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“The Washington Playbook”: If You’re Not Responding Militarily, You’re Not Responding

Richard Cohen has finally gotten around to writing about President Obama’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that was the impetus for so much discussion almost a month ago. In doing so, he demonstrates exactly what the President referred to as the “Washington playbook.” As a reminder, here is what Obama said to Goldberg about that.

“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

Cohen doesn’t so much champion the Washington playbook as he criticizes Obama for not employing it. For example, here is what he writes on the President’s statement about Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

It’s a rule that Obama himself should have followed. He speaks the unspeakable, conceding that eastern Ukraine, Moldova and Crimea are Russia’s for the taking. “Now, if there is somebody in this town that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, they should speak up and be very clear about it,” he told Goldberg.

Ambiguity is not Obama’s forte. Rather than keeping Vladimir Putin guessing — and maybe restrained — he signals the Russian president not to worry. Putin already has Crimea. He’s got eastern Ukraine. Will Moldova be next? Just a matter of time, it seems to me.

The playbook Cohen is working from assumes that the only possible response to Russia is a war. If President Obama isn’t willing to do that in response to Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it’s just a matter of time before Putin goes into Moldova.

What that completely ignores is that there are other possible responses – like economic sanctions that are coordinated with our international partners and the European Union.

Cohen also doesn’t seem to think that President Obama is doing anything about the situation in Syria.

But the Syrian civil war has produced a humanitarian calamity, at least 250,000 dead and an almost unprecedented refugee crisis that is destabilizing Europe. Obama acts as though this is a minor matter, just another Middle Eastern dust-up, but the Syrian mess is an example of the slippery slope he does not mention when he mentions the one he wants to avoid. Like, possibly, Moldova, it is the consequence of inaction that may matter more than any action itself.

It seems as though Cohen is unaware of the fact that the U.S. is engaging in air strikes against ISIS in Syria. But even more importantly, Sec. of State John Kerry has been working tirelessly on the multilateral peace negotiations that are seeking an end to the Syrian civil war.

For people like Cohen, if the U.S. isn’t using military intervention to wield it’s way around the globe, it’s not doing anything. That pretty much sums up the Washington playbook that President Obama refuses to implement.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 5, 2016

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Foreign Policy, President Obama, Richard Cohen | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Elephant In The Room With Leon Panetta”: A Political Actor Working For Someone Else’s Electoral Gain?

In his widely read blog of Beltway goings-on, Chris Cillizza made the following fairly obvious point about former defense Ssecretary Leon Panetta’s Obama-bashing media tour:

What’s fascinating about this gripe with Obama is how much it plays into a) the argument that Hillary Clinton made against him in the 2008 presidential primary and b) the argument Hillary Clinton will likely make when (sorry, if) she runs for president in 2016. That argument, in short: I have been there and done that. I know what it takes to move the levers of power in Washington—and I am willing to do whatever it takes to make them move.

In addition, Panetta’s criticisms mainly involve Obama’s reluctance to use military force—also a fault line between Clinton and Obama, particularly on the matter of arming the Syrian rebels.

But the Beltway press shouldn’t be afraid to explicitly ask if Panetta is serving as an agent of Clinton’s official-but-not-yet-official presidential campaign. It’s not just that his criticisms dovetail with Clinton’s and are no doubt politically convenient for her as she attempts to draw a difference with the Obama administration—there are explicit ties to the shadow Clinton campaign that should make this question fair game.

Panetta has taken up residence at Beacon Global Strategies, where he is a senior counselor. He has deep ties to the group’s leaders; Jeremy Bash, Beacon’s founder and managing director, was Panetta’s chief of staff at both the CIA and the Pentagon. Another founder and managing director is Philippe Reines—one of Hillary’s closest allies and someone widely understood to still be managing her public profile.

Reines helped found Beacon after years spent with Hillary. He joined her Senate office in 2002 and later moved to the State Department when she became secretary. He is Clinton’s “chief personal defender,” in the words of New York magazine, who reported in a profile earlier this year that in addition to running Beacon, Reines’s “second full-time job” is working for Hillary. When she decides to run, Reines will be part of the campaign. In many ways, he already is.

So Panetta’s very close ties to Clinton’s non-campaign campaign should naturally raise the question if he, too, is an explicit part of it.

Note that Panetta first made a splash with his tough criticisms of Obama during a September 21 interview with 60 Minutes, in which he blasted the president for not arming the Syrian opposition sooner. “I think that would’ve helped,” he said. “And I think in part, we pay the price for not doing that in what we see happening with ISIS.” The “paying the price” line made headlines around the country the next day.

That very same Sunday, Bill Clinton appeared on CNN—and made the exact same point, and made it clear that Panetta and his wife were on the same page. “I supported two years ago the proposal that Hillary and Secretary Panetta and then–CIA director General Petraeus made to give more robust armed support to the Syrians,” he told Fareed Zakaria.

With Reines managing Hillary’s public image, and Panetta and Bill Clinton making the same point on the same day, the question of coordination is unavoidable.

That’s not to say Panetta’s criticisms shouldn’t be considered on their merits, nor that there’s anything wrong with this coordination. But it’s crucial context in which to understand his position—that perhaps he’s not just a reluctant critic trying to call out policy failures, but also a political actor working for someone else’s electoral gain.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, October 9, 2014

October 12, 2014 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sleeping Under A Rock”: Foreign Policy And The Definition Of ‘Manhood’

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sounded a deeply pessimistic note about Russian incursions into Ukraine. “I think we’re going to lose eastern Ukraine if we continue as we are, and I think it’s going to be a geopolitical disaster if that occurs,” Corker told David Gregory.

Naturally, the Republican senator blamed the Obama administration, complaining that U.S. foreign policy “is always a day late and a dollar short,” adding that Russia’s actions are emblematic of the “era of permissiveness the U.S. has created around the world.”

It was the New York Times’ David Brooks, however, that took this same line of criticism to its “crude” limit.

“Basically since Yalta we’ve had an assumption that borders are basically going to be borders and once that comes into question if in Ukraine or in Crimea or anywhere else, then all over the world all bets are off.

“And let’s face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a – I’ll say it crudely – but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he’s not tough enough.”

As Ben Armbruster noted, Chuck Todd echoed the sentiment, adding, “By the way, internally, they fear this. You know, it’s not just Bob Corker saying it, okay, questioning whether the president is being alpha male. That’s essentially what he’s saying: He’s not alpha dog enough. His rhetoric isn’t tough enough.”

It’s tough to know what to make of this, but it’s clearly important so let’s unpack it a bit.

Right off the bat, let’s note that it’s arguably well past time for the political world to stop equating “manhood” with “cruise missiles.” Being an “alpha male” or an “alpha dog” may somehow seem impressive, in a junior-high-school-yard sort of way, but when analyzing geopolitical crises, we need a different kind of framework.

There’s apparently a knee-jerk assumption among too many that “real men” use bombs, not diplomacy. If memory serves, President Obama’s predecessor, whom no one accused of having a perceived “manhood problem,” often thought the same way. The foreign policy consequences, however, were nevertheless disastrous.

What’s more, I’m struck by Brooks’ assumption that the White House isn’t “tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad.” Indeed, that already happened last year, when Obama threatened military force and Assad agreed to give up his chemical-weapons stockpiles.

Indeed, perhaps the strangest thing about asserting as fact that “there is an assumption” that Obama is “not tough enough” is all of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – even if we define “tough” in a way Brooks and others find satisfactory. It was this president who escalated the use of force against al Qaeda; it was this president that launched the mission that killed bin Laden; it was this president who increased the use of predator drones to strike at terrorist suspects (including killing Americans affiliated with al Qaeda living abroad); it was this president who helped assemble an international coalition to strike at the Gadhafi regime in Libya; and on and on.

If you knew literally nothing about the last five years, you might hear this chatter about “manhood” and “alpha males” and assume that President Obama was a pacifist, reluctant to use military force under any circumstances. But given what we know about what actually happened over the last five years, the scuttlebutt is just bizarre.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 21, 2014

April 23, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East, Russia | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Working”: The Ultimate Reason To Support Resolution Authorizing Use of Military Force To Stop Chemical Weapons In Syria

The ultimate reason to support the Congressional resolution to authorize the use of military force to stop chemical weapons use in Syria is clear: it’s working.

Over a year ago, the U.S. proposed that Syria turn over its chemical weapons for destruction by the international community and join the chemical weapons treaty that bans their possession or use. Syria refused, and Russia refused to demand that it do so.

Today they have both said yes. There is only one reason. They hope to stop the use of military force that President Obama has proposed to degrade their ability to deliver these weapons — and make the regime pay a price for the indiscriminate slaughter of 1,400 adults and children using chemical weapons containing poison sarin gas.

Many of my fellow Progressives — who like me were strong opponents of the Iraq War — support President Obama’s request for Congressional authorization to use force to sanction chemical weapons use in Syria and deter its future use. They include Congressman Keith Ellison, the Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; former anti-war presidential candidate Howard Dean, progressive columnists E.J. Dionne and Gene Robinson; and of course former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But for those who do not want to see the use of military force in Syria, the best thing they can do to assure that the military action is not needed is to support the Congressional resolution authorizing the president to use military force if necessary. That is the absolute best way to make certain the Syrian regime actually gives up its chemical weapons once and for all — and that there is no need for the U.S. to take military action to force Assad to comply.

As the President argued last night, we need to make certain that the Russians and Syrians are absolutely convinced that if they do not make good on their new promise to turn over Syrian chemical weapons, military action will ensue — it’s that simple.

Three additional arguments have been used over the last few days that need to be addressed:

1). Some have argued that it is never justified to use force to counter malicious use of violence.

There are some Progressives who are truly pacifists — who feel that the use of force and violence is never justified.

I respect the convictions of those who hold pacifist views, but I do not agree with them.

When Governor Orville Faubus of Arkansas refused to allow the integration of the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1954, it would have been easier for the rest of America to simply shake our collective fingers and decry racism. It would have also been more popular. Instead the federal government sent troops from the National Guard to enforce the desegregation order with the threat of force.

Sometimes the threat — or actual use — of force is necessary — especially to prevent violence.

That’s why we empower police departments with the ability to use the force of arms when necessary to prevent violent acts.

2). Some politicians worry that supporting the President’s proposal is simply too unpopular. They should remember that polls showed the public opposed the possible bombing campaign in 1999 that was aimed at protecting Kosovars from ethnic cleansing as well. A Gallup poll in February 1999 showed that 45 percent of the public opposed the proposed bombing compared with only 43 percent who supported it.

After the campaign was successful at achieving its goals, that opposition turned into public support, and the issue played very little role in the November 2000 Congressional elections.

3). Some opponents say simply, the use of poison gas in Syria is just not our problem. Let someone else worry about it, they say.

In fact, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If the use of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction can occur with impunity any where on our small planet, they will be used more and more frequently in military conflicts. And if they are, they pose a massive danger for human beings everywhere.

If Assad can get away with using these weapons with impunity, that will ultimately endanger us all.

But assume for a moment it were possible to isolate their use, so that it would never impact those of us thousands of miles away from the streets of suburban Damascus. Can we just ignore the suffering of those who are its victims?

There was another story about another middle eastern road – the road to Jericho – where the hero of the tale did not ignore an injured foreigner who lay suffering by the roadside. That of course was the story of the Good Samaritan – the quintessential story that is at the center of the Christian New Testament. It was the story Jesus used to explain what it meant to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Can we sit by and ignore the cries of people in foreign lands who are slaughtered in Rwanda, or ethnically cleansed in Kosovo, or gassed by the Nazis? I don’t think so. And sometimes getting involved is not always clean and sterile. Sometimes it is messy and inconvenient and difficult.

By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post Blog, September 11, 2013

September 12, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Syria | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congress And The War Powers Resolutions: Libya Airstrikes Constitutionally Legit

Under the Constitution, only Congress has the power to “declare war.” The president, however, has ample authority to use military force without a “declaration of war” where the anticipated U.S. engagement in hostilities is limited in its expected nature, scope and duration. Presidential administrations of both political parties have recognized a long tradition that supports this use of force. And Congress has acknowledged its legitimacy as well.

The authority for the president to act without specific congressional authorization is set out in two opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel. The first, issued in 1994, defends the plan to send 20,000 troops into Haiti and the second, issued in 1995, provides the legal authority for the use of air power in Bosnia. (I should note that I was head of OLC at the time these opinions were issued).

As these opinions note, the structure of the War Powers Resolution enacted by Congress necessarily presupposes the existence of unilateral presidential authority to deploy armed forces “into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances.” The resolution requires that, in the absence of a declaration of war, the president must report to Congress within 48 hours of introducing armed forces into such circumstances and must terminate the use of U.S. armed forces within 60 days unless Congress permits otherwise. This structure makes sense only if the president may introduce troops into hostilities or potential hostilities without prior authorization by the Congress: the resolution regulates such action by the president and seeks to set limits to it.

President Obama has fully complied with the reporting requirements set out by Congress in the War Powers Resolution. To be sure, the resolution declares that it should not be construed to grant any new authority to the president. But it obviously assumes that the president already had such authority, and sets out reporting (and subsequent withdrawal) requirements when he exercises that power.

It has been 15 years since these OLC opinions were issued and widely discussed. In that time, Congress has continued to provide for military forces to be deployed throughout the world without placing any restrictions that would preclude their use in circumstances such as those presented by Haiti, Bosnia and Libya. Under well-established precedents endorsed by both the executive and congressional branches of the national government, there is no doubt of the legitimacy of the president’s use of force in Libya.

By: Walter Dellinger, Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard University; Former Assistant Attorney General and Head, Office of Legal Council. Article published in The Arena, Politico, March 22, 2011

March 22, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Constitution, Foreign Policy, Libya, Middle East, Military Intervention, National Security, No Fly Zones, Politics, President Obama, Qaddafi, War | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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