Archive for the ‘The War on Terrorism’ Category

Obama Chooses Policy Over Politics

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Ezra Klein:

[W]hat appears to be happening is that Barack Obama is listening to his policy people. He didn’t scale back the health-care reform bill because they convinced him that the different pieces didn’t work on their own. He’s trying to close Guantanamo because a lot of people who work on this stuff think we should close Guantanamo. That’s the thing about electing a smart technocrat as president: He’s swayed by smart, technocratic arguments. The political people are being used to help sell and shepherd the policy, and to figure out how much of the policy can pass Congress, but they seem to be losing the major arguments over what that policy should be.

That sounds about right. I don’t know how effective this style of governing is though. I expected more of a pivot from the White House focusing more on politics than policy after Scott Brown’s defeat. I don’t think that’s ideal – but it seems necessary if Obama wants to keep Congress Democratic. It doesn’t seem any longer that this is the lesson the White House took.

Or it is, but they’re not letting their timing be determined by these dramatic events. Perhaps, as he has so often, Obama plans on waiting out the negative media cycle and then going for the win.

The Hypocrisy of Hoekstra

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Thanks to an officemate listening to talk radio, I just heard Lou “Mr. Independent” Dobbs,  follow the new right talking point that the Obama administration is “politicizing” national security. He had on Rep. Pete Hoekstra to claim exactly that, specifically commenting on how the Obama administration “politicized” the Christmas Day bombing – which is especially rich given that Hoekstra himself sent out a fundraising letter citing the attempted bombing THREE (3) days after Christmas.

It is infuriating to hear this level of blatant hypocrisy go unchallenged.

The next thing we’ll see is a Wall Street Journal op-ed from Karl Rove chastising the Obama administration for “politicizing” such an important issue as the War on Terror while the journalist whose show he is on nods seriously.

[Image by republicanconference licensed under Creative Commons.]

How the Media Undermines Civility

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

[digg-reddit-me]Civility in political discourse is a difficult thing to maintain – as people engage in politics often because they believe strongly in what they are advocating. One of the ways to maintain this is to politely refrain from accusing your opponents of dastardly deeds – and instead, be circumspect and try to make uncontroversial points of agreement that undermine your opponents. For example, when debating the recent Supreme Court decision on corporate political spending, you might plausibly say in the course of argument that, “Without free speech, we would live in tyranny,” or “Attacking the First Amendment is un-American.” While the thrust of your argument may be that your opponents are – given the rest of what you’re saying – undermining the First Amendment, you don’t claim that they are advocating tyranny or are un-American. You don’t call them names, in other words. You criticize their actions as you perceive them. It’s a fine line – but an important one.

However, the news is 24/7, right?

And every minute needs to be filled up with some new scandal, some new story-of-the-day. This is how uncontroversial statements become provocative headlines – specifically provocative headlines that tap into a narrative the public already knows. These provocative headlines then quickly become talking points for someone as they attempt to use the news to push their message. So, for example, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer publish an op-ed in USA Today which – rather uncontroversially – claims:

Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.

Suddenly, the right wing begins complaining of the McCarthyite push for health care. (Pelosi called the Tea Party crowd “un-American”!!!!)

Now, again, John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor, writes in an op-ed for USA Today:

Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill.

Relatively uncontroversial, you would think. But for those lacking the time to read this short piece, Jake Tapper summarizes it:

WH: Some Critics ‘Serving the Goals of al Qaeda’

Matt Drudge though saw the need to remove a few qualifiers in his big headline of the day:

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA CRITICS HELPING AL QAEDA

The common thread here is this: in the midst of making an argument, an uncontroversial point is made. News reporters, eager to make their quota of new scandals for the day, remove all qualifiers from the sentence, take only a word or two, and recast the entire argument as pure demonization of the overall target of the piece.

This is one of the essential aspects of the Freak Show that is our Washington news.

——

Of course, some politicians seem to deliberately cross over these lines to make their points. Perhaps I’m biased here – and if so, tell me. But I think there’s a difference in how Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin often talk. At one point, for example, Cheney claimed that:

I think [the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad as a civilian is] likely to give encouragement — aid and comfort — to the enemy.

By rather directly describing the Obama administration’s actions as meeting the legal standard of treason, Cheney seems to be crossing a line. And of course, Sarah Palin famously “asked”:

Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?

I wonder – is it just my bias that makes me see the distinction between these two sets of statements? Or are they clearly of a different sort?

[Image by me and sysop licensed under Creative Commons.]

“To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature.”

Monday, February 8th, 2010

[digg-reddit-me]On Saturday night, Sarah Palin addressed the Tea Party Convention in Tennessee. Her performance recalled her national debut as McCain’s vice presidential nominee – feisty-ness, outrageous accusations leveled with a winning smile, sharper digs at Obama’s character than her muddled criticisms of his policies. But there was a new political confidence – a confidence in her ability to position herself to best catch the prevailing political winds. One of her main lines of attack against Obama was to re-try the Rovian strategy of calling him weak on terrorism:

The events surrounding the Christmas Day plot reflect the kind of thinking that led to September 11th. That…the…threat then, as the USS Cole was attacked,our Embassies were attacked, it was treated like an international crime spree, not like an act of war. We’re seeing that mindset again settle into Washington. That scares me for my children and for your children. Treating this like a mere law enforcement matter places our country at grave risk. Because that’s not how radical Islamic extremists are looking at this. They know we’re at war. And to win that war, we need a Commander-in-Chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.

Sarah Palin though isn’t really attacking Barack Obama’s positions on national security directly. He has been rather cautious in moving in the direction she’s attacking him for moving. The person Sarah Palin should be attacking is Judge William Young, who oversaw the trial of shoe bomber Richard Reid. (Republicans across America have recently taken to condemning George W. Bush’s handling of Reid because it was so similar to how Barack Obama handled Abdulmutallab.)  Judge Young confronted Reid –  as well as the government’s prosecutors of Reid. In Court, he eloquently defended the very position Sarah Palin is attempting to paint as “soft” on terrorism: a respect for the Rule of Law, a view of these terrorists as scum unworthy of being honored as warriors. He looked into the face of this terrorist and diminished him and all of his comrades. Young’s remarks are well worth reading (or re-reading.) I’d seem them referenced before and seen quotations – but today I finally read the transcript. (H/t Andrew Sullivan.)

We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is all too much war talk here. And I say that to everyone with the utmost respect.

Here in this court where we deal with individuals as individuals, and care for individuals as individuals, as human beings we reach out for justice.

You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist.

And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treat with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists.

We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.

So war talk is way out of line in this court. You’re a big fellow. But you’re not that big. You’re no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders.

In a very real sense Trooper Santiago had it right when first you were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and where the TV crews were and you said you’re no big deal. You’re no big deal.

What your counsel, what your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today? I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing.

And I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you. But as I search this entire record it comes as close to understanding as I know.

It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose.

Here, in this society, the very winds carry freedom. They carry it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom. So that everyone can see, truly see that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely.

It is for freedom’s seek that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf and have filed appeals, will go on in their, their representation of you before other judges. We care about it. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties.

Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden; pay any price, to preserve our freedoms.

Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. Day after tomorrow it will be forgotten. But this, however, will long endure. Here, in this courtroom, and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done.

The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged, and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice.

See that flag, Mr. Reid? That’s the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag still stands for freedom. You know it always will. Custody, Mr. Officer. Stand him down.

Young’s obvious strategic confidence in America, in our strength and in the resiliency of our way of life, demonstrates how weak-kneed the preemptive surrender advocated by Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney is in comparison.

[Image by Kamal H. licensed under Creative Commons.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Ezra Klein, Sleeper Issue of 2010, Success, Virtual Insanity, Abdulmutallab, Obstruction, and Madden

Friday, February 5th, 2010

1. Ezra Klein on Rep. Paul Ryan, Health Care, and the Deficit. If you want a serious, policy-oriented daily take on health care and fiscal issues, turn to Ezra Klein. This week, he began the opinionosphere’s discussion of Rep. Paul Ryan’s serious attempt to balance the budget (which has no chance of being embraced even by the Republicans or Democrats.) Later, he interviewed Rep. Ryan – though it read more like a discussion between two serious people about fiscal policy and health care reform. Klein later attempted to see where along the political spectrum the Senate health care reform bill fell:

Take Rep. Paul Ryan’s health-care plan…as the conservative pole on this issue. Then take single-payer and place it on the other side of the spectrum. Where does the Senate bill fall?

It’s closer to Ryan’s plan than to single-payer. A lot closer, in fact.

Yet this basic fact – that Obama has taken a rather conservative approach to health care substantively similar to the 1994 plan Republicans counter-proposed to Bill Clinton – has been obscured by a Republican Party intent on obstructing Obama’s agenda to gain partisan advantage. As Klein explains, the problem is that the incentives for each party don’t line up:

[T]hat’s the underlying reality of health-care reform. Substantive compromise is easy. In fact, the bill is a substantive compromise. It’s a deficit-neutral, universal-coverage scheme that relies on the private insurance market and looks like one of the Republican alternatives from 1994. What’s hard is political compromise. Because there, the two positions are that Democrats are helped if a bill passes and Republicans make gains if a bill fails. There’s no way to split the difference between those positions.

At the same time, however, Klein castigates Democrats as well as Republicans for failing to put the national good over their own political situations:

The distinguishing feature of the budget conversation, however, is that it happens at a very abstract level. This red line needs to come down to meet this black line, and this huge number needs to eventually become this slightly-smaller number. That’s all fine for a floor speech, but when you start trying to muscle the red line into position or subtract from the very big number, things get real specific, real quick. Suddenly, you’re telling seniors that there are treatments they just can’t get and you’re telling workers that the insurance system is going to have to change. And just as Conrad doesn’t have much appetite for doing that to his constituents on the small things that most of them don’t notice, very few legislators have demonstrated much appetite for doing this to the country on the big things that pretty much everyone notices.

2. I do not accept second place for the United States of America. Edward Alden and E. J. Dionne comment on what is brewing to become the big issue of the 2010 elections, not coincidentally countering the main narrative put forth by the right wing.

3. A successful first year. Norm Ornstein and John P. Judis explain some of the significant accomplishments of Obama’s first year in office.

4. Virtual insanity. Andrew Sullivan’s main theme this week has been the virtual insanity of the Republican Party. He writes: “On every single major issue of the day, they are incoherent.” He quotes Daniel Larison:

Republicans have been treating temporary, tactical political victories as if they were far more significant, strategic victories, when, in fact, they have no political strategy worth mentioning.

Then of course are the highlights from that Daily Kos poll in which – for example – 59% of Republicans believe Obama should be impeached for something-or-other.

5. Reid v. Abdulmutallab. Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly gets some hard hits in on the ridiculousness of the Republican response to Obama’s handling of the panty-bomber. And Benen doesn’t even get into the fact that Abdulmutallab is now cooperating.

6. Obstruction. I examined some of the theories of why the Republicans are so uniformly obstructionist.

7. Madden vs. Real Life. As a football-related article for this Super Bowl weekend, Chris Suellentrop for Wired explored how the video game Madden is affecting the real game of football.

[Image by Doug Kim, used with permission of the creator, and in anticipation of the snowstorm that might rock Manhattan today as I’m commuting home.]

Not even the Bush administration argued that the Constitution applies only to American citizens

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Glenn Greenwald:

This notion that the protections of the Bill of Rights specifically and the Constitution generally apply only to the Government’s treatment of American citizens is blatantly, undeniably false — for multiple reasons — yet this myth is growing, as a result of being centrally featured in “War on Terror” propaganda.

[T]he U.S. Supreme Court, in 2008, issued a highly publicized opinion, in Boumediene v. Bush, which, by itself, makes clear how false is the claim that the Constitution applies only to Americans.  The Boumediene Court held that it was unconstitutional for the Military Commissions Act to deny habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo detainees,none of whom was an American citizen (indeed, the detainees were all foreign nationals outside of the U.S.).  If the Constitution applied only to U.S. citizens, that decision would obviously be impossible.  What’s more, although the decision was 5-4, none of the 9 Justices — and, indeed, not even the Bush administration — argued that the Constitution applies only to American citizens. That is such an inane, false, discredited proposition that no responsible person would ever make that claim.

Americans Want a Second Bush-Cheney Administration?

Monday, February 1st, 2010

[digg-reddit-me]Sometimes, I’m not sure when Andrew Sullivan means something literally and when he means something as a politically challenging debating point. I say this with the knowledge that the same can be said of me at times. When I tweeted the following, I was challenged to back up this “assertion”:

The Scott Brown Effect? DOW down almost 200 points since election of 41st Republican makes it harder for US to tackle fiscal matters.

I retreated eventually:

In all honesty, this Scott Brown thing was a reaction to the near-constant harping of people on the right about the “Obama effect” on the stock market. It was a way to gain a cheap political point in the short-term while planting the seed of doubt in the mind of those who actually thought Obama was the cause of the stock market drops last fall or today.

In other words, I was trying to win a debate point against those who decried Obama’s effect on the stock market. I wonder if Sullivan is doing something similar himself here:

From Day One, the GOP has had one strategy, utterly unrelated to the country’s interests, and utterly divorced from any responsibility for their own past: the destruction of any alternative to Bush-Cheney conservatism.

They believe that the policies of 2000 – 2008 are the right ones for the future…

It is the second sentence which seems more of a debate point meant to box your opponents in than a legitimate one – because as Sullivan has acknowledged before – the Bush administration’s views changed dramatically around 2004/2005. Which is why its not quite clear to me what one might describe as “the policies of 2000 – 2008.” With regards to national security and terrorism specifically – Bush took office nonchalant about terrorism, panicked after September 11, and then backed away from those panicked positions substantially while defending them as correct rhetorically.

This has been one of Sullivan’s main theses, and one which has profoundly shaped my views of both the Bush administration and the Obama administration in terms of national security policy. For while the Bush administration gradually scaled back the worst abuses, often due to court or rarely, Congressional, intervention, it never repudiated the precedents it set in the panic, precedents that if invoked would create an authoritarian executive. This is what bothered most of the liberals, what they feared. They saw in Bush’s immediate response an understandable panic, but in the precedents he set by refusing to repudiate the measures he took, the seeds of the destruction of our republic.

This is part of the reason Obama’s response has been significant – as he has attempted to gradually move the country to deal with terrorism rationally, in a nonpartisan fashion, and as a matter of law – to deal with it from a coherent strategic-legal framework rather than as the panicked, emergency, tough-seeming Bush policies. Obama has grasped the essential truth: What needs to happen – what is more essential than justice – is for our nation to come to a consensus on how we will deal with terrorism.

While Cheney, et al. attack Obama for abandoning the framework they created for the War on Terror (as they attempt to preemptively politicize the aftermath of the next attack), it is important to keep pointing out that Bush himself stopped using much of the Cheney framework by the time he left office. What we desperately need is for national security policy to become less polarized, less partisan. Mario Cuomo in the winter of 2007 foreshadowed this moment in history, as he called on Americans fed up with George W. Bush to seek:

Something wiser than our own quick personal impulses. Something sweeter than the taste of a political victory…

He called on Americans to instead turn to:

“Our Lady of the Law,” as she comes to us in our Constitution ─ the nation’s bedrock.

Because this is what many right wingers today reject as they defend – not the Bush administration as a whole – but this hard core Cheneyite view that Bush himself turned away from by the end of his time in office. They defend the panicked policies and fearful abandonment of American values as “tough” – asserting that it was this panicked response that “kept us safe” because they cannot quite bring themselves to acknowledge that no president can keep them safe.

What we so desperately need as a nation – if we are to maintain our power and not fritter away the rule of law and other strengths overreacting to terrorism – is to come to a national, bipartisan consensus on how to deal with terrorism. (We also need to come to a similar consensus on how to deal with our impending fiscal catastrophe – but that’s a subject for a different post.)

Andrew Sullivan sees the stakes – it is he who so often pushes me to confront them – to see that what we face is at its core “a crisis of civic virtue, a collapse of the good faith and serious, reasoned attention to problems.” To resolve this crisis, the ideologues and Cheneyites must be defeated; and they can only be defeated if we are able to take back control of the political conversation from the idiocrats.

Andrew Sullivan convinced me in his moving op-ed last year that the single individual most able to create this consensus is the man who so disgraced himself while in office: George W. Bush. Which is why I think it is a mistake to paint his administration’s policies with such a broad brush. We should condemn the Bush policies of 2001 – 2004, and embrace his gradual evolution to more nuanced positions. We must split those who supported Bush from those who supported Cheney in order to form a broader consensus; even if that distinction barely exists now – we must create it. From that barest of cracks is the beginning of a national consensus and the final marginalization of the Cheneyite view of executive power.

[Image by amarine88 licensed under Creative Commons.]

Pinhead of the Week: NJ Dem Frank Lautenberg

Monday, January 11th, 2010

From the Associated Press:

New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who was briefed on the arrest, said authorities found Jiang with “sheer, hard police work” of sifting through records and following leads. But he expressed anger that Jiang faces a charge he described as a “slap on the wrist” and will only be given a fine of about $500.

“This was a terrible deed in its outcome — it wasn’t some prank that didn’t do any harm — it did a lot of harm because it sent out an alert that people can get away with something like this,” Lautenberg said.

The senator called Jiang’s actions “premeditated” and said even though the his actions were relatively benign, “what he did was a terrible injustice” to the thousands of people who were inconvenienced. [my emphasis]

Follow this train of logic:

A guy wanted to kiss his girlfriend goodbye at the airport. Security was so lax, he was able to slip past to be with her in the secure zone. Many people were inconvenienced by this as the entire airport was briefly shut down. But the headline statement Lautenberg makes is that this man should be punished more harshly and that the deed “did a lot of harm because it sent out an alert that people can get away with something like this!”

There are two subjects here:

  1. The guy knowingly broke the rules to kiss his girlfriend goodbye – and this breach caused the airport to shut down. For this, it would make sense to levy a significant fine to ensure that others are less likely to do such things.
  2. Security was unconscionably lax to allow this to happen. This isn’t the guy’s fault – and it’s not his fault that his getting by security so easily “sent out an alert that people can get away with something like this.” The way to fix this is to fix security – and not to attack this guy for acting on an understandable impulse.

[Image by Bob F. licensed under Creative Commons.]

Get It Through Your Heads: No President Can Keep You Safe

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Speaking of rooting for catastrophes, it’s hard to see anther reason for Dick Cheney’s continued attempts to politicize national security issues and terrorism. There is a ghastly calculation at work – as Cheney is attempting to set the scene for a Republican reemergence in the aftermath of the next successful terrorist attack.

There is so much glaring idiocy at work in the opinion page responses to the attempted Christmas bombing. Few seem willing to admit the obvious truth: No centralized power can keep us safe. No intelligence system will be perfect. No watch list will be all-inclusive. No screening procedures are foolproof. We can make it harder for a terrorist to succeed, but in order to win, we need to prevent every attack; while they only need to slip through the cracks once. And there will always be cracks. Even in a totalitarian regime, there are cracks. Part of the price we pay for a free society is vulnerability.

Yet, instead we seem to blame or credit the President himself for whether or not he kept us safe. We “got lucky” this time – it is said – but the President should get his act together and prevent another attempt. It was nonsense to say that George W. Bush kept us safe after September 11. And it is nonsense to say that Barack Obama has kept us safe since being elected. They simply do not have the power to do this, fictional narratives like Vince Flynn’s and 24 notwithstanding.

What the president is responsible for – along with the rest of the government – is creating policies and enforcing laws that balance freedom and security. There were failures that allowed the now-spayed bomber to get through security. But – and let me speak clearly here – assholes like Rep. Pete King, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and former Vice President Dick Cheney who are trying to exploit Al Qaeda’s bombing attempt to score political points are beyond contempt. Cheney especially seems to have made the calculation that he can preemptively politicize the aftermath of the next attack.

What further demonstrates the bad faith of these assholes is that they offered no such criticisms of George W. Bush after the “shoe bomber” slipped through security and attempted to blow up another plane in December, after which Bush failed to immediately call it terrorism, and after which he did not immediately comment. I didn’t blame Bush for this at the time – and neither did the Democrats. Yet now, when Al Qaeda attempts an attack, rather than unifying us, provides yet another excuse for King, Hoekstra, and Cheney to bash the man whose agenda they despise.

Even worse, in doing so, they support the illusion that a tough President has the power to keep us safe – that if only we acceded enough power to Big Brother, everything would be alright.

Christopher Hitchens Speaking Uncomfortable Truths

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Christopher Hitcehns is a true polemicist – in a way that Glenn Greenwald is unable to be. He takes daring positions and supports them. He pushes his points obstinately, until he falls back. And in some ways, he is the best thing a writer can be: engaging with the real world, grappling with the consequences of what he says and believes – rather than blithely hiding behind some ideology. (See this article on his support for the Iraq War and how it directly lead to the death of a young soldier, and this video and article in which he tests out his belief that waterboarding is not torture.) He can also be a royal prat.

In response to the attempted Christmas bombing, he is in his best form. Hitchens:

What nobody in authority thinks us grown-up enough to be told is this: We had better get used to being the civilians who are under a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology. These people will kill themselves to attack hotels, weddings, buses, subways, cinemas, and trains. They consider Jews, Christians, Hindus, women, homosexuals, and dissident Muslims (to give only the main instances) to be divinely mandated slaughter victims…We can expect to take casualties. The battle will go on for the rest of our lives. Those who plan our destruction know what they want, and they are prepared to kill and die for it. Those who don’t get the point prefer to whine about “endless war,” accidentally speaking the truth about something of which the attempted Christmas bombing over Michigan was only a foretaste. While we fumble with bureaucracy and euphemism, they are flying high.

[Adapted from an image by ensceptico licensed under Creative Commons.]

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