Posted on January 08, 2013 in Countdown

Happy New Year! We hope you enjoyed your holiday season in good company with friends and family. Countdown is back in 2013, and we’re not wasting any time. Let’s get to it.

From “Fiscal Cliff” to Fiscal “Hostage”

If you’re like us, you don’t want to hear another word about the so-called “fiscal cliff” which cast a dark shadow over the holiday season. But after barely escaping that crisis, Congress will be at it again very soon with a discussion on whether or not to raise the debt ceiling. It seems like yesterday that we had this very same debate, which brought Congress to a standstill and ultimately ended up in a downgrade of our country’s credit rating. Well, this year the Republican-run House may attempt to “one-up” last year’s brinkmanship and let the country default on its loans, causing a government shutdown. That’s what people in Washington are saying Speaker of the House John Boehner may be prepared to do in order to appease the far-right wing contingency of his party who are sour about the results of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Boehner is under immense pressure to use whatever power he has to prevent the debt ceiling from increasing, even at the cost of economic repercussions. But any member of Congress should think twice before trying to shoot this hostage. It may have worked out well for Keanu Reeves to subdue Dennis Hopper’s criminal mastermind in “Speed,” but lately Americans have been more inclined to hold Republicans responsible when deals of this nature are not reached. This is a caution for Republicans to heed as we move from the danger of “cliffs” to “hostages.”

A Political Solution for Syria

During his first speech in months, Bashar Al Assad delivered a delusional and defiant address on Sunday, underscoring his detachment from the reality that his regime is moving closer and closer toward collapse. As opposition forces continue to gain ground, Assad’s rhetoric further fuels the polarized narrative that the only possible result of this highly militarized conflict, which has claimed some 60,000 lives, is total and complete destruction of either side. Make no mistake, Assad needs to go, but it’s also important to realize that as things stand, even if the regime does collapse, the bloodletting will not cease. We all know where that road takes us. In his most recent column, which appeared in the region on the Friday before Assad’s speech, AAI president Jim Zogby proposed a path toward a political solution to the conflict, which would entail a significant Arab-led initiative to arrest the violence. Also, in an article published in Foreign Policy in October, Mona Yacoubian makes a similar point that further militarization of the conflict only lessens the potential for any viable resolution to the conflict. As Syrians continue to lose their lives, we agree more options need to be on the table.

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us!

Forget Congress’ inability to come to bipartisan consensus on key issues. As the 113th Congress gears up for a new session, two new additions to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee raised some eyebrows: John McCain and Rand Paul. Even though both Senators are members of the Republican Party, just about every foreign policy issue elicits some sort of disagreement between the two. From U.S. foreign aid to military intervention, the two can’t agree.  Senator Paul takes a more hands-off approach to foreign policy and national security, and John McCain seems to have an infatuation with invading foreign countries whenever possible. Senator Paul’s positions have made Senator McCain, who supports supplying arms to rebels in Syria and military intervention in Iran, “worry about the rise of protectionism and isolationism in the Republican Party.” The squabbles escalated between the two when the Senators attempted to collaborate on the NDAA, as McCain accused Paul of prioritizing his agenda over the lives of service men and women, and Paul retaliated with accusations that McCain has “stomped upon and discarded” basic rights by re-inserting the indefinite detention language into the NDAA. While we usually prefer that everyone play nice in the sandbox, we think you can agree that this kind of open debate is exactly what Congress needs. Well, we’re certainly in for a treat this Congress.

Hagel Nominated: What’s the Big Deal?

It’s official! The President nominated Chuck Hagel for the next Secretary of Defense yesterday despite the outcry and campaign launched against Hagel by a small fringe group. Why all the interest in Chuck Hagel’s nomination? Hagel is actually a reasonable and levelheaded candidate for the post, an old school Republican who had the courage to break with the Republican Party during the Iraq War. The former Senator is a proponent of bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, and doesn’t think it’s a smart move to push the U.S. into war with Iran, or anyone else for that matter. Oh, and he also doesn’t think U.S. foreign policy should be dictated by Israel or the Israeli lobby. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham went as far as calling Hagel “the most antagonistic defense secretary towards the state of Israel in our nation’s history.” Yes, we don’t see the controversy in saying we should dictate our own foreign policy either. Leading up to the nomination, some neocons have been busy pushing a media campaign against Hagel. Bill Kristol and the Emergency Committee for Israel yesterday purchased the Chuck Hagel domain (chuckhagel.com) in an extension of their despicable campaign against Hagel, branding him as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, and encouraging constituents to lobby their Senators to block Hagel’s confirmation. Incredible, isn’t it? President Obama should be applauded for supporting Hagel as his top choice for Secretary of Defense in spite of the manufactured controversy. By supporting the decorated Vietnam combat veteran, Obama sent a clear message to Congress that the discourse on US military intervention is changing, and maybe even the knee-jerk pro-Israel dogma. Ask us again after he is confirmed.

Drone Home

Yesterday, President Obama nominated John Brennan to be the next director of the CIA. Brennan is himself a former CIA officer, having served as a deputy director and as the station chief in Saudi Arabia. He currently serves as a Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism. Since joining the White House in 2009, he has become one of President Obama’s closest advisers on issues of counterterrorism and national security. Some of his actions in this capacity give us reason for concern about his move to the CIA. Brennan has been the leader of the small group of advisors that choose which potential drone targets will be presented to the President for approval. In case you’ve been living under a rock the past several months, the drone program is conducted in secret with little accountability, and drone strikes have raised constitutional questions about the President’s war powers as well as killing numerous innocent civilians. Brennan has also sent mixed signals about the NYPD’s use of illegal surveillance against Arab Americans and American Muslims, pointedly declining to speak out publicly against the counterproductive practice. Some have argued that Brennan’s mission at the CIA will be “to put the drone program on a tighter leash,” but given his history, the proverbial proof will be in the pudding.

Another Failure on the NDAA

The 2013 NDAA was signed into law by the President while vacationing in Hawaii with his family, despite the veto threat that the White House issued last month with respect to the Guantanamo restrictions in the bill. Thanks to lawmakers in the House and Senate, the indefinite detention provisions were re-inserted in the bill even though thousands of constituents and a coalition of civil and human rights groups protested the indefinite detention language. Human rights groups had hoped that the President would keep his promise and veto the legislation, which strips Americans of their due process rights and makes it difficult for the President to close Guantanamo. Obama signed the bill, though, leaving many to doubt the President’s commitment to upholding civil liberties or closing down Guantanamo – a pledge he made during his first week in office back in 2009. Oh, and here’s a sad and laughable fact you might find interesting: after curtailing his own abilities to close Guantanamo, the President released a statement asserting: “I continue to believe that operating the facility weakens our national security by wasting resources.” Come on, now!

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