Saturday, September 14, 2002

Iraq and Roll. Ok, I've had a nice few days off, and I've been thinking a lot about Iraq in the wake of Bush's speech to the United Nations.

As Josh Marshall says, the speech actually lays out a very Powell-esque policy, which is a good thing. Notice that the framework for the debate has been changed drastically. It is no longer an issue about preemptively attacking a nation which could be a threat at some vague future time. It is no longer about (at least, not explicitly) removing Saddam Hussein from power. No, it is about enforcing pre-existing international law. Iraq is in violation of a host of Security Council resolutions adopted in the wake of the Gulf War. Bush wants the U.N. to authorize the use of military force to bring Iraq into line with international law.

That was Thursday. It changed a little bit yesterday. Despite the fact that I didn't read or watch any news yesterday, nevertheless, I was bombarded over and over again by the same message. I heard it on talk radio (I frequently listen to conservative talk radio to keep me informed about the ground war tactics of the Republican political machine), I saw it in newspapers that others were reading on the train, I heard about it while channel surfing waiting for "He-Man" and "Transformers: Armada" to come on. If the U.N. doesn't get on board with the U.S. position in a matter of weeks, not months, then the U.S. will go it alone. Everytime I read or heard that, I mentally added "Fuck you, you pathetic pansy-assed little faggots," because that attitude toward the U.N. is quite clearly contained, though not expressed, in the U.S. position.

So, where does that leave us? There are a lot of elements to unpack here. The Thursday position represents a huge roll-back for the White House. Basically, the lost preemption. The so-called "Bush Doctrine", the wholly new, post-9/11 way of doing things in the world, collapsed under the weight of its own speciousness on Thursday. Funny no one seems to think that's worth mentioning. Friday, the U.S. clutches to grasp at the one thing the conservatives think they can salvage from this international shitstorm of anti-Americanism they've created: unilateral action. Unilateral action is vital for lots of reason. First of all, conservatives don't like Bush talking to the U.N. at all. They the U.N. is our enemy, and we shouldn't even be a member. This view is reactionary beyond belief, and it represents just how out to lunch the far-right of the Republican party really is. They are still living in 1954, and they are still pissed off about Brown v. Board of Education, but that's another story. Second, unilateral action rescues the possibility of a pre-election invasion, which is exactly what the White House wants. This is sickening on so many levels. George Bush is ready and willing to sacrifice human lives, American and Iraqi, in furtherance of his retrograde political ambitions.

I don't know if we will launch an invasion before election day or not. I do think that it's a politically risky move for Bush, since many polls are showing that there is not very strong American support for unilateral American action against Iraq. The best thing Bush can do, if he really wants to invade Iraq and he really wants to be politically rewarded for it, is to continue to work within the U.N. But then, he further alienates his hard-right core supporters, because the more he talks to the U.N., the more he resembles his father, and he can't control the timeline for invasion to get the maximum political effect out of it.

I'll have more to say on this topic next week, but I'm obscenely late for a party at my friend Craig's house.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Short Term or Long Term. Paul Krugman injects a healthy and much-needed note of sanity into the 9/11 anniversary discussions. In today's New York Times, Krugman makes the indispensable point that the "war on terrorism" is much more closely analogous to the "war on drugs/poverty/cancer/crime" than it is to, say, World War II. Though the attacks of 9/11 have been continually touted as "our Pearl Harbor", and not without good reason, there are vital differences between the situations that must be acknowledged. It's is disheartening, and frankly, shocking, that this self-evident observation is still sorely lacking in the national discussion. People were making observations such as these from the very beginning, and yet this administration still talks about being "at war", as if that has any real meaning. It doesn't.

But why not? Surely, this country was the victim of an a vicious, murderous attack. The perpetrators were did not constitute a sovereign nation, and did not utilize the machinery war. Rather, they utilized the machinery of crime, specifically terrorism. That terrorism is also rightly considered a weapon of war does not change the equation as much as might be expected. As has been pointed out again and again, "terrorism" is a concept, a means to an end, and not a fully developed independent ideology. "Terrorism" is the methodology employed by various persons and groups throughout the world, and throughout history, to achieve some sort of political gain. Of course, the ends do not justify the means, and terrorism is rightly decried even when it is employed in service of a just cause. But it is necessary for this country to defend itself not against "terrorism", but rather against this cause with which we find ourselves opposed, which is being advanced through the means of terrorism.

As a practical matter, terrorism is a very useful marker for our enemy. The purpose of defense, whether conducted by the military, the FBI, or local police and firefighters, is to prevent forseeable attacks. Since we know that terrorism is the chosen and preferred method of attack, it is necessary, as a practical matter, for us to be concerned with defending ourselves against terrorism. But terrorism itself is not the enemy, nor could it ever possibly be. Terrorism is the weapon employed against us by the enemy. It is disheartening to note that, one year later, the enemy employing this weapon against us has been only perfuctorily defined.

The focus of Krugman's article is to take observations such as these and draw policy conclusions from them. Because the so-called "war on terrorism" is a battle against a methodology rather than an ideology, that war cannot possibly be won. So long as there are terrorists, there will be terrorism. So long as someone, anyone, anywhere, adopts the methodology of terrorism in support of some ideology, terrorism will continue. While I entertain entirely no fear of the imminent end of the United States, I feel certain that terrorism will outlive this nation. If this nation lives for 10,000 years, terrorism will outlive it. Such is the nature of terrorism, and that's why it is meaningless (worse, it's intentionally misleading) to speak of a "war on terror".

But, assuming that's we've got (and since the White House says we're fighting a "war on terror", by virtue of that authority, so we are, however meaningless it may be as a concept), we must conclude that it will never end. Cynically, Krugman asserts that this is the reason why an anniversary is necessary. In addition, he claims, it is beholden upon the other branches of government, the legislative and judicial branches which provide the vital "checks and balances" on executive power, to resist the temptation to acquiesce to executive over-reaching. In cases such as Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War or the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the executive branch utilized extreme measures in the interest of security in war-time. While we may consider these measures to have been extreme and unnecessary in retrospect (especially the shameful latter case), it is easy to understand why the other branches of government acquiesced. However, in those cases, the crisis had a clear end-point. Even if no one knew, or could have known, how and when each conflict would end, a conflict such as the Civil War or World War II would obviously have and end-point somewhere down the line. The "war on terror" quite intentionally has no end-point at all. The deaths of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar would not end it. The absolute destruction of al Qaeda would not end it. At any time in the future, some other ideology may rise and employ terror against the United States in furtherance of their agenda. The "war on terror" will therefore continue for as long as there is human civilization on this planet.

This is precisely the reason why the legislative and judicial branches of government must exercise extreme caution in endorsing the terror-fighting activities of the executive branch. As Krugman puts it "We're in this for the long haul, so any measures we take to fight terrorism had better be measures that we are prepared to live with indefinitely."

The point is made all the more urgent by the actions over the last year of the executive branch. The White House, primarily through the Justice Department, has over-reached abominably, and thus degraded the civil protections granted to us all under the Constitution. I've said it before, but I'll keep saying it, because it's a crucial point: terrorists can kill Americans, but only our own government can harm America. Patriotism, properly construed as devotion and loyalty to the principles under which this nation was established, demands that we protect those principles from any threat, internal or external. The persons charged with this responsibility are our legislature and judiciary. If they are dropping the ball, all those who love this country must speak up and protest.

Monday, September 09, 2002

Ideology Trumps Policy. Who on Earth could possibly oppose basic human rights for women around the world? The answer, of course, is radical conservative organizations in the United States, and their lackey, George W. Bush (or, more accurately, Karl Rove). I've talked about CEDAW before, but it bears repeating. Often.

CEDAW is the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. As reported in The American Prospect by Noy Thrupkaew, CEDAW, when ratified by other countries, has been directly responsible for removing ingrained legal and cultural barriers which stood in the way of gender equality in nations such as Japan, Tanzania, and Columbia. CEDAW contains a weaker standard of gender equality than is currently practiced in this country, which makes the continued rabid opposition to it all the more unbelievable. Even the Bush administration, before the hard-right lobby got their mits in, recommended that CEDAW be ratified by the United States.

Post September 11, the Bush administration "got religion" on the issue of women's rights, at least in public. They skillfully exploited the obscene mistreatment of Afghan women to drum up support (as if any were needed) to the war on terror in Afghanistan. But they have failed the very women they claimed to be fighting for. To be sure, the situation in Afghanistan is much more favorable to women today than it was a year ago, but the US's refusal to ratify CEDAW makes it that much harder for Afghan women to campaign for Afghanistan's ratification.

Oh, and just to provide some perspective, the US is the only industrial nation which not ratified CEDAW, which puts it in the company of Afghanistan, as I said, Sudan, and Iran. As with people, you can judge a nation also by the company it keeps, and the international judgment against the US on this issue is harsh.
Guess Who's Back. Former President William Jefferson Clinton has written an insightful and inspiring commentary on the proper role of United States foreign policy. It's not a long piece, but it's a far more coherent and comprehensive foreign policy statement than I've seen from the Bush administration. Reading the piece makes me wish, not for the first or last time, that Bill Clinton had been our president a year ago when this country was attacked by nineteen terrorists in four planes. So much would have been different today if he had been. Certainly, the international ill will currently directed at us, even from staunch allies, would be greatly reduced. Second, there's some possibility that the attacks might have provoked a real change in energy policy (not necessarily... it's entirely possible that Clinton might have dropped the ball on this issue also). Third, we would have successfully defined the terms of our counter-attack much earlier on. As we've been reminded lately from several quarters, there are still a host of questions relating to what "war on terror" actually means, and what are its goals, methods, and boundaries. Fourth, we never would have had that disastrous year-long neglect of the Israel-Palestinian dispute, and we wouldn't be unequivically supporting an Israeli leadership which shows little to no inclination to actually find a peaceful settlement. This relates back to point one. There are other differences, of course, too numerous to mention.

But getting for a moment to the substance of the article, it's clear that Bill Clinton still has a vision for this country, and it's a vision that I share. The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and it should take a far more active role in securing the peace worldwide. One part of that is conflict resolution, and it's vital that the United States be involved, diplomatically, in places like Israel, Kashmir, and Chechnya. Another part of that is foreign aid. Countries racked by poverty, famine, and disease, are intrinsically unstable, politically. It's also very difficult for high-minded notions like democracy, freedom, and human rights to take hold among populations who cannot feed or care for themselves or their families. Securing the safety of Americans entails actively exporting democracy, real democracy, to other parts of the world, and this cannot be done without expending money.

Once again, we come back to a question of priorities. All nations, wealthy and poor, face limited resources. These resources must be devoted to securing a number of pressing social needs. Clearly, the creation and maintenance of a strong military is vital to protect the military and security interests of a country like the United States. It is also true that an undue tax burden could put the growth-potential of our economy at risk, which would have a tremendous indirect effect on everything from standard of living to violent crime to the infant mortality rate. But when the combination of a huge upper class tax cut and emergency defense spending leaves us with huge deficits and very tight resources for addressing other needs, one has to wonder if the resources we do have are being expended in quite the best proportion to meet our various challenges.

The only thing I don't like about Clinton's otherwise excellent article is that Clinton wrote it. It should have been Gore. I still wonder where our self-selected Democratic leadership is in a time when we need them most.
Terminus Just Wasn't Busy Enough. I've got some kind of psychopathic drive to fill up evey available moment of my time with some kind of commitment or obligation. You would think going to law school would be enough. But no. I have to go and join the American Constitution Society, I'm running for student government, I tried out for a play on campus (and got the part), and I play drums for two rock bands (one of them, thankfully, is on hiatus).

Anyway, this is all by way of explaining why posts have been so few and far between lately. But don't fret, I haven't forgotten you. Posting will likely continue in this reduced capacity for some time. But please still pop in every other day or so. I'll keep writing this stuff if you guys will keep reading it.