Eugene Robinson Live

Sep 03, 2013

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

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly discussion, in which we solve all the world's problems. Today, of course, the big story is Syria. President Obama's decision to ask Congress for authorization before he launches missiles at the Assad regime -- although the president claims he can do it on his own accord -- came as a surprise. Also surprising, at least to me, was the announcement by House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor that they will support Obama's request. Add that to Nancy Pelosi's proven ability to deliver however many Democratic votes are needed, and all of a sudden I'm liking the president's odds of getting the congressional support he wants. Then what? If the idea is to make Assad rue the day he decided to use chemical weapons, it may be a bigger and more sustained attack than many people imagine. Let's get started.

So, Hillary reported that Assad was a "reformer," Kerry and wife went and had a lovely dinner with the Assads in 2009 at Obama's behest and reported things would be better than they were under Bush, the reset with Russia is laughable (see Snowden, adoption, etc.), the mullahs in Iran continue to spin those centrifuges, and so on. Now, after blustering about red lines and the need for a coalition and international law, blah, blah, blah, Obama -- though claiming the authority to act on his own -- seeks to pass the ball to Congress. His lack of decisiveness (oh yes, Egypt, where he determined he did not have to make a determination of a coup) has led to one foreign-policy failure after another. I believe he has been emboldened by an uncritical press (one Syria column doesn't do it) and a host of acolytes who scream racism at anyone who dares dissent from what are clearly bad policies or lack thereof. Who could reasonably disagree with the cause of the disaster that we now face?

You know, you folks who claim there exists some "host of acolytes who scream racism at anyone who dares dissent" from President Obama's policies are completely full of it. You don't think he's a very good president. Fine. But don't try to bolster or legitimize vague, omnibus complaints by claiming "they call me a racist." Nobody's calling you that. Judging by your critique, I'd say you have a naive and simplistic view of foreign policy. But don't hide behind nonexistent charges of racism.

I have a vague memory of the Republican House passing tax increases back in January. Just wanted to verify if that was true, since it did not make it in today's column.

Obviously you didn't read far enough to get to the following paragraph:

Boehner has almost no room to maneuver. House Republicans are still fuming at having been forced to swallow a modest tax increase for the wealthy as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal earlier this year. The responsible thing would be for Boehner to bring a simple bill raising the debt ceiling to the floor, where it would pass with the votes of Democrats and non-crazy Republicans. But that would probably cost Boehner his job.

You (typically) blame Republicans for everything. My question is Paul Ryan came up with a budget to deal with the biggest issue facing the country, Medicare. Instead of Democrats working with him, they demogoged the issue. Where is the Democrat plan to deal with any issues?

Uh, most Democrats thought Paul Ryan's proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program was a terrible idea. So no, they didn't work with him on that.

You have called upon us critics to judge President Obama "not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character". We have done so, and we have given several examples of his record (Obamacare, foreign policy ineptitude, failure to address entitlement spending) to illustrate why we think his presidency has been disastrous. And yet, way too many of your liberal buddies ignore all this and scream "Racism!" at any hint of criticism. Do you understand that your side has a "boy who cried wolf too often" mentality that has become poisonous?

I think Obamacare is a great achievement. I have supported some aspects of President Obama's foreign policy and opposed others. Obama has, too, offered ways to address entitlement spending -- just not the ways you would prefer. See? I haven't called you a racist once. Please argue on the merits and not on an imagined, or feigned, sense of racial grievance.

In Iraq there was a clear mission, overthrowing Hussein. I think the President needs to do a better job of explaining to the nation what the mission is? Holding a press conference on the first Saturday of College Football is the definition of burying a story.

I don't think Assad timed his chemical weapons strike with the NCAA schedule in mind. Nor did the UN inspectors rush their work to get out in time for kickoff. I think the president was pretty clear in saying the mission is to punish Assad for using chemical warfare. I think people understand that -- and, by a substantial majority, oppose it.

Gene, am I being excessively cynical in thinking that Obama sought to engage Congress in the Syria decision, knowing full well that he might not get their approval? That way he can say, hey, I tried, but those bad people at the other end of Penn Ave won't let me do anything.

I think that had to be considered as one possibility, but I don't think he could reliably count on Congress to say no. If I were to guess what's going on inside the president's head, I'd say he is genuinely reluctant to order military action in Syria but believes he must.

In your haste to denounce anyone who dare says anyone who criticizes the president handling is called racist, you then completely avoided the question and focused it on race. How about addressing the points raised by the commenter? The hands off approach in the middle east (everywhere except the two year spat where he did nothing but criticize Israel) has clearly lead to a situation in Syria where the good elements have been marginalized and/ or killed. The concern that by criticizing an unsound policy could hurt Obama and/or the Dems has lead to allowing a horrific humanitarian situation.

But on what planet was there no criticism of the president's foreign policy? He sent a troop surge to Afghanistan. He withdrew U.S. forces from Iraq. He used force to tip the Libyan civil war against Gadhafi. He stuck with Mubarak until it became clear that the strongman had to go, at which point the president said so. Any of these decisions could be legitimately criticized. All, in fact, were critized at the time from every conceivable angle -- some of them, in fact, by me. This idea that criticism is somehow being squelched by unnamed acolytes who call all criticism racist is simply untrue.

Lets be clear, Obama along with the Dem leadership has said he doesn't not need approval to use military force. Much of the GOP has argued this in the past under GWB. While DW Schultz has made a solid argument that the world will recognize our resolve if we act as a bipartisan group, each day we wait is another day where innocent civilians are killed and the opposition becomes closer aligned with Al-Qaeda. Why not continue to have this conversation as efforts to protect the Syrian people occur.

I've asked the White House that question -- why ask permission if you don't need it -- and have not gotten an answer that makes sense to me. Once you've made the decision to ask, however, I think you pretty much have to wait for an answer. Unless, of course, things change on the ground -- another use of chemical weapons by Assad, for example.

Wonder if you had an opinion on the criticism some Republicans had on Sen Tim Scott not being invited to speak?

He should have been invited.

How do Obama's international policies correspond to the values of Martin Luther King? Has King had ANY impact on US foreign policy? Why or why not? And what does this bode for King's and for Obama's impact on each other and on national.strategy? Why no discussion of safety zones and more active support of refugees to contrast with Syrian cruelty?

I think Dr. King would have had serious problems with the foreign policy of every U.S. president, including President Obama. The United States is somewhat less likely to support brutal but friendly dictators unquestioningly, somewhat more committed to the idea of universal human rights, somewhat more conscious of conditions in the developing world -- and all of this, I guess, is consonant with Dr. King's thinking. But I think he would be pushing for change. As for your question about safety zones, that implies a no-fly zone -- which would entail military strikes, perhaps more than are now being contemplated.

May I ask why you think he should have been invited to speak (let's be clear, he was invited to attend)? Because of the color of his skin? If that's the reason, why not invite Herman Cain or Alan West to speak? Scott bastardizes everything King stood for. I'm judging him on his character, not his color.

Tim Scott is one of a handful of African Americans who have served in the U.S. Senate. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the great March on Washington. In my view, he should have been invited to speak, no matter what his political views.

Seeing Sen Graham say he agrees with the President's approach, I actually felt a slight sense of hope come over me. While I'm ambivalent about what we should do in Syria, it was nice to finally see some measure of working together in DC. And now other GOP leaders are coming on board. So they are trying to work together and not fight. Am I too optimistic to think there may be some light in this tunnel, or do you think this is just a flash?

Hope springs eternal, but I think it's probably just a flash. It may be that after backing the president on Syria, Republicans feel they have to oppose him more stridently on everything else. I'd love to be proved wrong on this.

I have war fatigue too, but when a leader gasses his own people, then it is time for all good people to declare war. We can never again let what occurred in Nazi Germany occur in any other country. I hope the Congress will support the President.

Breaking the taboo against chemical weapons really is a big deal.

In today's column, you comment that GOP members of Congress should start acting more like grown-ups. Gene, they cannot start acting as such because they're not grown-ups. They're petulant adolescents.

My friend Ron Fournier tweeted that line from the column and added, "Good luck with that." But adolescents do grow up, eventually. Don't they?

If Congress DOES pass a bill supporting US action against Syria, would there be some group that appeals it to the Supreme Court?

On what grounds? I think the view of the Roberts Court likely would be that President Obama needn't have bothered to ask in the first place. Justice Scalia might note that Thomas Jefferson sent forces to the shores of Tripoli to fight the Barbary Coast pirates without asking permission from Congress.


And that's all for today, folks. My time is up. 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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