Posted on February 20, 2013 in Countdown
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Once again, President Obama is starting his term with a Middle East tour, but unlike his previous tour, he’s visiting Israel this time. In his State of the Union address, Obama outlined the priorities of his trip: universal rights in the transitional states of the region, support for the Syrian opposition, steadfast support for Israel, and a falafel-exchange program for Middle East youth (we made one of these up, can you guess which one?). But the trip’s not all work; the President will also be awarded Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction by President Shimon Peres, probably as an elaborate ruse to mask his “secret anti-Israel ideology.” Secretary of State John Kerry will be swinging through the region a few weeks earlier on a “listening tour” through Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar. Israel’s not on the list this time, because “the government coalition negotiations in Israel are still underway.” Kerry will likely join Obama on his trip to Israel later in March, but we still suspect it’s another secret snub. And we’re not the only ones.
The drawn-out Hagel confirmation process has fallen victim to a combination of three things Washington could do without: Ego, misinformation, and smear campaigns. In the interest of self-preservation, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (he’s in trouble with the political right in his home state and up for re-election in 2014) is at this point almost single-handedly filibustering Hagel’s nomination. Make no mistake, it is a filibuster. Graham is trying to stall the process to dig up dirt on Hagel and kill the nomination, and he’s dragged Senator John McCain reluctantly into the fray. Here’s how an unnamed Republican insider put the Graham, McCain relationship: “This is just a bone thrown [from McCain] to Lindsey Graham, who keeps painting himself into corners and then pleading with friends to crawl in there with him in a vain attempt to save a little face.” Oh, snap! To “save face,” Graham is relying on “reporting” from “journalists” at neoconservative outlets to get him the “information” he needs to bring down Hagel. So what are they getting? Among others things, Hagel delivered a speech to a “controversial” Arab organization: ADC. Seriously? Try to smear a civil rights organization to get to Hagel? Right about now we’d ironically praise Graham and company for a job well done, but the thing is, what they tried to do simply didn’t work.
Republicans aren’t gonna let the Obama administration have all the Promised Land fun. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union address, has already started his own Middle East trip, with stops in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. He’s already met with Jordanian King Abdullah II, and former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who joined the opposition last year. He’s also planning to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres (but no award for you, buddy), and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Rubio, who is widely considered to be eyeing a presidential bid in 2016, seems to be bolstering his foreign policy credentials, and even wrote a piece in Foreign Policy recently that called for…well…we’re not exactly sure what he called for. We wish you the best of luck on the rest of your trip Senator, but remember, the desert gets pretty hot, so make sure you’re hydrated. We don’t need you getting nervous and awkwardly chugging a bottle of water in front of our friends in the Middle East.
In his first television appearance since being promoted, President Obama’s new chief of staff, Denis McDonough, had one heck of a busy Sunday. McDonough made the rounds on several the Sunday morning news programs to talk about issues like immigration reform and Chuck Hagel’s nomination. When asked whether Hagel faced serious concern about his nomination, McDonough said flat out: “No.” Ok, nothing to see here. On the immigration front, it looks like McDonough’s Sunday appearances were specifically designed to keep up momentum on a draft of the administration’s immigration bill, which was leaked to USA Today before the Sunday shows. The big issue the president wants to push: Pathway to citizenship, not to greencard. The leak, we venture to say, was most certainly not a mistake; rather an effort by the administration to get the bipartisan group of Senators moving at a glacial pace toward a framework for immigration reform. Basically, the Administration is saying “get it moving, guys!” Senator Marco Rubio, of course, quickly pronounced the White House plan “half-baked and seriously flawed.” Rubio’s opposition is to be expected, since he sees his role in crafting an immigration reform bill as his ticket to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Earlier this week, a group of 26 Democratic Senators led by Dick Durbin (D-IL) released a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller calling on the FBI to add Sikhs, Hindus and Arab Americans to the form used to track hate crimes data. Yes, you read that right: the FBI doesn’t track hate crimes against these communities. The lack of reporting has real impacts. For instance, if the FBI does not count hate crimes against these groups, it also can’t determine whether the crimes are increasing or decreasing and it lacks the ability to analyze them geographically. A better understanding of hate crimes against these vulnerable groups would also allow the federal government to more effectively target resources to places that need them. Collecting and tracking such data is a vital step in preventing hate crimes, and the 26 Democratic Senators who signed the letter should be commended for their attention to this important issue. As Harpreet Singh Saini, a Sikh American who lost his mother in the 2012 massacre at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, WI, said in congressional testimony later that year, “we cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.” Not that we at the Countdown team want to be accused of partisan jabs, but someone should tell the Republicans in the Senate, because not one signed on to the letter.