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Why Has Bill Clinton Gone ‘Jimmy Carter’ On Israel?

by on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 1:37 am EDT in Middle East, World

Former President Bill Clinton — a favorite both in Israel, and amongst pro-Israel supporters here in the US — recently made an abrupt shift in his public statements on Israel, breaking completely from the dominant ‘neo-conservative, inner-beltway’ narrative on US foreign policy in the Middle East.

First, Clinton created an uproar in the Israeli government when he took aim at the Israel Defense Forces, and in particular the extreme elements that make up an increasing number of those serving:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF (Israel Defense Force) are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. Sixteen percent of Israelis speak Russian.” […]

Clinton called the Russian immigrant population in Israel the group least interested in a peace deal with the Palestinians. “They’ve just got there, it’s their country, they’ve made a commitment to the future there,” Clinton said. “They can’t imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it.”

The former president added that those who have been in Israel the longest and “have the benefit of historical context” were those most supportive of peace in Israel.  “They can imagine sharing a future,” he said.

Clinton added that he feared this growing extremist element within the IDF would make it very difficult for Israel to deal with the half-million illegal settlers in the West Bank — something essential for any future peace agreement with the Palestinians.

As one might expect, this statement provoked a sharp rebuttal from Israel’s far-right Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, whose core supporters happen to be these same extremist — often Russian — settlers.  He accused Clinton of meddling in Israel’s internal affairs.  Benjamin Netanyahu — trying to downplay the controversy — stated he “regretted” Clinton’s statement.  MK Lia Shemtov (Yisrael Beitenu), chairperson of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, actually went on the offensive.  Shemtov accused Clinton of having once provided Palestinian terrorists with rifles that lead to the deaths of Russian Jewish settlers, and demanded that he apologize.

So it was quite a shock to learn that after the fall-out from his first statement, Bill Clinton lobbed an even larger bomb shell at Israel.  This time he blamed much of the world’s terrorism on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict:

“It will take about half the impetus in the whole world — not just the region, the whole world — for terror away,” he told an audience of Egyptian businessmen from the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt. “It would have more impact by far than anything else that could be done.”

Clinton — as both Vice President Joe Biden and General David Petraeus had done last March — linked the necessity for a Middle East peace agreement with the strategic interests of the United States of America (proclaiming it to be the very cornerstone of our battle against global terrorism).  This is a HUGE rhetorical shift for the former President.

The former President’s comments should not be taken lightly.  Not only is his wife, Hillary Clinton, serving as Secretary of State, he is a seasoned politician who devoted much energy and time to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict during his eight year term.  He understands better than anyone the political ramifications in America for criticizing Israel publicly.  It’s considered a faux pas for any American politician to suggest that the strategic interests of the United States are not identical to Israel’s, much less that Israeli policies are risking American lives.

Hillary Clinton, while serving as US Senator from New York and while running as a 2008 Presidential Candidate, never once dared to stray from the AIPAC-boilerplate narrative with regards to Israel.  Last March, however, after Israel announced a resumption of illegal settlement expansions, Secretary of State Clinton rebuked Netanyahu in a telephone call .  She was reported to have told him that “this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.”  But after intense pressure from the Israel Lobby, the Administration backed away completely from this line of messaging.  So why is Bill Clinton all of a sudden exorcising it from the grave?

The Obama Administration knows too well that each side of this conflict literally hangs onto every word uttered by an American President, past or present, but especially when an ex-President happens to be married to the current Secretary of State.

Haaretz reported that the Obama Administration is “incensed” with the Israeli government for not agreeing to extend the settlement moratorium in exchange for “unprecedented U.S. political and security assistance”:

Senior American officials said they were frustrated by Netanyahu’s conduct in the affair.  “We’re not buying the excuse of political difficulties anymore,” a senior U.S. official told his Israeli counterpart.

The Americans said Netanyahu’s conduct is humiliating the president,” said a senior European diplomat who met with senior U.S. officials in New York last week.

Madame Secretary Clinton and Middle East Envoy George J. Mitchell are still pressing Israel to extend its now-lapsed moratorium.  So was Bill Clinton — who just polled as the most popular politician in America — tasked with laying the groundwork for a potential US policy shift?  His statements would obviously be reported world-wide and generate the appropriate controversy, thus guaranteeing the attention of both American and Israeli politicians and press — all without directly implicating the current Democratic Administration just before midterm elections.

One thing is for certain: it will be impossible for Bill Clinton (and extremely difficult for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) to walk back his statement — blaming the absence of a Middle East peace agreement as the main impetus for world terrorism.  It will also be impossible for the Obama Administration (or even the voices of the Israel Lobby, for that matter) to convince anybody that Israel is not 100% responsible for intentionally sabotaging the current peace talks.

According to Bill Clinton’s statement, this would logically leave the US and Israel at a strategic impasse — that being Israeli intransigence in forging peace remains the major cause of worldwide terrorism, thereby threatening the lives of US citizens and US troops.

Which begs the obvious question: how should the United States respond when an ally’s intransigence poses a grave threat to US national security?

NY Times’ Paul Krugman: Supply Side Economics Creates Deficits

by on Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 10:43 am EDT in Politics

Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, attempts to educate a largely ignorant Republican/Tea Party constituency on the documented failures of Supply Side economics.  He focuses on the Carter and Reagan years (since Republican politicians tend to cite Reaganomics as their model for economic success), and he demonstrates that revenues actually dropped decisively with Reagan’s tax cuts:

… the revenue track under Reagan looks a lot like the track under Bush: a drop in revenues, then a resumption of growth, but no return to the previous trend:

Matt Yglesias contends that “the conservative movement in America doesn’t [actually] care about the budget deficit,” and the proof is in the policies for which they advocate:

1) There have been two presidents who were members of the modern conservative movement, Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, and they both presided over massive increases in both present and projected deficits.

2) The major deficit reduction packages of the modern era, in 1990 and 1993, were both uniformly opposed by the conservative movement.

3) When the deficit was temporarily eliminated in the late-1990s, the mainstream conservative view was that this showed that the deficit was too low and needed to be increased via large tax cuts.

4) Senator Mitch McConnell says it’s a uniform view in his caucus that tax cuts needn’t be offset by other changes in spending.

5) The deficit reduction commission is having trouble because they think conservative politicians won’t vote for any form of tax increase.

In sum, there are zero historical examples of conservatives mobilizing to make the deficit smaller.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell recently made the following assertion about George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy:

“There’s no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.”

Here Ezra Klein of the Washington Post resoundingly slams McConnell’s fictitious allegations:

There’s an ontological question here about what, exactly, McConnell considers to be “evidence.” But how about the Congressional Budget Office’s estimations? “The new CBO data show that changes in law enacted since January 2001 increased the deficit by $539 billion in 2005. In the absence of such legislation, the nation would have a surplus this year. Tax cuts account for almost half — 48 percent — of this $539 billion in increased costs.” How about the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget? Their budget calculator shows that the tax cuts will cost $3.28 trillion between 2011 and 2018. How about George W. Bush’s CEA chair, Greg Mankiw, who used the term “charlatans and cranks” for people who believed that “broad-based income tax cuts would have such large supply-side effects that the tax cuts would raise tax revenue.” He continued: “I did not find such a claim credible, based on the available evidence. I never have, and I still don’t.”

Of course, the Right rarely if ever lets factual evidence get in the way of their deep-seated, largely debunked, ideologies.

Still, it is good to see the Left finally doing a better job of educating the public about the real track record between the differing economic policies — something necessary if we are serious about promoting positive change in this country.

War Of Words: Why Failed Theories, Like Reaganomics, Continue To Linger

by on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 2:55 pm EDT in Politics

The Republicans have long engaged in historic revisionism as a means of covering up a long record of failed policies and blunders.  Some of their most disastrous ideological experiments over the years, like Reaganomics, have been successfully re-framed into mythological successes.  Democrats have no one to blame for this, but themselves.  They’ve done next to nothing in setting the record straight on their own accomplishments, much less in casting Republican failures in stone.  Though the Democrats have a far superior governing record, many Americans today would never know it.

Democrats have lacked a coherent rhetorical strategy in defining their opposition.  The Republican Party’s two core ideological imperatives: Supply-Side economic policies, and neo-con foreign policies should now both ring synonymous with ‘abysmal failure’ in the American psyche.  The calamity inflicted upon this country over the last eight years by a Republican President and a Republican Congress is — politically speaking — something akin to a perfectly lobbed volleyball — set up for a game-winning spike — only to find no Democrat there to slam it home.  Democrats contend they are looking forward, not backwards.

The problem is there is a missed lesson here.  By neglecting to set the record straight (i.e. targeting failed Republican strategies) our country is bound to repeat these mistakes.  They are granting Republicans an opportunity to re-impose their failed policies on us at a later time.  Democrats MUST provide a ‘moral’ to the end of this failed Republican ‘story’.  They need to put together simple, memorable, talking points to brand the opposition in a way that conjures up their failures.  Not only would this help to provide some governing longevity for the Left, it would more importantly force Republicans to come up with new (and hopefully better) ideas.

Republicans are famous for spinning themselves away from their failures.  They are a well-oiled misinformation machine (lie, spin, repeat; lie spin, repeat; everyone on message — from Fox News to Talk Radio to political pundits).  Their greatest political achievement to date has been to sell main stream America on one of the most disingenuous branding campaigns in modern history: namely, that Republicans advocate for fiscally-sound policies (i.e. “fiscal conservatism”), and Democrats are fiscal misfits (i.e. “tax and spend liberals”).  This branding effort was so successful that Democrats were eventually forced to distance themselves from the ‘liberal’ tag in favor of the new ‘progressive’ tag.

But when you look at the historic record — and actually compare the fiscal performances (as measured by the increases in national debt) of the last five U.S. Presidents — you see these stereotypes are clearly unfounded:

Democrats (in blue), Republicans (in red)


Years As

National Debt
at Inauguration

National Debt
at End of

% Increase in Debt
Over Entire Presidency

% Increase in Debt
Per Each 4-Year Term
Jimmy Carter 4 $706 billion $994 billion 41% 41%
Ronald Reagan 8 $994 billion $2867 billion 189% 94.5%
George H.W. Bush 4 $2867 billion $4351 billion 52% 52%
Bill Clinton 8 $4351 billion $5769 billion 33% 16.5%
George W. Bush 8 $5769 billion $10413 billion 81% 40.5%

Over the last 30+ years, Democrats have clearly demonstrated sounder fiscal policies than Republicans.  In fact, Republicans have proven to be so fiscally irresponsible (Ronald Reagan, in particular ) that they can almost resoundingly be blamed for the lion’s share of our entire national debt.

The two Democratic Presidents (Carter and Clinton) created $1.706 trillion in national debt over a 12 year period, or $142 billion in debt added per year, on average.

The three Republican Presidents (Reagan, and the two Bushes) created $8.001 trillion in national debt — 80% of our entire national debt — over a 20 year period, or $400.1 billion in debt added per year, on average.

On average, Republican Presidents add between two to three times more debt per year than Democratic Presidents.

The evidence is a resounding indictment of the Republican Party’s prized economic theory — Supply-Side Economics, AKA “Trickle Down Theory,” AKA  “Reaganomics.”  And yet, there’s been no concerted effort by the Left to vocalize this fact to the public; to ensure this failed theory gets its proper cremation — its ashes tossed to the wind.

Ushered in by Ronald Reagan in 1980 to stimulate the broken economy, and abandoned by George H.W. Bush during his Presidency (he astutely labeled it “Voodoo economics” ), Supply-Side policies were given a new lease on life eight years later by George W. Bush (who pushed trillions in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans at a time of increased federal spending).  And once again — second time around now — it resulted in MASSIVE, STAGGERING, UNMANAGEABLE DEBT!

And yet, ‘Conservatism’ as a brand, and ‘Reagonomics’ as a theory, are still somehow portrayed by the media as the the ultimate in fiscal responsibility — a depiction which barely gets challenged, even by Democrats.  Consider this: when you hear Republican pundits and politicians refer to themselves as “Reagan Republicans” how often do you hear the Democrats or media pundits call Reagan out as the fiscal disaster he actually was — a President who tripled our national debt in eight years?  It never happens.  Democrats sheepishly cede the Reagan point, as if they themselves have bought into it.  In doing this, they have given the Republicans a mythical figurehead — one they can reliably rally around, even after a disastrous calamity, like George W. Bush’s tenure.

Why didn’t the Democrats chisel out the epitaph onto the ‘Reaganomics’ hedge stone years ago?  Reagan’s tripling of the national debt should have been a key talking point after his Presidency — repeated over and over again — until it became figuratively branded onto the hide of the Republican elephant; until the real Ronald Reagan (instead of the mythical one) was etched forever into the public consciousness.  This may very well have prevented George W. Bush from vigorously reinstating the very same failed economic policies, some twelve years later.

When Paul O’Neil, George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary, argued against a second round of tax cuts for the wealthy (the first round had been over $1 trillion dollars, ultimately added onto the national debt), Dick Cheney was quoted as having responded:

“You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due.”

Cheney was, essentially, correct in pointing out that Reagan paid no political price (not even after the fact) for running huge deficits.  Reagan proved to Dick Cheney that there would be little if any political backlash (as engineered by the opposition) for writing such fiscally irresponsible — though politically popular — economic policies.

In fact, it could be said that Ronald Reagan paid no price for any of his Presidential failures.  Here was a President who deployed American troops into a Lebanese Civil War against the advice of most of his military leaders.  Then on October 23, 1983, the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon was bombed, and 243 U.S. servicemen immediately lost their lives.  Within a few months after that, Reagan ordered all U.S. troops to make a hasty retreat.  (Note: can you even imagine how the neo-cons would portray a Democratic President who ordered troops to flee under fire?  He’d be caricatured as spinelessly weak on defense; one who humiliated the country by choosing flight over fight, in a way that displayed cowardice and could only embolden the enemy).  And yet, Jimmy Carter is the one who is ostracized to this day by the Right as weak on defense, because 53 American embassy workers were taken hostage during the Iranian revolution; never mind the fact Carter eventually secured their safe release!

Furthermore, Reagan illegally sold arms to Iran (the same regime that had just taken our 53 embassy workers hostage), laundered the money, and diverted it to the Contra terrorist group in Nicaragua.  Each of these covert operations were felonious — in clear violation of U.S. law.  The scandal resulted in 14 indictments and 11 convictions of high-ranking members of his administration.  Not only did Reagan’s administration violate numerous U.S. criminal laws, but also international laws — as ruled by the International Court of Justice

And yet Republicans routinely tout Reagan’s Presidency as one defined by fiscal responsibility, strength, fearlessness, and of high-moral clarity.  They successfully changed the name of Washington-National Airport to Ronald Reagan Airport, and then named a newly constructed federal building in our nation’s capitol after him — the most expensive building ever constructed at the time.  The Ronald Reagan Building today remains the second largest federal building, in size, after the Pentagon.

Somehow Republicans have managed to elevate this leader — a leader who had failed so dramatically on every front — to a near mythical status.  Count the number of times Republican politicians, conservative talk show hosts, Fox News pundits, Joe Scarborough, George Will, etc. evoke Ronald Reagan as the very pinnacle of conservative greatness.

The Right is already laying the groundwork to shift the blame for much of the calamity they themselves unleashed over the last eight years.  On April 15, 2009 — not even three months into Barack Obama’s first term — Republicans took to the streets in their so called ‘Tea Parties,’ laying blame for all our country’s fiscal woes at his feet.  Their vitriol bypassed their beloved George W. Bush — and instead leveled its scope directly at Obama, whom they claimed stole their country, destroyed its fiscal health, and ruined their children’s futures — all within two plus months of being sworn in.  They hope to conflate Obama’s spending to clean up Bush’s catastrophic messes with Bush’s actual catastrophic messes so that one day, they might be able to peg the Bush disaster, at least in dollar terms, on Obama.  And when confronted about George W. Bush actually deserving these honors, these Tea Partiers — while waving signs of President Obama donning a Hitler mustache — claim they are actually apolitical; just frustrated ‘fiscal conservatives,’  and add, “Bush was not a true conservative.”

This is a blatant attempt by the Republican Party to salvage its ‘fiscal conservative’ brand, after their fiscal ‘train wreck’ policies over the last eight years.  The fact of the matter is Republicans and Conservatives alike supported each and every one of Bush’s spending bills and ‘trickle down’ tax cuts for the rich.  In fact they STILL advocate for the EXACT same failed policies whenever they’re asked what policies should be implemented.  It’s all “tax cuts,” “stay in Iraq and Afghanistan,” “attack Iran,” and kill “Obama care.”

Democrats can no longer afford to let dishonest Republican rhetoric go uncontested.  The Left needs to control the narrative on the Bush years, to ensure the truth doesn’t slowly get propagandized into another work of fiction.   The Left must formulate a rhetorical strategy that targets key failed Republican ideologies: namely, supply-side economics and neo-con ideology.  These are the ideologies that created the Bush disaster, and these ideologies are still fanatically embraced by everyone on the right (outside of Ron Paul): Republicans, ‘Tea Partiers,’ and ‘Conservatives.’

Labeling and setting the record straight on failed economic theories and foreign policies is crucial to our country’s future.  As our economy continues to tank, and the Left continues to become disenchanted with President Obama as a change agent, I fear Republicans may actually get a chance at returning to power in 2012.  There will never be a more perfect time to define the opposition by its failed ideologies.  The Left must win the war of words, or else …