Friday, September 19, 2014

Its possible to write "I have no idea" on the internet. Who knew?

You have to know its a good day when a tweet from Glenn Greenwald sends you to one of the best things you've read on the internet in weeks.
Of course, that was enough to send me on my way to check it out! The title of the article turned out to be: "Smarter than the President? Not me. I'm too smart not to know how dumb I am." Given the source of the referral, at first I assumed that the writer was engaging in one massive snark to be revealed at any moment. But I was wrong. So I had to start over and read the whole thing again...straight this time.
I’ve said it before, it was a lot easier to be smarter than the President when the President was George W. Bush.

A major change in the tone, tenor, direction, and focus of this blog occurred sometime in the late summer of 2011 when it dawned on me that this President is smarter than me.

Way smarter.
Lance Mannion - the author - goes on from there to describe how he realized that he had been blogging "off the top of his head" prior to this awareness and knew that if he was going to continue, he had to study a little harder to keep up with this President. And then he actually types this:
Which brings me back to the President and on to ISIS.

I have no idea.
OMG - did he really just say that? On the internet?

In looking for answers, Mannion isn't finding much assistance on the lefty blogosphere.
There are others, though, who’ve based their case on the bumper sticker-profound idea that War is Never the Answer and plenty of others whose arguments are based on a vague and circular logic: “This reminds me of what George Bush did in some way I can’t put my finger on but it must be wrong because of that or else I wouldn’t be reminded of George Bush.”
He ends with some questions - which I'm sure must be illegal or something because NO ONE EVER DOES THAT in a political discussion on the internet!!!

And so I am now following Lance Mannion on twitter and I've linked his blog on my list over there ===>>>. He claims expertise on Shakespeare, Discworld and superhero movies. I'm sure to ignore what he writes on those topics because - to be totally honest - I don't care about them. But anyone who admits on the internet that they have "no idea" what to do about something as complicated as ISIS in the Middle East gets my support.


What's not in the news

I'm going to have to give Republicans some props. In the lead-up to these midterm elections, they've had to show an amazing amount of flexibility.

For instance, remember when the main issue in the election was going to be Obama scandal-mania? They were placing their bets on Benghazi, the IRS, the VA and - for some poor souls - even Fast and Furious. And now here we are a few weeks away from the election and Trey Gowdy can't get anyone to pay attention to his hearings (if you don't know who Trey Gowdy is - you just made my point).

Next up was a shift to Obamacare. Following the troubles with the initial online rollout, Republicans were sure this was going to be the ultimate weapon to use against Democrats. That was until the web site was fixed, enrollment surged beyond predictions, the rate of uninsured dropped, and health insurance premiums didn't skyrocket. Oops, time to change the subject again.

Anyone remember the short-lived focus on "President Obama as tyrant" and Boehner's stupid law suit? Nah, that one didn't last long.

This summer's surge in unaccompanied children arriving on our border from Central America was sure to get the nativist's blood boiling and keep it that way through the election. But then President Obama asked for help from Congress in addressing the situation and they bailed. Now the surge is over and its back to business as usual.

So now what? NBC noticed that the NRCC - in a move that invokes the "spirit" of 2002-2004 - is now going for the "Democrats aren't tough enough on terrorists" line. In other words, when fear-mongering about everything else fails, ramping up the idea that the terrorists are at our doorstep is always a great fall-back position.

Given the speed with which Republicans have cycled in and then out of these various issues as "THE ONE" on which the midterm election will hinge, I expect at least one or two more in the coming weeks.

The point is that the GOP is addicted to the hysteria of the moment. As our President tackles one challenge after another, they keep thinking THIS will be the one that does him in. But minus all the drama, he just keeps thoughtfully and systematically taking them on and finding the best resolution possible - usually with zero assistance from Congress.

It would be nice if we had a media that noticed this trend. But the hysteria approach is more lucrative when it comes to link-bait. So it will be up to folks like us to remind the American people that we got exactly what we wanted when we elected President Obama - a no-drama pragmatist that plays the long game.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Don't ever touch me (again)

I invite you to take a few minutes to listen to this amazingly powerful song by Dionne Farris.

Delores Huerta: We have to have faith in our president (updated)

Perhaps its because she knows a thing or two about organizing vs activism:
“We have to look at the big picture and don’t get caught up in saying we want it now,” she said, referring to action on immigration. “We’ve been waiting—we are a community that can wait. And we have to have faith in our president, because the Republicans have shown their hand. We know what they want to do.”
UPDATE: When Ms. Huerta says that "we have to have faith in our president," this is the one she's talking about:

The roots of violence

I've had to take a bit of a break from the internet lately as the rage explodes about the issues of domestic violence and child abuse following the cases involving NFL players. Its not that these issues trigger personal experiences for me. Having spent my professional life dealing with both child and adult victims of violence, I can't engage in a rage-fest where both sides simply scream at each other in an attempt to ensure that their views dominate the discussion. Ultimately, it accomplishes very little - if anything at all.

But today I'd like to put a couple of thoughts out there for all of us to ponder. They were sparked by these words from Michael Eric Dyson.
The point of discipline is to transmit values to children. The purpose of punishment is to coerce compliance and secure control, and failing that, to inflict pain as a form of revenge...
Regular readers here know that I talk a lot about the difference between partnership as a form of leadership as opposed to dominance. Much of that comes from the work of Riane Eisler who has talked about those two forms of relationships more generally. Here is how she summarized it in her book The Chalice and the Blade:
The root of the problem lies in a social system in which the power of the blade is idealized - in which both men and women are taught to equate true masculinity with violence and dominance and to see men who do not conform to this ideal as too soft or effeminate.
She outlines how children learn about violence and dominance early on.
When children experience violence, or observe violence against their mothers, they learn it's acceptable- even moral-to use force to impose one's will on others. Indeed, the only way they can make sense of violence coming from those who are supposed to love them is that it must be moral.

Terrorism and chronic warfare are responses to life in societies in which the only perceived choices are dominating or being dominated. These violent responses are characteristic of cultures where this view of relations is learned early on through traditions of coercion, abuse, and violence in parentchild and gender relations.
Domestic violence and child abuse are the direct result of a culture where dominance (and the fear it engenders) is idealized over partnership.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Working on that "genius" thing

I see that they've recently awarded the 2014 Genius Grants. Obviously, I didn't get one.

But don't worry, I haven't given up. I'm just going to keep working on it ;-)

Is the glass half full or half empty?

Two recent headlines about the exact same information are a perfect illustration of why President Obama keeps reminding us that cynicism is a choice.

Both stories (the first at WaPo's Wonkblog and the second at Think Progress) are about this recently released report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. But they can't both be accurate, can they? 

Here's what you need to know:
  1. The information in the BJS report includes data on both state and federal prisons. 
  2. The second article focuses on the raw number of inmates - which has gone up slightly for states and down for the federal system. 
  3. As the population of the U.S. grows, a better gauge over time is the rate of inmates per U.S. resident. That number has fallen - as reported in the first article.
If we look at the rate of inmates/100,000 residents, here is what has happened over the last five years.

2008 - 506
2009 - 504
2010 - 500
2011 - 492
2012 - 480
2013 - 478

Those numbers might not look dramatic. But they represent a huge change in the trajectory we've seen over the last 40 years.
As Keith Humphreys (who wrote the first article) says:
The U.S. established mass incarceration over decades, and it will not be unmade overnight. Moving in the right direction for five straight years is splendid, but I believe we could pick up the pace while still protecting the public. My hope is that the many sentencing reforms passed in states in the past couple years have not yet had time to make as much impact as they will in the future; President Obama and AG Holder’s recent efforts at the federal level could well be in the same boat. Like the Dalai Lama, I choose to be optimistic because I cannot think of a better alternative.
So its interesting to wonder why Think Progress - normally an excellent source of news - would chose to ignore the positive trends.  Humphreys, who has been writing about them, recently answered that question. Apparently he got some push-back from prison reform activists for reporting that the glass might actually be half full.
But a small group of people are upset that I have engaged in what might be called “airing clean laundry”. Their argument is that by letting the public know that incarceration rates are going down, I am effectively declaring that mass incarceration is over (even though I have repeatedly said just the opposite) and implicitly encouraging everyone to move on to some other social problem.

The consequentialist argument against sharing good news regarding a longstanding social problem is that it invariably undermines further reform by reducing the public’s sense of urgency. I am not convinced that this hypothesis is correct. Ignoring evidence of positive change can increase despair and thereby reduce the willingness of advocates to keep trying. In contrast, showing evidence of success builds hope and confidence. Further, highlighting the achievements of reformers brings them attention and respect, which can help sustain them in their difficult work.
This is EXACTLY the issue President Obama is addressing when he says that cynicism is a choice - and that hope is a better choice.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

There's a method to Jindal's madness

I'll join ranks with those of you who want to point and laugh at Gov. Bobby Jindal's latest nonsense.
“The reality is right now we’ve got an administration in the Obama administration that are science deniers when it comes to harnessing America’s energy resources and potential to create good-paying jobs for our economy and for our future,” Jindal said. “Right now we’ve got an administration whose policies are holding our economy hostage.”
I'd also ask you to think about the fact that there is a method to this kind of madness. By accusing the Obama administration of being guilty of things that are true of Republicans, Jindal is engaging in exactly the kind of propaganda that Peter Pomerantsev wrote about recently: "If nothing is true, then anything is possible."

Here's how it works: Republicans are - in fact - science deniers. That is a demonstrably true statement. But now we have Jindal making an argument that sets up the possibility of an equivalency with the Obama administration. What they want the casual observer to hear is: "Democrats accuse Republicans of being science deniers and Republicans accuse Democrats of being science deniers. We report. You decide." There is no truth, there are only politicized arguments.
The point of this new propaganda is not to persuade anyone, but to keep the viewer hooked and leave them confused, paranoid, and passive—living in a Kremlin-controlled virtual reality that can no longer be mediated or debated by any appeal to ‘truth.’
Karl Rove, with his addiction to projection, is the one who originally mastered this type of propaganda. Steve Benen captured this very well a few years ago (you can find links to all these examples there).
Rove has spent his professional life engaged in political sleaze, so he's accused Obama of adding "arsenic to the nation's political well." Rove ran a White House that embraced a "permanent campaign," so he's accused the Obama team of embracing a "permanent campaign." Rove embraced the politics of fear, so he's accused Obama of embracing the politics of fear. Rove relied on "pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted " political events, so he's accused Obama of relying on "pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted" political events. Rove looked at every policy issue "from a political perspective," so he's accused Obama of looking at every policy issue "from a political perspective." Rove snubbed news outlets that he considered partisan, so he's accused Obama of snubbing news outlets that he considered partisan. Rove had a habit of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons, so he's accused Obama of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons. Rove questioned the motives of those with whom he disagreed, so he's accused Obama of questioning the motives of those with whom he disagrees.
And so it should come as no surprise to anyone that Karl Rove is currently spending his money on ads suggesting that Democrats are cutting spending on entitlements.

This is the kind of propaganda environment that Fox News and right wing radio set out to create. Getting the rest of the media to go along with it by threatening to label them as "liberal" if they didn't adhere to the "Republicans say this _____, and Democrats say this ______" framework made their efforts successful.

It is true that in many areas the things we disagree about are simply opinions. But that's not always the case. Sometimes there are things that we know to be true and/or have learned to accept because of what President Obama calls "hard-earned wisdom." Believing otherwise is simply to swallow the propaganda.

"We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us"

When President Obama first came into office in 2009, many people (including the President) talked about the fact that the United States was involved in two wars: Iraq and Afghanistan. I have always tried to point out that this was a mistake. There was actually a third war underway - the one Bush called "the global war on terror" that President Obama re-focused as the "war on al Qaeda." This is the one that people either didn't want to acknowledge or has been discussed as if it was all about civil liberties (i.e., targeted drone strikes) instead of war.

Because so few people have talked about this war on al Qaeda, the strategy announced by President Obama to degrade and destroy ISIS is too often discussed as if it was a re-engagement of the war in Iraq. The President has been clear that it is not.
I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.
This explains why, within the Obama administration, there has been some confusing rhetoric over whether this is a "counterterrorism campaign" or a "war." Back in May 2013, President Obama suggested that it was time to get ourselves off a "war footing" when it came to dealing with terrorism.  He even suggested that Congress should revisit the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that provides the president with the authority to wage war on al Qaeda. He said that it was time to end the indefinite war and develop  an ongoing counterterrorism strategy.

I am struck by how closely his remarks last week resemble what he said last year. For example, here's what he said about the nature of the threat back then:
So that’s the current threat -- lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates; threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad; homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We have to take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11.
And here's what he said last week:
Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. And that’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge. 
His references to "before 9/11" are an attempt to get us out of a fear-based mode with regard to an examination of the current threats. Meanwhile, folks like Sen. Lindsay Graham are doing everything they can to stoke irrational fears to keep the indefinite war going.

The Obama administration has always been clear that they have the authority to wage a "war on al Qaeda" (and its affiliates) based on the 2001 AUMF. Cass Sunstein made the argument that this is the authority President Obama has to wage war on ISIS, for those who missed the fact that the President identified them as a "formerly al Qaeda affiliate" in his statement last week.

But here's what bothers me about all of that. Until Congress grapples with developing an ongoing counterterrorism strategy that respects the separation of powers (the way President Obama asked them to do back in May 2013), any president going forward will have the authority to wage this as an indefinite war.

This is exactly why I've been so frustrated with the way the left has mischaracterized the current situation (focusing on questions about civil liberties instead of war) and avoided taking a position on these difficult questions. And now pundits and journalists are all over the map in misunderstanding the core questions involved.

I suspect that President Obama is no more optimistic than I am that Congress will take up these questions in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, it rests on his shoulders to develop a strategy to deal with ISIS. But I am seriously concerned about the baton he'll be passing on to his successors.
So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

President Barack Obama, May 2013

Monday, September 15, 2014

"This is something that even ISIS cannot stop"

The article below about how President Obama plants the seeds of hope was inspired by an article I read yesterday titled: Arab World's Relentless Crises Boost Citizen Journalism & Freedom of Expression as TV Ratings & Film Box Office Rise (hat tip to @AlanMandel).
“The only revolution that has really succeeded since the start of the Arab Spring is that of freedom of expression,” says Syrian producer Orwa Nyrabia. “This new generation is so motivated to engage creatively through writing, film, music, cartoons. This is something that even ISIS cannot stop.”...

Nyrabia, who was imprisoned by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces following the start of the Syrian revolution, has been at the forefront of the rise in citizen filmmaking and journalism by those who refuse to be beaten into silence by the extremists. He co-produced Return To Homs, which won the Sundance World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for documentary earlier this year, as well as Silvered Water, Syria Self Portrait.

Both films exemplify the huge number of documentaries and short form content now being produced from areas virtually inaccessible to many mainstream journalists.

Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, for example, was co-directed by exiled Syrian filmmaker Oussama Mohammed and young Kurdish activist Wiam Simav Bedirxan. The film was crafted from thousands of hours of footage secretly filmed by Bedirxan while under siege in Homs, and edited by Mohammed in Paris. The finished film received its world premiere in Cannes and its North American premiere at Toronto.

All of this is enough to remind you of Orson Welles’ quip in The Third Man about terror, warfare, murder and bloodshed in Italy under the Borgias giving us the Renaissance — while 500 years of democracy and peace in Switzerland gave us the cuckoo clock.
Here is a clip from the documentary Return to Homs:

I guess it should come as no surprise to all of us that our "cuckoo clock" media can only tell us about the horrors of ISIS and have missed the much more interesting story that's been captured here by Ali Jaafar - who covers the region's TV and film industries - and the artists/journalists he introduces us to.

If we were to learn more of this story, we might realize that its not all about us...its mostly about them.

President Obama plants the seeds of hope

Here is one of my favorite quotes of all time from Rubem Alves.
What is hope? It is the presentiment that imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks. It is the suspicion that the overwhelming brutality of fact that oppresses us and represses us is not the last word. It is the hunch that reality is more complex than the realists want us to believe, that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual, and that, in a miraculous and unexpected way, life is preparing the creative events which will open the way to freedom and to resurrection.

But, hope must live with suffering. Suffering, without hope, produces resentment and despair. And hope, without suffering, creates illusions, naiveté, and drunkenness. So, let us plant dates, even though we who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see.
I am reminded of that quote when I realize that wherever President Obama goes around the globe, he always makes sure to address young people. It is clear that in them, he sees the seeds of hope that will outlast his time on the international stage. Here are just a few examples of what he's had to say.

Cairo, Egypt 2009
The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek -- a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort -- that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There's so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country -- you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2011
But for our two nations, for the United States and Brazil, two nations who have struggled over many generations to perfect our own democracies, the United States and Brazil know that the future of the Arab World will be determined by its people.

No one can say for certain how this change will end, but I do know that change is not something that we should fear. When young people insist that the currents of history are on the move, the burdens of the past can be washed away. When men and women peacefully claim their human rights, our own common humanity is enhanced. Wherever the light of freedom is lit, the world becomes a brighter place.

That is the example of Brazil.
University of Cape Town, South Africa 2013
Madiba’s words give us a compass in a sea of change, firm ground amidst swirling currents. We always have the opportunity to choose our better history. We can always understand that most important decision -- the decision we make when we find our common humanity in one another. That’s always available to us, that choice.

And I've seen that spirit in the welcoming smiles of children on Gorée Island, and the children of Mombasa on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast. That spirit exists in the mother in the Sahel who wants a life of dignity for her daughters; and in the South African student who braves danger and distance just to get to school. It can be heard in the songs that rise from villages and city streets, and it can be heard in the confident voices of young people like you.

It is that spirit, that innate longing for justice and equality, for freedom and solidarity -- that’s the spirit that can light the way forward.
Jerusalem 2013
We bear all that history on our shoulders. We carry all that history in our hearts. Today, as we face the twilight of Israel’s founding generation, you -- the young people of Israel - must now claim its future. It falls to you to write the next chapter in the great story of this great nation.

And as the President of a country that you can count on as your greatest friend - I am confident that you can help us find the promise in the days that lie ahead. And as a man who’s been inspired in my own life by that timeless calling within the Jewish experience -- tikkun loam - I am hopeful that we can draw upon what’s best in ourselves to meet the challenges that will come; to win the battles for peace in the wake of so much war; and to do the work of repairing this world.
Brussels, Belgium 2014
And it is you, the young people of Europe, young people like Laura, who will help decide which way the currents of our history will flow. Do not think for a moment that your own freedom, your own prosperity, that your own moral imagination is bound by the limits of your community, your ethnicity, or even your country. You’re bigger than that. You can help us to choose a better history. That’s what Europe tells us. That’s what the American experience is all about.
President Obama has given that same message numerous times to young people during commencement addresses here in the United States. But he has never articulated it more powerfully than he did at his campaign headquarters the day after his re-election in 2012.

Over the last four years when people ask me "how do you put up with this or that - with the frustrations of Washington" - I just think about you. I think about what you guys are gonna do. And that's the source of my hope. That's the source of my strength and my inspiration.
People who seek positions of leadership simply to fill their own ego needs can only see the results in the "now" of their accomplishments and failures. Real leaders know that it also includes planting the seeds of hope...for the future.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Obama Hugs!!!

According to my twitter timeline, this week Rachel Maddow made a most outrageous statement that CANNOT go unchallenged!

Now...I'll grant you that Michelle Obama might hold the title of "Hugger-in-Chief." But our POTUS is no slouch in that department either. Hence, I come with photographic evidence.

But before we begin, please note that quantity is not the only measure of a world class hugger. Quality matters as well.

With that in mind, let us begin.

And last, but surely not least, we have the hug heard round the world.

So with that Rachel, I'll await your apology :-)

Friday, September 12, 2014

"It's time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe"

Jonathan Capehart thinks there's a national mood of "meh" when it comes to politics and the midterm elections. For all I know, he may be right.

But I also know something else. Leaders don't simply sit back and comment on "meh." They challenge us to get up off our asses and do something. That's exactly what Gov. Deval Patrick did at the 2012 Democratic Convention. His words are as relevant today as they were back them (maybe even more so). Take a listen - especially from minute 3:00 to 8:00.

If we want to earn the privilege to lead, its time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe. Quit waiting for pundits, or polls or superpacs to tell us who the next president or senator or congressman is going to be. We're Americans. We shape our own future. And lets all start by standing up for President Barack Obama...The list of accomplishments is long, impressive, and barely told...With a record like that and a vision that hopeful and powerful, I, for one, will not stand by and let him be bullied out of office. And neither should you.
That's a leader my friends. I don't know about you, but I'm going to listen.

I'm sick and tired of all the nonsense. Its clear that President Obama and the Democrats are prepared to lead and Republicans simply want to divide us with their political games. If we can grow a backbone and get into the long game of change, we can do this! Barack Obama isn't on the ballot this time...we are!

What is war?

I see that Sec. of State John Kerry is getting all kinds of push-back for suggesting the U.S. is not at war with ISIS. The truth is, that word has been bastardized for decades now. I'd suggest that it all started when we embraced the idea of a "Cold War" with the USSR. That gave us the cover for everything from "police actions" in Vietnam to covert military actions all over South and Central America. We pretty commonly refer to our excursion in Southeast Asia as the "Vietnam War." But we don't talk much about the war in Chile, or Guatemala, or El Salvador, etc. The concept of war was further bastardized when the Bush administration launched war on a tactic - the Global War on Terror. But of course, the precedent was laid with war on a commodity - our War on Drugs.

The term "war" carries a lot of weight legally. When Nixon secretly bombed Cambodia during the Vietnam War, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, which has been the subject of a lot of controversy.  But beyond that, there are international laws that govern the conduct of war that don't apply otherwise (i.e., detention of combatants).

I point all this out because in today's world it seems unlikely that we will ever be engaged in war as it was envisioned during global conflicts like World War II. That is a good thing. Referring to the international changes that occurred following the last great war, President Obama said this during his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War...The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.

And yet, a decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states -- all these things have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, children scarred.
That is the face of "war" as we see it today. Most of the legal processes meant to govern the conduct of war - both national and international - are still mired in the past. Since the advent of the Cold War, that has given U.S. presidents a lot of leeway that has often been abused.

I believe that President Obama's speech on counterterrorism back in May 2013 was a call for us to examine much of that. As he said, "We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us." My concern is that we are running out of time for that to happen under the guidance of this president. And I'm not sure I'll trust the next one to take up the effort.

This is precisely why I've been so disappointed in liberals who continue to argue about many of these issues as if it was all about civil liberties. Its not and never has been. Its about war. A failure to recognize that has meant that a lot of liberals have abandoned this debate in favor of the non-interventionist libertarians. And so we see the possibility of a Clinton/Paul presidential contest with Rand Paul to the "left" of Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. That's just idiotic!

If we are going to have a debate about the meaning of war and if/when/where military actions are necessary, liberals need to engage that conversation on the basis of threats and conflicts as they exist today. What would an effective counterterrorism strategy look like? President Obama has suggested that it includes "targeted action against terrorists, effective partnerships, diplomatic engagement and assistance." Are "targeted actions against terrorists" necessary? Are they the equivalent of war? What national and international rules need to be applied to these kinds of actions?

These are all questions we avoided as long as the Bush administration declared a ridiculous "global war on terror" and lied us into invading Iraq. But in hindsight, what would have been the appropriate response to 9/11? And what should we do to prevent it from happening again?

Rand Paul and the libertarians don't have a satisfactory answer to these questions. If we want to challenge the remaining neocons (Republican or Democrat), we need one.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"We have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom"

Up at the top of this blog you'll see a tab titled Ending the Indefinite War. For almost three years now I have been advocating that its time to start talking about ending what George Bush called "the global war on terror" and what President Obama refocused as the "war on al Qaeda." The explosion of ISIS on the scene in Iraq and Syria means that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. And so I'm dealing with my disappointment in having to let that go. But my disappointment is not directed at President Obama. It is focused where it belongs...on ISIS.

Back in May of 2013, President Obama gave a speech that indicated perhaps we could finally start talking about ending the indefinite war. I was ecstatic at the possibility. In my elation, I didn't focus as much on the reality that his speech was really an outline of how we move forward with a rational counterterrorism strategy. And so today I went back and re-read the speech. Its interesting to listen to what the President said about all this more than a year before he announced his plan for military intervention against ISIS. Take a look at some highlights.
Now, make no mistake, our nation is still threatened by terrorists. From Benghazi to Boston, we have been tragically reminded of that truth. But we have to recognize that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11. With a decade of experience now to draw from, this is the moment to ask ourselves hard questions -- about the nature of today’s threats and how we should confront them...

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do -- what we must do -- is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. And to define that strategy, we have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom. 
The President went on to propose a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy. He gave a lot of details, but summed it up here:
Targeted action against terrorists, effective partnerships, diplomatic engagement and assistance -- through such a comprehensive strategy we can significantly reduce the chances of large-scale attacks on the homeland and mitigate threats to Americans overseas.
That has been President Obama's strategy all along. In that speech he invited us to ask the hard questions. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Instead we have had ongoing prescriptions from left libertarians who pretend like we can just ignore the problem and neocons who think every problem can be solved by simply invading yet another country. I believe that last night's speech from the President was an attempt to tamp down the fear so that perhaps we could get in touch with some of that hard-earned wisdom.

To be honest, I don't know if the President has chosen the right strategy for dealing with ISIS. I long for a discussion about what our options are that is based on seeing the situation as clearly as he laid it out over a year ago. Anyone who tells you that Obama's plan is either guaranteed to be a success or doomed to failure don't know what they're talking about. They are simply mouthing the surety of the ideologue.

What I do know is that by the time President Obama has made a tough decision like this, he's weighed all of his options and calculated the possible unintended consequences of each one. As he did when he made the decision to go after Osama bin Laden, he knows that at times like this, the risks of failure are very real and the consequences of that failure could be devastating. But until I see critiques apply the same process to their alternatives, I'll go with the guy who has demonstrated a pretty solid grasp of hard-earned wisdom.