Saturday, June 16, 2012

How the President's "Kill List" Exposes Our Current Political Dysfunction

I have only been around this earth for 36 years, but at least in that time I have never lived in a period when our nation's politics have been so divided, crazy, and downright dysfunctional.  Things have become so surreal and disheartening that I have pretty much stopped writing about politics for this blog.    Every now and again, however, there is a moment in our political life that actually lends itself to analysis, rather than pulling out my hair or plugging my ears and screaming in agony.  (The "private sector is doing fine" misrepresentation and its aftermath is one of these wretched kerfuffles that seem to pop up on a weekly basis.)

Two weeks ago the New York Times revealed leaked information about the president's secret anti-terror policies, including a "kill list" of suspected terrorists used to determine targets of what amount to assassinations.  Even more disturbing, the government's claims to have minimized civilian casualties in these drone strikes were undercut by the newly revealed fact that all men of military age in the vicinity of these strikes were labeled terrorists.  (This is an eerie parallel of America's war in the Philippines in the early 20th century, when all Filipino men over the age of ten were labeled insurrectionists.)  It is apparent that president Obama has been overseeing a secret war on al-Qaeda, one with far-ranging implications using highly questionable methods.

I am not going to debate the merits of the policy in this post, but instead point to what it reveals about our current political life.  In the first place, the president's enemies, who normally attack whatever he does, found themselves in a quandary, since they had whole-heartedly supported the Bush administration's extra-legal tactics of torture, extraordinary rendition, and secret prisons.  Instead of going after the president for having a kill list and engaging in targeted assassinations, they accused his administration of deliberately leaking the information in order to make him look good!  On the other hand, many folks on the Left, like myself, are disturbed and outraged by the president's policy, but that outrage seems to have little to no impact on the public discourse.  Much of this has to do with the fact that progressives are mortified of criticizing the president, even when he does things they greatly disapprove of, out of fear of giving ammunition to his rabid enemies.  Essentially, our country's principles have become so debased by the decade-long War on Terror that the president can be exposed in the act of ordering targeted assassinations (including an American citizen) in nations where the US is not officially at war, and few people seem to care, much less object.

The Republican response has been surreal, and fitting with the ideological death-trip that party has been on since Obama's election.  They have accused the president of leaking the information to make himself look like a "strong leader," without a single shred of evidence to back up their point.  In truth, they are mortified because they have beating the drum of Democratic "weakness" in foreign policy ever since the days of Jimmy Carter.  That narrative is what helped put George W. Bush over the top in 2004, but now it's been undercut by the death of bin Laden and these recent revelations.  Of course, reality is no inhibitor to the conservative movement, and since people on the Right can't assimilate the facts of the Obama presidency's terrorism policy with their belief that he is "weak," they are just lashing out and throwing a tantrum.  Their hatred of the president is palpable, and even when he enacts policies that they actually approve of, it just makes conservatives that much crazier, because it calls their rhetoric of the president being "anti-American" into question.

We have a president who has engaged in policies that are anathema to many in his base, and yet he is getting most of the flak from the people who actually support those policies.   Those who object most to the president's actions have been largely mute out of fear of his enemies.  Journalists have revealed to the American people a secret and dirty war fought in their name, and they don't seem to care.  Our nation should be having a serious discussion about the "War on Terror" and where its limits ought to be, instead the same useless mud pie fight continues.  I am having an increasingly difficult time mustering the urge to care about it anymore.

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