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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The New Warfare, Part III: careful action and patience

In 2002, the Senate vote was 77-23. The vote in the House was 296-133 where only 126 Democrats and 6 Republicans voted NO. In the Senate it was 21 Dems. 1 Rep and one Ind. who voted NO. The Joint Resolution on which the vote was taken, #114, was also known as the Iraq War Resolution (formally the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq).

Just a week after President Obama recently addressed the nation about the threat posed by Islamic State militants and asked Congress to approve arming and training Syrian rebels to fight them, lawmakers gave him what he wanted Thursday evening. John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi backed the House measure, which passed on a 273-156 vote. Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell both supported Thursday’s vote which ended up 78-22 in favor.
As pointed out by RealClearPolitics.com, "the action was quick, by this Congress’ standards, and bipartisan, featuring the formation of atypical alliances -- but not without due drama and reservations. The 78-22 tally included nine Democrats and 12 Republicans voting no (along with independent Bernie Sanders). The Senate action follows House passage on Wednesday.  Left largely unresolved, however, is the delicate issue of war. Congress’ authorization of aid to the vetted Syrian opposition expires on Dec. 11 along with the budget resolution, which means lawmakers must revisit the issue again.

In a four-minute speech immediately after the Senate vote, President Obama thanked Congress for "strong bipartisanship" that he said sends a message to "barbaric" ISIL terrorists that Americans, to be joined by France in air strikes in Iraq, stand united. He also repeated his assertion that the presence of more than 1,600 U.S. military personnel in Iraq is not a violation of what he called a "key principle of our strategy" that American forces in Iraq “do not and will not have a combat mission." The administration has maintained that it already has the authority it needs for air strikes inside Syria.

"But beyond this first partial measure, Congress still needs to grapple with the larger implications of military action. Pelosi said the president already has the authority he needs to move ahead with the rest of the ISIL plan, but the House minority leader was firm in saying she and her caucus would not support putting U.S. combat troops “in any of these engagements.” (RealClearPolitics.com).
It was good that Congress debated the matter. It was interesting that the Senate vote in 2002 and 2014 was so similar, except that more Republicans and fewer Democrats voted NAY in 2014. Many inferences can be drawn, but my one point is that nothing much changes when it comes to war. This was the one thing that both the Congress and the President could point to as a matter for agreement and bi-partisanship. In my mind, that's a sad commentary.

Nonetheless, it is clear that we are going after ISIL, and that is probably a necessary evil, because they promote murder of innocents, rape and selling of female children as sex slaves, and many other atrocities that will be in the news for whatever time it takes to deflate or destroy them.

In this Part III, I have just one more thing to say about the new warfare: it is our supposedly "lead from behind President" who has been using this method of warfare whenever it is necessary, along with coalition building, sanctions and infiltration into the secrets of the militants and terrorists. It is one more charge against this President that makes no sense unless it is combined with a hatred for the man, and with a bias and prejudice that is all-encompassing.

While Congress dawdles over every small or false issue it can find, the President has been taking bold action in many parts of the world that either goes unnoticed, or is ignored. Here are some examples from ThinkProgress.com that you probably heard about but then laid aside:

1) Hunted down and executed Osama bin Laden, head of Al Qaeda. The GOP refused to credit the Obama administration with planning and executing the raid and baselessly claimed the Bush administration’s torture program led to the killing of Bin Laden.  Outcome: Bin Laden’s death brought an end to a nearly decade long manhunt. No civilians or U.S. military personnel were killed.

2) As CAP’s Brian Katulis and Peter Juul note, “the Al Qaeda network over the past three years suffered its greatest losses since the United States and its allies evicted the terrorist organization from Afghanistan in 2001.” One example: a drone attack that killed al Qaeda propagandist Anwar Al Awlaki, a U.S.-Yemeni dual citizen.

  3) The Obama administration, led by Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton pulled together an international coalition to approve and successfully execute a no-fly zone over Libya to protect anti-Qaddafi rebels.

 4) In just seven months and spending only $1 billion, coalition forces helped the rebels successfully overthrow the Qaddafi regime on October 20, 2011.

5) Early in his presidency, President Obama promised that U.S. troops would end combat missions by late summer 2010. Combat missions formally ended on August 31, 2010. On October 21, 2011, President Obama announced that all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by the end of the year.
Of course the GOP response was negative despite the fact President Bush signed an agreement to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by 2012, and despite once hailing the agreement signed by the Bush administration, Republicans called Obama's decision an “astonishing failure” and claimed Obama “lost the war in Iraq.”

6) The Obama administration has worked to tighten and enforce sanctions against Iran and on June 9, 2010, the U.N. Security Council, with the Obama administration’s encouragement, passed a new round of multilateral sanctions. Obama’s push on Iran at the United Nations has isolated the Islamic Republic internationally and the administration’s diplomats persuaded Russia and China to abstain from vetoing U.N. sanctions.
7) Supported pro-democracy groups in Egypt and told Mubarack to pack up and leave. He did so on Feb. 11, 2011

 8) Strengthened US-Israeli relationship

Then, of course, there are a few things that have gone by the boards rather quickly, without much mention, but still with Republican criticism unabated:

 1) Reversed Bush Torture Policies: Two days after taking office, nullified Bush-era rulings that had allowed detainees in U.S. custody to undergo certain “enhanced” interrogation techniques considered inhumane under the Geneva Conventions. Also released the secret Bush legal rulings supporting the use of these techniques.

2). Improved America’s Image Abroad: With new policies, diplomacy, and rhetoric, reversed a sharp decline in world opinion toward the U.S. (and the corresponding loss of “soft power”) during the Bush years. From 2008 to 2011, favorable opinion toward the United States rose in ten of fifteen countries surveyed by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, with an average increase of 26 percent. (Washington Monthly)

3) Coordinated International Response to Financial Crisis: To keep world economy out of recession in 2009 and 2010, helped secure from G-20 nations more than $500 billion for the IMF to provide lines of credit and other support to emerging market countries, which kept them liquid and avoided crises with their currencies.

4) Increased Support for Veterans: With so many soldiers coming home from Iraq and Iran with serious physical and mental health problems, yet facing long waits for services, increased 2010 Department of Veterans Affairs budget by 16 percent and 2011 budget by 10 percent. Also signed new GI bill offering $78 billion in tuition assistance over a decade, and provided multiple tax credits to encourage businesses to hire veterans.

5) Achieved New START Treaty: Signed with Russia (2010) and won ratification in Congress (2011) of treaty that limits each country to 1,550 strategic warheads (down from 2,200) and 700 launchers (down from more than 1,400), and reestablished and strengthened a monitoring and transparency program that had lapsed in 2009, through which each country can monitor the other.

 6) Trimmed and Reoriented Missile Defense: Cut the Reagan-era “Star Wars” missile defense budget, saving $1.4 billion in 2010, and canceled plans to station antiballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of sea-based defense plan focused on Iran and North Korea.

7) Began Post-9/11 Military Builddown: After winning agreement from congressional Republicans and Democrats in summer 2011 budget deal to reduce projected defense spending by $450 billion, proposed new Defense budget with cuts of that size and a new national defense strategy that would shrink ground forces from 570,000 to 490,000 over the next ten years while increasing programs in intelligence gathering and cyber-warfare.

 8) Helped South Sudan Declare Independence: Helped South Sudan Declare Independence: Appointed two envoys to Sudan and personally attended a special UN meeting on the area. Through U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, helped negotiate a peaceful split in 2011.

9) And, perhaps most importantly, after decade-long misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama announced an end to those wars and began reorienting U.S. interests away from Europe and the Middle East to Asia. The move was designed to acknowledge the strategic economic importance of our Asian trading partners, develop ties with emerging powerhouses like Indonesia, and provide a counterweight to China's growing military strength in the region. As Asia's importance and influence grow in the coming years, this might go down as one of Obama's most important accomplishments (The Week.com)

10) By the way, headlines of late have indicated an interest in Iran of talking with the U.S. administration about sanctions, about ISIL, and about Iraq and Syria. Amazing what a bit of strong action plus some patience can accomplish in foreign diplomacy, as contrasted with the all-out preemptive strike diplomacy of Republican hawks!

President Obama never gets the credit he deserves for the many accomplishments of his administration in both the domestic and foreign policy spheres. It's a shame, because he has actually accomplished a great deal of change for the better. I predict we will as a country begin to wish in the future that we had paid more attention to what he did, but moreover, to what he could have done if the voters had been more careful in their selection of Senators, Representatives, and Governors. Hopefully, the electorate will not make the same mistake in November 2014 that it did in 2010!

 We began today's post with reference to something President Obama said at a news conference. When asked: "Do you need Congress’s approval to go into Syria?" President Obama responded that he has "consulted with Congress throughout this process." Then he said the words that at least in the short-term posed a problem from those extremist war hawks on the right like Rep. Paul Gosar, Rep. Renee Ellmers, Sen. Jeff Flake. 

"We don’t have a strategy yet," said President Obama.  What President Obama said next was ignored by the extremist war hawks on the right. "I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are."

Obama added, 'And I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military as well. We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard. But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.'

 Sen. Rand Paul has separated himself from the mainstream war hawks in the Republican Party in discussing Iraq, saying to NBC News last June, "I don't blame President Obama." Sen. Paul says many critics who blame the president for the ferocious Islamist insurgency there, like former Vice President Dick Cheney, should take a look in the mirror.  Sen. Paul questioned, "Were they right in their predictions? Were there weapons of mass destruction there? Was the war won in 2005, when many of those people said it was won?" "They didn't, really, I think, understand the civil war that would break out," Sen. Paul said.

Rest assured Obama will be more thoughtful on the question of military action, in contrast to the thoughtlessness of the Bush administration, owing to their shoot-from-the hip foreign policy of preemptive strikes. "(DigitalJournal.com)

 A fair conclusion to our discussion was found at Foreignaffairs.com:

"The Obama approach has been relatively non-ideological in practice but informed by a realistic overarching sense of the United States' role in the world in the twenty-first century. The tone has been neither that of American triumphalism and exceptionalism nor one of American decline. On balance, this approach has been effective, conveying a degree of openness to the views of other leaders and the interests of other nations while still projecting confidence and leadership.

Judged by the standard of protecting American interests, Obama's foreign policy so far has worked out quite well; judged by the standard of fulfilling his vision of a new global order, it remains very much a work in progress."