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Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama

The Supreme Court Cannot Solve Everything

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President Obama made a signing statement refusing to let Congress dictate who he can and cannot hire. In the words of Kevin Drum, Obama “thinks that Congress has no right to tell him who he can and can’t consult in the Office of the President. So he signed the bill but added a signing statement telling Congress to piss off.”

Drum adds that:

Actually, I’m curious about something here. When Congress and the President disagree about something like this, it’s up to the Supreme Court to adjudicate. But how does that usually work? Does the president abide by the law but sue in federal court to have it overturned? Or does he break the law and wait for someone to sue him? What’s the usual historical precedent?

Well, there’s not a lot of historical precedent, because first, the Supreme Court from the very beginning of the country refused to offer advisory opinions. Here’s what the Jay Court said:

The lines of Separation drawn by the Constitution between the three Departments of Government, their being in certain Respects checks on each other, and our being judges of a court in the last Resort, are Considerations which afford strong arguments against the Propriety of our extrajudicially deciding the questions alluded to; especially as the Power given by the Constitution to the President of calling on the Heads of Departments for opinions, seems to have been purposely as well as expressly limited to executive Departments.

This is especially relevant to this particular issue: the Courts only get involved when there is an actual issue, but moreover, the Constitution really does give the President all the executive power, including consulting who he may.

But this also means the Courts can’t just solve this generally: there needs to be an actual court case of someone suing for something. It’s unclear who would or could do that here.

The one example of when the Court did step in is in Marbury v. Madison, which is probably the most important case in the history of our country, so I can’t sum it all up succinctly. But here goes: Marbury did involve is a specific person – the eponymous Marbury, who was given a judicial appointment by Adams; that appointment was rescinded by Jefferson before the actual appointment was delivered. And even in that case, John Marshall found that while Marbury had a right to the appointment, the judiciary had no right to enforce it, because the mandamus statute was unconstitutional. But a part of that decision was also the birth of the political doctrine which is very relevant here:

By the constitution of the United States, the President is invested with certain important political powers, in the exercise of which he is to use his own discretion, and is accountable only to his country in his political character, and to his own conscience. To aid him in the performance of these duties, he is authorized to appoint certain officers, who act by his authority and in conformity with his orders.

In such cases, their acts are his acts; and whatever opinion may be entertained of the manner in which executive discretion may be used, still there exists, and can exist, no power to control that discretion. The subjects are political. They respect the nation, not individual rights, and being entrusted to the executive, the decision of the executive is conclusive. The application of this remark will be perceived by adverting to the act of congress for establishing the department of foreign affairs. This office, as his duties were prescribed by that act, is to conform precisely to the will of the President. He is the mere organ by whom that will is communicated. The acts of such an officer, as an officer, can never be examinable by the courts.

But when the legislature proceeds to impose on that officer other duties; when he is directed peremptorily to perform certain acts; when the rights of individuals are dependent on the performance of those acts; he is so far the officer of the law; is amenable to the laws for his conduct; and cannot at his discretion sport away the vested rights of others.

Here, the czars have not had any other duties imposed on them by Congress. Not one. They solely provide advice and guidance to the President and his/her staff on areas of expertise. The Republican fetish of eliminating the czars is directly and clearly against the most fundamental court decision in the history of our country. This is exactly the sort of gross Congressional overstepping that calls for a signing statement. Neither party in Congress has the Constitutional ability to limit the advice the President receives.

The entirety of history of Congressional right to confirm people refers to officers who have official duty. What we have here is a hypothetical that not even Marshall thought Congress would resort to: limiting who the President can merely look to for policy advice without any additional responsibility. It’s not the Constitution’s fault that the czars annoy Republicans.

What’s important to realize (and I think Drum does) about the czars is that they do not give the President any additional power. Van Jones or whoever is just an outside advisor, that the President feels better to keep in house rather than call regularly. But the Constitution gives the executive carte blanche authority on whom he can consult with.

But it’s important to realize is that under no realistic scenario is this going to go to the courts, short of someone actually depriving the czars from receiving a paycheck which they then sue for. This is not a problem for the court system. This is for Congress and the executive to work out alone.

UPDATE: Via a Balloon Juice commenter, Barack Obama also said, “No one doubts that it is appropriate to use signing statements to protect a president’s constitutional prerogatives; unfortunately, the Bush Administration has gone much further than that.” It’s patently obvious to me this falls in the former category of valid signing statements. This signing statement does not expand executive power, it just protects the ability to hire advice as he sees fit. That’s been a protected Presidential ability as long as the office has existed.

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Written by John Whitehouse

April 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Obama versus Bush in Conducting War

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Donald Rumsfeld:

Barack Obama:

You think Gaddafi is more likely to be influenced thinking about Saddam Hussein or the President of the United States saying they have the tools to target him if they so choose?

Just a thought.It does underscore 1) how desperate Rumsfeld is to salvage his reputation and 2) how bad at diplomacy the Bush Administration was.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm

There’s No Easy Answer on Consistency in Foreign Policy

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Jumping off Eugene Robinson, Matt Yglesias sees that Arab dictators are using fighting Gaddafi as a means to deflect attention from their own crackdowns. He continues:

This is why it’s so nuts for intervention enthusiasts to dismiss out of hand the obvious concerns that have been raised about US-subsidized regimes in Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia attacking un-armed protestors even as we intervene militarily in Libya to halt repression. There’s an obvious question as to what, in reality, American policy in the Arab world is. Is this part of a policy of boosting democratic change in the region, or is it part of a policy of bolstering the position of the Persian Gulf dictators who are important clients of American arms manufacturers?

This is not a new or unforeseen problem either. The Second Additional Procotol to the Geneva Conventions foresaw this; it applies to non-international armed conflicts, but specifically does “not apply to situations of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence and other acts of a similar nature.”  From the very drafting of the Geneva Conventions it was foreseen that countries would suppress riots, even democratically justified ones.

In fact, the Protocol only applies when “armed forces [of the country] and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups which, under responsible command, exercise such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol.”

Firing on protesters is morally repugnant. In their actions, the governments of Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and more almost certainly committed violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

And yet, facing an entire region under the control (as Yglesias notes) of an armed dissident group is a legally different situation (provided the Benghazi rebels implemented the Protocol; I have no idea if this was the case). Without going too much into the geopolitical aspects (of which I am not an expert) there are justifications for treating the events in Libya more seriously, especially as Gaddafi went on the offensive. In any event, now that foreign countries are involved, it is now subject to Protocol I, not Protocol II

Quick point on geopolitics: as Juan Cole and others say, it’s clear that Gaddafi is more a threat regionally if unchecked, even if Benghazi itself may not be. By contrast, the biggest cash crop in Yemen is probably US aid to fight Al Qaeda. Someone else will get that when Saleh is gone.(And eventually he will be).

Yglesias is understating just how little influence the United States has on the Gulf States as a matter of policy: an addict can’t tell a drug dealer how to live his life, and neither can the United States really change much in Bahrain:

For the United States, the intervention is a slap in the face. On Saturday, March 12, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Bahrain, where he called for real reforms to the country’s political system and criticized “baby steps,” which he said would be insufficient to defuse the crisis. The Saudis were called in within a few hours of Gates’s departure, however, showing their disdain for his efforts to reach a negotiated solution. By acting so soon after Gates’s visit, Saudi Arabia has made the United States look at best irrelevant to events in Bahrain, and from the Shiite opposition’s point of view, even complicit in the Saudi military intervention.

. . .

The crown prince is well aware that the Saudi intervention only makes a negotiated solution to this crisis more challenging, so it is difficult to imagine that he invited the Saudis into Bahrain. The more liberal Khalifas, such as the crown prince, know very well that the only way out of the crisis is to obtain the resignation of the prime minister and some of the more extreme Sunni ministers.

However, the prime minister — with whom Gates did not meet with during his weekend visit — does not appear to have any intention of resigning and is the most likely figure behind the invitation to the Saudis to intervene. Although details are still sketchy, he is likely joining with the Saudi king to pass the message to the United States that he is in charge and no one can tell him what to do. Furthermore, it signals that the Saudis agree with Bahrain’s conservatives that the Shiite must be reined in rather than negotiated with, even at the cost of telling the United States to kiss off.

The Bahrain charge implicating Gates in the crackdown is prevalent on Twitter and elsewhere online. Despite the fact that there’s no evidence (Wikileaks anyone?) that Gates actually meant for this to happen – indeed, it just makes the US look worse to have him implicated. Sec. Clinton did condemn the Bahraini government, but the message was muddled because of the worrying influence of Iran. It seems clear in the Gulf the Saudis and Iran are competing regionally by having a race to the bottom in terms of autocracy. How can the US break that cycle? Condemning crackdowns isn’t going to do it, that’s for sure. No matter how strong the language is. By contrast, events in Africa are more malleable. Should the United States let Benghazi burn because there’s no clear path to reform in Bahrain? That seems excessive.

And seriously, does anyone anywhere think the United States can dictate anything to Saudi Arabia on how to treat any of it’s people? Seriously? If we haven’t done so by now I don’t think it’s happening.

Back to Yemen, does anyone think more active involvement on the ground from the United States would help? I agree wholly with Gregory Johnsen that the U.S. should be more noticeably condemning violence in Yemen, but that’s relatively minor compared to talk of intervention and what have you.  The range of opinions on Yemen goes from “wait and see” to “call for him to leave, then wait and see”.

The US, the UK, and the EU are not the bad guys here, but their combined policy and public posturing could have been much wiser and much more proactive.  As it was, the US has consistently been behind the curve in Yemen, making reactive statements that lead many to believe it will never part with Salih because of his support on AQAP.  But make no mistake the responsibility for yesterday’s deaths falls on the shoulders of the Yemeni government.

Following yesterday’s attack President Obama strongly condemned the violence, but stopped short of calling for President Salih to step down.  I hope that privately the US is pressuring him to leave, but most sources suggest that this is not the case.  The US is too concerned about what will happen with AQAP if Salih leaves.

(I think this is a mistake and the longer Salih stays and the more the US is seen to be supporting him, the worse the AQAP problem will eventually be.  My opinion, however, has been dismissed.)

Obama did make a mistake here. But even if he didn’t, there would still be a discrepancy in policy compared to Libya. That’s a result of different (though similar) geopolitical situations.

But this is why the categorical imperative is a bad guide to foreign policy, or even policy in general. In the face of a laundry list of bad policies, you can’t fix everything at once, but you ought to try to move in the right direction. It’s easier to do that in Libya because the United States has a giant military, Britain and France are embarrassed (for Libya and Tunisia respectively), Gaddafi is a regional pariah who if left uncheck with billions could very well threaten progress in Egypt and Tunisia,  and the UN resolution sets clear limits at least on the type of force that will be employed.

It’d feel lovely to have the same policy every time an Arab revolt happens, but circumstances are so different in every country that it’s virtually impossible to do that.

Moreover, I’d argue that the United States should do more small-scale humanitarian interventions and less giant train wreck operations that are one in a million for turning out right. Bosnia and Kosovo weren’t perfect operations, but they were somewhat successful and actually led to tribunals. The NYT this weekend editorialized for more peacekeepers in the Ivory Coast. That’d be a great start. There’s a lot of work to do in the Sudan that requires constant U.S. engagement. Do that too.

In conclusion, I’d argue that instead of bemoaning the lack of consistency like Immanuel Kant when someone interrupted his daily routine, we should argue for what the United States ought do. On that, there’s plenty to be done. I don’t know that I’m right on anything (seriously, this could all backfire spectacularly.) But I’m not convinced by people basically concern trolling foreign policy because they have a deadline. That’s not a luxury or burden the State Department has.

Oh, and read Tom Ricks because he’s far smarter than I am.

Salon’s Michael Lind Makes the Case for Healthcare Being Unconstitutional

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In an up and down hit piece on me, here, Michael Lind goes off the rails at the end:

The Constitution cannot be amended by statute. It cannot be amended by treaty. It cannot be amended by precedent. It cannot be amended by public opinion poll. It cannot be amended by election result. It cannot be amended by humanitarian pity. The U.S. Constitution can only be amended by the procedures set forth in Article V of the Constitution itself.

We use precedent and practice to interpret the Constitution all the time. That’s the entirety of good commerce clause jurisprudence, (unless unbeknownst to me you Michael Lind are a Lochner truther.)  This is, essentially, the only goal of constitutional lawyers: They take various possible interpretations and argue which is the best, using the plain text, arguments from context, history, and state practice. Ronald Dworkin’s writings on interpretation are persuasive in this regard: we need to find the best constructive interpretation, not the originalist one or the plainest text one. That’s why we have government – not as an academic argument about whether actions comply or not, but to actually govern the country. The Constitution is not a suicide pact, we need to think about it dynamically.

Again, maybe I’m wrong on whether this is Constitutional, but I’m confident my approach to thinking about lawmaking is right.

Lind also says:

But suppose that the UNPA had been worded differently, and had sought to empower the president to wage war without prior congressional authorization, as long as the U.N. Security Council approved. In that case, the UNPA would have been unconstitutional from the beginning. Even if it wants to, Congress cannot, by statute, amend the Constitution.

In this case, there is sufficient historical evidence that the members of Congress in 1945 and since by all available evidence had a different definition of war than Michael Lind does. Thus they were not amending the Constitution but merely clarifying it. Maybe they were and are wrong, but we should fully discuss what is the best interpretation based on the text, state interests, etc. and not just say “TEH CONSTITUTION SAYS WAR SO YOU ARE A SOPHIST.”

By the way, I’m not responding to most the first half of Lind’s article because I did so here, in response to Charlie Savage.

But basically, Lind’s argument boils down to this: If Congress knowingly authorized the letters UN to be painted on the Tomahawks, using them would be constitutional, even if it did not approve or have any prior knowledge of the Libyan resolution. This is patently absurd and a bad rule in regards to the original Congressional intent – that case, Congress has no less knowledge of what is going on.

Additionally, as Jack Goldsmith notes, the OLC has long interpreted strengthening the UN as a vital US interest, so protecting it can be justified on that level as well. I’m surprised someone on the left wouldn’t agree.

Also, I feel compelled to respond to the dumbest set of analogies I’ve ever seen:

Suppose that Congress were to pass four laws — one giving the IMF the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States; one delegating the power to negotiate U.S. trade treaties to the World Bank; a third giving the Organization of American States the authority to establish U.S. laws of citizenship and naturalization; and a fourth delegating the power to make bankruptcy law to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. All four of those laws would be null and void, because Congress is not permitted to give its constitutional powers to another branch of the U.S. government or to foreign governmental or non-governmental entities.

None of these apply in the slightest. Of course they would be unconstitutional. The issue here is a clear separation of powers issue, all four here are issues of government sovereignty. I thought we were discussing a tug of war between Congressional war authority and Presidential commander-in-chief powers. This is just stupid, since the IMF has NO power to borrow US money. The President DOES have the ability to be commander-in-chief. Maybe that extends to starting a campaign, maybe not. But the IMF borrowing money on US credit doesn’t tell us a damn thing.

Michael, I’m an unpaid blogger who just has a law school degree to my name. I’ve made mistakes in my posts you cite. Really. But I’m pretty confident in my bottom line, and if you want to have a constructive debate instead of picking on me because 20 people on Twitter retweeted it, then I’m more than willing. Given your resume, there’s probably a lot I can learn from you. And if you’re hiring, I would be willing to do that in person!

I think I need to move to a new topic, lest I be called more names by fellow members of the left.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 21, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Samantha Power on Rwanda

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Samantha Power, now a key advisor to Barack Obama,was a strong advocate for the military action in Libya. In September 2001, she wrote a long article for the Atlantic regarding the inaction of the Clinton Administration in Rwanda. Certain parts are revealing in regards to potential Obama thinking now.

She identifies three key problems with the Clinton administration approach. The first is a threaten to disengage peacekeepers – which in the end only helped the Tutsi who wanted them gone. This isn’t worth spending too much time on – everyone knows now disengaging in Libya would would help Gaddafi. A key difference between Libya and Rwanda is that everyone knows who the aggressor is in Libya (even if the ultimate composition of the rebels is not as well known).

The second concern has a tangential connection, but not more. Power:

Second, before and during the massacres U.S. diplomacy revealed its natural bias toward states and toward negotiations. Because most official contact occurs between representatives of states, U.S. officials were predisposed to trust the assurances of Rwandan officials, several of whom were plotting genocide behind the scenes. Those in the U.S. government who knew Rwanda best viewed the escalating violence with a diplomatic prejudice that left them both institutionally oriented toward the Rwandan government and reluctant to do anything to disrupt the peace process.

If anything, there’s an institutional bias towards not trusting Gaddafi here – he’s earned that reputation through decades of his actions. The international community never really pushed for negotiations blindly. And if anything, the extent of social media has made such institutional bias harder to have. We now know almost immediately when cities or citizens are under attack. This doesn’t really explain or justify the actions of the U.S. here, but it is an interesting footnote, I think.

The third criticism by Power is more directly relevant:

The third problematic feature of U.S. diplomacy before and during the genocide was a tendency toward blindness bred by familiarity: the few people in Washington who were paying attention to Rwanda before Habyarimana’s plane was shot down were those who had been tracking Rwanda for some time and had thus come to expect a certain level of ethnic violence from the region. And because the U.S. government had done little when some 40,000 people had been killed in Hutu-Tutsi violence in Burundi in October of 1993, these officials also knew that Washington was prepared to tolerate substantial bloodshed. When the massacres began in April, some U.S. regional specialists initially suspected that Rwanda was undergoing “another flare-up” that would involve another “acceptable” (if tragic) round of ethnic murder.

Isn’t this exactly what is going on in the Middle East? That we’ve seen from Afghanistan to Algeria people revolting and facing violence or death for doing so.

Now, maybe there’s still no way this can end well or the military mission is muddled, but that doesn’t mean a dictator threatening to go all Sodom and Gomorrah on the opposition should be ignored.

More accurately, isn’t a lot of the opposition to action specifically driven by fear of Libya becoming another Afghanistan or Iraq? That’s as much as a form of entrenched tunnel vision as ignorance to the possibility of genocide was then. There’s a reason the slippery slope is such a prominent argument now: protecting citizens is by definition endless, so the assumption is it has to escalate. The way to guard against that is simple: do not escalate. There’s powerful incentives for everyone in the administration to resist at this level of involvement (indeed, the only way I see American boots on the ground is if Obama loses in 2012 or if peacekeepers are needed).

Power also tells a story of how American interests were calculated at the time. Sound familiar?

Warren Christopher appeared on the NBC news program Meet the Press the morning the evacuation was completed. “In the great tradition, the ambassador was in the last car,” Christopher said proudly. “So that evacuation has gone very well.” Christopher stressed that although U.S. Marines had been dispatched to Burundi, there were no plans to send them into Rwanda to restore order: they were in the region as a safety net, in case they were needed to assist in the evacuation. “It’s always a sad moment when the Americans have to leave,” he said, “but it was the prudent thing to do.” The Republican Senate minority leader, Bob Dole, a spirited defender of Bosnia’s besieged Muslims at the time, agreed. “I don’t think we have any national interest there,” Dole said on April 10. “The Americans are out, and as far as I’m concerned, in Rwanda, that ought to be the end of it.”

Worse, is there were readily available forces to stop the killing:

If the soldiers ferried in for the evacuation had teamed up with UNAMIR, Dallaire would have had a sizable deterrent force. At that point he commanded 440 Belgians, 942 Bangladeshis, 843 Ghanaians, 60 Tunisians, and 255 others from twenty countries. He could also call on a reserve of 800 Belgians in Nairobi. If the major powers had reconfigured the thousand-man European evacuation force and the U.S. Marines on standby in Burundi—who numbered 300—and contributed them to his mission, he would finally have had the numbers on his side. “Mass slaughter was happening, and suddenly there in Kigali we had the forces we needed to contain it, and maybe even to stop it,” he recalls. “Yet they picked up their people and turned and walked away.”

There was also an institutional reluctance to avoid legal findings that would commit the US to do something (as well as an odd anecdote about Susan Rice:

Even after the reality of genocide in Rwanda had become irrefutable, when bodies were shown choking the Kagera River on the nightly news, the brute fact of the slaughter failed to influence U.S. policy except in a negative way. American officials, for a variety of reasons, shunned the use of what became known as “the g-word.” They felt that using it would have obliged the United States to act, under the terms of the 1948 Genocide Convention. They also believed, understandably, that it would harm U.S. credibility to name the crime and then do nothing to stop it. A discussion paper on Rwanda, prepared by an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and dated May 1, testifies to the nature of official thinking. Regarding issues that might be brought up at the next interagency working group, it stated,

1. Genocide Investigation: Language that calls for an international investigation of human rights abuses and possible violations of the genocide convention. Be Careful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday—Genocide finding could commit [the U.S. government] to actually “do something.” [Emphasis added.] At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?” Lieutenant Colonel Tony Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department. “We could believe that people would wonder that,” he says, “but not that they would actually voice it.” Rice does not recall the incident but concedes, “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”

We’re seeing the same reluctance to act today, only it’s outside of the administration and occasionally for valid reasons.

What’s truly odd is that such reluctance is coming from someone like Andrew Sullivan, who 1) obsessively chronicles everything in the region and 2) is rightfully upset the Obama refuses an investigation into torture practices under George W. Bush. Illegality under international and humanitarian law is serious, and Obama should investigate it and be prepared to take action whenever possible. He should have done a lot more on torture. But he should also be prepared to do as much on international humanitarian situations as well.

Also worth noting: Power cites Donald Steinberg as the primary advocate for intervention in Rwanda. Steinberg is now the Deputy Director of USAID.

There was apparently more concern about the gorillas than the people within the government:

During the entire three months of the genocide Clinton never assembled his top policy advisers to discuss the killings. Anthony Lake likewise never gathered the “principals”—the Cabinet-level members of the foreign-policy team. Rwanda was never thought to warrant its own top-level meeting. When the subject came up, it did so along with, and subordinate to, discussions of Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. Whereas these crises involved U.S. personnel and stirred some public interest, Rwanda generated no sense of urgency and could safely be avoided by Clinton at no political cost. The editorial boards of the major American newspapers discouraged U.S. intervention during the genocide. They, like the Administration, lamented the killings but believed, in the words of an April 17 Washington Post editorial, “The United States has no recognizable national interest in taking a role, certainly not a leading role.” Capitol Hill was quiet. Some in Congress were glad to be free of the expense of another flawed UN mission. Others, including a few members of the Africa subcommittees and the Congressional Black Caucus, eventually appealed tamely for the United States to play a role in ending the violence—but again, they did not dare urge U.S. involvement on the ground, and they did not kick up a public fuss. Members of Congress weren’t hearing from their constituents. Pat Schroeder, of Colorado, said on April 30, “There are some groups terribly concerned about the gorillas … But—it sounds terrible—people just don’t know what can be done about the people.” Randall Robinson, of the nongovernmental organization TransAfrica, was preoccupied, staging a hunger strike to protest the U.S. repatriation of Haitian refugees. Human Rights Watch supplied exemplary intelligence and established important one-on-one contacts in the Administration, but the organization lacks a grassroots base from which to mobilize a broader segment of American society.

Powers is most amazed that no one ever considered any intervention because of Somalia:

One senior U.S. official remembers, “When the reports of the deaths of the ten Belgians came in, it was clear that it was Somalia redux, and the sense was that there would be an expectation everywhere that the U.S. would get involved. We thought leaving the peacekeepers in Rwanda and having them confront the violence would take us where we’d been before. It was a foregone conclusion that the United States wouldn’t intervene and that the concept of UN peacekeeping could not be sacrificed again.”

A foregone conclusion. What is most remarkable about the American response to the Rwandan genocide is not so much the absence of U.S. military action as that during the entire genocide the possibility of U.S. military intervention was never even debated. Indeed, the United States resisted intervention of any kind.

Power continues, making the argument that even a limited UN presence can have a significant deterrent effect:

But Clarke underestimated the deterrent effect that Dallaire’s very few peacekeepers were having. Although some soldiers hunkered down, terrified, others scoured Kigali, rescuing Tutsi, and later established defensive positions in the city, opening their doors to the fortunate Tutsi who made it through roadblocks to reach them. One Senegalese captain saved a hundred or so lives single-handedly. Some 25,000 Rwandans eventually assembled at positions manned by UNAMIR personnel. The Hutu were generally reluctant to massacre large groups of Tutsi if foreigners (armed or unarmed) were present. It did not take many UN soldiers to dissuade the Hutu from attacking. At the Hotel des Mille Collines ten peacekeepers and four UN military observers helped to protect the several hundred civilians sheltered there for the duration of the crisis. About 10,000 Rwandans gathered at the Amohoro Stadium under light UN cover. Brent Beardsley, Dallaire’s executive assistant, remembers, “If there was any determined resistance at close quarters, the government guys tended to back off.” Kevin Aiston, the Rwanda desk officer at the State Department, was keeping track of Rwandan civilians under UN protection. When Prudence Bushnell told him of the U.S. decision to demand a UNAMIR withdrawal, he turned pale. “We can’t,” he said. Bushnell replied, “The train has already left the station.”

Power was also outraged by attempts of the US and UN to look like it cared while it really left people to die:

After the UN vote Clarke sent a memorandum to Lake reporting that language about “the safety and security of Rwandans under UN protection had been inserted by US/UN at the end of the day to prevent an otherwise unanimous UNSC from walking away from the at-risk Rwandans under UN protection as the peacekeepers drew down to 270.” In other words, the memorandum suggested that the United States was leading efforts to ensure that the Rwandans under UN protection were not abandoned. The opposite was true.

Power highlights how little America even said regarding Rwanda:

Throughout this period the Clinton Administration was largely silent. The closest it came to a public denunciation of the Rwandan government occurred after personal lobbying by Human Rights Watch, when Anthony Lake issued a statement calling on Rwandan military leaders by name to “do everything in their power to end the violence immediately.” When I spoke with Lake six years later, and informed him that human-rights groups and U.S. officials point to this statement as the sum total of official public attempts to shame the Rwandan government in this period, he seemed stunned. “You’re kidding,” he said. “That’s truly pathetic.”

The Department of Defense was strongly against any type of intervention, finding any reason to even stop radio broadcasts imploring genocide. Read the page here.

But Power doesn’t blame the Pentagon for that, she blames the White House:

However significant and obstructionist the role of the Pentagon in April and May, Defense Department officials were stepping into a vacuum. As one U.S. official put it, “Look, nobody senior was paying any attention to this mess. And in the absence of any political leadership from the top, when you have one group that feels pretty strongly about what shouldn’t be done, it is extremely likely they are going to end up shaping U.S. policy.” Lieutenant General Wesley Clark looked to the White House for leadership. “The Pentagon is always going to be the last to want to intervene,” he says. “It is up to the civilians to tell us they want to do something and we’ll figure out how to do it.”

But with no powerful personalities or high-ranking officials arguing forcefully for meaningful action, mid-level Pentagon officials held sway, vetoing or stalling on hesitant proposals put forward by mid-level State Department or NSC officials. If Pentagon objections were to be overcome, the President, Secretary Christopher, Secretary Perry, or Anthony Lake would have to step forward to “own” the problem, which did not happen.

That’s exactly what did happen regarding Libya – Clinton, Rice, and Power herself stepped forward and owned the problem. Obama backed them, and the Pentagon is finding a way to achieve the goals set forth in the UN Resolution.

Power mentions the peacekeeping strategy of Richard Clarke, who opposed meaningful intervention in Libya. Does this sound familiar?

America’s new peacekeeping doctrine, of which Clarke was the primary architect, was unveiled on May 3, and U.S. officials applied its criteria zealously. PDD-25 did not merely circumscribe U.S. participation in UN missions; it also limited U.S. support for other states that hoped to carry out UN missions. Before such missions could garner U.S. approval, policymakers had to answer certain questions: Were U.S. interests at stake? Was there a threat to world peace? A clear mission goal? Acceptable costs? Congressional, public, and allied support? A working cease-fire? A clear command-and-control arrangement? And, finally, what was the exit strategy?

Samantha Power on what could have been done:

A more serious challenge comes from the U.S. officials who argue that no amount of leadership from the White House would have overcome congressional opposition to sending U.S. troops to Africa. But even if that highly debatable point was true, the United States still had a variety of options. Instead of leaving it to mid-level officials to communicate with the Rwandan leadership behind the scenes, senior officials in the Administration could have taken control of the process. They could have publicly and frequently denounced the slaughter. They could have branded the crimes “genocide” at a far earlier stage. They could have called for the expulsion of the Rwandan delegation from the Security Council. On the telephone, at the UN, and on the Voice of America they could have threatened to prosecute those complicit in the genocide, naming names when possible. They could have deployed Pentagon assets to jam—even temporarily—the crucial, deadly radio broadcasts.

Instead of demanding a UN withdrawal, quibbling over costs, and coming forward (belatedly) with a plan better suited to caring for refugees than to stopping massacres, U.S. officials could have worked to make UNAMIR a force to contend with. They could have urged their Belgian allies to stay and protect Rwandan civilians. If the Belgians insisted on withdrawing, the White House could have done everything within its power to make sure that Dallaire was immediately reinforced. Senior officials could have spent U.S. political capital rallying troops from other nations and could have supplied strategic airlift and logistic support to a coalition that it had helped to create. In short, the United States could have led the world.

It’s worth noting that a lot of these things have been done in Libya already.

Power concludes with three direct criticisms of the Clinton Administration in the matter:

Strikingly, most officials involved in shaping U.S. policy were able to define the decision not to stop genocide as ethical and moral. The Administration employed several devices to keep down enthusiasm for action and to preserve the public’s sense—and, more important, its own—that U.S. policy choices were not merely politically astute but also morally acceptable. First, Administration officials exaggerated the extremity of the possible responses. Time and again U.S. leaders posed the choice as between staying out of Rwanda and “getting involved everywhere.” In addition, they often presented the choice as one between doing nothing and sending in the Marines. On May 25, at the Naval Academy graduation ceremony, Clinton described America’s relationship to ethnic trouble spots: “We cannot turn away from them, but our interests are not sufficiently at stake in so many of them to justify a commitment of our folks.”

We’re seeing this same response from critics, who either fear or, worse, want boots on the ground.

Second, the future of the UN is at stake. Maybe this might not work, but it’s better to try than allow the UN to become irrelevant:

Second, Administration policymakers appealed to notions of the greater good. They did not simply frame U.S. policy as one contrived in order to advance the national interest or avoid U.S. casualties. Rather, they often argued against intervention from the standpoint of people committed to protecting human life. Owing to recent failures in UN peacekeeping, many humanitarian interventionists in the U.S. government were concerned about the future of America’s relationship with the United Nations generally and peacekeeping specifically. They believed that the UN and humanitarianism could not afford another Somalia. Many internalized the belief that the UN had more to lose by sending reinforcements and failing than by allowing the killings to proceed. Their chief priority, after the evacuation of the Americans, was looking after UN peacekeepers, and they justified the withdrawal of the peacekeepers on the grounds that it would ensure a future for humanitarian intervention. In other words, Dallaire’s peacekeeping mission in Rwanda had to be destroyed so that peacekeeping might be saved for use elsewhere.

Lastly, Power argues that engagement was considered a substitute for meaningful action

A third feature of the response that helped to console U.S. officials at the time was the sheer flurry of Rwanda-related activity. U.S. officials with a special concern for Rwanda took their solace from mini-victories—working on behalf of specific individuals or groups (Monique Mujawamariya; the Rwandans gathered at the hotel). Government officials involved in policy met constantly and remained “seized of the matter”; they neither appeared nor felt indifferent. Although little in the way of effective intervention emerged from mid-level meetings in Washington or New York, an abundance of memoranda and other documents did.

Lastly, Power gives a quote from Susan Rice that is certainly revealing:

Susan Rice, Clarke’s co-worker on peacekeeping at the NSC, also feels that she has a debt to repay. “There was such a huge disconnect between the logic of each of the decisions we took along the way during the genocide and the moral consequences of the decisions taken collectively,” Rice says. “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” Rice was subsequently appointed NSC Africa director and, later, assistant secretary of state for African affairs; she visited Rwanda several times and helped to launch a small program geared to train selected African armies so that they might be available to respond to the continent’s next genocide. The American appetite for troop deployments in Africa had not improved.

BTW, in context that means Rice would go down in flames arguing for force, not that she would want any mission to go down in flames.

Given that Samantha Power was a key supporter and advisor to Obama during his campaign, I’d say Sullivan should have taken the time to read this article and her other work before supporting him. He might not be shocked at UN action now.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 21, 2011 at 11:39 am

The Republican Party Platform on Nuclear Safety

with one comment

via tonight’s Real Time:

The lesson, of course, is that if you say things like this that David Gregory will never not have you on his show.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 9:43 pm