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Election 2012: On Violence’s Thoughts on Obama

As we wrote on Monday, most readers probably know that, in general, we support Barack Obama. We should clarify, that’s based on his domestic policy.

Foreign policy, unlike domestic issues, is a mostly non-partisan affair. More than that, the parties can’t agree on what they disagree on. Do liberals or libertarians oppose Guantanamo? Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan and Dennis Kucinich all support American isolationism. Democrats are supposed to be anti-war, but their presidents started World War II, the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, Kosovo and intervened militarily in Libya.

Politically, both sides of the aisle use foreign policy victories or mistakes to score cheap political points. Conservatives opposed Clinton heading into Kosovo, supported the war in Iraq, and then half-opposed intervening in Libya, depending on what the President did. Liberals protested the invasion of Iraq, then changed the subject when anyone asked them about Libya; they also hated Bush’s drone strikes in Afghanistan, and have ignored them under Obama’s watch.

Even though we support the president, when it comes to his foreign policy, we believe he has a mixed record--we’re not so partisan that we can’t ignore the things we vehemently disagree with. We’ve decided to give President Obama an international relations scorecard divided into “The Good”, “The Bad” and “The Inbetween”.

The Good

Iraq - This will be controversial, but under Obama’s presidency, America ended the war in Iraq. While Iraq remains incredibly violent, this has to count as a success.
Libya - Eric C isn’t sure whether he’s written about this on the website yet, but the only remaining justification for invading Iraq is: we ousted an evil dictator, Saddam Hussein. By that metric, deposing Gaddafi was a huge a success. Gaddafi supported terrorism and terrified his own people. Supporting a successful uprising without sending in ground troops counts as a victory. If Gaddafi had stayed in power, it would have been President Obama’s lowest foreign policy moment.

Killing Osama bin Laden - Have you heard about this? Yeah, we thought so.

Here’s what we know: When Obama entered the White House, he made finding Osama his top priority, and he did. He made a tough (but right) call that violated the sovereignty of another country, and killed America’s number one enemy. Our only criticism is that it would have been better to capture Osama--for intelligence purposes and to stop conspiracy theories--but we get that America never would have accepted that. (And you could argue that a President Romney probably would have made the same call as Obama. Obama made it, so he gets the credit.)
The Bad

Failing to close Guantanamo - For the rest of this post, expect us to admonish the Obama administration for continuing the disastrous policies of the Bush administration. Specifically, policies that violate civil rights or governmental openness. Failing to close Guantanamo is exhibit one.

The issue isn’t that Obama broke a campaign promise, though he did. The issue isn’t that Guantanamo makes America look bad internationally and may even encourage young Muslim men to become terrorists, though it does. The issue is that many innocent people were locked away in a secret prison with no access to lawyers, due process or any of the rights and freedoms we claim the terrorists hate so much.
Over-Classification/Leaks - As we’ve written about before, the Obama administration leaks classified information when it makes itself look good, but has continued the Bush Administration’s policy of punishing whistleblowers. Whistleblowers, by exposing corruption and waste, promote good government. Worse, Obama promised to do otherwise.

Afghanistan - A post on “Danger Room” made the less-than-shocking claim that the recently ended Afghanistan surge probably didn’t help. Worse, while President Obama has been in charge, Afghanistan has rioted over burned Korans, seen a platoon commit war crimes, and a dramatic increase in “green on blue” shootings. Afghanistan has been slowly going downhill since 2006, and President Obama hasn’t been able to solve that problem.

The Nuanced

Targeted Killing - On the one hand, a targeted killing took out Osama bin Laden. On the other, it also killed an American civilian (Anwar al Alawki) and his son without trial or declaration of war. More to that point, drone strikes killed dozens of innocent civilians the U.S. government doesn’t acknowledge. Those strikes radicalize populations, creating more terrorists. On the one hand again, those strikes have utterly decimated Al Qaeda. Only years down the line will we ever know if these strikes worked or were violations of Just War theory. So for now they fall in the nuance category.

Veteran’s Affairs - President Obama and the First Lady have launched several initiatives to help veterans. At the same time, the department of Veteran’s Affairs stills works about as well as it ever has...which is poorly. (I’m still waiting for my post-9/11 G.I. Bill to come through...) Like targeted killing, the VA is firmly in the “eh” category.

twelve comments

The one thing I’ll say is that Guantanamo isn’t Obama’s fault, really. The American public’s fear of terrorism protects and even encourages politicians to act this way.

No it is. Obama promised it and couldn’t convince anyone. Yes the American people are to blame, but so is he.

An intransigent political class prevented him from keeping this promise, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t try to keep it. Blame someone for something they could have actually done.

(Also, weird that the liberal is the one who’s upset at this.)

It’s odd that you would fault Obama for the actions of “the kill team” and SSG Bales. Yes these crimes occurred while he was CiC, but unless he somehow created a culture that is permissive of these atrocities it makes just as much sense to blame him for Soldier DUIs or domestic violence.

Also, they’re called “green on blue” not the other way around.

@ Stalhke – Good find. That’s why you’re my favorite DEFL. I fixed the mistake.

Second, I think some of the blame has to go to Obama, since he is the CiC. He’s been in charge, he’s both picked the and dismissed the leadership, and created the plan. we’re blaming him for Afghanistan not getting better, not the individual things that happened. I would compare it to Bush and Iraq—the disaster that followed was his fault.

Are the American people all that concerned by 9/11? Did the American people vote saying they were frightened? Where does this notion of fear come from? other than thin air?

My concern is the federal government overreacting to an event they helped create by their continuing foreign Adventurism.

What 9/11 gave us is yet more power grabbing where the authority to do so does not exist. The federal government did not follow the Constitution, Congress abdicated responsibility, Congress handed the executive yet more authority it did not have to give.

either drone strikes work, or they violate just war theory?? …i’m more than a little interested to know how you define just war theory using utilitarian ethics. were the british just in their prosecution of the second boer war? also, if your version of just war theory can only determine a tactic’s morality years after the fact, how does that not relegate itself into uselessness? i can literally be as vicious as i want, then, as long as i win in the long run (and, really, any moral quandaries i do manage to identify in a timely manner can easily be rectified by recalibrating how long i consider “the long run”).

perhaps just worded sub-optimally?

@ MKP – worded suboptimally.

Supporting the continuation of this Dictatorship Democracy, which such form of government is in clear violation of the Constitution, does not make it legal either.

Openly supporting such illegality is onviolence’s position, but without reasoned opinion supporting such a major decision.

It is this illegality and un-Constitutionality which is defeating the country’s purpose and stated principles. If we were to constitutionally go about re-defining the country, then all would be good and legal. But, this ongoing irresponsibility by subverting the Supreme Law must stop. Prolonging, by voting either major party candidate into the transmogrified executive office, illegality is not a responsible choice.

Short-term thinking naturally ferments into the faulty long-term policy poisons, of which we suffer greatly from.

Youth needs history to place perspective on current decisions, thus combating the short-term illusions.

The Good

Afghanistan – I disagree that the president should take the blame for atrocities committed by American troops, Koran burnings, and perhaps even the green on blue violence. I’m hesitant to include that last situation because I’d likely feel differently if it happened to someone I know. To me these problems indicate failures on the part of in-theater leadership at various levels.
Guantanamo – I also disagree with the Guantanamo conclusion. Not closing this facility, which has turned into something of a jihadist Club Med, shows an ability to change policy based on intelligence data and security needs. Such flexibility is an asset in a chief executive.

That being said, there are some significant foreign policy problems that should be laid at the POTUS’s feet:

“Short-term thinking naturally ferments into the faulty long-term policy poisons, of which we suffer greatly from.” Eric H.

I couldn’t agree more. Shortsighted foreign policy is not new. It is not unique to this administration. However, a refusal or inability to recognize foreign threats for what they are is a hallmark of this president’s tenure. The events in Benghazi last month are just one manifestation of this misguided thinking.

The Bad

Libya -The difference in our interventions in Libya and Iraq is that we had a plan to fill the void after Hussein fell. Not so much for Gaddafi. The same is true for Mubarak in Egypt. The same seems to be true for the Syrian leadership as well. I wrote a blog post on the subject last month while our embassy still smoldered. http://ramathis.blogspot.com/2012/09/fro.. Just as Eric said, no long term thinking. When policy is guided by emotion rather than reason, we set ourselves up for huge problems down the road.

Iraq – The president inherited a stable, successful operation in Iraq and has taken his eye off the ball. As a result, that nation is moving toward chaos. Did you know the (Sunni) Iraqi vice president has been convicted of murder by the Shia-controlled government and is on the run? Last I heard, he was hiding in Turkey. The Iaqi VEEP claims it’s a set-up because he blew the whistle on the Shia president getting too cozy with Iran. Why is this not in the news? After all the blood and treasure we’ve sacrificed for that country, you’d think someone would want to know what’s going on. If you want more detail, I blogged about this, too in a post called “Is Iraq Headed for Civil War?”

Bottom line: If we don’t start thinking (and acting) long-term in the Middle East, it will be our sons and daughters who suffer down the road—be it through outrageous oil prices, more combat deployments, or terrorist attacks on our own soil. It’s a serious threat to our future that must be recognized and addressed head-on.

The Middle East and Oil.
From the gas shortage of the 1970s, which I had to sit and wait in long lines for, to today, there’s been the non-stop call for energy independence, as though the tooth fairy were real.

Vehicle MPG increased until the mid or late 1980s, then back peddled. Now we have fracking fracking-up more flack than WW2 over Berlin. Now we have Arctic drilling, with odds in Vegas as to when the first big blow-out or spill will come. Shipping is said to be increasing through the region too. The snow and ice are melting up there if anyone follows the trends. I heard it was a warm year in America, but out West it was normal.

Now, what is the problem? Who do we choose to be head honcho?
One is to follow the past with no eye to the future, the other is to follow the past with no eye on the future.

Clearly there is much to ponder while we wait for the tooth fairy. Where are my sun glasses?

“Killing Osama bin Laden – Have you heard about this? Yeah, we thought so.”

Methinks we killed one of Osama Bin Subcontractor’s body doubles. For a guy on dialysis, he lived a lot longer than most kidney failure patients. In Pakistan, no less!