In the wake of a terrible tragedy, there are almost universal requests for calm, peace, and a moratorium on politics. We have now reached the stage in the evolution of the Onion Nation where not commenting on a tragedy is worth criticizing.
Within hours of the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard this morning, in which at least 12 have lost their lives, the objective journalists of Buzzfeed compiled a list of NRA tweets around the time of recent mass shootings, showing that the gun rights organization stops tweeting for a day or more when such an event occurs. The irony is astounding. If the NRA makes a statement about a shooting event, they are accused of politicizing it, standing on the graves of the victims, or worse. And now if they don’t make a statement, that’s also worth calling out?
Sure, Buzzfeed will just claim they found it interesting and weren’t criticizing. But savvy social media producers that they are should know better. Gun rights opponents will take their post and do the dirty work for them, calling the NRA cowards for staying silent in the face of such horror that they will inevitably be accused of causing.
The great Charles Cooke of National Review summed up the stupendous hypocrisy well on Twitter:
What would people who want the NRA to “say something” like them to say?
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) September 16, 2013
“By the way, we’re still right”?
According to new survey data from Pew, a plurality of self-identified Republicans oppose bombing Syria to help we-don’t-really-know-who. Across partisan divides, respondents overwhelmingly believe that a U.S. military intervention would elicit significant blowback, and would likely lead to an actual war (as opposed to a strategic, surgical bombing campaign to even the score for the rebels fighting Assad’s regime):
Three-quarters (74%) believe that U.S. airstrikes in Syria are likely to create a backlash against the United States and its allies in the region and 61% think it would be likely to lead to a long-term U.S. military commitment there. Meanwhile, just 33% believe airstrikes are likely to be effective in discouraging the use of chemical weapons; roughly half (51%) think they are not likely to achieve this goal.
Read the full report here (PDF).
Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to justify the Obama administration’s proposed strike on Syria. Hagel was typically unclear and confused, Dempsey provided a few strategic details, but to nearly everyone watching, Kerry contradicted himself, tripped over his own feet, and significantly undermined most of the arguments for a strike.
One of the primary motivations Kerry gave was that a strike on Syria’s chemical weapons would help keep them out the hands of terrorists. Then when asked whether Hezbollah already had chemical weapons, he said he would answer in a classified briefing scheduled the next day. As with an invocation of the Fifth Amendment, this doesn’t necessarily confirm that Hezbollah already has chemical weapons, but if they don’t it begs the question why he couldn’t have just said so. He mentioned several other sensitive details about the situation on the ground in Syria, including composition of the rebellion and our tactical assistance to them, so I don’t see how the fact that terrorists don’t have chemical weapons would be classified. That is…unless they do. And if they do, then the primary situation the strike is supposed to prevent is already the status quo.
Much ado has been made over President Obama’s selection of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to serve as the next National Secrutiy Advisor because of her role in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya. But Benghazi is only a symptom of a larger problem with Susan Rice: she’s a hardcore interventionist.
Since her involvement in the Clinton Administration’s response to the Rwanda Genocide - during which she served on the National Security Council - Rice has never objected to an American intervention.
Now seen as a “voice for intervention,” Rice was quoted in the aftermath of Rwanda::
“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”
Eh, excuse me: Going down in flames?
What’s also concerning is that Susan Rice has viewed foreign policy as an extension of politics; in 1994, she is quoted as saying, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?”
In advance of the President’s counterterrorism speech today at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. – where it’s anticipated he will lay out new restrictions for America’s drone programs - Attorney General Eric Holder released a 5-page memo disclosing that, since 2009, America has assassinated four of its own citizens in “counterterrorism operations” - more specifically, via drone strike.
Unfortunately, the memo’s admissions create more questions than answers.
1) The memo asserts that targeting and killing of citizens can only happen outside the U.S., tacitly readdressing the concerns Senator Rand Paul addressed in his 13 hour filibuster. But the right to due process is not contingent on geography; like it or not, these rights extend to citizens overseas. The fundamental assertion in the memo is, as Spencer Ackerman points out, that “Holder defended killing Americans the administration believes to be members of al-Qaeda without due process, a constitutionally questionable proposition.”
Based on some of my discussions with people who tend to support U.S. foreign policy in general and the drone policy in particular, there seems to be a lack of empathy for those who have been victims of errant bombs (I’m told these people “hate us for our freedoms”). I think sometimes we Americans have no idea what it must be like to live anywhere in the third world as opposed to a superpower. It’s difficult for me to imagine what it must be like to live any place the U.S. is hunting terrorists with soldiers or drones. Would I be worried that my friends or family might be killed by mistake?
This isn’t to say that the U.S. should not hunt terrorists, drones or otherwise, but I do think it’s time for a serious debate about when and how drones should be used. The drones in of themselves are not the problem, it’s the drone policy. What is the cost/benefit of using drones in targeting these people? Can this be done without harming innocent bystanders? Are drones being used when less destructive means are available? Is this policy counterproductive in “winning the hearts and minds” of people who might otherwise fight against Islamic fundamentalists?
The video clip below is from the testimony of one individual who has experienced the reality of U.S. drone policy first hand. Despite this, Farea al-Muslimi is otherwise grateful for his experiences with America, Americans, and American generosity. His heart and mind seems to be on the side of America. His testimony offers a perspective we would all do well to consider when thinking about these questions.
Whenever people call for cutting the military budget, the usual response goes something like ”How can you keep the Army from getting the equipment it needs to fight wars?” Well, the problem with that response is highlighted today by this story from ABC:
Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams.
But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, “No thanks.”
It’s the inverse of the federal budget world these days, in which automatic spending cuts are leaving sought-after pet programs struggling or unpaid altogether. Republicans and Democrats for years have fought so bitterly that lawmaking in Washington ground to a near-halt.
Yet in the case of the Abrams tank, there’s a bipartisan push to spend an extra $436 million on a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.
“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told The Associated Press this past week.
Why are the tank dollars still flowing? Politics.
Keeping the Abrams production line rolling protects businesses and good paying jobs in congressional districts where the tank’s many suppliers are located.
If there’s a home of the Abrams, it’s politically important Ohio. The nation’s only tank plant is in Lima. So it’s no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol’s Hill most prominent deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. They said their support is rooted in protecting national security, not in pork-barrel politics.
Last week, in his historic filibuster, Senator Rand Paul provoked Attorney General Eric Holder to relinquish the right to assassinate American citizens on American soil - a claim previously made in a Department of Justice White Paper. In so doing, we have established the first real boundary for the use of drones in American foreign policy. Senator Paul has since stated the drone debate “isn’t over” and that this victory is “just the beginning.” Senator Paul is pioneering a winning strategy to incrementally advance freedom within a broader liberty movement.
It was a mere tweet, but it summed up the entirety of the modern conservative movement:
Sequestration Cuts the DHS Off at the Knees herit.ag/WUTzw8
— Heritage Foundation (@Heritage) February 21, 2013
It has everything: the source is the preeminent conservative “think tank” in DC, soon to be headed by Tea Party conservative and former senator Jim DeMint; lamenting about spending cuts; the laments are all about a government department that by all rights should not exist; and for good measure, it has a photograph. It shows precisely how the sequester had torpedoed conservative credibility.
We have heard relentlessly these past five years, ever since Obama was elected, that we need to cut spending. (Indeed, another Heritage article is a dorky little bit that specifically notes a “thrifty” House which demands that they have a balanced budget and avoid deficits.) Yet now that there is something which will cut—no, sorry, I can’t type that with a straight face; it will not cut spending, but merely slightly decrease the rate of spending—Heritage is up in arms about it.
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Military Contractors) wrote the following in an op-ed:
After hours of debate yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmed former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, along strict party lines, with a 14-11 vote. Hagel is expected to narrowly be confirmed by a full vote in the Senate as soon as Minority Ranking Member Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) says all holds placed on the nomination are cleared. While reasons such as financial disclosure and – in the case of Senator Graham - information on Benghazi have been given for holding Hagel’s nomination, such holds are essentially due to Hagel’s heterodoxy on foreign policy.