Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn will seek to offset federal aid to victims of a massive tornado that blasted through Oklahoma City suburbs on Monday with cuts elsewhere in the budget.> more ... (0 comments)
I’m actually a little more sympathetic to Conor Friersdorf than this (though I am assuredly not a fan). It’s hard for antiwar people to find a home within the two party system we have, and Obama is uniquely susceptible to criticism on foreign and national security issues because those policies are largely his alone. It’s difficult to know exactly how much blame to affix to Obama for certain domestic disappointments or successes because separating his role from that of Congress is tricky–we call it “Obamacare” but it’s equally as much “Reidcare” or “Pelosicare” (and quite possibly more accurate to use those labels, since Reid was almost LBJ-esque getting the bill through the Senate, and Pelosi’s role in passing it was no less impressive). On some domestic bills it’s easier than others, but it’s complicated in most domestic bills while aside from a few Congressional actions on Guantanamo and the loathsome NDAA, Obama owns just about everything his Administration has done in FP/national security areas. His record is pretty lousy to us civil libertarians, no doubt about it, and just about the only argument you can use is the one that he faces political constraints on his actions. Which is true, he does face constraints in this as well as every other area. But my basic take on this is that Obama’s foreign policy was designed to be popular with the public while avoiding the expenditure of any political capital that might be needed on domestic matters. And that it was. He could easily have thrown the civil libertarians a few bones here and there, struck a better balance, but one of the more persistent facts of first term Obama was a consistent refusal to take the morale of his base in pushing the course he thought was politically advantageous (to do so would undoubtedly have been “small” and “petty”), usually in hopes of striking some sort of rare bipartisan comity or settlement. Sometimes he was right about those choices but usually not, it cost him big, and I hope he’s learned his lesson. I think maybe he has.
But just because Obama has been bad on these issues doesn’t mean Romney wouldn’t be substantially worse:
Last December, Mr. Romney was asked about waterboarding at a town-hall meeting in Charleston. He replied that he would “do what is essential to protect the lives of the American people” but would not list “for our enemies around the world” what techniques the United States would use.
Mr. Romney also declared that he would “not authorize torture.” At the news conference afterward, a reporter pressed him to say whether he thought waterboarding was torture, and Mr. Romney replied, “I don’t.”
That comment appeared to align Mr. Romney with a practice by the executive branch, under President Bush, of defining torture narrowly and saying the harsh treatment it inflicted on detainees fell short of that level. By contrast, Mr. Obama has embraced a more expansive conception of the suffering that is off-limits.
“Waterboarding is torture,” Mr. Obama said in November. “It’s contrary to America’s traditions. It’s contrary to our ideals. That’s not who we are. That’s not how we operate. We don’t need it in order to prosecute the war on terrorism. And we did the right thing by ending that practice. If we want to lead around the world, part of our leadership is setting a good example.”
Ending torture was a big early step forward on civil liberties. At this point, it looks as though it might be the last big step forward too, at least in the first term. Given how much Democrats developed their case against Bush on security grounds in 2007/2008, that’s sad. But there is little ambiguity that Romney’s Dan Senor-led national security team wants to undo even that one solitary achievement (incidentally, just imagine reading this in the Times a year from now: “Romney National Security Adviser Dan Senor indicated that a second surge in the Iran conflict has not been ruled out.”). Plus, the article indicates they would probably push even further than Bush did in terms of torture. That’s bad. Doesn’t undo that pretty much every other decision Obama’s made in this particular area has been less than ideal, but losing the only one that’s any good is not a positive, and for a civil libertarian that might be what you’d call a VOTING ISSUE. While the Nader types hate the idea that they’re only helping Republicans with their votes (and make no mistake, despite the difference in ideology, that’s what Friersdorf is), it’s impossible to argue that they’re doing anything else short-term. Yeah, the common arguments about “changing the paradigm” and such might or might not happen in the long term, but to quote Keynes, in the long term we’ll all be dead. And given Mitt Romney’s excellent diplomacy skills, the long term might not be so far off…
One thing I’m always interested in watching or reading are accounts of when pundits or other noteworthy people personally undergo torture techniques and talk about them. In almost every case, the end result is they wind up more skeptical of the practices than they were before. This clip of the actor Denzel Washington is pretty short, but it sure seems like that was the case after he went through it (sorry no embed, but I tried for about 10 minutes and couldn’t figure it out–it’s worth a click, I assure you).
Not that I’d ever advocate forcing Sean Hannity or Marc Thiessen to undergo torture, but maybe if they could be dared into it, possibly with some sort of Reagan-based macho contest, we could move beyond this dumb debate already and go back to when everyone agreed torture was horrible.
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).
Like I’ve said time and time before, our country’s quick descent into becoming a torture state had broad ramifications for our ability to later call out human rights abusers without being called hypocrites.
The United States is beset by violence, racism and torture and has no authority to condemn other governments’ human rights problems, China said on Sunday, countering U.S. criticism of Beijing’s crackdown.
The row between Beijing and Washington over human rights has intensified since China’s ruling Communist Party extended its clampdown on dissidents and rights activists, a move which has sparked an outcry from Washington and other Western governments.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is the most prominent of the activists to be detained by police or held in secretive custody in the latest crackdown.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday she was “deeply concerned” about it, and cited “negative trends” including Ai’s detention. [...]
“Stop the domineering behavior of exploiting human rights to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries,” it said, according to excerpts published by the official Xinhua news agency.
“The United States ignores its own severe human rights problems, ardently promoting its so-called ‘human rights diplomacy’, treating human rights as a political tool to vilify other countries and to advance its own strategic interests,” said a passage from the Chinese report.
It’s a hard time for pots trying to call the kettle black.
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
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