The Obama Administration

ISIL, Iraq and Syria: Why Military Action Won’t Do The Trick

(AP Photo, File)
O n September 10, 2014, President Obama announced a new strategy aimed at “ degrading and destroying ” ISIL (also known as ISIS and the Islamic State). Ideally, the United States should avoid fighting in Iraq and Syria. Now that that the U.S. has committed itself to bombing Iraq and Syria, however, ISIL and the threat it represents should be placed into a historical context that until now has only sporadically informed U.S. plans. In 1994 the United States faced a similar Salafi Islamist non-state entity: the Afghan Taliban. ( Salafism is a strict interpretation of Islamic theology, as laid out by the Qur’an and the Hadith, wherein life must adhere as closely as possible to the conditions that existed during the religion’s first three generations). ISIL, like the Taliban, is a militant Islamist reaction to failed governance. Examining American-Taliban history can help American leaders understand the threat posed by ISIL, the dangers of trying to defeat the movement outright, as well...

So Much For the End of the War on Terror

U.S. Navy photo by Carmichael Yepez
Remember when Barack Obama was going to end the War on Terror? Well today, not only did the U.S. launch air strikes within Syria to target ISIL, we also struck against the Khorasan group, a small al-Qaeda offshoot that was purportedly plotting to blow up American airplanes, and the al-Nusra front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Back in May of last year, Obama gave a speech meant to signal a break with the prior twelve years, in which he said, "we must define our effort not as a boundless 'global war on terror,' but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America." One could argue that that's a distinction without a difference, that it's only about rhetoric. You might also say that the War on Terror isn't so much a set of military actions as it is a mindset. It's the state of being terrorized, in which the nation is constantly on the edge of panic, willing to approve almost anything in the name of staying "...

The Politics of Pre-K: How A Program Known to Help Poor Mothers Could Doom Your Candidacy

When the emphasis is kept on how it's good for business, early-childhood education is popular. Just don't call it childcare. 

(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez)
(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez) I n Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, education has emerged as one of the most heated issues. A Quinnipiac University poll released this month found education ranked as the most important issue for voters, after jobs and the economy. Despite contentious politics surrounding reform of public education from kindergarten through twelfth grade, Republican incumbent Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf have discovered that plugging expansion of pre-kindergarten programs wins them political points without treading into treacherous waters. That is, as long as they don't mention the mothers who will inevitably benefit, too. The governor’s record is haunted by his 2011 budget, from which he cut nearly $900 million in public education funds—a decrease of more than 10 percent. The severe cuts have garnered national attention , particularly for Philadelphia—the state’s largest school district—which wrestled with a $304 million cut this past school...

Congress Didn't Pay a Lot to Go to College: Today's Students Shouldn't Either

Building photo: Architect of the Capitol - Dome: Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress
Architect of the Capitol This article originally appeared on the website of Demos . O ne of the oldest attack lines in politics is that a candidate or elected official is “out of touch” with the American people. The phrase, deployed often and by both parties, is often used to outline how a statement, voting record, or ideology is on the minority side of public opinion. In other cases, it’s used to target legislators who have served several terms, inferring that their tenure in office has left them too cozy and unresponsive to the needs of constituents. In the case of both Mitt Romney and John Kerry , it was used to infer that the very life experiences of a candidate left them out of touch with those of the “everyday American.” It’s designed to remove any and all appearances of empathy from the equation. In some cases, it’s actually true. Look no further than the cost of higher education. This week, the Senate was expected to (but looks like it no longer will) vote on a bill to allow...

Why This Will Be the Unaccountable War

He stands alone.
Yesterday the House voted 273-156 to train and equip Syrian rebels, a part of President Obama's plan to combat ISIL, and today the Senate is expected to do the same. While it might look on the surface like Congress taking a stand and accepting responsibility for this new engagement, in fact, this is likely to be a war with no accountability for any political figure other than Barack Obama himself. The "no" votes were a combination of Democrats who opposed the Iraq War in 2003 and don't want to see us pulled back into another war there, and Republicans who either want a bigger war with massive numbers of ground troops or just hate Barack Obama so much they can't cast a vote for anything he proposes (or both). Today, the Senate is expected to pass the measure as well, and we'll probably see the same thing: members from both parties on each side, with drastically different reasons for voting the same way. The whole thing is the kind of war you'd expect from the Obama presidency, defined...

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,...

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