THOLOS OF ATHENA

Friday, April 30, 2010

IS THAT YOU THERE IN THE RUINS?

From Harper's Index, Harper's Magazine, May 2010:
Number of reported US drone attacks in Pakistan since Obama's inauguration: 78

Number during George W. Bush's entire presidency: 45
One criticism of President Obama and his team, that will stick, is that they allow the regressive political trends of the late past to grow worse and worse. A smattering of conservatives and libertarians, and all those hopeful liberals, leftists, progressives, who were holding their breath in anticipation of change, can now exhale. The exhilaration has escaped...and the body politic becomes torpid. As a result, the president himself expresses regret, and finds it no simple matter to undo the mistrust.

How incredible it is to consider the president's repeated use of the past tense: his claim that he "closed" the infamous Guantanamo camp, a routine phrase used in several speeches, after he moved into the White House. No such closing has happened.

The ACLU recently reprimanded Obama's administration for treating the whole world, the planet itself, as a battlefield; as Obama imitates the war powers of George W. Bush, who preceded him in office.

What is flawed goes well beyond one particular policy or another, because the real concern is the whole philosophy of American power.

In March, Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. spoke to an audience of foreign affairs specialists in Arlington, Virginia:
Altogether, we spend more on military power than the rest of the world--friend or foe--combined. (This way we can defeat everyone in the world if they all gang up on us. Don't laugh! If we are sufficiently obnoxious, we might just drive them to it.) No one questions this level of spending or asks what it is for. Politicians just tell us it is short of what we require. We have embraced the cult of the warrior. The defense budget is its totem.

[...] Liberal interventionists often join the neocons in their eagerness to remake the world in our image. Hence, the war to secure Afghanistan for feminism and other undeniably worthy causes not normally associated with that country. Americans are learning the hard way that armed evangelism and the diplomacy-free foreign policy associated with it give birth to more enemies than they kill. But what's done is done. We're addicted to military surges and the substitution of campaign plans for strategies. We just can't seem to quit.

[...] Amazingly, as an example, we retain a touching faith in sanctions as an instrument of coercive influence. Our diplomacy follows a predictable pattern. It begins with bluster, experiments with covert action, then proceeds to demands that others join us in sanctions, which become a diplomatic end in themselves. When sanctions fail--as they always do, we put the bombers in the air and the tanks on the dirt...
The language that Freeman sees us reduced to, is commanded by firepower, because appeals to reason would brand us as wimps, and the folks on the receiving end of the violence are really "not like us" at all. That is sadly the guiding philosophy of American power.

And what is happening on the stage of our domestic politics sometimes seems inhuman. About 400,000 people have been deported from the country in a year's time. The ICE paramilitary, the new immigration enforcers, began in the Bush years, rounding up people by the thousands, incarcerating whole families. Now this force has been disappearing those it nabs, denying those in custody access to lawyers, warehousing prisoners in nondescript unmarked facilities, shuffling them around without providing lists or the exact location of prisoners, making these inmates invisible.

Professor Jaqueline Stevens is credited with breaking this story of the "unmarked holding areas" and stockrooms that doubled as cells.

Adios, muchachos.

No more stooping to pick our cheap veggies for shit wages. No more losing hands and fingers in our slaughterhouses. NAFTA and our monsters of patented seeds and genetically altered crops, big shits like Monsanto, Frankenstein corporations, drove a million farmers in Mexico to ruin.

But who has to pay the pound of flesh? Who has to be uprooted? Who is held without legal counsel? Who is disappeared without a paper trail? Who is rounded up in Arizona?--America's first fascist state? If it can be done to these scapegoats; it can be done to you in good time. Despite the official disclaimers of Arizona's statehouse, it's become a crime to be brown, to look Hispanic. Only those who are targets are expected to carry birth certificates in that state. People can be arrested, stopped and questioned, because they reflect a particular heritage.

Yet on some level it's remarkable that Barack Obama, the country's chief executive, our first African-American president, can be blandly criticizing Arizona's new power; but at the same time, a department of his own federal police apparatus, The ICE, is running amok.

There's a connection between the violence this government inflicts on the unfortunate people in foreign lands, who stand in its way, and the violence it inflicts on the most powerless people in its own neighborhoods.

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