Once again, a gunman has killed people for political reasons. Once again, he is described in the mainstream media using words and phrases such as: deranged, mentally disturbed, homicidal, gunman, shooter, criminal, murderer, and lone wolf. He may have been all of that, but one key descriptive word is conspicuously missing from most of the commentary: terrorist. Killing people who don't believe what you believe in order to further your political aims is, indeed, one of the definitions of terrorism. If the suspect involved had recently arrived here from Syria (or anywhere else in the Middle East, really), would the news networks be so cautious about calling him a "terrorist"? I seriously doubt it. In fact, if that were the case, he'd likely be quickly labelled an "Islamic terrorist."
Archive of Articles for November, 2015
What with the lateness of the hour (and the fact that nobody's going to read much of anything tomorrow), I am hereby officially punting on writing today's column. We'll be relaxing for the rest of the week, in fact, as we celebrate the great American feast of Thanksgiving as well as all the other [...]
President Barack Obama, in a recent interview, pointed out one of his own shortcomings in a bit of fairly accurate self-reflection. When asked the hardest lesson he has yet learned while in office, Obama responded: "You can't separate good policy from the need to bring the American people along and make sure that they know why you're doing what you're doing. And that's particularly true now in this new communications era." He went on to say, about his first few years as president: "a certain arrogance crept in, in the sense of thinking as long as we get the policy ready, we didn't have to sell it."
Ben Carson hasn't had a very good couple of weeks. He first exposed his ignorance on what is happening in Syria during a debate, claiming (falsely, he later sheepishly admitted) to have solid proof that China was in the midst of the conflict. This was just before the Paris attacks, so it might have been prominently in voters' minds during the aftermath. Then some of his advisors went public in the New York Times claiming Carson desperately needed to study up on the rest of the world because he knew so little about such things as the Middle East, while the candidate himself was making news by claiming the pyramids were nothing more than grain silos. After the Paris attacks happened, Carson wrote an editorial on what to do about the Islamic State for the Washington Post which was borderline incoherent (read it in full if you think this is an exaggeration). And now it looks like this floundering on foreign policy is beginning to hurt his standing in the polls. Could this be the start of Carson fading into irrelevance in the Republican presidential nomination race?
Republicans, of course, do the whole fear thing very well. Democrats cannot hope to ever stoke the public's fear as effectively as Republicans. This is a well-known fact, but this week it was on display more than usual, because there are still 14 Republicans running for their party's presidential nomination. So what we witnessed was a race to the bottom, as each candidate tried to top the lunacy emanating from all the other campaigns.
Hillary Clinton has just outlined the approach she'd take as president against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. While not completely specific, it has enough details for some rough analysis. Much of what Clinton would do is either a continuation, extension, or expansion of what President Obama is already doing, but that's not surprising, given Clinton's close ties to the Obama administration. Clinton, however, would go beyond what Obama's doing in a few key aspects. These are all problematic in one way or another, but if she could get the other players in the region to agree (or at least accept) what she'd do, it would go a long way towards making them effective (and not counterproductive). Getting that acceptance is going to be the biggest challenge, in fact.
Republicans are currently in a frenzy over Syria. This frenzy spread quickly across the entire party -- governors, members of Congress, and (of course) presidential candidates. But for all their noise, I notice there is not a single voice crying out to actually change anything in the most concrete way they have at their disposal. Republicans hold both houses of Congress. They are fully able (but, obviously, not fully capable) to pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) bill which would direct President Obama on how to wage war with the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. So the answer to any wild plan any Republican proposes (and, already, there are too many of these to list) on what to do about the Islamic State or Syria has to be: "Well then, why don't you write up an AUMF with that idea and put it on the president's desk?"
Imagine for just a moment that, right now, there were thousands of refugees from a land over the seas who not only wanted to come to America, but were actually now physically on the North American continent, heading north towards our southern border. In this scenario, the country they're fleeing has, in the past, dumped on American shores criminals and mentally disturbed people, in a wave of migrants. Up until the very recent past, this country was also officially listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. It actually sheltered terrorists who had committed acts of terror against Americans on American soil. And now 2,000 people from this country were trying desperately to get north to the United States.
The problem of what to do about the Islamic State is an enormously complicated one. Right now, though, there seems to be an opportunity to propose at least a partial solution that, if successful, would be a major military victory of strategic value. This plan would be to let the French military lead the effort to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State. Not only would this be an enormous blow to the soi-disant "Caliphate," but it would also be a productive way for France to fight back in retaliation for the recent slaughter in Paris.
Since it's such an auspicious day, perhaps it's time to have a discussion about the increasingly-real possibility that Donald Trump or Ben Carson could actually become the Republican nominee for president next year. It's a scary, scary thing for most to contemplate, but the punditocracy's inside-the-Beltway strategy of just clapping our hands real hard and hoping that Tinkerbell quietly lies down somewhere to die just doesn't seem to be working. Pretty much every pundit under the sun -- from the hard left to the hard right -- has so far written a column this year predicting Trump's imminent political demise. To date, none of them have proven even slightly true. Trump is now challenged for the lead, but he's still polling at roughly the same level of support that he has pretty much ever since he got in the race. Ben Carson has risen to Trump's level in the polling much more than Trump has fallen back. The "Trump (and now, Carson) is going to fade -- it's inevitable" line of thinking is getting more and more divorced from the polling realities. So perhaps it's time to start thinking the unthinkable: either of these two men could actually become the Grand Old Party's nominee for the highest office in the land.