Thursday, February 11, 2016

Deep Doodoo in Syria and on the Campaign Trail

Obama's presidency is probably under-appreciated, and I have been one of those under-appreciating. He's done a lot of good, he just doesn't crow about it much, thinks it's not fitting, probably, thinks that people should notice without being prompted. Good luck with that.

But I'm thinking now of two legacies that won't go down so well in history, I'm afraid. One is in foreign policy and one in domestic. First, foreign.

It's been hard to intervene or not intervene, especially so after interventions were so poorly planned and executed under hapless W. Kind of like the Vietnam Syndrome. I keep harkening back to Ike. The 50's were a difficult time of duck and cover. Ike was always harried by the Left to declare no first use with nukes, and he wouldn't do it. No one thought he would launch, but on the other hand, could you be sure? After all, there was Dulles and the other harbingers of grief and destruction all around him.

Well, it turns out there was a method to his threateningness. The histories I read say that Ike knew what he was doing. A military man, he was no militarist. He knew, for instance, from his training with Fox Conner to only fight when you have to, never fight alone, and never fight for long. (If only W had known that!) As a military non-militarist President, and probably as a Republican, he knew that money that went to the military didn't go to domestic use (which is Trump's point, of course.) So if he brandished nuclear weapons as a warning, others cringed, and he didn't have to spend money on the costly stuff, which is soldiers. So in the 50's we might have had to duck and cover, but we got constant economic improvement and the interstate highway system. It makes sense to threaten, not to use, and to listen to Fox Conner.

Iraq and Afghanistan made it hard for Obama to threaten, because the country's wad had been shot. Hard – but not impossible. A new hand was on deck, and he could have threatened and not used. Where, you are wondering? (Maybe you are, who knows?) Well, Syria. Syria is a major humanitarian disaster, not dissimilar to Bill Clinton's Rwanda, the latter's biggest regret for non-intervention. But also, unlike Rwanda, a geopolitical disaster. What are the Russians doing in there? Why are they there, I ask you? The Russians have never done anyone any good, sorry to say, at least since they resisted the Nazis when they were attacked, but if you look back in history, probably just never ever. They tend to just be a marauding force. And the reason that they are actively there in Syria, bombing opposition forces, is that Obama doesn't want to fight them. This weekend when Kerry was accosted by Syrian oppositionists in London, he said, “Do you want us to fight the Russians?” Jesus, just give away the store, why don't you? Preemptive surrender is not a great strategy.

The crucial time for the US in Syria was the Red Line incident with chemical warfare. All we had to do was to bomb the Damascus airfield. Few casualties. Debilitating the Assad war effort. Threat of more to come. But instead, we got a promise, admittedly fulfilled in the main, but not entirely, for no more chemical warfare. The Russians were surprised, but they saw what we were made of. They are now bombing all the opposition forces around Aleppo and Syria will continue to be a strong ally of both Russia and Iran, just what we need. Obama really screwed this up, I think, even given a high degree of difficulty. Too cautious. Let the other guy be cautious, why don't you?

The other thing that Obama really screwed up is now showing up in enthusiasm for Trump and Sanders, and difficulty for my chosen candidate, the very flawed Hillary Clinton. (Anytime that Madeleine Albright becomes a major spokesperson, you are in the deepest doo-doo, believe me. See Theo Le Sieg's Olivetta Oppenbeam, in the classic book Hooper Humberdink, Not You – for any parents or grandparents out there, this was the favorite book of Peter and Budd Shenkin for years:

What Obama screwed up was Eric Holder, and associated issues. Not only were they deporters in chief, not only were they firm opponents of transparency in government in many ways including prosecuting investigative reporters doing their job, but they really screwed up with prosecuting Wall Street after the Great Recession. Why is no one significant in jail, or under great clouds of disgrace? As is said, the government assiduously sought the perpetrators of the Wall Street meltdown so they could hand them additional billions. Maybe Dodd-Frank is better than they say it is, maybe it is. I still think that reinstituting Glass-Steagall should have been done, but maybe not, maybe Hillary is actually right that another approach is needed. But what people see now, the straw that broke the camel's back in inequality and plutocratic government, what makes people think it's so obvious that Bernie and Trump are right, that the government is bought and paid for, is that nobody went to jail.

Nobody went to jail. How obvious can it be? Reagan's administration sent people to jail for the savings and loan scandal. The biggest winners so far in the campaigns are the two candidates who say that government is bought and paid for, and that someone should have gone to jail. And that's where Obama screwed up domestically. Yes, it was hard. Yes, the SEC is underfunded and undermanned and in its own way bought and paid for. But behind it all is caution. Why was he so cautious? We can all have our theories, and I'm sure we'll find out in time. But this was no time for caution.

Government rests on the consent of the governed, one way or another. They might be coerced into consent, or they might be deluded into consent, or they may see their best interests in the government and thus consent. It can come a lot of different ways. But in this country, if you see inequality of opportunity and of station increasingly pervasive, and then you see gross malfeasance unpunished because they are plutocrats while some kid smoking crack goes to jail for years, you are going to be led to conclusions that some would rather you not have – like, for instance, Hillary. For all her faults which are many, for all her seduction by money – on the $650,000 for a few talks to Goldman Sachs, her explanation was “That's what they offered,” like Bill was offered something by someone named Monica – for all her lack of hopey-changey, she could still be the best we can muster at this time. But people look, and they see her taking the money, and they hear all the things they hear, and they think – this game is rigged, and the two people who are saying it are Trump and Sanders.

And this is the geopolitical and domestic political legacy of Obama, so sorry to say, because I like and admire the guy.

But maybe things will get better! Here's hoping.

Budd Shenkin

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