Sunday, June 9, 2013

Realpolitik Check

 Late last year, I wrote a post describing my frustrations with political writing, which once so dominated this blog. Before I reexamine that frustration, I'd like to give you two essays from that politically dominant era. The first is from 12/01/2008, less than a month after the election that put Barack Obama in the White House:

What's the Appoint?
I know it's been a foregone conclusion for about two weeks now that Hillary Clinton would be our next Secretary of State, but I wanted to be absolutely, positively, empirically, unquestionably, and pretty gosh darn sure before I posted this...Let me check again just to be sure. Be right back.

Yep, she's got the gig. All the talking heads think it's a great choice. She's smart. She's respected. She's experienced.

So why ain't she president?

I mean, wasn't that her main argument during the primary race, that she was more experienced than her main opponent, a one Barack Obama. But Obama, if you'll recall, had one great comeback. HILLARY HAD VOTED FOR THE WAR IN IRAQ! How could you possibly trust her judgement?

Apparently Obama can. Oh, well. What was that Jesus said again? Oh, yeah. Love your enemy. Especially after you've kicked his or her ass.

Maybe he'll appoint Bush to something next.

I probably should have used John McCain's name in that last sentence (we're back to 2013, incidentially), since he's the one whose ass was actually kicked, but that election seemed more like a refutation of George W. Bush. McCain just happened to be on the ballot. Other than that, I stand by the above post 100%. Hillary Clinton's been lauded as having been a great Secretary of State, though the only real accomplishment anyone can really point to is that she logged a lot of travel miles. She's now considered the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president. Two-party omnipotence being what it is, I'll probably vote for her in the general election (as I would have in 2012 had she got that far), despite my misgivings. And those misgivings mean just as much to me now as they did then. I'm sorry, but I just can't forgive nor forget (but, um, can cast a ballot for) an accomplice to the worst foreign policy debacle since Vietnam.

The next post, from 1/30/2009, I don't stand by 100--or any--%. Yet I'm not repudiating it , either. What I'm trying to do is make sense of it. When I re-read it a couple of days ago, I asked myself, "Why in the hell was I complaining about THAT?" But complain I did:

Are Van Helsing and Dracula Next?
Samantha Power, the Harvard University professor and Pulitzer Prize winning author who was dumped as a foreign policy advisor by then-presidential candidate Barack Obama for calling Hillary Clinton a "monster", will soon be hired as a foreign policy advisor by now-President Barack Obama, according to the Associated Press.

Wait a second, it's not the victim who's supposed to rise from the grave.

Then again, Jamie Lee Curtis did star in at least two Halloween sequels.

How does the monster, er, Hillary Clinton, feel about all this? According to an official close to the transition, the two have decided to "bury the hatchet." As senior director of multilateral affairs (is there a director of single lateral affairs?) at the National Security Council, Power will have close contact, and maybe even travel with, Clinton, now Secretary of State. No word as to whether Power will bring along wolf bane and garlic, just in case.

You have to hand it to Obama. If nothing else, he knows how to bring about reconciliation within his own party. Of course, it was something of a surprise when, after all the insults traded between the two campaigns, Obama appointed Hillary to State in the first place. I remember the press conference he gave right after that announcement, in which he dismissed all that dissing back and forth as "just politics, heat of the campaign, you know."

Huh? They weren't serious?



My beef in the above piece (it's over now; we're back to 2013) wasn't with Samantha Power, who I have no real strong opinions about.  If the name is unfamiliar to you, she's a former journalist and Harvard professor who wrote a highly regarded, and as I said in the above post, Pulitzer Prize-winning book  "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide, which criticized the USA for standing by not-so-helplessly as various crimes against humanity were committed around the globe. This book was published in 2002. A few years later she was a foreign policy fellow in the office of then-Senator Barack Obama, and when he ran for president in 2008, became a senior foreign policy advisor, until she resigned after telling a journalist in what she naively hoped would be an off-the-record comment that Hillary Clinton was a "monster". Boning up on her for this post, I've found things to like and not like about her. She's probably more interventionist-minded than I'm comfortable with, but was against the intervention that was Iraq, which I see as a plus. Also, she doesn't see intervention strictly as a matter of planes, tanks, and guns (nor does she see any of that as a turn-off) but also "...a whole range of options—you can convene allies, impose economic sanctions, expel ambassadors, jam hate radio. There is always something you can do" At the National Security Council she's championed religious freedoms and the protection of religious minorities, human rights and democracy, women's rights, LGBT rights, curbs in human trafficking, and the protection of refugees. Hard to argue with any of that.
I think what was really going on when I wrote that post is, after rooting for Obama to stomp Hillary in the 2008 primaries, I finally realized that I didn't know where exactly he was coming from. How to separate the wheat from the chaff, the man from the myth, the principles from the politics, the convictions from the spin, the soul from the positions paper, and the beliefs from the bullshit? Even though I voted for him, I was determined to hold Obama's feet to the fire, to speak truth to power, even if four years later that truth reads like nitpicking.
Then the Tea Party happened. And the birthers. And obstructionists in Congress who were suddenly against things they've previously championed (such as health insurance mandates), and their willingness to bankrupt the country by refusing to raise the debt limit because they believed doing so would cause...bankruptcy. With the poor guy up against all that, I felt I should cut Obama some slack. But here was, and is, my dilemma: how to cut him slack without this blog sounding like a White House talking point?
I gradually retreating from writing about politics and instead turned toward pop culture, a subject that's always interested me. I did keep the phrase "political observations" in the description underneath the title Shadow of a Doubt, in case something of national interest should happen that piqued my interest.

As it turns out, a couple things this past week has piqued my interest. The first is Obama nominating Samantha Power as Ambassador to the United Nations, and appointing Susan Rice--the current UN ambassador--as National Security Advisor. Both seem to be relatively idealistic, with all the pluses and minuses that entails. If Power is approved by the Senate--which seems likely in spite of some opposition  from a few who feels she's not pro-Israel enough--she'll have become a mainstay of the Obama administration. He must like her. He also must like Rice, who got her start in the Clinton administration, where she was special assistant this or senior assistant that. Along with the rest of that particular White House, she was mum on the subject on the 1994 Rwanda Genocide until the worst had passed. She came to regret her silence, later saying: "I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required." As such, she urged dramatic action--from recalling ambassadors to no-fly zones to multinational intervention--in the Sudan, Zaire, and Libya, none of which has caused her to go down in flames. What did almost cause that had a much smaller body count than the butcheries inflicted on the citizens of the aforementioned countries. These new bodies, though, were Americans, including Libyan Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens (who sez ambassadorships are plumb jobs?) during the attack on the Benghazi consulate last September. Afterwards, Rice went on several TV news shows and said the attacks appeared to be the result of spontaneous demonstrations sparked by an anti-Islam film. Hillary Clinton made similar statements. Both of these women were mistaken, as the attacks now said to have been pre-meditated (though by whom remains an open question.) Rice, who many believe was in line to replace Clinton as Secretary of State, withdrew her name from consideration because of the controversy. The job went instead to John Kerry, a decent man who, probably for political reasons like Hillary, voted for the Iraq war.   Lo, these many months later, what Susan Rice thought and said the week following the attack is still a matter of controversy for some. But not me. I have no strong feelings about Rice. As I understand it, she's respected by most of the other delegates to the UN. Cooler heads (not in Congress, obviously) feel she's more than qualified for the national security post, which doesn't require Senate approval anyway.


If I don't have strong feelings, pro or con, about either Power or Rice, why did their nominations/appointments pique my interest? Something I read online by Peter Beinart, a former editor of The New Republic. In a Daily Beast article titled "Obama Unbound", Beinart argues that with these second-term appointments (including Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense), the "true" Obama is emerging. The first time around he appointed people he didn't really want, such as Hillary, strictly because it was good politics to do so:

"The Democratic Party has finally freed itself from the long shadow of Vietnam. For decades after the end of that war, Democrats peered nervously over their shoulders at a public that considered them soft. That’s why in 1988 Michael Dukakis climbed goofily into a tank. It’s why in 2004 Democrats tried to convince America that the single most important thing about John Kerry was that he had served in uniform. It’s why Obama couldn’t close Guantánamo Bay.
"Now those anxieties are gone, first because George W. Bush destroyed the GOP’s foreign-policy brand, and second, because by ordering the military operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, Obama won himself all the tough-guy swagger he needed. Thus, last fall, when Mitt Romney tried to out-hawk him on Iran, Obama didn’t scramble to his right. To the contrary, in the foreign-policy debate he smacked Romney for being 'reckless' in his willingness to 'take premature military action.' It worked. According to virtually every poll, Americans said they trusted Obama more as commander in chief.

 "Since the election, it’s been more Obama unbound. He’s appointed a wildly controversial Defense secretary who has talked bluntly about his determination to keep America out of future wars. Then, late last month, he gave a speech vowing to close Guantánamo Bay and declaring the 'war on terror' over. Now he’s appointing Rice. It’s quite a change. In 2009, Obama chose a Defense secretary and a national-security adviser Washington Republicans loved. This year, he’s chosen a Defense secretary and a national-security adviser they hate. The reason: he no longer needs to care as much what they think."

 Beinart goes on to compare Obama to Bill Clinton, who behaved like a conservative in his first term so as to have the freedom to be liberal in the second. Or would have, had a stained black dress belonging to a White House intern not been a major distraction.

Beinart ends his piece this way:

"So what will Obama pursue? A comprehensive deal with Iran? A new initiative on climate change? A real effort at slashing nuclear stockpiles across the globe? One last presidential push for Mideast peace? He has laid the table for the kind of big, controversial foreign-policy initiative that would have been too risky in his first term. If Republicans are angry now, just wait. The real fun has yet to begin."

All well and good. Now to the second thing that piqued my interest, the following headline:

 NSA Monitoring All Verizon Calls in the US, Leaked Memo Says

Or was the leaked memo part at beginning of the headline? Anyway, you probably saw something similar. According to Obama, whose White House the super-secret agency answers to, all this has something to do with the War on Terror, the one that is supposed to be over, and is sanctioned by the Patriot Act. There's been a relative firestorm of relative controversy over all this. Notice I said "relative". That's because I don't think most Americans are bothered by this, least of all Verizon customers. There's been similar stories in the past 12 years, and only the ACLU seems to care. Oh, the party not in the White House--first the Democrats and now the Republicans tries to make the most political hay they can about it. But they soon back off. They know the public fears terrorism, a fear they've both helped fan. To be fair, they get other help from time to time from the likes of the Tsarnaev boys.

This could even help Obama politically. It could contribute to the Presidents tough guy swagger. Ensure even more confidence in him as our commander-in-chief. Shorten the shadow of Vietnam even more. These are my thoughts, not Beinart's, but it does fit in with his thesis. It's an argument that can be made, an excuse to be offered. Extremist politicking in the name of foreign policy idealism is no vice.

It also reminds me of the old Vulcan saying, "Only Nixon can go to China." Except first Obama has to become Nixon.

Or J. Edgar Hoover.

I'd prefer to think that we can get a comprehensive deal with Iran, a new initiative on climate change, slashed nuclear stockpiles across the globe, and Mideast peace without bringing Big Brother into it. Politically, it only makes sense.

In the meantime, I'm going to return to writing about old TV shows, movies, and comics. Pop culture may be no less compromised than politics, but at least I'm more comfortable making excuses for it.





  1. I really LOVED this. Looks like China came to Obama.
    I don't know what is up with Obama, I voted for him the first time. I understand what he's up against, but his campaign promises and the way he governs are vastly different. I like his choices, especially for SCOTUS. He could have done so much more in the beginning of his first term. Not having a single payer healthcare bill was a mistake. But now, with so many Republican governors refusing to set up exchanges, it may come down to Medicare for all.

  2. Interesting last sentence there, Patricia. Medicare for all, of course, would be tantamount to a single payer plan. Imagine that. The exchanges were meant as an alternative to single payer, which was seen as politically impossible. Now the exchanges are what's impossible, at least in some states, making single payer more likely. Talk about unintended consequences.


In order to keep the hucksters, humbugs, scoundrels, psychos, morons, and last but not least, artificial intelligentsia at bay, I have decided to turn on comment moderation. On the plus side, I've gotten rid of the word verification.