Pointing to Yemen as Example for Iraq

Image: Security concerns in Yemen

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The Yemen-ization of Iraq

Perhaps the best way to summarize the steps that President Obama announced on Iraq Thursday is that he’s responding to the instability there the same way the United States has dealt with Yemen and other places -- as a counterterrorism effort. It was NOT about propping up Iraq. “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region, and American interests as well,” Obama said. Remember, this is pretty much what the president laid out in his West Point speech last month. “For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America, at home and abroad, remains terrorism, but a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable,” he said. “I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy, drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.” To us, all the focus on the 300 “military advisers” Obama is sending to Iraq masks the real news from yesterday: He isn’t going to prop up the Maliki government. “It’s not our job to choose Iraq’s leaders,” the president said. “But I don’t think there’s any secret that right now at least there is deep divisions between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders. And as long as those deep divisions continue or worsen, it’s going to be very hard for an Iraqi central government to direct an Iraqi military to deal with these threats.” In other words, if Iraq is going to have an effective military -- and be an effective counterterrorism partner -- then Maliki has to change or go. That will be the message Secretary of State John Kerry sends to him when they meet.

Petraeus gives Obama breathing room

One other point to make on the Iraq debate: The political environment at home seemed to change fairly significantly yesterday for Obama -- all of a sudden, he had a bit more breathing room. And we’d argue that David Petraeus’ comments played a big role in that change. “This cannot be the United States being the air force for Shia militias, or a Shia on Sunni Arab fight,” Petraeus said in London earlier this week. There aren’t many folks who are perceived as fair arbiters when it comes to Iraq, but Petraeus is one of them, and he essentially took President Obama’s side in this debate. In short: Go after ISIS, but don’t do anything to further inflame the Sunni-vs.-Shiite divide in Iraq. Just check out this response from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): “I think there’s the beginning of the outlines of a concrete plan that we can all rally around, because this issue deserves that level of attention.”

Get to know Steve Scalise

On Capitol Hill yesterday, No. 3 House GOPer Kevin McCarthy -- as expected -- won the race to succeed Eric Cantor as the No. 2 in GOP leadership. But the person who won the position for McCarthy’s old job, as majority whip, is Louisianan Steve Scalise. Growing up in the suburbs of New Orleans, the son of a real estate salesman father and homemaker mom was involved in politics from an early age. That core has held; a National Journal ranking of the most conservative members of the House found him tied for fourth place out of the entire GOP field. While McCarthy and House Speaker John Boehner hail from states that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Scalise’s Louisiana roots will make him the lone southerner among Boehner’s primary lieutenants. As the head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of the most conservative members of the House, he’ll also have a keen sense of what the Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers want from House policy. Our take: He’s personable and a trusted conservative by many key blocs inside the conference. Should he be able to walk the line of establishment and Tea Party, then you may be looking at your future speaker.

Mississippi coffee klatch turns into clash

With four days until Tuesday’s GOP Senate runoff in Mississippi, the Wall Street Journal reported on an amazing clash between Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel and a 77-year-old Democratic voter at a coffee klatch at Kroger. “How, with no seniority and a promise simply not to get along with anyone, will you accomplish any of the things you want to accomplish?” shouted the 77-year-old John Davis, who crashed McDaniel’s meet-and-greet. McDaniel fired back, “What have they accomplished lately by putting us in debt?” Then here’s the Journal’s description of what happened next: “Mr. Davis, with finger-wagging emphasis, retorted, ‘What have they accomplished? They have accomplished airports. They have accomplished roads. They have accomplished schools.’ It looked like it would get really ugly when Mr. McDaniel snapped, ‘Get your finger out of my face.’” The Cochran campaign has jumped all over the exchange: "Do we really want a U.S. senator who can’t get through the primary campaign without having four key supporters arrested for felonies; who can’t get through the primary election night without three campaign supporters and staffers breaking into a county courthouse and getting locked inside with ballots in the middle of the night; and who can’t get through a grocery store without a shouting match and nearly starting a fight with a voter?" This campaign has really become a race to the bottom with each side trying to paint the other candidate as unstable in some form… McDaniel’s supporters have made plenty of not-so-subtle references to Cochran’s age, while Cochran’s campaign has tried to play up the idea that McDaniel is simply some hothead.

The Scott Walker news is a big deal

Prosecutors have alleged that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker -- up for re-election this year and mentioned as a possible presidential candidate -- was part of a "wide-ranging scheme" that illegally coordinated fundraising for the 2011-2012 recalls in the state, newly released documents of an ongoing investigation show. These prosecutors argue that Walker, a Republican, and his top aides worked with outside conservative groups -- like Wisconsin Club for Growth -- in these recalls, including Walker's own 2012 recall (which he won). They cite one email that Walker sent to prominent Republican strategist Karl Rove on May 4, 2011 during the state Senate recall elections highlighting Walker adviser R.J. Johnson's importance in leading the coordination effort: "Bottom line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like running 9 Congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities)," Walker said to Rove in an email. Folks, this is potentially a big deal. Yes, we realize Wisconsin (more than some other states) is a big rules stickler when it comes to campaign finance and coordination. And, yes, we realize a judge has halted the investigation (though the appeals process of that is playing out). But would any campaign lawyer in the country allow a sitting governor and candidate to write an email even suggesting of coordination with outside groups? This email is potentially a smoking gun of this case and paints Walker as a HIGHLY political person, like an operative. An argument can be made that many campaigns do this, but how many candidates put themselves at the center of the coordination?

Walker defends himself

"This is a case that’s been resolved.” Walker appeared on Fox News this morning to defend himself, per NBC’s Kate Gough. “The facts are pretty clear. You’ve had not one, but two judges... Both judges said they didn’t buy the argument, didn’t think anything was done that was illegal. So not only have they gone forward and not only said ‘We don’t buy it,’ they actually shut the case down.” Walker added, “This is a case that’s been resolved.” But that’s not entirely true. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains, “For the moment, it has been halted by a federal judge. It could be revived, however, depending on the rulings from courts in that case and others.” The New York Times adds, “The documents were unsealed as part of an appeal to that ruling, which is before the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago.” And that’s the problem for Walker: This thing isn’t over -- yet.

Perry: “I stepped right in it”

Earlier this week, we noted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry faced an uncomfortable grilling -- on CNBC, of all places -- for his recent comparison of homosexuality to alcoholism. Perry admitted on Thursday that he made a mistake. A dispatch from one of us: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he ‘stepped right in it’ when he compared homosexuality to alcoholism during a visit to San Francisco last week. ‘I got asked about issues, and instead of saying “you know what, we need to be a really respectful and tolerant country to everybody, and get back to talking about, whether you're gay or straight, you need to be having a job, and those are the focuses that I want to be involved with,” he said during an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. ‘I readily admit I stepped right in it.’”

NBC/WSJ poll: Fewer blame poverty on the poor than in 1995

Here’s another finding from our new NBC/WSJ poll: Asked what is the bigger cause of poverty today, 46% cited “circumstances beyond people’s control,” versus 44% who said it was due to “people not doing enough.” That’s a big change when the poll last asked this question in 1995, when 60% said it was due to people not doing enough, and when 30% said it was because of circumstances beyond people’s control.

Hillary talks up the problem of sexism. But race? Not so much

Finally, nearly two weeks into Hillary Clinton’s book rollout, one thing we’ve observed is how freely she talks about sexism -- whether in society or in the 2008 campaign. “I do believe that sexism is still a problem. It's not just in politics. It's in journalism, in business, and all kinds of human endeavors in our country. And we have to call it out wherever we find it,” she said in her interview on Fox News. She also told ABC: “Beginning the process of working with then-Sen. Obama after I ended my campaign, we had an awkward but necessary meeting to clear the air on a couple of issues, and one of them was the sexism that — unfortunately — was present in that ’08 campaign.” But given that talk about sexism, it was striking how she pretty much ducked a question about whether the opposition President Obama faces is due to race. “I don't want to say that I verify that, because that would be generalizing too broadly. I believe that there are people who have trouble with ethnicity, with race, with gender, with sexual orientation, you name it.” So her belief is, ‘I’ve seen sexism first-hand, and it’s definitely real. But racism for Obama? I really couldn’t say.” Clinton’s obviously being mindful of her status as a role model for young women -- something that plenty of voters want to hear more about. But we wonder how many Democratic voters share that ambivalent notion about race, too.

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