“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
As the administration of President Barack Obama whittles down the numbers of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, transferring 15 men to the United Arab Emirates this week, some members of Congress, including Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, from New Hampshire, are once again making alarmist claims about the released detainees’ supposed dangerousness. Calling those released “among the worst terrorists,” Ayotte warned that Obama was jeopardizing national security by freeing them and planning for the release of others. Despite the vehemence with which these claims are made, the basis for them is remarkably misguided.
The bottom line is that many of those who have been detained in Guantánamo for the last 15 years were never involved in terrorism to begin with. The reported number of those who have become involved in terrorism after their release is low—and even that number is contested. The greatest danger that Guantánamo poses to U.S. national security is its potency as a symbol of injustice—the product of holding hundreds of people for years without due process and its association with rendition and torture—as it often feeds into terrorist propaganda. That is one reason why former President George W. Bush, as well as U.S. national security leaders, such as former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, have supported shutting Guantánamo down.
As President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders prepare to launch negotiations on a two-year budget deal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is maneuvering to cut key Democrats out of the talks, according to sources familiar with the nascent negotiations.
The ambitious budget goal, outlined by McConnell on Tuesday, could help ease the threat of repeated government shutdowns until after the 2016 elections. But drama is already unfolding behind the scenes with McConnell’s private suggestion that the discussions be limited to just him, President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), according to Democratic sources — a proposal that the president and outgoing speaker have rejected, the sources said.
On Tuesday, McConnell detailed the talks, which are focused on top-line budget numbers for fiscal 2016 and 2017. The discussions, which included McConnell, Obama and Boehner, began with an initial phone conversation among the three men nearly two weeks ago.
The discussions are preliminary, and are likely to stretch beyond the end of October, when Boehner’s resignation from Congress takes effect. But if the talks can produce top-line numbers for domestic and defense spending, that could help the GOP-led Congress avoid future showdowns over government spending like the standoff that will loom in mid-December.
“We’d like to settle a top-line for both years so that next year, we could have a regular appropriations process,” McConnell said Tuesday. “The president and Speaker Boehner and I spoke about getting started into discussions last week, and I would expect them to start very soon.”
A Boehner aide confirmed the talks, saying the men “discussed the need to get moving on the budget process.”
Ashton Carter has an unusual background for a secretary of defense. Before assuming the United States’ top military post in February, he studied medieval history and particle physics as an undergraduate at Yale, got a Ph.D. in physics as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, and taught international affairs at Harvard. He also served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration and as an undersecretary and then the deputy secretary of defense under President Barack Obama. Since becoming secretary, Carter has displayed an unusual bluntness, openly criticizing Iraq’s military forces and talking tough to adversaries such as China and Russia. In his first full-length print interview since becoming secretary, Carter met with Foreign Affairs managing editor Jonathan Tepperman in his Pentagon office in early July.
You’ve held a lot of jobs in the course of your career. Which best prepared you for your current position?
I would say that what has prepared me best is seeing, over several decades, some of the very best of my predecessors in action. My other previous jobs have been more managerial and in the technology area, which means that I know how things work here.
And all this helps me do the things I’m most intent on doing as secretary of defense. Those are, first of all, taking care of our troops. I learned from all [my predecessors] that I have a tremendous fiduciary duty toward the troops. They’re what I wake up to in the morning.
The other thing is to help the president make the difficult decisions about our foreign policy and carry out that part of it which involves the weight of the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.
And the last thing I keep uppermost in my mind is the future of this institution and making sure that we continue to have the very best people in our all-volunteer force, that we have the very best technology, and that we continue to have the magnetic power to attract everyone around the world. As I travel around the world, I see that they all want more—more association with us, more contribution from us. And that’s a great tribute to the United States and its values, but also to the performance of this department.
Speaking of that performance, how worried are you about the budget cuts that have been forced on this department by sequestration?
The game of budget chicken that has been going on now in Washington for several years saddens me very greatly, and I have really pleaded with the leadership [in Congress]—and this has to be a bipartisan thing—to come together behind a multiyear budget process. The herky-jerky, on-and-off annual decision-making stops us from spending money efficiently in the way that the taxpayer expects. It means that our troops and their families don’t have a perspective on the future and feel at risk. It gives a misleadingly diminished picture of America around the world, suggesting that we can’t get our act together. It’s at odds with the ability of our partners in the defense industry to have an efficient business strategy and therefore to continue to support us.
As well as being the secretary of defense, I’m also on the National Security Council, and so I can’t be indifferent to the budget woes of the State Department, of the intelligence community, of scientific R & D, and of education. The whole thing hobbles me and the rest of the federal government. I really hope that we can rise above it.
He calls colleagues to explain his decision and assure them he will not be whipping opposition.
With liberal groups furious over his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, Sen. Chuck Schumer has been quietly reaching out to dozens of his colleagues to explain his decision and assure them he would not be whipping opposition to the deal, according to Democratic senators and aides.
After news of his decision to vote “no” on the Iran agreement first leaked Thursday night, Schumer (D-N.Y.) has spoken to 20 to 30 fellow Democrats about why he will vote with the GOP leadership against the deal, sources said. Schumer had been planning to make these calls on Friday, before his position on Iran became public, but was not able to do so because it had leaked the night before.
In these conversations, Schumer has been walking through his position on the Iran agreement, the product of lengthy negotiations between the leading world powers and the Iranian government.
Schumer, though, is not lobbying his colleagues to vote against the agreement when the Senate takes up a “resolution of disapproval” next month, several undecided senators said during interviews. The disapproval resolution is expected to win the 60 votes needed to overcome any Democratic filibuster.
The real question, however, is whether President Barack Obama can rally the 34 senators he needs to uphold a veto of the resolution. Right now, the Senate vote is too close to call, although Obama’s support for a veto override appears more solid among House Democrats, with three more coming out on Tuesday in favor of the agreement.
REUTERS/China DailyPeople cool off at a water park, in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, August 1, 2015. Temperature hit 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) in Nanjing on Saturday. Picture taken August 1, 2015.
Governor’s races in South and Midwest could be lost if party brand becomes too liberal.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — Centrist Democrats were wiped out in the 2014 elections and in their absence emerged a resurgent liberal movement, embodied most recently by the surprisingly competitive presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
But the suddenly ascendant left — its populist overtones becoming part of the mainstream Democratic pitch — is worrying Democrats who want to compete on Republican-leaning turf. The party lost every competitive gubernatorial and Senate race in the South last year. And Democrats didn’t fare much better in the heartland.
Now, as Bernie Sanders’ surge foreshadows a new burst of progressivism, moderate Democrats are looking to their counterparts in Washington with a plea: Don’t freeze us out.
“The national Democratic Party’s brand makes it challenging for Democrats in red states oftentimes and I hope that going forward, the leaders at the national level will be mindful of that and they will understand that they can’t govern the country without Democrats being able to win races in red states,” said Paul Davis, who narrowly failed to unseat Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback last year.
Davis and his ilk were partly victims of a historically dismal year for Democrats, who saw their gubernatorial ranks fall to 18. Their candidates were weighed down by perceptions that President Barack Obama was too liberal. Now, Democrats in red states are worried that the party’s shift toward an even more polarizing, populist tone could turn off the swing voters they need to mount a comeback in 2015 and 2016, when a handful of GOP-tilted states with Democratic governors are on the ballot.
“It’s important that the Democratic party be ‘big-tent,’” said Vincent Sheheen, who lost last year to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. “So if the result of that kind of rhetoric is an antagonism toward or a hostility toward the moderate elements of the Democratic Party then yeah, it’s big trouble and big problems.”
“We’ll never take back Congress unless we can win in the South. We’ll never take back governorships unless we can win in the South,” he added.