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Monthly Archives: March 2011

I asked a few days ago what the president’s goals in Libya are.  I still haven’t really seen a good answer, and I still would like to see one.  There’s a difference, though, in my questions (and the questions of reasonable people) and how the Republicans are attacking President Obama.

They are sticking to the same formula that they’ve been using with health care and other Obama initiatives of attacking the president and his plans, calling him weak and ineffective and his plans ill-conceived.  And then they offer precisely zero alternatives.

And why not, really?  They think it’s worked so far: Republicans took back the House in last year’s mid-term elections.  But it’s actually a cynical way of taking care of the people’s business; it’s causing long-term harm to the nation.  None of that matters, I guess their theory goes, so long as the Republicans take back the White House and the Senate next year.  What’s good for the country doesn’t really matter; Republicans seem to say, just as long as Obama is gone in 2012.

From Dan Balz’s column today:

Prospective Republicans presidential candidates have pounded President Obama this week over his handling of the war in Libya, but there is as much lack of clarity in some of their critiques as they claim exists in the administration’s policy.

With Obama on the defensive over U.S. military intervention in Libya, the potential candidates have joined what is a bipartisan chorus in raising questions about the president’s policy, his consultation with Congress and his explanations to the American people.

The 2012 contenders want Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi out. They want the United States to lead. They are skeptical of the role of the United Nations and the Arab League. They want no protracted engagement. But few have offered anything approaching an exit strategy.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has been accused of flip-flopping on the wisdom of military intervention, which he says is a misreading of what he said and when he said it. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney supports the current mission while saying the president has no coherent foreign policy in Libya or elsewhere. But he hasn’t said explicitly that he would have moved unilaterally with military action or what that would have involved.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty says the decision to implement a no-fly zone may have come too late to save rebel forces from defeat, but he, too, has had little else to say. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin wants a quick and decisive victory and an equally quick withdrawal. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, unlike the others, has been reluctant to criticize the president – or praise him for that matter – since the mission began, but earlier harbored doubts about military intervention.

Palin was the latest to weigh in on the controversy. She spoke Wednesday night on Fox News with host Greta Van Susteren after returning to the United States from a trip to India and Israel.

“As long as we’re in it, we’d better be in it to win it, and if there’s doubt, we get out,” she said. “Win it means Gaddafi goes and America gets to get on out of there and let the people of Libya create their own government, choose their own leader, and America – no nation building. We get out. We take care of our affairs elsewhere.”

That’s simply a scintillating and nuanced analysis – for Palin.

Palin said she expects to see Gaddafi dead, either at the hands of the rebel forces or American and allied forces. “Gaddafi has the blood of innocent Americans on his hands,” she said, referring to Libya’s role in the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, that blew up Pan Am Flight 103, killing 270 people. “He needs to be held accountable for that. Though it happened all those years ago, now’s our opportunity to make sure he is held accountable.”

Yes, Qaddafi was behind the bombing of Pan Am 103.  I was under the impression that he had already suffered some consequences for those actions.  Libya paid $2.7 billion to compensate the families of those killed.  It is an imperfect settlement, but Qaddafi did pay.

Her critique carried an echo of George W. Bush’s unilateralist approach to foreign policy. “America will have failed if we turn over command and control of this mission and the mission of ousting Gaddafi is not fulfilled,” she said. “It will be failure. People across the world look to America to lead on an international affair like this.”

But Palin, like Obama, stopped short of explaining how the United States should extract itself from Libya. Nor did she talk about a post-Gaddafi Libya and the prospects for ensuring that a stable government emerges from the conflict.

Where is her alternative plan?  I don’t expect much from Palin, but if she wants to be president, she needs to grow up and work on her presidential chops.  Honestly, though, she’s a lightweight and doesn’t have much chance at the nomination next year.  I don’t know why so much ink is spilled on her.  I’m still angry at John McCain for plucking her from obscurity and inflicting her on us all.

I expect a lot more from Newt Gingrich, however, who was the Speaker of the House in the 1990s.  But there wasn’t much more substance from him:

Gingrich spent much of Wednesday trying to untangle what appeared to be contradictory statements about military intervention. On March 7, he told Fox News he would implement a no-fly zone “this evening” if he were president. On Wednesday, he told NBC’s “The Today Show,” “I would not have intervened.”

No contradiction, Gingrich said by telephone. He was against military intervention until Obama declared March 3 that Gaddafi had to go. Once Obama made Gaddafi’s ouster U.S. policy, he said, he would have moved quickly with military force to put a no-fly zone into effect and take other steps to get rid of the Libyan leader.

“Prior to March 3, I would have strongly recommended an Eisenhower-Reagan model,” he said. What he meant was a covert effort, largely with help from others in the region, to topple Gaddafi. “You should have said nothing. Be very quiet. Condemn the violence. Do everything you can covertly,” he added.

Once Obama said Gaddafi had to go, Gingrich said, his views changed. “The U.S. is now committed to replacing Gaddafi, and so we had better replace Gaddafi. . . . The president, I hope, understands that he has pitted the prestige of the United States on replacing Gaddafi.”

He said the administration now should be doing all it can to funnel arms and assistance to the rebel forces through intermediaries in the Middle East. He held out the possibility that the current policy will work but argued it still has damaged the president. “If Gaddafi leaves, this will all become a really minor memory,” he said, “but one more memory that weakens the administration.”

Weakens it how, exactly?  And what would a President Gingrich – the very thought makes my skin crawl – do differently?

Romney spoke to radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. “I support military action in Libya,” he said. “I support our troops there in the mission that they’ve been given. But let me also note that thus far the president has been unable to construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy. . . . Without a compass to guide him in our increasingly turbulent world, he’s tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced.”

Hewitt asked: Did Obama wait too long to strike in Libya? Romney answered implicitly. “There’s no question but that his inability to have a clear and convincing foreign policy made him delegate to the United Nations and the Arab League a decision about our involvement there,” he said.

Again, what would Romney have done differently?  If you’re going to be president, don’t you think you’d better be able to come up with different or better ideas?

I’d love the Republicans to come up with some honest ideas and propose them.  We need a strong loyal opposition to have a strong country.  We need honest debate in good faith.  The strong opposition needs to be constructive in its approach.  We can’t have the cynicism that’s common in Washington these days.  Other nations have ceased to exist because of bitter partisanship and infighting in the capital.  I suppose we haven’t learned all that much from thousands of years of recorded history.  Let’s hope someone has read some history before the United States is just a memory, too.  Am I asking too much?

What’s our aim in Libya?  Are we taking sides with the rebels against Qaddifi in what may turn out to be a civil war?  Who, exactly, are the rebels?  Who takes over if (when?) Qaddifi steps down?  What does the end look like?  How will we know when we get there?

There were a couple of interesting pieces on this today.  First, in today’s Washington Post:

“There have been lots of options which have been discussed, but I think it’s very uncertain how this ends,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Mullen, who appeared on five television talk shows, was pressed repeatedly to define the mission and its objectives. “I think circumstances will drive where this goes in the future,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In a briefing for reporters traveling with Obama in South America, National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon said that command would be transferred, possibly to NATO, in “days, not weeks,” and described the goal of the first phase of the mission as “crystal clear.”

“The focus right now was on a direct threat to citizens” of Libya, he said, “in response to requests” from Arab governments and under last week’s U.N. resolution authorizing member states to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. The result of the first phase has been establishment of a no-fly zone that Pentagon officials said now extended from Tripoli in the west to Benghazi in the east, and, as Donilon said, to “prevent what could have been a catastrophe in Benghazi” as Gaddafi’s military forces began a major attack on the city Saturday.

This doesn’t really seem so “crystal clear” to me.  We’re transferring command to some group in “days” and we don’t know who those people will be?  The same article continues:

Lawmakers commenting on the weekend’s events were divided. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said that Obama should seek a declaration of war from Congress and questioned who would emerge in control of Libya. “We really have not discovered who it is in Libya that we are trying to support,” Lugar said said on “Face the Nation.” “Obviously, the people that are against Gaddafi, but who?”

Donilon responded that the administration had made direct contact Sunday with leaders of the Libyan National Transitional Council, the opposition governing body in Benghazi. The opposition leaders said that “actions we have taken have prevented catastrophe there,” he noted.

Okay.  Sounds great.  Are any of these guys that we’ve made contact with any better than Qaddifi?

Josh Marshall in TPM (via Ezra Klein):

No clear national or even humanitarian interest for military intervention. Intervening well past the point where our intervention can have a decisive effect. And finally, intervening under circumstances in which the reviled autocrat seems to hold the strategic initiative against us. This all strikes me as a very bad footing to go in on.

And this doesn’t even get us to this being the third concurrent war in a Muslim nation and the second in an Arab one. Or the fact that the controversial baggage from those two wars we carry into this one, taking ownership of it, introducing a layer of ‘The West versus lands of Islam’ drama to this basically domestic situation and giving Qaddafi himself or perhaps one of his sons the ability to actually start mobilization some public or international opinion against us.

I can imagine many of the criticisms of the points I’ve made. And listening to them I think I’d find myself agreeing in general with a lot of it. But it strikes me as a mess, poorly conceived, ginned up by folks with their own weird agendas, carried out at a point well past the point that it was going to accomplish anything. Just all really bad.

There’s no doubt that Qaddifi is delusional and is a menace to his own people.  To me he’s worse than Saddam Hussein was.  I don’t think there’s much debate on whether Qaddifi is a bad guy.  He is.  But so what?  What is in our national interest to intervene here when we don’t intervene in other places in the world (Darfur comes immediately to mind)?

I read a story on the congressional hearings on Muslims in America that are planned by Rep. Peter King (R-NY).  I have a real problem with these hearings.  Not that there aren’t radical Muslims here that wish America ill, but there are many other people who wish us ill, too.  At best, these hearings are myopic.  At worst, they’re a calculated attempt to smear an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.  And there are some real constitutional issues here, too.

The first thing that jumps out is the First Amendment.  Congress has absolutely no business sticking its nose into religion in any way.  Singling out one group whose common characteristic is religion is wrong and can’t be allowed to pass without comment.

Many people are commenting, of course.

Eugene Robinson:

King has decided to investigate Islam.

A Republican from Long Island in his 10th term, King seems untroubled that the freedoms of religion and association are guaranteed by the Constitution. His public exercise in Islamophobia, scheduled to begin Thursday, can do no good – and much harm.

The legitimate-sounding goal of this exercise, King explained Sunday on CNN, is to investigate “self-radicalization going on within the Muslim community” and the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism. Who doesn’t want to uncover al-Qaeda sleeper cells? Who doesn’t want to do everything that is possible – and legal – to prevent terrorist attacks?

But King further alleges that Muslim Americans have failed to demonstrate “sufficient cooperation” with law enforcement in uncovering potential terrorist plots. With this libel, King casts doubt on the loyalties of millions of Americans solely because of their faith. This is religious persecution – and it’s un-American and wrong.

Richard Cohen:

King is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. On Thursday, he will inaugurate hearings into something or other. Their official title is “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.” The last part – “that community’s response” – is already clear when it comes to King. The Muslim American community has taken umbrage and has demonstrated its outrage in, among other places, King’s Long Island district. King thinks it is being overly sensitive.

King is setting a dangerous precedent. The government has no business examining any peaceful religious group because a handful of adherents have broken the law. If it did, it would be past time to look into the Roman Catholic Church, which clearly was – or maybe still is – concealing the sex crimes of priests and others. The organization BishopAccountability.org reports that “perhaps more than 100,000 children” have been sexually abused since 1950 by Catholic clergymen of one sort or another. Nearly 6,000 priests have been accused of abuse – 5.3 percent of the total active in that period. Almost none of them had a day in court, and in many cases their crimes were covered up and the offenders allowed to go on their merry way.

Congress, though, has not investigated the church, and you can bet your 401(k) it will not. The church is politically powerful and, anyway, we have a very fine tradition in this country of government keeping its nose out of religion.

In the case of the Muslim American community, there is no evidence of any centralized conspiracy involving terrorism or that Muslims are any less appalled and opposed to terrorism than non-Muslims. Not a single government official has suggested otherwise and whatever (insignificant) information is produced by these hearings will be hugely offset by the comfort they provide anti-Muslim bigots. A political insane asylum has formed in America organized around the mad conviction that President Obama is a Muslim and not therefore a real American.

This is the real damage King does. Inherent in his rhetoric and his insistence on holding his hearings is the insinuation that Islam is not American. This, of course, is what some people once thought of Roman Catholicism. The aptly named Know Nothing movement of the mid-19th century was organized around such sentiment.

Terrorism remains a threat and there is such a thing as Islamic terrorism – or, to put it another way, terrorism conducted in the name of Islam. In this country, much of the internal threat comes from a very small number of addled young men whose incompetence is often just plain awe-inspiring. They no more represent the American Muslim community than some randy priest does Peter King. As low as the standard is, Congress has better things to do.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA):

[S]omething similarly sinister is returning to our country. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is organizing congressional hearings on Muslim Americans. These hearings are scheduled to take place within the House Homeland Security Committee.

Rep. King’s intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia. By framing his hearings as an investigation of the American Muslim community, the implication is that we should be suspicious of our Muslim neighbors, co-workers or classmates solely on the basis of their religion.

This should be deeply troubling to Americans of all races and religions. An investigation specifically targeting a single religion implies, erroneously, a dangerous disloyalty, with one broad sweep of the discriminatory brush.

This is an extremely dangerous precedent.  Singling out a group of people is wrong on so many levels that I don’t really know where to start.  There’s religion and constitutionality.  This reminds me of McCarthyism and the search for activities that he (Senator McCarthy) deemed un-American in some way.  Peter King seems to be doing the same thing with his investigation into Islam.  Cohen is right in his view that this will provide a huge amount of fodder for the bigots in our country.  They don’t need any more excuses.  No one denies that radical Islam exists.  But there are radical groups all over the country that need to be looked at.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to investigate domestic terrorism.  But when you pin it all on one group, that’s a problem.  Who’s next, if this is allowed to stand?  Jews?  Gays?  Roman Catholics?  We’ve seen the slippery slope in our country with McCarthy’s excesses.  History repeats itself over and over.  It can’t be allowed to again in this case.

I started this blog because it’s a ridiculous world, especially in politics.  I drive my family nuts when I start talking about this stuff, so I decided that I’d inflict my views on the blogosphere.  And where better to start, really, than with John Boehner’s move to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

A week or so after the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend DOMA in court (even though he is still enforcing the law), our Speaker of the House — Boehner — says that never fear, he’ll defend it.  This, of course, keeps the Republicans squarely in the 1950s.  Whatever moves they make to join the 21st century they are dragged, kicking and screaming into the future.

[Nancy] Pelosi said in a statement that Boehner’s move placed Republicans “squarely on the wrong side of history and progress” and would likely cost the House hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

“President Obama took a bold step forward for civil rights and equality when he announced that the federal government would no longer argue to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act in court,” Pelosi said. “I oppose Speaker Boehner’s effort to put the House in the position of defending this indefensible statute.”

It will probably lose, too.  Ted Olson and David Boies have done a great job eviscerating Proposition 8 in federal court.  And it should lose, too.

It’s ridiculous (I think this could be a theme on this blog) that another person would give a damn about who other people sleep with, love, or want to spend their lives with.  I really wonder when people will live and let live, and stop worrying so much about what someone else does.  Same-sex relationships have nothing to do with anyone else’s relationship.  None.  And spare me the rhetoric that a same-sex marriage somehow debases other people’s marriages.   It’s simply not true.

And I didn’t even get into the whole think with Mike Huckabee taking a shot at Natalie Portman for being an unwed mother.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this as I go forward in this blog.

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