Intervention or isolation?

According to Hillary Clinton, David Cameron’s historic parliamentary defeat, in which MPs voted against the government’s proposed use of British military forces against Syria in August last year, exerted some influence over the US decision to likewise pull back from strikes against the Assad regime.

Both countries, scarred by the experience of Iraq, were unable to countenance another intervention, even, as was the case in Syria, with the regime deploying chemical weapons against its detractors. Of course, domestic politics played a role both in London and Washington, however for the two nations that led the charge against Saddam in 2003, intervention, it seemed, was now off the table.

A year later and the black flags of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS), currently fluttering across lands from from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala north-east of Baghdad, have once again pushed the noxious issue of intervention to the forefront of the US foreign policy debate – a discourse that is further dividing an already fractured Republican Party, with the question of action versus non-action likely to run all the way to the 2016 election.

In recent weeks, Bush-era Republicans have been sought for comment on the arrival of “Caliph” al-Baghdadi, most notably Dick Cheney, the ageing hawk revelling in the unexpected limelight and his chance to peddle aged bluster about long-discredited “links” between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

Yet Cheney’s Punch and Judy sideshow (the former VP is routinely hit over the head by everyone from his own party to Fox News) was just a foretaste to a more bitter debate that finally blossomed this week, with the crisis in Mesopotamia pitting traditional interventionist Republicans against the party’s youthful Libertarian and isolationist flank.

The debate was mediated through rival newspaper columns penned by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Governor Rick Perry of Texas – both already limbering up for a tilt at the Republican presidential nomination and the chance to thwart the other Clinton from entering the White House 15 years after the last one left.

Writing in the Washington Post, Perry outlined a worldview in which American security is best served through muscular interventionism, a traditional perspective not far removed from the last Bush White House and indeed most Republican administrations dating back to the Sixties. In his article, the Governor attempted to paint Paul as an isolationist, a timid idealist who would prefer “accommodation” with those that would threaten the homeland rather than revert to the use of force.

On Iraq and Syria, Perry wrote that the Islamic State was a “real threat to our national security – to which Paul seems curiously blind – because any of these passport carriers can simply buy a plane ticket and show up in the United States without even a visa.” He continued: “It’s particularly chilling when you consider that one American has already carried out a suicide bombing and a terrorist-trained European allegedly killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Yet Paul still advocates inaction.”

Paul responded by allying Perry to Cheney and Bush – a member of the “let’s intervene and consider the consequences later crowd” – hawks that would honour American troops already lost in Iraq by sending in several thousand more to likely meet the same end.

Writing in Politico, Paul retorted: “I ask Governor Perry: How many Americans should send their sons or daughters to die for a foreign country — a nation the Iraqis won’t defend for themselves? How many Texan mothers and fathers will Gov. Perry ask to send their children to fight in Iraq? I will not hold my breath for an answer. If refusing to send Americans to die for a country that refuses to defend itself makes one an “isolationist,” then perhaps it’s time we finally retire that pejorative.”

Although Paul’s is the minority view within the Party, a recent poll showed that 52% of Republicans said that the US military did “too much” overseas, while the same overall percentage wanted the US to “mind its own business internationally and pay more attention to problems at home”. According to Pew, this is the highest measure of international disengagement in more than half a century, while support for US engagement overseas is currently close to an historic low. If the US is changing, it is going in the direction of the Senator from Kentucky.

Still, the historical pull for the US to try and reshape the world aboard to better serve its interests at home will be a difficult orbit from which to break, particularly as many of the same justifications for intervention – to enhance US credibility abroad and to provide reassurance to allies in the region – remain potent, particularly to those on the right.

The effectiveness of Paul being able to counter those traditional arguments will likely go a long way to shaping not only the next election but perhaps even America’s future role in the world.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

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Jimmy Carter: ‘I’m optimistic’ Obama will win 2012

Former president Jimmy Carter believes President Obama will win the 2012 election despite the woeful state of the US economy.

Referring to next year’s election, Carter said he was “optimistic” that President Obama would “fill the centre ground” mainly because the current clutch of Republican nominees had moved so far right that they would find it hard to capture “swing or even moderate Republicans”.

When questioned on Rick Perry’s use of religion within his nomination campaign, Carter, himself an evangelical who “teaches scripture every Sunday”, responded bluntly: “He’s not going to win.”

“I am a Christian but the separation of church and state is imperative in society,” he said.

Speaking to a packed Royal Festival Hall in London, the 39th President of the United States discussed issues as diverse as Israel, North Korea, his Presidency and the role of his wife, Rosalynn, who was “born next door”.

On the current crop of presidential nominees, Carter recalled how in previous elections Republican candidates moved from the centre to the right during the nomination process, then the candidate who secured the nomination spent the remainder of their campaign “moving back towards the centre”.

He also made mention of the focus on immigration, saying this was a product of “a weak economy” that gives rise to “racial prejudice”.

On the issue of Israel, Carter maintained his endorsement of a two-state solution, saying that Obama’s overtures towards the pre-1967 border earlier this year were “genuine”.

Questioned by Channel 4’s Jon Snow, Carter was particularly forthright when discussing his upbringing and how that played into his personal philosophy.

“I grew up in the culture of a black community,” said the 87-year-old. As a young man he realised that legal segregation in his home state of Georgia was not only a millstone around the neck of the black community, but “also the white community that imposed segregation”.

“I knew from the Bible white people weren’t superior,” he said.

Carter offered two reasons for what he called the “unprecedented political polarisation” currently facing the US.

Referencing the US Supreme Court’s decision to allow corporations to donate as individuals, he said this has led to a culture in which the main point of a campaign was to “defame your opponent”.

He also mentioned Fox News as a contributing factor in the rise of the political right, specifically in reference to the way the US has “lurched,” as a questioner put it, “to a direction that no one ten years ago would recognise.”

On 9/11, Carter said that the “initial US response was correct,” however the country had made several “errors” since then, most notably “George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq”.

“It was proper for the US to go into Afghanistan,” he said, but the invasion of Iraq was based on “false premises”.

On Iraq, Carter said he had “personally and privately” conveyed his reservations to Tony Blair.

Although Carter said the use of drones for killing was something he “wouldn’t have done,” he accepted that the assassination of Osama bin Laden was “justified”.

This first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Cenk Uygur on Brits, Bachmann and Barak…

Cenk Uygur is an unlikely global celebrity. Born in Turkey and raised in the US, the trained lawyer started broadcasting a satellite radio talk show called The Young Turks in 2002. By 2005, the format had developed into an online broadcast distributed on YouTube, from where it has grown to become one of the best known and most viewed offerings on the web. It currently boasts around 30 million views each month, and has received more than 500 million views in total since launch.

“I knew we had a following,” Uygur tells The Huffington Post UK, “when I got off the underground in London and heard someone shout ‘Cenk – what are you doing here?’ I’d only been in the country about an hour.”

Yet notoriety is something the 41-year-old has increasingly had to deal with. Last year, the success of Uygur’s online show caught the attention of cable news channel MSNBC, who offered the LA resident a contract to host their coveted 6pm slot. He accepted, though it proved only a brief association. After six months, Uygur was offered a lower profile time, which he refused, having been told his tone was not to the liking of executives in Washington.

Uygur’s combative style, developed for the web generation, apparently didn’t sit well with the cable news audience. So, he moved back to TYT (though he never actually left) and is now looking to expand.

“The UK is our third largest territory behind the US and Canada,” he says. “It would be great to take the show there. Maybe in the future we can expand to set up Young Turks in different regions, and the UK would definitely be a prime contender to do that. Because of the show’s global popularity, we are definitely looking to give it more of an international feel.”

Using YouTube, alongside live web streaming, has given Uygur and his fellow Turks an almost global reach.

“That’s the great thing about being online,” he says. “If you look at shows like John Stewart and The Colbert Report, they’re restricted to a channel. We are not.”

Every day, more than a million people visit the TYT channel on YouTube, for their daily fix of progressive political discourse, entrenching Cenk as a fixture in the US media landscape. And, in a country where newscasters wear their political leanings like an identity badge, Uygur is unashamedly to the left of the divide.

“I started The Young Turks as there needed to be a push back against Fox News and the other news sources, which only pushed the agenda of big corporations,” he says. “We didn’t sit down and have a meeting in which we determined the editorial or political line. We just try and present the news without all the bulls*it. The show is just a reflection of the people that make it.”

For Uygur, John Stewart, The Colbert Report, Air America on the radio, plus MSNBC’s increasingly progressive stance is all part of the same push back. “It is a fight to balance out the news so Americans aren’t just told one side of the story,” he says.

I enquire if, in the interest of balance, he ever invites conservatives on the show?

“We try and get conservatives on the show all the time,” he snaps back. “It’s great when they come on. I have nothing against conservative principles, however what’s preached by people like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News has absolutely nothing to do with conservatism.”

“You only have to look at subsidies for oil companies,” he continues, now in full flow. “These subsidies are sold by the right-wing media as an issue that fits well with conservative principles. Can there be anything less conservative than subsidies for oil companies? People like Limbaugh or companies like Fox News are paid by the corporations to push their agenda. They call it conservatism, but it’s just corporate propaganda.”

It’s the kind of vitriol that has won the Uygur fan and foe alike. It is also indicative of America’s increasingly polarised media, much of which has come to resemble two armed camps rather than members of the same profession.

It’s a situation not only certain to continue through to the 2012 election, but could well have a bearing on its outcome.

“Obama is in so much trouble right now,” says Uygur. “He’s got nine per cent unemployment… and that nine per cent is not going down anytime soon. Then there’s the downgrade of the country’s credit rating, following the ridiculous situation with the debt ceiling.”

In recent months, the TYT host has become increasingly critical of Obama and the current administration.

“If he was doing the right things, it wouldn’t be so bad,” he says, “but the President simply isn’t looking at the type of policies that will get the country out of its current mess. It”s just more tax cuts for the rich. I can honestly see Obama’s popularity figures dropping into the 30s.”

So you think Obama will lose, I ask?

“No – I’m not saying he will lose. The Republican Party could do him a favour and nominate some lunatic. That would give him a chance.”

The nomination process for the Republican Party, although underway, is far from yielding a definite candidate, with a recent CNN poll putting Ricky Perry, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann as the leading candidates in that order, with Sarah Palin yet to declare.

“People are actually talking about Michelle Bachmann as a real candidate for the Republican nomination,” he says with exasperation. “Come on… Admittedly, her figures are good right now, but she is simply not a serious candidate. Mitt Romney is more likely as is Rick Perry. I’m surprised that Mike Huckabee has ruled himself out of the race. He would mobilise the evangelical vote and could portray himself as a populist. There’s a mood in the country right now for a populist candidate. I’m amazed he hasn’t jumped back in.”

“The run up to the election is going to be vicious,” he continues, barely drawing breath. “The Republicans have already started. The leak about Michelle Bachmann taking prescription drugs was unbelievable. I’m the last person who wants to see Bachmann in the White House, but for Republicans to leak the migraine information, questioning not only her mental health but also inferring that she was addicted to prescription drugs was unforgivable. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be that kind of election.”

Whatever happens, The Young Turks will no doubt be covering it, broadcasting their daily mix of the irreverent, the serious and the funny from their poky studio in downtown LA.

“We’d like to expand as the set is looking a bit cramped,” he says. “The set has been a good home as it’s very intimate but we’re in the process of moving very soon. Actually, I can’t confirm that right now… but we are.”

This first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

The certain world of Michele Bachmann

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week revealed that Michele Bachmann had consolidated her position as the second place candidate behind Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination. According to the figures, the senator from Minnesota now commands 14 per cent of the national vote, near doubling her support amongst Republicans in the last month. Yet despite a solid showing in the recent CNN debate, her rise remains as baffling to many Americans as it does to those monitoring events from further afield.

In a week in which the scandal engulfing the UK saw the main political parties round on Rupert Murdoch hoping that condemnation leads to disassociation, it is heartening to know that we can nearly always rely on our politicians to do what’s in their own best interests. Ideological motivations and the occasional twinge of altruism aside, convictions in Westminster seem to bend according to the prevailing wind.

For Bachmann, however, public office seems less inspired by the trappings of power and status and more informed by the certainty of her faith. This is politics as an extension of religious belief, with her candidacy a national platform on which to evangelise the Christian message.

Faith and politics have long been bedfellows across the Atlantic, with every president since Abraham Lincoln paying lip service to The Almighty. It’s a sage move; as recently as 2007 a Gallup Poll suggested that more than 50 per cent of the franchise would not vote for a non-believing presidential candidate.

Many have used this to their advantage, most recently Sarah Palin who frequently used scripture to bolster a populist message that now manifests itself in the occasional Tweet or Facebook update. However, even the most ardent Palin devotee would find it difficult to argue that the book-hawking, reality TV star was in it for anything other than personal gain.

Bachmann, though, seems different, espousing a brand of politics built on an unerring and literal belief in biblical teaching that, until recently, would have discounted her from a serious tilt at the White House. It’s still early in the campaign, and her recent surge may well deflate. Then again, it may not.

The senator’s intellectual underpinnings are explored by Michelle Goldberg in her recent profile in The Daily Beast, summarised by “a biblical world view” that instructs her “entire perception of reality”. This is manifested most noticeably in her campaigns against abortion and gay marriage. Only last month, she argued that her challenge to legal abortion does not exclude cases of “rape, incest, or the life of the mother.” In regards to gay marriage, she has built a career rallying against her perceived homosexual threat, abridged to such choice statements as:

“Don’t misunderstand. I am not here bashing people who are homosexuals, who are lesbians, who are bisexual, who are transgender. We need to have profound compassion for people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life and sexual identity disorders.”

Speaking on same sex marriage and the gay community:

“This is a very serious matter, because it is our children who are the prize for this community, they are specifically targeting our children.”

Aside from a few ramblings on chastity from Ann Widdecombe, religion has remained taboo in modern British political life, so much so that Tony Blair had to wait to leave office before he could declare himself a converted Catholic. In contrast, the influence of evangelicalism on the US political stage has been steadily growing since the Seventies, culminating in the election of George W. Bush, propelled to office twice on the support of the faithful.

The election of Barack Obama was a backwards step for their cause however, in the years since he took office the religious right has regained ground by forging an alliance with the equally active Tea Party movement. Fiscal conservatives merging with social conservatives under the banner of what some commentators are calling “Teavangicals”. As Ed Kilgore points out in a recent article for The New Republic:

“Christian Right elites, for their own peculiar reasons, have become enthusiastic participants in the drive to combat Big Government and its enablers in both parties. It’s no accident that one red-hot candidate for president, Michele Bachmann, and a much-discussed likely candidate, Rick Perry, each have one foot planted in the Christian Right and another in the Tea Party Movement.”

It should be noted that Mike Huckabee’s withdrawal from the race and Palin’s no-show has left Bachmann the most high profile evangelical candidate by default, while the anti-establishment fervour produced by the economic bailout will no doubt have bolstered the senator who flaunts her grass root connections every time she steps atop a stand, soap box or podium.

Still, that a candidate with beliefs so entrenched as to openly espouse sexual bigotry and the denial of abortion even in the case of rape has got so far should provide a stark reminder that however corrupt, deceitful and self-serving our own politicians appear to be, at least we don’t have to deal with the blind certainty of faith.

This first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.