Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Outlier

Admission:  I don't write thoughtful analyses of current events, nor do I present well-reasoned, well-articulated arguments for my positions.  That would be un-Mule-like.




I felt isolated in opposing the war in Iraq from around January 2002 until. . . now.  And I feel isolated and unsettled being so exorcised that we remain in Afghanistan.





I feel isolated, but not at all unsettled, about opposing the  use of drones to assassinate U.S. citizens, far from any battlefield, without any check or balance (or public acknowledgment that we've done it, except when it boosts  electoral chances), but I needn't go there.

Anyway.

I don't consider myself an isolationist, I don't consider myself a peacenik, I don't consider myself a reflexive opponent of anything the government does a reflexive, unthinking critic of everything that the government does.  But I don't understand why we're still in Afghanistan.

[Well, I do understand -- it would be political suicide to "end the war" without "victory," and a first-term president would be handing his opponent the "weak" stick with which to beat the incumbent.  But only a sick cynic would suggest that politics influences our conduct of war.  An unthinking sick cynic.]

No one has articulated a meaningful, realistic "victory" that would free us to withdraw our troops.  If we intend to wait until Jeffersonian democracy takes toot, well -- I'm putting that in the "unrealistic" column.  Similarly, if we're fighting and dying there until the threat of anti-American extremists is eliminated -- same column.

Oh, wait.  We're not unrealistic?  We only want to "reduce" the threat of anti-American extremists? What, pray tell, is the calculus for a sufficient reduction?  And why wasn't I told?

I know -- the realists will admit that we won't eliminate threats.  And they'll admit that we've already drastically reduced threats.  But we need a perch from which to invade Pakistan periodically.

You know, that doesn't make me feel better either.


As some wag said in '68, '69, '70 -- thereabouts -- let's just declare victory and get out.

We were worried in the sixties, of course, about letting a powerful cabal of critics and enemies of the United States remain in power with a sufficiently stable platform from which they could export their evil Anti-American thinking.  Those dominoes just couldn't fall.

Are things the same now?  Of course not.  The genie's outta the bottle.  Suicide bombers routinely kill.  International travel has changed.  Communications by the bad guys are immensely better.  We're more threatened here within our borders (you know, the "homeland").  This just isn't Vietnam.

Is our presence in Afghanistan reducing that threat?  Is it doing it well enough, and at an acceptable cost for the increased "security"?
Am I alone out here asking these questions?

9 comments:

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

I blame the idiotic Pottery Barn analogy. Well, and also Bus. We always have to blame Bush, i think there's a law to that effect, in which case I am usually in compliance.

But blame Bush re Afghanistan because he let Rummy go cheap on dollars at Tora Bora, which proves expensive in blood. Does he deploy the 10th Mountain Division to keep Bin Ladin & al qaeda bottled up & out of Pakistan? He does not. He has a better idea: instead he will bribe a collection of trusty Afghan warlords to do the dirty work for us. Right. That will work.

And Bush re Iraq because he invaded Iraq, the dumb dummy. I mean ... jeez.

But the Pottery Barn rule too because in the real world outside of American retail chain stores, it is bizarre to think that just because you busted up your enemy's country you need to stay there indefinitely while you try to rebuild him into a "friend."

When a barbarous theocracy on the other side of the world attacks us, we have every right to respond by going in, breaking the place up, and then just flat-out leaving ASAP, calling back over our shoulder as we go, "OK, we're out of here & you won't see us again unless you attack us again." We should have left Afghanistan within a year of invading. But I think i repeat myself, like an old man.

Oh wait -- I AM an old man. Sigh.

Don't get me started on the repulsive double standard by which the media gives Obama a pass on drones -- does anyone seriously doubt that Bush would have been (rightfully) scorned by the media if he had engaged in the exact same behavior?

Fred C. Dobbs said...

As long as Glenn Greenwald is still breathing, you're not alone.

I mostly agree with your thoughts here, but I will chide you for using this quote directly from the Greenwald playbook:

the use of drones to assassinate U.S. citizens, far from any battlefield

I finally had to stop reading Greenwald when he became unable to print a column without including that exact same construction.

Assuming we are in a fight with al Qaeda, where exactly do you think the "battlefield" exists?

Look, whether you agree with US policy on this or not, I think we can recognize the premise under which we are operating: in the September 2001 AUMF Congress authorized the prez to use military force against al Qaeda and its allies wherever in the world we can find them. In other words, we said "Fuck it. These fuckers are waging asymmetric warfare against us. The world is the battlefield."

The "far from any battlefield" trope just irks me to no end, because to me it suggests that we hold our fire until we happen across a column of al Aqeda tanks rolling across the North African plains. It contemplates bin Laden's armada steaming towards the Hawaiian islands. Anwar au-Aulaqi in a white silk scarf in the cockpit of his Messerschmidt ME-109 banking over the Dutch countryside. Don't shoot till you see the whites of their eyes!

Now, under that premise, I understand that we killed many, many US citizens who had taken up arms with the German and Japanese armed forces against us without "due process."

After the USS Cole attack, I ran around loudly demanding that Clinton wake the fuck up and ask Congress for something that looked exactly like the September 2001 AUMF. A few seconds after I watched the second plane ram the south tower I started screaming from my rooftop (literally, that's where I was standing at the time) that we'd blown it by not recognizing the fact that al Qaeda had declared war on us.

Again, reasonable minds can differ on the policy today, but I think it's more productive to at least acknowledge the premise and legal framework under which the Bush and Obama administrations have been operating since September 2001.

mister muleboy said...

PART ONE
I will chide you for using this quote directly from the Greenwald playbook:

the use of drones to assassinate U.S. citizens, far from any battlefield

I finally had to stop reading Greenwald when he became unable to print a column without including that exact same construction.

Assuming we are in a fight with al Qaeda, where exactly do you think the "battlefield" exists?


I deliberately chose to borrow that phrase directly from Greenwald, so chide away.

Your hypotheticals help to explain my concerns and disgust at the Administration's actions.

Accepting your premise that the world is the battlefield, I'll explain why I'm troubled by the use of drones to assassinate U.S. citizens, far from any battlefield. Of course, I need to add the unaccounted for, unacknowledged, self-justifying, unchecked assassination. You see, the two elements that combine to make me reject your "all is fair" battlefield approach.

The only limit I see you suggest (and justify under the AUMF) is "and [al Qaeda's] allies." And wherever an American walks is on the "world battlefield."

Where are the limits on the targeted killing of Americans?

Can the university professor in Chicago who decries our foreign policy and puts together some tortured justification for AQ's actions be shot down on Dearborn?

What if the professor survives his government and flies to Germany, where attacks against us were planned. And the professor addresses a group protesting U.S. policies, including Islamic "militants" who sit in the audience. Is it now enough?

Or the professor flies to Cairo, where he addresses a multitude?

Or he gets plastered on Al-Jazeera screens everywhere? Now good enough?

Okay. Whichever one you chose, let's now assume that the U.S. goes after his Chicago-born son, who is angry at the U.S. as well. Is that one justified because the world's a battleground and in 2001 Congress authorized the use of military force to defeat AQ?

mister muleboy said...

PART TWO:
Now, under [the Mule's] premise, I understand that we killed many, many US citizens who had taken up arms with the German and Japanese armed forces against us without "due process."

Now here's where that "battlefield" issue arises. They took up arms with the enemy. They were the enemy. They were killed in the attacks targeting the enemy. I'm presuming they weren't targeted specifically. We dropped bombs on them, and shot them.

But let us take the wildest example I can conceive at the moment.

FDR doesn't do such a lame job and merely lock up the Jpanese-Americans. He orders the assassination of every interned American (of Japanese descent) in the WWII camps. Without answering to anyone. Congress had declared war against Japan (without specifying geography, so the world's a battleground). Was FDR justified?

I'll make it easier: FDR believes that two guards at the internment camps are viciously and ruthlessly inciting the Japanese to sympathize with their ancestral home and support the Nips. FDR believes the guards may have been contacted by Japanese militants. FDR orders the guards killed without court martial. Answers to no one. Provides proof to no one.


With the '44 election coming up, he has surrogates brag about how tough a wartime commander he is; no certainty that Dewey won't somehow tag him as soft on the slants.




Addressing the limits of "the battlefield" don't address the more important piece: without any check or balance (or public acknowledgment that we've done it, except when it boosts electoral chances. It's useful to add "far away from any battlefield" to grant the commander in chief the leeway to conduct his battles without second-guessing and court approval, while still placing at least some limit.


Listen, if in 1944 a Japanese submarine landed off Washington state and unloaded 25 crack killers near Seattle, I don't think I'd question the death of twenty-nine people when we got wind of it and our troops were unleashed to stop them. Battlefield, even if in the shadow of Mt. Rainier. Four Americans with them. And I say kill the Japanese on an island off Guam who helped them. Kill 'em.

mister muleboy said...

PART THREE:
Two final points.

(1) Considering the long history of Constitutional constraints on government actions against American citizens, application of the 5th and 14th amendments, that kind of stuff, is it an unreasonable interpretation of the AUMF that it did not contemplate authorizing the targeted killing of U.S. citizens under its authorized powers? It it a reasonable interpretation that the AUMF authorized the president to decide what limits, if any, existed under his authority?

(2) Congress passes a law. A FISA-like court, of the most senior and respected judges in America, is established to review the targeted killings of American citizens. It is done in secret, and the rules call for broad deference to the Executive. The president obeys the statute, and presents enough evidence to convince the court, deferring to the Exec., that the assassination should take place. Am I complaining? Probably not.* To paraphrase Holder, "due process" isn't necessarily "judicial criminal process."

* I still complain if the apparatus automatically defers to the President.


Your concluding sentence is what draws us together. As I said, I oppos[e] the use of drones to assassinate U.S. citizens, far from any battlefield, without any check or balance (or public acknowledgment that we've done it, except when it boosts electoral chances). And I think this administration -- as opposed to predecessors -- is an even stronger vacuum sucking up the loose power that the other branches are leaving lying around. But I don't argue that it is utter, rampant despotic lawlessness. They do have a "framework," and it's one about which the American people don't seem too alarmed or bothered. You aren't thoughtless in not being alarmed, and ably argue that I should acknowledge that framework.

I do, but I remain bothered because I don't think the framework supports the awesome power now being exercised. I think the framework should be dismantled, and a new framework built. You know, with lots of debate and thoughtful consideration. The hallmarks of our system.
Anyway, I'm urging my fellow citizens to look at the power claimed, and to say "you, Mister President, don't have that power." I think that a more limited power could be granted, and I think one that satisfies your concerns about the country's safety that also satisfies my concerns about unfettered power is possible.

And while I borrowed a Greenwald favorite, I have no idea whether he and other critics of the current practice would agree with me on what that more limited power should be. They might go on yelling, because they want more limits. Or fewer. But the phrase that provoked our exchange -- as I set it out, seems to me a valid description of the administration's practice.


Now -- with that settled (or at least amply discussed), we have to confer to determine whether I'll be seeing you this weekend, Fred. My plans have been changed a bit, but not entirely.

mister muleboy said...

Oh, how I love the sound of my own voi. . . keyboard.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response. I don't think that our thinking is too terribly far apart on this.

I feel like your parade of horribles is...remote.

The only thing I found lacking in your response(s) was that I needed a more robust discussion of the problems presented by asymmetric warfare waged by an unlawful non-state actor. Your discussion still seems rooted in the paradigm of traditional, "WWII-style" warfare between nation states, which was kinda the basis for my entire, original ccomplaint.

YerrknowhudImean, bug guy?

Loveyaneverchange.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Tha should be *big guy*.




Big guy. Or bug guy.




Bug guy would be good for you.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Tha should be that.






Danny, I'm a vegetable.