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“False And Foolish Prophets”: Iran Deal; Why Would We Heed The Same Voices That Are Always Wrong?

Nobody was surprised by Benjamin Netanyahu’s immediate denunciation of the Iran nuclear agreement as “a historic mistake for the world.” Echoing the Israeli prime minister’s reaction were all the usual suspects in this country — a panoply of pundits and politicians from Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and Fox News Channel analyst Charles Krauthammer to MNSBC host Joe Scarborough.

Focusing on the alleged pitfalls of the deal between Iran and the world powers, these critics elide provisions that would allow economic sanctions to “snap back” quickly if Iran violates its promises, and greatly increase the Islamic Republic’s difficulty in building an undetected bomb. They don’t explain that if the United States had walked away, the result would have been disintegration of international sanctions, a rapid buildup of Iran’s nuclear capability,  and the likelihood of war – not just bombs, but “boots on the ground.”

What everyone should remember about the agreement’s prominent foes is something they will never mention: their own shameful record in promoting our very worst foreign policy mistake since Vietnam.

Like his admirers here, Netanyahu was a fervent proselytizer for war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He appeared before the United States Congress in 2002 to frighten Americans and whip up belligerence. “There is no question whatsoever” – mark those words – “that Saddam is seeking, is working, is advancing toward the development of nuclear weapons,” he intoned, restating the “mushroom cloud” rhetoric of national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and vice president Dick Cheney, among others.

Around the same time, Krauthammer declared: “Time is running short. Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. He is working on nuclear weapons. And he has every incentive to pass them on to terrorists who will use them against us.” As the vote on Bush’s war resolution approached that fall, he warned that “we must remove from power an irrational dictator who…is developing weapons of mass destruction that could kill millions of Americans in a day.”

And we heard the same endless, hysterical exhortations from Kristol, Scarborough, and the entire cohort that had been pushing for war in Iraq ever since 9/11. No doubt they wish we would forget they ever uttered such nonsense. But at the time they argued that not only would Saddam’s overthrow mean “the end of his weapons of mass destruction,” as Scarborough once gloated, but the democratic ouster of all our enemies in the Mideast.

On that claim, Netanyahu was unwavering and absolute. “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime,” he told Congress, “I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region. And I think that people sitting right next door in Iran, young people, and many others, will say the time of such regimes, of such despots is gone.”

Of course, Bibi’s “guarantee” was worth less than the pitch of any used-car salesmen. So was Kristol’s blithering reassurance that Iraq’s Shi’a and the Sunni communities felt no enmity that would disrupt the bright future post-Saddam.

As Netanyahu noted not long ago – while arguing, ironically, against negotiations with Iran – the mullahs in Tehran now have far greater influence than we do over the Iraqi government in Baghdad, because both are dominated by Shi’a parties. (He failed to recall his own wrong predictions.) So we wasted blood and treasure to throw out Saddam and empower the Iranian mullahs in his place. And now the same figures responsible for that policy disaster demand that the United States turn away from the prospect of a peaceful resolution with Iran, and toward still another armed conflict.

The fundamental truth, recognized by Republican idol Ronald Reagan, is that negotiations are always preferable to war. Yet many on the American right have often preferred war, including the utterly insane risk of nuclear war, to dealing with our enemies. Earlier this year, Scarborough suggested that even if the Iran deal looked better than expected, he disdains peace talks on principle – as do the neoconservatives, who rose to prominence lobbying against strategic arms negotiations with the Soviet Union.

“I never trusted the Soviets,” said Scarborough. “I never wanted Reagan to make deals with the Soviets in the late ‘80s. It turned out well, but I was always against détente and against dealing with communists. And right now, I’m against dealing with a country whose Supreme Leader calls us the devil, who says death to America at the same time he’s negotiating this deal.”

“It turned out well” is to put it very mildly. Not only was President Reagan’s reputation enhanced, but owing to decades of negotiation, we avoided a nuclear conflict that would have ended life on this planet. Yet Scarborough and his ilk reject the idea of talking with our enemies – although any negotiation over matters of war and peace will always require that distasteful necessity.

Twelve years ago, we made the historic mistake of listening to all these false and foolish prophets. There is no excuse to repeat that tragic error.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, The National Memo, July 14, 2015

July 15, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Very Low Bar”: The Smart Brother? Why Jeb Bush Can’t Escape Dubya’s Dubious Legacy

Being singled out as “the smart brother” in an American political and financial dynasty like the Bush family must be a heavy load. But Jeb Bush went far to dispel that burdensome description with his debut address on foreign policy. With its mélange of mispronunciations, mistakes, and casually ignorant utterances, Bush’s speech before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs instantly reminded listeners of the not-so-smart brother — the one who already became the second Bush president.

Such moments of recognition and remembrance are not auspicious for brother Jeb, whose burgeoning presidential ambition depends on persuading voters that he is emphatically not his brother George W. – or as he put it in an ad-libbed line: “I am my own man.” But his Chicago outing offered little to reassure Americans wary of the ruinous foreign policy record of the Bush-Cheney administration (an electoral subset that includes almost everyone).

Let’s start with the funny parts: Hoping presumably to move briskly past a certain disastrous trillion-dollar war, Jeb allowed that “mistakes were made in Iraq, for sure,” a remark so vague that even his brother, who once used a similar dodge in discussing torture at Abu Ghraib, would have to agree. Striving to demonstrate his familiarity with the new terror threats encircling the globe, he mentioned the Nigerian Islamist militants who call themselves “Boko Haram,” except he called them something that sounded a lot like “Beaucoup Haram.” Speaking of ISIS, the Syrian terrorist movement, he referred to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “the guy that’s the supreme leader or whatever his new title is — head of the caliphate.” Overstating the military manpower of ISIS by a factor of 10, he said the group has 200,000 men under arms, when U.S. intelligence estimates no more than 20,000. (Before his spokesperson corrected that gaffe, it sounded as if he meant to instill fear with a mythical intelligence estimate – yet another déjà vu moment.)

At another point, he confused Iraq with Iran, a mistake anybody can make – and in this instance, a metaphor for his brother’s failed war, which vastly increased Iranian political, economic and military influence over Iraq.

What Bush failed to provide were specific policy ideas, sticking instead with platitudes about “strength” and “leadership.” Explaining how he would deal with ISIS, the former Florida governor kept it very simple: “We have to develop a strategy, that’s global, that takes them out. First, the strategy, you know, needs to be restrain them, tighten the noose, and then taking them out is the strategy.” Not much there for the Pentagon or the State Department, but at least he didn’t call it “strategery.”

The problem facing Jeb Bush is that to prove he is his own man in full, he must somehow erase many of his own previous positions and remarks.

Appearing on CNN in 2010, Jeb said of Dubya, “I have never disagreed with him…till death do us part.” Speaking about Iraq three years later, he claimed, “The war has wound down now and it’s still way too early to judge what successes it had in providing some degree of stability in the region” (a statement that can only provoke bitter laughter today). “During incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe,” he said in praise of Dubya at the 2012 Republican convention, as if 9/11 and that fateful Presidential Daily Briefing had never happened.

There are other clues to his policy predilections. For his entire career, Jeb has blindly advocated the Cuba sanctions policy that we have finally abandoned after 50 years of failure. That advocacy included a disgraceful episode in which he sought clemency from his presidential father for a bloody anti-Castro terrorist pursued by the U.S. Justice Department.

In keeping with that same foolishness was his early backing of the Project for the New American Century, or PNAC, pulled together in 1997 by William Kristol, the Washington pundit best known for being wrong about everything – in particular the costs, difficulties, and results of invading Iraq. As the chief publicist for that war, Kristol told us it would be easy, cheap, and hugely successful. Dubya believed him and evidently so did Jeb.

That is an old story — but the putative Republican frontrunner recently released a list of his foreign policy advisors, which bizarrely features Paul Wolfowitz, Dubya’s deputy defense secretary and another PNAC enthusiast. Jeb’s campaign is proudly displaying the same old gang of advisors who turned the last Republican administration into wreckage.

Maybe Jeb really is the smart brother. So far, however, he shows no sign of being smart enough to avoid that other brother’s devastating mistakes.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, February 20, 2015

February 22, 2015 Posted by | George W Bush, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Absurdly Wrong Neo-Cons Were”: To Defeat ISIS, Ignore Partisan Alarmists And Send Smart Diplomats

It is entirely appropriate that the appalling crimes of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which openly declares genocidal intentions, have inspired demands for forceful action to destroy the terrorist entity. Impatient politicians and belligerent pundits express frustration with President Obama because he isn’t bombing more sites or dispatching U.S. troops to Iraq or expanding the conflict into Syria — or just heeding their urgent advice, immediately.

Now any or all of those policies may eventually prove necessary, after careful consideration and consultation with America’s allies. But the president would be wiser to do nothing than to simply parrot the prescriptions of his neoconservative critics. And he would be wiser still to keep in mind that the past enthusiasms and errors of those critics are the underlying causes of the predicament that he and the civilized world confront today.

The undeniable reality is that there would be no ISIS (and no crisis) if the dubious neoconservative desire to invade Iraq had been duly ignored in 2003.

A jihadi movement capable of winning support from oppressed Sunni Muslims in that ravaged country arose directly from the violent overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the installation, under American auspices, of a sectarian Shiite regime. Not only was that regime unwilling to unite Iraqis into a democratic order, but its political allegiance pointed toward Iran rather than the United States.

For anyone who listened to neoconservative “experts” such as William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, these ruinous developments would have come as a wicked surprise. Soon after the U.S. invasion, after all, Kristol had assured us that religious and ethnic divisions among Iraqis would present no significant problems whatsoever. “There’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America,” he told National Public Radio in April 2003, “that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq’s always been very secular.”

And the weapons of mass destruction were just around the corner, and the war would pay for itself with Iraqi oil, and the Iranians would rise up next to throw off the mullahs, while the entire Mideast underwent a miraculous transformation under the benign influence of the Bush doctrine, and blah, blah, blah…

By this point, it seems obvious to nearly everyone just how absurdly wrong all those predictions were. Just as salient, however, is that the Iraq war – and the failure of diplomacy that it represents – was the culmination of an enormous squandered opportunity, whose harmful consequences continue today. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the world rallied around the United States, from Europe to Asia; even the Iranians volunteered to help us defeat Al Qaeda.

Instead of assembling an international coalition to confront Islamist extremism – with diplomacy, technology, information, and humanitarian assistance as well as military force – the Bush administration moved against Iraq. By doing so, it alienated nearly all of our allies, forfeited the world’s sympathy, wasted thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, all to create a divided, failed state that now incubates terror.

So when someone like Kristol urges the president to bomb first and think later, as he did recently, the only sane response is bitter laughter. We need sober diplomacy and smart strategy, which President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have vowed to pursue when the United States takes over the leadership of the UN Security Council this month. And we need the patience to muster at last the broad, invincible alliance we could have led against Al Qaeda from the beginning.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, September 2, 2014

September 4, 2014 Posted by | Middle East, Neo-Cons, War Hawks | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Self-Interested Plutocracy”: Desperate Republicans Are Terrified That Obamacare Will Succeed

Even acknowledging that our national politics have become increasingly contentious, here’s a development that is really odd: Two billionaire brothers are spending millions of dollars to try to persuade young Americans not to buy health insurance. What’s up with that?

The industrialist Koch brothers, David and Charles, are among the very richest Americans — indeed, among the very richest people on the planet. They are not merely members of the 1 percent; they’re in the topmost fraction of the 1 percent.

That means that they not only can afford to buy health insurance for themselves, but they can also buy physicians, hospitals, medical labs and pharmacies if they choose to do so. They have access to the very best medical care that money can buy — and, in America, that’s the difference between life and death.

But unlike, say, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, the Koch brothers have not concerned themselves with trying to make life a bit more comfortable and pleasant for others. Oh, no. The Koch brothers are the very stereotype of the greedy and selfish hyper-rich, the poster boys for self-interested plutocracy. They want to control the country’s politics — no matter who gets hurt in their grab for power.

That’s why they’ve funded ultraconservative candidates and political causes over the past couple of decades. Their to-do list includes aiding the effort to torpedo the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Among the political groups they fund is an outfit called Generation Opportunity, which is running a creepy ad to persuade young women of a lie: that Obamacare comes between a patient and her physician.

The Koch brothers know that the new health care paradigm depends on enlisting healthy young adults — people who tend to take the risk that they don’t need health insurance — into the system. If they don’t sign up, the new exchanges won’t have enough vigorous and youthful Americans to help pay the way for the sick and frail. Insurance companies need to be able to spread the costs around so they don’t go bankrupt trying to care for the ailing.

But the Koch brothers, like most conservatives, want Obamacare to fail. They are not concerned that the new health care law, which would extend insurance to the vast majority for the first time in history, is a “government takeover” of medicine or a “jobs-killer” or a ruinous new entitlement. None of that is true. (See factcheck.org or PolitiFact.com for actual facts about Obamacare.)

Nope, the real concern of most conservatives is that Obamacare will work, proving popular over the long run. Think about it: If they are so certain that the law will collapse under its own weight, why not step aside and allow it to do so? Why do they need to try to defund it and create creepy ads trying to persuade young people not to buy in? Why did they warn the National Football League not to promote the new health care exchanges?

If Obamacare succeeds, the generations-long conservative war against activist government would have lost another major battle, and more voters would be persuaded to vote for progressives. That’s the reason conservatives went all-out to defeat President Clinton’s similar health care proposal during his first term.

As Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, then fresh off his stint as Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, wrote in 1993: “… the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will … relegitimize middle-class dependence for ‘security’ on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.”

There you have it. They don’t dare allow Obamacare to proceed unimpeded because Americans might come to like it and depend on it, as the elderly like and depend on Medicare. Indeed, conservatives, including Ronald Reagan, fought the creation of Medicare, claiming it was pure socialism.

Meanwhile, the Americans who would suffer most if Obamacare doesn’t succeed are those without health insurance or the promise of decent medical care. That includes the young adults who could be victims of terrible accidents or unforeseen diseases. Not that the Koch brothers care about them.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, September 28, 2013

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans, All Talk, No Action”: No House Alternative, No Conference Committee, No Attempt At Finding Common Ground

Without a hint of humor or shame, the Republican National Committee issued a press release this morning accusing President Obama of being “All Talk, No Action” when it comes to the “Hispanic Community.” No, seriously, that’s what the RNC said.

Someone at the RNC’s communications office probably should have thought this one through a little more, since, when it comes to issues important to Latino voters, it’s the lack of “action” from congressional Republicans that’s proving to be so problematic.

Indeed, when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, which is facing long odds in the face of fierce opposition from the House GOP, the question is whether these Republican lawmakers are prepared to do anything on the issue. National Review‘s Jonathan Strong reports they may not (via Greg Sargent).

Speaker John Boehner wants to pass a series of small bills dealing with immigration reform piece by piece, but it’s not clear whether 218 votes, the required number for passage, will be there for any of them.

Top Democrats are already signaling they’ll oppose the various bills being prepared by the GOP leadership, and conservative Republicans, especially, are wary. Many Republicans will prefer to simply vote against any bill, even if they agree with elements of the legislation, just to prevent Boehner from going to conference with the Senate. Such a conference, many conservatives fear, could lead to a consensus bill that includes amnesty.

When it comes to the future of the policy, this is obviously important. House Republican leaders don’t intend to consider the bipartisan Senate bill, but they also don’t want to do nothing. Boehner & Co. figure they can at least put a positive face on failure by instead taking up elements of immigration reform piecemeal.

But Strong, whose sourcing among Republicans on Capitol Hill is excellent, is reporting that rank-and-file House Republicans aren’t even willing to go this far. Indeed, they’ll even oppose measures they like for fear that they’ll go to a conference committee and become slightly more progressive after negotiations with the Senate Democratic majority.

It’s easier, they figure, to just kill every element of immigration reform and hope the electoral consequences aren’t too severe.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, there’s a good reason for that. This is the strategy outlined just last week by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and National Review editor Rich Lowry — two of the most influential Republican voices in media — who co-signed an editorial urging House Republicans to put “a stake through” immigration reform’s “heart.”

More specifically, they urged GOP lawmakers should do literally nothing on the issue — no House alternative, no conference committee, no attempt at finding “common ground.”

It appears the advice was well received.

And so this once again puts the Speaker in an awkward position, as it sinks in that many in his own caucus prefer inaction — and he’s already committed to the so-called “Hastert Rule” that effectively gives these far-right House members a veto power over which bills reach the floor.

What was that the RNC was saying about “All Talk, No Action”?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 16, 2013

July 17, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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