Republican Party Splintering?

Is there a crack developing in the Republican block? Do I detect signs of it splintering?

The recent Republican primaries provide some fascinating insights into dissent within the Republican ranks. The Tea Party was greatly emboldened when their relatively unknown candidate defeated the high-profile “establishment” candidate, Eric Cantor, in the recent Virginia primary. Then this week the Tea party was sent reeling by the come-from-behind win of the establishment candidate Thad Cochran over the anointed Tea Party candidate in Mississippi.

mcdanielIn his rousing non-concession speech, Chris McDaniel distanced himself from the current Republican Party, saying.

The party I was born with, the party I joined when I was 13 years old, was the party of a former actor from California named Ronald Reagan. … That’s the party I joined. That’s the party I’ve always been a part of.

He then went on to say about the majority who voted for his establishment opponent, “This is not the party of Reagan,” and added,

there are millions of people who feel like strangers in their own party.”

His words express the sentiment of many.

The animosity between Tea Party/Libertarian Republicans and mainstream conservative (or “establishment”) Republicans has been growing throughout the primary season. The Center for Public Integrity documented that in the first two months of this year

conservative groups spent more than $2.3 million on negative ads targeting Republican candidates.

And it adds,

That’s more than the $2.1 million conservative groups spent overtly advocating against the election of Democratic candidates.

Meanwhile, they report, liberal political groups didn’t spend a dime opposing Democratic candidates.

The struggle for dominance in (and thus control of) the Republican Party seems to have come down to a battle between the purists and the pragmatists. As McDaniel complained in denouncing the establishment element within his party,

So much for principle. I guess they can take some consolation in the fact that they did something tonight, by once again compromising, by once again reaching across the aisle, by once again abandoning the conservative movement.

The basic problem with ideological purists is that they treat compromise as a moral evil. One cannot trust or work with those who view compromise as a pragmatic necessity. To reach across the aisle is to abandon one’s purist convictions. One is either with you or against you – an ally or an opponent.

As disagreement with the establishment wing of the Republican Party intensifies, some of the purists feel they have no choice but to renounce their ties with this reprobate majority. Talk of third party candidacies in the Fall 2014 elections continues to surface.

palinThis week Sarah Palin appeared on Hannity and suggested that she might consider joining a third party saying,

If Republicans are going to act like Democrats, then what’s the use in getting all gung ho about getting in there? [that is, getting them elected to Congress].

When far-right conservatives feel they cannot support establishment conservatives – or decide to openly campaign against them – it spells trouble for the Republican Party as a whole. A fragmented party filled with rancorous infighting will be in a poor position to defeat the Democratic candidates in the upcoming election.


Photo credit: AP

Reaping the Whirlwind in Iraq

IRAQ-UNREST-KIRKUKThe crisis in Iraq continues to deepen. This week an organized militant group calling itself ISIS (short for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) overran Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The group controls most of the surrounding province and ISIS forces have advanced toward Baghdad where they have been responsible for a series of deadly explosions.

ISIS is a radical Sunni organization that split earlier this year from al-Qaida and is seen as even more brutal and militant than its parent group. On Wednesday ISIS took control of Iraq’s largest oil refinery, and on Friday we learned that it was occupying the site of a former chemical weapons facility 46 miles northeast of Baghdad that contains a large supply of lethal chemicals.

Historical Context

Mideast map 2To understand the present political situation in Iraq it is necessary to know some of its history.

Iraq lies between Syria and Iran at the head of the Persian Gulf. The national boundaries carved out by the victorious European powers in 1920 shortly after the end of the First World War artificially divided this territory without regard to traditional tribal and religious loyalties. Land disputes and religious rivalries have been problems in this region ever since.

In 1979 the secular government of Iran was overthrown in a populist revolutionary movement that put control of the country in the hands of conservative Shi’ite religious leaders. The Shi’a are a minority within the Muslim world (forming about 10-15% of the total Muslim population), but they are the dominant group in Iran.

In neighboring Iraq the Shi’a also form the majority (over 60%), with the Sunnis, who form 85-90% of the Muslim population worldwide, being the minority (only 20%). In 1968 the revolutionary Sunni-based Ba’ath Party took control of Iraq in a coup and began filling government positions with Sunni appointees. Throughout the years of Ba’ath rule, both the majority Shi’a and the minority Kurdish population of northern Iraq were harshly suppressed.

Saddam HusainSaddam Husain took power as head of the Ba’ath Party in Iraq in 1979. The following year he invaded Iran – partially out of fear that the Iranian Revolution might inspire a similar revolt among Iraq’s suppressed Shi’a majority, and partially out of a desire to replace Iran as the dominant power in the Persian Gulf.

Iran fougnt back and regained most of its lost territory by 1982. After that Iraq was put on the defensive. In 1983 the Kurds of northern Iraq rebelled against the Husain government and attempted to form their own autonomous country.

The conflict went on for 8 long years at immense cost to all sides. It is estimated that half a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers died in the conflict along with an equivalent number of civilians. During the war Iraqi forces used mustard gas against Iranian soldiers and sarin gas against Kurdish civilians – both chemicals are considered to be “weapons of mass destruction.” Hostilities were finally ended through a UN-brokered cease fire in 1988 that all sides accepted.

The United States played only an indirect role in the First Gulf War, mainly seeking to protect its economic interests in the region and to ensure the safety of oil shipments in the Persian Gulf. American resentment of Iran was still high following the lengthy holding of American hostages at the at the American embassy in Tehran in 1979-80, and so the United States favored Iraq during the conflict.

In 1982 the U.S. removed Iraq from its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (created in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution). This was despite its full knowledge of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons in the war. It established diplomatic ties with the Husain regime, and began massive arms sales to Iraq.

Although Iran remained on the official list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, the Reagan administration surreptitiously gave military support to Iran as well. Anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry were taken from Pentagon warehouses and sold to the Khomeini regime in Iran in exchange for promises that Shi’a militiamen in Lebanon would release their American hostages. The details of the Iran-Contra affair only came to light long afterward.

Operation Desert Storm

American support of Iraq abruptly reversed course in 1990. In August of that year Saddam Husain invaded Kuwait, accusing it of exceeding its OPEC-set quotas of oil production. A few days later he declared Kuwait to be Iraq’s 19th province and installed his cousin as its military-governor. U.S. President George H. W. Bush termed the invasion a “naked act of aggression” and called for a clear and unequivocal withdrawal of Iraqi forces. The United Nations Security Council condemned the invasion, and within days had imposed sanctions on Iraq.

Saddam soon began verbally attacking the Saudis. Saudi Arabia was the largest oil producer in the Middle East and a strategic U.S. ally. President Bush announced that the U.S. would launch a “wholly defensive” mission to prevent Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia. U.N. Resolution 678 gave Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw from Iraq, authorizing the use of force if Iraq refused to comply. The United States began building an international coalition of 34 countries to support such actions which included many Arab states.

Operation Desert Storm began on January 17, 1991 with an aerial bombing campaign aimed at destroying Iraqi military and civilian infrastructures. On February 24 American ground forces entered Kuwait from their staging area in Saudi Arabia and began the process of liberating the country from Iraqi occupation. They were joined by Arab forces advancing from the East. On 27 February, Saddam ordered a retreat from Kuwait, and President Bush declared it liberated.

Coalition forces then entered Iraq. The Iraqi forces suffered massive casualties while coalition casualties were low. American, British and French forces moved within 150 miles of Baghdad before withdrawing. On February 28, President Bush declared a ceasefire stating that the objective of the liberation of Kuwait had been accomplished.

Some criticized the Bush administration for allowing Saddam Husain to remain in power, rather than pushing on to capture Baghdad and overthrow his government. But the American President was adamant that his military forces would not exceed the mandate of the United Nations, which merely called for the restoration of sovereignty to Kuwait.

Events Under Geroge W. Bush

A decade later, after the horrendous terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon in 2001 masterminded by al-Qaida, President George W. Bush, declared war on Iraq claiming that it was in league with al-Qaida and was equipping its members with weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Husain’s links to al-Qaida were never proven, and the claims tying him to this militant religious group were highly suspicious. Saddam was not a religious person; he knew how to cite Islamic scripture in speeches to show his loyalty to Islam, but didn’t go beyond that. His policies showed a strong secularist rather than religious orientation, and the religious extremists of al-Qaida tended to regard him as a religious heretic and infidel like so many others whom they opposed.

Nor were any weapons of mass destruction ever found in Iraq despite exhaustive searches for them. It soon became apparent that these claims of Iraqi links with al-Qaida and weapons of mass destruction were simply a pretext offered by the Bush administration to rationalize the invasion of Iraq and depose Saddam. Some mused that the younger Bush had vowed to finish the job that his father had left undone, and remove Saddam Husain from power once and for all.

shockandaweIn March 2003 American forces began their massive “shock and awe” military strikes against Iraq. Once American forces had deposed Saddam Husain, they banned his ruling Ba’ath party, systematically dismantled the existing government, and disbanded the Sunni dominated military and police forces. As Fareed Zakaria notes,

[T]he administration needed to find local allies. It quickly decided to destroy Iraq’s Sunni ruling establishment and empower the hard-line Shiite religious parties that had opposed Saddam Hussein. This meant that a structure of Sunni power that had been in the area for centuries collapsed.

Historically there were tensions between these groups, but as writer and peace activist Raed Jarrar explains,

Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites managed to live in the same country for a long time without killing each other, and they lived in the same neighborhoods. They intermarried …

That was before the US intervention. The US destroyed that Iraqi national identity and replaced it with sectarian and ethnic identities after 2003. … [Y]ou can trace the beginning of this sectarian strife that is destroying the country, and it clearly began with the U.S. invasion and occupation.

Developments Under Nuri Kamal al-Maliki

Nuri al-MalikiNuri Kamal al-Maliki was a Shi’a dissident in the early days of Saddam Husain’s regime and spent 24 years in exile after receiving a death sentence. He lived first in Damascas, Syria before moving to Tehran, Iran in 1990, and continues to have close ties with Iran and Syria.

Al-Maliki returned to Iraq aftr the fall of Saddam Husain, and became the deputy leader of the commission formed to purge Ba’ath party officials from the military and the government. He was elected to the transitional National Assembly in January 2005 and was appointed Prime Minister in May 2006.

Al-Malaki has been described as a militant sectarian who after his election began a systematic campaign to consolidate Shi’a rule and marginalize Sunni opposition. Iraq destructionHe is largely held to be responsible for a brutal civil war between the Shi’a and Sunni in Iraq from 2006 and 2009 which necessitated the “surge” in American troop levels to contain massive Sunni opposition to the U.S backed Shi’a rulers.

But efforts at containment had to be directed toward the Shi’a leadership as well. As one observer close to the situation has reported,

Time and again, American commanders … stepped in front of Maliki to stop him from acting brutally and arbitrarily toward Iraq’s Sunni minority. Then the Americans left, removing the last restraints on Maliki’s sectarian and authoritarian tendencies.

In the two and a half years since the Americans’ departure from Iraq in December 2011, Maliki has centralized power within his own circle, cut the Sunnis out of political power, and unleashed a wave of arrests and repression. … With nowhere else to go, Iraq’s Sunnis are turning, once again, to the extremists to protect them.

Before George W. Bush left office, he negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement with the government of Iraq which stated that

All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.

When President Barack Obama came to office, he realized that situation in Iraq was extremely unstable. He tried to negotiate a new agreement with al-Maliki allowing a contingent of American troops to remain on the ground to continue working with the Iraqi forces and assist the transition to peacetime rule. A necessary condition of this agreement was that U.S. troops would be granted immunity from prosecution for actions in Iraq. This clause is a standard part of Status of Forces agreements that the United States has with other countries. Al-Maliki refused to agree to this condition, and the talks collapsed. Obama was thus legally unable to extend the presence of US military forces in Iraq beyond the withdrawal deadline negotiated by President Bush.

The Current Situation

After enduring years of brutal oppression by Prime MInister al-Maliki and the Shi’ite military command, many Sunni Iraqis have become radicalized against the government. Some have come to see the ISIS militants as potential deliverers. Although most Iraqi Sunnis reject the extreme religious views of ISIS, many have nevertheless welcomed them as political liberators.

ISIS soldiersISIS is an extremely well organized and well-funded military movement. ISIS commanders set up local governments wherever they go, collect taxes, and even offer social services.

They are not a“terrorist” group in the usual sense, but rather a well financed radical political movement with an organized administrative structure and an estimated $2 billion in assets.

The appaling irony is that before the American invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush, there was no discernable presence of al-Qaida in Iraq. But after years of American soldiers targeting Iraqis in trying to defeat al-Qaida insurgents who made their way into the country, and after tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians being killed by American forces, many Sunnis have turned to al-Qaida sponsored groups for support.

Al-Qaida was not a direct threat to Iraq before American forces landed. Now, with the Americans gone, they are the largest threat the Iraqis have to deal with. And they may very well end up controlling a sizeable portion of the country and threaten Mideast stability for some time to come.

Photo credits: Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty Images; European Press Photo Agency

6 Takeaways from Eric Cantor’s Primary Defeat

CantorIn a stunning upset, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost to a Tea Party backed opponent in Virginia’s primary elections on Tuesday. Cantor was the second highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, and broadly expected to succeed John Boehner as the next Speaker of the House. He was one of the Republican Party’s celebrated “Young Guns” who were expected to rejuvenate the party, and had rapidly risen through the party ranks since his election to the House in 2001.

Cantor’s seat was generally regarded as safe, yet he was defeated by Dave Brat, an obscure economics professor from a small college in his district who had spent only $200,000 on his campaign. Cantor, on the other hand, had poured over $ 5 million into his own campaign. Yet Cantor lost by a whopping 11% on election night (44.5% to 55.5%).

So what does it all mean? Here are 6 takeaways from the election primary:

1. Impact of low voter turnout

Low voter turnout can dramatically skew election results. Over 220,000 people voted in this district’s 2012 election, but only about 65,000 bothered to vote in this year’s Republican primary. Cantor’s own internal poll showed him leading his opponent by 34 points just 2 weeks ago. But as Ezra Klein noted soon after the election results were announced,

“Republicans” are not the same as “Republican primary voters.” … It’s possible and even likely that the vast majority of Republicans in Virginia’s 7th District liked Cantor just fine. But primaries only count the people who come out to vote.

2. Appealing to the base

Cantor handily won over his opponents in previous elections, but redistricting in 2010 made his suburban Richmond district much more conservative by adding in other rural areas that he didn’t previously represent. Maintaining support in Richmond alone was no longer enough. This time around, his opponent successfully appealed to the strongly conservative rural Christian base in his district. He painted Cantor as a Washington insider who spent more time greasing the wheels of Congress than representing his home district.

As David Wasserman, a political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, notes,

Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

3. Defining your opponent

Dave BratIn his campaign against Cantor, Dave Brat capitalized on conservative opposition to immigration reform. He labeled Cantor as “The number one Republican supporter of [immigration] amnesty” even though Cantor, along with other House Republicans, had only cautiously supported a negotiated compromise on immigration.

Brat was also quite savvy in his use of the media. He received support from conservative radio hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin who helped to spread his charges against Cantor and also received extensive online coverage from Breitbart and the Drudge Report. In the closing days of the campaign Cantor tried to tack back against support for immigration reform, but it was too late.

4. Taking the populist “high road”

Brat presented himself as a populist candidate and labeled Cantor as a politician who was more committed to Wall Street than Main Street. Brat claimed,

“I am running against Cantor because he does not represent the citizens of the 7th District, but rather large corporations seeking insider deals, crony bailouts and a constant supply of low-wage workers.”

Cantor, who in his leadership position in the House has served on the House’s Financial Services, International Relations and Ways and Means Committees and was a major fundraiser for the Republican party, could not shake the accusation that he was an establishment insider who cared more about party issues than those of his home constituents. The tactic worked.

5. Adjustments to House leadership

Earlier today Eric Cantor announced that he will be stepping down as House Majority Leader at the end of July. Within hours of his defeat, Republican House members had already begun jockeying to fill his place. The leading candidate to replace him as Majority Leader is Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). the third highest ranking member of the House. He is being challenged by Pete Sessions (R-TX) the chairman of the House Rules Committee and a former GOP campaign chief. Others have their eye on McCarthy’s position and are lining up to take his place it if becomes vacant.

One may expect House Republicans to be somewhat preoccupied for the next while as they frantically work behind the scenes to reposition themselves within the political hierarchy. They may have little inclination or energy to address other matters as they do so.

6. Redefining the playing field

Some are saying that Cantor’s defeat at the hands of an unknown populist Tea Party candidate sends a strong message to other Republicans seeking reelection this fall. They had better watch their backs.

As Katherine Miller of Buzzfeed notes,

Every Republican who wants to keep his or her seat … will likely study the results of Tuesday’s election.

The Tea Party, which a few weeks ago seemed to be loosing out to more establishment candidates in the primaries, is feeling itself empowered by Tuesday’s election results. This fundamentally changes the political ground game. Will Republican candidates find it necessary to tack to the right to keep the support of their conservative base (as Cantor tried unsuccessfully to do)? And will Democrats attempt to benefit from undecided voters (some 40% of the electorate) who prefer more centrist policies?

It is shaping up to be an interesting fall race.

Photo credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP

3 Bogus Claims about the Bergdahl Prisoner Exchange

bergdahlRepublican politicians’ praise for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release from his Taliban captors in a prisoner exchange has quickly evaporated only to be replaced by unrelenting criticism of the White House’s role in his release. The conservative media (especially FOX News) has gone into overdrive in denouncing President Obama’s role in securing the release of America’s last prisoner of war in Afghanistan. They have even verbally attacked Bergdahl’s father, who has spent years trying to effect the release of his son.

The media have generally let the critics define the conversation around Sgt. Bergdahl and in doing so have let a number of controversial assertions go unchecked. Three main claims keep reappearing in these conversations.

#1: Obama negotiated with terrorists for Bergdahl’s release

One hears again and again the refrain that “America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.” Fair enough. But exactly who was the negotiating party in this exchange? As Fred Kaplan pointed out earlier this week,

taliban1[T]he Taliban delegates, with whom U.S. officials have been negotiating in Qatar over the fate of Sgt. Bergdahl, are not terrorists. They represent a political faction and a military force in Afghanistan; they are combatants in a war that the United States is fighting. In other words, Bergdahl was not a “hostage” … . He was a prisoner of war, and what happened on May 31 was an exchange of POWs.

It’s an important distinction that easily gets lost in the conversation. Such prisoner exchanges happen all the time; this one was not exceptional. Kaplan continues,

The United States and practically every other nation that’s ever fought a war have made these sorts of exchanges for centuries. In recent years, American officers have turned over hundreds of detainees to the Afghan government, which in turn freed them in exchange for favors of one sort or another from the Taliban. During the Iraq war, American commanders frequently made similar swaps.

Similar prisoner exchanges took place during the Vietnam war. As Juan Cole notes,

The U.S. negotiated with the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, who were very much analogous to the Taliban and whom the U.S. would now certainly term “terrorists.”  In 1973, the U.S. used intermediaries to negotiate with the Viet Cong for release of captured U.S. soldiers at Loc Ninh.

As for the assertion that  “America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists,” that is not entirely true. Mitchell Riess, in his book, Negotiating with Evil, states that America has a long history of negotiating with terrorists and rogue regimes that support terrorist activity. Here are a few examples from his book:

  • NegotiatingIn 1970, President Richard Nixon pressured Israel, Switzerland, West Germany and Britain to release Palestinian prisoners after two airlines were hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
  • During the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 to 1981, President Jimmy Carter agreed to unfreeze $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets after more than a year of negotiations with the Iranian revolutionaries.
  • In perhaps the most famous swap, after seven Americans were captured in Beirut, Lebanon, President Ronald Reagan agreed to send missiles to Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.
  • President Bill Clinton’s administration sat down with Hamas in attempts to negotiate peace with Israel. His administration also worked directly with the Taliban nearly two decades ago on several occasions to see if the group would hand over Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.

#2: Obama failed to inform Congress of the release of the Guantanamo detainees in advance, as required by law

guantanamoUnder Section 1035(d) of the FY14 NDAA, Congress must be given 30 days notice of any transfer of detainees from Guantanamo. Five prisoners were released from the detention facility at Guantanamo and handed over to officials in Qatar in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl’s freedom. Under the conditions of their release, all five are to remain in Qatar for one year, after which both Americans and Qataris will continue to monitor them.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, complained that he did not receive any communication on the prisoner swap from the administration until Monday (June 2). And Republican House Leader, John Boehner, stated on Tuesday that

[the administration] has invited serious questions into how this exchange went down and the calculations the White House and relevant agencies made in moving forward without consulting Congress.

But Congress was consulted in advance. In fact, negotiations began nearly two and a half years ago to secure Sgt. Bergdahl’s release. As The Washington Post reported on Tuesday,

Obama administration officials first discussed with senior House Republicans the possibility of swapping five terrorism detainees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in late November 2011.

The possible prisoner exchange was discussed again during a briefing on Jan. 31, 2012, after senior House Republicans sent two letters to the Obama administration seeking more information on the possibility of the swap.

There had been little progress in the negotiations over the last year, but then an opportunity opened up and the President acted quickly. As he explained to the media earlier this week,

We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange in order to recover Bergdahl. We saw an opportunity, and we were concerned about Bergdahl’s health. We had the cooperation of the Qataris to execute an exchange, and we seized that opportunity.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, and National Security Counsel spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden have both defended the legality of the prisoner exchange as fully complying with US law.

#3: Bergdahl didn’t deserve to be rescued

Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffen suggested on Tuesday that Sgt. Bergdahl was a military deserter and possibly even a collaborator with the Taliban. Conservative politicians and commentators have repeated this meme.  But the facts show a much more complicated situation. As Michael Tomasky reports,

Yes, he volunteered to join the Army, but only after he’d been turned down by the French Foreign Legion. Once on the ground in Afghanistan, he was a deeply disillusioned soldier. Shortly after his battalion took its first casualty, he emailed his parents a scathing indictment of the military and everything he saw around him.

Michael Hastings provides a much more detailed picture of these circumstances in his June 2012 profile on Bowe Bergdahl for Rolling Stone (summarized this week by Tim Dickinson).

Bergdahl grew up in rural Idaho, living “nearly off the grid.” He had a strict conservative Christian upbringing, was home schooled, and highly idealistic. One of the members of his unit in Afghanistan reports that Bowe thought of himself as a survivalist, claiming that “he knew how to survive with nothing” due to his upbringing in Idaho. At one point he said, “If this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan.”

Am soldiers-AfghanistanAs his tour of duty dragged on, he became more and more disillusioned with American actions in Afghanistan, describing them as “disgusting.” He was particularly troubled by seeing an Afghan child run over by an American truck. He wrote to his parents saying,

I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid … . We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks.

Dickinson reports that

After receiving an email from his father exhorting him to “OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE,” Bowe slipped out of his unit’s barracks on June 30th, 2009. One man versus the wilds of Afghanistan, Bergdahl was equipped with just a knife, water, a digital camera and his diary. Barely 24 hours later, he’d be taken prisoner.

To say that Sgt. Bergdahl didn’t deserve to be freed from his captors flies in the face of a military tradition that is held to be sacrosanct: One doesn’t leave another soldier behind in the field.

stanley-mcchrystalRetired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded the war effort in Afghanistan at the time of Bergdahl’s June 2009 disappearance, stated this point clearly earlier this week.

 “We don’t leave Americans behind. That’s unequivocal.”

It is possible that charges will still be laid against Sgt. Bergdahl. But McChrystal cautioned,

We’re going to have to wait and talk to Sgt. Bergdahl now and get his side of the story. One of the great things about America is we should not judge until we know the facts. And after we know the facts, then we should make a mature judgment on how we should handle it.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey also stated his own personal position:

Martin_Dempsey[T]he questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity. This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him. As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family.

We can expect the personal attacks on Sgt. Bergdahl to continue. And we should expect attacks on President Obama for his involvement in obtaining Bergdahl’s release to continue as well. Some are even calling for the President to be impeached over how he handled the prisoner exchange.

Conservative critics have worked quickly to turn the release of America’s last prisoner of war in Afghanistan from an occasion for national celebration into a platform for political condemnation. One can only imagine their vitriol if President Obama had abandoned Sgt. Bergdahl and let the last Afghanistan prisoner of war die in captivity. They are trying to have it both ways.

This is political opportunism at its worst.


Photo credits AP/US Army

Rand Paul Caught Lying on EPA Rules

Rand PaulOn Tuesday Sen. Rand Paul gave an interview on Fox News in which he denounced the EPA’s new rules on carbon emissions. In an apparent reference to the failed attempt in 2009 to pass a cap-and-trade bill in the Senate (which had already been passed by the House), to Paul stated,

The Democrats tried to pass [cap and trade] and they didn’t have enough votes so now they’re going to try to do this through executive edict, and I don’t think that’s legal.

Yet as Rebecca Leber reports today in Think Progress,

[T]he truth is that Congress directed the EPA to tackle air pollution, including carbon, and that authority has been upheld twice by the Supreme Court. Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to develop regulations for “air pollution which may endanger public health or welfare.” In 2007 and again in 2011, the Supreme Court said carbon pollution fits under that category. The 2007 landmark ruling found that “greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of air pollutant.”

Most people aren’t aware of the legislative background mandating these rules. But certainly a prominent Senator should be. For him to suggest that he doesn’t think they are “legal” is dishonest, deceptive, and inexcusable.

We should expect better from the members of Congress.

Photo credit: Harry E. Walker/MCT


Republicans Reverse Stance on Climate Change

coal-electricity generator

A year ago President Obama pledged to take effective action against climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency was tasked with developing regulations to limit carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants, and this week they released these new rules. The cap-and trade system would require power plants to cut their carbon emissions 30 percent by the year 2030.

mitch_mcconnellLeading Republican spokespersons almost immediately condemned the measures. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell issued a press release stating that, “Today’s announcement is a dagger in the heart of the American middle class.”  John Boehner called it “a sucker punch for families everywhere.”  And the Republican National Committee posted a lengthy list of links on its “Research” website claiming that Obama is launching a “war on coal,” that the new regulations will kill jobs, and that coal plants across the country are already being forced to shut down.

What Republican in their right mind would support such regulations?

john-mccainWell, as reported today on, back in 2008 while campaigning in Oregon, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain unveiled a cap-and-trade plan to limit emissions not only from power plants, but also from transportation, manufacturing, and commercial businesses. It would reduce emissions by 66% by the year 2050. It was much more ambitious than the plan just announced by the EPA. [See details here] Several months later Sarah Palin joined MaCain’s ticket, and when asked if she supported this cap-and-trade plan, she announced, “I do.”

Even George W. Bush was worried about climate change. As his biographer, Peter Baker, records

george-w-bush,property=poster[Bush] found the science increasingly persuasive and believed more needed to be done. The end of his presidency loomed, and he did not want to be known as the president who stood by while a crisis gathered. … [He] cited the danger of climate change in his State of the Union address for the first time, convened a conference of major world polluters to start working on an international accord to follow Kyoto, and signed legislation cutting gasoline consumption and, by extension, greenhouse gases.

Back then many politicians- both Republicans and Democrats – were concerned about climate change. Do you remember the famous bi-partisan political ad featuring Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi sitting side by side calling on Americans to take action against climate change? [Watch it here:]

So what has changed? Climate change denial remains strong in some conservative circles, and perhaps the politicians are simply catering to that segment of their base. Perhaps it is politics, with Republican leaders trying to firm up their support in coal producing states. Or perhaps it is that these latest measures come from a Democratic administration, and therefore must be denounced whether they have merit or not.

Whatever the politics, climate change itself remains real. Does Obama’s plan go too far? As notes,

The power plant regulations [of] the Obama administration … are far less ambitious than the proposal McCain offered in Oregon in 2008. They’re less ambitious than the proposals Newt Gingrich championed.

Bloomberg calls the new measures announced this week “historic but modest.” At one time we were prepared to do much more. It’s time to remember where politicians used to stand on climate change.

It’s time to take effective action.