Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wouldn't it be better to stop enabling dictators rather than bombing them when they turn evil?

Is it true that when all you have are bombs, everything starts to look like a target? The U.S. has a long history of supporting (giving money, weapons and training) to brutal dictatorships, and then having to turn our own military upon them later on. Maybe George Orwell was prescient in the book 1984 when he wrote about shifting alliances between world powers causing them to rewrite history books to justify warring against former allies. But it's ludicrous, wasteful and immoral to be propping up a government in one moment, and the next moment launching war against it in the next. But, it's happened time and again.

The current examples are Libya, Yemen, perhaps Bahrain, and this strained relationship with Pakistan. The most curious of those is Libya which was the subject of an article on Alternet.Org a couple months ago, which I posted on facebook, prompting a rather interesting exchange among some of my friends, which I've been meaning to write up ever since, and somehow even two months later the ideas are just as poignant as they were two months ago.

The article: Instead of Bombing Dictators in Libya and Around the World, Stop Selling Them Bombs It was written shortly after the wave of Facebook-fueled-Arab-protests-leading-to-toppled-Arab-governments landed in Libya, and rather than allow a popular uprising to topple his government Muammar Gaddafi responded with guns and tanks and airplanes turned upon Libya's own citizens. The "world community" responded with denunciations which over the course of a couple weeks turned into Western forces militarily supporting the "rebels" in Libya with cruise missles, and other air support, but no western boots touching Libya soil.

If your only memory of Libya is hearing them blamed for the Lockerbie bombing (an airplane that had an on-board bomb which blew up while the plane was above Lockerbie Scotland), or maybe being part of GW Bush's Axis of Evil, maybe you're confused to hear me describe them as a western ally. Fact is that a few years ago they foreswore their nuclear program and in exchange became allied with the Western conglomerate of countries. That put Libya on the gravy train of receiving Western assistance, including military assistance.

When President Barack Obama announced "we" would not "stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and ... where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government," the weapons being used by Gaddafi's troops had been sold to him by Western powers. Yes Obama's statement was eloquent and moving, but the hypocracy is poignant.

From the Alternet.Org article:

In 2009 alone, European governments -- including Britain and France -- sold Libya more than $470 million worth of weapons, including fighter jets, guns and bombs. And before it started calling for regime change, the Obama administration was working to provide the Libyan dictator another $77 million in weapons, on top of the $17 million it provided in 2009 and the $46 million the Bush administration provided in 2008.

And:

Meanwhile, for dictatorial regimes in Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, U.S. support continues to this day. On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even gave the U.S. stamp of approval to the brutal crackdown on protesters in Bahrain, saying the country’s authoritarian rulers “obviously” had the “sovereign right” to invite troops from Saudi Arabia to occupy their country and carry out human rights abuses, including attacks on injured protesters as they lay in their hospital beds.

The article went on to say Yemen "has received more than $300 million in military aid from the U.S. over the last five years" and it's not just the Yemeni government carrying out atrocities in Yemen, "one American bombing raid last year taking out 41 Yemeni civilians, including 14 women and 21 children". Further "The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute documented that Washington accounted for 54 percent of arms sales to Persian Gulf states between 2005 and 2009."

In other words, the U.S. is spending a lot of money supporting these dictatorial Arab governments, supplying them arms, and currently we see (in some cases) those arms being used against the civilian populations.

The article concludes "The U.S. government need not drop a single bomb in the Middle East to help liberate oppressed people. All it need do is stop selling bombs to their oppressors." Amen, for the record I agree completely.

Now, let's turn to the debate my friends had because they really captured three different points of view:

  • me) we support the system as it is, warts and all, therefore because we don't join together to act to change the system that makes us responsible;
  • Tony) yeah the system is flawed but our creeps are better than their creeps so that makes us okay;
  • Bart) they aren't our creeps at all, and it's out of our hands because the real decisions are made by people who aren't responsible to our approval ...

Let's take Tony's position first. Nothing personal Tony, but I disagree of course. His argument is that for example Muburak (one of "our creeps") willingly stepped down while Gadaffi (never one of "our creeps") is mowing down civilians. Uh.. One of the factoids surrounding Egypt is their use of torture against their civilians and the 30+ years of military rule under emergency laws. Egypt is one of the countries to which the Bush Administration outsourced torture during the "extraordinary rendition" program. Torture is not something to be dismissed as "enhanced interrogation", torture is illegal. I found this article and am sure more could be found: WikiLeaks: Egyptian 'torturers' trained by FBI; The US provided officers from the Egyptian secret police with training at the FBI, despite allegations that they routinely tortured detainees and suppressed political opposition.

It's not just Egypt but there are plenty of other examples. One was that guy in Iraq we demonized and toppled his government a few years ago. A few years before that the U.S. was selling him arms, Donald Rumsfeld was shaking his hand, in the name of supporting Iraq in their war against Iran. But the same stuff the U.S. sold to Iraq was in turn used against their own population and then later was used as one of the lame excuses for the illegal invasion of Iraq whose purpose was to topple that government.

Pakistan is a weird example. We have treated them as an ally, but at the same time their head of nuclear weapons development was actively selling nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, Libya and other countries. At the same time Osama bin Laden was living in a luxury home in a military town in Pakistan, a curious location to find a man who was supposed to be hunkered down in a tent in the mountains shaking in his boots every time a drone aircraft flew overhead.

In other words - the history of this is not good, and to my mind creeps are creeps period. Hurm.. that may be a bit extreme because there are degrees of creephood and creeps can reform themselves. But, paying someone to be your creep doesn't mean they'll always be your creep. They may have changing alliances of their own which throws them out of favor with you. Or your changing alliances may convert them into an enemy.

Bart's position is rather pragmatic and I find it rather compelling. Basically the system is rigged against us little people. The system is run by the elites who have whatever agenda and they're acting to protect their business interests or whatnot, and our concerns don't enter their minds. They're playing global power games moving chess pieces around without realizing what the effects are.

Bart talked about "special interests" lobbying for particular government actions or policies. That it's the special interests skewing the results with these power games. Tony's response was "Is there any power structure that isn't surrounded by special interests?" He asked us to compare the Soviet era brutal governments, or North Korea's "communist fun house" against "our creeps". Those are great points.

As interesting as those examples are, I don't buy it. Where I stand is something akin to moral responsibility. Unlike Bart, I'm not willing to wash my hands of responsibility just because some elite is doing this without my approval.

Just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq a series of anti-war protest rallies were held under the them of "Not in My Name". The idea is that it was recognized after the Sept 11 2001 attacks, that the Elites were going to use that as an excuse to launch an endless war against the military tactic known as Terrorism. How can you fight a war against a military tactic? Ludicrous. Anyway, 10 years later and it's obvious that indeed we're facing an endless state of war so that the military industrial complex can keep selling armaments. But the point of raising the "Not in My Name" meme is that the Elites doing this are doing it in our name. That is, the wars are being conducted under an assumption of approval and pretension that they're doing it for us for our benefit, when in reality they're doing it for their power games. The problem is there's no effective way of voicing disapproval and in any case half the country is in a state of delusion believing the lies spouted by the likes of Fox News.

To me it's clear - I'm participating in the system, even if the system is a charade. That puts responsibility for the system partially on me because. Because I disagree with the system as it stands what happens if I sit back into a cozy lifestyle offered to me? That's worse than being responsible, it's being irresponsible, especially when the system is causing such egregious political and environmental harm around the world. It's one thing to be dumb and ignorant about the harm our lifestyle is causing, it's another thing to know about it and do nothing.

Those "Not in my Name" protests asked us to say "You are not going to wage endless war in our name". That sort of stand is the beginning of taking responsibility for a different outcome than passively allowing the elites to run roughshod over the world.