What’s the point of protesting yesterday’s news? By the time your march comes together, everyone is already focused on the next outrage.
Progressives repeatedly warned center-right Democrats that Hillary Clinton was more likely to lose to Donald Trump than Bernie Sanders, that abandoning the progressive base to court Republicans (as Hillary did) was electoral suicide, and that the #BernieOrBust contingent would sit home on Election Day unless Hillary made significant concessions to the party’s leftist base. They were ignored and insulted and snubbed. Now, incredibly, center-right Democrats are blaming the progressives whose support they did everything to deride for Trump’s victory. If progressive support was important enough to cost Hillary the campaign, why didn’t she act like it?
Once again, liberals are being taken for granted by the Democratic Party. This time, they’re presenting the possibility of a lame, poorly-funded and thus merely symbolic primary challenge to Hillary Clinton from the left, via Bernie Sanders or possibly Elizabeth Warren, as ersatz democracy and a way to make progressives, whose concerns are ignored by the party bosses, feel less badly about holding their noses and voting for Hillary in the fall of 2016.
Six Weeks After Reelection, Obama Sells Out Liberal Democrats
After the election Kerry Eleveld wrote a piece for The Atlantic titled “Why Barack Obama Will Be a More Effective Liberal in His Second Term.”
“In response to their initial disappointment with the president’s early performance, many progressives speculated that Obama was just waiting for a second term to be more liberal,” he said. That was true. They were.
Eleveld continued: “A more likely explanation is that Obama was still finding his groove, figuring out which levers worked best for him in the context of governing the nation. And in some ways, he was still developing the courage of his convictions.”
That, it turns out, was false. He wasn’t.
You can’t develop convictions that you don’t have in the first place.
It’s hard to remember now, more than six weeks later, but there was once a time (six long weeks ago) when liberal Democrats who naïvely chose to ignore Obama’s consistently conservative first term, his consistently conservative career in the Senate, and his consistently conservative pre-politics career as a University of Chicago law professor, seriously believed that his reelection would lead to a progressive second term.
“It’s time for President Obama to assume the Roosevelt-inspired mantle of muscular liberalism,” Anthony Woods wrote in The Daily Beast. “This is his moment. He only has to take it.”
It’s his moment, all right. And he’s taking it. But when it comes to Obama, liberals are once again guilty of some major wishful thinking. Obama’s economic policies are closer to Herbert Hoover than Franklin Roosevelt.
“With re-election safely behind him, we hope Obama will be bolder in his second term,” Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen wrote in The Nation.
Again with the Hope!
Change, not so much.
Race doesn’t matter. Looks don’t matter. Age doesn’t matter. Style doesn’t matter. Only one thing matters when you’re electing a politician: policy. And the willingness and ability to carry it out. Everything you needed to know about Barack Obama boils down to the fact that he voted nine times out of ten to fund the Iraq war, at the same time that he was giving speech after speech pretending to oppose it. And that was before he won in 2008.
It didn’t take long for Obama to sell out the liberal base of his party the first time. Everything became clear in December 2008, when his cabinet picks didn’t include a single liberal. Well, here it is, December 2012, and can’t get fooled again but we did, as George W. Bush would sorta say.
Wait a minute: I thought Obama was a Democrat. So why is he appointing a Republican as secretary of defense? Not just a Republican, but a homophobe? In 1998 Republican Senator Chuck Hagel criticized President Clinton’s nominee for ambassador to the sensitive strategic hotbed of Luxembourg not only for being gay, but for being “openly, aggressively gay.” Gay rights groups demanded that Hagel “repudiate” his bigoted comments, and he dutifully did so, but the point is that a truly progressive Democratic president would never have appointed a gay-bashing right-wing Republican in the first place. Yeah, America has changed, but it wouldn’t be that hard to find a liberal Democrat who thought gays and lesbians were real human beings back in 1998.
The “fiscal cliff” negotiations have led to another replay of Obama’s 2008 sellout, this one on economic fairness. Throughout the 2012 campaign the president promised to raise taxes on the top 2% of American households, those earning over $250,000 a year. As of November 9th he was still “sticking to his guns,” calling his stance nonnegotiable. On December 17th, however, without the defeated Republicans even having to propose a counteroffer, Obama pulled a classic Democratic negotiating-against-himself maneuver. Not only did he offer House Speaker John Boehner to protect the spectacularly wealthy taxpayers who earn up to $400,000 from a tax hike, he quietly sold out senior citizens by gutting the current system that calculates cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other federal entitlement programs.
At first, few people would notice Obama’s switch to a so-called “chained consumer price index.” (Under the new system, if the price of steak goes up, the government assumes you’ll switch to hamburger—so it doesn’t count as inflation.) This year, for example, the inflation rate under the chained CPI is 0.3% less. But inflation is exponential and the effect is cumulative. By the time you hit age 92, you’d lose an entire month of Social Security benefits each year.
This, remember, was the president who was supposed to bust out as an FDR-style crusading liberal ready, willing and able to fight the right-wing Republicans and stand up for ordinary Americans.
The good news is, the anticipation is over. Liberals who worried that Obama would sell them out need worry no more. Not so deep down, they knew this would happen. Now they can settle down for four more years of depressing Republican-lite kowtowing to corporations and the one percent.
I know what they’re thinking. Things would be even worse if Mitt Romney had won.
I wouldn’t be so sure.
Policy-wise, a Romney administration would have been pretty much the same as Obama’s second term. Who knows, he might have picked Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary.
In terms of building the political Left, a President Romney would have galvanized liberals and progressives to fight for a fairer society that treats everyone equally and with dignity. Obama, his sellouts, and his faux liberal apologists represent two steps backwards for progressivism.
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
Self-Delusion and the Cult of Militarism
Memorial Day: our national celebration of charred meat (but the four contractors hung from that bridge in Iraq don’t count).
Hope you enjoyed the weekend.
However, as we begin the countdown to next year’s Warapalooza—only 362 more days before you fire up the grill or, if someone near and dear died in one of our wars, spend the day at the graveyard grumbling about the fact that too few Americans share your sacrifices—I’d like what’s left of the Left to stop missing a golden opportunity to protest, mock and undermine the cult of militarism.
Let’s make Memorial Day 2013 a day to remember all the victims of American warmongering. By all means, shed a tear for the 58,282 American men and women who died for transnational natural gas corporations during the 1960s and 1970s, and a patently absurd “domino theory” in Vietnam. But make sure you cry 35 times more for the 2,000,000-plus Vietnamese men and women our soldiers were sent to kill—people who posed no threat to us, who did us no harm.
Let’s build a wall for America’s war victims in Washington. It’s the least we could do.
That sucker would be big. Huge. Big enough to stimulate the local construction economy.
Hang a flag and place a flower on the grave of one of the draftees too clueless or afraid to evade service, of a rube so ignorant of history and politics that he enlisted to fight in one of our countless optional wars of illegal aggression, of a bloodthirsty thug who seized the chance to commit murder for the state. They were our brothers and sisters and sons and daughters, and we loved them. We miss their unfinished lives.
Our war dead deserve recognition for helping to expand the American empire, and for lining the pockets of the profiteers and their pet politicians.
But worry not: the right-wingers will never let us forget these heroes.
Those of us who stand on the Left have a different duty. We stand for the oppressed, the downtrodden, the abused. We defend the innocent. We care about the underdog.
We on the Left reject the idea of The Other. To us, no life has more or less meaning or value than any other life. Our dead or not worth more than “their” dead. There is no us and them, there is only us.
Her death is not counted by the Obama Administration; still, we mourn the Yemeni woman blown to bits in a Predator drone strike on her home as much as the young man from North Carolina who goes up in an IED blast in Helmand province.
And so we, the Left, ought to declare that Memorial Day 2013 should belong not just to the jingoists and war criminals and patsies, but also to their victims. We should hang banners and march on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans murdered by U.S. forces since 2001. Call 1-800-Flowers; ask them to deliver a bouquet to a cemetery in Fallujah.
I’m not a pacifist. Some wars—a few wars—must be fought. Invading armies must be resisted.
But not most wars. War is almost always a struggle of the rich and powerful fought by the poor and powerless. War kills, maims, and makes people crazy. It destroys infrastructure. It sucks away resources—money, technology, people—that would be better deployed somewhere else.
Most Americans know this—or they think they do. On a gut level, however, we’re sheepish and embarrassed about the crimes committed in our name. We’re in denial.
It’s understandable. We’re not insane. We’re in a state of cognitive dissonance; we want to be one thing—peace-loving, good people—but we know we’re the opposite—passive, tolerant and fearful of “our government” (which not only can assassinate any one of us at any time, for any reason, but actually asserts the legal right to do so as consistent with the democratic values to which we supposedly adhere).
“Our” leaders feed us mass delusion. “You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated,” President Obama told a group of Vietnam vets on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the start of the war. “It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened.”
And it didn’t.
As historians have proven, no one ever spat on a soldier returning from Vietnam. To the contrary: the antiwar movement was pro-vet (in part because so many servicemen were conscripts). The spat-on-vet story began circulating after—of all things—Sylvester Stallone’s character in “Rambo 2” talked about it. Obama knows, or should know, the truth. He’s old enough to remember.
“You persevered though some of the most brutal conditions ever faced by Americans in war,” Obama went on. “The suffocating heat. The drenching monsoon rains. An enemy that could come out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly.” Why was the weather so tough, the enemy so fierce? Obama left that, along with much else, unsaid: we were invaders and occupiers, half a world away, propping up tyrants in a place where we had no business whatsoever.
And finally, an outrageous claim, one so widely accepted that the media didn’t bother to quote it in news accounts, much less question it: “We hate war. When we fight, we do so to protect ourselves because it’s necessary.”
What a kidder!
We Americans have fought a handful of battles, much less entire wars, to “protect ourselves.” From the Barbary States to Latin America and Cuba to Grenada and Panama and Pakistan and Somalia and Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States military has attacked without just cause, without legal justification, with impunity, 99 percent of the time.
It’s bad enough to live in a nation in thrall to the cult of militarism. It’s worse to lie about it. And it’s insane to believe the lies.
(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out June 5. His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
For America’s New Radicals, a Coming-Out Party—and Brutal Cops
“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” —Gandhi
Gandhi lost, but never mind.
#OccupyWallStreet, in its second week as of this writing, is and was important. It is the first major street protest inspired by the economic collapse that began in 2008. It is also the first notable public repudiation of Obama by the American Left. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Canadian “culture jammer” magazine Adbusters asked people to converge on lower Manhattan’s financial district in order to protest corporate greed in general and—in a reflection of the influence of social networking culture—to develop one specific major demand after they gathered.
Several thousand people arrived 10 days ago but were turned away from Wall Street by a phalanx of NYPD officers manning metal barricades. A few hundred demonstrators, dominated by the scruffy white twentysomething college grads known as “hipsters,” wound up at Zuccotti Park, whose private owners granted them permission to camp there.
There they remain, noshing on donated pizza, talking, hanging out, hoping to replicate the magic of Cairo’s Tahrir Square while remaining committed to “absolute nonviolence in the Gandhian tradition,” as Adbusters commanded.
Occupy Wall Street now seems to be fizzling out.
For me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, failure was a foregone conclusion. From the opening words of the magazine’s updates to the participants, which it referred to as “dreamers, jammers, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries,” it was evident that yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.
Michael Moore complained about insufficient media coverage, but this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street’s perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite—in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.
Don’t just occupy Wall Street.
Occupy Main Street. Get ordinary people interested and involved. After all, college kid, it’s not just your struggle.
While a lack of political education should not preclude a person from participating in politics, organizers of a movement seeking radical change should make sure they don’t waste the whole time strumming a guitar and flirting. Zuccotti Park should have offered daily classes and study groups to reduce the odds that an attendee will sound like a moron when she gets questioned by a journalist.
“I’m not for interference [with wealthy people],” The New York Times quoted protester Anna Sluka. “I hope this all gets people who have a lot to think: I’m not going to go to Barcelona for three weeks. I’m going to sponsor a small town in need.” Earth to Anna: Rich people know poor people are suffering. They don’t care.
Also, lose the clown clothes. It’s not the early 1960s; you don’t have to wear a suit like the civil rights marchers did. But how about showing up on national TV looking decent, like it’s Casual Friday?
Revolutionaries should not expect fair coverage by media outlets owned by the transnational corporations they hope to overthrow. They also shouldn’t make themselves so easy to mock. Press accounts reveled in photos of topless women and the dudes on stilts who always show up at these things. So much bad hair, so many colors that don’t occur in nature.
A protest is a stage. All over New York City and around the country, people are watching on TV. Ideally, you want viewers to drop what they’re doing, to come join you. At bare minimum, you want them to approve of you. To identify with you. Maybe even send a check.
You say you represent the “99 percent” of Americans getting screwed by the top one percent. So act like the 99 percent. Dress like them.
Be normal, inclusive and welcoming.
Reporters quoted demonstrators who sounded as ignorant about current affairs as members of the Tea Party, albeit nicer. It was a perfect set-up for hit pieces by the likes of Ginia Bellafante, who called the downtown gathering an “opportunity to air societal grievances as carnival” and slammed the “group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably.”
History has proven that an absolute commitment to nonviolence can never effect radical change. This was shown again on Saturday September 23rd, when police used orange plastic nets to “kettle” and arrest about 80 Occupy Wall Streeters who had been marching peacefully through Greenwich Village. According to numerous witnesses and media accounts, none resisted. Cops went wild, beating several men bloody and macing at least one woman after she had been cuffed.
Sadly, too many people angry at gangster capitalists will look at the YouTube videos of bloodied young faces and say to themselves: I’m willing to suffer for a cause, not a scene.
Back in July, Adbusters wanted the “one simple demand” expressed by Occupy Wall Street to be “that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”
What do we want?
A bipartisan blue-ribbon commission to study the extension of campaign finance reform!
When do we want it?
As soon as the committee completes its work!
Unsurprisingly and rightly, that uninspiring (and easily satisfied) demand has been set aside in favor of something better but hardly worth taking a rubber bullet for: “a vague but certain notion that the richest percentile of the country remains fat and happy as the going-on-five-year-old recession continues to batter the middle and working class,” as The New York Observer put it.
Occupy Wall Street should have demanded something majestic, reasonable and unobtainable, in order to expose the brutal nature of the system. Something like the nationalization of all corporations, equal wages for all workers, or the abolition of securities exchanges.
Some organizers also called Occupy Wall Street “Days of Rage”; along with organization and focus, rage is what is lacking.
The aggregated wealth of the superrich has been stolen from the rest of us. We should not ask them to give some of it back. We should take it all, then jail them.
Which isn’t going to happen nonviolently.
Rich people are bad people. Someone has to say it out loud.
I have no problems with the organizers of a protest deciding that its marchers will remain nonviolent. I am speaking at such an event on October 6th. However, I think it’s unwise to broadcast those intentions to the authorities.
Few people think about it now, but street demonstrations have always relied on a sense of menace. Sure, people marching through the streets of a medieval city might begin by expressing their demands peacefully. But they drank beer instead of water. On a hot day, things might escalate into a riot. The local lord was wise to give in earlier rather than later.
The rich and powerful never relinquish their prerogatives voluntarily. Only violence or the credible threat of violence can force them to give up what they stole through violence and corruption.
Despite the protesters’ many missteps, which were inevitable due to their lack of experience and political seasoning, the Occupy Wall Streeters should be commended. Sure, they did some stupid things. But they have taken a first (tentative) step into history. They have learned lessons. Hopefully they will be smarter next time.
See you in Washington on October 6th, when the October 2011 Coalition will begin the occupation of Freedom Square near the White House. Our demand is simple: We will not leave until the last occupation soldier and mercenary is withdrawn from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Stifling Liberal Dissent Under Obama
After they called the presidency for Obama, emails poured in. “You must be relieved now that the Democrats are taking over,” an old college buddy told me. “There will be less pressure on you.”
That would have been nice.
In the late 1990s my cartoons ran in Time, Fortune and Bloomberg Personal magazines and over 100 daily and alternative weekly newspapers. I was a staff writer for two major magazines.
Then Bush came in. And 9/11 happened.
The media gorged on an orgy of psychotic right-wing rhetoric. Flags everywhere. Torture suddenly OK. In a nation where mainstream political discourse was redefined between Dick Cheney on the right and libertarian Bill Maher on the not-as-right, there wasn’t any room in the paper for a left-of-center cartoonist. My business was savaged. Income plunged.
My editor at Time called me on September 13, 2001. “We’re discontinuing all cartoons,” she told me. I was one of four cartoonists at the newsweekly. “Humor is dead.” I snorted. They never brought back cartoons.
McCarthyism—blackballing—made a big comeback. I had been drawing a monthly comic strip, “The Testosterone Diaries,” for Men’s Health. No politics. It was about guy stuff: dating, job insecurity, prostate tests, that sort of thing. They fired me. Not because of anything I drew for them. It was because of my syndicated editorial cartoons, which attacked Bush and his policies. The publisher worried about pissing off right-wingers during a period of nationalism on steroids.
Desperate and going broke, I called an editor who’d given me lots of work at the magazines he ran during the 1990s. “Sorry, dude, I can’t help,” he replied. “You’re radioactive.”
It was tempting, when Obama’s Democrats swept into office in 2008, to think that the bad old days were coming to an end. I wasn’t looking for any favors, just a swing of the political pendulum back to the Clinton years when it was still OK to be a liberal.
This, you have no doubt correctly guessed, is the part where I tell you I was wrong.
I didn’t count on the cult of personality around Barack Obama.
In the 1990s it was OK to attack Clinton from the left. I went after the Man From Hope and his centrist, “triangulation”-obsessed Democratic Leadership Council for selling out progressive principles. Along with like-minded political cartoonists including Tom Tomorrow and Lloyd Dangle, my cartoons and columns took Clinton’s militant moderates to the woodshed for NAFTA, the WTO and welfare reform. A pal who worked in the White House informed me that the President, known for his short temper, stormed into his office and slammed a copy of that morning’s Washington Post down on the desk with my cartoon showing. “How dare your friend compare me to Bush?” he shouted. (The first Bush.)
It was better than winning a Pulitzer.
It feels a little weird to write this, like I’m telling tales out of school and ratting out the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. But it’s true: there’s less room for a leftie during the Age of Obama than there was under Bush.
I didn’t realize how besotted progressives were by Mr. Hopey Changey.
Obama lost me before Inauguration Day, when he announced cabinet appointments that didn’t include a single liberal.
It got worse after that: Obama extended and expanded Bush’s TARP giveaway to the banks; continued Bush’s spying on our phone calls; ignored the foreclosure crisis; refused to investigate, much less prosecute, Bush’s torturers; his healthcare plan was a sellout to Big Pharma; he kept Gitmo open; expanded the war against Afghanistan; dispatched more drone bombers; used weasel words to redefine the troops in Iraq as “non-combat”; extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich; claiming the right to assassinate U.S. citizens; most recently, there was the forced nudity torture of PFC Bradley Manning and expanding oil drilling offshore and on national lands.
I was merciless to Obama. I was cruel in my criticisms of Obama’s sellouts to the right. In my writings and drawings I tried to tell it as it was, or anyway, as I saw it. I thought—still think—that’s my job. I’m a critic, not a suck-up. The Obama Administration doesn’t need journalists or pundits to carry its water. That’s what press secretaries and PR flacks are for.
Does Obama ever do anything right? Not often, but sure. And when he does, I shut up about it. Cartoonists and columnists who promote government policy are an embarrassment.
But that’s what “liberal” media outlets want in the age of Obama.
I can’t prove it in every case. (That’s how blackballing works.) The Nation and Mother Jones and Harper’s, liberal magazines that gave me freelance work under Clinton and Bush, now ignore my queries. Even when I offered them first-person, unembedded war reporting from Afghanistan. Hey, maybe they’re too busy to answer email or voicemail. You never know.
Other censors are brazen.
There’s been a push among political cartoonists to get our work into the big editorial blogs and online magazines that seem poised to displace traditional print political magazines like The Progressive. In the past, editorial rejections had numerous causes: low budgets, lack of space, an editor who simply preferred another creator’s work over yours.
Now there’ s a new cause for refusal: Too tough on the president.
I’ve heard that from enough “liberal” websites and print publications to consider it a significant trend.
A sample of recent rejections, each from editors at different left-of-center media outlets:
• “I am familiar with and enjoy your cartoons. However the readers of our site would not be comfortable with your (admittedly on point) criticism of Obama.”
• “Don’t be such a hater on O and we could use your stuff. Can’t you focus more on the GOP?”
• “Our first African-American president deserves a chance to clean up Bush’s mess without being attacked by us.”
I have many more like that.
What’s weird is that these cultish attitudes come from editors and publishers whose politics line up neatly with mine. They oppose the bailouts. They want us out of Afghanistan and Iraq. They disapprove of Obama’s new war against Libya. They want Obama to renounce torture and Guantánamo.
Obama is the one they ought to be blackballing. He has been a terrible disappointment to the American left. He has forsaken liberals at every turn. Yet they continue to stand by him. Which means that, in effect, they are not liberals at all. They are militant Democrats. They are Obamabots.
As long as Democrats win elections, they are happy. Nevermind that their policies are the same as, or to the right of, the Republicans.
“So what should I think about [the war in Libya]?,” asks Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. “If it had been my call, I wouldn’t have gone into Libya. But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I’d literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he’s smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted.”
Mr. Drum, call your office. Someone found your brain in the break room.
Barack Obama and the Democrats have made it perfectly clear that they don’t care about the issues and concerns that I care about. Unlike Kevin Drum, I think—I know—I’m smarter than Barack Obama. I wouldn’t have made half the mistakes he has.
So I don’t care about Obama. Or the Democrats. I care about America and the world and the people who live in them.
Hey, Obamabots: when the man you support betrays your principles, he has to go—not your principles.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Why Won’t Obama Explain His Third War?
U.S. forces fired 110 cruise missiles at Libya on the first day of the war. Each one cost $755,000 to build; $2.8 million to transport, maintain and shoot. Austerity and budget cuts abound; there’s no money for NPR or teachers or firefighters. Note to union negotiators: the government has lots of money. They’re spending it on war.
For people too young to remember Bosnia, this is what a violent, aggressive, militarist empire looks like under a Democratic president. Where Bush rushed, Obama moseys. No one believed ex-oil man Bush when he said he was out to get rid of the evil dictator of an oil-producing state; Obama, the former community organizer, gets a pass under identical circumstances. Over the weekend, also the eighth anniversary of the start of the Iraq quagmire, there were few protests against Obama’s Libya War, all poorly attended.
I spent the weekend in New York at Leftforum, an annual gathering of anti-capitalist intellectuals. “What do you think about Libya?” people kept asking. What passes for the Left is ambivalent.
In part this waffling on Libya is due to Obama’s deadpan (read: uncowboy-like) tone. Mostly, however, the tacit consent stems from televised images of ragtag anti-Qadafi opposition forces getting strafed by Libyan air force jets. We Americans like underdogs, especially when they say they want democracy.
Still, the President is not a dictator. He can’t declare war. And while he might be able to lie his way into one, he and his party will pay at the polls if he fails to explain why we’re attacking a nation that poses no threat to the United States.
There are a lot of questions we—and journalists—should be asking Obama. Obviously, we’re broke. Our military is overextended, losing two wars against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. How can we afford this?
1. Whom are we helping?
The U.S. and its allies are destroying Libya’s air force in order to tip the balance in the civil war in favor of anti-Qadafi forces. A similar approach, aerial bombardment of Afghan government defenses, allowed Northern Alliance rebels to break through Taliban lines and enter Kabul in 2001. It could work again in Libya.
But who are these anti-Qadafi forces? Rival tribes? Radical Islamists? Royalists? What kind of government will they establish if they win? What are their ideological and religious affiliations? If anyone in the media or the White House knows, they’re not telling.
Or perhaps, as in Iraq, the White House doesn’t have a governance plan for post-Qadafi Libya. Which, as in Iraq, could lead to chaos. No nation should go to war without considering the long-term consequences.
Before we pick sides in a conflict, shouldn’t we know for whom we are going billions of dollars further into debt?
2. Does Qadafi have the right to defend himself?
From Shea’s Whiskey Rebellion to Confederacy to the Red Scares to the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, the U.S. government has violently suppressed armed rebellions. How then can the U.S. claim moral authority to prevent other governments from doing the same thing? (“The U.S. is more moral than Libya” is not an acceptable response. Obama murders and tortures more people than Qadafi.)
3. What about self-determination?
If the Libyan people rise up and overthrow Qadafi, an authoritarian despot well past his expiration date, that’s great. Shouldn’t that struggle be a Libyan matter, to be settled between Libyans? Isn’t a government that emerges from indigenous internal struggle more likely to enjoy widespread support than one that results from outside intervention?
“Free men set themselves free,” said James Oppenheim. Can a people truly feel emancipated when they owe their freedom—and later, inexorably, their oil and gas—to a foreign superpower?
4. Why are we OK with some dictators, but not others?
Since the Middle East began blowing up we’ve heard a lot of talk about Obama’s dilemma: How do we reconcile American values with American strategic interests? In a good country—at least a non-hypocritical one—they are the same.
Obama is employing circular logic. “Why strike only Libya, when other regimes murder their citizens too?” asks Chris Good in The Atlantic Monthly. “Obama’s answer seems to be: because the UN Security Council turned its attention toward Libya, and not other places.” But the UN reacted in response to the U.S.
In other words: We’re agreeing to a request that we made ourselves.
Ideology and policy must be consistent to be credible. If we have a policy to depose dictators, then all dictators must be targeted. We can’t just take out those in countries with lots of oil. We ought to start with tyrants for which we bear responsibility: our allies and puppets. At this writing the U.S. supports or props up unpopular authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Yemen, and elsewhere.
5. Is Libya our geostrategic business?
The United States has no substantial historical ties with, innate cultural understanding of, or geographic proximity to, Libya. Even under the imperialist doctrine of “spheres of influence” that governed international relations during the Cold War, Libya falls under the purview of other would-be interventionists. Italy, and to a lesser extent Britain and France, are former colonial masters. The Arab League and African Union have interests there. Even if you buy the sentimental argument—”Are we going to stand by and watch Qadafi slaughter his own people?”—why us? Why not the Africans or Europeans?
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL