Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, is a senior reporter for The Washington Independent.

Recent Articles

The Obama Doctrine, Revisited

Is the president living up to his foreign-policy promises to quash fear and promote dignity? He's doing better abroad than he is at home.

(White House/Pete Souza)
Several weeks before President Barack Obama announced an escalation of the Afghanistan War at West Point, a group of journalists and think-tankers met for dinner at the Washington, D.C., embassy of a NATO ally to debate war strategy. Chatham House rules apply to the dinner, so I'm not allowed to tell you who said what or even what embassy it was, but for all the disagreement among intelligent people about a sensible way forward in Afghanistan -- or out of it -- one clear, declarative, and unchallenged statement emerged. Whatever troop increase Obama decided was necessary, NATO would make sure the U.S. was not alone. To say this was hardly a foregone conclusion is an understatement. Since taking office in 2006, Robert Gates, the secretary of defense Obama chose to inherit from George W. Bush, has dutifully trudged to NATO defense ministerials and special summits to implore the Europeans to increase their troop commitments to Afghanistan. Each time, Gates has made an impassioned plea...

Human Wrongs

With A Problem from Hell, Samantha Power changed the way we talk about liberalism and human rights.

(Flickr/Steve Rhodes)
Liberalism in the 20th century made two enduring contributions to American foreign policy. Early on, it contended that global stability and prosperity were better guaranteed by architectures of international cooperation than by great-power competition. Later, it brought the human-rights revolution to the center of geopolitics, declaring that state sovereignty provided no excuse for impunity. As the 21st century began, Samantha Power, a journalist barely in her 30s, exposed the hollowness at the core of those contributions. A Problem from Hell , Power's first book and her masterpiece, explored the United States' consistent lack of interest in preventing and stopping genocide, a problem that the foreign-policy establishment did not realize it had. Power, returning from a searing experience of reporting from the Balkans, discovered that respect for human rights was a liberal fiction that did not survive first contact with organized eliminationist slaughter. In a hybrid style that blended...

A Glossary of Iraq Euphemisms

The Iraq War has been characterized by euphemism since its inception. Here's a guide to some of the most pronounced, and pernicious, euphemisms of the Iraq War.

An Iraqi boy moves through a gap between concrete blocks in the Sunni Arab quarter of Azamiyah, in Baghdad. (AP Photo/Asaad Muhsin)
Christopher Hitchens, critiquing his friend Martin Amis, once casually referred to "the moral offense of euphemism." It's a beautiful and cutting phrase. The inability to call something what it is represents an opening salvo in an assault on the truth. An early acquiescence to the moral offense of euphemism is nothing less than the first stage of surrender to corruption. Whether the rot is manifested or merely intellectual is a distinction that will erode with time. Few governments have relied more on euphemism than the Bush administration. Euphemism is different from spin. Spin puts the best face forward on a given policy; euphemism uses its opposite to describe itself. Hence the Clear Skies Initiative to weaken the Clean Air Act; the Freedom Agenda to describe military domination of the Middle East; or Enhanced Interrogation to discuss torture. The Iraq War has been characterized by euphemism since its inception. The name "Operation Iraqi Freedom" denotes a foreign military...

Iron Man Versus the Imperialists

What's missing in the movie is what has sustained the comic book series for most of its history. Iron Man is actually a scathing critique of American imperialism.

For any fan of the Iron Man comic books, Jon Favreau's new movie adaptation isn't just good, it's glorious. Robert Downey Jr. delivers an emotionally raw, ironic, and compelling portrait of brilliant billionaire defense mogul Tony Stark -- so compelling, in fact, that it's hard to believe the character has spent the last 45 years in a four-color world running around in a suit of armor battling villains named Thanos, Kang, and Zoga the Unthinkable. Even more amazing is Favreau's refusal to lift Iron Man out of the context of America's current endless wars. Within the first five minutes, an IED disables a Humvee carrying Stark through Afghanistan's Kunar Province, setting off a series of events whereby a jihadist gang with dreams of overrunning Asia kidnaps our hero and forces him to use his weaponry against the innocent. That's a reasonable update to Iron Man 's origin myth, and on the screen it works fantastically well. But what's missing in the movie is what has sustained the...

The Obama Doctrine

Barack Obama is offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we've heard from a serious presidential contender in decades. But will voters buy it?

When Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama met in California for the Jan. 31 debate, their back-and-forth resembled their many previous encounters, with the Democratic presidential hopefuls scrambling for the small policy yardage between them. And then Obama said something about the Iraq War that wasn't incremental at all. "I don't want to just end the war," he said, "but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place." Until this point in the primaries, Clinton and Obama had sounded very similar on this issue. Despite their differences in the past (Obama opposed the war, while Clinton voted for it), both were calling for major troop withdrawals, with some residual force left behind to hedge against catastrophe. But Obama's concise declaration of intent at the debate upended this assumption. Clinton stumbled to find a counterargument, eventually saying her vote in October 2002 "was not authority for a pre-emptive war." Then she questioned Obama's ability to...