Opinion

The Great Debate

from Nicholas Wapshott:

U.S. power: Waging cold wars without end

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses troops at Bagram Air Base in Kabul

Suddenly, it seems, the world is at war.

In Iraq, armed and angry militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are at the gates of Baghdad. In Pakistan, government forces are mounting a ferocious campaign against the Taliban in North Waziristan. In Syria, the civil war drags on. These are “hot wars” involving the clashing of troops and weapons. Having escaped such “hot” conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, these are the sort of war Americans have made it plain they are not prepared to fight.

But there are other wars going on. In Yemen, a forgotten war against an al Qaeda outcrop continues, largely fought with lethal U.S. drones. In Ukraine, Moscow is undermining the Kiev government by stealth. Russian President Vladimir Putin, anxious not to press his luck after successfully snatching Crimea from Kiev, is like a fox sliding through the hen coop, careful not to set off the alarm. He is being countered by targeted sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. These are “cold wars” -- a contemporary variation on the 40-plus years of  Cold War fought to a standstill by the United States and the Soviet Union.

vietnam -- soldiersThe very nature of war has changed since the hauling down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. As the Cold War raged with often imperceptible intensity, the two sides mounted “hot wars” by proxy in minor theaters -- the most prominent and punishing for the United States being Vietnam, a “cold war” first fought with teams of U.S. advisers, war materiel and money that became “hot.”

Before long, the heat became too intense for the American people and their children, who were conscripted to fight, and they called for a halt. Even so, it took many years to wind down. And when the last Americans scrambled out of Saigon, the city had already fallen to the Viet Cong and been dubbed Ho Chi Minh City.

Every U.S. war since the tragedy of Vietnam has been judged against that bruising conflict. It was even assumed for a while that Washington would never take part in a hot war again. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990, however, threatened the U.S. national interest, and President George H.W. Bush decided to take the oil-rich nation back by force. With memories of our bloody entanglement in Vietnam still ringing in his ears, Bush stopped the Gulf War a little way over the Iraq border.

No matter what Putin says — Russian people have no appetite for war

People attend a rally called "We are together" to support the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea to Russia in Red Square in central Moscow

Russia and the West are again at odds, eying each other with suspicion over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support of armed separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Basic rules of the game for security, stability and prosperity in Europe and beyond are at stake. Some commentators are calling this a “new Cold War.”

But the crucial fact is that the public on each side does not have any appetite for a sustained conflict.

Attention has focused on the key leaders — President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Putin has used his acts of aggression to build public support. Yet the focus should be on whether the Russian people want renewed confrontation — or would even countenance something like a “new Cold War.”

Is this Obama’s ‘malaise’ moment?

Obama addresses the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington

Malaise is back.

President Barack Obama’s situation is getting perilously close to President Jimmy Carter’s in 1979.

Americans see little evidence of an economic recovery, more and more workers are giving up hope of ever finding a job, the burden of student loan debt — now larger than credit-card debt — is crushing the hopes of young people, the president’s signature achievement, healthcare reform, is broadly unpopular, our borders are overrun by migrant children, Iraq is falling apart, Syria and Ukraine are in turmoil and the president seems hapless and ineffectual.

“Malaise” was the term used in 1979 to describe the deep pessimism Americans felt about the way things were going in the country.  That year, inflation was soaring, unemployment was rising, the United States faced a debilitating energy crisis, a tax revolt had broken out, Americans were waiting in long gas lines, and Iran had a revolution, further roiling the Middle East.

The capture of Khatallah: How things went down in Libya

Navy SEAL photo downloads

When Ahmed Abu Khatallah, accused of leading the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was seized by U.S. special forces in Libya after midnight Monday, it raised a number of questions. Not the least being why it took 21 months to capture him.

The answer is more complex than it might first appear. There were essentially three major issues in play: the FBI and the Justice Department were determined to build a clean legal case against Khatallah that would stand up in public court; diplomatic and military factors complicated the timetable, and more than a half-dozen government agencies — some with their own specific concerns — had to coordinate in carrying out the secret mission.

U.S. President Obama listens to a question during a visit to PittsburghThese agencies included the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which runs the special forces, including the Navy’s SEALs and the Army Delta Force; the FBI, which gathered the legal evidence against Khatallah; the State Department, which had to prepare for the international legal issues; the Navy, which is bringing Khatallah back to the United States; the Justice Department, which will prosecute the captured suspect; the CIA, which provided intelligence support; the White House, where the president had to approve the operation, and other units of the government that target terrorists.  All had “equities” in this covert action — bureaucratic-speak for a piece of the action.

from Ian Bremmer:

Obama isn’t the only one with a passive-aggressive foreign policy

 China's President Xi speaks during his meeting with U.S. President Obama, on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit, in The Hague

America and China are the world’s two major powers, with the largest economies and militaries. The stakes are high for them to practice what they preach on foreign policy: their words and actions influence the global economy, as well as the behavior of allies and enemies.

The problem: Xi Jinping and Barack Obama want to have their foreign policy cake and eat it, too. For both leaders, international engagement isn’t top of mind: they want to downplay their global leadership roles in order to focus on more pressing concerns at home.

But at the same time, they have certain priorities that they’re willing to pursue unilaterally and aggressively abroad. This inconsistency gets them both in hot water. It leaves other countries guessing, it undermines global collaboration, and it allows crises like Ukraine and Iraq to burn hotter, for longer, more often.

How — and why — the U.S. must support Iraq

Mourners carry the coffin of a victim killed by a suicide bomber who blew himself up inside a tent filled with mourners in Baghdad, during a funeral in Najaf A disaster is unfolding in Iraq. It is in part a result of the failed Syria and broader Middle East policies pursued by the West in the past four years.

Insurgents reportedly led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (also known as “ISIS”) have occupied Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and may be planning to push further south to the capital, Baghdad. ISIL, a largely Sunni jihadist group more radical than al Qaeda, seeks to establish an independent caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.

President Barack Obama said Thursday that he doesn’t “rule out anything” when it comes to U.S. involvement in the region, and some political analysts are already predicting possible U.S.-led drone strikes or even air strikes.

What does Eric Cantor’s loss mean? Gridlock until 2023

Cantor and Boehner hold a news conference after a Republican Party caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington

Gridlock is likely to rule the federal government until at least 2023.  Why 2023?  Because it may not be until after the 2020 Census that the Democrats have a good chance of regaining control of the House of Representatives.

As long as Republicans rule the House, compromise with Democrats is out of the question.  Look at what happened to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in Tuesday’s GOP primary.  Cantor is nobody’s idea of a compromiser. But because he did the minimum necessary to keep government operating — like voting to raise the debt ceiling and to end the government shutdown — Cantor was branded a traitor to the conservative cause.  Cantor’s ultimate transgression?  His Tea Party opponent displayed a photo of the House majority leader standing next to President Barack Obama.   Oh, the horror!

The 2010 Republican landslide gave the party control of most state governments. The GOP-controlled state governments, which reconfigured congressional district boundaries after the 2010 census, drew lines that would protect and expand GOP control of the House. The next census is in 2020. That’s two presidential elections away.

Obama’s ultimate indignity: Bush seen as more competent

bush-obama

Agreement is not enough.  Performance matters more.

That’s why the outlook for Democrats this November looks bleak.  More and more Americans now agree with Democrats on the issues.  But they are increasingly dismayed by President Barack Obama’s inability to get results.

The Gallup poll reports that, ideologically, Americans are moving to the left on both social and economic issues. Though more Americans continue to identify as conservatives than as liberals, the conservative advantage is shrinking.

In 2010, for example, which saw a huge backlash against Obama, self-described economic conservatives outnumbered economic liberals by 36 points. Every year since, the conservative lead has gotten smaller. It’s now 21 points.

Is Michelle running for the Senate?

michelle walking in

First Lady Michelle Obama is everywhere. She’s traveling to China. She’s raising money for Democrats. She’s issuing plaintive tweets seeking the rescue of the kidnapped Nigerian girls.

She’s wading uncharacteristically deep into the Washington political mud pit to defend her school lunch program against Republicans, assailing them last Tuesday for opting to “play politics with our kids’ health.” She struck a similar tone in a New York Times op-ed two days later, accusing Republicans of trying to “override science” and suggesting they join parents and “put our children’s interests first.”

So what’s with the bolder profile?

Sure,  Obama cares strongly about the things she is doing. That she does care in fact begs another question: Is caring all that’s going on here? Does she have political ambitions that would allow her to pursue an agenda while working to cement her husband’s legacy?

How far right can Republicans go?

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at the Lexington Airport in Lexington, Kentucky

The line between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party has blurred.  That spells trouble for the GOP in the long run.  Possibly this year, more likely in 2016.

It might not look like it right now. The Republican establishment, which has been on the defensive since the Tea Party emerged in 2009, is on a roll. Establishment candidates have won contested primaries in North Carolina, Florida and now Kentucky and Georgia.  Republican voters seem to be turning away from the kinds of fringe candidates they went for in 2010 and 2012,  like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware (“I am not a witch”) and Todd Akin in Missouri (“legitimate rape”). Candidates like that cost Republicans their chance to take back control of the U.S. Senate.

So this year, the party stands a good chance of taking over the Senate and expanding its majority in the House of Representatives.  The Obama era is over!

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