It’s Trump, stupid!

To defeat Donald Trump is the primary, no, the only, goal of the Democrats come November.  They forgot that at last Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas.

“If you’re someone who thinks Donald Trump needs to be sent packing, watching the Democrats attack one another like 14-year-olds fighting over the remote was depressing indeed, wrote Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, who came away from the evening liking all the candidates less.

I, sadly, agree.

The six up on the debate stage lost their focus, they turned inwards, and the whole event turned into a vicious food fight, between…everybody! There was no serious policy debate, on any of the major issues, and foreign policy, the one area where the President truly has power, was completely absent.

Elizabeth Warren came to play a central role by fiercely attacking former New York mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, and discarding her earlier calls for unity in the party. Her attacks seemed to equate Bloomberg with Trump – just another awful billionaire –  without a word about Bloomberg’s solid political experience after twelve years as New York City’s mayor and his many years of political and financial support for Democratic, and liberal, causes like gun control and climate change.

It was a harsh and negative message. I have admired Warren for her policy focus, for her ideas and plans on a number of important issues: Medicare for All, wealth tax, childcare, college costs, consumer protection. All that was lost in Las Vegas. It reminded me of another debate, earlier in the campaign, when Kamala Harris harshly attacked Joe Biden. Afterwards, Harris also profited, both in the polls and in campaign funds, but the gains turned out to be short-lived. It remains to be seen if Elizabeth Warren now meets the same destiny.

The rest? Bernie Sanders yelled, as usual, but he largely got a free ride, in spite of being the front runner in the polls. Joe Biden did ok, but, as one commentator accurately described it, every time he opens his mouth, “you hold your breath.” This time, he avoided any major gaffe. That left Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, who obviously do not like each other, free to go at each other, with abandon. They both lost.

And Bloomberg? Cool, but lame, and strangely unprepared. He failed in his first debate appearance — bombed, said many. But he is not on the ballot in Nevada today nor in South Carolina on February 29. His moment of truth comes on Super Tuesday, March 3, when he is on the ballot for the first time. Prior to that, in next week’s debate, he needs to step up his  game considerably to have a chance.  If he fails, he will not be saved by his billions.

Yes, indeed, it’s an astonishing political turn for the Republican Party

No issue is more important in American politics right now than to get a complete picture of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S elections.

But, instead, as the prominent, conservative, foreign policy scholar Robert Kagan writes in the Washington Post today, the Republican Party, traditionally hard-line anti-Soviet and anti-Communist, is “astonishingly” running interference for Russia and is becoming Putin’s accomplices by its actions, or, rather, inactions, on the vital question of Russia’s role in the elections.

This question is a national security issue, according to Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and it is “essential to get a full picture” of what Russia did and is capable of doing well before this year’s European elections and the 2018 mid-term elections here in the United States.

“It’s time for the (Republican) party to put national security above partisan interest…The stakes are too high for politics as usual,” Kagan concludes.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/republicans-are-becoming-russias-accomplices/2017/03/06/8616c2f4-027a-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html?utm_term=.d62e989c8ff2

Obama’s historic speech in Havana — finally!

The tragedy in Brussels and the endless election campaign came to overshadow President Obama’s historic speech in Havana, Cuba, yesterday.

So I am posting it here because of its  importance. Finally, the United States and Cuba have broken with the past and started on the road towards a new, constructive relationship.

I am also posting it because of its eloquence, Obama at his best.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEw3H0C-Lj8

 

Uncertainty before Iowa, no matter what the polls say

Whatever the polls might say, the outcome of the Iowa caucuses next Monday is far from certain among both Republicans and Democrats.

In the Republican so-called establishment the nervousness is growing as a Trump victory or a Cruz victory seems ever more likely. But it’s too late to do anything about it now or even before the New Hampshire primary on February 9. The Republican Party is reaping what they have sown. Later, possibly, as the primary campaign goes on to bigger and ethnically more diverse states, the Republican voters might come to their senses as they realize that the course the party is taking is a suicide mission. Or at least, that is what many establishment Republicans are wishing, for a Republican Party with Trump or Cruz as its presidential nominee cannot win the general election in November.

On the Democratic side, the race is even, surprisingly so. A Town Hall last night from Iowa with the three candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley and broadcast on CNN, was forceful, energetic, positive, and informative. The issues of America were discussed seriously and the negative attacks on the opponents were largely absent.

A confident, relaxed, articulate Hillary Clinton made a strong case for herself as the most knowledgeable and experienced of the three, yes, of all the candidates, including the Republicans. Her knowledge of foreign policy, in particular, impressed, and should impress the voters, in these times of upheaval and uncertainty around the world. I think this is the Hillary Clinton that the voters want, and should, see, and staying positive and upbeat. She needs to make sure the voters know of and understand what she stands for. Attacking Bernie Sanders is not what she should be doing. Sanders is running his race and he is doing it well, talking about the serious issues facing America. It might pay off handsomely in Iowa and New Hampshire. But…beyond that? He is no threat.

Sanders, the senator from Vermont and the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, whose campaign has developed into a popular movement that no one predicted, including Sanders himself. He, also, did well, as he continued to hammer forcefully on his main themes of economic inequality, healthcare for all Americans, and reigning in Wall Street’s excesses. As a progressive, born and raised in Europe, I agree with much of what he says. The political revolution that Sanders urges might be a revolution for America, but not in my old home country of Sweden, or in Europe as a whole. It is far out to the left for America, and although Sanders certainly has many Americans supporting him, they are not enough for him to win in November. America is not ready for a political revolution.

Martin O’Malley, finally, the former governor of my home state of Maryland, has strong progressive credentials, and in another year, without Sanders, he might have had a chance. Not this year.

In all, the Democrats are in better shape than the Republicans, keeping the big picture in mind — the general election in November — regardless of what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, and whoever the Republicans choose, they will have a formidable opponent.

We are reminded again: Torture is torture. Period.

The U.S. Senate’s torture report is out, and that was a good day for America. But it underlined  once again that America “lost its way”during those dark years after 9/11, as Eric Lichtau wrote in his book Bush’s Law – The Remaking of American Justice.

“This is not how Americans should behave. Ever,” says today’s main editorial in the Washington Post.

So, to talk about whether these “enhanced interrogation techniques” worked or not is completely irrelevant.

“Torture is wrong, whether or not it has ever ‘worked,'”  the Post adds. Exactly.

“Only fools” discuss whether illegal actions “work,” wrote Slate Magazine’s legal commentator Dahlia Lithwick some time ago. Exactly, again.

But, as Lithwick also wrote, they “got away with it:” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, CIA Director George Tenet and his staff member Jose Rodriguez, who destroyed video tapes of the torture sessions.

Now, what? Probably nothing, unfortunately.

Congress, controlled by the Republicans after the new year, will not touch this. And President Obama, who started out so well and in his first weeks as president in 2009 shut down CIA’s secret prisons, prohibited the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and he promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, also said no to all investigations, no prosecutions and no indictments, no truth and reconciliation commission like in South Africa after apartheid, no to a commission report like the one after 9/11. Nothing.

Was he wishing it would all go away? It hasn’t. The prison in Guantanamo Bay is still open and now the torture debate is back with a vengeance.

It was a “horrible decision” by Obama to close the books on this chapter of of our history, writes the New York Times today, describing the whole report as a “portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.” And, it “raises again, with renewed power, the question of why no one has ever been held accountable for these crimes.”

Exactly, yet again.

Geneva in 2013 like Munich in 1938 — come on!

Comparing the US/Iran nuclear agreement in Geneva with Munich in 1938!

“If you hear echoes of the 1930s in the capitulation at Geneva, it’s because the West is being led by the same sort of men, minus the umbrellas,” writes the Wall Street Journal editorial writer Bret Stephens.

What planet does he live on? Alas, his comments are another example of the low, and sad, level of the Republican comments after the US plus the European Union, Russia, and China came to an agreement over the weekend with the Iranians. In fact, as Dana Milbank writes today in the Washington Post, the GOP has opposed the Iran deal, “sight unseen.”  As always, I could add, when it comes to the President and the Republicans, and Andrew Sullivan on his blog The Dish writes that it very much looks like “sabotage.”

Sullivan is shocked that “some Americans take the side of a foreign country and not their own,” such as when John Bolton, former UN Ambassador under George W. Bush urged Israel in an article in The Weekly Standard to launch a war against Iran “in order to scupper his own country’s core negotiations with Iran.” This is attempted active sabotage through a foreign country,” writes Sullivan, who adds that this even pertains to members of the President’s own party and cites New York Senator Chuck Schumer, “vowing to destroy the foreign policy of a president of his own party.”

Sullivan despairs and how can one not despair? So it is important to point out what some wise commentators have to say about the Iran deal, like New York Times’ Roger Cohen:

“Let us be clear. This is the best deal that could be had. Nothing, not even sustained Israeli bombardment, can reverse the nuclear know-how Iran possesses. The objective must be to ring-fence the acquired capability so its use can only be peaceful.”

And Trita Parsi, author and president of the National Iranian American Council, writes on Reuters that the deal is about much more than Iran nuclear program.

“A successful nuclear deal can become the first step in a long and arduous – but necessary – journey to break the institutionalized enmity between the United States and Iran.”

That’s what’s really important.

There are scandals, and then there are real scandals…

The Republicans are smelling blood. Finally, after four years of a scandal free Obama first term, they seem to say, we got him!

And they can’t help themselves, comparing Obama to Nixon, who resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal – now that was a real scandal! – and suggesting that Obama should be impeached…

The Washington Post main editorial today is pretty good, although comparing Obama to Nixon is not only “silly,” it is really stupid. I have for quite a while lamented the trend of the Post’s editorials becoming more and more neocon in its views on foreign policy, particularly on Syria and the Middle East, but here the paper is right on the money:

  • The Benghazi talking points scandal is “no scandal whatsoever,” but there was “no cover up” and “no conspiracy” to deceive the American people.
  • The broad search of telephone records among AP’s reporters went way too far, but there is no record that Obama knew anything about this.
  • The IRS targeting of Tea party groups is “horrifying and inexcusable,” but there is no evidence of White House knowledge or instigation of this practice.

Second term presidents often seem to get into trouble…must be something in the water in the White House. But this is not Watergate nor is it Iran-contra. They were real scandals.

Still, of course, this won’t go away.  The Republicans want to nail the president, but in their desperate eagerness, they are overreaching, “making a political circus” of the tragedy in Benghazi, as Philadelphia Inquirer’s Trudy Rubin recently wrote. The real scandal, she continued, is how the Republicans are “dishonoring” the memory of the four dead Americans in Benghazi.

“God fortsättning” in the New Year — that’s doubtful…

In Sweden, my old home country, we used to say “God fortsättning” after the holidays — “good continuation” in the New Year. That’s not an expression you hear in America, which is perhaps as well, particularly in these times of the financial cliff, the debt ceiling, and the political disharmony in Washington.

Yes, the cliff was avoided but at what price? Was it worth it?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently wondered if the deal was a “Pyrrhic victory,” a tactical victory that could pave the way for a major defeat later this year. Yes, the victory was tactical in the sense that the Republicans in Congress for the first time since 1993 voted for a tax increase. But what else? It did nothing to resolve the country’s major economic problems, the debt, budget deficit, unemployment. The settlement contained no new stimulus money to invest in the woefully neglected infrastructure or to create new jobs. Remember, the U.S. still has almost eight percent unemployment. Last Friday’s figure of 155,000 new jobs during December was certainly acceptable, but not more. Many more jobs are needed, every month, to seriously tackle the unemployment crisis.

In the deal, President Obama had to give up on his campaign pledge to raise taxes for everyone earning more than 250,000 dollars per year. Instead, the limit was set at 450,000 dollars, meaning than less than one percent of American tax payers will see their taxes increase. Those are not middle class figures. These are high income earners, who will now be exempted from paying their fair share at the same time as more revenues are needed but when Americans are paying less in income tax than the populations of other developed countries. As Stephan Richter pointed out in The Globalist:

“In all the other countries that come to mind, protecting such levels of income is the sole preserve of conservative parties. In the United States, it is a matter of bipartisan consensus.”

Yes, America IS different from Europe –it’s certainly more conservative. In America, taxes are toxic in a way they don’t seem to be in Europe, maybe because Europeans feel that they get something for their taxes, like universal health care, good public transportation, and affordable education all the way through college?

Washington is also similar to Brussels, if you read The Economist, which called the cliff deal an “abject failure” — “Washington’s pattern of dysfunction is disturbingly similar to the euro zone’s.”

But Europe has also made progress, averted disaster and come together around the euro, as Floyd Norris recently wrote in the New York Times, wondering: “Will the United States follow the European path in 2013? Let’s hope so.”

That’s not likely to happen. With the debt ceiling crisis and the resolution of the automatic spending cuts looming in a couple of months, the Republicans seem primed for revenge after the cliff deal, which could make the cliff deal negotiations come to seem like child’s play.

“Good continuation…” well, the New Year actually doesn’t look that good.

Obama won the last debate but will it matter?

And so the last of the four TV-debates in the presidential election campaign is over and in only two weeks, America will choose a new president.

The debates have played an important role in this campaign, more important, perhaps, than in many a year, maybe since John F Kennedy met Richard Nixon in the very first debate in 1960 and upset the favorite, the sitting vice president.

In the first debate in this year’s campaign, the challenger Mitt Romney knocked the socks off a sleepy Barack Obama and became a serious challenger to the president. Obama’s listless performance let Romney into the race, a race that the president at that time led comfortably. And then, Romney held his ground pretty well, although the judgment is that Obama won the two following debates –last night’s by 48 percent to 40, according to CNN’s first quick poll, and by 53 percent to 23 according to CBS News.

Still, it was a fairly even debate where neither candidate committed any major mistakes. In fact, you could argue that there was no real debate, for Romney had decided to hold back, lie low, be cautious, and be presidential, or something. All his earlier criticism of Obama’s foreign policy was gone, replaced by broad consensus between the two about America’s role in the world and president Obama’s foreign policy.

On Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, the war on terror including the drone attacks against terrorists in various countries, and, yes, even on Libya, Romney took positions very close to Obama’s. By refraining from attacking Obama, Romney had clearly made a decision not to seem like a war hawk, not to seem belligerent and someone seeking new conflicts and new wars for America in the Middle East. By doing so, he moved towards the political center, towards a more moderate policy – he became a “man of peace,” as someone said, probably jokingly, afterwards.

Romney’s transition seemed to startle Obama a bit, although the president kept up his attacks, calling Romney’s foreign policy “all over the map” and charging him for trying to “air brush history.” And while expressing his satisfaction that Romney now supported the administration’s diplomatic efforts in that volatile region, Obama could not refrain from sticking it to Romney when possible. Romney’s charge that the U.S. navy now has fewer ships since 1916 was met by, maybe, the “zinger” of the evening – Obama saying that the military now also had fewer bayonets and horses than in 1916…

Why the subdued, cautious Romney? Was he playing it safe in a race that now seemed more even than ever? Maybe. But as a result, he came to stand in stark contrast to a firm, straight talking, decisive president, who said he had done what he promised to do when he became president, and that he was the best one to lead America in the next four years.

Will what happened in this final debate matter? We don’t know yet. The two previous debates between Obama and Romney had each been watched by almost 70 million people. Last night’s debate most likely had fewer viewers. Foreign policy is not the main theme of this campaign. And most voters seem to have made up their minds by now. The number of undecided are very few and the remaining two weeks of the campaign will be more about getting out the vote — turnout can decide this election, which is so crucial for America and this country’s future.

Too bad on such a fine professor…

The two best speeches so far on the Republican convention have been given by women, Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

It was hard not to like about Ann Romney and her speech about the love for the man she has been married to for over 40 years, without revealing anything really new about her husband.

It was Ann Romney’s day, that first convention day. She outshone New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Yes, she outshone her husband, who has never given a speech like that. It remains to see how Mitt Romney succeeds tonight in his big opportunity to explain to the American people why they should vote for him in November.

Condoleezza Rice’s speech was also very good. But it made me sad, that after many times having heard her lecture as professor of foreign policy during my years at Stanford University, my image of her, a prominent academic, has now changed into a Republican standard-bearer, a Republican spokeswoman. Yes, she was national security adviser and secretary of state, but, in my view, she never seemed to be hardline partisan, though she has never hid her Republican sympathies.

But now? To me, she finally made the move from academia to partisan politics, and although she denies it, it is quite possible that she has now also launched a political career with 2016 in view.

When I say that her speech was very good, that does not mean that I didn’t have big problems with her uncritical history of recent foreign policy, of her description of the years during George W. Bush, and of the current foreign policy situation and on U.S. standing in the world. Not a positive word about President Obama, not one.

The excellent foreign policy commentator in Slate Magazine, Fred Kaplan, was deeply upset in a piece today, “Condoleezza Rice Has a Lot of Nerve.”

One can only gasp at the magnitude of “chutzpah” in one woman. Condi Rice, a top adviser in the most disastrous, reputation-crippling foreign policy management in decades, has no business lecturing anybody on this score.

The New York Times’ former editor Bill Keller describes in “Condi’s World” the foreign policy dilemma in the Republican Party and the fact that Rice now, as with George W. Bush before that, “endorsed another would-be president unschooled in world affairs – conspicuously, embarrassingly so – and this one is Already seemingly in thrall to the hard-liners. “

Too bad on such a fine professor.

Here is her speech: