2011 - %3, November

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 23, 2011

Wed Nov. 23, 2011 6:57 AM EST

A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division's "Devil Brigade" aims his M240-B crew-served machine gun during a machine-gun leaders' course on October 14, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.C. The soldier is an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. (US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

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Romney Peddles Obama Defense Spending Lie

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 2:37 AM EST
Gov. Mitt Romney

GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney used Tuesday night's CNN presidential foreign policy debate to drag out a tired, debunked claim: that President Obama intends to cut $1 trillion from defense spending.

It's not true: $600 billion of the cuts Romney is talking about will come via the "trigger," the cuts written into the August deal to raise the nation's borrowing limit. Those cuts go into effect in January 2013, but that's thanks to the supercommittee's recent failure to come up with another $1.2 trillion in savings—not Obama's non-existent anti-military jihad. 

The other $400 billion of Romney's $1 trillion? They don’t exist, as Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin reported in September:

The White House's gambit is only its latest attempts to claim savings from cutting defense when actually no cuts exist. The White House claimed it had cut $350 billion from defense over ten years as part of the debt ceiling deal, but actually there are no defense cuts in the bill.

What the bill does is set spending caps for "security" spending, which the administration defines as defense, homeland security, intelligence, nuclear weapons, diplomacy, and foreign aid. There's no breakdown that defines which of these agencies get what, so there's no way to be sure that all the cuts would come from "defense." Moreover, the spending caps are split between "security" and "non-security" discretionary spending only for fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013.

If the next five Congresses actually cut the defense budget by $350 billion and if the Congressional supercommittee fails to find another $900 billion in discretionary cuts, that would "trigger" another $600 billion cuts in defense over ten years. Added to the $350, that would total about $1 trillion in defense "savings."

The fact is that the Obama administration has made no serious attempt to curb military spending. And if Congress finds a way to renege on the sequester-mandated defense cuts (as defense hawks have been pleading), the other $600 billion worth of cuts won't materialize, either. 

Al-Qaeda is....Dead....Kind Of

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 2:24 AM EST

The Washington Post reports that the terrorist group founded by Osama bin Laden is all but dead:

The leadership ranks of the main al-Qaeda terrorist network, once expansive enough to supervise the plot for Sept. 11, 2001, have been reduced to just two figures whose demise would mean the group’s defeat, U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials said.

Ayman al-Zawahiri and his second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, are the last remaining “high-value” targets of the CIA’s drone campaign against al-Qaeda in Pakistan, U.S. officials said....“We have rendered the organization that brought us 9/11 operationally ineffective,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. Asked what exists of al-Qaeda’s leadership group beyond the top two positions, the official said: “Not very much. Not any of the world-class terrorists they once had.”

However, pretty much the entire rest of the piece is devoted to "U.S. officials" telling us that (a) none of this really matters, (a) al-Qaeda remains an enormous threat, and (c) we can't afford any kind of reduction in our overseas military presence. So don't let this get your hopes up.

No, Rick Perry, the Border is Not Getting More Violent

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 11:30 PM EST
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

Although Tuesday's GOP presidential debate was billed as foreign policy and national security debate, the candidates spent much of the night discussing domestic issues like the Super-Committee and immigration. And that led to one of the night's biggest whoppers—albeit one Republican candidates have a tendency to repeat over and over: The suggestion, from Phil Truluck of the Heritage Foundation, that the southern border has become more and more violent Texas Governor Rick Perry claimed that, under President Obama's watch, the southern border has become more and more violent.

As it happens, the Austin American-Statesman examined the numbers in-depth last month, and reported that in Texas, border violence has actually gone down:

[A] closer look at crime numbers in border counties since 2006 — the year Mexican violence began to spike in earnest — does not reveal evidence of out-of-control chaos. An American-Statesman analysis of all 14 counties that share a border with Mexico and two dozen border cities shows that violent crime along the Texas side of the Rio Grande fell 3.3 percent between 2006 and 2010.

During the same period, the combined number of murders in the 14 counties fell 33 percent, to 73 in 2010 from 97 in 2006.

Further, most counties and cities situated directly across from the worst of the Mexican violence also saw their crime rates decrease, even as thousands were slaughtered on the Mexican side.

Read the whole story.

Update: As a commenter points out, I rushed to put this up without double-checking the transript: Truluck brought up the figure, not Perry. Mea culpa. Perry didn't really answer the question or address the point, although he has made much the same point with regularity—most notably at a debate in September.

Newt Comes Out As An Immigration Moderate

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 11:27 PM EST
Newt Gingrich, immigration moderate?

Newt Gingrich came out as an immigration moderate during Tuesday night's CNN GOP foreign policy debate, urging his colleagues to consider the consequences of mass deportation of unauthorized immigrants who have been in the country for a long time. Gingrich said that as the party of "the family," the GOP shouldn't be involved in breaking up families. The Obama administration has deported more than a million unauthorized immigrants, drawing harsh criticism from immigration reform advocates. 

To be sure, Gingrich is no liberal when it comes to immigration. While Gingrich suggested an exception for some unauthorized immigrants who have remained in the US for years, he still called for expelling all recent undocumented immigrants, implementing a guest worker program, and establishing an employer verification system. He also suggested that a military-only version of the DREAM Act that would provide a path to citizenship to unauthorized immigrants brought here as children. That sounds a lot like what President George W. Bush wanted to do when he proposed immigration reform during his second term in office. 

Romney at first said he opposed amnesty because it would be a "magnet" for further illegal immigration. (He supported Bush's immigration reform proposal last time around.) After Gingrich spoke rather specifically about policy, however, Romney backed down and said he wasn't going start saying who was going to be allowed to stay and who wasn't. After all, he's running for office, for pete's sake. 

Gingrich's moderation on immigration may put his newly crowned front-runner status at risk. Rick Perry's slide in the polls began after he suggested critics of his decision to extend in-state tuition rates to unauthorized immigrants brought to the US as children were "heartless." Gingrich, however, came across far more knowledgeable on the issue and managed to state his position without implying his critics were callous or racist. That may make some difference. 

"I'm willing to be tough, but I'm not willing to kid people," Gingrich told CNN anchor Gloria Borger after the debate. 

Tonight's Debate Wrapup (Sort Of)

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 11:12 PM EST

I'm sorry, but I just don't have it in me to try and say something intelligent about tonight's debate. Generally speaking, it wasn't quite the train wreck that some of the others have been, but that's faint praise. And it's appalling that for the second time in a row, a foreign policy debate had no questions — not one — about Europe. The entire continent is on the verge of imploding, and possibly taking us down with them, and Wolf Blitzer doesn't care. And at the end, when the candidates got a freebie question to talk about any issue they felt wasn't getting enough attention, no mention of Europe again. It's just baffling.

Anyway, here's my Twitter stream for the night. That's the best I've got for you.

5:08pm Good to see Romney singing along. Looks authentic!

5:25pm I think Santorum just lost the Muslim vote.

5:28pm Newt Gingrich is....AWESOM-O!! ow.ly/7CnWd

5:32pm "Huntsman’s problem....is that he doesn’t seem to hate Democrats." ow.ly/7Co0n

5:34pm Hey, Perry mentioned India! Progress!

5:56pm And literally. RT @RichLowry: did newt just use candidly and frankly w/n abt 5 words?

6:04pm How much oil does Gingrich think we have in America?

6:04pm Oh, and Lean Six Sigma!

6:10pm Perry seems unaware that budget trigger was originally a Republican proposal.

6:13pm How long are we going to have to wait this time before Europe gets mentioned?

6:41pm This debate is only two hours, right?

6:42pm Why are candidates promoting drones on border instead of blimps? America needs a stronger blimp fleet.

6:43pm Jeez, such a whiner. RT @MaxBoot: No mention yet of Arab Spring, with demonstrations in Egypt, open revolt in Syria, etc.

6:45pm Already spent an hour talking about Iran, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan. But we're going to "widen" the conversation by going to the Middle East?

6:46pm Surprise final questioner will be George W. Bush! #secretsourcestoldme

6:50pm RT @RichLowry: a no fly zone is not a sanction its an act of war

7:05pm Virtues again from Perry. Is this some kind of dog whistle I don't understand?

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Cain and Santorum Call for Airport Profiling

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 10:47 PM EST
Herman Cain.

Tuesday night's GOP presidential debate in the Belly of the Beast (Washington, DC) began with a lengthy discussion on the Patriot Act and civil liberties. Newt Gingrich announced his whole-hearted support for the controversial law; Ron Paul, his total opposition. When it came to airport security, it was more of the same. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told host Wolf Blitzer he belived the TSA should profile Muslim passengers. Herman Cain suggested that racial profiling might be overly simplistic (this from the creator of 9-9-9), but called for "targeted identification" at airports. As he put it, "the terrorists have one objective that some people don't get, to kill all of us… we should use every means possible to kill them first or identify them first."

The problem is that it's not entirely clear what a terrorist looks like, and judging by Santorum and Cain's answers, it's not clear that they've thought too much about it.

To be sure, TSA screeners should be on the lookout for the guy in the security line with a banana clip yelling "Death to America!" But generally speaking, terrorists don't look like that. Say you wanted to screen for Muslims, as Santorum suggests—how would you know who is a Muslim and who isn't? It's not on your passport, at least not yet. TSA screeners could look at the names and take a guess—but terrorists span the ethnic spectrum and have lots of different-sounding names.  The name "Richard Reid" wouldn't set off many alarm bells. Jose Pimentel, who was arrested in New York City on Sunday on terror charges, was Dominican, and had a Hispanic surname. Are Latinos suspect? Dominicans specifically? What about African-Americans? British nationals? The four Georgia men who plotted to spread ricin inside the Beltway were old white dudes upset about the plastic bag tax. Is Walter Matthau the new face of terror?

Israel has it easy when it comes to profiling. It has one major international airport and it profiles Arabs and doesn't think twice about it. But that's an impossible model to replicate.

2003 Newt: Rein in the Patriot Act

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 10:15 PM EST
What would 1976 Newt say about the Patriot Act?

Newt Gingrich opened tonight's CNN debate by saying he would support strengthening the Patriot Act, the controversial law that vastly expanded the reach of America's intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. 

"I think you want to use every tool you can possibly use," the former Speaker of the House said.

That doesn't exactly square with what Gingrich wrote in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003:

While I applaud the great successes of the Patriot Act in aiding law enforcement and intelligence agencies, agencies that have successfully disrupted terrorist plots and cells within the United States, I strongly believe the Patriot Act was not created to be used in crimes unrelated to terrorism. . . .

We must demonstrate to the world that America is the best example of what a solid Constitution with properly enforced laws can bring to those who desire freedom and safety. If we become hypocrites about our own legal system, how can we sell it abroad or question legal systems different than our own?

I strongly believe Congress must act now to rein in the Patriot Act, limit its use to national security concerns and prevent it from developing "mission creep" into areas outside of national security.

2011 Newt wants a robust Patriot Act; the lily-livered, 2003 Newt didn’t seem so committed. Views can change. But Gingrich's inconsistency on one of the central civil liberties questions of the post-9/11 era should give primary and caucus voters serious pause. 

Bachmann AGAIN Lies About The ACLU And The CIA

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 9:56 PM EST
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn).

During Tuesday's national security debate on CNN, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) tripled down on her hallucination that the American Civil Liberties Union is exerting some broad influence over the Obama administration's national security policies.

Bachmann narrowed her critique this time, arguing that Obama had "outsourced" interrogation policy to the ACLU because it allowed underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab, who pleaded guilty earlier this year, to be read his Miranda rights. Bachmann also said that the CIA is not allowed to play any role in interrogations. That is completely false. 

Obama issued an executive order early in his presidency mandating that interrogations be governed by the Army Field Manual on interrogation, a document that was last updated during the Bush administration by Pentagon officials, not civil liberties advocates. The ACLU has actually objected to the current standards as still allowing techniques that could be considered coercive.

The CIA is part of the interagency High Value Interrogation Group (HIG), and as plays a significant role in interrogating terror suspects. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified during his confirmation hearing in June that "if it's someone where intelligence is the...primary objective here of going after and trying to find that out, then...the CIA individual becomes pretty central to the questions that are asked."

So Bachmann's criticism of Obama's national security policy is based on two obvious and verifiable falsehoods: One, that current restrictions on interrogation are somehow based on the prerogatives of civil liberties advocates, and two, that the CIA no longer plays a role in interrogating terror suspects. Her criticism really just comes down to a complaint that the US is no longer torturing people. Between the Obama administration's hawkishness abroad and its relative continuity with Bush administration policy post-2006, torture is one of the only things Republicans have left to draw a contrast. 

Negotiating With Fanatics

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 8:55 PM EST

I want to thank Ezra Klein for reminding me about this passage in Politico's postmortem on the failure of the supercommittee to reach an agreement. It's a description of the "wish lists" from each side:

House Republicans wanted to repeal Obama’s health care law, implement the controversial House GOP budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), save $700 billion by block granting Medicaid, cut $400 billion in mandatory spending, slash another $1.4 trillion in other health care mandatory spending, save $150 billion by slicing the federal workforce and put a $60 billion cap on tort reform.

Republicans were no more pleased to see what Democrats wanted: the president’s $447 billion jobs bill plus well over $1 trillion in new taxes.

Right. Toss in the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which Politico leaves out for some reason, and you've got $3.7 trillion in tax cuts in addition to repealing Obamacare, making massive cuts in domestic spending, and adopting Paul Ryan's scorched earth budget blueprint.

Democrats, by contrast, agreed up front to a $3 trillion deficit reduction package but wanted it divided into roughly two-thirds spending cuts and one-third tax increases. Plus a jobs bill since, you know, unemployment remains sky high.

Do these two lists sound roughly similar to you? Of course not. They aren't even from the same galaxy. The Republican list is a conservative wet dream. It's not even remotely a starting point for negotiation. By contrast, the Democratic list is a bog ordinary opening bid.

Ezra calls this an example of "asymmetrical polarization." That's a new term for me. I call it "negotiating with fanatics."