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“In The Land Of His Imagination”: Even Donald Trump’s Most Presidential Speech Was A Bizarre, Lie-Riddled Fantasy

On Wednesday, Donald Trump gave one of the most presidential speeches he’s ever delivered — which is to say, a speech that was written out beforehand and which he read off a teleprompter, without his usual digressions into his spectacular performance in the polls and the scum-sucking lowlifes who have filed lawsuits against him (or are judges in those lawsuits). But just when you think Trump is going to put together a logical and persuasive case on something — in this speech, the all-encompassing villainy of Hillary Clinton was the topic — he dashes off into the land of his imagination, spinning out a weird series of easily debunked lies and bizarre fantasies.

This pattern repeated itself over and over in Trump’s speech (you can read the prepared text here; there were some off-the-cuff embellishments, but not too many). He would start with a reasonable critique: for instance, that Clinton supported NAFTA, which cost Americans jobs. But then he would take that critique to an absurd place: “Hillary Clinton gave China millions of our best jobs, and effectively let China completely rebuild itself. In return, Hillary Clinton got rich!”

After trade, Trump moved on to Benghazi, of course. Setting a serious tone, Trump said, “She started the war that put [Ambassador Chris Stevens] in Libya, denied him the security he asked for, then left him there to die.” Trump continued with this fanciful exploration of the full breadth and depth of Clinton’s power, which apparently existed on a scale that would make kings and presidents seem like tiny bugs the titanic Hillary could brush off her shoulder:

In just four years, Secretary Clinton managed to almost single-handedly destabilize the entire Middle East.

Her invasion of Libya handed the country over to the ISIS barbarians.

Thanks to Hillary Clinton, Iran is now the dominant Islamic power in the Middle East, and on the road to nuclear weapons.

Hillary Clinton’s support for violent regime change in Syria has thrown the country into one of the bloodiest civil wars anyone has ever seen — while giving ISIS a launching pad for terrorism against the West.

She helped force out a friendly regime in Egypt and replace it with the radical Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian military has retaken control, but Clinton has opened the Pandora’s box of radical Islam. [Donald Trump]

Let’s recap. You may have thought there was a revolution in Libya to overthrow longtime despot Moammar Gadhafi, a revolution that accomplished its initial goal with some help from the United States. This apparently is not correct; it turns out that what actually happened was that Hillary Clinton invaded Libya. Iran’s influence in the region? All because Hillary Clinton wanted it that way. Syria’s civil war? Started by Hillary Clinton. All those people you saw protesting Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Cairo’s Tahrir Square? Sent there by Hillary Clinton, I suppose, who then engineered the ensuing election to make sure the Muslim Brotherhood won. Radical Islam? Non-existent before Hillary Clinton came along (but don’t tell al Qaeda).

I won’t bother to go through the long list of lies Trump told through the rest of his speech (that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, that there’s no system to vet refugees, etc.) But whenever Trump began a legitimate critique of Clinton, it would inevitably go off the rails. It’s fine to criticize her use of private email at the State Department, which was a mistake. But Trump says that in the personal emails her attorneys segregated from those to be sent to the State Department and which were then deleted, there were terrifying secrets. “While we may not know what is in those deleted emails, our enemies probably do. So they probably now have a blackmail file over someone who wants to be president of the United States. This fact alone disqualifies her from the presidency. We can’t hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the hands of our enemies.”

I suppose if you use “probably” as a modifier you can say whatever you want, like “Donald Trump probably keeps his hair soft and manageable by shampooing in the blood of kittens.” Do we know that, or have any concrete evidence that it might be true? No. But it probably is, right?

I have no doubt that Trump’s most ardent fans eat stuff like this up. When he calls Clinton “the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” they cheer in agreement. But Trump’s task isn’t to delight his supporters, it’s to win over people who aren’t already in his camp. But only someone who is already a Trump voter could be persuaded by that kind of ridiculous hyperbole.

And that’s what Trump is like when he’s being presidential.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, June 23, 2016

June 25, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Washington Playbook”: If You’re Not Responding Militarily, You’re Not Responding

Richard Cohen has finally gotten around to writing about President Obama’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that was the impetus for so much discussion almost a month ago. In doing so, he demonstrates exactly what the President referred to as the “Washington playbook.” As a reminder, here is what Obama said to Goldberg about that.

“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

Cohen doesn’t so much champion the Washington playbook as he criticizes Obama for not employing it. For example, here is what he writes on the President’s statement about Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

It’s a rule that Obama himself should have followed. He speaks the unspeakable, conceding that eastern Ukraine, Moldova and Crimea are Russia’s for the taking. “Now, if there is somebody in this town that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, they should speak up and be very clear about it,” he told Goldberg.

Ambiguity is not Obama’s forte. Rather than keeping Vladimir Putin guessing — and maybe restrained — he signals the Russian president not to worry. Putin already has Crimea. He’s got eastern Ukraine. Will Moldova be next? Just a matter of time, it seems to me.

The playbook Cohen is working from assumes that the only possible response to Russia is a war. If President Obama isn’t willing to do that in response to Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it’s just a matter of time before Putin goes into Moldova.

What that completely ignores is that there are other possible responses – like economic sanctions that are coordinated with our international partners and the European Union.

Cohen also doesn’t seem to think that President Obama is doing anything about the situation in Syria.

But the Syrian civil war has produced a humanitarian calamity, at least 250,000 dead and an almost unprecedented refugee crisis that is destabilizing Europe. Obama acts as though this is a minor matter, just another Middle Eastern dust-up, but the Syrian mess is an example of the slippery slope he does not mention when he mentions the one he wants to avoid. Like, possibly, Moldova, it is the consequence of inaction that may matter more than any action itself.

It seems as though Cohen is unaware of the fact that the U.S. is engaging in air strikes against ISIS in Syria. But even more importantly, Sec. of State John Kerry has been working tirelessly on the multilateral peace negotiations that are seeking an end to the Syrian civil war.

For people like Cohen, if the U.S. isn’t using military intervention to wield it’s way around the globe, it’s not doing anything. That pretty much sums up the Washington playbook that President Obama refuses to implement.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 5, 2016

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Foreign Policy, President Obama, Richard Cohen | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stick A Fork In Ben Carson”: A Man Who Has Already Come To Grips With Failure

Two days before Christmas, Steven Ginsberg and Robert Costa of the Washington Post landed an interview with Ben Carson. It was conducted in Carson’s basement man-cave. The below ground-level setting is appropriate because the transcript reads like an obituary.

Dr. Carson laments virtually everything, from his annoying advisers who keep urging him to be more combative, to his inability to get mulligans for his many missteps, to the quality of the electorate, to the way the media twists his words, to the way his campaign has spent money. The overwhelming sense you get is of a man who has already come to grips with failure.

And that’s a failure in itself because the interview was supposed to demonstrate that he understands his campaign’s problems and is preparing to retool and make a big push before Iowa.

What struck me more than anything, though, is how there was no mention of any of the 13 ridiculous things that Ben Carson actually believes. The mistakes, insofar as they are detailed at all, are limited to foreign policy blunders, like his insistence that the Chinese have a large presence in Syria. But, arguably, Carson began to slip right around the time that it came out that he thinks the Egyptian pyramids were built to store grain. It became increasingly clear that Carson doesn’t just have some far-right views on abortion and war crimes and the Holocaust and censorship, he actually has a borderline crazy belief system.

One wonders in this day and age how much this actually hurts you in a Republican nominating contest. After all, the guy in first place is the country’s most famous Birther. There are certainly areas where being an over-the-top bomb thrower helps you win support from the GOP base. Arguably, this was the way Carson won his initial popularity and support on the right. I assume this is what his advisers believe, too, and it’s why they’ve urged him to throw bombs not just at the president and his health care plan and reproductive rights, but at his Republican opponents.

Maybe his lack of foreign policy experience really is the best explanation for his precipitous fall in the polls. The only problem with that explanation is that Donald Trump should have suffered right along with Carson in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Maybe Trump’s bluster and bravado cover his lack of expertise better than Carson’s mellower act.

Whatever the explanation, Carson seems like a man who is already beaten before the first vote is cast. And he knows that he’s injured his reputation in the bargain.

Carson: A weak person isn’t selected by CNN and Time magazine as one of the 20 foremost physicians and surgeons in America. That was before they discovered that I’m conservative. A weak person doesn’t have all of these honorary degrees. Most people of accomplishment have one, maybe two or three honorary degrees at most. It’s the highest award that a university gives out. I have 67. That’s probably not indicative of a weak person who doesn’t get things done.

Costa: Has this campaign helped or hurt that reputation, that legacy?

Carson: Without question, it will hurt it. But it’s not about me. I’m willing to sacrifice that legacy and that reputation if we can get our country turned around. One person is not a big deal as far as I’m concerned.

If Carson thought there were the slightest chance that he’d win the nomination, he’d certainly not answer that question by saying that “without question” the campaign will end up hurting his reputation.

You can stick a fork in him. His presidential ambitions are done.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 28, 2015

December 30, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Foreign Policy, GOP Primaries | , , , , | 2 Comments

“What The GOP Gets Wrong About ISIS”: The Positions Staked Out By Republican Politicians Are Crazy

As we come to the end of a year of terror—actually, of horror—and we enter a year of terrible campaigning by some horrible candidates for the presidency of the United States, one might wish the Republican front-runners would step back from the path of religious zealotry, racist paranoia and torture envy. But … no.

As the debates in mid-December and the sparring since have showed us, they are detached from many realities, but especially the reality on the ground in Syria, which I have been covering first-hand with frequent trips there since 2012.

So, now, back in the United States, I watch in consternation the nauseating spin about Radical Islam, carpet bombing, waterboarding, surveillance of everyone, blaming refugees. The Republican “strategies” for dealing with the so-called Islamic State sound like a laundry list of the monumental failures from the 9/11 decade.

Was it “political correctness” that knocked down the twin towers and kidnapped and tortured my friends? No, it was something much more sinister, and something much more sophisticated than these candidates seem to realize, or to be.

There is a reason, of course, for them to deflect questions about military tactics against ISIS. There are no easy answers, and even the difficult options are severely limited. No realistic proposal for tackling the jihadi group will play well with primary voters and all of the candidates know it. Presumably, this is why the Republican candidates have taken the discussion into the realm of paranoid fantasy and insinuation, where they seem much more comfortable.

Consider Donald Trump’s bizarre statement that “we should be able to penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where ISIS is.” Actually, we know exactly where the Islamic State is and have a good idea of where its main bastions are. We essentially already know what is needed to fight them.

The problem is that no matter how good our intel is, there is still the pesky issue of how to take and hold territory, which is a costly proposition. And while ISIS potentate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi recently conceded he’s been losing ground, but gradually, he figures that, up against the disorganization of his enemies, and the U.S. presidential campaign is a prime example of that, he will be able to get it back—and then some.

Then there’s the question of torture, or “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and the notion that they could have prevented the Paris attacks in November that killed 130 people.

At a Council on Foreign Relations event Chris Christie said “it’s not a coincidence to me that this happened in the aftermath of restricting these programs and remember also demoralizing the intelligence community. That awful report that came out from the Senate Democrats at the end of last year was a complete political instrument that did nothing more than demoralize American intelligence officers all around the world.”

Using religious language like “Radical Islam” has also been touted as a Republican “strategy” for some time. Such words, one way or the other, have zero effect on the ground.

Ted Cruz’s anti-ISIS strategy is to rename the terror group, which results in a meaningless sound bite, not a strategy. You can rebrand a cancer however you like; the threat it poses will be unchanged. But the “Radical Islam” rhetoric plays well into a broader trend of advocating racial, ethnic and religious profiling by the general public. Cruz’s followers do not hear the word “radical,” as any spin doctor knows. They cut straight to “Islam” as the threat.

When asked if the American government should engaging in profiling, Jeb Bush’s answer was concrete and definitive: “Yeah, absolutely, that is what screening is. We should be profiling. Of course we should. This is Islamic terrorism. The Democrats have no clue about this, or they refuse to call it what it is. These are Islamic terrorists that are trying to take out our country and destroy Western civilization. If you start with that premise, which I think the great majority of Americans believe, then you have a totally different approach on how you deal with it.”

Yet when asked about his military strategy, Bush replied with a platitude: “The main thing we should be focused on is a strategy to defeat ISIS…. Leading the world, funding [the military] to make sure we have a military that is second to none and doing the job.”

When Republicans rally so strongly behind the anti-refugee hysteria, torture and religious rhetoric, it is because they need unifying issues that allow them to attack President Barack Obama and, by extension, Hillary Clinton.

According to Robert Y. Shapiro, a professor of government at Columbia University, the refugee issue is a convenient tool used by the GOP to criticize the Obama administration without confronting military realities.

“I think they want to keep the focus on the refugees since, first, they are a reminder of Obama’s perceived failure against the Syrian government and the conquests of ISIS,” says Shapiro. “Second, they are a reminder of the potential terrorist threat which is an issue on which the Republicans, since George W. Bush, have had the high ground over the Democrats. The current polls strongly reflect this.”

“It is a way of avoiding the tougher issue of what to do about Syria and ISIS,” says Shapiro. The political strategy keeps the focus on the the failings of the Obama administration and its longtime secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

If there is one thing Republicans agree on, in fact, it is that Obama somehow created ISIS. Yet when it comes to exactly why they think that, the reasons are vastly different and completely contradictory.

So, for instance, former New York (9/11) Mayor Rudy Giuliani said in a recent Fox News interview that he believes ISIS is an “Obama creation.” According to Giuliani, ISIS rose to prominence because Obama refused to implement a no fly zone over Syria after the Assad regime’s chemical weapon attacks in 2013.

According to Trump, however, ISIS is a result of Obama’s weak personality and his intervention in Libya, which Trump says destabilized the region. Trump has also claimed that he believes Obama may have directly armed ISIS, and that America should support Russia’s intervention in Syria.

According to Ted Cruz, political correctness is to blame and Obama should try to ramp up the religious rhetoric.

According to Jeb Bush, ISIS is Obama’s fault because he drew down U.S. forces in Iraq, allowing the jihadis to fill the vacuum.

Rand Paul insists that Obama “armed the allies of ISIS.”

On the far-out fringes of the right (whose votes are coveted as well) there are the persistent conspiracy theories that Obama is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that moderate Republican Sen. John McCain met with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, when he visited Syria.

If Obama is a dictatorial warmonger, a secret jihadi or, as Christie puts it, “a feckless weakling,” what Republican could come to his defense?

Yet none can say that Obama is not striking ISIS, because he is. GOP candidates cannot say that Obama has overstepped his executive authority, because this would be interpreted as opposition to the military campaign. The Republican candidates cannot advocate sending in ground troops, because that is an unelectable position.

No one is going to make waves by advocating a no-fly zone, because Hillary Clinton has been the most vocal advocate of an air exclusion area since the beginning of the conflict, long before any Republican candidates raised the issue.

Four years of contradictory statements and shortsighted posturing from the GOP with regard to Syria have made emotionally charged peripheral issues the safest bet when it comes to politicizing ISIS.

A review of Republican positions since the conflict began reveals broad opposition to Obama’s anti-Assad-regime plans and serious criticism of his executive actions against ISIS.

In 2014, John Boehner was quick to criticize Obama’s military actions as unauthorized, but became visibly uncomfortable when asked why he didn’t introduce an authorization to use military force. Numerous Republicans dissented when Obama said he intended to retaliate against the Assad regime for chemical attacks in 2013, and were largely responsible for staying his hand. With regard to military action against ISIS, many Republicans chose to avoid a vote on the subject so they could assess the success of the campaign before risking a position. This is hard to spin as a courageous stance against the Islamic State.

Before the Paris attacks and the current anti-refugee hysteria, the Republican contenders, especially Cruz, had focused their criticism of Obama on the fact that he refuses to equate the Islamic State with mainstream Islam. This is clever, up to a point, because it is vague and draws on a widely held belief among conservatives that political correctness and cultural sensitivity are largely to blame for their unhappiness. Thus Cruz proclaimed, incongruously, “It is not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama adminstration from stopping these attacks it is political correctness.”

Do the candidates really believe what they are saying about refugees? It is important to listen to the specific words that they and governors opposed to resettlement have been using.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie knows that his biggest weakness is being perceived as soft on Obama, because he worked closely with the president after Hurricane Sandy. In interview after interview, Christie has deflected questions on his refugee scapegoating back to Obama, stating that he does not trust the President to vet the refugees.

During the GOP debates in Las Vegas Christie focused heavily on his involvement with minor terrorism cases as a prosecutor and the fact that he lived in New Jersey on 9/11.

Ted Cruz keeps the focus on buzzwords meant to energize his evangelical base. In a single interview with Sean Hannity, he repeated the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” 19 times. And since the Paris attacks, Cruz has also been sure to repeat the words “tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees” verbatim several times per interview.

Despite all the tough talk none of this rhetoric comes close to resembling a strategy, which is why the GOP has more to lose than anyone from a real debate on military tactics against ISIS.

The fear mongering has been successful turning conservatives against a vulnerable community that had no role in the Paris or San Bernardino attacks. According to a Yougov poll, support for accepting refugees has dropped from 39 percent among Republicans in early September to 17 percent now. The major GOP contenders need issues like refugees and religion to stay in the conversation because they have no clue how to beat ISIS.

In fact, the threat does not come from Obama, refugees, and civil rights, as opposed to from the actual Islamic State. The Republicans give the overall impression that they would increase U.S. military operation and that the Obama administration has no clear strategy. ‘In fact the Obama administration does,” say Shapiro “but it is a much slower long term one… leaving the fighting on the ground to the Kurds and Iraqi forces.”

Most of the actual proposals presented by GOP candidates are basically just variations on that theme.

On the ground in Syria, debates among the Republican candidates have sounded unrealistic if not surreal. It is obvious that ISIS can only be beaten through intelligent alliances and precise military planning. This should not be a great mystery given the fact that ISIS has been beaten before. In early 2014 Syrian rebels forced ISIS into a massive retreat from Aleppo province. I personally had the privilege of visiting parts of Aleppo that were recently liberated. This objective was achieved through military coordination among rebels factions who took heavy casualties.

It’s strange to hear politicians speak about ISIS as though it is some mysterious threat that will require America to change its identity. The leaders and fighters of ISIS are simply human beings, and in battle, they die.

When I hear politicians demonize Syrians and Muslims or advocate torture and carpet bombing, it shows how deep their lack of commitment to the actual fight is.

Syrians are the only people I have ever encountered who have actually stood up to and beaten back ISIS. The 2014 rebel offensive was the most significant blow that ISIS has ever been dealt and it didn’t magically occur when Ted Cruz uttered the words “Radical Islam.” It certainly didn’t come from preventing desperate refugees from settling in America. The biggest defeat ISIS has ever suffered came from Syrians who are the exact same religion and nationality that candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are so determined to turn into an enemy.

 

By: Patrick Hilsman, The Daily Beast, December 28, 2015

December 30, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, ISIS, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Its Not Just About Bombing ISIS”: Organizing Global Action Related To Financing Of Terrorism

I’ve written previously about the strategy behind President Obama’s containment policy with regards to ISIS.

Its [U.S.] containment policy, Watts explained, is designed to wall ISIS into increasingly restricted territory and letting it fail due to its own mismanagement, economic problems, and internal discord, rather than because of the actions of a foreign oppressor.

If you want to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and engage in an apocalyptic battle with the West, you need financial resources to do so. Hence, the United States has been pursuing a financial as well as military containment policy.

But those efforts won’t succeed unless the countries of the world join us in both abandoning any financial transactions with ISIS and policing private entities within their own borders who might attempt to do so. That’s why, as U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power wrote, last week Treasury Secretary Jack Lew took on the role of foreign diplomat.

…to defeat these terrorist groups — as we must and will do — the United Nations must reach beyond the expertise of foreign ministries, and our traditional means of countering State aggression.

Instead, we must look to the policymakers who are developing innovative tactics to fight these groups, from strengthening border security and countering violent extremism in communities to choking off various sources of ISIL’s financing.

On Thursday, Secretary Lew is chairing the first-ever meeting of U.N. Security Council finance ministers to intensify international efforts on combating terrorist financing. We recognize that if we want to cut off ISIL’s access to the international financial system and prevent it from raising, transferring and using funds, we need other countries on board.

That is an innovative approach to how the U.N. might function in a world of asymmetrical threats. The idea that it is not simply a place for foreign ministers to discuss state-on-state military matters, but is also a place to organize global action related to terrorism financing means that it can be a vehicle for strategies that address 21st century challenges.

I am reminded of the approach a lot of Republicans have taken to the United Nations – from former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton’s casual reference to “losing 10 stories” of their building in NYC to continuous efforts by Congressional Republicans to defund it.

What we have seen from the Obama administration is a strengthening of the United Nations (and other coalitions like NATO) as a way to establish the kinds of partnerships that are necessary to accomplish everything from a global climate accord to a plan to end the Syrian civil war to cutting off the flow of financial resources to ISIS.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 21, 2015

December 22, 2015 Posted by | ISIS, Republicans, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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