Thursday, August 29, 2013
As our Nobel Peace Prize winning president heads toward his third war, it’s useful to review his words of the past and compare them to his actions of today.
[Candidate Obama] responded in writing to a series of questions regarding executive power from Charlie Savage, then of The Boston Globe:Q. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)OBAMA: The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.;
In those days, Mr. Obama enjoyed passing himself off as a “Constitutional scholar”. His statement above isn’t equivocal or nuanced. It’s a statement that clearly claims that what he is about to do as Obama the CINC is not authorized by the Constitution. Yet to watch the White House spin this, not only is he authorized, but he’s entitled to do it whenever he feels it necessary.
By the way, he wasn’t the only one making this argument:
Vice President Joe Biden, who voted for the Iraq War, agreed with Obama.“The president has no constitutional authority to take this country to war… unless we’re attacked or unless there is proof that we are about to be attacked,” Biden said in 2007.Biden, then a Democratic senator from Delaware, suggested presidential war-making was an impeachable offense.
Oh my, the “i” word. I thought only GOPers slung that word around. Another myth busted.
The point, of course, is that what Candidate Obama said was supposed to indicate how he would do things when he took office. It was the whole purpose of the question. To sound the man out about how he would approach a similar situation and what would guide his decision. It was to let the voting public know where he stood on such matters.
We were all supposed to be convinced by his answer that he’d be guided by the Constitution and would rein in the use of “executive power”. Subsequent history with Obama and his actions indicates we should believe very little of what the man says. He has, time and time again, chosen to expand executive power – something he railed against in his candidacy – instead of doing the hard work of persuading and working with Congress to accept his agenda.
This situation with Syria is just more of the same. The hypocrisy is stunning but really nothing unusual in politics today. But it does leave one wondering what the man really, honestly believes and what principles guide him when he makes decisions. At this point, the interim conclusion must be “not much”.
The Wall Street Journal points out something that ought to chill everyone to the bone:
The U.S. government has used the merger-approval process to increase its influence over the telecom industry, bringing more companies under its oversight and gaining a say over activities as fundamental as equipment purchases.The leverage has come from a series of increasingly restrictive security agreements between telecom companies and national-security agencies that are designed to head off threats to strategically significant networks and maintain the government’s ability to monitor communications, according to a review of the public documents and lawyers who have negotiated the agreements.
I think it is safe to say we’re terrified of terrorism to the point that we seem willing to trade freedom and privacy for at least the veneer of security. And we all know what Ben Franklin had to say about that trade.
The increased oversight reflects the national-security establishment’s growing concern about threats to U.S. networks and the globalization of an industry in which equipment is increasingly made in China and other foreign countries, people familiar with the accords said.The deals routinely require the companies to give the government streamlined access to their networks. At their most restrictive, they grant officials the right to require firms to remove certain gear and approve equipment purchases and directors.
So government is knee deep in telecom to the point that it even decides what equipment they can use and what directors they can appoint. While the government’s security concerns may have some validity, are the terms and restrictions too much?
Well, let’s consider a recent example of a related industry during the Snowden affair:
If there’s any confirmation that the U.S. government has commandeered the Internet for worldwide surveillance, it is what happened with Lavabit earlier this month.Lavabit is — well, was — an e-mail service that offered more privacy than the typical large-Internet-corporation services that most of us use. It was a small company, owned and operated by Ladar Levison, and it was popular among the tech-savvy. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden among its half-million users.Last month, Levison reportedly received an order – probably a National Security Letter — to allow the NSA to eavesdrop on everyone’s e-mail accounts on Lavabit. Rather than “become complicit in crimes against the American people,” he turned the service off. Note that we don’t know for sure that he received a NSL — that’s the order authorized by the Patriot Act that doesn’t require a judge’s signature and prohibits the recipient from talking about it — or what it covered, but Levison has said that he had complied with requests for individual e-mail access in the past, but this was very different.So far, we just have an extreme moral act in the face of government pressure. It’s what happened next that is the most chilling. The government threatened him with arrest, arguing that shutting down this e-mail service was a violation of the order.
In essence, the NSA was telling Mr. Levison, via it’s threat to arrest him for not doing what it said, that it was the defacto “owner” of his enterprise. That he, in fact, had only one duty – comply. That he had no decision on how to proceed with what he apparently erroneously believed was his property until the NSA showed up.
T-Mobile has been operating under a security agreement since 2001, when its parent company Deutsche Telekom AG, acquired VoiceStream Wireless Corp. for $50 billion. The agreement required that communications infrastructure be located in the U.S. and pass through a facility from which lawful electronic surveillance could be conducted.It also prohibited the carrier from sharing communication data with foreign governments and allowed officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department to interview employees and inspect “communications infrastructure” upon “reasonable notice” in order to ensure compliance with the agreement.
Reasonable or unreasonable? Who is the defacto owner here?
The carrier also agreed to provide the two agencies with an updated list of principal network equipment, including routers, switches, base stations and servers, as well as manufacturer and model numbers for hardware and software, a provision that wasn’t included in the 2001 agreement.Such inspection rights have improved the government’s understanding of how the networks are put together, said Andrew Lipman, a partner at Bingham McCutchen LLP who has worked on about three dozen agreements over the last 20 years.“The fact they have these rights to inspect gives them a window into equipment vendors that otherwise the government wouldn’t have,” he said. The government is using these agreements to “go to school” on network operations. “It’s like a shadow foreman at the factory,” he said.That knowledge, he added, facilitates “the ability to—when appropriate—engage in record collection, data collection and wiretapping.”
And, of course, we all know that government would never abuse any of this access. I mean, it’s silly to think, for instance, that NSA employees would use their access to spy on their love interests, isn’t it?
In the final analysis we have to decide where the line is to be drawn in terms of the limits of the security state. Otherwise, as we’re discovering, it continues to creep into more and more areas and assume more and more powers. Are we really willing to give government … any government … the sort of power it has apparently assumed on its own? Are we willing to trust our privacy to an entity which has gone this deeply into controlling this one industry (and how deeply are they into others we don’t know about?)?
Security is important. Freedom and privacy are more important. More and more it seems our government has put security above both freedom and privacy. And that is contrary to the founding principles upon which this nation was founded. The question is, who will call a halt to the creeping security state?
in previous administrations, Presidents who ordered the military into action would go on television from the Oval Office in prime time to explain the reasons why it was necessary to put our service members in harm’s way, lay out the goals of the operation and the path to victory, and perhaps suggest a timeline for its arrival. George W. Bush actually gave two addresses on the Iraq invasion from the Oval Office — one as it launched in March 2003, and another in December 2005 to update Americans. In contrast, Barack Obama gave some brief remarks in the middle of the day from the East Room before starting an intervention in Libya in 2011, and now the White House has rejected an Oval Office speechbefore attacking Syria … as “passé”:
With military action against Syria set to begin within hours, according to reports, President Barack Obama and his administration are determining what legal route to take in order to justify the attack. According to NBC News White House reporter Chuck Todd, the administration is leery of seeking Congressional support for a mission in Syria because Congress many decline to bless such an operation. Now, according to reports from POLITICO’s Glenn Thrush, Obama may seek to avoid the American people as well.Thrush reported on Wednesday that, based on his conversations with aides to the president, Obama will not address the American people about the mission in Syria before hostilities commence. Thrush reports that Obama’s advisors believe addressing Americans from the gravity of the Oval Office or the East Room is “passé.” Furthermore, most Americans who care about the mission in Syria will learn the logic behind it from cable news.
It’s too old-fashioned, the Obama administration says:
When I asked WH why O didn't directly address public on NSA aide said it's 'old medium'-most ppl view stuff online/cable loop @andie_walsh— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) August 28, 2013
In one sense, they maybe right, but I’d question that logic. They’re right only in reference to those voters who immerse themselves in politics. The White House is looking at this from too far inside the Beltway, and overestimating the reach of cable news. Ratings for the cable-news networks have steadily declined after last year’s election, which means much less reach. The failure to use the bully pulpit to get around the cable networks and their opinion shapers is even more inexplicable considering the success Obama had last year in engaging low-information voters by going around hard-news media and talking directly to voters through the entertainment media, who offered few if any tough questions to the celebrity incumbent.
Presidents have no better tool than an Oval Office address to get voters to rally around them, and it’s curious that Obama has eschewed it in this case. Does the White House think Americans won’t notice that Obama has started a fresh new war front if they pretend it didn’t happen? Perhaps so, but that’s an even bigger miscalculation, and a huge missed opportunity. I’d expect this decision to change quickly.
Quotes of the day: Syrian warmongering turning Obama into Bush's 'clone' cowboy foreign policy of George W. Bush, now is wrestling with some of the same moral and legal realities that led Bush to invade Iraq without clear U.N. consent in 2003.
Syrian warmongering turning Obama into Bush's 'clone'
Obama said Wednesday he had not yet made a decision on taking action in Syria, but that taking a stand against that country’s use of chemical weapons on its own people can have a positive impact on the United States’ national security in the long run.
“We have not yet made a decision but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place,” Obama said in an interview with PBS’ Newshour.
“I think it’s important that if in fact we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime .….will have received a pretty strong signal that in fact it better not do it again,” Obama added.
The former constitutional law professor, who came to office determined to end what critics called the cowboy foreign policy of George W. Bush, now is wrestling with some of the same moral and legal realities that led Bush to invade Iraq without clear U.N. consent in 2003. …
One U.S. official who has been briefed on the options on Syria said he believed the White House would seek a level of intensity “just muscular enough not to get mocked” but not so devastating that it would prompt a response from Syrian allies Iran and Russia.
“They are looking at what is just enough to mean something, just enough to be more than symbolic,” he said.
Obama and his top aides have shared intelligence with key members of Congress. But White House aides made it clear Tuesday that Obama would not wait for Congress to return from its monthlong recess on Sept. 9, and House and Senate leaders signaled no plans to call members back for an emergency session.
Dear Mr. President:
I deeply respect your role as our country’s commander-in-chief, and I am mindful that Syria is one of the few places where the immediate national security interests of the United States so visibly converge with broader U.S. security interests and objectives. …
In addition, it is essential you address on what basis any use of force would be legally justified and how the justification comports with the exclusive authority of Congressional authorization under Article I of the Constitution.
-What standard did the Administration use to determine that this scope of chemical weapons use warrants potential military action?
-Does the Administration consider such a response to be precedent-setting, should further humanitarian atrocities occur?
-What result is the Administration seeking from its response?
-What is the intended effect of the potential military strikes? …
I urge you to fully address the questions raised above.
Key lawmakers will get a classified briefing from the Obama administration on Thursday regarding Syria’s alleged slaughter of civilians using chemical weapons last week, two U.S. officials said.
The briefing, to be held by conference call because Congress is still out on its August recess, is expected to include the chairmen and ranking members of key committees as well as the top leaders from each party in each chamber, the sources said. One of the officials specified that chairs of the House and Senate committees on armed services, foreign relations and intelligence would likely take part. …
“The President continues to review options with his national security team, and senior administration officials from the White House, State Department, Defense Department and Intelligence Community are continuing to reach out to bipartisan House and Senate Leadership, Leadership of the relevant Committees, and other Members of Congress,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
If the United States was genuinely interested in preventing an escalation of violent conflict in Syria, we would impatiently pursue all preventive mechanisms available to us – from international law to international diplomacy to international weapons inspection – before adding more violence (e.g. Tomahawk Missiles) to an already combustible situation.
By all accounts this week, we’re not interested in prevention because we’re not pursuing it. Before we invade, as it sounds like the White House is itching to do by Thursday at the earliest, we must do due diligence in de-escalating, not escalating, violence in Syria. This is how to do it:
First, we should invite the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as stakeholders like Turkey, Iran and Hezbollah, for continued talks with Russia as part of the stalled Geneva II peace process. In recent months, we’ve primarily engaged Russia on the Geneva peace talks, a country that has some leverage over Syria, but an insufficient amount if we want to see Syrian President Bashar Assad act differently. That’s not enough. We have other potential allies at the ready. …
There are moral reasons for disregarding the law, and I believe the Obama administration should intervene in Syria. But it should not pretend that there is a legal justification in existing law. Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to do just that on Monday, when he said of the use of chemical weapons, “This international norm cannot be violated without consequences.” His use of the word “norm,” instead of “law,” is telling.
Syria is a party to neither the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 nor the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, and even if it were, the treaties rely on the United Nations Security Council to enforce them — a major flaw. Syria is a party to the Geneva Protocol, a 1925 treaty that bans the use of toxic gases in wars. But this treaty was designed after World War I with international war in mind, not internal conflicts.
What about the claim that, treaties aside, chemical weapons are inherently prohibited? While some acts — genocide, slavery and piracy — are considered unlawful regardless of treaties, chemical weapons are not yet in this category. As many as 10 countries have stocks of chemical weapons today, with the largest held by Russia and by the United States. Both countries are slowly destroying their stockpiles, but missed what was supposed to be a final deadline last year for doing so.
A lot of commentators imagine that Operation Habitual Line-Stepper will look a lot like Operation Allied Force — the 78-day air war in which NATO supported the Kosovar Liberation Army in its efforts to stop the Serbian genocide — or the recent military operation against Libya. (That is, when they can keep straight our mid-1990s Balkan adventures.)
While a major air campaign remains a possibility, a more limited military action looks more plausible to me. In both Kosovo and Libya, there was an organized opposition capable of taking territory when supported by Western airpower. The situation in Syria is not nearly so promising. If the canonical test for using force is whether it contributes to a specific, desirable diplomatic settlement, Syria does not pass it. The opposition seems too fragmented to make use of the sort of air campaign of the sort we saw against Yugoslavia or Libya.
It seems far more likely that the Obama administration will settle for a one-off series of airstrikes, largely using cruise missiles, in order to reestablish deterrence against the further use of chemical weapons. (And, perhaps, make good on the president’s blustery talk.) There is a direct historical precedent to such an operation — Operation Desert Fox, which the Clinton administration launched against Iraq in 1998. Although Desert Fox was far from perfect, it offers a useful model of limited use of force over a period of days that might degrade Syria’s capability to use chemical weapons and discourage Assad’s commanders from repeating the carnage at Ghouta without committing the United States to long-term involvement in the country’s civil war.
In an operation some policy analysts have used as a template, the United States and NATO allies started a bombing campaign in 1999 in an effort to stop ethnic cleansing and drive Serbian forces from Kosovo. American diplomat Christopher R. Hill, who was dispatched as a special envoy to Kosovo, said there was an expectation that U.S. military intervention would be short and decisive. Some thought the bombing campaign would last a few days, Hill said, but it dragged on for 78.
“The problem is that people expect when U.S. military assets are deployed that we will do so until the regime goes away,” he said.
Hill said he understands and supports the White House’s desire to launch a strike, but with a major caveat.
“The problem with Syria is that it’s bombing in the absence of a political plan,” said Hill, who worries that the government of President Bashar al-Assad could respond with even more chemical attacks. “I think we’re opening a big door. Every time you drop bombs on something, you can’t entirely predict the results.”
Which makes us wonder why the Administration even bothers to pursue the likes of Edward Snowden when it is giving away its plan of attack to anyone in Damascus with an Internet connection. The answer, it seems, is that the attack in Syria isn’t really about damaging the Bashar Assad regime’s capacity to murder its own people, much less about ending the Assad regime for good.
“I want to make clear that the options that we are considering are not about regime change,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. Translation: We’re not coming for you, Bashar, so don’t worry. And by the way, you might want to fly those attack choppers off base, at least until next week.
So what is the purpose of a U.S. attack? Mr. Carney elaborated that it’s “about responding to [a] clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.” He added that the U.S. had a national security interest that Assad’s use of chemical weapons “not go unanswered.” This is another way of saying that the attacks are primarily about making a political statement, and vindicating President Obama’s ill-considered promise of “consequences,” rather than materially degrading Assad’s ability to continue to wage war against his own people.
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