Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 8, 2013

Iron Sharpening Iron

I wanted to associate myself with Jonathan’s insightful post on the response by Senators McCain and Graham to Rand Paul’s filibuster.

Although my views on national security are much closer to those of McCain and Graham, their sneering, bitter attacks on Senator Paul were not only misguided; they have done a great deal to help the Paul-ian cause.

Senators McCain and Graham could have–should have–offered a careful, measured response to Rand Paul’s argument. Instead, McCain in particular has gone on a petty, mocking rant, including referring to Paul and some who supported him as “wacko birds.” Perhaps this is what happens when a maverick is out-mavericked. Read More

I wanted to associate myself with Jonathan’s insightful post on the response by Senators McCain and Graham to Rand Paul’s filibuster.

Although my views on national security are much closer to those of McCain and Graham, their sneering, bitter attacks on Senator Paul were not only misguided; they have done a great deal to help the Paul-ian cause.

Senators McCain and Graham could have–should have–offered a careful, measured response to Rand Paul’s argument. Instead, McCain in particular has gone on a petty, mocking rant, including referring to Paul and some who supported him as “wacko birds.” Perhaps this is what happens when a maverick is out-mavericked.

Rand Paul, in a single stroke, has catapulted himself to near folk-hero status among large segments of the conservative movement and, in the process, two of his main substantive critics have sustained damaging, self-inflicted wounds.

That is, from my vantage point, something of a problem, since Rand Paul’s view of the world is substantially different than mine. But he showed what a skilled, alert, and creative politician could do to rearrange the political landscape.

The libertarian wing of the Republican Party has found its leader. It will be quite interesting to see who among the internationalist wing emerges as a counterweight. And rather than fear these kinds of debates, Republicans and conservatives should welcome them. A party that is off balance and out of power doesn’t need conformity; it needs the benefits of “iron sharpening iron.” Whether we like it or not, a serious intra-Republican and intra-conservative foreign policy debate is about to begin.  

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Democrats and Civil Liberties

There were several surprising moments in Rand Paul’s 13-hour talking filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. But there was one aspect of it that wasn’t surprising at all: Democrats ignored or dismissed it (with the exception of Ron Wyden). Reporters began asking Democrats where they were. You would think, the assumption went, that there would be plenty of Democrats–who were, after all, able to muster a lifetime’s worth of outrage at George Bush–who would feel right at home defending civil liberties from a wartime president.

Buzzfeed published a story getting some pretty weak excuses from Democrats in the Senate. It’s worth reading their explanations while keeping in mind the Democrats’ favorite manufactured storyline–that Republicans are so consumed by partisanship that they won’t even stand with Democrats who agree with them. But by far the best comment comes from this Huffington Post piece on how the liberal network MSNBC covered the filibuster. Aside from Rachel Maddow, who chose principle over partisanship, MSNBC’s viewers were treated to quite a spectacle:

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There were several surprising moments in Rand Paul’s 13-hour talking filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. But there was one aspect of it that wasn’t surprising at all: Democrats ignored or dismissed it (with the exception of Ron Wyden). Reporters began asking Democrats where they were. You would think, the assumption went, that there would be plenty of Democrats–who were, after all, able to muster a lifetime’s worth of outrage at George Bush–who would feel right at home defending civil liberties from a wartime president.

Buzzfeed published a story getting some pretty weak excuses from Democrats in the Senate. It’s worth reading their explanations while keeping in mind the Democrats’ favorite manufactured storyline–that Republicans are so consumed by partisanship that they won’t even stand with Democrats who agree with them. But by far the best comment comes from this Huffington Post piece on how the liberal network MSNBC covered the filibuster. Aside from Rachel Maddow, who chose principle over partisanship, MSNBC’s viewers were treated to quite a spectacle:

Though the filibuster riveted social media, and was discussed on all of CNN’s prime time shows and every Fox News show except Bill O’Reilly’s, both Al Sharpton and Chris Matthews avoided it, spending none of their segments talking about Paul. Ed Schultz spent 58 seconds on the filibuster, using most of the time to read comments from Facebook followers who called Paul “obstructionist.” By comparison, he spent nearly seven minutes analyzing Bill O’Reilly’s body language.

I haven’t watched Ed Schultz’s show, but it sounds positively disturbing. The most revealing part of the Buzzfeed story is this:

“There was a sense the Paul filibuster was a distraction from the real issues of privacy and civil liberties, and was just not an issue worth spending an entire day on in the Senate,” said the Democratic staffer. “When Senators are getting ready to break ranks, you feel these tremors before it actually hits, and we didn’t hear any of that yesterday.”

Sen. Mark Begich, a Democratic from Alaska [sic], said he shared several of the concerns Paul expressed on the Senate floor, but felt that joining the filibuster would have been a distraction from Congress’s work on the federal budget.

The Democrats in the Senate haven’t passed a budget in years, so Begich’s excuse is laughable. Democrats are apparently working so hard at avoiding their basic constitutional responsibilities they don’t even have time to speak on the Senate floor for a couple of minutes. Perhaps this was Begich’s way of assuring the public they won’t see him on the Senate floor or taking any time off until they pass a budget.

But the comment from the Democratic staffer takes the cake. Democrats, apparently, were paying attention to who else was going to support the filibuster and which bandwagons would be available to them. No one joined the filibuster because no one else did either. But the Democratic staffer did inadvertently get one thing right when he said Democrats considered a filibuster about civil liberties to be a “distraction” from their work on civil liberties. Though the Democratic staffer doesn’t spell it out, this is because the Democratic Party’s work on civil liberties is concentrated on systematically removing and undermining them.

Instead of passing budgets or daring to criticize the leader of their party, congressional Democrats work to pass legislation like Obamacare, which forces everyone to purchase a product, requires taxpayers to fund procedures to which they may object, and insists that to comply with the law religious organizations must violate their beliefs because some Democratic voters want them to. Confiscatory taxes must go up so spending doesn’t have to come down, they demand. What the government thinks you need is their standard for whether you may retain your Second Amendment rights. And you should not be permitted to purchase food products that are legal but of which they disapprove.

The point here is not to state the obvious: that the Democrats are the party of big government. The point is that Democratic opposition to national security policy under Bush was not about civil liberties or federal overreach. Harry Reid didn’t try to undermine the soldiers’ mission by saying “this war is lost” before the very successful troop surge had a chance to prove him wrong because he cared about civil liberties, or knows what they are. Hillary Clinton didn’t grandstand from the Senate about the supposedly corrupt prosecution of a war she supported because she wants limited government.

And as the thousands of Democratic voters, activists, and politicians cheered on remote-controlled targeted assassination at the Democratic National Convention, led in that cheering by their Democratic president and Democratic vice president, they certainly weren’t thinking about civil liberties. They were thinking about winning an election, just as Reid and Clinton were, and just as Barack Obama himself was when he pretended to be concerned with civil liberties so he could win an election. There were no Democrats, besides Wyden, supporting the filibuster because they could not possibly care less about the topic, and because they are manifestly unwilling to jettison the one issue that finally enabled them to win the public’s trust on national security issues. That’s why Democrats sound confused when you ask them why they wouldn’t take a stand on behalf of civil liberties–they don’t understand why you’d even ask them the question.

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Obama’s Commendable Response to North Korea’s Threats

Give credit where it’s due: the Obama administration deserves praise for pursuing a hardline policy against North Korea–in fact a harder line than the Bush administration policy, at least in Bush’s second term.

In 2008, recall, the Bush administration–thanks to the misguided efforts of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and negotiator Chris Hill–announced an accord to lift some economic sanctions on North Korea and remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in return for unbelievable, and quickly abandoned, promises from Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program. This was widely seen as a bid–similar to the ill-advised Annapolis conference she convened in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations–by Rice to land herself a Nobel Prize, or at least rack up some notable achievement, before she left office.

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Give credit where it’s due: the Obama administration deserves praise for pursuing a hardline policy against North Korea–in fact a harder line than the Bush administration policy, at least in Bush’s second term.

In 2008, recall, the Bush administration–thanks to the misguided efforts of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and negotiator Chris Hill–announced an accord to lift some economic sanctions on North Korea and remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in return for unbelievable, and quickly abandoned, promises from Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program. This was widely seen as a bid–similar to the ill-advised Annapolis conference she convened in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations–by Rice to land herself a Nobel Prize, or at least rack up some notable achievement, before she left office.

Perhaps, then, it’s a good thing that Obama already got his Nobel because he doesn’t seem to feel compelled to engage in pointless outreach with North Korea. Instead, he continues to ratchet up sanctions and has even managed to get Chinese support at the United Nations for the latest round of sanctions. The fact that the North Korean regime is threatening in retaliation to erase the Korean War armistice and launch a preemptive nuclear attack on the U.S. is a sign that it is feeling the pressure.

The North Korean threats should not be taken lightly–as the sinking of a South Korean ship by a North Korean submarine in 2010 demonstrated, the North is capable of lashing out in unpredictable and deadly ways. But nor should the North’s threats deter its neighbors from continuing to increase the pressure on this criminal regime.

At the end of the day, third-generation dictator Kim Jong-un is not suicidal: He knows that launching an attack on the United States or a major assault on South Korea will result in the end of his regime. Nuclear weapons or not, North Korea’s antiquated military could not long survive a South Korean-American military offensive. Like his father and grandfather, Kim is only trying to gain concessions from the West by threatening us.

Obama deserves credit for hanging tough in the face of these continued North Korean provocations.

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Bin Laden’s Son-in-Law and U.S. Detention Policy

It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, but we still haven’t figured out how to treat captured terrorists. The latest evidence comes from the extradition of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and onetime mouthpiece, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Arrested in Turkey, he was turned over to U.S. authorities in Jordan and flown to New York where he was remanded to federal custody. He will now presumably face trial in the Southern District of New York where many previous terrorists have been convicted for their crimes.

Odds are that Ghaith, too, will ultimately be found guilty by a jury that will not be terribly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden’s relatives. But other potential terrorists are not so easily convicted. That is why approximately 167 detainees remain at Guantanamo where they are held as unlawful enemy combatants, not as criminal defendants. Some of them will be tried by military tribunals; others will be held indefinitely until the cessation of hostilities. But no detainees have been added at Gitmo since 2006.

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It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, but we still haven’t figured out how to treat captured terrorists. The latest evidence comes from the extradition of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and onetime mouthpiece, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Arrested in Turkey, he was turned over to U.S. authorities in Jordan and flown to New York where he was remanded to federal custody. He will now presumably face trial in the Southern District of New York where many previous terrorists have been convicted for their crimes.

Odds are that Ghaith, too, will ultimately be found guilty by a jury that will not be terribly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden’s relatives. But other potential terrorists are not so easily convicted. That is why approximately 167 detainees remain at Guantanamo where they are held as unlawful enemy combatants, not as criminal defendants. Some of them will be tried by military tribunals; others will be held indefinitely until the cessation of hostilities. But no detainees have been added at Gitmo since 2006.

The Obama administration may have failed to close Gitmo, but nor is it taking advantage of its facilities to incarcerate more suspected terrorists. Instead, the administration prefers to zap terrorists with drones. That’s perfectly lawful and appropriate but, where possible, it would be nice if terrorists could be captured and interrogated rather than simply killed–interrogation is the best way to unravel their plots.

Instead, we are in a legal no man’s land where it is easier to kill a terrorist than to lock him up. That is a nonsensical state of affairs that could be fixed by the Obama administration availing itself of the facilities and procedures that already exist at Gitmo. This is not just a question of logistics–detainees held at Gitmo can be interrogated without being read their Miranda rights and can be held even if there is not proof beyond reasonable doubt of their guilt that can be presented in open court. These are important advantages in the war on terror that the Obama administration should not throw away.

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Like Bibi, Obama May Just Want to Manage Middle East Conflict

There are conflicting reports about a meeting held yesterday between President Obama and some 25 figures from the American Jewish community, including many of his supporters, in advance of his trip to Israel later this month. The Times of Israel says that one of the participants claimed the president said he would present a comprehensive peace plan for the Middle East sometime in the next year. But JTA’s report based on a larger sample of participants dishing about the event contradicts that statement. That was backed up by a denial issued by a senior administration official who told the Times of Israel that there was no “framework” for peace mentioned at the meeting.

The consensus about the meeting is that, as one person who quoted the president to JTA said, there would be no “grandiose” plans for peace presented to the Israelis when he arrives for his long-awaited visit. Though the president will be holding out hope that the current “bleak” prospects for peace will improve, the notion that Obama would risk any of his scarce political capital by trying to impose terms of a peace plan on Israel that the Palestinians are not interested in is absurd. Though Obama will put himself on record as opposing Israeli settlements as well as Palestinian attempts to avoid negotiations via the United Nations, he appears to be only interested in keeping the situation calm. After four years of antagonism with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the president seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion as his Israeli counterpart. At least for now, he’s done trying to solve the conflict and only wants to manage it as well as possible.

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There are conflicting reports about a meeting held yesterday between President Obama and some 25 figures from the American Jewish community, including many of his supporters, in advance of his trip to Israel later this month. The Times of Israel says that one of the participants claimed the president said he would present a comprehensive peace plan for the Middle East sometime in the next year. But JTA’s report based on a larger sample of participants dishing about the event contradicts that statement. That was backed up by a denial issued by a senior administration official who told the Times of Israel that there was no “framework” for peace mentioned at the meeting.

The consensus about the meeting is that, as one person who quoted the president to JTA said, there would be no “grandiose” plans for peace presented to the Israelis when he arrives for his long-awaited visit. Though the president will be holding out hope that the current “bleak” prospects for peace will improve, the notion that Obama would risk any of his scarce political capital by trying to impose terms of a peace plan on Israel that the Palestinians are not interested in is absurd. Though Obama will put himself on record as opposing Israeli settlements as well as Palestinian attempts to avoid negotiations via the United Nations, he appears to be only interested in keeping the situation calm. After four years of antagonism with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the president seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion as his Israeli counterpart. At least for now, he’s done trying to solve the conflict and only wants to manage it as well as possible.

That probably comes as a surprise as well as a shock to many of Obama’s most ardent Jewish supporters who would like him to ratchet up the pressure on Netanyahu, as well as to his greatest critics who harbor the suspicion that his goal is bring the Jewish state to its knees. It may be that were circumstances different, the president might well come closer to making those hopes and fears come true. But right now, Obama has higher priorities than pursuing his feud with Netanyahu.

That won’t preclude the president from trying to arrange a grand gesture, such as a summit at which Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will join Obama and Netanyahu for a photo op. But even those observers, like myself, who don’t trust Obama, need to give him credit for having paid some attention to what the Palestinians have failed to do over the last four years. The Palestinians have made it clear that they have no intention of signing a peace agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. That means a solution to the conflict is impossible in the foreseeable future and that the only logical approach to it is one that seeks to manage it while preventing conflagrations.

As the reports from the meeting and other signs coming from Washington show, the president seems to understand that the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear threat has eclipsed the Palestinian issue as a priority. While Obama is trying to dampen any expectations that his visit to Jerusalem might restart the peace process, the one thing he may hope to accomplish there is to ensure that the Israelis refrain from any unilateral strike on Iran.

In order to do that, he has to show that the United States is committed to Israel’s security and can be trusted to do the right thing on any security-related issue. That’s a tall order given the president’s low popularity in Israel, but the trip could go a long way toward repairing the faith the average Israeli has in Washington’s good will. It may do just that provided, that is, the president doesn’t do or say anything that can be interpreted as revealing his disdain for the Jewish state.

As much as both the left and the right are seeking to figure out the specific motives for the trip, making a symbolic statement of Obama’s support for Israel that will give America the leeway to act on Iran at its own pace may be the only plausible answer.

There are good reasons to worry that the president’s reluctance to, as JTA says, do any “chest beating” about Iran may be a symptom of his lack of urgency about the issue or his reluctance to actually take action before it is too late. There’s little reason to believe diplomacy or sanctions can work after years of failure. But if Obama can finally convince Israelis that he should be trusted, its likely they will give him all the time he asks for. As much as there is still a wide gap between the positions Obama and Netanyahu may have on Iran, it may be that, at least for the moment, they are on the same page when it comes to the Palestinians.

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The Jobs Report

The latest jobs report from the Bureau of labor Statistics was released this morning. It has some good news in that the unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percent to 7.7 percent, and a net of 236,000 jobs were created (there were 246,000 jobs created in the private sector, while government shed 10,000).

Since 236,000 is above the rate of population growth, if it continues–and job growth has averaged 195,000 over the last three months–it would mean a slow, steady improvement. But, ironically, such an improvement might mean a short-term rise in unemployment as more people, encouraged by the number of new jobs, re-enter the labor market. The current unemployment rate is a mere one-tenth of a percent below where it was last September.

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The latest jobs report from the Bureau of labor Statistics was released this morning. It has some good news in that the unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percent to 7.7 percent, and a net of 236,000 jobs were created (there were 246,000 jobs created in the private sector, while government shed 10,000).

Since 236,000 is above the rate of population growth, if it continues–and job growth has averaged 195,000 over the last three months–it would mean a slow, steady improvement. But, ironically, such an improvement might mean a short-term rise in unemployment as more people, encouraged by the number of new jobs, re-enter the labor market. The current unemployment rate is a mere one-tenth of a percent below where it was last September.

Break the figures down a little, however, and things aren’t quite so rosy. Unemployment among some subgroups, such as teenagers (25.1 percent), blacks (13.8 percent) and young adults 18-29, (12.5 percent), is much higher than the overall number. It’s still a dismal time to be graduating from school and entering the job market for the first time.

The long-term unemployed, which is to say those out of work for 27 weeks or longer, now number 4.8 million, fully 40.1 percent of all unemployed. Part-time workers who wish they could have full-time employment number 8 million.

Worse, the workforce participation rate, the percentage of the working-age population that is actually working, is only 63.5 percent. At the start of the recession it was 66 percent. In other words, millions of people have dropped out of the labor force. If they had not, the unemployment rate would be over 10 percent.

So while things are improving, they are a long way from good. The slowest recovery from recession since the Great Depression continues.

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Why is the U.S. Honoring Hugo Chavez?

If the Chavistas currently running Venezuela have their way, the cult of Hugo Chavez will be even more overwhelming after his death than during his life. This morning, as the country prepared for the grand state funeral of Chavez, Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced that the late President’s cadaver would be embalmed and placed on permanent display in a Caracas museum.

“It has been decided that the body of the comandante will be embalmed so that it remains eternally on view for the people,” Maduro said. “Like Ho Chi Minh, like Lenin, like Mao Zedong. The body of our commander in chief, embalmed in the museum of the revolution, in a special way so he can be in a glass case and our people can have him there present always.”

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If the Chavistas currently running Venezuela have their way, the cult of Hugo Chavez will be even more overwhelming after his death than during his life. This morning, as the country prepared for the grand state funeral of Chavez, Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced that the late President’s cadaver would be embalmed and placed on permanent display in a Caracas museum.

“It has been decided that the body of the comandante will be embalmed so that it remains eternally on view for the people,” Maduro said. “Like Ho Chi Minh, like Lenin, like Mao Zedong. The body of our commander in chief, embalmed in the museum of the revolution, in a special way so he can be in a glass case and our people can have him there present always.”

In citing these precedents, Maduro unwittingly undermined those many voices that have, over the course of this week, eulogized Chavez as, variously, a social reformer, a civil rights activist, and a tribune of popular democracy. Any genuine democrat would flinch at the thought of being compared to China’s Mao, who is estimated to have starved, beaten and shot between 40 and 60 million of his own people. But Chavez was not such a leader, and his successors have left no doubts over their fealty to the 20th century’s most murderous political currents.

Among the foreign leaders and dignitaries attending Chavez’s funeral are three United States representatives, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), former Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt, and Charge d’Affaires James Derham (currently, there is no U.S. ambassador in Caracas, since Chavez rejected the Obama Administration’s nominee for the post, Larry Palmer, in 2010). It’s safe to assume that they won’t be included among the “A” List of those present; that privilege is reserved for individuals like Alexander Lukashenko, president of Europe’s last dictatorship, Belarus; the Cuban leader Raul Castro, who has spent the last three months running the Venezuelan government from Havana; and Iran’s outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who outdid even Maduro by proclaiming that Chavez would “return to Earth” together with Jesus and the Twelfth Imam.

By giving its official seal of approval to the mourning period for Chavez, the Obama administration is hoping that this goodwill gesture will enable a “reset”–there’s that word again–of its relations with Venezuela. But the Chavistas will have a different interpretation; namely, that the U.S. has resigned itself to the permanency of Chavez’s ” Bolivarian” revolution, and the continued centrality of the ideology of chavismo in Venezuela’s affairs.

As Mary Anastasia O’Grady observed in the Wall Street Journal, “[T]here may not be much the Free World can do to help Venezuela rid itself of the terrible scourge known as chavismo.” But, she added, “at a minimum, it could refuse to go along with the charade that the country is still a democracy with free elections. Repeating the lie doesn’t make it any truer.”

What facts does that charade obscure? Back in December, I pointed out that under Chavez, there was no longer a constitutional separation of powers in Venezuela. Key institutions like the National Electoral Commission, which runs the electoral process, and PDVSA, the state-owned oil company that has squandered billions of dollars in revenue on oil subsidies for Cuba, remain in the hands of loyal Chavistas. The country’s Supreme Court is packed with judges personally appointed by Chavez, while the present prosecutor-general, Cilia Flores, is married to Maduro.

Arguably the most important transformation of the Chavez years concerns the armed forces. Indeed, and in violation of the country’s constitution, the armed forces can reasonably be said to be running the country. Twelve out of the country’s 23 state governors are former military men. Several of the government ministers who will be publicly grieving for the Comandante today were involved in Chavez’s failed coup attempt in 1992 against a democratically elected government. Most grotesquely, the country’s defense minister, Admiral Diego Molero, has said that the military will back Maduro’s presidential candidacy, in flagrant violation of the ban on the military’s involvement in politics.

Against this reality, the United States should have boycotted Chavez’s funeral. By sending a delegation instead, Washington is helping to maintain the fiction that any future election in Venezuela will be more or less fair.

Still, now that our representatives have arrived in Caracas, there is one useful thing they can do. After paying their respects to Chavez, they should go and see Maria Lourdes Afiuni, one of the last remaining independent judges in Venezuela, who was incarcerated in 2009 as punishment for ending the pre-trial detention of a banker, Elegio Cedeno, who ran afoul of the Chavez regime.

While in prison, credible reports surfaced of Afiuni–dubbed by Chavez as a “bandit”–being harassed, beaten and even raped. She is now under house arrest. By visiting her and giving her case some much needed publicity, the American delegation could salvage some dignity from today’s circus.

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The Wrong Way to Answer Rand

Yesterday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham struck back at Rand Paul’s Wednesday filibuster with bitter attacks on his stand on drone attacks. McCain mocked Paul’s day in the spotlight as “a stunt aimed at firing up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Graham was so mad about it that he changed his mind and voted to confirm John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. just in order to send a statement about his support of the drone program that Paul had attacked.

Both McCain and Graham were correct to point out that the filibuster was fought on what is basically a non-issue. As I wrote on Wednesday, while Paul was conducting his filibuster, the Kentucky senator’s real beef is not with the imagined threat of the government ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen sitting in a café on U.S. soil. Rather, it is with the war the United States is fighting against Islamist terrorists who continue to pose a deadly threat to the homeland as well as to our friends and interests abroad. Paul’s goal is to withdraw from this conflict and to pretend that it is not one that is being forced upon us by our enemies. That is a dangerous position that deserved the censure of the two GOP amigos.

But it should also be understood that while McCain and Graham were right on the policy, they were dead wrong on the politics. It’s no use pretending that Paul is merely appealing to the margins of the political spectrum as his far more extreme and less politically adroit father Ron did during his presidential campaigns. That Paul’s filibuster was conducted on behalf of a bogus issue doesn’t change the fact that it was an act of political genius that captured the imagination of many Americans who might not ordinarily think much of the senator. Dismissing his achievement only made Paul’s critics look hopelessly out of touch.

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Yesterday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham struck back at Rand Paul’s Wednesday filibuster with bitter attacks on his stand on drone attacks. McCain mocked Paul’s day in the spotlight as “a stunt aimed at firing up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Graham was so mad about it that he changed his mind and voted to confirm John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. just in order to send a statement about his support of the drone program that Paul had attacked.

Both McCain and Graham were correct to point out that the filibuster was fought on what is basically a non-issue. As I wrote on Wednesday, while Paul was conducting his filibuster, the Kentucky senator’s real beef is not with the imagined threat of the government ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen sitting in a café on U.S. soil. Rather, it is with the war the United States is fighting against Islamist terrorists who continue to pose a deadly threat to the homeland as well as to our friends and interests abroad. Paul’s goal is to withdraw from this conflict and to pretend that it is not one that is being forced upon us by our enemies. That is a dangerous position that deserved the censure of the two GOP amigos.

But it should also be understood that while McCain and Graham were right on the policy, they were dead wrong on the politics. It’s no use pretending that Paul is merely appealing to the margins of the political spectrum as his far more extreme and less politically adroit father Ron did during his presidential campaigns. That Paul’s filibuster was conducted on behalf of a bogus issue doesn’t change the fact that it was an act of political genius that captured the imagination of many Americans who might not ordinarily think much of the senator. Dismissing his achievement only made Paul’s critics look hopelessly out of touch.

The question is not whether the grass roots of the Republican Party were inspired by his stand. They were. How could they not want to cheer a man who took a courageous stand in that manner while so many of their party’s leaders have lacked the guts or the skill to confront the president on many big issues? The question is what those who understand that Paul is wrong on the issue and that he is poised to drag the party down a path that will lead it to abandon its traditional support for a strong America will do about it. If they don’t think of something, it will be the end of the Republican Party’s long-held consensus on foreign policy.

The lesson of the filibuster is that people want to follow a person who leads publicly and courageously. Irrespective of the wisdom of his stand, that is just what Paul did. The willingness of so many other conservative senators—including those like Marco Rubio who don’t agree with Paul’s approach to foreign policy—to flock to the Senate floor while he spoke and offer him support shows they understood what McCain and Graham haven’t figured out. For the pair to manifest disrespect for Paul’s achievement is political stupidity of the highest order. It also makes their gentlemanly decision to forgo a filibuster on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense look all the more pusillanimous.

Yet the irony here is that while Republicans are excited by Paul’s stand, any decision to change the direction of the party’s take on foreign policy would contradict their desire to improve their electability after their defeat last November.

As much as Paul’s stand inspired Republicans and even generated respect from Democrats, they need to remember that most Americans support the drone policy. They may be sick of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they don’t share Paul’s disinterest in fighting the “perpetual war” against Islamists because they know the threat is real. They also know that the idea that the only legitimate fighting is being conducted on battlefields between soldiers is hopelessly outmoded.

Obama won re-election in part by bragging about killing Osama bin Laden and chiding Mitt Romney for his disinterest in the hunt for the arch terrorist. Moreover, if Republicans are foolish enough to follow Paul down the road toward embracing a form of isolationism, they will be branded as the weak party on defense and concede foreign policy as an issue to the Democrats for a generation.

Those who wish to save the GOP from this fate can’t let Paul speak for the party on these issues. But if they are to do it they will have to show at least as much guts as he did this week and avoid sounding, as McCain and Graham did yesterday, like cranky old men telling the kids to get off their lawn.

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On Drones, It’s Paul vs. the Polls

Last year, for the first time in decades, Republicans lost the advantage on foreign policy in a presidential campaign. Exit polls showed that voters trusted Barack Obama more than Mitt Romney to handle an international crisis (57 percent trusted Obama, 50 percent trusted Romney). And of the small number of voters who put foreign policy as their top issue, Obama won by a margin of 56 percent to 33 percent. Part of this, of course, is due to the incumbent’s advantage. But Republicans, following the setbacks in the Iraq War and Afghanistan, will have a tough job restoring their advantage on foreign policy and national security issues.

Their current actions aren’t helping. Senator Rand Paul has won accolades from many on the right for his “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” filibuster. But however impressive his stamina, we must not forget what he was protesting against–the use of drone strikes which, when directed overseas, are supported by 83 percent of Americans and when directed against American citizens overseas are supported by 65 percent.

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Last year, for the first time in decades, Republicans lost the advantage on foreign policy in a presidential campaign. Exit polls showed that voters trusted Barack Obama more than Mitt Romney to handle an international crisis (57 percent trusted Obama, 50 percent trusted Romney). And of the small number of voters who put foreign policy as their top issue, Obama won by a margin of 56 percent to 33 percent. Part of this, of course, is due to the incumbent’s advantage. But Republicans, following the setbacks in the Iraq War and Afghanistan, will have a tough job restoring their advantage on foreign policy and national security issues.

Their current actions aren’t helping. Senator Rand Paul has won accolades from many on the right for his “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” filibuster. But however impressive his stamina, we must not forget what he was protesting against–the use of drone strikes which, when directed overseas, are supported by 83 percent of Americans and when directed against American citizens overseas are supported by 65 percent.

Admittedly, Paul focused on the use of drone strikes on American soil against American citizens who are not combatants–he was clever enough not to make his filibuster about drone strikes per se. But in the process he came across as a bit of a nut. No one imagines that this administration or any other is about to start launching Hellfire missiles in New York or Washington. In fact Attorney General Eric Holder finally issued a letter stating the obvious–that the administration cannot use drones or other weapons against American citizens on U.S. soil as long as they are not engaged in hostilities against the United States.

However, the administration is absolutely right to note that it has the right in extreme circumstances to use military force on American soil. If Rand Paul thinks otherwise, he should come out and explain his objections to Abraham Lincoln’s use of force to fight the Confederacy–or the use of troops to escort African-American kids to school in Little Rock in 1957. Instead of addressing the issue squarely, Paul came up with far-fetched scenarios such as the U.S. government killing Jane Fonda because she was protesting the Vietnam War.

It is all too easy for the nuances of the debate to get lost and for voters to gain the impression that Republicans are against drone strikes in general.

Republicans are only reinforcing this impression of weakness on national security by enthusiastically supporting the sequester that is keeping Navy ships from sailing and Army troops from training. Republican strategists are right that most Americans support the sequester overall by a margin of 61 percent-33 percent, but they should note that by almost that same margin they oppose cuts to military spending.

By indiscriminately embracing sequestration and by making anti-drone noises Republicans are making it increasingly hard to recover the advantage on national security issues that they maintained ever since the 1960s.

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