Thursday, April 08, 2010

Where's the 'dignity' in a drone strike?

I was going to write an extremely long, incendiary piece about how, when it comes to foreign policy in particular, most of Washington's professional progressives tend to elevate rhetoric and style over reality and substance. Frankly, though, it's too damn nice outside to be hovered over a 13" computer screen trying to save the world through a strongly worded blog post. Also, thankfully, liberal reporter Spencer Ackerman has done my work for me with this piece in The American Prospect, wherein he . . . well, I'll let the article speak for itself:
In early 2008, I interviewed the foreign-policy and national-security brain trust of the Obama campaign for this magazine to gain a sense of what a world led by President Obama would look like. There were two big takeaways. The first was something I called "dignity promotion," an inchoate idea that the architecture of international alliances and institutions ought to prioritize human dignity, material as well as aspirational, in order to achieve global stability and prosperity. Implicit in the idea was that Obama would return the U.S. to its pre-Bush role as leader and champion of international cooperation to build a world in which American power and global prosperity were seen as mutually supporting objectives. The second was a meta-point about a path to get there: by confronting what Obama's advisers called the "politics of fear" that restricted what was possible for America to achieve on the world stage.


On dignity promotion, the administration has racked up real successes and set the stage for several more. Obama has proved that the world is prepared for positive-sum American leadership -- whether it's by restructuring U.S. global economic partnerships through the G-20 instead of the more restricted G-8 set of powerful nations; whether it's resetting relationships with great and rising powers like Russia and China over contentious issues like Iran and climate change; whether it's explaining to the Muslim world that America's commitment to its well-being reaches far beyond securing its cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Dignity promotion, a new twist on the very old idea of liberal internationalism, is still taking shape. But the early evidence is that it's working -- for America and for the world.
Er, unless you happen to live in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen, in which case, well, sucks to be you I guess.

Let me preface my next comment by stating that I'm not trying to be obtuse, but I honestly don't understand how otherwise seemingly intelligent people can be so captivated by a bunch of do-gooder balderdash (yeah, I'm bringing that word back) uttered by Obama advisers at confabs of the international elite to the point that one would praise to high heaven the supposed dignity-promoting agenda of an administration that is not only engaged in two full-scale military occupations, but claims the right to carry out extrajudicial killings of Americans and foreigners alike. I also don't understand how one could claim that prior to George W. Bush the U.S.'s role was that of a "leader and champion of international cooperation," unless one's definition of the international community consists of Western Europe/NATO and the Marshall Islands, given the widely condemned embargo against Cuba and Clinton's cruise missile-ing of Sudanese aspirin factories; more to the point, when the "international consensus" (read: France, Germany, Britain) permits sanctions to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children by barring basic but "dual-use" medicinal supplies and dangerous luxuries like clean water from importation, I'm not sure that consensus much matters -- nor that it's "progressive."

But probably the worst thing I could ever say at all about Ackerman's or anyone else's piece: I think Tom Friedman could have wrote it.

(The whole "dignity" thing and non-sarcastic use of "meta-point" -- I mean, seriously dude?)


  1. I'm not trying to be obtuse, either, and I also have a hard time understanding how seemingly intelligent people can be so captivated by balderdash---nice word choice. :-)

    I have theories, but they basically come down to how strong the propaganda is in this country. Every single day I marvel at how propaganda and marketing manage to indoctrinate the people---even INTELLIGENT ones---into supporting a system that is exploiting them (or, in this case, committing inexcusable crimes against humanity).

    I think it's actually the mix of propaganda AND marketing that is particularly insidious, because it's a NEW, 21st century kind of mix and it's even stronger and more seductive than just propaganda alone. It started as a separate venture: the government put out the propaganda because they had an interest in convincing the public that they were still representing them (the "spin" to make you believe something other than what is ACTUALLY happening), and the corporations put out the marketing because they want you to buy their product (they use statistics and demographics and purchasing patterns to cater their message to you, personally)---but in our "corporatist capitalist state" where the government and the corporations have now merged, what you see in politics today is carefully crafted propaganda COMBINED with slick marketing.

    Even our president is a product of marketing, carefully designed and packaged and sold to the American public in a modern, youthful way. There is a good read on Alternet called The Obama Brand: Feel Good While Overlords Loot the Treasury and Launch Imperial Wars: "Barack Obama is a brand. And the Obama brand is designed to make us feel good about our government while corporate overlords loot the Treasury, armies of corporate lobbyists grease the palms of our elected officials, our corporate media diverts us with gossip and trivia, and our imperial wars expand in the Middle East. Brand Obama is about being happy consumers. We are entertained. We feel hopeful. We like our president. We believe he is like us. But like all branded products spun out from the manipulative world of corporate advertising, this product is duping us into doing and supporting a lot of things that are not in our interest."

    This mix of propaganda and marketing is ubiquitous. It's in our public schools, it's in the talking points of our politicians, it's in all the mainstream media outlets, it's on "political" talk radio, it's on prime-time TV (which is increasingly made up of "reality programming" which effectively teaches its viewers what is and is not "normal" and acceptable behavior), it's on the internet---and it's TOO POWERFUL for most people and is very effective at keeping them from seeing the truth. The intended audience is the consumer, the American people, the voters, and these things bombard their senses every waking moment. The effect on the individual varies, but it basically accomplishes one (or a combination) of the following: distract, dishearten, demoralize, deceive.

    It not only convinces the public en masse that the two-party system is working for them, but it also convinces them to see the imperialistic crimes and murder committed by the American government as somehow justified or necessary to protect our country from "the terrorists"---and in that particular case there is an additional element used to manipulate public perceptions: fear-mongering.

  2. Also, when I say "the government and the corporations have now merged" and I call it a "corporatist capitalist state," I am not really suggesting (but I am also not ruling out the possibility) that there is some kind of conspiracy, because it could just be as simple as political greed and corporate greed came together in an organic way. It could have been planned, or it could be as simple as something that's the result of a political system with no term limits for Congress wherein special interests line the pockets of the "big dogs" in the House and Senate to get the government to work for THEM, instead of for the people.

    Whether it was planned and it's a conspiracy, or whether it was something organic that just kind of evolved over time, the end result is the same: corporate marketing and government propaganda have merged because they both, essentially, desire the same ends: to get and hoard as much money and power as is humanly possible. At some point they became aware of this common interest, and started cooperating toward that end.

  3. Andromeda,

    Familiar with DeBord?

  4. I was not familiar with DeBord, no, but thanks to you and Wikipedia, I am now somewhat familiar with him. :-)

    It seems that I have, more or less, described what DeBord---in 1967, how prescient!---called the "spectacle".

    I was particularly fascinated to read that in his theses he says that in a spectacular society a lack of authenticity affects human perceptions and you see a degradation in both knowledge and critical thought.

    I think I might have to read The Society of the Spectacle.

  5. Oops, forgot to mention the second part that I found particularly interesting:

    The "integrated spectacle" (which DeBord said was synonymous with "liberal democracy") is entirely reliant on an invented enemy, "terrorism", against which the "liberal democracy" must constantly contrast itself in an ongoing attempt to maintain the illusion of its "obvious" perfection and superiority.

  6. Andromeda,

    You made a very insightful summation of the SotS, even before reading the full text of it.


    If you can, get a hold of his updated copy. He didn't change the original text, but added commentary where he believed events confirmed his analysis, or where the text needed clarification.


    ~ Jack

  7. Christopher2:45 PM

    I honestly don't understand how otherwise seemingly intelligent people can be so captivated by a bunch of do-gooder balderdash

    Part of it, I think, is that Democrats are so rarely pandered to. If a Democratic politician criticizes a Republican politician the Republican will dig their heels in.

    If you say to a Republican "You aren't far enough to the left." they say, "Damn straight!" whereas if you say to a Democrat "You aren't far enough to the right." they say "I am so! I love the military and I can't stand illegal immigrants!"

    This kind of thing is very dispiriting to left-wingers, so if you get somebody who is even somewhat willing to pander to them, to actually tell Republicans to fuck off, they eat it up with a spoon.

    I kind of felt that way about Obama, despite the fact that I disliked him enough not to vote for him.

    But that said, you still see things like articles talking about how Republicans want small government and Democrats have faith in government solutions as though this were an actual insight, rather than a Republican party ad campaign.

    Somehow advertising seems to become invisible to people when it's used for politics. I don't know why.