Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Happens to These Guys?

What happens to these guys, these presidents, when they get their own helicopter? When they get to troop the line of troops at every airport? When they're surrounded by generals? Do they take leave of their common sense? Do they get seduced by all those shiny stars? Do they get themselves all drunk on the notion of just how many war toys they command?

I'm increasingly irritated by repeated sights on TV of Obama striding along next to some ribbon-chested defender of our shores, saluting getting on and off the helicopter, throwing verbal posies to the military in some forum or other. Plus, I hear today that Congress has approved $97 billion for prosecuting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That money is good till September, when, one supposes, the budgeted billions will kick in. This just reminds me all over of how thoroughly this country is entangled, entwined, possessed by the aims and desires of the Pentagon.

Here's where I'm coming from on this. After initially approving it, yesterday Obama announced that he was going to fight against release of additional pictures of US troops abusing prisoners. His rationale: "their release would endanger our troops, and because he believes that the national security implications of such a release have not been fully presented to the court. . . . the President strongly believes that the release of these photos, particularly at this time, would only serve the purpose of inflaming the theaters of war, jeopardizing US forces, and making our job more difficult in places like Iraq and Afghanistan."

Permit me a short observation on this reversal of his earlier position: this is simply bullshit. Just about anything one wants to hide can be covered by pulling the blanket of "endangering the troops" or "national security" or "protecting America." And so forth. Isn't anybody else sick of this same old song? I'll tell you about endangering the troops. Sending them by their thousands into the Afghanistan hell hole without a clear objective for why they are there and no exit strategy at all. That is endangering the troops. Releasing pictures of Americans torturing captives? That is the transparency and openness that this president promised us during the campaign. That is keeping your word.

Here's what the Republican (plus the wretched Joe Lieberman) line is on these pictures:

"The release of these old photographs of past behavior that has now been clearly prohibited can serve no public good, but will empower al-Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country's image, and endanger our men and women in uniform,"
wrote [Lindsey] Graham (R-SC) and [Turncoat Democrat Lieberman].

This is the same exact argument that Obama and the administration are making. Great. Now we measure our progress by how close we can hew to Republican talking points.

As usual Glenn Greenwald makes clear sense. Worried about inflaming anti-American sentiment? he asks.
We're currently occupying two Muslim countries. We're killing civilians regularly (as usual) -- with airplanes and unmanned sky robots. We're imprisoning tens of thousands of Muslims with no trial, for years. Our government continues to insist that it has the power to abduct people -- virtually all Muslim -- ship them to Bagram, put them in cages, and keep them there indefinitely with no charges of any kind. We're denying our torture victims any ability to obtain justice for what was done to them by insisting that the way we tortured them is a "state secret" and that we need to "look to the future." We provide Israel with the arms and money used to do things like devastate Gaza. Independent of whether any or all of these policies are justifiable, the extent to which those actions "inflame anti-American sentiment" is impossible to overstate.

And now, the very same people who are doing all of that are claiming that they must suppress evidence of our government's abuse of detainees because to allow the evidence to be seen would "inflame anti-American sentiment." It's not hard to believe that releasing the photos would do so to some extent -- people generally consider it a bad thing to torture and brutally abuse helpless detainees -- but compared to everything else we're doing, the notion that releasing or concealing these photos would make an appreciable difference in terms of how we're perceived in the Muslim world is laughable on its face.

Moreover, isn't it rather obvious that Obama's decision to hide this evidence -- certain to be a prominent news story in the Muslim world, and justifiably so -- will itself inflame anti-American sentiment? It's not exactly a compelling advertisement for the virtues of transparency, honesty and open government. What do you think the impact is when we announce to the world: "What we did is so heinous that we're going to suppress the evidence?" Some Americans might be grateful to Obama for hiding evidence of what we did to detainees, but that is unlikely to be the reaction of people around the world.

This makes too much good sense for it to ever catch on. I'll tell you, brothers and sisters, I'm getting more disenchanted with Mr. Obama every day. What's wrong with this guy? Where are all the progressive ideas of the campaign gone? Apparently they've all gone South. Somewhere where they won't get in the way of propping up the status quo. When you're doing exactly what Joe Lieberman wants, I'll tell you, brother: you've got a major problem.
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