Pretending Egypt Isn’t Happening

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative writer at the Washington Post, wrote this article about the problem that the United States now faces in dealing with Egypt. 

Since the overthrow of Morsi’s government, the White House has been largely silent.  President Obama’s Administration refused to call it a coup.  What the hell else would it be?  A democratically elected government was overthrown by the military.  If you look up “coup” in the dictionary that is damn near the exact definition.  From that point forward, President Obama has been silent.  He has offered nothing.

The Obama White House gambled that the problem would be short-lived.  They gambled that the military in Egypt would hold to its word that they would only be in power for a short time and would quickly establish a new government that would be democratically elected and bring happiness to the people of Egypt.  General Sissi, who led the overthrow, promised that he and his military had no interest in maintaining power over the people.  They had no intent of causing problems in Egypt.  They promised a smooth transition, and Barack Obama bought it.

Would there be protests? Sure.  Would there be violence?  Yes, but the hope was that it would be sporadic and isolated.  Would the military hold its word?  That was the hope.  However, we quickly saw a crackdown on all things about the Muslim Brotherhood.  Leaders were arrested, protests were broken up, and any power that the opposition had was quickly gone.  However, the White House remained silent.  Remember, it wasn’t coup. 

Images started pouring out of Egypt of people that were killed by sniper fire from military sharpshooters.  Protests became unruly and confrontations more frequent.  The White House?  Nothing.  The Obama Administration still hoped that the military would hold its word and this whole mess would go away.

Fast forward to this past week.  The opposition began large-scale sit-ins to protest the military’s intervention.  The military responded, saying that it would use force to breakup these protests. Sure enough, the military did.  They began a brutal crackdown on the protesters.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, were killed.  The images on social media are horrifying.  Hospitals that have room after room filled with dead bodies, and medics and journalists were killed by indiscriminate sniper fire. 

To be clear, the protesters were no saints either.  The protests were not always peaceful.  There were images of security personnel being pulled from their cars and beaten to death.  There are reports of dozens of military personnel killed by protestors.  Both sides were in the wrong in the violence that occurred over the past few days.  There is no good side versus bad side.  They both incited the issues at hand. 

How did the Administration respond?  Secretary of State Kerry gave brief remarks at the State Department calling for the “peace process” to play out.  As Rubin notes, he took no questions and offered no policy announcement.  The peace process?  What peace process?  Whatever peace process there has been clearly isn’t working.

Finally, today President Obama said something.  Was what he said meaningful?  No, but at least he said something.  The problem is that President Obama spoke today and there is STILL no policy announcement.  He called for peace and calm.  The peace and calm has not worked!  It isn’t hard to see.  Peace and calm are nowhere to be found in Egypt and there is absolutely no reason to think that because the President of the United States asked for calm that both sides suddenly will. 

There is no easy answer on Egypt.  There is no way for the United States to sit on the sideline.  We are the world’s foremost superpower and, for better or worse, this is part of the job that comes with it.  We must do something in Egypt.  As a promoter of democracy around the world, we cannot sit idly by while a military overthrows a government and kills thousands of its own people. 

Today, President Obama announced that he had cancelled a military exercise with Egypt.  That’ll scare them.  That will really speak volumes to the Egyptians when we are still giving them $1.3 billion in aid.  (Note: please read previous paragraph with extreme sarcasm).

Further, the problem is that now that the United States has stood by without any sort of organized policy on Egypt we have reached a point of no turning back.  As Sam Tadros from the Hoover Institution points out in the article, this is now a zero-sum game.  One side in Egypt has to win.  The United States could have taken a proactive stance from the beginning on Egypt.  Is it a guarantee that it would have worked?  Far from it.  President Obama could have taken the strongest stance possible from day one and there is a chance that we would be in the same situation, but it would have been better that we tried.  Trying and failing is better than doing nothing and watching thousands of people die.

The problem, and my biggest fear, about the ongoing situation is that this has no “good” ending.  The Muslim Brotherhood is not going to go away quietly.  The only way they go away is if they are removed by force.  These protests will continue around Egypt, and my fear is that these brutal crackdowns will continue too.  Thousands and thousands will die.  What started as a coup could turn into all-out civil war.

What’s the worst-case scenario?  We thought Syria was bad, but Egypt has the potential to be much, much worse.  I don’t mean to predict doom.  This whole thing could take a positive turn and things get better.  It is certainly possible, but the opposite is possible too.  As the article concludes, Egypt has a much more powerful military than Syria.  What happens if the Egyptian generals attempt to eradicate the opposition much in the ways that Bashar al-Assad has in Syria?  The result would be casualties on a massive scale.  Tens or hundreds of thousands will die.  Again, we don’t know what will happen.  That is the worst case scenario, and it hopefully/probably wont be that bad.  But, again, what if it is?

As Rubin writes, “[Obama]’s dropped the ball on Egypt and the entire region, leaving the United States with few options and the Egyptian people to a bloody future in the short run and a repressive authoritarian junta in the longer run. This is a policy failure of the highest order.”

What has happening in Egypt is a nightmare, and it could get even worse.

Independence Forever

Every July 4th most people get a day off work.  We get to spend time at the pool, barbecue with the family, watch parades and fireworks, and enjoy the summertime weather with friends.  We spend a day relaxing.  But we also spend the day missing the meaning of the celebration. We forget that July 4 marks the most significant day in the modern world.  

We all know the story.  In July 1776, 56 men pledged “[their] lives, [their] fortunes, and [their] sacred Honor” and signed a document that would shape the world forever.  Today we take it for granted, but the Declaration of Independence was, in itself, revolutionary.  The Second Continental Congress wanted to abide by a universal standard of justice that granted the government power only by the consent of the governed.  It is for the greatest principles of liberty, equality, and justice that we should remember and celebrate this, and every, Independence Day. 

At the time, it was a lowly collection of colonies that had enough of a tyrannical leader.  In the 237 years since, this country based on that Declaration has faced internal strife with the Civil War, started the Industrial Revolution, survived two world wars, and emerged as the most powerful nation on Earth.  Through all things that have come its way, that “new” form of government has survived all and laid groundwork for countless nations to follow in its footsteps.  Our Declaration of Independence continues to be a shining light to all who hope for democracy around the world.

Today we take our basic rights and freedoms as Americans for granted.  It is expected.  It is ingrained in our way of life, but took blood, sweat, and tears to protect since that day in 1776. 

We must spend the Fourth of July remembering the blessings we have because of our forefathers.  Every July 4th, remember the words of John Adams’ final toast: “Independence Forever.”

 

Lying in Government: Revisited

I want to spend a quick minute revisiting the “Lying in Government” post. 

Today, it has come out in this Washington Post article that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has apologized for his remarks to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

If all Director Clapper had said was “I am sorry,” then I would at least feel a little better.  The problem is that we all know how Washington works, and a simple apology never happens; there always has to be something extra in the apology to attempt to dodge blame.  In this instance, Clapper gives up a doozy.  Director Clapper says, in part, that he “misunderstood the question.” 

Lets revisit the initial question from Senator Wyden: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”  That is it.  That is the question that Clapper somehow “misunderstood.”  What is there to possibly misunderstand about that question?  That question is about as straightforward as they come.

Lets say for this instance, I give Clapper the benefit of the doubt.  Lets say that Clapper truly didn’t understand what was being asked of him.  After all, there are bright lights and cameras in front of him and Congress is grilling him.  He is being asked the tough questions and he freezes when asked the question by Senator Wyden.  Lets assume all that is true.  He still doesn’t get off the hook, because he knew about the questions a day in advance.  If you remember from my last post, Senator Wyden sent his questions to Clapper’s office in advance so they could prepare answers that would be thorough.  I am sorry, but the advance notice throws the “I misunderstood the question” garbage out the window.

In the long scheme of things is this lie and half-apology a big deal?  Probably not.  I simply think that it hammers home a larger point about government in general: we don’t trust our officials.  If anyone wonders why, here is another prime example.

Lying in Government: What it means for you and me

The NSA story has consumed the American media for the better part of three weeks now, but I think the public is missing an important piece of the puzzle.  The legality and importance of the surveillance program that is being operated by our government can be debated endlessly; it is something that I am still not sure I know what I think of just yet.  It can be debated whether what Edward Snowden did was the right thing.  But there is a piece of this that should not be debatable: the American government lied to its citizens and NO ONE took notice.  James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, lied under oath in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee and not a soul has said a word.

Here is the exchange from March 12, 2013, where Director Clapper is asked a question from United States Senator, Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Wyden: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Clapper: “No, sir”

Wyden: “It does not?”

Clapper: “Not wittingly.  There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect – but not wittingly.”

That is it.  That is the whole exchange in question.  In March of this year, the Director of National Intelligence was sworn under oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” and he answered that way.  Yet three months later, here we are.  We now know that the NSA does exactly what Director Clapper said we did not.  You can try to “spin” it any way you want, but he lied, plain and simple.

James Clapper lied and we, the American public, just don’t seem to care.  Is this really the point in our society that we have come to?  We are so used to our government not being honest with us that we simply don’t care.  As Liz Sidoti, a writer for the Associated Press, put it:

“Sometimes it feels as if the government operates in a parallel universe where lying has no consequences and everyone but the people it represents is complicit in deception.  Looking at episodes like this, it’s unsurprising that people have lost faith in their elected leaders and the institution of government.  This all reinforces what polls show people think: Washington plays by its own rules.”

Liz is absolutely spot on.  As a collective whole, we have no faith in our government because of instances like this. People have no faith in government because even when there is a blatant lie, our government ignores it.  Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, said that President Obama “certainly believes that Director Clapper has been straight and direct in the answers that he’s given.”  Look, I understand that secret classified meetings take place between the intelligence community and Congress, and there may have been times when Clapper has been more truthful with Congress than he was on that day in March, but to say he has been “straight and direct” is asinine.  The above-mentioned exchange is the opposite of “straight and direct” in just about everyway possible.

I yearn for the days when the public trusts its government again, regardless of political party.  American was at its peak when people had faith in the idea of government and that it was always going to work in the best interest of its people.  Those days seem long gone and show no signs of appearing on the horizon anytime soon.  Congress is at an all-time low for approval ratings and we have had presidents who share the blame.  The public lost faith in Clinton when he was less than truthful about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, people lost faith in George W. Bush when he went to war in Iraq, and now people have lost faith in President Obama and his executive branch through the scandals of the past month.  (Side note: my liberal friends are going to scream that this isn’t true or at least not on the same level.  I simply say to you look at the latest CNN poll that says that only 46% of people find Obama to be “honest”.  Only 46%!)  We need leaders we can trust again.  We need leaders that tell us the truth regardless of the political costs that may ensue.

Who is it going to be?  Who is going to save us from the current path we are on?  Obama clearly isn’t the answer, even though he promised to be the most transparent leader in history.  Congress isn’t the answer either; they have the lowest approval rating in history, at less than 10%.

Director Clapper responded to the criticism of his lie in Congress by saying, “(he) responded in what (he) thought was truthful, or least untruthful manner.”  He then argued that his response wasn’t “technically” false based on the semantics over the word “collection” (whatever that means).  That is your Director of National Intelligence, ladies and gentlemen.  That is someone who represents you and me in front of the world.  Scary isn’t it?

Well Here We Go

Over the past few months, I have been asked about putting my thoughts, ramblings, and other things in one place.  Luckily for me, my job requires that I do a fair bit of writing.  Even better, the writing goes on the company’s website in their blog.  Even better still, the place I work is a political consulting firm, so I get to write about politics and get paid.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

 

I will put a lot of my writings from work on here.  I will put other things here from time to time. Thanks for stopping by.

Obama’s 2nd Term Blues

Throughout American history it has been a normal phenomenon for presidents to have a tougher time with accomplishing their 2nd term agenda than they did their first go-around.  Following the previous month of controversy, the Obama administration is looking like that streak will hold true.  Controversy after controversy has left the White House with their wheels spinning, and they don’t seem to be gaining traction anytime soon.  Whether it is the secret subpoenas of Associated Press journalists, the questions about what really happened in the White House’s response to Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups (which today seems like old news), and now the NSA fiasco, Obama cannot regain control of the narrative that has been playing through the media over the past month.

Upon his reelection, Barack Obama set out an ambitious second-term agenda that seemed to make his liberal base ecstatic.  He mentioned climate change for the first time since his first campaign in 2008, he was going to tackle gun control legislation on the heels of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, and he was going to tackle comprehensive immigration reform that would allow for the 11 million illegal aliens currently in the country to earn a path to citizenship.  President Obama made a calculation that he had gained a significant amount of political capital in his re-elect to set out an ambitious agenda, and he was determined he was going to spend that capital, FAST.

Fast-forward 6 months to today.  The Democrats first run at gun control failed in the United States Senate, and seems to have floundered from public view with little hope of reappearing on the national political stage anytime soon.  Climate change has rarely been mentioned since Obama’s 2nd inauguration speech.  Immigration is the one issue that we are currently at a critical point to see where it goes.  As of this writing, the momentum behind the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill seems to be stalled.  Republicans are weary of moving forward without stronger border security protections, and the Democrats believe that the Republicans are simply hiding behind that issue because they don’t really want immigration reform to pass.  We will see over the coming weeks what happens with the immigration bill, but the point remains the same: President Obama’s three ambitious items of his 2nd term agenda are stalled, at best.  Barack Obama wanted to use his political capital to pass major pieces of legislation, but instead he has had to use it to attempt to control the scandals that have besieged his administration.

I think that another example to see how Barack’s agenda and personal power have become diluted is through how Congress has acted in his 2nd term.  Let me explain.  In President Obama’s first term, he was the lead on many, if not all, of the legislative issues that were tackled by his administration.  Who was the lead person in trying to show support of the stimulus package?  President Obama.  He was on Capitol Hill all the time trying to meet with members of Congress and gather support on the Hill. Who was the lead salesman when it came to health care reform?  President Obama.  Again, he was the one on the hill working with the legislators to try and get the bill through Congress.  Barack was out in front of the stories; he was out in the public eye pushing for these reforms.  Today, it is a vastly different story.  In the gun control debate, President Obama made a public campaign following Newtown, but he largely stayed away from Capitol Hill.  There was a political calculation their from his own party that said the legislation had a better chance of success if President Obama stayed away.  The gun control legislation was not pushed as President Obama’s legislation, but rather it was the Manchin-Toomey amendment that got all the play.  The same thing is at play with the immigration debate.  For weeks, the debate about immigration reform has circled Washington, but President Obama made no public push for the measure.  In this example it wasn’t pushed in the media as Obama’s immigration reform, but rather the “Gang of Eight” bill.  The political capital has been spent and Congressional Democrats realize that they have a better chance of passing legislation if President Obama is not in the picture.

Finally, if President Obama wants to right his ship and get going on any of the major pieces of his second term agenda then he better act fast.  It is hard to fathom that it is already time to start thinking about campaigns again, but November 4, 2014 will be here before you know it, and following the midterm elections, Barack Obama will be a lame-duck president.  In the last two years of a presidency, rarely anything major ever gets accomplished.  Time to act is starting to run short, and the Obama administration can’t seem to gain traction anywhere near fast enough.

My prediction is that you will start to see people jump ship from the Obama administration.  They have no incentive to stay.  The 2nd term agenda appears to be shot, and, unless something changes and changes fast, there is no way to fix it.  Many within the administration have two options: stay and be a part of a lame-duck White House, or go to the private sector while the resume item of “White House” is still hot.  These people will never have a better resume than now, and they will find a plush private sector job based on their previous job experience alone.  They can spend a few years in that job and recharge before they can choose to hop back in with the next Democratic hopeful and try to do the whole thing over again.  The incentive to stay is much less. This administration is floundering and they risk missing the next Democratic hopeful if they stay on this sinking ship too long.