Posted on 07-11-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

We won’t have Mitt Romney to kick around for much longer.  However, just released back story for Romney’s Benghazi blunder shows just how much Romney was in thrall to the neo-con elements of his base.  When the American consulates in Cairo and Benghazi came under attack on September 11, Mitt Romney jumped the gun to score cheap political points while the consulates were still under attack.  The Washington Post notes  that Mitt Romney was aware the next day he had blundered.  However, fear of the neo-cons being outraged prevented him from admitting his boneheaded mistake.

Within hours, on the advice of his messaging shop and with the blessing of his foreign policy advisers, Romney approved a statement that accused Obama of sympathizing with anti-American interests in the Muslim world. It was sent out shortly after 10 p.m.

By sunrise the next day, it was clear to Romney that they had acted too quickly. The campaign learned that four Americans had been killed in an attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Even to some Republicans, Romney’s hasty statement looked insensitive.

“We screwed up, guys,” Romney told aides on a conference call that morning, according to multiple people on the call. “This is not good.”

His advisers told him that, if he took back his statement, the neoconservative wing of the party would “take his head off.” He stood by it during an appearance in Florida.

A gutless weasel who cannot stand up to the extremists of his own party has no business being President.  We are lucky to have avoided a Romney presidency.

 

 

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Posted on 25-03-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

The neo-cons, theo-cons and other clowns who helped generate the Iraq fiasco are back with a vengeance.  This time the target has shifted east to a country with five times the population.  The world will be a better place without Iran’s loathsome regime.  It dispensed with its veneer of popular support and democracy by rigging the presidential election three years ago.  It has cheerfully backed entities such as Hezbollah.  And the nuclear program is a cause for concern and could start a nuclear domino effect in an unstable neighborhood.

Yet the clamor for war is profoundly misguided.  Iran is a third rate military power with a crumbling economy.  The recent round of sanctions have all but brought its economy to its knees and almost made it impossible for Iran to conduct foreign exchange transactions.  Iran’s mullahs may speak in apocalyptic terms but have never displayed suicidal instincts.  Ayatollah Khomeini wrote an open letter in 1986 to the present Supreme Leader (who was at the time the president of the Islamic Republic) asserting that if the survival of the Islamic regime was at stake, even the basic tenets of the religion could be shut down to protect the Islamic system from destruction.  Like tyrants everywhere the ayatollahs have a fine sense of self-preservation.

Almost no military expert has asserted that a surgical strike like Israel’s 1981 attack on the Osirak reactor in Iraq and its 2007 attack on a Syrian nuclear project would stop Iran’s nuclear program.  The distances are too great, the sites are too spread out (and many are buried deep underground beyond the reach of Israeli bombs) and Israel may not have the military capacity to pull off such an assault.  The result of such a strike would probably simply delay the Iranian march to the bomb (a popular policy goal that has been an Iranian dream since the reign of the last Shah) and convince the regime that only a nuclear device will protect it from future assaults (a lesson that the North Koreans appear to have taken from Saddam Hussein’s demise).  Eliminating the current nuclear program would probably require a sustained bombing campaign (which would require American help), lead to far greater civilian casualties and further rile anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.  And then there is the added economic shock of spiking oil prices and Iran unleashing its proxies in the region.

Finally the American army needs a break.  The United States army was trained to fight the Red Army tank divisions in the plains of Central Europe.  Yet for the last decade it has been fighting two draining counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Even the best trained army in the world can only take so much.  It is a factor that must be considered before the chickenhawks send the army into yet another poorly thought out war.

There has been a tendency in the past decade to compare every nasty regime to Hitler.  Hitler ruled the most populous and industrialized state in Europe whose industrial regions (unlike France) had not been damaged by World War I.  He had an extremely well trained army and the industrial complex to support rearmament and conquest.  Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad and the Iranian mullahs do not come close to measuring up.  The Iranian army has never recovered from the purges after the fall of the Shah.  Iran’s domestic politics force the regime to shower goodies on the revolutionary guard at the expense of the army at large.  Barring the rally around the flag effect from a foreign attack, Iran’s youth despises its regime.  With much of the world rallied around the United States in enforcing sanctions against Iran, a war makes no sense at this time.

The loudest cheerleader for war has been Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu – over the advice of many of his own military advisers.  This blogger’s inner cynic notes that banging the war drums has allowed Netanyahu to avoid tough decisions on illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank that is slowly strangling what remains of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  At present the Iranian regime is on its knees, the Syrian regime is struggling to survive, Hezbollah’s enthusiastic embrace of Assad is destroying its domestic support base and Hamas appears to have lost its Syrian support.  A far sighted statesman would seize the favorable strategic environment to finalize a deal with the Palestinians (who do need to come to terms with the fact that the right of return is simply not happening).  But then other than his enablers in the United States and the irredentist wing in Israel, nobody has accused Mr. Netanyahu of visionary statesmanship.

Barack Obama has held off the war cries for the last three years.  Here’s hoping he holds strong in the face of a media campaign from people whose credibility should have been shot after Iraq.

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Posted on 14-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The maxim above is one that the American devotees of torture often forget.  This article by Glenn Greenwald is worth reading because it captures right wing hypocrisy on torture and prisoner conditions when Americans or co-religionists are involved.  Greenwald’s column was triggered by recent hand-wringing from usual torture supporters at the plight of the American Baptists arrested in Haiti for smuggling children out of Haiti.  It also gave him the opportunity to revisit this article from 2006 where Michelle Malkin fretted about the quality of legal protections awarded to alleged (Christian) terrorists in Indonesia.

This double standard was of course predictable.  The uniformed military many former officers (including then Secretary of State Colin Powell and Arizona Senator John McCain) and many JAG officers (including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a former JAG officer) opposed the Bush administration’s eagerness to torture (somehow magically transformed by calling it enhanced interrogation) for exactly such reasons.  Once America tortures it does not have much standing to grouse about similar treatment to its own citizens and soldiers.  When America uses fear to toss away the rule of law and the right to a fair trial it is much harder to claim such rights for its citizens, let alone sermonize about the denial of rights to others.

What the torture loving elements of the right also fail to appreciate is that when America eschews torture, it can actually enhance security.  While Republicans have been up in arms lately that the Obama administration did not torture the underpants bomber, they ignore the point raised by Fareed Zakaria in his recent column.  See link.  The underpants bomber and the five American Muslims arrested in Pakistan when they went for jihad training were turned in by their parents.  Zakaria is right to observe that this would not happen if the parents felt that he would be tortured, and while the example of Chechen parents not turning their kids in to Putin’s thugs is a bit extreme it is on point.

So basically the American security hawks want the right to torture or deny trial to terrorist suspects (my guess is that given how the right reacted to the FBI raid at Ruby Ridge in the 1990s we are talking about Muslim suspects here) in the interest of national security, but such deviations from the rule of law are not permitted elsewhere (particularly against Christian suspects).  It is hypocrisy at its rankest.

One of my complaints about the American legal response to 9/11 was the failure to evaluate how other countries handled similar (and often far more severe and pervasive) terrorism threats and the failure to set up mechanisms to limit the inevitable abuse of power from draconian anti-terror statutes.  It was also unfortunately not the first time in American history fear became a mechanism to subvert the rule of law and American values.

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Posted on 09-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

More unrest on Iran’s streets and campuses.  See here, here, and here.  As the protests have dragged on they have become more brazen in insulting the Supreme Leader Khamenei.  The desperate regime has started targeting the protesters globally, arresting mothers mourning their children killed in the protests, and lately assaulting presidential candidate Mousavi and his wife.  And even in the face of the batons of the Basij and the guns of the revolutionary guard the brave students of Iran continue to march and protest.  The hope for Iran is that as the protests continue and the support base of the regime weakens the men with guns start to waver, and messers Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and their bomb first ask questions later enablers in the United States do not do something stupid to prop up an intellectually bankrupt regime.

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Posted on 08-11-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

David Ignatius on the Iranian regime’s need to keep America as the Great Satan to survive.  This is also why Barack Obama who is not as easily caricatured and demonized is an existential risk to the regime.  It also reflects the fundamental bankruptcy of the Iranian regime that at present can muster broader support by rallying people around the flag against a real or mythical enemy (Think Wag the Dog or Canadian Bacon).  Another reason why military strikes would be just the medicine the mullahs ordered.

Iran is hardly unique in this.  Ever since the creation of Bangladesh, the strongest glue holding Pakistan together (and used by its army to justify its expenditures) is reflexive anti-India sentiment.  In the United States the military-industrial complex has desperately searched for a new conventional threat to justify America’s obscene military spending, from talking up the Chinese military threat in the mid 1990s, to exaggerating the threat posed by the ramshackle militaries of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and now Iran.  Sadly the tactic works all too often.

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Posted on 02-11-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Yglesias links a post about a surprised neo-con who discovers that the Iranian reformers are patriots not American puppets in the making.  For all the blather directed at President Obama’s alleged naiveté, it is still surprising (even after the debacle in Iraq where they thought that they would magically convert Iraq into a pro-Israel country full of American military bases that spurned OPEC to give the United States cheap oil) that they cannot grasp that the interests and desires of other countries do not neatly align with American wishes.

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Posted on 29-10-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

An update on a previous post regarding the Republican civil war in upstate NY.  Buoyed by celebrity support Doug Hoffman is now surging and the official Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava is fading rapidly.  It is now a battle between the right wing conservative and the Democrat.  A Hoffman victory will cheer the Republican base but offers little comfort to moderates like Mark Kirk in Illinois who must not tack hard right in their primary and face a loss in the general election in their centrist states.

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Posted on 28-10-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

A by-election in an upstate New York congressional seat has set off a furious battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.  Aided by New York’s unusual political setting the race for NY-23 could hint at the continuing irrelevance of the Republican Party or suggest that appealing to the core could lead to political revival.  It started when President Obama appointed the long serving congressman of NY-23 as Secretary of the Army.  The local party nominated Dede Scozzafava to replace him on the ballot.  However, her views on taxes, abortion, and same-sex marriage infuriated the true-believers.  The Republican candidates in New York generally also run on the New York Conservative Party ballot with the votes from each party line added to the candidates total.  A different Conservative Party nominee can take away votes from the Republican.

The Conservatives responded by nominating the markedly more right wing Douglas L. Hoffman whose candidacy has eagerly been embraced by luminaries on the right wing fringe like Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Dick Armey  and Sarah Palin.  This has triggered a full scale mutiny from the base.  Even though the Republicans have held this district since the 1800s, Barack Obama carried it last fall.  Ergo its a classic swing district that could go Democratic depending on the candidate.  Pointing out that the Republican party with its current 20% identification needs to expand its reach has earned even former Speaker Newt Gingrich the derisive appellation R.I.N.O. (Republican In Name Only).  Even though the Club For Growth has dutifully trotted out a poll showing Mr. Hoffman leading, its methodology has been questioned.  At this point the likely result is an unexpected victory for Democrat Bill Owens.

While the Republicans are likely to eat their own in the near future they must ponder if they wish to remain a regional party of white Southerners.  Gingrich is right.  To win a majority you have to appeal beyond your base.  At present the Republican Party is non-existent in New England, fading in the Midwest and struggling in the Southwest after alienating the Hispanic vote.  The Democratic takeover of the House was aided by choosing conservative Democrats in conservative districts (like Heath Shuler in North Carolina) or Senate seats (like Evan Bayh in Indiana).  Ideological purity becomes viable in a state or district aligned to the cause.  Which is why Joe Lieberman who would have probably been fine in Nebraska was given the boot by exasperated Connecticut Democrats (and won largely on Republican votes).  Sticking a hard right conservative in a moderate district appears to be a recipe for long term failure.  The right wing better keep its fingers crossed that Mr. Hoffman does not come in third as most polls indicate.

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Posted on 17-10-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As noted before the neo-cons have been urging military action against Iran.  The fact that a ground invasion is impractical without a neighboring country willing to allow the United States to use it as a staging area, the exhausted United States army has no troops for an invasion and subsequent occupation, allowing Israel to bomb the Iranian nuclear sites is unlikely to have much practical effect and any bombing campaign would force the Iranian public that hates the regime to rally around the flag are mere technicalities to be dismissed in their fantasy world.

Now the man George W. Bush insisted on appointing as ambassador to the United Nations has revealed that there is no limit to his bombing fetish.  Earlier this week Bolton raised the possibility that the only solution may be for Israel to preemptively nuke Iran.

By all accounts Iran is still some distance from actually getting the Bomb.  Even if it gets the ability it is unclear whether Iran wants the expense of keeping an active arsenal or getting a quick trigger ability like Japan.  Even if Iran did get the Bomb it is not a given that a nuclear strike on Israel will follow.  Regardless of the focus on the theocratic aspects of the regime and the rewards in the afterlife, the Iranian regime has displayed time and again that its primary motive is survival.  Israel’s second strike ability and Washington’s nuclear shield guarantees the annihilation of Iran should it strike with nuclear weapons.

Even Saddam Hussein in 1991 held back from using chemical weapons in his Scud strikes against Israel, knowing that the result would be annihilation.  An Israeli nuclear strike against a nation without nuclear weapons would be sheer insanity.  I agree with Daniel Luban, that this rhetorical escalation is intended to shift the contours of the debate further to the right.  But the lack of rational boundaries for Bolton’s warmongering raises the question why exactly George W. Bush thought this man could be a diplomat.

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