In the modern symbolic logic practiced in philosophy, there is a concept of validity. Validity means that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Not all valid arguments are sound arguments—for example:
If you are a human, then you can fly
Socrates is a human
Therefore, Socrates can fly
But valid arguments are always truth preserving: if the two premises were true, then the conclusion would have to be true. By the very form of a valid argument, if you put true information in, you get true information out. If this important test of arguments applied to presidents, Barak Obama would be an invalid president.
Over the years of the Obama presidency, there has been a disturbing pattern of true information coming into the White House with false conclusions coming out. The President gets the truth, the people get a lie. Democracy depends on an informed public that is able to make informed decisions. When the President’s sources of information, be they intelligence agencies or embassies or some other source, provide him with the truth, and the President fails to preserve that truth and tells the people a lie, he invalidates not only himself, but democracy.
In the early morning hours of June 28, 2009, Honduras’ democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya, was seized at gunpoint by hooded soldiers and forced, still in his pajamas, onto a plane that, after refueling at the U.S. military base of Palmerola, whisked him off to Costa Rica.
Zelaya has always claimed that what happened on that morning was a military coup. Almost all of the international community and the Organization of American States agree with him. The U.S. was less clear. There were different messages coming out of the White House and the State Department. Though the White House’s words were stronger, they were never decisive, and Washington’s message remained sullied by mixed messages and vacillation. On the day of the coup, the White House refused to condemn it, and the U.S. never did officially call it a military coup.
Zelaya has also always claimed that the U.S. was involved in the coup. Zelaya has said that, despite consistent denial by the State Department, “all of the proof incriminates the U.S. government” and that “the coup came from the north, from the U.S.”. Plans for the coup began, he says, when he started to join ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, an organization begun by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, fostering cooperation among Latin American states.
What is the “proof” Zelaya is referring to? He probably knows a lot we don’t know. But Zelaya does name Otto Reich and Robert Carmona-Borjas. Both were involved in the coup, and both have ties to Senator McCain and the Republican Party. Both have been involved in Latin American coups before. According to the State Department, the U.S. funded leaders and organizations that orchestrated the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez. When those leaders visited Washington prior to the coup, it was Carmona-Borjas’ International Republican Organization that paid the bill, and Reich met with them. Reich was assistant secretary of State for hemispheric affairs at the time. He is also a former ambassador to Venezuela and a McCain advisor.
Other proof includes the fact that some of the big military players in the coup, including its leader, General Romeo Vásques, and air force commander and major coup player General Luis Javier Prince Suazo are graduates of the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Operations, the new name for the same old School of the Americas, that American training ground for death squads and dictators. The U.S. presumably still has close contact and communication with them. Particularly disturbing is that the plane carrying the kidnapped president landed at the U.S. military base of Palmerola for fifteen to twenty minutes while it refueled, despite the close proximity of its destination.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Latin America expert Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. I asked him what he thought of Zelaya’s claim about the proof pointing to the U.S. Weisbrot said that it seems obvious that the U.S. was involved in the coup. He said that “the Obama administration acknowledged that they were talking to the [Honduran] military right up to the day of the coup, allegedly to convince them not to do it”. But, he added, “I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t convince them not to do it if they really wanted to: the Honduran military is pretty dependent on the U.S.”.
Whether or not the U.S was involved in the coup, it is pretty clear that she cooperated with the coup. Most U.S. aid was never fully suspended. Zelaya even says that “after the coup d’état . . . the U.S. has increased its military support to Honduras”. And the U.S. never withdrew her ambassador. The U.S. refused to call for Zelaya’s return, despite that call being made by the Organization of American States (OAS), the Rio Group and the United Nations. The States pushed for Zelaya to compromise with the coup leaders over the Latin American countries’ objection that compromising with coup leaders assumes and grants legitimacy to the coup. Though the OAS refused to recognize the new coup installed president, Hilary Clinton refused to do the same. Two months after the coup, in August, the State Department was still laying blame on Zelaya for undertaking “provocative actions” that caused his “removal”. Later the U.S. would insist on recognizing the coup leaders as the winners of an election that the OAS, the Latin American Mercosur trade block and the twenty-three Latin American and Caribbean nation strong Rio Group refused to recognize. So illegitimate was the election that the UN refused to even bother monitoring it. After recognizing the coup leaders as the government of Honduras, the US then came to their support by attempting to coerce the OAS to recognize the elections as free and fair and readmit the coup government into the OAS over the objections of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and many other of Honduras’ neighbours. So the US cooperated with the coup by recognizing its choice of government and advocating for its acceptance back into the international community.
So the U.S. supported a government that it refused publicly to condemn for committing a coup. That’s the conclusion that came out. But it’s not the information that came in. Unlike a valid argument, Obama’s conclusions and statements did not preserve the truth of the information he was provided. Despite the vacillation, the mixed messages and the cover for the coup government, the White House and the State Department both knew it was a coup. By July 24, 2009, less than a month after the coup, the White House, Clinton and many others were in receipt of a cable sent from the US embassy in Honduras. In an almost comic lack of subtlety that was clearly never meant to be public, the cable is titled “Open and Shut: the Case of the Honduran Coup”. In it, the embassy says “There is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup . . . .” Their conclusions could not be clearer. Unlike the conclusions that were provided to the American people, Obama’s source of information explicitly calls it a “coup” and says that “[t]here is no doubt”. And just in case there were any objections, the embassy cable adds that “. . . none of the . . . arguments [of the coup defenders] has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution”: “Open and Shut”! Obama’s most authoritative source of information provided him with the truth; he provided us with something else.
But it is not just in Latin America that Obama has proven himself to be an invalid president. In the other crucial areas of American interest, the Middle East and the Gulf, there is a similar chasm between the information that comes in to the President and the information that comes out to the public.
In his recent article, “Iran and the Bomb: How Real is the Nuclear Threat”, Seymour Hersh points out that the Obama administration talk to the public as if it were a foregone conclusion that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. Hersh says that as candidates in 2008, Clinton and Obama both warned of Iran’s nuclear arsenal and sometimes talked about her pursuit of the bomb as an “established fact”. Hersh reminds us that Obama, in his first prime-time news conference as President, spoke of Iran’s “development of a nuclear weapon, or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon”. So sure is Obama of Iran’s quest for the nuclear bomb, that he has not only censured, but sanctioned her.
As evidence, the Obama administration cites Iran’s admission that it no longer intends to enrich uranium only to the 3.5% necessary to produce energy, but to the much higher 19.5%, placing her dangerously and inevitably within striking distance of weapons grade uranium. Except for a few problems.
Uranium has to be enriched to 90% for nuclear weapons. So why would Iran bump enrichment to 19.5%? Because 19.5% is what uranium needs to be enriched to to produce medical isotopes for imaging and treating cancer. And Iran is running out of cancer treating enriched uranium. In 1988, Iran signed an agreement with Argentina to receive 23 kilograms of fuel enriched to 20% so that it could produce medical isotopes. That 23 kilograms is now nearly gone. So Iran asked the International Atomic Energy Association for help purchasing more enriched uranium under its watchful eye. The enrichment of uranium for energy and medical purposes is perfectly legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the U.S. and her European allies blocked Iran from purchasing the uranium she needed to treat her citizens with cancer.
So Iran yielded and agreed in principle to a U.S. deal that would have Iran send its 3.5% enriched uranium out of the country to be enriched into fuel rods for medical reactors and then sent back to Iran. The problem, though, was that the States demanded that Iran send away all its 3.5% uranium immediately . . . even though it would take a year, or even several years, to receive the 19.5% enriched uranium needed for its medical reactor. That would not only achieve the American goal of emptying Iran of all enriched uranium, it would also defy the point of the whole plan and leave Iran without medical isotopes, forcing its cancer facilities to shut down. So Iran made a counterproposal. She would send out her 3.5% uranium in batches, and when the enriched uranium for medical isotopes was returned, she would send out the next batch. That seems fair enough, but America ignored the offer.
More recently, Brazil and Turkey brokered a very similar uranium swap deal, minus the American sleight of hand, that Iran agreed to. The US and her allies, for the second time, ignored it, reprimanded meddlesome Brazil and Turkey, and pushed ahead, instead, with more sanctions on Iran.
So 19.5% enrichment is no proof of Iranian intent to build a bomb. Iran was anxious to acquire her medical grade uranium in any other way. But in the absence of that proof, there is no proof. And that’s where, once again, Obama fails the test of validity. What’s the truth he’s being told?
A person only knows what she knows about the world through the senses that provide her with her information. The President knows what he knows about the world through the intelligence agencies that provide him with information. If the intelligence agencies don’t tell him something, then he can’t know it. And his intelligence agencies have not told him that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb. So Obama’s claim that we know Iran is in pursuit of a nuclear bomb is a serious example of truth going into the White House and a lie coming out. They’re not telling him what he’s telling us.
What is President Obama being told? The National Intelligence Estimate (N.I.E.) represents the collective conclusions of all of America’s many intelligence agencies. It is the President’s senses. He knows what it tells him; if it doesn’t tell him something, he doesn’t know it. The previous N.I.E., delivered to the President in 2007, told him with “high confidence” that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The most recent N.I.E., delivered to President Obama this year, provides even “more evidence to support that assessment,” according to Hersh’s source. General James Clapper, who, according to Hersh, is responsible for preparing the N.I.E., has said, “the bottom-line assessments of the  N.I.E. still hold true. We have not seen indications that the government has made the decision to move ahead with the program”. When Clapper was asked by Senate Armed Service Committee chair Carl Levin if the level of confidence that Iran has not restarted a nuclear weapons program was high, General Clapper answered, “Yes, it is.” Hersh quotes a retired senior intelligence officer as saying “none of our efforts—informants, penetrations, planting of sensors—leads to a bomb”.
Hersh says that “Despite years of covert operations inside Iran, extensive satellite imagery, and the recruitment of many Iranian intelligence assets, the United States and its allies, including Israel, have been unable to find irrefutable evidence of an ongoing hidden nuclear-weapons program in Iran”. And it’s not just the States and her allies. The International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) has also found no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. Former director of the I.A.E.A. Mohamed ElBaredei told Hersh that “[d]uring my time at the agency, we haven’t seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing”.
That’s the truth that was told to President Obama: there is no evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. But when that true information goes into the White House, the false conclusion that the President tells us is that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. Once again, the President is invalid.
In the Middle East, Obama has the same problem with validity. On May 4 of this year, Hamas’ Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah leader Khaled Meshaal, the Egyptians and Turks negotiated an end the civil conflict between, and the union of, Fatah and Hamas. The reaction from Washington was unequivocal. A bipartisan group of congressmen cried out that “The Palestinian Authority has chosen an alliance with violence and terrorism”. House Foreign Affairs Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said that the unity deal shows that Abbas is “not a partner for peace” because he stands “with those who want only death and destruction for Israel”. She added that the deal “means that a Foreign Terrorist Organization which has called for the destruction of Israel will be part of the government” and so, concluded that “U.S. taxpayer funds . . . must not be used to support those who threaten . . . our vital ally, Israel,” implying that U.S. aid to the Palestinians could be cut.
And lest you think it is only radical Republicans singing this single note, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gary Ackerman, told the New York Times that the U.S. is compelled by “law and decency” to cut off aid to the Palestinians. “I don’t think there is any will on the part of the administration or the congress to provide funds to a government that is dominated by a dedicated terrorist organization”. The spokesman for the National Security Council, Tommy Vietor, told the Times that the “United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which threatens civilians”. Obama, according to Robert Fisk, “virtually dismissed the Palestinian unity initiative”.
So the word out of Washington is that the deal is insupportable and fatal to U.S. financial aid to Palestine because Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, wants to destroy Israel and is committed to violence and terrorism. But Washington knows that that is not what the deal says.
According to Fisk, the Palestinian unity deal specifically removes all of those objections. Meshaal agreed that a Palestinian state would be based on 1967 borders. But recognizing the 1967 borders, Fisk points out, means that Hamas has recognized and accepted Israel. If you recognize a border, you necessarily recognize that something is on the other side of it. And, as for violence and terrorism, Meshaal also agreed to end all rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza.
So, once again, the President is not telling us what they’re telling him; his statements are not truth preserving. The U.S. says the deal is impossible because Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel and is committee to violence when the U.S. knows that the deal commits Hamas precisely to the recognition of Israel and the disavowal of violence.
When the President hears one thing and then says another, he invalidates himself and democracy. But he also acts unpragmatically against U.S. interest, contributing to a result that is precisely the opposite of the one he desires when he tells the invalid lie.
In Latin America, Obama wants to excise the influence of Hugo Chavez and initiate the rebirth and solidification of U.S. influence in a crucial area that is increasingly ignoring America and forging ahead with policy of its own. But the deceptive position taken on the Honduran coup brought about precisely the opposite reaction. The Latin American countries began forging ahead with the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). This revolutionary organization includes every country in the Americas and Caribbean, but excludes the United States and Canada. Mark Weisbrot told me that “it seems clear that CELAC is a response to the U.S. role (with Canada as an ally) in supporting the military coup in Honduras. It was clear that the Brazilian government, for example, expected much more from Obama, and was very disappointed when his State Department did everything it could to help the coup succeed and to legitimize the coup government. All of the left governments in South America expected some positive change in policy toward the region from Obama, and they did not see it”. So Obama tells us the opposite of what his embassy tells him so that he can get rid of a government in Honduras that he sees as allying with Chavez and eroding U.S. influence in the region, and the result is a new organization that, according to Mercopress, is seen as an alternative to the Organization of American States. The new exclusive organization gives Latin America a way of shutting out the US and adopting positions that, if the OAS was the only avenue, would have been prevented by the Americans.
I asked Weisbrot if there would be any other undesired consequences for the U.S. as a result of her deception about the Honduran coup. More generally, he said, “I think there was a big loss of trust of the Obama administration among most of the governments in the region and that it will not likely be regained”.
In Iran, Obama’s desire is to prevent a nuclear weapons program and reign in Iranian influence in the region. However, blocking Iran from acquiring uranium sufficiently enriched for medical isotopes has had the opposite effect of forcing Iran to enrich when she was content only to purchase before. And Seymour Hersh suggests in his article that American action may also be increasing, and not decreasing, Iranian influence in the region. American led sanctions have forced Iran to forge stronger economic ties with Turkey and Syria. Hersh points out that these ties have “strengthened Iran’s political ties with its neighbors and established the country as a regional power base and as a counterweight to the Israeli and American influence”. Once again, the blowback from Obama’s invalid stance on Iran is contrary to the result the invalid stance was meant to have: increased enrichment and, as in Latin America, decreased American influence.
Similarly, in the Middle East, the effect of President Obama presenting a position to the world that does not preserve the truth he has been told is that the U.S. is becoming increasingly obsolete. Robert Fisk says that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had always refused to negotiate with Abbas because the Palestinians were not united so Abbas could not speak for everyone, but now says he won’t talk to Abbas because he refuses to deal with a government that includes Hamas. There can be no negotiations with Abbas because, as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has said, he is “not a partner for peace”. But if Israel and America will not negotiate a Palestinian state with a government that can’t speak for everyone because it excludes Hamas and will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas because then it is not a partner for peace, then the only conclusion is that they will not negotiate at all. The result of that paradox seems to be an increasing belief that if Palestinians want a state, they will have to go about achieving it alone, outside of negotiations with the U.S. and Israel. And, as in Latin America and Iran, that determination brings about the opposite of America’s desire, rendering her increasingly obsolete in the region.
All of these negative consequences for America are the result of the invalidity of the Obama presidency. They are the negative consequences of Obama’s positions not preserving the truth of what his most authoritative sources tell him, of his not telling us what they’re telling him.