“Trump Makes Neoconservatives Look Good”: Trump Has No Understanding Of The World And The Role We Play
Donald Trump’s foreign policy was poorly received by neoconservatives, as is obvious if you look at the reaction at the Washington Post. Pro-Iraq War editorial board chief Fred Hiatt said that Trump’s vision was incoherent, inconsistent, and incomprehensible. Columnist Charles Krauthammer described the speech as incoherent, inconsistent, and jumbled. While the Post’s resident columnist/blogger Jennifer Rubin expressed concern that, based on Trump’s language, he might be a malleable mouthpiece of anti-Semites.
If neoconservatives come pretty close to being always wrong, the Post’s reaction might be considered the highest form of praise. Unfortunately, most of their criticisms are accurate. This is particularly true when they go after Trump for his looseness with the facts, his contradictory and mutually exclusive messages, and his praise of unpredictability.
For example, Fred Hiatt nailed Trump for insisting that we “abandon defense commitments to allies because of the allegedly weakened state of the U.S. economy” at the same time that he criticizes President Obama for not being a steadfast friend to our allies. Krauthammer wondered how Trump could criticize Obama for letting Iran become a regional power and promise to bring stability to the Middle East without having any commitment to keep a presence there or to take any risks or to make any expenditures.
If there is any remaining doubt about how neoconservatives view Trump’s foreign policy ideas, Sen. Lindsey Graham removed them:
Sen. Lindsey Graham tore into Donald Trump’s speech on foreign policy, calling it “unnerving,” “pathetic” and “scary.”
The South Carolina Republican former presidential candidate told WABC Radio on Wednesday that the speech was “nonsensical” and showed that Trump “has no understanding of the world and the role we play.”
“This speech was unnerving. It was pathetic in its content, and it was scary in terms of its construct. If you had any doubt that Donald Trump is not fit to be commander in chief, this speech should’ve removed it,” Graham said. “It took every problem and fear I have with Donald Trump and put in on steroids.”
He added: “It was like a guy from New York reading a speech that somebody wrote for him that he edited that makes no sense.” And: “It was not a conservative speech. This was a blend of random thoughts built around Rand Paul’s view of the world.”
It’s true that Graham’s response there is a substance-free ad hominem attack, but he did get around to making specific critiques. In particular, he noted that Trump can’t keep his promises to both minimize our presence in the Middle East and destroy ISIS in short order without significant alliances with the regimes in the Middle East. But he won’t be improving our alliances by talking negatively about Islam as a religion and banning Muslims from entering the United States. Graham said that the problem with Obama is that he isn’t seen as a reliable ally by these despots, but that Trump “is worse than Obama…the entire world is going to look at Donald Trump as a guy who doesn’t understand the role of America, that doesn’t understand the benefit of these alliances.”
Graham also blasted Trump’s position on NATO and said that “the idea of dismembering NATO would be the best thing possible for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
It’s not that Graham properly understands “the role of America” or that he gets the downsides of our alliances with foreign dictatorial regimes. But he understands that you can’t win a war against radicals in the Arab world by making enemies of every Arab (and Muslim) in the world. Graham understands that you can’t criticize the president for being a lousy friend and then rip up longstanding and uncontroversial agreements with those friends while demanding both more money and more deference.
A full treatment of Trump’s speech and foreign policy ideas is beyond the scope of this blog piece, but he’s about to become the leader of a party that is filled with neoconservatives.
They aren’t going to pretend that the emperor has clothes on.
And, for once in their lives, they’re largely right.
By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 29, 2016
So the first impulse is to discuss these Panama Papers in terms of the big crooks like Valdimir Putin. But let’s hope they get some traction on the presidential campaign trail and put the issue of tax havens at the center of the debate.
Yeah, we all know about Swiss banks and the Cayman Islands, and just figure that rich people have this wired and this is how it will always be. But it doesn’t have to. In fact, it has changed a little bit for the better recently. Wanna take a guess who’s been trying to do the changing, and who’s stood in the way?
First, a little background. The best estimate for the kinds of tax havens discussed in the Panama leaks is that they drain about $165 billion a year from federal revenue coffers. Gabriel Zucman, a leading expert on them, estimates that the U.S. government loses $35 billion from individual tax evaders, and $130 billion from corporate evaders. (His new book was just well-reviewed by Ethan Porter in Democracy, the journal I edit.)
One hundred and sixty-five billion dollars is a fair amount of money—more than you and I shelled out for any of the following categories of federal expenditure in 2015: health care and health research ($122 billion), transportation ($107 billion), education ($90 billion), or science-environment-energy ($70 billion). So we could use it.
In Europe, efforts started in the aughts to do something about this. The Bush administration wasn’t going to do much, of course. But after Barack Obama came in and the Democrats had control of both houses of Congress, Democrats—notably Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, but others too—sought to move legislation to address tax evasion.
And… they did! You probably didn’t hear about it at the time, because the effort didn’t generate nearly as many headlines as the Democratic effort to reform the financial system, address climate change, or pass a health care reform law. But note: The Democrats used their brief two-year period of total control of both the White House and Congress to address head-on about a half-dozen problems, and tax evasion was one of them.
The bill was called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA; how they managed not to tag that final “T” on there at the end is beyond me, someone was really asleep at the wheel. But anyway it passed. In the Senate, it actually enjoyed a modicum of bipartisan support, as 11 GOP senators voted for it (as opposed to 28 who opposed; Democrats backed it 55-1). But in the House, not a single Republican voted for the bill, as Nancy Pelosi let 38 nervous blue-dogs go and join all 174 Republicans.
So what did the bill do? Well, a lot of complicated things, some good, some bad, but in the main, it gave the IRS more authority to look abroad through global financial databases and figure out who might be a U.S. citizen and if so, what they might be owing Uncle Sam that they weren’t paying. It also required foreign financial institutions to report such relevant information about U.S. citizen residents to the U.S. government.
Sounds like a pretty legit thing for the government to be doing, if you ask me. But it involved the hated IRS, so naturally, you had all these hideous predictions from Republicans and conservatives about what FATCA was going to lead to. It was going to make presumptive criminals out of all U.S. citizens living abroad. It was going to compromise the privacy needs of banks. Best of all, FATCA, once fully implemented in July 2014, was going to bring about the official demise of the U.S. dollar. Snopes.com rated that one false.
The charge is being led by just the people you’d expect. Sen. Rand Paul introduced the bill to repeal FATCA, and sued the Treasury Department over it. Utah Sen. Mike Lee went on a barnstorming tour of Europe to drum up momentum for a repeal (that doesn’t seem to have to worked too well—the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development issued its own tax-haven enforcement guidelines, which are for the most part tougher than FATCA’s).
But it isn’t just the fringy, von Mises-y, gold-standard crowd that’s worked up about FATCA. The Republican National Committee officially passed a resolution supporting its repeal (PDF). Interestingly, I looked at the RNC’s official resolutions from 2013-2016 inclusive, and for those four years, FATCA is the only piece of legislation singled out for a specific resolution of repeal. If that’s the case, FATCA must be doing something right.
FATCA and the OECD regs represent first steps in a process that’s going to take 20 or 30 years, if it succeeds even then. And the Democrats of course aren’t perfect on this. But at least most of them acknowledge this as an issue and are trying to do something about it.
On this point, I feel certain you’re going to be reading this week a lot about how Hillary Clinton supported a free-trade deal with Panama, the notorious tax haven whence these leaked documents came to us. This is true, but as a secretary of state working for a president who backed the deal, she could scarcely have done otherwise. And two other points are salient: one, trade deals are negotiated by the U.S. Trade Representative, not the Department of State, and two, the USTR did seek and obtain a tax information exchange agreement before the Obama administration was willing to cut the deal with Panama.
Obama’s not the enemy here. Nor is Clinton. The people on the wrong side of this one are the same people who always are, and whose dire predictions of economic catastrophe, whether about this or raising the minimum wage or anything else, almost never seem to come to pass.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 5, 2016
“GOP Consultant For A Day”: The GOP’s Presidential Race Is One Of The Most Fascinating Political Brawls In Years
The value of free advice is measured by what you pay for it, and Republicans don’t usually ask me for mine.
Nonetheless, the GOP’s presidential race is one of the most fascinating political brawls in years. It’s about to hit full stride, and I can’t resist kibitzing. I know the leading candidates will take my guidance for what it’s worth.
Marco Rubio: You have three related problems. You’re trying to appeal to every wing of the party, which means that none regards you as one of its own. There is no state in the early going that you can consider an obvious bet. And, to put it charitably, you do not look like a person of conviction.
You were pro-immigration until you weren’t. You optimistically embraced the changing nature of our nation until you ran an ad about “all of us who feel out of place in our own country.” You left McCainville to enter Trumpland.
Your supporters see your weaknesses as your strengths: Yes, you might be well-positioned to pull all parts of the party together. But in appeasing everyone, you’re creating the impression, as an Iowa pastor told my Post colleagues Sean Sullivan and David Fahrenthold last month, that you’re a candidate “talking out of both sides of his mouth.”
If you lose, this will be the principal reason. You need to show some conviction, perhaps by taking at least one inconvenient stand. In primaries especially, winning requires you to decide whose votes you’ll write off. You won’t make it by remaining everyone’s second or third choice. Somebody’s got to trust you deeply.
Jeb Bush: For me, you’re the biggest surprise. I really thought you’d be a better candidate. When I saw you speak in early 2014, you were loose and confident, conveying a real sense of optimism about the country. I thought enough voters, even in a gloomy Republican Party, would find this appealing.
It hasn’t panned out that way. You made a lot of mistakes and seem unhappy in your work. Your name is a problem. Most liberals don’t realize how many conservatives view your brother as a big-government guy. Meanwhile, many in the so-called establishment wing worry that another Bush won’t win.
You at least found a purpose when you went after Donald Trump in last year’s final debate. The paradox: The only way you’ll have a chance of winning is to forget about winning. Relax. Run as the guy you said you’d be, the upbeat candidate of inclusion. Marry your attacks on Trump to a positive vision of a welcoming GOP. Be the candidate whom Republicans horrified by Trump and Ted Cruz can repair to with pride. It may not work. But it’s the only thing that can, and you might at least start enjoying the campaign.
John Kasich: I’ve always had a soft spot for you because, as governor, you supported the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare in Ohio. Alas, most people in your party don’t agree with me. Still, you sound best when you talk like a compassionate conservative because that’s the person you want to be. Why not go for it? If Jeb follows the strategy I just outlined for him, you guys might collide. But you have said your main worry is how St. Peter will judge you at the end. Run a campaign for him.
Ted Cruz and Chris Christie: Philosophically, you guys aren’t my cup of tea. But I have to admit: You’re running the campaigns I would run if I were you. Ted, you have the focus Marco doesn’t. You’re trying to pull together all the right-wing groups in the party, and they happen to constitute a huge part of it. Chris, you’re betting it all on New Hampshire. The right move. You’re campaigning up there as if you were running for governor. Also exactly right.
Ben Carson: Please go back to neurosurgery or inspirational speaking. You’re gifted at both.
Rand Paul: Stay in for a few more debates to make your libertarian case on foreign policy. You’re sparking a necessary discussion. But you know perfectly well you have to go back to Kentucky soon to protect your Senate seat.
Donald Trump: I have nothing useful to say, and you’d pay no attention anyway. But I do owe you a debt of gratitude. I have a book coming out in a couple of weeks called “Why the Right Went Wrong.” Because of you, people are especially interested in figuring this out. So, just this once: Thank you.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 3, 2016
“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
“When Bluster Meets Reality”: A Chance To Start World War III, Republicans Neither Know Nor Care What They’re Talking About
I’m from Jersey and we like to talk bluntly, but Rand Paul is correct when he says that Chris Christie could easily start World War Three if he actually governed as advertised in the White House:
Christie said that as president, he would shoot down a Russian plane if it breached a no-fly zone in Syria, and claimed Obama wasn’t strong enough to do the same.
“Maybe because I’m from New Jersey I have this plain-language hang-up,” Christie said. “I would talk to Vladmir Putin a lot, and I’d say listen, Mr. President, there’s a no-fly zone and it applies to you and yes we’d shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”
Meanwhile, in the real world:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday accepted Russia’s long-standing demand that President Bashar Assad’s future be determined by his own people, as Washington and Moscow edged toward putting aside years of disagreement over how to end Syria’s civil war.
“The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin. A major international conference on Syria would take place later this week in New York, Kerry announced.
Kerry reiterated the U.S. position that Assad, accused by the West of massive human rights violations and chemical weapons attacks, won’t be able to steer Syria out of more than four years of conflict.
But after a day of discussions with Assad’s key international backer, Kerry said the focus now is “not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad.” Rather, it is on facilitating a peace process in which “Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria.”
Kerry’s declarations crystallized the evolution in U.S. policy on Assad over the last several months, as the Islamic State group’s growing influence in the Middle East has taken priority.
How relevant does Christie’s bluster look in light of the factual situation on the ground in Syria?
The Republican candidates debated each other last night in Vegas, but they might as well have been debating a dining room table. They neither know what they are talking about, nor care. It would be sad or maybe just funny if there weren’t a remote possibility that one of them might win and get the chance to start World War Three.
By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 16, 2015