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War-Mongering Romney

June 18, 2012 Leave a comment

[Sorry. I couldn’t find an image of Romney tearing up the Constitution.]

CBS’s Bob Schieffer had a chat with Mitt Romney, broadcast on Face the Nation yesterday. The snippet on Iran got a lot of attention today. Here is that portion’s text, emphasis mine:

SCHIEFFER: Let me turn to foreign policy. Bill Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard this week, says we are reaching the time of consequence in our dealing with Iran on nuclear weapons. He says it is time for the President to go to the Congress and say, “I want you to authorize me to be able to use military force” if that becomes necessary. And he says if the President is not willing to do that, then the Congress should do it themselves. What’s your take on that?

ROMNEY: Well, I can understand the reason for his recommendation and his concern. I think he’s recognized that this president has communicated that in some respects, well, he might even be more worried about Israel taking direct military action than he is about Iran becoming nuclear. That’s the opinion of some who watch this. And so he wants the President to take action that shows that a military Iran, that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.

And I believe it’s important for us to communicate that. I can assure you if I’m president, the Iranians will have no question but that I will be willing to take military action if necessary to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don’t believe at this stage, therefore, if I’m president that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The President has that capacity now. I understand that some in the Senate for instance have written letters to the President indicating you should know that a containment strategy is unacceptable.

We cannot survive a course of action would include a nuclear Iran we must be willing to take any and all actions. All those actions must be on the table.

Scary stuff.

Of course, Romney has no beliefs. He says what he thinks will aid in his election, adding that Obama’s position is the opposite even when they agree. But really — the president is free to act militarily anywhere and any time he wants? (Not that Obama acts otherwise.) And we won’t survive if Iran gets nuclear weapons? As conservative writer Daniel Larison observed this morning,

[Romney] is telling the public plainly that he believes the United States cannot survive a containment policy directed against Iran. It is fair to conclude from this that Romney is delusional (or is pretending to be delusional) and cannot be entrusted with the responsibilities of the Presidency.

The United States survived decades of containing Soviet power. America outlasted what may have been the greatest security threat in our history partly because of a policy of containment. Iran is far weaker than any threat the USSR ever posed. If the U.S. could not survive a nuclear-armed Iran, a President Romney would be powerless to change that. On the other hand, back in the real world, if the U.S. has little to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran and is more than capable of deterring any threat from Iran, there is no reason to listen to anything Romney has to say on this subject.

Romney obviously does not believe war is a last resort, and he clearly doesn’t believe that the Congress has anything to say about attacking Iran. According to Romney, it is something that the President could do tomorrow if he believed it necessary. The Constitution is completely irrelevant to Romney, and so is the consent of the American people expressed through its representatives. No one should have any illusions about how Romney would conduct foreign policy if he is elected.

See also today’s post by Greg Sargent.

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Categories: Politics, War

War and Executive Power

June 12, 2012 Leave a comment

War as a tool to consolidate executive power is an old theme. Still, I was taken by surprise by a couple of passages I read yesterday in Gordon Wood’s review of four books on the War of 1812 and James Madison in the current New York Review of Books. (One of the four, George Daughan’s 1812: The Navy’s War, is featured above.) Somehow, there’s never-ending novelty in the news that there’s nothing new under the sun.

Reviewing the historical background to the US’s declaration of war on Britain, Wood explains (emphasis mine) that

Both Democratic-Republican presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and their Republican colleagues in Congress had strenuously sought to prevent any augmentation of the country’s military establishment. In January 1812 the Republicans in Congress actually voted down any increase in the size of the navy that was to fight the war they voted for six months later. The Republican Party feared military establishments and war-making because these were the means by which governments had traditionally enhanced executive power at the expense of liberty. Indeed, the Republicans seemed to believe that America’s military posed a greater threat to the United States than it did to Great Britain. Armies and navies, declared John Taylor of Caroline, the conscience of the Republican Party, “only serve to excite wars, squander money, and extend corruption.” Even a strong navy, warned a Republican congressman from Philadelphia, might become “a powerful engine in the hands of an ambitious Executive.”

Later in the review, Wood analyzes President Madison’s war record, concluding (emphasis mine again):

The burning of Washington and other defeats, the many misjudgments, the poor appointments, and the bureaucratic snafus all reveal that the War of 1812 was not Madison’s finest hour. He may have been at times a very successful practical politician, but he was not a decider. He was a legislator, not a natural executive; he was someone who sought to persuade, not command. Believing devoutly in republican principles, he was ill at ease in exercising executive authority. He was, as Henry Clay privately admitted, “wholly unfit for the storms of war.”

But in one important respect President Madison redeemed himself. Throughout all the administrative confusion, throughout all the military failures, throughout all the treasonous actions of the Federalists, Madison remained calm in the conviction that in a republic strong executive leadership—the leadership of a Napoleon or a Hamilton—could only endanger the principles for which the war was fought. Unlike the Federalists who during the Quasi-War with France in 1798 had passed the harsh Alien and Sedition Acts to suppress the opposition, President Madison, as one admirer noted, had withstood both a powerful foreign enemy and widespread domestic opposition “without one trial for treason, or even one prosecution for libel.” No subsequent American president has ever been able to constrain the growth of executive power in wartime as much as he did.

Of course, it helps if the president actually has an interest in constraining the growth of executive power. We know Bush didn’t, and now we know that Obama doesn’t. I won’t go on about that again. I’ll just quote the opening from this piece put out yesterday by PrivacySOS.org:

Let’s go back to school for a minute. Remember learning that the United States had three separate branches of government and a system of checks and balances to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful?

Congress could make laws; the president could veto them and propose other laws; Congress could override the president’s veto, control the purse strings and had the sole power to declare war while the president served as commander-in-chief; members of the Supreme Court – nominated by the president and approved by the Senate — could declare a law unconstitutional.

This fragmentation of power was seen at the time the Constitution was drafted as the best way to guard against tyranny and protect liberty.

It’s worth pondering what is left of this system in the post 9/11 world where President Obama has embraced and further enlarged the radical assertion of executive authority handed to him by the Bush Administration.

Has there been any serious attempt by Congress to check rapidly expanding presidential power? No. However bent the Republicans might be on denying President Obama any domestic accomplishments, Congress has largely closed ranks behind a “let the executive branch do it” national security agenda.

Categories: History, Law, War

Righteousness and Goodness

June 10, 2012 1 comment

[Mr. Fish cartoon at clowncrack.com]

I know, I’ve been pushing this drone theme a lot lately (here and here and here). Maybe I should move on. But really. We have a president who insists it’s okay to shoot missiles at people in countries we’re not at war with just because they’re hanging out in the wrong places. It’s even okay to shoot missiles at people in countries we’re not at war with who are US teenagers with no known history of doing anything wrong. That seems worth calling attention to again and again and again.

Mind you, our use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen is still a government secret, even as Obama administration officials talk about it when doing so suits their purpose of projecting an image of resolve and success in the war against al-Qaeda.

Today we find Representative Peter King (from Long Island, and head of the House’s Committee on Homeland Security), in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley, explaining that “I can’t officially acknowledge that we have a drone program.” Yet, he goes on to justify their use:

I wish we could all live in a world where we could hold hands and love each other. The fact is, that’s not reality. We have an enemy that wants to kill us. I live in New York. I lost over 150 constituents on 9/11, and if we can save the next 150 by killing al Qaeda terrorists with drones then kill them.

We have to assume that there’s always going to be an increase in weapons. This has been the history of mankind. That’s why we have to make sure our defense budget is not weakened and that we stay ahead of the enemy.

There’s evil people in the world. Drones aren’t evil, people are evil. We are a force of good and we are using those drones to carry out the policy of righteousness and goodness.

What has it come to when one of the most extreme right-wing, Muslim-hating members of Congress so strongly supports Obama’s undeclared drone war? What would King — an ardent supporter of the IRA — have said if the UK used drones a few years back in Belfast neighborhoods where IRA provisionals were known to congregate?

There’s something to be said for democratic processes and the constitution. I prefer the rule of law to a president empowered, in the name of righteousness and goodness, to judge who’s naughty and who’s nice.

Categories: Law, Politics, War

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

June 6, 2012 Leave a comment

President Obama, that is.

I seem unable to let go of Jo Becker and Scott Shane’s piece in the NYT last week on Obama’s drone policies and now famous kill list. I’ve already written about it twice, here and here. I return to it today to draw your attention to Francine Prose’s insightful post at The New York Review’s blog. (Yes, Francine Prose, famous novelist.)

Prose begins by explaining what draws her to the subject:

After reading the article that appeared under the headline “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will” in the May 29 New York Times, I couldn’t talk about much else. I found myself wanting to analyze it, as one might dissect a literary text, to better understand how it produced its effect on the reader: in my case, shock and awe, tempered by consolatory flickers of disbelief. Like literature, the story resists summarization, partly because the Times reporters, Jo Becker and Scott Shane, employ detail, word choice, diction, and tone to direct and influence the reader’s response without, on the surface, appearing to do so—and to make a familiar narrative seem new.

She then proceeds with the analysis, which I urge you to read. I won’t say more about it. I will only quote the ending, which so aptly captures how President Obama has followed in Bush’s footsteps by trampling on the US as a nation governed by the rule of law. Before quoting Prose, let me mention how astonishing it is that our secretary of state routinely lectures other nations on their need to live under the rule of law.

Let’s see. I’ve just done a google search on “Hillary Clinton rule of law”. Here are the first four hits:

  • A Reuters item from last December with the headline "Clinton: Syrians must oust Assad, move toward rule of law."
  • An Al Jazeerah item from a month ago describing Clinton as having “appealed to Bangladeshis to respect the rule of law.”
  • A post at the Department of State’s official blog on “Strengthening the Rule of Law and Combating Crime.”
  • Another post at the Department of State’s blog telling Liberians that “justice and rule of law is needed to fully move on from its former state of war.”
  • Thank God for our State Department. Maybe Hillary can have a chat with Barack. Speaking of whom, here is Prose’s conclusion (emphasis added by me):

    By the article’s final section, its authors have amassed enough evidence to support a condemnation of the policies they have described. “(Obama’s) focus on strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the Muslim world that he had envisioned. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president. Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents.”

    Aside from the reference to the deaths of innocents, this is primarily a political rather than a moral critique. For that, we need to examine the article’s final line, which continues to resonate after we have set aside our papers. Presumably, pages of transcripts must have been sifted through in order to find (and end with) the following quote from Michael Leiter, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

    “You can pass a lot of laws,” Mr. Leiter said, “These laws are not going to get Bin Laden dead.”

    Get Bin Laden dead? With its execrable grammar, its calculated thuggishness, and, for all that we have been reading about the assumption of personal responsibility, its euphemistic avoidance of what is really at issue (to get dead is not the same as to kill, and it’s never laws but people who get other people dead), the quote suggests a new dispensation in which our government, at the highest level, has given Tony Soprano license to ignore the rule of law and murder actual human beings, some of them harmless civilians. Shouldn’t we feel more frightened than reassured by the knowledge that the leader of our country holds himself accountable for every one of these deaths?

    Categories: Law, Politics, War

    Suspected Militants

    June 3, 2012 Leave a comment

    I know one shouldn’t be surprised that some things never change. Things like, on matters of war, governments lie. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge. It doesn’t matter if the guy lying is the one who promised to end those lying ways. It’s just what governments do. I don’t know why. I just know. A lesson President Obama has done so much to help me learn. I mean, Nixon was a scoundrel. Bush a liar. Obama? Well, nice guy and all, but on matters of war, I’m not seeing much difference.

    Remember General Westmoreland’s light at the end of the tunnel? Well, maybe you don’t. But I do. 1967. The war in Vietnam would be over soon. I was naive enough to believe it. And naive enough a few years later to think our officials wouldn’t be feeding us the same crap again. But they do. Iraq. Afghanistan. Always light. Light at the end of the tunnel.

    Let’s talk about drones. The big news this past week was Tuesday’s NYT article by Jo Becker and Scott Shane about Obama’s kill list and drone policies. I wrote about it that day, quoting the following passage:

    Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

    Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

    This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

    But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

    “It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

    I had intended in that post to draw a link between the February killing of Trayvon Martin and the notion that if you “look” suspicious, that’s sufficient basis for being shot. It turns out the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch made this very point, as well as a point about David Axelrod’s presence in the room with Obama when kill decisions are made:

    This may be the ultimate example of something we’ve seen a lot in the last three and a half years, which we’ll call, “If President Bush did this, liberals would be outraged.” For what little it’s worth, I’m fairly outraged. I do certainly approve of the raid and killing of Osama bin Laden and believe there was a time when al-Qaeda was stronger and more of a threat that these kind of attacks could be justified with solid intelligence.

    But today the harm that’s caused by raining death from machines in the sky down onto far too many civilians — including someone’s son, brother, or father who wasn’t “up to no good” at all — vastly outweighs any good. Righteous anger over the killing of civilians creates new terrorists faster than the killing of any old ones. As for the morally indefensible position that any male killed in such an attack is “probably up to no good,” isn’t the Obama administration saying the EXACT same thing that George Zimmerman said about Trayvon Martin?

    Ponder that for a moment.

    One more revolting thing is the news that a political adviser, David Axelrod, sat in on some of these meetings at which it was decided who would live and die.

    If Karl Rove had done that (which he did, by the way). liberals would have been outraged.

    Drone attacks continue:

    The second U.S. drone attack in as many days killed 10 people in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, intelligence officials said, an incident likely to raise tensions in the standoff between Washington and Islamabad over NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.

    The remotely-piloted aircraft fired four missiles at a suspected Islamist militant hideout in the Birmal area of the South Waziristan tribal region near the Afghanistan border, officials said.

    A drone strike in the same area killed two suspected militants on Saturday.

    [snip]

    The CIA drone campaign fuels anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan and is counterproductive because of collateral damage, Pakistani officials say. But U.S. officials say such strikes are highly effective against militants.

    What are we to think when told that a drone strike killed two suspected militants, or that such strikes are highly effective against militants? Remember, US policy is to count “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.” By definition, our drone strikes kill suspected militants and are effective.

    And, what are we to think when newspapers and news agencies repeat such statements without a comment on government counting policy? It’s bad enough that the government BS’s us. It’s worse that our media follow suit.

    Which brings me to where I started, recalling Vietnam 45 years ago, the phony body counts, the lies. Have we learned nothing?

    Categories: Law, Politics, War

    Change We Can Believe In, XXXII

    May 29, 2012 Leave a comment

    Change We Can Believe In: If We Killed ’em, They Were up to No Good

    Yup, it’s really that simple. You trust our president, don’t you? He’s smart. And a constitutional law scholar. I sleep better, knowing that he’s watching out for us, deciding who should live and who should die.

    Jo Becker and Scott Shane reported in a lengthy front-page piece in today’s NYT about how

    Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. … [He] approves every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

    The article is based on conversations with a long list of past and present administration officials. It paints a largely positive picture of Obama and his drones, but every so often words of caution sneak out. For example (emphasis mine):

    Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

    Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

    This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

    But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

    “It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

    Harper’s Scott Horton, commenting today on this part of the article, observes (emphasis mine again) that

    this is a very important disclosure. On one hand, it clarifies the basis for the CIA’s no-collateral-damage claim. On the other, it puts the drone program on very tenuous grounds under the laws of war. The U.S. military in Iraq, for instance, has previously disciplined officers who issued rules of engagement authorizing the targeting of all military-age males. A person cannot be presumed to be a terrorist simply because he is male, of military age, and happens to be in the same village as some terrorists—he must be engaged in conduct that makes him a combatant. Applied to targeting, this presumption raises serious war-crime issues. As the Times reports, the administration is currently limiting its use to the counting of persons unintentionally killed when a legitimate target has been struck, which theoretically leads only to false information about the number of innocent civilians killed. But the distinction isn’t actually quite so clear-cut: in deciding on a strike, an estimate of collateral damage has to be included. And if all able males are deemed legitimate targets, that process is being seriously distorted.

    Near the end of the NYT article, Becker and Shane pull back from the details to provide a glimpse of the broader implications of our drone wars.

    [Obama’s] focus on strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the Muslim world that he had envisioned. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.

    Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents. With China and Russia watching, the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies.

    Imagine — Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize!

    Categories: Law, Politics, War

    War on Terror at Home

    May 7, 2012 Leave a comment

    [Tom Tomorrow, May 7, 2012 at Daily Kos]

    Yesterday, at CNN’s blog, prominent mainstream journalist and commentator Fareed Zakaria did what mainstream journalists so rarely do: speak truth about our ever growing national security state:

    While we will leave the battlefields of the greater Middle East, we are firmly committed to the war on terror at home. What do I mean by that? Well, look at the expansion of federal bureaucracies to tackle this war.

    Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has created or reconfigured at least 263 organizations to tackle some aspect of the war on terror. Thirty-three new building complexes have been built for the intelligence bureaucracies alone, occupying 17 million square feet – the equivalent of 22 U.S. Capitols or three Pentagons. The largest bureaucracy after the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs is now the Department of Homeland Security, which has a workforce of 230,000 people.

    The rise of this national security state has entailed a vast expansion in the government’s powers that now touch every aspect of American life, even when seemingly unrelated to terrorism. Some 30,000 people, for example, are now employed exclusively to listen in on phone conversations and other communications within the United States.

    In the past, the U.S. government has built up for wars, assumed emergency authority and sometimes abused that power, yet always demobilized after the war. But this is, of course, a war without end.
    So we continue to stand in absurd airport lines. We continue to turn down the visa applications of hundreds of thousands of tourists, businessmen, artists and performers who simply want to visit America and spend money here, and become ambassadors of good will for this country. We continue to treat even those visitors who arrive with visas as hostile aliens – checking, searching and deporting people at will. We continue to place new procedures and rules to monitor everything that comes in and out of the country, making doing business in America less attractive and more burdensome than in most Western countries.

    We don’t look like people who have won a war. We look like scared, fearful, losers.

    I become increasingly convinced that President Obama’s greatest long-term impact on our country is his legitimation of policies on war, surveillance, and privacy that once seemed the aberrant acts of a rogue administration. Rather than winding them down as he disengaged from Iraq and Afghanistan, he has woven them into the fabric of our government.

    At least he exercises his powers wisely and with discretion.

    Categories: Law, Politics, War