Friday, July 25, 2008

Militarism you can believe in

President George W. Bush, speaking in Germany this week, defended continued U.S. involvement in Iraq, stating:
This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Iraq, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets. No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Iraq. But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that . . . [the mission] is a success. For the people of Iraq, and for our shared security, the work must be done. America cannot do this alone. The Iraqi people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the [insurgency] and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now.
Bush also criticized "the all too common" belief in Europe that the United States is anything but an unmitigated force for good in the world:
In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common. In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe’s role in our security and our future. Both views miss the truth – that Europeans today are bearing new burdens and taking more responsibility in critical parts of the world; and that just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe.
Whoops. If you've been paying close enough attention, you might realize that both quotes were not from the much reviled "Decider", but rather the messianic Barack Obama, the Democratic savior of the United States -- nay, the world. As Obama makes clear, American forces in Germany "still help to defend the security" of Europe (really?), and the United States sacrifices ever so much to uplift the world's downtrodden. Disagree? Why, you're just like those right-wing francophobes on talk radio, sayeth the would-be lecturer-in-chief.

[Note: in the first excerpt above, one must substitute "Afghanistan" (The Good War) for "Iraq" (The Bad War), which, clearly, makes everything sound so much more logical and, frankly, courageous.]

Naturally, Obama's call for a troop escalation in order to fight another failing Middle East war -- since it's coming from a Democrat -- is likely to be greeted with hosannas by his partisan followers, where the "anti-war" candidate's every utterance is met with faints and praise (not be confused with feint praise, as you will find here). Never mind the fact that U.S. casualties in Afghanistan are outpacing those in Iraq this year, and that civilian deaths in Afghanistan are up 62% -- at this point, it has become liberal conventional wisdom that Iraq was merely a "diversion" from the right and just killing of Afghan newlyweds.

But, as I'm fond of saying whenever a politician reveals that they are just that -- a politician -- this should come as no surprise. After all, the anti-war Obama has explicity endorsed expanding the military by 100,000 men and women. And as Madeleine Albright -- just one of many near-dead war criminals advising the would-be emperor -- once said to Colin Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about, if we can’t use it?”

Obama has always been a follower unwilling to challenge conventional wisdom. Since entering Congress he repeatedly voted to fund the war he claimed to oppose (when he was safely outside of Congress representing a liberal district in Chicago), and like nearly every other member of the world's greatest deliberative body, he endorsed Israel's inhumane carpet bombing of Lebanon in 2006. Even Obama's much-ballyhooed calls for talks with Iran reflect the general consensus of the Washington establishment -- as does his repeated statement that "no options are off the table" when dealing with that country.

And as McClatchy Newspapers notes, Obama has adopted an even "more militaristic tone" since he locked up the Democratic nomination. More militaristic -- from a man who during the primary raised the idea of unilaterally attacking the tribal regions in Pakistan, and ruled out the possibility of pledging to remove all troops from Iraq by the end of his first term. So please don't feign surprise when the Great Democratic Hope orders some impoverished country to be bombed during his first year in office just to show that he has no qualms about flexing America's military muscle (and killing a few innocents here and there), New Yorker cover be damned.

But at least under a President Obama wars will be fought for humanitarian reasons:
Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur?
If by "we" Obama means the U.S. government -- and if Iraq has taught "us" anything -- the answer should be an unequivocal "no".

Groups like Amnesty International and other non-governmental human rights organizations do a much better job at raising awareness of victims of state oppression -- with much more credibility than the U.S. State Department -- all, somehow, without having to resort to murder (or "tactical air strikes"). And there exists countless groups dedicated to helping suffering people the world over that find no need to employ the types of brutal trade embargoes loved by all the good humanitarians in Congress.

In contrast, whenever the U.S. government discusses "human rights", it usually means some poor people in a far off land better start running for the bomb shelters.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"9/11 truthers": a persecuted minority?

In response to my post about this past weekend's Ron Paul rally in DC, commenter David Stratton accuses me of engaging in the same sort of bigotry toward so-called "9/11 truthers" -- those who believe the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were an "inside job" perpetrated by the U.S. government -- that I criticized when directed toward illegal immigrants:
Kurt Vonnegut might say "so it goes...", but I doubt he would use words like "lunacy" "kookery" and the like to denounce people without exploring their side of the issue whatsoever. If you want to sit and cast stones at the guy who was being a bigot and using hateful language towards Mexican illegals, perhaps you ought not to build yourself a glass house in which to live by turning right around and casting your *own* hateful propaganda at your *own* group of hated persons.
I'm actually glad this came up, because I am typically hesitant to denounce anyone as a "kook" or a "lunatic". If you check out my posts over the years, you'll find a good deal of them are spent defending people who have been denounced by all Right Thinking people as crazed lunatics (see Jeremiah Wright). As for 9/11 truthers? I referred to them in my last post as kooky lunatics because, in my experience, the vast majority are kooky lunatics.

I have watched the exceedingly silly Loose Change -- God's word to truthers, set to a hip-hop soundtrack -- and witnessed the tinfoil hat-wearing creators make fools of themselves on national television. Consider this exchange, where Loose Change creator Dylan Avery attempts to cite some former Underwriters Laboratories employee to back his assertion that there was just no way for the steel in the World Trade Center to collapse due to burning jet fuel:
DYLAN AVERY: Well, real quick, I just want to jump in and say, Kevin Ryan has been open about his statement. He has always been public about the fact that he worked for the—I don’t remember the exact name, but it was a subdivision of Underwriters Laboratories, which did water testing. But it was the fact that he got the higher-up from—he got the word from his higher-ups that they actually had certified the steel and, I mean, his science still adds up.

DAVID DUNBAR: In fact, Underwriter Laboratories does not certify structural steel.

DYLAN AVERY: Oh, okay.
It pretty much goes on like that from there. Now, I'm not looking to conduct an exhaustive debunking of 9/11 conspiracy theories (others with much more will power than me have already done that), but let me throw one question out there for any conspiracists looking to bombard my comments with "gatekeeper!": if the Bush administration was so damn good at pulling off a massive "inside job" on 9/11 in order to justify the war in Iraq, then how come they couldn't even plant a few WMDs? As Alexander Cockburn suggested in a 2006 debunking of 9/11 conspiracies, wouldn't planting a few boxes saying "Weaponized Anthrax, Destination: Middle America" be much easier to pull off than a controlled demolition of WTC 7?

But I digress.

Whether 9/11 conspiracies are true or not (they're not), they serve as a massive distraction from much more worthy causes. In fact, if one were a government agent bent on discrediting anti-establishment movements, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a better marginalizing tool than the truthers (how's that for a conspiracy?). At nearly every anti-war rally I've been to there have been people holding "9/11 was an inside job" signs; I saw the same the same thing when I covered an ACLU-sponsored rally last year in support of habeas corpus (yes, in these here United States people have to protest for rights King John recognized in the 13th century).

And what have 9/11 truthers gained? Why, they've done their damndest to discredit a whole bunch of movements that have much, much more popular support then their -- yes -- kooky theories. Hell, they even did their best to ensure that Ron Paul's chances of securing the Republican presidential nomination went from "slim" to "non-existent" by trying to make his campaign not about opposition to militarism and the burgeoning police state, but about WTC 7 (which, naturally, the hacks at Fox News were more than willing to exploit).

So again I ask, what have 9/11 truthers done for America lately -- convinced a few naive high schoolers to download Loose Change?

That said, here's my message to David Stratton and any other truthers lurking out there: thanks for nothing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ron Paul Rally in DC

Yesterday I headed down to the U.S. Capitol to check out a rally for former presidential candidate and current Texas Republican congressman, Ron Paul. Having interviewed Mr. Paul several times during the course of his campaign, I was interested in checking out just what kind of crowd he could attract on a 90-degree July day in Washington.

In many ways, the crowd seemed a lot like the recent antiwar rallies I have attended -- largely consisting of "average" folks, with a visible 10 percent of the crowd consisting of what can only fairly be described as the "lunatic fringe" (more on that later). Otherwise, everyone from hippie-types shouting "free the weed" to right-wing Christians concerned about a "North American Union" were in attendance (in addition to a good deal of regular-looking, "normal" folks), highlighting the politically transcendent appeal of Paul's radical anti-war, anti-corporatist message.

Particularly surprising to me was the speech by Naomi Wolf, a prominent feminist and one-time adviser to former Vice President Al Gore, on the 10 signs that a country is drifting toward fascism (video shot by yours truly below):

A few years ago I would have expected Wolf to be just another Democratic partisan willing to write-off Ron Paul as a kooky "right-wing extremist." But many of Paul's positions on the most pressing issues of the day -- opposition to empire, torture, and the national security state -- are what would usually be characterized by the establishment media as "far left", and appeal to many people who are dissatisfied with the Democratic Party's embrace of corporatism and illegal, aggressive warfare.

As Wolf noted in her speech, for far too long those who agree with Paul's stances on those issues would allow themselves to be divided by a range of red herring wedge issues that are largely meaningless when a country is engaged in illegal foreign occupations and indefinitely detaining suspected "terrorists". When it comes down to it, those who agree on the immorality of preemptive war, warrantless spying, and torture should not be divided by their differing views on the estate tax -- priorities, people.

Yet for decades both the Democratic and Republican parties have been busy scaring their respective bases with the horrifying prospect of the other party taking power, obfuscating the fact that, for all practical purposes, there is no real disagreement between the parties on the worthiness of an imperialistic foreign policy.

That said, there were several speakers at the rally who, if the goal is to appeal to as broad an audience as possible by focusing on a message of peace and freedom, were . . . questionable choices, to put it mildly. In fact, one man who followed Wolf -- a retired Arizona police officer by the name of Jack McLamb -- rambled on with crackpot conspiracies about the "New World Order" so ridiculous it was if they were intentionally designed to marginalize the entire event.

In addition to your garden-variety "9/11 truth" kookery (cheered on by a not insignificant Alex Jones-worshipping segment of the crowd), McLamb went off about how government agents are,  apparently, affixing color-coded stickers to the mailboxes of would-be troublemakers. The purpose? Well, you see, a red sticker on your mailbox signals to "foreign troops" that one should be taken out to a field and shot. A blue sticker, in contrast, merely means that these undefined foreign soldiers should take you to a Halliburton-constructed concentration camp.

As one Ron Paul supporter standing next to me astutely observed, "so how does that work with apartment complexes?"

With such a range of fairly respected speakers -- Wolf, former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, talk show host Charles Goyette -- it boggles the mind as to why rally organizers would allow someone suffering from bizarre paranoid delusions to address the crowd.  If supporters of Ron Paul are looking to shake off the "fringe" label, inviting a guy who makes the "9/11 was an inside job" crowd uncomfortable doesn't appear to me to be the most effective strategy. 

In fact, due to the quality of some of the speakers -- another man who later took the stage went beyond mere "secure the borders" rhetoric to a full-on, xenophobic rant about how there were too many "illegals" committing crimes in the U.S. (undocumented workers actually commit less crime, but hey, they tend to have darker complexions so what do the facts matter?) and that, h'yuck, we ain't learnin' no Spanish -- I ended up leaving before Ron Paul actually spoke. 

Judging by the near-total lack of applause the speaker received, I'm guessing I wasn't the only one perplexed as to why a rally in favor of a guy who made opposition to war and the police state the focus of his campaign (and who, even with his anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, has said he finds the concept of a border fence "rather offensive" and that "I think we could be much more generous with our immigration") would allow a speaker to engage in such rank bigotry and fear-mongering about "illegals".

Such is the downside to creating a political coalition that includes everyone from Green Party supporters to the close-the-borders crowd. On the one hand, Ron Paul's message, by transcending the obsolete constraints of "left" and "right", is able to attract a large, diverse following that shows the potential mass appeal of a simple "bring the troops home and follow the Constitution" message. However, that larger following often brings a whole range of crazies with their own pet issues who are not so much concerned with ending the American empire as they are with demanding that people buy into the lunacy that WTC 7 was brought down in a controlled demolition, god damn it (as I witnessed one man try to convince a group of perplexed Chinese tourists who were walking by).

As the late Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes...


(Also see The American Conservative's Kelley Vlahos and Daniel McCarthy for their takes on the rally.)

And since this is a post about Ron Paul, what better time then to hawk one of my interviews with him? This one, from January 2007, I believe was the first interview with Paul about a potentially launching a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination: