, there once was broad consensus within the party about the advisability and legitimacy of forcing “regime change” in pursuit of U.S. interests. But toppling even such a monster as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is opposed by Trump, Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) — who combined have the support of 51 percent of Republican voters, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. So apparently there isn’t a “Republican view” about foreign intervention anymore.

Nor is the party able to agree on immigration policy. Even if you somehow manage to look past Trump’s outrageous call for mass deportation, there is no consensus for the course of action favored by what’s left of the party establishment, which would be to give undocumented migrants some kind of legal status. The only point of concord is the allegation that Obama has failed to “secure the border,” which is actually far more secure than it was under George W. Bush.

Once upon a time, the Republican Party’s position on a given issue usually dovetailed nicely with the views of business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But the chamber supports giving the undocumented a path to legal status. It also waxes rhapsodic about the benefits of free trade for U.S. firms and shareholders. Now, since Trump opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact (as does Mike Huckabee), other candidates have had to mumble about waiting to see the details before deciding pro or con.

The GOP electorate has changed; it’s whiter, older, less educated and more blue -collar than it used to be. Many of today’s Republicans don’t see globalization as an investment opportunity; they see it as a malevolent force that has dimmed their prospects. They don’t see the shrinking of the white majority as natural demographic evolution; they see it as a threat.

One of our two major political parties is factionalized and out of control. That should worry us all.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 17, 2015

December 21, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, GOP Establishment | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Most Simplistic And Mindless Solutions Imaginable”: Breaking; GOP Candidates Admit American Military Force Has Its Limits

Amid the competition in last night’s debate to see which candidate could make Americans more terrified that we’re all going to be killed by terrorists any day now, an actual substantive policy difference emerged on national security. While none of the candidates took positions they hadn’t taken before, it was the clearest explication of what actually is a real division within the Republican Party on foreign policy.

Though we sometimes think of the GOP as divided between Rand Paul on one side and everybody else on the other — one lone candidate skeptical of foreign interventionism up against a bunch of unreconstructed hawks — the truth is more complicated. And as we saw last night, the candidates currently in first place (Donald Trump) and second place (Ted Cruz) in the race represent a foreign policy vision that acknowledges that American power has its limits. That’s a stark contrast with their opponents, who essentially believe in George W. Bush’s vision, which says that American military power can solve nearly any problem and plant the seeds of democracy anywhere.

There are reasons not to give too much credit to Cruz and Trump, which I’ll get to in a moment. But their beliefs on the fundamental question of the limits of American power, particularly in the Middle East, were clearly laid out last night. Here’s part of what Cruz had to say:

So let’s go back to the beginning of the Obama administration, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama led NATO in toppling the government in Libya. They did it because they wanted to promote democracy. A number of Republicans supported them. The result of that — and we were told then that there were these moderate rebels that would take over. Well, the result is, Libya is now a terrorist war zone run by jihadists.

Move over to Egypt. Once again, the Obama administration, encouraged by Republicans, toppled Mubarak who had been a reliable ally of the United States, of Israel, and in its place, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood came in, a terrorist organization.

And we need to learn from history. These same leaders — Obama, Clinton, and far too many Republicans — want to topple Assad. Assad is a bad man. Gadhafi was a bad man. Mubarak had a terrible human rights record. But they were assisting us — at least Gadhafi and Mubarak — in fighting radical Islamic terrorists.

And if we topple Assad, the result will be ISIS will take over Syria, and it will worsen U.S. national security interests. And the approach, instead of being a Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter, we ought to hunt down our enemies and kill ISIS rather than creating opportunities for ISIS to take control of new countries.

We didn’t actually topple Mubarak and we didn’t exactly topple Gadhafi, but in any case, Cruz is articulating a realist foreign policy vision here: We should focus on direct threats to American national security and not try to impose democracy, because overthrowing dictators creates volatile situations in which the outcome can be even worse than what came before. This is a direct contradiction to George W. Bush’s expansive vision in which the right invasion or two would spread democracy across the Middle East in a glorious flowering of freedom. (And yes, we should acknowledge that this vision was always selective — nobody proposed overthrowing the government of Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive dictatorships on earth).

After Cruz’s statement, Marco Rubio and John Kasich chimed in to argue that we actually should overthrow Assad, then Donald Trump came back with a statement that could have come from Bernie Sanders:

In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.

We have done a tremendous disservice, not only to Middle East, we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have wiped away, and for what? It’s not like we had victory.

It’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized. A total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart.

The typical telling of the Iraq story Republicans offer is that everything was going great until Barack Obama came in and screwed it all up. But here, Trump isn’t even bothering with that — he’s saying that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was a bad idea from the start and had all kinds of negative unintended consequences.

It’s important to understand that Trump and Cruz aren’t doves. In fact, they have wedded this skepticism toward nation-building with the most belligerent attitude toward the Islamic State. Trump says he wants to “bomb the s— out of them,” while Cruz proposes to “carpet-bomb” them. So on the one hand they have a broader approach that seems grounded in history, while on the other they’re offering the most simplistic (you might even say mindless) solution imaginable to the immediate problem of the Islamic State.

For many of the other candidates, it’s precisely the reverse. Against all evidence, they still talk as though American power is essentially limitless and there are no unintended consequences we need to concern ourselves with when we do something like inject ourselves into a civil war in the Middle East. Yet on the Islamic State, they try to sound like they have a nuanced plan that’s built on an understanding of the complexities of the situation. Marco Rubio’s Islamic State plan might be wrong in all its particulars, but at least it has particulars, meant to demonstrate that he knows what he’s talking about. (You may have noticed that Rubio spends a lot of time trying to demonstrate that he knows what he’s talking about.) The same could be said of Jeb Bush.

As last night’s fear-fest made clear, the candidates know that their electorate is on edge and looking for a strong leader who will make them feel like the threats they perceive around them are being confronted. Trump and Cruz are offering instant gratification in the form of a glorious bombing campaign against the Islamic State, combined with a more careful approach over the longer term that would seek to avoid quagmires in places where, as Cruz likes to say about Syria, “We don’t have a dog in that fight.” The question is whether that’s appealing to a significant portion of the Republican electorate. We don’t yet know the answer, but eventually we’ll find out.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 16, 2015

December 18, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Terrorism, U. S. Military | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cuban Embargo Is Way Past Its Usefulness”: An Outdated Strategy That Accomplished Absolutely Nothing

It’s about time that a U.S. president had the courage and common sense to end our ridiculous policy toward Cuba. It was a relic of the Cold War, an outdated strategy that accomplished absolutely nothing except to give the Castro brothers an excuse for the dire poverty in which their citizens live.

President Obama deserves plaudits for his decision to open full diplomatic relations with the island nation for the first time in more than half a century. So does Pope Francis, who intervened to try to break the stalemate between the two countries. The announcement that the United States will open an embassy in Havana was a fitting tribute to the season in which Christians ostensibly turn our attention to peace on Earth and good will toward all men.

Not that there was an outbreak of good will on Capitol Hill. As any fifth-grader could have guessed, Obama’s announcement, which followed more than a year of secret negotiations, was met with outrage among the usual suspects — a bunch of hardliners who insist that the Castros’ dictatorship is such an affront to international norms that a full embargo should continue until… well, until.

It doesn’t seem to matter that the embargo — established in 1962, back when the Soviet Union was enemy No. 1, when the Berlin Wall still divided East and West, and the war in Vietnam was in its infancy — has not done anything to change Cuba’s internal politics. In fact, the opposite may be true: The embargo has hardened the resistance of Fidel Castro, who has found it convenient to blame his economic disasters on the United States.

(Technically, Obama cannot lift the embargo, which was imposed through a series of laws. He can, however, use his executive authority to circumvent much of it.)

Do Fidel and his brother, Raul, engage in human rights abuses? Absolutely. They imprison their critics and have been accused of murdering their rivals. They don’t tolerate free assembly and they restrict speech. They look for excuses to detain Americans, as they did Alan Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who was working to improve Internet access for a Jewish organization. His release helped to set the stage for détente.

In other words, the Castros are dictators. So is Xi Jinping, the president of China, another communist country. Yet President Nixon decided in 1972 that the best way to influence China was through diplomatic contact, and he set about normalizing relations. Few politicians now disagree with that strategy.

The Chinese government tolerates no dissent, imprisons its critics and even restricts religious liberty. But American businesses freely engage in trade with China; U.S. citizens visit as tourists; Chinese students matriculate at our universities. Why should Cuba, which doesn’t have a fraction of the economic or military clout that China has, be regarded as more of a threat to our interests?

In my three reporting visits to Cuba over the last 15 years, I found a country of resilient people who had a strong affinity for the United States. They kept up with Major League Baseball; they circumvented government controls to watch American TV shows; they begged relatives and friends to bring in the latest American music and fashions. The best way to steer them toward a thriving democracy is to encourage more contact between the two countries.

And the fact is that Obama didn’t take a big political risk, despite the hardliners and their continuing drumbeat of criticism. The president enjoys support among Cuban-Americans, even some — like Atlanta political consultant Angelo Fuster — who fled Castro’s takeover. “I think we are on the right path,” Fuster, who has led trade missions to the island, told me.

A Florida International University poll in June found that 68 percent of Cuban-Americans favor normalized diplomatic relations, and 52 percent want to ditch the embargo. As pollster Guillermo J. Grenier told The Atlantic, “We are witnessing a clear demographic shift with younger and more recently arrived Cubans favoring a change in policy toward the island.”

Regardless, restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba is the right thing to do. In this season, that ought to be reason enough.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, December 20, 2014

December 21, 2014 Posted by | Cold War, Cuba, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Light Is On…But”: This Man Wants Us To Take Him Seriously

On the good side, unlike Michelle Malkin, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky doesn’t think the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two was sound policy. On the bad side, Sen. Paul wants us to take him seriously as a presidential candidate:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) likened President Barack Obama’s decision to take executive action on immigration to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order authorizing putting Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II.

Paul made the comments on Friday, a day after Obama formally announced the executive actions, at the Kentucky Association of Counties conference in Lexington, Kentucky.

“I care that too much power gets in one place. Why? Because there are instances in our history where we allow power to gravitate toward one person and that one person then makes decisions that really are egregious,” Paul said. “Think of what happened in World War II where they made the decision. The president issued an executive order. He said to Japanese people ‘we’re going to put you in a camp. We’re going to take away all your rights and liberties and we’re going to intern you in a camp.'”

“We shouldn’t allow that much power to gravitate to one individual. We need to separate the power.”

As is his custom, Rand Paul doesn’t even have his history correct, since Congress passed Public Law 503 to help enforce FDR’s executive order that authorized the internment camps.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 22, 2014

November 24, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Japanese Americans, Rand Paul | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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