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“A ‘One-Issue’ Candidate”: Bernie Sanders Stumbles On Senate’s Saudi Bill

When Bernie Sanders struggled during a recent interview with the New York Daily News, the criticisms largely focused on his apparent lack of preparation. It’s not that the senator’s answers were substantively controversial, but rather, Sanders responded to several questions with answers such as, “I don’t know the answer to that,” “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot,” and “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.”

He ran into similar trouble during a recent interview with the Miami Herald, which asked Sanders about the Cuban Adjustment Act, which establishes the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that may be due for a re-evaluation. The senator responded, “I have to tell you that I am not up to date on that issue as I can” be.

The interviews raised questions about his depth of understanding, particularly outside of the issues that make up his core message. Yesterday, making his 42nd Sunday show appearance of 2016, Sanders ran into similar trouble during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash.

BASH: Let’s talk about something in the news that will be on your plate as a sitting U.S. senator. Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars of American assets if Congress allows the Saudi government to held – to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the 9/11 attacks. How do you intend to vote as a senator?

SANDERS: Well, I need more information before I can give you a decision.

Though the senator spoke generally about his concerns regarding Saudi Arabia, the host pressed further, asking if he supports allowing Americans to hold Saudi Arabia liable in U.S. courts. Sanders replied, “Well, you’re going to hear – you’re asking me to give you a decision about a situation and a piece of legislation that I am not familiar with at this point. And I have got to have more information on that. So, you have got to get some information before you can render, I think, a sensible decision.”

I can appreciate why this may seem like a fairly obscure issue, but the legislation Sanders was asked about was on the front page of the New York Times yesterday morning and the front page of the New York Daily News on Saturday.

It’s not unfair to ask a sitting senator about legislation pending in the Senate that’s quite literally front-page news.

Sanders’ campaign later issued a written statement, clarifying the fact that the senator does, in fact, support the legislation.

The broader question, I suppose, is whether a significant number of voters care about developments like these. It’s entirely possible the answer is no. Sanders isn’t sure how best to answer some of these foreign-policy questions that fall outside his wheelhouse, but for the senator’s ardent fans, the questions themselves probably aren’t terribly important. Sanders’ candidacy is focused primarily on income inequality, Wall Street accountability, and opportunities for the middle class, not international affairs.

At a debate last month, the Vermonter conceded he’s a “one-issue” candidate, and for many of his backers, that’s more than enough. It’s not as if Sanders’ support dropped after he made the concession.

But when it comes to building a broader base of support, and demonstrating presidential readiness, these are the kind of avoidable stumbles the Sanders campaign should take steps to correct.

Postscript: Let’s not brush past the significance of the bill itself. The Times’ report from the weekend noted that Saudi officials have threatened to “sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

The State Department and the Pentagon have urged Congress not to pass the bill, warning of “diplomatic and economic fallout.” The legislation is nevertheless moving forward – it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously – and it enjoys support from some of the chamber’s most liberal and most conservative members.

Update: Several readers have noted that Hillary Clinton, during a separate interview, was asked about the bill, and she said she’d have to look into it because she hasn’t yet read it. That’s true. The difference, of course, Clinton isn’t a sitting senator and she isn’t getting ready to cast a vote on the legislation. What’s more, there’s also no larger pattern of the former Secretary of State passing on questions related to foreign policy.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 18, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Foreign Policy, Saudi Arabia | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“A Threat To Human Existence”: Perils Of Warming Planet Are Ignored By GOP Hopefuls

Amazingly, tellingly, the last Republican debate included not a single question about one of the most ambitious international agreements in civilized history — the recently concluded Paris accord on climate change. Signed by nearly 200 countries, including the United States, the agreement attempts to moderate a threat to human existence: the warming of the planet.

But there was barely a mention of climate change on that debate stage. Not only didn’t the moderators consider it worthy of a question, but neither did the candidates believe it important enough for sustained comment. Global warming came up only in a couple of asides intended as criticisms of President Obama’s agenda.

The debate was about national security, you say? Well, they contrasted a promised muscular approach to what they described as the weakness of the president, who is too cowardly or politically correct, in their telling, to even use the right words to describe Islamic jihadists.

Yet, the Pentagon has concluded that climate change represents “immediate risks” to national security. Last year, the nation’s military leaders issued a report — “2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap” — that says that global warming will “affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the nation.”

Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, was widely derided after a November Democratic debate in which he said that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” No military analyst or climate scientist has gone so far as to draw a straight line between global warming and the savagery of ISIS.

However, the Pentagon’s report does make clear that climate change will lead to greater instability worldwide: droughts, food shortages, mass migrations, failed states. And those are just the sorts of conditions that breed terrorists.

According to the Department of Defense, the U.S. armed forces will also find their resources strained at home as their troops are likely to be called upon more often for civilian assistance in the wake of natural disasters. There will be more extreme events — more violent storms, more fires, more flooding. And as if that were not enough, some of the military’s combat activities will be compromised; amphibious landings, for example, are likely to be more challenging because of rising oceans, according to the report.

Not that you’d know any of that from listening to the GOP candidates. Most leading Republicans are loath even to acknowledge that climate change is occurring — much less acknowledge that it has any connection to national security. Earlier this month, in fact, presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who heads the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, declared at a hearing on climate change that “for the past 18 years … there has been no significant warming whatsoever.”

Au contraire. According to scientists at NASA and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, 2014 was the warmest year since records were first kept in 1880. “The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record,” NASA said, “with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000.”

The refusal of the modern Republican Party to come to terms with climate change leaves it as the only major political party that doubts the science, the only modern body of flat-Earthers. Conservatives in Great Britain, Germany, Australia, Israel and everywhere else in the democratic world have accepted the scientific consensus.

So, for that matter, has ExxonMobil, which spent decades trying to muddy the waters around climate research. The oil giant may have been forced to acknowledge the facts by increasing legal and economic pressures, but it finally stated the obvious: “We believe the risks of climate change are real, and those risks warrant constructive action by both policymakers and the business community,” ExxonMobil Vice President Ken Cohen said recently. Other major oil companies have also embraced the scientific consensus.

It’s strange that Republicans are peddling fear at every turn, but they refuse to acknowledge an existential threat. Islamic jihadists are troubling, but they don’t come close to the peril represented by a warming planet.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, December 19, 2015

December 22, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, GOP Primary Debates, Paris Climate Accord | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ted Cruz: I Won Those Purple Hearts!”: It’s Not The First Time Cruz Has Claimed Credit For Something That Has Raised Eyebrows

Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential stump speech electrifies conservative crowds with a cocktail of growls, whispers, warnings of impending doom, and at least one claim of personal accomplishment so powerful, it often brings many in the audience to their feet.

“Just a few weeks ago, I was down in Fort Hood, where the soldiers who were shot by Nidal Hasan were finally, finally, finally awarded the Purple Heart,” Cruz told activists last weekend at the conservative Freedom Forum in Greenville, S.C. “I’ll tell you the reason those Purple Hearts were awarded. I was very proud last year to introduce legislation in the Senate to mandate that the Pentagon award those Purple Hearts.”

Cruz rightly pointed out that for years, the Obama administration had classified the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, by Army Major Nidal Hasan as a “workplace violence” incident rather than as a terrorist attack, though Hasan’s rampage came after he had been in contact with al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. Hasan’s shooting spree left 13 dead and 32 wounded, including dozens of military personnel who were deemed ineligible for the Purple Heart because of the Pentagon’s classification of the attack as not combat-related.

At the end of 2014, Congress passed a bill requiring the Pentagon to reclassify the 2009 attack, and the Fort Hood victims were indeed awarded the Purple Heart.

But Cruz voted not once but twice against the Pentagon authorization bill that changed the Purple Heart policy. A Cruz spokesman told the Dallas Morning News that Cruz voted against the bill over an issue unrelated to the Fort Hood shootings but that “he would have found another way to get it done” had the bill had not passed. “Supporting one amendment certainly does not mean a senator is obligated to support the entire bill.”

And although Cruz played an important role on the Senate Armed Services Committee at last year, the credit for changing the Pentagon’s long-standing policy belongs to at least a dozen senators and members of Congress who had pushed the issue relentlessly for years before Cruz ever arrived in the Senate.

It was Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), not Cruz, who originally introduced legislation to award the Purple Heart to the Fort Hood victims in 2009. Cornyn’s bill coincided with a similar bill from Representative John Carter (R-TX), whose district includes much of Fort Hood. Cornyn and Carter would introduce their bills again in 2011 and 2013. Representatives Roger Williams (R-TX), Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Peter King (R-NY) all pushed the matter in their own committees.

Representative Michael McCaul, another Texas Republican and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held hearings on the matter. Senator Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT), the former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, did the same and commissioned a months-long investigation into the causes of the Fort Hood attack.

Lieberman introduced a bill of his own, along with Cornyn, in 2012 to mandate that the Pentagon change its criteria for awarding the Purple Heart that would include the Fort Hood victims. In 2014, Senator John Boozman, a Republican from Arkansas who is also on the Armed Services Committee, wrote legislation similar to Cruz’s to mandate that the Pentagon award Purple Hearts to victims of a similar shooting at a Little Rock military recruiting center in 2009.

Neal Sher, a lead attorney for the Fort Hood victims and their families who sued the Pentagon over the policy, said the reclassification was the result of efforts by multiple offices for multiple years on and off Capitol Hill.

“Cruz was instrumental, Cornyn was instrumental, the Texas House delegation, McCaul, Carter, Williams, were all instrumental,” said Sher. “It took years, years. The administration and the Pentagon were opposing it every step of the way. It took an act of Congress to get them to change their tune.”

A staffer who worked on the issue agreed that Cruz did play an important part in the final result for the families, but “the claim nonetheless omits what Lieberman, Cornyn and others had done to get the ball to the one-yard line. In other words, ‘the reason those Purple Hearts were awarded’ phrase is true but insufficient. “

It’s not the first time Cruz has claimed credit for something on the campaign trail that has raised eyebrows back in Washington.

Cruz ran into a buzz saw with Senator John McCain last month after the Texas senator told a New Hampshire audience that he had been pressing McCain to hold congressional hearings to allow members of the military to carry personal firearms on military bases. Cruz suggested that McCain had yet to respond.

McCain said Cruz had never spoken with him about it at all.

“Ask him how he communicated with me because I’d be very interested. Who knows what I’m missing?” McCain said to a group of reporters in the Capitol, according to The Hill. “Maybe it was through some medium that I’m not familiar with. Maybe bouncing it off the ozone layer, for all I know. There’s a lot of holes in the ozone layer, so maybe it wasn’t the ozone layer that he bounced it off of. Maybe it was through hand telegraph, maybe sign language, who knows?”

Cruz later acknowledged he “may have misspoken” about his outreach to McCain. Cruz’s office did not respond to requests for comment on his Fort Hood remarks.

 

By: Patricia Murphy, The National Memo, May 16, 2015

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Fort Hood, Senate, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Men Of The People”: Multiple GOP Presidential Candidates Now Investigating Nutball Conspiracy Theory

As we discussed last week, conspiracy theorists in Texas are convinced that a multi-state training exercise the military is soon to conduct called Jade Helm is actually preparation for the declaration of martial law across the Southwest, with all manner of ungodly consequences to follow, including the confiscation of people’s guns and perhaps forced internment in re-education camps where patriotic Americans are forced to watch episodes of “Girls” with their eyes pried open “Clockwork Orange”-style and fed a diet of borscht and stale bread. Governor Greg Abbott, perhaps after noting continued healthy sales of tinfoil hats throughout the Lone Star State, announced that he had instructed the National Guard to “monitor” the exercise, just to make sure there’s no funny stuff going on. Last week Rand Paul told a radio host he’d look into it, and on Saturday, Ted Cruz made clear that he’s on the case:

“My office has reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this exercise,” Cruz, a Texas senator, told Bloomberg at the South Carolina Republican Party’s annual convention. “We are assured it is a military training exercise. I have no reason to doubt those assurances, but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying.”

If the question you’re asking is, “Why would people believe something so preposterous?”, then what Cruz is saying almost makes sense. His argument is essentially that ordinary folks would never have contemplated such a thing a few years ago, but after Barack Obama went on his socialist rampage, trying to get people health coverage and imposing restrictions on Wall Street’s ability to obliterate the American economy again, it’s only natural that people would become so alarmed that it seems perfectly plausible to them that Obama would have sent the army to take over Texas.

But there’s a big difference between saying “Here’s an explanation for why some people might be taken with this insane idea” and saying “I too am taken with this insane idea.” Cruz is planting himself somewhere in the middle — he’s not endorsing it, but he’s not dismissing it either, which is why he instructed his staff to communicate with the Pentagon and inquire whether they are in fact about to launch some kind of coup.

Not only does Cruz not come out and say the conspiracy theory is absurd (he only goes so far as to say that “I have no reason to doubt” that martial law is not in the works), he seems to imply that it’s perfectly reasonable, based on the Obama administration’s record, for people to assume that something like that would actually be happening.

But it isn’t. You can have a thousand objections to actions this president has undertaken, but if you genuinely think that an army training exercise is actually a cover for a military coup, you’re a loon and there is not a single reasonable thing about what you believe. Like Greg Abbott and Rand Paul, Ted Cruz knows perfectly well how crazy this is. But he’s a man of the people, so he’ll just pass on what the people are telling him.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 4, 2015

May 5, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One-Dimensional Foreign Policy Thinking”: Leon Panetta Is What’s Wrong With D.C.

When Harry Truman apocryphally said, “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog” he might have had someone like Leon Panetta in mind. Not content with letting Republicans pummel his old boss, President Obama’s former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense released a new memoir this week that attacks Obama for “losing his way” on foreign policy, for sending “mixed messages” to allies and enemies alike and for failing to use military force more promiscuously in protecting US interests in the Middle East.

There is more here, however, than just DC-style situational loyalty. In Panetta’s obsessive focus on the politics of national security, his fetishization of military force and his utter lack of strategic vision, what is also evident is the one-dimensional foreign policy thinking that so dominates Washington—and which Panetta has long embodied.

None of this should come as a surprise. When Panetta became CIA director in 2009, he was demonstrably unqualified for the job. He had no background in foreign policy, intelligence or national security. His most apparent and highly-touted skill was that he understood his way around bureaucratic Washington.

At both Langley and the Pentagon he became a forceful advocate for—or, some might say, bureaucratic captive of—the agencies he ran. As CIA Director he pushed back on efforts to expose the agency’s illegal activities during the Bush Administration —in particular, the use of torture (which he had once decried).

At DoD he ran around with his hair practically on fire denouncing cuts to the defense budget in out-sized, apocalyptic terms. The “catastrophic,” “draconian” cuts would initiate a “doomsday mechanism” and “invite aggression,” he claimed and always without specific examples. Ironically, when Panetta was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early 1990s, he took the exact opposite position and pushed for huge cuts to the defense budget.

For Panetta, principles appear to be determined by wherever he happens to be sitting at any given moment.

However, his irresponsible threat-mongering and his constant stream of gaffes and misstatements (like the claim that the US was in Iraq because of 9/11 and that the war was worth it) masked a stunningly narrow and parochial foreign policy vision. It wasn’t just that Panetta was saying crazy things. As his new memoir shows, he apparently believed them.

Take, for example, Panetta’s now oft-repeated position on troop withdrawals from Iraq in 2011, a move that as Secretary of Defense he praised but now three years later labels a failure. While Panetta acknowledges that the adamant refusal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to maintain a troop presence in Iraq was a key impediment, he has a brilliant after-the-fact solution: the US should have just turned up the heat on Maliki.

According to Panetta, the US could have simply said that we would withdraw both reconstruction and military aid to Iraq until Maliki bent to America’s will. That Panetta thinks that threatening and demeaning the Iraqi leader was a worthy step to make in order to maintain a US force that the Iraqis clearly didn’t want is remarkably short-sighted. Panetta seems utterly uninterested in the question of what happens if Maliki called the US bluff or, if he said yes, how would that affect the long-term relationship between the US and Iraq. For Panetta, the only thing that mattered in 2011 was maintaining a residual US military force in the country, which he says—without much in the way of evidence—would have helped prevent the rise of ISIS.

Panetta is fond of such retrospective certainty. He asserts that if the US had backed Syrian rebels militarily it would have built up a moderate counter-weight to ISIS. He also labels the president’s failure to use force against Syria when it crossed Obama’s “redline” and used chemical weapons against his own people a damaging “blow to American credibility.” According to Panetta, “the power of the United States rests on its word, and clear signals are important both to deter adventurism and to reassure allies that we can be counted on.” The implication is that if the US had merely bombed Assad, those clear signals would have been sent and received by enemies and allies alike.

Of less concern to Panetta are not only the potential negative consequences from using force but also the actual diplomatic agreement negotiated by the US to completely destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons. While he gives a perfunctory nod to this “important accomplishment” in his memoir, he complains that “hesitation and half-steps have consequences.”

As for what those specific consequences are, other than vague platitudes about credibility and signals: your guess is as good as mine. For Panetta, the act of using force is seemingly more important than the actual tangible result achieved by using force.

Nowhere is this mindset of war as a presentational tool more evident than Panetta’s discussion of the 2009 surge in Afghanistan. While Panetta says the focus on the Taliban, rather than al Qaeda, was misplaced and he complains that the military actively tried to box in Obama on troop levels … he says that there was no reason for the decision on the surge to have taken so long.

“For him to defy his military advisers on a matter so central to the success of his foreign policy and so early in his presidency would have represented an almost impossible risk,” says Panetta. Translation: the surge was a bad idea, but the politics of national security demanded that Obama send American troops to fight a war that Panetta in his memoir calls “not a ringing success.”

Ironically, in his public appearances Panetta has been forcefully stating that a commander-in-chief must keep all options on the table—an implicit criticism of Obama’s refusal to put troops on the ground to fight ISIS. But in Afghanistan, the one option that Panetta appears to believe we should not have had on the table was defying the military and not surging, which is nothing if not an interesting twist on the principle of civilian control of the military. For Panetta, “all options” means only one thing—use of force.

Here, Panetta could not be more explicit. He says President Obama was a “strong leader on security issues” in his first term and cites as evidence Obama’s support for CIA military operations and the fact that he was “tough on terrorism.”

Now, however, Panetta believes that the president has “lost his way” because since then because he’s shown greater “ambivalence” about using military force. If Obama is willing to “roll up his sleeves” on ISIS he can restore that strong legacy. For Panetta, might always equals right.

Panetta likes to present himself an “honest,” “straight-talking,” aw-shucks kind of guy—the son of Italian immigrants who has lived the American Dream. But in reality he is the quintessential example of how Washington corrupts. Principles are conditional and where you sit is where you stand; politics trumps policy, even bad policy that puts American lives at risk; military force is a magic elixir not only in solving international problems but in burnishing one’s public image (though it appears for Panetta that this mainly applies to Democrats); it’s also the most important criteria in how you judge a president’s national security decision-making and his or her requisite strength.

During a recent interview on CNN, Panetta took a break from bashing the president who appointed him to two Cabinet offices to offer one of those platitudes that long-time DC denizens love to state without a moment of introspection. “Logic doesn’t work in Washington,” he said.

You can say that again.

 

By: Michael Cohen, The Daily Beast, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Leon Panetta, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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