De Boer on Paul

Freddie De Boer:

I could never vote for Ron Paul, for a thousand reasons. I have been arguing against many of his policies and the worldview that generated them for the entirety of my adult life. But I have to value his voice in the national debate because almost no other national political figures will raise these issues at all. I would love if these issues were being expressed by politicians and pundits who combined them with righteous views on domestic policy. But here, too, mainstream progressivism deserves a great deal of blame. Left wing politicians like Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich have embraced discussion of foreign policy and civil liberties, and for their trouble they have been dismissed as unserious by the self-same progressives who now dismiss Ron Paul’s ideas. For far too long, mainstream progressives have signaled their “seriousness” precisely by denying the validity of people like Kucinich or Sanders, so taken with some bizarre definition of the reasonable that they effectively silence the leftist non-interventionists they say they want. If you want left wing criticism of our militarism and surveillance state, stop ridiculing those who express it.

The notion that there is something less disqualifying about support for murder and oppression than support for regressive and racist policies cannot stand scrutiny. The right to not be killed precedes all other rights. It is the foundation on which all other rights rest. What value can any rights have if they are not protected by a right to not be killed? Freedom of expression is no solace to a corpse. Likewise, what value do other rights have if those rights are not protected by rights of the accused? There is no value in freedom of assembly or religion if you can be thrown into a cage without a trial where you can invoke those rights. The right to protest has no meaning if the executive can respond to that protest by killing you without accountability, legal challenge, or review. Civil liberties are not merely right on principle. They are the necessary bedrock on which all conduct in a free society must rest.

I think this is right, though it’s worth noting that freedom to eat in restaurants regardless of race or freedom to make choices about one’s own body or freedom to marry whoever one is in love with are also questions of civil liberty. But yes, it’s hard to enjoy these liberties if you’re dead.

De Boer expands on the question of propriety of criticism, which I have looked at throughout this debate.

The whole argument has revealed American progressives at their absolute worst: incurious about the bad consequences of their positions; totally convinced that righteousness in intent can only lead to righteousness in effect; preemptively contemptuous of criticism from the left; dismissive of arguments that they themselves made under the last administration; and ultimately just as partisan as the conservatives they railed against three short years ago.

I want those who profess belief in liberalism and egalitarianism to recognize that they are failing those principles every time they ignore our conduct overseas, or ridicule those who criticize it. What I will settle for is an answer to the question: what would they have us do? If you can’t find it in you to accept our premises, at least consider what you would do if you did. For those of us who oppose our country’s destructive behavior, there is no place to turn that does not result in ridicule. Every conceivable political option has not only been denied by establishment progressives, but entirely dismissed. The idea that one should criticize the President from the left is not just wrong but self-evidently ridiculous. The notion of primarying President Obama is not just wrong but self-evidently ridiculous. The idea of supporting a candidate from a different party is not just wrong but self-evidently ridiculous. Every conceivable path forward, for those of us who demand change in our conduct overseas, is preemptively denied. I want my country to stop killing innocent people. What am I supposed to do?

This earnestness of this objection to the two party straightjacket that many progressives find themselves in is powerful. There are strong pressures from conservatives of both parties to make their ideas normative and marginalize actual liberal politicians. Sadly this is often adopted by ostensible liberals as well (as De Boer reminds us with reference to Sanders and Kucinich). In the eyes of political partisans, there is just no appropriate way for objections to be noted, outside of the Democratic Party’s own processes (excluding primaries) or private, off-the-record meetings with administration officials.

This is the heart of the tension within the American left today. I see it as very much tied to the duel problems of the Democratic Party being the sole instantiation for affecting progressive change and the failure of the Democratic Party and its leaders to map their ideological goals onto liberalism. In the absence of a political party which can stop us from killing innocent people, as De Boer asks, what options are there? What is appropriate? Or will the desire to confront these policies and the leaders who enact them meant to fail to find any outlet, as something which must be forced back into the closet where we can wear its shame in private? I don’t have a solution to the incuriousness of our citizenry, let alone of Democratic partisans. But I don’t see an alternative to continuing to raise these issues over the objections of pearl clutchers who want to silence criticism from the left.

On Wikileaks

I think Digby has written the best piece on why Wikileaks is important and what stance progressives should hold towards it. This passage is of note:

It’s true that much of what’s been revealed in the last year has pertained to US foreign policy, but the US is the world’s superpower, spending more on its military than the rest of the world combined, has more global interests and more connections. It’s natural that it would be a primary subject for such revelations. But that doesn’t mean that Wikileaks is only interested in the US or is working on behalf of others to bring it down. Remember, it’s certain Americans who have felt compelled to reveal these secrets about out country. Why the messenger should be shot is beyond me.


People feel very strongly about this on all sides and that’s fine. But I do think that there is one thing we should all agree on: the appalling open calls for Julian Assange’s assassination are barbaric authoritarianism at its worst. (The obvious attempt to smear him as a sexual predator for alleged condom failure fall into the same category.) The man put some documents on the internet and there is a vigorous global debate going on about it. If there was ever a case for public servants and the media (which should all clearly be on the side of Wikileaks, in my opinion) to be circumspect in their language it’s in this case. I’m astonished that these calls for murder are so casually accepted. (But then, we are living in a country in which torture is accepted, so I’m probably foolish to keep clinging to these silly notions about civilized, democratic behavior.)

PFC Manning is known to have leaked documents to Assange. He has been arrested and faces court martial and a very long jail term if convicted.  Wikileaks is just a messenger and not the only one (eg., the Guardian provided the New York Times with this round of documents the US paper of record has reported on). Given that the leaks are in no ways exclusively damaging to the US, but most other major governments of the world, it’s really hard for me to get the hysteria around Wikileaks as being particularly anti-American. Throw in that there are as of yet no documented cases of people being hurt or killed as a result of the leaks and I think this is not much more than powerful people (mostly governments) coming together to defend themselves from facing public scrutiny. That the reaction from Western governments and the Chinese government is functionally the same is both disturbing and telling of the commonalities between threatened elite power structures, regardless of what governmental system they exist in.

Alive in Afghanistan

Just in time for tomorrow’s presidential election in Afghanistan, Brian Conley and friends have launched Alive in Afghanistan, a site that allows distributed reporting of incidents in the political process such as problems voting, illegal campaigning, vote tampering, and threats of violence. They collect data via SMS, email, and the web.

It’s a great project built on incredible technology and and the firm belief in transparency as a means of strengthening the civic process.

Israel Using Cluster Munitions In Gaza

Gaza explosions

Photo from Times UK

A friend who used to be in the military sent me this photo of cluster munitions, fired by Israel, into urban Gaza. They’re using DPICMs, which are the artillery version of cluster bombs. In a densely populated urban area, Israel is using weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants.

I’ve generally avoided writing about Israel over my years blogging, in part because of how contentious a subject matter it is online. I’ve found that the current fighting in Gaza has brought out similar divides – with either Israel being an unparalleled evil or Palestinians being unrepentant terrorists. But in seeing the Israeli government using cluster munitions against urban populations, knowing full well that they cannot do anything other hit harm innocent people, I’m at a breaking point. This is beyond unacceptable and it’s horrifying that there is not political will in the American governing class to condemn what are unquestionably war crimes by Israel.


It now appears that the cluster busters pictured above are not DPICMs, but rather white phosphorus.  This is equally appalling as the use of cluster munitions, as when used in the context above – an air burst, not a marker – it still burns indiscriminately. These are not weapons that are “smart”. They are being used against a civilian population. From the Times UK:

The Geneva Treaty of 1980 stipulates that white phosphorus should not be used as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but there is no blanket ban under international law on its use as a smokescreen or for illumination. However, Charles Heyman, a military expert and former major in the British Army, said: “If white phosphorus was deliberately fired at a crowd of people someone would end up in The Hague. White phosphorus is also a terror weapon. The descending blobs of phosphorus will burn when in contact with skin.”

Apologies for the mis-identification of the photo above as DPICMs. But I now have confirmation from two former artillery soldiers that this is in fact white phosphorus. That said, there are still reports that Israel is using cluster bombs in Gaza separate from what the Times documented in this photograph.

Very Late Update:

In the comments Conor Eaton-Smith points out an AP story where the Red Cross states that they do not think Israel’s use of white phosphorous in Gaza is illegal.

The international Red Cross said Tuesday that Israel has fired white phosphorus shells in its offensive in the Gaza Strip, but has no evidence to suggest it is being used improperly or illegally.

The comments came after a human rights organization accused the Jewish state of using the incendiary agent, which ignites when it strikes the skin and burns straight through or until it is cut off from oxygen. It can cause horrific injuries.

The International Committee of the Red Cross urged Israel to exercise “extreme caution” in using the incendiary agent, which is used to illuminate targets at night or create a smoke screen for day attacks, said Peter Herby, the head of the organization’s mines-arms unit.

“In some of the strikes in Gaza it’s pretty clear that phosphorus was used,” Herby told The Associated Press. “But it’s not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to suggest it’s being used in any other way.”

Glad to see that the concern raised above regarding the specific use of white phosophorous or cluster munitions on civilian populations was in the end not warranted.

It certainly is reassuring to know that the 900+ Palestinians killed during Israel’s offensive (13 Israelis have also died) were killed by lawful weapons in lawful ways.

Interrogation Op-Ed

Matthew Alexander, a former Air Force interrogator who worked in Afghanistan and Iraq questioning Al Qaeda suspects, has a powerful op-ed in the LA Times. Alexander makes a convincing argument that torture does not work and must be ended. Alexander writes:

Good interrogation is not an exercise in domination or control. It’s an opportunity for negotiation and compromise. It’s a common ground where the two sides in this war meet, and it’s a grand stage where words become giants, tears flow like rivers and emotions rage like wildfires. It is a forum in which we should always display America’s strengths — cultural understanding, tolerance, compassion and intellect. But that’s not how all interrogators see their role.

According to a recent report from the bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee, “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot be attributed to the actions of a ‘few bad apples’ acting on their own.” The effects of the policy that allowed torture to happen at Guantanamo Bay, the report concluded, spread to Iraq through the interrogators who had first been at Guantanamo. The preference for harsh interrogation techniques was extremely counterproductive and harmed our ability to obtain cooperation from Al Qaeda detainees. Even after the old guard interrogators were forced to play by the rules of the Geneva Convention, there was still plenty of leeway for interrogation methods based on fear and control. I believe their continued reliance on such techniques has severely hampered our ability to stop terrorist attacks against U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians.

We will win this war by being smarter, not harsher. For those who would accuse me of being too nice to our enemies, I encourage you to examine our success in hunting down Zarqawi and his network. The drop in suicide bombings in Iraq at two points in the spring and summer of 2006 was a direct result of our smarter interrogation methods.

I used to tell my team in Iraq: “The things that make you a good American are the things that will make you a good interrogator.” We must outlaw torture across every agency of our government, restore our adherence to the American principles passed down to us and, in doing so, better protect Americans from future terrorist attacks.

We are safer when we use intelligent questioning and trust building forms of interrogation. Those work. Torture doesn’t.

Dodd on Castro

Senator Dodd issued the following statement on Fidel Castro’s decision to step aside:

“The United States’ embargo on Cuba is one of the most backward and ineffective foreign policies in history. Today, America has an opportunity to finally turn a new page. We must begin the process of opening up diplomatic and commercial relations with Havana, and help Cuba and the United States transition to a new era and relationship – one of freedom, democracy, and prosperity for the Cuban people, and one of mutual respect between our two nations.”

Dodd’s Cuba policy received great praise on the campaign trail. You can read it here.

Steve Clemons has issued a challenge to the Democratic presidential candidates to offer a transformational vision to US-Cuba policy.  Clemons writes:

This is a huge potential pivot point in US-Cuba relations. Will Hillary Clinton step up to the plate — and will Obama move beyond the somewhat timid proposals he offered previously and go to the gold standard in US-Cuba relations articulated by Senator Chris Dodd?

It would be great to see Clinton and Obama adopt similar Cuba stance to Dodd’s.  Obama comes closer to offering a change in policy, but Clinton has essentially promised to continue our current nonsensical policy towards Cuba. At this point, neither seem sufficient for shaping what direction America should go in our relationship with Cuba.