Tag Archives: Obama

Trump, and The Case for Clinton

With Cruz and Kasich out, Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee. The silver lining is that an uncontested convention will save Cleveland a few days’ worth of rioting. The downside is an unconventional and unproven candidate that rankles not only the left but many on the right.

While many believe that the 2016 presidential election is Secretary Clinton’s to lose, the election will happen about six months from now.  That leaves something like 180 days in-between. So long as the status quo holds, Secretary Clinton should win. By contrast, what if one event changed everything; think terror attack, scandal within the Obama administration, economic collapse. Such an event would flip the narrative by feeding directly into Donald Trump’s “America First” policies that scapegoat immigrants and minorities. By extension, Donald Trump could very well win the presidential election.

What a President Trump would do once in office is a very different question, and I will lay out two different options. Assuming President Trump wins in the scenario outlined above, Trump would come under intense pressure to dramatically reform immigration policies, start building the wall along the Mexican border*, and enact punitive economic policies against offending countries. Whether or not Donald Trump actually wants to enact such policies is another question entirely, as outlined in the second option.

The second option posits the following question: does Donald Trump really believe in the policies he is touting on the campaign? Donald Trump is, at his core, a businessman. My strong suspicion is that Donald Trump seeks the White House because he wants to use the ultimate bully pulpit to pass laws, regulations, and rules that enrich his businesses and solidify his brand. Put another way, a President Trump would simply not care about anything that is not associated with his name.

Taking that into account, Donald Trump simply used inflammatory rhetoric and a Republican Party – neither of which he has historically believed in – to chart a map to the White House. Should Donald Trump win the White House in November, my greatest hope is that a President Trump would simply abandon his jingoistic rhetoric and pass laws that personally enrich himself. And that would be a best case scenario for a Trumpian presidency.

What should be far more appalling to Americans is that we are considering yet another businessman to run government machinery. Was George W. Bush not a fantastic reminder that CEO-styled Presidents who fail to grasp basic geopolitics, economics, diplomacy and domestic policy results in dire consequences? Iraq, permanent tax cuts, torture, and Katrina, all speak to this collective experience.

In short, Trump is not the man for the job. May common sense prevail and let Secretary Clinton, a seasoned, even-handed, and proven candidate, trump Trump come November.

 

*Because building a wall along the Mexican border is next to impossible given the wall’s overall costs and Trump’s plan to pay for it, Trump may very well opt to build a small portion as a symbolic gesture and let the rest of the wall remain incomplete.

Scalia & Beyond

 

Scalia passed away earlier today. His departure leaves a gaping hole in the U.S. Supreme Court, leaving it divided along ideological lines. More importantly, his departure leaves the court without a deciding vote.

Hours later, Senate Majority Leader McConnell tweeted, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.” It is a nice sentiment, but the next president will not take office until January 20, 2017. That is 339 days away. How many days typically pass before a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court is filled?

After some quick data analysis, not too long. The average wait time comes to a shade under 130 days. Further, the number of seats left vacant for more than 339 days comes to eight, or approximately 7% of the time.

The nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices (Roberts, Alito , Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, Kennedy , Sotomayor, Thomas) waited an average of 45 days before filling the vacancy. Kennedy, the outlier at 237 days, still beats the McConnell timeframe by 101 days.

Let us stick with tradition and replace Scalia within the next 130 days. Waiting any longer would smack of a political smear on one of the nation’s most important institutions.

Data Source – Wikipedia

Netanyahu’s Etch a Sketch Moment

During the 2012 presidential election, when asked during a CNN interview if Mitt Romney felt forced to tack to the hard right in order to bolster his chances in the Republican Primary, Romney’s senior campaign manager said this:

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes,” Fehrnstrom responded. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

This week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is having his own Etch A Sketch moment.

The problems started when Netanyahu made two distinct remarks just prior to the March 17, 2015 elections.  First, Netanyahu appeared to reject, outright, the two state solution.  A more nuanced reading suggests that Netanyahu finds the two state solution, at least under the present circumstances, ‘unachievable.’  The media pounced on the ‘unachievable’ remark, and even if the remarks are somehow taken out of context, as some claim, the remarks are fully consistent with the reality on the ground: the settlements built over Netanyahu’s tenure better speak for themselves. The two state solution is effectively dead.

Netanyahu’s other remark, that “Arab voters are heading to the polls in droves” further inflamed tensions.  In a tighter than expected election, Netanyahu’s calibrated remark encouraged and catalyzed his base. While the comments helped ensure his reelection, the cost is steep: the remark tears at the fabric of a democratic society and serves to further isolate Israel and Netanyahu on the world stage.

While French President Hollande and Canada’s Prime Minister Harper congratulated Netanyahu, each reiterated their commitment to the two state solution.  The United Nation’s Ban Ki Moon did the same.  The United States, a stalwart ally, took two days before congratulating Netanyahu, and meanwhile vowed to explore alternatives to the two state solution.  Meanwhile, President Obama is wedded to an Israeli Prime Minister that that aligns more closely with hawks in the Republican Party that also, coincidentally, despise the President’s foreign policy objectives.

This week, Netanyahu is walking back his comments and trying to undo the damage.  In an interview with NPR, Netanyahu explained that he really has not retracted his support for a two state solution.  Upon winning the election, Netanyahu said he would be a Prime Minister for all Israeli citizens.

Netanyahu is shaking the Etch A Sketch and hoping that the world soon forgets the divisive lines he traced.  For President Obama, many Americans, Israelis, and, really, anyone interested in securing a stable Middle East, the lines are far more permanent, and a solution far more daunting.

Time to go back to the drawing board.

An Open Letter to the US Senate

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Congress on March 3, 2015 and gave a speech studded with so much applause it felt like a State of the Union address.  The speech focused on terror threats in the Middle East, namely Islamic State and Iran.  Netanyahu emphasized that any kind of accord with the United States and other key actors should be viewed as a mistake, and that “no deal” is better than the deal on the table.

Congress’ invitation to the Prime Minister caused a stir because Congress never consulted the White House, and on March 9, 2015 dozens of Senators sent an open letter to Iran.  The letter followed Netanyahu’s speech’s central theme: that no deal is better than any deal signed by President Obama.

The open letter, signed by 47 (Republican) Senators made headlines because the open letter openly rebukes the President’s foreign policy objectives and explicitly takes a hardline towards Iran.  Never mind the American people elected a president who in his 2009 inaugural address, said:

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

In short, the 47 Senators who signed openly disagree with the President and exposed core political differences in a nation that, at least when it comes to foreign policy, needs to exhibit strength and unity.  Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright called the letter “unprecedented and fairly outrageous,” precisely because it undermines the United States’ negotiating power.

Newspapers have roundly covered this, but the other point worth raising here is how incredibly condescending the open letter is to its intended audience.  The letter explicitly threaten to torpedo any agreement with Iran, which surely makes Iranian leaders wonder if the United States is negotiating in good faith.  Further, and what everybody should find particularly egregious, is the way the Senators belittle a formidable foreign government.  Some of the open letter’s excerpts include:

-It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.

-As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.

-What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.

In short, the open letter presumes high-level Iranian government officials are entirely unfamiliar with the basic underpinnings of a nation they have been negotiating with for months on end; offend democracies everywhere by asserting that some of today’s Senators intend to stay in office in perpetuity; and, that Congress will do everything to thwart good-faith negotiations made by the Executive Branch.

The open letter sets a dangerous precedent for future negotiations and further reinforces the partisan divide in Washington.  Meanwhile, if Iran sees no viable deal in reach, then the incentive to develop nuclear technology for bad instead of good grows ever larger.

Netanyahu’s speech and the Senators’ open letter close the door to diplomacy, leaving the White House with a bad deal all around.

Slate offers a similar viewpoint here.

IS

Writing about Islamic State (IS) is a struggle.  IS commits brutal acts of violence, packages it for social media, and broadcasts it to the world.  IS recently beheaded 21 Christians and did the same to its hostages, including American James Foley.  IS’ violence is a declaration of war against Christianity and Western values as much as it is a call for Muslims to move to IS and join the fight.

The struggle, at least in my view, is which concept will win out.  The West will not tolerate gross human rights violations nor, and perhaps more importantly, security threats.  IS’ own propaganda could bring such outrage that Western governments feel compelled to stamp IS out.  Meanwhile, IS is building a brand based on bloodlust and the concept of a pure Islamic state.  For the thousands of unemployed Muslims in the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere, the allure is real.  Why not fight for something you believe in, and through violence imbues you with meaning?

If IS can recruit and sustain itself, the threat of a viable nation-state is indeed terrifying.  Indeed, reports reveal that IS can govern, setting up post offices, issuing parking tickets, and policing territory.  IS ultimately runs on a governance model based squarely on violence, intimidation, extortion.  Sadly, the same model works: just ask North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or some of the world’s other autocrats.

Yet, IS is in trouble.  IS’ decision to kill a Jordanian Muslim by trapping him inside a cage and setting him afire provoked outrage in Jordan and the West.  IS’ decision to kill the 21 Christians brought swift retribution from Egypt.  President Obama is seeking a ‘use of force’ authorization from Congress.  In short, IS is waging a war against too many fronts.

IS has a number of enemies, and that list grows longer with every act of violence perpetrated.  Those enemies will, ultimately, force IS to collapse under its own weight.  Its end cannot come soon enough.

Enhanced Interrogation – A Tortured Definition, and US Leadership after the Global War on Terror

Abu Ghraib never really faded from memory.  The images shattered the idea that the United States upheld equally the life and dignity of not just its citizens but of its friends and its foes.  The Senate’s (heavily redacted) torture report released earlier this week renews, with full, brutal force, the debate on torture, enhanced interrogation, and America’s place in the world.

The United Nation’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment entered into force on 1987 and enjoys the support of 156 parties.  The United States’ obligations to the treaty began under President Clinton in 1994.  Article 1 includes the following text:

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession…

Other treaty obligations include (1) not extraditing a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that (s)he would be in danger of being subjected to torture, and (2) ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under each party’s criminal law.

The United States potentially runs afoul of the UN treaty on three levels:

1. The CIA used enhanced interrogation methods (waterboarding, rectal feeding, shackling) to produce intelligence, shattering the distinction between enhanced interrogation and torture by the UN Convention’s own definition of the term.

2. The United States, using extraordinary rendition, flew suspected terrorists to foreign but friendly governments that sanctioned torture sessions on the US’s behalf.

3. The US Department of Justice declined earlier this week to re-open a criminal investigation of Americans involved in the post-September 11 torture.

The US Constitution also prohibits acts of cruel and unusual punishment and guarantees certain inalienable rights to those accused of crimes against the state.  Of course, US officials would argue–and correctly so–that the US Constitution applies only to US Citizens.  How true.

Yet, how very disappointing.  If the United States is a beacon of hope and a shining light of democracy to the world, if the United States is a true custodian of human rights and a steward of its own constitution, then how could a Abu Ghraib ever happen?  Will other countries continue to follow the United States through the moral vacuum we created?  Will China and other human rights abusers listen when the United States speaks up for women, gays, and other minorities the world over?

For better or for worse, in doing research for this piece I came across references to Mai Lai (Vietnam) and the Japanese Internment Camps (World War II).  The incidents serve to remind us that the United States was, and will continue to be, a global leader, global arbitrator, and global policeman.  The most recent abuses under the War on Terror, President Obama’s order to stop torturing its enemies of the state, and the US Senate favoring transparency over secrecy by releasing the report, should remind all of us how far we have come, and how very far we have to go, in order to form a more perfect Union and make the world a better place.