A nice short video narrated by Tom Waits about the career of John Baldessari -- one of America’s most influential postwar modern artists (best known for his photographs and movie stills with brightly coloured dots on them).
A nice short video narrated by Tom Waits about the career of John Baldessari -- one of America’s most influential postwar modern artists (best known for his photographs and movie stills with brightly coloured dots on them).
A fantastic collage of interview excerpts with people from Mississippi – the poorest and most conservative state of the USA. Money quote: “We’d rather go broke than give up our moral beliefs!”
Check out Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman in the NYT on the response of both Wall Street financiers and Republican politicians to the Occupy Wall Street protests, aptly titled ‘Panic of the Plutocrats’:
It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America’s direction. Yet the protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general, and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent.
And this reaction tells you something important — namely, that the extremists threatening American values are what F.D.R. called “economic royalists,” not the people camping in Zuccotti Park.
Consider first how Republican politicians have portrayed the modest-sized if growing demonstrations, which have involved some confrontations with the police — confrontations that seem to have involved a lot of police overreaction — but nothing one could call a riot. And there has in fact been nothing so far to match the behavior of Tea Party crowds in the summer of 2009.
Nonetheless, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, has denounced “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans against Americans.” The G.O.P. presidential candidates have weighed in, with Mitt Romney accusing the protesters of waging “class warfare,” while Herman Cain calls them “anti-American.” My favorite, however, is Senator Rand Paul, who for some reason worries that the protesters will start seizing iPads, because they believe rich people don’t deserve to have them.
Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor and a financial-industry titan in his own right, was a bit more moderate, but still accused the protesters of trying to “take the jobs away from people working in this city,” a statement that bears no resemblance to the movement’s actual goals.
And if you were listening to talking heads on CNBC, you learned that the protesters “let their freak flags fly,” and are “aligned with Lenin.”
The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.
Last year, you may recall, a number of financial-industry barons went wild over very mild criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr. Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the so-called Volcker rule, which would simply prohibit banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in risky speculation. And as for their reaction to proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them pay remarkably low taxes — well, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.
Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.
This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny — and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious, no matter how calmly and moderately, must be demonized and driven from the stage. In fact, the more reasonable and moderate a critic sounds, the more urgently he or she must be demonized, hence the frantic sliming of Elizabeth Warren.
So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.
What I think the best thing of Occupy Wall Street is is that it finally puts the financial malpractices of an industry very much related to the actual top 1 percent of super-rich people in the US, in combination with their rescue by 99 percent of tax payers (i.e., the public), on the democratic agenda.
But the fundamental injustice in pretty much the entire Western world nowadays is the fact that the welfare state, a scheme for the public good, is being dismantled as a result of costs made to save the financial industry. An industry that through its own corrupt schemes, not beneficial to anyone but themselves, has itself created the greatest economic recession since the nineteen-thirties. They should not be awarded bonuses. And poor, sick and unemployed people should not have to suffer for them. There is nothing ‘left-wing’ about that. It’s common sense. That’s why I would love to see these protests spread to Europe, even though I myself am in favour of a regulated form of capitalism.
Finally – not from Paul Krugman – to point out empirically how disparagingly vast the gap between the top 1 percent and the lower 90 percent in the US is, check out these stats from Mother Jones. The first shows the composition of the top 1 percent; the second shows their wealth.
I mean, seriously. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of wealth inequality. But you don’t need to be a socialist to understand that such a huge gap between rich, middle class (if not already vaporized) and poor is not beneficial to any society, let alone a democratic one. And this gap has widened exponentially in the last thirty years, it wasn’t there before. The most fucked up societies are the ones with sudden, huge material inequalities. With the exception of the UK, Europe’s not as bad as the US in this respect – but getting close.
A counterpoint to the myth of the American Dream.
Glenn Greenwald unearths some surprising – and encouraging – poll results. One central theme of the post-9/11 decade is, in my perception, the erosion in the Western world of individual rights and the idea of the rule of law vis-a-vis an ever more intrusive and particularistic State. This is often portrayed as a trade-off to get ”security” and reduce “risk”. Depressingly, reference is frequently made to a general public that is deemed either uninterested or happy to give up some liberties in exchange for protection against all the evils in the world.
Yet, this recent Pew poll shows that a majority of Americans nowadays doesn’t support this erosion of civil liberties in the name of, in this instance, combating terrorism. I’m sure it’s partly a matter of phrasing, but still it’s good news.
The other poll findings – such as that a plurality of Americans agree that the role of the US in the world may have had something to do with the 9/11 attacks – are interesting as well.
The most common claim to justify endless civil liberties erosions in the name of security — and to defend politicians who endorse those erosions — is that Americans don’t care about those rights and are happy to sacrifice them. The principal problem with this claim is that it is false (…).
It was only in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that a majority of Americans was prepared to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of Terrorism. But this game-playing with public opinion — falsely claiming that the public is indifferent to civil liberties in order to justify assaults on them — is common. To this day, if you criticize President Obama for shielding Bush officials from investigations, you’ll be met with the claim that doing so was politically necessary, even though poll after poll found in the wake of Obama’s inauguration that large majorities wanted those inquiries.
If we are to believe the world view of the likes of Geert Wilders and Anders Breivik, every Muslim in the world is a radical. After all, there is no such thing as moderate Islam, and Islam is a fascist, violent ideology. Therefore, Muslims in general are a dangerous element in society.
Then how to explain this new Gallup poll, showing that of all religious affinities, American Muslims oppose civilian killings by individuals the most? Are they massively committing taqqiya, or what?
Adam Serwer explains:
Muslims are more likely than any other religious group to disapprove of targeting civilians, whether it’s done by the government or by a terrorist group. That means their views are most in line with international law, which prohibits the deliberate targeting of civilians under any circumstances. The finding is somewhat intuitive — whether we’re talking drone strikes or suicide bombings, Muslims are often the most likely victims.
Michael Lind has an interesting political analysis up at Salon.com on the three fundamentalisms that nowadays mark the Republican right: Biblical fundamentalism, constitutional fundamentalism and market fundamentalism. I think this is a way of putting things that is largely correct. The Republican Party is now so far removed from any other political party in the Western world that it can only be described in these terms.
It does not explain, however, the seeming contradictions in this fundamentalist philosophy; for example, how can you adhere to a hardcore market fundamentalism along the lines of Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand, and at the same time claim to be a Bible-following Christian? After all, the teachings of Christ have nothing to do with considering selfishness a virtue. Rand, who along with God and the Founding Fathers is always named the greatest inspiration for every Republican presidential candidate, herself proclaimed to be anti-Christian in her ‘thinking’.
Lind also shows how the intellectual project of re-constituting a moderate conservatism as a political ideology in the 1960s led, by and large propelled by the rise of evangelical Protestantism and the presidency of Ronald Reagan, to the extremist fundamentalism that nowadays marks the Republican Party. All of the hallmarks of Biblical, constitutional and market fundamentalism can be found, for example, in the Tea Party and Sarah Palin.
What I’m worried about (as if the adherence to a triple fundamentalism by one of the world’s two most important political parties is not frightening enough) is the emergence of a similar kind of orthodoxy emerging in the Netherlands today. Whereas the Dutch polity used to be marked by agreement across the political spectrum on such issues as the multicultural society (in hindsight perhaps a bit too much consensus in that respect), political equality, tolerance for differences and care for weaker groups in society, the governing coalition nowadays seems to converge ideologically to adherence to a monocultural society, treating people with non-Dutch backgrounds as second-class citizens, and implementing a by European standards pretty hardcore market fundamentalism.
In other words: rightwing orthodoxy in Europe, at least in the Netherlands, is intensifying and growing more extreme just like it has in the US. The question is how those still believing in political equality, a rights-based citizenship, and a market tempered by government interference can defend themselves in an increasingly hostile climate, in which such very basic and once universally accepted notions are painted ‘elitist’.
Anyway, here’s Lind’s piece:
In contradiction to the hostility to Darwinism shared by many of its constituents, the American right is evolving rapidly before our eyes. The project of creating an American version of Burkean conservatism has collapsed. What has replaced it is best described as triple fundamentalism — a synthesis of Biblical fundamentalism, constitutional fundamentalism and market fundamentalism.
Following World War II, the American right was a miscellany of marginal, embittered subcultures — anti-New Dealers, isolationists, paranoid anticommunists, anti-semites and white supremacists. Russell Kirk and others associated with William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review sought to Americanize a version of high-toned British Burkean conservatism. While the eighteenth century British parliamentarian was embraced by conservatives for his opposition to the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, a champion of the rights of Britain’s Indian, Irish and American subjects, could also be claimed by liberals like Yale Law School’s Alexander Bickel, who preferred gradual, cautious reform to radical social experimentation. In its liberal as in its conservative forms, Burkeanism disdains reaction and radicalism alike, and favors change in lesser things when necessary to maintain the continuity of more fundamental institutions and values.
The religious equivalent of Burkean politics is orthodoxy, not fundamentalism. Orthodoxy means the continuity of a tradition, as interpreted by an authoritative body of experts, such as priests, rabbis or mullahs. The term “fundamentalism” originated in the early twentieth century as a description of reactionary evangelical Protestants in the U.S. who rejected liberal Protestantism and modern evolutionary science and insisted on the inerrancy of the Bible. The phrase is nowadays applied indiscriminately and often inaccurately to various religious movements, some of which, in the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim traditions are better described as ultra-orthodox.
The increasingly-Southernized American Right has transferred the fundamentalist Protestant mentality from the sphere of religion to the spheres of law and the economy. Protestant fundamentalism is now joined by constitutional fundamentalism and market fundamentalism.
In all three cases, the pattern is the same. There is the eternal Truth that never varies — the will of God, the principles of the Founding Fathers, the so-called laws of the free market. There are the scriptures which explain the eternal truths — the King James Bible, in the case of religious fundamentalism, the Constitution or the Federalist Papers, in the case of constitutional fundamentalism, and Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in the case of market fundamentalism (The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand can be substituted for Hayek, on request).
“There’s only one book you ever need to read,” a Bible-believin’ Texan Baptist once assured me. He was two books short of a populist conservative bookshelf. But in the age of post-intellectual, fundamentalist conservatism, three books are sufficient to make anyone the equal of the most erudite intellectual. The books need not actually be read, and for the most part probably are not; it is enough, in argument, to thump the Bible, and to thump “The Road to Serfdom” and “Atlas Shrugged,” too.
Modern American market fundamentalism, too, is recognizably modeled on the fundamentalist Protestant version of church history, even though market fundamentalists need not be Christian conservatives. Ignoring the long history of tariffs, land grants, military procurement and mixed public-private corporations in the United States, the market fundamentalists pretend that the U.S. was governed by the laws of the market until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal replaced capitalism with socialism (or statism, or fascism, or whatever Amity Shlaes or Jonah Goldberg want to call it). Russell Kirk wrote that any true conservative would be a socialist before he would be a libertarian. But then he was a Burkean High Church conservative.
The rise of triple fundamentalism on the American right creates a crisis of political discourse in the United States. Back when conservatism was orthodox and traditional, rather than fundamentalist and counter-revolutionary, conservatives could engage in friendly debates with liberals, and minds on both sides could now and then be changed. But if your sect alone understands the True Religion and the True Constitution and the Laws of the Market, then there is no point in debate. All those who disagree with you are heretics, to be defeated, whether or not they are converted.
For their part, progressives have no idea of how to respond to the emergent right’s triple fundamentalism. Today it is the left, not the right, that is Burkean in America. Modern American liberalism is disillusioned, to the point of defeatism, by the frustration of the utopian hopes of 1960s liberalism in the Age of Reagan that followed and has not yet ended. Today it is liberals, not conservatives, who tend to be cautious and incremental and skeptical to a fault about the prospects for reform, while it is the right that wants to blow up the U.S. economy and start all over, on the basis of the doctrines of two Austrian professors and a Russian émigré novelist.
Here’s the difference: the US invades multiple countries and finally summarily executes persons designated “terrorists”.
In Europe, we create international legal institutions and firmly, slowly but steadily, pressure countries into extraditing suspected war criminals so they can be tried.
I believe this is one area in which we as Europeans can say we’re in every respect more advanced and civilized than our counterparts at the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
I’d like to point out the difference between the way Europe and the US go after bad guys. The US invades countries, blows them to pieces, then goes into another country, blows that to pieces, only to find out that the guy they’re looking for is hiding in yet another country. One they thought was a friend. But regardless of the friendship, the US goes in without telling their friend and executes their bad guy.
Here’s how Europe does it. It holds a big carrot over the place where the bad guy is hiding: membership of the EU union. It creates an international court system, in this case the Yugoslavia court. And it waits. And slowly the bad guys get discovered by the locals. First Milosovic. Then Karadzic. Now Mladic.
No guns, no execution, no torture, just the patient power of the law. Just look at the dry headline on The International Criminal Tribunal’s website: “Tribunal Welcomes the Arrest of Ratko Mladić”. These thugs have to stand trial. No glorious, scandalous trial. No politicians fearing death and destruction. Just the slow-grinding, boring mill of justice. Milosovic died under the pressure. Karadzic is fading away. And now Mladic faces the same prospect in a very decent cell in Scheveningen.
America is a fantastic country to live in. But boy am I proud to be European on days like this.
Yes indeed. There is no conceivable reason why Osama bin Laden should, against all international law, be executed without a trial, while Ratko Mladic should be arrested and tried. Juridically, of course, anyone can point out that Mladic acted as officer of a state, while Bin Laden headed a stateless organization. But does that matter in terms of the crimes being committed? Of course not. Bin Laden could well have been charged for committing mass murder in an American court. But he never has been. Why? Because that’s not the way Americans work.
David Sirota has a good piece up on Salon.com about the reactions in the United States yesterday on hearing the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing.
I must say he voices the same slightly uncomfortable feelings I involuntarily got from watching partying crowds outside the White House and in New York. I guess one should empathize with such outbursts, but I couldn’t help but think about partying crowds in the Gaza Strip when 9/11 occurred (even though I want to stress that killing Osama bin Laden is in no way comparable to the attack on the Twin Towers). Basically people are celebrating death. Now I share relief when a mass murderer, in the case of some people responsible for the death of loved ones, is gone, but the whole gung-ho, “America, fuck yeah!” vibe surrounding that…
I don’t know, I thought it was a less pretty face of America.
There is ample reason to feel relief that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to the world, and I say that not just because I was among the many congressional staffers told to flee the U.S. Capitol on 9/11. I say that because he was clearly an evil person who celebrated violence against all whom he deemed “enemies” — and the world needs less of such zealotry, not more.
However, somber relief was not the dominant emotion presented to America when bin Laden’s death was announced. Instead, the Washington press corps — helped by a wild-eyed throng outside the White House — insisted that unbridled euphoria is the appropriate response. And in this we see bin Laden’s more enduring victory — a victory that will unfortunately last far beyond his passing.
For decades, we have held in contempt those who actively celebrate death. When we’ve seen video footage of foreigners cheering terrorist attacks against America, we have ignored their insistence that they are celebrating merely because we have occupied their nations and killed their people. Instead, we have been rightly disgusted — not only because they are lauding the death of our innocents, but because, more fundamentally, they are celebrating death itself. That latter part had been anathema to a nation built on the presumption that life is an “unalienable right.”
But in the years since 9/11, we have begun vaguely mimicking those we say we despise, sometimes celebrating bloodshed against those we see as Bad Guys just as vigorously as our enemies celebrate bloodshed against innocent Americans they (wrongly) deem as Bad Guys. Indeed, an America that once carefully refrained from flaunting gruesome pictures of our victims for fear of engaging in ugly death euphoria now ogles pictures of Uday and Qusay’s corpses, rejoices over images of Saddam Hussein’s hanging and throws a party at news that bin Laden was shot in the head.
This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history — the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.
Again, this isn’t in any way to equate Americans who cheer on bin Laden’s death with, say, those who cheered after 9/11. Bin Laden was a mass murderer who had punishment coming to him, while the 9/11 victims were innocent civilians whose deaths are an unspeakable tragedy. Likewise, this isn’t to say that we should feel nothing at bin Laden’s neutralization, or that the announcement last night isn’t cause for any positive feeling at all — it most certainly is.
But it is to say that our reaction to the news last night should be the kind often exhibited by victims’ families at a perpetrator’s lethal injection — a reaction typically marked by both muted relief but also by sadness over the fact that the perpetrators’ innocent victims are gone forever, the fact that the perpetrator’s death cannot change the past, and the fact that our world continues to produce such monstrous perpetrators in the first place.
When we lose the sadness part — when all we do is happily scream “USA! USA! USA!” at news of yet more killing in a now unending back-and-forth war — it’s a sign we may be inadvertently letting the monsters win.
A great photo collection. See them all here.
And hey, I’m sensing a topic here. What about 52 things you’ll only see in the Netherlands? Suggestions and pictures welcome in the comments.
Check out this graph (via Flowing Data). God, I’m happy not to work in the United States (yet).
We recently posted about the U.S. presidential power to make war without formal Congressional declarations of war (as is the case in Libya). Reviewing the history of the twentieth century – with the notable and, admittedly, important exceptions of World Wars I and II – this turns out to be more of a rule than an exception.
Matthew Yglesias takes it back even further, to the nineteenth century, demonstrating that then, too, American presidents often engaged in wars or military activitites without Congressional declarations of war, with Congress merely providing the funds. Thus demonstrating again Scott Lemieux’ thesis that Congress always more or less obliges with this part of executive policy, but that it has the power to halt military operations if it wants to – like in the case of South Vietnam under Carter.
- Edit: On second thought, is this really so peculiar to the US? I doubt whether the Dutch politionele acties in Indonesia in the late 1940s, which despite the name were decidedly military actions, involved a parliamentary declaration of war. Although it must’ve had parliamentary approval. Or the Falkland wars, for that matter. Does anybody have any information?
Not a lot of people know about the so-called “Quasi-War” fought between the United States and France during the John Adams administration, but I think it’s an important episode to recall for the purposes of ongoing debates about the Obama administration’s protestations that the ongoing war in Libya somehow really isn’t a war.
The point isn’t that Obama is right—he’s wrong—but that this is how the game’s always been played. From the administration of the second president ever, we were fighting an undeclared war on presidential authority. And of course Adams’ congressional opponents complained about it. And when they took over the White House, they certainly changed the basic orientation of American foreign policy. But they didn’t really change the practice around this declaration of war business. Instead the new undeclared war was one against Barbary Pirates. Which isn’t to say that congress wasn’t involved in the fight against the pirates. The key point was that congress appropriated funds to send the obtain and dispatch the ships. And from thence onward, despite the fact that we sometimes did get formal declarations of war (World War One and World War Two) and sometimes had a special congressional vote (Gulf War One and Gulf War Two) and sometimes had wars purely on executive recognizance (Civil War, Korea) that congress has always played an important role in the process as the institution that runs the appropriations process.
Which is to say that congressional authorization for the Lincoln administration’s prosecution of a war against the CSA took the form of appropriations and other measures to create the Union Army. And in the case of something like Libya, congressional authorization takes the form of the fact that we just this week had a giant political fight about appropriations in which nobody in the opposition leadership made the slightest gesture in the direction of a “rider” that would prevent the president from prosecuting that war or limiting his discretion in initiating new wars. This is what happens almost every year—Congress appropriates funds for a military, and does little to tie the president’s hands in terms of how he uses it. When congress wants to tie the president’s hands—as it did in the seventies when it stopped the Ford administration from continuing involvement in the defense of South Vietnam—congress gets its way. But most of the time Congress doesn’t want to tie the president’s hands.
A girl (22) from secular, mundane Michigan moves to Nashville, Tennessee, and learns that here, religion is everywhere – lowering her chances on the dating market. Meanwhile, she pens down an interesting and well-written story about religion in contemporary America.
Kinda reminds me of the Dutch book Zwarte dauw that just came out – about a 28-year old girl from Amsterdam who temporarily moves to the strictly Protestant village of Genemuiden. She similarly encounters a faith-imbued world that is not her own.
If you got time and are interested in this subject, read this nice piece by Maggie Flynn on Salon.com:
I’d only been in Nashville a few months when I met this guy – let’s call him Matthew — at a downtown honky-tonk through friends of friends. He was sweet and charming, teaching me the two-step over a shared pitcher of beer. The following weekend, he took me on our first date to the Sunset Grill, one of Nashville’s hippest dining destinations, despite being named after a Don Henley song. In his sexy Southern twang, he ordered a bottle of wine to go with the meal.
After the waiter departed, Matthew leaned across the table, almost apologetically, and said, “You don’t mind that I ordered a bottle of wine, do you?”
I assured him that I approved of his choice. Still, he looked bothered.
“I just don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I like to unwind with a drink now and then, but I don’t drink all of the time,” Matthew said. “I bet you don’t either.”
“Not in the morning.” I laughed.
“Oh, a joke. That’s funny. But seriously, do you think you’ll drink after you have children?”
I was certain he was putting me on. I was 22, freshly graduated from college and unaccustomed to this line of questioning, especially on a first date. But he persisted. He’d enjoyed our tipsy two-step, he explained, but he was looking to plan his future. He believed in getting the serious business out of the way on a first date. I wondered how many second dates Matthew ever had.
“I don’t even know that I’ll have children,” I said.
“Is that another joke?”
The wine arrived. As if to demonstrate how moderation worked, Matthew poured me half a glass, which I definitely saw as half-empty.
“Are you religious?” he asked.
“But you believe in God?”
I drained my wine glass and reached across the table for the bottle. I gave him an honest answer, though I suspected I would never see Matthew again. I said that I really wasn’t sure. I certainly didn’t believe that the Bible was the literal word of God, nor did I buy into stories about building giant arks and visiting whale’s bellies. While I didn’t consider myself a Christian or a practitioner of any other religion, I wasn’t an atheist, either. To say definitively that God didn’t exist seemed as restrictive as saying that he did. I was a skeptical agnostic, I concluded.
Matthew listened carefully and nodded, conceding my logic, if not my position. Maybe he was an OK guy after all.
“Can I ask you a question?” he said.
“What do you have against God?”
Now that the military intervention in Libya is entering its third day, some doubts about the whole action are beginning to arise in the mainstream media and online. Well, actually, on the blogosphere, notably in the US, the enthusiasm doesn’t seem to have been great to begin with. Also, here, the legitimacy and even domestic legality of the military actions are being called into question. The NYT, though, now also has a good piece about what is the fundamental problem with this intervention: what conclusion do we want it to have? What is the purpose of this intervention?
Basically, two answers to that are possible. One is the removal of Colonel Ghadafi by coalition military might. The other is the implementation of the no-fly zone (and, by now, it seems, also the destruction of the Libyan military), thus either allowing the rebels to topple Ghadafi, or pushing for negotiations between them and Ghadafi. I have the impression that the second option is what the coalition is pretty explicitly pushing for - although some (French) officials have also hinted at the first option, and Obama has indicated that to him the only outcome of negotiations can also be the removal of Ghadafi. The problem is, though: what if the second option doesn’t work out, and either the rebels are defeated, unable to conquer the entire country, or Ghadafi remains in (partial) power? Then we have an open-ended military commitment; and that is something we do not want to have.
The first option, though, is evidently outside of the scope of UNSCR 1973.
So this military intervention is predicated on a huge gamble, namely that the rebels will be able to swiftly re-conquer the country. If not, then we have a problem – the West is then embroiled in a third war in a Muslim country, and public support for this undertaking, both in the West and in the Arab world, will quickly ebb away. The model seems to be Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance doing the ground work (and then letting them install a government), rather than Iraq 2003. The comparison with the Iraq War, though, is already now increasingly being heard online. I would like the main point of this blog post to be that while the pitfalls of this mission (as stipulated above) must be recognized, any comparison with the Iraq War falls flat and is completely unfair. Let’s compare the two.
The Iraq War was a US-led war of aggression, against a state that posed no direct threat to the US. It was based on a fraudulent case about so-called weapons of mass destruction, that was embarassingly argued for by Colin Powell in the UN – a top aide later admitted this to be the lowest point in his career. There was a doctrine called ‘pre-emptive war’, which was up till then unheard of in international relations, and was accepted only in US neocon circles. There was no substantial international coalition backing this invasion, and what’s more, it was illegal: the UN resolution that was in place at the time did not provide for a full-scale war and toppling of the government.
The Libyan intervention, on the other hand, is a UN-instigated, UN-backed mission primarily meant to prevent the massacre of thousands of people. The pretty strong-worded Resolution 1973 fully, legally provides for everything that is happening right now. As co-blogger blsd has also argued here, this is what the Security Council was set up for! Only because of the Cold War did it never come around to do so. The international coalition supporting this mission is much broader than in the case of Iraq (ranging from Europe to the Arab League), and while Russia, China and India may be bitching now, they could’ve prevented this intervention in the Security Council if they’d wanted to, yet they didn’t. The Arab League is also still on board. The military action up till now may have been bold, but it effectuated what was stipulated in the Resolution: implement a no-fly zone.
I’m not saying this is without enormous risks, or even that it’s the best thing to do; but to compare it with Iraq is to demonstrate an Americentric worldview that supposes that once again this is an American mission with the rest of the world merely looking on. The US may bear the brunt, true; but the rhetorical lipservice being paid to this being an international coalition, and most importantly the fact that this is a circumscribed, UN-mandated mission, makes this an essentially different thing. It’s the reason that I, for one, can back this thing for now, as I suspect a far larger percentage of the European populace does than in the case of Iraq.
Of course this thing may be running out of hand, and then I’ll hate it was ever started and pound my head and ask, ‘Have we learned nothing?’ But for now, to me it seems that if there ever was a reason for an intervention, and a process to give it legitimacy and an international coalition, it’s this one and now. Let’s hope that it essentially stays limited, that there’s a quick way out, and that it doesn’t blow up in everybody’s faces.
Just a couple of hours ago, a French fighter jet fired on and destroyed a Libyan military vehicle, the first use of force by the international community under the mandate of UN Security Council resolution 1973 (2011), adopted last Thursday. This seems to signal a turn-around in the situation on the ground in Libya – Colonel Kaddafi’s luck may finally have run out.
Beyond Libya, the consequences of this bold move by France may prove even more significant. For the first time in a very long period, the UN Security Council has shown to be able to take forceful action against a leader and a state that massacres its own people in violation of international law. This is rather unique: in 1994, the Security Council failed to stop the genocide in Rwanda, and in 1999 the Council’s inertia prompted NATO’s unilateral intervention in Kosovo. As a result, many have criticized the Security Council for being irrelevant and outdated, and academics and policy-makers have actively sought ways to circumvent the Council (see, for example, the debate on a “responsibility to protect”, or R2P).
Enter Resolution 1973 (2011) and its swift enforcement by France and Britain. The current events are reminiscent of the military action by the international community in Kuwait in the early 1990s. Then, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War instilled great optimism in the future of world politics (see, for example, Bush sr.’s “Toward a New World Order” speech in 1990). Resolution 678 (1990), authorizing states to use “all necessary means” to restore peace and security in the Gulf area, was hailed as an awakening of the Security Council after decades of deadlock. Now, after some bad experiences with semi-unilateral actions in the last decade (most prominently Iraq and Afghanistan), states are returning to the Council – despite talks about its irrelevance. Thursday’s vote gives the Council renewed credibility as the primary global forum to deal with international crises. It may herald an era of new, more mature optimism about the role of the Security Council at the centre of global politics.
Another point of interest is that, this time, it is not the US who is taking the lead. Quite the opposite: the US is very careful not to be seen as targeting yet another Muslim nation. Strategically, this seems the right choice. But it demonstrates that a hitherto hegemon feels that it has reached the limits of its powers and is painfully aware of the dangers of imperial overstretch.
Cross-posted from Law in a Cold Climate
Alex Knapp at Outside the Beltway captures my feelings exactly when he writes about the depressed feeling he gets from the ‘mainstreaming of brutality’ that is going on in the US. Now I’m not surprised about that stuff coming from Republicans; what upsets me is how Obama – Obama, of all people – has made bipartisan and acceptable that people can be held indefinitely in prisons without a trial; that American citizens can get shot abroad without a trial if they are suspected of terrorism; and that whistleblowers get treated like the worst criminals. It runs against everything that America once stood for. And what was that thing about the audacity of hope again?
I’ve been trying for the past couple weeks to write about Bradley Manning, but I can’t. It makes me sick to my stomach. The whole trend of brutality and betrayal of American ideals over the past decade makes me sick to my stomach.
We have gone from being the first country that established the principle that prisoners of war should be treated respectfully to a country that operates black sites and sends prisoners to other countries to be tortured–when we don’t torture them ourselves.
In the American Revolution, the number one cause of death for American soldiers was maltreatment and disease in British POW camps. In the Civil War, Andersonville was a cause of national outrage. In the early 20th century, the United States emphatically supported the adoption of the Geneva Conventions. In World War II, German soldiers happily surrendered to Americans in the West, knowing they’d be well treated. But in the East, they fought the Russians to the last man because they knew they wouldn’t be.
Now, in the 21st century, we send robot planes to bomb civilians in a country that’s ostensibly an ally. We have prisons where people are routinely denied basic essentials, denied due process, are maltreated and tortured. We reverse decades of tradition and not only have legalized assassination, but have legalized assassination of United States citizens.
And there’s no outrage on Main Street. There’s no outrage in Washington. There’s only outrage on the internet. And half the internet rage is coming not from the acts themselves but rather partisan bullshit surrounding them. (“You only hate torture when Bush does it!” “You only hate it when we do it to white people!” “Nuh-uh!” “Uh-huh!”)
The first time I voted in a Presidential election, in 2000 (for Harry Browne), no part of my consideration of any of the candidates had to do with whether they wished to torture people or assassinate American citizens. It didn’t have to be, because it wouldn’t cross anybody’s mind to have a position on it. Americans don’t torture. That was our position. We were a shining city on a hill. You can’t torture people in the basement if you’re trying to set an example of decency to the world.
In 2004, this became a partial voting issue, as John Kerry oh so politely pointed out that maybe throwing people into a prison might be a little wrong? Maybe? But since at the time Kerry seemed to be supporting whichever way the wind was blowing, it didn’t seem to matter as much. (In the end, I voted for “None of the Above.”)
Then in 2008, one major reason why I voted for Barack Obama was because he forcefully claimed to be opposed to such policies. And I was mad that that was actually a voting issue for me, because you’d think that not torturing people is a moral no-brainer.
But, as it turned out, Obama lied.
Now, as I look to vote in 2012, I realize that just like in 2000, no part of my consideration for any of the candidates will involve their positions on torture, war crimes, secret prisons, renditions, etc.
Because both candidates will be in favor. Without apology.
- Update: A CNN crew was nearly hit by an aerial bomb near Brega in the eastern part of Libya. Watch a report here. Brega seems to have been recaptured by Gadhafi troops. When will the U.N. establish a no-flying zone?
- Update: The speech has ended. Some “highlights”:
“Parents must take arms away from our children, and those who are behind them must be known. … It’s no longer a joke as they imagined it.”
“If Libya is destabilized, if Libya ceases to exist, you’ll see what kind of destruction will happen to the countries of the Mediterranean… It’s Libya who is stopping illegal immigration in the Mediterranean. It’s Libya who is stopping (Osama) bin Laden in North Africa.”
“They don’t have the right or the legitimacy to freeze Libyan assets… It’s looting, that’s quite clear to the naked eye. … I found it funny when they said they would attach my assets. I have no assets. I said give me some assets. Give me one million dinar. My assets are history, the people.”
“Peaceful demonstrations are taking place in the streets and squares. If anyone wants to disrupt these demonstrations, Libya will stay strong and we will get rid of these”
- Update: Gadhafi is giving another one of his trademark coo coo speeches on Libyan State Television. Watch live on CNN
- Original post: A few days ago a swift defeat of Colonel Gadhafi seemed imminent. Now, as the strategic situation becomes clearer, it seems that Ghadafi’s position is not as bad as it first seemed when most of his subjects and large parts of his army turned against him. This CNN clip makes clear that the option of a long during stalemate is very likely. It will be extremely hard for the ill-equiped and badly trained opposition forces to defeat Gadhafi’s remaining army divisions and mercenaries in Tripoli and the cities of Sirt and Zawiya. Yesterday and today forces loyal to Gadhafi have launched counterstrikes against rebel forces. Today Gadhafi gave the order to bomb an ammunition depot near the eastern town of Ajdabiya, which is held by the rebels.
The big question now is: will the United Nations do their part? The rebel leaders are currently debating if they want to ask the U.N. for airstrikes against strategic military positions. An extensive foreign intervention is out of the question for these leaders and the U.S. probably won’t take the risk, so airstrikes under the U.N. banner would be a more agreeable option. They will definetely need some big bunker busters or MOABs to crush Gadhafi’s reinforced Bab al-Aziziya bunker, which reportedly can withstand a nucleair bomb.
In the meanwhile the atrocities of the Gadhafi regime are being unveiled. Here is a report by ABC News on the discovery of an underground complex in Benghazi used by the regime for torture.