Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Which is more important to you in your evaluation of Barack Obama's presidency: the resolution of the war in Iraq; the resolution of the war in Afghanistan; the drone wars in Pakistan and elsewhere; the intervention in Libya; or the resolution of the situation in Syria?

(Note: yes, these are not the only foreign policy/national security events of the Obama presidency; I'm just thinking about these, but feel free of course to discuss whatever is of interest to you).


  1. I think the drone wars will be more consequential long-term. Regardless of personal feelings on it, it's an expansive and much more aggressive way to carry out counter-terrorism and calls into question how relevant our traditional definitions of war still are.

  2. Where's killing Bin Laden? Well of the things listed, resolving Iraq seems most significant given the huge waste of money and lives our being there has been for so long.

  3. I broadly agree with how he's dealt with all of those issues you've named. It's a big deal that our stepping back from Iraq and Afghanistan haven't been catastrophes. Libya is a mess, but was a mess before, and we were able to be involved in a limited way that averted a possible atrocity that might have led to higher demand for a more aggressive response. The President has been able to get in and out in an almost clinical way, preserving American interests without getting us bogged down anywhere. I hope this proves the case with Syria, if we do get involved. This ability to protect American interests while avoiding a huge commitment of resources might be one reason his foreign policy will be judged favorably in the future.

    But I think in the future historians will be more interested in how he handled an area you didn't mention, which is relations with Iran. If we improved our relations with them, we'd remove arguably the biggest threat to our interests in the region, and therefore be able to focus on the other threats to those interests (Muslim Brotherhood, AQAP, Hezbollah, Hamas). So far, sanctions seem to have isolated the regime to the point that the new President Rouhani has indicated at least rhetorically that removing that isolation is one of his priorities. Obama's also done a lot to retard the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, through cooperation with the Israelis and cyberwar. But the big question is if there's any room to reach a sort of detente with the Iranian regime. That would be a game-changer, almost Nixon and China.

    1. Not sure I agree on how good Obama has done in Iraq, Libya etc. (time will tell) but I strongly agree with you that how well he handles Iran is central to his foreign policy legacy. I'd +1 or rec your comment if I could. Great insight.

    2. And the best way to screw up all that progress would be to attack their client state.

      Iran in particular would have no patience for a casus belli about enforcing an international norm against chemical weapons use, when we did nothing when our ally used chemical weapons against them in the 80s.

  4. If we're talking about which of those policy decisions are likely to have the most far reaching consequences, then I agree with Alec about the drone wars. If, however, we're talking about personal opinions, then mine was most shaped by his handling (of which I approved) of the Libyan uprising.

  5. Iraq would be the most important, except that Bush created the withdrawal framework - Obama just executed it, somewhat under duress. Managing Pakistan in general is the next most important, but the question focused on drones, not Pakistan overall. Also American options to stabilize Pakistan are limited.

    So that leaves Afghanistan. None of the others compare in importance from the perspective of American blood and treasure.

    Funny to think about it this way, because I think much of the Afghan escalation was a mistake.

  6. Ending the Iraq War and (potentially) ending involvement in Afghanistan are the big things to me. It's hard to remember now, but it was Obama's actions that really ended Iraq, the war could have been fought by a professional military and financed by deficit spending for years and years and it was unlikely that Congress ever would have voted to cut off funding or anything like that. So ending Iraq was a huge accomplishment.

    Libya strikes me as being a good judgement call on his behalf in hind sight, but it doesn't strike me as being that important, it was the British and French that really did the heavily lifting as our involvement was pretty small.

    Finally I'd say drones have never been that important to me. Most discussion of them just ignores the fact that they have been highly successful and disrupting Al Qaeda and while they have caused some civilian casualties, which is regrettable, those causalities still remain tiny compared to say civilian causalities in Iraq, which could easily be over half a million. So it's fine to be against drone strikes but you really have to put them into perspective.

    1. No, that's false. Obama had nothing to do with "really ending" the war in Iraq. Bush cut that resolution into stone before leaving office. Obama tried to tinker with that resolution, and negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement that would have left a significant US military presence there, in fact, but the Iraqis rejected Obama's devious request, thankfully. Bush had negotiated a full pull out, and that stuck, thankfully again.

      Libya is a disaster. A complete and total disaster, which has told Iran and North Korea to build nukes as fast as possible, because negotiating with the US only gets you dead. The islamofascists have moved down into Sub-Saharan Africa now, Mali and elsewhere. They have been emboldened. Libya is run by warlords, and islamofascist safe haven is for sale. It wasn't when Khadaffi was in power. Libyan crude oil production is plummeting right now. A complete and total disaster.

      Obama quadrupled US troop counts in Afghanistan, and massively escalated US casualty counts, and to no discerned good. He could have saved all that blood and treasure, with no change in outcome whatsoever.

      The drone wars are an affront to the Constitution, but this administration isn't much worried about the Constitution.

      Syria appears to be another Obama disaster in the making, and a further emboldening of islamofascism.

    2. Well leaving aside the question of whether my opinion can be "false" (hint an opinion can't be "false") I would just say that I disagree with much of your analysis. Yes it's true that Bush was involved in status of forces agreements, its also true that Obama oversaw the end of the American presence in Iraq. We can argue all day about what a hypothetical president McCain or third term Bush might have done, but I sincerely doubt they would have ended the war.

      With regards to Libya I wish people who say it's a "disaster" would cite some evidence when they make this claim. I don't think it's a perfect utopian democracy, but it is better than having a homicidal lunatic run it, who also had links to terrorism himself (that conservatives tend to ignore these days) indeed he killed a lot more Americans that those guys at Benghazi.

      I guess we'll have to wait to see if the Robert Court rules blowing up terrorists with un-manned aircraft is in fact unconstitutional to answer that last point (hint they won't).

    3. There is plenty of evidence that Libya is a disaster, so apparently you're not interested in evidence, or you'd already know about it. The homicidal islamofascist lunatics only arose in Libya after Obama helped them to do so, and they proceeded to murder an American ambassador and 3 other Americans. Khadaffi had given in to the West's demands, but Obama had him killed, and now Iran and North Korea will take that as a lesson, and build nukes as fast as they can.

      If a nuke goes off, from either of those 2 sources, you can put it directly at Obama's feet. He caused it, make no mistake.

      And no, we don't need to fantasize about what would have happened in Iraq. We know what happened. Obama tried to extend US stay there, but the Bush position held, and there was a 100% pullout. That's not your fantasy, that's fact.

      We don't need to wait to question whether Obama's scorn for the Constitution is wrong, we already know.

    4. Wasn't North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006? And Iran accelerated their production in 2005. It's almost as if they saw Saddam's example in Iraq.

      I don't think you can blame those on Obama. Well, I guess you could, but it wouldn't be very rational.

  7. I would point first to all these questions being aspects of the national security state in action, and say that the apparent inability of any politician, or group of politicians, or any combination of politicians, media and citizenry to change this national security state in any way is the big problem that I am concerned with.

    And I don't see much of a solution to it, without 50 million intelligent Americans getting much more organized and involved than they are now.

    I've also got to question the word "resolve" for what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama was able to successfully "downplay" those conflicts so that the bran-dead media don't focus on them anymore, I really don't think many Iraqis or Afghans would agree that their political futures have been "resolved" in any meaningful way, and both countries can apparently continue to look forward to bloody showdowns between armed factions in their political lives.

    Is it too much to say that all these five aspects of American national security state policy (Iraq, Afghanistan, drones, Libya and Syria) have in common only one characteristic? They combine to prove that America's reliance on military technology in dealing with the Islamic world makes it less and less possible for America to have any positive influence on the thoughts or behavior of these billions of persons.

  8. I'm sorry to be Mr. One Note, but the only thing anybody is going to care about in 20 years in regard to global issues is what a President did or didn't do about the climate crisis. And they'll probably be too busy coping with its effects to even care much about that.

    1. I mostly agree with you - climate is the one thing we're dealing with now that they'll also be dealing with 20, 50, 100 years from now, so they'll be very interested in how we handled it.

      The professional historians who are given the right to rate past presidents though, will look at other issues. From a distant lens they'll give Obama maybe more credit than they should for Iraq and Afghanistan, they'll like Libya, they won't care about drones, and Syria depends on what happens there.

    2. It's amusing you global warmingists are still banging that drum. The dog is dead but the tail still wags.

  9. So long as we aren't at war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria or Iran on January 20, 2017, I'm cool.

  10. Iraq: Honestly, I credit the American public (WAY too late to the party) for pushing the Bush Admin to wind down the war. Obama put the finishing touches on it, yes. But it started under Bush, and I cannot imagine any circumstance under which I could give him or his team credit for that. They started it, wanted it, etc. I'm not sure Obama was leading so much as being in front of the parade on Iraq.

    Afghanistan: meh. Surge and decline. Deaths are down, but how much of that is just being a dozen years into it? At some point, the deaths go down, don't they?

    Drone war: It is my sincere hope that some president in the future continues the drone war, but with actual checks on it, an end to propaganda (all dead are enemy combatants), and hopefully better targeting (I'd rather all the dead WERE enemy combatants in reality!) So far, though, gotta give Obama a D.

    Libya: meh. Not stellar, not terrible, given the available options.

    Syria: I really hope that going to Congress sticks. I really don't think it will. In the end, we'll probably still end up doing something stupid, and Obama not wanting to do that stupid thing would have stopped it. So, I'm thinking that'll play out as a D or D-. Personally, Congress voting against and Obama then finding a negotiated solution would rank a solid B for me (not an A because of the failed attempt at failing).


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