Live blogging Obama speech

1:59 There is a lot I fault this Admin with regarding terrorism, but I also find the other side completely irrational and self-defeating and willing to do anything to destroy the POTUS.   But these stirring words, even though I agree with them, just ring so hollow after 12 years of this increasingly desperate nonsense.   If something can change now, it will be positive, but so late.  So many wasted lives around the world.  There was a chance after 9/11 to remake the world into something better.  But it was trashed, burnt away by gleeful pyromaniacs and sneering playground bullies.   Its cold and stupid logic persisted, and in some ways was heightened.  I think this Admin is doing a better job, but it is relatively worse, given expectations.  The idea that now, 12 years on, we’re trying to formulate a strategy to met the challenge, and, even worse, that no one really thinks we’ll be able to, is the whole rot of our political and moral culture in one depressing run-on sentence.

More thoughts later, perhaps.  Comments are always open.

1:53 “I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack, because this is worth being passionate about.”  That is excessively well-done.

1:52 I was worried he was going to quote Daniel Tosh.  Phew!

1:50  I love seeing the President be heckled.  It reminds me that we’re all right.  He handled it well.  I also did not expect all the applause.  I couldn’t really understand her, so I don’t know who they were applauding, but it is clear that everyone is on the same page.

1:50 People are going to say this is really partisan, and it is, but absolutely right.  It is crazy that it is suddenly dangerous to try people in courts.

1:47 I like when they point out that we actually have been able to try terrorists with relative ease over the years.

1:45 “I look forward to working with a collection of kill-crazy destructive vandals to help them paint me as a secret Muslim who wants to institute Sharia law”

1:44 It is true that they want to shield for journalism, but just because the law doesn’t exist isn’t a reason not to obey its spirit.   That was just a huge bit of cognitive dissonance, on a level we don’t usually see from this Admin.

1:41 Despite my carping, I’ve liked about 65% of the speech.  Maybe 75%.  But much of this is what I liked in 2007 and hasn’t translated into smarter action.   He came really close to the John Kerry line about how terrorism can be a law enforcement issue.   But not close enough.

1:40 Greg sums it up over on the twitter, which is where the cool kids hang out.

On diplomacy – yes, US has to be active. But US practices risk avoidance not risk management.

1:36 OK, so he got the people who hate the drone strikes and think they are a huge immoral and illegal over-reach angry in the first half-hour.  Now he is talking about foreign aid as a much better investment than military strikes.  Feeding people in Yemen and building wells.   So now everyone else will be angry.

1:35 “We cannot take action everywhere these radical ideologies take root”.   Yes, and yes again!  Too bad that is seen as wimpy.  Hell, we had people want to storm into Chechnya and Dagestan a few weeks ago (and frankly, I would have bought their plane tickets).

1:31 OK, I agree with the idea that in extreme cases citizenship doesn’t really matter.  That has been true in other wars.   I don’t even disagree that al-Awlaki was plotting against the US.  But the huge issue for me, at least, is that we crossed this incredible pass for someone who really wasn’t a major threat.  He was a little more dangerous than John Walker Lindh, perhaps (and doesn’t that seem like such a distant name from a far-off time), but he was not the impossible danger that made it worth taking these steps.

1:30 Nixes any drone strikes on US soil, brings up legal twister of due process.   Not judicial process.

1:28 Congress is briefed on every strike.  Might be over-estimating the popularity of Congress, here.  “Oh, Congress says it is ok?  Well, then I’m on board!”

1:26 As many people have pointed out, the idea that these drone strikes result in less civilian deaths (despite the Franciscan flagellation, which seemed honest, about these deaths) is partly a result of a morally obtuse concept that military-aged males near drone strikes are by definition non-civilian.

1:22 State sovereignty is great, but the question has always been: who is the state?  We deal with governments like Salih’s, whose “the state is me” ideas didn’t really pan out beyond the Yemen version of the Beltway.  (The Jambiya?)

1:20 This is true- America is at war with AQ and others.  It is “affiliated” that is the tricky thing.  We still don’t know who everyone is.  Oh wow- that was the heart of this speech.  “Legal doesn’t make it moral”.   This is what many of us who voted for Obama want to hear- be strong, but don’t over-reach.  We haven’t seen much evidence of this, and that is a disappointment, but maybe this is a turning point.

1:17 That’s great we aren’t triggering firefights with tribesmen with whom we have no beef.   But we sometimes drone the living death out of these self-same tribesmen.   This is saying all the things that I want to hear, but there is a certain dissonance with action.

1:13 Define it not as a boundless war on terror, but specific actors.  This, right here, is what people have been saying for 12 years.   But while this sounds great, working with Pakistanis, Yemenis, the AU to get rid of al-Shabab, it elides the fact that many of these actions are wildly unpopular in the countries that we are acting in.  I believe in partnerships, of course, but working with the wrong actors is almost as bad as going solo, and sometimes worse.

1:12 Bringing up all the other terrorist attacks before him.   Two things here: one, saying that we don’t have to have a national freakout every time something bad happens, and two, saying: really?  You want to impeach me over Benghazi?   Come on!

1:10  McVeigh wasn’t a Muslim!

1:09 I like this analysis of the difference between local operatives, regional affiliates, etc.  Some groups are just collections of names and guns.  We can’t use a blanket approach, and lump everything under the “islamist” umbrella.   But while the rhetoric is there, it still needs to translate to action.

1:07  Brings up James Madison.  Charlie Pierce just sat up straight.   It is also amazing that, in 2013, saying that we need to define the scope of this battle against extremism makes for a big speech.   12 years on.

1:06  I never really liked the “we spent abroad and not here” tactic, but it is undeniable.   It just smacks of isolationism.

1:04 Osama is dead.  If you had that on Speech Bingo, you aren’t terribly creative, are you?   There was nice talk about stopping torture, but that just serves to remind that we did torture people, and no one has been punished.  Just more rhetorical rug-sweeping.

1:03 Brings up Iraq.  Saying that it shifted focus shouldn’t be controversial, but somehow always is.

1:01 Doing the Obama thing where he links our history into the issues of the day- our character, our shared experiences, our “commitment to constitutional principles”.    This is a common trope for him, and for others, of course, but he seems to do it with a special intensity, perhaps because he has always had to try to prove he is “American”.   It sets a tone for a “this isn’t radical what I am about to say”.

OK, so we’re going to be live-blogging the Obama speech.  Haven’t done this in a while.  I know it is more of a twitter thing, but I’m old-fashioned.   The important things to look at in terms of Guantanamo are if they are planning to release anyone, or just shift detainees to federal supermax prisons stateside.

What comes next

So, obviously the big magilla of the week is over the scandals folding over the Obama administration, with Benghazi, the IRS show, and the AP phone-record-gathering allowing partisans to slaver over the idea that the administration is at the very least done politically, if not on that slow boat toward impeachment.     It is my opinion that by the end of the summer impeachment is a distinct possibility.  Not because any of these issues merit it- they certainly don’t- but because the perversion of language, media, and the insular nature of our politics describes a set path, even if few want to go down the road.

Take the IRS scandal.   The obvious comparison, made in many places, is with Nixon using the IRS to attack political enemies.   This comparison is getting made so much, it is hardening into fact.   And it is absolutely ridiculous, a series of historical non-sequitors slathered over with a a slimy coat of hysterical frothing.   No one was audited; none of these groups were denied their status.  At most, they endured delays and had to answer arduous questions.   Now, one can say that their activities were curtailed as they hovered in a bureaucratic limbo, but they also were not required to become tax-exempt.   No one forced them to reach for this status.   There is no doubt that the IRS employees acted in a dumb and unfair manner, but to compare this even to Nixon is to not just stretch the truth, but tie it to the rack and quarter it.   And yet, that doesn’t stop a major news station from having guests compare it to Nazi Germany, because of course.

Or take Benghazi: the whole uproar is over the who said what and when, on the Sunday talk shows.  This is nonsense boiled down to its purest essence.   This is an impossible distraction from what could be real security issues, or, as Joshua Foust points out, from the very real questions about the mission creep of the CIA  and its role in national security.

But this post isn’t really about the meat of these issues (the AP one being the most legitimately troubling), but about how, in a very real way, the meat no longer matters.   Does anyone really believe that pointing out how not one of those groups were denied status is actually going to change anything?   Does anyone think that because the Republicans were the ones pushing for an investigation into the Yemen leaks, the investigation of which is what led to the AP phone-gathering, that they’re going to say to Obama, “well done”?  Or that the majority of Dems won’t find a way to justify it?

(note: that wasn’t an attempt at  Broderian equivalence-harvesting.   I firmly believe that there is one side who has completely gone of the rails, but, as a friend of mine said, selective memory is a trait of anyone political.)

Because it doesn’t matter.  The is an inexorable logic to impeachment, or at least to getting as near to it as possible before it explodes in the faces of those pushing for it.   Because there is no longer any need for facts.  Blogs will argue, pundits will go back and forth, there will be a rough general consensus that certain things are overblown, and other things are complete nonsense, but that won’t matter.  There is no real consequence in going against what the majority of people believe.  Huge majorities were in favor of expanded background checks, but that died a public and blood-choked death, and there wasn’t a single thing anyone could do about it.

We’re calcified and lumbering and in thrall to the worst.   As long as you can scream loudly and get your talking points out over the madding dim, you’ve won.  And so I think that there will be enough enthusiasm in the base, a not-insubstantial-number of whom believe that Obama orchestrated the attack so that Amb. Stevens would be captured, leading to Obama exchanging him for the Blind Shiek and therefore guaranteeing election, despite that being absolute gibbering insanity in all its forms,  that the drums will keep beating until people have been lured dumb and blind and enraged and crazy into the waiting nets.   Because even though the logic underneath the scandal has been exposed, the cruel logic of politics and the odd weightlessness of language is going to lead us into strange places this sweating summer.

…and the living’s easy

This blog is debuting as summer seems poised to break over the land, erasing in its weighty humidity a cold and pointless spring.    And this particular summer, which is being met this week by a trio of scandals looking to linger over the season like a dumb and rumbling and lightning-scarred thundercloud, is a particularly fortunate time to debut.    What’s happening this fitfully stupid week fits in with a lot of what this blog is going to do.

If you are reading this initial post any time within the first week or so of its appearance, there is an exactly zero percent chance that you don’t know at least one of the authors, so I am not going to go long on introduction.   Some of you may know that Greg Johnsen and I used to blog together at Waq al-Waq, and so this is kind of like getting the band back together, with some new members who I think you’ll enjoy getting to know through their writing.

The point of this is to have a blend of different voices and opinions that cuts through the daily riptide of pointless nonsense and ceaseless counter-pointing.   Which is why this week is a good example.   If you want to read this blog to get an up-to-the-second dissection of why what Louis Gohmert said proves him once again to be the single-dumbest member of the US Congress, you might not get that.  You might, because Gohmert delights me, but there won’t be constant update.    There might be days at a time when politics isn’t mentioned, or you might get three straight days of debates over drones.  We think that there is a wide enough range of opinions on the site, and among our readers, as entirely theoretical as they are right now, to sustain a discussion on wiretapping, the latest Pynchon novel, how the Hawks are going to win the Stanley Cup, fracking, Yemen, or deep sea life on impossibly poisonous vents.

So we hope you’ll enjoy it.  It will take a while to find our feet, I’m sure, but stick around.   I would love for you to like us on Facebook or to follow us @irrelevanceshot.