Thursday, December 03, 2009

Oddly Enough, I Feel Better:

Glenzilla on Obama--

But there was almost none of that in last night’s speech. As Ben Smith correctly notes, Obama did not even mention — let alone hype — the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan. There were no grandiose claims that the justness of the war derives from our desire to defeat evil, tyrannical extremists and replace them with more humane and democratic leaders. To the contrary, he was commendably blunt that our true goal is not to improve the lives of Afghan citizens but rather: ”Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda.” There were no promises to guarantee freedom and human rights to the Afghan people. To the contrary, he explicitly rejected a mission of broad nation-building “because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests“; he said he “refuse[d] to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests”; and even vowed to incorporate the convertible factions of the Taliban into the government.

Not only did he refrain from those manipulative appeals, he made explicitly clear that we are in Afghanistan to serve our own interests (as he perceives them), not to build a better nation for Afghans. Nation-building, he said, goes “beyond … what we need to achieve to secure our interests” and “go beyond our responsibility.” We’re there to serve our interests and do nothing else. That should throw cold water on all on the preening fantasies of all but the blindest and most naive “liberal war supporters” that we’re there to help the Afghan people.

Independent of motive, it is also quite unlikely that helping Afghans will be the unintended result of our ongoing war there. Just as was true in Iraq — where we bribed and befriended religious extremists and others we spent years demonizing as “Terrorists,” and now protect a government that is extremely oppressive to women, Christians and gays, and brutally violative of human rights in general — we will do whatever benefits us and serves our interests in Afghanistan, even if that means empowering brutal, oppressive and misogynistic fanatics as long as they are willing to carry out our geopolitical directives. Many of the warlords and other local religious extremists on whom we’re already relying and will now use even more are hardly distinguishable from the Taliban on human rights issues. We’re not there on a charity mission but are there to advance what we think are our interests. That’s why some of the most oppressive governments in the Middle East will continue to be our most stalwart allies. [...]

But if Obama’s approach — reflective of the Republican “realists” to whom he seems to listen most — slays the pervasive, preening “liberal hawk” fantasy that we invade and bomb other countries in order to help them, that will at least be an important value. With some extremely rare historical exceptions, governments start and wage wars in order to benefit themselves, not to “help” the people in the countries which are being invaded and bombed. We’ve proven so many times as to place it beyond dispute that we’re more than willing to support and empower foreign leaders who do our bidding regardless of how they treat their own citizens. That didn’t change when we had a swaggering, cowboy-hat-wearing, evangelical moralizer in the Oval Office, and it’s not going to change just because he’s been replaced by a charming, nice, eloquent, East-Coast-educated Democrat.

The claim that we must stay in Afghanistan in order to reduce genuine threats to our security is at least cogent, though ultimately very unpersuasive. But the claim that we’re fulfilling some sort of moral responsibility to the plight of Afghans by continuing to occupy, bomb and wage war in their country — and by imprisoning them en masse with no charges — is sheer self-glorifying fantasy. Some credit is due Obama for refusing to promote that fantasy last night when doing so might have helped his case. Now that the “Commander-in-Chief” who is prosecuting the war has largely dispensed with this fictitious rationale, will other war supporters do so as well?

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