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“Obama Isn’t Done Being President”: He Promised To Play Through To The End Of The Fourth Quarter

Most of the time when President Obama is mentioned in a news article these days it is to talk about his legacy or note that he will be one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest assets on the campaign train over the next few months. All of that will change for a moment on Wednesday when he travels to Dallas to speak at the memorial services for the police officers who were killed in the attacks on Thursday night.

But in the meantime, he’s still busy being President. As I noted back in March, he set a far-reaching goal back in 2009 when he traveled to Prague.

So today I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.

Since then, the United States has hosted four Global Summits on Nuclear Security and the President affirmed the need to continue working on these issues during his visit to Hiroshima.

That is why we come to Hiroshima.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

Obviously Obama intends to keep working on this one right up until the day his second term is over.

In recent weeks, the national security Cabinet members known as the Principals Committee held two meetings to review options for executive actions on nuclear policy. Many of the options on the table are controversial, but by design none of them require formal congressional approval. No final decisions have been made, but Obama is expected to weigh in personally soon…

Several U.S. officials briefed on the options told me they include declaring a “no first use” policy for the United States’ nuclear arsenal, which would be a landmark change in the country’s nuclear posture. Another option under consideration is seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution affirming a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons. This would be a way to enshrine the United States’ pledge not to test without having to seek unlikely Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The administration is also considering offering Russia a five-year extension of the New START treaty’s limits on deployed nuclear weapons, even though those limits don’t expire until 2021. This way, Obama could ensure that the next administration doesn’t let the treaty lapse. Some administration officials want to cancel or delay development of a new nuclear cruise missile, called the Long-Range Stand-Off weapon, because it is designed for a limited nuclear strike, a capability Obama doesn’t believe the United States needs. Some officials want to take most deployed nukes off of “hair trigger” alert.

The administration also wants to cut back long-term plans for modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal, which the Congressional Budget Office reports will cost about $350 billion over the next decade. Obama may establish a blue-ribbon panel of experts to examine the long-term budget for these efforts and find ways to scale it back.

After the 2014 midterm elections, President Obama promised to play through to the end of the fourth quarter. Don’t count him out just yet. He is obviously making good on that promise as well.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 11, 2016

July 12, 2016 Posted by | Hiroshima, Nuclear Weapons, President Obama | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“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

“When Bluster Meets Reality”: A Chance To Start World War III, Republicans Neither Know Nor Care What They’re Talking About

I’m from Jersey and we like to talk bluntly, but Rand Paul is correct when he says that Chris Christie could easily start World War Three if he actually governed as advertised in the White House:

Christie said that as president, he would shoot down a Russian plane if it breached a no-fly zone in Syria, and claimed Obama wasn’t strong enough to do the same.

“Maybe because I’m from New Jersey I have this plain-language hang-up,” Christie said. “I would talk to Vladmir Putin a lot, and I’d say listen, Mr. President, there’s a no-fly zone and it applies to you and yes we’d shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”

Meanwhile, in the real world:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday accepted Russia’s long-standing demand that President Bashar Assad’s future be determined by his own people, as Washington and Moscow edged toward putting aside years of disagreement over how to end Syria’s civil war.

“The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin. A major international conference on Syria would take place later this week in New York, Kerry announced.

Kerry reiterated the U.S. position that Assad, accused by the West of massive human rights violations and chemical weapons attacks, won’t be able to steer Syria out of more than four years of conflict.

But after a day of discussions with Assad’s key international backer, Kerry said the focus now is “not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad.” Rather, it is on facilitating a peace process in which “Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria.”

Kerry’s declarations crystallized the evolution in U.S. policy on Assad over the last several months, as the Islamic State group’s growing influence in the Middle East has taken priority.

How relevant does Christie’s bluster look in light of the factual situation on the ground in Syria?

The Republican candidates debated each other last night in Vegas, but they might as well have been debating a dining room table. They neither know what they are talking about, nor care. It would be sad or maybe just funny if there weren’t a remote possibility that one of them might win and get the chance to start World War Three.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 16, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Vladimir Putin, World War III | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Obama Again Gets The Last Laugh Against Putin”: Republicans Putting Their Praise For The Russian Leader On Hold Once More

By late 2014, Republican affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the wane. After months of gushing praise for the autocratic leader, American conservatives saw Putin struggling and isolated, prompting his GOP fan club in the United States to fall quiet.

That is, until a few months ago, when the Russian president deployed forces to Syria, rekindling the American right’s love. Republican White House hopefuls once again praised Putin’s bold “leadership,” as did like-minded pundits. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin argued, “In taking this action just days after meeting with President Obama, Putin is delivering one more finger in the eye of a president whom he continues to out-wit and out-muscle.”

Remind me, how’s that working out for the Russian president?

Putin had hoped his late September intervention would kick off a decisive three-month offensive producing major territorial gains for the Syrian regime, according to Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. […]

[I]ndependent experts see trouble signs for the Russian president, including a surprisingly stiff response from Syrian rebel fighters.

The Politico piece quoted the Israeli defense minister saying about Putin’s military offensive, “It seems to be a failure.”

Bloomberg also reported this week that Russian officials “underestimated” what the mission entailed. Putin expected the offensive to last a few months, but officials in Moscow are now left to hope “it won’t last several years.”

And who predicted this exact outcome? That would be President Obama and his administration’s foreign-policy team. From the Politico piece:

…Obama officials increasingly offer a “told-you-so” line towards Putin’s intervention, which caught the White House off guard when it began in late September. At the time, Obama warned that Putin risked getting caught in a quagmire abroad while courting terrorism at home. […]

Now Putin confronts a stalemated battlefield and, according to some sources, tensions with his allies on the ground in a Syrian war theater that U.S. officials liken to a concert mosh pit.

And wouldn’t you know it, many of the American conservatives who thought Putin was the tough, strategic mastermind, showing that rascally Obama who’s boss, have again decided to lay low, putting their praise for the Russian leader on hold once more.

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote two months ago, “[T]oday’s reigning cliche is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart…. Putin stupidly went into Syria looking for a cheap sugar high to show his people that Russia is still a world power.”

Friedman was right. More importantly, so was the Obama White House. Republicans, meanwhile, who always seem to assume military adventures in the Middle East will turn out well, were not.

It’s a familiar dynamic, isn’t it?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 11, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans, Syria, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Rather Difficult To Find”: Wanted; A GOP Presidential Candidate Who Is Actually Serious About Foreign Policy

Today, Jeb Bush will give a speech at the Citadel in South Carolina on defense policy, where he’ll argue that in order to defeat ISIS we need a bigger military than the one we have. From this, I conclude that one of two things must be true: Either he is an ignoramus of Trumpian proportions, or he thinks Republican primary voters are idiots.

Here’s what we know based on the excerpts of the speech his campaign has released:

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is calling for a broad military buildup and says the U.S. armed forces have been left ill-prepared to defeat the Islamic State, blamed for the Paris attacks that killed at least 129 and wounded hundreds more.

The former Florida governor is projecting himself as a potential commander in chief able to handle such challenges, as his presidential bid tries to gain traction in a primary campaign likely to be shaken up after the Paris attacks.

“The brutal savagery is a reminder of what is at stake in this election,” Bush says in excerpts of a speech he plans to deliver Wednesday at The Military College of South Carolina, known as The Citadel.

“We are choosing the leader of the free world,” he said, according to passages provided to The Associated Press in advance. “And if these attacks remind us of anything, it’s that we are living in serious times that require serious leadership.”

Ah yes, serious leadership. So what about Bush’s idea that fighting terrorism means we need a bigger military? That’s simply ridiculous. Yes, there are certain resources that need to be used to fight ISIS, but is there any evidence that the problem we have in meeting this challenge is insufficient personnel and materiel? Of course not. We could invade Syria and Iraq tomorrow if we wanted, and roll over ISIS and Bashar Assad’s government. But we don’t want to, because recent experience has taught us that doing that would cause more problems than it would solve, including, in all likelihood, giving rise to terrorist groups we haven’t yet imagined (don’t forget that ISIS grew out of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq).

You don’t have to be the reincarnation of Carl von Clausewitz to grasp that, and people within the military are now expressing concerns that too many people have already forgotten the complications that come with a large-scale military operation in the Middle East. Like most of the Republican candidates for president, when Bush is asked what he’d actually do to fight ISIS, he offers a combination of things the Obama administration is already doing (Engage with our Arab allies! Use our air power!) and meaningless generalities (America has to lead!). None of it requires a dramatically larger military.

While Republicans always want the military to be bigger than whatever it happens to be at any moment, I don’t think even they believe that its size is really the problem. It isn’t as though ISIS’ leaders are saying, “The United States military is down below 15,000 war planes! If they had 20,000, we could never oppose them, but this is our chance!” No, Republicans believe the problem is will. They think Barack Obama is weak and unwilling to use the military he has with sufficient enthusiasm. They think our enemies don’t fear us enough, not because they aren’t intimidated by American weaponry, but because they aren’t intimidated by the man in the Oval Office.

If Jeb Bush wants to argue that what we really need to prepare for is a land war in Europe against the Russian army, a conflict for which the sheer size of our military might make a difference, then he can go ahead and make that case. But he isn’t. Instead, he’s taking the pre-existing belief all Republicans share — the military should always be bigger — and grafting it on to the thing Americans are afraid of at the moment, which is ISIS.

Right after the Paris attacks, many old-line Republicans expressed the hope that now, in the face of such a grim reality, primary voters would end their dalliance with silly inexperienced candidates and turn back to the serious, seasoned potential presidents. There were two problems with that hope. The first is that there was no reason to believe it would happen; if anything, with their fear elevated the voters will likely lean toward the candidates offering the most simplistic, bellicose answers. The second is that, as Jeb Bush is showing, serious Republican presidential candidates are rather difficult to find.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 18, 2015

November 20, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, ISIS, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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