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“The Security To Take Risks”: Secure Enough To Explore The Possibilities Of Our Ideals

In his interview with Tom Friedman, President Obama discussed how his foreign policy is guided by a principle I haven’t heard him articulate before.

What struck me most was what I’d call an “Obama doctrine” embedded in the president’s remarks. It emerged when I asked if there was a common denominator to his decisions to break free from longstanding United States policies isolating Burma, Cuba and now Iran. Obama said his view was that “engagement,” combined with meeting core strategic needs, could serve American interests vis-à-vis these three countries far better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America, with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities — like trying to forge a diplomatic deal with Iran that, while permitting it to keep some of its nuclear infrastructure, forestalls its ability to build a nuclear bomb for at least a decade, if not longer.

We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” the president said. “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naive — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place. … We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it?”

I say that I haven’t heard him articulate this principle before – but that’s simply because I haven’t heard him apply it to foreign policy. But the minute I read this portion of the interview, I thought of something a young Barack Obama told Tammerlin Drummond back in 1990 not long after he’d been elected the first African American President of the Harvard Law Review.

The post, considered the highest honor a student can attain at Harvard Law School, almost always leads to a coveted clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court after graduation and a lucrative offer from the law firm of one’s choice.

Yet Obama, who has gone deep into debt to meet the $25,000-a-year cost of a Harvard Law School education, has left many in disbelief by asserting that he wants neither.

One of the luxuries of going to Harvard Law School is it means you can take risks in your life,” Obama said recently. “You can try to do things to improve society and still land on your feet. That’s what a Harvard education should buy – enough confidence and security to pursue your dreams and give something back.”

I believe that what the President is talking about is something we all know deep inside ourselves but rarely allow to take hold. Too often our fears feed our sense of insecurity and keep us from taking the kinds of risks that could improve things. We embark on a never-ending quest to find more (money, power, etc) and never recognize that the ground we are standing on is already secure enough to allow us to let go and explore the possibility of our ideals.

The damage that kind of cycle does to an individual is very similar to how the fear-mongering from Republicans is affecting our country right now. It is in this way that President Obama embodies what is truly exceptional about the United States. He knows that just as a young man with a degree from Harvard Law School could afford to take some risks with his career (and look where that got him!), the richest and most powerful nation on this earth is secure enough to be able to take some risks to promote engagement and the potential for peace.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 7, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, President Obama | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Imagine Cruz As President”: You Can’t Stand In A Hog Wallow Without Getting Stink All Over You

And away we go — off on another crazy cruze with Ted!

Cinch up your seatbelts, for Senator Ted Cruz (fueled by his raw ambition and flaming jet-powered ego) has come screeching out of the GOP’s presidential staging area, getting a head start on all the other wannabes seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. And what a crazy start Ted made, launching his campaign from Liberty University. Liberty U is the creation of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the self-promoting Christian theocrat, bigot, liar, and buffoonish pretender to be God’s chosen agent on Earth. Cruz hopes that launching there will make him “God’s candidate” — the chosen one of far-right Christian extremists who dominate the vote in the early Republican contests.

But, good Lord — Falwell? The vast majority of Americans remember him as an unholy fool, a non-stop spewer of hate. “I listen to feminists and all these radical gals,” he said. “These women just need a man in the house. That’s all they need. A man to tell them what time of day it is.” And who can forget this piece of vicious sermonizing: “AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals”? Likewise, the pompous preacher said 9/11 was “what we deserve,” claiming it was God’s punishment for feminism, gays, the ACLU and other evils. His knowledge of African-Americans was equally insightful: “The true Negro does not want integration,” he explained.

Also, in Jerry’s world: “There is no separation of church and state”; “all public schools will be closed and taken over by churches,” and “Christians will be running them”; and the Bible is “absolutely infallible,” even “in areas such as geography, science, history, etc.”

You can’t stand in a hog wallow without getting stink all over you. Yet, Crazy Ted Cruz deliberately chose to stand in Falwell’s political wallow, which leaves him reeking with the stench of Falwell’s nastiness and know-nothingism. Is Cruz running to be president of the USA — or of Liberty University?

Ted’s announcement of his presidential candidacy was a real Cruz-a-palooza! It was part Ronald Reagan, part Elmer Gantry, part John Lennon and, of course, part Jerry Falwell — yet it was totally Ted Cruz — full of blather, bloat and BS.

Not only was it staged at Liberty U but Cruz thumped the word “liberty” again and again, like a televangelist thumping the Bible. “We stand together for liberty,” the candidate declared one final time at the conclusion of the show. That was more than a little cynical. While the mass media reported that Cruz drew a packed house of 10,000 Liberty students, few news stories mentioned a pertinent fact about the crowd — the budding scholars were not at… liberty to avoid his speech, for school officials made attendance mandatory.

Another word reprised throughout the campaign event was “imagine” — used 38 times by Cruz in a sort of dreamy imitation of the John Lennon song. “Imagine health care reform that keeps government out of the way,” warbled the senator, whose family has received free, platinum-level coverage from Goldman Sachs, where his wife was a top executive. But she has now taken a leave from the Wall Street giant to join Ted’s anti-government crusade, so suddenly they had no health coverage. No problem for a hypocrite like Cruz, though — only a day after the big speech, he said he plans to sign up for Obamacare, the very program he demonized and pledged to kill.

But it was in the speech’s finale that Ted reached his crescendo of cynicism: “It is a time for truth,” he bellowed. Truth? This is a guy who fabricates facts to foment fear among the fringiest of the farthermost fringe of the right wingers. The good news is that the more he campaigns, the more obvious it will be that can’t even imagine truth. And like Falwell, he will be another fool for the history books.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, April 1, 2015

April 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“At What Cost Victory”: Bibi’s Ugly Win Will Harm Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu won a big election Tuesday, but he won ugly by staking out a new position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is likely to harm his nation in the months ahead.

A reckoning is coming—faster than expected—for Netanyahu, his Likud Party and maybe even for the State of Israel itself.

Complete returns showed that Netanyahu’s Likud Party won 29 seats in the Knesset to 24 seats for the Zionist Union (formerly Labor) Party headed by Isaac Herzog, who ran a more spirited campaign than expected but almost certainly fell short of the support necessary to form a government.

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, whose job consists mostly of presiding over elections, said not long after the polls closed that he wants a coalition government and has given Netanyahu, Herzog and the other party leaders a couple of days to engage in a frenzy of (largely unconsummated) deal-making. But Herzog’s parliamentary math problem got worse as the evening wore on, and it’s hard to see where he finds the “mandates” (seats) to prevail.

One big surprise was the performance of the Joint List, a coalition of usually fractious Arab parties that won 13 seats and finished third, far better than Arab Israelis ever have in the past. But their influence will be limited because Arab parties traditionally refuse to join the government so as to avoid being complicit in official Israeli policy that they loathe.

As the returns came in, the center-left and other critics of Netanyahu held out hope that Moshe Kahlon—whose center-right Kulanu Party won 10 seats—would nurse his anger at Netanyahu (in whose government he once served) and side with Zionist Union. But even that would be unlikely to yield enough seats to oust Netanyahu. The small religious parties that often hold the balance of power faded amid Bibi’s last-minute panicky bid for right-wing votes.

That panic had a purpose. Netanyahu came back from the dead by doing something politicians almost never do—predicting his own defeat. He told base voters that he would lose if they didn’t abandon far-right-winger Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayeudi Party and flock back to Likud. Instead of trying to hide his desperation, he flaunted (or contrived) it, to great political effect, winning by several seats more than expected.

Like George W. Bush in his 2004 reelection campaign against John Kerry in the aftermath of 9/11, Netanyahu wielded security issues as a polarizing political weapon, overcoming personal unpopularity and a mediocre economic record with a campaign based largely on fear. It worked.

But at what cost? In the days before the election, Netanyahu accused the opposition of being manipulated by Americans, insulted Arabs for simply voting, doubled down on support for settlements in East Jerusalem and—most significantly—said there would be no Palestinian state on his watch, thereby confirming a view that critics always suspected he harbored.

Cynical about their politicians, some Israeli pundits predicted that Netanyahu would slip away from his new line, just as he this week repudiated his famous 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University in which he proclaimed, “Let us make peace,” and endorsed a two-state solution.

Bibi can try, but Monday’s comment set his feet in cement. “I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel,” Netanyahu told a website owned by his most generous supporter, American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Should he go back on this pledge, his right-wing supporters would desert him and he would be forced to call another election next year that he would likely lose.

Netanyahu knows that intransigence on the Palestinians is harmful to his purported security priority—confronting a nuclear Iran. He knows that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and other countries can’t ally with Israel against Iran until he makes peace with the Palestinians. But he was willing to do what it takes to win.

Now the rest of the world will do what it takes to punish his government. That means that the “BDS” movement (Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions) will likely move from the (sometimes anti-Semitic) fringe closer to the center of the debate on college campuses and in international forums. As the Palestinians pursue their case globally with more finesse than they once had, the Israeli policy—shorn of efforts to achieve peace—will look increasingly illegitimate.

And Bibi and Likud might be in for a rude shock at the United Nations. On Tuesday, moderate Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN that it was “hard to imagine” there would be no consequences from Netanyahu’s new one-state views.

Bibi has placed all his chips on the Republican Congress, which has no say over how the U.S. votes in the U.N. Schiff—who often reflects the view of the White House—hinted that the Obama administration might consider selectively lifting the American veto in the Security Council that has protected Israel for more than six decades.

While the U.S. will no doubt continue to veto the most obnoxious U.N. resolutions, others (like those based on comments of U.S. officials about the need for a two-state solution) are now more likely to pass with the tacit support of the U.S., opening a new chapter in international pressure on Israel.

Beset by European boycotts, rebuked by international tribunals, estranged from the president of the United States—it’s not a pretty picture of the fate of America’s closest ally in the region.

But that might be the fallout from the most bruising and consequential Israeli election in many years.

 

By: Jonathan Alter, The Daily Beast, March 18, 2015

March 19, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, United States | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where Have Ebola’s Fear-Mongers All Gone?”: The One Word You Haven’t Heard A Politician Say Since Election Day

Only two months ago, many Americans were gripped by fear of the uncontrollable spread of an apparently incurable disease that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected could strike 1.4 million people in West Africa before it came under control.

Amid such reports, it took only one case to touch off near-panic inside the United States: that of Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan after he was misdiagnosed by a Dallas hospital.

In the weeks that followed Duncan’s death, state and local governments reacted — and sometimes overreacted. Several schools barred teachers and children who had visited African countries that were nowhere near the epidemic. In Maine, a teacher was put on leave because she had visited Dallas.

And then election-year politics kicked in.

Members of Congress, mostly Republicans, warned that Ebola could be carried into the country by illegal immigrants or even terrorists, and demanded a ban on travelers entering the United States from the affected countries. Governors scrambled to draft quarantine regulations, producing a showdown between Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and a nurse he tried to confine to a tent. (The nurse won.)

And now? The crisis is all but forgotten. We’ve moved on.

The epidemic is ebbing in Liberia, but still spreading in Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization estimates there have been about 18,000 cases, including more than 6,300 deaths: tragic numbers, but far below the apocalyptic scenario once predicted.

Only four cases of the disease have been diagnosed in the United States, two of them in people who contracted the disease in West Africa. And we’ve learned that when Ebola is identified early, in a country with a functioning healthcare system, the disease is treatable after all.

“What’s the one word you haven’t heard a politician say since Election Day?” Democratic strategist James Carville asked me a few weeks ago. “Ebola!”

I’m not blaming ordinary people for reacting as they did to a deadly epidemic they’d been told was difficult to stop.

I’m not even blaming governors who scrambled to impose quarantines to stop the spread of a disease they didn’t know much about. Their job was to protect their citizens. And when they discovered that their initial reactions might have been too broad, they pared them back — even Chris Christie.

It’s worth remembering, as well, that the Obama administration initially did a ham-handed job of mastering the crisis. Dr. Thomas Frieden of the CDC started out by assuring the country that the situation was under control — even though it wasn’t, at first.

But there is one list of politicians who still deserve a measure of scorn: the ones who fanned fear for fear’s sake.

This week, those politicians shared in an award they probably didn’t want: the annual “Lie of the Year” prize conferred by PolitiFact, the fact-checking arm of the Tampa Bay Times. They won, the paper said, because they deliberately “produced a dangerous and incorrect narrative” about an important global problem.

Before you dismiss that as another liberal media attack on the GOP, consider this: Last year’s PolitiFact winner for “Lie of the Year” was President Obama, for his promise that under his 2010 healthcare law, “if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it.”

The politicians mentioned in this year’s citation included Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), an ophthalmologist who may run for president.

His advice on Ebola included this warning: “This is an incredibly contagious disease. People in full gloves and gowns are getting it.”

Well, no, as thousands of medical workers in Africa can testify — not when true precautions are in place.

“This is something that appears to be very easy to catch,” Paul added. “If someone has Ebola at a cocktail party, they’re contagious and you can catch it from them.”

Theoretically true — but only if your cocktail party acquaintance is emitting fluids in your direction; Ebola can’t be transmitted by air.

Then there was Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), another physician, who managed to combine two hot-button issues, Ebola and immigration. Gingrey announced that he had received “reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever and Ebola.”

Other members of Congress speculated that terrorists might infect themselves, sneak into the United States and try to spread the disease in crowded places. PolitiFact carefully said it couldn’t count that as a lie, since it was mere speculation.

But it was surely intended to increase fear. And fear is a powerful emotion, much easier to provoke than to ease.

So now that the acute fear of Ebola has ebbed, we should pause for a moment to thank some Americans who didn’t panic — and, more important, even did something to bring the epidemic closer to an end: the courageous relief workers who went to Africa, not knowing whether they’d be allowed to return home, relief workers that included roughly 3,000 U.S. military personnel who accepted deployment to Liberia as part of their jobs, and whose clinic-building mission will be complete soon. And yes, even those politicians, beginning with President Obama, who didn’t panic.

 

By: Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times (TNS); The National Memo, December 18, 2014

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Ebola, Phil Gingrey, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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