Barack Obama

Congress Must Debate the Libya War

The U.S. is now at war in a third Muslim country, according to the "official tally" (that is, counting Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya but not Pakistan or Yemen, for example.) But Congress has never authorized or debated the U.S. military intervention in Libya. (A sharply disputed claim holds that the Pakistan and Yemen actions are covered by the 2001 authorization of military force, but no-one has dared to argue that the 2001 AUMF covers Libya.)

Some will no doubt claim that the President is acting in Libya within his authority as Commander-in-Chief. But this is an extremely dangerous claim.

To put it crudely: as a matter of logic, if President Obama can bomb Libya without Congressional authorization, then President Palin can bomb Iran without Congressional authorization. If, God forbid, we ever get to that fork in the road, you can bet your bottom dollar that the advocates of bombing Iran will invoke Congressional silence now as justification for their claims of unilateral Presidential authority to bomb anywhere, anytime.

Some Members of Congress have strongly objected to President Obama's bombing of Libya without Congressional approval.

On the Democratic side, John Larson, chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, called for President Obama to seek congressional approval. Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Donna Edwards, Mike Capuano, Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, Rob Andrews, Sheila Jackson Lee, Barbara Lee and Eleanor Holmes Norton "all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president's actions" during a Saturday call organized by Larson, the Politico reports.

 

Is David Petraeus a 'Lying Liar' About the Drawdown?

"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" was former non-Senator Al Franken's 2003 examination of the lies and distortions of right-wing pundits and politicians.

Such a book, if it were written today, should certainly include a fair and balanced look at some of the lying liars still running our foreign policy: in particular, at Mr. David Petraeus. (Mr. Franken might not be the best candidate for writing such a book today, given that he voted recently against Senator Feingold's amendment requiring the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as Democratic leaders like Senator Durbin supported Feingold's amendment.)

Harsh words about Mr. Petraeus? Yes. Justified? Absolutely.

Consider: Mr. Petraeus has been leading a campaign of "domestic information operations" to browbeat Congress and the American people to accept limiting the size of, and possibly even a delay of, the drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011that President Obama promised when he acceded to the military's demand for a "surge" of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan last fall.

In a recent interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Petraeus implied that he might recommend against any withdrawal of US forces next summer, causing the White House to reaffirm its commitment to the July 2012 deadline in response, saying, "The date is not negotiable."

 

Bacevich: Vietnam vs. Munich, and Creating an "Iraq/Afghanistan Syndrome"

Campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008, Senator Barack Obama said: "I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place."

But as Andrew Bacevich notes in his new book, "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War," as President, Barack Obama has done the opposite: he has promoted and acted on behalf of the mindset that leads to war.

Most prominently, President Obama has so far missed every major exit ramp for starting to get out of Afghanistan, instead escalating militarily and "doubling down" on "counterinsurgency" in Afghanistan - Vietnam 2.0 - even as the war has become increasingly unpopular in the United States - as it has been in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world. The majority of Americans, three-quarters of Democrats, and three-fifths of House Democrats want President Obama to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. But the White House so far refuses to even publicly discuss such a move, even as it claims to support "Afghan-led reconciliation" with leaders of the Afghan Taliban, which, if real, almost certainly would require a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a key demand of Afghan insurgents.

This is all the more striking as the Administration celebrates the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq, because the centerpiece of the present relationship between the U.S. government and the Iraqi government is an agreement stipulating the total withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country by the end of 2011. That which is now the centerpiece of U.S. relations with Iraq is still mostly taboo for discussion among the "national security elite" regarding Afghanistan: a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Could a "Great Negotiation" End the War in Afghanistan?

A commonly proffered argument against negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan has been: "why should the Afghan Taliban negotiate, when they think they are winning?" For many months, this argument was offered by Administration officials to explain why they would not yet pursue serious negotiations with senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban.

More recently, Administration officials are saying that they have moved significantly.

Newsweek reports:

 

Washington is eager to make [peace negotiations with high-ranking insurgents] happen - perhaps more eager than most Americans realize. "There was a major policy shift that went completely unreported in the last three months," a senior administration official tells Newsweek..."We're going to support Afghan-led reconciliation [with the Taliban]." U.S. officials have quietly dropped the Bush administration's resistance to talks with senior Taliban and are doing whatever they can to help Karzai open talks with the insurgents, although they still say any Taliban willing to negotiate must renounce violence, reject Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan Constitution. (Some observers predict that those preconditions may eventually be fudged into goals.)

The Administration's shift - if real - is tremendously good news for ending the war. But even if this accurately reflects the intentions of the Administration, the arguments made earlier against serious negotiations are still politically powerful, in part because the Administration made them, and will likely be thrown back in the Administration's face by some of its Republican critics if efforts at a negotiated settlement begin to bear fruit. Therefore, these arguments still need to be countered, even if the Administration is no longer making them.

Speaker Pelosi, Put Afghanistan Drawdown On Record with McGovern-Obey

With the House poised to consider the Pentagon's request for $33 billion for more death in Afghanistan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told the Huffington Post she expects a "serious drawdown" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. The House Rules Committee has now approved an amendment for consideration on the war supplemental that will allow Speaker Pelosi to "put her money where her mouth is."

Some folks in Washington who want the war and occupation in Afghanistan to continue indefinitely are trying to pretend there has been no commitment made for a significant drawdown, or indeed any drawdown at all, in the summer of 2011. Speaker Pelosi is in a unique position to weigh in on this question, since the House could put the drawdown in writing when it considers the war supplemental, by approving an amendment introduced by Representatives McGovern and Obey to try to lock in the drawdown.

In Jonathan Alter's book, The Promise, Vice-President Biden told us that we can "bet" on "a whole lot of people moving out" in July 2011. Under pressure, presumably from people in the Pentagon who want a "serious drawdown" in July 2011 to be hostage to "conditions," Biden's people have tried to walk back this statement by saying it was an "offhand comment" made as Biden was leaving an interview.

But if you actually read Alter's text, "offhand comment" is hard to swallow. Here's the paragraph:

 

Reset: Stephen Kinzer's Vision of a New U.S. Relationship with Turkey and Iran

Until quite recently, it seemed that Turkey had a clearly defined role in the Middle East, from the standpoint of U.S. policy. They were the "good Muslims," who were part of NATO, who contributed troops to U.S. wars, and who had good relations with Israel.

In the past few weeks, therefore, some Americans may have been startled to see the government of Turkey seemingly playing a very different role. First, together with Brazil, Turkey negotiated a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran to defuse the standoff over Iran's nuclear program and forestall a controversial U.S./Israeli push for new sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Although the deal was very similar to one proposed by the Obama Administration - and Brazil and Turkey had a letter from Obama encouraging them to press forward with the deal - Obama Administration officials dismissed the deal, and far from being grateful to Turkey and Brazil, made a show of being angry. But instead of being chastened, Turkey and Brazil insisted their deal was good - invoking their letter from Obama to demonstrate their case - and insisted that the U.S. should pursue it.

Halliday Urges Irish-Americans to Defend the Rachel Corrie

Former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday said it was imperative that the Obama administration supported Ireland's call on the Israeli authorities to ensure safe passage for the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie to carry humanitarian aid to Gaza, the Irish Times reports. Speaking by satellite phone from on board the Rachel Corrie, Halliday called on Irish-Americans to lobby the Obama Administration: "We also feel there is a role for the Irish diaspora here, in the US and elsewhere to lobby politicians over this continued illegal blockade of Gaza, which is causing such hardship to the Palestinian people."

Halliday has some experience with this issue, having resigned from his position as UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq in 1998 over the impact of UN/US sanctions on Iraqi civilians.

The issue of the Gaza blockade has tremendous resonance in Ireland, partly because of Ireland's high degree of engagement in international humanitarian causes - John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, who had called on the international community to break the siege by sending ships loaded with aid, is also Irish - but also, of course, because the Irish people have some experience with the consequences for civilians of a colonial blockade.

Regime Change Redux? Reading Tom Friedman in Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo - New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is on the warpath. Not only against his "Great Satan" of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also against Brazil's President Lula and Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan, because they had the temerity to succeed in negotiating an agreement with Iran to try to de-escalate the confrontation between the United States and Iran over Iran's nuclear program without the subsequent approval of Washington. [Apparently Brazil and Turkey had White House approval to try - a week before the effort, but it seems that they did not have White House approval to succeed.]

Friedman claims that a May 17 picture of Iran's president joining Lula and Erdogan "with raised arms" after their signing of a "putative deal" to defuse the crisis over Iran's "nuclear weapons program" [does the New York Times do fact-checking on Friedman?] was "about as ugly as it gets."

If it's literally true that that picture was "as ugly as it gets," then presumably that would imply that it was at least as ugly - if not more ugly - than, for example, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, an invasion which was clearly illegal under the U.N. Charter, as former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan affirmed in 2004, an invasion which likely resulted in the deaths of more than a million Iraqis - and an invasion which Tom Friedman supported, as he explained to Charlie Rose in May 2003:

 

On Helping - If Not On Killing - Is America a Quitter?

When President Obama visited Afghanistan in March, he assured U.S. troops that "the United States of America does not quit once it starts on something."

But according to Sunday's New York Times, it ain't necessarily so. When it comes to combating AIDS in the world's poorest countries, the greatest nation on earth has apparently decided to cry "Uncle."

Clinics in Uganda are turning people away, on orders from the U.S. government. A U.S.-run program in Mozambique has been told to stop opening clinics.

Why? According to lying U.S. officials, we don't have the money to maintain our commitment. Budgets are tight. We had to bail out Wall Street.

But the numbers on offer don't make any sense. Michel Sidibe, executive director of Unaids, says there is a global shortfall of about $17 billion for controlling the epidemic. The expected U.S. share of such a shortfall would be about a third, or $5.6 billion. Meanwhile, Congress is about to be asked to fork over $33 billion in our tax dollars for more war in Afghanistan. This $33 billion would only pay for four months of the war, until the end of the fiscal year, when next year's appropriation will become available.

So on an annual basis, we're being asked to spend almost 20 times more on killing in Afghanistan than it is claimed that we don't have to help stop Africa and Haiti from being decimated by AIDS.

Or, to put it another way: if we could end the war in Afghanistan, then every year we'd save $99 billion compared to the world in which the war continues. We could use $5.6 billion to pay what we owe on controlling the AIDS epidemic, and have $93.4 billion left for domestic job creation, tax cuts, going to the beach, whatever ya want.

AWOL from the SOTU: Peace, Reconciliation, and Debt

On foreign policy, while the President said some good things, he missed key opportunities to say better things. In particular, he missed opportunities to promote reconciliation as an essential way of ending our wars and promoting peace. In speaking about U.S. domestic politics, the President is eloquent in his efforts to promote reconciliation, but he seems to have lost his voice in applying these ideas to our foreign policy.

The President renewed his promise to end the war in Iraq, including his promise to have all U.S. combat troops out by August, and to bring all of our troops home from Iraq. He also said we will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and partner with Iraqis to promote peace and prosperity. But there was a key omission here: the word "reconciliation." Hundreds of candidates have been disqualified from running in the March parliamentary election; Sunni and secular candidates have been particularly targeted. If this move is allowed to stand, reconciliation in Iraq will be imperiled, the civil war could be reignited, and Iraq's relationship with its predominantly Sunni Arab neighbors would be further strained. The U.S. is working to overturn the exclusion; by refering more explicitly to those efforts, the President could have promoted Iraqi reconciliation.