Posted on August 16, 2011 in Countdown

The Rise and Fall at the Ames Poll

The results are in for the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, considered by many to be one of the earliest indicators of Republican presidential support, and the results are even more exciting than Rick Santorum’s homemade peach jelly! Michele Bachmann came in first, followed by a surprisingly strong showing by Congressman Ron Paul. Tim Pawlenty, who effectively came in last place, has now thrown in the towel. Perhaps the only real winner here is last election’s Straw Poll (2008) winner, Mitt Romney, who appears to have realized early on that in an informal, unrepresentative poll, especially one that has only accurately predicted the Republican nominee twice in its entire history, there’s nothing to gain but a whole lot to lose.

What Values Are We Talking About Exactly?

During a trip to Israel last week, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer encouraged a group of world ambassadors from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas to oppose the Palestinians’ bid for state membership at the United Nations. The organization that sponsored Hoyer’s trip to Israel, the Israel Project, issued a press release quoting the Congressman as having said “The issue (at the UN) is not siding with the United States of America. The issue is reflecting values that you adhere to within your own countries.” It is not readily clear what “values” exist in those countries that prohibit granting Palestinians the same recognition granted to Israel over 60 years ago, but the Israel Project's PR emphasis on playing the values card (among other empty slogans and platitudes) whenever Israel’s conduct cannot be defended might give some insight into where this non sequitur came from.

Still Ambivalent on Syria

After a long period of seeming reluctance, the US has decided to up the rhetoric against the Assad regime in Syria, with Susan Rice saying that Syria would be “better off” without President Bashar Assad, and Hillary Clinton now advocating for the economic isolation of Syria. These are tough words, but still a step short of demanding that Assad step down. It has been argued that the Obama Administration’s inability to articulate a position early on served as a disincentive for Assad to change course from his bloody crackdown. It also left a discourse vacuum exploited by policy hawks in the United States, like former Bush Middle East advisor Elliott Abrams and other neocons, to promote the path of confrontation with the Assad regime, effectively causing them to dig in their heels deeper and making further escalation ever more likely. The situation looks grim, and it’s going to take some creative, bold moves to move things in a more positive direction.

Shariah and the GOP field

Two Countdowns ago, we highlighted Herman Cain’s apology to the Muslim community over his suggestion that they could be excluded from First Amendment protections for religious freedom. In the last Countdown, we highlighted the attacks Cain came under from the radical right for his apology, and we crossed our fingers that he would hold his new ground. This Countdown, we’re sorry to say that he has backtracked from his apology, saying he was only sorry that some had misunderstood his earlier statement, and reasserted his opposition of the imaginary threat of Shariah. More oddly, Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose day of prayer’s sponsorship by an anti-Muslim group we highlighted last week, in fact seems to have a good relationship with some in the Muslim community, prompting a Salon headline of “Rick Perry: the Pro-Shariah Candidate?” It is not yet clear whether it is Perry (who doesn't mind hanging out with people who want to strip Muslims of their citizenship) or Perry (who is comfortable noting the contributions of Muslim scholars and scientists) who will lead on the campaign trail.    

Iftar Is An American Tradition

President Obama hosted a Ramadan Iftar at the White House last Wednesday, which was attended by several Arab American and American Muslim community leaders, including AAI President Jim Zogby.  President Obama said that Islam “has always been part of our American family.” This factual message is easy to miss in today’s political atmosphere, especially with the cultural-war victories scored by Islamophobes in recent years. Yet, despite the sincerest efforts of anti-Muslim forces to marginalize and “otherize” the American Muslim community (sometimes with the participation of elected officials and candidates), Islam’s increasing inclusion in the political mainstream is evident by the fact that the Department of Homeland Security, State Department and the Department of Justice now all host regular Ramadan Iftars. Islamophobia may have found a temporary haven in some pockets of America, but it clearly has no place in America’s future.

Uttering the Politically Unthinkable?

Can you guess who Ha’aretz reported to have recently called for the suspension of US aid to elite Israeli Defense Force (IDF) units that are engaged in human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories? Nope, not some activist group or human rights organization, but high-ranking Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee's sub-committee on foreign operations and who is also a “long-time friend” of Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak. But a Leahy spokesperson said the Ha’aretz report was inaccurate, noting that Leahy was by no means targeting Israel, but merely “press[ing] for a faithful and consistent application of the law,” making Israel as accountable as any other country. Either way, this is a huge step forward for discourse within the halls of Congress.

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