Someone said this on Facebook a day or two ago: “At risk of being called somebody who would have given the Nazis a free pass at Nuremburg, terrorists aren’t exactly the most sympathetic of victims. I think the political will to prosecute Bush, Cheney etc. is near zero. As harsh as it may sound, I don’t think most Americans care about this.”
That’s not an uncommon response among the ones I’ve seen on Facebook and elsewhere, and of course the bit about many Americans not caring is impossible to dispute. But the risk, the sin there, isn’t attached to giving Nazis a free pass at Nuremberg; rather, it’s attached to giving them a free pass before Nuremberg. Enough Germans regarded Jews — and Gypsies, Communists, Socialists and others — as not exactly the most sympathetic of victims in the years leading up to the war and the Holocaust, that the authorities felt comfortable pursuing their expanding and escalating regimen of state terror. Once you introduce the nature of the victims into the question of whether or not we should marginalize/oppress/torture someone, all is lost. Anyone can be demonized when the conditions are ripe.
I was in the process of writing something vaguely complimentary about President Obama — he’s not killing nearly as many blameless people as he might be, under the circumstances, and he hasn’t formally invaded anybody; consider it written — when I ran across a post by Charlie Pierce at Esquire, lamenting the pundit fixation on presidential leadership and raising the notion that a perceived lack of leadership is only a reflection of the fundamental cowardice of the American people.
It’s an oft-raised notion in Pierce precincts. It really pisses me off, not because Americans can’t be awfully and unnecessarily scared, but because many Americans display the kind of bravery that Pierce decries the lack of. It pissed me off so much today that I took the recently unheard of step of responding to it, which response follows, unedited for clarity.
What does being qualified to serve as president mean? You hear it a lot about the current Clinton iteration. Lots of people who earnestly don’t want Hillary Clinton to be president will tell you there’s no doubt she’s qualified, but [insert objection here]. Her supporters acknowledge no deficiencies other than, perhaps, an almost embarrassing overabundance of competence. It’s because of her previous White House experience, her Senate experience and her Ministry of War Diplomacy experience.
There’s no denying Clinton has experience, but how, exactly, does it qualify her to be president? Her first significant experience in the (so far only) Clinton administration was the monumental health insurance reform fiasco. Her first significant vote in the Senate was the one green-lighting the invasion of Iraq, a massively stupid, destructive, unjustifiable decision that she refused to repudiate for more than a decade.
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.
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.)
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!”).
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.
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.
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.