Thursday, October 20, 2016

Donald, Hillary, Syria and the Russians

Donald was obnoxious. Hillary was impressive.

And it was impressive that she took progressive stands on most issues throughout. She defended abortion rights emphatically and straightforwardly. She talked about how she wanted to appoint Supreme Court Justices who would defend "families" against the power and giant corporations. She said she wanted Citizens United overturned. She got in a brief reference to climate change, the huge issue that's largely been missing in action in the Presidential general election.

She even used the questions about debt and "entitlements" to focus on the unfairness of the maldistribution of wealth in the US and to say she wanted to increase Social Security benefits. She was actually defending Keynesian stimulus policies. And she sounded almost convincing about opposing TPP.

I'm thinking of what she says now setting the stage for her Presidency. I was particularly concerned that she might use the debt segment to signal her intent to pivot to neoliberal orthodoxy. But she didn't. She sounded more Sanderista than what we'd come to expect as Clintonian.

It's on foreign policy that I have the most immediate and obvious concerns about the new Clinton Presidency. From the Transcript of the Third Debate New York Times 140/20/2016:

WALLACE: Hold on, folks. This doesn’t do any good for anyone. Let’s please continue the debate, and let’s move on to the subject of foreign hot spots.

The Iraqi offensive to take back Mosul has begun. If they are successful in pushing ISIS out of that city and out of all of Iraq, the question then becomes, what happens the day after? And that’s something that whichever of you ends up — whoever of you ends up as president is going to have to confront.

Will you put U.S. troops into that vacuum to make sure that ISIS doesn’t come back or isn’t replaced by something even worse? Secretary Clinton, you go first in this segment. ...

CLINTON: Well, I am encouraged that there is an effort led by the Iraqi army, supported by Kurdish forces, and also given the help and advice from the number of special forces and other Americans on the ground. But I will not support putting American soldiers into Iraq as an occupying force. I don’t think that is in our interest, and I don’t think that would be smart to do. In fact, Chris, I think that would be a big red flag waving for ISIS to reconstitute itself.

The goal here is to take back Mosul. It’s going to be a hard fight. I’ve got no illusions about that. And then continue to press into Syria to begin to take back and move on Raqqa, which is the ISIS headquarters.

I am hopeful that the hard work that American military advisers have done will pay off and that we will see a real — a really successful military operation. But we know we’ve got lots of work to do. Syria will remain a hotbed of terrorism as long as the civil war, aided and abetted by the Iranians and the Russians, continue.

So I have said, look, we need to keep our eye on ISIS. That’s why I want to have an intelligence surge that protects us here at home, why we have to go after them from the air, on the ground, online, why we have to make sure here at home we don’t let terrorists buy weapons. If you’re too dangerous to fly, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun.

And I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to, frankly, gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians so that perhaps we can have the kind of serious negotiation necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on a political track. [my emphasis]
No-fly zones and "safe havens" inside Syria protected and enforced by the United States are significant escalations of direct US participation in the Syrian civil war. Talking about such things as though they are charitable humanitarian missions is war-propaganda euphemism.

FOX News' Chris Wallace actually followed up with a decent question:

WALLACE: Secretary Clinton, you have talked about — and in the last debate and again today — that you would impose a no-fly zone to try to protect the people of Aleppo and to stop the killing there. President Obama has refused to do that because he fears it’s going to draw us closer or deeper into the conflict.

And General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says you impose a no-fly zone, chances are you’re going to get into a war — his words — with Syria and Russia. So the question I have is, if you impose a no-fly zone — first of all, how do you respond to their concerns? Secondly, if you impose a no-fly zone and a Russian plane violates that, does President Clinton shoot that plane down?

CLINTON: Well, Chris, first of all, I think a no-fly zone could save lives and could hasten the end of the conflict. I’m well aware of the really legitimate concerns that you have expressed from both the president and the general.

This would not be done just on the first day. This would take a lot of negotiation. And it would also take making it clear to the Russians and the Syrians that our purpose here was to provide safe zones on the ground.

We’ve had millions of people leave Syria and those millions of people inside Syria who have been dislocated. So I think we could strike a deal and make it very clear to the Russians and the Syrians that this was something that we believe was in the best interests of the people on the ground in Syria, it would help us with our fight against ISIS.

But I want to respond to what Donald said about refugees. He’s made these claims repeatedly. I am not going to let anyone into this country who is not vetted, who we do not have confidence in. But I am not going to slam the door on women and children. That picture of that little 4-year-old boy in Aleppo, with the blood coming down his face while he sat in an ambulance, is haunting. And so we are going to do very careful, thorough vetting. That does not solve our internal challenges with ISIS and our need to stop radicalization, to work with American Muslim communities who are on the front lines to identify and prevent attacks. In fact, the killer of the dozens of people at the nightclub in Orlando, the Pulse nightclub, was born in Queens, the same place Donald was born. So let’s be clear about what the threat is and how we are best going to be able to meet it.

And, yes, some of that threat emanates from over in Syria and Iraq, and we’ve got to keep fighting, and I will defeat ISIS, and some of it is we have to up our game and be much smarter here at home. [my emphasis]
It's notable that she realized she has to be prepared to explain why attempting such a thing would not be a reckless, risky actions whose benefits could be a long time coming.

And it can be tough to keep limited participation in a conflict limited. As Sen. Ed Markey is currently warning about US involvement in Yemen. (Chris Villani, Sen. Markey: U.S. risks becoming mired in 'proxy war' in Yemen Boston Herald 10/14/2016)

Hillary baited Donald into giving bad answers when she challenged him about the Russia hacks. But anti-Russian talk is fast becoming a staple of US war posturing in the Middle East. And an excuse for pressing NATO and EU membership closer and closer to the border in Russia. Hillary all but accused Trump of being a Russian plant in the Presidential race.

Progressives need to be able to walk and talk at the same time. Including about Russia. We can recognize that Russia and Putin can be bad actors in some cases without allowing the mention of Russia to shut down debate over whether risky US policies in the Middle East and Europe are good, bad or otherwise. The trend of trying to brand critics as dupes of the Kremlin not only has unpleasant Cold War echoes but is becoming too uncritically employed by the progressive left. Check out Gershom Gorenberg's The Strange Sympathy of the Far Left for Putin The American Prospect 10/14/2016. The website has shown that article at the top of its Most Popular list for at least the last three days.

Also, I want to call attention to Gene Lyons' column When Trump Throws Post-Election Dung, How Will His Fans Respond? National Memo 10/19/2016, in which he suggests dialing back some of the fainting-couch rhetoric over the fact that Trump is not saying he'll concede if he loses. (Why, ah nevuh huhd such a thing ...) Yes, it's obnoxious and irresponsible on his part. But I think the continuities are stronger here than the novelty. The Republicans have been on a ratcheting-up process since at least 1994 of being more and more obstructionist to Democratic Presidents. And it was often noted, at least by people like Gene Lyons and Joe Conason who were paying attention, that the Republicans never seemed to accept Bill Clinton as a legitimate President. And a similar but more intense attitude applied to Barack Obama, even though he won in 2008 and 2012 by clear margins.

Yes, Donald's the-election-is-rigged hysteria is likely to encourage some of his admirers to political violence. But even there, the continuities are stronger than the novelty. Far-right splinter groups, some of them including people at least nominally intent on terrorist-style violence, have been blossoming under the Obama Administration. That process will likely continue. Though a more focused political and law-enforcement approach being used against them could reverse that trend.

And it's also worth asking, so what if he doesn't concede? Absent a mess like Florida in 2000, where Republican electoral shenanigans were key in setting up the Roberts Court to be able to issue its Bush v. Gore ruling, it's hard to see what he could do to actually prevent Clinton from taking office as President. The Republicans could put together an impeachment process to pull off a "soft coup." But to have any chance of success, it would have to focus on some pseudoscandal rather than on the conduct of the 2016 election. A qualifier of the kind Trump fans don't make: we won't know exactly what particular questions may arise after the election until the election itself is completed.

Speaking of Joe Conason, he also points to the strong continuities (Why Trump Terrifies The Republicans Who Created Him And His Movement National Memo 10/20/2016):

The hard truth, as my friend @LOLGOP and other writers have previously explained, is that the Republicans only have themselves to blame for Trump. For year they have mundanely exploited the same racial divisions, fake issues, and intellectual dishonesty that he transformed into political performance art to take over their party.

The Republicans must also look inward to find the roots of the insurrectionary attitude now adopted by Trump’s supporters, and stoked by his comments about the election. Dating back to the militia movement during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and especially with the rise of the Tea Party in reaction to Barack Obama, too many Republicans have eagerly stirred up fanatics for their own partisan benefit. They colluded with the gun lobby and other extremist groups to foment conspiracy theories and dark rumors of government oppression, while promoting fantasies of armed rebellion.

Now that Trump has stepped forward to embody those apocalyptic ideas in his failing candidacy, the Republicans are suddenly frightened of their own creation. They will try to escape responsibility for whatever havoc he may wreak, although they hatched this movement long ago. The billionaire bully and his angry mob are their own shrieking chickens, finally coming home to roost.
Although Conason is also stressing the potential harm Trump's refusing to recognize the results of the election could cause. And he even uses the Trump-is-helping-the-Russians argument!

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