In “The Obama Synthesis” The Pasty Little Putz says the nominations of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan, two men with Bush-era perspectives, tells us something about the president’s foreign policy. MoDo says “We Offer More Thank Ankles, Gentlemen,” and that all the president’s men can’t figure out why all the president has is men. The Moustache of Wisdom has consulted his dictionary. In “Collaborate vs. Collaborate” he says that one word seems to have two different meanings on the two coasts. He is to be somewhat congratulated, however, because in this column he doesn’t seem to use his usual “but both sides do it” argument. Mr. Kristof has a question: “Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville?” He says India’s horrific rape case is symptomatic of a global problem, and Americans who view it with condescension should also look in the mirror. Mr. Bruni has decided to be a scold. All he sees are “Democrats Behaving Badly.” He whines that between Harry Reid’s inflations and President Obama’s nominations, Democrats are playing a game of arrogance and needless errors. In his third from the last paragraph he grudgingly notes that Republicans haven’t been perfect… Here’s The Putz:
As both his critics and admirers argue, the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense last week tells us something important about Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy. But so does the man who was nominated alongside Hagel, to far less controversy and attention: John Brennan, now head of the White House’s counterterrorism efforts, and soon to be the director of the C.I.A.
Both men were intimately involved in foreign policy debates during George W. Bush’s administration, but had very different public profiles. As a C.I.A. official, Brennan publicly defended some of Bush’s most controversial counterterrorism policies, including the “rendition” of terror suspects for interrogation in foreign countries. As a senator, Hagel was one of the few prominent Republicans to (eventually) turn against the war in Iraq. Now it’s fitting that Obama has nominated them together, because his foreign policy has basically synthesized their respective Bush-era perspectives.
Like the once-hawkish Hagel, Obama has largely rejected Bush’s strategic vision of America as the agent of a sweeping transformation of the Middle East, and retreated from the military commitments that this revolutionary vision required. And with this retreat has come a willingness to make substantial cuts in the Pentagon’s budget — cuts that Hagel will be expected to oversee.
But the Brennan nomination crystallizes the ways in which Obama has also cemented and expanded the Bush approach to counterterrorism. Yes, waterboarding is no longer with us, but in its place we have a far-flung drone campaign — overseen and defended by Brennan — that deals death, even to American citizens, on the say-so of the president and a secret administration “nominations” process.
Meanwhile, the imprimatur of a liberal president means that other controversial Bush-era counterterror policies are more secure than ever. Just last month, for instance, while Congress was embroiled in furious partisan arguments over the fiscal cliff, the practice of warrantless wiretapping was reaffirmed with broad bipartisan support.
To the extent that it’s possible to define an “Obama Doctrine,” then, it’s basically the Hagel-Brennan two-step. Fewer boots on the ground, but lots of drones in the air. Assassination, yes; nation-building, no. An imperial presidency with a less-imperial global footprint.
This is a popular combination in a country that’s tired of war but still remembers 9/11 vividly. Indeed, Obama’s foreign policy has been an immense political success: he’s co-opted foreign policy realists, neutralized antiwar Democrats and isolated Republican hawks.
This success, in turn, has given him a freer hand to choose appointees who embody his worldview. The left objected, successfully, when Brennan was floated as a possibility for C.I.A. director after Obama’s 2008 victory, but the opposition is likely to be weaker this time around. Hagel’s hawkish opponents have a slightly better chance, mostly because his views on Iran and Israel are more dovish than the White House’s own stated positions. But the campaign against his nomination has often been more desperate than effective, offering tissue-thin charges of anti-Semitism and embarrassingly opportunistic criticisms of Hagel’s record on gay rights.
If Hagel does get through, it will be the clearest sign yet that Obama enjoys more trust — and with it, more latitude — on foreign policy than any Democrat since Harry Truman. And in many ways he’s earned it: his mix of caution and aggression has thus far avoided major military disasters (an underrated virtue in presidents), prevented major terror attacks and put an end to America’s most infamous foe.
But that’s a provisional judgment, contingent on events to come. The Obama way of statecraft has offered a plausible course correction after the debacles of the Bush era, but the ripples from many of his biggest choices — to leave Iraq outright, to surge and then withdraw in Afghanistan, to intervene more forcefully in Libya than in Syria — are still spreading, and the ultimate success of those policies is still very much in doubt. Likewise with his looming defense cuts, whose wisdom depends entirely on what actually is trimmed.
Foreign policy is always a balancing act, in which no ideological system can guarantee success, and no effective action is without cost. The recent careers of the two nominees illustrate this point. Hagel was absolutely right to decide that the Iraq war was a blunder, but he was dead wrong (as was Obama) to then assume that the 2007 surge — a salvage job, but a brave and necessary one — would only make the situation worse. The drone campaign that Brennan has overseen has undoubtedly weakened Al Qaeda. But it’s also killed innocents, fed anti-American sentiment and eroded the constraints on executive power in troubling ways.
These are not reasons to deny them the chance to serve this president in his second term. But they are reasons to ask them hard questions, and to look carefully for places where Obama’s post-Bush course correction may need to be corrected in its turn.
It does need to be corrected, Putzy. Gitmo needs to be closed, drone strikes need to stop… Now here’s MoDo:
President Obama ran promoting women’s issues.
But how about promoting some women?
With the old white boys’ club rearing its hoary head in the White House of the first black president, the historian Michael Beschloss recalled the days when the distaff was deemed biologically unsuited for the manly discourse of politics. He tweeted: “1/12/1915, U.S. House refused women voting rights. One Congressman: ‘Their ankles are beautiful … but they are not interested in the state.’ ”
Now comes a parade of women to plead the case for the value of female perspective in high office: Women reach across the aisle, seek consensus, verbalize and empathize more, manage and listen better. Women are more pragmatic, risk-averse and, unburdened by testosterone, less bellicose.
Unfortunately, these “truisms” haven’t held true with many of the top women I’ve covered in Washington.
Janet Reno was trigger-happy on Waco, and a tragic conflagration ensued. Hillary Clinton’s my-way-or-the-highway obduracy doomed her heath care initiative; she also voted to authorize the Iraq invasion without even reading the National Intelligence Estimate, and badly mismanaged her 2008 campaign. Condi Rice avidly sold W.’s bogus war in Iraq. One of Susan Rice’s most memorable moments was when she flipped the finger at Richard Holbrooke during a State Department meeting.
Maybe these women in the first wave to the top had to be more-macho-than-thou to succeed. And maybe women don’t always bring a completely different or superior skill set to the table. And maybe none of that matters.
We’re equal partners in life and governance now, and we merit equal representation, good traits and bad, warts and all.
It’s passing strange that Obama, carried to a second term by women, blacks and Latinos, chooses to give away the plummiest Cabinet and White House jobs to white dudes.
If there’s one thing white men have never had a problem with in this clubby, white marble enclave of Washington, it’s getting pulled up the ladder by other men. (New York magazine claims that of late, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has a better record of appointing top women than Obama does.)
Last week, The New York Times ran a startling photo, released by the White House, of the president in the Oval Office surrounded by 10 male advisers (nine white and one black). Valerie Jarrett was there, but was obscured by a white guy (though a bit of leg and “beautiful ankle” did show).
Obama has brought in a lot of women, including two he appointed to the Supreme Court, but it is more than an “optics” problem, to use the irritating cliché of the moment. Word from the White House is that the president himself is irritated, and demanding answers about the faces his staff is pushing forward. Unfortunately, he has only a bunch of white guys to offer an explanation of why the picture looks like a bunch of white guys.
Right from the start, the president who pledged “Change We Can Believe In” has been so cautious about change that there have been periodic eruptions from women and minorities.
Maybe Obama thinks he’s such a huge change for the nation to digest that everything else must look like the Eisenhower administration, with Michelle obligingly playing Laura Petrie. But it’s Barry tripping over the ottoman.
In more “He’s Like Ike” moments, the president spends his free time golfing with white male junior aides. The mood got sour early in the first term when senior female aides had a dinner to gripe directly to Obama about lack of access and getting elbowed out of big policy debates.
Some women around Obama who say that he never empowers women to take charge of anything are privately gratified at the latest kerfuffle, hoping it will shut down the West Wing man cave. It’s particularly galling because the president won re-election — and a record number of women ascended to Congress — on the strength of high-toned denunciations of the oldfangled Mitt Romney and the Republican kamikaze raid on women.
“We don’t have to order up some binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women” to excel in all fields, the president said on the trail, vowing to unfurl the future for “our daughters.”
It may be because the president knows what a matriarchal world he himself lives in that he assumes we understand that the most trusted people in his life have been female — his wife, his daughters, his mother, his grandmother, his mother-in-law, his closest aide, Valerie.
But this isn’t about how he feels, or what his comfort zone is, or who’s in his line of sight. It’s about what he projects to the world — not to mention to his own daughters.
Obama is an insular man who is not as dependent on his staff as some other presidents. With no particular vision for his staff, he surrounds himself with guys who then hire their guy friends.
Most people who work in the top tier of campaigns are men; most people who work for Obama now were on his campaigns; ergo, most people in his inner circle are men. Pretty soon, nobody’s thinking it through and going out of the way to reflect a world where daughters have the same opportunities as sons.
And then the avatars of modernity hit the front page of The Times, looking just as backward as the pasty, patriarchal Republicans they mocked.
Again with the “insular” slap at Obama. As if she has an earthly clue about what he’s really like… Now we have The Moustache of Wisdom:
col-lab-o-rate [k uh-lab- uh-reyt]
verb (used without object), col-lab-o-rat-ed, col-lab-o-rat-ing.
1. to work, one with another; cooperate, as on a literary work: They collaborated on a novel.
2. to cooperate, usually willingly, with an enemy nation, especially with an enemy occupying one’s country: He collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.
IT is often said that Britain and America are two countries divided by a common language. That is also true of Washington and Silicon Valley. The other day, I was interviewing Alan S. Cohen, an expert on networks who has been involved in several successful start-ups. At one point, Cohen began talking about the importance of “collaboration” both within and between firms in Silicon Valley. Then he stopped and said it’s interesting that in Silicon Valley “collaboration” is defined as something you do with another colleague or company to achieve greatness — something to be praised — as in: “They collaborated on that beautiful piece of software.” But in Congress “collaboration” means something very different today. It’s the second definition — collaboration is an act of treason — something you do when you cross over and vote with the other party. In Silicon Valley, great “collaborators” are prized; in Washington, they are hanged. Said Cohen, who was vice president at Nicira, a networking start-up that recently sold for $1.26 billion: “In Washington, when they say ‘collaborator’ they mean ‘traitor’; here they mean ‘colleague.’
It’s not the only reason, but it’s a big reason that Silicon Valley is thriving more than ever, finding more ways to solve bigger and bigger problems faster, and that Washington is only capable of producing 11th-hour, patched-together, Rube Goldberg compromises, with no due diligence, that produce only suboptimal outcomes to our biggest problems. In Washington today collaboration happens only to avert crises or to give out pork, not to build anything great. That is why if Congress were a start-up, the early-stage investors would have long ago been wiped out and the firm shuttered. Cause of death: an inability of the partners to collaborate. “People in Washington,” said Cohen, “forgot that they are developers: ‘I am on this committee. I have to fix this problem and write some software to do it,’ and that requires collaboration. They have forgotten their job and the customer.”
Don’t get me wrong, Silicon Valley is not some knitting circle where everyone happily shares their best ideas. It is the most competitive, dog-eat-dog, I-will-sue-you-if-you-even-think-about-infringing-my-patents innovation hub in the world. In that sense, it is, as politics is and should always be, a clash of ideas. What Silicon Valley is not, though, is only a clash of ideas.
Despite the heated competition, lots of collaboration still happens here for one main reason: to serve the customer the best product or service. One way is through new open-source innovation platforms like GitHub — a kind of “Wikipedia for programmers” — where hobbyists, start-ups and big firms share ideas in order to enlist more people (either within a firm in restricted ways or from the outside in a wide open manner) to help improve their software or Web sites.
Another way is through “co-opetition.” There are many examples here of companies trying to kill each other in one market but working together in another — to better serve customers. Microsoft Windows runs on Apple Macs because customers wanted it. When Apple Maps failed, Apple asked its users to download Google Maps. Finally, within firms, it is understood that to thrive in today’s market, solve the biggest problems and serve customers, you need to assemble the best minds from anywhere in the world.
“When you obsess about the customer, you end up defeating your competition as a byproduct,” said K.R. Sridhar, the founder of Bloom Energy, a fuel-cell company. “When you are just obsessed about the competition, you end up killing yourself” as a byproduct — “because you are not focused on the customer.”
The far-right lurch of the G.O.P.’s base has made this problem worse. When President Obama built his health care plan on Mitt Romney’s operating system in Massachusetts, Romney was so focused on coddling his base to beat Obama — rather than trying to improve Obama’s iteration of Romney’s own design to best serve all the customers — that Romney disowned his own software. What company would do that?
“Sure competition here is sharp-elbowed,” said Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn. “But no one can succeed by themselves. Apple today is totally focused on how it can better work with its [applications] developer community.” It cannot thrive without them. “The only way you can achieve something magnificent is by working with other people,” said Hoffman. “There is lots of co-opetition.” LinkedIn competes with headhunters and is used by headhunters.
With collaboration, one plus one can often turn out to be four, says Jeff Weiner, the C.E.O. of LinkedIn, adding: “I will always work with you — if I know we’ll get to four. You can’t build great products alone. And if everyone understood that you can’t build great government alone our country would be in a different place.”
Tommy, sweetie, the Teatards will not now, nor will they ever, “collaborate” with The Kenyan Usurper for the good of the country. Now here’s Mr. Kristof:
In India, a 23-year-old student takes a bus home from a movie and is gang-raped and assaulted so viciously that she dies two weeks later.
In Liberia, in West Africa, an aid group called More Than Me rescues a 10-year-old orphan who has been trading oral sex for clean water to survive.
In Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players are accused of repeatedly raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl who was either drunk or rendered helpless by a date-rape drug and was apparently lugged like a sack of potatoes from party to party.
And in Washington, our members of Congress show their concern for sexual violence by failing to renew the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark law first passed in 1994 that has now expired.
Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.
In some places, rape is endemic: in South Africa, a survey found that 37 percent of men reported that they had raped a woman. In others, rape is institutionalized as sex trafficking. Everywhere, rape often puts the victim on trial: in one poll, 68 percent of Indian judges said that “provocative attire” amounts to “an invitation to rape.”
Americans watched the events after the Delhi gang rape with a whiff of condescension at the barbarity there, but domestic violence and sex trafficking remain a vast problem across the United States.
One obstacle is that violence against women tends to be invisible and thus not a priority. In Delhi, of 635 rape cases reported in the first 11 months of last year, only one ended in conviction. That creates an incentive for rapists to continue to rape, but in any case that reported number of rapes is delusional. They don’t include the systematized rape of sex trafficking. India has, by my reckoning, more women and girls trafficked into modern slavery than any country in the world. (China has more prostitutes, but they are more likely to sell sex by choice.)
On my last trip to India, I tagged along on a raid on a brothel in Kolkata, organized by the International Justice Mission. In my column at the time, I focused on a 15-year-old and a 10-year-old imprisoned in the brothel, and mentioned a 17-year-old only in passing because I didn’t know her story.
My assistant at The Times, Natalie Kitroeff, recently visited India and tracked down that young woman. It turns out that she had been trafficked as well — she was apparently drugged at a teahouse and woke up in the brothel. She said she was then forced to have sex with customers and beaten when she protested. She was never allowed outside and was never paid. What do you call what happened to those girls but slavery?
Yet prosecutors and the police often shrug — or worse. Dr. Shershah Syed, a former president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan, once told me: “When I treat a rape victim, I always advise her not to go to the police. Because if she does, the police might just rape her again.”
In the United States, the case in Steubenville has become controversial partly because of the brutishness that the young men have been accused of, but also because of concerns that the authorities protected the football team. Some people in both Delhi and Steubenville rushed to blame the victim, suggesting that she was at fault for taking a bus or going to a party. They need to think: What if that were me?
The United States could help change the way the world confronts these issues. On a remote crossing of the Nepal-India border, I once met an Indian police officer who said, a bit forlornly, that he was stationed there to look for terrorists and pirated movies. He wasn’t finding any, but India posted him there to show that it was serious about American concerns regarding terrorism and intellectual property. Meanwhile, that officer ignored the steady flow of teenage Nepali girls crossing in front of him on their way to Indian brothels, because modern slavery was not perceived as an American priority.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done a superb job trying to put these issues on the global agenda, and I hope President Obama and Senator John Kerry will continue her efforts. But Congress has been pathetic. Not only did it fail to renew the Violence Against Women Act, but it has also stalled on the global version, the International Violence Against Women Act, which would name and shame foreign countries that tolerate gender violence.
Congress even failed to renew the landmark legislation against human trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The obstacles were different in each case, but involved political polarization and paralysis. Can members of Congress not muster a stand on modern slavery?
(Hmm. I now understand better the results of a new survey from Public Policy Polling showing that Congress, with 9 percent approval, is less popular than cockroaches, traffic jams, lice or Genghis Khan.)
Skeptics fret that sexual violence is ingrained into us, making the problem hopeless. But just look at modern American history, for the rising status of women has led to substantial drops in rates of reported rape and domestic violence. Few people realize it, but Justice Department statistics suggest that the incidence of rape has fallen by three-quarters over the last four decades.
Likewise, the rate at which American women are assaulted by their domestic partners has fallen by more than half in the last two decades. That reflects a revolution in attitudes. Steven Pinker, in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” notes that only half of Americans polled in 1987 said that it was always wrong for a man to beat his wife with a belt or a stick; a decade later, 86 percent said it was always wrong.
But the progress worldwide is far too slow. Let’s hope that India makes such violence a national priority. And maybe the rest of the world, especially our backward Congress, will appreciate that the problem isn’t just India’s but also our own.
Good luck getting Congress to do anything when it’s rife with people who think that there is a term like “legitimate rape.” Now here’s Mr. Bruni, who haz a huge sad about bad manners:
For the textbook definition of not knowing enough to quit while you’re ahead, please turn your attention to Harry Reid, he of the scabrous tongue and rotten temper, a boxer in his youth and a pugilist to this day, throwing mud along with punches and invariably soiling himself.
Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, couldn’t just stand back and relish the recent spectacle of House Republicans making callous fools of themselves by stalling aid to communities walloped by Hurricane Sandy. He wasn’t satisfied that these Republicans were vilified not only in the news media but also by some members of their own tribe, like Peter King and Chris Christie. No, he had to get into the ring himself, and his genius strategy once there was to pit one storm’s victims against another’s, to stage a bout between Atlantic City’s splintered boardwalks and Louisiana’s failed levees. What a titan of meteorological tact.
Noting that Congress had provided help after Hurricane Katrina more quickly and generously than after Sandy, Reid said: “The people of New Orleans and that area, they were hurt, but nothing in comparison to what happened to the people in New York and New Jersey. Almost one million people have lost their homes. One million people lost their homes. That is homes, that is not people in those homes.”
Let’s put aside, for the moment, his fleeting difficulty distinguishing a biped with a weak spot for reality TV from a wood, brick or maybe stucco structure in which several bipeds watch TV. Let’s focus instead on his math. The one million figure is easily more than twice the combined tally of domiciles not only destroyed but also damaged in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It’s an invention. And if comparisons are to be made, consider this one: as a result of Katrina, 1,833 people died — more than nine times as many as died in connection with Sandy. Using the word “nothing” anywhere in the vicinity of Katrina defies both belief and decency, and Reid was indeed forced last week to apologize, his effort to shame his Republican foes having brought a full measure of shame to his own doorstep, yet again.
Why did he make the effort in the first place? Democrats came out of the 2012 elections looking good, and the country’s changing demographics suggest that they could come out of 2016 and beyond looking even better, especially if Republicans don’t accomplish a pretty thorough image overhaul. And that overhaul isn’t exactly proceeding at a breakneck pace. The perseverance of far-right obstructionists in the House stands in the way, leaving the party in grave trouble. If its foes were smart and humble, they’d do what a sports team with a big lead does. They’d play error-free ball.
Not Reid. And not President Obama, whose recent actions have been careless at best and cavalier at worst. There was the gratuitously provocative nomination of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, followed by the gratuitously insulting invitation of Louie Giglio, a Georgia pastor, to give the inaugural benediction. That plan was abandoned after the revelation of Giglio’s past remarks that homosexuality offends God, that homosexuals yearn to take over society and that a conversion to heterosexuality is the only answer for them. Giglio would have been the second florid homophobe in a row to stand with Obama and a Bible in front of the Capitol — Rick Warren, in January 2009, was the first — and while it appears that this double bigotry whammy wasn’t the administration’s intent, it’s an example of vetting so epically sloppy that it gives an observer serious pause about the delicacy with which Obama and his allies, no longer worried about his re-election, are operating.
The pick of Hagel underscores that indelicacy. There’s a potent case to be made for his installation as secretary of defense, but there are potent cases for others, and it’s hard to believe that Obama couldn’t have found someone who shared his values and would further his agenda but wouldn’t be such a guaranteed lightning rod for his Jewish, LGBT and female supporters, all of whom played crucial roles in his November victory.
Regarding women, Hagel’s record on reproductive freedom is as conservative as his record on gay rights, and it included his support for a ban on abortions in military hospitals, even for servicewomen prepared to pay for the procedures themselves. What’s more, Obama rolled Hagel out in a cluster of other high-profile nominees (John Brennan, Jack Lew, John Kerry) sure to be noted for their gender uniformity and to rekindle questions about the predominantly male club of advisers and golf and basketball partners who have the president’s ear. The upset was predictable and avoidable.
It has been noted, rightly, that the president put two additional women on the Supreme Court and that his percentage of female appointees is as good as President Bill Clinton’s was. But given the march of time since then, and given the questions raised during his first term about how valued women in the administration felt, and given his drumbeat that he was a champion for women in a way Mitt Romney could never be, shouldn’t he be surpassing Clinton? Going out of his way? There’s a perverse streak of defiance in him, and as donors and even Democratic lawmakers have long complained, gratitude isn’t his strong suit.
While Hagel lurched toward his confirmation hearings and Giglio skittered away, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced that it was sending each of the 35 Republican freshmen in the House a “tea party membership card,” which spelled out their rights to put “ideology over solutions,” to be horrid to women, to coddle Big Oil and “to create and/or ignore any national crisis.” Thus did the Dems turn legitimate gripes into schoolyard taunts that were more likely to inflame G.O.P. freshmen than to bully them into bipartisanship. What, beyond the theater of the gesture, was the point of it?
Granted, Republicans had done their own adolescent taunting, calling Democrats lap dogs in the Nancy Pelosi obedience school. But Democrats pride and market themselves as the reasonable adults in the equation, and that’s part of their currency with many voters. Why fritter it away?
And why abide the overwrought antics of Reid? He once compared opponents of Obama’s health care reform to enemies of emancipation. He took valid questions about Romney’s low tax bill and spun them into the unsubstantiated claim that Romney hadn’t paid any taxes for an entire 10-year period. Then he said the burden was on Romney to prove the charge untrue. Good thing our criminal courts don’t work that way.
Just before and after the 2012 election, it looked as if Republicans might be successfully burying themselves. All Democrats had to do was hammer the nail in the coffin. But the way they’re behaving, they’ll raise the dead.