Monthly Archives: January 2016

Illustrative Example of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I like illustrative examples; specific actions that can symbolize an entire….administration, or decade, or era, or an individuals temperament, for example. Here is good example of what I’m talking about regarding President Obama’s Syrian dilemma. In 2012:

“Obama did ask his military and intelligence chiefs to come up with plans to speed history along, and in the summer of 2012, CIA Director David Petraeus laid out a scheme to arm a group of “moderate” Syrian rebels. The plan, which Petraeus had formulated with Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan and a few other Arab security chiefs, called for shipping small arms, mainly rifles, to a small, select group of the Syrian opposition. …The plan had the backing of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and the Joints Chiefs of Staff. But the president rejected it.

“This was not a winning argument with Obama: he was looking for something that had a chance of succeeding in the near term, and he did not want skin in a game played in the quagmire of a sectarian civil war. While Petraeus was working up the plan, Obama asked the CIA to produce a paper on how often in the past U.S. arms had succeeded in helping rebels oust hostile governments. The answer: not very often. That sealed the case.”

Fred Kaplan, in an well-written essay of Obama’s foreign policy dichotomy between theory and practice, mentions that Obama was worried that this would also drag Iran more into the mix. Kaplan argues that Obama’s preferred tools were – “words, logic, persistent questions, and sequential problem solving.” In a world like this one: good luck, Mr. President.

In 2014:

“In any case, two years later, Obama approved a similar plan. However, when the American-backed rebels started racking up victories on the battlefield and appeared to be closing in on Assad, Obama’s prediction of what would happen next came true: the Iranians redoubled their support for Assad, sending Quds Force soldiers to fight the rebels. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, fearing the loss of Moscow’s sole outpost outside the former Soviet Union, sent tanks, planes, and missiles to support the Syrian army.”

Obama’s foreign policy motto could be: In any case.

This isn’t an attack on President Obama, by the way, more of an assessment on the difficulties of making decisions in an anarchic world. It has been repeated, like a mantra, that in politics, your choices are all horrible. This also illustrates the outsider/insider bias/dichotomy. Outside and without any power, it’s easy to condemn and to say you would have done X over Y if you were in power. Inside: you must make a decision based on imperfect information and the possible black swans, or simple spillover effects, are unknown.

Reparations: Unenforced & Ignored Examples

I have been following closely the on-going discussion regarding reparations for slavery, Jim Crow, red-lining, etc. online between intellectual-historian (this is what I call him) Ta-Nehisi Coates, rapper Killer Mike, and linguist and professor John McWhorter. There are two points I want to mention regarding McWhorter’s examples of prior reparations. McWhorter writes that we have given reparations to Black Americans through legislation such as the 1968 Fair Housing Act of and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. The problem with these examples is that the Reagan administration ignored them. I repeat: these laws were only nominal in many ways.

George Lipsitz in his brilliant The Possessive Investment in Whiteness makes this clear:

Reagan’s appointee as director of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, William Bradford Reynolds, filed only two housing discrimination suits in his first twenty months in office, a distinct drop from the average of thirty-two cases a year filed during the Nixon and Ford presidencies or even the 19 per year during the final 2 years of the Carter administration.”

Regarding the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the devil is in the details. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was, by law, not really allowed to do to much in enforcing the act. Title VIII, according to Lipsitz, “forbade the agency to initiate investigations on its own.” What happened when claims actually resulted in a penalty? “A maximum of $1,000.” I am only providing a couple of examples here but the true historic record is worse. One more quick example to bolster my case that the two examples by McWhorter were ignored and made impotent. “As of 1980, only five victims of discrimination has received damages in excess of $3,500.”

ThereĀ  are two options happening here with McWhorter. First, he genuinely doesn’t know the often-cited and heavily reported examples cited here; which if this is the case, he should probably read up more. Or, second, McWhorter is willfully ignoring the details to simply wage an attack on Coates because he doesn’t thnk Coates is a strong thinker when it comes to history. Just watch the conservation between McWhorter and economist Glenn Loury to see proof that McWhorter has an obvious revulsion towards Coates.

The truth matters here and the truth is not on the side of McWhorter in this case. Reparations were, effectively, “resist[ed], refus[ed], and renogotiat[ed],” time and time again. Reparations have not truly been given to Black Americans and the proof is in such numbers as how much property Black Americans own and how much savings they have, even those who do make it to a better-than-average tax bracket.

Reparations have only been illusory.

[Edit on 1/25/2016: An excellent overview of reparations was published in the Washington Post on January 21, 2015 that I want to link to. It was written by Professor of Sociology James W. Loewen. HERE it is.]