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Obama's Foreign Policy: Continuity Rather Than Contradictions

Pierre Guerlain   |   March 31, 2015   12:21 PM ET

Analysts of foreign policy often dream or fantasize more than they analyze. Every single ideological stripe or every single political Internet site produces its analyses in accordance with preconceived notions or preferred frames of references. It is often difficult to know if analysts from different backgrounds are talking about the same events or policies. I am not talking about realists vs idealists for there are many more foreign policy churches than just two.

It is often like the famous Indian story about the blind men and the elephant: every one has a totally different conception of the elephant. Usually only time, and therefore history, enables one to find out which interpretations were the correct ones. Thus we now know that the missile gap between the US and the USSR during the Cold War was not the one which so many politicians and simple war-mongers referred to in the West: the US was always ahead and its economy was always much stronger, even at the time of Sputnik.

Now with the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program and the multiple battles in the Middle East a myriad of contradictions have flourished in articles, blogs and books. Obama is accused of cozying up to Iran with his eyes wide shut, some even argue that it is a return to the alliance with the "Persians" which shows Obama is ready to throw Israel under the bus. Saudi Arabia is said to doubt the US because it feels its President is so weak. Egypt supposedly turned to France to buy its latest aircraft for similar reasons.

In Europe some analysts also consider Obama is weak and that is the reason why he is not giving Ukrainians the lethal weapons (an oxymoron by the way) they request. Others argue that Obama is to the right of the Bush 1 administration and lets his adviser Victoria Nuland run the show which can only lead to a new Cold War (now threatening to become a hot one).

With Syria Obama is blamed for not bombing the Assad régime in 2013 and therefore appearing weak. He is now accused of forming a tacit alliance with the butcher of Damas and also with the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to defeat ISIS. But then the US supports Saudi Arabia in its intervention in Yemen although the UN did not authorize it. So the US is cooperating with Iran in Iraq while cooperating with Saudi Arabia in its major anti-shite bombings. The US also cooperates with its allies in Europe over Ukraine though Ms Nuland keeps insulting Europeans (fuck Europe) or bashing Germany (Merkel a defeatist). Obama talks tough on Russia but is on the same side as Putin against Islamists in Syria.

Netanyahu keeps trying to frighten the world about Iran, knowing full well that Iran does not have a nuclear bomb nor could it use one if it had it. Israel is talking as if the US were its enemy over Iran although it is financially, diplomatically and economically dependent on America. Friends use the rhetoric of enemies and enemies work together. Iran shares an objective with the US in Iraq but is radically opposed in Yemen. This is the stuff foreign policy is made of. Always.

Obama plays the foreign policy game the way all American presidents have played it. Iran-contra, for those who remember, involved the US, under supposedly super tough Reagan, illegally delivering weapons to Iran although the US supported Saddam Hussein's Iraq in its war of aggression against the Islamic Republic. The proceeds from this sale of weapons were used to illegally support the contras in Nicaragua. Cynicism and double-dealing are the rule in international relations. After 9/11, Iran and the US cooperated in the fight against the Taliban--without becoming friends for all this. Then the US, with its close ally Israel, resorted to sabotage of nuclear installations in Iran (stuxnet virus). Iraq under the butcher Hussein had been a good ally in the 80s when Rumsfeld went to Bagdad to pay a friendly visit. Bush junior refused to allow Israel to bomb Iran in 2008. American foreign policy is far more stable than the commentariat acknowledges.

Alliances of convenience are the staple of foreign policy as any reader of Machiavelli knows. Obama wants a deal over Iranian nuclear capabilities for it would be a major success of US foreign policy: Iran would not be a threat to Israel (which it is not really today anyway) but mostly Iran could not enjoy the prestige that this bomb might give it and thus could not lord it over Saudi Arabia or Israel. The deal Obama wants is actually in Israel's interest but Netanyahu needs an enemy or scapegoat for his own domestic reasons and his own military-industrial complex.

In Ukraine, Obama probably knows how not to get too far and if Nuland or McCain called the shots war with Russia would be a distinct possibility. It is wrong to argue that Obama was so busy with the pivot to the Pacific that he did not want to intervene in Europe. The US pushed its luck and its bases (NATO bases) closer and closer to Russia from Clinton onward. Americans thought the bear was defanged and Russia could be treated like Iraq or Serbia or maybe Venezuela. The US cornered the bear and then was surprised by the bear's brutal reaction. Obama talked about a reset which Putin's initial post 9/11 offer of cooperation made a reasonable proposition but then the US pushed further. The bear-baiter was taken aback.

Some argue that Obama is a neo-realist, but then he is les incisive than real realists like Walt and Mearsheimer, or that he is a pragmatist or neo-pragmatist. Whatever the label Obama, (that is, in fact, the many agencies, advisers and foreign policy decision makers working for his administration) is pushing the same agenda as former presidents which means projecting power to achieve more presence and ...power in the world. He fully supports Israel whatever is said about it for there is nothing pushing him to get closer to the Palestinians. He pushed Putin but not as far as fighting him in Crimea for he knows the stakes would be too high. He encircles China while the US and China have formed a kind of duopoly.

Lord Palmerston famously said in 1848: "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow". This is the golden rule of foreign policy. So Obama's twists and turns, apparent weaknesses and reversals, his seeming contradictions can be understood in this frame. The interests of the US or of its dominant class are that Iran should neither have a bomb nor get too big for its boots in Iraq and the Middle East, that Israel should remain a close ally and client state in the Middle East without launching dangerous military attacks that could upset the fragile system of quasi-alliances in the region, that Russia should be kept down though not prompted into a serious military attack, that China should be a viable economic partner but kept to its sphere of influence and not threaten Japan, that Europe should be a close economic ally but not a major competitor nor a united force in the world.

There are shifts, twists and turns in the official rhetoric a few blunders like the Libya invasion in 2011 and probably a miscalculation about Russia which Clinton & Bush II also made but, overall, Obama has not strayed from the objective of US hegemony and global dominance. He resorts to other means than his predecessors, global surveillance for instance, but he has remained within the mainstream of US dealings with the world. On the left, people argue he is defending the empire, on the right people are reluctant to admit he has fought as hard an any former president to maintain American leadership, that is hegemony. There are curves and obstacles on the road but Obama navigates in the usual American way. The right is wrong to criticize him: he is doing what they would have done, only in a more subtle way.

Trail To The Chief: 2016 Perks Of Being A Wallflower Edition

Lauren Weber   |   March 30, 2015    5:52 AM ET



2016 Perks Of Being A Wallflower Edition


Here at Trail to the Chief, we are not cynics. Far from it. We actually think that politics and government can be positive forces. Why else would we report on their shortcomings? We can’t help but admire those who have the guts to immerse themselves in the miserable, and at times humiliating, process of running for president. Nor do we dismiss the possibility that the candidates are motivated, at least in part, by idealism, by desire to do good, and by the conviction that they have the talent, vision and patience to lead this all-but-unleadable country.

But surely there is more -- or rather less -- to it than that. Most of the people running have only the dimmest chance of winning. The Republican field alone has at least 14 candidates, which makes for forbidding odds; on the Democratic side, the chances of knocking off Hillary Clinton are steep, too.

So why are these legions of men and women running, or toying with running or talking about running in 2016? Well, there are, shall we say, Lesser Reasons. It doesn’t take a cynic to find them. It only takes a short while of hanging around in the Augean Stables of Campaign World, where the reeking stalls are full of vanity, blind ambition, narcissism, business networking and the plain old need to make a buck.

So here is our Trail to the Chief list of the potential perks of being a wallflower in 2016:

RANK PERK PRIME EXAMPLE
1 SPEAKING FEES
One good behind-the-curtain debate anecdote can double your fee.
Gary Bauer
2 MULTIMEDIA EMPIRE
Follow the Newt Gingrich guide to a multimedia industry -- books, DVD, lecture series, alternate history. You name it; he's got it.
Newt Gingrich
3 TV TALKING HEAD
It's so much easier to be a TV commentator than an author.
Mike Huckabee
4 PLACE IN THE WINNER'S ADMINISTRATION
Not charismatic enough to win the big prize, but you walked and talked enough to make it to the No. 2 spot or Cabinet position.
Lindsey Graham
5 GOOD LOBBYING JOB
All about the Benjamins -- Chris Dodd added presidential campaign to his resume and ended up as head of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Chris Dodd
6 "GOD CHOSE ME"
Mission from God means you never truly lose, and you boost your show's profile in the meantime.
Pat Robertson
7 INFLUENCE IN THE PARTY
Arguably can have a better impact elsewhere within the party than as a candidate.
Howard Dean
8 MEET RICH PEOPLE
Your hedge fund Rolodex will be set for life.
The Clintons
9 SEE THE COUNTRY
Only Iowa and New Hampshire, but it's fine. And people have to listen to you play guitar.
Martin O'Malley
10 SECRET SERVICE BODYGUARDS
Ego-boosting phalanx of bodyguards that turns into the Secret Service. You can really impress the geeks at CPAC.
Bobby Jindal
11 CRITIC-IN-CHIEF
Armchair quarterback with nothing to lose.
Mitt Romney
12 THE BEST PERK OF ALL
You can quit politics altogether and move on to another life.
Al Gore

Candidate Photos: Getty, Associated Press

  |   March 23, 2015   11:31 AM ET

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) - Private emails that Hillary Clinton turned over to a House committee investigating the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, show her aides sometimes used their personal email accounts to communicate with her, the New York Times reported on Monday.

But the approximately 300 emails from Clinton, the presumptive presidential candidate, do not prove the former secretary of state ordered a "stand down," stopping U.S. forces from responding to the Benghazi attack or participated in any related cover-up, the newspaper reported, citing four senior government officials.

The Times report is the latest revelation in the saga over Clinton and her use of a personal email address to conduct government business, as well as a private computer server to store that correspondence.

Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told the Times that Clinton's aides primarily used their work email to correspond with her about government matters, adding that "only the tiniest fraction of the more than 1 million emails they sent or received involved their personal accounts."

According to the Times, at least four Clinton aides occasionally used personal emails to contact her while she was at the State Department, including her foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan; chief of staff, Cheryl Mills; senior adviser, Philippe Reines; and her personal aide, Huma Abedin.

A spokesman for the Republican-controlled House Select Committee on Benghazi declined to comment, according to the newspaper.

Clinton has said she gave copies of all work-related emails to the State Department, but Republicans, who see her as their top target in the run-up to the 2016 election, continued to press for more records.

Last week Republicans asked the State Department to hand over numerous documents related to Clinton's use of private email while she was secretary of state and have called on her to hand over her email server to a third party.

Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the House committee investigating Benghazi, has said he does not think Clinton has given the committee all emails related to the attack and last week extended the deadline for her to turn them over. (Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Presidential Libraries: Taking Stock as Obama Readies His Own

Paul Gunther   |   March 19, 2015    4:09 PM ET

By voting yesterday to approve release of 20 acres of public parkland to the University of Chicago, the local City Council finally cleared the last obstacle to its pending hometown bid for the Barack Obama Library and Museum. While initially expected this month, announcement of the White House selection from among the finalist cities of Chicago, Honolulu, and New York shifted to after April 7, when the run-off mayoral election takes place between the incumbent, Rahm Emanuel, and challenger, Jesús García.

Rumors circulating about the cause of this postponement range from the assumption that New York's Columbia University will prevail on its ambitious new West Harlem campus and that such news --reported now-- would hurt loyalist Emanuel's prospects, to just the opposite: Chicago is the favored choice so why not leave it in doubt so that Rahm's re-election remains a presumed advantage in the final decision-making? Others believe it will be split among the cities with distinct departments functioning as part of a synchronized whole in contrast to other recent presidential examples.

In any case, the choice is imminent and the civic stakes are high for what will stand as the 14th such namesake museum and archive, which by now seems to be the inevitable legacy of every American chief executive. With this pending presidential archive in mind, it also makes sense to look briefly at the trajectory of this expensive and essentially American public/private siloing of historical memory and future interpretation.

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When the British burned the nascent congressional library of the young American Republic in 1814, it was Thomas Jefferson, known for his obsessive list- keeping and declining finances, who agreed to revivify it through the sale of his own book collection from the shelves of his beloved Monticello. Within the year, therefore, the nation again had a good leg up on a diverse and rigorously conceived central holding of the great books of global civilization. The third president gladly took the $23,900 purchase price and in turn declared with thinly concealed self-celebration, "There is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may now not have occasion to refer."

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An ever-growing and institutionalized Library of Congress finally got its own separate headquarters across from the Capitol in 1897 with construction of a Beaux-Arts extravaganza by prestigious architects Pelz and Smithmeyer and duly named the Thomas Jefferson Building. Among all other duties in what stands today as the world's second largest library, the archivists are assiduously recreating these full original purchase contents, whether with the actual Monticello copies or their contemporaneous facsimiles.

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While unique as the measure of a single curious mind, this library nonetheless serves as a spiritual antecedent to the present imperative for housing the records of each successive president in an eponymous facility under the official care of the National Archives and Records Administration.

This division of the federal Department of the Interior first gained the mantle for the 31st President, Herbert Hoover, and they have continued ever since. Over time its purpose has grown from mere repository to active interpretive center, housing celebratory museum, library, and research institute, where the presidency, American society, and important issues of public policy are placed before scholars and the public alike, regardless finally of the partisan origins of each (so far) man elected to the world's most powerful job.

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Many times, however, such dual but linked missions have been split geographically under distinct governing boards. The best example is the distinguished Hoover Institute on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University, housed in the landmark tower by the great West coast classicist, Arthur Brown, Jr. (1941)...

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..and today conjoined with its Washington, D.C. Johnson Center satellite by Fox Architects (2013). It overshadows in more ways than one the more traditional blend of the Hoover Presidential Museum and Library in West Branch, Iowa by the forgotten firm of Eggers & Higgins (1962).

Next up, although in fact the first to open: The FDR Presidential Library and Museum of the legendary four-term chief executive who delivered America from the Great Depression and stood at the helm of our victory in the most just of wars. So far the nearest to New York City, it arose next door to his childhood home at Hyde Park, where the house and its fabled Hudson Valley setting are central to America's historic cultural identity.

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Robert A. M. Stern, credited below for his own part in this library tradition, has called the longest-serving 32nd president an architect manqué. The Dutch Colonial Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum, like the earlier wheelchair accessible retreat (also at Hyde Park) called Top Cottage, was conceived and first sketched by Roosevelt who called in a licensed professional, Henry Toombs, to complete the working drawings and sign off accordingly. His respectful client collaborator later called Roosevelt the first disabled man, as well as the first president since Jefferson nearly 200 years earlier, to deserve the label "architect". Upon hearing Toomb's sincere apotheosis, Frank Lloyd Wright's reactionary son John Lloyd Wright wrote LIFE Magazine stating, "After seeing the title 'Architect' after Roosevelt in your magazine, please put me in a concentration camp. The moral breakdown of the integrity and dignity of the profession seems now complete." FDR quipped, "Did Jefferson have a license when he drew sketches of rather satisfactory architectural productions?"

Also separated from its academic nucleus is I.M. Pei & Associate's JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, dedicated in 1979, 16 years after his assassination despite a 1964 selection of the still obscure Pei firm by widow Jacqueline. Meanwhile, years earlier during protracted battles about the Pei building's sighting, Harvard created its John F. Kennedy School of Government, obviating any regional rationale for another educational institute honoring the 35th president.

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This place-making split finally converged in 1971, when Lyndon Baines Johnson cut the ribbon for his legacy addition on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin. The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum was designed by the Pritzker-Prize winning Modernist acolyte, Gordon Bunshaft and his colleagues at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

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Two bombastic, larger-than-life soul mates hit the commission jackpot with an ideal pairing of client and designer that also brought with it the advent of the adjacent LBJ School of Public Affairs. At last library, museum, and living civics laboratory took form side by side. With the high-visibility exceptions of The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Foundation along with its cousin The Clinton Global Initiative, this precedent became a norm:

-The Harry S. Truman, Independence MO

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-The Dwight D. Eisenhower, Abilene, KS

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-The Richard M. Nixon, Yorba Linda, CA

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-The Gerald R. Ford, Grand Rapids, MI

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-The Carter, Atlanta, GA

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-The Ronald Reagan, Simi Valley, CA

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-The George H. W. Bush, College Station (Texas A&M), TX

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-The William Jefferson Clinton, Little Rock, AR

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The George W. Bush Presidential Museum, Library, and Institute, on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, serves as the latest metaphor for such blending of past, present, and unknowable future in the context of the legacy it empathically celebrates, as do all these separated and privately influenced repositories. The formal impulse and the private funds raised guarantee such celebration as the sine qua non of visitor experience.

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Inaugurated in 2013 by Bush 43 alongside his father and the other three surviving Presidents, it was designed by Robert A. M. Stern as the first green version, built with an eye on public transpiration and site topography.

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If one believes, as any patriot must, that American civilization will endure at least as long as the Chinese one has already, that makes about 3,400 years to go. If every president in that interval won two terms, we'd end up with a combined total of 436 such evocations of the Oval Office and very likely many more, as of course not everyone wins a second term. In sum, finally, building and operating these individual paeans in constant sequence cannot go on indefinitely. Future generations will adjust the model to contemporary values, needs, and tools yet unknown. And thank goodness for that.

Meanwhile with the decision pending in just a couple of weeks on Library #14 for President #44, the binding force of these successive projects is the fact that there is not and never should be a single political narrative.

Such shifting values rely instead on the bedrock of freedom to sustain the dynamic bonds of the social contract it upholds.

Democracy Reflux

Howard Meyer   |   March 13, 2015    5:09 PM ET

Read More: bush, clinton, obama

The cloak of inevitability that shrouds Hillary Clinton in secrecy does nothing to mask the problem Democrats are facing: there are few options for 2016. While Barack Obama was the young hotshot of the Democratic Party in 2008, there are no rockstars this time around. The elderly, white Democrats pitted against Hillary in theoretical polls, all lose badly -- theoretically. In a roundup of recent polls on potential Democratic Presidential candidates, RealClear politics has Hillary Clinton averaging at 57.3 percent, versus Joe Biden with 12.8 percent, Elizabeth Warren with 12.3 percent, Bernie Sanders with 4 percent, Jim Webb with 1.7 percent and Martin O'Malley with 1.2 percent.

If you put down your drinks for a second, Democrats, these polling numbers are a sobering reminder of the irresponsibility of relying on one candidate. Furthermore, why Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid or Debbie Wasserman Schultz have not publicly vetted any young Democratic politicians (or anyone for that matter) is anyone's guess. Perhaps Schumer and Wasserman Schultz have their own presidential ambitions? Maybe in 2020 or 2024. It is unlikely at this point.

I am disappointed with the Republican field as well. How did another Bush get to be the new Romney? "Step aside folks, I'm the decider!" He will bring down the whole Party! If youth is the Left's problem, the Tea Party is the Right's problem. Democrats may be ready for Hillary. But is the country at large? Can a Conservative who appeals to mainstream Republicans appeal to mainstream America? We have a lot of Cruzes, Walkers and Perrys, but not enough moderates. Moderate Republicans may be branded as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), but if any can get past that distinction, he or she should please contact the local Republican Party office. Such candidates are needed to appeal to the general election voters. As for the Democrats, they are running the clock backwards to 2008 again with the same candidate who lost the nomination to Obama. The other candidates are virtual unknowns.

The majority of Americans will not vote for Chris Christie. I'm just putting that out there. Comment again in 2016 if I'm wrong. Jeb Bush is the Republican Party's "Anointed One" (as Rush Limbaugh calls Obama). Hillary Clinton feels entitled to the presidency and that the Democrats are beholden to her. How did we get to this? Is this what George Washington envisioned when he rejected the monarchy? If being a former politician is the gateway to the judiciary (in some states), perhaps being a failed Presidential candidate is reason enough to run again and again.

While Americans say they want change, we are falling for more of the same. This may be because these are uncertain times and people are looking towards candidates they are familiar with. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush may be from the old guard, but we know them and expect new policies, that is, policies different from George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Wether either of these candidates can make it through a general election is anyone's guess.

We the people can do better next time. As Hillary Clinton herself said in a recorded interview with Der Spiegel (as opposed to her private yoga emails), the U.S. is "not a monarchy." Even Bush the First's First Lady Barbara Bush has weighed in saying, "If we can't find more than two or three families to run for higher office, that's silly." She later made a silly exception for her son Jeb. Americans cannot afford an endless cycle of kings and queens. Democracy deserves better.

The End of Hillary's 140-Character Campaign

Chris Weigant   |   March 9, 2015    9:29 PM ET

Hillary Clinton, by some accounts, wanted the luxury of waiting as long as possible before officially becoming a 2016 candidate for president. There were good reasons for her to wait, the most prominent being that she could pick and choose which day-to-day political issues to address, and which she could safely ignore for the time being. So the extent of her campaigning, so far, has largely been an occasional Twitter message. It seems, however, that this luxury is about to come to an end. Hillary's soon going to have to give the public more than 140 characters, whether she officially tosses her hat in the ring or not.

Since the beginning of the year, Hillary has tweeted a grand total of 14 times (or, roughly, twice a week). Most of these were pretty innocuous. Only a handful could even be labelled political in nature, in fact. Two of these stand out, one of which worked perfectly for her, and one which did not. The first was a snarky takedown of the anti-vaccine crowd, and it worked exactly as designed. It thrust Hillary into the debate raging over the Disneyland measles outbreak, staked out a clear pro-vaccine position, and gave the media precisely what they wanted. The second one, however, is turning out to be woefully inadequate. Hillary is now rumored to be about to speak publicly about the whole email fracas, to make up for all the questions those 140 characters didn't answer.

Figuring out when to launch a presidential campaign is always a balancing act that professional political consultants get paid a lot of money to navigate. Hillary Clinton's calculations on this question are more complex than most. She's got a lot of pros and cons to weigh, in other words. Jumping in early would mean she wouldn't have the luxury of ignoring current political events, as she'd be pressured to stake out one position or another on each of them. Jumping in too late, however, would make her look like she expected a coronation rather than a campaign for the Democratic nomination. Or, according to others, jumping in too early would look like she's expecting that coronation. As I said, it's a tricky tightrope for her to walk.

But at some point, dithering over the question of when to jump in begins to look like an overabundance of caution. Call it Clintonian triangulation, perhaps. The average voter wonders why any candidate wouldn't want to get in the race as soon as possible, to let the public fully know what the candidate stands for on any and all issues. Campaign consultants, however, know that this leads to possible pitfalls -- staking out positions which turn out later to either have been not adequately thought out, or just plain wrong. Avoiding taking such positions increases the chances that the candidate won't stumble badly over any of them too early in the campaign season.

So far, this has largely worked for Hillary Clinton. She remains quiet on many of the mini-tempests that the 24-hour political media loves to obsess over, and thus she does herself no harm with either side in any of the micro-debates. This stands in stark contrast to the campaign she ran back in 2008, however, when she was the self-professed "person you'd want answering the phone at 3:00 AM." If a scary phone call did happen at the White House at such an early hour, we were told, Hillary would not only be ready to answer it, but she'd also readily have the right answer to whatever problem the call was about. The ad projected decisiveness, for two tactical reasons. It was meant to portray Barack Obama as indecisive and inexperienced, and it was meant to directly address any qualms the public might have over electing the first woman president. Hillary would be as tough and forceful as any man, even in the wee hours of the morning.

Which is why, to me at least, the whole email "scandal" is notable for how slowly and cautiously the Hillary team has reacted. Put aside any questions raised by her use of a private email server while secretary of state -- we'll all have plenty of time to hash out all those details as they come out. Also set aside any political damage this may do her in the long run. Again, we'll have plenty of time to figure all that out later. What is of interest to me, so far, is the gap between when the scandal broke and when Hillary is going to fully address it.

This gap should be seen as worrisome to Democrats for a couple of reasons, both having to do with the "Clinton brand" (which includes her husband as well). When Bill Clinton was in office, he was often criticized for being "poll-driven," or paying too much attention to "focus groups." Before Bill would take a position, he'd allow his political team to poll-test it within an inch of its life, to divine what the public truly thought about the various options being considered. This was seen as being too influential to the path Bill eventually chose to take. Now, any campaign for a political office is also going to do the same sort of polling, and every candidate is going to pay varying degrees of attention to such data. That's a modern fact of political life. It is inescapable, but at the same time it is usually conducted so far behind the scenes that it is not visible to the public at large. It only really becomes an issue for the candidate if the media chooses to focus on it. And that usually only happens when the media is left hanging because the candidate is being too cautious about taking a clear stance on any issue.

The problem for Hillary now is that Bill was really only accused of being so driven by polls after he got elected president. In his first successful presidential campaign, he had to take bold stances, because he was a relative unknown on the national stage. He didn't have the luxury of waiting to see what the public's consensus was, he just dove in and forcefully stated his various positions. It wasn't until after he was in the White House that the caution began to be a story, in other words. Hillary, to put it bluntly, does not have that kind of luxury. She's been in the public eye for over two decades now, and has been a senator and a secretary of state in the meantime. She is as far from an unknown as can be imagined, in fact. So while her natural inclination (gained through both her own experience and her husband's) is now to step very cautiously, she is going to have to abandon this caution to some degree or another if she's going to become an effective candidate.

The other contrast to the "Clinton brand" that is a bit surprising is how slow to react Hillary has been on an issue aimed directly at her. This is not a question of kids being vaccinated, or even some foreign policy question that Clinton could be forgiven for dodging for the moment. The emails are all about her personally, not some political question with a built-in choice about whether it needs to be adequately addressed or not. And that's what's surprising, considering what a pioneer her husband was in the firefighting aspect of presidential campaigning. Bill Clinton's first campaign is where the term "war room" morphed in meaning from that Pentagon room shown in Dr. Strangelove (where questions of nuclear annihilation were gravely pondered) to a purely political definition, one which boasted a lighting-fast response to any whiff of scandal surrounding Bill. It was damage control on steroids. When there were scandalous stories about Bill's relations with certain women (called "bimbo eruptions" at the time), the Clinton campaign would have a response before that evening's news even ran the story. This way, the public was given both the question and the answer at the same time. It was a brilliant strategy, especially for a man who was eventually shown to be seriously flawed in his judgment in what was proper behavior with women who were not actually his wife (and that's putting it about as politely as I can).

Getting back to Bill's wife, though, it seems that Hillary Clinton needs a refresher lesson in the whole war room strategy concept. This is another drawback to staying officially out of the race for too long, because it means her full campaign structure doesn't yet exist. There are a lot of empty chairs right now at Hillary's war room table, in other words. This might be one reason why the delay in addressing the email situation has been so long. There's another danger to this lack of campaign staff, and it was on full display this weekend. When there are no official campaign spokesmen and spokeswomen, the vacuum is filled by opportunists. Which is why Lanny Davis has been on television for the past few days. When the candidate doesn't speak for herself, there are others ready and willing to unofficially speak for her -- whether she wants such help or not, and whether these efforts ultimately help her or hurt her.

The only way to get control of the situation is to, well, get control of the situation. Hillary Clinton has to take the reins for herself, and get out there and answer questions about the emails. If she weathers the storm successfully, perhaps she can then retreat back (for a while, at least) to waging a 140-character campaign on all the issues not directly involving her, but this episode should prove to her that this is simply not a viable option when the political issue is so personal. Her previous political ad, after all, did not promise that when the 3:00 AM phone call happened that she'd get back to us by noon next Thursday with her answer. Taking political potshots via Twitter is a lot more fun and a lot easier than actually running a presidential campaign, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the luxury of doing so is now mostly over for Hillary Clinton.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:
ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Become a fan of Chris on The Huffington Post

 

COMMENTARY: Palin Criticism of Clinton Private Email Brings Back Memories

Alaska Dispatch News   |   March 9, 2015    9:30 AM ET

By Andrée McLeod

Upon hearing about Sarah Palin's recent Facebook post where she paints Hillary Clinton's use of private email accounts as shady and corrupt, I had to call my friend Zane Henning to get his take. As usual, we were both on the same page: Sarah Palin's hypocrisy knows no bounds.

During Palin's time in office, Zane and I exposed Sarah's abuses of power when we filed ethics complaints. He knew Sarah and Todd personally, and I'd dealt with her since 2002, when she unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor. Suffice it to say we knew she didn't belong in the governor's office.

We did not want to shrug off Sarah's Facebook post. It was another in a long line of false utterances within the culture of lies and deception she practiced during her (undeserved) time in office. It reads as follows:

This Clinton email scandal can't be shrugged off. If this doesn't strike you as shady and corrupt, I don't know what will. Didn't anyone in the Obama administration notice that the Secretary of State for "the most transparent administration in history" was only using a private email account for all her government business? And her answer to all these questions is a tweet? Diplomacy (and cover ups) by Twitter continues

Palin's dishonest Facebook post is no small matter to us, since we first "discovered" Sarah's flagrant use of private email accounts for official business in July 2008, before her Yahoo account was hacked a couple of months later. We separately requested and reviewed four banker boxes filled with emails belonging to Palin aides Ivy Frye and Frank Bailey. We then alerted the media after we found, amid the mostly redacted emails, an email that revealed Palin's gov.sarah@yahoo.com underneath a partial redaction because the highlighter used for blacking out the email addresses had dried up.

READ MORE AT ALASKA DISPATCH NEWS

Amber Ferguson   |   January 20, 2015   10:16 AM ET

On Jan. 20, 2007, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) announced her 2008 White House presidential bid.

“I’m in, and I’m in to win,” Clinton said.

According to The Washington Post, Clinton’s campaign advisers said her announcement was intentionally timed to “come shortly before President [George W.] Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday night” in order to “draw a contrast with the administration's record.”

"As a senator, I will spend two years doing everything in my power to limit the damage George W. Bush can do. But only a new president will be able to undo Bush's mistakes and restore our hope and optimism," Clinton said.

At the time of her announcement, a nationwide Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Clinton as the Democratic front-runner, with support from 41 percent of Democrats, compared with then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who had 17 percent of Democratic support.

“As we campaign to win the White House, we will make history and remake our future,” the former first lady said.

Clinton is expected to make a decision on a 2016 presidential bid later this year.

Watch Clinton’s 2008 announcement above.

Amber Ferguson   |   January 19, 2015    9:56 AM ET

On Jan. 26, 1982, President Ronald Reagan began the tradition of honoring extraordinary Americans during the annual State of the Union address.

These presidential guests have been called “Skutniks” after Lenny Skutnik, a Congressional Budget Office employee who dove into the icy Potomac River in 1982 to drag a woman to safety after a plane crash.

Reagan invited Skutnik to sit with first lady Nancy Reagan, and during his speech hailed Skutnik for exemplifying “the spirit of American heroism at its finest.”

In the following years, invited guests have included teachers, war heroes, athletes and celebrities.

The White House usually invites guests whose stories “illustrate themes in the president’s speech,” the Boston Globe notes.

During the 1990s, President Bill Clinton invited baseball player Sammy Sosa in recognition for his relief efforts in the Dominican Republic. Later, President George W. Bush invited two flight attendants who helped stop a shoe bomb from detonating. President Barack Obama has invited the parents of Christina Taylor Green and Hadiya Pendleton, two victims of gun violence.

We’ve highlighted the most memorable invited SOTU guests from the past 33 years. Watch the video above.

For a full list of past invited presidential guests, click here.

Hunt Terrorists, Don't Scapegoat Muslims

Earl Ofari Hutchinson   |   January 12, 2015    9:15 AM ET

The instant the horrific news hit that yet another pack of seemingly deranged nut cases debased Islam by shooting up the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery store, nearly every Muslim organization, diplomat, and head of state, no matter their political views, roundly condemned the attacks. All were careful to point out that heinous murders, indeed any killing of innocent civilians, under the pretense of defending Islam, does just the opposite. It distorts it, mocks it, and fuels anti-Muslim hysteria.

The mass killings in Paris are no different. The torrent of chatter on blogs, websites and reader comments, again proved again that anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant groups eagerly exploit the notion that mass murder, terrorism and Islam are one and the same. The murders gave avowed anti-Muslim groups in Germany, Sweden, Holland and France, even more ammunition to tar all Muslims as terrorist.

They've relentlessly whipped up this hysteria to pressure their governments to expel en masse Muslim immigrants and impose the toughest possible laws to completely eliminate all Muslim immigrants from entering these countries. The number of their adherents that back their campaign of hate against Muslims has leaped in recent years. It's in part driven by high unemployment and economic dislocation in the countries. And in greater part from the rising alarm at the wave of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East that have flocked to European countries seeking asylum and economic opportunities

Right wing politicians and anti-immigrant groups in Europe and the U.S. jump on any terrorist attack, even when there's absolutely no evidence the attack is tied to a radical Islamic terror group, to fuel the anti-Muslim flame. This pattern has been well-established since the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing in 1996.

Then President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno had the good sense not rush to judgment and scapegoat Muslims. The swift arrest of Timothy McVeigh squelched the building mob mania against them. But it didn't squelch public suspicions that all Muslims were potential terrorists. The federal building bombing propelled Clinton's 1996 Antiterrorism Act through Congress. Civil rights and civil liberties groups had waged a protracted battle against the bill. The law gave the FBI broad power to infiltrate groups, quash fundraising by foreigners, monitor airline travel, and seize motel and hotel records and trash due process by permitting the admission of secret evidence to expel immigrants. The implication was that present and future attacks would likely be launched by those with an Arab name and face.

President Bush, as Clinton, took the high ground after the 9/11 attack. He did not reflexively finger-point Muslims. The Bush administration publicly assured that profiling was reprehensible and violated legal and constitutional principles, and that it would not be done. But the attack stirred tremors among Muslims that they would routinely be targeted, subject to search and surveillance, and profiled at airports.

The profiling alarm bells went off again after a soldier with a Muslim name Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot up the military base at Ft. Hood in November 2009. The Council on American-Islamic Relations wasted no time and issued a loud and vigorous denunciation of the mass killing. That didn't stop the pack of Fox Network commentators, conservative radio talk show hosts, writers and some officials from again openly shouting for even tighter scrutiny of Muslim groups.

The scrutiny has taken two major forms. One is the persistent clamor to profile Muslims, those with Muslim sounding names, or those who appear to fit the stereotypical type of what a Muslim supposedly looks like.

The second major hit against Muslims has been the indelible stamp in the public mind that al Qaeda, or other assorted, unnamed Muslim terror organizations or individuals perpetrate every act of mass violence in the world. The heads of Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel's arch foes, quickly issued lengthy statements denouncing the attacks. And, as other Muslim groups said, it perverts the tenets and spirit of Islam. It further poisons public opinion against Muslims in Western countries and makes them even more vulnerable to vigilante attacks.

The head of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. made the same point, noting that the rabid anti-immigrant groups would say "told you so" and further step up their campaign of vilification of and agitation against Muslims in their countries. The obvious answer is for the top political leaders in France, and Germany to follow the example set more than a decade ago by Clinton and Bush when faced with terror attacks in this country and say in the strongest terms that they will wage war against terrorism, not Muslims.

The maniacal terror attacks in France were clearly hate driven acts perpetrated by loose-hinged individuals. But they are just that, individuals. The swift condemnation of the mass carnage they wreaked by countless Muslim groups proved that. The harsh reality, though, is that it didn't and won't stop the anti-Muslim haters from twisting the murders to fuel their anti-immigrant hate campaigns. This makes it even more crucial for governments to hunt terrorists, and not scapegoat Muslims.

--

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.

Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson

'Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest Stories of 2014'

Jerry Zezima   |   January 7, 2015    8:10 AM ET

Now that 2015 is here, meaning it will be at least three months before we stop writing 2014 on our checks, it is time for a look back at the top stories of the past year.

These are not goofy little news items dealing with such inconsequential matters as health care, the midterm elections and various conflicts around the world. Rather, they are the kind of important, socially significant and absolutely true stories that are the lifeblood of this column.

So here, without further delay, are the top stories of 2014.

As proof that last year was for the birds, our fine feathered friends made plenty of news. That includes Nigel, a parrot that spoke with a British accent when he disappeared from his home in Torrance, California, in 2010. But when Nigel was reunited with his owner last year, he spoke Spanish.

Nigel's owner, the appropriately named Darren Chick, said the bird seemed happy to be home and that he asked, in Spanish, "What happened?" As Nigel also might have said, everything turned out muy bien.

In other avian news, police in Epping, New Hampshire, sheltered, then released a confused homing pigeon that went the wrong way in a race. But it didn't go far after rainy weather affected its ability to navigate. The birdbrain, a male that obviously refused to ask for directions, could have used a GPS, which stands, of course, for Global Pigeon System.

Not to be outdone, dogs found out that 2014 was a ruff year. One of them was Cato, a Siberian husky that was apprehended after robbing a convenience store in Clinton, South Carolina. According to police, Cato was seen on a surveillance camera taking pig ears, beef bones, dog food and treats.

The four-legged bandit left the store, buried the stolen goods nearby and returned for more. Police filled out a report, but they couldn't get Cato to confess, even though he was caught red-pawed.

Cato never would have been nabbed if Cash had been on the case. That's because Cash, a Belgian shepherd in Cannon Beach, Oregon, was fired from the police department's K-9 unit for dogging it on the job.

"You can't get anything done when you're trying to get him to find dope and he's just barking in your face," said officer Josh Gregory.

Seems like Cash was the real dope.

In dopey human news, a man in Albany, Georgia, contacted the wrong person while looking for marijuana. He sent his probation officer a text message that read, "You have some weed?"

The probation officer notified police and the pothead ended up back in prison. I wonder if his case was tried in a high court?

At least he didn't steal a car to get there, which is more than I can say for an idiot in Sonora, California, who was arrested after allegedly using a stolen car to get to court, where he was ordered to appear on a previous charge of -- you guessed it -- auto theft.

That wasn't the case with two would-be carjackers who almost who got away with a vehicle in Ocala, Florida, but didn't know how to drive a stick shift. I hope they got accelerated rehabilitation.

Other important -- and absolutely true -- stories from 2014:

* A herd of gassy dairy cows nearly lifted the roof off their barn in central Germany when methane released by the animals caused an explosion. Fortunately, they weren't hurt, but it could have been udder devastation.

* A naked Australian man who became stuck in a washing machine as part of an ill-planned practical joke was freed with the help of olive oil. It must have been applied down under.

* A motorcyclist brought traffic to a standstill on one of Madrid's busiest highways after he pulled over to look for his false teeth, which flew out of his mouth when he sneezed. It had to be the first time a chopper lost a set of choppers.

Finally, I am proud to say that one of the best stories of 2014 happened in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, where a city man fabricated his own demise to avoid marrying a woman he met in college. Till faked death did they part.

In that same stupid spirit, here's hoping 2015 is another great year.

Stamford Advocate humor columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of "Leave It to Boomer" and "The Empty Nest Chronicles." Visit his blog at www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. Email: JerryZ111@optonline.net.

Copyright 2015 by Jerry Zezima

America and Iran's Taba Moment

Stanley Weiss   |   December 17, 2014    1:24 PM ET

As President Bill Clinton tells it, Yasser Arafat wanted to wear something controversial to the White House ceremony in which Israelis and Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords in 1993: his handgun. While Clinton convinced Arafat, then chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, to leave his firearm behind--and then convinced Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with Arafat--in truth, a gun abandoned only for a few hours is a good symbol of the tortured road that Israelis and Palestinians have traveled ever since. The closest the two sides have come to realizing the promise of a peaceful two-state solution imagined by Oslo was during a two-month period in the closing days of Clinton's presidency that began 14 years ago this week.

In negotiations that started at Camp David and continued in the Egyptian town of Taba, Palestinians were offered a solution that met 97 percent of their demands. Both sides declared that they had "never been closer to peace." But then, negotiations were halted for a looming Israeli election, with the two sides expressing "a shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged." But it was not to be: Israelis elected a prime minister who had no interest in restarting talks, and the hope of Taba died. In the 14 years since, more than 1180 Israelis and 9,100 Palestinians have been killed, Jewish settlers in the West Bank have doubled, and one in four Palestinians remain mired in poverty.

All of which reinforces a fundamental truth: when two sides take political risks and strain to reach agreement, only to see negotiations fall apart, they don't go back to where they were before - they go back to a much angrier version of where they were before. It is a vital lesson to keep in mind this week as representatives from Iran and America reconvene with officials from five other nations in Geneva to restart talks on what has been called, "the sanctions-lifting-and-nuclear-weapon-halting-accord."

While it's difficult to use the word "urgent" about decade-long negotiations that had it latest deadline pushed back for the second time this year, the Iran nuclear talks are entering "now or never" territory. With hardliners on both sides emboldened by the seven-month delay announced on November 24th, it is no exaggeration to say that America and Iran have reached their Taba moment.

It was reported last month that Iran has five times the number of advanced centrifuges capable of spinning uranium into bomb-grade nuclear material than it has previously acknowledged. While Iran claims it only wants to use nuclear power to generate electricity, uranium only needs to be enriched to six percent--and not the near bomb-ready 20 percent that Iran had achieved before diluting it last July to comply with the ongoing nuclear talks. It is also constructing a heavy-water nuclear facility at Arak, which could be used to produce plutonium to make a nuclear bomb.

On these facts, Western negotiators both for and against an agreement largely agree. But from there, the arguments take a sharply different turn.

Those who oppose an agreement with Teheran say:

Iran has been our enemy for 30 years. It is a state sponsor of terror. It is a country responsible for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers. Developing a nuclear bomb has been a priority of its mullahs for decades. The only reason we found out back in 2002 that Iran had secret nuclear facilities was because a dissident exposed it. The United Nations immediately called for a total dismantling of Iran's uranium-enrichment capabilities. When negotiations began 10 years ago, Iran didn't have the ability to build a bomb. But our negotiators abandoned the UN's call and told Iran it could enrich uranium. And today, Iran has the knowledge and the components it needs to produce a bomb. It also has ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons to Tel Aviv or even Europe.
We also know that Iran lies. It agreed to freeze its nuclear program, but then built more advanced centrifuges. It claims to have no interest in building a bomb, and yet we recently learned that it is five times more capable of creating bomb-ready fissile material than it has admitted to. It agreed not to develop its nuclear weapons capacity, but it keeps building the heavy-water reactor at Arak, and it is reportedly developing nuclear weapons at a military facility in Parchin. The worst part is, since Iran won't let inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency into the country to catalog its nuclear program, we have to take its word for it. Yet, Obama is trying to ram these negotiations through--writing a secret letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei --while bypassing America's elected representatives in Congress.
This is a country that now has control over capitals in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. The only reason they are going through with the farce of negotiations is to buy time to build weapons. And if Iran has nuclear weapons, then nobody is safe. We should call off these negotiations, bomb Iran's existing nuclear facilities and intensify our economic sanctions until the country is on its knees, abandons its nuclear program, and lets inspectors in. This is a country that only understands strength, not weakness.

On the other hand, those who favor negotiations argue:

With no agreement, there will be no restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, no leverage to force inspections, and no ability to monitor developments. There will be nothing stopping them from building a bomb. With all the tools at our disposal, why would we leave bombing Iran as our only option? Every President has understood the chain reaction it will set off, not only inviting Iran to retaliate, but inviting Iranian allies like Russia and China to retaliate, too."
What the hard-liners don't understand is that this issue has revealed two different Irans. There are the hard-liners, mostly old men, 35 years removed from the revolution. But they are a minority: nearly 70 percent of Iran is under the age of 35. You might have noticed that in October, a leading mullah died--and despite a state-declared, two-day mourning period, nobody turned out. But in November, when a young pop star died, so many young people turned out in the streets that Iranian authorities were caught off-guard.
These young people want to join the world. Studies show that seventy percent of young Iranians use illegal software to access the Internet and satellite TV. These are the young Iranians who turned out in 2009 to protest Iran's reactionary government, and they provided the winning margin for Iran's moderate president, Hassan Rouhani. Meanwhile, Iranian businesses, the Bazaaris, are tired of bribing the Revolutionary Guard and dream of foreign investment coming to Iran. They are looking for reasons to believe in America. By siding with negotiators, we are siding with them, and a different kind of future. If we turn our backs, we send Iran directly back into the hands of Russia and China.

In other words, one choice is to increase sanctions, threaten to bomb facilities and hope a wider war doesn't break out. The other choice is to accept that the Islamic Republic of Iran may one day have the "breakout capacity" to produce nuclear weapons--knowing that it could start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. So far, there is no third choice.

So which path is better? I lean toward pursuing an agreement.

Turning our backs on Iran now will only hand power back to the hardliners who fear the changes underway in Iran and want to remain on a permanent war footing with the West. On the other hand, a comprehensive agreement would give the West some say over Iran's nuclear program while opening the door to Iran's cooperation in ending the war in Syria and overcoming Islamic State terror in Iraq. It could lead to normalized relations and see Iran pass Russia as Europe's supplier of oil and gas. It could lead Iran to better control Hezbollah, which would be good for Israel. It may also mean that Saudi Arabia becomes more dependent on the U.S., as we would likely assure Riyadh that we would provide cover for them, as we have for Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

The Israelis and Palestinians had a chance at Taba for an historic breakthrough--and instead, they made the perfect the enemy of the good. They had a moment, and it closed. And that moment has never returned again: just more violence, more suffering, and more unrest against the backdrop of a global economy that is passing them by.

This is the best chance the U.S. and Iran have had in three decades to create a new and better future for in the Middle East. We should take advantage of it.

--

Stanley Weiss, a global mining executive and founder of Washington-based Business Executives for National Security, has been widely published on domestic and international issues for three decades.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is 25 years old: It's Time for America to Ratify

Samantha Nutt, MD   |   November 20, 2014    6:28 PM ET

New York in November. The zombie masks and ghoulish cut-outs that flooded stores from Bloomingdale's to Battery Park have been displaced by cartoon pilgrims, turkey decals and a seasonal carol or two. Tickets are being frantically booked and kitchen drawers methodically excavated for family recipes splattered with so many generations of cranberry sauce only a crime scene specialist could decipher them. The Rink at Rockefeller Centre is iced over. The holidays are here. Almost.

This year, Thanksgiving coincides with another watershed moment in history and one more reason to be thankful: 25 years ago, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) became the most widely adopted human rights treaty in the world. In its own way, the CRC is also about family -- about protecting and upholding the rights of children and those who care for them. It endeavors to keep children under 18 free from harm, abuse, and neglect by setting standards for their equal treatment under international law. All but three countries in the world have ratified the CRC: South Sudan, Somalia and the United States (which is nevertheless a signatory). In the case of Somalia and South Sudan, both countries have been heavily embroiled in bitter civil wars since the Reagan Administration which, alongside that of George H. W. Bush, helped lead the drafting of the CRC. The difference between signing and ratifying is significant: Signing is an agreement in principle, whereas ratification is a commitment under international law.

President Obama has indicated that he would like to ratify the CRC and still has ample time left in his mandate to try to achieve what President Clinton also supported, but could not deliver on. And there's no good reason not to: Over the past decade, Supreme Court rulings on everything from the sentencing of minors to legislation governing the abuse and exploitation of children have brought the U.S. closer to full compliance on all aspects of the Convention. To flip this negative into a positive, then, if there is no reason not to ratify it, what are the reasons for ratifying it?

The CRC is an ideal, one which is realized imperfectly throughout the world. By articulating this vision for universality when it comes to children's rights, the CRC is in effect a barometer by which countries can measure themselves and in turn be measured by others: How are we doing? It is also an instrument by which groups like Boko Haram, ISIS and others who abuse and exploit children as sex slaves, forced laborers and child soldiers may someday be held to account.

This is not insignificant: When we acknowledge that such atrocities are war crimes committed against children, we are invoking the Convention, and in particular the later Optional Protocol, as well as the Treaty of Rome. War criminals such as Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, The Democratic Republic of Congo's Thomas Lubanga and the Lord's Resistance Army's Joseph Kony were all charged with crimes committed against children in violation of the CRC (though Kony remains at large). So if the U.S. stands behind protecting and upholding the rights of children in all contexts, then it is asserting the moral and legal authority of the CRC -- an authority which is undermined by their non-ratification.

There are other reasons to ratify it, too. The last few years have seen a massive erosion of the rights of children globally. They are being brutalized and killed in parts of Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and in dozens of other "fragile states" with weak or corrupted governments. They are being taken from their classrooms, refugee camps, the streets and even from their family homes to serve as porters, soldiers, concubines and "wives" for rebel and other military groups who prey on their powerlessness and their fealty. They are being trafficked to drug lords, pimps, old rich men and war-lords.

Still, there are some encouraging signs that international governments remain committed to the CRC: extreme poverty has been halved -- a major achievement to realizing that Millennium Development Goal -- and most children in the developing world are now attending primary school. But these gains rarely reach children in "high risk" environments, especially countries at war. According to a 2014 USAID study on extreme poverty, the absolute number of people living on less than $1.25 per day in fragile states has remained unchanged since 1990, at 400 million.

Not surprisingly, half of all child deaths under five in poor countries also occur in these same locales. The war in Syria alone is estimated to have wiped out 35 years of development gains since 2011 that are essential to the survival, education and protection of Syrian children. And there are too many regions of the world right now -- including in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, South Sudan, and Somalia -- where children as old as fourteen have never known what it means to live without abject fear.

What does this tell us? It tells us that ratifying the CRC is a necessary but not sufficient condition when it comes to protecting and upholding the rights of children worldwide. In 25 years, much has changed, but far too much has remained tragically the same or gotten worse. Children locked in a chronic state of war and violence are being excluded from the rights enshrined in the CRC to devastating effect.

U.S. ratification won't change this, but it's a positive step forward. What will change this is a sustained commitment to helping children and their families in war zones rebuild and recover so that the cycle can be broken and the CRC upheld. Not just emergency measures -- food, water, shelter, blankets, health care -- but investments in education, access to justice and economic development. It means shifting our ideas about humanitarian aid as a quick fix delivered by outsiders, and thinking instead about what families need and want for their children over the long term: To keep them safe and to see them thrive.

War and abuse may have robbed children and families of their past, but it should not rob them of their futures as well. Those looking for opportunities for post-partisan collaboration after the recent Congressional election could do worse than starting with ratification of an instrument both parties have already expressed support for.

'Mommy, Are You Eating Chocolate?'

Samaneh Kleopatra Zarabi   |   November 11, 2014   10:33 PM ET

"Mommy... what are you eating?" my son asked.

Damn it, I was busted. He interrupted me exactly at the moment I was just about to bite a crunchy chocolate caramel (one of the only sweets I eat happens to be a Swedish Chocolate, which is a rare find in Cleveland!).

I turned around and with a look of guilt asked if he wanted a bite. Of course he said yes, and while reaching to grab the whole chocolate he said, "I thought we only eat ONE unhealthy snack per day, mommy!"

He was right. This is our rule. We eat our healthy food... and if we have any unhealthy food we choose one per day and hopefully once in a while.

Today, however, my so-many-sleepless nights had caught up with me (and this time it's not because of the news, but because of my sick younger son). My sweet-resistant nature was taken over by my need for any sort of sustenance and I ate three chocolates (which, considering my dislike for sweets, was extraordinary).

However, when interrupted by my son, I tried to encourage myself by thinking that I deserved to treat myself after such a hard week. I just had to indulge my sleep-deprived self, right?

Now wait a minute... anyone who indulges without resistance can make an argument for his or her weak nature. There are perfectly self-regulated people that behave in accordance to well-thought-out plans of action in many aspects of their life; yet, they end up shockingly "will-fatigued" in other aspects.

For example, although President Clinton was absolutely a picture-perfect student and must have had tremendous self-regulation to make his way to the White House, he was nevertheless very weak and unregulated when it came to his intern.

So what happens to those types of people? Right now, who cares about those people, frankly, because really I'm talking about myself here! Have I become the president who prefers to relax with the intern after a long and difficult day?

We always have an excuse for our actions. The feeling of "I deserve some fun because I am entitled to the reward" could be part of the problem faced by people like President Clinton (and, right now, myself). At the end of the day, however, if Clinton had a stronger self-regulation skill and actually used it, it wouldn't matter how entitled he might have felt -- he could have exercised his resistance to "harmful" rewards...1 and he might have ended up going to bed with Hilary and watching John Stewart -- instead of being a joke on the show.

Going back to my problem here, my sleepless nights have given me the right to go for not one but three chocolates because I deserved them. Now this is alarming!!

Why?

Because I set the rules at our home and if I can't play by the rules then how can I expect my children to be conscientious and self-directed?

What if it's not about the chocolate, or cleaning up after myself... washing my hands every time I come home, and not using the phone at the dining table? What if we're talking about things like no texting and driving, wearing a helmet when biking, not cheating when playing, and not hurting another person no matter how stressed or sad my own mood and feelings may be?

What if my children witness my husband or I breaking one of these rules? What if every time I lose self-control, I justify it with some external unrelated or (even related) cause?

Some would argue that this is a perfect example of abusing parental power by creating arbitrary rules that apply only to my children and not to me, the parent. Indeed, this is true, and thank you for pointing it out.

When I broke my own chocolate rule, I showed disloyalty to my own rule and, most importantly, to my son. Every time that I model a positive behavior, I demonstrate strength of character. I reinforce my own set of rules that become common and regular behavior no matter how silly the rule is.

Because if I don't model positive behavior, I shouldn't be surprised when my sons text and drive, get expelled for cheating on a test or become a bully at school. After all, I set the standard -- even if it was with something seemingly less significant like eating extra sweets.

This is not to say that every child that witnesses an erroneous behavior will repeat the unwanted action. But, role models play a great part in everyone's life. And, this is especially true when the model is as loved and respected as parents usually are to small children.

The old-age wisdom of the Greek Philosopher Aristotle defined a virtuous character not only as one that possesses attractive inner characteristics but also one that acts accordingly.2 After all, we become just by acting just repeatedly and consciously.

At the core of virtuous ethics lies moral education and development. 3

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Early on, children rely on excellent role modeling to develop moral actions. The virtue of character becomes a stable personality trait by proper guidance, correction and repeated action. The effectiveness of consistency between modeling of our preaching has been documented in recent research as well.*4 Children who were guided by consistency in action as well as verbal guidance were the ones who had more "stringent standards for self-reward."5

One more chocolate today might not harm anyone, but an accident caused by a texting driver could have devastating irreversible effects.

So, maybe the next time my child says, "Mom, you didn't brush your teeth..." instead of answering "yes" with my fingers crossed behind my back, I should just say, "You are right. I was waiting for you to do it together!"

And maybe Aristotle would argue here that I'm on my way to set the stage for true happiness in my children and myself. After all, isn't it the cultivation of the virtues that makes our lives complete?


1.Mischel, W., The marshmallow test : mastering self-control. 2014, New York: Little, Brown and Company.
2.Nicomachean Ethics, BOOK II By Aristotle Written 350 B.C.E Translated by W. D. Ross
3.Virtue Ethics at http://www.iep.utm.edu/virtue/
4.Effects of discrepancies between observed and imposed reward criteria on their acquisition and transmission. Mischel, Walter; Liebert, Robert M. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 3(1), Jan 1966, 45-53.
5.Ibid.1, p.224