No Return from Exile

Sometimes there’s no coming back. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 and that didn’t end well, and then in 1813, Prussia and Russia joined forces to deal with him, and the Austrians then joined that Sixth Coalition. In October 1813, they defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig, and the next year they invaded France and captured Paris, forcing Napoleon to abdicate in April 1814 – and he was exiled to the island of Elba. That should have been that, but the Bourbons were restored to power and screwed everything up, royally, as it were.

Cool. This was an opportunity. Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815 and returned to lead the French government once again. This was meant to be. This was a glorious return from exile, but a new coalition, with the Brits joining in this time, took care of him at the Battle of Waterloo that June. Napoleon then tried to slip away, quietly, but he eventually surrendered to British custody and spent the last six years of his life stuck on the island of Saint Helena, in the middle of nowhere. He died there 1821. There was no recovery from that initial boneheaded decision to invade Russia, made so many years before – but bold wholly elective wars to transform a whole region of the world, wars that no one says can be won, never go well. You end up in exile, and there’s really no return. Sure, you can return to power, for a time – those who ran things while you were in exile will inevitably do foolish things – but that won’t last. Everyone now knows that you’re a dangerous jerk.

It’s a sad story – but Napoleon’s story may be the story of our Republicans now. Their bold wholly elective war in Iraq – against all good advice – led to their exile from power. That, as much as anything else, led to them losing control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterms, and to John McCain losing to Barack Obama in 2008, and to Mitt Romney losing to Obama in 2012. Sure, that was Bush’s war, but his party couldn’t shake the legacy of that one initial boneheaded decision. All their talk about how the Democrats were wimps, who would get us all killed, while they were the guys who would take the fight to the bad guys, and defeat them, decisively, no matter what the cost, fell flat. They seemed like dangerous jerks, and they went into a sort of exile, even if not on Elba. They were set off to the side. Out here in California the Republican Party has all but disappeared.

But Napoleon did return from Elba, and in the 2010 midterms the Republicans did retake the House – or the Tea Party did – and in the 2014 midterms they retook the Senate. They also control all of government in more than half the states now, doing the Republican thing, cutting taxes for the rich and sticking it to everyone else, and making abortions almost impossible, in spite of federal law, and making sure it is now very hard for minorities and students and the poor and the poorer of the elderly to ever vote again, and cutting funding for schools and social services to next to nothing. None of them at any level will talk about Iraq.

They change the subject. They want their country back. The wrong sort of people are getting subsidized health insurance, with strict national standards – and the whole notion of the government subsidizing anything for whining losers is appalling. Gays being allowed to marry each other is appalling too, as is teaching about evolution, which no one has proven to be true, or talking about climate change, which is a hoax. We need to get back to Jesus – fifty-seven percent of Republicans now support making Christianity the official national religion – and also do something about those eleven million Mexicans, or whatever, working here for years, and living here, without permission. They should be deported, right now. Iraq? Who mentioned Iraq? No one mentioned Iraq.

Ah, but there is ISIS. President Obama – that black man from Kenya who wants to grant amnesty of all the wetbacks – had to “do something” to fight ISIS, right now, and Paul Waldman points out what the Republican base wants to hear:

Four months ago, 57 percent of Republicans thought we should use ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria; that number has now gone up to 67 percent. Among the conservative Republicans who will dominate the primary contests, it’s even higher, at 71 percent. When Pew asked respondents to choose between “using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world” and “relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism,” last October 57 percent of Republicans chose the overwhelming military force option; that number is now 74 percent.

The French no doubt also thought that Napoleon should invade Russia, but Kevin Drum points out the problem here:

I don’t suppose that most voters have really thought this through in much detail, but I wonder just how far they really want to go. The ISIS stronghold of Mosul, for example, is about five times the size of Fallujah, and probably has about 3-4 times as many ISIS defenders as Fallujah had Sunni insurgents back in 2004. And Fallujah was a huge battle. It took more than a year to retake the city; required something like 15,000 coalition troops in all; and resulted in more than a hundred coalition deaths.

At a first guess, a full-scale assault on Mosul would likely require at least 2-3 times as many troops and result in several hundred American deaths. And Mosul is only a fraction of the territory ISIS controls. It’s a big fraction, but still a fraction.

So this is what I want to hear from Republican critics of Obama’s ISIS strategy. I agree with them that training Iraqi troops and relying on them to fight ISIS isn’t all that promising. But the alternative is likely to be something like 30-50,000 troops committed to a battle that will result in hundreds of American casualties. Are Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz willing to own up to that? If they are, then good for them, and we’ll let the American public decide who’s got the better strategy. But if they’re not, then it’s all just a con job for the rubes. The GOP candidates are screaming for “more,” but not willing to acknowledge what “more” really means.

Put up or shut up:

When you say “more,” what do you really have in mind? Candidates for president shouldn’t be allowed to get away with nothing more than vague grumbles and hazy bellicosity any longer. Let’s hear the plan.

Okay – in a Fox News Op-Ed it seems that Bobby Jindal objects to the Authorization for Use of Military Force proposed by the White House, arguing that Congress should remove the restrictions Obama suggested, restrictions on his own ability to fight the bad guys:

The president’s prohibition on ground troops is not a military strategy, it is a political strategy designed to appease the left in this country, which also happens to populate his entire administration. The prohibition is designed by the left to be a check on the next president.

The mission for our military should be clear – defeat the terrorists. Instead, the president is forecasting our playbook to ISIS.

Salon’s Simon Maloy wonders about that:

“Defeat the terrorists” is not an especially clear strategy either. It’s actually deliberately vague, but it also sounds very commander-in-chief-ish, so it accomplishes precisely what Jindal decries about Obama’s strategy: it appeals to his party’s hawkish conservative base. Personally, I’d be very interested to hear a few specifics from Jindal as to what “defeat the terrorists” entails, given that we’ve been pursuing some variant of that strategy for almost 14 years now and at great cost, only to see terrorism stubbornly undefeated. But Jindal doesn’t do specifics. His plan is to just turn things over to the military and let them call the shots: “The military must be given the mission, and they should then propose the specific tactics. If that includes some use of ground troops, then that’s what has to be done.”

The other political aspect to “defeat the terrorists” is its implication that President Obama is not, in fact, enthusiastic about defeating terrorists. And Jindal, like pretty much everyone else in conservative politics, argues that Obama won’t ever be able to truly conquer terrorism because he doesn’t say “radical Islam” enough. In fact, Jindal seems to believe that a hesitancy to sandwich the words “radical” and “Islam” together should preclude Obama from actually being president…

So Jindal is criticizing the president for not taking the steps necessary to fight terrorism, but he won’t actually lay out what the correct steps are. The only specific policy he endorses is that the president say “radical Islam” as many times as is necessary to bring about the conditions for total victory. In one breath he says Obama is “disqualified” to be commander-in-chief, and in the next he demands that Congress authorize Obama to do basically whatever he wants as commander-in-chief.

Maybe these folks should stick with worrying about those Mexicans among us, the kind of people who really should not be here. They want their country back, and but that longing may not return them from exile:

The American electorate is more diverse than ever, which means Republicans will have to attract a record percentage of minorities to win the presidency in 2016, a GOP pollster said Tuesday.

About 70 percent of the Americans eligible to vote are white, a decline of 15 percentage points since 1980, according to a new report co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Brookings Institution. The report estimates that white eligible voters will become a minority in the next 45 years.

“The fundamental challenge for my side is the seemingly inexorable change in the composition of presidential electorates,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres, whose clients include Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said during a panel discussing the report. “And there’s no reason to believe that that’s going to stop magically.”

Maybe it would be better to talk about ISIS:

In 2004, Republicans’ most recent presidential victory, George W. Bush won 58 percent of the white vote, and 26 percent of the non-white vote – numbers that would lose him the White House today, Ayres said.

“That’s the stunning part for me in running these numbers – to realize that the last Republican to win a presidential election, who reached out very aggressively to minorities, and did better than any Republican nominee before or since among minorities, still didn’t achieve enough of both of those groups in order to put together a winning percentage” for 2016, Ayres said.

Their triumphant return from exile might be as short-lived as Napoleon’s return from Elba. There’s that famous palindrome – “Able was I ere I saw Elba.” That’s more than a bit of clever wordplay. Sometimes there’s no recovery, because, as Politico reports, once in exile you lose your ability to control what you want to control:

A tense debate broke out during a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans on Tuesday, a sign of the serious hurdles GOP leaders face ahead of a critical funding deadline for the nation’s chief domestic anti-terrorism agency.

According to four senators at the lunch session, a frustrated Sen. Jeff Sessions angrily dismissed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan, arguing that his party should be prepared for an all-out battle with Democrats to ratchet up public pressure and force President Barack Obama to drop his immigration policies. But Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican who could face a tough reelection next year, sharply countered that McConnell’s plan was the only option to not hamper law enforcement agencies that rely on money from the Department of Homeland Security.

The dispute between the vulnerable Republican and the Alabama conservative highlights the larger challenges facing McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner. The two are staring at a Friday deadline to avoid a shutdown of DHS but are struggling to balance the demands of immigration hard-liners with Republicans who fear political and practical fallout from DHS shutting down.

McConnell has been quiet for weeks about his next steps. But his new proposal on Tuesday – to extend DHS funding through September while advancing a separate plan to block a portion of Obama’s immigration proposal – signaled that he’s nervous a shutdown could damage his party politically. Twenty-four GOP senators are up for reelection next year.

Once back in power things can go sour fast and there may be no recovery:

Boehner is in an even tighter jam: Any sense that he is caving to the White House could further erode confidence in his leadership among the far right, which is furious at Obama’s immigration push. Boehner has not directly addressed whether he’d put a stand-alone funding bill on the floor, and several Republican leadership sources say they favor several short-term measures to try to keep the heat on the White House.

It gets even worse:

Senate Democrats are refusing to sign on to McConnell’s proposal without a commitment from the speaker to move a “clean” DHS funding bill. But several House Republicans and their top aides have privately told POLITICO that a misstep by Boehner in this legislative skirmish could imperil his speakership. One said that Republicans would weigh trying to remove him from the position if he relents on his promise to fight the president’s unilateral action on immigration “tooth and nail.”

“Speaker Boehner has my sympathy in that he has a somewhat divided conference – he has to try to balance all the different influences within his conference,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “He has my sympathies, very tough work.”

In a sign of how difficult the path in the House is, one senior House Republican, who is close to party leaders and spoke anonymously to discuss strategy, said the Senate’s plan to send two bills to the House is “a joke.” Several top House Republicans believe the only way a clean funding bill can pass their chamber is if the DHS shuts down and pressure builds for a resolution.

For weeks, McConnell and Boehner have been on opposite pages on their strategies to break the immigration-DHS impasse – a sign of how the two men will have to continually reconcile conflicting agendas between the two chambers despite having total control of Congress for the first time in nearly a decade.

Their Waterloo comes next, but they set it up themselves:

Last month, the House GOP moved forward with a $39.7 billion package for DHS. But it stood little chance of passing the Senate, where Republicans have 54 seats, six shy of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. The House plan would block not only the 2014 executive action but also the 2012 plan that Obama enacted administratively to shield young illegal immigrants from deportation. House Republican leaders made it clear to their Senate GOP counterparts that they needed to hold multiple votes on their plan, to show the upper chamber was putting up a fight.

After Senate Democrats repeatedly blocked the bill from even reaching a debate, McConnell said earlier this month that the next step was “up to” the House. But Boehner pushed back, saying it was in the Senate’s hands, feeding the perception in the Capitol that the two leaders failed to conceive of a plan out of the logjam from the onset.

“It seems like McConnell and Boehner aren’t even talking to each other,” one veteran GOP senator said. “It is mind-boggling.”

After Senate Democrats blocked the House’s DHS bill on Monday for a fourth time, McConnell proposed a new strategy. He offered a stand-alone bill – not tied to DHS funding – targeting the 2014 executive actions, something that might attract enough Democrats to clear a filibuster but would likely lack enough support to override a veto.

And the House, filled with Tea Party folks that John Boehner cannot control, will have none of that, and there’s that other pressure:

President Obama called on congressional Republicans on Wednesday to renew financing for the Department of Homeland Security and promised to veto any measure that tried to gut his executive actions on immigration.

“Instead of trying to hold hostage funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which is so important for our national security, fund that, and let’s get on with actually passing comprehensive immigration reform,” Mr. Obama told about 270 people at a town-hall-style meeting at Florida International University…

If Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, “want to have a vote on whether what I’m doing is legal or not, they can have that vote,” Mr. Obama said. “I will veto that vote.”

Obama also hinted at the demographics of all this:

He said voters must keep up the pressure on Congress and the Republicans who run for president in 2016 to back a more permanent measure that would give undocumented immigrants a pathway to legal status.

“When they start asking for votes, the first question should be, ‘Do you really intend to deport 11 million people? … And if not, what is your plan to make sure that they have the ability to have a legal status, stay with their families and, ultimately, contribute to the United States of America?”

Mr. Obama said his administration was aggressively defending his executive actions in court. In the meantime, he said, immigrants who would qualify for deportation reprieves and work permits under those actions – including people brought to the United States as young children, and the parents of American citizens – should be confident that they will not be deported. He said he had ordered immigration and border officials to focus on criminals and recent immigrants in carrying out any deportations.

Will the Republicans argue with that? They have and they will, but Mitch McConnell got his way:

The stalemate over funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was broken Wednesday as the Senate voted 98-2 to proceed to legislation that would prevent a partial government shutdown.

Democrats agreed to support the DHS bill after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stripped out provisions inserted by the House that would reverse President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The only votes against proceeding to the bill came from Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

“Democrats will support getting on the House Homeland Security funding bill. In exchange, the leader will provide the only amendment, [it] will be a clean Homeland Security funding substitute,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.

Democrats had blocked the bill four times before. With a shutdown of DHS set to begin on Saturday, McConnell on Tuesday agreed to split the funding and immigration fights, as Democrats have long demanded.

Reid said earlier Wednesday that the Senate could take a final vote on the DHS bill Thursday.

“We look forward to working with our Republican colleagues in the next 24 hours to get this done. All eyes now shift to the House of Representatives,” Reid said.

It will die there, and the Atlantic’s Russell Berman sums things up nicely:

The whole episode reeks of the one thing McConnell promised to fix when Republicans assumed the majority: dysfunction. “There’s trouble in paradise,” remarked Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, when he was asked about the lack of communication between Boehner and McConnell. Most Republicans have realized for weeks that the party would eventually have to fold, or at least punt, on the DHS funding fight. McConnell simply decided to move first, and end the standoff. As a token to conservatives, he announced the Senate would also advance a separate bill reversing President Obama’s immigration actions. Split off from the DHS measure, though, that vote would be largely symbolic. Some Republicans had hoped that a Texas federal judge’s ruling to block the president’s policy would resolve the impasse in Congress, but conservatives say it merely emboldens them to stand their ground.

That puts John Boehner in a tight spot:

Does he risk the wrath of conservatives by bringing up a spending bill that does nothing to stop Obama? Or does he try to fashion a stopgap measure that keeps the department fully functioning and buys Republicans a few more weeks? “If they send back a clean DHS bill, I don’t see us passing it,” Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana conservative, told me on Wednesday. “Our base wants us to fight.”

Fleming predicted Boehner would pay a “huge political price” if he buckled to Democrats after vowing the House would fight Obama’s immigration move “tooth and nail.” Yet party leaders are well aware of polls showing that the public would blame the GOP if DHS shut down, just as voters faulted Republicans when the entire federal government shuttered in 2013. It’s a reminder conservatives like Fleming are tired of hearing. “Republicans are blamed for anything that makes people unhappy,” he said.

Napoleon probably felt the same way when he returned from Elba. After too many years in exile, nothing goes right, and then there’s your Waterloo. And it’s your own damned fault.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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