Republicans Prefer Out of Context Quotes Over Serious Middle East Discussion

Republicans, lacking any actual coherent policy arguments, love to dwell on taking comments from Democrats out of context, often distorting what was said. They made such an distorted quote the centerpiece of their last national convention. We are bound to hear another out of context quote over and over from Republicans. In response to a question from Chuck Todd, Obama explained why it is premature to take a plan to Congress before specific military targets are determined and arranging a regional coalition to fight ISIS. Republicans are ignoring the substance of what Obama said and taking a few unfortunate words out of context: “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

Follow up discussion by Chuck Todd on  The Daily Rundown this morning (his last as host before taking over at Meet the Press), placed this in context. Todd and Andrea Mitchell were supportive about Obama’s transparency on the issue and consideration of the ramifications of military intervention (video above). It was good to see a news report provide the full context. The failure of other news outlets to do the same has placed the Obama administration in damage-control mode.

Steve Benen has a a good take on this “gaffe”

To see deliberate thought and planning as the object of criticism is a mistake – delaying military intervention in the Middle East until a firm strategy is in place is a positive, not a negative.

It’s a feature of the president’s foreign policy, not a bug.

Much of the media seems stunned by the process: “You mean, Obama intends to think this through and then decide whether to pursue military options in Syria?” Why, yes, actually he does. The question isn’t why Obama has adopted such an approach; the question is why so many are outraged by it.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” without context, lends itself to breathless Beltway chatter. To accommodate the political world’s predispositions, maybe the president should have added the rest of the thought: “We don’t have a strategy yet for possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, which may require congressional approval.”

But that’s effectively all that he said. There is no great “gaffe” here.

If only George Bush had taken the time to develop a comprehensive strategy before going into Iraq.

Peter Beinhart pointed out that Obama does actually have a strategy in the middle east:

President Obama’s critics often claim he doesn’t have a strategy in the greater Middle East. That’s wrong. Like it or loathe it, he does, and he’s beginning to implement it against ISIS. To understand what it is, it’s worth going back seven summers.

In July 2007, at a debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube, Obama said that if elected president, he’d talk directly to the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. Hillary Clinton derided his answer as “irresponsible and frankly naïve.” The altercation fit the larger narrative the media had developed about the two Democratic frontrunners: Obama—who had opposed the Iraq War—was the dove. Hillary—who had supported it—was the hawk.

But less than a week later, a different foreign-policy tussle broke out. Obama said he’d send the U.S. military into Pakistan, against its government’s wishes, to kill members of al-Qaeda. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act,” he vowed, “we will.” Suddenly, Obama was the hawk and Clinton was the dove. “He basically threatened to bomb Pakistan,” she declared in early 2008, “which I don’t think was a particularly wise position to take.”

So was Obama more dovish than Clinton or more hawkish? The answer is both. On the one hand, Obama has shown a deep reluctance to use military force to try to solve Middle Eastern problems that don’t directly threaten American lives. He’s proved more open to a diplomatic compromise over Iran’s nuclear program than many on Capitol Hill because he’s more reticent about going to war with Tehran. He’s been reluctant to arm Syria’s rebels or bomb Basher al-Assad because he doesn’t want to get sucked into that country’s civil war. After initially giving David Petraeus and company the yellow light to pursue an expanded counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, he’s wound down America’s ground war against the Taliban. Even on Libya, he proved more reluctant to intervene than the leaders of Britain and France.

On the other hand, he’s proven ferocious about using military force to kill suspected terrorists. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, he’s basically adopted the policy Joe Biden proposed at the start of his administration: Don’t focus on fighting the Taliban on the ground, since they don’t really threaten the United States. Just bomb the hell out al-Qaeda from the air. Compared with George W. Bush, he’s dramatically expanded drone strikes, even though they’re unilateral, legally dubious, and morally disturbing. And, as promised, he sent special forces to kill Osama bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission, even though his vice president and secretary of defense feared the risks were too high.

When it comes to the Middle East, in other words, Obama is neither a dove nor a hawk. He’s a fierce minimalist. George W. Bush defined the War on Terror so broadly that in anti-terrorism’s name he spent vast quantities of blood and treasure fighting people who had no capacity or desire to attack the United States. Hillary Clinton and John McCain may not use the “War on Terror” framework anymore, but they’re still more willing to sell arms, dispatch troops, and drop bombs to achieve goals that aren’t directly connected to preventing another 9/11. By contrast, Obama’s strategy—whether you like it or not—is more clearly defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.

Understanding Obama’s fierce minimalism helps explain the evolution of his policy toward Syria and Iraq. For years, hawks pushed him to bomb Assad and arm Syria’s rebels. They also urged him to keep more U.S. troops in Iraq to stabilize the country and maintain American leverage there. Obama refused because these efforts—which would have cost money and incurred risks—weren’t directly aimed at fighting terrorism. But now that ISIS has developed a safe haven in Iraq and Syria, amassed lots of weapons and money, killed an American journalist, recruited Westerners, and threatened terrorism against the United States, Obama’s gone from dove to hawk. He’s launched air strikes in Iraq and may expand them to Syria. As the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis has noted, the Obama administration is also trying to strengthen regional actors who may be able to weaken ISIS. But the administration is doing all this to prevent ISIS from killing Americans, not to put Syria back together again. Yes, there’s a humanitarian overlay to Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign: He’s authorized air strikes to save Yazidis at risk of slaughter. But the core of his military effort in Iraq and Syria, and throughout the greater Middle East, is narrow but aggressive anti-terrorism…

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Foreign Policy Is Not The Only Area Where Clinton Is Vulnerable

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While I believe there should be a challenge to Hillary Clinton based upon her hawkish foreign policy views, it is questionable whether this will happen. Once again, I’ll take the unusual step of quoting from The American Conservative:

As yet, amazingly, Hillary has no real opponent to the nomination. Centrist inside politics watchers have concluded her Goldberg interview means that she carefully calculated that she can run to the right and face no consequences. It’s probably true that most of the names floating about, Brian Schweitzer and Elizabeth Warren pose little threat to a Clinton coronation. But someone who could talk coherently about foreign policy—James Webb, for instance—might be a different matter, though no one besides Webb himself knows if he has the discipline and energy to take on what would a grueling, and probably losing campaign. The absence of the genuine challenger to a hawkish Hillary leaves one depressed about the state of American democracy.

If Hillary Clinton is denied the Democratic nomination, it might come about due to her poor political instincts–the same factor which led her to lose to an inexperienced Barack Obama in 2008. I’ve been watching to see what happens this fall. Often major party candidates receive a boost by the manner in which they help other candidates in the prior election, and I have been wondering whether Clinton plans to stay on the sidelines or get actively involved in helping Democratic candidates. Brent Budowsky, an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House, questions Clinton’s actions this year in The Hill:

Democrats face potentially catastrophic midterm elections that could leave Republicans and conservatives in control of the House, the Senate and the Supreme Court. Yet while Democrats face a political state of emergency, Hillary Clinton this week launched an aggressive preemptive attack — not against Republicans but against Barack Obama, the Democratic president she served as secretary of State, employing lines of attack eerily reminiscent of attacks against Democrats from former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Clinton has been running for president for almost a decade. What is striking today is how little she appears to have thought through WHY she would run and HOW she would campaign. Throughout 2014 she has been dogged by self-created controversies about her paid speeches to banks and universities, whether she needed the money because she was “dirt poor,” whether she is out of touch with working people, and now her ill-timed and disastrously executed criticisms of Obama in her Atlantic interview.

Politically, Clinton’s prime directive for 2014 should have been to use her considerable intellect to devise substantial policies for income equality in the spirit of the most profound and popular public figure of our age, Pope Francis, and to go all out to save the Democratic Senate in the midterm elections…

Clinton should have spent all of 2014 working hard to support Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky and Michelle Nunn in Georgia. She has not. For the first eight months of 2014, Hillary Clinton has done virtually nothing to save the Democratic Senate. Now, her piling on criticism of Obama, whose unpopularity in red states is already a grave danger for Democrats, only helps the GOP cause.

Even more damaging to Democrats, and self-destructive for Clinton, is that her line of attack against Obama in the Atlantic interview wields national security arguments against Obama usually aimed against Democrats by Dick Cheney, neoconservatives and hyperpartisan Republicans.

Clinton’s talking points against Obama gives Republicans ammunition against Democrats, drives Obama’s negatives higher, divides Democrats against one another, alienates many liberals from Clinton, and further depresses Democrats when the party desperately needs dramatically increased enthusiasm, not new Democratic divisions and deeper Democratic depression that will keep more Democratic voters home in November.

Republicans rejoice and Democrats are appalled when Clinton is praised by Newt Gingrich for attacking Obama for policies devised when Democrat Clinton was Democrat Obama’s secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton should distinguish herself from President Obama. I would not recommend her using neoconservative-sounding arguments, which remind a vast and unenthusiastic Democratic base of her six years of support for Bush 43’s Iraq war and her penchant for political calculation, to promote her candidacy for president. But whatever case she makes should be made AFTER this year’s midterm elections, not before.

Clinton should stop all criticism of Obama and any Democrat, concentrate aggressively on saving the Democratic Senate, ask Ready for Hillary to spend ALL its cash on hand to support Senate and House Democrats, and develop inspiring programs for income equality and other issues vital to voters.

I support Hillary Clinton and hope she becomes the next Democratic FDR or JFK. But make no mistake: this week she hurt Democrats by firing her cannons in the wrong direction at the worst possible time.

Clinton is not doing herself any favors with a poorly handled book tour and by attacking Obama with neoconservative arguments. It is not too late in 2014 for Clinton to earn some goodwill by campaigning for Senate Democrats. If she fails to do so, or continues to do a bumbling job should she do so, there very well could be more Democrats questioning the inevitability of her nomination. Her fall in support in recent polls might also lead some Democrats to question her nomination.

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Clinton’s Hawkish Statements On Syria Remind Left That Clinton Does Not Share Our Views On Foreign Policy

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As is far too often the case, I think the mainstream media is getting the story wrong following Hillary Clinton’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic  in which she took a different position from Obama. We expect to see Clinton separate herself to some degree from Obama.The real significance is that this has been a wake up call for many on the left who really haven’t thought about Clinton’s hawkish world view. Many liberals who ostracized Joe Lieberman still embrace Hillary Clinton despite holding very similar foreign policy views. I doubt that this will change the outcome of Clinton winning the nomination, assuming she runs, but if by chance she is stopped by a successful challenger, in retrospect we might see this week as the time when things changed for her. David Brooks, while largely agreeing with Clinton from the right, speculates that “I’d bet she is going to get a more serious challenge than people now expect.” These questions are bigger than Politico discussing whether Hillary Clinton is comfortable in her own skin.

Clinton has received criticism for her views on intervening in Syria and for her general disagreement with Obama’s approach:

Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

“Don’t do stupid stuff” sounds like a good idea. It reminds me a lot of the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. Both good ideas, as opposed to Clinton’s history of making big mistakes and not realizing it until later, after the damage is done.

The Weekly Standard did have an amusing take on this, running a story composed of quotes from the interview under the headline, “Special Guest Editorial: Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures By HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON”

Response to Clinton’s statements on getting involved in the quagmire in Syria were largely negative from the liberal blogosphere. Digby’s response to the interview:

This is a very scary interview. Much more hardcore than I expected…

It’s possible she’s doing this to speed things up so an agreement can be struck before Obama leaves office — kind of a Reaganesque  madman move — but considering her hard line on everything else, I’d guess not.

Yikes.

Booman looked at the substance of Clinton’s argument and concluded, ” Had we made that mistake, too, we’d be in an even deeper hole.”

From Balloon Juice:

…my major concern about HRC is her hawkishness. That’s why I supported Obama instead of HRC back in 2008 — he recognized the Iraq War as “stupid shit” from the beginning; she didn’t.

The remark highlighted above doesn’t tell us much about Clinton’s organizing principles. When Goldberg questioned her directly on it, her response was “peace, progress and prosperity,” which could have come from a Miss World pageant script.

A supporter of Clinton in 2008 at Cannonfire wrote, “It’s Obama vs. Hillary — again — and this time, I’m on HIS side”

Not surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan was quite hard on Clinton:

And the greatest throwback to 2003 in this respect is Hillary Clinton. So far as one can tell from her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, there is no daylight between her and John McCain or even Benjamin Netanyahu – but a hell of a lot of space between her and Barack Obama. The interview confirms my view that she remains neoconservatism’s best bet to come back with bells on. It appears, for example, that her boomer-era pabulum about foreign policy on the Jon Stewart show – “We need to love America again! – was not an aberration. She actually means it. And once we believe in ourselves again – don’t look at that torture report! – it will be back to the barricades for another American century of American global hegemony. And why not start in Syria and Iraq? I mean: she’s already hepped up about the threat of Jihadism – and what could possibly go wrong this time? If only we believe in America!

You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward. One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.

Just forget that this country destroyed its military deterrence and its moral authority by the war that Clinton favored and has never fully expressed remorse for. Forget the trillions wasted and the tens of thousands of lives lost and the brutal torture we authorized and the hapless occupation that helped galvanize Jhadism, let’s just feel good about ourselves! And do it all again!

And so try and find a real difference between John McCain and Hillary Clinton on these topics. It’s certainly the same “fight them over there so we don’t fight them over here” fear-mongering:

One of the reasons why I worry about what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States. Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat.

Well, actually, their raison d’etre is not to be against the West. Right now and for the foreseeable future, it is about defeating the apostates of Shia Islam and wimpy Sunni Islam. It’s about forcing other Muslims to submit to their medieval authority – with weapons left behind from the last American interventionist project. The West for these Jihadis is a long, long way away. But not for Clinton or for McCain who see every struggle anywhere as involving the US because … America! And that’s when you realize how fresh Obama was and how vital he has been – and how in foreign policy, a Clinton presidency is such a contrast to his.

MoveOn issued this warning to Clinton:

Secretary Clinton, and any other person thinking about seeking the Democratic nomination in 2016, should think long and hard before embracing the same policies advocated by right-wing war hawks that got America into Iraq in the first place and helped set the stage for Iraq’s troubles today. These hawkish policy stances are also threatening to undermine the peaceful international resolution of Iran’s nuclear program.

Voters elected President Obama in 2008 to bring the war in Iraq to an end. MoveOn members will continue to stand with elected officials who oppose military escalation that could put us back on a path to endless war.

I rarely agree with The American Conservative to the degree I agree with much of this analysis:

Clinton has “brilliantly” identified herself as the hawk that she has always been, which puts her sharply at odds with most people in her own party and most Americans of all political affiliations. That’s not triangulation at all. The old Clintonian triangulation was driven by an obsessive focus on public opinion and on finding mostly minor issues that obtained support from a large majority. The purpose of it was to co-opt popular issues and deprive the opposition of effective lines of attack. The goal was not to poke the majority of Americans in the eye on major issues and tell them that they’re wrong. Clinton’s foreign policy posturing politically tone-deaf and focused entirely on what will please people in Washington and a few other capitals around the world. It is evidence that Clinton thinks she can get away with campaigning on a more activist foreign policy on the assumption that no one is going to vote against her for that reason. She may be right about that, or she may end up being surprised–again–to find that her horrible foreign policy record is still a serious political liability.

Now it’s true that the vast majority doesn’t vote on foreign policy, and most Americans normally pay little or no attention to it, but one thing that does seem to get their attention is when they are being presented with the prospect of new and costly conflicts. If Obama is faulted in Washington for being too cautious, Clinton is making clear that she will err on the side of being too activist and aggressive, and she gives us every reason to expect that she will err quite often on that side. That isn’t going to gain Clinton any votes, and it could easily lose her quite a few. Her twin hopes at this point have to be that she won’t face a significant challenge from the left on these and other issues and that the next Republican nominee will be even more irresponsibly hawkish than she is. That’s not brilliant. It’s called wishful thinking.

Clinton’s current hawkish views today are hardly new, as in 2002 when she backed the Iraq war based upon claims of a tie between Saddam and al Qaeda:

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

It is not just a single view. The problem is Hillary Clinton’s entire history on foreign policy. I trust Obama far more than Clinton in answering that hypothetical 3 am phone call.

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This Is Not The Libertarian Moment, But Also Not The Right Moment For Democrats To Follow Hillary Clinton’s Views

Robert Draper asks, Has the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Finally Arrived? in The New York Times Magazine.

Libertarians, who long have relished their role as acerbic sideline critics of American political theater, now find themselves and their movement thrust into the middle of it. For decades their ideas have had serious backing financially (most prominently by the Koch brothers, one of whom, David H., ran as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian Party ticket), intellectually (by way of policy shops like the Cato Institute and C.E.I.) and in the media (through platforms like Reason and, as of last year, “The Independents”). But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side. An estimated 54 percent of Americans now favor extending marriage rights to gay couples. Decriminalizing marijuana has become a mainstream position, while the drive to reduce sentences for minor drug offenders has led to the wondrous spectacle of Rick Perry — the governor of Texas, where more inmates are executed than in any other state — telling a Washington audience: “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money.” The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget. And deep concern over government surveillance looms as one of the few bipartisan sentiments in Washington, which is somewhat unanticipated given that the surveiller in chief, the former constitutional-law professor Barack Obama, had been described in a 2008 Times Op-Ed by the legal commentator Jeffrey Rosen as potentially “our first president who is a civil libertarian.”

Meanwhile, the age group most responsible for delivering Obama his two terms may well become a political wild card over time, in large part because of its libertarian leanings. Raised on the ad hoc communalism of the Internet, disenchanted by the Iraq War, reflexively tolerant of other lifestyles, appalled by government intrusion into their private affairs and increasingly convinced that the Obama economy is rigged against them, the millennials can no longer be regarded as faithful Democrats — and a recent poll confirmed that fully half of voters between ages 18 and 29 are unwedded to either party. Obama has profoundly disappointed many of these voters by shying away from marijuana decriminalization, by leading from behind on same-sex marriage, by trumping the Bush administration on illegal-immigrant deportations and by expanding Bush’s N.S.A. surveillance program. As one 30-year-old libertarian senior staff member on the Hill told me: “I think we expected this sort of thing from Bush. But Obama seemed to be hip and in touch with my generation, and then he goes and reads our emails.”

To say that the libertarian moment has arrived based upon the views of millennials is to look at only part of the picture. Polling has showed millennials to typically be liberal on social issues, non-interventionist on foreign, policy, but far from conservative or libertarian on issues such as preserving the safety-net and providing universal health care. They are hardly likely to be attracted by either the Republican or Libertarian Party. Unfortunately the Democrats also are risking turning off such voters with the choice of Hillary Clinton:

Early polls show young voters favoring Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016, but their support could erode as they refamiliarize themselves with her, just as it did in 2008. Clinton has been even slower than Obama to embrace progressive social causes, while in foreign policy, she associates herself more with her former Senate colleague John McCain than with noninterventionists. Nor is Clinton likely to quell millennial fears about government surveillance. Welch says: “Hillary isn’t going to be any good on these issues. She has an authoritative mind-set and has no interest in Edward Snowden, who’s a hero to a lot of these people.”

Comparing Clinton to John McCain, who seems to have never seen a possibility for going to war which didn’t excite him, might be a little extreme, but she has firmly placed herself in the Joe Lieberman camp. She is a rare Democrat who rooted for going to war with Iraq based upon false claims tying Saddam to al Qaeda. She now repudiates her past support for the war however the story of Hillary Clinton’s career has been to get the big issues wrong at the time and possibly later realize that she was wrong. As I’ve also pointed out before, in the remote chance that the Republicans do nominate Rand Paul, or anyone else with similar non-interventionist views, this could really shake up the race, putting Democrats in the position of running from the right on foreign policy. Clinton’s weakness and cowardice on social issues wouldn’t help matters.

So, no, the Libertarian Moment has not arrived. The future looks more friendly towards politicians who are socially liberal, anti-interventionism, but far from libertarian across the board. Most likely the Republicans will run a candidate who is even further to the right of Hillary Clinton on foreign policy and social issues, and as Andrew Sullivan recently argued, Clinton will try to run on vacuous statements (along with inevitability), and avoid taking controversial positions on the issues.  She will continue to try to stick with what she sees as safe answers, such as saying that the Bible is the book which she found most influential. Maybe she will get away with it, but if the Republicans shake things up and question her on more libertarian grounds on social issues and foreign policy, there is the real danger of the Democrats losing the millennials.

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Republican Benghazi Consipracy Theory Shot Down Again

Repeated investigations of Benghazi have debunked the Republican conspiracy theories but that doesn’t keep Darrell Issa from continuing to try to find someone who will give testimony which agrees with him. Newly released testimony confirms yet again that his witch hunts have been failures as nine military officers disputed the common Republican claim that either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton gave an order to “stand down” to deny military protection to the embassy. From AP:

The testimony of nine military officers undermines contentions by Republican lawmakers that a “stand-down order” held back military assets that could have saved the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans killed at a diplomatic outpost and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.

The “stand-down” theory centers on a Special Operations team of four — a detachment leader, a medic, a communications expert and a weapons operator with his foot in a cast — who were stopped from flying from Tripoli to Benghazi after the attacks of Sept. 11-12, 2012, had ended. Instead, they were instructed to help protect and care for those being evacuated from Benghazi and from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

The senior military officer who issued the instruction to “remain in place” and the detachment leader who received it said it was the right decision and has been widely mischaracterized. The order was to remain in Tripoli and protect some three dozen embassy personnel rather than fly to Benghazi some 600 miles away after all Americans there would have been evacuated. And the medic is credited with saving the life of an evacuee from the attacks.

Transcripts of hours of closed-door interviews with the military leaders by the House Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform committees were made public for the first time on Wednesday. The Associated Press had reviewed the material ahead of its release.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight panel, has suggested Hillary Rodham Clinton gave the order, though as secretary of state at the time, she was not in the military chain of command.

Despite lingering public confusion over many events that night, the testimony shows military leaders largely in agreement over how they responded to the attacks…

Fox has been the primary source of the “stand-down” conspiracy theory and we can be sure that Darrell Issa will continue to try prove the claims coming from Fox no matter how many people testify that the claims are untrue.

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New NSA Director Found Snowden Leaks Not Harmful To National Security

Edward Snowden provided the nation a valuable service in revealing how the government was lying to the American people and Congress about the extent of NSA surveillance. Those opposed to his release of classified information have often claimed that he endangered the country by revealing the information despite lack of any evidence that this is the case. A recent interview with the director of the NSA in The New York Times agrees with previous assessments doubting that Snowden’s revelations have done any serious harm:

The newly installed director of the National Security Agency says that while he has seen some terrorist groups alter their communications to avoid surveillance techniques revealed by Edward J. Snowden, the damage done over all by a year of revelations does not lead him to the conclusion that “the sky is falling.”

In an hourlong interview Friday in his office here at the heart of the country’s electronic eavesdropping and cyberoperations, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who has now run the beleaguered spy agency and the military’s Cyber Command for just short of three months, described the series of steps he was taking to ensure that no one could download the trove of data that Mr. Snowden gathered — more than a million documents…

Notable in his comments was an absence of alarm about the long-term effects of the Snowden revelations. Like former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, who urged colleagues in the Obama administration to calm down about the WikiLeaks revelations in 2010, Admiral Rogers seemed to suggest that, as technology progressed, the agency would find new ways to compensate for the damage done, however regrettable the leaks.

He repeated past warnings that the agency had overheard terrorist groups “specifically referencing data detailed” by Mr. Snowden’s revelations. “I have seen groups not only talk about making changes, I have seen them make changes,” he said.

But he then added: “You have not heard me as the director say, ‘Oh, my God, the sky is falling.’ I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterizations.”

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Republicans Attack Obama For Capturing Terrorist Involved In Benghazi Attack

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One of the major attacks on Obama from the right was that they never captured those responsible for Benghazi–never mind how many people responsible for embassy attacks under Reagan and Bush were never apprehended, or that it was Obama that got bin Laden years after Bush let him escape at Tora Bora. Now one of those responsible for Benghazi has been captured

You might think that even Republicans would find this to be reason to celebrate, but instead many did what the usually do and twist anything into a way to attack Obama.

Fox claims this was done to boost Hillary Clinton’s book tour and presidential prospects.

Allen West calls this “Orwellian message control” to distract the populace from other problems.

On talk radio Rush Limbaugh and Joe Walsh are among those who join Fox in questioning the timing.

Steve Benen, Bob Cesca, and Caitlin MacNeal have more conservative reaction.

I imagine next they will threaten impeachment because Obama didn’t inform Congress before he acted.

This should really come as no surprise. The conservative movement is packed with people who will do anything for political gain, regardless of how much it harms the country. Attacking Obama is now their number one goal, but it didn’t start with Obama. They played politics with the 9/11 attack, and used it to justify both the war in Iraq and infringements on civil liberties. More recently they have played politics with the deaths of Americans in Benghazi. These are also the people who have fought to hinder economic recovery after their policies crashed the economy, and caused a lowering of our credit rating while playing politics over the debt ceiling.

Harry Reid has responded to the Republican attacks:

It doesn’t matter what your ideology is, you should feel good about this. There’s no conspiracy here, this is actual news. But the reaction of some of the Republicans, I’ve been told, is to downplay and insult the brave men and women of our special forces and the FBI. They’re trying to say, oh, it’s no big deal. I wonder if the men and women who captured the terrorist agree. But the Republicans said it’s no big deal.

Even in these days of polarization, created by the obstruction, the delay, and diversion of the Republicans, even in these days of polarization, their reaction is shocking and disgusting. They’re so obsessed with criticism, criticizing anything President Obama does. They’ll go so far as to sit here and insult the men and women in uniform and in law enforcement. They should stop and think, just for a little bit, about what it’s like to put your life on the line and to do something for our country — that’s what they did. They’re insulting these good men and women who did some courageous things, heroic things, in order to criticize President Obama. I think they’ve lost touch with reality; it’s really pathetic, there’s no other word for it.

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Unclipping Hillary Clinton’s Hawkish Wings

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Barack Obama recently described his views on the use of military force at West Point. E.J. Dionne pointed out that military “restraint makes us stronger” and praised “the more measured approach to military intervention practiced during the presidencies of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.” Obama said, “a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.” This was described by Andy Borowitz as meaning”Obama Defends Controversial Policy of Not Invading Countries for No Reason.”

Conservative critics were taken aback by Obama’s speech, which was riddled with incendiary remarks about only using military force for a clearly identified and rational purpose.

Obama did not shy away from employing polarizing rhetoric, often using words such as “responsible” and “sensible” to underscore his message.

Harland Dorrinson, a fellow at the conservative think tank the Center for Global Intervention, said that he was “stunned” to see Obama “defend his failure to engage the United States in impulsive and random military adventures.”

“History tells us that the best way to earn respect around the world is by using your military in a totally unpredictable and reckless manner,” he said. “Today, President Obama showed once again that he doesn’t get it.”

Even beyond Borowitz’s satirical take on the speech, this is a clear change from past years. The apparently inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination has some on the left concerned. An article on Clinton in The Wall Street Journal will not help to reassure anyone worried about Clinton’s more hawkish views. We must keep in mind the Republican bias of the source, which leads me to question some of the assessments in the article that Clinton was ineffective. I doubt that they would have reason to exaggerate Clinton’s hawkishness, and their assessment on this is consistent with the views of many others.

The article describes her as a “hawk with clipped wings.”  It argues that, “She was often more hawkish than the White House she served, and at some key moments was ineffectual at swinging policy her way.” Despite the article’s description of Clinton as someone who did not push her views, I often had the opinion that Clinton was one of the forces pulling Obama more to the right. Syria was given as an example where the two did disagree:

“… she was more comfortable than Mr. Obama with the use of military force and saw it as an important complement to diplomacy, present and former administration aides say.
“In the debates that we had, she generally was someone who came down in favor of military action,” says Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “She had a comfort with U.S. military action.”

Syria was a test case. The civil war exposed a divide in the administration, with Mr. Obama hesitant to commit military force and Mrs. Clinton pushing to arm secular rebels who might help oust Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.”

It would certainly be ironic if Rand Paul manages to win the Republican nomination, leaving the Democrats with the far more hawkish candidate who would take over without Barack Obama in the White House to counter her more hawkish tendencies.

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NSA Increases Credibility Gap With Latest Claims About Edward Snowden

The documents released by Edward Snowden have already demonstrated that the government has lied to the American people, and to our representatives in Congress, regarding violations of the law and the Constitution in conducting surveillance of American citizens following 9/11. Just as the attack was used by the Bush administration to launch the war in Iraq based upon lies, the attack was also used to greatly expand government surveillance in an atmosphere where there was too little scrutiny of government actions. There have been a lot of side issues raised to try to distract from these real issues. The latest such side issue raised by the NSA actually casts even more doubt on their credibility.

The government is denying claims made by Edward Snowden since he first became known publicly that he had first tried unsuccessfully to complain about these abuses internally. They are doing this based upon releasing a  single email he had sent in April 2013 which did not raise major concerns. Here is a portion of Snowden’s response:

The NSA’s new discovery of written contact between me and its lawyers – after more than a year of denying any such contact existed – raises serious concerns. It reveals as false the NSA’s claim to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in December of last year, that “after extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”

Today’s release is incomplete, and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance, which believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress, contradicting what was just published. It also did not include concerns about how indefensible collection activities – such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major US internet companies – are sometimes concealed under E.O. 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations.

If the White House is interested in the whole truth, rather than the NSA’s clearly tailored and incomplete leak today for a political advantage, it will require the NSA to ask my former colleagues, management, and the senior leadership team about whether I, at any time, raised concerns about the NSA’s improper and at times unconstitutional surveillance activities. It will not take long to receive an answer.

Ultimately, whether my disclosures were justified does not depend on whether I raised these concerns previously. That’s because the system is designed to ensure that even the most valid concerns are suppressed and ignored, not acted upon. The fact that two powerful Democratic Senators – Ron Wyden and Mark Udall – knew of mass surveillance that they believed was abusive and felt constrained to do anything about it underscores how futile such internal action is — and will remain — until these processes are reformed.

Still, the fact is that I did raise such concerns both verbally and in writing, and on multiple, continuing occasions – as I have always said, and as NSA has always denied. Just as when the NSA claimed it followed German laws in Germany just weeks before it was revealed that they did not, or when NSA said they did not engage in economic espionage a few short months before it was revealed they actually did so on a regular and recurring basis, or even when they claimed they had “no domestic spying program” before we learned they collected the phone records of every American they could, so too are today’s claims that “this is only evidence we have of him reporting concerns” false.

Considering all the evidence that has been released of dishonesty on the part of the NSA and its defenders, I find Snowden’s statements that he had raised concerns about NSA activities to sound far more credible than the current NSA claim that this suddenly discovered email constitutes his sole complaint.

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Health Care Policy Briefs: Early Retirement, The Two Americas, Sabotaging Obamacare, Marijuana Not A Gateway Drug, And The Pentagon’s Plan For The Zombie Apocalypse

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Five  health care policy items today:

Goldman issued a report on how availability of health insurance allows people the option of retiring early (or as Republicans would put it, become takers) as opposed to waiting until they qualify for Medicare. The found that “the annual probability of retirement–i.e., what share of workers of a given age will retire within the next year–is on average between 2% and 8% higher when retiree health insurance is available.” Early retirement is seen more between the ages of 60 to 64, than in those who are age 55-59.

With Republicans blocking Medicaid expansion in twenty-four states, The Commonwealth Club looked at the healthcare differences in the two Americas:

The Commonwealth Fund’s recently released Scorecard on State Health System Performance, 2014, finds big differences between states on measures of health care access, quality, costs, and outcomes. What’s more, its authors warn that these differences could very well widen in the future. Many of the lowest-performing states are choosing not to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some also are discouraging eligible uninsured citizens from purchasing subsidized coverage through new ACA marketplaces, though some uninsured are signing up nonetheless.

The fact that so many low-performing states are spurning the ACA’s benefits, while high-performing states are rushing to embrace them, raises profound questions for the future of our country. What would it mean if different parts of the United States find themselves on radically different health care trajectories, with some enjoying progressively better health and health care and others falling further and further behind? In other words, what would it mean if the two health care Americas grow further and further apart over time?

This is unexplored territory for health care researchers and policymakers, but we know enough to point to some possibilities.

To begin with, we know that when people have health coverage they live longer, healthier lives. Widening gaps in rates of insurance coverage between low- and high-performing states will almost certainly lead to growing differences in life expectancy and health status. This is worrisome and regrettable, but probably only part of the story.

An equally important—but much less explored—question is whether differing health care trajectories also will lead to differing economic and social trajectories. All else equal (of course, it never precisely is), will regions with poorer health care and health status suffer economically and socially as well? Will they have less productive workforces, less productive economies, and, as result, lower quality of life overall? Will they become less attractive places to live, work, and do business?

Several lines of evidence suggest that diverging regional health care systems could lead to diverging general welfare. First, untreated physical and mental health problems increase workers’ time off from work, reduce performance while at work, and lower rates of employment. In the early 20th century, infections such as yellow fever, malaria, and hookworm greatly hindered the economy of the American South. In his memoir, Jimmy Carter recalls that, while growing up in rural Georgia, “almost everyone was afflicted from time to time with hookworm,” a parasite that causes anemia, malaise, and fatigue. Eventually, public health measures and improved living conditions brought this and other health problems under control, contributing to a burst of economic growth.

A century later, chronic illness is the equivalent of the infectious illness that once disproportionately taxed the economy of the American South. In the United States, annual productivity losses from diabetes and depression alone exceed $100 billion nationally. And we know this burden can be lightened through good primary and preventive care that will be less available in regions with large uninsured populations.

Second, health insurance boosts economies by protecting people against catastrophic out-of-pocket health care expenses. These costs can lead to bankruptcy, which raises the cost of borrowing for the rest of society as lenders take into account the risk that they will not be repaid. Those avoiding bankruptcy often incur substantial medical debt, with far-reaching consequences. A 2012 Commonwealth Fund survey found that 61 percent of uninsured adults ages 19 to 64 reported problems paying their medical bills or said they were paying off medical debt over time. Among these individuals, more than half said they received a lower credit rating as a result of unpaid medical bills, 43 percent used all of their savings to pay their bills, and 29 percent delayed education or career plans. The 2006 Massachusetts health reform, which has led to nearly universal health coverage, has also led to fewer personal bankruptcies and bills past due and improved credit scores, particularly for those with limited access to credit before the reform…

The report continued to discuss further differences resulting from differing access to health insurance.

Besides blocking Medicaid expansion, conservatives are reducing the number of insured with misinformation campaigns and campaigns to outright dissuade people from obtaining coverage in the exchanges. This has led many uninsured people to fail to obtain coverage through the exchanges to based upon misconceptions spread by conservatives, such as that the cost would be much higher than it actually is. Jonathan Cohn wrote:

About half of the people who McKinsey surveyed did not end up buying insuranceeither because they shopped and found nothing they liked, or because they didn’t shop at all. When asked to explain these decisions, the majority of these people said they thought coverage would cost too much. But two-thirds of these people said they didn’t know they could get financial assistance. In other words, they assumed they would have to pay the sticker price for coverage, even though federal tax credits would have lowered the price by hundreds or thousands of dollars a year.

With a little education and outreach, many of these people will discover that insurance costs less than they thought. When next year’s open enrollment period begins, they are more likely to get coverage. But the idea was to help more of those people this year. And if the administration deserves some blame for this shortfall, its adversaries deserve more. Republicans and their allies did their best to taint the lawand, where possible, to undermine efforts to promote it. Without such obstruction, even more uninsured people would probably be getting coverage right now. As Sprung quipped in his post, “Those who deliberately spread disinformation about the ACA and actively encouraged the uninsured to remain in that blessed state of freedom can be really proud of themselves.”

Or as I put it in a recent post: Fox Lied, People Die.

The National Bureau of Economic Research looked at the effects of legalization of medical marijuana on drug use:

21 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws that permit marijuana use for medical purposes, often termed medical marijuana laws (MMLs). We tested the effects of MMLs adopted in seven states between 2004 and 2011 on adolescent and adult marijuana, alcohol, and hard drug use. We employed a restricted-access version of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) micro-level data with geographic identifiers. For those 21 and older, we found that MMLs led to a relative increase in the probability of marijuana use of 16 percent, an increase in marijuana use frequency of 12-17 percent, and an increase in the probability of marijuana abuse/dependence of 15-27 percent. For those 12-20 years old, we found a relative increase in marijuana use initiation of 5-6 percent. Among those aged 21 or above, MMLs increased the frequency of binge drinking by 6-9 percent, but MMLs did not affect drinking behavior among those 12-20 years old. MMLs had no discernible impact on hard drug use in either age group. Taken together, MML implementation increases marijuana use mainly among those over 21, where there is also a spillover effect of increased binge drinking, but there is no evidence of spillovers to other substance use.

If marijuana turns out not to be a gateway drug, this would be another reason to reevaluate current marijuana laws. Further discussion at Vox.

The Pentagon has contingency plans for any emergency, including the Zombie Apocalypse. It isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds as it is actually a model plan using a fictional situation, as reported by Foreign Policy:

“This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for U.S. Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde,” CONOP 8888’s plan summary reads. “Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population — including traditional adversaries.”

CONOP 8888, otherwise known as “Counter-Zombie Dominance” and dated April 30, 2011, is no laughing matter, and yet of course it is. As its authors note in the document’s “disclaimer section,” “this plan was not actually designed as a joke.”

Military planners assigned to the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska during 2009 and 2010 looked for a creative way to devise a planning document to protect citizens in the event of an attack of any kind. The officers used zombies as their muse. “Planners … realized that training examples for plans must accommodate the political fallout that occurs if the general public mistakenly believes that a fictional training scenario is actually a real plan,” the authors wrote, adding: “Rather than risk such an outcome by teaching our augmentees using the fictional ‘Tunisia’ or ‘Nigeria’ scenarios used at [Joint Combined Warfighting School], we elected to use a completely-impossible scenario that could never be mistaken for a real plan.”

But do they have plans in case of a Dalek invasion?

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