World

The Power of Images, Real and Assumed

(Rex Features via AP Images)
In the last couple of weeks we've seen two interesting examples of the power of images to change public discussion in a way facts alone often can't. I'm talking, of course, about the video of Ray Rice punching his fiancee unconscious in an elevator, and the images of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff just before they were beheaded by ISIS. You can say that images have a unique power, which is true in some ways but often overstated in others. What's indisputable though, and evident in both these cases, is that the dissemination of a powerful image makes powerful people change the decisions they make . And that can be what changes everything. Let's talk about Foley and Sotloff first. There's a narrative developing which says that the American people were tired of war and reluctant to act against ISIS, then they saw the pictures of those two Americans moments before their brutal murders, and that hardened their hearts and gave them the thirst for revenge that fed support for...

Mitt Romney, the Charles Atlas of International Relations

Ha! Terrific! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
In today's Washington Post, one Willard Mitt Romney — you remember him — has penned an op-ed lamenting the fact that the United States military has grown so itty-bitty that it's left us unable to accomplish anything on the world stage. In an epic feat of straw-man construction, Romney boldly takes on those who want to leave America defended by nothing more than a few pea shooters and sling shots, demanding that we vastly increase our defense budget. Let's take a look at some of what he has to say: Russia invades, China bullies, Iran spins centrifuges, the Islamic State (a terrorist threat "beyond anything that we've seen," according to the defense secretary ) threatens — and Washington slashes the military. Reason stares. "Reason stares"? I'll have to confess my ignorance of whatever literary reference Mitt is tossing in here (the Google machine is unhelpful on this score, so I can't be the only one who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about), but is Washington really "slashing...

The Republican Quasi-Isolationists Change Their Tune

Yeah, it's about this guy. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
It looks like the debate over what to do about ISIS has given Republicans one fewer thing to argue about : A roiling national debate over how to deal with the radical Islamic State and other global hot spots has prompted a sudden shift in Republican politics, putting a halt to the anti-interventionist mood that had been gaining credence in the party. The change is evident on the campaign trail ahead of the November midterm elections and in recent appearances by the GOP’s prospective 2016 presidential candidates, with a near-universal embrace of stronger military actions against the group that has beheaded two American journalists. A hawkish tone has become integral to several key Republican Senate campaigns, with a group of candidates running in battleground states calling attention to their ties to veterans and their support for the U.S. military at every turn. The most notable shift has come from Rand Paul, who used to talk a lot about the dangers of interventionism and foreign...

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...

Is Elizabeth Warren Just an Ordinary Politician?

Flickr/Edward Kimmel
Hero-worship is always risky in politics, because if you put all your hopes on one politician, eventually you're sure to be disappointed. And so it has come that Elizabeth Warren, who inspires more dewy-eyed infatuation than any other current Democratic officeholder, may have given her liberal admirers a reason to feel dismayed. This article from the Cape Cod Times is a week old, but it's just now making the rounds, and it shows that on one subject, Warren isn't quite the same strong progressive some might hope her to be. Here's what happened when a constituent criticized her vote to send an additional $225 million to Israel during the recent military conflict in Gaza: Warren told Bangert she appreciated his comments, but "we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one." "I think the vote was right, and I'll tell you why I think the vote was right," she said. "America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of...

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...

François Hollande’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

When the Socialist president of France threw in with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her austerity agenda, his own government was thrown into turmoil. The backstory involves ambitious rivals.

(Chris Jackson/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images)
Chris Jackson/PA Wire (Press Association via AP Images) German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets President Francois Hollande of France during an International Ceremony with Heads of State at Sword Beach in Normandy to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings on Friday, June 6, 2014. I t began last Wednesday, when French President François Hollande gave Le Monde an interview in which he insisted he would stay the course with an economic policy that has seen his approval rating plummet from 60 percent, just after his election in 2012, to 17 percent this week. Hollande’s domestic strategy is part of his close and somewhat baffling alliance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the enforcer of European austerity. At the center of Hollande’s domestic policy is the so-called Responsibility Pact , which proposes shifting employer-paid payroll taxes to individual taxpayers, coupled with unspecified cuts in government spending. The measure is deeply unpopular, especially on the Left, so...

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...

Thoughtful, Prudent and Faltering: The Paradox of Obama

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama meets with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2014. N ew York Times columnist Tom Friedman's extended interview with President Obama shed some light on how Obama can be well-informed, thoughtful, prudent—yet still be seen as faltering as a foreign policy president. If you compare Obama with George W. Bush (OK — a low bar), Obama wins, hands down. Unlike Bush, Obama inhabits the reality-based foreign policy space, with no apologies. Unlike Bush, he has no messianic zealots among his advisers. He gives the kind of well-considered responses that suggest a president who carefully engages with truly difficult policy conundrums. Yet at the end of the day, he often comes across as vacillating and indecisive—an impression that can be fatal in his dealings with allies, adversaries, and, of course, any electorate. In the case of Iraq and ISIL's murderous assault on religious minorities and rivals, not to...

If Having a Foreign Policy Doctrine Is So Important, Why Won't Hillary Clinton Spell Hers Out?

Official State Department Photo
J effrey Golberg has an interview with Hillary Clinton which is being billed as a rebuke of, or maybe a distancing from, her old boss, Barack Obama. While you'll probably think that an overstatement when you read the transcript, she does express a desire for a foreign policy "doctrine" of her own, even if she doesn't actually deliver it. While there are a few unsettling things in the interview (her comments on Israel could have come from Bibi Netanyahu himself), the doctrine question is worth paying attention to. As I've argued before , President Obama doesn't have a foreign policy doctrine, and that's by design. He explicitly rejected the idea that it was necessary to have some kind of bumper-sticker-ready idea guiding all his foreign policy decisions, a single phrase or sentence that sums up everything he'd be doing in foreign affairs. Even though doctrines don't have a particularly good track record of late, in this interview, Clinton says that a doctrine is necessary (though she...

It Isn't About the Tunnels. So What Is the Gaza Conflict Really About?

The Israeli government's tactical goals shifted repeatedly. At no point, it appears, has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a strategic political vision.

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Update: August 8, 4:00 p.m. Israel time ( 9 a.m. EDT ): Hopes for an end to the Gaza War evaporated after indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo stalled. Hamas rejected an extension of the three-day ceasefire that began on Tuesday . Moments after the ceasefire ended, rocket fire from Gaza into Israel resumed this morning. Israeli artillery fire and air strikes followed, and the Israeli negotiators left Cairo. I. At four o'clock after the war —which is to say, 4 p.m. Tuesday—a Hebrew news site carried a telegraphic bulletin: The head of the Israeli army's Southern Command announced that residents of the area bordering Gaza could return to their homes and feel safe. The reassuring message was undercut by the bulletin that appeared on the same site one minute earlier: "IDF assessment: Hamas still has at least two to three tunnels reaching into...

House Intel Committee Finds No Benghazi Scandal; Will Boehner Ignore Its Findings?

House Speaker John Boehner faces a choice: Either he can accept the findings of a responsible, Republican committee chair, or cynically allow a kangaroo court to proceed. 

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)
A ccording to Representative Mike Thompson , Democrat of California, a report from the Republican led House Intelligence Committee on the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, "confirms that no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order (to U.S. forces) was given." Late last week, before Congress headed out of Washington for August recess, the body voted to declassify the document. After nearly two years of investigations, millions of dollars spent, tens of thousands of pages of documents handed over by the administration, a Republican-led committee is about to release a report stating that there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Obama White House. In fact, nearly all of the accusations levied against the White House over the past year by conservatives in Congress, and amplified by the media, have now been determined to be false—by a Republican jury. House Speaker John Boehner is now left with a choice. Will he allow Rep...

The Problem With Both "Pro-Israel" and "Anti-Israel"

Flickr/Ben Roffer
I n a typically thoughtful piece today, Jonathan Chait explains why he has "grown less pro-Israel over the last decade." I want to push back on this a bit, not because I disagree with any of the particular points Chait makes, but because of the broad framing. The idea of "pro-Israel," like its mirror "anti-Israel," is the enemy of rational thought and debate on this topic. Unless you're talking about whom you're rooting for in the Olympics, talking about who's pro-Israel and who isn't, and to what degree, almost never helps illuminate anything. This is something I brought up a few months ago, but it has a new urgency now, because this conflict is going to cause a lot of people to reevaluate how they feel about Israel. One of the interesting things about Chait's post is that he mentions an emotional connection to the country, but the specifics he brings up are all practical questions, on things like the Netanyahu government's sincerity when it says it's committed to a two-state...

The Limits of American Power: Judging Obama's Foreign Policy

The Bush administration taught us the folly of overreach, but America simply can't exit the world stage. The dangers are too great.

AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo
AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo U.S. Army soldiers salute American flags at a ceremony at Camp Liberty in Baghdad on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . W hen I was young, a mantra among progressives was that America had to stop operating as global policeman. Vietnam was the signal episode of arrogant and ultimately self-defeating American overreach. But there were plenty of other cases of the U.S. government doing the bidding of oil companies and banana barons, and blithely overthrowing left-democratic governments as well as outright communists (or driving nationalist reformers into the arms of communists.) As the late Phil Ochs tauntingly sang, " We're the cops of the world. " Or as Randy Newman mordantly put it, " Let's drop the big one and see what happens. " At the same time, I viewed myself as sensible left. I was the guy at the Moratorium demonstrations of the late 1960s and early 1970s (actually covering them for Pacifica) hoping to make...

A Bright Spot In Obama's Foreign Policy: Iran. Yes, Iran

With a glimmer of success on the horizon, Obama's critics are predicting the apocalypse.

U.S. State Department
U.S. State Department Photo U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry disembarks from his plane after traveling from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Vienna, Austria, on July 13, 2014 for allied talks with Iran about its nuclear program. W ho would’ve ever thought that the Iranian nuclear program—that’s the Iranian nuclear program —would be the bright spot in President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, the place where things were looking up? But that’s the situation we find ourselves in, with talks between Iran and the U.S. and it partners in the p5+1 (the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council—U.S., U.K., France, Russia, and China, plus Germany) having achieved serious progress. This past Sunday was the end of the six-month interim period laid out in the agreement last November in Geneva. The parties agreed to a four-month extension of the talks in order to try and reach a comprehensive agreement. The State Department released a fact sheet on the extension’s terms, noting that Iran had...

Pages