Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’


September 5th, 2013

Tactical Tomahawk Block IV Cruise Missile TestKilling a bunch of Syrians by dropping bombs on them does not seem to me to be an appropriate way to express disapproval of the means chosen by Bashar Al-Assad for killing a bunch of Syrians.

There is no such thing as a “limited surgical strike.”  There is only one thing you can be sure of.  If we send tens or hundreds of cruise missiles into Syria, innocent people will be killed. Where it stops is not in our control.

I perceive a peculiar frivolity in Obama’s assurances that just retribution for Assad’s atrocity will be accomplished without putting any American “boots on the ground.”  It is tantamount to saying, we care about what you did deeply enough to kill somebody for it, only not if it involves any risk to ourselves.  The message it sends to the world is not that there are firm limits on the means with which nations may perpetrate violence, but rather that the United States exercises its power in a manner that is unserious, fearful, and confused; we lack the courage of our convictions, but we are willing to see others suffer for them.

If Bashar Al-Assad has committed what amounts to a felony in international law, of sufficient gravity to warrant the death penalty (we are after all talking about killing people as punishment for it), then a “limited response” that does not accomplish regime change is inadequate and beside the point. I am not suggesting that we should invade Syria and depose Assad.  I am saying that anything less is senseless.

I do not understand the moral calculus whereby our slaughter of innocent people is just retribution for Assad’s slaughter of innocents.  Since World War II, the entire civilized world has condemned the practice of mass retaliation, of punishing an entire group or community for acts of some of its putative members, that was a major compenent of the Nazi evil.  Now we are going to punish “Syria.”  Or the “Syrian government.”  Or somebody.

A “limited, surgical strike” carefully avoiding regime change and targeted at degrading Syrain military capabilities ensures that the one person in Syria whom we deem most culpable is the one person in Syria who is safest from us.

Among the most depressing things I have heard recently is Obama’s statement that a limited military attack is not an act of war.  I would not have believed him capable of such hypocricy.  Imagine his response if Syria were to conduct a “limited” bombing strike against certain industrial facilities in the U.S. intended “only”  to degrade our capacity to use drones.

Why is it necessary to act militarily at this moment against this particular violation of international law?  The entire world stood by and watched Rwanda sink into genocide, and did nothing.   China’s treatment of Tibet is atrocious.  Israel has been committing violations of international law, including war crimes and arguably crimes against humanity, for decades.  I’m not advocating that we attack Israel or China, nor that we merely ignore atrocities.  But why is Assad’s atrocity suddenly the  intolerable one?  Why has Obama drawn a “red line” here, and only here?  And who appointed him to draw it?

This is vigilante justice.

If Obama really wants to uphold international law and international norms of conduct, he should get this country to sign on to the International Criminal Court and work to provide the U.N. with real enforcement power.  The U.S. isn’t the world’s policeman, and shouldn’t be, but the U.N. could be.  The U.N. should have standing armed forces with the capability of going anywhere and arresting even heads of state.  Haul Assad before the I.C.C. to answer charges of mass murder against his own people.

Oh – we’re afraid that the I.C.C.’s power would be turned against us.  This is the lame excuse we’ve heard for years for the U.S.’s refusal to ratify the treaty.  Well, that’s what those of us who work in law enforcement call a deterrent.  It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.  I wouldn’t mind being the citizen of a country that is deterred from launching unprovoked murderous assaults upon other nations.  I wouldn’t mind living in such a world.

The View from Mars

July 24th, 2012

I have a friend who is viewing this U.S. election season from in and around Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia.  I wonder what it looks like to her.

It has been decades since I watched television news for anything other than immediately breaking events such as the September 11 attacks.  Television seems to me to be the most worthless of our “information” sources, with the spurious immediacy of its imagery and the breathless shallowness of its verbal content.  Somewhat over four years ago, I dropped my subscription to the Burlington Free Press, our “local” Gannett franchise.  It wasn’t telling me what I wanted to know about the place I live, at least not $140/year worth.  I got my information about current events primarily from listening to public radio, reading the New York Review of Books and our genuinely local weekly newspaper Seven Days, and surfing among half a dozen blogs.  Especially with the blogs, I found it possible to feed an almost obsessive interest in the minutiae of politics.  How dare John McCain say this or that.  What advantage did Obama lose by using one verb rather than another.  This poll says that, but it is less reliable than that poll, which says this.  Outrage outrage outrage.  At last, when I found myself screaming daily at my car radio during the drive to work, I realized that for my mental health I had to back off.

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It’s the one on the right, Jack!

June 18th, 2012

As I was sitting at the intersection this morning, waiting while the good citizen in front of me tried to remember which pedal to push to make his wheeled cage move forward, I perused the bumper stickers and vanity plates proclaiming his fandom for various sports teams and thought about what herd animals we humans are, always seeking some group to grant our allegiance in contradistinction to all other groups.  Why this allegiance rests so rarely with the species as a whole and so often with some more-or-less arbitrary subset thereof, what Kurt Vonnegut called a granfalloon, is a mystery for greater Darwinians than me to figure out.  It just is that way.

I recalled an occurrence at that same intersection the day before.  Due to repaving work, two lanes narrowed to one just to the east of the crossing, a right turn from where I was.  At this busy commuting hour, the merging traffic moved sluggishly, when it moved at all.  If you wanted to turn right, you were S.O.L.  I was among those who wanted to go straight through.  Instead, I sat through cycle after cycle of the traffic lights, as people drove into the intersection from the left and were stopped there by the unmoving traffic to the right, creating a blockage.  When the cars ahead of them crept forward a little bit, they might make it out of the crossroads, there to be replaced by the next idiot who couldn’t wait for room to open on the other side before entering and who was consequently caught there when the lights changed.  And so it went.  

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Grand Old Chutzpah

April 12th, 2012

Apparently in response to polls that show he is somewhere near 20% less popular among women than Barack Obama, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Romney has been claiming lately that 92.3% of jobs lost during the Obama administration have been women’s jobs.   In this context, a “woman’s job” is a job that was held by a woman.  The arithmetic whereby he arrives at this result is not entirely specious, in the sense that he divides one actual statistic into another actual statistic and the result is .923.  But I’m not here to talk about math.  There’s a Yiddish word – well, probably more than one – for somebody who makes such claims, and I want to talk about that.

The Bush Recession, if you will remember, started in the housing, construction, and manufacturing sectors, in large part as a result of the sudden scarcity of commercial credit that was part of the financial meltdown.  All this was well underway by the time Obama took office.  The jobs lost in this early phase were held primarily  by males.  State and local tax revenues were hit hard by the downturn, as businesses shrank and people lost income, but thanks to the much-maligned stimulus passed at Obama’s behest, which largely operated by passing funds down to state and local governments, the impact was softened for a while.  The stimulus might have been larger but for the Obama administration’s almost certainly correct political calculation that Republicans would block a larger package, even if the Democrats could be gotten to agree to it.  Then, when the stimulus funds began to run out, the state and local budget cutting began, led by Republicans devoted to downsizing government no matter what the cost.  The ax fell on teachers, social workers, health care workers, administrative staff – predominantly women.

“Chutzpah” is often defined as a quality best exemplified by someone who murders his parents, then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present you Willard Romney, who lays at his opponent’s door the baleful effects of his own party’s acts.

The emperor we deserve?

August 2nd, 2011

Opinion, at least in left-of-center circles, seems to be unanimous that Obama is an abysmally bad negotiator, at least where congressional Republicans are concerned.  I have expressed this opinion myself.  Time after time, he lets them set the terms of debate; instead of staking out an initially maximal position and then retreating from it step by step towards compromise only when forced to do so, he starts out by meeting them halfway and then accedes to the Republicans’ additional demands almost before they have a chance to make them.  He unilaterally disarms, as when he eschewed resorting to the Fourteenth Amendment to trump Congress in the debt ceiling battle.  He insists on pronouncing reliance on the GOP’s good faith and willingness to “do the right thing” despite explicit and unmistakeable evidence that neither of these premises is true.   This pattern repeats itself over and over.  The insufficient stimulus.  Health care reform without even a public option.  Extension of the Bush tax cuts.  The debt ceiling/deficit reduction fiasco.

Unlike George Bush, Obama is not open to charges of stupidity, so alternative explanations must be found as to why he repeatedly wanders down this course of seeming self-destruction.  Popular theories seem to be: