Hi folks, I am new around here and going to contribute occasionally, at least until I bore the shit out of Maarten and Adriejan. That shouldn’t take too long…
Well, the NY Times has Bob Woodward’s new book in advance, as seems to be the normal course of events when Woodward has a new book to peddle. The new volume – Obama’s Wars – chronicles how the war in Afghanistan has divided the White House on matters of “policy, personalities and turf”.
So far we are just relying on the Times’, clearly quickly written summary, but it stands in pretty marked contrast to Woodward’s last effort on the Bush administration, The War Within: A Secret White House History. Where Woodward’s last expose on the Bush years detailed serious abuses of power including secret eavesdropping and assignation programmes, the coverage of the Obama efforts to date paints a picture of a poorly administrated, childish and trite mess:
…Although the internal divisions described have become public, the book suggests that they were even more intense and disparate than previously known and offers new details. Mr. Biden called Mr. Holbrooke “the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met.” A variety of administration officials expressed scorn for James L. Jones, the retired Marine general who is national security adviser, while he referred to some of the president’s other aides as “the water bugs” or “the Politburo.”
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thought his vice chairman, Gen. James E. Cartwright, went behind his back, while General Cartwright dismissed Admiral Mullen because he wasn’t a war fighter. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates worried that General Jones would be succeeded by his deputy, Thomas E. Donilon, who would be a “disaster.”
Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was overall commander for the Middle East until becoming the Afghanistan commander this summer, told a senior aide that he disliked talking with David M. Axelrod, the president’s senior adviser, because he was “a complete spin doctor.” General Petraeus was effectively banned by the administration from the Sunday talk shows but worked private channels with Congress and the news media.
And the book recounts incidents in which Adm. Dennis C. Blair, then the national intelligence director, fought with Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, and John O. Brennan, the counterterrorism adviser.
During a daily intelligence briefing in May 2009, Mr. Blair warned the president that radicals with American and European passports were being trained in Pakistan to attack their homelands. Mr. Emanuel afterward chastised him, saying, “You’re just trying to put this on us so it’s not your fault.”
As for Mr. Obama himself, the book describes a professorial president who assigned “homework” to advisers but bristled at what he saw as military commanders’ attempts to force him into a decision he was not yet comfortable with. Even after he agreed to send another 30,000 troops last winter, the Pentagon asked for another 4,500 “enablers” to support them.
The president lost his poise, according to the book. “I’m done doing this!” he erupted.
To ensure that the Pentagon did not reinterpret his decision, Mr. Obama dictated a six-page, single-space “terms sheet” explicitly laying out his troop order and its objectives, a document included in the book’s appendix.
While none of this sounds like the serious breaches that characterized the Bush years, it does sound ridiculous. The description fits with a White House that is having great difficulty getting things done, including most recently its failed effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, sigh.
After a financial crisis in which the state had to use public money to rescue banks who through their own exploitative neoliberal behaviour had come into trouble, and an economic recession as a result of that, now the people pay the price through the rightwing turn to huge budget cuts and “austerity” that is suddenly all the vogue – at least in Europe. This of course primarily affects already stripped-down welfare arrangements. While of course in formerly spendthrift countries like Greece and Great Britain huge cuts have to made, in a country like the Netherlands, which is basically doing fine economically and isn’t running a huge deficit at all, one can question the need for the biggest budget cuts in history, now planned by the threesome of rightwing parties that will likely form the next government. Apart from doing grave damage to the entirety of the public sector, it might stifle an economy that is just getting back on its feet.
But yeah, we have to make budget cuts of 18 billion euros in the next four years, because that’s what a healthy, sane, wise economic policy looks like.
Although you don’t hear it in the Netherlands, a lot of people think otherwise. Like President Obama, who has repeatedly warned European states that budget-slashing could threaten global economic recovery, and Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, who in this NYT piece challenges the received wisdom on the European Right that enormous budget cuts are the only remedy to help get the economy back online.
As I look at what passes for responsible economic policy these days, there’s an analogy that keeps passing through my mind. I know it’s over the top, but here it is anyway: the policy elite — central bankers, finance ministers, politicians who pose as defenders of fiscal virtue — are acting like the priests of some ancient cult, demanding that we engage in human sacrifices to appease the anger of invisible gods.
Hey, I told you it was over the top. But bear with me for a minute.
Late last year the conventional wisdom on economic policy took a hard right turn. Even though the world’s major economies had barely begun to recover, even though unemployment remained disastrously high across much of America and Europe, creating jobs was no longer on the agenda. Instead, we were told, governments had to turn all their attention to reducing budget deficits.
Skeptics pointed out that slashing spending in a depressed economy does little to improve long-run budget prospects, and may actually make them worse by depressing economic growth. But the apostles of austerity — sometimes referred to as “austerians” — brushed aside all attempts to do the math. Never mind the numbers, they declared: immediate spending cuts were needed to ward off the “bond vigilantes,” investors who would pull the plug on spendthrift governments, driving up their borrowing costs and precipitating a crisis. Look at Greece, they said.
The skeptics countered that Greece is a special case, trapped by its use of the euro, which condemns it to years of deflation and stagnation whatever it does. The interest rates paid by major nations with their own currencies — not just the United States, but also Britain and Japan — showed no sign that the bond vigilantes were about to attack, or even that they existed.
Just you wait, said the austerians: the bond vigilantes may be invisible, but they must be feared all the same.
This was a strange argument even a few months ago, when the U.S. government could borrow for 10 years at less than 4 percent interest. We were being told that it was necessary to give up on job creation, to inflict suffering on millions of workers, in order to satisfy demands that investors were not, in fact, actually making, but which austerians claimed they would make in the future.
But the argument has become even stranger recently, as it has become clear that investors aren’t worried about deficits; they’re worried about stagnation and deflation. And they’ve been signaling that concern by driving interest rates on the debt of major economies lower, not higher. On Thursday, the rate on 10-year U.S. bonds was only 2.58 percent.
Jeffrey Goldberg, an American-Israeli journalist writing primarily for The Atlantic, has a huge article in the September 2010 edition of the magazine about a looming foreign policy question: the possibility of a military attack by Israel on the nuclear facilities of Iran. The article can be read here.
It’s based on interviews with 40 past and present Israeli decision makers, as well as American and Arab officials since March 2009. While of course in the Netherlands, no media outlet has paid any attention at all to this very important article, in the U.S. it has unleashed a debate. No surprise: according to the article, there is consensus among the policy makers Goldberg spoke to that there is a more than 50 percent chance of Israel attacking Iran by July 2011.
How this is, what consequences this might have for Middle East (and global) politics, but also what the ramifications of a nuclearized Iran could be, is explored in-depth in the article. Because the latter possibility is what probably no one wants; yet the consequences of Israel taking military action are grave. It will shake up Middle Eastern politics by igniting retaliation actions, for example by the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, and possibly a complete regional war (which will make Afghanistan look like a minor problem in Obama’s hands), with all the human, social and economic misery that entails; it might solidify the Iranian theocratic regime; it could drastically raise oil prices and havoc the world economy; and in general, it will make so much more problematic the position of Israel in the Middle East, not to mention the standing of the US in the Islamic world.
On the other hand, consider the possible ramifications of Iran acquiring nuclear weaponry. Not only does a large segment of the Israeli governing elite and population view this as an ‘existential threat’ comparable to the Holocaust (if you take some of the anti-Semitic and violent rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad literally, that is not such a overblown thought; on the other hand, the chances of Iran actually using it on, for example, Tel Aviv are probably slim); it would in the first place indisputably raise Iran’s raw geopolitical power, thus drastically altering the balance of power in the region. Arab regimes would feel threatened (maybe sparking an arms race) and militant groups supported by Iran like Hezbollah would feel empowered under a nuclear umbrella. It would also mean a possibly fatal blow to international nuclear non-proliferation efforts (led by Obama), and a huge slap in the face of the United Nations and the IAEA.
The US, EU and UN currently have sanctions in place, as Iran has repeatedly ignored Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium, and keeps building nuclear reactors. A May 2010 report by IAEA inspectors (who are denied access to facilities) indicated that the country currently has enough nuclear fuel to, when enriched, make two nuclear weapons. According to Goldberg’s article, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a NATO meeting in June that “most intelligence estimates” predict that Iran is a few years away from building a nuclear weapon. So, like with Iraq at the time, the question of whether they are pursuing nuclear weaponry is open – but they’re not doing themselves a favour by not cooperating with the international community, and regularly threatening Israel with annihilation. The Obama administration has called the nuclear program “a threat” to the region and has consistently not ruled out the option of a military strike against the reactors, but in all probability are not very keen on doing so.
So that leaves the question what Israel’s gonna do… Which is what Goldberg’s article is about.
Yet, Goldberg is not without his critics. This especially has to do with a 2002 article in The New Yorker, in which he wrote that Iraq’s nuclear program posed ‘a significant threat’ to the US, and went into ‘evidence’ that Saddam Hussein had close connections with Al Qaeda… In short, almost exactly the message he seems to have now. According to Robert Wright as the NYT Opinionator blog, this article is remembered “on the left” as a “monument to consequential wrongness”. Goldberg also supported the Iraq war. This leads blogger Glenn Greenwald (in a rather ad hominem piece, I have to say) to point out that in his current article, Goldberg paints the 1981 Israeli strike against the Osirak reactor in Iraq as a succesful effort to halt that country’s nuclear program, while in his previous article, he constructed it as unsuccesful, leading Saddam to double his efforts – making Goldberg a propagandist for military action against Iran. Greenwald asserts that it is the 1981 strike against the Osirak reactor that led Iraq to pursue a nuclear program.
In short, Goldberg is accused of trying to shift the debate with this huge piece; of making the prospect of a military strike against Iran seem inevitable, of making it a question who is going to undertake it, rather then whether it should be undertaken. Critics like Greenwald assume a warmongering neoconservative agenda behind his writings. Goldberg, again, is to some extend defended by writers like The Atlantic‘s James Fallows and TIME’s Joe Klein, who are saying he is just trying to expose the Israeli government’s thinking.
Personally, I’m not sure; while definitely more an attempt at in-depth, resource material rich journalism rather than “propaganda”, I do think the article leans towards an understanding of Israel, and too much of a closed case against Iran (and the possibility of a military strike). The best way to form an opinion, however, is to read it yourself; because whatever you may think of it, it’s definitely the most consequential piece on this looming crisis you’ll read in a while.
For the Obama administration, the prospect of a nuclearized Iran is dismal to contemplate— it would create major new national-security challenges and crush the president’s dream of ending nuclear proliferation. But the view from Jerusalem is still more dire: a nuclearized Iran represents, among other things, a threat to Israel’s very existence. In the gap between Washington’s and Jerusalem’s views of Iran lies the question: who, if anyone, will stop Iran before it goes nuclear, and how? As Washington and Jerusalem study each other intensely, here’s an inside look at the strategic calculations on both sides—and at how, if things remain on the current course, an Israeli air strike will unfold.
It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons.It is also possible that Iran’s reform-minded Green Movement will somehow replace the mullah-led regime, or at least discover the means to temper the regime’s ideological extremism. It is possible, as well, that “foiling operations” conducted by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western powers—programs designed to subvert the Iranian nuclear effort through sabotage and, on occasion, the carefully engineered disappearances of nuclear scientists—will have hindered Iran’s progress in some significant way. It is also possible that President Obama, who has said on more than a few occasions that he finds the prospect of a nuclear Iran “unacceptable,” will order a military strike against the country’s main weapons and uranium-enrichment facilities.
But none of these things—least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran—seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft.
When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel—regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program—they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.
A good overview of the ways in which the GOP is trying to achieve electoral gain from the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy and how current popular forces in the party have a completely different view on Islam than former President Bush and his aides, on Politico:
The harsh Republican response to President Barack Obama’s defense of a mosque near ground zero marks a dramatic shift in the party’s posture toward Islam — from a once active courtship of Muslim voters to a very public tolerance after Sept. 11 to an openly aired sense of mistrust.
Republican leaders have largely abandoned former President George W. Bush’s post-Sept. 11 rhetorical embrace of American Muslims and his insistence — always controversial inside the party — that Islam is a religion of peace. This weekend, former Bush aides were among the very few Republicans siding with Obama, as many of the party’s leaders have moved toward more vocal denunciations of Islam’s role in violence abroad and suspicion of its place at home.
But the attacks on what is now nationally known as the “Ground Zero mosque” — it is a few blocks north of the site — also stand in for a broader turn in the cultural politics of the right, in which some of the social issues that served as the emotional core of candidates’ appeals have lost their power. A recent CNN poll showing that 68 percent of Americans oppose the construction of the mosque also found that about half think there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. No political genius is required to decide which issue to run on.
The pre-Sept. 11 Republican Party actively courted Muslim voters in key states like Michigan. An energetic effort to lead the socially conservative, relatively affluent community into the GOP was led by power broker Grover Norquist — who didn’t respond to a request to talk about Republicans and Muslims. But it failed, and the present-day Republican Party has more or less given them up for those lost and alienated by American policies in the Middle East and — as Republicans see it — misled by their own leaders into ambiguous public positions.
On September 17, 2001, Bush visited Washington’s Islamic Center with a simple message: “Islam is peace.”
Those words didn’t sit well with key segments of the Republican base, including some Christian leaders. In June 2002, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention suggested that the God of Muslims would “turn you into a terrorist that’ll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people.”
Other former Bush aides backed President Obama’s defense of the mosque. Former Bush consultant Mark McKinnon called Obama’s Friday remarks an example of “bold and decisive leadership.”
“An enormously complex and emotional issue — but ultimately the right thing to do. A president is president for every citizen, including every Muslim citizen,” said former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. “Obama is correct that the way to marginalize radicalism is to respect the best traditions of Islam and protect the religious liberty of Muslim Americans. It is radicals who imagine an American war on Islam. But our conflict is with the radicals alone.”
Among the first conservative groups gunning for the ground zero mosque was the National Republican Trust PAC, whose television ad two broadcast networks refused to air on the grounds that it seemed to tie the organizers of the community center, without evidence, to the planners of the terror attacks.
But it became a hit on YouTube, and combined with the complaints of New York politicians and some conservative bloggers, the project became a national issue.
“Once we brought this issue to the American people, the politicians were falling all over each other to get out in front of it,” said Scott Wheeler, the group’s executive director.
The New York Times has a sweeping and revealing article about the “shadow war on terrorism” the United States, under the leadership of Barack Obama, are waging. While everyone knows that drone raids are a frequent occurrence in Pakistan, and that missile attacks have been undertaken in Yemen, the sheer size of the global operations of the U.S. conducted by the Pentagon and the CIA against Al Qaeda is news. It ranges from the employment of unmanned drones and missiles to spy and commando teams, as well as the contracting of private soldiers; and the playing field is not only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, but also Kenya, North Africa and central Asia. What is interesting is that this is a counterterrorism policy that is explicitly owned by Obama; although the Bush administration of course also conducted operations like these, they have grown in scope and intensity in the past one and a half years.
Analytically, I think the article makes an interesting point by pitching Obama’s shadow war against the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of entire countries. The rationale behind the Afghanistan war, of course, was the idea that the U.S. needs to have military control over a geographical area in order to prevent terrorists from attacking American soil; an idea that then almost necessarily leads to the nation building concept, and has gotten the West into a protracted, absurdly expensive war to which no end is in sight, and which has done much to discredit its image in the Muslim world. The disadvantages of the neoconservative view on counterterrorism should after nine years be pretty obvious.
On the other hand, a massive clandestine “shadow war” has its own negativities as well. The most important one is that it makes civilian casualties, just like invading countries does. In Yemen, for example, a December 2009 attack against an Al Qaeda camp with a cruise missile loaded with cluster bombs is said to have killed more than 50 civilians. Aside from the obvious and inexcusable human tragedy such “covert actions” incur, one should easily be able to grasp how this affects Middle Eastern’s populations’ viewpoints of America, and the West. Secondly, the problem is you sometimes have to rely on local leaders whose bona fides can be questioned as well. Thirdly, a shadow war like this is essentially shadowy: this means, first, that the boundaries of international law between soldiers, spies and civilians become blurred (with consequences for the applicability of, for example, the Geneva Conventions) and secondly, that Congressional and judicial oversight on covert operations and military attacks is weakened, opening up the prospective of an uncontrolled Executive and military operating throughout the world. In the case of Anwar Aulaqi, a Yemeni Al Qaeda leader who also has the American nationality, the grave yet hardly-reported-on situation presents itself that the President here orders the execution through military means of an American citizen… Finally, the risks of contracting private fighters, like a weaking of accountability and control, are clear.
What I also thought interesting was the transformation of the CIA from an intelligence agency into what is almost a paramilitary organization. But read the article, it’s probably the most comprehensive overview of the “war on terror” as conducted today that is now available.
In roughly a dozen countries— from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.
The White House has intensified the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone missile campaign in Pakistan, approved raids against Qaeda operatives in Somalia and launched clandestine operations from Kenya. The administration has worked with European allies to dismantle terrorist groups in North Africa, efforts that include a recent French strike in Algeria. And the Pentagon tapped a network of private contractors to gather intelligence about things like militant hide-outs in Pakistan and the location of an American soldier currently in Taliban hands.
While the stealth war began in the Bush administration, it has expanded under President Obama, who rose to prominence in part for his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the United States government have been publicly acknowledged. In contrast with the troop buildup in Afghanistan, which came after months of robust debate, for example, the American military campaign in Yemen began without notice in December and has never been officially confirmed.
Obama administration officials point to the benefits of bringing the fight against Al Qaeda and other militants into the shadows. Afghanistan and Iraq, they said, have sobered American politicians and voters about the staggering costs of big wars that topple governments, require years of occupation and can be a catalyst for further radicalization throughout the Muslim world.
Yet such wars come with many risks: the potential for botched operations that fuel anti-American rage; a blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies that could put troops at risk of being denied Geneva Convention protections; a weakening of the Congressional oversight system put in place to prevent abuses by America’s secret operatives; and a reliance on authoritarian foreign leaders and surrogates with sometimes murky loyalties.
The administration’s demands have accelerated a transformation of the C.I.A. into a paramilitary organization as much as a spying agency, which some critics worry could lower the threshold for future quasi-military operations. In Pakistan’s mountains, the agency had broadened its drone campaign beyond selective strikes against Qaeda leaders and now regularly obliterates suspected enemy compounds and logistics convoys, just as the military would grind down an enemy force.
For its part, the Pentagon is becoming more like the C.I.A. Across the Middle East and elsewhere, Special Operations troops under secret “Execute Orders” have conducted spying missions that were once the preserve of civilian intelligence agencies. With code names like Eager Pawn and Indigo Spade, such programs typically operate with even less transparency and Congressional oversight than traditional covert actions by the C.I.A.
And, as American counterterrorism operations spread beyond war zones into territory hostile to the military, private contractors have taken on a prominent role, raising concerns that the United States has outsourced some of its most important missions to a sometimes unaccountable private army.
In another high mark of the presidency of Barack H. Obama, today the first trial of a child soldier in modern U.S. history will commence at Guantánamo Bay. Well done, President Obama, thank you very much! The suspect, the Canadian Omar Khadr, was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15 years old. He is suspected of killing an American soldier with a grenade.
What’s more, he will be tried in a military commission: a remnant of the Bush administration’s attempt to try terrorist suspects in quasi-legal military courts with lower standards than the normal federal civilian courts, that has been kept by Obama. So, Khadr also has the honor of being the first detainee to be tried in a military commission under the presidency of Barack Obama.
The Huffington Post has a harrowing, eye-opening story about the details of this case. First of all, Khadr was taken to Afghanistan by his father, an alleged Al Qaeda financier, when he was only 9 years old; according to a report by a Canadian intelligence agency, based on interrogations, he viewed Al Qaeda “through the eyes of a child”. Secondly, Khadr has, according to testimony by former interrogators at the pretrial hearings, been molested and tortured (yelled at, things thrown at, kept awake, threatened with gang rape and death) by U.S. interrogators in Bagram and Guantánamo to extract a confession; before that, by the way, when he was captured, he was already shot twice in the back, blinded in one eye and damaged in his face due to shrapnel. Thirdly, military commission judge Col. Pat Parrish has ruled that his confessions, despite being obtained by molestation, can actually serve as evidence in his trial.
Then there’s another thing. Even if Khadr had killed the soldier, that would have been a normal act of war had he been a soldier himself. Because he’s a civilian, however, it constitutes a criminal act that can be prosecuted in a normal court (like more than 400 terror suspects have been in the past eight years). Yet currently he’s being prosecuted for “war crimes”, because he belongs to a special category of persons made up by the Bush administration and retained by the Obama administration (without the name): the “enemy combatant“, who can be indefinitely detained and must be tried by a specially created quasi-legal military tribunal.
So I think it’s appropriate here to cite the closing lines of the HuffPost article:
It will also create a lasting legacy for the Obama administration. “Forever the Obama administration will be remembered as starting the military commissions with a case of a child soldier,” Jackson said.
Somehow that doesn’t seem like the sort of legacy Obama had in mind when he vowed to close the Gitmo prison down on his first day in office.
A new documentary film, promoting the Tea Party movement:
A nice effort by director Ray Griggs to make a Michael Moore documentary, including funny newsclips, animations, “experts” and commentary by “normal people on the street” (in this case Tea Partiers), which is being coined “controversial” by the filmmaker, in the trailer, before the movie has even come out. Ofcourse Obama is freely associated with “socialism”. Weird that there’s not one reference to President George W. Bush, who pushed the national debt to a record height and who’s mess Obama is now desperately trying to clean up. Obviously Reagan is portrayed as the big prophet. Why Reagan is still known for phrases like “small government” and “government is the problem” is quite incomprehensible when you look at this chart:
For all the GOP chest puffing about reversing the new health care law, a full repeal, to put it generously, is a long-term project. Even if they retake the House in November, they almost certainly won’t retake the Senate. Even if they retake both the House and the Senate, they’d still have to contend with the filibuster. And even if the filibuster weren’t an issue, they’d still have to contend with a Presidential veto. All of that adds up to long odds, and they know it.
But if they do retake the House, even by a slim margin, they could still make a great deal of mischief, effectively sentencing Obama’s history-making accomplishment to death by 1000 cuts.
“If Republicans are rewarded with control of the House of Representatives, we will use every means at our disposal to take that case to the American people, and repeal Obamacare lock stock and barrel,” said House GOP Conference Chair Mike Pence. “We’ll also use whatever means are available to delay implementation of Obamacare.”
Pence cited the “power of the purse” — Congress’ prerogative to appropriate funds to federal agencies — as a key tool at the Republicans’ disposal if they win back the House. That’s not just bluster.
“The most serious, yet realistic, possibility is precisely the one that you’re suggesting: what the Republicans can do through appropriations bills,” says Paul van de Water, a health care expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In short, implementing the health care law costs money. “Some money was provided in the health reform bill itself, but not by any means all the administrative funding that will be needed,” van de Water said. “If HHS and Treasury don’t get appropriations they need to run the law well, that could be a real problem. It’s not sexy but it’s serious.”
This can work one of few ways. House Republicans, in negotiations with the Senate, could demand appropriation levels beneath what’s necessary to effectively implement the law. If the two chambers reach an agreement — even an agreement that leaves the health care law cash strapped — Obama would be hard pressed to issue a veto. “It’s hard for the president to veto a bill because it doesn’t provide enough money.”
“In theory [they] could cut the funding 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent,” says Congressional expert Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. “The problem is, you could do a lot of damage in a lot of different places.”
Looking back at the 2008 Obama campaign, one might distinguish, among others, two narratives that formed the core appeal of his candicacy: one, that he promoted himself as a “post-partisan” and a “pragmatist”, rather than the type of ideology-fueled politician that at that time was residing in the White House; second, that he promoted himself as someone with a very clear point of view on issues of the rule of law and civil rights. Obama, more so than other candidates such as Hillary Clinton, was very clear about his opposition to Guantánamo Bay, torture, and infringements on civil rights that had become the hallmark of the Bush-Cheney presidency.
Yet, today, Obama has clearly failed to live up to his campaign promises in the latter regard. Guantánamo is still open, a terror suspects’ assassination program for American citizens has been set up, civilian trials for terror suspects are cancelled, habeas corpus rights are not restored, the state secrets doctrine is being invoked, etc. The Obama administration in this area is Bush-lite, in every respect. And all the more frustrating is that the President doesn’t seem to care.
So this might be interpreted as the “pragmatist” narrative having won from the “moral” narrative… As the authors below do. Although I’d say that “pragmatism”, just like “centrism”, is a quasi-neutral term meant to hide very concrete positions, just like Obama is taking. Positions of which “liberals” and “progressives” (or, people who care about the rule of law) have every right to be disappointed about.
Andy Bacevich at The New Republic, first, voices a very to the point criticism of Obama’s presidency so far:
Obama’s supporters were counting on him to bring to the White House an enlightened moral sensibility: He would govern differently not only because he was smarter than his predecessor but because he responded to a different—and truer—inner compass. Events have demolished such expectations. Today, when they look at Washington, Americans see a cool, dispassionate, calculating president whose administration lacks a moral core.
The case for pragmatism, especially after the ideology-drenched years of Bush and Cheney, is a powerful one. On issues like the bank bailout (wildly successful) or health insurance reform (a messy but important advance) or balancing short term demand with long term austerity, we need pragmatism. But there are some areas where that instinct can come to seem unwise.
Sending young men to risk their lives is one of them; refusing to live up to core Geneva Conventions requirements – like investigating and, if appropriate, prosecuting those guilty of war crimes is another; dittocivilrights, where pragmatic politics is never enough.
In the United Kingdom, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron does what Barack Obama doesn’t have the spine for: launch an investigation into the complicity of British intelligence officers in the abuse and torture of terror suspects.
David Cameron today ordered an unprecedented inquiry into evidence and allegations of British complicity in the torture and abuse of terror suspects.
But he immediately moved to ensure the courts would no longer be able to disclose damning evidence which, he implied, could jeopardise intelligence sharing with the US.
Honouring a promise while in opposition that he would set up a judge-led inquiry into mounting evidence, emerging mainly from court hearings, the prime minister told the Commons he had asked Sir Peter Gibson – a former appeal court judge who privately monitors the activities of the intelligence agencies – to “look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11″.
He said that while there was no evidence that any British officer was “directly engaged in torture” in the aftermath of 9/11 there were “questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done”.
Though he did not point directly to a particular case, he made clear he was referring to evidence disclosed by the high court that MI5 knew about the abuse of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held incognito in Pakistan in 2002 before being secretly rendered to jails in Morocco, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on our intelligence services and allegations made about the treatment of detainees.
For the past few years, the reputation of our security services has been overshadowed by allegations about their involvement in the treatment of detainees held by other countries.
Some of these detainees allege they were mistreated by those countries.
Other allegations have also been made about the UK’s involvement in the rendition of detainees in the aftermath of 9/11.
Our services are paralysed by paperwork as they try to defend themselves in lengthy court cases with uncertain rules.
Our reputation as a country that believes in human rights, justice, fairness and the rule of law – indeed for much of what the Services exist to protect – risks being tarnished.
Public confidence is being eroded with people doubting the ability of our Services to protect us and questioning the rules under which they operate. And terrorists and extremists are able to exploit these allegations for their own propaganda.
Mr. Speaker, while there is no evidence that any British officer was directly engaged in torture in the aftermath of 9/11 there are questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done.
About a dozen cases have been brought in court about the actions of UK personnel including, for example, that since 9/11 they may have witnessed mistreatment such as the use of hoods and shackles.
This has led to accusations that Britain may have been complicit in the mistreatment of detainees.
The longer these questions remain unanswered, the bigger the stain on our reputation as a country that believes in freedom, fairness and human rights grows.
We need to restore Britain’s moral leadership in the world.
Hailed as a sign of renewed government transparency when they began airing last year, President Barack Obama’s weekly video addresses have grown increasingly experimental in recent weeks, raising eyebrows nationwide.
Obama, who sources said has been more introspective and isolated in recent months, made his first foray into the avant-garde last March, when he posted a video titled “Red, White, and Doom” to the White House website. In it, the president, seated in the Oval Office with a skull-and-crossbones banner where the American flag would normally be, stares unblinkingly into the camera as the phrase “in God we trust” loops for four minutes and 33 seconds.
While it was initially dismissed by the public as a technical error, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer was quick to clarify that the video in fact reflected Obama’s changing vision for the country.
“The president still wants to continue his dialogue with the American people,” Pfeiffer said. “However, he’s been getting really into Nam June Paik lately, and is passionate about using new technologies and techniques to communicate his message of hope and progress.”
“And if he smashes the very foundations of modern consumerist culture while he’s at it, then all the better,” Pfeiffer added.
Though the videos are a continuation of the fireside chat tradition begun by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, they mark the first time a president has used weekly addresses as a form of artistic self-expression.
Obama’s early pieces primarily played with structure: Our Long-Term Strategy In Afghanistan employs Brion Gysin’s cut-up technique to reorder the words in a major speech on foreign policy, eventually creating a shocking sound collage that, according to the White House, reveals “a truth previously buried beneath layers of intent.”
Since then, the president’s work has grown more abstract and drawn mixed reviews. Citizens reacted favorably to the absurdist slapstick of Reshaping Wall $treet, which features a man in a pig mask rooting through a garbage pail filled with currency, but were less satisfied with (S)Mother Earth, in which Americans ranging in age from 6 months to 90 years are submerged in oil and found guilty by a clown-faced judge for their role in the recent BP oil spill.
Nonetheless, a number of critics have embraced Obama’s edgier productions.Artforum magazine referred to Obama’s oeuvre as “a winking indictment of the institution of the presidency from none other than the president himself,” and cited in particular his wildlife conservation video Meat Play as “the direction the office needs to go in if the executive branch is to remain relevant.”
The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart spends 8 minutes to criticize the counterterrorism and civil liberties policies of Barack Obama. Watch it, and see the absolutely blatant discrepancy between Obama’s promises in this area when he was campaigning, and his conduct now. In all areas (restoring habeas corpus, stopping extraordinary renditions, closing Guantánamo Bay), Barack Obama has broken his promises, and continued the Bush-Cheney approach to the War on Terror.
What a grave disappointment this President has turned out to be.
If this guy in Tag Team’s 1993 Whoomp! video is not Obama, then it must be his twin brother. In 1993, Obama was 32 years old, working as a young attorney at a law firm in Chicago. So I don’t see why he could not be in this video.
See for yourself, at 1.02 (oh, and at 0.48 you can supposedly see Michelle Obama as well):
Dahlia Lithwick of Slate asks, in relation to a recent Supreme Court decision giving the federal government the authority to indefinitely detain “sexually dangerous” persons after their sentence is served (something similar to the Dutch system of “tbs”, I assume), when we stopped worrying about the executive’s encroachment on citizens’ civil liberties:
Once, when it was fashionable to worry about Congress or the president asserting limitless authority to detain people, we would have been nervous about a Supreme Court decision expanding the authority to do so. But by now we have mainly slept our way though the Obama administration’s talkof indefinite detention for Guantanamo detainees, generalized wobbliness on civilian trials for terrorists, embrace of the state secrets doctrine, and recent discussions about “modernizing” the Miranda warning, as well as a host of other Bush-lite war-on-terror powers. Is it possible that most of us haven’t noticed that the Supreme Court has just handed Congress broad authority to detain people merely because they show signs of future dangerousness?
The answer is, of course, that liberal or progressive-minded people stopped worrying when Obama got elected.
Gisteren werden we opgeschrikt door het vertiefde mens- en wereldbeeld van Rita Verdonk, die ons liet zien in wat voor een land we eigenlijk leven (“Hey teringhoeren!”). Ook Geert Wilders kwam met een campagnefilmpje, met de inmiddels bekende xenofobe en angstzaaiende boodschap. Vandaag is het de beurt aan Job Cohen. Het nieuwe “Yes We Cohen” campagnefilmpje is duidelijk gebaseerd op gelijksoortige Amerikaanse campaign ads, waarin het levensverhaal van de kandidaat wordt verteld, de vaak succesvolle biographical ad. Eisenhower begon hiermee in 1956 met het beroemde “The Man From Abilene” spotje. Ook George H.W. Bush en Bill Clinton (Clinton schudt de hand van JFK) scoorden met dit soort campagnefilmpjes. Het campagneteam van de PvdA moet gedacht hebben: dit kunnen wij ook. Ze gaan blijkbaar door met het direct kopiëren van Amerikaanse campagnestijlen en strategiën. Dit is het resultaat:
Hier is het op gebaseerd (zelfs de muziek is bijna hetzelfde):
This strikes me as a surprise. Andrew Sullivan, who is normally Obama’s First Cheerleader, and, some exceptions aside, is always highly uncritical of the president except when it comes to gay rights, actually is on board with Glenn Greenwald and a host of other “progressives” in criticizing his pick of Kagan for Supreme Court Justice.
Will criticism of Obama’s use of executive power and curbing of civil liberties finally become mainstream?
She’s a cerebral academic who fits Washington’s definition of a centrist: She’s likely defer to government on both civil liberties and regulatory and commerce issues. And though libertarians allegedly share ground with Republicans on fiscal and regulatory issues and with Democrats on civil liberties issues, neither party cares enough about those particular issues to put up a fight for them. Which is whyKagan sailed through her first confirmation hearings, and is widely predicted to sail through the hearings for her nomination to the Supreme Court.
A person who will back executive power comes after two of the most radical pro-executive Justices (Alito and Roberts) in recent history. The onward march of the dictatorial presidency- in a time of constant threats from abroad -continues.
So Obama has decided to nominate Sollicitor General Elena Kagan for Supreme Court Justice. We have blogged about the prospect of a Kagan nomination here and here.
In judging this nomination, it is important to remember who is being replaced. Justice John Paul Stevens, although nominated by President Ford, was a member of the “liberal wing” of the Supreme Court. That meant that in the years of the Bush administrations he did not support the relentless growth of executive power, and was a staunch supporter of civil liberties. On this he was a crucial vote, and if any new cases on these matters come up (and they will, in the coming years), Elena Kagan will be this crucial vote.
I always thought that Barack Obama was elected as a rejection of the Bush-Cheney approach to the “War” on Terror, America’s stance in the world, and the growth of a state in which the rule of law is subjected to the demands of executive power. By now it is clear that this is not what he is; rather, he’s a moderate-to-conservative president who is afraid to show leadership on crucial issues of rights and liberties, and is eager to appease the most radical conservative of Republicans in order to retain his “postpartisan” and “pragmatic” crafted image.
I’d say that the nomination of Kagan fits into this evolution of the Obama administration, although I’ve backtracked a little. Basically, she’s not as good as Diane Wood on the issue of executive power versus civil liberties, but she’s more of a blank slate. Nobody – Democrats nor Republicans – knows what her views on a host of matters are. So that’s worrisome in itself, and as Greenwald mentions, it shows the personality cult that among a lot of progressives and liberals still surrounds Barack Obama (we just have to trust that he’s right about this). Therefore we get NYT articles that say that he was not looking for a “liberal firebrand”, that he is taking “the middle of the road”, and so forth.
So, to compare what could have been with what we now get, see this comparative profile by Charlie Savage of Diane Wood and Elena Kagan:
Of the three, Judge Wood, of the appeals court in Chicago, has the clearest record in favor of protecting civil liberties and taking a skeptical stance toward executive power. In a 2003 essay, she spoke out against approaches to counterterrorism that she said posed “a significant threat to the continued observance ofthe rule oflaw” — like giving noncitizens fewer due process rights than citizens and sacrificing individual privacy to foster intelligence-gathering.
“In a democracy, those responsible for national security (principally, of course, the executive branch) must do more than say, ‘trust us, we know best’ when they are proposing significant intrusions on liberties protected by the Constitution,” Judge Wood wrote.
And in a 2008 essay, Judge Wood wrote that “the principle is well established that extraordinary tribunals, such as military commissions, are not authorized to operate if the normal courts are open for business.”
That stance could put Judge Wood at odds with the Obama administration, which is using military commissions instead of civilian trials for some terrorism suspects. However, her remark came in the context of prosecuting civilian citizens arrested on domestic soil after a natural disaster, and might not extend to noncitizens arrested abroad and accused of being enemy fighters.
Ms. Kagan (…) has a mixed record on executive powers, but one that suggests she might generally be more sympathetic toward the White House than Justice Stevens.
And that is based on a 2001 law review article of hers about centralized control over regulatory agencies, but really, we just don’t know.
And then, let’s hear it from civil liberties and human rights NGO’s (you know, those exclusively “liberal” and “progressive” causes):
Advocates for human rights and other liberal causes who are upset at the Obama administration for continuing Bush-era policies may take their frustration out on Kagan.
“From the perspective of those who have been advocating change from Bush policies, she has been a disappointment,” said Tina Foster of the International Justice Network, who argued against Kagan’s deputy Neal Katyal over detention policies in an appeal in January.
“She would spell very bad news” if she became a Supreme Court justice, said Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has long challenged Bush and now Obama detention policies. “We don’t see any basis to assume she does not embrace the Bush view of executive power.”
At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, senior staff attorney Kevin Bankston called the Obama administration’s stance on state secrets and national security wiretapping “a grave disappointment, particularly for those who took Obama’s promises seriously.” Bankston cautioned he is not certain how involved Kagan herself has been in the positions the department has taken on these issues.
And finally, check out this call to arms from blogger digby about the reluctance of contemporary Washington DC power brokers (including Obama) to nominate anyone important whom Republicans could view as too “liberal”, and the hypocrisy when it comes to applying the same standards the other way around:
So I’m told by various people that Kagan is the only confirmable possibility. I would love to know why that should be true. The Republicans have had little trouble since Bork confirming far right federalist society clones, whether they had a Democratic or Republican Senate. It doesn’t seem logical to me that there isn’t room for an unabashed liberal on the court with a 59 vote majority in the Senate.
Kagan is an unknown quantity, unlike Roberts and Alito who were clearly both conservative a highly political. Yet Bush managed to get them confirmed. I guess I just don’t understand the double standard when it comes to Democrats and I refuse to capitulate to the common wisdom that says no Democratic president can ever confirm a known liberal.
Moreover, I think Supreme Court confirmation battles are ideologically instructive for the nation and are one of the few times when it’s possible for people to speak at length about their philosophical worldview. Liberals have to stop running from this. Allowing the other side to define us is killing us.