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24
The other day our top General went over to the Senate and said turning the Iraqi army into a real fighting force may not be possible ;--then he said no one knows who the ‘moderate’ Syrian Rebels will attack once they’re armed – they might attack ISIS or might attack Bashar Assad and, regardless of who they attack, arming just 5000 ‘moderate’ Syrians (as the President proposes) isn’t going to be nearly enough to whip anyone.
 
Meanwhile the same day, over in Iraq, the success of our bombing campaign was limited to blowing up a truck, an artillery piece, and two small boats on the Euphrates River.
 
This is an odd – but familiar – picture.
 
It’s beginning to look a lot like we may be getting into another ‘political’ war: If the President does nothing he gets pilloried but if he does what it takes to destroy ISIS (by putting boots on the ground) he gets run out of town on a rail – so he’s sailing down the middle ground uneasily doing what’s popular and avoiding what’s unpopular which may come back to haunt him – like it has other Presidents.

 

 

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23

Two things happened the other day: One nasty. The other confounding.
 
First ISIS posted a video on the Internet telling President Obama (in no uncertain terms) to watch out – it is going to target every American soldier he sends to Iraq.
 
Second, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, our top General, added a new wrinkle to the meaning of the words ‘no boots on the ground’ – telling Congress it may just turn out, one of these days, that he might recommend American soldiers join Iraqi troops in “attacks.”  That wouldn’t, he added , mean GI’s would be in combat. Instead, they’d simply be “close combat advisors.”
 
Now think about that.
 
It’s a pretty bad thing to send a soldier into combat alongside a brigade of his buddies – who’ll stick with him through thick and thin.
 
But it’s a lot worse thing to send him into combat with a brigade of Iraqis – when that happens a ‘close combat advisor’ could wind up alone in a foxhole with no buddies in sight.

 

 

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22
Ken Burns’ remarkable series on the Roosevelts makes it clear that Franklin D. Roosevelt never would have passed the Gary Hart adultery test.
 
Would that have been good for America?
 
As Burns’ series was ending, The New York Times published a story by Matt Bai on the scandal that ended Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign – and how it “forever changed American politics.”
 
Surely, Hart was no FDR. But Hart offers this might-have-been: He might have beaten George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush might not have become President “and we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. And a lot of people would be alive who are dead.”
 
Bai reconstructs the story that shifted the goal of political journalists from being well-connected insiders who knew Presidents intimately (Teddy White, James Reston) to being truth-telling investigators who brought down Presidents, or at least presidential candidates (Woodward and Bernstein). Which led to bad boys whose careers were shattered (John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer) and those who survived (Bill Clinton) and those who came back (Mark Sanford).
 
Yes, we want to know the character of the men (and women) who want to be President – or any elected official. But, if you’re going to indulge in the alternative history of a President Gary Hart, consider an alternative history in which the press corps kept FDR out of the White House.

 

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22
The way the President figures it the Iraqi army’s going to supply the ‘boots on the ground’ to whip ISIS but the other day, up in Congress, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said half the Iraqi army isn’t fit to fight and the other half will have to be rebuilt “with U.S. training and equipment” before it can fight.
 
Part One of the President’s plan to whip ISIS is bombing – and that’s going fine.
 
But Part Two – putting Iraqi boots on the ground – just took a nosedive.

 

 

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19
President Obama came out swinging, saying, We have to act fast. We cannot dawdle on this one. We have to move with force – but he wasn’t talking about ISIS, he was talking about the Ebola virus and sending 3000 soldiers (putting boots on the ground) to Africa.
 
Each of us looks at villains thru different eyes: The muhjadeen I see as a murderous terrorist, Sally may see as the exploited victim of colonialism. The fear that sets my teeth on edge, may barely cause her a lost moments sleep.
           
Responding to the Ebola virus the President emanated strength but you have to wonder what would have happened if he had shown the same kind of strength when ISIS went on its rampage – instead of saying, Be calm. The world’s always been messy.

 

 

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16
It turns out not having ‘boots on the ground’ isn’t quite what it seems.
 
The other day when the President said he was sending 425 more soldiers to Iraq he added, These American forces will not have a combat mission – we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.
 
That sounded reasonable – sort of – but, it turns out, not all of the American soldiers in Iraq will be sitting around offices in Baghdad.
 
In fact, some of our soldiers are going to “be advising Iraqi Army commanders in the field” and coordinating airstrikes for advancing (hopefully) Iraqi troops — which makes it sound like ‘boots on the ground’ could land a GI pretty close to the front line in a shooting war.
           

 

 

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15
 Not long after President Obama pressed the go-button Kay Hagan chimed in, “The President and our military leadership have now developed a plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels and defeat ISIS with a sustained campaign of airstrikes.”
 
Moderate Syrian rebels? Do you reckon such a creature really exists?
 
Basing a military campaign on finding Syrian moderates, well, might turn out to be like finding the Abominable Snowman.

 

 

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11
Back in 1939 (when a varmint was on the loose) there was hardly a mother, father or wife around who felt enough fear or saw any good reason to send their sons or husbands to Europe to fight what looked like a modern version of the bubonic plague – which left Franklin Roosevelt facing a knotty problem.
 
Because sooner or later the varmint was going to land on our doorstep fully armed with German tanks and dive bombers – so Roosevelt had to get all those mothers, fathers and wives scared enough or angry enough to stop saying, It’s none of our business, and start saying, We don’t have any choices left – we have to fight.  
 
It was a tall order: Roosevelt had to turning a slumbering and naturally divided Democracy into a single-minded juggernaut that figured no one was safe with a fellow on the loose who didn’t think twice about shooting anyone that looked at him crossways.
 
So, as Hitler crushed France and bombed London and rolled toward Moscow, as each blow fell Roosevelt nudged and poked and prodded using each crisis to build the fear and unity to whip the varmint.
 
Then, in 1941, Roosevelt cut off oil to the Japanese – which mattered back then because the Japanese got most of their fuel from American oil companies. Then the Japanese decided to bomb Pearl Harbor to sink our fleet so they could sail South to capture the Dutch oil fields in Indonesia and, by sunset on December 7th, Roosevelt had a united (and white-hot angry) nation on his hands.
 
Today there is a varmint on the loose over in Syria and Iraq beheading Americans (and Kurds and Syrians) and posting videos on the Internet (which even Hitler didn’t do in the newsreels of his day) and sooner or later this varmint’s going to land on our doorstep too.
 
It’s a hard fact: We’re no more united – or ready to fight any kind of real war – than we were in 1939. But it’s also a fact there’re crazy folks on the loose who have a mean streak a mile wide.
 
So – instead of saying ‘stay calm, don’t worry, the world’s always been a messy place’ and promising he can serve up a painless victory without ‘putting a single boot on the ground’ – maybe the President ought to start poking and prodding to open people’s eyes to the threat so we can whip the varmint and get it over with.

 

 

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27
Before a hurricane brushed the coast, Governor McCrory warned us not to put on our “stupid hats.” Then Hillary Clinton criticized President Obama’s foreign policy for not being more visionary than “don’t do stupid stuff.”
 
Well, call me stupid, but I’m so confused by the world today that “don’t do stupid stuff” sounds pretty smart.
 
ISIS or ISIL (which one is right?) is beheading people, so we may go back into Iraq on the same side as the Syrian government, which we don’t like. Islamic terrorists all over the place want to attack us or take us hostage, but we don’t want to pay ransom. Young Americans go to the Mideast to join the jihad, kill people and sometimes blow themselves up. Egypt and the UAR attack somebody in Libya, and we’re not happy about that. Israel and the Arabs are at war again, or in a cease-fire again, or not. Then you’ve got the Russians and the Crimeans and the Ukranians at each other’s throats. The Chinese are doing something in the ocean somewhere. And I can’t keep the Sunnis and the Shiites straight.
 
The world made sense when there was the USA and the West on the side of good and the Soviet Union on the side of evil.
 
Now Obama's critics want him to "do something." But remember what happened the last time a President (namely George W. Bush) decided to “do something” (namely, start two wars that lasted a decade). That looks stupid in retrospect.
 
I like having a President who’s in no rush to put on his stupid hat.

 

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26
It’s refreshing to see real brains working on the other side of the political aisle, rather than just mouths mouthing talking points. (In fact, it’s refreshing to see that on your own side.)
 
So this “Tsunami Watch” memo by my Republican pollster friend John McLaughlin and his brother Jim caught my eye. The subhead is “Polling results cast doubt on an anticipated midterm GOP wave.”
 
The memo quotes Carter, which makes it even more credible.
 
The Brothers McLaughlin ask: “With the president receiving such a negative rating, Obamacare being disliked, and the belief that the economy is still in a recession, why are so many voters still undecided and not breaking for Republicans? Why aren't these undecided voters breaking against the unpopular president and his party?”
 
Their conclusion: “Over four years ago….we identified the tea-party movement as a major asset to Republicans that would eventually help them regain their House majority. Since then, the president and his allies in the media have relentlessly attacked our friends and allies in the Tea Party, and four years of attacks have taken a toll. Today, the Tea Party is as polarizing as the president.”
 
They add: “Finally, we asked a question that longtime friend and successful Republican strategist Carter Wrenn suggested to get to the heart of the deadlock: ‘A lot of Americans are fed up with typical Washington politics. Who do you think is most responsible for our broken political system?’ The plurality of voters, 43 percent, say both Republicans in Congress and the Tea Party, versus President Obama and the Democrats in Congress. Only 26 percent blame Obama and the Democrats....Most of those who are undecided for Congress, 65 percent, now blame both parties. Among the undecided voters, only 16 percent blame the Democrats and only 12 percent blame the Republicans. As long as these undecided swing voters are blaming both parties, they will remain undecided for Congress and deflate the midterm tsunami.”

 

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