Thursday, May 30, 2013

Jim Crow Israel...

There are a large number of people in Israel who want to fight for decency toward all Israelis, Arabs as well as Jews. Their voices are raised in several editorials and articles from Haaretz below. Once again, as the high price of housing and the continuing danger of war and destruction underline, Jews who fail to unite with the Palestinians for a decent solution both to the Occupation and within Israel, will live under a regime which harms all.


But Israel is now pretty despicably segregationist - see the first and fourth story below - and Israeli politics is moving increasingly to a racist definition - Jewish - of what it is to be a citizen.(h/t Ilene Cohen)


All of these disturbing stories are worth reading.


Avraham Burg, an Israeli leader who has recently stood out for decency toward the Palestinians, shifted when he was talking at a dinner party among fellow liberal Zionists about the murder by Israeli fire of a Lebanese grandmother and the two children she was watching.

One of his guests swiftly burst out. "But we're not as bad as the Nazis." He didn't want to hear.

And Burg realized, in that moment, that this is not a comparison space any sane person would choose.


The third piece from Haaretz below by Aeyal Gross emphasizes a strain of thinking registered in a proposed Basic Law (such laws comprise or substitute for an Israeli constitution) that a Jewish majority determines everything, the individual rights guaranteed in Israel's Declaration of Independence nothing. The white minority could have said this in the Jim Crow South, the white minority could have said this in apartheid South Africa, and the "Aryans" could have said it toward Jews in Germany.

The comparison space narrows...

The mimicry of the foul continues apace.


Segregation at Superland: Separate days for Arab and Jewish students at amusement park
Jaffa schoolteacher says he encountered policy of segregation at Israeli amusement park while attempting to book tickets for a class trip.
By Ilan Lior | May.30, 2013

Superland amusement park at Rishon Letzion. Photo by Tal Cohen

A teacher at a Jaffa school accounted encountering a policy of segregation between Arab and Jewish students while attempting to book tickets for his class at the Superland amusement park in Rishon Letzion.

Khaled Shakra, who teaches seventh grade at the Ajial school in Jaffa, called Superland on Tuesday afternoon with the aim of booking tickets for his class to have a fun end- of-term day out. He says that a Superland representative offered him three options: the 17th, 18th and 19th June. He asked to reserve 25 spaces for his students on the 18th, but was asked to provide the school's details before the reservation could be confirmed.

Shakra says that the moment the representative heard the name Ajial – and realized it was an Arab school – he was suddenly put on hold. Another representative was put on the line who told him that the dates he was interested in were not available. A few minutes later he called and introduced himself under the name of Eyal, who was enquiring on behalf of a Jewish organization. The Superland representative offered him the same dates that only a moment before had been unavailable.

Following the reports, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni contacted Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Tuesday night with a request that he examine whether Superland has discriminated against Arab students. "If these allegations are proved to be correct, then this is a symptom of a sick democracy. Any incident such as this must be severely dealt with," Livni said.[Livni's comment is an important if fading memory of decency...]

On Wednesday, Shakra posted a letter on his Facebook page that described the sequence of events and his feelings on the matter. "I have experienced another sickening, racist event and something within me is screaming to be released. Another stain, another wound has today been etched into the depths of my soul, and I am trying, unsuccessfully, to make sense of what has happened. How can I supress my anger and the deep bitterness I am currently feeling?"

He described the moment the Superland representative discovered the name of the school. "She suddenly fell silent and then asked me in confusion: 'what? What is that?' 'Ajial!A-j-i-a-l,' I answered confidentially. I didn't understand if the letter 'j' bothered her or the city of Jaffa bothered her, but I suddenly had the sober realization of what it was that was going through her head. I panicked and stopped abruptly. She responded "just a moment, sir!' And I suddenly heard the hold music. I can't put into words my feelings and thoughts at that exact moment, but for some reason the faces of my students popped into my head."

After waiting on the line for three minutes, Shakra was transferred to another representative who claimed that there were no free spots on June 17th or 18th, and offered that he come on the 19th. "I didn't hesitate, and told her that the 19th wouldn't be a problem. But less than a minute later she said 'I apologize, but we don't have any free spaces on the 19th either." A few minutes later, he called again. "This time I said my name was Eyal, and that I was interested in reserving some tickets for the Jewish organization I work for. 'Eyal? the 17th, 18th and 19th are free, which option would you like?' was the response."

"I ask myself whether the Arab feels he is discriminated against in all walks of life, is pushed to the sidelines politically, socially, culturally and feels, quite rightly, that he is being controlled instead of being included? No, my question is not [intended to be] provocative, but it is a harsh reality, and therefore it raises tough questions and presents complex and difficult problems," he wrote.

He concluded: "Peace between two peoples, between two national movements, and the ability to heal the wounds both sides have incurred after all the wars are the heart's desire of every Arab. My dear students, I apologize in advance! I have no idea what your reactions will be but I really did try. During a whole year I tried to instill you with values. Acceptance of others is first and foremost, but the reality out there says otherwise."

The Ajial school in Jaffa has a middle school and high school for Arabic speaking students. "This is unacceptable, racist segregation," said the school's principal, Jalal Tuhi, on Tuesday night. "This is a special school in terms of its students and teachers. It has a mixed faculty. There are Jewish teachers, and Muslim, Christian and even Druze teachers…this is how we see the future of this country and this city. I asked the teacher not to remain silent about this because we are fed up of this segregation and this racist treatment, full stop. I want my students to know that they need to fight for their rights, and not give up."

In response, Superland's management told the Walla website on Tuesday: "we open our gates to all of Israel and all sectors of the public all year round. Everyone can buy a ticket through the website, or directly through the ticketing office…however, in June we hold closed events for the school year end. The schools dictate which schools will enter the event. There are reservations for closed days held by Jewish schools. There are reservations for closed days held by Arab schools."

Six months ago, a similar incident was reported at the Soho restaurant in Rishon Letzion. Arab citizens who tried to place an order at the restaurant recorded conversations with employees that showed that when the couple tried to order a table under an Arab name they were fobbed off with a variety of excuses. A short while later they succeeded in making the same booking using a Jewish name.

Basic Law: Apartheid in Israel

The proposal put forth by Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin is nothing short of an apartheid law, aiming to provide a solid legal basis for the exclusion of Israel's Arab minority.
Haaretz Editorial | May.30, 2013

The exclusion of the Arab minority in Israel has until now lacked a vital basis to its institutionalization. There is no law discriminating against Arabs, limiting where they may settle, negating their language as an official language or determining that they are challenging the state’s Jewish identity.

Israel has been forced until now to rely on tricks, excuses and winks to prevent Arabs from working in so-called sensitive places of work, delay building plans in their communities, limit how many of them reside in Jewish communities and not enforce the use of Arabic in official correspondences. Only in a few instances did the High Court of Justice intervene and the government had no choice but to obey the ruling.
Coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin decided to put an end to this murky reality and provide the unofficial apartheid policy a legal basis. Levin is proposing the Basic Law: State of the Nation, which is nothing short of an apartheid law. If it will be accepted, Israel will be able to proudly hold the title of a Jewish and racist state, a unique political creation, which will certainly astonish the family of nations.

Levin proposes, among other things, mandatory construction of Jewish communities, while building Arab communities will need authorization; abolishing Arabic as an official language and mandating the courts to give precedence in their rulings to Jewish identity in questions of democratic values and equal rights. That is to say, to give precedence to “Jewish” over “democratic” in defining the state.

Arabs will enjoy at best the status of a tolerated minority, with the option of turning them into a non-tolerated minority down the line, one which needs to be rid of because its presence spoils the state’s Jewish purity.

Levin and his comrades have a vision: The racist state won’t suffice with its recognized borders. It will officially adopt the living space divinely promised to it.

“The Land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and where the state of Israel was established,” the bill reads. Finally, the messianic dream will have a geographic, legal identity, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Levin is no joke, and he is far from being the exception. He is continuing the way paved by Avi Dichter, who failed in his efforts to legitimize apartheid. Moreover, he is a competitor with MK Ruth Calderon, a member of Yesh Atid, who is promoting together with Habayit Hayehudi MK Ayelet Shaked a similar bill, which at its heart subjugates democracy to the state’s Jewish identity.

Instead of purging elements of racism from within its ranks, it turns out that the present coalition is also promoting apartheid in the guise of “new politics.”


An Israel that is more democratic, less Jewish

The last thing Israel needs is a new Basic Law that constitutionally defines its Jewish identity, and it doing so discriminates against its other communities and further erodes its democratic character.
By Aeyal Gross | Jan.21, 2013

The first legal document to explicitly term Israel "a Jewish and democratic state" was the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, enacted in 1992. This law played a key role in setting the tone for the debate on the relationship between these two components of the state's identity. While some believe that these two components can complement each other, others point out that defining a country based on a concept of nationality, one that fundamentally differs from the concept of citizenship, doesn't mesh well with the modern view of democracy.

High Court of Justice President Meir Shamgar may have written in 1988 that "the existence of Israel as the state of the Jewish People does not negate its democratic character as much as the Frenchness of France does not negate its democratic character." However, this statement contains an internal contradiction. The parallel to the "Frenchness" of France would be Israel's existence as an Israeli state, not as "the state of the Jewish people." This contradiction attests to the strong tension that exists today.

Israel differs from democratic states like France, where the concept of citizenship and nationhood are identical. In these countries, a person is a citizen with equal rights regardless of his ethnic background, and his nationality is based on his equal citizenship. However, Israel is also different from countries like Belgium and Canada, which constitutionally recognize the existence of a number of national groups but are built on the equality and cooperation between them. Of course in many countries there are different types of discrimination and prejudice, but in Israel discrimination is constitutionally justified based on the dichotomy found in its Basic Laws.

If, for example, we were to compare Israel to Canada, the parallel would be a constitutional clause declaring Canada the state of Anglo-Canadians. This definition would never be accepted by Canada's French Canadian citizens and Quebec would obviously make good on its threat to secede from Canada. The proposal to pass a new Basic Law Israel that would fix Israel's status as the nation-state of the Jewish people and needs to be understood in this context.

In his Haaretz op-ed "A Basic Law to save Israel's Jewish identity " (January 21), Joel Golovensky makes claims based on a position paper published by the Institute for Zionist Strategies. He says that there is an "imbalance" in Israel's present constitutional infrastructure, and that it has eroded the High Court's willingness to defend the Jewish character of the state. Golovensky advocates adopting a Basic Law defining Israel as a Jewish state, a move, he says, that would correct the court's current emphasis of individual rights at the expense of the majority's right to self-determination. He also mentions the importance of such a Basic Law in relation to the topics of Jewish settlement and the preservation of Hebrew as the national language.

Among the legal rulings on these topics that are mentioned in the position paper written by Prof. Aviad Bakshi, there is a legal ruling that determined that it was impossible to forbid Arabs from purchasing land in communities built on state-owned land as well as a ruling that requires Arabic language signage in mixed Arab-Jewish cities. If these are the court rulings that bother Golovensky and Bakshi, it's possible to clearly discern the goal of their Basic Law proposal: They want to prevent court rulings like these in a manner that would constitutionally enshrine not the Jewish right to self-determination, but rather discrimination against Arabs.

I don't know of a democratic country that constitutionally enshrines the land rights of just the majority group. Similarly, anyone who has visited countries comprised of several national groups, like Canada or Belgium, will have seen a multitude of bilingual signs; many more than exist in Israel, even after the High Court's ruling on the matter. It isn't constitutionally permissible to deprive minorities of access to state-owned lands under the French model, the Belgian model, or the Canadian model. In all countries it is also illegal for the state to establish communities solely for the majority group.

It was basic democratic principles and in line with Israel's Declaration of Independence that led the High Court to issue these rulings. It is based on this very Declaration of Independence that the state provides "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex." Giving content to the definition of the state as "Jewish" will nullify these kinds of court rulings and this type of civic equality, negating the already flimsy "democratic" aspect of the state.

In light of the already problematic constitutional definition of the state that exists today, along with the recent anti-democratic initiatives and the many democratic failures (some of which have already become law, and some – like the Amendment to the Citizenship Law or the "Nakba Law," that would allow the finance minister to fine government-funded organizations that commemorate the Palestinian Nakba on Independence Day – which weren't struck down by the High Court), the last thing Israel needs is a special Basic Law defining it as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This type of law will push it further away from the fundamental democratic principle of civic equality and diminish its stance as a state that belongs to all its citizens. What Israel needs is exactly the opposite. It needs a reinforcement of democracy, not a reinforcement of an ethnocentric-based view of nationality that excludes one-fifth of the its citizens.


Right-wing group mapping Jerusalem businesses that employ Arabs

Meir Ettinger, 19, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar and grandson of late Rabbi Kahane, says goal of Hebrew Labor project is 'to warn the public' against buying from businesses that employ Arabs.
By Oz Rosenberg | Nov.21, 2011

About 10 days ago, a fish merchant in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda outdoor market noticed a young man with sidelocks and a skullcap trying to determine which of the stalls employ Arabs. The merchant, Saleh, called the police, who detained the man for questioning on suspicion that he was planning a terror attack.

But the interrogation revealed that Meir Ettinger, 19, had a completely different goal in mind. Ettinger, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar and a grandson of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, said he was investigating on behalf of a project called Hebrew Labor, whose goal is "to warn the public" against buying from businesses that employ Arabs.

Ettinger was released and ordered to keep away from Mahane Yehuda for two weeks. But last Thursday night, police detained four other young men from Yitzhar who were on the same mission.

Conversations with right-wing activists this week revealed that Ettinger and his comrades have been working on this project for several weeks now. Their goal is to map all of the businesses in Jerusalem that use Arab labor. They began in the northern neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze'ev and Neveh Yaakov, then moved to the western neighborhoods of Kiryat Moshe and Givat Shaul, and are now working on the downtown area, which includes Mahane Yehuda.

"They came to my boss and asked him if he has Arabs working for him," related Yaakov Azaria, an electrician from Pisgat Ze'ev. "He said no, but I know they also went to others and asked them."

About 20 people are working on the mapping project. Most are Yitzhar residents who were recently served with administrative orders requiring them to stay out of the West Bank, for fear that they might carry out attacks on Palestinians or soldiers, and are therefore living temporarily in Jerusalem. Their goal is to prevent people from patronizing businesses that employ Arabs.

"A booklet with a list of places that employ Arabs will be published soon," said Moshe Ben Zikri, an extreme right-wing activist from Jerusalem. "That will be followed by hanging up posters and signs with these lists in the streets - just so that the public will know and be cautious."

The modus operandi is simple: If it isn't clear that a store does or doesn't employ Arabs, the activists simply walk in and ask the owner. Police found a list of several dozen businesses in Ettinger's pocket, each marked with an X if it employed Arab workers or a checkmark if it did not.

The Hebrew Labor project is not one of a kind: In January, for instance, a right-wing group called Lehava - For the Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land launched a campaign to give "kashrut certificates" to businesses that don't employ Arabs. Benzion Gopstein, one of the leaders of Lehava, said this new campaign was unrelated, but motivated by the same goal.

"I don't understand what the problem is here," he said. "All in all, this is just a service to the public that isn't interested in buying from businesses with Arabs."


Segregation at Superland: Separate days for Arab and Jewish students at amusement park
By Ilan Lior | May.30,2013

Rishon Letzion's Superland amusement park might be the essence of Israeliness with its provinciality, pushing and shoving, and standing in line, but it also gives us hope for normalcy. At Superland, you can find Ethiopians, Mizrahim, Ashkenazim, Russians, Arabs, fat people, skinny people, children and old people all having fun together. You can see them feasting on greasy French fries, getting dizzy on the roller coaster and seeking an illusion that life can be great. It’s a kind of multiculturalism – if phony.

But where is that normalcy when it turns out that Superland has special days for Jewish children only? In a normal country, the prime minister would call a press conference and roundly condemn the racism. He would warn against a return to the South Africa and maybe even the Europe of decades ago. If he were too busy, he would at least release a statement condemning the practice and telling us what to do. Meanwhile, the police or the municipality would shut the place down for a few days.

In a normal country, parents would immediately boycott Superland, the Luna Park, the Meymadion water park, the Zapari bird park and the ISkate rinks – all of them under the same ownership – in the run-up to the summer vacation. Spontaneously, hundreds of people would demonstrate outside these places.

Of course, this hasn’t happened and it won't happen. So it’s interesting to discover that in 1989 the Israel Lands Administration awarded those 94 dunams (23 acres) in Rishon Letzion without a tender and almost for free – for a project defined as “theZionism Train.”

So how does the Zionism Train look 24 years later? Racist and sick. In the Israel of 2013 violent acts based on racism take place nearly every day – whether against Ethiopians, labor migrants or Arabs. They take place at the shopping mall, on the street or on the soccer field. Arabs also get special treatment at the hands of the price-tag people, those militant settlers who are never caught and never punished.
But maybe there's still hope? Immediately after Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s unfortunate statements against Arabs ("the Zuabis,” referring to controversial MK - Member of the Knesset - Hanin Zuabi), a clause on addressing racism was written into his party's coalition agreement with Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. It said the government would appoint a committee “to develop a plan for the war on racism” within 30 days of taking office.

After 90 days the committee is supposed to present the government with a plan. But more than two months have gone by and no committee has been established. The racism is only increasing.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Waltz, Mearsheimer, Walt and the trend among realists to oppose Empire

Ken Waltz, a leader in American international relations and someone who thought beyond narrow American interests, died last week. An affectionate portrait of Ken by Steve Walt who studied with him is here.


The New York Times obituary asks the recovering/relapsing belligerent Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, about Waltz's importance in the field. For Gelb, those who influence the field are mostly those who shape imperial foreign policy, including reactionaries and Democratic neo-neo cons or liberal imperialists (like Gelb). He numbers Waltz with Henry Kissinger, Sam Huntington and Zbig Brzezinski. The former two are war criminals. Huntington advised the US government on building the South Vietnam client dictatorship during the genocide by suppressing protesting groups like the Buddhist Cao Dai and Hoa Hao; he translated the urbanization forced by the US napalming the countryside into peasants voluntarily emigrating to a Saigon "hit hard by the Honda revolution." Kissinger was a really massive war criminal even compared to the Bush administration (from Cambodia to personally ordering the hit on General Rene Schneider, the obstacle to assassinating Allende - see Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger). Zbig ("Zbish"), co-author of Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, advisor to Carter and keeper of the empire is not quite a major league war criminal - the others are in a league with Cheney or Bush or Condi...


As Gelb says, however, Waltz argued with Kissinger. Waltz was in no way a war criminal. Moreover, his reflections on US policy in its "unipolar moment" though perhaps not his "inevitable" or "predictive" assertiveness - the difference between a tendency and an "inevitability" is sometimes fundamental - are apt:

"'Each nation-state, he said, will push as far as it can to advance its own self-interests.'

He used as an example the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he said freed the United States to become a bully because it no longer had an opponent in its own weight class. In this new “unipolar” world, the United States 'abuses its power, singling out poor, weak countries — that’s what we specialize in — and beating them up,' he said in 2011 in an oral history interview at the University of California, Berkeley.

'It is sad,' he continued, 'but this is a typical behavior of powers that are dominant, or used to be dominant in their regions, and now are globally dominant.'”


Perhaps this reflects, despite his billiard ball empiricism about great powers (what distinguishes so-called neo-realism from older versions of realism), something of his political theory background. (in the Times's article below, Jervis mischaracterizes earlier American realism - Kennan, for example, often, did quite well, about "our military-industrial addiction" during Vietnam despite not being "scientific" or having Waltz's theory). Waltz rightly names American policy during the post-Cold War period "sad."


Waltz is thus allied with Hans Morganthau (Kissinger's teacher, though Kissinger moved to the dark side). Morganthau fiercely fought the Vietnam War, and the Johnson administration launched an ideological crusade against him

They did not, however, kill "that German in the Midwest" in Presidential press flak John Roche's words; LBJ withdrew FBI protection from Martin Luther King and perhaps worse, in response to King's great speech at the Riverside Church "Breaking the Silence," April 4th 1967, a year to the day before King was shot in Memphis. "Breaking the Silence" is an essay about American foreign policy which still is applicable to Iraq or Afghanistan or the military budget as a "destructive demonic suction tube" for programs to help the poor and declining middle class. It is up there with his "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" or Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience," and is in a different league of insight and eloquence from the best realist writings on these matters - though see Morganthau's Truth and Power for some pretty good ones.

Still, Morganthau stood up and suffered fierce attack - see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 2.


Waltz came about 20 years ago to speak at my school, and I asked him the leading question of Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?: given a world of fierce great power rivalry, what effect does international politics have on democracy at home?

He responded publicly that "a theory can't cover everything." But in conversation afterwards, he thought aptly of (Truman-)McCarthyism...


In the current era of crazed American invasions, John Mearsheimer has played a leading role in articulating and fighting the cry "bomb Iran" or "send weapons [or troops] to Syria" from the ever more reactionary and destructive (and self-destructive) Republican claque as well as Obama's "surge" in Afghanistan. John's view of off-shore balancing rather than invasions which often lead to imperial collapse (cf. Afghanistan, Iraq and the American and world economy) has become a major line of argument in academic and, to an increasing extent, policy circles (see Steve Walt here and here. Christopher Layne here, as well as Barry Posen,here, Christopher Preble, Robert Pape here and here, and Patrick Porter here.).

Though not being as sharp on American empire then as Mearsheimer now is (Chomsky rightly criticized their famous piece on AIPAC, pointing out that the tail does not ordinarily wag the dog), his and Walt's views of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and its dangers to Israel and the world have been exemplary. And they, like Morganthau, have taken enormous heat for it.


Waltz rightly says that Iran having a nuclear weapon would, to some extent, balance Israel (and America) and likely encourage sane policies toward a settlement which recognizes the humanity of Palestinians. It would be better, of course, to head off Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing without Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and the danger that such weapons could be used - for example, currently, by Netanyahu in a losing war - is much greater than Waltz imagined.

Consider the new and vivid story of the Cuban missile crisis from the 1990s - see Errol Morris' "The Fog of War" about Robert McNamara - where it turns out Cuba already had 100 Soviet missiles with nuclear warheads and the fact that Kennedy overruled those who wanted to bomb Cuba like Curtis Lemay means that many of us are still here - the East Coast, where I was, would have been wiped out in the exchange. Further, radiation travels and nuclear winter would have done for the survivors...


Bombing Iran would likely lead to a greater Middle East war, America with no troops to throw in, Israel with many young people feeling some doubts about endless belligerence and confronted with likely defeats, Isreal's leadership might well resort to using nuclear weapons in desperation and fanaticism. That is the greatest danger of nuclear war in the world, launched by the rogue Israeli state (Israel is second only to the American rogue which fortunately has not been worsened by McCain and Romney, but is in severe danger of lurching far to the right - more authoritarian, racist, anti-science, striving to outdo Scrooge for the capitalist elite imperialism - every four years; in addition, the Obama administration, for instance, about executive power and torture has moved already further to the Right, though Obama's turning point on foreign policy - his speech last Thursday here - setting a real direction away from militarism, mitigates this.

Israel is, in fact. the greatest danger of launching nuclear war in the world and the obituary's citation of Netanyahu's projecting "a new standard for human stupidity" onto Waltz is a prize example of the hubris of the Israeli leadership and its sycophants (i.e. though with some reservations, the Times)...


Mearsheimer suggests that imperial pretensions lead to foreign policy advisors like Gelb (neo-neo-cons or liberal imperialists) scurrying self-importantly to support neo-cons. There is no conflict, no place in the world, where the coterie of American foreign policy advisors near power aren't geared to invade and, arrogantly, "fix it" afterwards (see Afghanistan, Iraq)...

On why he fecklessly supported aggression in Iraq, Gelb remarked aptly that one couldn't get facetime on CNN et al unless one spoke for war...; that is why Waltz (and many of the rest of us) didn't get interviewed much on corporate television and radio.


In this respect, we are all lucky as well as hard working to have elected Obama who withstood Netanyahu's and Romney's attempts to force bombing Iran in the campaign (Obama is horrifying about drones, see here as well as here, though, once again fortunately, he has begun to cut back their use and spoken to - beginning to - limit them).


But Mearsheimer and Waltz are right that the whole foreign policy, across administrations, since the Cold War has been corrupt.


John now notes, in a breakthrough for neo-realists prompted by the developing national security state, that sustained empire leads to authoritarianism at home - see his important 2011 National Interest article "Imperial by Design" here and here.

This theme is also Christopher Layne's (talk at my school in 2010). It is a natural consequence of thinking about great power rivalry (what Lenin named inter-imperial rivalry though he, unlike realists, saw resistance from below as a possibility and a promise).

Waltz, following J.D. Singer, called for a pseudoscientific distinction of "levels of analysis" so that thinking about how foreign policy affects domestic policy has been eschewed, in a silly way, in the international relations field. Most obviously, as a counterexample, the US ate Iraq in the 2003 invasion and created the "democracy" there - an aspect of internal politics consigned, in parochial political "science" to "comparative politics" replaced Saddam due to "global politics."


Bush and Cheney, one might say, had no concern for "levels." If this methodological doctrine purports to deal with the real (realism), what is fantasy?


Similarly, the issue of Obama's speech last Thursday, that as Madison said, a country at permanent war cannot remain free is also elided.


Today, the question I asked in articles in the early 1990s (I debated Steve Kranser in Political Theory in 1992 and was on a panel with John and Steve as well Michael Doyle - "Realism: For and Against" - at the American Political Science Association in 1993) as well as Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (Princeton, 1999) has finally made it into the vision of an American President as well as many neo-realists: conservative and more liberal i.e. Walt. (Krasner, sadly, went to the dark side, being recruited by Condi to serve on the National Security Council until the invasion of Iraq (he then got out...).

The reason for this shift in Obama's thinking or in Mearsheimer's and Layne's analysis, once again, is that the threat to the equal liberties of Americans, the rule of law, and democracy (all approximations, less for black folks and native americans and for poor people generally than for the elite), as a result of bizarre imperial policies, is glaring. In addition, the Iraq aggression was based on fantasies and lies to an even greater degree than the "gulf of Tonkin incident" and Vietnam or the standard "Remember the Maine!" or "Remember the Alamo!"(seizing roughly half the US from Mexico) and "Manifest Destiny" (ethnic cleansing of indigenous people) bellowings of American imperialists.


Further, the Empire which has farmed out manufacturing to China and India inter alia, weakening America crucially, and bolstered the .0001% at the expense of everyone else ("Reaganomics"), depends on and is stimulated by the war complex (as I sometimes spell it out, the military-industrial-congressional-media-think tank/academic/"intelligence"/foreign military and other clients for military aid complex), and is in decline. Imperial wars, as Thucydides said long ago of Athens, threaten corruption and the death of democracy at home.


"Imperial overstretch" is the contemporary neo-realist jargon, mistranslating Thucydides, about Vietnam. But Mearsheimer is much more direct (say, about native americans or about Israel) than most academics, names, in "Imperial by Design," central features of American policy (interestingly, Layne's account in Illusions of Peace, of the American domination of Europe at the end of World War II as imperial, and doing much to provoke the Cold War, has not drawn much outrage among political scientists but would not have been said by a near to power or mainstream academic writing on foreign policy in an American university during the Cold War - Chomsky or Gar Alperowitz or I, inter alia, might have said it).


Here John captures the dramatic domestic part of Thucydides. For Thucydides' theme was to trace the gradual political corruption and changes, moving from the intelligent Pericles through the barbaric Cleon to the mad enterprise invading Syracuse led by the vapid and sententious Nicias, and the triumph of tyranny. The restored democracy beyond Thucydides' account, the one that with McCarthyite vehemence, murdered Socrates was not a realm of freedom as Athens, in its greatness, had been - "we do not cast censorious looks on one another," said Pericles in the Funeral Oration, "so long as each upholds a common good," i.e. fights to defend Athens or more sadly and aptly, to advance its empire.

The Athens up on a hill (the first free regime, though one that held slaves and imprisoned women) was gone (one can still look up at the ruins...).


There are two kinds of realism. John McCamant, my colleague and friend, was in the lunch room at the National University in Santiago when Pinochet's troops, launched by the "realist" Henry Kissinger, came and machine-gunned 5 professors in the Psychology Department on the second floor. McCamant despises what I call official or war criminal realism, the idea of great power rivalry combined with false factual claims. Allende nationalizing ITT was not a threat to most Americans and the idea that "we" had to overthrow and murder Allende and so many others as part of a "national interest" explains the vagueness of Morganthau on this supposedly key concept (anything but a common good) and Huntington's and Krasner's operationalism. For the latter two, the national interest is "the state's interest" - see if you can make that one work for Adolf Hitler and his victims...

Operationalism - the idea that we can avoid intellectual debate by substituting some allegedly quantifiable notion - is ordinarily a false - "intelligence is what IQ tests test" - and in consequence, morally harmful methodological doctrine.

There is no "we," no common good, in such policies.


But there is also a thoughtful and dissident realism. Morganthau, Niebuhr and Kennan stood up about Vietnam (see Must Global Politics Constrian Democracy?, ch 2), and Waltz, Mearsheimer, Layne, Walt and others in the post-Cold War era have stood up against Empire. This comparatively sophisticated realism (my book goes into how one might argue for that realism more coherently by seeing and correcting the methodological errors in so-called scientific neo-realism; the need to predict a la Waltz and Mearsheimer is another one, since many of the predictions turn out to be false; and linking international politics to its anti-democratic domestic consequences - what my book names the anti-democratic feedback of global politics) is a far better and increasingly influential strain here.

A Steve Walt cannot be hired in foreign policy in the Obama administration - Steve's good luck in a way, but the nation's loss; again, it is hard to speak of the sycophants who have recommended the drones, though Ben Rhodes et al's writing in\contributions to Obama's recent speech deserve praise. Nonetheless, the view that less invasion and less murder of civilians by drone is better is slowly, against rampant militarism, gaining a foothold.


Turning the empire around or achieving "graceful decline" (Layne) is perhaps beyond conventional American politics. It will take a vast movement from below, a renewed and more intensely civilly disobedient Occupy...

That is the point, once again, of what I name democratic internationalism - opposing corrupt state policies in league with, for example, civilian protest against drones in Pakistan or hunger strikes at Guantanamo - from below.


Waltz was a fine, often provocative analyst of foreign policy. He also stood up. If there is such a movement, realist critiques of empire will have played an important role in furthering an intellectual and political climate in which truth has a chance...


New York Times
Kenneth Waltz, Foreign-Relations Expert, Dies at 88
Published: May 18, 2013

Kenneth N. Waltz, a pre-eminent thinker on international relations who was known for his contrarian, debate-provoking ideas, not least his view that stability [sic - stopping Israeli aggressions and occupations in Palestine, decency] in the Middle East might be better served if Iran had a nuclear weapon, died on May 12 in Manhattan. He was 88.

The cause was complications from pneumonia, said Columbia University, where Mr. Waltz was a senior research scholar.

Leslie H. Gelb, emeritus president of the Council on Foreign Relations, characterized Mr. Waltz as one of five “giants” who shaped the study of international relations as a discrete discipline, the others being Hans Morgenthau, Henry A. Kissinger, Samuel P. Huntington and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

The field developed in the 1950s, when the experiences of two world wars and the beginning of the cold war drove scholars to try to explain more precisely how nations interacted. The goal was to build a conceptual framework on which international politics could be analyzed, something earlier courses on military and diplomatic history had not offered.

“Without a theory, we’re just lost,” said Robert Jervis, a political science professor at Columbia. “We just have all these random phenomena we can’t make any sense of.”

One of Mr. Waltz’s propositions was that wars are not caused simply by human aggression or bad governments but by the anarchic, dog-eat-dog nature of international relations. Each nation-state, he said, will push as far as it can to advance its own self-interests.

He used as an example the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he said freed the United States to become a bully because it no longer had an opponent in its own weight class. In this new “unipolar” world, the United States “abuses its power, singling out poor, weak countries — that’s what we specialize in — and beating them up,” he said in 2011 in an oral history interview at the University of California, Berkeley.

“It is sad,” he continued, “but this is a typical behavior of powers that are dominant, or used to be dominant in their regions, and now are globally dominant.”

Mr. Waltz shook conventional wisdom by regarding the “bipolar” nuclear stalemate between the United States and the Soviet Union as one of the most stable balances of power ever — not the knife-edge of planetary annihilation. His critics, however, saw the failure of the bipolar model in the experience of World War I, in which two rigid, pre-existing alliances clashed with devastating results.

Mr. Waltz countered that the cold war was fundamentally different, because the 20th-century superpowers were so much stronger than their allies that only the superpowers mattered.

Even more, Mr. Waltz endorsed nuclear proliferation as a force for peace. “The measured spread of nuclear weapons is more to be welcomed than feared,” he wrote in 1981. He argued that nuclear states had always safeguarded their weapons carefully, and that no nuclear state had ever been involved in a major war. (He said the fighting between nuclear India and nuclear Pakistan in 1999 did not constitute a major war.)

Mr. Waltz’s goal was to clarify thinking about international politics by offering a perspective he called “structural realism,” or neorealism, in which interactions between nations matter most in fomenting war.

“Even when you disagree, he moves your thinking ahead,” Mr. Jervis said.

More than his views on particular foreign-policy issues, it was Mr. Waltz’s theoretical work that influenced policy makers most, Mr. Jervis said. And yet his most controversial pronouncement was indeed about a specific issue: Iran’s getting the bomb.

Writing in Foreign Affairs last year under the title “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb,” Mr. Waltz argued that in a region, the Mideast, that had only one nuclear power, Israel, another would be a stabilizing force. Iran, he said, would be unlikely to use the bomb because Iranian leaders, however hateful, were not self-destructive. He pointed to Maoist China as a precedent; even in the midst of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s, he said, China assiduously guarded its nuclear arsenal against political radicals.

Critics responded that Iran’s Islamic leaders might not be so self-restrained, given their belief that martyrdom wins God’s approval; that Iran might share the bomb with terrorists, just as it shares conventional weapons; and that having nuclear protection might encourage Iran to be more provocative in local conflicts involving lesser arms.

“Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said a month after Mr. Waltz’s article was published. “I think people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity.”

Equally controversial was Mr. Waltz’s pronouncement that North Korea, however odious its government, would be ill-served by giving up its nuclear weapons as a means of deterring enemies. Here he pointed to the example of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, who Mr. Waltz argued may have hastened his own destruction by relinquishing his nuclear program in 2003.

Recently, Mr. Gelb arranged a luncheon with Mr. Waltz and Mr. Kissinger, who categorically opposed the idea of Iran having the bomb. “One rousing argument after another,” Mr. Gelb recalled.

Kenneth Neal Waltz was born on June 8, 1924, in Ann Arbor, Mich. He served in the Army during World War II and then earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Oberlin College in Ohio. He studied political science as a graduate student at Columbia, and his dissertation was published in 1959 as a book, “Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis.” His “Theory of International Politics” (1979) advanced understanding of the concept of a “bipolar” world, with two dominant powers. Though he did not invent the concept, he showed how it worked. The book became a standard text. In 1995, Mr. Waltz and the Stanford University scholar Scott D. Sagan published “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate,” which also became popular in international relations courses. They updated and expanded the discussion in subsequent editions.

Mr. Waltz had begun teaching at Columbia in 1950 when, as a member of the Army Reserve, he was called to serve in the Korean War. He returned to Columbia after the war and taught there until 1957. He then taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Swarthmore, Brandeis and the University of California, Berkeley, before returning again to Columbia.

His wife, the former Helen Lindsley, died in 2008. He is survived by two sons, Daniel and Kenneth Jr., and four grandchildren.

Mr. Waltz was the president of the American Political Science Association in 1987 and 1988, and in 1999 received the association’s James Madison Award, given once every three years. In 2008, Aberystwyth University in Wales held a conference in his honor titled “The King of Thought: Theory, the Subject and Waltz.”


Kenneth N. Waltz, 1924-2013
Posted By Stephen M. Walt Monday, May 13, 2013 - 4:52 PM Share

I learned this morning that Kenneth N. Waltz, who was arguably the preeminent theorist of international relations of the postwar period, had passed away at the age of 88. Ken was the author of several enduring classics of the field, including Man, the State, and War (1959), Foreign Policy and Democratic Politics (1967), and Theory of International Politics (1979). His 1980 Adelphi Paper on nuclear proliferation ("The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better"), was also a classic, albeit a controversial one. One of his lesser achievements was chairing my dissertation committee, and he was a source of inspiration throughout my career.

I've written a tribute to Waltz's scholarship before, in the preface to a festschrift for Ken edited by Andrew Hanami. But today I want to celebrate his role as a teacher, based on some remarks I made at the 2010 meeting of the International Studies Association, where Waltz received an award for lifetime achievement. With a few edits, here's what I said back then:

Ken Waltz is widely recognized as one of the preeminent IR scholars of the postwar period, but he was also responsible for training an impressive number of graduate students, including Barry Posen, Stephen Van Evera, Bob Powell, Avery Goldstein, Christopher Layne, Benny Miller, Karen Adams, Shibley Telhami, Jim Fearon, William Rose, Robert Gallucci, Andrew Hanami, and many others. I want to say a few words about what it was like to have him as a teacher and advisor, and why I think he was so effective at it.

First, Ken was trained in political theory and renowned as a theorist of international relations, but he was deeply interested in real-world issues and his example showed us how theory could be used to illuminate crucial policy issues. In addition to his own theoretical work, Ken wrote about Vietnam, nuclear strategy, economic interdependence and globalization, nuclear proliferation, the U.S. defense budget, and even the Rapid Deployment Force. For those of us who were interested in international security affairs, his model was wonderfully liberating. Ken showed that you could be a theorist and a social scientist without joining the "cult of irrelevance" that afflicts so much of academia.

Indeed, Ken's work on these topics underscored why theory is so important. Having lots of facts at one's disposal didn't help if you were thinking about those facts in the wrong way. In a world where most people think theory and practice have little in common, Ken was teaching us that they were inextricably intertwined. That's why he got a lot of things right that others got wrong. He was right about Vietnam, right about which side was winning the Cold War, right about the basic principles of nuclear deterrence, and right about the continued relevance of politics, even in the era of economic "globalization." A little theory can go a long way, and his case, it led in the right direction.

Second, Ken encouraged his students to ask big questions, largely by the force of his own example. Man, the State, and War organizes and critiques several centuries of writing on the causes of war. Theory of International Politics presents a powerful general theory explaining the behavior of self-regarding actors in anarchy. His essay on proliferation attacks the conventional wisdom with ruthless logic, just as his earlier essays on interdependence showed where liberal theories had gone off-course and why power was still central. Ken encouraged us to tackle puzzles whose answers were not immediately available and to be fearless about challenging entrenched orthodoxies.

Third, and perhaps most important, Ken held the bar high and encouraged his students to have equally high standards. The first time I laid eyes on Ken was the orientation meeting for new grad students at Berkeley in 1977. Ken was director of graduate studies that year and had to give the welcoming speech. I don't remember most of what he said, except that he emphasized that grad school took too damn long and that we should all plan on finishing in four years ... or at most five. His message was simple: "Get your coursework done, write your MA paper, pass your qualifying exams ... then write the thesis ... four years! Why wait?" The average at Berkeley in those days was more like seven or eight years, so he was raising the bar from the very start.

I also remember my first day in Poli Sci 223, his graduate seminar in IR theory. I was already convinced that everyone else in the room knew more than I did, and Ken began by setting out his basic ideas about the field and about theory. At one point he made some critical remarks about two professors I had studied with as an undergraduate -- nothing overly disparaging, just some critical comments on their conception of theory -- which immediately made me think that not only did I know less than every one else in the room, everything I had learned up till then was wrong. The real lesson, however, was that grad school was not about learning what other people thought, it was about learning to think for yourself. And Ken gave us the freedom to do that. He never tried to force his students to agree with his views or to write books and articles designed to reinforce his own work or burnish his own reputation.

Fourth, Ken placed great value on writing well. His students are a diverse group -- and certainly none of them are clones of Waltz himself -- but all of them are very clear writers, regardless of which methods or approaches they use. Ken used to tell us to read Fowler's Modern English Usage and Strunk and White's Elements of Style, and he'd give little mini-lectures on his linguisic pet peeves in the middle of a seminar. In Waltz's view, a scholar's first duty is to make it easy for the reader to figure out what you were saying. If the reader is confused, that's probably your fault.

This leads me to my most important encounter with him, which occurred as I was nearing the end of my dissertation. Writing a dissertation for Ken Waltz was intimidating from the start -- remember, his dissertation was Man, the State, and War -- and if you'd read that book and then read Theory of International Politics you knew you were dealing with someone with a razor-sharp ability to cut through a bloated argument and find the jugular. After two years of work I sent Ken the main analytical chapters of my thesis, and all I had left -- or so I thought -- was a short conclusion. Thinking I was nearly done, I accepted a post-doc for the following year.

And then I got a letter back from Ken, giving his comments on the chapters I had sent him earlier that month. His letter began by declaring that he had read the first twenty-five pages with "increasing dismay." "They are terrible," he wrote, and then went on: "Ask yourself why this is so. Were you trying to write too fast, or did you just not know what you were trying to say?" He continued in this vein for a few more paragraphs, making it clear that what I had sent was -- to quote the letter again -- "nowhere near ready to be an acceptable dissertation." His bracing conclusion: "You have to face this squarely, and you are the only one who can fix these problems. So enjoy a busy summer." By the way, there was little P.S. at the end, telling me that he thought it would be an excellent thesis once I had worked out the kinks.

I was basically curled up in a ball under my desk by the time I was finished reading this missive, and it was too early in the day to go for a stiff drink. I didn't enjoy the experience very much at the time, and you might think he was being harsh or even cruel. In fact, Ken had done me an enormous service. He was telling me that there were no short-cuts if I wanted to make a serious scholarly contribution and reminding me that hasty or poorly thought-out work deserved to be treated harshly.

Looking back, I'm grateful that he didn't spare my feelings, and there's a lesson there for all of us. Professors aren't really helping our students when we go easy on them, and students should in fact be grateful when their advisors occasionally take them to the woodshed.

So apart from his extraordinary scholarly achievements, Ken Waltz was also an inspiring and accomplished teacher. I was extraordinarily fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from him, and the study of international politics is much the richer for his remarkable contributions.

Addendum: All I would add to this today is the reminder of Waltz's deep aversion to foolish military excesses. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was a realist rather than a pacifist. But like Hans Morgenthau, he was an early opponent of the Vietnam War and deeply skeptical of the paranoid threat-inflation that has informed so much of U.S. foreign and defense policy. Like many other realists, he also opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The field of international relations would be better off with more people like Ken, and the world would be better off if more great powers -- especially the United States -- paid more attention to his insights.


*In an interview with Peer Schulen in Zurich, see here, Waltz elaborated on the connection between American imperial bullying and his view of the need for threatened powers to acquire some nuclear weapons:

"(Schulen) States should accommodate to their position in the international system, which is determined in big part by the shifts in relative capabilities between states. Has the United States, in your view, adapted well to the position it is currently in? And if not, what system does it seem to respond to?

(Waltz)It responds to the situation all giant countries have responded to. And it responds in the very same way: it abuses its power, singling out poor, weak countries—that’s what we specialize in—and beating them up! That is what we do! Six wars in the twenty years since the 1980s; they were all cases in which we singled out small and weak countries like Grenada or Panama, and we proceeded to beat them up. It is sad, but this is a typical behavior of powers that are dominant, or used to be dominant in their regions and now are globally dominant. The United States is the globally dominant power, and that is why there is only one way that other states can deter the United States: by acquiring nuclear weapons. Nobody can deter the United States conventionally anymore because we dispose of a military budget that is nearly the equal of all the other countries in the world combined. So, how can anybody deter the United States without resorting to nuclear weapons? They cannot.

(Schulen) Does it mean that, by bullying smaller countries, the US has in fact adapted well to its position in the system?

(Waltz) That is what you would expect dominant powers to do. One does not like it; I do not like it; and I am sure the countries that experience the bullying do not like it; but it is expected behavior. That is the way countries behave when they have dominant power—globally or within their region."

Monday, May 27, 2013

Obama's turning point

The hunger strikers at Guantanamo have aroused the conscience of the world. Many are protesting their treatment in the US, for instance, Matt Daloiso of Witness against Torture (see below) and Diane Wilson, a Texas fisherwoman and co-founder of Code Pink on the 28th day of a hunger strike - see here.


Because of protests against indefinite detention and torture, even for those now recognized as innocents (some 70 prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared to leave, but the US has been unwilling to repatriate them to Yemen where Al-Qaida has some base, stimulated by drone killings of innocents, and those indefinitely detained and tortured, however peacefully inclined, might, the jailers imagine, be motivated to strike at the US).

See my previous posts on this here, here, here , here and here.

For Yemenis cleared for release, Obama's ordering of considering these cases one by one - he had previously had a moratorium on them - is an important concession.

And President Obama's words Thursday, in setting a new direction, are of great importance:

"Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?"


Because of mass anger in Pakistan and elsewhere and protest in America, the drone policy - escalated by the President in his first term and murdering many civilians - is also being scaled back.


Barack Obama gave perhaps the most important speech of his Presidency last Thursday, calling for an end to the ostensibly endless global war on terror and to the anti-democratic, anti-rule of law, torturing, aggressing and murdering era which it represents. Listen here or watch the video here.

Obama invoked James Madison: no country which engages in perpetual war can remain free.

"For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, helping to explode our deficits and constraining our ability to nation-build here at home. Our servicemembers and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions that we are making now will define the type of nation — and world — that we leave to our children.

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that 'No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.'"


This gives a new, broad and hopeful direction to American policy. Will it stop the crimes the US is currently committing, end the hunger strikes at Guanatanamo, free even cleared prisoners swiftly, call off drone killing of civilians?

No, as many continuing protestors - and we need to continue and grow; the trillion dollar a year, 1280 bases abroad war complex is a powerful enemy - recognize.


For this is the world's largest empire, even if in trouble, and no statement from a single official at the top is going to reverse the war complex swiftly, as if by a magic trick...


But Obama's speech is a major change in direction toward the restoration of decency. It suggests that the Obama administration, for the rest of his time in office, will move, not mainly toward consolidating or pruning the Bush-Cheney police state (it still leaves the war criminals of the previous administration without judicial evaluation, even hearings, though they cannot travel abroad for fear of arrest - see here), but rather back toward the rule of law.

It is unusual in the directness and sometimes subtlety with which it faces the moral problems of anti-democratic US foreign policy and moves the country back toward a - comparatively - peaceful era. That era was also marked by crimes largely in client states, presided over by the CIA and American military aid. But the fate of the world pretty literally (of a planet providing a home for 7 billion human beings) depends on curbing the destructiveness of American militarism and abating global warming (ironically, under Obama, the military has taken the lead in going green, though Obama is still toying with the Keystone XL pipeline - see here). This is a very hopeful direction on the first point, however weakly Obama is still doing on the second...


In Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (1999) I point to the anti-democratic feedback of war and global politics more generally on democracy at home which is the theme of Barack's speech:

"And these questions matter to every American.

For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, helping to explode our deficits and constraining our ability to nation-build here at home...

"From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions that we are making now will define the type of nation — and world — that we leave to our children...

"We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us."


In most foreign policy discussion and international relations as an academic field, realist theories - both official ones used in making/apologizing for American foreign policy and more sophisticated versions employed in the critical study of American errors and crimes, even systematic ones - abstain from the outset from looking at the consequences for democracy at home. They ignore decisively the point of Obama's speech.

For instance, the leading post-World War II realist, George Kennan in American Diplomacy, pits sober, professional diplomacy against democratic crusades like Woodrow Wilson's in World War I, culminating in the punitive and ultimately disastrous Treaty of Versailles. But in the 1984 edition, responding to the disastrous American aggression in Vietnam, Kennan noticed the war complex, "our military-industrial addiction." He shifted to a more democratic, common-good oriented view without naming the shift.


In Cold War academia, the neo-realist theorist Kenneth Waltz, followed by J. David Singer (h/t Paul Viotti), developed the doctrine of a separation of levels of analysis. International politics is supposedly radically distinct from, not interactive with comparative politics. But consider these counterexamples: the US ate Iraq in 2003 and made it a "democracy"...Similarly, the Global War on Terror, as Obama says, has misshapen the kind of nation we hope to be...


In a powerful January 2011 article in the National Interest, "Imperial by Design" - here - John Mearsheimer, a leading neo-realist ("offensive realism") comes at last and very strikingly, to this point, also emphasizing the Madison quote. Conservatives like Mearshemer (along with Ron Paul) who hate imperial American wars which undercut the rule of law and equal liberty at home have been leaders in protesting American policies (see the website which often reprints my posts on foreign policy).


In an era when authoritarian neocons emphasizing "commander in chief power" seized control of American policy, the emphasis on professional diplomacy and negotiations - something Obama has restored considerably - is a long step back toward sanity.

Contrary to waging aggressions like Vietnam and Iraq and putting hundreds of thousands on nonwhite, nonAmericans to death, to sacrificing American lives to tyrannical purposes, to persecuting dissent and jailing many, to undercutting the rule of law and equal basic rights, it is a step toward achieving a common good.


In this context, Obama's speech is, as Jane Meyer and the New York Times rightly point out below, an epochal shift. The Obama presidency, despite its frequent subservience the war complex and militarism, means to move from an era of disgrace - America becoming after September 11th with Cheney the dark side, carrying out widespread torture, including today's forced feeding of hunger strikers, as Obama recognized - to a new country which, does not indefinitely detain and torture, trashing the rule of law, innocents.


As Obama put it,

"The glaring exception to this time-tested approach is the detention center at Guantanamo Bay [sic - the violation is as sharp at Bagram and in continued renditions]. The original premise for opening GTMO — that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention — was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law. Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at GTMO [i.e. ordinary people as well as governments are frightened and repelled by what the US was in the Bush-Cheney era].


Responding to protest from Medea Benjamin, Obama said forcefully:

"I know the politics are hard [a sign of the sickness of American militarism]. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future — 10 years from now or 20 years from now — when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike. I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack because it’s worth being passionate about. Is this who we are? Is that something our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that."


Obama spoke of the war against terrorists as just and lawful, but it has doubtfully ever been that; it is largely not against those who carried out 9/11 but against civilians and waged secretly in countries the US is not at war with...Still, the President went further: if it were just and lawful, that would not mean that it is moral. Obama placed perpetual war in this kind of frame in order to speak for - set a new trend toward - reviving liberty, moving to end the war, cancel AUMA - the Congressional authorization for unlimited war- and, return, despite episodes of terror dealt with on a criminal and intelligence basis, to a pre-9/11 state.

This, it must be said, is admirable and heartening.


In fact, Obama spoke to the harms of American occupations - his effort to hold back bombing in Iran or intervention in Syria and advance negotiations - as a way of speaking about drones, and then scaled the use of drones back (somewhat, "ultimately"):

"Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted lethal action would be the use of conventional military options. As I’ve already said, even small special operations carry enormous risks. Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and are likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage. And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies, unleash a torrent of unintended consequences, are difficult to contain, result in large numbers of civilian casualties and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict."

This is a sharp statement against American occupations...

"So it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths or less likely to create enemies in the Muslim world. The results would be more U.S. deaths, more Black Hawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.

Yes, the conflict with al Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life."


This is an attempted apology for Obama's use of drones and his first term Tuesday afternoon meetings at the White House with John Brennan to select targets odiously described in the New York Times here. The speech underestimates the slaughter of innocents of Obama's policy. But the speech articulates the issue, and is part of scaling back the use of drones and trying to place them under guidelines, while shifting away from war.


Taking out Bin Laden and the use of drones contributed to Obama's being reelected - being "strong on national security" - compared to the imperial buffoon Romney who would already have bombed Iran. That is Obama's apology, as it were, for the drone policy. One must remember here that the President of the Empire is a killer, frequently a major one. This shift is pretty significant.


Obama then issued some restrictions about drone strikes - indicating that these, too, must be scaled back. He does not articulate the evil that has been done by America and the enemies of ordinary people it has made. This was left to Medea Benjamin's protests from below. But his words, too, mark a turn:

"Now, this is not to say that the risks are not real. Any U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies and impacts public opinion overseas. Moreover, our laws constrain the power of the President even during wartime, and I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. The very precision of drone strikes and the necessary secrecy often involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites. It can also lead a President and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.

And for this reason, I’ve insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action. After I took office, my administration began briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress. Let me repeat that: Not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes. Every strike. That includes the one instance when we targeted an American citizen — Anwar Awlaki, the chief of external operations for AQAP."


Obama's speech was then interrupted by the protest of Medea Benjamin. She spoke rightly in the name of the hunger strikers and the civilians, including Americans, taken out by drones.


Yet Obama's response to Medea's protest may have been the best thing about the speech. He acknowledged her moral seriousness. He said, whatever the disagreement, that the issues and debate about this are of primary importance. He listened to her, spoke with or to her three times, and continued speaking with her in mind - the Secret Service did not hustle her out until the third intervention....

Here are the exchanges:

"MR. OBAMA: As President, I have tried to close GTMO. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries or imprisoning them here in the United States.

These restrictions make no sense. After all, under President Bush, some 530 detainees were transferred from GTMO with Congress’s support. When I ran for President the first time, John McCain supported closing GTMO — this was a bipartisan issue. No person has ever escaped one of our super-max or military prisons here in the United States — ever. Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism or terrorism-related offenses, including some folks who are more dangerous than most GTMO detainees. They’re in our prisons.

And given my administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should have never have been opened. (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Excuse me, President Obama –

MR. OBAMA: So — let me finish, ma’am. So today, once again –

AUDIENCE MEMBER: There are 102 people on a hunger strike. These are desperate people.

MR. OBAMA: I’m about to address it, ma’am, but you’ve got to let me speak. I’m about to address it.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You’re our Commander-In-Chief –

MR. OBAMA: Let me address it.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: — you can close Guantanamo Bay.

MR. OBAMA: Why don’t you let me address it, ma’am.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: There’s still prisoners –

MR. OBAMA: Why don’t you sit down and I will tell you exactly what I’m going to do.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: That includes 57 Yemenis.

MR. OBAMA: Thank you, ma’am. Thank you. (Applause.) Ma’am, thank you. You should let me finish my sentence.

Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO. (Applause.)...


Here is Medea's second intervention:

"MR. Obama: I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen so we can review them on a case-by-case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: — prisoners already. Release them today.

MR. OBAMA: Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and our military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: It needs to be –

THE PRESIDENT: Now, ma’am, let me finish. Let me finish, ma’am. Part of free speech is you being able to speak, but also, you listening and me being able to speak. (Applause.)"


A few minutes later, Medea intervened again:

"MR. OBAMA In sentencing Reid, Judge William Young told him, “The way we treat you…is the measure of our own liberties.”

AUDIENCE MEMBER: How about Abdulmutallab — locking up a 16-year-old — is that the way we treat a 16-year old? (Inaudible) — can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes killing people on the basis of suspicious activities? [signature strikes are a fundamental issue, one in which America blows up innocents who are in a "suspicious area" - and one that Obama may - though not in this speech, restrain]

MR. OBAMA: We’re addressing that, ma’am.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: — thousands of Muslims that got killed — will you compensate the innocent families — that will make us safer here at home. I love my country. I love (inaudible) —

MR. OBAMA: I think that — and I’m going off script, as you might expect here. (Laughter and applause.) The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. (Applause.) Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said, and obviously she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong."


It is difficult to imagine another President of the Empire who could or would have handled this intervention with such principle or grace (when Ray McGovern, the former Presidential briefer for the CIA and leader of Intelligence Professional for Sanity stood up with a t-shirt marking America's crimes and turned his back at a campaign speech of Hillary Clinton in 2008, the police hauled him out and beat him up; she just went on...).


In contrast, Obama, in defending freedom of speech and debate, recognizing the validity of Medea's position, did something that no President, and roughly speaking, no figure in the corporate "mainstream," has done.


This is part of seeking a decent America, which, it must be said, Obama took a long step toward on Thursday.

It would have been better five years ago.

It would have been better without needing protest.

It would be better with more concrete measures in place. Reviewing Yemeni prisoners who have been cleared for moving out of Guantanamo is but a step.

More protest will be needed.


For the war complex works over time to defeat this. See Mark Mazetti and Mark Landler "For Obama's Global Vision, Daunting Problems" in the Times Saturday here who have the nerve, as military specialists, to say sycophantically that the military-industrial enterprise gained strength only during the "global war on terror." What is true is that it expanded to nearly three times Cold War levels (the official budget then was $250 billion (not counting the intelligence budget and the nuclear research in the Department of Energy...); in Obama' first year, it was $704 billion.

The problem of the "military-industrial-Congressional complex," as President Eisenhower put it 53 hers ago - he also described the academic component of the war complex - runs far deeper, through the Cold War and larger and more entrenched today, with its dead hands, pushing steadily toward destruction...


Nonetheless, Obama's speech marked an epochal shift in America. If with protest, the last three years of Obama s Presidency move in this direction, that will be a long way back toward decency...

It will be a long way towerd fulfilling the promise of the Obama candidacy.


American government serves a powerful and corrupt ruling elite and always has. Decent things come only from protest from below. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and never looked back. But before, as Frederick Douglass underlined, he wanted Union more than abolition, temporized, equivocated, allowed continuing crimes (though black people were freeing themselves in the South, as were some indigenous people; the Civil War was, nonetheless, also a long war of genocide against native americans - see here). The abolitionist movement and the Union recruitment of black troops were the decisive forces.


FDR got social security and unemployment insurance legislated after a long process of protest from below. The civil rights movement and rebellions in American cities sparked Kennnedy's and Johnson's gradual movement toward the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

American presidents do nothing decent without strong pressure from below and great international exigencies...


In this reality of American politics, Obama's speech - marking a consolidation of this shift - is of great significance.


Here are some words from the Times's editorial page, which register, if ignoring the Times' long role as advocate of Bush and the global war on terror, this point:

"President Obama’s speech on Thursday was the most important statement on counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks, a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America. For the first time, a president stated clearly and unequivocally that the state of perpetual warfare that began nearly 12 years ago is unsustainable for a democracy and must come to an end in the not-too-distant future.

'Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,' Mr. Obama said in the speech at the National Defense University. 'But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands.'

As frustratingly late as it was — much of what Mr. Obama said should have been said years ago — there is no underestimating the importance of that statement. Mr. Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, used the state of war that began with the authorization to invade Afghanistan and go after Al Qaeda and others who planned the Sept. 11 attacks to justify extraordinary acts like indefinite detention without charges and the targeted killing of terrorist suspects.

While there are some, particularly the more hawkish Congressional Republicans, who say this war should essentially last forever, Mr. Obama told the world that the United States must return to a state in which counterterrorism is handled, as it always was before 2001, primarily by law enforcement and the intelligence agencies [this was actually coups against non-white democracies, military aid to generals who tortured, overseeing torture, and many other criminal acts. That that era contrasts favorably with the awfulness of Bush-Cheney is quite a comment...]. That shift is essential to preserving the democratic system and rule of law for which the United States is fighting, and for repairing its badly damaged global image." Editorial, May 24, 2013, see the full version here.


Day 106 of the Guantanamo Hunger Strike

Dear Friends:

Included below is our response to President Obama’s comments today about Guantanamo. The additional suffering that the men in Guantanamo have taken on themselves in this hunger strike has forced those in power to respond. Because of their sacrifice, and the contributions of so many of you – in phone calls, vigils, letters, petitions, arrests, and many other creative actions – we are closer to Guantanamo’s closure today than we were yesterday.

But our work is far from done. It is more important now than ever before to keep up all forms of pressure!

Please take a moment to read our response below, and look through the list at the end of this message to find ways to engage in the continuing work.

Matt Daloisio
for Witness Against Torture


No More Excuses – Anti-Guantanamo Activists Demand that President Obama Make Good on Promise to Restart Transfers and Close Guantanamo; Vow to Keep Pressure on President

MAY 23, 2103

Contacts: Matt Daloisio
Jeremy Varon

New York City/Washington, D.C. – Responding to the hunger strike at Guantanamo, President Obama announced in a speech today his wish to re-start the transfer of men from Guantanamo and for the closure of the US prison. Anti-Guantanamo activists insist that the speech be followed by concrete steps — including the immediate transfer of men from the prison — to show that the Obama administration is serious. 86 men have been cleared for transfer and must be released now.

We agree with President Obama that "GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law." The President must use his executive power and political leadership to at last close Guantanamo and end indefinite detention. He must renounce the unprecedented, illegitimate, and increasingly discredited Military Commissions as an unacceptable substitute for true due process; and he must reject any policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial, and commit to bring credible suspects within a proper judicial system. We applaud the courageous interruption of Obama's speech, which underscores the emergency situation at the prison, and need for rapid closure of Guantanamo.

"It should not take men starving themselves to have President Obama stand up for the Constitution and human rights.” Says Matthew W. Daloisio, organizer with Witness Against Torture. “We are more 11 years into the crime of Guantánamo and over 100 days into the current hunger strike. The promise to transfer those cleared is important, but without immediate steps to release actual people, it is only another promise."

“We have heard noble sentiments before from President Obama,” added Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture. “We will hold him to account. It is not enough to release those who should have been released years ago. Indefinite detention must end. And the rule of law will never be fulfilled in Military Commissions. Moving Guantanamo is not closing Guantanamo. All held in the prison must be charged, tried in legitimate courts, or released. We’ll be in the streets, at the steps of courthouses, in jail if necessary to make sure that Guantanamo closes.”

President Obama ended the Guantanamo portion of his speech today by asking the American people to "look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?"

We may wish that this is not who we are. But we will be judged by our actions, not our speeches.

Witness Against Torture and other groups will continue their vigils, rallies, solidarity fasts, calls to the White House, and direct actions until Guantanamo is shuttered.

Since the hunger strike began in early February, Witness Against Torture has held vigils in more than 30 cities and towns, had regular rallies at the White House, circulated a petition — signed by more than 210,000 people — demanding the closure of Guantanamo, helped organize a briefing for Congressional staff; coordinated a rolling fast in solidarity with the Hunger Strike and daily calls to the White House, Pentagon and the US Southern Command; and committed acts of civil disobedience."


New Yorker
MAY 24, 2013

One first impression left by President Obama’s much-anticipated speech re-casting U.S. counterterrorism policy is that of the contrast between Bush’s swagger and Obama’s anguish over the difficult trade-offs that perpetual war poses to a free society. It could scarcely be starker. While Bush frequently seemed to take action without considering the underlying questions, Obama appears somewhat unsure of exactly what actions to take. That is not a bad thing: at least he is asking the right questions. In fact, by suggesting that, after a decade and seven thousand American and countless foreign lives lost, and a trillion dollars spent, it might be time to start downsizing the “war on terror,” he is leading the national debate beyond where even most Democrats have dared to go.

The two Presidents seem to have fundamentally different starting points about how much can be achieved by the exercise of U.S. force. Bush seemed to think it possible that America could expunge evil around the globe—he declared war on what he called the “Axis of Evil,” and announced, shortly after September 11, 2001, “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda but does not end there.” Obama, in contrast, conceded that the elimination of evil in general, and terrorism in particular, was beyond the scope of any politician or nation. As he defined it, the struggle against evil was part of the human condition, not an enemy suitable for armed warfare.

“Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror,” Obama said. “We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society.” As Obama expressed it, “We must be humble in our expectations.”

Obama agonized over other limitations, too. Bush’s lawyers propounded the astonishingly radical theory that, as Commander-in-Chief, a President couldn’t be limited by domestic or international law. His lawyers dubbed it “the New Paradigm” and reasoned that if national security was at stake, no other legal constraints could stand in the President’s way. The Geneva Conventions became optional, cast aside as “quaint.” Obama embraced both constitutional and international legal limits, at least in principle, even as he struggled to define them in practice. In fact, his speech was a paean to the theory of “just war,” which requires a balance between means and ends, demanding proportionality whenever the state resorts to the use of force. It’s a sophisticated and nuanced moral theory, on which the law of conflict rests. Obama has openly grappled with the most difficult questions posed by the most serious thinkers in this area.

Obama’s public acknowledgement of his armed drone program, and willingness to subject it to tighter scrutiny and oversight, won’t satisfy his most persistent critics. Indeed, shortly after the speech, Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, released a statement criticizing what he called the program’s “insufficient transparency,” adding, “We continue to disagree fundamentally with the idea that due process requirements can be satisfied without any form of judicial oversight by regular federal courts.”

Yet here, too, Obama’s evident pain over the program, whose civilian deaths he said would “haunt” him and his command “as long as we live,” seemed a telling change from the secrecy and winking smugness of the past. So was Obama’s admission that just because the United States has the technical prowess to incinerate its enemies halfway around the world doesn’t automatically mean that there is a moral basis for doing so. “As our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion,” Obama said. “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power—or risk abusing it.”

He went on to acknowledge that drones have their limits, and that “force alone cannot make us safe.” Instead, he called for a “conversation about a comprehensive strategy” to “reduce the wellsprings” of radicalism, one that uses not just hard power but soft power, such as foreign aid, education, and support for transitions to democracy in the Arab world and peace in the Middle East:

Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue… But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

Obama’s reiteration of his early vow to close down the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, where a hundred and sixty-six terror suspects are being held, the vast majority languishing without having faced specific charges or trials, also left some exceedingly tough questions unanswered. Obama said he would lift the moratorium he had imposed on transfers of prisoners to Yemen, because of security in that country. Some fifty-six Yemenis form the core of a group of eighty-six prisoners who have been cleared for release. Once that group is moved out, however, and others are put on trial, there will still be a hard core of suspects whom the government is willing neither to charge nor release. Obama touched on this group glancingly, saying,

Even after we take these steps, one issue will remain: how to deal with those Guantánamo detainees who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks, but who cannot be prosecuted—for example because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law. But once we commit to a process of closing Guantánamo, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.

What kind of solution for indefinite detention can be arrived at, however, Obama left for later. It won’t be easy. As Joseph Margulies, clinical professor at Northwestern University Law School and lead counsel in the first Guantánamo case in the Supreme Court, noted, “The devil is in the details.”

Obama’s speech has, at least, put the right questions on the table. Even Margulies, who has been critical of Obama for not doing more to close Guantánamo in the past, admitted he was “excited” by the speech. He said, “All the high-flying rhetoric about values and ‘who we are,’ and national identity is great.” But, he said, “Unless he follows up on it, it’ll all be for naught.” Much of the burden of moving forward, however, is not in Obama’s hands. Within minutes of his speech, conservatives on Capitol Hill had already begun jumping on him for having a “pre-9/11 mindset”—as if, somehow, the 9/11 mindset should last forever."


One can see, in this comment from Andrew Sullivan, the broad political climate that exists for major change away from unending aggressions and toward the rule of law:

"The Daily Dish
An End In Sight
MAY 23 2013 @ 9:39PM


The challenges that Barack Obama faced upon taking office were, even his critics would admit, daunting: an economy tail-spinning toward a second Great Depression, two continuing, draining and tragically self-defeating wars, and an apparatus of vastly expanded executive power (including torture) which had only just begun to be checked by the judiciary. More to the point, the United States was formally at war in a conflict which seemed to have no conceivable end.

And so easily the most important thing the president said today, it seems to me, was the following:

We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” … The AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists] is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States.

Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

“Ultimately repeal the AUMF’s mandate”. I wish the word “ultimately” were not there. But the announcement of an eventual, discrete, concrete end to this war may have been a step enough for now. For my part, I think it should be a critical goal of this administration to repeal that AUMF by the end of its second term. Our goal must not be an endlessly ratcheting of terrorist and counter-terrorist violence that creates more enemies than friends. Our goal must be normalcy and freedom, even as we continue strong counter-terrorism strategies outside of the context for warfare.

I’m glad the president defended the strike against Anwar al-Awlaki as forcefully as he should:

When a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team. [it would be nice for them to finally release the evidence; Obama's murder of three other Americans, two of them plainly innocents, needs to be spelled out in this context, which Sullivan does not].

My view entirely. I’m struck too by his Niebuhrian grasp of the inherent tragedy of wielding power in an age of terror – a perspective his more jejune and purist critics simply fail to understand. This seems like a heart-felt expression of Christian realism to me:

It is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars. For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives.

Indeed he must. And in the aggregate, I think history will look back on the balance he struck and see more wisdom in it than the purism on the civil liberties left and right or the lawless violence and torture of the Bush-Cheney years.

A few more key points: he will end the moratorium on releasing Yemeni prisoners at GTMO; he has appointed a figure to expedite the closure of the former torture camp (perhaps his newfound friendship with John McCain can accelerate the process). But he offered no real solution to the 50 or so prisoners deemed still dangerous to the world but who cannot be tried for lack of admissible evidence. He had noting really on that – except a self-evidently vain appeal to a Congress unwilling to give an inch on anything.

But the broader framework of the speech was the most important: the possibility of a return to normality, to a point where the understandable trauma of 9/11 no longer blurs our ability to construct a realist but restrained counter-terror strategy. That’s the promise of his presidency: the healing of a giant wound to this country’s psyche and values. And here’s where it came through most tellingly for me:

The scale of [the current] threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11. In the 1980s, we lost Americans to terrorism at our Embassy in Beirut; at our Marine Barracks in Lebanon; on a cruise ship at sea; at a disco in Berlin; and on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. In the 1990s, we lost Americans to terrorism at the World Trade Center; at our military facilities in Saudi Arabia; and at our Embassy in Kenya. These attacks were all deadly, and we learned that left unchecked, these threats can grow. But if dealt with smartly and proportionally, these threats need not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11.

We can envisage a world in which this war is over, and yet our counter-terrorism continues “smartly and proportionally”. It is a tough and usually lonely task to make these calls. Which is why a president is ultimately accountable for them. Today, he stood accountable; and he neither shirked from responsibility nor apologized for the inherent tragedy of any armed conflict.

From this hard realist assessment, however, came a light at the end of a psychological and political tunnel; a small flicker hope at the end of a long dark night of fear.
(Photo: US President Barack Obama speaks about his administration’s drone and counterterrorism policies, as well as the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, May 23, 2013. By Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.)


And this important point on freedom of speech beats the corporate press by a hoot and a holler:

The Daily Dish
Why Obama Matters
MAY 23 2013 @ 9:00PM

A reader writes:

If only Americans appreciated how hard this was to do, given the institutional resistance, and how singularly the President himself, within the government, actually understands this in its broader context. I was there at the speech, and moved to tears. Even the interruption by the Code Pink woman turned out to be a blessing in disguise — instead of the usual bromides about the virtues of free speech, after a full minute or two of interruption, in one of the most important speeches of his tenure, he responded: “the voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.” Can you imagine any other chief of state extemporizing with that line in those circumstances? — acknowledging the power of her concerns and honoring them?

And then at the end, it occurred to him to incorporate the incident again, once more because he realized it helped make his point:

“Now, we need a strategy – and a politics –that reflects this resilient spirit. Our victory against terrorism won’t be measured in a surrender ceremony on a battleship, or a statue being pulled to the ground. Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school; immigrants coming to our shores; fans taking in a ballgame; a veteran starting a business; a bustling city street; a citizen shouting her concerns to her President.”


I’m with my reader who was there. We remain lucky to have him, as we long have been.