This week’s column is about the way the President apparently micromanages drone strikes and now bombing in Syria—and how that’s just a symptom of a much bigger problem.

Remember the “kill list”? In 2012, the New York Times broke the shocking story that President Obama hand selects the targets for drone bombing campaigns in Middle Eastern countries like Pakistan and Yemen. The irony was sharp and the ethical concerns sharper:

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

Now, as air strikes begin in Syria in an attempt to stop the advance of ISIS, it seems Obama’s extremely hands-on war management style continues: The Wall Street Journal reports that “Obama plans to tightly control strikes in Syria.”

Just how tight will that control be? Well, I’ll give you a hint: It sounds a lot like the control he exercises over drone strikes:

The U.S. military campaign against Islamist militants in Syria is being designed to allow President Barack Obama to exert a high degree of personal control, going so far as to require that the military obtain presidential signoff for strikes in Syrian territory, officials said. […] By demanding the Pentagon gets his signoff on any strikes in Syria, Mr. Obama can better ensure the operation remain focused on his main goal for that part of the campaign: weakening the militants’ hold on territory in neighboring Iraq.

Sounds familiar, right?

Obama has been accused of micromanaging in the past. Back in 2009 the charge came up regarding economic policy. In 2006 he reportedly said, “I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it. It’s hard to give up control when that’s all I’ve known.” In 2011, the First Lady emphasized how detail-focused her husband tends to be, saying he “reads every word, every memo, so he is better prepared than the people briefing him.”

There’s an extent to which that diligence is a good thing, and a welcome contrast to Obama’s more recent reputation for claiming ignorance of all kinds of important things. So I’m not interested in attempting some sort of pop psychology analysis of Obama’s plan to handpick the targets and people he bombs.

Maybe, as some have suggested, it’s a guilt thing. Or maybe, as others have posited, Obama is attempting to take the role of restrainer of the dogs of war. Or maybe, as the President himself supposedly said, he’s just “really good at killing people.”

I don’t know which, if any, of these, is the reason behind the President’s decision to micromanage these wars. Again, I’m not a psychologist.

No, what I see here is a much bigger problem—namely an out-of-control presidency which would have too much authority whether the President were Republican or Democrat, smart or dumb, a micromanager or an easygoing delegator.

Read the whole thing here.

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This is why I don’t trust my local police department

Posted on September 15, 2014 at 11.32 am

This week’s column is kind of an amalgamation of stories I’ve shared recently on Tumblr about how out-of-control my city’s police have become. 

About a year ago, I moved to St. Paul, Minn. for grad school. It’s been great living here, but I must say, I’m worried about my dog’s safety. My worry doesn’t stem from concerns about traffic, crime, or environmental hazards.

No, I’m worried because of the Saint Paul Police Department.

In July, there was a story about a family whose two dogs were executed by police during a no-knock raid for marijuana possession in a St. Paul neighborhood just a few miles from my house. The family says one dog was shot as he fled in fear; the raid, meanwhile, produced minimal evidence to feed the hungry maw of the trillion-dollar failurethat is thewar on drugs.

“All of a sudden, we see the dogs thrown out like pieces of meat, like they were nothing,” said a neighbor of the family whose dogs were shot. “We teared up because they are like family to us. Those dogs are real good dogs.”

This isn’t an isolated incident for the SPPD. Just a few years ago, the Saint Paul Police killed another family dog…and forced handcuffed children to sit next to its bleeding corpse for more than an hour while they ransacked the home.

The kicker? The raid wasn’t even in the right house!

That family whose dog was killed wasn’t suspected of any crime. Is my dog next?

And it’s not just dogs that are in danger of SPPD brutality, as evidenced by a new report. This time, a young father named Chris Lollie was arrested while waiting to pick up his kids from school. The charges were “Trespassing, Disorderly Conduct, and Obstructing Legal Process.” Police claimed he refused to leave an area reserved for employees of the bank building he was in. However, not only were there no signs indicating that the location was private, but Lollie wasn’t even in the bank proper; he was in the skyway.

Read the whole thing here.

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In a perfect libertarian world, the 2003 invasion of Iraq would never have happened; ISIS probably wouldn’t exist; and if it did exist, there would be no suggestion that we’re obligated to go on yet another war. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world—but I still don’t think more war is necessary or helpful.

Given the ongoing and inevitable fact that Washington is/will continue to be involved in trying to “fix” this mess, I’d rather food and medicine be the fix. Do I want government doing charity? No, of course not. But if we must act in Iraq, let’s at least try something that doesn’t kill people and make them hate us. (Emergency relief aid—not nation-building—would likely also be a heck of a lot cheaper.)

The extremist-fueled sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Syria are, by all accounts, unspeakably awful. ISIS has reportedly crucified peopleburied women and children alive, decimated historic Christian communities, and even beheaded children.

And so here in the States, the clamor for President Obama to do something seems to grow louder by the day. That’s largely why President Obama unveiled a potentially multi-year plan of air strikes in a nationally televised address on Wednesday. Even those who tend to oppose military intervention, like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, have argued that fighting ISIS is somehow different — that the president must take decisive action — that this, finally, is “the right war.”

In many less-hawkish circles, much of the desire to dosomething is motivated by the role U.S. foreign policy played in creating a climate in which ISIS can thrive. As Paul argued, “Our recent foreign policy has allowed radical jihadists to proliferate.” He’s right. The last decade of meandering, ill-justified war in Iraq in particular has made America complicit in ISIS’s rise. There would be no ISIS had America not invaded Iraq in 2003.

And while I appreciate Paul’s provision of a more measured response than has been supplied by the likes of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), I can’t follow him in his call for more war. Dropping bombs and trillions of dollars into a situation we clearly don’t understand and can’t control hasn’t worked yet, and it’s naïve to believe it will start working now. In the words of the Decider of the 2003 invasion, “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — can’t get fooled again.”

Likewise, the refrain that ISIS, like past Middle Eastern monsters, is an existential threat to American security fails to convince. As Bruce Fein has ably demonstrated, it is laughable to suggest that ISIS could successfully make war on American territory — and it is equally ridiculous to listen to those very fearmongers who claim otherwise as they attempt to make further war inevitable.

Yet I, too, can’t shake the feeling of responsibility. Now, I never supported war in Iraq in any sense more meaningful than a 15-year-old’s ingenuous assumption that the president wouldn’t screw up so important an issue. Today, I (and a majority of Americans) deem the Iraq war a failure. But the long-term impact of American intervention can’t be negated by ignoring it or wishing it away.

So what can America to do help? And by help, I mean actually help, in a very literal sense of the word, not deploying drones for democracy or some such nonsense. What if, instead of sending bombs and weapons, we only sent relief aid: food, medicine, and evacuation opportunities? Indeed, continued humanitarian aid is a part of Obama’s strategy. But it should be the only part.

Read the whole thing here.

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