None of this is impeachable, but it’s certainly inexplicable.
President Trump’s conduct and rhetoric regarding Turkey and its autocratic ruler appear to be incompetent and irresponsible. In November, the President said he was a “great fan” of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Since Erdrogan’s regime has been notable for its restrictions and attacks on basic civil rights, such praise is certain to stir the embers of the “Trump is a secret fascist dictator just waiting for his chance” narrative. Maybe that’s the idea, and this is more intentional trolling; who knows? Does Trump play three dimensional chess? Does he just say stuff without thinking, and then backtrack just as quickly?
Over recent months, the President also sided with Erdogan in rejecting Congress’s bi-partisan resolution officially labeling the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as genocide. Turkey’s official position has been that the deaths were a product of war, and not illegal. Trump called it “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century” on Armenian Remembrance Day, and after the Senate passed its side of the resolution, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement,“The position of the Administration has not changed…Our views are reflected in the President’s definitive statement in April.”
It is worth noting, since the anti-Trump media won’t tell you, that the ‘horrible but not genocide’ approach follows decades of US policy designed to avoid angering Turkey, a NATO ally. Former President Barack Obama also did not refer to the killings as “genocide” during his tenure. Continue reading →
The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 requires the United States to withhold any form of aid from nations that use children in their armies, a clear human rights violation. President Obama waived the provision in 2010, as Samantha Power, then the National Security Council senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, assured the media and the nation that “the waivers would not become a recurring event.” By the terms of the law, the President has to notify Congress that he is waiving it within 45 days of making the decision. Monday afternoon, with Congress on the eve of a government shutdown and knowing that any such announcement would be largely ignored by the public and the press, the White House press announced yet another waiver of the law The new Child Soldiers Prevention Act waiver applies fully to Chad, South Sudan and Yemen. Congo and Somalia received partial waivers.
I live in the Washington, D.C. area, and at this moment even the beginning of the NFL season, usually the one thing everyone here (except me) usually cares about, is being over-shadowed by the drama of the looming Congressional vote on Syria. What was assumed—why, I cannot imagine–to be a likely rubber stamp with only an insufficient number of Republicans providing opposition because, as we all have been told repeatedly, they will oppose the President on anything, has materialized as strong bi-partisan opposition. The Washington Post estimated last night that the votes in the House are currently running 3-1 against the symbolic-and-deadly-but-promised-to-be-non-committal missile strikes on pre-announced targets. This is the most encouraging development in the government since President Obama was elected, I am tempted to say. It shows that this is not a nation of lemmings, and that the separation of powers has its virtues after all. Nonetheless, interesting ethical arguments are arising in favor of votes both no and yes.
The no arguments are varied, and reach the same conclusion from different positions, some more ethical than others. The pacifist Left and the isolationist Right, both irresponsible and dedicated to ideology over reality, are on the same path here, and would be on that same path even if the President’s argument for missile strikes was strong. Others, including me, but also those who supported more extensive military action in the Bush administration, fault the plan because of its dubious results, its contradictory logic, and the feckless and troubling way the President brought us to where we are.
I just heard an interview with a Republican House member who announced that he reversed his initial support for the missile strike after hearing Obama’s remarks in Sweden. After hearing Obama appear to deny that he drew the red line—a rhetorical point that was too cute by half and clumsily stated—this Congressman decided that he couldn’t believe anything Obama said or promised regarding Syria, including his assurances that nothing would lead to “boots on the ground.” (I would argue that his assurances that nothing would lead to boots on the ground is, if not dishonest, frighteningly irresponsible.)
The yes arguments are more perplexing. Naturally, there are those who, against all logic, simply adopt the contradictory and militarily nonsensical arguments John Kerry was asked to present to the Senate (apparently because President Obama knows that he appointed an inarticulate—but loyal!!!—dim-bulb, Chuck Hagel, as Secretary of Defense—but that is another, though related, issue). Liberal columnist Eugene Robinson, who has won an Affirmative Action Pulitzer Prize and who has proven that he will cheer whatever his fellow-African American in the White House does, even if he makes a decree like the South American rebel-leader-turned-dictator in Woody Allen’s “Bananas”...
“From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish…In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now… 16 years old!”
made this “argument”…
“The issue can’t be who wins that country’s civil war. It has to be whether the regime of Bashar al-Assad should be punished for using chemical weapons — and, if the answer is yes, whether there is any effective means of punishment other than a U.S. military strike…Let me clarify: I believe that a U.S. strike of the kind being discussed, involving cruise missiles and perhaps other air-power assets, can make it more likely that Assad loses. But I also believe that — absent a major commitment of American forces, which is out of the question — we cannot determine who wins.”
Gee, thanks for clarifying, Eugene!
Other, more coherent voices argue for endorsing Obama’s plan do sent a few missiles—not any that might hit Assad or his weapons, mind you– because they argue, even if the plan is weak, misguided, dangerous or certifiably bats, the President and, by extension, the United States will be dangerously weakened if a call to arms is rejected. This is essentially the argument of rational conservative James Taranto. Here is former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, this morning:
“…During the Syrian crisis, the Obama administration has generally waged a war of words and then used those words casually and clumsily. President Obama declared that Assad “must go” when his departure seemed inevitable — without a strategy, or even the intention, to achieve this goal when it became difficult. He drew a chemical-weapons “red line” that became a well-trodden thoroughfare. The Obama administration revealed details of an imminent military operation, which was promptly repudiated by the parliament of our closest ally, then abruptly postponed. The administration seemed to indicate that United Nations support for a military strike was needed — before declaring it unnecessary. It seemed to indicate that a congressional endorsement was superfluous — just before staking everything on securing it. Obama is inviting members of Congress to share responsibility for a Syrian policy that has achieved little to justify their confidence. In fact, he has undermined political support for the legislative outcome he seeks. For more than five years, Obama has argued that America is overcommitted in the Middle East and should refocus on domestic priorities. Now he asks other politicians to incur risks by endorsing an approach he has clearly resisted at every stage…”
Wait…this is how Gerson argues that Congress should vote yes? Indeed it is…
“Legislators are not arguing between preferred policy options, as they would on issues such as health care or welfare. They are deciding if they will send the chief executive into the world with his hands tied behind his back. This would be more than the repudiation of the current president; it would be the dangerous weakening of the presidency….even if this military action were wrong or pointless, it would have to be sufficiently dangerous to justify the gelding of the executive branch on a global stage. A limited military strike may be symbolic. But for Congress to block that strike would be more than symbolic. It would undermine a tangible element of American influence: the perception that the commander in chief is fully in command.”
This is a good time to stop and offer today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz, based on the reasoning of Gerson and others:
Are members of Congress ethically obligated, by loyalty and responsibility for the image and credibility of the U.S. abroad and to avoid weakening the institution of the presidency, to support the missile strikes on Syria, even if they and their constituents believe that to do so is wrong and misguided?
Indecisiveness and narcissism makes great drama, bad leaders, and gets people killed , too.
I try to think about the ethics of war as little as possible, much less write about it. It is too frustrating, and ultimately a waste of time: the same debates and philosophical arguments have been made, eloquently and passionately, for not just hundreds but thousands of years, and only the mechanics of warfare have changed.
My father, a war hero and a man who would have loved to have devoted his life to the military if his wounds hadn’t prevented it, used to say that war was the stupidest of all human activities. “There is nothing good about war,” Dad said. “Yet it is sometimes necessary and unavoidable. And don’t ask me to reconcile those statements: I can’t. Nobody can.” I remember asking him about General Patton, who led my father and his comrades during the Battle of the Bulge. “Patton supposedly loved war,” I said. “He did,” my father replied. “He was insane.” He loathed Patton.
The Syria crisis has triggered all the same arguments again, and I want no part of them. Ethical analysis doesn’t work where warfare is concerned. The conduct of ritualized killing combatants and innocents is, at best, an extreme utilitarian act that always creeps into ethically indefensible “the ends justify the means” territory before the end of hostilities. So many invalid rationalizations are used to justify killing—“It’s for a good cause,” or the Saint’s Excuse, prime among them, with “They started it!” following close behind—that it is useless to tote them up. The war most often cited as a “moral war,” World War II, still involved the killing of innocent non-combatants by the Allies. ( My father remained amazed at the efforts at “limited war” in Iraq, noting that Allied soldiers were expected to accept civilian deaths as unavoidable and not a matter of concern. He also felt that the current dedication to half-measures just guaranteed longer wars, more deaths, and less satisfactory results. “It’s war,” he said. “You can’t make it humane or sensible; you can only make it shorter. Telling the military that it has to waste time and military personnel to avoid civilian deaths makes no sense. There is no such thing as a humane war.” Naturally, he approved of Truman’s decision to drop the atom bomb, in part, he admitted, because he was slated to be in the Japanese mainland invasion force that was likely to sustain up to a million casualties.) The Allies engaged in atrocities too, such as the fire-bombing of Dresden.
You want to talk about the problem of supporting terrible people and factions to defeat another? World War II is the champion on that score. The U.S. partnered with Stalin, who was a greater mass murderer than Hitler, and defeated Japan, the enemy of China, allowing Mao, a greater mass murderer than Stalin and Hitler combined, to enslave a billion people. The peace negotiated after the Second World War was only slightly less destructive than the one that ended the First World War (and led directly to the Second): The U.S. handed over half of Europe to Communism, laying the seeds of the Cold War that only avoided ending humanity in a nuclear holocaust by pure moral luck. The fact that WWII is the “best” war powerfully makes the case: ethics and war have nothing to do with each other. Each renders the other useless and incoherent. Continue reading →
“On Thursday, while in Pakistan, Secretary of State John F. Kerry was asked in an interview how the United States — a champion of democracy around the world — can justify supporting Egypt’s military crackdown. Mr. Kerry’s reply was inexplicable. He said, “The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos, into violence. And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment so far. To run the country, there’s a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy.” It is one thing to be cautious and avoid using the word “coup,” which could trigger a cutoff of Egypt’s $1.5 billion annual U.S. aid package. But it is quite another to assert that Egypt’s military is “restoring democracy” when it has just removed an elected president from power.”
—–The Editorial Board of The Washington Postlast week, expressing consternation at Sec. of State John Kerry’s double-talk regarding Egypt
Democracy is restored in Cairo!
Yes, the “quite another” thing that the Post dare not name is called “lying your fool head off.” Perhaps you prefer, “acting as if everyone in the world is an idiot.” Or better yet, “destroying any last shred of credibility the Obama Administration may have.” John Kerry, of course, as anyone who followed his 2004 presidential campaign with his hand-picked President-in-Waiting, John Edwards knows, already has none.
The Secretary of State of the United States of America, with a straight face and carrying the authority of the Obama Administration, actually said that a military coup—which is, you know, and everybody knows, is what this was—“restored democracy”! Never mind that history has witnessed many, many military coups—a couple in Egypt, in fact—and they virtually never “restore democracy,” nor was there a smidgen of a chance that this one would. Continue reading →
Not everybody should be a leader, and it is no shame if you have no talent for it. It is tempting to think that all intelligent, educated, articulate people within a certain range of emotional stability and sanity can learn to be effective leaders, but history and experience tell a different story, and it has many tragic chapters.
I know many readers think that I get great joy out of criticizing President Obama for his lack of leadership skills and instincts, but in truth I find myself consciously avoiding writing about this almost every day, because the problem is on display that regularly*, and this isn’t a Bash Obama blog. I do find it remarkable that such an obviously intelligent man is so immune to leadership instincts, and that he hasn’t resolved to at least try to learn from his more naturally leadership-gifted predecessors. For example, the White House made a point of noting that the President was a great admirer of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” which recounts how Abraham Lincoln assembled a Cabinet made up of political enemies, adversaries and rivals whose perspective and abilities he managed and used to great advantage. Yet Obama’s choice of Cabinet members and advisors, as even his supporters have pointed out, is unusually insular, passive and narrow, with the same loyalists being recycled into position after position (Hillary was the exception). True, this may reflect the President’s recognition of his own leadership limitations, for Abraham Lincoln, a once-in-a-century example of a born leader, is a daunting model. This is a pattern, however. When various voices in the Obama-worshiping media, such as did the New York Times last week, lament that Lyndon Johnson would have been able to get gun control measures through Congress, they are commenting on the same phenomenon. LBJ was a natural leader, and Obama, whatever his other virtues, is not. Continue reading →
“My observations while serving in the President’s trust are held in strictest confidence, and…HOW much? Damn! Sure, I’ll write a book!”
President Obama is hardly the first President to be blind-sided by a “tell-all” exposé authored by someone who had an obligation to keep his mouth shut and his keyboard quiet. The unethical practice of a President’s former advisors, cabinet members, secret security agents, servants and others who held his trust cashing in and publishing often bitter, agenda-driven books detailing juicy and uncomplimentary details of what went on behind closed doors began gaining steam during the Reagan years (something else to detest David Stockman for) and has accelerated in every administration since.
The latest sniper shot from a grassy knoll is the work of Vali Nasr, a professor and former senior State Department adviser who worked with Richard Holbrooke, previously Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In his new book, which, of course, had to be published while Obama was still in office to have a chance of making the former advisor the money he craves, Nasr relates details of what he regards as the incompetent White House foreign policy decision-making apparatus, in which vital calls that should have been left to experts were run through Obama’s political team, whose judgment was based on polls and narrow, short-term political considerations. Continue reading →