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Can everyone smell the unity?
The mighty Wingnut Wurlitzer has been looking for a meme to discredit and/or discount President Obama’s involvement in the end of Bin Laden. So many efforts are being tried that it is getting hard to keep track of them, but they all fall into a few very rusty old buckets:
- He only did what his white handlers told him to do and was forced into it.
- It was the great plan that George W. Bush put into motion and tried as he might Obama could not stop it.
- After the fact Obama has become (as usual) a credit hog and showboat who is very disrespectful to his betters: men like GW Bush.
- Obama got lucky and he was too frightened to do the job right [torture] —and so it was a defeat.
That last point was on display when John Yoo told CNN on Thursday night the President Obama was too afraid to capture Osama bin Laden so he ordered his shot on sight. In Yoo’s view the entire incident was a failure because Obama did not have the backbone to support torture. In Yoo’s rich fantasy life real men torture and Obama is not a real man because he does not embrace the “enhanced interrogation techniques” celebrated by Yoo (and his fellow travelers).
What to say about today’s Glenn Greenwald column? Well… that it’s worth thinking about. A taste:
I experience such cognitive dissonance when I read all of these laments from liberal pundits that Obama isn’t pursuing the right negotiating tactics, that he’s not being as shrewd as he should be. He’s pursuing exactly the right negotiating tactics and is being extremely shrewd — he just doesn’t want the same results that these liberal pundits want and which they like to imagine the President wants, too. He’s not trying to prevent budget cuts or entitlement reforms; he wants exactly those things because of how politically beneficial they are to him — to say nothing of whether he agrees with them on the merits.
When I first began blogging five years ago, [..] I’d attribute those failures to poor strategizing or a lack of political courage and write post after post urging them to adopt better tactics to enable better outcomes or be more politically “strong.” But then I realized that they weren’t poor tacticians getting stuck with results they hated. They simply weren’t interested in generating the same outcomes as the ones I wanted.
It wasn’t that they eagerly wished to defeat these Bush policies but just couldn’t figure out how to do it. The opposite was true: they were content to acquiesce to those policies, if not outright supportive of them, because they perceived no political advantage in doing anything else. Many of them supported those policies on the merits while many others were perfectly content with their continuation. So I stopped trying to give them tactical advice on how to achieve outcomes they didn’t really want to achieve, and stopped attributing their failures to oppose these policies to bad strategizing or political cowardice. Instead, I simply accepted that these were the outcomes they most wanted, that Democratic Party officials on the whole — obviously with some exceptions — weren’t working toward the outcomes I had originally assumed (and which they often claimed). Once you accept that reality, events in Washington make far more sense.
It’s not often that a sweeping new legal standard comes around but, by golly, this one is a humdinger:
A federal judge on Thursday threw out a lawsuit brought by a man convicted of plotting terrorism and who alleged he was tortured at a Navy brig in South Carolina, saying a trial would create “an international spectacle.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled Jose Padilla, arrested as an enemy combatant, had no right to sue for constitutional violations and that the defendants in the case enjoyed qualified immunity. [...]
“A trial on the merits would be an international spectacle with Padilla, a convicted terrorist, summoning America’s present and former leaders to a federal courthouse to answer his charges,” [Gergel] wrote.
The sound you just heard is anyone in the Bush administration that was involved in the torture of prisoners breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Via Anne Laurie
In his second inaugural address in January 2005, President Bush declared that America would no longer “tolerate oppression for the sake of stability.” Mubarak responded nine days later by charging the country’s leading opposition figure, Ayman Nour, with forgery. But, at least initially, the Bush administration did not blink. On June 30, Condoleezza Rice traveled to the American University in Cairo and delivered a speech outlining Bush’s freedom agenda. “The Egyptian Government must fulfill the promise it has made to its people—and to the entire world—by giving its citizens the freedom to choose,” she said. “Egypt’s elections, including the parliamentary elections, must meet objective standards that define every free election.” A few months later, in September, Mubarak waltzed to victory over Nour in a sham presidential election. [...] The first round of the elections was relatively free, but in the second and third rounds, the national police ambushed ballot stations and used tear gas on crowds of voters. Some supporters of opposition candidates took to climbing on ladders to the second floor of polling stations because the police had blocked the entrance on the first floor. In the face of this repression, the response from Washington was muted. The State Department spokesman at the time, Sean McCormack, said he had “seen the reports” of voter intimidation, but did not condemn the regime directly.It’s difficult to get around this fact: “Like Obama now, Bush was relying on despots across the Middle East to fight a war on terror. How could Bush simultaneously ask for favors from these leaders in the fight against Al Qaeda while also undermining them with his freedom agenda?” Indeed. I feel like Obama doesn’t get enough credit for the way his administration (and particularly Secretary Clinton) have dealt with foreign policy crises, even though he routinely gets high marks from the voters in that area. The irony of Obama’s political situation is that it’s indistinguishable from what you’d expect from a Republican president’s during a time of economic downturn: he’s highly rated on foreign policy and lags on domestic policy. So it might seem a little silly to say that his administration’s foreign policy handling is underrated, since it is already highly rated. But I think it is nevertheless underrated. Foreign policy is, in my opinion, easily the most complicated part of a president’s job description. It’s also the one least amenable to simple black-white distinctions. More often than not, those distinctions hurt more than help, as the nuances and details are critically important (which is not to say that morality doesn’t enter into it!). If you want to know why such absolutely insane notions of foreign policy have proliferated on the right in the last decade or two, it helps to realize that it’s a function of the limitations of total black/white, right/wrong thinking. What happens when you try to have theory strong enough on foreign affairs that it covers all the major facts on the ground, but also provides didactic, right/wrong appraisals for every single idea in foreign policy? You get John Bolton, of course! Never mind that he’s completely insane, that’s what you have to do to square the peg, as it were. It’s amazing that the party that produced Richard Nixon has lost the ability to understand any of this, because I consider Nixon’s successful overtures to China a brilliant example of rejecting the analysis that because a country is bad, so therefore we should never deal with that country ever. If not dealing with a country could bring about a greater degree of justice, it would make sense to explore it, but frequently it doesn’t. So where do you go next? Obama, of course, does not think like this. He is, like myself, an avid student of Reinhold Niebuhr, whose Irony Of American History is still the definitive text for anyone who tries to apply conscience to the real-world grubbiness of foreign affairs. From that, you get some pretty good insights: preemptive war is a terrible idea because one never knows what will happen and alternatives can be found, intervening in a foreign conflict might well make it worse despite any intentions, and once war is begun it takes a course of its own and is impossible to predict or control. He also talks about how a country that the act of exercising national power invariably diminishes it, since you have less power to do other things. Perhaps the most important principle he gets across is that nations just aren’t like people. It’s considered morally abhorrent to, say, walk by somebody being beaten up or raped and not at least call the cops. Similar analogies are often invoked by hawks, to varying levels of effectiveness, in justifying foreign invasions. But the analogy falls flat because, if you were to try to intervene in crime in that way, you are consciously putting your existence on the line for someone else, possibly sacrificing yourself for them. In international politics, nations will never do this. They’ll never let themselves be destroyed just to save another country. America didn’t in World War II, we waited until we were attacked ourselves to get involved. Good or bad, it is what it is. If self-sacrifice is an unacceptable option in foreign affairs, clearly the ethics and morality of this arena will play out differently than it would in individual affairs. An individual has the right to put his or her life on the line to protect others, but putting others’ lives on the line is a very different question, and analogizing the two often leads to tragedy. As for comparing and constrasting the two, I think Obama would like the world to be free every bit as much as Bush did. But it’s not a matter of just having the same goals–the very assumptions one makes about the world are important here. The Bush Administration was such a failure because it really did believe it could impose a liberal democratic order from on high. It always acted as though there were a morally acceptable (to them) way out of any crisis or problem, and frequently found itself faced with humiliating failures when those choices didn’t pan out (like the PA elections that put Hamas in charge). Its dealings with figures like Mubarak couldn’t help but look impotent next to its grand statements enjoining against the dread “rewarding bad behavior” toward dictators, which Lake notes. Throw in some off-base neocon assumptions about The Soul Of Humanity and freedom, and you have a recipe for a series of complete disasters. Obama, on the other hand, has acted prudently in the cases of unrest in Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt. Wrenching as it might be for some to accept that less is more when it comes to these scenarios–does anyone seriously doubt McCain would have cheered on all of these uprisings like the neocons wanted, and might even have sent in troops to “stabilize” the situation?–Obama, Clinton, and their team have made as few moves as possible in all of these situations, all of which have been calculated to avoid compromising the organic nature of the uprisings–deploring the violence, refusing to defend the dictators, and so on. If one considers Middle Eastern dictatorship an inherently unstable situation, and if one sees humankind as particularly valuing stability, and if democracy is the most stable of all possible governments, it is only a matter of time before things get there. Letting them happen organically, even if they don’t always take hold, will make the movements more powerful. (Iran will likely require a few more pushes before turning over.) I like that Obama has said stuff like this before, but I like it more that his team acts like it’s true. Put another way, the way Obama’s Administration is playing out, it’s looking a lot like how Dwight Eisenhower’s time in office went. Eisenhower was criticized for not backing the Hungarian Revolution with military force, and for years his reputation was quite poor on account of “not doing anything” while in office. Of course, his “not doing anything” kept us out of war with China, Vietnam (for a time) and the Soviet Union. Of all modern presidents, Eisenhower’s term most reflected a Niebuhrian sense of humility with power, of the cost of war. Obama seems to understand these things too, and I couldn’t imagine better company for our current president.
The neocon book is finally done (see here for my previous thoughts on the subject). I’m still digesting it myself, though I would say I recommend it if you are interested. My big takeaway was that the neoconservatives alone were responsible for basically all the lawlessness of the Bush Administration. If you look back to the times before the neocons captured the Republican Party, you saw things like Ronald Reagan being an antitorture crusader, Republicans insisting that terrorists had to have some method of seeking justice–if not as a P.O.W., then through the courts, and little interest in warrantless wiretapping and the like. Jane Mayer’s book has some good data on the parallels between Cold War Republicans and the ones we’ve got today. As warped as Reagan-era conservative views sometimes were, the element of “the law doesn’t matter at all because we’re wise leaders who know what’s best, and what the average person thinks doesn’t matter because the divine spark of philosophy lives within us” simply didn’t apply at the time. When you factor that philosophy in, it contextualizes the arrogance and coldness of the Bushies to a significant extent.
One wonders how a Bush Administration that lacked Wolfowitz, Feith, and David Addington, and with Tom Ridge rather than Don Rumsfeld running DoD (as was the initial plan) would have responded to 9/11. I can’t imagine a different crew doing a much worse job. Then again, my general opinion about Bush counterfactuals is that in the long run it wouldn’t really have mattered, since Bush was simply a screwup who messed up an incredibly good situation he inherited in the first place. The fundamentals don’t point to a Bush Administration that could have been successful if only events hadn’t conspired against him, or if his decisions had been different. Carter seems like a president you could make a decent (though far from airtight) case for on these grounds–What if he’d had more luck with the hostages in Iran, not fired his cabinet after the malaise speech, and been more cooperative toward Ted Kennedy and other titans of his party?–but you can’t even try with Bush. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith (and Cheney!) were only symptoms of a larger problem: Bush’s inability to judge character or qualifications for office well (also relevant: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales). Iraq and Afghanistan were due to Bush’s reliance on “gut” and his mythic conception of himself. We can think about how he could have made different decisions, but I don’t see things turning out any differently in the end, unless we’re speculating about how Bush could have been different. That, though, is not simply a counterfactual. It is a parallel universe. Hence my image choice.
Outgoing Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) told the Kansas City Star that President Obama deserves “a bad C” grade for his first two years in office.[...] As for rating other presidents, Bond gave Ronald Reagan an “A,” President George H.W. Bush a “B”, President Bill Clinton a “B-plus” and President George W. Bush an “A-minus.”Okay, I expect someone like Bond to give Reagan an A. And I wouldn’t expect him to give Dubya an F. But I am curious about the metric by which Bush 43 is better than Bush 41. If your only priority is upper-income tax rates and you literally do not care about any other issue out there, maybe I could see it. Says more about Bond than Bush, Obama, or anyone else, really. Oh, and in case you’re curious, the rest of the KC Star article is nearly as good. I particularly like this bit:
“The anti-earmarking crusade is too often a handy dodge for people who voted for the outrageous spending proposals of the stimulus, ‘Obamacare’ and other things,” Bond said. “Earmarks don’t add a cent to the budget. It’s a process of deciding where already appropriated funds will go.”Yeah, all those Republicans who voted for the stimulus and Obamacare and then try to cover it up with earmark bans! The nerve! Why, there’s…someone, maybe… And then there’s even better stuff:
But Bond, known for years as an intense partisan, saved his strongest remarks for Democrats and the Obama administration. He said the president’s economic policies and health care reform plan were contributing to the soaring budget deficit and hurting business expansion.
- Bond said his final two years in the Senate also had been the most partisan he had ever experienced. “It’s because the Republicans were absolutely shut out,” Bond argued. “We had better solutions for all the problems the country was facing, but we were not able to offer those.”
- The younger Bush’s controversial decision to go to war in Iraq was the right one, Bond insisted. “We had to do it because we knew al-Qaida was looking to establish its headquarters at the confluence of the two rivers in Iraq,” he said.
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