In the Trump Administration, Principled Civil Servants Like James Comey Are Critical

Let’s be clear about one thing straightaway: James Comey did not sabotage Hillary Clinton. If that had been his intention, it was well within his power to outright destroy her candidacy. In the wake of Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s improper meeting with former President Bill Clinton, the Department of Justice was scandalized. Under pressure, Lynch pledged to follow through on the FBI’s recommendation, whatever it was. The decision about whether or not the FBI would recommend charges was ultimately Comey’s to make, and his alone (indeed, Lynch was so vulnerable after her impropriety that she couldn’t even bring herself to order the FBI Director not to inform lawmakers about the discovery of new emails; she was in no position to deny his recommendations on prosecution). If Comey were out to sabotage Clinton, he would have recommended charges; the DOJ would have had little choice but to proceed with prosecution. Regardless of how the case ultimately fared in court, it would have certainly persisted throughout the entire election cycle—utterly decimating Clinton’s prospects.

Instead, Comey declined to recommend charges– despite the FBI having uncovered serious violations of protocol which would have likely landed a lower-profile civil servant behind bars. This decision outraged Congressional Republicans, and even many within the FBI, who accused Comey of playing politics on Clinton’s behalf.

This was not the only time the accusation was made: as the media began combing Wikileaks-released emails that strongly suggested inappropriate relations between the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton’s State Department, and wealthy foreign donors (the latest of many apparent Clinton Foundation violations, see here, here, here, here, here, or here), Comey refused to so much as comment as to whether or not the FBI was considering an investigation into the Foundation—prompting a Breitbart conspiracy theory that he was on the Clinton payroll as well.

To assuage concerns about a possible FBI bias towards Clinton, he assured lawmakers that if new information arose which seemed pertinent to the investigation, he would notify them promptly. And multiple times after closing the investigation new evidence was found—and each time, Comey notified the relevant lawmakers. And after considering the new evidence, reiterated his recommendation against prosecution—despite enormous pressure to reverse course.

Continue reading “In the Trump Administration, Principled Civil Servants Like James Comey Are Critical”

The “Emerging Democratic Majority” is on the “Wrong Side of History”

“What is at stake in the conflict over representations of the future is nothing other than the attitude of the declining classes to their decline—either demoralization, which leads to a rout….or mobilization, which leads to the collective search for a collective solution to the crisis.  What can make the difference is, fundamentally, the possession of the symbolic instruments enabling the group to take control of the crisis and to organize themselves with a view to a collective response, rather than fleeing from real or feared degradation in a reactionary resentment and the representation of history as a conspiracy.”

Pierre Bourdieu, The Bachelor’s Ball (p. 189)

“We’ll let you guys prophesy/ We gon’ see the future first.”

Frank Ocean, “Nikes” (Blonde)

 

In 2008, Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama outperformed his predecessors John Kerry and Al Gore with virtually every single demographic group, handily defeating his Republican rival John McCain.

This success spread to down-ballot races as well: Democrats expanded control over the House and the Senate; they controlled most governorships and state legislatures nationwide.

Many progressives came to believe that these results were not a fluke, that Obama’s coalition represented the future: an “Emerging Democratic Majority” that stood to reshape American politics as we know them.

The logic was simple: most of those who are young, college-educated, women or minorities lean left. Older white men lean right, but whites were declining as a portion of the electorate due to immigration and interracial unions. Therefore, as the older generation passes away and a younger, more diverse, and more educated cohort steps into the fore, America will become more progressive in an enduring way.

Right now, these predictions are not looking so good. In a virtual inversion of 2008 (only worse), Republicans comfortably control both chambers of Congress. They also dominate state legislatures and governorships nationwide —bodies which arguably matter more to people’s everyday lives than the federal government.

Meanwhile, Democrats lost perhaps their best chance in a generation to fundamentally reshape the Supreme Court. And the new Republican Administration seems committed to rolling back many of the signature accomplishments of the most impactful Democratic President since LBJ.

In the midst of such a bleak reality, it may be tempting to hold onto the faith that the Emerging Demographic Majority thesis remains essentially sound: Trump is an anomaly, certain to self-destruct, ushered into power as a final, desperate act of defiance by a segment of the population that knows its time is up.

However, in this instance, optimism would be ill-advised: the electoral trend actually seems to be going the opposite direction. If anything, it seems as though progressives may be on the “wrong side of history.”

 

Continue reading “The “Emerging Democratic Majority” is on the “Wrong Side of History””

Trump’s Victory Should Not Have Been Surprising

As an epistemologist, I generally avoid predictions in favor of trying to determine what is known and how to build upon or utilize knowledge. But when I do feel compelled to go on record with predictions, it is generally with a sense of urgency–to draw public attention to an approaching black swan.

Black swans are phenomena which seem inconceivable relative to prevailing assumptions and beliefs. Black swan events arise when our conception of the world becomes untethered from events “on the ground.”

In this election cycle, the broad consensus was that Trump was an amusing epiphenomenon with little staying power and few prospects. By contrast, since the declaration of her candidacy, there was a pervasive assumption that Hillary Clinton would coast to victory. This cycle seemed to turn conventional wisdom on its head at every turn, but nonetheless, as Americans went to cast their ballots even the most rigorous and gutsy of poll analysts predicted less than a 30% chance for a Clinton loss (and even this was viewed by many as being far too generous to Trump).

To be sure, prediction is a perilous game. But one of the biggest problems in the way we rely on predictions in our public discourse is that pundits are rarely held to account for their reliability. And even in those rare instances where someone actually issues a mea culpa for grievous errors, little seems to be learned in terms of how to approach subsequent developments.

For instance, “no one” saw it as possible that Trump would win the Republican nomination—even down to the final moments. When he did win, there was a lot of handwringing about humility and lessons learned—but then almost immediately the same narrative emerged again: Trump stood no chance at winning the general election. And not just he, the Republican Party was finished, perhaps for generations, as a result of his candidacy. Things look very different today, with the Democrats standing on the brink of irrelevance, while the signature accomplishments of their most charismatic and transformation leader in generations seem set to be erased.

The centerpiece of the Democrats’ (over)confidence was their supposed “electoral firewall”—a safeguard they were so sure of that they scarcely even bothered to reach out to these constituents who were supposed to serve as their last line of defense against Trump (ensuring that even in the unlikely event that they lost the popular vote, they would win the Electoral College). How’d that turn out? Clinton is shaping up to lose the Electoral College by a larger margin than those who were defeated in 1996, 2000 or 2004.

How could this happen?” was the refrain on November 9th. Here’s how: Continue reading “Trump’s Victory Should Not Have Been Surprising”

(Why) I’m No Longer Bullish on Donald Trump’s Prospects

On June 16th 2015, Donald J. Trump descended by escalator to denounce the Chinese, deride Mexicans as rapists, and announce his bid as the 12th Republican presidential candidate of the 2016 election season. At the time—and for months to follow—most pundits dismissed him as a bad joke: a pseudo-candidate with little staying power, and virtually no chance of winning the nomination, let alone the presidency.

I had a different reaction. Having spent the preceding months warning progressives about the perils of dismissing and denigrating white people—when I heard Trump speak that day, I knew I was listening to the party’s likely nominee. And over the course of his campaign, as it became clear that Trumpism (e.g. skepticism towards international trade, hostility towards immigration, scaling back foreign intervention, and taking an ambivalent stance on traditional wedge issues) held wide appeal—even beyond the Donald’s “core constituency“—I grew convinced that Trump would not only win the Republican primary, but would beat Hillary Clinton in the general election. I forcefully argued that case five months ago, urging Democrats to settle on a better candidate.

Today, however, I am convinced that Trump will likely lose. To be sure, he could still get an uncomfortably large share of the vote—some simply in virtue of being the Republican nominee, some as a protest against Clinton, and some who are true believers in his dystopian vision. But barring a large-scale domestic terror attack perpetrated by undocumented Mexican immigrants who converted to Islam—Trump’s chances to prevail in November seem bleak. There are basically three major reasons for this:

 

Pivoting…The Wrong Direction

John McCain and Mitt Romney began their races as moderates with wide appeal across the aisle—but over the course of the primary, they were forced to swing far to the right on key issues in order to secure the Republican nomination, leaving them virtually unelectable in the general race. By contrast, Trump distinguished himself early on as a gleeful violator of Republican orthodoxy, eager to pillory the party establishment for its hypocrisies, failures and growing irrelevance. He won the Republican primary largely by running against the party itself—this left him well-positioned for a general election bid.

Trump did not have to shift to the right to win the nomination, nor would he have to shift to the left to win the presidency: he simply had to continue running against political orthodoxy and the political establishment (unpopular in both parties) while gentrifying his rhetoric, demonstrating a loosely “presidential” demeanor, and developing a basic competence about a few major issues. I believed he would accomplish this—in no small part due to his own repeated assurances that his primary performance was largely an act and he would have no problem rebranding for the general election. He hired Paul Manafort to oversee his transition—a brilliant move.

But then, rather than elevating or moderating his approach to assuage skeptical Republicans, appeal to swing voters, and woo disaffected Bernie supporters—Trump grew more parochial and extreme after winning the primary (and especially after the GOP convention)…in defiance of his own campaign’s advice. He has recently confirmed (implicitly and explicitly) that he has no intention of softening, moderating or elevating his discourse. Ever.

But perhaps most bizarrely, Trump has begun pivoting ideologically—towards the right. His running mate, advisors, and suggested appointees increasingly reflect banal Republicanism rather than representing a challenge to the status quo. This kind of pivot is not only totally unnecessary (given he has already won the Republican primary…precisely because of his heterodoxy), but is obviously counter-productive for a general election bid.

In other words, Trump is outright refusing to change those aspects of his campaign which have proven counterproductive while senselessly erasing the very features which could have made him compelling in a general election.

 

The Media (Over)corrects Itself

The mainstream media enabled Trump’s rise to prominence for the sake of short-term ratings, and as a byproduct of their broader business model which seamlessly (and shamelessly) integrates news, entertainment and advertising. However, shortly after Trump secured the Republican nomination, the media suddenly realized that their golem was poised to become the most powerful man on Earth—and planned to treat the press just as savagely as he treated the Republican Party.

Now, they are not just unwilling to give Trump a pass on his gaffes, but they have turned hostile to the point of intentionally misrepresenting his words and actions. This constant bad press has helped drive down his poll numbers and ratings, thereby empowering even more media criticism.

And to make matters worse, even when the press narratives seem to be favorable for Trump, the candidate himself tends to derail that momentum. For instance, mainstream media began looking into documents suggesting inappropriate relations between the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton’s State Department, and wealthy foreign donors (the latest of many Clinton Foundation scandals, see here, here, here, here, here, or here). It was a potentially disastrous story for Clinton—playing into concerns that many voters on both sides of the aisle have about Clinton’s trustworthiness, transparency and sense of impunity. If the story gained enough momentum it could have even provoked another damaging months-long Congressional inquiry.

All Trump had to do was stay out of the way—or better yet, fold the story into his stump speeches and interviews as another example of “Crooked Hillary” beholden to big money and foreign interests. But he never mentioned the latest Clinton Foundation scandal in any meaningful way. Instead, at a rally, Trump “joked“ about how if Clinton wins, gun owners could assassinate her in order to protect their 2nd Amendment rights. The resulting controversy turned off many undecided voters (most Americans tend to favor stricter gun regulation and frown upon assassinating elected officials) while completely swallowing the oxygen of virtually all other would-be stories…including the Clinton Foundation emails.

 

His Own Worst Enemy

Most metrics and models suggest that Republicans should win this election cycle. And there are many respects in which Trump began this race much better positioned than most “typical” Republicans to emerge victorious in November—particularly in an election cycle when both parties’ bases seem desperate for radical change.

Trump is losing because he consistently undermines his own success. Most likely this is a result of profound incompetence—but it’s perhaps worth noting that since the beginning of his campaign there have been persistent rumors that he never actually believed he would win the Republican nomination, nor did he want to; that he has no desire to govern as president, and is looking for a graceful way to escape his out-of-control publicity stunt. There have been suggestions that he may drop out of the race before November to avoid defeat, or refuse the position even if he wins. On the far end of this spectrum are insinuations that Trump is actually a Clinton ally who set out to sabotage Republican prospects in what should have been an easy race for them (given the fundamentals and Clinton’s huge unfavorables).

But regardless of the reason for his meltdown, its outcome seems clear: Donald J. Trump seems unlikely to be elected President of the United States of America. But it’s not all good news…

 

Post-Trump Politics

From the time Trump hired Paul Manafort through the end of July, Trump’s poll numbers had been on a stark upward trajectory—even to the point where he began leading Clinton in national polls and in most swing states. His precipitous decline began as he cast his campaign chairman aside.

What does this mean? It means Manafort’s strategy was working. It means the primary thing driving Trump’s unpopularity is the style, rather than the substance, of his message. It means a more disciplined, informed, and nuanced candidate could actually win by running on Trump’s platform. It mean’s Trumpism is likely here to stay—and at some point, a more effective version of Trump may well win the White House…and be much more capable of realizing his agenda than the Donald could ever be.

Moreover, as in 2008, there is going to be a large swath of Trump voters who will flatly reject the legitimacy of Clinton’s election (if she wins). They claimed Obama was not born in the U.S., and was therefore ineligible for the presidency. For Clinton, the accusations will be twofold: First, she rigged the election. Second, she should have been legally disqualified from running due to her gross mishandling of classified information (but was protected from prosecution by Obama, of course). All of this dovetails nicely with already well-established Clinton conspiracy memes, meaning the extremism, polarization and obstructionism of the last 8 years will also be sticking around with this large subset of voters—who will continue to act as spoilers for many critical policy issues. And just as criticism of Barack Obama opened the door to mainstreaming racism, so too will Clinton’s election elevate misogynistic discourses under the pretext of political debate.

And then, of course, we are left with Hillary Clinton as president.

She is investing heavily in trying to woo disaffected Republicans into her coalition, and signaling a willingness to waffle back on her trade and energy policies. It is likely that she will attempt to hold together her burgeoning coalition through 2020 by means of more classic Clinton “third way” politics. If you were hoping she would follow through on her progressive Sanders-driven campaign commitments—don’t hold your breath.

The DNC Convention’s militant nationalism (to say nothing of her endorsement by prominent neocons) is a taste of what’s to come on the foreign policy front: expect direct U.S. involvement in Syria to promote regime change; expect needless escalation with Russia, a squandering of the Iran deal, a major escalation by Israel against Palestine because Netanyahu knows that Clinton will not meaningfully check him. For starters.

And to top it all off, an economic recession is likely in the cards for 2017 no matter what happens at the ballot box. In short, when the American people finally get past this horrific election there will be little reason to celebrate: the next four years are going to be rough.

 

Published 8/19/2016 by The Huffington Post

Who Cares About Bernie Sanders’ Historic Candidacy?

In March 2016, the Green Party nominated Dr. Jill Stein as their candidate for President of the United States. They have had female vice-presidential nominees on every single ticket since 1996, and ran all-female tickets in 2008 and 2012. But unfortunately, the highest the Green Party has ever performed in a general election was in 2000, when they garnered nearly 3% of the popular vote. The party was relegated to obscurity thereafter—decried as spoilers who bear responsibility for the election of George W. Bush and everything that followed.

And while both the Democratic and Republican parties have previously nominated a woman to be their vice-presidential nominees (Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, respectively), Hillary Clinton is the first woman to appear at the top of one of the major party tickets—making her the first viable female presidential candidate in U.S. history. The U.S. has lagged far behind many other countries in achieving this milestone. For perspective, there have been 11 women from Muslim-majority nations that have served as PM or President, and about 1 out of every 10 contemporary governments has a female head of government or head of state.

The significance of Clinton’s achievement transcends mere symbolism: As a black man, the presidency of Barack Obama has impacted me in ways that are hard to describe, despite frequent political differences. Similarly, while adamantly opposed to Hillary’s nomination, I appreciate how meaningful it could be for a generation to grow up experiencing a woman as the “leader of the free world”—even more so at this moment, when women seem poised to simultaneously head up Britain, France and Germany as well (the implications of the fact that most of these are center-to-far right leaning politicians is a matter for a different essay). However, throughout this political season I have also found myself both perplexed and outraged by how little discussion there has been about the historic nature of Ms. Clinton’s principal Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders.

Now, with the Democratic primary officially concluded, following Sanders’ concession to Hillary Clinton and his full-throated convention endorsement—it is worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on just how significant his campaign has been, and what Sanders’ supporters can take from it going forward.

Continue reading “Who Cares About Bernie Sanders’ Historic Candidacy?”

Why 2016 May Be Donald Trump’s Race to Lose

As the 2016 presidential primaries got underway, there seemed to be a couple incontrovertible truths: Hillary Clinton’s nomination was inevitable, and Trump stood no chance (it was going to be Jeb or Rubio). Yet, here we are six months before the election, and Trump has seized the Republican nomination while Clinton is still working to box out Bernie Sanders’ insurgency (without losing his voters, who it turns out, may be ripe for Trump to peel off after all).

Nonetheless, the prevailing narrative is that while there is now a chance that Trump could actually win in November, it’s basically Hillary Clinton’s election to lose. Pundits focus on “fundamentals,” like Hillary’s superior fundraising, analytics, or ground game; however, these haven’t proven terribly predictive this cycle. And by focusing on conventional elements, analysts seem to be overlooking novel dynamics which are likely more important—specifically, the public’s persistent and negative perception of Hillary Clinton, the incumbency handicap, and a phenomenon I call “negative intersectionality.”

  Continue reading “Why 2016 May Be Donald Trump’s Race to Lose”

Hillary Clinton Is No Friend of Black Empowerment

As an African American, I have struggled to understand why so many of my black brothers and sisters seem to prefer Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

Some have argued that black people are terrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency, and so they rally around Clinton under the belief that she is more electable in the November general contest. However, looking at the election results so far it seems clear that Bernie Sanders actually stands the best chance of prevailing over Trump, while Hillary would likely lose.

Then there’s the notion that Hillary Clinton is somehow preserving Barack Obama’s legacy: just a few short months ago she was going out of her way to distance herself from the Obama Administration because she believed it was politically expedient to do so. Now, under threat from Sanders’ insurgency, she is cynically trying to sell herself as Obama’s right-hand. But of course, the moment she locks down the nomination she’ll go back to drawing contrast–the Clintons have always been leaders at “vote capturing.”

But perhaps the most disturbing of all is the insinuation that Hillary Clinton has some kind of proud and storied legacy in the service of black empowerment. She doesn’t. Consider the comparative records of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders:

 

The Chicago Years

While attending the University of Chicago, Sanders served as a chapter chairman for the Congress for Racial Equality. In this capacity, he worked to end segregation in schools and housing—activities for which he was arrested.

What was Hillary Clinton doing while Sanders was organizing sit-ins and demonstrations? Well, she was also living in Chicago at the time, but she was working for the other team: in 1963-4, Clinton was a volunteer and supporter for the campaign of Barry Goldwater.

For those who don’t know, Goldwater’s claim to fame is that he was the first Republican to win the Deep South since Reconstruction. He achieved this feat by vowing to undermine enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, and to prevent further erosion of white privilege. His campaign was so disgusting that many Republican leaders, such as George Romney and John Rockefeller, refused to endorse his candidacy even after he won his party’s nomination. A good deal of the Republican electorate, who had traditionally championed civil rights and civil liberties, also refused to support him. As a result, those aforementioned Deep South states were literally the only contests he won other than his home state of Arizona in one of the most dramatic landslide losses in U.S. presidential history. Yet, this is the man who inspired Hillary Clinton to get into politics. And she was campaigning for him while Bernie was campaigning for desegregation.

The trend continues: in 1984 and 88, Bernie Sanders endorsed and supported Jessie Jackson’s bids for the White House, which would have made him America’s first African-American president. Rather than endorsing this movement, Bill Clinton infamously sought to elevate himself among white Southern and Rust-Belt voters at the expense of Mr. Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition.

Of course, it’d be easy to write this off–after all, it was a long time ago. However, the Clintons’ tenure in the White House doesn’t look so great in hindsight either:

 

The Clinton Administration(s)

Bill Clinton’s deregulation of banks and Wall Street helped bring about the 2008 financial collapse that profoundly and disproportionately obliterated black wealth. In the wake of this disaster, and despite their long and sordid history of discrimination and predatory practices against people of color, Hillary Clinton continues to defend the institutions responsible (and is richly rewarded for doing so).

Bill Clinton’s welfare reform further contributed to extreme poverty—particularly for African Americans and other communities of color.  While Bernie strongly resisted these measures, Hillary staunchly advocated for them—referring to people on welfare as “deadbeats” who were largely responsible for their own continued poverty.

And then, of course, there are the Clinton-era “tough on crime” measures, which Hillary Clinton actively lobbied for. While Sanders ultimately voted for the bill for the sake of its assault rifle ban and domestic violence protections, he first took to the senate floor to passionately denounce the draconian sentencing provisions contained therein, which he aptly predicted would be exercised primarily against America’s poor, largely people of color. In contrast, Hillary Clinton referred to the criminalized as animals, describing them as “super-predators” which have to be “brought to heel.”

More Americans were incarcerated under Bill Clinton than any previous president–almost all poor people, overwhelmingly black and brown. Yet as late as 2008, despite the by-then obvious effects of these policies on communities of color, Clinton stood by this record proudly and actually mocked Barack Obama’s opposition to mandatory minimum sentences.

Later in that same cycle, it would be Clinton supporters who first began circulating rumors that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and might be a secret Muslim (launching the “birther” movement). Not only did Clinton fail to denounce these claims from her supporters (then later hypocritically bash Donald Trump for doing the same), her campaign actively attempted to capitalize on this paranoia, dog-whistling that Hillary was “born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century” and bragging about the edge she held over Obama among non-college attending white Americans.

 

Little Has Changed

Then again, 2008 was almost 8 years ago, right? What about today?

Consider that one of the people currently attempting to slime Bernie Sanders on Clinton’s behalf is her long-time friend and ally, David Brock, who infamously led the hatchet-job against Law Professor Anita Hill when she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. For Hillary Clinton to sell herself as a champion of women and African Americans while closely associating herself with someone like Brock is deeply unsettling…much like Clinton taking foreign policy and national security guidance from the same consulting firm that formulates strategy for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

In a recent debate, Clinton reiterated confederate narratives about the origins of America’s racial dynamics. In the aftermath of Dylan Roof’s massacre at Emannuel AME in Charleston, she went to a predominantly-black church in Ferguson, Missouri—the site of the first Black Lives Matter uprisings following the death of Michael Brown—and went out of her way to emphasize that “All Lives Matter.”

One could go on and on. These are not instances of occasional misspeaking or malformed policies—instead, a consistent pattern of words and actions persisting over decades. This is not to suggest Hillary Clinton is racist, at least not any more than most white people, but the idea that she is or ever has been a stalwart advocate for black empowerment is absolutely ludicrous.

 

A Generational Divide?

Although black people do vote with more cohesiveness than most other groups, we are not a monolith. And the narrative that people of color unanimously back Clinton over Sanders is misleading, at best:

While much of the “old guard” of African American politicians has rallied around Hillary Clinton, newer leaders–like Rep. Keith Ellison and contemporary black revolutionaries like Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates–have aligned themselves with Bernie Sanders in the conviction that his policies, and his approach, stand the best chance of meaningfully redressing social inequality. Still others, such as Black Lives Matter Chicago co-founder Aislinn Pulley, are demanding substantive action over platitudes or token reforms, and are increasingly refusing to be part of the DNC farce at all.

This bodes ill for Clinton: The longer this race goes on, and the more black voters examine the comparative records, platforms and prospects of Clinton v. Sanders, the more likely it is that the former’s cynical identity politics campaign will once-again implode, as it did in 2008.

Hillary’s record on civil rights is indeed extensive, albeit inconsistent and often ignoble. By contrast, Bernie has a long, proud, consistent record on fighting inequality—often far ahead of the Democratic Party in this regard–and always far, far ahead of Hillary Clinton.

Published 4/3/2016 on Salon

Bernie Sanders is more electable than Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States, and he will have the Democratic National Committee to thank for it. Much has been made of the “math” of the Democratic nomination, and how it favors Hillary Clinton—in large part due to her huge lead in unpledged “superdelegates” (whose decision will determine the election, given that neither candidate is likely to reach the requisite number of delegates to win outright). But for a moment, let’s set aside the math of the Democratic primary, and look at the big picture: What matters for the general election is who can win swing states and ensure high voter turnout and enthusiasm in solidly blue states. In this regard, Bernie Sanders is clearly the more electable candidate.

 

Swing States, Blue States

The 10 closest races in 2012 were in Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. Six of these have voted so far in primary contests. Of these, Sanders decisively won 3 (New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota), and they virtually tied in 2 others (Sanders narrowly losing Nevada and Iowa). So in terms of swing states, the edge appears to be with Sanders.

As for solidly-blue states, only a handful have voted so far, but the outcome is clear: Bernie Sanders decisively won Vermont and Maine, pulled a huge upset in Michigan, and virtually tied Hillary Clinton in Massachusetts. Clinton has not decisively won even one single solidly-blue state. Instead, virtually all of her pledged delegate lead comes from handily winning in solidly red states which she (or any Democrat) would be highly-unlikely to win in a general election.

Nonetheless, the constant presentation of these numbers (superdelegate votes almost always included in media analyses of the race) reinforces the notion that Clinton is the more electable candidate, and pushes many into her camp as the best choice against the Republicans; this further expands her lead and reifies the perceived electability disparity, ad nauseam. Hence the narrative that Bernie Sanders is the ideological candidate who inspires, and Hillary the pragmatist who can win. In reality, Bernie is both. However, barring a major grassroots revolt, Hillary Clinton will seize the nomination. And she will lose to Donald Trump.

 

Continue reading “Bernie Sanders is more electable than Hillary Clinton”

What Was Accomplished in Afghanistan?

The U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan was justified in large part by highlighting the plight of women under Taliban governance. Within the first weeks of the campaign, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Cherie Blair helped spearhead a highly-effective propaganda effort to convince the public that the U.S. and the U.K. were engaged in a moral war—one which was fundamentally about human rights rather than merely advancing geopolitical or security interests—thereby necessitating a massive ground invasion and state-building enterprise to transform Afghan society, rather than a more limited venture to  dislodge and degrade the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Of course, the U.S. bore significant moral responsibility for the plight of Afghan women, given the central role that the CIA played in sponsoring mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the Cold War—before, during, and after the Russian occupation. Leaders trained in these programs would go on to found the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda—groups which were not only responsible for the widespread oppression of the Afghan people, but also for planning and executing the suicide bombings of September 11, 2001.

And so, the moral implications of the war were extraordinary: had Operation Enduring Freedom been successful, it would have not only liberated Afghan women, but avenged 9/11—and in the process, helped to rectify a particularly dark chapter in U.S. foreign policy. And this, it was held, would go a long way towards winning the “hearts and minds” of people around the world.

Unfortunately, the mission was not a success, and most of the promises made at the outset of the conflict, particularly with regards to women’s empowerment, have failed to materialize. In response, insofar as they talk about Afghanistan at all, policymakers have attempted to claim that the primary U.S. interest in the country is, and always has been, about denying a foothold to the Taliban and other extremist groups—although even by this measure, the campaign has been a failure.

Nonetheless, this revisionism cannot be allowed to stand. We must evaluate America’s longest war according to the terms by which the occupation was justified–improving the status of Afghan women. And by this standard, the war must be condemned in the strongest terms: according to the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), it is impossible to verify whether any of the U.S. investments in Afghanistan have benefitted women at all.

 

Continue reading “What Was Accomplished in Afghanistan?”

Foreign Policy Fundamentalism

Originally published in The Wilson Quarterly, Vol. XXXIX, No. 3 (Summer 2015)

Print version available here.

 

With pomp and polish and platitudes, the 2016 presidential campaign is underway. It began in December, as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced he was “actively exploring” a run for the White House. Bush is more moderate than much of the Republican base on many issues–perhaps too moderate to ultimately win his party’s nomination.[1] On foreign policy issues, however, Bush tows a hawkish line, pushing for a more aggressive U.S. posture against Syria, Russia, Iran, China, and Cuba in order to better promote and defend American ideals and interests throughout the globe.[2]

On the whole, the Republican hopefuls are “racing to the right” on foreign policy, arguing for a more muscular approach to international affairs. A narrative is taking hold that many of the problems facing the world today are the result of the Obama administration’s “failed leadership.” More specifically, they were not brought about by America’s ill-conceived actions, but instead, because of U.S. inaction: a failure to intervene as often or aggressively as “needed” around the world, which (to many conservatives’ minds) projected American weakness and undermined U.S. credibility.[3] The solution? Clear principled American leadership. This line of reasoning permeates the recently-announced campaigns of noted surgeon Ben Carson, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and increasingly reflects the political strategy of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul as well.[4]

The presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is perhaps more aggressive still: unwavering in her advocacy of Israel, comparing Putin to Hitler over Ukraine, pushing for a more confrontational approach to China, championing intervention in Libya and Syria (just as she previously did for Iraq), supporting the troop surge in Afghanistan as well as the likely ill-fated campaign against ISIL, defending the counterproductive drone program, and arguing for increased sanctions and the threat of force against Iran (although she now tentatively supports the nuclear negotiation effort).[5]

During her pre-announcement book tour, Clinton lambasted the Obama administration’s foreign policy, particularly the administration’s aspirational credo:[6] “Don’t do stupid shit.” Her complaint was not that the Obama administration has failed to live up to such an apparently modest goal, but instead, that “don’t do stupid *stuff*” is not an organizing principle, and “Great nations” need doctrines to guide their foreign policy.[7]

On its face, this line of criticism is absurd. Clearly, “avoid doing harm” is, in fact, a maxim designed to guide action (just ask any medical professional).[8] Granted, it’s a principle guiding what not to do, rather than what to do. However, for this very reason, it is more basic (and more important than) any offensive strategy: it constrains what sorts of affirmative policies are desirable or even permissible. But notwithstanding this apparent lack of understanding about what “organizing principle” means,[9] there is a more profound error that Secretary Clinton holds in common with the Republican frontrunners: the assumption that grand strategies are necessary or useful in guiding foreign policy. They aren’t.

 

Continue reading “Foreign Policy Fundamentalism”

Fantasyland Syria and its Horrific Real-World Consequences

In the wake of the Islamic State’s takeover of northern Iraq and Syrian territories, several foreign policy hawks have blamed the Obama administration’s for failing to act in Syria. They claim that had the U.S. provided greater arms to the Syrian rebels or directly intervened on their behalf, Syria’s “moderate” opposition would have long triumphed over both the government and religious extremists.

Since the conflict began in 2011, much has changed in Syria: The rebels’ Supreme Military Council and its political analog have virtually imploded even as transnational extremists increasingly flood the area. At the same time, Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been gaining more ground. Almost as if these developments are irrelevant, the beltway pundits’ policy prescriptions have remained astonishingly the same:  the U.S. should provide better arms for the rebels or directly intervene on their behalf.

Rather than causing the situation to deteriorate further, these critics argue that facing a more capable opposition with more credible foreign backing, the Syrian government will simply capitulate to the demands of Western powers and their regional allies. Meanwhile, better-armed “good” rebels will make inroads against groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State — and the Syrian people will embrace and entrust them to guide the country through a transition.

If this all sounds somewhat fanciful, consider the source: Continue reading “Fantasyland Syria and its Horrific Real-World Consequences”