The weird alliance between Matt Gaetz and the Congressional Progressive Caucus (it's a good thing)
And the biggest bribery scandal in Ohio history
The former Ohio House Speaker and the head of the state Republican party were both convicted yesterday in the biggest bribery scandal in Ohio history. Back in 2019, Akela Lacy and I took a deep dive into Ohio campaign finance records and reported on the guts of the scheme that later made up the indictment conviction. I remember thinking that what we were looking at sure looked criminal, and now a jury agrees.
The open question is whether the Supreme Court will weigh in and toss it out in its inexorable journey toward legalizing all forms of corruption. The story itself is quite wild, here’s our old romp through it.
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This week the House of Representatives voted on authorizing war the way that Congress typically does it now, an inversion of the process set up in the Constitution. First, the executive sends American troops overseas to fight, kill, and die. Then, years later, somebody in Congress is able to get an amendment or a War Powers Resolution to the floor, where it is criticized for being premature and putting American lives at risk.
Our occupation of a portion of Syria got that treatment on Wednesday evening, and there are a few noteworthy developments inside it worth unpacking. First, in a sign of how convoluted our politics have gotten, the backers of the resolution to bring the troops home included the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Freedom Caucus firebrand Matt Gaetz, who was the lead sponsor of the resolution; and Robert Ford, who was the Obama administration’s hawkish ambassador to Syria who has since come around to the idea that the current mission is ill-defined and, to the extent it is defined at all, unachievable. (Ford is my guest on this week’s podcast.)
There was also some revealing behind-the-scenes knife-fighting that poked out into public view. If you’ll recall, the Freedom Caucus won three seats on the Rules Committee as the fruit of their rebellion against Kevin McCarthy. Those rebels, though, missed a fast one that was pulled on them late on Tuesday night, when the resolution was approved for a vote but a provision was snuck in that would have blocked Congress from voting again on a motion “introduced during the first session of the One Hundred Eighteenth Congress pursuant to section 5 of the War Powers Resolution with respect to Syria.”
Gaetz and the other Freedom Caucus Rules Committee members spotted the language at the last minute and confronted Republican leadership, threatening to blow the whole thing up if it wasn’t removed. Party bosses agreed, but needed unanimous consent on the floor, and Democrats gave it to them. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., went to the floor and stripped it out.
The Partisan Effect
In 2022, Jamaal Bowman introduced a similar measure, giving troops one year to leave Syria. Gaetz’s offered six months, but was otherwise the same. That year, 130 Democrats and 25 Republicans voted for it.
With Gaetz as the lead sponsor, and with little time to mobilize behind it, Democratic support was cut by half, down to 56, while Republican support nearly doubled, jumping to 47, suggesting a nearly identical 50 percent partisan effect on voting on war policy applies to both parties. (Though there may be an additional Gaetz effect, as the panhandle representative has a special ability to stir up strong feelings in his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.)
But the bipartisanship was real. Ilhan Omar, in fact, worked directly with Gaetz to get him to fix what was a mess of an original resolution. His first version gave just 15 days to evacuate Syria, which is as absurd as it sounds, and Omar warned him he’d lose every Democratic vote and most Republicans if we went with that. He agreed to bump it up to six months. So Omar, despite being outrageously kicked off the Foreign Affairs Committee by Republicans, is still playing a serious role in foreign policy.
But What About The Kurds?
To me, the most compelling argument for continuing a U.S. troop presence is that without it, what is arguably the most interesting leftist political project in the world today – the Kurdish autonomous region known as Rojava – might be crushed. Or, at a minimum, it will take on a much different character. The response to that is two-fold: First, any leftist project that is dependent on U.S. military support is living on borrowed time anyway, and needs to find a different path to sustainability. And second, as Ford argues, U.S. troops leaving will force diplomacy between the Kurds, the weak Syrian government that remains, the Turks who want the Kurds crushed, Iran, Russia, and the U.S. Out of those talks, it’s reasonable to expect the Kurds could keep many of their gains, though they wouldn’t have the kind of autonomy they have today.
For background on just how fascinating the Kurdish experiment in radical self-government is, check out this old Akbar Ahmed feature. Their political inspiration is a late libertarian socialist from Vermont, Murray Bookchin, who considered Bernie Sanders a sellout. That connections has produced a Kurdish-Green Mountain kinship that was expressed to my colleague Dan Boguslaw by Vermont’s new Rep. Becca Balint. “For me, it’s important to plant a stake around tightening things up on the war power act, but also making sure there is long-term support in place for the Syrian Kurds,” Balint said. “A lot of people are talking about the Kurds, and it’s a concern so many of us have. I have a 15-year-old son, and I was talking to him about this last night. One of the things that we talked about is that there are always people involved in conflict between two sides, and we can lose sight of those people in the long term. It’s critical we make sure those people are protected.”
And that’s even harder when there are more sides fighting in the conflict than two. I’ve lost count of how many are battling it out in Syria. But I think you’ll find the conversation with Robert Ford on Deconstructed quite helpful to thinking all this through.
And my full story with Dan is here.
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October 7th, 2019, Jon Schwarz wrote in the "Intercept" this article titled:
"The US Is Now Betraying The Kurds For the Eight Time." (That eight time was the one under Trump.)
"Nothing in this world is certain except death, taxes, and America betraying the Kurds."
But, as one can read in this same article, the U.S.A. followed other betrayers, because American political leaders and powerbrokers were not the only ones. And this goes all the way back to the aftermath of WW I, where the first US diplomatic betrayal happened at the League of Nations.
All things considered, I started to believe, decades ago, as still believe with conviction now, that Kurds and Palestinians are the unluckiest peoples on Earth.
It is unclear to me why a considerable number of parties that are as keen on doing each other in as are unified in their determination of doing in the Kurds, are expected to come together and sit at a round or oval table and hammer a deal that will be beneficial to each other's sides and also the Kurds, letting them live their lives as if these lives were their own business, rather than hammer each other around and over the table and, when they have a moment, hammering the Kurds as well. It is also unclear to me how a US force of 900, between soldiers and contractors, is relevant to what happens to the Kurds, because I have not have this explained either.
Be that as it may, the dice is probably already cast on the right now unpromising near-future of the Kurds, and all one can really do now is wish them the best of luck.