Eugene Robinson Live

Jun 17, 2014

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello, everyone. Welcome to our weekly discussion. Breaking news this morning: One of the suspected ringleaders of the Benghazi atrocity has been nabbed in Libya and is in U.S. custody. Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, amid calls for President Obama to do something, anything -- but what? My advice to the president, in today's column, is that U.S. action is unlikely to make things better and quite likely to make them worse. Let's get started.

Hi Eugene -- thanks for your column today about the situation in Iraq. The armchair quarterbacking of the Republicans is sometimes more than I can take. How does the president respond to that? There are obviously no good options here, and whatever he chooses it most certainly will be the wrong one, no matter what. Very frustrating.

I think you've summed it up: There are no good options. Air strikes? Not if the ISIS fighters are smart enough to hunker down in the cities, consolidating their control, rather than cruise down the highways in easily targetable convoys. Military cooperation with Iran? Not if our goal is to weaken the Iranian regime as a regional power, rather than strengthen it. No good options.

I'm curious. My understanding, especially after reading Colin Kahl's column in Politico, is that leaving troops simply was not an option. Maliki would not give us the assurances we needed and are common with every other US troop arrangement we have with every other country. It seems to me that Obama wanted to keep some troops there but they didn't want us there. If that's true, why hasn't this been made more aware to the public?

That fact has been reported widely. Critics claim that if President Obama had offered to leave more troops, upwards of 10,000, Maliki might have signed an accord. I'm skeptical. The Iranians were leaning on him hard not to sign.

Gene, We can't go back in time. In an ideal world we wouldn't have gone into Iraq. However when discussing that doesn't help the current situation. Syria turn into an impossible mess because Obama refused to support moderates early on. Military experts said insurgents would just wait for us to leave in Iraq and they were right. We need to defend the allies we have left. Sticking your head in the sand is not foreign policy. The idea that we are supporting Assad by attacking ISIS is a stretch, even if he would possibly benefit. Israel has launched Airstrikes to stop attacks on its border from Syria, and no one would seriously argue they are supporting either side.

Okay, let's not go back in time. What do we do now that makes the situation better? If you say air strikes, what do you propose we aim at? Downtown Mosul?

Do you think this will make any difference to the dog-whistlers screaming "Benghazi!"?

Of course not. Neither will the fact that this suspect will surely be arraigned and tried in federal court, rather than some kangaroo-court tribunal, which is what critics of the administration prefer. 

Um, which allies would these be, then? You're not seriously suggesting that Iraq is our ally?

I was unsure, too, about what allies the writer was talking about. I wouldn't consider Iraq an ally. Certainly not a reliable one.

I can't help but believe that our inane incursion into Iraq made a perhaps unstable situation much, much worse - this is one very explicit instance where our meddling really caused chaos that will have a drastic impact on the region for years to come.

True, but as someone noted earlier, we can't turn back the clock. Having shattered the status quo in the heart of the Middle East, we are left with the consequences.

How convenient that the administration announced the capture and arrest of the leader of the Benghazi attack, right when Hillary Clinton is in the midst of her book tour. And then there was the "Benghazi!" confab at the Heritage Foundation, where an American Muslim woman was berated by the paneists and the audience. Too bad there wasn't a Donald Trump moment in the past few days to make the right wing nut jobs look really really bad.

Re: Trump, the day is young. You never know.

What you are saying here is that "Syria turned into an impossible mess because Obama refused to send troops to Syria." Because sending troops to Iraq turned out so well, right?

In fairness, I think what the writer was suggesting is that President Obama should have sent heavy weapons and other aid to the "moderate" Syrian rebels. This presupposes that they would then have vanquished the ISIS rebels, which I believe is a doubtful proposition. Obama was worried that weapons would fall into the hands of jihadists who would later use them to strike against the United States. That seems to me a legitimate concern.

Mr. Robinson, as a retired SJA attorney, I take exception to your characterization of military justice as "kangaroo-court tribunal(s)." I'm not sure what your animosity is toward military tribunals, but your flippant comment is an insult to those hard-working legal professionals in uniform who try to do the right thing in trying circumstances.

I did not mean to demean the military justice system, and perhaps shouldn't have used that phrase. What I meant to say, and should have said, is that the federal courts have proved to be a much better venue for terrorism cases. They know how to prosecute these cases and have produced hundreds of convictions.

eugene, you're probably right on about the failure of the Bush invasion to do any good in Iraq, but maybe, to be fair, you ought to at least mention the Arab Spring. Remember how cheerful we all were about it, with new democracy coming to Egypt and then Libya. Now look. We're just not very good at solving problems in that area, are we.

What the Arab Spring illustrates to me is the fallacy of thinking that we can solve every problem in the Middle East according to our wishes. People who live there have ideas about how they should be governed and by whom. 

When you have basically copied the political foregn policy of Ron Paul, you have likely done something horribly wrong. We have friends in Iraq, or at least people we can work with. We have very good relations with Jordan. Outside of Obama, the rest of the government (on both sides) recognizes Israel is a great ally. The ramifications of letting hundreds of thousands of people be returned to a middle age lifestyle is horrible. There is a middle ground between flatening a city and launching targeted attacks. These people are about to be entered into a hellish world we cannot even imagine. The idea that we should just look on and say sorry, our hands are tied is outrageous and bigger statement about the fools we have trying to turn everything into a partisan discussion for their own benefits like page hits and twitter followers.

Of course Israel and Jordan are allies. That fact doesn't suggest a course of action in Iraq. Our "friends" there do not include the Maliki government. The Sunni tribal chiefs in Iraq are cooperating with ISIS, not because they long for  medieval life but because they believe the rebels are better than Maliki's Shiite sectarian government. What kind of "targeted attacks" are you suggesting? How do you suppose the Sunni areas will react? We can take any kind of  military action you want, but to what end?

Hi Gene, I think we do have people we have to try to work with in Iraq. We don't have any other options. We do have friends in Jordan and other "Moderate" arab states. The biggest problem in my humble opinion is that we don't try to force ideas we hold so dearly in the US on our neghibors as a condition of millions if not billions in aid. By this I mean somewhat free press and allowing education for teenage girls. An educated female population does wonders for stablizing a hostile reigon and its not a big request to make.

One problem is that other nations are also now able to offer billions in aid, including military aid, and do not necessarily condition it on adherence to Western norms. I'm talking about Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have poured money and arms into Syria; and of course Iran, which is aiding the Maliki government in Iraq. 

for an independent Kurdistan? Turkey wouldn't like it, sure, but with Iraq & Syria in such a mess, couldn't it happen?

Not another crisis just now, please.

Today's Des Moines Register lead editorial was on how we shouldn't be surprised by the chaos in Iraq. Local pundit Steffen Schmidt wrote as well onhttp://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2014/06/16/steffen-schmidt-seeing-consequences-bushs-mistakes-iraq/10649373/ I don't think there is much stomach for further military intervention among Iowans.

I don't think so, either. Remember that Congress, perhaps mindful of public opinion, refused to authorize air strikes in Syria. I doubt there would be much support for military action in Iraq.

Gene -- you know what makes my head explode? Those who believe that because democracy has not blossomed overnight in the so-called "Arab Spring" countries of North Africa, it's (1) all our fault (or at least Obama's); or (2) those countries are doing it all wrong. It is such breathtaking cognitive dissonance, particularly in light of what passes for our democracy of stamping down the opportunities for more people to vote, including the implementation of the idiotic voter IDs. Your thoughts?

Sometimes our attitude is all "do as I say, not as I do." That said, my point about the Arab Spring is that we don't get to decide how it all works out. The people of the Arab world have a say in that.

We broke it, we own it?

We patched it up, painted over the cracks and fissures, and handed it back.

That's it for today, folks. My time is up. Thanks for another lively hour, and I'll see you again next week!

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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