Archive for category Libya

Benghazi: Another Faux Scandal Falls

mccaingraham

There are two realities.  In one, President Obama has had a relatively scandal free Presidency.   No major investigations or revelations have dogged him like they did his predecessors.  No Whitewater, Monica, Iran-Contra, Iraq, etc.   In another, Obama has been awash with scandals involving the IRS, Benghazi, where Obama was really born, gun running, etc.  That second reality, however, is built on a house of cards.  There is no real evidence, just suspicions drummed up by Obama’s opponents trying to do what they can to undercut the President.

For awhile the biggest and most threatening to Obama was the aftermath of the terror attack on Benghazi on September 11, 2012.  Led by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republicans claimed that the US muffed the reaction, covered it up, didn’t do what could have been done to prevent or respond to the attack, and as late as March this year Graham claimed that Obama’s response to Benghazi was the reason Russia took Crimea.

Graham was adamant on Benghazi.   It was symbolic of Obama’s “inability to lead,” “lies the administration told,” and ultimately “proof Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State at the time) is unqualified to be President.”   He called the people at the White House “scumbags” who were “telling lies,” full of venomous accusations that we now all know were utterly baseless.

Saturday a Congressional report from a Republican led committee finally give the last word on Benghazi and guess what: the Obama Administration did nothing wrong.   There was no evidence of anything close to a scandal, or that there is some trove of evidence that isn’t being released.  In short, Graham was always just grandstanding.

A tragedy like the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi in 2012 should have brought us together to counter terror; instead petty politicians tried to turn it into a scandal to serve their personal needs.

A tragedy like the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi in 2012 should have brought us together to counter terror; instead petty politicians tried to turn it into a scandal to serve their personal needs.

That has caused me to lose all respect for Lindsey Graham and John McCain.  To use a national tragedy like that not to unify the country but to try to undermine the President and manipulate the media is sick.   When the US was attacked on 9-11, the US rallied behind President Bush.  Even though the 9-11 Commission found plenty to fault the Bush Administration on in the run up to 9-11, it was deemed wrong to try to use that to politically attack the President.  In crises things are fast moving and hindsight has 2020 vision.  Alas, Graham and McCain were guided by neither ethics nor honesty.

The report drew no fanfare.  Certainly the two did not apologize or admit defeat.  Graham used attacks on Obama over Benghazi to shore up his conservative bona fides before his re-election, and has tried to use it to attack Obama’s foreign policy — one that is much more successful than the Bush foreign policy Graham supported.

In a just world Graham and McCain would stand on the Senate floor as rotten eggs were hurled at them, humiliated and ashamed.  But they’ll move on.  They are politicians.  They’ll be shameless in attacking the President, and will probably wink and dance to avoid having to admit being wrong about Benghazi.  I find it disgusting.

1 Comment

Benghazi is all about Hillary

Why beat a dead issue that most voters don't care about?

Why beat a dead issue that most voters don’t care about?

The weirdest thing about the GOP’s on going obsession with Benghazi is that it plays into the Democrats hands going into the Midterms.   The Democrats will mock Republicans about their obsession with an event from two years ago, trying to manufacture a scandal in defiance of the actual evidence.

The Democrats will talk about jobs, health care, inequality, immigration, education, the economy and issues that actually matter to the public.   Think back – Bill Clinton did give the Republicans a scandal over Monica Lewinsky.   Yet as they obsessed on it and thought that self-evidently this would help them, Clinton’s job approval ratings went up — while Lewinsky investigator Kenneth Starr’s went way down.  In this case, there isn’t even a real scandal!

So why do some on the right fixate on Benghazi in such a self-destructive manner?   There is no evidence of  a cover up, nothing remotely suggesting a scandal.  There is evidence of poor decisions being made, and a State Department slow to understand what motivated the events.   Therein lies the real reason – the State Department.   The Secretary of State at the time was Hillary Clinton.  She is now the leading contender for the Presidency in 2016.  Most Republicans privately concede that it will be very, very, difficult to defeat her.

Clinton angrily defended the State Department before Congress

Clinton angrily defended the State Department before Congress

As Secretary of State, Clinton was taken aback by the way in which Congressional Republicans quickly politicized the Benghazi tragedy.   On September 11, 2012, the US embassy in Benghazi was attacked by 125 to 150 armed insurgents, who were able to kill US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and one other person.   Protests were taking place against an anti-Islamic video that had been released, and initially the CIA thought the two events were linked.   As more information came out, it became clear that it was a planned terrorist raid.  The US has made some arrests, and investigations continue.

So what’s the scandal?  At first Republicans said that Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN, had lied in linking the video to the attacks in an interview shortly after the raid.  They claimed she wanted to mislead the public about the true nature of the attacks in order to help President Obama’s re-election.   That claim has been completely debunked, and in fact was absurd on its face.

Susan Rice, who has one of the best foreign policy minds in Washington, is now National Security Advisor; she might have been Secretary of State if not for the unwarranted attacks against her in 2012

Susan Rice, who has one of the best foreign policy minds in Washington, is now National Security Advisor; she might have been Secretary of State if not for the unwarranted attacks against her in 2012

Not only had President Obama called it terrorism, but Susan Rice was acting with the data at the time in a fluid situation, and indeed alluded to the possibility of terrorism.  Much like after 9-11, there was a lot of false information early on, though after a week a clearer picture occurred.   As documents were released, it was clear that various agencies were confused on exactly what happened and why, but that as soon as they put the pieces together, the information was made public.   Not only is there no evidence to support a cover up, but massive evidence to the contrary.

So then they tried to shift the scandal to saying the US didn’t reinforce the mission, or send help fast enough.   Quickly these were debunked.  The critics are left to imagine scandal by fantasy, hoping there is some new information out there.

So why suddenly jump on an innocuous e-mail uncovered, which doesn’t contradict any existing evidence, to bring the scandal back up?   Surely the GOP insiders know that this isn’t a winner for them with the voters – and they have to be smart enough to know that no scandal exists.   They are hoping that Clinton decides not to run for the Presidency, perhaps fearing that questions on Benghazi will haunt her.

In that, it is morphing from a GOP effort to find a scandal against Obama to an attack on Clinton’s competence.    Any hearings that are held will focus on picking apart what the State Department did and finding anything to criticise.  Even the fact she was not consulted on security before the attack is used against her – “in such a dangerous situation why weren’t you more engaged?” But it would be odd for the Secretary of State to be consulted on specific security details.

It won’t work.  The GOP will not convince Clinton to eschew running in 2016.   If anything this will get her more enthused; she’s not the kind of person to back down.   She’s also smart enough to know that if the GOP use this against her in 2016, it gives her openings to fire back in ways that would help, rather than hurt her campaign.

Hillary in 1996 before testifying on the Whitewater scandal.

Hillary in 1996 before testifying on the Whitewater scandal.

She’s also not afraid to confront scandal head on.  In the early years of her husband’s administration the far right tried to drum up a scandal about development deal called “Whitewater.”   They failed.   When she suffered personal loss when her attorney Vince Foster committed suicide, they said she had him killed.    When US Treasury Secretary Ron Brown was killed in a plane crash in Croatia, many said she was behind it.   Hillary’s dealt with the crazies before, and came out on top.

But that’s what this Benghazi side show is about – trying to pressure Hillary not to run.   When she does run, they’ll use it try to tear her down.   It won’t work – she’ll win or lose based on the larger campaign.

Yet it is sad that so many are willing to politicize the attack.   To me the correct response is to try to learn what went wrong and how to prevent a future attack than to use 20/20 hindsight for political gang.  Even more disgusting is the effort to try to turn this into a scandal.   That shows just how dysfunctional the political culture in Washington has become.

1 Comment

Gates Smacks Down Obama Critics

Gates served as Secretary of Defense under Bush when the President altered his Iraq policy

Gates served as Secretary of Defense under Bush when the President altered his Iraq policy

Gates was harsh on Republican critiques of the President, ridiculing the idea that we could have flown planes overhead so “apparently the noise” should scare them.   Not only would they be undeterred by noise, but Gates noted that given all the missing anti-aircraft weapons, it would have been a stupid decision.

Gates said that he would have made the same choices the President did, and defended former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.   There was no military alternative, he insisted; Republican critics that imagine some group could have been flown in on the fly have a “cartoonish” view of what military action is all about.

Of course.

There is no scandal around Benghazi except for the fact that some Republicans are shamelessly trying to use an attack on America to fish for some kind of partisan jab at the President.   Or perhaps they want to hurt Secretary Clinton’s chances to be elected in 2016.

We should come together to learn about what went wrong or right on a tragedy, but not turn it into a political partisan circus – something that the hearings last week obviously became.   With wild hyperbole (Sen. Jim Inholfe  R-OK, said it was worse than Watergate, Iran Contra and Clinton’s scandals) and claims of a cover up, they use noise and accusations to hide that they have nothing.   It is a fishing expedition designed for partisan purposes, nothing more.

The only claim they really have is that maybe some talking points right after the attack didn’t call it terrorism when they knew it was terrorism.  They claim it was to somehow protect Obama’s re-election campaign; but given how quickly he came out and labeled it terrorism and got the information out there, that’s a pretty lame argument.  It’s also one that has no traction.  In the early days after an event when so much is still uncertain, and when the Administration is weighing responses, there are limits to what you want to be public.

So they have that non-attack, absurd claims that the military could respond, smacked down by Secretary Gates who has served for both Obama and Bush, and who knows Obama’s character.

The bottom line is that many Republicans didn’t think Obama would be re-elected, they thought they’d have the Senate, and they don’t like how the media is focusing on how out of touch their message is right now.   As pragmatic Republicans try to wrestle power away from the extremists, many want to construct a scandal where none exists.  They hope to use that to weaken the President, take the public’s mind off both the pressing issues of the day and how dysfunctional a divided Congress has become.

It will backfire – it already has.   The story is old and despite all the hype FOX and the GOP are trying to create,  more columns are being written critical of the Republicans in Congress than the President.   It has given the late night hosts plenty to mock.   Jon Stewart skewered FOX for playing up the hype of yelling fire when there’s not even smoke!
But sadly, this circus is indicative of the political dysfunction that paralyzes the country as our problems mount.  Rather than recognizing that the attack was a tragedy that should bring us together and learn how to better defend our embassies, politicians search for partisan gain (and Democrats are not blameless, some claiming that Republican cuts to embassy security allowed the attacks).

This is why we can’t reach compromises and deal with the difficult issues facing the country.  It’s spectacle and posturing, rather than hard work and compromise.   It is a sign that our democratic institutions are starting to buckle at the hands of ideologues who don’t understand that the founders designed a system to inspire compromise.  They were divided t00 – the founders had a variety of different views, and they know that would always be true in a democracy.   They compromised, and created a system that requires compromise to function.

Thank you,  Secretary Gates for pointing out the absurdity of the charges being made.   I hope within the GOP leaders look at the lack of evidence of even a whiff of scandal and recognize that this absurd circus is hurting them, and that real issues facing the country need serious attention.

35 Comments

Generals Gone Wild!

General John Allen and David Petraeus find themselves in deep trouble thanks to their indiscretions

Last Thursday the students in the Honors first year seminar headed down to Colby College in Waterville to see a modern production of the Aristophanes classic Lysistrata.    It was hilarious.

Colby College Theater Department chair Lynne Connor adapted it and injected it with modern themes, ranging from binders of women to frustrated men walking around with toy light sabers positioned like male erections.    A subtheme of the whole play was the role of women as a potential force against war, as well as the insanity of war in general.

The age old themes of women, men, sex and warfare had a turn for the bizarre with the news that first CIA Director David Petraeus and now General John Allen, a four star general commanding forces in Afghanistan, may be brought down by indiscretions involving attractive women connected with the military.   Aristophanes would smile – la plus ca change, la plus c’est la meme chose – the more things change the more they stay the same.

Given events, Colby’s production of Lysistrata was well timed

The scandal started with jarring news directly after the election that David Petraeus had resigned as CIA director due to an affair with Paula Broadwell.   Broadwell, a beautiful and athletic women in her late thirties, had observed Petraeus in order to write a book about his leadership skills.    Though they worked together from 2008 onward, the affair apparently started in 2011 after Petraeus left the military.

They thought they had it hidden.   Borrowing from al qaeda methods of communication, they shared an e-mail account and left messages as drafts in their files.   Each could access the account and read the drafts.   Clever.   At this point not much more is known about their relationship, though Broadwell’s father says there is “a lot more than meets the eye” and that new revelations are likely.

The FBI started investigating when another woman, Jill Kelley, reported receiving harassing e-mails from Broadwell in July 2012.    The FBI quickly determined that Broadwell sent the e-mails.   In so doing they found the gmail account used by Petraeus and Broadwell to discuss their affair.

In September US Attorney General Eric Holder was notified of the investigation.  The FBI said they didn’t think there was any security breach but wanted to continue to investigate whether or not Petraeus had a role in the harassing e-mails.    On October 27 Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor was notified as well.   At this point it seems that people wanted to keep the matter quiet.  If it’s just an affair, better to not have it destroy the career of Petraeus, whose success in Iraq helped make him a national hero.   Holder didn’t tell the White House or Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; Cantor didn’t tell House Speaker John Boehner.

Something happened after the second FBI interview with the principles in late October.   Within a week, Petraeus had resigned.   (UPDATE:  According to the Washington Post, it may have been Cantor’s involvement that actually caused the case to go public.  In their report Petraeus is indeed a subject of the e-mails sent to Kelley, and the FBI was relaxing the investigation when an upset agent contacted a Representative who contacted Cantor who called the FBI director…I’ll not add any more updates to this fast changing story.)

Attractive, athletic, married and a mom, Paula Broadwell made the rounds selling her biography of David Petraeus, “All In.”

Even as jaws were dropping about Petraeus’ resignation the issue got more complicated.   Jill Kelley is the social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, home to the military’s Central Command and Special Operations Command.   She and her husband have been friends with Petraeus and his wife for a long time.

While at first some thought this could be a love triangle, it appears that the e-mails hardly mentioned Petraeus and were more like a “cat fight.”   Broadwell apparently thought Kelley was strutting around the base with too much verve and should be taken down a notch.   Kelley was mystified by these mysterious but troubling e-mails and notified the FBI.   Since the e-mails contained no overt threat the FBI almost didn’t investigate.   After consulting the laws they decided there was enough to warrant looking further.

Was it just childish jealousy that caused Boadwell to start harassing Kelley?

But the plot was to thicken yet again.   During the investigation the FBI  found 20,000 to 30,000 e-mails exchanged between Kelley and General John Allen between 2010 and 2012.     That’s at least 20 to 30 a day on average, every day for nearly three years!

That the commander in Afghanistan spent so much communicating with a party planner in Tampa raises eyebrows.   For now hearings scheduled this week for his promotion to head the US European Command and become Commander of NATO forces has been put on hold.   If he did have an affair with Kelley he could face a court-martial as adultery is against Army law (Petraeus smartly started his affair after he left the military).   He claims there was no wrong doing.

What to make of all this?   Well, Broadwell’s book about Petraeus received a sales boost from the news, even if her husband had to cancel her 40th Birthday party.     Holly Petraeus is justifiably outraged:  a good military wife for 37 years and her husband cheats with a woman who appears to be an egomaniac, albeit a well built and attractive egomaniac?

But is there more?   Tweets with Broadwell and Karl Rove have surfaced, rumors about Libya — did the CIA hold prisoners in the Libyan embassy that the attackers wanted to free? — and a host of other questions swirl about.  All of this has a kind of soap opera quality, something Jon Stewart mocked as “Spyfall.”   For now we have wait and see how this will unravel.   A few lessons though:

1.  All would be cheaters who want to use sneaky facebook or e-mail account tricks to hide your affair – don’t try.   If the head of the CIA using al qaeda like tactics can’t even get away with hiding his tracks, anyone can get caught!

2.   Pillow talk and sexual desire can take down even the strongest and most powerful among us, from Sampson and Delilah to Petraeus and Broadwell.

And finally,

3.   The themes of sex, power and war that Aristophanes explored over 2500 years ago are valid yet today.   For all our progress and technology, men still think with their light sabers.

 

11 Comments

A Clarifying Debate

The two shake hands before their second debate, moderated by Candy Crowley of CNN

It was a spirited debate, it was a pointed debate.   By all accounts President Obama won, but it was neither a game changer nor a an overwhelming victory.    Moreover, the debate clarified the core issues at stake in the race, which is precisely what these debates are supposed to do.

In the first debate, I claimed Romney won not so much because Obama was listless and uninspired, but because Romney shifted dramatically to the center, jettisoning positions and rhetoric from the primary campaign.    Surprisingly, he did little of that last night.   In retrospect, that’s probably good — he has already shed the image of being an uncaring plutocrat, too much shape shifting would make him less credible to all sides.

Both men made strong arguments but left work undone.

Governor Romney powerfully argued that Obama’s job performance doesn’t deserve having him re-election.   He went through a litany of promises Obama made four years ago to show that the President hasn’t done what he set out to do.  Yet Romney hasn’t sold people on thinking he would do better.   The “I know how to make an economy work” line is vague and hollow.     He remains vulnerable on his lack of specifics and the ease in which the President can claim he’ll return to the “policies that brought us here.”

President Obama made a strong case for his plan moving forward, and in raising questions about whether we can trust Romney to do what he claims he will.  However, he needs to convince people that given the depth of the global economic crisis what he’s achieved reflects success rather than failure.   He also needs to clarify why and how his plans will work moving forward.

There was plenty of finger pointing last night as the two went after each other!

The “gotcha” issues are actually hurting the one who makes the gotcha argument.   Obama’s bit about Romney’s 47% seemed hollow.   That’s old news, and any damage done has been registered.   Ironically it gives Romney a chance to reaffirm his commitment to all Americans in a manner good enough for most voters.   The Democrats should drop the 47% as an explicit campaign theme and make it more subtle.

Similarly Republican efforts to create a scandal around unclear story lines in the 9-11 Libya attacks gave Obama his best moment in the debate.   He could look Presidential, scold Romney for trying to score cheap partisan points and in the process, well, score partisan points!   The President took responsibility, talked about the emotion behind losing a diplomat in such an attack, and came off very well.

As with the 47%, the Republicans should drop Libya — it makes them look petty.   And if you don’t believe me, watch the CNN grid that measured audience reaction to the two.   Obama got his highest level of positive reaction when discussing Libya while Romney tanked.   Romney got high levels of positive reactions when he talked of how he cares for all Americans, Obama’s level went down when he brought up the 47%.

CNN’s bottom grid reporting reactions of a select group of undecided voters (green = men, yellow = women) is intriguing.

Simply, this is not a race about gotcha games any more.   The voters are turning to fundamental questions about what direction the country should take in the future.

Despite the noise and theatrics that have dominated discussion over the last few weeks, the debate brought the core issues into focus.   Despite the scripting of messages, the two men responded to each other and weren’t afraid to mix it up.   They spared on Obamacare.   Romney was weakest when talking about women’s issues — giving a woman flexibility so she can “go home and make dinner” sounds like the old insensitive Romney (and ‘women in binders’ is going viral).

Not a gaffe, but it could feed into his reputation as being out of touch

There was a lot that went unsaid.   The climate change folk are furious that an issue they think the most important to human kind isn’t getting mentioned.   Many other issues will dominate the airwaves over the next few weeks.  But the debate set up a clear choice for the voters.     That made it a good debate.

6 Comments

Blaming the Media

To the Romney campaign there is one reason their candidate is doing poorly: the media.

Perhaps the worst sign for Mitt Romney supporters is the obsession conservative pundits have with blaming the media for their candidate’s lack of popularity.  Blaming the media is always the last recourse of a campaign in distress, and on the right it’s been a kind of security blanket, helping them avoid confronting hard realities.  Rather than question whether or not their message resonates with American voters, they say it would if only the media would frame it correctly.

There’s a kind of disconnect when people who watch Fox news and listen to talk radio complain about media bias — indeed, what they’re really complaining about is that the media doesn’t share the Fox news bias!

Consider:  Mitt Romney’s leaked tape was a big story – one of the biggest in the campaign, coming just over six weeks before the election.   The attack in Libya was also big news, a small but deadly terror attack on the 11th anniversary of 9-11.   Both got play.   Tough questions were asked.

To the right: the media should be focused like a laser on Obama’s “crumbling narrative” about what happened in Libya.   At least that’s claim Mona Charen makes is an especially whiney and vapid article attacking the press as being pro-Obama.   So what is the “crumbling narrative?”   Well, to find that you have to read a right wing interpretation of the news, since it doesn’t come from the White House.

President Obama calls the attack in Libya a terrorist attack that was coordinated, and not a spontaneous response to a movie.    Beyond that they so far refuse to say more until they finish their investigation.    The White House has been pretty consistent on that, even if they did criticize the intolerance and dishonesty of a video which sparked protests in other parts of the Mideast.

But the right wants a crumbling narrative, so they construct it through a patchwork of quotes taken out of context, building an artificial narrative they then can ridicule.    Take a few quotes from the UN Ambassador, take another quote here or there from minor officials, ignore all the statements from the President and Secretary of State, and then claim that Obama says the attacks were purely in response to the video and weren’t terror attacks.

Huh?    Oh, it gets better.   They then take the President’s claim that overall this is a bump in the road in the process of change for the region and say Obama is heartlessly calling the death of a diplomat “a bump.”

To get the GOP narrative, you need The Onion!   Yet, Charen claims, that’s how the press should be focused.    Anything else is a pro-Obama conspiracy.

That’s it?   That’s proof the press is supporting Obama?   Oh, Charen says, there’s more – Obama made a gaffe in Poland a year or so ago by mistakenly saying “Polish death camps” on a visit.   I remember that, the press and conservatives skewered Obama for days.   But now, Charen whines, the press should be praising Romney for getting what was “basically” an endorsement from Lech Walesa, who stood up to Communism.   Instead, she complains, the press covered an outburst from a Romney aide.

If this is a vast conspiracy, why does she have to reach way back to July to find evidence?   And is she saying the press shouldn’t have covered the outburst?   Earth to Charen, you swear at reporters it’ll get covered regardless of who does it! But the press did cover Walesa’s comments.    She fails to mention that Walesa (who has some of his own scandals) did not have the support of his own party, whose leadership rejected Romney for his anti-labor stance.    That doesn’t fit the narrative Charen believes the press should follow.

It’s not just the right – critics on the left deride the media corporate shills

Either one of two things are happening.   If you’re a Romney supporter,  you better hope it’s the first.

1.   The Romney campaign knows things are going poorly so they’re trying to pressure the press to give them good coverage.   They want to get the press to tell things the way the Romney camp wants it told.

That’s fine, though Charen’s article makes a pretty poor case.   But if the perception gets created that the press is unfair, they might go more gently on Romney.   Can’t blame them for trying that – Kerry’s campaign made similar complaints in 2004.

2.   Romneyworld is so locked into its view of reality that it truly believes they are victims of a media conspiracy and don’t understand that their campaign is the problem.

If that’s happening, Romney is toast.    They’re getting poor coverage because they are running a bad campaign.   This is not controversial, pundit after pundit on the right has been saying the same thing.     They’re doing poorly because Romney is not a good candidate.   People don’t like him, he let himself get defined by the Obama team last summer and hasn’t done much of anything to define himself.

It’s a close race, but Obama has the lead.   If Romney’s going to turn it around he has to turn around his campaign.   A first move is to stop whining.   When you whine it reinforces the image that you’re losing.     More importantly, he has to show he’s a leader.   Right now Romney appears to be a follower – a moderate who has veered to the right because that’s what his campaign wants.   People don’t think he believes in anything or has clear principles.   He is, in essence, the anti-Reagan.

“Stop it. This is hard work. Do you want to try it?” Ann Romney’s words could also be said to defend the replacement refs in the NFL. It is hard. But right now the Romney campaign team is operating with the same quality of work that the replacement refs provide to the NFL.

Consider Romney’s own words:  “And I realize that there will be some in the Fourth Estate, or whichever estate, who are far more interested in finding something to write about that is unrelated to the economy, to geopolitics, to the threat of war, to the reality of conflict in Afghanistan today, to a nuclearization of Iran. They’ll instead try and find anything else to divert from the fact that these last four years have been tough years for our country.”

(Whichever estate?)

Get it – the media should ONLY write about the economy, geopolitics, the threat of war, or Iran.   Covering the campaign or what the candidates say, do or plan is a distraction.   It doesn’t work that way, Mitt – it never has.  The media cover a myriad of topics, and when an embarrassing tape is leaked, they’ll cover it.    They covered Obama’s and Biden’s gaffes too.  Remember all the play the Biden “in chains” comment got?   These same critics and the Romney campaign were all over Biden for a week on that!  And who made an out of context “you didn’t build that” quote the center point of their convention?

No matter how the right pushes the “media conspiracy” line, it’s a sure loser.    It’s the Romney campaign’s fault that they’re in the position they are in.   Only they can change it.

32 Comments

The Hard Truth in the Mideast

Protests in Egypt

A mantra when I teach Comparative Politics is that democracy is an extremely difficult system to implement and maintain.   It seems “natural” to us only because we have a culture that has built it over centuries.   It is in fact a system that requires sturdy cultural support and efforts to build democracy often flounder and fail before achieving success.

Last year as we discussed the results of the Arab spring, students speculated on what the region would have to go through.   Most figured it would take 20 to 30 years before we could even hope for a stable democracies across the region (I’m more optimistic about some states).   All predicted anti-American violence and clashes between secular and religious factions.

Alas, we still have a lot of people in the US who seem to think that if bad things happen somewhere else, the United States should get the blame.    Mitt Romney says the President has been too weak, others say a film portraying Muhammad in a bad light riled things up.   Both charges are self-serving and wrong.

Clearly people are mad about the film, but how many Christians in the US go on murderous rampages over a film?   It’s not that Christianity is any more peaceful at its core than Islam — it’s not.   These events are caused by cultural and political instability that will continue for some time.

As offensive as the film may be, the cause of this is a history of oppression, dictatorship, and lack of opportunity

Moreover, this isn’t something to bemoan or regret.   It’s better to have instability than to still have Mubarak or Qaddafi in power.    Donald Trump infamously tweeted that the US embassy wasn’t attacked when those two were at the helm, apparently suggesting that we’d be better off with authoritarian thugs in charge of those countries.    But that view is myopic on two levels:  a) it only considers the short term; and b) it neglects the human rights of the Egyptian and Libyan people.

One thing George W. Bush got right was that the authoritarian power structures in the Mideast are anachronistic and inevitably will fall.   That goes for the Saudi royal family as well — they are out of place in the 21st Century and the longer they stay in power the more angry the forces they suppress will become.   The more it appears that the US is enabling the authoritarians, the stronger anti-American sentiment will become.

Dictators like Mubarak, Saddam, Asad and Qaddafi follow in the footsteps of similar regimes of the Ottoman Empire, defining for 700 years the political culture of the region.

What Bush got wrong was the idea that the US could simply overthrow the bad guys and then quickly build a stable democracy in its place.   He overthrew Saddam within a few weeks, but democracy building…that takes decades and can’t be done by outsiders.   So despite money, effort and a strong will to make it work, Iraq descended into chaos and civil war, with the US only able to leave by abandoning most of the original goals for the war.

Egypt and Libya are going through the same kind of turmoil.   Iraq is still in disarray.   When Asad falls in Syria, expect instability to persist there as well.    It’s not something the United States can stop, it’s not something we can blame the President for, nor is it surprising.   In fact, it’s necessary and inevitable.

Continued support for dictators would only delay the inevitable and increase the level of anti-Americanism

We in the industrialized West are used to stability.   The wars of Europe are nearly seven decades in the past.   We transfer power with pomp and ceremony, and despite the vicious attack ads, the loser is gracious after the election.   But the West didn’t become what it is without violence, sometimes horrific violence directed against innocents.   We fought tremendous battles over slavery, ideology, and land.    By today’s standards of what a democracy is, ours took over 150 years to build.   Egypt, Libya and other Arab countries cannot be expected to leap to a stable future in a few short years.  The world doesn’t work that way.

John McCain, no doubt driven by good intentions, thinks we should use our military to help out in Syria and elsewhere.   But we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan that even the world’s most potent military power can’t shape this process.    The pent up anger and suppressed interests after centuries of authoritarian rule assure that there is more violence to come.   The lingering rage over past American/European influence assure we will be targeted.  No President can prevent that, no policy can fix it.

In the long run these extremists have no chance, history is against them. But the process has to play itself out.

Ultimately, it’ll be worth the pain.   Trade, technology and economic interests will, over time, overcome the reactionary extremists from al qaeda and other such groups.   It’s better to be on the path towards that future, then simply kept in an authoritarian pressure cooker that will inevitably blow.

The US can’t shape the result, but we need to avoid over reacting.   We should support democratic values as effectively as possible, and recognize that while there was a vicious attack in Libya, the next day brought out far more people protesting in support of the United States.

Extremists tend to see the world in stark terms — it’s either their way or the destruction of their civilization.   That’s how they rationalize such violence.   It only serves their interests if we treat the entire region as if they were all extremists, or if we yearn for a return of dictatorial thugs.   Their future is not ours to make.

In our consumer society it’s easy to forget that much of history was forged through bloodshed and violence.   We want to think the people in the Mideast should be able to go vote next Tuesday and happily embrace democracy and markets.   But change follows its own path, and often that path includes violence.   We should help the victims, do whatever we can to positively aid those who want peace, and we should try to prevent the violence from escalating out of control.   But the cold reality is that this is the start of a long process, one we should welcome, even if we know the transition will be difficult.

10 Comments

Does Romney even WANT to be President?

Romney launches a bizarre partisan attack in the wake of a national tragedy

Mitt Romney is a deep undercover agent for the Democratic party.   See, he used to be pro-choice, test drove a health care reform in Massachusetts, and overall until about a decade ago had pretty moderate, even liberal positions on most issues.

Here’s what I think happened:  Mitt realized he had no future in a Republican party drifting right.   So he talked with leading Democrats and hatched a plot.   It was brilliant – Romney would change all his policy positions to the far right, use money to crush his Republican opposition, and then siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars from rich GOP donors to fund a campaign designed to fail.

In 2008 the operation got underway, but it was a test run — the Democrats felt they could win it on their own, especially against McCain, and used that election to set Romney up for the 2012 campaign.   Now they’re reaping the benefits of that strategy.   Romney has the Republican nomination, massive amounts of money are flowing his way, and he’s doing his best to bring down the Republican ticket top to bottom.   I’m not sure what Romney will get in return, but don’t be surprised if after the election President Obama gives him a plumb job “in the spirit of bi-partisanship.”

No, I’m not serious, but given how ineffective his campaign has been, today’s bizarre and inept response to the terror attacks in Libya make it a plausible theory!    The 9-11 attack at the US Embassy killed US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three embassy staff.   The attacks appear to have been planned in advance and were not simply a protest gone out of control.   Libya’s President has apologized, and President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have condemned the attacks.  The President called on Americans to hold the victims “in our thoughts and prayers,” vowing that justice would be done.   He ordered the flags flown at half mast.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton call on the nation to come together in response to the terror attack in Libya.

Governor Romney decided that this was the perfect event to use to launch partisan broadsides at the President.    He called the President’s response “disgraceful” and said “When our grounds are being attacked, and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. And apology for America’s values is never the right course.”

Get that – President Obama responded to attacks on US grounds and the killing of American diplomats by apologizing for American values.   Wow, what a horrible President Obama must be to do that!   Except, of course, he did nothing of the sort.   Not even close.

Apparently the Egyptian Embassy, when protests grew over an anti-Muslim film, put out a statement condemning religious bigotry (and Mitt should recognize the need not to have religious bigotry!)   That statement was released before the attacks in Libya.   It is to that statement that Mitt responded, and since then he’s doubled down his response, blaming President Obama for the terror attacks.

Attacks in Libya underscore the fact that the Mideast remains a dangerous place.

I realize Romney’s weak on foreign policy, but the idea that someone would use an attack on Americans in a dangerous part of the world for partisan purposes on the day of the deaths is shocking.    At a time when he should be showing himself to be Presidential, rising above the partisanship, recognizing the difficulties in that part of the world, and helping the country heal from this latest terrorist wound, he simply goes for the sound bite.   Moreover, in keeping with other recent tactics, it’s not even a true claim – Obama never apologized and no such statement about the attacks was released.

He also tried to weave in an attack on Obama over Israel, saying he’d always find time to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.   Apparently Obama chatted with him for an hour by phone while he was in the US rather than planning a meeting.   Why Romney connected this to the Libya attack is incomprehensible.

Now the Romney camp has put out talking points that were leaked to CNN, presumably by a disgusted Republican surrogate.   The document urges Republicans to spin this to be about Obama’s weakness, and when pressed on Romney speaking too rashly before checking the facts, to simply say only “it’s never too early to stand up for American.”

Oh, come on.   This is over the top.

No.  No.  No.

Governor Romney, you say this: “Earlier I criticized the President based on a belief that his first response to the attack in Libya was to apologize that a film had offended their values.   I was mistaken, the President did not do that, and I apologize for my inappropriate criticism.   There will be time to discuss and debate what policies United States should have in the Mideast, but right now it is time to come together, pray for the victims and their families, and show the world that what unites us is far more powerful than our political differences.”

Get it?   You actually act Presidential.   You show that you can stand up for something more than campaign spin, but for the country as a whole.

But he can’t.   The people in his campaign cannot admit a mistake, they see it as a sign of weakness.    They’re so caught up in the campaign that they are taking every event as something to try to use for political advantage.

Or, perhaps, Mitt is indeed an undercover agent, trying to secure a Democratic victory.   That would also explain the refusal to release tax returns as well as his unbelievable omission of any mention of the troops and the US military in his convention acceptance speech.   In fact, Clint Eastwood may be in on this too!   Because if Romney is not part of some grand Democratic scheme to secure Obama’s re-election, he is proving himself to be one of the more incompetent Presidential candidates the US has had in a long time.

19 Comments

Gaddafi Dead

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is dead 42 years after he took power.   Having already lost Libya he was holed up in Sirte, his stronghold, fighting to the last minute.    Gaddafi was the Osama Bin Laden of the 1980s for Americans.    He was an organizer of state sponsored terrorism, a supporter of radical anti-American movements around the globe and had ambitions to control all of northern Africa.

The only bad news in this is that he lasted so long.  He was one of the most heinous criminals on the world stage and while there is justifiable celebration over his demise, his brutal criminal regime terrorized the Libyan people for over four decades.     In 1986 the US attempted to kill Gaddafi in bombing raids, seeing him as the most dangerous dictator on the planet.  This was a response to Libyan backed terrorism in Germany in which the LaBelle nightclub in West Berlin was bombed, killing three and injuring 229.   That was a nightclub known to be frequented by US military personnel so the US felt justified in trying to take out Gaddafi.    It failed because he was warned (either by the Italian or Maltese Prime Minister) ahead of time.

Two years later, on December 21, 1988 Gaddafi got his revenge as Libyan agents caused a bomb to go off on Pan Am Flight 103, which went down over Lockerbie, Scotland.    259 passengers and crew members died as well as 11 people on the ground who got hit by falling debris.    Calls for Gaddafi’s ouster intensified, but he hung on.

But his geopolitical ambitions were already on the wane.   Libya had lost a war to Chad in 1987 and within a year of downing Pan Am 103 the Soviet bloc disintegrated.    The world was changing, and Gaddafi’s influence declined.   After having tried to become a nuclear power in order to cement his leadership position in northern Africa, his WMD programs became a drain on the economy and increasingly meaningless.    As his political ambitions waned his family became more liked an organized criminal syndicate running a state. They siphoned wealth from Libya’s oil revenues, controlled economic relations internally, and ruled with an iron fist.

In 1999 they gave up their WMD program as part of a strategy to gain favor with the West.    It was a cynical shifting of position in recognition to the fact that Gaddafi and his family now had more to gain as a friend of the West rather than a foe.  They then settled the Lockerbie bombing case and promising to work with the West against its newest foe, al qaeda.   Unfortunately leaders in Europe and the US were all too willing to “forgive and forget” Gaddafi’s past.  By 2001 he had been weakened but now used better connections with the West to enhance his grip on power and buy support.

Yet he remained what he always had been: a ruthless tyrant.

Then on February 15, 2011 the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel sparked a riot in Benghazi.   The unthinkable happened – the Libyan people rose up and defied Gaddafi, starting a revolt.   They had early gains; emboldened by events in Tunisia and Egypt they hoped to bring down the repressive regime.   Gaddafi, seeing how Mubarak folded and was humiliated, decided to do everything in his power to defeat the rebellion.   He used ethnic rivalries, his control of resources, and the Libyan military to strike back.   Soon the rebels were losing ground.  Gaddafi, believing that the West would simply stand back, promised “no mercy” as he moved his military in position to crush the rebellion completely.   Most observers were expecting harsh retribution against those who had dared challenge his authority.   Gaddafi’s sons, once seen as reflecting hope that perhaps the next generation would bring more enlightened rule, echoed the threats.

On March 17th after Gaddafi’s forces took back most of Libya and were advancing no Benghazi the UN Security Council ordered a no fly zone over parts of Libya and authorized air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces.  On March 19th those airstrikes began and the government offensive was halted.   Slowly the rebels started to regain ground.    At first there was intense criticism of the UN action, enforced mostly by NATO airstrikes.  President Obama was criticized by some for acting too slow, but by many for doing anything at all.     As the fighting dragged into summer people accused the President of entering a conflict that could not be won.

NATO leaders knew that it was a matter of time.    With NATO air support the rebels would defeat the government, and it would be months rather than years.  They were right.   In August rebel forces entered Tripoli, and with Gaddafi’s death the rebellion is complete.

Gruesome image of Gaddafi after he was killed

Was this a success for President Obama?  Undoubtedly yes.   A dictator just as heinous and brutal as Saddam was overthrown, yet by his own people thanks to assistance from the West.  No American lives were lost, and the cost was far less than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   This proved that the West will not always side with oppressive regimes if their people rise against them, and that the West is powerful enough and patient enough to offer effective assistance to those fighting oppression.   Moreover without western help it was clear that Gaddafi was going to crush the rebels with brutal force.

This also showed that the US was still relevant in the region; many thought that after the Iraq war’s high cost and ambiguous conclusion (still being played out), the US would be sidelined for quite awhile.  No way would the public support another foreign intervention.   Perhaps more important is the message this sends to other dictators.   The times are changing.   Being pro-western in your policy does not buy you a free pass to oppress your people without mercy.

President Obama’s foreign policy is a mix of realism and idealism.   He doesn’t sacrifice democratic principles for raw self interest, but he’s been willing to act even if it goes against international law.    Such “principled realism” has marked American foreign policy at its most effective, and for all Obama’s economic woes at home, his foreign policy has been strong.   Gaddafi and Osama are dead.  Clinton and Karzai are in Afghanistan planning how to end NATO involvement there, while there is serious talk of the US being out of Iraq completely by next year (except for military guards at the US embassy).   US status abroad is much higher than it was in 2008, and relations with important powers such as China and Russia have been smoother than expected.

Recent US allegations of Iranian plots to assassinate the Saudi ambassador have led to Iranian bombast against the US and Saudi Arabia.   But the Iranians know that Obama is not one to be pushed around, and instead of provoking an Iranian challenge to the US, there has been an internal challenge to Iran’s hardline leadership.   It’s not inconceivable that Iran’s hardliners will be pushed aside by a more moderate faction.  The patient but real successes of Obama’s foreign policy have been a relatively untold story thanks to economic woes, but it appears that one area where Obama will not be vulnerable next year is on foreign policy.

2 Comments

Has the tea party ‘jumped the shark’?

President Obama announced last week plans to speak next Wednesday night to Congress in order to propose a bi-partisan set of steps to address the number one issue facing the country: jobs.   When such a request is made, normally the decorum is for the Congress to accept — having the President come to speak on the biggest issue facing the country, and to offer suggestions on how to move forward is a big deal.

Instead, after initially signalling acceptance (which is why the White House went public) Speaker Boehner changed his mind, and decided that he would not accept Obama coming on Wednesday and instead invited him for Thursday.   This would mean he’d have to speak earlier since at 8:30 EDT much of the country would be watching the Packers-Saints game, a rematch of the Super Bowl to open the 2011 NFL season.

The reason was totally political.  First, many Republicans are still in a tea party “take no prisoners” mood, and rather than working to solve the country’s problems their most important job is to try to defeat and humiliate Obama.   If they can make him change the date of his speech he looks weak, and they act big and tough.  It’s rather pathetic, but apparently for some this brings great satisfaction.

A less convincing reason is that a Republican primary debate was being held.   I believe a few have already been held, and primary debates in the late summer of the year before the election are hardly big events.   Viewership is limited to only the political junkies, and it’s on cable.   In terms of relative importance, the debate is meaningless — and could easily be moved if they really wanted to.

So the President again is reaching out to Republicans, set to offer a bi-partisan approach on jobs, and Boehner is again acting childish.   The GOP muffed a huge compromise that would have cut spending by $4 trillion and brought non-military domestic spending to the lowest level than anytime since Eisenhower, all because they couldn’t accept closing a few tax loopholes on the very wealthy.   Given the massive shift of wealth from the middle class to the most wealthy, the idea that the cost of getting the budget in line should be born by the working middle class and poor while those who benefited the most and have the lowest tax rates in the industrialized world should play nothing is perverse.

The left hated Obama’s compromise.   They correctly noted it was the kind of compromise you’d expect a moderate Republican to propose, with Democrats proposing an increase on actual tax rates.   Obama knew that was impossible for the Republicans to support so he offered something he thought anybody could accept.

Nope, the GOP is in a no-compromise, slash and burn mode, with tough talk, bravado, and anti-Obama rhetoric that reaches absurd heights not seen since the right’s attacks on Clinton in the early 90s.    Perhaps a bit drunk on the success of the 2010 election, it’s all political, all partisan, and more extreme than the Republican party at any time since the early fifties.   It’s not all Republicans, it’s just that the tea party wing has the moderates running scared.

Eisenhower once responded to a Democratic call to cut taxes by saying cutting taxes when you have budget problems is wrong — Eisenhower was trying to keep the budget under control.   Republicans always had the anti-tax wing of the party, but it was small; the tea party partisanship, often very extreme, anti-government and ideological, rarely dominates the party.    Again, only in the early 50s during the McCarthy era has the GOP drifted into such extreme territory.   Fiscal conservatism traditionally trumped anti-tax ideology for conservatives.

Most people know I was once a Republican.  I was a state officer of the South Dakota College Republicans.   I was at the Detroit convention that nominated Ronald Reagan, and I worked for a Republican Senator in the eighties.   It’s not just that the party moved away from me, though I did like Ford and Dole, but I also started to study advanced economics and political science, and realized that a lot of the free market slogans of the GOP are simply wrong.   The market is not magic, without a state to regulate and guide it the powerful elite will dominate and control — third world conditions happen without a good legal regulatory system.    Those who try to defend a total free market approach always drift into abstract theroy; it doesn’t work in the real world.   I also rejected the Jerry Falwell “moral majority” idea, which seemed to be big government at its worst — trying to implement religious ideals with the power of the state.

Yet I resisted the Democrats.  I voted third party most of the time and yearned for a perspective where community is taken seriously and ideology gives way to practical problem solving.   There is a wing of the Republican party that believes that way (Jon Huntsman is probably the best example – and I’ve voted for both my moderate Republican Senators), but right now they are being shouted down by the ideologues.   Preisdent Obama (and earlier President Clinton) are moderate/pragmatic Democrats who often angered their left wing, but yet have been villified as “socialists” and “unamerican” by the far right.    Talk radio sets the meme, and many on the right follow, egged on by partisan blogs.

John Boehner’s snub of the President is the latest example of this effort to humiliate, put roadblocks in front of, and refuse to compromise with the Democrats.   For the left wing of the Democratic party, this is fine — it proves that you can’t work with the Republicans like Obama is trying to do, so therefore it’s better to simply match their partisanship and play hardball.   Obama’s resisted that.   I believe he sees the office of the Presidency as above that — and he’s right.

I think this may be the point where the right wing of the GOP has jumped the shark.   As the rhetoric remains shrill, and Obama takes the bully pulpit to make a call for bipartisanship to solve the country’s problems, the Republican primary is going to give the Democrats oodles of material for the general election.    Given what I wrote about a few days ago on the 13 keys, Obama is in a stronger position than Republicans realize.   Moreover, his current disapproval ratings are driven up by people on the left who are disappointed with Obama’s  centrism.   Most will come home in 2012, especially in swing states during an emotional campaign.   And don’t forget the way the Republicans are making it relatively easy for Obama to get Latino votes — their stance on immigration or in some cases “English as the national language” make a group that should lend the Republicans considerable support a solid Democratic bloc.

A defeat in 2012 (especially if a significant number House seats are lost — which is very possible) would be a repudiation of the tea party rhetoric and the extremist wing of the party.     Right now the extremists know they have power in primaries and are scaring the moderates.   I suspect this is their peak.    Obama got Bin Laden, had success in Libya and may have success in Syria before the election.   As he makes a push on jobs there is some evidence that the economy is slowly moving forward.   Given how bad economic conditions have been, Obama’s personal popularity has remained surprisingly high.   If the Republicans lose, moderates like Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown (if he gets re-elected) and Jon Huntsman can offer a new vision for the party and be poised to have a couple very good election cycles.

Because if the GOP is Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry…well, that appeals to a small segment of the population and is not the stuff of a major party.

19 Comments