Obama Tells Congress He Doesn’t Need Permission for New Iraq War Existing Authorizations Are Still in Place

Existing Authorizations Are Still in Place

Earlier this year, President Obama gave tentative support to the idea of repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq, noting that the war was over. Congress never pulled the trigger, with hawks arguing against it.

drone_attack_Obama_090123_mnTonight, on the eve of a new US military operation in Iraq, PresidentObama is arguing he doesn’t need anyCongressional authorization for his new foray into Iraq, since the old AUMF is still on the books.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – KY) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D – CA) agreed with this assessment, saying the AUMF still applied, and that President Obama was just telling Congressional leaders what he plans to do.

President Obama has long downplayed the need for Congressional approval for his military adventures, and publicly eschewed any vote on US involvement in the attack on Libya, saying NATO’s decision to attack obliged the US to war no matter what Congress thought.

The administration’s exact intentions in Iraq remain unclear, as they have withheld public pledges trying to coax Iraqi reforms, and most recently. the ouster of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They have ruled out “combat troops,” but seem to be willing to split hairs by arguing that ground troops they do send won’t technically be combat troops.

by Jason Ditz

Obama’s Muddled Foreign Policy Message Buried in State of the Union

Little Content and a Lot of Recycled Rhetoric

A rambling, 80+ minute State of the Union Address tonight gave President Obama an opportunity to lay out his foreign policy positions, but 60 minutes into the talk he hadn’t touched the matter at all.

obama-madWhen he finally did, what followed was a confusing muddle of claims of success and vague expressions of hope for things he’d like to accomplish without any specific plans attached.

Bragging about ending the Iraq War, President Obama touted his plan to “end” the Afghan War, while openly talking about an open-ended deployment of US troops on the ground there engaged in “counter-terrorism” operations. A war “ended” and simultaneously endless.

He then went on to talk about ending the “permanent war footing” the United States has been on since 9/11, but openly talked up increased increased military spending for “future missions” and intervention abroad.

Closing Guantanamo Bay was raised as a possibility, if Congress wants to, and he defended the notion of negotiations with Iran, while trying to downplay the chance of succeeding and reiterating that the US will retain “all options” to move against Iran no matter what.

Even on Syria, Obama’s position was filled with hedges, promising to back the rebels, but only the rebels that “reject terrorism,” and promising “the future the Syrian people deserve” while providing no detains about how to get there, or how arming those rebels, something he’s been doing for quite some time, was going to produce a different result than the stalemate that’s been on so far.

by Jason Ditz

Obama’s NSA Phone Plan: Let Congress Decide

President Wants to Keep Metadata, Won’t Touch Matter in ‘Reforms’

President Obama’s Friday “reforms” are likely to amount to little or nothing, and the biggest political hot-button issue, the NSA telephone metadata surveillance, is likely to be punted downfield entirely, according to those familiar with the plans.

obama01The problem is that President Obama wants to keep the plan more or less unchanged, but admitting as much would be politically impractical amid growing outrage about it. His plan, rather, is to leave the matter to Congress.

Or at least sort of up to Congress. While officials are likely to give lip service to the matter being up to Congress, it is also a foregone conclusion that Obama will be throwing most of his support behind the Feinstein plan, which keeps the system intact and even grants additional powers.

The NSA collects all metadata about every phone call made, and keeps that data for an unspecified amount of time. The administration insists such data is vital for the war on terror, though the evidence suggests it has never been critical in a terror investigation and is rarely even consulted.

by Jason Ditz

Obama can’t point to a single time the NSA call records program prevented a terrorist attack

National Security Agency defenders, including President Obama, continue to cite the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 when defending the program that scoops up domestic call records in bulk. But asked specifically, on Friday, if he could identify a time when that program stopped a similar attack, President Obama couldn’t. That’s because the program hasn’t prevented a second 9/11.

At the end of the year news conference, Reuters’s Mark Felsenthal asked:

As you review how to rein in the National Security Agency, a federal judge says that, for example, the government has failed to cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata actually stopped an imminent attack. Are you able to identify any specific examples when it did so? Are you convinced that the collection of that data is useful to national security to continue as it is?

But President Obama never answered the question about a specific examples. Instead he spoke more broadly and tied the program, again, back to 9/11.

What I’ve said in the past continues to be the case, which is that the NSA, in executing this program, believed, based on experiences from 9/11, that it was important for us to be able to track, if there was a phone number of a known terrorist outside of the United States calling into the United States, where that call might have gone and that having that data in one place and retained for a certain period of time allowed them to be confident in pursuing various investigations of terrorist threats.

The president’s reliance on a 9/11 narrative is expected. The terrorist attack was a defining moment for a generation and now serves as a tragic reminder of a time when the U.S. government failed to protect its citizens. It’s understandable that any president would want to be seen as vigilant in preventing another such attack.

But the reason the president can’t cite a specific time the phone meta-data program stopped a similar tragedy is because it hasn’t.

Law professor Geoffrey Stone, a member of the presidential task force charged with reviewing NSA programs, told NBC News the group specifically looked for times when the program may have helped prevent a terrorist attack, but “found none.” The task force’s final report reflects that, saying:

Our review suggests that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of section 215 telephony meta-data was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional section 215 orders.

But the lack of evidence that the program is effective will probably not prevent the NSA’s defenders from continuing to invoke 9/11 to protect the program. Another member of the task force, former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, admitted the group had found that “the program to date has not played a significant role in stopping terrorist attacks in the United States,” but earlier in his interview credited the NSA as one of the agencies responsible for the lack of successful terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11.

CBO: Obama Nuke Plan to Cost $355 Billion

One Year After Unveiling, Scheme $150 Billion Over Budget

When the Obama Administration unveiled a $208 billion “modernization” plan for nuclear weapons, there were twin focuses, on the enormous waste of money and on the budget being unrealistic.

nukeJust over a year later, the Congressional Budget Office is saying exactly what the thinktanks were: that the budget was a pipedream and that the real cost will be at least $355 billion.

President Obama has been pushing for massive increases in nuclear spending for years, calling it “long overdue.” The plan is under criticism as a violation of the spirit of his promise not to develop “new” nuclear arms.

Violating the spirit but not technically the letter of agreements is very much in keeping with administration policy these days, however, and they insist that modernizing weapons is not technically the same as developing “new” ones, even if the replacements are dramatically more expensive and have totally different features and uses.

Wasting billions on replacements for unused and unneeded weapons is the in-thing right now, and while neither is expected to spend nearly as much both Britain and Russia are also pushing modernization programs on parts of their nuclear arsenals.

by Jason Ditz

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