Brooks, Bruni and Krugman

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “3 U.S. Defeats: Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran.”  He gurgles that we should call the Iran nuclear deal what it is: a partial U.S. surrender.  In the comments “AlinZurich” from Zurich had this to say:  “Your mindset is completely in line with every neo-con who brought us into the catastrophic Iraq war. You, who constantly scold and hold yourself up as some kind of moral arbiter, have utterly no capacity for self-reflection.”  In a short, sweet comment “whweller” from Burnsville, NC had this to say:  “Don’t forget Mr. Brooks is a Chickenhawk.”  Mr. Bruni, in “A Foxy, Rowdy Republican Debate,” says for two hours in Cleveland, it was moderators on the attack and red-faced candidates on edge.  Prof. Krugman says “From Trump on Down, the Republicans Can’t Be Serious” and that Donald Trump is fundamentally absurd, but so are his rivals, and that’s what their party requires.  Let’s get Bobo out of the way:

The purpose of war, military or economic, is to get your enemy to do something it would rather not do. Over the past several years the United States and other Western powers have engaged in an economic, clandestine and political war against Iran to force it to give up its nuclear program.

Over the course of this siege, American policy makers have been very explicit about their goals. Foremost, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Second, as John Kerry has said, to force it to dismantle a large part of its nuclear infrastructure. Third, to take away its power to enrich uranium.

Fourth, as President Obama has said, to close the Fordo enrichment facility. Fifth, as the chief American negotiator, Wendy Sherman, recently testified, to force Iran to come clean on all past nuclear activities by the Iranian military. Sixth, to shut down Iran’s ballistic missile program. Seventh, to have “anywhere, anytime 24/7” access to any nuclear facilities Iran retains. Eighth, as Kerry put it, to not phase down sanctions until after Iran ends its nuclear bomb-making capabilities.

As a report from the Foreign Policy Initiative exhaustively details, the U.S. has not fully achieved any of these objectives. The agreement delays but does not end Iran’s nuclear program. It legitimizes Iran’s status as a nuclear state. Iran will mothball some of its centrifuges, but it will not dismantle or close any of its nuclear facilities. Nuclear research and development will continue.

Iran wins the right to enrich uranium. The agreement does not include “anywhere, anytime” inspections; some inspections would require a 24-day waiting period, giving the Iranians plenty of time to clean things up. After eight years, all restrictions on ballistic missiles are lifted. Sanctions are lifted once Iran has taken its initial actions.

Wars, military or economic, are measured by whether you achieved your stated objectives. By this standard the U.S. and its allies lost the war against Iran, but we were able to negotiate terms that gave only our partial surrender, which forces Iran to at least delay its victory. There have now been three big U.S. strategic defeats over the past several decades: Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran.

The big question is, Why did we lose? Why did the combined powers of the Western world lose to a ragtag regime with a crippled economy and without much popular support?

The first big answer is that the Iranians just wanted victory more than we did. They were willing to withstand the kind of punishment we were prepared to mete out.

Further, the Iranians were confident in their power, while the Obama administration emphasized the limits of America’s ability to influence other nations. It’s striking how little President Obama thought of the tools at his disposal. He effectively took the military option off the table. He didn’t believe much in economic sanctions. “Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure,” he argued.

The president concluded early on that Iran would simply not budge on fundamental things. As he argued in his highhanded and counterproductive speech Wednesday, Iran was never going to compromise its sovereignty (which is the whole point of military or economic warfare).

The president hoped that a deal would change the moral nature of the regime, so he had an extra incentive to reach a deal. And the Western, Russian and Chinese sanctions regime was fragile while the Iranians were able to hang together.

This administration has given us a choice between two terrible options: accept the partial-surrender agreement that was negotiated or reject it and slide immediately into what is in effect our total surrender — a collapsed sanctions regime and a booming Iranian nuclear program.

Many members of Congress will be tempted to accept the terms of our partial surrender as the least bad option in the wake of our defeat. I get that. But in voting for this deal they may be affixing their names to an arrangement that will increase the chance of more comprehensive war further down the road.

Iran is a fanatical, hegemonic, hate-filled regime. If you think its radicalism is going to be softened by a few global trade opportunities, you really haven’t been paying attention to the Middle East over the past four decades.

Iran will use its $150 billion windfall to spread terror around the region and exert its power. It will incrementally but dangerously cheat on the accord. Armed with money, ballistic weapons and an eventual nuclear breakout, it will become more aggressive. As the end of the nuclear delay comes into view, the 45th or 46th president will decide that action must be taken.

Economic and political defeats can be as bad as military ones. Sometimes when you surrender to a tyranny you lay the groundwork for a more cataclysmic conflict to come.

You can tell he’s just DYING to dust off his little “let’s cheer for the war” pom-poms…  He’s a toad.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

The first question to Chris Christie was about the nine credit downgrades that New Jersey had suffered since he became its governor.

Ben Carson was reminded of his domestic-policy blunders, of his foreign-policy blunders, of a whole raft of loopy statements that raise serious questions about how well he understands the country and globe. Could he reassure voters?

And Donald Trump had to listen obediently, even meekly, as Megyn Kelly—the one woman on Fox News’s panel of three debate moderators—recited a squirm-inducing litany of his misogynistic remarks through time.

“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” Kelly said, and if she was trying to hide her revulsion, she wasn’t doing an especially deft job. She recalled that Trump once told a contestant on “The Celebrity Apprentice” that “it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.” And she wondered how he’d ever stand up to inevitable charges from Hillary Clinton that he was a carrot-haired corporal in “the war on women.”

This wasn’t a debate, at least not like most of those I’ve seen.

This was an inquisition.

On Thursday night in Cleveland, the Fox News moderators did what only Fox News moderators could have done, because the representatives of any other network would have been accused of pro-Democratic partisanship.

They took each of the 10 Republicans onstage to task. They held each of them to account. They made each address the most prominent blemishes on his record, the most profound apprehensions that voters feel about him, the greatest vulnerability that he has.

It was riveting. It was admirable. It compels me to write a cluster of words I never imagined writing: hooray for Fox News.

Did Fox take this combative approach because it was theatrical? Because it promised tension, promoted unease and was a sure route to reddened faces and raised voices?

Of course. Nothing scares a network more than the prospect of a political snooze-fest, and candidates left to their own devices are candidates who drone on and on.

But Fox accomplished something important. It prevented the Republican contenders from relying on sound bites and hewing to scripts that say less about their talents and more about the labors of their well-paid handlers.

And the questions that the moderators asked weren’t just discomfiting, humiliating ones. They were the right ones, starting with a brilliant opener: Was there any candidate who was unwilling to pledge support to the eventual Republican nominee and swear off a third-party run?

Trump alone wouldn’t make those promises, even though the moderator who asked that question, Bret Baier, pointed out that such a third-party run would likely hand the presidency to the Democratic nominee.

And thus, in the first minute of the debate, Trump was undressed and unmasked, and he stood there as the unprincipled, naked egomaniac that he is. He never quite recovered. His admission of political infidelity was the prism through which all of his subsequent bluster had to be viewed.

By putting the candidates on the defensive and on edge, Fox created the mood for an exchange as raw and revealing as one between Christie and Rand Paul over national security, federal eavesdropping and the collection of personal data.

That back-and-forth was debate platinum, because it was simultaneously fiery and substantive, impassioned and important, a perfect distillation of the two sides of an essential, necessary argument.

Paul said that he didn’t want less federal surveillance of terrorists, just of innocent Americans. Christie said that that was a “ridiculous answer,” because it’s impossible to know who’s who at the start. Paul would get that, Christie said, if he wasn’t “sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air.”

“You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights,” Paul shot back, later adding: “I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug.” It was a reference to the way Christie welcomed the president to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

Christie: “The hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11th.”

They both scored points. They both made sense. And they both came out ahead—because they articulated their positions with clarity and passion.

All in all, the large number of candidates made it difficult for anyone to stand out much, so it’s impossible to come up with any sweeping, definitive list of winners and losers.

I do think that Trump lost: He said nothing, not one syllable, that infused his candidacy with any of the gravitas that it sorely needs, and there was something pouty and petulant about his whole performance. Some of his rivals managed, even under the Fox fire, to look grateful to be there and to enjoy themselves, at least a bit. Marco Rubio did.

I also think that Ted Cruz lost, inasmuch as I forgot he was there for most of the debate. I also lost track of Carson, up until a surprisingly charming closing statement, and of Mike Huckabee, until his hilarious conflation of Trump and Clinton at the very end.

Jeb Bush avoided any gaffes and discovered a bit of the spark that he often lacks. John Kasich charted a humane midcourse for Republicans trying to reconcile personal misgivings over same-sex marriage with how the Supreme Court has ruled. Will it do him any favors with Republican primary voters? Maybe not. But he sounded like a leader, and he sounded like a decent man.

No one made as vivid an impression as Carly Fiorina did during a shorter meeting earlier in the evening of the seven runners-up, for what one of them, Lindsey Graham, labeled the “happy hour” debate. (If that’s a happy hour, I don’t think that I could survive a sad one.)

Fiorina weds Trump’s anger to an uncommon precision and propulsion: She’s a human torpedo. She may not have any business running for president, but she’s zooming for all she’s worth.

The moderators for that happy hour didn’t needle the candidates. The moderators for the main event did. And because their questions were so well researched and so barbed, the television audience sometimes learned more about the candidates from what they were asked than from how they answered.

“When did you actually become a Republican?” Kelly said to Trump after another savage recitation, this one of his many past Democratic positions. She was his appointed slayer. She visibly relished the role.

Trump was also pressed to defend his many corporate bankruptcies. Bush was pressed to explain his inability months ago to say whether, knowing all that we know now, he would have invaded Iraq. Cruz was pressed about his famously obnoxious demeanor on Capitol Hill.

Scott Walker was pressed on job creation in Wisconsin, which isn’t all that he claims it to be.

“Given your record in Wisconsin, why should voters believe you?” said Chris Wallace, the third Fox moderator.

We shouldn’t. Candidates should have to convince us. They should square their slogans with their records, and that’s what Fox made them do. On this night, the network that pampers Republicans provoked them instead. It was great television, and even better politics.

Yeah, right, Frankie.  Here’s what “Operadoc” from Newport News had to say about your offering:  “Fox asked “all the right questions”? I guess I missed the discussions of student debt, Citizens United; the role of money in political campaigns, the Koch Brothers, climate issues and income inequality. But always good to have God as a topic regarding the leadership of a government which is supposed to remain separate from religion.”  Cripes…  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

This was, according to many commentators, going to be the election cycle Republicans got to show off their “deep bench.” The race for the nomination would include experienced governors like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, fresh thinkers like Rand Paul, and attractive new players like Marco Rubio. Instead, however, Donald Trump leads the field by a wide margin. What happened?

The answer, according to many of those who didn’t see it coming, is gullibility: People can’t tell the difference between someone who sounds as if he knows what he’s talking about and someone who is actually serious about the issues. And for sure there’s a lot of gullibility out there. But if you ask me, the pundits have been at least as gullible as the public, and still are.

For while it’s true that Mr. Trump is, fundamentally, an absurd figure, so are his rivals. If you pay attention to what any one of them is actually saying, as opposed to how he says it, you discover incoherence and extremism every bit as bad as anything Mr. Trump has to offer. And that’s not an accident: Talking nonsense is what you have to do to get anywhere in today’s Republican Party.

For example, Mr. Trump’s economic views, a sort of mishmash of standard conservative talking points and protectionism, are definitely confused. But is that any worse than Jeb Bush’s deep voodoo, his claim that he could double the underlying growth rate of the American economy? And Mr. Bush’s credibility isn’t helped by his evidence for that claim: the relatively rapid growth Florida experienced during the immense housing bubble that coincided with his time as governor.

Mr. Trump, famously, is a “birther” — someone who has questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States. But is that any worse than Scott Walker’s declaration that he isn’t sure whether the president is a Christian?

Mr. Trump’s declared intention to deport all illegal immigrants is definitely extreme, and would require deep violations of civil liberties. But are there any defenders of civil liberties in the modern G.O.P.? Notice how eagerly Rand Paul, self-described libertarian, has joined in the witch hunt against Planned Parenthood.

And while Mr. Trump is definitely appealing to know-nothingism, Marco Rubio, climate change denier, has made “I’m not a scientist” his signature line. (Memo to Mr. Rubio: Presidents don’t have to be experts on everything, but they do need to listen to experts, and decide which ones to believe.)

The point is that while media puff pieces have portrayed Mr. Trump’s rivals as serious men — Jeb the moderate, Rand the original thinker, Marco the face of a new generation — their supposed seriousness is all surface. Judge them by positions as opposed to image, and what you have is a lineup of cranks. And as I said, this is no accident.

It has long been obvious that the conventions of political reporting and political commentary make it almost impossible to say the obvious — namely, that one of our two major parties has gone off the deep end. Or as the political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it in their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” the G.O.P. has become an “insurgent outlier … unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.” It’s a party that has no room for rational positions on many major issues.

Or to put it another way, modern Republican politicians can’t be serious — not if they want to win primaries and have any future within the party. Crank economics, crank science, crank foreign policy are all necessary parts of a candidate’s resume.

Until now, however, leading Republicans have generally tried to preserve a facade of respectability, helping the news media to maintain the pretense that it was dealing with a normal political party. What distinguishes Mr. Trump is not so much his positions as it is his lack of interest in maintaining appearances. And it turns out that the party’s base, which demands extremist positions, also prefers those positions delivered straight. Why is anyone surprised?

Remember how Mr. Trump was supposed to implode after his attack on John McCain? Mr. McCain epitomizes the strategy of sounding moderate while taking extreme positions, and is much loved by the press corps, which puts him on TV all the time. But Republican voters, it turns out, couldn’t care less about him.

Can Mr. Trump actually win the nomination? I have no idea. But even if he is eventually pushed aside, pay no attention to all the analyses you will read declaring a return to normal politics. That’s not going to happen; normal politics left the G.O.P. a long time ago. At most, we’ll see a return to normal hypocrisy, the kind that cloaks radical policies and contempt for evidence in conventional-sounding rhetoric. And that won’t be an improvement.

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One Response to “Brooks, Bruni and Krugman”

  1. P Says:

    Brooks on concluding Iranian development of weapons grade fissile material is imminent regardless of the structuring of the deal fails to include the measures available to the US. While the pre arrangement details are sketchy and the post agreement details are potentially full of unwieldy holes we assume certain fundamental arrangements are in place for an Iranian initiative. Ultimately the agreement changes the house rules. We actually gained momentum! In a world without Dr. Strange love’s fail-safe mechanism.
    The military solution has been firmly placed in the cards quietly replacing sanctions. The eight items which Mr. Brooks mentioned are only valid from aast political perspective. At the same time the backers of the Iranian deal have not read the fine print. They may chuckle and chortle all day about Bibi and raise concerns about neo-cons in some quasi inflammatory way. But they bear no resemblance to sanity. They are straddling a bomb heading towards Tehrsn of their own making.

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