In trying to break down the “Obama Should Denounce!” crowd into some subsets, I came up with the following five groups:
- Obama is being quiet because he thinks that US intervention would cause the situation in Iran to deteriorate; he’s wrong about that.
- Obama is being quiet because he thinks that the US can still win concessions from Iran on the nuclear program, and doesn’t want to endanger that possibility; he’s either a) wrong about the possibility of winning concessions, or b)the game isn’t worth the candle.
- Obama is weak, indecisive, and objectively pro-Ahmadinejad.
- Obama is pro-Ahmadinejad.
- I don’t really know anything about this, but any opportunity to criticize the Obama administration is worth taking.
These groups are not mutually exclusive. Daniel “Go Ahmadinejad!” Pipes probably fits most comfortably into Group 5. Group 4 includes such luminaries of American punditry as Andy McCarthy and Victor Davis Hanson. Group 3 is a touch harder to categorize, because it overlaps a lot with #2, but I’d say it’s a view that’s broadly shared across the wingnutosphere. Group 2, I think, includes Charles Krauthammer, Paul Wolfowitz, and some of the smarter folks at the Corner. Group 1 includes, once you cut through the manifest crazy, Christopher Hitchens.
I think, thus far, that Obama has handled the situation fabulously well. I’m guessing that he believes that any US intervention will backfire, and that the US will need to talk to Iran in the future, whether or not Ahmadinejad remains President. I think he’s definitely correct about the first. I also suspect that it is going to be extremely difficult to carry out any engagement strategy with Iran going forward. If the regime survives, it will be because of the loyalty and brutality of its security forces. With that brutality on display on US televisions (if only rarely) it will be much more difficult for Obama to build any domestic support for talks. Moreover, it’s not clear that he should; knowing that the Iranian regime was repressive before these latest incidents, and acknowledging that many US allies in the region don’t even bother with the fiction of elections doesn’t change the fact that it’s an ugly bit of business. I’d rather, other things being equal, not have my President engage with Iran while the current group of thugs is in power. Finally, I do think that the repression has opened greater opportunity for what might be termed a non-interventionist coercive strategy; this is to say that more and tougher sanctions against the regime are on the table now than was the case two weeks ago.
I was impressed and was thinking about writing about it, and I may do so at some point, but not today. Some recommended thoughtful commentary:
Hugo Schwyzer sees Isiah Berlin and likes it.
Russell Arben Fox sees Rousseau and likes it.
Mahablog sees Reinhold Neihbur and smart politics.
OK, I’m officially disappointed in my President.
It was bad enough that he failed to decisively end Bush’s extraordinary rendition program (claiming he’ll only make sure it’s no longer abused); and that he blocked prosecutions for top-level officials who authorized torture. Now, Obama has decided to block the release photos depicting US troops engaging in brutal acts against detainees:
President Obama said on Wednesday that he is seeking to block the release of photographs that depict American military personnel abusing captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, worrying that the images could “further inflame anti-American opinion.”
Look, it’s not pictures that inflame anti-American opinion. Brutality has done that already. And trying to cover up that bad behavior only makes it look as if the new Administration is complicit. In short, this is the worst tactical decision I’ve seen Obama make so far, and I fear the grave consequences of associating his administration with the worst excesses of the past eight years.
The explanation given by the White House is no better than the decision itself:
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said that the president met last week “with his legal team and told them that he did not feel comfortable with the release of the D.O.D. photos because he believes their release would endanger our troops.”
This logic makes so little sense I cannot believe it is the genuine rationale. First of all, as Gary Bass has exhaustively documented, the appearance of punishing those who are actually guilty is the best way to forestall collective punishment: it’s doing the reverse, obstructing genuine justice, that encourages vigilantism against all US soldiers. Second of all, even if they are put in even greater danger by their comrades’ ill-deeds, won’t this be the best possible deterrent for war crimes in the future? Studies of variation in war crimes demonstrate that militaries who commit the fewest abuses are those where there is strong peer pressure within fighting units to behave properly, and the best way I can think of to create this kind of culture is to allow all US troops to worry about the indirect consequences of being associated with those “few bad apples.”
So what is the actual logic here? Someone, enlighten me, because apparently our “rule of law” President would like to keep us all in the dark.
Given the near certainty that Barack Obama will announce the complete communization of the United States in his inaugural address, it would be irresponsible not to spend all morning at Circuit City buying discounted flat screen tvs and Blu-Ray players.
Eve Fairbanks and I diavlogged yesterday on, among other things, the critical issue of whether Barack Obama or George W. Bush more resembles Prince Hal of Henry IV parts 1 and 2:
What Adam and Matt and Digby and everyone else said. The presence of Rick Warren is inexcusable; the guy is more dangerous than James Dobson, and at least six times as annoying.
This op-ed lists William Ayers as the author of “Fugitive Days” and “Race Course”, but not of “Dreams of My Father”; that can’t be right…
I think Ezra gets this right. Obama’s primary campaign, in particular, was clearheaded, methodical and rational, focusing on delegates rather than “media cycles” and other mystical nonsense. With the Clinton campaign, the frightening thing was not merely their “voters/states that vote for us count more even if it’s a minority coalition” spin — when doomed campaigns are spinning, they have to by definition say things that aren’t true — but that they acted as if it was true.
None of this is to say, of course, that Obama’s win was inevitable. Resources and institutional advantanges matter; you can get away with hiring a Mark Penn or a Ned Colletti if your opponnent is a Bob Dole or a Brian Sabean. If Edwards had been Clinton’s major opponent, her old-school campaign/attractive candidate combination would have been enough. And Obama’s ability to get funds from online donors is a rare instance of the internet really having a major impact on a campaign. Even Billy Beane can’t win consistently with nothing to work with, and without the ability to tap enough small donors to make his campaign clearly viable the Obama’s vastly superior tactics wouldn’t have been enough. Same thing in the general — although I rarely say such things, I think McCain’s campaign really was abysmal, but under the right structural circumstances he could have won. (And conversely, under these structural circumstances he had virtually no chance; we can quibble about margins, but I don’t think there’s any serious question that Clinton/Penn would have also beaten them pretty badly.)
But, then, sabermetric analysis is always about probabilities, not certainties. Obama’s smart decisions increased his odds, and in both cases it was enough.