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“The Trouble Is With The Messenger”: Rubio Targets Trump, But Leads With His Chin

Donald Trump’s first real interview on matters of foreign policy and national security clearly didn’t go well. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt pressed the Republican frontrunner on a variety of key issues – the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah, for example – and the GOP presidential candidate not only struggled, Trump dismissed the questions themselves as “ridiculous.”

The second-day question, of course, is whether a candidate’s ignorance has any effect on his or her standing. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), talking earlier to CNN, clearly hopes to make Trump’s difficulties as consequential as possible.

“If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then you are not going to be able to serve as commander and chief,” Rubio told CNN in an interview here.

 “This should be part of the reason why you are running because you understand the threats that the world is facing, you have deep understanding and you understand what to do about it,” Rubio added. “And if someone doesn’t, I think it is very concerning.”

At face value, there’s probably something to this. Even if someone were to give Trump the benefit of the doubt – maybe he confused the Quds Forces and the Kurds because it was a phone interview and he misheard the host – major-party presidential candidates should know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah. Heck, anyone who reads news articles once in a while about the Middle East should know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah.

If Rubio wants to make the case that interviews like the Trump-Hewitt exchange point to a candidate who’s probably unprepared for national office, it’s a credible message.

The trouble, however, is with the messenger.

Rubio, a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, is basing much of his campaign on his alleged expertise on international affairs. The far-right Floridian would love nothing more than to be seen as the candidate who has a “deep understanding” of “the threats that the world is facing.”

But Rubio has run into Trump-like problems of his own. Just last week, in a big speech on foreign policy, the GOP senator told an embarrassing whopper about military preparedness, touching on an issue Rubio should have understood far better.

In June, Rubio was asked about his approach towards Iraq. Told that his policy sounds like nation-building, the senator responded, “Well, it’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation.”

Just this year, Rubio has flubbed the details of Iran’s Green Revolution. His criticisms on the Obama administration’s approach towards Israel were quickly discredited as nonsense. His statements of nuclear diplomacy were practically gibberish.

In the spring, Rubio had a memorable confrontation with Secretary of State John Kerry, which was a debacle – the senator stumbled badly on several key details, and Kerry made him look pretty foolish.

Soon after, Rhonda Swan, a Florida-based journalist, wrote that the Republican senator “should be embarrassed.” Swan added, “By his own standard that the next president have a ‘clear view of what’s happening in the world’ and a ‘practical plan for how to engage America in global affairs,’ Rubio fails the test.”

What’s more, as readers may recall, when Rubio has tried to articulate a substantive vision, he’s relied a little too heavily on shallow, bumper-sticker-style sloganeering, rather than actual policy measures. Rubio declared “our strategy” on national security should mirror Liam Neeson’s catchphrase in the film “Taken”: “We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you.”

Soon after, the candidate’s team unveiled the “Rubio Doctrine,” described by Charles Pierce as “three banalities strung together in such a way as to sound profound and to say nothing.”

Rubio said this morning, “If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then you are not going to be able to serve as commander and chief.” That may be true. But is there any reason to believe the Florida Republican knows the answer to these questions?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 4, 2015

September 6, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, Marco Rubio, National Security | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When Liberals Enable Tyrants”: Can A Liberal Oppose Tyranny And Support Military Intervention At The Same Time?

What is liberalism supposed to be about on the world stage? What values and goals do American liberals wish to promote around the world? I’m pretty certain most would say free democratic societies; full political rights for ethnic minorities; equal rights for women and, with any luck, gay people; a free press; an independent judiciary; and so forth. And, where those cannot be achieved, at least a base-level opposition to tyranny, reaction, religious fundamentalism, and so on.

Most would name these things. But, I have to say, most rank-and-file liberals don’t seem to me to be very passionate about them. What most liberals are passionate about is one thing: opposition to U.S. militarism. That’s what really roils the loins. Ever since Vietnam, there’s been this template, this governing notion that every military action the United States undertakes is by definition both immoral and bound inevitably to lead to a quagmire; that the U.S. military can do only bad in the world. Lord knows, there’s plenty of evidence to back up the claim, and a posture of deep skepticism about all military plans and promises is the only serious posture (abandoned by most of the “serious” people back in 2003).

I’ve described here two impulses: the desire to do good in the world, or at least to prevent the bad; and opposition to American force. Often these desires can exist in harmony. But what if they conflict? Why is opposition to any projection of force always the deciding factor? At times it can lead people into some very illiberal little corners.

I say this is one of those times. Taking no action now, after what Assad did, strengthens the hand of murderers, theocrats, and some of the most illiberal people on the planet. Yes, I have concerns about what might happen. You’ve read many columns, I’m sure, and heard many Democratic members of Congress on cable television talking about the potential catastrophic effects of a strike. I don’t deny them. I worry about them daily.

But I bet you haven’t heard many people talk about the potential harmful effects in the region of not striking the Assad regime. Yes, you probably saw Lindsey Graham and John McCain talk about how Iran would be emboldened in its nuclear ambitions, but that’s not even the half of it. Here are six consequences of not launching a strike against Syria, all of which could harm small-d democratic hopes in the region and, indeed, potentially increase the carnage.

(1) An Emboldened Assad

If the U.S. doesn’t strike, Assad would be emboldened to intensify the fighting in rebel-held areas. Rebel groups of different kinds hold a large number of cities and towns, as this map will show you. What if, concluding that the war-weary West doesn’t really care what he does and isn’t going to lift a finger to stop him, Assad (with Iran’s help) launches savage campaigns in these areas?

No strike is a green light for Assad to take over all the liberated areas by any means necessary, maybe including, again, chemical weapons. The CWs weren’t used last month just because he’s a big meanie. They were used to ferret rebel fighters out of their strongholds. Why wouldn’t he do it again if no one does a thing to stop him? And again?

(2) More Radicalized Rebels

Also within Syria itself, it’s possible that a failure to strike will radicalize more rebels and turn more of them against the United States and send them into the waiting arms of ISIS and al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliates. It certainly seems safe to say that the “good” elements of the anti-regime forces, the people looking to the West for help, would be the losers if we don’t strike. Both the regime and the rebel Islamists have been killing members of the better rebel factions, and both groups would get the message from no U.S. strike that those factions have no protector.

(3) A Win for Hezbollah

Hezbollah, Assad’s ally and Iran’s terrorist proxy army, could more easily take over in Lebanon if the U.S. holds back. Right now in Lebanon, there is no government. I don’t want to drag you too deeply into Lebanese politics, but Hezbollah wants one of two things: either to be in the government, or at least to have what is called the “obstructing third” privilege that permitted it in the last government to block anything the government wants to do. On the other side are pro-Western politicians who have sought to reduce Hezbollah’s influence. No strike would only embolden Hezbollah, which could then decide on key military and security appointments in the next government.

(4) A Strengthened Iran in Iraq

Why? Because of the ongoing competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia for Iraqi influence, no strike would probably make Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki tilt more toward Iran (Saudi Arabia supports a U.S. strike, albeit not quite openly). Lately, according to Ken Pollack, Washington and Tehran have been in a kind of unexpected entente in Iraq. And Tehran probably has enough on its plate in Syria to prevent it from starting to make power moves in Iraq. But it’s possible, if the U.S. stands down over Syria, that Iran could start doing just that in Iraq, even as the country seems to be sliding back into civil war.

(5) A Blow to Israel

And there’s Israel to think about it. If Nos. 2 and 3 above come to pass—a strengthened al Qaeda and Hezbollah—well, that can’t be very good news for Israel. There are now “resistance brigades” affiliated with the Syrian regime operating in the long-disputed Golan. These brigades, too, will take note if the United States does nothing here.

(6) A Nuclear-Trigger-Happy Iran

There is, yes, the ultimate question of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. I think it’s hard to argue that a U.S. strike would delay those ambitions. But it is not hard to argue the opposite—that the lack of American action against Syria would make Tehran feel that much freer to proceed with that much more impunity.

Looking back over my list, who could benefit from the U.S. not taking action here? Assad, the dictator with the blood of 100,000 on his hands. Iran, one of the world’s most reactionary regimes. Hezbollah, a terrorist force that crushes the democratic aspirations of the Lebanese people. And al Qaeda, the extremist fanatics behind 9/11. Are those the kinds of people liberals want to help? I’m sure liberal members of Congress who’ve announced they’re voting no—Raúl Grijalva, Alan Grayson, Charlie Rangel, Barbara Lee, and about 17 others—have spent a heck of a lot of time thinking about what could go wrong if we do strike. I bet they haven’t given a moment’s thought to what could go wrong if we don’t.

I say that’s worth thinking about. Also worth thinking about is the fact that many liberal-minded people from the region, and certainly many or virtually all of the nonextremist rebels, want the United States to act. From their point of view, without the United States’ engagement, the region is buried in slaughter, theocracy, and darkness. I would expect American liberals at least to stop and think about that.

Again, no one is talking about 130,000 ground troops. That was a qualitatively different thing, and I opposed it from the start. Yes, an American attack might escalate matters. But it also might not. We got in and out of Libya. It’s not clear what that one accomplished yet, although we did presumably prevent a slaughter of many thousands in Benghazi. It is clear what we accomplished in Kosovo, where another murderer was removed from office and hauled to the Hague (without one American life lost). So it doesn’t always end badly. And it isn’t always immoral. This is one of those cases where, if the scale of the action is appropriate and if it works, a military incursion can actually serve liberal ends. No, that’s not for sure. But it is for sure that doing nothing helps the reactionaries.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 6, 2013

September 7, 2013 Posted by | Syria | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Reality Check”: Assad’s Use Of Chemical Weapons Is Truly Depraved

“We categorically reject even the idea of using chemical weapons … against our own people,” Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said this week. “This is crazy, morally this is absolutely unacceptable, and no Syrian … from the government will do it.”

Despite those comments, overwhelming evidence indicates the regime of Bashar al-Assad has deployed chemical weapons on the battlefield in Syria.

The most recent — and by far the most devastating — occurred on August 21, when thousands of people were gassed while they slept in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta.

To realize how depraved it is to use nerve agents on innocent civilians, consider that the attack was “third large-scale use of a chemical weapon in the Middle East and may have broken the longest period in history without such an attack.”

That fact is currently being lost as Congress begins debating whether to approve limited military action in response to the Syrian government’s actions.

Yet that’s the thrust of the Obama administration’s argument.

“Bashar al-Assad now joins the list of Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein [i.e., other rulers who] have used these weapons in time of war,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC on Sunday. “This is of great consequence to Israel, to Jordan, to Turkey, to the region, and to all of us who care about enforcing the international norm with respect to chemical weapons.”

The “threat” of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) — nuclear, biological, or chemical — is real, but one of the reasons people are hesitant to advocate a U.S. strike is because the threat of “WMDs” were used as a pretense to hasten the oust Hussein.

The Iraq war notwithstanding, history provides insight into the wickedness of chemical weapons use. That, in turn, informs why the international community has been proactive about neutralizing that threat.

In World War I poison gas was arguably the most feared of all weapons as several countries released more than 1.3 million tons of chemical agents — ranging from simple tear gas to mustard gas — and killed 90,000 men.

The gas, released in open air, spread with the speed and direction of the wind. The same thing happened outside of Damascus on August 21.

By World War II Nazi Germany had developed deadlier gasses and then took air out of the equation by releasing nerve agents in gas chambers. The effect was catastrophic — the largest chambers could kill 2,000 people at once — since the concentration of chemicals is highest in small spaces.

The horrors of the World Wars, as well as the more recent example of Iraq causing 60,000 chemical weapons casualties in their war with Iran in the ’80s, explain why the Obama administration would be aggressively proactive about their use in Syria.

Furthermore, there is the added danger of Syria’s chemical WMDs falling into the hands of extremists who would hesitate much less before wreaking chemical havoc on a part of the world.

That’s why there has been a persistent fear throughout the Syrian conflict that Assad would transfer chemical weapons to Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based terrorist group and Iranian proxy that has more than 60,000 rockets pointed at Israel.

Syria and it’s allies have insisted that Assad is not crazy enough to deploy WMDs on his people. On Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin said it would be “utter nonsense” for Syria’s government to provoke opponents with such attacks.

But overwhelming evidence indicates that he did just that. Now it’s just a matter of what the international community is going to do about it.

As Obama asked “every member of Congress and every member of the global community” on Saturday:

“What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price? What’s the purpose of the international system that we’ve built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world’s people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?”


By: Michael Kelley, Business Insider, September 1, 2013

September 3, 2013 Posted by | Syria | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rejecting The GOP’s ‘Hezbollah Faction’: Where Are The Sane Republicans?

I found a lot to disagree with in Thomas Friedman’s column today, but his criticism of the Republican Party’s base rings true.

The Tea Party … is so lacking in any aspiration for American greatness, so dominated by the narrowest visions for our country and so ignorant of the fact that it was not tax cuts that made America great but our unique public-private partnerships across the generations. If sane Republicans do not stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst, the Tea Party will take the G.O.P. on a suicide mission.

This strikes me as fair, and it got me thinking about a question a friend of mine asked me the other day: where are the “sane Republicans” willing to “stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst”? Where are Bob Dole and John Warner? Why can’t John Danforth and Colin Powell express their disapproval for what their party is doing? Maybe some of Reagan’s old guard, like Ken Duberstein, could speak up?

The party is not without elder statesmen and women. They couldn’t possibly see their party’s antics on Capitol Hill and feel a sense of pride. Maybe it’s time they say so?

A regular reader recently passed along this item from Robert Prather, published a week ago on the center-right Outside the Beltway blog, about his sense of what’s become of the GOP.

I’ve been moving to the left for a few years now, but these idiots are radicalizing me. I’ve never voted for a Democrat in my life (full disclosure: I didn’t vote the last two elections due to moving), but I doubt I’ll ever vote for a Republican again. They’re either stupid or evil, but either way they’re dangerous and bad for the country.

I don’t know much about Prather’s political background, and maybe he’s an anomaly. But shouldn’t there be a legion of Republicans — former office holders, party loyalists, life-long members, all of the above — who are sympathetic to this perspective?

We’re not talking about GOP officials taking a hard line on some random piece of legislation, or nominating some radical for a key public office. We’re talking about congressional Republicans who’ve decided to play a game of chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States — something no American institution has ever done in more than two centuries — and who are fully prepared to trash the constitutional principle next week as part of a hostage strategy gone horribly awry?

Are there no noteworthy Republicans watching this, willing to say, “My party is simply going too far”?

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 27, 2011

July 28, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Democracy, Democrats, Dictators, Disasters, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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