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“Tentative, Unprepared And Unaware”: Rough Interview Raises Awkward Questions For Sanders Campaign

If you talk privately to Hillary Clinton campaign aides, one of the more common complaints is that Bernie Sanders just hasn’t faced enough scrutiny. It’s ironic, in a way – Sanders supporters generally argue the Vermont senator doesn’t get enough attention from the national media, and in a way, Team Clinton agrees.

As the argument goes, much of the political world has treated Sanders as a protest candidate, who’s serious about putting his ideas in the spotlight, but less serious about actually winning the presidency – a dynamic Sanders’ own campaign has conceded was largely true at the start of the race. The result has been less scrutiny and a less robust examination.

Whether you find these concerns compelling or not, Sanders’ Democratic critics embraced this Sanders interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News with the kind of enthusiasm we haven’t seen all cycle. The Atlantic’s David Graham helped explain why.

There’s little doubting Bernie Sanders’s core political convictions – he’s been saying the same things for decades, with remarkable consistency. But turning convictions into policy is the challenge, and the Vermont senator’s interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News raises some questions about his policy chops.

Throughout his interview, Sanders seemed taken aback when he was pressed on policy – and not just on the matters that are peripheral to his approach, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or interrogation of detainees, but even on bread-and-butter matters like breaking up the big banks, the Democratic presidential hopeful came across as tentative, unprepared, or unaware.

It’s easy to overstate these things. A Washington Post piece called the interview, conducted on Monday and published yesterday, a “disaster.” A writer at Politico argued that when Sanders was pressed for specifics on trade and jobs, the senator was “not much better than Trump in his cluelessness.”

I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s not unfair to note that the Daily News interview raised concerns about Sanders that the Vermonter has largely avoided after nearly a year on the campaign trail.

If the senator had flubbed a question or two, struggling with details on obscure areas outside his wheelhouse, it wouldn’t have made much of a ripple. But as Jonathan Capehart noted, this happened more than once or twice in this interview. Asked about breaking up the big banks, Sanders wasn’t sure about the Fed’s authority, or the administration’s. Asked about court fights over too-big-to-fail measures, Sanders conceded, “It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.”

There were a few too many similar answers. On negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Sanders said, “You’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer.” Asked whether the Obama administration is pursuing the right policy towards ISIS, he responded, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Asked about interrogations of ISIS leaders, Sanders said, “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”

This is a sampling. There were other related exchanges. They were not encouraging.

For Sanders’ supporters, I suspect the response is that the senator is leading a revolution by emphasizing broad themes and identifying systemic crises. Presidents don’t need to know a lot of specific details, the argument goes, so much as they need to establish clear goals.

For Sanders’ detractors, meanwhile, it’s likely this interview was evidence that Sanders’ understanding of major issues is, at best, superficial. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are technocratic wonks, fluent in granular policy details on a wide range of issues, and Sanders just isn’t in their league when it comes to knowledge, preparation, and breadth of expertise.

Obviously, observers will make up their own minds about the significance of the interview. But as an objective matter, Sanders is just now facing the kind of questions he’s avoided for months: there’s no doubt the senator has a clear vision and the ability to inspire his supporters to follow his lead, but how much does he know about implementing his goals? Sanders can paint beautifully with a broad brush, but how prepared is he when it comes to the unglamorous work of governing?

If the senator and his campaign have good answers to these questions, now would be an excellent time to offer them.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 6, 2016

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, National Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Obama And The World’s Ills”: The Republican Story Is: We Don’t Need To Bog Down In Details — Somehow, It’s All Obama’s Fault

It’s hard to recall a time when the world presented more crises with fewer easy solutions. And for the Republicans, all of these woes have a common genesis: American weakness projected by Barack Obama.

People in the Middle East, former Vice President Dick Cheney said recently, “are absolutely convinced that the American capacity to lead and influence in that part of the world has been dramatically reduced by this president.” He added, “We’ve got a problem with weakness, and it’s centered right in the White House.”

Really? It’s instructive to ask: What exactly would a Republican president advised by Cheney do in each of these crises? Let’s take them one at a time.

Iraq. It’s now clear that Cheney’s invasion of Iraq and its subsequent Shiite client state under Nouri al-Maliki only deepened sectarian strife and laid the groundwork for another brand of Islamist radicalism, this time in the form of ISIS, and more backlash against the U.S. for creating the mess. What’s the solution — a permanent U.S. military occupation of Iraq? Republican presidential candidates should try running on that one.

Syria. Obama took a lot of criticism for equivocating on where the bright line was when it came to Syrian use of chemical warfare. In fact, American military pressure and diplomacy has caused Syrian president Assad to get rid of chemical weapons. But the deeper Syrian civil war is another problem from hell. How about it, Republican candidates — More costly military supplies to moderate radicals, whoever the hell they are? A U.S invasion? See how that plays in the 2016 campaign.

Israel-Palestine. A two-state solution seems further away than ever, and time is not on the Israeli side. No American president has had the nerve to tell the Israeli government to stop building settlements on Arab lands, despite $3 billion a year on U.S. aid to Israel. What Would Jesus Do? (What would Cheney do?)

Putin and Ukraine. Russian President Putin’s fomenting of military adventures by ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has created a needless crisis. But our European friends, who have trade deals with Russia, don’t want to make trouble. So, what will it be — a new U.S.-led Cold War without European support? A hot war?

Iran’s Nuclear Capacity. The policy of détente with Iran in exchange for controls on Iranian ability to weaponize enriched uranium is a gamble that could well pay off. The alternative course of bombing Iran, either ourselves or via a proxy Israeli strike, seems far more of a gamble. Who’s the realist here?

China’s New Muscle. The U.S., under Democratic and Republican presidents alike, has become pitifully dependent on borrowing from China. Our biggest corporations have put the attractions of cheap Chinese labor ahead of continuing production in the U.S.A., creating a chronic trade deficit that requires all that borrowing. Now, China is throwing around its economic weight everywhere from its own backyard in East Asia to Africa and South America. Our troubles with Putin have helped promote a closer alliance between Moscow and Beijing. Anyone have a nice silver bullet for this one?

Those Central American Kids. What do you think — failure of immigration policy or humanitarian refugee crisis? On the one hand, American law says that bona fide refugees can apply for asylum and that children who are being trafficked fall into the category of refugees. On the other hand America is never going to take all the world’s refugees. Border Patrol agents interviewing terrified nine-year-olds lack the capacity to determine who is a true candidate for asylum. If shutting down the border — ours or Mexico’s — were the easy solution, we would have done it decades ago.

And I haven’t even gotten to Afghanistan, or the problem of nuclear proliferation, or new Jihadist weapons that can evade airport detection systems, or the total failure of democracy to gain ground in the Middle East.

The Republican story seems to be: we don’t need to bog down in details — somehow, it’s all Obama’s fault.

Here’s what these crises have in common.

  • They have no easy solutions, military or diplomatic, and U.S. leverage is limited.
  • They are deeply rooted in regional geo-politics. U.S. projection of either bravado or prudence has little to do with how recent events have unfolded.
  • Some of these crises were worsened by earlier U.S. policy mistakes, such as the Cheney-Bush invasion of Iraq, or the bipartisan indulgence of Israeli building of settlements, or the one-sided industrial deals with China, or 20th-century alliances with Middle Eastern despots to protect oil interests.

When I was growing up, there was a nice clean division between the good guys and the bad guys. Hitler was the ultimate bad guy. Or maybe it was Stalin. America won World War II, and we won the Cold War when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed.

Policy choices were easy only in retrospect. The neat world of good guys and bad guys started coming apart with the Vietnam War.

Today’s crises are nothing like the ones of that simple era. Who are the good guys and bad guys in Syria and in Iraq? In China’s diplomacy in South America? Among the murdered Israeli and Palestinian children and the children seeking refuge at our southern border?

To the extent that policy options are even partly military, the American public has no stomach for multiple invasions and occupations.

As Republican jingoists scapegoat President Obama for all the world’s ills and try to impose a simple story of weakness and strength on events of stupefying complexity, you have to hope that the American people have more of an attention span than usual.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, Co-Founder and Co-Editor, ‘The American Prospect’; The Huffington Post Blog, July 20, 2014

July 27, 2014 Posted by | Global Unrest, Middle East, Ukraine | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Will You Stop Beating Your Ally?”: Ted Cruz On Protecting And Promoting Israel’s Tourism Industry

I really thought the peculiar use of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a political weapon against Barack Obama had reached its point of diminishing returns back in the 2012 presidential cycle, when the entire field (with the exception, obviously, of Ron Paul) competed to express how abjectly each as president would defer to Israel’s wishes in using American resources and commitments, in sharp contrast to the faithless Muslim-lover in the White House. I mean, seriously, wouldn’t the tribunes of American Exceptionalism eventually see something wrong with their political representatives demanding that the U.S. outsource its foreign policy to another country?

Leave it to Ted Cruz to take it all to another level, accusing the administration of telling the FAA to ban flights into Tel Aviv as part of a pro-Hamas conspiracy:

“Given that some 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel over the last six weeks, many of them at Tel Aviv, it seems curious to choose yesterday at noon to announce a flight ban, especially as the Obama Administration had to be aware of the punitive nature of this action.

“Tourism is an $11 billion industry for Israel, which is in the middle of a summer high season already seriously diminished by the conflict initiated by Hamas. Group tours have been cancelling at a 30% rate. This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers. It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done….

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a veiled threat last February when he encouraged boycotts of Israel [sic] and said that absent serious Israeli concessions at the negotiating table, Israel’s economic prosperity was ‘not sustainable’ and ‘illusory.’ Secretary Kerry unfortunately reprised this theme just this April, when he threatened that Israel risked becoming an ‘apartheid state’ if Israel did not submit to his chosen solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis.

“Taken in the context of Secretary Kerry’s comments, yesterday’s action by the FAA raises some serious questions.

So apparently the United States has an obligation, at the potential expense of the safety of its own citizens, to promote the security claims of another country in order to protect said country’s tourism industry. Anything less than that is to side with Israel’s enemies, whose bloody hands Obama is already shaking by continuing humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

How much further can Republicans move the goal posts here? Should we become more militantly pro-Israel than the Israelis themselves?

I know this is a sweet spot for conservatives because it pleases a certain type of evangelical Christian activist and projects bloody-minded “strength” without risking a commitment of U.S. troops, since the Israelis really can take care of themselves from a military point of view. And the Palestinians, of course, are the overseas equivalent of those people here, somehow still held to be responsible for 9/11. But if there is a Republican president any time soon, the GOP isn’t doing him or her any favors by mortgaging half its foreign policy to the interests of a single foreign state, however admirable.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Israel, Palestine, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“We Can’t Afford A President Romney”: An Israeli And A Palestinian On The American Presidential Election…They Don’t Want Mitt Either

Watching the American election from overseas, it makes sense to us that the conversation is mostly focused on the economic recovery. And yet, behind closed doors, topics related to us get discussed. What we’re hearing isn’t so great. In a video of a private meeting with wealthy donors, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, “I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there’s just no way.”

We resent that. We’re an Israeli and a Palestinian—ordinary people from opposing sides of this conflict, who have forged a friendship based on the belief that this conflict can be ended with the shared vision of a two-state solution based on the borders of 1967 with mutually agreed upon land swaps. We have remained friends despite the challenges and the everyday apathy, hopelessness and despair of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are again being tossed aside as dispensable pawns on an international chess board. If we have learned anything by living through this conflict, it is that we must hold our leaders accountable. If reconciliation through the two-state solution, hard as it will be, fails, it will only be because the leaders don’t make it a priority.

The trust-building process between Israelis and Palestinians is so delicate and essential for a future peace agreement, that every time a public figure uses dismissive rhetoric, we feel as if we are only walking backwards, scared of being pulled into another round of violence by those who benefit from the stagnation of talks. The idea that a candidate for President of the United States truly believes there is no hope for the two-state solution and that it is a problem that should be ignored not only scares us, it makes us furious.

For Americans, the two-state solution is a theory, a way out of a crisis that is, at best, worrisome. To us, the two-state solution represents our best hope for a livable future. We are aware of the difficulties such a solution holds, but the status-quo is not acceptable—it affects peoples’ lives on a daily basis, in almost everything they do—and it’s a dangerous strategy.

We do have our share of criticism over the negotiation process in the past four years and Obama’s attempts at restarting it. Still, we are pleased he at least considers it a priority. Under a hypothetical Romney administration, we have no hope this issue would be addressed—resulting in further upheaval and damage to the security and future prosperity of both the State of Israel and the future Palestinian State, and, eventually, America.

We are not alone in believing this. President Clinton, appearing on CNN recently, responded to Romney’s comments: “It is accurate that the United States cannot make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have to do that. What we need to do is maximize the attractiveness of doing it and minimize the risks of doing it—we can do that.” He’s right: no American president will ever be able to force both sides to make peace. But a U.S. president can and must help by providing incentives, easing the way, taking the necessary steps, and, most importantly, believing it is possible. Romney simply lacks the hope and vision that we need in the leader of the most powerful country on earth. Obama is our chance to keep on the path for a two-state solution.

 

By: Ahmad Omeir and Danny Shaket, Open Zion, Daily Beast, November 2, 2012

November 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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