President Obama and leadership

Like many of his supporters I am frustrated at times by what appears to be indecision on the President’s part.  You have to admit that he can take a long time to make a decision while speculation dominates the media and the blogs as to what he will do.  Look at the still to be announced appointment to be Chair of the Federal Reserve.  But when I get frustrated I tell myself that he is playing a long game.  Farah Stockman had an interesting op-ed in the Boston Globe today explaining better than I could the Obama style of leadership.

I am going to quote most of it because I can’t figure out where to cut it (and because one can’t read it from the link without a Globe subscription) and it isn’t that long..

Before we start hand-wringing over the gridlock in our domestic affairs, let’s savor the good news on the international front: Last week, after years of paralysis, the UN Security Council mandated the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and endorsed a political transition plan that might finally sweep Syrian President Bashar Assad aside.

And after years of Iran’s refusal to talk seriously about its nuclear program, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, announced that he wants to resolve the issue in 12 months. He and President Obama even spoke on the phone, the first such contact since the 1970s.

Of course, we’re still a long way from solving those two problems. But we’re on a far better path than we were three weeks ago. Back then, we were on the verge of launching a unilateral military strike that would have inflamed the situation in Syria and hurt our chances of getting a nuclear deal with Iran. So how did that no-win situation in Syria turn into something positive? And what does this bizarre chapter in US diplomacy tell us about the nature of leadership itself?

Recall that Obama announced that he had made a decision to strike. Then he asked Congress to give its blessing. Those moves allowed time for Americans to debate, with the whole world watching. Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus were forced to contemplate the possibility of a US strike. The uncertainty of what would happen next weighed on them more heavily than a knee-jerk cruise missile. In the end, the threat of US military action proved more powerful than the action itself. Our adversaries finally agreed to a diplomatic solution that they had refused in the past.

Of course, Obama got called a lot of names for the delay that made that outcome possible: “weakling,” “ditherer-in-chief,” and— nastiest of all, in some corners —  “community organizer.” I must admit that I thought he was crazy for going to Congress, which often seems more eager to tar and feather him than to approve of anything he wants.

But political theorist Dennis Thompson, co-author of the book “Why Deliberative Democracy?” says Obama’s moves mirrored a style of leadership Thompson taught at Harvard. Thompson believes that, in a true democracy, a leader ought to explain the reasoning behind the course of action he or she wants to take. But in the end, wherever possible, the group itself should debate it and have the final word.

It stands to reason that a country that believes in democracy should have faith that a decision debated openly by a group will usually produce a better outcome than a decision one man makes alone. So, why then were some Americans so infuriated that Obama took the issue to Congress?

“It is as if we expect decisions of war and peace to be made by the president rather than society as a whole,” said Archon Fung, another Harvard professor who has studied the virtues of “deliberative democracy.” “Decisions about when to use military force . . . involve killing as a state act. If any decision should be made democratically, it’s this one.”

Peter Levine, a professor at Tufts University, sees the public reaction as a sign of the times. Americans have grown less interested in the public deliberations that that make democracies work. Participation on juries and PTA meetings are at an all-time low, he said. Voters expect their elected leaders to solve their problems. Debates over the best way to go about it are seen as a sign of failure or weakness.

“Our system is supposed to be deliberative,” Levine said. “But we live in a profoundly anti-deliberative moment.”

So maybe this episode says as much about us as it does about our leader. We like John Wayne presidents, saviors who rescue us with their quick trigger fingers. We don’t like leaders who admit uncertainty, who ask us to help choose between imperfect options. But, at the end of the day, the Syria debate taught us that when Americans deliberate as a people, we can come up with a better outcome. It’s a lesson we shouldn’t forget.

President Obama is certainly not John Wayne, but he is the leader of a democracy.  We need to remember this when we get frustrated.

Dorothy in Iraq…or is it Afganistan? Or maybe Syria or Lybia?

It may work out that because he needed to save face, President Putin is going to end up saving President Obama and the Congress from a collision that neither can win – and saving us from another war as a bonus.  As I write this, it appears that Putin’s proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control will be coming before the Security Council.  Our Congress is very good at stalling so waiting for the Security Council to act should not be a problem and we may actually get a peaceful resolution.

While we wait, we can enjoy Tom Tomorrow’s updated Dorothy back from Oz.

Tom and Dorothy

Thank you, Ruben Bolling.

(Click picture to enlarge.)

The war in Syria: a confused state of affairs

English: The United Nations Security Council C...

English: The United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York, also known as the Norwegian Room Français: La Salle de réunion du Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies à New York Nederlands: De Zaal van de Veiligheidsraad van de Verenigde Naties in New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m probably like most Americans: confused.  On one hand, I look at the pictures of the victims in Syria, not only the dead and injured from the chemical weapons attack, but also those in refugee camps or living in caves and wonder why the world can’t do anything to help.  On the other hand, there is a seemingly intractable diplomatic stalemate and no one wants “boot on the ground”.  So what to do.

The British drafted a resolution that was discussed by the United Nations Security Council condemning use of chemical weapons but it didn’t get anywhere because of the threat of a Russian veto.  This morning, the Guardian reports on President Putin’s reaction

Vladimir Putin has rejected US intelligence claims that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons in Syria, saying it would be “utter nonsense” for government troops to use such tactics in a war it was already winning.

“That is why I am convinced that [the chemical attack] is nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict, and who want to win the support of powerful members of the international arena, especially the United States,” Putin told journalists in Vladivostok.

The Russian president also challenged the US to present its case for military intervention to the UN security council, after suggesting that if Barack Obama was worthy of his Nobel peace prize, he should think about the possible victims of any intervention by foreign forces.

Is this a signal that the United States should wait to take action?  Is Putin ready to compromise – or at least to talk?

Meanwhile John Kerry, the hero of the anti-Vietnam War movement, is sounding more and more like Donald Rumsfeld – or maybe Colin Powell at the UN.  The New York Times reports

Again and again, some 24 times in all, he used the phrase “we know” as he described the intelligence that Syria’s government massacred more than 1,400 people with chemical weapons. And then, while saying no decision had been made, he left no doubt that the United States would respond with military power.

“We know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war — believe me, I am, too,” said Mr. Kerry, who opposed the Iraq war in his failed presidential bid in 2004. “But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about. And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency.”

Just seven months after being sworn in as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry has become President Obama’s frontman in the public argument for a military strike against the Syrian government. While the president sounds restrained in his language and even perhaps personally ambivalent about the operation he seems likely to order, Mr. Kerry came across on Friday as an unstinting advocate for action against what he called “a despot’s brutal and flagrant use of chemical weapons.”

The problem is that we were lied to once, told that there was intelligence that proved there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and even though some of us may want to trust Kerry, it is hard to do so even with the level of specificity in the summary report he released.

As to allies, the British Parliament has voted not to participate in any military action and French public opinion is also against.  The Arab League has said that while they think Assad used chemical weapons, they can’t support any military action.  The public here is lukewarm at best.

This is not Libya.  In Libya there was a recognized opposition which had actually established a shadow government with diplomats working with the European Union, Arab League and the United States.  We know that when she was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton tried hard to get the opposition in Syria to form a similar government but was unable to do so.  The situation is that someone, most likely the Syrian government or someone fighting with the government, has used chemical weapons on the civilian population.  (I think we can trust Doctors Without Borders when they say they were used.)  This use goes against what 99% of the world’s people believe is right.

A large, but so far not a majority, of members of Congress think there should be a debate and resolution under the War Powers Act.  I know that Kerry and the President both believe they have already followed the Act by consulting with Congress.  It is up to John Boehner and Harry Reid to call Congress back for a debate and not just a consultation.  The question now is whether Obama will act before they can do so.  The summit for the G20 is next week.  Will the missiles fly before then?  The UN inspectors have left Syria.  Have they been told an attack is imminent?

I’m not sure that I agree with Bob Dreyfuss who called the President a “schoolyard bully” but there is a great deal of irony in seeing two men who made their reputations opposing war now trying to justify military action.

Let’s say the President waits a week.   He can talk to folks at the summit.  The UN Security Council can talk some more.  Congress gets back into town and holds a debate.  I don’t see that anything is lost.  The Syrians have all ready evacuated areas and moved military assets so maybe we don’t need an actual strike with the potential for civilian casulties.  Plus we don’t really know all the consequences of a strike.  More acts of terrorism in the United States?  More chemical attacks on civilians?  A wider conflict?  An excuse for the Republicans to try to impeach him?

There are a lot of negatives and unknowns to military action, but I haven’t heard a credible alternative either.  I can only hope that the President, who says he hasn’t made up his mind yet, thinks about this a bit longer.  Maybe he is actually like the rest of us – wanting to do something, but not sure what the something should be.  All the more reason to wait.

What’s next? Impeachment!

I sense there is a growing level of frustration among Republican members of Congress.  Their opposition to immigration reform is not playing well with either the public or Republican party elders.  Same for their desire to shut down government to prevent the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare from full implementation.  Some of them have been hammered at town hall meetings and the videos are posted all over YouTube.  The deficit is actually shrinking.  Republican governors like Rick Perry are reversing themselves and asking for Medicaid funds.  And the President and his administration are doing the best they can given that no proposal will pass the House.  So what is left for them.  Impeach Obama!

Steve Breen wrote on MaddowBlog

When fringe figures like Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) talk about impeaching President Obama without cause, it’s a mild curiosity. When U.S. senators push the same idea, it’s more alarming.

“I think those are serious things, but we’re in serious times,” said Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn during a town hall in his home state. “And I don’t have the legal background to know if that rises to ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ but I think you’re getting perilously close.”

The remark came after an attendee called the Obama administration “lawless” and asked, “who is responsible for enforcing [Obama’s] constitutional responsibilities?”

Coburn apparently has given this a fair amount of thought, telling constituents, “What you have to do is you have to establish the criteria that would qualify for proceedings against the president, and that’s called impeachment. That’s not something you take lightly, and you have to use a historical precedent of what that means.” He added that he believes “there’s some intended violation of the law in this administration.”

Official portrait of Tom Coburn, U.S. Senator.

Official portrait of Tom Coburn, U.S. Senator. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But what violation?

And what, pray tell, has the president done that Coburn perceives as possible “high crimes”? In keeping with the recent trend, the Oklahoma Republican never got around to explaining what the grounds for impeachment would be. Coburn mentioned that he’d heard a rumor about the Department of Homeland Security choosing to “ignore” background checks for immigrants, but he did not elaborate.

Meanwhile Sam Stein tweeted David Axelrod’s reaction

“that was his considered legal opinion as an obstetrician”

Maybe it is just wishful thinking on my part, but I think that Americans still want government to fix roads and bridges, regulate our food, water, drugs and financial institutions, and help those you are in need.  Sure, we all wish for new, creative solutions to some of the problems that seem intractable, but on the whole I think Americans just wish that Congress would actually work with the President instead of just voting “no”.  But the fact that even Mitch McConnell has a challenger from the right in the Republican Primary does not make this seem possible.

I’ll give the last word to Steve Breen

And finally, for every Beltway pundit who proclaims with a tear in their eye, “Washington would be more effective if Obama showed leadership by reaching out to Republicans, schmoozing them, and offering to work cooperatively with his critics,” I hope they’re paying very close attention to current events. It is, as a practical matter, awfully difficult for a president to work constructively with radicalized lawmakers who refuse to compromise and cherish the idea of impeachment without cause.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t really expect Republicans to pursue this in a serious way, and my coverage on the issue is intended more as a “look how silly this is” than a “look at this threat to our constitutional system of government.” If for no other reason, GOP lawmakers wouldn’t try impeaching the president because they’d risk motivating the Democratic base to show up in the 2014 midterms.

That said, the recent talk about impeachment is nevertheless unnerving.

The Next Fed Chair? Not Larry Summers.

Why would the President want to appoint someone who once opined that women were not good at science?  The man who was hired to end the economic crisis, but likely contributed to its making.  I’ve been thinking about how to approach this for a few days now and then I saw two pieces by Shirley Leung in the Boston Globe Business Section.  I think she says exactly what I wanted to say.  In the first, she discusses Larry Summers.

No need to hold back here: Larry Summers as the next Fed chairman?

Worst idea ever.

Summers, by all accounts, is a brilliant economist, one of the best of his generation. He is also someone who is confident, and, in times of crises, may be the adult in the room that he supposedly said the Obama administration didn’t have when the economy collapsed.

But he lacks one critical trait I like in my Fed chairmen: He’s not boring.

Summers is far from bland. He is arrogant and a lightning rod and would carry so much baggage he couldn’t fit it on the shuttle to Washington.

Do we need a Fed Chair that is all about Larry Summers?  I think not.

In his book “Confidence Men,” about the Obama White House’s handling of the economic crisis, former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind paints Summers as brilliant but overconfident and prone to unnecessary battles. “As he has aged, he has grown less troubled by being uninformed,” Suskind wrote.

That’s not what you want in a Fed chairman. The nation’s top central banker must manage the economy primarily by raising or lowering interest rates and must build consensus to do so. He must work with six other Fed governors and 12 regional Fed bank presidents. Imagine what would have happened if the Fed board was split over what to do with the economy in 2008? What would that have done to the markets?

“I know Larry very well. He is a smart guy,” said Allan Meltzer, a Carnegie Mellon professor who has written the definitive history on the Fed. “But the skills that are required for that job are not just brilliance, they are ability to manage compromise. He doesn’t do that well.”

This is to say nothing about how he ran Harvard.  When he left, they picked Drew Faust, a women who was his opposite in many important ways.

So, who should be the next Fed Chair?  How about a woman?  Senator Elizabeth Warren and Shirley Leung are backing Janet Yellen.

English: Official picture of Janet Yellen from...

English: Official picture of Janet Yellen from FRBSF web site. http://www.frbsf.org/federalreserve/people/officers/yellen.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just as forcefully as folks are coming out against Summers, there is a campaign mounting to promote Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke’s number two.

Unlike Summers, Yellen has significant monetary policy experience. She has been the vice chair of the Fed board of governors since 2010, and prior to that she ran the San Francisco Federal Reserve bank for six years. She has been involved in the Fed’s quantitative easing strategy, hatched during the Great Recession to keep money flowing and the US economy alive.

And unlike Summers, she is sufficiently boring, a key trait we want in someone running our central bank.

If Yellen got the nod, she would break the glass ceiling at the Fed, becoming the first woman at the top. She already has some high profile endorsements from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and former FDIC chair and UMass-Amherst professor Sheila Bair.

Bair, in a blog posted on Fortune earlier this week, argues that Yellen is the most qualified candidate, but the financial world’s old-boy network is trying to derail her candidacy:

“So why isn’t she a shoo-in? The ‘whispering’ campaign against her among industry types has been deafening. ‘Doesn’t understand markets.’ Translation: She may not bail us out if we get into trouble again. ‘Not assertive enough.’ Translation: She won’t stand up for us against the populists who want more regulation. ‘Lacks gravitas.’ Translation: She doesn’t show up very often in the financial media.”

I guess we haven’t come far enough for the Wall Street guys to be comfortable with a woman.

Bair also takes a whack at Summers. “Unlike Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and other Bob Rubin minions frequently mentioned in the financial press as potential Bernanke successors, she was not part of the deregulatory cabal that got us into the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, she had a solid record as a bank regulator at the San Francisco Fed and was one of the few in the Fed system to sound the alarm on the risks of subprime mortgages in 2007.”

Others are also rallying behind Yellen. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Friday confirmed that she has signed a letter Senate Democrats are circulating and plan to deliver to President Obama calling on him to nominate Yellen because “she is the best person for this job.” As early as Monday, activists, including women’s advocacy groups NOW and Ultraviolet plan to send a letter to Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid to support Yellen’s candidacy and oppose Summers’. When he ran Harvard, Summers set off a firestorm when he suggested women lacked the same “intrinsic aptitude” for science as men.

The President recently said he was not going to make a decision until fall, so we have time to make sure he appoints the best qualified person who, in this case is a woman.  Not Larry Summers.

Fixing FISA

Congress is beginning to have a debate about surveillance, oversight and secrecy – the one good thing to come out of  Edward Snowden’s continuing adventure.  Of course, it is hard to debate when you can’t talk about a lot of things in public or even to your fellow members, so I was very interesting in reading Judge James G. Carr’s op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times.  His suggestion is one that Congress and the Obama Administration should be able to debate and legislate without revealing anything that needs to be kept secret.  Judge Carr is identified as a senior federal judge for the Northern District of Ohio,[who] served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court from 2002 to 2008.

CONGRESS created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 1978 as a check on executive authority. Recent disclosures about vast data-gathering by the government have raised concerns about the legitimacy of the court’s actions. Congress can take a simple step to restore confidence in the court’s impartiality and integrity: authorizing its judges to appoint lawyers to serve the public interest when novel legal issues come before it.

The court is designed to protect individual liberties as the government protects us from foreign dangers. In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that the Nixon administration had violated the Fourth Amendment by conducting warrantless surveillance on a radical domestic group, the White Panthers, who were suspected of bombing a C.I.A. recruiting office in Ann Arbor, Mich. In 1975 and 1976, the Church Committee, a Senate panel, produced a series of reports about foreign and domestic intelligence operations, including surveillance by the F.B.I. of suspected communists, radicals and other activists — including, notoriously, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Foreign Intelligence Service Act set up the FISA Court in response. To obtain authority to intercept the phone and electronic communications of American citizens and permanent residents, the government must only show probable cause that the target has a connection to a foreign government or entity or a foreign terrorist group. It does not have to show, as with an ordinary search warrant, probable cause that the target is suspected of a crime.

The problem is that the court only hears from one side.  I wrote recently that the real danger to our civil liberties is the FISA Court and I hoped that people will come up with ways to try to fix it.  Judge Carr has one suggestion at which Congress should take a serious look.

Critics note that the court has approved almost all of the government’s surveillance requests. Some say the court is virtually creating a secret new body of law governing privacy, secrecy and surveillance. Others have called for declassified summaries of all of the court’s secret rulings.

James Robertson, a retired federal judge who served with me on the FISA court, recently called for greater transparency of the court’s proceedings. He has proposed the naming of an advocate, with high-level security clearance, to argue against the government’s filings. He suggested that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which oversees surveillance activities, could also provide a check. I would go even further.

In an ordinary criminal case, the adversarial process assures legal representation of the defendant. Clearly, in top-secret cases involving potential surveillance targets, a lawyer cannot, in the conventional sense, represent the target.

Congress could, however, authorize the FISA judges to appoint, from time to time, independent lawyers with security clearances to serve “pro bono publico” — for the public’s good — to challenge the government when an application for a FISA order raises new legal issues.

Having lawyers challenge novel legal assertions in these secret proceedings would result in better judicial outcomes. Even if the government got its way all or most of the time, the court would have more fully developed its reasons for letting it do so. Of equal importance, the appointed lawyer could appeal a decision in the government’s favor to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review — and then to the Supreme Court. No opportunity for such review exists today, because only the government can appeal a FISA court ruling.

A combination of a people’s advocate and public release of decision summaries would remove some of the mystery and secrecy.

One obvious objection: judges considering whether to issue an ordinary search warrant hear only from the government. Why should this not be the same when the government goes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court?

My answer: the court is unique among judicial institutions in balancing the right to privacy against the president’s duty to protect the public, and it encounters issues of statutory and constitutional interpretation that no other court does or can.

For an ordinary search warrant, the judge has a large and well-developed body of precedent. When a warrant has been issued and executed, the subject knows immediately. If indicted, he can challenge the warrant. He can also move to have property returned or sue for damages. These protections are not afforded to FISA surveillance targets. Even where a target is indicted, laws like the Classified Information Procedures Act almost always preclude the target from learning about the order or challenging the evidence. This situation puts basic constitutional protections at risk and creates doubts about the legitimacy of the court’s work and the independence and integrity of its judges. To avert these dangers, Congress should amend FISA to give the court’s judges the discretion to appoint lawyers to serve not just the interests of the target and the public — but those of the court as well.

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993 (Photo credit: David Holt London)

We are already deep in uncharted waters and we need to take steps to try to protect ourselves.  It serves no purpose if we lose our civil liberties while protecting them.  I don’t have a great deal of hope that Congress can actually get itself together enough to act, but there has been some glimmer of bipartisanship about this issue.  Let us hope someone writes Judge Carr’s ideas into a bill so it can be introduced.

George W and Barack Obama

Any one else notice that two events seem to be bringing former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama together?  First, in Africa.

130702_obama_bush_africa_reu1According to Politico

The presidents appeared side-by-side and bowed their heads for a moment of silence at the embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, according to pool reports. They also shook hands with guests at the ceremony, which included the U.S. ambassador and family members of victims of the truck bombing.

The embassy was struck on Aug. 7, 1998, by Al Qaeda in a coordinated terrorist attack that also hit the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. In Tanzania, 10 people were killed and more than 85 were injured.

The Clinton quote I found in the Washington Post.

The Clinton quote, from Aug. 13, 1998 at Andrews Air Force Base, reads, “We must honor the memory of those we mourn by pressing the cause of freedom and justice for which they lived. It is the burden of our history and the bright hope of the world’s future.”

The second event bringing them together is immigration reform.  Remember that George W. tried to get a bill passed when he was President.  Now according to new accounts, including Politico, he is going to speak on the importance of reform.

Former President George W. Bush is expected to make a speech next week on how  immigration reform is good for the country, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Bush will speak after a citizenship ceremony at the George W. Bush Presidential  Center in Dallas on Wednesday followed by a panel discussion titled “What  Immigrants Contribute.”

While no one knows if he will inject himself into the current Congressional debate by supporting either the Senate or House bills, his talking about it may just help push some House Republicans into supporting the Senate bill which President Obama supports.

I think that Presidents are an exclusive club and no matter the politics there are always shared experience.  In Tanzania, we had the convergence of three: Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Photograph:  Reuters

The Secretaries Kerry

No.  That isn’t a typo.  I’m sure that you know about John Kerry.  He’s the still pretty new Secretary of State.  But you probably don’t know about Cameron Kerry.  Cameron is your acting Secretary of Commerce and John’s younger brother.  This is the first time that brothers have been in the cabinet at the same time.  It won’t last long:  Penny Pritzker will be confirmed one day and Cameron will go back to being General Counsel at Commerce.

The Boston Globe notes

The history-making move is also proving that, well, having two Secretary Kerrys can get quite confusing.

In the Commerce Department, where officialdom prohibits first name usage, staffers have started referring to John Kerry as “the other Secretary Kerry.” When appointments are made at the White House Mess, they now have to specify which Secretary Kerry the reservation is for – and, when paying, Cameron Kerry has been tempted to simply say, “Just put it on his tab.”

Last week, Cameron and John Kerry both signed off on a diplomatic cable to be sent to missions overseas that house employees of both the Commerce and State Departments. The cable said, in all caps, it was from “Secretary Kerry and Acting Secretary of Commerce Kerry.”

“Which is going to confuse the hell out of some people in missions abroad,” Cameron Kerry said.

But as Joe Biden says “Two Kerrys are better than one.”

Cameron Kerry

Cameron Kerry

Photograph: Drew Angerer for the Boston Globe

What’s on your money?

Back in January I wrote about the new Treasury Secretary nominee’s signature.  Today, the Treasury unveiled Jack Lew’s new Hancock.

Here it is thanks to the Wonkblog on the Washington Post.

Lew sig on bill

Remember his original signature looked like this.

lew-sig old

He did promise President Obama that at least one letter would be legible and the “J” for Jacob is readable so he kept his promise.  I can’t wait until the money starts being issued.

Syria? Really?

The President, probably never believing that Assad would use chemical weapons, drew a red line.  He’s been stalling around saying he needs verification, but now he has it.  The question is what should we do now.  I think Obama is stuck.

130612_barack_obama_ap_605

The United States has a long history of failed interventions.  Vietnam was basically a civil war.  We armed the Taliban when they were our “friends”.  We actually started a civil war in Iraq by stupidly dismissing all the Baathists saying they can’t be part of any new Iraqi government.  Now we are again taking sides against the Baathist who currently rule Syria.  My big fear is that the region will explode into a Sunni v. Shia conflict and we will be seen as taking sides.

Andrew Sullivan wrote this morning

My strong view, vented last night as I absorbed this stunning collapse of nerve, is that we shouldn’t fight at all. We are damn lucky to have gotten every GI out of Iraq, and the notion of being sucked back into that region again – and to join sides in a sectarian conflict – is a betrayal of everything this president has said and stood for. It’s a slap in the face for everyone who backed him because he said he wouldn’t be another Bush or McCain or Clinton. If he intervenes in Syria, he will have no credibility left with those of us who have supported his largely sane and prudent foreign policy so far. Libya was bad enough – and look at the consequences. But Syria? And the entire Middle East? Is he out of his mind?

And can you think of a dumber war than this one?

The man who said he would never engage in a dumb war is apparently preparing to join the dumbest war since … well, Iraq.

My only hope right now is that we can somehow use our threat of intervention to maneuver some type of international peace keeping force while we try to bring both sides to a negotiating table.  And let us hope that President Obama knows to get Congress involved, gets a UN resolution and the Arab League to agree before we take any action.

Sullivan concludes

One reason I supported Obama so passionately in 2008 and 2012 was because I thought he understood this and had the spine to stand up to drama queens like McCain and armchair generals like William Jefferson Clinton. But it is beginning to appear that this president isn’t actually that strong. We voted for him … and he’s giving us Clinton’s and McCain’s foreign policy. If Cameron and Hollande want to pull another Suez, for Pete’s sake be Eisenhower – not Kennedy.

My cri de coeur is here. Don’t do it, Mr President. And don’t you dare involve us in another war without a full Congressional vote and national debate. That wouldn’t just be a mistake; it would be a betrayal.

Photograph:  AP