I was on the Huff Post Live ‘Happy Hour’ show last Friday night discussing the biggest stories of last week. It was a pretty lively back and forth that featured, amongst others, discussions around the big foreign policy let down of the third Presidential debate, Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama and whether platonic relationships can ever exist. They use Google Hangout to host the discussions while broadcasting live from their swish studio in Los Angeles, and it works surprisingly well. Anyhow, video is below:
By Robert Parry: A deal to resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute, based on face-to-face negotiations between Iranian and U.S. officials, could follow quickly upon President Barack Obama’s reelection on Nov. 6, but those bilateral relations would likely veer toward confrontation if Mitt Romney wins and his neocon advisers retake control of U.S. foreign policy.
Sources familiar with the status of the talks say the potential settlement is much closer than is publicly understood, with a reelected President Obama prepared to relax the harsh economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for tight constraints on any Iranian nuclear program, assuring that it is for peaceful purposes only.
One person familiar with the status of talks said the post-election discussions also could lead to a broader rapprochement between Iran and the United States, two countries that have been at odds since 1979 when Iranian radicals overran the U.S. Embassy and took American diplomatic personnel hostage.
However, the prospects for peace could head off in a very different direction if Romney wins. His neocon advisers are considered likely to hijack the Iran sanctions and use them to force “regime change” in Tehran, rather than for their current narrow purpose of compelling Iran to negotiate seriously on limiting its nuclear program.
By effectively shifting the application of the sanctions from nuclear negotiations to regime change, the neocons could put Iran and the United States on course for another war in the Middle East, much as the neocons did in steadily ratcheting up tensions with Iraq in 2002-2003 until a peaceful resolution became impossible.
Despite the disastrous Iraq War, Washington’s influential neocons have never given up on their dream of violently remaking the Middle East through U.S.-imposed “regime change” in countries considered hostile to America and Israel.
If the new Romney administration did redeploy the sanctions for the purpose of “regime change” in Iran, the Islamic government might press ahead toward development of a nuclear weapon for self-defense. That, in turn, could precipitate a U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran, since Romney has declared that he would not accept Iran even having the “capability” to build an A-bomb, let alone an actual bomb.
Though Iran’s current readiness to make major concessions on its nuclear program marks a success for the Obama administration’s diplomacy, President Obama has been reluctant to tout the pending resolution of the crisis in the final days of the campaign out of fear that it would open him to attacks as soft on Iran.
That concern left the President making contradictory remarks at last Monday’s debate. He initially disparaged a New York Times report on a tentative agreement for bilateral talks between the United States and Iran, but later in the debate seemed to confirm that such an arrangement was in the offing.
In response to a question from moderator Bob Schieffer about the shape of a possible deal with Iran, Obama responded, “Well, first of all, those were reports in the newspaper. They are not true. But our goal is to get Iran to recognize it needs to give up its nuclear program and abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place, because they have the opportunity to re-enter the community of nations, and we would welcome that.”
However, several questions later, Obama briefly returned to the topic, telling Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney: “I’m pleased that you now are endorsing our policy of applying diplomatic pressure and potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.”
A day earlier, on Oct. 21, the Times cited Obama administration officials as saying that the United States and Iran “have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.” But the Times added that “Iranian officials have insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election … telling their American counterparts that they want to know with whom they would be negotiating.”
The Times reported that the agreement was “a result of intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term.”
One intelligence source familiar with the talks told me that the framework for a deal was largely hammered out by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during his time as CIA director before he took the Pentagon job in mid-2011. But the source said the tough international sanctions, which the Obama administration engineered over the past year, have convinced Iranian leaders that it is time to get serious and to reach a settlement.
The source added that the scope of the bilateral talks could be much broader than just Iran’s nuclear program, which is expected to be suspended although with allowances for civilian nuclear energy. Under the plan, Iran also would tone down its rhetoric against Israel, ease bellicose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad off the political stage and clear the way for the election of a more moderate president next year, the source said.
Regionally, Iran would be pressed to use its influence with Hezbollah to halt any hostilities toward Israel and to assist in tamping down the civil conflict in Syria. In exchange, the United States would gradually lift the sanctions, allow Iran’s international oil sales to recover, and take steps toward establishing diplomatic relations.
“It’s going to be a whole sea change,” the source said, although adding that the framework is likely to collapse if Romney wins the election. “If Mitt becomes president,” the source said, “you’ll have chaos in the Middle East.”
Romney’s Hard Line
The Times’s article also noted that plans for face-to-face talks might collapse if Romney wins: “It is also far from clear that Mr. Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, would go through with the negotiation should he win election. Mr. Romney has repeatedly criticized the president as showing weakness on Iran and failing to stand firmly with Israel against the Iranian nuclear threat. …
“The prospect of one-on-one negotiations could put Mr. Romney in an awkward spot, since he has opposed allowing Iran to enrich uranium to any level — a concession that experts say will probably figure in any deal on the nuclear program.”
During the Oct. 22 debate, Romney displayed ignorance about basic facts regarding Iran and he indicated that he shared the view of his neocon advisers that the civil war in Syria amounted to “an opportunity.”
In the third presidential debate, Romney said, “Syria’s an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally Israel. And so seeing Syria remove [President Bashar al] Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a — a replacement government being responsible people is critical for us.”
The “route to the sea” gaffe – mistaking Iran for some landlocked country – exposed Romney’s weak sense of world geography, since Iran sits on the Persian Gulf. Iran also has no common border with Syria. Iraq rests between the two countries.
But Romney’s clumsy geopolitical statement resurrected the neocons’ longstanding goal of forcing “regime change” in Syria and Iran – as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein – and thus starving Israel’s close-in enemies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, of outside support. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Moderate Mitt: Neocon Trojan Horse.”]
For Romney’s neocon advisers, who dominate his campaign’s inner foreign policy circle, torpedoing a potential settlement on Iran’s nuclear program would be their first challenge in establishing their preeminence in a Romney administration next year.
Even if bilateral talks are held after a Romney victory, the neocons could guide them toward deliberate failure and then use the collapse as a demonstration of Iranian intransigence, thus justifying an eventual U.S.-Israeli military strike.
So, in a very practical way, a possible war with Iran — and the fate of millions of civilians who could be caught up in the carnage – will be on the ballot in the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 6.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
(Originally posted at ConsortiumNews.com)
By Bob Cesca: It’s difficult to make it through a day of political reading without stumbling onto another progressive screed in a long syllabus of screeds about how President Obama is worse than George W. Bush. I’m sure you’re familiar with the rogue’s gallery of writers and their grievances. Recently, however, these posts have added an extra layer of questionable judgment involving a plea to progressives to vote against the president in the forthcoming election.
So far, I’m aware of three major posts along these lines.
First, there was John Cusack’s interview/discussion with George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley in which the activists discussed their “Rubicon Line” — actions by the president that went too far, thus forcing Cusack and Turley to vote for a third party candidate this year. Then there was Conor Friedersdorf’s post for The Atlantic in which he made a similar case against the president’s record on civil liberties and national security. Drones, indefinite detention and the like. Friedersdorf wrote a follow-up item here. And on Saturday, vocal anti-Obama progressive Matt Stoller wrote an extended post for Salon.com, which outlines exactly what he and other progressives expect to achieve by voting for a third party candidate.
It’s difficult to know where to begin because there were so many things about Stoller’s post that were nearsighted or downright wrong.
Stoller’s principal gripe with President Obama is the disparity between the stronger corporate recovery from the recession against the slower home equity recovery from the recession. Specifically, the president has “enshrined rights for the elite in our constitutional order and removed rights from everyone else.” This is an important point. Stoller appears to be a vocal champion of the “99 percent” — the plight of middle class homeowners and, presumably, other non-wealthy Americans — and is changing his vote to prove it.
Yes, homeowners have suffered greatly from the recession. Yes, billions of dollars were loaned to financial institutions in order to prevent a deeper slide into a full scale meltdown, while very little has been done to bail out homeowners whose houses are either underwater or facing foreclosure. Regarding this gap, Stoller noted a pivotal moment during the Bush-Obama transition in 2008 when Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson approached Barney Frank about speeding up the disbursement of TARP funds. Frank suggested that they force banks to write down bad mortgages in exchange for the second round of TARP money. The way Frank tells it, they needed then-President-Elect Obama to sign off, but Obama never responded thus missing a golden opportunity to offer relief to homeowners. Taken at face value, and I assume Frank’s account is accurate, sure, the Obama team should’ve authorized the deal. But, in its defense, the administration has repeatedly pursued a write-down option, including a $25 billion write-down deal in February and another plan this past Summer, which was blocked by regulators, “to pay Fannie and Freddie as much as 63 cents for every dollar of mortgage debt they forgive.” The money would’ve been paid out of the TARP fund.
Stoller continues by listing a series of “broken promises” by the president, and while many of the items were beyond the president’s control, the more deceptive aspect of Stoller’s list was that it’s not taken from the 2008 Obama For America campaign, but, instead, from the 2008 Democratic Party platform. Anyone who’s followed this year’s RNC and DNC knows that the parties and their nominees don’t always share the same positions and goals. Yet according to Politifact, the president has kept, or compromised on, 269 promises, with another 106 promises “in the works.” He’s broken 86 promises but, again, they’re not necessarily policy reversals. Many simply haven’t been attempted yet.
The president hasn’t been flawless, that’s for sure. But has there ever been a flawless chief executive? Stoller singles out the achievements of FDR in the wake of the Great Depression but conveniently excludes FDR’s serious flaws — a courtesy Stoller clearly offers to most Democratic presidents except for Barack Obama. But what about FDR? Not only did he prematurely compromise with conservatives to engage in austerity which caused a double-dip recession, but FDR’s record during World War II would be decimated by modern progressives were they around at the time. Indefinite detention of Japanese Americans, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, the development of the atomic bomb. I can’t imagine Turley and Cusack ignoring these egregious trespasses without labeling them as “Rubicon Lines.”
The rational, reasonable approach to selecting a president involves deciding which of the two candidates is nearest to our personal values, both in terms of policy and leadership qualities. From there, once elected, we have a civic responsibility to engage in smart accountability. That is, pushing and persuading our leaders to do what we believe is right. Sometimes it works, as with Obama and same-sex marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and sometimes it doesn’t. But at the end of the day, we’ve still helped to elect a leader who’s at least somewhere in the same ballpark as our personal views. We don’t have to agree on everything and we can’t expect perfection or purity. Reasonable people ought to look beyond the narrow field of pet issues and view the presidency in its totality.
But it’s difficult to expect rational, reasonable arguments from progressive activists who simply don’t understand how the system works. Stoller wrote: “There are only five or six states that matter in this election; in the other 44 or 45, your vote on the presidential level doesn’t matter. It is as decorative as a vote for an ‘American Idol contestant.’”
Nonsense. Stoller either doesn’t understand the implications of the popular vote or he’s being deliberately ignorant about it. There’s a very real chance that the president could win the electoral vote and lose the popular vote: an eventuality that would cripple his second term agenda. Without a mandate — a popular vote majority — he risks losing the support of moderate Democrats. Worse, considering the conspiracy-driven paranoia of the Republican Party with it’s “Benghazi Gate,” its Unskewed Polls and rigged unemployment numbers, it’s not a stretch to expect that an electoral/popular vote split would trigger a major congressional investigation and, perhaps, a constitutional crisis with Congress refusing to certify the electoral votes. The Republicans have proved they’ll do anything to thwart the president. Additionally, which states, according to Stoller, constitute swing states? He doesn’t say, but we can assume Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Colorado and New Hampshire. But what about Wisconsin? Arizona? Iowa? Is Minnesota a swing state now? Michigan? Pennsylvania? Swing state status changes by the day, so who knows for sure.
So yes, if you live in a solidly red or blue state, your vote absolutely matters. Perhaps this year more than ever.
Stoller’s argument has only just begun to lose credibility.
When I wrote about the Turley/Cusack discussion, I compared it with the South Park “Underpants Gnome” episode in which a race of gnomes devised a three-pronged business model: 1) Collect Underpants, 2) ????, 3) Profit. Likewise, Turley and Cusack seemed to suggest the following: 1) Vote against Obama, 2) ????, 3) Progressivism! Of course the “????” is the biggest concern here. There is simply no plan for what comes between voting against Obama and winning a more progressive America. No plan.
But in Stoller’s post, the following line jumped off the page: “If there had been an actual full-scale financial meltdown in 2008 without a bailout, while it would have been bad, it probably would have given us a fighting chance of warding off planetary catastrophe and reorganizing our politics.”
In other words, unless I’m mistaken, Stoller seemed to be fantasizing about a full-scale meltdown in 2008-2009 so that his faction of progressives could exploit the chaos to reshape the political landscape. Is this a fair interpretation?
If I’m right on this, it sounds like Tyler Durden style nihilism — not progressivism. To further prove my analysis, Stoller wrote: “The case against Obama is that the people themselves will be better citizens under a Romney administration, distrusting him and placing constraints on his behavior the way they won’t on Obama.” Stoller appears to be suggesting that letting Romney win will trigger such a disaster that citizens will work harder to achieve progressive goals. Even if his intention isn’t another meltdown, it’s astonishing that any progressive with a brain in his or her head would suggest a Romney presidency simply as a means of getting other progressives to stop supporting the president, whoever it might be.
Either way, his plan for political realignment requires a Romney victory and, along with it, the loss of healthcare for millions, the loss of the Supreme Court to right-wing ideologues for a generation and an almost certain invasion of Iran, which could potentially entangle China or possibly Russia — just so Stoller and his friends can somehow achieve progressive goals. Somehow. The heretofore unspoken “????” prong of the plan is for Romney to dismantle Obama’s achievements, be they center-left or not. But there’s no precedent for the success of a plan like this: a group of activists voting for an opposition party in order to precipitate a confluence of devastation that forces a total reshaping of the system. Somehow. And there’s no indication or strategy for getting from rock bottom to progressive leadership and a decimation of, presumably, the two party system.
There’s no plan in the Stoller/Turley/Cusack plan. There’s no (A) leading to (B) which leads to (C) which creates (D), etc. There’s no way, therefore, to assure supporters that their vote-against-Obama path will lead to more progressive politics in America. Precipitating a disaster in the hopes that it will create a positive realignment favoring progressivism is wishful thinking at best. It could just as easily precipitate a more conservative authoritarian realignment or worse.
Again, this isn’t a plan. If you’ve been persuaded by Stoller/Turley/Cusack et al, you’ve been suckered by a white, privileged, intellectual, role-playing exercise. A theoretical activist war game. There’s very little substance beyond their list of grievances (some of which have validity while others do not), and zero strategy beyond voting against Obama in the hopes Romney wins and then something, something, something. Progressivism!
Writers like Glenn Greenwald have attempted to soften the meaning of the following truism by making it appear quaint, but it’s absolutely the truth: A vote against President Obama is a vote for Mitt Romney.
In this month’s Rolling Stone, renowned historian Douglas Brinkley called President Obama “the Progressive Firewall,” standing as a guardian against the radical Republican assault upon the New Deal, the New Frontier and the Great Society. A vote against Obama is vote to dismantle that firewall. Whether you vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, it’s a tacit endorsement of at least four years of terrible policies authorized by a soulless corporate CEO puppeteered by the far-right — literally a member of the one-percent-of-the-one-percent who’s made a fortune with Mafia-style bust-outs and all of the malfeasance that caused the recession in the first place and real people will be irreparably harmed in the process. Millions will either lose their healthcare or they’ll be turned away from receiving it. Millions of women will become further subjugated by increasingly domineering and invasive laws dictating their human right to retain purview over their reproductive organs. The Republicans will carve away gigantic chunks of the social safety net. The economy will surely backslide into a double-dip recession for which only tax cuts for the wealthy will be prescribed by the Romney administration.
And we’re supposed to take Stoller seriously when he wrote that the middle class and income inequality are his primary reasons for voting against Obama? Unbelievable.
As I noted earlier, we’ll surely end up in another war in the Middle East, be it in Syria or Iran, and there’s a chance Romney will ignore the 2014 deadline for ending the war in Afghanistan. Drone strikes will be increased. Indefinite detention will continue. Guantanamo will remain open. Torture will be resumed. And you, if you’re a progressive who votes against the president, will have cast your vote in favor of all of it, even if that wasn’t your intention.
Liberals who vote against Obama are not unlike conservatives who cite Ayn Rand’s political acumen. Self-righteous and unserious. Claiming to be an activist without a deep understanding of how the political system functions, say nothing of the real-world human ramifications of elections, is just verbal masturbation — a protest without a realistic course of action. It’s a flailing, selfish act of high-minded personal absolution without any actual comprehension of the wide-reaching damage it risks. Take, for example, Stoller’s prior “aggressive” stance against voting for third party candidates like Ralph Nader. The 2000 election came down to 537 votes in Florida. If 97,488 Florida Democrats hadn’t voted for Nader with a similarly misappropriated enthusiasm as the anti-Obama progressives of today, enough of their votes would’ve gone to Al Gore to securely win the electoral votes there, and the history of the last 12 years would’ve been remarkably different.
The lesson of 2000 and, indeed, all democratic elections is this: your vote isn’t just about your personal whim or guilty conscience, it’s about millions of other citizens. Real-life people. If you can’t abide drones or the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, then use your vote to endorse providing Medicaid for millions upon millions of your fellow citizens who would otherwise lose it under a Romney presidency. Endorse the reversal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Endorse the passage of the Matthew Shepard hate crimes law or the expansion of SCHIP or the advancement of income parity for women. Endorse the ending of the war in Iraq. Endorse the ending of torture. Endorse the formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (it’s currently cracking down on debt collectors and credit rating agencies). Endorse the Keynesian policies that stopped the economy from collapsing into a Second Great Depression that Matt Stoller appears to have wanted. Vote to re-elect the president, and then, when and if he’s re-elected, and if you’re equally as inclined to become an activist as when you considered casting a protest vote, do the legwork to push the president on drones, civil liberties and all the rest of it. Form a PAC or a nonprofit and petition your president. As evidenced by his evolution on same-sex marriage, Barack Obama is eminently persuadable. Use smart accountability and push him.
One of the character traits which most liberals possess and too many modern conservatives lack is a sense of compromise and reason. I fear reason is being abandoned in pursuit of a destructive, misguided agenda marketed by fringe leftists with questionable motives and sketchy, incomplete plans. Millions upon millions of our fellow American citizens require that Mitt Romney not be allowed to ascend to the presidency. It’s as simple as that. The only reasonable solution is to prevent it from happening. It’s up to you.
By Ben Cohen: Romney campaign co-chairman John Sununu told CNN’s Piers Morgan on Thursday night that Colin Powell endorsed President Barack Obama not because of his policies, but because Obama was somebody of Powell’s ‘own race’.
Sununu served as the 75th Governor of New Hampshire and later White House Chief of Staff under President George H. W. Bush, and is now a top adviser in Romney’s Presidential campaign.
Here’s the exchange on CNN:
Sununu: Well, I’m not sure how important that is. I do like the fact that Colin Powell’s boss, George Herbert Walker Bush, has endorsed Mitt Romney all along. And frankly, when you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama.
Morgan: What reason would that be?
Sununu: Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.
The assertion, later retracted by Sununu, is incredibly offensive on several levels. Implying that Powell, a four star general who served under George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, is incapable of making a rational decision based on policies rather than skin color is simply wrong. Regardless of what you may think about Powell’s policies, he’s an extraordinarily capable man who fought for and served his country at the highest level for several decades. Powell is a moderate Republican who had serious reservations about the Iraq war and spent much of the time in the Bush White House trying to stop the Neo Cons enacting their disastrous plans.
Given Obama is a centrist himself (despite the loony accusations from the Right that he is a radical socialist), it’s no wonder Powell endorsed him as their outlook is decidedly similar. Here’s Powell on CBS news on why he is highly skeptical of Romney’s foreign policy vision:
“The governor who was saying things at the debate on Monday night … was saying things that were quite different from what he said earlier. I’m not quite sure which Gov. Romney we would be getting with respect to foreign policy.”
“One day he has a certain strong view about staying in Afghanistan but then on Monday night he agrees with the withdrawal, same thing in Iraq. On almost every issue that was discussed on Monday night, Governor Romney agreed with the President with some nuances. But this is quite a different set of foreign policy views than he had earlier in the campaign. And my concern … is that sometimes I don’t sense that he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have.”
And here’s Powell on Romney’s economic policies:
“As I listen to what his proposals are especially with respect to dealing with respect to our most significant issue, the economy, it’s essentially let’s cut taxes and compensate for that with other things but that compensation does not cover all of the cuts intended or the new expenses associated with defense.”
Powell outlined his support for Obama stating his belief that the President is on the right track when it comes to the economy:
“When he took over, the country was in very very difficult straits. We were in the one of the worst recessions we had seen in recent times, close to a depression. The fiscal system was collapsing. Wall Street was in chaos, we had 800,000 jobs lost in that first month of the Obama administration and unemployment peaked a few months later at 10 percent. So we were in real trouble. The auto industry was collapsing, the housing was start[ing] to collapse and we were in very difficult straits. And I saw over the next several years, stabilization come back in the financial community, housing is now starting to pick up after four years, it’s starting to pick up. Consumer confidence is rising.”
And on foreign policy, Powell said he saw the President “Get us of one war, start to get us out of a second war and did not get us into any new wars. And finally I think that the actions he has taken with respect to protecting us from terrorism have been very very solid. And so, I think we ought to keep on the track that we are on.”
In short, Powell doesn’t buy into the new Republican thinking that every country in the Middle East should be threatened or invaded, and doesn’t believe that the country’s fiscal problems can be solved by cutting taxes for rich people. Normally, this would be considered a fairly conservative and sensible stance, but in today’s political climate it is judged as being a racially motivated betrayal.
What would happen if the question were reversed and every prominent white Republican was asked whether they were voting for Romney based on his skin color? Would Sununu admit that his support of Romney had nothing to do with his policies, but his racial background? Sununu would be offended on many levels, as should Colin Powell be for the exact same accusation.
Sununu should step down over these comments given their insidious and offensive implications. He won’t of course, as this is standard fare for Republicans who think nothing of whipping up racial tension to drive out the vote for their candidate. Sununu believes that Colin Powell’s political stance is based on race, but in reality it’s Sununu’s accusation that tells you who sees politics in black and white.
The presidents of the United States who were elected 200 and 100 years ago both led the nation into war. Both did so despite earlier indications of personal hesitation and reservation in doing so.
The United States entered war with Britain during the final year of James Madison’s first term. The impetus for war came principally from congressional war hawks from the West and South such as Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun.
When Madison sent to Congress in June 1812 what became known as his war message, it did not explicitly ask for a declaration of war. Instead it only listed the maritime and other grievances that the nation had against the British. Congress did declare a war — “Mr. Madison’s war” — in which Madison would become the only U.S. president to be chased out of the White House by foreign troops.
A century later, as the European powers sank into the carnage of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson said to his aide Colonel House, “Madison and I are the only Princeton men that have become presidents. The circumstances of 1812 and now run parallel. I sincerely hope they will not go further.”
Wilson was elected to a second term in 1916 aided by the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” But only a few months later he asked for and received a congressional declaration of war. The United States was on the winning side of that war, but mismanagement of the aftermath set the stage for another ghastly European war two decades later.
Notwithstanding the many differences, there are some parallels between the circumstances of a century and two centuries ago and those of today. Let us sincerely hope the parallels will not go further.
Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)
(Originally posted at ConsortiumNews.com)
1) We’ve seen a lot of race-baiting and dog whistles this campaign cycle. Do you think Sarah Palin’s use of the phrase “shuckin’ and jivin’” was deliberately in that vein or should we give her the benefit of the doubt?
Ben: In all honesty, I don’t think Sarah Palin is culturally aware enough to understand the connotations associated with the saying. There aren’t exactly a lot of African Americans in Wasilla so I’m guessing Palin saw the phrase on TV and thought it sounded cool. I don’t believe Palin is racist (unlike many other members of her party), I think she’s just ignorant and not particularly bright so I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt here.
Chez: How could you, Frederic? How dare you even think for a moment that Palin’s “shuckin’ and jivin’” comment was anything but an innocent play on words, in no way meant to throw red meat to the racist, xenophobic yokels who worship her like a naughty librarian Jesus and who, when they all get together and know nobody’s watching, tell and laugh heartily at jokes that end with the punchline, “Throw ‘em a basketball.” How could you possibly think that the use of a traditionally derogatory term long associated with black culture would be intended to stoke the already firmly held prejudices of those who detest Barack Obama, who continue to claim he’s illegitimate, and who do so largely because he’s black and multi-cultural? Shame on you for even going there. YOU’RE obviously the racist. … No really — are you fucking kidding? Was Sarah Palin going for the race-bait? Does Willow give blow jobs in the woods?
Bob: Racism isn’t always overt and deliberate. Too many white people engage in it as a matter of subconscious or learned behavior. I doubt she understood what she was saying, but something deep in her walnut brain associated “jiving” with black people. Then again, I don’t think she writes her Facebook and Twitter posts and, instead, has a staffer handle it. In that case, the staffer posted something in her name and with her approval that might’ve been deliberately racial.
2) Mitt Romney is now being accused of lying about the value of Staples’ stock to help out the founder of the company and screw over the wife who was divorcing him. Do you think this is the kind of October Surprise that can actually hurt Romney or will no one really care at this stage?
Bob: Unless it reaches critical mass in the mainstream press, it’ll just be another fringe meme. If his associations with Bain Capital, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and a cabal of ex-Bush neocons haven’t crashed his presidential odds, then some sort of vague perjury charge will barely make a dent. There’s not enough time for something like this to fester.
Ben: Romney lying? Never! I’ve done some reading about this and I think that from a technical point of view, it’s unclear whether Romney undervalued Staple’s stock to help his friend out. My guess, given his track record of deceit over the years, is that it’s quite likely he did. Romney has lied about literally everything he’s done in his life, from how much he is worth (see here), to his views on abortion (Romney was pro choice until he decided to run for President). I spoke with William Cohan of the Washington Post about Romney’s money for the follow up piece we did on his hidden fortune (here), and Cohan, who had spent 17 years on Wall St told me that Bain’s reputation was extremely sketchy while Romney was there. They were notorious for their dishonesty and greed under Romney’s leadership, so I think it highly likely incestuous favors were pretty common.
Chez: When I first heard about this thing I dismissed it almost entirely because it was being presented to the public by Gloria Allred, one of the most loathsome, unscrupulous opportunists the legal profession has ever crapped out into a big steaming pile onto the pop culture landscape. Needless to say, her melodramatic and entirely self-serving claims of perjury against Romney have yet to be proven, but it actually does look like Romney, when he was at Bain, purposely undervalued the stock at Staples in an effort to protect the fortune of Staples founder and fellow master of the universe Tom Stemberg. Documents made public in Massachusetts yesterday show that Romney basically created a special share of stock that was valued at a low price, all to make sure Stemberg’s wife couldn’t get what she would’ve been legally entitled to. It’s a little complicated and therefore I’m not sure it’ll really have much of an impact on most voters; at this stage of the race it would take a sex scandal or finding out that Romney still owned slaves or something — which is entirely possible — to really get traction and fuck Romney royally (see what I did there?). Still, if the media pick up on this and run with it at all, it might be a thorn in Romney’s side since it a) has the potential to damage him with women, and b) furthers the image of Romney as a soulless corporate baron who believes that he and his kind don’t have to play by the rules and can game the system to their benefit whenever they feel like it.
3) Why does anyone still pay any attention to Donald Trump?
Bob: We’re suckers for a freak show.
Ben: People pay attention to Donald Trump because he has lots of money, and that’s wrongly equated with talent and intelligence in America. I mean, Paris Hilton was once the most famous woman in the country, and the only thing she contributed to society was an assortment of sexually transmitted diseases.
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Ohio remains one of the most critical states in the election. Along with Wisconsin, Nevada and Iowa, where the model estimates Obama leading by 2 to 3 percentage points, these states would get Obama to 277 electoral votes, just over the 270 needed to win.
It’s worth remembering that each campaign’s ground game makes the real difference on the actual day – the party with the best ability to get the vote out. Notes Molly Ball in the Atlantic:
Four years ago, Barack Obama built the largest grassroots organization in the history of American politics. After the election, he never stopped building, and the current operation, six years in the making, makes 2008 look like “amateur ball,” in the words of Obama’s national field director Jeremy Bird. Republicans insist they, too, have come a long way in the last four years. But despite the GOP’s spin to the contrary, there’s little reason to believe Mitt Romney commands anything comparable to Obama’s ground operation.
Ball’s article is worth reading in full as it outlines the cultural differences between the two campaigns – and she doesn’t paint a favorable picture of the Romney operation. She writes:
These basic characteristics were repeated in all the offices I visited: The Obama offices were devoted almost entirely to the president’s reelection; the Republican offices were devoted almost entirely to local candidates, with little presence for Romney. In Greenwood Village, Colorado, I walked in past a handwritten sign reading “WE ARE OUT OF ROMNEY YARD SIGNS,” then had a nice chat with a staffer for Rep. Mike Coffman. In Canton, Ohio, the small GOP storefront was dominated by “Win With Jim!” signs for Rep. Jim Renacci. Obama’s nearest offices in both places were all Obama.
So yes, the polls show a close race, but don’t be surprised if the numbers on the day show something completely different. Voter enthusiasm is absolutely vital to getting a candidate elected, and while people may tell pollsters they like Romney more than Obama, actually getting them off the couch and out to vote is an entirely different game, and one the Republicans haven’t been great at playing.
By Robert Parry: Mitt Romney’s peculiar sense of geography – thinking Iran was some landlocked country that needed Syria as a “route to the sea” – may have raised some eyebrows over Romney’s lack of basic knowledge, but another part of the same answer, referring to the civil war in Syria as “an opportunity,” should have raised more alarm.
Though Romney’s goal in Monday’s foreign policy debate was to downplay his warlike neoconservative stands, his reference to the Syrian chaos as “an opportunity” suggests that his more moderate rhetoric is just another ploy to deceive voters and win the election, not a real abandonment of neocon strategies.
In that sense, the new “moderate Mitt” is less a sign of a neocon retreat from his earlier bellicosity than a Trojan Horse to be wheeled onto the White House grounds on Jan. 20, 2013, so the neocons can pour forth from its hollowed-out belly and regain full control of U.S. foreign policy.
So, the neocons don’t really mind that Romney has suddenly abandoned many of their cherished positions, such as extending the Afghan War beyond 2014 and returning U.S. troops to Iraq. The neocons understand the political need for Romney to calm independent voters who fear that he may be another George W. Bush.
In Monday’s debate, Romney said, “Syria’s an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally Israel. And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a — a replacement government being responsible people is critical for us.”
The “route to the sea” comment – with its faint echo of a distant time in geopolitics – represented proof that Romney lacks even a rudimentary knowledge of world geography, since much of Iran’s southern territory fronts on the Persian Gulf and Iran could only reach Syria by transiting Iraq. Syria and Iran have no common border.
But more significantly, Romney was revealing the crucial connection between the neocon desire for “regime change” in Syria and the neocon determination to strangle Israel’s close-in enemies, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Romney’s demand for a new Syrian government of “responsible people” further suggests that the Republican presidential nominee shares the core neocon fantasy that the United States can simply remove one unsavory Middle East dictator and install a pro-Western, Israel-friendly leader who will then shut off aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
That was the central fallacy in the Iraq War, the notion that United States with its unparalleled military might could shift the Mideast’s political dynamics to Israel’s advantage through coercive “regime change.” In Iraq, the U.S. military eliminated Saddam Hussein but then saw a new Iraqi government ally itself with Iran.
The new Iraq may be less of a military threat, but it has not reached out and embraced Israel as some neocons had hoped. Indeed, by removing Hussein’s Sunni-controlled regime – and ending up with a Shiite-dominated one – Bush’s Iraq War essentially eliminated a major bulwark against the regional influence of Iran’s Shiite regime.
Dream Still Alive
Yet, despite the bloody and costly catastrophe in Iraq, the heart of the neocon dream is still beating – and Romney’s comment indicates that he shares its illusions. Dating back at least to the mid-1990s, the neocon idea has been to use violent or coercive “regime change” in Muslim countries to secure Israel’s security.
The neocons’ first target may have been Iraq, but that was never the endgame. The strategy was to make Iraq into a military base for then removing the governments of Iran and Syria. Back in the heady days of 2002-2003, a neocon joke posed the question of what to do after ousting Saddam Hussein in Iraq – whether to next go east to Iran or west to Syria. The punch-line was: “Real men go to Tehran.”
According to the neocon grand plan, once pro-Israeli governments were established in Iran, Iraq and Syria, Israel’s hostile neighbors, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, would lose their benefactors and shrivel up, without money or weapons. Then, Israel could dictate its terms for peace and security.
This neocon strategy emerged after the lopsided U.S. victory in Kuwait, in which President George H.W. Bush demonstrated the leaps-and-bounds advantage of the high-tech U.S. military over the Iraqi army whose soldiers were literally blown to bits by U.S. missiles and “smart bombs” while American casualties were kept to a minimum.
After that 1991 victory, it became conventional wisdom in Washington that no army on earth could withstand the sophisticated killing power of the U.S. military. That belief – combined with frustration over Israel’s stalemated conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah – led American neocons to begin thinking about a new approach, “regime change” across the Middle East.
The early outlines of this aggressive concept for remaking the Middle East emerged in 1996 when a group of neocons, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, went to work for Israel’s Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu during his campaign for prime minister.
The neocon strategy paper, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” advanced the idea that only regime change in hostile Muslim countries could achieve the necessary “clean break” from the diplomatic standoffs that had followed inconclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Under the “clean break,” Israel would no longer seek peace through mutual understanding and compromise, but rather through confrontation, including the violent removal of leaders such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein who were supportive of Israel’s close-in enemies.
The plan called Hussein’s ouster “an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right,” but also one that would destabilize the Assad dynasty in Syria and thus topple the power dominoes into Lebanon, where Hezbollah might soon find itself without its key Syrian ally. Iran also could find itself in the cross-hairs of “regime change.”
But what the “clean break” needed was the military might of the United States, since some of the targets like Iraq were too far away and too powerful to be defeated even by Israel’s highly efficient military. The cost in Israeli lives and to Israel’s economy from such overreach would have been staggering.
In 1998, the U.S. neocon brain trust pushed the “clean break” plan another step forward with the creation of the Project for the New American Century, which urged President Bill Clinton to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
However, Clinton would only go so far, maintaining a harsh embargo on Iraq and enforcing a “no-fly zone” which involved U.S. aircraft conducting periodic bombing raids. Still, with Clinton or his heir apparent, Al Gore, in the White House, a full-scale invasion of Iraq appeared out of the question.
The first key political obstacle was removed when the neocons helped engineer George W. Bush’s ascension to the presidency in Election 2000. However, the path was not fully cleared until al-Qaeda terrorists attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, leaving behind a political climate across America for war and revenge.
Of course, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 had other motives besides Israeli security – from Bush’s personal animus toward Saddam Hussein to controlling Iraq’s oil resources – but a principal goal of the neocons was the projection of American power deep into the Muslim world, to strike at enemy states beyond Israel’s military reach.
In those days of imperial hubris, the capabilities of the U.S. military were viewed as strategic game-changers. However, the Iraqi resistance to the U.S. conquest, relying on low-tech weapons such as “improvised explosive devices,” dashed the neocon dream – at least in the short run. The “real men” had to postpone their trips to Tehran and Damascus.
But the dream hasn’t died. It just had to wait out four years of Barack Obama. In Campaign 2012, the neocons have returned to surround Mitt Romney, who like George W. Bush a decade ago has only a vague understanding of the world and is more than happy to cede the direction of U.S. foreign policy to the smart, confident and well-connected neocons.
The neocons also understand the need to manipulate the American people. In the 1980s, when I was covering Ronald Reagan’s Central American policies, I dealt with the neocons often and came to view them as expert manipulators whose view of democracy was that it was okay to trick the common folk into doing what was deemed necessary.
So, the neocons learned to exaggerate dangers and exploit fears. They tested their skills out in Central America with warnings about how peasant rebellions against corrupt oligarchs were part of some grand Soviet scheme to conquer the United States through the soft underbelly of Texas.
When the neocons returned to power under George W. Bush, they applied the same techniques in hyping the threat from Iraq. They pushed baseless claims about Saddam Hussein sharing non-existent weapons of mass destruction with al-Qaeda, all the better to scare the American people.
The neocons faced some painful reversals when the Iraq War foundered from late 2003 through 2006, but they salvaged some status in 2007 by pushing the fiction of the “successful surge,” which supposedly turned impending defeat into victory, although the truth was that the “surge” only delayed the inevitable failure of the U.S. enterprise.
After Bush’s departure in 2009 and the arrival of Obama, the neocons retreated, too, to Washington think tanks and the editorial pages of national news outlets. However, they continued to influence the perception of events in the Middle East, shifting the blame for the Iraq defeat – as much as possible – onto Obama.
New developments in the region also created what the neocons viewed as new openings. For instance, the Arab Spring of 2011 led to civil unrest in Syria where the Assad dynasty – based in non-Sunni religious sects – was challenged by a Sunni-led insurgency which included some democratic reformers as well as some radical jihadists.
Meanwhile, in Iran, international resistance to its nuclear program prompted harsh economic sanctions which have undermined the Islamic rule of the Shiite mullahs. Though President Obama views the sanctions as leverage to compel Iran to accept limits on its nuclear program, some neocons are already salivating over how to hijack the sanctions on behalf of “regime change.”
At this pivotal moment, what the neocons need desperately is to maneuver their way back into the White House behind Mitt Romney’s election. And, if that requires Romney to suddenly soften his hard-line neocon rhetoric for the next two weeks, that is a small price to pay.
Which brings us back to Monday’s foreign policy debate in which Romney abandoned what had been his supposedly principled stands, such as denouncing Obama’s schedule to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Though Romney had called that a major mistake – telling the Taliban when the Americans were departing – he embraced the same timetable. The voters could breathe a sigh of relief over “Moderate Mitt.”
However, in Romney’s comment about Syria, he showed his real intent, the neocon desire to exploit the conflict in Syria to replace Bashar al-Assad with a new leader who would accommodate Israel and shut down assistance going to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. It was in that context that Romney termed the Syrian violence, which has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, an “opportunity.”
But the real opportunity for the neocons would come if the American voters, satisfied that Romney no longer appears to be the crazy war hawk of the Republican primaries, elect him on Nov. 6 and then celebrate his arrival next Jan. 20 by pushing a crude wooden horse through the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
(Originally posted at ConsortiumNews.com)