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Larison’s discussion of the increased unpopularity of Pres. Obama’s foreign policy (parts one and two) is highly interesting, and got me thinking a bit. For example, why was the first-term Afghanistan “surge” something that did not hurt Obama, while the proposed Syrian bombing, which was about as wrongheaded but less destructive and dangerous, ultimately was? I can think of several reasons why this might be:

  1. The process was handled much better for the first case. In both cases Republicans attacked Obama for being irresolute, taking too long, and so forth, but those attacks didn’t stick because it was plain that there was a decision-making process in place, discussions were being had, different perspectives were being heard. I think the public understood this and the deliberative tone probably helped, especially since that debate was only a year removed from the brash impulsiveness of Bush. Last year, though, one saw a very different process, perhaps even a lack of one. We don’t have the benefit of the many, many books published about Obama’s Afghanistan decision in understanding how things worked with Syria, but there seemed to be no process at all, new principles were being developed on the fly, the Administration was clearly only listening to themselves and the hawkish pundits they choose to care about and the rhetorical overkill couldn’t mask the lack of an argument to use force. I do think Americans are a bit more willing to deploy military force than I would be, but you hardly need be a full-on dove to know the Administration’s case stunk.
  2. Republican critiques accomplishing an ironic resonance. Republicans have sought again and again to portray Obama as weak-kneed, irresolute, and weak from the start. Ironically, it might have been his attempts to avoid these labels that made them stick, as his apparent insistence on leaving his options open and not committing to any course of action has had the effect of forcing him into situations he didn’t want to be in, as happened with Syria. I’m reminded of the line from Ulee’s Gold to the effect that there are lots of different kinds of weakness, not all of which are evil. Of course, backing down from poorly chosen words is not necessarily a weakness, nor is flatly refusing to involve the country in the conflict in a military sense.
  3. In the same vein, while I welcome Obama’s joined opposition to bulk NSA data collection, this seems to be poorly timed to say the least. As with financial reform, it’s a reasonably good idea that ought to have been proposed much earlier to have much more political impact. Instead, Obama suffered months of backlash and spent political capital to defeat legislative measures that would have done this. The damage is done. Fairly reactive and slow-moving.

I suppose the differences are (a) an apparent decline in the professionalism/ability of the Admin.’s foreign policy team from the last term to this, and (b) this pushing perceptions of Obama’s similar conduct in both from positive to negative connotations. Any other ideas?

Lev filed this under: , ,  

Had a blow-out not too long ago with a rando — which, I realize, was mistake number one, and my own damned fault, to boot, for getting sucked in, but the truth, sometimes it yearns to be free. Anyway, I mentioned that some religious groups (and, of course, at least one major US political party) had a vested interest in keeping the hoi polloi uneducated; replied the rando, and I’m paraphrasing here: I should be ashamed of myself, and she had never heard such balderdash and vile utterances in all her doo-dah days. Or something to that effect.


From MotherJones’ Science Deniers Are Freaking Out About “Cosmos” via TPM:

Some creationists, though, don’t like the Big Bang; at Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, a critique of Cosmos asserts that “the big bang model is unable to explain many scientific observations, but this is of course not mentioned.” [...]

…the [Discovery] institute’s Casey Luskin accuses [Neil deGrasse] Tyson and Cosmos of engaging in “attempts to persuade people of both evolutionary scientific views and larger materialistic evolutionary beliefs, not just by the force of the evidence, but by rhetoric and emotion, and especially by leaving out important contrary arguments and evidence.” [...]

it seems some conservatives are already bashing Tyson as a global warming proponent. Writing at the Media Research Center’s Newsbusters blog, Jeffrey Meyer critiques a recent Tyson appearance on Late Night With Seth Myers. “Meyers and deGrasse Tyson chose to take a cheap shot at religious people and claim they don’t believe in science i.e. liberal causes like global warming,” writes Meyer.

Nah, christianists and what-have-yous are veritable fonts of reliable information. Lo, the scales have fallen from my eyes; abject apologies all around, y’all.

Somewhat tangentially, about three weeks ago, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Confederacy) cracked wise at CPAC about the Obama administration’s foreign policy…lack of oomph:

“Without firing a single missile, President Reagan actually brought down the Soviet Union, and you’ve got right not a President who’s you know, John Kerry’s flying around and drinking merlot with people, and saying, ‘Let’s all be friends,’ and they’re laughing at us right now,” he said.

Oh, the world’s laughing at us, all right. Just not for wine-guzzling diplomatic junkets.

(“Drinking merlot” means pantywaist, by the way. In case you missed that. Also, “without firing a single missile” means “Reagan’s schlong was so, like, humongous, that he could fuck Russia without ever taking it out of his pants.”)

I think the main reason why hawks are falling over each other trying to pressure Pres. Obama into DOING SOMETHING in Ukraine is because the strategy of spending lots of time calling loudly for Obama to DO SOMETHING (ultimately, to use military force) has had a pretty good record of success. Not always, mind you–Obama’s Iran negotiations are encouraging, and he’s not only ignored these people, he’s actively used his influence to beat theirs’ back. But generally speaking, foreign uprisings have gone in the same way every time: Obama initially stakes out a vaguely “no involvement” position. Hawks clamor for him to speak out. He does. At which point, either the thing over which he spoke out fizzles before further pressure can matter (e.g. Iran’s Green Movement), or the thing Obama said makes life much more difficult for him (e.g. Syria, Libya). And then, if he can get past domestic obstacles, then the bombing can commence.

I do think that Obama would personally prefer to avoid these entanglements. But it’s impossible not to conclude that he also is very disinclined to simply tell the hawks to piss off, that America will not use military force to respond to this week’s foreign uprising. This is probably due to some calculation of keeping options open but it’s actually just a different kind of prison, since hawks have learned that maximum volume often works in moving the needle from “vague no” to “tortured yes” with the key ingredient of time. The absolute best thing for Obama to do at this point would be to flatly rule out any sort of military intervention in this case, and challenge the hawks to explain why money and lives would be best spent getting in the middle of yet another foreign dispute in a country where we have nothing at stake, where public support would likely again be nonexistent. Given that Obama’s tragic flaw is that he assumes goodwill and rationality of all people this would be somewhat unusual, but it would demonstrably make him “stronger” because hawks would have to realize they could not push him around so easily.

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Lev filed this under: , ,  
Republicans can be pretty tiresome with their Benghazi conspiracy theories but, until today, I hadn’t heard it being described as anything close to a “massacre“.  So we now consider four people being killed a massacre?  Why not just go full Godwin and call it a holocaust? Not that it bears explanation, but for any idiots in the audience:

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So, yeah, soon-to-be U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power is pretty much as horrible a liberal hawk as can be. This is not good, I’d say “embracing neoconservative rhetoric” is an apt description. Seems like it ought to be a disqualifier, though it won’t be.

I’ve been thinking recently about this. President Obama, while not a realist by most definitions of the term, certainly is one relatively speaking based on the mainstream of Washington foreign policy standards. However, he keeps promoting horrible liberal hawks through the ranks of the foreign policy bureaucracy. Though they aren’t the only people he’s put in top slots. Obama has put a fair amount of realists into top foreign policy slots, it’s just that they’re Republican realists. The Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel definitely trace their lineage through the (dying, if not dead, but once ascendant) Republican realist tradition. And while I’m hardly an expert, I draw a blank thinking about the sorts of Democratic realists who would be qualified for these posts. Democratic politics seems to have something of a bifurcated system in which, on the one hand, a lot of antiwar, noninterventionist politicians hold office, but on the other hand, staffer types and people who aren’t interested in running for office overwhelmingly incline toward a liberal internationalist hawk perspective, presumably so that they can get jobs at non-partisan interventionist shops like Brookings when the GOP has the White House. Republicans used to have a whole system in place to foster realist foreign policy types, between realist-inclined administrations and think-tanks. But the Democrats are well behind on that score, and the most prominent center-left think tank doesn’t even list foreign policy as an issue that they have experts in (though they do list “military” and “national security“, which are not quite the same thing).

In any event, my take on the White House is shifting a bit on this subject. I’m seeing things less in terms of what Lemieux terms the “Republican Daddies” syndrome, and more as a situation in which Obama seems interested in putting realists in top offices, but the only place they really still exist are the graying remnants of the Republican realist machine, and picking too many of those tends to generate serious flak. The problem seems to be that Democratic realists don’t exist because there isn’t really a track for them, in terms of getting jobs when the other side runs things. But this could be quite easily fixed if some antiwar Democrat billionaire endowed a realist think-tank with this express purpose. Still, it would be nice if Obama could try to find a few talented people of this type and put them into important jobs himself. At this point, virtually all the pushback against foreign policy adventurism in the executive branch has been by Republicans and military brass, which is something that ought to make war-skeptics uneasy.

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It’s amazing the extent to which mainstream opinion in so many different spheres of politics and policy is made up of people trying to find some way to apply obviously failed ideologies in some novel-ish way. I feel like the intellectual climate in American politics right now would be familiar to people who studied the Soviet Union in the early ’80s, when it was clear that what was going on just wasn’t going to cut it, but the will to stop believing just wasn’t there yet.

I just had a sort of sublime moment reading a post by one of our faves here, Daniel Larison. He’s written versions of the same post probably dozens of times, essentially it’s the one where some media figure says we should arm Syrian rebels to have some sort of proxy conflict with Iran, and Larison says that’s really not such a good idea. This one, though, struck me especially not only in how common and even hackneyed the arguments for arming the rebels were, but for how basic and intuitive the counterarguments are, how much effort it must take just to not believe them and go on with the tired old Contra-redux shtick we keep invariably hearing. I couldn’t help but have this moment of bewilderment contemplating the gulf between them. Obviously, screwing around with one country’s allies isn’t going to make them play ball on other issues. It’s incredible that the operating ideology of how the Middle East operates is still some variation of shock and awe/”all those people understand is force” after all we’ve been through. I would attribute it to racism, but I think it’s really just a lack of understanding of how power works on the part of insipid pundits who take their own power for granted. People like to be respected for the authority they have, even if that authority is merely just that they’re a human being, with power that doesn’t extend beyond their own skin. By denying that, or trying to take it away from them, you make them angry and scared, perhaps willing to do desperate things they would not otherwise do. I don’t know if I’ve said it this way before, but the only thing that’s really insane about the right-wing in this country is their assumptions. If you accept their received wisdom (and it’s all received at this point) about union goons and brown reconquistas and black helicopters, then where they take it from there is entirely logical. If nothing else, conservatism is based on a fear of losing power, for a certain part of the electorate. You could really break this country’s two coalitions into the (white) group that’s afraid of losing power on one hand, and the (nonwhite) groups that want to gain power and a rump (white) group that doesn’t care or sympathizes on the other. This is largely why a more moderate GOP is not yet in the cards–the only way they’ll compromise on power is if they worry they could lose it all, and they’re not all that worried about that yet.

The basic gist of it is that, people will do a lot to gain more power, but they’ll do anything to avoid losing it. Losing power in the form of an allied government would probably make any sort of deal with Iran completely impossible, since they’d feel the need to make up that power elsewhere, most likely through nuclear weapons. It’s in everyone’s interest for there to be less nukes on this planet, though (a) that is not worth fighting a war over, and (b) we tolerate less stable regimes having them than Iran. Still, the common sense solution here is just to leave well enough alone. If America merely made an effort to show respect even to regimes we despise, it would go a long way toward better foreign relations. If we actually stopped messing with other nations’ internal affairs, we might be on our way to peace as a country. It isn’t always that simple, but at the moment it really could be. The serious threats to America have not been lesser in a century.

Also, this is neither here nor there, but I initially thought the author of the piece was the Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, which seemed like a really odd choice to write a warmongering article. It’s not, though, they just have similar names that got confused in my head. (Rachel Kleinfeld =/= Rebecca Kleefisch)

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Doesn’t it hurt to have your mind tied up in knots all day long?
[I]n the case of allegations of anti-Semitism, Hagel has not even apologized. He has remained silent… Why would anyone think he was an anti-Semite?  …  Nebraskan Jewish activists and officials have said he was hostile, and none … have come forward to counter that allegation. [...] Perhaps there are answers, and perhaps Mr. Hagel actually has no problem with “the Jews.” But one purpose of confirmation hearings should be to find out.