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Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Suspicions Run Deep in Iraq That C.I.A. and the Islamic State Are United

From The New York Times:

BAGHDAD — The United States has conducted an escalating campaign of deadly airstrikes against the extremists of the Islamic State for more than a month. But that appears to have done little to tamp down the conspiracy theories still circulating from the streets of Baghdad to the highest levels of Iraqi government that the C.I.A. is secretly behind the same extremists that it is now attacking.

“We know about who made Daesh,” said Bahaa al-Araji, a deputy prime minister, using an Arabic shorthand for the Islamic State on Saturday at a demonstration called by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr to warn against the possible deployment of American ground troops. Mr. Sadr publicly blamed the C.I.A. for creating the Islamic State in a speech last week, and interviews suggested that most of the few thousand people at the demonstration, including dozens of members of Parliament, subscribed to the same theory. (Mr. Sadr is considered close to Iran, and the theory is popular there as well.)

The prevalence of the theory in the streets underscored the deep suspicions of the American military’s return to Iraq more than a decade after its invasion, in 2003. The casual endorsement by a senior official, though, was also a pointed reminder that the new Iraqi government may be an awkward partner for the American-led campaign to drive out the extremists.

The Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS, has conquered many of the predominantly Sunni Muslim provinces in Iraq’s northeast, aided by the alienation of many residents to the Shiite-dominated government of the former prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. President Obama has insisted repeatedly that American military action against the Islamic State depended on the installation of a more inclusive government in Baghdad, but he moved ahead before it was complete.
 
The Parliament has not yet confirmed nominees for the crucial posts of interior or defense minister, in part because of discord between Sunni and Shiite factions, and the Iraqi news media has reported that it may be more than a month before the posts are filled.

How Gary Hart’s Downfall Forever Changed American Politics - For most of the 20th century, adultery as a practice — at least for men — was rarely discussed but widely accepted. Kennedy and Johnson governed during the era that “Mad Men” would later portray, when the powerful man’s meaningless tryst with a secretary was no less common than the three-martini lunch. (The timing: This comes after I have watched The Roosevelts for the past seven evenings, and enjoyed a second of it.)


From The New York Times:

As anyone alive during the 1980s knows, Hart, the first serious presidential contender of the 1960s generation, was taken down and eternally humiliated by a scandal, a suspected affair with a beautiful blonde whose name, Donna Rice, had entered the cultural lexicon, along with the yacht — Monkey Business — near which she had been photographed on his lap. . .  In popular culture, Gary Hart would forever be that archetypal antihero of presidential politics: the iconic adulterer.

The Hart episode is almost universally remembered as a tale of classic hubris. A Kennedy-like figure on a fast track to the presidency defies the media to find anything nonexemplary in his personal life, even as he carries on an affair with a woman half his age and poses for pictures with her, and naturally he gets caught and humiliated. How could he not have known this would happen? How could such a smart guy have been that stupid?

Of course, you could reasonably have asked that same question of the three most important political figures of Hart’s lifetime, all Democratic presidents thought of as towering successes. Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were adulterers, before and during their presidencies, and we can safely assume they had plenty of company. In his 1978 memoir, Theodore White, the most prolific and influential chronicler of presidential politics in the last half of the 20th century, wrote that he was “reasonably sure” that of all the candidates he had covered, only three — Harry Truman, George Romney and Jimmy Carter — hadn’t enjoyed the pleasure of “casual partners.” He and his colleagues considered those affairs irrelevant.
 
By the late 1980s, however, a series of powerful, external forces in the society were colliding, creating a dangerous vortex on the edge of our politics. Hart didn’t create that vortex. He was, rather, the first to wander into its path.
 
The nation was still feeling the residual effects of Watergate, which 13 years earlier led to the first resignation of a sitting president. Richard Nixon’s fall was shocking, not least because it was more personal than political, a result of instability and pettiness rather than pure ideology. And for this reason Watergate, along with the deception over what was really happening in Vietnam, had injected into presidential politics a new focus on private morality.
 
Social mores were changing, too. For most of the 20th century, adultery as a practice — at least for men — was rarely discussed but widely accepted. Kennedy and Johnson governed during the era that “Mad Men” would later portray, when the powerful man’s meaningless tryst with a secretary was no less common than the three-martini lunch. Twenty years later, however, social forces unleashed by the tumult of the 1960s were rising up to contest this view. Feminism and the “women’s lib” movement had transformed expectations for a woman’s role in marriage, just as the civil rights movement had changed prevailing attitudes toward African-Americans.
As America continued to debate the Equal Rights Amendment for women into the 1980s, younger liberals — the same permissive generation that ushered in the sexual revolution and free love — were suddenly apt to see adultery as a kind of political betrayal, and one that needed to be exposed. “This is the last time a candidate will be able to treat women as bimbos,” is how the feminist Betty Friedan put it after Hart’s withdrawal. (If only she’d known.)
 
Perhaps most salient, though, the nation’s news media were changing in profound ways. When giants like White came up through the news business in the postwar years, the surest path to success was to gain the trust of politicians and infiltrate their world. Proximity to power and the information and insight derived from having it was the currency of the trade. By the 1980s, however, Watergate and television had combined to awaken an entirely new kind of career ambition. If you were an aspiring journalist born in the 1950s, when the baby boom was in full swing, then you entered the business at almost exactly the moment when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post — portrayed by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the cinematic version of their first book, “All the President’s Men” — were becoming not just the most celebrated reporters of their day but very likely the wealthiest and most famous journalists in American history (with the possible exception of Walter Cronkite). And what made Woodward and Bernstein so iconic wasn’t proximity, but scandal. They had actually managed to take down a mendacious American president, and in doing so they came to symbolize the hope and heroism of a new generation.
 
It would be hard to overstate the impact this had, especially on younger reporters. If you were one of the new breed of middle-class, Ivy League-educated baby boomers who had decided to change the world through journalism, then there was simply no one you could want to become more than Woodward or Bernstein, which is to say, there was no greater calling than to expose the lies of a politician, no matter how inconsequential those lies might turn out to be or in how dark a place they might be lurking.
 
The [Miami] published a front-page reconstruction of the events leading up to and including that Saturday night. Written by McGee, Fiedler and Savage, the 7,000-plus-word article — Moby-Dick-like proportions by the standards of daily journalism — is remarkable reading. First, it’s striking how much The Herald’s account of its investigation consciously imitates, in its clinical voice and staccato cadence, Woodward and Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men.” (“McGee rushed toward a pay telephone a block away to call editors in Miami. It was 9:33 p.m.”) Clearly, the reporters and editors at The Herald thought themselves to be reconstructing a scandal of similar proportions, the kind of thing that would lead to Pulitzers and movie deals. The solemn tone of the piece suggests that Fiedler and his colleagues imagined themselves to be the only ones standing between America and another menacing, immoral president; reading it, you might think Hart had been caught bludgeoning a beautiful young woman to death, rather than taking her to dinner.
 
The other fascinating thing about The Herald’s reconstruction is that it captures, in agonizing detail, the very moment when the walls between the public and private lives of candidates, between politics and celebrity, came tumbling down forever.
 
The next morning, on May 3, The Herald reporters published a front-page article about Hart’s purported affair. At the end, they referred to a statement in which Hart challenged reporters interested in his personal life to follow him. Hart couldn’t have known it at the time, but his words — “follow me around” — would shadow him for the rest of his days. They would bury everything else he had ever said in public life.
 
In the history of Washington scandal, only a few quotes — “I am not a crook,” “I did not have sex with that woman” — have become as synonymous with a politician. In truth, though, Hart never issued any challenge to The Miami Herald’s reporters, or to anybody else, really. The words were spoken weeks earlier to E. J. Dionne Jr., who was then the top political reporter for The New York Times and was writing a profile for this magazine. Dionne discussed a broad range of topics with Hart and then reluctantly turned to the rumors of affairs. Hart was exasperated and he finally told Dionne: “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’d be very bored.”
 
Hart said this in an annoyed and sarcastic sort of way, in an obvious attempt to make a point. He was “serious” about the sentiment, all right, but only to the extent that a man who had been twice separated from his wife and dated other women over the years — with the full knowledge of his friends in the press corps and without having seen a single word written about it at the time — could have been serious about such a thing. Hart might as well have been suggesting that Martians beam down and run his campaign, for all the chance he thought there was that any reporter would actually resort to stalking him. Dionne certainly didn’t take the comment literally, though he suspected others might. “He did not think of it as a challenge,” Dionne would recall many years later. “And at the time, I did not think of it as a challenge.”
 
As it happened, Dionne’s cover story was set to appear Sunday, May 3, the same day the Herald published its front-page exposé. No one at The Herald had a clue that Hart had issued any “challenge” on the previous Monday when Fiedler heard from his anonymous tipster or when he continued to chase the story during the week or when McGee flew off to Washington and began prowling outside the townhouse on Friday night. All of this they did on their own, without any prodding from Hart.
 
In those days before the Internet, however, The Times circulated printed copies of its magazine to other news media a few days early, so editors and producers could pick out anything that might be newsworthy and publicize it in their own weekend editions or Sunday shows. And so it was that when Fiedler boarded his flight to Washington Saturday morning, eager to join the stakeout, he brought with him the advance copy of Dionne’s story, which had been sent to The Herald. Somewhere above the Atlantic seaboard, anyone sitting next to Fiedler would probably have seen him jolt upward in his seat as if suddenly receiving an electric shock. There it was, staring up at him from the page — Hart explicitly inviting him and his colleagues to do exactly the kind of surveillance they had undertaken the night before.
 
The discovery of Hart’s supposed challenge, which the Herald reporters took from the advance copy of The Times Magazine on Saturday night and inserted at the end of their Sunday blockbuster — so that the two articles, referring to the same quote, appeared on newsstands simultaneously — probably eased any reservations the editors in Miami might have had about pushing the story into print before they had a chance to identify Rice and try to talk to her. Soon enough, as The Herald would put it in their longer reconstruction a week later, Gary Hart would be seen as “the gifted hero who had taunted the press to ‘follow me around.’ ” Everyone would know that Hart had goaded the press into hiding outside his townhouse and tracking his movements. So what if The Herald reporters hadn’t even known about it when they put Hart under surveillance? Hart’s quote appeared to justify The Herald’s extraordinary investigation, and that’s all that mattered.
 
The difference here is far more than a technicality. Even when insiders and historians recall the Hart episode now, they recall it the same way: Hart issued his infamous challenge to reporters, telling them to follow him around if they didn’t believe him, and then The Herald took him up on it. Inexplicably, people believe, Hart set his own trap and then allowed himself to become ensnared in it.
 
And this version of events conveniently enabled The Herald’s reporters and editors to completely sidestep some important and uncomfortable questions. As long as it was Hart, and not The Herald, who set the whole thing in motion, then it was he and not they who suddenly moved the boundaries between private and political lives. They never had to grapple with the complex issues of why Hart was subject to a kind of invasive, personal scrutiny no major candidate before him had endured, or to consider where that shift in the political culture had led us. Hart had, after all, given the media no choice in the matter.
 
In the days after the Herald story, Hart continued on to New Hampshire, where photographers and political reporters, who until then had always observed some sense of decorum, shoved one another aside and leapt over shrubs in an effort to get near the wounded candidate. It was there, at a carnival-like news conference on Wednesday, May 6, that Paul Taylor, a star reporter for The Washington Post, publicly asked Hart the question that no presidential candidate in America to that point had ever been asked, let alone from one of the country’s most admired newspapers: “Have you ever committed adultery?”
 
The most enduring image of that time, of course, is the infamous photo of Rice sitting on Hart’s lap, which Armandt snapped on a crowded dock in Bimini during that overnight cruise and later sold to The National Enquirer. In it, Rice is wearing a short white dress; Hart is wearing a “Monkey Business crew” T-shirt, along with a startled, crooked grin. Most people who lived through the event, and some who covered it, will tell you that the photo is what provided irrefutable evidence of the affair and drove Hart from the race. But the photo didn’t surface until nearly three weeks after Hart suspended his candidacy. It was a final indignity, to be sure, but it had nothing to do with his decision to quit. [This phone, that is above this post, came from the Web, not this story in the NYT Magazine. Who of my generation does not recall seeing it? I did not remember it surfaced later as just noted.]
 
If Nixon’s resignation created the character culture in American politics, then Hart’s undoing marked the moment when political reporters ceased to care about almost anything else. By the 1990s, the cardinal objective of all political journalism had shifted from a focus on agendas to a focus on narrow notions of character, from illuminating worldviews to exposing falsehoods. If post-Hart political journalism had a motto, it would be: “We know you’re a fraud somehow. Our job is to prove it.”
 
As an industry, we aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they are: a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions. As the former senator Bob Kerrey, who has acknowledged participating in an atrocity as a soldier in Vietnam, told me once, “We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives, and there’s a tendency to think that we are.” That quote, I thought, should have been posted on the wall of every newsroom in the country, just to remind us that it was true.
 
Predictably, politicians responded to all this with a determination to give us nothing that might aid in the hunt to expose them, even if it meant obscuring the convictions and contradictions that made them actual human beings. Each side retreated to its respective camp, where they strategized about how to outwit and outflank the other, occasionally to their own benefit but rarely to the voters’. Maybe this made our media a sharper guardian of the public interest against liars and hypocrites. But it also made it hard for any thoughtful politician to offer arguments that might be considered nuanced or controversial. It drove a lot of potential candidates with complex ideas away from the process, and it made it easier for a lot of candidates who knew nothing about policy to breeze into national office, because there was no expectation that a candidate was going to say anything of substance anyway.
 
Gary Hart, meanwhile  . . . 
 
“Well, at the very least, George W. Bush wouldn’t have been president,” Hart said ruefully. This sounded a little narcissistic, but it was, in fact, a hard premise to refute. Had Hart bested George H. W. Bush in 1988, as he was well on his way to doing, it’s difficult to imagine that Bush’s aimless eldest son would have somehow ascended from nowhere to become governor of Texas and then president within 12 years’ time.
 
“And we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq,” Hart went on. “And a lot of people would be alive who are dead.” A brief silence surrounded us. Hart sighed loudly, as if literally deflating. “You have to live with that, you know?”

I hate it for her, and I don't think it necessarily comes with the territory (although in our party we often eat our own). But Wasserman has been toxic for a good while, just as Nanch Peloski. The end will come sooner rather than later as the party has lost confidence in her as a unifying leader and a party spokesperson.

This past Friday at party function
2012
From The Washington Post:

Debbie Wasserman Schultz had an awkward task at the Democratic National Committee's Women’s Leadership Forum on Friday. She had to have back-to-back-to-back public encounters with the leaders of her party, who gathered there a day after a scathing and deeply reported story suggested that Democrats are all but done with her as chairman.

One by one, she introduced Vice President Biden, Hillary Clinton and President Obama. And it was essentially air-kisses all around.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Unwisdom of Barack Obama - Is he weak? Arrogant? Ambivalent? Don't overthink the president.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

At this dramatic time, with a world on fire, we look at the president and ponder again who he is. Mr. Obama himself mocked how people see him, according to a remarkable piece this week by Peter Baker in the New York Times"Oh, it's a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president," he reportedly said, sarcastically, in a meeting with journalists before his big Syria speech. Zbigniew Brzezinski told Mr. Baker the president's critics think he's a "a softy. He's not a softy."

Actually, no one thinks he's a softy. A man who personally picks drone targets, who seems sometimes to enjoy antagonizing congressional Republicans, whose speeches not infrequently carry a certain undercurrent of political malice, cannot precisely be understood as soft.

But we focus on Mr. Obama's personality and psychology—he's weak or arrogant or ambivalent, or all three—and while this is interesting, it's too fancy. We are overthinking the president.

His essential problem is that he has very poor judgment.

And we don't say this because he's so famously bright—academically credentialed, smooth, facile with words, quick with concepts. (That's the sort of intelligence the press and popular historians most prize and celebrate, because it's exactly the sort they possess.) But brightness is not the same as judgment, which has to do with discernment, instinct, the ability to see the big picture, wisdom that is earned or natural.

Mr. Obama can see the trees, name their genus and species, judge their age and describe their color. He absorbs data. But he consistently misses the shape, size and density of the forest. His recitations of data are really a faux sophistication that suggests command of the subject but misses the heart of the matter.

You can run down the list. His famous "red line" comment was poor judgment. He shouldn't have put himself or his country in that position, threatening action if a foreign leader did something. He misjudged the indelible impression his crawl-back would make on the world.

Last month it was the "I don't have a strategy" statement on the Islamic State. That's not something an American president attempting to rouse the public and impress the world can say. But he didn't know.

ObamaCare top to bottom was poor judgment. It shouldn't have been the central domestic effort of his presidency, that should have been the economy and jobs. He thought his bill could go forward without making Republicans co-own it, thought it would be clever to let Congress write it, thought an overextended and undertalented federal government could execute it. He thought those who told him the website would work were truthful, when he should have been smoking out agendas, incompetence and yes-sir-ism. He shouldn't have said if you like your doctor you can keep him. That was his domestic red-line comment. It was a product of poor judgment.

The other night, at the end of his Syria speech, he sang a long, off-point aria to the economy. Supposedly it would be ringing and rousing, but viewers looked at each other and scratched their heads. It didn't belong there. It showed a classic misjudging of his position. The president thinks people are depressed because they don't understand how good the economy is. Actually right now they are depressed because he is president. It was like Jimmy Carter's malaise speech. It wasn't a bad speech, but he wasn't the person who could give it because voters weren't thinking malaise was the problem, they were thinking Mr. Carter was. He couldn't relieve public unhappiness because people had come to think he was the source of it.

Mr. Obama misjudged from day one his position vis-à-vis Republicans on Capitol Hill. He thought they were out to kill him. Some were! That's Washington. But Republicans in 2009 were more desperate than he understood, and some could have been picked off, because they thought he was the future and they didn't want to be on the wrong side of history. To get their support on health care he would have had to make adjustments, bend a little so they could play ball without losing all standing and self-respect. He couldn't do it. He didn't see their quandary. He allowed them to stand against him with integrity. That was poor judgement!

Libya? Poor judgment. A nation run by a nut was turned into a nation run by many nuts, some more vicious than the dictator they toppled. Russia? The president misread it, which would only have been a mistake, if a serious one, if it hadn't been for his snotty high-handedness toward those who'd made warnings. To Mitt Romney, in debate, in October 2012: "The 1980s—they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back."

He misjudged public reaction to the Snowden revelations, did not understand Americans were increasingly alarmed about privacy and the government.

He can read a poll, but he can't anticipate a sentiment.

On scandals, and all administrations have them, he says something ringing, allows the withholding of information, and hopes it will all go away. Does Benghazi look to you like it's going away? Was the IRS's reputation buttressed by his claims that there wasn't a "smidgen of corruption" within it, or was its reputation ruined by its stonewalling?

In his handling of the Islamic State the president has been slow to act, slow to move, inconsistent in his statements, unpersuasive, uninspiring. No boots on the ground, maybe boots on the ground but not combat boots, only advisory boots. He takes off the table things that should be there, and insists on weird words like "degrade"—why not just "stop and defeat"?—and, in fact, "ISIL." The world calls it ISIS or Islamic State. Why does he need a separate language? How does that help?

In another strange, off-point aria, reported by the Times's Mr. Baker, the president told the journalists that if he were "an adviser" to ISIS, he would have told them not to do the beheadings but to send the hostages home with a note instead. Can you imagine FDR ruminating about how if Hitler wanted to win over Americans he wouldn't have invaded Poland, he would have softly encircled it and then thrown an unusually boisterous Oktoberfest?

Meanwhile time passes. The president's own surrogates this week seemed unsure, halting, sometimes confused. A month ago there was a chance to hit the Islamic State hard when they were in the field and destroy not just their arms but their mystique. At this point we are enhancing it. It is the focus of all eyes, the subject of the American debate. Boy do they make us nervous, maybe they're coming across our borders.

Maybe all this is the president's clever way of letting time pass, letting things play out, so that in a few months the public fever to do something—he always thinks the public has a fever—will be over. And he will then be able to do little, which perhaps is what he wants.

But none of this looks clever. It looks like poor judgment beginning to end.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Obama is defying the Constitution on war

I gree with George Will writing in The Washington Post, as do many legal scholars.  And truthfully, don't understand why the President doesn't want to make Congress buy in.

In Georgia, Politics Moves Past Just Black and White

See this Part I of a II part series from The New York Times (this article mentions my fair city of Douglas).

Rift widens between Obama, U.S. military over strategy to fight Islamic State

From The Washington Post:

Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and U.S. military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkward and uneasy relationship.

Even as the administration has received congressional backing for its strategy, with the Senate voting Thursday to approve a plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, a series of military leaders have criticized the president’s approach against the Islamic State militant group.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rove-affiliated group attacks Grimes for stance on immigration bill

From The Washington Post:

[T]he Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which was approved in 2013 on a vote of 68 to 32 in the Senate,

If the bill had become law, undocumented aliens would have had to jump through all sorts of hoops before they could be considered for legal permanent residence, including registering with the government, having a steady job, paying a fine, paying back taxes, passing background checks, learning English—and then getting in line behind immigrants who had entered the country legally. It would have taken at least 13 years before citizenship could be obtained.

As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) put it, “they will have an earned, hard pathway to citizenship. They have to get in the back of the line before they can become citizens. They can’t cut in line.”

That bill said that Registered Provisional Immigrants—the intermediate step for illegal immigrants — will not be eligible for federal means-tested public benefits, such as Obamacare, food stamps or Medicaid or Medicare.

(Some undocumented aliens already have received Medicare, though they are not supposed to under a 1996 law, and the Obama administration says it is trying to end the problem. Some critics of the law also claim that there are some loopholes, such as access to emergency Medicaid for children or tax credits for the working poor, but these are mostly semantics. Besides, Registered Provisional Immigrants would have to allow payroll deductions for Social Security and Medicare while being unable to get those benefits unless they become citizens.)

Tom Friedman: Take a Deep Breath - ISIS and the Arab World (Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia have far more at stake in this than the United States.)

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

LONDON — An existential struggle is taking place in the Arab world today. But is it ours or is it theirs? Before we step up military action in Iraq and Syria, that’s the question that needs answering.
 
What concerns me most about President Obama’s decision to re-engage in Iraq is that it feels as if it’s being done in response to some deliberately exaggerated fears — fear engendered by YouTube videos of the beheadings of two U.S. journalists — and fear that ISIS, a.k.a., the Islamic State, is coming to a mall near you. How did we start getting so afraid again so fast? Didn’t we build a Department of Homeland Security?
 
I am not dismissing ISIS. Obama is right that ISIS needs to be degraded and destroyed. But when you act out of fear, you don’t think strategically and you glide over essential questions, like why is it that Shiite Iran, which helped trigger this whole Sunni rebellion in Iraq, is scoffing at even coordinating with us, and Turkey and some Arab states are setting limits on their involvement?
 
When I read that, I think that Nader Mousavizadeh, who co-leads the global consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners, is correct when he says: “When it comes to intervening in the Arab world’s existential struggle, we have to stop and ask ourselves why we have such a challenge getting them to help us save them.”
 
So before we get in any deeper, let’s ask some radical questions, starting with: What if we did nothing? George Friedman (no relation), the chairman of Stratfor, raised this idea in his recent essay on Stratfor.com, “The Virtue of Subtlety.” He notes that the ISIS uprising was the inevitable Sunni backlash to being brutally stripped of power and resources by the pro-Iranian Shiite governments and militias in Baghdad and Syria. But then he asks:
 
Is ISIS “really a problem for the United States? The American interest is not stability but the existence of a dynamic balance of power in which all players are effectively paralyzed so that no one who would threaten the United States emerges. ... But the principle of balance of power does not mean that balance must be maintained directly. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia have far more at stake in this than the United States. So long as they believe that the United States will attempt to control the situation, it is perfectly rational for them to back off and watch, or act in the margins, or even hinder the Americans. The United States must turn this from a balance of power between Syria and Iraq to a balance of power among this trio of regional powers. They have far more at stake and, absent the United States, they have no choice but to involve themselves. They cannot stand by and watch a chaos that could spread to them.”
 
Therefore, he concludes, the best U.S. strategy rests in us “doing as little as possible and forcing regional powers into the fray, then in maintaining the balance of power in this coalition.” I am not sure, but it’s worth debating.
 
Here’s another question: What’s this war really about?
 
Saudi financing for these groups is a byproduct of the ruling bargain there between the al-Saud family and its Salafist religious establishment, known as the Wahhabis. The al-Sauds get to rule and live how they like behind walls, and the Wahhabis get to propagate Salafist Islam both inside Saudi Arabia and across the Muslim world, using Saudi oil wealth. Saudi Arabia is, in effect, helping to fund both the war against ISIS and the Islamist ideology that creates ISIS members (some 1,000 Saudis are believed to be fighting with jihadist groups in Syria), through Salafist mosques in Europe, Pakistan, Central Asia and the Arab world.
 
This game has reached its limit. First, because ISIS presents a challenge to Saudi Arabia. ISIS says it is the “caliphate,” the center of Islam. Saudi Arabia believes it is the center. And, second, ISIS is threatening Muslims everywhere. Khalidi told me of a Muslim woman friend in London who says she’s afraid to go out with her head scarf on for fear that people will believe she is with ISIS — just for dressing as a Muslim. Saudi Arabia cannot continue fighting ISIS and feeding the ideology that nurtures ISIS. It will hurt more and more Muslims.
 
This game has reached its limit. First, because ISIS presents a challenge to Saudi Arabia. ISIS says it is the “caliphate,” the center of Islam. Saudi Arabia believes it is the center. And, second, ISIS is threatening Muslims everywhere. Khalidi told me of a Muslim woman friend in London who says she’s afraid to go out with her head scarf on for fear that people will believe she is with ISIS — just for dressing as a Muslim. Saudi Arabia cannot continue fighting ISIS and feeding the ideology that nurtures ISIS. It will hurt more and more Muslims.
 
We, too, have to stop tolerating this. For years, the U.S. has “played the role of the central bank of Middle East stability,” noted Mousavizadeh. “Just as the European Central Bank funding delays the day that France has to go through structural reforms, America’s security umbrella,” always there no matter what the Saudis do, “has delayed the day that Saudi Arabia has to face up to its internal contradictions,” and reform its toxic ruling bargain. The future of Islam and our success against ISIS depend on it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New Obamacare provisions add nearly $50 million to state budget

Walter Jones writes:

ATLANTA | Two, little-reported provisions of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — are expected to add nearly $50 million to the tab for Georgia taxpayers by increasing access to Medicaid and limiting one tool the state has used to catch people who aren’t eligible.

“I’m frustrated as a taxpayer,” said state House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn.

The Georgia Department of Community Health estimates all provisions of the sweeping federal health care law will add almost $250 million to the state budget during the current fiscal year. That includes expanding benefits in the insurance plan for government employees and increased enrollment in Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids by people who were eligible all along but never applied for coverage until the new federal law required them to.

But the biggest jolt to the budget from Obamacare comes from the federal government prohibiting state officials from checking the eligibility every six months.

“It’s one of those things you look at it and say that’s the prudent thing to do,” England said. “It might cost you a little bit more paperwork on one hand, but you are saving more on the other hand on benefits.”

Medicaid eligibility, like PeachCare, is based on citizenship and income, which can change based on a new job or marriage.

“In that six-month interval if you find someone who’s no longer eligible, you take them off the rolls,” said Clyde Reese, Georgia’s commissioner of community health. “Now, waiting the extra six months to 12 months, you may be paying for somebody in that (added period) who was not eligible.”
Checking income yearly instead of semiannually added $42 million to the state budget.

Advocates for the poor say the longer period reduces hassles for people on Medicaid and lowers the risk they are accidentally dropped from coverage because of missing paperwork.

Georgia’s re-verification system has been problem-plagued, dropping thousands of people in error, according to advocate Linda Lowe.

“It means cancelled appointments, interrupted treatment, missed medications, and headaches for the family and medical providers,” she said.

The other new provision adds more than $7 million to the budget by allowing hospitals to bill Medicaid for patients before their eligibility is checked. So-called presumptive eligibility ensures providers get paid for treating someone who shows up in an emergency room, say hospital representatives.

“While this may add costs to the Medicaid program in the short term, we expect significant cost savings in the long term,” said Kevin Bloye, vice president of the Georgia Hospital Association. “Without insurance coverage, hospitals have to cost shift their losses from the uninsured — who only pay, on average, between 5-10 percent of the hospital’s cost to provide care — to other payers to break even.”

Reese said allowing hospitals to rely on the patients’ say-so could be hard to police.
“There is a very limited ability to go back and recoup the money that Medicaid has paid, so there’s going to be a cost associated with that,” he said. “As far as abuse, I think we’re going to see what the experience is when people present.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

How Congress should debate the Islamic State strategy

E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in The Washington Post:

There was a moment in the last quarter-century when the Congress of the United States made the nation proud. It did so across all its usual lines of division: Republican and Democratic, conservative and liberal, hawk and dove.

In early January 1991, the Senate and the House staged searching and often eloquent debates over the first President Bush’s decision to wage a war to end Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. The arguments, a prelude to votes on resolutions endorsing military action, were almost entirely free of partisan rancor and the usual questioning of adversaries’ motives.

The war was so successful we now forget how divided Congress was. In the Senate, the vote was 52 to 47, with 10 Democrats crossing party lines to embrace the Republican president’s policy. The House backed the war resolution, 250 to 183. Roughly a third of Democrats voted yes.

Far from leaving the country torn and bitter, the debate brought us together. No one on either side pretended that the choice was easy. And staging congressional consideration of the decision to act in Kuwait after the 1990 election meant that short-term political strategies were not dragged into a debate about longer-term global strategy.

Without congressional authorization, Bush had already sent 500,000 U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia to prepare for war. He insisted he did not need Congress’s approval to put them into action. His request for a resolution was essentially a courtesy. It came just a week before the deadline he had set for Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait — and, as it happened, just nine days before the war started.

There is reason to admire Bush for waiting. Politically, he might have profited from making the war an issue in the 1990 midterm campaign. He preferred to wait. The second President Bush demanded a congressional vote on the Iraq war in the fall of 2002, before the midterms. This almost certainly helped Republican candidates and drew additional votes for his policy from Democrats fearful of bucking the president so soon after Sept. 11, 2001. But the result was a politicized debate that did not help build consensus. This came back to haunt the 43rd president.

We need a responsible Congress to begin the search for a sustainable foreign policy. An unconstrained debate after this fall’s campaign is the place to start.

Americans Support Striking Islamic Militants, Poll Shows - The Public, However, Doubts the President's Plans Will Succeed

From The Wall Street Journal:

Voters by a wide margin support President Barack Obama's decision to strike the militant group Islamic State, but they have less confidence that his plans will succeed, a new poll finds.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg Survey, taken in the days after Mr. Obama's prime-time address Wednesday on confronting the militant group, found that 62% of voters supported the president's decision to take action. But nearly 70% saw low odds of success.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

On the ill-conceived and misrepresented parts, the fat lady has not sung: In just a year Obamacare goes from top Congress issue to barely mentioned

From The Washington Post:

Was it really only a year ago that we were gearing up for the big unveil of Healthcare.gov where the uninsured could seamlessly go online and shop for health care as they would their vacation travel?

It was last September when Republicans sparred with Democrats over the future of the health-care law, a disagreement that prompted a 17-day federal government shutdown and overall chaos. It was pretty much anyone on Capitol Hill talked about. Republicans wanted you to know how terrible it was for America, and Democrats wanted you to remember to sign up on Oct. 1.

In that month, a mere 12 months ago, the word Obamacare was uttered on the House and Senate floor 2,753 times, according to Sunlight Foundation’s database of floor speeches from the Congressional Record.

Oh, how much changes in a year. With just one full week of work left this month, members of Congress have brought up Obamacare in floor speeches just 27 times.

(Sunlight’s most current results do not include Thursday’s floor speeches, and the House passed an under-the-radar bill to undermine a part of the law related to employer health plans, so the number of Obamacare utterances is probably a bit higher.)

With so many other issues at center stage this fall, the health-care law is simply not on voters’ minds. Our colleague Aaron Blake noted earlier this month that polls show voters are generally unhappy with the country’s direction, but few cite Obamacare as the reason why. The issue still galvanizes the Republican base, which is why it’s the subject of many campaign attacks on Democrats, but it’s lost its boogeyman edge.

To be sure, Congress is spending significantly less time in session this September so there are fewer words being spoken on the floor overall. But the explosive opposition to the law — that one year ago resulted in a government shutdown — is now just a low simmer.

Very discouraging article: Iraq plans a new force to counter Islamic State. Here’s why some say it’s doomed.

A very discouraging article in The Washington Post about why many in Iraqi think the U.S.-backed plan to recruit Sunni tribes and subdue Shiite militias is doomed from the start.

And according to The Wall Street Journal, voters by a wide margin support President Barack Obama's decision to strike the militant group Islamic State, but they have little confidence that his plans will succeed, a new poll finds.

Required reading, every word of it - Tom Friedman writes: What’s Their Plan? Obama’s Strategy for Fighting ISIS Isn’t All About Us (Never forget, this is a two-front war: ISIS is the external enemy, and sectarianism and corruption in Iraq and Syria are the internal enemies.)

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

THERE are three things in life that you should never do ambivalently: get married, buy a house or go to war. Alas, we’re about to do No. 3. Should we?
 
President Obama clearly took this decision to lead the coalition to degrade and destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, with deep ambivalence. How could he not? Our staying power is ambiguous, our enemy is barbarous, our regional allies are duplicitous, our European allies are feckless and the Iraqis and Syrians we’re trying to help are fractious. There is not a straight shooter in the bunch.
 
Other than that, it’s just like D-Day. 

Consider Saudi Arabia. It’s going to help train Free Syrian Army soldiers, but, at the same time, is one of the biggest sources of volunteer jihadists in Syria. And, according to a secret 2009 U.S. study signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and divulged by WikiLeaks, private “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
 
Turkey allowed foreign jihadists to pass into and out of Syria and has been an important market for oil that ISIS is smuggling out of Iraq for cash. Iran built the E.F.P.’s — explosively formed penetrators — that Iraqi Shiite militias used to help drive America out of Iraq and encouraged Iraq’s Shiite leaders to strip Iraqi Sunnis of as much power and money as possible, which helped create the ISIS Sunni counterrevolt. Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, deliberately allowed ISIS to emerge so he could show the world that he was not the only mass murderer in Syria. And Qatar is with us Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and against us Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fortunately, it takes the weekends off.
 
Meanwhile, back home, Obama knows that the members of his own party and the Republican Party who are urging him to bomb ISIS will be the first to run for the hills if we get stuck, fail or accidentally bomb a kindergarten class.
 
So why did the president decide to go ahead? It’s a combination of a legitimate geostrategic concern — if ISIS jihadists consolidate their power in the heart of Iraq and Syria, it could threaten some real islands of decency, like Kurdistan, Jordan and Lebanon, and might one day generate enough capacity to harm the West more directly — and the polls. Obama clearly feels drummed into this by the sudden shift in public opinion after ISIS’s ghastly videotaped beheadings of two American journalists.
  
O.K., but given this cast of characters, is there any way this Obama plan can end well? Only if we are extremely disciplined and tough-minded about how, when and for whom we use our power.
 
Before we step up the bombing campaign on ISIS, it needs to be absolutely clear on whose behalf we are fighting. ISIS did not emerge by accident and from nowhere. It is the hate-child of two civil wars in which the Sunni Muslims have been crushed. One is the vicious civil war in Syria in which the Iranian-backed Alawite-Shiite regime has killed roughly 200,000 people, many of them Sunni Muslims, with chemical weapons and barrel bombs. And the other is the Iraqi civil war in which the Iranian-backed Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki systematically stripped the Sunnis of Iraq of their power and resources.
 
There will be no self-sustained stability unless those civil wars are ended and a foundation is laid for decent governance and citizenship. Only Arabs and Muslims can do that by ending their sectarian wars and tribal feuds. We keep telling ourselves that the problem is “training,” when the real problem is governance. We spent billions of dollars training Iraqi soldiers who ran away from ISIS’s path — not because they didn’t have proper training, but because they knew that their officers were corrupt hacks who were not appointed on merit and that the filthy Maliki government was unworthy of fighting for. We so underestimate how starved Arabs are, in all these awakenings, for clean, decent governance.
 
Never forget, this is a two-front war: ISIS is the external enemy, and sectarianism and corruption in Iraq and Syria are the internal enemies. We can and should help degrade the first, but only if Iraqis and Syrians, Sunnis and Shiites, truly curtail the second. If our stepped-up bombing, in Iraq and Syria, gets ahead of their reconciliation, we will become the story and the target. And that is exactly what ISIS is waiting for.
 
ISIS loses if our moderate Arab-Muslim partners can unite and make this a civil war within Islam — a civil war in which America is the air force for the Sunnis and Shiites of decency versus those of barbarism. ISIS wins if it can make this America’s war with Sunni Islam — a war where America is the Shiite/Alawite air force against Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. ISIS will use every bit of its Twitter/Facebook network to try to depict it as the latter, and draw more recruits.
 
We keep making this story about us, about Obama, about what we do. But it is not about us. It is about them and who they want to be. It’s about a pluralistic region that lacks pluralism and needs to learn how to coexist. It’s the 21st century. It’s about time.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fareed Zakaria: Can we defeat the Islamic State?

Fareed  Zakaria writes in The Washington Post:

Here we go again. The United States has declared war on another terrorist group. President Obama’s speech Wednesday night outlined a tough, measured strategy to confront the Islamic State — which is a threat to the region and beyond. But let’s make sure in executing this strategy that we learn something from the 13 years since Sept. 11, 2001, and the war against al-Qaeda. Here are a few lessons to think about.

Don’t always take the bait. In one of his videotaped speeches to his followers, Osama bin Laden outlined his strategy. “All that we have to do is to send two mujahideen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaeda,” he said, “in order to make [American] generals race there.”

The purpose of the gruesome execution videos was to provoke the United States. And it worked. After all, nothing has changed about the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and the dangers it poses, in the past month — other than the appearance of these videos. Yet they moved Washington to action. The scholar Fawaz Gerges writes that a few months ago Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi noted that his organization was not ready to attack the United States but “he wished the U.S. would deploy boots on the ground so that IS could directly engage the Americans — and kill them.”

We have to act against this terror group. But let’s do it at a time and manner of our choosing, rather than jumping when it wants us to jump.

Don’t overestimate the enemy. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is a formidable foe, but the counterforces to it have only just begun. And if these forces — the Iraqi army, the Kurdish pesh merga, U.S. air power — work in a coordinated fashion, it will start losing ground. Also, keep in mind that it does not actually hold as much ground as the many maps flashed on television keep showing. Large parts of those “territories” are vacant desert. The cities in Iraq and Syria are clustered along rivers.

While the Islamic State is much more sophisticated than al-Qaeda in its operations and technology, it has one major, inherent weakness. Al-Qaeda was an organization that was pan-Islamic, trying to appeal to all Muslims. This group is a distinctly sectarian organization. It is a successor to al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was set up by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with an explicitly anti-Shiite mission. In fact, this is why al-Qaeda broke with Zarqawi, imploring him not to make fellow Muslims the enemy. The Islamic State is anti-Shiite as well as deeply hostile to Kurds, Christians and many other inhabitants of the Middle East. This means that it has large numbers of foes in the region who will fight against it, not because the United States wants them to but in their own interests.

Remember the politics. Military action must be coupled with smart political strategy. The Islamic State is a direct outgrowth of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ruinous political decisions to disband the Iraqi army and “de-Baathify” its bureaucracy. The result was a disempowered, enraged (and armed) Sunni population that started an insurgency. Vice media’s recent documentary on the group interviewed some Iraqi Sunnis who said that, for all the chaos, they were happier under the Islamic State than under the “Shiite army,” which is how they referred to the Iraqi government.

The Obama administration has mapped out a smart strategy in Iraq, pressing the Baghdad government to include more Sunnis. But that has yet to happen — the Shiite parties have dragged their feet over any major concessions to Sunnis. The Iraqi army has not been reconstituted to make it less partisan and sectarian and more inclusive and effective. This is a crucial issue because if the United States is seen as defending two non-Sunni regimes — Iraq and Syria — against a Sunni uprising, it will not win. And it will be hard to recruit local allies. While a minority in Iraq, Sunnis make up the vast majority of the Middle East’s Muslims.

The Syrian aspect of the president’s strategy is its weak link. It is impossible to battle the Islamic State and not, in effect, strengthen the Bashar al-Assad regime. We can say we don’t intend to do that, but it doesn’t change the reality on the ground. The Free Syrian Army remains weak and divided among many local militias.

Obama promised to “degrade” the Islamic State. Good. He also promised to “ultimately destroy” it. We have not been able to get rid of al-Qaeda. And destroying a group such as this requires defusing the sectarian dynamics that fuel it. That’s not for Washington to do, but it can help make it happen by pressing the Iraqis and enlisting the Saudis and other regional powers.

Obama’s military intervention in the region will work only if there is an equivalent, perhaps even more intense, political intervention.

David Ignatius: Obama’s advantages as a reluctant warrior

David Ignatius writes in The Washington Post:

President Obama certainly didn’t go looking for another war in the Middle East. Indeed, he contorted himself almost to the breaking point to avoid one. But as he explained to the country Wednesday night, he had no choice but to respond with “strength and resolve” to the barbarous Islamic State that is ravaging Iraq and Syria.

Obama’s decision to combat the Islamic State offers him a chance to reset U.S. leadership and his own presidency after growing doubt at home and abroad about what, if anything, he was willing to fight for. His innate cautiousness is now actually a reassurance that he’ll fight this war sensibly, partnering with allies in the region, in a way that doesn’t needlessly exacerbate the United States’ problems with the Muslim world.

Stephen Hadley, who was national security adviser for President George W. Bush, is hardly a cheerleader for Obama. But he gave the president high marks for “a good speech” that explained the threat and what he was going to do about it. Hadley noted that Obama’s stance as a reluctant warrior will help him reassure foreigners and Americans alike that this isn’t a reckless, unilateral U.S. crusade.

“He will put together a coalition, and he will try to keep them out front,” Hadley said in an interview. “It will still be an American fight, but it will look less like one, and that’s actually a strength. People will be less worried that it’s a slippery slope if he’s in charge because he’s reluctant to be where he is.”

For a White House that has often struggled to execute foreign policy cleanly, this week has been a notable exception. The rollout was smooth: An Iraqi unity government was formed last weekend; the president dined Monday night with foreign policy experts; he briefed congressional leaders Tuesday; then he addressed the country. Obama’s team must maintain that momentum.

Obama has taken a pounding over the past year for a reticent, risk-averse foreign policy that some characterized as evidence of weakness and retreat. Part of the criticism has been deserved: Obama should have ramped up assistance to the Syrian opposition much earlier; he should have rejected the polarizing, sectarian Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki long ago. These two mistakes allowed the Islamic State to feed off Sunni rage in Syria and Iraq, so that it became more toxic. This disaster was not inevitable.

Obama’s preference for working through allies, derided by critics as “leading from behind,” may offer an advantage now. The United States can use its air power to degrade the Islamic State because it has support from allies in the region — Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and (implicitly) Iran. The United States can avoid major ground combat to the extent that it recruits other boots on the ground, from its regional allies.

This Muslim cover is essential if the United States is going to fight the next round of the campaign against jihadists without making the mistakes of the past decade.

Another unlikely opportunity for Obama is that the Islamic State provides a common enemy for erstwhile antagonists, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, or Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan. Already, there are little hints of rapprochement: Iran’s deputy foreign minister recently visited Saudi Arabia; Hezbollah’s pet newspaper in Beirut just published a rare plaudit for Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri. Obama rightly hopes that a joint fight against the Islamic State may open space for regional dialogue that may gradually bridge the Sunni-Shiite sectarian chasm through which the poison flowed.

The shakiest aspect of the policy is the Syria strategy. Obama is pinning his hopes on a moderate opposition that has stumbled badly over the past two years. The United States will bomb the Islamic State’s havens in Syria, but can the moderates seize and hold ground as the jihadists retreat? Probably not at first, but they’ll do better with U.S. training. This is a fight that’s likely to last years, not months.

A final advantage for Obama is that he seems to understand the historic moment in which the nightmare of the Islamic State has arisen. The old order in the Middle East is collapsing and the new one hasn’t yet emerged. This creates space for religious fanatics who feed on the populist rage of an untethered region. Amid this anarchy, Obama is seeking to prevent the worst outcome, without the false hope that he’s creating a shining new democratic order. This is still Iraq, but the illusions of 2003 are gone.

White House’s legal rationale for airstrikes in Syria comes under scrutiny - It's not there. - Last year Obama asked Congress to approve Syrian airstrikes in Syria, and pulled back after Congress indicated that it would not approve the strikes. That gave him cover that he may wish he had with Islamic State and Syrian in the future.

From The Washington Post:

Top lawyers at the Justice Department signed off on the White House’s conclusion that President Obama had sufficient legal authority to approve airstrikes in Syria, people familiar with the deliberations said Thursday, as the administration faced growing criticism for not first seeking congressional backing.

Obama aides consulted with lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel in the lead-up to the president’s announcement Wednesday night that he was expanding U.S. military operations aimed at destroying the Islamic State, a radical Sunni group that is operating in Syria and Iraq. In a televised prime-time address, Obama said he had “the authority to address the threat” and did not need a formal vote on Capitol Hill.

It is unclear whether the Justice Department provided the White House with a detailed, written opinion or relayed its interpretation of the law orally.

Administration officials have declined to provide the administration’s legal rationale in detail, instead saying that Obama has the authority to strike al-Qaeda and associated groups under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which Congress approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

That assertion has been received skeptically by many experts in national-security law, in part because the Islamic State split from al-Qaeda and is considered a rival to the group.

Obama’s decision is based on a “novel” theory whose “premise is unconvincing,” Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith wrote in a column on Time magazine’s Web site Thursday.

Goldsmith wrote that by loosely connecting the Islamic State to core al-Qaeda, the administration is claiming the authority to “use force endlessly against practically any ambitious jihadist terrorist group” that fights the United States. Obama’s gambit is “presidential unilateralism masquerading as implausible statutory interpretation,” Goldsmith wrote.

White House aides briefed lawmakers Thursday on the president’s strategy but failed to convince all of them of the legal rationale for circumventing Congress.

The administration “made the interesting argument that surely Congress didn’t intend to let al-Qaeda itself decide who should be covered,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). “That’s true, but that’s a flaw in the AUMF. We also didn’t intend for it to be in effect 13 years later and apply it in places like Yemen or Somalia. I think the administration is being a bit selective in pointing to congressional intent.

In the case of Syria, Obama’s reliance on the 2001 legislation comes even though he called for its repeal last year, saying he wanted to work with Congress to refine the AUMF’s mandate.

“I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further,” he said in a speech at the National Defense University in May 2013. “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end.”

People who have been in close touch with the White House said the administration feared that the heightened political environment on Capitol Hill ahead of the midterm elections in November would make it virtually impossible to get approval for a new resolution authorizing strikes in Syria.

Some legal experts were sympathetic to the administration’s decision to bypass Congress and said Obama had the authority to act, even if al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are no longer aligned.

“He doesn’t need to carefully parse the organizational structure to find out who’s on the board of directors,” said Walter Dellinger, who headed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President Bill Clinton. “It is clear enough that this is a continuation of the morphing of the radical jihadist movement that was behind 9/11. And the authority of the president to use necessary and appropriate force has never been altered.

Indeed, some administration officials have stressed that the Islamic State was once known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. “This group is and has been al-Qaeda,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry told CNN in an interview Thursday. “By trying to change its name, it doesn’t change who it is, what it does.”

Last year, Obama asked Congress for approval to launch airstrikes in Syria after evidence that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians. Obama pulled back after Congress indicated that it would not approve the strikes, and the administration subsequently negotiated an agreement with Russia, a traditional ally of Syria, to destroy the country’s chemical arsenal.

Obama also did not seek congressional approval before joining allies in the NATO bombing campaign in Libya in 2011.

In Syria this time, the only vote the White House has sought from Congress is one to approve a program to train and equip moderate rebels. Some legal experts said the decision not to seek congressional authorization for airstrikes in Syria erodes the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.

“The more practice you have of a president considering Congress to be irrelevant to the decisions of war and peace, the more irrelevant Congress becomes,” said Benjamin Wittes, an expert on ­national-security law at the Brookings Institution.

Some lawmakers said that they hoped Congress would eventually vote on fresh authorization for the president’s military campaign.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Congress should take a “two-step process” — law­makers should first vote on a modest proposal that would allow Pentagon officials to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels. Later this year, a lame-duck session could provide time for expansive debate and resolutions providing clear language setting new parameters for U.S. military action in Syria.

“At some point in time, when we come back from the elections, I think there will be a consideration of a larger authorization for the use of force,” Hoyer said in an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that will air in full Sunday.

Moms

From The Washington Post:

Suburban women’s concerns, in particular, change from election to election, and over the years, pollsters and political strategists have come up with different labels to describe this crucial slice of the electorate.

In the 1990s, these middle-class women were known as “soccer moms,” and President Bill Clinton won reelection in part because of how well he related to their harried lives.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, there were “security moms” — a term coined by then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). This group was seen as a major reason why, in 2002, George W. Bush became the first Republican president in a century to see his party pick up seats in a midterm election. But by 2006, as the country had soured on the Iraq war, they swung back to the Democrats.

About five years ago, with economic insecurity rising to the top of their concerns, the political shorthand for swing-voting women became “Wal-Mart Moms.” The retail giant began commissioning a pollster from each party to jointly conduct regular focus groups of women who shopped at its stores.

David Brooks: The Reluctant Leader - President Obama's obvious reluctance about expanding the attack on ISIS may be his greatest asset.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times
 
Moses, famously, tried to get out of it. When God called on him to lead the Israelites, Moses threw up a flurry of reasons he was the wrong man for the job: I’m a nobody; I don’t speak well; I’m not brave.
 
But the job was thrust upon him. Though he displayed some of the traits you’d expect from a guy who would rather be back shepherding (passivity, whining), he became a great leader. He became the ultimate model for reluctant leadership.
 
The Bible is filled with reluctant leaders, people who did not choose power but were chosen for it — from David to Paul. The Bible makes it clear that leadership is unpredictable: That the most powerful people often don’t get to choose what they themselves will do. Circumstances thrust certain responsibilities upon them, and they have no choice but to take up their assignment.
 
History is full of reluctant leaders, too. President Obama is the most recent. He recently gave a speech on the need to move away from military force. He has tried to pivot away from the Middle East. He tried desperately to avoid the Syrian civil war.
 
But as he said in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture, “Evil does exist in the world.” No American president could allow a barbaric caliphate to establish itself in the middle of the Middle East.
 
Obama is compelled as a matter of responsibility to override his inclinations. He’s obligated to use force, to propel himself back into the Middle East, to work with rotten partners like the dysfunctional Iraqi Army and the two-faced leaders of Qatar. He’s compelled to provide functional assistance to the rancid Syrian regime by attacking its enemies.
 
The defining characteristic of a reluctant leader is that he is self-divided. He feels compelled to do things he’d rather not do. This self-division can come in negative and positive forms.
 
The unsuccessful reluctant leader isn’t really motivated to perform the tasks assigned to him. The three essential features of political leadership, Max Weber wrote, are passion, responsibility and judgment. The unsuccessful reluctant leader is passionless. His actions are halfhearted. Look at President Obama’s decision to surge troops into Afghanistan at the same instant he announced their withdrawal date. That’s a reluctant leader undercutting himself. If Obama approaches this campaign that way then he will withdraw as soon as the Iraqi government stumbles, or the Iraqi Army fails to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on the ground.
 
The successful reluctant leader, on the other hand, is fervently motivated by his own conscience. He forces himself to embrace the fact that while this is not the destiny he would have chosen, it is his duty and he will follow it to the end.
 
This kind of reluctant leader has some advantages over a full-throated, unreluctant crusader. Unlike George W. Bush in 2003, he’s not carried away by righteous fervor. The successful reluctant leader can be selfless. He’s not doing the work because it’s the expression of his inner being. He’s just an instrument for the completion of a nasty job.
 
The reluctant leader can be realistic about goals. President Obama can be under no illusions that he is going to solve the Middle East’s fundamental problems, but at least he can degrade ISIS the way we degraded Al Qaeda. Sometimes just preventing something bad — like the fall of the Jordanian regime — is noble enough, even if negative victories don’t exactly get you in the history books.
 
The reluctant leader can be skeptical. There’s a reason President Obama didn’t want to get involved in this conflict. Our power to manage history in the region is limited. But sometimes a reluctant leader can make wise decisions precisely because he’s aware of his limitations. If you’re going to begin a military campaign in an Arab country, you probably want a leader who’d rather not do it.
 
The reluctant leader can be dogged. Sometimes when you’re engaged in an unpleasant task, you just put your head down and trudge relentlessly forward. You don’t have to worry about coming down from prewar euphoria because you never felt good about this anyway.
 
The reluctant leader can be collaborative. He didn’t want his task, so he’s eager to share it. The Arab world can fully trust that Obama doesn’t have any permanent designs on their region because the guy is dying to wash his hands of the whole place as soon as possible.
 
Everybody is weighing in on the strengths and weaknesses of the Obama strategy. But the strategy will change. The crucial factor is the man. This is the sternest test of Obama’s leadership skills since the early crises of his presidency. If he sticks to this self-assigned duty, and pursues it doggedly, he can be a successful reluctant leader. Sometimes the hardest victories are against yourself.