Archive for August, 2014

Iraqi Security Forces Break two-month siege of Amerli by ISIS

Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) prepare before going out on a patrol in the town of Jurf al-SakharIraqi security forces backed by Shi’ite militias on Sunday broke the two-month siege of Amerli by Islamic State militants and entered the northern town, officials said.

The mayor of Amerli and army officers said troops backed by militias defeated fighters from the Islamic State (IS) to the east of the town. Fighting continued to the north of Amerli in several villages.

Security forces and militia fighters are inside Amerli now after breaking the siege and that will definitely relieve the suffering of residents.

It was hailed as a huge strategic victory for the Iraqi security forces and the militia fighters who joined them after a summer that saw the Islamic State lead other Sunni armed groups in seizing almost one-third of the country’s territory.

“Amerli’s battle is a golden victory registered by the Iraqi security forces who are still fighting the terrorist groups in north and south areas of Amerli,” said the military spokesman.

The spokesman described Amerli as a launching pad to retake the northern province of Salahuddin, including its capital, which was captured by IS in June. The next step will be holding the ground tightly and liberating all the areas which link Amerli to Salahuddin, forces will gather in thousands in Amerli to march towards Tikrit.

While Kurdish fighters, backed by US air strikes, had beat back the Islamic State after losing terrain in August, the collection of Shi’ite security forces and militias had yet to score a significant military win.

The advance of the Iraqi forces in Amerli comes after the U.S. military carried out air strikes overnight on IS militant positions near the town and airdropped humanitarian supplies to the trapped residents there. More aid was dropped from British, French and Australian planes.

The Pentagon said the warplanes hit three Humvee patrol vehicles, a tank and an armed vehicle held by militants in addition to a checkpoint controlled by the group, according to the military’s Central Command, which runs U.S. operations in the Middle East.

One Kurdish fighter on a base north of Amerli described the American role as critical in ending the siege. “It would have been absolutely impossible without the American planes,” the Kurdish peshmerga fighter said. “The strikes prevented the Islamic State from moving freely and targeted them with 100 percent accuracy.”

“I can see the tanks of the Iraqi army patrolling Amerli’s streets now. I’m very happy we got rid of the Islamic State terrorists who were threatening to slaughter us,” said an Amerli resident.

Armed residents had managed to fend off attacks by IS fighters, who encircled the town and regarded its majority Shi’ite Turkmen population as apostates. More than 15,000 people had remained trapped inside Amerli.

North of Amerli, Shiite militia and Kurdish peshmerga fighters were deployed. The armed men were a reminder of how militia fighters have gained in popularity since the beginning of June when IS launched its blitz across northern Iraq.

“Our goal is all the same to fight IS and repel terrorism,” said a fighter from the Peace Brigades, an offshoot of cleric Muqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.

The mobilization of Shi’ite militias to take Amerli had created a fluid situation where the armed groups who once fought the American military were benefit ting from U.S. air strikes.

One Shi’ite fighter said all Shi’ite militia groups were present, including Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah and Sadr’s Peace Brigades.

“Everyone is here,” the fighter said speaking on condition of anonymity. “We came to break the siege of Amerli. We came out of humanity. When the siege of Amerli is broken we will go back to our normal lives.”

Fighting raged elsewhere in Iraq. In the western city of Ramadi, where Iraqi forces have been battling Sunni groups dominated by IS since January, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed Humvee military vehicle. The blast, targeting an unfinished nine-floor building, killed 22 security personnel and 15 civilians.


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Kerry Aims For Coalition Of The Willing At NATO Summit to Target ISIS

John Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will use a NATO summit next week to push for a coalition of countries to beat back incursions in Syria and Iraq by Islamic State militants who are destabilizing the region and beyond.

“With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries,” Kerry wrote in an opinion piece published in The New York Times on Saturday.

Public anger over the beheading of American journalist James Foley has led President Barack Obama to consider military strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria. So far, the United States has limited its actions to the group’s forces in Iraq.

The militant group, also referred to as both ISIS and ISIL, has seized about a third of each country and declared a caliphate, a reference to an Islamic state ruled by a caliph, which indicates a successor to the Prophet Mohammad, with temporal authority over all Muslims.

Kerry said he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with their European counterparts to enlist support for a coalition to act against Islamic State militants. “The goal is to enlist the broadest possible assistance,” he wrote.

Hagel and Kerry will then travel to the Middle East to shore up support from countries directly affected by the Islamic State threat, he said.

Islamic State fighters have exhibited “repulsive savagery and cruelty” as they try to touch off a broader sectarian conflict, Kerry wrote, and the beheading of Foley “shocked the conscience of the world.”

“Already our efforts have brought dozens of nations to this cause,” he said. “Certainly there are different interests at play. But no decent country can support the horrors perpetrated by ISIS, and no civilized country should shirk its responsibility to help stamp out this disease.”

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for lawmakers to vote on whether the United States should broaden its action against Islamic State.

Two prominent Republicans criticized Obama on Saturday for saying the United States has not yet developed a strategy for confronting Islamic State in Syria.

In an opinion piece also published on the op-ed page of Saturday’s New York Times, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called Obama’s statement on Thursday “startling” and “dangerous” and said the threat from Islamic State requires “a far greater sense of urgency” than the administration is showing.

McCain and Graham, in an essay headlined “Stop Dithering, Confront ISIS,” suggested revising the Authorization for Use of Military Force so it could be used for evolving terrorism threats like Islamic State.

That would negate any need for members of Congress to approve specific military action against the group, or suffer the consequences of such a decision.


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Prime Minister Cameron Warns Against Britain’s Greatest Ever Terror Threat

David CameronTaking a lead on the ISIS threat British Prime Minister said more armed police will patrol Britain’s streets to counter the threat posed by fanatics returning from Iraq and Syria.

He warned that the return of hundreds of murderous extremists posed a greater threat to our security than Al Qaeda or the IRA ever did.

His comments came as Theresa May announced the official terror threat level had been raised to ‘severe’ the second-highest state for the first time in three years.

Mr Cameron said the public could expect to see an increase in high-profile police patrols, including the greater use of armed officers, particularly at airports and major railway stations.

He called for the public to be vigilant but added they should not panic, saying Britain had shown ‘resolve’ in the face of terror before.

He also pledged to introduce ‘uncompromising’ new laws to plug ‘gaps in our armoury’ in dealing with the threat posed by Islamic State extremists, including enhanced powers to remove the passports of radicalised Muslims seeking to join the fighting in the Middle East.

Proposals to remove the passports of extremists who have already gone abroad are also being examined.

The Home Secretary said the intelligence services now believe a terror attack in Britain is ‘highly likely’, although she stressed there was no information about any specific plot.

‘The increase in the threat level is related to developments in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West,’ Mrs May said. ‘Some of those plots are likely to involve foreign fighters who have travelled there from the UK and Europe to take part in those conflicts.’

British intelligence officers believe at least 500 British citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq to wage jihad, of which about half have returned to this country. Some experts believe the true figure may be far higher.

Mr Cameron gave few details of the planned crackdown to combat this threat, which will be revealed to MPs on Monday.

He insisted he would not introduce ‘knee-jerk’ measures in response to the threat. But he said existing powers to strip radicalised Muslims of their passports will be beefed up, to prevent more travelling to the region to fight. Rules introduced last year have so far resulted in the removal of just 23 passports.

The Prime Minister said he also wanted to see more action to prevent extremists returning from the region. However, he gave few details, saying only that police needed powers to deal ‘decisively’ with those who have returned.

Experts speculated that this will mean strengthening Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures, designed to make it easier for police to keep tabs on terror suspects. Critics say the measures, introduced after draconian control orders were thrown out by the courts, are too weak to be effective.

Mr Cameron is considering whether to add a requirement for suspects to remain at a known address, subjects could even be ordered to attend de-radicalisation sessions.

Ministers are also examining whether to revive plans for the so-called Snoopers’ Charter, which would allow the intelligence services to log details of every phone call and email, despite opposition from civil liberties campaigners and Nick Clegg.

In addition, Mr Cameron is pushing for new EU laws to require countries to share air passenger data, to make it easier to track and intercept suspected extremists heading for Syria.

The Prime Minister told a press conference in Downing Street that Britain is facing a ‘generational battle’ against ‘poisonous’ Islamist extremists which is likely to last for decades.

He said IS was unlike any previous terrorist threat because it had effectively established a state from which it could eventually mount attacks on the West.

‘In Afghanistan the Taliban were prepared to play host to Al Qaeda, the terrorist organisation. With [IS] we are facing a terrorist organisation not being hosted in a country but seeking to establish and then violently expand its own terrorist state.

‘With designs on expanding up to the Turkish border, we could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member.’

Despite this warning, he played down the prospect of joining the US in direct military action.

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President Putin May Now Be Seeking to Establish New Statelet in Eastern Ukraine

Vladimir Putin

Russian strongman Vladimir Putin first used “Novorossiya” the loaded Tsarist-era name for what is now southern and eastern Ukraine just after annexing Crimea from Ukraine in March, sparking outrage in Kiev.

The Kremlin made a reference to the term again on Friday when it released Putin’s address to Ukraine’s pro-Russian separatists, pointedly calling them defenders of “Novorossiya” (New Russia).

For analysts, this marks a significant development in nearly five months of conflict engulfing eastern Ukraine, with Putin sending a clear message of his determination to carve out a new statelet at all costs.

Putin has definitively decided for himself the issue of Novorossiya, he believes that Novorossiya should exist and there can be no doubt that Moscow will be working on defining borders for the next few months of the planned territory.

Putin’s first mention of Novorossiya came in a televised call-in show with Russians in April when he argued that eastern and southern Ukraine were once part of Russia but were then transferred to Ukraine by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s.

“Why they did this, only God only knows,” he said, recalling the lands had been won by Russia in famous battles led by Catherine the Great.

Putin used similar logic to justify Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, saying Moscow was simply righting the wrong by returning a peninsula which was part of the Soviet republic of Russia before 1954.

His spokesman defended the use of the word in the Kremlin statement issued Friday.

“That is how the territory has been called historically and if you look at history it has been called Novorossiya in the course of several centuries,” Dmitry Peskov said on radio.

“This is an absolutely Russian name of this territory. This is how in Russia these lands were and are called.”

Putin’s latest use of the term comes amid a dramatic counter-offensive in east Ukraine, where rebels have snatched swathes of southeastern territory from government forces in recent days, halting the advance of Kiev’s troops.

The West and Kiev say Russian troops are not only behind the lightning operation but are also fighting on the ground alongside ragtag formations of Kremlin-backed separatists against Kiev’s forces, claims which Moscow has repeatedly denied.

Independent political analyst Maria Lipman said the latest developments are a clear message from Putin to the West: “I am ready to go very far and you?”

Several rounds of Western sanctions have delivered a blow to Russia’s faltering economy but have not deterred Putin who has ordered a virtual embargo on EU and US food imports.

His tough stance has been met with approval at home, with his domestic approval ratings soaring to record highs after the annexation of Crimea.

Some suggest that Putin may now be seeking to mould Ukraine’s rebel-held regions into a statelet similar to Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestr.

Putin appeared driven by a visceral desire to punish Ukraine after the ex-Soviet country chose to sign political and trade deals with the EU, a move seen as a snub to Moscow.

The analyst described the Ukraine crisis as Putin’s mission to vindicate himself and prove he is “the only leader with steely determination and conviction.”


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Hyper-Democracy And Progressive Oligarchy

Rick Perry Federal

When will the silent, discontent, and disengaged majority awaken to the reality that the peace they’ve been promised is a political mirage?

 According to conventional wisdom, Americans start paying closer attention to elections after Labor Day. The reality they will return to after their summer vacation from American politics is highlighted by popular  unrest (centered, for now, in Ferguson, MO) and elite partisanship (featuring an indictment in Austin, TX, and lawsuits and impeachment talk in Washington, DC). In other words, they’ll return to a political setting much the same (with different flash points) as the one they left behind in late May.

These headlines and the apparently perpetual problems they highlight represent an unpleasant distraction from the already overwhelming busyness of daily life, and thus promise to keep a good portion of the American public on the political sidelines, and an even larger group of Americans questioning the direction of the country. A stale inertia seems to be the norm, a political game without a clear-cut winner and many a participant injured along the way.

Upon closer examination, however, one finds, as we argued last week, that the reverse is true: that there is a dynamic force in American politics producing a consistent winner capable of putting the dynasties of the Yankees, Celtics, Canadiens, and Steelers to shame: Progressivism and its champion, the DC Oligarchs, whose worst season still rewards handsomely its dedicated if dependent fan base.

How is it that in a hyper-egalitarian age a purportedly democratic ideology has produced the seemingly-intractable oligarchic ruling class that dominates American politics?

Alexis de Tocqueville provides a clue in Democracy in America: “Democratic nations often hate those in whose hands the central power is vested, but they always love that power itself.” Whereas democratic equality promised to make men free and independent, Tocqueville argues that it eventually empowers collective institutions rather than individuals, as democratic peoples love “public tranquility”–and no power promises to secure a more stable peace than the centralized state.

Political victory in a democratic age requires partisans to present a vision of peace acceptable to the multitude and to demonstrate thereafter that they are best prepared to keep the peace. Progressive oligarchs have been wildly successful on both fronts, promising a peace like no other–prosperous and perpetual–and employing the accumulated resources of the United States to carry out their program, all the while winning many of the rhetorical battles with pleasing slogans that appeal to the vanity, prejudices, and passions of the people. While following a banner promising more liberty and freedom, individuals find themselves more powerless against the vicissitudes of life, and more willing to exchange their liberty for security.

The American founders were very much aware of this paradox of democratic politics, as James Madison demonstrates in Federalist 58. Although sympathetic to those wishing to see the House of Representatives grow with the American population, Madison warns that the larger the assembly, “the greater the ascendancy of passion over reason”–and the “the fewer will be the men who will in fact direct their proceedings.” He continues:

The countenance of the government may become more democratic, but the soul that animates it will be more oligarchic. The machine will be enlarged, but the fewer, and often the more secret, will be the springs by which its motions are directed.

Perhaps no two sentences could better summarize the political consequences of Progressivism as they have unfolded over the last century. Popular election of senators, universal voting rights for women, state-level tools like initiative and referendum: all were democratizing measures advocated and enacted with energy by Progressives in the first two decades of the 20th century. And yet, a century later, the individual citizen has a smaller share in his own governance, less confidence in less accountable leaders, and less control over his daily life than at any previous point in our nation’s history–and every instinct of the ruling class promises to make things even worse.

Consider an important parallel between the lawsuit against President Obama and the recent indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry.

A month ago, President Obama was all but begging House Republicans to impeach him, cynically calculating, it would seem, that nothing would raise money for the fall election campaign or energize otherwise dispirited Democratic voters like a good impeachment. Speaker Boehner, of course, demurred, fearing perhaps that President Obama’s calculations might be correct, and instead hoping a stern lawsuit might keep more spirited Republican voters energized. However this plays into the midterm election campaign, one result is assured: that a political dispute over executive power has been turned over to the non-political branch of government for proper expert disposal.

Ditto the ongoing struggle between Austin and the rest of the state of Texas, which resulted in Governor Perry’s indictment on extremely flimsy abuse of power charges. “If you can’t beat them, indict them” is an ugly mode of politics, but it is also the negation of politics–another deferral to the experts, of sorts.

Democratic passions beget a trump-card style politics and oligarchic management. Is there any feasible alternative?

James Madison did not expect that the American republic, if properly constructed, would inaugurate an era when reason reigned unchallenged. In fact, given human nature, he didn’t even advocate that. “[T]he most rational government will not find it a superfluous advantage to have the prejudices of the community on its side,” he argued in Federalist 49. What he cautioned against, rather, was liberating passion from any responsibility to right.

In Federalist 49, that meant cultivating a “veneration” for the good government created by the Constitution; buttressing the conclusions of “enlightened reason” with the “prejudices of the community.” In Federalist 58, he showed how calculations of personal honor and interest–and the House’s control over government spending–could be used to move the reluctant to support “every just and salutary measure.” Republican politics, as Madison described (and practiced) it, is fundamentally about persuasion toward the good–not the coercive passion of the mob or the coercive decree of the functionary.

Madison knew very well what Aristotle had taught 2000 years before–that persuasion is an art involving the reason and the passions of the audience, as well as the character of the speaker. Republican government respects the dignity of the individual not only by protecting his fundamental rights, but by addressing him as a whole, mature human being, not as an animal to be controlled or a child to be commanded–and not as a hyper-rational Vulcan, either.

In different ways, this is equally absent from the Boehner lawsuit, the Perry indictment, and more or less any speech by President Obama. Speaker Boehner could make the public case against the president’s lawlessness in pressing for impeachment or by invoking Madison’s favorite tool, the power of the purse–perhaps persuasively, given the merits of the case. Governor Perry’s opponents could make their own argument about executive abuse if they dare or look for a more plausible line of complaint. President Obama could engage real opponents rather than strawmen and real arguments rather than caricatures. All would then be forced to lead in a truly republican manner, grappling publicly with justice in a more responsible and meaningful way in order to win the assent of the people at large.

But they haven’t and therefore they didn’t. The question that remains is whether that will matter. Those checking in after a summer away from politics can as easily check out again. The minority planning to vote in November can vote their bum back in and hope everyone else throws theirs out. The wheel will turn; the breathless analysis will be written; Washington will yawn, as the Oligarchs win again.

Or the silent, discontent, and disengaged majority will awaken to the reality that the peace they’ve been promised is a political mirage, and that only through their active life-long engagement is regime change possible in the United States. A republic, if you can keep it; a republic if you can reclaim it.

David Corbin is a Professor of Politics and Matthew Parks an Assistant Professor of Politics at The King’s College, New York City. 


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President Obama: “We Don’t Have a Strategy Yet For ISIS”

Obama Summer

President Barack Obama signaled the U.S. has no immediate plans to escalate military operations against Islamic State extremists in Iraq or Syria, stressing the need to counter the group’s advance while formulating a broader strategy to protect U.S. interests and allies.

Mr. Obama spoke on a day when Syrian opposition activists said the Sunni radical group had killed nearly 500 people since Sunday in the northeastern province of Raqqa, most of them Syrian troops captured on an air base seized by Islamic State fighters.

The president, who met with his national security team Thursday afternoon, said the U.S. is still developing its plan to root Islamic State out of Iraq and Syria, where it has captured large swaths of territory since June.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” Mr. Obama said of potential plans for airstrikes in Syria. He said the long-term blueprint to respond to the growth of the militant group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, can’t depend on U.S. actions alone.

“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick, or easy, but I’m confident that we can and we will, working closely with our allies and our partners,” Mr. Obama said.

The president walked back reports suggesting there may be an immediate escalation of military operations, including potential airstrikes in Syria.

“We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans so we’re developing them,” he said. He said he was more focused on military activity in Iraq and the need for a unified government in Baghdad to help combat militant forces. “My priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself,” Mr. Obama said.

Ultimately, the U.S. is focused on a strategy to create an international coalition to “systematically degrade ISIL’s capacity to engage in the terrible violence and disruptions that they’ve been engaging in.”

The president’s comments hastened calls from U.S. lawmakers for the Obama administration to outline its strategy for combating the threat posed by Islamic State.

A spokesman for House Speaker John  Boehner (R., Ohio) said “the fact that the president admitted he doesn’t have one should alarm every American.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said it’s imperative for Mr. Obama “to use the full extent of his authorities to attack this enemy force.”

While a series of airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and humanitarian-aid drops thus far conducted by U.S. forces have had some success in blunting the progress of the fighters, a longer-term strategy needs to be outlined publicly in order to unite the public, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said before Mr. Obama spoke.

Following the speech, the White House clarified Mr. Obama’s remarks about strategy. “The president was asked a specific question about possible military action in Syria against ISIL, and he was explicit that he is still waiting for plans that are being developed by the Pentagon for military options against ISIL in Syria,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “But when it comes to confronting ISIL in Iraq, the president has been very clear for months about what our comprehensive strategy is.”

There have also been increasing calls from Republicans and Democrats for Mr. Obama to seek congressional approval for any escalation of military operations in the region.

Mr. Obama said he would continue to consult with Congress, but insisted that the current operations in Iraq fall under his authority as commander in chief. He said the administration would continue to discuss plans with lawmakers and allowed that “it’ll be important for Congress to weigh in.”

“I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard,” Mr. Obama said.

Videos and photographs purporting to show militants killing captured soldiers were posted on social-media websites Thursday. The soldiers were captured when the group took over Tabqa air base on Sunday, giving them control of all of Raqqa—the first Syrian province to come entirely under Islamic State rule.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group tracking the conflict through a network of activists inside Syria, said 160 captured soldiers have been killed since Wednesday. They were among 490 people in Raqqa killed since Sunday, most of them Syrian troops, according to four opposition activists.

None of the reports could be independently verified.

The accounts of the killings came from an activist in Raqqa who witnessed the aftermath with the consent of Islamic State. Other activists operating from the Syrian border with Turkey were in contact with Islamic State militants and Raqqa residents.

In one video, a column of dozens of men identified as soldiers and officers are shown in their underwear being herded through the desert by militants.

Some of the fighters are on foot and others in an accompanying convoy of armed pickup trucks and SUVs. They occasionally hit their captives with the butts of their rifles or forced them to chant in praise of Islamic State.

The Islamic State has drawn foreign fighters into its campaign in Syria and Iraq and some of those who spoke on the videos had accents from various parts of the Middle East.

“Come on like sheep,” says a male voice, who appears to be the videographer in one of the cars, as he laughs and taunts the prisoners. The man spoke with a Gulf Arab accent.

Another video shows men motionless in their underwear lined up face down in a long row in a desert area after their purported killings. Some bodies appear to be piled on the side. Men speaking with a North African accent are heard on this video.

The videos are likely to further enrage supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, especially members of his Alawite minority who are the backbone of the regime’s forces. Many of those supporters are already blaming military leaders for surrendering the air base to Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Some Assad regime supporters expressed their rage Thursday on a Facebook page titled “Eagles of the Tabqa Air Base” set up to pay tribute to the soldiers taken captive by Islamic State and to share news of their fate. A posting by the page’s administrator assails state media for completely ignoring the news. It calls military leaders “traitors for leaving them prey to ISIS monsters.”

There was no immediate comment from Syrian officials on the purported killings.

A third video shows militants interrogating a group of regime soldiers at what activists said was an Islamic State training camp and detention center called Al-Ekershi east of the city of Raqqa, the provincial capital.

“You are a lieutenant colonel, an Alawite right?” asks a man behind the camera and speaking with a Tunisian accent. A middle-aged man in torn military fatigues nods his head. “Why are you fighting for the tyrant? Why are you fighting for Bashar?” asks the man behind the camera.

On the same video, a group of men, some in their underwear, sit on the floor in the corner as they are being cursed at and beaten by men speaking with Syrian accents. At the end of the video, the man with the Tunisian accent is heard telling the colonel: “We are going to send you to hell, God willing, we are going to slaughter you.”

The Syrian regime began conducting airstrikes against Islamic State positions in June, but clashes on the ground have been limited. Regime forces are overstretched and weakened by more than three years of civil war and are focusing limited resources on battling rebels around Damascus and the strategic corridor that links the capital with the western coast through the central province of Homs.

The regime’s strategy now hinges on the hope that the West and regional powers will be so horrified by Islamic State’s actions that they will stop backing rebels in their quest to topple Mr. Assad and instead focus on rolling back the threat of the extremist group.


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Governor Romney Tops GOP Field in New 2016 Poll

Romney charmGovernor Mitt Romney keeps saying no to third run for the White House, but another new pol, this time in Iowa, indicates Romney would be the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination if he changes his mind.

A USA Today/Suffolk University survey of Iowa voters released Wednesday should add to the feeding frenzy over a possible 2016 presidential bid by the 2012 GOP nominee. While the former Massachusetts governor’s repeatedly said he’s not running again, the attention such speculation captures is a sign of the wide open nature right now of the upcoming Republican nomination race.

According to the new poll, if Romney was added to the list of potential 2016 GOP White House contenders, 35% of Iowa Republicans say he’d be their first choice in the Iowa caucuses, which kick off the presidential primary and caucus calendar.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses and is considering another bid in 2016, is a distant second, at 9%. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who narrowly won the 2012 caucuses, are each at 6%. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are each at 5%, with the remaining potential candidates tested were all in the lower single digits.

Take Romney out of the equation, and the poll indicates Huckabee at 13% is on top of the crowded list of potential candidates. He’s followed by Christie at 11%, Perry at 9% Paul at 7%, Santorum and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, each at 6% and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at 5%. The remaining potential candidates tested were all in the lower single digits.

The poll’s 2016 GOP nomination results not only reflect the wide open race among the Republicans but are most likely also a reflection of name recognition.

“Think about it, we’re still closer to the last presidential election than the next one. So until some of these other potential candidates have more time to really begin campaigning in earnest, I think Romney will continue to be top of mind for a lot of average voters,” longtime South Carolina GOP consultant Joel Sawyer, senior VP of the Republican digital firm Push Digital said.

The poll’s release comes one day after Romney said in a radio interview that “someone else stands a better chance of winning than I do.”

“Had that not been the case,” Romney told radio host Hugh Hewitt, “then I would be running.”

Romney’s been very clear on the subject of 2016.

“The answer is no, I’m not running for president in 2016. It’s time for someone else to take that responsibility and I’ll be supporting our nominee,” he told anchor CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

He’s been using the same “I’m not running” language over and over again. And Romney’s wife, Ann, has also been adamant against another run.

Regardless, pollsters are asking about Romney. Two public opinion surveys conducted this summer in New Hampshire, WMUR/Granite State and Suffolk University/Boston Herald, indicated that Romney would be the overwhelming front runner in the first-in-the-nation primary state if he decided to run again.

The first poll to spark the Romney 2016 flames was an ABC News/Washington Post national survey released last November that suggested that if the 2012 presidential election between Romney and President Barack Obama were held today, Romney would hold a slight lead in the popular vote. Obama won the popular vote in the 2012 contest by a 51%-47% margin.

The flames were further fanned earlier this summer when by a 45%-38% margin, voters nationwide questioned in Quinnipiac University poll said that the country would be better off if Romney rather than Obama had won the 2012 election. And a CNN/ORC International survey conducted last month indicated Romney topping the President 53%-44% in the popular vote if the 2012 election were somehow held again.

GOP strategist Kevin Madden, who served as a senior adviser in Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, recently said that “the interest in Romney is driven by those who believe, very deeply, that he would have been a very effective president and that he has been proven right on so many issues and ideas that he advanced in the 2012 campaign.”

“But conceptual candidacies are very enticing, almost irresistible. Actual candidacies are cold, hard realities. There’s a universe of differences between the two,” added Madden.

That CNN/ORC poll supports Madden’s point. The survey suggested Romney losing to Hillary Clinton by a 55%-42% margin in a hypothetical 2016 matchup.

The USA Today/Suffolk University poll was conducted August 23-26, with 500 likely 2014 voters in Iowa questioned by telephone. The survey’s overall sampling error is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.





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