Forget Putin and the Ukraine and the hot-war developing there. The few remaining bodies left rotting in the fields from the Malaysian airliner Putin’s separatists shot down two weeks ago aren’t going anywhere. And forget Israel in Gaza blowing up everything in sight, and demanding the world’s approval for that. All the dead Palestinian children aren’t coming back to life, and those who side with Israel will side with Israel, and those who are outraged, and those who are now finally troubled, for the first time, by what Israel has been doing, won’t side with Israel. Everything there is locked in place. And forget ISIS taking over a big chunk of the Middle East to form a Sunni caliphate and take the place back to the eighth century. That Shiite Iraqi Army that we equipped and trained isn’t going to fight them – they all ran away – and what are we going to do, side with Syria and Iran, the Shiite powers in the region, to fight the Sunni ISIS crowd? Young men here won’t run down to the recruiting office to fight over there, for that. And Libya has fallen apart, but there are no good guys anywhere there we can support – they’re all rather nasty folks, and there is no government there anyway. There isn’t even the possibility of a government there. Gaddafi is long gone – fine – the people can choose a new leader. They cannot, or they won’t, so we evacuated our embassy – we shut it down – for safety reasons. We didn’t want our people killed, but what is the point of having an embassy in a country when there is no country any longer? We would have had to shut it down anyway. Who would they talk to? That’s the problem, but the American people have no appetite for sending in a few hundred thousand of our troops to spend eight years in Libya setting up a government for them. We tried that in Iraq. It didn’t go well.
All of these are “intractable” problems – and that’s a fine adjective for such problems, because the root of that adjective is the word “traction” – and we ain’t got any. In spite of Republican fantasies about American exceptionalism and how the world loves us, perhaps secretly, or fears us so much they will bend to our wishes, we have little or no leverage in all these matters. We can thump our chests, but we’ll still be spinning our wheels, like some fifties teenage drag-racer smoking his tires. That’s impressive, but the other guy, who gets a grip, wins the race. No traction, you’re left behind. That’s the situation we have here.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum gets specific about that, discussing the situation in Gaza:
Kerry has made only one mistake, and that was trying to negotiate a ceasefire in the first place. He didn’t fail because of any personal shortcomings; he failed because there were no terms under which either side would ever have agreed to a ceasefire. The fighting will stop when both sides decide to stop, and not a minute before. It’s long past time for everyone to acknowledge this.
The United States has been trying to broker peace in the Middle East for the past 20 years. Maybe longer, depending on how you count. But 20 years at least – and every attempt has failed. Various Americans have tried, all with different approaches, and the result has been the same every time: not just failure, but a steady and inexorable deterioration of the situation. It’s no longer credible to pretend that maybe a different person with a different approach and different sympathies might have made a difference in any particular situation. Blaming Kerry for this latest failure is just delusional.
It’ time to get real:
Quite famously, we all “know” what a deal between Israel and the Palestinians needs to look like. It’s obvious. Everyone says so. The only wee obstacle is that neither side is willing to accept this obvious deal. They just aren’t. The problem isn’t agreeing on a line on a map, or a particular circumlocution in a particular document. The problem is much simpler than that, so simple that sophisticated people are embarrassed to say it outright: Two groups of people want the same piece of land. Both of them feel they have a right to it. Both of them are, for the time being, willing to fight for it. Neither is inclined to give up anything for a peace that neither side believes in.
That’s it. That’s all there is.
Drum is right. We have no leverage, so of course John Kerry is spinning his wheels. There’s no way to gain traction, and that means that there’s no more to discuss, and it may be the same with all these other issues. All the what-if speculation is about an alternative universe. In fact, it might be called speculative fiction, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov stuff, without the spaceships and other planets, stuff that could happen one day, maybe, and is interesting to think about, if that’s your thing. Maybe it is, but it would be nice if, just once, there was news that was news – a dramatic change no one expected.
The Republicans must have sensed this, because on the last weekend in July, in the middle of the second term of the Obama presidency, after six years (or more) of opposing everything that man tried to get done, and doing nothing but oppose him, offering no alternatives to anything, the Republicans announced that they are ready to govern, and for the first time in many years, they will suddenly prove to a skeptical America that they actually can govern:
House Republicans want to use their final week in Washington before the August recess to send a signal that they are ready to govern.
As the country’s attention turns to the fight for control of the House and Senate, Republicans want to show they are capable of handling two of the nation’s toughest issues: the thousands of children crossing the border, and the veterans in need of healthcare.
“This is a crisis situation. We need to show that we can respond in a crisis in a thoughtful way,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said of the effort to move a border bill.
They’re out to surprise everyone, although there’s reason to doubt there will be any surprises, as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent notes:
Can Republicans package themselves as “ready to govern” in the run-up to the 2014 Congressional elections without pursuing serious policy accomplishments?
Multiple reports this morning tell us House Republicans have reached a consensus: it’s far better politically to hold off on acting on immigration, tax reform, and other issues, to avoid fracturing the party for the rest of the year. The problem, as some admit, is that a majority of House Republicans probably can’t unite behind solutions.
They too can’t gain traction, so showing that they are ready to govern will be a minor show – avoid unruly theatrics – keep a low profile and keep the government running. Forget major bills. Pass small stuff. That’s about it, but they did one thing:
After six weeks of contentious, closed-door negotiations, the House and Senate have reached a deal to overhaul the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system — just in time for senators to vote on a bill before they leave Washington for a month-long break.
The compromise bill will include $17 billion in spending, with $12 billion of that as entirely new funding. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Jeff Miller, Democratic and Republican chairmen of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, respectively, worked through the weekend to come to an agreement.
Fine, but even that was like pulling teeth. A lot of the Tea Party crowd is still seething at the thought of spending any more government money on anything that government does – but they were trapped. You cannot go back home and boast to your constituents that you screwed our veterans, our heroes and all that, to help kill big government. Killing our veterans to accomplish that aim is a no-no, but at least they accomplished this:
House Republicans unveiled a significantly pared-back emergency funding package of $659 million for the border crisis and are angling for a Thursday vote before Congress flees Washington for the August recess.
That figure is dramatically lower than the $3.7 billion President Barack Obama originally requested from Capitol Hill to respond to the influx of unaccompanied children, primarily from Central America, at the Texas border.
It’s also a far cry from the $1.5 billion in emergency funding that was initially proposed last week by House Republicans.
They’ll get their “border bill” – that will prove they can govern – but it will be massively underfunded. They couldn’t even pass what they said they wanted to pass – the Tea Party crowd had the leverage to screw John Boehner once again. He’s not a happy man, so these guys might not be ready for prime time. On the other hand last year there was this – “Republicans will offer their own wholesale substitute for the Affordable Care Act in the spring or summer, making full repeal of the law a keystone of their election-year message.”
It’s now the middle of summer, but it’s almost ready, finally. Cool, but they have been promising an alternative for over three years now, and no one knows any alternative that they come up with can even pass the Republican-controlled House. At Salon, Brian Beutler runs through all the recent Republican attacks on Obamacare and concludes these have added new constraints that prevent Republicans from agreeing on any alternative – so maybe they cannot come up with anything, and thus really cannot govern. They’re spinning their wheels too – no traction.
The whole thing seems like a charade, when the only thing Washington is talking about is Boehner suing Obama, over Obama’s administrative decision to delay one small part of the Affordable Care Act, which no one thinks is very important, the employer mandate, to give small business more time to work things out, to help them out. Boehner claims that Obama has no right to do that. Obama should be forced to implement, precisely, on schedule, this one part of the law that the Republicans hate, and be forced to stick it to small businesses, which Republicans love. It’s the principle of the thing. Go figure – but at least it’s not impeachment, which Boehner knows would be a disaster for the Republicans. He remembers the Clinton impeachment. The nation hated them for that. They lost big time just after sticking it to Clinton, over the sex stuff. That obsession made them look like leering perverts. Obsessing over the wrong sort of people being able to buy affordable and quality health insurance is less problematic, but no one is sure what the grounds for impeachment will be, yet, and the more vague those terms, the more this looks like racist crap. They don’t want to come off as a white supremacist party. Not now, not given the nation’s changing demographics.
It may be too late. The base is itching to impeach Obama, and that explains this:
House Speaker John Boehner torched Democrats on Tuesday over talk of impeaching President Barack Obama, insisting that Republicans have no such plans and that Democrats are using the issue to gin up their base.
“Listen, this whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president’s own staff, and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Why? Because they’re trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year’s election,” the Ohio Republican told reporters, in response to a question.
“We have no plans to impeach the president. We have no future plans,” a visibly frustrated Boehner said. “Listen, it’s all a scam started by Democrats at the White House.”
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer made waves last week when he said Republicans have “opened the door” to impeachment by moving to sue Obama, saying it would be “foolish to discount the possibility.” Over the last week, national Democrats have sent at least a dozen fundraising emails to prospective donors which mention impeachment, some of them suggesting it’s imminent.
It could be. Talking Point Memo’s Sahil Kapur explains why:
President Barack Obama’s promised executive actions on immigration are shaping up to put Speaker John Boehner in a bind between the passions of his conservative base and the GOP’s long-term viability as a national party. Some staunch conservatives are hopping mad and already floating impeachment over it – but could that actually spur House GOP leaders to do it?
That might do it:
The question political scientists and strategists are mulling is whether Obama’s executive move, which is expected to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, could actually inflame the GOP base enough to push Boehner down that path.
“From my standpoint, if the president [enacts more executive actions], we need to bring impeachment hearings immediately before the House of Representatives. That’s my position and that’s my prediction,” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told Breitbart.com over the weekend. King and other immigration-weary conservatives are already furious with the president for unilaterally granting temporary reprieve to young people brought to the country illegally as children.
Most House conservatives say they don’t want to bring up impeachment, at least for now. But 57 percent of national Republicans want Obama impeached, according to a CNN poll on Friday. A smattering of GOP figures inside and outside Congress, have signaled some degree of sympathy with the idea. Over the weekend, incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) refused to take the idea off the table.
Something is up:
“The zeal for impeachment among the radical forces has been building for some time, fueled by local talk radio demonization of Obama and by blogs and emails reinforcing the message. Boehner is smart enough and pragmatic enough to know that both the anti-immigration zeal and the impeachment fire are disastrous for the GOP,” said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “How long he can damp down the latter, especially if Obama takes a series of executive steps on the border, deportations and other immigration issues, is hard to say. But I will be quite surprised if we do not see a very strong impeachment drive next year.”
Yes, but Boehner isn’t trapped yet:
Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said most Republicans understand that impeachment is “not a serious option” but said Boehner would face pressure to rebuke Obama’s move. He said Speaker would have other options to address GOP discontent, such as passing legislation in the House to reverse the president’s actions.
“And if the House passed a legislative response, it would not get past the Senate. But either way, Boehner would get at least some credit from the GOP for trying,” Pitney said. “There is some risk, of course. Democrats could portray the GOP response as anti-Hispanic.”
That is a problem:
From a political standpoint impeachment is dangerous enough because most of the country opposes it. But impeachment over relief for undocumented immigrants is doubly problematic: it threatens to damage the GOP’s already weak brand with Hispanic voters, whom strategists say are critical to the party’s ability to remain competitive in presidential elections.
“Steve King is the gift that keeps giving. House leadership can’t or won’t contain him, and he’s come to define the party on immigration,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice. “He is so valuable to the Democrats that he should be on the DNC’s payroll.”
And there’s history here:
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Boehner has “opened the door” to impeachment by moving to sue Obama, and predicted that the president’s immigration actions will “up the likelihood” of impeachment. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it wouldn’t be the first time Boehner gave in to the right’s passions.
“Well, I do believe that the Speaker on a number of occasions said that there were not going to be steps taken by Republicans to shut down the government over health care,” Earnest said. “We did see that that happened.”
That wasn’t a very nice thing to say. On the very week that the Republicans announced that after six long years of saying no to everything and proposing nothing, they were finally ready to govern, and that they’d prove to everyone that they actually could govern, Dan Pfeiffer pointed out that Boehner can’t even govern his own House caucus. That wasn’t very nice, but it was a fair assessment.
Paul Waldman sees the problem here:
Boehner and other Republican leaders are now trying to walk an impossible tightrope. On one hand, they’re arguing that they have no interest in impeaching the president – they know that it would be a political catastrophe if they did – and any suggestion to the contrary is nothing but Democratic calumny. On the other hand, they’re arguing that Obama is a lawless tyrant who is trampling on the Constitution. If that contradiction has put them in a difficult situation, they have no one to blame but themselves.
They cannot, after all, run from their base:
It’s true that the only prominent Republicans explicitly calling for impeachment are ones like Michele Bachmann, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), or Sarah Palin. But you can see the quandary in people like Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was on Fox News Sunday this week, and when Chris Wallace tried to pin him down to say that Republicans wouldn’t impeachment Obama, Scalise wouldn’t do it.
It’s probably because Scalise knows that impeachment isn’t supported just by his party’s fringe. According to a YouGov poll taken earlier this month, 89 percent of Republicans think “Barack Obama has exceeded the limits of authority granted a President by the US Constitution,” and 68 percent think there is “justification for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against President Obama at this time.” Even when given a number of options including “President Obama has abused his powers as president which rise to the level of impeachable offenses under the Constitution, but he should not be impeached,” 63 percent still said he ought to be impeached. A CNN poll found a smaller number of Republicans saying Obama should be impeached, but still a majority of 57 percent.
So the idea that Boehner characterizes as a crazy Democratic slander is the majority position among Republican voters. And they didn’t get the idea from nowhere. They got it because the people they trust – Republican politicians and conservative media figures – have been telling them for years, but with particularly ferocity in the last few months, that Barack Obama is a lawless tyrant who is trampling on the Constitution. They’ve been hearing this not just from the Sean Hannitys and Steve Kings of the world, but from every Republican, up to and including the GOP congressional leadership, on a daily basis. Of course those Republican voters think he should be impeached. It’s absurd for people like Boehner to turn around and say, “Whoa now, who’s thinking of impeachment? That’s just Democrats saying that.”
This means that they have, ironically, given Obama all the traction here:
As much as he has been under attack from Republicans over executive authority, he has a political incentive to bait Republicans into talking more about impeachment, which would both build pressure for it within the GOP and force them to deny it to the media. The best way for him to do so is to take more unilateral action on issues like immigration. That would incense Republicans, who would then rush to the cameras to decry his lawlessness, which would lead journalists to ask them whether they’re going to impeach him, which would lead them to tie themselves in knots denying it. Obama would get both the policy results he wants and the political benefit of making his opponents look like they’re about to drag the country into a repeat of the farce of 1998.
It’s almost unfair. Obama did it again. Let your opponent get all hot and bothered and go nuts, and then raise one eyebrow. He did it to Mitt Romney with one line – “Proceed, Governor.” He did it to Hillary Clinton when she went on a rant about his big fancy speeches. He smiled, made no comment at all, and kept giving the speeches. She seemed unhinged. He didn’t have to do a thing, and he did the same thing to John McCain in the general election, when McCain tried to cancel that one debate because he had decided to fly back to Washington to solve the financial crisis, all by himself. Cancel the debate? “You know, it’s a funny thing, but presidents often have to be able to deal with two things at the same time.” McCain had no response to that. He debated Obama, on schedule. And he didn’t fix the financial crisis, he made things worse. Obama knows how to play this game.
Okay then, what was the one news story of the week, where there was actual big change? The Republicans announced that after six long years of saying no to everything and proposing nothing, they were finally ready to govern, and that they’d prove to everyone that they actually could govern? Sorry – forget that one too. Things are what they are, intractable.