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Obama Is Wrong on War Powers

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Posted on Jun 20, 2011
U.S. Army / Staff Sgt. Michael Sparks

By Eugene Robinson

Let’s be honest: President Barack Obama’s claim that U.S. military action in Libya doesn’t constitute “hostilities” is nonsense, and Congress is right to call him on it.

Blasting dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s troops and installations from above with unmanned drone aircraft may or may not be the right thing to do, but it’s clearly a hostile act. Likewise, providing intelligence, surveillance and logistical support that enable allied planes to attack Gadhafi’s military—and, increasingly, to target Gadhafi himself—can only be considered hostile. These are acts of war.

Yet Obama, with uncommon disregard for both language and logic, takes the position that what we are doing in Libya does not reach the “hostilities” threshold for triggering the War Powers Act, under which presidents must seek congressional approval for any military campaign lasting more than 90 days. House Speaker John Boehner said Obama’s claim doesn’t meet the “straight-face test,” and he’s right.

To be sure, Boehner is also playing politics. In the past, he has argued that the War Powers Act is “constitutionally suspect” because it seeks to tie the hands of the commander in chief. I don’t believe it’s accidental that Boehner’s newfound respect for the much-disputed law coincides with the Republican Party’s electoral stance, which is that every single thing Obama has ever done is wrong.

But the law remains in force and, while presidents of both parties routinely find ways around it, they usually find a more credible dodge than asking, “War? What war?”

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When he authorized the Libya campaign, Obama said U.S. involvement would last “days, not weeks.” He got the “not weeks” part right, at least: The military effort to oust Gadhafi is entering its fourth month, with no end in sight.

It’s no surprise that progressives in Congress, such as Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, would cite the War Powers Act to challenge a sitting president who made the unilateral decision to wage war. What’s new is the significant anti-war sentiment we’ve heard from Republicans, especially those identified with the tea party movement.

For decades, the GOP has favored a robust, interventionist foreign policy that relies heavily on a willingness to use military power. This may be changing, as contrarian Republican voices—call them neo-isolationists, constitutionalists or even peaceniks—demand to be heard.

Despite taking the ridiculous position that bombing is not a hostile act, Obama is likely to win this tug of war with Capitol Hill. Boehner has been cool to the idea of deploying Congress’ only real weapon, the power of the purse; any attempt to block funding of the Libya operation could be portrayed as abandonment of “the troops.” And whatever happens in the House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has indicated that he backs Obama’s view. We’ll probably hear a lot of sound and fury but see little impact.

But I hope I’m wrong. The nation’s interests would be much better served if we had an open debate about the Libya campaign—and, by extension, the proper use of U.S. military power in a fast-changing world.

Do we use military force to protect civilians who are in imminent danger of being massacred by forces loyal to a despotic regime? That was the rationale for intervening in Libya. But what about Syria, where a massacre of freedom-seeking civilians has been under way for weeks? What about Yemen, where civilians have been dying in the streets? 

And what about the civilians who are being killed accidentally, such as the nine who reportedly died Sunday when an errant NATO missile strayed into a residential neighborhood of Tripoli? Is there a point at which the death and destruction of a drawn-out civil war surpass anything Gadhafi’s forces might have done had they rolled unopposed into rebel-held Benghazi?

Most important, what are we doing there? Are we in Libya for altruistic or selfish reasons? Principles or oil? Assuming Gadhafi is eventually deposed or killed, then what? Do we just sail away? Or will we be stuck with yet another ruinously expensive exercise in nation-building?

And there’s a moral question to consider. The advent of robotic drone aircraft makes it easier to wage war without suffering casualties. But without risk, can military action even be called war? Or is it really just slaughter?

An intellectual president such as Obama should be able to lead a search for answers to these tough questions. As soon as he gets a better grasp on the definition of “hostilities.”

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group


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By James Housel, June 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is important, likewise, that the habits of
thinking in a free country should inspire caution in
those entrusted with its administration, to confine
themselves within their respective constitutional
spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of
one department to encroach upon another. The spirit
of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of
all the departments in one, and thus to create,
whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A
just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to
abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is
sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this
position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the
exercise of political power, by dividing and
distributing it into different depositaries, and
constituting each the guardian of the public weal
against invasions by the others, has been evinced by
experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our
country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must
be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the
opinion of the people, the distribution or
modification of the constitutional powers be in any
particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment
in the way which the Constitution designates. But let
there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in
one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is
the customary weapon by which free governments are
destroyed. The precedent must always greatly
overbalance in permanent evil any partial or
transient benefit, which the use can at any time
yield

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By Amanullah Ibrahim, June 23, 2011 at 12:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hey Barack Obama,

Bush Jr made a irreversible and terrible mistake
pointing his guns to IRAQ and the next thing you were
the savior cleaning the shit.  Now you have further
aggravated by getting involved into Libya and god
knows which Arabic country is next….......

Have U thought about the Israeli regime….....?

How would U feel if others call you guys the managers
of the US regime…sounds good eh…. 

At this rate you guys are going,there will be no
arabic country that may be a safe haven for US
regime’s citizens to travel freely.  Why are the
arabs going all out against the Americans.  There
must be a valid reason and I am absolutely positive
that your regime’s CIA knows about it or rather your
regime is just blurring the info… Just sit and look
back.

your paternal religion is Islam while your maternal
is christianity so where do you stand….....

Michele says she is proud to be standing in S/Africa
because of those who fought against oppression.  You
are creating that oppression.  What on earth are you
two doing.  Is it dramatized act and you have to tow
the line off the oppressors hiding behind some
regimes curtains…......

Bush is in virtual solitary confinement, self
inflicted punishment, thinking of the many thousands
of coffins that he had received both from IRAQ and
Agfanistan. I think this surpassed the twin towers
tragedy numbers and the coffins are still coming back
home, home of the arrogant regime.
This is as a result of the many curses of the
families of the loved ones… who still suffer

Do you need to be punished liked that too or you
would one day see your children suffer for daddy’s
mistakes - while mummy can only cry.

What had happened to the many Turkish innocent NGOs
that died due to Israeli regime’s sea blockade attack
a year ago.  I did not read about the drone attacks
from the US regime toward tel aviv..in support of the
public service..

Interesting enough, the US regime is not a signatory
to the IJC - internationa court of justice but you
prevail as an imposter policing the world…...

Look back on the mirror Barack or you will become
another Mubarack…...........or so

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LetIdB's avatar

By LetIdB, June 22, 2011 at 7:06 pm Link to this comment

This is a tempest in a teapot.  That Obama did not get congressional consent to
involve our country in contesting one of two dozen current hateful dictators in
the world (more are on the horizon) is a red herring.  Congress would have
approved our involvement anyway. 

War is our opiate, and we do it more often and more devastatingly than do the
other countries of the world COMBINED.  Please don’t blame that on Obama, or
even our senators and congresspersons.  We elect these folks and we the
people get off on war.  It’s so-o-o much simpler than trying to understand
unregulated hedge funds, oil futures/commodities/speculation, sub-prime
mortgages and those other complexities that are devastating our economy.

My fear is that even in the best of economic times, we Americans would still
love our wars, and would jump on the next opportunity for one as soon as
some Haliburton-lobbied pol tells us that some bad guy(s) need our frontier
justice right now.  (Doubt it?  Can you say Viet Nam?)

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By Carol Davidek-Waller, June 22, 2011 at 1:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a president with only a vestigial conscience and no experience of war.
Fortunately, the Constitution does not give him the power to wage war or to lie to us about what he is doing.
Step up to the plate Congress; cut off the cash. I voted for him but I would happily see him impeached. His overreaching exceeds even that of Cheney, one of the most reviled political figures in US history.

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By Lew Ciefer, June 22, 2011 at 11:22 am Link to this comment

@ Billy Pilgrim, June 21 at 5:41 am

Go Right:  Your childish rant does not change the fact
that Bush is the worst President in history.

Wrong! Dubya tied Jimma Carter for that dishonor but Obama is worse than both of them together. Dems have really blown it this time. Why didn’t you guys elect Nancy Peloser? At least we’d be entertained trying to spot her fingers moving that cable that she has to work that sardonic Botoxed smile.

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By drklassen, June 22, 2011 at 5:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Drone attacks are not war, they are assassination attempts.

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, June 22, 2011 at 12:41 am Link to this comment

” This thread, this issue, this context has little to do with your
personal problems with the Shrub.” @ GoRightYoungMan

Would be wonderful if the problems with the GHWBushSr/Zionist
entourage were limited to those of a personal nature with Billy
Pilgrim, instead of the USA and the entire world.

The all-inclusiveness of the most recent passage of the Patriot Act
can scarcely be further extended.  Any weak spots are covered by the
powers of FEMA in collusion with the USMilitary.

The intimacy GRYM displays with knowledge of the GHWBushSr family
tends to suggest that the GRYM cubicle is located on subject ranch.
One wonders if the cubicle is next to that of Ozark Michael.

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By brewerstroupe, June 21, 2011 at 6:44 pm Link to this comment

“are you too willing to blithely overlook the charges brought against Gaddafi at the European Court of Justice”

So far as I know, the Court is “looking into” charges against Gadhafi but help me here.

Is this the Court that is not recognised by either Israel or America?

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, June 21, 2011 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment

VIDEO: Minister Farrakhan: ‘That’s a Murderer in the White House’
By: Nsenga Burton | Posted: June 15, 2011

A YouTube video of Minister Louis Farrakhan taking President Obama to task over the war in Afghanistan and the bombing of Libya is making its way around the Web. - “We voted for our brother Barack, a beautiful human being with a sweet heart, and now he’s an assassin.

Farrakhan is visibly angry at Obama’s leadership of America’s intervention in the crisis in Libya, particularly his focus on bringing down Muammar Qaddafi. He says that people do not know Qaddafi like he does, and he’s a “decent man”.

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By Go Right Young Man, June 21, 2011 at 5:46 pm Link to this comment

My childish rant, BiLLy?

George Bush is living quietly in Texas at this very minute.  No phantom “Neo-Cons” extending and expanding the Patriot Act.  No evil FrankenCheney listening in on today’s expanded domestic Signal Intelligence protocols.  There is no Conservative Cabal relying so heavily on a ten-fold increase in summary executions of “suspect” terrorists.  The Commander-In-Chief’s name is Barrak Obama.  This thread, this issue, this context has little to do with your personal problems with the Shrub.

Today is June 21, 2011.

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By Marc Schlee, June 21, 2011 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s either war or it’s murder.


FREE AMERICA

REVOLUTIONARY (DIRECT) DEMOCRACY

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By Lafayette, June 21, 2011 at 4:24 pm Link to this comment

OUTRAGE

ER: they usually find a more credible dodge than asking, “War? What war?”they usually find a more credible dodge than asking, “War? What war?”

But there is no “war”. At the very most it is aN insurgency rebellion and at the very least it is an armed conflict or hostilities.

Where was your outrage, pray tell, when the Serbs were slaughtering Muslims in Kosovo and NATO was called in to bomb the Serbs into submission? 

Yes, the War Powers Act is bad legislation. Let’s get rid of it, which is the bona fide complaint to make.

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By Lafayette, June 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm Link to this comment

WORD GAMES

ER: Blasting dictator Moammar Gadhafi ’s troops and installations from above with unmanned drone aircraft may or may not be the right thing to do, but it’s clearly a hostile act.

Yet another journalist who is playing with the formality of words.

The “hostilities” were approved by the UN, ER. What more is needed to sooth your tortured soul?

Or are you too willing to blithely overlook the charges brought against Gaddafi at the European Court of Justice, where his murderous acts against his own people form the basis of the complaint deposited before that court?

Who cares if it were drones or helicopters or jet aircraft that bombs his troops, if it forces those same troops to stop bombing civilians.

As they did recently in Misrata, leaving 10 innocent civilians dead. There is no such think as a clean war. There is no such thing as a innocent dictator.

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By drbhelthi, June 21, 2011 at 3:21 pm Link to this comment

“If it is the right thing to bomb an administration that has delivered the
following:  - -  “  @  brewerstroupe

Moammar Gadhafi is the only head of state, especially in the Middle East, who
was not bribed or intimidated into the Bush family fold, at least on a quasi-
basis.  Being vindictive dictator-types, GHWBushSr and oil mogul entourage
reverted to force, in order to overthrow Gadhafi, and gain control of his
“corridor”.

Since N.A.T.O. is the puppet of the GHWBushSr entourage, their marionette
“B.H. Obama” continues the misuse of N.A.T.O. to destroy leaders who resist
becoming prostitutes for the GHWBushSr/Zionist clan, the current “prime
movers” of the USGOV.  Which prime movers hide out among the Democrat and
Republican parties, manipulating both toward the same goal.

As far as the theoretical question, “..... At what point should NATO begin
bombing for regime change in the U.S.?”  Theoretically, an appropriate time
would have been about 1962, when GHWBushSr became the active C.E.O. of the
C.I.A. and began to infiltrate and destroy foreign governments with C.I.A.
agents and operatives.  The videos and reports of John Stockwell, former
C.I.A. station chief, reveal details. 
http://www.addictedtowar.com/dorrel.html#stockwell 
                                                 
Theoretically, a very appropriate time would have been with the election of
Reagan, with GHWBushSr as the “vice” president.  The very latest, appropriate
time would have been with the election of George W. Bush (G.H.W.Bush Jr) to
the U.S.Presidency, 2000.

Isn´t it interesting, that “dictator” Gadhafi had actually implemented in
Libya, all the promises that American politicians have made to Americans for
sixty years, but have not fulfilled?  Of course, the GHWBushSr entourage´s
right-hand, the C.I.A., does not want Americans and the world to know the
truth about Gadhafi, and why “they” want to destroy him, the Libyan folk, and
Libya.  To me it is very sad that the government heads within NATO, especially
the EU, do not realize that they are behaving like prostitutes for the USGOV,
spreading colonization under the guise of democracy. This, while chiding “Israel”
for doing on a small scale, what the USGOV is doing on a world-wide scale - -

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By brewerstroupe, June 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

“Blasting dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s troops and installations from above with unmanned drone aircraft may or may not be the right thing to do”

If it is the right thing to bomb an administration that has delivered the following:

Since 1969 when Gadhafi took power in a bloodless coup:

* The Libyan economy has become the best performing in Africa and has, from time to time, outperform­ed developed countries such as Italy, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and New Zealand. Every citizen receives a dividend, paid into their bank account from the State Oil Industry.

* The literacy rate has gone from 20% to the highest in North Africa; over 82% .

* Education is free and compulsory up to secondary level.

* Universiti­es and higher technical and vocational institutes have gone from zero to 84 (with 12 public universiti­es). Higher education is funded by the State. 1.7 million of 6.4 million Libyans are students.

* Healthcare for every citizen is free, including travel for procedures not available in Libya.

* Crime.
Incarcerat­ion: 173 per 100,000 people (U.S. 743 incarcerat­ed per 100,000)
Murder: 2.2 per 100,000 people (U.S. 5.5 per 100,000)

* Agricultur­e
25-30% of State expenditur­e goes to Agricultur­al projects aimed at freeing Libya from its dependence on imported food.

* No-one is homeless in Libya. Nobody.

..... At what point should NATO begin bombing for regime change in the U.S.?

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By drbhelthi, June 21, 2011 at 1:40 pm Link to this comment

Are we stupid?  The president has a giant Ace still to play.  He’s not Michele
Bachmann or Paul Ryan or any other Republican who would gladly put most Americans in
indentured servitude forever. @ mackTN

Hmmmm. When I review the record of Barack Hussein bin Obama, from two weeks after his
entering the POTUS, it appears that he and his ensemble have steadily, increasingly
placed Americans in indentured servitude.  Americans are serving the USMilitary,
USindustry leadership, the Federal Reserve, the pharmaceutical industry, the American
Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control, and Monsanto. All of whom are
being sponsored by a Kenyan, wearing a name invented by the Ford Foundation, the
Central Intelligence Agency and Miss Ann Dunham. 

Since the mother of the current US presidential imposter was not married either at
the time of his conception, or when he was delivered, and since Dr. Barack H. Obama
had first contact with him when he was six yrs old, his proper family name would be
that of his mother, Dunham.  More appropriately, his given names might be Frank
Marshall or Frank Marshall Davis, with the family name of Dunham. 

Predicting what Michele Bachmann or Paul Ryan would do is simply a projection of
idiosyncratic thought based on prejudice.  Reviewing what “Obama” has done vs his
promises is more realistic.  The two paragraph summary, plus one sentence, by
prisnersdilema, June 21 at 5:36 am is very accurate.  An additional two paragraphs
would have done a more thorough job.

As far as the question, “Are we stupid?” 
“We” who? 
If some of you believe what you write, YES. You are exceedingly stupid. 
Gaining insight two years from now, and saying to oneself, “Oh shit, I was wrong,”
will be too late, and will serve no useful purpose.

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By gerard, June 21, 2011 at 11:29 am Link to this comment

Robinson raises an interesting and crucial question:
  “The advent of robotic drone aircraft makes it easier to wage war without suffering casualties. But without risk, can military action even be called war? Or is it really just slaughter?”
  If war with causalties all on only one side is
“slaughte”, what is war with causalties on both sides?  Double slaughter?  Equal slaughter? Fair slaughter? Or just merely murder?
  No matter how thin you slice it ...... the cowardice of the weapons themselves, plus the “head” injuries coming back are forcing us (in spite of our unwillingness to face facts) to feel some decent shame over what we are really doing compared to what we would like to think we are doing in the world.

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David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, June 21, 2011 at 10:17 am Link to this comment

The more “progressive” a Democrat is the better Republican POTUS he becomes.

Democrats reliably get the corporate-state’s greater evil calmly and competently done, while their liberal voters continue to be outraged over the incompetence of conservative evil doers.

A Democrat perceived to be “good” is a Democrat who has successfully deceived the perceivers.

Whenever a disease becomes “progressive” it’s getting worse.

http://www.chenangogreens

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By mackTN, June 21, 2011 at 9:17 am Link to this comment

Barack Obama hardly resembles the candidate Obama whom we joyfully swept
into office.  His stance against the Iraq War symbolized his opposition to
Needless Wars; curiously, he now represents Endless Wars as this country is
currently engaged in More Wars than when his evil predecessor sat on the
throne for 8 years!  WTF???

Obama has surrounded himself with a corporate crew—who among his close
advisers is progressive?  Why would we think that he would chide his
adminstration for not providing progressive advice?  For dissuading him from
military solutions? 

Are we stupid?  The president has a giant Ace still to play.  He’s not Michele
Bachmann or Paul Ryan or any other Republican who would gladly put most
Americans in indentured servitude forever. 

I think.

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By Dave L., June 21, 2011 at 8:39 am Link to this comment

Let’s be honest. BO deserves the Nobel Peace Prize as much as Dick Cheney or GB does.

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By RubberPimple, June 21, 2011 at 6:00 am Link to this comment

@prisnersdilema

Eugene Robinson wrote this piece, not “E.J.”

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By RubberPimple, June 21, 2011 at 5:56 am Link to this comment

I just love how ‘Thugs are so outraged by this President’s “violation” of the war
powers act, when good ole shrub started 2 massive land wars in Asia without the
slightest pretense of congressional approval.

Massive hypocrites.  Every one.

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Billy Pilgrim's avatar

By Billy Pilgrim, June 21, 2011 at 5:41 am Link to this comment

Go Right:  Your childish rant does not change the fact
that Bush is the worst President in history.  The evil
that he accomplished will take generations to overcome.
I have nothing but pity for those who fail to grasp the
implications of the damage that W inflicted on our
nation. What else has to occur to convince
ideologically constipated individuals like yourself to
wake up from the delusional coma you apparently have
self-medicated yourself and come to grips with the
frightening reality of the precarious position the
shrub from Texas has placed America in?

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By prisnersdilema, June 21, 2011 at 5:36 am Link to this comment

“Let’s be honest”....Well E.J., that implies that you have been less than honest in the
past….

Obama, continues to be the O.J., president. Just as O.J. Simpson was a smiling
corporate spokesman, a perfect fake, who presented a simulacra, of a person that
Americans wanted to believe, a good harmless sanitized, seller of corporate Americas
lies….Yet, whose crimes were so shocking that a significant number of Americans simply
could not believe he did it, which helped him get away with murder…

President Obama continues as a spokesman for the plutocracy, selling it’s lies to the
American people, while this government continues to bomb the living Hell, out of
countries we don’t like, killing every living thing, man, woman,child, cat, dog, or goldfish
that happens to get in the way. Sure we will apologize to your surviving relatives, cold
comfort to you. So Sorry, your dead.

Just like O.J., then comes a round or two of golf afterward, and a quick flight to catch on
Air Force one….

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By rend, June 21, 2011 at 4:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

nice leather jacket,

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By Go Right Young Man, June 21, 2011 at 4:41 am Link to this comment

“An intellectual president such as Obama should be able to lead a search for answers to these tough questions. As soon as he gets a better grasp on the definition of ‘hostilities.’” - Eugene Robinson

-

Last week, President Obama quietly signed a renewal of the once-hated Patriot Act — rather nonchalantly from the United Kingdom via mechanical autopen. There was no media outrage, there was no Eugene Robinson disgust, no hyperbolic campus protests, no juvenile outbursts from a Hollywood celebrity about shredding the Constitution. Most even forgot that senatorial candidate Barack Obama had once promised to repeal the Patriot Act. Not only did Mr. Obama not repeal the Act, his administration has expanded and strengthened Patriot.

But then, such moral outrage belongs to the now fossilized age of George W. Bush’s presidency, when the exalted goal of stopping a conservative Texan justified any means of opposition necessary. We may continue almost all of his antiterrorism protocols, but they no longer earn Mr. Robinson’s elite “intellectual” outrage.

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By thecrow, June 21, 2011 at 4:40 am Link to this comment

“Or is it really just slaughter?”

You tell me:

http://michaelfury.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/send-in-the-drones/

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By thecrow, June 21, 2011 at 4:26 am Link to this comment

“Are we in Libya for altruistic or selfish reasons?”

Hmmm…Let me “lead a search for answers” to that one, Mr. Robinson.

“RTN tweets:

@Tripps$rtn gonna make billions off these limited US wars- !!!

@eddyhooks$rtn–US fires 110 Tomahawks–total cost about $63m

@JimK$rTN is the maker of the Tomahawk’s being used on Quack-dafi. Over a $1/2 MM at a pop for those.

@WallStreetBuddhaSell $PCLN, Obama is gonna fire up the war machine. We’re going into Libya. Watching Defense stocks $LMT $BA $NOC $RTN

@sellputs$RTN raises annual Divvy 15% to 1.72…..All the #Tomahawk action must have instilled confidence in the board.”

http://michaelfury.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/profits-and-losses/

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By Bones, June 21, 2011 at 4:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The war is peace President.  Sorry this doesn’t pass the rotten egg smell test.  If dropping bombs from drones or firing missiles off shore are not acts of war, then what are they?  Terrorism?

Shame on you, Barack Obama.

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