Friday, August 16, 2013

Last Call For State Of De Nile

It's difficult for me to agree with Reuters columnist David Rohde here:  it's time for Washington to pull the plug on Egyptian military aid after this week's massacre for sure, but it's not a failed foreign policy approach from the Obama administration that's responsible for the Middle East mess over the last 12 months, either.

Tepid rationalizations that the United States has “limited leverage” in Egypt or that the Arab Spring is “failing” do not change a basic fact: An U.S.-funded “ally” has carried out one of the largest massacres of protesters in a decade.

It is time for Obama to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt. Ending assistance will not curb the behavior of Egypt’s increasingly autocratic military ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Nor will it ease that country’s political divide or reduce ant-Americanism. But it will say that the United States actually stands for basic international principals.

And if Rohde had stopped here, we'd be in agreement.  Of course, blaming President Obama then becomes just as much of a copout as Rohde accuses Obama of taking.

Wednesday’s killings and events in the Middle East over the last few weeks point to an alarming trend for the Obama White House: Its drone and surveillance-centric approach to counterterrorism is failing. A grim reality is emerging for Americans. The George W. Bush invasion-centric approach to countering militancy failed. And so is the cautious, middle of the road Obama strategy.

From massacres in Cairo to prison breaks across the region, the United States is more hated and less secure. At the same time, al Qaeda affiliates are gaining fighters, propaganda victories and recruiting tools.

The message the White House sent to young Islamists in Egypt this week was clear: What jihadists have been telling you about American hypocrisy for years is true. Democratic norms apply to everyone but you. Participating in elections is pointless. Violence is the route to power. Wherever he is hiding in the mountains of Pakistan, Ayman al Zawahiri is likely pleased.

Yeah, and this is where Rohde goes off the cliff.  The real problem here is that we've built up so much blowback in the Middle East since Reagan that taking a caution approach amounted to watching everything come back on us with explosive force, and then trying to clean up the mess.  We're blaming Obama for 35 years of ridiculous foreign policy, of which he's been in charge for 5.

The situation in the Middle East is insanely complex.  It's not "pro-Morsi vs. anti-Morsi" forces in Egypt, it's dozens of factions with multiple relationships.  Dumping it all on Obama is not only unhelpful, but wrong.  The approach we're taking is working, it's just that the problems the previous administrations put us in have been so awful, the damage will continue to reverberate for decades.

So no, this isn't Obama's fault.  He can do some things in particular, like ending Egypt's military aid.  But let's be realistic here.

House Republicans Will Never Learn

No, America, the latest House Republican scheme to take the country hostage will fail just as miserably as it did last time.

Even as their hardliners refuse to let up, senior Republicans have all but conceded that they won’t end up defunding Obamacare in a continuing resolution to keep the federal government open after the money runs out on Sept. 30. And even if they do shut down the government, top Republicans observe, it won’t actually stop Obamacare. The strategy makes little sense.

But House Republican leaders are taking so much fire from conservative advocates that they’re weighing a more dangerous gambit: taking the United States’ ability to pay its bills hostage to advance the party’s goal of disrupting and dismantling the Affordable Care Act. The country’s borrowing authority is set to expire later this fall and senior Republicans made a series of promises to their members in January that appear likely to culminate in a showdown.

GOP leaders don’t see a way to persuade their members to lift the debt ceiling without extracting ideological concessions. So a strategy they’re considering, first reported in the conservative news outlets National Review and Washington Examiner, is to pass a two-month continuing resolution to keep government funded at existing levels until, roughly, the debt limit is reached. Then they would offer a sequester replacement in exchange for delaying or defunding Obamacare in order to avoid economic disaster.

A House Republican leadership aide described this plan as an option, but cautioned TPM that no decisions have been made yet. “I do, however, expect that the President’s health care law will certainly come up — in some form or fashion — in the debt limit debate,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.

Let me repeat this for those of you who don't remember the last time:  Republicans will fold on the debt ceiling.  They will fold because the hedge fund titans and the Sheldon Adelsons and the other big money GOP donors will not allow the debt ceiling to collapse and the US to default.

These people have money, and they have access.  They will call up the Republicans and they will say "If you default on the debt and crash our economy again, I'll use what money I have left to fund your opponent."  The Republicans will listen very, very closely when that happens.

And just like last year, they will fold.

...on the other hand, Steve Benen has a point:  Orange Julius is the most incompetent House Speaker in modern American history, and Republicans are 100% sure any economic damage cause by messing with the debt ceiling will be perceived as wholly Obama's fault.

So they will fold...the question is after how long, and how much damage will it cause in the meantime?

Unskewed All The Way To Disaster

So we know that in 2012, conservative polling groups had a, shall we say, tenuous relationship with reality.  The question now becomes if Republicans are willing to buy the results of another poll, this time from GOP SuperPAC Heritage Action for America, and its advice that conservatives should shut down the government.

Heritage Action for America – one of the conservative groups leading the charge to pressure Republican lawmakers against voting to continue government spending unless they can defund President Barack Obama’s health care law – said its new poll of likely voters in 10 relatively competitive congressional districts showed that forcing such a shutdown would not be fatal for the GOP in 2014.

The fight over whether to shut down the government in this fall's battle over spending for the next fiscal year and relent somewhat on the implementation of Obamacare reflects the internal strife between the party's conservatives and more pragmatic party establishment.

The poll, which was conducted by Basswood Research from Aug. 7-8, also found that 28 percent of respondents in the 10 districts would blame Republicans for a shutdown over Obamacare, while 22 percent would blame Obama himself, and 19 percent would blame Democrats in Congress. Seventeen percent of respondents would spread blame among all three groups.

The poll also found that almost 60 percent of respondents would support a “temporary slowdown in non-essential federal government operations, which still left all essential government services running" in order to extract an agreement from the president to at least slow health care reform’s implementation.

Heritage Action's pitch is simple:  shutting down the government will hurt Obama as much as it will hurt the GOP, plus it'll force the President and Democrats to abandon Obamacare.

"Americans – including 57 percent of independents in ten critical congressional districts – favor defunding Obamacare," said Michael Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action. "House Republicans should be much more concerned with the fallout of failing to defund Obamacare than with the imaginary fallout of doing so."

Heritage Action's pollster, Jon Lerner, added: "There is no present evidence that a move to defund Obamacare, and the potential of a partial government shutdown, would harm Republican prospects of holding the House majority.  In fact, the very same voters who are critical to keeping the majority – independents in potential competitive districts – hold highly negative views on Obamacare and strongly favor slowdown in implementation or outright repeal of the law."

So, if you believe that  3 out of 5 Americans want the Republicans to actually shut down the government in order to blackmail the President, then by all means guys, force that shutdown.  I'm sure that the Romney landslide in 2012 proves how reliable GOP pollsters and pundits are at testing the mood of the people...


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