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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The Democrats May Have a Voter Problem

Lost in the talk about Trump crushing Marco Rubio in his home state of Florida is any discussion surrounding the number of people who actually turned out to vote in the Republican Primary.  This may come as a shock to some given the general excitement around candidates like Bernie Sanders on college campuses, but Donald Trump received 1,077,221 votes to Hillary Clinton’s 1,097,400.

So what, he would have lost, right?

Not so fast.  Total votes for the Democrats came out to be 1,702,878 broken down as follows:

Clinton: 1,097,400
Sanders: 566, 603
O’Malley: 38,875

Whereas the Republicans had approximately 2,355,183 votes cast for GOP candidates, broken out as:

Trump: 1,077,221
Rubio: 636,653
Cruz: 403,640
Kasich: 159,412
Bush: 43,452
Carson: 21,163
Others: ~12,000

There is an old saying in politics that is going to be very important for this election:

Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line

This saying points to the Democrat’s issue, what will Bernie Sanders voters do?  The majority of his voters right now are young and idealistic.  They view the establishment in much the same way that Trump supporters view – with extreme frustration – so there exists a very real scenario where a significant number of his supports either write Sanders in or don’t vote at all.

That could absolutely sink the Democrats in critical states like Florida (Remember, President Obama only defeated Mitt Romney in Florida by about 0.9% of the vote).  Trump being able to match Hillary when competing against far more opponents is incredibly important.  If the above saying holds true, a lot of these voters will “fall in line” and vote for Trump in the general election regardless of who their current choice is.

Combine that with half the country’s feelings toward Hillary Clinton and there is a very real possibility that Donald Trump takes the White House.

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The Romney Effect (aka When Nothing Happens)

When former GOP Nominee / Next Guy Up Mitt Romney came out guns blazing against Donald Trump’s candidacy last week, many saw it as a sign that the Republican establishment was moving to block the future Republican nominee from his chance at the Oval Office.  The speech, delivered as the text format of paint drying, did little to accomplish the GOP’s grand plans.  In fact, a poll conducted by Morning Consult found that nearly half of Republican voters (48%) wouldn’t let Romney’s warnings impact their vote.

Perhaps Mitt put it best in his Netflix Documentary “Mitt” (Side note: this is worth a watch regardless of your general feelings toward Mitt) when he declared “when you lose the election, you are forever a loser.”  Trump’s campaign has been all about how much of a “winner” he is and how all that stand in front of him are “losers, dummies, jokes.”  With that in mind, is it really that shocking that Mitt’s speech didn’t sway Trump’s supporters?

Trump destroying Rubio in Florida last night despite it being Rubio’s home turf and having the backing of both Jeb! and Mitt Romney is nothing short of embarrassing for the GOP establishment.  Kasich was popular enough in Ohio to put him over the top there, but let’s not undersell what is happening:  In 2012, Mitt Romney lost a very winnable election to President Obama.  Top to bottom, voters saw how badly the establishment messed up the campaign. This failure caused an open revolt from the “next guy up” playbook that the Republicans have relied on for so long.

McCain failed.  Romney failed.  Jeb! failed.

Working class Americans are pissed and have taken a “guilty by association” view of the establishment.  The reality is this: Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for a lot of reasons good and bad.

Trump has run a very good campaign while spending very little money – something no one in the Political press would have predicted a year ago.  He has also tugged on the very heart strings that working class Republicans have been upset about for a long time: people who are working aren’t getting ahead and no one in the Federal government seems to care.  You can argue the merits of this point of view, but it is how they feel.

As it also looks more and more likely that the Democrats won’t have to use the power of their super-delegates and other backroom deals to put Hillary up as the blue candidate, we can begin to think about future debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Trump is a master at counter attacking and seems to hit back harder the more challengers press against him.  If you think these debates will be about policy or detailed plans, you are going to be very wrong.  This is going to be a gutter war and Hillary does not have the clean slate to win a gutter war.  Trump will attack – without hesitation – Hillary’s character and record with a relentlessness that will bother a lot of people.

Hillary should focus on policy and what she is going to do once in the White House, but her campaign staff seems inept so she is likely going to fall into Trump’s mousetrap.  This will be her downfall – she must avoid it at all costs.

For those, like this author, looking for sanity in our elections, one can only hope that it is this showdown that finally puts the status quo to bed.  We need better candidates, real discussions, and common sense in governing.

 

 

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Post-Caucus: How Close It Was!

The Iowa Caucus proved to be more of a thrill ride than anyone expected.  The Clinton-Sanders margin was almost negligible and the GOP had 3 candidates taking the majority of the Republican votes.  In yesterday’s prediction thread we stated that Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders would be Monday night’s victors.

Ted Cruz did in fact win with Donald Trump taking second place (also predicted) and Marco Rubio taking third place.  Rubio’s strong showing was not expected in Iowa as the Evangelical population pointed more to a strong Ben Carson showing (who finished forth with around 10% of the vote and was our predicted 3rd place finisher).  Rubio’s win was bolstered further by a key endorsement from Tom Scott.  This result for Rubio will likely lead to a major jump in the national polls.

The most disappointing performances within the GOP had to come from Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.  Rand’s father Ron finished in third place during the 2012 Iowa Caucus and there was some thought that he would capture a bit of that magic.  At fifth place with only 4.5% of the vote, the Paul campaign has to be frustrated by their candidates inability to grab real traction within the party.

For all of the disappointment felt by the Paul campaign, the Jeb Bush camp must be in outright panic.  With millions of dollars spent and coming off his strongest debate performance yet, the early GOP favorite had to expect better than 2.8% of the vote.  We may be seeing the last days of the Jeb! experience.

In all, don’t expect the GOP candidates to throw in the towel before next week’s Primary in NH.  NH tends to be more friendly to establishment / moderate Republicans, many of whom were at the bottom of this poll.  After NH, though, we expect several campaigns to close up shop.

For the Democrats, the story got interesting in Iowa.  Martin O’Malley – debt strapped and with little support – suspended his campaign.  O’Malley is often rumored to be interested in a VP nomination, but that may be in doubt now that the Democrat Party has seen what he would actually bring to the table.  Staying in this race through the Iowa Caucus may have hurt O’Malley’s political career more than it helped.

Clinton narrowly defeated Bernie Sanders in a state that she had a decent lead in before the votes were cast.  While this is a technical win for Hillary, it was also a spiritual win for Sanders, though it was not without controversy.  No other candidate has come from the fringe to the mainstream like he has and with a monster lead in New Hampshire, he is going to force Clinton to play major defense over the coming weeks.

One additional point of note about the Democrat voters shown during the CNN broadcast was the difference in voter profiles between those who chose Clinton and those who chose Sanders.  The voters that valued “experience” overwhelmingly chose Clinton, while those that wanted “someone who shares my values” overwhelmingly chose Sanders.  Look for this information to be used by both campaigns going forward.

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Prediction – Iowa Winners Will Be: Cruz and Sanders

The big day is finally here.

Iowa again marks the beginning of a new beginning (as President Obama cannot run for office again) and with that, Americans will be subjected to an exhaustive gauntlet of campaign ads, calls, and donation requests.  Iowa also marks the point when we, as Americans, start to get some real data about who the next leader of our country will be.

Prior to actually voting for someone, all we have had to go on are the polls conducted by research groups and media organizations.  While these polls give some insight into the general state of mind of American voters, we have also seen that one debate performance can launch a candidate into a leading position for a time being.

This is especially true with the leaderless Republican party.  Through the summer and fall, Republican voters have acted like middle-school children trying to figure out who they wanted to date.  First it was Bush, then Fiorina, then Carson, and now Cruz (all while maintaining a huge crush on Donald Trump).  None of these “picks” lasted longer than a a few months as the spotlight tends to reveal the truth and subsequently forcing those candidates back down the charts.

So who will win in Iowa?

For the Republicans, the winner with be Senator Ted Cruz.  Looking at maps of previous caucuses in the state, it becomes obvious that Iowans love both Evangelical and Libertarian leaning candidates.  Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, being the best examples.  Cruz represents both to some extent and is also currently tied with Donald Trump in the national polls, lending to votes by name recognition.  Second place will go to Donald Trump and third place will go to Ben Carson, who remains very popular with the very religious.

For the Democrats the race is less a race and more a head-to-head competition.  Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders going into today’s caucus (though the difference is close to margin of error).  Sanders, though, has a message that has been building quite dramatically over the past 6 months and strong support from millennial voters.  If (and here we are assuming they will) those millennial voters turn out, Sanders will narrowly win Iowa.

Image

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When Do the Emails Become an Issue?

With the latest reports out of Washington, DC indicating that the FBI is running a far more thorough and rigid investigation than is being publicly reported, when does the DNC start to panic?  The Clinton’s are powerful and have survived a litany of scandals over the years, but formal charges against HRC may be insurmountable.  There has to be a backup plan.

Is it Bernie Sanders?  Is it Michael Bloomberg?  Al Gore?  Nothing would serve to put Donald Trump into the White House faster than NOT having a very legitimate backup plan.  And right now it seems the coronation that the DNC had planned out back in May could very well be blowing up in the organization’s face.

HRC and the DNC need both a strong showing this week and to they need to assure the base that all is well going forward.  If Trump is right about one thing (only) it is that America hates losers.

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Sen. Cruz Focuses on the Big Issues

The Republicans are well on their way to losing the 2016 Presidential Election.  With the candidates continuing to produce over-the-top slogans about issues that have already been decided, it is safe to assume most Americans will be abstaining from the election or voting blue.

Last week’s debate – the debacle that it was – did not advance the GOP cause.  Getting mad at the media for asking garbage questions (even if correct) did not communicate leadership, it communicated hostility.  Maybe messages like Sen. Cruz’s tweet above are more effective than we give them credit for, but at the end of the day, the people who get excited by this type of stuff already live in echo chambers.

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The Dems Debate – What did we learn?

October 13th, 2015, the Democrats have finally started their race for the White House.  After seemingly hundreds of Republican debates, speeches, and interviews, it was nice to hear from the “other side of the aisle” for a change.  In contrast to what, at times, has felt like a GOP circus, the debate between Democrat candidates felt more relaxed and balanced.

That, however, does not mean that the night was without issue.  CNN’s debate format was confusing and poorly enforced.  Anderson Cooper did not have any control over the forum and was consistently run over by the candidates.  In many responses, the Democrat hopefuls were able to get to full Speech on the Washington Lawn mode while Cooper meagerly uttered “thank you” in the background.  It was not a good look for CNN, but it was also not the organization’s worst look.

Being clever is an artform.  Throwing reporters on stage that identify with a particular racial group (African American, Hispanic) to ask the hard questions related to their races came off as tone deaf.  It smelled of an organization that was attempting to pander to certain groups rather than actually challenge the candidates.  It was both poorly conceived and poorly executed.

The Rapid Reaction

Clinton and Sanders both landed exactly where they were predicted to land.  There are many, many outlets praising these two candidates as the obvious victors so there is no need to parrot those statements.  Sanders brought his fiery conviction and dedication to his cause; his supporters would be proud of his performance.  Clinton showed that despite being involved in almost every scandal that could be brought to the table, she is still a polished debater and a talented politician.

Martin O’Malley wins the award for Best Performance by an Unknown Politician.  As the Governor of Maryland, O’Malley was able to lean on his implementation of a number of the planks that the Democrat Party has set as a national agenda.  He was excited and had clear talking points (specifically on green energy and infrastructure).  O’Malley isn’t going to replace Sanders or Clinton any time soon, but may have put himself firmly in the race for the Vice President position – likely of Clinton – with his performance.

A VP with Executive experience and a clear pet project would be a very good running mate for Clinton.  O’Malley’s VP chances will ultimately be hindered by being from a state (Maryland) that is somewhat inconsequential with regard to the Electoral College and, additionally, the fact that Maryland is also on the east coast.

The Time to Stop

As with the GOP debates, there were candidates that were overmatched and clearly not prepared for prime-time (see Perry, Rick).  Senator Webb and Governor Chafee were unnecessary additions to the debate and when each reviews his performance, should be embarrassed enough to hang up the gloves.

Senator Webb spent a significant amount of his limited time complaining about not getting enough time to speak.  When he did speak, his points landed somewhere between forgettable and baffling.  Specifically when asked “What enemy is he most proud of?”  Senator Webb replied “the soldier in Vietnam that threw a grenade at him, but he isn’t around anymore to say it.”

Viewers can, rightly, take this from that response:  Senator Webb is most proud of killing a stranger, who was likely a farmer or some other peasant, in a foreign country, fighting for reasons that he did not fully understand.  This was a disgusting response by the Senator.

Governor Chafee was equally as bad in his performance.  While he spent the majority of the time doing a terrible Senator Palpatine before he reveals that he is a Sith Lord impression, it was his final statement that was sure to cause an issue with the residents of one particular state.  Noting that he “turned around Rhode Island” was one of the most laughable statements that any politician has made, Republican or Democrat.

Rhode Island continues to recover in spite of the terrible leadership it has received over the past 10 years.  Governor Chafee’s four years in office left no significant policies or accomplishments in his wake.  In fact, his approval ratings were so low at the end of his first term, he didn’t consider running for office again.  It is disingenuous to state that Rhode Island has been turned around when it is still very much trying to recover.

Biggest Winner

The real winner tonight was the Democratic Party itself.  CNN moderation and murderous Senator Webb aside, the party came across as very much sane.  As the Republican Party continues to waffle around petty social issues that have already been resolved, the Democrats laid out clear paths to move the country forward.  Sure, Senator Sanders’ plan would require significant tax increases, but at a minimum he gave voters something tangible to think about.

Republicans at this stage are still indicating that they need to “tap into America’s greatness and break the Washington machine.”  What the GOP fails to realize is that the Washington machine has already been broken and that, in itself, is the issue.

Image: CNN

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Hillary’s “New” Personality on Ellen

Hillary 2.0 (or 3.0?) joined Ellen DeGeneres to launch her new personality polished with “humor” and “being more approachable.”  It is a sad state of affairs when, mid-campaign, a candidate realizes they need to be anyone but themselves.  Unfortunately for Hillary, her true personality is far more similar to Mitt Romney’s robotic appearance than it is to 2008’s campaigning Barack Obama.

There is nothing more out of character than Hillary Clinton – at 67 years old – saying “Pantsuit up!” on Twitter.  Did she write that? No.  Did she think of that? No.  Is this going to win over undecided voters? No. Hillary’s image problem is not that she is not approachable or isn’t funny, it’s that she has not maintained a position in years nor has she really revealed who she truly is.  Hiding behind a plastic image only works for so long.

Everything is smoke and mirrors with Hillary.  Her reaction to the issues with her email server started with a level of defiance and disinterest that felt reflective of an individual that was more bothered that anyone had the audacity to question how she worked than anything else.  Now that the “play nice” media has realized there is way more fire than smoke with the server, Hillary is in apology mode.  It may be too little too late.

If Hillary is going to win this election, something that felt like an absolute certainty just a few months ago, she needs to be herself.  There is a distinct lack of authenticity in everything she does.  She isn’t the likable lady you call on Sunday morning to girl chat about your weekend.  She doesn’t have that card to play and should stop wasting everyone’s time attempting to do so.

What Hillary does have is a far more interesting story.  She has been in Bill’s shadow for years.  Bill messes up and gets more popular, Hillary exists and the public hates her more.  That must really bother her.

What can she do?

Own who she is.  “I’m paving the way for more women to rise up in a world dominated by men.  I had to take the gloves off.  I had to do things I am not proud of.  I’m paying the price so that others may enjoy the purchased goods.”

That is who she actually is.  Come out and say it.  Own it and her positions.  The country is ready for that – just look at how the public is embracing Donald Trump.

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Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Nearing Defcon 1

With the latest information regarding Hillary Clinton’s private email server showing that there was indeed classified materials in the contents, one has to wonder how much longer merely “damage control” will work for the Clinton campaign.  Noted in the New York Times, two of the emails amongst the tens of thousands were even flagged as “Top Secret” by Federal investigators.  While there are still questions about how these classifications were derived, the story is not following the path that Clinton’s team laid out at the beginning of the year.

Not to be outdone, however, Clinton has remained defiant in her defense of the use of the private email server.  While this public show of confidence may play towards many of Clinton’s supporters, there are now many whispers among the Democratic Party worried about crumbling foundation.

What was called, just three months ago, a coronation, is now beginning to be a search for another candidate.  Bernie Sanders may not appeal to mainstream, moderate voters yet so perhaps the field is clearing for someone such as Vice President Joe Biden or former Vice President Al Gore.

If either one of these individuals tossed their hat in the ring, it could spell the end of Hillary’s run.  That has to have Clinton’s people in a panic internally.

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