Sunday, March 1, 2015

Editorial: Reaping the Whirlwind

President Obama has been opposed almost entirely down the line by Republicans ever since their leaders met at the high-dollar Caucus Room restaurant the night of Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, to plan their opposition. Over steaks and cocktails, they pledged to use every parliamentary trick to deny the new president any accomplishments.

Congressman Pete Sessions (D-Texas) even said the Taliban could be a model for the Republican insurgency that would obstruct Obama’s agenda.

It’s bad enough that Republicans tried to block Obama’s and the Dems’ efforts to revive the economy after the bottom dropped out during the last year of George W. Bush’s administration. Almost in lockstep, Republicans opposed the economic stimulus and the loans that helped General Motors and Chrysler survive in 2009. Then, in 2010 Republicans almost unanimously opposed the Affordable Care Act, despite it being based on the individual mandate to buy insurance that the Heritage Foundation originally proposed.

Unfortunately, Republican sabotage also extends to Obama’s attempts to bottle up the terrorists who were spawned by George W. Bush’s ill-considered invasion and occupation of Iraq. It used to be that politics ended at the water’s edge, but under Caucus Room rules, anything that makes Obama look bad is good for the GOP.

As this is written, there is an impasse between the House and Senate over the funding of the Department of Homeland Security. Senate Republicans have indicated their willingness to pass a “clean” bill that would keep the lights on at DHS, but House Republicans have refused to consider any bill that funds Homeland Security but doesn’t repudiate President Obama’s executive authority to defer the deportation of undocumented immigrants. Senate Democrats can block the House’s poison-pill bill in the Senate, saving President Obama a veto — but that doesn’t mean the Democrats deserve blame for the shutdown if it occurs at the end of February.

[Post Script: The Senate approved a bipartisan "clean bill" on Friday, Feb. 27, funding the Department of Homeland Security without the provision rejecting Obama's executive actions on immigration. The House took no action on that bill, but it rejected the House Republican leadership's proposal for a three-week extension of the DHS budget 224- 203 Friday afternoon, with 52 Republicans voting with most of the Democrats to reject the stopgap. Friday evening the House voted 357-60, with Democrats joining the Republican leadership, to extend House funding for one week.]

Republicans are playing chicken with national security, and they are placing a hardship on national security professionals. Even if the GOP-imposed shutdown occurs, essential Homeland Security personnel will remain on duty, though they won’t know when they might be paid for their service.
The shutdown might tempt an Al-Qaeda or IS sympathizer to think this is an opportune time to strike an American target. You can be sure Republicans are ready to blame the President if that happens.

If an attack doesn’t happen next week, it probably will happen eventually. We shouldn’t be scared of a gang of extremists who already are stretched thin trying to hold their outposts in Iraq and Syria. But deranged Christians shooting up classrooms, theaters and malls apparently aren’t enough to make us reconsider the sacred “right to bear arms,” so why should we let the threat of an Islamist terrorist with access to Youtube make us suspend the Bill of Rights?

We should keep our guard up in public places in the United States, but in the meantime we should support our Arab and other Islamic allies (including Iran) who are willing to clear IS and Al Qaeda out of the Mideast, with air cover from the US Air Force and other military resources as necessary.

Some of us might not accept the obligation, but the US is responsible for unleashing the murderous gangs in Iraq who have spilled into Syria. Bush and his right-wing friends thought that replacing Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist regime in 2003 would clear the way for a free-market paradise in Iraq. Instead, we found that ousting Hussein was ruinous to Iraqi society as well as our relations with neighboring countries. The Ba’athist army under Hussein had been nominally secular but was dominated by Sunni Muslims. After they were defeated and discharged by the Americans, with no way to make an honest living, many rediscovered their religion and were attracted to Al-Qaeda in Iraq and later to IS.

Egypt’s president at the time, Hosni Mubarak, predicted that the invasion of Iraq would produce “one hundred new bin Ladens,” driving more Muslims to anti-Western militancy. “When it is over, if it is over, this war will have horrible consequences,” Mubarak told Egyptian solders in Suez on March 31, 2003.

Now it is up to President Obama to clean up the mess that Bush left, and is entirely reasonable for Obama to refuse to legitimize Al Qaeda, the “Islamic State” and other extremist groups who claim to be advancing Islam.

Some have criticized the President for refusing to connect extremism to the religion of Islam — particularly after shootings by Islamist militants in Paris and Copenhagen. On Feb. 18, speaking at a three-day White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Obama said, “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” He added, “No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.”

This makes sense when President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are working to get cooperation from Islamic nations in the fight against Islamist extremism. They have signed up 62 nations, including the European Union and the Arab League, in a coalition to fight IS. Five Arab allies — Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar — are participating in air strikes against “Islamic State” targets in Iraq and Syria, while others are offering delivery services and humanitarian aid. Turkey, which initially resisted support for the actions in Syria, has pledged military and logistic support for the operation.”

Even if US military units still are conducting most of the air strikes, it helps to have Arab nations on our side, which would be more difficult if Obama were to adopt the Fox “News” talking point that we are at war with Islam.

The savagery of IS has moved more Muslim nations to side with the US. The videotaped execution of a captured Jordanian pilot by burning him to death (in violation of the Koran) solidified popular support in Jordan for King Abdullah’s campaign against IS. And the beheading of Egyptian Christian workers who had been captured in Libya by an IS-allied group caused Egypt to strike out at IS targets in Libya and called for the US-led coalition to join the fight in that troubled nation.

Egyptian forces already are fighting extremist insurgencies in the Sinai Peninsula in the east and are trying to stamp out dissent after the 2013 coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood, which swept to power in 2012 and attempted to impose Sharia law and cracked down on the Coptic Christian minority after a popular movement drove President Mubarak out of office.

Under new President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, the former general who led the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has detained tens of thousands of Brotherhood members as well as journalists and other protesters. Police and military have killed hundreds under the banner of fighting terrorism. Democracy is hard ...

The perils of Republican attempts to undermine President Obama abroad are illustrated in the experience of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who in 2013 urged Saudi and Qatari governments to arm Syrian rebel groups when Obama was slow to get the job done. After arms did move to Syrian rebel groups, McCain told CNN’s Candy Crowley in January 2014, “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar.” But the arms didn’t just go to the “moderate” Free Syrian Army that is backed by the US, Turkey and Western allies. Steve Clemons reported at June 23, 2014, that two groups fighting Syrian President Assad who received arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia turned out to be Jabhat al-Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate, and ISIS, which was expelled from al Qaeda because they were too extreme for the jihadists. Just two weeks after President Obama met with Saudi King Abdullah on March 28, 2014, Bandar was removed from his position as head of Saudi intelligence. McCain apparently learned nothing from the debacle.

Clemons concluded, “John McCain’s desire to help rebel forces toss off a brutal dictator and fight for a more just and inclusive Syria is admirable. But as has been proven repeatedly in the Middle East, ousting strongmen doesn’t necessarily produce more favorable successor governments.” — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2015

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