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Steve Clemons: 'Thank God for the Saudis': ISIS, Iraq, and the Lessons of Blowback

'Thank God for the Saudis': ISIS, Iraq, and the Lessons of Blowback
U.S lawmakers encouraged officials in Riyadh to arm Syrian rebels. Now that strategy may have created a monster in the Middle East.
JUN 23 2014, 11:40 AM ET

ISIS fighters at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul (Reuters)

“Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar,” John McCain told CNN’s Candy Crowley in January 2014. “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar, and for our Qatari friends,” the senator said once again a month later, at the Munich Security Conference.

McCain was praising Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services and a former ambassador to the United States, for supporting forces fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham had previously met with Bandar to encourage the Saudis to arm Syrian rebel forces.

But shortly after McCain’s Munich comments, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah relieved Bandar of his Syrian covert-action portfolio, which was then transferred to Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. By mid-April, just two weeks after President Obama met with King Abdullah on March 28, Bandar had also been removed from his position as head of Saudi intelligence—according to official government statements, at “his own request.” Sources close to the royal court told me that, in fact, the king fired Bandar over his handling of the kingdom’s Syria policy and other simmering tensions, after initially refusing to accept Bandar’s offers to resign. (Bandar retains his title as secretary-general of the king’s National Security Council.)

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the “moderate” armed opposition in the country, receives a lot of attention. But two of the most successful factions fighting Assad’s forces are Islamist extremist groups: Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the latter of which is now amassing territory in Iraq and threatening to further destabilize the entire region. And that success is in part due to the support they have received from two Persian Gulf countries: Qatar and Saudi Arabia.



Jason Stanford writing in Politico: Nobody Died and Made Rick Perry King

Emphasis mine
Nobody Died and Made Rick Perry King
Call it a liberal vendetta all you want. We still have a separation of powers.

August 18, 2014

It this point it might be helpful for the Washington punditry to take a deep cleansing breath, because virtually nothing they’ve heard from Perry and his legal team actually addresses the charges.

Perry can absolutely veto whatever he wants. That’s not the issue. And if he thinks this is a liberal vendetta, then Perry should explain why a Republican judge appointed Michael McCrum special prosecutor. McCrum once served in the George H.W. Bush administration, and in 2009, Sen. John Cornyn, who said the indictments smacked of prosecutorial overreach, nominated McCrum to be a federal prosecutor again in the Western District. For a Democratic conspiracy, there sure are a lot of Republicans in key roles.

But just for a second, forget Lehmberg and her troubles with booze. Forget that the only thing Texas Democrats have won since 1994 is church bingo. If you focus on the facts, you begin to realize that Perry might face some legal peril.

First, Lehmberg was investigating a publicly funded cancer research agency and had indicted one official for improperly directing an $11 million research grant to a company owned by people who had given $440,000 to the campaigns of Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

more at link...

Will Marshall* writing in Politico: Can Hillary Fix Obama's Mess?

Emphasis mine

*Who is Will Marshall?

Will Marshall is one of the founders of the New Democrat movement, which aims to steer the US Democratic Party toward a more centrist orientation. Since its founding in 1989, he has been president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council.

He recently served on the board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an organization chaired by Joe Lieberman and John McCain designed to build bipartisan support for the invasion of Iraq. Marshall also signed, at the outset of the war, a letter issued by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) expressing support for the invasion. Marshall signed a similar letter sent to President Bush put out by the Social Democrats USA on Feb. 25, 2003, just before the invasion. The SDUSA letter urged Bush to commit to "maintaining substantial U.S. military forces in Iraq for as long as may be required to ensure a stable, representative regime is in place and functioning."


Can Hillary Fix Obama’s Mess?
By WILL MARSHALL August 14, 2014

On Barack Obama’s watch, Democrats have defined their international outlook largely in reactive and negative terms. The president has focused on fixing his predecessor’s mistakes, leaving unclear what positive role he envisions for America in the 21st century. “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” may be sound advice for college-bound kids, but it’s not a foreign policy doctrine.

Where George W. Bush reached too quickly for the blunt instrument of military force, Obama stresses its limited utility for solving complex political problems. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” had a utopian and triumphalist ring; Obama eschews moralizing and puts human rights and democracy on the diplomatic backburner. Bush’s unilateralism strained ties with key U.S. allies, Obama is only too happy to lead from behind and shift responsibility for solving global problems to multilateral coalitions.

And, given the economic mess he inherited, and the need to repair the domestic foundations of U.S. strength, it’s understandable that Obama has sought to limit America’s exposure to foreign conflicts.

Six years into his tenure, however, the world doesn’t seem to be cooperating with Obama’s policy of risk-averse retrenchment. Russia has reverted to its bad old ways, resurrecting a Soviet-style police state and menacing its neighbors. Europe’s inability to respond effectively has forced Obama to put America back in the business of checking Moscow’s aggression. Washington also is getting sucked back into Iraq, dashing the president’s hopes of extricating the United States from a Middle East convulsed by jihadist and sectarian violence.

much more from this neocon 'progressive...'


Fareed Zakaria: The fantasy of Middle Eastern moderates

Fareed Zakaria: The fantasy of Middle Eastern moderates

Syrians gather at the site of a reported barrel-bomb attack by government forces on August 13, 2014, in the rebel-held Qadi Askar neighbourhood in Aleppo. More than 170,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began there in March 2011. (Zein Al-Rifai/AFP/Getty Images)

By Fareed Zakaria
August 14 at 8:52 PM

Hillary Clinton was expressing what has become Washington’s new conventional wisdom when she implied, in her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, that “moderates” might have prevented the rise of the Islamic State. In fact, the United States has provided massive and sustained aid to the moderates in the region.

Remember, the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was created in Iraq and grew out of that country’s internal dynamics. Over the past decade, the United States helped organize Iraq’s “moderates” — the Shiite-dominated government — giving them tens of billions of dollars in aid and supplying and training their army. But, it turned out, the moderates weren’t that moderate. As they became authoritarian and sectarian, Sunni opposition movements grew and jihadi opposition groups such as ISIS gained tacit or active support. This has been a familiar pattern throughout the region.

For decades, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has been to support “moderates.” The problem is that there are actually very few of them. The Arab world is going through a bitter, sectarian struggle that is “carrying the Islamic world back to the Dark Ages,” said Turkish President Abdullah Gul. In these circumstances, moderates either become extremists or they lose out in the brutal power struggles of the day. Look at Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and the Palestinian territories.

In an excellent essay for The Post, George Washington University professor Marc Lynch cites careful historical studies that demonstrate that in a chaotic, violent civil war such as Syria’s — with many outside players funding their favorite groups — U.S. intervention would have had little effect other than to extend and exacerbate the conflict. “Had the plan to arm Syria’s rebels been adopted back in 2012,” Lynch writes, “the most likely scenario is that the war would still be raging and look much as it does today, except that the United States would be far more intimately and deeply involved.”

Asserting that the moderates in Syria could win is not tough foreign policy talk, it is a naive fantasy with dangerous consequences.

TPM: Obama Reportedly Smacked Down Criticism Of His Syria Policy As 'Horsesh*t'

Obama Reportedly Smacked Down Criticism Of His Syria Policy As 'Horsesh*t'

AUGUST 12, 2014, 8:18 AM EDT

President Barack Obama reportedly got heated during a private meeting with lawmakers last month, where he shot down criticism of his decision not to arm Syrian rebel fighters as "horsesh*t.'

The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin published a report Monday that cited two lawmakers inside the July 31 meeting who described the President as "visibly agitated" when met with bipartisan criticism of his approach to the civil war in Syria.

One of the unnamed lawmakers told Rogin that a detailed question from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who criticized a range of the Obama administration's foreign policy approaches, prompted the President to defend his policy on Syria. The idea that arming Syrian rebels earlier on in the conflict would have led to a more desirable outcome was "horsesh*t," Obama reportedly said.

White House officials confirmed the heated exchange to Rogin but wouldn't confirm that Obama used that colorful language. The President previously made the same argument in an interview with CBS, calling it a "fantasy" that sending arms to Syrian rebels could put them in a position to defeat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also criticized Obama's Syria policy in an interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg published this weekend.



Luckovich: Leadership

White House: Premiums will fall for many in Florida

White House: Premiums will fall for many in Fla.
Associated Press

August 6, 2014

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — The majority of Floridians who purchased health plans through the Affordable Care Act will actually see their out-of-pocket costs decrease, especially in big cities such as Miami and Orlando, according to senior White House officials. That's the opposite of what state officials, under Republican Gov. Rick Scott, said earlier this week.
Analyzing rates for the 2015 health plans sold through President Barack Obama's law can be tricky and politicians on both sides are eager to use the figures as evidence of the law's success or failure.

An estimated 75 percent of Floridians live in areas where the silver premium will actually decline, Tasha Bradley, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Health and Human Services told The Associated Press. Their analysis shows the cost of that silver plan will decrease by 6 percent in Miami, 12 percent in Orlando and 17 percent in West Palm Beach.

Of the nearly 1 million plans purchased in Florida this past year, 73 percent were silver plans. It's also the most common plan nationwide because the subsidy tax credit is based on the silver plan, which is the second-lowest priced.

The state said Monday that consumers could expect an average premium increase of 13 percent in 2015. State officials calculated the average of premiums for all plans, bronze, silver, gold and platinum to arrive at the figure, but the Obama administration says it's misleading to average the premium costs of all plans because most people purchase silver plans.

State insurance officials didn't immediately comment Wednesday.


Peter Beinart in Haaretz: Israel’s best weapon against Hamas: Giving the Palestinians hope

Israel’s best weapon against Hamas: Giving the Palestinians hope
Unfortunately, as effective as Benjamin Netanyahu has been at destroying Palestinian rockets, he’s been even more effective at destroying hope and strengthening despair.

By Peter Beinart
Jul. 23, 2014

It’s easy to criticize the Israeli government’s response to the rockets launched from Gaza in recent weeks. It’s harder to offer an alternative. But honest critics have an obligation to try. So here goes.

The short answer is that I’d treat the rockets as military symptoms of a political problem. That doesn’t mean Israel shouldn’t return fire. If Hamas and Islamic Jihad can attack Israel with impunity, they may never stop. But returning fire—or even invading Gaza—will never make Israel safe.

Israel can destroy Hamas’ rockets, but Hamas will eventually rebuild them bigger and better, as it did after the last war, and the one before that. And in the relatives and friends of the Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge, it will find plenty of new recruits willing to fire them. Israel can overthrow Hamas and then pull back, but it will leave in its wake Somalia-like chaos that gives groups even more radical than Hamas free reign. Israel can overthrow Hamas and try to install Fatah, but doing so will harm the latter as much as the former because any faction that rides into Gaza atop an Israeli tank will lose its public legitimacy forever. Israel can overthrow Hamas and try to govern Gaza itself, but that would require Israeli 18- year-olds to permanently patrol house-to-house in a territory where they’re constantly at risk of becoming the next Gilad Shalit.

So what would I do? First, I’d seek a cease-fire that eases those aspects of Israel’s blockade that have no legitimate security rationale. (That doesn’t mean acceding to Hamas’ cease-fire demands but it means recognizing that a cease-fire that does nothing to address the blockade - as Israel wants - won’t last).



Why Doesn't The Sunshine State Use More Solar Energy?

Why Doesn't The Sunshine State Use More Solar Energy?


A solar panel installation at FPL's Martin County Next Generation hybrid natural gas and solar energy plant.
Credit Julia Duba

As far as solar energy goes, the Sunshine State is third in the country for potential -- and 18th in actual installation.

In Florida, there’s no financial assistance for installing solar panels on your roof. Solar energy users can only take a federal tax credit.

Florida Power and Light powers the state using mostly natural gas. Out of all the energy FPL provides, only 0.06 percent comes from solar energy.


Luckovich: Gaza peace plan

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