Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beware the 'progressive agenda'

Since taking office nearly 18 months ago, Barack Obama has failed to deliver on his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, has expanded the war in Afghanistan, has dropped cluster bombs on civilians in Yemen, has intensified a proxy war in Somalia and is currently seeking the authority to search every Americans e-mail and web history without so much as a warrant from a rubber-stamping intelligence court. In other words, he's been successfully advancing the progressive agenda, or so liberal magazine The American Prospect tells me in a piece that notes the bulk of the professional bloggers and Democratic activists who attended the recent "Netroots Nation" conference in Las Vegas likewise believe our smooth-talking murderer-in-chief is a Pretty Swell Guy.

Take it away, Jamelle Bouie:
The Netroots Nation straw poll, conducted during the conference by Revolution Messaging, shows President Obama with an approval rating of 84 percent among the attending activists, journalists, and bloggers. Given the mostly somber mood of the conference, this is higher than I expected, but on reflection, I'm not too surprised. Among conference attendees, there didn't seem to be much disagreement with the idea that Obama has been pretty successful in advancing a progressive agenda. While I'm sure there was plenty of disappointment over the lack of a public option in the Affordable Care Act, for example, I don't think anyone challenged the notion that passing health care is a defining achievement for the administration.
I particularly like the last line: while sure the president didn't actually deliver on his promise to enact a public option, much less the single-payer system desired by much of the liberal left, passing something and calling it "health care reform" was certainly an achievement, and shouldn't we all be proud of that? Absent from the piece, you'll of course notice, is any mention of all those dead foreigners that liberal cosmopolitans purportedly care about, which I guess might just indicate that they never really cared about them. A civilian killed by a Democratic president in an unjust landwar in Asia just doesn't inflame a liberal's passions as much as when it's a nasty 'ol Republican dropping the bombs.

Beyond just the sickening partisan morality of these activists, the Netroots poll also shows that the liberal lore that the Democratic rank-and-file are more willing to stand up to their politicians than their mouth-breathing Republican counterparts -- carbon-copies, I say -- is just that: Lore. Fiction. Bullshit. The Netroots liberals are just as impressed by the pomp and prestige of the presidency, are just as worshipful of authority and liable to join a creepy cult of personality, as any conservative.

What, too much? A bit unfair? Yeah, well: 84 percent.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Beltway liberalism in 24 words

"From a Keynesian standpoint, I believe that with the economy depressed it’s better to spend the money in Afghanistan than not to spend it."
-- Matt Yglesias, Center for American Progress
The above excerpt comes from a post noting the inconsistency of self-styled deficit hawks complaining about the relative pittance spent on social programs and its contribution to the national debt even as they vote in lockstep to drop another $37 billion on a failing nation-building exercise in Afghanistan. And as far as the point goes, it's a good one: there has long been a glaringly obvious inconsistency in conservatives railing against totalitarian "Big Government" while pledging undying allegiance to growing a military-industrial complex that sucks away more and more of their tax money while helping chisel away at the remainder of their civil liberties.

But there's something wrong -- something sick, really -- with Ygelsias' war-as-stimulus argument that strikes me as far more offensive than the fact that some fiscal conservatives are hypocrites when it comes to the National Security State. If you believe the war in Afghanistan is vital to protecting America, well, go ahead and make your case. Explain why pushing the couple dozen or so members of al-Qaeda allegedly still in the country over to Pakistan, while creating new enemies with each errant air strike, actually makes us safer.

What you shouldn't do in a debate over war, at least if you want to maintain your status as a Non-Despicable Person, is argue that bombing and occupying a foreign nation makes good economic sense. Even if it were true as an academic point, it's grotesquely out of place in a discussion of matters of life and death. War, if it can ever be justified -- and I have my doubts -- can only be so on the grounds that it is absolutely necessary to protecting human life: there is no other choice, it's a last resort. Yet Yglesias discusses the continuation of a major, bloody armed conflict as if it were just another jobs program; perhaps not the most effective one to his mind, but hey, it's better that the federal government spend money on a pointless war than do nothing at all (like actually save money by ending said pointless war). Read the line again: "I believe that with the economy depressed it’s better to spend the money in Afghanistan than not to spend it." Sorry, but someone truly familiar with all the horrors of war, someone who could actually empathize with an Afghan mother or father losing their child to an American smart bomb -- or a child watching their parents die in a botched night raid by U.S. marines -- could never write that.

On Twitter I brashly argued that Yglesias' statement demonstrated that he was in fact a "truly awful human being" -- an assertion I regret because I don't actually think Matt Yglesias is"awful" in the sense that he would, say, shoot an Afghan child in the head if he thought it'd boost U.S. Treasury bonds. As I've argued before, Yglesias and other war supporters likely wouldn't dare countenance violence in their personal lives, and are probably perfectly nice people who spend their weekends doing perfectly normal, nice people things. And these very people who wouldn't think of kicking a dog much less killing a person are capable of cooly endorsing monstrously awful actions overseas, the distance -- and their safety behind a MacBook screen in a DC think tank -- removing them from the ugly reality of the killing be carried out in their name. War to the Beltway wonk essentially becomes just another intellectual exercise, something to be endlessly debated, a game of dueling white papers and comment threads, and not so much a matter of life and death, of newlyweds killed and children's limbs blown off by some guy pulling a 9-to-5 in a Nevada control room. No, wars and the merits of launching new ones become something you debate on BloggingHeads.TV before getting drunk at the local hipster bar's trivia night.

Yet despite the self-evident horribleness of defending war spending on the basis that not spending the money on a military occupation would harm your 401k, Yglesias acted surprised anyone could be offended by his post when challenged on it. "Is Paul Krugman also awful for raising this point," he asked me, "or is economic illiteracy necessary for goodness?"

But of course the issue isn't who knows more about economics. The issue is the fact that economics is irrelevant to the question of whether the U.S. ought to be in Afghanistan, and that it is deeply disturbing to frame a war supplemental as if it were a less-than-ideal second stimulus package -- and to bolster your argument by pointing to the fact that the illegal Iraq war, too, was ultimately good for your bank account. Invading Norway might stimulate certain sectors of the economy and perhaps even bring the unemployment rate comfortably below double-digits for a time, but does anyone outside of a Weekly Standard editorial meeting think that's a morally defensible argument for dropping some bombs?

In a back-and-forth debate on Twitter, though, Yglesias stuck to his argument. "I think you don't understand how stimulus works. See the Krugman item," he told me, adding that he didn't see why "a factual dispute make[s] me 'immoral.'"

The Krugman item, as it happens, doesn't really help Yglesias' case as much he thinks. Yes the esteemed Nobel Laureate argues that "war is, in general, expansionary for the economy," but he's not so cynical as to argue that countries should therefore prolong military quagmires to promote such an expansion, which is Yglesias' implicit argument. And there is still a major flaw in Krugman's analysis: he doesn't even begin to consider the potential downsides to creating entrenched economic interests whose well-being depends on there being a perpetual state of war, nor the economic impact on the people in Iraq and elsewhere who are being bombed. We are all cosmopolitans now, right? So if we're going to weigh the economic impacts of war, one would think a good liberal would not be so parochial as to focus just on one party -- their party -- in a conflict.

It's also unclear to me how spending loads of money on missiles and Predator drones actually benefits society as a whole, rather than just a select few politically connected military contractors; sure, it might boost GDP temporarily, but only because the government is borrowing money from China -- itself an act of dubious morality given the Chinese government's human rights record -- to build a bunch of weapons that serve no purpose other than killing people. So I sound like Cindy Sheehan: it's true.

As for the confusion as to how taking one side in a "factual dispute" could make someone "immoral", well, again: I don't consider it so much a dispute over facts because my fundamental criticism is not that Yglesias is wrong that spending another $37 billion on the war in Afghanistan will benefit the U.S. economy, but that it doesn't matter, and that by acting as if it does he is displaying a rather unfortunate and ugly nationalistic bias. True or not, I don't see why anyone with a functioning conscience should care if the Afghan war boosts consumer demand for iPhones and DVD players at home, and it's frankly a bit disconcerting that he can't understand why some would consider his an immoral (amoral?) line of argument. All this doesn't make Yglesias an awful person, per se, but it does certainly demonstrate an awful callousness on his part toward those who will undoubtedly die as a result of his and George Bush's brand of economic stimulus.

(h/t toombzie)

UPDATE: IOZ weighs in.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The United States of British Petroleum

If you're anything like me, or if you've spent more than five minutes over the last decade glancing at the headlines, you're probably suffering from some form of outrage fatigue. Well, make room for one more thing to get mad about.

From Reuters:
Fishermen in Mississippi say they are angry that under the terms of BP's $20 billion oil spill fund, money they earn doing clean-up will be subtracted from their claim against the company.
The fishermen reacted after Kenneth Feinberg, the federal official in charge of administering the compensation fund, announced the decision at a town hall meeting in Biloxi on Friday.
Cast as a great victory against the heartless oil giant that caused the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico it turns out -- surprise! -- that the Obama administration was basically working to help limit BP's financial liability. No other excuse flies when the White House's own head of the fund, Ken Feinberg, is pronouncing that all those fishermen who have been busy cleaning up the same mess that destroyed their livelihood have been working for the very corporation that caused it have been doing so for free.

It doesn't help that Feinberg was a patronizing ass when he announced the dick move:
"[W]orkers can file a claim, but we will subtract the amount they are paid from BP from their claim. That is how it has to work . . . . Of course you can file a claim. You must file a claim, but you cannot get paid twice," Feinberg told the meeting.
Right -- the U.S. government reserves paying people twice for corporate agriculture.

Of course, when it comes to the Gulf we're not talking about paying people twice for the same thing, but rather reimbursing them for the ruin by corporate malfeasance and compensating them for their efforts to try and fix the damage -- two separate, distinct things, as far as BP's financial responsibility is concerned.

But not only is the administration's move unjust, it's simply counterproductive and destined to slow recovery efforts -- why risk your health cleaning up the Gulf when you can get paid the same amount sitting at home watching Terminator? And in light of the public mood towards BP, it's also likely to provoke a good deal of grandstanding from across the political spectrum. If there's a significant outcry, I wouldn't be surprised if the White House somehow found a way to reverse its decision, or explain away Feinberg's comments as an unfortunate mix-up, a miscommunication. And it's not hard to see why: the administration's current stance is akin to letting an arsonist burn a house down and then charge the victim for the cost of rebuilding it -- except you'll never really be able to rebuild the Gulf.

Put another way: it's f*cked. It's also a great example of the State swooping in to protect an influential, major corporation under the auspices of punishing it -- great theater, really -- in this instance crafting a compromise settlement that appears aimed at being just enough to quell popular calls for tarring-and-feathering those British, yacht-racing bastards, without actually forcing Tony Hayward to give up any of his private floating islands.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Yeah, and we don't invade countries either

From a story claiming the U.S. "came out ahead" with respect to that Iranian nuclear scientist who alleges he was abducted by the CIA:
A U.S. official, who is not authorized to talk to the media about such issues, told CNN last month that it would be "ludicrous, absurd and even preposterous" to claim an individual was kidnapped by the United States and held against his will.
To which I respond: uh, then what the hell has the U.S. been doing at Guantanamo Bay all these years?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

We believe in nothing!

It would be incorrect and unfair to say that Washingtonians are all horrible, amoral, principle-less little pricks who live only for the thrill they get when some no-name congressman from wherever-the-hell Middle America remembers their name. However.

Being the preeminent power of our day, it should come as no surprise that the imperial capital on a swamp would attract an unusually large number of groveling, almost pitiable worshippers of power and authority; not the kids who used to suck up to the teacher and remind them when they forgot to assign the homework, but the kids who now fetch those other kids' coffee, always remembering to tell them how good they look on a Big Day. While those that argue there's a dime's worth of difference between the major political parties and that voting ain't worth a nickel are often cast as the cynics (*ahem*cough*clearing throat*), the real nihilists, I would argue, are the anonymous flacks and hacks of Washington who day in and day out serve whoever it is they think can provide them with the most power, money and, laughably, prestige -- people like Deryck Spooner, the likes of whom literally believe in nothing.

Who, you ask? According to a story in Greenwire about the American Petroleum Institute's many new hires, Spooner -- "who ran the Nature Conservancy's push to spur legislative action on climate change" -- was "nabbed" in something of a coup earlier this year by the well-funded trade group for U.S. oil and gas companies. "Spooner now heads API's grass-roots activism arm."

Putting aside the faults of The Nature Conservancy and the merits of the climate legislation it seeks, Spooner's move is still pretty jarring, even by a-flack-in-DC standards. Not only is he now spinning for one of the leading opponents of capping or taxing carbon emissions, a basic feature of most proposals to address global warming, but he heads the very "grass-roots activism arm" of API -- when's the last time you met a "grassroots" oil activist? -- that last year organized "citizen" rallies against the sort of climate legislation that he spent months, years, working to enact. It ain't pretty, and it's certainly not proud, but that's sorta kinda Washington.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)

'Ok, so Paulson, Geithner and Summers walk into a bar . . .'

As Matt Yglesias himself admits, the regulatory reform bill currently making its way through the Senate won't actually do anything to prevent another major financial crisis or fundamentally alter the way Wall Street works, nor will it stave off the need for taxpayers to ultimately foot the bill for the mistakes of some asshole investment banker. Instead, certain provisions of the legislation dear to the Washington wonk's heart, Yglesias argues -- in this case "resolution authority,"granting the president greater power to seize control of firms in the name of economic stability -- hold out the "possibility of coping with the aftermath of such failures in a politically and economically viable way" (emphasis original).

For those that don't speak Washington: the State would still intervene to prevent major disruptions to the economic status quo under Financial Reform, still move to prop up failing financial firms whose executives would have no compunction pushing old ladies into oncoming traffic if they could somehow turn the practice into a CDO, but its efforts on the behalf of the financial establishment -- the ruling elite, if you prefer -- would be somewhat more deft, perhaps a little less ostentatious.

The selling point of this "reform" (scare quotes justified), other than the presumed diminishing number of pitchforks at lawmakers' constituent meetings?
"[T]he three people whose practical experience has positioned them to know what kind of authority the Treasury Department needs to deal with a financial crash are [Henry] Paulson, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers and they all think this will work. That’s something."
This is typical Yglesias. Rather than really argue for granting the president resolution authority on the merits, our progressive intellectual is more interested in impressing his readers will all the other Really Smart members of the political establishment who think just like him. That you wouldn't trust these people with the remote to the TV, much less the reins to the economy, is no matter -- they're powerful! And as Yglesias would say, "That's something."

And indeed, it is "something", isn't it? All of the "somethings" I can come up with, though, entail pointing out that all three -- Paulson, Geithner and Summers -- in their roles as top U.S. economic officials over the last two decades had a direct hand in fomenting the current, ongoing global financial catastrophe. That and a string of profanities.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)

Friday, July 09, 2010

Obama's 'number one foreign policy priority'

What would you imagine Barack Obama has focused on most when it comes to foreign affairs since taking office: The war in Afghanistan -- you know, the one he committed another 50,000 troops to fight? Or how about Iraq, where U.S. troops are supposed to withdraw next year (ha!) despite the fact the country's political parties can't manage to actually form a government?

According to a White House transcript of an interview the president gave this week to Israeli television, the answer's none of the above. Said Obama:
"The single most important threat to Israel -- Iran, and its potential possession of a nuclear weapon -- has been my number one foreign policy priority over the course of the last 18 months."
Obama also declared it "unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon," and that "we’re going to do everything we can to prevent that from happening":
"What I’ve also tried to do is build an international consensus so that Iran can’t somehow play a victim, can’t suggest somehow that they’re being singled out by the West."
Barack Obama, one should remember, is speaking in the above excerpt as the political leader of the only country in the world to have ever used nuclear weapons, and as the head of a nation providing nuclear material to known proliferator India and billions of dollars to Pakistan, which likewise covertly developed nukes while allied to the US. Obama is also speaking to a television station based in a country, Israel, known to possess hundreds of nuclear weapons -- some no doubt aimed at Tehran -- which refuses to allow its facilites to be inspected by the United Nations' nuclear agency.

Leave it to those crazy drama queens in Iran to argue they're being singled out.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The neocon method

(Benjanmin Kerstein: "You can tell I'm a bad-ass because I'm sneering.")

One time-honored method for obscure writers to gain notoriety is to viciously attack a much more popular writer or public figure in the hopes said person will respond in kind -- witness my constant attacks on Barack Obama, who I thought by now would at least answer me during a weekend radio address or something. Anyway, it’s not surprising that Benajamin Kerstein (who?), a writer for The New Ledger (the what?), would choose to blast the much more popular and accomplished blogger Glenn Greenwald for being insufficiently “pro-Israel” given the latter’s blistering and effective attacks on the policies of the apartheid state. What is somewhat surprising, though -- besides the fact that Kerstein was able to compose an essay of nearly 3,000 words, a feat as stunningly impressive as a sea monkey learning sign language -- is the sheer tiredness of the article, which reads like poor imitation of a Michael Savage rant, relying as it does on hysterical psychological projection rather than anything approaching a well-considered, rational argument.

Take 2002-era lines like this one:
"Greenwald is such a quintessentially anti-American, pseudo-pacifist, pro-terrorist, self-hating Jewish liberal that that he essentially constitutes a living cliche."
It is remarkable, really, that in this day and age, two thousand and ten, writers like Kerstein can blithely accuse someone of being “self-hating” just because they happen to disagree with them on the policies of a modern nation-state called Israel. It's also remarkable that someone employing that cheap line of the attack should be so un-self-aware as to accuse someone else of being "a living cliche", just as it's stunning that a guy who himself left the United States to move to a foreign country he clearly much prefers -- "Bostonian by birth, Israeli by choice" -- should then imply he is somehow the more proud, real American.

We are then told Greenwald's arguments do not arise from genuine disagreements with the state of Israel, but from fear:
"He is terrified that if he defends Israel, or even fails to denounce it in the most hysterical terms possible, he will be seen by his fellow progressives not as one of them, but as a Jew. And, as a Jew, he will also be automatically seen as a heretic and a traitor. To give credit where credit is due, he is probably right."
Now say what you will about American progressives, and lord knows I've said it, but anti-semitic? Timid I can see. Naive and overly trusting of politicians with 'Ds' after their name? Absolutely. But the notion that Glenn Greenwald criticizes Israel because he fears getting lynched by Markos Moulitsas and his gang of online diarists -- are you fucking kidding me?

Predictably, though, the Kerstein piece and the tribalistic, medieval mode of thinking, so-called, it represents was immediately pronounced “Brilliant” by D-list neocon and noted illiterate Jamie Kirchick, a staff writer for the racist New Republic who found the article after it was approvingly passed on by pro-genocide Harvard scholar Martin Kramer. Their circulating of the piece is typical of the neoconservative approach to policy disputes: when confronted with an articulate, outspoken proponent of an alternate viewpoint, the reflexive response is to smear, smear, smear.

Take the case of Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council and a respected author who was targeted by the far right for the cardinal sin of advocating engagement with Iran, rather than calling for a crippling bombardment. Last November, Washington Times "journalist" Eli Lake -- specifically sought out by Parsi's detractors because of his willingness to publish anything that fits the anyone-who-opposes-war-is-treasonous narrative -- wrote a whole piece accusing Parsi of being a foreign agent working for the mullahs of Iran, which was then approvingly cited throughout the lunatic-right blogosphere, from David "moderate" Frum's self-aggrandizing "Frum Forum" to the long-ludicrous Commentary magazine. Of course, the claims were easily debunkable at the time, but that didn't matter: what was needed was the mere suggestion Parsi was in the pay of Tehran so as to discredit him in the eyes of respectable Washington.

That Parsi is a free man more than six months after the piece was published is all the evidence you need Lake's reporting was and is garbage. Facts, though, have nothing to do with the genre -- it's about silencing a voice, or at least sullying a reputation, in an effort to enforce the militaristic orthodoxy in Washington. That's what Greenwald's going through now, and it's what Parsi went through last year. Going out on a limb: I don't think it'll work.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)

War by the numbers

I’m not a big math guy, having spent my college years interpreting 17th century sonnets and writing about radical left-wing, decentralist movements in Latin America -- you know, the kind of experience that has well prepared me for a career as a bookstore clerk and I can only hope, some (very hard) years down the line, street-corner preacher of conspiracy and prophesier of doom. When it comes to looking at U.S. foreign policy, though, numbers can be a very useful thing.

Consider the sheer enormity of the fact the the U.S. government this year "will spend more on Afghanistan than any other country in the world spends on defense, with the exception of China," according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Congress has already appropriated this year alone more than $100 billion for the war, a figure Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation notes is 10 times the size of Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP). If divided on a per capita basis, each Afghan could receive $3,708 in U.S. taxpayer largesse -- equivalent to more than four years their average wages, and a damn sure better way to win Afghan loyalty than the General Petraeus-embraced, parachuting-sociologist effort to win hearts and minds by killing 2.5 percent less innocent men, women and children than under a killing-as-usual scenario.

More numbers: according to CIA Director Leon Panetta, there is in the area of 50 to 100 members of al-Qaeda. In neighboring Pakistan, there may be "more than 300" members, according to Michael Leiter, director of the U.S. government's National Counterterrorism Center. Yet nearly 100,000 U.S. troops are deployed in the region, along with another 20,000 NATO troops -- meaning their's 240 or so Western soldiers for every one alleged member of al-Qaeda.

The most important figure, though, and the most morally significant to my mind, has to do with the number of those killed in the name of terrorism versus those killed by the self-styled war on terrorism.

In the 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, just under 3,000 people were murdered by members of al-Qaeda. The response to those attacks? Using an extremely conservative estimate, 100,000 Iraqi civilians died as a direct result of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, equivalent to nearly three dozen 9/11s. In Afghanistan, tens of thousands of civilians have died since 2002, many attributable to the Taliban/insurgency, yes, but all as a direct result of events set in motion by American intervention (from the late 1980s-onward), including more than 4,000 civilians killed -- that's another 9/11 -- from January 2009 to March 2010 alone.

It's understandable that one might have greater sentimental attachments to those one knows, or one's fellow countrymen; it's natural to mourn a close friend or family member who dies more than someone you didn't know who lived on the other side of the globe. But what about when it's your fellow countrymen -- your friends and family, perhaps -- killing those innocent but distant strangers? Even if the killing's ostensibly launched in response to a real evil -- the attacks on September 11, 2001 -- I'd suggest that when dozens of innocents must die for each precious life of an American you hope to safeguard, the moral righteousness of that response is fatally undermined. Forget nationality: none of us choose what country we are born in, so why should the conscientious, moral human being value one life more than another because of nothing more than the accident of birth? As I said, a sentimental attachment to one's countrymen is understandable, but that doesn't mean it's morally defensible.

The Obama administration, like its predecessors, does not value the life of an innocent foreigner to the extent they do that of a possible voting-and-donating U.S. citizen, not that it has much respect for the lives of the latter either. Indeed, if President Obama or his liberal cheerleaders in Washington actually cared a whit about the lives of those unfortunate enough to be born in not-America, if they really sought to "stop U.S.-caused civilian casualties" in Afghanistan, as liberal journalist Spencer Ackerman writes, then they would embrace that great peacenik refrain: "stop the war."

No need for any white papers or bipartisan, blue-ribbon commissions: just get the hell out.

But it can't be that simple, for what role would that leave for Serious Liberalism and all those catered roundtable discussions at Washington think tanks with panelists laying out high-minded plans for Saving Afghanistan From The Natives? Not much. Ackerman, who supports the Afghan war just as he did the invasion of Iraq, writes that if the goal is not to stop murdering people but to "erode the influence of al-Qaeda’s allies in Afghanistan while reducing civilian casualties to the 'absolute minimum'," quoting all-around awesome dude David Petraeus, then it's of the utmost importance not to immediately halt the evil that is bombing and shooting innocent people, but to get right "the balance between fighting insurgents and protecting civilians."

Now, most supporters of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in their personal lives, are probably no more violent than the most committed peace activist; they probably play with their dogs and go "aww" when they see cute little animals too. But when someone comes to think of war in the cost/benefit terms of the Pentagon bureaucracy, even the meekest among us can support great evil in the abstract, the killing taking place safely abroad and providing endless folly for quasi-intellectual debates about counter-insurgency strategies. Accepting the premise that the there can be an appropriate "balance" between killing civilians -- that is, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, newlyweds and schoolchildren -- and whoever it is we're defining as the "insurgents" these days, I'd argue reflects a pretty screwy moral philosophy, endorsing as it does the killing of poor foreigners now based on the possibility, the hypothetical, that some of those impoverished survivors, the families of the Afghans we kill, might some day seek vengeance and kill us; a dozen dead Afghan civilians now to stave off the possible death of one person with an American passport, not counting those foolish enough to oppose U.S. policy and board a peace flotilla.

Some would argue (ahem) that there can be no "balance" when it comes to protecting civilians; you don't kill them, and if you do, you should be considered a murderer and punished accordingly. It's an obvious crime only compounded by the fact the Afghan war is not in the least bit necessary to protect the national security of the United fucking States.

But then that's the difference between modern liberalism and radicalism: the former will rationalize murder if it's backed by the leading technocratic intellectuals of the day and carried out by the State under the auspices of some modern day White Man's Burden, while the latter, valuing human life equally regardless of nationality and not making moral distinctions based on a murderer's uniform, will condemn -- not condone -- violence whether it's perpetrated by governments or non-State actors. You can probably see why they're not part of the panel discussions.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)