Eugene Robinson Live

Aug 12, 2014

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

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly gathering. All the news today seems to be bad. There is carnage and mayhem in Iraq, with U.S. airstrikes (at least) now anticipated for the long haul. There is the aftermath of disgraceful looting near St. Louis, following yet another fatal shooting of an unarmed young black man, this time by a police officer. And of course there is the suicide of Robin Williams, for whom the word genius is not an exaggeration. It's been raining cats, dogs and the rest of the menagerie today in Washington. Maybe a lively discussion will cheer us all up. Or not. Let's get started.

I read today's column three times looking for a single instance in which you blamed Obama for anything going on in the Middle East. I didn't find anything. Six years on and Obama bears no responsibility for what's going on? Really? How long are you going to continue blaming Bush for Obama's missteps?

I didn't say President Obama was blameless. I simply set out to set the record straight on the fundamental reason why Islamic State exists and is running rampant. The simple answer is that the United States invaded Iraq and destroyed the Iraqi state, providing a vacuum that a decade of occupation and the Maliki government could not fill. True or false?

Gene, There are a couple of tough questions about the STL shooting. The hardest is how does the Police or even the FBI let them know that their concerns are being taken seriously, but still let them know that a full investigation will take a while. It isn't fair to anyone involved to put out that much until more facts are known. If I was in STL I would want answers, but they also have to realistic about the timeframe for an investigation this serious. You don't want to have to make a major retraction a couple of weeks from now.

Plain language, such as the words you use, should suffice. Demonstrators should protest peacefully. Police should seek to calm, not provoke. These ugly -- but happily limited -- clashes dishonor the memory of the young man who was killed. I don't know what happened between him and the police officer. It will take a full investigation to find out. 

Hi Eugene -- Your colleague Dana Milbank seems to suggest that the president taking a vacation at a time when the world is in crisis sends the wrong "optics." What do you think? is there ever a "good" time for a president to take a vacation? At the same time, though, I've often wondered why a president would choose a place like Martha's Vineyard, where every movement and ice cream cone will be scrutinized to death, rather than just holing up at Camp David for a week or two, where the media is much more off limits. In fact, I remember the great WP columnist Mary McGrory suggesting that very thing to President Clinton some twenty years ago when he was similarly besieged with a long list of issues both foreign and domestic and unpopular with the public.

Presidents -- and many other world leaders -- always vacation in August. It is silly to begrudge the president what little respite he gets (because it's not really a vacation for him, as everyone knows). Optics be damned. That said, my personal preference would be to get far away from the places, like Martha's Vineyard, where other Important People vacation. 

Greetings, Mr. Robinson: While the outrageous posturings of the GOP make my blood pressure rise, I get very frustrated with President Obama's seemingly lackadaisical responses to every challenge. It appears that he thinks pulling the gloves off and reacting assertively - or even aggressively - is beneath him. When all eyes are watching his reactions and using them as markers for potential Democratic candidates in upcoming elections, I feel he needs to present a stronger image. Don't shrug off talks of impeachment - get angry! His attitude allows his challengers to choose their messages and make him respond defensively - a PR 101 "do not do." Your thoughts?

I've written "get mad" advice columns for the president, but they reflect my temperament, not his. The substance of what he does or doesn't do is much more important, I think.

"I simply set out to set the record straight on the fundamental reason why Islamic State exists and is running rampant. ... True or false?" False. ISIL came from Syria. I suppose that, too, is Bush's fault?

Would there have been an uprising in Syria without the U.S. invasion next door in Iraq? Would there have been enough battle-hardened Islamist fighters to occupy territory in Syria, much less Iraq? Could fewer than 10,000 Islamic State militants have overrun Saddam's army? We'll never know.

With the benefit of hindsight, how do you think the President should have handled the legislative phase of the health care debate? As it was, it seems to have put him in a massive domestic hole, from which he has never really recovered, and perhaps can never recover given the subsequent (and perhaps consequent) loss of the House. Do you see political lesson to be learned?

I argued at the time that there was a moral case to be made for expanding access to medical care through the Affordable Care Act, and that given the opportunity, the president should act. I felt he should go ahead even if Republicans had decided not to support even measures that they themselves had proposed in the past. I stand by that view.

Detroit is under water today and more rain is on the way. What will it take to have a real conversation about needed investments in our infrastructure?

I hope it doesn't take a disaster, such as structural failure of a bridge or a dam. Hope springs eternal.

Even the boy's parents are pleading with protesters to stop the violence...

"Even" his parents? What would you expect the parents to say or do?

Our understanding of the cultures of people in the Middle East seems woefully lacking. Do you think that's one of the core reasons why we have always mis-underestimated :) them? What do you think we can do here to build this knowledge? Do you think our government has sufficiently learned what it can from Americans from Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc? Thanks!

I don't think we're guilty of ignorance so much as hubris. We believe everyone should think and act in a certain way. The people in question have other ideas.

a vacation for his family. The kids deserve some unstructured down time with both parents. I got it while I was growing up, and it is important.

I agree. I hope the family gets some time together as a family.

Did you provide your thoughts on the President not visiting the border? Do you have any thoughts on why he didn't? Sorry if I've missed this.

I believe that in a column I criticized the president for saying he was not interested in photo ops, when in fact he does photo ops every day. I think I said on television that since he was down there in Texas anyway, I didn't understand why he wouldn't just swing past the border. But I was supportive of his policy and pointed out that the flood of unaccompanied youth was caused by a 2008 law forbidding authorities from deporting those children without a formal process.

A 3-year old was killed the other day heree...a 3-year old!!! Where is Reverand Al Sharpton; the NAACP? I feel terrible about the young man in St. Louis, but I am just devastated by the killing of this little baby over some clothes!!

You're talking about the tragedy here in Washington, and I have to agree. It seems to have been the result of an argument over somebody wearing somebody else's clothing. Intolerable.

I'm sure you saw/heard Obama's statement yesterday. Oh wait...Obama is on vacation! It really aggravates me to hear complaints about the president being on vacation. Our president works 24/7/ matter where he is. I'm sure some days are harder than others...but the president never truly gets a day off.

So true.

I found Dana Milbank’s column today to be just plain dumb. Does anyone really believe that Obama isn’t still on the job 24/7 wherever he is? What’s interesting is that Milbank never specifies any alternative scenario or predicts possible ramifications of those scenarios. Should he have told his whole family that vacation this year is cancelled? Should Obama have stayed in the White house and told his family to go on without him? I can the headlines now—“First family on shaky ground as Obama sends them off on vacation without him—is their marriage on the rocks?” Or, “Obama canceling vacation is a publicity stunt to bolster his foreign policy image” What evidence to does Milbank have that Obama skipping vacation (or any President for that matter) will bolster world spirits and solve any of the problems that the US is currently facing?

In fairness, Dana's column was about optics, not evidence. But as I said before: Optics be damned. To the limited extent possible, take a little break with your family.

Do you think David Brooks' implicit endorsement of HRC this morning will help or hurt her campaign wise? 

I don't think David endorsed her, I think he applauded what he sees as her approach to foreign policy. That HRC is more hawkish on the use of military force than President Obama is hardly new. Believe me, columnists don't make or break candidacies. 

The true measure of how foolhardy the Bush 43 administration's decision was to invade Iraq is the fact that Bush 41 easily could've, but in a case of discretion being the better part of valor, consciously decided not to. If only 43 had learned from his father's example (instead of from Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al.).

Bush 41 decided to seek the return of Kuwait but not regime change in Baghdad. He was wise in limiting his objectives.

Hi Gene Thanks for taking questions today. I read with interest your column blaming George W. Bush for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq branded as ISIS. I think simple explanations and laying blame is a great tool for selling newspapers and I do understand a weekly column should be entertaining and brief but this particular column misses the point. The presumption that the current state of affairs is related to the fact Saddam Hussein is no longer in power is on the surface a logical conclusion. Until we sit back and think about Libya. Or we sit back and think about Syria. Or we sit back and think about Afghanistan right now. How do we blame the conflicts and rise of fundamentalist islam in these "countries" on George W Bush? Libya and Syria were both "stable" countries with apparently unpopular minority sect leaders just like Saddam. It also seems to me there is a lot more at play here than the overthrow of a dictator. Sure its easy to blame the US invasion but its short sighted and does not advance the question as to how this movement that is so antithetical to everything we believe in, can be defeated and give the people in these countries a chance for a better way of life with at least some from of human rights and liberties.

Hold it, there's a "great tool for selling newspapers" that somehow the whole industry has overlooked??? Seriously, I do think that if there had been no invasion, Islamic State would not control a huge tract of Iraq. But we'll never know for sure. I agree, however, that we need to grapple with the larger question of political (and extremist) Islam. That will be the subject of another column soon.


And that's it for today, folks. My time is up. Thanks for enlivening a dreary day, and I'll 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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