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“Serving The Cause Of Terrorist Jihad”: Paris Terror; Why ISIS Needs The ‘Useful Idiots’ Who Demonize Muslims

When France’s prime minister Manuel Valls said after last Friday’s attacks in Paris, “nous sommes en guerre” – we are at war – there could be no doubt that the rest of the civilized world, including the United States and NATO, will stand beside our oldest ally in a common struggle to extirpate the barbaric ISIS.

But as this conflict deepens and national emotions surge, it is vital to keep minds clear and principles intact.

Sadly the Republican candidates for president, and too many in their party, will seek to use this crisis as a partisan weapon against President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential contender. They will charge the Obama administration with “weakness” even as American warplanes fly thousands of sorties against ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria. Such political attacks sound ridiculous to anyone familiar with the recent history of the Mideast. As a product of Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS rose directly from the ill-conceived invasion and occupation of that unfortunate country – and the fact that Clinton mistakenly voted to give George W. Bush the conditional authority to wage that war in no way makes her (or Obama) responsible for its botched execution.

The social chaos, religious strife, and massive bloodshed resulting from the US invasion created fertile ground for a new terrorist movement. And as Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick explains in Black Flags, his authoritative new history of the rise of ISIS, the Bush administration elevated its founder, a minor Jordanian gangster named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, into an international terrorist celebrity with its bogus claim that he represented a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

So when historians someday apportion blame, that process won’t flatter the Republicans and their neoconservative advisers, who assured us that “regime change” in Iraq would reshape the region at very little cost to us. Few national security predictions have ever been so confident and so wrong, with such enormous and enduring consequences. Influenced by those advisers, the Bush White House failed to address the terrorist threat before 9/11, and later used it to build a fraudulent justification for invading Iraq.

We might thus hesitate before continuing to follow the counsel of such figures – from William Kristol to Dick Cheney to Jeb Bush, one of the original members of the Project for the New American Century, a powerful lobbying outfit formed 15 years ago to promote war in Iraq, among other misguided ideas. These are the same characters who fought more recently to kill the Iran nuclear deal. Had they succeeded, we now would have no chance of even minimal cooperation with Tehran against ISIS, which is vital.

We would do better instead to reject their ill-conceived notions – and especially their mindless hostility toward Muslims and Islam.

Consider the latest instance: Along with Senator Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and too many other Republicans, “moderate” Jeb Bush today articulates a response to ISIS that includes ominous anti-Muslim overtones. Specifically, he and Cruz urge the government to accept Christian but not Muslim refugees from Syria — and this is merely the most recent in a wave of remarks and statements offensive to Muslims from Republican elected officials and political hopefuls. Whenever a Republican candidate — or any other American — endorses bigotry against Islam and its billion-plus believers, he or she becomes a “useful idiot” serving the cause of terrorist jihad.

As George W. Bush said in his finest hour, our cause is not a war against Islam or the overwhelming majority of Muslims who live peacefully and loyally in the United States and in scores of other nations, from Europe to Malaysia. Indeed, the destruction of ISIS will require an unbreakable alliance with Islam’s true followers, not only in Syria and Iraq but in every place that jihadi terrorists may target. We cannot rely on military, police, and intelligence cooperation from people demonized and demeaned by political leaders and media outlets.

Every imbecile who threatens Muslims is an unwitting agent of ISIS; in fact, it would be unsurprising to learn that ISIS itself is covertly promoting such messages in order to intensify enmity between the peoples of the Quran and the rest of the world. Certainly that is among the primary objectives of attacks like last week’s atrocities in Paris.

What we need now is a diplomatic solution for Syria, which may at last be on the horizon if the Russians are serious about bringing down ISIS. We need a smart, careful, and focused military strategy that builds on recent advances by Kurdish and Shiite forces on the ground. And we need to assure Muslims everywhere – as President Obama has wisely insisted — that they have a place of security and honor in the world we hope to build.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 16, 2015

November 18, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, ISIS, Paris Attacks | , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Meandering Word Salad”: Ben Carson’s Unawareness Keeps Catching Up With Him

About half-way through last night’s debate for the Republican presidential candidates, Ben Carson was asked about President Obama’s decision to deploy a limited number of U.S. troops to Syria, while keeping 10,000 Americans in Afghanistan. For a split second, I thought to myself, “Wait, that’s not a fair question. Carson couldn’t possibly be expected to have a coherent opinion on the subject.”

But the second quickly faded and I remembered that Carson is a presidential candidate. He’s supposed to be able to speak intelligently about this and a wide range of other issues.

And in this case, Carson seemed lost, leading to a lengthy, meandering response that can charitably be described as word salad.

“Well, putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there, because they – that’s why they’re called special ops, they’re actually able to guide some of the other things that we’re doing there.

 “And what we have to recognize is that Putin is trying to really spread his influence throughout the Middle East. This is going to be his base. And we have to oppose him there in an effective way.

 “We also must recognize that it’s a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there.

 “What we’ve been doing so far is very ineffective, but we can’t give up ground right there. But we have to look at this on a much more global scale. We’re talking about global jihadists. And their desire is to destroy us and to destroy our way of life. So we have to be saying, how do we make them look like losers? Because that’s the way that they’re able to gather a lot of influence.”

Carson went on (and on) from there, blissfully unaware of the fact that the Chinese have not, in fact, deployed troops to Syria, and making terrorists “look like losers” isn’t quite as straightforward as he’d like to believe.

At the end of his bizarre answer, the audience clapped, though it wasn’t clear to me if attendees were just being polite to a confused candidate who seemed wholly out of his depth.

What’s more, it wasn’t just foreign policy.

Asked about the need for possibly breaking up of the big banks, Carson offered a 346-word answer that emphasized his belief that regulations have added 10 cents to the cost of a bar of soap, which “hurts the poor,” and which is something “Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton won’t tell you.”

Um, OK?

As alarming as it was to see a leading presidential candidate seem genuinely lost on practically every subject, I keep returning to the thesis we kicked around last month: the question of whether or not Carson is debate-proof.

The retired right-wing neurosurgeon didn’t make much sense last night, but his first three debate performances were about as compelling, which is to say, he was frighteningly confused, but no more so than usual.

And yet, in the wake of those previous events, Carson’s popularity among Republican voters and standing in GOP polls steadily improved.

Isn’t it at least possible that no matter how awful Carson’s debates answers are, they have no real bearing on his candidacy? And if so, what does that tell us about the state of the Republican electorate?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 11, 2015

November 12, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Primary Debates, GOP Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Lot More Than Two Sides”: Winning Isn’t Everything — Especially In Syria

An awful lot of people think about foreign relations the way they think about football. That is, they view the United States as the beloved home team perennially competing for victories in a season that never ends.

Trumpism, you might call it. To hear him talk, you’d think his followers’ personal prestige and happiness depended upon Team America being perennially ranked Number One.

The New York blowhard is far from alone. Lots of people are yelling: “Let’s you and him fight.”

Talking to a group of Gold Star Mothers recently, President Obama said, “Right now, if I was taking the advice of some of the members of Congress who holler all the time, we’d be in, like, seven wars right now. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve been counting.”

Challenged, a National Security Council spokesman listed seven places where Obama has sent combat forces: Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

Anybody who’s paying attention could add Iran, Ukraine, and the South China Sea. Sarah Palin wants troops sent to Lithuania and Estonia, although NATO just completed war games there. I’ve lost track of the countries John McCain and Lindsey Graham want to bomb.

So no, Obama wasn’t exaggerating.

“Nationalism,” Orwell wrote in 1945, “is power-hunger tempered by self-deception.” With the smoke still rising from Europe’s ruins, he distinguished militant nationalism from patriotism, or love of kin and country.

He saw it as a kind of moral and intellectual disease: “The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

Few are immune. Even normally sensible Washington thinkers are troubled by Obama’s disinclination to kick ass. Washington Post editorial page director Fred Hiatt concedes that “the next president will inherit an America in better shape—better positioned for world leadership—than the nation that George Bush bequeathed to Barack Obama.”

“So why doesn’t it feel that way? Why does it feel as if we’re losing?”

Brilliant New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is made deeply uneasy by what he calls the president’s Doctrine of Restraint. “Not since the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago” he frets “has Russia been as assertive or Washington as acquiescent.”

He concludes that “Obama has sold America short…Not every intervention is a slippery slope.”

“Syria,” Cohen thinks, “is the American sin of omission par excellence, a diabolical complement to the American sin of commission in Iraq — two nations now on the brink of becoming ex-nations.”

It’s a clever formulation, gracefully expressed. But what should Obama do? Cohen never really says. Is there any reason why Syria and Iraq should remain intact because Britain and France drew lines on a map to divide their spheres of influence 100 years ago?

Should the United States send ground troops to fight there? Against whom? In support of what? There are a lot more than two sides, you know. Spend a half hour pondering the interactive maps and charts on the New York Times website, and then tell me which should be our allies, and which our enemies.

OK, the Kurds. We’re already on their side, although our other allies, the Turks, continue to fight their own Kurdish separatists. Does anybody believe that Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites can live together in peace?

The 2003 U.S. invasion that deposed strongman Saddam Hussein broke the country apart, and the fabled “Surge” so beloved of GOP pundits basically created ISIS. “Quit making us kill you, and take this money and these weapons,” Gen. Petraeus essentially told the remnants of Saddam’s army. “We’ll soon leave you to each other.”

As for Syria, University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole explains that he has no dog in the fight: “I despise the al-Assad regime, which is genocidal and has engaged in mass torture. But I absolutely refuse to support any group allied with Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda or which envisions Syria as a hardline Salafi emirate where Christians, Alawites, Druze and Kurds (altogether maybe 40% of the population) as well as secular Sunni Arabs (another 45%) are second class citizens…. For the fundamentalists to conquer Alawite Latakia or the Druze regions would result in an enormous tragedy.”

“Fundamentalists” includes just about all the “moderate rebels” the Russians are bombing. Putin argues that even the Assad government beats no government, and represents the only hope of avoiding genocide.

Is he wrong just because he’s Russian and a cynic?

Yes, President Obama’s 2011 “red line” was a bad mistake. So were Secretary Clinton’s toothless pronouncements that Assad had to go.

But that was then. This is now.

Fareed Zakaria gets it right: “[I]f Russia and Iran win, somehow, against the odds, they get Syria — which is a cauldron, not a prize.”

And if the U.S. fights and wins? Same deal.

 

By: Gene Lyons, Featured Post, The National Memo, October 21, 2015

November 4, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East, Syria | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Obama Facing The World As It Really Is”: A Smiling Pope, A Fallen Speaker And Two Tough Guys — Obama’s Crazy Week

The week began with President Obama on the tarmac of a military base in Maryland, waiting to welcome a global celebrity far more popular than he. It ended with him raising a toast to a hard-nosed world leader who has repeatedly challenged American interests and Obama’s resolve.

Along the way, the president’s most frequent legislative sparring partner in Washington relinquished his post on Capitol Hill, finally surrendering to the sharp polarization that has come to define American politics in the past five years. And abroad, another of Obama’s persistent antagonists — the Russian president — suddenly wanted a face-to-face chat about Syria and Ukraine.

The week’s events seemed like political surrealism. When Pope Francis arrived at the White House on Wednesday, the weather was so gorgeous it put Obama in a hopeful, reverential mood.

“What a beautiful day the Lord has made,” he said.

Two days later, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived on the South Lawn to a much stiffer, more martial ceremony, complete with a 21-gun salute and lengthy remarks read from thick binders. Behind the scenes, the two leaders grappled over questions of economic hacking and Beijing’s military adventurism in the South China Sea.

But amid the piety of the pope and the provocations by China loomed the potential of another government shutdown. The surprise announcement by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Friday that he would step down provided the week’s surpassing piece of political drama.

In Obama, Boehner has faced a determined adversary, but it was a mutiny within his own caucus that finally drove him to the exit. And as tempestuous as the Obama-Boehner relationship has been, the speaker’s departure signals that Obama may face an even more fractious GOP majority Congress in the remaining months of his presidency.

More than some of his predecessors, Obama is acutely aware of the contrast between his lofty ideals and the reality facing him. He talks about it all the time.

“Ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty,” the president told graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in May 2014. “But American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be — a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters ; where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in a direction of justice.”

The past week was a single lens into both those worlds, with their maddeningly uplifting complexity.

In Francis — and his progressive message on inequality, immigration and climate change — Obama saw the world as he wanted it to be. In everything else — Xi’s visit, Boehner’s resignation and a decision to meet with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin during the upcoming U.N. General Assembly session in New York — the president faced the world as it really is.

The president has had only a modest impact on three of the protagonists who dominated the week, although he has sought to engage all of them at different points. Xi and Obama have found a common cause in tackling climate change, but on many other important policy issues, they are at odds. Putin, like Xi, has joined the United States in pressuring Iran to scale back its nuclear program. But he defied American calls to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and has ignored the U.S. push to sideline Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of a political solution to the ongoing Syrian civil war. Obama sought to enlist Boehner’s help in forging fiscal and immigration reforms, but the GOP leader was never able to bring along enough members of his party to make the deals happen.

Still, Obama was at the center of all of the action over the past week.

Stanford University’s Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia for three years under Obama, returned a few days ago from Beijing. He said he was struck by the massive coverage in China of Xi’s visit to the United States, as he was by Putin’s desire to speak with Obama during the U.N. meeting. China’s and Russia’s dealings with the United States rank as each of those countries’ “most important bilateral relationship,” he said.

“It seems to me [Obama is] still pretty engaged in international affairs, and people want to engage him,” said McFaul, who directs Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. “We’re still the central power in the international arena.”

During a news conference with Xi in the White House Rose Garden on Friday, Obama delivered a brief lecture on the many responsibilities that accompany China’s rise from the “poor, developing country” it once was to its current status.

“It is now a powerhouse. And that means it’s got responsibilities and expectations in terms of helping to uphold international rules that might not have existed before,” the president said.

But on several issues, Xi asserted that China would not mimic other world powers. “Democracy and human rights are the common pursuit of mankind,” he said. “At the same time, we must recognize that countries have different historical processes and realities, and we need to respect people of all countries in the right to choose their own development path independently.”

Although the White House has emphasized the value of the time Obama and Xi have spent “outside the glare of the klieg lights,” in the words of press secretary Josh Earnest, experts cautioned that that sort of schmoozing has its limits.

Patrick M. Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said there’s an “American tendency to believe in the personalization of relations.”

“It’s all generally true, but the president of China doesn’t come as a person,” he said. “He comes here as the leader of the Communist Party, and the leader of China.”

Obama’s exchanges with the pope were less charged.

Obama and Francis chatted amiably as the choir of Washington’s St. Augustine Catholic Church sang “Total Praise” on the South Lawn, and in their public remarks, the president and the pontiff emphasized their common values.

The pope said he found it “encouraging” that Obama was cutting carbon emissions linked to climate change. Meanwhile, the president not only praised Francis’s vision of “empathy,” but also said his “unique qualities as a person” gave the world “a living example of Jesus’s teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds.”

On Friday, after word of Boehner’s resignation became public, Obama said he hoped lawmakers would “really reflect on what His Holiness said,” especially the idea “that we listen to each other and show each other respect, and that we show regard for the most vulnerable in society.”

Seven decades ago, with Eastern Europe in turmoil, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin dismissed the Vatican’s influence in the world with this question: “How many [military] divisions does the pope of Rome have?”

Michael Ignatieff, a professor at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, described Obama as “a realist and a pragmatist” with reasons to align himself with Francis.

“A ‘realist’ fact about the modern world is Pope Francis has divisions,” said Ignatieff, who led Canada’s Liberal Party in opposition between 2008 and 2011. “He has articulated a longing for justice, the care of nature, the care of the poor — that’s very powerful stuff.”

 

By: Juliet Eilperin, White House Bureau Chief, The Washington Post, September 26, 2015

 

September 28, 2015 Posted by | John Boehner, Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Carly Fiorina’s Puffed Up Putin Showdown”: Hailed Putin As A Harbinger Of Change In Russia

When presidential candidate Carly Fiorina warns about Vladimir Putin’s charm, and wit, she’s speaking from experience. In the early days of the Russian leader’s presidency, Fiorina hailed him as an agent of positive change after meeting with him briefly at a conference of global business leaders—a far departure from the tough-on-Putin image she has presented on the campaign trail.

The businesswoman is soaring in the polls, in no small part because she spoke firmly on complex foreign policy issues during last week’s presidential debate. Fiorina has repeatedly boasted of meeting Putin—using their meeting to bolster her foreign policy bona fides and to provide a contrast between herself and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I have sat across a table from Vladimir Putin, just he and I, and I can tell you having met this man, it is pretty clear to me that a gimmicky red reset button will not thwart his ambition,” Fiorina said in a recent stump speech, at the South Carolina Freedom Summit.

But her encounter with Putin is an odd credential for her to burnish, when all indications are that Fiorina was initially misled about the Russian leader’s ultimate intentions.

Fiorina met Putin for 45 minutes in a green room-type setting, during the 2001 APEC CEO Summit in Beijing, where they were both scheduled to deliver speeches. Fiorina, at the time the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was slated to speak before Putin—and when addressing the audience she was effusive about how Putin had led a change more dramatic than anything her own company had accomplished.

“I keep wondering how it is that I got positioned to speak in the slot before the president of the Russian Federation—on the subject of change, no less,” Fiorina told the crowd. “Hewlett-Packard has been at the center of a lot of change in our 62-year history. But President Putin was elected president in the first democratic transition in Russia in 1,000 years.”

“Talk about giving new meaning to the word ‘invent,’” she added, a nod to HP’s slogan.

The Fiorina campaign pushed back against this interpretation of her 2001 speech. A spokeswoman said that Fiorina was merely making a “fairly banal statement of fact” and that it was “a stretch to see much more there.”

Far from ushering in a democratic Russia, Putin has in intervening years circumvented presidential term limits, jailed dissidents, and engaged in election fraud.

But Fiorina was far from the only corporate leader to hail Putin as a harbinger of change in Russia. At the time, many felt that the Russian leader would bring in a new era of reform.

Bill Browder, the founder of Hermitage Capital Management, specialized in Russian markets, also was impressed by Putin. He is now one of the Russian leader’s foremost critics.

“We all got Putin wrong in his first term. One of the main factors was that he’s always had a completely emotionless face and everyone always projects onto him their hopes and dreams of how he is, as opposed to who he really is,” Browder told The Daily Beast. “He didn’t correct anybody when they made these assumptions that he was a liberal, and a democrat, and an honest man… I’ve seen CEO after CEO go there and make a bunch of bland supportive statements to improve their business prospects in Russia.”

Fiorina has made confronting Putin and Russia a major plank in her campaign for the White House. She spoke at a conservative conference panel on Putin, describing him as “very intelligent. Very charming… a disarming sense of humor.”

And when she speaks about foreign policy, it is virtually certain that her meeting with Putin—and her plans to counter him—is bound to come up. Fiorina has said that she would expand the number of American naval assets, rebuild the missile defense program in Poland, increase the number of U.S. troops in Germany, and conduct military exercises in the Baltic states.

“Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to, because the only way he will stop is to sense strength and resolve on the other side, and we have all of that within our control,” Fiorina said at the most recent Republican presidential debate.

It set up a stark contrast with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s vision for U.S.-Russia relations. “I will get along, I think, with Putin, and I will get along with others, and we will have a much more stable world,” he said.

But between the two of them, Fiorina is apparently the only one who has gotten along with Putin the past.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, September 24, 2015

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, Foreign Policy, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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