A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Category: Foreign Policy

We Told You So, Axis of Evil Edition

by evanmcmurry

Barkeep, two fingers of JW Blue, and put it on Bush’s tab:

George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” line may have destroyed nascent cooperation between the U.S. and Iran. Filkins writes that the two sides were cooperating after the initial stages of the Iraq war, but, “The good will didn’t last. In January, 2002, [Ambassador Ryan] Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an ‘Axis of Evil.’ Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. ‘You completely damaged me,’ Crocker recalled him saying. ‘Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised.”

The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reëvaluation of the United States, saying, “Maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Americans.’ The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive. Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. ‘We were just that close,” he said. “One word in one speech changed history.”


David Axelrod: United States in “Fetal Position” if it Does not Strike Assad

by bisonmessink

According to Barack Obama’s former campaign manger David Axelrod, the United States is in a “fetal position” if it doesn’t use military force against Syria in response to Bashar Al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians.

Axelrod now works for NBC as a political analyst, but is still using heavy rhetoric to back his old boss. Appearing on David Gregory’s round table segment on Meet the Press Sunday morning, Axelrod argued that action against Assad is necessary to preserve American credibility, and to stop Assad and other enemies from using weapons of mass destruction against America and its allies.

“There’s no doubt that (Assad’s forces) are fighting side-by-side with Hezebohlah, they could certainly use (chemical weapons) against Israel, they can be proliferated from there,” Axelrod said. “And (inaction) gives the signal to everyone else, every bad actor on the planet, that the United States, the world community, is in a fetal position, and you can do whatever you want.”

To hear Axelrod speak, one would think that America had already been attacked, and that not responding would mean cowering in the face of direct aggression. The reality, however, is that Assad – as terrible a ruler as he may be – hasn’t threatened the United States. It is only President Obama’s tough talk on red lines that Axelrod is seeking to defend, and America is not at risk of appearing weak and spineless as a nation if it does not strike Assad.

cc: David Brooks

by evanmcmurry

Those who believe “Islamists” lack “the mental equipment to govern” perhaps didn’t consider any evidence to the contrary, maybe?

The obvious — and crucial — question is: What’s the difference? Why has democratic constitutionalism worked relatively well in one North African Arab country while it has crashed and burned in another? And what will the answer tell us about the future of democracy in the Arabic-speaking world, from Libya to Syria and beyond?

You might think the answer has something to do with Islam. But remarkably enough, it doesn’t. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the first democratic elections produced significant pluralities favoring Islamic democratic parties. Ennahda, the Islamist movement whose political party won in Tunisia, is ideologically similar to the Muslim Brotherhood, and is a kind of associate of the Brotherhood’s loosely affiliated internationale. Both parties believe in combining Islamic values with democratic practice. Both accept a political role for women and equal citizenship for non-Muslims, even if in practice they are both socially conservative and seek the gradual, voluntary Islamization of society.

The contrasting personalities and styles of their leaders, however, have pushed Ennahda and the Brotherhood to behave differently when negotiating religion with secularists in their respective countries.Rachid Ghannouchi, the spiritual leader of the Tunisian Islamists, has emerged as the closest thing to an Islamic Nelson Mandela. During his decades in exile, Ghannouchi wrote extensively about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and developed a relatively liberal vision of how Islam and the state should interact.

Skeptics then claimed that Ghannouchi’s views were a cover for a more radical agenda; and some Tunisian secularists still think so. But the evidence thus far is sharply to the contrary. When Islamists called for inserting a reference to Shariah into the Tunisian constitution — usually the sine qua non for any Islamic political party — Ghannouchi took seriously the opposition from secularists. In a dramatic showdown with members of his own party’s leadership, he reportedly threatened to resign unless they dropped the measure.

This may have been the turning point in Tunisia’s constitutional process. Ghannouchi’s position is straightforward: He wants Tunisians to adopt Islamic values, but piety means nothing if imposed by coercion. Islam, he believes, will succeed in persuading people to adopt its truths more effectively if they don’t have its teachings shoved down their throats.

Or Muslims are genetically incapable of democracy. Either way.

The War on Terror Won’t Be The Cold War With That Attitude

by evanmcmurry

Fans of perpetual war are reacting to Obama’s attempt last week to shut down their favorite reality show in the same way Bieberites react when he loses an award: a wee bit of a tantrum. Lead wail: the idea that Obama is prematurely ending the War on Terror after twelve years because the Cold War lasted forty-five. Chris Wallace said that to Dick Durbin on Fox News last Sunday, and enemy-of-gravity Charles Krauthammer lobbed the same ball today:

Obama says enough is enough. He doesn’t want us on “a perpetual wartime footing.” Well, the Cold War lasted 45 years. The war on terror, 12 so far. By Obama’s calculus, we should have declared the Cold War over in 1958 and left Western Europe, our Pacific allies, the entire free world to fend for itself – and consigned Eastern Europe to endless darkness.

You could devote an entire Tumblr to what’s wrong with the above. Are the Cold War and the War on Terror analogical situations? How? Isn’t the problem with the War on Terror, we keep being told, that it’s so unlike other wars? And doesn’t this assume that there’s a predetermined “proper” length of war? Wasn’t the Cold War considered abnormally, even obscenely long, and wasn’t that one the main arguments against it? By this logic, shouldn’t we have stayed in Vietnam another three-or-so decades? And so on, and on.

The Aestheticizing of War

by evanmcmurry

This is a sharp sub-point, in a longer article* against American intervention in Syria that might accurately be retitled “Bill Keller is a Stupidhead”:

One of the tricks of persuasion of the liberal section of the war party, from Iraq through Libya to Syria, has been to aestheticize war. The Iraqi advisers of the Bush administration—Ahmed Chalabi, Kanan Makiya, and others—frequently said that American forces occupying Iraq would be “greeted with sweets and flowers.” The optimism of Bill Keller departs from that pattern to some degree, and offers elevating comparisons to dance and music: “All of this [program of military intervention] must be carefully choreographed and accompanied by a symphony of diplomacy.”

[snip] The same article quotes Anne-Marie Slaughter without mentioning her close association with Hillary Clinton and the strong position she took in pressing Obama to execute “regime change” in Libya. Slaughter treated Filkins to the inverted aestheticism typical of much war propaganda when she imagined a result of a Syrian chemical attack: “Syrian civilians rolling on the ground, foaming at the mouth, dying by the thousands while the United States stands by.”

“Symphony of diplomacy” is inspired. If you didn’t already know this guy was Thomas Friedman’s editor, you could guess it blindfolded.

* Thanks to the strange tactic of print publications putting material on their websites in advance of the actual print edition, this article claims to have  been written on June 20, 2013, or three-and-change weeks from now. Alas, it’s not from the future.

The Phenomenology of #BENGHAZI

by evanmcmurry

Pareene has good thoughts on why #BENGHAZI—the rabid conservative conglomeration of theories surrounding a series of events last September, not the city or attack it refers to—has reached the level it has, and why it won’t go much further. I’ll add two thoughts:

1. The GOP has figured out a way to deny the foreign policy bona fides Obama earned—swiped, in the Republican reading—by killing Osama bin Laden. The irrefutability of that accomplishment made 2012 very difficult for Republicans, as they just could not plausibly argue that Obama was making the world more dangerous/leaving us vulnerable to terrorism/etc. when he’d gotten the architect of 9/11 after Bush hadn’t. The right tried all manner of misdirection—accusing Obama of hogging the SEAL’s spotlight, for instance—but nothing worked. At the end of the day, Biden could, and did, say, “GE GM is alive and bin Laden is dead,” and the GOP could do nothing but stammer.

Not anymore. The GOP has convinced itself that Obama has four dead American diplomats’ blood on his hands, deaths he callously caused and cavalierly covered up. Obama is now the vain, America-hating evil mastermind the right has always known him to be. Expect any mention of the death of bin Laden to be followed by the wailing of “Benghazi” by any right winger in spitting distance. It neutralizes, at least to the FOX News audience, the killing of bin Laden, something the right has been trying to do since about two hours after the announcement of his death.

2. Nothing in any of this actually implicates Hillary Clinton in any wrongdoing, but there were clearly some failures of communication and security surrounding the consulate in Benghazi, and she’s within their radius. If Clinton runs in 2016, expect a Daily Caller or Breitbart Jr. scribe at every campaign stop asking some arcane question about some obscure #BENGHAZI detail, and expect her answers to be parsed to death in the rightwing blogosphere. Anything Clinton says on the trail that doesn’t match 100% with what she said now—or anybody’s interpretation of what she said now—will be evidence of a coverup.

Clinton is incredibly popular right now. The aura of #BENGHAZI is the first tool that right has found to chip away at the popularity. Unfortunately for the rest of us, this means that if Clinton runs, this is hardly the last we’ve heard of #BENGHAZI.

Fox News hosts use ignorance and terrible rap impressions to relate to their viewers

by pdxblake

If you have a minute that you want to spend on something that will make you regret that you will never have that minute back, there’s a video of former Bush press secretary Dana Perino rapping about, well, I don’t know what.  I think she’s trying to start a rap war with Jay Z, which from my perspective sounds about as sensible as North Korea trying to start nuclear war with Russia, China and the United States all at the same time.  But I digress.

More importantly for understanding how hosts and guests like those in the video relate to their viewers over at Fox News, I have a hint.  It’s a one word hint: “ignorance”.  The post mentions her appearance on Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! (the highest quality of news programming) where she revealed she had to be told what the Cuban Missle Crisis was….while she was working for the Bush Administration (why she never asked Russia expert Condoleeza Rice at the time is beyond me).  Here’s the tale:

Appearing on National Public Radio’s light-hearted quiz show “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me,” which aired over the weekend, Perino got into the spirit of things and told a story about herself that she had previously shared only in private: During a White House briefing, a reporter referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis — and she didn’t know what it was.

“I was panicked a bit because I really don’t know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. “It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I’m pretty sure.”

So she consulted her best source. “I came home and I asked my husband,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Wasn’t that like the Bay of Pigs thing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Dana.’ “



by evanmcmurry

“Hugo Chavez survived four elections, one coup attempt and one attempt at a recall. But he couldn’t beat cancer.” —actual NPR lead-in.

Ha! As with Qaddafi (sp?), our media’s* gleeful “Haha, dictators are mortal and therefore wrong” storyline only served to burnish the credentials of the dictator in question. If Chavez was some socialist chump, he sure made socialist chumpitude look like quite a gig. It took cancer to beat him, not capitalism. Who won here?

* There’s no such thing as the media.

Rand Paul Is His Own Troll

by evanmcmurry

Senator Rand Paul told Clinton he would have fired her after Benghazi if he were president.

So apparently a Congressional Hearing is the real-life version of an internet comments section.

Obama Needs An Answer On Libya, Quick

by evanmcmurry

The Obama Administration has gotten itself into a bad pretzel over the Benghazi attacks. The opening question on Libya struck me as particularly bad for Biden in last week’s debate; sure enough, even as the rest of Biden’s performance has since faded into general lore, his answer on Libya has lived on in specifics. Romney has made hay of the fact that Biden et al didn’t know about additional security requests. And especially with conflicting statements from the State Department, he’s actually got a good case for criticism.

Moreover, I don’t think Clinton taking a hit on this is going to convince anybody, and it opens Obama up to exactly what John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham fired at him immediately following Clinton’s late-night emergence from under the bus:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and two of his colleagues said that “the buck stops” with President Obama with respect to the terrorist attacks in Libya, but they praised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her willingness to claim the blame in the absence of the White House taking responsibility.

“The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief,” said McCain in a joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. “The buck stops there.”

[…] The senators took issue with her statement on two points. “If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the President informed,” they said.

If you’re a fired-up Mitt Romney, you hit Obama with this all night. Romney has gotten nowhere all campaign with his “Obama = apologizer” foreign policy line; now, just weeks before the election, he has a legitimate FP gripe with the administration. All of Obama’s increased debate prep may be for naught if he can’t find a good answer to Romney’s challenge.