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Posts For: July 12, 2013

The Wrong “Coup” Debate

The Obama administration endured some mockery when it tried to refer to antiterror efforts as “overseas contingency operations” and terrorist attacks as “man-caused disasters.” But there have been far worse symptoms of the same affliction, such as when Susan Rice, at the time working in the Clinton administration, reportedly worried about calling the Rwandan genocide a “genocide,” reasoning that “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional midterm] election?”

Euphemism and terminology are again at the forefront of foreign-policy decision making, this time, as Max referenced yesterday, with regard to whether the U.S. should continue supplying Egypt with military and economic aid. If you support continuing the aid but don’t want to cross the U.S. law that says the Egyptian coup would automatically trigger a suspension of aid, what are your options? The first is to do what the Obama administration is doing, and not call it a coup. But some congressional Republicans have a second idea, according to Reuters:

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The Obama administration endured some mockery when it tried to refer to antiterror efforts as “overseas contingency operations” and terrorist attacks as “man-caused disasters.” But there have been far worse symptoms of the same affliction, such as when Susan Rice, at the time working in the Clinton administration, reportedly worried about calling the Rwandan genocide a “genocide,” reasoning that “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional midterm] election?”

Euphemism and terminology are again at the forefront of foreign-policy decision making, this time, as Max referenced yesterday, with regard to whether the U.S. should continue supplying Egypt with military and economic aid. If you support continuing the aid but don’t want to cross the U.S. law that says the Egyptian coup would automatically trigger a suspension of aid, what are your options? The first is to do what the Obama administration is doing, and not call it a coup. But some congressional Republicans have a second idea, according to Reuters:

U.S. lawmakers will begin to vote as soon as next week on legislation that could continue aid to Egypt even if the Obama administration determines that the ouster of elected President Mohamed Mursi was a military coup, lawmakers and aides said on Thursday….

Republican U.S. Representative Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House of Representatives subcommittee in charge of the aid, said her panel could consider allowing more flexibility, such as language that would allow the aid to continue if doing so were deemed to be in the U.S. national security interest.

Granger said she is not considering changing the coup language but that it was possible for Congress to change it to make it more flexible.

“There is not a waiver (provision) in the coup legislation,” Granger told Reuters in an interview. “That could be changed, however, if the Congress says we are going to allow a waiver.”

This may sound like an easy out, but there are drawbacks. Giving the president the power to waive foreign-policy laws when he doesn’t want to follow them renders the law itself extraneous: laws, like ethical principles, prove their worth when they are difficult to heed. The granting of a waiver for a specific purpose may sound limited, but it sets a precedent that will be repeated. Whether something is in the nation’s interest or constitutes a crisis is open to interpretation.

But leaving the law as-is presents its own problems, not least of which is that our officials begin to sound ridiculous by never calling anything by its name. That eventually takes its toll on policy as well, because it renders governance in Orwellian terms and habituates the practice of intentionally misleading the public. And the president is the elected commander in chief and deserves a certain amount of deference in conducting foreign policy according to his convictions.

But the Obama administration has more to worry about with perceived neutrality than whether to call this a coup. Supporters of the administration’s foreign policy have defended Obama on realist grounds that America should work with whomever comes out on top of the power struggle in Egypt rather than try to influence the outcome. When the Arab Spring first swept through Egypt, the administration waited for the dust to settle and then accepted the facts on the ground. But the military’s overthrow of Mohamed Morsi has signaled that Egypt is in the midst of something far more dangerous and unstable than a simple power struggle. It seems to have entered a cycle of unrest and popular rebellion. The dust just won’t settle.

That’s why, strategically, whether the administration calls Morsi’s overthrow a “coup” is beside the point. If Obama calls it a coup, he will appear to side with Morsi. If he doesn’t, he will appear to side with the military. Suspending the aid now will send the wrong signal, because whatever the president does will be seen as a response to the events that immediately preceded it. He needn’t be seen as for or against the military, but he ought to be clearly opposed to perpetual military rule or antidemocratic backsliding. The point, then, is not about identifying coups, but preventing them and the conditions in which they materialize.

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Barack Obama’s Lawlessness

Both Charles Krauthammer and Ramesh Ponnuru have spoken about the lawlessness of the Obama administration. Examples include (but are not limited to) unilaterally delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, issuing health-care edicts that undermine the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, making unconstitutional “recess appointments” to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, refusing to enforce current immigration laws related to illegal immigrants who were brought to America as children, and waving welfare work requirements.

This is all part of a pattern in which Mr. Obama enforces laws he likes and refuses to enforce (or unilaterally alters) laws he disagrees with. I suppose the temptation to act as a potentate is understandable; but it also happens to be illegal. The president, after all, has the constitutional duty to “take care that the Laws be faithfully executed” (see Article II, Section 3 for more).

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Both Charles Krauthammer and Ramesh Ponnuru have spoken about the lawlessness of the Obama administration. Examples include (but are not limited to) unilaterally delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, issuing health-care edicts that undermine the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, making unconstitutional “recess appointments” to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, refusing to enforce current immigration laws related to illegal immigrants who were brought to America as children, and waving welfare work requirements.

This is all part of a pattern in which Mr. Obama enforces laws he likes and refuses to enforce (or unilaterally alters) laws he disagrees with. I suppose the temptation to act as a potentate is understandable; but it also happens to be illegal. The president, after all, has the constitutional duty to “take care that the Laws be faithfully executed” (see Article II, Section 3 for more).

One of the reasons there isn’t a firestorm of protest against the president’s contempt for the rule of law is that that apart from a few honorable exceptions, the press doesn’t care and therefore isn’t covering this story. Let’s just say that if the same kind of violations had been committed by presidents with the last names of oh, say, Bush or Reagan, you can be sure the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, Politico, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, NPR, and the major news networks would all be covering the story.

The problem here is that a dangerous precedent is being set by the president. To understand why, consider the words of Thomas More to Roper in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?    

Barack Obama is doing his part to cut down from coast to coast the laws he doesn’t much care for. He does so because he’s a progressive who believes the ends (advancing a liberal agenda) justifies the means (lawlessness). But unfortunately in the future the winds will come–and when they do, and when Americans cannot stand upright in them, it may dawn on some folks that our contempt for the rule of law was nurtured and flowered during the Obama era.

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Appointment Shows Obama Unserious on Snowden

Whatever his motivation, Edward Snowden has done more damage to United States national security than any leaker or spy for well over a half century. President Obama’s statements on the case have been ambivalent. While the United States has charged Snowden under espionage statutes and pressured allies and adversaries alike not to grant Snowden refuge, Obama’s quip that he was “not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker” signaled a White House desire to downplay the case.

In recent days, the organization which has most rallied to Snowden’s defense has been Human Rights Watch, an organization that purports to defend human rights apolitically, but in recent years seems to have let leftist politics and Saudi fundraising drive its positions. So with Human Rights Watch (HRW) somewhat rallying around Snowden on tenuous grounds, what does the Obama administration do?

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Whatever his motivation, Edward Snowden has done more damage to United States national security than any leaker or spy for well over a half century. President Obama’s statements on the case have been ambivalent. While the United States has charged Snowden under espionage statutes and pressured allies and adversaries alike not to grant Snowden refuge, Obama’s quip that he was “not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker” signaled a White House desire to downplay the case.

In recent days, the organization which has most rallied to Snowden’s defense has been Human Rights Watch, an organization that purports to defend human rights apolitically, but in recent years seems to have let leftist politics and Saudi fundraising drive its positions. So with Human Rights Watch (HRW) somewhat rallying around Snowden on tenuous grounds, what does the Obama administration do?

Reward Tom Malinowski, the Washington Director of Human Rights Watch, by nominating him to a plum State Department post. The Senate confirmation process is about oversight but, alas, the Senate for more than a generation and across administrations has not shown that it takes its role and responsibility seriously. Let us hope that some senators put two and two together and grill Malinowski on his Snowden position and his work at HRW when he has his hearing. Credibility matters.   

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Snowden’s Plea: No Consequences, Please

The cheat sheet for charting NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s prospects for escaping accountability is to pay attention to his rhetoric. He began his escapade arrogant, reveling in the attention, the fame, and the praise he was getting from those who love to see America take it on the chin. Then he was defiant, as it became clear he was a wanted man but still had options and a way out of Hong Kong before he could be extradited or cross the authorities.

And then he spoke like a martyr–the typical tone employed by useful idiots upon arriving triumphantly in Moscow. He put out a delusional statement because his treatment as a hero had gone to his head and he seemed no longer to be in touch with reality. But reality would inevitably and quickly get back in touch with Snowden. As Peter Savodnik, author of a forthcoming book on Lee Harvey Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union, writes, “the history of Americans fleeing to Moscow is a long and unhappy one.” Snowden held a meeting with “human rights” officials in Moscow today, where he seemed to acknowledge his predicament and the fact that beggars can’t be choosers:

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The cheat sheet for charting NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s prospects for escaping accountability is to pay attention to his rhetoric. He began his escapade arrogant, reveling in the attention, the fame, and the praise he was getting from those who love to see America take it on the chin. Then he was defiant, as it became clear he was a wanted man but still had options and a way out of Hong Kong before he could be extradited or cross the authorities.

And then he spoke like a martyr–the typical tone employed by useful idiots upon arriving triumphantly in Moscow. He put out a delusional statement because his treatment as a hero had gone to his head and he seemed no longer to be in touch with reality. But reality would inevitably and quickly get back in touch with Snowden. As Peter Savodnik, author of a forthcoming book on Lee Harvey Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union, writes, “the history of Americans fleeing to Moscow is a long and unhappy one.” Snowden held a meeting with “human rights” officials in Moscow today, where he seemed to acknowledge his predicament and the fact that beggars can’t be choosers:

Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive American intelligence contractor, met with representatives of international human rights organizations at his temporary Moscow airport refuge on Friday afternoon and appealed for their help in seeking asylum status in Russia until he can safely travel to Latin America.

Breaking his silence and seclusion after having spent nearly three weeks in the international transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, Ms. Snowden told the representatives that “the only way for him to have safety guarantees for temporary stay in Russia is apparently to get an asylum in Russia,” Tanya Lokshina, a Human Rights Watch representative who attended the meeting, said in an e-mail. “So he is asking for one.”

The author of that report, the New York Times’s Ellen Barry, had earlier tweeted that Snowden “says he accepts all offers, present and future.” Three weeks is a long time to spend in an airport. It seems to be a case of life imitating art, as Snowden was initially compared to a Tom Hanks film character who was forced to live in an airport because diplomatic disruptions had suddenly left him with nowhere to go. But the more apt comparison really might be the no-name character in an episode of The Office who wants to have her place in line saved while she goes to the restroom and is rebuffed by Dwight’s “I’m sorry, were you raised in a household with no consequences?”

Where did Snowden get the idea that bypassing the legal framework and the American justice system and giving America’s national-security secrets to dictators and autocrats would–or should–have no consequences? It was only too appropriate that he was helped by the organization Human Rights Watch. (Again, beggars can’t be choosers.) HRW released a daft statement discouraging countries from extraditing Snowden to the U.S.

But the HRW statement shows just how confused Snowden’s advocates are. The group says Snowden should be entitled to lawful whistleblower protections. But Snowden was the one who declined to utilize America’s whistleblower protections and eschewed the legal process that would have afforded him those protections. Additionally, HRW says Snowden is a whistleblower but should be treated as America treats “refugees” and “dissidents” from other countries. So which is it?

That’s not such an easy question to answer, apparently, even for Snowden’s fans. A Quinnipiac poll on Snowden made the rounds this week as journalists claimed it found that, as this NBC report asserted, “More than half of American voters say self-declared NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a whistle-blower not a traitor, according to a poll published Wednesday.” In fact it most certainly did not say that. Here is the question Quinnipiac asked: “Do you regard Edward Snowden, the national security consultant who released information to the media about the phone scanning program, as more of a traitor, or more of a whistle-blower?”

If forced to choose between “whistleblower” and “traitor,” and then qualify each with the poll’s added hedge phrase, just over half said Snowden is kinda sorta more of a whistleblower than a traitor. Not only is this poll question far too limited in its choices, but it’s also based a false premise: Snowden has not been charged with treason. The poll tells us pretty much nothing.

But what the U.S. thinks of Snowden is not as important to him right now as what Vladimir Putin thinks of him. Putin had previously said Snowden could stay in Russia as long as he stopped his fanatic public crusade against the U.S. But Snowden is indicating, once again, that he was raised in a household with no consequences. Ellen Barry tweeted that Snowden’s opinion seems to be that “His work is not meant to damage US, so Putin’s condition is no obstacle.”

Snowden’s toddler’s logic is an insult to Putin, who probably won’t appreciate it. It’s not really up to Snowden to decide whether he already meets the terms Putin offered, and it’s not very bright of him to pretend that his claimed intentions should mean anything to his host. But it’s also an indication that he has no plans to stop leaking damaging information. Those considering granting him asylum will no doubt keep that in mind.

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Rolling Back the Muslim Brotherhood

The military coup in Egypt has, of course, been headline news for more than a week now. Pundits and politicians may debate whether or not the United States should cut off aid to Egypt, but that issue is becoming largely moot: While the United States debates suspending $1.6 billion in annual aid, the oil-rich emirates of the Persian Gulf have stepped in to offer $12 billion. While Iran and Turkey condemn the coup, and the Obama administration remains ambivalent, most Arab states applauded it. Why?

It is ironic that while the Obama administration bent over backwards to embrace and recognize the Muslim Brotherhood as converts to democracy, Arab governments who spoke their language and understood their actions approached the Brotherhood with trepidation and complained behind-the-scenes about the potential backlash they might suffer because of U.S. naiveté.

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The military coup in Egypt has, of course, been headline news for more than a week now. Pundits and politicians may debate whether or not the United States should cut off aid to Egypt, but that issue is becoming largely moot: While the United States debates suspending $1.6 billion in annual aid, the oil-rich emirates of the Persian Gulf have stepped in to offer $12 billion. While Iran and Turkey condemn the coup, and the Obama administration remains ambivalent, most Arab states applauded it. Why?

It is ironic that while the Obama administration bent over backwards to embrace and recognize the Muslim Brotherhood as converts to democracy, Arab governments who spoke their language and understood their actions approached the Brotherhood with trepidation and complained behind-the-scenes about the potential backlash they might suffer because of U.S. naiveté.

Case in point is al-Eslah, the Muslim Brotherhood branch in the United Arab Emirates. On July 9, the United Arab Emirates sentenced 68 adherents to up to 15 years in prison on charges that they had plotted a coup (26 others were acquitted). The trial had been ongoing for several months. While many of the headlines in the West focused on alleged human rights abuses suffered by the suspects—and the UAE is probably not blameless here—the evidence also appears overwhelming that al-Eslah is guilty and that it has sought to sponsor terrorism in one of the Middle East’s most stable and pro-Western corners.

The U.S. government has tied al-Eslah’s charity, Human Appeal International, to terrorism. The defendants in the trial had been involved with groups led by Youssef Qaradawi–a Muslim Brotherhood preacher whose support for terror is well documented.

The lesson is clear: While the State Department and White House played footsies with the Brotherhood in Egypt, the group used its newfound legitimacy to expand its campaign of destabilization across the Middle East. Muslim Brotherhood front groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America often threaten to label any criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood and its agenda “Islamophobic,” and that’s enough to cow the White House and State Department. It’s hard to accuse any Arab state of “Islamophobia,” however. Perhaps, then, rather than vacillate about the group’s downfall in Egypt, the United States should take a hint from those who know the group best, cheer their downfall, and work to roll back the group further in places like Gaza, Turkey, and Tunisia.

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