Monday, February 22, 2016

Why I Write About the Iraq War

I undoubtedly have readers here and friends on social media who think I'm a little unhinged for harping on the 2003 U.S. war in Iraq so much almost 13 years after it begun.  That war undoubtedly occupies an out-sized place for me and some others of my was the first "event" that I seriously followed, and for months I debated it daily in my junior U.S. history class with the teacher who force-fed us daily doses of FOX News, which along with most of the supposedly “liberal” media beat the war drums with feverish abandon.  People I knew in high school were sent off to die in a purposeless conflict.
It is for these reasons and others that I am appalled that the Democratic Party looks capable of nominating a candidate for the presidency who voted for that war. The Bush administration was transparent in the dishonesty of its arguments for the war and as a teenager who read the newspaper daily even I could see that the evidence didn't add up or make any sense.
Hillary Clinton voted to authorize that war.  As a result, thousands of U.S. citizens died.  Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, and the institutions and infrastructure of their country were obliterated.  Not all of these were praiseworthy, and many were downright despicable, but institutions and infrastructure are all that can tie together a country that was the product of an imperial imagination in the early 20th century.
The war that Hillary Clinton supported strengthened Al Qaeda, which the Bush administration (led by Dick Cheney) lied about having a presence in Iraq prior to our invasion.  The war that Hillary Clinton supported helped to spawn ISIS, a horrific reaction to the death cult of neo-conservatism apparently embraced by Clinton.
Because although Clinton and her campaign have been working overtime to reassure voters that her vote for this war was an aberration, her actions as Senator, as presidential candidate, and as Secretary of State demonstrate that she shares the neo-conservatives’ admiration of authoritarianism, their embrace of violence and terror, and their defense of colonialism.
As Secretary of State, she advocated for the “surge” in Afghanistan that put more and more U.S. citizens in harm’s way while delivering little in terms of institution-building for Afghans.  She advocated for regime change in Libya, typically not bothering to think through the consequences.  All those who feel the temptation to meddle must also consider whether their intervention will actually do good for those whose lives they seek to restructure, and Clinton has omitted to do so time and again.  She was also an advocate for large-scale intervention in Syria, and happily our President resisted the temptation to follow her advice. 
During the Arab Spring, a series of grassroots uprisings across the Middle East mounted by citizens and subjects against dictatorial regimes, Clinton took the side of the autocrats against the democrats, prizing stability over change much as she appears to do based on the little we know of her speeches to Goldman Sachs.
As Senator, as Secretary of State, and as presidential candidate Clinton has supported colonial regimes which have no place in the 21st century.  She has supported them (in Israel and Morocco) to the detriment of their country’s citizens and institutions, to the detriment of the colonized people, and to the detriment of our own country’s security.  She has backed colonial governments and the savagery that accompanies colonial warfare in the knowledge that nothing good can come of such an unequal relationship for any of the parties involved.
In all of her roles Clinton has defended the actions of a rogue security state.  She has defended it against whistleblowers and journalists, serving a term that surpassed even the imperial Bush administration in the fervor with which it attacked these brave individuals who seek to bring the truth to the public.  She has given fulsome backing to a drone war that is nothing more than an international version of the profiling and killing that many of her supporters are willing to condemn when it occurs on our own streets.  The use of disposition matrices and other profiling mechanisms make a mockery of justice and claim the lives of thousands of innocent people.  War waged from the air has destroyed hospitals and schools and countless lives, in clear violation of international laws, without consequences for those who perpetrate or make possible such violence.
My generation together with those that follow have borne and will continue to bear the brunt of Clinton’s murderous hubris.  Young people of my generation were asked to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan in illegal and immoral wars of aggression.  My generation and particularly those that have come after it—my students today—are suffering the consequences of our economy having been subverted so fully to a war-making machine that gobbles up endless resources while we are told that the free higher education and stronger welfare state that older generations enjoyed is something we can never aspire to.  
So if as a reader or a friend or an acquaintance you wonder why I keep writing about Iraq, I offer this as a reminder and an explanation.  Aside from the immorality of U.S. imperialism, and the self-defeating wars that we incessantly wage, there is something very close to home about this conflict.  It made the world I grew up in in so many ways and I find it grotesque that people can forgive those who authorized it and then strengthened the logic and practices by which it and other related conflicts have been prosecuted. 
I genuinely believe that it is possible to turn a corner on this sinister era in U.S. history and to forge relationships with the wider world based on strong institutions that we and others respect; on law and order conceived fairly and applied to the powerful as well as the weak; on a recognition that economic and social inequality are ills that are as important “over there” as “over here”; and on a commitment to ending all forms of oppression, whether perpetrated by colonial governments, religious fundamentalists, or our own state.

In short, we need some form of solidarity, and institutions to go along with it.  Building such things takes hard work and won’t be accomplished in a presidential term.  But the election of a neo-conservative as compromised by 13 years of violence as Hillary Clinton will be a terrible setback that I hope we can avoid.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Candidates and Iraq

The day after the GOP primary in South Carolina put the nail in the already closed coffin of Jeb Bush’s presidential ambitions, the New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz, king of the satirists, wrote a piece titled “Iraqis Celebrate as Threat of Third Bush Presidency Ends.”  George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 dismantled the country’s institutions, destroyed its physical infrastructure, and killed massive numbers of people while utterly failing to plan for the aftermath.  The spectre of a third Bush administration must have truly seemed incredible to Iraqis.
But I would caution any Iraqis who might have been following Bush’s fortunes, and any American who might appreciate Borowitz’ satire and the home truths therein, to exercise caution and avoid premature celebration.
After all, the leading Republican candidate who now seems to be in a strong position to secure the nomination has expressed his admiration for a policy of shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs blood.  Trump’s competitor from Texas, Ted Cruz, has voiced a desire to carpet bomb cities occupied by ISIS in the Middle East, in clear violation of international laws and even of the tolerance of the U.S. government for state terror.  And the third leading competitor, Marco Rubio, is the most fanatic neoconservative among the three who shamelessly prattles about “American exceptionalism, code for violent empire-building.  
In his embrace of that toxic ideology, Rubio is joined by Hillary Clinton, who to my dismay is probably in a strong position to secure the nomination of an ostensibly progressive party.  Clinton backed Bush’s war in Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of U.S. citizens, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the strengthening of Al Qaeda, and the creation of ISIS.  
Lest Democrats take Clinton at her word that her vote for a murderous illegal war was but an aberration, she subsequently endorsed the surge in Afghanistan, sabre-rattled for regime change in Libya (which materialized) and in Syria (which did not).  She took the side of autocrats during the Arab Spring, and backs two colonial regimes (Israel and Morocco).  She has attacked whistleblowers and defended an inexcusably predatory and evasive security state.  She has been belligerent over the ongoing civil war in Syria, and shows an utter disregard for the precept that should govern all international interventions: first, do no harm.  
The remaining candidate, Bernie Sanders, is far from perfect and needs to do more in terms of articulating his worldview and approach to international policy.  But broadly speaking he seems to possess good instincts.  When the Israeli military pummelled schools and even UN observers in its punitive assault on Gaza, Hillary Clinton defended this act of colonial violence against all critics.  Sanders has been less critical of Israeli militarism than many would like, but he at least had the decency to criticize this assault.  He voted against going to war in Iraq and has expressed strong reservations about subsequent interventions.
His campaign should reach out to experts on the Middle East and foreign policy thinkers who offer views that run against the grain of U.S. policy.  Because we desperately need a robust alternative to the fanatic savagery of much of the GOP, and the murderous neoconservatism Clinton shares with Rubio and others from the Republican Party’s ranks.  

And I would ask supporters of Republican candidates and of Hillary Clinton whether they feel they can condone the violence their records and day-to-day utterances suggest they would perpetrate.  I know that international policy often takes a backseat to matters of “bread and butter,” but I would remind fellow citizens that what to us is the marginalia of the campaign is literally a matter of life and death for those on the receiving end of U.S. foreign policy.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Why I Will Caucus for Bernie Sanders Tomorrow

Sanders at the Henderson Pavilion in Nevada, 19 February.
Nevada’s Democratic Party is holding its caucus tomorrow morning, and I plan to caucus for Senator Bernie Sanders, the social democrat from Vermont.  I have many reasons for backing Sanders, but given that many in the Democratic Party and beyond seem keen to characterize supporters of Sanders in particular ways, I will dwell for a moment on some of those characterizations.
I am not caucusing for Sanders because I believe him to be a messiah who will wave a magic wand and fix our country and the world. 
I am not caucusing for Sanders because I am some kind of idle-minded buffoon who wants giveaways and doesn’t think beyond the headlines.
I am not caucusing for Sanders because I am what some are characterizing as part of a ‘jello left’, because I inhabit some kind of fantasyland, because I gobble up right-wing propaganda, because I am a GOP sleeper cell, or for any of the other hurtful and cynical reasons that some liberals and progressives assume must define any backing of Sanders.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because in contrast to what his critics say, he talks coherently and movingly about the rights claims that people have made and must continue to make in our country, and because he emphasizes the importance of economic as well as civil rights, and the relationship between those and race and gender.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because my grandfather was a ‘Dreamer’ from another day, a kid from Central America who would today be defined by demagogues on the right as a rapist, a murderer, and a ‘taker’, but who found his version of the American dream in the fields and railyards of his new home, California.  He found that dream because he arrived in the U.S. at a time when it was a country that invested in its citizenry, and Sanders has pledge to protect the Dreamers of today from abuse by the state and from attacks by the political right.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because the first big political event that shaped my worldview was a monumentally stupid and illegal war of aggression in Iraq.  As a 16-year-old who read the newspaper daily I could see that this war was going to be catastrophic, and it is extraordinary that not only did hundreds of elected representatives back that war, but many of them continue to double-down on the twisted logic that underpinned it, with fatal consequences.  We are living with the consequences of that war today, and the lives of our own citizenry and the lives of people around the world are too valuable to be put in the hands of neo-conservatives from either party who have pledged to commit war crimes in pursuit of a sinister and violent American imperialism.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because although I wish he had more to say about foreign policy, his instincts seem good to me and because the ideas that he is promoting with regard to domestic policy can be productively used to shape a smarter and fairer international policy.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because my wife is from a country that has developed a social contract that ensures that its citizenry is able to live decent, stable, secure lives without sacrificing civil liberties.  That country and others like it provide models and ideas, even if they can’t be neatly transplanted to the United States, and they do so while bearing some of the costs of U.S. imperialism and terrorism abroad.  Sanders has embraced the social democracy that is at the heart of those countries.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because the transformative effects of social democracy around the world are too significant to ignore and because I believe that the growing fascism of the political right in the United States is best confronted boldly, with clear moral and ideological principles.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because I live in a state ripe for the kind of change he is promoting.  Poverty is obscenely rampant, schools and universities are pathetically under-funded, the gap between sparkling suites and ground-down neighbourhoods is terrifying, and the power of the plutocracy is offensive.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because he represents a break from the tribalism of the Democratic Party’s liberal candidates, who view Republicans as enemies rather than fellow citizens.  I appreciate that Sanders seeks the votes of Republicans by seeking to draw them to common ground, without pandering and while rebuking in the strongest terms the racist, misogynist, and hateful howls of the party’s leadership. 
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because I think he is a movement man.  Where his rivals say ‘I’, he says ‘we’.  Parties are critical, but I think the bulk of the Democratic Party will fall in line behind whichever candidate wins the primaries and caucuses, leaving the candidate flexible to devote time to creating a movement that won’t simply be used as an ATM.  Many take almost comical umbrage at the fact that Sanders hasn’t thought out every step of this battle or every point of policy along the way, but like the rest of us he is having to quickly adapt to the possibility that he can win the nomination.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because I had the good fortune to spend ten years of my life in the most amazing system of higher education in the world and because he aspires to defend and reinvigorate public universities.  Other candidates dismiss the idea of free public university as unrealistic or impossible or something incompatible with American values.  But at least some of those candidates grew up in the U.S. at a time when free public higher education did exist.  I appreciate that Sanders recognizes that things changed not because of some cosmic inevitability, but because of sets of deliberate and by extension reversible political decisions.

And I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because I hear in his hoarse voice and see in his un-deviating stump speeches clarity and consistency of purpose, and someone who is willing to lose to say important things.  That is a thought that terrifies many Democrats because of the alternatives.  But if we embrace Sanders’ use of the plural pronoun, I suspect that we will prove the wisdom of another social democratic candidate from over eighty years ago who declared that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Republican Party and the Supreme Court

It has been some time since the Republican Party in the United States ceased to be a serious and responsible political entity.  The knee-jerk ferocity of its opposition to President Obama would be almost comical if it didn’t rely on strands of barely-buried racism and lead to a state of almost total gridlock in the federal government.  The absurdity of its claims about “government” not working would be amusing if the party wasn’t working so hard to bring its pernicious lie to life by sabotaging the working of our state.
The GOP’s response to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a further illustration of the depths to which they have sunk.  Apparently under the misapprehension that a President only exercises authority for the first three years of his four-year term, the leadership of the Republican Party is Congress has committed itself to blocking any justice nominated by President Obama.
Individual Democrats have invoked this kind of silliness (known as the “Thurmond rule”, it has no actual basis in law) before, albeit less egregiously.  But for the Republican Party to declare in a single voice that the President has no right to make appointments when he still has eleven months to serve is a very clear demonstration of how little respect they have for the most clear cut elements of our constitution and how accustomed they have grown to being able to sabotage the functioning of our government.
I have significant problems with President Obama’s foreign policy, and have been frustrated by his incrementalist approach.  But I have a lot of appreciation for how he has conducted himself in the face of the vicious, personal onslaught launched by the Republican Party that has encouraged its supporters to talk about the President and his family in racist and slightly unhinged terms. 

I hope he will choose a strong, independent-minded justice who recognizes the dangers of allowing economic and political power to accrue to an ever smaller number of people.