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“The Right Policies For America”: Progressives Should Stand With The President To Oppose Genocide

One of the reasons I supported Barack Obama for President in 2008 was his pledge to end the war in Iraq. I have been a vocal opponent of that war since George W. Bush proposed the invasion in 2002.

I strongly believe that the actions President Obama announced in Iraq last night deserve progressive support.

First and foremost, the president announced that America must act to prevent genocide on a mountain in Iraq. ISIS has herded 30,000 to 40,000 people from the Yazidis sect onto a mountain where they are dying of starvation and dehydration. ISIS has said that the Yazidis must either renounce their religion or they will be massacred. That is simply unacceptable in a civilized world. We cannot stand by idly and watch ISIS commit genocide.

The United States has already completed an air drop of supplies to those besieged people. And the president has made clear that if the siege of that mountain is not relieved, he has authorized airstrikes to break that siege.

The president also authorized airstrikes if ISIS advances on the Kurdish city of Erbil, where America has a consulate and a number of American personnel.

Just as important, he has also pledged that the United States will never again put combat personnel on the ground in Iraq.

Progressives should oppose any new long-term military engagement in the Middle East. The problems in Iraq will not yield to American military intervention today any more than they did over the last 12 years. Political reconciliation is the only effective solution to the current ethnic civil war in Iraq — and that requires a government that is inclusive of the legitimate aspirations of every faction in Iraq — not the sectarian al-Maliki regime.

But we cannot stand by idly and watch ISIS commit genocide on that mountain. Nor can we fail to act to prevent a vicious organization like ISIS — a group so violent that it has even been disowned by Al Qaeda — from capturing or killing Americans in Erbil and engaging in genocidal action against the Kurds in Erbil.

American airpower can help prevent these outcomes and the threat of airpower is the military option that the president has chosen to use, much as he did successfully in Libya.

Progressives oppose genocide and the murder of innocent civilians — especially the murder of children. President Obama’s actions in this respect clearly deserve progressive support.

But we should remember the roots of the horrible sectarian strife exploding in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

George W. Bush kicked over the sectarian hornets’ nest in Iraq and the Middle East when he invaded and occupied Iraq. He destroyed any basis for Sunni power in Iraq and installed the sectarian Shiite government in Baghdad.

Colin Powell warned that invading countries were subject to the “Pottery Barn” rule: “You break it, you own it.” For the last five and a half years, President Obama has been cleaning up the horrific mess George W. Bush made of American foreign policy in general and Iraq in particular.

Now America must navigate a very difficult course. We must resist Neo-Con calls for long-term military engagement, occupation or “nation building.” At the same time, we must step up to our humanitarian responsibility to prevent genocide and help stabilize the violent situation that those Neo-Con policies helped make possible through their reckless invasion.

It isn’t that easy. President Obama is taking the same kind of clear-eyed, confident, measured approach to Iraq that allowed him to find and eliminate Osama Bin Laden and has massively increased the respect for America throughout the world.

His actions will not satisfy the swaggering, bull-in-the-china-shop Neo-Cons that got us into Iraq in the first place and demanded that American troops remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Nor will those actions likely satisfy those who believe America can shrink from its engagement from the world or have no responsibility for our fellow human beings on this small planet. But they are the right policies for America and they deserve our support.

 

By: Robert Creamer, Political Organizer, Strategist, Author; Partner Democracy Partners; The Huffington Post Blog, August 8, 2014

August 10, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iraq, Middle East, Progressives | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Oh Please!”: Mitt Romney Pretends To Know Foreign Policy

Last May, Mitt Romney was reportedly “restless” and decided he would “re-emerge in ways that will “help shape national priorities.’” And the failed presidential candidate hasn’t stopped talking since.

One can only speculate as to why Romney refuses to quietly, graciously step aside, but it appears he takes a certain satisfaction from bashing the president who defeated him, as often as possible, on as many topics as possible.

Today, the former one-term governor with no foreign policy experience decided to try his hand at condemning President Obama’s policy towards Ukraine and Russia, writing a Wall Street Journal op-ed, complaining about “failed leadership.”

When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community – and to the White House – that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more.

Wrong. U.S. intelligence officials didn’t think Putin would try to take Crimea. For that matter, Russian officials didn’t think so, either. It wasn’t a smart strategic move, which made it that much less predictable.

That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.

That’s wrong, too. Daniel Larison’s take rings true: “The U.S. was in no position to reassure Moscow that it would not lose influence in Kiev, since the Kremlin assumed that the U.S. and EU were actively seeking to reduce its influence by encouraging Yanukovych’s overthrow. Romney thinks that the U.S. could have headed off the crisis by threatening Russia with punishment for things it had not yet done, but that ignores [the fact] that Russia has behaved the way that it has because it already thought that Western interference in Ukraine was too great.”

The time for securing the status-of-forces signatures from leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan was before we announced in 2011 our troop-withdrawal timeline, not after it. In negotiations, you get something when the person across the table wants something from you, not after you have already given it away.

That’s wrong, too. Romney fails to acknowledge that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan were prepared to negotiate over a long-term U.S. troop presence beyond 2014 back in 2011. (He also fails to acknowledge that he personally endorsed a troop-withdrawal timeline in 2008 – three years before 2011.)

It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.

That’s wrong, too. The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project documents countries that have a more favorable opinion of the United States now than when President Obama was first inaugurated, and more importantly, the same study shows an even larger list of countries that respect the U.S. more than when Bush/Cheney brought our international reputation down to alarming depths.

Taken together, Romney’s op-ed doesn’t amount to much. But what’s especially odd is that the failed candidate is even trying.

Foreign policy has never been a signature issue for the Massachusetts Republican, and when he tried to broach the subject, Romney generally failed. Indeed, looking back at 2012, let’s not forget that Romney’s own advisers said “they have engaged with him so little on issues of national security that they are uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.”

On the Middle East peace process, Romney said he intended to ”kick the ball down the field and hope” that someone else figures something out. His handling of the crisis in Libya “revealed him as completely craven.” On Iran, Romney and his aides couldn’t even agree on one policy position. On Afghanistan, Romney occasionally forgot about the war.

Remember the time Romney “fled down a hallway and escaped up an escalator” to avoid a reporter asking his position on the NATO mission in Libya? Or how about the time he said there are “insurgents” in Iran? Or when he flip-flopped on Iraq? Or when he looked ridiculous during the incident involving Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng?

Perhaps my personal favorite was when Romney tried to trash the New START nuclear treaty in an op-ed, but flubbed every relevant detail, prompting Fred Kaplan to respond, “In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and – let’s not mince words – thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney’s attack on the New START treaty.”

Thomas Friedman noted shortly before the election, “For the first time in a long, long time, a Democrat is running for president and has the clear advantage on national security policy.” Part of this, the columnist argued, is that Mitt Romney acts “as if he learned his foreign policy at the International House of Pancakes.”

So why is this guy writing WSJ op-eds as if he’s a credible voice on international affairs?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 19, 2014

March 20, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Shocked And Awed”: Media Outlets Spitting Mad At President Obama For Spoiling Their Plans To Cash In On War

Following the President’ surprise announcement that he would seek the advice and consent of Congress before launching an attack on Syria, it seemed that no matter where you landed on the cable news dial everyone was in a state of upset.

With visions of TV screens filled with ‘shock and awe’ dancing in their heads along with the blessed promise of the ratings that follow the hysteria of war—not to mention a sublime ending to the slow news agonies of August that dogs all news show production staffs, writers and broadcasters (trust me,I know)—Obama had held out the football for Charlie Brown to kick and then pulled it away at the last minute.

And the media was pissed.

Some focused on their having been misled by the speech given by Secretary of State John Kerry—a speech that appeared to be the final case for war in Syria and a warning to the media to get reporting staff into the region because of what was coming. So angry was the media at this bit of perceived misdirection, many suggested that Kerry would now have to resign his post in embarrassment.

It was as if the media was demanding someone’s blood for the crime of having spoiled their plans for war and Kerry was the likely choice.

So the boss changed his mind at the last minute. It happens. It not only has happened to me, it has probably happened to just about everyone reading this column.  It can be embarrassing but you get past it and remind yourself that you won’t do it when you get to be the boss…although you probably will.

But if the media was going to be denied their war opportunities, they expected that the Administration make good by throwing out a sacrificial lamb to fill a few news cycles for them. It was the least that Obama could do, right?

And then there were the pundits appearing on networks representing all sides of the political spectrum—including those who claim to play it ‘down the middle’—who took to the airwaves to angrily argue that the President’s backing off an attack pending Congressional approval would weaken America in the eyes of the world.

Really?

With the largest military on the planet and a defense budget larger than the next top eleven countries combined, could anyone really believe that the world’s leaders now view the United States as a weakened force on the world stage because of a delay in going forward with a lesson-teaching attack on Syria?

If failure to launch a few missiles on some prescribed schedule—a schedule that appeared to be primarily driven by the media—means that the U.S. is now a ‘weakened nation’, it should conversely stand to reason that when the U.S. moves forward with an attack, as we did in Libya, the opposite should occur.

And yet, our actions in Libya—not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan—certainly did not cause Bashir Assad and his government to seriously consider our daring and bravado when deciding to gas innocent children to death in the middle of the night, now did it? And where were the compliments from the same pundits now screaming bloody murder when Obama engaged in a bit of regime-change in Libya? Apparently, they were too busy criticizing the President for “leading from behind” in Libya to note that there could have been no Libyan action without the United States—something that, if we are to believe these critics now, should have greatly strengthened our position on the world stage and stopped Assad from doing something that could lead to intervention by the United States.

The fact that nations do not make decisions based on another country’s nuanced track record versus the realities of a given situation should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. In the real world, leaders of nations know far better than to make their plans based on what the United States may have done in the past and know full well that they cannot rely on past American war decisions to either protect them or inspire them when it comes to what we might choose to do in the future.

We live in a time where some sort of international crisis occurs on a fairly regular basis and our reaction to those events can always be expected to vary depending on circumstances. How we reacted in Libya is very different than how we are reacting in Syria. How we reacted during the Iranian uprising in 2011 was very different than how we reacted to what occurred in Libya.

Accordingly, what world leader would be so profoundly stupid as to presume that the United States can be counted on to react in the very same way each and every time because of what we may have done during the last crisis? We don’t do that. Nobody does. And pretending that a decision pertaining to Syria will have some huge impact on what we might do during the next international crisis is nothing short of preposterous.

And then there are those who go on and on about the terrible message the President’s decision is sending to allies like Israel and enemies like Iran.

Apparently, those who have taken this line of criticism believe that neither of these governments are capable of grasping the reality that the United States—like all nations— can only be counted upon to act based on what we perceive to be in our best interests—interests that may be very different when it involves Iran than how we perceive our interest, or lack thereof, in Syria.

Do you really imagine that the Mullahs are now presuming that they have some green light to do as they please in the belief that the United States is just some paper tiger because we might elect to leave the Syrian situation alone? Do you actually suspect that Israel will base their expectations on what we might do should they elect to move against Iran on the same factors we are considering with respect to Syria—or any other decision we have taken in the past that is wholly irrelevant to the circumstances that would be at work should Israel choose such a course of action?

Still, none of this logic has been of any importance to the talking heads and show hosts who cannot seem to get past their anger over Obama’s spoiling their fun—not to mention embarrassing them for being flat out wrong about our pending attack on Syria.

In reality, there are two things that are driving the response to Obama’s “surprise” Syrian move—ratings and politics.

If you imagine, even for a moment, that both Republicans and Democrats are not crafting their response to the President’s decision with the elections of 2014 and 2016 firmly in mind—with the exception of Rand Paul who can’t possibly believe that his being supportive of the Assad regime is somehow good for his presidential bid—I have a frozen tundra in Siberia I’d like to sell you.

And if you imagine that the news outlets are not furious at the President for being a buzzkill during a month where ratings and newspaper sales are hard to come by, and are acting out in response to this anger, I’m afraid I’m going to have to double the asking price for that Siberian resort.

Nothing drives interest in news and politicians like an apparent crisis. Accordingly, expect both the media and the politicians to make the most out of it. But if you are actually forming your own point of view based on the illogical and emotional responses of either, you are doing yourself a great disservice.

If you think our interests are best served by lobbing missiles into Syria or taking an even more active role in their civil war, then you should feel free to criticize this president for not acting in accordance with your wishes. If you believe that this is not a fight that we should engage in, call your Congressional Representatives and tell them to vote against supporting Obama’s war plans.

But if you are forming these opinions based on the self-interest of the media or the politicians, you might wish to rethink your position based on reality as neither the media nor the politicians are fulfilling their responsibility to give you measured analysis designed to assist you in forming your own perspectives.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, September 2, 2013

September 3, 2013 Posted by | Media, Syria | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For The Good Of Our Democracy”: On Syria, President Obama Had To Go To Congress

In seeking congressional authorization for military strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, President Obama is not weakening presidential power and is not looking for an out to avoid a war he doesn’t want. He is doing what is absolutely necessary in a democratic republic. He is rallying consent for a grave step and for what was always going to be a controversial decision.

True, Congress might vote no. If that happens, it is impossible to see how the president could then pursue an attack, even if he believes it necessary for national security. This is a risk, and a potential contradiction. It’s why Secretary of State John Kerry, a powerful advocate for Obama’s course, necessarily dodged questions on the Sunday talk shows about what the administration would do in the event of a negative congressional verdict. Obama simply has to assume it will win.

Congressional support is important for another reason: The policy Obama proposes is intended to do severe damage to Assad’s armed forces — from what I am gathering, no one in the administration is contemplating “pinpricks” or harmlessly tossing cruise missiles into lakes and fields – but also seeks to send a “message.” Using an act of war for “messaging” purposes is always vexed, but the message itself will be far more powerful if the President acts with Congress behind him. Were the president to act alone and then face an uproar in Congress, what would this do to American credibility and the world’s sense of our resolve?

And, yes, if the British Parliament could debate a strike, shouldn’t Congress?

Gaining democratic consent is especially important for an action that has very large long-term implications and clearly divides the country. Yes, the president did not seek congressional backing for his Libya policy. But in Libya, the United States was acting in support of allies. “Leading from behind” was a controversial phrase, but it did convey correctly that the United States was not acting alone or even as the lead power. In this instance, the United States is the main driver of the policy, and support from allies may be limited to France and a few other nations. A congressional stamp of approval would give the action the constitutional and global legitimacy it would lack if it were the decision of only one person. The delay created by seeking congressional support has the additional benefit of giving Obama more time to rally support around the world.

Nothing about this request will prevent Obama or future presidents from acting in an emergency and going to Congress later. But this is not an emergency. It is, however, important, and I wish Congress would call off its holiday and return to work, with the rest of the country, on Tuesday. If war isn’t a big enough deal to force Congress to shorten a recess, what is? The Senate seems to be moving in that direction. The House should, too.

Lastly — and, yes, this may seem wildly hopeful — a congressional debate of something this serious could be ennobling, whether the authorization wins or loses. Right from the start, the debate will not be purely partisan. Democrats are split, and so are Republicans.

Among progressives and liberals, there is a conflict over which historical metaphors are most informative. Those who see an attack on Syria as akin to Iraq or Vietnam have already started rallying in opposition. Those who see it as closer to our response in Bosnia and Kosovo (and our non-intervention in Rwanda) are more inclined to support the president. My hunch is that the president will rally enough Democrats to prevail, which is why I agree with the prediction of Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) Sunday on “Meet the Press” that the authorization will pass.

But this will be an even bigger test for Republicans, many of whom questioned the patriotism of Democrats who did not support President Bush during the Iraq war. There is also a genuinely anti-interventionist spirit within the libertarian wing of the party that was largely suppressed during the Iraq conflict and has come back to life under Obama. This view is represented most forcefully by Sen. Rand Paul, and it needs to be heard.

If this debate is carried out in good faith, as was the debate before the first Gulf War under President George H. W. Bush, it will strengthen the country. We often forget that the votes in the House and Senate over our response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait were closely divided. Yet the nation was more united because Americans knew their views had been forcefully represented in Congress. If, on the other hand, this Syrian debate is used by a significant number of Republicans for the main purpose of undermining Obama, the rest of the world will know how degraded our democracy has become. Call me naive, but I honestly think that most Republicans do not want this to happen and will rise to the seriousness of the moment, whatever their views.

Reluctantly, I think the president is right to strike against Assad. It’s widely said that Obama’s own words declaring a red line have boxed him in and that he has no choice but to act. That’s true, but insufficient. Obama spoke those words precisely because the use of chemical weapons risks, as he put it on Saturday, “making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons” and “could lead to escalating [their] use.” He had hoped that his words would be enough to deter Assad. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true.

I use that word “reluctantly” because, like so many who believe the Iraq war was a terrible mistake, I am wary of military intervention in the Middle East. But because of what Obama said and, more important, why he said it, I think we have to act in Syria.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 1, 2013

September 2, 2013 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Conspiracy Theories Abound”: The Five Biggest Republican Lies About Benghazi

In case you missed it, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held yet another hearing on Wednesday concerning the September 11, 2012 attacks on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya which resulted in the deaths of four Americans. House Republicans were hoping to find some type of damning evidence that would reveal a scandal or cover-up of information by the White House and State Department.

The terrorist attacks in Benghazi have been highly politicized by Republicans since the day after the attacks took place. Before President Obama was able to make a formal statement on the incident, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney leapt at the opportunity to indulge in a political attack. “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, vowed from the day he took the gavel to hold over 200 hearings throughout the year to confirm that President Obama is “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.” Wednesday’s hearing was just one of Issa’s attempts to try to associate the administration with a right-wing-generated conspiracy theory.

It seems as though the grand inquisition into finding a smoking gun may actually linger for a while longer. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who up until a weekly press conference on Thursday has remained silent on the issue, called on the White House to release email correspondence related to the attacks, “Last November, the president said he was ‘happy to cooperate in any way Congress wants. This is his chance.” Boehner continued, “The State Department would not allow our committees to keep copies of this email when it was reviewed. I would call on the president to order the State Department to release this email so the American people can see it.”

Republicans are so desperate to find something, anything, that they continue to obsess over the same talking points that have all been previously set straight. Here are five biggest lies expressed by Republicans regarding the Benghazi attacks.

Hillary Clinton Personally Signed Cables Denying Security

During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony before the House Foreign Relations Committee in January, she vowed to have no knowledge of a request for added security at the American compound in Benghazi. Fox News fueled Republican hysteria with an allegation that a cable denying additional security, which has yet to be seen, was in fact signed by the former Secretary.

Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked the three witnesses during Wednesday’s hearing if this was standard protocol–all three agreed that Secretary Clinton’s signature appears at the bottom of all cables regardless if they reach her desk or not.

The Media Is Ignoring These Allegations

Fox News likes to grant itself credit with being the only news network to cover and reveal the “facts” surrounding the “Benghazi-gate” “scandal.”

On his Sunday show last October,  Brit Hume lashed out against the mainstream media, “One of the problems we’re having here is that it has fallen to this news organization, Fox News, and a couple of others to do all the heaving lifting on this story. And the mainstream organizations that would be on this story like hounds if there were a Republican president have been remarkably reticent.”

The reality of this allegation is that all news networks were covering the attacks in Benghazi–Fox News is simply angry that the other networks weren’t politicizing the attack and condemning President Obama as they were. Even Fox  host Geraldo Rivera had words for his friends at the network: “People, stop, I think we have to stop this politicizing. … [T]hese preposterous allegations –- reckless allegations that paint a picture of some fat bureaucrat watching TV –- I think that’s really beyond the pale.”

Fox News should have been more careful during its coverage of Wednesday’s hearing after being so quick to criticize other news outlets following the September attack. Host Megyn Kelly criticized her own network when she admitted they were a bit “lopsided” in their coverage of the hearing after cutting to commercials during Democratic questioning of the witnesses.

Obama and Clinton Watched The Attacks In Real Time

Fox News host Sean Hannity claimed in at least eight different circumstances that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama watched the Benghazi attacks in real time from the situation room. “And if the State Department is now saying they never believed that this attack on the 11th of September against the U.S. consulate was a film protest gone awry, think about it — then, it’s nearly impossible to believe that President Obama didn’t know.” Hannity said. “Oh, and did I mention the State Department was watching this unfold in real time?”

In a response to a question from Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) about this fictitious viewing party, the former Secretary stated, “There was no monitor, there was no real time.”

What seems to have caused confusion for conservatives is the difference between Clinton and Obama receiving real-time updates from Benghazi, which was in fact the case, and watching real-time video.

Teams Were Prepared To Deploy But Given Orders To Stand Down

Republicans were up in arms upon learning that a Special Forces team stationed in Tripoli was ready to deploy to Benghazi during the attacks and was instead given orders to stand down.

The former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, Gregory Hicks, who was one of the witnesses at the hearing on Wednesday, confirmed that the team told to stand down was never meant to deploy to the site of the attack. Instead, they were intended “to secure the airport for the withdrawal of our personnel from Benghazi after the mortar attack.” Hicks also stated that another team was deployed before this specific one was told to stand down — the first did in fact report to Benghazi and all officials were taken to Tripoli within 18 hours of the attack.

Accountability Review Board Is Part Of The Cover-Up And Their Report Can’t Be Trusted

After the September 11 attacks in Libya, the State Department’s Accountability Review Board was prompted to review the handling of the attacks by officials. Republicans clearly not pleased with the fact that the report didn’t condemn President Obama and former Secretary Clinton decided it wasn’t credible and launched their own investigation.

The result was a congressional report aimed at Republicans, which criticizes the administration for failing on just about every level — failing to acknowledge the need for heightened security at foreign consulates on the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, failing to realize that Benghazi would be a site for post-Gadhafi demonstrations, and the administration’s attempts to mislead the American people with flawed information. The report states, “In sum, the events in Benghazi thus reflect this administration’s lack of a comprehensive national security strategy or effective defense posture in the region…Congress must maintain pressure on the administration to ensure that the United States takes all necessary steps to find the Benghazi attackers.”

Unfortunately for House Republicans looking for outside approval for their report during Wednesday’s hearings, not only did the witnesses not come to their defense, but also weren’t overly critical of the ARB report. Eric Nordstrom, the Regional Security Officer for Libya said of the ARB report, “I had an opportunity to review that along with other two committee reports. I think taken altogether, they’re fairly comprehensive and reasonable.”

 

By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, May 9, 2013

May 10, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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