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I Got Your Politics Right Here

Yeah, this is the kind of thing I’m trying to avoid, but I can’t resist.  There’s this right wing blog I check out regularly.  It’s called PowerLine and is run by several guys.  All of them white.  Most of them attorneys.  All of them almost completely unrepentant rightwingers.  A few days ago, as Stephen Colbert was ending his Colbert Report, they posted something about how Colbert was a Democratic Party operative, just trying to further the propaganda machine of the Democratic Party.  They were offended by this, apparently, while not recognizing that Fox News is a shill for the Republican Party that operates 24/7.

So, today, I look at what they’ve got going on and their most current post starts with this nugget:  “By any reasonable standard, the Obama administration has been a train wreck.”

Of course they don’t explain why they think this.  They never do.  It is just a statement that they repeat over and over and over again and their hoards of like-minded readers reinforce it through some of the most offensive statements I’ve read on the blogosphere lately.  And, then, they typically lead into something that is superficial and irrelevant and, ultimately, not Obama’s fault.  Like this most current post — which relates to a CBS report about how Obama is a “foodie” and is “hipper” than other U.S. Presidents.  Note, that this turns into a criticism of Obama when he had nothing to do with the report.  Yes, the report is ridiculous and stupid, but let’s remember that throughout Bush’s Presidency, there were plenty of stupid and ridiculous stuff reported about his habits … like how he cleared brush at his Texas ranch.

I’m curious, then, exactly how they justify the comment.  I won’t find it in any of their posts, unless I patch them all together and try to put the puzzle together.  To read the blog, Obama has failed at … well, everything.   And if you say it often enough maybe it will become true.  Or not.

Here’s what I’d like to do … if any of you reading this blog are more on the right side of the aisle politically, I invite you to submit a post to me explaining what you believe went wrong with the Obama administration.  I will publish your post here, unedited, and then offer a rebuttal.  I promise you a respectful discussion that weighs the merits of this Administration’s actions.  I don’t expect anybody to take up this offer because it has become apparent to me that the WordPress corner of the blogosphere is pretty liberal, but I’m hoping there is somebody out there who reads this who says, “I’ll give it a try.”  I seriously would like to have a conversation on this with somebody.  Anybody game?  Send me an email at mpaxson55@gmail.com.

Neocon Stupidity

After 9/11, I wanted the United States to destroy al Qaeda – not necessarily for revenge or punishment, but for security reasons.  As long as they operated as a viable organization, Americans and the West were at risk.  I believed this knowing that even if we wiped out al Qaeda, there would always be other terrorist groups to fill the void left behind.  This is the risk and cost of a “superpower” spreading its tentacles around the world.  Whether or not we should be doing that is a topic for another day.  For now, it is a reality – we are a superpower and we are everywhere.  Or at least we think we need to be everywhere.  Oh wait, that’s the topic for another day.

I supported the initial stages of our post-9/11 efforts in Afghanistan.  I thought, even though Afghanistan was a country riddled with tribal loyalties and shifting alliances and had gone through more than two decades of near constant war, if we did it right, we could achieve some success and send a message to the world.  We might actually bring peace to a country that seemed so desperately in need of it.  Those initial stages were in some respects brilliant and unexpected.  The use of small numbers of U.S. special forces and relying almost entirely on Afghanis to do the fighting, Taliban and al Qaeda forces were driven out of the country or deep, deep underground.

Unfortunately, things went south almost immediately.  Figuratively, in the sense that the trap for Osama in Tora Bora wasn’t closed and, literally, because the focus shifted to an unnecessary war.  Once Osama escaped, Afghanistan became a quagmire, sucking more and more troops and resources into a situation that was no-win and has remained no-win for more than a decade.  I wonder these days if the Bush Administration wanted Osama to escape and that is also why they never looked too hard for him.  With Osama alive and on the loose, he was a convenient boogeyman to keep the fires of war stoked.  With him dead and al Qaeda on the run, what was the justification for continued war?

And then there was the debacle in Iraq.  A war fought on the cheap, with no clear plan for the aftermath.  Corruption, greed, torture, tens of thousands killed, trillions wasted, a country left in an absolute shambles.

I’m fascinated with the rest of the world.  Not in the sense that I want to travel to far away places and see exotic locales.  Instead, my fascination is with the people and the history and the politics and the dynamics of how countries have been formed and fall apart.  In college, I developed my own minor that was approved by the university — Middle East Studies.  So, you can say that this particular part of the world has been of interest to me for the past 30 years.  After college, I enrolled in a Masters program in International Relations.  I quit after a couple of months because it was too much work to complete while holding down a full-time job.  Went to law school instead.

So, that’s a little bit of background to explain that I’m not uneducated on the matters of the Middle East and international politics.  I don’t claim to be an expert.  Far from it, of course, but I think I know more than the average bear.  Unfortunately, I think I also know more about it than a lot of our policymakers these days.  Let me give you an example.

One of the higher-ups in the Bush administration cited a number of reasons why he thought the last invasion of Iraq would be a success.  One of the reasons given was that there was no history of conflict between the Sunnis and Shias.  Well, yeah, if you only ignore the past 1300+ years of conflict between the two major sects of Islam — all based on a dispute over who should have been the successor to Muhammad after he died.  Anybody who knows anything about the history of Islam knows that Sunnis and Shias pretty much can’t stand each other.

I’ll give you another example.  One I’ve mentioned here before.  Condi Rice, several days after 9/11, publicly stated that nobody would ever have thought that terrorists would use airplanes as weapons.  Yes, sure, nobody would have thought of that.  Except me — every time I get on an airplane, including before 9/11.

There are a whole lot of other misunderstandings and fallacies that provide the foundation for so much that is wrong with our approach in the Middle East.  One giant bugaboo here is our policies with Israel and the Palestinians — but that’s another topic for another day.

Basically, I have done a lot of reading about the Middle East.  Books.  Magazine articles.  Blogs.  A lot of reading.  The area is a mess.  Filled with tribes and clans and sects that earn more loyalty from individuals than any nation can.  And those tribes and clans and sects frequently shift their loyalty to each other depending on the direction of the wind.  In the Middle East, your friend today may be your enemy next week and your friend again next month.  It is simply a dynamic that doesn’t work for how this country does things with its power.

As our effort in Afghanistan bogged down and the Bush turned its attention to Iraq, I opposed the invasion of Iraq from the first suggestion of it.  It was never going to be a winning opportunity for this country because of the demand for lives and resources it would require.  And the simple reality that bringing stability to the country would be next to impossible.

Kind of like Afghanistan.

Way back then I read The Places in Between by Rory Stewart, who is an Englishman who set out years earlier to hike the old trade route that crosses most of Asia, linking it with Europe.  The one part of the road he couldn’t hike was the portion in Afghanistan.  So, as soon as the U.S. invaded and threw out the Taliban, he was there to complete the effort.  He then wrote The Places in Between about his walk through Afghanistan.  If you want to understand why the U.S. will never be able to achieve its objectives (stability, democracy, free markets, capitalism, development, etc.) in Afghanistan read the book.  If you want to understand why the U.S. will never be able to achieve its objectives in Iraq, or most any other Middle Eastern country, read his follow up book, The Prince of the Marshes, about his year in Iraq serving as an English diplomat after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.  There are plenty of other books out there about both countries.  There is a wealth of information about the societies and culture and histories and traditions of these countries and their people that are readable and informative.  And what they all point to is that we don’t belong there in the role we have assigned for ourselves.  It will never, ever work.

I’ll give you an example.  In Syria, one of our putative “allies” is ISIS.  Hard to think that, because ISIS is tangentially linked to al Qaeda.  I say tangentially, because it appears they are going further than al Qaeda, which believes ISIS is too extreme.  They certainly have many of the same philosophies as al Qaeda.  So, ISIS is one of our “allies” in Syria because they are one of the rebel forces trying to drive out Bashar al-Assad, who we have decided is the bad guy.  Meanwhile, in Iraq, ISIS is our “enemy” because they are marching on Baghdad, gobbling up territory, killing thousands, and threatening our “ally” in the form of the Maliki government in Iraq.  Meanwhile, our putative “ally” in combating ISIS in Iraq may just be Iran because Iran is interested in supporting the Maliki government.  Meanwhile, Iran is our enemy everywhere else.

Got all that.

And now, because ISIS is on the march in Iraq, all of the neocons who banged the drums for the last invasion of Iraq are banging the drums again.

The Cheneys.  Notice that both in this video and in their WSJ op-ed piece they propose no solutions but simply attack the President.  (Totally different subject — have you ever seen a former Vice President (or President) attack the sitting President as much as Cheney has in the past seven years?  This is one of those things that I find so repugnant about the current crop of Republican “leaders” — they have no shame and no respect for the institution of the Presidency.  Which is really ironic since they are conservatives and that’s supposed to be one of the principles of conservatism.)

There are all sorts of neocons, like Bill Kristol, John McCain, and Paul Wolfowitz, and others who were behind the foreign policy failures of the Bush Administration who are all ready to do it all over again.  As though the past twelve years never happened.  As though the two wars didn’t bring this country almost to its knees, creating havoc and damage that we are still recovering from and practically bankrupting the country.  No, there were no lessons learned.  We must do it all over again.  It boggles the mind and makes one wonder why they keep beating this drum?  Why are they still given a platform to spread their toxic ideas?  Why would anybody consider their opinion worth anything other than winding up on a toilet paper roll for use later on?

This is one of these things I will never understand.  This idea that somehow power can solve any problem.  And anything that goes wrong in the world must be met with American military might.  Bomb, ground forces, whatever it takes.  Who cares how many more lives are lost.  Who cares how much the cost.  Who cares whether we know the consequences or as President Obama apparently likes to ask, “And then what?”  This is why I still believe that President Obama is the only adult in the room on these issues.  I only hope he stays strong on this.  If he takes action that sucks us back into the quagmire of Iraq, I will no longer support him.  This is a non-negotiable point.  This is where he makes the right decision and not the expedient decision to quiet the opposition.  This is a must.  It is a no-win situation.  It’s cruel and harsh, but as far as I’m concerned if the Iraqis are going to kill themselves, let them.  That’s not my problem, it’s not our problem and there is nothing we are going to do to stop it from happening.  Nor are we ever … EVER … going to stop terrorists, particularly as long as we throw our weight around and use our military to exert our influence in the world.  Soft power will do more to soothe the anger and fear than military power ever will.  It’s amazing how that lesson has never been learned, even after centuries of evidence.

 

 

Why Do I Sometimes Lose Hope

Enough Already (Politics a-coming)

I’ve toyed with this post for a week or so.  Ever since my post suggesting that the PRISM controversy might not be as bad as first thought.  That prompted some rebuttal from a couple of voices I respect.  One, a fellow blogger who, although I’ve never met him, has some solid and worthy views on the subject.  The other, a good friend who is outraged by things such as PRISM and Guantanamo and drone strikes and the like.

I get their frustration.  I get their outrage.  On some level, I share those emotions.  They are idealists.  I am one, as well.  The three presidential candidates who inspired me the most over the past thirty years are Jesse Jackson, Mario Cuomo, and Barack Obama.  Why?  Because as candidates, they were idealists.  As speakers, they were poets.  They could paint pictures with their words and deliver their speeches with such a rhythm and passion that I could actually believe the shining city on the hill might actually be possible instead of the reality of what actually is.

But, I also get this.  Idealists cannot possibly succeed at running a country as complex as the United States in a world that is complex as today’s world.  Even if Barack Obama ran as an idealist, he also realized that fundamental truth.  I believe the single biggest mistake he ever made was to declare victory on that wonderful November 2008 night before the multitudes in Chicago and the millions watching on TV in a way that ratcheted up the idealism of his campaign rather than dialing it down.  Does anybody remember this line from his victory speech back then:

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.”

Change has come to America.  I have heard about this promise so many times in the years since.  I wish he had never said the words or campaigned so vigorously on the idea of change.  The reality is that most candidates do.  That’s part of the schtick.  But people have held him to that promise at a level unseen for any candidates who ran before him.  “He promised change.  Where is it?”  “Where’s the change the President promised?  I don’t see it.”  These are the kinds of statements I here all too often, most often from people who didn’t vote for him and probably never would.  Yes, I also hear the complaints from those who voted for him.  And to all of them I want to say, “Really?  You actually expected him to turn back the rising oceans, to cure cancer, end unemployment, etc.?  To bring about a new civility in our political discourse?  All on his own?  Really?  Are you that stupid?”

Here’s an example of the type of complaint I here:  One of the frequent complainers I hear from is a friend who is a Republican.  He never, ever would have voted for Obama and he detests him.  We spoke a couple of weeks ago.  He accused Obama of lying and flip-flopping and never sticking to a position.  When I asked for examples, he had nothing specific.  He then moved on to complaining that all Obama does is fly around the country raising money for the Democratic Party.  That he just comes out to California to raise money but he doesn’t actually do anything.  And that GWB never did that.  I pointed out that GWB didn’t come out to California because he wasn’t popular here, but I was willing to bet he did plenty of fundraising in other parts of the country.  We just didn’t hear about it living in California.  (Here’s a little bit of proof … http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/republican-party/president-bush-fundraiser-in-c.html)  My point was that this is something they all do, it’s part of the job.  Raise money for the party and the party’s candidates.  His response:  but what about the change he promised.  He was going to change this.  Where’s the change?  My reply:  so, while the other party and candidates are doing this, he’s just supposed to stop?  Really?  And put the Democratic Party at a disadvantage when the other side isn’t willing to make the same change?  Can I repeat myself?  Really?

I’m flummoxed by this.  Change, change, change.  He promised us change!!!!!!

Here’s the deal though.  What Barack Obama has done, if nothing else, since his election, is run this country as a pragmatist and a realist.  If he had operated as an idealist, he would have demanded single payer health care.  And lost just as the Clintons did in the ’90s.  If he operated as an idealist, he would have closed down Guantanamo and been decried as weak.  If he had operated as an idealist, he would have ended some of these programs we are now learning about rather than allowing them to continue … AS THEY HAVE FOR YEARS AND DECADES PRIOR TO HIS ELECTION.  This is the thing that amazes me about the PRISM and Verizon controversy.  I first learned about the NSA’s reach back in the 1980s — when they had access to all forms of communication back then.  People, it’s a reality.  Plus, imagine the outrage if he had ended these programs and six months later we had a terrorist attack on American soil that could have been prevented if he had not done so.  Change can only happen incrementally.   If he had operated as an idealist, we would have had troops on the ground months ago in Syria to prevent yet another human tragedy.  If he had operated as an idealist, we would be in worse shape than we are and many of the successes he has achieved would have never come to be.  If he had operated as an idealist, he would have lost in 2012.  Just think about the things that would be different with a President Romney.  Seriously.  Imagine it and tell me Obama should have led as an idealist.

I would like nothing more than to see an idealist with the vision I have run our country.  That’s impossible.  Better a pragmatist who has the same set of core beliefs, or at least a similar set, than an idealist who could never get anything done.  You want an example of a failed idealist as President … Jimmy Carter.  One of the most decent, intelligent and wonderful human beings we’ll ever see.  But, a horrible President.  I’ll take Obama’s pragmatism and reasoned leadership any day.

What prompted me to finally write this was a piece from Andrew Sullivan’s blog today.  Not written by Mr. Sullivan.  Instead, it is a comment from one of his readers.  A Republican reader, who voted for Romney, defended Obama’s decision to provide arms to the Syrian rebels, even though he, the reader, disagreed with the approach!!  I think it’s one of the best defenses of Obama I’ve seen.  From somebody who doesn’t agree with him.  People should read it every time they get upset that Obama doesn’t go all the way towards the decision they want.  There’s something to be said for the pragmatic middle.  There’s something to be said for seeking incremental improvement.  There’s something to be said for compromise and collaboration.  Obama’s only real “failing” in this regard is that he is serving as President at a time when the opposition has failed to recognize the value in those ideas.

Is Obama perfect?  Of course not.  Have I agreed with every decision he has made?  No.  But I do think he is being held to a different, higher standard than any President before him and I’m tired of it.

You want to know what the alternative is?  Republicans like Bobby Jindal, who was willing to state the following in his never-ending desire to be relevant in the 2016 Republican Presidential race:

Because the left wants: The government to explode; to pay everyone; to hire everyone; they believe that money grows on trees; the earth is flat; the industrial age, factory-style government is a cool new thing; debts don’t have to be repaid; people of faith are ignorant and uneducated; unborn babies don’t matter; pornography is fine; traditional marriage is discriminatory; 32 oz. sodas are evil; red meat should be rationed; rich people are evil unless they are from Hollywood or are liberal Democrats; the Israelis are unreasonable; trans-fat must be stopped; kids trapped in failing schools should be patient; wild weather is a new thing; moral standards are passé; government run health care is high quality; the IRS should violate our constitutional rights; reporters should be spied on; Benghazi was handled well; the Second Amendment is outdated; and the First one has some problems too.

Come on, people.  What do you want?  Adults or petulant teenagers running your country.

 

 

Day #15: A Different National Tragedy

A mistake

Of epic proportions

A shame

A tragedy

Of human making

A blotch

An infection

No antibiotic can cure

A boil

A wound

That cuts deep, too deep

A scab

A curse

On our name

A blister

A rejection

Of our history and traditions

A degradation

A failure

Of moral leadership

As of June 2012, 169 men remained at Guantanamo Bay — with Abu Ghraib, enhanced interrogation techniques, and rendition — one of the four pillars of this country’s shame following the attacks on 9/11.  And, it continues.  My single biggest disappointment with Barack Obama is that he has allowed this to continue.  With the stroke of a pen, he could have closed Gitmo, but he hasn’t.  Imagine being imprisoned for more than ten years, thousands of miles from your home, guarded by individuals who don’t respect you or your religion.  No charges against you, no opportunity to be heard.  Nothing.  No reason to hope.  It’s disgusting.  And more so by the fact it is my country that is responsible.  I don’t care if they are innocent or guilty of whatever it is our country thinks they may have done in the haze of 9/11.  Charge and try them.  Or release them.  Now.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/25/opinion/americas-shameful-human-rights-record.html?_r=0

If you’re interested in more, go to the Wikipedia page and scroll down to the footnotes.  Start reading some of the cited sources.  Or read this from today’s New York Times.

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