Washington Merry-Go-Round

Teddy Roosevelt, where are you?

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 12 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Teddy Roosevelt, where are you?

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – In 1901 an American revolution began, and besides its perpetrator, the only people who understood it was happening were the Robber Barons, those ultra-wealthy individuals who controlled so much of the nation’s wealth. The perpetrator was President Theodore Roosevelt, the man who put teeth into the Sherman Anti-Trust Act passed in 1890. Although coming from the New York aristocracy himself, he had been among the people, from ranching in the West to combat in the Spanish-American War, and he sensed their discontent, their clear understanding that America might be free, but it wasn’t fair.

If he looked out over the land today, he would undoubtedly come to the same conclusion. Ever since the Great Recession of 2007-8 destroyed most American’s net worth by destroying their homes’ values and followed this with a recovery that saw wages stagnated while the rich got richer, the average American has once again been found toiling in a free, but unfair, society.

One of the manifestations of this discontent can be found in the demonstrations waged in several cities protesting police brutality. There have been other demonstrations, and as in those, looters also joined in to take advantage, but this time a new element has surfaced. People are joining the demonstrations, not just to rail against police abuses, but to list a host of grievances, all of which stem from unfair income disparities.

They see petty crimes being prosecuted while white collar criminals bilk the public for millions or even billions. They see the political process being thwarted by the infusion of ever-increasing amounts of mega-donor cash. They watch Congress haggle and pretend to care for the peoples’ business only to find them doing the bidding of those donors and their lobbyists.

They have begun to awaken to the tax inequity created by those donors and Congress, an inequity that stealthily evolved over time until the average taxpayers were paying 50 percent of their income in taxes. They are finally doing the math, adding all the twists and turns of unfair tax codes, including: federal, state, and sometimes local income taxes, real estate taxes (which everyone pays directly or through rent), sales taxes, fuel-use taxes, airline taxes, utility taxes, Social Security taxes (which pay for the last generation’s retirement, yet is not taxed on incomes over $118,500, beginning in 2015), and the list goes on from car taxes to personal property taxes.

The public is possibly even beginning to realize that their employers are not paying half of their Social Security taxes, because anything an employer pays on behalf of an employee is the same to the employer as paying it directly to the employee.

Teddy Roosevelt, where are you? Perhaps he is channeling through Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the unabashed consumer advocate and voice of the common man.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 4 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Physicist to lead Pentagon

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Assuming Ashton Carter wins Senate confirmation, and it’s likely that he will, the nation’s next Secretary of Defense will be a physicist with degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale, and a doctorate from the University of Oxford, which he acquired as a Rhodes Scholar.

It’s tempting to say that degree in medieval history will come in handy when he assesses the rise of the Islamic State, or ISIS, and the administration’s less than stellar performance in rolling back the extremists who have a penchant for beheading people and enslaving women.

Carter was at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration as Assistant Secretary for Global Strategic Affairs, experience that should serve him well as he attempts to navigate through the various crises facing the Obama administration. The apparent lack of any overarching strategy as the White House tries to deal with ISIS while simultaneously staying out of the civil war in Syria gave Secretary Hagel heartburn, and led to his recent resignation.

Carter also spent time at the Pentagon under Obama, where he was Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics before leaving in October 2011. He is an experienced technocrat who knows his way around the Pentagon budget like no other human being in Washington.

In a city where information is power, Carter’s knowledge base confers status. He has dealt with Congress on budget matters, and he has the confidence of Republican leaders, notably Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., who will chair the Armed Services Committee in the next Congress.

Together perhaps they can forge a more assertive policy toward ISIS that President Obama can accept. While Obama’s overarching goal remains ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and keeping America out of another war in the Middle East, the forced resignation of Secretary Hagel signals a willingness to change direction to some degree.

Obama does not want the U.S. to take the lead in the Middle East. He wants other nations in the region, especially Turkey, to get more engaged in the fight against ISIS. A report in the Washington Post about a proposed air corridor along the border of Turkey and Syria that would allow Turkish special forces to enter a strip of land inside Syria is part of the evolving strategy. The Post story included an anonymous quote from a U.S. official welcoming trained Turkish special forces to help with targeting for air strikes.

Right now, the official said, the U.S. is relying on friendly Syrian “dudes with cellphones” on the ground.  That’s no way to run a military operation. Obama’s refusal to put American boots on the ground is wise and understandable, but placing U.S. personnel as forward observers to spot and target strikes is not the same as sending combat units to the front.

Hagel lost Obama’s confidence because he apparently wasn’t willing to stake out firm opinions in meetings at the White House. Hagel is a battlefield veteran whose mission was to bring the troops home, not send them into another venture that is not sufficiently thought through.

Carter is a thinker and a logician accustomed to thinking through the military’s needs and the consequences of any encounter. It sounds bizarre on the face of it to put a physicist in charge of war-making, but it may turn out to be an ingenious pick.

U.S. critics worry the proposed air corridor is a ploy by Turkish President Erdogan to draw the Obama administration deeper into the conflict, which is of course the fear that Turkey has as well. No nation wants primary responsibility for the mess in Syria and the rise of ISIS, yet the foreign ministers of some 60 nations meeting in Brussels this week with Secretary of State Kerry agreed that ISIS must be degraded and eventually destroyed. This is the kind of challenge custom made for Ashton Carter.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

More police on the beat on the street

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 3 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

More police on the beat on the street

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – President Clinton’s call in the 1990’s for 100,000 cops on the street became a rallying cry for his administration, and for the “New Democrat” policies that he championed. Fast forward to this week at the White House where President Obama called on Congress to fund 50,000 body cameras for police across the nation to record their actions.

What have we learned in the intervening decades?  Trust between the police and the communities they serve is strained, and that’s especially true in high-crime, under-served, typically minority communities. That was true when Clinton was in office in the nineties, and it’s true today with the nation’s first black president in the White House.

Obama held a day of talks with law enforcement officials from around the country, and community activists whose voices have taken on a much needed urgency in the face of ongoing protests over the events in Ferguson, Missouri that left an unarmed black young man shot dead by a white police officer.

Without re-litigating the Ferguson Grand Jury’s decision to not indict the officer, Obama is trying to move the conversation beyond a single incident to the systemic problem of the breakdown in trust between law enforcement and the high-crime communities that are most in need of a police presence.

Cameras should help in assuring residents that police actions are monitored, and that cops on the beat can’t act with impunity. Many minority communities feel singled out and harassed by cops empowered by their badge. Assuming Congress signs off on Obama’s request for $263 million over three years, with $75 million dedicated to buying the cameras, this would be a good faith first step by Obama who is at pains to convince the public that he isn’t all talk and no action.

Changing the us-versus-them culture that pervades many police departments will take time and training, and Obama can make only limited headway. The bigger push will have to come from police departments themselves. The militarization of the police who increasingly rely on equipment once limited to battlefields in foreign lands makes it harder to establish the kind of community policing that creates trust through cops walking the beat and building relationships.

The overwhelming majority of people are law abiding upstanding citizens who lead decent lives and want to raise their children in safe environments, which is why, if given a choice between security and freedom, people will choose safety. Without it, there can be no freedom.

With heightened scrutiny of police actions, there’s a danger that law enforcement will back away from policing the communities that need them most.

Ensuring the safety of residents, and of the police who venture into dangerous neighborhoods, requires more, not fewer, police, and that costs money. Congress funds peacekeepers around the world to the tune of billions of dollars, so lawmakers shouldn’t balk at fulfilling the president’s modest request of $263 million, not billion.

Obama’s call for 50,000 cameras doesn’t have the same ring as former president Clinton’s call for 100,000 cops, but it’s a start toward making the police accountable, and assuring residents that someone’s got their back.

Some training methods should also be re-examined. According to law enforcement officials, once a policeman pulls his gun and fires, he is trained to shoot to kill. That’s why the officer in Ferguson shot Michael Brown in the head and chest, and not his legs, which would have incapacitated the unarmed teen, but not killed him.

Local jurisdictions rarely have the funds to mount the kind of community policing that Clinton called for, and that has been proven effective. Overall crime rates around the country are at record lows, which is why this is an opportune time for the federal government to step in and provide the resources to high-crime areas for a visible police presence around the clock.  Minority communities don’t hate the police, they hate being treated like second class citizens when it comes to their safety.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

It should have been the headline

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 28 November 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

It should have been the headline

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – It should have been the headline, but, except for financial publications, it was not. Yet, it is going to impact the nation’s economy and our personal budgets more than any other single factor currently on the horizon. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), meeting in Vienna while Americans were taking a Thanksgiving timeout, decided to leave oil production levels unchanged. This would appear to be a benign act. It wasn’t.

Thanks to post-recession depressed levels of fuel consumption coupled with increased production from Canadian oil sands and U.S. shale oil extractions, the price of a barrel of oil has fallen more than 30 percent in a matter of months. This has resulted in a glut of 1.5 million barrels a day of excess oil. Consumers rejoiced. Airline and automobile stocks soared as did the value of almost any company that manufactures or uses oil-based products – which include a wide range of items from plastics to chemicals. On the other hand, the entire oil industry took a hit.

But there is a potentially dark side to this picture. Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen continues to warn that her greatest fear is deflation. So, instead of the usual talk of combatting inflation, the Fed has said it wants inflation at a minimum of two percent per year.

OPEC members as well as non-OPEC members such as Russia urged Saudi Arabia to cut production, but the Saudis said they would not go it alone. It is an interesting dynamic at play. Saudi oil extraction costs are among the lowest in the world and its population is so small that it does not have the same dependency on oil revenues most other oil-producing nations such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran have. Also, U.S. shale oil extraction costs are among the most expensive.

Further, the Saudi riyal is pegged to the U.S. dollar, and the dollar remains the world’s strongest currency and is getting stronger. As the dollar continues to gain against the euro, ruble, and other currencies, the Saudi piggy backing benefits them because, except for oil, they are a net importer of most of their goods and services, especially from Europe. And those dollar-driven lower import costs will offset much or all of the Saudi’s decreased oil revenue.

So the Saudis have a win-win scenario. Cheaper imports will allow them to keep oil production at current lower-revenue levels, while those lower levels undermine U.S. shale oil production, which the Saudis accordingly believe will be cut back. So it would be the U.S. not Saudi Arabia, its OPEC partners, or Russia that would cut production.

The problem for the U.S. is that a decline in our burgeoning oil output would undermine an industry that is on the verge of making the nation energy independent, but the consequent rise in oil prices would then help stave off the specter of deflation. In a worst case scenario, the short-term decline in oil prices would bring on deflation at the same time that the U.S. shale oil industry is practically destroyed. And deflation would impact all sectors of the economy, especially real estate, which would see home prices decline along with the wages necessary to pay home mortgages.

The good news is that the American economy has proven to be quite resilient, and the independent Fed, ever since the chairmanship of Ben Bernanke and his successor, Janet Yellen, has proven to be the primary bulwark against financial disruption. Bernanke’s program of massive quantitative easing (having money printed to buy U.S. Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities) was largely responsible for reversing the Great Recession, and Yellen’s Fed likewise has the incentive to aggressively employ interest rates and liquidity to help ward off deflation while lowering corporate – substitute “shale oil companies” for “corporate” – costs of borrowing.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Obama lacks a Cabinet super star

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 26 November 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Obama lacks a Cabinet super star

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – After less than two years on the job, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was shown the door, giving President Obama the opportunity to replace him with someone better suited to the crises facing the administration. The rise of the Islamic State, the deteriorating situation in Syria, and the ongoing challenges from Russian President Putin, all appear to have caught the administration by surprise and without a credible game plan.

Hagel was brought in to cut the defense budget and keep the troops at home, tasks he was well suited to handle. A decorated Vietnam combat veteran and the first enlisted man to lead the department, the wellbeing of the troops is his highest priority. As someone who has seen combat and knows the hell of war, he was also the right choice to fulfill Obama’s pledge to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and not involve the country in another war in the Middle East.

But Obama has been forced to tweak, if not outright change his plans, and he needs a defense secretary who he has confidence in to relay what the military thinks is necessary, offer his own view, and act as a bulwark against the military’s wish list when needed. Hagel was a sergeant in Vietnam, and over-ruling and second-guessing the generals and admirals now answering to him did not come naturally.

White House aides were quoted anonymously in news accounts saying they never knew where Hagel stood, that he was quiet in meetings and didn’t offer insights of his own. Even if that’s true, the fault with Obama’s policies lies less with Hagel than the men and women in Obama’s inner circle at the White House, and with the president himself.

Hagel will stay on the job until his successor is confirmed, just as Eric Holder remains in place until the Senate confirms his successor, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch. Holder, unlike Hagel, is a close personal friend of Obama’s, and the timing of his resignation was his own choice.

Still, each departure gives Obama a chance to re-set policy or to re-cast relations with Congress. Two people on Obama’s list as possible replacements for Hagel have withdrawn their names. National Security expert Michelle Flournoy called the president and cited family considerations. She left a high-ranking job at the Pentagon two years ago saying she needed to spend more time with her three adolescent and young teen children.

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, an Army veteran and West Point graduate, also took himself out of the running, prompting speculation that Obama might move Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, a rising star in the Cabinet, to the Pentagon. That of course would create a vacancy at Homeland Security, another critical post.

With the exception of Hagel, who proved a weak successor to former Defense chiefs Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, the president has picked some inspired Cabinet replacements, but none have a high-profile. When General Eric Shinseki was forced out at the Veterans Administration, Obama installed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald to go in and clean house. His private sector management skills get high marks for helping turn around the troubled VA.

After Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered her resignation in the wake of the rocky rollout of the Obamacare website, Obama tapped his then Budget Chief, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to head the mammoth department. She’s not a household name, but she gets the job done and she enjoys better relations with Congress than most Democrats.

A legitimate criticism of Obama is that he relies too much on his White House inner circle, and that his Cabinet lacks star quality. The next Defense Secretary will be coming into an administration in its fourth quarter with the home team behind. For the right person, that’s the kind of challenge if met with creativity and determination, would give Obama the super star he sorely needs.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Warren and the center left

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 20 November 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Warren and the center left

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is increasingly becoming the voice of her party, a party that has now gone through several voice changes.

When Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., took the party too far to the left, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and others formed the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to move it back to the center. In fact, they moved it right of center and captured the White House, but it was not far enough to the right to hold onto ever more conservative red states.

Enter Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and her attempted DLC revival. The media dubbed it a “Hail Mary” pass when she persuaded Senate leaders to hold a vote on the Keystone Pipeline. The measure failed, and instead of showing how powerful Landrieu is in mustering the vote, it demonstrated her powerlessness in a Congress that will soon be dominated by Republicans in both the House and Senate.

Landrieu failed to reach the 50 percent threshold in the November election, and she now faces a runoff on December 6 against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. Polls show Cassidy ahead by double digits, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) pulled back from making a major TV advertising buy, telegraphing the expectation of Landrieu’s likely defeat.

The only thing giving Democrats hope is that Landrieu, who is 58 and vying for a fourth term, has won tough races before when the handicappers didn’t give her a chance. But this time appears to be different in the sense that she is fighting forces that are beyond her control, that are more about the broader dynamics in the South, where red states are getting redder, and conservative/moderate Democrats are an endangered species.

The Landrieu family has been an institution in Louisiana since at least the 1970’s when her father, Moon Landrieu, was mayor of New Orleans before he joined President Carter’s cabinet as HUD Secretary. Mary is the oldest of nine children; her brother, Mitch Landrieu, is the current very popular mayor of New Orleans, and a likely gubernatorial candidate.

How does a family institution like this lose? Well, it wasn’t unique in this cycle to Landrieu. Democratic Senator Mark Pryor in neighboring Arkansas lost to newcomer Tom Cotton despite the Pryor name and history in the state. Former Senator David Pryor, an icon in the state, campaigned for his son, but a respected family name isn’t enough these days to counter the antipathy many voters feel toward Democrats in general, and President Obama in particular.

Landrieu and Pryor sought to overcome this antipathy by running away from Obama and presenting themselves as Republican light with support for the oil and gas industry, gun rights and only tepid backing for Obamacare. As Democrats regroup after their November shellacking, some are asking the perennial question as to whether mimicking Republicans in red states is the right strategy, or whether Democrats – even in red states – should reclaim their party’s core message instead of pretending to be something they’re not.

It’s been said many times that voters given the choice between a real Republican and a fake Republican will choose the real thing. It’s not often said about Democrats that given the choice between a real Democrat and a fake Democrat, voters will choose the real thing. Maybe that’s because there aren’t any Republicans out there who are moderate enough to be confused with a Democrat.

Democrats are in search of a message that will re-invigorate their party, and bring voters to the polls. The one person speaking out in a way that can capture Democrats’ imagination is Senator Elizabeth Warren. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week created a position in the party’s Senate leadership for Warren to have a seat at the table as the party positions itself for 2016.

Warren has no immediate plans to run for president, but she represents the qualities that voters are seeking, and that is a clear and consistent message and a lack of fear about conveying it. Hers is a center-left message in a party where the center-right policies embraced by Landrieu and others failed to return Democrats to Washington.  This is not a new fight for Democrats, but it’s one that has in Warren a forceful and plain talking advocate, which the party sorely needs.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Why sell North American oil to China?

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 19 November 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Why sell North American oil to China?

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Approval of the Keystone pipeline failed by one vote in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday evening. Fourteen Democrats joined all 45 Republicans to green light the project, signaling that once the GOP takes control of the Senate in January, Keystone is certain to reach the president’s desk.

Then it’s up to President Obama to either veto the legislation, or use it as a bargaining chip to wrest a concession out of the GOP-controlled Senate in exchange for his signature. One proposal being floated is an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. That would give each political party the bragging rights for fulfilling a key campaign promise.

But before getting too deep into transactional politics, we should ask whether it might be smarter to leave the oil in the ground. Environmentalists have made good arguments. The Canadian tar sands oil is hard to extract, it requires a lot of water to exert pressure underground, and with water becoming an increasingly precious commodity, going after oil may not be its highest and best use.

There’s also the worry about spillage, and the pass that Republicans have given to Trans-Canada, the company that would transport the oil, to avoid contributing to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. That doesn’t inspire confidence.

But there’s yet another reason, a reason that goes beyond environmental concerns, and it has to do with who benefits most from the tar sands oil flowing through the United States. Obama has pointed out that this would be Canadian oil heading to refineries in Texas, and it will be heading out into the global market where the second largest importer and consumer, China, is thirstily awaiting.

It wasn’t too long ago that China surpassed Japan as the second largest economy, and in 2013 China became the world’s largest importer and consumer of oil. The Chinese government is doing everything it can to change this by eventuality by putting resources and capital into sustainable energy and openly proclaiming that it wants to be the leader in alternative energy sources.

China already leads the market in solar panels, which should be a lesson to American entrepreneurs that this is an ongoing world competition for the energy sources and technology of tomorrow and that U.S. businesses can’t afford to lose.

Meanwhile, oil prices are way down. A barrel of oil is cheaper now than it’s been for some time, so why should the politicians battle each other in Congress for the privilege of making it easier for the Canadians to transport their oil? Why not leave it in the ground for future generations?

It’s still a scarce resource, and it’s vital to our national security. The government recognizes that stockpiling oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is a kind of rainy day fund that presidents occasionally draw down when there is a Middle East embargo, or some other strain on the oil markets. And although the SPR can hold up to 727 million barrels of oil, it cannot begin to store all that would come through the Keystone pipeline. However, there is another larger storage facility where it already sits: in the ground.  Twenty years from now, or 50 years from now, we might regret going ahead with Keystone when that oil could be so much more valuable, and critical, at some point in the future.

Why not let Saudi Arabia and other oil exporters deplete their reserves, especially at these bargain prices.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

 

Getting right and wrong in Iraq and Syria

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 12 November 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Getting right and wrong in Iraq and Syria

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – President Obama waited until after the election, and until late Friday afternoon before announcing another troop build-up in Iraq. They wouldn’t be combat troops, he stressed, but he wanted the American people to know that he had authorized another 1,500 troops to join the 1,400 already there, a doubling of the U.S. commitment.

These new troops, like the ones who have been there, are to assist the Iraqi army with intelligence, logistics and training. They will not be on the front lines fighting, and it’s unclear whether they will serve as forward observers, moving to the front lines with the Iraqis, which the military has been telling the administration is needed, or the air campaign is literally flying blind in Iraq and Syria, not knowing where the targets are.

It is likely coincidental that one of the military’s more effective attacks last weekend occurred on the heels of Obama’s announcement. The U.S.-led coalition hit a convoy of Islamic State fighters in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, and for several days, the administration let it be known that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi might have been among those killed in the series of air strikes.

There is a $10 million reward for the capture or killing of Baghdadi, but the administration has not been able to confirm his death. And while the ISIS leader’s demise would boost morale on the U.S.-led side, the ideology fueling the jihadist movement would not die with him.

Two new books contributing to the debate over how to confront this new global threat include President Bush’s tribute to his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and how the father and son presidencies view the wars they launched against Iraq (hint: positively) and a book by retired three-star Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, that argues the U.S. has failed so miserably in Iraq and Afghanistan, that there should be a public inquiry into what went wrong.

“Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars” is an account of Bolger’s command in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with a message to policymakers that they should be humbled by the failure of so much firepower to fulfill U.S. goals. In a television interview, Bolger had rare words of praise for President Obama for recognizing that the current crisis in Iraq and Syria cannot be addressed with tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops but only with a coordinated strategy that draws on U.S. allies in the region.

He praised Obama for his candor in saying that it would take years of sustained commitment to roll back ISIS’s gains and keep the extremist movement at bay.

Bush’s book, titled simply, “A Portrait of my Father,” is the memoir his self-effacing father never wrote, and the son gives him his due as a family man and as a leader. In an interview that aired on National Public Radio, Bush was asked to compare how he and his father handled a common enemy, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The interviewer noted that he had devoted much of the book to the two wars, which prompted Bush to interject that it was just 20 pages. If anyone expected the former president to give any ground on Iraq, or express any regrets or second choices, it’s not happening. Instead, Bush found a number of positive comparisons, praising his father and by implication himself, for understanding that when a president speaks, he has to mean it, and he has to follow through.

Any suggestion that the invasion of Iraq didn’t work out as well as his father’s liberation of Kuwait, Bush dismisses by saying the world he faced was more complicated, it was a post-911 world.  The choices he made shaped the world Obama inherited, and on it goes with the decisions Obama is making today, and what they portend for his presidency, and for the presidencies that follow.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

 

Why Democrats stayed home

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 7 November 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Why Democrats stayed home

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Conventional wisdom says Tuesday’s election was a referendum on President Obama. The president agrees, and he said so in his Wednesday press conference. Voters don’t like the gridlock in Washington, and as the head of government and leader of his party, the president is accountable. But there’s more to the story.

“To those of you who voted, I hear you,” Obama said, noting that only a third of eligible voters cast ballots in the election. And to the two-thirds who did not, Obama said, “I hear you too.”

Their voices were loudest. The electorate did not resemble the coalitions that elected Obama in 2008 and 2012; this election was more like 2010 when Democrats lost the House. It was smaller, whiter, and older, in other words, voters who more closely resemble the Republican base.

Turnout was 75 percent white in a country that is growing more diverse by the day; 37 percent of the voters were over age 60, five percentage points higher than in 2010, a year which Democrats thought was their nadir in attracting young single women and minorities to vote.

But those who didn’t vote probably got a result they wouldn’t necessarily support, that is if they had enough faith in government to think it might actually matter. That sums up the challenge for Democrats if they want to regain their majority status.

In the White House’s backyard, two candidates the Democrats took for granted as easy wins turned out to be shockers on election night. In Virginia, Democrat Mark Warner ran as a centrist, so the left wing of the party wasn’t sufficiently inspired to come out and vote.

Challenger Ed Gillespie punctured Warner’s balloon, saying if he’s a centrist, how come he votes 95 percent with Obama? Warner won, but Gillespie came closer than anyone could have imagined, and they’re still counting absentee and provisional ballots.

In Maryland, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown fell to Republican Larry Hogan, who painted Brown as “the second-string for Martin O’Malley’s third high-tax term.” Brown didn’t campaign aggressively, relying on the more than 2-to-1 advantage Democrats have in voter registration over Republicans in this deep blue state. Big mistake; people like to be asked for their vote, not taken for granted.

The Republican base came out across the country, motivated by anger and frustration at Obama. The GOP turned a cascade of world events to its advantage, using the rise of the self-declared Islamic state, ISIS, and the spread of Ebola from West Africa to assail Obama’s leadership.

Domestically, Republicans have been successful in painting Obama as a failed president in the midst of an improving economy and falling gas prices, typically measures by which an incumbent president is judged.

Voters did not give him credit for an economy that is vastly better than what he inherited in 2008, for getting the country out of two wars, and for a health-care law that has proven successful.

But Obama was realistic, admitting in his press conference that the good news is overshadowed by the fact that wages are stagnant, and people vote their pocketbooks. The stock market is going gangbusters, but most people are not prosperous enough to own stock.Lastly, as a result of the immigration impasse, the Hispanic vote was down by several percentage points in key races.

As Obama grapples with an emboldened Republican majority in Congress, he is standing firm with his promise to take executive action by the end of the year on immigration, but former top advisor David Axelrod tweeted POTUS that he should agree to shelve the executive order for up or down vote in House. That’s good advice, but only if John Boehner agrees, a big if .

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

 

GOP Civil War about to begin

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 5 November 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

GOP Civil War about to begin

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – What has until now been skirmishing between mainstream conservative and far-right Republicans is about to break out into a full-fledged civil war on the heels of the party’s dramatic election victory.

In fact, Republican candidates, not the Republican Party, won on Tuesday because there was no platform, no agenda. There could not be because the diverse GOP candidates would have never agreed on the issues, and their internecine warfare would have sunk their Election Day hopes.

As it was, the Republican Establishment squeezed out Tea Party candidates in Mississippi, Colorado, and elsewhere, and where it could not, as with Joni Ernst in Iowa, they persuaded her to tamp down her more extreme views, such as support of a proposed Iowa Constitutional amendment: “The inalienable right to life of every person at any stage of development shall be recognized and protected.” She had also advocated the impeachment of President Obama and adhered to a United Nations conspiracy theory.

The Senate is already rife with Tea Party Republicans and their allies, including among others Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. And they will be joined by Senator-elect Ernst and others newcomers such as Arkansas Tea Party stalwart Tom Cotton.

All this was accomplished because mainstream and Tea Party Republicans declared a temporary truce, even as weaker Tea Partiers were being winnowed out. The only agenda was winning. The only consensus target was President Obama. And now that it’s over, agendas will emerge, and not just mainstream vs. Tea Party, but factions of those elements vs. factions of those elements, and that is before they even contend with the Democrats.

While it is clear that Republicans probably would not have enjoyed the success they did had they attempted to devise a unified agenda – a virtual impossibility under the circumstances – they are now going to reap the whirlwind for that omission. It is not just that the center will not hold, because they never began with a center, just two large and several small disparate parts, and civil war is going to be the result. And since most wars – political, social, or military – often have unexpected consequences, it is impossible to forecast a result, though it is possible to contemplate possibilities

Tea Party Republicans may find enough allies to take over leadership in both the Senate and House, a scenario that would see the replacement of prospective Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Sen. Cruz would prove to be key here.

Less likely is a scenario that entails Mainstream Republican dominance because Tea Party senators and representatives are infused with too much zealotry to accept docile roles in such a coalition.

Then, there is always the possibility of a cross-aisle coalition made up of moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats. But the so-called Rockefeller Republicans and Blue-Dog Democrats make up very small minorities. Such a coalition would only be possible if it somehow attracted less-centrist members.

However, none of these scenarios is likely to play out until the Republican Civil War has commenced and casualties have been taken because casualties have a sobering influence on the peace process.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND