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Phil Perspective

It's just MHO, but this is one of your best written pieces to date.


Yeah. This kind of crystalizes something I guess I've been saying piecemeal for a couple years. I can't remember how many blog posts and comments I've written where I made the case that Obama made X decsion, from Afghanistan to civil liberties to economics to immigration from a political rather than an ideological position, or even one more than passingly influenced by actual values.

Now, with this, I think it's probably fair to say that defines the operation of this White House. Decisions are made based on political pragmatism, and when you see a case like Libya where there was political demand for action but it was clearly fragile and subject to change based on events, he acted, but made it clear he was not deeply invested in doing so, and the back door was wide open for backing out of the whole thing if it blew up in his face. Now, faced with a bloody, protracted civil war, neither escalation nor retreat is politically viable, he's forced to stand pat, so he works hard to reduce expectations to below zero. So nothing gained will be nothing lost, and the political costs will be minimized.



Haha how bout this one: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=29865
Get it, cause he's just like Bush.


I think this is a fair critique overall, pretty accurately summing up their failures on detainee policy, especially. That said, I must admit I don't really see anything horribly wrong with a "middle path" on Libya. It seems that both supporters and opponents of the intervention see this as an all-or-nothing thing. I don't really see why that has to be the case. We have the capacity to prevent Gaddhafi from crushing the rebels, and doing that doesn't require that we play a direct role in ousting him. Numerous international crises - diplomatic, peacekeeping, or direct military insertions - have been resolved this way, although they do require time and patience to work.

I think you can rightly argue the Administration should not have claimed the effort would only take "days, not weeks," since even the examples of Kosovo, Bosnia, Liberia, or Côté d'Ivoire all illustrate that these things require some time. And I think Obama should seek congressional approval for a continued mission. But I think the basic approach is sound enough. There were widespread calls from the region itself and the international community to protect the rebels - something which we were capable of doing - and going forward there are sound strategic reasons for not going further. I don't see why letting this play out as a containment effort is such a strategic disaster.

Charles Forstall

I think you, like so many other learned, principled and engaged folk, are chasing absolute principle at the cost of situational reality. The current economic & political climate, both domestic and abroad doesn't cut a dove tail with anyone's social principle: either real or envisioned.

In other words, your expectations are too high. Perhaps you are right to hold Obama to his promises, but you should at least do so with the understanding that the world has changed considerably since he came into office. (Did anyone foresee the massive social uprising in the middle east?)

You can't commit to war when the body politic won't take it. Obama might like to commit more but think about the domestic backlash, never mind the thought of 3 (THREE!) ground fronts. You also can't jettison two party government in the name of closing Guantanamo. You may not appreciate the Republican's stance, but you shouldn't see their uncompromising politics as an "Obama" policy. The administration really fought tooth and nail and didn't give up the goal as you explicate, the failure to close Guantanamo has been entirely the fault of the Republicans. (Seriously, You must have forgotten the complaints of Eric Holder during a press conference that frankly, in the scheme of things, wasn't that long ago). Does anyone have any better ideas? Politically Obama's hands are tied. He couldn't change it if he wanted to.

In short, the fissures you see in Obama's polices are really a reflection of the cracks in our government and our society. The president has to work WITH government and congress and not dictate or strong arm policies (No matter how much we think he should).

I would ask you, at the very least, don't treat these "Obama" polices as if they were created in vacuum. The reality is that these polices are reflections of our bi-polar government, and our fractious body politic. The president's choices must account for the principles of our entire country and not yours, or his "current" ones, or the ones he articulated on campaign.


@Andrew, that's a fair assessment/critique. The extenuating circumstances of the Libya case are exceptional: an international community united to authorize intervention; the regional support for intervention you mention; an opportunity to show what an intervention *not* led by the US might look like. But the disconnection between means & ends is so striking, and there are so many basic strategic problems here. Someone I respect argued that the worst thing that can happen once the Libya war launches is that NATO wins, because then it'll have responsibility for post-Gadhafi Libya. I think the costs outweigh the benefits, personally, but respect the other side here.


Spencer, I seem to see Libya from an opposite perspective to yours. I don't see Obama as having started a war with Libya to rid himself of a meddlesome dictator. I don't see Gadaffi's generals as an "exogenous" factor. All the non-Libyans are the "exogenous" factors including Obama, a most important one, of course.

How was Obama to react to this situation? It started as a protest against a 40 year dictator, and escalated into a civil war, in the context of regional democratic uprisings, none of which has gone that far yet. Rebels asked for international diplomatic support, and limited military intervention, specifically not a ground force invasion. UK and France pushed a UN resolution to respond. Key neighbours appeared supportive.

The US could have threatened to veto this effort, or it could have abstained with China and Russia. That would have looked odd, don't you think, almost as if US were on the side of the dictator?

As it was, the US supported the UN mandate, but tried to make the roles of foreign players as equal as possible by turning the affair over to NATO and encouraging positive regional efforts.

I think Obama specifically wanted to leave the settlement of the issue as much as possible to Libyans, with shared regional and international support, making US backing for a democratic solution clear.

The fact that settlement is difficult might mean everybody has failed, but it doesn't mean Obama has failed in a war on Libya because he never started any such war, and that much is clear to most people outside the US, I think.

It seems to me Obama is trying to walk a line between supporting dictators and engineering regime change/occupation, both of which have generated hostility toward the US. That, I would say, is his strategy with regard to the uprisings generally, but adapted to each specific country depending on US interest and degree of influence. I see in his approach a respect for national sovereignty of other countries, balanced against universal human rights concerns and US interest.


"Obama came into office explicitly dedicated to closing Guantanamo and he was teed up to blame Bush for the thorniest complexities of Guantanamo, as Marcy Wheeler lays out."

I would really question the suggestion in the linked Emptywheel article that the Obama Admin was shocked to find out that Bush detained and mistreated hundreds of people illegally, and that the US had little evidence with which to legally convict or detain more than a few. This certainly wouldn't have shocked anybody else who followed Gtmo stories closely.

But the article raises good questions. Why didn't Obama expose this situation to the public? Why didn't he call for a public inquiry? Why did he release just enough information to raise doubts? I suspect he knew what Bush knew. The inmates might be dangerously hostile to the US, because they always were, or had become so at Gtmo thanks to torture or abuse, and nobody could tell which were and which weren't.

Obama decided it wouldn't be appropriate to further damage the reputation of the US, or to take any chances on security. He would basically continue the Bush approach of show trials, spiffed up a little, and transfers, and he hoped to gain a political victory by eventually moving the human leftovers to US jails, and burying them along with the negative Gtmo symbol. His political opponents have done what they could to deny him that, and I have no sympathy for him whatsoever on that issue.


So when, Spence, are you going to interview Phil Carter? Last heard of back practising law in LA, IIRC.

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