The Obama Administration

Why ISIL Wants to Be In a War With America

The closing image of the latest video from ISIL.
As we continue to debate our new war, or semi-war, or whatever you want to call it, it's important for people like me whose job it is to write about political developments not to pretend to know more than we do. It's not always easy to restrain yourself, since if you're a political blogger you have to have an opinion about everything (and fast). When we get into a topic like this that touches on so many different areas—the presidency, Congress, public opinion, terrorism, and so on—it can be difficult if not impossible to stay in the lane of the topics where you actually know what you're talking about. All of which is an extended throat-clearing to let you know that I'm going to be speculating a little, but I think this is an important question: When it comes to the United States's actions, what does ISIL want? The occasion for this question is a new video that has been released , purportedly created by the group, that apes the form of a movie trailer (I was able to watch it here , but...

Benghazi Select Committee Hearings Begin; Craziness Inevitably to Follow

Republican members of the Benghazi committee get ready to do their very serious work. (Flickr/Speaker John Boehner)
There's a lot going on in the world: we have a new war ramping up, Ebola is spreading, and various NFL players are discovered beating the crap out of women and children (and I for one am shocked that a group of men who have spent their lives being rewarded for cultivating their most violent instincts and abilities would turn out to be prone to violence). So it may have missed your notice that today marks the beginning of public hearings in the select committee on Benghazi, or as Ed Kilgore has termed it, Benghazi! In advance, Democrats on the committee have set up a website showing how all the questions the committee is asking have already been answered, while a Republican PAC is already airing Benghazi-themed ads against Hillary Clinton. But if you were hoping to tune in this afternoon for thundering denunciations and dark warnings of conspiracy, you may be disappointed, as David Corn reports : In a surprising move that might disappoint right-wingers yearning for proof that Benghazi...

Republicans Go Boldly to (Sort Of) Support Obama on ISIL

For months, when you asked Republicans what they wanted to do about ISIL, they would be quick to assure everyone that they didn't want to deploy large numbers of ground troops. Trainers, intelligence folks, coordinators, sure — but they're very clear that they aren't advocating a re-invasion of Iraq. Whether their reticence about ground troops has its roots in the politics of renewing a desperately unpopular war, or it's because they genuinely believe it would be a bad idea, they were unambiguous on that point. What they did advocate was arming and training Syrian rebels. Likewise, it might be because Barack Obama wasn't doing that and therefore it was a way to be "tougher" than him, or it might be that they think it would make a real difference. But either way, that's the policy they advocated. And now that policy is one of the pillars of the anti-ISIL strategy Obama is laying out, so that's the part Republicans in Congress are getting ready to line up behind : President Obama's plan...

Two Cheers for Obama: Nobody Makes the Best Out of Bad Situation Like He Does

(U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Jessica Hines)
(U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Jessica Hines) An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off for Poland, September 5, 2014, from Aviano Air Base, Italy. This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post . I t took President Barack Obama a long time, and multiple stumbles, to back into a foreign policy role that looks something like leadership. If Russian President Putin is agreeing to a cease-fire in Ukraine that just might hold, the U.S.-led combination of pressure and restraint deserves much of the credit. Putin considers the loss of the Ukraine one of the great tragedies of Russian history, and before this conflict is over Putin will probably demand and get greater regional autonomy for Russian-majority Eastern Ukraine. But that beats an annexation or a war. At the outset of this conflict, Germany was prepared to subordinate the independence of Ukraine to long-standing German economic ties with Russia. Chancellor Merkel's new toughness, which helped alter the Russian calculus, would not...

Republicans Seek to Tar All Muslims With the Brush of ISIL

When the president said the terrorist group was not Islamic, his opposition got hopping mad.

(Photo by Fabio Teixeira / Pacific Press/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images)
(Photo by Fabio Teixeira / Pacific Press/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images) O n Saturday afternoon, news broke that ISIL (also known as ISIS) had uploaded yet another video of one of their members beheading an innocent civilian. The victim, David Haines, was a British aid worker who was captured in Syria last year. According to reports, the video is similar to the brutal murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The news of this latest execution, and its grisly video, comes on the heels of President Obama’s primetime speech on his strategy for combating the terrorist group last Wednesday night. During his address, Obama outlined the U.S. strategy for fighting ISIS but he also included a pointed statement. “ISIL is not Islamic.” Former Bush aide Ron Christie, immediately took to Twitter to criticize Obama. “#ISIS isn't Islamic? What kindergartner briefs the President on terrorism?” And Christie was definitely not the only public figure expressing that sentiment. The...

Why Is President Obama the Only One Not Trying to Make the Public Afraid?

Remember this? Good times.
There's something odd going on with regard to this ISIL situation (and by the way, it would be good if we could agree on a name for it), or odd if your point of reference is the Bush era, the consequences of which we're still grappling with. Back then, the way things worked was that the president and his advisors would come out and tell us some swarthy Middle Easterners were coming to kill you and your family, and therefore it was imperative that we assent to the policies the administration wanted to pursue. When asked for evidence, they'd respond with statements like, " We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud ." The secretary of Homeland Security told us all to stockpile duct tape and plastic sheeting so you'd be able to survive when al-Qaeda launched a chemical weapons attack on your street. But over time, when most Americans were not actually killed by terrorists, the fear began to subside. Today, we have a president once again asking for support for a new military...

Just How Big a Threat to the U.S. Is ISIL?

It didn't surprise anyone that most Republicans were displeased with President Obama's speech about ISIS (which he called ISIL, another of its names) last night, and it would be natural to conclude that the key division at work is between a president and party reluctant to use military force abroad, and an opposition party with near-limitless enthusiasm for military adventures. There's plenty of truth there, but there's an even more fundamental divide, even if it's not going to be spoken by President Obama or that many Democrats. The real question is whether ISIL actually constitutes a threat to the United States. For Republicans, it's so obvious that ISIS does threaten us that there isn't any use debating it . ISIL has seized large swaths of territory and picked up weapons left behind by the Iraqi army, they're well-funded thanks to pillaging banks and selling oil on the black market, and they have dreams of a caliphate spanning the entire Middle East. So of course they're a threat...

The Limitations of Barack Obama's Rhetorical Repertoire

U.S. Army photo by Spec. Daniel J. Herrera
If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that Barack Obama is not good enough at making Americans feel angry and afraid. When he first ran for president, we were astounded at his rhetorical gifts, but in retrospect they seem so touchy-feely. He made his listeners feel things like hope, optimism, and inspiration. Which is all well and good, but a country that can't go more than a few years without invading somebody needs a leader who knows how to beat the war drums, get the blood pumping, ride his horse back and forth in front of the assembled troops and shout, " This day, we fight! " Barack Obama is not that leader. He doesn't do anger and fear, probably because he tends not to get angry or afraid. So who can step up to don that mantle? Little Joey Biden, that's who : Vice President Joe Biden used the strongest language to date from the Obama administration in response to the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff by ISIS militants. Speaking at the Portsmouth Naval...

T-TIPping Point: Rise of Corporate Right Greater Menace than Rise of Far Right

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew T he latest reports from Europe indicate that the continent is slipping back into recession. The U.S. is doing only slightly better, with positive economic growth but scant progress on the jobs front, and no growth in the earnings of the vast majority of Americans. Meanwhile, global climate change continues to worsen, producing unprecedented policy conundrums of how to reconcile the very survival of the planet with improved living standards for the world's impoverished billions, and for most Americans, whose real incomes have declined since the year 2000. Amid all of these serious challenges, what common strategies are top U.S. and European leaders pursuing? Why, a new trade and investment deal modeled on NAFTA, to make it harder for governments to regulate capitalism. The proposed deal, known as T-TIP (for Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) would define well-established domestic policies as illegitimate restraints of "trade," including protections...

The Silver Lining for Democrats if They Lose the Senate in 2014

Click inside for the full charty goodness.
There are really only two possible outcomes for Democrats in this year's Senate elections. Either Republicans are going to win enough seats to take control of the chamber, or Democrats will hold on by the skin of their teeth. The first outcome is more likely, simply because of the map. Democrats are defending twenty-one seats while Republicans are only defending fifteen seats. Furthermore, many of those Democratic seats are in conservative states like West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Montana, making it even tougher. So if you're a Democrat who's getting depressed by the prospect of a Republican Senate and all the loveliness that would bring, here's something that might make you feel a little better. A couple of weeks ago, I made a graph showing all this year's Democratic candidates and the tough environment many face. I decided to duplicate it for the 2016 races, as a little liberal pick-me-up. Here's the good news for Democrats: Even if Republicans take the Senate this year,...

It's Time To Stop 'Managing' the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Just End It

Netanyahu appears to truly not believe that a negotiated agreement can end a conflict with a dedicated opponent, but there's really no other way.

(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed) A Palestinian protester holds stones during a protest against the expansion of the nearby Jewish settlement of Halamish, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah, Friday, November 9, 2012. I n mid-June, a couple of aeons ago the way time is counted here in the Middle East, before rockets were falling in Tel Aviv, before the invasion of Gaza and the death count and the rubble, before "ceasefire" became a synonym for broken hope, when Israel was still an outpost of calm in the region, I took a day's reporting trip to West Bank settlements north of Jerusalem. My guide was Dror Etkes, the veteran Israeli tracker of settlement building and land theft. At a settlement known as Kokhav Ya'akov, northeast of Jerusalem, we saw earth-moving equipment clearing ground for a new development. Kokhav Ya'akov, Etkes explained, is built on what Israel has determined to be state-owned land—except for some 200 houses and a few dozen mobile homes on real estate...

Why Congressional Democrats Are Upset that President Obama Doesn't Hang Out With Them More

A man alone with his thoughts. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
The other day, the New York Times published a long article on President Barack Obama's miserable relationship with Congress, particularly the members of his own party. The point of the article is that Obama doesn't put much effort into building personal relationships with congressional Democrats, and as a result they're rather disgruntled with him, which could make the remainder of his presidency more difficult. It's a good example of how, in its facts, a piece of journalism can be perfectly true, even revealing, and yet be completely misleading in its implications. Ezra Klein gave it the necessary dismantling : Obama does see socializing with Hill Democrats as a chore. But there's a lot that Obama sees as a chore and commits to anyway. The presidency, for all its power, is full of drudgery; there are ambassadors to swear in and fundraisers to attend and endless briefings on issues that the briefers don't even really care about. The reason Obama doesn't put more effort into stroking...

How a Widely Beloved Tax Deduction Really Just Benefits the Well-Off and Exacerbates Inequality

National opinion polls show a majority of Americans support the mortgage interest deduction. Yet most U.S. homeowners receive very little benefit from it.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) This May 2, 2012, photo, shows a new home under construction in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. A nyone who is concerned about the country’s growing inequality crisis should be pushing for reform of the feature of the U.S. tax code known as the mortgage interest deduction. Not only does this wasteful tax subsidy primarily benefit the richest Americans, it also costs the U.S. Treasury between $70 and $100 billion annually in revenue, making it the third largest deduction on the books. National opinion polls indicate that between 60 and 90 percent of Americans support the mortgage interest deduction (MID), which allows taxpayers to deduct interest on $1.1 million in mortgages on primary residences, vacation homes and even yachts. And yet because of the way this tax subsidy is structured most U.S. homeowners receive very little if any benefit from it. Indeed, in its current form, the MID’s biggest beneficiaries are the real estate industry and its wealthiest...

No Jobs But Crappy Jobs: The Next Big Political Issue?

(AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Brad Doherty)
(AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Brad Doherty) Wal-Mart employee Nidia Flores arranges shirts, Thursday, August 7, 2014, in Brownsville, Texas. F or decades, the increasing precariousness of work has been a source of mass frustration for tens of millions of Americans. But the issue has been largely below the political radar. Politicians ritually invoke good jobs at good wages, yet presidents have been unwilling to name, much less remedy, the deep economic forces that are turning payroll jobs into what I've termed "The Task Rabbit Economy"—a collection of ad hoc gigs with no benefits, no job security, no career paths, and no employer reciprocity for worker diligence. But there are signs that maybe this issue is starting to break through. One manifestation of job insecurity is extremes of inequality as corporations, banks, and hedge funds capture more than their share of the economy's productive output at the expense of workers. The Occupy movement gave that super-elite a name: the One...

Why It's So Idiotic to Complain When the President Takes a Vacation

History's greatest American, attending to matters of state. (White House photo)
There are a lot of stupid ways people attack presidents from the other party, but there can't be that many as stupid as the complaint that he takes too many vacations. Since Obama is now on Martha's Vineyard, despite the fact that there are things going on in the world, the volume of these complaints has grown, like the inevitable rise of the tide. Conservatives are in full on mockery mode (did you know he plays golf!!!), and the press is getting into the act as well. For instance, the Washington Post 's Dana Milbank took on the vacation issue in a piece colorfully titled "Obama Vacations As the World Burns," explaining that "Even presidents need down time, and Obama can handle his commander-in-chief duties wherever he is. But his decision to proceed with his getaway just 36 hours after announcing the military action in Iraq risks fueling the impression that he is detached as the world burns." That pretty much sums up the problem with how the press discusses this issue. There's no...

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