"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Bush Burden”: Draped Over Congress Like Scrooge’s Ghost

He’s there in every corner of Congress where a microphone fronts a politician, there in Russia and the British Parliament and the Vatican. You may think George W. Bush is at home in his bathtub, painting pictures of his toenails, but in fact he’s the biggest presence in the debate over what to do in Syria.

His legacy is paralysis, hypocrisy and uncertainty practiced in varying degrees by those who want to learn from history and those who deny it. Let’s grant some validity to the waffling, though none of it is coming from the architects of the worst global fiasco in a generation.

Time should not soften what President George W. Bush, and his apologists, did in an eight-year war costing the United States more than a trillion dollars, 4,400 American soldiers dead and the displacement of two million Iraqis. The years should not gauze over how the world was conned into an awful conflict. History should hold him accountable for the current muddy debate over what to do in the face of a state-sanctioned mass killer.

Blame Bush? Of course, President Obama has to lead; it’s his superpower now, his armies to move, his stage. But the prior president gave every world leader, every member of Congress a reason to keep the dogs of war on a leash. The isolationists in the Republican Party are a direct result of the Bush foreign policy. A war-weary public that can turn an eye from children being gassed — or express doubt that it happened — is another poisoned fruit of the Bush years. And for the nearly 200 members of both houses of Congress who voted on the Iraq war in 2002 and are still in office and facing a vote this month, Bush shadows them like Scrooge’s ghost.

In reading “Lawrence in Arabia,” Scott Anderson’s terrific new biography of one outsider who truly understood the tribal and religious conflicts of a region that continues to rile the world, you’re struck by how a big blunder can have a titanic domino effect. The consequences of World War I, which started 100 years ago next year, are with us still — particularly the spectacularly bad decisions made by European powers in drawing artificial boundaries in the Mideast. Syria and Iraq are prime examples.

Until the Syrian crises came to a head, we had yet to see just how much the Bush fiasco in Iraq would sway world opinion. We know now that his war will haunt the globe for decades to come. Future presidents who were in diapers when the United States said with doubtless authority that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction will face critics quoting Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney with never-again scorn.

The parallels are imprecise and many degrees apart: Iraq was a full-scale invasion, Syria is a punishment. But there it is — the Bush hangover, felt by all.

At the least, when the main cheerleaders for the last war talk about what to do now, they should be relegated to a rubber room reserved for Bernie Madoff discussing financial ethics or Alex Rodriguez on cheating in baseball.

Rumsfeld has been all over the airwaves with fussy distinctions about this war and his, faulting Obama for going to Congress for approval to strike. Like the man he served in office, he shows not a hint of regret or evidence that he’s learned a thing.

“You either ought to change the regime or you ought to do nothing,” he said this week, as if he were giving fantasy football advice. Calling Obama a weak leader, he said: “Did he need to go to Congress? No. Presidents as commanders in chief have authority, but they have to behave like a commander in chief.” In other words, more swagger, bluster and blind certainty.

Liz Cheney, in a feckless run in Wyoming for the Senate highlighted by a sellout of her own lesbian sister’s right to marry, says she would vote against the resolution to use force in Syria. She’s made a career, such as it is, backing her father’s legacy of waterboarding, nation invading and pillorying supporters of diplomacy before war.

And Senator Marco Rubio, robust defender of the Iraq war, has just cast a no vote on taking action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He did this for one reason: to fend off the Bush-spawned neo-isolationists who will play a big role in the 2016 presidential nomination.

There are people on the public stage who have genuinely agonized over lessons of the Bush disaster. They say, with some conviction, that they will never be fooled again.

But for all of these neocons stuck on the wrong side of history — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, say the names loud and clear — it’s not a change in conscience at work; it’s a change in presidents. Later this month, dozens of Republicans in Congress will make the same decision, simply because they hate Obama, and would oppose him if he declared Grandmother Appreciation Day.

The voice that stands out most by his silence, the one that grates with its public coyness, is Bush himself. He has refused to take a side in the Syrian conflict. The president, he said, “has a tough choice to make.” Beyond that, “I refuse to be roped in.”

This is cowardice on a grand scale. Having set in motion a doctrine that touches all corners of the earth and influences every leader with a say in how to approach tyrants who slaughter innocents, Bush retreats to his bathtub to paint.


By: Timothy Egan, The New York Times, September 5, 2013

September 6, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Syria | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Syria And The Return Of Dissent”: Liberating The Country From The Shackles Imposed During The Bush Years On Open Discussion

The debate over Syria is a jumble of metaphors, proof that every discussion of military action involves an argument about the last war. Yet beneath the surface, the fight in Congress over President Obama’s proposed strike against Bashar al-Assad’s regime is a struggle to break free from earlier syndromes to set a new course.

Obama himself is using the imperative that he back up his “red line” against chemical weapons as an occasion to revisit his Syrian strategy. And both of our political parties are emerging from a post-9/11 period of frozen foreign policy thinking to a more natural and intellectually honest exchange over America’s long-term role in the world.

The mood of the public and of many in Congress is summarized easily: “No more Iraqs.” It’s a sensible impulse because the Iraq war never delivered on the promises of those who urged the country to battle. Especially among Democrats who initially endorsed the war, there is a lingering guilt that they never asked the Bush administration the questions that needed to be posed. Belatedly, those queries — about what the intelligence shows and what our goals are — are now being directed to Obama on Syria.

Still, there is another reaction among Democrats and liberals, including Obama. It is a return to a pre-Iraq view that shaped the Clinton administration’s policies in Bosnia and Kosovo after it failed to stop the Rwandan genocide: There are times when American power can be used to keep local wars from flying out of control, to prevent or limit humanitarian catastrophes and, yes, to advance the country’s interests.

Many Democrats supported Bush on Iraq because they mistakenly placed the war in the context of a humanitarian intervention. Yet this guardedly interventionist wing of the party also includes people such as House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who opposed the commitment in Iraq but never stopped believing in the positive uses of American military power. These Democrats are swinging Obama’s way on Syria not for partisan reasons but because he shares their position in the quarrel inside the party.

Nonetheless, Obama faces substantial resistance among Democrats because Vietnam and Iraq turned a large section of the party into principled noninterventionists who set an extremely high bar to any use of America’s armed forces. The same can be said of libertarian Republicans such as Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Justin Amash. This left-right anti-war coalition has a long American pedigree, going back to the periods before both World War I and World War II.

But that only begins to describe the complexity of the argument on the Republican side. Many in the party instinctively skeptical of foreign entanglements suppressed their doubts during the Bush years. With a Democrat in the White House and 9/11 more than a decade behind us, they now feel they can express them again. This group overlaps with a GOP faction whose one driving ideology involves standing against anything Obama is for.

Republican interventionists, in the meantime, are divided among themselves. Neoconservatives such as Sen. John McCain have an expansive attitude toward deploying American forces and still believe in the Iraq war. Realists such as Sen. Bob Corker do not want a repeat of Iraq but are willing to give Obama a limited mandate to act in Syria. House Speaker John Boehner rather bravely urged passage of a resolution on Syria, knowing that inaction there would undermine a tough approach toward Iran. He finds himself somewhere between these two camps.

Ultimately, after intricate negotiations, the balance of power among all these factions will almost certainly give the president the congressional victory he needs to take action — in part because majorities in both houses know that an Obama defeat on Syria would be devastating to American foreign policy. Wednesday’s 10 to 7 Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote for a resolution was a sign of things to come.

And by forcing this necessary vote in Congress, Obama has forced himself to recalibrate a Syrian strategy that had reached a dead end and to clarify his goals. He is stepping up support for more moderate Syrian opposition elements and his plans to “degrade” Assad’s military are more extensive than simply a warning shot. But he remains deeply wary of committing American troops on the ground.

With luck, Obama will get by this crisis while sending a strong message of American determination to uphold international norms. In the longer run, despite the repeated references to the recent past, the Syria debate signals that the country is finally liberating itself from the shackles imposed during the Bush years on an open discussion of our country’s interests and purposes. Democracy is often slow, but it eventually works.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 4, 2013

September 6, 2013 Posted by | Syria | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Life After John Boehner”: Things Could Get Much Worse In The House And It Looks Like They Will

In non-Syria news, HuffPo’s Ryan Grim and Jon Ward reported yesterday that some GOP Hill rats are now starting to say on background what most of us have been assuming for quite some time—that John Boehner won’t seek reelection in 2014 and thus will end his tenure as speaker.

If so, he will have lasted just four years, and, it must be said, a pretty crappy four years, when the House has passed almost no meaningful bills and when the most meaningful one it did pass, the sequester, is widely acknowledged to be a disaster and an admission of Congress’s inability to do its job. And remember, we still have, after the Syria vote, the looming government shutdown and the debt-limit fight coming this fall. A brief government shutdown and a credit default, while undesirable generally, would provide fitting capstones to a terrible tenure.

Now of course all this failure isn’t his fault. He’s got a lot of people in that caucus who weren’t elected to govern, but to burn down. His length of tenure reflects this problem. As speaker, you have to make some sort of attempt to govern. That’s the gig. But when half or more of your caucus is against governing, well, they’re going to get mad at you and consider you a sellout. As Grim and Ward point out, he won the speakership last time by just three votes.

It’s worth reflecting on this before he goes back to Cincinnati (back to Cincinnati? What am I talking about? He’s staying right here, I would imagine, and will earn a few million dollars a year as a post-lobbyist lobbyist, doing most of his work on the courses at Burning Tree and Congressional; I guess in a way he will have earned that, and a carton of smokes): the current House Republican caucus doesn’t want a speaker who will attempt to perform the basic job of speaker—shepherd through compromise spending bills in a semi-timely fashion, work with the Senate to pass a few other respectably significant bills, keep something resembling an orderly appearance. Boehner did none of these things, and probably couldn’t do any of them. Immigration is a great case in point, when he was forced by the yahoos to say he wasn’t taking up the Senate bill at all.

But the more important question is who replaces him. HuffPo:

The assumption that Boehner’s departure is imminent has set off a round of jockeying for the positions that would open up. The current power structure includes an ad hoc leadership-in-waiting, consisting of five conservatives who serve as go-betweens for the leadership and the tea party. Getting the blessing of that group is usually the first step toward getting broader tea party buy-in. According to GOP sources, this group includes Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Paul Ryan (Wis.), Tom Price (Ga.) and Steve Scalise (La.). All but Ryan have chaired the Republican Study Committee, the bloc of arch-conservatives in the House. Much of the speculation has focused on Hensarling, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, who is considered a viable candidate for either speaker or majority leader. Price, who lost a leadership race last round to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), is considered a viable challenger to current Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.).

A grim menu. These people make Boehner look like Nelson Rockefeller. Under any of them, the point of the House of Representatives will be to throw as many wrenches into as many gears of government as they can possibly get away with. You think things couldn’t get worse? Oh, trust me, they could get much worse. And it looks like they will.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 5, 2013

September 6, 2013 Posted by | John Boehner | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Unknown Man”: Rummy Returns And It’s Like He Never Left

Don Rumsfeld, believe it or not, is back. And though I haven’t read Rumsfeld’s Rules, (available in paperback soon!), I’m pretty sure he hasn’t changed a bit. Which is something that I think it’s fair to say is true of most people who worked at high levels for George W. Bush. As far as they’re concerned, they were right all along, about everything. Rumsfeld thinks President Obama is going about this Syria thing all wrong, about which he could well be right, but how can anybody hear him offer opinions about that sort of thing and not remind themselves that he bore as much responsibility as anyone for what was probably the single greatest foreign-policy screw-up in American history?

Anyhow, the real reason I mention Rummy is that Errol Morris has a new documentary about him coming out soon called The Unknown Known. Like Morris’ The Fog of War, his film on Robert McNamara, it’s basically a long interview with Rumsfeld. But unlike McNamara, Rumsfeld has no regrets. Watch this preview all the way to the end:

“Not an obsession. A very measured, nuanced approach.”

To me, that self-satisfied smile Rumsfeld gives at the end says, You can try all day, buddy, but I’m never going to say we were wrong. Give me your best shot. Rumsfeld seems to be treating the interview like a game, which in some sense it is. It might seem odd that Rumsfeld would agree to participate in the film, but he has no small amount of self-regard. He no doubt believed that no matter what Morris asked him, he’d be able to give the answer he wanted and not get trapped into saying something embarrassing. In the end, he’d be victorious. Just like he was in Iraq, right?

But the fact that he can describe the administration’s beliefs about Iraq as “Not an obsession. A very measured, nuanced approach” is quite something. You’d expect at least an acknowledgement that things didn’t work out quite as they had hoped. This is, after all, the man who said about phantom WMDs, “We know where they are,” and who predicted about the war, “It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months” (another time he said, “Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that”).

The propaganda war over Iraq never ends, I guess. Maybe the bigger the mistake you make, the more you need to convince yourself and others that it was never really a mistake to begin with.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 4, 2013

September 6, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Syria | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Always Morning In America”: Republicans, Before Talking About Reagan And Chemical Weapons, Don’t Forget Actual History

Reagan worship in Republican politics reaches unhealthy levels from time to time — “Ronaldus Magnus,” for example — though it’s generally the result of Reagan fans not remembering the 40th president nearly as well as they think they do.

A few years ago, for example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia was the result of Reagan’s historic leadership. That didn’t make any sense at all — the Prague Spring happened in 1968.

Or take today’s example, from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“It is against the norms of international standards and to let something like this go unanswered, I think will weaken our resolve. I — I know that President Reagan would have never let this happen. He would stand up to this. And President Obama — the only reason he is consulting with Congress, he wants to blame somebody for his lack of resolve. We have to think like President Reagan would do and he would say chemical use is unacceptable.”

Look, I realize the 1980s seems like a long time ago, and on Capitol Hill, memories are short. But if prominent members of Congress are going to talk about Reagan and the use of chemical weapons, at a bare minimum, they should have some rudimentary understanding of how Reagan approached the use of chemical weapons.

So long as saying unpleasant-but-true things about Reagan is still legal, let’s set the record straight.

The Reagan administration was, of course, quite ambitious when it came to foreign policy and national security. For example, Reagan invaded Grenada without telling Congress he intended to do so; he bombed Libya without congressional approval or consultation; and he illegally sold over 1,000 missiles to Iran to finance an illegal war in Nicaragua.

And as Heyes Brown explained, Reagan also did largely the opposite of what Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said he did with regards to the use of chemical weapons.

For the majority of the 1980s, Iraq under Sadaam Hussein was locked in combat with the Islamic Republic of Iran in a war that killed more than 100,000 people on both sides. The United States explicitly backed the secular Hussein over the Ayatollah Khomeini’s government in Tehran, still smarting from the embassy hostage crisis that had only ended when Reagan took office. That backing not only included the shipment of tons of weapons to support Baghdad, but also looking the other way when Iraq unleashed its chemical weapons stockpiles — including sarin and mustard gas — against Iranian civilians and soldiers alike.

Recently declassified documents from that time indicate that not only did the U.S. government know that Hussein possessed these weapons, but “conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin.” President Reagan also remained silent during the Al-Anfal campaign, in which Hussein used poison gas against the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq to put down a revolt against his rule. In what has later been called a genocide, more than 100,000 men, women, and children were killed, nearly 100 times more than the attack that took place outside of Damascus last month.

Indeed, after Saddam Hussein gassed his own people, Reagan dispatched … wait for it … Donald Rumsfeld to help solidify the relationship between the Reagan administration and the brutal, murderous Iraqi dictator. Rumsfeld gladly shook hands with Hussein after he used chemical weapons to kill Iraqi dissidents.

Perhaps someone can let Rep. Ros-Lehtinen know.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 5, 2013

September 6, 2013 Posted by | Chemical Weapons, Syria | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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