How The Center For American Progress Is Selling Out The Anti-War Left

Michael Tracey Journalist
Font Size:

By virtually all serious accounts, Barack Obama’s latest open-ended war in the Middle East lacks any justification in U.S. law. The administration risibly claims that the 2002 congressional authorization for the use of force in Iraq somehow grants them license to attack ISIS targets in Syria, twelve years later.

They further argue, in another truly impressive display of wildly fallacious reasoning, that the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists” passed hastily by Congress just after 9/11 permits them to bomb ISIS anywhere in the world — despite the fact that ISIS and al-Qaeda are avowed enemies.

But none of this has stopped Obama functionaries at the most influential think tank in Washington, DC, the Center for American Progress (CAP) — which essentially operates as a pseudo-intellectual arm of the White House — from rationalizing, sometimes absurdly, the administration’s plainly illegal conduct.

After some obligatory initial obfuscation, Hayes Brown, a global issues editor for “ThinkProgress,” the fake journalism wing of the CAP enterprise, declared that Obama does in fact possess sufficient legal basis to wage war in Syria without Congressional approval. “IANA [I am not a lawyer],” he conceded, but nevertheless affirmed that “yes,” the indefinite war against Scary Terrorists wherever Obama wishes to bomb them is, legally, just fine. (Brown has since left CAP for Buzzfeed.)

It’s not surprising that an employee of an organization that does public relations for the White House would make such a ridiculous assertion. Since its founding in 2003, but especially in the past several years, CAP has made no bones about operating essentially as a revolving door between the administration and Democratic Party-affiliated lobbyists who wish to curry favor and obtain business. Any pretense of independence or intellectual freedom is a lie.

Former ThinkProgress staffer Zaid Jilani has exposed the restrictions and censorship imposed by senior CAP management on journalists who’d been under the mistaken impression that their job was to ferret out the truth.

CAP was founded by John Podesta, a former Bill Clinton chief of staff who would go onto head Obama’s “transition team” after the 2008 presidential election. This essentially fused CAP with the White House governing apparatus. Even so, only a few years ago, CAP actually played a somewhat useful role in American politics, insofar as it provided young people of liberal-left persuasion with resources to, for example, start magazines on their campus and organize for decently-worthy causes.

(Full disclosure: I received a modest sum in college from CAP to start an alternative politics/culture/whatever magazine, and the people I worked with were actually pretty great. But something seemed to have shifted dramatically since then, and it stinks like a rotten corpse.)

Indeed, the initial lie which brought the United States into protracted military conflict against ISIS was incubated at the esteemed think tank. It now seems like a distant memory, but the original impetus cited for first re-bombing Iraq back on August 7-8 was that the Yazidis, a religious minority under threat from advancing ISIS fighters, were stranded on a mountain and required urgent assistance. Obama proclaimed that the US would embark merely on a ‘limited humanitarian effort’ to protect the beleaguered people from slaughter. But as is basically always the case with military interventions, the scope of the campaign began to morph and expand almost immediately. Soon Obama was announcing his intention to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, a goal entirely unrelated to saving Yazidis on a mountain.

On September 9, I had a Twitter exchange with Neera Tanden, the president of CAP, about her organization’s propagation of the Yazidis pretext for intervention. She literally accused me of favoring the extermination of religious minorities by virtue of my opposition to the administration’s ill-defined bombing campaign. These are the sick depths to which CAP has now sunk.

Days later, Neera’s “National Security” colleagues released a position statement advocating aggressive military action in Syria, and called on Americans to ready themselves for a “long-term US policy challenge” — which in non-corporate euphemism speak means “perpetual war.”

This all sheds light on why the ThinkProgress editorial output of late has largely focused on documenting how so very goofy and dumb the big bad Republicans are, rather than the war being waged by the sitting Democratic president. As of September 15, ThinkProgress managing editor Igor Volsky admitted to me that he’d written nothing critical on Obama’s new war in the Middle East, but instead has opted to obsess incessantly about Rand Paul.

Obama swaggered out to the podium the morning after his late-night sneak attack on Syria (bolstered by close ally Saudi Arabia) wearing a big smile on his face, as if bombing Syria without congressional authorization amuses him. Or maybe he was just confident in the knowledge that the shills at the Center for American Progress will always have his back, no matter who or what he decides to drop bombs on.