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Usual Suspect Glenn Greenwald on Obama's Libya.

No, I didn't leave off a word on the sub-hed. President Obama owns Libya now via Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule. Good luck with that.

Glenn GreenwaldI could highlight good analysis from Glennzilla almost every post he writes. I'm sure lots of amateur blogs do. What caught my eye and prompted a post today was the subject of ignoring laws generally, and Bush43's War on Terror particularly. A progressive case for Obama's foreign policy greatness? compares Obama's breaking the War Powers Resolution with Bush43's breaking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
There seems to be this sense that while it's regretful that Obama had to break the law to wage this war, the outcome is so good, the cause was so imperative, that we can accept this.

As someone who spent years arguing literally on a daily basis about Bush's lawlessness, I can assure you that this rationale was exactly the one offered by Bush followers over and over again: even if it was technically illegal to eavesdrop without warrants, it was justified because (a) FISA is too restrictive a law on presidential authority and (b) the cause -- detecting Terrorist plots -- is so important and just. Replace "FISA" with "War Powers Resolution" and "detecting Terrorist plots" with "vanquishing Gadaffi" and one finds that mentality in full force today (in December, 2005, I wrote a post entitled "Claiming the Right to Break the Law," highlighting how Bush officials such as Condoleezza Rice were defending the NSA program on that ground that stopping Terrorists was so vital that it justified the warrantless eavesdropping ...
I'm reading Barton Gellman's Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency right now.1 Gellman quotes an unnamed "associate" of Condoleezza Rice justifying waterboarding:
"At the time, you really did have to understand what the cabinet principals were faced with, which was an intensely high threat situation," said an associate of Condi Rice's, who said she gradually came to believe that waterboarding should be renounced. "We really thought we were going to be attacked-possibly chemical, biological, even nuclear, the potential that they could blow up entire American cities. And it appeared that al Qaeda wanted to do all that. And then they captured a couple of these people. And then CIA came and said, 'You know, this is the only way to question these people. Our experts say this is the only program that will work.' And Justice said that the [Geneva Conventions] didn't apply ... and that the agency programs did comply with the torture statute. When we asked the CIA,'Were there alternatives?' they said there were no other alternatives. It essentially left the principals with no real other options there."
(p. 180, Penguin Books, 2009) The rationalizations and buck-passing are amazing. But the basic point is laws can be ignored when necessary. And the potential lawbreaker gets to decide when it is necessary. Greenwald shows that this point is still valid today and it receives open support from the President's tribe.

There are many interesting observations and questions in comparing the circumstances around bombing Libya into regime change and NSA wire-tapping or CIA waterboarding. For instance, is it worse or better to knowingly break the law when your objective is serious versus trivial (to the U.S.)? Or how convenient it is for the Executive to pick one source of legal advice for justification, even when it is a dubious opinion and a minority position of the Executive Branch as a whole. But what strikes me most is the basic emotional motivations of the law breaker. The next paragraph from Gellman's book is:
Rice declined to discuss those meetings or the techniques she voted to support. But by 2008, when she paid a call on Google headquarters (corporate motto: "Don't be evil"), she did allude to changes in her thinking. Law and values played a role, but she began and ended her answer with The Threat. The deciding factor, she made plain, was fear.
Pretty obvious that fear was the motivating force for the War on Terror. How about Libya - what's the motivating emotion? Is it naive compassion for the residents of Eastern Libya, or is it hyped-up disgust for Qaddafi? What if there are no motivating emotions for Obama at all? Maybe he's an alien after all.

1 All I can say is wow, Dick Cheney is one bad man. In all senses of the word, including the positive slang meanings. That guy got stuff done. Too bad, in only the negative sense, that the stuff he got done was atrocious.

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