Tag Archives: Lindsey Graham

The bombing backlash, and a false equivalence

Mm, not so much.

Jonathan Chait recaps the checkered performance of the media and the public in the Boston marathon bombing story:

In polarized America, both the reds and the blues have legitimate reason to fear that a tragedy will unleash an overly broad backlash. Liberals recall the false blame heaped on Muslim terrorists after Oklahoma City, and the real blame of 9/11 transforming into a fever of Bush-worship and jingoism. Conservatives recall mainstream reporters rushing to blame them, falsely, for shootings in Aurora and Tucson. It is also true that many Americans are eager, in senseless and fearful situations, for confirmation that the particular evil on display is the brand that conforms to their particular worldview. On Monday, there was comfort for some in the idea that the bombing was an act of tea-party loonies looking to exploit tax day. Among that same cohort was relief when the first pictures of the Tsarnaevs were released: The suspects were white, not Arab—maybe they were just another set of crazed teens with access to firearms. All week, nearly everyone was in a frenzy to profile, even those who should have known better.

There’s just one problem with this analysis: the consequences of misidentification are disproportionately stacked on one “side.” After the Oklahoma City bombing, the arrest and eventual execution of Timothy McVeigh had relatively little impact on American foreign and domestic policy. Sure, security was beefed up around federal buildings and other areas of interest, and President Bill Clinton attempted to leverage the attack into increased government powers, but life mostly went on.

Even after Aurora and Tucson, no one was rushing to strip conservatives of their legal rights, to surveil them more intensely, or anything else of the sort. Even if the killers had been conservatives, the most that liberals could’ve achieved is to point out (quite fairly) that conservatives can be just as extremist and violent as liberals (or liberals’ perceived “allies:” more on that in a moment).

Take, for example, the Norwegian massacre in 2011. Much of the American media rushed to broaden the scope of the gruesome attack, speculating immediately that the perpetrator was Muslim and, in so doing, implicating an entire religion. When it turned out he was a Christian conservative extremist instead, the cacophony of media bloodlust and anti-Muslim vitriol dwindled to mere whispers, the target of public anger was narrowed to a single man, and familiar defenses were trotted out: he was a lone madman, he didn’t represent any group other than himself, etc. These are, of course, sentiments not afforded Muslims and Arabs very often by these same publications.

There are, in other words, very light societal consequences for terrorism committed by ideological neighbors of the American conservative spectrum. But how quickly the tables turn when the suspect is a Muslim. (This is, in itself, an irony: nothing about fundamentalist Islam is remotely linkable to conventional liberalism, whereas fundamentalist Christianity is a crucial element within American conservatism. Islamic fundamentalism is, in fact, a much closer cousin of its Christian counterpart than it is of American progressivism.)

When the suspect is a Muslim, the consequences tend to be far greater and the overreactions more severe. September 11th, via a combination of mass hysteria, presidential incompetence, and public geopolitical ignorance, became a clear example of the catastrophe that can be unleashed on people-groups even in countries completely unrelated to the attacks.

A similarly frenzied dynamic is already enveloping the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, in some quarters. None other than U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham began publicly advocating the denial of basic rights to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev yesterday (a plea that was eventually successful, using a controversial “public safety” measure):

Indeed, Graham, joined by Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, as well as Representative Peter King, released a statement imperiously deeming Tsarnaev a “good candidate for enemy combatant status” and concluding:

We hope the Obama Administration will consider the enemy combatant option because it is allowed by national security statutes and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

We continue to face threats from radical Islamists in small cells and large groups throughout the world. They have, as their primary focus, killing as many Americans as possible, preferably within the United States. We must never lose sight of this fact and act appropriately within our laws and values.

Even seemingly unrelated public policy issues are coming under fire as a “result” of the Boston Marathon bombing. See this piece from today, for example:

Opponents of immigration reform — the most promising priority of Obama’s second term remaining after the defeat of gun control — are already using the attack to try to slow progress on a bipartisan Senate bill.

More broadly, the attack is raising questions about how the administration should deal with 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was captured Friday after an exhaustive manhunt in Boston, and concerns over whether the FBI was too complacent in letting his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev out of its sight after interviewing him in 2011.

So yes, it is true that, once the initial shock of the tragedy itself has been absorbed, both liberals and conservatives begin wincing at the possible fallout depending on who committed the crime. But as we have learned well over the years, public policy changes most when the suspect is part of a group used as a favorite conservative punching bag (in this case, Muslims). When the suspect is in any way connected to conservatism, the consequences are virtually nonexistent.

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The Republicans’ Susan Rice strategy

Courtesy of the New York Times.

On one level, John McCain’s attack-dog approach to the possible nomination of UN ambassador Susan Rice as Secretary of State falls in line with the ex-maverick’s curmudgeonly stance on everything these days. Ever since losing the 2008 presidential contest (in reality, even somewhat before the actual election itself), McCain has retreated from his previously commendable independent streak and become an archetype of the modern Republican Party: obstinate and incoherent all at once.

Today, after Rice called for an in-person meeting with Republican senators McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, all three officials emerged from the closed-doors conversation speaking as if with one voice:

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get,” Senator John McCain of Arizona said to reporters. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, “Bottom line: I’m more concerned than I was before” — a sentiment echoed by Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Their statements – coming after Ms. Rice’s conciliatory remarks during a meeting designed to mend fences with her three critics and smooth the way for her nomination as secretary of state if President Obama decides on her as the successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton – attested to the bitterness of the feud between the White House and Republicans over Benghazi.

Mr. Graham and Ms. Ayotte said that knowing what they know now, they would place a hold on Ms. Rice’s nomination if Mr. Obama selected her.

“I wouldn’t vote for anybody being nominated out of the Benghazi debacle until I had answers about what happened that I don’t have today,” Mr. Graham said.

Of course, Rice has rather consistently stated that she had simply repeated what she’d heard from the intelligence community. There’s very little actual substance for such a major controversy (fanned, in large part, by conservative outlets such as FOX News, as I covered yesterday).

That said, one factor that has been consistently under-covered during this ongoing saga is the choice President Obama must make for Secretary of State. All indications are that Susan Rice and John Kerry are the frontrunners. In that Elizabeth Warren just reclaimed Massachusetts’ second U.S. Senate seat from Republican Scott Brown (who remains popular in the state despite his defeat), moving Kerry to the executive cabinet means that yet another senatorial election would have to take place in the state.

Democrats are nervous (even if they won’t admit it publicly) about their chances. Despite being overwhelmingly liberal, Massachusetts may not have completely forgiven Martha Coakley for her abysmal campaign in the special election against Brown in 2009-2010. And aside from her, the Democratic field is fairly weak in the state. Brown, meanwhile, continues to enjoy relatively broad popularity and would be a natural (and well-known) contender for the seat.

Therefore, it is possible that John McCain (along with Graham, Ayotte, et al) should be given some credit for strategy here. By coming down so hard on Susan Rice, he may be hoping to force Obama’s hand by making Kerry the de facto lone candidate for Secretary of State and, therefore, opening up a potential Senate gain for Republicans in Massachusetts. Thus, instead of simply succumbing to his baser instincts to criticize everything Democrats do, he may only be guilty of succumbing to his party’s electoral ambitions: a distinction hardly worthy of sainthood, to be sure, but certainly well in line with the behavior of virtually everyone else in Congress.

It’s not Iran crossing the red line. It’s Israel.

Yesterday, Robert Wright wrote a piece called “AIPAC’s Push Toward War” for The Atlantic. In it, he notes:

Late last week, amid little fanfare, Senators Joseph Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and Robert Casey introduced a resolution that would move America further down the path toward war with Iran.

The good news is that the resolution hasn’t been universally embraced in the Senate. As Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, the resolution has “provoked jitters among Democrats anxious over the specter of war.” The bad news is that, as Kampeas also reports, “AIPAC is expected to make the resolution an ‘ask’ in three weeks when up to 10,000 activists culminate its annual conference with a day of Capitol Hill lobbying.”

In standard media accounts, the resolution is being described as an attempt to move the “red line”–the line that, if crossed by Iran, could trigger a US military strike. The Obama administration has said that what’s unacceptable is for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. This resolution speaks instead of a “nuclear weaponscapability.” In other words, Iran shouldn’t be allowed to get to a point where, should it decide to produce a nuclear weapon, it would have the wherewithal to do so.

At what point are we, as Americans, allowed to stand up and say what needs to be said: It is Israel, not Iran, that presents the greatest danger to the Middle East right now. Their government is unpredictable; it is a coalition government aligned with some truly despicable, racist warmongers (hello, Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Ayalon); and its perpetual saber-rattling, deceptions, lies, and misdirection has played a large role in making the Middle East a constantly volatile region.

There are other provocations, to be sure — most notably the Arab Spring, despotic dictators clinging to power, and so forth. Then, perhaps most obviously, there is Iran itself, whose leader’s anti-Semitic rants and Holocaust denials are certainly cause for concern. But another preemptive strike on a Middle Eastern country based on flimsy evidence? Not only does this sound familiar, but the advocacy for it is led by the same neocons who started us off on our glorious path in Iraq. That these people are still afforded even the tiniest sliver of credibility is testament to our woeful media’s inability to stand up for facts, as well a searing condemnation of the American public’s ever-dwindling attention spans.

Let’s please, please, not make another mistake. Constant war is not the answer.