Tag Archives: Libya

Romney's First Foreign Policy Test: Fail.

13 Sep

The last 48 hours have displayed the best and worst in American handling of urgent foreign crises. 

Secretary Clinton and President Obama are deftly handling a crisis caused by idiots. Romney and certain Republicans – but not all (to their credit) have chosen politics over patriotism.

An absolutely horribly produced movie was posted to YouTube in July by a convicted fraud in California. We know how movies like Passion of the Christ insulted Jews, and we know how Life of Brian and Last Temptation of Christ insulted Christians – although I’m not aware of these movies inciting riots, murder, and international crises. But then neither of those movies clumsily accused their central deity figures of being murderous pedophiles. The movie itself was shot on a budget reaching into the dozens of dollars, and the actors were completely duped – none of them had any clue they were filming a movie defaming a major religion’s prophet.  They’re understandably horrified that the movie resulted in riots that led to the deaths of American diplomats in Libya. 

And about those riots in Egypt and the murders in Libya – they are inexcusable and unacceptable. Secretary of State Clinton said all the right things and hit the right tone: 

We must be clear-eyed even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya. Everywhere Chris and his team went in Libya, in a country scared by war and tyranny, they were hailed as friends and partners. And when the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Some Libyans carried Chris’s body to the hospital and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. Last night when I spoke with the President of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible.

The friendship between our countries borne out of shared struggle will not be another casualty of this attack. A free and stable Libya is still in America’s interest and security. And we will not turn our back on that.

President Obama had this to say: 

There was controversy, however, thanks to the shoot-first-aim-later reactionaries in the GOP. Chief among them, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who broke a 9/11 campaign truce to release a hit piece on Obama after 10pm that day. 

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. 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.

At precisely midnight 9/12, RNC Chair Reince Preibus Tweeted, “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.”

But the statement of “sympathy” that Preibus and Romney are criticizing didn’t come from Obama. It came from the diplomatic staff in the American Embassy in Cairo well before the actual rioting began as an effort to prevent it. They were trying to calm a bad situation, unfortunately it didn’t work. But Obama didn’t write it, nor did he condone it

There should be “civilized demonstrations of the Egyptian people’s displeasure with this film,” the Brotherhood spokesman said, according to the newspaper Web site. “Any nonpeaceful activity will be exploited by those who hate Islam to defame the image of Egypt and Muslims.”

Bracing for trouble before the start of the protests here and in Libya, the American Embassy released a statement shortly after noon that appeared to refer to Mr. Jones: “The United States Embassy in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” It later denounced the “unjustified breach of our embassy.”

Apparently unaware of the timing of the first embassy statement, the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, put out a statement just before midnight Tuesday saying, “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.” Mr. Romney also said he was “outraged” at the attacks on the embassy and consulate.

As Andrew Sullivan points out, the Romney camp’s vicious criticism of Obama while an international crisis was still going on wasn’t just based on a lie and tone-deaf in every way, but it’s indicative of the fact that Romney is simply unfit to govern. Romney’s 3am call resulted in shooting from the hip without having even a small amount of the facts. 

Predictably, the conservative reactionary commentariat is outraged, likening Obama to Carter (?!) and heaping scorn and derision on the entire Muslim world as being a bunch of clumsy medieval murderous barbarians. 

Because, evidently, that’s how you handle international incidents – you dehumanize the enemy, turn them into something unfit for life. Even though some semi-intelligent cretins yelled “fire” in the most crowded theater in the world. 

TPM has a comprehensive timeline of the events

  • 7:35 p.m. ET: Reuters confirms that an American consulate staffer has been killed in Benghazi. This staffer is later identified as Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith.
  • 10:09 p.m. ET: The Romney campaign issue a statement from Mitt Romney himself condemning the Obama administration for the Cairo embassy’s repudiation of religiously insensitive speech. It falsely suggests that the Cairo embassy’s condemnation came in response to the attacks in both Egypt and Lybia. 

    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. 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.

    The statement is embargoed — meaning the press cannot report on it — until midnight, Sept. 12 — the moment the Obama and Romney campaigns’ Sept. 11 truce is scheduled to end

  • 10:10 p.m. ET: An Obama administration source disavows the U.S. embassy in Cairo’s statement of condemnation to Politico.
  • 10:25 p.m. ET: Without explanation, the Romney campaign lifts its embargo on Romney’s statement and it becomes public.
  • 10:44 p.m. ET: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemns the attack in Benghazi. 

    I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.

    This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation.

    Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.

    In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.

  • Just before midnight ET, the U.S. embassy in Cairo removes some its tweets, from both before and during the protests, condemning religiously offensive speech. It does not remove one posted at 4:29 p.m. ET: “3) Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech AND criticizing bigotry.”

Sept. 12

  • 12:01 a.m. ET: Just as the campaigns’ Sept. 11 detente ends, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweets, “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.” Unlike Romney’s statement, Priebus’ tweet is silent on Libya.
  • 12:09 a.m. ET: The Obama campaign fires back. “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” spokesman Ben LaBolt said, in an emailed statement.

It’s absolutely unbelievable. Romney has found almost no support whatsoever among elected Republicans, most of whom condemned the attacks without throwing political bombs. In fact, they went on the record criticizing the President for attacks that were still taking place at the time. in response to Romney’s disgusting criticism, President Obama said

There’s a broader lesson to be learned here: Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later and as president one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that. It’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.

Weird, because the Romney campaign issued a bunch of talking points to surrogates that included

Questions & Answers:

Don’t you think it was appropriate for the embassy to condemn the controversial movie in question? Are you standing up for movies like this?

– Governor Romney rejects the reported message of the movie. There is no room for religious hatred or intolerance.

That’s sort of exactly what the Cairo embassy wrote before the rioting began. Isn’t that what Romney was criticizing them and Obama for? In any event, Romney seems quite pleased with himself

To Republicans who are trying out the meme that attacks on American diplomatic missions are reflective of a perceived weakness

June 14, 2002, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Suicide bomber kills 12 and injures 51.

February 20, 2003, international diplomatic compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Truck bomb kills 17.

February 28, 2003, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Gunmen on motorcycles killed two consulate guards.

July 30, 2004, U.S. embassy in Taskkent, Uzbekistan
Suicide bomber kills two.

December 6, 2004, U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Militants stormed and occupied perimeter wall. Five killed, 10 wounded.

March 2, 2006, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Suicide car bomber killed four, including a U.S. diplomate directly targeted by the assailants.

September 12, 2006, U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syria
Gunmen attacked embassy with grenades, automatic weapons, and a car bomb (though second truck bomb failed to detonate). One killed and 13 wounded.

January 12, 2007, U.S. embassy in Athens, Greece
A rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the embassy building. No one was injured.

July 9, 2008, U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Turkey
Armed men attacked consulate with pistols and shotguns. Three policemen killed.

March 18, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen
Mortar attack misses embassy, hits nearby girls’ school instead.

September 17, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen
Militants dressed as policemen attacked the embassy with RPGs, rifles, grenades and car bombs. Six Yemeni soldiers and seven civilians were killed. Sixteen more were injured.

Possibly this explains what’s going on in the brazen, party-first, country-last GOP: 

Romney’s First Foreign Policy Test: Fail.

13 Sep

The last 48 hours have displayed the best and worst in American handling of urgent foreign crises. 

Secretary Clinton and President Obama are deftly handling a crisis caused by idiots. Romney and certain Republicans – but not all (to their credit) have chosen politics over patriotism.

An absolutely horribly produced movie was posted to YouTube in July by a convicted fraud in California. We know how movies like Passion of the Christ insulted Jews, and we know how Life of Brian and Last Temptation of Christ insulted Christians – although I’m not aware of these movies inciting riots, murder, and international crises. But then neither of those movies clumsily accused their central deity figures of being murderous pedophiles. The movie itself was shot on a budget reaching into the dozens of dollars, and the actors were completely duped – none of them had any clue they were filming a movie defaming a major religion’s prophet.  They’re understandably horrified that the movie resulted in riots that led to the deaths of American diplomats in Libya. 

And about those riots in Egypt and the murders in Libya – they are inexcusable and unacceptable. Secretary of State Clinton said all the right things and hit the right tone: 

We must be clear-eyed even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya. Everywhere Chris and his team went in Libya, in a country scared by war and tyranny, they were hailed as friends and partners. And when the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Some Libyans carried Chris’s body to the hospital and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. Last night when I spoke with the President of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible.

The friendship between our countries borne out of shared struggle will not be another casualty of this attack. A free and stable Libya is still in America’s interest and security. And we will not turn our back on that.

President Obama had this to say: 

There was controversy, however, thanks to the shoot-first-aim-later reactionaries in the GOP. Chief among them, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who broke a 9/11 campaign truce to release a hit piece on Obama after 10pm that day. 

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. 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.

At precisely midnight 9/12, RNC Chair Reince Preibus Tweeted, “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.”

But the statement of “sympathy” that Preibus and Romney are criticizing didn’t come from Obama. It came from the diplomatic staff in the American Embassy in Cairo well before the actual rioting began as an effort to prevent it. They were trying to calm a bad situation, unfortunately it didn’t work. But Obama didn’t write it, nor did he condone it

There should be “civilized demonstrations of the Egyptian people’s displeasure with this film,” the Brotherhood spokesman said, according to the newspaper Web site. “Any nonpeaceful activity will be exploited by those who hate Islam to defame the image of Egypt and Muslims.”

Bracing for trouble before the start of the protests here and in Libya, the American Embassy released a statement shortly after noon that appeared to refer to Mr. Jones: “The United States Embassy in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” It later denounced the “unjustified breach of our embassy.”

Apparently unaware of the timing of the first embassy statement, the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, put out a statement just before midnight Tuesday saying, “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.” Mr. Romney also said he was “outraged” at the attacks on the embassy and consulate.

As Andrew Sullivan points out, the Romney camp’s vicious criticism of Obama while an international crisis was still going on wasn’t just based on a lie and tone-deaf in every way, but it’s indicative of the fact that Romney is simply unfit to govern. Romney’s 3am call resulted in shooting from the hip without having even a small amount of the facts. 

Predictably, the conservative reactionary commentariat is outraged, likening Obama to Carter (?!) and heaping scorn and derision on the entire Muslim world as being a bunch of clumsy medieval murderous barbarians. 

Because, evidently, that’s how you handle international incidents – you dehumanize the enemy, turn them into something unfit for life. Even though some semi-intelligent cretins yelled “fire” in the most crowded theater in the world. 

TPM has a comprehensive timeline of the events

  • 7:35 p.m. ET: Reuters confirms that an American consulate staffer has been killed in Benghazi. This staffer is later identified as Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith.
  • 10:09 p.m. ET: The Romney campaign issue a statement from Mitt Romney himself condemning the Obama administration for the Cairo embassy’s repudiation of religiously insensitive speech. It falsely suggests that the Cairo embassy’s condemnation came in response to the attacks in both Egypt and Lybia. 

    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. 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.

    The statement is embargoed — meaning the press cannot report on it — until midnight, Sept. 12 — the moment the Obama and Romney campaigns’ Sept. 11 truce is scheduled to end

  • 10:10 p.m. ET: An Obama administration source disavows the U.S. embassy in Cairo’s statement of condemnation to Politico.
  • 10:25 p.m. ET: Without explanation, the Romney campaign lifts its embargo on Romney’s statement and it becomes public.
  • 10:44 p.m. ET: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemns the attack in Benghazi. 

    I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.

    This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation.

    Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.

    In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.

  • Just before midnight ET, the U.S. embassy in Cairo removes some its tweets, from both before and during the protests, condemning religiously offensive speech. It does not remove one posted at 4:29 p.m. ET: “3) Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech AND criticizing bigotry.”

Sept. 12

  • 12:01 a.m. ET: Just as the campaigns’ Sept. 11 detente ends, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweets, “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.” Unlike Romney’s statement, Priebus’ tweet is silent on Libya.
  • 12:09 a.m. ET: The Obama campaign fires back. “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” spokesman Ben LaBolt said, in an emailed statement.

It’s absolutely unbelievable. Romney has found almost no support whatsoever among elected Republicans, most of whom condemned the attacks without throwing political bombs. In fact, they went on the record criticizing the President for attacks that were still taking place at the time. in response to Romney’s disgusting criticism, President Obama said

There’s a broader lesson to be learned here: Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later and as president one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that. It’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.

Weird, because the Romney campaign issued a bunch of talking points to surrogates that included

Questions & Answers:

Don’t you think it was appropriate for the embassy to condemn the controversial movie in question? Are you standing up for movies like this?

– Governor Romney rejects the reported message of the movie. There is no room for religious hatred or intolerance.

That’s sort of exactly what the Cairo embassy wrote before the rioting began. Isn’t that what Romney was criticizing them and Obama for? In any event, Romney seems quite pleased with himself

To Republicans who are trying out the meme that attacks on American diplomatic missions are reflective of a perceived weakness

June 14, 2002, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Suicide bomber kills 12 and injures 51.

February 20, 2003, international diplomatic compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Truck bomb kills 17.

February 28, 2003, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Gunmen on motorcycles killed two consulate guards.

July 30, 2004, U.S. embassy in Taskkent, Uzbekistan
Suicide bomber kills two.

December 6, 2004, U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Militants stormed and occupied perimeter wall. Five killed, 10 wounded.

March 2, 2006, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Suicide car bomber killed four, including a U.S. diplomate directly targeted by the assailants.

September 12, 2006, U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syria
Gunmen attacked embassy with grenades, automatic weapons, and a car bomb (though second truck bomb failed to detonate). One killed and 13 wounded.

January 12, 2007, U.S. embassy in Athens, Greece
A rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the embassy building. No one was injured.

July 9, 2008, U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Turkey
Armed men attacked consulate with pistols and shotguns. Three policemen killed.

March 18, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen
Mortar attack misses embassy, hits nearby girls’ school instead.

September 17, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen
Militants dressed as policemen attacked the embassy with RPGs, rifles, grenades and car bombs. Six Yemeni soldiers and seven civilians were killed. Sixteen more were injured.

Possibly this explains what’s going on in the brazen, party-first, country-last GOP: 

Nation Building

21 Oct

Libya’s Gadhafi was the bin Laden of the 80s. Yesterday, thanks to a Libyan rebellion and NATO help, Gadhafi met the fate he had long deserved, not only for murdering innocents abroad, but those at home as well.

As a partisan Democrat, I’ll point out that bin Laden and Gadhafi were both eliminated either by America or with American help, yet with no American casualties. In the 90s, NATO made quick work of ending the Serb nationalist socialist expansionism throughout the Balkans.

As we wind down in Iraq, and build up for the eventual wind down in Afghanistan, it’s time to re-visit the Powell Doctrine and, perhaps, codify it. War isn’t just dangerous, it’s expensive – we’re spending $300 million per day in Afghanistan. Almost $110 billion per year – it would be better if that money was being spent by the government domestically on infrastructure or education.

The Arab Spring reminds me of the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, and the way in which each country’s specific personality or situation dictated the way in which its revolution came about. Tunisia deposed its ruler, while Libya’s was shot. The Poles, Czechs & Slovaks, East Germans, and others peacefully built a mass movement, the Romanians had to take up arms – while Husak and Honecker and Krenz retired, went on trial, and/or were exiled, Ceausescu and his wife were shot like dogs – an altogether reasonable way for those two to go.

Now that Gaddafi is gone, Saleh in Yemen and Assad in Syria cling to power in the face of popular uprisings. Iran’s people tried valiantly, but were defeated once the secret police began killing them. Once the people in these countries bring change about and rid themselves of their oppressors, there is hope that regional peace might again have a chance. Without cynical authoritarian dictators at the helm, there’s hope that the new governments will stop blaming Israel for all their people’s woes and start building a modern, free, prosperous, and democratic Arab world.  I’ve always believed that, for the most part, average people in most countries just want to have a job, a home, a family, some vacation time, and the ability to drive to that country’s version of Denny’s for a Grand Slam every once in a while. They don’t want to live like serfs, and they don’t want to fight endless wars. (Neither should Americans, by the way).

You’ll note that the Arab Spring hasn’t brought about Talibanesque Islamic Republics; these people don’t seem eager to replace one form of despotism for another. Maybe the United States will have learned from its recent successes and failures in nation building and provide needed assistance, if invited to do so.

I know it’s unlikely, but one can always hope.

Impeachment Eligible

22 Jun

Obama’s illegal war continues.

I choose each of those four words for specific reasons. With a public distracted during the start of bomb dropping, a delay in ever explaining his reasoning and actions, no attempt to get a buy-in from the American public, and no vote sought in Congress, this sorry episode has nowhere to land but on President Obama’s shoulders. The action is illegal because any pretense of abiding by the War Powers Act passed after a 60/90 day deadline on June 19th. The action in question is most certainly a war, but it should embarrass the President that I must make that point explicitly, as his lawyers twist Orwellian. And finally, this war continues, endures, with only a glimmer of opposition now taking hold.

Always politically astute, President Obama cynically knows that the American people generally only care about wars when our soldiers are dying. That is not happening directly in Libya (this article is about Libya, remember we’re now fighting there too?), so the conflict slid under the national radar almost as soon as it began. Our soldiers may be indirectly dying because of Libya, but that is a nuanced argument that is difficult to sell. While our DOD budget is huge, the tools President Obama is using in Libya – attack helicopters, Predators, Reapers, AWACS, AC-130’s, spy satellites, etc – are exactly to ones in short supply within the US military. He didn’t support the Libyan opposition by sending 100,000 old M-16s sitting in a warehouse (that we know of, anyway). He dedicated units known within the military as “High Demand/Low Density.” Every AC-130 and Predator in Libya is not available to support our war in Afghanistan. How many soldiers there have died waiting for attack helicopter support? We won’t and can’t know. But President Obama’s eye certainly appears to be off that ball.

I can better accept the difficult choice of the allocation of resources under different political and legal conditions, but our involvement in Libya was rotten from the start, and has gotten worse. That glimmer of opposition I mentioned earlier has come from sources expected and not. George Will, who found his anti-intervention religion on January 20th, 2009, dislikes our involvement because we are using NATO and the UN as window dressing, allowing them to maintain legitimacy while we do what we want. Mayors from across the country object to our continued involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan because we’re spending money overseas instead of reinvesting at home. While they don’t specifically mention Libya, the argument certainly applies there as well. Glenn Greenwald (Salon) and Garrett Epps (The Atlantic) object to the over-reach of Executive Power. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich (author’s note: I dislike using this source link, but its what I’ve got) warned before the start of the action that failure to consult Congress is an impeachable offense, and have now filed a doomed lawsuit. Greenwald himself walks up to this “impeachment” line, calling the war “illegal” repeatedly, but never quite crosses it. Should he, and we?

Candidate Obama, constitutional scholar, declared a President should not engage in military action sans Congressional approval unless the country itself was threatened. President Obama broke the spirit of the War Powers Act the first day of bombing, but only the letter of the law last Sunday. If the process by which we ended up attacking Libya broke the law, and it was the President that took those actions, then he committed an impeachable offense. I would argue that he committed the first truly impeachable offense by a President since Richard Nixon ordered a rash of theft and breaking and entering. Worse, President Obama committed the offense involving the most solemn of Presidential duties: sending forces to combat.

First, let’s rule out some other dubious Presidential behavior. President Reagan’s Iran/Contra scandal never quite made it all the way to his desk. President Clinton’s circus was engineered; a grand jury testimonial whose sole purpose was to create a lie under oath about a fundamentally political and personal matter. Obama’s current Libya policy is often compared to Bush’s: Greenwald referencing his wire-tapping plan, Epps his torture fiasco. While there are apt comparisons to be made between their legal teams (both sought narrow legal definitions to exonerate their boss), I think the nature of Presidential action is important. The NSA eavesdropping and warrantless wiretapping evolved from new Patriot Act regulations following 9/11. That an administration wrestled with what was legal and what was not following the implementation of a new law is understandable. Likewise, while torture is illegal under the US code, it is facetious to act as if there has not been a two hundred year debate in our country over what constitutes “torture,” “cruel and unusual” punishments, etc. The standard has rightly evolved, but it is a regular matter of discussion, and the Executive Order authorized interrogation techniques we used (that we know of) consisted of procedures routinely used on our own US military trainees, techniques that sat in a grey area long before Bush authorized the CIA to get creative.

No such grey area exists on the question of whether dropping bombs on someone’s head is a war or not, no matter the protestations coming from President Obama’s legal counsel. The Obama Administration’s lawyerly squirms must make even John Yoo blush. Equally important, in my opinion, are the atmospheric circumstances surrounding this flouting of the law. The War Powers Act is a direct check on Presidential power – it restricts and defines an explicit Constitutional power, the most basic action of an any sovereign country: committing the military to war. That Congress asserted this authority by overriding a veto provides additional moral (though not legal) weight and consideration. It is also a law only one citizen in this country can break. Any of us could lie to a grand jury, and any police officer could wiretap illegally. But this law is designed for the President alone. Unlike ordering someone else to commit an illegal act, there is no degree of separation, no ambiguity in orders or directives, no wiggle room. The President has committed US forces to war past the firm, unequivocal numerical deadline. He is the solitary doer of an illegal deed.

Do not confuse bold leadership with illegal action. The UN confers political and geo-legal cover, not wisdom, nor diplomatic immunity to US law. No matter the supposed rightness of the cause, the Libyan War has passed from Executive Branch over-reach to illegality. Will Congress reassert and resume its role? Despite Boehner’s polite rebuttal, the political expediency is obvious: the only thing safer than voting “yes” on military action is not being forced to vote at all.

Unexpected Failures in Libya

20 Apr

It’s been a month, and we’re still bombing Libya. I know this may come as a shock to you – you would not know unless you listened deep into Morning Edition or read page 7 of the daily paper. Sandwiched between tsunamis, melting nuclear reactors, and Congressional budget battles, Libya only briefly captured America’s fickle attention.

Ignoring the opportunistic and blatantly political backlash by Republican Presidential contenders (faux and real), the legitimate critique of President Obama’s Libya policy has fallen into one of three basic camps: our plan is non-existent or unrealistic, the plan wasn’t communicated or Constitutional, and why this plan (Libya) and not other plans (Sudan). Me, I fell into all three camps – I admit I didn’t like the smell of this from the start.

But no matter which camp you fell in, the conventional wisdom also generally stated that while we can win the purely military phase of such wars (see: Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq), the trouble would come once the rockets stopped flying, and the long, troubled, national building, elections and government phase began. Turns out the conventional wisdom misunderestimated our conventional military might – don’t look now, but we’re struggling in the shooting war part too.

With a messy mandate to protect civilians, defend rebel territory but only kinda attack the Gaddafi regime, NATO is stumbling. While still bombing select targets in Tripoli to seemingly little effect, in Misrata, last rebel stronghold in the west, and throughout eastern Libya, occasional NATO strikes from the air are not enough to make a tangible difference on the ground. Gaddafi’s forces have moved into the cities and dispersed with civilians, stymieing NATO attacks by ensuring that any bombing will break the West’s Hippocratic Oath. The rebels can gain no ground, Gaddafi’s forces continue their shelling, and a bloody stalemate endures. Internally, NATO continues to squabble. While NATO’s Danish secretary-general called for more precision bombing aircraft, French military commanders claimed plenty of aircraft were available, but more trustworthy target intel was needed. Meanwhile, the US is pulling out A-10’s and AC-130’s, exactly the kind of precision ground-pounders NATO says it wants.

Let me clear – winning militarily in Libya is a matter of political will, not capability. George Friedman notes the fallacy of the Immaculate Intervention – humanitarian wars, those that substitute sentiment for tangible goals, have an expectation of near zero cost to the invading force or the civilians to be assisted. NATO could (and to some small degree, must certainly be) send in terminal controllers and special forces to collect ground intelligence and direct strikes. NATO could also send arms and advisors to assist the rebels. Then they could send in security to defend the advisors. We have seen this movie before. We may be replaying it again – the Brits are talking about sending senior military strategists, and the EU humanitarian aid guards, a la Somalia ’93 Redux. The West does not like to lose wars once we’re in them. But Libya is Limbo – enough will to stay, not enough to “win” even the conventional military portion where our strength lies.      

How long will the average Libyan civilian be supportive of Western involvement if it proves ineffectual? The latest reports are troublesome:

Frustration was growing among residents in Misrata, where Gadhafi’s troops have intensified their long siege of the city in recent days. The doctor criticized NATO for failing to break the assault with its month-old campaign of air strikes. “We have not seen any protection of civilians,” the doctor said. “NATO air strikes are not enough, and the proof is that there are civilians killed every day here,” he said.

The theme was echoed in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga said at a news conference: “There’s no more room for hesitation or for not standing with determination against what is happening in Misrata and other Libyan cities, because the destruction that Moammar Gadhafi is causing in Libyan cities is great and extensive.”

This is where the United States loses. Early in his latest book, Travels in Siberia, Ian Frazier tells the story of visiting a Russian in a decrepit Soviet-era apartment block, utilitarian concrete and humorless. The man is proud of his meager furnishings, and excitedly shows off each stick of furniture and modern convenience. But when the tour arrives in the kitchen, the solitary incandescent bulb hanging from the ceiling fails to light when the switch is thrown. The man, visibly annoyed, fiddles with the switch, and then, after retrieving a step-ladder, the wiring around the light itself. Finally, the man fetches a new bulb and changes it with several deliberate turns. He flips the switch again, and the light turns on. Opening his arms wide and gesturing to the whole of the now well-lighted room, the man proudly exclaims, “Ahhhhh. America!”

Vice-President Cheney infamously predicted that US troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq, and they were . . . at first. It did not take long for the lights to not turn on fast enough, and the warm glow of America to dim. America may now be coming too slow to Libyan dissenters and rebels. We, with NATO, are the greatest military force on the planet. How can we not have “won” yet? And upon winning, how can we not make everything work right away?

Libya? Really, Libya?

23 Mar

Surprise! We’re back to the Shock and Awe, knock-down-the-door, Tomahawk and JDAM war the US military in general, and Air Force and Navy in particular, like so much. Things are going swimmingly well in Libya because we’re still doing the parts we’re really good at. What comes next? If President Obama knows, he’s not saying, except that we won’t be in charge much longer (turns out the French never really were in charge after all, they just started the war first without talking to everyone). His War Powers Act clock is at 54 days and counting, but more on Obama’s failures in a moment.

Any public discussion of the fiasco in Libya seems to conform to a formula in three parts: two major – the question of whether to intervene, and the handling of the issue by the President – and one minor. Before I get to the major issues, let me dispense with the minor one.

The most insignificant portion of this issue is the hypocrisy watch all observers find themselves under, as the spectre of Iraq still looms, and our national politics are still played under broad Obama|Bush banners. For the record, I was for our action in Bosnia and Kosovo, because genocide was not a potential, but an ongoing horror. I was for intervention in conflicts we never stepped into, such as Rwanda. I was for the “little wars” of Clinton, in Iraq and Afghanistan in 1998, and wanted even more action because trouble seemed on the horizon and violence was escalating (embassy bombings, the USS Cole after, etc). I was for the invasion of Afghanistan at the time, because I was pissed, pro-Iraq War at the start, and pro-Surge as the best possible way to extricate ourselves from a bad situation. But now? A final analysis is complicated, as is inevitable when a war is personalized, and you find yourself invested in a very non-academic way. Lately, I find myself a recovering interventionist.

I say all of that as background to help you judge the following statement: what in God’s name are we doing in Libya? Have we gained no humility about the limits of US power, and learned nothing about picking sides in a tribal war, misunderstanding your enemy or allies, the limits of the capability of no-fly zones, and the grave responsibility of joining a war?

What are we doing in Libya? There is an ideological answer, and a realpolitik one. Both fail to pursuade, though (as is fundamental to its nature) the realpolitik answer is at least more pragmatic.

The ideologues, such as genocide expert and White House staffer Samantha Power, will tell you we must intervene in Libya because the international community can not stand by while a dictator murders his own people. While this sounds nice, it provides few practical specifics and is blatantly untrue. We stand by and watch dictators murder their own people all the time. In fact, we are currently doing so in Yemen, Bahrain, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe and the Congo, just to name the worst. In each of those cases, far more people have been murdered over far longer of a time. “The International Community” is in a tizzy over a city being without power for a week or two in Libya. In Zimbabwe and the Congo, the slaughter has gone on for decades. In addition, such mushy aims lead to the questions Americans are currently asking: are we trying to kill Qaddafi? Who are the rebels (as a commentator from STRATFOR put it, who knew 6 weeks ago there even was a Libyan opposition)? Are we on their side? What is a civilian? Can we kill civilians to protect civilians? What if the no-fly zone doesn’t stop the conflict? What are our goals? What are the conditions that will allow us to be done? If Obama knows, he’s not telling.

With the ideological answer either wanting or ineffectual, one is left with the realpolitik answer. Here, the water is murkier. Khadafi has been alternatingly an international pariah and our ally strongman. He perpetrated some of the worst terrorist attacks against Europeans and Americans in the 1980’s, but he also was held up as the model of the reformed autocrat in the 2000’s, unilaterally disavowing his nuke program, shrugging off UN sanctions in 2003, and making amends with the Brits, such that they controversially released a Lockerbie conspirator only two years ago. In short, he was a neutral party (and occasional ally against Al Qaeda) much more recently than he was persona non grata.

So why Libya now? Besides the need to secure oil for Western Europe, the unspoken realpolitik answer is Iran. Through the eyes of the international geopolitical chess-player, the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa go something like this. The January immolation and uprising in Tunisia was a genuine cry for help by the “Arab Street.” The events since, however, that were thus set in motion have been pre-planned coups and proxy battles that used the street protests as cover. Mubarak fell because the Egyptian military ousted him, payback for him wanting to install his non-military son in power instead of the next general in line, as the military regime has done for 60 years. Protests in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain are actually battles between Shia and Sunni, with Iran funding and provoking the protestors and Saudi Arabia coming to the aid of the Sunni regimes in power. The US does not condemn the actions in those countries, or establish a no-fly zone over Bahrain, because we are actually opposing Iran, and want the protests in those country’s crushed. Libya is thus another proxy, a convenient way of showing Iran that America can walk and chew gum at the same time, or bomb one country while stuck in a ground war with two others. It also lowers the bar for military intervention, and allows us to potentially act to protect our national interests (read: seize oil fields, violently open the Straits of Hormuz, allow Israel to bomb Iran’s nuke program) in a much more flagrant way.

Under this explanation, President Obama would rightly see Libya as a side-show. Perhaps that explains why he is treating it as such, aloof and seemingly uninvolved. Which brings us to the second major issue – Obama’s disappointment as Commander-in-Chief. Afghanistan is adrift – it has been months since we heard anything consequential on that decade long conflict. Now his eye is off the ball again. Whatever is going on inside his head on the topic of Libya, ideological, realpolitik or political, we do not know because he has not said. Little consultation with Congress other than a cattle round-up conference call. No evening address to the American people. It displays a lack of seriousness with the military task at hand – he has publically spoken about sending our forces into a new war as much as he would about the EPA making a regulatory rule change. 

To say nothing of the utter hypocrisy. Candidate Obama in 2007 said:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.

What made him change his mind in this case? In fact, what made him change his mind in the last ten days? Two weeks ago mainstream liberals were lampooning “neocons” for trying to drag us into another war, and the prospect of intervention in Libya was laughable. At the end of February his Defense Secretary said he should have his head examined to get into another conflict in the Middle East, and later, on the topic of Libya, said a no-fly zone meant open war (implying it should be avoided, or at least not taken lightly). In a matter of days, Obama had, as David Gergen said today, a “head snapping reversal of policy.”

Bush was criticized for changing his mind about why we invaded Iraq (WMDs to Democracy) after the conflict began. I suppose one way to avoid that charge is to have no position at all. Going to the UN Security Council does not mean he is slow, indecisive or wussy to let the Europeans lead (though, like we said, they aren’t really leading, and now France and Italy are now bickering about who is doing what). Rather, Obama’s issue with going to the UN is that he used it as a substitute for planning or forming a policy. The UN confers precious little legitimacy anyway – a Security Council resolution simply means Russia and China do not have sufficient economic or political interests to interfere if the West wishes to additionally bankrupt itself on another expensive excursion. In this case, a veneer of legality is being substituted for substance.

When Obama returns from South America, we will probably have a policy speech explaining our goals in Libya . . . justification for the bombing after it began. In the meantime, The Daily Show describes the mess well:

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Libya isn’t Iraq

20 Mar

I was not a supporter of the Iraq war because the United Nations never approved or otherwise sanctioned the use of force against Iraq. I am a strong believer in the United Nations, it being the only legitimate entity where the world’s nation-states can meet to discuss and solve international crises.  (This post isn’t about the efficacy or efficiency of the United Nations, nor is it an invitation to people to start in about one world government or other John Birch Society talking points).

Despite historical revisionism, the stated reason why the United States invaded Iraq had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein’s brutality; the stated justification for the invasion was that Hussein had violated United Nations sanctions, no-fly zones, and above all, continued to maintain and pursue an active campaign to seek and build a catastrophic arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Colin Powell disgraced himself forever when he took to the Security Council to seek that body’s approval to use military force against Iraq for its alleged failure to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which was a final chance for Hussein to abide by past disarmament commitments.  1441 was passed unanimously, but did not authorize the use of force without further Security Council action.  Instead, it authorized the creation of UNMOVIC, which commenced a series of inspections, which Hussein famously jerked around and obstructed for the sake of jerking around and obstructing; he had no active WMD program.

The US, Britain, and Spain met in March 2003 and decided independently that Hussein had violated 1441, and that the invasion would commence.  No Security Council resolution was ever introduced or voted on to authorize the use of force, as it would clear that at least one of its permanent members would veto it.  Kofi Annan, the UN’s Secretary-General, said in 2004 that in the UN’s eyes, the war in Iraq was illegal.

The war in Iraq was all about ideology, lies, mistakes, and using 9/11 as a pretext to complete unfinished business from the early 1990s.

By contrast, 2011 seems to be to the Arab world something similar to what the world saw in eastern Europe in 1989. Mass demonstrations and revolutions have sprung up among average citizens to overthrow corrupt mafia regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, with smaller conflagrations in Jordan and Syria. The United States’ chief ally in the Middle East is Israel, and we often see affairs in that region through a “how will this affect Israel” prism.  That’s legitimate, and many have tried to foment domestic opposition to the Arab uprisings by suggesting that these places would all become latter-day Afghanistan Taliban regimes. That ignores how comparatively cosmopolitan and stable Tunisia and Egypt are compared with an Afghanistan that’s been in political, economic, social, and military crisis almost non-stop since the 1970s.

If the Arab uprising is their 1989, then longtime madman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who has practiced a weird sort of pseudo-Socialism with a strong cult of personality in that country since taking power in 1969, is their Ceausescu. He has plunged that country into a civil war, ordering his military to turn its guns on his own people.  Being mindful of the fact that he took power via coup, he had kept that country’s military deliberately weak, so he has employed the services of foreign mercenaries to destroy the rebellion.

On March 17th, the United Nations Security Council took up and passed Resolution 1973, authorizing the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya, to halt Gaddafi’s bombing of his own population.  It was a second step after Resolution 1970, which called on Gaddafi to stop harming civilians. It includes an arms embargo and an assets freeze.

The resolution was brought about thanks to a Security Council resolution voted on in the United Nations.  It specifically and explicitly authorizes the use of force taking place now in Libya, and the US is participating.  It came about thanks to the urging and support of the members of the Arab League, and the US has not taken the lead in this matter, letting regional actors do so instead – notably France. The stated primary purpose of the resolution and resultant action is legal, sanctioned, and has the stated goal of preventing Libya from using its military and hired mercenaries from murdering its own civilians.

This has no parallel with the Iraq war, and more closely resembles NATO and UN action taken in Kosovo and Bosnia to prevent humanitarian tragedy and slaughter of civilians.