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The Political Animal

Discrediting Arguments on the Iran Deal

Argument and persuasion are not the same thing. An argument is a series of statements, or premises, arranged and propounded to entail a conclusion – to support a claim. Persuasion is the attempt to influence and change minds. Ideally, the former plays the major role in the latter, but in politics and policy, as in life, this is not always so. Armed robbery is an act of persuasion. The barrel of a gun makes a weak argument that its holder is entitled to your wallet, but it makes strong case that you should hand it over. At the point of a gun, one is persuaded to give up the goods.

Negotiations are persuasion, not argument. Around the negotiating table, people may seem endlessly to argue, in order to prove the justness or necessity of their positions: people need to justify themselves and they sometimes play to a public. What negotiators really do is attempt to develop in the minds of their opponents the conviction that failure to accede to demands will produce in the opponents the state of being sorry. When a negotiated settlement is reached, both sides will have, to a degree, formed this conviction with regard to the other side’s demands, traded off against their own. In this conviction, and to justify their efforts and the end result, they will present the agreement to their constituencies in just this way. No negotiating team returns to those it represents with the report that a better deal was possible, but that the team decided to settle for less.

Sometimes constituencies accept this claim, sometimes they do not. Negotiated agreements are sometimes rejected, both for good and for ill. The proof is in the further pressure applied to the other side, succumbed to in time or not, and what is lost in the process.

A negotiating team needs to persuade its voting constituency to accept the deal. It makes an argument for the agreement it reached with the other side. This argument may, and should, consist of propositions regarding the detailed substance of the agreement and how it reasonably meets the demands and needs addressed in the negotiations, all things considered. To the degree that the constituency is satisfied with the agreement, and arguments in support, on its face, there will be need for little more.

Opposition to the agreement changes everything. In the real world, opposition degrades argument. It may degrade argument in two senses, both of them manners of discrediting the argument. In one sense, argument is literally degraded in quality, as the various vested interests turn from argument proper to naked persuasion. Common to this persuasion is the effort to discredit the argument by discrediting the opponent. Poisoning the well and ad hominem attack are both fallacious forms of argument that pretend to discredit the position by attempting deceptively to discredit the person instead. There can be legitimate arguments to the person, and we see them in the debate over the Iran deal when the expertise and authority of individuals to evaluate various technical areas of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is challenged. However, mere argument to expertise is superficial, and ultimate authority is to be found in the intellectual substance of the argument.

The basest attempts to discredit the person in the arguments over the Iran deal can be seen in charges that President Obama is an appeaser or even, most vilely, antisemitc. The President and those supporting the JCPOA have been no less base in tarring opponents as war mongers, neocons, or dual-loyalist Jews. Just as supporters of President Bush, in advance of the invasion of Iraq, challenged the patriotism of those who opposed the war, supporters of President Obama, in putting forth the JCPOA, are attacking opponents’ honesty and patriotism.

Currently, New York Senator Chuck Schumer is being subjected to the lowest kinds of disreputable sliming, including from the most well-known voices for President Obama. An even lower example actually appeared in Foreign Policy, penned by Jeffrey Lewis, resorting to attacks on Schumer’s dignity as a human being.

There is another, legitimate way to discredit an argument – the actual argument, and not those offering it – and that is to discredit a fundamental premise of the argument. Next, I will attempt to discredit the single most prominent defense of the Iran deal, made by every supporter of it.

AJA

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The Political Animal

Arguments in Defense of the Iran Deal and Their Implications

There are many areas on which to focus one’s attention in the Iran deal. My own has been consistently drawn to the administration’s arguments in defense of the deal. Attended to, they are remarkably revealing in their implications about administration thinking, while not, in fact, actually being much remarked upon.

It is a tediously if necessarily repeated truism that negotiation requires compromise in positions about which the parties were previously uncompromising. Thus there will always be opportunity for absolutists not at the table to carp and condemn. Negotiators are charged with perfidy by those they represent only a little less often than battlefield turncoats. However, when the very subject of negotiation is a matter of life and death, and previously stated demands were presented as the conditions of life and death, against a foe more than hyperbolically and otherwise rhetorically malevolent, talking back concessions is a harder sell.

The administration has confidently affirmed without discomfort that the deal will protect the world from a nuclear Iran for somewhere between 10 and 15 years. As Leon Wieseltier wrote, “15 years is just a young person’s idea of a long time.” For many humanities Ph.D.s 10-15 years is about the time between that first seminar and the final granting of the degree. It is about three World Cups from now, the middle of a third presidential term after Obama leaves office, the start, looking backwards, of George W. Bush’s second term. Seem like a very long time?

Feels like a long time to junior; for mom and dad – where did the time go? For nations in geo-political historical time? Blink.

When the eyelid opens to see again, what does it see? Iran as a changed nation, no longer the active state sponsor of terrorism it remains today? If it is not changed, will an economic sanctions regime will be re-imposed, from scratch, all over again? Based upon what international will to challenge Iran to the ultimate end result that did not extend the length of the agreement this time around, when all was at last in place in an arrangement of pieces not likely to be duplicated?

Some other president will do what is necessary? What is that? Are we witnessing at the end of this long negotiation, unacknowledged, the most elaborately primed kick of the can down the road ever attempted?

The contention over a nuclear Iran has always been founded in the insistence that there be none, certainly not militarily, and this has always been the stance of President Obama. It is a position grounded only in a credible military threat. There was no such credible threat towards North Korea – a lot of bluster, but no brawn – and there is now a nuclear North Korea. The delicate balance for a leader so situated and genuinely open to, but not invested in, negotiations is how to extend the one open hand while withholding in the rear the other cocked fist. There is little doubt for other than the most uncritically devoted that Obama has not maintained this balance. For all of the drone-driven anti-terrorist mini wars he has maintained, his wise determination not to do “stupid stuff” abroad has also revealed what turned out to be the unwise bluster he would not, as in Syria, back up. It does not matter what the truth is, Obama came to be perceived by his critics and his enemies as fatally invested in the negotiations, offering just a lot of talk about “options” and “tables.”

Too often, when challenged about concessions in Geneva, the Obama-Kerry response essentially has been “you’re a fool to think you could have done better.” Sometimes that response is the knowledge of the negotiating table; other times, it is the revelation of a hand weakly played. Outside the room, we can only judge by the terms and general conditions.

When it became known that the terms of the IAEA investigations into the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s program were contained in separates agreements between the IAEA and Iran, on which the U.S. was briefed, but to which it was not privy and has no access, Secretary Moniz told the Senate committee, ‘“These kinds of technical arrangements with the IAEA are as a matter of standard practice not released publicly or to other states.”

It is, said Moniz, a matter of ““customary confidentiality.”

Members of the committee were as startled by the explanation as Kerry, alongside Moniz, was stumbling in offering it. Is a negotiated nuclear containment agreement with an internationally aspirant, totalitarian theocratic state “standard practice” and a “customary” matter?

“This is the way the agency works with countries,” Moniz also said. “If countries choose to make the documents public, then the IAEA of course can do so.”

Which is it, then, that we are to understand?

That the U.S. did not demand as a condition of the agreement that Iran authorize the IAEA to make the documents, not public, but available to the P-5?

Or that the U.S. did make the demand, Iran rejected it, and the U.S. accepted that rejection?

Would Iran have scuttled the deal over the issue? Would it not have been telling had they been so willing?

There are multiple such puzzlements over life and death matters. There is the transformation of the “anytime, anywhere” inspections that Kerry now says he never heard of into a supposed “24” days that turn out to be many more, and the embarrassing confusions over it (see the update near the bottom).  Yet despite the array of problematic elements, the administration, which argued, then, for everyone to wait to see the agreement before challenging it, argues now that we must accept this deal or have war.

“If we walk away, we walk away alone,” Kerry said.

Our partners are not going to be with us. Instead, they will walk away from the tough multilateral sanctions that brought Iran to the table to begin with. Instead, we will have squandered the best chance we have to solve the problem through peaceful means.

As the administration constructed the context in which the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has been presented, the following might be argued now by Kerry about any less than satisfactory agreement:

If Congress rejects this, Iran goes back to its enrichment. The Ayatollah will not come back to the table … the sanctions regime completely falls apart.

We will have set ourselves back. I don’t know how I go out to another country if that happens and say: ‘Hey, you ought to negotiate with us,’ because they will say: ‘Well, you have 535 secretaries of state in the United States. We don’t know who we are negotiating with. Whatever deal we make always risks being overturned.

If this is so, we may ask, how has it come to be so?

But first, let us note that it was a determined, controversial course set by the White House not to treat an Iran deal as a treaty. The Senate has a constitutional, democratic role in the approval of treaties and it has nearly as long a history of rejecting them. The constitutional requirement of a two thirds vote tells us that the framers intended the treaty to require overwhelming support. It is not without precedent even for a potentially presidency-defining treaty to be rejected by the Senate. (See Woodrow Wilson and the Treaty of Versailles.) In this history, and in this constitutional requirement, the nation and its founders have anticipated the critique of “you have 535 secretaries of state in the United States. We don’t know who we are negotiating with. Whatever deal we make always risks being overturned.” We have still managed to negotiate treaties.

President Obama did not want to meet Woodrow Wilson’s fate. John Kerry was clear about the motivation in his testimony to congress. The choice to frame the Iran deal as an executive agreement rather than a treaty was not academic.

“I spent quite a few years trying to get treaties through the US Senate, and frankly, it’s become physically impossible,” Kerry said. “You can’t pass a treaty anymore.”

So the administration, first, constructed a process aimed at easing the prospects of approval over the opposition of congressional opponents, then argued that skeptics should hold their comments until the deal the process intended to achieve was reached, and now that is has been reached, argues that it was the only possible deal and that the only alternative to it – the consequence of rejecting the deal – is war. It is a kind of rhetorical blackmail. It is a blackmail that utilizes, too, as its key pressure point – that threat of war – the very details it has all along diminished and even mocked coming from Benjamin Netanyahu.

Time to Breakout

In September 2012 at the United Nations, with the aid of his ball bomb and fuse chart, and calling for the establishment of “red line,” Netanyahu famously claimed,

By next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage.

From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb. [Emphasis added]

Netanyahu was mocked for the cartoon diagram, but as usual, too, was derided, in the later words of the Guardian, for his “alarmist tone” as someone, “who has long presented the Iranian nuclear programme as an existential threat to Israel and a huge risk to world security.”

The Guardian would then, early this year, with a Wikileaks release, headline that “Leaked cables show Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim contradicted by Mossad.” A closer reading of the cables told a different story, but that is not the point here. A few months later, the White House offered its own, visual jab at the Israeli prime minister by sending out a tweet that used the bomb graphic.

WH mocks BN

Note that the consequences of “Without the Deal” are bad, but unspecific. Now, however, at the White House’s Iran Deal website, while sparing us a repeat of that particular graphic (maybe with good reason), the White House claims the following:

As it stands today, Iran has a large stockpile of enriched uranium and nearly 20,000 centrifuges, enough to create 8 to 10 bombs. If Iran decided to rush to make a bomb without the deal in place, it would take them 2 to 3 months until they had enough weapon-ready uranium (or highly enriched uranium) to build their first nuclear weapon.

Putting it together, to clarify, in September 2012 Netanyahu projected as late as the summer of 2013 for the completion of medium enrichment, with perhaps a few months more before the development of sufficient enriched uranium for a bomb. As a reminder, the interim agreement between the P5-1 and Iran was reached in November 2013. That is a few months after the summer of that year. According to the interim agreement, all progress in Iran’s nuclear enrichment was halted for the period of negotiations toward a more lasting agreement. Now, at the conclusion of the current negotiations, the Obama administration is warning, in rather alarmist tones, that failure to accept the JCPOA will leave the world confronting the almost immediate threat of a nuclear Iran. The timelines match, with a “few months” wiggle room, and the administration is, in other words, setting a “red line,” in the agreement itself, by warning that the consequences of a failure to accept it could be war.

The only difference in this between Netanyahu then and Obama now are the terms of the agreement and the willingness to demonize the one and lionize the other.

Declares the President:

Instead of chest-beating that rejects the idea of even talking to our adversaries, which sometimes sounds good in sound bites but accomplishes nothing, we’re seeing that strong and principled diplomacy can give hope of actually resolving a problem peacefully. Instead of rushing into another conflict, I believe that sending our sons and daughters into harm’s way must always be a last resort, and that before we put their lives on the line we should exhaust every alternative. [Emphasis added]

This disappointing distortion is more characteristic of the President’s conservative political enemies than his own customary reasoned argumentation. We do see, of course, the usual-suspect neocon chest beaters, but there are also many others, open to talk, offering good, reasoned criticisms of the deal – as well as those alternatives that the President and the Secretary of State habitually assert are absent from the critiques, but which, rather, they simply do not wish to credit.

Far from fitting the stale, auto-rhetorical charge of “rushing” to war, American policy toward Iran has involved a multi-decade effort, over three presidencies constructively to engage the Iranian government. It has included a formal acknowledgement of the CIA role in the 1953 coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and the easing of a previous regime of economic sanctions. It has also consisted of an earlier offer from the George W. Bush administration that Iran rejected.

The open hand of the Clinton administration was spurned. The more generous offer of the Bush administration, when Iran was not sufficiently hurting, was spurned. There is no doubt that the current sanctions drove Iran to negotiate. The matter now in dispute is how well the U.S. played its hand at the table. The trump card in that hand was always the prospect of American, or an American-Israeli, use of force. The ideal play of a trump lies in its effective force when not used, activated by the credible threat of use. That effective force is some product of a genuine willingness to use the trump and the opponent’s belief in such willingness. What have been the presiding conditions for that belief among the Iranians? What are they now?

The former Massachusetts senator also dismissed the idea that military strikes were a realistic way of containing Iran’s nuclear potential.

“Iran has already mastered the fuel cycle,” [Kerry] said. “They have mastered the ability to produce significant amounts of fissile material. You can’t bomb away that knowledge any more than you can sanction it away.”

The tone of the administration’s pitch to Congress appears to have shifted in recent weeks from actively selling the merits of the deal to stressing the lack of viable alternatives….

Imagine the conversations this kind of talk stimulates in the covert corridors of Tehran.

So desperate is the administration in defense of its deal that is actively undermining Israel’s international position and legitimizing Iranian arguments

Said Kerry of a potential Israeli strike, “Iran would then have a reason to say, ‘Well, this is why we need the bomb.’”

Rather than defend any Israeli preemptive act as a response to the constant threat of Iranian annihilation of Israel, Kerry has framed such an act as a justification for the development of an Iranian nuclear capability.

In light of this flaccid posture, continuing pro forma declarations that “all options remain on the table” are met now by Iranian leaders with disbelief:

Kerry and other US officials “have repeatedly admitted that these threats have no effect on the will of the people of Iran and that it will change the situation to their disadvantage,” Zarif claimed.

They are even met with derision:

“The US should know that it has no other option but respecting Iran and showing modesty towards the country and saying the right thing,” Rouhani told a crowd in the western Iranian city of Sanandij on Sunday.

….

“The table they are talking about has broken legs.”

There is even reason to believe that this administration is willing, in the end, to accept a nuclear Iraq. Argued Vice President Biden,

“Imagine stopping them now in the Gulf of Aden” — referring to Iran’s backing for the Houthi insurgency in Yemen — “and stopping them if they had a nuclear weapon,” Biden said. “As bad, as much of a threat as the Iranians are now to destabilizing the conventional force capability in the region, imagine what a threat would be if we had walked away from this tight deal.”

The U.S. has not stopped Iran in the Gulf of Aden. Now it acknowledges how further disarmed it would feel before a nuclear armed Iran. And Biden here predicates that nuclear Iran as the alternative to acceptance of the current Iran deal.

Given the arguments of government officials and of many supporters in general, it is not unreasonable to question, with Iran, as it was with North Korea in a far less combustible area of the world, whether the will is actually there to prevent a nuclear Iran.

That administration officials are swinging wildly in this fight is obvious. They are throwing whatever argumentative punches they think will land, including roundhouse swings that hit their friends and hooks they launch from the knees that end on their own noses. If, in the end, they do win this fight, and the deal passes, and Iran cheats, or develops its bomb in thirteen years, the best chance to play the trump without actually slamming it on the table will have been squandered.

AJA

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The Political Animal

The Revolution with No Name

delalibWhen it seemed to some at the end of the Cold War that we had also reached the end of history, more than ever, every act of rebellion and revolution seemed cause to celebrate an elevated human spirit. After a long winter of merely staving off an enemy’s further success, now freedom was rising with people uprising, and cheer was in the air. We got, relatively peaceful and colored (orange and rose), revolutions and “springs” that sprang of the hope – so richly did the sap of it rise in great municipal squares around the world – that all that is necessary to topple tyranny is for good people to yearn in multitudes together in city centers, suffer only small losses against brutish police while their uplifting cause is broadcast to the world via iPhone and tweeted the encouragement of the well-fed and meaning.

Hold, now, candles up to the night, under music, for the next inspiring Apple or Nike commercial.

Nothing could stop universal liberation now.

Except as it turned out, lots of the colors faded, and the springs were either false or soon broken, which many people, it seemed, failed to notice. More begin to now.

The course of revolutions was never swift and sure, glorious or quickly final. There were counter revolutions, restorations, and failed republics, great dictators along the way before decades might cast a shadow of the original dream. The promise of the French Revolution was not soon borne out: eighty one years passed between the storming of the Bastille and the final establishment of republican government never again to depart.  Three quarters of a century after the Russian Revolution waited the collapse of Soviet barbarity and then Yeltsin on a tank  just to deliver, so far, ninety-three years later, Vladimir Putin on horseback.

The American Revolution stands more and more exceptional, especially for those who make Exceptionalism the currency of their daily political barter and harangue, though not so exceptional that many of the same won’t pretend that all it requires is a freedom agenda and a perpetual footing for war to spring the world’s restive and aspiring masses, properly watered, into the same colorful bloom.

For many, after Iraq and Afghanistan and those departed springs, it could be Syria that has taken so much the bloom off that rose, though there was Iran in 2009 before it. The right’s interventionists predictably made the failure of that revolution Barack Obama’s failure, though never a credible case was made by never a soul that a president’s greater public encouragement of the “Green” revolution would have led to anything other than the same dismal end with many more dead in the street.

Somewhere now in the consciences of some, not in those of others, arises amidst the inspired freedom calls also the moderating memory – the recollection, in the moral vision of King, that while, he hopefully told us, the arc of history bends toward justice, it is in the first place long. What is it that we provoke with our policies and acts, our encouraging words and cheers, and how, most importantly of all, have we prepared not others, but only ourselves to face what it is that we invoke in the world?

What do we invoke in the world? American troops still in Iraq and not to leave Afghanistan even after thirteen years if some would have their way. The same people would have led the U.S. to enter – oh, let us not argue for the moment over just how – the Syrian civil war. They wanted us, too, to be “all Georgians now” in 2008, when Russia sent troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And now there is Ukraine, hotter by the day, with Venezuela just a little on the back burner. North Korea, too, there is always the threat of North Korea, and if, likely, no negotiated settlement is reached with Iran over its nuclear program – just how many air campaigns, missile strikes, policing actions, proxy wars, full-fledged attacks, and all out wars do the impassioned eminences of American imperial militarism believe the United States can conduct at once or in just a decade or two, after a decade or two, without inflaming the world and putting the torch to America’s own democracy?

What is neither reasonably nor honorably, which is not to say  uncontested about Ukraine:

  • that Victor Yanukovych was the most corrupt of oligarchs and a malleable instrument of Russian imperial policy
  • that Russia’s invasion of Crimea is both illegal and unjustifiable.

Still, it is so that not many conclusions necessarily follow from these truths.

From the start there have been divisions over the identity and nature of those behind the anti- Yanukovych protests, with Timothy Snyder in The New York Review of Books and Steven Cohen in The Nation prominent opponents pitting freedom-loving liberals against the right wing nationalists the Russians want to cast as fascists. Snyder does not have to be wrong for Cohen to be partly right. Not all American revolutionaries were Tom Paine and Alexander Hamilton. Some retained their monarchical tastes. And do we not receive our very terminology of political right and left from the French Revolution? And did not the Bolsheviks out maneuver a host of competing and more moderate parties during the Russian Revolution? A revolution is never one thing.

Going back to the 2004 Orange Revolution, the evidence of Ukrainian liberal leaning toward the West is clear enough, particularly in the western Ukraine. The problem of Ukraine 2014, whatever the Russians say, is not who is behind the uprising, but what the West thought it was doing in Ukraine and what thought it gave to what the Russians would do when the West did it. The evidence is that what the Europeans and the U.S. thought they were doing was far too simple minded, and that barely a competent thought was given to what the Russians would do.

One does not have to be Henry Kissinger, characteristically unmindful of moral considerations, not to be James Kirchik, treating geopolitical fault lines as cause for a modern crusade on a high horse to the New Jerusalem. One need not be Kirchik to know which side acts more, in King’s words, to uplift human personality, or Kissinger to know when acts are better guided by the possible. The world is not remediated by zealotry.

The most telling words of anyone, by far, in these events were uttered by Vladimir Putin himself when he finally spoke to the public.

I think they sit there across the pond in the U.S., sometimes it seems … they feel like they’re in a lab and they’re running all sorts of experiments on the rats without understanding consequences of what they’re doing.

This striking observation reveals much. First, for the man who in the past year has emerged as the American right’s latest master strategist, the personal resentment – what should not guide the policy of master strategists – is palpable. Second, the words nonetheless confirm what many on the right have already charged – that Putin holds Obama in contempt. Third, Putin is right. The conclusion of amateurish fooling around in Ukraine, without “understanding consequences of what they’re doing,” is escaped only through partisan rationalization.

But a greater understanding of the mistakes here escapes both Putin and Obama’s home front critics. When all those EU diplo-  and technocrats were luring Ukraine toward membership, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, declaring the EU could get fucked, was picking and choosing who should govern Ukraine after a successful rebellion, it was not, clearly, just the Americans who were wearing lab coats. And it was not the Obama administration, but many of its current critics, before this administration, who have publicly desired all these years to bring the “defensive” lines of NATO right to the borders of Russia, about which the Russians were expected to think what – “Oh, we know, you’re the good guys, we shouldn’t worry”?

Steven Cohen has been infuriated by his own critics calling him a Putin apologist – and why should anyone so intimately connected to The Nation ever be considered tainted by anti-American apologetics – yet it is true that one can, without Cohen’s soft sell of Putin’s autocracy, understand matters from a Russian perspective. It is what fundamentally competent strategists do, and what is required to be done if one wants actually to accomplish a strategic goal and not simply posture about it before the alter of world-historical righteousness.

What stretch of imagination is required to recognize that Putin would not perceive Nuland’s and all the others’ lab set ups benignly? Nuland et al. may envision themselves as no more than traveling preachers tending to their flock’s greater yearning for nearness to democracy, but how much empathetic projection is needed to intuit that Putin, or any Russian leader, would likely see them as outside agitators firing up the flock, stirring up trouble in his own neighboring parish, about which, it just so happens, he cares a little and has an interest? How much geography and history must one know to recognize the significance of Ukraine to Russia? Or that Crimea, once, in 1954, in very different times, literally given to Ukraine for Soviet administrative and political purposes, would not now, seemingly pick-pocketed from Russia’s geopolitical hip, be simply given up with a shrug and a smile? “Oh, well, you win this time. Come back at ya with Mexico when I get a chance.”

Unsurprisingly, entreaties to true believers that they try reversing roles have been facilely dismissed. The U.S., they insist would hardly, in contrary circumstances, invade and annex part of Canada. The easy reply to that easy claim is that, no, obviously, the United States is not Russia. To whom other than rankest of crank extremists on either end of the political spectrum does that case need to be made? Less facile is to wonder just how obvious it is that the United States would not act similarly. American interventions in behalf of national interests are a twentieth century historical marker. Had the Canadian or Mexican governments been toppled during the Cold War by Marxist leaning street protests, how hard is it to conjure the frenzied calls, particularly from the right, for American action? In fact, the United States has maintained possession of Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, occupied by treaty signed under the duress of colonial domination, even as the internationally recognized government of Cuba has for more than fifty years protested that continued foreign occupation. Once the American Civil War was over, the U.S. began covertly to supply arms to Juarez in Mexico, in opposition to the French-installed Emperor Maximilian. The 1823 Monroe Doctrine declared that European interference, not in a neighboring country, but anywhere in the Western Hemisphere would be considered “manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”

None of this is to argue an equivalence between the United States and Russia. These commonalities alone create none such. Rather it is to hold out Russian interest in Ukraine as obvious and its response to events easy to have anticipated. That Putin would seek to regain Crimea, which had long been part of Russia. That he might opportunistically lie in wait for eastern Ukraine. That no election in May will invalidate the license Putin feels now even more strongly, as has the West all along as well, to work clandestinely to shape the future of whatever Ukraine will remain. Still, unprepared for the response so far, Western voices rail against it as a behavioral outlier.

When freedom agenda crusaders, particularly, rail so obviously about how good we are, and how bad is the autocrat of the day, they despoil statecraft with a simplistic Manichaeism. In this mode of thinking, Putin knows he is bad – chooses to be bad, like Satan in rebellion against God. He mentally spurns and is rejected by the goodness he recognizes and that in a better world would have been his. His opposition to “us” is thus a kind of private wound, a closely nurtured insufficiency that justifies itself in devilishness, while all the while he actually knows just how bad he is.

This is a misunderstanding of personality at its core.

While it is standard operating procedure to identify all of Putin’s lies, which, of course, are many, identifying Putin particularly with lying exhibits just that core misunderstanding. The autocrat is not fundamentally a liar, but a bullshitter.

Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point in a set or system of beliefs, in order to avoid the consequences of having that point occupied by the truth. This requires a degree of craftsmanship, in which the teller of the lie submits to objective constraints imposed by what he takes to be the truth. The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth. On the other hand, a person who undertakes to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared to fake the context as well, so far as need requires.

Regarding Ukraine, we see that Putin does more than simply lie, in the claim, for instance, that uniformed troops in Crimea without insignia are not Russian, which no one believes: greater, he fakes the context of Ukraine entirely. The authentic individual lie is meant to deceive, to be mistaken in the greater context for the truth. Bullshit, however, is intended to confuse, so that the truth disappears. This is what all autocrats intend, the vanishing of the truth beneath the panorama that is their vision of the world – the extension of their own egos. The truth that is manifest in history is that autocrats believe in what they are doing.

To strategize against the likes of Putin, then, one must work with that understanding, along with historical and geopolitical fundamentals. From that perspective, there is no question of the autocrat’s commitment to negotiations as a matter of preferred principle, some shared belief that talking together,  regardless of conflicting interests, is always preferable to conflict. The autocrat will employ – as Assad has done – Mao’s policy of fight, fight, talk, talk until one way or the other he gains as much as possible of what he wants. (And, yes, the date on that linked article about Iran is 2005, under the Bush administration, not 2014.)

Effective negotiations against the autocrat will have two characteristics. They will offer the autocrat a less costly, limited win more easily achieved than through other means, and they will deliver to democrats their own limited win that blocks any near-term further success by the autocrat through continued conflict or subterfuge. Absent that second characteristic, democrats will have been outmaneuvered, as the U.S. thus far has been outmaneuvered on Syria, where a failure even to come close to meeting the February 6 deadline for the removal of all chemical weapons has been allowed to pass with barely comment from the Obama administration, let alone action of any kind. At the same time, the administration had a vision of Syrian peace talks, but, astonishingly, apparently believing that Assad actually wanted to talk, rather than use the talks to delay, had no strategy for the talks whatever beyond the idea of them. And now there is the distraction of Ukraine.

Contrary to the belligerent harangues of American militarists, however, the West and the Obama administration have not been outmaneuvered because they – really, the U.S. – are not prepared to shake a militant fist at every trouble spot and throw punches often. They are adrift because they had no coherent strategy either to accomplish the kind of end they sought in Ukraine. Obama has a proper global vision for the twenty-first century – a U.S. that resorts to military action only rarely, in vital or self-defense, and no longer multiple times a decade in vestigial Cold War defense of imperial interests, no longer in bearing the burden of ill-conceived humanitarian interventions on behalf of everyone else,. There is, too, the belief that in time, centers of power and concern will shift to Asia. All this is good, but it is a partial geo-strategic position, not a plan for getting there. Not a plan, most of all, for how to act in long term consonance with a part of the nation’s vital self-definition: a great democracy standing unselfishly, yet with a mature understanding of historical development, in support of democracy for all nations.

One senses that Obama embraces such a national self-definition with very great, truly conservative reserve. Thus he has no regional and global strategy for playing this role, and was as unprepared as were the Europeans for the entirely foreseeable response of Putin, who quite reasonably, by his lights, took developments in Ukraine as aggressive meddling in his interests. The militarists will assert that they are advocating the aggressive resolve that won the Cold War. But for all the necessary military preparedness, Western success in the Cold War was ultimately a holding action in which one side outlasted the inner contradictions of the other. On a contrasting track, with the exception of Korea, nearly every coup, proxy war, or semi-proxy war the U.S. fought during the Cold War was just as ultimately a disaster, for the U.S., the third nation involved, or both.

It is probable that a long end game in Ukraine would have been no different with planning than it may be now: re-absorption of Crimea into Russia, with some or all of the remainder of Ukraine, amid continuing contention with Russia, aligned now toward the West. Adequately prepared, with continuing contention thus perhaps moderated, and with all the pro forma legal and diplomatic objections to the Russian annexation of Crimea, Ukraine might have been successfully framed as a win for democracy – because it would have been, as it still may be – rather than as a crisis.

To avoid careening from one crisis to another, however, a clearer vision of future roles is required. The militarist American right will prefer a long continuation of the United States’ Cold War imperial leadership. That self-destructive vision needs to be dimmed. However, inadequately, Obama’s presidency came at the right time finally to begin to turn those lights out. More, though, is needed. Some clearer articulation of a more sharply defined strategy is required by a center-left neither committed to defining the American role via military action nor allergic to the legitimacy of it. A coherent expression of the international role of democracies in the twenty-first century must be formulated. An evangelizing freedom agenda is simply cold warriorism without the defensive rationale. It is a formula for endemic and destructive global conflict, which is an occurrence in nature sufficient to need no assist from the laboratory coats. Still, democratic nations cannot be expected in their intercourse with other nations not, by their very nature as democracies, to give expression to the character and promise of political freedom. They cannot be expected not to share their knowledge of this freedom and its rewards with those who seek it. But we must always understand what we are doing when we do so in any given context, with what chances of producing good rather than harm to those we hope to help, and to even more around them. We must consider how it advances a larger project, or retards it. We must consider the conflicting interests of others, and we must do it without the kind of righteous arrogance that produced during the Cold War, in Graham Greene’s words, a self-delusive American innocence of good intentions, in Vietnam, that was “like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.”

Essential to any new strategy will be a significantly elevated role for Europe and other democracies. Europe particularly has enjoyed a nearly free ride on the American people and their economy for over six decades. One strong expression of American leadership can be leadership to end that state of affairs and to bring mature democracies more fully into actively funding and engaging the defense of freedom. Another will be a recognition that the United Nations has run its course. It is exhausted as an instrument of assertive and effective action in support of the many supreme paper principles it has enunciated over its life. It is used by the worst tyrants in the world, through cynical manipulation of ideal expressions and exercise of institutional powers, to thwart actual amelioration and change in the world, such as what might have been possible in Syria without the veto power of Russia and China. It is time to start on the long course of superseding the United Nations with a new Global Union, in which the extent of a member nation’s institutional role is determined by a measure of its actual adherence to organizationally expressed principles of democratic practice and human and civil rights.

That would be a freedom agenda too, and the beginnings of a plan to help the many future Ukraines the world and history still has to offer.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

A Second Look: Thinking Through the Iranian Dilemma

I posted the following on March 19 of last year. Nothing that has transpired since, not even the recently achieved, yet still not implemented short-term deal – which I think a basis for justified future military action just as it is, more hopefully, a foundation for peaceful resolution – has changed the balance of views contained within.

Thinking Through the Iranian Dilemma

Attempting to think through a dilemma like the threat of a nuclear Iran is like trying to make one’s way through a windstorm. For most people, who have none of the inside information of those in various official roles, or the view from the doorway of the analysts with access, all of the details that leak, and the incidental events – the assassinations, the computer viruses, the IAEA visits – are like gusts kicked up by the local geography and spiraling across the street. Not much they can tell the casual observer about stormy origins or where things are blowing. And then there are, behind the gusts, the true, prevailing winds. Each aims to sweep you away. Each blows with the intent to catch you up in its forward motion, kick up and blind you with dust as it rushes to its predestination. But the prevailing winds, with a little meteorology, are identifiable. They can be measured and accounted for.

The most notable wind is the concern of Israel and the threat it feels. A countercurrent is the suspicion of those ideologically committed to construe Israeli interests and military affairs as malevolent. A third current comes from the U.S. right. There we have those, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, for whom every U.S. opportunity for significance in the world is best expressed through military action; valor, for them, has never met its better part.

Closely aligned are those on the right for whom American Exceptionalism is a bluster in adversarial relations that will huff and puff and blow your house down. More generally, there is the right’s determination to cast any approach but bombs away by Barack Obama – the most militarily adroit and successful President in a generation, surpassing in those terms any Democratic president since Truman – as weak-willed appeasement.

There are other winds still. There are those, for instance, who warn against the catastrophe of war. There are always those who warn against the catastrophe of war. They are always right. War is a catastrophe. The greatest war ever fought, in size and greatness of purpose – the Second World War – is also the greatest catastrophe the world has ever known. But to warn against war because one wisely foresees the special catastrophe of a coming war, against the conditions that would prevail in the absence of it, is a wisdom different in kind from the unvarying warning against war because what it will bring is always more easily foreseen than what will come in its absence. There will always be the Neville Chamberlains. There will always be a Cyrus Vance, not just warning with caution, but actually resigning, regardless of success or failure, because of a constitutional opposition to acting forcefully in defense of one’s interests.

There are those for whom caution is a cover for Iranian apologetics. As blustery conservatives will label Obama a naïve appeaser for having sought negotiations and not committing to war, the apologists for theocratic tyranny will claim Obama never really tried negotiations. This is a crosswind that has to smell crisp and clean, whatever the fury.

How to stand amid all these winds? How to think with a little clarity within the howling? Let’s direct an instrument.

One confusion is that of American interests and Israeli interests. Let it be reasonable to argue that they need not be identical or contrary, even while similar. Both the U.S. and Israel have reasons to oppose a nuclear Iran. How much imagination does it take to assess the concerns of Israel – so much smaller, so much closer to Iran, already set sail amid a sea of enemies – as more pressing and critical than those of the U.S.? There are many vital reasons – among them the chances of ultimate success – to wish the course and final actions of the two to be completely aligned. This reasonably leads Israel to prod the U.S. to a greater sense of urgency. Just as reasonably, the U.S. seeks to calm Israel and slow it to an American pace. Neither is wrong to do so. Their interests are similar, not identical, and this is not mathematics. If Israel, in its own assessment of its security needs, were to act unilaterally, it would not be a betrayal of U.S. alliance and support, but an independent state’s independent act in defense of its interests. Whatever the results, the U.S. would rightfully assess and respond to them in its own interests, and among those interests is the U.S.’s natural alliance with Israel and the varied reasons for it. One response is predicted by retired Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner, a specialst in war-gaming at the National War College and elsewhere, who agrees with everyone else that despite Israel’s military mastery, it does not have the capability for a truly devastating attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

I don’t believe it possible for the US not to be pulled into finishing the job even if Iran does not choose to respond immediately.  I’ve also written a paper on the logic.

No nation is likely to be pleased to be pulled into a course of action because of the actions of another state, and it would be natural to expect a wide range of responses and for those responses to align with those prevailing winds.

What of the U.S. acting on its own, or in consort, finally, with Israel? One war gamer, the Carnegie Endowment’s Karim Sadjadpour, reported on this exchange with an Iranian dissident.

I asked a longtime aide to Karroubi about the plausibility of the above scenario. He said that an Israeli strike on Iran would be “10 times worse” — in terms of eliciting popular anger — than a U.S. strike and agreed that it would likely bring recognized opposition figures in concert with the government, strengthening the state’s capacity to respond.

This observation is telling in an unexpected way. Why an Israeli strike would be “10 times worse” is not just an estimation of the consequences of a strike; it is significantly an expression of the conditions of the potential cause of it. Other than a few presumed recent assassinations, Israel has no historical record comparable to that of the U.S. as an adversary and imperial power that that has harmfully interfered in Iranian life and politics. That Israel might nonetheless, in one person’s judgment, produce so much greater present enmity than even the “Great Satan” itself is an expression of just the virulent religious and cultural hatred that leads Israel to fear the threat of a nuclear Iran to begin.

But this presupposes an American willingness to perform a military strike. There are the currents that oppose it. If we leave aside Israel’s ideological and racial enemies and the Iran apologists, and we focus only on the warnings against war itself and its potential consequences, what is the meaning – what is the consequence – of accepting a nuclear Iran? It is as imaginable yet unpredictable as the course of a war that might follow from a strike. One argument is, in reality, to work from just that condition of imaginable consequences – the full range of complication, multilateral involvement, and material and economic harm – yet unpredictability: how much worse and uncontrollable the consequences could be than we can even imagine.

This is a fascinating ground for thought. The fiasco of Iraq and the long misdirection of Afghanistan after initial success fully support it. But it is always so. We never know what will come. That sounds banal. But imagine, since we are imagining, that we could have foreseen all the ends of the Second World War – the tens of millions dead, the incomparable physical destruction, with many fates only transferred from one tyranny, Nazi Germany’s, to another, that of Soviet communism. Were we able to foresee that awful price, how forcefully might so many more than just the Chamberlains have argued against the Churchills that an accommodation to circumstance – the implacability of a malevolent force – was the wiser, less awful choice. Unlike the unvarying knowledge of war’s dreadful cost, the course of accommodation, with the future always, in our imaginations, holding the possibility of better choices, is invariably less vivid and awful to that imagination.

Some argue from the example of the Cold War for the success of containment. But what is that example, truly? First, that one does not know the true meaning of unimaginable if one posits the U.S. fighting a war  – after the long second world one – against the Soviet Union, and after the Chinese entry into Korea, against China too, as MacArthur pursued. We contained the Soviet Union and China because we had no genuine choice under the circumstances to do otherwise.

Second, and in practice, that for roughly forty years only, two great adversaries held each other in a terror of mutually assured destruction, and managed by that terror not to destroy each other. For only forty years. How often might the balance of that terror easily have been thrown off? We know of instances – Cuba most notably – when this example might well have become less exemplary. Is the Cold War, a single instance only of this strategy, a lesson in the reliability of containment or the world having managed four decades of good luck – a reason to sigh in relief? How likely it all might have gone another way.

So the idea of containment rests, perhaps, on no great bedrock. More, what will the choice of it assert in practice? There is no denying what it will say, more, proclaim: that the idea of nonproliferation is dead. Of the four nations known or believed to be nuclear non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, two, India and Israel, may be viewed as special, democratic cases, and Pakistan and North Korea as two nations the world has good reason to wish without the weapons, but that for strategic reasons went unopposed. All four pose a threat to the NPT regime. Now Iran stands, and has stood for some time as the prime strategic and highly publicized challenge to non-proliferation.

Iran is also not a new challenge, as some now state, regularly remarking on a “rush to war.” Undoubtedly there are older discussions, than this one – also of war gaming – by James Fallows in the Atlantic, back in December, 2004.

 Throughout this summer and fall, barely mentioned in America’s presidential campaign, Iran moved steadily closer to a showdown with the United States (and other countries) over its nuclear plans.

In June the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran had not been forthcoming about the extent of its nuclear programs. In July, Iran indicated that it would not ratify a protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty giving inspectors greater liberty within its borders. In August the Iranian Defense Minister warned that if Iran suspected a foreign power—specifically the United States or Israel—of preparing to strike its emerging nuclear facilities, it might launch a pre-emptive strike of its own, of which one target could be the U.S. forces next door in Iraq. In September, Iran announced that it was preparing thirty-seven tons of uranium for enrichment, supposedly for power plants, and it took an even tougher line against the IAEA. In October it announced that it had missiles capable of hitting targets 1,250 miles away—as far as southeastern Europe to the west and India to the east. Also, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected a proposal by Senator John Kerry that if the United States promised to supply all the nuclear fuel Iran needed for peaceful power-generating purposes, Iran would stop developing enrichment facilities (which could also help it build weapons). Meanwhile, the government of Israel kept sending subtle and not-so-subtle warnings that if Iran went too far with its plans, Israel would act first to protect itself, as it had in 1981 by bombing the Iraqi nuclear facility at Osirak.

That’s over seven years ago.

What might be the effects of speaking openly of containment, of a policy that openly acknowledges an unwillingness to bear the burden of enforcing nonproliferation? One well publicized Iranian war game exercise was conducted at Harvard in December 2009. Well publicized was how bad the outcomes were. Less publicized was the policy pursued by the war gamers who played the U.S. roles. Wrote David Ignatius,

My scorecard had Team Iran as the winner and Team America as the loser. The U.S. team — unable to stop the Iranian nuclear program and unwilling to go to war — concluded the game by embracing a strategy of containment and deterrence.

From another perspective,

“We started out thinking we were playing a weak hand, but by the end, everyone was negotiating for us,” said the leader of the Iranian team, Columbia University professor Gary Sick. By the December 2010 hypothetical endpoint, Iran had doubled its supply of low-enriched uranium and was pushing ahead with weaponization.

Reports Sadjadpour of his war game,

We didn’t limit our reaction to just the Middle East. Via proxy, we hit European civilian and military outposts in Afghanistan and Iraq, confident that if past is precedent, Europe would take the high road and not retaliate. We also activated terrorist cells in Europe — bombing public transportation and killing several civilians — in the belief that European citizens and governments would likely come down hard on Israel for destabilizing the region.

He offers this further account of calculation based on perception.

But, appreciating the logic of power, we stopped just short of provoking the United States. Before the simulation, I’d often heard it said that it wouldn’t make much difference whether Israel actually got a green light from the United States to strike Iran, for Tehran would never believe otherwise.

This assessment wasn’t borne out in the simulation. The U.S. secretary of state sent us a private note telling us that the Americans did not approve the Israeli strike, and vowed to restrain Israel from attacking further — if we also exercised restraint. They tried on multiple occasions to meet with us or speak by phone, but we refused. While Washington believed that its overtures would have a calming effect on us, we interpreted them to mean that we could strike back hard against Israel — not to mention European targets — without risking U.S. retaliation, at least not immediately.

A Tel Aviv war simulation around the same time, also based on threats and sanctions, achieved similar negative results. A third war game, at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, had Israel conduct a strike.

[O]ne of the Brookings war game’s major conclusions is that Israel could pay dearly for an attack on Iran.

Still,

Some members of the “Israeli” team nonetheless felt that setting back Iran’s nuclear program “was worth it, even given what was a pretty robust response,” said one participant.

Sadjadpour makes the same point.

Not unlike wars themselves, different actors drew different lessons. Those, like myself, who thought that the costs of an Israeli attack significantly outweighed the benefits, felt the results of the simulation validated their position. In the span of just a few days, our simulation had the Middle East aflame. But those who, prior to the exercise, believed that attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities was a necessary risk weren’t convinced otherwise.

President Obama has well argued that the only way to ensure a lasting end to an Iranian nuclear weapons program is if the Iranians choose to give it up themselves. Regime change could increase that likelihood, but that is not foreseeable. If we accept that the Israelis are the eighty pound gorilla in this debate, they clearly accept that there is still some unspecified amount of time left to see if that end can be achieved. Every effort should be made. Suzanne Maloney of Brookings offers a complex calculus in consideration of this end. But if it fails?

Amid all the arguments pro and con, the weakest by far are any individual’s assertions, however ostensibly expert the source, of what is “unbelievable” or “irrational” as prospective action by any party or of how any party is, on the contrary, a rational actor despite supposed caricatures otherwise. The history of civilization is littered with the debris of national acts and policies no rational and moral person would have anticipated before they were committed and pursued, and the world and some peoples the loser for them. To argue, from such casual and personally held inductions about how Israel’s enemies might rationally behave, that Israeli leaders and the Jewish people, in light of both their long and recent history, should risk their very existence – again – before the nuclear power of a religiously inspired and anti-Semitic enemy is to make an argument careless of history and without moral seriousness.

Who dares cry not seventy years later of the Jew’s hysteria, and what scent is it on that wind?

That is the Israeli view. From the U.S. perspective, to commit to a nuclear Iran by confessing an unwillingness to prevent it will be to offer the most toothless face ever to grin submissively at the post-war nuclear world. The advocate of this position needs to simulate across the world the outcome of widespread nuclear proliferation at the end of any credible regime to prevent it. Or offer a credible argument for why that would not be the outcome.

AJA

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Indian Country

The Trope Dope: “Check Your Privilege”

In the final analysis, Madame Bovary is just another trope.
Unknown academic wag.

dope:
an illicit, habit-forming, or narcotic drug;
a stupid person;
[slang] the inside scoop, the poop, the skinny, the lowdown

Cant kills ideas. Leaves them dead in the field, their tongues swollen and hanging. Flies buzzing.

(They fell in love too easily. He took her for granted, abused her. Then he beat her.

She shot him.)

You know what they say, it’s chickens coming home to roost, because both sides do it when a conservative is a liberal who got mugged for the American Exceptionalism of the Founding Fathers, whose shining city on a hill where that government is best which governs the least makes it possible to raise yourself up by your bootstraps, so check your privilege.

By way of cant, tropes are made trite. When you’re finished retching from the sound of an idea stretched on the rack, words being tortured beyond all bearable value, something more than one’s aesthetic tolerance is sacrificed. There was once an idea living in that body of syllables.

The politically antagonistic are, of course, uncorrectable by a cant phrase like “check your privilege.” Thrown at them, its intent is to shut down debate by enclosing a complex notion in a hard shell. With needles. It is meant as a shaming prick. For the ideologically sympathetic, the smug ethical superiority of the injunction is intended to cow. It’s a political reeducation camp in a figure of speech, a dressing down and a slap in the face before the neighbors rousted from their homes.

The greater shame is the opportunity such cant provides the enemies of the greater idea to mock it. It is like the way postcolonial excess has granted the retrograde the meaningful space in which to attack the anti-colonial: Dinesh D’Souza and Newt Gingrich attacking Barack Obama for his supposed Kenyan anti-colonialist roots – as if to be anti-colonial were, you know, a bad thing.

So, now, “check your privilege” gets to play a little Mao in a jacket, and the reality of actual privilege escapes another instance of important recognition. While hardly all white people get to enjoy much benefit of white privilege, there are genuine manifestations of it. So, too, benefits that qualify as male privilege – as the privilege of any dominant cultural group.

They are all easy enough to miss, like thinking space is empty because it contains no visible matter. That the earth doesn’t move because you can’t sense its motion. That air is nothing, unseen. Earlier historians of the American West could write of the North American continent before conquest that it was a vacant wilderness, even though settlers as early as the New England colonists saw and encountered Natives regularly, both bought and stole that “vacant land.”

We are the ether that surrounds us, in which we live. We can know ourselves, but not deeply enough and truly until we see the ties that bind, the barriers that distance us, the ether of relation through which we move.

No ether is less visible to Americans, no web of relation less recognized, than that to Native America. Recently, amid renewed and growing attention to the issue of American Indian sports team names, David Freedlander wrote about Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s legislative encounter with the issue. We are not so much concerned here with Walker as we are with the issue, which has been addressed on the sad red earth more than once before. There are no better examples of privilege unrecognized than the arguments in defense of naming sports teams after American Indians. Usually, the first and foremost is that it is done to “honor” either Native Americans in general or the local Tribe.

“One has to wonder,” I wrote,

if the Native population had managed to hold off and limit the European advance on the continent in any significant way, had achieved any measure of victory – at far greater cost to non-Native life, as is the nature of war – would the present-day fans of Redskin “courage” and “dignity” be nonetheless similarly enamored? One tends not to ennoble one’s conqueror. The defeated don’t make pets of the victorious.

Let’s look around the world. Let’s note the instances in which subordinated groups of have named their soccer teams affectionately in honor of the people who conquered them. Were there on the dirt fields of the townships of apartheid South Africa, or in organized play, teams of black players named the Afrikaners or the Boers? All in praise of their fierceness and courage, let’s say?

Then there is this from Freedlander’s report.

“When we look back at the history of these communities, we find that Native Americans often had a significant role in the development and prosperity of these communities, and that is why the high schools decided to name their schools after them,” [Sam Hall, a lawyer who represented Mukwonago in a lawsuit] said. “It is source of pride for these communities, a way to talk about the history and heritage of the area” at a time when “the Native American people that live on the reservation are far removed from the land that their ancestors were on, but you can still educate the kids who are 30 miles away from where the reservation is currently located.”

Now, elsewhere, Freedlander informs us that the current Native population of Wisconsin is now only about 1% of the general populace. How exactly did that come about?  From the Wisconsin Department of Health Services:

In 1804, the government forced the Sauk and Fox tribes to cede their land claims in Southern Wisconsin in a treaty they had not agreed to9. These actions lead to the Black Hawk War of 1832. The largest American Indian population in Wisconsin, the Menominee, was pressured to sell away 11,600 square miles along the lower Fox River10. The Treaty of Prairie du Chien of 1825 was significant in the history of American Indians in Wisconsin, post-European settlement. The treaty was facilitated by the United States government to end the inter-tribal warfare that was disrupting the fur trade and creating tensions between settlers and the tribes11. The tension between tribes was created because the United States government had used them against each other to gain more lands12. The Treaty of Prairie du Chien established a treaty of peace among the tribes and demarcated boundaries between settlers and American Indians13.

By 1971, most of the American Indians had been placed on reservations and the government discontinued their use of treaties14. The government moved their focus to de-indianizing this population, creating schools that attempted to rid this population of their cultural traditions and way of life by breaking tribal ties and molding them into the image of white settlers15. However, before this time, between 1887 and 1934, the federal government aimed to mainstream Native Americans through the policies of assimilation and allotment16.

Is this what Hall means when he says, “Native Americans often had a significant role in the development and prosperity of these communities”? Yeah, that’s some role worth “honoring.” Is this the “source of pride for these communities”? Really? Yes, “the Native American people that live on the reservation are far removed from the land that their ancestors were on.” The history of how that came to be does not exactly, ethically, lead to the making of mascots.

This kind of defense of the naming of athletic teams after citizens who are fellow by fact, but not by choice, and in so many ways not fully, this is an example of privilege – the privilege, at the very least, to remain blind to forms of diminishment and disadvantage not a part of one’s own life.

We should check it out.

AJA

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The Political Animal

Syria, the Limits of Interventionism, and the International Order

Geschichte / Deutschland / 19. Jh. / Friedrich Wilhelm III.  / Regierungszeit / Vormärz / Wiener Kongreß 1814-15Noted in the comments to the previous post, “A Plague: Contesting Syria, in Context,” is the posting of a reply to it at his blog from my ever wry blogging compadre, Snoopy the Goon. Please do  read it here. Below is my response to, ahem, the Goon.

Dear Snoopy,

How do we go on after that John Lennon crack? I believe forgiveness is all. (Well, something, anyway.) And then there is your introduction. Okay.

I think there is not that much disagreement between us, some points needing just some clarification and refinement.

I note your eloquent and just paean to the “warriors of the cold war,” and what their sacrifice meant to those on the other side of the “curtain.” I agree, too, that the dollars of that war were well, if not all necessarily, spent, but the strategic purpose of my overview of the arms race was not to address the justness of the mission or overspending on it, rather the pattern of hyperbolic fear mongering often to be found in it. That purpose was a foundation to arguing that a variation on such heightened stirring of the passions toward war can be found in much commentary and journalism on Syria, including that compassionate solidarity journalism you reference.

I happily take your point that most Americans on the left and right are opposed to a Syrian intervention, however different the foundations for their feelings. My criticism, though, was of those on the far left who oppose it for thoroughly dishonorable reasons and those on the right – the “superpower imperialists” – who promote it so disingenuously.

Joined with superpower imperialists are those of the left not defined here by anti-imperialism, but internationalism, and a belief in humane interventionism – the “responsibility to protect.” I share this philosophical attachment and you echo its humane considerations. I claim, too, that this heightened attention to the lives of others, across national boundaries and cultures, is a product of already existent achievements in the “slow-developing international order” that challenges your credibility. But there is an irony in this.

I often call attention to the expanding web our affective associations woven by technology. It brings us, for instance, more completely and immediately, and with more vivid reality, news of the horrors of Syria. However, what informs your (and my own) skepticism of that international order is that other human abilities – the capacity, for instance, to act in concert and successfully against the horrors in Syria – have not advanced in conjunction with technology. Because our access to the reality of war is greater than ever before, that does not mean we have learned to end any and all wars whenever our best selves simply feel they cannot bear it anymore. We learn, we witness, we think we should act – our best selves cry out for our action – but we do not know in many cases, including Syria, I argue, how to act in ways that will not make matters generally worse.

When you say that you already perceive, awfully, that Assad has won, I respond, first, that by all appearances, whatever the ultimate varieties of outcome long down the road, what was Syria before will not be again. In that sense, Assad will certainly not have won. Beyond that, as I already argued, it was not previously American or Western policy militarily to overthrow Assad or any of the other tyrants who afflict the world; we need not have been made committed to that end by the outbreak of a civil war. To the degree that Obama’s earlier rhetoric seemed to make that commitment, it was an error of which his general critics regularly remind us and for which he should be criticized. Why, now, should he be criticized for failing to live up to a mistaken promise?

Round-the-clock cable news and Twitter cannot now by their mere existence have morally enjoined us to rush foolishly to intervene in all conflicts. You put it well about Iraq; I argue it to an nth degree about Syria, that

people who commanded the invasion, which was truly a work of inspiration and meticulous planning as far as military part of it was concerned, didn’t have a smidgen of an idea what to do with the hot potato, which was post-war Iraq. Still don’t, which sad fact costs so many lives and will continue to do so for a long time.

On the other hand, about the chemical weapons disarmament program in progress in Syria, the political rather than tactical nature of the response to this development is quite remarkable.

Unless one is already predisposed against Obama, which of course many are, or wishes, in part for that reason, to harp on one’s perception of the messy way the program came about, or harp on all of the things that the program is not, as would those promoters of intervention – who are bound to be profoundly disappointed by it – there is simply no downside to the program at all. Among the many previous fears attendant with the conflict (you can look it up) was the fear that chemical weapons, beyond their possible use by Assad, would fall into the hands of Islamist terror groups. Even if, unsurprisingly, and as is already suspected, Assad is trying to cheat, the volume of dangerous chemical weapons will have been dramatically reduced in a war torn region. Our knowledge of the presence and location of any smaller, still hidden stockpiles will have been enhanced, along with the capacity to strike and destroy or capture them whenever that decision might be made. All in all, the dangers those weapons pose – from Assad or Islamist warriors – will have been dramatically reduced from what it was. Other than providing a political stick with which to club Obama, the current disarmament program, had it been offered at any time outside of Obama’s threat of a military strike, would have been received by all as an opportunity to be grasped without doubt. Nothing changes that.

Finally, I assert again, withdrawal from an imperial expanse and posture in the world does not require the sacrifice of natural and sufficient economic, cultural, and political power or of necessary unilateral military power. These are an appropriate objective for one of the world’s great democracies already the most powerful nation in the world. However, the specific mission of the Cold War is not the same as a mission to ensure unchallengeable domination of the international sphere as a de facto, but by no means formally assented to, nation among nations. The political philosophy that the world shall henceforth be uni rather than multi-polar, and that it shall be so only by the dominating will and power of the existing unipolar power to keep it so, believing unwaveringly in its own justness and exceptionalism, is inherently undemocratic, even, ultimately, tyrannical in nature, if not in purpose. I do not believe the American people, unlike its militarists and supporters of an imperial presidency, would choose to purpose the future of their nation in this way. If they would, it would not be the nation they wish to think it.

The United Nations as an organization can serve as a convenient shorthand for two centuries of evolving Western and international order in various organizational and legal regimes. The deficiencies of that order are those of the humans creating it and can be likewise conveniently highlighted by such failures as the UNHRC or UNRWA. But however slow the progress, and tragic the continuing failures, I do not think many will make the argument that the world would be better were we to return to it to a time before the Congress of Vienna or the creation of the U.N.

It is slow and creeping, it is often inadequate, it is ready for mockery, but beyond a line on a map, a pistol shot in the face, and a drone strike from above, it is what we have.

AJA

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The Political Animal

A Plague: Contesting Syria, in Context

Context

american_empire_1_aThey are always there, sitting on both shoulders, sounding into your ears. On either side, they buzz insistently their ceaseless drone. Now, they speak of Syria, whisper and wheedle action or inaction as they wish. They have been singing their songs of superpower or imperial America since the end of World War II.

In the mid 1950s it was the “bomber gap.” Misconstrued numbers of Soviet M-4 Bison bombers, estimated at near a thousand and amplified by the device of policy by press release, set the United States on a frantic construction binge of almost 2,750 B-47 and B-52 bombers in response. President Eisenhower was doubtful, but even he did not face down the fervor of Air Force General Curtis Lemay and cries from congressional Democrats that Eisenhower – the former Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Western Europe during World War II – was “weak on defense.”

“It is clear that the United States and its allies,” said Senator Stuart Symington sounding what would become perpetual alarm, “may have lost control of the air.”

But there was no gap. It was later established that the Soviets had only 20 B-4 Bisons.

By the late 1950s, it had become the “missile gap.” A 1957 National Intelligence Estimate predicted a Soviet capability of 10 prototype ICBMs by 1959. By January of 1959, Albert Wohlstetter of the Rand Corporation published in Foreign AffairsThe Delicate Balance of Terror,” in which he argued that the “the thermonuclear balance” hung precariously against the U.S. and that current American efforts at deterrence were inadequate. Soon enough, influential journalist Joseph Alsop was citing classified intelligence that the Soviet Union would have 1500 ICBMs by 1963, compared to only 130 for the U.S.  John F. Kennedy and other Democrats consequently again charged Eisenhower with weakness on defense.

In fact, by 1960 the Soviet ICBM force was only 2, compared to a U.S. force of 12. By Alsop’s target year, the Soviet missile level rose to 99 rather than the prognosticated 1500, while the U.S. ICBM count was a six-fold greater 597.

There was, indeed, a missile gap – in favor of the United States.

Dwight Eisenhower departed office warning of a “military-industrial complex.”

Often, policy by press release has been masked as pure reportage.

“American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers; Move Taken to Halt New Aggression”, announced a Washington Post headline on Aug. 5, 1964.

That same day, the front page of the New York Times reported: “President Johnson has ordered retaliatory action against gunboats and ‘certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam’ after renewed attacks against American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin.”

But there was no “second attack” by North Vietnam — no “renewed attacks against American destroyers.” By reporting official claims as absolute truths, American journalism opened the floodgates for the bloody Vietnam War.

The country would face the manipulation of “reporting official claims as absolute truths” again in the future.

In the 1970s, forces in the GOP foreign policy establishment began to argue again that the U.S. was underestimating Soviet nuclear capabilities and misunderstanding its strategic nuclear intentions. Once more the call to arms was made by Albert Wohlstetter, this time in Foreign Policy, in “Is There a Strategic Arms Race?” During a period of post-Watergate weakness and diminished morale, Wohlstetter and a bevy of defense hawks who opposed détente charged that the “intensity, scope, and implicit threat” of Soviet offensive intentions were being consistently underestimated by the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimates. While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued in speeches that the Soviet Union was acting against the spirit of détente, figures such as Richard Pipes, Paul Nitze and board members of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), with the aid of Rumsfeld protégé Paul Wolfowitz, made the case for an alternative, extra-agency assessment of the Soviet threat.

The focus of attention was the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which new CIA director George H.W. Bush authorized to conduct the external review. Participants in the review were divided into three teams, with different areas of attention. The now notable “Team B,” chaired by Pipes and including William Van Cleave of the CPD, was advised by Nitze and Wolfowitz, among others. Over the course of 1976, in various venues and reports from other sources with which team members were associated, and in a Sunday, December 26, New York Times story, Team B’s classified conclusions were repeatedly leaked. They “identified a strong shift in the quantitative military balance toward the Soviet Union over the past 10 years.” Under pressure, the “CIA itself revised its estimate of Soviet military spending to 10-15 percent of Soviet gross national product (GNP), as compared to 6-8 percent in previous NIEs.”

The work of Team B, along with that of the CPD successfully scuttled the era of détente and led to the Reagan-era American arms buildup.

Among the many “Team B” assessments of a growing Soviet buildup and emerging strategic superiority was the prediction – like those in the 1950s about bombers and ICBMs – that by 1984 the Soviets would possess 500 Backfire bombers. In fact, and much as in those earlier instances, by 1984 the actual number of Backfire bombers in the Soviet arsenal was 235. After the Soviet Union disintegrated, it became known that the apparently dramatic increase in defense spending was, by the time of the Team B warning, already declining, with increased expenditures not the product of growing production, but economic inefficiency that would help spell the end of the Soviet Union – in the face of military competition that preceded the Reagan buildup.

The contours of Team B’s efforts were the same as previous militarist campaigns: expert warnings in conjunction with politics by press release, along with emergency organization (Committee on the Present Danger) to spread alarm. The alarm is twofold: the nation’s enemies are achieving a dangerous level of military advantage while responsible parties in the U.S. government are systematically failing in their response and weakening national security.

Attendant with the 1980s military buildup that Team B’s work successfully enabled were the Reagan administration’s anti-Communist counter insurgency efforts in Central America, which form a bridge between earlier Cold War preventive destabilizations and the George W. Bush administration “freedom agenda.” One instructive effort is that in Guatemala.

U.S. Cold War involvement in Guatemala dated back, infamously, to the 1954 CIA-sponsored overthrow of democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán. The coup was not just a betrayal of America’s liberal and democratic principles. It had long-term after effects: a thirty-six year civil war between a succession of oligarchic governments and leftist groups, primarily supported by the vast, impoverished indigenous Mayan and the Ladino populations, that was not brought to a close until 1996, forty-two years after the coup.

It was estimated by Guatemala’s 1999 Historical Clarification Commission (HCC) that as many as 200,000 mostly Mayan Guatemalans had been killed over the course of the civil war, 93% of the deaths attributable to government forces. Most of these deaths occurred during the 1980s, when Guatemalan regimes were receiving full-throated and significant military support from the Reagan White House. After Gen. Efrain Rios Montt overthrew his predecessor in 1982, Reagan endorsed him as “a man of great personal integrity” who was “totally dedicated to democracy” and who was “getting a bum rap” in reports of his human rights abuses. History – and contemporaneous reports known to the Reagan administration – reveals a different story.

[I]n the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. “The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages … are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala’s history,” the commission concluded.

The army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops,” the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter “genocide.” [Washington Post, Feb. 26, 1999]

Besides carrying out murder and “disappearances,” the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. “The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice” by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.

Just this year, in historic national proceedings, the 87 year old Rios Montt was convicted by a Guatemalan court of genocide. (The conviction was overturned on appeal and Rios Montt awaits retrial.)

In just and proper defense of its own and international security, the United States opposed totalitarian communist expansion, and in so doing, in numerous instances, was led by the most extreme elements of its own defense and security establishments to act, not just in the 80s in Guatemala, but in the 1950s and 60s, too, in direct opposition to its own national ideals and governing principles. In cases such as Guatemala, the unforeseen consequences linger now for more than half a century, tallied in numbers of lives lost attributable not to Marxist foes, but to the U.S. itself. And in a perverse rhetorical sally worth remembering as a model for today’s arguments, The Washington Post editorial board on March 1, 1999, while acknowledging the truths revealed by the HCC, sought to lay some of the blame for the crimes of the Guatemalan generals not at the feet of their rightwing U.S. supporters, but on the Carter administration in the 1970s –  for having cut aid to the Guatemalan government and thus helped foster the insurgent successes that led to the government war crimes in response.

At just the same time during the 1980s as genocide was being committed in Guatemala, another kind of aftermath, with different signification, was still unfolding in Southeast Asia. While the Marxist, Maoist, Trotskyite, and New Left were decrying U.S. Vietnam War deception and violence, they were also championing the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. As long as the United States remained a combatant, the lives, deaths, and “liberation” of Vietnamese were a precious subject of political debate and humanitarian concern. Once the U.S. left Vietnam, the far left fell out of compassion with the Vietnamese, soon enough turning its attention to Central America, where the single determining factor of interest and concern had now become part of the equation: U.S. involvement.

Yet according to the Aurora Foundation’s 1983 Violations of Human Rights in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, as many as one million non-communist former South Vietnamese were imprisoned in the infamous post-unification “reeducation” camps. Foundation reports indicated that the mortality rate in the camps averaged ten percent a year. During the same period, according to the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, more than 1.6 million fled Vietnam as “boat people,” including the more than 260,000 ethnic Chinese who either took flight or were forced across the border by the Vietnamese government. Forty-eight years after American withdrawal from Vietnam – a withdrawal including that of the compassionate interest of the West’s far left – Vietnam continues to be ruled by an authoritarian government guilty of “administrative detention, religious repression, crackdowns on human rights defenders, stifling of press freedom, widespread use of the death penalty… [and] abuses of women’s rights, including sex trafficking and coercive birth control policies.’ And in what should serve as remonstrative symbol to right and left, the sign atop one of Ho Chi Minh City’s tallest buildings reads Citibank.

This use of national populations and nationalist causes to advance a Western anti-imperialist agenda of course had pre-Vietnam antecedents. Even as there arose good cause to know of Stalinist crimes, apologists on the far left were content to offer just opposition to 1950’s McCarthyism while tendering no acknowledgment of their own Soviet misalignment. So it was with Mao and with Ho Chi Minh, until the Vietnamese, having served their purpose, were abandoned for the Sandinistas. Ever since, far left political allegiance, antipathetically rather than sympathetically motivated, has wandered ever farther from class analysis, internationalist bonds, and any grounding in universal human rights. Actual anti-imperialism itself need play no role in focusing far left anti-Western attention, and the cry of colonialism, using and abusing the Indigenous cause, can be heard even in the desert.

Thus, by way of Iraq, we arrive at Syria in 2013.

Contest

When President Obama threatened to strike Syria in response to the Ghouta Sarin massacre, both shoulder sprites began to sound off. The level of deception and hypocrisy was enough to fork tongues, but that, as they say, is a feature, not a bug.

On the right, Obama was criticized, even as he threatened to strike, for not having taken action at least half a year earlier, after previous, smaller chemical weapons deployments – as if wise policy for the world’s sole superpower is to be conned into war by any small force element able to obtain a modicum of chemical agent for purposes of just that manipulation. He was criticized simultaneously from the same quarter for planning only a punitive or preventive action and not plotting a course that could determine the course of the war – that is, more fully entering into the conflict in support of rebel forces.

Entrance into the war, in fact, is what the imperial right wishes, and nothing short of it will satisfy, so when Obama grabbed at the opportunity not to strike militarily to deter the Assad regime from further chemical attack, but to join with the Russians in fully chemically disarming a suddenly compliant Assad, the right mocked him. It still does, though its voices sound a little less assuredly, now, about the preposterousness of chemically disarming Syria, as the OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria meets the deadlines of its various stages. Let the mission fall behind at any point – as it not unlikely will given the complexity and difficulty of the task – and listen for the crowing choruses of “told you so.” They are being practiced as you read. One ugly secret is that the right does not truly wish for the mission to succeed – for the interim success of a chemically disarmed Syria is not what the right desires: that would ratify the possibilities of measured security gains without actual military engagement. What the right wants is Obama’s failure in pursuit of any kind of variant course. What the right wants is the United States in Syria.

In order to achieve the end of American involvement in the Syrian civil war, policy by press release has been deep and far ranging. The most notorious instance so far has been Elizabeth O’Bagy’s op-ed by in the Wall Street Journal, titled “On the Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War,” seeking to counter the most oft-repeated concern regarding support for Syrian rebels – that they are constituted significantly of Islamist jihadists. O’Bagy confidently informed us otherwise, attempting to sell an uncritical readership on the presence of a larger “moderate” element among the rebels, who are significantly Salafist, and in whose behalf O’Bagy, unidentified in the op-ed as political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SEFT), could muster as her most ringing endorsement only that they are a “force with some shared U.S. interests.” SEFT has as its political director Mouaz Moustafa, who appears to be making a current career working for similar organization attempting to draw the U.S. into Arab “Spring” conflicts such as, previously, Libya. O’Bagy was also a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which has, undisclosed at its website, Bill Kristol and Elizabeth Cheney as board members. Kristol, as the reigning editorial voice of the post World War II militarist tradition, and Cheney as daughter and vocal advocate of her father’s militarism, provide only the most prominent link to the vein that runs back to Team B. I offered a fuller account of O’Bagy’s argument in “Masters of War,” but she has since been fired by both SEFT and ISW for lying about her academic credentials. Wrote Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor’s Security Watch,

But what’s most troubling is that despite the history of lies fed to the US government by exiles seeking US involvement in foreign wars (Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress’ role in stovepiping claims of Iraqi WMD programs ahead of the 2003 invasion of that country should be top of mind) [O’Bagy] was listened to in the first place.

In Washington circles her work with SETF was known – and she herself relied on one particular wing of Syria’s complex rebellion, a wing that she relied on to arrange her travel and meetings inside Syria, to arrive at her conclusions. The SETF’s leadership is largely composed of Syrian exiles, much as the Iraqi National Congress’s leadership was composed of Iraqi exiles. Should such people be taken at their word when they seek US assistance?

Since Obama’s decision to seek opportunistically and peacefully what he would far less certainly have accomplished with even a series of strikes, efforts at policy by press release have shifted in their message. Less often now is heard O’Bagy-brand assurance of rebel “moderation,” since almost daily accounts of the conflict offer an increasingly contrary report. Now the militarist narrative begins – in shades of  assigning responsibility for Reagan’s material support of Guatemalan genocide to Jimmy Carter, for his not having armed the oligarchs earlier – in blaming Islamic radicalization of the Syrian rebels on Obama, for not having armed the opposition earlier. Apparently, for America’s war adventurers, both Islamism and oligarchic genocide grow out of the barrel of an undelivered gun. That the presence of as many as 160,000 U.S. troops themselves on the ground actually provoked the Islamization of the Iraqi insurgency rather than forestalled it is effortlessly overlooked by the peddlers of perpetual war. It is a hallmark of contemporary American militarism, however, to disregard any lessons from the past twelve years of war other than to believe that their failures – much as in Vietnam – were the product only of inadequate force levels, insufficient tactical aggression, and the unwillingness to pacify foreign lands on the time-scale of Roman legions.

The most pervasive meme in the current policy by press release is Obama’s “dithering” or “uncertainty,” even “disinterest” in Syria. Against all the pervasive evidence that Obama is, in reality, quite certain what policy he wishes to pursue in the face of general Arab upheaval – decidedly not the policy of the militarists – rightwing efforts are purposely to misrepresent this certainty as its opposite. While the second most dysfunctional region in the world erupts in political chaos the after effects of which may play out for decades, interested parties scream out to the American president to “do something!” when the wisest course for some time to come may well be not to do anything too definitive at all. But purposeful caution will always be caricatured by the rash and aggressive as weakness and cowardice. The proper response to that cartoon, though, is to recall one benefit of the Iraq War: that in its aftermath few any longer criticize George Bush the elder for not, after driving Saddam Hussein from Kuwait during the Gulf War, having marched on to Baghdad.

Still, what we regularly read in the press is that U.S. allies in “the region” – that is, the monumentally despotic, oppressive and theocratic Middle East – are unhappy with U.S. policy toward Syria. This is the emerging militarist version of the “bomber gap,” missile gap,” and the analysis-and-war-head gap of Team B – a new confidence and trust gap.

Significantly, what this primarily means is Saudi Arabian displeasure. American militarists and superpower imperialists now actually openly offer as criticism of American foreign policy its misalignment with the wishes of the greatest sponsor of Islamist radicalism in the world. The Weekly Standard’s Lee Smith was refreshingly candid about this in conversation with Michael J. Totten.

I can make an argument for backing the Syrian rebels, but it can’t be for humanitarian reasons alone. I can make the argument that we should do it for strategic reasons.

And yes, a lot of people are making that kind of argument about the Saudis, saying a pox on them, how dare they complain. The Saudis from time to time make an awful lot of noise and at other times they cross us. And of course there were fifteen Saudi nationals on the planes on 9/11. And yet Saudi Arabia has been an ally of the United States for more than sixty years. The reason for that isn’t because we share cultural or political values—although some of the elites really are pro-American.

The reason we’re allied with Saudi Arabia is because they have the world’s largest known reserves of oil. This is a vital American interest, perhaps the most vital American interest after the security of our fifty states.

Lee Smith believes the world’s sole remaining “superpower” should express the meaning of superpowerness by pleasing the Saudis and going to war in Syria in order to preserve our access to cheap oil. “Peace and justice” minions all over the West are whispering “thank you.”

More subtle by far, and easily so, is the likes of “Obama’s Uncertain Path Amid Syria Bloodshed” by Mark Mazzetti, Robert F. Worth and Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times purporting to offer an inside account of Obama administration deliberations on Syria over the course of the year. Note the “uncertain” in the title.

A close examination of how the Obama administration finds itself at this point — based on interviews with dozens of current and former members of the administration, foreign diplomats and Congressional officials — starts with a deeply ambivalent president who has presided over a far more contentious debate among his advisers than previously known. Those advisers reflected Mr. Obama’s own conflicting impulses on how to respond to the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring: whether to side with those battling authoritarian governments or to avoid the risk of becoming enmeshed in another messy war in the Middle East.

Note that sources of this account include former members of the administration, including those whose advice will not have been accepted. So when one reads critical words like “paralysis,” understand that a critic’s choice of that word is a funhouse mirror of a proponent’s chosen “inaction.” When “one former senior White House official” critiques that “[w]e spent so much damn time navel gazing,” consider how much advice you want from that source on matters of whether to arm and even enter yet another war – a war far from critical to U.S interests, yet one that could be deeply destructive of them.

Under the shadow of the report’s titled uncertainty, we are nonetheless told that

from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.

In response to contentious debate among his advisors and a CIA plan “to begin arming and training small groups of rebel forces at secret bases in Jordan,”

Mr. Obama, who had said at the beginning of the meeting that he would make no immediate decisions, appeared skeptical. He cautioned against a “haphazard” plan to arm the rebels, and asked about tactics — who would get the weapons, how to keep them out of the hands of jihadists.

The president’s view, according to one administration official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing debates about classified operations, seemed to be that “we’d be taking a lot of risk without a clear plan.”

Far from “uncertain” or “navel-gazing,” Obama appears to be the wisest person in the room, and the only one among the major voices to have learned any lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan other than more, more, more, longer, longer, longer.

There is in the account one brief, yet remarkable passage – how often we have seen its like in the attempt to denigrate a leader. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we read,

Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.

Despite all the obvious reasons that some discordant voices might wish to offer this image of Obama, what are the reasons for reporting it? How many ways might we account for it, if we were to credit it at all? That at given moments the president was rightfully bored with repeated, discordant arguments among his advisors, offering nothing new? That he received a text message from a daughter, an email from an aide on Capitol Hill about budget negotiations? How often do you think, during these many hours of debate and policy consideration – in contrast to slouching and chewing gum (Nicorette or just a pacifier for the challenged smoker?) – Obama leaned in with interest, questioned, even challenged his advisors while keeping his own counsel, supremely interested in determining the right course in a critical foreign policy situation for which, of course, he will be scrutinized by history? Who knows?

Yet only this one image is offered of Obama’s bearing by the reporters. Who are the targeted readers for this reported slack comportment of a generally dignified and elegant Harvard law grad and constitutional law professor, first black president of the United States? The readers of National Review? Supporters of Louis Gohmert?

Who are the reporters, in fact? Gordon is the Times’ military correspondent, who has written extensively on the Iraq War and who, with Judith Miller – Bush administration house reporter at The New York Times – authored the September 08, 2002 “THREATS AND RESPONSES: THE IRAQIS; U.S. SAYS HUSSEIN INTENSIFIES QUEST FOR A-BOMB PARTS,” in which it was reported, among multiple other anonymously sourced and false claims about an ongoing Iraqi nuclear program,

In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.

Mazzetti is the Times’ national security and intelligence reporter who has often repeated the Bush administration line in war-against-terror coverage, including, as well, adoption of the “brutal interrogation” euphemism in place of the legally accurate torture. It was also Mazzetti who secretly provided without his colleague’s knowledge, before publication, a copy of a Maureen Dowd piece on “Zero Dark Thirty” to CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf, in order to calm concerns about what Dowd might have written.

Of course, in the contest over Syria many who believe in humanitarian intervention, in the principle of “responsibility to protect,” have been moved by the death toll and human suffering in Syria to offer a common call with proponents of superpower imperialism – which is the idea that now that the Cold War is over and the U.S. has emerged from it as the sole superpower, it must, to protect the  interests it accumulated in the course of its ascension, continue to bestride the world as that unchallenged and dominating force, acting, as if it always were possible, at all times to shape outcomes.

A Western guilt-inducing analogy commonly offered in the attempt to spur action has been to the precedents of Rwanda and Bosnia: how fallen are we that we would allow it to happen again?

But what is “it”?

What we refer to as Rwanda was exclusively a fast-moving genocide of enormous barbarity, in stupendous numbers. What we call Bosnia in this context, much smaller in scope, contained discrete acts of genocide. In either case, quick and decisive military action could have halted and reduced specific acts and patterns of violence.

Whatever the ethnic and religious components, whatever the magnitude of the death toll, Syria is not genocide, but  a civil war, one that began as a rebellion against a tyrant. Intervention of the kind contemplated would be aimed at producing a victory in a conflict between two sides battling each other with strategic objectives. However, we might wish it ended, the killing stopped, and the tyrant gone genocidal acts and civil warfare are not the same phenomenon. Perhaps it should not be left to the Institute for the Study of War to determine that the ideal responsibility to protect (R2P) be now transformed into the responsibility to intervene in civil wars when the side you wish to lose appears as if it may not lose.

When advocates of U.S. intervention attempt to shame those who resist it with declarations of their moral decadence, one has to wonder why there remains any Western moral fiber left to decay after its failure to intervene in the Congo Wars – also post Rwanda and Kosovo – from 1996-2003, that may have left in excess of six million people dead? Where were Bill Kristol, John McCain, and the Institute for the Study of War then?

Maybe we should look to Lee Smith for an answer.

Is it a consummation devoutly to be wished that the world might one day assemble via the U.N. the righteous unity, force, and will to referee and part all remaining combatants? To dream. And the United States would rightly be called upon to play its part. But the world is not yet there, and the United States for countless apparent reasons of human and political understanding cannot assume that role by itself as if there were no difference in effect. There is. There are multiple reasons why the U.S. should not hazard on its own a significant stake in Syria.

  • However the superpower imperialists will color it otherwise, there is no natural ally of the U.S. in Syria and little reason to expect one even in defeat of the Assad regime. Oil discounted, and the course of current Arab-world upheavals completely unpredictable, there is no clear strategic advantage to Syrian involvement.
  • It was not previously the policy of the United States to seek directly or by proxy the military overthrow of the Assad regime. There is no reason under current circumstances why the U.S. should be impelled into war by elements of the Syrian populace tht felt the need to take up arms. Would a like uprising in any unfree nation in the world similarly require American military support? Is that the destiny of the American nation, to be yoked to the chain of every national rebellion in the world?
  • After twelve years of war in two distant countries, all but one of those years, in one country, Afghanistan, mistaken – and at real cost to the nation’s economic and social health – another misguided militaristic venture could inflict determinative damage on the American polity.
  • There may be greater challenges ahead with Iran and against Islamic terrorism. To become embroiled in Syria to no clear purpose could be a major historical error, greater even than, and certainly compounding, that of Iraq.
  • Despite militarist’s consistent and typically disingenuous claims to the contrary, there is every reason to expect that what they urge as mere training and material support would gradually – even, in likely battlefield crisis, dramatically – transform into direct U.S. engagement. Not only would this transformation occur, but at every creeping step militarists would just as disingenuously urge that it occur, for we would by then have invested, committed and in every possible way offered up our sacred national burly world-power honor to the cause and to abandon it then, blah, blah, blah, blah.
  • Not even in Iraq in 2003 did the U.S. face ensnarement in distant, multi-party internecine conflicts profound and complex enough to lie so far beyond American military resolution, and with less of any idea how to cope with just one of a multitude of fissures and possible expansions of the conflict among the parties and surrounding nations. To wit:

There is the role of Hezbollah and Assad’s possible fall back into Lebanon, further pulling that country into the mix. There are the sectarian divides of Syria, just as in Iraq, that will not disappear during a civil war and even once Assad may be ousted from power. There are the Kurds, angling across four nations – Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria – for a nation of their own. Now, in addition to Iraq, they have their foothold in Syria. There is an incipient reconciliation process afoot in Turkey between its government and Turkish Kurds that, given history, could collapse at any time, particularly under the effects on Turkey of emboldened Syrian Kurds on its border. Now, too, Turkey has come to think Syria’s jihadist Jabhat al Nusra a threat as well.  The possibilities for spiraling and expanding conflict are deep and many. Should they grow, the effects on more surrounding nations, like Jordan, with its currently quiescent Muslim Brotherhood, may grow.

 The masters of war want to drag the United States into this.

  • The militarists, playing on the compassion and ideals of humanitarians, and the humanitarians themselves, repeat the mounting toll of the dead in Syria – a horror, as were horrific the deaths in the Congo. The current estimate is 115,000 dead. But it is to be recalled in this world of horrors that just this month – regarding a conflict in which the U.S. was actively engaged, indeed, the initiator – “a new study led by the [University of Washington]’s Department of Global Health estimates that nearly half a million people in Iraq died from causes attributable to the Iraq War from 2003 to 2011” (emphasis added). There is every reason to believe that increased U.S. military involvement, rather than acting to diminish the suffering in Syria, would only intensify it, as it did in Iraq. And Iraq, though the U.S. left two years ago, is not over yet: “Iraqi Leader Calls on U.S. to Help Fight Terror Threat.” The October death toll from renewed insurgency and al-Qaeda activity neared 1,000, bringing the 2013 total to over 6000 so far. Were the militarists not distracted by Syria, they would be calling for a return to Iraq, which they never wished the U.S. to leave.

It is folly to pretend the United States can manage the volatile historic, which is not to say necessarily beneficial, upheaval sweeping the Arab and Muslim worlds in the Levant and North Africa. Absent joint-force humanitarian campaigns, the wisest course is to stand back and remain ready to respond to low-cost opportunities to protect interests and serve ideals, such as the entirely unpredictable, yet comprehensible chance at Syrian chemical weapons disarmament, diminishing one fear of an Islamist victory. Another is an appropriate arms-length engagement with an Egyptian emergency government representing the still inchoate wishes of a populace that learned from experience that one future it does not want is that of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In opposition to the incessant and contrary militarist drive to expand U.S. interests and forcefully control them, there remain on the left the simultaneously slack and malign anti-imperial apologists for authoritarianism and illiberalism. A U.S. strike on Syria averted, we see now no further “stop the war” and “end the killing” crisis marches in the major cities of Western nations. The salt of the Syrian earth is quickly cleared from the table.

The contest over Syria in the West, especially in the United States, is not simply a debate over a regional crisis. It is a contest for the future course of American foreign policy, whether there will be now, two decades later, a reset of America’s role in the world with the end of the Cold War. The only other Democratic presidency since, Bill Clinton’s, was too soon after, and without the geopolitical circumstances in which opportunistically to chart the new course. Obama, compelled to end two wars, with the opportunity to reject entry immediately into another even more misguided, has the chance – and, rather than uncertain, is determined to take it.

The vortex of even benign empire is thus: a breadth of interests entails a breadth of power to protect them. A breadth of power generates its own interests. Even a benign power will be caught in this cycle of mutual reinforcement. Imperial behavior, conceived only as protection of interests, expands and then is justified, in what is now the expression of an imperial character, as a necessary advancement of interests. As I wrote in “Obama in Oslo: Power without Empire” about the imperial nation’s ever expanding interests,

Ironically, this makes the superpower a supplicant, always needing to negotiate with other nations over those nations’ natural interests and spheres of power, and far from the natural sphere of the superpower’s interests, because now the world has become its sphere. World security concerns become the superpower’s security concerns, and multiple nations, pursuing their own interests to some degree of variance with the interests of the superpower now become problematic concerns.

The current conservative formula is that any reconsideration of this cycle is a disengagement bespeaking weakness. In order to avoid this appearance – indeed, reality – of (relative) weakness, the cycle must be maintained perpetually. The United States, now that it is the sole superpower, must ensure that it remains the sole superpower. If it is not the conquering, occupying power of imperial epochs past, it must now be and remain the imperial power of enforceable influence wherever its interests and security are perceived to reside, and increasingly they reside everywhere.

Such, however, is part of the historic pattern in the decline of empires. Yet this is the imperative that serves as the basis for misconceiving and rejecting the Obama international vision. It offers a choice not between a weak America and a strong America willing and able to meet genuine security threats. It presents a choice between an imperial America, however internally democratic, attuned to the brute expression and imposition of its will across all reaches, and a strong America integrated, reasonably and with proper regard to its interests, within a slow-developing international order.

Americans will be both the audience and the object of play between both sides on this field of contest, addressed, subject to performance, and bandied about like ball or puck – thoroughly used and abused if they if they are not wise to the game. There are two contestants at play here, neither to be trusted, neither offering time out from the match. Each needs to be resisted if the U.S. is to find its way, finally, into the twenty-first century, and out of and beyond empire. Each needs to be recognized for what it is, with neither the best national self Americans imagine for their country.

Both their houses. Now and forever. No blood on the doorposts.

AJA

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Indian Country

A Second Look: The Honor of the Mascot, or A Team by Any Other Name

washington-redskins-helmet-logoThe latest publicity over the very name of the Washington Redskins is only the most recent eruption in a longtime simmer. As recently as 2009, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case dating back to 1992. This should not surprise given that the Supreme Court has never overturned Johnson v. McIntosh, its 1823 decision in which it justified the European conquest of Native American lands by right of the Doctrine of Discovery and asserted the United States’s assumption by inheritance of this right. The decision remains the law of the land. It is as if Dred Scott v. Sandford‎  were still accepted law. Fittingly, too, the 2009 decision was over the matter of trademark – an economic interest such as those that fueled all the conquest and abuse of Native America.

The latest effort against the Redskins denigration also began with a challenge to trademark. Now President Obama has weighed in, and for certain kind of American for whom neither the conquest, nor Johnson, nor the legacy of both is problematic, the very fact of Obama’s judgment belittles the case. That Lanny Davis, of all legal counsel, has been retained as Redskins representation offers its own ready commentary on the quality of the quarters to which adherents now retreat. All this foolishness about identity politics. (Crie those, generally, whose identity was never the reason for social difficulty.)

I wrote about this specific subject at length once before, on June 8, 2009.

From “The Honor of the Mascot, or A Team by Any Other Name”

Periodically, because of such suits – and actions on a more local level, against school athletic teams – the subject gains a degree of national attention. Some non-Natives are automatically sympathetic: of course, there shouldn’t be such team names. No Washington Redskins anymore than a Los Angeles Kikes, Washington Niggers, New York Spics, or Cleveland Bohunks.

Those less sympathetic generally argue from two positions. One is that of an apparently deep fatigue (so arduous has been the burden) with what is sometimes referred to (for instance, now, in the conservative opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor) as “identity atlanta-braves-logopolitics.” This is a fatigue generally ironically experienced mostly by those who have never been the victims of the original identity politics, namely racial or ethnic discrimination. (Ah, but give them credit; they are born again.) And there is no group identity that has been longer both under attack and disregarded on this continent than that, collectively, of the various Native nations.

The other position – less explicitly presented but quite apparent – is that of the sports fans who don’t want their hallowed traditions messed with. Team names, statistical records, stadium rituals are all part of the mythic regalia of an athletic Valhalla. You want to disrupt all that for – the Indians? Of course, few would say exactly that, so one defense of current practice with regard to the Washington Redskins is that “Redskin” is not a derogatory term like those others I used. Sports Illustrated, of all publications (how curious) conducted a poll in 2002 that offered results indicating that an overwhelming majority of Native Americans did not object to the term. In 2004, the Annenberg Public Policy Center produced a similar poll.

cleveland-indians-race-cure

Setting aside any consideration of the particularly problematic nature of polling what is, at this point, a very demographically complex Native population, one has first to note that there still, nonetheless, appear not to be athletic teams named the Los Angeles Semites, Washington Negroes, New York Hispanics, or Cleveland Slavs. And we might point out as a reasonable and parallel historical argument that, hey, the Indians signed all those treaties, didn’t they? It was all on the up and up. They agreed to it!

Besides (goes the further argument), we’re paying them a compliment. We’re honoring them (but not those Semites, Negroes, and, well, you get the point) for their courage and dignity and similar such encomiums. One has to wonder, if the Native population had managed to hold off and limit the European advance on the continent in any significant way, had achieved any measure of victory – at far greater cost to non-Native life, as is the nature of war – would the present-day fans of Redskin “courage” and “dignity” be nonetheless similarly enamored? One tends not to ennoble one’s conqueror. The defeated don’t make pets of the victorious.

multi-logo

Check the major American dictionaries: “Redskin” is defined as a derogatory term. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the American Counseling Association, and the American Psychological Association have all adopted resolutions opposing the use of Native American images as athletic symbols and mascots. Yet there remains something essential that most Americans do not get.

A few weeks ago, we spoke with Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma:

For generations now, what is the language or frame of reference we’ve accepted? Because of American history, it is based upon color. It’s very simplistic. Those are fairly shallow criteria…. There are a lot of other barriers that the United States and the American people don’t even recognize as a barrier. A very clear one is the Washington Redskins…. If we look in D.C. today, here is the capitol, here is the class of people who really should understand American history…but have so little understanding that the Washington Redskins – half the congress goes to those games, and you can go to their offices and see those derogatory caricatures.

The dominating mentality of the conqueror persists, little altered by time. The ownership of the Washington Redskins and its executive leadership condescend to praise Native Americans as they belittle them, by exercising a power that only the dominant can wield over those subject to that power – in this case, the force of an arrogant cultural disregard masking unremitting greed. So it was in previous centuries; so it is now. Twice in the nineteenth century the Cherokee had their Tribal lands removed from them because, beneath all the subterfuge, the government and whites simply wanted them for their own economic interests. An underlying truth in the case of the Washington Redskins is that a change in the team’s name, affecting branding and team identification, would have significant economic consequences for what is currently the second most valuable team in the National Football League.

Until now arguments in court have centered on trademark law and the timeliness of the plaintiff’s applications. This is how it has always been. But if there were a Los Angeles Kikes or a Washington Niggers, all quaintly dressed up in their most becoming cultural stereotypes, how long ago would growing popular outrage have forced the issue beyond the bounds of the blind technicalities of law?

A fine compendium on the issue.

AJA

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The Political Animal

Masters of War

masters “Masters of War,” compellingly titled, fortuitously timed in its creation, ranks among Bob Dylan’s most jejune songs. The apparent good fortune of its historic timing emerged out of a natural uprising from circumstance. Given that circumstance, and the song’s generalized complaint, how, it almost seems, could the United States not have become fully drawn into a Vietnam War? The song’s lyrics are commonplace at best, its ideas simplistic, its attitude simple minded – much of what is spoken about war is. But the song did not arise out of nowhere, was not merely the febrile complaint of a barely post-adolescent artist. There are, however much more complexly than the song suggests, masters of war.

The masters of war want an American war in Syria. They do not, as Barack Obama does, want a punitive or preventive strike against Syria in response to Syria’s chemical weapons use, in order to uphold international prohibition. They mock such an action. They mock it in itself and they mock it because it is, or was, the plan of Barack Obama. They refuse, still, to acknowledge that Obama early on made the clear choice not in any way to enter the Syrian civil war, because he believed there was little the United States could do and that it would only replicate an error of war the country has made already too many times. But whatever Obama does, if it is not in accordance with the aggressive Bush-era “freedom agenda,” has been, is, and will be called by his usual foreign policy critics “feckless” and “dithering.” They mean weak and cowardly. That is the way masters of war speak when you do not give them what they want. What they want, this time, is an American war in Syria.

My last post, “Forgetfulness Is a Chemical Weapon,” attempted to limn the follies and even bad faith often to be found at far ends of the war question and now, particularly, a Syrian “war” question. I enclose “war” in those challenging marks because what I endorsed at the end of “Forgetfulness Is a Chemical Weapon” is, as President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have presented it, a limited military action with two aims. The first is to deter the Bashar al-Assad regime from further use of chemical weapons. The second, collaterally, is to degrade the regime’s ability to further use those weapons and even, perhaps, its prospects of prevailing in the civil war. That last outcome could hasten – appears the only thing that might hasten – a move toward a political settlement and thus the end of the current bloodletting. Every other idea at “intervention” seems likely only to increase the death toll and draw the United States into actual, protracted war.

To be clear, however, the second goal is subsidiary and opportunistic in light of the first. Without the chemical weapons use, there has been no policy to pursue that second goal.

We should always be concerned about the uncertain consequences of military action, even when we think ourselves compelled by moral imperative as much or more than by the calculus of security and interests. We should be more concerned then, as we may act too rashly, driven by the values that impel us and not with sufficient focus on the effects of our actions. The best intentions may have the worst consequences.

With those concerns as pretense and cover, the usual political elements fashioning themselves as “antiwar” have reflexively appeared. In their opposition, they organize not against war in most places in the world, but against any action by the U.S. or the West in armed conflict. They contort even the most moral of purposes, in support of even their own highest ideals, into perversions of imperial power to be opposed. After organizing not at all for two years to “stop” the Syrian civil war, now they gather in spiritual enclaves to “stop” a war that for them began only as the U.S. might become attached to it and will escape their attention whenever the U.S. might move on. One death by Western bombs is an imperial outrage, 100,000 by tyrants are not theorizable for politicking. These protesters of war cannot lose the moral authority they lost long ago.

Preening “antiwar” protesters are not a fixed political block, however. Their numbers can swell and recede as people are led by their understanding to see the world. Doesn’t that make them ripe for manipulation. Are not we all, always.

The masters of war seek now again to manipulate public opinion, just as they did as proponents of the Iraq War, in just the same ways.

The single most cited account of the situation in Syria over the past two weeks was an Op-Ed by Elizabeth O’Bagy in the Wall Street Journal. Titled “On the Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War,” the column sought to counter one of the greatest concerns regarding support for Syrian rebels – that they are constituted significantly of Islamist jihadists. O’Bagy, who has spent much time in Syria, informed us otherwise.

According to O’Bagy, jihadists like Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq are not at the front lines leading the fight against Assad, but busy consolidating territorial gains in the North of the country, where they hope to establish an Islamist state. It is unclear whether that detail is meant to reassure about intervention or provoke Americans to prevention.

O’Bagy characterizes the other rebel forces, collectively, as “moderates.” Never does she explain that descriptor. She does not, for instance, say what it is they moderate between:  jihadists and what the West would call “liberals”? She advises at the end that the “U.S. must make a choice. It can address the problem now, while there is still a large moderate force with some shared U.S. interests, or ….” O’Bagy concludes with her best description of the “moderates” as a “force with some shared U.S. interests.” What a curiously tepid and vague endorsement. Could it be because what counts among “moderates” are Salafists, who while not jihadists seeking a universal caliphate, do wish to create a state existing under Sharia law? You will have to ask O’Bagy, so let’s.

According to a O’Bagy, in a 2012 report for the Institute for the Study of War,

  • Moderate political Islam is not incompatible with democratic governance. However, ultraconservative Sunni Islamists, known as Salafists, envision a new world order modeled on early Islam that poses a significant threat to both democracy and the notion of statehood. Salafi-jihadists are those who commit to violent means to bring about the Salafi vision.

  • It is difficult to distinguish between moderate Islamists and Salafi-jihadists in the context of the Syrian civil war.

  • The vast majority of Syrians opposing the regime are local revolutionaries still fighting against autocracy; while they are not Islamists, in the sense that their political visions do not depend upon Islamic principles, they espouse varying degrees of personal religious fervor.

In this context, but absent the same clear, specific, but uncertain account, O’Bagy now advocates support by the U.S, including “a major bombing campaign by the U.S., sophisticated weaponry, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapon systems,” with the “ultimate goal of destroying Assad’s military capability while simultaneously empowering the moderate opposition.”

O’Bagy was identified in the August 30th op-ed as “a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.”  A full week later, the Wall Street Journal was led to offer a correction beneath her article.

In addition to her role at the Institute for the Study of War, Ms. O’Bagy is affiliated with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a nonprofit operating as a 501(c)(3) pending IRS approval that subcontracts with the U.S. and British governments to provide aid to the Syrian opposition.

Even in its correction the Journal was not completely forthcoming. O’Bagy is not merely “affiliated with” SETF; she is identified at its website as its political director. SETF is a Syrian-led organization, via its board of directors and advisors, dedicated to enlisting U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war. It has sponsored John McCain in his trips to Syria. Its executive director, Palestinian-born Mouaz Moustafa, has a LinkedIn profile that still identifies him also as the Executive Director at the Libyan Council of North America, where he played the same role advocating for American intervention in Libya.

Even the Institute for the Study of War holds nuggets of information to be uncovered. Its website lists at the highest level of management Dr. Kimberly Kagan as its president. Of course, the institute does have a board of directors, discoverable through Guidestar. It includes Bill Kristol and Elizabeth Cheney.

The deceptions and manipulations of the masters of war are broader even than these examples. The very framing of the issue to be clarified – whether the Syrian opposition is forbiddingly jihadist or “moderate” enough to comfort Americans in a military engagement – is a deception. The complexity of Syria, the reasons for the United States to avoid entanglement in its civil war, the reasons why President Obama has avoided it, are far greater than the one issue of who the opposition may truly be.

There is the role of Hezbollah and Assad’s possible fall back into Lebanon, further pulling that country into the mix. There are the sectarian divides of Syria, just as in Iraq, that will not disappear during a civil war and even once Assad may be ousted from power. There are the Kurds, angling across four nations – Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria – for a nation of their own. Now, in addition to Iraq, they have their foothold in Syria. There is an incipient reconciliation process afoot in Turkey between its government and Turkish Kurds that, given history, could collapse at any time, particularly under the effects on Turkey of emboldened Syrian Kurds on its border. Now, too, Turkey has come to think Syria’s jihadist Jabhat al Nusra a threat as well.  The possibilities for spiraling and expanding conflict are deep and many. Should they grow, the effects on more surrounding nations, like Jordan, with its currently quiescent Muslim Brotherhood, may grow.

The masters of war want to drag the United States into this. After Iraq and Afghanistan, following the toppling of the Taliban, with that record, they want more. They will tell us, too, that the failure of Afghanistan is that we did not commit well enough and long enough – Obama’s fault, of course. Think they will not say that about Syria, too – more, more, longer, longer – when all does not go as swimmingly as they suggest?

They scorned Obama for seeking only to stop Syria’s chemical weapons use – too little, too little, too little. They scorn him now that he pauses to pursue a diplomatic possibility of ensuring that end without a military strike. Now, suddenly, after two years of protracted civil war, if Obama does not launch a strike immediately (which is inadequate anyway), then he has thrown away all trust and respect and the future of the West. He has achieved so far, without launching a missile yet, Syrian admission of its chemical weapons program, Syria’s public acceptance of a proposal that they relinquish it, and Russia’s public agreement to the same principle. Who, a week ago, conceived that those accomplishments were even to be considered as a goal?

Are the masters of war happy? Do they credit these advances at all? Do they do anything but ridicule and degrade? No. They do not. They do only one thing.

Only one thing satisfies the masters of war.

AJA

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Creative The Political Animal

A Second Look: The Brotha & the Otha

President Obama’s summer vacation just concluded, there was a fair amount of attention to the frequency of his golfing: courses traversed, rounds played, partners played with. ABC News even gave us “Obama’s Vacation by the Numbers.”

  • He made FIVE outings to local restaurants, including TWO dinners with friends, ONE intimate night out with the first lady, ONE family dinner and ONE run for fried-food pick up.

For that someone attended journalism school. (Somehow we won World War II without knowing Roosevelt couldn’t walk.) This put me in mind of a classic sad red earth posting from deep in the archives about one of the President’s vacations early in his first term. Yes, we do have classics on the sad red earth, admitted to that pantheon by vote of the assembled sad red earthlings. who happily, not haply, present:

The Brotha and the Otha

President Barack Obama's First Day In Office

(Scene: the White House – the Oval Office. President Obama sits behind his desk. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel stands before him.)

Emanuel: Okay, next – where you thinking of for your vacation?

Obama: I was thinking we’d go to Hawaii.

Emanuel (chin descending, eyes ascending): Not a good idea.

Obama: Ah, come on, Rahm. It’s home. It’s beautiful. I’ve got friends. Why not?

Emanuel: Optics.

Obama: Optics.

Emanuel: You gotta consider how it looks.

Obama: That I take a vacation?

Emanuel: Where you take the vacation. It can’t seem you’re having too much fun. Presidents can’t have too much fun. Only in limited doses, for limited times. Joe the Plumber’s plumber is thinking, I lost my job, my kid’s in chemo – people want to kill us – and you’re shankin’ balls under the palms, against the blue Pacific. No, no, no no, no, no, no.

Obama: People don’t want me to have a vacation?

Emanuel: Probably not. But they’ll accept something not too conspicuous.

Obama: Like Crawford, Texas? See, I think that proves right there I’m more qualified to be President. “What do you do on your vacation Mr. President?” “Ah clear brush.” Sheeit.

Emanuel: But he stayed too long.

Obama: So I won’t stay too long.

Emanuel: I don’t know, Rock –

Obama: I asked you not to call me Rock.

Emanuel: Well, I can’t call you Bar.

Obama: Wasn’t that Bush 41’s wife?

Emanuel: My point. The anti-Obama.

Obama: You could call me Mr. President.

Emanuel (considers a moment): I’ll call you Rock. (Beat) Then there’s the question of what if something happens while you’re on the vacation.

Obama: Then I’ll come back and deal with it.

Emanuel: Maybe, maybe not.

Obama: If I don’t come back they’ll say I’m indifferent and aloof.

Emanuel: If you do come back they’ll say you’re a captive of events. The terrorists flick the fiddle, you dance to their tune. “Member Carter and his Rose Garden strategy? Reagan murdered him with it.

Obama: Now you’re going to extremes. Isn’t there some reasonable middle ground on this?

Emanuel: Reason’s got nothing to do with it. Take Joe B., for instance, when he called you clean and articulate.

Obama:  Putz.

EmanuelPetzel. (He holds his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.)

Obama: Sez who?

Emanuel: Arlen. Remember all those train rides?

Obama: Spector? How the hell would he know?

Emanuel: It’s a big tent, Rock.

Obama: On the down low? Come on, man. I haven’t had lunch yet. Now I gotta be thinkin’ about that?

Emanuel: He calls you clean and articulate – like you’re not either, like everyone isn’t thinking it, about you, Colin – and they make a big deal about it. Like a Sharpton with his Brooklyn Do and drawl was ever gonna be the first.

Obama: Actually, I thanked Biden. Michelle always says I don’t shower enough.

Emanuel: Or word is that new book by Halperin is gonna quote Reid about you being light-skinned or something, not talking with a Negro dialect.

Obama: Negro? Get the fuck.

Emanuel: I shit you not.

Obama: But I am light skinned. I don’t talk Black.

Emanuel: Not unless you want to.

Obama: But that’s the point. Everyone gets what they want. The President has to be all things to all people.

Emanuel: And if you’re not, then they get you for that.

Obama: Like when I started droppin’ my “g”s.

Emanuel: Well, that was for the white workin’ class. After that shit about guns and religion.

Obama: Which I don’t believe for a minute. Devil made me say that.

Emanuel: Exactly. So this book is coming out and you can just see it now – somebody like Liz Cheney goes on This Week and rips into Reid for his racism, because, you know, you’re not light skinned and you don’t talk Black – actually, I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be good or bad; when conservatives go PC for points it gets really confusing – and even George Will is gonna blow chunks.

Obama: It’s amazing. There’s no reality to any of it.

Emanuel: Oh, it gets worse. Because when they talk about this stuff on TV, most of the time they acknowledge it’s all bullshit, but they talk about it anyway, because if a Pol talks shit, they think they’ve got to cover it, even if they cloak it in a discussion of how the media covers shit (which they’re not doing, they’re covering the story of how the media covers shit.) And the pol talks shit just so that they will cover it. And the news people acknowledge its shit – that’s their kinda due diligence, you see, “we told you this was shit” – and then they ask each other if the shit is going to hurt the President, and they say it is (as if no one’s listening) and people have now been told the President is being hurt by what everyone acknowledged from the start was bullshit. And then – I really love this – there’s always the sardonic one, without fail, a little above it all, who pings ‘em all with a “And that’s just exactly what we’re doing by talking about it.” There are so many mirrors you can’t even find yourself.

Obama: “So keep on playing those mind games together…”

Emanuel: “Faith in the future outta the now…”

Obama: Takes me back.

Emanuel: Yeah.

Obama: Okay, so where does that leave us?

Emanuel: I’ll tell you where that leaves us, Rock. A lot of these people out there grew up on 24/7 meat and dairy, wall-to-wall Wonder and mayo. Now their world’s being run by The Brotha and The Otha.

(Obama laughs. Emanuel extends his arms, palms down, for some skin.)

Emanuel: World upside down, Nigga!

(Obama scowls.)

Emanuel (pulling back)I’m just jivin with ya.

(Obama continues to scowl.)

Emanuel (reluctantly offering a beta shrug): I’m kibitzing.

Obama (widenening his eyes and pointing, as if to say “psyche!”): Word, Hebrew.

(Obama gets up, buttons his jacket.)

Obama: Okay, so where does that leave us? Wherever I go, whatever I do, they’ll find a way to spin it against me, right?

Emanuel: Long and short.

Obama (heading out of the office): Fuck that shit. I’m going to Hawaii.

Emanuel (turning, calling after him): You can’t go to Hawaii.

Obama (disappearing)Oh, yes, I can!

Emanuel: Yeah, well, you better hope no one tries to blow up a plane over Detroit!

(But Obama is gone.)

Emanuel: Mutherfucker!

AJA

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The Political Animal

The Obama Doctrine

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There is one. It is not simple and direct like the Monroe, Truman, or Carter doctrines. For this reason, those who are Obama’s foes and those who have always underestimated him, or who fail to see the world as he does, can easily caricature the manifestations of it. The Obama doctrine is more complex, at a more complex – which is not to say more challenging – stage of international history. It is more like a practical philosophy than a doctrine, but because it is practical it does, like a doctrine, dictate forms of behavior by the United States, in response, at this stage in its development and in the context of its specific history,  to kinds of developments at this stage in world history.

The Obama doctrine is not simply an advocacy based on an ideal determination that the world has moved beyond the necessity of brutal conflict. It is not a simple, steely profession of the necessary willingness to engage in brutal conflict wherever the challenge of it is laid before the United States in opposition to its interests or ideals. The calculations are more complex than that. It is an intent to lead by shaping, as much as possible, the evolution of events rather than by serving as the first to rush to respond to events in the belief that a strong wind in one’s face is the sole and unchanging mark of leadership. It is a vision of world leadership founded in unchallengeable strength, both military and domestic social and economic strength, that is not imperial.

Barack Obama is the first post Cold War president possessed of a clear vision of the next phase of the American experience, and how the nation’s course and commitments must develop beyond the structures of the Cold War. For those who wish to believe the nation is already there, what he offers is too little, too beholden to the institutions of power. To those for whom the Cold War was not truly in any way historically particular, but just an ahistorical structure of power relations and conflict dynamics, any military reticence is treated as a calamitous drop of the baton. What’s more, Obama has served as president against probably the most obstructionist, narrow-visioned and narrow-minded congress any president has ever faced, assuming office, too, in the midst to two wars and the second greatest economic crisis of the past hundred years. Against a completely unsympathetic opposition party and with the support of a base that often refuses to acknowledge the crueler world Obama does clearly recognize, to have expected any transformative reordering of a half-century international alignment should have been beyond any expectation.  That he has accomplished anything beyond crisis management, domestically or internationally, is an astonishing achievement. Yet he has.

The speech Obama gave yesterday on counter-terror policy pleased many for the specific answers it provided. There are some who will never be satisfied for the reasons above. But for anyone who has understood what this president has been about internationally, who, for instance, paid attention to his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, there was barely a revelation.

From the Oslo lecture:

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there’s nothing weak – nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions – not just treaties and declarations – that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest – because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another – that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths – that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. “Let us focus,” he said, “on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.” A gradual evolution of human institutions.

From the speech at the  National Defense University:

 So America is at a crossroads.  We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.  We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”  Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror.  We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society.  But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.  And to define that strategy, we have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom.  That begins with understanding the current threat that we face.

….

America’s actions are legal.  We were attacked on 9/11.  Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force.  Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.  We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first.  So this is a just war — a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.

And yet, as our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion.  To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.  For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.

But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives.  To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties — not just in our cities at home and our facilities abroad, but also in the very places like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu where terrorists seek a foothold.  Remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.  So doing nothing is not an option.

Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted lethal action would be the use of conventional military options.  As I’ve already said, even small special operations carry enormous risks.  Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and are likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage.  And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies, unleash a torrent of unintended consequences, are difficult to contain, result in large numbers of civilian casualties and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict.

So it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths or less likely to create enemies in the Muslim world.  The results would be more U.S. deaths, more Black Hawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.

Yes, the conflict with al Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy.  But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.

Our efforts must be measured against the history of putting American troops in distant lands among hostile populations.  In Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of civilians died in a war where the boundaries of battle were blurred.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the extraordinary courage and discipline of our troops, thousands of civilians have been killed.  So neither conventional military action nor waiting for attacks to occur offers moral safe harbor, and neither does a sole reliance on law enforcement in territories that have no functioning police or security services — and indeed, have no functioning law.

….

I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion we need to have about a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy — because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe.  We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the wellspring of extremism, a perpetual war — through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments — will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.

So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism — from North Africa to South Asia.  As we’ve learned this past decade, this is a vast and complex undertaking.  We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep-rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred.  Moreover, no two countries are alike, and some will undergo chaotic change before things get better.  But our security and our values demand that we make the effort.

….

Our victory against terrorism won’t be measured in a surrender ceremony at a battleship, or a statue being pulled to the ground.  Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school; immigrants coming to our shores; fans taking in a ballgame; a veteran starting a business; a bustling city street; a citizen shouting her concerns at a President.

This is not a simple doctrine, but read with care, it is a strong and coherent one. More, it is an actual vision, while most of Obama’s critics, on the right and the left, are wearing 3-D glasses.

AJA

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Obama’s Male Gaze

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Vanity. Hans Memling, 1485.

We forget it about Barack Obama. Amid his first-black-American-presidentness. His Africanness and his historical otherness. His – by American standards – worldliness. The youth in Indonesia and the exposure to Islam. The exotica, to mainlanders, of the upbringing in Hawaii. The life with a single mother. The academic achievement, the sometimes aloof scholarly mien. We forget it.

What a guy he is.

With his love of hoops, the links, the yearly tourneys and hangin’ with the homies. Yet with his eye for the ladies (Michelle Obama – that’s some lady), and despite all the rightwing nuttiness, just how much of an American guy he is. It turned out, too, that the first black president has roots in the nation’s slave history not through his African, Kenyan father, but, of all places, ancestry on his white, Kansan mother’s side. How thoroughly American, actually, is that?

What a guy – what an American guy.

This American guy, the American President, as it then came to pass something over a week ago, called California Attorney General Kamala Harris “the best-looking attorney general” in the country and quickly regretted it, to the point of apology. The national chatterers took automatically to their respective corners about it and came out fighting. As usual, the reflexive retreat to polarities stirred up a flurry of exchanges that yielded no clear insight.

People of a practical and natural persuasion observed that male and female exist in nature, that it is natural for them to recognize and signal the attractiveness of one to the other, and they questioned not for the first time what this new world political order it is into which we have entered, in which a good, handsome, respectable and respectful man cannot say to an attractive woman, “Hey, there good lookin’.”

And their national conversation interlocutors said, “Sexist.”

As usual, we ended with the reinforcement of an emergent social code that bewilders many and that fair numbers resent. This is post counter-cultural America. It is no way to achieve real understanding, but then complexity and subtle distinction are not distinguishing characteristics of American public discourse. Anti-intellectualism is a point of pride. The only theory of interest to much of the public is the one that explains what the hell is wrong with those people. Raise the subject of what has been called the “male gaze” and observe the crowd current shift toward the popcorn, the Bud, and the Final Four.

The male gaze is an idea first raised by Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” It has its conceptual roots in the Lacanian gaze simple, by which to receive a gaze is to be highlighted as an object. This immediately raises the disturbing prospect that he who gazes may also be gazed upon, an object for some other, but I don’t want to give anyone an identity crisis here. Let’s stick with one gaze and one object of it.

Mulvey, writing at the height of second wave feminism, was noting in cinema what could be observed in any social or artistic sphere: the dominant social force being male, the predominating gaze was thus also male. Not only was, and is, the predominating gaze male, but the default gaze is male, the way “he” and “man” were for so long the default generic pronoun and noun for a person and people of indeterminate gender. It wasn’t that the female gaze was discounted, simply not considered or represented – women themselves actually internalized the male gaze, as a submissive object, who, art critic John Berger wrote in Ways of Seeing, watched herself as the male watched her.

Susanna and the Elders. Tintoretto, 1555-56.

It requires a profound immersion in one’s own male subjectivity not to be drawn out to a wider perspective by this vision, a steep retrograde to deny its oppressiveness or to continue to affirm, theologically or otherwise, some righteousness in it. One difficulty, though, in the historic course of feminist influence arose in the latter stages of second stage feminism and in the transition from second stage to what is considered third stage. Theories of more radical intent, if not so obviously truth, were easier to mock and reject. Notions of “gender binarism,” of the peformativity of gender, as a social construct, leave men with little more left of any natural masculinity, you should pardon the expression, than their dicks in their hands, and maybe a woman’s hands, too, or any other gendered person.

At its most culturally productive, second wave feminism provided deeper insight into the embedded social structures that undergird the denial of full civil and human rights to women, and by extension, others as well.  It was a natural development of political liberalism and much of it, as what is sometimes called equity feminism, is fully compatible with liberalism. Third wave feminism is generally associated with a range of far left ideologies, of which postcolonialism is a representative example. Third stage feminism often participates in an attack on political liberalism, these days strikingly upending the values that gave rise to liberalism and that are liberalism’s founding contribution to our understanding of human rights. A difficulty this presents for both liberalism and feminism is that most people are not familiar with feminist theory, never mind its stages and ideological demarcations. They do not pause to distinguish the sources of the latest uprising in cultural brouhaha. What they know is that the ongoing reorganization of social relations, bringing with it decades of transgression and responsive, insistent correction via one new faux pas or corrective excess after another renders so much of what once seemed natural now a regime of unending PC admonishment.

A man can’t even tell a woman she’s attractive anymore?

Complicating matters more is the contribution and disdain of perhaps the oldest kind of feminist there is, under various labels, for whom sexual relation is not a defining feature of male domination, but a field on which any woman, as any man, or any other sexual being, may empower herself on behalf of herself, not just in opposition to men.

“Everybody should relax, lighten up,” Arianna Huffington said on ABC’s This Week. “I wish there was more outrage about the jobs numbers than we had about Kamala Harris.”

She added, quoting G.K. Chesterton, “If there is one thing worse that the modern weakening of major morals, it is the modern strengthening of minor morals.”

But Huffington, a representative political and public creature, fails to escape what I’ll call here the public gaze. It isn’t that Obama sees in Kamala Harris an attractive woman. It isn’t that he called her one. She’s a friend and likely felt no offense (he called her attractive and we’re speaking of offense!?), though she very possibly recognized his error.

It is that he did it at an official event performing a public role.

There may be no more pervasive gaze in the contemporary world than the public gaze, what is partly meant by the “glare of the spotlight.” For those in it, the public gaze is both subjective and objective. Objectively, it is always on them, ever more pervasive, invasive, and bright, and for whole swaths of society, regularly and even obsessively gazing upon those who live in the spotlight is now a feature of everyday life. At the other end of the gaze, those who are the object of it often, sometimes wholly, lose any clear sense of difference, between living under the public gaze and living unimportantly, nakedly, and privately beyond its beam.

For most people, living privately, public speaking is a fearful prospect. Sensitive personal revelations are an emotional prospect just to be made to one other person, possibly an insuperable challenge before a small group. Yet there are those under the public gaze who will share their intimate selves, or some facsimile thereof, on national television with Oprah Winfrey and some tens of millions of her closest friends. They will turn their ridiculous lives (or, for the cause and the buck, make their lives ridiculous) into “reality” television shows. They will press-release their personal transgressions and tweet their every stream of consciousness.

People who live like this may be understood, if not forgiven, as losing sight of the difference between the public and the private, and if so, surely of any grasp of the conventions and decorum that help establish the difference. Politicians and government and other public figures of serious purpose for the most part do not live like this in the public gaze, though they may well enjoy its rays. They do, however, subjectively perceive with a public gaze. For someone like a President, who spends much of his time looking upon the world and assemblages of people in his public role, and who must learn to feel completely comfortable and – ah! – natural in that role, it must be easy to lose sight of the line between the truly personal and authentic and the pretend personal and authentic he is supposed to present. So on one of those days after the day before and before the day after, Barack Obama, a guy, sees Kamala Harris, a girl, and forgets himself and goes hmnn.

To know that the President should not have done this in that public, official setting, recognize right now that no female official in his place would ever commit the same mistake. She has not had the privilege to do so, she has had to exercise even more discipline to succeed, and the gaze under which she built her career, and even partly, consciously adopted was not a female gaze that might ever vocally appreciate a man’s looks. Hillary Clinton will not publically be pointing out that Gavin Newsom is the best looking lieutenant governor in the country. And that first gay president, whenever he or she may come – well, you know what they won’t be doing.

The Turkish Bath. Sylvia Sleigh, 1973.

For five or ten seconds, Barack Obama gazed out at the world, a crowd, and lost in the constant public glare, thought he was doing it not as President of the United States, but as Barack Obama, and, with no ill intent, sexualized a woman when and where she should not have been sexualized. He got it. He said he was sorry. He made a mistake.

He’s a guy.

He’s a guy, and you have to hope – I do – that when he next sees Kamala Harris in a private setting, maybe at some intimate party, he takes her by the hands, leans back a moment to gaze, and says to her, “Girl – lookin’ fine tonight.”

AJA

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The Voting Rights Act and the Consequences of Our Actions

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A little over a year ago, to counter a vein of left criticism of President Obama during the election year, I wrote, of the 1968 presidential election,

Significantly, while Nixon won 86% of the registered Republican vote, Humphrey won only 74% of registered Democrats. Democratic division before and after the ’68 convention [primarily over the Vietnam War] caused many McCarthy, Kennedy, and McGovern supporters to withhold their votes from Humphrey.

Because of that 12 percentage point difference in support from registered party members, Nixon won the presidency, by 512,000 votes. Ironically, or not, Al Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election by just under 544,000 votes. If 12 percent of the Democratic electorate had not convinced itself that Hubert Humphrey was no better than Richard Nixon –  because he had been, of course,  a loyal vice-president to Lyndon Johnson, under whose leadership the Voting Rights Act was first passed – Nixon would not have been elected president.

Had Nixon not been elected president, William Rehnquist would not have been appointed to the Supreme Court.

Had William Rehnquist not still been sitting on the Supreme Court in 2000, he could not have been part of a 5-4 conservative justice majority that interfered with the Florida recount and effectively handed the presidency to George W. Bush.

If over 97,000 Floridians had not voted for Ralph Nader, rather than Al Gore – as 12 percent of the registered Democratic electorate had withheld its voted from Hubert Humphrey in 1968 – there would have been no Florida recount controversy and no consequent Supreme Court vote to deny the presidency to Al Gore and deliver it to George W. Bush.

Had Al Gore become president in 2000, and not George W. Bush, John Roberts and Samuel Alito would not have been appointed to the Supreme Court.

Were Roberts and Alito not on the court, there would be no likely 5-4 majority to overturn section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which, when last renewed by congress, in 2006, was passed by a vote of 99-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House.

Given the efforts of GOP legislatures in a variety of states during 2012 to suppress the minority vote through new voting provisions very much in the spirit of Jim Crow, not only should section 5 not be eliminated, but its reach should probably be extended.

Consequences.

AJA

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Finessing Foreign Policy

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In his testimony at yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry said,

It is also imperative that in implementing President Obama’s vision for the world as he ends more than a decade of war, we join together to augment our message to the world. President Obama and every one of us here knows that American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone. We cannot allow the extraordinary good we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role we have had to play since September 11th, a role that was thrust upon us.

American foreign policy is also defined by food security and energy security, humanitarian assistance, the fight against disease and the push for development, as much as it is by any single counter terrorism initiative. It is defined by leadership on life threatening issues like climate change, or fighting to lift up millions of lives by promoting freedom and democracy from Africa to the Americas or speaking out for  the prisoners of gulags in North Korea or millions of refugees and displaced persons and victims of human trafficking. It is defined by keeping faith with all that our troops have sacrificed to secure for Afghanistan.  America lives up to her values when we give voice to the voiceless. [Emphasis added]

This is one expression of the realignment away from imperial overreach that I wrote about last week in explaining why President Obama – mistakenly, I think – chose Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. It is a realignment that is imperative to America’s future, in part because it is not merely a post 9/11 international role that requires redevelopment: post 9/11 policy has merely been an extension, against a different enemy, of Cold War militarism, and two decades after the end of the cold war – how time flies – it is essential that the country envision a new international role in a new global environment.

It isn’t always necessary to enunciate  change, however. Declarations can be simplified and mistaken. By belligerent or duplicitous foes, olive branches can be taken for fig leafs. President Obama’s outreach to the Arab and Muslim worlds in his Cairo speech of June 2009 earned him and the United States exactly no credit from the elements in those regions who already despise and mistrust the U.S., and it managed to persuade others, including some allies, that Obama misunderstands the nature of some international conflicts. The choice of Hagel for Defense reinforced that perception.

Friends and foes, and those at a wary distance, will know the U.S., as always, by its actions. When the U.S. leads in the humanitarian ways Kerry spoke of, that will be clearly seen. When it leads more forcefully as an advocate, if necessary, and resource, when necessary for international actions that are truly international, when it acts militarily both shrewdly and forcefully, and only massively in true self-defense, that will be clearly seen.

A small occurrence during the committee hearing is mildly instructive. Kerry at the start was interrupted by a protester. It was an ironic moment for he who began his public career as leader of an anti-war organization invited, finally, to appear before that very committee in 1971. Under the circumstances, Kerry might not be expected to respond in any but the empathetic manner he did, respectful of the role of public protest in a democracy. It needs to be noted, though, that what the young woman shouted was nonsense.

Before the woman was pulled out of the room, she declared that “we” are killing “thousands” in the Middle East, and that the “Middle East” is “not a threat to us.” Rather a large untooled umbrella, but these days, gone from Iraq, not remotely true. The Syrians are killing thousands, tens of thousands, but she did not cry out about that. She said she is “tired of her friends in the Middle East dying” and  didn’t know if her they would be” alive the next day.” Unless her friends live in certain remote areas of Yemen, where the U.S. makes drone strikes against Al-Qaeda – but is not killing thousands – whoever is endangering her friends, it is not the U.S. She cried out that we need “peace with Iran.” We are not, of course, at war with Iran. Otherwise, she expressed no opinion on Iranian nuclear, or for that matter, civil rights policy.

Kerry, forty years ago, was protesting an actual war. He was protesting a war in which the United States was itself actually engaged. Maybe the woman would like to protest the ongoing war in Afghanistan. That at least would be coherent. But distinctions matter. Active agents. Cause and effect. Accurate numbers. Words. They all matter. And they send messages, sometimes the ones we want and sometimes not. John Kennedy learned that coming out of his Vienna Summit with Nikita Kruschev.

AJA

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Inaugurations and Occasional Poetry

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How shall we receive Richard Blanco’s poem for the occasion of President Obama’s second inauguration? Occasional poems – poems written in honor of an occasion – may be as old as poetry itself. They have a great tradition, but quite arguably that tradition has significantly diminished. Why? One easily distinguished difference in the origination of occasional poems is whether the writing sprang from the poet’s own desire to dedicate some verse or, instead, the poet was commissioned to write the poem. The latter instance is burdened with expectation, with the occasion’s history and perhaps solemn or majestic moment, and with the simple public knowledge of the commission. There have been only five Presidential inaugural poems, and only one is recalled as being of distinction. The others have been generally declared as failures. This can only add, perhaps, to poets’ wishing to avoid the weight of the challenge, whatever the honor.

Annie Finch tells us,

Ever since Wordsworth accepted the British poet laureate appointment only on condition that he wouldn’t have to write occasional poems, even poets laureate (with the exception of Andrew Motion) are generally not interested in writing occasional poetry.

Carol Rumens captures the dilemma.

The celebratory public poem is an extinct genre in our sceptical postmodern times, and probably ought to stay that way. It presents the writer with insurmountable challenges in form, tone and content. How do you praise your nation wisely – with honesty and caution? How do you root that public voice in the personal and private spaces where thoughts grow? How do you write a mass-market poem?

Richard Blanco’s new inauguration poem, “One Today”, composed to usher in Barack Obama‘s second term, is a valiant but not always convincing attempt to square the circles.

What does the poet writing for the general public, reciting poetry aloud for a general public – the public in whose honor in the experiment of republican democracy the poem has been written – face? From Travis Nichols, at Harriet:

The woman next to me asked her partner, “Who’s this guy?” as the poet filled the Jumbotron. Partner shrugged and made a “whatev” face. Blanco began and our aurally firehosed ears took a second to adjust. The sound system muddied the words, but the cadence was clear, and some echoed back to us almost as if they were spoken right next to us. The stoic Hilary woman nodded along. At the mention of “Mississippi” a man next to me waved his fag and whooped. Another pocket of whoops erupted at “buenos días,” but collectively around me shoulders began to slump as the poem progressed. A pod of undergrads, seemingly inoculated to poetry’s charms by classroom exposure, sighed and rolled their eyes. A young man draped in a rainbow flag stuck out his jaw and made a “get on with it” hand gesture to his friends who snapped his photo.

The poet wishes to write good poetry. The poet wishes to see into the moment. The poet wishes to be meaningfully received by a wide audience. And the poet seeks to do it in, initially, for the occasion, a public reading, with all the challenges that presents to the satisfactory reception of poetry. Another view of the circle to be squared.

A review of the five inaugural poems (links to all at the bottom of this page), reveals that they have all made the identical attempt. Each has attempted to express the majestic multiplicity of America, the historic promise and the challenge of uniting its states, the grandeur of the land and the future. Each, to varying degrees of success, has made precisely the same attempt. Look at the titles:

“The Gift Outright”

On the Pulse of Morning

“Of History and Hope”

Praise Song for the Day

“One Day”

The sense and size of the occasion looms before them all. In “On the Pulse of Morning”,” Maya Angelou takes us all the way back to

the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here

to her closing and redemptive

History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

This is all in the title alone of Miller Williams’ “Of History and Hope,” embraced by his opening

We have memorized America

and his ending invocation of our children:

If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

Elizabeth Alexander, in “Praise Song for the Day,” conjures the massive commonality and variety of our days.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

So sets out Richard Blanco, Monday, in “One Day.”

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day

And as on inaugurals before, the call to hope, from Alexander:

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

From Blanco:

and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

Four attempts only so far, remarkably similar, to limn the magnitude of what its citizens see in the United States of America, in its ideals and in its achievements measured against its failures. Only four – what are the chances some work already of great achievement would have been composed? Rumens offers a very balanced estimation of Blanco’s success, summing,

It might seem that the biggest problem with writing a public poem is that crude simplifications are forced on a reluctant poet. Blanco, it seems, is able to write in this “genre” with more natural conviction than most. A shorter poem, and above all one with a tighter form, might have helped maintain a consistently high verbal pressure, with no sacrifice of accessibility.

I agree that Blanco performed his task with “more natural conviction,” and one wonders at how serendipitously (but it was in the ingredients of his selection) Blanco’s poetry mirrored the foundational new America appeal – progressive unity in diversity – in the President’s speech. But Rumens conjectures that a “shorter poem, and above all one with a tighter form, might have helped maintain a consistently high verbal pressure, with no sacrifice of accessibility,” and I have been ignoring Frost, who, in “The Gift Outright” seems to have accomplished just this shorter, tighter poem with higher verbal pressure and no sacrifice of accessibility.

We need to recall that Frost in 1961, at age 87, was a monument of American poetry, a “philosopher-poet” of a stature approached by none of his successors, even the most famous of them, Angelou, who did not begin to follow his precedent for another thirty-one years. We need to recall something else. “The Gift Outright” was not written for the occasion of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. The poem was two decades old, a favorite of Kennedy’s that the President-elect requested were Frost not to choose to write a new, occasional poem.

Frost did write a new poem, “Dedication,” which he chose at the last minute not to read when he spoke because he could not clearly see the text in the glare of the sun. Instead, he recited “The Gift Outright” from memory. “Dedication” offers in the first half of a long ramble what became the usual attempt to sum the history of the nation, and in commonplace and prosaic rhyming couplets and triplets delivers what may be the worst poem Robert Frost ever wrote. In contrast, the compact “The Gift Outright” provides the deceptively simple and direct language of all of Frost’s poetry. Yet it is difficult to imagine the nonreader of poetry standing in the crowd responding much differently from the shruggers and yawners in the crowd for Blanco. While “The land was our before we were the land’s” is utterly simple and direct in vocabulary and syntax, it actually takes more than the instant of auditory reception at a reading to grasp properly as an idea. Just as typical of Frost, we find that the irony of “The Gift Outright” is that the land was anything but a gift outright, or that it isn’t even the land that was the gift.

Nobody got that standing in the January cold.

A great poem about the nation, but not written for the occasion, and that likely down below the portico did not rise to the occasion.

It is not a charge to be envied.

AJA

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Why Obama Hearts Hagel

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This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on January 11. 

The last time I wrote about President Obama’s then only rumored selection of Chuck Hagel I said two things I knew I would wish to revise. The first, rhetorically, was the question: “What was he thinking?” The second was a quotation from Gil Troy’s generally very good writing on this subject, which I qualified then as “[p]erhaps overstating the case.” In attempting to answer the rhetorical question, I need to begin by deepening my critique of the passage I quoted from Troy.

Troy wrote,

The question of where Obama stands regarding Israel has often pivoted on this deeper question of which Obama shows up when doing foreign policy. His conjuring up of an American-Muslim heritage in Cairo, his dithering before supporting Iran’s Green Revolution, his historically sloppy comparisons between Palestinians and African-Americans, and his occasional “tough-love” approach to Israel, all expressed his inner McGovern—revealing how a position that appears lovely and idealistic often becomes morally myopic. But supporting Israel militarily, endorsing Israel’s defensive war against Hamas missiles, and backing Israel in the U.N., have all expressed his inner Kissinger—sprinkled with a dash of nobility and idealism worthy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

I cited these words by Troy because of this schism he noted in Obama’s foreign policy tendencies. The schism is real, but Troy characterized it too crudely and mislabeled its divisions. Nothing in Obama’s foreign policy descends to the McGovern caricature of “lovely and idealistic.” (And for the record, let us all recall that George McGovern flew 35 combat missions in World War II as a B-24 bomber pilot.) Nothing in Obama’s foreign policy descends to the cynical imperial machinations of Henry Kissinger.

What Troy confuses with Kissinger’s Machiavellian realism is Obama’s more straight forward and empirical political reason. Obama was clear about it in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Awarded a prize he knew he had accomplished nothing to earn, Obama’s expressed acceptance in a speech before that audience of the need for state violence, on that occasion and under such circumstances, constituted a minor profile in courage. Said Obama,

[A] head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by [Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.’s] examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

The concentration and determination with which Obama has prosecuted a controversial, vigorous and deadly stealth and drone war against the United States’ terrorist enemies is testament to the truth of the beliefs expressed in these words.

In a speech that attempted to grasp and express complexities of human and state development, and international relations, greater than those captured by brute or simplistic concepts identified with either Kissinger or McGovern, Obama said the following as well.

[W]ithin America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists — a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.

I reject these choices…. No matter how callously defined, neither America’s interests — nor the world’s — are served by the denial of human aspirations.

Along with the anti-terror campaign, we can see this complex of beliefs at work in Obama’s response to many of the developments in the Middle East not specifically related to Israel. On the one hand, while Obama’s more idealistic critics on the left and more militant critics on the right judged him harshly for weak support of the Iranian “Green Revolution” of 2009, Obama judged, realistically, that in the absence of evidence that the protests could actually succeed, the U.S. had nothing to gain by appearing one more time, however honorably in American eyes, to support the overthrow of an Iranian government. No greater and forceful expressions of idealistic or militant U.S. support for the protests, absent any inconceivable American military interference, would have made a difference to the outcome. Nothing to gain and historical propaganda points to be lost.

In much bolder terms and against the prospect of much greater losses than a propaganda war, Obama has made the same realistic determination about Syria.

The President received similar criticisms, more heavily weighed from the right, regarding his response to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Again, Obama even more finely weighed the apparent tensions between realism and idealism. The President, like every president before him, accepted the realistic necessity, toward other ends, of working with an autocrat like Mubarak. As with Iran, considering an uprising that might not succeed and the political losses that might follow from hasty support for the protests, Obama hedged his bets with middle of the road comments. Once the magnitude of what was occurring became fully apparent, Obama rightly judged that the United States – rather than working in practical self-interest with autocrats – could not be seen, as it was during the Cold War, actively to support autocrats in the repression of their own people.

Avoiding and overcoming such American excesses of the Cold War, and their continuation in too ready post Cold War entry into any but absolutely necessary wars, is central to Obama’s long-term vision of U.S. international realignment. That alignment is away from a unipolar America imperial reach and self-assertion toward an America that is rather a leader in a community of nations. Said Obama in Oslo,

More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That’s why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

There is no such mandate in Syria, not a mandate greater, really, than much of the rest of the West pushing American troops into battle. Obama ran in 2008 clearly against such solitary American commitments, especially after over a decade of war in two battle zones, and not to mention the untold unintended consequences that might follow. In Libya, however less consequential the case may seem, other nations, in an extraordinarily rare occurrence, did take the lead in promoting and accepting responsibility for the intervention while the U.S. bore the background brunt of the air and intelligence campaigns. This was precisely what Obama wished under the circumstances as they developed and entirely in keeping with his vision of an American international future.

Among American politicians, Obama is rare in recognizing the essential requirement, more than two decades after the Cold War’s end, of realigning the United States away from the imperial position it assumed in leading democratic forces in that war. Even an imperial sway conceived as benign and beneficial produces a perpetual descending cycle of reinforcing needs and behaviors. The breadth of interests that super power sway requires entails a breadth of power to protect them. A breadth of power generates its own interests. Imperial behavior conceived only as an advancement of noble ends can expand innocently and then be justified, in the maintenance of an imperial nature, as a necessary protection of interests.

Because the U.S. is the sole superpower in the world, it acts to extend the reach of its power (power not being static) in order to maintain itself and to protect the interests that naturally attach to that power’s reach. As the interests expand, the superpower must engage more nations with the purpose of pursuing and maintaining those interests. Ironically, this makes the superpower a supplicant, always needing to negotiate with other nations over those nations’ more natural interests and spheres of power, and far from the natural sphere of the superpower’s interests, because now the world has become its sphere. World security concerns become the superpower’s security concerns, and multiple nations, pursuing their own more vital interests, to some degree of variance with the interests of the superpower, now become problematic concerns.

The current conservative formula is that any reconsideration of this cycle is a disengagement bespeaking weakness. In order to avoid this appearance – indeed, reality – of (relative) weakness, the cycle must be maintained perpetually. The United States, now that it is the sole superpower, must ensure that it remains the sole superpower. If it is not the conquering, occupying power of imperial epochs past, it must now be and remain the imperial power of enforceable influence wherever its interests and security are perceived to reside, and increasingly they are perceived to reside almost everywhere.

Such, however, is part of the historic pattern in the decline of empires.

Chuck Hagel shares this vision with Barak Obama, and in a post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan world, Obama seeks Hagel’s advice and support in directing the nation toward its first profound international realignment since the Second World War. All this is independent of Israel.

The record of Barack Obama’s support for Israel is clear. Policy missteps and symbolic miscues provide fodder to those already otherwise inclined to mistrust him, but the record of action thus far is irrefutable. However, the idealist in Obama, the late twentieth century liberal in him, and the biographical outsider in him – however he may recognize the distinctions between Israel and the autocratic societies that have been its enemies – makes it difficult for him to articulate those differences in cultural or anything resembling Manichean terms, despite his asserted belief in Oslo in the existence of evil. Thus Obama, for all his vision, greater than many around him, of a necessary and better American international future, fails to see more than geopolitically local and limited threats. The limited are non-state organizations such as Al-Qaeda and the like. The local are the normal geopolitical contenders, such as China in Asia, and the historically garden-variety despots such as Gaddafi and Assad. However, there is a greater threat in the world.

A confluence has occurred in the post Cold War world. One stream may be found in Islamist theocratic intolerance, rooted in so many anti-Semitic cultures. This intolerance finds a supportive voice in far left postcolonial rationalizations of the conduct of “marginalized” and “powerless” peoples. It is further abetted by liberal reluctance, like Obama’s, to make cultural claims not only in praise, but in censure. This confluence finds its center in the Middle East, around Israel, and it is the greatest international threat since the fall of the Communist world.

The mystery will remain as to why Obama did not mind disappointing women in rejecting the highly esteemed Michèle Flournoy for Secretary of Defense. It will remain why he did not mind so upsetting so many Jews at his selection of Hagel. It may well have been his calculation that most of the Jews who would object were already opponents who mistrust and criticize him. There is much evidence to support the latter part of that claim.

About Hagel’s ultimate influence over Israel policy, a best case scenario might recall Obama’s obvious desire to surround himself in his cabinet with varied figures of name and stature, among whom he will still make his own final decision. From Mark Bowden’s book The Finish, about the Osama bin Laden decision:

The only major dissenters were [Vice President Joe] Biden and [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates and, by the next morning, Gates had changed his mind. [Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General James Cartwright and Leiter favored the drone over the raid.]

That is the Vice President and, initially, the Republican and very heavy weight Secretary of Defense disagreeing, and a major military adviser and the director of the National Counter Terrorism Center urging a different option. Obama knows his own mind.

The worst case scenario is that Hagel further weakens a so far bumbling and ineffectual approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that he amplifies Obama’s failure to perceive the larger picture in the Middle East, and that his choice sends exactly the wrong signal to Iran.

The worst case scenario is too real, the consequences too great. That is why Hagel’s choice, despite the sense that can be found in it, is the wrong one.

AJA

 

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The Political Animal

The Gun Party Crazies

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Talking Points Memo has a piece today about how “The White House Just Set Gun Rights Activists Ablaze.”

Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported the gun violence task force led by Vice President Biden is considering gun legislation “far broader and more comprehensive…than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition.”

….

“[The article] was a Molotov cocktail right into the middle of this thing,” Dave Workman, a former board member at the National Rifle Association, told TPM Monday. “That lit the fuse, it really did.”

It should not be hard to appreciate the nature of hardcore gun regulation opponents when after a wave of mass shootings that included the murder of twenty 5 and 6 year old school children in an elementary school, news that the President might recommend measures “more comprehensive…than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition” produces the hysteria of “a Molotov cocktail.”

Consider TPM’s go-to guy for the interview. Dave Workman is an board member of the NRA.

He’s an official with the Second Amendment Foundation, communications director for Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and a prolific writer on the gun rights. Both groups Workman serves on are sponsors of Gun Appreciation Day, a nationwide effort to highlight gun ownership scheduled for the weekend of President Obama’s second inauguration.

The SAF opposes gun carry laws and restrictions on the interstate sale of firearms. It is the publisher of The Gun Mag. Workman owns D&D Gunleather, which produces its own publications on issues such as “”No duty to retreat’ or ‘stand your ground’ in a lethal confrontation,” and Workman also writes Seattle Gun Rights Examiner, where he produces pieces such as “Is America tumbling toward ‘Arms-ageddon?’” Pat Buchanan is relied on as authority in that matter.

TPM further quotes Workman as stating,

“They’re talking about banning millions of firearms,” he said. “The writing was on the wall when Joe Biden was put on that thing because he’s a gun grabber.”

Of the President, Workman believes that

the president hates guns and gun owners.

“Obama has been anti-gun rights along, he was just waiting for his second term to push this stuff,” Workman said. “Unfortunately, Sandy Hook timed pretty perfectly with the start of this second term. … This nutball really handed this one to the Obama administration and gave the Obama administration a chance to take the gloves off.”

Does this kind of language, this unhinged sense of secret malevolence in Obama sound familiar? Undoubtedly, there is great crossover among Tea Partiers – the contemporary remanifestation of The John Birch Society – and extreme gun advocates.  Yet while sensible and liberal Americans think they experienced some measure of triumph over these extremists in the November election, conspiratorial gun absolutists present a profound case of the fringe holding powerful sway over American culture and society. Any political battle to institute common sense safety-oriented gun regulation in the country will be as intense as any we have seen, and it will require enormous passion and commitment to win.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

The Hagelian Dialectic

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This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on January 4. Today, President Obama announced his nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.

The Chuck Hagel trial balloon has been aloft for weeks now, not to burst or land – since its lofting was never officially acknowledged – until either he or someone else is officially nominated for Secretary of Defense. What conclusions may be drawn without tendentiousness?

Above all, we see a pattern, oft repeated, of charge and counter charge between supporters of Israel and critics of Israel and American policy toward Israel, using the same language each time, making similar tenuous accusations and identical unsubstantiated claims. It is a fake dialogue – because no genuine interchange is intended – that cannot reach a synthesis because on neither side is the true, greater argument sufficiently the focus of attention.

In detail, first, even if one is both a strong supporter of Israel and of President Obama, even if one is generally admiring of the President’s foreign policy and holds no doubt of his commitment to the security of Israel in even the ultimate circumstances, nonetheless, the weakest part of that foreign policy has regarded Israel. About Israel, the President has demonstrated the tinniest of ears and spoken with the most recurring hiccups. Even if, ultimately, he nominates someone other than Hagel, the very idea that Obama considered him will have served only to foster greater mistrust among the already mistrustful.

Gil Troy, writing at Open Zion, has done the best, most balanced writing on this subject. Perhaps overstating the case in both directions, Troy has nonetheless noted a schism in the President’s foreign policy inclinations, between McGovern and Kissinger.

The question of where Obama stands regarding Israel has often pivoted on this deeper question of which Obama shows up when doing foreign policy. His conjuring up of an American-Muslim heritage in Cairo, his dithering before supporting Iran’s Green Revolution, his historically sloppy comparisons between Palestinians and African-Americans, and his occasional “tough-love” approach to Israel, all expressed his inner McGovern—revealing how a position that appears lovely and idealistic often becomes morally myopic. But supporting Israel militarily, endorsing Israel’s defensive war against Hamas missiles, and backing Israel in the U.N., have all expressed his inner Kissinger—sprinkled with a dash of nobility and idealism worthy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Given Obama’s difficulties with the Jewish community, some unwarranted, others clearly created on his own, and there being no upside to a Hagel trial balloon and even greater downside to his actual nomination, one can only wonder, “What was he thinking?”

Second, there has been excess, as there often is in these cases, in the reaction to Hagel. Once again, the dispute has been unnecessarily and uncertainly personalized and driven by identity politics.

Let us observe, as the evidence seems clearly to suggest, that Israel and even Jews hold no special place in Chuck Hagel’s human sympathies and affections. So? How much does any randomly chosen American, Israeli, or Jew care about Ghanaians? Or the Aymara Indians of Bolivia? Everyone need not care all that much about Jews or Israel. That does not make anyone anti-Israel or even an anti-Semite, even if the occasional politically incorrect, clumsy locution escapes his lips. Yet as is often the case, some Jews and other supporters of Israel have responded to an unsympathetic political actor like Hagel with tenuous charges of animus and even anti-Semitism. This serves only to focus the debate on identity politics and group influence rather than on profound and outstanding principles.

The outstanding instance of this tendency occurred where such misbehaviors can be frequently found, somewhere in the vicinity of Bill Kristol, whether at the Emergency Committee for Israel or The Weekly Standard, which early headlined the threat of an anonymous senate aid,

Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.

The ugliest manifestation of that quote, beside its anonymity, is the charge of anti-Semite brandished as black mail threat: no honest commitment to exposing anti-Semitism just on its virtues, but only as a threat of character assassination to gain the upper hand in political warfare. Proud work, that – work that honestly earns the counter-charge of “smear” otherwise flung so carelessly and ignorantly by Israel’s programmatic Western foes.

However, in any widespread contention, there will be people who behave badly. There is no party discipline in public debate. The greater empirical truth is that such cheap resort to name-calling has been relatively rare, and most of it, if one investigates, from minor figures. Troy in his own searches discovered what I did, that when searching the Internet for “Chuck Hagel” and “anti-Semite” what one finds in overwhelming abundance are links to writing objecting to Hagel being called an anti-Semite rather than the few mostly unknown figures who have actually called him that.

This leads to a third point in detail – the nature of the response, whenever these affairs arise, from those whose program it is to criticize Israel and object to American support of Israel. First, they will decry the influence of the Israeli lobby – influence and support they wish they had themselves. Second, in the manner of the arch smear monger himself, Glenn Greenwald, they will accuse critics of someone like Hagel of smearing him, when they themselves have little understanding of, or concern for, the easy distinction between a smear and a criticism. Third, in the most extraordinary cases, such as that of Charles Freeman over three years ago, and now Hagel, portions of the foreign policy and journalism establishments will rise in defense of their now current standard bearer – this last even when, as now, it produces the incongruity of firm liberals providing very weak evidence in support of a very conservative figure they would otherwise vigorously oppose.

That incongruity, however, points us to that true, greater argument that should always be the focus in these debates, not the question of Jews and who loves them or hates them, or whether “they” have too much influence. Chuck Hagel did not need to be the second Jewish senator from Nebraska. One need be no anglophile to recognize England as a proper ally, or sacrifice one’s peeves with the French to know we would back them, again, against an intolerant aggressor. No less the South Koreans, the Aussies.

In his recent series of posts on Hagel, Steve Clemons of the Atlantic posed the following questions to a collection of experts almost universally supportive of Hagel’s foreign policy views on Israel:

Others argue that Hagel has been supportive of Israel’s interests but in a way that doesn’t make a false choice between Israel and Arab states and doesn’t compromise core US national security interests.  Do you think his views on US-Israel relations are disturbing, unconstructive and disqualifying?  Do you believe that Hagel is an enemy of Israel?  Or do you find his views, if you are familiar with them, constructive and realistic takes on US-Middle East policy?

These are all the reasonable or currently relevant questions to ask.

The suggestion itself that there is a “false choice” between Israel and, generally, the Arab States is the essential reason – and not philo or anti-Semitism – that Hagel is the wrong choice, and the defense of him mistaken. Is there a false choice between democracy and autocracy? Between modern liberalism and, often, medieval religious fanaticism? Is the there a false choice between the Enlightenment and a belief in the personal integrity of the individual – in human and civil rights on the one hand, and on the other, nations whose cultures frequently remain infected by misogyny, homophobia, and the vilest forms of anti-Semitism? The very idea that fundamental alliance with either Israel or the Arab states presents a false choice, and that such are the terms on which defenders of Hagel might offer their defense is reason alone to reject his nomination. Was it a false choice between Western Europe and the Soviet Bloc? Between South and North Korea? Kosovo and Serbia?

There is, indeed, an American foreign policy culture that has long excused the sins of the Arab world and minimized its stark differences from the Israeli state. They have had their economic or cultural reasons, or a commitment to foreign policy “realism.” But there is no reason that supporters, not only of Israel, but of all those Enlightenment and liberal democratic virtues should welcome as Secretary of Defense a man who in his policy stances has not sufficiently recognized the stark differences in this choice, or who garners his defense from others who similarly fail to recognize them.

When we hear spoken the idea that support of Israel might “compromise core US national security interests,” we must ask how it compromises US security interests to align the nation always with liberal democracies against undemocratic and repressive states. When, in the history of the United States, would anyone advocating for a cabinet position have wished to argue that the U.S. had been wrong, and had compromised core security interests by supporting allied democracies against surrounding undemocratic, repressive, and intolerant states that threatened them? Should we not now be supportive of Poland against potential threats from Russia? Australia against a terrorizing China? Which advocates of American foreign policy would deem these “false choices”?

All of these questions culminate in the proposal by Clemons that Hagel’s views might constitute “constructive and realistic takes on US-Middle East policy.” Realistic and constructive to oppose terror designation for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard? To oppose urging the EU to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization, as the U.S. has done? To oppose economic sanctions on Iran, leaving only the choices of either, ultimately, armed conflict or dangerously naive faith in the possibility of negotiated settlement without coercive influence?

It is easy to argue that Hagel misperceives the nature of contending forces in a crucial geopolitical area. His advocacy of ending sanctions against Cuba is empirically well-founded. His refusal as a senator to acknowledge the Armenian genocide (facing none of the practical exigencies of a president, perhaps, to demur), suggests a similar realism ill-founded in a commitment to historical truth and humane international values, and this curiously aligns him in the current uproar with elements of the left critical of Israel for supposedly inhumane treatment of Palestinians. But then foreign policy realism contradictorily married to an agenda other than self-interest will always produce contradiction. Thus many Israelis and supporters of Israel had no difficulty criticizing the Obama administration for not fully supporting the Mubarak tyranny even in the face of a full popular uprising against it – even as Israel rightly touts its commitment to democratic values. Thus many on the left now run to the Republican Hagel’s defense – even as they oppose nearly everything else for which he has stood.

It is not only easy to argue that Hagel is wrong on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; a strong and coherent argument can be made, on the historical evidence and the merits, that his misperception of the Middle East has broader implications worldwide. The argument can be made on its merits. To support Israel is to support democracy and liberal values. To support Israel against the repressive, intolerant, and often inhumane regimes that have hatefully and violently sought to destroy it even before its birth is to support all the virtues for which the American and Western democracies are supposed to stand – for which Western and American liberals are supposed to stand. The choice could not be starker, the implications in a post 9/11 world could not be bolder, the failure of vision through the wrong choice could not be greater.

What those committed to a wise and broad American foreign policy vision need care about is that nominees for foreign policy positions share this vision.  That is the ground, the honest and sufficient ground on which the battle should be fought. All the rest is a distraction or a cynical manipulation to other ends.

AJA

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The Political Animal

The Hastert Rule

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It is such a given so little reflected upon by its participants and observers, that political life leads to cynicism, that even when reflection periodically takes place, much is lost in the glare. Consider in this regard the already commonplace observation that in clambering back atop the “fiscal cliff” on Tuesday, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives – specifically its leadership – violated the “Hastert Rule,” that rule by which the GOP has vowed over the past two decades not to bring to a vote on the floor – never mind permit to pass – any legislation that does not have the support of a majority of a GOP majority. You can read here what the tactical doctrine is behind the Hastert Rule. You can read via that link, too, how Nancy Pelosi made clear when she held the speakership that she would observe no such rule.

There is no suggestion here that Democrats present a grandly noble contrast to craven Republicans. Political cynicism is a virus against which there is no inoculation by party. But epidemics do become geographically centered, and the GOP of the past two decades – the legacy of Newt Gingrich, the true originator of the Hastert Rule – is ground zero. The Roll Call link above explains clearly the reasonable calculation in the mathematics of governance and power for observance of such a rule. It makes perfect sense if one has come to believe that the maintenance of power and of party control are manifest instrumental goods – all toward the higher ultimate goal of ideological advancement that, we have it on someone’s authority, leads finally to the national good. And no one here on the sad red earth believes that the maintenance of power and of party control is an ill thing, not if one truly believes what one believes and wants to do something about it. But as will happen on this earth, instrumental goods too elevated in their believers’ regard will come to be mistaken for the greater intrinsic kind.

“I’m the Speaker of the House,” Pelosi told reporters. “I have to take into consideration something broader than the majority of the majority in the Democratic Caucus.”

What a thought. Is anyone actually willing to state aloud and publically that the end that elected representatives are chosen to serve should not be the national good, but rather long-term party interests that – like the ultimate communist utopia – will someday grandly reward for the bitter sacrifices along the way? Well, actually, it has been said.

[Senate GOP Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell explained that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Worth recalling, too, is that at the now much reported GOP meeting still two years earlier, on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, Newt Gingrich made a prediction.

“You will remember this day,” [Robert] Draper reports Newt Gingrich as saying on the way out. “You’ll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown.”

Gingrich has been right about very little in his post-speakership years, but he got that one unexpectedly right. The title of Robert Draper’s book, by the way, is Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Hastert Rule, like the McConnell declaration, needs to be lifted out of the muck of blasé political cynicism to reflect more famously to the citizenry what they clearly represent. Anyone and any party can make claims to far reaching acts of good hidden in the harm they do us, yet the Tea Party inspired extremism of current day conservatism makes no pretense that it is not, literally, an enemy of government. You think about it: how much difference does a definite article make? “Enemy of government.” Enemy of the government.

Yes, there are avowals of love and fealty to a glorious dream of America that was lost, depending on the reactionary voice we hear, one or even two centuries ago. But the United States that is today, and progressively for a century and more now, protecting the rights of its workers, advancing the health of its citizens, providing safety nets for its young, poor and disadvantaged, ensuring the old-age security of its elderly, seeking to cooperate with other nations for the collective well-being of the planet – that America is not the America to which American conservatives, today’s GOP, feel devotion.

Elect a president whom these conservatives believe represents that America, the current America, and the dedication of these GOP legislators and leaders directs itself not – with as much guidance as conservatives can lead the President to accept – toward  helping him do good for the nation, but toward causing him to fail in order to advance their own cause. That is a curious sense of mission given that you could surely win some kind of bet on the wager that most Americans believe that legislators are elected not to pursue the interests of their party, but those of the nation. If a majority of all representatives believes that a particular policy would serve the country well, think of what it means, then, for a minority of the legislature to deny the country the benefits of that policy because its passage would, in the estimation of the majority party, fail to serve its interests? If the leaders of a party cannot hold their membership to that obvious and true greater purpose of public service, let it be a matter for that party to confront and master, not one by which the nation should be denied good governance.

Can there preside a greater cynicism of purpose among elected officials short of personal enrichment and corruption? That has been our politics in the era of contemporary conservatism. And we have come to accept this as normal, as not deserving of our outrage and complete rejection?

That is one of the two major political parties of the United States. That is the “Hastert Rule.”

We might have expected something else to rule.

AJA

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Categories
Indian Country

Conquest Leaves a Sour Taste

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Who’d a thunk it? Five hundred and twenty years of military assault, ethnic cleansing, physical and cultural genocide, theft, lies, deception, dishonor, broken treaties – oh, you can’t even count the number of broken treaties – broken trusts and misappropriation of funds, and nothing seems to work quite right. Things are – how do you say? – broken.

I wrote last week about the impending conclusion, final resolution, the end at last, of Cobell v. Salazar, the Individual Indian Money Trust Fund suit – 125 years in the making – after seventeen years of litigation. The expectation is that payment of proceeds to 350 thousand American Indians from the $3.4 billion settlement will begin by Christmas. Of that total, $1.9 billion is set-aside for a land consolidation program to help facilitate the sale small, fractionalized land holdings. For now, the payment to most recipients will amount to less than $2000.

Estimates of the total amount actually owed to landowners ranged as high as $176 billon. Elouise Cobell, the moral force behind the lawsuit, died after settlement was reached, but before appeals were concluded and payments could be made. After delays in congressional approval of the settlement at the behest of Wyoming Senator John Barroso, four individual American Indians filed suits to block settlement. Those suits were rejected or dropped last month. Now, before payments are made, Dennis Gingold lead counsel for plaintiffs for the length of the suit, who by all appearances to an outsider had enjoyed Cobell’s trust all these years, and who assumed responsibility for communications after her death, has quietly withdrawn from the case just weeks short of its culmination.

Of course, attorneys representing class actions litigants on contingency are always suspected and maligned. Common fees are 30% of settlement monies. That would have been a billion dollars in this suit, an unconscionable amount given the particular historic nature of the case. Even half that would have been beyond the pale. Barroso’s intervention reduced lawyers’ fees to $100 million. Cobell always defended the work and compensation requests of Gingold and others. How does one measure the value of legal service on so massive of case for over seventeen years? Here is one take.

[Lawyer Dennis] Gingold claims to have billed an astonishing 48,772 hours on this case—which works out to almost 9.5 hours a day, every day without a single day off, between November 4, 1995, and December 7, 2009. This includes a seven-year stretch where Mr. Gingold billed 28,230 hours—an average of eleven hours a day, every day seven days a week without a single day off.

A hopeful person might wish to believe that resolution of so historic and outstanding a case of abuse, with compensation would bring some – oh, what is that word so cliché it is cliché even to mock it? – closure. Another opportunity for many to say, “It’s over; move on.” But so meager a settlement against so much owed and stolen, after such history, is not a tonic going down. Wrote Jay Daniels at Indian Country Today, expecting anticlimax:

Sad to say folks but expectation usually is more exciting than the gift.

….

The acceptance of the payment will conclude hundreds of years of injustice and failure to adequately protect our treaty rights. It will be hard to express our belief that we were wronged in the past because now it is made right with the settlement and payment

The comments below Daniels’ piece offer a fair picture of the currents that flow through Indian Country.

Yes. The average estimated amount of $1,000 or $1,500 won’t even cover one month’s rent in many places, like where I live. It’ll get pissed away paying for Christmas or paying off a credit card and then all it will be is a memory (make sure to take a picture of that check for posterity’s sake before you take it to the bank). Remember, it’s just a settlement because we’ll never know just how much money was stolen…

Similarly:

When I was growing up people in Indian Country often said “When I get my Indian money, I’m going to . . .” For all the land taken we received 50 cents an acre for prime timbered real estate in Washington state. Our families were “homesteaded” of their property and out of their homes in the 1920’s. For all of that we received 50 cents many years later. I wish we had that negotiation over again.

And,

When I heard about this case and joined the lawsuit I thought about what I could do with the money: spend it on materialistic crap, pay off some bills, or save it. Then I had insight about what this money represents. To me, it’s not about the amount I get but more about a proud victory we as Indigenous People’s will share in a long history of abuse and torment at the hands of this government. Yes they have blood on their hands that will never wash off, but more so a small acknowledgement of THEIR savagery. After all, money is just ink on paper while my pride and love of this world is not tangible. Take a moment before you spend this money and reflect on what it means to you…

To be expected, too, are those who, like Cobell, like any litigants seeking compensation, accept a version of reality and find their satisfactions where they can.

Given the time it took to settle this class-action, the immense amount of paperwork, and the perserverance of Keith Harper and the Stockton people, it is a monumental feat to get this completed. Like any lawsuit that wants to make the injured person whole again, this small amount of cash will not do that, however, it’s more than most have at this point in time given the economy… I’m thankful to Eloise Cobell! CMO

Wrote another,

I followed this case from the beginning.. it was an eye opener to the BIA…OST..Interior Dept..all those who were responsible for maintaining records…my ancestors are the ones who lost out..they received little or nothing for their land..many could not sign documents let alone understand what they were signing. Today I fight my own land battles…there will always be land battles… at least this case was successful in bringing out the wrong doings to our people..the money might not mean much to many but to many it will be all they get this Holiday Season.. I am thankful to the brave warrior who made it happen…RIP Eloise Cobell….your courage and strength will be remembered for generations to come…

As Daniels writes, there will be a day after the payments, the sigh after climax, and then what?

The White House Blog reports on this past week’s fourth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference. Initiated by the best friend Indian Country has yet had in the White House, who remembered at the conference his recently deceased adoptive Crow “father,” Hartford “Sonny” Black Eagle, still its attendees met with a president who offered for settlement of Cobell only that $3.4 billion. And you will search hard to find reporting on the event beyond the White House itself.

Five hundred and twenty years. Two thousand dollars in compensation per landowner. And a meager point, but not by the way, which do you think are the least read posts on this blog, least often recommended on social media?

AJA

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Categories
Israel The Political Animal

Glenn Greenwald criticizes Bibi AND Obama’s “policies” of intentionally killing innocent Muslims

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Cross posted from Cif Watch by its managing editor, Adam Levick.

Every person has their own definition of terrorism.” –Glenn Greenwald.

Glenn Greenwald makes characteristically hysterical claims about Israel and the US in his latest ‘Comment is Free’ piece titled Obama’s kill list policy compels US support for Israeli attacks on Gaza‘:

Here are the most egregious examples:

1. He claims that “overwhelming Israeli force slaughters innocent Palestinians, including children”.

There’s nothing new here in Greenwald’s use of the most unserious hyperbole to impute the most violent and malevolent motives to Israel. Greenwald ignores the fact that Israel uses unprecedented restraint in targeting only Hamas leaders and terror targets, which would explain that the death toll in two days of fierce fighting is 19 Palestinians and 3 Israelis.

2. According to Greenwald, Israeli attacks on Palestinians “are preceded (and followed) by far more limited rocket attacks into Israel which kill a much smaller number, rocket attacks which are triggered by various forms of Israeli provocations.”

It’s unclear which Israeli provocations Greenwald is referring to, but Hamas’s main grievance against Israel, per the words of their leaders and their very founding charter (which, evidently Greenwald hasn’t bothered to read), has been the Jewish state’s stubborn desire to exist.

3. Greenwald claims that”most US media outlets are petrified of straying too far from pro-Israel orthodoxies….US criticism of Israel is impossible for all the usual domestic political reasons.”

I’ve documented numerous examples of Greenwald advancing the most bigoted rhetoric about US Jews’ supposed control of the US government and media, and this latest charge is nothing new.  Indeed it is relatively mild compared to his previous smears, such as his warning about the “absolute”, “suffocating” “Israel-centric stranglehold on American policy” by the Jewish lobby.

4. Greenwald writes: “Provocations from the Israelis were geared toward disrupting an imminent peace deal with Hamas.”

Greenwald is referring to a temporary truce  – which was being brokered in the days following an attack (with an anti-tank missile) which injured four Israelis – motivated by Hamas’s concern regarding the damage IDF attacks was inflicting on their military capacity. More broadly, however, it takes either extreme naiveté, a considerable degree of hostility towards Israel, or a cynical indifference to historical reality to make the serious argument that Hamas is, or could ever be, a peace seeking movement.

5.  Greenwald argues that the Obama administration “supported the Israeli“ attack on Hamas terror chief Ahmed Jabari, as it represented the model of “extra-judicial assassination[s] – accompanied by the wanton killing of whatever civilians happen to be near the target, often including children – which is a staple of the Obama presidency.” ”Obama…could not possibly condemn Israeli actions in Gaza without indicting himself…Extra-judicial assassinations, once roundly condemned by US officials, are now a symbol of the Obama presidency”.  ”There is now a virtually complete convergence between US and Israeli aggression”

This later paragraph is where the convergence between Greenwald’s anti-Americanism and his anti-Zionism is most clear.

Greenwald is defined by his opposition to the policy of killing Islamist terrorists (who are planning terror attacks against American civilians) in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but his commentary also suggests that President Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of killing innocent civilians in these regions.  According to Greenwald, Obama is muted in his response to Israel’s violent acts because he lacks the moral authority to issue a credible condemnation.

To understand the extent of Greenwald’s obsession with “Obama’s” drone war, it would be helpful to review a piece he wrote before joining ‘Comment is Free’, published at Salon.com, titled “US again bombs mourners”.

If you find that title a bit overblown, or something out of PressTV, you need to also read the strap line.

The Obama policy of attacking rescuers and grieving rituals continues this weekend in Pakistan

Just the work of an editor, you think?

No.

Here are some quotes from Greenwald’s essay on June 4, 2012.

“In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals.” [emphasis added]

“On Sunday, June 3, the US targeted mourners gathered to grieve those killed in the first strike.”

Killing family members of bombing targets is nothing new for this President.”

“The US is a country which targets rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn.”

“That tactic continues under President Obama, although it is now expanded to include the targeting of grieving rituals.”

However, the main source Greenwald provided to back up his claim is the discredited “Bureau of Investigative Journalism” (BIJ), the organization which fed the BBC information pertaining to the Newsnight story falsely alleging “a senior Thatcher-era Tory” was a paedophile.

Moreover, the specific link Greenwald cites as proof that the US  targets innocent civilians in Muslim countries – rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn – does not back up his claim at all.

The link to a nearly 2500 word BIJ report (which cited a more detailed BIJ report) on the drone war in Pakistan includes a claim in the headline that the CIA “targets rescuers and funerals” but failed to support  the dramatic claim in the subsequent story.

Typical are passages like this:

“A team of local researchers…found credible, independently sourced evidence of civilians killed in ten of the reported attacks on rescuers.”

But, there was this one passages which claimed intent:

“More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.”

However, there was nothing in piece, nor the longer report, which even attempts to corroborate the claim (largely anecdotal evidence by unidentified Pakistanis) that the strikes against innocent civilians represented deliberate US policy.  Further, not considered by either BIJ or Greenwald is the possibility that the “mourners” weren’t actually mourners at all, but, rather, additional terrorists.

Most telling in the BIJ report was this passage:

“Often when the US attacks militants in Pakistan, the Taliban seals off the site and retrieves the dead. But an examination of thousands of credible reports relating to CIA drone strikes also shows frequent references to civilian rescuers.” [emphasis added]

It is unclear to whom these “credible reports” are attributed, but their admission would suggest that it is difficult, at best, for US drones to distinguish between Taliban terrorists and those unaffiliated with the murderous terror group.

The assertion by BIJ that there is a CIA “policy” of killing innocent mourners and rescuers is not supported by the reports cited. Greenwald’s even more unhinged claim that President Obama’s “policy” is to kill such innocent rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn” is not supported by the facts, and parrots the most unserious anti-American propaganda repeated by extremists on the ground in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Greenwald’s June post at Salon.com contained a hideous smear of the US President, suggesting that Obama personally is an advocate of killing innocent Muslims.

Interestingly, a New York Times report on February 5th, ‘U.S. Drone Strikes Are Said to Target Rescuers“, citing the same BIJ report, interestingly, was much more sober, and included the following:

“American officials have questioned the accuracy of such claims [that innocent civilians are targeted], asserting that accounts might be concocted by militants or falsely confirmed by residents who fear retaliation.”

“…most other studies of drone strikes have relied on sketchy and often contradictory news reports from Pakistan.”

“A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report’s findings, saying “targeting decisions are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.” The official added: “One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation.” [emphasis added]

Indeed.

Greenwald seems to really believe the most unserious, hateful anti-American propaganda – what you’d typically find in PressTV or Arab media outlets – about American and Israeli villainy.

In fact, in a Sept. 14 CiF piece, Greenwald summed it up clearly:

 ”…the US and Israel have continuously brought extreme amounts of violence to the Muslim world, routinely killing their innocent men, women and children.”

Finally, there’s this quote from Greenwald’s Salon.com post referenced above:

“If a Hollywood film featured a villainous King ordering lethal attacks on rescuers, funerals and mourners — those medically attending to or grieving his initial victims — any decent audience member would, by design, seethe with contempt for such an inhumane tyrant. But this is the standard policy and practice under President Obama and it continues through today.”

In Glenn Greenwald’s world, Hamas, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremists – reactionary, racist, antisemitic, misogynist and extremely homophobic political forces – seem to get a moral pass, but democratic Israel stands accused of slaughtering innocent Palestinians and Barack Obama is an inhumane and villainous figure who murders Muslim children.

The convergence of anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism is truly a work of art.  For Greenwald, and his leftist followers, it is a given that Islamist terrorists are feared by the West not because they threaten the democratic world, but because of racism against Muslims.

For Greenwald, as with Guardian Associate Editor Seumas Milne and other Guardian Left commentators, Israel and the U.S. are the greatest imperialists threats to world peace, and so the reflexive anti-Zionist stance they take simply represents a logical extension of  their broader anti-imperialist, post-colonialist politics.

Finally, supporters of Obama should pay close attention to Greenwald, as the leftist ideology which his views on Israel and the US inspire  represent crude, ugly caricatures of the President which often go far beyond even those of the far right.

Glenn Greenwald would never, ever falsely “accuse” Obama of being a Muslim as some of his right wing opponents shamefully do.

Greenwald’s demonization of the President, however, is much worse, advancing the hysterical charge that he personally orders (or at least approves policies sanctioning) the murdering of innocent Muslims throughout the world.

The anti-Zionist, antisemitic and anti-American rhetoric advanced by Greenwald represents a classic example of Guardian Left ideology.

Those within the mainstream American Left who don’t succumb to the false moral equivalence between Islamist terrorists and Western democracies, and who don’t buy into the defamatory suggestion that Obama is engaged in a war against Islam, should begin to view him as, at the very least, a crank – a shrill and vitriolic anti-Obama extremist.

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