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“A Shock Endorsement”: How Desperate Is Rand Paul? He’s Calling In Daddy For Help

Look at all of you, thinking Rand Paul’s presidential campaign was going nowhere but downward, in both polling support and money. Quite a feint that Rand Paul put out there, getting you all clucking. But the last laugh will be his. Because on Friday, Rand Paul trotted out a shock endorsement that threatens to upend the state of the race, the future of the country, the alignment of the planets, the mysteries of God.

Ron Paul has endorsed Rand Paul.

The two have some connections, so perhaps we should have seen this coming. Ron Paul served in Congress for years, just as Rand Paul has. Each are Republicans but gravitate towards libertarianism. Each has run for president. It’s also the case that Rand Paul’s mother is literally married to Ron Paul and they have a son and that son is Rand Paul. Still: pretty big endorsement here.

“Endorsement” is at least how Reason magazine is putting it, which is an effective framing job although perhaps not the most accurate. Ron Paul has always supported his son’s campaign, because he is his son. He was there with Rand at the campaign launch, in a mostly silent role. His role has been nearly totally silent as the campaign has progressed, though. As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel writes, it’s more accurate to call this Ron Paul’s first pitch on Rand’s behalf for donations, over four months into the process.

Here’s a sampling of some of the slick #content within this email:

Rand is the ONLY one in the race who is standing up for your Liberty, across the board….he is our best hope to restore liberty, limited government and the Bill of Rights and finally end the big spending status quo in Washington, D.C….

Remember, truth is treason in the empire of lies. And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to Washington, D.C. and their media mouthpieces.

Even where Rand and I do have minor differences of opinion, I would take Rand’s position over any of his opponents’ in both parties every time…

Rand must be heartened to have his father’s full-throated public support and fundraising prowess at his back. But it’s the best symbol yet of how Paul’s political career has come full-circle: from niche politician to breakout GOP star and back to niche politician — and one who has little hope of growing his support for the nomination much further.

Leading up to the presidential cycle, much of the chatter about Rand Paul surrounded how he would utilize his “wild card” father, if at all. It was Ron Paul’s noisy base of supporters who raised him an awful lot of money for his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, and who boosted Rand Paul to his surprising Senate primary victory in 2010. As Rand’s ambitions went higher though — he wanted to run for president with a chance to win, and not as a niche candidate in the style of his father — he had to move towards the party mainstream without abandoning his libertarian base.

That didn’t work very well. The rise of ISIS closed off whatever interest Republicans might have had in a slightly less military interventionist foreign policy. Rand sensed the winds changing and has tried several times to appease the party’s hawks, who do not and will not ever trust him, in the meantime turning some of his libertarian base against them. He has tried to walk the narrow line between mainstream acceptability and libertarian fire and failed.

And now he doesn’t have much money, or anything to lose, so he might as well trot out his father despite all the risks that entails.

It will be something when Rand Paul fares much, much worse in the early states this time than his father did in the early states in 2012. That’s not the way it was supposed to be.


By: Jim Newell, Salon, August 17, 2015


August 18, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul, Ron Paul | , , , , , | 8 Comments

“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

“The Amusing Story Behind Joe Lieberman’s New Gig”: The Previous Chair Decided The Nuclear Agreement With Iran Is A Good Idea

At first blush, the press release seemed rather mundane. A group called United Against Nuclear Iran, which opposes the international agreement, announced yesterday that former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will take over as the organization’s new chairman.

But if Lieberman is the new chairman, that must mean there’s an old chairman he’s replacing. And that’s where the story gets amusing. TPM’s Josh Marshall wrote:

I’ve been meaning to write more about the on-going farce which is the opposition to the world powers deal to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. But I just came across a hilarious story which really brings together the tragic, tendentious and hysterical (yes, both meanings) nature of this drama.

I just learned that Joe Lieberman, storied Middle East hawk, has joined United Against Nuclear Iran as its new Chairman. UANI is one of several pressure groups now rolling out massive ad campaigns against the deal bankrolled by assorted billionaires.

So far, so good. Assorted billionaires think they can and should kill the international agreement, which would likely undermine their own long-term goals, though they’re proceeding anyway. To that end, UANI has hired Joe Lieberman, who became a D.C. lobbyist after swearing he wouldn’t.

But United Against Nuclear Iran already had a chairman: Dr. Gary Samore, a scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, who led the group for two years. Why replace him with Lieberman?

Because Dr. Gary Samore has decided that the international nuclear agreement with Iran is a good idea. Indeed, deep into yesterday’s UANI press release, the document concedes, “Gary ultimately supports the agreement and is stepping down to avoid any conflict with UANI’s work in opposition to the agreement.”

Or as Josh Marshall put it, “The deal is such a Chamberlainesque catastrophe that one of the main anti-deal pressure groups had to part ways with its leader because he supports the deal.”

Quite right. We’ve reached the point at which United Against Nuclear Iran has failed to persuade its own chairman that the deal must be derailed. A lobbying group that exists to oppose the deal has parted ways with its boss, who supports the deal.

Time will tell what happens in the larger debate over the policy, but in substantive terms, this really isn’t a good sign for the anti-diplomacy forces.


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

August 12, 2015 Posted by | Iran Nuclear Agreement, Joe Lieberman, Lobbyists | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Back To The Fuhrer”: Why Republicans Are Obsessed With Comparing Obama To Hitler

Say what you will about Mike Huckabee, the guy has a way with a quip. And when he responded to the Iran nuclear deal by claiming that Barack Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven,” the only really surprising thing was that it took this long for Obama to go from being Neville Chamberlain on the subject of Iran to Adolf Hitler.

Because this wouldn’t be the first time — or the 10th, or the 100th — that a prominent conservative has compared Obama to Hitler. Given ample opportunity to admit that maybe he went too far in his remarks, Huckabee has been unrepentant. “The response from Jewish people has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said, making one wonder which Jews he’s talking to, since as a people we tend to be a little put off by glib Nazi analogies, particularly ones that are so vivid. But Huckabee has gotten plenty of support from fellow conservatives, who are practically lining up to say that, yes, Obama really is bringing about another Holocaust.

I’m not going to bother to argue with the absurd assertion that: 1) drastically curtailing and inspecting Iran’s nuclear program will actually do more to give Iran a nuclear weapon than just leaving the regime alone to do as it likes; and 2) the moment Iran has a weapon it will launch it at Israel in an act of national suicide. (Don’t forget that Israel has something like 100 nukes, and so could vaporize every square inch of Iran without much trouble.) But I do want to comment on the propensity of conservatives to go back to the Fuhrer time and again.

Let’s step back to Chamberlain for a moment before we move on to Hitler. Conservatives were calling the Iran deal the second coming of Munich even before any of its terms had been worked out. Which highlights something important about their beliefs on this topic: For all their talk of a fantasy deal in which Iran gives us everything we could possibly want and demands nothing in return, the whole point of the Munich analogy is that negotiation is useless by definition.

When conservatives said that Obama was like Chamberlain, they weren’t saying Obama is a bad negotiator and could have gotten a better deal. It isn’t the Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000. The clear implication of the Munich analogy is that there shouldn’t have been any negotiations at all, and that war is inevitable so we might as well just get on with it. If your adversary is Hitler — and as far as many on the right or concerned, every potential adversary is Hitler — then war to save the world is the only option, and anyone who seeks a diplomatic solution to a dispute is a sucker.

But that was when they were being kind. Calling Obama Chamberlain suggests that his problem is naïvete, not malice. It accepts that he doesn’t actually wish for the extermination of the Jews, even if that is the inevitable result of his foolishness. But of course, conservatives have thought for a long time that Obama is absolutely brimming with malice — toward America, toward Christians, toward Jews, toward white people, toward just about anyone they like.

Which is why we’ve hardly gone a month throughout this presidency without someone comparing Obama to Hitler, on matters both weighty and mundane. He had only been in office a few weeks when Glenn Beck started comparing his program to that of the Nazi party. “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate,” said Rush Limbaugh in the summer of 2009, just a few months later. Conservative commentators saw swastikas in Obama’s push to register new voters in 2008, and even in his campaign slogans. Conservative favorite Ben Carson says the government under Obama is “very much like Nazi Germany,” because “[y]ou had the government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.” And that’s not to mention all the times some billionaire has compared Obama to Hitler for such appalling things as proposing to close the carried-interest loophole.

Plenty of former presidents were compared to Hitler by their opponents from time to time, but I think it’s safe to say that none has been the target of so many Nazi comparisons, coming so often and from so many prominent people, whether they be politicians or media figures.

It’s more evidence that the opposition to Obama is qualitatively different than what came before it. Never in our recent history has either party been as adamantly opposed to any political compromise as today’s GOP is. Republicans hated Bill Clinton, like Democrats hated George W. Bush, but they were willing to work together fairly regularly — no more. No president has had his legitimate occupation of the Oval Office questioned as often as Obama has; the man even had to show his birth certificate before they’d believe he’s actually an American (and many still don’t).

From the beginning, the conservative argument against Obama from so many quarters has been that he’s not just wrong or misguided, but is actually trying to destroy America and turn it into something twisted and ugly. If you think I’m exaggerating, then you haven’t been listening to their radio shows, watching their TV network, or reading their books, because that’s what they’ve been saying since before he got elected.

And if you believe that, then of course Obama isn’t Chamberlain, because Chamberlain is just a fool. Obama is the really sinister one, the one who wants to snuff out liberty and crush those who love it under his boot. He’s Hitler.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, July 29, 2015

July 30, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Obama Has A Response For The ‘Not Tough Enough’ Crowd”: The Greatest Terrorist Hunter In The History Of The Presidency

The latest report from the Pew Research Center offered generally good news for President Obama – Democrats’ favorability is improving, while Republicans’ favorability is sinking – but there was one trouble area for the White House that stood out.

Just over half of Americans (53%) continue to say that Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy and national security is “not tough enough”; 37% say he handles these matters about right, while just 4% say he is too tough. These attitudes are virtually unchanged since November 2013.

Republicans are far more critical of Obama’s approach to foreign policy than Democrats or independents.

Indeed, the partisan split matters. A 53% majority believes the president’s approach to national security isn’t “tough enough,” but that’s exaggerated a bit because a whopping 80% of Republicans have convinced themselves this is true. The numbers of Democrats and Independents who agree is significantly smaller.

Still, it’s a deeply odd thing for a majority of Americans to believe.  Consider something Obama said this week during his address to the VFW National Convention:

“I’ve shown I will not hesitate to use force to protect our nation, including from the threat of terrorism. Thanks to the skill of our military and counterintelligence professionals, we’ve struck major blows against those who threaten us. Osama bin Laden is gone. Anwar Awlaki, a leader of the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen – gone.  Many of al Qaeda’s deputies and their replacements – gone. Ahmed Abdi Godane – the leader of the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia – gone. Abu Anas al-Libi, accused of bombing our embassies in Africa – captured. Ahmed Abu Khattalah, accused in the attack in Benghazi – captured. The list goes on. If you target Americans, you will have no safe haven.  We will defend our nation.”

As of yesterday, Abu Khalil al-Sudani, the al Qaeda operative “in charge of suicide bombings and operations involving explosives” was killed by U.S. forces, which means he can be added to Obama’s “gone” list.

I’m reminded of Jeffrey Goldberg’s point from last year: “Obama has become the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency.”

So, what’s with the “not tough enough” concerns?

As we talked about a while ago, I suspect Republican rhetoric is a key factor in Republican perceptions. The more Obama orders strikes on terrorists, the more GOP officials feel the need to pretend the president is indifferent to matters of national security, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Note, for example, just how many Republican leaders, candidates, and officials have said the president is doing “nothing” about ISIS, even as the president orders literally thousands of airstrikes on ISIS targets in the Middle East.

What’s more, Republicans have gone to extraordinary lengths to move the goal-posts – what really matters, the GOP argues, isn’t whether the Obama administration kills terrorists, but rather, whether the Obama administration uses words and phrases Republicans find ideologically satisfying.

Sure, killing bin Laden is nice, but for many on the right, if the president doesn’t explicitly use the phrase “Islamic terrorism,” preferably every day, a successful counter-terrorism strategy doesn’t really count.

There is, of course, an entirely different side of the debate, including questions from the White House’s progressive critics. Do U.S. strikes deter or prevent future terrorist threats? Is the U.S. policy entirely consistent with the law? What are the implications of a policy reliant on drones? Should Americans expect the current national-security policy to remain in place indefinitely? What happens when one terrorist leader is killed, but he’s replaced by someone worse?

The answers to these questions matter, and shouldn’t be overlooked by chest-thumping.

But there’s still the matter of mistaken public perceptions, which appear increasingly divorced from reality. If a president with Obama’s record isn’t “tough enough,” who is?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 24, 2015

July 27, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, National Security, Terrorism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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