Thursday, September 5, 2013

Against Presidential crimes: interview with Maeve Conren, KGNU on Bush at the Korbel dinner and Syria

You can listen to the conversation on the Morning Magazine on the "award" to Bush at the Korbel dinner September 9th, next Monday, at minute 18 and 45 seconds here.

In answer to Maeve's question about the criminality of previous presidents, I underlined some crimes of both Clinton and Obama. What I did not say is that the aim of all of us who protest is to deter immoral and illegal Presidential actions. Bush is the worst: a torturer, an aggressor in a disastrous war, a liar for criminal purposes. To oppose this award is to say "no" to illegality. And that includes Obama using drones murderously in three countries where the US is not at war and "no" to the new "preemption"/"humanitarian intervention" in Syria...


The neocons led by the Straussian Bill Kristol, Don Rumsfeld, John McCain and the usual suspects are screaming for "more war, more war" in Syria. They want authoritarian commander in chief power, the central thought of Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss (I will offer some new evidence - beyond previous essays - on how the doctrine of "prerogative" was transmitted from Locke via Bob Goldwin to the Ford White House in a couple of days) "He is sovereign who makes the decision in the state of the exception" is the opening sentence of Schmitt, Political Theology, 1923, later realized in Schmitt's enthusiastic service to Der Fuehrer. The idea of "commander in chief power" - a power sealed from any oversight or legality - is what Kerry, Obama, Susan Rice and Samantha Power are now leading us into. See Rachel Maddow here.


But there is huge protest from below in every Congressional district (see the note from Andrew Sullivan below). The issue at the Bush dinner is not reviving civility toward Presidents - the supposed reason that Bill Clinton and Obama came to the Bush library at Southern Methodist and set Bush on his tour of "improving the human condition," as he said on CNN. The New York Times ran a puff piece yesterday on Bush on immigration. See here. In East Texas, Bush saw the hard working immigrants, and being a "hard working man himself" in self-conception (???), he decided immigration reform was a way to go. Perhaps Bush will offer up this benevolent thought - the new Emperor's threads - at the Korbel dinner this coming Monday rather than sing a song of torture and aggression, the overriding theme of his Presidency...


The aim of this protest is to stop Presidential crimes in foreign policy and at home (spying on Americans by the NSA under Bush, extended by Obama, is a paradigm). Presidential discretion does not, contra Harvey Mansfield, Walter Berns, other neo-cons and Democratic neo-neo cons - mean illegality. That, particularly in the Iraq period, was tyrannical - executive power directed at immoral purposes, doing immense harm to others and to Americans, in defiance of law. No, Bush does not need to be resuscitated, and Obama should stop channeling - though with more intelligence and accuracy - Cheney...


Would it be good to bar chemical weapons? Yes, indeed. And this is an important moral component of international law, though not nearly as important a one as its primary ban of torture. Stuart Gottlieb, a defender of bombing Syria in a letter to the New York Times, rightly emphasizes the importance of upholding international law on this issue (there are other more effective and less dangerous ways, including bringing charges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague...). See here. In Russia, Barack Obama speaks of the importance of someone doing something...

But the hypocrisy here is startling. Obama and Kerry, even if the case for war were good, have protected torturers from the Bush administration, in defiance of law, from any examination. Obama right now relies on Bush's illegal "preemption," that is aggression in Iraq, for his precedent for going it alone in "humanitarian intervention" (Bush violated Article 2, section 4 of the UN charter, and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, Article 6 section 2 which makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land). See here and here. And even Parliament voted down Cameron and Britain is no member of an even thinner "Coalition of the Willing."


It is good that Obama seeks Congressional approval. That is because he and the elite are isolated in their attempt to launch an aggression of unpredictable consequences. In the New York Times this morning, representative Elijah Cummings said public opinion in his district is running way against the war:

"Representative Elijah E. Cummings, who represents a district that includes parts of Baltimore and has not decided how he stands on attacking Syria, said the pressure from his constituents to oppose the president’s plan is unmistakable. When he visited a grocery store on Wednesday, he said, almost a dozen people told him they thought intervening in Syria was a bad idea. None of them expressed support.

'If you’ve got 95 percent of them saying one thing, it becomes far more difficult to go against them,' he said, adding that the president needed to make a more forceful and convincing case to the public if he wanted Congressional consent for an attack. 'As a good friend of his and someone who supports him, I think he’s got to help the Congress help him.'”

That the war is anti-democratic is true in every district. No one who represents their constituency - i.e. Obama and the American people - should support the shooting off of missiles.


The act of aggression - intervening militarily in a difficult civil war - is unpredictable as well. As Steve Van Evera, a student of Kenneth Waltz's and an international relations specialist notes today in a letter to the Times incisively criticizing McCain - see here - bringing down Assad by force strengthens the Syrian opposition which includes Al-Qaida. Isn't that the organization which Obama is supposed to be "degrading" rather than helping?


Candidate Obama rightly criticized the "dumb" Iraq war for strengthening Iran; now as President, he launches a dumb Syrian war to strengthen Al-Qaida? The war could easily escalate (Syria has Iranian allies and Russian allies - there is a Russian base in Syria, one of the few any power aside from the United States - with 1280 - has abroad (it is Russia's one base among five, outside the former Soviet Union). The war could spill over into striking an American ship in the Mediterranean or attacks on Israel. Syria has said it would respond.


Israel irrationally supports a war (everyone is hunkering down reports Jodi Ruroren in the New York Times because they are continuing seizing Palestinian land even as the increasingly phony "peace process" is submerged by a new US aggression in the Middle East. For Barak Ravid's report in today's Haaretz, see here.


Yet the corporate media including the Times echo the vapidity of the Obama administration and Congress - really, the US, the unipower which has exhausted the willingness of the public to march in or pay for unending aggressions in far places, can just strike at Syria "surgically," not blowing up poison gas (bad for people in the surroundings), and somehow "degrade" its military. They all make Marco Rubio, an unimaginative rightwing fellow, sound wise when he notes, opposing the policy, "there could be consequences..."


The Gannett\McClatchy newspapers ran the true story that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or ties to Al-Qaida in the "roll out" (Andrew Card's phrase, Bush's public relations officer) of the disastrous aggression. But Gannett has no paper in Washington or New York...

Their story yesterday points out that Kerry's ridiculously precise figure "1429 killed, 426 children" - as pretentious as he is now vapid - is much higher than any other international estimate (the killing by gas would still be evil). The "intelligence" community - despite Obama's suggestion that he, of course, wouldn't be blowing smoke since he was rightly skeptical of Bush about Iraq - has no basis for this, once again fantastically, unimaginably "precise" without releasing any evidence - figure.

Echoes of Bush, echoes of Iraq...


"Andrew Sullivan
The American People Tell Washington A Few Things
SEP 5 2013 @ 11:37AM

I have yet to talk to anyone – even in this super-liberal little ash-tray of a town – who supports the president’s proposed new war. The polls tell the same story. The NYT has this revealing nugget from the left:

"Representative Elijah E. Cummings, who represents a district that includes parts of Baltimore and has not decided how he stands on attacking Syria, said the pressure from his constituents to oppose the president’s plan is unmistakable. When he visited a grocery store on Wednesday, he said, almost a dozen people told him they thought intervening in Syria was a bad idea. None of them expressed support.

'If you’ve got 95 percent of them saying one thing, it becomes far more difficult to go against them,' he said, adding that the president needed to make a more forceful and convincing case to the public if he wanted Congressional consent for an attack. 'As a good friend of his and someone who supports him, I think he’s got to help the Congress help him.'

Ezra’s impression?

“The active public is against this,” Rep. Brad Sherman, who supports intervention, told me. “I don’t know a member of Congress whose e-mails and phone calls are in favor of this.” … Jonathan Allen and Jake Sherman report that House Republicans are not inclined to back President Obama on Syria. “Several lawmakers and aides who have been canvassing support say that nearly 80 percent of the House Republican Conference is, to some degree, opposed to launching strikes in Syria. Informal counts by Obama allies show that support in Congress for Obama’s plans is in the low dozens.”

House Republican leadership, meanwhile, isn’t inclined to change their members’ minds. “Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman said that he ‘expects the White House to provide answers to members’ questions and take the lead on any whipping effort.’”

This ship is sinking fast. And a new constitutional order may be emerging. Call your Senator and representative and let them know you’re against it, if you are. Now is the time for the people to save their president and their country from another Bush-Cheney-style folly."


Sullivan's other piece this morning, on the likely destruction of the domestic politics of an Obama second term with this aggression and the hope that he will be stopped by an already clearly divided Congress, is also very good. It makes, however, two errors. A then neo-con who cried for war and now regrets it, Sullivan asserts that the Iraq aggression was popular with Americans. On the contrary, there was the biggest anti-war movement in the United States and internationally against that aggression before the start of a war in all of history. Nobody favored the war but the talking heads. Sullivan's other bizarre assertion in that President George H.W. Bush who favored Christmas aggressions against Noriega in Panama, and to get oil (with a coalition, it is true) in Iraq is some sort of model. Barack hailed him...

But "Saving Obama from Himself" means stopping Presidential criminality. It is that task which is before every one of us...


"The Daily Dish
Saving Obama From Himself
SEP 5 2013 @ 11:00AM

The next couple of weeks will be full of surprises, twists and turns, as this country debates in its Congress and media and living rooms whether to launch another war in the Middle East. But I think it’s fair to offer a preliminary assessment of where the wind is blowing. Obama’s case for war is disintegrating fast. And his insistence on a new war – against much of the world and 60 percent of Americans – is easily his biggest misjudgment since taking office. His options now are not whether to go to war or not, but simply whether he has the strength and sense to stand down and save his second term before it is too late.

Here’s what we know now for sure already: even if the president were somehow to get a majority in House and Senate for entering into Syria’s vortex of sectarian violence, it will be a profoundly divided one. The 10-7 vote in the most elite body – the Senate Foreign Relations committee – is an awful omen. To make matters worse, there is currently a clear national majority against war in the polls and the signs from the Congress suggest a nail-biter at best for the president. Under these circumstances, no president of any party has any right or standing to take this country to war. He is not a dictator. He is a president. Wars are extremely hazardous exercises with unknown consequences that require fortitude and constancy from the public paying for them. Even with huge initial public support for war, as we discovered in the nightmare years of Bush-Cheney, that can quickly turn to ashes, as reality emerges. To go to war like this would be an act of extreme presidential irresponsibility.

And on one thing, McCain is right. To launch strikes to make a point is not a military or political strategy. It will likely strengthen Assad as he brazenly withstands an attack from the “super-power” and it would not stop him using chemical weapons again to prove his triumph. We either lose face by not striking now or we will lose face by not striking later again and again – after the initial campaign has subsided and Assad uses chemical weapons again. McCain’s response, as always, is to jump into the fight with guns blazing and undertake a grueling mission for regime change. Let him make that case if he wants – it is as coherent as it is quite mad. It’s as mad as picking a former half-term delusional governor as his vice-president. There is a reason he lost the election to Obama. So why is Obama now ceding foreign policy to this hot-headed buffoon?

The only conceivable way to truly punish Assad and assert international norms would be to get a UN Resolution authorizing it. That is, by definition, the venue for the enforcement of international norms. The US Congress cannot speak for China or Russia, Germany or Britain. And in Britain’s case, the people – through their representatives – have spoken for themselves. That means that, if we go through the proper route, nothing will be done. But that is the world’s responsibility, not ours’. And we are not the world.

The US has no vital interests at stake in the outcome of a brutal struggle between Sunni Jihadists and Alawite thugs. None. Increasingly, as we gain energy independence, we will be able to leave that region to its own insane devices. Our only true interest is Saudi oil. And they will keep selling it whatever happens. Israel is a burden and certainly not an asset in our foreign policy. The obsession with the Middle East is increasingly a deranged one. Taking it upon ourselves to ensure that international norms of decency are enforced in that hell-hole is an act of both hubris and delusion. We can wish democrats and secularists well. But we can control nothing of their struggle, as the last few years have definitively shown. And when we try, we create as many problems as we may solve. Look at Libya.

My own fervent hope is that this is the moment when the people of America stand up and tell their president no.

I support and admire this president and understand that this impulsive, foolish, reckless decision was motivated by deep and justified moral concern. But the proposal is so riddled with danger, so ineffective in any tangible way (even if it succeeds!), and so divorced from the broader reality of an America beset by a deep fiscal crisis, a huge new experiment in universal healthcare, and a potential landmark change in immigration reform, that it simply must not be allowed to happen.
We can stop it. And if Obama is as smart as we all think he is, he should respond to Congress’s refusal to support him by acquiescing to their request. That would damage him some more – but that damage has been done already. It pales compared with the damage caused by prosecuting an unwinnable war while forfeiting much of your domestic agenda.

This is not about Obama. It’s about America, and America’s pressing needs at home. It’s also about re-balancing the presidency away from imperialism. If a president proposes a war and gets a vote in Congress and loses, then we have truly made a first, proud step in reining in the too-powerful executive branch and its intelligence, surveillance and military complex.

In other words, much good can still come from this.

If Congress turns Obama down – as it should – Obama can still go to the UN and present evidence again and again of what Assad is doing. Putin is then put on the defensive, as he should be. You haven’t abandoned the core position against the use of chemical arms, and you have repeatedly urged the UN to do something. Isn’t that kind of thing what Samantha Power longs for? Make her use her post to cajole, embarrass, and shame Russia and China in their easy enabling of these vile weapons. Regain the initiative. And set a UN path to control Iran’s WMD program as well.

Obama once said his model in foreign policy was George H W Bush. And that president, in the first Gulf War, offers a sterling example of how the US should act: not as a bully or a leader, but a cajoler, a facilitator and, with strong domestic and international support, enabler of resistance to these tin-pot Arab lunatics. Obama, in a very rare moment, panicked. What he needs to do now is take a deep breath, and let the people of this country have their say.

Democracy is coming to the U.S.A."


"McClatchy Washington Bureau
To some, U.S. case for Syrian gas attack, strike has too many holes

By Hannah Allam and Mark Seibel
last updated: September 03, 2013

The Obama administration's public case for attacking Syria is riddled with inconsistencies and hinges mainly on circumstantial evidence, undermining U.S. efforts this week to build support at home and abroad for a punitive strike against Bashar Assad's regime.

The case Secretary of State John Kerry laid out last Friday contained claims that were disputed by the United Nations, inconsistent in some details with British and French intelligence reports or lacking sufficient transparency for international chemical weapons experts to accept at face value.

After the false weapons claims preceding the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the threshold for evidence to support intervention is exceedingly high. And while there's little dispute that a chemical agent was used in an Aug. 21 attack outside of Damascus - and probably on a smaller scale before that - there are calls from many quarters for independent, scientific evidence to support the U.S. narrative that the Assad regime used sarin gas in an operation that killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.

Some of the U.S. points in question:

The Obama administration dismissed the value of a U.N. inspection team's work by saying that the investigators arrived too late for the findings to be credible and wouldn't provide any information the United State didn't already have.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq countered that it was "rare" for such an investigation to begin within such a short time and said that "the passage of such few days does not affect the opportunities to collect valuable samples," according to the U.N.'s website. For example, Haq added, sarin can be detected in biomedical samples for months after its use.

The U.S. claims that sarin was used in the Aug. 21 attack, citing a positive test on first responders' hair and blood - samples "that were provided to the United States," Kerry said on television Sunday without elaboration on the collection methods.

Experts say the evidence deteriorates over time, but that it's simply untrue that there wouldn't be any value in an investigation five days after an alleged attack. As a New York Times report noted, two human rights groups dispatched a forensics team to northern Iraq in 1992 and found trace evidence of sarin as well as mustard gas - four years after a chemical attack.

The U.S. assertion also was disputed in an intelligence summary the British government made public last week. "There is no immediate time limit over which environmental or physiological samples would have degraded beyond usefulness," according to the report, which was distributed to Parliament ahead of its vote not to permit Britain to participate in any strike.

Another point of dispute is the death toll from the alleged attacks on Aug. 21. Neither Kerry's remarks nor the unclassified version of the U.S. intelligence he referenced explained how the U.S. reached a tally of 1,429, including 426 children. The only attribution was "a preliminary government assessment."

Anthony Cordesman, a former senior defense official who's now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, took aim at the death toll discrepancies in an essay published Sunday.

He criticized Kerry as being "sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number" of 1,429, and noted that the number didn't agree with either the British assessment of "at least 350 fatalities" or other Syrian opposition sources, namely the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has confirmed 502 dead, including about 100 children and "tens" of rebel fighters, and has demanded that Kerry provide the names of the victims included in the U.S. tally.

"President Obama was then forced to round off the number at 'well over 1,000 people' - creating a mix of contradictions over the most basic facts," Cordesman wrote. He added that the blunder was reminiscent of "the mistakes the U.S. made in preparing Secretary (Colin) Powell's speech to the U.N. on Iraq in 2003."

An unclassified version of a French intelligence report on Syria that was released Monday hardly cleared things up; France confirmed only 281 fatalities, though it more broadly agreed with the United States that the regime had used chemical weapons in the Aug. 21 attack.

Another eyebrow-raising administration claim was that U.S. intelligence had "collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence" that showed the regime preparing for an attack three days before the event. The U.S. assessment says regime personnel were in an area known to be used to "mix chemical weapons, including sarin," and that regime forces prepared for the Aug. 21 attack by putting on gas masks.

That claim raises two questions:

Why didn't the U.S. warn rebels about the impending attack and save hundreds of lives?

And why did the administration keep mum about the suspicious activity when on at least one previous occasion U.S. officials have raised an international fuss when they observed similar actions?

On Dec. 3, 2012, after U.S. officials said they detected Syria mixing ingredients for chemical weapons, President Barack Obama repeated his warning to Assad that the use of such arms would be an unacceptable breach of the red line he'd imposed that summer. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chimed in, and the United Nations withdrew all nonessential staff from Syria.

Last month's suspicious activity, however, wasn't raised publicly until after the deadly attack. And Syrian opposition figures say the rebels weren't warned in advance in order to protect civilians in the area.

"When I read the administration's memo, it was very compelling, but they knew three days before the attack and never alerted anyone in the area," said Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian opposition activist who runs the Washington-based Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "Everyone was watching this evidence but didn't take any action?"

Among chemical weapons experts and other analysts who've closely studied the Syrian battlefield, the main reservation about the U.S. claims is that there's no understanding of the methodology behind the intelligence-gathering. They say that the evidence presented points to the use of some type of chemical agent, but say that there are still questions as to how the evidence was collected, the integrity of the chain of custody of such samples, and which laboratories were involved.

Eliot Higgins, a British chronicler of the Syrian civil war who writes the Brown Moses blog, a widely cited repository of information on the weapons observed on the Syrian battlefield, wrote a detailed post Monday listing photographs and videos that would seem to support U.S. claims that the Assad regime has possession of munitions that could be used to deliver chemical weapons. But he wouldn't make the leap.

On the blog, Higgins asked: "How do we know these are chemical weapons? That's the thing, we don't. As I've said all along, these are munitions linked to alleged chemical attacks, not chemical munitions used in chemical attacks. It's ultimately up to the U.N. to confirm if chemical weapons were used."

Holes in the case already have allowed Russia to dismiss the U.S. evidence as "inconclusive," with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying in a speech Monday that Moscow was shown "some sketches, but there was nothing concrete, no geographical coordinates, or details…and no proof the test was done by professionals," according to the state-backed RT news agency.

"When we ask for further clarification, we receive the following response: 'you are aware that this is classified information, therefore we cannot show it to you,'" Lavrov said. "So there are still no facts."

Lavrov's remarks signaled that Russia, one of the last Assad allies, was nowhere near being convinced enough to stop its repeated blocking of U.N. Security Council resolutions targeting the regime.

But there's also skepticism among U.S.-friendly nations, such as Jordan, which declined to endorse action until it studies the findings of a U.N. chemical weapons investigation, and the United Kingdom, where Parliament voted against intervention even before the U.S. released an intelligence assessment that contradicted one released a day before by British authorities.

It's unclear how much a factor the evidence was in Parliament's decisions; there's also a high degree of wariness of any U.S.-led intervention after the Iraq experience.

The U.S. did get a boost Monday from the commander of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who told a news conference he'd seen "concrete information" that convinced him of the Assad regime's responsibility for an apparent chemical attack that killed hundreds of people in August.

Rasmussen said it would send a "dangerous signal to dictators" if the world didn't respond, but he left it up to NATO nations to decide their own responses and didn't advocate action beyond protecting member state Turkey, which borders Syria.

U.S. allies across the Arab world and Europe have said they prefer delaying any potential military strikes until after the U.N. inspection team releases its findings. The U.N. mandate is to determine whether chemical weapons were used, but not to assign culpability. U.N. officials have said they're trying to expedite the inspection team's work while protecting the integrity of the process" (h/t Martin Totusek).


See also Gareth Porter's analysis of twisted US "intelligence" claims here.

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