Reasons Why Torture Does Not Work

One major finding of the recent bipartisan Senate report on torture was that torture used in the United States post 9/11 did not produce any useful intelligence. The same lack of efficacy was seen by every other country which tried to use torture, even in cases such as Nazi Germany and North Vietnam, which are often claimed by supports of the use of torture as examples of torture working. The only examples of torture working come from watching Jack Bauer on 24 or from watching Fox “News”–both of which are fictional sources.

Ryan Cooper has a good summary of the reasons torture does not work, and never has, at The Week. He began:

In the wake of the Senate report cataloging a whole lot of torture committed by the CIA, Dick Cheney has been reduced to arguing that torturing people — even innocent ones — is worth doing if you eventually get good results. The ends justify the means.

I can see why he makes this argument — he’s simply got no other option. It is now obvious that what the CIA did was illegal, brutal torture. Claims that it kept the nation safe are all that Cheney has left.

But Cheney is wrong: torture doesn’t work and never has.

I have referenced the work Torture and Democracy, by Darius Rejali of Reed College, many times in the past. It is widely agreed to be a benchmark work on torture — perhaps the most thorough investigation and analysis of the subject available. Here’s what Rejali says, to put this question to rest for all time.

Over 12 years of research, Rejali examined the use of torture in the U.S., Great Britain, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, South Vietnam, and Korea. He looked at torture inflicted during the French-Algerian War, as well as at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. His research found that there is no record of any successful use of torture to gather intelligence, not even in totalitarian states.

The full article is worth reading as it contains many of the usual reasons discussed, such as the livelihood of receiving false information, along with reasons based upon the nature of pain:

Causing someone pain is not like turning a dial on a stove. Greater damage to the body often translates as less pain, since the body, in shock, shuts down the pain system (as victims of car accidents or shootings can often attest). Going too far, too fast with torture can simply desensitize people or cause them to black out. Furthermore, different people have different thresholds for pain, and they use certain types of pain to mask other ones. As a result, even with technological assistance, it is simply impossible to torture in any scientific, reproducible way.

Torturers understand this, and so are drawn to two blunt techniques: 1) apply maximum allowable pain, so as to push past all limits and 2) vary the torture methods widely to exploit as many phobias and specific weaknesses as possible. One perverse result of this is that there will be constant pressure to ignore limits set by the law in favor of a maximum diversity of pain.

Cooper also discussed additional problems with torture such as that  “torture badly corrodes organizations that practice it”, ” torture directly undermines traditional intelligence-gathering” and that “what little information is produced under torture is extremely unreliable.”

Detainees with a score to settle may falsely rat out old enemies, hoping they will be tortured instead. Detainees with no information will sometimes try to appease their torturers with lies, making interrogators waste time and effort chasing false leads. The CIA did just this, in fact. The Senate report documents at least one instance in which the CIA tortured a detainee, who gave them bad information, which led to more innocent people being detained.

Even when prisoners say true things, the interrogators very often do not believe them. This happened to John McCain when he was tortured in North Vietnam. Formal studies show that torturers cannot reliably distinguish truth from falsehood.

He also addressed the “ticking time bomb” scenarios often raised by supporters of torture:

That brings us to the ticking time bomb thought experiment, where someone is known to have information about an imminent attack but will not talk. This is the centerpiece of the pro-torture case. Setting aside the fact that this sort of situation is extraordinarily rare, there is no reason to think time-limited, high-pressure torture would be any more successful than in other circumstances. On the contrary, all the problems with torture identified above are made worse by a time constraint: the techniques are limited, as slow ones must be ruled out; pain must be applied more quickly, thus increasing the risk of blackouts, desensitization, or memory damage; and time wasted chasing false leads becomes an even greater loss.

As with so many Republican views, the facts do not support their policies, but this does not affect their views because they choose their positions based upon ideological and philosophical reasons, and then try to twist the facts to support their views. Their support for torture, despite all the evidence that it does not work, certainly does say something about their character.

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24 And Torture

24 torture

Matt Bai has discussed the “24 Effect” on how terrorism is viewed:

In a sense, “24” became a kind of virtual universe in which all of us could role-play — even if we happened to know more about the roles than the actors did. I recall a conversation with Bill Clinton in 2007 during which he brought up the show and spent the better part of a half hour dissecting the strengths and flaws in its portrayal of real-time decisions.

There was something comforting, too, about the portrayal of intelligence agencies in “24.” Even with the insipid station chiefs who cycled in and out of the show, CTU itself remained amazingly high-functioning and high-tech. State-of-the-art computers gleamed in brilliant new offices of steel and glass. Satellites saw everything, everywhere, and beamed it all flawlessly to Jack’s phone during the commercial break.

That false portrayal of our counterterrorism agencies was demolished by the 9/11 commission report in 2004, with its accounts of missed clues and outdated technology. And what we now also know, thanks to the new Senate report, is that it wasn’t the bureaucrats back in Washington who were balking at torture while the real Jack Bauers jettisoned the rules, but often the other way around entirely.

In truth, a lot of the operatives were apparently sickened by immoral tactics they knew weren’t working, but their bosses insisted on believing that the world was like TV, and the bad guys would break just as they did for Jack, if only our agents would do what they had to do. If the Senate’s investigators can be believed, those bosses were wrong — both morally and tactically.

Another view  from Jonathan Freedland at The Guardian:

This week the writer Matt Bai made the intriguing argument that the success of 24 might have shaped America’s whatever-it-takes approach to terrorism, at the very least allowing policymakers to believe that a US public that was cheering on Jack Bauer would have little objection to US agents engaging in similar behaviour in real life. It’s a thought I had – and worried about – at the time. But it misses something crucial.

It’s true that 24 struck a chord in that post-9/11 period. It channelled our collective id, ourdeepest, darkest urges. Caught up in the story, we wanted Bauer to, say, sever the head of the villain with a hacksaw. But that is not necessarily what we wanted from our governments. The state cannot be the sum of our collective impulses and instincts, no matter how base. It has to be better than that. It has to listen to cooler demands: the rule of law, basic rights and common human decency. Reality may outstrip fiction, but it has to behave better too. The alternative is the horror laid bare this week — and whose legacy we live with still.

I had also made a recent comparison to 24, and another source of fantasy as opposed to the reality of torture:

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Howard Dean Is Ready For Hillary, But Does Anyone Still Care About What Howard Dean Says?

Howard Dean writes that he is ready for Hillary. He mentions some of her attributes but the most obvious thing in his article is the absence of mention of her support for the Iraq War. Maybe this is not a major factor for everyone (although I think that ones position on one of the major blunders in recent times should be). I just find it more amazing that Howard Dean doesn’t care, considering how he used the Iraq war in his 2004 run for the Democratic nomination.

Although Howard Dean and John Kerry had essentially the same view on Iraq, Dean distorted the issue to give the appearance of a difference. He turned the Senate vote to authorize force in Iraq into far more of a litmus test than it ever should have been. While Kerry, as he later admitted, made a mistake in trusting Bush not to misuse the authorization, the major difference was that Kerry was in the Senate and had to cast a vote while Dean did not. Listening to the statements from the two, both actually had the same position. Both thought that force should be authorized if we were legitimately threatened by weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. Both argued at the onset of the war that no such threat existed and that Bush was wrong to go to war.

If, although having the same position, Kerry’s vote made him subject for constant attacks on the war from Dean, what about Hillary Clinton? Unlike both Kerry and Dean, Hillary Clinton not only voted in favor of the war, but she was enthusiastically supporting going to war at the time. She was on the far right of the Democratic Party, with people like Joe Lieberman, in claiming that Saddam had ties to al Qaeda

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

Of course Howard Dean’s reputation on the left has already become tarnished since he sold his soul and became a K-Street lobbyist defending the interests of Big Pharma. Yes, I guess this Howard Dean could be expected to support Hillary Clinton, regardless of her views on Iraq.

Update: Lanny Davis Ready For Hillary–A Couple Of Responses

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Senate Intelligence Committee Report Shows That CIA Lied About Torture & Torture Did Not Work

The Senate Intelligence Committee released their report today, providing documentation that the CIA was both brutal and dishonest about their tactics, and that torture did not work. The New York Times listed these seven key points:

  • The C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques were more brutal and employed more extensively than the agency portrayed.
  • The C.I.A. interrogation program was mismanaged and was not subject to adequate oversight.
  • The C.I.A. misled members of Congress and the White House about the effectiveness and extent of its brutal interrogation techniques.
  • Interrogators in the field who tried to stop the brutal techniques were repeatedly overruled by senior C.I.A. officials.
  • The C.I.A. repeatedly underreported the number of people it detained and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques under the program.
  • At least 26 detainees were wrongfully held and did not meet the government’s standard for detention.
  • The C.I.A. leaked classified information to journalists, exaggerating the success of interrogation methods in an effort to gain public support.

The Washington Post indexed the report by twenty key findings. See the articles in The Washington Post and New York Times for more specifics on each point.

1 “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence”
2 “rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness”
3 “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented”
4 “conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher”
5 “repeatedly provided inaccurate information”
6 “actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight”
7 “impeded effective White House oversight”
8 “complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions”
9 “impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General”
10 “coordinated the release of classified information to the media”
11 “unprepared as it began operating”
12 “deeply flawed throughout the program’s duration”
13 “overwhelmingly outsourced operations”
14 “coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved”
15 “did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained”
16 “failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness”
17 “rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable”
18 “ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections”
19 “inherently unsustainable”
20 “damaged the United States’ standing in the world”

The Daily Beast lists The Most Gruesome Moments in the CIA ‘Torture Report’

Right-leaning Politico reports: Dick Cheney Was Lying About Torture–The Senate report confirms it doesn’t work. As those of us on the inside knew.

Needless to say, there is commentary throughout the blogosophere. Andrew Sullivan wrote:

The US did torture many many people with techniques devised by Nazis and Communists, sometimes in former KGB facilities. The CIA itself admits in its internal documents that none of it worked or gave us any actionable intelligence that wasn’t discovered through legal means. The torture techniques were not implemented by highly-trained professionals, but by goonish amateurs who concealed what they were doing and lied about it to superiors. All the techniques were and are clearly illegal under US and international law.

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Seventh Investigation Debunks Republican Benghazi Conspiracy Theories

Yet another investigation has debunked the Republican claims about Benghazi, this one run by House Republicans. AP reports:

House intel panel debunks many Benghazi theories

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May…

In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to “stand down” after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report.

The report did find, however, that the State Department facility where Stevens and Smith were killed was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack. Previous reports have found that requests for security improvements were not acted upon in Washington.

Of course it was the Republicans who cut funding for embassy security, denying requests from Democrats for increased funding.

Despite seven investigations which failed to provide evidence to support the Republican conspiracy theories, an eight is underway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more to follow in the Republican-controlled Senate. The party which already voted over fifty times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and which exists in a fact-free bubble, will not hesitate to continue engage in the same irrational behavior.

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Navy SEAL Describes How Osama bin Laden Died As A Coward

Robert O’Neill, reportedly the Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden, was interviewed by CNN and had some comments on how bin Laden died. Gawker summarizes:

In a previously unreleased audio interview aired last night on CNN, O’Neill told freelance journalist Alex Quade that he had used details of bin Laden’s death to bring closure to the families of 9/11 victims, saying:

“[O]ne thing I tell them is ‘All right, Osama bin Laden died like a pussy. That’s all I’m telling you. Just so you know. He died afraid. And he knew that we were there to kill him.'”

“You can quote me on this bullshit,” said O’Neill.

Bin Laden’s alleged killer also told Quade that SEAL Team Six was sent after the Al Qaeda leader “because they wanted him dead” and that “it doesn’t matter anymore if I am ‘The Shooter.'”

“I don’t give a fuck,” said O’Neill. “We got him. We brought him out and we lived.”

Mediaite also describes how he “used details of the terrorist mastermind’s death to provide comfort to 9/11 families.”

He also will be interviewed on Fox. Does that mean that Fox viewers actually believe that bin Laden was killed under Obama? There really are conservatives who deny this, seeing yet another conspiracy theory in the reports of his death. After all, as MisterConservative said, we never saw the body, and Benghazi!

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Bruce Bartlett Argues That Obama Is A Republican

Obama is a Republican

There’s nothing really new here, but it will be interesting to see conservative response to Bruce Bartlett’s article in The American Conservative entitled, Obama Is A Republican. The article is a rehash of how Obama’s record is actually quite conservative, clashing with the conservative myth that he is a socialist. He started with mentioning other Republicans who supported Obama’s election, and next discussed foreign policy:

One of Obama’s first decisions after the election was to keep national-security policy essentially on automatic pilot from the Bush administration. He signaled this by announcing on November 25, 2008, that he planned to keep Robert M. Gates on as secretary of defense. Arguably, Gates had more to do with determining Republican policy on foreign and defense policy between the two Bush presidents than any other individual, serving successively as deputy national security adviser in the White House, director of Central Intelligence, and secretary of defense.

Another early indication of Obama’s hawkishness was naming his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state. During the campaign, Clinton ran well to his right on foreign policy, so much so that she earned the grudging endorsement of prominent neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol and David Brooks.

After further discission of foreign policy, he went on to discuss economic policy and the deficit. The most important point is how the deficit has fallen under Obama and how fiscally conservative Obama has been:

With the economy collapsing, the first major issue confronting Obama in 2009 was some sort of economic stimulus. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, whose academic work at the University of California, Berkeley, frequently focused on the Great Depression, estimated that the stimulus needed to be in the range of $1.8 trillion, according to Noam Scheiber’s book The Escape Artists.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted in February 2009 with a gross cost of $816 billion. Although this legislation was passed without a single Republican vote, it is foolish to assume that the election of McCain would have resulted in savings of $816 billion. There is no doubt that he would have put forward a stimulus plan of roughly the same order of magnitude, but tilted more toward Republican priorities.

A Republican stimulus would undoubtedly have had more tax cuts and less spending, even though every serious study has shown that tax cuts are the least effective method of economic stimulus in a recession. Even so, tax cuts made up 35 percent of the budgetary cost of the stimulus bill—$291 billion—despite an estimate from Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that tax cuts barely raised the gross domestic product $1 for every $1 of tax cut. By contrast, $1 of government purchases raised GDP $1.55 for every $1 spent. Obama also extended the Bush tax cuts for two years in 2010.

It’s worth remembering as well that Bush did not exactly bequeath Obama a good fiscal hand. Fiscal year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, and one third of it was baked in the cake the day Obama took the oath of office. On January 7, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office projected significant deficits without considering any Obama initiatives. It estimated a deficit of $1.186 trillion for 2009 with no change in policy. The Office of Management and Budget estimated in November of that year that Bush-era policies, such as Medicare Part D, were responsible for more than half of projected deficits over the next decade.

Republicans give no credit to Obama for the significant deficit reduction that has occurred on his watch—just as they ignore the fact that Bush inherited an projected budget surplus of $5.6 trillion over the following decade, which he turned into an actual deficit of $6.1 trillion, according to a CBO study—but the improvement is real.

Screenshot 2014-10-20 12.59.16

Republicans would have us believe that their tight-fisted approach to spending is what brought down the deficit. But in fact, Obama has been very conservative, fiscally, since day one, to the consternation of his own party. According to reporting by the Washington Post and New York Times, Obama actually endorsed much deeper cuts in spending and the deficit than did the Republicans during the 2011 budget negotiations, but Republicans walked away.

Obama’s economic conservatism extends to monetary policy as well. His Federal Reserve appointments have all been moderate to conservative, well within the economic mainstream. He even reappointed Republican Ben Bernanke as chairman in 2009. Many liberals have faulted Obama for not appointing board members willing to be more aggressive in using monetary policy to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.

Obama’s other economic appointments, such as Larry Summers at the National Economic Council and Tim Geithner at Treasury, were also moderate to conservative. Summers served on the Council of Economic Advisers staff in Reagan’s White House. Geithner joined the Treasury during the Reagan administration and served throughout the George H.W. Bush administration.

There is certainly nothing new. Forbes pointed out a couple of years ago how Obama has been the most fiscally conservative president since Eisenhower.It is worth repeating considering how many people have been fooled by the Republican line that Obama and other Democrats, as opposed to the Republicans, are responsible for the size of the deficit.

Bartlett next discussed how Obamacare is based upon old Republican policies proposed by the Heritage Foundation and later Mitt Romney. He discussed at length how the individual mandate was originally an idea which was strongly promoted by Republicans. While Bartlett concentrated on Romney, many other Republicans shared this view.

Bartlett then had briefer discussions of several other issues–drugs, national-security leaks, race, gay marriage, and corporate profits. His argument for Obama being a Republican is weaker on social issues. While Obama took “two long years to speak out on the subject and only after being pressured to do so,” there remains a big difference between Obama keeping quiet on the issue and Republicans who actively promoted bans on same-sex marriage and Obama.

Bartlett concluded with:

I think Cornell West nailed it when he recently charged that Obama has never been a real progressive in the first place. “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit,” West said. “We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency.”

I don’t expect any conservatives to recognize the truth of Obama’s fundamental conservatism for at least a couple of decades—perhaps only after a real progressive presidency. In any case, today they are too invested in painting him as the devil incarnate in order to frighten grassroots Republicans into voting to keep Obama from confiscating all their guns, throwing them into FEMA re-education camps, and other nonsense that is believed by many Republicans. But just as they eventually came to appreciate Bill Clinton’s core conservatism, Republicans will someday see that Obama was no less conservative.

There is considerable truth to what Bartlett wrote, especially if social issues are ignored. However to be less progressive than Cornell West desires is not sufficient to prove someone is a Republican. Anyone who saw Obama as a candidate of the far left, as opposed to being more centrist, just wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying. Of course there is room for disappointment in some of these areas from the left, especially on drug policy and aspects of his foreign policy.

If Obama is said to be governing like a Republican, the key point which would need to be stressed is he is governing as a moderate Republican from the past–something which no longer exists. Obama certainly would not fit in with the Republican Party of today, which has moved to the extreme right. Bartlett is viewing Republicans from the perspective of his days as an adviser to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The reality is that today neither Reagan nor Bush would be sufficiently conservative to survive in the Republican Party. Therefore, while it is ludicrous to consider Obama to be a socialist, or even from the far left, those who share the extreme views of current Republicans are correct in not seeing Obama as one of their own.

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Beware Of Those Politicians Who Spread Fear–We Have No Reason To Fear Ebola As Long As We Respond Sensibly

A mood of fear is engulfing the country which might very well affect the midterm elections. Hopefully people will react rationally and reject the Republicans who promote unwarranted fears, play politics, and advocate for counterproductive responses such as travel bans. Unfortunately but this is not the probable response.

As I discussed last week, even citing a report on Fox, we have no need to fear Ebola as long as proper precautions are taken.

There is no need to panic, or initiate measures which would be counterproductive such as a travel ban at this time. There is no meaningful problem with Ebola in this country and the biology of the virus makes it unlikely we will have a problem in the future. The nature of Ebola makes it a serious problem in countries without a Public Health infrastructure, but not in countries like the United States.

To date we have had exactly one patient with Ebola come into the country beyond medical personnel transported back here. Despite some serious mistakes being made, he did not infect a single person in the general population. The spread was limited to two nurses who cared for him at the most infectious stage, but before this stage the viral load is very low and Ebola is not likely to spread. This is also why, despite people who did come into contact with him having traveled, not a single other person has contracted Ebola.

Ebola is a serious problem in countries without sufficient infrastructure to deal with it, and if we are ever to be at serious risk it would be due to more widespread infection outside of the United States first. Our major focus must be on eradicating Ebola in West Africa, and anything which hinders this will make this more difficult and be counterproductive.

We also must closely track those who have been exposed, and a travel ban would also make this far more difficult. One of the major reasons for Ebola spreading in West Africa is an atmosphere which causes people who have been exposed to hide this until they are very sick and courageous. We must avoid an atmosphere such as this in the United States if we are going to prevent spread here.

We see in Nigeria that Ebola can be beaten, with the country now being free of the disease. Among the measures cited for eradicating Ebola are avoiding fear and keeping the borders open:

Nigeria has not closed its borders to travelers from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, saying the move would be counterproductive. “Closing borders tends to reinforce panic and the notion of helplessness,” Shuaib said. “When you close the legal points of entry, then you potentially drive people to use illegal passages, thus compounding the problem.” Shuaib said that if public health strategies are implemented, outbreaks can be controlled, and that closing borders would only stifle commercial activities in the countries whose economies are already struggling due to Ebola.

Similarly, Republicans are playing on exaggerated fears of terrorism and unfounded claims that the Affordable Care Act will cause increases in premiums when insurance companies are actually reporting plans for lower premium increases than were the norm prior to Obamacare.

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The Highly Successful Presidency Of Barack Obama

Paul Krugman has been defending Barack Obama much more recently, such as in a recent article in Rolling Stone and on ABC’s This Week. Krugman’s views on Obama have evolved over the years. I think that early on he was critical of Obama based upon disagreements on policy matters. Two things have altered how he discusses Obama. First there are all the off the wall attacks on Obama from both the right and many mainstream commentators. Secondly, he is doing a better job of separating differences of opinion with a more centrist president from outright condemnation where he disagrees. This includes both recognition of Obama’s actual accomplishments and realization that wherever he disagrees with Obama, the Republicans would be far, far worse.

In Rolling Stone, Krugman looked at the various types of attacks on Obama:

All Obama-bashing can be divided into three types. One, a constant of his time in office, is the onslaught from the right, which has never stopped portraying him as an Islamic atheist Marxist Kenyan. Nothing has changed on that front, and nothing will.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

Yes, Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on. Obviously the midterm election hasn’t happened yet, but in a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage – Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states – most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn’t what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.

More important, however, polls – or even elections – are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn’t be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes.

From there, Krugman looked at Obama’s achievements on health care, financial reform, the economy, the environment, national security, and social change. As Obama has so many favorable accomplishments, I would suggest seeing the original article rather than trying to list them all here. He then concluded:

Am I damning with faint praise? Not at all. This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don’t care about the fact that Obama hasn’t lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a big deal.

Andrew Sullivan cited Krugman’s article and added:

Just a year ago, I had a conversation with a friend as the healthcare website was crashing. All that mattered, we agreed, was if, this time next year, the healthcare reform is working and the economy is doing better. Well, both those things have happened – Obamacare is actually a big success so far; the growth and unemployment rates are the envy of much of the Western world – and yet we are now told that he’s a failure. WTF? The architects of the Iraq War – like, yes, Clinton and McCain – somehow believe they have a better grasp of foreign affairs in the twenty-first century than he does. And the party that bankrupted this country in eight short years now has the gall to ignore the fastest reduction in the deficit ever, and a slow-down in healthcare costs that may well be the most important fiscal achievement of a generation.

Add to this two massive social shifts that Obama has coaxed, helped or gotten out the way: marriage equality and the legalization of cannabis. These are not minor cultural shifts. They are sane reforms, change we can absolutely believe in and have accomplished on his watch. Jihadist terrorism? It has murdered an infinitesimal number of Americans in the past six years, compared with almost any other threat. Yes, Americans are still capable of PTSD-driven panic and hysteria over it, and Obama has failed to counter that more aggressively, but to be where we are in 2014 is something few expected after 9/11.

The idea that he has “lost Iraq” is preposterous. We “lost” Iraq the minute we unseated the Sunnis, disbanded the Baathist army and unleashed the dogs of sectarian warfare.

The only sane response to continuing unrest there is to cut our losses, act as an off-shore balancing power, and protect ourselves. And one reason we have this capability is that Obama managed to pivot nimbly last fall to ensure the destruction of Assad’s WMDs. The Panettas and McCains and usual suspects still seem to believe that it would have been better to have bombed Assad, let him keep his WMDs, and … what exactly? Can you imagine ISIS with its hands on those weapons in a failed state with a deposed leader? Think Libya today with poison gas. Who prevented this? Obama. And he is still pilloried for it.

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Leon Panetta and Jimmy Carter’s Irrational Attacks On Obama

There has been a lot of criticism of Obama’s Middle East policy from those of both parties who fail to recognize that we were placed in a situation with no good outcome the moment George Bush invaded Iraq. Leon Panetta has been all over the talk shows promoting his book, which echoes the criticism of Obama from Hillary Clinton.

Seeing the poor logic in these attacks makes me glad that Obama as opposed to either Clinton or a Republican have been calling the shots. It is easy to say that acting sooner would have helped, but no real evidence of this. The situation which allowed ISIS to develop and succeed in Iraq were created by the American intervention and subsequent actions of the Malacki government.

The actual advice given makes no sense. Arming Syrian moderates last year would have just led to increased bloodshed and more weapons in the hands of ISIS. Propping up Malicki longer was a dead-end policy, even if the United States could have stayed despite the desire of the Iraqui government for us to leave. While Panetta has criticized him over not bombing in Syria, Obama showed wisdom, not weakness, when he backed away from the military option when there was a diplomatic option to stop the use of chemical weapons.

The Neocon policies have been disastrous, causing this mess and Obama was right in opposing them, and attempting to disengage from the region. The Clinton/Panetta line is a repeat of the Bush/Cheney line and the current Clinton/Panetta attacks are no more credible than the attacks we are hearing from Dick Cheney

Other attacks are more petty. In a dispute between the White House and Pentagon over not giving the Pentagon everything it wants, I’ll generally side with the White House. It comes down to money on two levels. Now Panetta is cashing in to make money on his book, along with doing Hillary’s dirty work.

Kevin Drum put Panetta’s world-view in context:

…his basic worldview is simple: as long as Obama is launching lots of drone attacks and surging lots of troops and bombing plenty of Middle Eastern countries—then he’s a “strong leader on security issues.” But when Obama starts to think that maybe reflexive military action hasn’t acquitted itself too well over the past few years—in that case he’s “kind of lost his way.”

That’s the default view of practically everyone in Washington: Using military force shows strong leadership. Declining to use military force shows weakness. But most folks inside the Beltway don’t even seem to realize they feel this way. It’s just part of the air they breathe: never really noticed, always taken for granted, and invariably the difficult but sadly necessary answer for whichever new and supposedly unique problem we’re addressing right now. This is what Obama is up against.

Steve Benen had a great response to all the hypocrisy and poor arguments from the right being made by Panetta. He concluded:

The former Defense Secretary last week wrote a piece blaming Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq for the chaos gripping much of the country. And yet, it was none other than Leon Panetta who defended Obama’s withdrawal policy, repeatedly, before he was trying to boost book sales.

Panetta now says he believes Obama should have pressed Iraqi officials to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. What would those troops have accomplished that they didn’t already try over the last decade? Panetta hasn’t really said. What was Obama supposed to do about the fact that Iraq wanted American servicemen and women out? Panetta hasn’t really explained that, either. Why did Panetta see a residual force as impossible in 2011, only to believe the opposite now? He hasn’t offered an explanation of this, either.

And yet, Panetta just keeps complaining, not just about Iraq, but about U.S. policy in Syria, too, where the former Pentagon chief apparently believes it’s irrelevant that Obama rid Syria of its chemical-weapons stockpiles – weapons that now can’t fall into the hands of Islamic State militants.

Making matters slightly worse, as part of Panetta’s all-out media blitz, he complained to the New York Times about Obama going to Congress last year before intervention in Syria, and then complained about Obama not going to Congress this year before intervention in Syria.

Who knows, maybe this is a terrific public-relations strategy for a guy on a book tour. If Panetta hoped to generate chatter about his book, the past couple of weeks have been a triumph. If he hoped to get White House critics interested in his memoir, Panetta has done what he set out to do.

But those looking for real insights into a sensible national security policy probably haven’t learned much from Panetta’s p.r. campaign.

I would question if Panetta’s motivation is purely to make money from his book. He is also serving the Clintons well, considering that Hillary has motivation to separate herself from Obama but cannot speak out against him to this degree without looking calculating and disloyal. Of course both possible motives are served by the same actions.

The Daily Beast has further criticism of Panetta:

At both Langley and the Pentagon he became a forceful advocate for—or, some might say, bureaucratic captive of—the agencies he ran. As CIA Director he pushed back on efforts to expose the agency’s illegal activities during the Bush Administration —in particular, the use of torture (which he had once decried).

At DoD he ran around with his hair practically on fire denouncing cuts to the defense budget in out-sized, apocalyptic terms. The “catastrophic,” “draconian” cuts would initiate a “doomsday mechanism” and “invite aggression,” he claimed and always without specific examples. Ironically, when Panetta was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early 1990s, he took the exact opposite position and pushed for huge cuts to the defense budget.

For Panetta, principles appear to be determined by wherever he happens to be sitting at any given moment.

However, his irresponsible threat-mongering and his constant stream of gaffes and misstatements (like the claim that the US was in Iraq because of 9/11 and that the war was worth it) masked a stunningly narrow and parochial foreign policy vision. It wasn’t just that Panetta was saying crazy things. As his new memoir shows, he apparently believed them.

The post went on to further criticize Panetta’s current ideas on what Obama should have done, along with his support for using force without adequate recognition of the consequences of using force, or of the positive benefits of Obama achieving an agreement to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Jimmy Carter  has also raised similar attacks but the same issues remain that intervention earlier would have probably worsened the situation in Iraq and Syria. It is also easy to criticize in retrospect, but his current attacks are not consistent with previous criticism of Obama whichwere for being too aggressive.

While I have qualms about some of Obama’s actions, from drones to the current bombing, he is looking far better than most of those who are now attacking him.

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