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Election 2008 Foreign Policy Iraq Obama Politics The Opinionsphere

Did Obama violate the Logan Act?

My sister just texted me to ask if Obama had violated the Logan Act – a law that forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. This apparently is the I’m sure this question is a result of this story by the infamous Amir Taheri. Even Jonah Goldberg of the National Review in his post on the matter concedes:

If memory serves, Taheri hasn’t always panned out…

This I suppose is Goldberg’s way of saying that he will fan the flames if it hurts Obama whether Taheri’s “reporting” is true or not. Most famously, Taheri recently claimed that the government of Iran was forcing Jews to wear yellow stars a la Nazi Germany. He refused to retract the story although the publisher of the story later issued an apology.

I don’t see an official response from the campaign yet on this issue, but I will post it as soon as I get it.

I’m sure it’s forthcoming as the McCain camp has issued an official response fanning these flames – saying that even the possibility that Obama may have violated the Logan act was “unprecedented.” Of course, McCain has been accused in the past of violating the Logan Act on a number of occasions – with regards to Georgia and Columbia; and the right has accused Nancy Pelosi of violating the Logan Act as well.

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11 Reasons to Donate to Barack Obama Tonight

[digg-reddit-me]Sarah Palin’s speech last night galvanized Obama’s supporters and created a surge in fundraising for him. Tonight, it’s John McCain’s turn to speak. Though it seems unlikely he will inspire feelings as strong as Palin either for or against him, he is the candidate we are running against. And now that McCain is the official nominee and is accepting federal financing, he will be forced to curtail his spending.1

We all know this is an important election. This is the time to donate for the maximum effect – to allow Obama to out-manuever McCain over the coming months.

Here are some reasons to donate right now, while McCain is giving his speech, and in the immediate aftermath:

  1. To throw the bums (aka Republicans) out. Enough is enough. We need change before it’s too late.
  2. To prevent (another) unnecessary war. A new cold war with Russia? Killing the United Nations? Sabre-rattling with Iran – which would be further destabilized if the situation with Russia deteriorates. John McCain thinks that Iraq and Pakistan border one another and can’t tell the major Muslim factions apart. All he knows is that there are enemies, and we must defeat them. Sun Tzu said that you must know your enemy to defeat him. John McCain prefers to wing it, and he has quite a temper.
  3. To save the internet as we know it. Barack Obama supports net neutrality. John McCain opposes it.
  4. To get out of Iraq. The Iraqi prime minister said he likes Obama’s plan. The Iraqi people prefer Obama’s plan. George W. Bush is moving towards Obama’s timeline. The only person still too stubborn to acknowledge the facts on the ground is John McCain.
  5. To reinvest in America – with tax cuts to the middle class, with investments in infrastructure, with incentives to develop green energy alternatives, with health care reforms.
  6. To stop Palin from burning our books, teaching creationism, and opening up our local parks to hunters in helicopters.
  7. To restore the Constitution. To restore the balance of power in Washington, to stop the cruel and inhuman torture of our prisoners, to acknowledge the vice presidency is part of the executive branch, to have a president who does not consider himself above the law, and to punish those who have committed crimes against the Constitution in the Bush administration.2
  8. To get my tax cut.
  9. To finally have a president who will be serious about national security.
  10. To demonstrate against the crass politics of celebrity and the crowds chanting, “Drill, baby, drill!” so that we can take on the serious and complex challenges facing America – including terrorism, global warming, the destabilizing effects of globalization, the massive shifts in power in the world, and the economic stratification of America.
  11. Because after over 25 years of Republican dominance in Washington, four more years is not an option.

Bonus:Because John McCain’s campaign will be under spending restrictions from here-on out. And Obama can pursue a 50-state strategy.

Aside from all this, here’s my one sentence explaining why I support Obama.

If you think this election will be important, now is the time. Our moment is now. Donate tonight.

Believe that there is a better place around the bend, as yet unseen. And help make that a reality.

Thank you.

  1. To $84.1 million dollars – so it’s no chump change. []
  2. For those whose thoughts immediately went to FISA when seeing this, I gave my opinion already.  And regardless – you have to admit Obama would be better on these issues than McCain. []
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Election 2008 Foreign Policy Iraq McCain National Security Obama Politics The War on Terrorism

Bush-McCain Refuses to Make Tough Foreign Policy Choices

Last night, Barack Obama said:

You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries by occupying Iraq.

Joe Biden, in a 2004 interview with Joshua Marshall of the Talking Points Memo, made a similar point, but in a more roundabout way that encapsulates some portion of the difference between the two men and their approach to speaking:

No, I really mean it, ask Norm [communication director Norm Kurz]. I mean Norm’s had to sit through, listening to me in all these things. This is the point that I was trying desperately to make to my colleagues and I tried to articulate it on Stephanopoulos’ show. The fundamental flaw in the neo – forget flaw, the fundamental difference between Joe Biden, John Kerry on the one hand, and the neoconservatives on the other is that they genuinely believe – I’ll put it in the negative sense – they do not believe it is possible for a sophisticated international criminal network that will rain terror upon a country, that has the potential to kill 3,000 or more people in a country, can exist without the sponsorship of a nation state. They really truly believe – and this was the Axis of Evil speech – if you were able to decapitate the regimes in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, you would in fact dry up the tentacles of terror. I think that is fundamentally flawed reasoning. If every one of those regimes became a liberal democracy tomorrow, does anybody think we wouldn’t have Code Orange tomorrow in the United States? Rhetorical question. Does anybody think we don’t have to worry about the next major event like Madrid occurring in Paris or Washington or Sao Paulo? Gimme a break. But they really believe this is the way to do it. [My emphasis.]

Richard Haas, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, has been making the point in broader terms – explaining that we have moved from a unipolar world in which America’s power in every sphere was unrivaled to a nonpolar world in which power is decentralized – and many large corporations have more power than states and local power often trumps world power. Haas sees America as the single greatest power on earth – but rather than understanding the entire world as a system of countries, he sees a vastly more complicated power structure – where a loosely organized band of a few hundred can change the course of the world, and corporations operate according to their own interest rather than national interest; and large countries can exert influence in their backyard without American retaliation (as China and Russia proved recently).

McCain and Bush just don’t get these two realities of the world we live in today – a world in which power is decentralized and not exclusively held in nation-states and a world in which America cannot impose it’s will everywhere all of the time. They act as if we have the power to force our will upon every nation and organization. They do not believe we need to choose between Russia’s cooperation on terrorism-related issues and expanding NATO to Georgia and the Ukraine. They believe we can do both. They do not believe invading Iraq took away resources from Afghanistan – because we can do both. Their is an unreality in these positions, a determined insistence that refuses to make the tough strategic choices that foreign policy is about. That cowardice is at the heart of the Bush-McCain foreign policy. They do not acknowledge the central truth that drove America’s greatest foreign policy successes – in World War II and in the first years of the Cold War:

We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization. We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized.

They insist instead on our absolute power and on our moral purity. Coupling this with a mistaken view of the nation-state as all-powerful, a view substantially at odds with the titular Republican position of focusing on the power of individuals and corporations over that of government, they led us into Iraq, and now they are playing games of brinkmanship with Iran and Russia, in the vain hope that neither sees how weak our hand has become since we invaded Iraq.

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A President for Our Dangerous Times

[digg-reddit-me]In dangerous times, we cannot let the larger issues out of sight:

The day to day grind of this campaign – months and months of fights over demographics, over gaffes, over lobbyists, over media bias – has distracted most of us from the essential issues at stake.

The essential choice we face is whether or not our country is going in the right direction.

There is an economic component to this – which will rightfully take up much of the country’s attention in the next few months, and between McCain and Obama, the economic differences are stark.

Perhaps more important is the question of whether or not America should embrace it’s current role as an imperial power, as a neo-empire. McCain clearly accepts this view. One of his foreign policy advisors has explicitly accepted the American empire. Another McCain advisor explained how McCain is planning on creating a League of Democracies to destroy the United Nations and marginalize Russia, quite possibly provoking a new Cold War1 . McCain has said that withdrawing from Iraq – which is what the Iraqi prime minister is requesting of us – would be a surrender to our enemies. (He still doesn’t seem to have noticed that many of our enemies are warring amongst themselves – Sunni extremists, Shia extremists, Al Qaeda, Iranian factions.) At the same time, he has threatened war with Iran while claiming it is naive to consider meeting with any Iranian leaders. (McCain never mentions the candlelight vigils in Tehran after September 11 or Iran’s efforts to come to a comprehensive settlement of all issues between America and Iran immediatly afterwards that were ignored using the same justification McCain now uses to avoid dealing with Iran.) Instead, he jokes “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran…)

As Andrew Sullivan wrote:

After the last eight years, we simply cannot risk a continuation of the same reckless, belligerent, argument-losing, ideological and deceptive foreign policy of [the Bush administration.] From his knee-jerk Cold War posture over Georgia to his Rovian campaign tactics, McCain is simply too close to this disastrous record to contemplate… McCain’s trigger-happy temperament, shallow understanding of the complexities and passion for military force as the answer to everything is the bigger risk. He is a recipe for more, wider and far more destructive warfare.

As the conservative curmudgeon George Will explained, invoking Barack Obama’s historic candidacy as a marker:

[I]t illustrates history’s essential promise, which is not serenity – that progress is inevitable – but possibility, which is enough: Things have not always been as they are.

In other words, we can change. We were not always an empire, and we need not always be an empire. We were not always at war, and we do not need to remain at war. Barack Obama will not change anything overnight (we will not all be given bicycles) – because that is not the type of leader he is. He is not a revolutionary urging us to storm the barricades. He is an imperfect leader. He is a sensible pragmatist who believes we are in a unique moment in history in which we have an opportunity to establish meaningful changes by reforming our political, economic, and governmental processes.

The alternative is stark. While I have long been an admirer of John McCain – because he stood up to the President on torture, tax cuts, swiftboating, and global warming – he lost my vote some time ago. He has fought this campaign without honor – ever since his campaign went bankrupt and he began to repudiate every stand he took that hurt him with the Republican base (including on torture, tax cuts, and now apparently, swiftboating.)

In the end, as dire as our economic strength is, this election will be remembered as the the moment when America decided if it was going to remain an empire, or if instead we would return to the best of our traditions, and take our place as a leader in the world community.

In these dangerous times, one candidate poses too great of a risk, and the American people cannot afford to allow a party which has undermined our national security at every turn to remain in power.

Related articles

  1. N. B. Fareed Zakaria is not an Obama surrogate as this YouTube video claims but a journalist for Newsweek with his own show in PBS. []
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Election 2008 Foreign Policy Great Britain Iraq Israel McCain Obama Politics The Opinionsphere

Obama World Tour Round-up

Even Obama’s supposed private moments on his world tour ended up generating positive headlines.

There was this supposedly private exchange between Obama and Conservative party leader, David Cameron, in London caught by ABC News:

“These guys just chalk your diary up,” said Cameron, referring to a packed schedule.

“Right,” Obama said. “In 15 minute increments …”

“We call it the dentist’s waiting room,” Cameron said. “You have to scrap that because you’ve got to have time.”

“And, well, and you start making mistakes,” Obama said, “or you lose the big picture. Or you lose a sense of, I think you lose a feel- ”

“Your feeling,” interrupted Cameron. “And that is exactly what politics is all about. The judgment you bring to make decisions.”

And then there was the prayer note Obama placed in the Western Wall in Jerusalem which was taken out by a student and published on the front page of the Israeli paper Maariv:

Lord,

Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins and help me guard against pride and despair.

Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just.

And make me an instrument of your will.

The student later apologized and replaced the note in the wall.

Meanwhile, after McCain make Obama’s trip more and more newsworthy by challenging him to go to Iraq and around the world, he was left in America whining about the media’s “love affair” with Obama – even as a new survey came out showing that though Obama received more coverage than McCain, a larger percentage of the stories were critical of Obama.

Despite this overwhelming media bias in favor of McCain, Obama is leading in virtually every poll.  And if – as has traditionally happened – the media closes ranks with the Democrats come late October, this bodes well for Obama.

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Foreign Policy Great Britain Iraq National Security

Quote of the Day

Liberty grows from the ground – it cannot be dropped from the air by an unmanned drone.

David Cameron, Conservative Party leader in Great Britain on September 11, 2006.

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Election 2008 Foreign Policy Iraq McCain Obama Pakistan Politics The Opinionsphere

Explaining Away McCain’s Foreign Policy Gaffes

Fred Kaplan asks a serious question that comes up again and again among those who pay attention to foreign policy: How Much Does John McCain Really Know About Foreign Policy?

He frames the issues by asking the question that was echoed by pundits all over America in the days before Barack Obama’s foreign trip:

Would Obama, the first-term senator and foreign-policy newbie, utter an irrevocably damaging gaffe?

Kaplan then gives examples of gaffes that might hurt Obama’s foreign policy credibility seriously:

The nightmare scenarios were endless. Maybe he would refer to “the Iraq-Pakistan border,” or call the Czech Republic “Czechoslovakia” (three times), or confuse Sunni with Shiite, or say that the U.S. troop surge preceded (and therefore caused) the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province.

The kicker, of course, is that it was John McCain who made all of these gaffes, errors, other non-truths:

But, of course, it was Obama’s opponent, John McCain—the war hero and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee—who uttered these eyebrow-raisers. “Czechoslovakia” was clearly a gaffe, and understandable for anyone who was sentient during the Cold War years. What about the others, though? Were they gaffes—slips of the tongue, blips of momentary fatigue? Or did they reflect lazy thinking, conceptual confusion, a mind frame clouded by clichéd abstractions?

And therein lies the question that anyone supporting McCain must ask – why is this “expert” on foreign policy making so many mistakes in discussing it?

So far this meme hasn’t gotten much traction – because it doesn’t fit into the established media caricature of this race – between the new and inexperienced Obama and the old and knowledgeable McCain.  But at some point, you have to figure the sheer amount of these gaffes will have a public impact.

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Election 2008 Foreign Policy Iraq McCain National Security Obama Politics The War on Terrorism

Setting America Up to Fail

[digg-reddit-me]Putting aside the controversy over whether the New York Times should have published John McCain’s op-ed piece – his piece itself illustrates the lose-lose strategy McCain is putting forward.

This line in particular from his unpublished op-ed struck me:

…if we don’t win the war, our enemies will.

What interests me about both McCain’s and Obama’s positions is that both have stuck to their general idea about what the next step would be despite the changing situation on the ground.

McCain was in favor of troops staying longer in Iraq when things were bad and getting worse; now that things are improving, he is still in favor of keeping our forces there.  Obama was in favor of pulling out of Iraq while the situation was deteriorating; and now that the situation is improving, he still is in favor of ending the occupation.  McCain’s editorial tries to hit Obama on this point, unconvincingly in light of McCain’s own seeming intransigence.

But it isn’t entirely accurate to call Obama’s and McCain’s fixed goals in spite of the changing circumstances “intransigence”.  The crux of the disagreement between the candidates is not the contrast that McCain sets up in his op-ed:

I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons.

Rather, the crux of their disagreement is about the wisdom of the Iraq adventure and the overall strategy of establishing some kind of neo-empire in the Middle East.  McCain believes that the Iraq War was necessary and strategically sound – and that although he may not call it an empire or neo-empire – he believes America must have an established military presence in the Middle East as a matter of policy.  Obama is suspicious of this view – believing that any form of imperial influence exerted over the Middle East will cause a backlash greater than the benefits – and he specifically pointed out before the war, and has kept pointing out, that the Iraq adventure was strategically “dumb” and that it was benefited our enemies in the Middle East even as it has undermined our friends.  By taking out Iraq, we removed Iran’s regional foil – and we set up an Iraqi regime that has become a regional ally of Iran.

There are two competing sets of suppositions here:

First:

  • If our invasion of Iraq was ill-conceived.
  • If the invasion of Iraq was the right decision but poorly executed.

Second:

  • If our continued presence there continues to create problems both for our military and for the Iraqi government.
  • If our continued presence could help stabilize the country.

On the first question, the country and the world have overwhelmingly come to believe the first option.

On the second, the answer is less clear. What is clear is that:

  • We do not have enough of a military presence to stabilize the entire country – only relatively small portions of it.
  • We have been acting as a buffer between some of the ethnic groups composing Iraq (even as our invasion and the aftermath hypercharged tensions between the groups.)
  • We are degrading our entire military and investing exorbitant amounts of money in the the country (at a time when our government is testing the limits of the world’s tolerance for our fiscal insolvency.)
  • We are inspiring more extremists than we are killing – as even Don Rumsfeld admitted.
  • Our presence in Iraq has made us more vulnerable to Iran and less able to take any necessary actions against Iran.

These commonly accepted facts demonstrate our short-term tactical limits and our tactical utility – but most of all, they demonstrate that our long-term strategy is underming our position.  From the Iraqi perspective, Maliki clearly thinks that it is best for Iraq if America leaves as soon as possible.  Analyzing what we know about Iraq leads to the same conclusion.

The only possible long-term salvation that could come from this debacle is if Iraq becomes an American-friendly, stable democracy.  Which is possible, but not the most likely conclusion based on the facts as they are now.  It is a possiblity based on a desperate hope.  But even this long-term possibility would necessitate that we demonstrate that we are intent to leave Iraq as soon as possible – and certainly as soon as we are asked.

McCain – by focusing on our short-term tactical successes (and ignoring our tactical limits and our strategic errors) – is bringing America down the wrong path – and setting us up to fail.  By saying, “if we don’t win the war, our enemies will,” McCain is attempting to impose a framework on Iraq that does not apply.  The Iraqis themselves defeated Al Qaeda and the extremists after they became tired of their extremism – with our troops playing a supporting role.  One of our primary functions in Iraq is preventing a civil war between the Iraqi ethnic groups.

The question is: Is McCain himself so deluded as to see Iraq as simply a battle between us and our enemies – like World War II – or is he merely using this framework to allow him to use Iraq as a political weapon and to paint his opponent as a “weak-kneed liberal”?

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Domestic issues Election 2008 Foreign Policy Iraq McCain Obama Politics

Iraq Leader Maliki Supports Obama’s Withdrawal Plans

Der Spiegel is headlining this over their interview of al-Maliki.  Haven’t read the whole interview yet, but the key passage seems to be:

US presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business.  Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems.

(I actually had this story ready to post before Drudge ran with it as his weekend headline and before every other news source picked it up – as my reddit submission suggests.  Unfortunately, my WordPress account wouldn’t let me post anything and I wasn’t able to fix it until today.)

Since this interview has been making headlines, an official spokesperson for al-Maliki has explained that there was a translation error.  The generally understood explanation for this backtracking is that the White House put a great deal of pressure on al-Maliki to walk it back – which so many news sources are still leading with a variant on headline above.

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A Liberal Defends George W. Bush’s Legacy

Or, how George W. Bush has been just awful enough

[Photo by schani licensed under the Creative Commons and found here.]

[digg-reddit-me]Many liberals argue that George W. Bush’s presidency has been an unmitigated disaster; most libertarians see George W. Bush as the worst thing to happen to America since our government interned hundreds of thousands of Americans purely based on race and expanded government involvement in the economy at the same time. Even many conservatives now see George Bush’s tenure as a series of betrayals. The past eight years have been a dark time – with the specter of terrorism hanging over our lives – with an economy that has only benefited the elites – with America’s standing and influence in the world dropping precipitously – and with a government flailing about in attempts to prevent the next attack, attempts that have primarily succeeded in undermining our inherent liberties.

There is clearly a broad consensus that the Bush presidency has been a failure. A recent poll of historians recently ranked George W. Bush’s presidency as the worst in history; late last year, The Atlantic ran a cover story asking what lessons we can learn from Bush’s failed presidency; the American people have given George W. Bush the lowest approval ratings for a president since polls have been taken; and recent news reports have shown that over three quarters of Americans believe our country is on the wrong track. The consensus clearly is that Bush’s presidency has failed. It’s true that a number of conservatives have tried to defend Bush – Ross Douthat for example pointed out that Bush’s disasters do not rival the catastrophes of Civil War or Great Depression yet. But even the group considered the architect of many of Bush’s policies – the neo-conservatives, have begun to argue – as have failed ideologues again and again throughout history – that it was not that their ideas that failed – rather their ideas were never truly tried. Bush must know he is in trouble when even the neoconservatives are attacking him as weak and ineffective – or to use the term they use, “liberal”.

Having a somewhat contrary nature, I’m not so sure this almost universal consensus is true.

While I do see Bush’s presidency as a disaster, I believe a kind of redemption can be found in this disaster because Bush’s presidency: (a) could have been much worse; and (b) has created a unique historical opportunity.

My postulate is that George W. Bush’s presidency has been just bad enough to avoid destroying the core institutions that form the backbone of our society while creating a virtuous backlash that will strengthen these institutions in the long term. Bush has abused his power just enough, and aggravated festering issues just enough, and presided over a decline that was so sudden that he has created near ideal conditions to move the country in a positive direction.

Throughout history, the price of radicalism has been steep and the chances of reversing deep-seated trends has been long. Conservatives who opposed the social welfare programs of the New Deal tried and failed for a generation to rollback the programs that Franklin Delano Rooselvelt instituted in the wake of a Republican-abetted disaster. Unsuccessful and marginalized, these conservatives finally settled on a strategy of indirection. They called this strategy “starve-the-beast.” Seeing that they could not win by attacking the institutions of the New Deal directly, they decided to deliberately increase government spending to irresponsible levels while cutting taxes – which would leave no choice for a hypothetical future administration but to raise taxes massively or to reduce the size of government. 1 These conservatives realized that the only way to achieve the ends they sought was to create a set of circumstances that proved their opponents wrong, to discredit, through their actions, the basis of liberalism and create a virtuous backlash against excessive governance. They had seen that effective change throughout history had only occurred when the reigning ideology was proved bankrupt by circumstances. These conservatives believed that if they could undermine the credibility of government enough, their ideology would be the only alternative.

Unfortunately for these conservatives, whatever George W. Bush’s intentions were, his administration has been the most effective proponent of liberalism in modern times – as it demonstrated the bankruptcy of contemporary conservatism, undermined the credibility of the Republican Party, and created precisely opposite virtuous backlash than which they intended.

Bush’s effectiveness in advancing the goals he stood against comes has taken several interrelated forms:

  • Theoretical extremism: Although Bush has asserted virtually unlimited power – to torture, to detain anyone without charges, to engage in military action and wiretap without congressional approval – he has been relatively modest in his use of what he asserts are near unlimited powers. This has allowed significant forces to grow in opposition to this power grab without the widespread societal chaos that would have arisen out of a president fully exerting the powers he has claimed. (If Bush used the powers he asserts are his on a greater scale in America, our society would clearly be a totalitarian one. Instead, we remain a fragile liberal democracy until either Bush’s assertions of power are repudiated or are fully asserted.)
  • Overuse of a single method: Karl Rove directed three national campaigns – using national security, patriotism, and September 11 as partisan tools to bludgeon the Democrats. In each successive election dominated by these themes though, they lost effectiveness until 2006 when finally, they ceased being the controlling factor as the people – fooled for some of the time – handed an historic loss to the Republican Party. (If Karl Rove hadn’t used these themes so promiscously and shamelessly, more people might have put stock in the current smear campaign and fear-mongering being used against Obama and the Democrats.)
  • Exacerbating existing conditions: Bush has accelerated a number of longstanding trends: towards domestic inequality and the stratification of Americans into a class-like system; towards the decline in America’s power in the world; towards the government’s fiscal insolvency; towards the expansion of executive power; and towards the increase in the price of oil. This acceleration has exacerbated these issues so as to make them more noticeable.
    A lobster will not realize it is being cooked if it placed in a pot of water at room temperature and gradually boiled to death. In the same way, many Americans did not realize the dangers and the extent of the changes to American society that have been ongoing since at least the 1970s. The Bush administration – in a number of areas – raised the temperature fast enough and carelessly enough that many people have begun to notice. (If the price of oil had increased more regularly, people would be less worried about how it would be affecting them – and less attention would be paid to the largest transfer of wealth in human history that is currently taking place. If Iraq hadn’t demonstrated the limits to American power, it might have taken much longer for policy-makers to realize that we no longer live in a unipolar world.)
  • Suddenness: The suddenness of America’s decline in relevancy has led to a widespread desire for America to re-assume some leadership role with the next president – a desire reflected most significantly in the worldwide and domestic support for Barack Obama.

Bush has – in almost every respect – pointed America in the direction it needs to go. He has demonstrated what not to do. It is hard to imagine the libertarian or the progressive movements achieving their widespread support and strength if not for Bush’s presidency.

This election cycle has already demonstrated the strength of two responses to the Bush administration’s legacy – the libertarian response as embodied in the unlikely success of Ron Paul and the progressive response as embodied in the progressive netroots which powered Obama’s campaign. As a card-carrying civil libertarian and a lifelong progressive, Barack Obama has an opportunity to synthesize these two competing movements – to create a rough political consensus of the next steps we need to take. (I’ve written before both about how the libertarian movement and liberalism seem to be converging and about how Obama represents some part of this.) However, Obama’s vote for the FISA Amendments Act was a poor start to the creation of this alliance – as he took a position in defiance of both of these movements.

In a very real sense George W. Bush’s legacy depends on how well the next president is able to capitalize on the opportunity given to him – in this campaign and in his potential presidency. The final judgment on Bush will not be knowable when he leaves office. Rather, some years later we will be able to make a definitive judgment – after we see how intractable the problems he leaves for his successor are and when we see what precedents the next president will reject and which he will build upon. Bush may be forgiven for his disrespect for the Constitution if the next president repudiates these precedents. (After all, Washington was forgiven for Hamilton’s army; Lincoln was forgiven for becoming a tyrant for several weeks; and FDR was forgiven for trying to pack the Supreme Court.)

But while I argue that Bush’s primary legacy is that of a uniter-not-a-divider whose presidency set America on a better path, this rosy evaluation of Bush’s legacy still leaves three areas uncovered – areas in which Bush created unique problems rather than exacerbating existing ones: Iraq, the War on Terror, and global climate change.

Complications

Iraq

It is hard to imagine another president invading Iraq under the circumstances that George W. Bush did. The many American and the far more Iraqi dead that resulted from this foolish gamble, this dumb war, will surely burden his soul and must undermine any positive legacy he leaves behind. Even assuming the best of intentions, the Iraq war has proved to be a strategic blunder that has empowered Iran, destabilized the region, inspired more extremism, degraded our military, and only achieved the removal of minor antagonist. Making this strategic error worse was the hubris and idiocy that dogged every step of the occupation. Although our alliance of convenience with the Sunni extremists who were fighting us just a few months ago has helped to stabilize Iraq and even given the recent show of independence by the Iraqi president in his call for us to set a firm date of withdrawl, Iraq still has a long way to go before we can get out of this quagmire. Until we get out, the Iraq war will continue to eat our resources, undermine our global position, and strengthen our enemies.

The War on Terror

Domestically, the Bush administration has done virtually nothing to harden potential targets of terrorism – allowing the use of the funds appropriated for this purpose to be pissed away on pork barrel spending. The main steps it has taken within America seem designed primarily to expand executive power rather than to achieve any particular goals related to terrorism – asserting the power to crush the testicles of a potential terrorist’s child, to detain individuals without charges for indefinite periods of time, to torture, and to ignore any laws that limit the president’s power. Abroad, the Bush administration squandered our best opportunity to destroy Al Qaeda when it began to shift resources to Iraq and away from those who attacked us. The nexus of world terrorism shifted as a result of the War on Terror from the center of Afghanistan to the lawless areas of the Afghani-Pakistani border – where Chechnyan islamists, the remants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, veterans of the Zaraqawi’s Iraqi campaign, and other terrorists from around the world are now working together and with greater freedom than at any time since the attacks on September 11. The successes we have had in the War on Terror seem largely to be the fruits of our failures – as the islamist ideology has proven to be an unattractive one once it begins to rule any territory.

Global Climate Change

It is hard to imagine another president ignoring the growing signs and consensus of global climate change so steadfastly. The eight years the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases has wasted ignoring the problem – despite the near universal consensus of the scientific community – have made more drastic steps necessary to correct the problem before it is too late. What other president – with a legacy on climate change such as this – would have bragged at a recent G8 summit about being the “world’s biggest polluter“?

Conclusions

Lincoln Chafee, the Republican Senator from Rhode Island, observed upon first meeting Bush that Bush did not seem up to the job of being president. The past several years have proved this observation prescient. I cannot argue that Bush’s actions have been wise, although I do generally think that they have been well-intentioned. 2 But while George W. Bush and his administration have committed petty crimes, war crimes, and constitutional violations, attacked liberties, advocated the preemptive surrender of American values, usurped independent branches of the government for partisan ends, and caused the injury and death of thousands of Americans citizens and citizens of the world – it is Bush who created this moment – this moment for renewal that has traditionally been what sets America apart.

While Ron Paul believed we needed a revoliution to begin to reverse the growing encroachment of government (even if that required the exploitation of poisonous racial resentments) – all we really needed was George W. Bush.

If America truly is a great nation – and in order to redeem the vision of the Constitution of the Founding Fathers, of that great address of Abraham Lincoln, of the square deal of Teddy Roosevelt and the four freedoms of his cousin, of the city on the hill that an old Hollywood actor once invoked – we must take advantage of this opportunity. The American moment is now – as all of us, feeling the fierce urgency of now, must work to restore the America that we grew up believing in – to restore the ideal and to form a more perfect union. Throughout the dark times in American history, Americans have believed and fought for this idea of America – to make this idea a reality and to protect this idea from the encroachments of tyranny and totalitarianism.

Change doesn’t come easy – but the greatest legacy of George W. Bush is that he has made it easier – and given us this opportunity to create a more perfect union. There will be obstacles and compomises in the days ahead – but (yes) we can achieve real change. Bush, more than anyone, deserves responsibility for that.

  1. What else but this strategy could explain Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s massive deficit spending? []
  2. I know there are many who disagree. []