Wednesday, October 24, 2012

can it have come to this

I'm going to farm out my opinion on recent unhappiness to Spencer Ackerman, who's written a tremendous and tremendously depressing post about the Obama Administration's legacy of permanent, accountability- and review- free killing. Ackerman, who to my mind writes about this combination of military, technological, and political issues quite masterfully, puts it like this:
Obama did not run for president to preside over the codification of a global war fought in secret. But that’s his legacy. Administration officials embraced drone strikes because they viewed them as an acceptable alternative to conventional ground warfare, which it considered too costly and too public, but the tactic has now become practically the entire strategy. Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations writes that Obama’s predecessors in the Bush administration “were actually much more conscious and thoughtful about the long-term implications of targeted killings,” because they feared the political consequences that might come when the U.S. embraces something at least superficially similar to assassination. Whomever follows Obama in the Oval Office can thank him for proving those consequences don’t meaningfully exist — as he or she reviews the backlog of names on the Disposition Matrix.
I'm told that the reason we must support Obama, seemingly beyond any limits and against any concerns, is because the Republicans are so much worse. Worse they are-- but they will take power someday. They will; that's the cyclicality of American politics. I don't know if that will be in 2013 or 2017 or when. But it will come. And they will have been handed the keys to a program that kills people, including American citizens, literally without any external review or restraint whatsoever. I'm told that Obama-supporting progressives hate and fear Republicans more than anyone else. If that's so, how can they possibly support such a reckless expansion of powers that will inevitably end up in Republican hands? Why are the willing to entrust this program in the hands of people they call insane and evil?

Robert Gibbs, questioned about the death of the 16 year old son of Anwar Al-Awlaki, recently said "I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father." Besides the surface level in which that's fucking insane (on account of its flippancy towards murder and also because YOU DON'T GET TO CHOOSE YOUR PARENTS, ASSHOLE), it essentially admits in its irrationality that there's nothing a young Muslim in the wrong part of the world can do to avoid being killed by a drone.

Because I have a talent for self-inflicted depression, I did a Twitter search for Robert Gibbs. Many people, I'm happy to say, expressed horror and revulsion. But many people supported Gibbs and called those who were outraged "emoprogs." And I really wonder: has it really come to this? That I'm frequently critical of American progressivism won't come as a surprise to anyone. But even I am amazed that things could have possibly come this far, to the point where many progressives are using pejoratives against those who object to lawless killing and the death of a teenager. Less than four years since the Bush administration, has it really come to this?

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Want to really reach for the razor blades? Imagine Romnoid winning and all these "liberals" suddenly rediscovering their commitment to civil liberties and a peace in our time. They'll view the political landscape as a seamless blanket stretching from Bush II to Romney or say Jeb Bush in 2016, it doesn't matter. But any sins from the dems will expunged from the record, not to mention their own fanboy hypocrisy. 100s of 1000s of dead Iraqis, millions displaced and traumatized--no worries, harness all that one dumb W. forgetting that all the best donkeys, Kerry, Hillary and Edwards, said go for it dumbass. We may have misgivings but hell our political survival is far more important than the lives of strangers. And would anyone on the planet, now seeing Obama clearly, deny that he'd have voted for that resolution. I mean with all the backbone he's shown thus far to challenge the status quo.

JK said...

Why do you keep conflating, "I think Obama should win the election and will vote for him" with "I <3 drone strikes"?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-ellsberg/obama-swing-states_b_1979321.html

I mean, this is pretty much my position and that of most people I know:

"It's not merely understandable, it's entirely appropriate to be enraged at Barack Obama. As I am. He has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or "disappointingly." If impeachment were politically imaginable on constitutional grounds, he's earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors!) It is entirely human to want to punish him, not to "reward" him with another term or a vote that might be taken to express trust, hope or approval.

But rage is not generally conducive to clear thinking. And it often gets worked out against innocent victims, as would be the case here domestically, if refusals to vote for him resulted in Romney's taking key battleground states that decide the outcome of this election.

To punish Obama in this particular way, on Election Day -- by depriving him of votes in swing states and hence of office in favor of Romney and Ryan -- would punish most of all the poor and marginal in society, and workers and middle class as well: not only in the U.S. but worldwide in terms of the economy (I believe the Republicans could still convert this recession to a Great Depression), the environment and climate change. It could well lead to war with Iran (which Obama has been creditably resisting, against pressure from within his own party). And it would spell, via Supreme Court appointments, the end of Roe v. Wade and of the occasional five to four decisions in favor of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The reelection of Barack Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law. That's for us and the rest of the people to bring about after this election and in the rest of our lives -- through organizing, building movements and agitating."

Freddie said...

Why do you keep conflating, "I think Obama should win the election and will vote for him" with "I <3 drone strikes"?

I don't mean to conflate them. What I am saying (in part) is that there are some progressives out there who genuinely defend the drone strikes on the merit. And that's fucking scary.

Also scary: the Obama administration has built the legal and administrative apparatus for a totally unrestrained system of assassination that will certainly, given the reality of politics, be inherited by the Republicans. I suppose you could hope that the Republicans can get their shit together before they win another presidential election... but I'm not hopeful.

JK said...

Ok. I guess I'm confused because the corners of the internet I hang out in and the people I talk to "IRL" bear almost no resemblance to the sorts you've been railing against in your last buncha posts. Most of us have serious problems with Obama's policies (though I think it's far too facile to make it just about him and his personality) but still think it's crucial he and not Romney win in two weeks. And it will, of course, be one of them.

Which is to say, the points you've made immediately above are eminently fair and pretty hard to disagree with, but all this stuff about not voting for Obama just seems to muddy the waters and complicate the issue and turn-off potential allies.

One reason I thought Solnit's piece that you beat up on was so good was because it actually advanced what I read as a strategic argument for a certain kind of optimism and friendliness and hope for the left. I really worry that all the negativism and even nihilism just weakens our position and makes us less appealing to potential allies and the public.

Rob said...

"If that's so, how can they possibly support such a reckless expansion of powers that will inevitably end up in Republican hands?"
Clearly the only solution now is to keep a Democrat in the White House always, forever. Problem solved!

1729 said...

"It's not merely understandable, it's entirely appropriate to be enraged at Barack Obama. As I am. He has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or 'disappointingly.' If impeachment were politically imaginable on constitutional grounds, he's earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors!) It is entirely human to want to punish him, not to 'reward' him with another term or a vote that might be taken to express trust, hope or approval."


I have heard this sort of defense of voting for Obama several times already -- the sort that begins with a [thoroughly accurate] denunciation of the evil and impeachable behavior of Obama, only to then jarringly whiplash around into an equally passionate denunciation of the unbearable catastrophe of a Romney win. It seems to me the most bizarre of all the arguments for voting for Obama.

In fact, it seems to perfectly prove the main point of the article above, by _completely ignoring_ the logic expressed in the third paragraph ("I'm told that the reason we must support Obama...") By doing so it makes the implicit point of that paragraph -- that not only do progressive Obama supporters never consider the fact that he has bequeathed the Republicans with these apocalyptic powers, but that they/you _cannot_ consider that fact -- maybe you block it out, maybe you know you have absolutely no defense of it, maybe there's some other reason.

Furthermore, it is entirely possible for rage to be conducive to clear thinking -- typically when it is sudden, intemperate, or impulsive, based on a snap judgment or a shock of some sort.

But rage caused by literally years of clear evidence of the most shockingly sadistic and sociopathic behavior of a powerful leader, behavior that results in the knowing and ongoing slaughter of innocent civilians, the barbaric practice of indefinite detention, the stunningly arrogant betrayal of our sacred constitutional right to due process by the assassination of a US citizen -- and his _sixteen year old son_, also a US citizen! -- leads to very, very clear thinking. It reminds us (well, some of us!) of the fundamental evil of the taking of innocent life -- the lives of small children, for God's sake! -- the crucial importance of the vital protections provided by the Constitution, the dangerous heights of arrogance to which our leaders of both parties have flown (or sunk), the staggering enormity of their lies and deceit, and countless other crucial political lessons.

It seems obvious that it is supporters of the Obama vote like you who are blinded by rage -- it's just that it's rage directed at the Republicans instead of at Obama.

What's more, when you point out that anti-Obama rage "often gets worked out against innocent victims", you are nakedly revealing the American exceptionalism that also lies behind much support for the Obama vote -- even before you admit it by adding that this would only be true for American victims. You are essentially agreeing with Joe Klein's recent question: "the bottom line is, whose four-year-old gets killed?"

Hopefully you do not also share the sociopathic belief of Robert Gibbs (one of Obama's senior campaign advisors) that the reason American-born Anwar Al-Awlaki's American-born 16-year old son was killed by an Obama admin air strike was that he "should have had a more responsible father," but even if you find that statement as sickeningly repellent as I do, you are supporting the man who relies on the advice of such amoral sadists.

I could go on and on. Please at least take a look at the recent NYU/Stanford report on the effect of Obama's drone attacks on Pakistani civilians -- I don't see how any person with an ounce of human compassion could possibly read about this sort of suffering without denouncing the cause.

quixote said...

The reason to conflate Obama and drones is that Obama authorizes the drones. And torture, and the surveillance state, and, and, and.

Would Romney be worse? I don't know. Maybe. That's not the point.

The point is not to support crimes of state.

I know that means that in this election I can vote for those crimes (actual or potential), or lose. We have no other choices because the situation has gotten away from us. It's very hard for me to see how anyone could imagine that situation is improved by voting for actual crimes of state in case some other crimes of state might be worse.

I know. For you it's very hard to see why I don't see a potentially marginally better domestic agenda as reason enough to ignore those crimes.

Ziege said...

JK says "The reelection of Barack Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law. That's for us and the rest of the people to bring about after this election and in the rest of our lives -- through organizing, building movements and agitating."

I guess I feel like that's what some of us are doing now, and that "Vote for Obama" doesn't seem like a particularly effective way of moving away from the policies of Obama.

I think you're on the right track by acknowledging that the electoral system is not going to, by itself, provide us a way to move our government toward more humane policies. But I think that conclusion, once you really settle into it, leads to the simple idea that the best way to oppose Obama's policies is to not support them with your vote. Perhaps if Democrats were to come to believe that the use or advocacy of unaccountable, covert death squads would render them unelectable, next time we'd have a Democrat I could stomach voting for.

Brendan said...

What's more, when you point out that anti-Obama rage "often gets worked out against innocent victims", you are nakedly revealing the American exceptionalism that also lies behind much support for the Obama vote -- even before you admit it by adding that this would only be true for American victims. You are essentially agreeing with Joe Klein's recent question: "the bottom line is, whose four-year-old gets killed?"

This only makes any sense if there is a choice in the real world between the suffering of Americans and of non-Americans. I think we all agree there is not.

I really can't understand any arguments about how to engage with the political system that aren't ultimately consequentialist. That's why I liked Freddie's last post a lot: he made a fairly persuasive case that while voting for Obama might appear to be the right thing to do in the short term, it is the wrong thing in the somewhat longer term.

But if we stay in the realm of talking about your vote "giving support" to Obama's policies in some kind of abstract, moral way only, without direct reference to material consequences, I think you are only talking about your own feelings. Who cares?

Nathan said...

"creditably resisting"

This is the third time in the past few days I've seen that exact phrase deployed by Obot apologists.

@JK When they hand you and your fellow Obot zombies your talking points, don't they instruct you to express them using your own words, so that you won't sound like a shill?

By the way, that phrase is dropped, every time, without a shred of evidence or even hearsay.

Nathan said...

On "creditably resisting", the Google search speaks for itself.

http://www.google.com/#hl=en&sclient=psy-ab&q=%22creditably+resisting%22&oq=%22creditably+resisting%22

So, JK, are you a paid shill for the war criminal Obama, or do you do it out of the goodness of your heart?

Brendan said...

Nathan, JK was quoting, with attribution, the Nation article by Daniel Ellsberg that used that phrase. The other google his is also quoting, with attribution, that same article.

Brendan said...

sorry, "other Google hits are also quoting"

Alexios said...

It occurs to me that the Tea Party sprung up during the Obama administration as an expression of conservatives' sublimated rage at Bush for his reckless explosion of the defecit and Wilsonian interventionism (not sure how much they recognize or care about the deceit involved in the interventionism, however). I have friends who described Bush and the Neocons as liberals in conservative clothing. But these voices for fiscal and non-interventionist conservatism were muted and restrained until Obama took office, whereupon they were unleashed with passion, accompanied by the very Neocons and Bush supporters who were always enthusiastic supporters of those disastrous policies.

If Romney is elected, perhaps the Left would unite in much the same way against the atrocities that were/are being committed and in support of reestablishing civil liberty as more than a convenience to be discarded whenever politically or pragmatically expedient. That the Left is more likely to do this under a Republican administration is the only silver lining of a possible Romney presidency for me -- though I'd still much rather take my chances with a second Obama term and hope that those on the Left, having duly avoided the many likely disasters of a Romney administration, would subsequently redirect their collective energy to the cause of civil liberty. Second terms do lend themselves to more dramatic change (than the 1st term), and perhaps tthe fact that both the President and his (party's) supporters are free to ignore upcoming electoral consequences is a chief reason why.

As for those on the Left who defend the drone strikes...my hope is that they are in the minority, and that even within that minority, some portion of them have cognitive dissonance for political reasons, and that once reelection is secured, that dissonance may be disrupted. But this is just a hope.

Freddie said...

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-M-9Ldb-3v_4/UIcrOxdidQI/AAAAAAAAApc/MAg0T6-WUYs/s1600/freddie-deal-with-it.gif

JK said...

"The reason to conflate Obama and drones" - this mis-characterizes my question.

This is right on:
"But if we stay in the realm of talking about your vote "giving support" to Obama's policies in some kind of abstract, moral way only, without direct reference to material consequences, I think you are only talking about your own feelings. Who cares?"

The passage in my previous comments IN QUOTES, directly after a link, was in fact written by Daniel Ellsberg and not by me. I am not sure if the second person in some of these comments is me, and - inasmuch as I could hazard to guess what one is - I don't think I'm an "Obot zombie."

JK said...

PS - a final question, and it's a serious one. How do people here who can't justify voting for Obama justify owning a personal computer? We all know the provenance of minerals that go into them and the labor conditions under which they are made (I hope). How is it possibly morally consistent to pay for and use these things? I really want to know and to discuss. It's seems 1000 times more consequential than whether or not to pull a lever once every few years.

mick said...

The Ellsberg excerpt is hilarious. Obama deserves impeachment AND your vote. And the idea that Obama is better on the environment and climate change? This is the same guy who continues to chide Romney about not being pro-coal enough!

Also, I simply cannot see where Obama is sooo much better on domestic issues that his reelection is some sort of moral imperative. Straight white male privilege? Sure. But when the leader of the country is a black man (1/2, whatevs) and he cannot pick up the phone and call the mayor of one of the most liberal cities in America and end Stop and Frisk... Seriously, does it really fucking matter.

and, @JK, it's easy to justify voting for Obama. That's what, I think, Freddie is trying to push back against. Should your justifications hold given these other abuses? You got me on the computer thing though. We all take moral stands on certain issues and not others and most of it is probably entirely arbitrary, but it allows us to sleep at night.

Patrick Meighan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick Meighan said...

"PS - a final question, and it's a serious one. How do people here who can't justify voting for Obama justify owning a personal computer? We all know the provenance of minerals that go into them and the labor conditions under which they are made (I hope). How is it possibly morally consistent to pay for and use these things? I really want to know and to discuss. It's seems 1000 times more consequential than whether or not to pull a lever once every few years."

For me personally, given my occupation, I don't actually have a choice as to whether or not to own a personal computer... I truly, genuinely require one in order to do my job. I also don't really have a choice as to whether or not to purchase a personal computer that is produced under just conditions. I would if I could, but there is no such animal. In the case of a consumer product for which a more-responsible option exists, I almost always go out of my way to choose said path (for example, as I type this I'm wearing Diamond Gusset jeans... made in the USA. The socks I'm wearing are American-made too).

But unlike the world of computers (and more like the world of socks and jeans), I do have an actual, genuine choice in the voting booth. I can indeed choose whether or not to vote for a candidate who is committed to a policy of international organized murder, because there is, in fact, another candidate on the ballot who is opposed to our current policy of international organized murder (there are several such candidates, in fact). I choose one way. Maybe you choose a different way.

All the above having been said, it seems to me that, implicit in your question, lies the assumption that third-party voters consider themselves somehow pure and incapable of acting in a way that brings harm to others. I can tell you as a Jill Stein voter that I make no such claim for my own part. I may try to make responsible choices where possible, but I understand that many of my choices (consumption and otherwise) do inflict harm on others, and no matter how much I may try to mitigate that, I can't eliminate it. So no purity here. Just a guy who is voting for the candidate who most closely represents his own policy preferences, as his own personal understanding of representative democracy happens to dictate.

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

Alexios said...

Patrick,

Presumably you have some choice as to whether or not you do the work you do, the work that requires you to use that computer. Is working that job or instead choosing another a materially different choice from the choice you say you have when entering that voting booth? The fact that it is easier to mark a name on a ballot than it is to quit a job that necessitates your using computers does not mean you can absolve yourself of complicity in both evils, having sacrificed nothing in either scenario. The decision to take a moral stand cannot be contingent on how convenient it is to take that stand; to make it so is to pervert the very point of taking a moral stand. But perhaps I've had to much Sake tonight...

*Full Disclosure: I'll be voting for Obama as well as using personal computers. I did, however, avoid blood diamonds when I proposed, however. Damn information age, complicating everything.



Patrick Meighan said...

"The fact that it is easier to mark a name on a ballot than it is to quit a job that necessitates your using computers does not mean you can absolve yourself of complicity in both evils, having sacrificed nothing in either scenario. The decision to take a moral stand cannot be contingent on how convenient it is to take that stand; to make it so is to pervert the very point of taking a moral stand. But perhaps I've had to much Sake tonight..."

I don't claim to be absolved of complicity in in any particular evils. Though I won't be voting for Obama on account of his policy of organized international murder, I do pay my taxes, which fund Obama's policy of organized international murder. So I *am* complicit. As is every American.

That being said, all of the above would be much more damning to a voter like me if I claimed to be personally pure. Again, however, I don't. 'Cause I'm not. I'm just voting for the candidate on the ballot who most closely represents my policy preferences, which is what I understand to be my civic responsibility to be in a representative democracy.

JK said...

Thanks for the honest and thoughtful answers. I'd be curious what Freddie has to say. My point, to give it away if it's not already obvious, is that constructing voting for Obama as some sort of unusual or unconscionable moral compromise seems to make it a bit too easy to gloss over the thousands of other moral compromises we make daily every day we wake up as Americans.

Patrick Meighan said...

"My point, to give it away if it's not already obvious, is that constructing voting for Obama as some sort of unusual or unconscionable moral compromise seems to make it a bit too easy to gloss over the thousands of other moral compromises we make daily every day we wake up as Americans."

Fair enough. I, for one, don't construct a vote for Obama (or, truly, a vote for any particular candidate) in those particular terms, and I agree, we all (no matter who we do or don't vote for) make many moral compromises (if you wanna call 'em that) every single day as Americans, and other human beings are genuinely harmed by those daily compromises.

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA