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Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Year Later on Osama, Netanyahu and Obama

The anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden and the latest controversy from Israel concerning the head of Israel’s military pushing back against Netanyahu’s saber rattling on Iran bring to mind a couple of pieces I posted many months ago. I The most viewed I post I had was one I did on Tom Wright’s criticism of Obama over the attack on bin Laden. Some of the posts I felt most proud of were the ones done around the time of Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, DC around the time of the president’s remarks on the pre-1967 borders of Israel. As I noted at the time, Netanyahu’s critics included major military figures in Israel, something worth remembering as we again see the IDF voicing concerns about Netanyahu’s bellicose ways.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Alan Jacobs is Right on Sullivan

I have been toying with the idea of using the term "Christianism" because I have often found Andrew Sullivan's use of the term he created to be helpful, but Alan Jacobs has written a spot-on critique of a fuller explanation of the term by Sullivan. If you are interested in discussions about fundamentalism, religious right, evangelicalism, etc. be sure to read it. I would add that Sullivan's rejoinder to Jacobs' critique makes it even clearer to me that I am not where Sullivan is at.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The New Greatest Generation

In my article for Commonweal I quoted with strong agreement President Obama’s words that “it is time to focus on nation-building here at home”. What I did not write about, but what I have felt deeply the last couple years, is that we need our soldiers home in their communities and families. They have served tour after tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have suffered physically and mentally, and their time to come home is long past. I was heartened then to see this week’s Time magazine cover story by Joe Klein on precisely this subject—the positive impact of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on their homeland. This line from Klein dovetails perfectly with Obama’s: “veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are bringing their leadership lessons home, where we need them most.” We need these men and woman, and we need to help them. Our politicians have betrayed them with their militaristic policies, but we as a people can do right by them by helping them make the difficult transition home and by urging our politicians to think of the price them and their families have to pay for the decisions they make.

Obama and Libya

As regular readers of this blog will recall, I vehemently opposed Obama’s initial efforts in Libya, but the more I understood of it the more it made sense to me. What his political opponents derisively dismissed as “leading from behind” was what actually intrigued me about Obama’s Libya policy. My initial opposition to American involvement was rooted in a reflexive opposition shaped by President Bush’s types of military interventions where America always had a heavy military footprint and a resulting long-term commitment of blood and treasure. I commented early on that Obama could turn into the “crown prince of pragmatic progressivism” if his goals for Libya could be met with the kind of minimal, though decisive, military involvement he envisioned. Although the results took longer than he had hoped, it is a remarkably short, low casualty result when we consider the decades of military dictatorship Gadhafi subjected the world to. It is further evidence that Obama’s presidency is not on the “Carter trajectory” that his political opponents are trying to convince us of. I gave Obama the benefit of the doubt in Libya based on the strength of his operation against bin Laden, and now I am very much prepared to defend his wisdom in how he has acted with regard to Syria. This is also a moment to acknowledge the foresight of Samantha Powers, a key adviser to Obama and the leading voice for American military involvement in Libya. These are remarkable times in the Arab world and the Obama administration is working in unchartered territory in the midst of a seriously weakened economy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Romney's Carter Metaphor

Mitt Romney is running a serious campaign for president, much more coherent and consistent than his last run four years ago. He is an accomplished businessman and politician and I certainly hope he ends up at the top of the Republican ticket—that would be a good sign for the country that the Republican Party is serious about governing. I have relatives in Massachusetts who have directly benefitted from his efforts there to reform health care and if he were to win in 15 months there is at least a chance that health care reform nationally will not be completely repealed.

As part of his current campaign for president he has turned to what is apparently an effective trope in the Republican heartland—comparing President Obama to President Carter. This is a smart political strategy given the almost universal hatred of Carter among Republicans and the almost universal love for the man who vanquished him, Ronald Reagan. It also makes sense given that Carter is the last Democrat to only serve one term in office, something Romney hopes to repeat for Obama. But whatever utility the comparison has for Romney on the campaign trail, and despite Obama’s admitted difficulties with the economy, the Carter metaphor is bogus in terms of substance. The deciding factor in Carter’s defeat, most historians agree, was the Iranian hostage crisis. It seemed to symbolize for many Americans the sense that America was failing. There is nothing similar on Obama’s record, and in fact his signature foreign policy success, the raid on bin Laden, is notable for its outcome being the exact opposite of Carter’s attempted raid on Iran to free the hostages. Carter also suffered terribly from Edward Kennedy’s extraordinarily foolish decision to run in the primary against Carter. The only politician who could conceivably mount as damaging a campaign against Obama is his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and that is not about to happen.  Kennedy’s decision was emblematic of another major difference—Carter failed to effectively govern with Democrats in the majority of the House and Senate all four years. Obama has a strong argument to make that Republican obstruction is a key part of his struggles, an argument Carter could not make.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rick Santorum, Civility Cop

It is refreshing to see, after lo’ these many months, Republicans policing each other’s extremist language. It seems that Rick Perry has crossed some heretofore unknown line in his crass invitation to violence against Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last night. Karl Rove, fresh off of his work spearheading the Republican takeover of the House with all its rhetorical and ideological extremism, was quick to denounce his Texas frienemy in terms that bode well for a renewal of civility in the Republican primary:

You don't accuse the chairman of the Federal Reserve of being a traitor to his country. Of being guilty of treason…And, suggesting that we treat him pretty ugly in Texas — You know, that is not, again a presidential statement…If Rick Perry were to be elected president he'd be saddled with Ben Bernanke who has a term. He's an independent chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, appointed by president and confirmed by Congress and serves for a term and the president couldn't even ask him to resign. So, this is — I hope this is not the first of sort of over the top statements.
Rove’s comments are significant though not altogether surprising—he can read polls showing that the extremism of the Republican Party hurts their aspirations of regaining the presidency, and he also has a long time history of tension with Gov. Perry. More interesting is the reaction of another candidate in the Republican primary, Rick Santorum. He took to the airwaves today to scold Perry, saying “We don’t charge people with treason because we disagree with them on public policy…You don’t up the ante to that type of rhetoric. It’s out of place.” This is rich for anyone who has followed the history of Mr. Santorum. Among his many vicious assaults on his political enemies, two stand out. This from April of 2009 refers specifically to President Obama:
"Watching President Obama…helped convince me that he has a deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions…His nomination of former Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh to be the State Department's top lawyer constitutes further evidence of his disdain for American values." (emphasis added)
In a 2011 speech defending the Crusades Santorum declared that “the American left…hates Christendom. ..They hate Western civilization at the core. That's the problem.”  
So while I share Santorum’s concerns about Perry’s rhetoric, I can’t help but wonder if his newfound sense of civility is not tied to his efforts to garner support from those who supported the genuinely civil Tim Pawlenty, whose exit from the campaign Sunday led to immediate speculation that Santorum stood to gain. Given Santorum's track record, it is at least ironic to see him taking on the role of civility cop.