Ask the Candidates – 1a

I hadn’t realized it at the time, but I posted the questions on the 70th anniversary of George Kennan’s “Long Telegram”. After the dust of WWII had settled, it was becoming clear that the United States’ chief rival in the near future would be the Soviet Union. Kennan, the American “charge d’affaires” at the Moscow Embassy, was asked to provide answers to a couple of questions about the Soviet Union’s general outlook and policies.

His response was much longer (thus the name) and more insightful than anyone had any right to expect. It described the Soviet Union perfectly, and his recommendations became the center of the “Truman Doctrine” of containment that kept communism in check in the opening phase of the Cold War.

One wonders if there is anyone today in the State Department providing a similar analysis of Islamic terrorism, and if there is anyone in government ready and willing to listen.

Anyway, here are my answers to the questions I asked last time. Of course, I’m cheating. I only asked questions that I felt I could give good answers to….
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Ask the Candidates – 1

Recently, President Obama had some strong  words for Donald Trump. Referring to his lack of governmental experience, especially in foreign policy, he said that being president “requires being able to work with leaders around the world in a way that reflects the importance of the office, and gives people confidence that you know the facts, and you know their names, and you know where they are on a map, and you know something about their history.” [1]

Well.

Given that it seems a lot of the candidates this time around are actually rather inexperienced in foreign affairs, it’s probably worth it to subject them to a little pop quiz on their knowledge of those matters. One would hope that at some point, now that all the preliminaries are out of the way and we’re into the serious part of campaign season, the media will eventually get around to asking these sorts of serious questions.

I’m focusing on the Middle East, since that’s where most of the “action” is at the moment. However, anyone wanting to be a leader should know that a crisis can arise anywhere at any time (Whatever happened to those schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, anyway?).

Please note, there aren’t really any “right” or “wrong” answers – only “good” and “bad” ones. Since it’s unfair for an anonymous blogger to ask these questions without being willing to answer them himself, I’ll post my own answers in a week or so. Keep in mind I am no foreign policy expert; what I am aware of comes simply from reading newspapers (and their websites) and a sincere interest in what’s going on in the world at large.
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Empty Seats

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has made this campaign season even more interesting. Now we’ll get to hear the candidates talk about their ideas on the role of the Supreme Court, and what one should hope to get in its members.

Of course, there will also be the usual foofaraw over the “fitness” of the nominees to replace Justice Scalia. We’ve already seen it start, but it’s interesting that the tone is a bit different this time. Instead of the mouthpieces of the GOP saying flat out that they will oppose whoever Obama nominates (on whatever principle they feel their constituents are most concerned about), they are saying that the nomination should wait until after the election. Something having to do with the fact that there will be a new president very soon, and it isn’t fair to whoever that will be for some reason.

There are a few reasons why this delaying tactic is nonsense (mostly because there’s absolutely no reason behind it), but there’s much more to it than that. While the GOP strategists have been planning to oppose any potential Obama Supreme Court nominee for a long time, the words they are using – don’t even bother nominating someone – hint at what’s really going on.

Article II Section 2 of the Constitution says it is the duty of the president to nominate candidates for positions like the Supreme Court and it is the duty of the Senate to offer “advice and consent” on these nominees. If Obama were to present a nominee, the GOP members of the Senate would have to come up with reasons for not doing their job. The usual “Whatever it is, I’m against it” isn’t going to work much anymore. We’ve seen just how fed up voters are with the obstructionism and stalemates in Congress (which partly explains the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders).

And this year, in addition to voting for a new president, thirty-four Senate seats are up for election. What makes the GOP nervous is that twenty-four of them are currently held by Republicans. Most of them are “safe” seats, but depending on who you listen to (and when they did their count), as many as ten are toss-ups. And the GOP majority in the Senate is only three seats (54 compared to the required 51)….

The GOP isn’t just trying to tilt the Supreme Court their way and win the White House; they also want to maintain control of the Senate. And that’s going to be harder to do if they anger more voters with pointless obstructionism. Sure, the GOP will spout a lot of sound and fury during the Inquisition (er, confirmation hearings), but it’s all going to signify nothing more than grandstanding for their base. In the end, as long as Obama doesn’t nominate a complete loser, the nomination will begrudgingly go through. Better a slight lean leftwards on the Supreme Court than a Democrat White House, Senate – and a slight lean leftwards on the Supreme Court, too.

A Bucket of Warm Spit

We’re coming up on Presidents’ Day here, which allows workplaces to combine Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday into one convenient day off, gives retail businesses another excuse to advertise a sale, lets football fans argue that it should be made the day after the Super Bowl since people tend to take the day off anyway, and offers the pundit an opportunity to bemoan the poor quality of the current crop of presidential candidates.

But we might also want to give a nod to those people who are, according to one saying, “a heartbeat away from the presidency”: the vice-presidents.
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