Sunday, March 20, 2011

here they come

Last word for a little while.

It's like I told you.

All that said, it is striking how wars -- no matter how they're packaged -- ultimately breed the same patterns.  With public opinion split or even against the war in Libya (at least for now) -- and with questions naturally arising about why we're intervening here to stop the violence but ignoring the growing violence from our good friends in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere -- the administration obviously knows that some good, old-fashioned fear-mongering and unique demonization (Gadaffi is a Terrorist with "deadly mustard gas"who might attack us!!) can only help.  Then there's the fact that the same faction of war-loving-from-a-safe-distance "hawks" that took the lead in cheering for the attack on Iraq -- neocons on the Right and their "liberal interventionist" counterparts in The New Republic/Brookings/Democratic Party officialdom world -- are playing the same role here.  And many of the same manipulative rhetorical tactics are now wielded against war opponents:  the Libyan rebels are the new Kurds (they want us to act to protect them!), and just as those who opposed the attack on Iraq were routinely accused of indifference toward if not support for Saddam's tyranny, those who oppose this intervention are now accused of indifference to Gadaffi's butchery (as always:  are those refraining from advocating for military intervention in Yemen or Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or the Sudan or dozens of other places indifferent to the violence and other forms of suffering there?).
If there is any decency remaining in this country's political class, this war will split the left. I don't like to bolster the conservative machine through infighting on what amounts to our left wing, but at some point you can make strategic goals so central to your policy positions that you stand for nothing at all. Barack Obama, who campaigned on an explicitly antiwar platform, who spoke time and again about the need for Congressional approval of military force, who made argument after argument that would completely disqualify this action-- well, what more can be said? I don't know how to even have a debate with left-wing supporters of this president anymore. I don't blame him for not being able to ram through a domestic policy platform when he can't control Congress, although I do disagree with him on many theoretical and tactical policy issues. (His adviser's constant tendency to mock and deride his left-wing critics doesn't help.)

But as the man himself has shown so terrifyingly the last few days, when it comes to foreign policy and the military, he is essentially unchecked in his ambitions. And he chose this. Whatever you want to say about the makeup and value of the international support for this operation, make no mistake: if Barack Obama did not want this to be happening, it wouldn't be. This commitment of millions of dollars, wagering the lives of thousands, is entirely at the whim of one man, without oversight or approval from his people.

And he has committed himself to engaging in a third war, with another oil rich Middle Eastern nation, with unclear goals, a nonexistent exit strategy, and a series of extremely optimistic and necessarily ill-informed predictions about the future. I would like to urge my liberal friends to consider this situation, the rhetoric used to support it, and those who are clamoring for it, and ask yourself what comfort you can possibly find. If you transported back to talk to your 2006 self, and you told him or her of all this, well-- what would that older you say?

The essential dynamic is the same as always. I find argument hard because the fundamental first principle through which I attend to these issues is so foreign in American discourse: that a humanitarian and democratic commitment to non-intervention binds us and compels us not to wage aggressive war against foreign countries outside of absolute and immediate defensive necessity. What disturbs me so much about those who are arguing the side of the Libyan revolution and against the side of Qaddafi is that they think that this is sufficient to justify engaging in war. That democracy insists that their opinion on the question is irrelevant to whether to go to war, or that even if we knew for a fact what was right and wrong we'd have no right to invade, seems not even to compute, not for a moment. Of course, I prefer the revolution to Qaddafi. I don't mistake my ill-informed (as any must be) preference with real knowledge; I don't mistake the value of my opinion for the value of a Libyan's; I don't pretend that my Western bleeding-heart morals have any right dictating who lives and dies thousands of miles from our borders; I don't imagine that every Libyan who is revolting has inside them some mini-American, waiting to burst forth and adopt perfectly American values. Support for democracy that is dependent on our agreement with the outcome of democracy is a sham.

People are wishing for a best case scenario. So am I. But the principles that compel us to keep our hands off of this foreign, internal strife have been violated by this action and will be no matter what the outcome. And the innocent people killed with still be dead. Any talk of "smart bombing" and warfare free of civilian carnage should have been extinguished in the last decade.

If I am right about what this means for the near future, this will be a difficult time for the left. Perhaps Libya itself will come to a resolution quickly, but as long as the Barack Obamas of the world are bent on casting American firepower around the globe, these divides will endure. Already a lot of temporary allies are jumping ship, and they are beginning the usual drumbeat of redbaiting, eliminationism, and dismissal of the left. It will be tough, but we have just undertaken an action of incredible consequence, and it's right that we fight about it.

Contrary to what some think, I don't like arguing. I hate it, in fact, hate every moment of it. But I am arguing for the most fundamental principles that I know, and so I am ready to start alienating people. I am perfectly willing to risk sociopathy to support the cause that I believe in. To those who say I am being intemperate and unfair to my interlocuters, they are probably right. I'm sorry, but I think extremity in defense of these values is the order of the day. Content yourself with the fact that my position, that of dedicated opposition to military intervention and American hegemony, is reviled and powerless within our affairs.


Petey said...

"Barack Obama, who campaigned on an explicitly antiwar platform..."

The only thing I really have to say here is that we watched very different 2008 campaigns.

Obama campaigned for the nomination by not letting any daylight appear between him and Clinton on foreign policy, while positioning himself noticeably to the right of Clinton on domestic policy.

And that's precisely how he's governed.

The fact that Obama got the bulk of antiwar support in the nomination race doesn't mean he was explicitly positioning himself that way.

On both foreign and domestic policy, Obama really has governed as he campaigned. He signaled he'd be the most rightward leaning Democratic nominee since Jimmy Carter, and he's fulfilled his promises.

If Obama supporters are disappointed with him, I'd say it's because they read things into the 2008 campaign that really weren't there.

(And if there truly are any "left-wing supporters of this president", I'd say those folks don't really understand American politics very well.)

Anonymous said...

What Petey said. Obama promised to accelerate the aggression in Afghanistan. One of the few promises he's made good on. There were exactly three anti-war candidates in the primaries: Paul, Gravel, and Kucinich. See how seriously they were taken.

When people talk about Obama being anti-war, all I hear is a personal justification for voting for a clearly pro-war candidate.

NY Diletantte said...

As noted above, Obama wasn't an anti war candidate. He was against the Iraq war, but for the Afghanistan war. I don't recall an issue like the current no-fly zone coming up in the campaign. Getting UN approval is consistent with several left-wing critiques of Iraq.

Also - this post argues that American military intervention should only be for necessary self-defense. That's a defensible position. But there are some of us on the left who believe in the concept of humanitarian intervention. Was the Kosovo campaign so wrong? (It could have been better, but should we really have done nothing in the face of ethnic cleansing?) Was Western inaction in the face of Rwanda genocide so wonderful?

Just because we don't always get it right doesn't mean we should never act. Surely the question is when we should & shouldn't (Iraq, for instance). That requires more nuanced analysis than blanket disapproval of all military action, but we live in a nuanced world.

Petey said...

"As noted above, Obama wasn't an anti war candidate. He was against the Iraq war..."

Ah, the funny accidents of history.

If Obama had been a US Senator in 2002 instead of being an Illinois State Senator, I am utterly convinced he would have voted for the war resolution, just like every single other Democratic Senator with Presidential ambitions did.

Karl Rove's great strategic triumph was in discrediting all the lefty Democratic contenders with the base in that 2002 war resolution vote, leaving all the Democratic energy with rightward leaning folks like Howard Dean and Barack Obama who had the good fortune of being in political situations in 2002 where they could speak clearly about Iraq.

In British terms, Rove used that vote to destroy Labour and leave the field wide open for LibDems to sweep in. said...

"On both foreign and domestic policy, Obama really has governed as he campaigned. He signaled he'd be the most rightward leaning Democratic nominee since Jimmy Carter, and he's fulfilled his promises."

Oh come on. You're right that he campaigned as pro-Af/Pak and anti-Iraq; as against "dumb wars" not all wars; but the above is puzzling to say the least, and aggravating when one takes into account the unbending condescension infused throughout.

Anonymous said...

The burden of proof for killing people to solve another country's problems rests with those who want to make that argument. Whenever we intervene, we're arguing that this killing will solve a problem that the people of the country (who are most familiar with it and who know most about it) haven't been able to figure out. By doing so, we're arguing that our understanding of this issue trumps theirs, and our superior might matters more than their ability to affect their own society. That's a pretty heavy burden, and I wish it would engender a little humility and a little careful introspection in this country when intervention is discussed. But it doesn't, and that's why I celebrate any voices who are arguing to the contrary. I don't think it's a question of "nuance," either, as in maybe yes or maybe no - the default position ought to be no for the reasons Freddie discusses; anyone arguing yes ought to be able to demonstrate the superior understanding of the underlying issues that proponents of intervention assume they have but rarely possess.

edwin said...

I think that the overall thrust of this article is excellent.

Calling in the military is something that comes with strings attached and a large number of body bags.

john s newman said...

"If there is any decency remaining in this country's political class, this war will split the left."

Clinton arranged for Finance to have direct access to the Treasury's ability to create money by refusing to regulate derivatives. That this access became operational under Bush jr does not change the origins of the arrangement.

Bush jr brought the Military Industrial Complex into this business government condominium with his privately waged no bid wars. In both instances industries that pay richly into the systematized graft of American electioneering have purchased, through the "deregulatory" work of funded candidates, direct access to the states ability to create money.

These industries siphon off what wealth is created through the expansion of the Federal Deficit and concentrate that wealth in the private accounts of the managements who preside over this graft. This arrangement steals from the tax payer, it steals from the state and it steals from share holders. The only beneficiaries are corporate managements.

Obama, in his bid for re-election, has simply consolidated both of these previous corruptions under his watch. Everything he does is good for the business of getting elected president.