Thursday November 26, 2015
November 24th, 2015
The recent terrorist attacks have called forth predictable demands from our nation's politicians, particularly President Obama's opponents, for American leadership in the world. Here's what these politicians don't talk about: the image of our country they themselves create in the way they manage -- or mismanage -- the work of governing.
For several years now, we have not done ourselves any favors.
The often chaotic budget and debt-ceiling battles between the president and congressional Republicans (along with a great deal of demagoguery around issues related to immigration, race and Islam) have inspired little confidence among either friends or foes that we can manage even our own affairs.
The political aftermath of the Paris attacks is tracing a trajectory as familiar as it is disappointing. The fundamental question -- how to defeat the Islamic State -- is so resistant to any simple fix that the debate shifts to subsidiary but more easily digestible topics.
Republican politicians have fanned the flames of public fear and seized the tragic moment for partisan advantage. President Obama properly took them to task for this un-American xenophobia. But once again, as with the president's dismissive attitude toward critics of the Iranian nuclear deal, he failed to recognize the public's understandable anxiety over admitting Syrian refugees.
The terrorist threat illustrates: The more intractable the problem, the more off-point the Washington discussion. One tactic, tempting but useless, is looking back and pointing fingers over who is responsible for the fill-in-the-blank mess.
The emergence of foreign policy as a critical consideration in the 2016 presidential election is both an opportunity and a peril for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as he struggles to revive a campaign begun with high expectations but now apparently on life support.
The Islamic State has intruded in the American political equation with its Paris terrorist attacks. The presidential primaries are now much more about selecting the next commander-in-chief, elevating the value of leadership experience.
Although Jeb Bush never served in the military at any level, he ran a large state government for two terms, is the son of one American president who led a successful war in Iraq and the brother of another who invaded Iraq and deposed its leader, though with ultimately disastrous consequences.
America's refugee screening process is so tight -- only about half are accepted after a process that can take two years or more -- that it probably would be easier for the Islamic State to sneak a jihadi terrorist in by rowboat.
Yet that reality has not stopped some politicians from exploiting fears instead of calming them since the terror attacks in Paris.
Some even talk about suspending such inconveniences as, say, the Bill of Rights.
Yes, I'm talking about Donald Trump.
The billionaire, who has managed to offend his way to frontrunner status in the Republican presidential race, says the United States will have "absolutely no choice" but to close down some mosques where "some bad things are happening."
What bad things? The Donald does not say. Yet he is not about to let a simple lack of evidence stop him from frightening American voters.
As anti-refugee hysteria sweeps many of our political leaders, particularly Republicans, I wonder what they would have told a desperate refugee family fleeing the Middle East. You’ve heard of this family: a carpenter named Joseph, his wife, Mary, and their baby son, Jesus.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus’ birth they fled to save Jesus from murderous King Herod (perhaps the 2,000-year-ago equivalent of Bashar Assad of Syria?). Fortunately Joseph, Mary and Jesus found de facto asylum in Egypt — thank goodness House Republicans weren’t in charge when Jesus was a refugee!
The vote by the House of Representatives effectively to slam the door on Syrian refugees was the crassest kind of political grandstanding, scapegoating some of the world’s most vulnerable people to score political points. As a woman named Maria Radford tweeted me after the vote, “the Statue of Liberty must be crying with shame.”
On Oct. 19, 2008, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and secretary of state Colin Powell went on NBC's "Meet the Press" to endorse Barack Obama for president. Troubled by accusations that Obama was secretly a Muslim, Powell asked the obvious question: "What if he is?"
One reason Powell was so bothered by the suggestion that a Muslim could not become president was, he said, because he had recently seen a photograph of a mother leaning on the gravestone of her fallen son at Arlington National Cemetery. The soldier was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a New Jersey native and Muslim American recipient of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Though terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe get far more attention, the fact is that Cpl. Khan's service in the military represents, by far, the vast majority of political violence carried out by Muslims in the West.
I don’t know how we win the war against ISIS.
But I know how we lose it. The last week has been a thorough and demoralizing education in that.
We lose it with a response to the Paris carnage and a discussion about the path forward that’s driven by partisan grievances and posturing rather than a mature, nuanced attempt to address Americans’ understandable anxiety and acknowledge that we may not be doing the right things or enough of them.
We lose it if President Barack Obama can’t shake off his annoyance with critics and his disgust with some prominent Republicans’ xenophobic pandering long enough to re-examine his strategy and recognize that many Americans’ doubts about it are warranted and earnest.
He was at his worst just after the Paris attacks, when he communicated as much irritation with the second-guessing of his stewardship as he did outrage over Paris and determination to destroy the Islamic State, or ISIS.
In Washington, there's nothing rarer, or more damaging, than when people criticize you on the record.
That's why a New York Times piece published Tuesday - headlined "Ben Carson Is Struggling to Grasp Foreign Policy, Advisers Say" - hurts so bad.
The piece featured Duane R. Clarridge, 83, identified as a top adviser to Carson on national security and terrorism, absolutely blowing out his boss.
"Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East," Clarridge told reporter Trip Gabriel. Another "close friend," Armstrong Williams, lamented Carson's inability in a TV interview to say whom he'd ask to form a coalition against the Islamic State. He'd "been briefed on it so many times," Williams said.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La.,has lived a charmed life, surviving the kind of close call that would have felled most politicians. When his phone number was discovered among the records of the "D.C. Madam" in 2007, he was forced to issue a public apology and ask forgiveness for a "serious sin." He won re-election to the Senate in 2010 nonetheless.
Now he is running to succeed the very unpopular Gov. Bobby Jindal, who dropped his presidential bid this week. But his trespasses have caught up with him.
He should be winning easily. Louisiana is solidly Republican: Sen, Mary Landrieu, D, lost her re- election bid in 2014 and Barack Obama lost the state by huge margins twice.
Much of the world watched in horror as reports rolled in over the weekend of the barbaric terrorist attack on Paris. At least 120 people were murdered in what appears to be a highly coordinated operation by the Islamic State (ISIS).
A few days before, I was in a hospital in the Middle East in which Christian and Jewish and Muslim doctors were caring for Syrian refugees brutalized by ISIS and related groups. Now, the refugee crisis has exploded on the American political scene in a wave of controversy extending from Congress to almost everyone's Facebook feed.
At issue in this controversy are the competing principles of security and compassion, of the United States as a fortress and as a refuge. Some early reports have indicated that at least one of the suspected terrorists had registered as a Syrian refugee to secure transportation to France. This has caused many in the United States and around the world to ask, understandably, why a country should accept any more refugees if there's a chance that a terrorist may gain entry in that process.