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  • May 21, 2015
    Gary Hart was Right on Iraq, Then and Now

    In the wake of Jeb Bush's whiplash-producing reversal last week, the U.S. media is engaged in a feeding frenzy over who would have supported the Iraq war "knowing what we know now." For his part, former Colorado Senator and might-have-been President of the United States Gary Hart is disgusted both with the current circle-jerk and Jeb Bush's contortionist act to steer clear of his brother's war. But when Bush spokesman Tim Miller said he was "going to count Gary Hart criticizing Governor Bush's judgment as a win," Jeb's team walked into yet another trap. After all, Hart was right about Iraq, then and now.

    To be sure, Harts criticism of "The Decider" and his brother was pointed and personal:

    "I'm trying to avoid being categorical about a whole family. But the Bushes do not demonstrate analytical minds. They demonstrate visceral minds. The father I knew and liked a lot. The sons respond to events and respond to stimuli, and they are not analytical thinkers. And that comes out in their rhetoric or lack thereof and their thought process and how they look at complex issues. Governor Bush, half his mind is how to protect his brother. The other half is, How do I answer without alienating two-thirds of the Republican Party?"

    As he explained to the Huffington Post on Monday, Senator Hart was more than skeptical of the Iraq project from the beginning:

    "I have to say, not being privy to intelligence briefings as others were, I probably had the benefit of objectivity. That is to say, I wasn't being misled by intelligence briefings by the administration or anyone else. But it didn't pass the smell test. And, to be honest with you, I didn't trust the people promoting the war in Iraq. I knew many of them and thought they had a different agenda. They had in mind to use Iraq as an American political and military base in the Middle East and reach out from there to impose peace on the region. It was a grand scheme, but many bridges too far."

    But while Republican presidential contenders and their conservative amen corner scramble to rewrite the history of the Iraq catastrophe, Hart's position has been unchanged. In the spring of 2002, as Matt Bai documented in his book All the Truth is Out, New York Democratic Congressman and Project for a New American Century fellow traveler Stephen Solarz asked Gary Hart to join other Democratic elder statesmen to give pro-war Democrats political cover by signing a letter to President Bush supporting a potential invasion. Hart would have none of it:

    "Though I am flattered to have been on the distribution list for your proposed letter to President Bush," Hart began, "the last thing in the world I'm going to do, as a Democrat or as an American, is give this administration a blank check to make war on any country."

    In concluding his response to Solarz, Hart explained his opposition in no uncertain terms:

    Once it has been established that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, there will be plenty of time to enact appropriate U.N. resolutions authorizing the international community to act in concert to remove them.

    With all due respect, Steve, and there is plenty of that, I think this proposed letter is unwise and ill-conceived. If unqualified, open-ended, mindless support for whatever Wolfowitz and Perle have on their minds is such a good idea, Democrats in Congress won't need us to make it easier for them. This letter will come back to haunt all who sign it. [Emphasis mine.]

    As it turns out, this wasn't the first time Gary Hart warned President Bush about a nightmare that could occur on his watch. On February 15, 2001, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century Hart co-chaired released its final, Phase III report, "Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change." While the Commission in its Phase I report "the Commission stressed that mass-casualty terrorism directed against the U.S. homeland was of serious and growing concern," in February 2001 Hart's panel presciently warned that "many thousands of American lives, U.S. leadership among the community of nations, and the fate of U.S. national security itself are at risk unless the President and the Congress join together to implement the recommendations set forth in this report."

    The combination of unconventional weapons proliferation with the persistence of international terrorism will end the relative invulnerability of the U.S. homeland to catastrophic attack. A direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century. The risk is not only death and destruction but also a demoralization that could undermine U.S. global leadership. In the face of this threat, our nation has no coherent or integrated governmental structures.

    The new Bush administration responded by letting the findings and recommendations of the Hart-Rudman Commission gather dust. Gather dust, that is, until it was too late. On September 11, 2001, that mass casualty attack left 3,000 people dead in Manhattan, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania. In 2004, 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Kean said "the most important failure" leading to the attacks was "one of imagination," concluding. "We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat."

    To mark the 10 year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, former Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley relied on pretty much the same talking point. That the United States wouldn't find WMD, but instead an insurgency, sectarian chaos and an influx of Al Qaeda fighters, Hadley concluded "It was less an intelligence failure than a failure of imagination."

    But there was no failure of imagination of the part of Gary Hart. He certainly understood the gravity of the threat posed by terrorist groups to the American people on U.S. soil. And he knew President Bush was inviting another threat by setting foot on Iraqi soil.

    Note: I worked on Gary Hart's 1984 campaign for president.

    Perrspective 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    May 19, 2015
    GOP Reversal on Iraq Undermines Case for Preventive War against Iran

    "Knowing what we know now." With those five words, virtually the entire 2016 Republican presidential field erased over 12 years of GOP talking points steadfastly supporting President Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq. But that phrase is much less important in what it says about the past (after all, as many have noted, we had plenty of evidence at the time that the U.S. invasion wouldn't unearth WMD but instead only detonate sectarian chaos in Iraq) than what it means for the future. That's because many of the same voices now belatedly acknowledging the catastrophe of America's preventive war against Iraq are calling for another preventive war of choice against Iran.

    That's right. To choose to start a war to prevent a possible threat in the future--as opposed to preempting an imminent enemy attack--policymakers have to be right. Right about the nature and the likelihood of the threat. Right about the legal basis in U.S. and international law. And just as important, right about the consequences of launching a war they could have chosen not to fight.

    And when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program, the United States is rapidly coming to that same fork in the road. If the Obama administration fails to secure a deal with Tehran, or if an agreement is sabotaged by opponents in Congress, then Americans will have to choose. Which is worse: living in a world with a nuclear Iran or fighting a regional (and possibly global) war to prevent it?

    For the advocates of strikes against Tehran nuclear facilities, war with Iran would be little more unpleasant than an ill-timed fart. All it would take, grandstanding Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton declared, is "several days of air and naval bombing." But that it not the consensus of national security experts here and in Israel. As I summed it up in March, the cost would be staggering for combatting the subsequent Iranian retaliation in the Persian Gulf, across the region, in Europe and even here:

    [The cost] could be as much as $2 trillion over a decade. Thousands of U.S servicemen and women, as well as American civilians, could be the casualties of a conflict that might well spread beyond the region. To ensure that Iran can never develop nuclear weapons, that's the possible price tag in blood and treasure for an American invasion and occupation of Iran that would require "a commitment of resources and personnel greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10 years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."

    Remember, the last time we traveled this path, we were informed that Iraqi oil revenues would ultimately pay for the cost of the conflict and estimates that the American occupation would require "several hundreds of thousands" of U.S. troops were dismissed as "wildly off the mark."

    And to be sure, President Bush's invasion of Iraq was an exercise in preventive war. In his October 7, 2002, address in Cincinnati, Bush warned, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof--the smoking gun--that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." That echoed the talking point National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice mouthed a month earlier, when she fretted, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wwars nearly six months before Colin Powell would make his infamous presentation to the United Nations, Vice President Dick Cheney was unequivocal about the future threat from Saddam Hussein:

    Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors -- confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today, and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth.

    For his part, John McCain was on board 100 percent. He didn't just agree that the Iraq war would be a short one and that Americans would be "greeted as liberators." Three months after the invasion in June 2003, McCain announced:

    I remain confident that we will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

    But it didn't work out that way. Bush, Cheney, Rice and McCain (among others) were, as Iraq Survey Group Charles Duelfer testified in October 2004, "almost all wrong." And not just about WMD, but about Saddam's links to Al Qaeda and pretty much everything else. To have any legitimacy in international law and in the court of world opinion, the justifications for preventive war must be true and the "gathering threats" real ones. The Bush administration failed on every criterion.

    To put it another way, if any idea should have been thoroughly discredited by the blood and treasure lost in ousting Saddam Hussein and the subsequent carnage in Iraq, it is the very notion of preventive war itself.

    Whether or not preventive war constitutes legitimate self-defense under international law, history is replete with examples that did not end well for the aggressors. (For Americans, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor should leap to mind.) While "pre-emption" is "meant to grab the tactical advantages of striking first against what is seen as a truly imminent threat, when an adversary's attack is close at hand," the Oxford Bibliographies explained that:

    The strategic logic of preventive war is rooted in the desire to halt the erosion of relative power to a rising adversary and the future dangers this power shift might present. Leaders calculate that a war fought in the near term will be less costly than a war fought at a later date, after the potential adversary has had an opportunity to increase its military capabilities. Under preventive war conditions, there is no certainty that this future war will actually be fought; preventive war is launched to avoid the mere possibility of a higher-cost future war or the potential for the target state to use its rising power in a coercive way.

    Nevertheless, if the Republicans (and some Democrats) now attacking President Obama have their way, the United States will be on a course for a new preventive war, this time against Iran. And if the negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program falter, President Obama will have to face the same challenge he issued two years ago. As Obama cautioned in March 2012, "This is not a game," he said. "And there's nothing casual about it."

    "If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be."

    Or as General David Petraeus put it during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, "Tell me how this ends."

    Sadly, we still don't know, as the final chapter in America's cataclysm in Iraq has yet to be written. But we do know this. In place of the secular Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, the U.S. enabled the creation of a Shiite-dominated state loyal to Tehran in its place, the central government of which soon alienated the very Sunni tribes that largely ejected Al Qaeda during the "Surge." As a result, Iraq has devolved into an ongoing sectarian bloodbath, as the toxic blend of Saddam loyalists and former Al Qaeda fighters found support on either side of the Syrian border and put both the Kurds and the government in Baghdad at risk. Oh, and one other thing. Forty-four hundred Americans troops were killed, over 30,000 wounded and perhaps hundreds of thousands Iraqi civilians left dead.

    After a four day reversal that left him with a painful whiplash, Jeb Bush on Friday finally reached this conclusion:

    "Knowing what we now know, what would you have done? I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq."

    But soon, all Americans may have to answer a different question. Knowing what we know now, what about Iran?

    Perrspective 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    May 18, 2015
    Sorry, Jeb. Your Brother Did Create ISIS

    It must be tough being the brother of the man who is responsible for the world-historical disaster that was the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It's tougher still to try to replace him as the next Republican president of the United States.

    This week, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush found that out the hard way. Mocked by the press and his GOP rivals for first announcing "I would have" gone into Iraq knowing what he knows now, Jeb reversed course days later in declaring, "I would not have gone into Iraq." But even before the pain had subsided from that severe case of whiplash, Governor Bush was embarrassed at an event in Reno by 19 year-old college student Ivy Ziedrich. When Bush tried to pin the paternity for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on President Obama, the University of Nevada poly sci major replied simply:

    "Your brother created ISIS."

    Ms. Ziedrich's is a bold claim. After all, for her to be right, ISIS--the dangerous movement combining Saddam loyalists, former Al Qaeda members and disgruntled Sunni fighters--would have to have emerged as a direct result of the war Bush launched in 2003. The disbanding of Saddam's 400,000 man army would have to be laid at the feet of "The Decider." Foreign fighters must have flocked to Al Qaeda--a non-factor in Iraq before the U.S. invasion--specifically to target American troops. And while those unlikely allies forged ties in U.S and Iraqi prisons, Sunni tribesmen once paid by American forces would have to have become alienated by a sectarian Shiite strongman in Baghdad beholden to Iran. The inevitable outcome of such U.S. mismanagement of post-Saddam Iraq, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld privately warned his boss on October 15, 2002, would be that "Iraq could experience ethnic strife among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds" with the result that "it could fracture into two or three pieces, to the detriment of the Middle East and the benefit of Iran."

    Unfortunately for Jeb Bush--and to Ivy Ziedrich's credit, that is precisely what transpired. Or to push in terms even Republican myth-makers can understand: ISIS? George W. Bush built that.

    Here's how.

    Bringing Al Qaeda to Iraq

    Let's start with an easy one. We know that the U.S. invasion of Iraq brought Al Qaeda to Iraq and the region because President Bush told us so.

    In his December 2008 exit interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News, he acknowledged that it was the American presence that drew Al Qaeda fighters to Iraq, and not the reverse:

    BUSH: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take -

    RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

    BUSH: Yeah, that's right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they're going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.

    As we now know, Al Qaeda in Iraq was down, but not out. Ejected from most of Anbar province by U.S. forces and the fighters of the "Sunni Awakening," the remaining followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi retrenched across the border in Syria. Just three weeks ago, President Bush told a closed door meeting of Jewish donors that the Islamic State was Al Qaeda's "second act." (As the groups splintered in Syria in February 2014, Al Qaeda central said it wanted no part of the Islamic State in its second act.) Nevertheless, as the Washington Post explained last month, the "hidden hand" behind the emergence of the Islamic State was Saddam Hussein's.

    De-Ba'athification and Disbanding Saddam's Army

    As we'll see below, from the beginning high-ranking officers from Saddam's military and officials of his Ba'ath party have played critical leadership roles in the military and economic operations of ISIS. But that's not because, as President Bush claimed in 2004, they "should have surrendered or been done in." Instead, it is in large part due to the very reason Ivy Ziedrich gave Jeb Bush: the 2003 decision to disband the Iraqi army and "de-Ba'athify" the Iraqi government. And those catastrophic decisions by Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) viceroy L. Paul Bremer were blessed by President Bush.

    Using letters provided by Bremer, the New York Times in 2007 documented that President Bush indeed casually approved Bremer's May 2003 plan to disband the Iraqi military. Bremer released both his May 22, 2003 letter detailing his plans and progress on de-Ba'athification and the dissolution of Saddam's army, as well as President Bush's May 23rd response.

    In his May 22 letter, Bremer informed Bush that:

    "We must make it clear to everyone that we mean business: that Saddam and the Baathists are finished...I will parallel this step [de-Baathification] with an even more robust measure dissolving Saddam's military and intelligence structures to emphasize that we mean business."

    In his shockingly brief May 23 response, Bush nonchalantly blesses Bremer's fateful step to dissolve the Iraqi military:

    "Your leadership is apparent. You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence. You also have the backing of our Administration that knows our work will take time."

    President Bush must have been pleased with Bremer's work. In December 2004, Bush rewarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    Three years later in 2007, an unfazed Bush told biographer Robert Draper, "The policy was to keep the army intact; didn't happen" and "Yeah, I can't remember, I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?'"

    What happened is that the tens of thousands of now unemployed and very unhappy Iraqi soldiers formed the basis for the insurgency the killed and maimed thousands of American soldiers. Nevertheless, in response to the growing bloodbath and chaos his decisions unleashed, President Bush in August 2004 had a novel explanation for the carnage in Iraq:

    "Had we had to do it [the invasion of Iraq] over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success - being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day."

    Lived to fight another day, indeed.

    Giving Birth to the Leadership of ISIS

    In the March 2015 issue of The Atlantic, Graeme Wood gave his intepretation of "what ISIS really wants." Under the leadership of "emir" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Wood claimed, ISIS seeks to build a new Islamic caliphate that will realize its End-Times, millenarian vision. "The Islamic State awaits the army of 'Rome,'" Wood said, "whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria, will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse."

    But before there was al-Baghdadi (rumored to be partially paralyzed after an American air strike), there was Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi. Also known as Haji Bakr, he was a colonel in Saddam's intelligence service. And as documents recently obtained by Der Spiegel show, the late Haji Bakr was the architect of the ISIS organization that selected al-Baghdadi as its religious front man.

    The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein's air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years. Former members of the group had repeatedly mentioned him as one of its leading figures. Still, it was never clear what exactly his role was.

    But when the architect of the Islamic State died, he left something behind that he had intended to keep strictly confidential: the blueprint for this state. It is a folder full of handwritten organizational charts, lists and schedules, which describe how a country can be gradually subjugated...

    The story of this collection of documents begins at a time when few had yet heard of the "Islamic State." When Iraqi national Haji Bakr traveled to Syria as part of a tiny advance party in late 2012, he had a seemingly absurd plan: IS would capture as much territory as possible in Syria. Then, using Syria as a beachhead, it would invade Iraq.

    As Kevin Drum summed it up, "Bakr wanted to build an organization that could retake Iraq, and he calculated that this could best be done by combining the secular mechanisms of Saddam Hussein with the religious fanaticism of an Al Qaeda." The real roots of ISIS, Drum concluded, "are as much secular as religious."

    And those roots run deep among the "thousands of well-trained Sunni officers were robbed of their livelihood with the stroke of a pen" by Paul Bremer in May 2003. And like Haji Bakr, many soon found an ally in the Al Qaeda chief, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. As Liz Sly wrote in the Washington Post:

    Some of those Baathists became early recruits to the al-Qaeda affiliate established by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Palestinian Jordanian fighter who is regarded as the progenitor of the current Islamic State, said Hisham al Hashemi, an Iraqi analyst who advises the Iraqi government and has relatives who served in the Iraqi military under Hussein. Other Iraqis were radicalized at Camp Bucca, the American prison in southern Iraq where thousands of ordinary citizens were detained and intermingled with jihadists.

    Among them was the future emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Held in Camp Bucca from February through December 2004, al-Baghdadi was able to form close links with jailed Saddam loyalists and Al Qaeda fighters. As Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt detailed in the New York Times last August, he "handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago."

    He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein's long-disbanded army.

    They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group's military council.

    The pedigree of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.

    To put it another way, heckuva job, Bushie.

    Ensuring Sectarian Conflict by Backing a Shiite Strongman in Baghdad

    "When George W. Bush left office," the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol declared earlier this year, "Iraq was safe and peaceful." Of course, that wasn't the case in 2009. And the sectarian violence that increasingly gripped the country would not have been prevented had President Obama succeeded in reversing Bush's Status of Forces agreement that called for all U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. That's because Jeb's brother didn't just pour the foundation for the edifice of the Islamic State. Nouri al-Maliki, President Bush's man in Baghdad, was also Tehran's. And by backing the Shiite hyper-partisan, Bush ensured future sectarian conflict with Iraq's Kurdish and Sunni minorities.

    As you'll recall, the defeat of Al Qaeda in the western provinces of Iraq would not have been possible without the Sunni Awakening in which the United States purchased the allegiance of tribal sheiks and armed 90,000 of their fighters to battle Al Qaeda. But those "Sons of Iraq" of Iraq would only stay bought if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite majority integrated them into the nation's security forces. But accommodating the Sunni groups was precisely was Maliki--that is, George W. Bush's man in Baghdad--refused to do. As Dexter Filkins explained last year:

    In the two and a half years since the Americans' departure, Maliki has centralized power within his own circle, cut the Sunnis out of political power, and unleashed a wave of arrests and repression. Maliki's march to authoritarian rule has fueled the reemergence of the Sunni insurgency directly. With nowhere else to go, Iraq's Sunnis are turning, once again, to the extremists to protect them.

    In 2006, that committed Shiite sectarian Nouri al-Maliki was President Bush's hand-picked choice for the premiership. But by the summer of 2007, Robert Draper reported, Bush, John McCain and Lindsey Graham were all worrying that Maliki would undo the gains of the surge made possible by General David Petraeus' Sunni Awakening:

    It suddenly seemed that the efforts of the surge might be for naught. And so, shortly after returning from Iraq, McCain and Graham visited President Bush at the White House. According to three individuals with knowledge of the July 11 conversation, the pair advised Bush to cut all ties with al-Maliki unless he showed immediate signs of engagement. Such a move on Bush's part would be tantamount to encouraging a coup against Iraq's first democratically elected prime minister, but McCain and Graham saw the situation as a desperate one. We've got a military strategy that's working, they told the president. And it's being undercut by an Iraqi government that's dysfunctional.

    Bush was sympathetic. He'd been giving al-Maliki pep talks for more than six months now, with little to show for the effort. But, he told the two senators, "Who's going to replace him?"

    We don't have a good answer for that, they replied. But unless al-Maliki changes, we can't get there.

    As it turned out, Maliki didn't change. The hope for a pluralistic Iraqi government, dependent as it was on the Shiite majority's inclusion of the Sunni minority previously represented by Saddam Hussein, soon began to fade. As the New York Times warned as the last American troops were leaving Iraq in December 2011, the Sunnis' worst fears were being realized:

    The Shiite-dominated central government has arrested prominent Sunnis on accusations that they are secret members of the long-disbanded Baath Party, which has alienated Sunni elites. Meanwhile, a Sunni revolt a few hundred miles to the north of here against the Shiite-aligned government in neighboring Syria is gathering force.

    Last month, government police officers wounded two guards and detained two others in a raid on the home of a Sunni, Sheik Albo Baz, in Salahuddin Province, prompting a protest by several thousand Sunnis in Samarra, a city divided by sect.

    This followed the roundup by police officers of 600 suspected Baath Party sympathizers in October; they were accused of planning a coup.

    The impact of the simmering Sunni grievances was evident in the in rapid ISIS takeover of Mosul in June 2014. The much larger Iraqi army units, comprised mostly of Shiite troops from outside Anbar, evaporated in the face of just hundreds of ISIS fighters. The Washington Post described the reaction of residents:

    For many in the mostly Sunni city, the ouster of the hated national security forces was welcome, offering a sign of just how much the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad has alienated the Sunni population in the eight years since Maliki came to power.

    Mercifully, the situation in Iraq has improved. President Obama forced Maliki from office by conditioning U.S. assistance on his replacement. U.S. and coalition air strikes have helped the Kurds repel ISIS fighters, while Iraqi forces backed by Shiite militias loyal to Iran and its allied clergy in Iraq ejected ISIS from Tikrit. ISIS "emir" al-Baghdadi has been seriously wounded and his second-in-command killed. Twelve years after George W. Bush's launched "shock and awe" with a card deck featuring Saddam Hussein and 51 of his henchmen, "King of Clubs" Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was finally killed. But his extremist Naqshbandi Army still fights alongside ISIS, while the new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is struggling to keep Sunni tribal leaders, his Iranian patron, the Shiite militias and the United States on the same page.

    In April, George W. Bush reemerged to lend his support to his brother while taking a few pot-shots at President Obama's Middle East policies. As for his decision to invade Iraq in the first place, Dubya has only one regret, even after "knowing what we know now." As he put it in November, that regret is the rise of ISIS:

    "I think it was the right decision. My regret is that a violent group of people has risen up again. This is al Qaeda plus. I put in the book that they need to be defeated. And I hope they are. I hope the strategy works."

    We all do. But George W. Bush should most of all because, as Ivy Ziedrich rightly suggested, ISIS is his baby. While Jeb belatedly acknowledged that his brother's invasion of Iraq was a mistake, he simply could not bring himself to admit Dubya's cataclysmic failure lives on in the Islamic State. As he lectured Ms. Ziedrich, "We respectfully disagree":

    "Look, you can rewrite history all you want. But the simple fact is that we are in a much more unstable place because America pulled back."

    Sorry, Jeb. You're the revisionist here. Iraq and the region are much more unstable because your brother went in.

    Perrspective 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    May 17, 2015
    George W. Bush Unrepentant in Defense of His Iraq Invasion

    Knowing what he knows now about the reaction to his statement that knowing what he knows now he would still have gone into Iraq, Jeb Bush on Friday comically reversed course on his brother's 2003 invasion of Iraq. Even more side-splitting have been the responses of Jeb's rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Casually discarding over a decade of GOP talking points, Florida Senator Marco Rubio declared that knowing what we know now:
    "Not only would I not have been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it."

    As it turns out, Rubio's claim is doubly pathetic. After all, Mr. New American Century repeatedly defended topping Saddam Hussein, including as recently as six weeks ago. More ridiculous still was Rubio's failure to check with President Bush himself: the "Decider" has never had second thoughts about the world-historical disaster he launched in Iraq.

    Writing in the New York Times, Peter Baker helped catalog Dubya's defense of the indefensible. For example, in his 2010 memoir Decision Points, Bush explained:

    "Imagine what the world would look like today with Saddam Hussein still ruling Iraq," Mr. Bush wrote. "He would still be threatening his neighbors, sponsoring terror and piling bodies into mass graves."

    "Instead," he added, "as a result of our actions in Iraq, one of America's most committed and dangerous enemies stopped threatening us forever."

    As President, Bush didn't just reject the idea that the decision to oust Saddam was a mistake; he struggled to name a single mistake he made during his tenure in the White House. In an April 2004 press conference, Bush hilariously replied, "I'm sure something will pop into my head here" when asked about errors he had made in office. In 2007, he answered the same question from Scott Pelley of CBS 60 Minutes this way:

    "You know, we've been through this before. Abu Ghraib was a mistake. Using bad language like, you know, 'bring them on' was a mistake. I think history is gonna look back and see a lot of ways we could have done things better. No question about it."

    WMD or no, Bush continued to show no qualms about his Iraq cataclysm. In London in June 2008 as part of his final swing through Europe before leaving the White House, President Bush told The Times of London that his cowboy rhetoric was perhaps his greatest regret:

    President Bush has admitted to The Times that his gun-slinging rhetoric made the world believe that he was a "guy really anxious for war" in Iraq.

    [...] In an exclusive interview, he expressed regret at the bitter divisions over the war and said that he was troubled about how his country had been misunderstood. "I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric."

    Phrases such as "bring them on" or "dead or alive", he said, "indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace."

    Just this past November, the former president used the press tour for his biography of his father to once again defend the rightness of his March 2003 invasion of Iraq. If "bad language" had been his only regret while in office, by the end of 2014 Bush's lone misgiving was the rise of ISIS:

    "I think it was the right decision. My regret is that a violent group of people has risen up again. This is al Qaeda plus. I put in the book that they need to be defeated. And I hope they are. I hope the strategy works."

    (Of course, we all do. But Dubya should more than anyone else. After all, as Republicans might put it: ISIS? Bush built that.)

    As the Times' Baker notes, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have always stood by the decision to invade and occupy Iraq, WMD or no. But like most the 2016 GOP field, even some of Bush's closest advisers have tried to have it both ways. In his own memoir Courage and Consequence, Karl Rove blamed himself for not lying more about the war. As Baker wrote at the time ("Rove on Iraq: Without W.M.D. Threat, Bush Wouldn't Have Gone to War"):

    "Would the Iraq War have occurred without W.M.D.? I doubt it," he writes. "Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the W.M.D. threat. The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change, and deal with Iraq's horrendous human rights violations."

    He adds: "So, then, did Bush lie us into war? Absolutely not." But Mr. Rove said the White House had only a "weak response" to the harmful allegation, which became "a poison-tipped dagger aimed at the heart of the Bush presidency."

    President Bush's former press secretary Ari Fleischer lamented Jeb's performance on Iraq this week. "No, it was not handled well by Gov. Bush," Fleischer admitted, "I don't know why he said what he did." This is how Fleischer himself recently addressed the "knowing what we know now" question on Iraq:

    "I just don't think he would have gone to war. I think he would have turned up the heat on Saddam, but I don't think he would have gone to war."

    Of course, that's not what Ari Fleischer was saying before. As he put it to Chris Matthews in March 2009:

    "After September 11th having been hit once how could we take a chance that Saddam might strike again? And that's the threat that has been removed and I think we are all safer with that threat removed." [Emphasis mine]

    Only time will tell whether Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or any of the other Republican White House wannabes say anything so ridiculous or regrettable about Iraq. As for George W. Bush, he has no real regrets at all.

    Perrspective 2:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    May 15, 2015
    Marco Rubio Regurgitates Romney's Foreign Policy Sound Bites

    As you may have heard, Florida Senator and 2016 GOP White House hopeful Marco Rubio delivered a major address Wednesday on foreign policy and national security. Wanting to learn more about his so-called "Rubio Doctrine," I visited his web site to see what he had to say.

    As it turned out, I didn't need to waste the mouse clicks. His lofty talking points about a "new American century" and dire warnings about "our Navy at pre-WWI levels" sounded no better when Mitt Romney spouted them four years ago.

    On a day when he didn't do himself any favors by claiming he would have opposed the Iraq invasion that he defended just six weeks ago, Marco Rubio botched basic U.S. history when he declared, "America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom rather than its own territory." He was manifestly--as in Manifest Destiny--wrong. But it was this attack on President Obama that caught my eye:

    [Obama] wasted no time stripping parts from the engine of American Strength. He enacted hundreds of billions in defense cuts that left our Army on track to be at pre-World War II levels, our Navy at pre-WWI levels, and our Air Force with the smallest and oldest combat force in its history.

    Leave aside that future defense cutbacks are the result of the 2011 Budget Control Act's sequestration process Republicans demanded as the ransom for releasing its debt ceiling hostage. (Rubio voted against it, because he refused to vote for a debt ceiling increase unless he extorted much steeper cuts to federal spending.) As I pondered Rubio's charge about the military, I thought:

    "We also have fewer horses and bayonets. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

    The line, of course, belonged to President Obama, who used it to skewer Mitt Romney during their third and final presidential debate in 2012. That brutally effective take-down came just after Governor Romney declared:

    "Our Navy is old -- excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now at under 285. We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That's unacceptable to me.

    I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947."

    Romney should have known better than to walk into Obama's ambush. One expert said Romney's sound bite "doesn't pass the giggle test," Politifact branded his claim about the size of the U.S. Navy a "Pants on Fire" lie. Those smack downs came after the Romney campaign charged that "President Obama has put us on course toward a 'hollow' force."

    The Obama administration's cuts have left us with a military inventory largely composed of weapons designed forty to fifty years ago. The average age of our tanker aircraft is 47 years, of strategic bombers 34 years. While the weapons in our arsenal remain formidable, they are well along on the path to obsolescence. Along with the aging process, there has been a precipitous decline in sheer numbers. The U.S. Navy has only 284 ships today, the lowest level since 1916. Given current trends, the number will decline, and the additional contemplated cuts will cause it to decline even further. Our naval planners indicate we need 328 ships to fulfill the Navy's role of global presence and power projection in defense of American security. Our Air Force, which had 82 fighter squadrons at the end of the Cold War, has been reduced to 39 today.

    So when President Obama ("So the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships; it's what are our capabilities") finished burying Romney's talking point, you might have expected Republicans would have left it six feet under.

    But Marco Rubio tells us he represents a new generation of Republicans, one who will lead a "New American Century." As he put it in his Miami announcement address:

    At the turn of the 19th century, a generation of Americans harnessed the power of the Industrial Age and transformed this country into the leading economy in the world. And the 20th century became the American Century.

    Now, the time has come for our generation to lead the way toward a new American Century.

    And as he worded it Wednesday:

    "I believe America will continue to advance the cause of peace and freedom in our time. Because we will, America will remain safe and strong. And because we will, the 21st century will be another American Century."

    But if "this will be the message of my campaign and the purpose of my presidency," Marco Rubio should be paying royalties to Mitt Romney. As the Washington Post summed up Romney's big foreign speech at The Citadel in October 2011:

    Calling for a new "American century," Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney laid out a muscular agenda for promoting U.S. interests abroad.

    Marco's "Rubio Doctrine" speech quite a copy and paste operation, but it was close. As the GOP's eventual nominee put it that day:

    "I am here today to tell you that I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century. In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American Century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world...

    Let me make this very clear. As President of the United States, I will devote myself to an American Century. And I will never, ever apologize for America."

    For his part, Iran-Contra architect and Iraq war cheerleader Elliott Abrams seemed very satisfied with Rubio's speech. Of course, he isn't just advising Senator Rubio now; in 2012 he performed the same task for Governor Romney. Lanhee Chen, a senior fellow at Stanford's conservative Hoover Institution, loved it, calling "Rubio's robust foreign policy vision is 'a great fit for the policy and political environment we are in right now.'"

    And the one we were in 2012, when she worked for Mitt Romney.

    Meanwhile, Democrats will doubtless welcome Marco Rubio's recycling of Mitt Romney's failed talking points. As President Obama might put it, "Please proceed, Senator."

    Perrspective 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    Senate GOP Killed $2 Billion for Amtrak Repairs in 2011

    While investigators are working to understand the causes of the deadly Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia, the Republicans' best and brightest are adding insult to injury. On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to slash $260 million from Amtrak funding. Meanwhile, David Frum, the man who brought you "the Axis of Evil," brought some evil of his own to Twitter:
    Awful that America's railway lines are in such bad shape. If only the country had committed $800 billion to a massive stimulus program.

    Leave aside for the moment that over 40 percent of President Obama's 2009 stimulus program was delivered in the form of tax cuts. In 2011, every Senate Republican voted to filibuster Obama's American Jobs Act and its $2 billion in repair and renovation money for Amtrak.

    As you may recall, that $447 billion package was designed to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, especially in the lagging construction and public sectors, through large scale investment in infrastructure. In section subtitled "Immediate Transportation Infrastructure Investments," the American Jobs Act featured this nugget for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, also known as Amtrak:

    Subsection (e) makes available $2 billion to Amtrak for the repair, rehabilitation, and upgrade of Amtrak's assets and infrastructure, including rolling stock.

    As ThinkProgress explained, that was just one component of a much bigger infrastructure push in the AJA:

    One of the main elements of the president's job plan is a $50 BILLION investment to rebuild America's crumbling roads, bridges, transit systems, and airports. In addition to funding vital projects that will help keep America competitive, these investments will put thousands of people back to work in each and every state.

    But on October 11, 2011, every Republican Senator said no in a filibuster that was joined by Democrats Jon Tester (D-MT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE). And what did these 49 Senators succeed in blocking? As ThinkProgress ("5 Ways Republicans Have Sabotaged Job Growth") summed it up in 2012:

    Last October, Senate Republicans killed a jobs bill proposed by President Obama that would have pumped $447 billion into the economy. Multiple economic analysts predicted the bill would add around two million jobs and hailed it as defense against a double-dip recession. The Congressional Budget Office also scored it as a net deficit reducer over ten years, and the American public supported the bill.

    In the wake of the GOP filibuster, President Obama vowed to bring the separate pieces of the American Jobs Act to the floor for a vote. While the two-year Social Security payroll tax holiday was eventually passed into law, pretty much everything else-- $175 billion in new spending on roads, school repairs and other infrastructure as well as jobless aid and help to local governments to avoid layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police officers--died at the hands of Congressional Republicans. Nevertheless, Obama has used every State of the Union address since to make the case. As he put in the 2015 SOTU in January:

    "Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure--modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this."

    Not anymore. Republicans can't even vote to fund our nation's highways by raising the gas tax that hasn't changed since 1993. Apparently opposed to the "public" in "public transportation, Republicans have repeatedly voted to kill badly needed and long overdue infrastructure spending. And as Americans saw in the Minneapolis I-35 bridge collapse, the I-5 bridge collapse in Washington State or the Amtrak derailment that killed 47 in Mobile, Alabama, killing infrastructure spending can kill.

    Perrspective 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    May 13, 2015
    Charles Murray Returns to Help the GOP Demolish Modern America

    As the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination heats up, one name keeps popping up as the GOP's go-to guy on poverty, economic inequality and social policy. "My views on this were shaped a lot on this by Charles Murray's book," Jeb Bush recently proclaimed, adding. "I like Charles Murray books to be honest with you, which means I'm a total nerd I guess."

    Being an acolyte of the Harvard social scientist and libertarian crusader doesn't make you a nerd, but it does make you a fellow traveler in support of some of the more extreme views in American public policy. After all, in his 1984 book Losing Ground, Murray argued the unintended consequences of liberal social engineering were making the lives of poor worse. In 1994's The Bell Curve co-authored with Richard Hernstein, Charles Murray further suggested that due to the inferior IQ's of racial minorities, government intervention was unnecessary and unlikely to succeed. Three years ago in Coming Apart, Professor Murray proclaimed the poors were simply undeserving of assistance, as the supposed pathologies plaguing the lower classes were due to their blighted values, not their blighted job prospects.

    Now in his new tome the By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, Charles Murray is apparently* proposing conservatives kill the post-New Deal American government by suing it to death.

    Decrying the rules and regulations issued by Congressionally-created administrative agencies in the Executive Branch, Murray has issued a simple marching order to his followers: ignore them:

    And so my modest proposal: Let's withhold that compliance through systematic civil disobedience. Not for all regulations, but for the pointless, stupid and tyrannical ones.

    Identifying precisely which regulations are pointless, stupid or tyrannical will be a lengthy process, but categories that should come under strict scrutiny include regulations that prescribe best practice for a craft or profession; restrict access to an occupation; prohibit owners of property from using it as they wish; prescribe hiring, firing and working conditions; and prevent people from taking voluntary risks.

    At first blush, that may sound like the thinking of the bastard love child of a sovereign citizen and an anarchist. But to make his Hobbesian war of each against all of the federal government work, Murray argues for deploying a private legal army backed by the deep pockets of any number of right-wing sugar daddies. As Carlos Lozada summed it up in his Washington Post review:

    Who pays for all this? Pointing to the emergence of "many billion-dollar-plus private fortunes over the last three decades," Murray suggests that the Madison Fund could get started "if just one wealthy American cared enough to contribute, say, a few hundred million dollars," or if "a dozen wealthy Americans cared enough to share the initial costs among themselves."

    In response to that "large number of regulations that meet the criteria for being pointless, stupid or tyrannical," Murray declares, "Let's just ignore them and go on about our lives as if they didn't exist." And when, say, OSHA, the EPA or the NLRB comes after any business or land owner, the conservative counterattack will take place in court:

    I propose two frameworks for implementing this strategy. The first would be a legal foundation functioning much as the Legal Services Corporation does for the poor, except that its money will come from private donors, not the government. It would be an altruistic endeavor, operating exclusively on behalf of the homeowner or small business being harassed by the regulators. The foundation would pick up all the legal costs of the defense and pay the fines when possible.

    The other framework would be occupational defense funds. Let's take advantage of professional expertise and pride of vocation to drive standards of best practice. For example, the American Dental Association could form Dental Shield, with dentists across America paying a small annual fee. The bargain: Dentists whose practices meet the ADA's professional standards will be defended when accused of violating a regulation that the ADA has deemed to be pointless, stupid or tyrannical. The same kind of defense fund could be started by truckers, crafts unions, accountants, physicians, farmers or almost any other occupation.

    Overwhelmed by a tidal wave of litigation from an ocean of conservative cash, Uncle Sam will relent. The cost and bad publicity, Murray argues, will increasingly lead to infrequent enforcement. "Faced with many people who are technically breaking the law but who are actually driving safely," he explained using the highway analogy, "state troopers stop only those people who are driving significantly faster than the flow of traffic or driving erratically."

    If Murray's program sounds like it longs for a return to the survival of the fittest society predating Progressive Era protections for workers, children and the environment, that's because it does. In that position, he is joined by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who lamented how the New Deal Supreme Court overturned the 1905 Lochner decision which declared the "liberty to contract" trumped workplace regulations. As Yale Law professor Akhil Reed Amar warned, "It's a return to the playbook of the early 20th century, and an attack on the progressive movement." Nothing, Lozada explained, would make Charles Murray happier:

    Murray spends the first third of his book explaining what's so wretched about our democracy today. The Constitution, that sacred scroll of American exceptionalism, has been eviscerated by progressive meddling, he argues. Murray highlights a "constitutional revolution" during the New Deal era, particularly in Helvering v. Davis, a 1937 Supreme Court case involving the Social Security Act that "destroyed the limits on the federal government's spending authority." Helvering allowed Congress to open its coffers for virtually anything that promotes the "general welfare" stipulated in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, unconstrained by the enumerated powers that followed.

    This interpretation "stopped obliging the American government to control itself," Murray writes; it became the wedge allowing federal spending on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and K-12 education. It is so embedded in our politics that a reversal now would "throw the country into chaos." No Supreme Court would risk it, and no president would enforce it.

    Don't be so sure. In his majority opinion in the 2012 Obamacare case (NFIB v. Sebelius), Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the law's individual mandate not on "Commerce Clause" grounds, but on the basis of Congress' taxation power. And as Jeffrey Rosen warned in 2005, many of the leading jurists on the right advocate the "Constitution in Exile" theory as a strategy for wiping away 80 years of law regarding workers' rights, environmental protections, old-age pensions and health care, and so much more.

    In a nutshell, Constitution in Exile (CNE) advocates argue that the Court since the New Deal has broadly and mistakenly applied the Commerce Clause, enabling a dramatic expansion of federal regulatory power not just in the economy, but into a range of social issues. The result according to CNE is not only illegitimate federal power, but the unconstitutional delegation of Congressional roles and authorities to a panoply of administrative agencies. For CNE proponents, the United States since FDR has built a national government without a basis in the Constitution, an exile, so they say, of 70 years.

    New Bush circuit judge Janice Rogers Brown was speaking in the context of the Constitution in Exile when she said, "The Constitution itself was transmuted into a significantly different document...1937...marks the triumph of our own socialist revolution." Her views, and those of many potential Bush additions to the Court, clearly imply an upheaval in the American economy and society as well between the federal government and the states.

    Ten years later, there is no shortage of Republican presidential candidates willing to make Rosen's nightmare--and Murray's dream--of shredding the safety net come true. Even former Texas Governor Rick Perry was able to articulate the stakes to South Carolina voters last week:

    "Something I want you all to think about is that the next president of the United States, whoever that individual may be, could choose up to three, maybe even four members of the Supreme Court," Perry told the South Carolina audience. So this election "isn't about who's going to be the president of the United States for just the next four years. This could be about individuals who have an impact on you, your children, and even our grandchildren. That's the weight of what this election is really about."

    "These justices could change the shape of laws governing the environment, workplace health and safety, anti-discrimination, and civil rights," Rosen presciently warned in 2005, "making it difficult for the federal government to address problems for which the public demands a national response." If that comes to pass, the GOP won't need long to execute what Digby deemed Murray's "Scientology Strategy" of suing the federal government to death. A new conservative Supreme Court would be only too happy to kill modern America itself.

    * I say "apparently" because I haven't yet read the book.

    Perrspective 2:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    May 10, 2015
    Jeb Bush Enters the Falwell Primary with Speech at Liberty University

    During the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, Arizona Senator John McCain proclaimed Jerry Falwell an "agent of intolerance." But after losing the nomination to George W. Bush, McCain determined he would not repeat his mistake the next time around. So, in May 2006, the Maverick acknowledged he was going to what John Stewart deemed "crazy base world" to deliver the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University.

    Now, making the journey to Liberty University is a rite of passage for Republican White House wannabes competing in the first-in-the-nation Falwell primary. So on Saturday, Jeb Bush followed in the footsteps of John McCain, Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal to pledge his fealty to the GOP's evangelical voters who will control his fate.

    Bush's speech followed the usual script for such occasions. Echoing the words of Ted Cruz ("Religious liberty has never been more under attack") and Bobby Jindal ("The war over religious liberty is the war over free speech and without the first there is no such thing as the second") spoken to the faithful in Lynchburg, Virginia, Jeb accused President Obama of showing a "complete disregard for religious conscience." In an especially telling passage, the former Florida governor raged against the progress of marriage equality and Obamacare's contraception mandate:

    "What should be easy calls in favor of religious freedom have instead become an aggressive stance against it...

    "Somebody here is being small-minded and intolerant, and it sure isn't the nuns, ministers, and laymen and women who ask only to live and practice their faith. Federal authorities are demanding obedience in complete disregard of religious conscience - and in a free society, the answer is 'No.'" [Emphasis mine.]

    If that formula sounds familiar, it should. In his New York Times op-ed two weeks ago, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal defended his state's proposed "Marriage and Conscience Act":

    The legislation would prohibit the state from denying a person, company or nonprofit group a license, accreditation, employment or contract -- or taking other "adverse action" -- based on the person or entity's religious views on the institution of marriage.

    Some corporations have already contacted me and asked me to oppose this law. I am certain that other companies, under pressure from radical liberals, will do the same. They are free to voice their opinions, but they will not deter me. As a nation we would not compel a priest, minister or rabbi to violate his conscience and perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. But a great many Americans who are not members of the clergy feel just as called to live their faith through their businesses. That's why we should ensure that musicians, caterers, photographers and others should be immune from government coercion on deeply held religious convictions. [Emphasis mine.]

    But corporations are not churches. Business owners are not rabbis, priests, imams or reverends. That's why most Americans intuitively and the Supreme Court explicitly recognize the concept of a "ministerial exception" in discrimination cases brought against houses of worship, religious schools and other religious organizations. (In 2012, the Roberts Court even ruled unanimously against a teacher who sued her Evangelical Lutheran school for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for firing her after her diagnosis of narcolepsy.) As any good free marketeer will tell you, the marketplace is where buyer and seller come together--each armed with perfect knowledge and meeting as equals--to complete a commercial exchange.

    As it turns out, the authors of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will tell you the same thing. "Once you went into the commercial marketplace," the law's architect Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) explained, "It was always understood you were subject to the law there." And before the Supreme Court's 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling declaring that privately-held businesses could refuse to comply with Obamacare's contraception mandate on religious grounds, the Supremes thought so, too.

    But Jeb Bush's dangerously misguided understanding of "religious liberty" wasn't his only disturbing pandering to the graduates of Liberty U:

    "Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action." [Emphasis mine.]

    Again, if you think you've seen this movie before, that's because you have. In May 2012, Mitt Romney uttered pretty much the same line in his Liberty University commencement address accusing President Obama of waging a "war on religion."

    It strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of blessed with. Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from government.

    But from the beginning, this nation trusted in God, not man. Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution. And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action. [Emphasis mine.]

    On the one hand, it might seem quite odd--and very insulting--that the Mormon Romney and the Catholic Bush, neither of whom mentioned their personal religious affiliations to the audience of thousands, would elevate the morality, compassion and charity of the Christian heart over those of the millions of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheist or "unaffiliated" Americans. But on the other hand, none of them will be voting in the GOP's Falwell primary.

    Perrspective 1:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

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