Thursday, August 19, 2010

Iraq and Trust

If you're interested in the polling about Americans who are mistaken about the president's religion, I'll send you over to Brendan Nyhan, who knows a lot more about it than I do, and has a typically good post up. I'll just add that for the first time this blog seems to have attracted a troll, who is making comments about religion to various posts, and which after the first one I'm deleting.  I've mentioned my comments policy in passing a few times, although I've never gotten around to spelling it out in full, but basically I'll zap any comments that in my judgment are commercial, offensive, or in other ways disruptive.  Critical of me?  Not a problem.  I'll even welcome comments from Dodgers fans -- there was an ill-informed comment a ways back that actually praised Steve Garvey, and I let that go.  Hmmm...I should probably get to the point, shouldn't I?

What's interesting me this morning isn't so much the fantasies that Barack Obama's opponents, as the lack of trust that liberals have in him.  I should throw in a caveat right up top: this is fairly speculative stuff, really just my reading of various pundits and bloggers, nothing definitive, but at any rate:  Case in point is the news that the last of the "combat troops" have left Iraq.  Now, those reluctant to celebrate this development certainly have strong grounds for doing so, with 50K troops remaining, plus private security forces and civilians, so more American casualties are certain (although the pace seems to have slowed again in the last couple months).  And I can certainly understand a reluctance to celebrate a retreat, even if it's orderly and good policy (as Obama's supporters presumably believe).  Still, I tend to think there's what I'd consider an unusual amount of skepticism of Obama's commitment among liberals.  Looking around, liberals either seem to be relieved but subdued (for example Steve Benen, or Heather at Crooks and Liars), or, as with Spencer Ackerman, primarily skeptical.  Now, again, I'm not criticizing that attitude, since among other things one might believe it's in poor taste to celebrate the situation the Americans are (to some extent at least) leaving behind.  Still, it does strike me that few liberals, at least few liberals who are speaking up right now, really appear to trust that Obama on Iraq.  I'm not sure why -- is it because of Obama's policy in Afghanistan?  The disappointment of 2007, when a Democratic victory in 2006 failed to produce rapid results?  The residue of Obama's defeat on Gitmo?  His other policies on secrecy and rule-of-law issues?  Something inherent in liberals when it comes to trusting even liberal pols?  I don't know, and perhaps I'm reading things that aren't there, but I just don't see much trust there.  Support, yes, when he does something  they like, and perhaps even general support.  But trust?  Not really.


  1. We wouldn't call the current situation, re: Gitmo a "defeat" for Obama. More like a "surrender" or "continuation of the status quo for the sake of political expediency".

    Please expand on why this is not the case. And to spell out a simple ground rule, let's just say that "Well.. the NIMBY'ing of the Legislative Branch!" is not a valid excuse.

  2. I wrote you a while back about the "creeping Naderism" that I've seen on the Left in recent weeks. This post seems to address the same problem.

    I will say that I'm about as pro-Obama as the situation permits. I do trust him, and I have faith in the incredibly patient "long game" that Obama likes to operate on. However, I will say that ... I mean, I believe Obama is doing a good job and has done what he's done for good reasons, but the "long game" concept is not one that ordinarily permits the expression of a lot of enthusiasm. Obama's first two years have been marked by a lack of definition somehow.... if you think of it, it's not like there have been any sharp dividing lines that help us define "early Obama" from "later Obama" or anything like that. Obama governs in such a way that it's sometimes difficult to know what he's really thinking. I guess what I'm saying is, after the November elections, Obama will probably be required to reposition himself a bit, and that will afford a little bit of purchase on what he did/didn't do in the first two years and give us a better perspective on it.

  3. My position is that many liberal and/or progressives bloggers and activists distrust Obama because of his domestic politics and this spills over to foreign accomplishments. It basically boils down to what happened over healthcare. Liberals have long supported America having universal healthcare, the support goes all the way back to 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt ran as a Progressive. Substantial efforts for universal healthcare started in the Truman administration. Also for many liberals universal healthcare meant one thing, single-payer. When Obama began his attempts at universal healthcare, single-payer was never really discussed and the public option, the compromise, was sacrificed so the vested interests would not due a Harry and Louise style opposition. To many liberals and progressives, this was too much to bear. HCR meant single-payer or at least the public option. This is when they began distrusting Obama on practically everything.

    I also think that the expectations about Obama influence disappointment in liberals and progressives heavily. Bush II was viewed as the culmination of thirty years of conservative policy, which liberals view as absolute failure, and the result was the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression. They knew that 2008 was going to be a Democratic year and many of us believed that now was our moment in the sun, a second New Deal and Great Society. The results were not exactly what we wanted or expected. Conservative opposition has been constant and consistent and thanks to procedural quirks, fairly effective. The perceived reluctance of Obama to fight for liberal goals, exasperates this.

    Basically, the liberals that mistrust Obama do so because they believe that liberals are missing their moment in the sun because of him.

  4. More or less in line with what Martin said: Obama is intensely cerebral. Many, many people distrust the intensely cerebral. He furrows his brow and works it out. People don't know that he's balancing this ideological value against these practical considerations (hell, they don't want to hear about those practical considerations - fingers in ears, LA LA LA...).

  5. For my money, it's 50K is a heck of a lot bigger than 0. It's certainly Gitmo and torture and etc. So, in a real sense, it's accepting Iraq as part of Bush's War on Terror, and seeing very few gains in regards to changing that policy, which is frustrating because Obama has the most unilateral power he has in this arena. I don't begrudge health care (except tactically), and I'm frankly amazed that climate change is as close as it is in this economic environment (it ain't gonna happen, but it got close-ish). So, yeah, I'm not really celebrating something that probably should have happened quicker (and REALLY happened, not "happened except for the 50,000 other troops there")

  6. Matt,

    Ah, but it's not 50K; it's 50K who are on their way out over the next 15 months.

    My guess is that if that does in fact happen, and casualties average safely below five US deaths/month over the next year, that most liberals will look back on Obama's Iraq policy and say he basically did well by them. I just think there's a huge amount of suspicion that the administration is going to find some excuse for leaving 50K, or close to that, troops there forever. Now, the suspicion may well turn out to be correct. I'm just saying that it's there, and that a lot of liberal dissatisfaction with BHO is based on what they're afraid he might do more than what he's actually done.

  7. I wonder if one reason for a seeming lack of trust might be attributed by President Obama's attempts at bipartisanship?

    A common byproduct of trying to work with many different sides is that you incorporate part of their respective arguments into your final policy. With Obama, this attempt sometimes gives the appearance that he is in support of opposite sides of an issue. I suspect that this could create trust issues among Democrats as well as the general public.

  8. The sort of trust you're talking about is earned. If the year 2011 passes and all American troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, the skeptical Dems you're talking about (I'm one) will know that Obama's word in these situations can be trusted.

    Given that most of the DC establishment either lined up behind the war or believed they had to defer to the waging of it, though, and tried to cover their political reputations with (now often readily acknowledged) lame arguments, evasions, and subterfuges, I'll flip the question and toss it back at you: why would any sane person approach the government's proclamations from the presumption that they were being fully truthful?

    Lastly, the last time I checked Iraq didn't have a functioning government. While I hope they get their affairs in order (the Iraqi people, surely, have suffered enough), what I'm expecting, frankly, is that the potemkin village we call the Iraqi government will start falling apart over the next year. Who can say what Obama would do in that circumstance?

  9. Speaking just for myself, the Iraq War has gone on so long, and at such great cost in both blood and treasure (for Iraqis and Americans), that's it's hard to muster up a great deal of enthusiasm, even for winding down the war.

    Having said that, I count Iraq in the same category as health care. Obama made explicit and detailed commitments during the campaign on both issues. In both cases, despite multiple opportunities to change course, he has steadily pushed forward and accomplished what he said he would.

    He's done the same in Afghanistan. (I disagreed during the campaign, and disagree now, with escalating the war in Afghanistan. But he was clear during the campaign what he wanted to do, and he's done it.)

    I would put myself in the camp of those whose respect for and trust in Obama has grown over the past 18 months. He not only can give a good speech, he knows how to manipulate the levers of power to accomplish much of what he wants to do.

    Contrast that with Jimmy Carter (an underrated president, but still one who was unable to move much of his agenda through Congress and through the federal bureaucracy), or with Bill Clinton (weakened from the beginning by Cabinet appointment controversies and rolled by the military on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell").

  10. Incognito,

    Actually, your last paragraph is sort of my point: despite things not going "well" over the last six months (and longer, of course), US casualties have dropped another notch and Obama met -- beat, actually -- the end-of-August deadline. That certainly doesn't prove that Obama will in fact meet the next deadline, and I'm not saying that people *should* trust him; I'm simply noting that they don't, despite at least some reason they could.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?