The Syria Problem and Hillary Clinton

via Foreign Policy – Michèle Flournoy, the consensus pick to be Defense Secretary should Hillary Clinton win the White House in November, said she’s open to using the U.S. military to push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security on Monday, the think tank Flournoy helped found and currently helms as chief executive officer, Flournoy said “limited military coercion” might be necessary to drive Assad out. She helped author a report with fellow CNAS staffers earlier this month that recommends widening American goals in the Syrian war, including “arming and training local groups that are acceptable to the United States regardless of whether they are fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or ISIS.” Currently, Syrian rebels must pledge to only fight ISIS in exchange for U.S. support.

While the media focuses on terrible campaign slogans and “who burned who” on Twitter, there are actual issues playing out in the world. We all know about ISIS and the horrors that come with that  organization, but have no ability to appreciate the magnitude of war and terror that everyday Syrians are facing.

To say Syria is currently mired in a Civil War is an understatement. The country is now ground zero for the following:

  • A takeover of a third of the country by ISIS
  • A Civil War between the Assad Administration + Hezbollah and a multi-faction rebellion group that includes the al-Nursa Front (the Syrian al-Qaeda branch)
  • Open revolt by ethic Kurd forces (many coming to Syria via Turkey)
  • A proxy war between Russia / Iran and Coalition Forces (led by the US)
  • Other fringe militias attacking indiscriminately

To get a real sense of what’s happening in the country, take a moment to inspect this live map of current battles and attacks.

This conflict, which has been in full swing since 2011, has seen the lines of battle drawn and redrawn hundreds of times with many rebel groups constantly pledging allegiance to whomever appears to be winning in their area. Even the US has been duped by these organizations countless times making this statement:

Currently, Syrian rebels must pledge to only fight ISIS in exchange for U.S. support.

one of the most moronic ever uttered by foreign policy experts. “Moderate Rebels,” as described by Senator John McCain, would be the ones getting equipped. It must have been a real shock that these “moderates” said what needed to be said to get guns, ammo, and heavy weapons from either the Department of Defense or the CIA (though these two groups are not coordinating) only to switch to ISIS or whichever faction suits their needs.

However, all of these minor details pale in comparison to absurdity of the plan Ms. Flournoy has concocted. Rather than half-heartily support the groups that may or may not be fighting ISIS, the full US Military should be used to remove the Assad Administration from power. Do the Russians want that? No. Does Hezbollah want that? No. Does Iran want that? No. Does a percentage of the Syrian population want that? No.

Yes, Assad has committed heinous acts against the dissidents in Syria. He’s dropped barrel bombs and used chemical weapons, both war crimes. But, and this is important, what is the right order of operations in Syria? Is the Assad Administration making statements about blowing up American malls and restaurants? They aren’t. Has ISIS? They have and already have inspired two attacks in this country.

ISIS should be the priority. As sick as that may make some people in the Government, right now may not be the time to remove Assad from power. Why not crush ISIS and then use diplomacy to remove Assad? Why not give him a billion dollars and let him go live in Iran or Russia? That may seem insane, but it would be far cheaper, save lives, and accomplish the same goals.

The Obama Administration has had a terribly unfocused strategy in Syria. Russia is eating the US’ lunch and racking up weapons orders from other countries who have been impressed with the capabilities of Russia’s next generation weapons. Yet despite how terribly things have gone in Syria, the Clinton Administration would only make things worse.

How well did it work when we removed Saddam from power by force?

How well did it work when we orchestrated the removal of Gaddafi?

This country has two clear examples of what not to do sitting in front of us. Maybe it is time to try a new approach. Maybe in the short-term the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.

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Boehner Resigns: Another Crack in the GOPs Base

Since Mitt Romney’s loss to President Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential Election, the GOP has been in a state of duress. Mainstream Republicans lost important seats and positions to more extreme members of the Tea Party.  The base of power shifted left toward Gay Marriage and LGBT rights.  The GOP was, correctly, painted as “old,” “out of touch,” and “evil.”

Speaker John Boehner stood at the front of the Republican old guard.  As the leader of the GOP in the House, Rep. Boehner was uniquely positioned to control the order of events.  While the Office of the President gets more press, it is Congress that truly runs the country by building policy, laws, taxes, and regulations.  Setting the agenda of the country and the positioning of the Republican party is a power that few others will ever know.

This is a truly significant turn of events.

The Republican party must evolve in order to continue existing.  The party itself has remained steadfastly focused on minority pockets of the US population, chief among them, the highly religious south.  A mainstream party that is very Conservative is not what the United States needs.  The Republican party has sought to keep the status quo and to avoid coming to terms with the true issues of the age.  Change is far to rapid to ignore.

Hoping that “someone else” takes care of issues like Climate Change, Poverty, and Energy is a cowards way of handling the Republic’s affairs.  This country deserves better from the Republicans party and if the current crop of GOP leaders cannot deliver the ideas and programs that will move this country forward, they should be voted out of office.

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Digging In: For Sen. Ted Cruz, it’s all about President Obama

US Senator Ted Cruz is well known to Republican voters and enjoys a strong following given his open identification with the Tea Party.  As a result, these early debates  will feel like home field for the Senator – something that lessor known or more moderate candidates will not enjoy.  Understanding this, it is critical that Senator Cruz speak to his strengths by playing is hits.

In Cleveland, Senator Cruz did just this.  His talking points all followed a well-crafted formula: hot topic/issues + note something obvious to conservatives about it + link the failures back to President Obama.  Each time the debate spotlight was pointed the Senator’s way, he executed on this plan.  It was a testament to the quality of his campaign strategy and his abilities as a politician.  Senator Cruz will do well this election cycle if he can continue to deliver in this fashion.

Linking major issues to President Obama’s administration, noting them as failures, and saying that he wouldn’t make those same mistakes further supported Ted Cruz’s core message, that he is speaking the truth.  Voters consistently highlight their distrust of politicians as a major issue so this approach may be of higher risk.  If Sen. Cruz cannot convince (or has an issue that contradicts his message) voters that he is the one to trust, then his campaign may run out of steam.

Focus on the Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy and Immigration strategies makes for great campaign slogans, but we would like to see Sen. Cruz transition toward economic policy.  The Republican Party’s core position on ISIS/Iran is well-known at this point – what will truly differentiate these candidates is the quality of their economic plans.  Sen. Cruz has said in the past that any economic plan should stress “growth and opportunity.”

Understanding how a Cruz Administration would deliver on that position will be something that voters need to look out for in coming debates.

Image: ABC/Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images


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Jobs Report – Looking Under the Headline

The most recent jobs report was released today and was immediately met with a tepid response.  While the economy add another 215k jobs in July, the unemployment rate remained steady at 5.3%.  The Obama Administration took to social media to highlight this figure as the 65th straight month of job growth:

Others were not as impressed, especially on Wall St. where the employment gains were accepted as a sign of mediocrity.  One month does not make or break an economy though, so let’s look at some more detailed data:

Unemployment measure July 2014 July 2015
U1 2.8 2.1
U2 3.1 2.6
U3 6.5 5.3
U4 7.0 5.7
U5 7.8 6.4
U6 12.6 10.4

The Federal Government uses a number of different measure to gauge “employment” within the economy with the most reported number being derived from the U3 calculation.  This is the official unemployment rate and represents the percent of Americans that are unemployed relative to the size of the civilian labor force.  Critics will note that the U3 number only includes those civilians who are actively trying to participate in the labor market – meaning that if you gave up, you aren’t counted.

Instead, these group point to the U5 and U6 numbers which include all civilian workers, discouraged workers, and those marginally tied to the labor market (U5) as well as those working part-time for economic reasons (U6).  These measures both show improvement in the economy much like the U3 number, but what the U6 number also shows is that there is still a large number of individuals that are discouraged about finding work or working part-time (below their skill set) because no other job is available.

Adding 215k is a sign that the economy continues to move forward.  The data also points to an increased likelihood that the Federal Reserve will start to increase interest rates (in either September or December).  The employment numbers after that event will be the most telling.  Further, the next administration will need to continue to address the underemployed and the long-term unemployed that appear to be locked out of the economic recovery.


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