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“Put Fear In Perspective”: Don’t Let The Republican Candidates Fool You; The U.S. Has Dealt With Much Worse Than ISIS

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Franklin Roosevelt’s historic statement was not exactly the mantra at this week’s Republican presidential debate.

As I listened to the apocalyptic predictions from the Republican candidates Tuesday night, I could not help but compare the concerns about the Islamic State group to what many of us faced during the Cold War – the very real threat of nuclear Armageddon and fear of the mushroom cloud.

The fallout shelters that people were building in their backyards (they make nice wine cellars now), the drills where we crouched under our desks at school, the sounds of air-raid sirens testing the early warning system, the fear we felt during the Cuban missile crisis, living with the mutual assured destruction policies of the U.S. and the Soviet Union – these all combined to create much more of a threat than a group like the Islamic State group – the nuclear arms race was viewed as truly potentially catastrophic.

The devastation of the world-wide 1930s depression that FDR was addressing was truly catastrophic.

The 1918 flu pandemic that infected 500 million people across the globe, killing 50 to 100 million and 500,00 to 675,000 in the U.S. – that was catastrophic.

I understand the fear of the Islamic State group, but in comparison, please, this we can deal with rationally and pragmatically.

Sadly, this past Republican debate leads us to the conclusion that when it comes to using fear to incite voters, this field of candidates will go to nearly any lengths.

Not to go over the top here, but this is what noted Nazi official Heinrich Himmler said about the use of fear: “The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Cruelty commands respect. Men may hate us. But, we don’t ask for their love; only for their fear.”

This is what the Islamic State group is counting on – bringing America to its knees simply by using terror to create fear. By reacting with a “war on Muslims” as many Republican candidates seem to be advocating, the real terrorists gain control and are handed a golden recruiting tool.

This makes no sense. We can defeat this movement. We can organize the nations of the world to unite against their terrorism. We can surely be victorious without resorting to scare tactics and whipping the American voter up into a frenzy.

We have faced much worse, but just as the spread of Ebola became a daily concern and created close to a panic a year ago, the reality is our media and out politics whip the public into a frenzy when calmer heads should prevail.

During the Republican debate the words terror, terrorist and terrorism were used 81 times. The word attack was used 50 times, according to reporting from Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune.

As he pointed out, here are just a few quotes from this week’s debate:

“We need to understand that our nation is in grave danger.”

“We have people across this country who are scared to death.”

“ISIS and Iran have declared war on America, and we need a commander in chief who will do everything necessary to keep our children safe.”

“Our country doesn’t win anymore. … We can’t defeat ISIS.”

OK, I get the politics of all this. I get the perceived need of these performers to out-do one another, but isn’t it time we had some reasoned leadership that acted responsibly to understand the true nature of the threat and deal with it properly? Isn’t there one person on that stage who could put this in perspective and not demagogue the Islamic State terrorists?

The threat is real but does not deserve the draconian response of nearly every Republican candidate for President. If we ever needed cooler heads like FDR, Eisenhower, and Kennedy, certainly that time is now.

 

By: Peter Fenn, Democratic Political Strategist and Head of Fenn Communications; U. S. News and World Report, December 18, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Fearmongering, GOP Leadership, GOP Presidential Candidates, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Struggling To Justify A Heresy”: Are Republicans Falling Out Of Love With Ronald Reagan?

The first big Republican presidential primary debate defied expectations in any number of ways. But one of the most surprising things may have been that only five of the 10 candidates invoked the memory of that most sainted Republican, that giant among dwarves, that demigod among mortals, America’s greatest president and a man who walked the Earth without sin. I speak, of course, of Ronald Reagan.

How on Earth did the other five candidates forget to speak his name and clothe themselves in his holy memory?

In the “undercard” debate that took place hours before the main event, the ratio was a bit better — four of the seven candidates invoked Reagan. But the trend still held. Could it be that the power of invoking Reagan is beginning to fade — even if only a bit?

Consider that, with the exception of Donald Trump, the Republican candidates who mentioned Reagan in the prime-time debate — Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich — are all stuck in single digits, as are all the candidates from the undercard. Furthermore, many of the mentions came when a candidate was struggling to justify a heresy, as if to say, “Please don’t be too angry with me about this, because Reagan did it too.”

Defending his switch from pro-choice to pro-life, Trump said, “Ronald Reagan evolved on many issues.” Paul, explaining why he’s not the hawk other Republicans are, said, “I’m a Reagan conservative. Reagan did negotiate with the Soviets.” And Kasich explained his support of the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid by saying, “President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times.” Only Cruz offered a good old-fashioned song of praise, when he said with a stirring voice and passion in his eyes, “It is worth emphasizing that Iran released our hostages in 1981 the day Ronald Reagan was sworn into office.” (I won’t bother going over the history of that event, except to say that it didn’t happen because the Iranians were so terrified of Reagan’s steely resolve.)

In a group of people who worship Reagan, maybe there’s little to be gained by reiterating your love for him; it would be like a cardinal saying he ought to be pope because he is in fact a Catholic. Or maybe it’s that a full quarter-century after Reagan left office, even Republicans have a somewhat more realistic view of his presidency than they used to.

I’d like to think that if the importance of Reagan as a totem is fading, it has at least something to do with liberals like me, even if that seems a little far-fetched. We have spent a lot of time not only mocking Republicans for their worship of Reagan, but also pointing out that he was a far more complicated president than they claim. His record even includes a number of decisions that today look downright liberal. He did indeed negotiate with the Soviets (to the dismay of many Republican hard-liners at the time), he raised taxes repeatedly, the deficit ballooned on his watch, and instead of setting out to destroy government entitlements, he partnered with liberals to save Social Security in 1983 (more details can be found here).

That isn’t to say that Reagan wasn’t a strong conservative, because he was. But he was president in another era, when being a Republican meant something rather different than it does today.

Up until the last few years, you could be a Republican in good standing while still being pragmatic. But today’s Republican Party isn’t just more conservative on policy, it has become doctrinaire in a way it didn’t used to be. Compromise itself — regardless of the context or the content — is now held by all right-thinking Republicans to be inherently evil. Far too much is made of Reagan’s alleged friendship with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill, but it’s true that Reagan could be friendly with his political opponents. Today, every Republican has to express a deep and intense loathing for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton if they hope to win their party’s favor. The Tea Party essentially took over the GOP after Obama’s election, forcing everyone in the party to prove again and again that their hearts are pure and they’d rather lose everything than willingly give an inch on anything. Entire organizations now exist to police elected Republicans for signs of heresy, and punish those who fail to measure up.

So maybe that’s why you now hear Reagan invoked mostly defensively. The one who does it knows that he has transgressed, and hopes that the aura of Saint Ronnie will cleanse him of his sins and bring him before the primary electorate clean and unsullied. But it doesn’t seem to work — Republicans are vigilant for even the faintest whiff of impurity, and no amount of Reagan-invocation will distract them once they’ve caught the scent. If that’s true, we might hear his name spoken less and less often as time goes on.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 10, 2015

August 11, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Primary Debates, Ronald Reagan | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Any Fool Can Start A War With Iran”: Because Of Our Strength, We Have To Take A Practical, Common-Sense Position

Right now, it’s beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he so prematurely received in 2009.

Perhaps you recall how, during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Obama’s opponents treated his expressed willingness to speak with the leaders of unfriendly countries such as Cuba and Iran as a sign of immaturity.

“Irresponsible and frankly naïve,” was how Hillary Clinton put it.

Joe Biden said it was important for an inexperienced president not to get played by crafty foreigners.

Obama was unrepentant. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them—which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration,” he said, “is ridiculous.”

And so it was. Only ridiculous people talk that way now. With hindsight, it’s become clear that Obama wasn’t simply repudiating the GOP’s melodramatic “Axis of Evil” worldview, but expressing his own considerable self-regard.

Also his confidence in America as he sees it through his unique personal history as a kind of inside-outsider, capable of being more than ordinarily objective about our place in the world. When you’re the most powerful economic and military power on Earth, he keeps saying with regard to the Iran deal, it’s important to act like it: strong, calm, and confident. Able to take risks for peace because your strength is so overwhelming.

President Obama told the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman that if Ronald Reagan could reach verifiable arms agreements with the Soviet Union, a country that posed “a far greater existential threat to us than Iran will ever be,” then dealing with the Iranians is “a risk we have to take. It is a practical, common-sense position.”

As we saw in 2003, any damn fool can start a Middle Eastern war. And while hardly anybody in the United States wants one, even Iranian hardliners should have no doubt who would win such a conflict.

“Why should the Iranians be afraid of us?” Friedman asked.

“Because we could knock out their military in speed and dispatch if we chose to,” Obama said.

That’s the same reason Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and his allies in the U.S. Congress) need to cool it with the Chicken Little rhetoric. Obama thinks it’s “highly unlikely that you are going to see Iran launch a direct attack, state to state, against any of our allies in the region. They know that that would give us the rationale to go in full-bore, and as I said, we could knock out most of their military capacity pretty quickly.”

Of course Netanyahu knows that perfectly well. But here’s the kind of thinking that he and his allies on the evangelical right really object to:

“Even with your adversaries,” Obama said, “I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran. We had in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so…they have their own…narrative.”

Demonizing Iran serves Netanyahu’s short-term political purposes. Ditto Republican presidential candidates. But Obama has a wider audience and a longer view in mind. Much of what he said was directed over the heads of his domestic audience. Besides, GOP war talk makes it easier for Democrats to support Obama.

“Iran will be and should be a regional power,” he told Friedman. “They are a big country and a sophisticated country in the region. They don’t need to invite the hostility and the opposition of their neighbors by their behavior. It’s not necessary for them to be great to denigrate Israel or threaten Israel or engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic activity. Now that’s what I would say to the Iranian people.”

He also focused upon the common enemy:

“Nobody has an interest in seeing [the Islamic State] control huge swaths of territory between Damascus and Baghdad,” Obama said. “That’s not good for Iran.”

Indeed not. More than the Turks, more than Saudi Arabia, more than anybody but the Kurds, Iranian forces are fighting ISIS on several fronts.

The president’s words were grudgingly noted in Tehran. In his own carefully crafted speech expressing guarded blessings for the arms control agreement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei assured hardliners that he hadn’t gone soft on America.

However, he also alluded to Obama’s conciliatory remarks.

“He mentioned two or three points, but did not confess to tens of others,” Khamenei complained.

Which is how conversations begin.

This deal isn’t the end. But it’s an excellent beginning—of what, remains to be seen. Iran has essentially purchased anti-invasion insurance, while the U.S. and its allies have bought relative stability in the Persian Gulf.

Could things go wrong? Things can always go wrong.

But there’s always time to start a war.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 22, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, President Obama | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Familiar, Reflexive Anti-Agreement Posture”: GOP Oppossiton, Not Because Of Provisions, But Because it’s A Deal With Iran

As observers around the world digest the details of the preliminary nuclear agreement with Iran, one of the striking aspects of the reactions is how pleasantly surprised some proponents are. There’s a large contingent of experts saying this morning, “I was ready to live with an unsatisfying deal, but this is a bigger win for America than I could have imagined.

Fred Kaplan, for example, said the framework “turns out to be far more detailed, quantitative, and restrictive than anyone had expected.” Max Fisher called the blueprint “astonishingly good,” adding that it’s “almost astoundingly favorable to the United States” and “far better than expected.”

It’s against this background that congressional Republicans screamed bloody murder. “Neville Chamberlain got a better deal from Adolf Hitler,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said in a statement.

Obviously, these are not the comments of someone who wants to be taken seriously by adults. Indeed, I can’t help but wonder how many GOP critics already had their furious press releases -pre-written, waiting for an agreement to be announced, so they could start whining before reading it.

But Jon Chait recently noticed the broader problem.

[T]he conservative case against the Iran deal is hard to take seriously because the right has made the same case against every major negotiation with an American adversary since World War II.

The right opposed every nonproliferation treaty with the Soviets. The right opposed Nixon going to China. The right condemned the SALT treaty and the START treaty.

As Peter Beinart explained a while back, Reagan and Clinton were both confronted with ugly Munich comparisons from far-right ideologues – many of whom are literally the same people furious with Obama for curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions now.

This is no small detail. In fact, it’s one of the more important aspects of the entire debate.

If some policymakers oppose literally any agreement, without regard for policy or principle, solely out of reflex, then their concerns must be dismissed out of hand. There’s ample room for a spirited debate on the merits, but for the discussion to have any integrity, it should be limited to those who take the disagreement itself seriously.

Their vitriol has no real meaning precisely because it’s unrelated to any evidence or facts.

The right opposes a deal with Iran, not because of the provisions included in the preliminary agreement, but because it’s a deal with Iran.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 3, 2015

April 6, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Iran | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Self-Styled Super-Patriots”: Loving An Imaginary America, Hating The Real One

Leave it to Matt Taibbi in a return to the pages of Rolling Stone to come up with a unique perspective on Rudy Giuliani’s rants about Obama not loving America: it reminds Taibbi of communist bitter-enders in post-Soviet Russia:

Rudy Giuliani is giving me Soviet flashbacks…..

Not to go too far down memory lane, but in 1990, I went to Leningrad to study. The Soviet empire was in its death throes and most people there, particularly the younger ones, knew it.

But some hadn’t gotten the memo yet, and those folks, usually nice enough, often older — university administrators, check-room attendants, security guards, parents of some of my classmates, others — were constantly challenging me and other exchange students to East-versus-West debates, usually with the aim of proving that “their” way of life was better.

By the time I left Russia a dozen years and a couple of career changes later, a lot of those people still hadn’t gotten the memo. They were deep in denial about the passing of the USSR and spent a lot of time volubly claiming ownership of words like we and our and us in a way that quickly became a running joke in modernizing Russia.

U Nas Lusche — roughly, Ours is Better or It’s Better Here — was the unofficial slogan of the pining-for-the-old-days crowd in post-communist Russia….

[T]he Soviets also had a strong sense of exceptionalism. It was something that was carefully nurtured and encouraged by The Party and had been spread successfully from the Kremlin to the remotest drunk-tank in Kamchatka.

But the problem with exceptionalism is that it can turn unintentionally comic with the drop of a hat. You’re made to believe you’re at the center of an envious universe, but then the world changes just enough and suddenly you’re a punchline clinging to a lot of incoherent emotions. I watched this happen with my own eyes to a lot of people in the former Soviet Union.

And I feel like it’s happening here now, with Rudy and the rest of the exceptionalist die-hards. They’re hanging on to a conception of us that doesn’t really exist anymore, not realizing that “America” is now a deeply varied, rapidly-changing place, one incidentally that they spend a lot of their public lives declaring they can’t stand.

And that’s the real irony and outrage: self-styled super-patriots who make it more apparent every day that they don’t much like, much less love, their country.

The Giuliani crack-up started up a long-overdue discussion about what exactly it means when patrician pols like Rudy accuse others of not “loving America” enough.

After all, which America do they mean? The one that will be majority nonwhite by 2042? The one that twice elected Barack Obama president? The one that now produces more porn than steel? The one that has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates and one of the highest immigration rates? That America?

Are they big fans of South Park maybe? The Wu-Tang Clan? Looking? Because it’s ironic: The heavy industry and manufacturing might that was a key source of American power in the days of Giuliani’s youth is now in serious decline, but Hollywood (and American pop culture generally) is a bigger, more hegemonic world power than ever.

Yet the current batch of exceptionalists mostly despises Hollywood, one of our few still-exceptionally-performing industries. They liked it better in the days when John Wayne was the leading man, Rock Hudson was in the closet and nobody made movies about copulating cowboys or Che’s motorcycle trips.

And here’s the classic Taibbi-esque coup de grace:

Conservative politicians like Rudy are a bizarre combination of constant, withering, redundant whining about Actual Current America, mixed with endless demands that we all stand up and profess our love for some other America, one that apparently doesn’t include a lot of the rest of us or the things about this country we like.

I feel sorry for Rudy that he can’t love this country the way it is. I love America even with assholes like him living in it.

Kinda the way I feel about Erick Erickson insisting that Barack Obama and I can’t possibly be Christians.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 23, 2015

February 24, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Patriotism, Republicans, Rudy Giuliani | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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