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Somebody suggested to me recently that if not for Republicans in Congress, President Obama would have a coherent and consistent foreign policy, one that would perhaps have included a long-term plan for post-Gaddafi Libya. Never mind, apparently, that the President has two quite large institutions and several smaller but still substantial ones, all headed by persons of his own choosing, to help him out on that front.
The occasion was a post by the always vivid Charlie Pierce at Esquire, reacting to a somewhat disjointed critique of the President by New Hampshire senator and Lindsey Graham mini-me, Kelly Ayotte. Ayotte is concerned that the President may have taken up the cudgel against ISIS for electoral purposes, and that once those are achieved (or not), he’ll back off from the fight and leave the other players to their own devices. By way of precedent, she mentioned the chaos in Libya, where the President participated in the destruction of the previous order without giving a lot of apparent thought to the following one. Pierce thought Ayotte was presumptuous to criticize the President. I thought Ayotte was beside the point, the point being that she may well be right. In any event this would seem a good opportunity to review the hot-spot foreign policy of this President.
Continue reading Republicans in Congress are not preventing Obama from devising a coherent foreign policy
Lots of Obama supporters on Facebook during the 2012 campaign period were touting the end of the war in Afghanistan as one of the President’s larger achievements. President Obama, they said, “ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
This was absurd not just because the war in Afghanistan was not what one could actually call over in 2012 (neither of them were, but that’s another story), but because the President’s promise to end the war in Afghanistan was not a promise to end the war, while his exit from Iraq was the product of a failed negotiation to extend our presence. (11-dimensional chess, I’m sure: Obama pretended to want to stay in order to placate war lovers, but actually wanted the negotiation to fail so he could realize his true desire to be shed of the affair.)
Continue reading Good news: Barack Obama will not be the answer to “Who Lost Afghanistan?”
Yesterday was Patriot Day, by proclamation of the President. The proclamation was released by the press office at 9:24 AM, about two hours before the office released excerpts from the speech the President delivered about 10 hours later.
Pre-speech excerpts are a tradition. These are the lines administration officials want the chucktodds of the press to be talking and writing about in the hours before the speech, the “Tonight, the President will say” lines. These are the lines meant to manage expectations and convey gravitas. They’re released in the morning so the chucktodds have time to write something up that is similar to but not identical with what all the other chucktodds are saying and writing, and which includes responses from anonymous administration officials — somber, but favorable — and public experts (“experts disagree!”).
Continue reading On Patriot Day, we begin the war we have been fighting for years
When you come down on the same side of an argument as the Nazis and other Germans guilty of crimes against humanity, you’re doing something wrong.
Not long after he took office, President Obama invoked the Nuremberg defense on behalf of the folks who tortured folks. That’s the one where the Germans who committed what are now known as crimes against humanity said they had the right to assume that superior orders are lawful. A few days ago, he described anyone wanting torturers held to account as sanctimonious because we were all afraid after 9/11.
Continue reading Folks torturing folks, redux: Obama plants his flag on the wrong side of Nuremberg
President Obama should probably retire “folks” from his active vocabulary. “We tortured some folks.” And then we had some folks over for barbecue, or we barbecued them. Something like that. Folks don’t let folks torture folks, folks, or let them get away with torturing folks, except when “a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.” As were, no doubt, from certain frames of reference, the people they were torturing.
Because his CIA director creeped the Senate’s computers, and then lied about it (and threatened to get Senate staff prosecuted, imprisoned and ruined), and then got caught, the President is under a great deal of pressure to expedite the release of a report that will evidently display the CIA as home to some very ugly people doing very ugly things. He’s prepping us for it, and he’s trying to shift the responsibility for shielding the torturers from him to us. We were all scared and angry. We shouldn’t be sanctimonious. This is what happened, and now you know what I know and since you’re not going to do shit about it or me, it’s now your responsibility too.
Continue reading “We tortured some folks.”
Libya is on fire (literally). This is because President Obama and his colleagues in France and the UK blew it up with their 2011 assault on the country.
I say President Obama blew it up, rather than the US blew it up, because the US joined in the festivities entirely on his say-so. The President said that the US role was not something that required either consent or oversight from Congress because American lives were not at risk. By this he meant that the US could attack Gaddafi’s forces from the air and sea with impunity forever (it turned out to be seven months, officially). Only, absent congressional approval, it wasn’t the US attacking Libya but the President.
Continue reading Libya: another “good” war gone bad
“Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby, in a singular mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”
— Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener
Bartleby, the Scrivener is the story of a man who one day decides he would prefer not to — first work and, eventually, live. We needn’t worry about that with Bartleby, the President. He has too high a degree of self-regard to starve himself from indolence or despair, as should we all, and insufficient attachment to principle to risk his life on a hunger strike.
As you must know, the passions of various Senators on the Senate intelligence committee are inflamed by agents of the CIA having illegally surveilled them and illegally executed covert operations against them. We say illegally because the CIA is proscribed from practicing its arts domestically on anyone, even Senators and their staffs, who probably bear watching more than most of us, even when the CIA believe themselves to have good reason; especially so, in fact, because that’s when the risk is highest. The CIA think they have good reason now because the Senate intelligence committee has been preparing a report that will document the agency’s crimes against humanity, including torturing people and disappearing them.
The surveilling and operating was evidently done with the knowledge and approval of the CIA director, one John Brennan. It is particularly fraught because the CIA is an executive branch agency, and the executive branch is not meant to spy upon or coerce other branches of government. This is in part why the great Richard Nixon lost his job. What we have here is the very definition of a constitutional crisis, a plain breach of the separation of powers.
Continue reading Bartleby, the President
Paul Krugman suggests in his New York Times column today that continuing the expansion of Medicaid is the answer to the outlandish cost of health care in the United States. He’s wrong. Medicaid is a lifeline for the impoverished, but the program would have to be reformed to the point that it would no longer be recognizable as Medicaid to be satisfactory for most Americans.
The reason Krugman likes Medicaid is the program’s success at controlling costs. He says that of all the health care delivery systems in the country, Medicaid is the one most like those in Europe, which have much lower costs than ours. If that’s true, it’s only because most of the rest of our fragmented system is completely fucked up.
Among the primary aims of European systems is health care equity — providing everybody with the same access to high-quality health care regardless of income or station. Medicaid does not come close to doing that. Krugman says that care from Medicaid providers is good and that lack of access is greatly exaggerated. In my experience the former is sometimes true and the latter, never.
Continue reading Paul Krugman is wrong about Medicaid