What Hath Obama Wrought? Drone Warfare in the Trump Era.

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President Barack Obama was going to be different.

“Eight years ago, Mr. Obama suggested a messenger from a dreamy, multicultural future,” said Adam Shatz, a Fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities. “America would be steered back on track, working with other countries to meet the challenges of what he often called an ‘interdependent’ world…”

“But it hasn’t worked out that way,” Shatz said. “Despite the best of intentions, Mr. Obama became one of the midwives of of this dangerous and angry new world , where his enlightened cosmopolitanism increasingly looks like an anachronism.”

One area where the dreamy optimism eroded was with the drone strikes carried out from operations centers around the world that President George Bush initiated and Obama escalated.

Pressed by public interest groups, in July 2016 the Obama Administration released its estimates of the number of civilians killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, all countries where the United States is not officially at war. The three-page report, titled “Total Number of Strikes Against Terrorist Targets Outside Areas of Active Hostilities”, said 473 U.S. drone strikes in those three countries during Obama’s two terms killed 64-116 civilians. The report also said 2,372-2,581 combatants were killed in U.S. airstrikes from January 20, 2009, to December 31, 2015.

The government acknowledged that its figures differed substantially from estimates by non-governmental organizations. The Long War Journal, for example, estimated 207 civilian deaths just in Pakistan and Yemen, New America estimated at least 216 civilian deaths in the two countries   and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated that 380-801 civilians died during Obama’s presidency.

The U.S. defended its conclusions, however, asserting that:

  • U.S. government post-strike methodologies for determining combatant and non-combatant deaths were superior
  • The government relied on a more extensive collection and analysis of multiple sources of intelligence before, during, and after a strike, and
  • Some figures released by others have been tainted by the deliberate spread of misinformation by some actors, including terrorist organizations.

President Bush’s embrace of drone killings (he authorized about 50 non-battlefield drone strikes) stirred angry protests by liberals, but the massive escalation of drone strikes under Nobel Peace Prize-winning President Obama, including strikes on American citizens, hasn’t stirred up much public turmoil.

Until now.

Now, with President-elect Donald Trump about to take office, public debate and concern about the drone program is resurfacing in liberal circles.

“That any president has this kind of power is concerning on its own, but it’s even more alarming now that Donald Trump, who has praised repressive dictators like Vladimir Putin and shown little respect for things like international law and the Geneva Conventions, is going to be in the White House,” reported Vox on Jan. 10.

If Trump does go even more hog-wild with drones, a supine Congress, deferring to the Bush and Obama administrations, set him up for it by tolerating aggressive presidential behavior and being willing to watch passively as executive power was stretched beyond its constitutional bounds.

“…the truth is that both major parties under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have worked to remove the restraints on the presidency and drastically exaggerate its authority,” Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote recently in The Week. “If Donald Trump wants to wield nearly unlimited power, he’s seeking an office that provides it.”

Washout: Hillary’s foreign policy experience does her no favors

HillaryCaricature

Hillary Clinton and her backers figure she’s got at least one advantage, public trust in her foreign policy experience and judgment.

Hillary tried to highlight that factor when she told a questioner at a recent New Hampshire town hall meeting, “When you vote for someone for president, you’re also voting for a commander in chief.”

But why, exactly, does Hillary, or anybody else, think her foreign policy experience is a plus when you review her screw-ups.

Consider:

Libya

Then: Hillary Clinton urged President Obama to back a military campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, over the opposition of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other national security experts.

Now: Libya has deteriorated into a virtual failed state run by hundreds of private militias. Eighteen months after the initial airstrikes, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in attacks by militants on a U.S. diplomatic post and a nearby CIA site in Benghazi. The North African nation has become a primary outpost for the Islamic State, which has exploited the chaos to take territory, train soldiers and prove its strength outside Syria and Iraq. Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2016

Iraq

Then: On voting in favor of a resolution to take military action against Iraq in the face of Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, “I believe the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt,” Clinton said in a Senate speech the day before the vote. “It is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation…It is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein — this is your last chance. Disarm or be disarmed.”

“We’ve ended the war in Iraq,” Obama said on June 25, 2012, at a New Hampshire rally in New Hampshire. “I’ve kept the commitments that I’ve made,” he said in Iowa on Oct. 24, 2012. “I told you we’d end the war in Iraq. We did.”

Now:

Although the Iraq war has technically been over for more than four years, Iraqis are still dying in large numbers. The number of Iraqis seeking refuge in other countries has risen considerably as the conflict between the Islamic State and the Iraqi government and associated forces continues. The U.N. has described the violence as “staggering” and noted the Islamic State may be guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.

A Jan. 2016 report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq also accuses ISIS of holding an estimated 3500 people as slaves across Iraqi territory, using many as human shields, and pressing 800-900 children into military service for the conflict.

Meanwhile, animosity Between Sunnis and Shiites is threatening the Iraq’s stability. Neighboring Iran, home to the world’s largest Shia population, is behind the country’s support for Iraq’s Shia-dominated government.

Syria

Then: Hillary Clinton joined President Obama in declaring that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces would cross a “Red Line” if they used chemical weapons. On Aug. 11, 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Istanbul that it’s clear to the Assad regime the use of chemical weapons is “a red line for the world.” On Aug. 20, 2012, Obama said that the use or movement of chemical weapons by the Assad regime is a red line. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama said. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Now:

Under the banner of fighting international terrorism, President Vladimir Putin has reversed the fortunes of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which were rapidly losing ground last year to moderate and Islamist rebel forces in the country’s five-year-old crisis. Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2016

Today, 4.6 million Syrians are refugees and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria; half are children. World Vision

Syria’s civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes. Mercy Corps

The conflict is now more than just a battle between those for or against President Bashar al-Assad. It has acquired sectarian overtones, pitching the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alewite sect, and drawn in regional and world powers. The rise of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has added a further dimension. BBC

Russia

Then: In March 2009, Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a red button with the Russian text “перегрузка”, which was intended to be the Russian word for “reset”. Clinton explained that she wanted to reset relations between Russia and the United States, to spur a new era of better ties. “The reset worked,” Clinton told CNN in August 2014.

Now: In March 2014, Russia decided “To hell with the reset” and annexed Crimea. This led to the installation of a pro-Russian government in Crimea, the holding of a disputed, unconstitutional referendum and the declaration of Crimea’s independence.

 Russia subsequently:

  • blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution on Crimea’s referendum
  • provided a Russian-made Buk missle to Ukrainian rebels who used it to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board
  • granted asylum to Edward Snowden, who’s wanted in the United States for leaking information about National Security Agency surveillance practices.
  • Provided military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hillary, a tested,  brilliant, strategic foreign policy expert the American people can trust? I don’t think so.

 

 

Disillusionment and despair: the Trump turmoil

Donald Trump isn’t a candidate.

Donald-Trump-Caricature

He’s a stand-in for the alienation and disillusionment so many Americans feel as both the Republican and Democratic parties have failed us.

How could it be otherwise when so much seems so wrong and fakery, misdirection, and outright lies by both parties have been so pervasive?

Consider:

  • The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality in the United States since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression. By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years.
  • The 2009 $830 billion stimulus package, with a claimed focus on shovel-ready projects, was supposed to fix things after the Great Recession. The legacy instead – a slow growth economy. The first 23 quarters of the recovery, which officially began in June of 2009, had an annual rate of growth of just 2.1 percent.
  • The distribution of wealth in the United States is even more unequal than that of income. The wealthiest 5 percent of American households held 54 percent of all wealth reported in 1989, rose to 61 percent in 2010 and reached 63 percent in 2013.
  • 71 percent of Americans say life has gotten worse for middle-class Americans over the past 10 years.
  • Today’s fifty-somethings may be part of the first generation in American history to experience a lifetime of downward mobility, in which at every stage of adult life, they have had less income and less net wealth than did people who were their age ten years before.
  • There is now less economic mobility in the United States than in Canada or much of Europe. A child born in the bottom one-fifth of incomes in the United States has only a 4 percent chance of rising to the top one-fifth.
  • Young Americans (ages 18-34) are earning less (adjusted for inflation) than their peers in 1980 ; the college graduating class this year left with an average student debt of $35,051.
  • In 1986, President Reagan signed legislation that was supposed to fix the illegal immigration issue once and for all. Three million applied for legal status and about 2.7 million received it. Today, about 11.7 million immigrants are living in the United States illegally. So much for the fix.
  • Despite all the “mission accomplished” and “victory is at hand” assurances, America has been at war in the Middle East for the past 15 years, with little to show for it, billions of dollars down a rathole, thousands of American soldiers dead and wounded, and continuing chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
  • Despite the billions the government has spent on poverty-related programs, half of children age three and younger live in poverty.
  • The White House wants to “press the reset button” on one of Washington’s biggest challenges: its increasingly troublesome relationship with Russia,” Vice President Biden, 2/7/2009; “We’re going to hit the reset button and start fresh (with Russia),” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 3/6/2009
  • “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.” President Obama, 6/6/2009.
  • “I ended the war in Iraq, as I promised. We are transitioning out of Afghanistan. We have gone after the terrorists who actually attacked us 9/11 and decimated al Qaeda.” President Obama, 9/14/2012
  • Despite assurances from some politicians that all’s well, the Medicare program has $28.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years. Together with Social Security’s $13.3 trillion shortfall, the government has accumulated entitlement spending commitments that far exceed our capacity to pay for them.
  • In the 2012 election cycle, a tiny elite of the U.S. population, just 0.40 %, made a political contribution of more than $200, providing 63.5% of all individual contributions to federal candidates, PACs and Parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
  • Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign to date, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.

As H.L. Mencken said, “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule — and both commonly succeed, and are right.”

 

Obama insists “I’m OK, you’re OK” in response to global terrorism

President Obama, speaking to an audience that included unrepentant leaders from repressive countries who couldn’t care less and who regularly brutalize their people and deny them basic human rights, argued on Thursday that force of arms was not enough and called on all nations to “put an end to the cycle of hate” by expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue.

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“Oh sure, the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen actively plots against us, terrorists have murdered ambassadors, Americans have been killed at Ft. Hood and during the Boston Marathon, in Syria and Iraq the terrorist group we call ISIL has slaughtered innocent civilians and murdered hostages, including Americans, and has spread its barbarism to Libya with the murder of Egyptian Christians, we’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris and Copenhagen, the Pakistan Taliban has massacred schoolchildren and their teachers, al-Shabaab has launched attacks from Somalia across East Africa, and in Nigeria and neighboring countries, Boko Haram kills and kidnaps men, women and children,” Obama said. “But hey, shit happens.”

Calling the slaughter of thousands of Ukrainians by Russian-backed rebels supplied with Russian equipment “a hiccup on the pathway to peace”, Obama insisted that the cease-fire that came into effect in eastern Ukraine on Sunday was holding. “The Russians are honorable, peace-loving folks,” he said, “and I’m sure that if Putin and I got together he’d be overwhelmed by the force of my personality and insist that the rebels pull back.”

As the rebels raised their flag over Debaltseve, Ukraine and celebrated their humiliating defeat of the Ukrainian forces, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope that this wouldn’t scuttle the peace deal.

Promising “swift, meaningful punishment for those who terrorize peaceful nations”, Obama called for another conference to be held at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. that would “offer more strong words in response to beheadings , immolations, child-killing, and other barbarities.”

“We’ll take an important step forward as governments, civil society groups and community leaders from more than 60 nations will gather in Washington for a global summit on countering violent extremism,” Obama said. “Our focus will be on community organizing, which I know a heck of a lot about, and empowering local communities.”

Dismissing concerns about his feckless foreign policy, Obama  said, ” Not to worry. I’m OK you’re OK.”