State of the Union

Rebels Running Libya Yet?

This is from Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles’ sketchbook.

This would have been a great illustration to use for Obama’s speech on Monday.  Too bad that historic address was out of date faster than a dead fish begins to rot.

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Have Egyptian Liberals Got a Chance?

From The American Interest comes a useful analysis of Egyptian liberals by Samuel Tadros:

Egyptian liberalism’s goal was always a state-sponsored project of modernization. With this goal in mind, Egyptian liberals were always writing and talking to the one actor that could enforce their project: the state, or more precisely, the ruler. …  [F]ollowing the spirit of the age in the 1930s, it was inevitable that nationalism would lose whatever liberal tone it initially carried and adopt an anti-liberal tone in imitation of the various totalitarian ideologies of the day—initially fascism, then Arab Nationalism, and, lastly and inevitably, Islamism.

The Egyptian liberal project was modeled on France. …  It should thus come as no surprise that the French understanding of the world shaped that of the Egyptian intellectuals. The French Enlightenment became the benchmark and, as a result, its form of secularism became the model. While the Egyptian intellectuals could never follow Atatürk’s footsteps, their ideas were not that different from his. They could never accept or understand religion or the role it plays in the public sphere. In a nutshell, they read plenty of Voltaire and Rousseau—but nary a line from Burke.

This is the historical crisis, and this is also the current challenge. Egyptian liberalism has never been able to find a coherent voice that addresses the rest of the population. …

Also from the AI blog stable: Peter Berger provides a theological and historical overview of Egypt’s Copts.

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Double Standards and Support for Terror

According to a Reuters report, a few weeks ago, President Obama “signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.” It is unclear to what extent such covert support has actually taken place, as White House officials have quickly moved to inject ambiguity to the matter, claiming that no decision has been made on whether to carry out the order. However, if history is any guide, and given the fact that the CIA has already met with rebels on the ground, it seems likely that covert U.S. support of Libyan rebels is already underway.

It has also become apparent that the Libyan rebels we are ostensibly supporting have ties to al-Qaeda, according to Libyan rebel commanders as well as top U.S. officials.

“It’s almost a certitude that at least part” of the Libyan opposition includes members of al-Qaeda, said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA analyst and adviser to President Obama. Riedel said that anti-Gaddafi elements in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi have had “very close associations with al-Qaeda” dating back years.

“I would hope that we now have a good sense of the opposition in Libya and can say that this is 2 percent, not 20 percent,” Riedel said. “If we don’t, then we are running the risk of helping to bring to power a regime that could be very dangerous.”

Leaving aside for a moment the odd fact that the U.S. now officially provides an al-Qaeda affiliate with the material wherewithal to carry out acts of violence and possibly overthrow the government of a North African country, another issue is well worth noting. Read More…

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Donald Trump, Birther

What’s the story behind Donald Trump’s recent flirtation with the birther movement?

Trump last made news with a surprise CPAC speech in February revealing his presidential aspirations, during which he incurred the wrath of the Paul fans in attendance by remarking that Ron Paul “has zero chance of getting elected” — while, of course, Donald Trump, on the other hand, would be a very serious and electable candidate. Perhaps looking to bolster his credibility even further, Trump decided to come out of the birther closet during a recent interview with Good Morning America, in which he remarked:

Everybody that gives any hint of being a birther — maybe — they label them as an idiot… the reason I have a little doubt — just a little … he grew up and nobody knew him. … nobody knows who he is until later in his life. The whole thing is very strange.

Careful observers of the aforementioned CPAC speech might have noted that even then, Trump was hinting at the topic of Obama’s mysterious origins:

Our current President came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere. In fact, I’ll go a step further. The people that went to school with him never saw him; they don’t know who he is. Crazy.

Why is Trump playing to the birther movement? David Weigel offers an answer:

So why bring this up? If Trump is actually running for president, he’s doing it because polling indicates that at least 27 percent of Republicans have doubts about Obama’s origins. There are probably going to be more Republicans primary voters who have these doubts than think abortion should be illegal. So being a Reform Birther is saying you’re in solidarity with state legislators who are demanding birth certificates from the next presidential candidates.

To add to Weigel’s explanation, Trump’s birther move seems like a tone-deaf variation on Newt Gingrich’s strategy of building momentum by latching onto a fringy but highly motivated segment of the grassroots — in Gingrich’s case, the anti-Sharia law folks. Trump’s birther embrace seems like a more iffy strategy to me, but if it doesn’t work, he could always try moon-landing denial.

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Unredeemable Thugs?

At the National Interest blog, Paul Pillar explores the – somewhat expected – musings in the media of regime change in Syria in light of the increasing instability there:

Accelerating unrest in Syria, with the regime scrambling to find some combination of concession and repression to stay in power, has regime change juices in the United States flowing. The Washington Post editorial page says “it is time to recognize that Syria’s ruler is an unredeemable thug—and that the incipient domestic uprising offers a potentially precious opportunity.” Elliott Abrams declares that with regimes “falling like dominoes” in the Middle East, “Syria is next.” He issues a clarion call to rid the world of the “murderous clan” and “bloody regime” of Bashar al-Assad.

Coupled with that are words from Secretary of State Clinton that are all too familiar:

We support the timely implementation of reforms that meet the demands that Syrians are presenting to their government, such as immediately eliminating Syria’s state of emergency laws.

Washington and the establishment media tend to categorize Middle Eastern regimes in two camps: either their autocratic rule smacks of unredeemable thuggery and must be disposed of, or their dictatorial grip on power maintains so-called stability and must be lavishly supported. Apparently Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Pakistan and Egypt (before Mubarak’s ouster) reside in the latter category. Libya, and now perhaps Syria, apparently belong in the former category of disposable regimes.

This sort of framework, of course, leaves us with no third option for non-intervention and – recalling Obama’s own 2006 criticism of U.S. foreign policy — no coherent, principled policy.


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Hunger Strike: Michelin Starred and Biblically Mandated

“Why We’re Fasting,” tops one column of the New York Times oped page today. Something about Lent? Nope, although there is a religious angle. In an odd alliance, Mark Bittman, the NYT‘s food critic, writes that he and Rev. David Beckmann of Bread for the World are on a temporary hunger strike to protest federal budget cuts aimed at food programs:

These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts — they’d barely make a dent — will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now. And: The bill would increase defense spending.

… This is a moral issue; the budget is a moral document. We can take care of the deficit and rebuild our infrastructure and strengthen our safety net by reducing military spending and eliminating corporate subsidies and tax loopholes for the rich. Or we can sink further into debt and amoral individualism by demonizing and starving the poor. Which side are you on?

Bittman seems a tad uncomfortable in his alliance with progressive Christians, concluding that “If faith increases your motivation, that’s great, but I doubt God will intervene here.” But the clerics make a convincing case, as it turns out.

However blind their rhetoric about starvation may be to alternatives that don’t include state intervention — the $30 billion Gates Foundation might be a start — Bittman and his progressive Christian allies are right about one thing: increasing defense spending in a time of supposed austerity makes the GOP look ridiculous.  As Jim Wallis told Time,

If this was really about fiscal responsibility, they’d go where the money was… Every day we’re spending more in Libya than everything we’d like to keep in the budget. That’s turning around the Biblical imperatives and beating your plowshares into swords. You’re not going to solve the deficit with these programs. This is just mean. This is not believing the government should help poor people as a principle.

Whether or not you agree that Biblical imperatives compel Big State intervention, Wallis is right to point to the hypocrisy in the GOP’s ideological attachment to high defense spending and the costs of military intervention abroad. Republicans should stop giving progressives red meat by supporting expensive interventions of one kind over another. Conservatives should step back and reconsider the impact of all interventions led by the state–and then we can have a reasonable discussion about the best way to feed the poor, both at home and abroad.

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Obama Goes to War

In ordering air and naval strikes on a country that neither threatened nor attacked the United States, did President Obama commit an impeachable act?

So it would seem. For the framers of the Constitution were precise. The power to declare war is entrusted solely to Congress.

From King William’s War to Queen Anne’s War to King George’s War to the Seven Years’ War, the colonists had had their fill of royal wars. To no principle were they more committed than that the power to declare war must be separate from the power to wage it.

And Obama usurped that power.

His defenders argue that under the War Powers Act he can wage war for 60 days before going to Congress. But that applies only if the president is responding to an attack or has determined that the nation is under imminent threat.

Had JFK ordered air strikes on the Cuban missile sites, he would have been responding to an imminent and potentially mortal threat.

When Ronald Reagan ordered the liberation of Grenada after Marxist thugs murdered the president and 500 American medical students there seemed in danger of being taken hostage, he acted within the War Powers Act. Some 100,000 AK-47 automatic rifles were found stockpiled on the island.

Reagan again acted within the spirit and letter of the act when he used the New Jersey and carrier-based air to retaliate against the terrorist camps of those who engineered the massacre of the 241 Marines in Beirut and when he retaliated against Libya and Moammar Gadhafi for the attack on U.S. soldiers at the Berlin discotheque.

But before George H.W. Bush went to war to liberate Kuwait and George W. Bush took us to war against Iraq, each went to Congress and got roll-call votes authorizing those wars.

Obama worked the phones to get the approval of 10 of 15 members of the Security Council, but not Russia, China, Germany, India or Brazil. He then sought the benediction of the Arab League, which reveals much about where Obama thinks real moral authority in this world resides. Read More…

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Libya Speech: Obama’s Biggest Buncombe?

Will Obama break all his past records for BS tonight when he gives his speech on Libya at 7:30 pm? (Eastern)

He will be speaking to the most servile audience he could find – uniformed military officers at the National Defense University. The room will be full of people who are owned lock, stock, and barrel by the government. The officers have spent their lives working for Uncle Sam, and they know that a single ill-time hoot during Obama’s talk could end their careers.

Obama is following in the footsteps of George W. Bush, who also used the uniformed officers as stage props for his most deceptive foreign policy addresses.

It is unfortunate that there is not a pervasive backlash against this type of exploitation. There no longer seems to be any BS radar regarding presidents and warring.

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The Outsider’s Insider

Politico profiles Steve Clemons, leader of the heterodox Afghanistan Study Group and blogger at The Washington Note, in a splashy, above-the-fold, front-page feature. Presented as the outsider’s insider, the piece emphasizes Clemons’ conciliatory approach. His “frenemies” at AIPAC call his ideas “out of the mainstream,” but Clemons still refuses to let his allies demonize the Israel Lobby:

… please don’t demonize [AIPAC]. I don’t do it — I just debate issues with them and just don’t want that angle to distract from the bigger policy battles.

Clemons is right to stay focused on policy issues. Too often opposition to the foreign policy consensus descends into drawing horns on the neocons, leading only to easy marginalization. Clemons may not be used to the kind of front-page attention he’s getting today — but let’s hope that it signals that his ideas are not as “out of the mainstream” as his frenemies would suggest.

But perhaps the most interesting bit comes at the end of the profile, with Clemons signaling that he might support a Jon Huntsman presidential bid:

I think Jon Huntsman is terrific,” he said in a recent email. “I do and have talked with him on many occasions. Last met him at his office in Beijing but looking forward to seeing him soon at his new home in Kalorama. He reminds me of Chuck Hagel — and I might support him if he runs. I think he’d make a great president.


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Mark Levin’s Constitution

When Obama decided to go to war with Libya some Capitol Hill leaders in both parties decided to question whether the President had the authority to do so. When George W. Bush was president Obama once posed the same question, stating in 2007: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

The Constitution clearly states that only Congress can declare war and it falls upon the Executive branch to direct that war once declared. The notion that the Commander in Chief, a title designated to the President by the Constitution, can command military action freely without any checks on his power negates not only the letter of our nation’s founding charter but betrays the very nature of American government. In fact, the Founders thought it particularly dangerous to give the President such power, a point James Madison reiterated in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1798: “The constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the legislature.”

Nationally syndicated radio host and best-selling author Mark Levin disagrees with Madison. When members of Congress began to question the President’s authority to wage war without their consent in the wake of Libya bombings, Levin said on his radio program: “I don’t believe in politicizing the Constitution. I believe the Constitution is the rock of this society. So all this talk about the attacks on Libya are unconstitutional because we don’t have a declaration of war, that’s ridiculous. That’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Levin defended his position by saying that not every military action is necessarily full-blown war and said that there are numerous examples of American presidents operating outside of the Constitutional provisions concerning warfare. In his recent column “The Phony Arguments for Presidential War Powers” bestselling author Thomas Woods answers Levin’s latter justification:

This argument, like so much propaganda, originated with the U.S. government itself. At the time of the Korean War, a number of congressmen contended that ‘history will show that on more than 100 occasions in the life of this Republic the President as Commander in Chief has ordered the fleet or the troops to do certain things which involved the risk of war’ without the consent of Congress. In 1966, in defense of the Vietnam War, the State Department adopted a similar line… the great presidential scholar Edward S. Corwin pointed out that (with the exception of John Adams’ quasi war with France in which he did indeed consult Congress, despite portrayals to the contrary) this lengthy list of alleged precedents consisted mainly of ‘fights with pirates, landings of small naval contingents on barbarous or semi-barbarous coasts, the dispatch of small bodies of troops to chase bandits or cattle rustlers across the Mexican border, and the like.’ To support their position, therefore, the neoconservatives and their left-liberal clones are counting chases of cattle rustlers as examples of presidential warmaking, and as precedents for sending millions of Americans into war with foreign governments on the other side of the globe.

Read More…

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