Obama’s profile in courage

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

In my view, Barack Obama’s speech on Syria yesterday was the high point of his presidency. Ultimately it could cement his place in history the way President Kennedy’s courage and resolve during the Cuban missile crisis did for him.

Public opinion was against Obama on a limited military strike to hold brutal murderer and Dictator Bashar Assad accountable for his regime’s use of deathly sarin gas on his own people. The Senate and the House, both Democrats and Republicans, appeared ready to reject his request for authorization for the strike.

Up until the president’s speech Tuesday night, I was conflicted on his plans for a military attack. I remain concerned about both the efficacy of the strike and the unknown and unintended consequences.

Barack Obama, the man who has been criticized as “leading from behind,” held his ground. Standing with him was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who courageously spoke out on Monday to defend Obama’s position. And it was Secretary of State John Kerry who first suggested that there might be a way to avoid the military strike, if Assad were to give up his chemical weapons under international supervision.

And then, because the president held firm and his threat of military action was credible, even with Congress threatening to refuse authorization, Vladimir Putin and the murderous Assad blinked. Russia’s president agreed to insist on his client Assad giving up his chemical weapons entirely. And Assad agreed, after lying repeatedly over these many months and years, to give up the very chemical weapons he had denied he had.

We don’t yet know what will happen next, as I write this column late on Tuesday night following the president’s simple and direct speech to the American people. He asked congressional leaders to delay any vote on action pending Putin’s enforcement of the agreement to take away all of Assad’s chemical weapons, subject to confirmation through international inspection that they are gone and gone forever. We shall see — we can only pray — that this happens and can be verified. The option remains to launch the strike.

In any event, I believe the U.S. should step up its support for what appears to be a genuine civilian and military anti-terrorist, pro-secular democracy coalition in Syria, as Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) have urged for months.

To me, the most powerful moment of the president’s speech last night was when he took the simple moral position that Americans could not stand by and do nothing while Assad ignored international law and was responsible for launching poison gas against innocent men, women, and children.

I was reminded of the haunting words of former President Clinton, who has said that the greatest mistake of his presidency was doing nothing to stop the slaughter of up to one million Rwandans. Clinton and the rest of us can never forget the scenes on TV of tens of thousands of bodies floating down the Kagera River in Rwanda.