Despite what you might have heard, Barack Obama is not to blame for the failure of the so-called “super committee” to reach a debt deal. That the president should have exercised greater “leadership” has become a standard talking point both on the right and among the “everyone’s to blame for a broken system” commentariat. But that line of criticism simply isn’t connected to political reality.
Part of the problem is a belief that has developed in recent decades in the omnipotence of the president and the bully pulpit.
As my colleague Ken Walsh notes,
Americans expect their president to push the system into action and, through persuasion, cajolery, threats, intimidation or personal diplomacy, get things done on Capitol Hill.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right when he told reporters, in reaction to the committee’s collapse, “It’s the chief executive’s job to bring people together and to provide leadership. I don’t see that happening.”
But that presupposes that all policy gaps are bridgeable. Some simply aren’t. In this specific instance, the chasm was too wide. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has neatly summarized it, the super sticking point was: “Democrats wanted the rich to pay more in taxes towards deficit reduction, and Republicans wanted the rich to pay less in taxes towards deficit reduction.”
When Republicans finally allowed for some increased tax revenues, they were conditioned on making permanent the Bush tax cuts. In other words the GOP was willing to close around $300 billion in loopholes in exchange for adding $4 trillion to the deficit in the form of enshrining the Bush tax rates.
Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum has a helpful set of four questions any critics of Obama’s leadership here should answer. The second one is the key: Critics should “explain whether they think Republicans would ever, under any circumstances, have accepted a deal with a net tax increase.”
No one who is both sentient and has watched politics in recent years thinks that they would. So the leadership that Bloomberg and others would have Obama exercise would involve him either talking the GOP into becoming Democrats or himself capitulating to their demands. (This latter option would, of course, have set many of the same commentators off on a round of exposition about what a weak leader Obama is for having surrendered to the GOP, again.)
The utter hollowness of the GOP position is underscored by the fact that Republicans who criticize Obama for not taking a more direct role in the super committee’s deliberations attacked him for undermining the committee when he released his deficit reduction proposal (h/t Sargent).
The belief that presidential “leadership” would have somehow bridged this divide is especially pernicious because it plays into the hands of GOP hardliners. So long as pundits insist that any policy chasm can be bridged with just an application of presidential leadership, it removes all incentive for the side opposing the president to do anything but hold a hard line. What else should they do when he gets the blame for their intransigence?
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, November 22, 2011
This afternoon President Obama announced that at the end of this year, America will withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq.
Obama began his campaign for president by forcefully, clearly promising to end that war. This afternoon he delivered on that promise.
The timing of his announcement could not have been more symbolically powerful. It comes just a day after the successful conclusion of the operation in Libya — an operation that stands in stark contrast to the disastrous War in Iraq.
The War in Iraq was the product of “bull in the china closet” Neo-Con unilateralism. The war cost a trillion dollars. Nobel prize-winning economist George Stieglitz estimates that after all of the indirect costs to our economy are in — including the care of the over 33,000 wounded and disabled — its ultimate cost to the American economy will be three times that.
It has cost 4,600 American lives, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It created millions of refugees — both inside Iraq and those who fled to other countries.
The war decimated America’s reputation in the world and legitimated al Qaeda’s narrative that the West was involved in a new Crusade to take over Muslim lands. Images of Abu Ghraib created a powerful recruiting poster for terrorists around the world.
The War stretched America’s military power and weakened our ability to respond to potential threats. It diverted resources from the War in Afghanistan. It empowered Iran.
The War in Iraq not only destroyed America’s reputation, but also American credibility. Who can forget the embarrassing image of General Colin Powell testifying before the United Nations Security Council that the U.S. had incontrovertible evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?
Contrast that to yesterday’s conclusion of the successful operation in Libya. That operation is emblematic of an entirely different approach.
Since he took office, Obama has fundamentally reshaped American foreign policy. In place of “bull in the china closet” unilateralism he has initiated a cooperative, multilateral approach to the rest of the world. The fruits of that approach are obvious in the Libyan operation where:
- The Libyans themselves overthrew a dictator;
- America spent a billion dollars — not a trillion dollars, as we have in Iraq;
- America did not lose one soldier in Libya;
- We accomplished our mission after eight months, not eight years;
- Most importantly, America worked cooperatively with our European allies, the Arab League and the Libyan people to achieve a more democratic Middle East.
Obama’s policy toward the Middle East is aimed at helping to empower everyday people in the Muslim world — it is a policy built on respect, not Neo-Con fantasies of imperial power. And it works.
Last month, I spent several weeks in Europe and met with a number of people from our State Department and other foreign policy experts from Europe, the Middle East and the United States. Everyone tells the same story. Since President Obama took office, support for the United States and its policies has massively increased throughout Europe and much of the world.
The BBC conducts a major poll of world public opinion. In March of this year it released its latest report.
Views of the U.S. continued their overall improvement in 2011, according to the annual BBC World Service Country Rating Poll of 27 countries around the world.
Of the countries surveyed, 18 hold predominantly positive views of the U.S., seven hold negative views and two are divided. On average, 49 percent of people have positive views of U.S. influence in the world — up four points from 2010 — and 31 per cent hold negative views. The poll, conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA, asked a total of 28,619 people to rate the influence in the world of 16 major nations, plus the European Union.
In 2007 a slight majority (54%) had a negative view of the United States and only close to three in ten (28%) had a positive view….
In other words, positive opinion of the U.S. had increased by 21% since 2007 – it has almost doubled.
Obama understands that in an increasingly democratic world, the opinions of our fellow human beings matter. They affect America’s ability to achieve America’s goals.
And Obama understands that it matters that young people in the Middle East, who are struggling to create meaningful lives, think of America as a leader they respect, rather than as a power with imperial designs on their land and their lives.
But, at the same time, there is no question that President Obama is not afraid to act — to take risks to advance American interests. The operation that got Bin Laden was a bold move. It was very well planned — but not without risks.
Obama is a leader who makes cold, hard calculations about how to achieve his goals. He plans carefully and then doesn’t hesitate to act decisively. And as it turns out, he usually succeeds. Ask Bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Gaddafi.
Obama received a good deal of criticism from the Republicans for his operation in Libya. But by taking action, he first prevented Benghazi from becoming another Rwanda — and then supported a movement that ended the reign of a tyrant who had dominated the Libyan people for 42 years and had personally ordered the destruction of an American airliner.
For the vast number of Americas who ultimately opposed the War in Iraq, today should be at day of celebration. And it is a day of vindication for the courageous public officials who opposed the war from the start. That includes the 60% of House Democrats who voted against the resolution to support Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
It is also a day when someone ought to have the decency to tell the Republican chorus of Obama foreign policy critics that it’s time to stop embarrassing themselves.
From the first day of the Obama Presidency, former Vice President Dick Cheney has accused President Obama of “dithering” — “afraid to make a decision” — of “endangering American security.”
Even after the death of Muammar Gaddafi, Senator Lindsey Graham criticized the president for “leading from behind.”
You’d think that a guy who two years ago traveled to Libya to meet and make nice with Gaddafi would want to keep a low profile, now that the revolution Obama supported there has been successful at toppling this dictator who ordered the downing of American airliner.
Well, as least Graham isn’t saddled with having tweeted fawningly like his fellow traveler, John McCain, who upon visiting Gaddafi wrote: “Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his “ranch” in Libya — interesting meeting with an interesting man.”
Let’s face it, with the death of Gaddafi, the knee-jerk Republican critics of his Libya policy basically look like fools.
Mitt Romney in the early months of the effort: “It is apparent that our military is engaged in much more than enforcing a no-fly zone. What we are watching in real time is another example of mission creep and mission muddle.”
Republican Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann: “President Obama’s policy of leading from behind is an outrage and people should be outraged at the foolishness of the President’s decision” and also asking “what in the world are we doing in Libya if we don’t know what our military goal is?”
Of course, the very idea that Dick Cheney is given any credibility at all by the media is really outrageous.
Here is a guy who made some of the most disastrous foreign policy mistakes in American history. He has the gall to criticize Obama’s clear foreign policy successes? Those successes allowed America to recover much stature and power in the world that were squandered by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Someone needs to ask, what is anyone thinking who takes this guy the least bit seriously?
Someone needs to remind him and his Neo-con friends that:
- The worst attack on American soil took place on their watch;
- They failed to stop Osama bin Laden;
- They began two massive land wars in the Middle East that have drained massive sums from our economy, killed thousands of Americans and wounded tens of thousands of others;
- They underfunded an effort in Afghanistan so they could begin their War in Iraq that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist threat from Al Qaeda;
- They brought U.S. credibility in the world to a new low by lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, violating our core human rights principles and acting unilaterally without any concern for the opinions or needs of other nations;
- Through their War in Iraq they legitimated Al Qaeda’s narrative that the United States was waging a crusade to take over Muslim lands – and with their policies at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, they created recruiting posters for Al Qaeda that did enormous harm to American security;
- Through their recklessness and incompetence they stretched American military resources and weakened our ability to respond to crises;
- When they left office, American credibility and our support in the world had fallen to new lows.
Republicans in Congress supported all of this like robots.
With a record like this, you’d think they would want to slink off into a closet and hope that people just forget.
But Americans won’t forget. History won’t forget.
And generations from now, Americans will thank Barack Obama for restoring American leadership — for once again making our country a leader in the struggle to create a world where war is a relic of the past and everyone on our small planet can aspire to a future full of possibility and hope.
By: Robert Creamer, Huffington Post, October 21, 2011
I guess this was inevitable.
John Boehner was driven to tears again today. This time it happened at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans.
According to sources inside the meeting, it happened while Boehner was speaking to the group about the latest on his negotiations with Democrats over government funding. Boehner talked about his meeting yesterday with President Obama and then, in a rousing conclusion, he thanked the House Republicans for standing by him and supporting him through these tense negotiations.
The Republican conference responded with a standing ovation for their speaker.
As you could imagine, that prompted the Speaker to cry.
Sure, but is there any chance the crying could become tears of joy after striking a deal? Time is obviously running out in a hurry — we’re now counting down by the number of hours, not the number of days — but there’s been some movement this afternoon.
Roll Call reported that the party’s leaders are at least talking again, and “there were indications that progress was being made.” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters, “I feel better about it today than I did yesterday at the same time.”
This was not a unanimous view. Politico reported that “leaders from both parties are more pessimistic about cutting a deal before the government runs out of money.”
There was reportedly some progress on the spending-cut target. Boehner moved the goalposts this week, demanding $40 billion in cuts after agreeing privately to $33 billion, but top aides today apparently met to explore another compromise between the two numbers. The bigger hurdle, apparently, is the GOP demand for policy “riders,” which right-wing House Republicans continue to treat as having equal importance to the cuts themselves.
How party leaders can work around this is a mystery to me.
The odds notwithstanding, if a compromise is reached, what about the rule GOP leaders imposed on themselves, mandating that a bill is available for three days before a vote? In this case, Republicans are prepared to waive the rule, if there’s a deal to even vote on.
In the meantime, the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity held a rally this afternoon across the street from the Capitol, with several dozen right-wing activists on hand to listen to speeches from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and others. The Republican voters chanted, “Shut it down!” during the rally, and every other sign at the rally urged the GOP to shut down the government.
I think we can say with confidence which side of the aisle is “rooting for a government shutdown.”
By: Steve Benen, Political Animal, Washington Monthly, April 6, 2011
Five years ago, in the darkest days of insurgent violence and Sunni-Shia strife, it seemed as if the Iraq war would shadow American foreign policy for decades, frightening a generation’s worth of statesmen away from using military force. Where there had once been a “Vietnam syndrome,” now there would be an “Iraq syndrome,” inspiring harrowing flashbacks to Baghdad and Falluja in any American politician contemplating an intervention overseas.
But in today’s Washington, no such syndrome is in evidence. Indeed, it’s striking how quickly the bipartisan coalition that backed the Iraq invasion has reassembled itself to urge President Obama to use military force against Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi.
The Iraq war became known as George W. Bush’s war after Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction didn’t turn up, because at that point no liberal wanted to take responsibility for the conflict. But the initial invasion was supported by Democrats as well as Republicans, liberal internationalists as well as neoconservatives — Hillary Clinton as well as John McCain, The New Republic as well as The Weekly Standard.
Now a similar chorus is arguing that the United States should intervene
directly in Libya’s civil war: with a no-flight zone, certainly, and perhaps with arms for the Libyan rebels and air strikes against Qaddafi’s military as well. As in 2002 and 2003, the case
for intervention is being pushed by a broad cross-section of politicians and opinion-makers, from Bill Clinton to Bill Kristol, Fareed Zakaria to Newt Gingrich, John Kerry to Christopher Hitchens.
The justifications for military action, too, echo many of the arguments marshaled for toppling Saddam Hussein. America’s credibility is on the line. The Libyan people deserve our support. Deposing Qaddafi will strike a blow for democracy and human rights.
It’s a testament to the resilience of American power that we’re hearing these kind of arguments so soon after the bloodiest years of the Iraq war. It’s also a testament to the achievements of the American military: absent the successes of the 2007 troop surge, we’d probably be too busy extricating ourselves from a war-torn Iraq to even contemplate another military intervention in a Muslim nation.
But that resilience and those achievements may have set a trap for us, by encouraging the American leadership class to draw relatively narrow lessons from the Iraq war — lessons that only apply to wars premised on faulty W.M.D. intelligence, or wars led by Donald Rumsfeld.
In reality, there are lessons from our years of failure in Iraq that can be applied to an air war over Libya as easily as to a full-scale invasion or counterinsurgency. Indeed, they can be applied to any intervention — however limited its aims, multilateral its means, and competent its commanders.
One is that the United States shouldn’t go to war unless it has a plan not only for the initial military action, but also for the day afterward, and the day after that. Another is that the United States shouldn’t go to war without a detailed understanding of the country we’re entering, and the forces we’re likely to empower.
Moreover, even with the best-laid plans, warfare is always a uniquely high-risk enterprise — which means that the burden of proof should generally rest with hawks rather than with doves, and seven reasonable-sounding reasons for intervening may not add up to a single convincing case for war.
Advocates of a Libyan intervention don’t seem to have internalized these lessons. They have rallied around a no-flight zone as their Plan A for toppling Qaddafi, but most military analysts seem to think that it will fail to do the job, and there’s no consensus on Plan B. Would we escalate to air strikes? Arm the rebels? Sit back and let Qaddafi claim to have outlasted us?
If we did supply the rebels, who exactly would be receiving our money and munitions? Libya’s internal politics are opaque, to put it mildly. But here’s one disquieting data point, courtesy of the Center for a New American Security’s : Eastern Libya, the locus of the rebellion, sent more foreign fighters per capita to join the Iraqi insurgency than any other region in the Arab world.
And if the civil war dragged on, what then? Twice in the last two decades, in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, the United States has helped impose a no-flight zone. In both cases, it was just a stepping-stone to further escalation: bombing campaigns, invasion, occupation and nation-building.
None of this means that an intervention is never the wisest course of action. But the strategic logic needs to be compelling, the threat to our national interest obvious, the case for war airtight.
With Libya, that case has not yet been made.
By: Ross Douthat, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 13, 2011