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“Problematic Unhinged Rhetoric”: John McCain; President Obama Is ‘Directly Responsible’ For Orlando

When Donald Trump said yesterday that President Obama was “directly responsible” for the deadliest mass-shooting in American history, it was the latest evidence of a candidate who’s abandoned any sense of propriety or decency.

Wait, did I say Donald Trump? I meant John McCain.

Republican Sen. John McCain on Thursday blamed President Barack Obama for the deadly shooting in Orlando that killed 49 club goers.

He said the president is “directly responsible for it because” of his “utter failures” in Iraq.

“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda went to Syria and became ISIS and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures, utter failures by pulling everybody out of Iraq thinking that conflicts end just because we leave,” McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill, according to audio obtained by NBC News.

The senator added, “So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies.”

It wasn’t long before McCain realized this kind of unhinged rhetoric might be problematic, so the senator soon after issued a follow-up statement saying he “misspoke.”

That’s probably not the right word. When someone says “Iraq” when they meant “Iran,” that’s misspeaking. When the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee delivers a 65-word rant blaming the president for a mass murder, that’s more than a slip of the tongue.

McCain added, by way of a “clarification,” that he was blaming the president’s “national security decisions” for the rise of ISIS, “not the president himself.”

How gracious of him.

The clumsy walk-back notwithstanding, what’s wrong with McCain’s argument? Everything.

Right off the bat, let’s not forget that the lunatic responsible for the Orlando massacre was not a member of ISIS. He may have been inspired in some way by the terrorists, and he may have pledged some kind of allegiance to them, but there’s no evidence at all that ISIS was somehow involved in planning and/or executing this attack.

It may be politically convenient to blame a foreign foe for an American buying guns in America and then killing Americans on American soil, but giving ISIS more credit than it deserves is a mistake.

Second, McCain’s broader point is hard to take seriously. Here’s the senator’s logic: Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2010, which eventually and indirectly led to the creation of ISIS, which eventually led lunatics to identify with ISIS, which eventually led to the Orlando mass-shooting.

Even putting aside the bizarre leaps of logic necessarily to adopt such a thesis, McCain is overlooking the fact that (a) he celebrated Obama’s troop withdrawal in 2010; (b) the troop withdrawal was the result of a U.S./Iraq Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush/Cheney administration; and (c) by the senator’s own reasoning, given his enthusiastic support for the war in Iraq, McCain would have to hold himself “directly responsible” for the Orlando slayings, too.

Look, I’m aware of the broader circumstances. McCain is facing a tough re-election fight in Arizona, including a competitive Republican primary. He has an incentive to say ridiculous and irresponsible things about the president, and perhaps even try to exploit a tragedy for partisan ends.

But if these are the final months of McCain’s lengthy congressional career, is this really how he wants to go out? Using the kind of rhetoric more closely associated with Trump than an ostensible Republican statesman?

Postscript: Earlier this month, a college in Pennsylvania awarded McCain a “civility” prize. Perhaps college administrators can ask for it back?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 17, 2016

June 18, 2016 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War, John McCain, Orlando Shootings | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Tinker Bell School Of Foreign Policy”: The GOP Presidential Field’s Dangerous Fantasy On Iraq And Syria

Last week, Jeb Bush told an audience in California, “It is strength, and will, and clarity of purpose that make all the difference.” This is the Tinker Bell school of foreign policy that has spread over most of the Republican presidential field. Clap if you believe in a stable Middle East where Syria is rid of ISIS, Al Nusra, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and any Iranian influence. Clap if you believe Iraq will be safe for religious minorities and free of undue Iranian influence, too.

Candidates who want to lead on foreign policy issues — like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham — are offering the American people variations of a very implausible U.S. strategy in the Middle East. And they are underselling the grave costs that even the architects of this policy admit.

In the case of Syria, Bush has argued that “defeating ISIS requires defeating Assad, but we have to make sure that his regime is not replaced by something as bad or worse.” Careful readers of this space may remember that this same strategy was enunciated by Rubio, who said, “The reason Obama hasn’t put in place a military strategy to defeat ISIS is because he doesn’t want to upset Iran,” which is Assad’s main ally in the region.

At the time I said that Rubio’s statement was dumber than a brick in a tumble-dryer, betraying a total misunderstanding of the conflict by failing to grasp that ISIS and Iran are on opposing sides of the conflict. I was wrong; Rubio does, in fact, grasp this basic dynamic. It’s just that he — and, it turns out, Bush — believe that the United States can actually defeat Assad and Assad’s enemies simultaneously.

In fact, Rubio, Bush, and Graham believe that the only way to defeat one is to defeat the other. Hawkish policy advisers who like the sound of multiple victories at once go back and forth on conspiracy theories as to whether there is some explicit or implicit agreement between Assad’s Shiite regime and ISIS’s rabidly Sunni forces.

The strategy of defeating ISIS and Assad and Al Nusra all at once originates with Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, who co-authored a white paper on defeating ISIS with Jessica D. Lewis. Even the authors of the paper, normally possessed of supreme confidence in the power of American leadership, seem to admit that it will be a costly and difficult task. And yet, they see no alternative.

Then there’s Syria’s neighbor, Iraq. Bush last week held out the “success” of the 2007 surge in Iraq as an object lesson for re-engaging in Iraq and Syria. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to understand the purpose of the surge, which tamped down violence in the hopes of creating a way for sectarian elements to broker a deal. At the time, Jeb’s brother helped tip the scales to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a corrupt and sectarian figure himself. And that government could not come to a status of forces agreement, and so the United States left.

The very possibility of asserting U.S. leadership in this region is hampered by our failures in the surge. ISIS has proven itself very effective in punishing and killing Sunni tribal leaders who were known to have collaborated with U.S. forces during the Sunni “Awakening” of 2007. The calculation on the ground in 2015 may be that finding some accommodation with the radicals of ISIS is a safer bet than trusting that the U.S. military won’t leave them to be slaughtered in the near future.

How did we get here? During the heady days of 2013, as news reports were flooded with confusing accounts of a use of chemical weapons in Syria, Frederick Kagan’s interpretation of the Syrian scene was that four distinct forces were at work: Assad and his military, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda affiliates, and the Free Syrian Army. Kagan concluded, “The only hope of managing Syria’s chemical weapons threat lies with the success of the FSA.”

The Free Syrian Army has not only disintegrated since that time, but many of its fighters have defected to ISIS or Al Nusra. And the possibility that American air support would create a moral hazard — including a bandwagoning effect in which not-so-secret Islamists joined or even overwhelmed a rebel coalition putatively led by the FSA — never seemed to cross his mind.

At the time, Kagan defined U.S. vital interests this way: “depriving Iran of its forward staging area in the Levant and preventing Al Qaeda from establishing a safe haven there.” It is because U.S. interests are defined so broadly that so many Republican presidential candidates are advocating what sounds like an insane strategy: dropping 10,000 to 20,000 American troops across northern Iraq and Syria, and marshaling, somehow, a coalition of regional “moderate” Sunni forces that will defeat at least three battle-hardened sides in a brutal, zero-sum, and long-lasting civil war.

Beyond that, the Kagan-GOP hopeful strategy is to somehow re-construct a “moderate” force like the Free Syrian Army as a “New Syrian Force,” in order to have someone to hand power over to when this conflict winds down. For now, the idea of a final victor in the battle for Syria is labeled “TBD.” In Iraq, the same.

Notably, the Kagan plan leaves open the possibility that Syrian moderates may be insufficient to the incredible tasks U.S. interests assign them. And further, Kagan, though very much a supporter of U.S. leadership, admits that U.S. forces would be entering an extremely confusing battlefield situation where ISIS has captured enough war materiel to disguise themselves as other forces, a trick they’ve used effectively against the Iraqi security forces.

Because the overriding regional concern of Republican hawks is the de-legitimization of the Iranian regime, policy experts and candidates are already ruling out the most obvious ways of defeating ISIS, such as collaborating with and strengthening Assad’s forces and the Iraqi army in their respective territories. Instead, the idea is to defeat everyone at once, at low cost, without ugly alliances, and to the benefit of unnamed good guys.

And you thought the first regime change in Iraq was tough!

As an electoral strategy, it is absolutely nuts that Republicans would preemptively tell the American people, “Elect me and I’ll put American troops back on the ground in Iraq.” And then add, “And Syria, too, and with allies TBD, and final victors TBD.” This seems like a 2016 death wish. Not just for Republican electoral ambitions, but for American troops, American prestige, and American power.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, August 17, 2015

August 18, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

John McCain And The Neo-Con’s: Those Who Deserve “Scorn And Disdain”

With the U.S. war in Iraq coming to its overdue end, it’s worth noting those who got the policy wrong — and continue to ignore the error of their ways.

This week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), arguably Congress’ biggest cheerleader of this tragedy, delivered a lengthy tirade condemning President Obama for ending the conflict and bringing U.S. troops home, arguing, among other things, “All I will say is that, for three years, the president has been harvesting the successes of the very strategy that he consistently dismissed as a failure.”

That’s actually backwards. Obama didn’t dismiss the Status of Forces Agreement reached between the Bush administration and Iraqi officials in 2008; the Status of Forces Agreement reflected exactly what Obama was proposing at the time. Officials in both countries completely rejected the course McCain recommended at the time, and as we now know, that was the right move. It’s curious that McCain would forget this relevant detail.*

In any case, the bitter Republican senator added, “I believe history will judge this president’s leadership with the scorn and disdain it deserves.”

It’s not exactly surprising that good news and the end of a war would leave McCain in such a sour mood. In August, when Obama helped topple the Gadhafi regime in Libya, McCain thanked the British and French, but ignored the role of U.S. troops, and whined about Obama’s “failure” to run the mission the way McCain wanted.

But when it comes to Iraq in particular, it’s rather amazing McCain feels comfortable addressing the subject at all. I’m reminded of a Frank Rich column from a while back, noting McCain’s record of being consistently wrong about what’s alleged to be his signature issue.

To appreciate this crowd’s spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.

What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.

The smart move for McCain would be to quietly slink away, hoping desperately that Americans forget how spectacularly wrong he was about a bloody, brutal war. The fact that this guy instead has the temerity to pop off publicly about how outraged he is that U.S. troops are coming home is nothing short of pathetic.

Someone in this debate deserves scorn and disdain, but it’s not the president.

 

By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 18, 2011

December 21, 2011 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Neo-Cons | , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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