Friday, October 17, 2014

Krugman's Defense of Obama Overlooks American Terror

Paul Krugman could take it no longer.  You get the sense he must have been sitting at his desk pecking out another piece of lucid economic analysis when suddenly he let out an unearthly scream, swept the piles of papers and dusty tomes from in front of him, and bawled, “I can’t take it any longer!”

Krugman then proceeded to pen what is being hailed as one of the most compelling defenses of our President in print.  It is being portrayed by progressives as the definitive statement on the Obama presidency, often derided for being ineffective in the face of its own timidity and the rabid hostility of the fundamentalist opposition.

Krugman cited the Affordable Care Act, modest but not insignificant financial reform, and a heightened focus on renewable energy and fuel efficiency.  He also noted the relatively better recovery of the U.S. economy as compared to some of its European counterparts, where governments responded with more stringent austerity programs of the sort advocated by the GOP’s fundamentalist caucus here at home

Many of Krugman’s caricatures of the left and its criticisms of the President are deliberately disingenuous, but I can understand that he wants his country’s President to succeed and feels that Obama should get more credit for his achievements. 

But he grudgingly acknowledges one area where Obama has disappointed many supporters: foreign policy.  But even here, Krugman goes to great lengths to salvage the President’s reputation.  “On overall foreign policy”, he wrote, “Obama has been essentially a normal post-Vietnam president, reluctant to commit U.S. ground troops and eager to extract them from ongoing commitments, but quite willing to bomb people considered threatening to U.S. interests”.  He concluded, “It’s hard to get excited about a policy of not going to war gratuitously [comparing Obama to McCain or Romney], but it’s a big deal compared to the alternative”.

I fully comprehend the frustration with the misleading and often downright racist attacks on the President and his domestic agenda.  From day-one, the Republican Party committed itself to sabotaging the functioning of our government in order to bring the President down.
But I remain baffled by the willingness of Krugman and others to leap to the defense of a President who in my view should join his predecessor and many members of his predecessor’s administration in the International Criminal Court because of his behavior.
Krugman dismisses concerns about Obama’s foreign policy in two paragraphs.  But let’s face it, this President like others before him is using methods of terror and barbarism to perpetrate a series of colonial style wars in violation of international law and in contempt of U.S. law.

The President, like his predecessor, is responsible for the killing of thousands of people.  Many of those people were killed in his drone wars.  His administration advanced the twisted, toxic legal argument that because these wars were conducted by drone rather than by “boots on the ground”, they were not really wars and therefore not subject to constitutional restrictions on the President’s ability to wage war unchecked.

The President’s predecessor relied on aggressive war, abduction, and torture to prosecute his terroristic wars.  Obama has relied instead on drones as weapons of terror, and on extrajudicial killings.  Most of the people he has ordered murdered in his wars of terror have not been accorded any legal process.  What process there is—secret courts and opaque analytics—bear no resemblance to law as it should exist in a democratic society. 

The use of disposition matrices (criteria for which remain hidden), killing people based on the probability that they are threats without even having to identify them, is shockingly immoral and should be illegal.  This kind of behavior began under the Bush administration, when that president’s intelligence services murdered people because their height matched that of Bin Laden.  But under Obama’s supervision, it has been perfected and—as always—provided with a veneer of legalese designed to throw progressive critics back on their heels into the kind of pathetic, reflexive defensiveness Krugman practices. 

Krugman praises Obama’s policy “of not going to war gratuitously”.  But in his elastic definition of his war of terror, Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, and has waged what most people would recognize as wars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, and Syria.  Following the lead of the Bush administration, Obama is committed to increasing our military footprint across Africa. 

Just as our military presence in the Middle East fueled a variety of critics—including the likes of Al Qaeda—our presence in many African countries is likely to create long-term problems and commitments.  This will be particularly the case if, as has been standard in the past, our military is drawn into alliances with regimes happy to use it as means of support for their undemocratic governments.

The President has gone further by encouraging a culture of impunity by allowing the criminals in the Bush administration—who tortured, murdered, abducted, and “disappeared” people, while waging aggressive war based on transparent lies—to walk free while cultivating his own brand of terrorism, backed up by perverse legal statements.  Granting impunity is not just an omission on Obama’s part—it amounts to an endorsement of the most sinister, violent, and self-destructive elements of U.S. foreign policy.  It ensure that our violent behavior—and the backlash it brings down on our nation and our public—will not be curtailed.

Obama’s administration has persecuted those journalists with the courage to shed light on his and his predecessors’ murderous policies.  His administration, like that of his predecessor, has associated with autocratic and colonial regimes abroad, counting them amongst our best allies to the dismay of the people they oppress.  His administration has sold arms to—or provided funds for the purchase of arms—to governments which we knew were going to use those arms to crush democratic protest, and with them, the hopes and ambitions of people with whom we should sympathize.

Obama’s critics on the left are often enjoined not to make the perfect the enemy of the good.  But praise of his domestic reform agenda leaves me cold when I consider that he has murdered hundreds and thousands of people and launched wars that leave international law and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in tatters.  He is not a good President.  No one who breaks or perverts the law to murder people and wage colonial-style wars is a good person or worthy of support.

What kind of a country have we created, and what does it say about our respect for human life here and abroad, that we can admire and praise and re-elect officials who order murders as a routine matter?  What kind of a foreign policy has our culture of exceptionalism and jingoism produced such that people feel that there are no alternatives to supporting such appallingly immoral ways of interacting with our fellow human beings around the world?

We are constantly told that we cannot negotiate with terrorists, we cannot compromise with terrorists, and we cannot allow our values or our political process to be held hostage by terrorists.  But if we define “terrorism” as the use of violence to instill fear by way of pursuing political goals, how on earth can someone like Paul Krugman expect us to vote for a proponent of such terror, and vote with the enthusiasm he injects into his defense of the man who, like his predecessor, has behaved in such a shockingly immoral and violent fashion?

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