Friday, June 24, 2011

The Intervention

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone is absolutely right to bring up the flip-flop of pro-war right wingers, as they're now turning on international interventions they couldn't get enough of when a Republican was in the White House. Though be assured, now that President Obama has declared that Americans will be drawing down troops in Afganistan, even the newly reenergized isolationist wing of the right will hammer him on tactics as if the tactics of the last 10 years didn't exist.

But this is nothing new. The GOP is able to flip-flop at will over American wars without any reasonable accountability because they are so good at marketing their changing position. Either way they go, they are "on the side of Americans," at least on TV or radio.

They loved Iraq War I, but were split on Somalia before they were against it. The GOP almost completely bailed on the incredibly successful US military involvement in the Balkans, which American political culture rarely references. With that one, they questioned every item of American priority from why we were getting involved to the open ended mission to how much it would cost the US taxpayer. At one point, there was even legislation: the House passed a bill not to fund the Balkans operation, while in the Senate

Another resolution sponsored by a group of Republicans led by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas would support the troops but not the President's decision to send them.

Does that sound like GOP behavior from the last decade? What would have been said about actions like that if Democrats had been the ones taking them? Luckily, we have that answer, and it is maddening to critics and opponents of the Iraq war, the Afganistan engagement, and the whole partisan tone of war politics during the Bush II years. It didn't matter if a position was right or wrong, supportive or non-supportive, or based on tactics alone: if it wasn't part of the GOP talking points, it was WRONG, not only WRONG but AMERICAN-SOLDIER-HATING, FLAG BURNING, TRAITORS SHOULD BE BURNED AT THE STAKE wrong, and that's how every public debate was framed. Taibbi sums up these feelings well:

Six or seven or eight years ago, I seem to remember, anyone who even hinted that not using military force to resolve any foreign policy dispute, no matter how trivial or how imaginary the justification, was to be considered a traitor.

Bill O'Reilly drew a direct line in response to Dick Durbin's equally ridiculous hyperbole (the Democrats and the left, never able to miss an opportunity to make a right-winger's point for them, only encouraged the bad behavior). Or we were led to believe that actually examining the war was akin to surrender. And all this went on for years, every day, every hour on Fox News and Talk Radio.

It even continued into the Obama Presidency, with right-wingers, hawks, and Republicans breathlessly anticipating American military surrender or defeat, now that a Democratic President was in the White House.

Then a funny thing happened. Obama called the right-wing bluff and went all in with the Cheney/McChrystal strategy. Y'all want to keep going in Afganistan? Let's really spool things up there and see what you do.

From a purely tactical standpoint, it still wasn't enough. Not nearly. We simply don't have the manpower or materiel or international support or national popular committment to "win" in Afganistan the way many Americans envision "winning" a war. And that cultural tactical confusion is what's been used by partisan politicians since the first troops showed up there.

But if you're trying to find a political solution to end the war - and I'm talking about here in the United States, not in Afganistan - you have to do some things that change the national conversation on a fundamental level. The President did the only thing he could plausably do considering the political climate: bulk up the forces with as few troops as possible to end this thing as close to our terms and cultural needs as possible. Work away from a goal to acheive a goal. Which is what is happening.

Though, thanks to Bush's strategic blunders of not sending adequate manpower or materiel at the onset, and the recent success against Osama Bin Laden personally, popular opinion has turned to ending the wars sooner rather than later. A financial crisis at home is driving home the point. And now GOP Presidential candidates are starting to use the machinery of right-wing marketing to advocate ending the war and bringing the troops home.

It is hard to call a political opponent out for "surrendering" when your stated positions advocate an even quicker exit - an exit that for a decade has been demonized by the right - when said political opponent is delivering not only on his campaign promises but yours. This gives Obama tremendous political capital in the face of defense contractor interests and neoconservatives that the left was simply unable or unwilling to manufacture on their own accord for the past decade. The national narrative has turned from "when will the Democrats make our brave troops surrender" to "how fast can we bring our brave troops home?"

In 2 years, President Obama has reconfigured the terms of the entire national-security discussion. That's something the liberals and progressives and true believers were wholly unable and unprepared to do for the last decade. Working away from a goal to acheive a goal.

Which brings me to the Libya intervention. US involvement is a huge gamble here. The Administration's going at it without Congressional authorization, and our Consitutional law professor President basically throwing that authorization need back into the faces of Republicans in Congress, is confusing. Why would such a deliberate administration act in such ways? Especially when Obama's stated position on Executive authority is so well known.

The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

Of course, there are bipartisan internationalist members of the US Senate working to acquire Congressional authorization for the Libya action, even as isolationist Republican and anti-war Democratic members of the US House work to defund it (the old Balkan War trick).

This seems to be the par-for-the-course behavior. Isolationists and anti-war folks will get their voices heard, but the majority will back the Administration and the Libya operation will continue. But this President is despised among the Tea Party wing, who appear unafraid to salt the earth to keep the President in check. Add to that the rage of the anti-warrriors of the Democratic left, and you've got a good sized chunk of the Congress. Even if they aren't successful at defunding the Libya operation, they're going to want revenge for Obama's marginalization of Congress.

This became clear to me when I read the quote from Senator John McCain regarding how such behavior affected the Bush administration, and how it could affect future GOP Presidents.

"We were right to condemn this behavior then, and we would be wrong to practice it now ourselves, simply because a leader of the opposite party occupies the White House," he said. "Someday, a Republican will again occupy the White House, and the President may need to commit U.S. armed forces to hostilities.

"So if my Republican colleagues are indifferent to how their actions would affect this President, I would urge them to think seriously about how a vote to cut off funding for this military operation could come back to haunt a future President when the shoe is on the other foot," he continued.

Think about this politically: Obama has stated a desire for war powers to require more robust Presidential approval. Many Republicans oppose him to the point of distraction. The President could have gone to Congress for the Libya operation (especially when all the GOP folks currently complaining were calling on him to intervene) and recieved Congressional authorization in a heartbeat.

He chose to pick a fight with this Congress over the Executive powers to use the military, in the most in-your-face way possible. If nothing legislatively happens, the status quo remains.

But what if the anti-Obama GOP team up with the anti-war Democrats to propose legislation specifically limiting a President's authority to engage in military adventures? What if they amend the War Powers Act to be more specific, and more in tune with Obama's stated Constitutional beliefs?

That means this President could topple Quadaffi WHILE creating political conditions necessary to legislatively restrain a President's future ability to get the nation into wars BY engaging in a conflict with minimal exposure and cost to American troops by emboldening our NATO allies. This could be some Michael Corleone level plans.

Maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part. But this President has already demonstrated a willingness to work away from a goal to acheive a goal, and an ability to allow American popular opinion to shift of its own accord. We'll see if anything really comes from this, but it sure does make for interesting viewing.

Update: The votes are in, and an big majority of Congress is standing up to the President on Libya. They're even entertaining a notion later that will "defund" American operations, except for search and rescue, intelligence gathering, refueling, and logistical operations. You know, the kind of operations that pretty much define the current US involvement in Libya.

So the mission continues as planned. Anti-Obama Republicans and anti-war Democrats are now working together against American adventurism abroad. Wonder what comes next?



Dante said...

"Six or seven or eight years ago, I seem to remember, anyone who even hinted that not using military force to resolve any foreign policy dispute, no matter how trivial or how imaginary the justification, was to be considered a traitor."

Try two days ago. It's nice to know that there is an opposing opinion to military action no matter which Party is in charge. But it would be nice if that opposition is at least ideologically consistent.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

"But the bottom line is, whose side are you on? Are you on Qadhafi’s side or are you on the side of the aspirations of the Libyan people and the international coalition that has been created to support them? For the Obama Administration, the answer to that question is very easy."

- Hillary Clinton

Good catch. But two things:

1) This is not ideological inconsistency from Clinton. She supported the Iraq War, voted against the surge to make up for that, and was one of the main figures pushing for the Libya intervention. She's an interventionist who actually saw the flip flop the first time when the GOP "sided" with Slobodon Milosevic in trying to undermine the US intervention in the Balkans. Like Kerry, McCain, & Bush, she is part of that old-line American political caste who understands the partisanship show that seems to accompany every American foreign policy.

2) There are some Democrats who always try this when it comes to American foreign policy. That's because they are attempting to replicate the successful marketing strategies of the GOP without understanding what makes those marketing strategies successful.

Dante said...

"This is not ideological inconsistency from Clinton."

I get what you're saying, but this isn't Clinton's administration. It's Obama's. Clinton isn't an elected official anymore. She's appointed by the President. When she speaks on matters concerning the State Department, she speaks on his behalf, not her own.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

As opposed to Powell or Rice, who always appeared to be justifying, rationalizing, or playing the good-cop role for Bush II's foreign policy agenda, Hillary has been a mainstay in America's political conciousness since 1992. She has her own voice in a way a SecState hasn't had in a long time.

One of the brilliant political moves in appointing Clinton SecState is that her existing persona and voice de facto insulates Obama from exactly this sort of thing. He might own the policy but he has delegated on the voice.

In that aspect, the quote is still pure ideologically (or at least politically) consistent Clinton.