The Obama Doctrine

The new New York Times interview with President Obama is an interesting read.  I am glad that he is our leader at this point.  He explains what his approach to Iran and other countries is.  He lays out his way of thinking about countries that have been deemed enemies of the U.S.  It’s being called the Obama doctrine.  It seems more than sane to me.  Here is a small snippet:

“You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies.”

And later:

The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naïve — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place. … We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it?”

This does not mean that his foreign policy is perfect.  I still am highly wary of his use of drones over the term of his presidency.  I also don’t like the way that whistle blowers have been treated.  However, the main policies that he lays forth seem to me that they are highly reasonable.  He seems to understand our place in the world.  We are militarily the most powerful country in the world.  Why couldn’t we try new approaches, especially when the downside, given our technological and military position, is small.  His approach to Cuba and Iran, at least at this point, seem like victories for peace.

I highlight two of the quotes that Huffington Post also highlighted.  

John Oliver On Drones

This is an absolutely excellent on The United States drone program.  While most news is entertainment posing as news, this is news posing as entertainment.  You will see a far more in depth discussion on our drone program than you will see on almost any cable news channel.  It just happens to be delivered by someone that can pepper the information he is delivering with some great jokes.  Our use of drones is one of the moral and ethical dilemmas of our time.  The fact that we are not having a greater discussion on this is troubling.  I have admitted to supporting Obama in the past.  This is one issue that he is terrible on and should be held accountable for.

Criticize Those You Support

Was reading an article on Huffpo today about how the White House is mulling over using another drone strike against an American citizen.  This citizen is working with terrorist groups in a foreign country.  Because I have a strange masochistic streak I decided to read the comments.  These comments quickly devolved into tired old right and left arguments.  The right claimed that liberals who were up in arms over Bush would not criticize their President.  The left claimed that the right were attacking Obama for things they praised Bush for doing only because they didn’t like Obama.  As usual any sense of grey was lost and things were only viewed in black and white for the most part.

I’m a proud lefty and I find the President’s drone policy to be immoral and wrong.  I will gladly tell anyone that I can that I think Obama has a terrible record when it comes to drone strikes.   My band No Show Ponies has a drone on the front cover of our new album because I wanted to find some kind of iconic image that represented in part what was wrong with our country at this moment.  The title of the album is A Manual for Defeat and the drone is a diagram.  We wanted the album to have a political component to it, but we also wanted for the image and title to play off each other in such a way that it was slightly interpretive.  I’ve written before about my distaste for our drone policy here in the past.  I have no problem criticizing the President and US policy on this issue.

However, I think it is possible to have different ideas at the same time.  I completely dislike Obama’s drone policy, but I support him on other issues.  Overall I like him about a million times better than his current Republican opponents in the House and Senate.  I think overall, especially since Kerry came into the fold, that the Obama administration is inching us towards a saner foreign policy.  We are not there yet, but the talks with Iran and Obama’s comment during the State of the Union that we need to get out of being on constant war footing are just two recent positive things that break with the past.

When looking at politics I believe you must be a dreamer and a realist at the same time. You must hope and strive for the ideal, but you must also realize when gains have been made in an imperfect world.  Is our drone policy which has killed over 2,000 people, many of them noncombatants, immoral and wrong?  The answer is yes, completely.  Is it an improvement over our last President who started a war which was not in self defense and now looks to have been for geopolitical and economic reasons and that lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people?  The answer is also yes, completely.

I don’t imagine that McCain, who is losing his shit over the Iran talks, or Mitt Romney the great panderer, would have stood up to the military industrial complex any more than Obama has done.  In fact, especially with McCain, it’s not hard to imagine that our foreign policy might have been much more imperialistic and violent.  Of course, since neither of them got elected this is all theoretical.

I think as citizens we should always criticize politicians that do wrong in our name, whether we agree with their policies at large or not.  There are too many of us that I think often fear that if we criticize a politician that we by and large support, that the other side will use these critiques to score points against them and weaken other parts of their agenda that we support.  We must try to get out of this way of thinking.  It is possible to criticize someone and support them at the same time.  It is only through this dual way of thinking that we can move closer from reality to the realization of our dreams.

Secret Dirty Wars

I think that every American should see the movie Dirty Wars.  It is a movie centering around the reporter Jeremy Scahill and his reporting on the War on Terror.  It shows how clearly we are in a global war on terror that is being run covertly and shows no signs of ever ending.  It is scary because it shows both the immoral actions that are being done in our name around the world using our tax dollars, and also scary because after seeing it one can imagine the blowback that these actions will some day bring about against our country.

Scahill starts the movie by investigating one incident in which our troops in Afghanistan kill people who are seemingly innocent and then try to cover the incident up.  After they kill people they even go as far as to remove bullets from their victims with knives.  This event eventually leads him to a much bigger story.  He finds out that there is a group called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  JSOC is a secretive group whose purpose it is to find targets on a kill list and eliminate them.  No target in any country is off limits to them, including American citizens.

This group not only operates in Afghanistan and Iraq, two battlefields in which the American public is aware of, but also in Yemen, Somalia, and other countries in which we are not supposed to be at war.  Although this group does at times get legitimate targets, it is also responsible for a large degree of collateral damage.  By collateral damage I mean that we kill innocent people that have nothing to do with the War on Terror.  It’s important that we do not fall prey to using the euphemisms that our government uses when talking to the American people.  We not only have kicked down many of the wrong doors at night and have shot the wrong people, but have authorized drone strikes which often vanish innocent people by dropping large explosives on them which do so much damage it is often hard to identify who is killed.

There are two more things that make this film important and scary.  The first is that in going into countries in which we often have no business being in we often make alliances with seedy and dangerous people in those countries.  In Somalia, for instance, we form alliances with tribal warlords who are untrustworthy to put it lightly.  Many of these people that are now working on our side have been against us in the past and have also committed crimes against their own people.

The second thing is that we do not know how or from where these kill lists come from.  JSOC operates at such a secret level that it is assumed that they report directly to the Obama White House with very little congressional oversight and no public oversight.  What’s even scarier is that they have grown so powerful that it is even possible that the White House, who definitely gave them power, may not even know everything that this shadow organization is up to.

Remember that when we go to war it is being waged in our names with our money.  If you care at all about politics and about our reputation in the world then you must see this movie.  It is a scary movie and is very depressing.  Watching this you realize that we are in a global war with no end game.  We are also doing many highly immoral things which are damaging our reputation around the globe.  At one point a man in Afghanistan refers to the troops of JSOC as the “American Taliban”.  There may be a slight moral difference between blowing innocent people up by accident with drones and on purpose with a suicide vest, but it is a moral difference that does not make one feel good to ponder, especially when it is the new normal.

Quote

Oliver Stone on Drones

“Drone attacks are better than boots on the ground,” one Cold War liberal recently told me.

No, they’re not. They’re an intrusive, terrorizing global policeman behavior that will invariably set us up for blowbacks. We will be hated for this naked abuse of our military power.

A terrorist band that is seriously planning an attack on USA can be apprehended in traditional ways that have worked for centuries—it requires solid detective work and good local alliances with foreign countries. There are always screw-ups, but the exception is never the rule. We must respect all international borders, if we expect our own to be respected.

It is the way of the world. Live and let live. Violating that is the law of the jungle, and that’s where we are now. Our America-centric world is a dualistic black-and-white cartoon, violent in its outlook.

No good will come of this. Peace is not a cliché. Peace is a way to live and grow.

Quote by Oliver Stone.  I think Oliver Stone is dead on about our use of drones.  He has always been way more thoughtful than his critics have made him out to be.  I am glad that he is out there as he has a curious mind and never stops asking questions.

I also wanted to add, as someone that is a liberal on most issues, that I think drones have been a shame on the Obama White House.  If we are going to get anywhere in this country we need to call out our own side when we see something that is morally wrong.  

Robocop and the Reality of Robot Wars

Sometimes you can pick up new ideas in the strangest of places.  For Christmas my brother bought me a magazine called Geek that had a feature about the new Robocop movie that is being made.  He bought it as a present of fun.  Both of us share a love for the extreme violence and brilliant satire of the first Robocop movie.  It is insanely quotable and beneath its sensationalist action picture front is a deeply subversive satire of fascism, the military industrial complex, the news, and many other aspects of modern American life.

I was not expecting much out of the remake as most remakes are dreadful.  It’s still too early to tell how the new remake will fair, but the director of the new picture, Jose Padhila, seemed of rare intelligence for an action movie.  He talked about how the new film will include ideas derived from our modern drone war.

I mentioned, in an earlier post, the new footage that has appeared of Boston Dynamic’s robots.  These are robots that are being built with largely Pentagon funding.  It appears that drones are just the first step in automated warfare.

The director, in the Robocop article, raised a series of interesting questions and ideas.  Since the Vietnam War a large degree of our country’s opposition to war has derived from the bloodshed of our fellow citizens.  Would the protesting of the Vietnam War have reached such heights without kids coming home in body bags?  Although, in a now volunteer army, the bloodshed affects fewer families and other citizens than ever before, a large degree of what opposition there was to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq came out of the blood and treasure that our country is losing in those wars.  The protests that arose from those wars were nowhere near the levels that we saw during Vietnam.

So the director brought up the question that if there is very little or no bloodshed in warfare, on our side, will we allow our government to fight wars for far longer than they need be?  Many people feel that the drone war that Obama is waging is immoral, but there is no large scale revolt to it.  I have my doubts that changing the President would change the nature of the way we are fighting war right now.  Although there is a faction of the Republican Party that is against intervention overseas, most Republican politicians are more hawkish than Democrats.  I think if we are going to change the nature of how and why we fight wars it is going to have to come from the bottom.

What happens if troop deaths are kept to a minimum because their most dangerous tasks have been replaced by robots?  If we can fight wars where only one side really suffers will our fear of war diminish?  With technology stacked on our side in ways not before imagined, will we become even more hawkish in our relations with other countries?  These are only a few of the questions are being raised by this scary technology.  Some of you may laugh at the idea of robots fighting wars, but do you homework and you will see that this is no longer the prospect of science fiction movies.  One does not need to be a genius to look at what we are now doing with drones, view the footage below, and see how we are at the cusp of dangerous new technology.  We better start asking moral and ethical questions now, before it is too late.  Soon enough the terrible dreams of our writers will be the new normal.

Link to Boston Dynamic’s Military Robots:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAspqCD34Hw

(I think they could have done without the dramatic music.  The implications of this clip are scary enough without it.)

The Presence of the New

http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2013/12/05/the-uns-robotic-peacekeepers/

This article from andrewsullivan.com talks about how the U.N. is going to start using unarmed drones for surveillance during peace keeping missions.  The US continues to wage its morally troubling drone war.  Many of you are probably aware of how Amazon wants to start using delivery drones.  If you Google it you will see how drones were used to deliver beer at a rock festival in South Africa.  As Al Swearengen says in Deadwood, “We are in the presence of the new.”  

Tokyo Gas Attacks and 911

I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s book Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attacks and the Japanese Psyche.  Murakami is one of my favorite authors, but this is the first piece of nonfiction that I’ve read by him.  It deals with the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway by the terrorist group Aum.  However, it mostly it is mostly made up of the testimony of the survivors.  I’m only about 40% of the way through the book, I’m reading it on my Kindle, and don’t have a final thought on the book yet.  It’s interesting so far. 

One thing that I find amazing about the book so far is the amount of survivors that refuse to let their lives be dictated by hate concerning the group that carried out the attacks.  Most of them want to see the members of Aum receive the proper sentencing, but only a few of the people seem to be angry.  I am not far enough in the book to make a final judgment, but this seems to me to be a remarkable contrast to the bloodlust that was unleashed after the 911 terrorist attacks. 

Another book that I picked up recently, which I’m about the same amount of the way through, is Terry Jones’s Terry Jones On the War on Terror.  I have mentioned this book in previous blogs.  With laser sharp wit Jones points out the foolishness of the west in our response to the 911 terrorist attacks.  He makes the case with the utmost clarity on how our actions immediately following 911 actually probably created more terrorists than anything Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts could have done on their own.  This is especially true with our foolish foray into Iraq which had nothing to do with 911, which is obvious now and was obvious at the time to those that paid attention.  With this absurd drone war under President Obama it seems that we haven’t gotten much smarter since then. 

A recent post that I made talked about how we are falling further and further behind in world wide education.  We continue to lead the world in military spending.  I’d like to see those things reversed.  First maybe we need to change the actual psyche of our nation.  Although we need to prosecute fully those that trespass against us, we should be careful of revenge of the most savage kind.  It rarely leads to anywhere that we want to go.  It can often create future threats in ways that we can’t fully grasp at the time.  

Guns, Guns, Guns

I have plenty of friends that own what could be best described as “arsenals”.  Although I’m very liberal in most of my political beliefs I can’t say I’ve ever felt very strongly one way or the other over guns.  I don’t own a gun, although I’ve fired them at targets and at skeet.  It’s not that I don’t see problems with certain aspects of American culture concerning guns; it’s just that it has always been way down the totem pole on my list of priorities.  I’m much more interested in issues concerning poverty, healthcare, the environment, and the military industrial complex. 

     I’d rather let someone else that is much more passionate and informed about gun control make the case for it.  I do think that there are weapons that don’t belong in the hands of the general public.  If all guns disappeared tomorrow I sure wouldn’t miss them.  Again though, I think there are those far better suited to make the nuanced case for sensible gun control than me. 

     However, one particular argument really makes zero sense to me.  It’s the argument concerning protecting your home from the government.  It’s the whole militia mentality.  Look, at this point in time, if the government wants to take you out, there is no kind of machine gun that you can keep in your basement that is going to stop them.  Let’s, for the sake of argument, say that some kind of localized rebellion started.  You are barricaded in your house with your high powered assault rifle.  The government would simply fly a drone over your house, or ride up in a tank, and turn your dwelling into a giant crater.  You and your loved ones, if there was anything left to find, would be scraped up with a spatula.  It would probably be hard to tell who was who.  You and everything you own and everything you love would be eviscerated in a giant fireball.  Better luck next time!

     So I don’t want to hear the argument that owning guns is to keep people free.  The technological ship on guns being able to do that has sailed.  I think there are too many rights being infringed upon too, though I may differ with right wing Americans over what those are.  There are too many people in prison.  The government should stay out of your private life as a general rule, so long as you are not hurting others.  The only thing we can do if we don’t agree with what is going on in this country is to get informed, get organized, let our voices be heard, vote when we can, protest when we can, and contribute what money we can to organizations that are doing work we believe in.  If it ever comes down to guns having to keep you free, cremation will be done on taxpayer dollar.  

Flying Robots of Death

The political spectrum is split into ever increasing blue and red teams.  This is not news and that statement will let out a collective “duh!” from those of you reading this.  It’s almost gotten to the point where you can’t criticize your own side or you let the other team score points.  Sports analogies are just another lazy way in which our political discourse has been lowered.

I am going to help contribute to that laziness for a moment with another sports analogy.  I am a registered Democrat, although many Democrats do things that make me ill at times.  I grew up a Philadelphia Eagles fan though.  For any of you that know anything about pro football and the Eagles in general, you know that we Eagles fans will boo the shit out of our own team if they are doing poorly.  This however does not mean that we are rooting for the Dallas Cowboys.

So I am going to use my time here to boo Barak Obama for his use of drones.  Although I cannot predict the future, I can only imagine that this is going to cause some kind of incredible blowback somewhere down the line.  Even if we’re not going to be self interested there is something morally wrong about using a technology that kills so many people to assassinate one target.  There are estimates that are as high as 50 civilians being killed for every terrorist in a drone strike.  Even if somehow that number was lower, say way lower, like 1 for 1, I still think that that would be morally reprehensible.  No innocent person should die because of the misdeeds of another.  If you kill a combatant that is warfare, but if you kill someone innocent that is murder, plain and simple.

Now let’s assume that you were out walking with your family one day, minding your own business.  Now imagine that a flying robot that came from another country came by and blew your entire family up.  Do you think you would be angry?  Think of how angry you get at the DMV when something goes wrong and you have no direct individual to blame.  You half think of going postal in that place!  A predator drone is the horrid vile extreme of a corporate bureaucracy taken to its furthest limit.  Defense contractor, government, drone operator, are all working together for an inhuman outcome.  No one is completely responsible, but everyone’s hands are sullied by this.  And so are ours if we don’t let our voices be heard that this kind of warfare is not expectable.

The horror, the horror…