Why Do Republicans Hate Veterans?

Senate Republicans have blocked a Democratic proposal to increase veteran’s benefits. The Hill reports:

Senate Republicans stopped Democrats from advancing a bill that would have expanded healthcare and education programs for veterans.

In a 56-41 vote Thursday, the motion to waive a budget point of order against the bill failed, as Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Republican roadblock.

GOP Sens. Dean Heller (Nev.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) voted with Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to allow a GOP substitute amendment to get an up-or-down vote because it included Iran sanctions, which he said were unrelated to veterans’ issues.

“I hope all the veterans groups have witnessed all the contortions the Republicans have done to defeat this bill,” Reid said Thursday. “Shame on Republicans for bringing base politics into a bill to help veterans.”

Why do I have a sense of deja vu in reading this story? Maybe because it has become quite common for Republicans to pretend to support the vets while opposing benefits backed by Democrats. A quick Google search for Republicans oppose veterans benefits brought up plenty of hits from previous examples.

Veterans–one of many groups who vote against their self-interest when they vote for Republicans.

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The State Of The Democratic Party Today

I found Dan Balz’s article on Democrats in the post-Obama era to be interesting not for any predictions of the future but for the information on the Democratic Party today. I wouldn’t take this as an exact measurement of any views, but a good general approximation.

Balz presented data that the Democratic Party has become more liberal, but with liberals representing a plurality and not a majority. The Democrats remain a big tent party of the left, middle, and center-right while the Republicans have become a predominantly conservative party:

By many measures, the party is certainly seen as more liberal than it once was. For the past 40 years, the American National Election Studies surveys have asked people for their perceptions of the two major parties. The 2012 survey found, for the first time, that a majority of Americans describe the Democratic Party as liberal, with 57 percent using that label. Four years earlier, only 48 percent described the Democrats as liberal.

(In the same survey, 59 percent said they saw the Republicans as conservative, up from 52 percent four years earlier.)

Gallup reported last month that 43 percent of surveyed Democrats identified themselves as liberal, the high water mark for the party on that measurement. In Gallup’s 2000 measures, just 29 percent of Democrats labeled themselves as liberals.

Still, liberals are a plurality of the Democratic Party, not a majority, which is strikingly different from the Republican Party, where Gallup found that 70 percent identified themselves as conservative.

Democrats hold a variety of views, but tend to be more liberal on social issues:

Democrats are most united on cultural and social issues, and it is here where the party has most obviously moved to the left, particularly on same-sex marriage and even the legalization of marijuana. But the party’s shift reflects overall changes in public attitudes that have kept the Democrats within a new political mainstream on these issues.

Women’s issues have provided even more cohesiveness within the party’s coalition.

There is less unity on national security and foreign policy, as much of the party is to the left of Clinton and even of Obama:

On issues of national security and foreign policy, divisions remain. Obama may be president because he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton voted as senator to give then-president George W. Bush the authority to take the country to war. Obama has ended the war in Iraq and is ending the war in Afghanistan, but some progressives are at odds with him over other aspects of his national security policies.

There is also division on economic issues:

On economic issues, the party is torn between two key parts of its coalition.

“One of the biggest failings of the Democratic Party,” Stern said, “is that its funders come from its traditional side of the economic spectrum and its voters come from a more populist, distributive side of the economic agenda.”

Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer said, “I think the party increasingly is responding to the special interests they need to get elected — the military-industrial complex, big energy, pharmaceutical companies, banks.”

Yet in both policies and tone, there are indications that Democrats have moved to the left. Democratic candidates from all regions — including two potential rising stars running for the Senate in conservative states, Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky — have embraced raising the minimum wage. This is a centerpiece of Obama’s agenda heading into this fall’s midterm campaigns…

Hostility to free-trade agreements is still deep among part of the Democratic coalition, but that tension has existed for decades. While many better-educated, upscale voters do not fear the impact of free trade, others, led by organized labor, look at stagnant wages and the difficult job market and attribute those hardships to trade.

Income inequality has received more attention from Democrats but it is based more upon pragmatic economic principles than hostility towards the rich or the egalitarianism falsely attributed to Democrats by many Republicans such as Chris Christie:

Perhaps more than any other economic issue, income inequality has animated progressive activists and voters. Party strategists say this energy is being fueled by lingering fury at Wall Street tycoons, whom they blame for the financial collapse, and deep unease about the nation’s eroding middle class.

“There’s a consciousness developing that’s related to this issue of inequality and the unfairness of our system and the wealth gap that has the potential to really grow and develop into a strong movement that will be reflected in coming elections,” former Ohio governor Ted Strickland said.

William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution said, “It’s not just a case of the very rich getting richer. If that were the only thing going on I think we’d be having a very different conversation. It’s also a case of the people in the middle at best treading water and in fact doing a little bit worse than that.”

Balz’s description of the Democratic Party is consistent with how I have described it in posts here–a big tent with the left more typically liberal on social issues and highly influenced by opposition to the war in Iraq. Democrats have tended to be more pragmatic than ideological on economic issues, with the current economic stagnation exacerbated by the right’s use of government to redistribute wealth to the ultra-wealthy and extreme opposition to government activity even when needed, leading to forces driving both pragmatism and a more populist agenda coinciding.

Looking ahead it is impossible to predict anything at this time other than a victory for Hillary Clinton, but this is based upon her historical position in the party, not whether she is currently representative of where most Democrats stand. If Clinton were to decide not to run, whoever wins the nomination is likely to be quite different from Clinton on the issues.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Democratic Strategy For 2014: Get Out The Vote But Don’t Ignore The Message

This should be a bad year for Democrats if we go by historical trends. The party holding the presidency typically loses Congressional seats in their sixth year. It makes matters worse when their are economic problems, even if many people do realize that they are primarily due to a combination of problems created by the Bush administration and problems perpetuated by Republican actions to hinder economic recovery in Congress.

Making matters worse, the Democrats have to defend Senate seats in red states, including states where incumbent Democrats are not running for reelection. Democrats do worse in off year elections, when young voters and minorities are less likely to vote compared to presidential elections. Republicans also have a huge advantage in a system where small Republican states receive as many Senators as far larger Democratic states. Their advantage extends to the house. Between gerrymandering and the higher concentration of Democrats in cities. Republican will still control Congress unless Democrats receive about seven percent more votes.

On top of this, Republicans see voter suppression as a valid electoral strategy.

Democrats did much better in 2008 and 2012 than in 2010. They also expect to do much better in 2016, including picking up several Senate seats due to the playing field being reversed with Republicans being forced to defend Senate seats in blue states. The Democrats see the solution as making 2014 more like 2012. Their strategy:

The Democrats’ plan to hold on to their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get-out-the-vote and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

A campaign based upon getting out the vote isn’t terribly exciting, but it is a realization that this is how elections are won in this polarized era. There aren’t very many swing voters, but there can be huge differences between which party does better in getting their supporters out to vote.

Besides, a high tech get out the vote campaign and an old fashioned campaign to try to sway voters are not mutually exclusive. I do hope that the Democrats also think about better ways to get out their message as the Republicans often win by doing a better job here. Sure the Republican message is pure lies, claiming to be the party of small government while supporting increased government intrusion in the lives of individuals, and primarily using big government to redistribute wealth to the top one tenth of one percent.

Democrats need a coherent message, but they often fail because they are afraid of alienating some voters by saying what they believe in. I suspect that this cowardice turns off even more voters, along with reducing the motivation of their supporters to turn out. Once again, a campaign based upon promoting ideas and one based upon voter turnout are not mutually exclusive. They can be complimentary.

Rather than shying away from social issues, Democrats need to campaign as the party which supports keeping government out of our personal lives and out of the bedroom.

Rather than running away from the Affordable Car e Act, Democrats need to stress its benefits. Beyond all the millions who are assisted by the ability to obtain affordable health coverage, there are the two million people who are freed from the “insurance trap” which forces them to work in jobs they do not otherwise want or need in order to obtain health insurance. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has shown, the Affordable Care Act will help reduce unemployment, decease the deficit, and strengthen the economy. Besides, we saw what happened to the Democrats when they tried running away from Obamacare in 2010.

In recent years Democrats have taken national security away from Republicans as an issue. If the Republicans want to run on their debunked conspiracy theories about Benghazi, it might be time for Democrats to remind voters of the very real failings of Republicans on 9/11, from ignoring warnings before the attack to invading the wrong country in retaliation. We saw how that turned out. It is also time for Democrats to take additional issues from the Republicans.

Challenge voters who support Republicans based upon misinformation. If they are concerned about the deficit, point out how much the deficit has dropped under Obama (as it previously dropped under Bill Clinton). Repeatedly we see polls in which voters support liberal positions but identify themselves as conservatives. They say the oppose Obamacare but also support most of the individual components of the Affordable Care Act. The only way to fight the misinformation spread by Fox is for Democrats to clearly say what they believe in and defend their positions.

Democrats are planning to run on income inequality. That is fine, but they better make sure that they make it clear that the reason is that the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top one tenth of one percent is a major cause of crippling the economy and keeping down the middle class. Failure to make this connection just plays into Republican memes.

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Obama Takes First Step In Reforming NSA Surveillance

In a speech today, President Obama called for an overhaul of the NSA’s phone data collection program. The full text is here and the proposals are summarized here. There are meaningful improvements, including requiring a court order to obtain phone data, which will be held by a third party, and proceedings before the FISA court will become more adversarial with arguments made counter to the government’s arguments by a panel of public advocates.

Glenn Greenwald has some valid criticism and deserves credit for his work in bringing Edward Snowden’s revelations to the public. As has often been the case regarding Obama, I believe he is also underestimating the value of these reforms. It must be kept in mind that this issue is about what the NSA has done wrong, not about one’s opinion of Glenn Greenwald. I am finding that Greenwald’s sometimes overzealous attacks on Obama have led many liberals to automatically reject whatever he has to say, and I fear that this is contributing to the attitude of some liberals to fail to take the NSA revelations with the seriousness they deserve.

The American Civil Liberties Union has issued this statement, also arguing that Obama has not gone far enough:

President Obama today announced changes to some aspects of the NSA’s surveillance programs and left others in place. Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, had this reaction:

“The president’s speech outlined several developments which we welcome. Increased transparency for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, improved checks and balances at the FISA court through the creation of a panel of advocates, and increased privacy protections for non-U.S. citizens abroad – the first such assertion by a U.S. president – are all necessary and welcome reforms.

“However, the president’s decision not to end bulk collection and retention of all Americans’ data remains highly troubling. The president outlined a process to study the issue further and appears open to alternatives. But the president should end – not mend – the government’s collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans’ data. When the government collects and stores every American’s phone call data, it is engaging in a textbook example of an ‘unreasonable search’ that violates the Constitution. The president’s own review panel recommended that bulk data collection be ended, and the president should accept that recommendation in its entirety.”

A new chart comparing the ACLU’s proposals, President Obama’s announcement, and the USA FREEDOM Act (a bipartisan bill currently pending in Congress) is at:
aclu.org/national-security/where-does-president-stand-nsa-reform

ACLU Action is demanding an end to dragnet surveillance at:
aclu.org/endsurveillance

I do think that Glenn Greenwald could learn from the manner in which the ACLU both acknowledged the favorable aspects of Obama’s proposals while calling for greater reforms. This has been the general attitude which I have seen so far among liberal critics of NSA surveillance. Such an attitude is also more likely to bring about greater unity on the left for reform as opposed to his attacks which are causing some liberals to discount the entire issue.

The fact that Obama made this speech is further evidence of the value of Edward Snowden’s work, and I feel provides further vindication for his actions. Needless to say, many in the intelligence community do not agree, some having fantasies of dealing with Snowden as would be done in a third rate spy thriller:

One Army intelligence officer even offered BuzzFeed a chillingly detailed fantasy.

“I think if we had the chance, we would end it very quickly,” he said. “Just casually walking on the streets of Moscow, coming back from buying his groceries. Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower.”

There is no indication that the United States has sought to take vengeance on Snowden, who is living in an undisclosed location in Russia without visible security measures, according to a recent Washington Post interview. And the intelligence operators who spoke to BuzzFeed on the condition of anonymity did not say they expected anyone to act on their desire for revenge. But their mood is widespread, people who regularly work with the intelligence community said.

Granted this is just anonymous talk and no action has been taken, but this attitude does reinforce the need to keep the intelligence community under control, and could even be argued to represent further evidence that Snowden was right in his actions.

This all occurs a day after the latest revelations released by Edward Snowden that the NSA collects millions of text messages.

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Dreams Of Stopping Clinton In 2016

We have a long time go to until the 2016 presidential election, but political reporting in this country is obsessed with presidential elections and we are going to continue to see a lot of stories centered around the media’s pick as front runners. As I discussed yesterday, Hillary Clinton is a stronger front runner for her party’s nomination than Chris Christie, especially following the recent scandal.It is notable that early front runners rarely win the Democratic nomination, excluding sitting presidents and sometimes the last vice president. While Hillary Clinton is currently in a strong position to overcome the obstacles faced by front runners, she faces problems including the desire of the media to run “man bites dog” stories and highlight any potential political liability. The media will concentrate on a variety of ABC stories (Anyone But Christie and Anyone But Clinton.

There are two stories along these lines today. Michael Crowley has written about Clinton’s hawkish views, which many Democratic voters are likely to disagree with:

As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action. On at least three crucial issues—Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid—Clinton took a more aggressive line than Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.

Former administration officials also tell TIME that Clinton was an advocate for maintaining a residual troop force after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq—an issue of renewed interest given al Qaeda’s resurgence there. They also describe her as skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, and firmly opposed to talk of a “containment” policy that would be an alternative to military action should negotiations with Tehran fail.

Recent comparisons of Secretary of State John Kerry’s frenetic globe-trotting to Clinton’s arguably modest diplomatic achievements have tended to overlook this less visible aspect of her tenure. But no assessment of her time in Obama’s administration would be complete without noting the way Clinton hewed to the liberal hawk philosophy she adopted during her husband’s presidency in the 1990s, and which contributed, less happily, to her 2002 vote to authorize force against Iraq. “The Democratic party has two wings—a pacifist wing and a Scoop Jackson wing. And I think she is clearly in the Scoop Jackson wing,” says former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, now director of the Wilson Center. (Jackson, a Cold War-era Democratic Senator from Washington state, mixed progressive domestic politics with staunch anti-communism, support for a strong military, and backing for the Vietnam War.)

Crowley gave further details on Clinton’s hawkish record and then concluded:
But at a time when fewer Americans support an active U.S. role in foreign affairs, Clinton’s comfort with the harder side of American power could be a vulnerability. A liberal primary challenger might well reprise Barack Obama’s 2007 line that Hillary’s record amounts to “Bush-Cheney lite.” One potential contender, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, has already been zinging her over her 2002 Iraq vote. “When George Bush got a bunch of [Democrats] to vote for that war, I was just shaking my head in Montana,” he said recently. Whether such attacks will hold even a fraction of the valence they did at the Iraq war’s peak remains to be seen.
I fear that changes are not good for a liberal primary challenger to accomplish what Obama did in 2008 in terms of winning the nomination, but Clinton just might be defeated in the Iowa caucuses. CNN looked at the problems Clinton faces in Iowa, despite lack of a credible challenger at this time:

Yet despite having the Democratic establishment at her back, there remains a palpable sense of unease with Clinton in grass-roots corners of the party, even as those very same activists promise to support her if no one else runs.

Part of that restraint is ideological. Iowa’s Democratic caucus-goers remain as dovish as they were in 2008, when Clinton’s support for the Iraq war badly damaged her standing on the left. Clinton helped wind down that same war as Obama’s secretary of state, but she is now linked to his national security apparatus, which has expanded drone attacks overseas and broadened intelligence gathering with controversial surveillance and data collection techniques.

And at a time when progressives feel emboldened to confront issues like income inequality and wage stagnation, Clinton, who delivered paid speeches last year to two prominent private equity firms as well as a group that actively lobbied against the Affordable Care Act, is perceived by some as too close to the deficit-obsessed worlds of Wall Street and official Washington…

Clinton is also susceptible to some of the same whimsical Democratic impulses that propelled Obama to his stunning Iowa victory in 2008. “Democrats love an underdog and we love a story,” is how Meyer put it. With a gleaming resume and the potential to make history as the country’s first female president, Clinton has a powerful story to tell. But she is hardly an underdog.

Some party leaders warned Clinton against reprising the same kind of heavy-handed front-running behavior that rankled so many Iowa activists — not to mention the media — during her 2008 effort.

“I don’t know if she has learned that lesson,” said Jean Pardee, the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2nd District vice chair. “The problem with so much of her staff was that they were all sort of higher class than the mere peasants that they had to campaign with. Everyone was kept at arm’s length by the staff, although a couple of key ones were pretty good. That’s a lesson that should be hopefully learned. But when it comes to human nature, maybe that’s not possible.”

Clinton must also confront the who’s-on-deck inclinations of the Democratic caucus-goer. Unlike Republicans, who have a habit of nominating loyal soldiers who have waited for their turn, Iowa Democrats have a tendency to search for someone new. The last time the party nominated an obvious heir-apparent was 2000, but Al Gore first had to beat back an unexpectedly fierce primary challenge from Bill Bradley on the left.

George Appleby, an attorney and lobbyist in Des Moines who supported Bradley and copped to a “pristine record of picking the wrong guy” in every caucus since 1976 until he backed Obama in 2008, described Clinton as “strong” and “brilliant.”

But he said liberals are suffering from an acute case of “Clinton fatigue.” He named O’Malley, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Secretary of State John Kerry, the 2004 Iowa caucus winner, as Democrats he’s keeping an eye on.

“Hillary would make a great president,” Appleby said. “She is the odds-on-favorite. But I don’t think she is necessarily going to be the nominee, or going to win Iowa. Sometimes people have been around forever, and there is time for some new blood.”

I’ve previously expressed my preference for current Secretary of State John Kerry over his predecessor and found it interesting to actually see his name come up as a possibility. Unfortunately I find it unlikely he can repeat what Richard Nixon did in the Republican Party, and  in a different era, and win the Democratic nomination after once losing the presidency. He loses out on the “tendency to search for someone new.”

In addition, it is difficulty to run while being Secretary of State. He cannot campaign for other members of his party as Nixon did to obtain support. Nor can he participate in the current “invisible primary” to raise money and develop the framework of a campaign. I can only see two possible ways that Kerry can win the Democratic nomination. One would be if he does something major of historical proportions, such as succeeding in his attempts to broker a peace agreement in the middle east. This would also have to occur early enough for Kerry to then step down and actually run. The other would be if Clinton either decides not to run, or her campaign is seriously derailed, and nobody is able to win enough support to make a credible front runner. The chances of stopping Clinton would be better if another liberal candidate could obtain sufficient support to make a serious run, and at this point I don’t see anyone doing this. Any chance Al Gore is still interested? There is a long way to go and perhaps we will see some new blood.

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Gates Describes Obama’s Approach Towards The Military As “Pitch Perfect” On Book Tour

When I cited the negative headline and mixed quotations in Bob Woodward’s account of the memoir recently written by Robert Gates, I suspected that the negative tone was largely due to Woodward’s strong anti-Obama bias. Now that Gates has started giving television interviews and has seen the media account, he is not being as critical of Obama as suggested by Woodward. This account is of his appearance on the Today Show:

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates clarified claims he supposedly made about President Obama’s commitment to the military surge in Afghanistan, saying Monday he “absolutely believed” the commander-in-chief supported the mission at the time.

Gates told TODAY’s Matt Lauer that the president fully supported the November 2009 surge but began to have reservations by the following spring.

“But as late as December 2010, he was still saying we were on the right track in Afghanistan,” he said. “So it was in our private conversations that he would express these reservations about whether it was working. But the decisions were right, and I believe that he believed it would work. “

Gates has been under fire for statements made in his new memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” that suggested Obama lacked commitment to decisions he made about his strategy in Afghanistan.

In his memoir, Gates had also wrote “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions” when discussing Afghanistan. He described Obama’s approach towards the military as “pitch perfect” in an interview with NPR which also described Obama’s suspicion of the military’s desire to increase troops in Afghanistan:

INSKEEP: I sense, in listening to you talk, Mr. Secretary, and having read this book, that you’re trying very hard to give a nuanced portrait of the president and others around him. So I want to stipulate here you do speak highly of his decision-making ability. You actually compare his decision-making process to that of Abraham Lincoln. You say that he was very kind to you personally, that he made many very strong decisions. But at the same time, even on occasions when he agrees with you, when you recount stories in the book of inside meetings you seem to be bothered by his attitude, the way that he phrases things when it comes to the United States military. What was the problem that you saw between this president and the military?

GATES: Well, I think that — first of all, I think that the president’s approach towards the military, particularly right after he was elected and initially, was pitch perfect. He — and I will say also Mrs. Obama’s interactions with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with troops and so on, was exactly right, and there was never any question of their support, their affection, their respect for the troops.

I think that — I think that what got things a little bit — well, what started to get things off track was the military leadership pressing for a substantial increase in the number of troops literally days within — after the inauguration. And the feeling on the part of the vice president and others that the military was trying to box the president in and, as they would put it, jam him into making a big decision in terms of an increase of nearly — of some 20,000 troops —

INSKEEP: In Afghanistan.

GATES: — in Afghanistan within days, if not weeks, of becoming president. And I think that that attitude of suspicion of what the military was trying to do had its roots in that — in that discussion in February and March of 2009. And when it came to Afghanistan, and Iraq for that matter but mainly Afghanistan, fed a suspicion that the military was always trying to box the president in and force him into significant troop increases and so on.

And so there was this feeling — and because of various public comments made by senior military officials, by the chairman, by General Petraeus later, by General McChrystal and others, the feeling that they were trying publicly to put the president in a position where he had no alternative but to approve what they wanted. And as I write in the book, looking back I always tried at the time to persuade the president that this was no plot, that the military didn’t have a plan, if you will, to try and box him in. And, frankly, I don’t think I was ever able to persuade him that that was not the case, again primarily when it came to Afghanistan.

A president who both makes the right decisions and has some skepticism as to military recommendations for increasing troops is exactly what we want, and one reason why we have civilian leadership of the military.

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Ron Fournier Defends Obama From Reports Of Criticism By Robert Gates

Yesterday I questioned whether all readers would see the memoirs of Robert Gates the same way as Bob Woodward, who has a long-standing anti-Obama bias.  Ron Fournier had the same impression as I had yesterday. While Woodward’s story reports negative comments from Gates about Barack Obama’s skepticism about the war in Afghanistan, Gates also wrote “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.” If Obama made the right decisions after questioning Gates and showing skepticism towards military recommendations, it sounds like he was doing the right thing. Fournier wrote:

In what Bob Woodward called a “harsh” judgment of President Obama, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates writes of the commander-in-chief adding troops to Afghanistan over the objections of his political team, second-guessing that decision, and never quite trusting his generals. “For him,” Gates writes in his memoir, “it’s all about getting out.”

To that I say, bravo. While excerpts of Gates’s books are being interpreted as embarrassing for Obama, I’m looking forward to reading the memoir in full—and expect to come away more impressed with the president than his Defense chief.

Consider first what the memoir says about Gates himself. Criticism of a sitting president from a former Cabinet member is rare and should be taken with a grain of salt. In a breach of propriety that raises questions about his integrity, the excerpts reveal Gates to be surprisingly petty at times, such as when he complains about spending cuts at the Pentagon and the lack of notice about Obama’s decision to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays serving in the military.

Then remember why Obama was elected in 2008. He reflected the nation’s ambivalence toward war, promising to pull out of Iraq and wean Afghanistan from U.S. dependence. His predecessor, President George W. Bush, waged war on Iraq under false pretenses and with a lack of skepticism toward neoconservatives in his war Cabinet, led by Vice President Dick Cheney. Initially, anyway, he deferred to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his generals. Famously calling himself “The Decider,” Bush rarely revisited a decision, and earned a reputation for stubbornness…

If military commanders were shown disrespect or given obstacles to fighting war, that would be one thing. But if they were questioned and challenged and kept in check, it is another. Isn’t that the president’s job?

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Robert Gates Memoir Critical Of Obama Administration On Afghanistan (But Was Their Skepticism Towards War Really A Bad Thing?)

Robert Gates is receiving a lot of attention today for his memoir entitled Duty. I suspect that this will have limited long-term impact, but for now it provides a source for lots of quotes both positive and negative about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden. We must also take into consideration that the initial report comes from Bob Woodward, who has not been all that reliable in recent years and his selected quotes may or may not be representative of what Gates wrote in the entire memoir. Plus it is not necessarily a bad thing for civilian politicians to show skepticism of military action which might be upsetting to someone with a more military background. Gates is not necessarily correct in his assessment of all matters. For example, Max Fisher writes that Gates was wrong on the most important issue he faced in failing to see the opportunity for peace with the former Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. Gates certainly got in wrong in arguing that Gorbachev was not a reformer.

While the headline of the story reports negative comments from Gates about Barack Obama’s skepticism and lack of interest continuing the war in Afghanistan, Gates also wrote “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”It is hardly a surprise that Obama had mixed feelings about that war which he inherited.

Comments that Hillary Clinton opposed the surge on political grounds might be politically harmful, especially if  used to support the narrative that Clinton lacks principle and is guided by political expediency (not that considering the views of the public is necessarily a bad thing). On the other hand he also wrote this about Clinton: “I found her smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.” I can already see this quote in Clinton campaign ads.

Gates was hardest on Joe Biden, complaining about his  “aggressive, suspicious, and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders.” Another account of the book in The New York Times quotes Gates as writing, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” I think that that with the current anti-war mood of the country, the portrayal of Biden as a major skeptic of the Afghanistan war might wind up doing him far more good than such a broad-based attack.

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Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower And American Hero

The New York Times had an editorial today on how the United States should respond to the revelations on NSA surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden:

Seven months ago, the world began to learn the vast scope of the National Security Agency’s reach into the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe, as it collects information about their phone calls, their email messages, their friends and contacts, how they spend their days and where they spend their nights. The public learned in great detail how the agency has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority, prompting outrage at kitchen tables and at the desks of Congress, which may finally begin to limit these practices.

The revelations have already prompted two federal judges to accuse the N.S.A. of violating the Constitution (although a third, unfortunately, found the dragnet surveillance to be legal). A panel appointed by President Obama issued a powerful indictment of the agency’s invasions of privacy and called for a major overhaul of its operations.

All of this is entirely because of information provided to journalists by Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who stole a trove of highly classified documents after he became disillusioned with the agency’s voraciousness. Mr. Snowden is now living in Russia, on the run from American charges of espionage and theft, and he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

While Snowden’s actions were illegal, there are times when illegal action is necessary to preserve our liberties. This is especially true when it has been the government which as been breaking the law. Providing a reduced sentence would not be enough. Rather than punishing Edward Snowden, he deserves a full pardon and the United States should be considering the most appropriate means of thanking him and honoring him for his service to his country. While this will probably never happen officially, Americans should treat Snowden in the same way as important whistle blowers of the past such as Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed how the government was lying to the American people about the war in Viet Nam.

After further discussion, including how there was no other way for the abuses exposed by Edward Snowden to be acted upon, the editorial concluded with a list of some of the illegal activity on the part of the government which Snowden has exposed:

In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not. Beyond the mass collection of phone and Internet data, consider just a few of the violations he revealed or the legal actions he provoked:

■ The N.S.A. broke federal privacy laws, or exceeded its authority, thousands of times per year, according to the agency’s own internal auditor.

■ The agency broke into the communications links of major data centers around the world, allowing it to spy on hundreds of millions of user accounts and infuriating the Internet companies that own the centers. Many of those companies are now scrambling to install systems that the N.S.A. cannot yet penetrate.

■ The N.S.A. systematically undermined the basic encryption systems of the Internet, making it impossible to know if sensitive banking or medical data is truly private, damaging businesses that depended on this trust.

■ His leaks revealed that James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, lied to Congress when testifying in March that the N.S.A. was not collecting data on millions of Americans. (There has been no discussion of punishment for that lie.)

■ The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rebuked the N.S.A. for repeatedly providing misleading information about its surveillance practices, according to a ruling made public because of the Snowden documents. One of the practices violated the Constitution, according to the chief judge of the court.

■ A federal district judge ruled earlier this month that the phone-records-collection program probably violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. He called the program “almost Orwellian” and said there was no evidence that it stopped any imminent act of terror.

The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That’s why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.’s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it’s why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.

Without Edward Snowden, we would not know about any of this. It is unlikely that the entire discussion which is now underway to reevaluate the practices of the National Security Agency  would be taking place. The national debate over this topic we are now engaging in would certainly not be anywhere near as informative and fact-based, if such a debate were to have happened at all.

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Quote of the Day

“This is a crazy story. For two decades, the secret launch code for America’s nuclear missiles was 0000000000. Even more amazing, George W. Bush forgot it twice.” –Conan O’Brien

In case anyone missed it the launch codes really were a string of zeros in order to reduce any potential delay in launching. I bet Stanley Kubrick would have used this in Doctor Strangelove if he was aware of this fact.

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