Saturday, October 22, 2011

When Bad Presidents Happen to Good Democrats

Though I may be giving them too much benefit of the doubt there.

Michael Tomasky has a piece on the Triumph of the Obama at the Daily Beast, celebrating not only the death of Qaddafi but how foolish the neocons look now. Obama, weak? Not in foreign policy, bitchez!
It’s worth stopping to realize that this Libya operation is, so far, not only a big success, but also a historic accomplishment in American history. Is it not the first multilateral and bloodless (as far as U.S. lives are concerned; admittedly not Libyans) intervention the United States has helped lead in its history to rid a people of a dictator and try to bring them democracy? It surely is.
I like that "so far": Tomasky's not so far gone as to ignore certain small failings of the Libyan rebels, and the fact that we really don't know yet who or what kind of system will replace Qaddafy. But right now, everything's coming up roses, especially on the graves of the Libyan civilians who weren't lucky enough to fall on the "bloodless" side of the ledger. As for "try[ing] to bring them to democracy," that remains entirely to be seen: Obama has not shown much interest in democracy so far. But no American blood was shed, and frankly, liberal Obamacrats don't care about any lives but Americans'.

This is an old trope, after all. I remember an article in The Nation that I wrote about exactly two years ago today. Eyal Press defended Obama against charges that he didn't care enough about human rights, claiming that Obama "has made it clear that he is a cautious realist, not a crusading idealist", and quoted Stephen Walt:
" ... No U.S. President--not even Jimmy Carter--was ever willing to spend a lot of blood or treasure solely to advance human rights, and Obama isn't going to be the first. And given that the U.S. record on this issue looks has been tarnished by Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, forced rendition, "enhanced interrogation" (aka torture), extra-judicial killings (aka "targeted assassinations"), our reaction to the Goldstone Report, and the thousands dead as a result of the invasion of Iraq, I'd say a bit of humility on this front was probably in order."
That's a contender for the understatement of 2009, wouldn't you say? I wrote at the time that the US has shown itself quite willing to spend quite a lot of "treasure" and plenty of foreigners' blood violating human rights.

But back to Tomasky. He's thumping his chest to celebrate Obama's supposed political victory over the neocons, confirmed by the defeat and death of Moammar Qaddafi. This was a "multilateral" intervention in the same way that Bush's invasion of Iraq and Bill Clinton's assault on Kosovo were. Bush's removal of Saddam Hussein wasn't "bloodless" even for American forces, but NATO suffered no military deaths in Kosovo, though Milosevic remained in power until he was voted out by his people. There were plenty of native dead in both cases, but Tomasky is willing to overlook that. Goodness, are American liberals already forgetting Clinton's historic victory in the Balkans? It was one of the security blankets they clung to fiercely throughout the Bush years to show how much better Democratic presidents were. Kosovo is conspicuous by its absence in Tomasky's piece, but then his whole aim is to put Obama's foot on the neck of the neocons: is Obama "weak"? Noooooo!
And finally: how out to lunch do those Republican presidential candidates look now on foreign policy? Though the foreign-policy discussion got little attention, it was the most unhinged part of the last GOP debate. The Republican electorate may eat up potshots at Obama for being weak, but I doubt the broader public is buying it. A president who iced bin Laden and has overseen the ousters of two leading autocrats (and a couple of other minor ones) is not weak. Leading from behind, the sneerers forgot, is still leading.
But Tomasky's article is mild compared another post at the Beast by Bruce Riedel, "a former longtime CIA officer" and "a senior fellow in the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution." Which Middle East dictator is going down next? he asks rhetorically. The piece is illuminated with a picture of "deadliest dictators": Hitler, Pol Pot (I think), Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, Lenin, and another Asian I don't recognize. Ho is out of place there; he wasn't Santa Claus, but he was "deadly" only to US hegemony in Southeast Asia. The US installed a dictator in Saigon who was at least as bad as Ho, as usual in such cases.

After tossing out a few other cases, Reidel mentions the elephants in the room:
The Bahraini ruling family has never supported terror nor been as brutal as the Libyan mad man but they should also be worried. They have rejected reform for far too long on their little island kingdom. The Bahrainis and their Saudi backers seem to believe repression will work forever. They are mistaken. The 21st century Arab world is changing like no one anticipated, least of all its dictators.
Except that there is no indication that Obama has any interest in seeing the King of Bahrain come tumbling down, let alone the Saudi rulers. Indeed, the Obama administration just announced the sale of $53 million worth of weaponry to Bahrain. Some of my readers may recall how the Saudis and the UAE assisted Bahrain with mercenaries to kill dissenters there just a few months ago, with nary a complaint from the White House. Reuters just reported that Obama has decided to delay the sale because of a "local investigation into alleged human-rights violations since an uprising in February."
The Sunni ruling family put down the pro-democracy uprising with the help of neighboring Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council members, spearheaded by a reported 1,200 Saudi forces in 20 tanks and in other armored vehicles.

A key U.S. concern is that a fall of the Al Khalifa family and rise of a Shiite-led government could boost Iran's influence and lead to a loss of access to Bahrain's military facilities and U.S. influence in the region.
The US has no concerns of its own about those "alleged abuses," of course. Democracy must take second place to "Bahrain's military facilities and U. S. influence in the region." Nor was there any indication that the Obama administration was eager to see the dictator Hosni Mubarak fall in Egypt.

But hey, Obama just announced that US troops will be completely withdrawn from Iraq by the end of this year -- in compliance with the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush administration. Of course "complete withdrawal" means "with several thousand exceptions": a hundred fifty or so "to assist in arms sales," plus "about 1,700 diplomats, law enforcement officers and various economic, agriculture and other professionals and experts who will be in Iraq into 2012, according to the State Department. In addition, 5,000 security contractors will protect the U.S. diplomats and another 4,500 contractors will serve other roles, such as helping provide food and medical services, until they can be done locally." "Security contractors" is US Newspeak for mercenaries hired through private companies like Xe (formerly Blackwater), of course.

Almost since he took office Obama had tried to pressure the Iraqi government to let American forces stay longer, without success. (Which means that despite his best efforts to break it, he kept his campaign promise.) The sticking point turned out to be Iraqi refusal to grant "legal protection" to US troops (again, Newspeak for immunity when they commit atrocities). Our mercenaries have no accountability, and a long record of atrocities in the US and abroad.

But credit where credit is due: Obama didn't unilaterally override the SOFA, and most US troops will be removed from Iraq by the end of this year, which isn't far away now. Some good things do happen. And once again, Oscar Wilde was a prophet:
Jack. Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?
Gwendolen. I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.