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“If War Is Hell, What Is Perpetual War?”: The Question That Lindsey Graham Should Be Asked Every Day

I’ve been staring at Sen. Lindsey’s Graham’s comments yesterday from Fox News Sunday, when he criticized the president’s big counter-terrorism speech, and wondering what it would take to satisfy him that it’s time to declare the Global War On Terrorism over?

At a time we need resolved the most, we are sounding retreat. Our enemies are emboldened all over the planet. Al Qaeda in Iraq is coming back with vengeance, in Libya together. Our friends are uncertain. Syria is falling apart. We are talking about helping the rebels but doing nothing about it. Iran is marching toward a nuclear weapon….

At the end of the day, this is the most tone deaf president I’ve ever — could imagine and making such a speech at a time when our homeland is trying to be — attacked literally every day.

So are the only alternatives for the United States a world free of threats or perpetual war? That would seem to be Graham’s essential argument. And what a forfeiture of national sovereignty he calls for, if we are prohibited from adjusting our national security strategy and returning to a normal constitutional regime so long as one “emboldened” enemy or “uncertain” friend might notice!

The habit, carried over from the Cold War, of waging undeclared wars fought under hazy international and domestic auspices is dangerous enough. The idea that anything other than a permanent war footing invites disaster is an extension of the Cold War “Peace Through Strength” doctrine that in fact rules out peace.

If, as Sherman rightly said, “War is hell!”–then what kind of existence do advocates of perpetual war propose for us? It’s a question that Lindsey Graham should be asked to ponder every time he objects to even the smallest steps away from fear and hysteria.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 27, 2013

May 28, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Legacy Worthy Of Contempt”: George W Bush, Still The Guy Who Taught America To Torture

ROSS DOUTHAT isn’t a big fan of George W. Bush, but he does think a lot of the liberal critique leveled at the time seems “misguided or absurd” in retrospect. Mostly on domestic policy issues, but on foreign and security issues as well:

The continuities between Bush and Obama on civil liberties, presidential power and the war on terror make the same point: In order to critique Bushism appropriately, you need to recognize that on many, many issues, his presidency was much more centrist and establishmentarian than it was radical or right-wing.

There may be some issues on which George W. Bush was “centrist and establishmentarian”, but his stances on civil liberties and the war on terror were not among them. The only reason they may appear so now is that the Bush administration and the Republican Party succeeded in shifting the political debate so far towards militarism and unchecked security-statism in the previous decade that it now feels normal. We’ve been right so long it looks like centre to us. It is hard to tell how much personal responsibility Mr Bush bears for many of the most egregious precedent-setting violations of human rights that took place during his tenure, since he was a relatively ill-informed and often disengaged chief executive who delegated an unusual level of power in these areas to his vice-president. But we were talking about the administration, not just the man. On civil liberties, it was the Bush administration that decided that America ought to torture people and imprison them without trial indefinitely (ie, possibly forever) in extra-territorial jails. On the war on terror, it was the Bush administration that decided that America ought to launch preemptive wars against other countries in defiance of international public opinion, based on a delusional belief in the irresistible glory and rightness of American power. I would call that radical and right-wing. I can think of some meaner words, too.

On the question of “presidential power”, Mr Douthat is right that most administrations tend to want more of it rather than less. Certainly Barack Obama has not been eager to ramp back his prerogatives. In other continuities, the Obama administration has presided over the expansion of drone-based targeted killing programmes that have killed thousands of civilians across the Middle East, has expanded domestic surveillance powers, and has used the same reprehensible personality-destruction techniques on Bradley Manning that the Bush administration used on José Padilla. All of which is lousy. But how sharp a shift was really possible? The Obama administration inherited a security apparatus swollen to a multiple of its previous size, full of people who had spent the previous eight years carrying out the Bush administration’s policies. Those people had a very strong interest in defending those policies, not least because a number of them were guilty of ordering or carrying out torture. Torture is a crime against humanity. America has signed treaties that oblige it to try its own officials when they commit crimes against humanity. And yet you can feel how far the Bush administration moved politics permanently to the right when you speak the words “officials who ordered people tortured should be tried for crimes against humanity”, and realize that you sound like a ranting far-left extremist.

Maybe Barack Obama could have reversed course more sharply on civil liberties and held Bush-era officials accountable for torture, if he had been willing to stage a partisan ideological battle on those grounds that would have left him unable to accomplish much else. I’m not convinced it would have achieved anything; Mr Obama has been trying to close Guantánamo since the day he took office, but has failed in the face of congressional opposition. Either way, it’s absurd to believe that America would have started torturing people or invading countries unprovoked if Barack Obama, Al Gore, Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush had been in the White House on September 11th, 2001. That is George W. Bush’s historical responsibility, and it’s what he should be remembered for—along with the financial crisis, the rich-skewed tax cuts that left us with a half-trillion-dollar structural deficit, the listless cronyism that hollowed out the SEC and FEMA, a couple of positive public-health initiatives marred by corporate giveaways (PEPFAR, Medicare Part D), and the decision to doom the world to global warming by opposing the Kyoto Protocol. On balance, a legacy worthy of contempt.


By: M. S., Democracy in America, Published in The Economist, April 26, 2013

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why I Am No Longer A Republican”: It Has A Lot To Do With The Iraq War

This week has been filled with Iraq War recriminations and re-evaluations. While official Washington was strangely silent about the 10th anniversary of the start of the conflict, journalists and intellectuals have been (predictably) more vocal. Prominent neocons have reaffirmed, with minor caveats, their support for the war. Some (erstwhile) liberal hawks have issued full-throated mea culpas. Other liberals, meanwhile, have tried to have it both ways, denouncing the war they once supported while praising its outcome. And of course, lots of people who opposed the war from the beginning, on the right and left, have declared vindication.

My own position on the war fits into none of these categories. Ten years ago, I was working as an editor at First Things, a monthly magazine that’s aptly been described as the New York Review of Books of the religious right. (And no, that’s not oxymoronic.) The magazine strongly supported George W. Bush’s original conception of the War on Terror, and so did I. In his speech to Congress and the nation on September 20, 2001, Bush stated that the United States would seek to decimate al Qaeda as well as every other terrorist groups of global reach. To this day I remain committed to that goal and willing to support aggressive military action (including the use of drone strikes) to achieve it. But thanks in large part to the Iraq War, I no longer consider myself a Republican or a man of the right.

The reason I continue (like President Obama) to support the original vision of the War on Terror is that it was and is based on a correct judgment of the fundamental difference between (stateless) terrorists and traditional (state-based) military opponents. Even the most bloodthirsty tyrant will invariably temper his actions in war out of a concern for how his adversary will respond, and he will likewise act out of a concern for maintaining and maximizing his own power. Political leaders can thus be deterred by actions (and threats of action) by other states. Members of al-Qaeda-like groups, by contrast, seek in all cases to inflict the maximum possible number of indiscriminate deaths on their enemies and demonstrate no concern about the lives of their members. They are therefore undeterrable, which means that the only way to combat them is to destroy them.

Unfortunately, the right began to disregard the crucial distinction between terrorists and states right around the time of the January 2002 State of the Union speech, when President Bush broadened the scope of the War on Terror to include an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. After that, the mood among conservatives began to grow fierce. Some columnists denied the effectiveness of deterrence against states and advocated unilateral preventive war to overthrow hostile regimes instead. Others openly promoted American imperialism. Still others explicitly proposed that the United States act to topple the governments of a series of sovereign nations in the Muslim Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

And these were the intellectually respectable suggestions, published in mainstream newspapers and long-established journals of opinion. Farther down the media hierarchy, on cable news, websites, and blogs, conservatives of all stripes closed ranks, unleashing a verbal barrage on any and all who dissented from a united front in favor of unapologetic American military muscle. The participants in this endless pep rally were insistent on open-ended war, overtly hostile to dissent, and thoroughly unforgiving of the slightest criticism of the United States abroad. Self-congratulation and self-righteousness ruled the day.

Alarmed by the transformation on the right and in the magazine’s offices, I wrote a lengthy email in October 2002 to a number of my fellow conservatives, explaining why I thought it would be a serious mistake to turn Iraq into the next front in the War on Terror. My reasons had nothing to do with the administration’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction; like all commentators on the right, most independent observers, and large numbers of intelligence agencies around the world, I assumed that Hussein either possessed or was actively working to acquire such weapons. Neither was I overly concerned about worldwide public opinion. I objected to what I judged to be three erroneous assumptions on the part of conservatives inside and outside the Bush administration.

First, I believed the administration was wrong to claim that Hussein could not be deterred. In fact, he already had been. In the first Gulf War, Hussein refrained from using chemical weapons against our troops on the battlefield and against Israel in his inept Scud-missile attacks on Tel Aviv. Why? Because before the start of the war James Baker and Dick Cheney sent messages through diplomatic channels to the Iraqi dictator, informing him that we would respond to any use of WMD with a nuclear strike. Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Arens made similar threats. And they worked. Yes, Hussein was a brutal dictator, but he could be deterred.

Second, it was foolish to believe (as Paul Wolfowitz and others on the right apparently did) that overthrowing Hussein would lead to the creation of a liberal democracy in Iraq that would, in turn, inspire democratic reforms throughout the Middle East. This view displayed an ignorance of (or, more likely, indifference toward) the competing ethnic and religious forces that prevailed in different regions of Iraq as well as a typically American optimism about the spontaneous capacity of all human beings in all times, places, and cultures for self-government. Rather than inspiring the formation of liberal democracies throughout the region, an Iraqi invasion could very well empower the very forces of radical Islam that the War on Terror rightly aimed to destroy.

Third, the right was making a serious mistake in assuming that doing nothing about Iraq was inevitably more dangerous than doing something. The U.S. got caught with its pants down on 9/11, and the fear of it happening again was leading the Bush administration to formulate policies based entirely on negative evidence. The super-hawks advocating preventive war seemed more persuasive than those urging a more cautious approach because the former placed an ominous black box at the core of their deliberations — a black box containing all the horrors of our worst post-September 11 nightmares. But reasoning on that basis could be used to justify absolutely anything, and so, I concluded, it was a reckless guide to action.

None of my friends and colleagues on the right responded to the arguments in my email, and few even acknowledged receiving it. By breaking from the right-wing consensus in favor of unconditional bellicosity, I had gone rogue. Over the next year and a half, as the victorious invasion became a bloody mess of an occupation and these same friends and colleagues refused to admit — to me or to themselves, let alone to the public — that they had made a massive mistake, I drifted away from the right and never looked back. (There were other factors, too.)

My dissent had nothing to do with principles; it was a matter of prudence or judgment. On foreign policy, Republicans had become the stupid party. And so it remains 10 years later.


By: Damon Linker, The Week, March 22, 2013

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Iraq War | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Committing To A New Birth Of Freedom: It’s Time To Leave 9/11 Behind

After we honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we need to leave the day behind. As a nation we have looked back for too long. We learned lessons from the attacks, but so many of them were wrong. The last decade was a detour that left our nation weaker, more divided and less certain of itself.

Reflections on the meaning of the horror and the years that followed are inevitably inflected by our own political or philosophical leanings. It’s a critique that no doubt applies to my thoughts as well. We see what we choose to see and use the event as we want to use it.

This does nothing to honor those who died and those who sacrificed to prevent even more suffering. In the future, the anniversary will best be reserved as a simple day of remembrance in which all of us humbly offer our respect for the anguish and the heroism of those individuals and their families.

But if we continue to place 9/11 at the center of our national consciousness, we will keep making the same mistakes. Our nation’s future depended on far more than the outcome of a vaguely defined “war on terrorism,” and it still does. Al-Qaeda is a dangerous enemy.

But our country and the world were never threatened by the caliphate of its mad fantasies.

We asked for great sacrifice over the past decade from the very small portion of our population who wear the country’s uniform, particularly the men and women of the Army and the Marine Corps. We should honor them, too. And, yes, we should pay tribute to those in the intelligence services, the FBI and our police forces who have done such painstaking work to thwart another attack.

It was often said that terrorism could not be dealt with through “police work,” as if the difficult and unheralded labor involved was not grand or bold enough to satisfy our longing for clarity in what was largely a struggle in the shadows.

Forgive me, but I find it hard to forget former president George W. Bush’s 2004 response to Sen. John Kerry’s comment that “the war on terror is less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement operation.”

Bush retorted: “I disagree — strongly disagree. . . . After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got.” What The Washington Post called “an era of endless war” is what we got, too.

Bush, of course, understood the importance of “intelligence gathering” and “law enforcement.” His administration presided over a great deal of both, and his supporters spoke, with justice, of his success in staving off further acts of terror. Yet he could not resist the temptation to turn on Kerry’s statement of the obvious. Thus was an event that initially united the nation used, over and over, to aggravate our political disharmony. This is also why we must put it behind us.

In the flood of anniversary commentary, notice how often the term “the lost decade” has been invoked. We know now, as we should have known all along, that American strength always depends first on our strength at home — on a vibrant, innovative and sensibly regulated economy, on levelheaded fiscal policies, on the ability of our citizens to find useful work, on the justice of our social arrangements.

This is not “isolationism.” It is a common sense that was pushed aside by the talk of “glory” and “honor,” by utopian schemes to transform the world by abruptly reordering the Middle East — and by our fears. While we worried that we would be destroyed by terrorists, we ignored the larger danger of weakening ourselves by forgetting what made us great.

We have no alternative from now on but to look forward and not back. This does not dishonor the fallen heroes, and Lincoln explained why at Gettysburg. “We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground,” he said. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” The best we could do, Lincoln declared, was to commit ourselves to “a new birth of freedom.” This is still our calling.

By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2011

September 11, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Disasters, Freedom, Government, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Liberty, Media, Middle East, Pentagon, Politics, Terrorism, War | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bin Laden Was Not A “Muslim Leader”

The Washington Post this morning ponders a portion of President Obama’s Sunday night speech that likely made many Americans take pause — the portion in which the president explicitly said “bin Laden was not a Muslim leader.” This key phrase directly counters an integral tenet of the “war on terror” narrative: the vision of the current era as an epic conflict between the United States and a global Muslim population supposedly guided by the al-Qaida mastermind.

However, despite the ubiquity of this kind of Islamophobic “us-versus-them” framing, and despite the Post’s perseverating, Obama was exactly right, and not just because, as the president correctly noted, bin Laden was “a mass murderer of Muslims” — but because bin Laden doesn’t meet a basic definition of “Muslim leader” in terms of mass support and following in the Muslim world.

That’s right, as the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project reports, “In the months leading up to Osama bin Laden’s death, a survey of Muslim publics around the world found little support for the al-Qaida leader [and] al-Qaida also received largely negative ratings among Muslim publics.”

In fact, a comparison of these results with Pew’s larger study from 2010 shows that in terms of favorability ratings, Obama outpolled bin Laden and the United States outpolled al-Qaida in almost every Muslim nation surveyed.

Of course, just because bin Laden and al-Qaida are wildly unpopular in the Muslim world doesn’t mean the United States is winning over those populations in the long haul.

As America occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, bombs Libya and Yemen, conducts drone strikes in Pakistan and props up repressive dictators in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Pew’s data shows the Muslim world still conflicted as to whether the United States is an ally or an aggressor. So, a recent Zogby poll finding that “a majority of the public across the [Middle East] — including a sizable minority in Saudi Arabia — believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a positive development in the Middle East.” That’s not because Muslims necessarily support the Iranian regime at large, but because, as one of the pollsters noted, many Muslims see nuclear arms as the only deterrent to U.S. aggression in the region.

The bottom line, then, is clear: While insinuations that the Muslim world monolithically loved bin Laden and continues to love al-Qaida are absurd, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that our current occupations and bombing raids aren’t winning the “war on terror” — that is, as long as you consider the “war on terror” as much a long-term battle for hearts and minds as a short-term exercise of military maneuvers.

By: David Sirota, Salon, May4, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | Egypt, Foreign Policy, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Muslims, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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