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Cracker Squire


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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.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Americans' Generational Race Gap Gets Wider - Demographic Divide Between Older Whites and Younger Minorities Is Growing, According to Census Bureau Data

From The Wall Street Journal:

The demographic divide between older white Americans and younger minorities grew wider last year, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday, highlighting a long-term shift that might alter the interplay between generations.

In 2013, nearly 79% of people 65 and older were white, but for those younger than 15, the share of whites was just over half. In 2000, those proportions were nearly 84% and almost 61%, respectively.

The widening generational gap comes as the U.S. population as a whole grows older and more racially diverse. Non-Hispanic whites made up 62.6% of the country last year, down from 63% in 2012, continuing their long-term decline as the dominant American group. More whites died than were born last year, while the share of both Asian-Americans and Hispanics grew.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I hope it's hard to lose : Benghazi case a big test for D.C. lawyers who lack experience prosecuting terror suspects

From The Washington Post:

For years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington has watched as authorities in New York and Virginia handled many of nation’s biggest terrorism cases — even ones in which the District was the target of planned attacks.

Now, with the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspected ringleader in the assault on U.S. outposts in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and his attorneys are poised to handle one of the most important American terrorism cases in recent memory. Abu Khattala, who is being interrogated aboard a U.S. warship, is expected to be brought to the United States and arraigned in Washington in the days ahead.

The case will mark a critical challenge for an office that has comparatively little experience in prosecuting high-profile terrorism cases, suffered setbacks in recent cases and, at other times, been considered slow to build cases. Several former law enforcement officials said top Justice Department figures have steered some cases away from Machen’s office, in favor of offices with more experience.

But DiLorenzo has never prosecuted a terrorism suspect.

Officials said he does have one advantage: a strong case.

A U.S. official who reviewed the evidence against Abu Khattala said it includes pictures and video from the time of the attack as well as testimony from first-hand witnesses and evidence of attack planners bragging of their involvement.

“It would be a really hard case to lose,” the official said.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Noonan (powerful): What America Thinks About Iraq - Two administrations' deadly incompetence has shaken their faith in the political class

Peggy Noonan writes a keeper in The Wall Street Journal:

'The past is never dead. It's not even past."

We are back to 2003 (the invasion), 2007 (the surge) and 2011 (the withdrawal).

How does the American public view what is going on in Iraq now—the burgeoning war, the fall of cities we fought for and held, the possible fall of Baghdad and collapse of the country? What attitude and approach will the public support in response?

Here is my sense of it:

They believe going in was a disaster.

They believe getting out is producing a disaster.

They believe the leadership in Washington failed in both cases, in the going in and the getting out.

They think George W. Bush made the wrong call and followed with the wrong execution. As for those around him, they had no realistic plan for what would happen after they toppled Saddam Hussein and seem to have thought George Washington would spring from the rubble and take it from there. There was no sophisticated and realistic game plan. American officials did not seem to know there was a difference between a Sunni and a Shia. They were frequently taken aback by events that were predictable. They assumed good luck, a terrible, ignorant thing to assume in a war.
The American people believe Barack Obama viewed Iraq as a personal political problem. He won the presidency being antiwar, so he had to anti-the-war before his re-election. He did it without appropriate care and commitment, which probably guaranteed we'd wind up where we are. He is out of his depth. Amazingly, he radiates a sense that he isn't all that invested, that he doesn't drag himself to the golf course to get a break and maintain balance, but plays golf because at the end of the day Iraq, like other problems, challenges and scandals, isn't making him bleed inside.
And the people don't like any of this. Americans hate incompetence, but most of all and in a separate class they hate bloody incompetence. They've seen it now from two administrations.
The bright spot: the earnest professionalism of our troops, still unsurpassed.
But the loss of life, the financial cost, the loss of prestige, the sense that somehow after 9/11 we squandered the sympathy and support of the world, the danger to the world when America gets beat or looks beat, the inspiration that is to evil-mined men—these things the American people would hate.
They do not believe the architects of Iraq told them the full truth in the past or are candid and forthcoming even now, more than 11 years after the invasion. The architects do not speak of what they got wrong and exactly how, when and why. Their blame-laying sounds less like strength than spin. They are like what Talleyrand is said to have observed of the Bourbons, that they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Because of this they are not fully credible when they critique the current president and not fully believable when they offer new strategies.
When you have been catastrophically wrong, you have to bring a certain humility to the table.
The American people do not want to go back into Iraq. They will be skeptical of all plans, strategies and decisions because they lack faith in their leaders. If they hear "We are sending 300 military advisers," they will think: It won't end there.
They don't think the U.S. can solve Iraq. They think only Iraq can do that.
They think Iraq's leader, Nouri al-Maliki, is a loser who lives in Loserville. Get rid of him? Tell him to resign? Sure, but who will replace him, the loser next door? Should he reform his government, making it more respectful, tolerant and accountable? Sure. But do the ISIS forces look like men who'll respond, "Wow, he's being a better leader, let's lay down our arms!"? No, actually, they don't.
Americans are worried about the country's standing in the world. They want to be the most powerful and respected nation in the world, because we are Americans and that's how we roll.
They have the feeling that what America has to do now, the missing part of the terrible puzzle, is to rebuild here, refind our strength, be rich again, pump out jobs, unleash our energy—let it bound out of the ground and help turn our economy around. We have to reset our relationship with ourselves. We have to become strong again, that is the key not only to our confidence but to the world's respect.
Here's a terrible thing, though: They don't really have any faith that this remedial work will get done, that the economy will be reignited, that corrupt governance and crony capitalism will be stopped. They don't have any particular faith that it will happen with the generation of losers we have now in Washington.
They do not think the bad guys will wait and pause while America says, "Excuse me, I need time to get my act together. Could you present your existential challenge later?"
They think the fighting in Iraq will likely continue and spread. They think a lot of violent extremists will kill a lot of violent extremists, and many good and innocent people, too. It always happens. It's one of the reasons war is terrible.
They know something is wrong with their thinking, that it's not fully satisfying but instead marked by caveats and questions.
If the oil we need is truly endangered, and this tips us into a new recession . . .
If daily we see shootings and beheadings of people who bravely and kindly stood with us during the war . . .
All that will have a grinding, embittering effect on the public mood. And if some mad group of jihadists, when their bloody work in Iraq is finished, decide to bring their efforts once again to an American city—well then, obviously, all bets will be off.
But the old American emotionalism, the assumption that the people of Iraq want what we want, freedom and democracy, is over. Ten years ago if you announced you had reservations about what the people of Iraq really want, and maybe it isn't freedom and democracy first, such reservations were called ethnocentric, belittling, bigoted. That's over, too. We are hard-eyed now.
In the long term, the U.S. experience in Iraq will probably contribute to the resentment, the sheer ungodly distance and lack of trust and faith between the people who are governed in America and those who govern them, between the continent and the city called Washington. Also between the people and the two great political parties, both of which blundered.
Pundits and pollsters have been talking about a quickening of the populist spirit, and the possibility of a populist rise, for at least a quarter-century. But they're doing it more often now.
There is a growing disconnect between the American people and their government, a freshened resentment. We are not only talking about Iraq when we talk about Iraq, we are also talking about ourselves. We are not only talking about the past, we are talking about the future.
The architects of the Iraq invasion always said the decision to invade was crucial, consequential, a real world-changer. They had no idea.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Friedman: Pretty Powerful: What to Do With the Twins? - The Conundrum of a Unified Iraq and a Unified Syria

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

There is much talk right now about America teaming up with Iran to push back the coalition of Sunni militias that has taken over Mosul and other Sunni towns in western Iraq and Syria. For now, I’d say stay out of this fight — not because it’s the best option, but because it’s the least bad.

After all, what is the context in which we’d be intervening? Iraq and Syria are twins: multiethnic and multisectarian societies that have been governed, like other Arab states, from the top-down. First, it was by soft-fisted Ottomans who ruled through local notables in a decentralized fashion, then by iron-fisted British and French colonial powers and later by iron-fisted nationalist kings and dictators.

Today, the Ottomans are gone, the British and French are gone and now many of the kings and dictators are gone. We removed Iraq’s dictator; NATO and tribal rebels removed Libya’s; the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen got rid of theirs; and some people in Syria have tried to topple theirs. Each country is now faced with the challenge of trying to govern itself horizontally by having the different sects, parties and tribes agree on social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens who rotate power.

Tunisia and Kurdistan have done the best at this transition. Egyptians tried and found the insecurity so unbearable that they brought back the army’s iron fist. Libya has collapsed into intertribal conflict. Yemen struggles with a wobbly tribal balance. In Syria, the Shiite/Alawite minority, plus the Christians and some Sunnis, seem to prefer the tyranny of Bashar al-Assad to the anarchy of the Islamist-dominated rebels; the Syrian Kurds have carved out their own enclave, so the country is now a checkerboard.

In Iraq, the Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — who had the best chance, the most oil money and the most help from the U.S. in writing a social contract for how to govern Iraq horizontally — chose instead, from the moment the Americans left, to empower Iraqi Shiites and disempower Iraqi Sunnis. It’s no surprise that Iraqi Sunnis decided to grab their own sectarian chunk of the country.

So today, it seems, a unified Iraq and a unified Syria can no longer be governed vertically or horizontally. The leaders no longer have the power to extend their iron fists to every border, and the people no longer have the trust to extend their hands to one another. It would appear that the only way they can remain united is if an international force comes in, evicts the dictators, uproots the extremists and builds consensual politics from the ground up — a generational project for which there are no volunteers.

What to do? It was not wrong to believe post-9/11 that unless this region produced decent self-government it would continue to fail its own people and deny them the ability to realize their full potential, which is why the Arab Spring happened, and that its pathologies would also continue to spew out the occasional maniac, like Osama bin Laden, who could threaten us.

But the necessary turned out to be impossible: We didn’t know what we were doing. The post-Saddam generation of Iraqi leaders turned out to be like abused children who went on to be abusive parents. The Iranians constantly encouraged Shiite supremacy and frustrated our efforts to build pluralism. Mosques and charities in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait and Qatar continued to fund preachers and fighters who promoted the worst Sunni extremism. And thousands of Muslim men marched to Syria and Iraq to fight for jihadism, but none marched there to fight for pluralism.

I could say that before President Obama drops even an empty Coke can from a U.S. fighter jet on the Sunni militias in Iraq we need to insist that Maliki resign and a national unity cabinet be created that is made up of inclusive Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders. I could say that that is the necessary condition for reunification of Iraq. And I could say that it is absolutely not in our interest or the world’s to see Iraq break apart and one segment be ruled by murderous Sunni militias.
But I have to say this: It feels both too late and too early to stop the disintegration — too late because whatever trust there was between communities is gone, and Maliki is not trying to rebuild it, and too early because it looks as if Iraqis are going to have to live apart, and see how crazy and impoverishing that is, before the different sects can coexist peacefully.

In the meantime, there is no denying that terrorism could be exported our way from Iraq’s new, radicalized “Sunnistan.” But we have a National Security Agency, C.I.A. and drones to deal with that now ever-present threat.

Pluralism came to Europe only after many centuries of one side or another in religious wars thinking it could have it all, and after much ethnic cleansing created more homogeneous nations. Europe also went through the Enlightenment and the Reformation. Arab Muslims need to go on the same journey. It will happen when they want to or when they have exhausted all other options. Meanwhile, let’s strengthen the islands of decency — Tunisia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Kurdistan — and strengthen our own democracy to insulate ourselves as best we can.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fred Hiatt: Iraq highlights for Obama the threat of disengagement

Fred Hiatt is the editorial page editor of The Post. He writes editorials for the newspaper and a biweekly column that appears on Mondays.

He writes in The Washington Post:

As the Middle East seemed to unravel last week, much of the blame-game debate centered on whether President Obama could and should have stationed a residual force of U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011.

That’s an important question. But it’s part of a much bigger argument — one with daunting implications for Americans.

Throughout Obama’s first term, his advisers divided into two teams over how to combat Islamist terrorism: the Engagers, often backed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Minimalists, backed by Vice President Biden.

The Engagers won some early rounds, notably persuading Obama to invest heavily in helping Afghanistan develop and defend itself. But over time Obama sided with the Minimalists, and he shaped a second-term team that wouldn’t relitigate his decision.

And no wonder: The Minimalists had a lot of common sense on their side.
The future is in East Asia, they said. In the coming decades, China is going to matter a lot; Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia hardly at all. It makes no sense for the United States to get bogged down in millennium-old feuds between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Even if we want to take sides or help Yemen, say, become a modern state, the argument continued, we don’t really know how. We’re no good at nation-building. Let them sort it out. To the extent that Islamist radicals might threaten the United States, we could counter them from a distance — with drone strikes and by “partnering” with locals who would do the fighting for us.

Sensible, and politically congenial, too. Voters were pleased to hear that the threat that had come to their attention so traumatically in 2001 was defused. All the better if the United States could stop sending soldiers and money to parts of the world that Americans didn’t much care about in the first place.

Obama shaped his policies accordingly, starting with a total withdrawal from Iraq. Some argue that he had no choice, because Iraq wouldn’t give legal immunity to U.S. soldiers. I think if Obama had really wanted an agreement, and been willing to offer more than a few thousand soldiers, he could have negotiated one. What no one disputes is that Obama was content with the zero option and sanguine about Iraq’s prospects even without a U.S. follow-on force.

Minimalism won again when Obama declined, after joining a bombing campaign to topple Libya’s dictator, to help the new government keep the peace. And again when he rejected the advice of top aides to support the moderate rebels in Syria. And most recently, when he announced an identical policy for Afghanistan as for Iraq: all troops out within two years, except for a presence inside the U.S. Embassy.

I wish these policies had succeeded. Who wouldn’t prefer to spend money “nation-building at home,” as Obama promised, or helping to build a golden Pacific future?

Unfortunately, disengagement turns out not to work. A drones-first policy has stoked anti-American fervor from Pakistan to Yemen. Libya is on the brink of civil war. Syria has become “the most catastrophic humanitarian crisis any of us have seen in a generation,” as Mr. Obama’s U.N ambassador said.

Now Iraq is disintegrating. Of course, as many commentators write, Iraq’s politicians are to blame. But if the United States had maintained a presence, it might have steered Iraqi politics in a more constructive direction.

If Libya, Syria and Iraq were only human rights catastrophes — as each assuredly is — the Minimalists might hold firm. Terrible things happen in many places, they would say, and Americans can’t set them all right.

But the unraveling threatens the United States, too. A ruthless medieval dictatorship controlling territory from Syria into Iraq is luring and training Islamist extremists, including from America and Europe, who “could end up being a significant threat to our homeland,” Obama acknowledged Thursday. So he has had to turn back to Iraq, facing nothing but unpalatable options.

If Minimalism doesn’t work, what would? The answer will be different in each case. It won’t generally be to send in the Marines. It will, though, rest on lessons that the country learned, for a time, after 2001: Stateless, ungoverned territories can be dangerous to the United States. Ignoring dangers doesn’t make them go away. If we want countries to help us, including by combating terrorists, we have to help them, too, with training and aid that improves people’s lives.

It’s true that helping states build their capacity to govern is difficult and time-consuming and doesn’t always work. But over the years, the United States has helped more countries, and in more ways, than many Americans realize — including, with Obama’s commitment, Afghanistan. Engagement is hard, but over time it can succeed. Which is more than the other team can say.

A Southern rift revealed by House leadership scramble

Jim Galloway writes in the AJC's Political Insider:

Perhaps it is the humidity, or maybe the surplus of people eager to serve as undertakers, but bodies tend to be buried quickly up in Washington.

Republican members of the U.S. House on Thursday are scheduled to elect a new majority leader to replace Eric Cantor, the Virginia congressman who only five days ago was soundly defeated by a little-known college professor with a tea party resume.

The House election is somewhat fixed. With the early vote, an advantage has been given to Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, a member of Speaker John Boehner’s leadership team, whom Cantor has endorsed as his successor.

One Georgian, Tom Price of Roswell, and two Texans, Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling, have looked at the race and demurred.

The geography is an important point. The leadership scramble has revealed House Republicans split not just by ideology, but by region. They may provide the foundation for GOP rule, but by week’s end, Southern Republicans again could be largely shut out of the top positions of power in their own chamber.

We may be spoiled. Twenty years ago, during the reign of Speaker Newt Gingrich, the South ruled the House Republican roost. Specifically, the triumvirate of the Georgian and two Texans, Dick Armey and Tom Delay.

Republicans from other regions howled, especially when it came to guns and abortion.

“There was a lot of resentment at some of the bills we voted on more than once,” said John Linder, the former Georgia congressman who headed up the House GOP recruitment effort under Gingrich – another important leadership post. Linder retired in 2011, and now lives in Myrtle, Miss.

It was a brand of tension that no longer exists. “On the environment — all of our Republicans in the Northeast left us and sided with the Democrats. There was constant anger over that,” Linder remembered.

But the Northeast is now a near-desert for Republicans. The South, still a growth region for the GOP during the Gingrich era, has been built out. Clout now lies in the hands of House Republicans who hail from areas where there are still seats to be won. Or lost.

Over the last week, U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County, has become the voice of Southern frustration in Washington. “This is something I’ve been kind of hammering on for a while,” he said Friday.

If you count Texas and Florida, Southern Republicans make up 47 percent of the House GOP conference, Westmoreland said. Even without those two states, Deep South Republicans would still represent nearly a third of the party’s strength in the House.

The percentages aren’t reflected in the chairmanships of House committees or subcommittees, Westmoreland said. “There’s no correlation.”

But that’s not where the deficit is most glaring. “If you look at that total leadership structure, you can see how many are from the South,” the Georgia congressman said.

Boehner, of course, is from Ohio, a swing state. Cantor’s Virginia now qualifies as a blue state. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chairman of the House GOP conference, is from Washington, another blue state. Greg Walden, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, is from Oregon.

Not until you come to Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, secretary of the House GOP conference, do you find a Deep South conservative, Westmoreland pointed out.

“You hear people talk – ‘I may be from a blue state, but I still have a red district,’ the congressman scoffed. “Yeah, you probably still do have a red district. But if your red district was in my red state, it would probably be purple at best.”

Region, like ideology, matters when decisions are made about what House bills will move, and which ones won’t. “When they sit down at that leadership table, their thinking — about how this country feels or what its priorities are — is coming from a different mindset than what is in the Deep South. Which is mostly conservative people,” Westmoreland said.

The topics of unions, agriculture, and especially entitlements are dividers. Votes thought too conservative may provoke Democratic opposition in swing states, but votes that smack of compromise are likely to provoke primary opponents in the South.

Westmoreland beat his primary opposition in May. In 2012, he had two opponents.

Southern Republicans in the House may be gelling into something close to an organized faction.

“We have been meeting as Southern states for probably three or four months – meeting and discussing how we can interject some of our views into the conference better,” Westmoreland said. “We’re not really a caucus. We’re not a formal group. It’s just a bunch of guys and girls that are just sitting down and talking.”

A Southern shut-out this week is likely to be interpreted as a rejection of the message sent by Cantor’s defeat, Westmoreland said. “A lot of our guys are going to just say, ‘Are they just brain dead? Did they not read the smoke signal?’”

Southern Republicans are looking at the possibility that Steve Scalise, R-La., might be elected House majority whip, replacing McCarthy in the House’s No. 3 leadership spot.

Westmoreland has his doubts that Scalise can survive the Thursday vote. But a day after our conversation, the Georgia congressman’s staff killed Washington talk that he would run for the whip position himself, quoting their boss thusly:

“Currently my focus is on … the November midterms, and the efforts to create the largest Republican majority in decades. If there are future opportunities at the [National Republican Campaign Committee] or within the conference after November, I would like to be a part of that discussion.”

A great deal of time and money is about to be spent trying to prove Mr. Cantor's primary loss in Virginia's Seventh district had nothing to do with immigration. Well, the story that dominated every day of the campaign's last two weeks was the flood of children, sometimes alone, streaming across the southern border. It gave a daily and visual sense of open borders, chaos, the collapse of law. While the U.S. government does nothing.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Eric Cantor took his defeat with style and dignity. He conceded without bitterness, acknowledged disappointment, blamed no one but himself—"I fell short"—called his leadership position the honor of his life and briskly announced the date he'd step down. He played it straight about who should succeed him and mused to the Republican Conference Wednesday afternoon that while "suffering is a part of life, misery is a choice." "It's almost biblical with him," an aide said. "He talked about his Jewish faith and how you can't get bogged down by one moment." Leaving the Capitol that evening, Mr. Cantor turned to the aide, bemused: "Why is everyone acting like it's a funeral?"

"Eric, a lotta people love you, they need 24 hours to grieve."

"Twenty-four hours, that's it," Cantor said.

"This from a man who just got hit by a truck," says the aide.

Through an unforeseen and truly national humiliation, Mr. Cantor showed grace under pressure. It is now almost startling when political figures comport themselves with class and take responsibility for failure. Good for him for reminding people how it's done.
A great deal of time and money is about to be spent trying to prove Mr. Cantor's primary loss in Virginia's Seventh district had nothing to do with immigration. Well, the story that dominated every day of the campaign's last two weeks was the flood of children, sometimes alone, streaming across the southern border. It gave a daily and visual sense of open borders, chaos, the collapse of law. While the U.S. government does nothing. And Eric Cantor is a high officer of one of that government's branches. His opponent, David Brat, spent those weeks hammering Mr. Cantor on amnesty. His biggest talk-radio supporter, Laura Ingraham, hit again and again on the same subject. So, you know, immigration might have had something to do with the outcome. It was the real and present issue, the galvanic and immediate one.

But no, it wasn't the only one. A loss this decisive would have many causes.
Yet on immigration it must be said that a lot of Republican voters are wary of reform measures for reasons that are not in the least ideological. Their opposition and suspicion has to do with commonsense questions. At a time of high chronic unemployment, in what way is it helpful to summon into the labor force a flood of new, low-wage workers? Doesn't any nation have a sovereign right to control its borders? Can it continue as a nation if it doesn't?
And Republicans do not trust their own party to do what is right for the country on immigration. They know the party leaders are for reform because they believe the GOP will lose the Hispanic vote forever if they don't move forward. The base not unreasonably assumes that any reform will address the interests of the party and of Wall Street but not necessarily the nation. There is a real failure of trust here. Mr. Cantor got caught in it.
There is no relief from the Democrats or the president, who appears highly unflustered by the gathering crisis. Keeping immigration unresolved keeps parts of his base energized and bright with grievance and drives Republicans to murder their own. It is win-win for Democrats; either they get a comprehensive bill that serves their party's interests, or they'll get no bill, which serves their party's interests.

So yes, immigration was an issue, but it was also I think connected to something broader. Voters are feeling increasing anxiety and concern about the state of their country and the direction it's going. All the polls show it. You can almost feel the alarm in the right-track/wrong-track numbers.

A vote for Mr. Cantor, a major member of the House leadership, would have felt like a vote for nothing changing. But why would voters increasingly concerned about how the country is run and anxious about what America is becoming vote for nothing changing?

I don't think they would. I don't think they did. Incumbents beware.


Some lessons of the loss: No one should be in party leadership who isn't from a very safe seat. Leadership by necessity makes you look to the party as a whole, less to your district. You compromise and deal, you're always on a plane, always fundraising, always helping someone five states away. "There's a reason Nancy Pelosi's from San Francisco," said an old political hand.
Don't get fancy. In the hours after the upset, someone said Mr. Cantor spent too much time in the Hamptons and on Wall Street. He probably did: That's where he was fundraising. Does that make you look good to the people back home?
Be careful how you thread the needle. Any Republican leader has to tack between the party proper and the tea party. "Cantor would do his moderate thing on immigration and then be Mr. Tough Conservative on Iran," said a congressional aide. Some of his so-called moderate moves were murked up by rumors of secret deals on issues the base viewed as a threat. The issues on which he was hard-line were often on foreign affairs, at a time when many Republicans feel the nation is still healing from old military wounds.  
Get over the idea that TV ads are everything. Who learns from them? Who's impressed? Especially when they're dumb and leaden. Consultants would rather sit around writing ads than fight the ground campaign. Ads are something palpable they can show when they hustle their next client. The Cantor campaign should have focused on grass-roots organizing and knocking on doors. "The conversations you have on somebody's doorstep are a constant feedback machine," said the old hand. They tell you when you're in trouble.
Mr. Cantor faced only one challenger, who benefited from all dissatisfaction. The challenger was a credible person who did not have to lose time explaining he wasn't a witch or what legitimate rape is. College professor David Brat presented himself as a man who cares about issues as opposed to a man who handles them.
The morning after his victory Chuck Todd, on MSNBC, went for his throat. Would you arm the Syrian rebels? Are you for the minimum wage? Are you open to big free-trade agreements? "Do you consider yourself an interventionist or an isolationist?"—as if those are the choices. Mr. Brat was surprised, wobbled, recovered somewhat, said almost sadly that he was told to expect an interview about his victory. Welcome to the NFL, as they used to say.
But Mr. Todd's questioning showed two things. One is what a low bar Mr. Brat had to pass to beat Mr. Cantor. He hadn't been grilled on these things? And it offered insight into how Democratic operatives will go at Mr. Brat as they try to win the seat in November. The district is safely Republican, as everyone knows. But on Monday it was safe Cantor Country. Life is full of surprise.
Can Mr. Brat be painted as radical or out of his depth? Will Democrats do everything they can to beat him? If so, will the Republican establishment come roaring to his side? Or will they perhaps go through the motions and let the tea party learn a lesson?

Republicans come out of the 2014 primary season with little to guide them forward

Karen Tumulty Dan Balz write in The Washington Post:

The 2014 primary season, while leaving the Republicans in good shape for the fall elections against the Democrats, has done little to quiet their internal turmoil or to provide a winning formula going forward.

As Republicans struggle to understand the electoral earthquake that cost House Majority Leader Eric Cantor his suburban Richmond seat Tuesday, the party confronts a paradox: It is dominated more by conservatives than at any time in memory and yet riven with divisions, including over issues that barely registered even two years ago.

That presents a tricky challenge to those who are seeking the 2016 GOP nomination in a presidential primary where there will be splits over immigration, trade, the government’s role in education, and foreign policy, among other topics.

Internal battles have been waged over issues as large as whether to provide a path to citizenship for people who have entered the country illegally and the Common Core standards for schools to smaller, more symbolic ones, such as whether to eliminate the Export-Import Bank. The dynamics of the issues and the coalitions around them are shifting so rapidly that what looks like a safe position today could be a lethal one by the time the Iowa caucuses roll around.

The dissonance was on display over the weekend at two events where the party’s potential 2016 contenders were out in force.

At the GOP state convention in Iowa, former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who won the 2012 caucuses, was sounding the populist theme that has been at the center of his message this year.

“Years ago, when I was growing up, the Republican Party was the country club set, it was the corporate set. It was the 1 percent,” Santorum told the gathering. “If you look at the surveys right now, those folks aren’t voting Republican anymore, ladies and gentlemen. The 1 percent are not Republicans, by and large.”

But, Santorum lamented, “our message is all about corporatism and business.”

That this is a problem would have come as a surprise in tony Park City, Utah, where 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney was holding a schmoozefest at which his biggest donors mingled with at least a half-dozen of the figures being talked about as prospective 2016 candidates.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee offered the well-heeled GOP establishment an affirmation. “This nonsense going around about how we’ve got to be apologetic about people having done well is crazy,” he said.

Hard to be ‘safe’ on all issues

One thing is becoming clear: Having it both ways on anything is becoming more and more difficult in the Republican Party.

“It is going to be very hard to game that out, for a candidate to be safe on all those issues,” said Lanhee Chen, who was policy director for Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and corporate establishment favorite who had to battle a series of upstart challengers on his way to the 2012 nomination.

“They’re all going to have some explaining to do,” added former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who was an early casualty in the battle for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. “We have seen that happen every cycle before, and each time it gets a little tougher.”

The party is more consistently to the right today than it has been in modern times, certainly more than it was in Ronald Reagan’s days. The Gallup poll has about 70 percent of Republicans identifying themselves as conservative.

But arising within that broad worldview are an increasing number of policy trip wires — separating the corporate-friendly establishment branch of the party from the passionate tea party faction, the stalwart social conservatives from the ascendant libertarians.

No prospective presidential candidate fits comfortably into all of those worlds, said Matthew Dowd, who was a top strategist for George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.

He cited such disparate figures as firebrand tea party champion Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whom many in the establishment are yearning to see run.

“Every one of them has elements of it, but nobody has a unifying message,” Dowd said.

And just because Republicans often sound alike doesn’t mean they act alike, argues Chris Chocola, president of the fiscally conservative group Club for Growth.

“They all say the same thing,” favoring limited government and less debt, Chocola said. “The problem is, only a few of them actually do that.”

Indeed, many of the biggest fights in Congress in recent years have been among Republicans — over agriculture and highway bills, disaster relief, taxes, earmarks, export subsidies, trade, automatic spending cuts and the debt ceiling. What grass-roots activists often see as betrayal, establishment Republicans portray as the realities of governing.

Passing the authenticity test

All of this is being played out against the party’s effort to find its footing and its identity in time to prevent the 2016 presidential election from becoming the third in a row in which the Republicans fail to win the White House.

So how is the message of Cantor’s defeat by a tea party upstart, Dave Brat, to be reconciled with the ease with which Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) received a total of 56 percent of the vote against six such challengers?

Immigration played a role in both races, and Cantor and Graham were both accused of advocating amnesty for those who have entered the country illegally.

But while Graham campaigned aggressively for a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, Cantor sent mixed signals, which left neither side convinced he was with them.

“It’s a matter for candidates of all ideological stripes and flavors being able to arrive at an intellectually honest position that you can articulate and defend and lean into the headwind,” said Ralph Reed, the veteran strategist who now runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which seeks to mobilize conservative Christians.

Chocola’s group has spent heavily trying to beat incumbents who stray from its conservative positions on fiscal issues.

Two years ago, he said Graham was at the top of his group’s target list for 2014. But Club for Growth did not end up spending money in the race.

“Candidate quality matters,” Chocola said. “Someone who can talk about their beliefs in an authentic and compelling way. Whether people agree with them or not, they give them a lot of credit” if they make the case for what they believe.

Topics dividing the party

While the immigration battle has been raging for years, there are a host of other flash points within the Republican Party, some of them arising only recently.

The GOP’s national leaders are generally close to business interests, for example, but both libertarians and tea party activists are suspicious of them.

“I will fight to end crony capitalist programs that benefit the rich and powerful,” said Brat, the Randolph-Macon College economics professor who upended the political world Tuesday by beating Cantor.

That was not only a shot against the big Wall Street bailouts that spawned the tea party movement, but also a sign of battles ahead on more esoteric questions, such as whether the federal government should continue to subsidize exporters such as Boeing through the Export-Import Bank.

Also coming to the fore this primary season — and dividing the various Republican factions — are the educational standards known as Common Core that have been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia.

Among Common Core’s champions have been a number of current and former Republican governors mulling presidential bids, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Florida’s Bush.

Meanwhile, Paul and Cruz have joined efforts to do away with federal funding that supports Common Core. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whom many Republicans now view with suspicion for his role in passing a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate, has also joined the chorus against Common Core.

And then there is the question of how to balance privacy concerns against protecting national security — an issue that barely registered before the revelations of how extensively the National Security Agency was conducting surveillance. Those disclosures have pitted party traditionalists who favor a muscular national security infrastructure against libertarians, and many tea party groups, who mistrust that kind of framework as another manifestation of big government.

Finding common ground

Another new, unpredictable element is the increasing influence of the libertarian movement, say many senior Republicans.

It has infused the party with energy and has genuine appeal for many young people but has also interjected into the dialogue propositions that many traditional Republican activists reject, such as drug legalization.

“The story right now isn’t about the tea party. It’s about the party at the grass-roots level becoming more libertarian,” Pawlenty said.

“There is a loud libertarian faction,” agreed South Carolina strategist Katon Dawson. “Libertarianism has moved into the Republican Party and is trying to hijack it.”

But David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, insisted that social issues aside, there is far more common ground than conflict in the GOP.

“I think the Republican Party is more uniformly anti-big-government than it was before, and that is not the same thing as conservative,” Boaz said. “It is more anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-Washington, which in a sense is where conservatism and libertarian views overlap.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who made a private presentation at the Romney gathering, also argued for a narrower focus.

“You can have different points of view on some of these specific issues as long as you stay with the core of the Republican Party, which continues to be the economic issues and the fiscal issues,” Portman said. “It’s what we tend to build our big tent around.”

ISIS, with gains in Iraq, closes in on founder Zarqawi’s violent vision: Creating an Islamic state controlled by jihadists and erasing the Western-imposed boundary lines that divide the Middle East into nation-states (and thus undoing the ­Sykes-Picot accord, signed secretly by Britain and France in 1916 as a basis for carving up the region).

From The Washington Post:

On the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, a 36-year-old Jordanian who called himself “the Stranger” slipped into the suburbs of Baghdad armed with a few weapons, bags of cash and an audacious plan for starting a war he hoped would unite Sunni Muslims across the Middle East.

The tattooed ex-convict and high school dropout had few followers and scant ties to the local population. Yet, the Stranger — soon to be known widely as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — quickly rallied thousands of Iraqis and foreign fighters to his cause. He launched spectacular suicide bombings and gruesome executions targeting Americans, Shiites and others he saw as obstacles to his vision for a Sunni caliphate stretching from Syria to the Persian Gulf.

Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006, but the organization he founded is again on the march. In just a week, his group — formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq and now called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — has seized cities and towns across western and northern Iraq at a pace that might have astonished Zarqawi himself. Already in control of large swaths of eastern Syria, the group’s black-clad warriors appear to have taken a leap toward realizing Zarqawi’s dream of an extremist Sunni enclave across the region.

It is unclear whether ISIS’s gains will last or whether the Sunni tribesmen who apparently aided the jihadists will submit to living under the group’s harsh brand of Islamic law. Either way, U.S. and Middle East officials say the group’s achievements are both remarkable and alarming, displaying the same mix of audacity, cunning and political skill that made Zarqawi such a fearsome opponent a decade ago.

Counterterrorism officials who tried to defeat the group during the Zarqawi era expressed begrudging respect for ISIS’s ability to recover from virtual extinction in the years after his death. The current leader, a former Iraqi teacher known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, managed to find new purpose in the Syrian conflict and renewed strength in the lawless regions of eastern Syria and western Iraq, where his fighters could train and plan without interference from U.S. and other Western military forces.

“They get sick, but they never die,” said a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official who has closely tracked the fast-moving developments in Iraq.

The official, who insisted that his name and nationality not be revealed in discussing his country’s intelligence assessments, said ISIS’s astonishing recent gains were mostly due to skillfully forged alliances with Sunni tribal leaders, with the group exploiting widespread resentment toward the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

“They all share the same hatred for the ruling regime,” said the official, citing examples of Iraqi Sunni collusion in ISIS’s sweep through Mosul, Tikrit and other Iraqi cities. “It would not be possible for a group like [ISIS] to control so much territory on its own. They are getting a lot of help from the sons of the tribes.”

So far, at least, ISIS has managed to avoid alienating its natural Sunni allies the way Zarqawi famously did. The Jordanian’s indiscriminate and unflinchingly brutal attacks on Iraqi civilians helped give rise to the Sunni backlash known as the Anbar Awakening, in which tribal sheiks withdrew their support from Zarqawi and actively helped U.S. forces find and destroy his operatives.

Even veterans of the Awakening seem more willing to give ISIS a chance. Zaydan Aljabri, an Iraqi tribal sheik from Anbar province, said he thinks ISIS has learned from the mistakes of the Zarqawi era and is now truly committed to defending Sunnis against a Baghdad government he sees as corrupt and repressive.

“If al-Baghdadi asked for my allegiance, I would give it to him, because what he is doing is what I want,” Aljabri said in an interview. “Right now, my priority is liberating the Sunnis, and that’s why he has been fighting for these last six months.”

Aljabri said Anbar’s Sunnis believe they can manage ISIS and prevent it from imposing the kind of harsh Islamic law that tarnished the group’s image in parts of Syria it controls.

“We are an Islamic country, but we want to be a developed country, to be part of the world,” he said. “Al-Baghdadi will not dare try to impose [sharia] law in Iraq, because he knows the tribes will not tolerate it.”

Conflicting signals in Syria

ISIS’s record in Syria offers conflicting signals on how it would seek to administer newly captured cities in Iraq. Baghdadi has repeatedly insisted that his group has learned from its past errors, and his lieutenants in Syria have tried to portray themselves as committed to improving social welfare. The group’s propaganda wing frequently posts videos of ISIS soldiers passing out food and blankets or clearing trash from Syrian streets.

But ISIS’s social-media sites are also filled with graphic images of Islamists carrying out public executions and amputations on suspected lawbreakers and ­beheading and mutilating pro-govern­ment fighters — and even members of rival militia groups. Already, in Mosul, ISIS has issued a new charter spelling out the creation of an Islamic state, along with strict new laws.

ISIS, meanwhile, has continued its campaign of attacks on Iraqi Shiite civilians, routinely bombing Iraqi markets, bus stops and schools.

The group’s embrace of extreme violence has drawn condemnation from al-Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who assumed command of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden’s death, last year ordered ISIS to disband and leave Syria, and his organization issued a statement in February publicly disavowing ISIS. Zawahiri has embraced a rival Islamist rebel group, Jabhat al-Nusra, created in 2012 by a former deputy of Baghdadi’s.

Strikingly, the same divisions over tactics and ideology have been present since the earliest days. Zarqawi used graphic violence as a calling card, embracing brutal tactics that, while repulsive to most people, also made him an icon and hero — a fearless warrior who exacted painful revenge for the decades of humiliations and defeats borne by Muslims.

“Zarqawi loved the limelight, and his was an easy face to hate,” said former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, a counterterrorism expert who has written extensively about the Jordanian and his legacy. “But the fact was that an easy face for us to hate made him attractive to so many other people.”

Born as Ahmad Fadeel al-Khalayleh in the gritty Jordanian city of Zarqa, the movement’s founder gained a reputation as a brawler and a thug before discovering Islam in his early 20s. When he was 24, he left Jordan in what became the first of two life-changing events: a stint fighting communist forces in Afghanistan, followed by five years of incarceration in Jordan for his role in a foiled terrorist plot by local jihadis. He emerged from prison in 1999 as a hardened and committed Islamist with a cadre of disciples eager to follow him.

He returned to Afghanistan after his release from prison, but, distrusted by bin Laden, he established his own training camp in the western Afghan city of Herat, hundreds of miles from bin Laden’s base at Kandahar. In late 2001, when U.S. warplanes began bombing Taliban strongholds throughout Afghanistan, he sought refuge in the rugged mountains of northeastern Iraq, in a Kurdish region regarded as beyond the reach of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. There, he briefly joined forces with Kurdish militants and began a series of crude, unsuccessful attempts to create weapons from common poisons such as cyanide.

Zarqawi’s Iraqi camp eventually attracted the attention of the George W. Bush administration, which made Zarqawi a central pillar of its effort to link Hussein to al-Qaeda. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell mentioned Zarqawi 20 times in his Feb. 5, 2003, speech before the United Nations making the case for war against Iraq. Famous almost overnight, Zarqawi began receiving cash and support from sympathizers from Europe to Central Asia.

The administration’s allegations of operational ties between Zarqawi and Hussein’s forces proved to be false. But Zarqawi did use his Iraqi sanctuary to prepare for what he believed would be the ultimate confrontation between the Islamists and the United States. Within weeks of the U.S. invasion, he had established connections with Iraqi opponents of the occupation, as well as a Syrian network for delivering cash, weapons and volunteers into western Iraq.

Six months after the U.S. invasion, he launched a series of spectacular car bombings that became his signature, targeting in quick succession an embassy, a Shiite mosque and the local headquarters of the United Nations. Scores were killed, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the popular head of the U.N. mission to Iraq.

“It was a brilliant strategy,” said Riedel, the former CIA analyst. “By attacking the U.N., he drove out all the nongovernmental organizations and discouraged anyone from opening an embassy. Then he went after the ­Shia-Sunni fault line with attacks on the Shiite mosques. So first he isolated us in Iraq, then he put us in the midst of a civil war.”

The Jordanian also would seek to strike fear into Americans and other Westerners in Iraq with a series of kidnappings and videotaped beheadings. The first victim, Pennsylvania businessman Nicholas Berg, was butchered on camera by a hooded Islamist that CIA officers later confirmed was Zarqawi himself.

His soaring profile eventually compelled al-Qaeda to formally induct him into its network. Bin Laden personally declared Zarqawi to be the “emir of ­al-Qaeda in the Country of the Two Rivers” and ordered jihadists in Iraq to obey him. Still, senior al-Qaeda leaders would privately scold the Jordanian over his indiscriminate killings of civilians.

“Let us not merely be people of killing, slaughter, blood, cursing, insult and harshness,” one of bin Laden’s deputies wrote in a letter to Zarqawi in late 2005.

But the Jordanian shrugged off the warnings, predicting that his signature attacks against Shiite civilians were necessary to prod Sunni Muslims into joining a war for their own liberation. “If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis, as they feel imminent danger,” Zarqawi wrote to bin Laden in a 2004 letter intercepted by Western intelligence agencies.
After Zarqawi

Zarqawi was killed on June 7, 2006, after an intensive intelligence operation tracked him to a safe house north of Baghdad where he was meeting with his spiritual adviser. A U.S. warplane dropped a pair of guided bombs on the building, destroying it. Zarqawi was pulled alive from the rubble but died minutes later.

His death prompted a re-branding of the group — which became known as the Islamic State of Iraq — but it slowly weakened under relentless pressure from U.S. intelligence and Special Operations forces and the rejectionist Awakening movement. But Baghdadi, who emerged as the group’s leader in 2010, saw in the Syrian civil war as an opportunity to reclaim legitimacy among Sunni Muslims. The group was renamed yet again, as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and it soon surpassed other Islamist rebel militias in seizing territory and drawing foreign recruits.

ISIS moved aggressively into Iraq early this year by seizing control of Fallujah and other towns in the Sunni heartland. Factoring in the additional gains in the past week, the group now controls a swath of land stretching from northern Syria to central Iraq. Some who study Islamist militants see ISIS as on the cusp of an achievement sought by Zarqawi a decade ago: erasing the Western-imposed boundary lines that divide the Middle East into nation-states.

Zarqawi repeatedly boasted that he would undo the ­Sykes-Picot accord, signed secretly by Britain and France in 1916 as a basis for carving up the region, said Hassan Abu Hanieh, a Jordanian author and researcher of Islamist movements who knew Zarqawi during his years in Jordan.

These [captured] territories already amount to an Islamic state,” Hanieh said. “In effect, they have canceled Sykes-Picot. The jihadists are there now, whether we like it or not.”

Friday, June 13, 2014

For Obama, Iraq looms large again

From The Washington Post:

President Obama inherited two wars on taking office, one he called “dumb” to his political benefit and the other he described more urgently as “the war we need to win.”

It is the dumb one today that poses the most immediate challenge to his national security priorities and to his foreign policy legacy.

Iraq is splintering, and with it both the original neo-conservative belief that a sectarian dictatorship could be made quickly into a stable democracy and Obama’s hands-off approach to the wider region.
The Islamist insurgents now seizing cities across Iraq’s battered north grew up in Syria, whose civil war Obama has steadfastly avoided despite the grave risks it poses to the region’s delicate stability.

Those threats of a wider regional war have been given shape. In recent days, armed Islamists spanning the Syrian border have seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and a string of Sunni Muslim towns, long estranged from the Shiite-led central government, that run south to the edge of Baghdad. Turkey and Iran may intervene to protect their political and security interests, and Iraq’s Kurds have moved into the long-contested city of Kirkuk, which was abandoned by the Iraqi army.

Now a president elected to end the United States’ wars faces demands, in Washington and in Baghdad, to rejoin the one he long condemned and had thought was over. The expected line of his presidential legacy — Obama as the commander in chief who brought to a close the nation’s post-Sept. 11, 2001, conflicts — is threatened now to include an asterisk.

“My team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them,” Obama said Thursday in an Oval Office appearance with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. “I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.”

How the United States ends its wars, those that have followed the Sept. 11 attacks and defined a decade of U.S. foreign policy, has been a point of debate in recent days.

Within months, the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan is scheduled to end, bringing to an official close the United States’ longest war, even if several thousand troops will remain. Obama’s controversial decision this month to trade a group of Taliban detainees for captured U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was framed as part of an unsatisfying end-of-war process.

But it is how Obama ended the Iraq war 21 / 2 years ago — and the decisions he has made since then to avoid new conflicts — that has been revived with the most sustained period of organized violence in Iraq since the U.S. departure.

The Obama administration has stepped up shipments of military hardware to Iraq in recent months, including assault rifles, transport helicopters and other equipment.

How Obama will decide now on Iraqi requests for more direct assistance, including U.S. airstrikes, may have an effect not only on the insurgents’ advance but also on the prospects for Obama’s party in the midterm elections in November.

“Should American men and women be fighting in Iraq today and is that the right decision for our national security interests?” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said to reporters Thursday, a message that resonates with a war-weary public being challenged to welcome home its veterans with understanding and employment.

“We cannot have U.S. forces around the world in armed conflicts without end — it’s simply not a wise approach to our national security interests,” Carney said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that what is transpiring in Iraq represents a “colossal failure of American security policy.”

The popularity of Obama’s management of foreign policy — an area of political strength in his first term — has declined in recent years.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted this month — after Obama’s confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine and worsening civil strife in Syria — found that 41 percent of Americans support his foreign policy. The figure is five percentage points below his overall job-approval rating.

For the White House, the problem in such numbers is that, judged issue by issue, a majority of Americans consistently approve of the policies Obama has carried out overseas. The low rating in many ways suggests an overall lack of faith that he is effectively projecting U.S. leadership abroad.

What is certainly true is that Obama is in line with public opinion when it comes to war, which renders any decision to engage directly again in Iraq, the most politically fraught U.S. conflict since Vietnam, even more difficult to make in an election year.

A majority of Americans turned against the Iraq war several years ago, responding in surveys then that the war was no longer worth fighting. A Post-ABC News poll in March 2013 found that only 38 percent of respondents thought the war was worth its costs.

For the United States, the Iraq war has been over since the end of 2011, when Obama, fulfilling a campaign pledge, withdrew all U.S. forces after nine years of combat.

He had been unable to secure an agreement with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite leader close to Iran, to grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution beyond the end of that year. The result made leaving behind any U.S. forces impossible — and it was, in many ways, exactly the result the White House wanted.

Many conservatives, politically invested since the George W. Bush administration in a successful outcome in Iraq, criticized the president for a precipitous departure. But the public welcomed the move. A Post-ABC News poll at the time found that 78 percent of respondents supported the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops.

Administration officials at the time celebrated advances of the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces, saying that violence had declined sharply nationwide since they had taken the lead. On the battlefield today, those security forces are abandoning posts across the north, from Tikrit to Kirkuk.

In announcing the full troop withdrawal, Obama hedged against future days of car bombings, sectarian attacks and political strife. He warned that “there will be some difficult days ahead for Iraq.”

“And the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant,” he said.

Obama’s commitment to those interests is being tested now.

In a commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., last month, he defended his record in office, calling the United States stronger than ever before and his critics out-of-step advocates of more war.

At the time, he announced a $5 billion fund to assist other countries in combating terrorism, an idea he underscored again Thursday in the case of Iraq.

“We’re not going to be able to be everywhere all the time, but what we can do is to make sure that we are consistently helping to finance, train, advise military forces with partner countries, including Iraq, that have the capacity to maintain their own security,” Obama said. “And that is a long and laborious process, but it’s one that we need to get started.”

Whether a left-behind contingent of American troops would have prevented the crisis is unclear, and Carney said Thursday that no U.S. ground forces will be deployed to Iraq.

In his remarks, Obama urged Maliki and Iraq’s other sectarian leaders to come together against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, overcoming years of political deadlock and conflict to hold off an al-Qaeda affiliate metastasizing in the heart of the Middle East.

“It’s fair to say that in our consultations with the Iraqis there will be some short-term, immediate things that need to be done militarily, and our national security team is looking at all the options,” Obama said. “But this should be also a wake-up call for the Iraqi government.”

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hispanics have been steadily growing as a share of the electorate, from just 1% in 1976 to 10% in 2012.

From The Wall Streeet Journal:

Hispanics have been steadily growing as a share of the electorate, from just 1% in 1976 to 10% in 2012. That year, Republican Mitt Romney performed better with white voters than any presidential candidate in the history of exit polls, but he lost because whites made up just 72% of the electorate and because he did so poorly with minority groups.

Eric Cantor's Focus on D.C. Led to His Virginia Defeat - Lack of Personal Appeal in Home District Gave Tea-Party Challenger an Opening

From The Wall Street Journal:

 Majority Leader Eric Cantor never seemed to believe an underfunded tea-party insurgent could topple a congressman in line to become the next speaker of the House.

Mr. Cantor didn't ignore his Republican primary back in Virginia; on the contrary, his campaign blanketed the Richmond airwaves with negative ads branding his conservative opponent, David Brat, as a "liberal college professor." But Mr. Cantor, according to many voters here, never made personal appeals back home to show constituents that their concerns were his own.
Joe Lacy, owner of Lacy's Home Center, a hardware store in Goochland Courthouse, a community in Mr. Cantor's district, said that Mr. Brat didn't win the race—instead, Mr. Cantor lost it. "The local people got tired of him," he said.
"What happened is exactly what should have happened," said James McCready, who works at Brothers N Arms gun store here. "Eric went to Washington and drank the Kool-Aid."
Mr. Cantor, for his part, noted that he was in his home district every weekend. "There's a balance between holding a leadership position and serving constituents," he said Wednesday. "But never was there a day I did not put the constituents of the seventh district" first.

Still, Mr. Cantor appears to have overestimated his power and standing in his community. He waved off last-minute help from outside groups, including the well-funded U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He even spent the early part of the week in Washington, focused on the House leadership position that earned him a national profile, rather than campaigning in Richmond.

In that way, his loss has much in common with the story of other incumbents ousted in recent years. But Mr. Cantor appears to have made some unique missteps, especially with the local tea party in his district.

Other GOP incumbents this year have courted tea-party groups, or at least taken steps not to antagonize them. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a top target of conservative activists, took pains to travel his home state of Kentucky with Sen. Rand Paul, a tea-party icon. Mr. McConnell handily defeated a tea-party-aligned challenger last month.

Mr. Cantor, by contrast, picked fights with conservative activists. His allies organized a statewide effort to remove tea-party supporters from various committees throughout Virginia.

The plan failed, and the activists eventually ousted Mr. Cantor's handpicked district chairman. The move against the tea party, coupled with the wave of negative advertising by Mr. Cantor's campaign, only motivated his critics to send him packing.

"There was major discontent with Eric Cantor," said Jamie Radtke, a leading figure in Virginia tea-party circles who ran for Senate in 2012. She said Mr. Cantor didn't just show "disinterest with what voters thought and felt; it was an animosity for the people he represents."

Mr. Cantor's loss runs counter to the prevailing 2014 Washington narrative in which most Republicans facing a primary fight were able to easily dispatch those challengers, as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham did on Tuesday night despite his role as a lead author of the Senate immigration bill.

Other Republicans still facing races, such as Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Pat Roberts of Kansas, have spent the better part of a year preparing for their primaries, and outside operatives expect both to be safe, even after Mr. Cantor's loss. "I don't believe the circumstances we saw in Virginia are going to be replicated in any other Senate races," said Brian Walsh, a former aide to the GOP's main Senate campaign arm.

While most Republicans said Mr. Cantor's demanding role in Washington contributed in large measure to his loss, there were other issues. For example, no policy fight played a more prominent role in the campaign than immigration. Mr. Brat repeatedly hammered the majority leader for supporting legislation to grant citizenship to people who came to the U.S. illegally as children. The issue animates many conservative voters, who tend to be the most likely to vote in primary elections.

Another factor was a redrawn district, giving Mr. Cantor additional Republican-leaning communities that ended up being where Mr. Brat attracted many of his votes.

Some speculation also emerged that Democrats seeking to topple the No. 2 House Republican may have taken advantage of Virginia's open primary system and voted for Mr. Brat in the GOP primary. But a review of precinct turnout by Michael McDonald, an associate professor at George Mason University, found little evidence to support that premise.

As the primary approached, the Cantor campaign bristled at suggestions the race would result in anything but a blowout for the majority leader. On Election Day, Mr. Cantor's staff viewed the strong turnout as a positive sign, assuming their multimillion-dollar primary campaign had paid off by drowning out Mr. Brat, who raised just $231,000 for his bid. Turnout rose by 38% from 2012, or nearly 18,000 voters.

What they could never fathom was how many of those voters turned out to defeat him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sums it up pretty good: Cantor’s Loss a Bad Omen for Moderates

From The New York Times:

The House Republican leadership, so solid in its opposition to President Obama, was torn apart Tuesday by the defeat of its most influential conservative voice, Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader. His demise will reverberate all the way to the speaker’s chair, pull the top echelons of the House even further to the right and most likely doom any ambitious legislation, possibly through the next presidential election.
Conservatives who have helped fuel some of the most contentious showdowns over the last three years on issues such as immigration and raising the federal debt ceiling are likely to be emboldened by Mr. Cantor’s shocking loss as they seek to replace him with someone even more closely aligned with their views.
Further, House Republicans began to immediately plot a new leadership structure that before Tuesday night had hinged merely
One measure of the extraordinary defeat could be seen in the candidate’s finances. Since the beginning of last year, Mr. Cantor’s campaign had spent about $168,637 at steakhouses compared with the $200,000 his challenger, David Brat, had spent on his entire campaign. With Mr. Cantor out, members from solidly Republican states will almost certainly be vying for one of the top jobs, if not Mr. Boehner’s gavel. The current Republican leadership slate is filled with members from swing states where the pressure to moderate views on topics such as immigration looms.
Conservatives who were part of some of the recent showdowns now see potential spoils: Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, for example, has been laying the groundwork for the last several weeks to slide into an open slot should Mr. Boehner retire and, it was assumed, Mr. Cantor take his spot.
While the most conservative members saw immediate validation in Mr. Cantor’s defeat, more conciliatory members saw deep trouble ahead. A chastened House leadership will struggle to do the most basic functions of governance — increasing the debt limit, funding the government and passing routine bills — further alienating Congress with the middle of the electorate, said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. Mr. Cantor’s defeat will put an immigration overhaul even further out of reach, something that would hurt Republicans in the next presidential election when they will need to cut into the Democrats’ lead with immigrant and Latino voters.
“The results tonight will move the party further to the right, which will marginalize us further as a national party,” Mr. King said.
The message from the most conservative primary voters was that even Mr. Cantor, who fashioned himself as the tip of the Tea Party’s spear, was not safe. His position in favor of a modest relaxation of immigration law became the rallying cry for the right.

And in a year when the Republican establishment was supposed to finally conquer its Tea Party wing, the upstarts wound up with perhaps the biggest victory of any primary season.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

This will be the "Dewey Wins" equivalent: Immigration's Primary Effect Muted

From The Wall Street Journal on 6-8-2014, and then come Cantor's loss to Brat on Tuesday.  Wow!!

Sen. Lindsey Graham appeared to put himself in political jeopardy when he wrote and championed an overhaul of immigration laws, but he is poised to lap the field in Tuesday's Republican primary in South Carolina. GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who also backed the bill, is in a strong position ahead of his primary this August.

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R., N.C.) easily survived a primary challenge after backing liberalized laws. And Tim Donnelly, a leader in the movement to stop illegal immigration, lost to another Republican this month in California's open primary for governor.
Opposition to an immigration-law overhaul remains high within the Republican Party, but primary season is showing that support isn't necessarily a career-ending move, nor is opposition a clear path to the nomination. That could factor into the decision by House GOP leaders on whether to move broad immigration legislation this year.
"So far, being against immigration reform is not the ticket to victory that a lot of the proponents of that point of view seemed to think that it was," said GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who advises Mr. Graham's campaign and supports an immigration overhaul. He described opponents of the Senate legislation as "an intense" minority.
Standing against liberalized laws is still a powerful stance in some races. Many Republicans have avoided taking a clear stand, partly because of the perceived political consequences. That complicates the question of which side in the immigration debate may be drawing momentum from the primaries.
The Senate bill backed by Messrs. Graham and Alexander would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a provision that opponents attack as a form of amnesty for people who broke U.S. law. The bill also includes enforcement measures and changes to the legal immigration system.
So far, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) hasn't brought any immigration bills to the House floor, allowing his members to avoid taking a position. It isn't clear whether the results of primary races to date will help persuade Mr. Boehner and other House leaders to move legislation this summer, as the White House and others are hoping. Defeats of Republicans who back new legislation surely would have hurt the measures' chances.
In some races, the issue still packs power. In the Texas GOP primary for lieutenant governor, for instance, challenger Dan Patrick beat incumbent David Dewhurst after a campaign focused heavily on illegal immigration, in which Mr. Patrick repeatedly described the influx of undocumented Mexicans as an "illegal invasion."
But elsewhere, the issue has proved ineffective. In North Carolina, Ms. Ellmers was attacked relentlessly by her GOP primary opponent, Frank Roche, for supporting legal status for undocumented residents, but she won with about 59% of the vote.
In California, Republican Neel Kashkari defeated Mr. Donnelly, who made his name as a Minuteman, a group that believes the U.S. hasn't done enough to secure the border, and an anti-immigration crusader who put the issue at the center of his campaign.
In the final days of the Nebraska Senate primary campaign, Republican Shane Osborn tried to resuscitate his struggling campaign by saying opponent Ben Sasse was not sufficiently conservative on immigration. It didn't work.
Seventy-five Republicans have signed a pledge sponsored by the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform, vowing to oppose "amnesty" for illegal immigrants as well as increases in legal immigration and guest workers. Just two of them, both incumbents, have beaten opponents who didn't sign it. Nearly 40 others lost, two ran unopposed and the rest are in primaries that haven't yet occurred.
Dan Stein, president of the FAIR Congressional Task Force, said pledge signers have lost because they were outspent by establishment Republicans. "The purpose of the questionnaire is to inject the issue into the discussion in an environment where the leadership of both parties is trying to censor debate over immigration policy," he said.
The immigration issue has been hotly debated in South Carolina, where Mr. Graham has drawn a half-dozen primary challengers, some of whom are making immigration the leading point of their attacks.
A poll last week by Clemson University found Mr. Graham with support of 49% of likely primary voters, with his nearest competitor, state Sen. Lee Bright, at just 9%. About one-third of voters were undecided—good news for Mr. Graham as he tries to top the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
Mr. Graham has moved to insulate himself with conservatives by taking a hard line on issues other than immigration. Last week, he suggested that President Barack Obama be impeached if he again releases prisoners from Guantanamo Bay without consulting Congress, as required.
In a debate Saturday night, his opponents took turns attacking his record on immigration. "If you did not support amnesty," Mr. Bright told him, "we wouldn't be here tonight."
Mr. Graham defended his views on immigration and his approach to his job. "What is in it for a Republican in South Carolina to be talking about this issue? Not much," he said. But he said the problems with the nation's immigration system were severe. "My goal is to fix it once and for all."