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“Our God Wins!”: Is Blatant Islamophobia Becoming Mainstream Inside The GOP?

Conservatives are deeply troubled by President Obama’s reluctance to use the words “Islam” and “Islamic” often enough when talking about terrorism. We saw this when many conservatives reacted with condemnation to the White House’s Summit to Counter Violent Extremism, which wrapped up yesterday.

But the importance many on the right are now placing on repeating terms like “Islamic extremists” as much as possible raises a possibility that ought to trouble the GOP: There’s a strain of anti-Muslim sentiment within their party that is growing stronger; what we don’t know yet is whether there’s anyone in the party with the guts to arrest its progress.

Obama doesn’t dismiss such language choices as irrelevant; he has made clear his position that if he uses terms like “Islamic extremism” or “Islamic terrorism” he would be implying not just that groups like ISIS are motivated by their religious beliefs, but that there’s something inherently Islamic about this particular brand of violence. He worries that we would be doing ISIS’ work for them, validating their claim that there is a clash of civilizations going on, with Islam on one side and the west on the other.

I haven’t seen conservatives address this argument directly enough. Do they really think that using the word “Islamic” more to talk about threats to the United States would make those threats easier to defeat? Who knows? What’s apparent, though, is that they want Obama to admit and proclaim exactly what ISIS is trying to convince every Muslim of: that this is indeed a clash of civilizations.

Let’s look at what we’ve been hearing lately. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News is now calling on American clergy to preach “holy war” against the Muslims who threaten our way of life. “President Obama is flat-out wrong in not describing the terrorist threat accurately,” he says. “Muslim fanatics want to kill us. And there are millions of them.” He offered this under a headline reading, “Judeo-Christian Values vs. the Jihad.”

“When I hear the president of the United States and his chief spokesperson failing to admit that we’re in a religious war, it really bothers me,” says Lindsey Graham.

And the war isn’t just about what’s happening in Syria and Iraq, it’s about whether there are too many Muslims here in America as well. Last month, Bobby Jindal went to England to lecture the British about the utterly fictional “no-go zones” that he imagines are blanketing Europe, where sharia law is in force and non-Muslims are not permitted. No matter how many people tell Jindal that the “no-go zones” he’s heard about don’t actually exist, he’s sticking to the story, and warning that they’re on their way to America.

It’s a message that many Republican voters are apparently eager to hear. As Byron York reported, to Republicans in Iowa, “Jindal was warning about the danger of enclaves of unassimilated Muslim populations in an age of Islamic radicalism, a problem they fear could be in store for the United States.” Jindal returned from his trip to hold a prayer rally, explicitly advertised as an event to celebrate Christianity (“There will only be one name lifted up that day — Jesus!” Jindal wrote in a letter inviting other governors to come). At the rally, Jindal triumphantly declared, “Our god wins!”

But as Peter Beinart reminds us, Jindal isn’t even the most nakedly anti-Muslim candidate in the group of possible GOP contenders; that would be Mike Huckabee. Here are some colorful comments he made in 2013:

“Can someone explain to me why it is that we tiptoe around a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet in their so-called ‘holiest days’? You know, if you’ve kept up with the Middle East, you know that the most likely time to have an uprising of rock throwing and rioting comes on the day of prayer on Friday. So the Muslims will go to the mosque, and they will have their day of prayer, and they come out of there like uncorked animals — throwing rocks and burning cars.”

Not a lot of ambiguity there. And even people who wouldn’t say that kind of thing are clear about what they do want everyone to say: that terrorism is Islamic. “They won’t even call the threat what it is. How can you talk about defeating an enemy you cannot name?” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, in response to the White House Summit.

This is a common refrain: we can’t defeat Islamic terror if we don’t call it “Islamic” at every opportunity. But I wonder what McCaul and the many Republicans who share his opinion think would happen if President Obama jumped up and down and shouted, “Islamic Islamic Islamic!” Would there be some difference in our military or diplomatic strategy? Would we get more help from Muslim countries? What would change?

It’s obviously important to understand how ISIS’ ideas, actions, and decisions grow out of their particular interpretation of Islam. But that’s very different from saying that in order to defeat them, we have to declare to the world that we’re fighting Islam (and of course, there’s nothing ISIS would want more).

What Republicans are now demanding is that we once again make our thinking as simplistic as possible. When Obama says that we need to understand the complex forces — economic, political, religious — that produce the cadre of disaffected young men on which ISIS relies, they shake their heads and say: No, we don’t need to understand anything. This is about Them and Us, and if we just say we’re fighting Them, then we’re halfway to victory.

Every Republican politician, particularly those running for president, should be thinking very carefully about how they want to address this issue in the coming days, because they’ll have to. Particularly given the widespread beliefs within the GOP base about President Obama — that he’s too solicitous of Muslims or may be a secret Muslim himself, that he hates America and sympathizes with terrorists — there will be a great deal of pressure on presidential candidates to show that they’re as alarmed and angry about the Muslim threat as the guy at the next podium.

The real test of how mainstream this kind of anti-Islamic sentiment has grown within the GOP isn’t so much what those like Huckabee and Jindal say — they’ve obviously decided that advocating for religious war is the path to becoming the favored candidate of Christian conservatives (though they seem to have forgotten that the candidate who wins that mantle almost never gets the GOP nomination). The test is whether we see candidates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio, who are looking to appeal to a wider group of voters, dipping their toes in those rancid waters.

One Republican candidate has done the right thing in response to this question. In 2011, Chris Christie appointed Sohail Mohammed to a state judgeship, a decision for which he was attacked by some conservatives in the most blatantly bigoted ways you can imagine. The critics called Mohammed, an accomplished attorney, a terrorist sympathizer and someone who would attempt to impose sharia law on the citizens of New Jersey. Christie treated the criticisms with the contempt they deserved. “This sharia law business is crap,” he said. “It’s just crazy and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.”

But that was then. We’ll see what the candidates do when someone at an Iowa town meeting stands up and says something grossly anti-Muslim, because that absolutely will happen. Will they agree? Will they just try to change the subject? Or will they say, “Now hold on there”? That’ll show us what they’re really made of.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 20, 2015

February 22, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates, Islamophobia | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Abundance Of Rhetoric, A Dearth Of Solutions”: After A Prolonged Lack Of Use, GOP Policymaking Muscle Has Atrophied

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, argued yesterday that “some” of the unattended minors from Central America he saw “looked more like a threat to coming into the United States.” How could he tell? McCaul didn’t say.

Soon after, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) argued in support of sending the National Guard to the border. Asked what good Guard troops could under the circumstances, Perry couldn’t say. (In fact, he seemed confused by the question.)

A variety of congressional Republicans have now balked at President Obama’s appeal for emergency resource, insisting the package costs “too much.” What’s the GOP’s alternative response? What’s the proper amount of spending? They wouldn’t say.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is among many far-right lawmakers condemning the White House for not deporting Dream Act kids. Why are Republicans focusing so heavily on a policy unrelated to the humanitarian crisis at the border? They haven’t said.

To be sure, this is an incredibly difficult crisis to resolve. Anyone who suggests there’s an easy, quick fix to this is kidding themselves. But as is too often the case, congressional Republicans – folks who were elected to help shape federal law – appear to be sitting out the substantive debate altogether. GOP lawmakers have decided what’s really needed right now is incessant complaining – and little else. Danny Vinik added:

If Republicans object to this request, what exactly do they propose instead? How should we move through the huge backload of cases? Where should we hold the unaccompanied minors in the meantime? And how should we pay to transport them to their home countries?

It’s not that Republicans have poor responses to these questions; it’s that they’re not even trying to answer them.

The post-policy GOP knows what it doesn’t like – the president and his policies – but seems to have forgotten that a governing party, or at least a party that maintains the pretense that governing matters, cannot simply boo from the sidelines.

In some cases, they’re hardly making any effort at all. For example, Goodlatte late last week published an item for Breitbart, with some specific recommendations.

Send the strong, public message that those who enter illegally will be returned. President Obama needs to use his bully-pulpit to send the clear message that those who are seeking to enter the U.S. illegally will be returned to their home countries and that subjecting children to the perilous trek northward to our southern border will no longer be tolerated.

This sounds like sensible advice, right up until one realizes that the president has already done this, and asked for resources from Congress for an advertising campaign in countries like Honduras and El Salvador to reach an even larger Central American audience. Putting aside the question of why the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is writing pieces for Breitbart, why doesn’t Goodlatte know that Obama’s already done what he’s asking the president to do?

It’s easy to get the impression that congressional Republicans’ policymaking muscle has atrophied after a prolonged lack of use. GOP lawmakers have failed to work on public policy for so long, doing so little substantive work in recent memory, that they seem wholly unprepared to act with any sense of purpose now.

Their complain-first instinct obviously remains intact, but a challenge this complex will need more than whining politicians. There’s real work to be done – the sooner the better – and it’s well past time for congressional Republicans to pick up their game. They’re outraged by the crisis at the border? Good. Now they can get to work doing something about it.


By; Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 14, 2014

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, GOP, Homeland Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Can’t Get Nothing To Stick”: When Politicians Ponder Optics And Atmosphere, The Red Flag Should Go Up

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) appeared yesterday on “Face the Nation” and seemed wholly unconcerned about the scope of the NSA surveillance programs. Indeed, like many of his congressional colleagues, McCaul expressed far more concern with prosecuting Edward Snowden for leaking the information than scaling back intelligence-gathering operations.

But notice how the Republican Texan chose to use the story to criticize President Obama anyway.

“The optics are terrible in this case when you consider the recent scandals,” said McCaul on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Ah, yes, the “optics.” McCaul has no problem with the NSA’s expansive surveillance programs, and has no intention of criticizing the efforts or voting for new restrictions, but he nevertheless sees a political problem for the White House — because of the “optics.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said something similar last week on “Meet the Press”:

“You know, when you look at the IRS and you look at the Benghazi issue and you look at the AP issue, I think the trouble here isn’t even the individual specific scandals, it’s this broader notion that there’s a pattern of this activity.”

See what he did there? The “individual specific scandals,” according to the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, don’t really matter. Indeed, they can’t really matter since the so-called “scandals” are either unrelated to the White House, deal with actions that are probably legal, or both.

So it becomes necessary to shift attention to “broader notions” and “optics,” since factual details are politically unsatisfying. It turns politicians into pundits, reflecting less on policy and more on perceptions.

Greg Sargent had a sharp take on this last week after hearing Rogers’ comments.

Those who remember the 1990s well … will recall that this is a time tested tactic. The goal is to create an overarching atmosphere of scandal, because this intensifies pressure on news orgs and reporters to hype individual revelations within that framework with little regard to the actual importance or significance of each new piece of information.

It’s worth emphasizing that all of this predates the NSA revelations. But it nevertheless provides a context to McCaul’s quote: “The optics are terrible in this case when you consider the recent scandals.”

Or to put another way, “We couldn’t get any of the scandals to stick, but we created an environment with some vague notion of the White House in crisis, despite the absence of wrongdoing. We can therefore opportunistically complain about NSA activities, even if we endorse them and want them to continue.”

When politicians talk about “optics,” instead of specifics, red flags should immediately go up.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 10, 2013

June 13, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“HOAP Hypocrisy”: Republicans Who Want To Repeal The Health Law Are Still Taking Money From It

House Republicans are launching a coordinated campaign against Obamacare, hoping to emphasize the negative effects of the health law to their constituents at upcoming town hall meetings. At the same time, however, they’re fully prepared to tell those same constituents to enjoy all the benefits available to them under health reform — ultimately taking advantage of Obamacare funding in their home districts.

As Politico reports, several of the GOP members of the new coalition — called the “House Obamacare Accountability Project,” or HOAP — went on the record to confirm they will help their constituents figure out how to get the benefits funded through the health reform law. The Republicans said that if they’re asked, they will help people get access to the insurance premium subsidies or the Medicaid coverage that’s available to them under Obamacare. “That’s an important part of constituent services,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) explained.

They’re not the only lawmakers who have advocated for getting rid of the health law even while simultaneously enjoying its benefits. As Lee Fang reports in the Nation, several anti-Obamacare Republicans like Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have requested grants funded through the health reform law for their districts. GOP lawmakers who decry Obamacare in public have requested Obamacare money to bolster their states’ health clinics, extend health services to uninsured residents, and launch public health campaigns.

In their letters requesting Obamacare funds, Republican lawmakers have praised the positive long term effects of the health reform law’s initiatives. Cornyn wrote that a grant from the Affordable Care Act would “improve the health and quality of life of area residents.” In reference to the same grant, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) called the effort a “crucial initiative to achieve a healthier Houston/Harris County.” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) praised a local nonprofit for winning Obamacare funds that will help give “people the tools to live healthier and longer lives.”

That reflects a larger trend when it comes to Obamacare: Although Americans may say they oppose the health law as a whole, they support its individual provisions. That seeming contradiction may partly be thanks to GOP-led initiatives like HOAP. Since political controversy has swirled around the health reform law for the past three years, Americans remain confused about what Obamacare actually does — and over 40 percent of the public isn’t even sure whether it’s still law.


By: Tara Culp-Resseler, Think Progress, June 7, 2013

June 8, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“History Advises And Democracy Demands”: Why President Obama Is Right To Limit The Authorization Of Military Force Against Terrorists

On CNN’s State of the Union this morning, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, attacked President Obama for calling for the post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to be rolled back — a topic the Senate Armed Services Committee recently held a related hearing on. According to McCaul, when President Obama “calls for repeal” of this Authorization, he risks taking away America’s “counterterrorism footprint to respond to the future bin Ladens of the world.”

It is not accurate to claim that Obama wants to strip the United States of its power to fight terrorism, or to imply that he wants to repeal the AUMF right away. Here are President Obama’s exact words regarding this authorization of force:

I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing.

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

So Obama does want to reshape the AUMF, but his immediate plans do not include repeal. They include recognizing the substantial gains America has made towards crippling al Qaeda and developing a legal framework that makes sense in light of that reality — one that will still enable us to fight terrorists without relying on the very broad powers granted by the AUMF.

There should be little question that the current AUMF is too broad. Enacted by reeling lawmakers in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and signed into law just one week after those attacks, the AUMF gives the president sweeping authority to identify and target terrorist threats with little or any external checks on this authority. In the AUMF’s words, “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

As a constitutional matter, the president’s powers are at their apex when he acts pursuant to an express grant of authority from the Congress. As Justice Robert Jackson famously explained, the validity of a president’s actions made pursuant to congressional authorization are entitled to the “strongest of presumptions and the widest latitude of judicial interpretation, and the burden of persuasion would rest heavily upon any who might attack it.” Accordingly, there are minimal limits on what President Obama — or any future president — may do within the bounds of the AUMF’s text. The president may unilaterally determine that a family in Pakistan once harbored an al Qaeda leader, and then bring America’s military might to bear against this family. Such breathtaking power may have seemed appropriate in September of 2001, when the nation was still in mourning and the scope of the threat facing us was still unclear, but it is not an appropriate power to permanently place in the hands of a single person.

The Obama Administration, for its part, imposed its own limits on when it will invoke this power to kill a suspected terrorist. Among them, “[t]he policy of the United States is not to use lethal force when it is feasible to capture a terrorist suspect,” there must be “[n]ear certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed,” and lethal force will be used “only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons” (although it’s worth noting that the administration has also defined the word “imminent” broadly in the past). But it is not at all clear that the Constitution requires future presidents to abide by these limits, and unlikely that any court would step in to enforce them absent a significant change in federal law. As a practical matter, this administration’s rules probably just function as limits the Obama Administration places on itself so long as it chooses to abide by them.

So, ultimately, the question Congress needs to ask is whether the permanent scope of presidential war-making power should be fixed by the immediate response of a wounded nation struck by an unprecedented attack with no ability to determine right away whether a series of similar attacks would soon follow. Should President Hillary Clinton have this sweeping power? How about President Ted Cruz?

Or, alternatively, should Congress recognize that the world has changed for the better in the last 12 years? Osama bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is far weaker than it was in 2001. American law should recognize this reality.


By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, May 26, 2013

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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