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Thursday, December 10, 2009


Barack and Eli, a dialog

Barack: The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible

Me: With most of those new ways being thought up by the good old U.S. of A.

Barack: World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.

Me: With one hell of a lot of them perishing in the atomic bombing of two cities in Japan, plus the fire-bombing of dozens more.

Barack: Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Me: Oh, Barack, don't be so modest. I would never call you (or George Bush or Bill Clinton) "small men," yet you have killed more than two million Iraqis in the last few decades.

Barack: In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, children scarred.

Me: Will he mention the four million Iraqi refugees, who have been for all intents and purposes totally forgotten by the world? The four million Palestinian refugees who his government is complicit in denying the right to return? No, he will not.

Barack: We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

Me: Will he acknowledge even that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was not "necessary or morally justified"? No, the only mention of Iraq is in conjunction with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Barack: As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence.

Me: An insult to Dr. King. "Living testimony to the moral force of non-violence" my ass, pardon my French.

Barack: I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.

Me: Really? 44,000 Americans die each year because of lack of health insurance. How about doing something about that "threat to the American people," instead of having to pare down health insurance "reform" to nearly nothing because of its "expense"?

Barack: Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms.

Me: First of all, al Qaeda barely has "arms." 9/11 was accomplished with a handful of men and box-cutters, as we all know. The "arms" al Qaeda has probably consists of a handful of rifles and maybe a few RPGs. Second of all, why couldn't "negotiations" accomplish anything? After all, al Qaeda claims to be inflamed by A) the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia; and B) U.S. support for Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people. Aren't those problems that are in principle amenable to negotiation?

Barack: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

Me: We don't seek to impose our will? Give me a break. What did we seek to do in Panama, or Grenada, or Yugoslavia, or Iraq, or Afghanistan? Install new governments of our choosing or favorable to the U.S. What do we seek to do in Cuba, Venezuela, etc.? The same thing. If that isn't "imposing our will" or seeking to do so I don't know what is. And I've already spoken to this nonsense about "enlightened self-interest": "Our children and grandchildren" will be better off if the rest of the world is living in slavery, providing natural resources and goods to us at the lowest possible price.

Barack: So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions."

Me: Sorry, no. War is not a product of "human nature." It is a product of economic institutions, and in our day, that means capitalism and imperialism.

Barack: The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait -- a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Me: The "world" did not support the invasion of Afghanistan or of Iraq. The U.S. and its allies did. Neither invasion was approved (in advance, anyway) by the U.N., and it is doubtful that a majority of the world's people or countries supported either invasion. Hell, only a bare majority of the U.S. Congress approved the invasion of Iraq (the first invasion); if they were using the new "60-vote" standard, it wouldn't have even passed the Senate.

Barack: I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That's why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

Me: "Humanitarian"? 79 days of bombing Yugoslavia and many, many deaths in order to force a change of government, to prevent a "genocide" which wasn't happening?

Barack: I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions.

Me: Guantanamo: still open. Torture: who knows? Secret prisons still abound. And Obama's administration is as we speak trying to dismiss a suit against torture-justifier John Yoo. America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions? Does that means that the U.S. plans to do something about Israel's flaunting of those conventions by establishing colonies in the West Bank?

Barack: First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior -- for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure -- and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

Me: Few regimes have broken the rules longer than the one in Israel. Is he starting a campaign for sanctions against Israel? Perhaps a campaign to punish the United States for invading Iraq illegally?

Barack: But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

Me: Any "race" requires more than one participant. How can there be an "arms race" in the Middle East. Oh yes, because one country who refuses to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty already has nuclear weapons. That would be Israel, whose name does not appear in this speech. And, by the way, since the nations "arming themselves for nuclear war" includes first and foremost the United States, any country being threatened by the U.S. (of which there are many) is surely justified by Obama's logic in "not standing idly by" but in fact preparing to defend themselves.

Barack: It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.

Me: Article 25 of that Declaration reads: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control." Will Obama being doing something about enforcing that article (among others)? 67 homeless people have died this year right here in Santa Clara County, one of the richest counties in the United States. What does Obama have to say about their human rights?

Barack: For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

Me: Take a look around you, Barack. You might start just a block or so from the White House.

Barack: It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can't aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

Me: We don't need any more of your "hope." What the people of the United States (and the world) need is deeds. Putting your money where your mouth is, instead of watching education and access to food and health care be cut day by day as more and more money is funneled into the war machine.

Barack: It perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities -- their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we're moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden.

Me: The conflict in Palestine doesn't originate with race, tribe, or religion. It originates in land, in occupation. Muslims and Jews (and Christians) lived together in Palestine in peace for a long time before the United Nations decided that it was a "land without people" which could simply be given to other people without bothering to consult the inhabitants.

Barack: And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan.

Me: Can we get our facts straight? "Our country" was not attacked at all; 9/11 was not Pearl Harbor. The World Trade Center and Pentagon buildings were attacked, different in quantity (mostly thanks to incredible luck) but not in character from Tim McVeigh's attack on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, which has never been described as an "attack on the United States." But, more importantly, this attack did not come "from Afghanistan." It was planned in Germany and executed by people right here in the United States, who came from a variety of countries, mostly Saudi Arabia, and none of them from Afghanistan (or Iraq). The "inspiration" may (or may not) have come from a guy living in Afghanistan, but the attack itself - no.

Update: I should have noted that for someone who involved the name of Dr. King no less than six times in his speech, he might have included one of Dr. King's most famous lines:

"The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."

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