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“Neocons’ Ferguson Freakout”: Why Their Latest Attack On Obama Makes Them Look So Silly

Near the very end of his Wednesday speech to the U.N. General Assembly — a speech that pundits described as “Wilsonian” and “the most liberal foreign policy address” of his career — President Obama acknowledged that despite its claim of global leadership, the United States sometimes falls short of living up to its self-professed values. “I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals,” Obama said. “In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri,” Obama continued, “where a young man was killed, and a community was divided.”

This was the geopolitical equivalent of a boss trying to prove to her employees she’s relatable by noting that even she sometimes makes mistakes. And if they noticed this moment at all, most people likely saw it for what it was: a harmless act of genuflection, delivered by a U.S. president in service of his ultimate goal, rallying global opinion behind another American war in the Middle East. In other words, nothing to see here, folks; keep it movin’.

But as we now know all too well, neoconservatives are not like most people; their response to Obama’s Ferguson remark was nothing short of apoplectic.

“I was stunned,” neocon hero and former Vice President Dick Cheney said of the Ferguson reference during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show later that night. The president’s rhetorical pairing of the turmoil in Ukraine and the Levant with that in Ferguson, Cheney said, was simply unacceptable. “In one case, you’ve got a police officer involved in a shooting, there may be questions about it to be sorted out by the legal process, but there’s no comparison to that with what ISIS is doing to thousands of people throughout the Middle East,” Cheney said, before huffing: “To compare the two as though there’s moral equivalence there, I think, is outrageous.”

Washington Post columnist and fellow neoconservative Charles Krauthammer hit a similar note in his response (also delivered on Fox News, naturally) by dusting off a circa 2009 anti-Obama talking point and describing the speech as “a continuation of the apology tour.” Echoing Cheney, Krauthammer declared Obama “intended [to draw] a moral equivalence” between ISIS and America. He then snarked about the silver lining of having Obama “talking about our sins” at the U.N. in New York City, rather than doing so while on foreign soil. (Like, say, Montreal, where Krauthammer spent his childhood.)

Last — and considering this is the man who helped organize the smear campaign against Bowe Bergdahl — very much least, there was Richard Grenell, former top aide to every neoconservative’s fantasy presidential candidate, ex-U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.  Writing at, yes, Fox News’ website, Grenell argued the president’s mentioning Ferguson was “a big mistake.” Grenell conceded that “humility and self-reflection are admirable leadership qualities” but nevertheless warned how Obama’s speech “gives foreign diplomats from Arab countries and Russia the excuse they need to dismiss America’s condemnation of their actions.” Because they were otherwise so primed for genuine cooperation…

To state the obvious, it is not surprising to find neoconservatives blasting the president, even if he’s currently launching a war against ISIS that, in significant respects, justifies itself intellectually through neoconservative-friendly arguments. Dedicated neoconservatives tend to be rigid partisans when it comes to politics, uninterested in compromise and focused primarily on controlling U.S. military power.  What’s striking about the neocon attack isn’t its churlishness, therefore, but rather its transparency. Think of the characteristic emotional tics of neoconservatism — its paranoia, its insecurity, its obsessive fear of looking weak — and look back again at the words of the president’s neocon critics. They’re all there.

An example: For Cheney, Krauthammer and Grenell, the obvious but unstated assumption is that an American president addressing the United Nations must do so as if he has something to hide. Obama’s attempt to emphasize the U.S.’s role as both leader and member of the international order — to approach the world as an eager partner instead of  an overbearing hegemon — is offensive to them because it treats the idea of a global community as an aspiration instead of a nuisance. Most neoconservatives, as Grenell’s old boss Bolton infamously made plain, aren’t much interested in the idea of a U.N. Since the U.S. can militarily do almost whatever it wants, they don’t see the purpose.

Along the same lines, the response from all three men included expressions of outrage at the president’s supposedly drawing a moral equivalence between ISIS and Ferguson’s police. The fear of the pernicious results of moral equivalency can be found throughout the right, but in the realm of foreign policy, it’s most pronounced among neoconservatives, for whom any recognition of the most basic shared humanity between the U.S. and its foes — and I’m talking basic, here; like the capacity to make mistakes — is tantamount to swearing off any claim to moral legitimacy. The fact that the United States is a more humane, responsible and decent global citizen than the genocidal ISIS is obvious enough to most of us (and not saying much, either). But, again, the neocons are the exception.

Finally, the neocon pushback also highlights what is to my mind one of their most distinctive and revealing features — their utter lack of interest in domestic policy. Neo-imperialists that they are, neocons often see domestic politics solely through the lens of foreign affairs. And because they’re so zeroed-in on what they imagine the world’s perception of the U.S. is (as well as what it should be), they’ll not infrequently analyze domestic events with a kind of myopia that prioritizes the U.S. #brand above all else. Richard Grenell doesn’t know enough about the goings on in Ferguson to understand that Michael Brown’s killing had nothing to do with his alleged robbery, which officer Darren Wilson did not know of when he came into conflict with the teen. He refers to it as a “burglary-turned-shooting.” (I suppose we could chalk Grenell’s mistake up to laziness and/or a desire to mislead, but I’m feeling generous.)

At this point, nearly 13 years after they set up shop in the White House and spent years directing and discrediting U.S. foreign policy, I’d forgive you for wanting a break from having to transport yourself into the gloomy world of the neocons’ minds. But as the ongoing war with ISIS and the aforementioned freakout over Bowe Bergdahl have recently made clear, neoconservatism still has an outsized influence in Washington, if nowhere else. That’s partially because any theory justifying neo-imperialism is bound to have nine lives among the D.C. elite. But it’s also in part the consequence of too many analysts and observers coming across statements like those of Cheney, Krauthammer and Grenell and declining to cut through the bullshit and acknowledge the truth — namely, that these men are very, very silly.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, September 25, 2014

 

September 27, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Ferguson Missouri, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Exactly Is Going On Here?”: An Interview, Arranged By Republican Strategists

President Obama made clear this morning that when it comes to rescuing American POWs, the nation’s commitment is unconditional. “Regardless of the circumstances,” he said, in reference to a question about Bowe Bergdahl, “whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop.”

Those comments, however, have not stopped questions about how Bergdahl was captured and whether he deserted his post. The New York Times reports this morning on an account from “a former senior military officer briefed on the investigation into the private’s disappearance,” who claims Bergdahl “had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life.”

The furious search for Sergeant Bergdahl, his critics say, led to the deaths of at least two soldiers and possibly six others in the area. Pentagon officials say those charges are unsubstantiated and are not supported by a review of a database of casualties in the Afghan war.

“Yes, I’m angry,” Joshua Cornelison, a former medic in Sergeant Bergdahl’s platoon, said in an interview on Monday arranged by Republican strategists.

Though we don’t yet have all the details, and some of the allegations may be “unsubstantiated,” the emotional reaction from servicemembers is easy to understand. But it was those other eight words that also raised eyebrows: “an interview on Monday arranged by Republican strategists”?

What exactly is going on here? The release of an American POW from his Taliban captors in Afghanistan has become a political operation in which Republican strategists direct reporters to specific sources?

BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray and Kate Nocera reported this morning on the behind-the-scenes effort.

A former Bush Administration official hired, then resigned, as Mitt Romney’s foreign policy spokesman played a key role in publicizing critics of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the released prisoner of war.

The involvement of Richard Grenell, who once served as a key aide to Bush-era U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton and later worked for Romney’s 2012 campaign, comes as the Bergdahl release has turned into an increasingly vicious partisan issue.

The piece added that similar interviews were arranged with a variety of conservative media outlets, including The Weekly Standard, the Daily Mail, the Wall Street Journal, and Fox News.

One of Grenell’s partner at Capitol Media Partners told BuzzFeed the firm is not being paid for these efforts.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, June 3, 2014

June 5, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Bowe Bergdahl Story Is Right-Wing Crack”: And Sure Enough, Republicans Are Hitting The Pipe Big Time

I was amazed but not surprised by my Twitter feed Monday. More than 200 tweets from conservatives, I would estimate, calling me a host of names and Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl a menu of worse ones. That’s the most ever in one day, I think, even more than for my most scorching anti-NRA columns, which have heretofore set the gold standard for inspiring drooling right-wing vitriol.

I was not, as I say, surprised. This story has every element right-wingers dream of. Every dark suspicion they harbor about President Obama can be wedged into the narrative conservatives are constructing about how Saturday’s prisoner exchange supposedly went down and what the president’s presumed motivations were. So I knew instantly, when I read Michael Hastings’s 2012 Rolling Stone profile of Bergdahl on Sunday afternoon, that this was going to be the next Benghazi. The story is right-wing crack. And sure enough, Republicans are hitting the pipe big time.

Some of the wilder criticisms of me notwithstanding, my column Monday made two basic points. First, if a Republican president had swapped five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, all the people howling today would be spinning it positively. And second, while there are legitimate questions here—yes, I wrote that it was “fair to ask whether the price” of Bergdahl’s freedom was “too high”—what we’re about to get is another relentlessly politicized series of investigations that will be aimed not at determining the truth but at trying to turn possible errors of judgment by the White House into high crimes and misdemeanors. That’s the game here. Anyone who denies it is being naively or intentionally delusional.

Time, even the short amount that has passed between then and now, has proved me all too prescient—not that I’m patting myself on the back; it was a painfully easy call. The most notable development Tuesday was that former Romney adviser Richard Grenell was found to be setting up interviews for soldiers in Bergdahl’s battalion who wanted to go public trashing him. It may be, as Grenell’s partner said, that the soldiers found him on Twitter and it just kind of worked out that way. But the bottom line is what it is. These soldiers joining forces with a PR guy who used to work for John Bolton and then for candidate Mitt Romney, a man who is so deeply enmeshed in partisan politics, puts a political coloration on their words whether they mean it to or not.

I’m not defending Bergdahl here, and I didn’t Monday. Somebody on Twitter made a big deal out of the fact that I put the word “deserter” in quotes. You’re fucking-a right I did. He’s not officially a deserter. He is officially a sergeant in good standing. People can believe he is a deserter all they want, and maybe he is. But is the military’s official position worth nothing? That’s an interesting right-wing posture.

The military should investigate whether Bergdahl was a deserter, and it should court-martial him if the evidence supports doing that. In the meantime, what end is served by the character assassinations of him and especially of his father, who’s a citizen with all the usual rights? The creepy bottom line of the right-wing position, mostly unstated but often implied in tweets and comments, is that the U.S. government should have just left Bergdahl to die. That’s an appalling position. Bring him back alive, then let him face whatever justice he must face. But bring him back. That’s what civil societies do. What kind of society and leader lets their captive soldiers die in enemy hands? Recall that the guy who wouldn’t even trade a Nazi general for his own son (who died in German custody) was named Stalin.

That is why John Bellinger, a national-security lawyer in George W. Bush’s administration, said on Fox that he believes the Bush administration would have done exactly the same thing the Obama administration did. From Think Progress:

Asked about reports that Bergdahl deserted his unit in 2009, Bellinger added that the former hostage “will have to face justice, military justice.” “We don’t leave soldiers on the battlefield under any circumstance unless they have actually joined the enemy army,” he said. “He was a young 20-year-old. Young 20-year-olds make stupid decisions. I don’t think we’ll say if you make a stupid decision we’ll leave you in the hands of the Taliban.”

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 4, 2104

June 5, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, POW's, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Captive To The Right-Wing”: You Can’t Be Gay And Work For Romney

The resignation of Richard Grenell is a sign that the former Massachusetts governor will cave to anti-gay forces.

Two weeks ago, the Romney campaign hired Richard Grenell—a long-time Republican and former staffer for the Bush White House—to act as a spokesperson on foreign policy and national security. Grenell received tough criticism from Democrats for a series of sexist tweets, but that wasn’t enough to spark reticience from the Romney team.

What was, however, were attacks from religious conservatives on Grenell’s sexuality. Conservative activists hammered Romney for hiring an openly gay spokesperson, and questioned Grenell’s commitment to the conservative cause. “Suppose Barack Obama comes out — as Grenell wishes he would — in favor of same-sex marriage in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention,“ wrote Matthew J. Franck at the National Review, ”How fast and how publicly will Richard Grenell decamp from Romney to Obama?”

This afternoon, Grenell announced his resignation from the Romney campaign, citing the relentless attacks on his sexuality:

I have decided to resign from the Romney campaign as the Foreign Policy and National Security Spokesman. While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama’s foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign. I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.

A few things to highlight. First is the remarkable fact that, in 2012, a gay person can’t serve as spokesperson for a Republican campaign, lest they attract criticism from conservative activists. Second, and significantly, is the fact of Romney’s weakness; as standard-bearer for the GOP, Romney was well within his rights to hold fast and reject attacks from the Right. That he didn’t—and allowed Grenell to resign—is a sign of Romney’s skittishness with social conservatives. He is worried enough about their support that he will cave to anti-gay bigotry if necessary. It’s also fitting that this comes on a day when we’re still debating President Obama’s decision to run on the killing of Osama bin Laden. Bowing to pressure from bigots isn’t a great way to inspire confidence in your “resolve.”

One last point. This incident is a better indication of how Romney would govern than anything he’s said or any plan he’s released; he is completely captive to the right-wing, and will cave if they push him. It’s something to keep in mind if you’re tempted to describe the former Massachusetts governor as a moderate.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, May 1, 2012

May 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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