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
Did torture work? This is the question everyone is asking after Osama bin Laden’s death and the revelation that his fate was sealed by the identification of a courier whose nom de guerre emerged from the interrogation of top al Qaeda operatives who were known to have been subjected to waterboarding and similar techniques. “Did brutal interrogations produce the intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden?” a May 3 New York Timesstory asked.
This is hardly the first time we’ve had this debate. In 2006, my team of interrogators in Iraq located local al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by identifying and following one of his spiritual advisors, Abu Abd al-Rahman. Eric Maddox, a U.S. Army interrogator, found Saddam Husseinby similar means, identifying his former bodyguards. It’s these little pieces of information that form the mosaic that gradually leads to a breakthrough. But how best to get those little pieces?
Current and former U.S. officials and their supporters have been quick to argue that “enhanced interrogation techniques” and waterboarding led to the identification of the courier’s alias, which started U.S. intelligence down the road to bin Laden. The day after the al Qaeda leader’s death was announced, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the House Homeland Security Committee chair, told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that “For those who say that waterboarding doesn’t work, who say it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information [from waterboarding] that directly led us to bin Laden.” John Yoo, the former U.S. Justice Department official who drafted the George W. Bush administration’s legal rationales for officially sanctioned torture, repeated the claim and praised“Bush’s interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs that produced this week’s actionable intelligence.” The torture bandwagon has started to kick into high gear. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In fact, the information about the existence of a courier working for bin Laden was provided by several detainees, not just waterboarded al Qaeda operatives Kalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi — we had one detainee in Iraq who provided information about a courier in 2006. The key pieces of information, however, were the courier’s real name and location. His family name was first uncovered by CIA assets in Pakistan through other sources. The NSA subsequently figured out his full real name and location from an intercepted phone call. Waterboarding had nothing to do with it.
Moreover, common sense dictates that all high-ranking leaders have couriers — and their nicknames do little to lead us to them. This is because many members of al Qaeda change names or take on a nom de guerre after joining for both operational security and cultural reasons. The names are often historically relevant figures in the history of Islam, like the Prophet Mohamed’s first follower, Abu Bakr. Think of it as the equivalent of a boxer taking on a nickname like “The Bruiser.”
Understanding these cultural nuances is just one critical skill interrogators must have to be effective. The other is an understanding of the social science behind interrogations, which tells us that torture has an extremely negative effect on memory. An interrogator needs timely and accurate intelligence information, not just made-up babble.
What torture has proven is exactly what experienced interrogators have said all along: First, when tortured, detainees will give only the minimum amount of information necessary to stop the pain. No interrogator should ever be hoping to extract the least amount of information. Second, under coercion, detainees give misleading information that wastes time and resources — a false nickname, for example. Finally, it’s impossible to know what information the detainee would have disclosed under non-coercive interrogations.
But to understand the question “Does torture work?” one must also define “work.” If we include all the long-term negative consequences of torture, that answer becomes very clear. Those consequences include the fact that torture handed al Qaeda its No. 1 recruiting tool, a fact confirmed by the U.S. Department of Defense’s interrogators in Iraq who questioned foreign fighters about why they had come there to fight. (I have first-hand knowledge of this information because I oversaw many of these interrogations and was briefed on the aggregate results.) In addition, future detainees will be unwilling to cooperate from the onset of an interrogation because they view all Americans as torturers. I heard this repeatedly in Iraq, where some detainees accused us of being the same as the guards at Abu Ghraib.
The more you think about, the less sense torture makes. U.S. allies will become unwilling to conduct joint operations if they are concerned about how detainees will be treated in U.S. custody (an argument made by the 9/11 Commission, among others). And future enemies will use our actions as justification to torture American captives. Torture also lowers our ethical standards to those of our enemies, an ugly shift that spreads like a virus throughout the Armed Services; witness the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the recent murders of civilians in Afghanistan.
Most importantly, we should be talking about the morality of torture, not its efficacy. When the U.S. infantry becomes bogged down in a tough battle, they don’t turn to chemical weapons even though they are extremely effective. The reason they don’t is because such weapons are illegal and immoral.
During the Revolutionary War, one top general made the point that torture was inconsistent with the fundamental beliefs of our founding fathers. “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to insure any [prisoner] … I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require,” he wrote to his troops in the Northern Expeditionary Force in the first year of the war. The general in question was George Washington. There’s a reason we pledge to believe in “liberty and justice for all” and not “liberty and security for all”: It’s because we place our values and principles higher than we place our security. When we cease to do so, we forfeit our right to be called Americans.
We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him. American interrogators safely guided us through World War II without the use of torture, fighting an enemy and interrogating prisoners every bit as brutal and dedicated as the members of al Qaeda. Our interrogators continue to prove time and time again that they are smart enough to outwit al Qaeda’s best and brightest. No one should ever doubt that we have the mental and ethical fortitude to win this war — and to do it without lowering ourselves to the level of our foes.
By: Matthew Alexander, Foreign Policy, May 4, 2011
In a measured East Room address late yesterday, President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden and took a somber look back at Sept. 11, 2001, a tragically beautiful day on the East Coast. A “cloudless sky” set the scene for nearly three thousand deaths and two fallen towers by the time it was done.
Listening for what the president didn’t say in speaking to the nation, I came away impressed with his choice of words. He deftly left out three of them: “war on terror.” Cutting that phrase out of the political lexicon is a graceful, silent rebuke to its authors. Never has that been seen in a clearer light as last night. It’s far from just semantic.
Even in his winning mode, Obama disowned that particular dog of war—and did not let “terror” bark. Good for him, good for the nation, good for the world. President George W. Bush and his dark side, Dick Cheney, used this vague construct constantly and carelessly from day one, while the ruins of September 11 were still smoking.
Waging a “war on terror” made the American people estranged from each other and made the whole world seem like a more dangerous place. Our initial unity after the September 11 attacks dissolved in a sea of stress and anxiety. The “war on terror” ran counter to our can-do spirit because, we heard, there was nothing we could do to fight terrorism, but go shopping. So much for sacrifices. Lots of dark acts were committed in the name of the “war on terror,” often literally in the dark and far from where we live.
As citizens, we have no full reckoning of what the “war on terror” was used to justify, no receipt for its cost in lives, U.S. treasury dollars, and our fallen place in the world community. Sunday’s late-night speech indicated Obama has given this matter serious thought and its fair due. He’s sending out signals to friends and foes alike that the Wild West doesn’t live at the White House anymore, not even on a day when he achieved Bush’s fondest dream as president. In more specific language, he simply spoke of our “war against al-Qaeda.” How sweet it was to watch and to hear his well-chosen words that steered clear of “with us or against us,” “dead or alive,” or bragging about being the greatest nation. Gloating does not become a president.
Speaking of Bush, his official statement indicated he knew “war on terror” is no longer acceptable in policy parleys, so he changed it to “fight against terrorism.” Do they have enough crow down there in Texas for him?
Save some for the prince of darkness, too.
By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, May 2, 2011
Eight years to the day after President Bush stood before a banner announcing “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, prematurely declaring the end of combat operations there, President Obama announced Sunday night that an operation he authorized had killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. The spoiled son of privilege, who thought it his birthright to dispatch thousands of innocents to their death for the crime of not sharing his twisted vision of Islam, is dead.
After more than 7,000 American deaths and tens of thousands of casualties in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the move against bin Laden seems to have been accomplished by a small group of American military special forces. It is too early to say what role the massive American military operations in the region played; we’ll be asking that question for a long time.
We’ll be asking a lot of questions: Are we safer? Or, at least in the short term, does bin Laden’s killing make retaliation more likely? We’re set to draw down forces in Afghanistan soon: Will that happen; will it happen more quickly; or will there be a local backlash that keeps us there longer?
It’s my job to think about all those consequences of this stunning news, which came near midnight Eastern time on a Sunday night. I also couldn’t help noticing it came roughly 24 hours after the president had dispatched his bizarro-world enemy, Donald Trump, another spoiled son of privilege, coincidentally. How strange was that? The contrast between the general idiocy of 24/7 American politics, and what’s really at stake in all of Obama’s decisions, had never been so stark.
For his part, the president used the event to reinforce his view of America and its place in the world. He began with the personal, talking about the way “the images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory,” while noting “the worst images are those that were unseen by the world, the empty seat at the dinner table … 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.” He reaffirmed what he noted was also President Bush’s stance: “The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam: bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.” He urged Americans to “think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on September 11. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. No matter what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.” And he closed with a rededication to his version of American exceptionalism: “We can do these things not just because of wealth and power, but because of who we are: One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
After Obama’s remarks, pundits were quick to score his achievement politically. NBC’s Chuck Todd called it “the most significant accomplishment for the president in this term.” And it may be. A crowd assembled, chanting and singing, outside the White House. There was a spontaneous gathering on Sixth Avenue in New York; up in the Bronx, students at Fordham University clustered in the main campus green to celebrate the news and remember those who died. For the families of victims, it’s a long wait for closure; I can’t presume to know how anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11 feels about bin Laden’s killing. I hope it helps.
After years of Catholic school, I am constitutionally unable to feel joyous about anyone being killed, but I got close tonight with bin Laden. He killed thousands of innocent people — and again, it was that incomparable American tableau: Muslims, Jews, Catholics; waiters, firefighters, investment bankers; gays and straights; mothers and fathers of every race. For months, reading the New York Times “Portraits of Grief” felt like a responsibility of American citizenship; every day you’d find someone almost exactly like you, but also as different from you as possible — except they also loved Bruce Springsteen (a lot of them did) or had a child your age or were born on your father’s birthday. We saw the beauty and bravery and diversity of America in that tragedy, and I wish it didn’t take a tragedy for us to do so.
I also wish this achievement could mean we get our country back, the one before the Patriot Act, before FISA, before rendition and torture and Guantánamo; before we began giving up the freedom and belief in due process that makes us Americans, out of our fear of totalitarians like bin Laden. It won’t happen overnight, but I’m going to choose to think this could be a first step.
It’s not a night for political gloating: President Bush issued this gracious (I guess) statement, which Laura Bush, kind of bizarrely, or maybe not, posted on Facebook:
Earlier this evening, President Obama called to inform me that American forces killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al Qaeda network that attacked America on September 11, 2001. I congratulated him and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to this mission. They have our everlasting gratitude. This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.
A victory “for those who seek peace around the world.” Hmmm. I hope so. I’m going to take the former president at his word, and pray that’s our direction from here.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 1, 2011