How does it feel?

Amidst the bellicosity and vengefulness of Republican presidential candidates in their shared resolve to eradicate “radical Islam,” we learn that roughly nine our of every 10 people killed by U.S.-launched drone strikes in Afghanistan, and perhaps a similar number elsewhere, are civilians. Among the dead are children.

Imagine that you are a grieving Afghan parent of a dead child. Neither you nor any member of your family was involved in hostilities. You just wanted to be left alone to live under precarious circumstances. But you are also angry that an errant missile struck your child and perhaps dozens of others.

In America, the Administration regrets the “inadvertent” casualties, suggesting that the deaths were “collateral damage” as part of the U.S. effort to prosecute its “war on terror,” an otherwise noble and necessary cause.

You, the Afghan parent, find no solace whatsoever in such words, deeming them feeble excuses. Besides, it is obvious to you that your life and the lives of your family simply don’t matter.

In America, Islamic “radicals” mow down innocents celebrating the holidays. We Americans are outraged. Some of us condemn Islam itself. Others would ban all Muslim immigrants. A few would obliterate entire Islamic countries, converting “collateral” into “intentional” damage.

Implicit in such reactions is the belief that America can kill innocents abroad but that no one should be allowed to kill Americans at home. We count. They don’t. Asymmetry.

Such is empire.

Good luck trying to understand…

…the rise and evident success of ISIS. Take, for instance, this take on who joins the group:

But in truth, these new foreign fighters seemed to sprout from every conceivable political or economic system. They came from very poor countries (Yemen and Afghanistan) and from the wealthiest countries in the world (Norway and Qatar). Analysts who have argued that foreign fighters are created by social exclusion, poverty, or inequality should acknowledge that they emerge as much from the social democracies of Scandinavia as from monarchies (a thousand from Morocco), military states (Egypt), authoritarian democracies (Turkey), and liberal democracies (Canada). It didn’t seem to matter whether a government had freed thousands of Islamists (Iraq), or locked them up (Egypt), whether it refused to allow an Islamist party to win an election (Algeria) or allowed an Islamist party to be elected. Tunisia, which had the most successful transition from the Arab Spring to an elected Islamist government, nevertheless produced more foreign fighters than any other country.

The rest of the linked article suggests that accumulating more facts about ISIS and how it came to be will only “baffle” us as we become increasingly horrified by the phenomenon.

Reaction suggests an immediate objective by ISIS and its recent indiscriminate bombings in Europe and elsewhere: to trigger wrath and mayhem. Why? To aid and abet recruitment to ISIS’s overarching goal of establishing a caliphate of “true” Muslims. He writes:

Radical extremist Muslims…want Muslims to loathe Western society and to be primed for radicalization. They want that for selfish reasons – to grow and legitimize their terrorist organizations. They can neither grow their movement nor succeed in their goals if Muslim kids in Europe are wearing miniskirts and going to music festivals. The problem they face is that while Muslims in Europe face discrimination, they’re not treated badly enough to make them hate Western society and governments. They certainly don’t hate them enough to want to start killing them. In order for Europe’s Muslims to be radicalized en masse as opposed to only a few here and there becoming attracted to “The Cause,” European governments would have to treat them worse. Far worse.

Logically, then, what ISIS wants is to push European states far enough to produce a massive anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim backlash.

I seem to recall a similar objective by Osama bin Laden, whom the Bush administration obliged by invading and initially occupying Iraq, creating monumental political instability that has morphed into much of the Middle East.

In his column today Paul Krugman warned against succumbing to fear.

…the goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that’s all they’re capable of. And the most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear.

So, of course, American conservatives and, especially, most of the GOP presidential candidates, favor a “bomb-them-back-to-the-Stone-Age” response, even if millions of innocents are slaughtered. Ted Cruz comes to mind.

It is the radical Islamism that has declared jihad against the west. It will not be appeased by outreach or declarations of tolerance. It will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life. We must make it crystal clear that affiliation with ISIS and related terrorist groups brings with it the undying enmity of America—that it is, in effect, signing your own death warrant.


Reflections on 9/11

bin Laden struck the obvious targets, symbols of wealth and war. In doing so, he set in motion a chain of events, beginning with the invasion of Iraq, that succeeded in demonizing his own religion, widening the chasm between cultures, and making it all but impossible to achieve any meaningful and lasting peace over large swaths of the globe.

Those should have been our targets—though I hasten to add only figuratively and without the senseless loss of lives. 9/11 distracted Americans from focusing on the fundamental issues that have exacerbated inequality, crumbled public infrastructures, and fueled unbridled militarism. After the planes struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, U.S. citizens quickly, and full-throatedly, joined the jingoist chorus to seek indiscriminate revenge on a Middle Eastern ethos while simultaneously turning a blind eye to a rampaging Wall Street, which was systematically transferring wealth from the Rest of Us into corporate coffers.

Look at what we’ve got: a Congress inimical to the general welfare; a president reversing both rhetoric and deed to kill abroad and surveil our every chit and chat; a Wall Street carefully restored as if it had never pilfered or plundered; and a political climate so toxic and farcical as to frustrate all attempts to actualize the Constitution’s Preamble.

Perhaps that noble experiment borne of revolution should be seen with sober eyes and judged a monumental failure. It’s simply not working, save for a scant few whose greed knows no bounds. And despite a planet headed for catastrophe, we are hardly equipped to even discuss the problems let alone seriously consider proffered solutions.

This will not end well.

A tsunami of solidarity?

Perhaps Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., was right—that history swings back and forth like a pendulum between the left and right. At the moment, the night belongs to the right, though I bang my head repeatedly trying to make sense of why so many of us prefer the inane to the urbane.

We may suppose, and wish for, zealous overreach among the Republicans, culminating in, well, crap. The big question: Will anyone notice or care? Enough, say, to toss the miscreants to the curb and replace them with those who would represent the interests of the Rest of Us?

Polls show that Congress has as much stature as a few wooden blocks stacked by a toddler. We’ve reached the point of very low expectations from our elected officials. Do they still matter?

Well, unfortunately, they do, mostly for ill. The conservatives have always wanted to bury the New Deal. They are succeeding, not with a blunt ax but with wielded scalpels exacting a thousand cuts. Their present goal is to rescind the Affordable Care Act, eliminate public schools (they prefer private charters), abolish Social Security (too social, you know), boost the Pentagon, and, above all else, cut taxes even more for their wealthy patrons.

The blunt ax against favored targets could awaken us and force our attention. But a steady, gradual dismantling of hard-fought benefits and institutions may barely ruffle.

A few years hence, we’ll remark on the proliferation of: homeless encampments; back-alley abortions; freeway goo; endless wars in distant lands; food banks; and automatonic children toiling in the fields and sweatshops. Lest too many of us become restless, tanks and mortar shells await.

Of course, it will be much too late to arrest the dismantling juggernaut. Worse, few of us will recall the better times, the history books having been expurgated, revealing only the glories of bloated plutocrats.

Or… we do pay attention today, recognize the reactionary project of the right, and resist each attempted cut as part of a never-ending struggle against the forces of darkness. As important, understand that the struggle requires collective action; going alone would be so much spit confronting a fiery hell. Better to have a tsunami of solidarity.

I leave with Bill Moyers’s parting words:

…democracy, too is a public trust – a reciprocal agreement between generations to keep it in good repair and pass it along. Our country’s DNA carries an inherent promise for every citizen of an equal opportunity at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our history resonates with the hallowed idea – hallowed by blood – of government of, by, and for the people. Our great progressive struggles have been waged to make sure ordinary citizens, and not just the rich and privileged, share in the benefits of a free society. In the words of Louis Brandeis, one of the greatest of our Supreme Court justices, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Yet look at just a few recent headlines: this one from “The New York Times”: “U.S. Wealth Gap Is Widest in Decades”. From the website Alternet: “Just 40 Americans Own As Much Wealth As Half the United States.” From “The Great Wealth Meltdown: Middle-Class Families Are Worth Less Today Than in 1969.” And from “The Economist”: “Wealth without workers, workers without wealth,” pointing to the reality that “for all but an elite few, work no longer guarantees a rising income.”

So as the next generation steps forward, I am tempted to think that the only thing my generation can say to them is: we’re sorry. Sorry for the mess you’re inheriting. Sorry we broke the trust. But I know in my heart that’s not what they ask or expect. So instead I recommend to them the example of Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, another of my heroes from the past. He battled the excesses of the first Gilded Age a century ago so boldly and proudly that he went down in history as “Fighting Bob.” He told us, “…democracy is a life; and involves continual struggle.” I keep asking myself, what if that struggle is the palpable reality without which this world would be truly barren?

So to this new generation I say: over to you, welcome to the fight.

Are you ready?

On Hagel’s dismissal

From Vox:

To some extent, though, you can’t totally blame Hagel: Obama has insisted on setting foreign policy within the White House, which means excluding agencies like the Pentagon and the State Department. That policy has largely failed (look at the struggling efforts with ISIS and Russia’s Ukraine invasion), and now Obama appears to be pinning the failure on Hagel — which is not going to fix the problem, given that Obama had already neutered Hagel’s ability to set and shape foreign policy.

What’s telling about all of this is that there’s been speculation for a couple of months that, after the midterm elections, the Obama administration would fire some lead foreign policy people to try to fix the problems. But everyone thought he would fire someone who works in the White House, such as National Security Advisor Susan Rice, because Obama has forced all foreign policy-making to happen within the White House. Instead he’s fired someone outside of the White House, which suggests that Obama is going to keep the White House foreign policy team that is actually leading things, and that is more culpable for the failures.