What Obama 
Gets Wrong – By Bret Stephens September/October 2015 Issue

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Gideon Rose’s intriguing essay on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy raises a vexing question: When does the statute of limitations on blaming President George W. Bush for the record of the current administration finally expire?

Rose devotes much of his article to rehearsing a litany of the Bush administration’s sins in an effort to persuade readers that Obama inherited a uniquely bad set of cards when he came to the White House—a “mess,” as the president liked to say—and must therefore be judged accordingly. But this is doubtful as a matter of history and past its sell-by date as a form of apology.

Every president inherits a mixed bag when he comes to office, and Obama’s was hardly the worst. Yes, he became president in the midst of a steep economic downdraft. But so did Bush after the bursting of the dot-com bubble (compounded shortly thereafter by the attacks of September 11), as did President Ronald Reagan after the stagflation of the Carter years, as did President Gerald Ford in the wake of the Arab oil embargo. Yes, Obama took over two wars from Bush—just as President Richard Nixon inherited Vietnam from President Lyndon Johnson and President Dwight Eisenhower inherited Korea from President Harry Truman. But at least the war in Iraq was all but won by 2009, thanks largely to the very surge Obama had opposed as a senator. And yes, the United States’ brand had been tarnished by Bush’s “war on terror” policies, much as it had been in a previous generation by the war in Vietnam. But that only helped burnish Obama’s incoming reputation as a redeemer president, earning him immense political capital at home and goodwill abroad right from the start, capped by a Nobel Peace Prize.

Every president inherits a mixed bag when he comes to office, and Obama’s was hardly the worst.

Obama’s supporters also need to acknowledge that they cannot celebrate the president’s supposed successes at one point and then disavow responsibility later when those successes turn to dust. If Obama can take credit for putting the core of al Qaeda “on the path to defeat” and bringing the war on terror effectively to an end—as he did at the National Defense University in May 2013, to much liberal applause—then it becomes difficult for him to evade responsibility for the resurgence of jihadism in the two years since then. If the administration can celebrate the success of its Iraq policy in 2012 (“What is beyond debate,” said Antony Blinken, one of Obama’s senior foreign policy advisers, “is that Iraq today is less violent, more democratic and more prosperous, and the United States more deeply engaged there, than at any time in recent history”), then maybe Bush can be exempted from blame for Iraq’s travails in 2014.


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Sincerely, Ralph Nader – By RALPH NADER July 05, 2015

A collection of letters to the White House.

“I have always preferred the ink-and-paper, written letter method of communicating with elected officials,” writes Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and former presidential candidate, who has been writing letters to American politicians, with some success, for more than 50 years.

But he’s been disappointed with the past two administrations. “Rhetoric by both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama would have you think that these presidents encourage and support citizens sharing their opinions with their commander in chief,” he writes in a new collection of his correspondences, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015. But “once delivered to the White House, my letters could not penetrate the multi-layered White House bubble.” Perhaps, Nader says, if presidents these days didn’t spend so much time raising money, waging unnecessary wars and taking photo ops with sports stars, they might find more time to engage with a concerned citizenry.

Who knows whether Nader’s book of letters, which he hopes will be the first step toward repairing the degraded relationship between U.S. citizens and their elected officials, will catch the president’s attention; but it certainly caught ours. From a missive scolding Bush for being an “out-of-control West Texas sheriff” to a note to Obama from the point of view of an E. coli bacterium, here are some of Politico Magazine‘s favorite Nadergrams.



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Will Iraq take down another Bush? – By Eli Stokols 5/12/15 1:15 PM EDT

Jeb muffs his first attempt to confront his brother’s Mideast legacy.

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Iraq is where George H. W. Bush refused to go all the way in the Gulf War.

It was where George W. Bush got bogged down 12 years later.

Now, Jeb Bush is floundering on the same terrain, as political rivals pounce on his first uneven effort to address perhaps his biggest political liability — his brother’s record and, specifically, the legacy of the Iraq War.

Caught between the competing imperatives of rebranding himself apart from his family’s presidential pedigree and not wobbling on the national security, currently the top issue for Republican primary voters, Bush inadvertently stated to Fox News’ Megyn Kelly in an interview taped Saturday that he’d have authorized the Iraq War even knowing what we know now.

After a close ally, former aide Ana Navarro, suggested Tuesday morning that Bush misheard part of Kelly’s question, he took to Sean Hannity’s radio show Tuesday afternoon to address a controversy his team thought it had put to rest before Navarro weighed in.

After a 15-minute interview touching on a number of policy questions, Bush sought to clear up the confusion, saying that he had indeed “misinterpreted” Kelly’s question.

“I thought we were talking about ‘given what people knew then, would you have done it?’,” Bush said.

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The Transformed Politics of Post-Recession America – By Jonathan Chait  January 9, 2015 11:22 a.m. 

I need to think of a line fast. Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters/Corbis

The American political debate has transformed radically over the last month. The underlying policy faultlines remain, but the tenor is unrecognizable. When the Republican majority took control of the House of Representatives in 2011, they had the crusading air of a party fired with the conviction that it had to save America from imminent destruction. It had the same millennial fanaticism in the fall of 2013, when Republicans shut down the government to protest Obamacare. The onset of the Republican Senate, by contrast, is accompanied not by tones of revolutionary fervor but torpor and confusion.

Before the holidays, it was possible and even probable to think of the American economy as disappointing. This is no longer plausible. Today’s jobs report confirms that the recovery has shifted into a more rapid phase of growth. 2014 saw the recovery finally escape its languid post-crash phase. More Americans gained jobs in 2014 than any year since 1999.

Photo: Vox

The recovery is not complete — wages remain stubbornly suppressed — but this fact itself suggests an upside: The absence of higher pay is also the absence of any kind of inflationary pressure that might cause the Federal Reserve to apply the brakes to the recovery. This in turn suggests job growth is not finished. The 2016 elections could well take place against a backdrop of full employment. The entire predicate of the Republican argument since 2009 — that Obama’s massive expansion of spending, taxes, and regulation has snuffed out job creators’ incentive or ability to work their capitalistic magic — will be moot.

In 1996, the recovery was still embryonic enough that Bob Dole could lamely assert that Americans were suffering from “the Clinton crunch.” Four years later, George W. Bush had to acknowledge widespread prosperity, while casting himself as the ideological heir to Clinton’s moderate policies and running on “honor and dignity.” That is the sort of reversal currently under way.

Mitch McConnell underscored the metamorphosis when he acknowledged the economic recovery with inadvertent humor. “The uptick,” insisted the incoming Senate Majority Leader, “appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress.” Neither half of McConnell’s statement is true. First, the biggest political change of Obama’s tenure, by far, was the Republican capture of the House during his first midterm election, which destroyed the Democrats’ ability to pass new legislation. Republican bills will be blocked by Obama vetoes or by Senate Democratic minority filibusters rather than by the Senate Democratic majority. The addition of the Republican Senate does not change the state of gridlock between the two parties; any agreement between the Republican House and Obama would be amenable to a Republican or a Democratic Senate. Nor does the recovery in any way coincide with the relatively insignificant change in Senate majority. The Republican Senate victory was not expected until November. The accelerating recovery was evident as early as June (as this prescient Joe Wiesenthal column attests).

One can see the change, too, in the GOP’s early policy feints. As promised, the party is holding a vote to build the Keystone pipeline. Keystone was always a symbolic issue, but the symbolism was powerful because it gave Republicans a way to situate their policies as the answer to the electorate’s genuine concerns. Americans worried about a lack of jobs and high gasoline prices. The pipeline offered no substantive relief to either concern, but it could be sold as one. But with jobs growing briskly, and gasoline prices falling through the floor, Keystone’s symbolic value loses almost all its potency. If Republicans succeeded in authorizing the pipeline, it is not even clear that it would make enough economic sense to even build today. Keystone has been reduced to a vestigial gesture of resentment against environmentalists. They are doing it because they have already committed to doing so, not because it makes any contemporary sense.

Likewise, the party remains as committed as ever to repealing Obamacare, but its apocalyptic terror continues to subside as the law continues to function effectively. Republicans are holding a show vote to alter the employer mandate, and their proposal would increase the deficit while reducing the number of Americans with insurance. The gambit has divided the party, with National Review registering its opposition.

Signs of faint-heartedness in the anti-Obamacare jihad continue to pop up. Republicans in North Carolina and Texas have floated the possibility of ending their state’s boycott of Obamacare. Senator John Cornyn has suggestedpostponing the party’s annual vote to restore the pre-Obamacare status quo.

There is no evidence the Republican Party has changed its policy doctrine. (Indeed, if you consider the last predicate, in 2001, George W. Bush implemented the same tax cut agenda that Bob Dole advocated in 1996.) Yet if the lyrics remain the same, the music is radically different. Six years of unrelenting hysteria have given way to a world in which Republicans can no longer claim that Barack Obama has transformed the country beyond recognition. Their goal is no longer to assign blame but to seize a share of the credit.

5 little ways Jeb Bush just let us know he wants to win minority voters – Updated by Jenée Desmond-Harris on January 6, 2015, 5:10 p.m. ET

Every Republican presidential hopeful knows the GOP has a major problem attracting minority voters — and it looks like Jeb Bush just might think he’s the guy to fix it.

Every Republican presidential hopeful knows the GOP has a major problem attracting minority voters — and it looks like Jeb Bush just might think he’s the guy to fix it.

Yes, the former Florida governor, brother of George W. Bush, and son of George H.W. Bush appears to have decided he’ll be the one to strip his party of the “party of old white men” label. Don’t believe it? Just check out the website for his newly announced leadership PAC, Right to Rise.

The launch of the PAC is the clearest sign yet that Bush will jump into the 2016 race — and a study of RighttoRisePac.org reveals some major hints about what he’ll do to distinguish himself if he does run: embrace groups his party has long struggled to engage, including African-American and Hispanic voters. In fact, the content and tone of the site suggest that he’s already — very subtly, but very deliberately — working to court them.

As Politico’s Katie Glueck and Tarini Parti pointed out, the GOP is not big on identity politics. So we can trust that none of the possible 2016 candidates — not African-American Ben Carson or Indian-American Bobby Jindal — are going to play up their race or ethnicity. Instead of talking about breaking barriers or explaining how they’ll benefit a particular demographic group, chances are, they’ll probably “hit broader themes such as the American dream and the importance of hard work.”

In other words, in today’s Republican party, a white guy like Jeb Bush has just as good a chance as anyone at being 2016’s “diversity candidate.”  And if his new PAC’s website is any indication, he knows that and plans to go for it.

Here’s what stands out at Righttorisepac.org:

He comes right out and says he’s committed to getting people of color to vote Republican

“We will not cede an inch of territory — no issues, no demographic groups, no voters — as we unite our citizens to strengthen America through greater economic growth and widespread prosperity,” reads a statement under the Right to Rise’s “What we believe” tab. Key words: “no demographic group.” We all know which ones Republicans have historically struggled to impress.  Here, Bush isn’t saying that they’ll vote for the GOP if they know what’s good for them, or whining that blacks have been brainwashed by Democrats, or harnessing racial anxiety to target more of the white vote while alienating people of color. Rather, he’s conveying that it’s Republicans’ responsibility to convince people of every race to vote for them. That’s a big commitment — not to mention a much more appealing tone that we’re used to from his fellow Republicans.

The site is wallpapered with a rainbow of Americans

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President George W Bush ‘knew everything’ about CIA interrogation 11 December 2014 Last updated at 03:50 ET

Former US President George W Bush was “fully informed” about CIA interrogation techniques condemned in a Senate report, his vice-president says.

US President George W Bush speaks to Vice President Dick Cheney by phone aboard Air Force One in 2001

President George W Bush wrote about CIA interrogation techniques in his memoir

Speaking to Fox News, Dick Cheney said Mr Bush “knew everything he needed to know” about the programme, and the report was “full of crap”.

The CIA has defended its use of methods such as waterboarding on terror suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

The Senate report said the agency misled politicians about the programme.

But the former Republican vice-president dismissed this, saying: “The notion that the committee is trying to peddle that somehow the agency was operating on a rogue basis and that we weren’t being told – that the president wasn’t being told – is a flat-out lie.”

In the interview on Thursday, Mr Cheney said the report was “deeply flawed” and a “terrible piece of work”, although he admitted he had not read the whole document.

President Bush “knew everything he needed to know, and wanted to know” about CIA interrogation, he said. “He knew the techniques… there was no effort on my part to keep it from him.

“He was fully informed.”

US Vice President Dick Cheney in 2007

Fomer US Vice President Dick Cheney said the Senate report was “deeply flawed”

The story of the report – in numbers

Mr Bush led the charge against the report ahead of its release on Tuesday, defending the CIA on US TV.

“We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf,” he told CNN on Sunday.

A summary of the larger classified report says that the CIA carried out “brutal” and “ineffective” interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects in the years after the 9/11 attacks on the US and misled other officials about what it was doing.

The information the CIA collected using “enhanced interrogation techniques” failed to secure information that foiled any threats, the report said.

But Mr Cheney said the interrogation programme saved lives, and that the agency deserved “credit not condemnation”.

“It did in fact produce actionable intelligence that was vital in the success of keeping the country safe from further attacks,” he said.

The UN and human rights groups have called for the prosecution of US officials involved in the 2001-2007 programme.

“As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice,” Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, said in a statement made from Geneva.

He said there had been a “clear policy orchestrated at a high level”.

Correspondents say that the chances of prosecuting members of the Bush administration are unlikely, not least because the US justice department has said that it has already pursued two investigations into mistreatment of detainees since 2000 and concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to obtain a conviction.

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President Barack Obama boards Air Force One after a visit to Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. Obama went to the Casa Azafran community center and delivered remarks and answered questions regarding immigration reform. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

WASHINGTON (AP) — For President Barack Obama, the long-delayed release of a scathing Senate report on harsh CIA interrogations underscores the degree to which the legacy of George W. Bush’s national security policies has shadowed the man elected to change or end them.

While Obama banned waterboarding and other tactics upon taking office, his administration struggled for years with how to publicly reveal the scope of the program. Even as Obama claims closure in the torture debate, big chunks of Bush’s national security apparatus remain in place, including the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and sweeping government surveillance programs. Obama has also thrust the U.S. back into a military conflict in Iraq and faces questions about his ability to end the Afghanistan war by the time he leaves office.

“It’s been a lot harder to move certain things than they anticipated,” said Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a White House-aligned think tank. “There have been other areas in which they intentionally have not made much progress.”

To some former Bush administration officials, Obama’s mixed record in dismantling his predecessor’s national security apparatus has vindicated the necessity of the steps they took in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“When you say things in campaigns and then you actually get into office and you’re confronted by the breadth and scope of what the national security infrastructure is all about, it’s a totally different perspective,” said Michael Allen, who worked at the White House and State Department during the Bush administration.

Upon taking office, Obama moved quickly to issue an executive order prohibiting the CIA from using harsh interrogation techniques that he denounced as torture and backed a Senate inquiry into the practices. But Tuesday’s release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report has repeatedly been delayed, in part because of the administration’s concerns about the breadth and specificity of what would be made public and whether it was worth potentially inflaming anti-American sentiment around the world.

The president cast the report as an important step in moving the country beyond actions he called “inconsistent with our values as a nation.”

“One of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better,” Obama said in a written statement. He showed some sympathy with Bush, saying, “The previous administration faced agonizing choices about how to pursue al-Qaida and prevent additional terrorist attacks against our country.”

After six years in office, Obama is still struggling to dismantle some of the steps Bush said he was taking in the name of preventing terrorism.

The most glaringly unfulfilled promise is his pledge to close the Guantanamo prison within his first year in office, a commitment he made the same day he banned the harsh CIA interrogation techniques. More than 130 detainees remain at the detention center, and the pathway for removing most of them is unclear.

Many of Obama’s supporters were infuriated when documents made public by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden revealed that the president had maintained and in some cases expanded mass surveillance programs that began under Bush. Obama pledged to make some reforms, but put the onus on Congress for overhauling the most controversial program: Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which authorized the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

With little pressure from Obama for change, overhaul efforts have languished on Capitol Hill, and Section 215 was renewed again this month.

Perhaps Obama’s most consistent promise after the Bush presidency was to end the two wars that started alongside the surveillance and interrogation programs. Just a few months ago, Obama appeared on track to fulfill that pledge, with the Iraq war having ended in 2011 and combat missions in Afghanistan scheduled to end later this month.

But Islamic State militants who strengthened in Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. troops drew the American military back into a conflict there, though so far the U.S. is only using air power, not ground troops. The administration also announced this week that it planned to keep 1,000 more troops than originally planned in Afghanistan after this year, though the Pentagon says it is still on track to withdraw all U.S. forces by the time Obama’s presidency ends in early 2017.

For White House supporters, the question now is whether the final two years of Obama’s presidency will bring about other significant shifts away from Bush’s national security legacy.

“This is going to be the defining issue of the president’s last two years in office on national security policy,” Gude said, “whether he can genuinely pass on to his successor a changed and reformed foreign and security policy or whether we’re still mired in some of the same old debates that at that point will be 15 years old.”

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC