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“Why Is The GOP So Angry At Everything These Days?”: Fevered Lunatics Whose Principal Policy Option Is To Fight Rather Than Talk

At the end of a week when many paused to reflect during Passover and Easter ceremonies, a question with no real answer seemed to crash into our culture with all the subtlety of a marching band in a funeral parlor: Why do so many Republicans seem so angry all the time at so much around us?

The fury of some like Ted Cruz is understandable. It’s fueled by his massive ego and outsized ambition along with his personal belief that he is so smart and the rest of us are so pedestrian that he can manipulate opinion to win the Republican nomination for president with the support of the mentally ill wing of his party.

“A real president,” Cruz the bombardier said last week, “would stand up and say on the world stage: Under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran will either stop or we will stop them.”

Then there is the minor league Cruz, the tough talking, totally in-over-his-head governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who is running to crack down on the salaries of teachers, cops and firefighters everywhere. Oh, he’ll also teach Iran a good lesson by throwing any deal out the window no matter what other countries might think. Imagine Scotty informing Angela Merkel of his decision while he wears his Cheese-Head Hat.

There are so many others too. There’s the kid who started the pen pal club with the ayatollah, Tom Cotton. There’s the mental midget from Illinois, Mark Kirk, who went right to the basement for his best thought on Iran, claiming that England got a better deal from Hitler than the U.S. got from Teheran. Kirk, not a history major.

But my personal favorite? In this corner, from Baltimore, wearing the costume of a true warrior, locked and loaded and ready to roll, the former Ambassador to the United Nations, John “Bombs Away” Bolton. He took to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times to declare war on Iran. After all, why waste time!

“The inconvenient truth is that only military action…” Field Marshall Bolton wrote, “can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”

Bolton, of course, is one of the Mensa members who told George W. Bush that it would be swell to go to war in Iraq. Twelve years later things are really going well there.

At least Bolton knows war on a firsthand basis. At age 18 he was in South Vietnam where…OH, I’M SORRY…MY MISTAKE…that was another Bolton. That was Dennis Bolton from Bedford, Indiana, born two weeks before John Bolton was born in Baltimore in November 1948. Two different young men with two different tales to tell.

Dennis Bolton went to Vietnam. John Bolton who went to Yale. Dennis Bolton was killed near DaNang on April 19, 1967 where he served with the Marines while John Bolton finished his freshman year at New Haven.

In 1967, Bedford had a population of about 13,000. It’s a nice small town where Gene Hackman could have filmed Hoosiers, one of the great sports films ever. Ten young men from Bedford were killed in Vietnam.

Indiana, of course, is the state where Mike Pence and Republicans in the state legislature spent the week clowning it up over their lost fight to make it harder for some Americans simply to be happy. Make no mistake about it, their war was against same-sex marriage and they suffered a TKO when the country turned against them in the snap of a finger, an overnight knockout delivered with stunning speed. But I digress.

In 1967, Baltimore had a population of about 930,000. It’s a tough town with a lot of different neighborhoods, some dangerous, many working class, where Barry Levinson hadn’t made Diner yet and HBO hadn’t given us the gift that is The Wire. Four hundred and seventeen residents of Baltimore were killed in Vietnam.

Dennis Bolton’s name is on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. John Bolton’s name was on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times as well as on the lips of some angry, fevered lunatics whose principal policy option is to fight rather than talk.

Obviously, Bolton never made it to Vietnam. He joined the Maryland National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam and, hey, good for him. At least he served.

Of course, he blamed his absence from combat on the politics of the time. On liberals like Ted Kennedy and others, claiming they had already lost the war by the time he was ready to take on the North Vietnamese Army. I guess that explains the itch, the unfulfilled need, the frustration that guys like Bolton have lived with across the decades.

And today, “Bombs Away” Bolton still has a strong desire to light it up. And according to some pundits he’s even considering a run for president. Obviously his platform will remain as unchanged as his thinking: Different time, different dangers, different countries but same selfish solution: Send someone else’s kids to fight and die while Bolton and others play with a lit fuse in a world more dangerous than dynamite.

 

By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, April 5, 2015

April 6, 2015 Posted by | Iran, John Bolton, War Hawks | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Sense Of History”: John McCain; ‘Everything I’ve Predicted … Has Come True’

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has reason to be pleased with his recent promotion. In the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, his party is not only in control of the Senate, but the Arizona Republican is now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a post he’s reportedly wanted for quite a while.

But when the senator looks around the world, he isn’t pleased at all.

“We are probably in the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime,” said the 78-year-old Republican from Arizona, whose control of the committee is the culmination of decades of tenacious advocacy for a muscular foreign policy. “Everything I’ve predicted, unfortunately, has come true, whether it be in Iraq or whether it be Syria.”

The notion that all of John McCain’s predictions have “come true” isn’t just a bizarre boast, it’s also laughably and demonstrably untrue. As Rachel put it on the show awhile back, “Let the record show, John McCain was wrong about Iraq and the war in Iraq in almost every way that a person can be wrong about something like that.”

But it’s this argument, which McCain has made before, that we’re seeing “the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime” that seems especially odd.

As we discussed the last time the senator made this assessment, McCain’s lifetime includes the entirety of World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War. To suggest turmoil is greater or more “serious” now may be politically convenient – one assumes McCain is both eager to blame President Obama for unrest and anxious to make the case for more wars – but it’s also completely at odds with reality when considered in a historical context.

Dylan Matthews noted last week, “If anything, the world is safer than it’s ever been. The threat of nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union has lifted. Great power wars of the kind that plagued Europe until 1945 are a thing of the past. Peoples’ odds of dying from violence, including warfare, have never been lower.”

I’m also reminded a good piece from Fareed Zakaria along the same lines, noting conditions in 1973, the year McCain was released from a Vietnamese prison. That year, Zakaria noted, several hundred thousand people died as a result of the war in Vietnam, tens of thousands died in the Yom Kippur War, OPEC imposed an oil embargo, and Cold War tensions pushed the United States literally to DEFCON 3.

Today’s world is unpredictable, but it doesn’t compare with the kinds of geopolitical dangers that existed for decades during the Cold War, not to mention before that period. […]

For all the problems, let’s keep in mind that we live today in a world with considerably fewer dangers. Nuclear war is unimaginable. The Russian-American nuclear arsenals are down to one-fifth their size in 1973 and at a much lower level of readiness. In 1973, Freedom House published its first annual account of political rights around the world. At the time, countries listed as “not free” outnumbered “free” countries. Today that is inverted, with the number of “free” countries having doubled. Open markets, trade and travel have boomed, allowing hundreds of millions to escape poverty and live better lives.

Of course there are crises, problems and tensions around the world. But no one with any sense of history would want to go back in time in search of less turmoil.

Around the same time, President Obama delivered remarks to White House interns and stressed the same point: “[D]espite how hard sometimes the world seems to be, and all you see on television is war and conflict and poverty and violence, the truth is that if you had to choose when to be born, not knowing where or who you would be, in all of human history, now would be the time. Because the world is less violent, it is healthier, it is wealthier, it is more tolerant and it offers more opportunity than any time in human history for more people than any time in human history.”

This isn’t to say that peace and stability reign around the globe. That’s never been the case, and it probably never will be. But to see alarming developments, here and abroad, as evidence of a world unraveling is to focus far too much on the trees and not enough on the forest.

McCain has been around for real periods of international turmoil. It’s easy, and perhaps ideologically satisfying, to insist conditions are worse now, but by literally no measure is that assessment accurate.

It’s likely that the senator has a political goal in mind: if Americans believe the world is coming apart, and that instability is scary, maybe the public will blame the president and reward McCain and his allies. Perhaps McCain will even persuade people that a few more wars will ease global tensions and paradoxically reduce violence.

But reality suggests no one should take his rhetoric seriously.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 23, 2015

January 24, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, John McCain, War Hawks | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Best To Take It Nice And Slow”: Cuba Should Beware Of Westerners Bearing Gifts

The normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, announced Wednesday by President Obama, is a highly welcome step. Our hostile posture against Cuba stopped making sense in 1989, if not before then, and it’s long since time we allowed the country back into the full community of nations. If the U.S. can get along with China and Vietnam, there’s no reason it can’t do the same with Cuba.

The president can’t lift the embargo against Cuba, since that was imposed by Congress. Though dead-end reactionaries like Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham will likely fight for the embargo tooth and nail, within a few years it will be gone as well. In addition to the fact that the policy has failed for more than 50 years, popular opinion — and most crucially, the opinion of Cuban-Americans — is changing.

But while economic liberalization presents Cuba with opportunities, it comes attached with huge potential pitfalls. To be blunt, Cuba in all likelihood faces a bleak future. The track record of post-Communist nations is not good. Indeed, the upside of the embargo remaining in place for a few years is that it will give Cuba time to prepare. Here are a few things both Cuba and America might keep in mind.

First, don’t try to do everything all at once. Abolishing wage and price controls, privatizing state industries, and liberalizing trade may be good ideas. But it’s unquestionable that doing them all very fast is bad. Jeff Sachs tried that in Russia with his signature “Big Push,” and it was a world-historical disaster. Russian GDP fell 62 percent, and didn’t bottom out until the year 2000. Life expectancy fell by five full years. And a handful of well-placed oligarchs absconded with most of the state’s assets.

A market economy that works well for most people (think Sweden and Norway) requires some deep-rooted social structures — structures that are seriously eroded by long periods of totalitarian dictatorship. Simply quaffing laissez-faire policy in one gulp will lead almost certainly to plutocracy.

Above all, Cuba should prioritize maintaining its fairly high-quality health-care system. A slower, more measured transition would make that easier.

Communist insiders ought to be careful themselves. They might be able to make out like bandits in a post-Communist resource grab, but they also might be overthrown, exiled, or killed. For 50 years, the Cuban regime has been able to blame its atrocious economic performance on the American embargo. Without that excuse, the government will likely be faced with rising demands for better performance.

Vietnam and China show it’s possible to thread this needle, but it’s definitely not a given. We can only hope that President Raúl Castro and others in the Cuban regime will recognize that the onset of democracy is probably inevitable, and ease that transition rather than clamping down and risking civil war.

America, for its part, should consider not using its stupendous advantage in military and economic strength to stuff neoliberal policy down Cuba’s throat the second its markets open. I frankly doubt we can manage this. Congress has rarely been quite so overtly owned by the rich, who are undoubtedly slavering over a fresh nation to plunder.

So yes, amid the excitement, there’s no denying the situation is grim. It’s not likely that either a rattletrap Congress or the brutally repressive Cuban government will be able to manage decent, wise policy. But now that we’re here, it’s worth thinking about how both countries can manage as best as possible.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent, The Week, December 19, 2014

December 22, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Cuba, Raul Castro | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“McCain vs. McCain On Cuba”: Whatever President Obama Supports, John McCain Opposes, Whether It Makes Sense Or Not

When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) angrily disagrees with President Obama, it’s about as common as the sunrise. But when McCain reject his own views from a few years ago, something more important is happening.

Yesterday, for example, McCain issued a joint press statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), offering a rather predictable condemnation.

“We agree with President Obama that he is writing new chapters in American foreign policy. Unfortunately, today’s chapter, like the others before it, is one of America and the values we stand for in retreat and decline. It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America’s influence in the world. Is it any wonder that under President Obama’s watch our enemies are emboldened and our friends demoralized?”

To be sure, the rhetoric is stale and tiresome. Almost all of this, practically word for word, has been a staple of McCain press releases for six years. The point is hardly subtle: when it comes to foreign policy and international affairs, whatever President Obama supports, John McCain opposes, whether it makes sense or not.

That’s not the interesting part. Rather, what McCain neglected to mention yesterday is the fact that he used to support the very changes the Obama White House announced yesterday.

In May 2008, the Arizona Republican was his party’s presidential nominee, and he traveled to Miami to endorse the same U.S. policy towards Cuba that’s been in place since 1960. The Wall Street Journal ran this report at the time, noting the degree to which McCain had “evolved” on the issue.

Sen. McCain’s stance on Cuba appears to have evolved since the 2000 presidential primaries, when he faced Mr. Bush, then the Texas governor. At the time, Mr. Bush played to the Cuban-American exile community and Mr. McCain acted the moderate, recalling his role in normalizing relations between the U.S. and Vietnam and saying the U.S. could lay out a similar road map with the regime.

What’s more, as long-time readers may recall, the Miami Herald reported in 1999 that McCain was the only Republican presidential candidate that cycle who believed “there could be room for negotiation on the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.”

A year later, McCain told CNN, “I’m not in favor of sticking my finger in the eye of Fidel Castro. In fact, I would favor a road map towards normalization of relations such as we presented to the Vietnamese and led to a normalization of relations between our two countries.”

Going back further, to 1994, McCain opposed cutting off remittances because it punished people “whose misfortune it is to live in tyranny.”

In other words, what McCain used to believe is largely the opposite of what McCain said yesterday. One can only speculate as to why the senator shifted – perhaps McCain reflexively opposes everything Obama supports, maybe he’s moved much further to the right in recent years, perhaps it’s a little of both – but the previous versions of the senator probably would have been quite impressed with the president’s announcement yesterday.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 18, 2014

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Foreign Policy, John McCain | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Follies Of Overreach”: The Limits Of American Power; Judging Obama’s Foreign Policy

When I was young, a mantra among progressives was that America had to stop operating as global policeman. Vietnam was the signal episode of arrogant and ultimately self-defeating American overreach. But there were plenty of other cases of the U.S. government doing the bidding of oil companies and banana barons, and blithely overthrowing left-democratic governments as well as outright communists (or driving nationalist reformers into the arms of communists.)

As the late Phil Ochs tauntingly sang, “We’re the cops of the world.” Or as Randy Newman mordantly put it, “Let’s drop the big one and see what happens.

At the same time, I viewed myself as sensible left. I was the guy at the Moratorium demonstrations of the late 1960s and early 1970s (actually covering them for Pacifica) hoping to make prudent withdrawal from Vietnam a majority cause, not the guy chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.”) I liked Norman Thomas’s line: Don’t burn the flag, wash it.

Overthrowing elected leaders like Chile’s Allende, staging coups against Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala, blocking the elected presidency of Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic—those were outrages. Yet the basic containment of Soviet expansionism seemed necessary and smart policy to me.

As a lapsed political scientist, I agreed with the received wisdom that global anarchy and American isolationism led to 20th century war and chaos. I thought people who preached world government were naïve. I was, if you will, on the left wing of the realist camp. Yes to benign use of American power, no to marginal Cold War adventures and corporate-led foreign policy. Pick your battles and don’t assume unlimited power; give colonies their liberty but with very limited forays into “nation building.”

I understood that much of the pent-up rage in the global South was a delayed reaction to earlier Western imperialism, both political and economic. But I did not romanticize every Third World uprising.

Later, I thought Bill Clinton got it about right with his intervention in the former Yugoslavia, warm embrace of Mandela, diplomacy in Northern Ireland, realistic anti-terrorism policies, and relative restraint generally. I applauded Clinton’s Mid-East peace efforts, but thought both parties were far too indulgent of Israeli settlement-building on the West Bank.

Today, the legacy of the Cheney-Bush regime has underscored the folly of overreach. Every place where America intervened under the Cheney doctrine, we’ve left a worse mess than the one we attempted to fix.

In a sense, the Left has gotten its wish. Events have made crystal clear that America can’t intervene everywhere. It’s not even apparent that we can constructively intervene anywhere.

Challenges to global peace and stability are hydra-headed and localized, not the work of a central conspiracy. Not even Henry Kissinger could cut a deal with non-state militias, and there’s not much to negotiate with the ISIS caliphate.

Despite the partial culpability of Western excesses during the last century, it’s hard to argue that Jihadists are therefore the good guys and Yankee imperialists the bad guys. On the contrary, radical Islam is at war against the Enlightenment, not to mention the rights of religious others, women, and basic political democracy. (So, for that matter, are ultra-orthodox Zionism and ultra-fundamentalist Christianity.)

Despite its omissions, limitations, and the central role of dead white Europeans, I’m rather fond of the Enlightenment. Its basic ideals are worth defending.

Many Jihadists would surely use nuclear weapons if they could get them, making the events of 9/11 look like a mere prologue, and requiring U.S. global vigilance.

So, Left friends, be careful what you wish for. America’s power today is humbled—and the world is more of a cauldron than ever. Even for lefties inclined to “blame America first,” as the Right likes to put it, U.S. intervention is often a lesser evil.

So if you were Czar, as the old saying went, exactly what foreign policy would you venture?

Given the limited options, is Obama getting it mostly right? Or is he pursuing the correct policies but somehow projecting weakness (as he surely does with Republicans at home)?

Where does it make sense to exit the game, even if the vacuum is filled by true crazies and sectarian wars, as in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Where must we conclude that we have little constructive role to play despite humanitarian outrages, because of limited resources and leverage, as in Syria?

Where are truly vital interests at stake (Ukraine, and China?) and what’s the possible policy? Where is robust diplomacy a substitute for brute force?

How do we deal with the true menace of nuclear proliferation, when it’s no longer feasible to police the world?

I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Warren. I hope she runs for president. However, several progressive Democrats, not unreasonably, have lately said to me: But she has no foreign policy experience. Do we have any idea of her views, or whom she’d appoint? With the world in crisis, would people vote for someone like Warren solely on pocketbook issues?

Well, Cheney and Rumsfeld had plenty of foreign policy experience, and look what it got us. Obama had none whatever, but Kerry and Biden seem to be doing about as well as anyone could, given the terrible hand that history has dealt them. Clinton, if memory serves, had been governor of Arkansas, a state without a foreign policy.

Here is one more story from my youth. At my Oberlin graduation, in 1965, the Commencement speaker was Martin Luther King, Jr. The College trustees, perhaps to balance Dr. King, were also giving an honorary degree to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, architect of the Vietnam escalation.

One faction of students wanted to boycott or picket Commencement, but that would have insulted Dr. King. Moderate lefties like me proposed a compromise. If Rusk would meet with us and listen to our proposal, we would not stage a demonstration. The meeting was duly brokered. The few far lefties groused that the student leaders had sold them out.

At the meeting, we pitched the following proposition. Ho Chi Minh was first and foremost a nationalist. His real enemy was China. South Vietnam was corrupt, non-democratic, and in any case not viable as a state. Why not allow Ho’s National Liberation Front to take power, as America should have done when Ho won his anti-colonial war with France in 1954, and guarantee Vietnam’s neutrality in exchange for Vietnam’s non-intervention elsewhere?

Rusk smiled indulgently. What did we know? We were a bunch of kids.

As events turned out, we were better realists than Rusk. Today, half a century later, the communist government in Hanoi prizes trade deals with America, practices semi-capitalism, does not threaten its neighbors, and relies on the U.S. as a counterweight to China. We might have had roughly the same outcome in 1965, with 50,000 fewer American combat deaths.

But I digress. Here are two concluding thoughts.

First, despite far-left fantasies, American can’t simply exit the world stage. There are too many menaces that require our constructive engagement. But America’s room to operate is very limited.

Secondly, better to have a thoughtful and well-read progressive leader with limited foreign policy experience than an experienced right-wing zealot like Cheney, or even a misguided experienced moderate like Rusk.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect; The Huffington Post Blog, July 27, 2014

July 30, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East, U. S. Military | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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