Political MoJo

Is Obama a Realist, Isolationist, Humanitarian Interventionist, or Drone-Dropping Hawk?

| Wed May 28, 2014 11:39 AM EDT

Since the end of the Cold War, foreign policy has become much more challenging. In a post-bipolar world where nonstate actors pose real threats and disrupters (good and bad) are everywhere, the issues are knottier and unforeseen developments often yield difficult options. In the aftermath of 9/11, George W. Bush chose not to come to terms with this fundamental change. Instead, he opted for a blunderbuss policy dominated by a misguided invasion of Iraq. President Barack Obama inherited a helluva cleanup job. And as he had handled the details—such as winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—he has had tried to articulate an overall strategy. His latest stab at this was the speech he delivered to West Point graduates this morning.

Early in the address, Obama noted, "you are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan." The young men and women before him cheered. It was a poignant moment. Then Obama proceeded to outline a larger vision. He summed up his stance in these lines:

[S]ince George Washington served as commander in chief, there have been those who warned against foreign entanglements that do not touch directly on our security or economic well-being. Today, according to self-described realists, conflicts in Syria or Ukraine or the Central African Republic are not ours to solve. Not surprisingly, after costly wars and continuing challenges at home, that view is shared by many Americans.

A different view, from interventionists on the left and right, says we ignore these conflicts at our own peril; that America's willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos, and America's failure to act in the face of Syrian brutality or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience, but invites escalating aggression in the future.

Each side can point to history to support its claims. But I believe neither view fully speaks to the demands of this moment. It is absolutely true that in the 21st century, American isolationism is not an option. If nuclear materials are not secure, that could pose a danger in American cities. As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened groups to come after us increases. Regional aggression that goes unchecked—in southern Ukraine, the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world—will ultimately impact our allies, and could draw in our military.

Beyond these narrow rationales, I believe we have a real stake—an abiding self-interest—in making sure our children grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped, where individuals aren't slaughtered because of tribe or faith or political beliefs. I believe that a world of greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative—it also helps keep us safe.

But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution. Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures—without thinking through the consequences, without building international support and legitimacy for our action, or leveling with the American people about the sacrifice required. Tough talk draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans. As General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947: "War is mankind's most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men."

This is not new. Obama chooses no specific camp. He does not truck with so-called realists and isolationists who do not want the United States to be involved with overseas conflicts that do not directly and immediately threaten the United States. Nor does he side with interventionists who call for US military engagement in trouble spots around the world. Cognizant of the costs of war (money, lives, and more), he does not want to overcommit the United States. Citing the costs of nonaction and the interconnectedness of today's world, he does not want to remain on the global sidelines. He's certainly no neocon eager to deploy US military resources overseas to intervene in Syria or to up the ante with Russia regarding Ukraine. (Obama announced he would boost efforts to help Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq, deal with refugees and cross-border terrorists from Syria, and "ramp up" support for elements of the Syrian opposition "who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator." He said he would keep working with the IMF and allies to bolster Ukraine and its economy and isolate Russia.) But Obama did defend his use of drone strikes. He noted, "In taking direct action, we must uphold standards that reflect our values. That means taking strikes only when we face a continuing, imminent threat, and only where there is near certainty of no civilian casualties. For our actions should meet a simple test: We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield." (Yet his administration has not always met this standard.)

For years, Obama has been trying to form and sell a balanced approach that justifies certain military interventions and limits others—while redefining national security interests to include climate change and other matters. That's a tough task. The world is not a balanced place. It's likely that Obama's handling of foreign policy will continue to be judged on a case-by-case basis and less on the establishment of an integrated doctrine. Given the global challenges of this era, a grand plan may not be realistic.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Head of the IMF Says Inequality Threatens Democracy. Here Are 7 Charts Proving She's Right.

| Wed May 28, 2014 10:59 AM EDT

In his State of the Union address in January, President Barack Obama promised to devote 2014 to tackling inequality. When French economist Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century was released in March, it pushed the problem of growing income disparity further into the global spotlight. In April, Pope Francis tweeted, "Inequality is the root of social evil." Now Christine LaGarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund—best known for lending money to developing countries on the condition that the those states make policy changes—is taking on inequality too, warning in a speech Tuesday that rising inequality is threatening global financial stability, democracy, and human rights.

"One of the leading economic stories of our time is rising income inequality, and the dark shadow it casts across the global economy," LaGarde said.

The richest 10 percent of people in the world hold 86 percent of the world's wealth, and just 0.7 percent own 41 percent of global riches, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report. The bottom half of all adults in the world own just one percent of global wealth:

Here's what the very top of that pyramid looks like. About 10,000 people have more than $50 million:

In 24 of the 26 countries where the IMF collects income data, the wealthiest 1 percent has increased its share of income over the past three decades. Here's what that looks like in America:

 

Countries that are more unequal tend to be less stable and have lower economic growth, according to the IMF. Income disparity can bring more dire consequences too. "Disparity…brings division," LaGarde said. "History…teaches us that democracy begins to fray at the edges once political battles separate the haves against the have-nots."

What to do about growing income disparity around the world? The IMF chief suggested countries implement "redistributive" measures, including expanded access to education and health care, increased property taxes, and more progressive tax systems. Here's how the US tax system has helped the rich get richer over the years:

LaGarde said cracking down on the banking sector is part of the puzzle, too, since the 2008 financial meltdown increased the wealth gap. In her speech, LaGarde said that although governments have made progress in reining in big banks, most countries have not yet imposed strict enough reforms on the financial sector. The problem of banks being so large their collapse would endanger the entire financial system—a.k.a. too big to fail—is still with us, she noted. Here is how banks got too big to fail:

LaGarde also urged that rules governing how banks operate across international borders be tightened. And she called for a change in the banking "culture," pointing to recent scandals in which financial firms were accused of money laundering and rigging interest rates.

LaGarde slammed the banking sector's resistance to reform. "The behavior of the financial sector has not changed fundamentally…since the crisis," she said. "The industry still prizes short-term profit."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 28, 2014

Wed May 28, 2014 10:03 AM EDT

Corporal Stephen Hornbeck, field radio operator, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, and a native of Chicago, works on satellite communication during a mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 12, 2014. The company disrupted Taliban fighters to aid in the retrograde of Sturga II, a British base northeast of Lashkar Gah. The battalion has conducted dozens of missions since they assumed their battlespace March 15, but this was their first combat engagement with insurgents since their arrival in country. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan/Released)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 27, 2014

Tue May 27, 2014 10:04 AM EDT

Cpl. Scott Bradley and Lance Cpl. Dakota Marshall, two Marines with Black Sea Rotational Force 14 from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, reach the peak of a cliff with two Romanian soldiers of the 17th Mountain Troop Bn. during Exercise Platinum Lynx in the Carpathian Mountains, May 8, 2014. Exercise Platinum Lynx 14-5 is a bilateral exercise between the United States Marines and sailors, and Romanian Land Forces, designed to build familiarity and interoperability between the United States and their Romanian allies through squad and platoon level infantry training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Scot Whiting/Released)

WATCH: Daniel Schulman Talks Koch Family History

Fri May 23, 2014 5:32 PM EDT

Mother Jones senior editor Daniel Schulman joined Chris Hayes on MSNBC to discuss his new book, "Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty." We published a scintillating excerpt from the book here and posted a rare Koch family home video from the 1940s depicting the boys fighting with boxing gloves here.

Louisiana Republicans Wondering Why Bobby Jindal Doesn't Call Them Anymore

| Fri May 23, 2014 12:48 PM EDT

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has a new health care reform plan, a new political non-profit, and dreams of running for president in two years. But for the time being, he's still governor of Louisiana.

Sort of.

Even as the legislature wrestles over hot-button issues—including a bill to rein in the Common Core math and English standards and a proposal to prevent parishes from suing oil companies for coastal land loss—the second-term governor has been largely AWOL from Baton Rouge. He's as likely to pop up at the DC speech circuit (or in an early 2016 primary state) as he is to pick up the phone to hammer out legislation. And according to Louisiana-based investigative reporting site The Lens, Republicans back home are starting to take it personally:

Pearson said he finds Jindal's detachment "a little disheartening." The Slidell Republican said he has seen the governor twice this session: on opening day and at a committee chairman’s lunch.

"We have big problems with the budget. It looks like we're kicking the can down the road for the next one or two years," Pearson said, adding, "God, it would be nice to see his face on the [House] floor.

"He's the governor, the leader of the state. It's like being on a battlefield and seeing your general to know he's there and cares about the troops," Pearson added. "He should want to be here, be engaged. I don't see any evidence that he is."

Unease over Jindal's frequent out-of-state visits has been simmering for a while now among conservative allies. (Previously, The Lens explored the governor's failure to build to relationships with GOP lawmakers, with more than a dozen on-the-record critiques.) When I profiled Jindal for the magazine in March, I was struck by just how little love was lost between the boy-genius governor and the rank-and-file of his state party. As GOP presidential primary season creeps closer, those tensions aren't likely to go away.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 23, 2014

Fri May 23, 2014 9:42 AM EDT

Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, insert into Tagvreshk Village by CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters during a mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 1, 2014. The company operated in Tagvreshk Village, an area with suspected Taliban forces with the intent to disrupt any lethal aid. After hours of operating within the area, the infantrymen extracted from the area the same way they arrived. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan/Released)

These Women Are Tired of Being Nice. Read Their Badass Letter About Sexism in Tech.

| Thu May 22, 2014 5:15 PM EDT

It's no secret that the tech industry can be a brutal place for women trying to work there. The parade of offenses continues: the social coding giant GitHub came under a firestorm of criticism earlier this year after one of the company's few female developers quit, alleging a pattern of sexual and gender-based harassment. And a website called "CodeBabes" launched, offering to teach bros how to code under the tutelage of virtual strippers. It seems there's no end to this type of news; in fact, there's a whole site devoted to tracking these flareups.

On Thursday, a fed-up group of women technologists and leaders published an open letter about how women are treated in tech, and ways to do better. It was published it in Model View Culture, a startup media site that covers issues of culture and inclusion in tech. The cosigners include Divya Manian, a product manager at Adobe, Sabrina Majeed, iOS designer at Buzzfeed, Angelina Fabbro, who is on the developers tools team at Mozilla, and Jessica Dillon, a software engineer at Bugsnag, a San Francisco-based startup.

As the women put it, "We are tired of pretending this stuff doesn't happen." The whole letter is absolutely worth a read, but here's an excerpt:

Our experiences? They’re just like the stories you hear about. But maybe you thought because we weren’t as loud, that this stuff doesn’t happen to us. We've been harassed on mailing lists and called ‘whore’/‘cunt’ without any action being taken against aggressors. We get asked about our relationships at interviews, and we each have tales of being groped at public events. We’ve been put in the uncomfortable situation of having men attempt to turn business meetings into dates.

We regularly receive creepy, rapey e-mails where men describe what a perfect wife we would be and exactly how we should expect to be subjugated. Sometimes there are angry e-mails that threaten us to leave the industry, because ‘it doesn’t need anymore c**ts ruining it’...

We’d rather be writing blog posts about best practices for development, design, and tech management instead of the one we’re writing now. We are tired of pretending this stuff doesn’t happen, but continuing to keep having these experiences again and again. We keep our heads down, working at our jobs, hoping that if we just work hard at what we do, maybe somehow the problem will go away...

Imagine if you were the only person like you on your team and when you left your computer and came back there was very graphic porn on your screen (a specific example that we have experienced)...

Read the full letter here.

50 Senators Call on Washington Football Team to Change Name

| Thu May 22, 2014 2:00 PM EDT

Fifty senators have called out NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, urging the league to change the racist name of Washington's football team. Referencing the NBA's strong response to racist Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, they wrote in a letter to Goodell, "Now is the time for the NFL to act. The Washington, DC football team is on the wrong side of history. What message does it send to punish slurs against African Americans while endorsing slurs about Native Americans?"

The main letter, first given to the New York Times, was circulated by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and signed by 46 other Democrats and two independents. (Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ever the lone wolf, decided to send his own letter also calling for a name change.) Virginia's pair of senators were among the five Dems who didn't sign; the letter was not circulated among Republicans.

The NFL released a statement in response that defended the name, but continued the softening of the league's tone toward critics: "The intent of the team's name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image. The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently." The team itself declined to comment, though owner Dan Snyder can rest easy knowing he was absolved of racism months ago.

Read the full letter below:

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 22, 2014

Thu May 22, 2014 9:55 AM EDT

CAMP NOVO SELO, Kosovo (May 12, 2014) -- Paratroopers with 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, conduct pre-jump training exercises prior to conducting their airborne operation, May 12, in western Kosovo. The squadron’s Soldiers used the Army’s MC-6 maneuverable parachute system to descend 1,000 feet and land at the Dakovica Airfield in Dakovica, Kosovo. The operation was the first airborne operation with a U.S. Air Force C-130 in Kosovo in over 10 years. (Photo by Pfc. An Nguyen, 2-38 Cavalry Squadron)