The Right urges us to blame Obama & directly fight ISIS. Will we repeat our mistakes?

Summary:  As ISIS (grandly calling itself the “Islamic State”) expands, the Right blames Obama and calls for more direct military involvement by America. Their arguments rely on our amnesia about the past and delusions about the nature of modern war. Learning from experience is a vital skill for a nation hoping to navigate the rapids of 21st C geopolitics; so far we refuse to even try.  (2nd of 2 posts today.)

“They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.”
— French naval officer Charles Louis Etienne in a 1796 letter to Mallet du Pan.

Let's make a choice!

Our grandchildren will marvel at the obtuseness of our foreign policy. Future generations of historians will discuss the causes of our inability to learn from experience in our post-9/11 wars. Not only do we appear determined to repeat painful mistakes, we continue to take advice from the people who guided us into these failed wars — ignoring the clear lessons of post-WWII history — rather the people whose warnings proved prophetic.

Can any nation, no matter how rich and power, survive such a combination of amnesia, blindness, and arrogance?

The fall of Ramadi was avoidable” by Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, op-ed in the Washington Post, 18 May 2015. She is president of the Institute for the Study of War. He is a Director at the American Enterprise Institute. Despite being consistently wrong, our wars have been good for them — although not so good for America, for our troops that fight them, and for the nations we seek to help.

Learning From Mistakes” by David Brooks, column in the New York Times, may 2015. Our wars promoted Brooks from neocon hack at the Weekly Standard to mainstream respectability at the NYT. Simon Maloy at Salon eviscerated Brooks’ “learning” in “David Brooks’ sickening Iraq apologia“. “How the New York Times hack just rewrote history. The conservative New York Times columnist explains what he’s learned from his Iraq war boosting: largely nothing.”

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Obama screwed the Left in 2008. They’re eager for Hillary to do it in 2016.

Summary: Today we have an excerpt from a brilliant essay by Paul Street He explains how the Left has dug itself into a hole (the GOP clown car primaries show the similar problem on the Right), betting on hope rather than organization and work. And will repeat this mistake in 2016. {1st of 2 posts.}

The Political Machine

 

Today’s recommended reading: “Dancing to His Masters’ Tunes: The Liberal Apologies for Obama’s Ugly Reign” by Paul Street (his bio) at CounterPunch. This excerpt gives the bones of his reasoning, but omits his powerful horrific evidence. It deserves to be read in full.

——————— Excerpt  ———————

“Fact and Scrutiny”

So this is how Barack Obama is moving into the final 20 months of his dismal neoliberal presidency, which he once (proudly) described as ideologically akin to the Eisenhower White House. He is nauseating much of his own Wall Street-captive party’s electoral base by trying to push through the absurdly regressive, secretive, eco-cidal, and global-corporatist Trans Pacific Partnership treaty – a massive investor rights measure that promises to reduce wages, deepen inequality, undermine popular sovereignty, and assault already endangered livable ecology in the name of (what else?) “free trade” and “growth.” …

“Every Four Years”

There are a number of understandable and respectable responses (horror and disgust come to mind) to these latest corporatist White House policies, but surprise is not one of them. This is precisely the capitalist Obama that a good cadre of Left activists and writers tried (none more voluminously than this writer) to warn liberals and progressives about from the beginning of the Obama phenomenon and then presidency.

Like the Bill Clinton presidency but with considerable less success to a far less favorable economic and global context and to Obama’s comparative political ineptitude, the Obama administration has been (as predicted) a monument to faux-progressive corporate and Wall Street rule and to the wisdom of left historian Lawrence Shoup’s judgement in early 2008:

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Obama’s great deal with Iran: getting Iran’s “yes” was the easy part.

Summary: Obama takes a second step to greatness with his proposed deal with Iran. It’s a sensible step towards peace and hence arouses passionate opposition in America, largely on delusional grounds. How this plays out will reveal much about our future. If we cannot push back our extremists for something so obviously beneficial, then short-selling America looks like a good bet.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Celebration in Tehran after nuke deal announced (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP).
Celebration in Tehran after nuke deal announced (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP).

Contents

  1. The big picture.
  2. First, the key thing to know.
  3. About the deal.
  4. Voices raised against the deal.
  5. Updating my prediction.
  6. For More Information.

 

(1)  The big picture

A deal with Iran might be a second major accomplishment by President Obama, ending four decades of struggle with Iran — a conflict that Obama has pushed to undeclared war, as the US and Israel have assassinated Iran’s scientists and staged the first “electronic Pearl Harbor” with Stuxnet. It’s an accomplishment only if Obama can overcome the hawks that dominate US foreign policy. That includes the war-now-war-forever militarists plus the Israel-first-America-second lobby.

America tends not to esteem its peacemakers, but perhaps Obama’s surge into Afghanistan, attempted surge into Syria, widespread bombing (7 nations so far!), assassination of US citizens, and expansion of Africom will provide sufficient cover so we can cherish this great deed. If he can pull it off…

(2)  First, the key thing to remember

Since 1984 we’ve been told that Iran is about to have nukes really soon. Sobered by their craven bow to VP Cheney’s desires for fake certainty about Saddam’s nukes — and the resulting public humiliation — the US intel agencies have been clear about the lack of evidence that Iran has an illegal bomb program. Since this is America, our leaders just make stuff up — since we inflict no punishment (and even cheer if they’re in our tribe).

Defense One: “When a politician, analyst or pundit mentions an Iranian ‘nuclear weapons program’ they are referring to a program that the intelligence community is not aware of.”

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Is Obama purging the US military leadership?

Summary:  Today we review the good news about signs of reform from within the US military, reforms starting at the core — enforcing high ethical and performance standards on its senior officers. It’s a big story, something reformers have long demanded. More broadly, it’s a strike against the system of high, middle, and low justice that’s emerging in America. How people react to this also says much about America.

Military Virtue Medal: Romania

Usually we post about national security in the afternoon. This is both good news and important, and so the subject of both of today’s posts. {1st of 2 posts.}

{A} private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”
— Paul Yingling (Lt. Colonel, Army ) wrote this in 2007. It might be changing.

Flag officers rediscover ethics

As one of America’s most powerful institutions, the military has the ability to resist all but the most powerful external pressures for change. Reformers have often focused, correctly in my opinion, on the behavior of its senior officers — well protected by custom from punishment excerpt for the most public screw-ups. That’s changing.

Reformers have almost totally ignored this good news. The Left clamors for more heads to roll on a few narrow grounds, such as too-slow changing the definition of sexual assault. The Right typically declares this a conspiracy-mongering, covering instituted personally by Obama.  Articles like this from Breitbart flood the internet: “Is Obama Purging the Military of Dissent?“, 18 November 2013. These often give stratosphere numbers for those purged; “200” is common.

Here’s one of the most common lists: “Obama Purging Military Commanders“, The Blaze, 23 October 2013  — “The Nine Military Commanders Fired This Year by the Obama Administration.” Let’s examine the facts to see if these claims are true. Read for yourself and decide (

Spoiler: not only are these claims false, they don’t even bother to cite actual evidence for it. Read these as accounts of military recovering its mojo, taking the first steps to reform.

(1) Carter Ham (General, Army, retired)

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Let’s honor our generation’s greatest leader, one of the chief builders of a New America

Summary: Enough time has passed so that we can see in the 8 years of George W. Bush America changed to a degree seldom seen in our history, making him one of our few transformative Presidents. That many (perhaps most) of us do not like the specific changes he made does not matter. The 1% — his peers, in whose interest he ruled — gain much from the big steps under Bush away from the America-that-once-was towards a New America.  (This is the 2nd of 2 posts today.)

“The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised.

— Laozi, in the Tao Te Ching

Mt Rushmore as it will be, with President Bush
Mount Rushmore as it will be. One of these Presidents is not like the others.
George W. Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln
On the USS Abraham Lincoln, 1 May 2003 (AP/Damian Dovarganes)

 

Contents

  1. Our 7th transformative President
  2. National Security: triumph of the Deep State
  3. Undercutting the solvency of the government
  4. Etc, etc
  5. His buddy, Obama
  6. For More Information

(1)  Our 7th transformative President

Since his inauguration, following his award of the Nobel Peace Prize, many have called for Obama to be added to Mount Rushmore (or, realistically, said that he deserved to be there). That is obviously absurd. ObamaCare is almost his only substantial legislative accomplishment. He executed the end of the Iraq War, negotiated by President Bush Jr. Obama made some executive orders, which might prove significant (or not, or might be cancelled by a successor). He followed trends well-advanced at the State level expanding civil rights to gays. But his major accomplishments were overwhelmingly to continue, deepen, and expand the policies of his truly transformative predecessor. A man who deserves to be on Mount Rushmore: George W. Bush.

More accurately, a statue of Bush should begin a similar yet competing line of sculpture, since he undercut or outright reversed the accomplishments of Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln. The changes Bush made had precedents — as Hoover’s policies foreshadowed FDR’s, and Carter’s did Reagan’s. But like the bold measures of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR, and LBJ, Bush’s effects on America are of breadth and scale that defy easy description. We’re too close to see the full range of theses changes, to assess their relative importance, or do more than guess at their effects. But they’ve clearly set America on a new path.

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Our leaders justify torture in ways that justify its future use on their foes (including Americans)

Summary:  On Friday I said that we would torture again., despite the evidence in the Senate’s report.  This weekend former and current high officials of the US government confirmed that guess. Defenders of torture dispute the evidence, deny that torture was torture, and offer bold affirmations that they would torture again.

For I doubt not but, if it had been a thing contrary to any man’s right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, ‘that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square,’ that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.

— Thomas Hobbs in The Leviathan

Shining City Upon a Hill
By Hawk862

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The Bush and Obama administrations have put torture into our national DNA.  In the past Americans supporting (or enjoying) torture spoke quietly, least they (rightly) get compared to torturers of the NAZI Gestapo, Soviet KGB, and the many lesser known secret police of 3rd world nations (many of whom learned their craft at the US Special Forces’ School of the Americas).

Now come the propos to convince the American people that this is business as usual, that we’re still an exceptional City on a Hill (Matthew 5:14).

So closes the next chapter in America’s fall. We’ll use torture again. Read Republican’s justification of torture. Hear the echos from the past. As so many have said before, Hitler was just early (hence Godwin’s Law). Listen closely — their words justify torture of Americans (when designated as bad guys by the government). That shouldn’t surprise us after so many tools of the war on terror appear on America’s streets. (plus, of course, Obama’s assassination of American citizens).

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

His word salad clearly communicates that our rights mean nothing to him. CNN about Scalia’s interview on December 12 on Swiss National Radio:

The justice who’s been a mainstay of the high court’s conservative wing for 28 years condemned the “self-righteousness of European liberals” who oppose torture “so easily” Friday in an interview with Swiss National Radio.  “I don’t think it’s so clear at all,” Scalia said. “I think it is very facile for people to say ‘Oh, torture is terrible,'” he said. “You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people. “You think it’s an easy question? You think it’s clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person?”

… “What are human rights is not written up in the sky, and if it were written up in the sky, it would not be up to judges, lawyers, just because they’ve gone to law school, to know what human rights ought to be and therefore are,” Scalia said.

“And therefore each society’s perception of what it believes human rights should be ought to be up to that society, and I think it’s very foolish to yield that determinations not only to a foreign body but to a foreign body of judges,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to do that.”

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Law professors justify Obama’s illegal wars; more fuel for the Constitution’s pyre

Summary: Today’s essay by David Cole looks at Obama’s justifications for the next phase of the long war. In a wider sense it shows how the role of professions changes as the Republic-that-once-was dies and the imperial New New America rises on its ashes. Today we look at attorneys, many finding careers serving the government — dissembling the Constitution word by word in service of the President. Justifying the President’s actions, no matter what they are. Dismantling the structure of international law America built after WW2, which we hoped would in part justify the blood shed. Once proud professionals, now they’re the equivalent of the crew at the end of a parade, cleaning up after the elephants.

It’s a widening rot. Our geopolitical experts justify our wars. Anthropologists betray their canons, studying foreign societies for our Army. Doctors aid torturers. Economists become cheerleaders for our central bank. it’s the smooth track to success in New America.

“Get busy and fix it up so that it’s legal, will you?” Kamens said.
“You know, Delos, it would be a lot more honest if you did it at the point of a gun.”

— Client to attorney conversation in Robert Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold the Moon” (1939)

America's Constitution
Only formally still in effect

Contents

  1. “Obama’s Unauthorized War”
  2. Legal justifications for Obama’s illegal war
  3. About the author
  4. For More Information

Obama’s Unauthorized War

by David Cole, New York Review of Books
11 September 2014
Posted with their generous permission.

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In his address to the nation Wednesday night, President Barack Obama set forth a four-part strategy for dealing with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, otherwise known as ISIS or, in President Obama’s usage, ISIL. He spoke of continuing airstrikes in Iraq and extending them into Syria, training Iraqi forces and supporting Syrian rebels to fight ISIS, general counterterrorism operations, and humanitarian aid. But he did not put forth his strategy for dealing with the US Congress. And the Constitution demands that he obtain support from Congress if he wants to engage in what could potentially be a long war with a new terrorist group.

President Obama announced that he intends to carry out a sustained military campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, a campaign that his own military has said could last many years; it is nearly thirteen years since we set out to degrade and destroy al-Qaeda, and there’s no end in sight yet. In his speech, President Obama avoided the word “war,” but that is the more common word for the kind of sustained military campaign he described. And under our constitution, the president cannot go to war without congressional approval except in narrow circumstances not present here.

Last year, when Obama was contemplating military strikes against the Assad regime in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, he put the question to Congress, as the Constitution requires. Americans had no appetite for fighting another war over what they viewed as someone else’s problems, and Congress declined to authorize military force. Properly, the president backed down, and instead entered a negotiation brokered by Russia that ultimately led to the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, without the use of force.

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