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Wednesday January 28, 2015

Countdown Vol. 13, No. 1

We’re back! With a mere 649 days until the 2016 Presidential elections we've got much to cover and no time to waste. So here it is, your first edition of Countdown in 2015!

Away We Go to 2016

Rep. Steve King (IA-4) hosted the Iowa Freedom Summit this past weekend to kick off the Republican 2016 Presidential campaign season. The Koch-backed freedom hoopla amounted to 10 hours of political pandering by Republican politicians flirting with a Presidential run, most of who aren’t taken as serious candidates by the Party faithful.  In fact, the only notable candidate that showed up was beleaguered New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has never been bashful in his attempts to woo the Iowa vote.  Also worth mentioning - Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who was fresh off appearing as himself in the most watched Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union address, boldly announced himself to be “the most conservative guy to ever live.” Devoid of any policy substance, the Freedom Summit served as another daring display of the disunity and infighting in the Republican Party. 

The Ones Who Stayed Away

The notable Republican presidential hopefuls who were not in Iowa last weekend - Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), Sen. Marco Rubio(R-FL) and former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) – spent their time underscoring the Republican disunity in more substantive ways. The incoherent Republican stance on immigration continues to become even more of a mind meld following Rep. Carlos Curbero’s annotated Spanish translation of the official Republican response to the State of the Union. Just one day before the Freedom Summit, Gov. Jeb Bush went on record admitting, “there is no way they [undocumented immigrants] are going to be deported.” Far from the policy recommendations Rep. Steve King’s wing of the Republican Party are pushing, Bush’s admission that deportation isn’t going to happen elicited a sharp response from professional inflamer Donald Trump, who said a day later “half of them [undocumented immigrants] are criminals.” It is safe to say that when it comes to immigration Republicans are speaking different languages. Whether Rep. Steve King and his ilk will continue to alienate the large number of Republicans who are actually moderate on immigration reform, or whether Governor Bush and his fellow credible 2016 candidates will be able to maintain a centrist position, immigration is one of many policies that are revealing the Republican divide.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

On March 3rd, 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the United States at the request of President Obama. Oh wait, that is wrong. It was not President Obama who asked Netanyahu, it was Speaker of the House John Boehner who not only invited the Israeli Prime Minister to visit the U.S. but to hold court before a joint session of the U.S. Congress - - and Boehner did so without even mentioning it to the President. Boehner and Netanyahu made a crass political calculation to bring the Republican Senator from Israel to the floor of Congress - a week before he faces elections in Israel - to lobby in opposition to the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Speaker Boehner’s disregard for standard protocol and basic etiquette is really quite shocking. Not only has he invited a foreign head of state without feeling the need to inform the White House or State Department, he has explicitly invited Netanyahu to Congress to lobby against the President’s policies on U.S. soil. When members of the Fox News team (yes that Fox News) are calling foul on this type of politicking, it may be a sign for Speaker Boehner and PM Netanyahu to read “The Idiot’s Guide to Diplomacy.” With President Obama promising to veto any legislation that seeks to impose new sanctions on Iran and Speaker Boehner adopting the role of international statesman, it seems as though the gauntlet has been thrown. 

What Happens in Davos…

As the fourth anniversary of the January 25th Cairo protests have come and gone without much U.S. attention paid, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s self-professed commitment to democracy and justice continues to manifest itself in the strangest ways.  As world leaders praised President Sisi at Davos last week for his “leadership”, Egypt continued its crackdown on protestors this past weekend, including the deaths of two young demonstrators allegedly at the hands of police forces, Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, 32, and Sondos Reda Abu Bakr, 17. We wonder how much more praise can be heaped upon a President whose current protest laws prevent the impromptu gathering of protestors and who continues to imprison three Al-Jazeera Journalists as well as the youth leaders who helped start the revolution. As President Sisi spoke eloquently about extremism claiming that no one has “the monopoly of the truth”, we just wonder at which point during his tenure will he allow his citizens to assert the same claim?

Yemen is Just One Piece of Obama’s Humble Pie

A mere four months ago, President Obama declared Yemen a model for the rest of the Middle East; now he has to eat his words. As Yemen toes the line between fragile and failed state, the Administration continues its determined strategy to engage as little as possible without letting Al-Qaeda embarrass the U.S. funded – but nearly completely disintegrated – Yemeni army. While it may be difficult to admit, the drone strikes that feature prominently in Obama’s hands-off war against radical rebels has been an utter failure. Yemen is also a sad indicator that President Obama’s half-in-half-out strategy in the Middle East (think Syria, ISIL, Egypt, etc.), has done little to “degrade and destroy” the growing influence of violent groups – but may have only served to let it fester

The King is Dead, the Monarchy is Alive

Following the death of King Abdullah last week the new King of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, quickly, cleanly, and un-controversially assumed the throne, assuring the world that his country would remain a source of stability in an otherwise tumultuous region. Despite the popular wisdom that the U.S.-Saudi relationship remains dangerously strained over different approaches to Syria and Iran, President Obama cut his trip to India short to travel to Saudi Arabia to pay respect to the late King Abdullah. The lavish feast spared no expense for the all-star American delegation led by President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama which included Senator John McCain, Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Eliot Engel, and Joe Crowley as well as three Secretaries of State – John Kerry, Condoleezza Rice, and Jim Baker.  Indeed, the Monarchy and the U.S.-Saudi alliance haven’t skipped a beat. 

 

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