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“A Lesson In Leadership”: Obama Uses State Of The Union To Rebut Ted Cruz And Marco Rubio Along With Donald Trump

President Obama spent a lot of time in his State of the Union address responding to Donald Trump without naming him. The president denounced the politics of fear, of inwardness, scapegoating minorities, and Trump’s conviction that the United States is undergoing economic or military decline. But Trump did not absorb all of Obama’s jibes. The president drew clear lines of distinction against the other two leading Republicans, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Cruz and Rubio have offered contrasting ideological approaches to foreign policy — and, especially, opposing ISIS. Cruz has revived the isolationist tradition of ignoring the world except for occasionally bombing parts of it to smithereens. Rubio has instead embraced the neoconservative doctrine of using ground troops to project force and promote democratic governments. Obama very clearly attacked both philosophies in succession:

The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage. [Cruz]

We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq  —  and we should have learned it by now. [Rubio]

Of course Obama proceeded to expound his internationalist position, before returning to a contrast against both Cruz’s isolationism and Rubio’s neoconservatism: “American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world  — except when we kill terrorists; [Cruz] or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling. [Rubio]”

The State of the Union address provided a forum for Obama to insert himself into the presidential campaign and resist the habit of the opposing party’s assumptions about the state of the world to gain currency through repetition. It also showed that he is paying close attention to the Republican race — and not only to the candidate who is grabbing all the headlines.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 12, 2016

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Leadership, State of the Union | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Challenging The Party’s Ideology”: How Ted Cruz And Marco Rubio Are Battling For The Future Of GOP Foreign Policy

A few weeks ago, Ted Cruz committed a shocking act of heresy against the Republican Party Establishment. “If you look at President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and, for that matter, some of the more aggressive Washington neocons,” he told Bloomberg News, “they have consistently misperceived the threat of radical Islamic terrorism and have advocated military adventurism that has had the effect of benefiting radical Islamic terrorists.” Cruz was cleverly making a point about the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya, which resulted in a failed state that has nurtured ISIS, but his attack cut much deeper than it might have first appeared. One of the supporters of that venture was Marco Rubio, Cruz’s primary rival for the affection of regular (non-Trump-loving) Republicans. Rather than frame his contrast with Rubio as a matter of personal judgment or partisan loyalty, though, Cruz defined his opponents in ideological terms (“the more aggressive Washington neocons”). Indirectly, he was reminding his audience of another country in the Middle East where neocon military adventurism has wound up benefiting Islamic extremism — and harking back to an older conservative approach.

While Trump has distracted the party with bombastic grossness, Cruz has undertaken a concerted attack on an unexpected weak point: the belief structure, inherited by Rubio, that undergirds the party’s foreign-policy orthodoxy, opening up a full-blown doctrinal schism on the right.

The Iraq War remains the Republican Party’s least favorite subject, but the principles that drove the Bush administration into Baghdad (without a plan for the occupation) have remained largely intact. Most Republican leaders still espouse the neo­conservative belief in confronting autocratic governments everywhere, that demonstrations of American military power will inevitably succeed, and that the championing of democratic values should inform all major foreign-policy strategy.

When he first came to Washington, Rubio distanced himself from these beliefs. “I don’t want to come across as some sort of saber-rattling person,” he said in 2012, the next year insisting that higher military spending be paid for with offsetting cuts elsewhere. The next year, he started rattling sabers. Rubio came to support higher defense spending even if it increased the deficit, and turned sharply against the Iran nuclear deal. Now a full-scale hawk poised to restore the banished Bush doctrine, Rubio has surrounded himself with neoconservative advisers, using buzzwords like “moral clarity,” and promised to stand up to Russia, China, Cuba, and North Korea, unworried by the possibility that standing up to some of the bad guys might require the cooperation of other bad guys. “I’m ready for Marco,” enthused William Kristol.

The Bush years trained liberals to think of neoconservatism as the paramount expression of right-wing foreign-policy extremism. But neoconservatism runs against the grain of an older and deeper conservative tradition of isolationism. Cruz has flitted about the edges of the libertarian right, sometimes forming alliances in the Senate with Rand Paul, an isolationist who — after briefly being in vogue — has largely been marginalized within his party. At the last Republican foreign-policy debate, Cruz identified himself with that creed more openly than he ever had. Just as Rubio’s buzzwords signal his neoconservative affiliation, Cruz conveyed his isolationism by calling for an “American-first foreign policy” and dismissing Rubio as a “Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter.” The face-off between Rubio and Cruz at that debate represented something far more profound than the usual exchange of canned sound bites.

The isolationist tradition has long been misunderstood to mean a policy that perished overnight on December 7, 1941, and that promoted complete withdrawal from world affairs. In fact, isolationist thought grew out of — and, in some ways, represented the apogee of — American exceptionalism.
It regarded other, lesser countries with disgust, a sentiment that bred the competing impulses to both be distant from the rest of the world and to strike out at it.

Isolationism dominated conservative thought from the end of World War I — as a reaction against Wilson’s costly democratization crusade, as Cruz implied — through Pearl Harbor. After the war, without losing its hold on large segments of the GOP, the worldview mutated in the face of communism. The Soviet threat intensified the contradiction between the desire to quarantine America from the communist contagion and to eradicate it. The old isolationists resolved the tension by developing a fixation on airpower as a substitute for diplomacy and land forces. American planes would allow it to dominate the world while remaining literally above it. (Airpower, wrote the historian Frances FitzGerald, “would allow America both to pursue its God-given mission abroad and to remain the virgin land, uncorrupted by the selfish interests of others or foreign doctrines.”)

Republican leaders opposed the Truman administration’s plans to rebuild Europe, create NATO, and station a huge land force in West Germany. Instead, they proposed a massive air force. The right’s belief in the efficacy of bombing was enabled by its indifference to widespread carnage among enemy civilians. Conservatives like Barry Goldwater proposed using nuclear weapons during the Vietnam War. “If we maintain our faith in God, love of freedom, and superior global airpower, the future looks good,” said Air Force general Curtis LeMay, who had also called for nuclear strikes against North Vietnam. (In 1968, LeMay ran as vice-president alongside the segregationist George Wallace, a campaign that prefigured Trump’s combination of populism, white racial backlash, and an ultranationalist foreign policy.)

Republican presidents like Eisenhower and Nixon, though, followed Truman’s internationalist program rather than the unworkable fever dreams of the right. The bipartisan embrace of internationalism sent isolationism into a long, slow decline, its ideas circulating but without influence, a philosophy for newsletter cranks. Eventually, the dominant Republican foreign policy evolved once more, into neoconservatism, which combined the Wilsonian fervor for exporting democracy abroad with the isolationist distrust of diplomacy. The neoconservative project imploded in Iraq, but still, even in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, the lone voice of dissent on neoconservative foreign policy was the libertarian gadfly Ron Paul, who brought isolationism back into the conversation. The surprisingly durable support for an odd little man in poorly fitting suits who kept ranting about gold indicated a potentially underserved market for Republican discontent over Iraq.

The Paul version of isolationism, inherited by his floundering son, emphasizes the live-and-let-live principle. Cruz’s version is more bloodthirsty, putting him in touch with the current, freaked-out conservative mood while reviving the bombing obsession of the mid-century conservatives. “We will utterly destroy ISIS,” he boasted recently with LeMay-esque ghoulishness. “We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” (Cruz’s choice of imagery is important: Conventional bombing does not make things glow, but nuclear bombing does.) At the debate, Rubio shot back, “Airstrikes are a key component of defeating them, but they must be defeated on the ground by a ground force.” When pressed by moderators on the details of their respective plans, both Cruz and Rubio retreated. Cruz admitted he would not, in fact, level the cities held by ISIS (which are populated mostly by their unwilling captives) but would instead simply bomb ISIS’s military positions, which Obama is already doing. Rubio admitted he would not dispatch an occupying force back to the Middle East but merely send a small number of special forces while attempting to recruit local Sunnis, which Obama is also already doing.

Substantively empty though their bluster may be, Rubio and Cruz are pantomiming a deep-rooted, significant breach. While he has very little support among party elites, Cruz seems to believe that Republican voters are hungry for a candidate who will challenge their party’s foreign policy at the ideological level. Very soon, we will find out if he is right.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, December 27, 2015

December 28, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Donald And The Decider”: American Political Discourse Hasn’t Been Dumbed Down, Just Its Conservative Wing

Almost six months have passed since Donald Trump overtook Jeb Bush in polls of Republican voters. At the time, most pundits dismissed the Trump phenomenon as a blip, predicting that voters would soon return to more conventional candidates. Instead, however, his lead just kept widening. Even more striking, the triumvirate of trash-talk — Mr. Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz — now commands the support of roughly 60 percent of the primary electorate.

But how can this be happening? After all, the antiestablishment candidates now dominating the field, aside from being deeply ignorant about policy, have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error. Why don’t Republican voters seem to care?

Well, part of the answer has to be that the party taught them not to care. Bluster and belligerence as substitutes for analysis, disdain for any kind of measured response, dismissal of inconvenient facts reported by the “liberal media” didn’t suddenly arrive on the Republican scene last summer. On the contrary, they have long been key elements of the party brand. So how are voters supposed to know where to draw the line?

Let’s talk first about the legacy of He Who Must Not Be Named.

I don’t know how many readers remember the 2000 election, but during the campaign Republicans tried — largely successfully — to make the election about likability, not policy. George W. Bush was supposed to get your vote because he was someone you’d enjoy having a beer with, unlike that stiff, boring guy Al Gore with all his facts and figures.

And when Mr. Gore tried to talk about policy differences, Mr. Bush responded not on the substance but by mocking his opponent’s “fuzzy math” — a phrase gleefully picked up by his supporters. The press corps played right along with this deliberate dumbing-down: Mr. Gore was deemed to have lost debates, not because he was wrong, but because he was, reporters declared, snooty and superior, unlike the affably dishonest W.

Then came 9/11, and the affable guy was repackaged as a war leader. But the repackaging was never framed in terms of substantive arguments over foreign policy. Instead, Mr. Bush and his handlers sold swagger. He was the man you could trust to keep us safe because he talked tough and dressed up as a fighter pilot. He proudly declared that he was the “decider” — and that he made his decisions based on his “gut.”

The subtext was that real leaders don’t waste time on hard thinking, that listening to experts is a sign of weakness, that attitude is all you need. And while Mr. Bush’s debacles in Iraq and New Orleans eventually ended America’s faith in his personal gut, the elevation of attitude over analysis only tightened its grip on his party, an evolution highlighted when John McCain, who once upon a time had a reputation for policy independence, chose the eminently unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate.

So Donald Trump as a political phenomenon is very much in a line of succession that runs from W. through Mrs. Palin, and in many ways he’s entirely representative of the Republican mainstream. For example, were you shocked when Mr. Trump revealed his admiration for Vladimir Putin? He was only articulating a feeling that was already widespread in his party.

Meanwhile, what do the establishment candidates have to offer as an alternative? On policy substance, not much. Remember, back when he was the presumed front-runner, Jeb Bush assembled a team of foreign-policy “experts,” people who had academic credentials and chairs at right-wing think tanks. But the team was dominated by neoconservative hard-liners, people committed, despite past failures, to the belief that shock and awe solve all problems.

Anyone remember that period in the late 80s and early 90s when conservatives were branding themselves as the intellectually rigorous, the…

In other words, Mr. Bush wasn’t articulating a notably different policy than what we’re now hearing from Trump et al; all he offered was belligerence with a thin veneer of respectability. Marco Rubio, who has succeeded him as the establishment favorite, is much the same, with a few added evasions. Why should anyone be surprised to see this posturing, er, trumped by the unapologetic belligerence offered by nonestablishment candidates?

In case you’re wondering, nothing like this process has happened on the Democratic side. When Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debate, say, financial regulation, it’s a real discussion, with both candidates evidently well informed about the issues. American political discourse as a whole hasn’t been dumbed down, just its conservative wing.

Going back to Republicans, does this mean that Mr. Trump will actually be the nominee? I have no idea. But it’s important to realize that he isn’t someone who suddenly intruded into Republican politics from an alternative universe. He, or someone like him, is where the party has been headed for a long time.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 21, 2015

December 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Voters | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”: Cotton Sees Bombing Iran As No Big Deal

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has made no real effort to hide his support for a military confrontation with Iran. But in an interview yesterday on the Family Research Council’s radio show, the right-wing freshman went a little further, suggesting bombing Iran would be quick and simple.

Indeed, as BuzzFeed’s report noted, Cotton argued that U.S. strikes in Iran would go much smoother than the invasion of Iraq “and would instead be similar to 1999’s Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign against Iraq ordered by President Bill Clinton.”

“Even if military action were required – and we certainly should have kept the credible threat of military force on the table throughout which always improves diplomacy – the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq and that’s simply not the case,” Cotton said.

“It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days [of] air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior.”

For the record, the Arkansas Republican did not use the word “cakewalk” or assure listeners that we’d be “greeted as liberators.”

Look, we’ve seen this play before, and we have a pretty good idea how it turns out. When a right-wing neoconservative tells Americans that we can launch a new military offensive in the Middle East, it won’t last long, and the whole thing will greatly improve our national security interests, there’s reason for some skepticism.

Tom Cotton – the guy who told voters last year that ISIS and Mexican drug cartels might team up to attack Arkansans – wants to bomb Iran, so he’s telling the public how easy it would be.

What the senator didn’t talk about yesterday is what happens after the bombs fall – or even what transpires when Iran shoots back during the campaign. Are we to believe Tehran would just accept the attack and move on?

Similarly, Cotton neglected to talk about the broader consequences of an offensive, including the likelihood that airstrikes would end up accelerating Iran’s nuclear ambitions going forward.

There’s also the inconvenient detail that the Bush/Cheney administration weighed a military option against Iran, but it concluded that “a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be a bad idea – and would only make it harder to prevent Iran from going nuclear in the future.”

But don’t worry, America, Tom Cotton thinks this would all be easy and we could drop our bombs without consequence. What could possibly go wrong?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Iran, Iraq War, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Is The GOP So Angry At Everything These Days?”: Fevered Lunatics Whose Principal Policy Option Is To Fight Rather Than Talk

At the end of a week when many paused to reflect during Passover and Easter ceremonies, a question with no real answer seemed to crash into our culture with all the subtlety of a marching band in a funeral parlor: Why do so many Republicans seem so angry all the time at so much around us?

The fury of some like Ted Cruz is understandable. It’s fueled by his massive ego and outsized ambition along with his personal belief that he is so smart and the rest of us are so pedestrian that he can manipulate opinion to win the Republican nomination for president with the support of the mentally ill wing of his party.

“A real president,” Cruz the bombardier said last week, “would stand up and say on the world stage: Under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran will either stop or we will stop them.”

Then there is the minor league Cruz, the tough talking, totally in-over-his-head governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who is running to crack down on the salaries of teachers, cops and firefighters everywhere. Oh, he’ll also teach Iran a good lesson by throwing any deal out the window no matter what other countries might think. Imagine Scotty informing Angela Merkel of his decision while he wears his Cheese-Head Hat.

There are so many others too. There’s the kid who started the pen pal club with the ayatollah, Tom Cotton. There’s the mental midget from Illinois, Mark Kirk, who went right to the basement for his best thought on Iran, claiming that England got a better deal from Hitler than the U.S. got from Teheran. Kirk, not a history major.

But my personal favorite? In this corner, from Baltimore, wearing the costume of a true warrior, locked and loaded and ready to roll, the former Ambassador to the United Nations, John “Bombs Away” Bolton. He took to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times to declare war on Iran. After all, why waste time!

“The inconvenient truth is that only military action…” Field Marshall Bolton wrote, “can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”

Bolton, of course, is one of the Mensa members who told George W. Bush that it would be swell to go to war in Iraq. Twelve years later things are really going well there.

At least Bolton knows war on a firsthand basis. At age 18 he was in South Vietnam where…OH, I’M SORRY…MY MISTAKE…that was another Bolton. That was Dennis Bolton from Bedford, Indiana, born two weeks before John Bolton was born in Baltimore in November 1948. Two different young men with two different tales to tell.

Dennis Bolton went to Vietnam. John Bolton who went to Yale. Dennis Bolton was killed near DaNang on April 19, 1967 where he served with the Marines while John Bolton finished his freshman year at New Haven.

In 1967, Bedford had a population of about 13,000. It’s a nice small town where Gene Hackman could have filmed Hoosiers, one of the great sports films ever. Ten young men from Bedford were killed in Vietnam.

Indiana, of course, is the state where Mike Pence and Republicans in the state legislature spent the week clowning it up over their lost fight to make it harder for some Americans simply to be happy. Make no mistake about it, their war was against same-sex marriage and they suffered a TKO when the country turned against them in the snap of a finger, an overnight knockout delivered with stunning speed. But I digress.

In 1967, Baltimore had a population of about 930,000. It’s a tough town with a lot of different neighborhoods, some dangerous, many working class, where Barry Levinson hadn’t made Diner yet and HBO hadn’t given us the gift that is The Wire. Four hundred and seventeen residents of Baltimore were killed in Vietnam.

Dennis Bolton’s name is on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. John Bolton’s name was on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times as well as on the lips of some angry, fevered lunatics whose principal policy option is to fight rather than talk.

Obviously, Bolton never made it to Vietnam. He joined the Maryland National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam and, hey, good for him. At least he served.

Of course, he blamed his absence from combat on the politics of the time. On liberals like Ted Kennedy and others, claiming they had already lost the war by the time he was ready to take on the North Vietnamese Army. I guess that explains the itch, the unfulfilled need, the frustration that guys like Bolton have lived with across the decades.

And today, “Bombs Away” Bolton still has a strong desire to light it up. And according to some pundits he’s even considering a run for president. Obviously his platform will remain as unchanged as his thinking: Different time, different dangers, different countries but same selfish solution: Send someone else’s kids to fight and die while Bolton and others play with a lit fuse in a world more dangerous than dynamite.

 

By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, April 5, 2015

April 6, 2015 Posted by | Iran, John Bolton, War Hawks | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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