Philip Weiss writes: The organized liberal Jewish community has a new vision: that President Obama will use the lame duck period of his presidency to make a major initiative on the Israel/Palestine conflict and introduce resolutions at the United Nations Security Council to condemn settlements and/or set out the parameters of a two-state solution.
Thus Obama will establish a more assertive U.S. policy in favor of Palestinian human rights and self-determination that the next president will live by.
Hillary Clinton won’t let him go forward with such a resolution now because it would capsize her campaign. But when he does it in November or December– after she is elected president, according to the scenario– then she will say, There is only one US president at a time, and Obama’s policy is my inherited policy.
The dream was alive at J Street’s gala dinner the other night. Both Joe Biden and John Kerry were coming! That was a huge score for the liberal Zionist organization. President Obama invited members of J Street’s youth chapter into the White House last Friday! Mort Halperin the chairman of the J Street board (and the father of political talking head Mark Halperin) said the organization is counting on the Obama administration to set out the parameters of a final deal between Israel and Palestine.
Then Biden and Kerry spoke, and the wealthy elderly legion at J Street derived hope from the following statements. Biden:
Despite our overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government, we have an obligation to push them as hard as we can… at the same time being a guarantor, an absolute guarantor of their security.
I can tell you that for these next nine months we will not stop working to find a way…
[N]o matter how many times we hear people tell us the goal is unattainable, they can’t do it, they’re not ready, I remember the words of Mandela: “Nothing is impossible until it is done.”
The J Street people think that Obama still has a trick up his sleeve and he owes it to them because they helped him get the Iran deal. The theme of the evening was: Obama wouldn’t have gotten the Iran deal if we had not taken on AIPAC inside the official Jewish community. But J Street took on AIPAC and cracked the monolith and signaled to politicians around the country, they could support the deal and still get Jewish backing. J Street is justly proud of this. And by the way, Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council and Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares were in the hall that night; they also delivered the Iran deal. As did Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink and a lot of grassroots groups.
Do I actually believe that Obama will come up with a November surprise? Yes, I think he will do something. But will it mean anything or have any effect; that is the real question. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The images of the past year have been deeply unsettling for the people of Saudi Arabia, long accustomed to oil-fueled prosperity and regional clout: militants firing at communities along the country’s southern border; protesters storming the Saudi Embassy in Tehran; civil wars raging in three nearby states.
The view from Riyadh has become increasingly bleak as stubbornly low oil prices constrain the government’s ability to respond to crises and as the kingdom’s regional rival, Iran, moves aggressively to expand its influence at Saudi Arabia’s expense.
Under huge stress, the Saudis have responded in unpredictable ways, often at odds with Washington’s interests. They have launched a costly military offensive in neighboring Yemen that has failed to defeat the Houthi rebels and has empowered the Qaeda affiliate there. They have executed dozens of men on terrorism charges, including a prominent dissident Shiite cleric. And they have largely walked away from Lebanon, suspending billions of dollars in promised aid as Iranian influence there grows. [Continue reading…]
With only nine months to go, in the fashion of modern presidents, Barack Obama is already planning his post-presidential library, museum, and foundation complex. Such institutions only seem to grow more opulent and imperial as the years and administrations pass. Obama’s will reportedly leave the $300 million raised for George W. Bush’s version of the same in the dust. The aim is to create at least an $800 million and possibly billion-dollar institution. With his post-Oval Office future already in view and his presidency nearly history, his “legacy” has clearly been on his mind of late. And when it comes to foreign policy, he definitely has some accomplishments to brag about. The two most obvious are the Iran nuclear deal and the opening to Cuba. In their own ways, both could prove game changers, breaking with venomous relations that lasted, in the case of Iran, for more than three and a half decades, and in the case of Cuba, for more than half a century.
You can already imagine the exhibits celebrating them at the Barack Obama Presidential Center to be built on the south side of Chicago. But it’s hard not to wonder how that institution will handle the three major foreign policy promises the new president made in the distant days of 2008-2009. After all, he was, in part, swept into the presidency on a blunt promise to end George W. Bush’s catastrophic war in Iraq. (“So when I am Commander-in-Chief, I will set a new goal on Day One: I will end this war.”) Nine years later, he’s once again taken this country into the Big Muddy of an Iraq War, either the third or fourth of them in the last five presidencies (depending on whether you count the Reagan administration support for Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran in the 1980s). At this moment, having just dispatched B-52s, the classic Vietnam-era carpet-bombing plane of choice (Ted Cruz must be thrilled!) to Qatar as part of that war effort, and being on a mission-creep path ever deeper into what can only be called the Iraq quagmire, we’re likely to be talking about a future museum exhibit from hell.
But it won’t begin to match the special exhibit that will someday undoubtedly explore the president’s heartfelt promise to work to severely curtail the American and global nuclear arsenals and put the planet on a path to — a word that had never previously hovered anywhere near the Oval Office — nuclear abolition. The president’s disarmament ambitions were, in fact, significantly responsible for his 2009 Nobel Prize, an honor that almost uniquely preceded any accomplishments. Now, the same man is presiding over a planned three-decade, trillion-dollar renovation and modernization of that same arsenal, including the development of an initial generation of “smart” nukes, potentially first-use weapons. It’s certainly been a unique path for our first outright anti-nuclear president to take and deserves a special place of (dis)honor at the future Obama center.
Barring surprising developments in the coming months, however, no exhibit is likely to be more striking or convoluted than the one that will have to be dedicated to the “closing” of Guantánamo, the notorious offshore, Bush-era prison camp. After all, as TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, author of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, a striking soon-to-be-published anatomy of post-9/11 national security state mania, points out today, the closing of Guantánamo within a year represented one of the president’s first promises on entering the Oval Office. Unless somehow he succeeds in shutting Gitmo down over fierce Republican congressional opposition in these final months, it could prove the pièce de résistance of his future museum. Tom Engelhardt
Still in the Bush embrace
What really stands in the way of closing Guantánamo
By Karen J. Greenberg
Can you believe it? We’re in the last year of the presidency of the man who, on his first day in the Oval Office, swore that he would close Guantánamo, and yet it and everything it represents remains part of our all-American world. So many years later, you can still read news reports on the ongoing nightmares of that grim prison, ranging from detention without charge to hunger strikes and force feeding. Its name still echoes through the halls of Congress in bitter debate over what should or shouldn’t be done with it. It remains a global symbol of the worst America has to offer.
The New York Times reports: There are roughly 5,000 American service members in Iraq according to current Pentagon estimates, but the number often varies, sometimes daily, by hundreds. That number is higher than the cap the White House set last year, which limited the number of troops to be deployed to Iraq to 3,870. But under policies created by the military after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, service members who are planning to spend less than four months in a war zone are not counted.
Sergeant Cardin [who was killed on March 19] and the Marines [with him at Fire Base Bell, south of Mosul] were scheduled to be deployed in Iraq temporarily, so they did not count against the cap.
At the height of the war in 2007, the United States had roughly 165,000 troops deployed in 500 bases and outposts across Iraq. Mr. Obama, who ran for president in 2008 vowing to end the United States’ involvement, fulfilled his pledge when he pulled all American troops out of the country in 2011. But as the Islamic State has strengthened its hold in the region in the past two years, Mr. Obama has sent thousands of American service members back in. [Continue reading…]
Lara Friedman writes: With the Obama administration in its final year, several officials have said that the president has grown so frustrated with trying to revive Middle East peace talks that he may lay down his own outline for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state peace agreement, in the form of a resolution in the United Nations Security Council.
If that happens, count on two reactions: Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will oppose it, and a chorus of American politicians and commentators will suggest that it would be unprecedented — even unthinkable — for an American president to support a Security Council resolution that Israel opposed, rather than veto it.
Last spring, when similar reports circulated, Senator John McCain of Arizona said that such an action would “contradict American policy for the last at least 10 presidents of the United States.” The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat of the House Foreign Affairs Committee joined in a letter protesting that “for decades the U.S. has used its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Israel from undue pressure at the world body.” A bipartisan group of senators agreed, seeking assurances that the policy would not change.
Remarkably, the assumption beneath those protests — that President Obama would be committing an unprecedented betrayal of the American-Israeli relationship if he did not block every Security Council resolution that challenged the actions or positions of Israel’s government — has gone unchallenged.
Yet it flies in the face of truth. Over seven years, Mr. Obama has not permitted passage of any Security Council resolution specifically critical of Israel. But a careful examination of the record shows that, since 1967, every other American president allowed, or even had America vote for, Security Council resolutions taking Israel to task for actions and policies toward the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors. [Continue reading…]
CNN reports: President Barack Obama said the worst mistake of his presidency was a lack of planning for the aftermath of the 2011 toppling of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
“Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya,” he said in a Fox News interview aired Sunday.
This is not the first time in recent weeks he has talked about Libya and the NATO-led intervention which resulted in Gadhafi’s death in October of that year, months after NATO first intervened. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Secretary of State John Kerry attended a memorial ceremony in Hiroshima on Monday for victims of the American atomic bombing 71 years ago, becoming the highest-ranking United States administration official to visit the site of one of the most destructive acts of World War II.
The visit is likely to intensify speculation about whether President Obama will go to Hiroshima during a planned trip to Japan next month. Mr. Obama would be the first sitting American president to visit the city, a decision that would resonate deeply in Japan but would be controversial at home.
“Everyone should visit Hiroshima, and everyone means everyone,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference on Monday in response to a question about whether Mr. Obama would go. He said that the president had been invited by Japanese officials and that he would like to visit someday, but Mr. Kerry added: “Whether or not he can come as president, I don’t know.”
Mr. Kerry spoke after he and other leading diplomats from the Group of 7 industrialized countries toured Hiroshima’s atomic bomb museum, laid flowers at a cenotaph in its Peace Memorial Park and examined the former exhibition hall that stood directly under the atomic blast and has been preserved as a skeletal monument. He called the experience “stunning” and “gut-wrenching.”
Mr. Kerry and the other officials were in the city for talks ahead of the annual Group of 7 summit meeting next month, to be hosted by Japan.
The question of how to acknowledge the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, and another on the city of Nagasaki three days later, has long troubled American diplomats. The bombings ultimately killed more than 200,000 people, most of them civilians, in a country that after the war was transformed from an enemy of the United States into one of its closest allies.
But a majority of Americans have long believed that the bombings were necessary to force Japan’s surrender and to spare American lives. [Continue reading…]
An article by Ward Wilson, published in Foreign Policy in 2013, argues, however, that Japan’s decision to surrender probably had much less to do with the effect of nuclear weapons, than with Stalin’s decision to invade.
Shadi Hamid writes: Libya and the 2011 NATO intervention there have become synonymous with failure, disaster, and the Middle East being a “shit show” (to use President Obama’s colorful descriptor). It has perhaps never been more important to question this prevailing wisdom, because how we interpret Libya affects how we interpret Syria and, importantly, how we assess Obama’s foreign policy legacy.
Of course, Libya, as anyone can see, is a mess, and Americans are reasonably asking if the intervention was a mistake. But just because it’s reasonable doesn’t make it right.
Most criticisms of the intervention, even with the benefit of hindsight, fall short. It is certainly true that the intervention didn’t produce something resembling a stable democracy. This, however, was never the goal. The goal was to protect civilians and prevent a massacre.
Critics erroneously compare Libya today to any number of false ideals, but this is not the correct way to evaluate the success or failure of the intervention. To do that, we should compare Libya today to what Libya would have looked like if we hadn’t intervened. By that standard, the Libya intervention was successful: The country is better off today than it would have been had the international community allowed dictator Muammar Qaddafi to continue his rampage across the country.
Critics further assert that the intervention caused, created, or somehow led to civil war. In fact, the civil war had already started before the intervention began. As for today’s chaos, violence, and general instability, these are more plausibly tied not to the original intervention but to the international community’s failures after intervention. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: The U.S. military is planning to expand the number of so-called “fire bases” in northern Iraq to prepare for an assault on Mosul, ISIS’s Iraqi capital. The bases will be there to support local Iraqi forces. But they’ll also put U.S. troops near the frontlines of what will likely be the biggest battle of the war with the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Troops at up to three temporary bases, on the north-south route from central Iraq to the northern city of Mosul, would advise Iraqi security forces, provide logistical support so Iraqi troops can move toward Mosul and even ground base support fire, defense officials told The Daily Beast.
The movement of U.S. troops within miles of the ISIS’s Iraqi capital would be yet another indication that the American military is increasingly conducting offensive operations even though President Obama has never publicly acknowledged the U.S. is back at war in Iraq.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon began sending out signals that the U.S. role in Iraq could change, one day after the president led a meeting with his top national security advisers about the war. [Continue reading…]
Garry Kasparov writes: The 21st century has been marked by two complementary trends in global security: the rise of new and unexpected threats and the return of old ones. Terrorist organizations have adapted modern technology to deadly purpose and paired it with global ambition. Nineteen well-trained individuals killed more Americans on 9/11 than the entire Japanese fleet killed in Pearl Harbor. Our ubiquitous smartphones and social networks turned out to be agnostic tools, serving both good and evil. They are boons for economic empowerment and cultural exchange, but also allow terror movements to recruit internationally, creating a homegrown terror threat that no border wall or refugee ban will prevent.
The old menaces of the 20th century have reappeared in updated forms. Communism as a political ideology is as bankrupt as ever, but the aggressive despotism that enforced it for decades before the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union has returned to the world stage, due largely to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States, a global hegemon alternately over-eager or reluctant, has reacted in dramatically inconsistent ways to the new threats while mostly ignoring the resurgence of the old ones.
The checks and balances that frustrate every president domestically do little to prevent the commander-in-chief from wielding the power of life and death all over the world. The overwhelming military might of the United States is inherently agnostic as well. It can be used to attack or to defend, to protect innocent lives or to take them, to remove dictatorships or to support them.
The use of this fearsome power is guided by the American constitution and the founding American values of democracy and freedom. But it is up to the occupant of the White House to follow the Constitution and to live up to those values. The executive has found countless ways to evade checks on his authority, from signing “agreements” instead of treaties, to escalating foreign “police actions” instead of declaring war. American values have been applied selectively as well, as decades of relative unity in containing the Communist threat has given way to a neo-isolationist trend in both major American political parties. Instead of debating how the U.S. should act on the world stage, today’s presidential candidates are arguing about whether or not the U.S. should act at all. The specter of the 2003 Iraq War looms over every potential American action.
Such reflection is commendable, but in the seven years of the Obama administration we have seen that inaction can also have the gravest consequences. Inaction can fracture alliances. Inaction can empower dictators and provoke terrorists and enflame regional conflicts. Inaction can slaughter innocent people and create millions of refugees. We have the horrific proof in Syria, where Barack Obama’s infamous “red line” has been painted over in blood. [Continue reading…]
Mustafa Habib writes: Iraqis found out that just about a week ago at dawn, the US military had entered the “war” against the extremist group known as the Islamic State, for real. In the northern province of Ninawa, near the extremist-held city of Mosul, US ground troops – a group of 200 soldiers from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, according to the US Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter – used their artillery against the Islamic State, or IS, group’s fighters in the area.
Speaking at a press briefing last Friday, Carter told reporters that the US troops had set up base at an outpost to be named Firebase Bell – as the LA Times newspaper reported, “this would be the first American combat base since the US returned to Iraq in 2014”.
So how did Iraqis feel about the apparent return of US boots to their ground?
“The US troops have finally decided to join in properly,” says Qais al-Saadi, a colonel in the Iraqi army. “Previously they were limited to air raids. I think now they have discovered that these air raids did not affect the Islamic State as much as they hoped and they have become convinced that ground troops are also important.”
Al-Saadi was happy about this, noting that the US was paving the way for the Iraqi army, especially with their recent success in eliminating two senior members of the IS group in quick succession.
Social media lit up with debate on the subject. Some welcomed the US troops, believing they were necessary in order to defeat the IS group. Often Iraqi commentators said that this move by the US was too late and that they should have helped from the beginning. Others were not so happy, saying it was a new occupation. [Continue reading…]
Nancy Youssef reports: In the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the U.S. military is notably short on soldiers, but apparently not on generals.
There are at least 12 U.S. generals in Iraq, a stunningly high number for a war that, if you believe the White House talking points, doesn’t involve American troops in combat. And that number is, if anything, a conservative estimate, not taking into account the flag officers running the U.S. air war, the admirals helping wage the war from the sea, or their superiors back at the Pentagon.
At U.S. headquarters inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, even majors and colonels frequently find themselves saluting superiors at a pace that outranks the Pentagon and certainly any normal military installation. With about 5,000 troops deployed to Iraq and Syria ISIS war, that means there’s a general for every 416 troops, give or take. To compare, there are some captains in the U.S. Army in charge of that many people.
Moreover, many of those generals come with staffs and bureaucracy that some argue slows decision-making against an agile terror group.
The Obama administration has frequently argued that the U.S. maintains a so-called light footprint in Iraq to reassure the American public that its military is not back in Iraq. Indeed, at times, the United States has not acknowledged where it has deployed troops until one of them died.
But if the U.S. footprint is so small, why does the war demand so many generals? [Continue reading…]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: With the military campaign against the Islamic State making some progress, American officials have begun to sharpen plans to expel the terrorist organization from two major cities it still controls.
Recapturing Raqqa, in northern Syria, and Mosul, in northern Iraq, from the Islamic State is critical. But President Obama has not made the case for expanding America’s role in the fighting, nor has he given a forthright assessment of the resources that would be required.
Since Mr. Obama authorized the first airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in 2014 to curb the rise of the Islamic State, administration officials have been vague and at times disingenuous about the evolution of a military campaign that has escalated sharply. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Despite threats of protests, the crowd appeared largely receptive to Mr. Trump, save for a few moments. He received several rounds of cheers, with some standing to applaud him, when he said Israel would no longer be treated like a “second-class citizen” and when he criticized the Iran deal.
But he drew some titters when he said that no one had studied the Iran deal more than him — “believe me.”
Having drawn fire last year for giving an ambiguous response on a key litmus-test issue, Mr. Trump also told the audience: “We will move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
Mr. Trump’s prior insults to women and minorities had prompted protests from rabbis and other critics who threatened to walk out or boycott the address. Some attendees, wearing stickers that read “Come together against hate” — a play-off of Aipac’s theme, “Come Together” — planned to walk out before he began speaking, while protesters gathered outside.
Daniel Burg, a rabbi from Baltimore who was attending Aipac this week for the ninth year in a row, was among the attendees who walked out. “People are exercising their rights to not simply abide the presence of Mr. Trump and pretend that this election cycle is business as usual,” he said. He called the real-estate billionaire’s rhetoric “so hateful, so misogynistic, so racist” and said it had “undermined the democracy that we believe in.”
Rick Jacobs, a rabbi from New York City and president of the Union for Reform Judaism, helped author a letter to Mr. Trump requesting a meeting to discuss the community’s concerns with the front-runner, citing his comments about Mexican immigrants, women, Muslims, and other groups.
Mr. Jacobs said the campaign has said it is considering setting up a meeting later this week. “It’s not that we won’t engage with this candidate,” he said. “We want to have a chance not just to listen—we want to have a chance to speak.”
Mr. Jacobs walked out ahead of Mr. Trump’s speech and gathered with about 70 others outside the auditorium while Mr. Trump speaking. He said he saw hundreds leaving the stadium before Mr. Trump took the stage. [Continue reading…]
Politico reports: The leaders of the largest American pro-Israel lobby distanced themselves on Tuesday morning from Donald Trump’s attacks on President Barack Obama at their policy conference.
Trump addressed the annual Washington gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday night, and some of his biggest applause lines were his characteristically blunt critiques of Obama, who he said “may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me.”
AIPAC president Lillian Pinkus read a statement from the stage on Tuesday to disavow Trump’s remarks.
“We say unequivocally that we do not countenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense to those that are levied against the United States of America from our stage,” Pinkus said. “While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the president of the United States and our president, Barack Obama.”
She also castigated attendees who responded positively to Trump’s comments. [Continue reading…]
David Cole writes: On March 4, the United States used drones and other aircraft to drop precision bombs on Somalia, a country with which we are not at war, reportedly killing about 150 al-Shabab militants who were said to be preparing for an imminent attack on American and African Union forces. The US government asserted that no civilians were killed, although neither that claim nor the allegation of an imminent attack could be verified. What do we really know about how American officials decide to launch such strikes?
In the last two weeks, the Obama administration has announced that it will for the first time make public a redacted version of the Presidential Policy Guidance outlining the standards for targeted killing and will also provide its own estimates of combatant and civilian deaths in drone attacks dating back to 2009. Yet much about these decisions remains opaque. In Eye in the Sky, a remarkably timely and important new film about a fictional drone strike against al-Shabab, South African director Gavin Hood offers a hypothetical window into such decision-making. The picture it paints is deeply disturbing, and raises fundamental questions about when, if ever, such attacks are justified. It may be the closest those of us on the outside ever get to the internal process behind the drone war.
In the film, Helen Mirren plays Katherine Powell, a steely British colonel charged with tracking terrorists in North Africa. The only travel Powell needs to do, however, is between her home in Surrey and her office in London, where she operates a top-secret drone program, in conjunction with American drone operators in Nevada and African agents in Kenya. As the film opens, Powell wakes to learn that a British woman, who has become a leader of al-Shabab, has been located in Nairobi along with her husband, an American citizen who is also an al-Shabab leader. What follows is a tense minute-by-minute depiction of one of the most daunting ethical and legal decisions a nation’s military and civilian leaders ever have to make—whether to kill a suspected enemy, even if innocent civilians may also die. Without taking sides, the film dramatically illustrates why technology, far from answering such questions, has only made them more difficult. [Continue reading…]
Lawrence Goldstone writes: With his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat, President Barack Obama has made clear the tone he wishes to strike with the nation. He faced a difficult choice: whether to nominate an eminently qualified liberal or an eminently qualified moderate. In opting for the latter, Obama has eschewed the standard Republican strategy of aiming every policy decision at the party’s most extreme faction, and instead sought to nominate a justice whom large swathes of both parties will see as appropriate to the high bench.
Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is man whose academic, personal, and judicial credentials are such that Senator Orrin Hatch said just last week that the president “could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man” to fill the seat, but “he probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election, so I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.” In what is certain to cause Hatch to shift uncomfortably in his Judiciary Committee seat, Obama did precisely what the senator suggested and nominated an appellate court judge who has been lauded for a measured, non-ideological approach to the law.
Far more interesting, however, than Obama’s opening move is how Republicans will respond. Even before Scalia was buried, Republican Senate leaders announced that they would refuse to consider an Obama nominee. In choosing to strike preemptively, they locked themselves into a strategy that is somewhere between questionable and idiotic, and just may be the coup de grace to their political party, which now seems likely to be led by Donald Trump. [Continue reading…]
Garrett Epps writes: There are two possible interpretations of the president’s Garland strategy. The first is that Obama is playing on Republican fears of whomever a President Hillary Clinton might tap for the role and is trying to lure the Republicans into confirming an older, more moderate nominee. If they are successfully lured, then mission accomplished. If, however, Obama does not lure Republicans into confirming Garland, he will have at least embarrassed them and exposed the nakedly political nature of their tantrum.
The second interpretation — which I incline to — is that the meritocratic Boy Scout in Obama has called this shot. Garland is a terrific nominee and would make a wonderful justice. As Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said Wednesday morning, Obama almost certainly made the pick “because he thought this was the best possible choice for the Supreme Court.” Obama might be unwilling to pass up a chance to make such an appointment, and to the extent there is political calculation behind it, the president is banking on the residual idealism of some Republican senators to respond. He may believe there is at least some chance Garland will be confirmed. If so, his belief in that reservoir of public spirit is a testament both to his own generosity and to his persisting naïveté.
Of course, the idea that Garland, at 63, is an older nominee who would serve a shorter time on the Court and pose less danger to the conservative legal agenda assumes facts not in evidence. Almost exactly a century ago, another Democrat named a Jewish nominee in an election year. The nomination was deeply controversial, and the Senate delayed hearings and a vote for four months — still a record for delay. The nominee was Louis D. Brandeis. He was 59 years old. Nearly a quarter-century later, at 82, he retired as perhaps the most influential liberal justice in American history. [Continue reading…]
Jay Michaelson writes: I was one of Judge Garland’s law clerks in his second year on the D.C. Circuit bench, back in 1998. Perhaps it sounds self-serving to say so, but Judge Garland is one of the hardest working, fairest-minded people I’ve ever met. He worked harder than any of us, staying late into the night, sometimes cutting out of the office to make time for his kids before coming back in for the midnight shift. Watching him stand alongside President Obama this morning filled me with respect and pride — in the moments when I could forget the disrespect he is soon to endure.
I also had some firsthand exposure to how he thinks. There was not a single case I worked on with him, from the most mundane Federal Energy Regulation Commission matter to a 20-plus-year-old civil rights case, in which politics played into his considerations. Conscience, sure — Judge Garland often reminded me that there were human beings on both sides of these contentious cases — but never ideology.
Not all judges on the D.C. Circuit were of that persuasion. I was friends with clerks for other judges, and some (whom, of course, I won’t name) would simply tell their clerks how they wanted the case to come out, leaving the clerks to get from point A to point B. That was never my experience with Judge Garland. [Continue reading…]