President Obama used this week’s “Weekly Address” to discuss the Zika virus and slam the Republicans who have chosen to block the funding necessary to fight the spread of this mosquito-borne disease.
The president began by talking about a call he had gotten from a pregnant woman named Ashley who said she was “extremely concerned” about Zika and “what it might mean for other pregnant women like her.” He added that, as a father, he shared this mother’s worry. Conservatives in Congress on the other hand, not so much.
“Republicans in Congress did not share Ashley’s ‘extreme concern,’ nor that of other Americans expecting children. They said no. Instead, we were forced to use resources we need to keep fighting Ebola, cancer, and other diseases. We took that step because we have a responsibility to protect the American people” said Obama. “But that’s not a sustainable solution. And Congress has been on a seven-week recess without doing anything to protect Americans from the Zika virus.”
Obama said that his “Administration has done what we can on our own,” but that is not nearly enough to stop the spread of this disease. He explained the steps that citizens can take to try to protect themselves from the mosquitos who carry and spread the virus: use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, get rid of standing water where mosquitos breed, etc.
And then, President Obama tore into the Republican lawmakers who have been dragging their feet when it comes to funding the measures that will stop the threat of this disease, which is known to cause serious birth defects when a pregnant woman is infected, including microcephaly.
“But every day that Republican leaders in Congress wait to do their job, every day our experts have to wait to get the resources they need – that has real-life consequences. Weaker mosquito-control efforts. Longer wait times to get accurate diagnostic results. Delayed vaccines. It puts more Americans at risk.”
“One Republican Senator has said that ‘There is no such thing as a Republican position on Zika or Democrat position on Zika because these mosquitoes bite everyone.’”
“I agree. We need more Republicans to act that way because this is more important than politics. It’s about young mothers like Ashley. Today, her new baby Savannah is healthy and happy. That’s priority number one. And that’s why Republicans in Congress should treat Zika like the threat that it is and make this their first order of business when they come back to Washington after Labor Day. That means working in a bipartisan way to fully fund our Zika response. A fraction of the funding won’t get the job done. You can’t solve a fraction of a disease. Our experts know what they’re doing. They just need the resources to do it.”
During a Wednesday night rally in Florida, Donald Trump said something that sounded absurd even for him — that President Obama founded ISIS.
“In many respects, you know, they honor President Obama,” Trump declared. “He’s the founder of ISIS.”
This sure sounds like Trump is accusing Obama of secretly creating ISIS. But what Trump really meant by this, as he explained in a subsequent interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, is that ISIS was the direct result of the US troop withdrawal from Iraq implemented under Obama.
“The way he got out of Iraq was that that was the founding of ISIS, okay?” Trump tells Hewitt. “With his bad policies, that’s why ISIS came about.”
All of these comments are wrong, however — in two distinct and equally damaging ways. First, Trump completely botches the history of ISIS: The group was founded in 1999 and really grew up after the US invasion of Iraq. If any US president could be blamed for ISIS’s “founding,” it would be George W. Bush, not Barack Obama.
Second, Trump’s “founding” phrasing is damaging even though he didn’t mean it literally. Trump is, intentionally or not, validating conspiracy theories about America’s relationship with ISIS. It’s a terribly irresponsible thing to say — and illustrates one of the many reasons Trump would make an awful president.
ISIS was “founded” more than 10 years ago — before Obama came along
(STR/AFP/Getty Images)Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of ISIS.
To understand why Trump’s claim that Obama “founded” ISIS is so off base, you need to understand the group’s actual origins.
ISIS has its origins in a Jordanian group called Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTWJ), founded in 1999 by a militant named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi, himself from Jordan, was a kind of thuggish figure, known more for brutality than theological sophistication. Initially, his group was fairly marginal in the global jihadist movement, especially compared with al-Qaeda.
The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 changed everything. The American-led war, by destroying the Iraqi state, left much of the country in chaos. Foreign fighters and extremists began moving into Iraq, assisted by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, which sought to bog down the United States. Zarqawi and his group were among those foreign fighters.
The Sunni extremists who arrived found a friendly audience among former Iraqi soldiers and officers: The US had disbanded Saddam Hussein’s overwhelmingly Sunni army, which was disbanded in 2003, creating a group of men who were unemployed, battle-trained, and scared of life in an Iraq dominated by its Shia majority.
Zarqawi’s group, as it fought in Iraq, grew to prominence, attracting al-Qaeda’s attention. In 2004, Zarqawi pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda, for which he would receive access to its funds and fighters. His group was renamed al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and it became the country’s leading Sunni insurgent group.
By 2006, Zarqawi’s group controlled a swath of territory in Iraq roughly similar to the areas ISIS has occupied more recently. It started calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq, or ISI for short.
Shortly thereafter, Zarqawi’s group met a fierce backlash. Sunni tribal leaders, who had always hated living under AQI’s harsh and often violent rule, became convinced that the Shias were starting to win Iraq’s sectarian civil war. To avoid being on the losing end of a bloody war, they up took arms against AQI in a movement called the Awakening.
Zarqawi was killed in 2006 by a US airstrike, and the US increased its troop presence in Iraq that year and the next. But it was, more than anything else, the Awakening that destroyed al-Qaeda in Iraq’s empire.
But while the group lost its territory, it survived in a much weakened form. A hard core of AQI loyalists, led by current ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, survived the group’s military defeat and continued operations as a small terrorist cell. This group would eventually become what we know as ISIS today.
In short: The group that would become ISIS was founded in Jordan in 1999, and became devoted to holding territory in Iraq after the US invasion in 2003. You can debate which of these constitutes ISIS’s “founding” in some metaphysical sense. But by any definition, the group was founded well before President Obama came into office. Trump is just flatly wrong on this.
The US withdrawal from Iraq under Obama wasn’t the reason ISIS grew
(Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images) US troops leaving Iraq.
Okay, a Trump defender might say, but Trump’s real point isn’t that Obama “created” ISIS. It’s that Obama withdrew US troops from Iraq in 2011, creating a security vacuum that allowed ISIS to regain its strength.
This is a pretty standard conservative narrative, one not at all unique to Trump. It is, however, quite wrong. The real sources of ISIS’s recent growth were the Syrian civil war and political sectarianism in Iraq, neither of which was within the power of United States to prevent.
By 2010, “Iraq finally had relatively good security, a generous state budget, and positive relations among the country’s various ethnic and religious communities,” Zaid al-Ali, author of The Struggle for Iraq’s Future, wrote in Foreign Policy. But that strong position was squandered. Then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stripped his political opponents of power, appointed his cronies to run the army, and killed peaceful protesters.
Most importantly, Maliki reconstructed the Iraqi state along sectarian lines, privileging the Shia majority over the Sunni minority. This exacerbated Iraq’s existing sectarian tensions: Sunni Iraqis, after all, had long and falsely believed themselves to be Iraqi’s majority (owing to Saddam-era propaganda). They saw Maliki as depriving them of their rightful control of the state — and his actions deepened their belief that the Iraqi state was fundamentally illegitimate.
Around this same time as this was happening, Syria erupted in Arab Spring protests and, eventually, descended into civil war. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current leader of ISIS who was at the time in Iraq, saw the chaos as an opportunity, sending a contingent of fighters to Syria to set up shop there in late 2011.
These two developments — Iraq’s unraveling and Syria’s civil war — created a perfect incubator for ISIS.
Growing political sectarianism in Iraq helped the group rebuild its core Iraqi fighting force. The war in Syria allowed them to gain weapons, battlefield experience, funding, and a different avenue for recruiting. Its growth in Syria led it to start calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria — or ISIS, for short.
This is the key problem with Trump’s claim about Obama and ISIS. In order for his accusation to be true, he needs to be able to explain how leaving US troops in Iraq would have been able to stop either the Syrian civil war or avert the Maliki government’s sectarian turn. US troops could have killed ISIS fighters, sure, but that wouldn’t have solved the root causes of the group’s growth.
Remember, US troops couldn’t destroy ISIS during the post-2003 war on their own. The key cause of AQI’s defeat then was an Iraqi Sunni uprising, which wasn’t in the cards given the Iraqi government’s sectarian policies between 2009 and 2014. And that’s to say nothing of the idea that US troops in Iraq could somehow have stopped ISIS’s growth in Syria.
Moreover, it’s not obvious that American troops could even have stayed in Iraq given Iraqi politics. The 2011 withdrawal was the result of a status of forces agreement (SOFA) signed by the Bush administration in December 2008. The Obama administration actually attempted to renegotiate the SOFA and insert a provision that would leave between 5,000 and 10,000 troops in the country.
But the negotiations to keep US troops in Iraq were always doomed, largely due to Iraqi politics. The new deal would have needed to go through Iraq’s parliament. The overwhelming majority of both Sunni and Shia Iraqi voters, understandably still angry about the US invasion, wanted American troops gone. Iraqi MPs would not have risked their jobs in support of a US troop presence that many of them also resented.
“The Iraqis had a vote here, and made it very clear that they wanted a clear end date when US troops would leave the country,” Douglas Ollivant, the National Security Council director for Iraq from 2008 to 2009, said in a 2012 interview with Iraq expert Joel Wing. “From the Iraqi perspective, this agreement was always about our withdrawal, and our presence over the last three years was simply a temporary accommodation to allow us to do that in an orderly manner.”
Bottom line? US troops probably would not have stopped ISIS’s rise, and, even if they could have, there would have been very little Obama could have done to make sure they stayed in Iraq. Trump is simply wrong.
Why Trump’s comments are terrible in addition to being wrong
Trump’s comments go beyond merely being wrong on the facts. They actively encourage even worse thinking about America’s role in Iraq.
Trump has been insistent that his “founder of ISIS” phrasing is accurate, despite all the evidence to the contrary. In his radio interview, host Hewitt tries to get Trump to back off the “founder” phrasing, and make the argument about the US withdrawal creating ISIS without the incendiary framing. Trump refuses:
Hewitt: Last night, you said the President was the founder of ISIS. I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.
Trump: No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.
Hewitt: But he’s not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He’s trying to kill them.
Trump: I don’t care. He was the founder. His, the way he got out of Iraq was that that was the founding of ISIS, okay?
The issue here is that this plays into actual conspiracy theories about the founding of ISIS. Many people within the Middle East believe the United States is secretly helping ISIS in order to weaken states in the region. Trump’s phrasing just puts more fuel on the fire.
“It’s a conspiracy theory that some in [the Middle East] region believe, and a US presidential candidate just affirmed it,” Matt Duss, the president of the Foundation for Middle East peace, wrote to me.
Nor is this just a conspiracy theory in the Middle East. “[Trump’s] line that Obama founded ISIS echoes exactly a myth propagated by Russian state-controlled media and bloggers,” Michael McFaul, a Stanford professor and former US ambassador to Russia, tweeted.
Trump’s insistence that his “founder” phrasing is appropriate, then, goes beyond merely being wrong about the causes of ISIS’s rise. It affirmatively amplifies ideas that damage America’s reputation abroad.
This is a major problem with Trump. When he makes mistakes, or says something indefensibly terrible, he almost never apologizes. When pressed, he doubles down, even when it sounds ridiculous and even racist. Think about his insistence that he saw Muslims in New Jersey celebrate 9/11 (never happened), or that Obama might not have been born in America.
Whether this is an intentional appeal to Islamophobes or simply a rhetorical tick whose consequences Trump doesn’t appreciate is more or less irrelevant. The “founder of ISIS” comments play into a demonstrated pattern of saying something damaging and then refusing to apologize and own up to its consequences.
That’s a very dangerous quality for someone who wants to become president. A poorly phrased statement by the most powerful person in the world doesn’t just help amplify bad ideas — it can actively cause an international crisis.
This dumb controversy is everything wrong with our Iran debate.
On the morning of January 17, several wooden pallets arrived at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport. The unassuming pallets were stuffed with foreign cash — $400 million worth, to be exact. Their origin point? The United States.
That same day, four US citizens detained by Iran were released from Iranian custody.
These facts, uncovered in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, have set off a major firestorm inside the United States. Republicans and conservatives, including Paul Ryan and Donald Trump, have alleged that the payment was part of secret ransom deal the Obama administration made with Iran to free the prisoners.
“If true, this report confirms our longstanding suspicion that the administration paid a ransom in exchange for Americans unjustly detained in Iran,” Ryan’s outraged statement read. “It would also mark another chapter in the ongoing saga of misleading the American people to sell this dangerous nuclear deal.”
It’s easy to see how the timing is suspicious. But Ryan, Trump, and other critics have the facts wrong. The Wall Street Journal story is actually describing a payment thatPresident Obama announced back in January. What’s more, the payment was the result of a 35-year case in international court — and had nothing to do with any “hostage” payments.
Once you understand these facts, you will understand that this isn’t actually a story about the Obama administration paying a secret ransom to Iran. It’s a story about the way Washington’s debate over Iran is fundamentally broken.
What literally happened
In very simple terms, this payment is the first installment of a refund for a weapons purchase America never delivered. It starts in 1979, the year of the Iranian Revolution.
In November 1979, a group loyal to the revolutionary regime took 52 Americans hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran. In response, the United States severed diplomatic relations with Iran and froze Iranian assets in America.
Crucially for the present issue, it also halted a delivery of fighter jets that Iran’s pre-revolution government had already paid $400 million for. Normally the US would return the money if it wasn’t going to deliver the planes — countries don’t just break formal agreements like that. But it had frozen Iranian assets in the US as punishment for the hostage-taking — and that included the $400 million.
The hostage crisis was eventually resolved in 1981, at a conference in Algiers. But the Algiers Accords didn’t resolve every outstanding issue — including the legal status of the $400 million.
Instead, it set up an international court, based in the Hague, to deal with any legal claims that the governments of Iran and the United States had against each other, or that individual citizens of the two countries had against the other country.
This court, called the Iran–United States Claims Tribunal, functioned as a kind of binding arbitration. In any case, the involved parties could either negotiate a settlement out of court or take it to a panel made up of three US-appointed judges, three Iranian-appointed judges, and three neutral judges. The panel would then hear the case and issue a binding ruling.
This process, as you might guess, was very, very slow. By the time Obama’s second term in office began, the tribunal still had not come to a ruling on the issue of the $400 million. Sometime afterward, the Associated Press’s Matt Lee reports, the US government apparently concluded that it was going to lose the case — and lose big: Iran was seeking $10 billion in today’s dollars.
“US officials had expected a ruling on the Iranian claim from the tribunal any time, and feared a ruling that would have made the interest payments much higher,” Lee writes.
So the Obama administration decided to settle out of court, opening up negotiations with Iran on the terms of the settlement. It did this at the same time it was negotiating the nuclear deal and the return of four US citizens who had been detained by Iran more recently. However, the people working on the nuclear deal and the prisoner release were different from the team working on the court case — some of whom had been involved with the claims tribunal for years.
By January 2016, the countries had struck a deal — the US would pay Iran $1.7 billion, which amounts to about $300 million in interest on top of the originally frozen assets (accounting for inflation).
The settlement was announced the same day in January as Iran received its first round of sanctions relief from the Iran deal.
The $400 million payment, delivered in foreign cash because US law prevents the government from giving Iran dollars, was the first installment toward the $1.7 billion total. Getting together large amounts of foreign cash is hard, apparently — hence the installment plan.
So there you have it. The payment, which sounds really shady out of context, was actually the end of a boring, decades-old international legal case totally unrelated to the hot-button nuclear and prisoner issues.
What’s the evidence that this was a hostage payment?
Almost immediately after the $1.7 billion deal was announced, critics began suggesting that all was not as it seemed. The timing of the decades-old weapons payment settlement and the hostage release suggested that it wasn’t just a settlement on a legal issue — it was a ransom payment.
“A deal that sent $1.7 billion in U.S. funds to Iran, announced alongside the freeing of five Americans from Iranian jails, has emerged as a new flashpoint amid a claim in Tehran that the transaction amounted to a ransom payment,” the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon, who also co-wrote the recent piece that broke the $400 million payment story, reported at the time.
But there was no direct evidence to back up this theory. The speculation about timing was just that — speculation.
Moreover, the basic logic of it didn’t make any sense. Iran was going to get that money back no matter what through the arbitration process — probably more, if the Obama administration was right. Why would it release potentially valuable hostages in exchange for money it would have gotten otherwise? Iran would have to be the world’s dumbest hostage taker.
The August Wall Street Journal piece, written by Solomon and Carol Lee, attempted to resolve these questions. It uncovered that the first $400 million payment, which was part of the $1.7 billion total settlement, happened on the same day as the hostage release — and that the Obama administration clearly chose not to include that particular fact in its announcement back in January.
That’s suggestive of a link between the hostage negotiations and the weapons settlement, but it’s hardly conclusive.
Beyond that, the WSJ report contained two real pieces of evidence suggesting that the arms deal payment was actually ransom.
First, Iranian negotiators involved in the prisoner exchange allegedly linked the two: “US officials also acknowledge that Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible,” Solomon and Lee report.
But the Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange were not the same negotiatorsinvolved in the weapons deal settlement. Therefore, they couldn’t make demands of the US team negotiating the weapons deal settlement, which means they couldn’t negotiate a quid pro quo of money for hostage release, the definition of a ransom.
So even if this report is true — and you should always be skeptical of anonymous unquoted references to “US officials” — the Iranians would have gotten the money no matter what.
The second piece of evidence for the payment being a ransom is that the Iranians spun it that way. “Iranian press reports have quoted senior Iranian defense officials describing the cash as a ransom payment,” write Solomon and Lee.
But of course Iranian officials would spin it as a hostage payment. This makes them look strong to their domestic audience and America look weak. We don’t take political spin from American officials at face value, so we shouldn’t take Iranian spin at face value either — especially when it’s contradicted by independent evidence.
One could make the argument, I suppose, that the timing was a form of ransom. By delivering the payment on the same day as the prisoner release, Iranian officials could claim that they got the money as part of a ransom deal.
But the truth is that the Iranians could have claimed that no matter when the cash was delivered. If the Obama administration had forked over $400 million six months later, those same Iranian defense officials could have lied and said it was part of the prisoner release deal rather than the weapons settlement.
The lie isn’t significantly more credible just because the cash was delivered on the same day. Nor should American media and politicians help validate the Iranian lie by treating Iranian propaganda as actual evidence.
The bottom line, then, is that the new Wall Street Journal piece uncovers no real evidence suggesting that the US agreed to give Iran money that it wouldn’t have gotten otherwiseas part of the hostage release deal. There’s smoke here, but no fire.
This shows how our Iran debate is broken
There’s a bigger problem here, one that goes well beyond a hyperbolic reaction to one Wall Street Journal story. Because this isn’t really about one cash payment to Iran — it’s about the fundamentally broken way we talk about Iran.
Every debate about Iran in Washington nowadays is really a debate about the Iran nuclear deal.
Basically, one camp says the US should welcome a settlement that defuses tensions with Iran on this one specific issue, while the other sees Iran as a fundamentally hostile actor that cannot — and should not — be compromised with.
That second camp sees the deal as a huge step toward the US accommodating Iran more broadly in the Middle East, which they believe would be a disaster of epic proportions. So they campaign, relentlessly, to undermine the nuclear deal — with the support of most of the Republican Party.
Indira Lakshmanan has a revealing story in Politico on the “plan to undo the Iranian nuclear deal” by preventing Iran from reentering the global economy, and the “constellation of pressure groups, analysts, lobbyists and lawmakers” who are hard at work trying to make it happen.
The problem, though, is that the nuclear deal is actually working pretty well.
When you talk to technical experts, they tell you that Iran is abiding by the deal’s terms. The Iranians have cut down on the number of centrifuges, limited their stockpile of enriched uranium, and done many other things that have made it much harder for them to build a nuclear bomb.
“I think it’s gone very well,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told me last month. “The [International Atomic Energy Agency] has been regularly reporting on Iran’s compliance, and Iran is complying with the deal.”
This creates a major problem for team anti-deal. They need evidence that the deal isn’t working and should be undone, but the facts about the deal’s core provisions don’t support that. The result is an endless deluge of spin. Every new piece of information on Iran or the nuclear deal becomes evidence that Iran is evil or cannot be trusted.
Since the deal, there’s been a slew of bad-sounding stories being spun wildly to construct a narrative of a broken nuclear deal and an Obama administration kowtowing to Iran. A few examples:
An AP story that allegedly showed Iran would “self-inspect” Parchin, a military complex, turned out to be describing standard operating procedure when it came to nuclear inspections.
A report from German intelligence suggesting Iran was buying nuclear material was hyped as evidence that Iran can’t be trusted. Turns out the report only covered the year 2015 — before the nuclear deal came into effect.
Claims that Iran had broken the deal by stockpiling too much heavy water ignored the fact that there wasn’t an actual hard cap on heavy water in the Iran deal, and that Iran very quickly shipped out its excess heavy water.
These stories are all highly technical: In order to understand the truth, you need to know a fair amount about how nuclear inspections work or the terms of the nuclear deal. Without that knowledge, it’s easy to see a pattern of Iranian malfeasance and violation of the terms of the deal — which is exactly the story deal critics are trying to tell.
This most recent controversy over the alleged “hostage” payment fits this pattern perfectly. The truth of the situation is highly technical and boring; nobody cares about a 35-year-old international litigation process. And a surface-level look at the facts — the US delivered $400 million in secret cash on the same day Iran released US prisoners — confirms the narrative of the Obama administration making absurd concessions to Iran.
Yet when boring facts meet exciting spin, exciting spin often wins out. So you’ve gotMark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and one of the leaders of the effort to torpedo the deal, claiming that the entire $1.7 billion was a big ransom payment.
If you weren’t following this debate very closely, you wouldn’t know why he was wrong. You would conclude that the US has “once again” made embarrassing concessions to Iran — a point that Republicans, deal critics, and Obama opponents are only too happy to amplify.
I’m not trying to say the Iranians are innocent little lambs. Iran is most certainly a very, very bad actor — it is spreading sectarian violence in Iraq (and elsewhere), funding anti-Israel terrorist groups, and devoting tremendous military resources to propping up Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria. The nuclear deal hasn’t made Iran into a force for stability, as some deal proponents in the Obama administration hoped, and it probably won’t.
These are real, serious foreign policy problems for the United States. But when our Iran debate focuses on misleading nuclear inspection minutiae or whether the Obama administration is “kowtowing” to Iran with things like the alleged hostage payment, we aren’t having a serious conversation about how to address Iran’s actually bad policies.
Instead, we’re debating an endless drumbeat of misleading stories designed only to undermine the nuclear deal and faith in the Obama administration’s negotiating prowess. The ransom faux scandal is only the latest such story in this pattern.
This isn’t a helpful way of talking about America’s Iran policy, and it needs to stop.
For almost eight years the Republicans have made it a point of pride to defy, denigrate and demean President Obama. Almost everything President Obama says or does will become a point of conflict for Republicans.
Well that intransigence is about to come with a very steep price.
Trump’s comments — an extraordinary breach of political decorum that underscores the party’s deep divisions — came as President Obama delivered his sternest rebuke yet of the celebrity mogul candidate. Obama declared Trump “unfit to serve as president” and “woefully unprepared to do this job,” and he challenged Republican leaders to withdraw their support of their nominee.
Obama punctuated his remarks, delivered at a Tuesday morning news conference, by explaining that he had never before felt compelled to so thoroughly denounce a political opponent.
At this point, even if Republicans would like to un-endorse Trump, they can’t. Because Obama said they should! He has just tied Trump around the necks of every Republican. They can’t un-endorse because their tea-party base will go ballistic and not support “traitorous Republicans” in this year’s elections. But everyday they continue to try to lay low and hope the storm passes, they become tied that much closer to Trump.
Look, Trump brought this upon himself, and it looks like if he goes down he’s going to do his best to bring Ryan and McConnell down with him. In that respect, he is Obama’s servant right now.
The troll has been out-trolled.
I don’t say this out of admiration for Barack Obama as a policymaker or as a serious-minded public servant but as a partisan political operative. I am a conservative who despises what Obama has done as president.
But even a Yankees fan must grudgingly acknowledge the skill of Big Papi when he crushes a homer against your team.
The moral arc of the universe does indeed bend towards justice.
The dark vision of America under siege described by Donald Trump in his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination does not mesh with reality, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The dark vision of America under siege described by Donald Trump in his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination does not mesh with reality, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday.
Obama noted that the “birds were chirping and the sun was out” for most Americans after Trump’s Thursday night speech, which expounded on the threats to America from illegal immigrants, Islamic State militants, and race-related violence.
“This idea that America is somehow on the verge of collapse, this vision of violence and chaos everywhere, doesn’t really jibe with the experience of most people,” Obama said at a White House news conference after meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Obama said the violent crime rate in America has been lower during his 7-1/2 years in office than any time during the last three or four decades, despite an “uptick” in murders in some cities this year, and the recent high-profile killings of black men and police officers.
The timing of Obama’s quickly arranged short meeting with Pena Nieto presented both leaders with a convenient platform from which to criticize Trump.
Just three weeks ago, Obama – who has six months left in the White House – invited the Mexican president to visit one last time before the U.S. president leaves on Jan. 20.
Trump has pledged to build a wall at the Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs, and to force Mexico to pay for it.
The New York businessman has also promised to slap tariffs on some U.S. products made in Mexico, and seek radical changes or even discard the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Pena Nieto was first to mention Trump, but said he respected both Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and would work with constructively and in good faith with whoever wins the Nov. 8 election.
In March, Pena Nieto likened Trump’s “strident tone” to the ascent of dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. But he said on Friday that he had never pointed the finger at any of the candidates, saying that anything he had said had been taken out of context.
And he stressed that the two nations’ futures were closely bound.
“The closeness between the United States and Mexico is more than a relationship between governments. It’s a solid and unbreakable relationship between millions of people who live in both nations,” Pena Nieto said.
Obama said the rate of illegal immigration is down from past decades, and praised Mexico for helping to address a flood of migrants fleeing Central America and for work on drug trafficking.
“A Mexico that has a healthy economy, a Mexico that can help us build stability and security in Central America, that’s going to do a lot more to solve any migration crisis or drug trafficking problem than a wall,” Obama said.
Obama and Pena Nieto praised the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal as addressing some of the criticisms of NAFTA. Both Trump and Clinton have said they oppose the TPP, which has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Congress.
“There are going to be different visions about where we should go as a country,” Obama said, running down a list of economic issues facing the nation.
“But we’re not going to make good decisions based on fears that don’t have a basis in fact,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, David Alexander and Eric Walsh in Washington, and Dave Graham, Ana Isabel Martinez, Adriana Barrera and Michael O’Boyle in Mexico City; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Take for instance tea party activist Larry Klayman who’s suing President Obama, Black Lives Matter, Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton for “endangering not just my life, as a white law enforcement person of Jewish origin, but also for all Americans, white black, yellow or brown, no matter what their race or religion.”
Sadly, that wasn’t the end of the absurdity of this suit:
Not only does Obama have blood on his hands as having encouraged if not furthered this hate crime against whites and white cops, but so too does his “soul brothers,” the virulent anti-white, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian so-called Rev. Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, and his co-enablers like another so-called reverend, Al Sharpton, a charlatan and white hater. Indeed, Obama has, as usual, chosen to associate himself with these lowlifes in his quest to ram his latent hatred of whites, Jews and Christians down everyone’s throats. When the leader of the United States and supposedly the Western world, who was born to a Muslim father, schooled in Muslim schools, and has close ties to black-Muslim leaders like Farrakhan seeks to incite violence by virtue of his running interference for Muslims and blacks who are not even representative of African-Americans generally, it’s no wonder Obama-inspired massacres like Dallas happen. In two words, “Obama Happens!”
He also accused the president of trying to instigate a “race war” by spending the last eight years “whipping up reverse racism against non-blacks and non-Muslims as payback for years of discrimination.”
Clearly, Klayman is not-at-all a racist.. not-at-all.
For the record, Klayman is currently representing racist Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio (a huge Donald Trump supporter) in court for Arpaio’s unconstitutional policies targeting Latinos.
I think it’s important to point out that Klayman is a fairly prominent member of the tea party who’s representing a blatant racist, and Trump endorsee, Joe Arpaio. So, while he’s not as widely well-known as other infamous conservative racists and bigots such as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity – he’s still someone who’s clearly thought of highly among the “crazies” within the tea party.
Sadly, this lawsuit is no joke. This isn’t an idea he’s floating around just to get himself some attention, he filed this lawsuit with a Dallas court.
To give you a good idea of what kind of lunatic Mr. Klayman is, this is the same man who declared President Obama must be “taken alive” for exposing Americans to Ebola and filed paperwork to have the president deported, calling him the “African-American Muslim in Chief.”
Once again, I would like to remind everyone that this is the individual representing Donald Trump’s good friend and supporter, Joe Arpaio.
This is just another reason why I find it impossible to take these people seriously. While Larry Klayman isn’t someone who most people have heard of, he’s still linked to a lot of folks most everyone has – including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Yet, despite the fact that this bumbling idiot, and blatant racist, is filing yet another completely insane and frivolous lawsuit against the president (and other prominent black leaders), it’s apparently not a big deal that he’s closely linked to people who Donald Trump often brags about supporting him.
Maureen Dowd’s anti-Hillary vendetta is a grim fact of American political life. Her impotent, enraged, anddeeply dishonest New York Times tirades betray asick obsession unlike anything we’ve witnessed in modern political media. Lately, Dowd has taken to using these columns as a platform for racially-tinged attacks against President Obama.
I also pointed this out:
Dowd’s hate and envy masquerading as editorials is nothing new. But she got sloppy this time, slipping in a line accusing America’s first African American president of “using race” to get elected: “[Hillary’s] campaign cries sexism too often. In 2008, Barack Obama used race sparingly.” In the context of the previous sentence about Hillary’s campaign “crying sexism,” her insinuation about Barack Obama is crystal clear: he “used race” to get elected. It’s hard to imagine a benign interpretation of the word “used” in this instance.
In Dowd’s latest poisonous and deceitful anti-Hillary screed, she refers to America’s first black president as “Barry” and says that Hillary’s “goo got on Obama.” For good measure, she accuses Attorney General Loretta Lynch of “dancing with the Arkansas devil in the pale moonlight.”
So, in Dowd’s view, Barack Obama “used race” to get elected, has Hillary’s “goo” on him, and isn’t worthy of enough respect to be referred to by his proper name and title in the pages of the New York Times.
Avoiding the phrase isn’t “politically correct.” It’s strategic.
The recent verbal attacks by the Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump and his supporters on President Barack Obama for avoiding the phrase “radical Islam” in his public pronouncements are simplistic, racially inflammatory — and flatly misinformed.
Settling upon accurate and strategically nuanced terms to describe the post-9/11 enemy is not the product of “political correctness” (contra Trump) or a failure to understand the enemy (contra a much-discussed Atlantic cover story). Nor are objections to using overly broad terms like “Islamic radicalism” limited to Democrats. The Bush administration understood the power of words, too. It concluded that distinctions that may seem small to Christian-American ears make a big difference to the mainstream Muslims we need on our side.
When I directed the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the CIA in the early 2000s, I frequently interacted with senior Bush administration policymakers about how to engage Muslim communities and, when doing so, which words and phrases to use to best describe the radical ideology preached by al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Always, the aim was to distinguish between radicals and extremists and the vast majority of mainstream Muslims, and to make sure the latter understood that we were not lumping them in with the former.
Like the Obama administration, the Bush administration correctly judged that the term “radical Islam” was divisive and adversarial, and would alienate the very people we wanted to communicate with.
Trump and those who echo his views must realize there is no such thing as one Islamic world or one Islamic ideology — or even one form of radicalism in the Muslim world. Many diverse ideological narratives characterize Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries and the 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe. To paint them all with the same broad brush of radicalism and extremism is absurd, dangerous, and politically self-serving.
Trump and those who share his views on this question may truly believe, as they insist when pressed, that “Islamic radicalism” describes only a subset of Muslims. But to Muslims, or for anyone familiar with the many strands of Islam, the phrase connotes a direct link between the mainstream of the Muslim faith and the violent acts of a few. What’s more, Trump appears to be recklessly pandering to the uninformed part of the American electorate that does believe in such a connection between the mainstream and the fringe.
Like the Obama administration, the Bush administration knew words matter
The project of choosing words carefully must begin with knowledge. Al-Qaeda, and more recently ISIS, have mostly drawn on the radical Sunni Wahhabi-Salafi ideology, which primarily emanates from Saudi Arabia. How to describe that narrow ideology to a broader audience was the focus of many conversations and briefings I attended after 9/11.
Many in the West, including some senior policymakers, have had only a scant knowledge of this type of ideology, which has wreaked deadly violence against Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I recall a conversation I had with a senior policymaker in which he asked me to explain “Wahhabism.” Since he had very limited time, I told him, “Wahhabists are akin to Southern Baptists.” That is: They read the holy text literally and are intolerant of other religious views. Wahhabists, like some Baptists, also abhor reasoning or “ijtihad” that would encourage them to question their religious brand. (Further complicating matters, Saudi Arabian officials, who generally embrace Wahhabi Salafism, describe those who use this ideology to justify their attacks on Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states as “deviants” from the faith.)
The roots of this radicalism go back to the Hanbali School of Jurisprudence, one of the four Schools in Sunni Islam, dating to the ninth century. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, an 18th century Saudi theologian, adopted the teachings of the Hanbali School as the authentic teachings of Islam. This Saudi strain of Islam has been further radicalized by Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other Sunni terrorist groups. The other three, generally more liberal, schools are the Shafi’i, the Maliki, and the Hanafi — also named after their founders in the eighth and ninth centuries. Adherents of these more tolerant schools live across the wider Muslim world, from Morocco to Indonesia, from Turkey to South Asia.
Any terminology that the commander in chief of the United States settles on ought to reflect that we are speaking of Sunni-based radicalism — a strain that takes a particularly intolerant, exclusive, narrow-minded view of Islam and its relations with other Muslims and the non-Muslim world.
But there are at least two reasons why speaking of Wahhabism, while accurate, won’t fly in most public pronouncements: The word means little to the US domestic audience, and it could alienate Saudi Arabia, a complicated partner (to say the least) in anti-terror efforts. This is the one area in which the charge of “political correctness” carries some weight (although “political realism” may be a more reasonable way of describing the phenomenon).
Beyond ruling out “radical Islam” as overly broad, policymakers and advisors under both the Bush and Obama administrations have been careful not to accept the characterizations that violent extremists give to themselves, which inflate their role within their faith. That is why we don’t call them “jihadists” or, more obviously, “martyrs.”
The decision to avoid “radical Islam” is a strategic one
In short, both the Bush and Obama administration officials have refrained from using “Islamic radicalism” and its variants not because of “political correctness” but because of their nuanced knowledge of the diversity of Islamic ideologies. The term doesn’t enhance anyone’s knowledge of the perpetrators of terrorism or of the societies that spawn them, and it might hurt us in the global war of ideas. Policymakers refer to members of al-Qaeda and ISIS as “hijackers” of their faith in order to signal their support for mainstream Islamic leaders in an alliance against minor radical offshoots, not because they are unaware that some members of al-Qaeda and ISIS are theologically “sophisticated” (or “very Islamic,” as the Atlantic provocatively put it).
As our interest in Saudi Arabia’s oil wanes, some expect future administrations to take a tougher approach toward Saudi Arabia on the question of radical religious ideology. We may yet begin to hear talk of Wahhabi Salafism from a future White House.
But more likely, the next administration — I expect it will be the Clinton administration — will continue the policy the Bush administration began of referring to terrorists by the names of their organizations: Hezbollah, Ahl al-Bayt, the (Iranian) Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, ISIS, and so on.
Using such terms avoids demonizing majorities of Sunni Muslims who just want to follow their faith, devoid of politics or activism. Simple terms like “terrorists,” “killers,” and “criminals” are also quite effective.
Emile Nakhleh, a retired senior intelligence service officer and former director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the CIA, is research professor and director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico, and the author of A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.
At a fundraiser for Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), the President said:
These are real challenges. The anxieties they cause are real. And unfortunately, when people are anxious and scared, there are going to be politicians out there who try to prey on that frustration to get themselves headlines and to get themselves votes. And that’s what the Republicans have been doing for a while now. That’s the story they’ve been telling. Not just their guy at the top of the ticket, but up and down the ticket, and in states like Washington.
Their story is that working folks have been victimized by freeloaders, and minorities, and unions, and the “47 percent.” And immigrants and foreigners are stealing whatever jobs Obamacare hasn’t already killed. They don’t tell you what they’re for. They define their economic agenda by what they’re against or, more often, who they’re against.
Because whatever our differences, we all love this country and we all care fiercely about our children’s futures. And we don’t have time for charlatans. And we don’t have time for hatred. And we don’t have time for bigotry. And we don’t have time for flimflam. And we don’t have the luxury of just popping off and saying whatever comes to the top of our heads. Don’t have time for that.
There may be setbacks along the way, and our progress will always be unfinished — and every one of you will always have another list of things for me to do. But what I know is that with steady, persistent, collective effort, things get better. With steady, persistent, collective effort and thought and cooperation, we ultimately deliver brighter days for our children, and our children’s children.
The Democratic Party’s top communicators are already in sharp form. President Obama never mentioned Donald Trump’s name because he will not elevate the Republican nominee to a position where he doesn’t belong.
The President was correct. Republicans have been pulling from the same playbook of division for years. Donald Trump is more overt about his intentions. Trump isn’t blowing dog whistles. He is directly appealing to racism and bigotry in an attempt to win votes.
What should terrify Republicans is how easily President Obama was able to take apart Trump. His argument is a simple one. America doesn’t need to be distracted by a man who says whatever pops into his head while running an endless shell game of a presidential campaign.
The argument against Trump isn’t one that needs to be based on facts or records because Trump doesn’t believe in either of those things. The most effective argument against Trump is moral. America needs a president that brings out the best in our country. Donald Trump appeals to our worst collective impulses. Trump’s campaign doesn’t represent who we are, or who we should aspire to be as a country.
Be very afraid, Republicans. President Obama is coming for Trump, and his argument is already deadly.
Bernie Sanders may have lost the current battle for the Democratic nomination. But he’s winning the war for the party’s future.
That, at least, is the conventional wisdom about Sanders’s campaign — that while the Vermont senator may go down to defeat in this presidential cycle, his young supporters can expect sweeping victory within a generation or two.
“Whatever Sanders’s fate as a presidential candidate … his campaign is the harbinger of a deep change in the Democratic Party,” wrote the New Republic’s Jeet Heer after Sanders won New Hampshire. “In coming years, Democratic politicians will have to echo Sanders’s slashing critique of Wall Street and his call for a far more robust welfare state if they want to hold on to the rising generation in their party.”
But Dave Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College, thinks these kinds of interpretations may be overstating the long-term significance of Sanders’s insurgency.
“There’s a temptation to assume that everything new in politics is a harbinger of the future. But lots of things are dead ends: They rise, and they go away,” Hopkins says. “There’s no reason to believe just definitionally that Sanders represents the future of the Democratic Party more than anybody else.”
For one, Hopkins sees little reason to believe that the young voters who have overwhelmingly backed Sanders will remain wedded to his political vision. And the title of most popular Democrat still belongs to the man in the White House: Barack Obama continues to command massive popularity among the Democratic rank and file — about 80 percent of Democrats approve of his job performance.
“It seems like [Obama] will go down in history as the key figure in current Democratic Party politics — he showed how the party’s new demographic coalition could come together. If you want to talk about the future of the Democratic Party, that’s where it is,” Hopkins said.
In a phone call earlier this week, Hopkins told me why he thinks Sanders has failed to transform the Democratic Party this time around, and why — media speculation aside — he probably doesn’t represent its future either.
A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows below.
Has Bernie Sanders pulled the party to the left?
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. (Getty)
Jeff Stein: I want to get a sense of the extent to which you think Sanders has pulled the Democratic primary to the left. On some of these issues — the Trans-Pacific Partnership, wealth inequality, the minimum wage — hasn’t his message changed Clinton’s?
Dave Hopkins: I think Sanders has had a visible effect on the rhetoric of the Clinton campaign, where they clearly took seriously the critique that she was not really liberal enough and responded to Sanders’s presence in the race.
“I’M NOT SURE WHETHER WE’LL SEE A SUBSTANTIVE LASTING EFFECT OF THE SANDERS CAMPAIGN”
TPP is the one example where there may have actually been a substantive position change in response to him. The rest haven’t been substantive position changes but rhetorical and message differences — and, maybe, emphasizing Wall Street regulation, the public option on health care, and more debt free college.
But she didn’t adopt all of his positions, or even many of them. At most, she may have “me, too’d” some issues more than she would have otherwise.
JS: Okay, maybe Sanders didn’t force many substantive concessions. But didn’t he at least move the party to talk more about inequality? Clearly the primary at least showed future Democratic politicians the potency of his attacks on the 1 percent and the “millionaires and billionaires,” right?
DH: I think it was already there to a large extent. It’s an issue that Democrats more generally have come to talk about over the last few years even before Sanders started running. I think she was going to need to talk about it either way.
But in other ways she made other distinctions with him — at times trying to suggest he was too focused on just inequality and Wall Street and not on the other issues important to Democrats, like racial discrimination and gun control. Some of it was adapting to his candidacy by echoing him, and some of it was pushing back against him.
I’m just not sure Sanders really forced her to make any concessions that she wouldn’t have made otherwise. He never was quite enough of a threat to her actual nomination to really require her to change course in a fundamental way in this campaign. And I think a lot of where you see his influence is on the edges — in the rhetoric and the approach in the primary. And I’m not sure whether we’ll see a substantive lasting effect of the Sanders campaign.
It may be that after the conventions, the Clinton people feel they have a big problem appealing to Sanders voters and have to revisit his issues. But absent that, it’s not clear to me that there’s been a large-scale effect on the party in general.
JS: What if we look at something like campaign finance? Sanders was able to raise enough from his small-donor army to not suffer financially against Clinton and do so in a way that also redounded to his political benefit. Could there be a lasting lesson there?
DH: I think there’s probably something to that. He showed that you can raise a lot of money from small individual donations without making nice with business interests within the party, and the Clinton fundraising strategy going back to the ’90s was to sell themselves to wealthier interests as being somewhat business-friendly.
So Sanders does represent another path, and he was certainly much better-funded than most of his liberal insurgent predecessors. He showed that you can use the internet and publicity to raise an awful lot of money. That’s certainly one place where future presidential candidates could change.
Why Hopkins thinks Sanders is nowhere near remaking the party in his image