Sullivan, Obama, and Elections

Sullivan, Obama, and Elections

Let me get this out of the way first.  I like Andrew Sullivan, appreciate a lot of the work he produces, and can cite the Dish as an enormous triumph in blogging that is both insightful and entertaining.  Now then, with that praise entered into the official record, onto the controversy.

Sullivan has already gotten a lot of pushback for his recent Newsweek cover story.  Yesterday, Conor Friedersdorf went on to criticize the piece, “Why are Obama’s Critics so Dumb?” at length, by asking a question of his own: “Why Focus on Obama’s Dumbest Critics?

“No, Obama isn’t a radical Kenyan anti-colonialist. But he is a lawbreaker and an advocate of radical executive power. What precedent could be more radical than insisting that the executive is empowered to draw up a kill list of American citizens in secret, without telling anyone what names are on it, or the legal justification for it, or even that it exists? What if Newt Gingrich inherits that power?”

Friedersdorf further points out what I think is the primary problem with the argument at the center of Sullivan’s article,

“But his Newsweek essay fits the pattern I’ve lamented of Obama apologists who tell a narrative of his administration that ignores some of these issues and minimizes the importance of others, as if they’re a relatively unimportant matter to be set aside in a sentence or three before proceeding to the more important business of whether the president is being critiqued fairly by obtuse partisans.”

Our own Ryan Bonneville makes a similar critique,

“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.”

What frustrates me most about Sullivan’s now widely circulated piece is how lazy it is in parsing through the reasoning that is implicit in putting certain policy priorities above others.It’s not enough just to claim that one thinks stopping torture should be President Obama’s top priority, even to the exclusion of all others, as Sullivan did in his original essay,

“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.”

First of all, one can criticize the President, and his policies, without going to the next step and actually withdrawing support for him.  The blogosphere recently re-learned this lesson with liberal backlash against Ron Paul sympathizers.  One can rightfully acknowledge that Ron Paul is making a much needed and trenchant critique of current liberal and conservative foreign policy without necessarily supporting his actual Presidential bid.  If Sullivan really does oppose the President on various issues, and exceptionally so in some instances, he should pay due attention to them rather than sweeping such disagreements under the rug owing to some previous set of cost/benefit calculations which Sullivan himself has already gone through.

Obama’s disavowing of torture was in no way to the exclusion of other civil liberty priorities.  It was not an either, or.  He could have done that and all of the above.  It doesn’t make sense to consider the issue of torture, indefinite detention, and the indistinct nature of undeclared wars and unending occupations, part of some zero-sum game.  This zero-sum practice, however, comes in part from conflating campaigning with governance.

Elections are zero-sum.  Either Obama or his Republican challenger will win.  And one must decide their vote on the merits as constrained by that either/or scenario.  Two men enter, one man leaves.  But while that zero-sum cost/benefit analysis applies to Obama as candidate, it is not appropriate for evaluating Obama as President.  In that respect, one can’t look at what President Obama did and accomplished, and compare that with what a prospective Romney or Gingrich might do.

A more appropriate comparison would be the one Friedersdorf makes,

“Pretend that you knew, circa 2008, that President Cheney or Palin or Rice or Rumsfeld or Giuliani would do all those things — but that, on the bright side, they’d refrain from torturing anyone else, end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, sign a bank bailout, and pass a health-care bill that you regard as improving on the status quo starting in 2014. Would you vote for them on that basis?”

Of course, an even better comparison might be between the actual President Obama, and one’s ideal President working under similar constraints and pressures.  Now the precise nature of these constraints and pressures are always hard to measure.  Congress is a complicated beast, and centuries of research and reporting have proven that representative body to be nearly indecipherable.  This is why I am always hesitant to blame a President for “his” domestic record, a project of which he is at best a co-manager.

For these reasons it is much easier to look at a President’s foreign policy and executive governance when directly evaluating them.  And from conducting unauthorized acts of war in Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, to the continued evisceration of due process for suspected terrorists as well as their assassination when overseas, even when they are American citizens, President Obama’s record is one of militaristic excess and undue secrecy.

The Obama doctrine as it exists in practice could be said to include the killing, via fire from the heavens, of anyone suspected of being a terrorist, or of associating with terrorists, in areas designated as war zones, which are themselves defined in part by their being suspected terrorists in that area.  This is but one of the many foreign policy catch-22s that were constructed under the Bush administration and continue to flourish, sometimes exceedingly so, under the reign of Obama.

In response to both Friedersdorf and Bonneville, Sullivan today wrote,

“In wartime, I believe the government has a right to find and kill those who are waging war against us, if it is impossible to capture them. I don’t think wartime decisions like that need be completely transparent – or can be, if we are to succeed. And I think Obama has succeeded remarkably quickly in this new kind of war. He has all but wiped out al Qaeda by drone attacks and the Afghanistan surge. And his success makes these repugnant wartime excesses things that, in a second term, he could ratchet back. Even Bush ratcheted back in his second term.

But my primary issue has always been torture – the cancer it introduces into our legal, moral and civilizational bloodstream. That has gone. More will, if Obama continues to win this war and gains strength against the authoritarian pro-torture GOP by being re-elected.”

Thus, for Sullivan, Obama’s actions are not his alone, but those demanded by “wartime.”  A “wartime” that has lasted over a decade, and shows no signs of ever coming to an end.  And it is in fact one of Obama’s successes that he has been able to prosecute this war so rapidly since taking office by putting the Afghanistan occupation into overdrive and utilizing the extremely controversial, extra-judicial drone policy which, in addition to being responsible for the deaths of many innocent men, women, and children, was not important enough to evaluate or discuss in Sullivan’s original article.

Is Obama the “Lesser of two evils in this respect?”  According to Sullivan, “Yes.”  And when compared with his potential Republican challenger, I would have to agree.

But what about when compared with himself?  Do Obama’s domestic successes, to the degree they can be called his accomplishments, make up for his “wartime” excesses?  Perhaps.  But I am not convinced.  And for I and many other Obama skeptics, Sullivan needs to actually explain why passing health care, stimulus, etc. and disavowing torture is enough to make up for accelerating the degradation of our civil liberties and the institutionalization of civilian deaths outside of declared war.

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59 thoughts on “Sullivan, Obama, and Elections

  1. This is a substantive and reasonable critique. I do have the following comments:

    -I am baffled by anybody opposed to American intervention in Libya, as if the intervention mirrored American action in either Iraq or Afghanistan. What should the United States have done instead? Simply refused to get involved, materially or otherwise, thus abandoning its own strategic interests, both political and economic? It is perhaps a grim calculus to get involved in, but to simply throw up our hands seems an unrealistic expectation at best.

    -I am equally baffled by your refusal to mention the American withdrawal from Iraq. I recognize disliking a non-specific wartime that seemingly goes on forever, but as of right now, there is less war than there was last year. This was Obama honoring previously reached agreements, but he did so in the fact of some political opposition who continues to clamor for more troops-on-the-ground war like we’ve enjoyed (endured) this last decade.

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    • Whether or not one agrees with the President’s intervention in Libya, the reality is that Congress voted against it, and the act was never declared, setting further precedent for something like, say, undelcared military strikes in Iran.

      With respect to Iraq, yes, we are leaving, only at the behest of the Iraq government and only after three years of an Obama presidency.  Still, it is true that this undeclared war is officially over, even as our presence there unofficially continues via a small army of state department officials and private security contractors.

      My general critique of “wartime” and undeclared wars though has more to do with the policy of attacking anyone, anywhere, at any time as part of the ungoing “War on terror,” more so than any specific conflict with which we are involved. 

      So yes, to the degree that Obama could have caved to pressure, or a Republican in his place would have stayed longer, it is a +1 to the President for getting out when the time came.

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      • I am baffled by anybody opposed to American intervention in Libya, as if the intervention mirrored American action in either Iraq or Afghanistan. What should the United States have done instead? Simply refused to get involved, materially or otherwise, thus abandoning its own strategic interests, both political and economic?

        So now the truth is out. It was never about the wee-being of the Libyans, it is about strategic american interests. Its nice to know that americans are fine with invading other countries for non-defensive reasons.

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        • Is operating in our own strategic interests such a terrible thing?   Qaddafi murdered quite a few of us over time.   Perhaps you think the Lockerbie bombing has passed from our minds, or the Berlin disco bombing or the Libyan exiles murdered on his behalf.

          And don’t beg questions as if we Invaded.   Obama finessed this hand.   He didn’t put boots on the ground or erect an American flag.   Libya’s in the hands of the Libyans.   I might be tempted to beg a few questions of my own about the role of the countries who dealt with Qaddafi knowing him for the monster he was.

           

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          • He didn’t put boots on the ground or erect an American flag.

            No, he just dropped lots of bombs and then played no insignificant role in setting up a puppet government.

            Kudos for being more subtle than Bush. Not so much for crassly extending american imperium and violating the sovereignty of another nation over an ideological issue (not to mention one where it is possible that Kadaffi may even have been right)

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          • BlaiseP. Not only is the lockerbie connection to Libya tenuous, Gadaffi had already paid compensation to the families (even to those which the US had bombed in retalliation)

            Also, since when was it acceptable (under any existing norm of international relations) to attack another country in “retaliation” for 25 year old offenses. Hell, try even justifying that under an idealised set of norms.

            I might be tempted to beg a few questions of my own about the role of the countries who dealt with Qaddafi knowing him for the monster he was

            Trying to build peaceful relations is actually the most defensible course of action. And besides, it is not like America doesnt attack other countries without provocation, bomb innocents, casually violate other countries’ borders and assasinate its own citizens.

            Also, operating on your own strategic interests can be anything from a straightforwardly defensive war, to invading other countries in order to take control of important natural resources. Strategic interests is so broad a justification it will justify almost anything.

            All I’m wondering is when America is going to attack Singapore because of the way the singaporean government places restrictions on public demonstrations. Because, by God, political liberties are so fishing important that we should invade other countries which dont provide enough of them right?

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        • You might be surprised to learn this Murali, but I actually wasn’t consulted before the operations in Libya were begun. But even if you are willing to ignore the fact that Libyans are almost certainly better off without that murderous madman leading their nation, America benefits strategically from his absence, if only because there’s one less murderous madman at the helm. Is it really so awful it something that potentially benefits the Libyan people ALSO potentially aligns with American strategic interests?

          (Also: we didn’t invade.)

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  2. Sullivan’s piece was largely focused on domestic policy. CF rightly noted this in his response.
    AS would have been better off saying:
    1. I care most about domestic policy
    2. The gop is worse on foreign policy so the question is moot.

    Instead, his natural feistiness drew him into a losing debate… I predict a qualified retraction of his response to CF within a week.

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    • I can see this happening.  One of the things I really like about Sullivan is that he is one of the few well know bloggers out there that – after some period of perhaps digging in – will take a step back and say he was wrong.  The internet could use a whole lot more of that.

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  3. One aspect of Sullivan’s response that carried weight was his emphasis on torture. It is an abomination that I would view as qualitatively different than other civil liberties concerns. Although drone strikes cause more suffering, torture of detainees strikes me as much more troubling.
    Perhaps this is irrational, but I’d accept more executive overreach by Obama eather than risk the return of torture under the GOP.
    Perhaps for sullivan, it’s not the lesser of two evils… But instead a cgouce between really bad and EVIL.

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  4. Ethan,

    A nice analysis, and I am substantially in agreement with you.  I especially support your additional comment that a better presidential stance on torture would have been to prosecute those who promoted its use, rather than effectively leave it as a president-by-president decision.  For that failure, I think Sullivan dramatically overstates the Obama = no more torture” case.

    So  just a minor quibble.

    centuries of research and reporting have proven that representative body to be nearly indecipherable.

    I think researchers have deciphered it pretty well, actually, and for those who are willing to put in the effort to read their work, the institution’s pretty intelligible.  But it does take quite a bit of work due to the complexities of the structure, and very few journalists have really done that work.  So, I agree that to most Americans it certainly does appear indecipherable.

    But that’s a side point, obviously, and leaves the substance of your argument untouched.

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      • Pat,

        Ummmm, probably not.  A) It is complex, and B) political scientists are lousy popularizers (economists and biologists do it so well, we ought to be able to).  If there is I’ve missed it because it’s not really my area of study.

        If you want some short books to read, I’d recommend starting with just about anything by Richard Fenno or David Mayhew.  On a purely personal level I’d recommend Fenno’s Learning to Govern (a really outstanding very short work on the Republican majority in Congress after the 1994 election, and their unpreparedness to handle being in the majority).  His Congress in Committees is a classic (that I haven’t read), is longer, but can be bought cheap.  He also wrote two good short books about campaigning and learning to become a legislator, Learning to Legislate: The Senate Education of Arlen Specter and The Making of A Senator: Dan Quayle, both out of print I think, and hard to find, but worthwhile.

        In a nutshell, to understand Congress you have to understand how legislators–especially Representatives–are electorally connected to their districts (more than they are to their parties and its leadership), how crucial committees and their chairs are in the legislative process, the importance of logrolling (vote trading), and the great difficulty Congress has working as any kind of unified institution.

        At the risk of self-promotion, I wrote a piece on how a bill does not become a law (using the case of closing the Chicago Ship Canal to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes) for a friend’s Congress class (it was a bit nasty; I wrote it in 24 hours to embarrass his students who said his paper topic–10 pages on a bill in process–was too hard for them).  He used to work in Congress and he was very enthusiastic about what I wrote, so it might have some value.  It basically explains the real legislative process by explaining why this bill has almost no chance to become law.  I’d be willing to share it if anyone’s interested.  (I’d kind of like to do a little more with it than just embarrass slacker students.)

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  5. i appreciate what ryan is saying, but the below highlights something that doesn’t sit right with me:

    “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.”

    on one hand this is subjectively true.  on the other hand, wouldn’t an honest assessment include looking at what he did, why he did it, and how those things play into other policies?  without the larger “honest assessment”, this feeling exists in a vacuum.

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  6. Maybe this deserves a larger guest post or something, but I’ll take a stab at what I feel to be the most unfair criticisms over the President’s foreign policy and executive governance record.

    First: All of the criticisms of Obama’s handling of executive governance and foreign policy rests on the narrow view of these as being limited essentially to a handful of policy areas. I’m not going to argue that these are not important policy areas. I think policy regarding detention and use of force are both key policy areas for US national interest. But they are not, in the sum total the extent of a presidency’s executive power nor of its foreign policy responsibilities.

    On foreign policy, the Libya intervention (in addition to the actions on the Somali coast) should also be understood in light of the international system, and not simply in terms of US domestic politics. In many ways the Libya intervention was the anti-Iraq. There was in fact a UN Resolution backing the use of air power, a NATO agreement to use force, and an Arab League resolution to condemn Ghaddafi’s actions. It was authorized under a widely held international standard of intervention known as Right to Protect (note I am not making a value judgment on whether or not enshrining R2P is a desirable trait). In addition it signaled a return to a non-boots on the ground, intervention. Given that one of the preconditions of restoring US foreign policy in a more liberal direction would be the reinforcement of multilateral institutions and a gradual deemphasis on US hegemonic power by providing an avenue under which other powers are also involved in the decision making process for the use of force.

    Second there are many areas in addition to the formerly mentioned areas of foreign policy. The nuclear disarmament summit was, quite frankly, an event without precedent and one that was spectacularly well managed by the Obama Administration. While one may fault its lack of concrete commitments toward eventual global disarmament and its actions as “talk”, the simple fact is, this Administration is one of the first to actually put total, nuclear disarmament on the table and take steps to make this a diplomatic priority. While there are conflicts with existing policy over how this will move toward implementation, to argue that this is trivial is a rather odd definition of foreign policy.

    There are of course additional areas where executive governance matters. Cabinet appointments and decisions such as the recent Keystone XL pipeline permit decision are areas where executive governance is important. One can also point to looking into housing discrimination, predatory lending practices and consumer protection while imperfect are also things the Obama Administration has done better than a hypothetical Rumsfeld or whatever other strange bizarro-world administration Friedersdorf wants us to imagine.

    Second: The interpretation of certain executive actions in the worst possible light.

    First on the killing of Al-Awlaki.
    There is plenty of legal analysis supporting what was done, even if you disagree with it. To simply put it as “assassinating US citizens by fiat” is misleading and hyperbolic. Even taking into account the
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1754223
    (If you would rather have the IANAL short form see:
    http://www.lawfareblog.com/2011/09/al-awlaki-as-an-operational-leader-located-in-a-place-where-capture-was-not-possible/
    http://www.lawfareblog.com/2011/09/what-process-is-due/
    I believe Burt and Mark can provide counter-commentary if they wish, and I will add for the sake of disclaimer’s sake that i’m a former student of Robert Chesney so therefore may be more inclined to take his analysis at his word given the additional discussion/context I have in interacting with him.)

    Second on the authority claimed by the Executive regarding detention and processes and the Section D controversy:
    http://www.lawfareblog.com/2011/12/ndaa-faq-a-guide-for-the-perplexed/

    I would argue that in both cases you and Ryan have worked to actively take for granted only the most critical (and uncharitable) interpretation of Obama’s actions.

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    • Blech.

      Since it seems I did one of my “space out while writing different paragraphs” thing (reason #12312b2 that I would make a terrible blogger), let me expand a little bit on what I was trying to get at.

      First, I think it’s interesting that a persistent angle the Obama Administration has taken with regard to their use of drones, or detention authority or just about any other “war on terror” issue is that they rest much of their legal logic upon the 2001 AUMF. This is contra to what the Bush Administration argued (at least until Jack Goldsmith’s tenure) in that the Yoo memos and their like actually suggest that the Presidency has INHERENT authority to conduct the actions they argue for.

      Some have criticized what is essentially the contortionist logic that’s required to follow through on some of the justifications (and I agree that some of the logic is tortured), but it must be noted that Section 1031 of the NDAA is also predicated on the actions involving AUMF related activities. This might sound sophistic (and it is a bit of legal quibbling), but in my more charitable moments, I tend to think it’s Obama and his advisers looking at the history of US attitudes towards civil liberties in times of war and trying to find a way to defuse a bomb in the long run.

      Why do I think this?
      A. The emphasis on taking out Al Qaeda leadership through any means at its disposal by the Administration suggests to me that they are serious about eradicating Al Qaeda’s operational capability to be a threat to the US.
      B. The overall trend appearing in the Administration’s Afghanistan policy which seems to be using a “mini-surge” to provide sufficient political cover for a phased draw-down and exit within the next 4 years.

      Let’s unpack this argument a bit more.
      The 2001 AUMF (which we will recall was supported by nearly everyone, including the Sainted Doctor Paul, patron saint of Civil Liberties and Peace, evidently) is worded essentially to mean the authorization is based upon pursuit and neutralization of Al Qaeda as it was constituted in September 2001. More broadly it basically means Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s acolytes. While the DC Circuit Court has helpfully expanded the definition of Al Qaeda to include “in theater” threats like the Taliban, it’s not likely to take groups that do not provide material support or backing to AQ or affiliated organizations.

      In essence, by enshrining in law that the AUMF is the authorizing power for a host of powers (like certain types of military detention) these statutes expire the moment the AUMF is no longer in force. (We can hope, but this is of course a caveat that applies for everything)

      So why is zealously prosecuting a war in Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan important? Because it provides the narrative foundation for claiming an end to the US’s “War on Terror”. The death of Bin Laden has severely shaken public support, and it’s likely that if Zawahiri is whacked (let’s hope he is…) the case for staying and continuing to attack targets in Af-Pak become even shakier.

      Once the US does draw down and “end” the war in Afghanistan (the Administration seems to have a 2014-ish timeline in mind for beginning this process) the US will be moving towards an Offshore balancing strategy as has been recently revealed. Under this metric, the indefinite detention of anyone becomes less important, because it’s starting to work towards a lower footprint strategy of having the US be an over the horizon guarantor. At that point, the hysteria in the US over terrorism will likely to have started healing, and in the 2016 elections will likely be sufficiently in the past (15 years at that point barring some new incident) to allow a gradual dismantling or simply sunsetting of powers that are related to the war on terror.

      Likely as not there’ll be new powers to keep Greenwald’s word count happy followers fed. No guillotining of Wall Street executives, or maybe the normalization of Right to Protect will probably be the next battlefield. But the best way to actually end the “war on terror” state is to end the war on terror, and I’m inclined to believe the Obama Administration has a roadmap for this that’s actually feasible and less likely to result in short-term blowback that’ll just sweep an even more crazy militant into power. Is it fool proof? No. Does it work on a timescale that I’m happy with? Not at all.

      But it’s something to think about.

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    • In many ways the Libya intervention was the anti-Iraq. There was in fact a UN Resolution backing the use of air power, a NATO agreement to use force, and an Arab League resolution to condemn Ghaddafi’s actions. It was authorized under a widely held international standard of intervention known as Right to Protect.

      But it was not authorized by the democratic system of representation the United States employs in deciding these matters.  Again, Obama considers the “rule of law” parmount, except when he doesn’t.

      In addition it signaled a return to a non-boots on the ground, intervention.

      Not true…there were CIA agents…we were training and arming the “rebels.”  Unless we were beaming them aboard some ship we had boots on the ground to do this.

      Given that one of the preconditions of restoring US foreign policy in a more liberal direction would be the reinforcement of multilateral institutions and a gradual deemphasis on US hegemonic power by providing an avenue under which other powers are also involved in the decision making process for the use of force.

      A valid point, but one which scrapes the bottom of the “what’s expected” barrel for me.

      The rest of point number one, well, I’m not sure (beyond nuclear disarmament) what they actual actions you’re a citing in support.

      According to the U.S. government, moreover, he also has taken on an operational leadership role with the organization al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), recruiting and directing individuals to participate in specific acts of violence.

      Yes, according to them, on the basis of, we don’t know what, because it need not be made explicit.

      is believed to be “part of” enemy forces within the meaning of the AUMF;

      Again, by the account given via the government, which is not up for review or debate, i.e. there is no due process.  It’s shoot first, ask questions later, or probably not at all.

      I would argue that in both cases you and Ryan have worked to actively take for granted only the most critical (and uncharitable) interpretation of Obama’s actions.

      The fact of the matter is that people labeled “enemy combatants,” whether here or abroad, can be picked up and held indefinitely without a trial or any oversight.  Abroad there is also precedent for them being killed via drone strikes, killing them and whoever is around them, even when they are U.S. citizens, even when those U.S. citizens are under the age of 18. 

      Indefinite detention and the right to kill whomever is not in this country, even outside of declared war, is not an uncharitable interpretation.  It’s the truth, one that Obama and his lawyers endorse, and which should be self-evidently contrary to the beliefs and values of any semi-serious liberal, at the very least.

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      • 1. The United States government ratified the UN Charter. There was, and is ample precedent for the US NOT participating in a multinational institution and not regarding its rules as binding. League of Nations anyone? Law of the Sea Treaty? Declaration of Paris? Those are all part of the democratic mechanisms of the US policy making apparatus. Being a UN Member state and a NATO member are both things that were done under the advise and consent section of the Constitution involving treaties.

        2. re: Boots on the ground. I’ll admit that I don’t consider CIA advisers and special ops forces to be a high profile boots on the ground operation compared to the use of combat infantry battalions and occupation. I should have framed this differently and this is my mistake.

        3. Wittes has noted and I will reiterate: Al-Alwaki WAS given what was given recourse. He could have surrendered either to the Yemeni government (which has no extradition agreement with the US) or to US forces. In either case, he could have left the target list by simply being in US custody and regaining a whole list of rights that he possessed (and would still possess even after Section 1031) but chose not to, and instead remained in Yemen, in hiding amongst members of AQAP.
        (For a good exchange on this subject see Ackerman and Wittes’s exchange)
        http://www.lawfareblog.com/2011/10/thoughts-in-response-to-spencer-ackerman-2/

        Moreover, the definition of “declared war” is essentially meaningless. AUMF provided the same sort of military authority that a declaration of war would, except that it was an authorization against a Non-state actor.

        Here’s a different question then.
        Would you support a national security court that was set up like FISA but with higher evidentiary standards in order to clear the placing of a US citizen on the capture/kill target list? The simple fact is this mechanism wasn’t available to the Obama OLC when they were dealing with the Al-Awlaki case. Could they have asked for Congress to create one? Possibly, but that also has the implication that we’d be creating an entirely new process which would be permanent and likely not limited to the current conflict.

        There’s a cost to weigh here. I would like to think I’m a serious liberal. But I’m not sure I fit your definition.

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  7. With all due respect, are we sure that Sullivan is the one conflating campaigning with governance?

    In just the third paragraph of the Newsweek article, AS states quite clearly that disagreement with some of Obama’s decisions is warranted and necessary. (He cites in the articles his alignment with the left’s disagreement with Obama on some of the issues you raise here, as a matter of fact.) And at the end of that paragraph, he lays out the article’s them statement. Despite these disagreements, Sullivan believes President Obama’s “reelection remains, in my view, as essential for this country’s future as his original election in 2008.”

    Sullivan is making the case for re-election here, not for capitulation to Obama’s governance decisions.

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    • “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.”

      This is perhaps the most illustrative of what I’m talking about.  Sullivan says ending torture is more important than militaristic excess and the degredation of civil liberties by the executive.

      Says who?  He doens’t even provide an explanation for this position, which, like the others, ends up amounting to praising the good things and sweeping the rest under the rug via some vague claim that they aren’t as important.

      It’s lazy.

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  8. “They miss, it seems to me, two vital things. The first is the simple scale of what has been accomplished on issues liberals say they care about. A depression was averted. The bail-out of the auto industry was—amazingly—successful. Even the bank bailouts have been repaid to a great extent by a recovering banking sector. The Iraq War—the issue that made Obama the nominee—has been ended on time and, vitally, with no troops left behind. Defense is being cut steadily, even as Obama has moved his own party away from a Pelosi-style reflexive defense of all federal entitlements. Under Obama, support for marriage equality and marijuana legalization has crested to record levels. Under Obama, a crucial state, New York, made marriage equality for gays an irreversible fact of American life. Gays now openly serve in the military, and the Defense of Marriage Act is dying in the courts, undefended by the Obama Justice Department. Vast government money has been poured into noncarbon energy investments, via the stimulus. Fuel-emission standards have been drastically increased. Torture was ended. Two moderately liberal women replaced men on the Supreme Court. Oh, yes, and the liberal holy grail that eluded Johnson and Carter and Clinton, nearly universal health care, has been set into law. Politifact recently noted that of 508 specific promises, a third had been fulfilled and only two have not had some action taken on them. To have done all this while simultaneously battling an economic hurricane makes Obama about as honest a follow-through artist as anyone can expect from a politician.”

    The above paragraph is Sullivan writing to explain what the Left get’s wrong about Obama.

    It certainly appears to me that he is making the judgement that X set of policies on the one hand out weigh Y set on the other.  There’s nothing wrong with making that judgement, but I’m not sure how we compare drones and civil liberties to a not as bad economy and the passage of ACA.  How would we measure one against the other?  Sullivan seems to have done that, but without providing the chicken scatch notes that led him to those calculations.

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    • It certainly appears to me that he is making the judgement that X set of policies on the one hand out weigh Y set on the other.  There’s nothing wrong with making that judgement, but I’m not sure how we compare drones and civil liberties to a not as bad economy and the passage of ACA.  How would we measure one against the other?

      Absolutely, how can you measure one against the other without being subjective? Sullivan applied his subjective values to the calculation – just as you have. You’ve taken a rather long list of accomplishments in the excerpt above, “sweep it under the rug” as it were and judged it inadequate to… um… what?  Convince you to quit protesting President Obama’s militaristic excess? Who’s asking you to do that? Sullivan certainly isn’t.

      Look, I’m not interested in a full-throated defense of Andrew Sullivan. Like you, I find him interesting to read and, like Tod, I appreciate how he works through his positions on important issues in the open air for all to view. (It’s like watching the sausage being made.) But, I read his article in Newsweek and saw nothing close to a call to quiet dissent. Instead, I came away with what I thought was a pretty strong case toward those who voted for Obama in 2008, like Sullivan, to look at Obama’s record, in toto and considering the alternatives, and decide it is important to vote for him again in 2012.  You’ve acknowledged you reached the same conclusion. It appears to me as though your bone of contention is that Sullivan’s vote will not be as begrudging as yours will be.

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