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December 16, 2008

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Love him? Hate him? How do YOU feel about our soon to be former President? Take part in a chance to immortalize your views in book form by visiting http://goodbyegeorgew.com/ and letting your opinion be read!

Check out the following article about http://goodbyegeorgew.com/:

GOODBYE GEORGE W. WEBSITE STARTS NEW MOVEMENT FOR DEMOCRACY

With the whole world watching the Obama transition kick in it’s easy to forget about the outgoing warmongerer-in-chief who rode to political power on his daddy’s coat-tails. Without so much as winning the popular vote the first time around George W. Bush took the White House in 2000. In 2004 he stayed the course for a second term thanks to classic Klan-style intimidation tactics in battleground states that squeaked the Bush /Cheney team back in for a total eight years on Pennsylvania Avenue. Surprisingly enough some semblance of Planet Earth survived and in retrospect we will miss the factual misstatements and grammatical blunders of the Presidential Poster boy for “No Child Left Behind” education.

Before he leaves office U.S. citizens and people form around the world are finally getting their chance to tell President Bush what they think. The new website www.goodbyegeorgew.com is building the democracy that the Bush Administration has worked so hard to erode. While welcoming sarcasm it is providing a general forum to write to the soon-to-be-unemployed President and give him your candid opinion by speaking out.

Letters are actively being sought to put the democracy and free speech back into America despite the hard work of the Homeland security team to eradicate it forever.

Of course this Goodbye George W. site comes replete with great political memorabilia on sale for the “historical” collectors. But what caught my attention is that the founder, Kate Wheeler, who I recently spoke with, is not making a hard sell on her goods but is more interested in putting the participation back into democracy and American politics.

This farewell to Bush will later be published into an e-book so anyone leaving their comments will be a part of this historic catharsis and collector’s item in itself.

I hope that the incoming President will get a hint from this as well and seek his own avenues to stay in touch with the opinion of the people that he was elected to represent. Once in office it wouldn’t be a shock if he gives his ears principally to the likes of Citigroup and J.P. Morgan, who were among the 10 biggest donors to the Obama campaign, (despite his “no strings attached campaign” propaganda).

The real change America needs is a White House and Government that listen to the people and www.goodbyegeorgew.com is a step in the right direction. It gives ordinary space for people to send our opinions to Washington. Of course, in this case, we’re giving our opinion to the man who is packing his bags (hallelujah), but it’s a good start on bringing back real democracy.

Anyone interested in setting a new course for democracy in this country should click over to this website and write their own heartfelt send off to the man who stole the presidency and steered a course into the diplomatic dark ages.

llow me also to state unequivocally and without reserve that if President Obama does not entirely repeal the policy authorizing the use of torture, and the use of rendition to achieve the same repugnant ends, then he deserves to described the same way that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are rightly labeled: war criminal.

amen to that.

clap clap clappity clap

It is the first thing, the very first thing, Obama should do. The moment he becomes President, while he is still at the ceremony, he should repeal the policy authorizing the use of torture. He shouldn't even wait to get to the Oval Office.

For me, at least, partisanship and support for a political party or politician will not trump the moral implications of torture.

Well said. Do you really believe that Obama will meet all your criteria though? Oh, I see him making policy changes concerning torture, but I don’t see him getting rid of rendition for example. He’s already back-pedaled on Gitmo, and rendition is one area I don’t expect to see more than superficial changes. And while things may change at Gitmo, I’ll bet we still have detainees there when Obama’s first term wraps up. I think it’s just the reality of what he’s inheriting.

Why the slam on Goldberg though? That seems very straightforward, and if he wrote one thing in the last 8 years you could agree with I would think that would be it. I thought we generally agreed here that pundits are not responsible for not writing something.

Allow me also to state unequivocally and without reserve that if President Obama does not entirely repeal the policy authorizing the use of torture, and the use of rendition to achieve the same repugnant ends, then he deserves to be described the same way that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are rightly labeled: war criminal.

And what if he decides - as I believe he has already decided, since he accepted George W. Bush's choice of SecDef - to let the chief war criminals go free and unpunished?

How can Obama expect to end the policy of torture unless he intends to have the US Defense Department thoroughly investigated and all of those who supported the policy - the policy that ensured that soldiers were ordered to commit torture, to ignore torture, to refrain from reporting acts of torture they witnessed - that these people are rooted out and prosecuted.

I don't think Obama does expect that. That's why he's sticking with Robert Gates. It helps to create the impression that torture in the US military was something that went out with Rumsfeld, and no one needs to dig up any unpleasantness against any current senior personnel.

Lowlevel grunts who got their hands dirty may be prosecuted. But clean the military out from the top downwards? A President who wanted to do that would not have stuck with SecDef Gates. And I still wonder why the issue of torture in the US military was so unimportant to Publius and to Hilzoy in their approving posts on the acceptance of Bush's SecDef to run the Defense Department under Obama.

How can Obama expect to end the policy of torture unless he intends to have the US Defense Department thoroughly investigated and all of those who supported the policy - the policy that ensured that soldiers were ordered to commit torture, to ignore torture, to refrain from reporting acts of torture they witnessed - that these people are rooted out and prosecuted.

By repealing executive orders authorizing torture, reaffirming that torture is illegal, and enforcing that position.

Why the slam on Goldberg though? That seems very straightforward, and if he wrote one thing in the last 8 years you could agree with I would think that would be it. I thought we generally agreed here that pundits are not responsible for not writing something.

I'm not sure I follow. He wrote an impassioned post to imprison and punish the perpetrators of the Abu Ghraib torture, and now is silent after we have learned the identities of the perpetrators.

Yes, he has an obligation to greet this revelation with a post.

Oh, I see him making policy changes concerning torture, but I don’t see him getting rid of rendition for example. He’s already back-pedaled on Gitmo, and rendition is one area I don’t expect to see more than superficial changes.

I will condemn Obama if he continues to use rendition though I don't think it rises to the level of war crime.

He’s already back-pedaled on Gitmo, and rendition is one area I don’t expect to see more than superficial changes. And while things may change at Gitmo, I’ll bet we still have detainees there when Obama’s first term wraps up.

Could you explain what you mean about this "backpedaling" on Gitmo? The only time I recall Gitmo coming up since the election was in his "60 Minutes" interview a few weeks back in which he stated unequivocally that he would be closing it.

Elvis is king.

"I will condemn Obama if he continues to use rendition though I don't think it rises to the level of war crime."

Well, in a technical sense, you're right: it's a violation of Article 3 of the Torture Convention and in many cases the Anti-Torture Statute's criminal prohibition on conspiracy to torture rather than the a grave breach of the Geneva Convention & the War Crimes Act. So, "not a war crime" okay, but morally better in what sense other than Democratic presidents having done it? (I don't actually think Obama will continue rendition--I'm more worried about issues where, unlike rendition, his backpedaling would not violate campaign promises & prior stances in the Senate. Specifically (1) his policies re: indefinite administrative detention--where I think, unlike torture, retaining Gates is REALLY a worrying sign (2) lack of accountability/investigation.

One thing conservatives just don't get:

There is this fallback on the argument that, well, the US is better than the world's dictatorships and Bush is better than Saddam. Bush's torture isn't as bad as Saddam's torture.

I think most of the world more or less sees this, but the acknowledgment of the superiority of US institutions is what sets the level of expectation higher. In other words, it's a little silly to compare the president of the 300-million-person strong democracy with a thug who ruled by blindfold and gun. You expect so much more of the leader of the free world than "Well, at least I didn't torture you like the other guy!"

It's demeaning to the US to set our standard so low. And it's a false assurance to think you are doing well or even decently just because you are better than the worst.

Katherine is correct.

If Obama allows rendition to continue, he could be charged with conspiracy to commit torture under Section (c) of the US anti-torture statute (full statute below).

This would not be a war crime, but it would likely constitute an impeachable offense.

Who will be the first to call for Obama's impeachment?

-------------

18 U.S.C. 2340A

(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

what's the big deal with Gates? does the SecDef not report to the President ? can the SecDef go out and decide policy w.r.t. torture without approval from the President? is there any chance Obama kept Gates on because he likes the way Gates has handled Iraq, as opposed to agreeing with every policy Gates has ever championed ?

all this groaning and moaning about Gates makes it sound like the moaner thinks Obama is going to give him free reign to do what he wants with the DoD. "You want to torture, Bob? OK. I guess we're gonna torture. Nothing I can do about it, I'm just a lowly President."

that's clearly not what is going to happen.

Well, in a technical sense, you're right

Which is how I meant it. After reading my post, I realized that my language was not consistent.

What cleek said (I think).

Obama chose Gates for two reasons (I hope):

1. Gates is amenable to taking on certain portions of the Pentagon bureaucracy with respect to looming budgetary battles.

2. Gates is amenable to withdrawing US troops from Iraq.

For both, Obama wants bi-partisan political cover and a strong voice. Gates offers both.

Obama is thinking pragmatically and tactically. Even if the lack of purity is insulting to some.

Yes, he has an obligation to greet this revelation with a post.

I don’t agree anyone has a responsibility to update years old posts. I mean if you want to go after his many postings that came after that which were in support of torture (his 5 Minutes Well Spent article on waterboarding comes to mind) well and good. Fish in a barrel, but have at it. It just seemed kind of gratuitous here. Because he hasn’t had a front page post accepting the findings of this report and calling for Bush’s head, his year’s old statement was really just “a hand wringing pose”. As a pundit yourself I doubt you’d want to be held to that same standard.

And not to defend him, but I imagine his response to the “bi-partisan Senate report” would be the exact response I get here whenever I cite a bi-partisan Senate report: of course it’s partisan. (To which you can respond that there was no Republican dissent, which is a fair point. But somehow if I cite a bi-partisan report it’s no good if a D dissents from the majority.)

The hope is that Gates was selected because anyone else would be an untrusted outsider to the Pentagon. For something that sweeping to be done, they have to be asked by someone they trust.

Now we just need to find out if Obama's got the nerve and commitment to tell him to clean his room. I hope so, but I'll admit that it'd be brass balls on the order of Glengarry Glen Ross.

But somehow if I cite a bi-partisan report it’s no good if a D dissents from the majority

well if there's a whole separate section of the committee report that's labeled "minority views" that's authored by whatever party is in the minority and sets forth a very different view of the facts, actions, etc. than the rest of the report, it's not really a "bi-partisan report."

cleek: any chance Obama kept Gates on because he likes the way Gates has handled Iraq

Possibly. That would include Gates' failure to prosecute torture / torturers / close down US gulags - to enforce what is supposed to be the law about how the US military works. Is that what you meant?

that's clearly not what is going to happen.

It's not at all clear to me. Especially given that Hilzoy's analysis of why Gates was accepted by Obama included the assertion that Obama just doesn't have the ability/the authority to pick the SecDef he wants and impose that SecDef on the military, regardless of the military's views.

Besides: Until there is a thorough investigation, Obama cannot be sure that Gates is not implicated in the US military's torture of prisoners. And if he plans to launch an investigation leading to courts martial / civilian prosecutions, the last thing a good manager ought to do is to pick someone to run the department under investigation who may well end up being prosecuted by that same investigation.

Which is why, finally, with Gates remaining in charge, I know (or at least, I make a pretty certain guess) that Obama plans no top-down investigation: because that investigation would have rightly to begin with Robert Gates.

That would include Gates' failure to prosecute torture / torturers / close down US gulags - to enforce what is supposed to be the law about how the US military works.

i suspect the ultimate decision here came from Gates' superiors.

Which is why, finally, with Gates remaining in charge, I know (or at least, I make a pretty certain guess) that Obama plans no top-down investigation:

yeah, yeah. Obama's a failure before he even starts. we know.

Unfrozen Caveman asserts:

If Obama allows rendition to continue, he could be charged with conspiracy to commit torture under Section (c) of the US anti-torture statute . . .

This would not be a war crime, but it would likely constitute an impeachable offense.

Who will be the first to call for Obama's impeachment?

Let's not forget that a president can still be impeached after leaving office. Paragraph 7 of Article I, § 3 of the Constitution states:

Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.

The expiration of the current president's term does not make impeachment moot; the House can still investigate and vote articles of impeachment, with the Senate to determine disqualification from holding federal office in the future.

This is not a mere academic question. After serving as president, John Quincy Adams served in the House of Representatives and William Howard Taft served as Chief Justice of the United States. After serving as vice-president, Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush served as president (other than by direct succession to a vacancy) and Hubert Humphrey served as a U. S. Senator. Walter Mondale served as Ambassador to Japan and was nominated to run for the Senate from Minnesota when Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash.

Here's hoping that the next Congress will pursue articles of impeachment as to whether President Bush has taken care that the laws be faithfully executed as to torture, electronic surveillance and such other areas as may be appropriate.

OCSteve, I think you're being a bit pedantic here on the obligation of a pundit to post.

Goldberg said, with some level of passion, that those responsible for perpetrating Abu Ghraib's torture should be prosecuted and punished.

In recent days, we have learned that those responsible include Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Granted that Goldberg has been an accommodating apologist for the Bush administration, it is exceedingly unlikely that his views have remained consistent given the recent revelations.

So, yes, Goldberg should let us know if he still believes that those responsible for Abu Ghraib's torture should be prosecuted and punished. Or not. And if not, why?

I say this with the utmost sincerity: If Goldberg subsequently sets the record straight and calls for the prosecution of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, then I will retract my criticism 100% and issue a lengthy mea culpa and apology.

Let's just say, I'm not busying myself with the rough draft of that post.

And not to defend him, but I imagine his response to the “bi-partisan Senate report” would be the exact response I get here whenever I cite a bi-partisan Senate report: of course it’s partisan. (To which you can respond that there was no Republican dissent, which is a fair point. But somehow if I cite a bi-partisan report it’s no good if a D dissents from the majority.)

Not only were there no GOP dissents, but the crucial findings were based on memos from Bush and Rumsfeld.

What part of reading memos that authorize the use of SERE as written by the POTUS and Sec Def is partisan?

Goldberg can say that if he wants, but that doesn't change my argument in the slightest. That would only be the means by which he seeks to conceal his hypocrisy.

History repeats itself indeed.

Here's liberal hawk Kevin Drum wrapping up a February 6, 2003 post beating the drums of war on Iraq (emphasis mine):

What's more, they know that everything they say is easily verifiable once the war starts. No one ever pressed LBJ for proof of what happened in the Tonkin Gulf, but there will be dozens of countries and dozens more NGOs who will be looking very closely at what we find in Iraq after ground forces move in. It will hardly be possible to fake vast numbers of mobile weapons labs, swimming pools of anthrax, ballistic missiles, and the like, and if those things aren't found in substantial and convincing quantities George Bush will be lucky to escape impeachment, let alone win reelection.

If your opposition to war is based on the idea that Saddam does indeed possess illegal weapons but it's best to leave him alone anyway, well and good. But if it's based on the idea that the administration is lying and none of this stuff exists, you should tread carefully. I think it's pretty likely you will be proven wrong shortly.

And here's Kevin Drum in July 2007, having been proved monumentally wrong, mocking those who were calling for Bush's impeachment for crimes that went far beyond what Drum admitted ought to be impeachable offenses just three-and-a-half years earlier.

Our foreign policy elite from both parties, from both right and "left," rather like official U.S. violence in all its numerous forms. And they will do whatever is necessary to provide for its continuing availability as a part of U.S. policy, while of course making the occasional noises designed to reassure us that they have carried out these most difficult tasks for the love of our people. And they have suffered no defect within themselves, in their soul, or in their character.

Kevin Drum has certainly come around to seeing his mistake, though. he knows he was wrong, and doesn't try to weasel out of it. he's not like Reynolds or Goldberg or the infinite number of others who continue to churn out excuse after excuse.

Well, cleek, Drum's admitted he was wrong about Iraq in 2003. Has he ever admitted he was wrong about impeachment in 2007?

cleek:yeah, yeah. Obama's a failure before he even starts. we know.

Did I say that? I think not. The issue of the US's gulags and torture/murder of prisoners is something that matters very much to me, and has done so for nearly seven years. That Obama says he will at least stop what the US has been doing - kidnapping, torturing, and murdering people outside the law - is a good thing: I hope Obama follows through on this, but I'm pleased it's among his goals.

But yeah: I did kind of hope, in a small way, that Obama would aim to do more than that: would aim to see the people responsible for these crimes investigated and prosecuted or court-martialled. Yeah, I'm kind of bitter that it is clear, even before Obama takes office, that no one responsible for the crimes of the past seven+ years is going to meet any penalty for committing those crimes - they're just going to be passed over withhout discussion.

That's very different from setting up a straw man "Obama's already a failure!" I didn't say that; you did.

Ben, have you tossed that Drum quote back at Kevin to see how he'd react? I'd have done that, but I got sick of KD a long time ago, though he is very good on some issues. (Social Security, for one).

Has he ever admitted he was wrong about impeachment in 2007?

i assume he's as surprised as the rest of us are about that one. i don't think i've seen him making excuses for his incorrect prediction. have you ?

That's very different from setting up a straw man "Obama's already a failure!" I didn't say that; you did.

you imply it every time you bring up the Gates selection. every time you say something like:

    Yeah, I'm kind of bitter that it is clear, even before Obama takes office, that no one responsible for the crimes of the past seven+ years is going to meet any penalty for committing those crimes - they're just going to be passed over withhout discussion.

you make it clear that Obama is failing to live up to your standards.

Who will be the first to call for Obama's impeachment?

Jonah Goldberg.

Thanks -

cleek: you make it clear that Obama is failing to live up to your standards.

Plainly I am failing to make clear what I am saying, which is that it is clear to me that Obama is not going to do something which has mattered increasingly to me for nearly seven years: prosecute the criminals responsible for murder, torture, kidnapping, and extra-judicial imprisonment.

How much more clearly can I say this?

It is unlikely that a president could be convicted of conspiracy to torture because of rendition (not that I'm in favor of rendition). The whole point of rendition is to create plausible deniability about the torture part. Sending someone to a place where they are subject to the laws of that place isn't the same as actively sponsoring, arranging or authorizing or directing what happens there.

That said, I agree that the very first thing that Obama must do is end torture and rendition. I voted for him in the belief that he will do so. I too would like to see people held accountable for what they did in office during the past eight years, but I don't have any real expectation that it will happen. I don't think the appointment of Gates has anything to do with it; rather, going back and prosecuting people who should have been held accountable by the electorate (or by Congress via impeachment) probably seems like a politically extravagant and divisive thing to do in a time when we are looking forward to an extremely bleak future with its own unprecedented challenges which will require as much unity and optimism as the country can muster.

I do hope though, at the very least, that a truth squad reveals all the secrets. And I would prefer to see punishment of the guilty as well; I just don't have any expectation of it.

i assume he's as surprised as the rest of us are about that one. i don't think i've seen him making excuses for his incorrect prediction. have you ?

I'm not sure what you're arguing here, cleek. In 2003, on the eve of the war on Iraq, Drum suggests that if there aren't massive amounts of WMDs Bush should be impeached. There turn out to be no WMDs. Later, people call for Bush's impeachment. Drum not only doesn't join them, he mocks their calls for impeachment.

Drum's stern and serious warnings about the political consequences of Bush's (then hypothetical in Drum's opinion) lies about Iraq thus seem fundamentally similar to Goldberg's hypothetical promise to punish the guilty.

Ben, have you tossed that Drum quote back at Kevin to see how he'd react? I'd have done that, but I got sick of KD a long time ago, though he is very good on some issues. (Social Security, for one).

No I haven't, DJ. But my guess is that I've been sick of Drum even longer than you have. Besides, nearly everyone was very good on Social Security; scrapping it was, after all, the only major Bush initiative that the Democrats wholeheartedly resisted.

I don't have a strong opinion about Gates per se, but I feel compelled to point out that there are two inconsistent defenses of him as SecDef being presented here.

@cleek: OK. I guess we're gonna torture. Nothing I can do about it, I'm just a lowly President.

SecDef is simply a vehicle for conveying the President's policy to the JCS, such that existing personal relations and preferences between SecDef and brass are not relevant, and the possibility of winks and nods does not undermine the implementation of those policies.

@Steve: For something that sweeping to be done, they have to be asked by someone they trust.

SecDef's standing and previous relations with JCS and brass have an impact on the implementation of policy, such that SecDef's cooperation is required in order for the President's policies to be forcefully and consistently implemented.

These two arguments are at odds with each other.

Obama's already a failure! .... every time you say something like:

Yeah, I'm kind of bitter that it is clear, even before Obama takes office, that no one responsible for the crimes of the past seven+ years is going to meet any penalty for committing those crimes - they're just going to be passed over withhout discussion.

you make it clear that Obama is failing to live up to your standards.

I wonder whether that's entirely fair. For instance, my inner idealist really wants to see a thorough investigation into the use of torture. All people engaging in or authorising torture, regardless of rank ought to be tried openly and fairly. If the evidence shows that X authorised torture, then X is convicted and goes to prison. It shouldn't matter if X="president of the US" or X="random person" or X=[insert preferred evildoer]. The law applies equally to all.

But that's not how it works - it's an idealisation. If X="head of state", then there's a lot of dedicated political infrastructure, cultural norms and cold hard cash that acts to impose a stronger bar to prosecution than if X="random person". That's an empirical law of politics, I suspect. So even if Obama truly were an optimal president, perfectly devoted to keeping my inner idealist satisfied (pause, wait for laughter to subside), it wouldn't be possible for him to achieve the desired outome - even a massively popular president has only a limited amount of influence, and even a massively unpopular ex-president has a lot of protection. Given those constraints, even this hypothetical optimal-Obama can't take the kind of action against torturers that my idealist wants. And that's even working on the assumption that the case against Bush is ironclad (which I doubt).

Knowing this doesn't make me any less disappointed though. The fact that Obama won't take idealised action against torture annoys me (and I'm a little bitter about it), but it's not really a criticism of they guy: the inability to meet an impossible standard isn't really a failure. Instead, it's a criticism of the sometimes-gaping imperfections of political processes. Much as we'd like it to be otherwise, the system doesn't always work.

JFTR though, I do have dog in a different fight.

@Eric Martin: I will condemn Obama if he continues to use rendition though I don't think it rises to the level of war crime.

Of course you will, and of course he won't. (though I think what you meant was that you'll condemn Obama if you find out that he continues to use rendition)

But Obama's job description isn't simply to obey laws. What he's tasked with doing is enforcing them, both before and after the fact. Based on his choices thus far, and all the other problems on his plate, I don't expect him to put much effort into enforcing these particular laws. Maybe his posture will change dramatically once he enters office, or maybe Congress or the Press will force his hand by exposing even more unimaginable heinousness. But right now neither strong repudiations nor prosecutions appear to be on the agenda.

YMMV on whether that would be a dangerous mistake like Operation Ajax or an unfortunate political accommodation like Welfare Reform.

Also, not speaking for Jes, but:

@cleek: you make it clear that Obama is failing to live up to your standards.

Damn straight. In fact I'd been led to believe that it's one of my responsibilities as a citizen to make it clear. Did I misunderstand something about my role in all this?

radish, as cleek is aware; I'm not a US citizen. Bush is not my President and Obama never will be.

I'm a citizen of one of many countries whose citizens and legal residents have been kidnapped by the US, held extra-judicially by the US, tortured by the US, and - because my country is one of the US's allies - eventually released, with warnings from the US that these people were dangerous characters, that was why the US kidnapped them - though the US was unable then, during their years of imprisonment, and now, to show that any of them were in fact guilty of anything.

SecDef's standing and previous relations with JCS and brass have an impact on the implementation of policy, such that SecDef's cooperation is required in order for the President's policies to be forcefully and consistently implemented.

These two arguments are at odds with each other.

Well, I would say split the difference.

One of the realities in the US government is that different bureaucratic behemoths can spoil even the POTUS's agenda. They can leak embarrasing stories, erect red tape barriers, use institutional prerogatives to hinder implementation, etc.

That being said, these institutions can't necessarily disobey a POTUS's order, or disregard laws that the executive wants to prosecute.

But it's better to have the heads of these institutions on your side and, in the case of Gates, commanind respect within the institution itself in order to cut down on pushback induced friction.

Along these lines, I would bet that Obama has already had discussions with Gates on several key issues including future policy on Iraq, Afghanistan and detainee treatment such that Obama feels confident Gates is on board with Obama's vision (or at least willing to accommodate it).

But it's better to have the heads of these institutions on your side

Which is one reason why, I'd always supposed, the President has the power to appoint the heads of these institutions.

and, in the case of Gates, command respect within the institution itself in order to cut down on pushback induced friction.

Is Gates literally the only person who could command respect within the DoD? Because if so, the US is in real trouble.

Is Gates literally the only person who could command respect within the DoD? Because if so, the US is in real trouble.

He's one of the few that could do that AND appeal to Republicans. In a couple of years, when Gates is no longer needed for these reasons, Obama will pick someone different.

It's not as dire as you make it out to be jes. It's purely contextual and contingent.

He's one of the few that could do that AND appeal to Republicans.

Oh. For some reason, I thought Obama and Biden were Democrats. Odd, that.

It's not as dire as you make it out to be jes.

Eric, I'm not the one claiming that the US has so few people capable of being Secretary of Defense that Obama has to stick with the one Bush picked, or that Obama has so little authority over the US military that he can't pick his own candidate for SecDef. Other people are claiming that the situation is that dire.

Let's just say, I'm not busying myself with the rough draft of that post.

I wouldn’t waste the time, no. I haven’t seen anything specifically from him, but it’s probably safe to assume that he would endorse the editorial position.


On the rest of this, I fear that Darth Cheney is likely correct:

Well, my guess is once they get here and they're faced with the same problems we deal with every day, that they will appreciate some of the things we've put in place. We did not exceed our constitutional authority as some have suggested, but we -- the President believes, I believe -- very deeply in a strong executive, and I think that's essential in this day and age, and I think the Obama administration is not likely to cede that authority back to the Congress. I think they'll find that, given the challenge they face, they'll need all the authority they can muster.

I fear that Darth Cheney is likely correct:

Dick Cheney is lying through his teeth. "We did not exceed our constitutional authority as some have suggested"? Cheney is a war criminal.

And if this is a sly reference to the crime of warrantless wiretapping, well, I noted back in June that Obama's support of the new FISA law was effectively voting for himself as President to have these powers, and as I'm not a war criminal and I said it before Cheney, I get credit.

Oh. For some reason, I thought Obama and Biden were Democrats. Odd, that.

They are. And as such, have little appeal to the GOP. Hence, Gates can come in handy when trying to appeal to the GOP/entrenched interests in the Pentagon/Iron Triangle.

Other people are claiming that the situation is that dire.

Other people: the situation is not that dire.

"Obama's support of the new FISA law was effectively voting for himself as President to have these powers" says Jesurgislac.

I don't agree. His vote made no difference in the Senate, and he was fighting an election campaign where he was being accused of being a terrorist and (at the very least) soft on national security. He made a political calculation after he stood in favor of a better bill that lost.

Honestly, I wish Democrats (or progressives, or people who opposed the Bush administration) would remain optimistic, and participate in the momentum of Obama's election for the first six months of his presidency before claiming that they have some inside knowledge about his less than pure motivations. He won. That's something right there. He won because he made the right judgments about winning the election - and if he allowed a few symbolic votes disappoint the base, who really cares if he manages to pull this country out of the quagmire(s) that it finds itself in due to the incompetence and malevolence of the Republican regime.

Obama's presidency has the potential to improve this country to a massive extent. Let's support him and rejoice - at least for awhile.

They are. And as such, have little appeal to the GOP. Hence, Gates can come in handy when trying to appeal to the GOP/entrenched interests in the Pentagon/Iron Triangle.

I'm sorry, isn't Obama supposed to be President and Commander in Chief of the Pentagon? You know you're in trouble when the civilian and elected leader cannot control the military.

Other people: the situation is not that dire.

You are now asserting that Obama can't control the US military. You are one of the people claiming the situation is that dire: a military out of control of the civilian leadership? That's bad.

isn't Obama supposed to be President and Commander in Chief of the Pentagon?

Sorry - will be, one hopes, come 20th January, if the Secret Service ensures he isn't assassinated by the out-of-control military. Which may be another reason why he's accepted Robert Gates as his Secretary of Defense: it means he may survive.

I'm not a US citizen. Bush is not my President and Obama never will be.

Actually I knew that as well. I figure voicing opinions about US politics is optional but welcome for non-citizens, and I appreciate that you make the effort. Especially since us yanks have hardly anything useful to say about British politics in return :)

Obama feels confident Gates is on board with Obama's vision (or at least willing to accommodate it).

Sure. And Obama's shown himself to be an excellent judge of both character and political climate. But as I said upthread, my discomfort is not with Gates as such but with what Obama's choices tell us about his vision.

It would be equally true and a lot more charitable to express discomfort with what Obama's choices tell us about the political climate. I could even express my sincere Hope that his Vision is to Change said political climate, so that rendition and torture won't even be an option for the 45th through at least the 50th Presidents. My concerns would be just the same though, and no more likely to go away. I would just have decided to be more diplomatic about them.

I mean, the most obvious set of reasons why Obama is going along with Robert Gates as SecDef, is that Obama simply doesn't care that much about cleaning up the US military, and doesn't care who knows it.

The assertions that Hilzoy, Publius, and now Eric have made that Obama cannot appoint his own Secretary of Defense because he cannot expect to have the military accept his choice of appointment are frankly scary, but to tell the truth: I think that Obama, like most Americans, just doesn't see it as much of a problem that the US military has been torturing foreigners, and therefore sees no reason to care where or not Gates is implicated in military torture.

By report, the one thing Robert Gates is good at is sycophantically telling the sitting President whatever he wants to hear - hence Bush's approval of him as SecDef. I'm fairly sure that he's also good at telling the President-Elect whatever he wants to hear.

A good post, but there is something important missing here. You don't even acknowledge all the right wingers at the time who were eager to defend Abu Ghraib as not really serious and no worse than fraternity hazing. Remember them?

@Sapient:

Obama's abandonment of his specific commitment on FISA was more than a symbolic vote. I grant that Obama was responding to a done deal, and hold the Democratic Congressional leadership most responsible for the disastrous cave.

But we've had eight years of Democrats ignoring the right thing to do even when it's also the popular thing because of pre-emptive cringing about being thought "soft on national security." That's how we got into the g** d***ed f***ing Iraq mess/crime against humanity.

So I get a little queasy at the prospect of Obama governing from the right because as an African-American he's somehow always going to be suspected of being insufficiently warmongering or authoritarian.

@Jes:

I think that Obama, like most Americans, just doesn't see it as much of a problem that the US military has been torturing foreigners, and therefore sees no reason to care where or not Gates is implicated in military torture.

One gauge of how badly you're overstating your case (as well as being a drama queen about Obama's possible assassination by an "out-of-control" military) is that you're pissing me off. I'm not a big defender of Obama; he appears unlikely to go anywhere near as far as I think is needed on any number of fronts.

But you are really being insultingly unfair to him here. Even if it's only for reasons of diplomatic re-engagement and world opinion, the president-elect sees it as a big problem, and cares quite a bit more than the average American that the U.S. military and CIA operatives have tortured prisoners.

Obama's reappointment of Gates, with which I disagree and of which I disapprove, is a political calculation. Assessing that Gates can help bring about more active cooperation of the brass is not the same thing as the military being "out of control".

I will also say that you've succeeded at pissing me off with the assertion that it's not a problem for most Americans that U.S. troops have tortured prisoners.

I don't wish to spend the evening looking up polls, so cannot document that you are wrong about that. So I'll just check out for a bit before I say something I regret.

it is clear to me that Obama is not going to do something which has mattered increasingly to me for

to me, that means the same thing as "not living up to your standards".

"So I get a little queasy at the prospect of Obama governing from the right because as an African-American he's somehow always going to be suspected of being insufficiently warmongering or authoritarian"

He did cave on FISA for political reasons, and I was disappointed. Most of my friends, though (not my friends online, but my friends who are progressive but don't read blogs), thought that it would have been an unnecessary battle to fight, given that it was already lost in the Senate. I wish he'd voted against it, but I don't really care. I wrote a zillion letters opposing FISA, and felt very angry about it (especially the telecommunications issue), but when it finally became apparent that we would lose, I didn't really care that much what Obama did, except that I wanted him to win the Presidential election. He did win, and he won handily. But it would have been a lot closer, and a lot more dicey, if the economy hadn't tanked. Then the Republicans' usual crap about palling around with terrorists would have had a lot more impact. I am going to be unabashed in cheerleading for Obama until he actually DOES something wrong.

Nell: Even if it's only for reasons of diplomatic re-engagement and world opinion, the president-elect sees it as a big problem, and cares quite a bit more than the average American that the U.S. military and CIA operatives have tortured prisoners.

And yet, isn't planning to appoint his own Secretary of Defense and launch an investigation. Or, if he is, is certainly running a very expert fake-out, including pretending that he plans to accept Robert Gates as continuing Secretary of Defense, to make everyone think that he just intends to sweep all torture issues back under the rug and make like it never happened and no one needs to be prosecuted over it.

I will also say that you've succeeded at pissing me off with the assertion that it's not a problem for most Americans that U.S. troops have tortured prisoners.

Well, if you can find polling data that says a majority of Americans know that US troops have tortured and murdered prisoners, and they object to their having done so, I'll take that back.

But the impression I've got (not polling data) is that a majority of Americans don't regard as torture what US soldiers have done to prisoners, and don't greatly care either, because the prisoners probably did something bad and so deserved it.

cleek: to me, that means the same thing as "not living up to your standards".

If this is your way of saying that your standards do not include regarding kidnapping, extra-judicial imprisonment, torture, and murder, as serious crimes meriting investigation and prosecution, well, okay. Yeah, those are my standards.

To me, torture is one of a small handful of truly bright-line issues.

Torture, habeas, Bill of Rights guarantees, rule of law. No pre-emptive warfare.

Yes, it's true that one can easily imagine scenarios in which torturing people might save American lives. I'm not sure how that changes the equation.

I can imagine scenarios where decimating the civilian populations of hostile nations would save lots of American lives. Short term, anyway.

Why isn't that on the table? Oderint dum metuant, right?

There are some things you just don't do. The reason that you don't do them is because there are certain kinds of people you just don't want to be.

So, as far as I'm concerned, you're either on the torture bus or you're not. There's no middle ground there.

I'm not on it. If you are, that's your prerogative, but from my point of view you are a cancer on the American body politic.

Today, it's KSM. Tomorrow, it's any non US citizen. Day after that, it's any inconvenient person. Don't think it won't play out that way, because it not only will, but it is.

Give the state the right to seize any person and do with them what they will, and the game is over. And I do mean over.

The technology is very good now, there is not a human being on the face of the planet who can stand against it. They'll make you hand over your own kids if it suits them to do so. Don't doubt it.

How long do you think you can tolerate the sensation of being burned alive? That technology is in place. Raytheon has built microwave devices that will heat your flesh 1/8 of an inch below the surface, and you will feel like you are being burned alive. The US government owns these devices.

Am I wearing a tin foil hat? I am not. Everything I'm saying is a plain fact.

So, I draw a bright line.

I'm not sure where Obama will wind up on all of this. My hope is that he will close Guantanamo, clearly forswear any form of abusive treatment of any person held by the US, and stop the rendition program.

Realistically, my guess is that rendition is going to be with us a long time, maybe forever. If we could get the other two out of Obama, I'd be a happy guy.

As far as pursuing criminal investigations of the Bush years, IMVHO the best thing Obama can do is stay the hell out of it. Appoint an independent prosecutor, give that person carte blanche to follow the trail wherever it leads, and then stay the hell out of it.

It *has* to be non-political.

Obama's position should be "It's out of my hands".

Thanks -

"your standards do not include regarding kidnapping, extra-judicial imprisonment, torture, and murder, as serious crimes meriting investigation and prosecution"

Why are you judging Obama before he even takes office, Jesurgislac? There is every reason to believe that he will have these crimes investigated. He may well intend to prosecute them, and your impressions otherwise aren't really worth much until he takes office. Also, even if the serious crimes are successfully prosecuted, they will almost certainly be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. Four of the current justices are certain to vote to reverse any conviction, and of the remaining five, one or two would likely join. A precedent by the Supreme Court absolving the wrongdoers based on some theory of executive power would be a disaster, and would give carte blanche to the next perpetrator. There is every reason to believe that Obama wouldn't want to risk this with the current court in place.

If Obama chooses not to use justice department resources to bring criminal charges against Bush administration officials, it will be because he has made a reasonable judgment about the possibility of success, and weigh it against the fact that he has to use his political strength to 1) get out of Iraq and close Guantanamo, 2) solve the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, 3) bring about health care reform, 4) avoid any further terrorist attacks on the United States, 5) reform a bureaucracy firmly entrenched during the past eight years with incompetent political hacks, 6) pursue other foreign policy initiatives such as negotiating Middle East peace, figuring out how to salvage the failing state of Pakistan, ending violence in Darfur, and worrying about the Iraq aftermath (with Iran a threat, even if not the threat that some make it out to be), 7) quell climate change and environmental degradation, 8) solve energy dependency, 9) etc.

Mark Benjamin had an interesting take on the issue of prosecution. I would love to see people held accountable, and believe that successfully prosecution might deter future abuses. But maybe not - it's really up to the American people to do the right thing in the voting booth. There are a lot of people to answer for what happened, truth be told.

And, Russell, I hope and believe that rendition can and will be ended during Obama's term. Torture doesn't work, and if people believe that, there's no reason for rendition or any other abusive technique.

Torture doesn't work

To be honest, I'm not sure this is always true. I'm actually pretty sure it can work in certain situations.

You've got some low level guy who's not that committed to whatever it is he's involved in, and you want some names out of him. Break a couple of ribs, or some fingers, and he'll give those names up, just to get you to leave him alone. If the information he's giving you is easy to confirm, he won't lie. Not more than once, anyway.

And torture is a hell of a lot easier than sitting across the table from the guy for day after endless freaking day, building a relationship, chipping away at his defenses, until you establish enough trust and credibility to get the same information through other means.

Interrogation is a lot of work.

Saying it doesn't work is not enough, because it's extremely likely that it's not always true.

It's not wrong because it's not effective. It's wrong because it's wrong. Give that up, and the game is over.

Thanks -

You're right, Russell. It's wrong. But it can't be justified on the basis of "it might save lives." It might work sometimes, but it's unreliable and bad policy as well as being wrong. And because we are a nation of laws (that conversation again) it undermines the integrity of our system (as well as our souls).

Honestly, I wish Democrats (or progressives, or people who opposed the Bush administration) would remain optimistic, and participate in the momentum of Obama's election for the first six months of his presidency before claiming that they have some inside knowledge about his less than pure motivations.

This isn't about imagined secret knowledge of hidden "impure" motivations.

This is about the very plain policies that Obama supported during the campaign (of which the FISA vote was a small part).

We elected the lesser evil. That was a good thing. I'm not ashamed to say that I voted for and gave money to Obama.

But electoral victory doesn't make the lesser evil any better than it appeared to be during the campaign.

Of course, if Obama ever shows any indication that he plans to govern in a different, actually progressive, way, I'd be happy to adopt a fully upbeat and optimistic attitude about the Obama administration.

But so far, he's doing exactly what I expected him to do. Unfortunately.

Torture does work. Not as a system for gathering information (it's terrible for that). But rather as a system of social control. Torturing masses of people can help beat a society into submission. That's why most totalitarian regimes torture.

"he's doing exactly what I expected him to do."

What has he "done" with which you disagree? Other than to choose a Secretary of Defense that he thinks can pull off a "bi-partisan" exit from Iraq? If he manages to make significant progress on any of the items I listed in an earlier post, I would say that he deserves to be called progressive, especially since he has to pull it off within a system that heavily favors the status quo.

Ditto, Ben,

When you torture someone, you usually get the answer you want, not the truth.

When you torture someone, you usually get the answer you want, not the truth.

I don't necessarily disagree, but I do believe it misses the point russell made, with which I wholeheartedly agree:

Torture is wrong! We don't do that. We hung people until they were dead, dead, dead for implementing the exact same interrogation methods approved by the Bush administration only four or five decades ago.

Whether it works or not is entirely beside the point. Making arguments regarding the efficacy of torture is a waste of time.

I wrote in haste.

First, I meant that we hung people four or five decades ago, not that Bush approved of the methods at that time.

Second, while I can imagine a small population on the margins for whom an argument regarding the efficacy of torture could take them off the fence for or against such methods, for the most part it is a fruitless argument. It's evil. Period. Why bother taking the discussion any further?

You guys are right about torture being wrong, period. It's wrong that it even came up in a way that anyone in our society was arguing its fine points, and shocking that such discussions would be more than academic. And I participated. It's always tempting to answer when people try to justify it on the ticking bomb scenario. But really the answer is what you said. We just don't do that.

It *has* to be non-political.


Russell, my reaction to almost everything you write is, "Gee, I wish I'd said that." But the above point gives me pause.

First, what do we elect governments for, if every controversial question must be outsourced to "independent" prosecutors or commissions or boards?

Second, is it plausible that even an "independent" prosecutor will be acknowledged as non-political by the political allies of the ancien regime?

Prosecuting self-proclaimed war criminals is no less a political choice than not prosecuting them. It's just a matter of which political constituency you piss off. If Obama is wise, he will choose to piss off the people who didn't vote for him -- there's fewer of them.

--TP

FWIW, I don't agree with the assumptions I see here about what may happen if President Obama goes directly for prosecutions of Bush Administration officials. A significant number of opinion leaders will paint targeted prosecutions of the kind I see calls for here as pure partisan payback. By "targeted", of course, I mean investigations that start with the premise that someone high up has committed crimes and investigates from there.

I fully expect that once the Bush Administration's appointees no longer control the Department of Justice, one or several grand juries will start showing an interest in the masses of evidence of crimes by various officials over the past eight years. A bottom up process has the critical advantage of visibly proceeding from the people, from a panel of ordinary citizens with no ideological agenda, and works up the ladder, rather than down from the top where the claim that decision makers have an axe to grind carries some weight. In the long run, the process of law aims at an end state where everyone, including the offenders and their friends, feel the verdict at least followed the law and took account of the facts. A president, and I hope President Obama will fall into this group, who wants to restore the consensus on respect for the rule of law must, I think, allow this process to play out.

Sapient: There is every reason to believe that he will have these crimes investigated

If so, then he shouldn't have allowed Robert Gates to remain in office as Secretary of Defense, since Gates will need to be investigated. Someone who is supposed to be running the removal of the US military occupation of Iraq does not need the distraction of being subject to a criminal investigation. Either Obama is a bad manager and doesn't see that, or he has no intention of instigating a thorough criminal investigation into the practice of torture in the US military.

And I don't think Obama is a bad manager.

Andrew: Torture is wrong! We don't do that.

Torture is wrong. And the US does do that. That's the point of this discussion.

Torture does work. Not as a system for gathering information (it's terrible for that). But rather as a system of social control.

Quite right. The microwave device I mentioned upthread, which creates the sensation of intense burning, was designed for, and would likely be used for, crowd control rather than torturing individuals for information.

First, what do we elect governments for, if every controversial question must be outsourced to "independent" prosecutors or commissions or boards?

I hear you, but I think any investigation or prosecution of criminal acts by the Bush administration need to be pursued as *purely criminal*, rather than as partisan revenge.

The point is the rule of law, not Republicans Are Bad And Must Be Punished.

For political issues, Obama should be out front. For investigations of criminal acts, he should (IMVHO) keep hands off.

Thanks -

What has he "done" with which you disagree?

He has appointed a cabinet almost entirely from his party's center-right wing. As I said, I certainly don't feel "betrayed" in any way by this. That's how he ran and all signs are that's how he'll govern. I'd of course be delighted if he turns out to be a double-secret progressive who speaks and acts like a Clintonian "New Democrat" up until the very moment that he actually makes policy. But I'd be shocked if that happens.

On the topic at hand: this wing of the Democratic Party has been actively and passively enabling the war crimes of the Bush Administration for the last eight years. I'm willing to keep an open mind about what they'll do about these crimes once Obama is in the White House, but I'm not optimistic.

"I'd of course be delighted if he turns out to be a double-secret progressive who speaks and acts like a Clintonian "New Democrat" up until the very moment that he actually makes policy. But I'd be shocked if that happens."

So will everyone else, in particular the centrists that he's spent so much time wooing.

What I hope from Obama is that he'll be forced to be progressive, as is happening on the economic front. I'm not sure what he'll do in foreign policy--he admires Bush I and has made it clear he only opposes dumb wars. On Iraq, maybe the Iraqis will force us out. On Israel/Palestine, there are some progressives who seem optimistic about him, but it's in spite of what he's said, not because of what he's said--he's been quite the panderer to AIPAC and endorsed Israel's bombing of Lebanon. (Which is why I feel we don't have to wait until Jan 20 to be disillusioned by him--Obama might turn out to be a great President, but we already know he's a cynical politician.)

I'm sorry, isn't Obama supposed to be President and Commander in Chief of the Pentagon? You know you're in trouble when the civilian and elected leader cannot control the military.

Jeez Jes, overstate the case much?

Am I really the first person ever to tell you about bureaucratic entrenchment? Is it that shocking a concept to you that you can only conceptualize it in such extreme ways?

Basically, what Nell said. Especially this:

Assessing that Gates can help bring about more active cooperation of the brass is not the same thing as the military being "out of control".

What, you think your home country doesn't have bureaucracy's that are capable of pushing their own prerogatives?

um, bureaucracies.

What, you think your home country doesn't have bureaucracies that are capable of pushing their own prerogatives?

Indeed we do - and though the Civil Service is supposed to be completely politically neutral, it naturally - especially in the upper echelons - tends towards conservative with a small "c". (Famously, when Clare Short was Private Secretary to Mark Carlisle, then Conservative Secretary of State for Education and Science, she used to take ten minutes at the end of each work day to tell him what in her view was wrong with the Conservative policies she had been helping him implement through the day... which Carlisle enjoyed as much as she did.) And the British military also tends to the conservative.

But the notion that a Labour Government needs to appoint a Conservative to run the Ministry of Defense because the British military won't trust a Labour appointee? Would raise hackles, I think, in the most conservative of serving officers, whose principle would be that the British military obeys the Crown and the ministers of the Crown, not their own political preference.

Jes, this comment is telling of your unwillingess - or inability - to understand what I'm saying.

But the notion that a Labour Government needs to appoint a Conservative to run the Ministry of Defense because the British military won't trust a Labour appointee? Would raise hackles, I think, in the most conservative of serving officers, whose principle would be that the British military obeys the Crown and the ministers of the Crown, not their own political preference.

I did not say that Obama appointed Gates because the military would not trust a Democratic SecDef.

Didn't say it.

Ever.

On this thread, or any other.

Yet you put those words in my mouth, as you've tended to do throughout this thread, as well as other threads on this topic. You've done that, and you've also completely exaggerated and overstated the significance of Gates.

Again, I will repeat, the value Gates has:

1. Gates is amenable to withdrawing US troops from Iraq.

2. Gates is amenable to taking on certain portions of the Pentagon bureaucracy with respect to looming budgetary battles.

For both, Obama wants bi-partisan POLITICAL cover and a strong voice. Gates offers both.

1: That is NOT to say that Obama could not order the military out of Iraq with a different Sec Def.

Obama could, and the military would obey. No question. The military would not revolt. Obama would still "control" the military. Your suggestions are absurd.

However, POLITICALLY, it would help to have bi-partisan cover to do this. In a way that a Dem could not offer - to state a tautology. The GOP will try to paint the withdrawal from Iraq - and any chaos that results - as a Dem stab-in-the-back/defeat. Having Gates in charge shields Obama and the Dems somewhat. Further, Gates might be able to reach out and get cooperation from GOP lawmakers/voices.


2. This is not to say that Obama could not try to reduce (or stabilize) the Pentagon budget without Gates. But since the process involves the legislature, and the Iron Triangle, it helps to have people with influence over the brass and GOP lawmakers. It's a budgetary battle. It will involve the press and a lot of cheap shots from the GOP and entrenched interests. Will probably involve leaks and the like from those within the Pentagon that want bigger budgets.

POLITICALLY Gates would help this effort.

That is not to say that the military is not under Obama's "control." Rather, the budgetary battles are not under Obama's control. The media coverage is not under Obama's control. Obama will not be able to control the GOP lawmakers that try to paint him as weakening America's security. Neither Obama, nor any other leader in any country, can control all bureaucrats intent on defending their budgets and leaking and partaking in other mischief to further the effort.

POLITICALLY Gates would help this effort.

It's not about trust. It's about political expediency.

Which is what I've said all along. Which is what you've ignored and/or distorted all along.

100 points for the Elvis Costello reference!

Eric, you may believe that you were saying this all along, but actually, no, you weren't. It's entirely possible that all the Americans in the audience understood what you were saying, but no, I didn't.

Okay. I do now get what you're saying. I don't agree with it - I think the Republicans will attack Obama for withdrawing from Iraq regardless of who is SecDef, and if that's Obama's motivation, he's a fool to think that Gates will provide any political raincoat against this at all - but I understand now what you intended to convey and didn't.

(And, understanding, I also understand how frustrating my responses were. But they were sourced to my misunderstanding what you were trying to convey...)

I'm a citizen of one of many countries whose citizens and legal residents have been kidnapped by the US, held extra-judicially by the US, tortured by the US (...)

Considering the fact that the UK has tortured, has outsourced torture, has used information derived from torture and despite its superficial high-mindedness about the matter is an accomplice rather than a victim, I'd be a bit careful about assigning guilt based on nationality.

novakant: Considering the fact that the UK has tortured, has outsourced torture, has used information derived from torture and despite its superficial high-mindedness about the matter is an accomplice rather than a victim, I'd be a bit careful about assigning guilt based on nationality.

True, and I apologize for how that came across. I was identifying myself as a fellow citizen of Moazzam Begg and the Tipton Three and the other British citizens and residents who've suffered through Guantanamo Bay: I acknowledge my government's complicity and submission to the US on this issue.

Eric, you may believe that you were saying this all along, but actually, no, you weren't...but I understand now what you intended to convey and didn't

Jes, I merely repasted this part from a comment upthread:

1. Gates is amenable to withdrawing US troops from Iraq.

2. Gates is amenable to taking on certain portions of the Pentagon bureaucracy with respect to looming budgetary battles.

For both, Obama wants bi-partisan political cover and a strong voice. Gates offers both.

That being said, I think part of the miscommunication does stem from the nature of the legislative battles that might not have an analog in the UK. And other domestic political concerns that might not be as apparent to you as I would assume.

I think the Republicans will attack Obama for withdrawing from Iraq regardless of who is SecDef, and if that's Obama's motivation, he's a fool to think that Gates will provide any political raincoat against this at all

Well, of course some Republicans will attack Obama regardless. Most, if not all, that would have regardless of Gates.

But Gates will help the Dems in their pushback, and will help to sway the media which is the ultimate goal.

The GOP, for example, accused Obama of being a radical ultra-liberal - marxist even! But if the media isn't buying it, then the charges fall lifeless.

Gates will help to undermine the claim that withdrawal was a uniquely Dem initiative.

You might be right that this will have absolutely zero value, but I tend to trust Obama's political instincts more than yours at this moment. Further, it's not just about cover for Iraq withdrawal.

More important, perhaps, is the bureaucratic intra-fighting/political cover with respect to Pentagon budget battles.

Jes, I merely repasted this part from a comment upthread:

With added explanation, without which it made no sense to me. Gates can't possibly be the only person in the US who wants to withdraw troops from Iraq and is qualified to be SecDef: and I took your "bipartisan" thing as aimed at the military, not about the attacks Obama will face in the US media/from the Republican party, for doing it at all - because I see those attacks as inevitable, regardless.

Gates will help to undermine the claim that withdrawal was a uniquely Dem initiative.

*shrug* No one properly informed and possessing moderate common sense will think withdrawal is a Democratic initiative, given that it was first mooted well over a year ago and is required by the Iraqi government and desperately needed by the US military: but the US media and the Republican Party will scream that it is and Fox News viewers and Bush-fans will believe them. It won't matter who is SecDef.

More important, perhaps, is the bureaucratic intra-fighting/political cover with respect to Pentagon budget battles.

I can take the moral argument that withdrawing from Iraq is more important than investigating and prosecuting the practice and support of torture by the US military. I don't think there is a moral case to be made that it's more important to win Pentagon budget battles than to root out torture in the US military. As cleek got me to say: those are my standards.

No one properly informed and possessing moderate common sense will think withdrawal is a Democratic initiative

Sweetness and light Jes, are you not aware of the composition of many American voters? Properly informed? Possessing common sense?

Are you also not aware of the efficacy of historical revisionism?

Are you not aware of the Vietnam era "we were finally winning but then stabbed in the back" story that continues to this day?

In fact, it's gained in popularity every decade since the war ended. Our culture has celebrated this myth from Rambo to Ralph Peters.

Despite the fact that a Republican President withdrew soldiers from Vietnam, it was still the Left/Dems' fault. Despite the fact that we had been fighting to a bloody and enormously costly stalemate for over a decade, we were still right about to win when we ended it.

The argument that there is no way that post-withdrawal chaos in Iraq could be left at Obama's feet because of a well-informed populace is...credulous to say the least.

Trust me: That narrative is coming (it's already here in fact!) and Obama and the Dems will need everythig to fight it.

I don't think there is a moral case to be made that it's more important to win Pentagon budget battles than to root out torture in the US military. As cleek got me to say: those are my standards.

First of all, I disagree. If we don't rein in Pentagon spending, we will need to cut social safety net program and entitlement benefits. People will die from lack of health care. Old people will have to suffer more indignities as their SS benefits are chopped. Children will suffer from lack of food and medicine. Crime will go up as a result of increased poverty and the desperation it breeds.

I see those as moral issues.

Regardless, though, Gates is clearly not the reason that Obama decides that he is, or isn't, going to prosecute Bush administration officials re: torture.

Your confusing causality there. If Obama wanted to prosecute, he probably would have gone with a Dem. But since he doesn't intend to (yet at least) he's going with Gates for the reasons mentioned above.

Going with a Dem and not prosecuting is in no way morally superior to going with Gates and not prosecuting.

Sweetness and light Jes, are you not aware of the composition of many American voters? Properly informed? Possessing common sense?

Yes, that was rather my point. Obama is going to be blamed whatever he does.

The argument that there is no way that post-withdrawal chaos in Iraq could be left at Obama's feet because of a well-informed populace is...credulous to say the least.

No, that wasn't the point I was making. The point I was making was in fact that the post-withdrawal chaos in Iraq is going to be blamed on Obama. It doesn't matter how well withdrawal is accomplished or who the SecDef is. It matters that (a) he's a Democrat (b) he's black (c) he's got a Muslim name (d) he's a Democrat.

For you to accuse me of being "credulous" when you, it turns out, have been proposing that leaving Bush's SecDef in charge of the withdrawal will somehow mean that the US media/the Republican party will not be able to blame the whole thing on Obama? My, my, my...

First of all, I disagree. If we don't rein in Pentagon spending, we will need to cut social safety net program and entitlement benefits. [Americans] will die from lack of health care. [Americans] will have to suffer more indignities as their SS benefits are chopped. [Americans] will suffer from lack of food and medicine. Crime [in the US] will go up as a result of increased poverty [in the US] and the desperation it breeds.

And still, I find the US military kidnapping, torturing, and murdering people who are not American to be more of an issue than all of the above. The failure of the US to provide more than Third World standards of care for the poor in America is terrible - but, no, Eric: I do not consider living in poverty to be as terrible as being imprisoned by soldiers, tortured, and murdered.

If Obama wanted to prosecute, he probably would have gone with a Dem. But since he doesn't intend to (yet at least) he's going with Gates for the reasons mentioned above.

Yes, exactly. That's what I've been saying. We know Obama doesn't care about cleaning up the US military, because he's left Gates in charge of it. It's not a reason, it's an indicator of the outcome.

We know Obama doesn't care about cleaning up the US military, because he's left Gates in charge of it.

That's an unfair assumption and, with all respect, it's based on ignorance of U.S. political situation. Purists on the left don't get elected. Obama needs to build coalitions or he won't succeed.

I see three sources of confusion here:

1) Where Jes and I come from, a cabinet minister most emphatically shapes policy. The Prime Minister serves (as the name suggests) as primus inter pares, first among equals, and if the Prime Minister offends or frightens enough members of the cabinet, they can lead the party caucus to fire the PM and get someone else. A US cabinet secretary, on the other hand, has more in common with the very senior members of the civil service, except that they serve at the pleasure of the President. They advise and execute, but the final decision remains up to the President and in some circumstances the legislature.

2) The US, in common with most other democracies, has a professional civil and military service that the Bush Administration managed to only minimally compromise. The majority of the rot, as far as I can tell, came from three places: the politicians, particularly Republican ideologues, private contractors, certain echelons of the CIA, and the wiretaps and surveillance programs from the NSA.

The President doesn't prosecute crimes. The people do. And in this of all cases, grass-roots citizen involvement in the process plays the essential role. For President Obama to get involved in a politically explosive prosecution would poison the justice process and the political environment for years. The job of putting members of the previous administration who deserve it in jail should go to juries, grand and petit, not politicians.

Sapient: That's an unfair assumption and, with all respect, it's based on ignorance of U.S. political situation.

Actually, it's based on my assessment of Obama as a good manager/director.

Purists on the left don't get elected. Obama needs to build coalitions or he won't succeed.

If Obama intended there to be a criminal investigation of the US military and prosecution of those found complicit in the crimes of torture committed, he would not have kept someone in charge who will be subject to that criminal investigation. Many people have pointed out to me the reasons why Obama might have kept Gates on. Okay.

But his keeping Gates on is the strongest possible indicator that Obama does not care about cleaning up the US military: that he intends there to be no disturbing investigation and prosecution.

But his keeping Gates on is the strongest possible indicator that Obama does not care about cleaning up the US military: that he intends there to be no disturbing investigation and prosecution.

Once again, you're badly overstating your case. Does it mean that such investigations are not his first priority? Probably, but I don't think they should be. There's only so much an administration can focus on at one time, and I'd prefer their initial focus be on withdrawal from Iraq and the economy.

Even if he does intend investigations, it'll help to have a military which already has some measure of trust that he's not out for partisan revenge. Keeping Gates on means he gets some of that trust essentially for free, rather than spending time earning it. Anecdotally, my father is a retired military officer, and the last time I spoke with him he said he'd like to go back and change his vote (he's far from a wingnut, but I doubt he's ever voted for a Dem at any level). He was extremely impressed by Obama's appointments, as well as by his competent, presidential demeanor. I very much doubt that active duty officers are all that different, so Obama seems to be doing something right. He's already doing better than Clinton, who lost the trust of the officer class right away and never regained it.

Even if he does intend investigations, it'll help to have a military which already has some measure of trust that he's not out for partisan revenge.

People keep telling me that the military in the US is not under civilian control, and is run by people who let their party political allegience get in the way of doing their job.

And then when I point out that this is what they are saying, they get all het up and assure me that it's not like that...

If the US military isn't prepared to trust Barack Obama as Commander in Chief on the basis that he's their duly elected President, then the US has much, much bigger problems than just a military which tortures people and a President who thinks that it doesn't particularly matter.

He's already doing better than Clinton, who lost the trust of the officer class right away and never regained it.

Yes, there appears to be no doubt that Obama's claims he's going to act for LGBT equality - which was how Clinton "lost the trust of the officer class", wasn't it? - were completely fake: he's invited a homophobic bigot to pray him in at his inaugeration. If he wanted to offend everyone, there were plenty of white supremacist anti-Semitic Christians he could have picked: he just wanted to make clear to the homophobes and the misogynists that he's on their side.

But I expect his making it clear that he's also not going to support or instigate any investigation into the torturers in the US military will also "win him the trust of the officer class" - since it would be deeply untrustworthy of the President to want to have those who supported torture prosecuted for their crimes. The grunts who got their hands dirty may not like it that the officers who turned a blind eye get away with it, but hey, when you're President you don't have to care what mere soldiers think... right?

Obviously, Jesurgislac's desire to hate on Obama exceeds any attempt to understand what he's trying to do, and the argument has settled into the "yes, he will" and "no, he won't" category. Unless Obama embraces the unbridled executive authority that Cheney championed, he'll have to work within a political system that requires conciliation and compromise. As someone who worked in the trenches to get him elected against huge odds, and who's celebrating the success of the effort, I'm going to skip the anticipatory disappointment with his execution of an office he hasn't yet assumed.

People keep telling me that the military in the US is not under civilian control, and is run by people who let their party political allegience get in the way of doing their job.
No, I'm telling you that the military is composed of human beings, and like all humans, they often allow their biases and preconceptions to color their thinking. There's a lot that can be done to stifle change while still doing one's job. The Pentagon is no different from any other large organization in this respect.
If the US military isn't prepared to trust Barack Obama as Commander in Chief on the basis that he's their duly elected President, then the US has much, much bigger problems than just a military which tortures people and a President who thinks that it doesn't particularly matter.
Huh? There are a lot of people, inside the military and out, who aren't prepared to trust Obama because he's CiC. So what? Duty requires an officer to obey the orders of his superior, not to trust him.
...LGBT equality - which was how Clinton "lost the trust of the officer class", wasn't it?
Well, it didn't help matters. But the root of the military's dislike of Clinton is pretty simple - he downsized the military. They were already expecting that when he took office and thus prepared to distrust him. Then DADT seemed to crystallize that distrust and general feeling that Clinton didn't respect or value the military. The 15% reduction is the military personnel during his administration prevented him from ever regaining this trust. Now, that reduction was necessary and generally well-managed, but nobody likes the anxiety of worrying if you'll be out of a job, or seeing your friends and neighbors lose theirs. Again, military officers are human beings, and the '90s was an anxious time for anyone planning on a career in the military. There's also a lot of institutional distrust of lefty types in the military dating back at least to Vietnam, but among the current officer class I suspect their distrust of Democrats has more to do with Clinton's defense cuts. At least, that's my impression based on conversation with my dad and recollections of dinner-table discussions at the time. The input of anyone who might be an actual serving officer would be appreciated.

For you to accuse me of being "credulous" when you, it turns out, have been proposing that leaving Bush's SecDef in charge of the withdrawal will somehow mean that the US media/the Republican party will not be able to blame the whole thing on Obama? My, my, my...

Again, Jes, you argue in bad faith.

This is some of the worst I've seen of you since my time on this site. I really don't understand how blinkered your thinking is on this, but it's really quite disappointing.

You're using all the debating tactics of the groups that you supposedly abhor.

What I said was this:

Trust me: That narrative is coming (it's already here in fact!) and Obama and the Dems will need everythig to fight it.

Meaning, in plain English, that the GOP will bring that narrative regardless! Actually, they already have!

So you completely inverted my argument and then scored points against the straw effigy.

Bravo.

What I said was that the Dems will need everything they can get their hands on to fight the narrative THAT "is coming (it's already here in fact!)" and that Gates will help them to sway some of the media/talking heads.

The fact that you completely twisted that 180 degrees is, well, it is what it is.

And still, I find the US military kidnapping, torturing, and murdering people who are not American to be more of an issue than all of the above.

But Obama plans to stop those practices. That's the most significant part.

Do you really find prosecutions more important than freeing up money for the poor, sick, elderly and children that can't afford food/medicine?

If so, then we'll have to agree to disagree.

People keep telling me that the military in the US is not under civilian control, and is run by people who let their party political allegience get in the way of doing their job.

And then when I point out that this is what they are saying, they get all het up and assure me that it's not like that...

If the US military isn't prepared to trust Barack Obama as Commander in Chief on the basis that he's their duly elected President, then the US has much, much bigger problems than just a military which tortures people and a President who thinks that it doesn't particularly matter.

Jes, do you have any flexibility of thought at all?

Can you not grasp nuance and gradients? Do you not understand that things exist on a spectrum more than in absolutes?

That your attempt to paint any suggestion of institutional obstinancy as a "lack of control" is overly simplistic, undialectical thinking.

But Obama plans to stop those practices. That's the most significant part.

*shrug* Like replacing Nixon with Ford stopped Republican malfeasance? yeah right.

For Obama to declare that the US military and CIA will no longer break the law is - I really hate to say "it's a good thing" because just declaring that from now on the US will not torture people ought not to be considered a positive good.

But, for the people taken prisoner by the US, assuming that the torturers and their blind-eyed supervisors and superior officers actually do stop, since they won't be investigated or prosecuted, yes: it is good they will not be tortured after Obama takes office. If they're not. Once an institution begins the practice of torturing prisoners, I think it takes more than a no-penalties "now stop doing that" to root out the practice.

Do you really find prosecutions more important than freeing up money for the poor, sick, elderly and children that can't afford food/medicine?

Do I really find torture a more important issue than poverty?

Yes, I do. But am unsurprised to find that Americans consider it more important to lift Americans living in poverty up a bit, than to prevent non-Americans from being tortured.

There are a lot of people, inside the military and out, who aren't prepared to trust Obama because he's CiC. So what? Duty requires an officer to obey the orders of his superior, not to trust him.

Tell that to Sapient.

Can you not grasp nuance and gradients? Do you not understand that things exist on a spectrum more than in absolutes?

Yeah, I do, actually. But some things are just absolutely wrong, and torture is one of them.

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