World

Thoughtful, Prudent and Faltering: The Paradox of Obama

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama meets with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2014. N ew York Times columnist Tom Friedman's extended interview with President Obama shed some light on how Obama can be well-informed, thoughtful, prudent—yet still be seen as faltering as a foreign policy president. If you compare Obama with George W. Bush (OK — a low bar), Obama wins, hands down. Unlike Bush, Obama inhabits the reality-based foreign policy space, with no apologies. Unlike Bush, he has no messianic zealots among his advisers. He gives the kind of well-considered responses that suggest a president who carefully engages with truly difficult policy conundrums. Yet at the end of the day, he often comes across as vacillating and indecisive—an impression that can be fatal in his dealings with allies, adversaries, and, of course, any electorate. In the case of Iraq and ISIL's murderous assault on religious minorities and rivals, not to...

If Having a Foreign Policy Doctrine Is So Important, Why Won't Hillary Clinton Spell Hers Out?

Official State Department Photo
J effrey Golberg has an interview with Hillary Clinton which is being billed as a rebuke of, or maybe a distancing from, her old boss, Barack Obama. While you'll probably think that an overstatement when you read the transcript, she does express a desire for a foreign policy "doctrine" of her own, even if she doesn't actually deliver it. While there are a few unsettling things in the interview (her comments on Israel could have come from Bibi Netanyahu himself), the doctrine question is worth paying attention to. As I've argued before , President Obama doesn't have a foreign policy doctrine, and that's by design. He explicitly rejected the idea that it was necessary to have some kind of bumper-sticker-ready idea guiding all his foreign policy decisions, a single phrase or sentence that sums up everything he'd be doing in foreign affairs. Even though doctrines don't have a particularly good track record of late, in this interview, Clinton says that a doctrine is necessary (though she...

It Isn't About the Tunnels. So What Is the Gaza Conflict Really About?

The Israeli government's tactical goals shifted repeatedly. At no point, it appears, has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a strategic political vision.

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Update: August 8, 4:00 p.m. Israel time ( 9 a.m. EDT ): Hopes for an end to the Gaza War evaporated after indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo stalled. Hamas rejected an extension of the three-day ceasefire that began on Tuesday . Moments after the ceasefire ended, rocket fire from Gaza into Israel resumed this morning. Israeli artillery fire and air strikes followed, and the Israeli negotiators left Cairo. I. At four o'clock after the war —which is to say, 4 p.m. Tuesday—a Hebrew news site carried a telegraphic bulletin: The head of the Israeli army's Southern Command announced that residents of the area bordering Gaza could return to their homes and feel safe. The reassuring message was undercut by the bulletin that appeared on the same site one minute earlier: "IDF assessment: Hamas still has at least two to three tunnels reaching into...

House Intel Committee Finds No Benghazi Scandal; Will Boehner Ignore Its Findings?

House Speaker John Boehner faces a choice: Either he can accept the findings of a responsible, Republican committee chair, or cynically allow a kangaroo court to proceed. 

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)
A ccording to Representative Mike Thompson , Democrat of California, a report from the Republican led House Intelligence Committee on the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, "confirms that no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order (to U.S. forces) was given." Late last week, before Congress headed out of Washington for August recess, the body voted to declassify the document. After nearly two years of investigations, millions of dollars spent, tens of thousands of pages of documents handed over by the administration, a Republican-led committee is about to release a report stating that there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Obama White House. In fact, nearly all of the accusations levied against the White House over the past year by conservatives in Congress, and amplified by the media, have now been determined to be false—by a Republican jury. House Speaker John Boehner is now left with a choice. Will he allow Rep...

The Problem With Both "Pro-Israel" and "Anti-Israel"

Flickr/Ben Roffer
I n a typically thoughtful piece today, Jonathan Chait explains why he has "grown less pro-Israel over the last decade." I want to push back on this a bit, not because I disagree with any of the particular points Chait makes, but because of the broad framing. The idea of "pro-Israel," like its mirror "anti-Israel," is the enemy of rational thought and debate on this topic. Unless you're talking about whom you're rooting for in the Olympics, talking about who's pro-Israel and who isn't, and to what degree, almost never helps illuminate anything. This is something I brought up a few months ago, but it has a new urgency now, because this conflict is going to cause a lot of people to reevaluate how they feel about Israel. One of the interesting things about Chait's post is that he mentions an emotional connection to the country, but the specifics he brings up are all practical questions, on things like the Netanyahu government's sincerity when it says it's committed to a two-state...

The Limits of American Power: Judging Obama's Foreign Policy

The Bush administration taught us the folly of overreach, but America simply can't exit the world stage. The dangers are too great.

AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo
AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo U.S. Army soldiers salute American flags at a ceremony at Camp Liberty in Baghdad on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . W hen I was young, a mantra among progressives was that America had to stop operating as global policeman. Vietnam was the signal episode of arrogant and ultimately self-defeating American overreach. But there were plenty of other cases of the U.S. government doing the bidding of oil companies and banana barons, and blithely overthrowing left-democratic governments as well as outright communists (or driving nationalist reformers into the arms of communists.) As the late Phil Ochs tauntingly sang, " We're the cops of the world. " Or as Randy Newman mordantly put it, " Let's drop the big one and see what happens. " At the same time, I viewed myself as sensible left. I was the guy at the Moratorium demonstrations of the late 1960s and early 1970s (actually covering them for Pacifica) hoping to make...

A Bright Spot In Obama's Foreign Policy: Iran. Yes, Iran

With a glimmer of success on the horizon, Obama's critics are predicting the apocalypse.

U.S. State Department
U.S. State Department Photo U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry disembarks from his plane after traveling from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Vienna, Austria, on July 13, 2014 for allied talks with Iran about its nuclear program. W ho would’ve ever thought that the Iranian nuclear program—that’s the Iranian nuclear program —would be the bright spot in President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, the place where things were looking up? But that’s the situation we find ourselves in, with talks between Iran and the U.S. and it partners in the p5+1 (the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council—U.S., U.K., France, Russia, and China, plus Germany) having achieved serious progress. This past Sunday was the end of the six-month interim period laid out in the agreement last November in Geneva. The parties agreed to a four-month extension of the talks in order to try and reach a comprehensive agreement. The State Department released a fact sheet on the extension’s terms, noting that Iran had...

Hillary for Liberals: A Conversation With Walter Shapiro

AP Photo/Randy Snyder
AP Photo/Justin Hayworth Campaign buttons are ready for distribution at an Iowa kickoff event for the national Ready for Hillary group led by Craig Smith, senior adviser to the Ready for Hillary group, in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. Ready for Hillary is a so-called super PAC building a national network to benefit Clinton if she decides to seek the presidency in 2016. The gathering of Iowa Democrats included the state chairs of both Clinton and President Barack Obama's 2008 campaigns. A s a reporter and columnist for Time , Newsweek , the Washington Post , USA Today , Esquire , Salon , and other publications, Walter Shapiro has covered nine presidential elections and the nation’s politics for four decades. He is currently a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and a lecturer in political science at Yale while he finishes a book about his great-uncle, a vaudevillian and con man who once swindled Hitler. Shapiro is also an accomplished Hillary-...

On Israel, Looking for Hope In a Sea of Bad Faith and Despair

NASA/Wikimedia Commons
I f you don't have mixed feelings about what's going on in Gaza, there's something seriously wrong with you. As Gershom Gorenberg says in his piece today, in a war, both sides can be wrong, and that's the case now. So how do we find a way to think and talk about this conflict when our natural impulse is to take a side? Complicating things even further is the fact that the people who do think that there's no ambiguity here range from the morally infantile to the unspeakably ghastly, and no matter what you say you'll find yourself on the same side as some of them, if only for a moment . On one hand you've got prominent conservatives trooping to the convention of Christians United For Israel (no fewer than five U.S. senators, plus A-list pundits like Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol), where they bow down before the group's leader, the demented pre-millenialist televangelist John Hagee, and proclaim that God smiles every time a bomb falls on Gaza. On the other you've got anti-Semites...

This Is Your Brain on War: A Dispatch From Jerusalem

Why both sides in the Gaza conflict saw irrational decisions as reasonable

AP Photo/Hatem Moussa
AP Photo/Hatem Moussa Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, as Israeli airstrikes pummeled a wide range of locations along the coastal area and diplomatic efforts intensified to end the two-week war. A s I write, the livestream from Gaza of news about death continues. If I give a casualty count, it may be outdated before I finish typing it. It won't include those Palestinians—civilians and Hamas fighters—who may be buried in rubble in the Sajaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, which the Israeli army has invaded in search of rockets and of tunnels leading into Israel. Nor will it include recent deaths of Israeli soldiers; the military often delays such announcements for hours. Collapsing under the weight of the Gaza reports is whatever initial support Israel had in the West as its cities came under rocket fire. The same reports have fed criticism of Hamas in the Arab world. The war isn't a hurricane; it didn't happen by itself...

7 Foreign Policy Crises That Show Republicans Prefer Disaster to Solutions

AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File
AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File In this April 25, 2013, file photo former Vice President Dick Cheney participates in the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. In an interview Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, Cheney said Republicans need to look to a new generation of leaders as the party deals with poor approval ratings following a 16-day partial-government shutdown. He said Republicans need to have "first-class" candidates and look to its strategy and a new generation. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . I t's hard to recall a time when the world presented more crises with fewer easy solutions. And for the Republicans, all of these woes have a common genesis: Ostensible American weakness projected by Barack Obama. People in the Middle East, former Vice President Dick Cheney recently said , "are absolutely convinced that the American capacity to lead and influence in that part of the world has been dramatically reduced by this president." He added...

Are the Media Reporting the Gaza War Fairly?

From the Israeli army's twitter feed.
Are the media finally getting the Israeli-Palestinian story right? It's a difficult question to answer, particularly when it would be hard to agree on what "right" means. But it does look like we're seeing and hearing more about what's happening to Palestinian civilians than we have in previous flare-ups of this endless conflict. That's what Benjamin Wallace-Wells argues in a piece saying that Israel is losing the PR war in the American media: Earlier this month, the IDF's twitter feed had been full of images of besieged Israelis. But by this weekend Israel was so clearly losing the public relations war that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained to reporters, tersely, that Hamas uses "telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause." If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them. But his complaint is in itself a concession. The story of the conflict between Israel and Palestine looks a little bit different...

Moral Responsibility and the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Flickr/andlun1
A s Israel begins a ground invasion of Gaza in which hundreds of civilians will almost certainly be killed and the endless misery of the people who live there will only intensify, we haven't actually seen much debate about the subject here in the U.S. There's plenty of news about it, but unlike most issues, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one we don't actually argue about much. There aren't dueling op-eds in every paper the way there are when even a country Americans care far less about, like Ukraine, works its way into our attention. There are many reasons for that, not least of which is the absurdly constrained debate we have over the topic of Israel. But I suspect that the relative quiet is in part because in a debate where even casting the two sides as equivalent is portrayed as a betrayal of Israel (you'll notice, for instance, that the White House is careful to say, again and again, that Israel has a right to defend itself, but you'll hear them say that the...

Argentina's Loss to Germany Nothing Compared to Financial Rout By U.S.

As Merkel starves ailing European economies, SCOTUS is doing worse to Argentina's.

AP Photo/J Pat Carter
AP Photo/Jorge Saenz Argentina soccer fans watch in disbelief the final World Cup match between Argentina and Germany on an outdoor television screen set up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Mario Goetze volleyed in the winning goal in extra time to give Germany its fourth World Cup title with a 1-0 victory over Argentina. I f there were poetic justice in the world, Argentina would have beaten Germany in the last three minutes of World Cup play instead of vice versa. Germany represents everything that's wrong with the world financial system. Argentina is the epic case of countries whose economies are screwed by policies championed by Germany—and, unfortunately, by the United States, as well. Let me explain. When financial abuses crashed the global economic system in 2007-2008, there were two urgent needs, One was drastic reform to prevent the collapse from wreaking further havoc on the world's most damaged economies. The other was to clean up the banking system so...

Alabama Steelworkers Fight for Their Jobs, Threatened By Korea Trade Ruling

The steel industry is under attack by the selling or “dumping” of foreign steel, says the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

Alliance for American Manufacturing
Alliance for American Manufacturing Approximately 1,000 supporters of steelworker jobs turned out Monday, June 16 at a rally at the U.S. Steel facilities in Fairfield. The author works for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, which works in partnership with the United Steelworkers and other petitioners to the Department of Commerce for an appeal of the department's February ruling in favor of South Korea's steel industry. S tanding high atop Red Mountain overlooking the city of Birmingham, Alabama, is a statue known as the Vulcan. It is the symbol of this scrappy southern city, reminding people of Birmingham’s roots in the iron and steel industries. A depiction of the ancient Roman god of the fire and forge, it is, at fifty-six feet tall, the largest iron statue in the world, and the seventh-tallest, free-standing statue in the United States. While it may not dominate the landscape the way the 125-foot “Christ the Redeemer” statue does in Rio de Janeiro, it is a similar symbolic,...

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