Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Debate We Won't Have

Obama supporters are hoping that the President puts in a strong performance in tonight’s debate after his rather frail showing against Republican Mitt “47%” Romney a couple of weeks ago.  I’m not voting for the President, but I too hope that he works a little harder at exposing the social Darwinist, corporatist, fundamentalist Republican ticket for what it is, because—thanks to one of many fatal flaws in our democracy—there won’t be anyone else on stage making those arguments.

But I can guarantee that there will be some issues which will go un-addressed and some premises which will operate unquestioned in the debate.  It is a fact that in his prosecution of our wars of aggression, President Obama differs disturbingly little from George W Bush (and Mitt Romney has sworn to be more indiscriminately imperialistic than the President).  Both on the battlefield and on the home front, the President has eroded the rights of individuals and limited the scope for public scrutiny.

And it’s no wonder.  Nothing that he is doing—and nothing that Mitt Romney says he would do—begins to diminish the threats to our nation.  Although he wages war with a chilling vigour and equally distressing embrace of the tactics of terror, the President’s approach will not check the violence that comes our way because we support dictatorial and oppressive regimes, wage wars of aggression, refuse to respect human rights.  In fact, his approach, and that of Mitt Romney, is calculated to ensure that the various military, cultural, and economic conflicts in which we find ourselves mired, simmer on for decades. 

We appear to be either uninterested in or incapable of addressing the conditions which create insecurity.  Instead, our leaders remain committed to the strategy of controlled chaos, something that history suggests they are not very good at.  Social and economic inequality, the fuelling of military conflicts, our prioritisation of short-term superficial security over human rights, our arms trade, the destabilisation which will be caused by climate change, our hostility to other cultures and religions—we need to fundamentally change our approach to these things if we are interested in real security.  Security, at least for the public, isn’t living as a nation behind bars, afraid to venture outside, afraid to speak your mind, constantly in a defensive crouch.  Military domination might give the neocons and our runaway generals a thrill, but they contribute to chronic insecurity for the rest of us. 

The conceit, for example, that waging war with drones instead of ground troops will make us safer, is risible.  People in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and anywhere else we use these weapons, will rightfully hate us for the indiscriminate violence we wreak on their lives, and the rank hypocrisy which accompanies that violence.

In his recent book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, David Sanger remarks that “Obama finds himself fighting an undercurrent of isolationism—starting in his own party” (xx).  This is a misleading caricature of the anti-war movement on the left.  It’s right-wing counterpart in the libertarian camp—commendable for its moral opposition to imperial war if not for its disengaged view of the world—is isolationist, but progressives and socialists who oppose the war are generally anything but.  Instead, they propose the kind of cooperative engagement both between our government and other nations, and between people with common interests, to which the President paid lip service but gave no time.  It is the President who is in danger of finding himself isolated—bounded by the military industrial complex in a fortified basement, out of touch with the world and with the needs of his people.

Right-wing politicians whip Americans into a frenzy of fear by their execrable and laughable invocation of UN troops marching through our towns or equation of respect for human rights with “World Government”.  But many of the international accords to which the U.S. has refused to be party, and the institutions in which we have refused to take part, guarantee people rights that our own government refuses to countenance for us.  While many in the Republican Party endorse gender inequality, the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights endorsed gender equality in the ‘60s.  The U.S. has failed to ratify treaties about children’s rights, women’s rights, and the use of indiscriminate weapons.  The idea that this failure makes us stronger or more secure or more profitably independent is stupid.

Romney, of course, would be no better.  His statements on U.S. foreign policy are both destructive and just plain dumb.  To attack the President over Libya, he referred to a protest in Egypt.  He believes that he should cede our international relations to the Pentagon rather than embrace civilian leadership.  He believes that sabre-rattling will secure a successful relationship with China.  It as though Mitt Romney hasn’t looked at a world map or picked up a newspaper until someone told him to go after the President on foreign policy, whereupon he watched a couple of James Bond films and took a geography lesson from Sarah Palin.  No party has a monopoly on our foreign policy failures, but Romney has chosen to surround himself with a singularly immoral, hateful, and militaristic group of people.

Many Americans are reluctant to accept that the lack of a fair settlement in Palestine is at the heart of much distrust and dislike of our nation—distrust and dislike which, in their harder iterations, are transformed into hatred and violence.  Bin Laden himself—sure to make a posthumous appearance at the debate as an example of the President’s toughness—cited the continued oppression of Palestinians as a rationale for his attack on 9/11.  And the fact remains that even the CIA’s online factbook (and let’s be frank, this is not an organisation known for its respect for rights) writes that “high population density and Israeli security controls placed on the Gaza Strip since the end of the second intifada have degraded economic conditions in the territory ... Israeli-imposed border closures...have resulted in high unemployment, elevated poverty rates, and the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets”.  And it is only logical that some of the oppressed, terrorised, dispirited and disempowered people living in this and other territories would turn violently against the United States when we back their oppressor to the hilt.

Romney has volunteered that he would kick the can down the road on this critical issue.  This was an admission not drawn from him by a bull-dog interviewer, but an off-handed remark, demonstrating that he either fails to see the connection between the conflict in the Middle East and our security, or else he is prepared to let it fester.  The can-do businessman said of the conflict between Israel and Palestine: “we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it”.  That’s not how you solve problems, Mr Romney.  And this is just one of many such issues around the world.

Sanger writes that the killing of Bin Laden “ratified [Obama’s] decision to stop talking about a ‘war on terrorism’ and talk instead about a war to dismantle al-Qaeda” (Sanger 112).  But the fact remains that President Obama’s actions and those of earlier presidents (with the support of our representatives and military apparatus) have been the genesis of Al Qaeda and groups like them.  The winds of our wars have carried them abroad from their home turfs and transplanted them to other fertile soils, soils turned over by the bombs we or our allies have rained down on populations looking for a way out, an alternative to the violence of American wars of aggression.  Our secret wars at the tip of the Arabia peninsula and in Eastern Africa, our continued wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the presence of our security contractors in Iraq, and our secret military operations in other parts of the world all ensure that the bulls-eye on our nation remains bright red.

Vice-President Joe Biden might have promised that 2014 will mark the end of our war in Afghanistan, but that is not likely to be the case.  Not only has President Obama waged this and other wars with an element of dishonesty and a great deal of disregard for constitutional and moral niceties: 10-15,000 Special Operations Forces and auxiliaries will likely remain in Afghanistan (Sanger 129).  And what will they be doing?  Waging war of one kind or another, more likely in secret than in the open.  Ensuring that the body count for Afghans and Americans continues to pile up.  Guaranteeing that we don’t stop making enemies and imperilling our people. 

But none of this will come up at the debate where, instead, President Obama and Romney will praise the courage and fortitude and exceptionality of the American people.  Exceptional credulousness and gullibility is about all we can lay claim to these days.

As an idiot from Texas once tried to say, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice...”

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