Thoughts about...War and Peace

Anti-War Update. February 23, 2013.
I do not write headlines on pieces I publish at No place in the article linked below did I write "Chuck Hagel should tell Barack Obama to go to hell." I do not believe in hell, or in a god who created such heated real estate. So I would never suggest that Chuck Hagel tell Barack Obama to go to a really bad place that does not exist. But if Sen. Hagel ends up in a hell that really does exist, The Pentagon, I remain hopeful he won't allow our President to use him as a pawn to deflect from the personal responsibility Barack Obama must accept for electing a Second American War in Afghanistan, for placing in harm's way young men and women, who were sent to die for no reasonable national or moral purpose. The Nation deserves an apology from Preident Obama for that horrendous mis-judgement, not a deflection from responsibility. "Mea culpa."--Barack Obama. We need much more than sending Michelle Obama and Jill Biden to comfort our wounded warriors. (If any further clarification is needed, I can be reached at

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Chuck Hagel


Gary Johnson 2012

Penance for "anti-war" liberals:
a vote Nov. 6 for Gary Johnson

by Terry Michael

Anti-war liberal Democrats. I'm talkin' to you. Very specifically, you in the 40-or-so states and the District of Corruption in which I live, where electoral college scores for Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have been frozen on the board for months--years, in many cases.

Search your souls. Follow a path to penance I'm offering, for your failure to get in Barack Obama’s face these last four years, when our 2008 anti-war candidate became our commander-in-chief and chose to continue America’s permanent state of elective warfare.

Without costing Obama a single elector--I’m making this easy for you--send a peace message, by voting for the only serious presidential candidate who wants to stop sending young men and women to die and kill for nothing, in the tribal hills of Central Asia, the Graveyard of Empires, the non-nation state of Afghanistan.

Vote for former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who would end the madness, not at the end of 2014, but at Noon tomorrow.

Many of you seem to take comfort in cackling about Mitt Romney’s vicious attack on Big Bird, when you should be aiming another bird at Barack Obama, for starting a "second Afghanistan war," when he “surged" tens of thousands of young American men and women into harm's way, for no national purpose. Let me remind you liberals, since you’ve probably blocked it from memory, that happened Tuesday, December 1, 2009, with a speech to an audience of teen-aged cadets at West Point. If weekend warrior George W. Bush had staged that charade, you would have been in a state of rage.

Then, two years later, right up to the end of the 2011 withdrawal deadline, Barack Obama had the audacity to try to negotiate keeping troops in Iraq, where thousands of Americans are still holed up in our imperial embassy.

Stop averting your eyes. Get off your dilettante liberal behinds, and challenge the military-industrial-labor-congressional-media complex. Heed the admonition of the co-founder of our Democratic Party, James Madison, who said two hundred years ago: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

I’m talkin’ to you, who sheepishly choose to lose all thoughts of the bloody permanent state of American Empire-building, the TexasBushCheneyHalliburton-war-profiteering  perpetuated by the anti-war candidate we elected president in 2008. Yes, “we.” Mea culpa. I wrote a libertarian Democrat case for Obama in September 2008.

I'm appealing to you, who--admit it--cringe a little each time you see First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden expressing their heartfelt support for the troops, the young men and women laid out at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center with brain concussions and without one or two of their arms or legs, because of Barack Obama’s failure to stand up to the military machine. You, who probably haven't had as much as a 5-minute conversation with anybody wearing a uniform, except maybe at that fund-raiser to end “don’t-ask-don’t-tell.”

I’m challenging you to no heavy lifting, in your solidly Democratic or Republican state. Just go cast a protest vote, for Gary Johnson, against the imperialistic lunacy, like that against which many of us protested--in the streets--when another Democratic president waged another horrific war that took the lives of 57,000 Americans and an estimated two million Vietnamese. Send a message not just to our present president, but to your fellow “liberal Democrats” in Congress, for whom massive offense spending is an AFL-CIO jobs program, just like it is corporate welfare bestowed by their Republican colleagues.

And then, probably take an Ambien. Because I don’t know how you've been able to sleep at night, in your state of anti-war but pro-O'bomba cognitive dissonance. The morning after November 6 will look a lot better, if you help pile up millions of anti-war messages--sent as votes for Gary Johnson.

A libertarian Democrat whose other thoughts are at, Terry Michael is a former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. His day-job is directing the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism.


Obama Afghan Deaths

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Also in the Chicago Sun-Times March 26:
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A July 4th
Postcard to the President

by Terry Michael | July 1, 2011

It’s been a tough few years for us anti-interventionist libertarian Democrats (all six of us). Our split-every-difference, poll-driven, focus-groping president has started an elective second war in Afghanistan, continued (but pretended not to) an inherited disaster in Iraq, and initiated a third pointless, congressionally unauthorized, guns-a-blazing big adventure in the play land of an aging drag queen in Libya.

Sixty-something anti-war baby boomers will recall a bit of 1965 black humor in the disappointing aftermath of Democratic peace candidate Lyndon Johnson’s trouncing of Republican war hawk Barry Goldwater: “They told me if I voted for Goldwater in 1964 we’d be at war in Vietnam within a year. They were right. I did, and we were.”

The most recent Democratic president—a Nobel Peace Prize winner, no less!—announced his own war less than a year after inauguration, bravely speaking to an audience of approving teenage West Point cadets in December 2009. Bowing to demands of the military-industrial-congressional complex after several months of hand-wringing, President Barack Obama chose a theater for his military adventure not far from those Vietnam jungles, a few B-52 or F-16 flying hours across South Asia, in the tribal hills of the sort-of nation state of Afghanistan. There came the new boss, just like the old boss.

So the joke can now be updated: They told me if I voted for McCain in 2008, we’d be in a perpetual state of war within a year. They were right. I did and....well, you know the punch line.

As a Jeffersonian-Madisonian Democrat, and like so many modern left-liberal Democrats, my enthusiasm for Obama’s nomination and election turned almost entirely on his anti-war talk. I was hopeful he wouldn’t turn out to be another Lyndon Johnson. That was hoping against nothing but hope, and talk. Like Johnson, Obama rammed over-reaching social welfare legislation through a Democratic Congress, while starting his own congressionally undeclared war of choice. But unlike LBJ, he didn’t exhibit even the partial saving grace of a bold initiative on civil rights. Our half-black and half-white, half-Kansan, half-Kenyan-American, finger-to-the-wind leader half-heartedly side-stepped the arguably most important American civil rights issue of the 21st century by waffling on same-sex marriage and avoiding a bold Truman-like executive order on gays in the military, timidly lagging behind the changing culture.

Hoping-against-hope is about all we voters have when we are confronted with two candidates with no informing political ideologies or philosophies. It’s why we usually don’t select a chief executive directly from Congress, an institution that rewards those who daily try to convince the National Association of This and the American Council of That he’s on both their sides. We did it only in 1880 with Speaker James Garfield, in 1920 with Sen. Warren Harding, and in 1960 with seductive Sen. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, before we were faced in 2008 with two split-every-difference nominees, Sen. Obama and old-and-intemperate “war hero” Sen. John McCain, who never met a war or a position he didn't embrace.

Is there a way forward? A way out of the deep muddy in which our president finds himself, unable to manage the marketplace (no president can) and too cautious to exercise his power not to intervene in the affairs of the rest of the world?

Maybe, but it would have to come from a principled politician of Obama’s own party, and perhaps own state, even his inner circle. Someone willing to mount the bully congressional pulpit and break with his president. That’s a task especially worth pondering on the Fourth of July, 235 years after a few good men risked not just their political careers but their very lives for a new-world experiment in liberty.

Born in Jefferson County, Illinois, former Democratic National Committee press secretary Terry Michael has observed politics in Washington, DC since 1975, when he arrived in the capital with newly elected Rep. Paul Simon of Barack Obama’s adopted home state of Illinois.  His “thoughts from a libertarian Democrat” are at

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Life magazine February 1941

The End of the American Century
It's time to practice Jeffersonian
libertarianism at home and abroad

by Terry Michael | February 16, 2011

Though its first decade began with a security nightmare in lower Manhattan and ended with an economic collapse blocks away on Wall Street, the 21st century can still bring greater peace, prosperity, and individual liberty if American libertarians seize this moment in history. We must echo President Dwight Eisenhower’s “military industrial complex” warnings in his January 17, 1961 farewell address and we must counter the “American Century” conceit still plaguing us from Henry R. Luce’s Life magazine editorial of February 17, 1941, the 70th anniversary of which is now upon us.

The contrast between Eisenhower’s historically informed wisdom and Luce’s jingoistic missionary zeal offer an opportunity for serious discourse beyond the empty choices presented by bloated government liberals and big government conservatives. Both “sides” pretend they want to downsize the fat federal beast, just as they both sell interventionist foreign policy with flag-waving “support the troops” propaganda.

More alike than not, Democrats and Republicans serve the narrow interests of the “government affairs representatives” who infest Washington’s K Street lobbying firms. They pander to both the procurers of middle- and elderly-class entitlements and to the rent seekers from scare-mongering national security industries, who profiteer from a permanent state of empire-building and elective warfare.

Unfortunately, it has now become mantra for 2012 Republican nominee wannabes to drop a Luce-style reference to “American exceptionalism” into every nascent campaign speech, op-ed, and FOX News cable-babble. They're attempting to create a GOP theme to counter the second-term ambitions of what the populist, nativist right considers a “less-than-American” president, Barack Obama, who made the mistake of saying in an April 2010 press conference outside the U.S. that, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

Obama qualified that remark to assure his worldwide audience that he, too, worships at the altar of the High Church of American Exceptionalism, but it was too little, too late. The neo-con artists, think tank directors, and weekly journal editors who live for an endless state of war seized on Obama’s words. They went on the attack to please their oil and defense-contractor friends, in service to the interests of the religiously-defined nation-state of Israel, and supported by the Rapturist hallucinations of certain domestic Christian fundamentalists eager to ascend into the clouds to meet Jesus via their self-fulfilling prophecies about Armageddon in the Holy Land.

Those of us blessed with the classical liberal meme stream inherited from the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason can do the human race a favor by using the Eisenhower and Luce anniversaries as a teaching moment. We can illuminate just how much liberty has been lost due to today’s permanent state of warfare, which not only Eisenhower in 1961, but James Madison two centuries earlier, warned against. We can define how Luce’s pre-war jingoistic “American Century” proclamation, in his immodestly named Life magazine, contributed to a post-war sense of New World entitlement. Luce’s conceit encouraged Americans to think of ourselves as God’s policemen to the world, and to obsess about our right not only to whatever our rapidly expanding middle-class incomes could buy, but also to what politicians could hand out via federal, state, and local taxes—and a massive deficit-spending spree.

“American exceptionalism” is a slogan used in many ways. With modesty, it describes an exemplar nation, setting an example for indigenous movements for liberal democracy and free markets (perhaps even in Egypt and Iran right now). But more often, it is employed by warmongers and nation builders to justify the projection of American hard power. This approach has been sorely abused by many presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and—sorrowfully, for me—Barack Obama, who now echoes President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s anointment of America as “the indispensable nation.”

As we witness the rise of great middle classes around the globe, empowered by the democratization of information, finance, and technology, America is at a stage of history when we should disenthrall ourselves from the notion we are at the center of human existence. We have become the problem in so many places because of our over-bearing presence. We need to step back and put the individual, not our nation-state, at the center of the universe.

Executive director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism, Terry Michael’s writing is collected at his “thoughts from a libertarian Democrat” personal web site,

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Mr. Obama's war
Why don't anti-war Democrats
support soldiers, straight and gay?

by Terry Michael | December 31, 2010

Liberal Democrats in Congress fought hard for open service by homosexual soldiers, persuading some Republican politicians that it was politically smart to catch up with a fast-moving culture. So now, when will the theoretically anti-war party in Congress use its constitutionally mandated war powers to legislate against President Obama's elective atrocity in Afghanistan? When will they speak out for bringing home from that corrupt hellhole all the troops, straight and homosexual, young men and women, lingering in harm's way for no discernible national purpose after routing the Taliban a decade ago?

Mr. Obama was nominated by Democrats and elected by partisans and independents precisely because he presented himself as the noninterventionist in a field dominated by "liberal internationalist" warriors like Joseph R. Biden and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Inscrutably to those who thought they were electing an anti-war president, he then proceeded to form a government with a vice president and a secretary of state from the "neo-con lite" wing of the Democratic Party, the foreign-policy "experts" who are part of a self-proclaimed Beltway consensus perpetuating the liberty-threatening permanent state of war James Madison counseled against two centuries ago.

That consensus has another name, the military-industrial complex, which general and Republican President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address 50 years ago this coming Jan. 17, in the year Mr. Obama was born. Eisenhower is said to have called it the military-industrial-congressional complex in an early draft but to have decided not to gratuitously offend the branch of government at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Liberal congressional Democrats came to power in 2006 - just as Mr. Obama did in 2008 - in an electoral wave that rejected George W. Bush's war of choice in Iraq. They next averted their eyes as Mr. Obama caved to the military, industrial and congressional money machine, with a December 2009 West Point speech as stomach-churning for anti-war liberals and libertarians as was Mr. Bush's "Mission accomplished" stunt on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier six years earlier.

With substantial majorities in both the House and Senate, liberal congressional Democrats in 2009 abdicated their responsibility to reject Mr. Obama's war, just as in 2003 unprincipled conservative congressional Republicans colluded to pass the biggest social-welfare legislation since the Great Society, Mr. Bush's budget-busting prescription-drug pander to the elderly. Like the oxymoronic "big-government conservatism" that rendered many Republicans non-voters in 2006, Mr. Obama's interventionism left millions of Democrats demoralized in 2010.

Democratic apologists will claim Mr. Obama just did in Afghanistan what he said he would do in the campaign. Such courtesans conveniently forget that he also declared he would not insist that every American be required to buy health insurance. In each case, he was engaging in heat-of-the-moment tactics of a presidential nominating campaign, not usually known for producing thoughtful public policy when it comes time to govern. Just months after taking office, Mr. Obama reversed himself on a key element of his signature domestic-policy initiative, the insurance mandate at the center of lawsuits against the implementation of health care "reform." So, what hindered him - after months of public and private hand-wringing over Afghanistan - from concluding that America had no further business in "the graveyard of empires" with a government as corrupt as can be imagined?

The year 2011 brings another anniversary in addition to the 50th of Eisenhower's echoing of the Founders' disdain for standing armies, arms profiteering and the liberty infringement that results from fear-mongering employed to scare up popular support for spending blood and treasure. Twenty years before Ike's address, in the Feb. 17, 1941, issue of his immodestly named Life magazine, publisher Henry R. Luce christened the last 100 years of the second millennium "The American Century."

The son of Presbyterian missionaries, Luce represented the zealous strain of American exceptionalism, advocating the spread of liberal democracy with military intervention. It contrasted with the more modest view of America as an exemplar nation, encouraging adoption of our political and economic systems by imitation through indigenous movements for liberal democracy and free markets.

A debate over those two visions of the shining city on the hill is worth having today. Some countries may take exception to the "indispensable nation" status for America proclaimed by Bill Clinton in the last democratic administration, a grandiose vision now touted by his wife, the current secretary of state. Other citizens of the world may disagree and ask us to kindly mind our own damned business. But it takes at least two parties to engage in such serious discourse. Some of us therefore must ask: Where the hell are the anti-war Democrats?

Terry Michael is a former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, who teaches college journalists about politics and writes "thoughts from a libertarian Democrat" at

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It's Still the War, Stupid!
How congressional Democrats can save their seats

by Terry Michael | September 14, 2010

It’s not the economy, it’s the war, stupid!

I’m talkin’ to you, Democrats in the House and Senate. Scores of you are about to lose your jobs, while the rest forfeit coveted committee chairmanships because you don’t realize the way to avoid defeat is to appeal to your base with an anti-war message.

No smoke and mirrors in the next seven weeks will convince Republican, independent, and conservative-leaning centrists—the motivated voters of 2010—that President Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats have a plan to restore home equity and retirement savings, stimulate investment, and reduce unemployment. Those are functions of the business cycle, impacted by the irrational exuberance that fueled the illusion that real estate and stock values could rise forever. Tea Partiers may irrationally blame Democrats for most of that pain, but they’re certain big government—especially ObamaPelosiCare—is making things worse.

The left-liberal political consultant-driven neo-populism, which Democrats have been trying to sell to a dwindling number of the Industrial Era (it’s over!) “working class” voters for decades, is folly. Waging class warfare against “the rich”—foolishly defined as anyone earning over $250,000—will do next to nothing to inspire the Democratic base, while refusing to extend the George W. Bush administration’s tax cuts only stokes the election day fury of Tea Party activists.

Every election is about energizing the base while winning over independents. But mid-terms, particularly for the House, have more to do with firing up loyalists, because most districts have been gerrymandered as Democrat or Republican. The Democratic base is in despair and inclined to stay home, just as it did in 1994 after HillaryCare gave Newt Gingrich the opening he needed to energize Clinton-haters and cultural and economic conservatives.

We usually see reelection rates over 90 percent for incumbents. This is due to Baker v. Carr (1962) demanding equal population districts, computers making it possible to configure districts block-by-block to determine partisan outcomes, and politicians waging year-round campaigns with taxpayer-financed staffs.

So, Democrats, if you can’t control the anger of Tea Party activists, who are mad as hell about losing economic security, what can you do?

You can motivate your base by taking on your own president, energizing those voters who are mad as hell that the leader they elected to end a war decided to ramp another one up instead.

In a matter of months, Obama succumbed to the military-industrial-congressional complex and placed thousands more young men and women in harm’s way in the corrupt non-state and graveyard of empires known as Afghanistan. The very year Obama was born, in fact, Dwight Eisenhower warned us of the threat to liberty posed by a huge standing army and the arms profiteers who fuel a perpetual state of war. Ike echoed James Madison, who helped found the Democratic Party with Thomas Jefferson, and who alerted us two centuries ago, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” A former constitutional law professor, Obama apparently never internalized that observation by the architect of our Constitution.

As they face doom, congressional Democrats need to show guts—and political intelligence—and tell their base they intend to fight like hell to end the madness in Afghanistan, and bring home the 50,000 “advisors” Obama left in Iraq.

Democrats, like Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, abdicated responsibility when they made no principled case against the Iraq War in its run-up, just as the Democrats of the 1960's proved gutless by allowing President Lyndon Johnson to sacrifice thousands of young men in Southeast Asian jungles. Congressional Democrats have averted their eyes once again, remaining all but silent last year when Obama gave a George W. Bush-style war-making speech at West Point.

If Democrats need polls to stiffen their spines, the Associated Press-GfK survey last month reveals 58 percent of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, while only 38 percent support it. More significantly, the numbers of those most likely to vote based on the issue rests resoundingly with opponents, with 35 percent strongly opposing the war while only 17 percent strongly favor it. The numbers on Iraq are even more anti-war, with 65 percent opposing and only 31 percent supporting. (For the few politicians who prefer sound arguments to polls, they can cite Andy Bacevich’s excellent new book, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War.) 

Democrats, give your base a reason to vote this November. Not so Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can keep their jobs, but because you have a duty to oppose the "American exceptionalist" militarism that typifies the Republicans—and which has unfortunately seized the mind of still another Democratic president.

A former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, Terry Michael now teaches college journalists about politics and writes at his “libertarian Democrat” web site

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Our Afghan "Government in a Box"
Did Gen. McChrystal reveal more than he intended?

by Terry Michael | February 18, 2010

"We've got a government in a box, ready to roll in," Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, told The New York Times last week about the largest military offensive since an American-led coalition invaded the country in 2001. Six thousand U.S. Marines, plus British and Afghan forces, descended on a Taliban stronghold in Marja, in the southern Helmand Province, a mission described as a "test" of America’s new counter-insurgency strategy designed to win over civilians and establish order, all while chasing away or killing Taliban fighters.

Government in a box? What a foolish thing to say, what hubris. Ironically, it’s probably more truth than the general wanted to reveal about American manipulation of the Afghan "government." But what should we expect when we put a military commander—underscore the word commander—in charge of a nation-building folly. Apparently, the general thinks you can bring in a government as easily as he requisitions more meals-ready-to-eat for his troops.

Of course, we’ll get a result as tasty as those MREs. The outcome will be what any intelligent observer with a sense of history will understand--a client government in name only, in a failed non-state, rife with corruption. If that sounds familiar, you probably know what we tried unsuccessfully with an earlier American client regime, in “South” Vietnam in the early 1960s. And it’s what another general touted by the Military Industrial Complex, David Petraeus, did with his rent-a-bad-guy “counterinsurgency strategy” in Iraq, heralded by neocon loonies as the “victory” for their elective war.

The Times story that quoted McChrystal’s nonsense appeared under the headline, “Afghan Offensive Is New War Model.” “Marja is intended to serve as a prototype for a new type of military operation,” the Times correspondent wrote, “based on the counterinsurgency thinking propounded by General McChrystal in the prelude to President Obama’s decision in December to increase the number of American troops here to nearly 100,000. More than at any time since 2001, American and NATO soldiers will focus less on killing Taliban insurgents than on sparing Afghan civilians and building an Afghan state.”

Well, that’s an improvement over President Lyndon Johnson’s napalming distant villages in Vietnam in order to save them. But military nation-building is still a fool’s errand, particularly when there is no indigenous infrastructure to build a nation, let alone build a liberal democracy.

Dr. Nadir Atash, an Afghan native who has mostly lived in the United States since he came here as a student in the 1960s, recently made that point to me as we both sat in the guest waiting room of RT-TV. I was there to assess the first-year failures of President Barack Obama, and he followed me to discuss how McChrystal’s Afghan adventure was doomed to fail.

“This (the assault on Marja) is not a break through,” said Atash, who recently authored a memoir, Turbulence: The Tumultuous Journey of One Man's Quest for Change in Afghanistan. After a career in teaching and building a successful business, Atash went back to Afghanistan after the U.S. removed the Taliban from Kabul in 2001, hoping to help restore a nation assaulted by the Soviets in the 1980s and terrified by the Taliban in the 1990s.

Military efforts won’t produce anything lasting, Atash told RT TV. We first “need to focus on [instilling] rule of law, [ending] corruption and creating jobs.”

He had some real-life experience battling corruption in the Karzai government when he returned to Afghanistan in 2001. He was asked to head the state-owned airlines, but finally gave up and returned to the U.S. in 2006 after failing to make headway for years.

For those who advocate following Petraeus’ Iraq model of trying to purchase peace, Atash had this to say in his interview: “We cannot buy peace. Maybe time. But it is sure to backfire. The insurgents are fighting for ideology, not money.” The rent-a-Taliban theory, he noted, “was cooked up by the Afghan government” and its American and NATO “allies”, who, he said, “only see dollar signs.”

The Obama-McChrystal military “solution” for Afghanistan, which fell on Presidents Day weekend, should remind the historically-informed of America’s own efforts to build a nation-state in the New World. Our founders created an indigenous movement for liberal democracy. They were nobody’s clients.

If Barack Obama hopes to join George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the pantheon of wise American leaders, our very brainy president needs to stop outsmarting himself. He needs to study—and understand—the lessons of our failed attempts to impose liberal democracy where no indigenous liberal or democratic movements existed. Gen. McChrystal is no Gen. Washington. And thus far, Barack Obama doesn’t resemble the founder of his political party, Thomas Jefferson.

Terry Michael is executive director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism. His "thoughts from a libertarian Democrat" are collected at his website

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(Terry Michael Picto-Graphic)
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in which we can bereave.

December 2, 2009

by Terry Michael

A year ago, some of us believed we were electing an anti-war president. Complete with a George W. Bush-style speech at West Point, we got the opposite--change in which we can bereave, as the bodies of more American boys will be flown home in boxes from the tribal hills of a non-nation, a graveyard of foolish imperial powers, a geographic entity, a sort-of-country called Afghanistan.

Nominated because he opposed an elective war and elected because he opposed an old warrior, a young president has been unable to resist the lure of the military industrial complex, about which we were warned the year Barack Obama was born by retiring soldier-President Dwight David Eisenhower.

Even sadder, President Obama has been unable to stand up to the war hawk “liberal internationalists,” as they like to call themselves, in his own party--who more accurately can be described as “Neo-Con Lites.” I know them well. They are from my generation of Democratic operatives. Political careerist baby boomers with draft deferments, who raged against the Vietnam madness in the 1960's, but as they approached their own sixties forgot the lessons of that tragedy as they devised political strategies to make us look tougher, so we could win presidential elections by wooing back the Nixon and Reagan Democrats, the World War II “good war” voters, who are now mostly not voters....because they are mostly dead.

President Obama, half-Kenyan, half-Kansan, from an apostate Muslim father, and himself now a Christian dad, is a fascinating study in human compromise. Like the larger-than-life Superman action figure in front of which he once posed for a picture in Metropolis, Illinois, he is able, with great speeches, to leap tall differences in a single bound. It’s why we elected him. But a politician’s strength can be a policy-maker’s weakness, as he succumbs to the drum beats of American exceptionalist war-makers in both of our political parties.

Assembling a team of rivals, Obama learned too much from history--or at least too much from a popular historical biography of a fellow Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln. Making Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State, he all but chained himself to a mid-1980's Democratic Party foreign policy/national security political strategy, which prescribed “tough on defense” as the key to keeping Democrats in The White House. And by retaining George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, the new president sealed his fate, tethering himself to what is now his own elective war, without an American purpose.

America has “The Power Problem,” as Chris Preble of the Cato Institute has explained in a book with that title. It is a field of defense industry dreams, military dominance built over a Cold War half century, demanding to be used because it’s there, not because it makes us more safe, more prosperous, or more free. And we have developed “The Cult of the Presidency,” defined in a work of that name by another Cato scholar, Gene Healy, a grandiose vision that mis-leads Leaders of the Free World to believe their place in history comes from projecting all that hard power.

All this comes at a time when the nation is sick and afraid, with unemployment of the young in double digits, with retirement plans of the old on hold, with fathers and mothers wondering whether they can hang onto their homes. How would we even pay for another elective power projection?

It is time for Congress to accept its Constitutional responsibility to impede Executive war-making. Are you listening, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are you ready to speak against this disaster from the House floor? Are you willing, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, to call back from the Afghan abyss the youthful fellow Illinois colleague you touted to lead us?

This is not the highway appropriations bill, health care re-structuring, or bailing out banks and auto companies. It’s life and death.

An Illinois native and former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, Terry Michael is founder and director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism. link

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Obama and the Afghan Abyss
Why it's time for the U.S.
to get out of Afghanistan

Terry Michael | September 26, 2009

As President Barack Obama ponders the moral case against tossing more young American soldiers into the Afghan abyss, he faces several political obstacles, including some of his own making.

In a classic primary gaffe to fix a verbal stumble, Obama opted to sound tough on Afghanistan and Pakistan after asserting he'd talk to dictators. His chief opponent—and current Secretary of State—Hillary Clinton, pounced. So in the next news cycle he sounded tough as nails. Compounding the error early this year, Obama sent more troops and a new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, but left the mission open-ended, thus appearing to fill an implied campaign promise.

Now Republicans are painting the young president as naive for suggesting he might downgrade the mission. And the GOP war hawks are setting McChrystal up for hero status in the same way they elevated David Patraeus in Iraq, implying that control over mission, strategy, and tactics should be in professional military hands, instead of those of the Commander-in-Chief—who has that constitutional obligation.

The second dilemma Obama faces in trying to alter course is a gotcha press corps, especially the talking air heads of cable babble, who are always ready to hold an official to every word he uttered in the silly season of a campaign. As someone who teaches college journalists about politics, I take the watchdog role of the press seriously. But I also worked in electoral politics, including a presidential primary, plus 8 years on Capitol Hill. The heat of a primary race is no place to formulate sound policy.

Candidates are pulled every which way by operatives and consultants, not to mention the press pack, who see no farther than the next news cycle. An often young and inexperienced press corps, especially talking-points babblers on ideologically polarized cable networks, make it excessively difficult for an elected official to change course in office—even when it makes infinite good sense to do.

Third, finally, and most importantly, Obama faces the intra-party impediment of a Democratic foreign policy establishment, which thinks the party still looks like a bunch of Cold War era, national security weaklings compared to the toughness of "Reagan Democrats." Never mind that the Cold War is over, and the Reagan Democrats are mostly dead! Replacing the "good war" (WWII) and Depression era center of the 1980s' electorate are the 21st century sex, drugs, and rock & roll non-interventionist Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers.

The "neo-con lite" wing of the Democratic Party, headquartered at the so-called Democratic Leadership Council, was started by the military-obsessed, Southern wing of the party way back in 1984. These self-styled "Democratic" foreign policy wizards colluded with George W. Bush and the neo-cons in promoting the Iraq tragedy, instead of saving us from it!

You can also find these neo-con lites on the editorial pages of the "liberal" Washington Post, which aggressively supported the Iraq madness and has tried ad nauseam to defend its discredited position. Now, the neo-con lites seek to compound their foolishness by working to maneuver Obama into sending more troops to the Graveyard of Empires.

Mr. President, your decision about Afghanistan is not a political choice. This isn't a highway appropriations bill or even your healthcare reform plan, open to tinkering here and marginally adjusting there.

There are potentially thousands of young lives at stake, individuals who you will send to die and be maimed. And the choice of stepping up this horror—rather than drawing it down—will engender bitter hatred from Afghans caught in the crossfire.

Do not listen to the Washington foreign policy establishment and its brother institution, the never-ceasing military industrial complex, which believe that America, because we have big hard power, has to intervene and use that power for nation-building and the hallucination that geographic entities like Iraq and Afghanistan can develop liberty-loving democracies. There have to be indigenous movements for that to happen, and there are no such movements in the tribal, theocratic cultures of the Middle East—with the possible exception of Iran, unless our war hawks drive the young people there into the nationalist arms of the loonies who now run their country.

Do the right thing, Mr. President. We kicked out the Taliban eight years ago. It is long-since time to hugely scale back our effort and troop commitment.

While many congressional Democrats are still afraid of their Cold War shadows, you have our party's base massively favoring withdrawal, and a majority of independents are solidly with you. Get us out now.

A former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, Terry Michael is director of the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism.

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Reason Online

Note: A few paragraphs were cut from this piece, for space, by Reason editors. They have been included here, and are in red.

by Terry Michael | March 14, 2008

Who Says the Surge Is Working?
Weak-kneed Democrats, that's who.

The surge is smirking.

When it comes Iraq, neoconservative true believers have been allowed to set the bar of "success" below ground level. In this, they're aided by media siding with power instead of challenging it, all while congressional Democrats cower in their cloak rooms.

Approaching the fifth anniversary of "mission accomplished," we are a few improvised explosive devices away from the moment a 4,000th young American will die on some desert roadside.

As that new level of tragedy looms, far too many Democrats remain frightened by their "weak-on-defense" Cold War shadows, apparitions raised not just by the no-time-to-surrender bluster of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, but by the neocon-lite faction of the Democratic Party itself.

"Third way" Democrats lost their national security minds somewhere around 1985, when the World War II generation played the role of swing voters. Promoting "progressive internationalism"—interventionism by another name—Beltway-based operatives like those at the Democratic Leadership Council hallucinate a political center of "Reagan Democrats," who in reality disappeared with the Berlin wall. The middle of the electorate is now made up of generally anti-war Baby Boomers, who came of political age in the 1960s and Vietnam.

Proponents of the war and the surge even get to pick their own faux war “critics,” as they did last July when they heralded a New York Times op-ed by “liberal” Brookings Institution fellow Michael O’Hanlon, co-authored with another supporter of the Iraq War from the beginning, Kenneth Pollack. This pair described themselves as “two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq,” after they returned from parachuting into Baghdad. Audaciously, they feigned they were “...surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily ‘victory’ but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.” The entire neo-con establishment then trumpeted how even these “liberal critics” recognized success.

It's difficult to report on a debate not taking place, especially when an influential rump group of the "opposition" colludes instead of opposes. Except for a few pieces in left-liberal journals and blogs, Democrats have simply allowed neoconservative propagandists to define the terms of what has become a one-sided monologue about "victory," voiced by elective warriors who employed deception about phantom weapons of mass destruction to market a multi-trillion dollar travesty; claimed a paper tiger thug was our enemy, when the real culprits of the 9/11 attacks still hide in caves, not spider holes; imagined Iraqi embrace of pluralistic democracy, in a tribal culture with no indigenous movement for it; and fielded an imperial American occupying force, drawing jihadists to Baghdad while fomenting civil war that raged outside a surreal "Green Zone," as our puppet government dithered.

Those who took us to the wrong war in the wrong place at the right time seek redemption by claiming their surge is working. That’s as rational as placing a few dozen more cops on urban street corners and declaring victory in the self-defeating war on drugs.

Instead of making a case against the war, congressional Democrats shift their poll-driven attention to "the economy, stupid." Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who provided initial anti-war leadership, muzzle themselves with half-hearted statements like one she made on television February 10. "The purpose of the surge was to create a secure bring reconciliation to Iraq. They have not done that." But then, she hastened to add: "The troops have succeeded, God bless them." So which is it, failure or success? Democratic "leaders" try to have it both ways, reminiscent of John Kerry in 2004.

The "liberal" newspapers which could have challenged the surge have used it either to justify their own support for the war, or have averted their eyes. The Washington Post's befuddled neocon editorial page engages in tortuous revisionism, pointing a finger at everyone except itself for failures of the war it helped cheerlead.

The New York Times, theoretically anti-war, fails even to attempt rational argument against the surge's "success," and yields precious column space to an architect of the war and editor of its propaganda organ, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard.

Taking cues from the neocon play book, cable-babbling correspondents and print reporters ask simple-minded questions of squishy Democrats, phrased something like this one from CNN's Joe Johns at January's Democratic debate in South Carolina: "Now that the surge is succeeding, how are you going to counter John McCain's case for the war?"

So the war rages on. Weak-kneed Democrats fail to stand against it, and Republicans act like the jilted lover in British singer Dido's "White Flag," taking comfort in denial: "I will go down with this ship. I won't throw my hands up in surrender. There'll be no white flag above my door. I'm in love, and always will be."

The neocons will never give up their love affair with a fatal fantasy. And they'll take the rest of us down with their ship, as long as timid Democrats and a compliant press let them.
A former DNC press secretary, Terry Michael directs the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism and writes opinion at his "libertarian Democrat" blog,

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Washington Post to Readers:
Stop Us Before We Kill Again

Post (war) Partum Depression?

by Terry Michael, March 20, 2007

People! Listen up. If there’s a journalism shrink in the crowd, please proceed immediately to the media tent. The editorial page editors of The Washington Post seem to have dropped some really bad shit on this otherwise fun and fabulous fourth anniversary of their first Iraq war trip. They’re having these, like, uh...reality-based flashbacks about no actual WMD’s, and non-threatening paper tiger thugs, and tribal, theocratic cultures that don’t seem to be into flower power. If you’ve got any anti-anxiety stuff to help ‘em out, man--pills, or whatever--they could really use it. Please help, man. Peace and love. Rock on.

I live in Washington, DC. I know surreal when I see it. And I saw it in vivid blotter acid color this past Sunday on the editorial page of a paper that once helped bring down a president who also undercut America’s moral authority several decades ago.....

.....[Click here for Permalink to this piece on this site]



Also at...

Take the Lead Where are the Gordon Smiths?

by Terry Michael, Thursday, January 11, 2007 - Page A21

[Democrats vamp, instead of providing principled opposition]

It's hard to get out of a deal with the devil.

That's the congressional Democrats' dilemma, as they continue to treat the Iraq war as a speed bump on their pathway to the perks of restored power, rather than as a moral question to which voters loudly demanded a moral answer two months ago.

Take Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware. "There's not much I can do about it," responded the Democratic "leader" on foreign policy, when asked on one of the Sunday venues for pompous pontificators how he would respond to any attempt by President Bush to escalate the war in Iraq (or "surge," if you prefer it in Orwellian newspeak).

This is a man who sees a future president during his morning look in the mirror. Sadly, the glass reflects an empty.....

.....Full text as:
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by Terry Michael, March 24, 2006

Bush Beast Bites Back
The self-correcting rough justice of bad policy and demagogic politics

Bushed Bushies?  No. It’s the president, stupid.

Enough of this nonsense about White House staff fatigue and bad communications strategy leaving “W” misunderstood by the masses. Leave the six-year-curse-for-two-term-presidents to the fertile imaginations of sound-bite historians. And discount the President’s own suggestion (at his March 21st press conference) that he may call in a late-inning relief pitcher (as one newspaper headline aptly characterized it.)

George Bush’s approval ratings are in the toilet for a very simple reason: the self-correcting rough justice, in a transparent democracy, of bad policy and demagogic politics.

Dr. Frankenstein would understand. Dr. Bush’s beast is biting back..... read the complete text, choose either....
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The non-debate on the war
Published August 25, 2005
By Terry Michael

"Teach your interns the role of journalists is to question power, not propagate it." That advice arrived recently from retired New York Times columnist Tom Wicker. While Mr. Wicker's words are important for my journalism students, they're a timely reminder for the Baby Boom leaders of America's newsrooms
— who should have learned more than they did in the '60s, when the best and the brightest gave us Vietnam.

The most influential interpreters of our public affairs are accepting, rather than expanding, a noose-tight frame the Washington political culture is enforcing to limit permissible discourse on the war in Iraq.... read the complete text, choose either:
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"Anti-War" Poseurs:
All Whine, No Spine
Published November 23, 2005
By Terry Michael

With two-thirds of Americans mis-trusting George Bushs handling of the Iraq war, and a solid majority telling pollsters we should never have picked this fight, when will liberal Democratic politicians find the courage to join the anti-war parade their constituents have organized?

It took a hawkish Vietnam veteran, from a blue collar Pennsylvania congressional district, to force a debate left-liberal legislators didnt have the guts to pursue when it would have made a real difference, when it could have saved thousands of young American lives before the neo-conservatives led us into their elective war to make the world safe for democratically elected theocracies..... read the complete text, choose either:
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'White Flag' beats false hope
Published: Monday, February 7, 2005
By Terry Michael

His foreign policy may resemble fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson's, who was willing to burn distant villages to save them. But George Bush has decided he's not just William McKinley, bearing the white man's burden in Iraq; he's now Woodrow Wilson, ready to make the whole world safe for what America, with all its awesome military power, can't dictate: pluralistic democracy with individual liberty.

How he came to that conclusion of grandeur can be found in an unlikely place; the lyrics of popular singer Dido. In the hauntingly beautiful "White Flag," a losing lover indulges herself in this bittersweet bravado: "I will go down with this ship. I won't put my hands up and surrender. There will be no white flag above my door. I'm in love and always will be."..... read the complete text, choose either:
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Note: Above HTML link deleted by Examiner when their web site was re-designed. Hoping it will be restored, link remains here.


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