Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Congress Should Just Say No to Trump’s Afghanistan Surge

SANGIN, Afghanistan - American and British sol...
SANGIN, Afghanistan – American and British soldiers take a tactical pause during a combat patrol in the Sangin District area of Helmand Province April 10 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the US occupation of Afghanistan well into its sixteenth year and the country no closer to becoming a stable democracy than it was in late 2001, Antiwar.com reports that this isn’t an “all options are on the table” scenario.

President Donald Trump seems to have rejected the idea of withdrawing US troops and ending the war. Instead, he intends to become the third president in a row to roll the dice on a “surge” — that is, to send in more troops (the initial estimate is anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 more in addition to the current 8,400) and hope for the best.

That idea has never worked before and it’s not going to magically start working now. If Trump can’t bring himself to put an end to America’s Afghanistan misadventure, Congress should force him to do so by either repealing its “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” or using its power of the purse to cut off funding for military operations in Afghanistan.

The US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has been nothing but epic fail from the very beginning.

First, it was quite likely unnecessary. After the 9/11 attacks — carried out by terrorists from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon — president George W. Bush demanded that Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers hand over Saudi national Osama bin Laden. The Taliban offered to remand him to a third, neutral country upon the presentation of evidence, even though they were under no obligation to do so in the absence of an extradition treaty. Rather than proffer the requested evidence, Bush chose war.

Secondly, instead of invading, finding, and capturing or killing bin Laden and coming home, the troops were set to play at the game of “nation-building.” While they toppled the Taliban regime and began setting up what they hoped would become a western-style democracy instead of immediately going after bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora, he and his compatriots made their escape over the border into Pakistan. It was nearly another decade before bin Laden was hunted down and assassinated.

Finally, even after it became clear that the forces which denied the Soviets victory in a decade-long war from 1979-89 could and would do the same versus US forces, first Bush and then Barack Obama just kept doubling down, pouring American blood and treasure by the gallon into soil from which peace and democracy refused to sprout. Trump apparently wants to go down in history as Afghanistan failmaster number three.

The US occupation will never achieve its purported goals. If Afghanistan is going to change, it will be the Afghans who change it. They’re not interested in being told how to live by Russians, by Americans, or by anyone else. Can’t say as I blame them.

This column is dedicated to the memory of R. Lee Wrights (1958-2017)

Note: The original version of this column claimed that the Taliban offered to hand Osama bin Laden over to the US on presentation of evidence implicating him in the 9/11 attacks. In fact, the Taliban’s offer was to hand bin Laden over to a “third party” country. Thanks to Jacob Hornberger for the correction.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION  HISTORY

Trump: Just the Newest Leader of an Old Cult

U.S. President Donald Trump greets the crowd from the presidential review stand during the 58th Presidential Inauguration Parade in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. The parade route stretched approximately 1.5 miles along Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol to the White House. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)
U.S. President Donald Trump greets the crowd from the presidential review stand during the 58th Presidential Inauguration Parade in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. The parade route stretched approximately 1.5 miles along Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol to the White House. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

In his first week as president of the United States, Donald Trump issued a flurry of executive orders on a number of subjects.

Some of those orders, such as his withdrawal of presidential recommendation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty (presidents propose treaties, the Senate ratifies them) and a hiring freeze in the executive branch, seem to fall squarely within his powers as laid out by Article II of the US Constitution.

Others, such as his conditioning of federal funding for “sanctuary cities” on their willingness to start doing the federal government’s work for it, his order to begin building a wall along the US border with Mexico, and his ban on entrance into the United States by nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries, not so much.

Trump’s early actions as president have given rise to substantial protest, not to mention litigation. Will he get away with ruling by decree? The Constitution says no. History says yes. The Trump presidency is far from sui generis . Rather it is the inevitable culmination of America’s long slide into a nearly worshipful attitude toward executive power — what Cato Institute vice-president Gene Healy dubbed, in his 2008 book of that name, The Cult of the Presidency.

The theory of American government is that the president is the chief executive. Words mean things. The president’s job is to implement — to execute — the will of Congress as expressed in legislation. He’s not the homeowner. He’s the housekeeper.

That’s the theory. In practice, presidents have, over time, carved out considerable personal power for themselves. Especially since World War Two and especially in the area of foreign policy (for example, Truman’s decision to go to war in Korea first and ask Congress for approval second), they’ve tended to treat Congress as a rubber stamp. Instead of following Congress’s lead, they expect Congress to follow theirs.

And it’s worked. Americans have become accustomed to regard the president as what George W. Bush called himself: “The Decider.” Or, as Barack Obama put it, “[w]e’re not just going to be waiting for legislation …. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.”

The “strong executive/weak executive” debate goes back to the founding of the United States.  For the last half century and more, the “strong executive” side has been winning out. The result: President Donald Trump and, for all intents and purposes, the finale of our national transformation from republic to banana republic.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION HISTORY

Obama Visits Havana: Cuba Libre For Real?

"fight against which is impossible and wi...
“Fight against the impossible and win” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

US President Barack Obama’s late March visit to Cuba, continuing his initiative to re-establish friendly relations between the two countries, arouses opposition on both sides of the aisle in Washington.

The Republican complaints, of course, are to be expected. If Obama walked across the Florida Strait without wetting the hems of his trousers, Ted Cruz would ask why the president can’t swim.

But some Democrats also oppose breaking the ice with Havana. “It is totally unacceptable for the president of the United States to reward a dictatorial regime,” says US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). “The president is again prioritizing short-term economic interests over long-term American values.”

Let’s be honest here: Cruz, Menendez and their ilk have done as much to prop up Fidel Castro’s regime as Castro’s own secret police agents or neighborhood “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution” ever could, if not more. Half a century and change of sanctions and embargo have strengthened, not weakened, popular support for the island nation’s Communist rulers.

National isolation is the desire of every dictator: If his subjects never see what a freer society looks like or have the opportunity to avail themselves of its goods and services, they have no standard against which to measure his rule and find it wanting.

If a powerful, threatening external enemy actively aids him in achieving that isolation, so much the better: For now even if his subjects DO get a glimpse of higher living standards and relative freedom to travel, speak and worship, he can just blame that external enemy for denying them such things.

This is the dynamic which has kept the mullahs in charge in Tehran since 1979 and the Communist Party in charge in Havana since 1959. It is this dynamic which Obama hopes, by way of burnishing his presidential legacy, to interrupt with his Jeffersonian (“friendship and commerce with all nations”) overtures to Cuba.

The beneficiaries of the US embargo on Cuba have been the Castro regime, the US military industrial complex, the US sugar industry, and a few professional “opposition exiles” living on CIA funds and hoping to one day ride into Havana on American tanks. Its victims are legion and include the entire populations of Cuba the United States.

Just as it was a myth that “only Nixon could go to China,” any president could have gone to Havana. One finally has. And we’re all better off for it.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY