December 2009 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

December 2009

Sage Advice for the President from Spitzer, Koch and The New York Times

Above the Fold

More than a year after the rescue began, crucial questions remain unanswered. Who knew what, and when? Who benefitted, and by exactly how much? Would A.I.G.’s counterparties have failed without taxpayer support?…We know where the answers are. They are in the trove of e-mail messages still backed up on A.I.G. servers…The government should insist that the company immediately make these materials public. By putting the evidence online, the government could establish a new form of “open source” investigation.
                                               –Eliot Spitzer, Frank Partnoy and William Black

The President should do more. He should instruct his Attorney General, Eric Holder, that one of his highest priorities should be holding criminally liable those who engaged in illegal activities on Wall Street that nearly caused our banking system and, indeed, our entire economy to collapse.

                                               –Edward I. Koch

What profits the banks have made over the last year were funded by oodles of cheap financing provided by the Federal Reserve. This is a windfall that they should not be allowed to keep…Bankers are likely to scream…No one should be intimidated…A windfall tax on bankers’ bonuses would not be enough, but it would be a start.

                                               –from an editorial in The New York Times


        This week the Obama administration will quite rightly celebrate a huge achievement, one which eluded six previous Democratic presidents–a giant step towards universal health care for every American citizen.  Yes, the Senate bill is vastly inferior to the House version, and not just because of the absence of a public option, but it is also a very important beginning, and it represents a triumph over a fiercely-united, know-nothing Republican minority, which was paid tens of millions of dollars by the medical-industrial complex to prevent anything from passing.
       When David Gregory pointed out yesterday that the president’s approval ratings are still sliding downward, White House counselor David Axelrod was perfectly correct to point out that no poll numbers will really matter until October of next year, on the eve of the next Congressional election.  And if health care reform is accompanied by a genuinely rebounding economy, all of the predictions of massive Democratic losses in that election may prove to be unfounded.

        But despite these “green shoots” of optimism, the Obama administration still faces a gigantic political problem because of the way it has treated Wall Street.  Even if the financial reform bill Barney Frank is shepherding through the House survives a much more conservative Senate, this administration must finally put some real muscle behind its anti-Wall Street rhetoric.

        Of course it was welcome to hear the president tell Steve Croft, “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of…fat cat bankers on Wall Street. Nothing has been more frustrating to me this year than having to salvage a financial system at great expense to taxpayers that was precipitated, that was caused in part by completely irresponsible actions on Wall Street.”  But now he must do something decisive to dispel the idea that the administration’s first priority is to keep Goldman Sachs happy.  And the best way to do that would be to embrace the powerful  advice of two middle-of-the-road Democrats and one very-slightly-left-of-center newspaper.

        Eliot Spitzer is the undisputed master of how to investigate Wall Street fraud to propel a political career, and the Obama administration could learn volumes from studying Spitzer’s tenure as New York’s attorney general.  Spitzer’s proposal to force a government-owned A.I.G. to make public all of its emails is good policy and good politcs.  So is Ed Koch’s admonition to focus the Justice Department’s attention on the bankers who knowingly participated in the massive fraud which came so close to destroying the economy.  And the windfall tax advocated by The New York Times could be the single most popular policy change the president could champion.
       Earlier this month the Senate Judiciary Committee summoned Robert Khuzami, the enforcement director of the Securities and Exchange Commission; Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general of the criminal division at the Justice Department; and Kevin Perkins, the F.B.I.’s assistant director in charge of its criminal investigative division, to find out why it is taking so long to hold anyone accountable for Wall Street’s criminal shenanigans. 

        “Why aren’t we seeing more board room prosecutions?” Ted Kaufman, Democratic senator of Delaware, demanded.  Assistant attorney general Breuer replied that the cases were “complicated,” and would take a long time to investigate, “but they will be brought.”

        Khuzami said the S.E.C. had already gone after top officials in the mortgage industry–like Angelo R. Mozilo, the head of Countrywide Financial–but he too said that other areas of the financial industry were a bit more complicated to investigate.  And the FBI’s man said that a new interagency financial fraud enforcement task force created only last month would speed up the process, and could lead to more prosecutions down the road.
       This is much too little,  too late.  What we need now is a president who will match not only the rhetoric but also the bravery of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the greatest American president of the 20th Century.

        These were Roosevelt’s words during his first re-election campaign in 1936.  Obama must now find  the courage to adopt Roosevelt’s tone, and his policies:

         We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.  They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

         Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.  I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

            From FDR’s lips to Obama’s ears.




Special thanks to FCP contributors DEK and JWS.

Danner v. Cheney


Above the Fold

   Our own era, I am convinced, will be remembered for the American Government’s official development of, its placing the country’s legal imprimatur on, and Americans’ acceptance of, the techniques and practice of torture.

                                                                                             – Mark Danner, December 16, 2009

    This week Mark Danner synthesized the most important points from all of his articles and books about torture for the Irving Howe Memorial Lecture, which he delivered at the graduate center of the City University of New York.

    As I have pointed out before, when the history of this era is written, Danner will be remembered as one of a handful of journalists who summoned the necessary outrage to alert his readers to the horrendous costs of America’s broad embrace of torture during the Bush years.   Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, Scott Horton of Harper’s, Andy Rosenthal of The New York Times editorial page, Glenn Greenwald of Salon and Jon Stewart–yes, Jon Stewart–all deserve praise for their superb efforts in this area,  but none more so than Danner.

    Danner is a professor at Bard and the University of California at  Berkeley, where, he noted wryly, ex-Bush administration torture-enabler John Yoo is now his colleague: “I can hear the demonstrators down the street in front of his house.” 

   Earlier this year, Danner broke the story of the Red Cross report on American torture practices  in the New York Review of Books and an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

    This week he began his lecture by quoting Irving Howe on George Orwell’s 1984:

    The book appalls us because its terror, far from being inherent in the “human condition,” is particular to our century; what haunts us is the sickening awareness that in 1984 Orwell has seized upon those elements of our public life that, given courage and intelligence, were avoidable.

    Danner argued that courage and intelligence were exactly what had been needed to prevent America from falling into the abyss of torture.  He also noted the deadening similarities between our endless war on terror, and the permanent war among Oceania, Urasia and Eastasia depicted in 1984.

    Danner’s lecture was entitled “Escaping the State of Exception: Torture and Truth, Obama and Us,” and he reminded his listeners that America had endured many previous  “states of exception:”

* “The most famous:” when Lincoln  suspended habeas corpus and took other measures solely on his own authority in the months after his inauguration in 1861;

* John Adams’ imprisonment of hundreds of political opponents in 1798 and 1799 in the run up to an expected war with revolutionary France;

* Woodrow Wilson’s imprisonment and deportation of thousands who spoke out against the country’s entry into World War I;

* Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to imprison 110,000 Japanese-Americans afer Pearl Harbor – the great majority of them American citizens.

    So, Danner concluded, “we have been here before.”   But while each of these previous “exceptions” occurred within the confines of a well-defined event, like the Civil War or World War II–and thus ended along with those conflicts–elements of the current state of exception could last as long as the endless war on terror.  

   “So far,” Danner declared, “those elements have included wholesale arrest and long-term detention of aliens on American soil; massive wiretapping of Americans without benefit of a warrant, as prescribed by law; ‘extraordinary rendition’—secret kidnapping–of large numbers of foreign citizens on foreign soil and their transfer to other countries for interrogation or to secret American facilities; establishment of offshore prisons, the most notorious of which the one at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the long-term detention without trial of hundreds and, taken as a whole, thousands of prisoners; establishment of secret prisons–so-called “black sites”–for covert and prolonged detention of prisoners; and finally the development of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ so-called EITs, making use of suffocation, battery, close confinement and other measures and their widespread use on detainees held in secret prisons.”

    Danner said Barack Obama deserved praise for ending torture in the first week of his administration, and for this passage in the speech he gave last week when he accepted the Nobel in Oslo:

    “All nations–strong and weak alike–must adhere to standards that govern the use of force.    I–like any head of state–reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation.   Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates - and weakness–those who don’t….Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct.  And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.

    On the other hand, so far there has been no renouncement of rendition, and Obama has said repeatedly that when it comes to torture, he wants to “look forward,” not “back.”  Danner called that “a pernicious phrase, and, if held to consistently, would preclude all punishment and prosecution, [because] rendering justice, by definition, implies looking backward.  But the political costs of justice, at least that provided by prosecution, are very great; for we live still in the ‘politics of fear.’”

    The main actor in keeping that fear alive, of course, has been former vice president Dick Cheney, who began his relentless assault on the current administration barely a week after it took office, and continued it by scheduling a speech on terror which he delivered almost simultaneously with one Obama gave on the same subject.  Danner quoted several of Cheney’s core arguments, including these:

 * “If it hadn’t been for what we did—with respect to the…enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees…—then we would have been attacked again. Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US….

 * “I think there’s a high probability of [another] such an attempt. Whether or not they can pull it off depends [on] whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States….”

    Danner called  these “dark admonitions,” which are “both exculpatory, pointing back to what the administration did and justifying it, and minatory, warning about what will happen in the future and laying down a predicate for who will be blamed.”  Partly because of them, “Congress has been reluctant to vote funds for the President’s plan to close Guantanamo, fearful of warning cries that the new president will be ‘putting terrorists in our neighborhoods.’ And we see its effect in the increasing refusal to release photographs and memoranda, and the increasing willingness to take positions similar to the Bush administration when it comes to lawsuits regarding torture and detainee rights.”   

    The decision “that expresses most purely the ambivalence of the Obama Administration…is the decision not to bring criminal investigations against those who have tortured – or rather to do so only in the case of those who have gone beyond the Bush Administration’s immensely wide guidelines.”

    Danner is not opposed to broad prosecutions of those responsible for formulating the Bush administration’s torture policies, but the professor is more practical than polemica– and he sees no possibility of such prosecutions in the current political climate.   Therefore, he argues that the road to justice must run through education, which should take the form of a truth commission, “to investigate what was done in the realm of interrogation, who did it, what it accomplished and, not least, how it hurt the country. For the priority must be not destroying the torturers but destroying the idea of torture.”

    Danner cited poll numbers showing that many more people in America now believe that torture is sometimes necessary than their counterparts in Europe, or Egypt, or most other countries of the world:

    There are many reasons for this – the myth of the ticking bomb, the desire for harsh justice expressed from the American Western to Dirty Harry – but it is clear these attitudes are deep seated and damaging. They represent the stark reality of a society that, post-9/11 – has come to accept torture. It is only through an effort to change those attitudes that we can approach a state of justice.

    So far, there hasn’t even been any broad political pressure to create a truth commission, much less the political will to prosecute those who sanctioned torture.   Under these circumstances, the road back to sanity and justice is likely to be very long indeed.


The President and the Nobel

 Above the Fold

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

                                         –Martin Luther King Jr., Riverside Church, 1967

“Perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars.”                              

                                          –President Barack Obama, Oslo, 2009

    Barack Obama gave the best speech he could last week–given the fact that he had decided to expand the war in Afghanistan just ten days before he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.   He nodded to Gandhi and quoted the speech Martin Luther King gave when  he  accepted the Nobel : “Violence never brings permanent peace.  It solves no social problem:  it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” 

   Obama added, “As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence.  I know there’s nothing weak – nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone.”

    It’s true that presidents do not have the same freedom of action as civil rights leaders.  But it is also true that Martin Luther King’s decision to oppose to the War in Vietnam was one of the best and most important things he ever did–even though it brought him the opprobrium of practically the entire white liberal establishment at the time.

    Just like Lyndon Johnson, Obama has chosen to commit American blood and treasure to a deeply corrupt government which lacks the support of most of his citizens, without any real plan for victory, or even much of a benchmark for success.  And in Obama’s latest speech we also hear another echo of LBJ, who was forever invoking the ghost of appeasement in Europe in the 1930’s as a reason for American adventurism in the 1960’s: “A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies,” Obama declared in Oslo.

    It is Obama, rather than his critics, who has misread the historical lessons of Vietnam.   Here, I believe, we are paying a serious price for having elected a president who is too young to have any adult memories of Vietnam.

    Naturally, Obama tried hard to put the best face on America’s infatuation with war:
“Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this:  The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.  The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.  We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will.  We have done so out of enlightened self-interest – because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.”

    Obama also said, “America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens.”   That’s true, but our closest friends also include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and many other governments which are famously contemptuous of the rights of their citizens.

    But the biggest part of recent American history Obama needed to ignore to portray us as democracy’s defender is our shameful role as chief arms merchant to the world.   Not since Jimmy Carter was president has anyone made even a cursory effort to restrain American arms makers from selling their most expensive weapons to many of the poorest nations in the world.

    Only once in the last thirty years did the world pay any attention to the consequences of the fervent competition among the developed nations to sell every tank and missile and airplane they can to the undeveloped ones.   That occurred after Saddam Hussein’s remarkably quick and successful invasion of Kuwait.

    As one historian has noted:
    Observers were initially struck by the speed and brazenness of the invasion, which could only be viewed as a willful violation of international law. But another aspect of the invasion also sparked international attention: the fact that Iraqi forces were equipped with very large numbers of sophisticated weapons that had been obtained from foreign suppliers. During the previous eight years Iraq had spent an estimated $43 billion on imported weapons, giving it the most modern and powerful arsenal of any nation in the developing world. Many of these arms were supplied by the Soviet Union (long Iraq’s major supplier), but others were acquired from France and other Western countries. This led to widespread charges that the major suppliers bore some degree of responsibility for Iraq’s aggressive behavior, in that they had provided the means for mounting the 1990 invasion.

    In the aftermath of Kuwait, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council met twice in 1991 and pledged to develop new controls on the international arms trade.  But before the next scheduled meeting of the group of five took place in 1992, to formalize the restrictions, the first president Bush decided sell 150 F-16 fighter planes to Taiwan.  A furious China withdrew from the negotiations, which gave everyone else an excuse to boycott them–and they have never been revived since.

    During the administration of the second President Bush, foreign arms sales exploded–from $12 billion in 2005 to $32 billion in 2008.  As Eric Lipton noted  in a fine story in The New York Times last year,

    The United States has long been the top arms supplier to the world. In the past several years, however, the list of nations that rely on the United States as a primary source of major weapons systems has greatly expanded. Among the recent additions are Argentina, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Georgia, India, Iraq, Morocco and Pakistan, according to sales data through the end of last month provided by the Department of Defense. Cumulatively, these countries signed $870 million worth of arms deals with the United States from 2001 to 2004. For the past four fiscal years, that total has been $13.8 billion.  In many cases, these sales represent a cultural shift, as nations like Romania, Poland and Morocco, which have long relied on Russian-made MIG-17 fighter jets, are now buying new F-16s, built by Lockheed Martin.

    This is just the tip of the military-industrial complex Obama confronts as president, and he has gotten practically no pressure from anyone to confront it head on.

    The key moment in the Afghanistan debate occurred in London at the end of September when General Stanley McChrystal rejected the possibility of scaling back the American war effort there.   This was a clear act of insubordination, which, in another time and place, would have led to the general’s firing. 

   That, of course, is the way Harry Truman dealt with General Douglas MacArthur when he ignored the president’s wishes during the Korean War.

    But this time no one ever thought McChrystal would be fired.   Justin Feldman, the wisest political analyst I know, observed that if Defense Secretary Robert Gates had responded to the London speech the way he should have–by firing McChrystal–Obama would at least have had the option of rejecting his demand for tens of thousands of additional troops.   “Obama was boxed in politically as a new president,” Feldman said.   “He has too much on his plate–and if Gates wouldn’t fire McChrystal, Obama couldn’t afford to have Gates and McChrystal bail out on him.”

    So instead of the dramatic change so many of us hoped for when we cast our ballots for president 13 months ago, when it comes to war and peace, it seems we will mostly continue to see more of the same.



Leo Siqueira of Brazil’s canal da imprensa interviews FCP about Obama here.

Afghanistan, the Economy, and Obama's “Anti-MacArthur Moment”

The President at West Point                           Job losses January 2008–November 2009

  Above the Fold

     “The longer we delay the process [of withdrawal] and the harder we try to prevent it, the more certain it is that the Taliban will dominate. This has been uniformly true of insurgencies for the last two centuries all over the world: those who fought hardest against the foreigners took control.”   -William R. Polk         


      Give credit to the victors.  Their campaign was nothing short of brilliant.  Like the policy brigands they were, they ambushed the president, held him up with their threats, brought to bear key media players and Republican honchos, and in the end made off with the loot.”    - Tom Englelhardt 

                                                                                                          Barack Obama’s week began with a deeply dubious policy decision and ended with a huge, early-Christmas present.  The misstep was his decision to continue his steady escalation of the war in Afghanistan; the gift was a very surprising improvement in the economy, the shedding of just 11,000 American jobs, which could signal an earlier-than-expected end to the recession.

       The question is whether the economic recovery will ever be strong enough to compensate for the black hole of war, which drains more and more billions from our economy every year. 

      The most useful analysis of Afghanistan FCP has encountered recently is also the most depressing one: William R. Polk’s “Let America Be America,” posted last month as a guest editorial on Juan Cole’s indispensable blog.         

      These are some of Polk’s most trenchant observations: 

* “For the first time that I know of in recent American history, the uniformed military have created what amounts to a pressure group of their own. Generals Petraeus and McChrystal are the leaders but, by influencing or controlling promotions panels, they have fostered the advancement of middle grade and junior officers who agree with them. Some have been brought into a group called ‘the Colonels’ council.’ And numbers of retired senior officers have joined not only in what President Eisenhower called the ‘military-industrial complex’ but have become the opinion-makers on foreign policy in the media.” 

*   Obama “must hope that the general public will reach the conclusion that ‘staying the course’ is costly, does not work and is pointless. But, if [he]waits until a course of action is completely evident to everyone, it will be probably be too late to implement easily, cleanly and in command of our principal objectives. Thus, a large part of a president’s responsibility is educating the public.” 

* “As the current Russian ambassador and long-time KBG expert on Afghan affairs, Zamir N. Kabulov, has commented, there is no mistake the Russians made that has not been copied by the Americans.” 

* America probably lost its last, best chance to convince most Afghans of the legitimacy of a new national government seven years ago, when it ignored the wishes of two thirds of the delegates to a loya jirga (a national meeting of tribal councils), who signed a petition to make the exiled Afghan King, Zahir Shah, president of an interim government. “But we had already decided that Hamid Kara was ‘our man in Kabul’ and did not want the Afghanis to interfere with our choice..As Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason reported…. ‘This was the Afghan equivalent to the 1964 Diem Coup in Vietnam; afterward, there was no possibility of creating a stable secular government.’ While an Afghan king could have conferred legitimacy on an elected leader in Afghanistan; without one, as they put it, ‘an elected president is a on a one-legged stool.’”  

* “At our current level of activity - before the introduction of more troops - we are “burning”…about $60 billion a year. Next year, our direct costs will probably rise to at least $100 billion. And even that figure will surely rise in the years to come. So the Congressionally allocated funds in the coming few years under even the most modest form of “staying the course” would amount to a minimum of $600 billion and more likely to much more…. This is money that we don’t have and will have to borrow form overseas.” 

* “General McChrystal has told us that we must have large numbers of additional troops to hold the territory we ‘clear.’ He echoes what the Russian commanders told the Politburo: in a report on November 13, 1986, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev commented that the Russians attempted the same strategy but admitted that it failed. ‘There is no piece of land in Afghanistan,’ he said, ‘that has not been occupied by one of or soldiers at some time or another. Nevertheless, much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centers, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize … Without a lot more men, this war will continue for a very, very long time.’” 

      At the heart of the president’s argument for an escalation is the idea that we must–at all costs–deny al-Qaeda a renewed sanctuary in Afghanistan.  But this idea ignores two essential facts: 1) it is far beyond our capacity to deny al-Qaeda sanctuary everywhere else–from Somalia to Germany, and 2) whatever benefit we may gain from denying them Afghanistan is far outweighed by the huge damage we are doing to our security by guaranteeing the recruitment of thousands of new terrorists through our continued involvement in what is now an eight-year-old war. 

      Polk thinks the best chance we have of creating a manageable situation lies with the Pakistanis.  It may be a long shot, but its chances of success strike me as far greater than what we can expect from a continuing escalation of American involvement.  Polk writes, 

      The Pakistanis have a long history with the Taliban, know them intimately, have subsidized them and have sought in the Taliban a barrier against Indian infiltration of their backyard, Afghanistan. That long-term interest remains despite the current conflict. And, at base, the Pakistanis share with the Afghanis, religion, a population of nearly 30 million Pashtuns and the desire to preserve their neighborhood from foreign control. Thus, I believe that in the coming months, they will do what neither the Russians nor we have been able to do – bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. This move would offer a wise American president an opening to begin the process of turning over the war to our ally Pakistan. 

      Meanwhile, over at TomDispatch, Tom Engelhardt identifies the single most depressing aspect of the president’s decision: 

      It’s been a long time coming, but finally American war commanders have effectively marshaled their forces, netcentrically outmaneuvering and outflanking the enemy.  They have shocked-and-awed their opponents, won the necessary hearts-and-minds, and so, for the first time in at least two decades, stand at the heights of success, triumphant at last. And no, I’m not talking about post-surge Iraq and certainly not about devolving Afghanistan.  I’m talking about what’s happening in Washington. You may not think so, but on Tuesday night from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in his first prime-time presidential address to the nation, Barack Obama surrendered.   

      Engelhardt calls this Obama’s “anti-MacArthur moment,” and I’m afraid that’s exactly what it was.  Engelhardt recalls, “In April 1951, in the midst of the Korean War, President Harry Truman relieved Douglas MacArthur of command of American forces.  He did so because the general, a far grander public figure than either McChrystal or Centcom commander Petraeus (and with dreams of his own about a possible presidential run), had publicly disagreed with, and interfered with, Truman’s plans to ‘limit’ the war after the Chinese intervened.” 

      This failure is as much the fault of the left as it is the president’s.  Somehow we managed to convince ourselves that simply by electing a new president, we could achieve a fundamental change of direction in America.  But, as usual, after being beaten at the ballot box, the right wing has redoubled its efforts to maintain control over the American political process, while the left remains just as impotent as it was during the Bush years. 

      In the long run, the good economic news at the end of the week may be more important to Obama’s long-term fortunes than his poor judgment about the war.   A resurgent economy in 2010 could prevent Republicans gains in the House and Senate in the fall. 

      However, it now seems just as likely that Obama’s flawed foreign policy will cripple his other ambitions for change–just as Lyndon Johnson’s repeated failure to face down his own generals in Vietnam fatally crippled him. 

Special thanks to FCP contributor JWS.