MIT’s Foreign Policy Advice to Obama

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CIS advice final.jpg
Innumerable policy shops and interest group around DC have already put out strategic blueprints for a policy agenda in the new administration. But if President Obama’s staff is committed to new and innovative ideas outside the traditional beltway parameters, as expressed during his campaign, he ought to take a look up at some proposals coming from up North.
MIT’s Center for International Studies, where I’ve recently began to hang my hat, has put out a very succinct briefing book on some familiar and some fresh foreign policy ideas. Some of the more provocative and notable ones include:

  • Richard Samuels‘s proposal on Asia to forgo a democracy alliance that contains China for a more inclusive Asian security arrangement modelled on the OSCE, ASEAN, and six-party talks, with the interim being filled by a revitalized US-Japanese relationship;
  • Barry Posen‘s suggestion to name the first European Supreme Allied Commander of NATO to limit free-riding and thrust greater responsibility and pride on European militaries and their publics;
  • Fotini Christia‘s three-staged strategy to salvage Afghanistan beginning with negotiations with the Taliban to split their fractious ranks;
  • Peter Krause‘s serious steps to win “the war of ideas” including tripling the number of annual fulbright students and reconfiguring Al-Hurra to a C-Span-like model;
  • Sarah Zuckerman‘s approach to consolidate Plan Comumbia’s real though less visible gains by maintaining but redirecting funding away from aerial spraying and military units that continue to abuse human rights;
  • Paul Staniland‘s advice to stifle the grand shuttle diplomacy impulse (much to Richard Holbrooke’s chagrin) for more subtle local policy initiatives in Kashmir to reach a settlement.

The entire set of proposals is worth reading. Do not let the brevity deceive you — each of these authors have eschewed the lengthy academic paper format to meet the needs of their target audience. It goes to show that people outside Washington are seriously trying to contribute to the conversation about America’s national security challenges. It remains to be seen whether those inside the beltway will listen.
–Sameer Lalwani

Comments

55 comments on “MIT’s Foreign Policy Advice to Obama

  1. söve says:

    So it isn’t a matter of saying, “The law was broken, now go to prison;” rather, it’s a matter of trying to figure out what the law is (not at all clear, even if you want it to be so), how and when to apply the law, and what to do about various degrees of infractions. It’s just not as easy as you want it to be.

    Reply

  2. questions says:

    …,
    You write, “it’s an endless conversation with plato, lol…”
    The endless conversation is Socrates’s main point. If we spend enough time talking and not thinking that we know enough to take action, we’re likely in better shape than if we assume we KNOW what to do, we take action, but we’re wrong. We harm our souls (the worst), we kill others (not great), and we make it impossible to know enough to make the next decision well or to die properly (both are concerns for Plato). So we’re better off with deep modesty, open minds, and more questions than answers. Self-certitude needs to give way, bluster is unhelpful, passion in the service of ignorance is a problem, quiet devotion to conversation that might one day aim towards something like truth is not so bad. (And remember, had Bush et al, and bin Laden et al, lived this same way, we’d have a very different story to tell.)

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  3. questions says:

    POA, no, not a lawyer, not law school even. And I did answer what laws we apply and when — that was the point of the speeding ticket analogy. Individual people in the system decide when and how to apply laws, what the laws mean and so on. Cops, prosecutors, judges, juries, legislators, all get official roles in determining what the law is. The public and the press/media get unofficial roles in determining what the law is and how it gets used. There is no LAW outside of interpretation and use. That’s what courts do — INTERPRET. That’s what prosecutors do — APPLY.
    So it isn’t a matter of saying, “The law was broken, now go to prison;” rather, it’s a matter of trying to figure out what the law is (not at all clear, even if you want it to be so), how and when to apply the law, and what to do about various degrees of infractions. It’s just not as easy as you want it to be.
    Yoo et al will, as I’ve pointed out, get vigorous defenses with well-paid lawyers and may get off without penalty should there be criminal trials. I have been reluctant to support criminal proceedings because I don’t really trust the criminal system to find crimes even when I find them. I worry about what happens if the presidency gets to have court-legitimated executive authority rather than the fuzzy kind it has right now. But as I’ve said, Paul’s posting above makes me think that it might be worth the risk. I’m unsure, but then I’m not a decision-maker in this matter.
    Further, I have repeatedly come down on the side of some kind of truth and reconciliation proceeding in various posts. So it’s not like I want the last 8 years to recede into the past unremarked. I want the truth out and I would very much like it if we had institutional barriers to a Bush/Cheney style presidency. Too much power in too few hands with too little judgment is a human rights disaster in the making, and it’s what we’ve had since Bush was elected.
    As for how ridiculous it is to turn to Plato blah blah blah, I tend to think that Plato was a whole lost smarter than many of us and he thought through shockingly similar issues a couple of thousand years ago. He’s worth a read.
    POA writes:
    It really is quite simple. Either we are a nation of laws, or we aren’t. Either we have a Constitution that is enforced, honored, protected, and respected, or we don’t. Either we have a representative government that treats all citizens equal under the law, or we don’t.
    The fact is that it isn’t this simple. We have a huge court system that tries to figure out what the Constitution means, we have huge police forces that try to figure out what the law is and when and how to apply it. POA, we make this stuff up as we go along and we hope for decent results occasionally. Political power and institutions are way more malleable than you’d like and the truth is less clear than you’d like. It’s not overintellectualization or intellectual masturbation (I believe that’s your phrase from earlier posts elsewhere). It’s just how it is.

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  4. Paul Norheim says:

    “Gee, POA, what will you say if Bush/Rove/Addington/
    Cheney/Yoo and the like get off and the courts side with the
    unitary executive stuff? Have an answer for this before you
    “gee” me again?” (Questions)
    I don`t know what POA would have said. And you may even ask:
    What would the American citizens say, what would the media
    say, and what would the outside world, the “international
    community” say, if the US courts sided with “the unitary
    executive stuff”?
    At least everybody would know that the court thinks US security
    and other US interests are best served with a variant of fascism.
    While certain European countries abhor to much talk of
    “leadership” (and with good reason: in German, it`s called
    “Führershaft”), Americans love this stuff. And the unitary
    executive theory is an extremely authoritarian version of this
    leadership talk. It`s in line with Nixon`s statement to Frost:
    When the President does it, it`s legal.
    Is it? At the moment, we don`t know. Does the American
    President have the right to detain anybody in the world if he
    wants to, and do whatever he wants to that person? Does the
    President have the right to interpret any law the way it suits
    him, also contrary to what that law says, because he is the
    Unitary Executive? Does he have the legal right to attack any
    country at will, using any pretext, just because he thinks it`s a
    good idea and has the power to do so?
    At the moment we don`t know, and in the future, any president
    could just grab that Unitary Executive theory and claim that
    anything he does is legal because he is the President.
    This is not restricted to a limited, short term emergency
    situation or due to 9/11. The US will always have enemies, and
    the many potential threats is a permanent factor. Besides, the
    Bush government declared a GWOT that may last for thirty years
    – or less, or more; principally as long as “terrorism” exists in the
    world).
    “A state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may
    suspend certain normal functions of government, alert citizens
    to alter their normal behaviors, or order government agencies to
    implement emergency preparedness plans. It can also be used
    as a rationale for suspending civil liberties. Such declarations
    usually come during a time of natural disaster, during periods of
    civil disorder, or following a declaration of war.
    (…)
    Though fairly uncommon in democracies, dictatorial regimes
    often declare a state of emergency that is prolonged indefinitely
    for the life of the regime. In some situations, martial law is also
    declared, allowing the military greater authority to act.
    (…)
    The United States is officially in an ongoing (and effectively
    permanent) state of emergency declared by several Presidents
    due to multiple problems. An example is one which began on
    January 24, 1995 with the signing of Executive Order 12947 by
    President Bill Clinton. In accordance with the National
    Emergencies Act, the executive order’s actual effect was not a
    declaration of a general emergency, but a limited embargo on
    trade with “Terrorists Who Threaten To Disrupt the Middle East
    Peace Process”.[16]
    This “national emergency” was expanded in 1998 to include
    additional targets such as Osama bin Laden,[17] and has been
    continued to at least 2008 by order of President George W.
    Bush.[18]
    There are a number of other ongoing national emergencies of
    this type, referenced at [1] and [2], regarding for instance
    diamond trade with Sierra Leone. Especially noteworthy are the
    ongoing states of emergency declared on September 14, 2001
    through Bush’s Proclamation 7463, regarding the terrorist
    attacks of September 11, 2001 (…) (all quotes from Wikipedia)
    Yoo, Addington, Cheney and others placed the President above
    the law. Now, is he above the law, or is he not? Is the USA in a
    legal sense a fascist state, or is it not? The “unitary executive
    stuff” is currently hidden behind a legal cloud. This is
    intolerable. It would be interesting for all concerned (i.e. the
    planet) to know whether the US courts side with fascism or
    democracy.

    Reply

  5. ... says:

    and some chose to colour everything with a sense of self important hostility…
    lol tony… i don’t think poa would like you quoting me while referring to him as the author.. look for an edge of hostility as the defining mark to most poa posts…

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  6. TonyForesta says:

    … those positions needs to be rejected in a concrete way which requires accountability.. obama needs to demand accountability for the misdeeds (lies, cheating and stealing) of the previous admin… otherwise obama can’t move forward in a productive way as he’s building on a foundation make of quicksand…”
    Exactly POA!
    We are either a nation that abides by and honors the rule of law and the Constitution – or we are not.
    If we are – then the bushgov will rightfully and justifiably be held accountable for crimes, abuses, perversions, treasons, treacheries, and wanton profiteering. If not – then we are a nation where the rule of laws and the Constitution has no standing, no meaning, nor relevance, no legal jurisdiction, and in fact is rendered impotent, moot, and meaningless.
    The choice is ours.
    What are we as Americans?
    What are we as a nation and a people?
    What do we stand for?
    What do we abide and tolerate?
    Are we a nation where select cabals, cotories, klans, and oligarchs are free to operate above and beyond the law? Or are we a nation that honors and abide the rule of law and our Constitution?
    It’s a big question, and one the Obama administration and every American must resolve.

    Reply

  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “some chose to open themselves to it, others seek to find it outside of themselves, and some appear to reject all of it”
    And others seek to cloud common sense behind the reeking fog of intellectual flatulence.

    Reply

  8. ... says:

    questions, interesting thoughts… i think your 2nd post outlines where the usa is thanks to the bush administration.. they have worked hard to legitimize making an exception for their actions as well… those positions needs to be rejected in a concrete way which requires accountability.. obama needs to demand accountability for the misdeeds (lies, cheating and stealing) of the previous admin… otherwise obama can’t move forward in a productive way as he’s building on a foundation make of quicksand…
    why seek outside sources when the source is at your doorstep? i used to think books and the wisdom of others were helpful guidance.. i still do, however the way i see it the source of the wisdom/intelligence is universal.. some chose to open themselves to it, others seek to find it outside of themselves, and some appear to reject all of it!!! it’s an endless conversation with plato, lol…

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  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    It’s Our Responsibility as a Country to Pursue Justice for Bush Crimes
    By Rep. John Conyers, Jr., Huffington Post. Posted February 2, 2009.
    Naysayers warn against reckoning with the sins of the past, calling it partisan payback. I could not disagree more.
    The Obama era began in earnest last week, with bold action such as closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and promising to end torture. In its very first days, the new administration has begun to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding executive branch operations, and has made great strides forward on fundamental challenges such as energy and the environment, and above all the national economic crisis left in the wake of the Bush Presidency. While great challenges and much hard work remain, the way forward is bright and clear.
    As we proceed, however, the question remains how best to respond to the severe challenge posed to our constitutional structure, and to our national honor, by the Bush administration’s actions, and in particular its national security programs. Faced with a record of widespread warrantless surveillance inside the United States, brutal interrogation policies condemned by the administration’s own head of the Guantanamo Bay military commissions as torture, and flawed rendition practices that resulted in innocent men being abducted and handed to other countries to face barbaric abuse, what actions will we take to meet our commitment to the rule of law and reclaim our standing as a moral leader among nations?
    I have previously explained my view that a full review of the record must be conducted by an experienced and independent prosecutor, and should focus on the senior policymakers and lawyers who ordered and approved these actions. Others, such as my fellow Michigander Senator Carl Levin, have suggested similar measures. This approach is compelled in my opinion by the basic notion that, if crimes were committed, those responsible should be held accountable – after all, is there any principle of American freedom more fundamental than the rule that no person is above the law? If this independent review concludes that the Bush Administration’s legal constructs make prosecution impossible for some, so be it, but the matter should be given a proper look before such judgments are made one way or the other.
    Some commentators — including even those firmly opposed to criminal investigation — support the creation of an independent Commission with appropriate clearances and subpoena power to review the existing record, make policy recommendations, and publish an authoritative account of these events. I have introduced a bill in the House that would create such a commission, and I believe this sort of public accounting is critical as well.
    There remain those, however, who would have us simply move on. Some fear the consequences of a true accounting, or worry that taking time to reckon with the sins of the past will hinder us in meeting the challenges of the future. Others argue that the facts are already known, and further review will accomplish little. Often, the call for further review of the Bush administration’s actions is dismissed as partisan payback, kicking an unpopular President when he’s down.
    I could not disagree more with these views. As a practical matter, I do not believe that empowering a commission or an independent prosecutor would burden the Congress or the executive or would hinder our efforts to meet the challenges of the day. To the contrary, allowing outside review of these matters by qualified independent experts will free us and President Obama to focus our efforts where they are most needed – on solving the problems before us and improving the lives of the American people.
    Nor do I agree that the relevant facts are already known. While disparate investigations by Committees of congress, private organizations, and the press have uncovered many important facts, no single investigation has had access to the full range of information regarding the Bush administration’s interrelated programs on surveillance, detention, interrogation, and rendition. The existence of a substantially developed factual record will simplify the work to come, but cannot replace it. Furthermore, much of this information, such as the Central Intelligence Agency’s 2004 Inspector General report on interrogation, remains highly classified and hidden from the American people. An independent review is needed to determine the maximum information that can be publicly released.
    Finally, I wholeheartedly reject the notion that further review will cause our intelligence services to retreat into a dangerous “cycle of timidity.” A properly conducted investigation will help set appropriate boundaries for future behavior, consistent with our fundamental values and the command of our laws. Have we really become so fearful that expecting our government to use its power within the boundaries of law is deemed unreasonably “timid”?
    This argument has another flaw. For all the worry of “cycles of timidity,” is there no countervailing concern for “cycles of aggression,” or “cycles of lawlessness”? In an era where detainees have been held in limbo for years based on flawed or non-existent evidence, where we have waterboarded prisoners, deprived them of sleep, and subjected them to unconscionable degradations and abuse, and where our most powerful technologies have been turned inward to spy on Americans and within the United States, without court order or warrant and in apparent violation of a clear federal statute, is our greatest fear really that our national security services may be unduly timid?
    To me, the bottom line is this: If we move on now without fully documenting what occurred, without acknowledging the betrayal of our values, and without determining whether or not any laws have been broken, we cannot help but validate all that has gone on before. If we look at the Bush record and conclude that the book should simply be closed, we will be tacitly approving both the documented abuses and the additional misdeeds we will have chosen to leave uncovered.
    That is why there is nothing partisan about the call for further review. In the end, these acts were not taken by George Bush, or by John Yoo, or even by Dick Cheney – they were taken by the United States of America. By all of us. There is no avoiding the responsibility we all bear for what has been done, and for what we choose to do next.
    Our country has never been perfect. This would not be the first time we were forced to take a hard look at difficult choices made in times of peril. But when we have done so before, it has made us stronger, both by improving our policies and our practices and, more fundamentally, by strengthening our moral core and by breathing new life into the principles of our founding.
    The responsible way forward requires us to look back as we go
    http://www.alternet.org/rights/124669/it%27s_our_responsibility_as_a_country_to_pursue_justice_for_bush_crimes/?page=2

    Reply

  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Notice “Questions” referred to my query, (“Gee, Questions, who gets to choose which laws we apply, and which laws we don’t, and to whom we apply them?”), sarcastically.
    But he didn’t answer it, did he? I’m a bit curious what the Plato spewing jackass has for an answer, aren’t you?
    And in regards to the ridiculous parallel he attempts to draw with the speeding tickets idiocy, is anyone reading this thread really so effin’ stupid that they see a relevant comparison? Hmmmm, lets see, perjury before Congress, torture, illegal domestic spying….uh…doing fifty in a thirty mile per hour zone.
    Right.
    Uh huh.

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  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Jesus H Christ, what a bunch of pseudo intellectual horseshit.
    “Questions” has put together a whole bunch of jackass braying to advocate for the crimninals to police the criminals, and dispense law as nothing more than a political hammer, or cookie.
    Kants blahblahblah…cost/benefit analysis….blahblahblahblah….Plato’s dialogue The Euthyphro….blahblahblah…..ad nauseum.
    I have no idea what this blithering niny does for a living, but it certainly wouldn’t suprise me if its a sleazeball attorney.
    It really is quite simple. Either we are a nation of laws, or we aren’t. Either we have a Constitution that is enforced, honored, protected, and respected, or we don’t. Either we have a representative government that treats all citizens equal under the law, or we don’t.
    So far, the “we don’ts” are winning, in no small part because of the excrement masquerading as thought that “Questions” has smeared all over this thread. Because of his brand of over- intellectualization, (which seems to be a contagious malady that afflicts a whole herd of braying idiots that have a multitude of excuses for tolerating a elitist class of “leaders” that are shitting all over what this nation once stood for), we now have a presidential administration that has been shown that they can commit any degree of anti-american, anti-humane, anti-constitutional, and anti-representative act, and some blithering dolt like “Questions” will figure out a reason for their actions to go un-prosecuted and unpunished.
    What a fuckin’ slippery slope that is for us peons that aren’t slimey enough to ascend beyond the rule of law, eh?
    Fantastic, a whole class of “leaders”, lawless, unaccountable, murderous, dispensing the law on a political whim, picking and choosing who is bound by the law, and who isn’t.
    Brilliant, Questions. You’re a real mensa, and a super patriot, arencha? Wrapped up all pretty in your intellectual clownsuit. Have you designed armbands for your police force yet, or will Adolph’s classic designs suffice?

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  12. questions says:

    And by the way …,
    the distinction that might most help you is that between Kant’s notion of the Categorical Imperative — Act so that the maxim of you action can be willed as a universal law — and utilitarianism — act so that you maximize the good where “good” is frequently but not always taken to mean “pleasure”. For Kant, we’re to ask, “What would happen if everyone were to act according to this rule?” Can we universalize lying, cheating, stealing when it’s convenient? Well, if we try, the result is that our act of lying, cheating or stealing will fail since no one trusts anyone in a system of lying, cheating, stealing. We have no legitimate way to make exceptions of ourselves (I don’t have to obey but everyone else does…), and so we can’t lie or cheat or steal.
    Utilitarianism does the cost/benefit analysis, the ends/means trade offs that Kant claims he avoids. We’re mostly a utilitarian society, we all make use of this kind of analysis for a lot of decisions. But Kant lurks, and sometimes we do the right thing just because it’s right, and damn the consequences.
    Ethics, though, doesn’t get us very far unless we are compelled by the wisdom of the position or by the law.

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  13. questions says:

    …,
    Would that you were right! It’s an endless debate in the history of philosophy — man’s evil nature or man’s truly good nature. Corruption from society or corruption away from society. Corruption from correctable greed, from a pissed off deity, from an anti-deity….
    I don’t think it’s the least bit answerable, but I think we need institutions that take into account the worst we do and ameliorate the worst as needed. I don’t always know what these institutions should do, however, and so I wonder about things like “prosecuting the wrongdoer”, a phrase that comes up in Plato’s dialogue The Euthyphro. It’s never as easy as it seems and all of my training is geared towards avoiding anything that smacks of being an easy answer. (The parody of this is in Aristophanes’s play The Clouds.)

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  14. DonS says:

    We seem to be dancing around the edges of the significant issue which, to my mind, is finding an appropriate way forward to publically and officially document the abuses of power during the Bush era, whether that goes by the name of unitary executive theory, illegal information gathering, violation of Geneva Convention obligations, or some other.
    Books have begun the documentation, e.g., Jane Mayer’s “The Dark Side”. But to have the “system” apply some corrective through public process is another, and potentially much needed and more cathartic and curative approach.
    There are so many available avenues for finding a way into examination of the abuses — with the resultant publication and repudiation of practices via developing massive incriminating material, and maybe jail sentences — its not for want of targets that formal proceedings haven’t begun, somewhere.
    It’s lack of will. Political will for sure. And lack of adequate appraisal of the ethical consequences for failure to act. Oh, and not to forget, setting of future precedent by failure to act.

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  15. ... says:

    questions, if it was happiness we were after, it would be obvious to everyone there’s no happiness in murdering others or thinking of others as enemies… it’s quite the opposite.. murder and cultivating enemies only brings hardship on all people involved.. witness the rise in the number of suicides in the usa army in iraq at present for an example of this.. if we could see that we are creating hell for ourselves, we would stop the killing and approach life with love and freedom instead.. what we would like for ourselves is what everyone would like as well…
    giving birth to children born into poverty and suffering isn’t wise either.. check out the movie slumdog millionaire for a window into this… i think it would be wise to stop both the reproduction and the murdering by seeing all people as our ‘direct’ offspring.. we have a ways to go and religion/politics often appears to interfere in reaching this place of peace…
    as for accountability…. i think it would help correct a mistaken belief that ‘the end justifies the means’… i’m not looking for punishment, but for clear thinking and action moving forward.. all wars and murder seem to be coming out of this idea that ‘the end justifies the means’… the means become a dead end in itself for those who use anything other then love or kindness.. that needs to be the guiding light of all people and by extension – gov’ts and etc..

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  16. questions says:

    Don S,
    Of course we’re not talking about speeding tickets. But the legal issues are the same. There’s a crime, but how do we handle it? I know that a few people have drawn up potential charges against Bush admin people and the charges seem to have some heft. I know that I have concerns about institutional damage both from prosecuting and from not prosecuting. I know that Paul has me moving a little more towards the “bring ’em on” side of things than I had been previously. I know that I still have a lot of concerns about what our legal system will make of the Bush admin.
    I have seen arguments that one simply does not go “shopping” for legal opinions that match one’s desired actions and thus Yoo/Addington/Cheney might have a lot less going for them than they’d like to think. But I also know that courts treat presidential prerogative gingerly. Political systems occasionally need to have actors who can act as needed. Emergency powers issues, state secret issues, executive authority issues all float through here. Because the lines are murky and because staying on the right side of these issues requires good and ethical judgment, I’m not sure how much a court will be willing to interfere, or how much good that interference will serve in the next instance. The US deterrence issue seems to fade at some level. For this reason, Paul’s discussion of international issues weighs heavily in my thinking. We might not stop another US admin from wickedness, but we might alter world perceptions. That would be something.
    …,
    Thanks for the kind words. As for “flawed species”, I think my father’s point is that we happily murder one another even as we ought to be happier reproducing. Murder doesn’t seem to support reproductive strategies unless murderers manage to produce more offspring than non-murderers. There’s likely room here for empirical work. But the aggression involved in murder does seem to be counterproductive at the very genetic/material level. (On the other hand, the scarcity of resources might support some level of violence as a survival strategy…. It’s a scary thought. And it doesn’t address our ability to rise above the genetic into self-awareness and ethical consciousness….)

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  17. ... says:

    paul, questions and dons… thanks for the ongoing conversation and i especially like some of the points you all make…
    questions quote “My father calls us a “flawed species.”” – i prefer to think of us as a work in progress.. “flawed” only in so far as we are unable to acknowledge our own and others imperfections…
    paul quote “This event, however, is not as symbolically charged as the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.” paul – the mainstream media has great bearing on everything on down to the blogsphere… if there was more concern for human welfare as opposed to oil for example, it would be different.. i think a lot of it has to do with who owns what… it is still a messed up world in this regard… sharing is something that needs to continue to be embraced, as opposed to shunning which is a favorite past time of many, and especially the media.. thanks for shining a light on all of what you have posted today..

    Reply

  18. DonS says:

    Questions “ People who fail to report large and small crimes make that same decision all the time”
    Me: this is no routine prosecution, though the venue and cause of action may be for a routine offense.
    Questions: “There are huge potential costs to going ahead with war crimes trials in this country.”
    Me: the “costs” you list are very much the exact reasons to go ahead with prosecution. Who said anything about “war crimes” trials. The reason to go ahead is because it’s right, not because conviction is a slam dunk, whatever the charges.
    We’re not talking about speeding tickets here, now are we?

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  19. questions says:

    Police, prosecutors and judges routinely decide which laws should be enforced and when. People who fail to report large and small crimes make that same decision all the time. The law is a tool that is used by actual people. It is not enforced in blanket fashion ever. The decision is always based on some combination of practicality, evidence, cost, bias, worthiness, prejudice….
    There are huge potential costs to going ahead with war crimes trials in this country. I’ve listed some of them before (eg setting off the right-wing talking machine, the possibility of exoneration and therefore legitimation of the worst of these actions, the legitimation of the unitary executive stuff, the endless legal wrangling that may well lead to nothing, the jailing of a few lower down people while the order-givers go free….)
    The questions for any prosecutor always include: what are the chances of conviction, what is the seriousness of the crime, what will result from the trial….
    Bush et al are defending themselves based on a particular formulation of “executive privilege” and the need to uphold the security of the state before the Constitution itself (as in, no state then no Constitution, so let’s preserve the state first and worry about the law later). I think that there are likely a large number of judges who might find at least parts of this argument compelling enough to rule in the admin’s favor. But I don’t know.
    So, as I do my version of cost/benefit analysis, I have seen no arguments that suggest the benefits outweigh the costs until world history and the behavior of other nations intruded (see Paul’s posting above). This idea swings the balance to some extent. But those costs are real.
    Gee, POA, what will you say if Bush/Rove/Addington/Cheney/Yoo and the like get off and the courts side with the unitary executive stuff? Have an answer for this before you “gee” me again?
    And the next time a cop decides not to give you that speeding ticket cuz you seem like a nice guy, you just go ahead and demand that you get one because it’s THE LAW and no cop can decide which law to enforce. In fact, next time you do 66 in a 65 mph zone, just turn yourself in. Otherwise we’ll be living in a fascist state?!

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  20. DonS says:

    . . . or some legal prosecutions by some ethical statesmen . . . works either way.
    [Here’s a repost with some typos corrected]:
    Just to go on a bit with the “law vs ethics” issue, and where they intersect in the real world. What’s needed are just ‘some’ politicians, and lawyers, who are motivated to pursue an ethical course, i.e., prosecutions.
    We already have a pretty good notion that Bushgov acted illegally. As to the ‘ethics’ of their motivations, they can argue that from morning to night, crying 911 changed everything (even though it started before 911).
    The size of the potentially patent legal violations are so significant that it almost take willful ignorance — or ‘politics’, or connivance (for the conspiracy minded) — to avoid prosecution. And, it’s the only avenue forward — if we are a government of laws.
    Now Obama can totally sit on the sidelines, “above the fray”, or push hard for prosecutions (directly or behind the scenes through committees), or mealy mouth some platitudes that are subject to various readings. The man’s a damn constituional lawyer, taught constitutional law, for God’s sake; if he won’t push the issue to a significant extent, who will?
    Much though I wish for eternally ethical politicians, we are too far down the road where politics and ethics frequently diverge for that.
    We need some ethical prosecutions, by some legal statesmen. Think Elliot Richardson

    Reply

  21. DonS says:

    Just to go on a bit with the “law vs ethics” issue, and where they intersect in the real world. What’s need are just ‘some’ politicians, and lawyers, who are motivated to pursue an ethical course, i.e., prosecutions.
    We already have a pretty good notion that Bushgov acted illegally. As to the ‘ethics’ of their motivations, they can argue that from morning tonight, crying 911 changed everything (even though it started before 911).
    The size of the potentially patent legal violations are so significant that it almost take willful ignorance — or ‘politics’, or connivance (for the conspiracy minded) — to avoid prosecution. And, it’s the only avenue forward — if we are a government of laws.
    Now Obama can totally sit on the sidelines, “above the fray”, or push hard for prosecutions (directly or behind the scenes through committees), or mealy mouth some platitudes that are subject to various readings. The man’s a damn constituional lawyer, for God’s sake; if he won’t push the issue to a significant extent, who will?
    Much though I wish for eternally ethical politicians, we are too far down the road where politics and ethics frequently diverge, for that.
    We need some ethical prosecutions, by some legal statesmen. Think Elliot Richardson.

    Reply

  22. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “This is the best argument I’ve seen for prosecution”
    You mean as opposed to your argument, which seems to be that we should simply disregard the rule of law because we might not like the results of enforcing it?
    Gee, Questions, who gets to choose which laws we apply, and which laws we don’t, and to whom we apply them?
    Your argument is asinine to the extreme. Do you really want to live under facism?

    Reply

  23. questions says:

    Paul,
    This is the best argument I’ve seen for prosecution. Thank you deeply for this post.

    Reply

  24. Paul Norheim says:

    I remember my father, a conservative child of the cold war who
    defended America, often said that there is much that is rotten
    in the United States, but it`s a remarkably open society, where
    the press is allowed to say it when things go wrong (he was
    referring to Woodward and Bernstein during Watergate).
    Of course his analysis was too optimistic (or perhaps not,
    depending on which society you compare with), but the
    uncovering of the Watergate scandal has served as an
    inspiration for the press in every repressive society since then.
    Now, what you see is states copying what the leaders of
    America says (“war on terror” used as an opportunity to get rid
    of internal enemies in every troubled country on the planet).
    And this is only the beginning. The abuse of power in the US
    will undoubtedly continue to have widespread effect everywhere
    on the planet – with regards to treatment of prisoners,
    disrespect for the Geneva Conventions, surveillance of citizens,
    branding independence-fighting groups as “terrorists” etc. etc.
    Even if an impeachment process did not succeed, the process
    would at least unveil a lot, and (perhaps most importantly) show
    the world that there are democratic forces in the United States,
    people who still respect certain rules, certain values.
    If the culprits get away with it because of well paid lawyers and
    complicated judicial issues, they will be judged morally, and for
    the world to see.
    And as a history lesson (Bush`s only hope), there will be more
    material from which to learn what crimes they committed and
    how they did it. Since the US press is so lame nowadays, at least
    a judicial process could serve as a Woodward & Bernstein of the
    GWOT era in American history.

    Reply

  25. questions says:

    Food for thought…. There are downsides to all of the technology advances you list (lovely little book called “When Things Bite Back” about trading acute death for chronic death via technology — we don’t die in fires because of smoke detectors, but smoke detectors are radioactive, so we increase the number of cancers but decrease the number of burnings to death). (Penicillan and antibiotic resistance and nastier bacteria, automobiles and global warming and oil wars and suburbia…. It’s funny and sad. We’re both more comfortable and less so….Lots of ancient Chinese philosophers warn against innovation. So does Plato for that matter.)
    While prosecution would serve one set of my instincts, there’s another set that wonders about its efficacy, its correctness, and the future it brings about. What if…they are exonerated? What if…Limbaugh has a new and working talking point? What if…the distraction (if it is that) causes us to be less watchful of other issues?
    Of course, a list can be made on the other side as well. What if…we don’t have a deterrent to insane executive authority? What if…we get another Cheney one day? What if…all of the suffering we caused goes unremarked?
    Which set of questions wins? Which set must win?

    Reply

  26. Paul Norheim says:

    “I don’t think anyone can put time back “into joint” as it were.”
    (Questions)
    I agree. But when you say that “bad luck will hit eventually no
    matter what you do”, I would argue that “bad luck” should be
    replaced with “unintended consequences”. If you`re able, once
    in a while, to see things from a perspective beyond your
    personal dispositions, may they be pessimistic or optimistic,
    you may admit, at least in hindsight, that Fortuna is both a
    blessing and a curse.
    There are not only individual dispositions involved here, but also
    collective; a certain climate. The climate at – let`s say the dawn
    of modernity was certainly optimistic: Locomotives,
    automobiles, telephones, rockets, TV and pencillin would create
    a better world. Then came the first and second world war,
    Hiroshima etc… Now we see that Fortuna plays her game with
    regards to modernity in a way that good and evil is so
    intertwined that it`s impossible to say that it is decisively
    “good” or “bad” luck.
    If you look back in history, you know that people who fought
    for the rule of law, moralists obsessed with what is “right” and
    wrong”, indirectly, and unintended, often caused a lot of
    suffering, a lot of trouble, at least in their times. But the benefit
    of that approach, in hindsight, has been huge.
    Although it MAY happen, there is no necessity in a repetition of
    30 years of GOP horrors if Bush and his people are impeached.
    The fact is that we can`t know the results of our actions, but I
    would say that your predictions is due to a pessimistic
    temperament, and not more convincing than if an optimist had
    predicted that impeachment would have a lot of unintended
    beneficial consequences.
    Sorry for the philosophical rant, but you almost invited to it (you
    always do…). I tend to agree with POA and Tony who say that
    what Obama calls “looking backward” (i.e. impeaching them for
    torture, leading USA in a war on false premisses etc.) may be
    forward thinking.
    DonS also said something interesting somewhere above: “It
    has long been my feeling that a statesman (not a politician)
    could succeed wildly by following ethical instincts. Now that
    may be a foolish assumption, probably is.”
    Yeah, it probably is, as a rule in normal times. But in times of
    crisis, his assumption may not be so foolish. Think of figures
    during a crisis causing a reformation, perhaps even a revolution,
    like Martin Luther. The catholic church was rotten, and he said
    it loudly. Little could he or his adversaries know about the
    consequences of his outcry.
    Politics in the United States during the last years have some
    similarities to the catholic church in those days… the
    corruption, hypocrisy, lies, much wealth in few hands, the
    interpretation of the scripture (read: the constitution and the
    laws).
    Martin Luther was not an angel, and his words and actions
    also had bad consequences. He did not even intend to spilt the
    Christian church in two, just to reform it (Fortuna was obviously
    involved). But his revolt against the state of affairs at the
    moment was a good thing.
    POA said in his reply to DonS that “ethics” are a matter of
    cultural and personal interpretation. Thats one major reason
    that society requires the rule of law, is it not? So “ethics” are not
    really a consideration here as much as legal obligations are.
    Obama is bound by the rule of law, period.”
    This is correct. But the people, and those who represent them,
    have to implement the rule of law, to want it and push for it to
    be implemented, because the rule of law is not an impersonal
    automat that is put into action when somebody breaks it.

    Reply

  27. questions says:

    And one more thing since you bring up Hamlet — he’s charged with putting time back in place (The time is out of joint…[rats, why do I have to be the one] to set it right?
    Hamlet assumes that time can be set right. That proper waiting periods and decorum and death can be put back where they belong. That funeral feasts don’t then become wedding feasts. That death isn’t celebrated.
    I don’t think anyone can put time back “into joint” as it were. And I think that many hope that somehow prosecuting the badbushguys will set time right again. Look what happened to Hamlet.

    Reply

  28. questions says:

    Paul,
    My father calls us a “flawed species.” If you empathize with even one loss, you go crazy. If you multiply that craziness by the numberless losses, there’s nothing left aside from getting relious, losing religion, or…I don’t even know.
    And not Hamlet, Machiavelli for the week. Lady Fortuna will not be ruled and cannot entirely be planned for. This might be the earlier term for Nicolas Nassim Taleb’s “black swan” theory. There’s much we cannot account for, and so we need to prepare ourselves for that for which we cannot prepare ourselves. The impossible necessity.

    Reply

  29. Paul Norheim says:

    “Anyway, bad luck will hit eventually no matter what you do.”
    A Hamlet commenting in a foreign policy blog?

    Reply

  30. questions says:

    POA,
    Not “based on party lines” in the way that you mean. I think a better reading is “based on the worry that the law of unintended consequences is gonna get us again and again.” No one thought that Roe v Wade would lead to abortion’s being unavailable in (I think it’s now) 80-some per cent of US counties. That is, legalization by the Supreme Court led to abortion’s being unatainable and unaffordable in much of the country. Roe v Wade also led to the awakening and heavy politicization of the religious right in this country with all of the well-documented effects of this awakening (including, at some level, the war in Iraq). So would you go back in time and redo the decision, assuming you could trace the causal lines back to this one decision?
    Of course we can’t know the future, but we can try to trace possible causal lines. Not prosecuting the Bushies (who, I’m pretty sure, are guilty of numerous crimes) might lead more to where we want to be than prosecuting them would. History is weird this way. On the other hand, maybe we would be better off. I’m utterly unsure, but leaning towards the not-side.
    If Obama loses control of the political rhetoric during prosecutions (just think about right-wing radio and other media as this is stuff you’re familiar with), what happens? It’s not just partisan in the sense of, “oooh, I hate me some Republicans and I don’t want them to win” — it’s more, what happens if we get 30 more years of the religious right coupled with the dreaded neo-cons and the tax cutters and service cutters and military lovers and hegemons…? It that’s the consequence, do you want it — just to have the satisfaction of putting Rove or Cheney or Addington or Yoo or Bush into court?
    You can’t avoid thinking this through. What is the cost of this benefit? Is it worth it? Every prosecutor has to go through some kind of cost/benefit analysis. If it were to cost 6 trillion dollars to lock up every bad guy, would we do it? Or would we run a cost/benefit analysis and decide that some bed guys aren’t worth the cost of finding, prosecuting, locking up and losing the key? If it were to cost 30 more years of right wing rule, what would we do?
    Again, making use of Machiavelli (a juicy read, all in all! Lots of Italian history, murder and mayhem) — Lady Fortuna (bad luck) cannot be controlled and will strike. (For Bush, Katrina and that stupid “Mission Accomplished” banner and the lack of wmd MIGHT have been Fortuna strikes.) Anyway, bad luck will hit eventually no matter what you do. If you also court loss of control, you’re in trouble. Far better to control those things you can, leave alone the things you can’t control, and know the difference (as the “serenity prayer” says).
    (And as for making up words and including grammar mistakes and misspellings, we all do endlessly.)

    Reply

  31. Paul Norheim says:

    The problem with news coverage in the big Western media
    corporations is not restricted to bias, propaganda, distortions
    and lies. At times an even bigger problem is the near total
    ignoring of events that perhaps are bigger than those covered,
    distorted and lied about.
    In my comment above, I referred to events that are not less
    horrible for those affected than what happened in Gaza – but
    this time in a hospital in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu in the
    north-eastern part of Sri Lanka.
    Sure, it may not have the same geopolitical impact as what
    happened in Gaza. And when I write the word
    Puthukkudiyiruppu, no one would try to pronounce it. Even my
    spelling program left a red line under the word, which it never
    does when I write, say, Kabul or Gaza. It`s a place that doesn`t
    exist.
    In two weeks, I`m going on a vacation trip to Ethiopia. Last time
    I was there, exactly ten years ago, there was a war between
    Ethiopia and Eritrea, and in February that year (1999), 12 000
    soldiers were killed on one day, in one battle. It was hardly
    mentioned in European and American mainstream media. You
    had to do a pretty active search to find out what was going on.
    At that time, I intended to stay in Ethiopia for at least two or
    three months, but discovered that I enjoyed traveling from place
    to place, and continued to move around in several East African
    countries for two years before I came back home – among them
    some neighboring countries to The Democratic Republic of
    Congo.
    A war was going on in Congo, it involved seven countries,
    among them two that I visited. I`ll not bother you with details,
    but here is a small quote from Wikipedia, if you click on The
    Democratic Republic of Congo. Read it slowly:
    “The war is the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II
    killing 5.4 million people.
    Today at the dawn of 2009, people in the Congo are still dying
    at a rate of an estimated 45,000 per month and already
    2,700,000 people have died since 2004. This death toll is due
    to widespread disease and famine; reports indicate that almost
    half of the individuals killed are children under the age of 5.”
    Two point seven million have died AFTER the war ended, almost
    50 % children under the age of 5. You may argue that Africa is a
    huge tragedy, and countless of people are dying there all the
    time. And although it is tragedy, it does not impact us.
    But what about Afghanistan?
    I`m not thinking about the recent American invasion, but the
    Soviet invasion in 1980. This was almost a non-event in
    Western media. The Vietnam war was as highly charged,
    symbolically, as the Israel-Palestine conflict, and was in the
    media every day – also in Europe. But the war between the
    Soviet Union and Afghanistan did not fit into any recognisable
    Western narrative, and had no symbolic impact.
    In the real world, however, it had a huge impact. The Soviet
    Union may have fallen sooner or later, but because of the war in
    Afghanistan, it fell sooner. The geopolitical impact of that war is
    immeasurable. Exit the Cold War, enter al Quaeda and the first
    decade of this century. Enter the peak and the possible demise
    of the American Empire, the Global War On Terror and all the
    implications, discussed every single day at TWN.
    Like so many others at TWN, I have participated passionately in
    the debates about the Israeli attack on Gaza. For the sake of
    balance and proportion, I`ll try to pronounce and remember the
    name of a remote town in South Asia.
    Puthukkudiyiruppu.

    Reply

  32. Paul Norheim says:

    The recent invasion of Gaza provoked outrage all over the
    world, also at TWN. Now a similar event is happening in Sri
    Lanka: The government army attacking the Tamil Tigers and
    killing a lot of civilians as well in a densely populated area. This
    event, however, is not as symbolically charged as the Israeli-
    Palestinian conflict. But if you read the news from Sri Lanka,
    you`ll immediately see the striking similarities.
    Here are a couple of quotes from the BBC online cite:
    “An army offensive has pushed the rebels into a 300 sq km (110
    sq mile) corner of jungle in the north-east of the island, which
    aid agencies say also holds 250,000 civilians.
    The government says the number of civilians is closer to
    120,000 and that the army has a policy of not firing at civilians.
    It accuses the Tamil Tigers of not allowing civilians to leave,
    saying they are being used as human shields.
    The rebels say the civilians prefer to stay where they are under
    rebel “protection”.
    The reports cannot be independently confirmed as neither side
    allows journalists near the war zone.
    (…)
    Nine people have been killed by shells which hit a hospital in a
    rebel-held area of north-east Sri Lanka, the Red Cross says.
    The hospital, in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu, Mullaitivu
    district, was hit three times in 24 hours, aid officials said.
    UN spokesman Gordon Weiss told the BBC the shells had hit a
    crowded paediatric unit. It is not clear who fired them.
    Sri Lanka’s army has denied it was behind the shelling.
    There has been no comment so far from the rebel group, the
    Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
    Puthukkudiyiruppu is situated in an enclave held by the rebels,
    and is home to tens of thousands of civilians.
    Mr Weiss said the first shell hit the hospital – one of area’s last
    functioning health facilities, which has some 500 inpatients –
    shortly before midnight (1830 GMT).
    He said the last message the UN had received from their staff
    member on the ward said: “Woman and kids’ ward shelled… Still
    trying to count the dead bodies.”
    He said it was not yet clear how many people had been killed
    but that the hospital had been so full, with many patients lying
    on the floor, that anything landing on it was “almost guaranteed
    to cause significant casualties”.
    Mr Weiss called the strikes “significant breaches of international
    humanitarian law”.
    The earlier strike prompted a protest from the Red Cross.
    “We’re shocked that the hospital was hit, and this for the second
    time in recent weeks,” said Paul Castella, head of the Colombo
    delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross
    (ICRC).
    “Wounded and sick people, medical personnel and medical
    facilities are all protected by international humanitarian law.
    Under no circumstance may they be directly attacked.”
    —————-
    Does all this sound familiar?
    You can read more here:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7863538.stm

    Reply

  33. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Gads, it would be interesting to keep a personal log of how many words I invent in the course of a week. I betcha, if I was to keep track for a year, I would have the makin’s of a previously unknown language. Thank you TWN peeps, for being so tolerant of my literary botchings. Although I must admit I miss Ticia’s gracious corrections, especially as it applies to the “i” before “e” maze of variations.
    Anyway, substitute “repudiation” for “reputiation” in the above post, and it may serve to render the post a bit more related to the English language. Thats my hope, anyway.
    With the exception of a short stint at Art Center College of Design, (long ago, when it was on West Third in L.A. and not on its beautiful Pasadena grounds), I managed to avoid college.
    This blog and its participants of been extremely patient with both my demeanor and my gramatical errors, one quite abrasive, and other quite common.
    Steve has taken quite a bit of criticism lately, and in many ways it saddens me. He truly has been a tolerant and gracious host to a wide range of personalities, and allowed many of us to remain participants when any other blog would have tossed us out on our asses long ago. Where else can a tradesman such as myself exchange opinions and ideas with those who frequent the halls of power?
    Thank you, to all of you. Even those whom I have correctly pegged as jackasses, or worse.

    Reply

  34. TonyFroesta says:

    The gop is the party of pathological liars, whose platform is based on a pile pathological lies, and whose message-force multipliers (limbaughspeak) partisan brute and pimpe a continuous and relentless spew of pathological lies. The gop is going will ghoulishly capitalize on and exploit any situation, all the time, every time in an underhanded attempt to blame everything all the time every time on Clinton, democrats, liberals, adn now Obama. The gop idiots and ignorant lockstep partisan is redneck Amerika still believe the LIE that Obama is a muslim. The gop is the of lies, and liars, so your logic in my opinion is simply irrelevent. The gop is going to hurl patent lies and scurrillous slime on the rest of thier fellow Americans no matter what happens.
    Either we are a nation that honors and abides the rule of law and our own Constitution, (in which case no one is above the law, and the bushgov should and must be held accountable) – or we arre not – (in which case we allow the most criminal, most treasonous, most perverted, treacherous, most deceptive, most abusive, most profiteering, most damaging and destructive leadership in the history of America to walk away unpunished and unaccountable).

    Reply

  35. PissedOffAmerican says:

    It is truly awe inspiring to see otherwise seemingly intelligent Americans provide excuses, rationals, and justifications for our leaders to deviate from the letter of the law.
    “Questions” presents an argument that advocates committing a criminal act, (the refusal to investigate, indict, and prosecute crimes), to counter criminal acts, (torture, illegal evesdropping, perjury, etc.), purely based on party lines.
    The words “democrat” or “republican”, “right” or “left”, have no place in a debate about the obligation our “leaders” have to respect, obey, and uphold the letter of the law as it is set forth in our Constitution. This is not a matter of political whim, but rather is a matter of duty, responsibility, and sworn oaths of offices that are an obligation if one is to present one’s self as a public servant filling a position in a representative government.
    It can easily be argued that Obama has already, by his inaction, become legally impeachable. The only possible reputiation of this premise would be an argument that no known crimes have been committed, therefore no indictments are called for. Of course, as any reasonably informed citizen must admit, such an argument is ludicrous.

    Reply

  36. ... says:

    questions.. – hogwash.. upheaval defines change.. obama is staying the course and that isn’t going to work, as safe as it may sound at this point…

    Reply

  37. questions says:

    For what it’s worth…
    It occurs to me that part of the logic behind not prosecuting, not disavowing rendition, and not doing whatever else should go on this list may actually be a tactic in the war on Republican domination. That is, just as Roe v. Wade jump started the religious right and created 30 or so years of political hell on earth, so Obama’s presiding over the dismantling of portions of the Repub world could do the same. We don’t want hearings to become “star chambers” (Limbaugh-speak for actual justice), we don’t want a terrorist attack coming in the wake of an announced policy of no renditions…. In short, we don’t really want to give the Republican party an event against which to define themselves such that they come back from the dead.
    I have misgivings about all of this, but I also have a sense that politics and morality are further apart than I’d like them to be. Machiavelli is on my list for the end of the week. There’s a profound morality in the Prince in that political order must be preserved when possible, because disorder via Lady Fortuna is always just around the corner. (Disorder in the Italian city-states meant endless political murders and horror for those caught up in between. Disorder here could mean riots, terrorism, Katrina-like disasters….) There is, in Machiavelli, also the stuff about: if you have to kill, get it all done early in your rule so that people will forgive you and/or forget all about it…. Ugh.
    Obama seems shrewd enough to work at preserving order so that when the crisis happens, the Repubs don’t simply take over once again. It’s bad enough (in Machiavelli’s language) to have Lady Fortuna lurking. We don’t need to cultivate problems as well.
    Again, I’m mixed about all of this. But I think there may well be a real tension in political rule that Machiavelli had right in the Prince and that we may be stuck with. Maybe, maybe not.

    Reply

  38. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Yes Tony, and all the other issues of the day pale in comparison to the need to pursue accountability. Because, after all, if our government ignores the will of the people, and the letter of the law, there is no incentive for thenm to work in the people’s best interests, and ALL policies, domestic and foreign, will be driven by a lust for personal enrichment, and increased power.

    Reply

  39. TonyForesta says:

    My faith in Obama is torn. I want to believe in his soaring promises, and at times I do sense sincerety in his voice, and take comfort in many of the early presidential directives and decisions, – but certain issues raise glaring redlights and warning. His economic team is composed of Wall Street predator class insiders and fundamentalist economics practitioners who created the economic crisis. These supplysiders represent NOTCHANGE, and have proven so for to be focused on funnelling trillions of the peoples dollars the finance sector and the offshore accounts of the criminals, theives, and pathological liars in the finance sector.
    The other terribly disturbing redlight and warning is the nonesensical rhetoric of “looking forward” and the lack of willingness to hold the bushgov accountable.
    You are correct POA, “…if our system was working as it should work, Obama’s failure to pursue accountability would be completely irrelevent. Holder should act independent of the President and party, as should Congress.” The Justice department, and congress should honor thier oathes and uphold the law which would DEMAND investigations into several bushgov machinations. I’d prefer starting with a real intestigation into the Pearlharborlikeevent of 9/11 and bushgov direct or indirect complicity in the massmurder and mayhem of that dark day, but that’s just me. The list of bushgov crimes, treasons, and deceptions is long and festering; message-force multiplying of OSP and OSI concocted fictions, myths, exaggerations, hype, disinformation, propaganda, and patent, naked lies terrorizing the American people into supporting the slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s and 4000+ US soldiers so the oil and energy oligarchs can maraud Iraqi oil, –
    The vp’s revenge outing of Valerie Plame and Brewster Jennings and Associates after Joseph Wilson debunked one of many patent lies pimped and bruted by the bushgov to FALSELY justify, the costly bloody horrorshow and excuse of wanton profiteering in Iraq, – the bushgov wanton profiteering in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the prosectution neverendingwaronterror wherein bushgov cronies, klans, coteries, and cabals are awarded nobid, openended, multihundred million dollar contracts in the cloak of night, behind the peoples back with no accounting, no review, recourse, or remedy for abuse; the blanket fishingnet TOTAL INFORMATION AWARENESS spying programs targeting AMERICANS without due process or just cause; the fascist bruting of the imperial or unitary executive, – the implementation of perverted torture techniques as government policy – and on and on and on. The pile of heaping festering putrid filth, betrayals, and crimes prosecuted and promoted by the bushgov is far too large to simply ignore.
    If Obama administration, Congress, the Department of Justice, and we (the American people) fail to at least attempt to hold the bushgov accountable for a long and festering litany of crimes and treasons, – then we will have forever undermined and rendered moot, null and void America, the Constitution, the rule of law, – and our standing, our ethical moral compass as a nation and a people.
    Prosecuting the bushgov is looking forward to the restoration of the rule of law.

    Reply

  40. DonS says:

    It’s true: the law and ethics are not “co-extensive”. The law is more subject to manipulation, in my view, at least in theory, because it is a second order representation. Ethics are primary, albeit we can have plenty of ethical arguments that are culturally based (or, perhaps more accurately, religion based). Much of what sloppily passes for ethical justification (e.g., re abortion, mercy killing) are more accurately religio-legal arguments based on a legalistic rendering of some cultural or religious bias, and not actual ethical principle, e.g., not to kill generally.
    My thought is that someone not a sociopath, following ethical instincts all the time, as best one can, is less likely to create ethical aberrations some of the time. In fact I think that ethical aberrations result from working backward from a perverse or outcome-based legal interpretation. The assumed ethical underpinnings are a slave to the legal.
    What we might need is a “code of ethics” for politicians, much as is required for most professions, and even a lot of quasi-professions. You might say that the Constitution is the code of ethics for politicians, but it has become so embroiled in legal interpretation that it is not clean and useful. Which is just the way the politicians like it.
    You know I’m more in the realm of the ideal than the practical here, because overall I would still trust a court of law over personal whim. But sometimes it seems a tossup.
    not that it helps all that much, but here’s a short def re law/ethics:
    http://topics.law.cornell.edu/wex/ethics

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  41. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “But the more deviations a politician makes (in this case Obama in his new role, clean slate potentially) from the ethical, the harder it is to come back, to kick the habit”
    Well, Don, “ethics” are a matter of cultural and personal interpretation. Thats one major reason that society requires the rule of law, is it not? So “ethics” are not really a consideration here as much as legal obligations are. Obama is bound by the rule of law, period. Whether or not circumstance dictates the perceived ethical veracity of an action, such as using torture to avert a catastrophe, such as Bush/Cheney/Gonzales claim to have done, is totally irrelevant. A law was broken, and Obama/Biden/Holder are duty bound to enforce the law, no matter their standpoint on the percieved “ethicality” of the crime. Any abridgement of this basic foundational premise of our system of government is highly egregious, whether it be the act of ordering the torture, or the act of ignoring the criminalty behind ordering the torture. For Obama to ignore the crimes is just as criminal as the act of committing the crimes.

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  42. DonS says:

    There are parallel and potentially competing story lines developing, with different constituencies. One line sees Obama struggling against the residual encumbrances of Bushgov, in which he might fail. The other story line sees Obama as simply a piece in the ongoing erosion of representative democracy in America. Obama himself is sending out mixed messages.
    For instance, why is it necessary that “extraordinary rendition”, a nefarious totalitarian practice, be retained in Obama’s arsenal?
    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/washingtondc/la-na-rendition1-2009feb01,0,4661244.story
    The Europeans don’t seem to need it. Does it go back to “911 changed everything”, and that American lives and America’s “right” to be free from terror attacks are paramount to others in the world, including the Europeans?
    Sometimes I just get the feeling Obama is trying to be too cute by half. It has long been my feeling that a statesman (not a politician) could succeed wildly by following ethical instincts. Now that may be a foolish assumption, probably is. But the more deviations a politician makes (in this case Obama in his new role, clean slate potentially) from the ethical, the harder it is to come back, to kick the habit. Like the little white lies the alcoholic starts with to cover his addiction that eventually come to define and control his every move.

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  43. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Well, Tony, the ball is in Obama’s court, and it does not look encouraging. Congress has extended Rove’s required time window to respond to a Congressional subpoena, giving the Obama legal team time to respond to Bush’s claim of retro-active executive privilege.
    Considering the fact that Holder is echoing Obama’s deflective and cowardly blather about “looking forward”, its not exactly an atmosphere that begets optimism. More and more its looking like Obama intends to let Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Rice, Bush, Rove, Miers, Gonzales, etc walk skate free from KNOWN AND IRREFUTABLE crimes committed over the course of the last eight years.
    And why not? Obama has witnessed and participated in eight years of complicity and abettment, with a Senate and a Congress that refused to employ the checks and balances, ignored their oaths of office, and allowed unprecedented abuses of power. One does not ascend to the Presidency because of an aversion to power. Why should we expect an individual who covets power to cede those powers when faced with a government that refuses to police the powers of the Executive, and has allowed the blatant, unabashed, and unpunished politicization of the Justice Department? Can we not assume that Obama covets these increased executive powers, just as Bush did, and intends to protect those increased powers with a beholding and subservient AG that serves the President at a cost to the people’s rights and freedoms? To assume otherwise is to ignore Obama and Holder’s stated positions, equivications, and telling issue avoidances.
    Further, Obama has retained many of the Bush Administration lower echelon criminals, particularly at Defense. Can we really expect Obama to indict his own appointees? Its quite doubtful, is it not? One has to assume, considering the make-up of Obama’s maturing administration, that the decision was made, some time ago, to ignore the crimes of the Bush Administration.
    Which brings us back to square one. Considering the ACTUAL CONTENT of the Presidential Oath of Office, Obama, should he fail to institute IMMEDIATE investigations, indictments, and prosecutions, has already, in the early term of his presidency, committed an impeachable offense. He is sworn to uphold the law as it is written in our Constitution, and to fail to do so is a direct dereliction of his sworn duty.
    Further, if our system was working as it should work, Obama’s failure to pursue accountability would be completely irrelevent. Holder should act independent of the President and party, as should Congress. But it is obvious, by the public statements thus far coming out of the Oval Office, that Holder is acting on the preferences of the President, which reduces Holder to the same ethical and legal standing as the perjurious piece of shit Gonzales. And Congress is obviously, for the most part, stalling and burying any efforts to seek accountability, demonstrated by their foot dragging on Res. 104. And again, it appears that Congress is acting on the preferences of the President and the party leadership, such as these two cowardly scumsucking dildoes Reid and Pelosi. It seems that Presidential and party whim has replaced Constitutional law and representative government.

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  44. TonyForesta says:

    Word POA. If the American people and the Obama administration walks away from holding the bushgov accountable for crimes, treasons, betrayals, perversions, systemic deception, wanton profiteering, and robbing and pillaging poor and middle class Americans to feed the predatory class, superrich, – then what are we as a nation? How can Obama or the American people seriously expect other nations and people to look to America as purveyors of the rule of law, and our own Constitution? How can we condemn other nations or people for lawlessness and perverted practices, – if we allow the most lawless and perverted government in the history of America to walk away and retire in oppulent luxury with millions of dollars in wingnut book advances, and wingnut speaking tours, and crony appointments to high paying fellowships in wingnut thinktanks?
    Allow the bushgov to walk away from accountability for their crimes, systemic deception, and wanton profiteering would make a mockery of the rule of law, insult and render meaningless our Constitition and forever undermine America’s ability to promote democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and any basic human rights.
    We, America, all Americans, and the Obama administration will have proved that we are twofaced and forkedtongued, and a nation and a people and a government that selectively applies principles and the rule of law when it suits our interests.
    In short – allowing the bushgov to walk away from accountability for the crimes, treasons, perversions, betrayals, systemic deception, and wanton profiteering of the last eight years will condemn America to the trash heap of empires fallen and destroyed by our own corruption and the lack of willingness to redress that corruption.
    Holding the bushgov accountable is NOT looking backward, or vindictive, – but proving for all the world and for ourselves that we are a nation and a people that honors and abides the rule of law and our own Constitution, and that NO ONE – NO ONE – is above or beyond the law.
    Failure here, – and all MIT’s or Obama’s values efforts to reshape America in a kinder, gentler, more sane, balanced, and lawful light will be hollow, moot, and totally meaningless.

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  45. PissedOffAmerican says:

    https://act.credoaction.com/campaign/accountability_commission/index.html?r=2743
    Hold the Bush Administration Accountable.
    The work has begun to help to pass President Obama’s progressive agenda. However, our nation still has some unfinished business to attend to. On January 20th, President Barack Obama stood before millions of Americans and swore to uphold the constitution. But the memory remains of a president and vice president whose disregard for our founding principles will be their true historical legacy.
    On January 6th, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers introduced House Resolution 104, “to establish a national commission on presidential war powers and civil liberties.”
    The bill would impanel a Blue Ribbon Commission to investigate potential crimes and Constitutional violations committed by the Bush Administration under the seemingly impenetrable curtain of “unreviewable war powers.” The commission would be comprised of non-governmental experts on the relevant subject matter, and it would have the subpoena powers necessary to do their important work.
    This is a critically important piece of legislation – without it, we may never know the breadth of crimes committed by Bush Administration officials, what lengths they went to in order to dupe the public into a war that has cost thousands of lives, or how many innocent men and women have been kidnapped and tortured and denied due process in violation of both the Geneva Convention and our own Constitution. Additionally, the legislation would only cost $3 million – pocket change in the world of Congressional appropriations.
    Americans deserve to know the truth about the Bush Administration’s alleged crimes – and we need to make sure no president ever repeats them. We are hopeful about the future, but that does not mean we can afford not to be vigilant about our past. Sign this petition today to ask your member of Congress to co-sponsor H.R. 104.

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  46. pauline says:

    Obama Gathering a Flock of Hawks to Oversee U.S. Foreign Policy
    By Stephen Zunes, AlterNet
    Posted on January 30, 2009
    In disc golf, there’s a shot known as “an Obama” — it’s a drive that you expect to veer to the left but keeps hooking right.
    In no other area has this metaphor been truer than Barack Obama’s foreign policy and national security appointments. For a man who was elected in part on the promise to not just end the war in Iraq but to “end the mindset that got us into war in the first place,” it’s profoundly disappointing that a majority of his key appointments — Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Dennis Blair, Janet Napolitano, Richard Holbrooke and Jim Jones, among others — have been among those who represent that very mindset.
    As president, Obama is ultimately the one in charge, so judgment should not be based upon his appointments alone. Indeed, some of his early decisions regarding foreign policy and national security – such as ordering the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, initiating the necessary steps for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and ending the “global gag rule” on funding for international family-planning programs – have been quite positive.
    But it’s still significant that the majority of people appointed to key foreign policy positions, like those in comparable positions in the Bush administration, appear to be more committed to U.S. hegemony than the right of self-determination, human rights and international law.
    Supporters of Wars of Conquest
    Though far from the only issue of concern, it is the fact that the majority of Obama’s appointees to these key positions were supporters of the invasion of Iraq that is perhaps the most alarming.
    much more at —
    http://www.alternet.org/audits/123508/obama_gathering_a_flock_of_hawks_to_oversee_u.s._foreign_policy_/

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  47. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    Fotini Christia’s thesis regarding the Obama’s administration pick up choice on Afghanistan-policy,certainly provides much food for thought. Fotini’s prescribed three stage-strategy reflects pragmatism, realism and moderation-the only working panacea for the current Afghanistan’s turmoil.

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  48. JohnH says:

    “Designing sustainable urban environments.” Now there’s a goal I agree with! Much better than blowing up wedding parties and hospitals for no particular purpose.

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  49. WigWag says:

    “MIT’s Center for International Studies, where I’ve recently began to hang my hat, has put out a very succinct briefing book on some familiar and some fresh foreign policy ideas.”
    Sameer Lalwani, thank you very much for your interesting list of investigators from the MIT Center for International Studies. If you’re hanging your hat in Cambridge these days, there is another very interesting group at MIT that I’ve been following lately that does some work pertinent to international relations. The work is non-traditional and uses new tools and technologies to study comparative political systems.
    The MIT Media Lab is a fascinating place that conducts cross-disciplinary research. Two faculty members in particular are doing work that you may find interesting: Professor William Mitchell does work on designing sustainable urban environments by comparing cities throughout the world and how they operate. Professor Chris Csikszentmihályi conducts research on comparative media studies. They are both worth checking out.
    And on a personal note, if it’s not too forward of me, let me suggest a wonderful restaurant in Cambridge. Oleana specializes in Arabic influenced foods of the Mediterranean with a strong lean towards Turkish cuisine. It is located at 134 Hampshire Street. I’ve eaten there twice while visiting Cambridge. It is truly an extraordinary restaurant.
    Good luck at MIT!

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  50. JohnH says:

    Don Bacon–I think it’s unconscionable that the man spending half of the federal government’s discretionary budget can’t repeat from memory what objectives he has been given. (Probably because he has been given none.)
    Now the question you are implying–shouldn’t we be giving him his orders–is an interesting one. For the moment I’d be happy with his following the Constitution, which he has sworn to defend: “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
    I don’t see anything in there about blowing up wedding parties in Afghanistan. In any case, the connection between occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and providing for the common defense and promoting the general welfare is tenuous, very tenous.
    So tenuous, in fact, that articulating it is well beyond the intellectual capabilities of Gates and the rest of the beltway’s foreign policy mob.

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  51. Don Bacon says:

    JohnH,
    I agree with your summation. I thought that Samuels’s “[Japan] must also commit to the defense of the United States” was particularly amusing.
    But one question for you: Why should an appointed civil servant (Gates) be articulating America’s foreign policy goals? Isn’t that our job?

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  52. ... says:

    head of out it’s…. well, ya get the message, lol…

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  53. ... says:

    “think globally and act locally”… not sure if the usa can ever gets it’s ass out of its rear to be able to do this…

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  54. JohnH says:

    Unfortunately, I saw nothing in Sameer’s abstracts that indicates clairity of thought about America’s objectives either globally or regionally. Rather, it sounds more like a bunch of new thinking on how to keep the Empire in business, hegemony for hegemony’s sake, playing “king of the mountain” on the global stage irrespective of cost to the American taxpayer.
    It’s gotten so bad that not even the SecDef can articulate America’s goals any more! “Gates suggested the US goals in Afghanistan must be ‘modest’ and ‘realistic’. He said, ‘This is going to be a long slog, and frankly, my view is that we need to be very careful about the nature of goals we set for ourselves in Afghanistan.'”
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/KA31Ak03.html
    Scary!

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