While President Obama takes a well-deserved and no doubt needed vacation, things back at the office aren’t getting any easier.
In Afghanistan, an election intended to boost the legitimacy of the Karzai regime may not end up having that effect. Allegations of fraud are widespread, and Jim Moody, the head of the U.S. election monitoring effort, was less than convincing in his defense of what happened.
“”Our preliminary conclusion is that it is conceivable that this was a fair election,” he told the Washington Times. “It is hard to tell. A lot of people voted properly.”
Karzai’s finance minister has announced that the current president won re-election with 68 percent of the vote, easily enough to avoid a runoff. But Bloomberg reports that Karzai has distanced himself from that claim. His campaign is “not able to confirm the figures from Mr. Zakhilwal,” said Jaafar Rasuly, an official at the president’s headquarters.” We are not sure why he mentioned this. It’s outside his responsibility and we have to wait for the official results from the Independent Election Commission.”
In Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced a criminal probe of alleged excesses in the CIA interrogation of prisoners. A CIA inspector general report, compiled in 2004 but released in redacted form only now, tells of fake executions, threats against prisoners’ family members and the use of a power drill to frighten a prisoner. While excessive, somehow I don’t think those are the cases that would have — or should have — touched off a politically dangerous criminal prosecution. The real problems are hinted at in this paragraph from a Washington Post story:
The precise reasons for the inspector general’s review remained censored in the version released Monday, but officials have said privately it was provoked in part by alarms sounded within the CIA after the freezing death in November 2002 of a young Afghan at an agency-funded prison outside Kabul. A CIA case officer had ordered the detainee stripped and shackled to a concrete floor without blankets.
As the CIA inspector general report warned, the interrogation program “diverges sharply from previous Agency policy and practice, rules that govern interrogations by U.S. military and law enforcement officers, statements of U.S. policy by the Department of State, and public statements by very senior U.S. officials, including the President, as well as the policies expressed by members of Congress, other Western governments, international organizations, and human rights groups.”
The report also offers little evidence that the “enhanced interrogations” produced intelligence not accessible by legal means.
In another difficult moment for the Obama administration, an updated 10-year deficit projection to be released this morning will estimate a $9 trillion increase in the federal debt by 2019, an increase of two trillion dollars. It’s true that Obama inherited much of that mess, and that the federal stimulus and other emergency spending was absolutely necessary. It’s a tough economy out there, but the overwhelming consensus of economists is that it would have been much worse without government interventions by both the Bush and Obama administrations.
But all that said, Obama is president now and the problem is his. There are real questions whether investors will be willing and able to finance all that debt, and a good portion of the higher deficit projection is reportedly due to lower projections for economic growth, including jobs. Nobody should underestimate the seriousness of our financial situation, nor the pain and sacrifice needed to correct it over the long term.
And as both parties know, pain and sacrifice are not exactly a popular campaign theme.