Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, bipartisan, congress, democrats, extreme secrecy, fred hiatt, glenn greenwald, indefinite detentions, Iraq, Iraq war, permanent war, presidential assassinations of citizens, republicans, roger hollander, war
The Washington Post‘s Fred Hiatt ponders how little attention our various wars received during the primary campaigns that were just held: “You would hardly know, from following this year’s election campaign or the extensive coverage of last week’s primaries, that America is at war. . . . those wars, and the wisdom of committing to or withdrawing from them, have hardly been mentioned in the hard-fought campaigns of the spring.” Hiatt is right in that observation, and it’s worth examining the reasons for this.
One significant cause of America’s indifference to the wars we are waging is that those wars have virtually no effect on the overwhelming majority of Americans, while they impose a huge cost on a tiny sliver of the population: those who fight the wars and their families. Hiatt acknowledges that fact: “it’s yet another reminder of American society’s separation from its professional military.” If anyone would know about that, it’s the endless-war-loving, nowhere-near-a-battlefield Fred Hiatt.
Everyone from the Founders to George Orwell thought (and hoped) that the massive societal costs which war imposes would be a deterrent to their being fought, but most Americans who express their “support” for these wars bear absolutely no cost whatsoever. Worse, many who cheer for our wars enjoy that most intoxicating and distorting reward: cost-free benefits, in the form of vicarious feelings of strength, purpose, nobility and the like, all from a safe distance. It’s very difficult to generate attention for political issues that do not personally and tangibly affect most Americans — that’s why the failing economy receives so much attention and our various wars (and civil liberties erosions) do not.
Then there’s the lack of partisan division over these wars. During the Bush presidency, war debates raged because those wars — especially the Iraq war — were a GOP liability and a Democratic Party asset. Anger over the Iraq War drove the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 and Obama’s election in 2008 (though it did not drive the end of the war). But now, America’s wars are no longer Republican wars; they’re Democratic wars as well. Both parties are thus vested in their defense, which guts any real debate or opposition. Very few Republicans are going to speak ill of wars which their party started and continued for years, and very few Democrats are going to malign wars which their President is now prosecuting.
Here we find, once again, one of the most consequential aspects of the Obama presidency thus far: the conversion of numerous Bush/Cheney policies from what they once were (controversial, divisive, right-wing policies) into what they have become (uncontroversial bipartisan consensus). One sees this dynamic most clearly in the Terrorism/civil-liberties realm, but it is quite glaring in the realm of war as well. Hiatt describes it this way:
[M]aybe, in a time of toxic partisanship, we should be grateful for this inattention to the wars, taking the absence of debate as a sign of rare bipartisan consensus. Certainly few would miss the vitriol of the Iraq debate of a few years back.
It’s not surprising that Hiatt is grateful for the disappearance of what he calls “the vitriol of the Iraq debate a few years back.” As one of the media’s leading cheerleaders for the invasion and ongoing occupation, it’s understandable that he wants no longer to be reminded of the enormous amounts of innocent blood which he and his war-cheering comrades have on their permanently drenched hands. But he is right that to take “the absence of debate” as a “sign of rare bipartisan consensus.” It’s true that the (dubious) perception that the Iraq War will soon end has probably dampened the urgency of that issue in the eyes of many people, as have the pretty words that Obama utters when he speaks of war, but the real reason the “debates” have disappeared is because it serves neither party to engage them.
Perhaps the most significant factor of all in understanding this lack of debate is the fact that “war” is not some aberrational, temporary state of affairs for the country. It’s the opposite. Thanks to Fred Hiatt and his friends, war is basically the permanent American condition: war is who we are and what we do as a nation. We’re essentially a war fighting state. We have been at “war”the entire last decade (as well as largley non-stop for the decades which preceded it), and continue now to be at “war” with no end in sight. That’s true of our specific wars (in Afghanistan), and the way in which The War, more broadly, has been defined (i.e., against Islamic extremism/those who wish to harm Americans) makes it highly likely that it will never end in our lifetime. The decree that we are “at war” has been repeated over and over for a full decade, drumbed into our heads from all directions without pause, sanctified as one of those Bipartisan Orthodoxies that nobody can dispute upon pain of having one’s Seriousness credentials immediately and irrevocably revoked. With war this normalized, is it really surprising that nobody debates it any longer? It’d be like debating the color of the sky.
That’s why I always find the War Excuse for anything the Government does so baffling and nonsensical. Any objections one voices to what the Executive Branch does — indefinite detentions, presidential assassinations of citizens, extreme secrecy, etc. — will be met with the justification that such actions are permissible “during war,” as though “war” is some special, temporary, fleeting state of affairs which necessitates vesting powers in the government which would, during “normal” times, be impermissible. But the contrast between “war and “normal times” is totally illusory. For the United States, war is normalcy. The “war” we’re fighting has been defined and designed to be virtually endless. Political leaders from both parties have been explicit about that. Here’s how Obama put it last May in his “civil liberties” speech:
Now this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism. And unlike the Civil War or World War II, we can’t count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end. Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded cities, there are people plotting to take American lives. That will be the case a year from now, five years from now, and — in all probability — 10 years from now.
All the way back in September, 2001, George Bush said basically the same thing: “Now, this war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. . . . Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.” Thus: to justify new and unaccountable powers based on the fact that we are “at war” is, in essence, to change the American political system permanently, because the “war,” and the accompanying powers that it justifies, are not going anywhere for many, many years to come.
With both political parties affirming over and over that we are going to be at “war” for years, indeed decades, it’s unsurprising that so few people are interested in debating “war.” That’s true even for the limited question of Afghanistan, where most Republicans won’t question a war their President began and most Democrats won’t question a war their President has vigorously embraced as his own. From the perspective of the permanent factions that rule Washington — from Wall Street and AIPAC to the intelligence and military “communities” — that’s the beauty of the two-party system: as long as both party establishments support a particular policy, any meaningful debate over it comes to a grinding halt.
© 2010 Salon.com
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.
Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama.
Tags: Bill Clinton, bipartisan, conservatives, democratic party, herbert calhoun, Nancy Pelosi, obama administation, president obama, progressive, progressive ideas, progressives, Republican Party, right wing, roger hollander, ronald reagan, single payer
(Roger’s note: this article bemoans Barack Obama’s betrayal of his promise to generate genuine change; I for one do not feel betrayed becuase I never believed in him in the first place — full disclosure, I voted for Obama and do not regret it as McCain/Palin would have spelled disaster on a far greater scale. In positing Obama’s failure to confront the Republican Party, Calhoun does not go deep enough in his analysis. However, in showing how a progressive president congressional majorities cannot achieve a progressive agenda while at the same time Republican presidents achieve reactionary agendas with Democratic congresses, he does suggest the crux of the problem: the United States is for all intents and purposes a one-party quasi-dictatorship. Republicrat. Democratican. Call it what you will. It is not the Republicans that Obama lacks the guts or imagination to confront, rather the military and the corporate Behemoth, the military-industrial complex against which Dwight Eisenhower warned us in his historic farewell address.)
www.opednews.com, July 4, 2009
Given that Obama is up against ideologica opponents
that fight to the death and play dirty in defense of their own (almost always
bad) ideas, one wonders what Obama hopes to accomplish with his Rodney King like
“can’t we all just get along” approach to getting his progressive agenda
through. Does he really think he can finesse his way around this minefield of conservative
pit bulls (sacrificing those who voted for him in the process), with this sweet
talk of empty bipartisanism? Has he not learned that the republicans do not
“play the game of bipartisanism” fairly; that is, unless it means that they can
“flip” progressive ideas? They will eat the part of his body that Jessie Jackson
was going to cut off, for breakfast, and then laugh all the way to the next
election cycle, unless he gets busy using those same parts to push
through the meaty ideas of those who gave him a mandate.
This is serious business; time to cut deeply into and roll
back the regressive conservative agenda of the last twenty-four years, rather
than giving us (the ones who got him elected), the gravy and the crumbs trimmed
from around the edges (like the limp-wristed credit card protection bill. Please,
give me a frigging break?).
We want some “progressive meat,” not just the carcass of the
old Conservative centrist Bill Clinton programs and ideas. This pussyfooting
around the edges has got to stop and soon, or else this “Obama run train to
Washington” is going to be short-lived: derailed in the mid-term election.
Obama had better “start dancing with the one who brung him,” or else he is
headed to the “graveyard of one-term Presidency land” and lack of my vote is
going to be one of the many progressive nails in his coffin.
I would like to remind him that although I am a black man
who followed his career while he was a “community organizer” in the Altgeld
ghetto community in South Chicago, and who has reviewed both of his books on
Amazon.com, through the years, I am frankly still not all that impressed with
his results. I voted for him not because he is black, or edited the Harvard Law
Review; or just to see a black family in the White House, but because, I
thought he would put his foot on the accelerator and get progressive ideas
enacted quickly, and for no other reason. Unless he begins to show some
fighting spirit, some moxie, in the next election cycle I’ll vote against him and
all those limp-wristed Congressional democrats like Nancy Pelosi in a heartbeat,
and gladly send them all packing. Unless they get busy doing the business of
those who got them elected, their political capital is going to dry up like the
So far, even with a mandate and a filibuster proof Congress, all Obama has shown us is a lot of–
“TV style” totally devoid of progressive substance. I am frankly tired
of seeing him on the TV. –(And
don’t send me any more of those emails asking for more money and touting these
milquetoast centrist ideas: I am not a centrist; I am a progressive!). I’d
rather see you twisting a few Republicans arms in the back rooms, and a lot less
of this empty media show. In short, so far Obama looks like, acts like, and
quacks like a “good old Bill Clinton Republican,” “a good ol’ boy, pre-emptively
giving up his progressive bona fides behind the scenes.– And giving us lots of TV style smiles,
and sweet talk. –Lets have more
grimaces and a little rough talk; that way, we know you are working for our
Do we need to remind Obama that when the Republicans were in
office (with Bill Clinton’s help), even without a mandate and a filibuster
proof Congress, they aggressively pursued every one of their bad ideas? And got
most of them through a democratic Congress? To wit: All of them went to work on
the number one “global Republican project:” dismantling FDR New Deal social safety
net. Ronald Reagan, GWH Bush, the not too bright, GW Bush, Jr, and even with the
centrist Bill Clinton’s help, together, all but supplanted FDR’s programs with
the new existing playing field: the over-arching capitalist model of economic insecurity.
Now, that is what we have as the new playing field. That is the “given.” That
is the new ground zero.
So, Obama begins his presidency on Ronald Reagan’s playing
field, but with a bulletproof Congress. And what does he do? Forgets about the
big ideas and proceeds to preemptively capitulate on the number one progressive
idea, single payer healthcare system; gives us a weak-kneed credit card bill
instead; a watered down energy bill that even GW would be proud of, and more
importantly, has not shown us that he is willing to fight the republicans
toe-toe for any of the progressive programs that are important to the people
who elected him. –We are now wedded
to a worse version of the private Healthcare system than the one we already
have. What about the campaign promises of lower cost for everyone and to getting
everyone covered? –[Barack, your
slip is showing…]
And as an aside, Obama, of course, since he can’t even
openly acknowledge or be seen championing mainstream progressive causes, would
not be caught dead pushing any overt black causes. I suppose that dealing with
black concerns, like the inner social city meltdown, the public schools, etc.,
are either completely out of the question, or, are so far down the Obama agenda
that we are not likely to see them until a second term, if at all.
This pre-emptive capitulation is for the birds, and if it
does not stop soon, I am going to personally lead a group to picket the White
house to further dramatize how weak-kneed the Obama team really is. I never
thought I would be the one to say this but what we really need is a democrat,
with GW’s like moxie of full speed ahead, working a progressive agenda. Barack
Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more…)