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Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

Obama’s Impossible Choices on Iraq

June 16th, 2014

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Iraq was a bold U.S. experiment in nation-building. It turned out to be a flop.

That’s what we’re learning as we watch what the United States achieved there evaporate after nine years of war, after nearly 4,500 Americans were killed, 32,000 wounded and $800 billion in U.S. taxpayer money spent.

When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, he expressed contempt for nation-building. It was a point he made in rally after rally. “I’m worried about the fact I’m running against a man,” Bush said, “who uses ‘military’ and ‘nation-building’ in the same sentence.”

But what were U.S. troops doing in Iraq four years later if not nation-building?

The U.S. military can do many things supremely well. They are all military things — like fighting wars, repelling invasions and providing security. But nation-building — the task that devolved upon them in both Iraq and Afghanistan — is political, not military. And politics is not something the military can do very well. Nor should anyone expect it to.

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A Blank Slate, Not a Blank Check

May 22nd, 2014

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Sixty words have defined the last 13 years. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Congress voted overwhelmingly to give the president broad authority to use force against those who had attacked us. But those 60 words, known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, have been in effect for far longer, in more places, and invoked against more groups than anyone could have suspected in 2001. After bin Laden’s death and with the war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, now it is time to revisit the AUMF.

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‘Back to the Future’ Foreign Policy

April 11th, 2014

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The 1980s are all the rage once again—from neon clothes to Robocop and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even America’s 1980s foreign policy is back in fashion amongst Neo-Cold Warriors longing to return to the Reagan era.

President Barack Obama quipped to Mitt Romney during the 2012 election that, “The 1980s called—they want their foreign policy back,” and he’s giving the military more money, even adjusted for inflation, than President Ronald Reagan ever did. But, the Neo-Cold Warriors still can’t abandon their Reagan nostalgia, especially after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, which has led some to ask “Was Mitt Romney right about Russia?”

Obama’s military outspends Russian President Vladimir Putin’s by more than seven to one. Yet, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.,) rails against the president because, “For decades, defense spending made up roughly 50 percent of the federal budget. Today, it’s just 18 percent.” While ignoring the fact that defense spending hasn’t made up more than 50 percent of the federal budget since we put a man on the moon, Ryan is also concerned about the decline in defense spending as a percentage of GDP. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., similarly bemoans the fact that America’s defense spending falls short of the 6% percent of GDP it was under Reagan, and The Wall Street Journal claims that by this metric Obama will leave his successor a “weaker” country than he inherited.

Whether or not you think the current level of spending is sufficient, defense spending as a share of GDP measures militarization of our society, but that does not necessarily mean strength.  Applying Reagan’s magic percentage today ignores changes in our economy, the threat environment and our capabilities.

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With friends like these…

September 16th, 2013

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Democrats got three surprises last week.

One was that the party would not hold together behind President Obama’s call for a military strike in Syria. Another was that Democrats in Colorado did not rally to the cause of gun control. The third was that New York Democrats have come up with an unexpected new spokesman for urban America.

What do the three surprises add up to? The fact that the New America coalition that President Obama brought to power is ready to set out on its own, independent of Obama.

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Americans Tire of ‘World Police’ Role

September 9th, 2013

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President Obama is trying to pull off a difficult political feat. He is asking Congress to defy public opinion. When Congress is heedless of public opinion, there is always a political price to be paid.

Case in point: the Senate vote to ratify the Panama Canal treaties in 1978. Many years later, President Jimmy Carter called it “the most courageous decision in the history of the U.S. Congress.” And what happened? The public rose up. The issue energized conservatives. Ronald Reagan made the canal his signature cause. His rallying cry: “We built it. We paid for it. It’s ours. And we’re going to keep it.”

The Senate ratified the treaties by a one-vote margin in 1978. And then? Here’s how former President Carter tells the story: “There were twenty senators who voted for the treaties up for re-election in 1978. Only seven of them came back to the Senate the next year.” Another twelve treaty supporters were defeated in 1980, including Democrats Frank Church of Idaho, Birch Bayh of Indiana and George McGovern of South Dakota. Not to mention President Carter himself.

On Syria, public opinion could not be clearer. Americans strongly–and loudly–oppose a military strike. Unfortunately for President Obama, the issue came up when Members of Congress were on their summer recess, most of them in their home districts. Constituents had access to their Representatives. And the Representatives got an earful. Rep. Tom Cole (R-S.C.) told the New York Times, “I literally cannot walk across the parking lot without being stopped to talk about this issue.”

“To say it’s 99 percent against would be overstating the support,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) told the Times. The Washington Post reported this message on the Facebook page of Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.): “The American people DO NOT WANT to get involved in Syria. Are you listening? We will not forget who votes for this garbage.”

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) warned his colleagues in a tweet, “If you’re voting ‘yes’ on military action in Syria, might as well start cleaning out your office. Unprecedented level of public opposition.”

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Obama Pilots Drone Policy Through Political Headwinds

May 28th, 2013

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During the 2004 campaign, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, made this statement to the New York Times Magazine:

“We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives but they’re a nuisance. As a former law enforcement person, I know we’re never going to end prostitution. We’re never going to end illegal gambling. But we’re going to reduce it … to a level where it isn’t on the rise. It isn’t threatening people’s lives every day. It’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life.”

Republicans instantly denounced Kerry’s statement as “a pre-9/11 view of the world.” President George W. Bush said at a campaign rally, “Senator Kerry talked of reducing terrorism to a, quote, ‘nuisance,’ and compared it to prostitution and illegal gambling. I couldn’t disagree more. Our goal is not to reduce terrorism to some acceptable level of nuisance. Our goal is to defeat terrorism by staying on the offensive.”

The Bush-Cheney campaign ran a television ad attacking Kerry for saying that defeating terrorism was “more about law enforcement than a strong military.” The ad concluded, “How can Kerry protect us when he doesn’t understand the threat?”

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