Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Senators echo Clinton in push for 'crippling sanctions' on Iran

Following up on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's promise to impose "crippling sanctions" on Iran should it continue to defy the "international community" (that is, the U.S. and the E.U.) with regard to its nuclear program, a bipartisan group of the Senate's finest have introduced legislation that would empower the president to engage in a new round of economic warfare by sanctioning companies that sell refined oil products to Iran.

As one might expect, the April 28 press conference announcing the bill was filled with unsubstantiated fear mongering, including this from Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN):
If events continue to go as they are currently going, at some point, during the next two to four years, Iran will have a nuclear weapon.
Actually, if "events continue to go as they are currently going," the IAEA will continue inspecting Iran's nuclear facilities to ensure its compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows Iran to pursue nuclear power so long as they permit international inspectors to verify the non-diversion of nuclear materials to a weapons program. To that end, the most recent IAEA report (pdf) states that its inspectors have "been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran." If Iran were to have a nuclear weapon in "the next two to four years", as Bayh asserts, it would have to withdraw from the NPT and kick the IAEA officials inspecting its nuclear facilities out of the country. Even then, it would likely take months if not years for Iran to stockpile the highly enriched uranium necessary to build a bomb -- which Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently testified they currently do not have and which they have not made the decision to pursue.

Later in the press conference, Bayh claimed Iran could avoid all this nastiness about economic sanctions "if they simply will agree to a civilian nuclear power and to forego with international oversight and that sort of thing [sic]." Iranian officials have always insisted their program is peaceful in nature and IAEA inspectors have so far been able to verify that, so it's unclear from Bayh's garbled statement what would qualify as "international oversight" in his view.

One might be tempted to chalk the statement up to ignorance -- U.S. senators are generally not revered for their intellectual prowess -- but Bayh, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, should certainly know his claim that "everyone agrees" Iran is on "a nuclear weapon path" is just not true. Indeed, back in March Bayh attended a hearing where Blair reaffirmed the view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran suspended any weapons program it may have had years ago and has not in fact made the decision to pursue nukes. Either Bayh wasn't paying attention, in which case he's incompetent, or else he's a liar -- take your pick.

Following Blair, independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman -- who told me back in the summer of 2007 it would be irresponsible to not attack Iran for its supposedly "waging a deadly proxy war" against U.S. troops in Iraq -- likewise inaccurately referred to Iran's "nuclear weapons program" before launching into a self-congratulatory, albeit accurate, description of congressional support for more economic warfare against Iran spanning "not only Democrats and Republicans but, I'd say, probably by self-description, some of the Senate's most liberal and conservative members."

Lieberman also noted that despite Obama's public statements on the need for diplomacy with Iran, his top diplomat for the region -- United Against Nuclear Iran co-founder Dennis Ross -- was informed of the Senate bill enabling more sanctions, and "I will tell you he didn't say don't. . . . we've even sent him a copy of it."

Finally, Senator John Thune (R-SD) joined his Senate colleagues at the press conference -- which also included Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) -- in the fear mongering fun, saying if Iran possessed nuclear weapons, "we know inevitably [they] would be transferred or given to terrorist nations that would target Israel."

But do we? If Iran actually someday develops nukes, we are to believe that after all the sanctions and hardship it suffered to build them, it would proceed to give them away to some uncontrollable terrorist group or "terrorist nation" in order to attack a country -- Israel -- that would immediately annihilate Tehran's 10 million-plus inhabitants in response? And assuming Iran really is run by a messianic death cult committed to the death of Jews in Israel (yet curiously not the 25,000 or so living in Iran right now), even at the expense of its own power by using nuclear weapons, don't you think its leaders would want to press that big red button themselves?

Spouting off about an endless series of external, "existential" threats, however inconsistent and exaggerated, typically goes unquestioned in Washington. If anything, it insulates the fearmonger from the dreaded charge of displaying "naivete" in foreign affairs. If everything you say is wrong, at worst a few people might be further impoverished or killed in some far off land. And how many of them are registered to vote?

It's not 'murder', it's 'harsh involuntary liquidation'

If an agency within the U.S. military was willing to call interrogation techniques like waterboarding "torture" back in 2002, and if the International Committee of the Red Cross -- tasked under the Geneva Conventions with verifying prisoners of war are treated humanely -- calls such techniques torture, and if Japanese soldiers were sentenced to death for using such techniques against U.S. soldiers, then why the hell are journalists at The Washington Post still describing such techniques (when used by the American government) as merely "harsh tactics"?
And how can a 1,400 word piece dealing with the interrogation and imprisonment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- during which he "was put through a routine in which he was deprived of sleep, doused with cold water and had his head repeatedly slammed into a plywood wall, according to the report. The interrogation also included days of extensive waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning." -- fail to use the word "torture" once?

Any takers?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jamie Kirchick: put down the thesaurus, buy a dictionary

Jamie Kirchick of The New Republic has a typically asinine column in The Los Angeles Times today blasting President Obama for being insufficiently jingoistic and arrogant during his recent European tour. Unfortunately, there are a few glaring errors in the piece -- beyond the fact that it is premised on the inside-the-Beltway bullshit notion that rhetoric on foreign affairs is more important than actual policy -- that undermine his case.

For starters: "apologetics" is not the plural form of "apology", but rather a term meaning a formal argument in defense of a belief, typically concerning theology. Thus, saying "Obama waited to ramp up the apologetics until his first trip overseas" implies he waited until he was in Europe before launching into a detailed defense of the Trinity and transsubstanation.

Furthermore: Kirchick claims "the use of the atomic bomb in ending the war with Japan saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and America's possession of nuclear weapons prevented the Cold War from becoming bloodier." Of course, dropping nuclear weapons on Japan -- twice -- was a political decision made by President Truman intended primarily to scare the Soviet Union, as Japanese leaders had already sought to surrender. Hypotheticals about lives saved do not negate the fact that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were intentionally killed by the U.S. military. And as that committed pacificist, Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, remarked to Newsweek, the war with Japan was nearly over at the time the bombs were dropped, and "it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing.''

Finally: Kirchick trashes Obama for not defending the concept of "American exceptionalism" with enough vigor, his bombing of a sovereign, nuclear-armed ally apparently not being indication enough of the exceptional status he believes the U.S. enjoys on the world scene. To Kirchick's dismay, Obama apparently chose diplomacy over arrogance during his European tour, telling other countries that, yes, you too can be exceptional! But that's "impossible," writes Kirchick:
If all countries are "exceptional," then none are, and to claim otherwise robs the word, and the idea of American exceptionalism, of any meaning. Besides, American exceptionalism is demonstrable -- Cuban journalists, Chinese political dissidents, Eastern Europeans once again living in the shadow of a belligerent Russia and, yes, even some Brits and Greeks look toward the U.S. and nowhere else to defend freedom.
It's unclear to what extent Mr. Kirchick has traveled the globe and spoke to its several billion inhabitants, but a few anecdotes about certain select peoples officially recognized as Oppressed by the State Department supposedly looking to the "U.S. and nowhere else to defend freedom" demonstrates precisely nothing. For every Cuban journalist looking to the US to defend their freedom one can point to a thousand Vietnamese civilians burned to death liberated by American military might, for example. It's also much more likely the vast majority of the world's people who seek freedom do not hinge their hopes on the benevolence of a foreign power thousands of miles from their home with a dubious commitment to liberty itself, but in fact look to themselves and their compatriots to fight for their rights.

To Kirchick and his neoliberal/neoconservative brethren, however, if a dictator falls and a CIA agent wasn't there to see it, then it never really happened. In their view, the United States government is the last best hope of man and really is god's gift to the world. An exaggeration? Hardly. Consider Kirchick's own definition of American exceptionalism.
This is the notion that our history as the world's oldest democracy, our immigrant founding and our devotion to liberty endow the United States with a unique, providential role in world affairs.
Skipping past the fact that the United States is not "the world's oldest democracy" -- women only gained the right to vote here in the 1920s, for one -- rather telling is Kirchick's use of the word "providential" to describe the U.S. role in the world; that is, his apparent belief that the U.S. government is "of, pertaining to, or resulting from divine providence." If anyone's guilty of engaging in "apologetics," it's Kirchick.

Arlen Specter: enemy of rule of law, Democrat

The big news of the week here in Washington is that long-time Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter will be leaving the Republican Party to join the Democrats, in large part to avoid a tough primary challenge from a conservative opponent. While others are focused on how the move will impact upcoming votes on healthcare and other pending legislation, I'm more interested in how seamless the transition for Specter appears to be and how readily the Democrats are willing to take on a lawmaker who backed the very worst excesses of the Bush administration -- yet further evidence that switching between the two political parties requires as much philosophical introspection as switching from Coke to Pepsi.

Oh sure, Specter will bemoan how he didn't leave the Republican Party, the Party left him -- that's to be expected. Yet even the cable news blowhards accept he is switching not because of deep-seeded ideological disagreements but out of of fear he may lose power (the prime motivator for all politicians), which should be a lesson to Specter's newfound Democratic allies: don't trust this man. Eager to capture the spotlight, Specter, like any other politician, is much less eager to fulfill what is (ostensibly) his role as a lawmaker: to uphold and defend the Constitution.

In September 2006, when the Senate was about to vote on the Military Commissions Act -- which abolished the right of habeas corpus for those imprisoned by the U.S. military -- I listened as Specter told me and other reporters outside the Senate chamber that the bill was "patently unconstitutional on its face" and that he wasn't going to vote for it. "I'm not going to do it," he said.

Six hours later and Specter voted for it, and not because he suddenly came to view the bill as constitutional, but rather he decided, as he told The Washington Post, "to back the bill because it has several good items, 'and the court will clean it up' by striking the habeas corpus provisions."

While expecting the court to clean up the unconstitutional details of the bills you help to pass is . . . cute . . . it's not at all consistent with the oath Specter took "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." By voting for a bill he admits is "unconstitutional on its face," he was most certainly not defending the constitution, and he certainly did no favor for those imprisoned without trial in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Furthermore, it is not the judiciary's role to be the One and Only arbiter of what is and isn't constitutional. Rather, all three branches of government are supposed to uphold the constitution and guard against usurpations from the other branches.

While it may be an imperfect anachronism that has failed miserably at one of its chief purported goals -- limiting the size and scope of the state -- political leaders claim the "consent of the governed" in part by expressing their fidelity to the allegedly binding "social contract" contained in the Constitution. Perhaps they should be held to their word. In the case of Specter, the violation of his avowed duty is made all the worse by the fact that he knew the bill he was supporting ran counter to the constitution and rights given lip service by even tyrannical monarchs since at least the Magna Carta. As Salon's Glenn Greenwald writes, "Arlen Specter is one of the worst, most soul-less, most belief-free individuals in politics."

Pennsylvania voters: the guy belongs in a cell, not in some DC steakhouse dining with corporate lobbyists. At least give someone else a chance to screw you over.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Obama official to speak 'off the record' . . . live on the internet

On April 28th, General Counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative Tim Reif will be speaking on a Cato Institute panel about "Restoring the Pro-Trade Consensus". If you're in the Washington-area, you can stop by Cato's downtown building and hear the discussion in person. If you're not nearby, according to Cato, you can "Come back to this page to watch the event live."

There's just one catch: Mr. Reif's remarks are "off the record", or so we are to believe.

The details of how one can speak covertly live on the internet are still sketchy. For one, if a panelist is responding to something Reif says, can one report their remarks -- even if it's clear from their response what it is they are responding to? ("I disagree. We shouldn't put babies in blenders.")

A lot of absurd questions come to mind for a reason: because it's absurd to speak "off the record" at a public event, during a panel discussion, live on the internet. To use the phrase in that context is to demonstrate one does not know what it means. As Washington City Paper editor Erik Wemple writes, "You cannot speak into a microphone and be off the record at the same time."

The most frustrating aspect of the absurdity? That there's no chance the "General Counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative" will say anything remotely of interest or newsworthy to justify the supposed "off the record" nature of the remarks.

"[D]on’t think for a moment that Reif, or any other government official operating under the same rules, will use that off-the-record protection to say amazing and insightful things about U.S. trade policy," writes Wemple. "He’ll go common denominator all noon long. Because it’s a public event."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A final note on going 'off the record'

In my post the other week regarding Senate staffer Joe Goffman's attempt to unilaterally go "off the record" during a recent panel discussion before hundreds of people, I referred to another instance where a congressional aide at another public forum likewise inexplicably tried to take her banal remarks off the record -- as the event was being recorded for broadcast on the Internet.

At a congressional briefing hosted this past December by the Energy and Environmental Study Institute (EESI), Marci Harris, an aide to Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA), opened the question-and-answer session by declaring that her remark -- that lawmakers would be losing an "enormous opportunity" if they chose to return carbon tax revenues directly to the public, ala the proposal favored by NASA's Jim Hansen, rather than using them to subsidize "clean" energies -- should be considered "off the record" by those in the professional media.

If you go to EESI's website to watch the video (Harris' comments start a little after the 1 hour and 48 minute mark), however, you'll find that the staffer's hilarious-in-its-arrogance attempt to go off the record in the middle of a public event is in fact the only aspect of her comments that was expunged from the record -- possibly to save her the embarrassment. To EESI's credit, the rest of Harris' comments are available in their mundane entirety.

Again, congressional staff: uttering "off the record" anytime you please and expecting reporters to dutifully comply is not how it works, and the ghost of Edward R. Murrow will not come down and smite any uppity journalist who dares report what you say. How comments are to be attributed is something that must be cleared before you speak, and can only be granted by the press. Going off the record at an event open to the public is never justified -- not when one is speaking on a panel, and least of all when one is merely in the audience asking a question.

Still, there is some value in the attempt by clueless congressional staff going "off the record" at public forums: it exposes how completely unjustified most attempts to conceal information are here in Washington. Remember that the next time the Obama administration invokes the so-called "state secrets" doctrine (a doctrine nowhere to be found in the U.S. constitution) to block the release of politically sensitive information under the auspices of "protecting national security," as it has in an attempt to stop lawsuits challenging the NSA's illegal warrantless wiretapping program.

Quite often the U.S. government classifies information for no discernible reason other than that it can, hiding information from the public being the standard modus operandi rather than the exception. When national security is invoked, it's usually less because the U.S. homeland needs protection than it is the political establishment's collective backside. The very case establishing the state secrets doctrine, United States v. Reynolds, after all, was based on the lie that divulging information regarding the 1948 crash of an Air Force plane that killed several defense contractors would have harmed national security; documents declassified in 2000 show the only thing that would have been harmed by the information would've been the careers of a few Pentagon officials.

When some Senate staffer seeks to forbid the press from reporting their comments, they're usually but stroking their own ego; when a federal official seeks to do the same through classification, assume there's some criminal wrongdoing being covered up.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Some crazies don't always 'appreciate' US-backed dictators, wars

At a press conference following the Summit of the Americas, President Obama denied any U.S. role in an apparent attempt to assassinate Bolivian President Evo Morales. But in the process of doing so, he phrased opposition to U.S. intervention in Latin America in a rather interesting way, stating:
"The United States, obviously, has a history in this region that's not always appreciated from the perspective of some."
With the U.S. having supported the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Chile favor of the iron rule of a military dictator, and having fueled a long-running conflict in Colombia in the name of the war on drugs, there are certainly some in the region who haven't always "appreciated" U.S. intervention in the region: the people who live there.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lying about Iran: an American tradition

With the Obama administration publicly stating its desire to find a diplomatic solution to Western concerns over Iran's nuclear program, one would think top White House and State Department officials would go to great pains to ensure their statements about Iran comport with the facts. And with Admiral Dennis Blair, the top intelligence official in the U.S., stating Iran has not decided to pursue nuclear weapons and in fact suspended years ago any weapons work it may have engaged, one would think this fact-checking task would be made that much easier. One would think.

The reality? Obama's chief spokesperson and his top foreign policy officials have shown a remarkable lack of concern for the truth, choosing to repeat the Bush administration line about Iran pursuing or developing nuclear weapons despite the fact there is no evidence they are doing so -- and contrary to the view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran suspended any weapons-related work back in 2003.

Just this week, the administration's most prolific liar on Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a joint press conference with the prime minister of Haiti stated:
We will continue to work with our allies to make it clear that Iran cannot continue to pursue nuclear weapons. We will stand behind the sanctions that have already been implemented, and we will look for new ways to extend collective actions vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear program.
Meanwhile, a day earlier White House spokesman Robert Gibbs discussed the Obama administration's efforts to halt Iran's "pursuit of its illicit nuclear program":
As you all know, Bill Burns went last week to meet with the P-5 plus one, to discuss the next steps involved. There was unity among the participants about the strategy moving forward, and that the goal remains very clear. The goal is, and remains, a suspension of Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program.
Dana Perino couldn't have said it better. Indeed, as Gibbs noted:
The concern remains the same. The goal remains the same. And that is, as I said, the suspension of Iran's illicit nuclear program.
Gibbs might have added that the tactics also largely remain the same: profess a commitment to diplomacy, extend economic sanctions, and lie lie lie.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Deja Vu

With President Obama committed to nearly doubling the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, promising to draw down as the Afghan security force stands up, its hard not to get a sense that America’s transformative new leader is merely copying his discredited predecessor’s “surge” strategy used in Iraq. That Obama praised said escalation of the Iraq war as having succeeded “beyond our wildest dreams” does not allay these fears.
That Obama is escalating his way into Afghanistan and Pakistan ("Af-Pak" to those who view the rest of the world as the U.S.'s imperial playground) much like President Bush may be lost on his more earnest liberal sycophants at the Center for American Progress, but it isn't on Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In an interview earlier this week on ABC's Chris Cuomo, Mullen made a telling mistake. Here's the exchange:
CUOMO: A year from today, do you think that there's a very different situation in Afghanistan than there is today?
MULLEN: I look forward to a very active year. I want to be clear that my expectations are as we add more troops, the violence level in Iraq -- or, sorry, Afghanistan -- is going to go up.
That said, it'll put us in a position to start to turn the tide and provide security for the Afghan people, which is absolutely critical, in addition to training the Afghan forces, which I expect to improve significantly over the next 12 months.
There is at least one way the Afghan surge will be different than its Iraq counterpart: it will receive the uncritical backing of nearly all Democrats in Congress and their supporters in the liberal blogosphere. So there's that.

Happy War-funding Day

While statist clowns like Democratic strategist Paul Begala spend this April 15th issuing overwrought paeans to the glories of taxes and the centralized state -- "On this day, our government asks that we pay our fair share of taxes to keep our beloved country strong and safe." -- it's useful to remember just what exactly those taxes help pay for (hint: it's not teddy bears and health care). Though Begala and his ilk tend to favor casting firemen and schoolteachers as the recipients of the bulk of U.S. tax dollars, Lockheed-Martin and nuclear weapons would be a more accurate portrayal, though that stark reality might cause some cognitive dissonance over at MSNBC and Daily Kos, where all opponents of federal taxation are said to be rabid, Glenn Beck-watching militiamen.

As Amy Goodman of Democracy Now noted this morning, a new report from the National Priorities Project finds "that more than thirty-seven cents of every income tax dollar goes to military spending. By contrast, environment, energy and science spending projects split 2.8 cents of every tax dollar, while housing, community and food programs split 3.8 cents.

So while Democrats are getting in a good, deserved laugh at the right-wing "tea party" protests today -- rightly pointing out that big government-bashing Republicans were noticeably silent when President Bush ramped up federal spending more than LBJ -- one should remember that, with Obama ramping up U.S. wars overseas and bailing out evermore failed Wall Street firms with taxpayer money, the last laugh is on you.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A note on going 'off the record'

It’s a phrase many congressional staffers in DC love to say but few understand, The West Wing having ruined an entire generation. But unlike what some may imagine, going off the record is typically the prerogative of the journalist, who usually lays out ground rules before an interview and grant requests for secrecy as they come up, and not something an interviewee normally unilaterally declares. However, these days all too many staffers believe they can utter a magic three word phrase -- “off the record” -- at any given point and in any given situation, including at public forums before hundreds if not thousands of people, and expect their trivial remarks to be treated as secret.

For instance: Last week I attended a conference on energy and climate policy hosted by a federal agency at the convention center here in Washington. The conference itself was fairly unremarkable, as these things tend to be, but for the attempt by a veteran Senate aide to go “off the record” while participating in a panel discussion on the future of energy/climate policy.

Speaking before a crowd of over 1,000 people, Joe Goffman, a top aide to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), implored reporters to not report on his remarks, and asked those in attendance to not to utter a word about the nature of his remarks to any seedy journalists that might cross their path. That Goffman, a former legislative director for Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), was participating in a recorded discussion at a public (i.e. on the record) event appeared not to matter, nor did the fact that none of the other congressional and White House staff on the panel requested such a privilege.

After the panel and some not-exactly-groundbreaking remarks -- the Senate isn’t going to do a whole lot on climate change legislation until the House does -- Goffman spoke to a group of people that had gathered around him to ask some followup questions. In the middle of answering a question about cap-and-trade, however, it occurred to him that the middle-aged woman questioning him just might be a journalist. Naturally when asked if she was, she responded in the affirmative -- as if her notepad and tape recorder were not evidence enough -- prompting an uncomfortable Goffman to halt his answer and reiterate that all his comments, including those he just made to the reporter, were “off the record.”

The reporter in question, showing more spunk than one might have expected at first glance, reminded Goffman that she told him she was a reporter when she first approached him. After he denied this, she reminded him that he had repeated her affiliation back to her. He shrugged.

A friendly reminder to congressional staff: if you don’t want your comments publicized, don’t agree to speak at major conferences before hundreds of people -- or, as in another instance, during a panel discussion being broadcast on the web for whoever wants to see it. In the age of the Internet and blogs, carving out special exceptions for the professional press -- maintaining they can’t disseminate the great knowledge you impart but lobbyists and others can -- is discriminatory and of dubious value. Stop it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Yup, still lying

In case anyone is wondering, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still making unsubstantiated claims about Iran's nuclear program, ignoring the testimony of the Obama administration's own Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair -- just like the president, the CIA director and the ambassador to the United Nations. Here she is today in a press conference with Panamanian Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro:
And obviously, we believe that, you know, pursuing very careful engagement on a range of issues that affect our interests and the interests of the world with Iran makes sense, and there's nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon.

When up is down

Reading an op-ed in Tuesday's issue of The Wall Street Journal from the American Enterprise Institute's Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt, one might be forgiven for thinking the Obama administration had just "gut[ted] the military" with its 2010 budget proposal. Write Donnelly and Schmitt, both members of the pro-empire Project for a New American Century:
The budget cuts Mr. Gates is recommending are not a temporary measure to get us over a fiscal bump in the road. Rather, they are the opening bid in what, if the Obama administration has its way, will be a future U.S. military that is smaller and packs less wallop. But what is true for the wars we're in -- that numbers matter -- is also true for the wars that we aren't yet in, or that we simply wish to deter.
While I'm glad to know the military geniuses at AEI are still preparing for "the wars that we aren't yet in" -- war of course enabling the likes of Donnelly and Schmitt to write evermore odes to Winston Churchill from the safety of their air-conditioned think-tank sinecure in DC -- there happens to be one small problem with their analysis: while Defense Secretary Robert Gates has indeed made a big show of cutting a few Cold War-era programs like the F-22 fighter jet, he is also overseeing the largest defense budget in U.S. history, and one that equals the military spending of the rest of the world combined.

As Lawrence Korb of the slavishly pro-Obama Center for American Progress approvingly notes:
President Barack Obama’s topline budget projections for fiscal year 2010 allocate $534 billion to the Department of Defense, the largest allocation of any department. The amount represents roughly a 4-percent increase over the $513 billion allocated to the Pentagon in FY2009 under the Bush administration, and $6.7 billion more than the outgoing administration’s projections for FY 2010.
The defense budget has nearly doubled in real terms in the last decade, and this year’s $534 billion baseline provides adequate funding to maintain the quality of our troops and military infrastructure, and modernize the force. This amount does not in any way undermine the war effort, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are financed in separate supplementals, which to date total nearly $1 trillion. Obama has promised $130 billion more for these efforts in FY2010.
During the presidential campaign, the lunatic right spent much time casting Obama as the modern day George McGovern (if only), doing their part to maintain the fiction that there exists a great gulf in the ways the two parties conduct foreign policy. While neoconservative organizations like AEI might find it beneficial financially to scare their wealthy donors with the specter of Barack Obama ceding the Eastern seaboard to al-Qaeda, it's as far from the truth as AEI's case for invading Iraq.

If anything, Obama is continuing and expanding on the Bush administration's foreign policies, from escalating the war in Afghanistan to intensifying the destabilizing drone attacks within Pakistan. Though there have been some welcome efforts at increasing diplomacy with Iran and Syria, honest neoconservatives (speaking relatively) such as Max Boot have conceded Obama is more McCain than McGovern.

But just as certain Democratic groups (*cough* have sought to cast Obama as this century's Mahatma Gandhi, neocons like Schmitt and Donnelly are too invested in the Red Team-Blue Team dichotomy to admit the Democrats are largely just Republicans with more intelligent sounding imperial rhetoric.


In other news, I had no idea Blackwater author and Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill had a blog. You should read it.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Bush/Obama line on Iran

Last Friday, The Financial Times reported that the Obama administration may be considering relaxing a long-held U.S. demand that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program as part of any deal over its nuclear program. While welcome news if true -- there’s no chance Iran would outsource its energy production to the very colonial powers that exploited it in years past -- it was this aspect of the FT story that caught my eye:
The US line that Iran is seeking the capability to develop nuclear weapons – but not necessarily such weapons themselves – contrasts with Mr Bush’s insistence while in office that it sought nuclear weapons.
While Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has indeed declared Iran has not made the decision to pursue nuclear weapons, the rest of the Obama administration has been busy regurgitating the same discredited talking points about Iran “pursuing” or “developing” nuclear weapons that the Bush administration trotted out. Secretary of State Hillary "obliterate" Clinton, for instance, has alone unequivocally stated Iran is developing nukes on more than a half dozen occasions, the views of the IAEA and the U.S. intelligence community be damned.

And just this weekend, as Obama waxed eloquent about the need for nuclear disarmament (and a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic), his ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice had this to say to ABC News twit George Stephanopoulos while defending Obama's ongoing economic warfare against Iran:
The sanctions that have been imposed by the United Nations and implemented by the United States and others have had some significant effect on the trade and the banking and the financial sector inside of Iran, and we certainly remain open to consideration of possible future measures.

The aim here, though, is to marshal all of the resources at our disposal -- diplomatic, economic, and other -- to try to make this choice as clear as possible to Iran, to give them a path to end their nuclear -- illicit nuclear weapons program, enter the community of nations, or, if in fact they ultimately choose not to do that, then to bring to bear the full force of the international community to put pressure on Iran to stop.
And later:
I think we share Israel's very grave concern about the threat that Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program poses not only to Israel and the other countries in the region, but indeed to U.S. national security.
I don't think it's productive to speculate about what may transpire. As I said, and the president has said on a number of occasions, our aim is to use all of the elements at our disposal, including direct diplomacy, to offer Iran a path away from an illicit nuclear weapons program.
But obviously if that path is not chosen, we have not ruled out any options.
In echoing the Bush administration, Rice shows yet again that liberal interventionists are as capable of distorting the truth as their neoconservative counterparts, despite their overdeveloped consciences and avowed concern for human rights (wherever the U.S. doesn't intervene). But with places like the Center for American Progress getting their imperial groove back now that a good, technocratic liberal is in power, these kinds of (mis)statements don't pack the kind of punch they once did among the establishment left, what with the center’s blog more focused on pointing out the latest outrage from Sean Hannity than the very intelligence distortions decried with such fervor under Bush -- though right-wing deceptions on the matter are still okay to cover.

You see, whereas the Bush administration lied about Iran's program to further their nefarious militaristic agenda, the Obama administration ignores the consensus view of the IAEA and all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies out of a liberal, humanitarian desire to further nuclear nonproliferation (even as it sends nuclear fuel to known proliferator India, undermining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), or so goes the apparent thinking among mainstream Democratic organizations.

Less charitably, one might suggest that members of the liberal foreign policy establishment are always much less inclined to criticize militarism and the killing of innocents abroad (and the lies that enable intervention) when a fellow Democrat is in power -- witness Vietnam -- almost as if their objections to preemptive war and foreign military occupations have always been driven more by a pragmatic desire to attain political power than by any real objection to mass murder and imperialism. But that would just be silly.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Does anyone talk to Dennis Blair?

President Obama, like Bush before him, has long preferred unsubstantiated claims about Iran’s “pursuit” or “development” of nuclear weapons to the reports of the IAEA and the view of his own Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair. Over the past few months, time and time again top administration officials -- with the exception of Blair -- have repeatedly contradicted the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate's assessment that Iran halted any weapons program it may have had more than five years ago.

That said, it’s only fair to note when the president says something reasonable. As Steve Hynd notes, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued this joint statement following a meeting this week where the two discussed reducing their respective nuclear arsenals (always a good thing):
"While we recognize that under the NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear program, Iran needs to restore confidence in its exclusively peaceful nature.”
As far as declarations from heads of state go, not bad, right? Yet as Haaretz reports:
Obama and his aides were particularly pleased at what they saw as small progress on Russia's position on Iran, with Moscow coming closer to agreeing that Tehran could be pursuing nuclear weapons and thus pose a threat . . ."
Indeed, an unnamed “senior administration official” told reporters that Obama and Medvedev had discussed “Iran and its illicit nuclear program” -- illicit presumably referring to the UN Security Council’s resolutions calling for a suspension of uranium enrichment, since Iran has an absolute right under the NPT to develop civilian nuclear technology -- adding this observation:
”I've dealt with [Russian Foreign Minister] Mr. Lavrov over the last several weeks and they've always said Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon -- "We have no evidence of that, show me that this is there." And this was a different tone than that.


We had an assessment of the threat for a long time that they did not accept, and I would say today we came closer to having a mutual understanding of what that threat is.”
And what is that official U.S. assessment anyway?
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI): Now does the intelligence community assess that Iran currently has made the decision to produce highly enriched uranium for a warhead or a bomb?
Admiral Dennis Blair: We assess that Iran has not yet made that decision.
Perhaps that unnamed "senior official" -- along with the entire Obama cabinet -- should have a chat with this Blair guy sometime.