Obama Report Card – Sept. 2012

This page is based on an article, Obama Abroad: The Report Card in the New York Review of Books by Joseph Lelyveld. Two books, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power” by David E. Sanger and “The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power” by James Mann form the starting point for the article.

He cites two major foreign policy achievements: removing American forces from Iraq, and tightening the focus of W. Bush’s Global War on Terror down to a campaign against the remnants of al-Qaeda based on the use of high-tech intelligence and drones .

The concern that Pakistan will disintegrate and lose control of its nukes was heightened by what might be considered the cherry on the cake of the U.S. campaign against al-Qaeda, the raid by the Navy SEALS which resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. “Pakistan’s military chieftains”, as Lelyveld puts it, were angered by the raid’s violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and the professional humiliation entailed in the failure of Pakistani forces to react to the three and a half hour raid. Lelyveld says that perhaps even worse is the Pakistani concern that the Americans might pull off a similar raid to seize or dismantle Pakistan’s “precious nuclear weapons”.

What some call the Obama doctrine involves the aggressive use of cyber warfare techniques, of which a prime example is the attack, in coordination with Israel, to cripple some thousand centrifuges at the heart of Iran’s nuclear program.

Two key terms here are the Stuxnet worm, which accidentally slipped out into the Internet and ‘Olympic Games’, the program to develop Stuxnet. Lelyveld says that the existence of ‘Olympic Games’ raises the question of the U.S.’s contribution to the existence of similar programs in other countries and the ability of the U.S. to work on efforts to constrain cyber attacks on our own vulnerable systems.

Similar questions can be raised regarding the use of drones which are no longer solely in the employ of the U.S. Israel has used a drones of its own design to attack militants in Gaza. Lelyveld asks how long will it be until India is running drones over control points in Kashmir, or China and the U.S. ‘start playing cyber-chicken’.

In other ‘report card’ matters, Obama’s failure to see the Karzei’s theft of the 2009 Afghan elections is listed, as is the administration’s failure to express support for demonstrators following the Iranian elections. Credit is given to Obama for rethinking the limits of American power in terms of geographical location and money. Lelyveld discusses some of Sanger’s points.

Interesting article. Jame Mann’s book looks at the people in Obama’s national security issues. Lelyveld notes that what candidate Obama called the war of necessity in Afghanistan , as opposed to Bush’s war of choice in Iraq lost its necessity in the face 2009’s Afghan elections, Karzai’s massive corruption and limited support base, the Pentagon’s estimate that one billion dollars a month would be needed to train and support a credible Afghan force. What was not said was that drones offer a cheap American-casualty free avenue to the disruption and maybe crippling of al-Qaeda. Without the use of a gigantic military force.

As Lelyveld notes, Obama is aggressive but in a new way.

Obama has assigned to himself the responsibility of checking new additions to ‘kill lists’ that are made up of targets of drone killings. Many are concerned with issues of civil liberties and other heavy legal issues posed by these extrajudicials killlings. LSW will spit in here that this behaviour is reminiscent of W. whose was empowered to place the presidency, the American presidency, W. himself, above and beyond legal restrictions. In this sense, Obama is no better than W. and his crazy band of lunatics.

Lelyveld says:

“Many experts who were initially well disposed to Obama find heavy legal and even civil liberties issues in such “extrajudicial killings.” For instance: Are they tantamount to assassinations? Does the struggle against al-Qaeda qualify as an “international armed conflict” under the Geneva conventions or is it essentially lawless?”

White House aides say that the only way Obama can assure himself that the drones are under tight control is by taking hands-on charge of the process. Lelyveld says that the picture is disturbing, of the President review notes on targeted enemies and the effect is deepened as the intrinsic solitariness and responsibilities of the job is heightened “by an inner self-sufficiency, not always easy to distinguish from remoteness and self-regard.”

By contrast, Lelyveld says Romney favors a sharp increase in the already humongous Pentagon budget replete with the usual cuts in domestics programs. “It’s the old definition of strength. This must be another “American Century,” the former missionary insists.”

Obama has displayed a surprising aggressiveness, as well as decisiveness – Secretary Gates said that Obama made one of the most courageous calls ever made by a president, not waiting for consensus or the Generals.

Lelyveld concludes his article, saying:
“As for Pakistan, the Pakistani generals and Richard Holbrooke, with their long memories, appear to have known something that Barack Obama didn’t want to hear when he had his first crack at making policy for the region. “The biggest problem we face,” Holbrooke told Sanger, “is that the Pakistanis know that sooner or later we’re leaving. Because that’s what we do. And that drives everything.”

Unless, of course, Mitt Romney were to get the opportunity to prove he’s serious about staying the course. And then, most likely, we’d really be sorry.”