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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

National Journal: ‘The Once-Soaring Avatar of Change Crashing Earthward’



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From the last Morning Jolt until June 30 . . . 

300 More U.S. Troops in Iraq. So . . . Are We At War With ISIS?

I’m not saying this move from President Obama is the wrong one

Obama said he would send up to 300 additional U.S. Special Operations troops to better assess the situation on the ground, where forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have moved ever nearer to Baghdad, and to determine “how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces going forward.”

But what do we do if some of those 300 guys get attacked? If ISIS ambushes some of our guys in a Black Hawk Down Mogadishu-style scenario . . . doesn’t that drag us into this war even further? I’m all for killing ISIS, but are we sure we want to pursue this path? Is the president sure?

We all know that our Special Operations guys are the best of the best, but they can’t win the war for the Iraqi government.

I suppose if there’s a chance you’ll run across Persians, 300 guys is a good number to have.

James Oliphant of National Journal acknowledges what so many in Washington have tried to deny for about six years now: the world doesn’t work the way Barack Obama thought it did.

[Sending 250 troops to Iraq to help secure the embassy] is a tacit acknowledgment that many of the assumptions that Obama and his foreign policy team made about the world have proven to be incorrect:   

• That without the leverage of U.S. military power in the country, Iraqi leaders would pursue political change that wouldn’t leave Sunnis alienated and antagonized and that its security forces could counter internal threats

• That Afghanistan would be stable enough for the U.S. to end that war and depart with confidence the government can keep the nation on a stable path;

• That the U.S. could pursue a “reset” with Vladimir Putin’s Russia — but then watched his troops take Crimea and threaten the rest of Ukraine;

• That the civil war in Syria could somehow be contained within its borders — and could reach a resolution without American intervention.

More than anything, these events and others have served as a rebuke to Team Obama’s worldview that a new generation of leadership could move on from both the Clinton-era and Bush-era policies. Both of those administrations were more hawkish and aggressive about the exercise of American power, whether it was to intercede in regional conflicts in the Balkans or take down Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

Disdainful of much of Washington’s foreign policy establishment, Obama and his close-knit circle of advisers, on the other hand, talked about engaging Iran diplomatically, using sanctions to punish bad actors, “pivoting” to Asia, and neutralizing the threat of terrorism more bloodlessly through the use of drones. They viewed American power in terms of limits. This was a president, after all, who opposed the U.S. “surge” that arguably stabilized Iraq to the point where Obama could pull the troops out.

Yet here was Obama on Thursday using the language of presidents past such as John Kennedy and George W. Bush, talking of sending “advisers” into a global hot spot and warning of the need to deny “safe haven” to terrorist groups. “Right now, this is the moment when the fate of Iraq hangs in the balance,” he said — something that sounded So 10 Years Ago.
That’s why Obama’s remarks had to have left such a bitter taste. Iraq was a box that his administration had checked. And already, the unrest there is casting fresh doubt on his decision to leave Afghanistan just a few years removed from calling for his own “surge” there. Americans are giving his handling of foreign policy the lowest marks of his presidency. With Syria on fire, Egypt and Libya in turmoil, and Russia meddling in Ukraine, the world has reached up and pulled the once-soaring avatar of change crashing earthward.
Icarus, we told you so.

The odds of President Obama’s drastically changing his foreign-policy worldview are slim . . . but even if he did change his approach to the likes of Russia, Iran, Assad in Syria and the rest . . . would the Democratic party’s base revolt against those changes?

Tags: Barack Obama , Iraq , ISIS , Foreign Policy

‘I’m a little worried she might try to hurt me.’



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The rape victim of Hillary Clinton’s legal client from back in 1975 speaks to the Daily Beast:

Whether or not Clinton was just doing her duty as a defense lawyer, for the victim, Clinton’s behavior speaks to her character, her ambition, and her suitability to be a role model for women or president of the United States.

“I think she wants to be a role model being who she is, to look good, but I don’t think she’s a role model at all. . . . If she had have been, she would have helped me at the time, being a 12-year-old girl who was raped by two guys,” she said. “She did that to look good and she told lies on that. How many other lies has she told to get where she’s at today? If she becomes president, is she gonna be telling the world the truth? No. She’s going to be telling lies out there, what the world wants to hear.”

The victim is concerned that speaking out will make her a target for attacks but she no longer feels she is able to stay silent.

“I’m a little scared of her. . . . When this all comes about, I’m a little worried she might try to hurt me, I hope not,” she said. “They can lie all they want, say all they want, I know what’s true.”

That’s your front-runner for the U.S. presidency, America.

Tags: Hillary Clinton

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Terrific: VA Routinely Fails to Respond to Reporter Inquiries



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In addition to the usual political headlines and polling updates, the midweek Morning Jolt checks in on some of those stories that dominated the news cycle a few weeks ago — Russia and Ukraine, the Taliban Five, and so on. Just because those stories are off the front page doesn’t mean there aren’t new developments; it just means the media moved on, probably prematurely and in a manner unlikely to generate real accountability.

For example, remember the VA scandal? Remember how that was a huge deal for a week, and then disappeared?

Terrific: VA Routinely Fails to Respond to Reporter Inquiries

Hey, remember the VA scandal? There’s a new aspect:

Because the Department of Veterans Affairs is a taxpayer funded organization, it has a responsibility to fully explain itself to the press and the public. Unfortunately, in many cases VA is failing in this responsibility, as department officials — including 54 full-time public affairs employees — routinely ignore media inquiries.

VA Honesty Project documents nearly 70 recent instances in which VA has failed to respond to reporters’ requests for information or refused to answer specific questions. The department’s apparent disregard for the press has become an object of reporters’ scorn, leading some to openly accuse VA of “thumbing their nose at us” and others to write entire articles focusing on VA’s stonewalling tactics.

Nobody but the best working over at the VA, I tell you!

An official at a New York Veterans Affairs facility was arrested Monday for allegedly taking tens of thousands of dollars in improper gifts from a telecommunications firm doing business with the center. The arrest was announced by the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

I’ll bet you did not expect this figure to call for the VA to be shut down entirely:

A visibly emotional and heated Montel Williams slammed the Veterans Affairs health care system and the handling of the scandal surrounding the agency, saying it needs to be shut down.

“It’s too big and we’ve created a structure where again, if you can’t fire somebody we’ve got a problem and we’ve got a bigger problem, when a group of people can vote themselves a bonus just for keeping track of numbers that they lie about?” Williams said Monday on Fox News’ “Your World with Neil Cavuto.”

If the VA answered reporters’ questions more frequently and more promptly, perhaps these sorts of scandals wouldn’t spiral out of control so horrifically.

Tags: VA

GOP’s Ernst Trails Slightly in Iowa



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This is not a bad place for the GOP’s Senate candidate in Iowa, Joni Ernst, to start:

State Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senator in Iowa, trails U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democrat, 44 – 40 percent, as an unusual gender gap shows women supporting the man while men support the woman, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. This compares to a 42 – 29 percent Braley lead over Ernst in a March 13 survey by the independent Quinnipiac University.

We’ll see how things play out in the coming months, but the survey suggests a familiar gender divide: “Today, women back Braley 47 – 36 percent, while men back Ernst 44 – 40 percent.” This, and past results, suggest the “to win over more women voters, Republicans need to nominate more women candidates” approach is a bit too simplistic a strategy.

Tags: Joni Ernst , Bruce Braley

The Echo-Chamber Effect, Hobbling Obama as Much as the Right



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Also in today’s Jolt, hitting e-mailboxes now:

The Echo-Chamber Effect, Hobbling Obama as Much as the Right

Conservatives sometimes lament that we can become our own echo chamber, convinced that we’re reaching a larger audience than we really are, unable to relate to or persuade those who don’t already agree with us. It’s a fair criticism. We need to address it.

But the same phenomenon does occur on the other side, and arguably with more severe consequences. Here’s the president, speaking at UC Irvine this weekend, discussing his climate-change and carbon-emission proposal:

It’s pretty rare that you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist. When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it; it was going to be too expensive, it was going to be too hard, it would take too long. But nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese.

President Obama is really, really, really bothered by the fact that some Americans don’t believe that human activity can significantly impact the climate. To him, this is something to fume about in public. It’s a top priority to him — even if climate change ranks near the bottom of the electorate’s priorities.

Here’s a Tweet from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Monday morning:

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The link is to an e-mail signup list for a U.S. State Department conference on oceans.

An audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs found that “more than 57,000 patients have been waiting more than three months for medical appointments at hospitals and clinics run by the VA, and nearly 64,000 others have been enrolled in the system for a decade but have still not been seen by doctors despite their requests,” and Monday brought new revelations of “dozens” of allegations of punishing whistleblowers who balked at falsifying records. One can reasonably argue that VA staffers ought to pay more attention to their actual jobs than to climate-change issues.

The U.S. State Department is currently evacuating nonessential personnel from Iraq, and by the time you read this, we may be evacuating essential personnel, too. They, too, may have more pressing concerns than promoting a conference on oceans.

But the Obama administration has set its agenda for 2014, and it’s not going to let little things like world events get in the way. Obama intends to run upon climate change, the minimum wage, the need for “common sense” gun control, and workplace equality.

He’ll campaign upon the need for “comprehensive immigration reform,” complete with a “path to citizenship,” even though we’re facing a humanitarian crisis on the border from a sudden influx of unattended children — an entirely predictable response to a policy change that provides a path to U.S. citizenship to children who enter the country illegally.

And he’ll spend the summer on his traditional golf and fundraising schedule.

If you ask a conservative what issues are on his mind, you might get a list that included the administration’s shameless dishonesty about the Benghazi terror attack, the national shame that is the VA scandal, and the sense that crises from Ukraine to Syria to Iraq to the South Pacific are spinning out of control. The border is unsecured. Obamacare is a mess, forcing people to buy coverage they don’t want, paying higher premiums than they expected, forced into narrow networks where they can’t keep the doctor they like. We’re letting the worst of the worst out of Guantanamo Bay for one imprisoned American.

You and I know those are legitimate concerns, but a lot of Americans don’t think about those topics much. If you asked those folks either in the middle or tuned out what worries them, and what they wish lawmakers would address, you would probably get a much simpler list.

People are having trouble finding jobs. The jobs don’t pay particularly well. It’s tough to find a good job with manageable hours and decent benefits. There’s no guarantee that your local public school will educate your kids particularly well. If your kids do make the grades they need to get into college, most schools are way too expensive. You can take out student loans, but you’ll spend half your life paying them back, and a college degree is no longer a guarantee of a well-paying job. Are young people able to start their lives, start their careers, get married, start families of their own? How long can young adults last in a perpetual adolescence? With all of these financial pressures coming at people from all directions, retirement seems like a more faraway goal.

It feels like a covenant with Americans, set a generation or two ago, is broken. Perhaps this is what Salena Zito is getting at when she describes the populist storm building in America’s heartland:

It is a cautionary thread — yet most people in Washington do not understand this moderate-in-tone populist wave. First, the wave is not going to take out every incumbent, so no “secret sauce” can “fix” it; second, it will have broad impact on both parties; third, it is relatively invisible because it has no name, no brand or party allegiance.

The problem is that while it’s easy to articulate what feels wrong about modern American life, it’s hard to put together a set of policy proposals that have a decent shot at fixing it. Ultimately, a lot of us would like to live in the America of the 1980s again — a booming economy capable of creating 500,000 new jobs in a month, a military buildup with no actual shooting wars going on, and Bill Cosby on our television screens.

It’s frustrating that the country’s middle or apolitical chunk of the electorate doesn’t share the concerns and priorities of the conservative grassroots. But they also don’t share the concerns and priorities of the progressive grassroots, either. President Obama is going to spend the next few months trying to get a country, beset by crisis after crisis, mess after mess, to ignore what’s worrying them and adopt the priorities of the Left.

Here’s the U.S. State Department home page right now:

Tags: Barack Obama , GOP , Conservatives

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Irony You Can Believe In: Obama Sends U.S. Troops to Iraq



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In the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt . . . 

Irony of Ironies: President Obama Sends U.S. Troops to Iraq

This job is hard, isn’t it, Mr. President?

It’s hard to disagree with the decision to move troops to protect our people in country. It’s also hard to stifle a chuckle that the man whose entire rise in national politics was driven by the insistence that we had to get all U.S. troops out of Iraq, and that the fate of that country was no longer America’s concern, finding himself sending more troops into that country and realizing that control of Iraq is indeed very much an American concern.

As Islamic militants continue their murderous advance in Iraq, the Pentagon is moving more firepower and manpower into the region to prepare for whatever U.S. President Barack Obama orders.

Already at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, dozens of Marines and Army troops have moved in to beef up security.

The aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush and five other warships are now in the Persian Gulf. More than 500 Marines and dozens of helicopters are on standby.

A top priority: evacuate all Americans at the embassy if it comes to that.

It’s nice to see the Obama administration taking the security of American diplomats in an unstable, dangerous Muslim country seriously for a change, isn’t it?

Of course, we may see more than just embassy protection: “On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview with Yahoo! News, acknowledged that airstrikes on Iraqi targets are under consideration.”

To quote William Shatner in Airplane 2, “Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.”

The scene in the Fox News Washington Bureau Green Room last night: A producer walks in: “General, we’re ready to take you to the set!”

Two men look up. “Which one?”

For what it’s worth, in the military community, there’s some skepticism that the several thousand guys of ISIS will be able to conquer Baghdad. Maybe it’s time for those guys to get bogged down in the nightmare of urban fighting.

But they are getting close:

Iraqi government forces are engaged in heavy clashes with Sunni insurgents who have made major advances in the past week.

Reports say parts of the city of Baquba — just 60km (37 miles) from Baghdad — were briefly taken over by the rebels.

Of course, sectarian killing may arrive in Baghdad before ISIS does:

The first recent sign of sectarian killing appeared in Baghdad late Monday when police found the bodies of four young Sunni men shot to death and left on a street in a mainly Shiite area of eastern Baghdad.

They were between 25 and 30 years old and had been shot numerous times, according to a police source in the Interior Ministry.

Iraq’s largest oil refinery is now shut down.

Oh, and bringing together all of our recent big War on Terror news together:

Spanish police are holding 10 people including a former Guantanamo Bay detainee for allegedly recruiting jihadi militants to fight abroad, mainly in Iraq and Syria.

Tags: Barack Obama , Iraq

GM Hits 16 Million Recalled Vehicles for the Year



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You may recall complaints about GM, and the wisdom of the government bailouts in light of the revelations that company engineers covered up a potentially fatal defect in millions of cars, here and here and here and here and here. And lots of other places.

GM’s throwing another massive recall on the pile:

General Motors on Monday recalled more than 3 million U.S. cars for faulty ignitions. The cars range in model years from 2000 to 2014.

From January 1 to May 28, GM issued recall notices for 13.79 million vehicles. For perspective, GM sold 2.6 million vehicles in 2012.

Zero Hedge calculates the total number of recalls in 2014 at 19 million. The AP calculates 17.7 million.

The recall includes models that were among the top sellers under the “Cash for Clunkers” program. President Obama, speaking at a GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, September 15, 2009:

“That program was good for automakers, consumers, and our environment,” Obama said of the Cash for Clunkers programs, “and the Chevy Cobalt that you build here was one of GM’s most sought-after cars under that program. Dealers across the country started running out of it and needed you to build more.”

Like this most recent batch of recalled cars, all Chevy Cobalts from 2005 to 2010 are being recalled because of fears the

ignition switch may move out of the “run” position, resulting in a partial loss of electrical power and turning off the engine. This risk increases if your key ring is carrying added weight . . . or your vehicle experiences rough road conditions or other jarring or impact related events. If the ignition switch is not in the run position, the air bags may not deploy if the vehicle is involved in a crash, increasing the risk of injury or fatality.

ABOVE: President Obama, boasting about the popularity of the Chevy
Cobalt under the “Cash for Clunkers” program, September 15, 2009.

Tags: GM

Forgive Me for a Moment of Bragging . . .



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As mentioned in today’s Jolt, this was the best Father’s Day present I received that wasn’t made out of Legos or hand-drawn with four-to-six-year-old handwriting:

The Weed Agency debuted at No. 8 on the Washington Post’s bestseller list this past weekend. Don’t ask me why it’s categorized under “Nonfiction/General.” I suppose when I described the book as “fake, but accurate,” they said, “eh, close enough.”

Tags: Something Lighter

Does Hillary Regret Her Actions in That 1975 Rape Case?



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“I have also been told by an expert in child psychology that children in early adolescence tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences and that adolescents in disorganized families, such as the complainant’s, are even more prone to exaggerate behavior.”

That’s from a sworn affidavit from Hillary Clinton, representing a man accused of raping a 12-year-old in 1975, in a stunning new report from Alana Goodman of the Washington Free Beacon.

While the case is nearly 40 years old, some Americans may feel discomfort at the thought of a potential president who attacked the credibility of a girl who was raped. Yes, every American accused of a crime deserves the best defense they can get. But many outside the legal arena will conclude that attacking the victim crosses a line, and contributes to why some rape victims are so reluctant to come forward.

If asked about it — and I’ll bet a doughnut right now that the Clinton machine is working the phones, claiming the report is the work of a vast right-wing conspiracy, insisting that this is a long-ago non-story that “Hillary’s enemies” are trying to bring back into the media bloodstream — it will be a fascinating no-win situation for Hillary.

If asked, Hillary will presumably attempt to revert to “everyone is entitled to the best legal defense/legal ethics,” spin and try to keep it there, try to make it a boring story of two legal professors arguing abstract principles. The more interesting question will be whether anyone asks how she feels about attacking the credibility of a 12-year-old rape victim — particularly when, as Hillary later said on the tapes, she believes her client committed the crime.

This story could change the race if this blows up big enough. If Hillary says, “Yes, I regret it,” she’s admitting to an unpardonable sin in the eyes of the feminists, the Left, and honestly, a lot of Americans.

But if she says, “No, I didn’t do anything wrong, I did what every good lawyer would do” she looks callous and harsh and ruthless, confirming all of the old 1990s stereotypes.

Some may wonder how this aggressive legal strategy squares with Hillary’s declaration, “the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking.”

Tags: Hillary Clinton

Hillary Is Lucky That Iraq Is Dominating the News



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There’s no shame in holding a book signing at Costco — it’s a sign there’s a broad audience of buyers for your book! — but it does make for some awkward headlines and coverage:

Here’s how the Washington Post wrote it up:

The fans/discount shoppers applauded, and the delirious mania over the release of her political memoir “Hard Choices” — what it says, what it doesn’t, what it doesn’t say but should — culminated with Hillary Clinton in Aisle 130.

“I am here because of who she is, because of all she is,” said Marian Beverly, a retired NASA employee in line at the signing. “I love the Clintons,” added Beverly, who, in addition to being a fan of the Clintons, is also a fan of Costco’s frozen pizzas, paper products and rotisserie chickens.

Hillary Clinton is quite lucky that awful news out of Iraq is dominating the news cycle, because she’s demonstrating on this book tour that she’s far from the top of her game. In just the past two weeks . . . 

* She declared she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House.

* An NPR interview — NPR! — went south when she and host Terry Gross had a sharp exchange about when she first supported gay marriage.

* She said the five released Taliban aren’t a threat to Americans, which will come back to haunt her if any of the five go on to commit acts of terror targeting Americans.

* The Washington Free Beacon uncovered audio of her discussing — with laughter — her successful legal defense of a man accused of raping a 12-year-old. The defense included attacking the victim’s credibility.

* Retired Secret Service agent Dan Emmett offers an unflattering portrait of Hillary Clinton in his book Within Arm’s Length, published by St. Martin’s Press.

* For better or worse, she pitches herself as quite religious, although one wonders how many religious Americans will concur and recognize her as one of their own. She told the New York Times this weekend, “the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking.”

Above, the Biblical-minded Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

Tags: Hillary Clinton

‘Sunnis and Shiites don’t need guns from us. They need the truth.’



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The first Morning Jolt of the week offers some eye-opening news about Hillary Clinton, an attempt to understand the appeal of the World Cup, and some terrific personal news, but it begins with this awful update from developments overseas:

‘Practically Speaking, [Iraq] Has Broken Apart’

You know the news from the Middle East, and Iraq in particular, is usually bad. Today is no different:

Fighters affiliated with an extremist Al Qaeda-inspired faction seized control Monday of another town in the northwest of Iraq, beating back pro-government forces scrambling to stop the group’s advance

Tal Afar, an ethnically diverse town of Sunni Muslims and Turkmen, was overrun by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, after heavy clashes with Iraqi army units and Turkmen tribal fighters, according to Turkey’s semi-official Anatolia news agency. Pro-government activists in Tal Afar, however, asserted on social media that the fight was continuing, with heavy airstrikes against the militants’ positions.

Eli Lake:

American presidents and Iraqi strongmen have been trying for decades to keep the country intact. But that effort is now failing under pressure from the Islamic extremists who are taking over more and more of Iraq’s cities. “Practically speaking, the country has broken apart,” a top official in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government told The Daily Beast.

On the Sunday shows, Washington politicians aren’t downplaying the danger:

The bloodthirsty Islamist group hellbent on overthrowing the Iraqi government claims to have massacred 1,700 soldiers and posted a series of gory pictures of executed captives that kicked off a chain reaction of fear from Baghdad to the Beltway.

And in further evidence of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, terrorists killed more than 20 people with four bombs on Sunday in Baghdad, and the State Department moved to protect the U.S. Embassy and its employees.

“This is as dangerous as it gets,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers said on “Fox News Sunday.” He was one of several GOP lawmakers who called on the Obama administration to act aggressively against the Sunni militants who call themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, another Iraq War proponent, echoed Rogers with a dire caution of his own.

“Iraq and Syria combined are going to be the staging area for the next 9/11 if we don’t do anything about it,” the South Carolina Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “If Baghdad falls . . . a disaster awaits us of monumental proportions.”

Thomas Friedman is sounding . . . almost isolationist, or at least noninterventionist:

Hence my rule: The Middle East only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them — when they take ownership of reconciliation. Please spare me another dose of: It is all about whom we train and arm. Sunnis and Shiites don’t need guns from us. They need the truth. It is the early 21st century, and too many of them are still fighting over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad from the 7th century. It has to stop — for them, and for their kids, to have any future.

There are a lot of people who don’t know what to do now, so they’ll spend a lot of energy arguing about what should have been done in March 2003.

Tags: Iraq , Thomas Friedman , Mike Rogers , Lindsey Graham

Just How Long Can the U.S. Contemplate Its Response to ISIS?



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It’s easy to understand why a man elected president because of his opposition to the Iraq War would be extremely hesitant to commit military forces to help save the Iraqi government.

It’s a perfectly fair question as to whether U.S. military force could be decisive in the fight against ISIS, or whether that action would be delaying the inevitable, or whether any government headed by Maliki is destined to fall apart eventually.

But Obama began by saying . . . 

Over the last several days, we’ve seen significant gains made by ISIL, a terrorist organization that operates in both Iraq and in Syria. In the face of a terrorist offensive, Iraqi security forces have proven unable to defend a number of cities, which has allowed the terrorists to overrun a part of Iraq’s territory. And this poses a danger to Iraq and its people, and given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well.

and then he also said . . . 

We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraq’s security forces. And I’ll be reviewing those options in the days ahead . . . We’ll be monitoring the situation in Iraq very carefully over the next several days.

At one point, Obama openly acknowledged the difference in speed between the events in Iraq and the decision-making of his administration:

. . . although events on the ground in Iraq have been happening very quickly, our ability to plan — whether it’s military action or work with the Iraqi government on some of these political issues — is going to take several days. So people should not anticipate that this is something that is going to happen overnight.

Isn’t the president worried that by the time he resolves how to react to the situation as it existed on, say, Saturday, it will change, and/or worsen? Doesn’t the president and his team need to speed up their OODA loop (“Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act”) if they want to have an impact on the situation?

Or is the slow, deliberate pace the point?

Tags: Barack Obama , Iraq

Nobody Ever Wants to Admit Baghdad Is Under Attack



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Ouch, courtesy Campaign Spot reader Jeff:

Obama’s statement at the White House today was reasonably realistic . . . except he did point out that events were moving quickly . . . and that he and his advisers would take several days to consider their options.

A good option on Friday evening may be moot by Monday morning.

Tags: Iraq , Barack Obama

Big Questions on Iraq that Americans Have to Resolve Quickly



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Happy Friday the 13th . . . An appropriately ominous Morning Jolt closes out the week . . . 

Some Big Questions to Consider on Iraq

First the obvious: Is ISIS bad for our interests? Does anyone want to dispute this?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has thrived and mutated during the ongoing civil war in Syria and in the security vacuum that followed the departure of the last American forces from Iraq.

The aim of ISIS is to create an Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and in Syria . . . 

It wants to establish an Islamic caliphate, or state, stretching across the region.

ISIS has begun imposing Sharia law in the towns it controls. Boys and girls must be separated at school; women must wear the niqab or full veil in public. Sharia courts often dispense brutal justice, music is banned and the fast is enforced during Ramadan.

Sharia law covers both religious and non-religious aspects of life.

Some may point to their dispute with al-Qaeda . . . ​

The stories, the videos, the acts of unfathomable brutality have become a defining aspect of ISIS, which controls a nation-size tract of land and has now pushed Iraq to the precipice of dissolution. Its adherents kill with such abandon that even the leader of al-Qaeda has disavowed them. “Clearly, [leader Ayman] al-Zawahiri believes that ISIS is a liability to the al-Qaeda brand,” Aaron Zelin, who analyzes jihadist movements for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Washington Post’s Liz Sly earlier this year. . . . 

But a dispute with al-Qaeda does not indicate they’re any less dangerous or ruthless:

But in terms of impact, the acts of terror have been wildly successful. From beheadings to summary executions to amputations to crucifixions, the terrorist group has become the most feared organization in the Middle East. That fear, evidenced in fleeing Iraqi soldiers and 500,000 Mosul residents, has played a vital role in the group’s march toward Baghdad. In many cases, police and soldiers literally ran, shedding their uniforms as they went, abandoning large caches of weapons.

Two: Is the preservation of the existing government in Iraq in the U.S. interests?

It’s understandable if Americans feel no particular affection for Nouri al-Maliki . . . ​

The stunning gains this week by Iraq’s Sunni insurgents carry a crucial political message: Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister of Iraq, is a polarizing sectarian politician who has lost the confidence of his army and nation. He cannot put a splintered Iraq together again, no matter how many weapons the Obama administration sends him.

Maliki’s failure has been increasingly obvious since the elections of 2010, when the Iraqi people in their wisdom elected a broader, less-sectarian coalition. But the Obama administration, bizarrely working in tandem with Iran, brokered a deal that allowed Maliki to continue and has worked with him as an ally against al-Qaeda. Maliki’s coalition triumphed in April’s elections, but the balloting was boycotted by Sunnis.

. . . and it’s understandable if Americans see this as similar to Syria — an Iranian-backed leader stuck in a bloody fight with Islamist extremists:

In the worst case, if Mr. Maliki were driven from power, the shrines were threatened and radical Sunni insurgents were killing Shiite civilians, Iran would more than likely be compelled to intervene, say experts close to Iran’s leadership.

“They are our ally and we will help them,” said Hamid Taraghi, a political analyst who is close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But exactly how Iran would do so is unclear.

But we do have interests in keeping the country stable

Iraq is a major oil-producing country that shares borders with Iran and Syria. The United States has a large embassy in Iraq, and the country has attracted sizable foreign investment. “We’re committed to this country,” [James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq], said. “Its stability is important.” Growing chaos in Iraq would lead to a spike in oil prices and would likely spread instability throughout the region.

Three: Can we make a difference? Obviously Maliki thinks we can, otherwise he wouldn’t be asking for the air strikes, and Obama wouldn’t be considering them.

While initial reports indicated that the Iraqi army turned and ran, there are some men in Iraq willing to stand and fight against ISIS:

Volunteers flocked to protect the Iraqi capital on Friday as militants inspired by al-Qaeda seized more territory overnight, continuing a rampage that is threatening to tear the country apart.

Iraqi officials said tens of thousands of volunteers had answered a call to join the ranks of the crumbling security forces and repel advances by heavily armed fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as the group seized the towns of Saadiyah and Jalawla north of the capital.

Iraqi state television showed the new unpaid volunteers scrambling to get on packed army trucks at recruitment centers after a call from the Shiite-led government. The mobilization of the irregular forces, as well as Iraq’s notorious Shiite militias, to battle the radical Sunni Muslim insurgents threatened to plunge Iraq into large-scale sectarian bloodletting. The volunteers also appeared to be mostly Shiites.

For what it’s worth, some like Leslie Gelb argue we need to ensure our help is minimal:

And before the U.S. government starts to do the next dumb thing again, namely provide fighter aircraft and drone attacks and heaven knows what else, it should stop and think for a change. If America comes to the rescue of this Iraqi government, then this Iraqi government, like so many of the others we’ve fought and died for, will do nothing. It will simply assume that we’ll take over, that we’ll do the job. And when things go wrong, and they certainly will, this cherished government that we’re helping will blame only America. Don’t think for a moment it will be otherwise. Don’t think for a moment that the generals and hawks who want to dispatch American fighters and drones to the rescue know any better today than they’ve known for 50 years.

Sure, I’m in favor of helping governments against these militant, crazy and dangerous jihadis. But first and foremost and lastly, it’s got to be their fight, not ours. As soon as the burden falls on the United States, our “best friends” do little or nothing and we lose. If they start fighting hard, and we’ll know it when we see it, there will be no mistaking it. Then the military and other aid we provide will mean something.

That’s persuasive in the abstract, but what if the Iraqi government is just short of being capable of pushing back ISIS? Is it worth withholding our assistance to make the point that they need to be independent? How much can fear of future scapegoating limit our options in the here and now? If we really are going to adopt a philosophy of “we could help you, but we suspect you’ll grow dependent upon us and blame us for problems down the road,” could we please apply that to domestic spending programs as well?

Four: What is the risk to our forces? We already have drones over Iraq.

The U.S. since last year has been secretly flying unmanned surveillance aircraft in small numbers over Iraq to collect intelligence on insurgents, according to U.S. officials.

The program was limited in size and proved little use to U.S. and Iraqi officials when Islamist fighters moved swiftly this week to seize two major Iraqi cities, the officials said.

Before the Islamist offensive, the program was expanded based on growing U.S. and Iraqi concerns about the expanded military activities of al Qaeda-linked fighters.

Officials wouldn’t say what types of drones were being used but said the flights were conducted only for surveillance purposes. The program was launched with the consent of the Iraqi government.

A senior U.S. official said the intelligence collected under the small program was shared with Iraqi forces, but added: “It’s not like it did any good.”

Obviously, manned flights would include more risk to pilots than unmanned drones. Downed helicopters are more common that fixed-wing aircraft getting shot down, but sometimes the enemy is lucky, and sometimes accidents happen.

We already have Americans in harm’s way:

U.S. contractors began evacuating the air base in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, that is being prepared for the arrival this year of F-16 aircraft purchased by Iraq. The international engineering and electronics company Siemens was trying to move 51 people out of Baiji, about 30 miles farther north, where they are upgrading Iraqi power plants . . . 

About 10,000 American officials and contractors are in Iraq.

Tags: Barack Obama , Iraq

The Coming ‘There’s Nothing We Could Have Done’ Excuses



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Sometimes you can see the administration-defending Washington conventional wisdom forming before your very eyes: “The Iraqi government was always weak and destined to collapse sooner or later. There’s nothing the Obama administration could have done.”

Even if, say, they asked for assistance a month ago and we turned them down.

As the threat from Sunni militants in western Iraq escalated last month, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas, according to Iraqi and American officials.

But Iraq’s appeals for a military response have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which has been reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was over when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011.

We’ve seen a lot of this “There’s nothing the Obama administration could have done!” thinking recently, and we’ll probably see a lot more of it in the coming years:

Tags: Iraq , Afghanistan , Barack Obama

Another Foreign-Policy Crisis Catches the Obama Team by Surprise



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Big, busy Morning Jolt today:

Oh, Hey, No Big Deal, Iraq’s Just Being Taken Over by Terrorists, That’s All

Most Americans never want to hear the word “Iraq” again, and our president is happy to oblige, no matter how bad it gets.

And it’s getting pretty damn bad, as Eli Lake points out:

Two and a half years after the last U.S. soldier departed, an al Qaeda offshoot is in control of Mosul and headed for Baghdad — and Iraq’s prime minister is requesting U.S. air strikes.

It seems like only yesterday that Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was celebrating as the last American soldiers left Iraq. Now, with an al Qaeda offshoot threatening to take Baghdad, Maliki’s government is quietly asking at least some troops — specifically airmen and drone pilots — to return.

These guys — too vicious for al-Qaeda! — are taking over city after city. And the forces we trained to keep order . . . apparently just aren’t up to the task:

Soldiers in Mosul threw down their guns and stripped off their uniforms as Sunni insurgents approached and raised their black flags on Tuesday, allowing the city to fall after just four days of fighting. Terrified residents were streaming out of the city.

The fall of Iraq’s second largest city to Islamist extremists Tuesday sends an alarming message about the deterioration of a country where the U.S. spent eight years, 4,500 lives and $1.7 trillion. Mosul, a city of 1.8 million located in the far north of the country, long cultivated a reputation as a military town. But Iraqi soldiers threw down their guns and stripped off their uniforms as the insurgents approached on Tuesday, according to officials stunned by the collapse of its defenses.

I know this will shock you, but it appears the Obama administration was caught flat-footed by quickly developing events:

The quickly unfolding drama prompted a White House meeting Wednesday of top policy makers and military leaders who were caught off guard by the swift collapse of Iraqi security forces, officials acknowledged . . . 

Some military officials now believe ISIS is the single greatest terrorist threat the U.S. and its allies face — stronger than the al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen or Africa and far more powerful than al Qaeda’s central leadership in Pakistan. Other senior U.S. officials say ISIS has yet to carry out any attacks directly targeting the U.S.

“It makes you want to kill yourself,” a senior U.S. official said of the intelligence on ISIS, which was presented by U.S. and Gulf allies during the May meeting in Jeddah.

The Obama administration, unable to operate openly in Iraq since the U.S. withdrawal and unwilling to intervene in Syria for fear of getting pulled into another conflict, has left itself few options to directly confront the growing threat, according to senior U.S. defense and intelligence officials.

Watch for movement on this front in the next 24 to 48 hours:

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is preparing contingency plans to evacuate its employees if necessary now that one of the deadliest Islamic militant groups in the region has taken control of large swaths of Iraq, a U.S. official told TheBlaze.

The State Department also warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Iraq, following several days of bloody clashes between insurgents with the Al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Iraqi military forces. ISIL has taken control of Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah and aims to create an Islamic state across the Iraq-Syria border.

Coming to Baghdad soon?

Tags: Iraq , Barack Obama

A Bad Trend for Charlie Crist in Florida



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A Florida polling result some might find surprising:

PPP’s newest Florida poll shows that the race is a toss up. Despite having an approval rating of only 39 percent with 48 percent disapproval, incumbent Governor Rick Scott is tied with possible Democratic candidate and former Republican governor Charlie Crist at 42 percent apiece. Helping Scott is the fact that Crist is also underwater with a 32 percent favorable rating and 48 percent unfavorable.

In the RealClearPolitics polling average, Crist leads by 2 percentage points, his smallest lead of the year.

Tags: Charlie Crist , Rick Scott

The Steep Drop in Cantor’s Primary Vote Total from 2012



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Here’s a piece of evidence arguing against the “Democratic crossover votes helped Dave Brat beat Eric Cantor” theory.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, House majority leader Cantor received 28,898 votes in the GOP primary, to Brat’s 36,110.

In June 2012, against a similarly little-known and underfunded challenger, Cantor won 37,369 votes to Floyd Bayne’s 9,668.

In other words, Cantor lost 8,471 votes from his total in the last primary. It’s not just that new voters out of the woodwork to vote for Brat; it’s that some of his past supporters either didn’t show up or voted for Brat this cycle.

Note that in 2012 there was a contested, if not quite competitive, GOP Senate primary, where George Allen beat Jamie Radtke. In the 7th congressional district that year, 77,169 votes were cast in the Senate primary, and only 47,037 votes cast in the House primary. So quite a few voters — self-identifying as Republicans, at least for that primary day — cast ballots in the Senate primary and didn’t bother to vote in the House primary.

(That 2012 GOP primary was for congressional offices, not the presidential race. Virginia held its presidential primary in March, and only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul qualified for the ballot.)

UPDATE: More useful evidence: “Michael McDonald of the United States Elections Project found similar results analyzing precinct-level data Tuesday night, reporting GOP primary turnout was lowest in the most Democratic-leaning areas of the state.”

Did some Democrats vote in the GOP primary for Brat? Sure, some local Democrats, such as “Cooter” from The Dukes of Hazzard — also known as former congressman Ben Jones — encouraged this, and probably helped Brat achieve his eye-popping 11-percentage-point margin. But Cantor and his allies and supporters are simply fooling themselves if they attribute his defeat to crossover voters.

Tags: Eric Cantor , Dave Brat

Take a Victory Lap, Mickey Kaus, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham!



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From the Wednesday Morning Jolt:

Mega-Earthquake: Eric Cantor Loses GOP Primary to Dave Brat

Kirsten Anderson: “For my non-political but still nerdy friends, the primary election in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District tonight is kind of like the ‘Red Wedding’ Game of Thrones episode for politics.”

This is why we hold elections. Sometimes, a broad bipartisan consensus emerges that represents the views of the business community, activists, lobbyists, the media . . . everybody except the folks who actually vote.

A significant portion of Republican voters loathe anything that smells like amnesty with the passion of a thousand blazing suns going supernova. Immigration reform is not going to get through the House before midterms — good news for GOP unity heading into November — and there will never be significant GOP support for any Obama-backed immigration reform bill.

The bad news is, Obama’s going to enact as much as he can, as close to a broad amnesty plan as possible, through executive orders.

Take a victory lap, Mickey Kaus, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham.

Lauren Luxenberg puts it in perspective: “Eric Cantor won his last GOP primary with 79 percent of the vote.”

Cantor and his allies can’t blame low turnout for this one. My old colleague Derek Willis noted that the 2012 primary turnout was surpassed with only 71 percent of the precincts reporting. “People who ran David Brat’s turnout operation are gonna be getting some phone calls, methinks.”

Dave Levinthal: “Eric Cantor raised $5.4 million this election cycle. Dave Brat just north of $200,000. Money usually matters. This isn’t one of those times.”

Brit Hume, speaking on Fox News last night:

This is bad news, long term for Republicans, because it is argued by some that immigration reform will never pass, because the Republicans feel chastened by the Cantor loss. Republicans will go into 2016 without having their names attached to immigration reform. I’m not sure I buy that, but that is what you’ll be hearing in this town. Conventional wisdom forms quickly.

For what it is worth, some locals strongly disagree with that interpretation; A Morning Jolt reader in Cantor’s district writes in:

I think everyone on FOX and the other channels who are seeing something bigger than local politics here are missing the boat entirely. Brat ran a very Obama-like campaign, using the local Tea Party to get out the vote among low information voters (“Cantor agrees with Obama on amnesty” was Brat’s message). I don’t think there is any “big” message tonight, other than all politics is local.

But make no mistake, this is a terrible night for VA-7 — we just voted out a man with a 95 percent ACU lifetime rating, and replaced him with a man I am pretty sure is not a “life-long conservative” and soon probably we will see someone more liberal than Eric replace him as Republican leader.

On one of my mailing lists, somebody quipped, “Every single Cantor operative on that race should consider selling popsicles and burgers — incredible act of not knowing the district.”

But as another campaign veteran pointed out, Cantor’s pollster, McLaughlin & Associates, ought to be cut a smidgen of slack for degree of difficulty: Polling House districts is hard, polling House district primaries is even harder, and polling a U.S. House district primary without a baseline for turnout in a competitive primary in recent cycles is particularly difficult.

Phil Klein: “ ‘Tea Party is dead’ narrative now as dead as immigration reform.”

James Pethokoukis: “Losing Eric Cantor means GOP loses someone with a deep and thoughtful understanding of the economic challenges facing modern USA.”

Kevin Madden: “Every election is a job interview for candidates. Never show up late to a job interview.”

Democrats will get excited about knocking off Brat in the general election race, but note this is an R+10 district.

Tags: Eric Cantor , Dave Brat

Hillary Interrupts Book Tour for Speaking Gig at Produce Convention



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Today’s schedule for Hillary Clinton:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the keynote speaker June 10 at a joint general session of the United Fresh Produce Association and Food Marketing Institute in Chicago.

The keynote session is scheduled for 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place.

Bill Clinton is giving a paid speech today as well:

Former president Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak Tuesday in Indianapolis at the annual conference of the Insurance Accounting and Systems Association.

Hillary Clinton is reportedly paid $200,000 per speech. Bill Clinton averaged $189,000 per speech from 2001 to 2012.

Those mortgages on those houses don’t pay themselves!

Day job interrupting your book tour? Tell me about it, Madame Secretary.

Tags: Hillary Clinton , Bill Clinton

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