Der Spiegel runs down W’s “tragic legacy” in the long, long, looooong decade of U.S. decline that followed 9/11:
America was trapped in Iraq for years, where a victory was a long time coming and was never a real one. It is currently trapped in Afghanistan, where victory no longer even seems possible. And it is trapped in an embrace with his its ally Pakistan, which it does not trust and yet cannot release.
These are costly defeats for America and the rest of the world. According to a conservative estimate of Brown University, there have been almost 140,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. The massive retaliation cost more than $3 trillion (€2.2 trillion) — dollars that would have been better used in America’s schools or in the wallets of US citizens.
For a short time after the attacks, the country seemed united. Americans embraced each other. Even the cold city of New York suddenly seemed warm. But instead of cultivating public spirit, President Bush sought to find a pretext — any pretext — to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. This is his most tragic legacy, the fact that America can no longer even mourn its victims properly — because Americans have long been not just victims, but also perpetrators.
Hey, at least Chimpy managed to pull things together after 2006, making his “one of the more successful [presidencies] in U.S. history” [sic].
[Insert pregnant pause/needle scratch here.]
Ahem, yes, well, as they say, read the whole damn thing — and pray that abumuqawama only temporarily took leave of his senses (wait — he’s one of those CNAS Pollyanas who still think COIN is somehow going to Underpants Gnome a NATO victory in Afghanistan; all hope = lost.)
(Image: smiteme, Flickr)
The Boston Globe ran a chart last Sunday that I’d buy billboard space to reproduce in every decent-size city in America, if I were running the Democratic National Committee. The premise of it was very simple: It showed how many trillions each president since Ronald Reagan has added to the nation’s debt. The debt was about $1 trillion when Reagan took office, and then: Reagan, $1.9 trillion; George H.W. Bush, $1.5 trillion (in just four years); Bill Clinton, $1.4 trillion; Obama, $2.4 trillion.
Oh, wait. I skipped someone. George W. Bush ran up $6.4 trillion. That’s nearly half—44.7 percent—of the $14.3 trillion total. We all know what did it—two massive tax cuts geared toward the rich (along with other similar measures, like slashing the capital gains and inheritance taxes), the off-the-books wars, the unfunded Medicare expansion, and so on. But the number is staggering and worth dwelling on. In a history covering 30 years, nearly half the debt was run up in eight. Even the allegedly socialist Obama at his most allegedly wanton doesn’t compare to Dubya; and Obama’s debt numbers, if he’s reelected, will surely not double or even come close as we gambol down Austerity Lane.
(Photo: Paul Keller, Flickr)
Jane Mayer on the sudden prominence of ex-W speechwriter (and current Hiatt-approved pro-torture propagandist*) Marc Thiessen and why those who don’t pop wood for enhanced interrogation [sic] should be wary:
The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.
Teach the controversy, maaan. Nothing is true; everything is permitted.
*As Harry Allen would say, don’t just read Alex Pareene’s superlative Gawker piece ‘The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America‘ — memorize it.
Cosign with Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason, who incisively and cooly slice away the bullshit surrounding Obama’s Afghanistan escalation:
Obama’s new “strategy” is no strategy at all. It is a cynical and politically motivated rehash of Iraq policy: Toss in a few more troops, throw together something resembling local security forces, buy off the enemies, and get the hell out before it all blows up. Even the dimmest bulb listening to the president’s speech could not have missed the obvious link between the withdrawal date for combat troops from Iraq (2010), the date for beginning troop reductions in Afghanistan (2011), and the domestic U.S. election cycle.
The only conclusion one can reach from the president’s speech, after eliminating the impossible, is that the administration has made a difficult but pragmatic decision: The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and the president’s second term and progressive domestic agenda cannot be sacrificed to a lost cause the way that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s was for Vietnam. The result of that calculation was what we heard on Dec. 1: platitudes about commitment and a just cause; historical amnesia; and a continuation of the exact same failed policies that got the United States into this mess back in 2001, concocted by the same ship of fools, many of whom are still providing remarkably bad advice to this administration.
In office less than a year, the Obama administration has already been seduced by the old beltway calculus that sometimes a little wrong must be done to get re-elected and achieve a greater good.
As they say, read the whole damn thing.
(Photo: Peter Casier, World Food Program, used under a Creative Commons License)
Shorter Leon Panetta: ‘Hey, remember all that shit I talked last year about how “[w]e either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground“? Well, surprise, I finally found that middle ground — hidden behind a desk @ Langley!’
Even shorter: ‘Accountability is for partisan suckers.’
The president took his decision under the pressure of time. Had he not acted, the 44 photos would have been released next week as per an order from a New York court. It was a decision the White House had originally approved. But the timing of the release would have been problematic — the images of rape and torture would have conflicted with Obama’s travel plans. On June 4, Obama plans to give a keynote address in Cairo in which he intends to unveil a plan of reconciliation with the Muslim world. The legacy of the Bush era includes an us-versus-them mentality from which Obama seeks to distance himself, and which he has already begun to reverse.
Whether true or not, it certainly makes more sense than David Ignatius’ repulsive, straight-from-the-Beltway-cocktail-circuit speculation that the sudden reversal was meant as a ‘Sister Souljah moment’ (though would still be no less inexcusable).
John Yoo has written freelance commentaries for The Inquirer since 2005, however he entered into a contract to write a monthly column in late 2008. I won’t discuss the compensation of anyone who writes for us. Of course, we know more about Mr. Yoo’s actions in the Justice Department now than we did at the time we contracted him. But we did not blindly enter into our agreement. He’s a Philadelphian, and very knowledgeable about the legal subjects he discusses in his commentaries. Our readers have been able to get directly from Mr. Yoo his thoughts on a number of subjects concerning law and the courts, including measures taken by the White House post-9/11. That has promoted further discourse, which is the objective of newspaper commentary.
Will Bunch nails it:
No personal disrespect toward Harold Jackson (a well-regarded colleague with whom I’ve crossed career paths in two far-flung cities, with many mutual friends) but I could not disagree more. None of this is a good enough justification for awarding a column to America’s top defender of such a serious human rights violation as torture — certainly not the fact that he’s now a celebrated Philadelphian (so is disgraced state Sen. Vince Fumo, who could be handed a political column based on this kind of rationale). Sure, his warped viewpoint that the president of our once-proud democracy can assume virtually dictatorial powers is controversial enough to “promote further discourse” (so did George Will’s recent blatantly misleading column on climate change) but that alone hardly makes something worth publishing.
But while promoting public discourse is a goal of newspaper commentary, it should not be the main objective. The higher calling for an American newspaper should be promoting and maintaining our sometimes fragile democracy, the very thing that Yoo and his band of torture advocates very nearly shredded in a few short years. Quite simply, by handing Yoo a regularly scheduled platform for his viewpoint, the Inquirer is telling its readers that Yoo’s ideas — especially that torture is not a crime against the very essence of America — are acceptable.
Hmm, I wonder if Charles Manson is too busy carving swastikas into his forehead to phone in 500 words a month, too? In the interest of “promoting further discourse,” natch. I hear he’s also really knowledgeable about legal subjects.
h/t Sarah via tweet
In a must-read post, Dan Froomkin takes on recent attempts by OG ‘eventheliberal’ Michael Kinsley and pseudo-contrarian Slate guru Jacob Weisberg to whitewash the Bush Admin’s torture record by arguing that “the nation’s collective guilt for torture is so great that prosecution is a cop-out.”
Froomkin points out the elephant in the room–and it’s wearing a press pass:
While it’s true that the public’s outrage over torture has been a long time coming, one reason for that is the media’s sporadic and listless coverage of the issue. Yes, there were some extraordinary examples of investigative reporting we can point to, but other news outlets generally didn’t pick up these exclusives. Nobody set up a torture beat, to hammer away daily at what history I think will show was one of the major stories of the decade. Heck, as Weisberg himself points out, some of his colleagues were actually cheerleaders for torture. By failing to return to the story again and again — with palpable outrage — I think the media actually normalized torture. We had an obligation to shout this story from the rooftops, day and night. But instead we lulled the public into complacency.
Wait, you mean the corporate media may have collectively (and quite willingly) played the role of useful idiot in the tragicomic post-9/11 GWOT farce put on by the Bush-Cheney Review? NO WAIS, DUDE!
Secondly, while it’s certainly worth exploring why any number of people were either actively or passively complicit in our torture regime — and I’m all for some national self-flagellation here — that has nothing to do with whether senior administration officials willfully broke the law, and whether they should be held accountable. It doesn’t change the law.
The government must hold accountable any individuals who acted illegally in this financial meltdown, while preserving the viability of the companies that received bailout funds or stimulus money. Certainly, we should demand justice. But we must all remember that justice is a value, the adherence to which includes seeking the best outcome for the American people. In some cases it will be the punishing of bad actors. In other cases it may involve heavy corporate fines or operating under a carefully tailored agreement.
Ok, so Ashcroft is talking about the financial meltdown, not the widespread erosion of human rights and the complete subversion of the rule of law that occurred under, um, his watch.
Still, as Jack Balkin notes, the principle is universal:
According to this same logic, the government should demand a full accounting of what Bush Administration officials did and it should institute new methods for monitoring and preventing abuses in the future. It should find ways to hold individuals who broke the law accountable without jeopardizing our existing national security. What the government should not do is what Attorney General Ashcroft argues against in the financial context– to sweep illegal actions under the rug or to go easy on the individuals who broke the law because they work for the federal government.
Sen. Chris Dodd underscores the bottom line:
[N]ot to prosecute people or pursue them when these acts have occurred is, in a sense, to invite it again in some future administration.
Special prosecutor NAO.
Three must-reads on the consequences of embracing torture as official US policy at the expense of long-established (if not always consistently applied) American values.
It’s certainly true that Reagan, like most leaders, regularly violated the principles he espoused and sought to impose on others, but still, there is an important difference between (a) affirming core principles of the civilized world but then violating them and (b) explicitly rejecting those principles. Doing (a) makes you a hypocrite; doing (b) makes you a morally depraved barbarian. We’re now a country where the leading “intellectuals” of the conservative movement expressly advocate torture on the pages of The Washington Post, and where most of the political and media class mocks as Far Leftism what Ronald Reagan explicitly advocated and bound the U.S. by treaty to do: namely, “prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”
One day, perhaps soon, much of the rest of the minutiae produced by the Bush administration’s torture-policy bureaucracy will come to light. Procurement lists, for example, will undoubtedly be found. After all, who ordered the sandbags for use as hoods, the collars with chains for bashing detainees’ heads into walls, the chemical lights for sodomy and flesh burns, or the women’s underwear? The training manuals, whatever they were called, will be discovered: the schooling of dogs to bite on command, the precise use of the waterboard to get the best effects, the experiments in spreading the fingers just wide enough in a slap to comport with policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, released last week, has already begun to identify the existence of training sessions in techniques redefined as not rising to the level of torture.
For now, however, we have far more than we need to know that what the United States started when, in 1948, it led the effort to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became the moral figurehead for human rights concerns worldwide for more than a half-century, has come to an end. Eleanor Roosevelt, who led the commission that drafted that 1948 Declaration, remarked at the time that the United States was “the showcase” for the principles embodied in the declaration. Sixty-one years later, that is no longer true.
Ever since 9/11 we have been living in a twilight country, one where it is not clear whether laws apply or not, a morally relativist place in which unembarrassed emotionalism has replaced adherence to ethical and legal principles. When one of the country’s leading pundits, the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, can argue that the Bush administration torturers should suffer no legal consequences because “Al Qaeda truly was a unique enemy, and the post-9/11 era a deeply confounding war in a variety of ways,” and that Americans “would have told the government (and still will) ‘Do whatever it takes,’” he is basically saying that the inchoate fears and primal emotions of the people should override morality and law.
This widely shared attitude is like a dormant virus: It may appear to be harmless now, but it could come to life at any time.
DJ rewind — what Frank Rich said:
President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.