Obama’s war on coal

Breathe deep, and vote Democratic.

Another BFD. The beauty of it is that he doesn’t need Congression action; all of this is within Executive Branch control.

This illustrates why I’m so relentlessly partisan, and so impatient with those who enjoy displaying their moral superiority by distancing themselves from the President when he screws up. There are a dozen key issues – not just environmental management but also taxation, income support, health care, labor/management, racial equality, reproductive freedom, gay rights, civil liberty, public management and respect for public service, science and education, defense, foreign policy, international human rights – where any Democrat who gets elected President will be incomparably better than any Republican who gets elected President, and where Democratic control of the Congress will lead to better results than Republican control. They’re still for torture.

There are lots of issues – including my own pet topics of drug abuse and crime control – where this Administration’s record has fallen far short of the ideal. That will be true of any actual Democratic Administration. I expect to be deeply disappointed by Hillary Clinton’s performance on a range of topics. And that won’t keep me from working my heart out to elect her, and re-elect her, and elect whatever Democrat aims to succeed her.

Breathe deep, and vote Democratic.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

51 thoughts on “Obama’s war on coal”

  1. “This illustrates why I’m so relentlessly partisan,”

    That was refreshing. It would really be a hoot if you denied it, you’re the most relentlessly partisan person I’ve ever been exposed to.

    1. Brett, by any chance is your favorite song Lefty Frizzell’s I Never Go Around Mirrors?

      1. For which, I sure, your family, friends, neighbors and the general public are grateful! 🙂

    2. [Mark Kleiman is] the most relentlessly partisan person [Brett Bellmore has] ever been exposed to.

      What an oddly circumscribed version of the internet Brett has access to. He may wish to contact his ISP seeking an upgrade.

  2. I have been proudly partisan since I began voting in 1974. Once when someone asked the hoary question about whether I would vote for a yellow dog if he ran as a Democrat, I replied, “Well, I probably wouldn’t vote for him in a primary.”

    Barack Obama on his worst day is preferable to George W. Bush on his best. That having been said, when President Obama screws up, he deserves to be called out. Even if a Democrat as Big Brother is preferable to a Republican as Big Brother, clear thinking people do not love Big Brother.

    1. Mark is stuck in this circular logic track: The worst Democrat must be supported because they’re better than the best Republican. But, how you support them is by insisting that the worst Democrat is better than the best Republican. By refusing to admit there’s anything wrong with them. That’s his “support”.

      Which, ironically, frees them to be worse. It’s like Glen Reynolds of Instapundit frequently says: The best argument for electing Republicans is that’s it’s only during Republican administrations that Democrats can bring themselves to notice the government is doing anything wrong. Not true of all Democrats of course, but it is fairly true of Mark’s sort.

      1. There used to be a saying in France about the Bourbons “They never forget and they never learn.”

        The problem with Republicans is that even during Democrat administration they don’t notice that they are doing anything wrong. They just hunker down, nurse the grudge and start getting even when they get back in power. This is why it is dangerous to elect the Republicans. They are Bourbons. You remember them. Divine Right of Kings and all that. Now a days it’s Divine Right of the Wealthy.

      2. Today’s Republicans don’t notice when they’re doing anything wrong, in or out of the administration. They need to lose another presidential election and the house for awhile to snap out of it.

        1. So far, GOP learning the *wrong* lessons from defeat, rather than the right ones. It does rather remind me of the Democrats in the 1980s. A paranoid retreat to the faithful.

          The Bushes see the problem, hence the attempts at immigration reform. Jon Huntsman sees the problem, hence his thoughts re global warming. But the party is gripped by a fever, and there is no sign of it lessening.

        2. “They need to lose another presidential election and the house for awhile to snap out of it.”

          And they will. My hope is that their continuous absence of ideas and utter pessimism will continue to dwindle their electoral chances, until they become essentially one old angry guy muttering in the corner of Congress.

      3. Reynolds is full of it. Republicans spent a lot of time saying things about W that were truly embarrassing in retrospect– that the Iraq War was going well, that Bush’s intuitive, anti-intellectual style was superior, and even that God put him in charge of the country. Yes, SOME (not all) of them criticized Medicare prescription drugs, No Child Left Behind, and TARP, but that was it. Everything else Bush did was completely off limits, and they enforced orthodoxy pretty damned rigorously, including firing people from conservative think tanks and kicking them off Fox News for apostasy.

        In saying all this, I am not saying Democrats don’t do all this stuff too. They do. But I am very sick of the “the other party is a bunch of unprincipled partisans, but over on my side we are all independent minds and just follow the facts” argument. That’s not how it works. Most people are partisans.

  3. How is the treatment of Bradley Manning not torture? I agree with his custody and prosecution, but there’s no reason for us to behave the way totalitarian police states do in the treatment of prisoners, even military ones. It is cruel and unusual punishment. Without a conviction yet.

      1. I just don’t think you can point to torture anymore as a distinguishing value at the governance level. Sadly, the democrats are for torture, in fact if not in name.

        I’m still partisan but am far more for Barbara Lee than Obama or Pelosi.

  4. Mark: Breathe deep, and vote Democratic.

    We’ll see. Right now, I’m seeing a neck and neck race between the Democrats and Cthulhu for the “lesser evil” spot.

    On the other hand, “Obama fhtagn” doesn’t really roll off the tongue. This is going to be a difficult choice.

  5. I really really like this post, and not because I think the point is that it is good to be partisan. It is simply an empirical absurdity to hear people, mostly from the left, but even some on the right, like Ari Fleischer, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney, when they express the opinion that Obama is no different than Bush, or that the two parties are both equally bad, equally bought by the plutocrats, or some other such obvious nonsense.

    This is a self-defeating stupid attitude. In a democracy, the point is not to have a list of issues important to you, and then to abandon any politician or party that does not meet your standards 100% of the time. This is an incredibly shallow, short-sighted, and even narcissistic view. It completely fails to take into account the realities of a complex pluralistic society, and the myriad of competing interests at stake. It also fails to take into account the realities of Constitutional limitations on power that often prevent political groups or politicians from accomplishing their goals.

    I think a good rule of thumb ought to be that if a party manages to get the important issues right about 60% of the time or more, that is reason to happily support that party. By becoming part of a reliable voting block supporting a party, it buys influence over time that enables gradual change. The stupidest and least effective voting strategy imagineable was the one employed by much of the leftier parts of the Democratic Party in 2010: 2008 Obama couldn’t deliver perfection in two years, so disillusion, anger, and the desire to “punish” Democrats by sitting out the election became prevalent. There is nothing stupider than punishing Democrats by rewarding Republicans. That negative approach should have become a positive push to the left that would have gained credibility by turning out lots of winning votes in 2010. Instead the left revealed itself in 2010 as losers who don’t understand long term thinking or political organizing at all.

    1. Jeff: This is a self-defeating stupid attitude. In a democracy, the point is not to have a list of issues important to you, and then to abandon any politician or party that does not meet your standards 100% of the time.

      That’s not it. I’m a classical third-party voter, minus a third party that would be worth voting for. So I am used to not having a government whose actions I fully agree with; it’s normal, and it doesn’t usually bother me. And you can probably find plenty of posts that I made over the past couple of years where I defended Obama’s record against some of the sillier complaints. I’ve generally been pragmatic when it comes to politics.

      But that does not mean that there isn’t a point where “not as bad as tea party Republicans” stops being a great sales pitch. The technical term, I believe, is “damning with faint praise”.

      If you need further endorsements, I will also be happy to agree that Obama is a better head of government than Silvio Berlusconi and respects civil liberties more than Vladimir Putin.

      1. I think that Katja is missing the slow and steady progress on, for instance, global climate change, that would have been unthinkable if McCain or Romney had won their elections against Obama. Obama is not merely “not as bad as [a] tea party Republican[].” Rather, President Obama is moving the country slowly but certainly to the left. Is it as rapid as I would have liked to see? No. Are there steps that should have been taken (e.g., the dismantling of Guantanimo)that were not? Yes.

        But you vote for a candidate knowing that he or she operates under certain policy constraints and that you generally trust him or her to have the best judgment make decisions that, on their merits, you do not like. You vote for such candidates because, taken as a whole, when they make decisions that, on their merits, you disagree with, overall the candidate will advance the general thrust of the programs you favor.

        Applying that test, with the exception of the initial stimulus, which could have been larger, President Obama has performed admirably.

        1. Stuart Levine: Rather, President Obama is moving the country slowly but certainly to the left.

          I am, quite honestly, at a loss for words. Please tell me in what world overseeing the creation of a massive surveillance state, instituting a policy of drone bombing where the president gets to decide alone who lives and who dies, the continued expansion of executive power at the expense of the other branches begun under Bush, or the continued support of a oversized military-industrial sector is “left of center”. You may even think that these are good policies, but left of center they are not. (Personally, I don’t care whether they are left or right of center, just that they’re bad.)

          Stuart Levine: But you vote for a candidate knowing that he or she operates under certain policy constraints and that you generally trust him or her to have the best judgment make decisions that, on their merits, you do not like. You vote for such candidates because, taken as a whole, when they make decisions that, on their merits, you disagree with, overall the candidate will advance the general thrust of the programs you favor.

          Please note, that I said pretty much exactly that, if not in so many words. However, that’s not what I’m talking about.

          Look. My biggest problem with Obama (and a number of other Democrats) is that he doesn’t get the idea of a “government of limited powers”. This is not a mere disagreement over policies. We are talking about pretty fundamental stuff here: Separation of powers. Accountability of the government. Even, in individual cases, abandonment of the rule of law. This is constitutional bedrock that he is helping erode. I get that these constraints can be cumbersome in practice, but if democratic accountability is a problem for him, then perhaps the job of president is not for him.

          1. I voted for Obama twice without any illusions he was going to please me on matters of Empire. No currently imaginable president will* and even where I thought he’d do better, he didn’t. And so it goes.

            On domestic issues, he’s the first president since, what–Johnson, I guess (thinking about Nixon on an empty stomach is too hard in the morning)–to move to the left rather than the right. It’s a start. The task now, I think, is to work inside the party structure at the very bottom level and start changing it from the bottom up. The tea partiers did it (with a lot of “a little help from their friend$”). It’s the best shot we’ve got.

            *Ron Paul me no Ron Pauls–I’ve heard that joke before, and the part about turning off the flashlight is just sad, not funny. Alan Moore told it beautifully, though.

          2. I think I’ve expressed my dislike of libertarianism often enough that nobody will suspect me of advocating for Rand Paul. Talk about driving out the devil with Beelzebub.

            At the same time, I do not see a reason to give the Democrats a pass on their failures. And so I’m quite unwilling to endorse Mark’s cheerleading.

          3. Katja, these issues you mention all fall within a narrow domain of civic life, i.e. issues of security. They are not the totality of issues (not even close) that a president or nation faces and has to reckon with.

            It makes perfect sense that after the jingoism and bluster of Bush, after Democrats were successfully if untruthfully painted for a decade as “soft on terror,” that our Democratic president would want to maintain a tough-on-terror, tough-on-security stance. The left–which saw its superhero-president in Obama–seem willing to give up if he adopts a non-ideal posture on ANY issue.

            A number of his security stances don’t sit well with me, especially the surveillance state question. But to some extent this was an inherited issue, and we and Obama now have the ability to correct a wrong.

            Additionally, it makes sense that given this Congress he might expand executive power. Congress has made it all but impossible to act otherwise. I believe in the separation of powers, sure, but that’s assuming the opposition is acting in good faith. When you have an opposition that actively wants to destroy things, I’d rather have relatively more power in the executive. We still have a powerfully balanced system of government.

        2. I haven’t noticed a lot of actual progress on the climate charge front, slow and steady or otherwise. I have noticed a lot of talking about how Obama would like to make progress and would be doing so except for those nasty Republicans. Now, Obama’s going to give another speech about climate change and he will make some proposals, which is nice, but, as they say”the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” You might want to hold off on awarding Obama another Nobel prize based on another great speech and see (1) whether his climate charge proposals are more or less bold than those of Richard Nixon and (2)how hard he fights for his climate charge agenda.

          I must also say that Katja is right in saying that there’s got to be a point when being “not as bad as tea party Republicans” stops being a sufficient basis for voting Democratic.
          “Meep, meep” and “I’ve got this!” really isn’t the same an enacting a liberal political agenda. As I’ve mentioned before, the strategy of announcing that you’re always going to vote for the lesser evil seems to be bringing only diminishing returns as this grants Democrats a huge amount of leeway in running to the right.

          1. Mitch

            Some pretty important noises on climate change coming out of China. And the future of multilateral negotiations on climate change is uncertain in the light of the failure of the Kyoto/ Copenhagen processes. But if the 2 biggest polluters, US and China, come together, then it’s a huge step.

            Obama is using the tools he has at hand. Closing c. 30% of coal fired stations (and maybe 15% of capacity) *is* a big thing. Once closed, those stations will not come back.

            Sure one would like a EU-style grand gesture. But ‘cap and trade’ in the EU is not working too well, and the parliament is refusing to fix it.

            Although the ‘best available abatement technology’ approach is economically less efficient than carbon taxation or cap and trade, it can work, and has been widely used– consider US automatic exhausts per car are something like 10% of what they were in 1970, and lower than that for key pollutants. The improvements in urban air quality have been huge, and a similar process undergone on water quality. Modern coal fired stations are far cleaner than 40 year old ones that have not been retrofitted.

            All this is going on. Plus record installations of wind turbines (partly due to expiry of tax credit), solar etc. Electric Vehicles are beginning to appear. Carbon Capture and Storage projects are being built. The government does not so much have to make it happen, as nudge things and then not get in the way.

            What will happen is we will get to feasible CCS, then we will set a CO2 standard which means fossil fuelled stations have to use CCS. If it is not economic vs. wind/solar/ nuclear then those will replace fossil fue fired stations. Nations will internationally agree that this is a requirement. We should do this beginning in the next 10 years, more likely we will do it in the next 20-30.

            But by 2030 there will be quite visible signs of panic. Whether in super Sandys, or worse adverse weather events in the US and other countries. Like plate tectonics (which some US geologists denied well into the 1970s if not 1980s) there will be holdouts, but they will get marginalized. As pieces of places like NYC and Miami go under the sea, it will not be possible for the political system to ignore the backlash.

    2. The usual critiques of Obama being another GWB come from the left, not the right. The right thinks Obama is a socialist demagogue.

      The reality is in a 2 party political system you are never going to be satisfied.

      Harold Hotelling had a very good model of this: ice cream vendors on a beach. The winning vendor is always going to be the one closest to the middle, because they poach the most from the other guys.

      And so US politics. There are only 2 parties, the electorate is almost evenly split (the Electoral College system guarantees that, basically). It’s first-past-the-post. So a vote for Barry Commoner (doesn’t he look wiser as time flies by?), John Anderson (ditto), Ralph Nader, Ron Paul etc. is a wasted vote more likely to contribute to the victory of the other side (see Ralph Nader, or H Ross Perot).

      This was true in Lincoln’s day, too. Had his opponents combined against him, the South might never had seceded from the Union, and the Civil War might never have been fought (although the US today would look more like Batistan Cuba or Brazil than it does like the USA). But Lincoln managed to defeat a split vote.

      And so Lincoln went to war to save the Union *not* to free the slaves. And as the movie showed, it was anything but clear, until the last moment, that he proposed to free the slaves, or that he could institutionalize that victory.

      Great men in American politics realize America does not have a parliamentary system in the British sense (where the majority party can overrule the minority, and remember neither Blair nor Thatcher managed more than 45% of the electorate at their best, both governed with absolute majorities elected by c. 40% of voters). The president governs at the disposal of the opposition party, generally. Lyndon Johnson, probably the greatest parliamentarian who ever took the White House, understood that and for a brief 18 months made it work, unleashing a set of changes as great as the New Deal. And FDR understood it. But few US presidents have been so capable and so lucky.

      In that sense, your presidents are more like Charles II of England, than they are like a British Prime Minister.

      1. It’s also a good moment, I think, to remember Paul McCloskey, perhaps the last Teddy Roosevelt Republican.

        Had some weird insurgency overthrown Nixon in place of McCloskey in 1972, or McCloskey did to Nixon in the primaries what Gene McCarthy did to LBJ, then the Republican Party might have set down a different course in the 1970s and 1980s– Watergate would have had to have blown up much sooner and bigger (and when Nixon resigned, polls suggested the majority of Republican party members, if not voters, had literally switched off the news– a bit like the WMD fiasco in Iraq, they just weren’t listening any more).

        You can’t win with the guy you want to win, you have to hope your second best choice is not another Nixon (or, I would argue, another GWB– incompetent to govern).

      2. Just on being p’d off with ‘our guy’.

        Consider GWB’s attempts to do something about immigration. Aroused a hornet’s nest within his own party, but Bush and Rove understood its necessity if the GOP is to stay electorally relevant in the 21st century.

        And GWB did some good things on eg efficiency standards, plus kept the wind power tax credits ticking over (a lot of Texans have investments in wind).

        So the right had plenty to be antsy about with GWB, even though he was easily the most right wing president in over 50 years.

  6. I think that in general, as the tea party has amply demonstrated, the time to make your move and change the direction of your party is primary season. Sitting on your hands in the general is pretty useless. The leftier elements of the Democratic Party still seem to have trouble with this notion, unfortunately. Obama has been a huge letdown on several issues, but what was the alternative, really? I shudder to think of that particular alternate timeline. And unless we get more solid left candidates in the pipeline, this is what we’re going to have for the foreseeable future.

  7. I agree with the OP, and with prognostication, but the one caveat that we really need to learn from our tea party friends is keeping in mind the composition of the electorate from any particular constituency. I expect to hear a constant stream of complaint as our former governor runs to replace our retiring senior senator next year (just as we’ve heard progressives complaining about Max since just before the dawn of time). The critical question is not how pure the left-most 20% of the electorate finds itself, but where on the spectrum the middle 20% of the electorate are to be found. I’ll grant that an extraordinarily charismatic person can win enough of that middle range even if they didn’t start out agreeing with her/him, but the more usual case has candidates meeting voters closer to where they are. Which is a long winded way of saying that if you want to move the Democratic Party to the left, you have to move the county/state/country to the left.

  8. I’m with Mark. Liberals who abandon the Democrats because the President isn’t perfect only hurt the Party, which in turn hurts the country. The primaries are the time to support your candidate. After that, rally behind whichever Democrat is the nominee!

    1. Except for the 52% who voted for Obama? A larger plurality than GWB managed?

  9. How very telling that the article conflates gas fired stations (which are going to be favoured by new legislation) and coal fired ones. Making up 68% of electricity generation.

    But what’s relevant is the coal fired share *not* the combined share. The quality of media reporting is very much ‘he said, she said’ rather than relevant analysis.

    The problem for the GOP is the old one. Because they don’t believe in climate change, they therefore oppose *any* measures to deal with emissions from coal fired stations. So rather than a simple carbon tax (rebated to the population) or a cap and trade system, which would be economically efficient, they leave it open for a regulatory solution, which is more expensive and less flexible.

    The GOP finds itself in the ludicrous position of defending any and all coal fired stations, when in fact many would be better shut down. Some of those stations are 50+ years old, and have not been modernized. And the utilities never found a business case for installing modern pollution controls, so they are lamentably dirty– those ‘plumes of death’ downwind of coal fired stations (from micro particulates) are striking on the epidemiology maps.

    If Obama can get those old coal fired stations to close then they’ll never come back. Because coal fired stations are relatively labour intensive compared to gas fired (as many as 200+ people per shift vs. 12) and have a high working capital requirement (all that coal stockpiled) once they are shut, they tend to stay shut. It will raise industry productivity doing that. The Chinese government is in fact starting to do something very similar because of the air pollution problem in big cities especially in the NE quadrant around Beijing.

  10. The problem looming for us in Washington State is the shipment of Montana coal through our countryside and towns onto ships anchored in our fragile fisheries to be sent on to China where it will be burnt to great delirious effect and the pollutants will be airborne back to us. One of the GOP rationales for this is the Arnagedon believers whose philosophy seems to be eat it now for tomorrow we will die. Why worry about subsequent generations and the planet earth when we can all have pie right now.

    1. Yes mining and burning American coal is bad. Better to leave it in the ground. But there might be a case that given the Chinese are going to burn coal, better American coal than their own dirty, nasty, highly unsafe to mine, coal. And better ships out through Washington State than damaging the Australian Great Barrier Reef- their other big supplier.

      We are going to need Carbon Capture and Storage. The world has too many cheap to access fossil fuels to throw that energy away, unused, by leaving it in the ground.

        1. But it’s true. There is cleaner coal, and less clean coal. Lignite being the worst. Coking coal (for steel) having no replacement at the moment.

          Look in an ideal world we’d stop burning coal now. But we won’t. Even the US would struggle to do that, despite shale gas. Let alone China or India or Australia or Russia or Germany or South Africa. What would be nice is to stop the Germans and the Poles burning lignite- but that’s wrapped up in local politics and job creation, and in the German opposition to nuclear reactors (don’t get me started– shutting them early is an environmental crime of the first magnitude).

          The world just doesn’t have enough gas to switch all of our coal fired stations to gas overnight. Maybe shale gas in other countries will match the US finds– maybe. The Poles aren’t doing too well, so far, as I understand it. If wind farms cause political hoo-ha in rural England, you wait until we start fracking there.

          A crash programme of renewables and nuclear power *might* get us to no coal by say 2030. But we’d need a lot of gas in the interim– gas fired stations are the only things that can be built on utility scale, despatchable (on demand) power, in 18 months to 2 years. And gas doesn’t solve the problem– yes it’s only 0.5 kg/ kwhr when coal is 1.0 kg CO2/ kwhr, but that’s only half.

          What I think is more likely is that we will have Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS).

          CCS is a bridge technology– to see us through to roughly 2060s/70s by which time I have no doubt we will have found other, cheaper technologies. If we can get it to utility scale and economics (you still will suffer from the 20-40% ‘parasitic load’ ie the extra energy cost of the CSS) then can bury the effluent of coal and gas fired stations.

          We know CCS works, because the chemistry and physics are well understood. The challenge is to build it economically on utility scale. First on coal plants, and then on gas fired plants.

          If we could do that before 2020, the we can start global rollout of the technology. Subsidizing places like India and South Africa to install it. But many of the key projects are delayed or not being funded– Sierra Club in Mississippi is fighting Kemper which strikes me as long term very bad for the planet.

  11. My issue with Mark’s line is not the partisanship – I agree 100% that Obama is incomparably better than the current Republican crop – but the distaste for criticism of a very centrist president from the left. Here I’m with those who say that especially Obama, with a strong trimming, Brodersit, consnnsus-seeking side to his political personality, needs vigorous pressure from his left to do the right thing. Was it centrist political oparatives who convinced him with data from polls and focus groups that climate change is a great wedge issue in the Republican West and Midwest and with evangelicals – or was it Bill McKibben’s credible threat of mass civil disobedience over Keystone?
    Each to his own last. If you have strong green convictions, there’s no reason to cheerlead Obama’s belated and cautious actions.

    1. It’s a good point, that Paul Krugman makes on economic policy. The left have to keep screaming, otherwise Obama’s natural compass is to ‘compromise’ on things that should not be compromised upon.

      it’s not as if the rank-and-file of the GOP let their leaders get away with statesmenlike centrism. If they can ditch Richard Lugar, then they can ditch anyone…

    2. Stop press: Obama himself said today:

      What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up and speak up and compel us to do what this moment demands.

      So: make me do it, lefties and greens.

  12. Am I disappointed with Obama? Sure. How could you not be? It turns out he’s a schmoozer, just like Clinton. He wants everyone to love him, even those who have dedicated themselves to his destruction, and this leads him to want to give them what they want, so that they will give him anything at all. He has no military experience, so , wanting to be loved and admired by the military, he gives them surges and drones and god knows what else we haven’t heard about. Is he willing to give up a piece of Social Security so that Boehner will love him? No problem. Does he engage in extremely risky military adventures in the Middle East, so that the neocons will love him? You betcha. I mean really if you have any concern for the lasting well-being of this planet, how could you not want more from this guy?

    1. ‘engage in extremely risk military adventures in the Middle East?’

      That would be the *withdrawal* from Iraq of all US military personnel.

      And the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan of all but a holding force of advisers (and maybe drones?).

      You can criticize Obama for being too fond of drones, with the risk of severe blowback in Pakistan, the new frontier (along with Yemen) of the ‘war on terror’.

      But compared to Bush and Blair, he’s a positive dove– pulling the US out and trying to exercise a ‘pivot’ towards the Far East. Still not pushing the button on Syria despite pressure from the right and left.

      Or did you mean Libya? The US is pretty much out of Libya– Benghazi is a pretty minor issue as things go. The US went in (in the air) and came out. And it was a European inspired intervention.

      I’d say Obama has been admirably cautious most notably on Syria as well as withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan (the latter if done any quicker risks a 1975 Saigon-like collapse, which is still a threat. We are negotiating with the Taliban, but they know we are going anyways, so their whole strategy has to be Ho Chi Minh-like, prevaricate, posture and delay until we abandon Thieu (Karzai) to his fate).

      It’s hard to imagine *any* US president would have say, stopped all drone attacks. OK maybe Obama has been too enthusiastic in their use as part of the ‘surge’ in Afghanistan. But it’s a sin of degree not an entirely new original sin.

      1. Why don’t you have anything to say about Pumping arms into Syria? How much “advisory” troops are we leaving behind in Iraq and Afganistan? Has staying in Afganistan these last six years improved anything other than the death tolls. If you think Karzai is our guy who will hold on to power if ever we leave there you are smoking some good Afgan hash. To say Obama is really OK because he is better than Bush sounds like a joke to me. The Libya ‘intervention was like swatting a hornet’s nest. The stingers have spread throughout West Africa, destroying much in their wake. Sometimes leaving a strongman dictator alone might be better than the alternatives. Think Iraq for example. I am not as sanguine as you about the future of Libya or the rest of the Maghreb and I do not feel at all confident in this president to make the right moves.

        1. AFAIK the US has no forces in Iraq? That was the whole point. The government wouldn’t guarantee immunity from Iraqi prosecution, so Obama pulled them all out.

          Afghanistan. You could argue there were lost opportunities. But yes, hanging on another 6 years has prevented a meltdown– it was not feasible in 2007 just to walk away, having started the whole thing (or again, jumped in on one side in a civil war. Karzai? He might surprise you. I expect there will be some kind of compromise government– the Taliban probably cannot restore their feudal isolationist state, even they recognize that.

          And remember, we couldn’t have got bin Ladin if our forces had not been in Afghanistan– the operation was staged from there. The primary goal of the invasion of Afghanistan was always bin Ladin, and finally we got him– an unquestioned victory for every nation that lost people in 9-11.

          Syria? Hard to know what is going on. The US has not apparently been pumping in the arms- that has been the Saudis and the Qataris. the US is probably providing training.

          Libya? There was a full fledged revolt in operation by the time NATO got involved. This wasn’t a war we started, this is a war we finished when it became clear a lot of civilian lives were going to be lost if we stood out. Given Quaddafi’s past history of slaughtering opponents (that prison in 1996 where they killed thousands) we undoubtedly saved many lives.

          Syria? Again, like Libya, a war we did not start.

          The West African thing had already started. Yes the situation is chaotic, but the Tuaregs are trying to restore the power they enjoyed as clients of Quadaffi, it’s not entirely an islamic thing, but a regional thing.

          I am not sure what ‘the right moves’ are in Maghreb. We are to some extent reacting to events, and the fall of dictators, rather than leading them.

          Mostly Obama has been pretty cautious in the face of unprecedented challenges.

          1. Put it another way, Obama was dealt a bad deck of cards in the Middle East: Afghanistan, Iraq, the Arab Spring. The US is out of Iraq. It is going from Afghanistan. The Arab Spring has led to 2 major uprisings, and the US was involved along with its European allies in the first one (Libya) and has been cautious about the second one (Syria).

            It’s a cautious record, he’s not a warmonger.

            However I suspect we will come to regret our freefire use of drones, given what it has done to Pakistani politics.

          2. value thinker. I appreciate your intelligent and informed commentary, but I do not share your optimism. A couple of points…the Tuaregs have been more or less rebelling since before independence and we are definitely shipping weapons to the Syrian rebels. It’s a religious war and getting mixed up in in will come to no good. The thing that makes the Maghreb a totally new situation is the failure to secure Qaddafi’s arsenal. The French have pushed these guys back a bit in Mali. but rest assured, the Malian forces cannot stand up to them.

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