Neoconservative

The Ben Carson Show (Phenomenon)

Source photos: Ben Carson announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, 5 May 2015 (Paul Sancya/AP). A biblical inscription is chiseled into the wall of Ben Carson's home, with 'proverbs' spelled incorrectly (Mark Makela/The Guardian, 2014).

Tom McCarthy tries to explain the Ben Carson phenomenon for The Guardian:

He is more than an American success story, brilliant brain surgeon and bestselling author of 10 Christian-themed books. He has also coined some of the most outlandish statements ever uttered on the national stage, a purveyor of bizarre conspiracy theories and a provocateur who compares abortion to slavery and same-sex marriage to pedophilia.

This week, Carson restated his belief that the pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain, and not by Egyptians to entomb their kings. He believes that Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Abbas attended school together in Moscow in 1968. He believes that Jews with firearms might have been able to stop the Holocaust, that he personally could stop a mass shooting, that the Earth was created in six days and that Osama bin Laden enjoyed Saudi protection after 9/11.

The Carson conundrum is not fully captured by a list of his eccentric beliefs, however. He also confounds the traditional demographics of US politics, in which national African American political figures are meant to be Democrats. Not only is Carson a Republican – he is a strong conservative on both social and economic issues, opposing abortion including in cases of rape and incest, and framing welfare programs as a scheme to breed dependence and win votes.

He has visited the riot zones of Ferguson and Baltimore but offered little compassion for black urban poor populations who feel oppressed by mostly white police forces.

Even Carson’s core appeal as a Christian evangelical is complicated by the fact that he is a lifelong adherent to a relatively small sect, the Seventh-Day Adventist church, whose celebration of the sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday and denial of the doctrine of hell have drawn accusations of heresy from other mainstream Christian groups.

That last probably plays more strongly with the British audience; in the United States, Christian is as Christian does; Dr. Carson’s penchant for false witness and exclusionary, judgmental scorn are his own ad hoc iteration of faith, shot through with neurotic self-contradiction as it struggles to justify his self-centered pretense of humility. If one seeks strangeness about the SDA experience in general, it is a different phenomenon.

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Not Exactly Encouraging

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., pauses as he speaks about foreign policy during the John Hay Initiative, Monday, Sept. 28,2015, at a hotel in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Ladies and gentlemen, Dana Milbank:

Kevin McCarthy is about to ascend to the highest office in the House of Representatives and become second in line to the presidency.

But there is a problem: The speaker-apparent apparently still can’t speak.

You know, you might think it a cheap setup, and, well, maybe it is, but the Washington Post column has something of a Be Sharps ring about it: This one writes itself. No, really. It does.

I have been tracking the California Republican’s valiant but often unsuccessful struggles with the English language for some time now, and I was alarmed to watch him lose another round on Monday during a foreign-policy speech to the John Hay Initiative, a new outfit of the neo-conservative bent.

“If I look at history of where we are it seems a lot like 1979,” McCarthy informed his audience in the ballroom of Washington’s St. Regis hotel.

“We must engage this war of radical Islam if our life depended on it because it does,” he opined.

And, yes, like a rock on a heap of two-bit proverbs, it only goes downhill from there.

Almost indescribably. The column could easily be just a string of quotes, but at some point Milbank is obliged to cut away for some commentary: (more…)

A Meandering Consideration of Absolutism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, 3 March 2015.  (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“Maybe it’s an unfortunate hallmark of contemporary conservative thought?”

Steve Benen

Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan offers an interesting consideration:

It’s looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

SlateIf current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists—mainly AIPAC—are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

It would have been better for Netanyahu—and for Israel—had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality. Not that Obama, or any other American president, will cut Israel off; but relations will remain more strained, and requests for other favors (for more or bigger weapons, or for certain votes in international forums) will be scrutinized more warily, than they would have been.

There is, of course, much more to Kaplan’s consideration, including the implications of current Congressional momentum and the widening gap between the credibility of favoring and opposing arguments. Toward the latter, he notes, “Most criticisms of the deal actually have nothing to do with the deal”, and that’s about as least unfavorable as his critique of the criticism gets.

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Your Morning Misty Memory

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Photo: Dennis Cook/AP)

This is just for the hell of it, because I had cause to think of it the other day. Never mind.

Hart Seely for Slate, circa 2003:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is an accomplished man. Not only is he guiding the war in Iraq, he has been a pilot, a congressman, an ambassador, a businessman, and a civil servant. But few Americans know that he is also a poet.

Until now, the secretary’s poetry has found only a small and skeptical audience: the Pentagon press corps. Every day, Rumsfeld regales reporters with his jazzy, impromptu riffs. Few of them seem to appreciate it.

But we should all be listening. Rumsfeld’s poetry is paradoxical: It uses playful language to address the most somber subjects: war, terrorism, mortality. Much of it is about indirection and evasion: He never faces his subjects head on but weaves away, letting inversions and repetitions confuse and beguile. His work, with its dedication to the fractured rhythms of the plainspoken vernacular, is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams’. Some readers may find that Rumsfeld’s gift for offhand, quotidian pronouncements is as entrancing as Frank O’Hara’s.

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Madness for a New American Century

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announces his candidacy for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination on 13 April 2015.  (AP Photo)

Trevor Timm for The Guardian:

The New York Times detailed many of the Republican candidates’ nebulous “criticisms” of the Obama administration, most of which assume a fantasy world in which Obama is not sending the US military to fight Isis at all, even though he’s authorized thousands of airstrikes per month in both Iraq and Syria. Most of the candidates, while competing with each other over who can sound more “muscular” and “tough”, are too cowardly to overtly call for what they likely actually want: another ground war in the Middle East involving tens of thousands of US troops.Project for the New American Century

The vague, bullshitt-y statements made by Republican candidates would be hilarious if it wasn’t possible that they’ll lead to more American soldiers dying in the coming years. “Restrain them, tighten the noose, and then taking them out is the strategy” is Jeb Bush’s hot take on Isis. Thanks, Jeb – I can’t believe the Obama administration hasn’t thought of that! Marco Rubio’s “solution” is even more embarrassing: according to The Times, he responded to a question about what he would do differently – and this is real – by quoting from the movie Taken: “We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you.”

Rubio has also called for “strategic overhaul”, but his radical plan seems to be virtually indistinguishable from what the Obama administration is actually doing – yet another sign that Republicans tend to live in a fantasy land where Obama is an anti-war president rather than someone who has bombed more countries than his Republican predecessor. (That is not a compliment, by the way.)

This is one of those things where we won’t be able to say we weren’t warned. Consider that Mr. Rubio’s campaign slogan is “A New American Century”.

Just think about that for a moment.

They really are promising us a war.

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Image Note: Top ― Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announces his candidacy for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination on 13 April 2015. (AP Photo) Right ― Logo of the Project for the New American Century.

Timm, Trevor. “Republicans’ ‘plans’ for Isis would drag us into Iraq for another ground war”. The Guardian. 27 May 2015.

SourceWatch. “Project for the New American Century”. 19 February 2012.

The Jeb Bush Show (Anticlimatic)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waits backstage before speaking at the Iowa Agriculture Summit, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

“The climate is changing. I don’t think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted. And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you. It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it even.”

Jeb Bush

Could someone remind me again, just why did we think Jeb Bush would be the “serious” candidate?

The Washington Post account of a New Hampshire fundraiser really does make the former Florida governor sound petulant:

The issue of climate change came up as the host of the house party asked Bush to comment on a speech given Wednesday by President Obama, who said that climate change is a “serious threat” to national security.

“Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security,” Obama told Coast Guard graduates in their dress white uniforms at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, “and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act— and we need to act now.”

In response, Bush said that climate change should be just “part of, a small part of prioritization of our foreign policy.” He suggested that the United States should encourage countries that have higher carbon emissions rates to reduce them.

But, he added, “We’ve had a pretty significant decrease and we’ll continue on, not because of Barack Obama, but because of the energy revolution.” He credited hydraulic fracking, horizontal drilling and an increased use of natural gas for helping cut American carbon emissions.

Just a hint for the Most Serious Clown in the Car: Pulling it out of the ground has nothing to do with reducing the exhaust.

Kind of like the whole Underpants Gnomes thing:

Step One: Get more oil and natural gas out of the ground.

Step Two: [???]

Step Three: Reduce carbon emissions.

And that’s what we get from the (ahem!) “serious” clown.

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The Point of the Day (Dissonance)

President Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast, in this May 1, 2003 file photo. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Steve Benen gets our nod for the Point of the Day:

When Republicans aren’t blaming intelligence agencies for what transpired in 2003, they’re blaming President Obama – the one who was right about Iraq from the start – for the war they apparently find tough to defend.

Reality paints a very different picture. Bush/Cheney lied the nation into a disastrous war, mismanaged it in every way possible, strengthened U.S. foes, and destabilized the entire region. All of this transpired, of course, before Obama even launched his national campaign. Indeed, the catastrophe began unfolding when Obama was still a state senator.

The crux of the bizarre talking point is that the Democratic president withdrew U.S. forces in Iraq, consistent with the Status of Forces Agreement reached between the two countries. And which bleeding-heart pacifist thought it’d be a good idea to endorse this withdrawal plan? That would be George W. Bush, who negotiated the SOFA in 2008.

But there’s no reason to accept the premise – the Status of Forces Agreement was not responsible for creating a disaster in Iraq. Invading the country in the first place created a disaster in Iraq.

We might also take a moment to note a point about sources; Mr. Benen might be an msnbc producer and blogger, but set that aside for a moment and tell me he’s wrong.

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The Jeb Bush Show (The Iraq Shadow)

Jeb Bush refuses to answer Q about committing troops to Iraq, says he’s not running for president yetAmanda Terkel of Huffington Post:

Jeb Bush refuses to answer Q about committing troops to Iraq, says he’s not running for president yet

Uh huh. That’s right.

This is still going on.

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Terkel, Amanda. “Jeb Bush refuses to answer Q about committing troops to Iraq”. Twitter. 19 May 2015.

The Jeb Bush Show (I Wish My Brother George Was Here)

Then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to reporters on the war on terror as his brother, then-President George W. Bush, looks on at the White House in 2006. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Over the course of about six weeks, Jeb Bush managed to take his obvious new pitch and grind it into dust. Starting with the idea of telling voters, “I am my own man” in February, the Republican half of our expected dynastic grudge match buried his own message in derisive laughter before March expired.

The problem, of course, is twofold. Cottage politics and pocket slates are what they are; the neoconservatives backing the Iraq Adventure during the previous Bush administration had been at it since Nixon sat in the Oval Office, and we have certainly seen famous names from the Clinton camp resurfacing in the Obama White House. During those six weeks, though, not only did Jeb Bush manage to surround himself with familiar hawks, he also managed to surround himself with other Bushes, leading to Steve Benen to quip, “After Jeb Bush turned to his mother, father, and brother to help raise money for his super PAC, I joked last week that the Republican might have to turn to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Jeb’s son, for the next fundraising appeal. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it’s tough to joke about these guys.”

Watching the former Florida governor assemble the family’s foreign policy team, and the family for fundraising, most observers simply chuckle at the idea that he is so independent of his familial influences as he might otherwise claim. As such, the lede from Robert Costa and Matea Gold for the Washington Post verges on hilarity:

After spending months distancing himself from his family’s political legacy, Jeb Bush surprised a group of Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former president George W. Bush, as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy.

And, really, what do you do with a paragraph like that?

Is there anything about that sentence that isn’t … you know … just … weird?

Let’s try it this way:

•After spending months [verbally, in sound-bites] distancing himself from his family’s political legacy [while assembling longtime Bush White House and campaign allies for the coming run], Jeb Bush surprised a group of [apparently naïve, or else supremely inattentive] Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former president George W. Bush [who takes his foreign policy advice from God], as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy [since GWB’s foreign policy in the Middle East was so … er … ah … whatever].

Okay, you’re right. It isn’t funny.

Nor is Jeb Bush “his own man”, whatever the hell he expected we would think that to mean in the first place.

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Image note: Detail―Then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to reporters on the war on terror as his brother, then-President George W. Bush, looks on at the White House in 2006. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Costa, Robert and Matea Gold. “One of Jeb Bush’s top advisers on Israel: George W. Bush”. The Washington Post. 7 May 2015.

Benen, Steve. “Jeb throws the ‘I am my own man’ pitch out the window”. msnbc. 1 April 2015.

Freedom (American Check the Party Mix)

Science of Us“Take that, American companies with product names that sound as though they come from the language of a country that disagreed with the U.S. on a foreign-policy issue!”

Jesse Singal

What? It’s not like this is surprising. Or is this another moment from American history people would prefer pretend never happened?

Freedom fries? Freedom toast? Freedom poodle? What’s that? Going to forget that first freedom kiss?

Yeah. Not surprising in the least.

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Singal, Jesse. “Americans Punished French-Sounding (But American) Brands During the Iraq War Argument With France”. Science of Us. 4 May 2015.