Joe Biden’s age has become a major issue in the 2020 presidential campaign. Partly this is because he has been showing signs of early dementia while he talks. But it’s also the fact that he uses outdated expressions. Recently the Internet went crazy when he showed off his new campaign bus with its new “no malarkey” logo. Come on, man!
Originally published at ANewDomain.net:
Conservatives have been spoiled. For at least as long as I’ve been alive – I’m 51 – right-wingers have scarcely had to break a sweat in political debates. Until recently, all it has taken to reduce a liberal to a blubbering, conceding mess was a cheesy ad hominem attack.
You hate the troops!
You hate the cops!
Why do you hate America so much?
Though undeniably tentative and fragile, there are indications that the Right’s reign of terror in public discourse may come to an end someday.
A case in point is President Obama, whose first six years in office were characterized by relentless timidity even when he enjoyed amazing poll numbers and control of both houses of Congress. After the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in November 2014, he was expected to follow the liberal Democratic tradition of accepting that the Republicans should get their way on everything because that was obviously the will of the American people.
Instead, he inaugurated his lame-duck final couplet with aggressive moves on immigration reform and, last week, normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba, both through executive action. Republicans howled – but nothing happened. To the contrary, Obama seems more powerful than ever.
Some sort of turning point in the ideological zeitgeist seems to have been reached with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s appearance on “Meet the Press” two weekends ago. Blisteringly belligerent as usual, Cheney didn’t even try to appeal to logic or reason while defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” under the Bush Administration in the wake of the Senate torture report.
“Torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11,” Cheney said.
For many years after September 11 attacks, this was the kind of off-the-cuff mindfart that progressives and Democrats didn’t know how to counter. (No, that’s not torture. That’s tragedy.) Anything that harkened back to 9/11, no matter how irrelevant or stupid, was rhetorical kryptonite to liberals who didn’t want to appear weak in the War on Terror.
Cheney caught the worst of it, but standard Republican talking points and rhetorical style took a beating over the last week on a number of issues.
Arizona Senator, Vietnam POW and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain reacted to the alleged hack of Sony Entertainment by the North Korean government in his standard bellicose way, declaring it “an act of war.” An act of war, naturally, calls for a military response. The declaration by President Bush that 9/11 was an act of war, for example, prompted Congress to authorize the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by a nearly unanimous vote. (Which worked out splendidly!)
Interestingly, McCain’s ferocity fell largely upon deaf ears. More in touch with ordinary Americans was President Obama, who countered that the hackers had actually carried out “an act of cyber-vandalism that was very costly, very expensive.”
In a sneak preview of the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, likely contender and Florida Senator Marco Rubio catered to part of his Greater Miami constituency of Cuban exiles by calling for the continuation of the half-century-old trade blockade of the Caribbean island. “I don’t care if the polls say that 99% of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba,” he said. It’s not quite that extreme yet, but most Americans do support Obama’s decision to recognize the end of the Cold War 23 years after the fact.
Rubio’s rhetoric was met with a yawn (and lucky for him). Obama’s actions are largely seen by the political class as a fait accompli, all over but the shouting at passport control in Havana.
This is a remarkable transformation. Twenty or even ten years ago, any Democrat who had endorsed, much less carried out, such a move would be deemed to have committed political suicide. Republican talk radio would have screamed that it was un-American, procommunist, and treasonous. Sure, they’re saying the same thing now, but no one cares because, well, it’s stupid.
Of course, it would have been stupid back then. The difference is, people can see that now.
Then, in New York City, there was Saturday’s shooting of two police officers as they sat in their patrol car in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, apparently by a deranged man with a long criminal record. New York’s new mayor Bill de Blasio, a progressive Democrat whose political allies don’t include top NYPD figures, took a blast of heat from police union leaders, one of whom spat that de Blasio has blood on his hands. (Apparently he drew a straight line between the shooter’s post-Ferguson/post-Staten Island anti-cop rants on Instagram and the mayor’s revelation that he tells his biracial son to be careful when he encounters police officers.)
To be sure, de Blasio is having trouble with the NYPD — but this kerfuffle is nothing close to the existential crisis a liberal Democratic mayor in the same pickle would have had to endure just a few short years ago. Most New Yorkers recognize that this is police overreach. A few weeks after New Yorkers of all races reacted with disgust to a grand jury decision not to indict the Staten Island police officer who murdered Eric Garner on video, not even the cold-blooded assassination of two cops on the streets of Brooklyn erases that memory or allows a return to the Giuliani years, when cops could do no wrong in the eyes of officialdom. If the mayor tells his kid to watch out for the cops, who can blame him?
So what has changed?
It might be a bona fide political shift from right to left, but that’s not my take. What we are seeing, I suspect, is popular exhaustion with right-wing talking points and bullying rhetoric. There’s a certain point at which repetition stops working and becomes annoying – and it feels like that’s where we’re at.
In the future, if conservatives want to be taken seriously, they’re going to have to go back to the old William F. Buckley days and attempt to construct calm, logically reasoned arguments in favor of their ideas. Name-calling and appeals to rank emotionalism aren’t cutting it anymore.
Reader Brian McManus asks:
“Just wondering if you can find time to post a piece on what the U.S. should do (or not do) regarding the current situation with ISIS in Iraq. Not so much on how the situation got to be where it is, but what the U.S. and/or other nations should do in situations like this. Would appreciate your thoughts on the issue.”
Thanks for writing, Brian.
Americans are “can do” people. Optimism is an appealing national personality trait but it comes with the unfortunate tendency to overestimate what can be done and its more dangerous corollary, the will to act when doing nothing would be preferable.
We saw the pitfalls of can-do following 9/11. Initial reactions to the attacks were shock and confusion. Traditional ideological divides were blurred, but in those early days one could still discern the pre-GWOT liberal tendency toward treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, versus the old hawkish rightist desire to lash out militarily. Then the Right trotted out a line that resonated across the spectrum and caused the antiwar left to dissolve as into mist:
We have to do something.
In the United States, “something” means military action.
The thing we “have” to do “something” about always refers to foreign policy.
Americans don’t feel that “have to do something” about domestic problems. Poverty? No need to act. Corrupt bankers? Inaction is fine. But if a crisis flares up overseas (a civil war as in Syria or Libya, a siege of civilians as in Sarajevo or Iraqi Kurdistan, cross-border encroachment as in ex-Soviet Georgia or Crimea), and especially if it involves opponents the media categorizes as “bad guys” (regional economic rivals such as Iran, China or Russia, radical Islamists who may or may not have gotten their guns from us), “we” “have” “to” “do” “something” (military action).
This is not true.
There are always alternatives to military action. The success of the formerly Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria insurgency, which controls half of both countries, is no exception. Half-measures come in both military (money and weapons) and non-military (political advisors) forms.
We can do nothing.
Albania is doing nothing in Iraq. Cuba is doing nothing in Iraq. Vietnam is doing nothing in Iraq. These countries have not been harmed by their refusal to intervene militarily in Iraq.
As I see it, Brian, whatever appetite ordinary Americans have for Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS and other attempts to prop up the current regime in Baghdad stems from the investment of lives and treasure the U.S. has made since the 2003 invasion.
“To be sure, the cost was high,” then-Secretary of State Leon Panetta said when Obama ordered the main troop withdrawal from Iraq. “But those lives were not lost in vain. They gave birth to an independent, free, and sovereign Iraq.”
If ISIS captures Baghdad and establishes Taliban-style Sharia law throughout Iraq, complete with amputations of accused thieves and stonings of wayward women — leaving Iraq, already in worse shape than it was under Saddam, an unequivocal nightmare for its people and a base for radical jihadis out to overthrow U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia — Panetta’s statement will have been belied.
The war will have been exposed as a total waste.
Which it was. Every American who lost a life or a limb in Iraq was sacrificed stupidly, predictably, in a war that never could have been won even had the generals and politicians in charge of it weren’t idiots.
The attempt to salvage Iraq by saving the rump Iraqi state inside the Green Zone is a refusal to accept defeat. But that doesn’t change reality.
We lost the Iraq War years ago. The sooner we accept that there is nothing to be saved there and move on, the better off we’ll be.
Undeniably and regrettably, washing our hands of Iraq — aside from leaving ISIS alone, we ought to evacuate the embassy and other government personnel Obama says we need to “protect” — will result in awful consequences. Whether or not ISIS can close the deal by capturing Baghdad, the sectarian conflict will escalate. Areas within ISIS control will be lost for the foreseeable future. More civilians will die, many as the result of “ethnic cleansing.”
We know these things will happen because we’ve lost wars before. The U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam created the “boat people” crisis, opened space for wars between Vietnam and its neighbors China and Cambodia, and permitted a communist regime hostile to U.S. interests to consolidate power, and exclude American business for decades.
But consider the alternative.
Remaining in Vietnam would have required pouring more money and more soldiers down a hole, and slaughtering countless more Vietnamese. We still would have lost. All that post-withdrawal stuff — the civil conflicts, reprisals against our former local collaborators — would still have happened. It just would have happened later.
After we accepted defeat and walked away from Vietnam, on the other hand, things eventually worked out. Vietnam is now a major U.S. trading partner; nearly half a million American tourists visit Vietnam each year.
A guy named Barack Obama once summarized his foreign policy as “Don’t do stupid stuff” like invading Iraq in the first place. Hillary’s jibes and Obama’s actions aside, it’s good advice. To which I’ll add Ho Chi Minh’s legendary order to his general Vo Nguyen Giap, who was planning the decisive 1954 battle that would expel France from Indochina: “If victory is certain, then you are to attack. If victory is not certain, then you must resolutely refrain from attacking.”
Victory against ISIS is anything but certain. Therefore, in this and similar situations, I would refrain from attacking.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Obama Doesn’t Need Congress. He Needs Travelocity.
Guantánamo is complicated. Everyone says so.
Everyone is wrong.
There’s nothing complicated about it. Guantánamo should be closed.
Mainstream media pundits don’t get it. They suggest a lame hodgepodge of solutions: a few repatriations here, a few extraordinary renditions there, maybe convincing some allies to take the victims of our stupid “war on terrorism.”
Immoral and idiotic.
All of the detainees — every last one of them, the schlubs who have been officially cleared by the Pentagon and, yes, even the scary dudes the government insists are “the worst of the worst” — can, should and — if the United States Constitution means anything at all — must be released.
In the United States.
I don’t find myself saying this very often, but President Obama is finally doing talking about doing something right. Granted, he let five years pass before he took the problem seriously. It took a hunger strike, now entering its fourth month, which could begin claiming the lives of some of the more than 100 participating POWs, to get his attention. Even now, he is violating the detainees’ human rights and the standards of the American Medical Association by violently shoving feeding tubes up their noses to —irony alert! — save their lives. Still, better late than never: Obama (finally) says he wants to fulfill his 2008 campaign promise by closing this monstrosity.
“Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” he told a news conference. “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
So close it. You don’t need Congress. All you need is a Travelocity account.
When Obama became president in 2009, there were 245 prisoners at Gitmo. Now there are 166. (None have been released since 2011, which demoralized the remaining prisoners to the point that many are willing to die from hunger.) Some of these wretches been there since the concentration camp — look it up, there is no better term for it — opened 12 years ago.
It’s been ages. Three inmates arrived at Gitmo as children. As they passed through adolescence and entered adulthood, they were tortured, abused, and denied basic human rights by American soldiers and CIA agents, left to rot in American dog cages. (At least 28 children have done time there.)
American officials worry that their experience may have radicalized them. How could it not? If it hasn’t, they must be insane.
The horrors are just beginning to come out. A Spanish investigation censored in U.S. media found that American soldiers have abused Gitmo prisoners with “blows to [the] testicles,” “detention underground in total darkness for three weeks with deprivation of food and sleep,” being “inoculated…through injection with ‘a disease for dog cysts,'” smearing feces on prisoners and (of course) waterboarding.
Actionable intelligence obtained under torture: none.
This was in 2009. Under Obama.
Few Americans are aware of how the vast majority of the so-called detainees got there. Mostly, they were sold. Yes, like slaves: Afghan warlords and Pakistani tribesmen sold anyone they could find, especially Arabs and other foreigners fleeing the 2001 US invasion, to the CIA and the US military for bounties ranging between $3,000 and $25,000. Hundreds of men and boys shipped to America’s new gulag were innocent, simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. As for the rest, the majority were never a threat to America. Their jihad was against the governments of U.S. frenemies like China, Pakistan and Yemen.
The 166 survivors — several have committed suicide, and some deaths classified as suicides were almost certainly murdered under torture using an obscure technique called “dryboarding” — can be classified into four categories:
Eighty-six have been cleared for transfer or release but can’t be sent back to their home country — Yemen, for most of them — because, as political dissidents, they might be — irony alert! — tortured or killed.
The Obama administration considers 47 too dangerous to release, but cannot prosecute them because there isn’t enough evidence against them, or the case against them has been compromised by the fact that they were tortured.
Twenty-four are deemed prosecutable but no one can say when a trial might take place.
Six have been charged and three have been convicted in the kangaroo court “military commission” system invented by George W. Bush’s legal team to prosecute “unlawful combatants,” a phony term that doesn’t exist under U.S. or international law.
Obama should stop blaming Congress. Yes, the Republicans did refuse to allocate funds to transfer Guantánamo detainees to the United States. But Obama signed their legislation into law. He owns this mess.
All 166 men should be offered the choice of a ticket back home or permanent residency in the United States. After all, what are we talking about? 166 one-way tickets. Even if we fly these guys first-class, $250,000 isn’t going to break the bank. Obama is worth about $12 million. Who needs taxpayer money? He could cover that personally.
Consider it retroactive payment for that 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
Under the American system of justice, everyone — citizen or noncitizen — is innocent until proven guilty. 163 of these guys clearly can’t be proven guilty, and the three that were found guilty obviously didn’t get a fair trial. The rules might have been different had the Bush and Obama administrations classified them as POWs, but he didn’t want to give them the rights that they were entitled to under the Geneva Conventions. The US has been having it both ways for 12 long years. This disgusting farce needs to come to an end now.
Imagine the visual: Obama flies to Cuba, personally apologizes to each man, hands him a big check for $10 million, throws open the gates of the camp and gives it back to Cuba (from which we stole it in the first place). Hell, let them hitch a ride back to Andrews on Air Force One. Open bar!
Would some of these ex-Gitmo victims join the fight against the United States? Maybe. After all, 60% of American ex-cons reoffend. In a free society, that’s a risk that we take.
Still, you’ve got to think that in a country full of security cameras, with two or three overfunded intelligence agencies and countless domestic police apparatuses, it shouldn’t be too hard to set up the former prisoners of Guantánamo with job training, phone taps, GPS trackers on their cars and two or three agents each to follow them around and make sure that they don’t get into trouble.
And don’t forget that footage of Obama apologizing.
Can you imagine how pissed off the Al Qaeda guys would be?
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 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