What Some Liberals Get Wrong About The Fight Against ISIL

Whenever I want to check out what anti-Obama lefties are saying about anything, I first go to Firedoglake. There you will find some committed, if sometimes immature, left-wingers assailing the President and his administration for all kinds of failures to live up to the purity of liberalism, at least as it is defined by Firedoglake contributors.

After today’s announcement of the necessary and justified attacks on the Islamist murderers in Iraq and Syria, I turned to Firedoglake for a quick look. Here’s a little of what I found:

Yesterday the US began bombing yet another country in the Middle East with strikes targeting ISIS forces in Syria…The most obvious beneficiary of the new strikes is Syrian President Bashar Assad who has been locked in a struggle with ISIS and other rebels for control of Syria…Given the flexible and congealing nature of ISIS it is highly questionable as to whether the militant group can ever really be destroyed as long as Iraq and Syria remain war zones. Though that is of no apparent concern to the Obama Administration which has launched America into another war in the Middle East that even officials admit will take several years.

In another post by the same author, DSWright, we find this ominous opening:

Remember when the reason for expanding this military campaign from Iraq into Syria was because ISIS was in both countries? It wasn’t so long ago. Well, now President Obama has announced that he also targeted a non-ISIS group in Syria. Mission creep in real time.

Let me quickly address the concerns in these two articles (and something Glenn Greenwald wrote, which I will get to later), concerns that I have heard expressed elsewhere by left-leaning folks:

1. “The most obvious beneficiary of the new strikes is Syrian President Bashar Assad…”

Yes, I hear that a lot. And it may be obvious. It certainly seemed obvious to Assad, who welcomed our attacks by doing nothing to stop them. And it may seem obvious to us, even if we don’t want to say so out loud. But so what? The mission is not to aid Assad but to send as many ISIL fighters on a one-way visit to Allah as our air strikes can facilitate. If doing so actually helps Assad in the short-term, then so be it. In fact, it could be argued that it is only a short-term help for the Syrian dictator. It could be, somewhere down the road, that weakening ISIL enough to make it vulnerable to other groups in Syria opposed to both Assad and ISIL means that Assad’s short-term gain will turn into a long-term loss. In any case, ISIL needs our attention and to stand paralyzed for fear we will help a man whose country is disintegrating before his eyes would be foolish and short-sighted.

2. “Given the flexible and congealing nature of ISIS it is highly questionable as to whether the militant group can ever really be destroyed as long as Iraq and Syria remain war zones.”

This one is easy. It may be questionable, it may even be “highly questionable,” if we can really destroy ISIL under the present circumstances, but it is a near certainty that we will never destroy ISIL if we sit and wait for Iraq and Syria to become something other than war zones. Those who oppose what Obama is doing never address that reality. Sitting and waiting for peace to break out in the region, while ISIL gains power and territory, and while killing untold numbers of innocents, would be not only strategically unwise, but a moral outrage. And besides that, it isn’t that questionable whether ISIL can be defeated in Iraq. In time that is likely to happen with U.S. support, if Iraqis have the will to make it happen. In Syria, of course that is much more difficult. But doing nothing makes it not only more difficult still, but quite likely impossible. Is that what liberals want? Huh?

3. “…the Obama Administration…has launched America into another war in the Middle East that even officials admit will take several years.

Not really. Yes, it will take a long time, maybe even “several years,” to reduce ISIL to a relatively inconsequential player in the region, but Obama hasn’t really “launched America into another war in the Middle East.” Part of what he is doing is continuing a war against terrorist groups that began in earnest after 9/11. The other part of what he is doing, which some folks seem to have forgotten, is attempting to clean up a mess that neoconservatives in the Bush administration began with the colossally stupid invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yes, it is too bad that we once again have to aggressively attack another terrorist group in the Middle East. We all wish it weren’t the case. But it is a legitimate and moral use of American power, even if it is largely made necessary by a once-illegitimate use of American power.

4. “President Obama has announced that he also targeted a non-ISIS group in Syria. Mission creep in real time.”

I get real creeped out by the overuse of the phrase “mission creep.” For some journalists it has become something they inject into their reporting to make it clear they have learned their lesson from the disastrous, media-championed Iraq invasion in 2003 and will not be duped again by an administration wanting to drop bombs and fire missiles it has no business dropping and firing, even in the name of fighting terrorists.

The problem is that some missions need to creep, as the attack on the al Qaeda-related Khorasan Group demonstrates. If liberals won’t support an attack on a group of terrorists—whose existence is dedicated to developing creative and undetectable ways to kill Americans using airplanes—then it is hard to understand what use liberals will ever have for the U.S. military.

“Mission creep” claims, which normally are necessary and proper to consider, are in this case simply one way for people queasy about the general use of military force to fight terrorists to say that this specific mission is, as DSWright claimed using italics (and contradicting his claim in his other article; see 3. above), the opening “of another front in the perpetual War on Terror.Some of us agree that we shouldn’t call what we have done and are doing a War on Terror. We should simply say, when the need arises, that we are fighting terrorists, those who have essentially declared war on America. But leaving aside the semantics, using mission creep worries as an excuse to do nothing, or next to it, in Iraq and Syria means—let’s be honest about it—ISIL will continue to conquer and kill.

Related to this point is a particularly reprehensible article by Glenn Greenwald, who has become quite famous on the left for championing Edward Snowden’s illegal leaking of sensitive information that hasn’t made it any easier to track terrorists. The article was titled, “SYRIA BECOMES THE 7TH PREDOMINANTLY MUSLIM COUNTRY BOMBED BY 2009 NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE,” and in it Greenwald, conspiracist to the core, makes a claim that others on the left make: we are only producing more terrorists by fighting ISIL. Except Greenwald makes the point with a nice little twist:

Six weeks of bombing hasn’t budged ISIS in Iraq, but it has caused ISIS recruitment to soar. That’s all predictable: the U.S. has known for years that what fuels and strengthens anti-American sentiment (and thus anti-American extremism) is exactly what they keep doing: aggression in that region. If you know that, then they know that. At this point, it’s more rational to say they do all of this not despite triggering those outcomes, but because of it. Continuously creating and strengthening enemies is a feature, not a bug. It is what justifies the ongoing greasing of the profitable and power-vesting machine of Endless War.

He ends his blame-America-first piece with this:

…the U.S. does not bomb countries for humanitarian objectives. Humanitarianism is the pretense, not the purpose.

It is hard to contain one’s anger at such conspiratorial nonsense. According to Greenwald, the entire effort to stop anti-American terrorism, an effort that began after essentially ignoring terrorism resulted in the deaths of 3,000 Americans on 9/11, is just a way for the defense industry to make a buck. Just a way for America, pretending to care about the deaths of innocents slaughtered by jihadist killers, to keep the “machine of Endless War” going. America, in Greenwald’s eyes, is nothing more than a nation run by greedy imperialists. That’s all we are. Obama is no different from Dick Cheney. Our attack on ISIL is no different from the invasion of Iraq. There’s no room in Greenwald’s conspiracy-poisoned mind to entertain the idea that, despite plenty of monumental mistakes in the past that have actually strengthened anti-American sentiment, the present situation calls for what most Americans see as legitimate and moral action.

Meanwhile, Greenwald offers us nothing condemning ISIL or explaining what he would do about the bloodthirsty bastards in Iraq and Syria who would, if they had the chance, saw off Glenn Greenwald’s head as quickly and brutally as they sawed off the heads of other journalists. The only difference would be that the ISIL bastards wouldn’t have to write an anti-American script for Greenwald. They could just make him read his latest article.

Having said all that, there are legitimate questions about the constitutional propriety of President Obama’s actions in Syria, as he continues to authorize attacks on ISIL with neither the permission of the Syrian government nor the official permission of Congress. Those questions have been raised by various congressional voices, including Democratic voices, and it is obvious that if there were a will in Congress to stop what is going on, those voices would be turned into legislative language constitutionally tying the hands of the president. For now it appears all that is being offered is an official authorization of what Obama has already started, with some restrictions placed on its scope, and the requirement to come to Congress periodically to defend continuing the effort against ISIL—and whoever else decides that Allah is on the side of psychopaths waving black flags and beheading innocents, including innocent Americans.

Squabbling Democrats

The squabble between committed liberals-progressives and the White House the last few months is understandable.

Expectations were high after November, 2008, and Republicans were somewhat successful in making implementation of the Obama agenda very difficult, and they also made it look really, really scary.  You have to give the Republicans credit.  They are very good at bad governance and when it comes to peddling fear they are Zig Ziglar on speed.

In any case, liberals have had some criticisms of Obama and Obama has had some criticisms of liberals and the truth is that both sides are right, and wrong.

It appears to be true that President Obama knew within days of his occupation of the White House that Republicans were not going to be partners in anything he wanted to do.  And it appears that despite knowing Republican plans to undermine him, he continued to extend invitation after invitation after invitation to Republicans in a vain hope that he could peel off one or two, presumably so he could put a “bipartisan” label on some fairly massive legislative efforts.

The invitations, of course, were returned to sender, unopened in most cases.  And liberals wondered why Obama kept mailing more and more of them, when it was clear that Republicans would refuse them. That is a fair criticism, and it certainly appears that White House strategy unnecessarily extended the ugly process of getting the health care reform bill passed.

Liberals also wondered why the administration didn’t fight harder for other initiatives, like a public insurance option, which, it turns out, would probably have made the resulting reform bill more popular, not less.  They also wondered aloud why the administration didn’t fight for more drastic financial reforms. 

On the other hand, Obama and his team believed they have accomplished  much, and they certainly have worked very hard, only to be criticized by folks on the “professional left” for what they couldn’t get accomplished.  Feeling underappreciated, naturally some in the administration, including Obama himself, have expressed frustration with liberals and their seeming failure to understand how hard it is to get things done in Washington.

And there was, and is, some reason for that frustration.  A few high-profile liberals have been hypercritical of Obama and his administration.  FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher, progressive to the core, has been especially harsh, but Ariana Huffington has taken some stinging shots at the President, too, particularly regarding the financial reform law.

Hamsher believes that Obama’s words in a Rolling Stone interview, in which he says it is irresponsible for the Democratic base to be “sitting on their hands complaining,” are meant to provide political cover, should Democrats lose big in November:

No, this isn’t about getting voters to the polls in November. It’s about setting up a narrative for who will take the blame for a disastrous election. And once again, the White House doesn’t care if they make matters worse in order to deflect responsibility from Obama.

Well, despite Hamsher’s bitterness, this really is about getting Democratic voters to the polls in November.  I don’t know what she hopes to accomplish by suggesting Obama’s heart isn’t in the fight this November, considering he is the one who will pay the biggest political price for failure to hold on to the House and Senate.

And to put an exclamation on that point, here is a segment from last night’s Rachel Maddow Show, which features extensive excerpts from Obama’s speech yesterday at a campaign-like rally in Madison, Wisconsin, before an estimated crowd of 26,000.  If the President keeps this sort of thing up the next five weeks, it will be hard to question his commitment to the cause:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Left-wing Teabaggers?

Political purists on the left-wing of the political spectrum may end up doing what Republicans cannot do.  They may make our country safe again for conservatives.

Besides some of the intense criticism of Democrats coming from progressive places like Firedoglake and the HuffingtonPost, I have read complaints from liberals across the country.  Some folks in Massachusetts, who are obviously sincere, committed liberals and progressives (synonymous to me), are planning to sit out the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s senate seat.

However sincere, such inaction would bring to the United States Senate a bona fide teabagger.

All of us who have a strong opinion on just what philosophy should guide our politics are often frustrated by political leaders on our side who don’t always vote the way we want or even think the way we believe they should think.

And it’s easy to get aggravated at what’s going on now in Washington, no matter what side of the philosophical battle you are on.  Teabaggers are furious with what they perceive (obviously falsely) as a move toward socialism, a failure to act fiscally responsibly, and government control of individual behavior. 

While that is as nutty as can be, those on the other end of the spectrum are equally furious that the Democrats are selling out “progressive” principles by agreeing to various watered-down legislative initiatives to improve our society.  Although that sentiment is not exactly as crazy as the teabagging hysteria, there is a certain naiveté in the actions of some liberals, who are willing to abandon the Democratic Party out of disgust with its failure to achieve any or all progressive goals.

As I have written before, Barack Obama never was the radical liberal that the right-wing haters portrayed him to be both during the campaign and since taking office.  Anyone who has followed politics closely for some time and who listened intently to what Obama said last year on the campaign trail could see that more than anything else, the arc of Obama’s beliefs bent toward pragmatism not radicalism.

So, to the extent that committed liberals are surprised that Obama values compromise as a way to get something rather than nothing, they shouldn’t blame him or the Democrats for their own misperceptions or their own unrealistic expectations.  Democrats are no doubt in control of the federal government’s legislative and executive branches.  But liberal Democrats are not. 

Most Democrats, including the president, are trying to make something good happen despite the lingering effects of conservative poison that still affects much of our politics. Unfortunately, some of that poison is still being sold by Democratic legislators who have their jobs because they live in districts that largely reject wholesale liberal prescriptions for a better society.

In some such places, like Nebraska, the Democratic Party is fortunate to even have a U.S. Senator there, let alone one who is willing to vote for a reform package that isn’t perfect but is a start on a very long road to the kind of reforms all progressives want to see.

The problem is the current reform bill is not a revolutionary piece of legislation, in the reckoning of many liberals.  Rather than see the parts of the bill that were unthinkable a few short years ago, they have chosen to focus on the parts of the bill that represent what they believe is a “sell out” to the insurance industry.  In American politics, revolution comes incrementally, and wise advocates understand that truth.

No doubt, from a purist perspective, the final version of the health care reform bill will be highly unsatisfactory for most liberals. But to kill the current effort by refusing to vote for Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, or by incessantly talking up its shortcomings, is insane because it is self-defeating.

Coakley’s Republican opponent, Scott Brown, a Massachusetts state senator and benefactor of the Tea Party Express, has pledged to provide the final vote to support a Republican filibuster in the Senate and kill any chance to reform the health insurance system—maybe for another generation.  And how many other filibusters will his vote support that will kill legislation important to liberals?

By staying home out of frustration, progressives will in effect be endorsing the views of the far right-wing of the conservative movement, who will now—even in defeat—claim victory because they were at least “competitive” in the Northeast.

In other words, rather than helping to pull the plug on Neanderthalic conservatism, purists on the left may end up giving mouth to mouth resuscitation to Rush Limbaugh, who began his program today by noting that because of what is happening in Massachusetts, his brand of conservatism, à la Jason,  is back.

He followed later by boldly stating, “Obama has failed. His presidency is a failure.”

Only liberals can make that true.

%d bloggers like this: