Sorry, But Ben Carson Just Doesn't Care About Foreign Policy

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 5:56 PM EST

Who would ever have guessed that someday we'd have a serious presidential candidate who makes Donald Trump look sober and grounded? And yet, that's what Ben Carson has done. Here's one of his foreign policy advisors, perhaps under the misapprehension that he was speaking off the record:

“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security, said in an interview....After Mr. Carson struggled on “Fox News Sunday” to say whom he would call first to form a coalition against the Islamic State, Mr. Clarridge called [Armstrong] Williams, the candidate’s top adviser, in frustration. “We need to have a conference call once a week where his guys roll out the subjects they think will be out there, and we can make him smart,” Mr. Clarridge said he told Mr. Williams.

Mr. Williams, one of Mr. Carson’s closest friends, who does not have an official role in the campaign, also lamented the Fox News interview. “He’s been briefed on it so many times,” he said. “I guess he just froze.”

"He just froze." Maybe. But there's another possibility. A friend of mine recently had a conversation with a guy who once sat on a board with Carson: "He told how, at that time, Carson advocated that the way to reduce CO2 emissions was to build hydrogen-powered cars. Once he had embraced that policy solution, according to his fellow board member, Carson showed no interest in alternate policies."

This seems to be Carson's MO. One way or another, he decides what he believes. Glyconutrients are a miracle. Hitler took away people's guns. The Chinese are in Syria. Hydrogen cars will fix global warming. And once he's fixated on something, that's it. He just isn't interested in learning any more. You can brief him until you're blue in the face, but it's water off a duck. He's already made up his mind.

I wonder what happened to make him this way? It seems clear that he wasn't always like this. Did this change occur slowly? Or was there some dramatic event that changed his worldview? We'll probably never know. But it leaves him wide open to every weird idea and kooky conspiracy theory out there if it happens to press one of his buttons. Usually characters like this are relegated to post-midnight talk radio or sending out chain emails about Obama getting ready to declare martial law. But this one is running for president. And winning.

UPDATE: This is great. The Carson campaign recommended Clarridge as a source and provided the Times with his phone number. But now they're throwing him under the bus. "Mr. Clarridge has incomplete knowledge of the daily, not weekly briefings, that Dr. Carson receives on important national security matters," the campaign said in a statement. "For The New York Times to take advantage of an elderly gentleman and use him as their foil in this story is an affront to good journalistic practices."

Very classy.

Advertise on

Even Fox News Is Slamming Political Extremists for Refusing to Take in Refugees

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 5:05 PM EST

Amid a growing chorus of Republican governors refusing to accept the settlement of Syrian refugees in their respective states—despite you know, the Constitution—Fox News' Shepard Smith made a rather surprising call for political extremists to reverse their stances and show some compassion to those escaping violence. 

"It seems to me we the people have the responsibility now to protect what we hold dear," Smith told viewers on Monday.

"We profess to stand as an example for all the world. Our unique experiment in freedom, tolerance, and equality is our gift to societies and peoples everywhere. Come join us. Enjoy a chance at the American dream. Today we mourn, but we cannot allow ourselves to become like those who want to destroy us."

Smith's heartfelt and measured exhortation was a welcome respite from much of the fear-mongering tactics some Republican politicians have been using in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. On Tuesday, Donald Trump went as far as to accuse President Obama of intentionally sending refugees only to Republican states, joining his fellow presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in suggesting "limousine liberals" of a NIMBY approach to taking in refugees. 

Here's a Plan to Defeat ISIS. It Might Even Work.

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 3:01 PM EST

Here is Fred Kaplan's 8-point plan for fighting ISIS:

First, NATO should invoke Article 5.... Second...ISIS could come under much fiercer bombardment.... Third, this air power should be directed to support all ground forces engaged in fighting ISIS, no matter how unpalatable they might otherwise be—including Iranian-backed militias.... Fourth...everything should be done to raise up, supply, and if necessary train Sunni militias and command groups, too.... Fifth, all of the above requires intense shuttle diplomacy.... Sixth...Obama is right to quell talk of throwing thousands of American (or other Western) combat troops into this fight.... Seventh, this reticence in sending combat troops shouldn’t preclude a doubling or tripling of special operations forces to advise, coordinate airstrikes, and occasionally support counter-terrorist raids.... Finally, none of these efforts will amount to much in the long run without a political settlement in Syria.

In short: a bigger air campaign; cooperation with both Shiite Iranian forces and Sunni militias; and more special ops. On the non-military side, we need plenty of shuttle diplomacy to secure a political settlement in Syria. I'd add to that the development of a tolerably multi-sectarian government in Iraq, and I'm a little unsure why Kaplan left that off his list.

I think everyone should understand that even a plan like this, which is grounded in reality, is uncertain to work and will require a lot of time even if it does. In the end, groups like ISIS will continue to pop up until the Middle East's civil wars start to resolve themselves. It's unclear whether American influence can do much to speed that up.

The Meat Industry Is Killing Kids, Say Pediatricians

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 1:55 PM EST

According to the National Pork Producers Coalition, the way the meat industry currently uses antibiotics is no problem. "Existing FDA regulations are increasingly strict and provide adequate safeguards against antibiotic resistance," the group insists on its website.

But Jerome Paulson and Theoklis Zaoutis disagree. Pediatricians who serve on the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Environmental Health, they have published a blunt report in the journal Pediatrics, arguing that systemic overuse of antibiotics in livestock production is a key driver of the resistance crisis, which, they show, sickens 2 million Americans every year, kills 23,000, and runs up an annual healthcare bill of $21 billion annually.

With their developing immune systems, kids are particularly vulnerable to superbugs.

With their developing immune systems, children are particularly vulnerable—salmonella alone causes more then 120,000 illnesses, 44,000 physician visits, 4600 hospitalizations, and 38 deaths annually among kids younger than five, the authors report.

They point out that US livestock producers uses a staggering 32.2 million pounds of antibiotics in 2012 (the last year for which data exist), more than four times the amount used to treat people. Fully 60 percent of the those farm-dispensed drugs "are considered to be important in human medicine," they add.  This annual bombardment of farm antibiotics, they show, kills susceptible bacteria and allows resistant ones to proliferate. Of the  Salmonella that commonly show up in the US meat supply, 5 percent are are resistant to 5 or more classes of antibiotic drugs—and 3 percent can withstand ceftriaxone, the "first-line therapy for salmonellosis in pediatrics," the authors note.

Paulson and Zaoutis then run through the various ways these superbugs move off of farms and threaten people. "Increasingly, food animals are raised in large numbers under close confinement, transported in large groups to slaughter, and processed very rapidly," they write. "These conditions can cause increased bacterial shedding and contamination of hide, carcass, and meat with fecal bacteria." Resistant bacteria can also escape the farm through farmers, farm workers, and farm families, and casual visitors, who then can spread the germs throughout the communities. Then there's the vast concentrations of manure from these facilities, which "can contaminate foods when manure containing resistant organisms is applied to agricultural soils and the organisms are then present in farm runoff."

They end with a critique of what those pork producers claim are "increasingly strict" FDA rules on farm antibiotic use. Currently, the rules allow farmers to use antibiotics not only to treat to disease but also "prevent" it—a loophole that, as I and others have shown, allows meat producers to maintain current practices. That practice "can harm public health, including child health, through the promotion of resistance," the authors warm. Who are you going to believe—the folks charged with keeping your kids healthy, or the ones charged with profitably churning out billions of meat animals each year?

The Disgrace of Lamar Smith and the House Science Committee

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 1:37 PM EST

The Washington Post writes today about a long-running feud between die-hard climate-denier Lamar Smith and pretty much anyone who says that climate change is real:

The flash point in the feud between House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a congressional subpoena. The congressman, a prominent global warming skeptic, is demanding that the government turn over its scientists’ internal exchanges and communications with NOAA’s top political appointees.

Smith believes this information, showing the researchers deliberative process, will prove that they altered data to fit President Obama’s climate agenda when they refuted claims in a peer-reviewed study in the journal Science that global warming had “paused” or slowed over the last decade.

“These are government employees who changed data to show more climate change,” the chairman said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Americans deserve to understand why this decision was made. Despite what some critics claim, the subpoena is not only about scientists. Political operatives and other NOAA employees likely played a large role in approving NOAA’s decision to adjust data that allegedly refutes the hiatus in warming.

Over the last few years, harassment of climate scientists via subpoenas and FOIA requests for every email they've ever written has become the go-to tactic of climate skeptics and deniers. The purpose is twofold. First, it intimidates scientists from performing climate research. Who needs the grief? Second, it provides a chance to find something juicy and potentially embarrassing in the trove of emails.

In the case of Lamar Smith vs. NOAA, the key fact is this: Smith has no reason to think the scientists in question have done anything wrong. None. He doesn't even pretend otherwise. He has simply asserted that it's "likely" that politics played a role in "adjusting" the climate data. But at no time has he presented any evidence at all to back this up.

This is a pretty plain abuse of congressional subpoena power, and so far NOAA is refusing to comply. In the case of private critics using FOIA, it's a pretty clear abuse of FOIA—and one of the reasons that I have some reservations about FOIA that might seem odd coming from a journalist. It's one thing to demand private communications when there's some question of wrongdoing. It's quite another when it's just a fishing expedition undertaken in the hope of finding something titillating.

In any case, Smith is a disgrace, and it's a disgrace that Republicans allow him to chair a committee on science. Smith's view of science is simple: if it backs up his beliefs, it's fine. If it doesn't, it's obviously fraudulent. This is the attitude that leads to defunding of climate research or banning research on guns. After all, there's always the possibility that the results will be inconvenient, and in the world of Smith and his acolytes, that can't be allowed to stand. Full speed ahead and science be damned.

We Need to Re-Learn the Lessons of the Iraq War

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 12:44 PM EST

Jeff Guo writes about the likelihood that the Paris attacks will inspire reprisals against Muslims:

“This is precisely what ISIS was aiming for — to provoke communities to commit actions against Muslims,” said Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland who studies how people become terrorists. “Then ISIS will be able to say, ‘I told you so. These are your enemies, and the enemies of Islam.’”

....The researchers see the Paris attacks increasing radicalization in two potential ways. First, the killings project power and prestige, burnishing ISIS’s image and attracting those who want to feel potent themselves.

Second, the attacks will escalate tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. They have already led to some anti-Muslim activity, and will likely provoke more. Not only will these events make Muslims in the West feel marginalized, but they will also provide extremist propagandists with examples of Western oppression.

What really gets me about this is not just that it's true. It's that we've seen this movie before with Al-Qaeda. We know perfectly well that it's ISIS that wants to turn this into a war of civilizations, just as Al-Qaeda wanted to do. It's no secret. Why are so many conservative hawks so willing to play along with this?

More generally, it's astonishing—or depressing, take your pick—how soon we forget what we learned just a few years ago. Should we send a massive force into Anbar to crush ISIS once and for all? Well, we've tried that before. Remember? We sent a massive force into Iraq and, sure enough, we toppled Saddam Hussein's regular army units pretty quickly. Then, despite a huge military presence, the country fell apart. The Sunni insurgency lasted for years before it was finally beaten back. Then the Shiite government of Iraq decided that fealty to its Shia supporters was more important than uniting their country, and before long Anbar was in flames again, this time with ISIS leading the charge.

You want to take out ISIS? Me too. But if you want to do it fast in order to demonstrate how tough you are, it's going to require 100,000 troops or more; it will cost hundreds or thousands of American lives; and the bill will run to tens of billions of dollars. Remember Fallujah? It took the better part of a year and nearly 15,000 troops to take a medium-sized city held by a few thousand poorly trained militants. Now multiply that by ten or so. And multiply the casualties by 10 or 20 or 30 too. This isn't two armies facing off on the field of battle. It's house-to-house fighting against local insurgents, which isn't something we're especially good at.

Still, we could do it. The problem is that President Obama is right: unless we leave a permanent occupying force there, it will just blow up yet again—especially if we take Ted Cruz's advice and decide we don't really care about civilian casualties. Having defeated Al-Qaeda 2.0, we'll end up with Al-Qaeda 3.0. Aside from a permanent occupation, the only thing that can stop this is an Iraqi government that takes Sunni grievances seriously and is genuinely willing to govern in a non-sectarian way.

This isn't just a guess. We went through this just a few years ago. But everyone seems to have forgotten it already. Just send in the troops and crush the bastards! That worked great against the Nazis. It doesn't work so great in Iraq.

Advertise on

The Latest on Paris Attacks and the Campaign Against ISIS

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 12:39 PM EST

On Tuesday, Russian officials confirmed for the first time that a homemade explosive was found on the downed Metrojet airliner that crashed in Egypt last month, killing all 224 people on board.

Shortly after the confirmation, Russia announced the country was stepping up air strikes in Syria, hoping to work directly with France in the fight against ISIS.

"We will find them anywhere on the planet and punish them," President Vladimir Putin said in a meeting with Russian security authorities.

Russia's FSB security service also announced a $50 million reward for anyone who could provide intelligence leading to the arrests of the terrorists responsible for the attack.

The announcement comes amid the ongoing international manhunt for suspects connected to the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. Authorities are said to be specifically targeting Belgian-born, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, the suspected eighth terrorist behind Friday's siege.

On Monday, authorities conducted 128 overnight raids throughout France, searching for people involved with the attacks. Several arrests in Germany have already been made, but officials say they were not "closely"connected" to Friday's attacks.

On Tuesday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made an official request to the European Union for assistance in the fight against ISIS. The Associated Press reports French President Francois Hollande will meet with President Obama in Washington and President Putin in Moscow next week to discuss the international effort. 

State Department Says Governors Can't Stop Refugees From Entering Their States

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 12:37 PM EST

On Monday, as more than a dozen mostly Republican governors pledged to block Syrian refugees from being resettled in their states, the State Department was mum about the legal ramifications, offering only a cautious statement that its lawyers were looking into it. By Tuesday, apparently, that review had been completed.

"This is a federal program carried out under the authority of federal law and refugees arriving in the United States are protected by the Constitution and federal law," a senior State Department official told reporters on a conference call, when asked about the governors' statements. Simply put, once a refugee has come to the United States, "he or she is also free to move anywhere in the country," just like anyone else. And there's nothing Bobby Jindal or Chris Christie can do about it.

But, the official was quick to point out, the government also wasn't interested in resettling refugees unilaterally. Although state and local governments have only a consultative role in the process, "this is a program that is very much dependent on the support of local communities" to make the adjustment to a new life work—picking a new arrival up at the airport, furnishing a new house, finding gainful employment, and providing access to health care. And in that respect, the governors' strongest bargaining chip might be their open hostility. "We don't want to send refugees anywhere where they would not be welcomed."

Adele's New Song Is Every Bit As Good As You Want It to Be

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 12:34 PM EST

We were teased yesterday on Twitter and Facebook by an ad for an exclusive performance on 60 Minutes Australia. Now you can watch the full performance of Adele's new new song, "When We Were Young," the follow up to her first single in three years, "Hello", and the second song from the forthcoming album "25." The film clip is directed by Paul Dugdale, and shot at The Church Studios, the legendary north London recording spot.

For fans of Adele, the main feeling is relief—that it's a real comeback. Here's the conversation I had with Mother Jones creative director Ivylise Simones when she texted me urgently this morning with the link:

Here's that teaser for the 60 Minutes interview:

And just for the die-hard fans, here's a GIF of that diva moment, sized for Twitter's 2MB limit, to be used at your leisure:

Liberals Should Knock Off the Mockery Over Calls to Limit Syrian Refugees

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 11:45 AM EST

Chris Cillizza on the post-Paris push among Republicans to keep Syrian refugees out of the country:

Over the past 24 hours, almost half of the nation's governors — all but one of them Republicans — have said they plan to refuse to allow Syrian immigrants into their states in the wake of the Paris attacks carried out by the Islamic State....That stance has been greeted with widespread ridicule and disgust by Democrats who insist that keeping people out of the U.S. is anathema to the founding principles of the country.

....Think what you will, but one thing is clear: The political upside for Republican politicians pushing an immigration ban on Syrians and/or Muslims as a broader response to the threat posed by the Islamic State sure looks like a political winner.

Cillizza has some poll numbers to back this up, but he's right in more ways than just that. Here's the thing: to the average person, it seems perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of admitting Syrian refugees to the country. We know that ISIS would like to attack the US. We know that ISIS probably has the wherewithal to infiltrate a few of its people into the flood of refugees. And most voters have no idea how easy it is to get past US screening. They probably figure it's pretty easy.

So to them it doesn't seem xenophobic or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees. It seems like simple common sense. After all, things changed after Paris.

Mocking Republicans over this—as liberals spent much of yesterday doing on my Twitter stream—seems absurdly out of touch to a lot of people. Not just wingnut tea partiers, either, but plenty of ordinary centrists too. It makes them wonder if Democrats seriously see no problem here. Do they care at all about national security? Are they really that detached from reality?

The liberal response to this should be far more measured. We should support tight screening. Never mind that screening is already pretty tight. We should highlight the fact that we're accepting a pretty modest number of refugees. In general, we should act like this is a legitimate thing to be concerned about and then work from there.

Mocking it is the worst thing we could do. It validates all the worst stereotypes about liberals that we put political correctness ahead of national security. It doesn't matter if that's right or wrong. Ordinary people see the refugees as a common sense thing to be concerned about. We shouldn't respond by essentially calling them idiots. That way lies electoral disaster.