Eugene Robinson Live

May 07, 2013

Live chat with Eugene Robinson about politics and his latest column.

Submit questions and comments for Gene to respond to now.

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to our weekly discussion. Lots going on today, to say the least. I wrote this morning's column about Syria, posing some questions that those who call for war don't seem to want to answer. There are lots of them. In other news,  we may hear some actual facts, rather than blowhard posturing, about Benghazi. Some GOP senators are apparently getting wobbly about background checks. There's that amazing rescue story out of Cleveland. And everybody's favorite congressional race, between Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch, is coming to an end. Let's get started.

Gene, Ignoring the humanitarian crisis, you completely ignore the idea of the threat of force to coerce those in other to take our threats seriously. The problem with drawing a line is that when its crossed and you don't act you lose all credibility. Iran, North Korea, Syria and future dictators around the world have 0 reason to believe Obama will use anything other than sanctions (which really just hurt the citizens and mid level government workers). Our "allies" in the middle east will also be more susceptible to being forced to work with dictators (or prevent a free society) if they don't believe we will support them in their time of need.

If you're asking whether President Obama should have drawn the red line I think that's certainly a valid question. But I don't think a lack of U.S, involvement is responsible for the fact that, given a free and democratic choice, a lot of people in the Middle East will vote for leaders who, from the American point of view, range from less-than-deal to overtly hostile.

Gene, Obama has been wrong so far on Egpyt, Libya and Syria. The idea of leading from behind has lead to Islamist dictators taking over in Egypt, a dead US Ambassador in Libya and 70,000 dead after Hillary's famous comments about Assad possibly being a reformer (pretty sure that quote may come up again in a national elections). His main interactions with our only friend in the area (israel) have been antagonistic. Why on earth should I have any faith in him being able to make correct policies choices now?

I hardly know where to begin. In Egypt, the president could have stuck with the friendly autocrat Mubarak to the bitter end or abandoned him when it became clear he was goner. Obama did the latter. Would doing the former have made it less likely that the Muslim Brotherhood would win an eventual election? Of course not. In Libya, do you suggest we should have put boots on the ground? Or just stayed out altogether? In Syria, ask the Israelis which of their borders has been the most secure over the past 20 or 30 years. They'll tell you it's the Syrian border, because Assad and his father kept things quiet. It was understandable, if unrealistic, to hope at one time that Assad could turn out to be a reformer. Obviously he wasn't.

Here is why Assad has to go: He has done far more than just kill his own people, he creates instability throughout the middle east, making the US shift resources and attention. By all accounts he was involved in the assassination of the former prime minister along with other anti-Syrian officials. He effectively occupies Lebanon and uses its southern tip to run terror operations via Hezbollah (who is not welcomed by the vast majority of Lebanon). Removing Assad also increases the isolation on Iran, as they lose their ability to have Syria do their dirty work (and the direct connection to Hezbollah. Finally it allows Israel to focus on establishing peace because the Hezbollah threat of a second front can be isolated. These are all reasons to get Assad out of office now.

My top reason why Assad must go -- and he will, at some point -- is that he is a tyrant and a butcher. But it's crazy to assume that just because he's so bad, there's no way that what follows him could be worse. It can be worse, and at this point I think it's highy unlikely that U.S. military action will make the post-Assad situation in Syria much better. I see several ways, however, that U.S. action could make things worse.

Any thoughts on some of the new facts being exposed on what actually happened on Sept. 11 and the apparent cover-up? Leaks of some of the upcoming testimony appear fairly damning to Obama admin and Clinton State department.

You seem to forget that people have already lost their jobs over what happened at Benghazi. But let's get all the facts out and we'll see whether anything occurred beyond obvious errors of judgment.

This is going to sound cold, but why on Earth would we want to get further involved? We have allies all around it (Israel, Turkey, Greece) that means we don't need it for strategic value. At present, it's pretty much self-contained- it's not threatening regional stability or our allies safety. Is it a tragedy that lives are being lost, yes. I don't see any way we could "win" in Syria (my guess is that getting rid of the government will just lead to a smaller version of Iraq) and all that will happen is we get stuck in a longterm police action where nobody wants us and it costs of hundreds of billions of dollars. So why would Obama get involved... he's going to get hit either way (if he doesn't get involove then the GOP will hit him for being complicit in the loss of lives, if he does the GOP will hit him for raising the deficit) so there isn't a political motive. There doesn't seem to be a military motive or any sort of national interest. Who says we have to get involved in humanitarian causes? Why would this be our job?

I agree with your caution, obviously, but disagree on a couple of points. First, the war in Syria is obviously destabilizing. That's why it's a huge problem. The flow of refugees into Turkey, Iraq and Jordan is becoming a real problem for these countries. Assad threatens Israel only through Hezbollah; a successor regime might directly threaten the Golan Heights. Second, it can't be our "job" to intervene everywhere for humanitarian reasons, but that is a legitimate motive. It is good to be able to alleviate people's suffering. But we should only do what we can. In Syria, I fear, we can't.

And George Bush could have saved people from dying in Benghazi and lied about it and misled the media, would you go to such great lengths to defend it?

There's a lack of proportionality here. Let's assume that the Obama administration, through negligence, left Benghazi inadequately defended and then failed to respond quickly enough when all hell broke loose, at a cost of four American lives. The record shows that Bush invaded the wrong country at a cost of nearly 5,000 American and perhaps 150,000 Iraqi lives. Both may be transgressions, but they're not equal. Are they?

I find it rather curious that the Heritage Foundation is now coming out with its study on the costs of immigration reform. And that Jim DeMint is sounding the alarm bells about it. Is this a distraction or a real "attack" on the bill itself?

This is an attack, all right. DeMint wants to sink this bill and establish himself, in his new Heritage role, as the ideological Alpha Male of the GOP. 

Hi Eugene -- thanks for taking questions today. Your WP colleague Chris Cilizza makes an interesting argument that, in the long run, it's helpful for the Democrats if Sanford wins today. In his view, it only strengthens the argument that the Republicans are even more out of touch if they're willing to elect such an incredibility flawed candidate. As someone with strong ties to South Carolina, what do you think? Wouldn't the Democrats rather win than lose, even if their candidate might not be able to hold the seat for very long?

Democrats would much rather win than lose. Chris is one of the sharpest political thinkers around but I disagree on this one. the national GOP  basically gave the seat up for lost. If Sanford wins, Republicans can say that their message resonate swith voters even when the messenger is a flawed, underfunded candidate running against a Democrat who's the toast of her party. 

While Hilary Clinton is currently perceived as the presumptive future nominee for the DNC, its hard not to looks past two huge red flags. She called Assad a reformer when compared to Khadfi (a statement which the post fact checker gave a score of 3 out of 4) and the whistle-blowing in Bengazhi. Depending on the upcoming hearing, this could ruin her as a possible candidate for 2016. Link

Puh-leeze. I don't believe anyone is really "the presumptive future nominee" at this point, but I'm pretty confident that these hearings won't do anything to rule Hillary Clinton out. She has already taken responsibility (people seem to forget) for the fact that a U.S. ambassador was killed on her watch. As for the quote about Assad, there was quite a long period when he did seem to be allowing something of an opening in Syrian society. The place had become less tightly controlled than under his father.  It turned out to be fruitless -- but wasn't wrong -- to hope this trend would turn into something that could be called reform.

Let's assume that the Right is right on Benghazi, and the guv'mint lied. Why? What's the Obama administration's motive here?

Lied about what? This is what I genuinely don't understand. You had four dead Americans, including the ambassador, and an obvious -- and acknowledged -- failure to provide the kind of security that was needed. That was obvious from day one. You couldn't lie about it, you couldn't cover it up if you wanted to, you couldn't turn back the clock. Maybe we'll learn some lessons about diplomatic security from the hearings. If so, they will be worth it. If not, how do you blame those who have already blamed themselves?

Could there be anything better in the history of political journalism than a Ted Cruz campaign for President?

Careful what you wish for...

How do we reconcile our penchant for overthrowing relatively secular dictators who stifle dissent, including that of Islamists bent on the establishment of Sharia law, with our national paranoia over Islamists getting their hands on, for instance, Pakistan's nuclear weapons?

That's why I believe history will judge that the Obama administration has handled the Arab Spring pretty well. The administration has deliberately been slow to call for the dictators to go, and has made that call only when it was clear that they were going to be overthrown anyway (or immolate their countries in civil war). In the case of Bahrain, the United States has protected a friendly monarchy despite the way it oppresses the downtrodden majority. The same would be true, I'm sure, if the Saudi monarchy were seriously threatened. If you stay with the dictator too long, you end up with Iran. Today's Egypt, even with Morsi, is much better than Iran.

"If you're asking whether President Obama should have drawn the red line I think that's certainly a valid question." No, it isn't a valid question because the red line was drawn. The valid question is: now that it appears to have been crossed, what will happen next? Because North Korea, Venezuela, China, and Iran are watching. If the US is to have any credibility with our adversaries, something must happen.

Yes, it is a valid question. If it was a mistake to draw the line, it would only compound the mistake to do something for the sake of doing something -- unless there are measures the U.S. could take that would improve the situation and serve the national interest. The countries you mention will understand U.S. capabilities whether or not we lob a token cruise missile toward one of Assad's palaces.

Re: Sanford. It's important to remember where he's running. Thus, it's hard to extrapolate a larger meaning to that race. The GOP is SUPPOSED to win there.

SC-1 is about as solid a Republican district as you could imagine. This shouldn't even be a contest.

... is sauce for Hillary. Two weeks ago asked about Jeb Bush as a 2016 candidate, former First Lady Barbara Bush said, "I think it’s a great country. There are a lot of great families, and it’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified and we’ve had enough Bushes." Shouldn't the same apply to Hillary Clinton? Don't we have enough capable governors and senators out there, in both parties, not to fall back on just a few family names for President? I think Ms. Clinton did a great service to the nation as Secretary of State, a fine cap on an unusual political career.

I think she will have to deal with what any Bush family member would have to deal with: Dynasty Fatigue. 


And while I'm not yet suffering Finger Fatigue, I have to stop for today, folks. Time's up. Thanks for an interesting hour, as usual, and see you again next week!

In This Chat
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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