Republican presidential candidates kept up their fearmongering in a debate televised by the Fox Business Network on Thursday, accusing Barack Obama, the Democrat they are hoping to replace next year, of deliberately weakening America at a time of global upheaval.
From businessman Donald Trump calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the country for fear of terrorists hiding among refugees to Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, conjuring up an apocalyptic scenario in which terrorists simultaneously deploy cyberattacks and dirty nuclear weapons against America — a kind of “existential threat” Obama would not “recognize,” according to the doctor — the national-security discussion got outright ridiculous at points.
Republican presidential candidates lined up almost unanimously on Tuesday night to condemn Barack Obama’s strategy for defeating the fanatical Islamist group that calls itself the Islamic State.
Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who is ahead in the polls in the first voting state, Iowa, took the Democratic incumbent to task for supposedly letting “political correctness” get in the way of fighting the militants. There is a simple strategy for defeating them, he said during a debate hosted by CNN in Las Vegas: “We win, they lose.”
Former defense secretary Robert Gates criticized the war plans of his own party’s presidential candidates on Sunday when he argued that putting tens of thousands of American troops in Syria is “not a near-term solution” to defeating the Islamic State militant group there.
“It would take months and months, even if you decided you wanted to do it, to put the logistics in place, get the troops trained and so on,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press.
Gates, a Republican who served under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, did not single out any one candidate for criticism. But nearly all the Republicans seeking to replace Obama in 2016 have called for more expansive military action against the fanatical Islamist group that claimed responsibility for killing more than 130 people in terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month. Read more “Former Defense Secretary Questions Party’s War Planes”
If Republican presidential candidates are betting last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris will make Americans long for the foreign policies of George W. Bush, they may be making a big mistake.
In recent days, nearly all of the Republicans seeking to succeed Barack Obama, a Democrat, in 2016 have taken the incumbent to task for supposedly faltering in the fight against the Islamic State: a radical Islamist group that claimed responsibility for the attacks in France.
Even the two Floridians considered most worldly and more likely to win the nomination than the bombastic property tycoon Donald Trump — who is currently ahead in the polls — have taken a hard line.
Marco Rubio, a senator, has suggested giving the National Security Agency broader surveillance powers to interdict terror plots. He is also making an issue out of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s refusal to say that the United States are at war with “radical Islam.”
This website previously argued that voters in a general election may well decide that Rubio is too much of a hawk if he must run against Clinton — who is considered a hawk within her own party.
Jeb Bush’s uninspiring performance in Wednesday’s presidential debate is starting to call into question his ability to win the Republican nomination.
It’s not just this one debate. It’s that Bush — the brother and son of two former presidents — has failed to impress in all the televised debates so far. As a result, his poll numbers have barely moved. And as a consequence of that, party actors who are looking for a candidate to beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 are wondering if Jeb really is their man. Read more “After Lousy Debate, Time for Bush to Worry”
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is a candidate to succeed Barack Obama in 2016, reiterated a familiar Republican lament on Tuesday when he suggested that the Democratic incumbent’s withdrawal from Iraq was to blame for the emergence of the self-declared Islamic State in the country.
This is an absurd accusation.
Bush — whose older brother, George W., invaded Iraq in 2003 — has recognized that the war was a mistake. Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction nor did his regime support terrorist organizations, as the Republican administration at the time claimed.
Hussein’s fall, moreover, removed a Sunni obstacle to neighboring Shia Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East — to the alarm of American allies in the region.
Yet on Tuesday, in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, Bush insisted that Obama had been wrong to withdraw forces from Iraq “prematurely”. He said the president and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton — who is now seeking the presidency herself — “stood by” as America’s “hard-won victory” in Iraq was “thrown away” in “a blind haste to get out,” leaving a vacuum that the Islamic State eventually filled.
Bush’s interpretation of events is not entirely without merit. The Islamic State did fill a vacuum. But it was not a vacuum created by Obama.
It was the last President Bush who committed America to the Iraq withdrawal in 2008, shortly before he left office. Obama, who came to power in January 2009, simply carried through the Republican plan.
Obama was elected on a pledge to leave Iraq and he disappointed some on the antiwar left by keeping troops in the country until 2011. His administration also did make an effort to persuade the Iraqis to allow a remnant force to stay put — but the Iraqis refused.
If Republicans insist Obama didn’t try hard enough, they ignore the fact that it was up to the Iraqis, not the United States, to make the decision — just as their own party’s government had promised in 2008.
If they claim America was on the verge of victory in Iraq, they have a funny idea about what victory means.
Republicans like to believe the 2007 “surge” — which saw 20,000 more American troops deployed, mostly to Baghdad and the Sunni majority Anbar Province — turned the war around. But this is a right-wing fantasy. As Fred Kaplan, who wrote a book on America’s counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, argues at Slate, the surge was a tactical success but it did not pave the way for victory.
As its architect, General David Petraeus, said on several occasions, the surge was meant merely to create some “breathing space,” a “zone of security,” so that Iraq’s political factions could form a unified government. The problem was that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn’t want unity: He didn’t want to make a deal on power-sharing, oil revenues or land settlements with Sunni or Kurdish leaders; he wanted to maintain Shiite dominance.
More than anyone, it was the shortsighted and sectarian Maliki who created the conditions that allowed the Islamic State to emerge. It was his Shia-dominated administration that sidelined the Sunni population that had been in power under Hussein. He demoted or fired capable Sunni bureaucrats and military commanders in favor of his cronies and deepened ties with Iran rather than the Arab world, all the while ignoring warnings from other leaders in the region and the United States that Sunni resentment was mounting.
Ibrahim al-Marashi, an assistant professor at California State University, San Marcos, writes for Al Jazeera that the discrimination in employment opportunities was one of the leading grievances raised by Sunni protests in 2012 and 2013. When those demonstrations were violently suppressed by Maliki, it “paved the way for [Islamic State] to ride the wave of Arab Sunni discontent.”
The fanatical Islamist group (also known as ISIS) conquered Mosul, Iraq’s second city, in 2014 and now controls the majority Sunni areas of western Iraq, including the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, as well as parts of northeastern Syria. Arab and Western allies have bombed the militants and their strongholds but so far failed to set them back decisively.
“Blaming the United States for the rise of ISIS or waiting for its airstrikes to destroy the group is a fool’s errand,” argues Joyce Karam at Al Arabiya who, like Marashi, points to internal and regional factors that played a bigger role: the civil war in Syria, Arab funding for Muslim extremist groups, radicalization throughout the region and bad governance in many countries.
Perhaps the Obama Administration could have done more to alleviate those factors but it certainly didn’t cause them.
Some of the Republicans vying to succeed Barack Obama in 2016 understand they need to do more than outsmart Democrats. But many have yet to come to terms with their last defeat and may forestall the self-reflection and reinvention Republicans need before they can start winning elections again.
Ted Cruz — a firebrand from Texas who, in two years as a senator, appears to have achieved nothing but infuriate serious lawmakers in both parties — is a good example. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry reviewed his election strategy for The Week and found that its fatal conceit reflects a broader Republican misconception: that their only problem winning national elections is tactics and strategy.
After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election against Obama, too many Republicans convinced themselves that the defeat was entirely due to Romney, a bad candidate with a bad operation. The former Massachusetts governor was notorious for changing his positions on issues ranging from abortion to health care while the Democrats conducted a superior voter-outreach effort.
But Gobry points out that Romney nevertheless ran ahead of the generic Republican in many states, suggesting that his loss had more to do with how the party rather than the candidate was perceived.
The fact that Republicans were quick to blame Romney goes to what Daniel Berman, a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics, has called the three cycles of a party’s recovery at his blog, The Restless Realist.
The first election defeat is written up to bad luck. This is what Republicans did in 2008. The second defeat “is usually written up to the candidates,” according to Berman, “either the unusual strength of the incumbent or the flawed nature of their opponent.” This is what Republicans did in 2012. Only after losing three elections in a row do parties realize they have a more fundamental problem.
That problem, writes Gobry, is that voters aren’t buying what the Republican Party is selling.
They’re not buying what it’s selling because what it’s selling is out of date; I mean this not in a progressive “right side of history” way but matter-of-factly. Inflation, crime, welfare reform, high tax rates — these are the concerns of the middle class of 1980. And these are no longer its concerns because Republicans fixed many of them.
Middle America worries more about employment, education, health care and stagnating incomes now. It’s not that Democrats necessarily have a better agenda on these issues than Republicans. They’re winning because they have an agenda at all, argues Gobry.
Take a closer look, though, and the agenda Republicans need is developing.
The Atlantic Sentinel reported in April that Democrats and Republicans were starting to talk about the same problem. Whether it is the lack of job security, unaffordable higher education, a health care system that is similarly more expensive than it needs to be or the absence of real wage growth, the defining domestic policy challenge of this generation is how to make life a little easier for those tens of millions of Americans who identify as middle class.
Democrats have been talking about this for a while. In his annual State of the Union address last year, President Obama said that “too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by, let alone get ahead.” His likely successor as party leader, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, said in April, when she announced her own candidacy for the presidency, “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”
Republicans tend to be more concerned about giving Americans the opportunity to get ahead rather than making sure they do. But some recognize that’s not enough anymore.
Jeb Bush, the frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination, said earlier this year, “It’s very hard for people to go from the bottom rungs of the economy to the top or even the middle. This should alarm you. It has alarmed me.”
Marco Rubio, another contender for the nomination, similarly lamented that too many Americans are starting to question whether the “American Dream” is still within their reach.
Both argue that the solution starts with better schools. Bush created America’s first statewide voucher program in Florida when he was governor there and has actively championed conservative education reforms, including charter schools, since. Rubio calls for a better system of higher learning, one that “provides working Americans the chance to acquire the skills they need” without burying them under a mountain of debt.
Seven out of ten college graduates have student debts with an average of $28,400 per borrower. For those who graduated this year, the average debt is $35,000 — more than three times the average just twenty years ago.
American education is in need of an overhaul and it’s not going to come from Democrats who reject charter schools, who resist any reform that is opposed by the teachers unions and who would do little to arrest the rising cost of higher education, instead calling for ever more generous student loan programs while ruling out austerity in entitlements for the elderly and poor at the same time.
Nor is the solution going to come from Republicans who spend more time sloganeering and railing against the left than they do defending conservative policies. The likes of Ted Cruz do the party no favors by pretending the way to win is to tack further to the right. It is the angry rhetoric of his wing of the party, which is still fighting the battles of the 1980s, that is putting off moderate, middle-class voters in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
In those states that determined the outcome of the last president election, a majority of voters — according to exit polls — agreed with Republicans that the federal government had overreached. Voters who identify as either conservative or moderate far outnumber leftists in the seven states that have neither a reliably Democratic nor a reliably Republican majority. In Iowa and Ohio, more voters identify as conservatives than in the rest of the country yet both states reelected Obama in 2012.
It are middle-class voters, not the working poor or the super rich, who are denying Republicans victories by voting against their interest in lower taxes and less government because they hear Republican reactionaries say ridiculous things about climate change, sex and women’s rights.
Again, the likes of Bush and Rubio show they are committed to making their party electable again by striking a conciliatory tone.
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality last month, the former said, “We should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments.” The latter emphasized his disagreement with the decision but added, “We live in a republic and must abide by the law.”
Others, like Cruz, attacked the court and proposed constitutional changes to reverse gay marriage.
Bush’s and Rubio’s views on America’s changing demographics are also more relaxed — although Rubio, a Cuban American, has sounded more hawkish since he failed to get traction on an immigration reform bill in the Senate.
By largely steering clear of divisive social issues, Bush and Rubio can build a conservatism that is contemporary and popular. They have a Republican agenda to meet today’s challenges. But if they fail to beat Cruz and the other throwbacks in this year’s presidential primaries, it might very well take another election defeat before the party is ready to accept it.