Here, Have Some Sanity

Seriously, I miss this man. If it did not embed correctly, go to 2:25:22 in the live feed.

Open thread

(and yes, I know I stepped on Adam, but I’m running out the door and I thought we could use this )


Ben Rhodes On Obama’s Decision To Disarm, Not Bomb, Syria

President Barack Obama’s statements and decisions around responses to Bashar al-Assad’s use of Sarin against Syrian opposition provide a test case for three issues: Intervening in conflicts that have only indirectly to do with US interests, assumptions about the use of force that have gendered aspects, and how a president communicates. If we are to end our forever wars and avoid stumbling into more, we need to understand these issues.

Some time ago, I wrote up an analysis focusing on the gendered assumptions about the use of force and struggled with an editor over it for several months, until Jeffrey Goldberg published his interview with President Obama in The Atlantic. I had predicted some of the new information in that interview in my analysis, but of course the interview precluded the use of that analysis. So I never published it. But the fact that the interview supported my analysis has kept me watching for more information about presidential decisions in August and September of 2013.

Ben Rhodes has provided more information in an Atlantic article taken from his forthcoming book. The Obama interview is a useful companion read. In this post, I’d like to work through my three issues in relation to Rhodes’s article. Read more

Loving You Both Is Breaking All the Rules

I think some of you nerds like science fiction. I do too. Let me weave a dystopian tapestry before your wondering eyes and you can tell me what you think.

The year is 2020. There are now flying cars and cheeky robot companions. You have neither of these things. You have a slightly fancier phone and a couple of new shirts.

Your state’s primary has been pushed to the end of the season and its outcome will be pivotal. Democratic primary voters have said they will not go to Cochella. They will not go to Bonaroo. They won’t even go to Lollapalooza. The voters in the other 49 states have proclaimed that they want Paul Revere and the Raiders or The American Breed. This tortured analogy is trying to tell you they want Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.

Let’s say that Joe has stayed his course  as the WWWC (Wooer of the White Working Class) candidate. Bernie has staked out the leftmost pragmatic position on all of your favorites: Healthcare, education, minimum wage, full employment.

And there you are, in the voting booth. Between Scylla and Charybdis. For whom do you pull the lever?

While you muse on this bummer episode of The Twilight Zone, please observe what I have in my other hand: It’s the fund that’s split between all eventual Democratic nominees in House districts currently held by Republicans.

Goal Thermometer

Help Us, Obama-Wan…

Charlie Pierce posted a plea for President Obama to get off the sidelines and join the Resistance full time. I urge you to go read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:

You always have been a voice for reason. Defend it now. Angrily, if you must. You always have been a voice for reconciliation. Demand it now. Harshly, if needs be. You always have been the voice of a vision of the American ideal. Fight for it now, ruthlessly, and realize that it has real enemies within this country with whom we cannot reason, who will not reconcile, and who have every intention of grinding that ideal into the dust in order to appease the unappeasable gods of their hate and their fear.

Long ago, I wrote that your capital error in politics was that you offered this country absolution without demanding penance. Look at where that’s gotten us. If you honestly believe in the America you described in Boston, then goddamn it, fight for it against the people to whom it is anathema. It’s time to join the resistance full-time, if you have the stomach for it. A madman is begetting more madmen and, frankly, I don’t know how much time we have left.

I agree with everything Pierce wrote (except the implication that giving speeches to bankers is unseemly — I don’t give a fuck about that). Pierce acknowledges in so many words that Obama owes us nothing — true! But Obama is a patriot, and most Americans trust him. He’s not a nut. He can’t be dismissed as a sore loser.

The very things that make it so unlikely that Obama would lead the resistance to Trump — his belief in institutions, his circumspection, his trust in processes — would make his open, high-profile opposition incredibly powerful.

Again, President Obama doesn’t owe us jack-shit. But could he make a difference? I believe he could. And when Trump’s own cabinet members are discussing tackling their boss to keep his mitts off the nuclear football, it’s pretty clear we’re reaching “desperate times call for desperate measures” territory.

Damn, I miss Michelle Obama

I could be wrong, but I always had the feeling Michelle Obama was a little less optimistic about the goodness and decency of the American people than President Obama. Maybe because they grew up in such different places. Perhaps he’s just naturally more idealistic.

Don’t get me wrong — I think they’re both idealistic as hell; people who weren’t wouldn’t have taken the path they took. And both of them experienced an uglier side of America than I ever will, so I’m not saying either was naive. But maybe she always had a more realistic view of this country than he did.

In retrospect, the way they approached the 2016 campaign sort of signaled that; PBO flatly denied Trump could win (as did I). I bet Michelle Obama knew it was possible all along. At least that’s my impression.

Anyhoo, glad to see her speaking out. Open thread!

Friday Evening Open Thread: Readership Capture Social Notes

Former President Barack Obama will speak to young people at the University of Chicago on Monday, returning to the city for what will be his first public event since leaving the White House.

Obama and young leaders will hold a conversation on civic engagement and discuss community organizing at the university’s Logan Center for the Arts, his office announced Friday.

Hundreds of people are expected to attend, chosen from area universities that were given tickets for distribution, said Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for the former president. About six young people will appear on stage with him for the 11 a.m. discussion, he said.

The event will be a homecoming for Obama on multiple levels. He formerly taught constitutional law at the U. of C., and his family has a home nearby in the Kenwood neighborhood. He gave his farewell address in January in the city that launched his political career. And the discussion with students lets the former president, who came to Chicago to work as a young community organizer, fulfill one of the commitments he set out for his post-presidential years: to engage and work with the country’s next generation of leaders, Lewis said…

No tickets remain for distribution to the general public, but the event will be televised. Former first lady Michelle Obama is not expected to accompany her husband on the trip, Lewis said.

The participants on stage with Obama are expected to range from high school to college to recent university graduates. According to Lewis, they have all been chosen and are from the Chicago area, but their names were not released Friday…

Obama has been writing his memoirs amid a succession of celebrity-filled vacations intended to allow him and the former first lady to decompress. Reports have had him as far away as Tetiaroa, a French Polynesian island once owned by Marlon Brando.

Now, the timing of the Chicago event suggests an increasing public profile for the former leader. On May 7, he will be in Boston to receive the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Profile in Courage award. It’s being called the centennial award because Kennedy was born 100 years ago.

What else is on the agenda, as we wrap up the week?

Ordnance Only A Mother Could Love

To follow up on DougJ’s post below (and to tread on Alan ADAM* Silverman’s turf):  American forces dropped a GBU-43/B bomb on a target identified as an underground ISIS complex.  The weapon, officially named the “Massive Ordnance Air Blast,” or MOAB, has the probably obvious nickname:  the Mother Of All Bombs.

It’s a no-doubt ginormous creation, with an effective yield of eleven tons of TNT.  It’s so large it is delivered by a variant of a cargo plane, the C130, and not the kind of aircraft more commonly used to deliver battlefield weapons.

A MOAB is not the ultimate bunker-buster, those weapons designed to penetrate well-hardened targets (silos, etc.) For our Vietnam vets, the analogous ordnance is BLU 82B “Daisy Cutter.”  In the open defense literature, the MOAB is at least in part a psychological weapon and in part a clear-the-ground device.  How useful it actually is against a cave complex is unclear, as this description suggests:

The weapon is expected to produce a tremendous explosion that would be effective against hard-target entrances, soft-to-medium surface targets, and for anti-personnel purposes. Because of the size of the explosion, it is also effective at LZ clearance and mine and beach obstacle clearance. Injury or death to persons will be primarily caused by blast or fragmentation. It is expected that the weapon will have a substantial psychological effect on those who witness its use. The massive weapon provides a capability to perform psychological operations, attack large area targets, or hold at-risk threats hidden within tunnels or caves.

There’s at least pretty good reason to believe that the use — its the first combat deployment ever  — was intended to send a message:

The strike comes just days after a Special Forces soldier was killed in Nangarhar province. Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, of 7th Special Forces Group, was killed Saturday by enemy small arms fire while his unit was conducting counter-ISIS operations, according to the Defense Department.

The fact that the U.S. dropped the MOAB in the same province where De Alencar was killed is probably not a coincidence, said Bill Roggio, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“There might have been a degree of payback here as well,” Roggio told Military Times. “There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re killing your enemy.”

Whatever your response to that aspect of war, here’s the thing.  As Emily Tankin and Paul McLeary write in Foreign Policy, the use of the MOAB is one facet of the broader escalation of US military action across the Middle East and central Asia:
The news came the same day as a report that a coalition airstrike in Syria mistakenly killed 18 fighters backed by the United States.

The U.S. statement also said, “U.S. Forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike.” The U.S. military is reportedly currently assessing the damage from the bomb.

The strike in Afghanistan is part of a huge increase in the American air war in Afghanistan that started under the Obama administration, but has increased even more sharply under President Donald Trump. In the first three months of 2017, American planes have dropped over 450 bombs on targets in Afghanistan, compared to about 1,300 for all of 2016, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. The number of strikes in the first two months of the Trump administration more than doubled the number taken in the same time period under the Obama administration.

The FP journalists note that US military leaders “long bristled at the control the Obama administration exercised over small troop movements and sometimes individual targets.”  Donald Trump — and this is one promise he’s kept — seems to have unleashed  those commanders.  The result?

Well, it seems to me that the question isn’t whether der Trumpenführer will lead us into war.  It is, rather, how quickly the war that’s already bubbling will become recognized as such by the media, and the American people.

As for war aims? That’s the kicker, isn’t it.  Multi-ton bombs are headline-grabbers.  How effective they are, really, at counter-terrorism is, to my deeply un-expert mind…”unclear” is how I’ll put it.  The current spate of bombing and micro-deployments looks like a purely ad hoc approach to whatever our tactical or strategic goals might be in Syria, Iraq and, still, Afghanistan.  If there’s a logic — and I genuinely hope there is — it sure isn’t apparent to this citizen, in whose name (along w. 312 million of my closest friends) these small wars are being fought.

Over to y’all.

Image: Mary Cassatt, Maternité, 1890.

*type in haste, repent at leisure.