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Hard Road Ahead

Wednesday April 08, 2015

Countdown Vol. 13, No. 10

 

And Now There Are Two

On April 7, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) formally announced his 2016 bid for the Oval Office from his adopted state of Kentucky. In what is likely to be the most complex campaign to earn a GOP presidential nomination, Sen. Paul must tread a very thin line appealing to both his libertarian base as well as a much broader GOP base.  This complex microcosm surfaced when Sen. Paul discussed the National Security Agency’s (NSA) controversial surveillance program. Sen. Paul boldly declared that should he become President he would use an executive order to abolish the NSA’s surveillance program, a clear appeal to libertarians and young voters who are critical of the NSA’s overreaching surveillance programs as a counter-terrorism instrument. However, his position on this issue puts him at odds with the broader GOP voting base, and especially his colleagues in Congress who are a part of the GOP establishment. As a Republican candidate who wants to end the NSA’s surveillance program and appeal to a wider GOP base, Sen. Paul will have to show voters how U.S. national security is not hindered by the elimination of those specific programs. Whereas presidential nominees such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) are striving for support from a specific segment of the GOP, Sen. Paul must accept that his worldview does not allow him this luxury. If Sen. Paul fails to do so, then he and his father, Ron Paul, will find themselves enjoying some Kentucky bourbon while discussing what could have been. 

Real Diplomacy

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman sat down with President Obama this past Saturday to discuss the Iran deal and broader questions about the administration's policy towards the Middle East. The President provided candid commentary and laid out what Tom Friedman calls, "the Obama doctrine" that is, "we will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities."  In the interview the President gave his honest reflection on how we came to be where we are today in the U.S.-Iranian relationship. He sees Iran as not solely made up of the irrational bogeymen bent on the destruction of Israel that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the GOP see, but rather Mr. Obama recognizes, "the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences" most notably the U.S. role in overturning the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and our support of Saddam Hussein during the bloody Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s. This frank and critical engagement with the foreign policy decisions of decades past is what we should expect of our leaders. Waxing optimistic, the President suggested that diplomatic engagement with Iran could lead to an easing of friction between the Islamic republic and other actors.  He said we may "start seeing an equilibrium in the region" and Saudi Arabia and Iran could see fit to "lower tensions and focus on the extremists like ISIL that would burn down this entire region if they could." We hope that's true. Regarding engagement with Arab states and carrying out the fight against the extremists cutting a bloody swath through the region, Mr. Obama said the U.S. could help increase the military capabilities of our allies in the region, a commitment recently affirmed with Egypt. However, Mr. Obama added, these states "also need to increase their willingness to commit their ground troops to solving regional problems." He states that American engagement with, and military support for Arab states should focus on helping with "external aggression" but not what the administration interprets as internal issues, namely Assad's ceaseless crackdown against the people of Syria. The lines are certainly blurred on where external influence and support begin and end with respect to the Syrian military forces, so perhaps the 'internal problems' argument for inaction on Syria needs a frank and honest reassessment.

The Predictable Reaction from the Peanut Gallery

Following President Obama’s announcement of the international nuclear framework worked out between the U.S., its allies, and Iran, there has been a strong reaction from the GOP. Sen. Ted Cruz, a 2016 presidential hopeful, accused President Obama of attempting to circumvent Congress’s inclusion in this historic deal. One of Sen. Cruz’s potential 2016 GOP rivals, Jeb Bush, commented that he couldn’t endorse what he perceives to be a flawed agreement that only legitimizes Iran’s ability to develop its nuclear capabilities. Beyond Republican presidential hopefuls, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) argued that the current deal with Iran supports his view that the administration is attempting to manage Iran’s nuclear capabilities whereas it should be preventing it. Sen. Tom Cotton (R- AR) claimed that the deal represents a list of American concessions that only empowers Iran, but reassured us that he and his motley crew of companions in the Senate will protect America from destruction.  Perhaps most predictably, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Republican Senator from Israel, said that the deal threatens Israel’s existence and that any deal should call on Iran to explicitly recognize the Israeli state. And just in case we forgot, the Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs told the Associated Press that Israel is still considering a military option because it maintains the right to defend itself. At this point, the peanut gallery sure does sound a lot like a broken record.

Not So Chewy Results

Though Rahm Emanuel won a second term as Mayor of Chicago last night, he has a lot more to worry about than the embarrassment of having to twice beat Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Not only has the Mayor managed to lose the support of critical Chicago communities, there is even more cause for Democrats and liberals alike to question the Mayor’s value add for their city and the broader picture of Democratic politics. On the first score, Mayor Emanuel's brazen, routinely unsympathetic style has at times favored the elite class of Chicago, alienated neighborhood and association leaders, and spurred the growth of progressive grassroots Chicago organizing that challenges the city’s longtime centrist Democratic ascendance, splitting the party into factions. But Rahm had nearly $30 million in his war chest and spent generously to cut down Garcia’s comparative advantage – his likeability. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it may still buy elections. And Rahm had a substantial boost from Republican financial donors who understandably preferred Mayor Emanuel’s politics to those of his progressive challenger. Now, the Mayor has to reckon with his donors, the growing influence of progressive Democratic influence, and his own personality. He has a lot to chew on.

Dem Dances with the Wolves this Week?

Democrats continue to have major changes in top Senate leadership positions, but this week the change might be a bit more temporary. Senator Menendez (D-NJ) temporarily resigned his all-important position as the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee last week after the Department of Justice sent down a 14-count indictment on federal corruption charges. While he steps down from his role to sort out that mess, Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin will assume the position. This is not a small change in Congressional leadership outlooks, and it comes at a scandalous time; the controversial Iran sanctions legislation comes up for committee markup next week. Unlike Menendez, Cardin is much more closely aligned with President Obama’s foreign policy vision, and is much less likely to play make-believe friends with Senate Republicans to kill Obama's Iran deal. The jury’s out on whether the Democratic party just scored a major break – with Cardin in power the party looks more unified and supportive of the President – or if the Democrats just lost their foreign policy cover going into the 2016 races - during which time both party’s candidates will surely be held to account for how the Iran package is handled right now. The Democratic dance, as we covered last week, continues…

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