Obama, drone-strikes and human rights

by Chris Bertram on June 5, 2012

I’ve been reading some of Glenn Greenwald’s recent posts with increasing horror as he details the apparent willingness of the US drone campaign to attack events where non-combatants will certainly be present, such as funerals and to try to evade moral and legal responsibility by redefining “combatant” to include any military-age male in a strike zone. I’ve also been monitoring various liberal sites and blogs for signs of a reaction and not seeing much (please correct that impression in comments). Sites that obsess about non-combatant immunity if the people firing the rockets are from Hamas are silent. Blogs that take attitudes to historic human rights violations as a litmus-test of political acceptability, have nothing to say as a liberal American President bombs civilians on the territory of nominally friendly states. Fortunately, I’m not an American citizen, so I don’t have a moral decision to take about whether to vote for Obama or not this year. If I were, I don’t think it would be an easy decision to take. Romney is clearly remarkably close in political belief to Obama, but will be beholden to the crazy Republican right, as Obama is not. That provides people with a reason to vote for Obama. But the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner doesn’t deserve the vote of anyone who cares about human rights, even if, pragmatically they might feel they have to give it to him.

{ 375 comments }

1

Holden Pattern 06.05.12 at 5:20 pm

It’s actually worse than silence. If you raise concerns about these actions from a due process, human rights, or even a pragmatic this-is-why-they-hate-us perspective, you’re pretty much shouted down by the tribal loyalists, because “Romney would be worse”. Also, “these are terrahists, and this is a war”, which has an all too familiar “it can’t be illegal if the president does it as part of his role as commander in chief” ring to it.

Of course, Romney would be worse. But that doesn’t make what the Obama administration is doing OK, and in some ways, legitimating these policies as apolitical technocratic executive powers is even worse than when Bush was trying this stuff out.

2

Steve LaBonne 06.05.12 at 5:26 pm

What’s worse than Obama doing this stuff is the fact that you can bet your bottom dollar that the vast majority of voters are more than fine with it. There is a societal / political ratchet going on that is way bigger and stronger than one president or administration. It generates pressure of a kind that few imaginable presidents would be able to resist for long.

I never wanted to know what living amid the death throes of an empire is like, but I guess I’m finding out whether I like it or not.

3

Mordy 06.05.12 at 5:27 pm

At least on the note of people firing rockets from Hamas, there is still significant daylight between those occasions and the drone strikes. Hamas explicitly fires rockets to maximize civilian casualties. Drone strikes, even according to Glenn Greenwald, may accumulate civilian casualties, but they are not the strike’s intention. While this may seem like a difference without meaning (especially to civilians that are victimized by rockets or drones), it makes a difference in scope (you will always kill more civilians if that’s your raison d’etre than if it’s incidental), and in moral justification. While I can think of examples where civilian casualties (while always tragic) are justifiable*, I can not think of any examples where targeting civilians is ever justifiable.

*Even if Obama has surely pushed this to/beyond the breaking point.

4

Bruce Wilder 06.05.12 at 5:28 pm

The image of the President sitting down for “Terror Tuesday” and deciding who to murder in Yemen is pretty vivid. This is a man, who has lost his moral compass, leading a country, which has lost its moral compass.

I won’t vote for him, today or in November, but I doubt I represent more than a tiny, tiny sliver of the electorate.

5

alkali 06.05.12 at 5:29 pm

If you’re not willing to let Romney get into office and (i) erase rights to contraception, abortion, and same-sex relationships, (ii) further limit the voting rights of minorities, the poor, and the young, (iii) make life generally miserable for poor and working class Americans, and (iv) start a bunch of other wars in the Middle East, well, then you’re obviously a partisan tribalist who doesn’t give a fig for human rights.

6

bob mcmanus 06.05.12 at 5:38 pm

what living amid the death throes of an empire is like

I don’t think so, although pretty obviously the end of a Republic. Every Empire is a perfect snowflake, butthe US and its oligarchic elite allies have much more control over the internal governance and foreign policy of Poland and Iraq than they had fifty years ago. It’s the beginning.

Among Empires by Charles Maier is recommended.

7

Pascal Leduc 06.05.12 at 5:40 pm

If only the U.S.A. had some form of democratic process for selecting the people who represent a political party. Then people could vote in those and hopefully end up with politicians that better represent them.

Heck if this system existed down to the state and local level you could change the very nature of the party since unelected staff positions are often taken from politicians from these lower levels.

If only.

8

The Raven 06.05.12 at 5:40 pm

Firedoglake has been screaming bloody murder about this, so has Emptywheel (Marci Wheeler.) Even the relatively conservative John Cole at Balloon Juice has raised objections. And then, of course, there is Tom Tomorrow.

For myself, I live in a relatively safe blue state, and plan a protest vote in the Presidential election, probably for the Green candidate. I simply cannot stomach the administration’s policies. I suspect that his administration has in fact been corrupted by the political environment it is operating in, and any administration would face similar pressures, but too much wrong has been done to too many people, and I have no heart for a vote for that administration’s leader.

I have no heart to work for, nor fund, the national Democratic Party.

This is a very limited protest, however: we have a stealth Tea Party Republican candidate for Governor, so I’m definitely voting Democratic in that election, and I will likewise vote Democratic for Congress–I have a great liberal Representative–and in the state and local elections.

9

mpowell 06.05.12 at 5:43 pm

I don’t know. People are talking about this. Among Americans to the left of the Republican party you have the people who are in favor of the strikes, those who are opposed but still support Obama over Romney and those who are opposed and make various indications about the lack of their support for Obama.

In terms of numbers, I’m not sure how you can talk about this as a historic human rights violation. The invasion of Iraq caused probably more than 1M excess Iraqi deaths. Mostly civilian. Whether the war was legal according to international law or not doesn’t do much to change the tragedy of that number. If the drone strikes are responsible for more than 1000 civilian deaths a year, I would be surprised.

Even if you think this is a big deal, I think it’s really dumb to talk about whether Obama deserves your vote or not. You don’t vote for a politician for the politician’s sake. You do it for you own sake and for your fellow citizens. And in the case of a US president, you do it for the sake of all the people living in the world. And if you think there will be negligible difference to the world between Romney and Obama, I’d just suggest you think about that one a little more.

10

Ben Alpers 06.05.12 at 5:44 pm

Romney is clearly remarkably close in political belief to Obama

By what measure?

I’m totally on board the sense that there’s not enough separation between the two political parties. But in the context of actual, real-world American politics, there’s plenty of distance between Obama and Romney.

That’s not at all to undo the moral challenge you pose to potential Obama voters. But you cannot blunt that challenge by pretending that Romney is in any sense a moderate. He isn’t.

11

rf 06.05.12 at 5:48 pm

“Firedoglake has been screaming bloody murder about this…..”

As has Lawyers Guns and Money, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and even segments of the New Yorker and NYRB.
I even think I saw some at The Atlantic, the National Interest and Daniel Byman raise concerns before (though on grounds of effectiveness)

12

William Timberman 06.05.12 at 5:50 pm

Count me among BW’s Tiny Sliverites. Not voting for a murderer will allow a potential murderer to replace him, you say? You want to wash your hands of complicity at our expense, you say? Bugger off, I say. I didn’t cater this party — in fact, I was only invited by default.

13

gastro george 06.05.12 at 5:50 pm

@Mordy – The dividing line between declared intent and reality is far too wide in your generous mind. The insouciance that accompanies spin is piled high with the bodies of “collateral damage”.

14

Anarcissie 06.05.12 at 5:56 pm

People who would rather not get blood on their hands when they go in the voting booth might reflect that there is not the slightest chance that their single vote will affect the outcome of a large election, and vote for their dog, or whomever. However ineffective, though, to cast a vote for Mr. O is to become an accomplice to murder after the fact; and his opponent is probably not much different in views and intent, even if he has less blood on his boots. Your dog is going to look pretty good by comparison.

As to affecting the politics of the country, I mostly do mouse- and rat-level activism, but I did give some money to the Green Party, not because I agree with everything they say and do, but to enable them to make a little more noise. Noise can work. OWS probably saved Social Security and Medicare for a year or two.

15

Rob in CT 06.05.12 at 6:05 pm

What the Raven said (plus sites he hasn’t mentioned, but others have been adding).

Lefties have complained, though Greenwald is obviously the most persistent about it.

The trouble is – at least for me – an overwhelming sense of helplessness. We know where the Republicans stand on this sort of thing (fine with it, just quibbling with details and the “D” after Obama’s name, really). We know that a good chunk of Dems are also fine with it, so long as there is a D after the name of the folks in charge.

I voted for Obama in part because I thought he would be better on this stuff. He’s not. Oh, maybe a bit from a simple competance standpoint, but that’s not what I mean. So that’s frustrating.

For those of us who do think things are out of control, what can we do? Like Raven, I’m in a safe blue state, so I’ll do the protest vote thing (in my case, I may go with Gary Johnson). But the hard truth is that an overwhelming majority of our fellow American voters are absolutely fine with these policies.

I’ve argued with people about the “War on Terror” for a decade now. And while they do eventually get tired with the wars, it’s basically about US casualties and money spent.

I mean… take the Administration declaring any male in a certain age range presumptively a militant. This is basically just a formalization of what most of the US population already believes. I know. I’ve had the arguments.

16

Barry Freed 06.05.12 at 6:05 pm

It is appalling though I’m not yet as worked up over it as I was with the torture issue (which I’m not entirely convinced has ended) but I’m getting there. Was it Chomsky who pointed out that there hasn’t been a single modern president who wasn’t guilty of committing war crimes. Obama does not disappoint.

BTW, Scott Horton at Harper’s is also good on this.

17

Jokesmith 06.05.12 at 6:07 pm

This is why I’ll be voting for Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party. I see no other way. Call it a wasted vote if you must but abstaining is really just a vote for the status quo/two party system.

18

Plume 06.05.12 at 6:08 pm

Bruce Wilder,

I won’t vote for him, either. I think Romney is worse, and the Republicans, dominated as they are by the tea party, aren’t that far away from being outright neo-fascists. But the Dems are also a right-wing party today, and Obama seems intent on winning over the right, even though it despises him.

. . . .

He has, in fact, governed as a good conservative, but doesn’t seem to realize that ship has sailed. He’s about a decade behind — the Overton Window has moved much further to the right. Ironically, he helps move it whenever he embraces Republican positions. They then feel the need to keep moving further away from him. A sick combination of Lucy and the football and massive pandering to the reactionary Americans.

America gets to choose between a center-right party and a hard-right party. As in, we have no choices.

19

rm 06.05.12 at 6:19 pm

When we say we’re voting for the lesser evil, “evil” is part of the package. I will still vote for the lesser over the greater evil, and try to support more meaningful and local action that opposes the evil. I was starting to wonder if I read only inside an echo chamber, because the liberal & left voices I read (all mention in comments) have been going on about the “flying killer robots.” (Maybe Bertram is referring to the “liberal” voices in the major media outlets, who as far as I know don’t mention human or civil or labor rights much at all?) It’s the general complacent acceptance of this by the less-engaged majority of people that lets it keep happening. And maybe there are institutional structures in place that keep us relying on killer death robots because we don’t declare war and send in troops like in old-fashioned wars. The “small wars” of the early 20th century, which tended to be imperialistic police actions characterized by racism and routine human rights violations, it seems to me, have become our template for all military action now, but we don’t even need to send in troops to hunt the dark-skinned foreigners.

20

Plume 06.05.12 at 6:23 pm

Another aspect to this. The right set up Obama brilliantly, on this issue, the economy and so on. They kept attacking him for being too weak, an appeaser, an apologist, a socialist, not even an American, etc . . . thus goading him into being even more of a right-wing zealot than they would have been, at times. He keeps trying to prove them wrong, while they laugh behind closed doors.

. . . .

But perhaps the key to all of this is the surreal power of the office in general. It seems to turn everyone who takes it into a warmonger. Something about the sudden encounter with massive military power seems to turn the heads of every American president. When was the last time one of them didn’t use the military, covertly, overtly?

And then there’s the pressure from the military industrial complex. They want at least enough strife in the world to keep them fat and happy, and I have no doubt that they do what they can to arrange for that strife.

It’s no job for an insecure man or woman. It’s no job for anyone who feels the need to “prove” anything, especially their “mettle.” Unfortunately, they’re are probably very few humans and even fewer politicians up to the task.

21

Steve LaBonne 06.05.12 at 6:29 pm

@15:

This is basically just a formalization of what most of the US population already believes.

That is what people need to get their heads around. This is why NO politician who could conceivably win the presidency will be any better. Changing this is going to be a long, hard struggle, carried out way below the altitude of presidential politics, if it’s to be carried out at all.

22

Andrew 06.05.12 at 6:30 pm

To my mind, the central issue here — aside from the Admin’s murderousness — is in the fetish of the ballot box, whose genius is that it functions as the primary instrument of depoliticization (and demobilization of grassroots, democratic organizing) in the nation.

Liberals are like political hippies, whose sentimentality and and high-minded idealism justify all manner of viciousness and stupidity. A more materialist assessment of the nature of the US State — a notion of “political economy” — goes a long way.

23

rea 06.05.12 at 6:39 pm

There are organized groups of people who regard themeselves at war with the United States and who have attacked the United States and its allies in the past, who are armed, and who are located in a place where the judicial proces cannot reach them. Such people can legitimately be subjected to military attack. Noncombatants cannot be targeted, but sometimes noncombatant are going to be killed in legitimate attacks on military targets. The laws of war require reasonable steps to be taken to minimize noncombatant casualties, but recognize that some noncombatant casualties are inevitable. There is no evidence that the US is breaking these rules.

For example, Greenwald complains about the death of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year old son in a drone strike. That’s tragic, but the article Greenwald links point out that the young man was with a group of al Qaeda officials when killed, and there is no evidence that the young man, rather than the al Qaeda officials, was targeted.

Or, see the following account, to which Greenwald links, and which he citte s an isntance of the US deliberately targeting rescuers:

Taliban militants had gathered in the village of Khaisor. After praying at the local mosque, they were preparing to cross the nearby border into Afghanistan to launch an attack on US forces. But the US struck first.

A CIA drone fired its missiles into the Taliban group, killing at least a dozen people. Villagers joined surviving Taliban as they tried to retrieve the dead and injured.

But as rescuers clambered through the demolished house the drones struck again. Two missiles slammed into the rubble, killing many more. At least 29 people died in total.

‘We lost very trained and sincere friends‘, a local Taliban commander told The News, a Pakistani newspaper. ‘Some of them were very senior Taliban commanders and had taken part in successful actions in Afghanistan. Bodies of most of them were beyond recognition.’

For the Americans the attack was a success. A surprise tactic had resulted in the deaths of many Taliban. But locals say that six ordinary villagers also died that day . . .

It’s very hard to see how this account shows that rescuers were deliberately targeted, or that the whole affair was anything other than an attack on a leigtimate military target.

24

Steve LaBonne 06.05.12 at 6:41 pm

And right on cue, along comes the typical liberal-hawk murder apologist.

25

Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 06.05.12 at 6:46 pm

Chris, you say in the post “[Obama] doesn’t deserve the vote of anyone who cares about human rights”. But why is the framework of desert the right one here? Why I go to buy laundry detergent, the question of whether Tide (or their marketers, or manufacturers, or designers, etc) “deserves” anything doesn’t enter into it. I pick the one that works best.

From an alternative perspective, how could anyone “deserve” the power to nuke the entire world? Or any of the other powers the US President has? Desert just seems like a red herring here.

26

rea 06.05.12 at 6:47 pm

It’s far easier, Mr. LaBonne, to call me names than to address the evidence about what the US is actually doing..

27

Steve LaBonne 06.05.12 at 6:52 pm

It’s far easier, Mr. LaBonne, to call me names than to address the evidence about what the US is actually doing..

It would be a good idea if you did that, yes. But you’d rather mouth propaganda.

28

rf 06.05.12 at 6:53 pm

Only someone starting from a pretty privileged position could really think that there would be no difference between a Romney and Obama Presidency, for reasons mentioned by alkali @ 5 (I would add healthcare and presume that “not” isn’t meant to be there?)
No Bush in 2001 then probably no tax cuts and possibly no Iraq. By all means don’t vote, but please don’t moralise when you do it.

29

ascholl 06.05.12 at 6:54 pm

I’m probably casting a left-wing protest vote, but I’m tempted to vote for Romney under the theory that while he’d certainly be worse, folks on the left might form a meaningful opposition to some of our more horrible policies if Obama isn’t pulling the trigger.

30

bystander 06.05.12 at 6:54 pm

I’m not sure that The Raven‘s argument doesn’t work just as well for anyone who lives in a “safe red state.” If you’re already confident that you know how your state’s electoral votes are going to go, then it seems to me that voting outside the dominant party lines costs little. Me? I live in a purple state. To be honest, I’m not all that convinced that my vote matters any more than The Raven‘s. But, even if it does, I’m still not voting for Obama. I can’t be complicit in the execution of current US foreign policy. I may have some ideas about what Romney will do, but I know what Obama has done.

31

MPAVictoria 06.05.12 at 6:54 pm

Chris you are showing your ignorance of American politics when you say things like “Romney is clearly remarkably close in political belief to Obama”.

32

rea 06.05.12 at 6:55 pm

It would be a good idea if you did that, yes. But you’d rather mouth propaganda.

You must be reading the wrong comment–that multi-paragraph discussion of Greenwald’s evidence is from me.

33

MPAVictoria 06.05.12 at 6:56 pm

“I’m probably casting a left-wing protest vote, but I’m tempted to vote for Romney under the theory that while he’d certainly be worse, folks on the left might form a meaningful opposition to some of our more horrible policies if Obama isn’t pulling the trigger.”

Because that plan worked so well in 2000?

34

hartal 06.05.12 at 6:57 pm

I think that I remembering a very good criticism of the use of drones by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker? Also there was a good piece by Stanford historian Priya Satia.

35

LFC 06.05.12 at 7:00 pm

Clifford Bob at Duck of Minerva had a strongly worded post on this issue, which I linked to at my blog.

I oppose the extensive use of drones. The 16-year-old son of Al-Awlaki is only one, no doubt, of quite a few “collateral” innocent victims. As mpowell points out above, though, Bush’s invasion of Iraq caused a lot more civilian casualties than drones have. This doesn’t excuse the Obama policy but given what Romney has said about a range of things, I have relatively little hesitation in voting for Obama. Romney would be much worse.

36

hartal 06.05.12 at 7:00 pm

Democracy Now 3/28/12

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to President Obama defending the use of drones. During a so-called virtual interview that was conducted online in January, he also acknowledged the U.S. was carrying out drone strikes inside Pakistan. Obama made the comment after he was asked how he feels about the large number of civilians killed by drones since he took office.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want to make sure that people understand, actually, drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part, they have been very precise precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied. So, I think that there’s this perception somehow that we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly. This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases, and so on. It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama. Ahmed Rashid, veteran Pakistani journalist?

AHMED RASHID: Well, you know, the drones have antagonized Pakistan enormously, and the Afghans also. And in fact, one of the very difficult things in this new dialogue between Pakistan and the Americans is going to be the issue of drones. Pakistan will say, “No more drones.” The Americans will say, “I’m sorry. We’re going to continue doing it.” And this tension is probably going to remain, for the time being.

The problem with the drones and the way that Obama has used them, as compared to the Bush administrations, has been that Obama has literally turned the drones into a strategy. The drones were always a tactic. They were a tactic which was to be matched by a political strategy of how to deal with—and a military strategy, of how to deal with the Taliban, how to deal with Pakistan. Now, by turning the drones into the only, basically, strategy to deal with the Taliban living in Pakistan, having this deadlock with the Pakistani authorities about a political strategy of how to deal with them, obviously the drones have intensified. They’re much more. They’re being used much more.

And now, you know, we have the CIA using these drones to carry out what are called signature strikes, which are the killing of large numbers of fighters, and it’s a hit-or-miss operation. You don’t really know if those fighters are, all of them, fighters. Some of them might be kids hanging around, you know. And any gathering of tribals in the tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the border is deemed the—to receive a signature strike, which could kill 20, 30, 40 people. And not all of them—some of them may be fighters, but not all of them usually are. A lot of civilians are killed that way.

37

flyingrodent 06.05.12 at 7:03 pm

I’ve always enjoyed this idea that if you take an action with a very likely outcome – civilian deaths – and publicly say well, we are aiming at military targets and regret civilian deaths, this is in some way dramatically different to just blowing up civilians more or less at random.

Clearly, people who know they’re going to kill large numbers of civilians while, say, assassinating their 190th consecutive No.2 Al Qaeda guy, but then do it anyway, very clearly regard civilians deaths as an acceptable cost. We did not mean for it to happen, even though we knew full-well that it would happen. We regret civilian deaths, but we do not intend to stop killing civilians in large numbers.

Thus, something – veneer of military/humanitarian drivel drawing a discreet veil over the unacceptable. IIRC, the Russians were very big on this kind of waffle when they were rubbing out thousands upon thousands of Chechens, and not many fell from it back then.

So. It’s usually about this time some joker barrels through the door and starts demanding that everybody acknowledge our moral superiority to the Taliban or something equally useful.

38

Red 06.05.12 at 7:07 pm

Two words: Supreme Court.

39

rea 06.05.12 at 7:13 pm

I’ve always enjoyed this idea that if you take an action with a very likely outcome – civilian deaths – and publicly say well, we are aiming at military targets and regret civilian deaths, this is in some way dramatically different to just blowing up civilians more or less at random.

The Wikipedia article on Operation Overlord estimates that 13,632–19,890 French civilians were killed or injured by Allied operations in the battle. Was that an Allied war crime?

40

William Timberman 06.05.12 at 7:15 pm

This isn’t murder.

Yes, it is. Unless you re-define the word. Shall we henceforth call it murder (D), and agree that it’s something else entirely? Not bloody likely.

Okay, this is murder, but we got health care.

Did we?

Well, yes, it’s murder, but no President could have avoided committing murder given the fact that at this point in time, any President would be constrained by a) public opinion, and b) the military-industrial complex.

So…?

We’re the artists of the possible. Spare us your moralizing.

We’re are the nattering nabobs of negativism, the rootless cosmopolitans, the folks who demand to see the omelette for which so many eggs have been broken. Put your fingers in you ears if you don’t want to hear us.

41

Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 7:15 pm

Rea, There are organized groups of people who regard themeselves at war with the United States…,

Remind me why these people regard themselves at war with the United States, please. Is it because they asked for evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in response to the demand to extradite him 10 years ago, but instead got bombed, invaded, and occupied for 10 years? Maybe apologies are in order, rather than hellfire missiles.

42

Chris Bertram 06.05.12 at 7:16 pm

OK time for some pushback:

1. On my use of “desert”. I’m just trying to emphasise direction of fit here. What Obama has done means that he no longer has the right to expect the support of anyone who cares about human rights. It doesn’t mean that, for them, voting for him is necessarily the wrong thing to do. That’s all I was trying to say.

2. On Obama-Romney. Look, I know they talk different talks, but _in office_ Romney pushed essentially the same healthcare plan as Obama. Obama has governed as a moderate conservative; Romney governed Massachusetts as a moderate conservative. Obviously Romney needs to make immoderate noises to please the Republican base. But I expect he would also govern as a moderate conservative domestically and an American nationalist externally. Obviously, I could be wrong.

3. rea. The redefinition of “combatant” to include any adult male who happens to be in the vicinity strikes me as fundamental here. Non-combatant immunity is a basic principle of just conduct in war: Obama’s redefinition abandons that principle.

43

Shelby 06.05.12 at 7:18 pm

The Nation has an article up today,

44

Shelby 06.05.12 at 7:19 pm

45

MPAVictoria 06.05.12 at 7:20 pm

“On Obama-Romney. Look, I know they talk different talks, but in office Romney pushed essentially the same healthcare plan as Obama. Obama has governed as a moderate conservative; Romney governed Massachusetts as a moderate conservative. Obviously Romney needs to make immoderate noises to please the Republican base. But I expect he would also govern as a moderate conservative domestically and an American nationalist externally. Obviously, I could be wrong.”

Yes… yes you could be. May I suggest reading Lawyers, Guns and Money on this topic? It has been covered extensively.

46

LFC 06.05.12 at 7:20 pm

rea @23
From what I’ve read and as the OP suggests (and I haven’t read Greenwald on this), there may be some official wordplay going on re all males of military age killed in a drone strike being presumptively counted as combatants, absent evidence to the contrary. But for me the really important question is not whether the strikes violate the laws of war but whether their effectiveness against legitimate targets (Al Qaeda and Taliban and Haqqani network, etc fighters) is not outweighed by their costs in terms of both (unintended) civilian casualties and damage to views of the US among, e.g., Pakistanis and Yemenis generally. I think this is a question on which reasonable people can disagree. A careful, discriminating use of drones in particular situations may be justified, but the current approach seems to me to go beyond that.

47

rea 06.05.12 at 7:22 pm

they asked for evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in response to the demand to extradite him 10 years ago

The man had issued press releases taking credit, but that’s not good enough, evidently.

48

R.Mutt 06.05.12 at 7:23 pm

I’ve also been monitoring various liberal sites and blogs for signs of a reaction and not seeing much (please correct that impression in comments).

Atrios has been critical of the flying robots for a long time, and Stephen Colbert was good on the “combatant” redefinition a few days ago: http://www.colbertnation.com/full-episodes/thu-may-31-2012-jack-hitt

49

flyingrodent 06.05.12 at 7:25 pm

The Wikipedia article on Operation Overlord estimates that 13,632–19,890 French civilians were killed or injured by Allied operations in the battle. Was that an Allied war crime?

Not a lawyer, but I think the yardstick is – and I paraphrase – “Was it done in pursuit of an achievable and useful military outcome?” Which would make Overlord “Not a war crime”.

Whether blowing shit up from Afghanistan to Yemen and back for a decade in an effort to murder evil out of existence with a vast civilian bodycount is achievable or useful… Well, I hope you can see the difference.

Here ends another episode of “Why the vast civilian bodycount of World War 2 can’t be used to grant carte blanche for modern day civilian-murdering tactics”. Join us in about five minutes for a repeat showing.

50

Watson Ladd 06.05.12 at 7:26 pm

Chris, if you identify a legitimate military target in the vicinity of Sederot, then I will concede that targeted attacks against that facility with the side effect of shelling civilians are legitimate acts of war. Of course, so will the resultant leveling of the vicinity of the rocket launcher. As several commentators have noted above holding that civilian deaths in war, whether by mistaken targeting or deliberate assessment of the value of the target (16 Swedish civilians were killed to prevent Hitler from getting the nuclear bomb) are universally unacceptable amounts to permitting insurgent forces mixed with civilians to carry out attacks unmolested. Perhaps we should simply execute a prisoner at Guantanamo every time the Taliban attack a civilian hospital or school. This would be well within the laws of war, but somehow I doubt most of the commentators would be okay with it.

51

Steve LaBonne 06.05.12 at 7:27 pm

Well, yes, it’s murder, but no President could have avoided committing murder given the fact that at this point in time, any President would be constrained by a) public opinion, and b) the military-industrial complex.

So…?

So, we’d better realize that while who we vote for for president is important, the problem is a lot bigger and deeper than that. (That’s in no way to excuse what Obama is doing.) It will not be solved by any amount of focus on presidential politics. You know all this better than I do, of course, so I’m a bit surprised that you wrote the above.

52

rf 06.05.12 at 7:28 pm

“But I expect he would also govern as a moderate conservative domestically and an American nationalist externally. “

I really don’t see why. Romney’s supposed moderation in Massachusetts should be even more alarming as it shows he’s willing to govern as his base demands. Look at his base now. Do you really think that, at the very least, health care reform won’t be stopped dead for another generation? That means a lot to the people affected.
And have you seen his foreign policy advisers?

53

Ian 06.05.12 at 7:28 pm

Look, I know they talk different talks, but in office Romney pushed essentially the same healthcare plan as Obama. Obama has governed as a moderate conservative; Romney governed Massachusetts as a moderate conservative.

Let me fix that last clause: Romney, working with a Democratic legislature, governed Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the country, as a moderate conservative.

What happened in MA is absolutely no indication of what a President Romney would do with a Republican Congress behind him. Plus, as always: Supreme Court.

54

Pascal Leduc 06.05.12 at 7:29 pm

Maybe a political philosopher could help me with this but are people who don’t vote for the ruling party really not complicit in their governments actions? After all they are still materially supporting these actions through the taxes.

In that lens It really pushes for lots of participation in primaries and elections themselves because there is no easy way out of your ethical obligations.

55

rea 06.05.12 at 7:30 pm

for me the really important question is not whether the strikes violate the laws of war but whether their effectiveness against legitimate targets (Al Qaeda and Taliban and Haqqani network, etc fighters) is not outweighed by their costs in terms of both (unintended) civilian casualties and damage to views of the US among, e.g., Pakistanis and Yemenis generally. I think this is a question on which reasonable people can disagree.

Exactly right. Just because I don’t see any evidence that Obama is a murderer or violating the laws of war doesn’t mean I think all these attacks are necesaarily good ideas.

56

Plume 06.05.12 at 7:33 pm

There is talk on another thread about Nazi versus Stalinist murder of non-combatants. One link to a NYRB article indicates that total murders were roughly equal between the two regimes. Which led me to think about something missing from that conversation, nationally:

For just two American wars, Korea and Vietnam, non-combatant (Korean and Vietnamese) deaths are estimated at between 6 and 7 million. That is roughly half the number now attributed to either the Nazis or Stalin. Yes, there are differing circumstances, motivations and intent for each murderous state. And, obviously, one death is one too many. So it isn’t about numbers per se . . . .

But to the dead, there is no difference. It doesn’t matter if the supposed “good guys” did the killing or not. The result is the absolute end of life for that one and the many.

Should we not face the fact of our own murderous ways? And, of course, the above is just for two wars. We can and should also look at the genocide of Native tribes. We can and should look at the enslavement, lynchings, torture and murder of African-Americans.

Bring all of this up to date and include the drone strikes. Isn’t it about time we face up to our own bloody history and present? Isn’t it about time we stop believing in the myth of our innocence and righteousness?

57

js. 06.05.12 at 7:34 pm

Sure, it’s pretty rough voting for someone who should be tried for war crimes. But this isn’t exactly a new problem, is it? To partly echo Barry Freed @16, how many genuinely dovish Democratic presidents have we had (or Congresses, etc.)? Maybe Carter, but at least in the postwar period, that’s pretty much it. (And if you read Said’s account in Covering Islam, the Carter administration’s handling of the situation in Iran appears to be epically awful.)

So I’ve pretty much always thought that you vote strictly on domestic issues, because no matter what you do—vote D, vote R, vote Protest, bury head in sand, etc.—people in poor countries around the world are fucked.

58

Earwig 06.05.12 at 7:37 pm

“you will always kill more civilians if that’s your raison d’etre than if it’s incidental”

I will leave aside the tendentious characterization of Palestinian and Israeli motives (well, not entirely — it’s crap), and just say no, you’re wrong about the outcomes.

You will always kill more civilians if you have the preponderance of force and power.

That’s why one side has in fact killed far more civilians than the other.

59

John Quiggin 06.05.12 at 7:38 pm

Ian @53 is right. It’s safe to assume that Romney in office, and dealing with a Republican Congress, possibly with a majority in both houses, will be a lot worse than Obama. That strengthens the case for lesser-evilism, but it’s still a hard one.

60

William Timberman 06.05.12 at 7:40 pm

I’m not focusing on Presidential politics; quite the opposite, in fact. Let someone else win the raffle to have dinner with Barack and Michelle. Let someone else conduct our sophist symphonies on the Laws of War. Let someone else explain the relativity of evils. They don’t need either my permission or my collusion. I’ve got other fish to fry.

61

Donald Johnson 06.05.12 at 7:41 pm

“Here ends another episode of “Why the vast civilian bodycount of World War 2 can’t be used to grant carte blanche for modern day civilian-murdering tactics”. Join us in about five minutes for a repeat showing.”

Yeah. I wonder how wars and/or civilian killings have been justified by bad WWII analogies?

I’m not sure if I could find it now, but on Hamas I’m pretty sure I’ve read where a Hamas spokesperson claimed that Hamas wasn’t targeting civilians with its rocket fire. And you can see how the argument would g0–Israel kills Palestinians with impunity and keeps Gaza under siege and so rocket fire is the only means of fighting back and isn’t it a shame that their rockets aren’t very accurate, but nobody wants to give Hamas drones so they could target Israeli leaders. (I’ve also seen someone defend Hezbollah using similar logic, but I don’t know if Hezbollah itself claims its rocket fire was aimed at military targets.)

Sooner or later some group like Hamas might have drone technology. What a sigh of relief we can all breathe when everyone can fight wars in a civilized fashion.

62

John Quiggin 06.05.12 at 7:44 pm

rea- can you support your claim that Greenwald said Al-Awlaki’s son was with an al-Qaeda group? It’s not in his original article

http://www.salon.com/2011/10/20/the_killing_of_awlakis_16_year_old_son/

and I haven’t seen it since. Nor has there been, AFAIK, any such claim made by “US officials” . Of course, such a claim would be off-the-record and uncheckable in any case.

63

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 7:49 pm

56

Those figures seem high to me. I would also like to see a breakdown. Presumably those are fatalities caused by all sides. So there would be three levels. Deaths caused by enemies of the US, deaths caused by allies of the US, and deaths caused by US forces. But, sure the US contributed to the death of millions of civilians in Korea and Vietnam.

64

Frank Stevens 06.05.12 at 7:51 pm

Keep in mind that we have no more assurance that Willard will do what he says he will do than we had that Barack would actually do what he said he would do. The sad fact is, these folks are all pathological liars. To vote for Obama, whom we know doesn’t mind killing people because some shadowy bunch of spooks tells him they are bad, rather than Romney, who presumably is just as lacking in basic intuitive skills, is to make a choice based on the leaves at the bottom of a teacup or on the fall of the tarot cards. The fact is, the empire is about to fall. All the signs are there: The adoption of Christianity as the national religion, the hiring of mercenaries to fight the empire’s wars, and the refusal of the rich to pay their fair share of taxes. It’s all there in Gibbon.

65

Steve LaBonne 06.05.12 at 7:51 pm

William, I know those things about you from many other comments- that’s exactly why I was puzzled by the”so?”. It doesn’t excuse Obama to point out that any politician who could get elected in this climate would also cater to the populace’s (and military-industrial complex’s) taste for killing scary brown people- it just points out how morally toxic that climate is and what a huge job it will be to even begin to detoxify it.

66

rea 06.05.12 at 7:53 pm

For just two American wars, Korea and Vietnam, non-combatant (Korean and Vietnamese) deaths are estimated at between 6 and 7 million.

You’ve overstated those casualties rather significantly (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualty_ratio), and attributing all those civilian casualties to US action seems a bit . . . unwarranted.

67

christian_h 06.05.12 at 7:53 pm

Thanks for posting this Chris.

68

ezra abrams 06.05.12 at 7:56 pm

steve @2
I agree that the majority of Americans are ok (partial confirmation – Obama’s people wouldn’t have cooperated if they thought it was a negative)
which makes the depressing echo chamber only writing of Greenwald, and the dozens of other liberal bloggers, so depressing: they make no effort what soever to reach out beyond people who already agree with them.
I’m not sure what that reach would look like, but it would include acknowledgements that there are evil people who want to kill my family; Obama has a sworn duty to stop this; here are some alternate measures; what we have done is not an excuse (2 wrongs don’t make a right)
What is also depressing is the illustration of what a net neg the liberal blogosphere is; one NYT article does more then 1,000 bloggers, cause the nyt people go out and do something; if 999 of the liberal bloggers all sent $5 to greenwald, he could hire someoone and do some real reporting

69

rea 06.05.12 at 7:57 pm

rea- can you support your claim that Greenwald said Al-Awlaki’s son was with an al-Qaeda group?

My claim, more precisely, was that the article linked by Greenwald said that. Go to the Greenwald article linked by Chris in his post, http://www.salon.com/2012/06/04/obama_again_bombs_mourners/singleton/

and see the article Greenwald links in support of his statement, “Of course, killing family members of bombing targets is nothing new for this President: let’s recall the still-unresolved question of why Anwar Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman, was killed by a U.S. drone attack in Yemen two weeks after his father was killed.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/anwar-al-awlakis-family-speaks-out-against-his-sons-deaths/2011/10/17/gIQA8kFssL_story.html

70

Peter Erwin 06.05.12 at 7:58 pm

Plume @ 56
For just two American wars, Korea and Vietnam, non-combatant (Korean and Vietnamese) deaths are estimated at between 6 and 7 million. That is roughly half the number now attributed to either the Nazis or Stalin

No, it isn’t. The accounts in the other thread, particularly the LRB blog post, were for deliberate killings of civilians, and excluded all “normal” civilian war casualties from WW2. (Total civilian deaths during WW2 are in the range of 40-50 million.)

71

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 7:58 pm

65

Rea’s figures look a lot more realistic than Plume’s. So for Korea there is a total civilian toll of just over 1.5 million and for Vietnam 2 million (if we use the figures from the SRV government). That is about half of Plume’s 6 to 7 million figure. The more difficult part would be figuring out the ratio of US and US Allied killings to those on the other side.

72

RobZ 06.05.12 at 8:00 pm

From the WP article Greenwald linked to:

“Yemeni officials said the dead from the strike included Ibrahim al-Banna, the Egyptian media chief for al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, and also a brother of Fahd al-Quso, a senior al-Qaeda operative who was indicted in New York in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden.”

73

ponce 06.05.12 at 8:04 pm

It’s hard to get upset about government actions when your guy is in charge.

Besides, Americans are all going to hell anyways for allowing 20,000 children a day die from easily preventable causes, so why worry about a few more getting taken out by our…random acts of self defense?

74

William Timberman 06.05.12 at 8:05 pm

Steve LaBonne @ 64

Ah…. I guess I’ve been guilty (once again) of being cryptic on the Internet. The So…. was intended to mean only this: If being President means that you can’t act in any meaningful way against the constraints of jingoistic popular opinion and war-mongering institutions, if, in fact, you must adopt them as your own, and if you must tell everyone moreover that you take genuine pride in having made the murderous even more cost-effective without reducing in any way its murderousness, then we don’t really need to talk about this any more. Vote or don’t vote, you’re gonna get the same shit anyway.

Read Obama’s Cairo speech, and then his speech to AIPAC. Hell, put them on facing pages and flip back and forth. Now tell me truly, is this the art of the possible, schizophrenia, or moral bankruptcy? Damned if I can tell, but I’m not going there any more.

75

Patrick 06.05.12 at 8:06 pm

I was alive and politically active during the Vietnam war and the Civil Rights movement and have remained so since. The notion that the electorate in the United States is or ever has been genuinely concerned with anyone’s human rights, as such, makes me laugh. Americans like to say that of themselves. Probably most people do.

Even if I have never voted for one of these jerks (and I haven’t) doesn’t make my hands free of blood. I’m in it, I benefit, it’s just as much my responsibility as anybody else’s.

I live in a state where a protest vote is, in a non-trivial sense, a vote for Steve King . I’d rather have Obama and drones, rather than Romney, drones and war with Iran, to say nothing of the Romney who’d sign a law making it more difficult for a woman to get contraception (for example). That isn’t inconsistent with the idea that I’d like to most American national politicians, including President Obama, face a war crimes tribunal, charged with torture, indiscriminate bombing and aggressive war. As I guy I used to climb mountains with used to say, “Little baby steps.”

The idea that the scribbling left is giving President Obama a pass on this doesn’t bear scrutiny, I don’t think. The people I read aren’t doing so. The voters–they will, probably, and that’s their fault.

76

The Raven 06.05.12 at 8:19 pm

“Romney is clearly remarkably close in political belief to Obama”

Romney does not seem to have political beliefs other than power and wealth, and perhaps a desire to redeem or even avenge his moderate Republican father, who was frozen out by the radicalization of the Republican leadership. Obama does seem to have political beliefs but, for whatever reasons, chooses to govern in all respects as a “centrist.” However, the prospect of a Republican President aligned with the radical-right Republicans in the House is frightening.

All of which probably means more food for us corvids, whoever is elected.

77

SantiagoJJJr 06.05.12 at 8:20 pm

Drone Strike Kills No. 2 in Al Qaeda: Exclusive Video!
Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was killed in a drone strike in northern Pakistan, an American official confirmed on Tuesday, in the biggest single success in the controversial campaign’s eight-year history. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbTOSJp97DM

78

Andrew Burton 06.05.12 at 8:22 pm

In general military operations, Western thought has long been governed by the double effect principle: civilian deaths or injuries as an unfortunate consequence of an otherwise legitimate act (killing enemy soldiers) is permissible, provided that the civilian casualties are not disproportionate or directly intended. So Western countries are prepared to defend actions like bombing from the air against strategic targets (civilians unfortunate casualties) and condemn direct strikes against civilians by groups labeled as terrorists.

I am firmly persuaded that a Romney administration would impose fewer checks than a second Obama administration, but the Obama administration has very few claims to moral leadership in this respect. The idea that Romney would govern as a moderate Conservative strikes me as bonkers. His party has moved several steps to the Right since 2008, and victory in 2012 won’t be followed by a dash back towards the center.

I think, like John Quiggin @59, we’re genuinely in a lesser-evil situation. I’ve been immensely disappointed by Obama’s performance on the economy, on housing, financial reform and on matters like the use of drones (plus Guantanamo, civilian trials…). Obama has governed as a pretty conservative Democrat. I still honestly think his election in November would be preferable to a Republican sweep. A 47 member Democratic Senate caucus would likely get a thorough working over for using the filibuster to block legislation that would “hasten recovery,” if it wasn’t all rammed through by Reconciliation.

79

actio 06.05.12 at 8:22 pm

“Nobel Peace Prize winner doesn’t deserve the vote of anyone who cares about human rights, even if, pragmatically they might feel they have to give it to him.”

There is a, ahem, third way!
step 1. Convince one or more would be Romney voters that Romney’s policies are terrible and that they (the voters) should abstain their votes.
step 2. Abstain your own vote, with pride, with joy and with decency intact.

80

Plume 06.05.12 at 8:26 pm

Notice the wording in the Wikipedia entry:

“The median total estimated Korean civilian deaths in the Korean War is 1,547,000″

That means there are lower and higher estimates. It doesn’t mean that the correct total is 1,547,000. I’ve seen them listed between 2-4 million, which is what I used.

They also use the word “median” when they give the totals for Vietnam. The number I’ve seen with the most consensus is 3 million. Hence the 6-7 million figure.

81

Marius 06.05.12 at 8:30 pm

I’ve also been monitoring various liberal sites and blogs for signs of a reaction and not seeing much (please correct that impression in comments).

What I heard when I read the above:

Conservatives, neo-cons, Cheney supporters need not apply. Anyone who engaged in “pearl-clutching” while Yoo/Bybee penned memos green-lighting torture and while Bush and Cheney screamed about how many bad brown people are out there, we’re looking at you. IF you’ve ever had that slight feeling of discomfort while Brennan/Holder shouted that due process doesn’t mean judicial process (IOW — just “trust us”) or that all the brown people in the target area are just militants anyway, AND you’ve been MIA, how come you haven’t piped-up like this was 2006 all over again?

Is it because escalating the use of drone attacks is part of some grander, gentler vision of foreign policy? Is it because the finger on the trigger is a D, not an R? Is it because your voice is much like your vote — meaningless? Is it because your voice has meaning and you fear that using it might put someone worse back on the beat? What else is there?

IF you never get that warm feeling in your pants when Brennan/Holder start preaching, then this message isn’t for you.

IF Brennan/Holder get your undies in a bunch and you’re finding your voice again, this message isn’t for you. It was soooooo loud around the blogosphere back in 2006, we can’t even remember how many people were mouthing off. We apologize for any confusion. It’s just that, well, the blogosphere seems so much more tranquil today, and we’re not sure why.

Oh, and btw, we still haven’t seen the Barron/Lederman memo green-lighting this campaign, but IF you were up in arms about getting the Yoo/Bybee memo out (or calling for Yoo’s firing/Bybee’s impeachment), where are you now?

82

heckblazer 06.05.12 at 8:32 pm

The basic problem is that the opposition party is pressuring the president to be even worse on human rights than he already is, e.g. by trying to broaden government detainment powers in the 2012 NDAA despite Obama’s objections and forbidding the closure of the Guantanamo detention center. Until the GOP and its supporters can get some sense knocked back in human rights are going to be a real uphill battle.

The use of the technology of “flying killer robots” strikes me as mostly irrelevant. It wouldn’t be any improvement to have human death squads running around instead.

Data Tutashkhia @ 41
“Is it because they asked for evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in response to the demand to extradite him 10 years ago, but instead got bombed, invaded, and occupied for 10 years? “

Since bin Laden at the time already had two outstanding warrants for terrorism I suspect the Taliban’s refusal to extradict him was not entirely in good faith.

rea @39:
“The Wikipedia article on Operation Overlord estimates that 13,632–19,890 French civilians were killed or injured by Allied operations in the battle. Was that an Allied war crime?”

In the specific case of the bombing of Caen it was at the least a really, really bad idea. That leveled the city and killed hundreds of civilians while barely touching the Germans outside. The cost/benefit analysis of the current US drone campaign strikes me as closer to Caen than Overlord generally.

Chris Bertram @ 42
“Look, I know they talk different talks, but in office Romney pushed essentially the same healthcare plan as Obama. Obama has governed as a moderate conservative; Romney governed Massachusetts as a moderate conservative.”

Romney is also trying to pretend his health plan never happened, which is not normal given how it’s his signature accomplishment in office[1]. Hell, Obama’s plan is basically what the Heritage Foundation proposed two decades ago, but because it passed as Obama’s plan it suddenly became a horrible unconstitutional power-grab. The current Republican party is insane, and a President Romney would unfortunately be compelled to appoint other Republicans into his administration and the judiciary. Hoping that the GOP might stop trying to destroy the country if they get back into power strikes as less than compelling to me on multiple levels.

[1] Romney has also attacked Obama for “spending too much time” at Harvard. This is really weird since not only was Romney the governor of the state Harvard is in, he also has a JD and MBA from there himself. These sort of contortions don’t inspire my confidence.

83

Plume 06.05.12 at 8:33 pm

It is also the case that civilian death estimates tend to be revised upwards over time. Governments tend to want to downplay those deaths and they make it extremely difficult for neutral bodies to get to the correct counts. Iraq and the United States have made it next to impossible to get accurate death counts for the invasion and its aftermath, and the same thing goes for Afghanistan.

We will never get accurate information from North Korea, and we’re not exactly in an era of free exchange with Vietnam.

Unfortunately, governments at war, on all sides, want to hide the horrors of war to the degree possible. It is not in their best interest to be forthcoming — from either the position of “loser” or “winner.”

IMO, “official” death counts in war are always far lower than in actuality, and this is generally seen over time. Again, those death counts are almost universally increased through the decades.

(Exceptions occur, like Dresden and, as the NYRB article shows, the Stalinist period. But those are exceptions.)

My figures for Korea and Vietnam are likely “conservative.”

84

actio 06.05.12 at 8:34 pm

Since some above are now enganging in “death math”, counting and comparing the number of civilians killed in various ways in different wars, keep in mind that the most lethal aspect of wars lies in their opportunity costs. The massive resources wasted on the Iraq war could alternatively have saved many millions worldwide from easily preventable lethal risks e.g. malaria.

85

Santiago 06.05.12 at 8:40 pm

You just don’t understand. It was evil when BUSH did it.

It’s different when our guys do it.

86

Barry Freed 06.05.12 at 8:44 pm

Another consequence of the over-reliance on drone strikes in addition to being a great inducement to recruitment is wiping out the moderates (Al-Qa’ida has moderates you say?All things are relative, but yes, yes they do). And they are being replaced by younger more reckless and more extremist members.

http://allthingscounterterrorism.com/2012/06/06/some-quick-thoughts-on-reports-abu-yahya-al-libi-has-been-killed/

87

Platonist 06.05.12 at 8:44 pm

I ask this purely out of curiosity, since I’m always surprised by how many people are sympathetic to utilitarian arguments (higher than I expect) and by how many people are very unsympathetic to “vote the lesser evil argument” (lower than I expect).

Is there an important difference between standard utilitarianism cases (pick your favorite trolley argument) and voting for the lesser evil? Do a significant number of people accept the former but reject the latter? Is that consistent–or is it a case of being a Kantian when it’s convenient or feels good?

88

Barry 06.05.12 at 8:44 pm

Chris, how about raw fatigue?

89

rea 06.05.12 at 8:44 pm

The redefinition of “combatant” to include any adult male who happens to be in the vicinity strikes me as fundamental here.

But note: (1) that “redefinition” is for casualty count purposes, and is not used for targeting, (2) there is a qualification you left out, namely, unless there is evidence to the contrary, and (3) it is not entirely unreasonable to asume, for example, that if you have 7 men riding in a vehicle in the back country of Yemen, and two are identifiable as al Qaeda leaders, that the others are likely al Qaeda too, and not, say, hitchhikers.

Now, if the policy was that every adult male in (for example) Shabwah Province was presumptively a terrorist for purposes of targeting, that would indeed be a criminal policy. But there is no evience of anything like that.

90

rf 06.05.12 at 8:47 pm

In relation to deaths in Vietnam and Korea, John Tirman wrote a decent book called The Deaths of Others, and came up with figures (I think, I dont have it here but its on the below clip) of 3 million died in Korea, 2-4 in Vietnam and 1 million in Iraq

http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/player.aspx?id=1254

91

John Quiggin 06.05.12 at 9:01 pm

rea, so in fact you’re relying on “Yemeni officials”, presumably the same ones who claimed responsibility for strikes that were actually undertaken by the US.

92

rea 06.05.12 at 9:08 pm

John, I’m relying on the article to which Glenn Greenwald referred us.

93

leederick 06.05.12 at 9:11 pm

“This is why NO politician who could conceivably win the presidency will be any better. Changing this is going to be a long, hard struggle…”

“Ian @53 is right. It’s safe to assume that Romney in office, and dealing with a Republican Congress, possibly with a majority in both houses, will be a lot worse than Obama.”

How are you so sure? George W. Bush was a great deal better than Obama on drone strikes. That’s a campaign which has Obama’s signature all over it and which he has personally stepped up. I do think personnel makes a difference, and Romney might be an improvement.

94

Omega Centauri 06.05.12 at 9:12 pm

I’m pretty much with LaBonne here. Now, I’m not unconditionally against drones, with enough care and discretion the occasional strike might pass the ratio of innocents to dangerous badguys that I would deem reasonable. Its just that we’ve slipped quite a ways down the slippery slope. But the attitudes of most of the public are even further down that slope, and loud protests are likely to simply marginalize the left, and anyone who can be branded with the label. So I don’t know how to start making a difference.

About the Romney/Obama diffs. Character-wise I think they are very similar, they are political opportunists, and going along with what the power structure (and public opinion) wants takes precendence over principles. The problem is Romney will be trying to please a very hardline constituency. Also he will appoint more corporatists to the supreme court -but maybe there are already so many that it is a hopeless case.

A few on the left have been complaining. I read them and agree, but I don’t know how to move public opinion, which seems pretty bloody minded. Its almost as if collateral civilian casualties are a feature, not a bug (i.e. too many have absorbed the idea, that they are ALL bad guys).

95

Omega Centauri 06.05.12 at 9:16 pm

I don’t think we can make the statement that Obama’s use of drones is worse than Bushes. Theres a bit of apples and oranges, the number of, and capabilities of drones are improving. And that makes them appear increasingly to be a universal hammer, as in I have a hammer, so everything looks like a nail, pound pound pound.

96

phosphorious 06.05.12 at 9:23 pm

I’m torn. I have no desire to vote for Obama given his record on human rights. But two points can be made:

1) If Obama loses, it won’t register in the public mind as a loss for conservative war-mongering. Instead conservatives will crow about their victory over an “appeaser,” and take their victory as permission to invade anywhere for any reason. That means Iran.

2) The last time there was a protest vote by the left against the mainstream candidate, the result was George W. Bush, easily the worst president in history. . . orders of magnitude worse than Obama on any issue you care to name. People on the leftdidn;t get behind Gore thinking “how bad could it be?” The answer turned out to be “As bad as it gets.”

I probably won’t vote for Obama in November. . . but these two factors keep me up at night.

97

leederick 06.05.12 at 9:28 pm

“I don’t think we can make the statement that Obama’s use of drones is worse than Bushes. Theres a bit of apples and oranges, the number of, and capabilities of drones are improving.”

As I see it Obama went into the 2008 presidential debates explicitly saying he would step up drone warfare. And I don’t know of any huge improvement in capabilities between 2008 and 2009. It looks to me like he drove the change.

98

mpowell 06.05.12 at 9:38 pm

Platonist @87:

Is there an important difference between standard utilitarianism cases (pick your favorite trolley argument) and voting for the lesser evil? Do a significant number of people accept the former but reject the latter? Is that consistent—or is it a case of being a Kantian when it’s convenient or feels good?

It’s interesting that you bring this up. In my opinion, it is a very confused person that thinks these two things are the same, but maybe some people will argue that they are similar. I reject utilitarianism but I absolutely support voting for the lesser evil. If you want to talk about Kant, how can voting for the lesser evil possibly involve the exploitation of people? The voting process is not a person. My take on Kant would be that it is perfectly acceptable to use non-human objects and processes as a means to obtain an end in a way that would be unacceptable with an actual human. This is why all the moralizing about casting votes is so strange to me.

99

christian_h 06.05.12 at 9:45 pm

Anyone who claims that they know for sure that US attacks in Yemen, Afghanistan, or Pakistan have killed “terrorists” are blowing smoke, to put it mildly. They don’t know who was killed (today’s “number 2″, for example has now been killed for the second time – the first time being in 2009 – which should give anyone pause), they don’t know if the people the officials claim were killed are “terrorists”, and even if they are they don';t know if those “terrorists” are fighting anyone but our puppet government in Yemen. Their whole “knowledge” relies exclusively on what the imperial leakers told them, which they take at face value.

It’s one thing to argue for a vote for Obama. But if you do so (I probably agree to be clear) you should be able to do so without pulling the wool over your own eyes and refuse to face the truth: we have the choice between a murderer and war criminal, and a future murderer and war criminal in November.

100

Platonist 06.05.12 at 9:48 pm

Okay, assuming that drone warfare and illegal, unwarranted wars are both very bad things (and they are, of course):

1. Isn’t conventional warfare much, much worse? (under 1000 civilians killed by drones, Iraq war: hundreds of thousands killed, upward of a million related deaths)

2. Isn’t it true that refusing both conventional warfare and drone strikes is not a practically live option for the administration, making the drone escalation the only alternative to expanded conventional warfare?

3. Even if it is more of a political expediency than a necessity (Obama does seem to be a true believer in moderate hawk policy), isn’t his decision to, for standard utilitarian reasons, sacrifice hundreds of innocents for the (mis)perceived greater good immeasurably better than the alternative policy of the conservatives to sacrifice hundreds of thousands for the sake or a misperceived greater good?

4. Are you really not going to pull that trolley switch?

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rf 06.05.12 at 9:54 pm

But Drone War isn’t a replacement for conventional war, its an appendage.
The proper utilitarian argument (I guess) would be comparing it to a special operations attack

102

Jason 06.05.12 at 10:01 pm

The following are logically consistent:

1. Obama has been terrible on many issues.
2. Overall, Romney will be incomparably worse.

Both of these premises ought to be obvious to anyone with both a progressive prospective and the slightest acquaintance with American politics. (For example, anyone who knows the age of Ruth Bader Ginsborg and the recent history of Supreme Court decisions. Or, for that matter, anyone familiar with the economic views of the current Republican party.)

Many progressives who have had the truth of 1. impressed upon them repeatedly by Glenn Greenwald posts seem unable to grasp the truth of 2., or to think through what it implies about how they ought to vote. I’m not sure why this is. But I suspect part of the explanation is that those of us born and raised into the unprecedented peace and prosperity enjoyed (until relatively recently) by the postwar American and western Europe middle class have trouble really feeling in their bones the truth of another observation that ought to be obvious: that no matter how bad things are, they can always get much, much worse.

And so progressives, stoked by (legitimate) outrage, can get into a frame of mind where they seriously ask themselves, “How could things be much worse than Obama?” When really this question is laughable.

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mrearl 06.05.12 at 10:12 pm

Didn’t we cross this bridge at Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki? Once you’ve decided the answer to this killing civilians thing is Yes or No, and once allow a Yes, isn’t the rest just a question of degree? And thus, ultimately, hair-splitting?

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eddie 06.05.12 at 10:13 pm

The real issue for me is not whether drone strikes are counterproductive in that they generate more recruits for the terrorists than they kill genuine terrorists. It’s that this counterproductivity is the point. The goal is to have an endless supply of enemies to keep the millitary industrial complex going.

105

bob mcmanus 06.05.12 at 10:15 pm

“How could things be much worse than Obama?”

No, I am well aware of the stakes this election. And the next midterm, and the one after that. What will 4 more years of the last 4 years give us in 2016?

My questions however are “How can things get better?” and “Will voting for Obama make anything get better?” That may seem really weird to you.

Not one of the Obama apologists have made any sort of desperate argument that voting for Obama will improve anything, domestically or internationally.

Trust me, that’s a position that will get you a landslide in November. Total fail.

106

Jason 06.05.12 at 10:17 pm

One addendum:

Romney is clearly remarkably close in political belief to Obama, but will be beholden to the crazy Republican right, as Obama is not.

I believe this is clearly wrong. It’s certainly a mistake to point to Romney’s record in Massachusetts as better evidence of his “political belief” than what he now campaigns on.

But what he believes is not even the important question. The important question is what he will do. It is a dead certainty that one thing he will not do is make a radical break to the left from the actions and agenda of recent Republican office holders and big-ticket political donors.

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eddie 06.05.12 at 10:18 pm

Dresden, hiroshima and nagasaki had the aim of ending the war. And they did reach that goal. Obama in the same situation would have tried to keep it going longer. As it happened they had to invent the korean conflict.

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christian_h 06.05.12 at 10:18 pm

No Jason, the problem is quite the opposite: that liberals refuse to challenge in any meaningful way the terrible things being done because they are paralyzed by the fear that it will be worse. We are never talking about the mere act of voting – it’s always about the question if we as leftists should subordinate our politics to the electoral purposes of the Democratic party.

Whether we are talking about the demobilization of the huge immigration rights movement that sprung up some years ago by Democratic-allied organizations endorsing half-assed “immigration reform”, or about the way major progressive and liberal groups related to the anti-war movement (not saying they destroyed it, we did that job ourselves quite well) – it’s not about who an individual votes for. It’s about political structures, about self-censorship in election years (ie, all the time), about the channelling of real political activism into the replacement activities called elections (look at Wisconsin – in the best case, a Republican union buster will be replaced by a Democratic union buster – that’s what the union leaderships demobilized the movement for).

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bob mcmanus 06.05.12 at 10:22 pm

1968, 1980, 1992 are better comparisons the 2000.

After four years of Romney there is, I think, a good chance to get something better in 2016. If we survive it.

After four more years of Obama we are going to get someone much worse than Romney. Believe it. And we won’t survive that.

Those are the real stakes.

110

mrearl 06.05.12 at 10:24 pm

“Dresden, hiroshima and nagasaki had the aim of ending the war.”

You have answered my question about hair-splitting in the affirmative.

111

Ian 06.05.12 at 10:28 pm

George W. Bush was a great deal better than Obama on drone strikes. That’s a campaign which has Obama’s signature all over it and which he has personally stepped up. I do think personnel makes a difference, and Romney might be an improvement.

Bush may have been somewhat “better” than Obama on drone strikes. But no one would seriously argue that Bush was “better” than Obama on military action in general.

112

Jason 06.05.12 at 10:35 pm

Not one of the Obama apologists have made any sort of desperate argument that voting for Obama will improve anything, domestically or internationally.

Probably a second-term Obama presidency won’t “improve” anything. I’m saying that it should be obvious that a Romney presidency will be much worse than an Obama presidency. This can be true even if an Obama presidency is bad.

That is the sum total of my “desperate argument” for voting for Obama, which you don’t think has been made. Admittedly, there is an unstated premise, which is that which outcomes are better or worse is a factor relevant to decisions. Perhaps you do not accept this.

The idea that anything in this vicinity amounts to “apologism” for Obama does suggest you are thinking about voting differently, as a referendum on Obama’s moral goodness. Personally, I don’t know the guy, and I don’t believe virtue is remotely the best determinant about how political actors behave. So I don’t give a damn. I care about what happens next being less horrible overall.

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Ian 06.05.12 at 10:36 pm

After four years of Romney there is, I think, a good chance to get something better in 2016.

I cannot imagine why anyone would think this. Clinton was much better than Bush I and Reagan, but much worse than Carter. Carter was much better than Ford and Nixon, but much worse than LBJ (excluding Vietnam). Every time the Dems lose the presidency they return in a more conservative form.

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Jason 06.05.12 at 10:42 pm

No Jason, the problem is quite the opposite: that liberals refuse to challenge in any meaningful way the terrible things being done because they are paralyzed by the fear that it will be worse. We are never talking about the mere act of voting – it’s always about the question if we as leftists should subordinate our politics to the electoral purposes of the Democratic party.

In this post and thread it has been claimed that it is a hard choice for a progressive whether to vote for Obama over Romney. This is self-evidently a claim about the “mere act of voting”. It is the claim I was addressing.

I agree that how you vote does not exhaust your options as a citizen in the political sphere. Of course. Protest, organize. Don’t subordinate.

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Substance McGravitas 06.05.12 at 10:45 pm

The idea that anything in this vicinity amounts to “apologism” for Obama does suggest you are thinking about voting differently, as a referendum on Obama’s moral goodness.

Right. It isn’t necessarily apologism to say Obama is a better pick then Romney. It could as easily be despair.

But I expect he would also govern as a moderate conservative domestically and an American nationalist externally.

He is far less likely to veto bills the kooks dream up. It’s been pretty obvious that Mitt will say anything at any time, so you have to figure out who he’s going to pander to. The Massachusetts constituency differs from the national one.

116

Chris Bertram 06.05.12 at 10:48 pm

_so you have to figure out who he’s going to pander to_

Yes, that’s why in the OP, I wrote “but will be beholden to the crazy Republican right, as Obama is not.”

117

eddie 06.05.12 at 10:49 pm

You have answered my question about hair-splitting in the affirmative.

Not really. There’s still a world of difference between an insincerely stated aim and a goal achieved by those who largely wouldn’t have thought to want otherwise.

118

John Quiggin 06.05.12 at 10:52 pm

rea, the article to which Glenn Greenwald referred quote unnamed “Yemeni officials” who claim one member of AQ and the brother of another were killed. There are also lots of quotes from unnamed US sources with various descriptions, all of whom dance around the issue, and from the relatives of the only undisputed fatalities who deny AQ presence. The article *does not* state that AQ members were killed, it quotes some unnamed notoriously unreliable sources saying so.

119

bob mcmanus 06.05.12 at 10:54 pm

Every time the Dems lose the presidency they return in a more conservative form.

One hopes there is some kind of lower limit, at which even people like you say “Enough” and create a brutal insurgency within the Democratic Party, or a viable Third Party outside. Or non-electoral direct action. Even people like you have to have some kind of a moral bound, some level of atrocity and horror you will not countenance in your submissive wetting. See how generous I am?

Otherwise you are not really helping your cause, promising me Democrats will always be moving right. This does not hold me to the Party. Because Republicans will have to always be moving to the right of Democrats, and they will get into power. They will.

You are not even trying to promise me “Just hold on four more years and then it will get better.” You know, and I know, you can’t do it.

120

James 06.05.12 at 10:59 pm

It is not possible to win a war using the standards of zero innocent lives lost suggested by the original posts and comments. Morally speaking, that is a good standard to aspire too. Practically speaking, the drones seem to be working. The public (rightly or wrongly) feels that they are at war. This is why the complaints are not getting wider attention.

121

Asteele 06.05.12 at 11:00 pm

Democrats won the largest majorities possible in our current political enviorment, and then proceeded to not fix the problems that they were elected to fix. They didn’t do this because they were prevented, they did it because they care more about senate procedure than about fixing very real, very on going crises, or than they care about retaining political power. It’s not surprising that they’re not going to get reelected.

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Substance McGravitas 06.05.12 at 11:01 pm

Yes, that’s why in the OP, I wrote “but will be beholden to the crazy Republican right, as Obama is not.”

Sure, but that stands against the thrust of point two in the comment I quoted. I don’t think “Romney needs to make immoderate noises” is to be compared to signing horrible things into law. Some Yeats about the center not holding comes to mind.

123

Platonist 06.05.12 at 11:02 pm

rf,

The drone war is not a complete replacement, but it’s not simply an appendage of conventional warfare, either. It’s an ameliorated form. Recall how bloodthirsty the calls for conventional war with Iran were. I suspect that the ability to deliver terrorist heads via drone tactics helped slow that drumbeat. Obama is likely to continue his present course, but less likely than Romney to, in a new term, initiate war with Iran. So for the voter, yes, it is a choice: do you prefer more drone warfare or expanded conventional warfare?

I’m surprised that many in this thread are naive enough to think that they can keep their “hands clean” by not voting or protest voting. Many of them already have the blood of millions of Iraqis on their hands. If they have their way, they can add Iranian blood to their those hands. But at least nothing can stain their precious, precious souls.

I despair to see so many intelligent, well-educated posters wallowing the language of Sunday school. Who’s the most evil? How evil are they? Whose tail has more forks? How much less pointy are my horns than yours?

Forget about evil. Make the best estimate you can of the real consequences of your actions, stop fretting about the state of your own soul or the state of the President’s soul, and reduce the damn body count as best you can. Everything else is bullshit.

124

Lee A. Arnold 06.05.12 at 11:03 pm

We are surely at the beginning of an empire as Bob McManus wrote in #6 above. We are going to have robot killers like the Terminator (the first one, not the liquid guy) making ground invasions possible without any human citizens back in the homeland even knowing about it. And if we report now that the drones killed “terrorists”, then you will have no way to evaluate whether that is true or not. But the empire is not going to look anything like before, and not like anything George Lucas cooked-up either, and we have several phases to go through yet. In the meantime Romney will be worse than Obama, taking us on a shorter, rockier road to perdition. Because he will continue this “War on Terror” in the same way, plus he will capitulate, for political gain, to Tea Party economics. So anybody who might protest the road to ruin is going to have even less means than before.

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rea 06.05.12 at 11:16 pm

rea, the article to which Glenn Greenwald referred quote unnamed “Yemeni officials” who claim one member of AQ and the brother of another were killed. There are also lots of quotes from unnamed US sources with various descriptions, all of whom dance around the issue, and from the relatives of the only undisputed fatalities who deny AQ presence.

With respect, John, the family does not deny al Qaeda presence–they say they do not know.

Nasser al-Awlaki said he was told by people in the area where the airstrike occurred that the two teenagers were about to have a meal with a small group of men when they were hit. He said he did not know who else was in the group but was told that they were mostly young people.

“The others I just don’t know. Maybe they were being targeted,” Awlaki said.

And you know, if you won’t accept the statements of the Yemeni officials, there isn’t any evidence that anyone was killed at all.

126

rea 06.05.12 at 11:23 pm

I might add, the notion that the US would deliberately target this 16-year old with a drone strike is on its face implausible–not because the US or the individuals making up its government are particularly virtuous, but because it would be purposeless, and bad publicity.

127

Platonist 06.05.12 at 11:23 pm

mpowell 06.05.12 at 9:38 pm,

Voting for the lesser evil is arguably reducing others to a means: for example, voting for continued drone warfare over war with Iran reduces the victims of drone warfare as a means to a lower body count.

But my point was instead that refusing to vote for the lesser evil is a questionable kind of Kantianism: all I really care about is that I maintain a good will, and I’m willing to risk severe harm to others to preserve my good will. As Kant says (and I paraphrase very slightly): “Everything in the world is bad; only a good will is good. So screw you, everything in the world.”

However, I do completely agree with you that moralizing about vote casting makes no sense.

128

John Quiggin 06.05.12 at 11:26 pm

“And you know, if you won’t accept the statements of the Yemeni officials, there isn’t any evidence that anyone was killed at all.”

WTF? You just quoted a named source for this fact, certainly much closer to the event than “Yemeni officials”.

But, just to be clear, you’re OK with the US assassinating children, as long as unnamed “Yemeni officials” say they were hanging around with bad guys. You don’t even need an anonymous US source?

129

Substance McGravitas 06.05.12 at 11:30 pm

I might add, the notion that the US would deliberately target this 16-year old with a drone strike is on its face implausible

I don’t think it’s implausible at all.

130

John Quiggin 06.05.12 at 11:31 pm

As for the claim that this just wouldn’t be sensible and would be bad publicity, your own reaction proves the opposite.

And there are other cases where it is even clearer, such as that of 16yo Tariq Khan, killed, with a 12yo cousin, returning from a press conference where he protested against drone strikes, almost certainly as retaliation for his actions. This actually made it onto network news, but hasn’t really caused the Admin any PR problems.

131

Substance McGravitas 06.05.12 at 11:31 pm

132

eddie 06.05.12 at 11:41 pm

Would this make a difference?…

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150962340141252&set=a.10150442734531252.402605.18753646251&type=1&theater

Depends if it’s an insincerely stated aim or not, I suppose.

Also;

I might add, the notion that the US would deliberately target this 16-year old with a drone strike is on its face implausible—not because the US or the individuals making up its government are particularly virtuous, but because it would be purposeless, and bad publicity.

Using such strikes to make more enemies to maintain your profit margins is not purposeless. In this sense, it doesn’t matter if actual terrorists are killed, or even targeted. It only matters that more enemies are produced than are consumed.

133

Bruce Wilder 06.05.12 at 11:44 pm

Reality is implausible?

As a form of combative argument, it takes tendentiousness to a whole ‘nother level.

134

Santiago 06.05.12 at 11:52 pm

“so you have to figure out who he’s going to pander to

Yes, that’s why in the OP, I wrote “but will be beholden to the crazy Republican right, as Obama is not.””

You don’t think Obama has pandered to the crazy republican right with his continuation of Bush policies??? Obama looks like a guy who came into office and was sat down by the CIA and military, the pharmaceutical, oil and insurance lobbies and the defense industry and was briefed on how they were going to run the country. Eventually he accepted his role and now kind of gets off on being a warmaker.

135

Salient 06.05.12 at 11:59 pm

There’s nothing here that any of us wouldn’t have said in 2009. … I don’t know what that means either. I hate the people that rule us. I don’t hate you lot.

I don’t even hate those of us who have been conspicuously silent about this. What’s left to say? We’ve been nonsilent about this nonstop for years, and nothing’s changed, and nobody’s hardly moved. Some of us (still) argue that we should do what the terrorist who rule us want, to appease them and minimize the deaths they cause. Some of us (still) argue that we might as well be terrorists ourselves, if we’re going to take any action, even a nominal action, to help or sanction them. Some of us are just too tired to talk.

Ignoring the (D) or (R) for a moment, we’re all agreed (excepting maybe rea) on the fact that the President of the U.S. is authorizing, planning, and executing an ongoing murder campaign, ‘kill list’ and all. This has been meaningfully true for years. None of the things we’ve done so far has put a stop to it. The 2008 election didn’t put a stop to it; it got worse. The 2012 election won’t put a stop to it. Hitting each other with more sticks for another year won’t put a stop to it. So, like, what now?

136

Salient 06.06.12 at 12:00 am

On the bright side, I think I found the Higgs Boson in Substance’s mouseover text.

137

chris 06.06.12 at 12:04 am

My questions however are “How can things get better?” and “Will voting for Obama make anything get better?” That may seem really weird to you.

It does, actually. But mainly because of the context. They are the wrong questions to ask about an election.

The only meaningful question about an election is “Will the election of Candidate X produce better or worse results than the election of Candidate Y?” Because, ultimately, not only do you not vote for a policy, you don’t even vote for a candidate. You vote for a *difference between* candidates. If the candidates agree, choosing between them is meaningless. But if they don’t, it can be damn important.

I don’t know how things can get better on an issue like this. At a minimum it would take the majority of the American people, not just a few people chatting on a blog, turning against this policy.

But I do know that the defeat of Obama will be the defeat of liberalism (not just that the media will say so, but that it will actually have that effect on the politics of the country) and the next Democratic candidate will be further right (and running against an incumbent, and even if they are elected will have to start by undoing the damage of another Republican administration). That’s a recipe for disaster, not improvement.

P.S. If your vote, or lack thereof, decides the election for Romney you will almost certainly be killing more people than Obama’s drones ever have. Sure, they will be poor Americans who need medical care they can’t afford rather than Arabs standing next to the wrong man at the wrong time, but does that make their lives any less valuable? War isn’t the only way governments affect people’s lives. actio’s point at 84 is well taken, but has to be understood in the context that Republicans would rather be crucified than spend tax dollars on helping the needy.

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Substance McGravitas 06.06.12 at 12:08 am

You don’t think Obama has pandered to the crazy republican right with his continuation of Bush policies?

Yes I do, but I also think being able to do things the crazy Republican right would never ever want done – Ledbetter and health and birth control coverage for instance – pretty obviously makes the case that he’s Better Than The Average Republican. Presidential candidates deserve jail pretty soon after election and sometimes before, but they’re still the people on the ballot.

139

William Timberman 06.06.12 at 12:16 am

The defeat of liberalism. Old news, I would say, and precisely because of the issues being discussed here. In any event, electing Obama won’t have any effect at all on the already embalmed corpse of American liberalism. You might have had an argument worth taking seriously in 1968, with LBJ disgraced, and HHH waiting in the wings with a lip-licking Walt Rostow at his side; What you have in 1012 is a sad delusion.

140

William Timberman 06.06.12 at 12:21 am

Make that 2012, please. Otherwise our UK colleagues might find themselves debating whether or not to warn their children about the upcoming Battle of Hastings.

141

christian_h 06.06.12 at 12:21 am

Chris (137.), this point of view that takes an election as a moment in time (“decide now”), apparently unconnected to any other political or historical development, is really quite crazy. As I wrote above it is never merely about casting the vote on that day. And the idea that you are only ever voting for a “difference” is absurd, and it’s not something you actually believe. everyone who is not a psychopath has red lines beyond which they won’t vote for a candidate no matter how bad the alternative may be.

142

rea 06.06.12 at 12:23 am

just to be clear, you’re OK with the US assassinating children, as long as unnamed “Yemeni officials” say they were hanging around with bad guys. You don’t even need an anonymous US source?

Goodness, John, of course, I’m not okay with that, and I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of what I’ve said here. It’s horrible that he was killed, but there is no evidence whatever that he was targeted, and no reason that he would be targeted.

Similarly, the death of Tariq Khan is horrible. I had not heard of the case before, but I’ve spent a few minutes reading articles. As far as I can tell, nobody in the world other than you in your comment above has suggested that he was targeted due to his paticipation in an antidrone meeting. None of the several hundred other Pakistanis who participated in the meeting have been killed by drones. It makes no sense from the standpoint of the interests of the United States to target 16-year olds for drone strikes.

As I said above, acquitting Obama of war crimes and concluding that the drone program is legal is not the same as saying that the people running the program never blunder.

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William Timberman 06.06.12 at 12:24 am

Oops. The comment I was trying to correct @ 12:21 am got sidetracked into moderation. All will be well, and all manner of thing will be well…but you’ll have to read backwards to make it so.

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christian_h 06.06.12 at 12:26 am

To add, the fact that we are now told that not voting for Obama will kill poor Americans proves my point. Chris or Jason may think that what they are talking about is the act of voting in isolation, but they are not. They are precisely elevating Democratic electoral success to the one and only issue of importance. If getting Obama re-elected is of such importance, then subordinating every other progressive politics to that goal is what they should be advocating – and for all intents and purposes, they are.

145

William Timberman 06.06.12 at 12:26 am

Oy! Just fuggedaboudit.

146

hartal 06.06.12 at 12:27 am

I don’t think we should be putting this all on Obama. ISI won’t let go of its geopolitical leverage, the Taliban which has killed many innocent civilians–Pakistanis, Afghanis, Indians, foreign aid workers and diplomats. Ahmed Rashid believes Obama administration has put pressure on the Pakistani government and military to pursue a political solution to the problems created by the Taliban. Also appears the ISI will not accept a political compromise in Afghanistan in which its well-supported and thoroughly retrograde and horrific proxies would be marginalized. The situation is quite complicated. It seems that the Pakistani people are as fed up with imperialist drone strikes as they are with the proxy wars conducted by their secret security services and the domestic instability to which they give rise. I suspect that the full complexity of the situation lies beyond the accounts of US-sympathetic Ahmed Rashid and anti-imperialist ideologue Tariq Ali.

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Ian 06.06.12 at 12:30 am

One hopes there is some kind of lower limit, at which even people like you say “Enough” and create a brutal insurgency within the Democratic Party, or a viable Third Party outside. Or non-electoral direct action.

This is the reason you think there’s a “good chance” that someone better than Obama will be elected in four years? You’re pinning your hopes on a sudden revolution?

Even people like you have to have some kind of a moral bound, some level of atrocity and horror you will not countenance in your submissive wetting. See how generous I am?

I see that you can’t make a coherent argument and so flee to insult. Also, fwiw, ‘people like me’ don’t vote in American elections.

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christian_h 06.06.12 at 12:31 am

I cannot believe that rea is really arguing that “not targeting” a victim of an attack means that attack does not violate any laws of war, and that the mere professed belief on the part of the person designating someone for elimination that the target is a terrorist means the attack is legally justified. That is so utterly ludicrous, so completely outside any interpretation of the laws of war that not even the administration would claim this – which is why they go to such lengths to invent “terrorists” they supposedly killed. This is the logic of the “legitimate target”, a logic so obviously flawed it fatally undermined the IRA armed struggle and cost it community support.

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rea 06.06.12 at 12:36 am

I cannot believe that rea is really arguing that “not targeting” a victim of an attack means that attack does not violate any laws of war, and that the mere professed belief on the part of the person designating someone for elimination that the target is a terrorist means the attack is legally justified.

Why thank you. I am, of course, in no way arguing that.

150

Jawbone 06.06.12 at 12:37 am

Let’s keep in mind that the Pakistani government is complicit in the drone attacks. (They could easily shoot down the drones with their F-16s, not to mention ground-to-air missiles.) Many innocent Pakistanis have been killed in bombings by the Taliban. IOW, the issue involves a lot more parties than the few hundred dead civilians killed in drone strikes–there are thousands of other dead Pakistani non-combatants. (over 35,000 by some counts–see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism_in_Pakistan) Whether the Pakistani or US military goes into the tribal areas to root out the Taliban, or whether the Taliban is left unmolested to continue its bombing campaign in Afghanistan and urban Pakistan, these deaths are also worth paying attention to. There is a plausible case to be made that abandoning the drone campaign leads to a lot more death and destruction.

151

Bloix 06.06.12 at 12:38 am

But I expect he [Romney] would also govern as a moderate conservative domestically and an American nationalist externally.”

This is an extraordinarily foolish thing to say. Romney personally is not the point. The Republicans are the point. The Republican party is a totalitarian party that seeks, by disenfranchisement of minority voters, introduction of unlimited money into elections, and use of criminal and adminstratrive procedures, to ensconce itself as the ruling party for the indefinite future – forever, if possible. Once there, they will use the government to increase their power, enrich themselves and their cronies, and impoverish everyone else. Plus, they are committed to utterly false economic beliefs that will push the country into deep depression, perhaps for decades.

Their model, if one is needed, is Mexico’s PRI, which maintained single-party rule in a nominal democracy, with regular rotations of the presidency, for eight decades. It can be done, they know it can be done, and they will keep trying until they do it. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that Romney is not with the program.

The difference between Mexico and the US, of course, is that the US is the world’s greatest military power. Unlike Mexico, which could do no more than impoverish and oppress its own people, a single-party authoritarian state in the US would fight wars all around the world – Iran first, and then who knows? China, perhaps.

So the choice between Obama and Romney is the choice between a slow and uncertain economic recovery in the US and thousands of illegal killings overseas, on the one hand, and a massive and irreversible economic catastrophe in the US and millions dead in disasterous wars overseas.

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christian_h 06.06.12 at 12:42 am

Rea, but that is precisely your argument in 142. You assert that because (according to you) targeting kids would be dumb, they weren’t targeted – and conclude that Obama should therefore be acquitted of war crimes. I particularly like how you demand we give Obama the benefit of the doubt – something his victims obviously are not afforded.

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heckblazer 06.06.12 at 12:43 am

leederick @ 93:
“How are you so sure? George W. Bush was a great deal better than Obama on drone strikes. That’s a campaign which has Obama’s signature all over it and which he has personally stepped up. I do think personnel makes a difference, and Romney might be an improvement.”

The primary reason why Obama uses more drone strikes is that unlike Bush he actually gives a f*** about attacking al Qaeda. Even if you don’t buy that, Obama has rather notably dropped the “war on terror” business and instead refers to being at war with al Qaeda. Oh, and Obama has a much better record than Bush in starting major ground wars on flimsy pretexts.

As for Romney, hope is not a plan. He hasn’t shown any moral fortitude so far and I doubt that will change anytime in the future. On domestic policy, well, Romney is an MBA vulture capitalist so I really, really doubt that will go well.

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John Quiggin 06.06.12 at 12:43 am

Well rea, maybe you could restate your position as it applies to the assassination of Tariq Khan. It’s conceded, by the usual anonymous officials, that he was targeted (ABC link doesn’t work for me any more, but the relevant quote is in this story)

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=30496

155

hartal 06.06.12 at 12:46 am

Probably not a bad thing that Obama and NATO are seen as making the strikes against strongholds of the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba rather than a shaky civilian Pakistani government or, god forbid, the Indian military.

156

js. 06.06.12 at 12:48 am

We are surely at the beginning of an empire as Bob McManus wrote in #6 above.

I’m curious what this means. In at least one obvious sense, the US has been pretty empire-like at least since the end of WWII. And it’s had imperial ambitions, and some notable imperial “successes” long before then. Presumably, the sense in which we’re “becoming” an empire is the “death of the republic” model. So there’s going to be no way to protest state power. But as long as we’re talking about foreign policy and in particular military actions, I don’t see what mechanisms of accountability there were earlier. Voting for “the other party”, for any value of “other”, wasn’t one, isn’t now, and likely won’t be in the near future.

Part of my more general point is that most people on here seem to be treating like this is some sort of giant anomaly, death of the Democratic party as we know, etc. But why? All that’s new is a further mechanization in the means of warfare. Right? I mean, it’s not like Obama is the first Democratic “war president”. Oh, and treating all males (or some such) as automatically combatants. As someone else said, things that have long been accepted practice tend to become explicitly articulated at some point.

157

Condi 06.06.12 at 12:54 am

I’ve only seen a couple other sites complain about Obama’s free drone hand; one of them is here.

158

Jason 06.06.12 at 12:58 am

So the choice between Obama and Romney is the choice between a slow and uncertain economic recovery in the US and thousands of illegal killings overseas, on the one hand, and a massive and irreversible economic catastrophe in the US and millions dead in disasterous wars overseas.

But Bloix, as Bob McManus and others have cogently argued above, to think about the actual consequences of the two alternatives that are actually before you in the voting booth this November is to have no moral limits/debase yourself before your Democratic ballot-box overlords/wet [yourself?] submissively.

159

christian_h 06.06.12 at 1:03 am

Also, if a Republican is ever elected again (apparently Bloix can’t imagine this because given his own convictions about the consequences he would otherwise better plan for the apocalypse) then we will all be forced to eat steak every day and drive an SUV.

160

Bruce Wilder 06.06.12 at 1:08 am

Does the fierce urgency of arguing projectively and imaginatively the greater evil of Romney, really relieve one of responsibility for assessing realistically the actual evil Obama has been?

And, if this Hobson’s Choice reflects a dysfunctional American politics, do we just ignore Obama’s role in creating the dysfunction?

Would Democrats, be worse, without Obama in the White House? Would the Democratic minority in Congress oppose Romney? (I know the filibuster doesn’t apply when Republicans lead the Senate.) Would Democrats criticize Romney abuses of power? Would Democrats oppose Romney’s efforts to screw the poor and middle class, or his efforts to despoil the environment, or to carry out lawless attacks in foreign countries? Because Democrats surely won’t oppose Obama’s efforts to screw the poor or despoil the environment or attack people in foreign countries!

161

Marc 06.06.12 at 1:30 am

@159: We have people, in this thread, seriously arguing that Bush was better than Obama. If you count only drone strikes and ignore the “starting unprovoked wars” thing, and the “killing numerous civilians in conventional air strikes” thing, you might have a point. But you don’t, and if you read a propagandist like Greenwald you would not even know that fewer civilians are being killed.

We’re seeing people in this discussion casually taking one-sided anti-Obama propaganda as uncontested truth, right down to the “Bush better than Obama” argument. We have a front-pager making an incredibly ignorant claim :

‘Look, I know they talk different talks, but in office Romney pushed essentially the same healthcare plan as Obama. Obama has governed as a moderate conservative; Romney governed Massachusetts as a moderate conservative. Obviously Romney needs to make immoderate noises to please the Republican base. But I expect he would also govern as a moderate conservative domestically and an American nationalist externally. Obviously, I could be wrong.”

Yes, you’re wrong. Spectacularly, completely, utterly fucking wrong. Romney has guaranteed that he will extend tax cuts on the rich, raise military spending, eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. His advisors are the same crew that started the Iraq War, and they are aggressively lobbying for a hot war with Iran. The drone program will be expanded, not reduced, in a Romney administration. We have a radical Supreme Court with some aging and ill moderates who will be replaced by the next president. We have radical assaults on voting rights (the Obama administration has blocked these); gerrymandering; environmental regulations; scientific research; all clearly on the chopping block. (Look up the Ryan plan.) A nationwide attack on public employee unions is almost certain.

None of these things are hyperbole. They reflect public positions of Romney, things that Republican legislators have passed, and things that the Obama administration has prevented Republicans from doing. It’s not some goddamn mystery, and mindless nonsense like “I imagine that Romney will govern as a moderate conservative” reflects a complete lack of attention to the actual positions, stakes, and political realities of what is happening here now.

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christian_h 06.06.12 at 1:36 am

It’s interesting how this thread proves the point: that liberals are actually defending the murderer president to the hilt. As I said, it’s not about voting. It’s about the kind of attempts to get critics to shut up we witness in 160. It’s about the desperate making of excuses like “well he’s killing fewer people than Bush did”, and the utter nonsense about public employee unions – that (a) mostly have no connection with the federal government and (b) are already under nationwide attack – by the Democrats, with Obama doing his small part (cf., “race to the top”).

163

hartal 06.06.12 at 1:41 am

Mark you make a good point or several! With Romney more AEI types on the NRLB, another Roberts or two on the S. Ct., environmental dereg, reversals on gay rights, defanging of the SEC. But perhaps fewer drone attacks on the Taliban because Romney may be willing to live with a misogynistic xenophobic Taliban in command as long it has cut ties with al Qaeda and counterweighs India’s and, much more so, Iran’s interests in the region. Yes with Romney much greater chance of conflict with Iran.

164

Jawbone 06.06.12 at 2:01 am

hartal @ 162
Why would Romney (or any American) want to “counterweigh” Indian influence??

165

rea 06.06.12 at 2:01 am

It’s conceded, by the usual anonymous officials, that he was targeted

Context, context. An anonymous official in the immediate aftermath of the strike said something to the effect that the car had been targeted because the two individuals it contained were militants. That’s not quite the same thing as claiming that Tariq Khan was a militant who could legitimately be targeted, or that Tariq Khan was the guy they thought they were getting when they targeted the vehicle. Do you really think this anonymous official, speaking to the press, intended to confess that the program targeted militant 12-year olds?

With all respect, John, I think your arguments on this thread outrun your evidence by a considerable distance.

166

hartal 06.06.12 at 2:06 am

Probably only those in the American military tied up with the ISI over many years would want to counter India’s influence and still see in the ISI a more reliable ally.

167

hartal 06.06.12 at 2:12 am

Could US get concessions from China for weakening India’s position in Afghanistan?

168

wilfred 06.06.12 at 2:16 am

An American liberal is someone who nods approvingly, and maybe feels a gush of sanctimony, when Obama refers to Trayvon Martin as a son he might have had, but stays silent when Obama declares that brown-skinned Muslim boys of Martin’s age are good kills.

An American liberal is a Lieberman Democrat. Cater to a screeching social agenda and kill brown people elsewhere. The successful eradication of the Left from the Democratic Party makes for a winning formula.

169

Jawbone 06.06.12 at 2:20 am

The repeated references to the drone-victims as “brown-skinned” is a rather weak attempt to tie the issue to racism. Clinton bombed the Serbs, right? I don’t think this has anything to do with race. Again, look at all the Pakistanis who are dead because of Taliban bombings.

170

Lee A. Arnold 06.06.12 at 2:24 am

I doubt that foreign policy will differ under Romney. Iran can’t be invaded by ground — it is four times the area of Iraq and mountainous. Bombing missions are unlikely to subdue the Iranians — Pentagon war games reportedly always end in the same results for U.S. bombing missions: no way to declare victory, world opprobrium for the U.S., and reduced influence in the area. The Iranians supposedly possess augmented Chinese missiles on mobile launchers all along the gulf that fly close to the water so they cannot be hit by antiballistic missiles and can hit an oil tanker with 90% accuracy. So the world price of oil will double or triple overnight. Basically, Iran can’t be attacked at all, except by secret units or cyberwar. (This may be why Israeli security and military people have started to call Netanyahu crazy: they agree with the U.S. military, they know that Iran really can’t be attacked, and they thought Netanyahu knew it too, and that he was only whooping-it-up to get voters.) Iran is going to remain a standoff. That doesn’t mean Rmoney won’t use it to whoop-up his own idiots.

171

Harry Shearer 06.06.12 at 2:34 am

What the President is doing is appalling, but the “ratchet effect” is real and rooted in a profound and historical error by the previous administration. Whereas countries like Germany and Italy confronted and defeated internal terrorist threats in the 1970s by treating them as criminal operations, President Bush made the fateful decision to deal with a criminal conspiracy by declaring war on it. Not literally, of course, Congress–the only part of the government Constitutionally empowered to declare war–hasn’t done so since World War 2. But the nation was put on a war footing, those few who (like John Kerry, for a tremulous moment) questioned the decision were denounced as weaklings who “didn’t get it”, and another war began–on the nation’s civil liberties. A war with no end, with no boundaries, is bound to turn into a war with no observable rules, a war with no end of war criminals.

172

Jawbone 06.06.12 at 2:34 am

>>Iran can’t be invaded by ground—it is four times the area of Iraq and mountainous.

I am *strongly* opposed to a US (or Israeli) attack on Iran, for any number of reasons, but that comment is breathtakingly naive. Iran’s military is a paper tiger–what is with the weird attempt to build them up? Their coastal missiles would be taken out within hours, and they barely have an air force.

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Marc 06.06.12 at 2:34 am

@169: We have the public actions of the Obama administration – which have involved repeatedly tamping down attempts to stir up hostilities with Iran. We have the public statements of Romney, urging aggression; the public statements of his advisors; and the fact of the war on Iraq. Claiming that the war drums on Iran are a bluff is a dangerous game with these factors. Israel bombs Iran because God tells their leader to; or we get a Gulf of Tonkin incident. It could start as bombing raids, and it could then escalate fantastically fast. It will go disastrously for all, of course, but that hasn’t stopped wars from starting in the past.

The fact that people doubt that foreign policy will differ is, frankly, utterly incredible. We’ve just had the difference between starting (Bush) and ending (Obama) wars; we can already see the next conflict (Iran) lined up for us. (And if you want to have the US leave Afghanistan, you also would prefer Obama to Romney. Details, I know.)

174

Kyle Blank 06.06.12 at 2:46 am

Center-right reader here:

“@159: We have people, in this thread, seriously arguing that Bush was better than Obama. If you count only drone strikes and ignore the “starting unprovoked wars” thing, and the “killing numerous civilians in conventional air strikes” thing, you might have a point. But you don’t, and if you read a propagandist like Greenwald you would not even know that fewer civilians are being killed.”

I don’t think one can really make a proper comparison between Bush and Obama right now. I would not say Obama has governed better than Bush though, as I don’t think we have enough information to really make judgements about either presidency right now. I also wouldn’t say Bush started an “unprovoked war.” They were provoked, albeit for what turned out to be faulty reasons.

“Yes, you’re wrong. Spectacularly, completely, utterly fucking wrong. Romney has guaranteed that he will extend tax cuts on the rich, raise military spending, eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. His advisors are the same crew that started the Iraq War, and they are aggressively lobbying for a hot war with Iran. The drone program will be expanded, not reduced, in a Romney administration. We have a radical Supreme Court with some aging and ill moderates who will be replaced by the next president. We have radical assaults on voting rights (the Obama administration has blocked these); gerrymandering; environmental regulations; scientific research; all clearly on the chopping block. (Look up the Ryan plan.) A nationwide attack on public employee unions is almost certain.”

1) Why is extending the tax cuts on the high earners wrong? (everyone got a tax cut under Bush, it wasn’t just the high-earners)

2) Raising military spending I doubt will happen, although it is needed in order to re-build the military after these last two wars. Cutting it as the Obama administration is seeking to do is a bad idea however. It doesn’t make up a large enough portion of the budget and is crucial to the national security.

3) Why does Planned Parenthood need any federal funding? It isn’t a branch of the government, it’s a private organization. Why can’t it rely on private donations? Should the National Rifle Association, an organization devoted to protecting what is an explicit right in the Constitution, also receive federal funding? (it doesn’t right now).

4) How is the Supreme Court radical? Because it voted to uphold the Second Amendment? Or how it voted to uphold free speech? (corporations are people when they are civil rights organizations that are structured as corporations—you can’t be allow to censor such organizations during political campaigns). Because it may strike down the government claiming the commerce clause allows them to mandate people engage in a contract?

5) I agree cutting scientific research and environmental regulations is bad, however how are cutting public employee unions bad? The only reason public employee unions even exist is to increase the power base of unions and the Democratic party. Public sector workers have never needed unions. The entire idea of allowing public-sector workers to unionize was considered ludicrous even by the unions prior to it actually being started. It’s also dangerous, because if the public-sector workers strike, then they can put the security of the general public at risk. Public-sector unions are government lobbying itself to increase it’s size. It also creates a conflict of interest, because no politician put into office by the public unions can simultaneously do the bidding of the unions and also work for the people.

175

Bruce Wilder 06.06.12 at 2:51 am

I’d rather admit that I am powerless, and remain innocent, than claim the illusion of democratic power, at the cost of further legitimating our imperial, authoritarian plutocracy.

If it makes you feel better to imagine that you are preventing some great evil, while blindly giving political support to the commission of great evil, I cannot save you.

176

Patrick 06.06.12 at 2:52 am

@169 Just because starting a war with Iran is an utterly stupid idea is no reason to suppose a Romney administration won’t do it. See: 2003. In my view, the difference between Obama and American wingers, who are as crazy as Netanyahu, isn’t primarily moral: he’s less likely to catastrophically screw things up.

Sigh.

177

Kyle Blank 06.06.12 at 2:52 am

I do not at all see the U.S. engaging in any conflict with Iran except as a last resort. I also do not see the Israelis bombing Iran except as a last resort. And if so, it would not be because God tells their leader tells them to, it would be because the Israelis fear that the Iranians believe THEIR god will tell their leaders to attack Israel at some point. The Israelis believe if Iran reaches a point of no return regarding the development of their nuclear weapon, after which nothing could be done to stop them, then the state of Israel is extremely threatened.

As mentioned, Iran is a much larger nation than Iraq and much more difficult to invade as well. The only military conflict I could see with them at most from the U.S. would a bombing campaign of some type or cyberwar. But the American public has no stomach for actually trying to invade that country.

I also do not see Republicans or Romney hawking any conflict with Iran. They aren’t that stupid. They are hawking about not allowing them to acquire a nuke (however that will work). It’s just politics, as they are trying to make Obama look soft on Iran (which I think he has been to a good degree).

178

Bruce Wilder 06.06.12 at 2:53 am

Obama “leaves” Iraq on the terms and schedule set by Bush, with the same Secretary of Defense leading the policy execution, and this makes Obama different from Bush in what way?

179

The Raven 06.06.12 at 2:55 am

“Drone Strike Kills…”

We tonight we feed.

I am reminded of the Vietnam casualty figures. Every few months a victory is announced, and every few months we notice that the strategic situation is deteriorating.

Drones are only effective as military weapons in a nation without air defenses. It does seem likely, however, that they will turn out to be enormously effective tools for monitoring and controlling a civilian population.

180

mclaren 06.06.12 at 3:03 am

There’s plenty of reaction to Obama’s drone murders at liberal sites. The people on those sites scream “purist” and “lunatic” and “crazy person” and “firebagger” and “nut job” and “troll” at anyone who points out that Obama’s drone murders are unconstitutional war crimes.

If you cite the fifth and sixth and eighth and fourteenth amendments, the people on liberal cites all you a “member of the purity patrol” and laugh.

181

Lee A. Arnold 06.06.12 at 3:07 am

@170 etc. — It has to conform to what is militarily possible. Start reading military blogs. There are people who follow these arguments closely. Try to think about the whole operation. Some localities might surrender, others would involve heavy fighting, then after all of that, you have to manage the occupation and get a new government going. The U.S. was barely able to do it in 8 years in Iraq, and that was in a smaller country with northern provinces that were almost entirely happy to see the U.S. arrive. Western intelligence in Iran was devastated around 10 years ago when the Iranians uncovered a CIA list and liquidated almost everybody. Perhaps there are new contacts in place by now, but intelligence is usually worthless anyway, and the U.S. couldn’t even foresee events in Iraq very well. The coastal missiles can be moved around, the whole point of being on mobile launchers. I presume the stepped-up U.S. presence in the gulf is trying to watch them. Or, refer to previous remarks by any of the joint chiefs on the subject — it sounds like attacking Iran is a really dumb idea, it is not manageable, it is a waste of resources, and they do not want to do it. Romney isn’t going to change any of that. If anything happens, it is likely to be very short bombing missions against nuclear sites for bringing them to the bargaining table. Which Obama will do, too. I am guessing it is already the deal between Obama and Netanyahu. If it works, Netanyahu could claim political vindication. But it would only be a temporary stopgap.

182

Jawbone 06.06.12 at 3:18 am

@ 170 Lee Arnold,
>> then after all of that, you have to manage the occupation and get a new government going.

You make some good points, but I don’t think a (hypothetical) US attack on Iran is going to lead to an occupation — been there, done that, failed. Instead, it would just be a “smash” operation. But claiming the Iranians have some sort of geographical defense is crazy–they would get chewed up real fast.
Yeah, with bad consequences, but that’s what’s going to happen if it cooks off. Let’s hope it doesn’t.

183

wilfred 06.06.12 at 3:19 am

Including the Obama-hasbara, comments show the differences between liberals and the Left that came up on another thread.

Differences between Republicans and Democrats? Who is saying this?

“Iran is a significant threat to the United States and our allies. Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, it is an active state sponsor of terrorism, and its leaders have consistently challenged Israel’s right to exist.”

184

erik 06.06.12 at 3:21 am

i too have been reading glen and increasingly grossed out by obama’s policies – so i wrote something too, a bit of satire on the matter: http://bigdeadbat.tumblr.com/post/24513790507/wiphdt-what-if-pakistan-had-drones-too

185

LFC 06.06.12 at 3:23 am

christian_h @99
(today’s “number 2”, for example has now been killed for the second time – the first time being in 2009 – which should give anyone pause)

From WaPo:
Libi, thought to be in his late 40s, had moved into the No. 2 spot after the death in August [2011] of Atiyah abd al-Rahman, another Libyan national killed in a missile strike. Like his predecessor, Libi was regarded as the group’s general manager, answering to al-Qaeda’s senior commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

There was, iirc, an Abu Laith al-Libi killed in ’09 (?) but that was a different person from the al-Libi killed in the recent strike. (Al-Libi is in any case a pseudonym/ nom de guerre.)

186

LFC 06.06.12 at 3:47 am

I have no doubt there would be differences between the Obama and Romney foreign policies. Romney would be less inclined to rein in defense spending, even modestly. Romney would be more inclined to keep a large US mil. presence in Afghanistan indefinitely (though Obama will no doubt keep a substantial presence under the label of advisers, etc.). Relations with Russia and China will probably deteriorate with a Romney admin (or deteriorate further than they already have, in the case of Russia). Obama made an inspired choice in nominating J. Kim to head the World Bank. Neoliberals and orthodox economists screamed about it. Romney would not have made that choice. (Etc.)

187

Lee A. Arnold 06.06.12 at 3:52 am

Jawbone @182: “it would just be a “smash” operation”

It doesn’t happen that way. The natives become quiescent or disappear, and wait until the aggressor has left. The Iraqi army virtually evaporated. The U.S. had to stay and get a constitutional gov’t going with a new Iraqi military, to try to prevent a reversion to form, and even then, Wolfowitz severely underestimated al Sadr, I think.

“claiming the Iranians have some sort of geographical defense is crazy”

There are plenty of studies that say otherwise. Here is the U.S. Naval Institute:
http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2006-04/irans-challenging-geography

188

Lee A. Arnold 06.06.12 at 4:01 am

One of my favorite, dearest plumbing customers is a survivor of Bergen-Belsen. He was taken there as a boy a few weeks before allied liberation. He tells me the German soldiers at the camp just put on civilian clothes, and slipped into the towns… He went and slept in a barn, then somebody gave him some food.

189

Jawbone 06.06.12 at 4:07 am

@ Lee Arnold #187
Well I will grant you the narrow point, but I think that’s a bit like French thinking the Maginot line would protect them. Lack of air-power would doom the Iranians and I’m not sure why the US “had to stay” in Iraq–that was the beginning of the problem. But, perhaps you’re right and I’m wrong. I don’t want to turn this into a tactical thread, so I’m out.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.06.12 at 4:43 am

Then bring it back to the main point. Obama cannot be a human rights champion, unless it is under the doctrine that the “War on Terror” is an attempt to preserve human rights by stopping religious fundamentalists who demonstrated the willingness to kill lots and lots of innocent people who supposedly deserved their deaths simply because they were citizens of an aggressor state, although stopping those fundamentalists also kills more innocent people and commits other sorts of war crimes. I doubt that it makes him a human rights champion. The more interesting question for me is whether people think this “War on Terrorism” should continue to be prosecuted, and if so, then how it should be done, in a militarily plausible way.

191

Jawbone 06.06.12 at 4:51 am

I guess I am being cast out of the left. I don’t worship at the altar of human rights. I take human rights seriously, but they are but one value that needs to be balanced against others. Values like human flourishing, material advancement, equal opportunity–all of which seem to be in violent opposition to the Taliban who are main people who are getting droned.

192

Anderson 06.06.12 at 4:55 am

Voting for the lesser of two evils is of course voting for evil.

I should be sending Obama some bucks. Romney would be worse. But in 2008 I thought I was voting FOR someone, not just against someone. Color me naive.

193

bin yamin 06.06.12 at 4:59 am

a quick note on “intent”. all nation states who engage in violence among foreign populations intend for foreign civilians to die. The immense probability of civilian death amounts to foreknowledge. So US government reigns death from above, with the full intention of rendering innocent people into spaghetti- based on the justification that it saves lives on balance. Souls even. There is a salvific thrust to the whole thing. America may slaughter and dehumanize millions of lives every generation, but we’re paving the way for the whole world to live under American style oligarchical capitalism. So we destroy some villages. America beats the spread, a priori.

194

js. 06.06.12 at 5:06 am

Marc:

We have the public statements of Romney, urging aggression; the public statements of his advisors; and the fact of the war on Iraq.

Look, I’m not one of the Obama is even worse, etc., people. Like I said above, I vote on domestic policies, because despite Bob Rubin and his teeming protégés, I think there are significant differences in domestic policy and the Dems are still better. (And I live in a non-safe state.) Foreign policy though is a different matter (yes, different levels of competence, etc., but over time [decades, like] don’t think it breaks down according to parties).

But mostly, your argument won’t hold. Remember when Obama in his campaign promised to shut down this “prison” in Cuba, etc.? (And yes, I know it was all the fault of the 41st Republican in the Senate, but there’ll be a 41st Democrat in the Senate come Jan. 2013, so why worry? Etc.) Point is, this cuts both ways. Remember that famous campaign promise Bush pere made? I think it was used in attack ads by the Clinton campaign? (This last is not rhetorical; maybe it was a primary campaign that used that against Bush?) And for fuck’s sake, Bush fils ran as some kind of isolationist.

And on Iran, Lee @170 seems pretty dead on to me.

195

F 06.06.12 at 5:07 am

Welcome to the American Buffet. Your meal, which you will be forced to eat, will be chosen by whatever dish receives a plurality of votes. You may choose between: a) an exquisitely prepared gourmet meal, b) a hot dog, or c) a shit sandwich. Currently popular opinion is split between the three choices as follows: a) 4% b) 48% and c) 48%. What do you choose?

196

Polonius 06.06.12 at 5:11 am

Rea: “Context, context.”

Well, yes . But the broadest context here, as several people have alluded to, is that the vast preponderance of destructive actions that the U.S. does overseas (and much of what is destructive within our own borders) is done in direct support of the American Empire. As an admirerer of Thomas Paine and, being an Irish-American, Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins, I would contend that almost anything, but ESPECIALLY any taking of life, in promotion or defense of empire is, ipso facto, immoral and most of the time downright evil. Unless, of course, you believe with intellectual quacks like Niall Ferguson that empires are often benign (at least Anglo-Saxon-related ones). So, for example, the discussion here of the war deaths in Korea , Vietnam, and Iraq strikes me as analogous to a discussion of how many lives were lost by the direct military actions of the British military in its colonial wars while ignoring other effects of the British Empire that undoubtedly took many more lives collectively–e.g., the Great Famine in Ireland, during which great quantities of meat and grain continued to be exported from Ireland to England and elsewhere, and which wouldn’t have ever happened if most Irish landowners hadn’t been dispossessed during the previous centuries, leading to the adoption of the subsistence potato monoculture. Analogies with this Irish-British example would be all the lives lost in Latin America, the Mideast, and Africa in coups, dictatorships, oligarghic regimes, and just plain politicals chaos precipitated by American extractive corporations (e.g., United Fruit and it’s successors and, especially, our oil companies). When the millions of lives lost and destroyed in these ways are included, the number of lives destroyed by the American Empire undoubtedly outnumber the combined totals of Hitler and Stalin, who, by the way, committed all those murders in the hope of establishing control over competing empires. Hell, how many million “Communists” were killed just in the great Sukarno purge in Indonesia? Multiply that total many, many times.

This thread and its discussion of the ethics of the drone strikes reminds me of the discussion in England of what was justifiable in England’s attempt to put down the 1916-1922 rebellion by the “terrorists” of the IRA — from the hanging of the leaders of the Easter Rising to the use of torture to the loosing of England’s own “Special Forces”‘on Ireland: the Black-and-Tans. Of course, from the point of view of an Irish nationalist–i.e. a native of a previously free nation that had been conquered, exploited, and, like the American colonies of the 18th century, disenfranchised–NONE of those things were ethically justifiable. The only ethically justifiable thing for England to have done at the time would have been to gave gotten the hell out ASAP.

Of course, if you try to tell Americans that they have adopted the role of the so many King Georges, they look at you like you have three eyes and horns, even ones for whom this really should be intuitively obvious, given their education and experience. But no people ever believed the effects of its great empire were nefarious or gave it up voluntarily. Hence, every President since at least McKinley (and many before that–e.g., Jefferson, Jackson, Polk) have been reflexive imperialists (not to mention eager tools of the corporatist class, with the ambiguously possible exception of FDR). This doesn’t mean that some weren’t worse than others or that Romney wouldn’t be worse than Obama, which I think he would–Shrub Redux, in fact, without the faux “regular guy” schtick (to say the least). But I’ll be damned if I’ll vote for either of them.

Like a previous poster, I worked in the anti-war and civil rights movements in the ’60’s. When I was fighting the draft, repeatedly refusing induction, people would ask me why, instead of rising prison, I didn’t just do what my best friend did, which was to join the reserves as a medic. My answer was that I just couldn’t bring myself to put on the uniform, given what we were doing in Vietnam. (This from someone who only four years before would’ve signed on the dotted line for a ROTC scholarship if my parents hadn’t refused their permission.) I feel the same way about voting now. Back in the ’60’s I was full of hope for this country. Now, if it weren’t for my kids, I’d leave.

197

js. 06.06.12 at 5:15 am

One more small thing on Iran, I take Patrick’s point (176) very seriously, but I guess I’m not convinced. To put the point somewhat telegraphically, I voted for Obama vs. Clinton in the 2008 primaries to end or diminish Clintonite influence in the Democratic party. I’ll think twice about predicting cabinet appointments and allied policy forever more.

198

wilfred 06.06.12 at 5:18 am

@js 193:

“I vote on domestic policies…”

Thus: “In order to have the Great Society, I had to give them Vietnam”.

Well, no. The concessions that Obama makes to the right, i.e. all the things that he has done to alienate the left, must be for some reason. Of course, all the domestic issues that liberals love are part and parcel of the leftist position, too. However, the left has been driven out of the Democratic Party, or at least marginalized to the point of simply being, what was it?, a veal pen?

Glenn Greenwald, Marcy Wheeler et al. have systematically documented the right-cringing policies of the Obama administration. There is no place for the left in the Democratic Party. Time to look elsewhere.

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js. 06.06.12 at 5:24 am

Romney would be less inclined to rein in defense spending, even modestly.

How exactly has Obama been inclined to rein in defense spending? And as to Russia, wasn’t it mostly the Dems that fucked it up? I guess I’m going by a bunch of Stephen Cohen stuff (v. critical of Clinton administrations), but happy to be pointed to other, better analyses.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.06.12 at 5:25 am

Kyle Blank #174: “1) Why is extending the tax cuts on the high earners wrong? (everyone got a tax cut under Bush, it wasn’t just the high-earners)”

The Bush tax cuts as a whole need to be revoked someday after the recession ends, since government spending is going to increase with the rate of medical spending in general Everybody got a tax cut under Bush, but the rich made so much more money that the burden of total taxation shifted downward onto the middle classes: in other words, the rich are taking a higher percentage share of total after-tax income than before. Despite this largesse however, the Bush tax cuts did not increase revenues enough to pay for themselves, as was advertised!, and they did not increase economic growth nor productivity growth commensurately, as was advertised, and as is obvious.

The argument for revoking the tax cuts on the high earners at the present moment goes this way. It will reduce the deficits a little, and at the same time, it won’t do any damage to economic growth, because we are not in a supply-side recession: business investment is not the problem; companies are sitting on about $2 trillion in cash that they are not spending. We are in a demand-side recession of a rare type, a balance-sheet recession, and the basic problem is pumping-up consumer demand to get people back to work. But high earners do not have a higher marginal propensity to consume than lower earners; the rich save the money, and it is languishing as bank reserves. So the idea is to revoke the high-earner cuts now, and revoke the low-earner cuts in addition, AFTER the recession is over and the economy comes back. Of course revoking the high-earner cuts is a political plus for the Dems, and reducing the deficits removes the public debt as a viable political issue for the Repubs, and so that is where Wash D.C. is stuck.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.06.12 at 5:38 am

Oh I should have plugged my own Bush Tax Cuts animation, 6 years old and still going strong:

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js. 06.06.12 at 5:47 am

There is no place for the left in the Democratic Party. Time to look elsewhere.

Sorry, but where? Ok, first, the left hasn’t been driven out of the Democratic party. The Left was never in the Democratic party. We don’t have the advantage of having a proper Left party, and worse, we’ve never had one. The last matters.

Coming back to the original point though, where am I supposed to go? Because on women’s rights, e.g., the current Republican party is a modern supersized version of The Inquisition and the Counter-Reformation rolled into one. On economic policy, they make Milton fucking Friedman look like Karl Marx (only slight exaggeration). I entirely agree with christian_h’s point that it’s not all about voting, except that on foreign policy I think it has zero traction. But come this November, where do you want me to go?

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wilfred 06.06.12 at 6:14 am

New political parties come into being by necessity. I think that like minded people eventually will coalesce into either a solid front within the Democratic Party – which had usually been the case until the rise of the Lieberman liberals – or form a separate political party. My own hope is that OWS spawns an active politics.

In the meantime, people who want to hold their noses can do so. Fresher air awaits those willing to work for it.

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GiT 06.06.12 at 6:18 am

In every American community, there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals:

An outspoken group on many subjects;
10 degrees to the left of center in the best of times;
10 degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally

So here then is a lesson in safe logic…

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NomadUK 06.06.12 at 6:29 am

http://whatinthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com/.

I do get to vote, and I’ll be voting for someone other than the two approved candidates. If everyone else voted for the person they thought best represented their interests, rather than the candidate they figured everyone else was going to vote for, then perhaps we’d actually have something resembling democracy.

As it stands, I actually see no hope for this system; the only real solution to the electoral process is to eliminate it, and to use sortition, which at least guarantees a legislature that (statistically) represents the population as a whole.

It’s one of the reasons I completely oppose any efforts to ‘reform’ the House of Lords by making it an elected body: electoral politics has proven utterly bankrupt in Commons; I see no reason to extend it to the upper chamber.

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Niall McAuley 06.06.12 at 8:01 am

The time to vote against Obama was in the primaries, when there was a chance to get a more left wing, less hawkish and authoritarian candidate onto the ticket.

Y’all did vote in the Democratic primaries, yes?

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wilfred 06.06.12 at 8:18 am

The 2007/8 primaries? He ran as if he was from the antiwar left in – that’s where all his original support came from. Both Clinton and Edwards were war thugs – only Kucinich was further to the left – I voted for him.

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NomadUK 06.06.12 at 9:22 am

The time to vote against Obama was in the primaries

Um.

(1) He ran unopposed in the vast majority of states, and sewed up the nomination (as if there were any doubt) in April.
(2) I am not a registered Democrat, nor am I a resident of any state, so I cannot vote in party primaries.
(3) In any event, why would I want to vote for a Democrat or a Republican? Why would anybody? They are the problem, not the solution.

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Platonist 06.06.12 at 11:49 am

Anderson 06.06.12 at 4:55 am: “Voting for the lesser of two evils is of course voting for evil.”

This is simply untrue of course–no more than voting for chemo over cancer is a vote for cell murder, or for your doctor to reset a broken bone is a vote for assault and battery.

For intelligent people who aren’t Christians or use pacifiers, “evil” is a fairy tale. It does not have substantial existence. It is a product of natural causes, there is no free will or moral responsibility and so called evil is, at bottom, nothing but the privation of the good.

Therefore, voting for the lesser evil is voting for the greater imperfect good.

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Barry 06.06.12 at 12:29 pm

leederick 06.05.12 at 9:11 pm

” How are you so sure? George W. Bush was a great deal better than Obama on drone strikes. That’s a campaign which has Obama’s signature all over it and which he has personally stepped up. I do think personnel makes a difference, and Romney might be an improvement.”

‘on drone strikes’

Leaving out 99.9% of the carnage he caused.

Even though it’s early in the morning, I’ll go ahead and award the prize of ‘BS of the day’ right now.

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chris 06.06.12 at 12:49 pm

everyone who is not a psychopath has red lines beyond which they won’t vote for a candidate no matter how bad the alternative may be.

True, but only in the sense that beyond that line, they wouldn’t be voting at all, they’d be rising in armed rebellion.

Is this thread intended to be a stealth argument that Obama is beyond *that* line and (since everyone seems to agree that the realistic alternative within the U.S. political system is as bad or worse) we should all be plotting to overthrow the U.S. government rather than working within its political system?

I think certain thread contributors would agree, but it looks like their arguments are, so far, unconvincing to the majority. Any serious attempt to overthrow the U.S. political system, successful or not, would have a body count that would dwarf drone warfare by several orders of magnitude, and that’s even before you start asking “what kind of regime would emerge from such a thing?” — it worked so well in France and Russia, after all.

…So I guess I still do care about the alternative, even when it comes to the deeper question of working within the political system or fighting to overthrow it. Because the cost of the latter is guaranteed to be enormous, whether it fails, succeeds, or succeeds and then fails through the revolution being coopted by tyranny (as so many are). The *best* case scenario is far worse than what is going on now.

It’s about the desperate making of excuses like “well he’s killing fewer people than Bush did”

If killing fewer people is so unimportant to you, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to call *other* people sociopaths. Or do you really think that washing your hands like Pontius Pilate while doing absolutely nothing to actually reduce the pace of killings genuinely puts you on a higher moral plane? Fighting for the lesser evil actually *reduces the amount of evil in the world* (if successful). Self-righteously sitting on the sidelines does not.

As odd as it is to see someone with the nym “Platonist” denying the existence of an idealized abstraction, I agree with him/her. Evil and good are positions on a continuum and there is no well-defined zero point (or if there is, it isn’t super-significant in the way certain people on this thread want to claim). Motion toward the good is good, even if the absolute position so reached is still mostly shitty. Even lack of motion toward the evil is good, if that’s the best you can presently achieve.

And of course elections don’t occur in vacuums, but they do occur. How to politically act *outside* elections to influence the political landscape and thus what set of candidates is available and viable is a different thread, isn’t it? *In an election* you can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you get something better than the other thing.

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Nick 06.06.12 at 1:19 pm

You wrote: “I’ve also been monitoring various liberal sites and blogs for signs of a reaction and not seeing much (please correct that impression in comments).” Please see Obama’s Assassinations, and Some Costs of Partisanship – http://equalityanddemocracy.org/2012/05/31/451/

It may not be a “liberal” site, but it is certainly not “conservative.”

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logern 06.06.12 at 1:51 pm

I noticed two news items today:

“Gov. Romney has an opportunity … to come in between now and Nov. 6 and make the case that he’s willing to make those same sort of tough decisions,” Walker told Fox News Channel on the eve of his victory.

That Romney is advised to run even father to the right, by Walker

And this:

Untreatable gonorrhoea spreading around world

I just feel kind of worried.

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antipodean lib 06.06.12 at 1:58 pm

The funny thing about this whole kill list thing is that it isn’t actually a finite list. It’s not like Obama is going to come out one day and say “well, we got everyone on the list so we’re just going to pack the drones up and focus on domestic issues now”.

None of the comments I’ve read considers the question of why there are people who would be on this list in the first place. The answer, of course, is the sense of injustice that obnoxious American foreign policies engender throughout the world.

A Pakistani whose family members have been killed by an American flying killer robot sure as hell can’t take a political stance by registering a protest vote in the next US election. Kill an actual militant and you convert his friend into a militant. Kill a 10 year old girl attending a funeral and 20 of her brothers and cousins become militant. How is that a ‘surgical strike’ when you’ve just increased the length of your kill list?!

There will always be ‘militants’. How insecure has the US become that it now feels the need to eradicate every person on the planet who objects to its policies? What happens when all the militants have been eradicated? Go after the effigy burners? Then the placard bearers?

The US is not at ‘war’, but whatever it is, it certainly is endless. You may as well just cast your votes based on domestic issues only…

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faustusnotes 06.06.12 at 2:04 pm

There is an article by an opponent of drones in the Guardian which makes it clear that the targeting policies don’t exactly guarantee much discretion between civilian and “military” victims. The likes of rea and the earlier commenters who are sure that the civilians are collateral targets should look a bit more carefully, I think.

Having said that, I don’t think the issue has anything to do with drones. I have a post on my blog about this which elaborates, but basically I don’t think the issue is drones: it’s the US’s war policy, which breaches every standard of decency. It’s easy to present the image that air war will win the war in Afghanistan because no one in the USA cares about Afghanistan. So blowing up wedding parties is justifiable on the flimsiest of excuses, because lip service to human rights is all that the modern US polity demands.

Change the polity, not the technology.

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Tom Canham 06.06.12 at 2:13 pm

The fact that people are more worried about poor chances at future health care reform, or who’s on the Supreme Court, or even access to abortion, then the mass murder of innocents via drone strikes is simply appalling to me. To me, this is the essence of everything that’s wrong with America: I don’t care how many people you kill, as long as I still get my (SUV, health care, social security, etc.)

No wonder most of the rest of the world hates us.

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Donald Johnson 06.06.12 at 2:15 pm

I’m a lesser of two evils voter, but even though I may vote the way he wants me to Platonist’s argument is more name-calling than rational. He seems to think that if you calculate consequences differently from the way he does then you are childish. But it’s not that simple. To the extent that one’s vote matters, there are tradeoffs when one votes for Obama. If I do so then I am encouraging Democratic politicians to believe that they can continue drifting to the right so long as there are still some differences between their positions and those of the Republicans. Of course my individual vote doesn’t matter, but if Obama wins (as I hope he does), the Democrats will take this as confirmation that they should continue to chase after those “centrist” voters, which in practice means taking positions that were Republican ones a few years earlier.

It’s been the same debate ever since Nader in 2000–the third party advocates claim that the differences between the two parties are either insignificant (which seems clearly false to me) or else that the Democrats keep chasing the Republicans to the right (which seems clearly true). The Democrat defenders claim that there are huge differences, downplay or ignore the rightward drift for purposes of this argument, and accuse their opponents of being childish. I think the people on both sides would make a better case if they conceded that at least some of the points made by their opponents were valid, and then argued about which position was better, but that’s just me I guess.

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Bruce Baugh 06.06.12 at 2:31 pm

Donald: Of course, whenever a “centrist” Democrat loses, the party authorities all say that this proves they have to get even more “centrist”. It’s not like there’s anything we can do by voting to indicate “more left now, please” – they won’t hear it.

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What Constitution? 06.06.12 at 2:40 pm

I understand there’s an election coming up. Maybe there will be some opportunity for asking questions of the candidates, some sort of “debate” or something?

Maybe somebody could ask Obama and Romney to recite, and discuss, the Presidential oath of office — that part in there where the President’s sole stated obligation, undertaken as the condition of being allowed to hold the office, is to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” — and maybe then somebody could ask about things like murdering American citizens with drones, or the like. Does anybody think we could slide comfortably into a mode of generically offing “military age males deemed potentially up to no good” inside a country with which the US most definitely is not at “war” if our President hadn’t already made it plain that even US citizens are subject to death at the President’s unreviewable and secret whim? How can this be squared with “defending the Constitution?

There are evils, there are lesser evils, there are pragmatic arguments. There are also some fundamental rules — the most fundamental of which is actually written down as being a requirement that the actions of our government be consistent with and in defense of the Constitution. I’m not of the view that mentioning this is some sort of pollyanish dream, it’s the way things are supposed to be approached and it’s the basis for establishing and maintaining the type of government that does not fall into the trap of defining its purpose by identifying “who or what we must be afraid of”.

There will still be people who hate America and who wish us ill. What was it the Court said in Boumediene — that allowing the Executive or Legislative branch to turn on and off the Constitution at whim is inconsistent with our Constitution; that the Constitution applies “even in dangerous times”? They did say that, we could look it up. Why can’t somebody ask the current President, or the wannabe(s), what they think “I do solemly swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” means?

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Marc 06.06.12 at 2:45 pm

@215: It’s difficult to have a discussion when people in the room can’t even agree on basic facts. Talking to regular readers of Greenwald reminds me a great deal of talking to regular Fox News viewers. In both cases they are subject to a continuous stream of anti-Obama propaganda. Greenwald has a different angle, but in the end it’s the same outcome.

Obama confronted Romney and the Republicans on war with Iran, and this became transmuted into “I can parse Obama’s words so that he moved us closer to war with Iran.” Obama drastically curtailed bombing raids in Afghanistan and escalated drone attacks; Greenwald ignores one (it’s inconvenient for him) and promotes the other. He ended the Iraq war. Crickets. As a result you have people who think that it makes no difference *for civilian death tolls in the Middle East* whether Romney or Obama is elected, or that there has been no policy change under Obama. Greenwald is always very, very careful to insert the appropriate weasel words – he implies a lot without directly saying it. That ensures that he and his supporters can always wiggle out via technicalities. But if you go over there and read him, you get a clear impression: Obama is a vicious war criminal; there is no difference between the political parties in the US; anyone who disagrees loves torture and killing brown babies.

Step away from the particulars. Let’s say that you’re reading opinion pieces. You find out that the author ignores information that contradicts his thesis; misrepresents his opponents views; always casts opposing views in the most negative light; and personally attacks anyone who disagrees with him. Why would you trust that person as a source of information? And yet they do, and the outcome is precisely what we see in this thread.

The idea that Obama has been chasing the Republicans to the right: on precisely what? He flatly reversed a lot of Bush programs and priorities. He passed health care reform, at great cost; and many of his domestic policies are to the left of those in the Clinton administration. We can’t have that discussion, however, if people can’t even talk rationally about what the man has actually done (as opposed to the demon he represents to a faction of the online left.)

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Rob in CT 06.06.12 at 2:48 pm

The key thing I think a lot of people are still missing is the general moral depravity of your average American voter (indeed, I’d expand that to “average human being” since I actually don’t think we’re particularly exceptional).

In order for things to improve, a lot of people have to be convinced that certain things they don’t mind or actively like are actually bad things. Those of us who are generally upset about how the US government uses its military power regardless of who is in the White House are a small minority of voters.

I don’t know how to change that. I’ve argued these points with people and have made little headway. It’s just far, far too easy for them to simply classify the casualties of our wars, drone strikes, etc. as bad guys, and the “occasional mistake” as sad but acceptable.

Anyone who doubts that the problem is the people themselves doesn’t remember what things were like on September 12, 2001. The mere suggestion that our lunatic foreign policy had a hand in stirring up jihadis and convincing other less demented folks to support those jihadis resulted in heated denial from most folks. Wagons were circled. Flags were waved. Rah rah.

Where is the electoral coalition for a significant change in US foreign policy? Even if you added every single Ron Paul supporter to every single Green Party/lefty Dem, got them all to table the host of issues about which they vehemently disagree, I’m not sure you’re over 40% of the vote. And of course such a coalition is fantasy.

To sum up: shit is fucked up and bullshit.

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christian_h 06.06.12 at 2:50 pm

chris (211.); Yes of course we should work to overthrow the government, but that’s a long-term project. I’m certainly not advocating a futile attempt at an armed uprising now. So does this mean I’ll shut up about the murderer in the White House? No. And it’s the attempt you and your political friends make to get us to shut up that are the problem, not that you’re voting for Obama on election day (as I would if I had a vote). They prove my point, that if you say “it’s about who to vote for” you really mean much more than just the act of voting itself.

If a Republican president had a secret kill list, you’d be up in arms about it (not literally in arms, figuratively). Now you’re inventing excuses for it or at best ignoring the issue, b/c you have decided re-electing the person keeping that kill list is so important you shouldn’t rock the boat. I’m not (no matter what you may think) making a “moral” point here – I’m making a practical political point: the fact that liberals are not up in arms about this means it is now widely accepted as a legitimate power of the president; and all because so many of you have this purely electoral perspective.

I

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David Hart 06.06.12 at 2:55 pm

The only reason to vote for Romney is because when a Republican suppresses civil liberties and human rights, bombs innocent and unsuspecting civilians, wages war without the consent of the Congress and reserves the sole right to detain (and now even murder) people whom he decides are deserving of such, the Democratic partisans find their collective voice in screaming bloody hell. Of course, they do it simply for partisan reasons, but at least they make a pretense of PRETENDING to care about human rights and the rule of law.

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David Hart 06.06.12 at 2:59 pm

The lesser of two evils is still evil.

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Donald Johnson 06.06.12 at 3:05 pm

Marc, I thought Obama “ended” the war in Iraq by being asked to leave by the Iraqis.

As for Greenwald, why should he note that Obama cut back on raids in Afghanistan? When he wrote about Bush’s crimes did he seek out examples where the Bush Administration did something right?

What Greenwald does is point out the commonalities in US foreign policy and human rights violations, a pattern of ruthlessness that continues no matter which party is in power, even if the details differ and even if the details are different in ways that matter. Democrats seem to go crazy when someone like Greenwald points out that, yes, a Democratic President can be a war criminal. Why? “Lesser of two evils” means exactly that–Obama is (I think) less likely to start a full scale war with Iran, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be violating human rights and doing morally indefensible things otherwise. You can do the calculations that Platonist recommends, conclude that for all sorts of reasons Obama is preferable to Romney, and still agree with most of what Greenwald writes.

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Donald Johnson 06.06.12 at 3:20 pm

“The idea that Obama has been chasing the Republicans to the right: on precisely what? “

Listing things at random–

The health care proposal was Romneycare. The truly liberal options were never on the table with Obama. Of course the Republicans turned against their own ideas and went further to the right because that’s what they do and it works for them.

Obama embraced the basic ideas of Simpson-Bowles.

Obama decided that Bush human rights violations were not things that should be investigated and that we should move on. He takes a rather different view towards leakers (unless they make his Administration look good).

On Israel/Palestine, he condemns rockets aimed at Sderot. But his UN representative Susan Rice said there was no evidence of Israeli war crimes in the Gaza War and the Administration helped make sure the Goldstone Report went nowhere. Which makes sense–the Obama Administration’s view that any military-age male in the vicinity of one of its drone strikes is guilty until proven innocent would make it hard for them to criticize anything Israel does.

But yes, I do think he’s better than Romney. I also think Rob in CT has identified a big part of the problem–the majority of the electorate is easily persuaded to accept anything we do overseas, so long as Americans don’t get hurt.

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hartal 06.06.12 at 3:23 pm

Yet does Greenwald demonstrate any sense of what the terrorists killed by the drones had carried out and were planning to carry out against civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or does he not have to do this because he conveniently believes that were Obama and NATO to cease the drone attacks and leave, the ISI would fold it support for Lakshar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani network, and other such groups?

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Platonist 06.06.12 at 3:25 pm

Rob in CT 06.06.12 at 2:48 pm:
“The key thing I think a lot of people are still missing is the general moral depravity of your average American voter (indeed, I’d expand that to “average human being” since I actually don’t think we’re particularly exceptional).”

Absolutely. This is why the language-game of evil is unfruitful. There’s a perfectly meaningful usage, but one which is a scale that includes us all to a significant degree, so it defeats the Holy Rolling (Phony) Left’s moralistic, self-righteous purpose.

(Incidentally, this is why–in response to Chris–I’m a “platonist.” Platonism is a holy lie, the Forms are simply language. The true, the wise, and the good are fictions intentionally created to be inaccessible by definition, so that no existing person can claim the mantle. Platonism is a form of idealism that is optimistic, since it insists we must strive to be wiser and better, but anti-moralistic, since no one is in a position to moralize. It is all of the advantages of Christianity–and the American phony left–without their vindictiveness, arrogance, contempt, and hatefulness.)

“Those of us who are generally upset about how the US government uses its military power regardless of who is in the White House are a small minority of voters. I don’t know how to change that. I’ve argued these points with people and have made little headway. “

Hear, hear. A real left–which the American one is not–would be materialist, would recognize that the only way to change this is to change the conditions that produce the subjects and their ideologies. Moralistic indignation and sermonizing and self-annointed sainthood (at increased numbers of brown peoples’ expense elsewhere) won’t do it.

Of course the old left, a real but naively dialectical one, thought that making everything worse would eventually make it better. There’s no historical evidence that this has ever been the case: that increasing the amount of suck turns people into good hearted saints demanding social justice. No, it makes them uglier. The only states and societies that even remotely approximate “decent” or “just” or “good” ones are (focusing on bits and pieces of policy) a handful of European socialist-capitalist amalgums, products of compromised increasingly improved half-measures, not saintly progressive superman, and none of which are the product of revolution or government overthrows.

There is another worrisome issue this raises, that is rarely addressed. Many on the left complain our democracy is a sham or disfunctional, but there is the real possibility that the problem is precisely that our democracy is functional: we are getting candidates and policies we deserve, that are as “evil” as we are.

Donald Johnson 06.06.12 at 2:15 pm,

I never said I was a “he.” You could avoid presumptuousness by addressing me rather than talking around me. To clarify: I don’t think those who disagree about the calculus are childish. I think those who justify their positions by grading souls’ degrees of evil are childish. I’d love to see a serious debate about consequentialist calculations, but I mostly see arguments that amount to: “a is evil, b is evil, c is evil. Therefore, asparagus.”

“there are tradeoffs when one votes for Obama. If I do so then I am encouraging Democratic politicians to believe that they can continue drifting to the right”

Yes, this is a serious risk, but it’s not clear the alternative avoids it. So it becomes a tricky question of asking which is the greater risk. I don’t think the Nader vote effectively slowing the Democrats’ drift to the right. Why would it now?

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Bruce Wilder 06.06.12 at 3:38 pm

Maybe the question isn’t tricky at all. Maybe there’s no risk, because there’s no power, only the illusion of choice. Maybe all of Platonist’s hot air will just blow away.

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Ed 06.06.12 at 3:56 pm

The next time there is a “vote for the lessor of the two evils” debate on Crooked Timber, I promise to repost this link much further up the thread:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_presidential_election,_1932

Though I have to admit that the argument made by chris in the previous comment, that its either Obama or revolution, is both novel and amazing. It may have been worth wading through the other 210 comments to see that.

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RickrInSF 06.06.12 at 3:58 pm

Why is the meme “Romney would be worse” allowed to continue without debate?!? Obama has done far more to promote the conservative agenda than any republican could ever do. By bringing the majority of democrats and most “progressives” in to the mind set that we are at war with a tactic, that anything a president does is legal, and that there will never be accountability for those high enough in our political system, he is by far the worst thing that could ever happen to this country, including Romeny or any other republican.

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Marius 06.06.12 at 3:59 pm

“Blogs that take attitudes to historic human rights violations as a litmus-test of political acceptability, have nothing to say as a liberal American President bombs civilians on the territory of nominally friendly states.”

What I heard when I read the above:

Yeah, yeah, we know it’s an election year. Billions of dollars, pr firms, ad campaigns, the ghost of edward bernays….every joule and calorie expended is of the utmost importance to move the electoral needle, district by district, state by state.

But, what happened in 2011? And, if our darling O-man prevails, what about 2013? Aren’t little Yemeni and Pakistani children still going to be walking around with “Don’t Drone Me Bro!” T-shirts? What then?

Will your voice mean anything more than your vote captured on that fateful November 2012 day?

EVEN IF we agree that your joules and calories will be burned into obscurity by majoritarian “depravity,” will you expend any effort to oppose the campaign? Or maybe just to get the Barron/Lederman memo green-lighting the campaign released? Oh, and btw, IF you don’t oppose the campaign, this message isn’t for you.

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Marc 06.06.12 at 4:07 pm

@226: It’s hard to make a case that the Obama health care plan is a step to the right of the status quo. It has some major ingredients that have been long-term progressive goals: removing the hated “pre-exisiting conditions” excuse used to deny coverage or impose astronomical premiums; coverage for birth control (which has spurred a furious right-wing backlash); extending coverage for adult children; banning recission, where insurance companies canceled policies on technical grounds when people made large claims.

Obama is to the left of Clinton on a lot of issues (gay rights, for example, and womens rights in many cases); and far to the left of Bush on essentially all domestic issues. I know that this doesn’t fit the betrayal narrative, but I’m just not seeing the one-way drift to the right for Democrats unless you’re unwilling to compare to …well, the things that Democrats were doing in the past.

“Obama is not as liberal as me” is a different thing than “Obama is more conservative than the other Democrat elected in the last 3o years”.

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Data Tutashkhia 06.06.12 at 4:12 pm

Obama and Romney are the same: professional politicians.

The Democratic and Republican parties have different but overlapping constituencies (I’m talking about their real constituencies, business elites), and they overlap more and more. They also appeal to voters in different ways. With that in mind, it might very well be the case that a Republican president is better, because if the sponsors decide that they’ve gone too far, only a Republican president could easily pull the ‘Nixon goes to China’ trick off. Like Bush passing the Medicare prescription drugs plan. Democratic president, to avoid hurting the party, has to appear sufficiently bloodthirsty and committed to cutthroat capitalism.

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The Raven 06.06.12 at 4:14 pm

One very late footnote this–it really deserves a thread of its own, and my blog doesn’t have the readership for it–is that, with the resounding defeat of labor in Wisconsin, we are probably going to see a return to 1880s levels of anti-union violence. So one of the questions becomes: will a President call out the National Guard, or use the standing military, to put down strikes?

It’s hard for me to imagine that Romney would not. Obama?

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ajay 06.06.12 at 4:14 pm

The Democratic and Republican parties have different but overlapping constituencies (I’m talking about their real constituencies, business elites)

The US Chamber of Commerce – the lobbying group for the US business elite – has been one of Obama’s loudest opponents. But indeed this is central to your point!

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Marc 06.06.12 at 4:19 pm

@225: This is a beautiful example of what I was talking about. Obama opposed the Iraq War. He campaigned on leaving Iraq, and he ended the Iraq War. One would think that this might just enter into the moral calculus.

But there is a competing story: Obama claimed to want to leave Iraq, but was planning on betraying his supporters. He was forced to leave by the Iraqis, however, and thus deserves no credit. This has seeped in so thoroughly that even less partisan observers treat it as received wisdom.

This is what I meant – the antipathy towards him is so profound that his opponents can’t give him any credit even for things that you’d think they would support. Health care doesn’t count; leaving Iraq doesn’t count; womens rights and gay rights don’t count. It’s no wonder that people equate the two parties, or assert a continuous rightwards drift, if contrary evidence isn’t entertained.

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Nick 06.06.12 at 4:24 pm

Marc @220. Word.

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Nick 06.06.12 at 4:27 pm

Rob in CT @221:

“Where is the electoral coalition for a significant change in US foreign policy?”

Slowly but surely entering the ranks of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Seriously.

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Nick 06.06.12 at 4:33 pm

Ed @230. Goodwin! Yahtzee! Only 230 posts…

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HaggardTron 06.06.12 at 5:03 pm

Co-signing 161. Stick to obscure philosophers, other people can pay attention to the actual pronouncements of the Republican candidates and their billionaire handlers.

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Dennis 06.06.12 at 5:05 pm

In regards to pragmatism we were given Ron Paul, the fiscally conservative socially liberal candidate. Just sayin

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christian_h 06.06.12 at 5:11 pm

The Raven (235.): This is just silly. No violence will be employed against strikers because it is completely unnecessary. No violence was used against PATCO, and they were routed; and unions will work for the Democrats (like Barrett in Wisconsin, who supports the uunion busting and used it to crush public workers in Milwaukee) who support anti-union legislation, until they are destroyed. The violence against labour in the late 19th century was a symptom of the strength of the labour movement, not its weakness. at this point, the worst a Democratic governor has to do is invoke Taft-Hartley or similar legislation and the union leader will call off their strike.

As for chris, nobody thinks Obama betrayed anyone. He is what he is and always was – a right-wing corporate hack fully supportive of US imperialism. I just wish that once – just once – the “vote Democrat without illusions” crowd actually would not have illusions instead of pathetically trying to defend the illusions they purport to lack.

Why do you think, btw, that Obama is “to the left of Clinton” on gay right? It is because the movement (or at least the more radical parts of it) did not shut up when they were told – again and again – by the chris’s of this world that talking about their rights undermined Democrats’ electoral prospects (which it clearly did).

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christian_h 06.06.12 at 5:13 pm

Just by the by, when Obama had a chance to really do something for ending the Iraq war – as opposed to wrapping it up and sending the troops to kill more people in Afghanistan as planned by Bush – did he? How many war appropriations did he vote against? Or is this one of those “tricky” cases where words speak louder than actions?

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Derek Bowman 06.06.12 at 5:16 pm

@Platonist,

Although I share your disdain for the idea that avoiding complicity is as easy as withholding your vote, I wonder if your vision of a materialist political movement isn’t self defeating in both word and deed .

You say:
A real left—which the American one is not—would be materialist, would recognize that the only way to change this is to change the conditions that produce the subjects and their ideologies. Moralistic indignation and sermonizing and self-annointed sainthood (at increased numbers of brown peoples’ expense elsewhere) won’t do it.

First, I wonder how this stance isn’t itself a form of moralizing, directed at we would-be leftists, highlighting the way that you, but alas not we, approach things aright. And you do this with mere words, without even attempting to address the conditions that produce us as subjects and our false left ideologies.

Second, how would this materialist left set about changing those conditions, except by way of changing the behaviors of those who collectively produce them? And how do we do that without setting out standards of right and wrong and persuading people to endorse and live up to them? Does your materialism even leave room for effective political activism?

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Substance McGravitas 06.06.12 at 5:39 pm

If it makes you feel better to imagine that you are preventing some great evil, while blindly giving political support to the commission of great evil, I cannot save you.

I don’t think there’s much blindness in the thread about Obama doing bad stuff. He has done bad stuff, he is doing so, he will. I haven’t noticed any full-throated support for him in the thread.

In any case a vote is happening. I have a lot of sympathy for people who don’t want to vote for Obama: as Christian says at some point you won’t vote for a guy if he does X. That’s politics. I hope the people who can’t vote for Obama do their best to dissuade someone else from voting for Romney. A Coalition of Disgust swapping non-voting pledges – it’s not like Romney is beloved or trusted – would be an interesting thing.

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eddie 06.06.12 at 5:45 pm

It makes no sense from the standpoint of the interests of the United States to target 16-year olds for drone strikes.

Your denialism is beneath you.

Todays attacks show that it is taliban that consistently attacks millitary targets (yes, a military supply train is a military target), while it is obama and nato that has the consistent policy off terror bombing civilians.

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geo 06.06.12 at 5:46 pm

Is the “lesser evil” question really so difficult? Doesn’t the Electoral College — abominable travesty though it is — make the solution obvious? In a safe state, red or blue — ie, all but a handful of states — vote for your preferred third-party candidate (mine is Jill Stein of the Green Party). Millions of people doing this will not throw the election to the Republicans (I agree that would be horrible) but will, or should, get the attention of the Democrats and — more important — of the rest of the citizenry.

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Substance McGravitas 06.06.12 at 5:48 pm

Todays attacks show that it is taliban that consistently attacks millitary targets

And poisons the water at schools for girls.

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Commuted 06.06.12 at 5:48 pm

Yes, executioner judge is an escalation. Killing someone who is related by marriage to a known terrorist is escalation too. Doing this with a drone strike outside of a combat zone is, –well, consistent. This escalation is the stock the trade of the movement. Escalation is the measure of every civilized society. If you don’t support drone strikes you are supporting terrorism is a logical escalation at home. There is a connection between escalation abroad and at home. They move in lock-step. Time cleans and polishes and then visits a likeness of them on us.

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The Raven 06.06.12 at 5:54 pm

“Although [Romney] has not been terribly specific about his plans for for Medicare, he’s made clear his intention to transform Medicare into a voucher program that no longer offers the same guarantee of benefits. Romney has been more specific about Medicaid: He intends to turn the program over to the states but with a lot less money, all but guaranteeing that states dramatically reduce either what or who the program covers.”–http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/103784/ann-mitt-romney-ms-affordable-care-act-pre-existing-out-of-pocket-expenses

The Federated Corvids of North America thinks this is just great. Food!

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William Berry 06.06.12 at 5:54 pm

@195
“You may choose between: a) an exquisitely prepared gourmet meal, b) a hot dog, or c) a shit sandwich. Currently popular opinion is split between the three choices as follows: a) 4% b) 48% and c) 48%. What do you choose?”

Does the “exquisitely prepared gourmet meal” = Nader again? Ron Paul? Anarcho/ Green candidate from nowhere?

Does the “hot dog” = Obama?

Can it be a Nathan’s with mustard, ketchup, and (only a little) relish?

Then, I’ll have a hot dog, thanx.

And to those who choose the “exquisitely prepared gourmet meal”: Enjoy your “shit sandwich”.

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William Timberman 06.06.12 at 6:04 pm

It’s a real pain to find myself disagreeing with you, geo, but in this case I do. The only thing that will get the attention of Democrats is to have a safe fall on them — and by safe I don’t mean losing the Presidency and both houses of Congress. As for the rest of the citizenry, what seems to be getting the attention of a majority of them so far are bumper stickers with names on them like Walker, Brewer, Limbaugh, Supportthetroops and Paul. They’ll probably need the whole country to fall on them to shift their focus — which at this point doesn’t seem to be as far off as the Sabbath gasbags would have us believe. (Pardon me if I forego the Schadenfreude just this once.)

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eddie 06.06.12 at 6:10 pm

Also this:

Probably not a bad thing that Obama and NATO are seen as making the strikes against strongholds of the Taliban…

Post facto redefining someone’s home as a ‘stronghold of the taliban’ is just the same as redefining their corpse as a terrorist.

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eddie 06.06.12 at 6:12 pm

“And poisons the water at schools for girls.”

That was indeed blamed on the taliban.

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.12 at 6:12 pm

The only thing that will get the attention of Democrats is to have a safe fall on them—and by safe I don’t mean losing the Presidency and both houses of Congress.

Nope, not even that, if history is any guide at all. They’ll just redouble their efforts to whore after corporate cash.

IMHO the only thing that can possibly work is to take over the party one county committeeperson at a time the way the wingnuts took over the Republican party. Third parties and protest votes- and street protests, which will simply be crushed the way OWS eventually was- are just diversions from that job. But those things are much more effective at inducing a self-righteous glow, which is all the left in this country has been good for since, well, forever.

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eddie 06.06.12 at 6:13 pm

OTOH, have you drunk the water supply in Wisconsin?

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eddie 06.06.12 at 6:15 pm

My point is not that the taliban are not vicious monsters. They are. But they are no worse than the americans, and nato. Us taking sides on purely racist terms is wrong.

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Substance McGravitas 06.06.12 at 6:22 pm

My point is not that the taliban are not vicious monsters. They are. But they are no worse than the americans, and nato. Us taking sides on purely racist terms is wrong.

I understand your point and I don’t see that any side in the conflict has a whole lot to crow about as far as humanity goes.

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Kyle Blank 06.06.12 at 6:34 pm

“Kyle Blank #174: “1) Why is extending the tax cuts on the high earners wrong? (everyone got a tax cut under Bush, it wasn’t just the high-earners)”

The Bush tax cuts as a whole need to be revoked someday after the recession ends, since government spending is going to increase with the rate of medical spending in general Everybody got a tax cut under Bush, but the rich made so much more money that the burden of total taxation shifted downward onto the middle classes: in other words, the rich are taking a higher percentage share of total after-tax income than before.”

How would the rich making more money shift the burden downward? From what I have seen, 50% of Americans ultimately pay no federal income tax now because of things like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit (which was doubled under Bush from $500 to $1000 per child), along with various other tax credits and deductions people can get. It seems the burden remains, at least in terms of federal income tax, primarily shouldered by the highest earners, but they pay less absolute money then before because of the tax cuts.

“Despite this largesse however, the Bush tax cuts did not increase revenues enough to pay for themselves, as was advertised!, and they did not increase economic growth nor productivity growth commensurately, as was advertised, and as is obvious.”

This is true, as the taxes weren’t high enough to disrupt economic growth and the Bush administration also was not exactly fiscally conservative.

“The argument for revoking the tax cuts on the high earners at the present moment goes this way. It will reduce the deficits a little, and at the same time, it won’t do any damage to economic growth, because we are not in a supply-side recession: business investment is not the problem; companies are sitting on about $2 trillion in cash that they are not spending. We are in a demand-side recession of a rare type, a balance-sheet recession, and the basic problem is pumping-up consumer demand to get people back to work. But high earners do not have a higher marginal propensity to consume than lower earners; the rich save the money, and it is languishing as bank reserves. So the idea is to revoke the high-earner cuts now, and revoke the low-earner cuts in addition, AFTER the recession is over and the economy comes back. Of course revoking the high-earner cuts is a political plus for the Dems, and reducing the deficits removes the public debt as a viable political issue for the Repubs, and so that is where Wash D.C. is stuck.”

Wouldn’t the cash the businesses are sitting on constitute money they should be using for investment though, like expanding, hiring new people, etc…? A business “investing” in additional trucks is engaging in demand-side activity by purchasing new trucks as far as the truck dealer is concerned, for example. So it could be a form of supply-side recession. My fear is that raising the taxes now will not do much because the government will likely just continue spending like crazy. I understand the government cannot just “cut spending” as most of the spending is from Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and defense, but at least addressing the issue of the debt and deficit and trying to work out a serious long-term plan (where gradual spending cuts or controls would really occur if the Republicans would agree to some tax increases) would be nice.

Historically what seems to happen though is that the government will increase taxes, but keep spending, or even increase spending. This makes Republicans very reluctant to agree to any tax increases. Some Republicans also (even if wrongly) believe such increases right now will hamstring the economy. Reducing the deficit a little isn’t worth much if the central problem of spending growth isn’t addressed somehow. I am not sure if I agree that letting the tax cuts on the higher earners expire would remove the issue of the deficit for the Republicans, as it would still be a big issue.

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William Timberman 06.06.12 at 6:38 pm

IMHO the only thing that can possibly work is to take over the party one county committeeperson at a time the way the wingnuts took over the Republican party.

A comforting theory, but absent certain other factors, a questionable one. Until fairly recently, I was a precinct captain and state representative for the Yavapai County Democrats in AZ. Taking over the party here is a sick joke, believe me. At one point, more than half the members of the State Committee were members of the Progressive Caucus, yet we couldn’t even bring a resolution condemning the bombing of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead to a vote. Sitting across from me in a meeting, our candidate for Congress in the First District referred to Barry Goldwater as a moderate. (After losing to a Republican dentist in 2010, and checking out the numbers following our redistricting, she’s running again.) Our County Chairman, at another meeting of the party’s savants, discounted a potential candidate for our Legislative District as some kind of hippy.

Maybe this taking over stuff wouldn’t be such a dismal business in Massachusetts, New York, or California, but looking at the news, and at commentators like Digby, who know things I don’t know, I doubt it. First you have to convince people that there’s some compelling reason to overthrow what’s already there. This takes time, and needs some help from events that conventional wisdom — not to mention outright lying — can’t explain. Look at the rest of this thread. That’s the least of what’s standing in your way. Not an impossible amount of inertia, but not a bed of roses, either.

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William Timberman 06.06.12 at 6:45 pm

Shorter version: the Marx brothers (Karl and Groucho) aren’t going to do for us what the Koch brothers did for the Tea Party.

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Platonist 06.06.12 at 6:45 pm

@Derek

1. I agree that my stance is a moral one, but not moralistic. It’s moral because based on moral grounds (do what will lower body counts), it’s not moralistic because it’s focused on results, not on assessments of the states of people’s (Obama’s, liberals, etc) souls, their levels of evil, and so forth. Both sides are morally motivated, but I think many on the other side are not really concerned with moral action, but principled non-participation (soul-scrubbing), washing their hands and leaving the playing field to be above the whole dirty mess. I’m saying we’re already both in this dirty mess, don’t pretend otherwise. I’m not holier than them, but they’re sure as hell not holier than us.

You’re right that I didn’t address the conditions that produces these subjects and ideologies–that’s a big topic. But a short version would be: “progressive” opinions are a luxury of the kinds of backgrounds and lives many (not all) people on this sort of blog often have: comfort, security, health, education, and culturally sophisticated environments and opportunities. You want to change the public toward progress? Give them more comfort, security, etc. Give them the lesser of two evils. The old flawed Marxist model (give them more poverty and injustice until they’re fed up), which the protest and non-voters are endorsing in practice, will produce the opposite result.

2. I agree than many versions of materialism are self-defeating. Keep in mind that we do not describe the material conditions that produced us and our beliefs from outside the causal process: we are part of it. So our thoughts, arguments, actions, beliefs, and debates are part of what will determine the future course. There is effective political activism in the present, but we must accept that such activism takes place in situations that offer only some immediate live options. We can persuade and endorse, but it’s a matter of degree–and is very contingent upon the character and circumstances of the audience. For example, it’s worth criticizing Obama to other progressives and endorsing a push by progressives against the rightward drift. But there’s no point in hoping that we’re going to persuade the majority of the population of an institutionally, economically, materially–necessarily–regressive nation to become progressive by reasonable reflection and free choice. That shouldn’t be an alternative to voting the lesser evil, it’s a fantasy.

And of course, we can select live options now for the sole purpose of opening up live options later. This is the basis of what I think is the most persuasive argument against voting for Obama. The claim is that working to ensure that the Democrats are lose more and more support the further to the right they go will then open up the live option of voting for truly left candidates. So the short term risk is compensated by a longterm advantage. I think this option is too risky, since we can predict the real costs and benefits in the short term with high accuracy, but we cannot predict the longterm benefits accurately: experience seems to suggest the strategy doesn’t work, while the degree of short term harm is dramatically increasing in each election.

Geo’s safestate protest rule seems reasonable, as does Substance McGravitas’ Coalition of Disgust exchange policy. But of course the risk isn’t isolated individual protest votes and non-votes, but the promotion of a culture of non-voting and protest-voting: the creation of a mood and movement that increases on a large scale the chance that people won’t show up or won’t vote strategically.
I can endorse

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Substance McGravitas 06.06.12 at 6:46 pm

Historically what seems to happen though is that the government will increase taxes, but keep spending, or even increase spending. This makes Republicans very reluctant to agree to any tax increases.

No it doesn’t. It has nothing to do with worries over government spending. Republicans have historically been the biggest spenders. Their principles consist of winning votes and funnelling money to rich people.

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Jim Demintia 06.06.12 at 6:48 pm

Taking over the party is a lot easier when your grassroots demands are identical to those being made by the big money boys financing campaigns.

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.12 at 6:48 pm

Rest assured, not only do I think it would be very, very difficult, I’m not at all sure it’s even possible. But I literally don’t see ANY other path. (As for my view of the likelyfuture, though, let just say I’m glad I’m pushing 60…)

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Jim Demintia 06.06.12 at 6:50 pm

@ 261

Exactly.

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geo 06.06.12 at 6:55 pm

A vote of thanks to William for his thankless efforts to bring enlightenment to Arizona. But I agree with Steve @255 that taking over the Democratic Party is a plausible strategy, probably wiser on balance than trying to found and fund a third party, though there should be a lot more discussion. But of course there won’t be any discussion until it’s unmistakably clear that there’s widespread discontent with the Democratic Party from the left. That’s the point of the safeprotest (nice term, Platonist) vote for president. After all, you can still vote for local and state Democratic candidates.

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Pepe 06.06.12 at 6:59 pm

The Black Agenda Report has also been critical of Obama (not just the drone strikes). In fact, that site started the meme that Obama is not the lesser evil, but rather, the more effective evil.

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.12 at 6:59 pm

A vote of thanks to William for his thankless efforts to bring enlightenment to Arizona.

Heartily seconded!

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TK421 06.06.12 at 7:01 pm

“Romney will be beholden to the crazy Republican right, as Obama is not.”

Really? Obama hasn’t tailored virtually all of his presidency to trying to appease the right wing? He didn’t base his healthcare reform bill upon the right wing’s ideas to get their votes? He hasn’t gone around praising Reagan and criticizing FDR? He wasn’t willing to gut Social Security and Medicare to get right wing approval for his budget? I must live in a parallel universe.

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Kevin Falvey 06.06.12 at 7:07 pm

I don’t think there is much of a dilemma about whether to vote for Obama, unless you are a consequentialist. Speaking for myself, as I would not deliberately kill an innocent person in order to prevent a murderer from killing twenty innocents, so I will not, by voting for him, endorse Obama’s murders (and other crimes against human rights and the rule of law), solely in order to prevent Romney from murdering many more.

One might think there is no voting dilemma here even if you are a consequentialist: in that case you should vote for Obama. But that isn’t clear if you take into account the long-term consequences. There has been a trend in this country for the past thirty years or so in which both parties move steadily to the right, as the Democrats increasingly beg for corporate cash to counter the Republicans’ advantage in this area. This emboldens the GOP, who move further to the right, which means the Democrats’ corporate paymasters are in a position to extract more right-wing policies from them in exchange for their donations, and so on. The result is that working people are ignored by the Democrats, and the situation gets worse every election cycle. Unless this dynamic is stopped, it’s terrifying to think what this country will look like in twenty years. An enabling condition of the trend is the votes of working people and their fellow-travelers, who continue to vote Democratic because they are always the lesser evil, even though they become more evil with every election. The only chance of stopping the dynamic is for working people to punish Democrats for ignoring them by not voting for them. There are additional non-consequentialist reasons not to vote Democratic here as well, such as basic self-respect.

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Pepe 06.06.12 at 7:09 pm

@geo

a 3rd party could be used as a wedge to drive the Dems left, but you’d have to be willing to lose elections in the meantime.

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William Timberman 06.06.12 at 7:15 pm

geo @ 267

I’d be more comfortable accepting thanks if I’d accomplished anything, and I probably should say also that I’d still be trying if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a rotten politician, and I’m 68. It’s time for younger folks to have a bash, and for me to try something I’m better at, like the local radio show I’m helping some friends with. The idea is to try to broaden the base of opinion in the state, to make it easier for Democrats to run on something like a decent agenda. And yes, although I’m gagging on Obama, I’m still going to vote for down-ticket Democrats. (Whatever their failings in my estimation, none of those failings measure up –or down — to those of our Warlord and Banker-In-Chief.)

If there really were widespread discontent with the Democratic Party from the Left, and if we had a Left as solidly-grounded, well-organized and numerous as the Left in the Thirties, then we might be able to make some headway in turning the party to better purposes. Unless and until we do, we’ll be doing the nattering, and the likes of Rahm Emanuel, Terry Mcauliffe and David Axelrod will be doing the deciding.

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Bruce Wilder 06.06.12 at 7:16 pm

geo: “Is the “lesser evil” question really so difficult?”

In the Jim Crow, Solid South, of one-party Democratic rule, the only election that mattered was the Democratic Primary, where you could choose between the vicious segregationist and the nice segregationist, the demagogic populist and the patrician sonabitch. In the U.S. plutocracy today, we face a similar sort of choice in the general election. There’s only one “party” — the plutocratic party — and the Democrats and Republicans are two factions of that one party. There are differences, but if you are opposed to the plutocracy, with regard to that opposition, you have no viable option in the voting booth, period, and obsessing over the choice you do have in the voting booth, such as it is, is just a distraction from the large problem of what to do about the plutocracy (and the hopelessness and powerlessness we, as individuals, necessarily feel in regard to its established and presently unassailable power).

I don’t object to symbolically voting for third-party “fringe” candidates, or even unknown or obscure Democrats without a chance in hell. I did so yesterday in the primary election. (Take that, Dianne Feinstein!) We’ll see if anyone even bothers to calculate how many Democrats failed to check the box next to Obama’s name, as I did. It is something to do, but it would be silly to imagine that it “solves” the dilemma, which established plutocracy now poses.

It disturbs me to see how many people are passionately mired in the partisan quicksand of lesser evil arguments in favor of Obama. To me, the “evil” is Obama’s work in furthering the interests of the plutocracy, and, of course, the authoritarianism that plutocratic rule requires. Using drones in Yemen and Pakistan is just an extension of the Bush/Cheney doctrine of aggressive war, but it fits into a larger pattern, filled in by domestic economic policy, which includes immunity from prosecution for banksters and debt peonage for students, high unemployment and continued disinvestment, public and private, and consequent stagnant or falling wages.

The “lesser evil” argument is difficult, because of the evil. Voting for the “lesser evil” does not entail opposition to the evil; it is not doing anything about the “evil”, i.e. the deepening establishment and normalization of the plutocracy and its authoritarianism. I wish I could believe that “gay marriage” or abortion rights, or social liberalism in general, could survive the political authoritarianism and economic decline, which our current course toward becoming a Second World, and maybe a Third World, country, entails.

I appreciate that some people are actually quite comfortable with the advent of plutocracy. They feel secure enough, I guess, and don’t really care much about the bottom half of the population, which is being screwed, big-time. You can think Obamacare’s reforms of insurance coverage are a big deal, for example, if you can afford, or have through an employer, good insurance, plus deep enough pockets, to manage the out-of-pocket. Health care expense for a family of four, by itself, would exhaust the entire income of a family with income at the poverty line, and out-of-pocket expenses, by itself, is approaching the total cost of health care in some developed countries. But, nevermind. Subsidies administered through the tax code will kick in real soon now (2014?), and the mandate only looks like a guaranteed market expansion delivered to for-profit insurance companies, which skim 20% off the top for their trouble, before beginning the deeper skim by the medical-industrial complex. “Lesser evil” means single-payer cannot be considered; a public option cannot be considered; everything, but feeding the corporate pigs at the trough cannot be considered. “Lesser evil” means a “JOBS bill” consisting of pointless tax giveaways to business. And, on and on.

For people comfortable with the advent of plutocracy, the “lesser evil” argument is an occasion for beating up on those to their left, who don’t cheerfully acquiesce in supporting their smug self-satisfied agenda. (Yes, Scott Lemieux, I’m looking at you.) If you are such a person, you can lecture them on their political naïveté about what is “practical” or “inevitable”, and you’re right, because equity and fairness and justice are pretty much off-limits in a plutocracy, and there really isn’t much we can do about it, as things stand. You can sneer about the self-destructive Nader in 2000, without ever acknowledging that Nader was right or that the Supreme Court decided the election in as cynical fashion as possible, with no effective resistance offered by Gore. You can influence the tone of the plutocracy a little bit — the substance not at all, so if you are basically OK with the substance, then the work of politics of the left is to shame those who care enough to be dissatisfied with authoritarian plutocracy. Good work, if you can get paid for it, I guess.

or . . . well, there is no “or”, That’s the point. That’s what makes the dilemma, hard. Very, very hard. To tell the truth, to get right with reality, is to admit, with some degree of hopelessness and horror, to powerlessness. At bottom, the dilemma of “lesser evil” obscures the deeper problem, which, when revealed, turns out to be powerlessness, and how to find the power to solve that problem is the really hard dilemma.

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Salient 06.06.12 at 7:28 pm

Obama opposed the Iraq War. He campaigned on leaving Iraq, and he ended the Iraq War. One would think that this might just enter into the moral calculus.

Obama didn’t end the Iraq War; he just turned it over to the contractors, on Bush’s timeline. We haven’t left Iraq.

But there is a competing story: Obama claimed to want to leave Iraq, but was planning on betraying his supporters.

That’s really asinine. We can be better than this to each other.

He was forced to leave by the Iraqis, however, and thus deserves no credit.

Let me be the first on this thread to say this explicitly and completely sincerely: no current President ever deserves any credit, whatsoever, for anything, ever. Full stop. No current President ever deserves accolades, praise, . Ever. For anything. At most, in response to a completely positive outcome, a passive-aggressive acknowledgement that ‘the right thing’ happened. For anything less than a completely positive outcome, any acknowledgement of the accomplishment should be paired with an acknowledgement of its insufficiency.

No one should praise or honor any current President until they have resigned or left office. The same rule holds for current Senators, Representatives, and office-holders of note, right down to county board and mayoral positions. It is a simple rule. It is what brings normalization of one’s agenda and continued success. Never celebrate. Never congratulate. Never compromise without gritted teeth and cold eyes.

Why? When you intimidate someone into doing something for you, and they do it, you don’t respond by praising them or honoring them, unless you’re both very cruel and very stupid. What you do is step back and stand down for a while, maintain watchfulness. At most, declare publicly that the right outcome happened — and be sure to mention expectations for the future.

And to be clear, any time a President or elected office-holder does anything you have demanded of them, it’s because you have managed to intimidate them into doing it. There is no other reason for them to do what you want them to do, instead of what others want them to do. (Occasionally the office-holder actually does want you to . In this case, they will welcome your intimidation. Forgive me for boring you with the obvious “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it” FDR quote that illustrates this principle — rarely is anyone in office so plainly honest.)

This is what I meant – the antipathy towards him is so profound that his opponents can’t give him any credit even for things that you’d think they would support.

Again. Nobody gets credit until they’ve left office. Credit, honors, and congratulations given midway through only serve to weaken their recipient and compromise the already faint amount of pressure at our disposal.

If you want to say something productive midway through the politician’s career, (1) articulate what your relevant expectations are, (2) identify opponents to that politician who are or will be working against those expectations most explicitly and fervently, and (3) articulate the damage they would do.

Always play a strong offense. Never celebrate at halftime.

Nobody “independent” on the sidelines watches a celebration–especially a lukewarm one–and feels inspired to join you or encourage you. At best they feel put off and vaguely bothered at the showmanship; at worst they feel inspired to crush you and wipe the smiles off your smug faces.

When you praise an outcome or a politician unconditionally, you get nothing, and they get nothing.

(This doesn’t apply if you’re getting nearly everything you could possibly want from that politician already, of course. The NRA and anti-abortion advocates issue lush praise for various elected officials specifically because they really are getting everything they want from those persons. Even given that, they usually wait until the last moments right before an election to mention their support, once the politician’s opponent is known — and even then, these groups tend to focus their message on the (1)(2)(3) I wrote out above.)

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Donald Johnson 06.06.12 at 7:30 pm

Platonist–I apologize for using the pronoun “he” when referring to you. But as for presumptuousness, you’re not one to talk. You presume to know what motivates other people–you started off that way in this thread and you continue to do so. Not that it matters. Presume away.

I agree with geo’s idea of voting for Obama or a third party based on what state one is in–I’ve done that in the past. But it’s only going to have an impact if many millions of people did it, which is why I don’t get too excited about that approach.

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Donald Johnson 06.06.12 at 7:36 pm

Salient’s 7:28 post nails it.

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Kyle Blank 06.06.12 at 7:52 pm

” ‘Historically what seems to happen though is that the government will increase taxes, but keep spending, or even increase spending. This makes Republicans very reluctant to agree to any tax increases.’

No it doesn’t. It has nothing to do with worries over government spending.”

Yes it does. Ronald Reagan agreed to sign a tax increase and the congress promised it would reduce spending by about three dollars for every dollar of additional tax revenue. One month after signing the increase, Congress then reneged on its promise and passed an appropriations bill that increased spending. Reagan vetoed it, and they overrode his veto. Then George H. W. Bush agreed to a tax increase with the Congress promising they would reduce spending by a dollar for every dollar of additional revenue. He signed the increase, the spending cuts never occurred, and the budget was not balanced. Bill Clinton signed a tax increase but was trying to get Hillarycare passed, and the Republicans under Bush cut taxes under the guise it would lead to enough economic growth to increase revenues, but they then spent like crazy.

“Republicans have historically been the biggest spenders. Their principles consist of winning votes and funnelling money to rich people.”

That depends on how you view the Republicans. If you look at their history of controlling the House, they tend not to be big spenders. As president, it’s a lot more mixed. Only caring about winning votes and funneling money to rich people could easily be said about elements of both parties. There are plenty of Democrats who are about winning votes by passing myriad government spending programs to make people dependent on government and who represent the labor unions, the trial lawyers, and the environmental lobby, who are the prime special interests of the Democratic party. There are good and bad in both parties.

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geo 06.06.12 at 7:59 pm

Bruce @270: Very powerful comment, and all true. Hard times now, and more to come.

Krugman, commenting today on the defeat in Wisconsin, wrote: “Still, my rule for myself is, never give up. All seemed lost politically in 2004; it wasn’t. Then a lot of people, including, I’m sorry to say, Obama, slacked off after 2008, believing that the other side would have to compromise. It’s never over, for good or bad. Keep on plugging.” Being almost as old as William T., I’m about to give up. But good for Krugman, and for Greenwald and Chomsky.

I recently read Jonathan Israel’s splendid history of the Enlightenment. The surrounding darkness was even worse then. I don’t know how they kept plugging. Glad they did, though.

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geo 06.06.12 at 8:00 pm

NB: Should now be “Bruce @274.”

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Guido Nius 06.06.12 at 8:06 pm

If I had to make the choice, I would most probably have triggered the attack. It is one of many extreme situations in which I suppose I would be murderous. My luck is that in my average life I have been spared such situations. My virtue is that I never seek them out.

It is not that due & fair process has been violated given there was none applicable to the case.

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bin yamin 06.06.12 at 8:12 pm

Glen Ford at blackagendareport argues it’s not about the lesser evil, but the more “effective evil”. Only Nixon goes to China, and only Obama normalizes Cheney radicalism, criminal bankers, endless war.

http://blackagendareport.com/content/why-barack-obama-more-effective-evil

I’m voting for Jill Stein. I’m not of the opinion that there are no differences between the legacy parties. But I do think the similarities are far more meaningful than the differences. The quantity of a ‘protest vote’ may not lead to a quality outcome this November. But if enough people dropped the neoliberal duopoly on the principal that it is mutually corrupt and well beyond the people, perhaps it is a starting point for change. Otherwise we’re stuck in a continuing cycle of co-option and delusion as the Overton Window moves further to the right. The Democratic party and the unelected power base it serves is not frightened or in any way beholden to its constituency, or the people’s interest at large. That has to change.

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christian_h 06.06.12 at 8:15 pm

In my view the “take over the Democratic party” approach is probably missing the point – ignoring the structural issues of party organization that likely make it impossible, what is needed is a constituency with a politics to the left of the party that can even try to do so; e.g., a revived labour movement (the typical liberal single issue campaign won’t do the job). But here’s the irony: as long as social movements prioritize not their political demands and strategies of imposing them on the rulers, but the election of politicians they imagine might be sympathetic to their demands, the movements will never achieve the degree of organization and political clarity that is an absolute precondition for moving the Democratic party anywhere. The ACP and the CIO unions may have moved the Democrats through the “popular front” – but first they were built as independent organizations with a clear political line to the left of the Democratic party.

So what I’m trying to say is: if you are serious about moving the Democratic party, you have to be serious about first building independently of it. This does not mean building a third (electoral) party – it does mean understanding elections as the secondary issue they really are.

And there’s no need to give up (although there’s nothing wrong with those having been in the struggle for a long time (semi-) retiring from it) – historical conditions can change awfully quickly.

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.12 at 8:20 pm

So what I’m trying to say is: if you are serious about moving the Democratic party, you have to be serious about first building independently of it. This does not mean building a third (electoral) party – it does mean understanding elections as the secondary issue they really are.

This of course is true, and is what the conservatives did. But as you indicate, it’s a precondition, not an alternative. Do you see anything currently existing (and not limited to a single issue or small range of issues) that might be developed into such an organization?

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Marc 06.06.12 at 8:22 pm

@275: Now we’re playing the game where it doesn’t matter what Obama actually does. He “turned Iraq over to the contractors.” As opposed to, precisely, what? Would McCain have agreed to leave, ever? Bullshit. If McCain had won we’d be digging in even deeper in Iraq. If the Iraqis didn’t like it they’d have new leaders who did. And we would not be winding down in Afghanistan.

Nice “left on the Bush timetable” too. We can’t actually admit the notion that, maybe, that Obama actually means what he said and is extracting the US from a pointless war as quickly as possible. Why is it so hard for people here to admit that he’s actually done something right, and something clearly different from what his opponent would have done?

And then we have :

“And to be clear, any time a President or elected office-holder does anything you have demanded of them, it’s because you have managed to intimidate them into doing it. There is no other reason for them to do what you want them to do, instead of what others want them to do.”

I guess it isn’t possible that a politician could actually believe in something and want to accomplish it. Nope. They’re always against us and always have to be forced into things. They’re just puppets. That’s why Bush got us into Iraq – he was “forced to”, presumably, as opposed to it being something that he really wanted to do and worked to achieve. I find this as bleak as it is wrong,and this is a clear misreading of what FDR meant.

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Guido Nius 06.06.12 at 8:31 pm

Germany has a left to the left of the left and it is not winning elections. Also, it is simply not true that policy on the average is moving to the right. And: 285.

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geo 06.06.12 at 8:43 pm

Marc @285: I guess it isn’t possible that a politician could actually believe in something and want to accomplish it.

The problem with applying this to Obama is that there were a great many things he professed to believe in — card-check elections for unions, a public option, transparent government with support for whistleblowers, limitations on executive power, including accountability for executive-branch wrongdoers, etc. — that he made no effort to accomplish. Logically, then, you have to look for a reason why he (or any similarly lying politician) does something other than his having once professed to believe in it and promised to do it.

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Kyle Blank 06.06.12 at 8:43 pm

“Nice “left on the Bush timetable” too. We can’t actually admit the notion that, maybe, that Obama actually means what he said and is extracting the US from a pointless war as quickly as possible. Why is it so hard for people here to admit that he’s actually done something right, and something clearly different from what his opponent would have done?”

I would disagree that Obama did Iraq correctly. He was handed the opportunity to negotiate to withdraw the U.S. from Iraq while leaving a force there to maintain the peace, which he failed at. As a result, now the whole thing may fall apart, which would also mean all the lives lost of soldiers would have been for nothing. Iraq is a fragile, but functoning democracy. Since the U.S. had already invaded and spent considerable blood and treasure in overturning Saddam and establishing said dictatorship, it doesn’t make much sense to risk losing it all. Yes, if the war was unwinnable, then that would be different, but Bush ordered the surge in 2007 and General Patraeus turned things around. If Iraq oculd be built into a stable and prosperous democracy over the coming decades, that would be a major benefit to the free world to have such an ally in the region.

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Bloix 06.06.12 at 8:58 pm

#274 – “There’s only one “party”—the plutocratic party—and the Democrats and Republicans are two factions of that one party”

This is absolutely false. There is the Democratic Party, which is committed to a number of classical liberal propositions – free elections and equality before the law, most importantly. On the other side, there is the Republican Party, which is a proto-fascist organization committed to merging government, big business, and the church in a self-perpetuating regime of crony capitalism and permanent war.

You might prefer to have a social-democratic party to vote for. Well, you don’t, and there’s not much that you can do about it. That doesn’t make the liberals equivalent to the fascists.

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bin yamin 06.06.12 at 9:06 pm

“Also, it is simply not true that policy on the average is moving to the right.”

I think most would agree there is an ever diminishing distinction between corporate and elected power in this country. And I suppose many would argue that is a decidedly rightward movement. And neoliberalism, “New Democrats”, the Rubin cult et al, have been a transformational force within the Democratic party. Barack Obama filled key positions of his cabinet with followers of this neoliberal doctrine. ‘The Mainstream’ as it’s often called. The 2008 Obama campaign sold this as ‘change’, and was awarded two prestigious advertising awards.

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js. 06.06.12 at 9:10 pm

Do you see anything currently existing (and not limited to a single issue or small range of issues) that might be developed into such an organization?

This is really the key question I think. At least if we interpret “organization” very broadly, I think a lot of people had hoped that the Occupy movement(s) could be or do something like this. But that seems to have petered out. Not that lots of people involved with Occupy aren’t still involved in all sorts of issues and campaigns, but that sense of a unified movement focused on the basic economic injustice that’s probably a defining feature of our society—that’s pretty much gone.

The more traditional labor movement is another obvious candidate, but here again I’d tend to be pessimistic. I think there’s a lot to the criticism that too large parts of the labor movement are too focused on electoral politics. But I think a lot of people active in the movement see it as a life or death situation (as in: crippled, hobbling but still alive vs. totally dead). And it’s not obvious that they’re totally wrong.

And…? Grounds for optimism, anyone?

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Salient 06.06.12 at 9:17 pm

I think the CT collective should pass a law requiring CB to copy-paste this statement into every post he writes about the US, or at least link to it, so that I don’t have to spend three minutes hunting it down again every damn time anything about Obama comes up.

However, I propose exactly the opposite of what CB would presumably suggest (which I imagine is: we should abandon this wretched duality framework, in which we mostly restrict ourselves to comparing each U.S. Presidential action to the action we presume that the electoral contender would’ve taken). Instead: We should start applying this reflexive dualism to ordinary criminal infractions.

This idea works particularly well for violent crime committed by gang members. Sure, La Familia broke your cousin’s car windows, shot her in the foot, and stole her CD player. But the Bloods wouldn’t have even let her LIVE. At least La Familia keeps the streets free of drug dealers, and corrals them in the park. The Bloods just let the meth sellers run free. You can’t even compare how much worse that would be! Is that what you prefer? What’s WRONG with you?

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geo 06.06.12 at 9:18 pm

Bloix @289: Bruce did not say that the Democrats and Republicans are identical, but that they’re both plutocratic, ie, agree on subordinating government and society to business. You’re right that the Republican faction of the Plutocracy Party is worse, but this doesn’t touch Bruce’s point.

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The Raven 06.06.12 at 9:19 pm

“No violence will be employed against strikers because it is completely unnecessary.”

That was so when the alternatives to striking were not so hopeless. You don’t think the people behind Walker will rest with this, do you? A return to 1880s levels of labor conflict seems likely.

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Salient 06.06.12 at 9:55 pm

“Now we’re playing the game…”

With the confession that what I’m about to say was pre-emptively contradicted by the gameful thing I said about thirty seconds ago… I don’t want to play a game anymore.

I’m not thinking of sparring with you–we’d both just say the same things we said in 2009, or whenever–and at this point I’m not interested in writing what I say carefully enough to evade all possible missteps you can rhetorically exploit in counter-maneuver. Take advantage of that to your heart’s content.

“…where it doesn’t matter what Obama actually does.”

Well, I certainly don’t mean to suggest we ignore what Obama actually does. Attentiveness is important.

At the moment, I’m not going to praise Obama for doing what he has done. That’s true even for times when he made a choice I found preferable to other choices he could have made. I’m not going to commit to never ever praising; I might, whenever it seems strategically convenient for me or for whatever cause I’m trumpeting. Obama certainly doesn’t give a damn whether we praise him for his accomplishments; I’m not sure why you care. In these spar matches, you sound to me like a parent, admonishing some children for being ungrateful. Or at least, you give me the impression that I sound to you like an ungrateful child, pouting and stamping my feet. But we don’t need lessons, from you or anyone, about how to be decent grateful human beings.

We’re fellow victims of the rulers (and we’re also victims by proxy, in that we have a lot of sympathy for people elsewhere who are victims of the rulers). You feel relieved, and somewhat grateful, that we didn’t get the worse master of the two. I feel mostly hateful toward the rulers; some I hate more fervently than others, and a few just scare the living shit out of me, in a way matched only by a few of the Cohen brothers’ characters and the Joker that Heath Ledger played.

“Would McCain have agreed to leave, ever?”

A completely honest answer from me is, I don’t really know, because I’ve never understood what makes McCain tick. Also I still literally don’t understand what “leave Iraq” means — my commonsense definition of ‘leave’ is apparently not operational. But that doesn’t mean I dispute your take on it. So, let’s say I fully and confidently agree with you that the answer to your question is obviously: No, McCain would never have agreed to leave, ever. I can basically agree to that with complete sincerity and with goodwill. … What now? … What happens next? … Is the conversation done? … Now what do you want me to do?

Those questions are sincere, and not meant as rhetorical, and I have to admit I’d welcome and appreciate a long–form response that treats me decently enough to read all the way through. I guess they’re all asking the same thing in different ways, so maybe take your pick. My motive for asking this: at this point, I don’t like discussion frameworks that are severe impediments to expressing one’s emotions and interpretation. I think the way you talk about these things — which I’d summarize, perhaps unfairly, as a duality of the form “X or O: who’s better?” — is such an impediment. But maybe I’m missing something, maybe there’s some productive discussion to be had once I acquiesce. I’m at least willing to hear you out, about what I’m missing. That’d be well worth the price of admission.

“Nice “left on the Bush timetable” too.

Thanks! I picked out the font and everything. :)

“We can’t actually admit the notion that, maybe, that Obama actually means what he said and is extracting the US from a pointless war as quickly as possible.”

Okay. I admit that Obama means what he said, and is extracting the US from a pointless war as quickly as possible. Again… What now?

“Why is it so hard for people here to admit that he’s actually done something right, and something clearly different from what his opponent would have done?”

Why does it matter to you if we do these things or not? Why does our behavior frustrate you? What alternative behavior do you expect from us, and is that expectation a reasonable one to reinforce with derision?

Sometimes it’s reasonable to try to enforce expectations like that, to push people. I don’t mean to oppose that kind of thing categorically.

“I guess it isn’t possible that a politician could actually believe in something and want to accomplish it.”

I assume you mean, something that’s exactly, or mostly, what we’ve wanted. If they do want to accomplish that kind of thing, then they should welcome some social pressure pushing for them to accomplish it.

They’re always against us and always have to be forced into things. They’re just puppets.

No, I really do agree with you that they’re humans who are embedded in an atmosphere almost entirely beyond their control, with severely . So are you and I. Bitching on the Internet is basically all the control I have. That probably amounts to zip zilch, but at least voicing my judgments makes me feel better, and voicing my judgments well and cleverly can make others who agree with me feel a little better, hearing it said.

P.S. The very notion of deserving praise forms an internal contradiction in my mind. How can someone deserve praise? Praise should never be obligatory. I guess “saying so-and-so deserves our praise for X” is a rhetorical way to praise that person for X. I just don’t accept a formulation of that kind of statement in which ‘not praising someone’ is a form of wrongdoing. (More precisely, praise between adults should never be obligatory. I think it’s sometimes reasonable to demand kids show obligatory gratitude/deference/respect/etc even when they don’t “feel” it, because it helps them learn to be more attentive/sympathetic/aware of the people around them/etc.)

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Bloix 06.06.12 at 10:16 pm

#293- Bryce said that “there’s only one party – the plutocratic party.” We’re in Naderland here. Yes, the Democrats are desperate to gain the favor of Wall Street – they aren’t suicidal, and in the absence of a labor movement and without any limitations on corporate spending in politics, they are going to die of asphyxiation if they can’t find a stable source of funding. But the Democrats don’t believe that Americans are the master race and they aren’t paranoid xenophobes who worship a vengeful god that blesses them for punishing the weak and defenseless.

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Neville Morley 06.06.12 at 10:17 pm

I really should just keep my head down, not least as a UK resident who therefore just gets to feel “Oh God we’re doomed” without having to cope with the question of how one then responds to the situation in the voting booth with a shred of integrity and dignity. But I just wanted to say how much I appreciate salient’s comments, simply for their humanity and realism, however much I disagree with, or feel uncomfortable about, some of their implications or overtones.

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bexley 06.06.12 at 10:17 pm

Ian at 53

Let me fix that last clause: Romney, working with a Democratic legislature, governed Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the country, as a moderate conservative.

What happened in MA is absolutely no indication of what a President Romney would do with a Republican Congress behind him. Plus, as always: Supreme Court.

+1

Also Bush II should have taught us that Republican presidents can find ways to be terrible in ways we can’t even imagine. If you’d told me in 2000 that he’d end up launching a (horribly botched) invasion of Iraq I’d have laughed at you.

NB
Before any commentators start complaining all I’m saying is that anyone who thinks a Romney presidency will be “moderate” is way too optimistic not that Obama shouldn’t be criticised.

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LFC 06.06.12 at 11:21 pm

js @199
Re Russia: For one thing, Romney opposes the START treaty. (A two-second google of “romney start treaty” suffices to show that.)

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Derek Bowman 06.06.12 at 11:29 pm

@Platonist,

Thanks for the reply. I guess I’m not sure your distinction between moral and ‘moralizing’ is sustainable, especially in the context of a discussion of voting in large scale elections. I don’t see how outcomes should matter unless people matter, and I don’t see how people should matter except in the context of a value system that affords substantial importance to the quality of one’s soul/character and of one’s relations to others.

But whatever the merits of that speculation about the shape of a moral theory, it’s hard to see how outcomes can be the relevant basis for determining individual voting behavior in large scale elections, since the expected outcome of any individual vote (even in a vital swing state) will only be to change the margin of victory by a statistically insignificant amount.

Votes are only significant in the aggregate, and it’s only at that aggregate level that strategic, outcome-based thinking is relevant. The relationship of individual voting behavior to this can only come by positing some importance to individual participation in collectively consequential behavior. But how can there be such a value unless there is some significance at the level of individual character – what kind of person shall I be (or what qualities of will do I exhibit) if I participate in this or that collectively efficacious activity?

That said, I completely agree with this sentiment: “we’re already both in this dirty mess, don’t pretend otherwise.” The question of whether to vote for Obama is not one of whether or not to be complicit in America’s military actions – it’s merely a question of the ways in which (and, perhaps, the degree to which) we are to be complicit.

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chris 06.06.12 at 11:48 pm

Though I have to admit that the argument made by chris in the previous comment, that its either Obama or revolution, is both novel and amazing.

Strictly speaking, it’s Obama or Romney or revolution, I just assumed anyone who thinks Obama is too right-wing would have no use for Romney either.

But I don’t see why that would be either novel or surprising.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.07.12 at 1:42 am

@Kyle#259 –Shifting the burden of taxes: Here is an explanation from the Washington Post in 2004:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61178-2004Aug12.html

Here is a Brookings article from 2005:
http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2005/05/04taxes-gale

For the burden of total taxation, (federal only), include payroll taxes which make the conclusion far worse.

For thinking about total taxation, (federal state and local), start from the fact that the current estimated tax rate is nearly FLAT, down to the top of the bottom quintile.

Clinton increased taxes and started a plan to reduce spending that projected budget surpluses. That surplus was used as the excuse for the Bush tax cuts — with everyone well aware the the Social Security bill was coming due. Why aren’t the Republicans joining the effort this time?

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Lee A. Arnold 06.07.12 at 1:44 am

The misinformation about Iraq in the comments above is almost unbelievable. The withdrawal from Iraq was programmed at around the same time that Petraeus did his surge. It was in the newspapers. Even McCain agreed to the pullout date, as I recall. Obama could campaign to withdraw, because it was going to happen ANYWAY. Doesn’t anybody writing the comments above read the goddamn newspapers? Obama was and is a solid member of the foreign policy establishment.

@Kyle#288 — And no, Obama did not fail to negotiate. He didn’t get a deal with the new Iraqi government because there was NO deal to be had. This is because George W. Bush, by making Iraq into a democracy, therefore turned it over to the 70% Shi’ite majority, whose best friends and blood brothers are Iran and no others, and there may be no stopping it from turning it into a theocracy. And THAT is why Petraeus’ top advisor said in 2007 that the invasion was “The biggest fucking mistake in U.S. foreign policy history.” However, we may see the Kurdish north break away, and become solid U.S. allies.

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Kyle Blank 06.07.12 at 2:54 am

“@Kyle#259—Shifting the burden of taxes: Here is an explanation from the Washington Post in 2004:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61178-2004Aug12.html

Here is a Brookings article from 2005:
http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2005/05/04taxes-gale

For the burden of total taxation, (federal only), include payroll taxes which make the conclusion far worse.”

According to those articles, the Bush tax cuts did increase the share of federal income taxes paid by the highest-earners and reduced the share paid by the lowest earners. When things like payroll taxes are included, then the situation is the reverse.

“Clinton increased taxes and started a plan to reduce spending that projected budget surpluses. That surplus was used as the excuse for the Bush tax cuts—with everyone well aware the the Social Security bill was coming due. Why aren’t the Republicans joining the effort this time?”

Clinton signed a tax increase while at the same time trying to grow government through HillaryCare. Then the Congress was taken control of by the Republicans and Clinton began basically governing as a Republican spending and economic policy-wise. The only reason he got a surplus was for the following reasons:

1) Major cuts in the defense budget (which mostly had occurred under George H. W. Bush, as the Soviet Union had broken up)

2) Welfare reform (something the Republicans passed and which he refused to sign multiple times, but in the end did sign)

3) He signed a capital gains tax rate cut in 1997 which reduced the capital gains tax rate from 28% to 20%, which increased revenues (as cutting the capital gains tax rate, at least in the short-term, usually increases revenues)

4) The Dot Com bubble which kicked into high-gear during 1996.

Clinton also completed NAFTA and signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (Financial Services Modernization Act) of 1999 that deregulated the financial industry further, such as removing the decades-long barrier that had separated investment banks from commercial banks. Clinton did not govern as a big-government Democrat who somehow balanced the budget.

“And no, Obama did not fail to negotiate. He didn’t get a deal with the new Iraqi government because there was NO deal to be had. This is because George W. Bush, by making Iraq into a democracy, therefore turned it over to the 70% Shi’ite majority, whose best friends and blood brothers are Iran and no others, and there may be no stopping it from turning it into a theocracy.”

The Shi’ites were not the ones in charge, it was the Kurds who won a majority (69%) in the 2010 elections. Joe Biden, who was the one tasked with brokering a coalition between the Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds, failed completely, and the country ended up getting taken control of by the relatively small Sadr faction, who are very close with the Iranians.

The second problem was the State of Forces Agreement. The military recommended leaving 20,000 troops stationed in Iraq (there are more stationed in Japan, Korea, and Germany each). Obama chose to go with 3,000 to 5,000 troops, a force far too small to maintain order. All of the factions, except for the Sadr faction, had an interest in the presence of a stabilizing U.S. force being present in the country.

So yes, the administration failed here in its task.

“And THAT is why Petraeus’ top advisor said in 2007 that the invasion was “The biggest fucking mistake in U.S. foreign policy history.” However, we may see the Kurdish north break away, and become solid U.S. allies.”

He must not be very intelligent then, considering Iraq was salvageable and Vietnam was a far bigger foreign policy mistake then Iraq ever was or could be.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.07.12 at 5:09 am

#304 “then the situation is the reverse.”

The situations are NOT reverses. The income tax burden is not the reverse of the total tax burden.

The Bush tax cuts don’t have a valid logic that can be allowed to ignore the total tax burden. There are at least two good reasons for this. The first reason is that things have to be in the same category, and “part of taxation” and “whole of taxation” are logically different.

And the second reason why the Bush tax cuts don’t have a valid logic that can ignore the total tax burden, is because the Bush tax cuts failed economically, they did not achieve what they were meant to achieve, and so they did not help the middle incomes to pay their increased portion of the total tax burden.

In fact this is an easy example of what is going on economically in the U.S. I will describe it another way, it is easy and quite damning.

Let’s acknowledge the fact that we’ve just been in a 30-year stretch of BOTH payroll-tax and income-tax hikes, but ONLY income-tax cuts. This has immediate class consequences, in fact it further inculcates these classes upon the social tissue. Any shift of the total burden, to payrollers, from incomers, allows incomers to keep more money in any calendar year. Rename that: rich people gain liquidity. The next thing that happens is that they therefore can increase the buying of assets. Now, supply-side economics said that this would give greater economic growth than before. But it did not. It therefore became possible To Own more of the world without providing extra additional economic growth or productivity growth for it.

Not the only way it happens of course.

Now notice something else. This swindle, this shift in resources, would occur REGARDLESS of whether government were growing or shrinking. A shift in tax burden is a simple thing, with its own consequences. But the rhetoric is about something else –it is all about government growth and whom it is spent on. The sentiments are, “I’m not paying for bigger and bigger government, and I’m not paying for stuff I don’t need.”

Now, the first one of these is just ignorance. The current deficits are both logically well-founded and, under current law, they are temporary. The government is projected to go back to primary balance in around ten years after the recession ends. After that time, a stable debt is manageable, (indeed the Treasuries will be necessary for interbanking collateral), and our only real public problem is the growth in private medical spending, which determines the cost of public medicine, and which is handled by policies of another realm.

But the second one of these, the stuff about “who is benefitting from government spending — my taxes shouldn’t go to anything but defense, courts, jails, etc.” is most interesting, coming from an income-tax payer. Because before this, all along the way, the trust fund, i.e. the excess from the payroll tax hikes, was used to help cover the general budget, including those items. So the payrollers already had a burden shifted onto them, before. The Bush tax cuts are the SECOND swindle in this department.

307

Lee A. Arnold 06.07.12 at 5:49 am

#304 ” the Kurds who won a majority (69%) in the 2010 elections.”

Please give a link to this result.

308

Data Tutashkhia 06.07.12 at 7:28 am

Bloix, 289: There is the Democratic Party, which is committed to a number of classical liberal propositions – free elections and equality before the law, most importantly.

Are they really committed, is this the right word? What about their refusal to prosecute torturers? The indefinite detentions bill last year? The kill list? And, some years ago, I don’t remember them demanding that Ralph Nader is allowed to participate in presidential debates; in fact, I got the impression that they used dirty tricks to suppress his campaign.

309

rf 06.07.12 at 7:48 am

Kyle, the Kurds are less than 1/4 of Iraqs population. If they won 69% of the vote it mustn’t have been a particularly large turnout.
If Iraq has been turned into a client state of Iran, and lets not get carried away, then that is Bush’s fault.
As far as I’m aware the SOFA was agreed under Bush

http://www.acq.osd.mil/log/PS/p_vault/SE_SOFA.pdf

What does this even mean?

“considering Iraq was salvageable and Vietnam was a far bigger foreign policy mistake then Iraq ever was or could be.”

310

Kyle Blank 06.07.12 at 8:11 am

The situations are NOT reverses. The income tax burden is not the reverse of the total tax burden.

According to the articles, they are, in that the affluent pay a greater share of the income taxes. But they pay a lesser share of taxes with things like payroll taxes added in (at least according to the articles).

The Bush tax cuts don’t have a valid logic that can be allowed to ignore the total tax burden. There are at least two good reasons for this. The first reason is that things have to be in the same category, and “part of taxation” and “whole of taxation” are logically different.

And the second reason why the Bush tax cuts don’t have a valid logic that can ignore the total tax burden, is because the Bush tax cuts failed economically, they did not achieve what they were meant to achieve, and so they did not help the middle incomes to pay their increased portion of the total tax burden.

Yes I agree here.

In fact this is an easy example of what is going on economically in the U.S. I will describe it another way, it is easy and quite damning.

Let’s acknowledge the fact that we’ve just been in a 30-year stretch of BOTH payroll-tax and income-tax hikes, but ONLY income-tax cuts. This has immediate class consequences, in fact it further inculcates these classes upon the social tissue. Any shift of the total burden, to payrollers, from incomers, allows incomers to keep more money in any calendar year. Rename that: rich people gain liquidity. The next thing that happens is that they therefore can increase the buying of assets. Now, supply-side economics said that this would give greater economic growth than before. But it did not. It therefore became possible To Own more of the world without providing extra additional economic growth or productivity growth for it.

In other words, people are able to purchase more when allowed to keep more of their money. Being able to buy more isn’t really a bad thing, the problem is when it cuts revenue the government needs without corresponding reductions in spending. Two quick things though: Remember that supply-side economics is about investment, not demand. It doesn’t argue that the rich will spend more, but that businesses and the affluent will invest more. Also, we don’t have fixed classes in America, just different income and wealth brackets, which different people move into and out of constantly.

#304 ” the Kurds who won a majority (69%) in the 2010 elections.

Please give a link to this result.

You know what, I made a mistake here. The Kurds didn’t win 69%, but three of the main political blocs consisting of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurds, won a majority of the vote.

311

Jim Rose 06.07.12 at 8:12 am

If all the fine suggestions on this thread about waging war in a just and more humane manner have been in force in 1939, would World War 2 have finished earlier? By how many days? Who would have won?

312

Kyle Blank 06.07.12 at 8:23 am

Kyle, the Kurds are less than 1/4 of Iraqs population. If they won 69% of the vote it mustn’t have been a particularly large turnout.
If Iraq has been turned into a client state of Iran, and lets not get carried away, then that is Bush’s fault.
As far as I’m aware the SOFA was agreed under Bush

http://www.acq.osd.mil/log/PS/p_vault/SE_SOFA.pdf

Yes, as I wrote, I had made a mistake there. Kurds alone did not get 69% of the vote. I would disagree Iraq having a leadership that is sided with Iran as being Bush’s fault, or solely Bush’s fault anyway. The first SOFA was agreed under Bush, but it was supposed to be renegotiated, which fell to the Obama administration.

What does this even mean?

“considering Iraq was salvageable and Vietnam was a far bigger foreign policy mistake then Iraq ever was or could be.”

Iraq isn’t/wasn’t doomed to chaos, it was salvageable. But also, how can one call Iraq the greatest foreign policy mistake in American history when Iraq did not entail anywhere near the number of lives lost and soldiers wounded that the Vietnam War did? (the U.S. lost about 58,000 in Vietnam in KIAs alone). Also, considering that the Congress at the time cut the funding to South Vietnam which caused it to fall to the North, that I think was a HUGE foreign policy blunder.

This isn’t to say invading Iraq was a good idea, but I just mean I am skeptical about calling it “the” biggest mistake.

313

NomadUK 06.07.12 at 8:33 am

If all the fine suggestions on this thread about waging war in a just and more humane manner have been in force in 1939, would World War 2 have finished earlier? By how many days? Who would have won?

If Saddam Hussein had annexed Iran and Turkey, and then, allied with Libya, launched a massive invasion of southern Europe, sweeping virtually unopposed through Greece, Italy, Spain, and into France, whilst his ally the Empire of Argentina had attacked Clyde and Kitsap, destroying the US and UK ballistic missile submarine fleet, all the while laying plans to herd all the Jews in Israel into drainless showers, you might have a worthwhile question.

As it stands, you’re a fuckwit.

314

Kevin Donoghue 06.07.12 at 8:35 am

“You know what, I made a mistake here. The Kurds didn’t win 69%….”

You call that a mistake?? Are you a former half-term governor of Alaska?

315

purple 06.07.12 at 8:38 am

Obama isn’t a liberal.

Americans mostly care about making money for themselves.They care little for their neighbors, why would they worry about a few dead bodies in a country they will never visit ?

It’s almost pathetic the way so much of the world idealizes Americans — even those who should know better.

316

Asteele 06.07.12 at 8:52 am

Remember you can tell how big a mistake a war is, only by how many Americans it kills.

More seriously, I was talking with some 20 something earlier today about how ancient people didn’t really distinguish between myth and history, and we’d like to judge, but that isn’t really any different than most modern people’s understanding of the past. Kyle Blank is performing a tour de force of folk history: the events are all there, but none of the facts.

317

Data Tutashkhia 06.07.12 at 9:53 am

Remember you can tell how big a mistake a war is, only by how many Americans it kills.

Why, yes, certainly, because war, war between states, is a tribal project. Always been, and I don’t think it can be anything else.

318

Asteele 06.07.12 at 11:10 am

It just can’t be anything else for you.

319

bexley 06.07.12 at 11:12 am

Whoo boy, Kyle produced a lot of material in his first comment. One thing I dont think anyone has commented on so far is this:

3) Why does Planned Parenthood need any federal funding? It isn’t a branch of the government, it’s a private organization. Why can’t it rely on private donations? Should the National Rifle Association, an organization devoted to protecting what is an explicit right in the Constitution, also receive federal funding? (it doesn’t right now).

Umm the Federal Government has decided to fund family planning and preventative healthcare for low income families. Part of how it does this is through PP. Eliminating Federal funding basically says you don’t care about providing these services to those on low incomes. It will also probably lead to an increase in abortions which is something I hear Repubs don’t want. Evil and Stupid, its a twofer for Mittens.

320

Tom West 06.07.12 at 1:26 pm

Plume in #56 – Isn’t it about time we stop believing in the myth of our innocence and righteousness?

It’s interesting. I’ve always assumed that stripped of our myths of being the good guy, we become much more mercenary. Once we realize and accept that our lifestyle has and still requires the blood of others, it’s far easier to dismiss those do-gooders who somehow believe that peace is possible without essentially destroying ourselves.

But then, I’m cynical that way. I’d rather take advantage of people’s myths of goodness to force them, however unwillingly, towards a better course of action.

321

Data Tutashkhia 06.07.12 at 2:04 pm

I’d rather take advantage of people’s myths of goodness to force them, however unwillingly, towards a better course of action.

It doesn’t work: they rationalize and do the same thing anyway, only this way they’re also smug and selfrighteous. And that’s annoying. A honest bastard is better than a smug one.

322

Watson Ladd 06.07.12 at 2:21 pm

Tom, what is wrong with retaliation? We could go the Israeli route and wait for a daily stream of terrorist attacks to come from safe havens that we cannot touch, or we can make clear that terrorism will lead to the arrest of members of an organization we can arrest, and the use of military force against those who avoid the long arm of the law. Anyone thinking of waging jihad is probably thinking twice right now, and I don’t see how that is a bad thing.

323

eddie 06.07.12 at 2:23 pm

Isn’t the israeli route to have mossad cells fire rockets at israeli homes and blame it on the palestinians?

324

cleek 06.07.12 at 2:28 pm

A return to 1880s levels of labor conflict seems likely.

so, widespread domestic terrorism ? riots ?

325

LFC 06.07.12 at 2:31 pm

@ Kyle Blank
Re Congressional aid cutoff “causing” S Vietnam to fall to the North: one must distinguish betw immediate and underlying causes. The S. Vietnamese regime was an ineffective, corrupt govt. By 1974-5 Congress was understandably unwilling to continue to pour US resources into a conflict that already had cost so much in lives and money. Even continued US support likely only would have postponed the ‘fall’ of Saigon rather than preventing it.

326

Ben Alpers 06.07.12 at 2:35 pm

Given the current state of US politics, anyone elected President will become a war criminal if s/he isn’t already.

While I respect the notion that one should avoid voting for war criminals (and future war criminals) on principle, the notion that “keeping one’s hands clean” in this way will make things change for the better is ludicrous. If one sees ones vote deontologically or as a matter of virtue ethics, by all means refuse to vote for Obama. But any left(ish) consequentialist in a battleground state who fails to vote for Obama is crazy (in non-competitive states, everyone should vote his/her conscience…this is the silver lining of the electoral college).

This year, there isn’t even a progressive candidate like Nader in 2000 who’s getting enough publicity so that protest votes will be noticed. Nor should we forget the effect of people noticing the importance of Nader’s vote in 2000: fairly or not, Nader was held responsible for Bush’s election. Far from forming the basis of a left electoral success in the future, Nader’s relative success became a mark _against_ the left and contributed to its further electoral marginalization (and I say this as someone who worked hard for Nader in 2000).

Voting for the presidential lesser evil in swing states is important, if only to play defense against the ratchet effect. But what you do for those ten seconds in the voting booth in November ought not to be the sum total (or even a very important part) of your political involvement.

Americans on the left (and even U.S. liberals who have their heads screwed on straight) need to focus on non-electoral forms of politics.

327

Data Tutashkhia 06.07.12 at 3:21 pm

I think by voting you (along with the rest of the voters) are just sending a signal, signal to the people up there, on top.

It’s a binary signal, as follows:
0 – not enough brainwashing yet for the next shift to the right, more brainwashing to be done
1 – ready for the next shift to the right!

Simple as that.

328

geo 06.07.12 at 3:33 pm

Ben @326: Americans on the left (and even U.S. liberals who have their heads screwed on straight) need to focus on non-electoral forms of politics

Couldn’t agree more. And thanks for working for Nader in 2000.

329

Niall McAuley 06.07.12 at 3:39 pm

Watson Ladd writes: Anyone thinking of waging jihad is probably thinking twice right now

Anyone thinking of waging jihad is probably wishing they could do it twice right now.

330

Michael Connor 06.07.12 at 4:11 pm

Excellent piece, with one objection: Voting is a essentially political act, not a moral one. There is effectively zero chance that voting will have an outcome in the real world. Behavior that has no effect in the world cannot be assessed by moral criteria.

Of course morals and values inform our politics, and everything is related. And things fall apart. But it is not helpful to simply equate voting with moral decision-making. Participating in a democracy — which involves tactical and strategic choices about how to spend our time, energy, money, and integrity — should not be primarily or significantly understood as “moral choices”.

When confronting war criminals and a criminal system, to say that VOTING is a moral act vastly underestimates and simplifies the moral obligations of a decent person. Rather, we think in political terms: how can we challenge, change, modify, resist this system. Voting in and of itself is pretty trivial.

331

Watson Ladd 06.07.12 at 4:12 pm

Niall, our capacity for retaliation is infinitely superior to al-Queda, so long as they don’t get nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, and probably even then. So if you are a member of al-Queda, taking revenge for your dead comrades is a losing move: the US will inflict far more organization damage on you then you can on it. If you are a country thinking of welcoming al-Queda, that calculus has been forever changed by the fact that the US will ensure you never rule again. Rome was able to destroy the Zealots. The Assassins were crushed eventually. Imperial Japan stopped fighting when we made clear what refusal to surrender would bring. At some point even the dumbest member of al-Queda will realize that the US isn’t going to stop until they disband and surrender, and that we might not execute them all for murder. But that depends on making clear that this war will continue until that time, and sadly we’ve already given up on that goal.
Just write out some payoff charts and you will see this.

332

NomadUK 06.07.12 at 4:25 pm

Niall, our capacity for retaliation is infinitely superior to al-Queda, so long as they don’t get nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, and probably even then.

This explains the large, glowing crater where Hanoi used to be, and the existence of the Republic of VietNam. Oh, wait …

333

Barry 06.07.12 at 4:55 pm

Please stop being stupid. Wiki ‘Rolling Thunder’.

334

Barry 06.07.12 at 5:07 pm

Data @ 327, have you actually not noticed who is trying to keep voters from voting?

Seriously?

If liberals stay away from the polls this November, will the GOP feel one bit of shame at winning through voter disillusionment?

335

js. 06.07.12 at 5:11 pm

Wow. Watson Ladd’s 330 is an incredible demonstration of how not to reason a priori. Breathtaking stuff.

More seriously, want to heartily second Ben Alpers (and other people above saying similar things). One small thing, whether you subscribe to a consequentialist or non-consequentialist theory of right action has very little bearing on this question. Almost everyone I know who does philosophy is (a) not a consequentialist, and (b) will very likely be voting for Obama. And it’s really not like we’re entangling ourselves in some weird contradiction here.

336

Lee A. Arnold 06.07.12 at 5:14 pm

Watson Ladd #330: “and sadly we’ve already given up on that goal.”

When did that happen?

337

Kyle Blank 06.07.12 at 6:44 pm

Whoo boy, Kyle produced a lot of material in his first comment. One thing I dont think anyone has commented on so far is this:

3) Why does Planned Parenthood need any federal funding? It isn’t a branch of the government, it’s a private organization. Why can’t it rely on private donations? Should the National Rifle Association, an organization devoted to protecting what is an explicit right in the Constitution, also receive federal funding? (it doesn’t right now).

Umm the Federal Government has decided to fund family planning and preventative healthcare for low income families. Part of how it does this is through PP. Eliminating Federal funding basically says you don’t care about providing these services to those on low incomes. It will also probably lead to an increase in abortions which is something I hear Repubs don’t want. Evil and Stupid, its a twofer for Mittens.

I am not against funding of Planned Parenthood outright, but I was skeptical, which was why I asked the question. I do support having the option of abortion available to women. I understand the argument that it provides low-cost healthcare services for women, but on the other hand, the NRA provides firearms training and instruction as well, but it relies solely on private donations.

@ Kyle Blank
Re Congressional aid cutoff “causing” S Vietnam to fall to the North: one must distinguish betw immediate and underlying causes. The S. Vietnamese regime was an ineffective, corrupt govt. By 1974-5 Congress was understandably unwilling to continue to pour US resources into a conflict that already had cost so much in lives and money. Even continued US support likely only would have postponed the ‘fall’ of Saigon rather than preventing it.

So long as the U.S. adhered to its promise to bomb the daylights out of the North Vietnamese forces as it had originally (which was what drove the North Vietnamese government to finally negotiate), and continued to give adequate support to the South, along with blocking the Soviet supply lines (such as having mines in the Northern Vietnamese ports), then the North would very likely have been unable to take South Vietnam. But by cutting the funding and ending the U.S. commitment, the Congress allowed the Soviet support to continue and the North to conquer the South, which also made all the lives the U.S. had lost be for nought and sacrificed the lives of a great many South Vietnamese to the NVA forces.

338

Kyle Blank 06.07.12 at 6:47 pm

On my response above, I mis-typed the italics code, I meant it to look like this:

Whoo boy, Kyle produced a lot of material in his first comment. One thing I dont think anyone has commented on so far is this:

3) Why does Planned Parenthood need any federal funding? It isn’t a branch of the government, it’s a private organization. Why can’t it rely on private donations? Should the National Rifle Association, an organization devoted to protecting what is an explicit right in the Constitution, also receive federal funding? (it doesn’t right now).

Umm the Federal Government has decided to fund family planning and preventative healthcare for low income families. Part of how it does this is through PP. Eliminating Federal funding basically says you don’t care about providing these services to those on low incomes. It will also probably lead to an increase in abortions which is something I hear Repubs don’t want. Evil and Stupid, its a twofer for Mittens.

I am not against funding of Planned Parenthood outright, but I was skeptical, which was why I asked the question. I do support having the option of abortion available to women. I understand the argument that it provides low-cost healthcare services for women, but on the other hand, the NRA provides firearms training and instruction as well, but it relies solely on private donations.

339

Kyle Blank 06.07.12 at 6:48 pm

CRAP, it still didn’t work for some reason. My response for that part is the last paragraph.

340

Kyle Blank 06.07.12 at 6:59 pm

One other thing about the South Vietnamese government I wanted to make but, yes it had a reputation for cronyism and corruption, but the alternative to it was a lot worse. Also, no government is perfect, including our own. The South Korean government wasn’t a model government either during the Korean War. Had it been supported, South Vietnam probably would have developed a much better government. Chile and Taiwan were initially dictatorships as well when they began developing into prosperous free-market-based societies. Today they are liberal democracies.

341

Cranky Observer 06.07.12 at 7:19 pm

Mr. Blank,
Strongly suggest you read up on the concept of the sunk cost fallacy.

Cranky

342

Kyle Blank 06.07.12 at 7:42 pm

Mr. Blank,
Strongly suggest you read up on the concept of the sunk cost fallacy.

Cranky

If the enterprise is hopeless, then yes, but I do not believe that South Vietnam was a hopeless cause.

343

mattski 06.07.12 at 9:52 pm

Also agree with Ben Alpers.

“The rope we use to pull ourselves out of our brutish past is covered with excrement.”

Kyle, we intervened in Vietnam to PREVENT a democratic outcome, not to promote one.

344

Cranky Observer 06.07.12 at 10:21 pm

= = = mattski @ 9:52: “Kyle, we intervened in Vietnam to PREVENT a democratic outcome, not to promote one.” = = =

Once one reads the history of US involvement in French Indochina in 1943-1945 and digs up the policy recommendations of the OSS wrt the Nationalists in 1946 the Kyle Blank/hard right wing line of argument becomes not only untenable but grossly immoral.

Cranky

345

mattski 06.07.12 at 11:16 pm

Yes Cranky, that’s what I’m getting at. A fair democratic process under the Geneva Conventions would have resulted in a unified Vietnam under Ho. At least that was the assessment of Ike’s administration.

346

bexley 06.07.12 at 11:20 pm

I am not against funding of Planned Parenthood outright, but I was skeptical, which was why I asked the question. I do support having the option of abortion available to women. I understand the argument that it provides low-cost healthcare services for women, but on the other hand, the NRA provides firearms training and instruction as well, but it relies solely on private donations.

1. You do know that Federal funding isn’t going to provide abortion right? So why drag mention it?

2. Providing a social safety net (including healthcare) for its citizens is a key job of government. Healthcare provision is far more important than firearms training (although I’m not opposed to provision of firearms training by the Govt if they’re going to let pretty much anybody run around with a gun).

347

ciaran 06.07.12 at 11:32 pm

Jesus Christ Kyle, Chile was a democracy before the Americans poked their beaks in .

348

Watson Ladd 06.07.12 at 11:50 pm

Lee A. Arnold: Biden is on record as advocating handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban. 2014 marks the end of our substantial presence. Al-Queda may be able to operate with impunity in Yemen, and the desire to intervene more effectively is between zero and negative. Despite the deaths of much of the senior leadership al-Queda’s operational capacity is not gone: homemade PETN is not an easy thing to do. The recent trials show al-Queda is alive: battered, sans much state support, but alive.

Long term Iraq is likely to be a much more stable success then Afghanistan. The Afghani leadership has no faith in its ability to hold down the fort without major American aid, which is unlikely to be forthcoming.

The assumption underlying the Afghan war was that when denied state sponsorship al-Queda would be easy to hunt down and destroy. That proved not to be the case. Instead al-Queda has moved to places where the state neglects governing: the tribal areas of Pakistan, north Yemen, possibly Somalia. Intervening to destroy al-Queda means strengthening fairly nasty governments, sometimes ones (like Pakistan’s) that sponsor terrorist groups themselves. The prospect of further direct US intervention is dead.

js: Care to point out the mistake? MAD and the general idea of disproportionate retribution makes things go better sometimes are fairly standard results in game theory.

349

Kyle Blank 06.07.12 at 11:55 pm

“Kyle, we intervened in Vietnam to PREVENT a democratic outcome, not to promote one.”

“Once one reads the history of US involvement in French Indochina in 1943-1945 and digs up the policy recommendations of the OSS wrt the Nationalists in 1946 the Kyle Blank/hard right wing line of argument becomes not only untenable but grossly immoral.”

“Yes Cranky, that’s what I’m getting at. A fair democratic process under the Geneva Conventions would have resulted in a unified Vietnam under Ho. At least that was the assessment of Ike’s administration.”

The U.S. intervened in Vietnam to prevent a democratic outcome only because the entire idea of a truly free election was a complete farce. The communist half of Vietnam was more highly-populated and the communists there would determine how the people voted. Remember, democracy is just another extreme, and it is no good if its the equivalent of two wolves and sheep voting on what to have for dinner. The only times democracy is good is if it is liberal democracy.

An election under the Geneva Conventions would have resulted in an oppressive communist dictatorship under Ho, which Eisenhower concluded would have been extremely dangerous for that entire region of the world, as it would likely lead to most of the countries in the region falling to communism, including possibly Japan.

The U.S. involvement ultimately thus was about the spread of communism. It was the communists who were the aggressors, trying to force it onto various non-communist countries. It was the North that began attacking the South.

350

Andrew F. 06.07.12 at 11:56 pm

I’m skeptical of positions on the ethics of the air strikes in Yemen and Pakistan given how little information we have about them. Obviously, if one believes that any air strikes which will foreseeably cause civilian casualties are unethical, then the information available is sufficient. But application of moderate forms of the principle of proportionality would require, for an evaluation of the overall campaigns, more information.

Regarding Romney, it’s true that he would be closer politically to the far right than Obama; but to some extent the far right takes its cues from GOP elites in power. So while Romney would be more beholden to the far right, he would also have more ability to shape the opinion and policy preferences of the far right.

351

Kyle Blank 06.08.12 at 12:03 am

“Jesus Christ Kyle, Chile was a democracy before the Americans poked their beaks in .”

Chile was a country in a region of the world that was of tremendous geopolitical significance that could not be allowed to fall to communism. Which thus proved a problem when the country elected Allende, the socialist, who proceeded to start destroying Chile’s economy via his socialist policies and looking to the Soviets for aid as he was of the Marxist-Leninist variant of socialism. The Socialists, and the Communists in the country were planning to seize total power in the country (in particular the Socialists, the principle party in the Allende coalition who were committed to revolutionary violence).

Because that area could not be allowed to fall to communism, the U.S. backed the overthrow of the Allende regime with Pinochet. Pinochet allowed in the “Chicago Boys” who proceeded to begin repairing Chile’s economy, which was harrowing at first as htey had to drive it into a full-on depression in order to fix the out-of-control inflation that was occurring at the time, but after about seven years, the economy began turning around, and then eventually Pinochet gave up power and Chile became a liberal democracy.

352

ciaran 06.08.12 at 12:06 am

Plus for what it’s worth , look up Patrick Cockburn on the surge . It’s a myth that the surge is the main reason for the lull in violence in Iraq. Ps the Kurds winning 70% in an Iraqi election!!? I mean dude what exactly is your source of information , Glenn beck? Everyone makes mistakes but that’s such an enormous one that it kinda suggests you havent the first notion what your talking about.

353

Kyle Blank 06.08.12 at 12:11 am

“1. You do know that Federal funding isn’t going to provide abortion right? So why drag mention it?”

Supposedly it doesn’t, but that is debatable from what I understand.

“2. Providing a social safety net (including healthcare) for its citizens is a key job of government. Healthcare provision is far more important than firearms training (although I’m not opposed to provision of firearms training by the Govt if they’re going to let pretty much anybody run around with a gun).”

I don’t know if I’d say safety nets are a key job of government, as the key jobs of government are to promote rule of law, protection of private property, regulation, and so forth, however safety nets are very nice to have. I see them as something extra the government can provide if it can afford it.

That said, I think it is very debatable if healthcare itself is a job of the government. Providing basic forms of healthcare via a safety net, sure, but having the healthcare system itself be managed by the government I am not at all sure of (if that is what you mean). For example, we have food stamps and unemployment insurance, but we don’t have the government running the food industry. If you want food, you have to buy it generally. I am of the same opinion regarding healthcare for the most part.

354

Watson Ladd 06.08.12 at 12:51 am

Kyle, how many dead students does it take before the US client regimes turn bad? Would you defend Franco? How about the rise of the far right in Germany against a thoroughly Stalinized KPD. Today, do you think Golden Dawn is someone we can work with? The choice is clear: fascism or communism. The imagination of an expansionist USSR is ridiculous: China fell against the wishes of the Commintern, and Korea was supported by Mao and not Stalin. Furthermore, any discussion of Southeast Asia must include the US-backed Pol Pot regime, and the turning of the plain of jars into a minefield. And all for what? So long as the US had nuclear weapons core NATO countries were safe, and the eventual loss of South Vietnam brought about no dominos.

Andrew, the far right doesn’t trust Romney, or at least the NYTimes doesn’t think so. So any effort to go against them will be viewed as confirmation that he was never a real republican.

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Kyle Blank 06.08.12 at 1:29 am

Watson, I would say the USSR was bent on expansionism, as it was an empire that was built on oppression and military force. But it was checked in its goals to a good degree by the United States. Kruschev had wanted the U.S. to remove its forces from Europe because the Soviets knew it would otherwise be impossible to try to take control of Western Europe without drawing the United States directly into the conflict. The Soviet Union (itself a formal empire) also sought to create communist colonies around the world and invaded Afghanistan to try to prop up a communist government there.

Regarding nuclear wepaons, it was questioned by some whether the U.S. having nuclear weapons really would have prevented the Soviets, if push came to shove, from trying to invade NATO countries because many did not believe the U.S. would really launch nuclear weapons at the Soviet Union over such an occurrence.

Yes the eventual loss of South Vietnam brought no dominos, but that may well have been because of the war, which may well have halted the spread of communism long enough to allow other countries in the region to become strong enough to not fall prey to it.

And of course, hindsight is always 20/20.

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Kyle Blank 06.08.12 at 1:40 am

Also two other things:

1) Fascism isn’t the far-right, it’s a variation of the far left. You will find racist movements on the far-right as well, but fascism itself is a variant of the extreme left

2) When you say that China fell against the wishes of the Comintern, what are you referring to? The Comintern was dissolved in 1943, before China became communist, unless I am missing something

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LFC 06.08.12 at 3:21 am

Kyle Blank:
So long as the U.S. adhered to its promise to bomb the daylights out of the North Vietnamese forces … and continued to give adequate support to the South, along with blocking the Soviet supply lines (such as having mines in the Northern Vietnamese ports), then the North would very likely have been unable to take South Vietnam.

So if bombing and mines alone would have prevented a NVietnamese takeover, by your own reasoning the US shouldn’t have put ground forces in to begin with.

And re dominoes @355: Once the Indonesian govt killed the Indonesian Communists en masse in 1965, the dominoes argument lost much of whatever tenuous validity it had.

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LFC 06.08.12 at 3:31 am

K. Blank: what you say about Chile and about fascism is really not worth responding to, imo. But I will say that the geopolitical significance of Chile was marginal. So, come to that, was the geopolitical significance of Vietnam.

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Ben Alpers 06.08.12 at 3:45 am

Kyle @ 356:

Fascism isn’t the far-right, it’s a variation of the far left. You will find racist movements on the far-right as well, but fascism itself is a variant of the extreme left

…disproving Kyle @355:

And of course, hindsight is always 20/20.

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piglet 06.08.12 at 3:57 am

“the key jobs of government are to promote rule of law, protection of private property, regulation, and so forth”

Under which of these “key jobs of government” did the installation of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile fall? Rule of law? Regulation? Oh I guess it’s the protection of private property aka corporate rule. Isn’t it always gratifying to hear the wing-nut libertarians publicly come out in support of dictatorship.

(Just poking in to see what’s going on. Won’t stay around.)

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Kyle Blank 06.08.12 at 4:29 am

So if bombing and mines alone would have prevented a NVietnamese takeover, by your own reasoning the US shouldn’t have put ground forces in to begin with.

The U.S. should have put ground forces in only if it was willing to fight the war properly, which at the beginning it wasn’t. Heavy bombing of Northern Vietnam didn’t occur until near the end.

And re dominoes @355: Once the Indonesian govt killed the Indonesian Communists en masse in 1965, the dominoes argument lost much of whatever tenuous validity it had.

Perhaps.

K. Blank: what you say about Chile and about fascism is really not worth responding to, imo. But I will say that the geopolitical significance of Chile was marginal. So, come to that, was the geopolitical significance of Vietnam.

Vietnam or Chile falling to communism could have had major implications for those regions of the world. As for fascism, pointing out that it is of the left is not some “pop” history view on the right invented by Jonah Goldberg or anything, it’s something that’s been known for many years, just not to the general public so much. The fascist systems find their philosophical roots in socialism and they utilize a form of socialist economics. They disdain individual liberty and freedoms, market economics, and everything else associated with classical liberalism, or the right. If they were the extreme right, then that means that someone on the right who goes to the extreme should end up a fascist. But that isn’t what happens. The extreme right are the ultra-laissez-faire extreme classical liberal types. Some of the most extreme right-wing economists in history, such as Ludwig von Mises and Friederich Hayek were among the first to point out how far to the left the fascist systems were. And again, that is not to say that the right doesn’t itself have movements that entail racism and nationalism. But by our modern concepts of left and right, fascism resides on the left.

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Kyle Blank 06.08.12 at 4:35 am

Under which of these “key jobs of government” did the installation of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile fall? Rule of law? Regulation? Oh I guess it’s the protection of private property aka corporate rule. Isn’t it always gratifying to hear the wing-nut libertarians publicly come out in support of dictatorship.

The world isn’t always black-and-white, good or evil, there’s oftentimes a lot of shades of grey. The alternative to Pinochet was likely a major civil war breaking out in Chile and a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship taking over. Sometimes the only alternative “good” is just a lesser evil, i.e. a dictator friendly to America as opposed to a dictator friendly to the Soviets or Islamic extremism. The other alternative is to do what we’ve been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is unrealistic. Chile today is a prosperous liberal democracy and the most prosperous nation in Latin America. Chiang Kai-Shek was a dictator, but Taiwan eventually became a liberal democracy. Had he been able to hold onto China, China itself might today be a liberal democracy. Imagine what a difference that would have made in the Cold War and history overall.

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Jerry Vinokurov 06.08.12 at 5:03 am

Man, someone’s really putting in the effort to troll Crooked Timber.

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ben in el cajon 06.08.12 at 5:06 am

Um, is there a meme for America related to ‘Godwin’s Law’ about the Vietnam conflict? If not, I not so humbly suggest an “El Cajon corollary,” which states that all battles about the US’s international ethics, especially concerning military engagement, are eventually fought in Vietnam?

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Kyle Blank 06.08.12 at 5:13 am

Man, someone’s really putting in the effort to troll Crooked Timber.

Nope, just responding to posts made in the debate. That isn’t trolling.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.08.12 at 5:52 am

Kyle Blank #361 — Please give a link showing the place or (perhaps a direct quote) where Hayek pointed out how far to the left fascist systems were.

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burnspbesq 06.08.12 at 5:55 am

“I’ve been reading some of Glenn Greenwald’s recent posts”

And that’s the core of the problem. Greenwald has abandoned any remaining pretense of caring about what the law actually is. The crew at Lawfare are the ones you should be reading.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.08.12 at 5:57 am

Watson Ladd #348 — How does any of that prove, or even give a real indication, that the U.S. has “given up on that goal” (#331)?

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js. 06.08.12 at 6:26 am

As for fascism, pointing out that it is of the left is not some “pop” history view on the right invented by Jonah Goldberg or anything, it’s something that’s been known for many years, just not to the general public so much.

Give us the knowledge!

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Chris Bertram 06.08.12 at 6:39 am

Ok Kyle Blank. I think we know where you stand. That’s enough from you. Further comments will be deleted.

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Data Tutashkhia 06.08.12 at 8:00 am

As sheriff Truman said: There’s a sort of evil out there. Something very, very strange in these old woods. Call it what you want. A darkness, a presence. It takes many forms but… its been out there for as long as anyone can remember and we’ve always been here to fight it.

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GiT 06.08.12 at 9:44 am

As for fascism, pointing out that it is of the left is not some “pop” history view on the right invented by Jonah Goldberg or anything, it’s something that’s been known for many years, just not to the general public so much. …[blah blah blah]… But by our modern concepts of left and right, fascism resides on the left.

Well that’s a hot mess.

A tip for poor departed Kyle: Liberal/Anti-liberal is not the same as Left/Right.

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mattski 06.08.12 at 2:19 pm

Fwiw, I think Kyle should be allowed to stay. I think it’s interesting that for people like Kyle the world is such a simple place that all you need to squash a sovereign nation’s efforts at self-determination is to slap the label “communist” on them. License for mass murder. Easy.

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Bastiat's Ghost 06.09.12 at 5:54 am

I would sooner write in “The Cockroach That Scurried Under My Floorboards Earlier Today” than vote for Obombus or Robmey.

After this election season, with one last parting shot against the establishment candidates, I am done with politics forever. Harry Browne was right. ‘Indirect Alternatives’ are a complete waste of time. It’s time to sit back and laugh as this shit show falls off a cliff into the oblivion it so richly deserves.

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etv13 06.09.12 at 7:46 am

I agree with mattski, and speaking as someone who mostly watches from the sidelines, banning people who are stupid, but civil, seems pretty obnoxious.

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