Critiquing Andrew Sullivan’s Critique of Critiques

Andrew Sullivan has written a long piece for the magazine version of Newsweek responding to the prevailing critiques of Obama from both the right and left. He charges that the criticisms aren’t just “out of bounds” but “simply – empirically – wrong”.

First, I will say something nice. I think his critique of the right is pretty good. The notion that Obama is some left-wing ideologue dragging the country kicking and screaming into a socialist dystopia is so at odds with reality that it doesn’t even merit a response, but Sullivan somehow finds the energy to give it one. That he can do it without even once using the word “moron” is probably a credit to his character.

His response to the left’s criticisms of Obama’s domestic policy also seems pretty much right. As Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, and the rest of the Beltway Brain Trust will tell you over and over again (whether you actually want them to or not) is that Barack Obama can’t legislate by fiat and he can’t give a speech that will magically produce 60 votes in the Senate. (Note: I am leaving aside the question of whether he should give more forceful speeches anyway, use the bully pulpit, etc.) And, even, leaving that aside, I am not a good water bearer for this set of critiques. I am skeptical of the power of stimulus and somewhat lukewarm on the bailouts. Should middle class mortgage-holders have gotten some kind of bailout of their own? Of course, but that doesn’t mean the banks shouldn’t also have.

Don’t get me wrong. I do hate Obama’s style. I think he has badly misread the moment, and his persistent need to seek compromise and bipartisanship with Congress has been a real tactical error. The way he almost completely caved during the debt ceiling negotiation was infuriating, but ultimately it seems to have done little real damage to the country. It remains the case that a more forceful Obama would make the left feel better but probably would not accomplish much more in advancing liberal policy goals.

Now, enough being nice. Sullivan seems to realize that his case against the left’s foreign policy argument is not very strong. Here is the entirety of his position (in a four-page article):

 Yes, Obama has waged a war based on a reading of executive power that many civil libertarians, including myself, oppose. And he has signed into law the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial (even as he pledged never to invoke this tyrannical power himself). But he has done the most important thing of all: excising the cancer of torture from military detention and military justice. If he is not reelected, that cancer may well return. Indeed, many on the right appear eager for it to return.

The two things he mentions are bad enough (even without noting that we shouldn’t have to rely on the president’s benevolence in not enforcing laws that shouldn’t exist in the first place). Illegal wars and indefinite detention were, after all, two of the things the left (and Sullivan) spent most of the Bush administration screaming about!

What’s worse is what Sullivan ignores. Authority to unilaterally assassinate US citizens? Secret drone strikes – and the resulting “collateral damage” – without any consultation with the American people about exactly how they serve our strategic interest? And, while it’s not precisely foreign policy, I’m throwing the massive ramp-up (to record annual levels) of deportations in here too. This is not a record that any liberal should be proud of, even if we imagine a hypothetical long game of eleven dimensional chess (meep meep).

I don’t really begrudge anyone who chooses to support Obama in the upcoming election because he’s the lesser of two evils. That he is better than Romney is unequivocally the case. (Nor, to be fair, do I begrudge anyone who supports Romney because he’s the more conservative candidate. That is also the case, even once we leave off this nonsense about Obama’s secret socialist plans to bankrupt the universe.) I do begrudge liberals who support Obama without an honest assessment of just how much of a disaster his foreign policy has been for liberalism.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

174 thoughts on “Critiquing Andrew Sullivan’s Critique of Critiques

  1. The notion that Obama is some left-wing ideologue dragging the country kicking and screaming into a socialist dystopia is so at odds with reality that it doesn’t even merit a response,

    And yet if you listen to the Big Fat Druggie, or any of his morning Hate Radio imitators, that’s the phrasing and epithet they seem to keep repeating over and over again.

     that Barack Obama can’t legislate by fiat and he can’t give a speech that will magically produce 60 votes in the Senate.

    And equally amusing is that when Obama does what CAN be done by policy change and executive order, under existing powers of the Presidency that have been used before by Bush, Clinton, Other Bush, Reagan, or even going back as far as FDR, the brainless right wing monkeys scream “uprecedented power grab! he’s a socialist!”

    Authority to unilaterally assassinate US citizens?

    Long discussion to be had here, and your attempt to boil it down to a sound bite is just plain dishonest. If you look at the record, we’re talking about a process with checks and checks and balances and more checks at every level of vetting. The only people to make it through this process and see the order to take them out are those actually planning, organizing, and ordering attacks themselves. I wrote a long response to someone else on this topic just a few minutes ago in another thread.

    Secret drone strikes – and the resulting “collateral damage” – without any consultation with the American people about exactly how they serve our strategic interest?

    “Secret drone strike” – different from a “secret” missile strike, or a “secret” bombing run, or a “secret” SEAL team attack, how? Because it’s a drone? Because it’s a military objective being taken out? Because the terrorists are using human shields in violation of the Geneva Conventions? You’re going to whinge about it despite IV.28: ” The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.” I can’t stop you from whinging on, but I can point out your dishonesty in doing so.

    And, while it’s not precisely foreign policy, I’m throwing the massive ramp-up (to record annual levels) of deportations in here too. 

    And again, the “massive ramp-up” that you so decry is the result of doing what Obama SAID he would do, changing the focus and shifting the resources away from what the Racist GOP wants (the “great wetback roundup”, to quote one local racist GOP asshole) to actually deporting those who have not just violated immigration law, but committed serious crimes in the US.

    I don’t really begrudge anyone who chooses to support Obama in the upcoming election because he’s the lesser of two evils.

    It’s always the lesser of two evils. What I’m tired of is all the rank dishonesty from people like you.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Is it your contention that I would support bombing Yemen if we used long-range missiles instead of drones?

      actually deporting those who have not just violated immigration law, but committed serious crimes in the US.

      Talk about dishonesty.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Is your objection the military strikes themselves, or the fact that they were done by drones? Because you specifically singled out the drones. Now you’re trying to backpedal.

        As for the deportations question – the focus on deportations under Obama is those who commit crimes beyond immigration law violations. You’re the one being dishonest, as the Obama administration’s policies have done EXACTLY what he said he would do. He’s instructed DHS to prioritize actual criminal offenders, and defer or work with options for those who have family ties or an ongoing education commitment in the US. Meanwhile, the Racist GOP are trying to implement the “great wetback roundup” (actual quote from one of the Racist GOP members of the state House), and are attacking Obama for doing what he can policy-wise while refusing to even negotiate on a plan to fix the broken immigration system and implement sane border control measures.

        YOU are the one being dishonest, blatantly so.

          Quote  Link

        Report

    • If you look at the record, we’re talking about a process with checks and checks and balances and more checks at every level of vetting.

      So we don’t kill anyone until they’re duly convicted of a crime, in open court, by a jury of their peers, after having access to counsel, ability to call and cross-examine witnesses, and all the rest?

      That’s not what the bill says we do.  Not anymore, not if President Romney says so!

       

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • So we don’t kill anyone until they’re duly convicted of a crime, in open court, by a jury of their peers, after having access to counsel, ability to call and cross-examine witnesses, and all the rest?

        You’re leaving out the part where they are an active commander of enemy military forces. This is a phenomenon created partly by advances in travel and communication today – during WW2, you never expected a US citizen to turn out to be living in Germany as a military commander under the Third Reich. It’s also created partly by the nature of al Qaeda and the Islamic political system, which is its own entity devoid of borders and willing to recruit from any country in which fundamentalist Muslims can be found. By the same token, during WW2, there’s every possibility that a military strike could have taken out Iva Toguri D’Aquino, or Rita Zucca, or William Joyce and there would have been little to no hand-wringing about it.

        Do I like it? Of course not. But it’s reality. The reality is that there are people with a claim to US citizenship, who are active and in commanding roles in the al Qaeda network. The reality is that capturing them, alive, is unlikely to happen in many cases, and that the US military, and the President as commander in chief of same by Constitutional powers, is going to be stuck in the situation of ordering military strikes to take out the leadership of al Qaeda cells, whether or not the assholes we’re aiming for happen to also have some claim to US citizenship.

          Quote  Link

        Report

          • Like it or not, the President of the US, the Secretary of State, the Joint Chiefs, the heads of the FBI and CIA, and the ranking members of various Congressional committees all have access to far more classified information than I have. I’m sort of obliged to take them at their word when they all say more or less the same thing.

              Quote  Link

            Report

              • What else am I to do, as a normal citizen?

                Evidence will come out over time. Documents will be de-classified over time. Hindsight is a bitch as always: if I knew what I know today, I probably wouldn’t have supported invading Iraq (despite Saddam being an absolute fucking douche who deserved to be overthrown). Afghanistan, well, the Taliban were full-fledged military allies with AQ, so it’s hard not to say we should have gone in, but there are things that IN HINDSIGHT we should have done differently.

                But, AT THE TIME, we had the information we had. We had reports from the French, Germans, and British backing up the intelligence that Powell, Bush, and most of the rest of our government were handing out to us and to the UN. Some of that intelligence was faulty because it was coming from Iraqi refugee groups with a vested interest in telling us what they thought we wanted to hear to get us to help topple Saddam. Some of that intelligence was faulty because it was Saddam’s own blustering front, that he was putting up mostly to keep the Saudis or Iranians from taking a swipe at him.

                I don’t get to sit on Congressional committees. I don’t get the daily top-secret briefings that someone at Bush or Powell’s level got. At some point, I have to say “they have information I don’t have, that they’re not at liberty to divulge, and I have to take their word on it until I find out differently.”

                It sucks, because many Americans imagine they know “everything.” But that’s not the case, there is such a thing as classified information, and there’s not much I can do about it.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                    • What’s hard for me to understand is how incredibly unreflective your position is. If there’s ANYTHING we learned from the 2002/3 insanity, it’s that uncritical support for things the government tells us about who is trying to kill us is a Really Bad Idea. It’s not like it was hard to discern they were lying through their teeth the entire time. A lot of people did, in fact, discern that, you might notice. And yet, you seem to have taken no lessons from that experience. That’s somewhat troubling.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • It’s not like it was hard to discern they were lying through their teeth the entire time.

                      By 2004, maybe.

                      In 2002? Really? I had the POTUS saying one thing. The Joint chiefs backed him up. The Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State both backed him up. The leaders of multiple foreign nations backed him up. The leaders of the militaries of those nations backed him up.

                      A lot of people did, in fact, discern that, you might notice.

                      And unfortunately, many of them came from backgrounds that made their opposition rather suspect, they did not provide any strong evidence to buttress their “we don’t trust ‘im” case. Some of the documents involved – the Niger uranium forgeries, which came from Italian intelligence – weren’t revealed to be forgeries or inaccurate until after the war started.

                      Am I less likely to trust in the information coming from the US government, especially if it comes through dissident or “in exile” groups? Yes. But then we get to the Iranian dissident groups, and the Chinese government-in-exile (Taiwan), and the question is, do you trust them or not? It seems to me in earlier discussions, people are quite willing to trust the Iranians-In-Exile on matters of Iran even if they’ve not lived in Iran for decades, and we have enough information on China otherwise to verify most of what we’d get from Taiwan in any case.

                      I’ve taken lessons from the Bush years, and your accusing me of failing to do so is pure dishonesty on your part. But I’ll repeat: most of what we know now about Iraq is HINDSIGHT. It is not information we had on September 12, 2001 or even on March 19, 2003. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have supported military action in Iraq, but knowing then what I knew then, the question was a lot different.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • FWIW, my experience is pretty close to Mike’s.  There may have been a lot of folks that knew that things weren’t right behind the curtain in 2002, but I didn’t see many of them and I certainly wasn’t among their number.

                      Even now, I’m not entirely convinced that everyone was lying through their teeth – or at least if they were, that most of them were lying to themselves at the same time.  I suspect it was more of a very much wanting to see something, and being freaked out enough that we all let ourselves see it.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • Tod, I think you’re correct about the motives involved, and maybe my experience was different because I was in Ann Arbor at the time, but it was pretty transparently obvious that the case didn’t add up. Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN was spectacularly unconvincing, even at the time.

                      Also, the vast majority of the world’s population thought the war was a terrible idea. It’s not like it was a secret.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • I think there’s a difference between “war was a terrible idea” and “Bush is lying to us about the reason to go to war”.

                      The two aren’t the same, even though they became conflated later on.

                      I will admit that I was mostly of the former camp and not the latter camp back in 03.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • Yeah, but I don’t think the rest of the world was as freaked out as we were.  In a way, it’s kind of a testament to how great we’ve had it in this country and for how long.  I’m pretty sure if 9/11 had happened in any other country it wouldn’t have even shown up on our radar screens, save for a “yeah, those other people are all crazy out there” moment.

                      I should point out that you are of course correct, we all should have seen it differently.  Shame on us all.  Just shame on us for bad, hysterical thinking – not shame on us for nefarious plotting.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • Also, the vast majority of the world’s population thought the war was a terrible idea. It’s not like it was a secret.

                      Yes, but the “why” varied greatly. I knew a number of people who thought the war was a terrible idea because they thought it’d mean Saddam unleashing chem weapons or nukes on someone to “defend himself.” I knew a number of people who thought the war was a terrible idea because it could degenerate into The US Vs The Muslims. I knew a number of people who simply think all wars, any wars, even wars to defend yourself, are A Bad Thing. There were some people who insisted that no matter what Saddam was trying to do, the containment policies “were working” and that going to war was unnecessary (they proved to be the most correct of the lot).Of course, that last group ALSO tended to discount and ignore the corruption and nonsense that had just been loudly and widely exposed with Kofi Annan and the corruption, bribery, and outright smuggling behavior under the Oil-For-Food (and guns and pretty much whatever else Saddam wanted) Program.

                      I knew very few, if any, whose opposition to the war in the Sept. 12, 2001-March 19, 2003 period was based on the idea that they didn’t trust the information leading up to it.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • I know Mike’s gone, but I’ll respond to Tod anyway. In 2002 and 2003 (I was an anti-war activist at the time), some of us were well aware that there was something wrong. Inspectors on the ground, acting on our intelligence, weren’t finding anything. What’s more, stories were coming out, particularly from Reuters, suggesting that the administration’s narrative was incorrect at best. There was plenty, and I mean plenty, of reason to doubt. I understand that plenty of people believed what they were told by the administration and most of the media, despite the conflicting stories coming from on the ground in Iraq and elsewhere, but consistent with what Ryan says above, the reflective position today isn’t that hindsight is 20/20, but that it’s important to be a more active evaluator of information from the government, particularly when something as serious as war is at stake, because the government will do what it can to suppress dissenting information (which it did, in 2002/3), and because the government’s interests are not always consistent with the truth.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • Chris – I totally agree.

                      Please don’t understand the nature of my comment.  I wasn’t defending my and other’s opinions circa 2002, I was just acknowledging them.  The correct lesson from all of it isn’t to shrug your shoulders and say “What can you do?”  It is absolutely to learn from the mistake and do a better job in the future.

                      And I feel very strongly that I and others that were OK with going to war then should shoulder a far bigger load in the questioning of authority – especially in areas of potential violence and human casualties – than others.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                    • An Australian friend once told me that the first thing he and everybody he knew in Australia thought after 9/11 was “poor America”. And then they thought about it for a second, realized what kind of reaction there’d be, and then thought, “poor world”.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

    • ““Secret drone strike” – different from a “secret” missile strike, or a “secret” bombing run, or a “secret” SEAL team attack, how? Because it’s a drone?”

      Short answer: yes. Drones are far less effective, kill more civilians than other precision strike methods, and have a lower psychological barrier to use. Here is some literature to peruse: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/26/091026fa_fact_mayer.

      “Because it’s a military objective being taken out? Because the terrorists are using human shields in violation of the Geneva Conventions? You’re going to whinge about it despite IV.28: “ The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.” I can’t stop you from whinging on, but I can point out your dishonesty in doing so.”

      Technically, terrorists have no rights under the Geneva Convention since they aren’t uniformed combatants. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.) Ryan isn’t objecting to killing terrorists, I imagine, so much as he’s objecting to the 30 – 35% of drone deaths that are civilians unrelated to any terrorist plots. (Ever see Team America: World Police? You know, the part where they keep blowing up the Louvre and the Sphinx and whatnot?) Is it really worth 30% to kill some dude wielding box-cutters who’ll probably blow himself up in his own laboratory anyways? Not to mention the authoritarian legal precedents being set.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      •  Is it really worth 30% to kill some dude wielding box-cutters who’ll probably blow himself up in his own laboratory anyways?

        There’s quite a bit of minimization going on there in trying to justify your dishonest position, you realize…

        Ryan isn’t objecting to killing terrorists, I imagine, so much as he’s objecting to the 30 – 35% of drone deaths that are civilians unrelated to any terrorist plots.

        Didn’t we JUST go over the applicable section of the Geneva Conventions? Civilian deaths suck, but that doesn’t make it our problem that the enemy (in this case al Qaeda) are accustomed to using human shields and disguising themselves as civilians.

        If we allowed that to be a factor in the decisions, you and I both know precisely what would happen – what happens with Hamas and Hizb’Allah now, what happened with Saddam in the early 90s. The sons of bitches stick their weaponry in civilian homes, in mosques, launch rockets from the parking lot or rooftop of schools. Saddam in the 90s was sticking his AA guns in the middle of suburban neighborhoods whenever possible just to fuck with allied forces and make it harder for them to take the AA guns out with bombs or missiles.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • “There’s quite a bit of minimization going on there in trying to justify your dishonest position, you realize…”

          I don’t realize. Why don’t you expand on it instead of just calling me dishonest?

          “Didn’t we JUST go over the applicable section of the Geneva Conventions? Civilian deaths suck, but that doesn’t make it our problem that the enemy (in this case al Qaeda) are accustomed to using human shields and disguising themselves as civilians.”

          The idea that something is okay or desirable because it’s permitted by the Geneva Convention is childish. If there were a terrorist with a nuclear bomb trigger hiding behind civilians, we may be justified in killing the civilians to save more, but every possible piece of data shows we’re overestimating the threat of terrorism.

          “If we allowed that to be a factor in the decisions, you and I both know precisely what would happen – what happens with Hamas and Hizb’Allah now, what happened with Saddam in the early 90s. The sons of bitches stick their weaponry in civilian homes, in mosques, launch rockets from the parking lot or rooftop of schools.”

          It’s interesting that you reference Israel, because that’s what I was about to do. There are shockingly few deaths-by-terrorism (without going into Chomsky’s definition of the term) in the world today. The overwhelming majority of them are in Israel/Palestine. Why do you think that is?

            Quote  Link

          Report

        • Let me lay it out for you.

          drones: zero direct risk to American lives; kill lots of foreign civilians.

          precision special forces strikes: moderate risk to American lives; kill very few foreign civilians.

          Under pre-drone circumstances, and depending on how we value American and non-American lives, a target would have to reach a certain threat level to justify a strike. That level is now a lot lower because we have drones.

          Even so, let’s imagine a hypothetical target that exceeds both the pre-drone threshold to justify attack and the post-drone threshold to justify attack. Under the pre-drone standard, we may imagine that killing that target may cost two American soldier’s lives and two foreign civilian’s lives. Under the post-drone stadard, we may imagine that killing that target would cost zero American lives and twelve foreign civilians. Under the Obama Administration, we have overwhelmingly chosen drone strikes, which, taken together with the shift towards building rapport with locals and COIN, either doesn’t make any sense at all or is some sort of good cop/bad cop gambit.

          Can you see why they hate us? Can you see why the children of the dead might even someday become terrorists themselves and why this is a problem, especially in an honor culture where people are conditioned to place little faith in the rule of law to solve such problems? I can.

          If the Belgians were sending robots over to kill the dudes running the meth lab down the street and accidentally blew up my children, I’d have nothing to lose by dedicating my life to the eradication of the Belgian presence in Boston.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • If the Belgians were sending robots over to kill the dudes running the meth lab down the street and accidentally blew up my children, I’d have nothing to lose by dedicating my life to the eradication of the Belgian presence in Boston.

            This, for my money, remains the strongest argument against what the US does. We would never even plausibly tolerate another country doing to us what we take as our God-given right to do to them.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • If that scenario were remotely plausible we’d probably have a stronger position about it.

              I don’t worry too much about what would happen if I became pregnant as a result of rape.  That’s because I’m a man.  This doesn’t mean that I would feel the same lack of concern if something weird happened and I suddenly could become pregnant as a result of rape.

                Quote  Link

              Report

          • Sorry.

            Two words.

            Cruise Missiles.

            3 words.

            Laser Guided Munitions.

            etc. etc.

            There are plenty of precision strike platforms that aren’t drones and that do as much, if not more collateral damage.

            Moreover recent cases have suggested that drone operators actually suffer more psychological effects for their strikes than aircraft pilots due to the fact that they actually watch the aftermath of the strikes they inflict from remote cameras.

            Just noting here.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • You’re definitely right about cruise missiles, laser-guided munitions, etc. I was merely extrapolating on the essential differences between crude methods like drone attacks and actually sending in a team of intelligent soldiers.

              People note that Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t really big deals in the grand scheme of things because not that many people are killed compared to the wars of the past. That’s because we’ve gotten a lot better at killing them and a lot better at not getting killed ourselves.

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • Small missiles fired by drones that visually identify their targets don’t cause anywhere near the amount of collateral damage that a large-warhead missile guided by map coordinates does.  That missiles from a drone cause civilian casualties speaks more to the targets’ insistence on spending time around large numbers of civilians than it does to any inherent inferiority of drones.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

  2. If Romney gets the nomination, it will be tough for me not to support him (unless Obama has some secret plan up his sleeve to suddenly scale down our foreign policy to Bush I/Powell Doctrine levels, gets the economy back, and calls April Fools on immigration, assassinations, etc.) because I’m 95% sure his tough talk is classic Romney pandering for the nutbird ubercon vote in the primary and that he’s actually a moderate centrist with a good understanding of economics. In short, the interests of commerce will respect Romney in a way they don’t respect Obama; Assuming Romney is a politician who will say anything to get elected (a good assumption) Romney might make a good President for an unfair world.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • This position strikes me as far, far less defensible even than the liberals who projected all of their hopes and dreams onto Obama and then suddenly found out he was serious about pouring more American bodies into Afghanistan. Wishful thinking in politics is the enemy of actual thinking in politics.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • As I recall, President Obama said while campaining that he’d pull us out of Iraqi (the illegal war) and strengthen the war effort in Afganistan; who ever didn’t hear that was living in a cave (unlike Bin Laden who was living the high life watching porn before he meet a rather angry Seal … .)

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • That is correct. My point is that he said he would do that and then did. Liberals who are upset about it are upset because he told them the truth. I.e., they have nothing to complain about except their own complicity.

            Quote  Link

          Report

      • That is probably the least of my problems with Obama.  He has drawn down the American presence in Iraq (even if he hasn’t eliminated it) and appears to be doing the same in Afghanistan.  His “surge” was relatively brief and pointed.

        Without a prepitous withdrawal, I’m not sure what else he could have done.

          Quote  Link

        Report

    • I think your reasoning is badly flawed. Romney has zero credit with his base, no leeway, huge amounts of suspiscion and a party with a history of challenging their candidates from the right. A Romney Presidency would have to cater very closely to the desires and moods of his base if he wanted any shot at re-election. Assuming that he’s blowing smoke with his hyper-neocon promises is one thing but assuming that he’d somehow reverse all of that and adhere to some kind of hidden principles after being elected strikes me as contradictory.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Agreed. The further to the right Romney gets driven during the nomination process, the further to the right he’ll govern. The evangelical, social-conservative base of the party doesn’t trust him and will put constant pressure on him to govern as one of their own. Having no real principles of his own, aside from protecting the assets of his fellow one-percenters, he’ll largely oblige.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • I think this underestimates his desire (should he succeed) to be re-elected.

          Once you’re the President, you are as close to 100% as anybody is ever going to get got a shot at a second term, unless you seriously, seriously muck things up or the country is in horrible, horrrrrrible shape.  If your party has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the next Presidential election, you’re the nominee for your side.

          If Romney is elected, he knows he’s the nominee in 2016.  Whether or not he *wins* in 2016 depends hugely on his ability to retain the center, not pander to the extreme part of the Right.

          Shorter: I think Carr is right and North is wrong.  Not that it’s relevant, because I don’t see Romney winning anyway.  But – if he does – we’ll be able to test the hypothesis.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          •  Patrick , I think you are yourself underestimating Romney’s desire to be re-elected but more saliently miscalculating what he’d need to do to be re-elected. An enormous amount of re-election (or election for that matter) is base turn out and for the GOP especially turning out the base is absolutely essential. A President Romney seeking to be re-elected would be utterly bound to pay close mind to the mood of his base. Bush II, by contrast, had deep cultural loyalty from his party’s base so they essentially ignored his myriad apostasies simply because he was one of them and did the gee wiz Texan party fella shtick so well. Romney would enter office with none of this leeway, his party distrusts him and the conservative stalwarts strongly dislike him. He would get no breaks from them for deviations from their ideologies and especially not any breaks from them if he’s also going back on campaign promises. Remember, if you will, that this party had one of their sitting presidents in recent history defeated on almost exactly this kind of violation: Read my lips. Romney won’t have any room to maneuver. If he wants to be elected he would flat out have to adhere to his wing nut promises to keep his base from revolting and maintain a hope o re-election and thus, tadaa, we have an invasion of Iran.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • So you’re saying that Romney will actually face a primary challenge if he is elected and he governs anywhere left of Far Rightitude?

              I realize that this is currently hypothetical, but let’s assume for the moment that Romeny gets elected, and Washington Monthly’s assessment of what happens when Romney gets elected happens.

              It’s 2015.  Republicans have done everything or nearly everything on this list.

              What is your prediction for the 2016 election?

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • If they’ve done everything on that list then Romney would probably be fine with his base. But you seem to suggest Romney would have room to govern as a moderate and it’s quite beyond me where you think his base would give him that kind of slack. As I mentioned before they have sacked their own presidents before. They don’t even need to mount a primary challenge, they can just be pissed and stay home or protest vote. Romney would be keenly aware of his bases options and I see no reason that a man as keenly intent on being president as he is would endanger that by governing moderately because of some sort of hidden scruples.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

          • I think a more salient point is: “What is the composition of Congress if there’s a President Romney”. Moreover, given how thoroughly Romney seems to have basically given up his campaign staff and rhetoric to the GOP orthodoxy, his cabinet appointments are likely to follow the same pattern. We have so far been shown no indication that Romney intends to go the Baker/Scowcroft wing of the GOP foreign policy establishment for example. In fact he seems primed to go for the Bolton/Wolfowitz wing of the party instead.

            A GOP win in 2012 will also likely result in a continuing GOP majority in the House and the Senate. While it’s likely Boehner would still be Speaker, it’s become pretty clear over the last year or so that Boehner simply doesn’t control his caucus. McConnell seems more comfortable working with Cantor’s wing of the party than Boehner’s old smokey room school, and we may see a very crazy Congress that’ll pass all sorts of things like Paul Ryan style “medicare reform”. Under those circumstances, I don’t think it’s likely Romney would have the guts (or the incentive) to veto such legislation.

              Quote  Link

            Report

      • There’s also solid empirical evidence suggesting that presidents do govern as they campaign. See: Jonathan Bernstein’s work on this field. (It’s silly to argue that Obama is governing as he campaigned but somehow Romney won’t because…uh because!)

          Quote  Link

        Report

          • Not touching defense spending while cutting all discretionary spending to make federal expenditures 20% of GDP does not inspire confidence in anyone’s ability as a economist…moreover, we don’t even know what Romney thinks as an economics front because he hasn’t actually released anything that could be construed as a coherent economic view other than “I think I should be maknig more money”.

              Quote  Link

            Report

      • Then you’ll have a fair bit of explaining to do as well, starting with why the Dems saw fit to give him such broad discretionary power to imprison American citizens without trial, hearing, or chance for review.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • Romney is not tight with the Tea Party at all. He’s the wealthy establishment candidate.

          The Left needs to keep its narratives straight. To hear Kim and thousands of others just like her, including several on this site, the Tea Party is nothing more than a shill of the Koch brothers, no supporting evidence withstanding. Therefore by definition the Tea Party should be completely beholden to the “wealthy establishment”. Oh wait, they aren’t so that entire logic chain falls apart.

            Quote  Link

          Report

    • I’m 95% sure his tough talk is classic Romney pandering for the nutbird ubercon vote in the primary and that he’s actually a moderate centrist with a good understanding of economics. In short, the interests of commerce will respect Romney in a way they don’t respect Obama; Assuming Romney is a politician who will say anything to get elected (a good assumption) Romney might make a good President for an unfair world.

      I’m coming to agree with this assessment, although my endorsement,* and probably my vote as well,** will go to Obama.  In other words, I’m hopeful that Romney is as you say.  I’m also hopeful that Romney might be a “Nixon in China” when it comes to scaling back the war on terror or the war on drugs.  He might even veto a repeal of health insurance reform (a law which, with it’s problems, I support).  It might be a false hope, of course.

      *I’m politicos of all stripes are anxiously reading my blog to find out whom I’ll endorse.

      **Because my actual vote counts for little, it might very likely go to a third party candidate.  But my endorsement might actually go to someone who has a chance of winning.

       

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • This was my initial view of Romney as well but, as the process grinds on, I’ve come to think less and less of him. Aside from being president and defending money and privilege, I’m not sure he has any core political beliefs and fear he’ll be beholden to the “nutbird ubercons” if he wants to get re-elected. While I have no doubt that he’s intelligent, the more I hear him interviewed and the more debates I watch, the more he comes off as a belligerent prick, who condescends to anyone he thinks is beneath him (which seems to be pretty much everyone). He doesn’t scare me as much as the Gingrich, Santorum, or Perry (oh teh stupid), but I’m not convinced that he will be able to moderate toward the center should he win the election.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  3. Good assessment of the weak points of Sullivan’s arguments. I am still amazed that Obama (a former professor of Constitutional Law for goodness sake!!) bowed to pressure and signed on to a law allowing for the indefinite detention of American citizens without due process, although I guess I shouldn’t be. Why, oh why, are Democrats such spineless creatures?

    Sullivan’s argument that Obama is playing by some kind of long term strategy also falls kind of short for me. I’m just not convinced that Obama is the visionary Sullivan makes him out to be. He seems too willing to cave to pressure and craft bad deals with the Republicans rather than stand on any kind of principle even when standing on principle would go far to endear him to his base with little cost. Republicans seem to hate Obama without reason or limit. He’s never going to win them over or secure their cooperation to do anything that might help his cause. So, stepping up and using his oratorical skills to sell some of his policies doesn’t seem like a huge risk. Yet, he’s almost incapable of doing so.

    In all likelihood, I will vote for him again, especially now that I’m living in a swing state. But it’s only because I think any Republican would be far worse for civil liberties and the economy than Obama.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • My own read is that he has proven to be a remarkably conflict averse President and astonishingly miserly with his political capital. The charitable read is that he’s still somehow nievely stuck on his campaign promises; the uncharitable read is he’s a spineless wuss.

      As for voting, well I’m a captive voter due to social reasons (I’m in a swing state too) but even if I weren’t I think the GOP is off the rails at the moment and very badly needs some wilderness time to straighten themselves out. So Obama has my irritable vote.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • My own read is that he has proven to be a remarkably conflict averse President and astonishingly miserly with his political capital.

        This could be right; I tend to think of it in the opposite – that he spent almost all of it just to get HCR passed – and that he knew he was doing it at the time.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • My own impression of the HCR issue is that Obama was astonishingly miserly there. He set records for “leading from behind” there that he hasn’t topped in any other avenue. Almost all of his effort went into courting Republicans (and letting them kick him in the balls repeatedly) while he left writing and pushing the damn bill entirely to Pelosi and Reid. Consider this: If Obama had not been in the equation much how different would the bill have been? I submit not very much. If Pelosi or Reid had been out of the equation, on the other hand, the whole thing would have died when Brown got elected.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • I don’t think you can really separate the political capital that Pelosi/Reid had with the political capital that Obama had. The three of them basically had a set amount that they could use to get several pieces through the Congress.

            They chose: 1. Stimulus, 2. Auto Bail-out, 3. HCR and 4. DADT repeal.

            Maybe those were the wrong priorities, but they basically exhausted whatever hope they could have in doing anything else. (Outside of less transformative, but still important things like Ledbetter or the hate crimes law)

            I think the main thing is that people basically misread how much political capital Obama actually had. He exhausted it quickly, especially once the Tea Party came into focus and the media fluffed the hell out of it, it was a bit like introducing bimetalism and suddenly Obama’s stock of gold wasn’t worth as much.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • Fair enough Nob, I think that’s a plenty valid interpretation but I lay a lot of that at Obama’s feet for going at the very slow rate he did while he courted the GOP. Yes he defended his whole bipartican bona fides to the general public. That and a buck’ll buy him a cuppa Joe; the GOP still accuses him of being partisan and the drawn out sideshow of the whole thing was a significant source of fuel for the TP.

                Quote  Link

              Report

            • “They chose: 1. Stimulus, 2. Auto Bail-out, 3. HCR and 4. DADT repeal.”

              Except that :

              1) Obama went to the Congress and read them the riot act, then punted when it came time to negotiate. 

              2) He could be making massive capitol as being the Man Who Saved the Auto Industry — it was on the brink of collapse and is thriving today, without breaking the unions.

              3) Horrible mis-use of capitol, as noted elsewhere.  After the stimulus, there is no good reason for his flubbing on HCR

              4) I’d love to see him gather about 40 members of the Armed Services each of which would say, “The GOP thinks I’m not fit to serve.  They do NOT respect the troops” or words to that effect.  But I doubt I will.

               

                Quote  Link

              Report

    • “Sullivan’s argument that Obama is playing by some kind of long term strategy also falls kind of short for me.”

      Yeah, I think by now we can put this bit of silliness behind us.  The time for “long term strategy” is gone, gone,, gone.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  4. Overall a fairly fair overview by you (ok, a little bit of near repeating on my part here.) The issue I have with part of your post is that President Obama (I know he is black and we have have a long tradition of just using the last name for those ‘others’ but it is really not considered polite unless you are making this point) either vetoed the entire defense bill and caused massive problems for the soldiers, the war effort and really hit much of our economy or he had to allow the part of the bill you hate – that, by the way, was placed there mostly by republicans – or sign the bill. How is that the Presidents fault, really?

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Some things are just so odious, such as detaining American citizens without due process, that you have to stand up and take a courageous stand. Also, because the president initially promised to veto it then (once again backed down), it furthers the Republicans belief that they simply have to apply enough pressure to President Obama and he’ll give up the fight.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • President Obama (I know he is black and we have have a long tradition of just using the last name for those ‘others’

        Offhand I can’t think of a president who was generally called only by his first name.  Nicknames, yes — FDR, Ike, W. — but President [Lastname] is by far the standard, and you’re just way, way off to infer racism here.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • Did not mean for my statement to be viewed as racism by the writer – only disrespect.  I really do not believe the writer was aiming for racism but often President Obama is named as Obama and I feel that is because we have a history of not using proper titles for blacks. Since my attempt at a mild hit at the writer does appear I was saying the writer was being racist, my apologies and I did not mean to say it that way.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • I didn’t take it that way, if it makes you feel any better.

            Also, you may or may not be aware of this, but my general stylistic preference is to refer to everyone by last name, no title, as long as that’s not confusing. (For instance, I tend to refer to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton a little more creatively, since “Clinton” does not call to mind a unique referent.) It is not a mark of disrespect for any individual in question, although it is designed rather deliberately to deflate the office of the person in question. What I would like more people to understand is that Obama is a citizen we have chosen to serve in a certain capacity for a time. He is not possessed of any kind of special moral substance.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • To my ear, the title is appropriate on first mention, but after that the repetition of it gets tedious.

              And even on first mention, I’d still say it’s optional for extremely well-known people.  If I write in an informal venue like this one that Reagan signed the INF treaty, I don’t see that usage as an attempt to denigrate him.  I can’t imagine anyone else thinking that way either.

              Perhaps there might be an argument with Obama in particular, though, in that some conspiracy theorists don’t think he’s really the president. This would suggest that the title is especially important to mention in his case… at least once, anyway, to remove any doubt about the author’s beliefs.

              As to denying black people in general their proper titles, I’ll watch for it.  I hope I haven’t done so in the past, and I’ll try not to do it in the future.

               

                Quote  Link

              Report

      • Some things are just so odious, such as detaining American citizens without due process, that you have to stand up and take a courageous stand.

        This.  And if the economy suffers, or even if the war effort suffers, I can accept that.  Liberty or death.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • And what about serving women in the military who are denied the right to seek a transfer when they’re sexually assaulted? Will you say the hypothetical detainment of US citizens  is worth forcing women to continue serving with people who raped them?

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • This is a very strange two things to compare, as if you can have one and not the other.

            But in comparison, if I had to choose one over the other, I’d take not having illegal detention.  Removing all agency from a citizen is about the most the state can do to somebody other than kill them.  The woman soldier, although clearly in a horribly unjust position, has more possible avenues of remedy than the unlawfully detained citizen who is in legal limbo.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • I’m comparing the two because they’re provisions in the same bill. (My point being “defeat NDAA!!!!” has the side effect of removing one at the same time doing the same to the other)

              And I don’t know about that. Are you sure a female soldier, sexually abused by a trained killer, forced to serve daily with him, would be willing to actually attempt a legal remedy? The literature on this seems to suggest the exact opposite. That forcing them to serve makes it all but certain they won’t repeat the abuse.

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • And I don’t know about that. Are you sure a female soldier, sexually abused by a trained killer, forced to serve daily with him, would be willing to actually attempt a legal remedy?

                Absolutely not.

                But if I have to choose between injustices, I’ll take the one where at least the possible victim of the injustice has more, not fewer, possible remedies.  Even if they’re unlikely.

                Again, I think this is a false dichotomy.  Veto the NDAA, and Congress sends you another bill to fund the military.  In American politics, sometimes you’re choosing between “this bill” and “nothing”.  PPACA is a case like that.

                You veto a military budget bill, there will be another one on your desk post-haste.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

              • Aki,

                one in three servicewomen is raped. someone’s repeating. probably a coupla CO’s. It’s kinda hard if your whole troupe takes a turn, too… So let’s think of it like this — in Vietnam they called it “friendly fire” when you’d shoot the nimrod in the group, in the back, in cold blood. Well, I wasn’t there, but it didn’t mean it didn’t happen.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • It would be ideal of “fragging rapists” was amended into the UCMJ as being an allowable (perhaps even commendable?) action.

                  That said…

                  I think the reality is that the rapeshield section of NDAA will have a much larger practical impact on the lives of people than the indefinite detention bits. While I’m loathe to argue that this makes indefinite detention okay, I tend to view this bill more as a symptom on this particular issue.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

        • The war effort?

          I think it’s pretty safe to say that Congress would have acted post haste to override any veto or to remove the offending section if Obama had been willing risk explaining why denying due process to even those suspected of terrorist activities is both constitutional and American. Yeah, it would be a tough sell, given the climate of fear perpetuated by Republicans (and plenty of Democrats since 9-11) and the absurd level of national security theater that’s accompanied it, but a risk well worth taking.

            Quote  Link

          Report

  5. I agree with your position here, but I don’t see this as an issue with Obama in particular.  Neither of the two major parties does anything at all to stand up for civil liberties.  Note that the NDAA passed the senate with 87 votes, well in excess of the 67 needed to override a presidential veto.  Closing Guantanamo was another example of a weak kneed Democratic party  unable to do the right thing.  As long as the best that a liberal state like CT can do is Lieberman, for example, there will never be a functional civil libertarian Democratic Party.  And while Ron Paul’s version of libertarianism has a handful of of solid positions on civil liberties that I strongly support,  the whole of it is  only tenable to the hardest core right wing libertarian..

    Regarding your second point, the assassination of American citizens  is part of the ugly asymmetry in this godforsaken “war on terror.”  In an ordinary conflict, an American citizen who joined the opposing side would be fighting under the flag of another country, yes?  That is the surest and simplest way to become defined by the State Department as “not American”.  But Al Quaeda isn’t a country, it is stateless by design.  There is no nation for an American citizen to defect to, no battlefield either, so we are left to wrestle with the literal definition of “assassination of American citizens” because there is simply no way to remove the “American” tag from it.  It’s an evil, ugly business.

     

     

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • You’re right about this, but that just ties it up in the larger problem of fighting a war against a thing that isn’t a state – and that doesn’t claim to be a state either. It calls into question the entire operation. Or, rather, it should. This is an almost classic reductio: if you are horrified by the prospect of assassinating a US citizen (and I am, at the very least), but that assassination appears to fit the larger framework, then there must be something wrong with the framework.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Agreed.  But, back to the point about how this is Obama’s failure,  I don’t think anyone expected one vote for one man 4 years ago to change the definition of an entire conflict.  Did they?  How could Obama completely redesign the framework of something so ingrained in us after a decade of war?  That is a tall order.

         

          Quote  Link

        Report

  6. Yeah, okay, if the GOP candidate takes the White House, the cancer of torture may well return as a matter of policy.  That doesn’t mean that Obama’s foreign polices haven’t, in important ways, proved cancerous to the common good at a stage of the disease worse than what the country and world suffered under Bush.  Obama’s election is no cure, even if another four years would be less destructive to life and liberty than a Romney presidency.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  7. Thanks for posting this Ryan…What infuriated me about Sullivan’s cover story was how easily he brushed asside executive abuses without actually explaining why they don’t diqualify Obama.

    What Sullivan doesn’t seem to realize is that as a self-described conservative, he is of course more likely to agree with a President who has over seen many right of center compromises.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  8. I do begrudge liberals who support Obama without an honest assessment of just how much of a disaster his foreign policy has been for liberalism.

    As the closest to a liberal internationalist that exists on this site’s commentariat, I’m going to disagree here, strongly.

    From an liberal internationalist perspective, the Obama Administration has been one of the most fundamental pivots seen US foreign policy since the “new world order” nonsense of the Bush-I presidency under Baker. The recognition of a fundamental reality (China > Iraq, Asia > Near East) and reordering US policy priorities on a strategic basis that recognizes the importance of using all US policy tools (hard power, soft power etc.) at its disposal is an integral part of understanding Obama’s foreign policy.

    Fundamentally the movement toward revitalizing US alliances with key strategic partners, whether through a KORUS or repairing a somewhat tumultuous US-Turkey relationship, the Obama Administration has done an admirable job of recognizing and focusing upon US foreign policy commitments. Tom Donilon’s op-ed in the Financial Times did a fantastic job of underscoring what the essential idea driving the Obama Administration’s grand strategy basically is. No longer looking for hegemony, the US is looking more to shore up the liberal international order as other powers rise to take up important positions. This is important. Particularly in light of what China’s aspirations will look like in Asia as it rises. The kurfuffles over the last two years over the South China Sea and the Rare Earth Minerals is a big deal for East Asia.

    This is also precisely the reason I simply cannot understand liberals who think Ron Paul is some sort of foreign policy oracle. The narrow definition of foreign policy that basically boils down to “look we gotta stop drone strikes no matter what it takes” are living in a reality that does not comport with the real definition of foreign policy. Foreign policy is more than just the war in Afghanistan.

    Finally a digression. There are elements folded in NDAA’s detention sections that are rightfully disturbing, but it’s also worth noting that as an appropriations bill the bill had substantial reforms to the UCMJ and how the military handles sexual-abuse victims in the armed forces. (Among other reforms to US military related institutions.) You can debate whether or not these things trump hypothetical war powers, but at least mention them rather than completely ignore their existence.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • This is a fair comment. I think it’s worth separating Obama’s diplomatic approach – which I see as largely consistent with most non-GWB administrations and mostly acceptable – from his policy approach – which emphasizes the continuing authority of the United States to violate borders with impunity, to detain prisoners indefinitely (even though he pinky swears it won’t happen until he loses to the next guy), and to assassinate US citizens abroad on the pretext that they’re a threat to national security, trial be damned.

      We clearly disagree about the relative severity of all of this. I see “stop the president from assuming a single additional power” as the overwhelming priority for anyone interested in any kind of liberal foreign policy regime. Of course, that position is made somewhat easier to take when the powers the president is claiming/exercising – drone strikes that result in fairly large numbers of civilian casualties and assassinating US citizens without a trial – are so incredibly ghastly.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Well I think part of it too is that I make some assumptions that you probably aren’t. For example. I’m pretty sure that assassinations and drone strikes happen regardless of whether we see them debated as policy or we don’t. I for one prefer a president who is out in the open about them and tries to find an international law rationale than one who doesn’t. This is an area where your mileage may vary. I have some reason for this belief, but I won’t go into them here, because it’s a bit of a digression.

        I will note, however, that this isn’t really all that different from the policy of using cruise missiles to go after Bin Laden in the 90s. The collateral damage from a cruise missile is rather higher than from a hellfire missile.

        As for the detention of Americans for the duration of hostilities, I will posit that this is neither a new power, nor one that’s specifically limited to a claim of this administration. Lest we forget this has been exercised by every administration during every bit of hostilities the US has engaged in, with only periodic intervention of the Supreme Court. Ex Parte Quirin being something of an outlier.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  9. Very solid article, and I pretty much agree.

    Should middle class mortgage-holders have gotten some kind of bailout of their own?

    I saw one comment / post (but don’t remember where) that the bail-out should have gone to owners of foreclosed homes, or those about to be foreclosed.  The money would still have made its way to the banks, but it would have also alleviated the housing crisis at the same time.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  10. I do begrudge liberals who support Obama without an honest assessment of just how much of a disaster his foreign policy has been for liberalism.

    By what definition of ‘disaster’? I’d say that on any definition of liberalism, his foreign policy has been better than his predecessor’s even including Clinton’s. Drone strikes themselves are a disaster – but the war in AfPak itself is a disaster, so a fortiori and all that. But it’s still arguably better than some otherwise very imaginable alternatives. I’d say that if having a better foreign policy is ‘disastrous’ for liberalism, then I think the bar is set unrealistically high.

    (Btw, Creon Critic wrote a very good comment quite a while ago establishing the legal case for killing AA. I don’t like it, but the law seems to be on Obama’s side wrt targetted killings of US citizens in foreign countries engaged with a known enemy, etc etc. I’ll see if I can find it.)

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • The standard being employed here is not “competence”. By any measure, Obama’s foreign policy is that. He has, as has been related ad infinitum, knee-capped Al Qaeda, killed OBL, repaired relationships with most of the rest of the world, and so on. But there’s nothing at all liberal about any of that. In the process of turning out a non-Keystone Kops foreign policy (after 8 years of decidedly that), he has enshrined the assassination of US citizens, the indefinite detention of prisoners, and the unilateral launching of wars of choice without Congressional approval as legitimate uses of US power. You may find that he’s done all of this well, but it isn’t liberal, and it makes it that much harder to pursue an actual liberal foreign policy.

      A lot of people fall back on the legality question with respect to Al-Awlaki’s assassination. That is one dimension we can talk about, but it remains the case that a president arrogating to himself the authority to kill US citizens without any public finding of fact against them is not liberal.

        Quote  Link

      Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *