(click on photos to enlarge them)
Today, President Obama speaks at West Point. The previous days he’s been in Afghanistan and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. My intention is not to report on what’s already been, or will be, said. You have many independent sources. The White House website will have the actual words. My favorite re-capper of the previous days news six days a week is Just Above Sunset, including the May 27, 2014 post, “Most Likely to Succeed”, from which I take the below pull-quote from the 5th paragraph playing on previous and following paragraphs about graduating from high school, and our propensity to self-select into “tribes” and persist in the insanity of talking “war”.
“…there are no quiet nerds who no one noticed in politics, or not many of them. The job is to display the tribe’s norm, and personify them. For example, Democrats don’t like wars, on principle – we should fight them when we have to, but not fight the when we don’t have to. Obama, long before he ran for president, famously said he wasn’t opposed to all wars, just dumb wars. He had Iraq in mind, not Afghanistan, but even that was heresy to many…Democrats see the sacrifice of our soldiers as worthy of great honor, but often sad. This appalls Republicans. In a nation of warriors the heroic cannot be sad. War makes us who we are, and feats of derring-do to overcome evil [is] pretty damned cool – and we can’t show weakness. That’s a tribal norm and also Obama’s problem. Putin has walked all over him. Everyone has walked all over him. McCain would have bombed Iran the day he took office. Mitt Romney would have eliminated capital gains taxes and then bombed Iran the day he took office. Obama is talking to Iran, and it seems they will end their nuclear weapons program, but he’s doing it the wrong way. Obama should have bombed them. Our military is awesome, from awesome individuals to our whiz-bang secret gizmos – the tribe has said so. We are a Warrior Nation after all – not a nation of diplomats and thinkers.” (emphasis added)
The U.S. functions as a two-party country, Republicans or Democrats, much to the chagrin of purists who’d like more options, but when we watch, listen or read commentary about moving away from deadly combat to solve world problems to something more rational, like negotiations, the commentary will be spun one way or another: Fox News vs MSNBC, etc. And the conversation becomes “Warrior” versus “Diplomat”, or other softer words.
My natural affinity group is “Progressive”, which in days past counted amongst its ranks legions of high profile and highly respected Republicans; but these days seems an outlier on the left who seem to consider both Republicans and Democrats to be twin evils against Peace when, in fact, there are huge and substantive differences (“warriors” versus “diplomats and thinkers”).
The right wing warriors, the Tea Party, have essentially frozen the Republican party in a perpetual radical mode: progressive types need not apply.
On the left, there will be scant celebration of a move to a new reality in our relations with the world: Obama has sold them out; there will still be troops in Afghanistan; and until every sword is beat into ploughshares the protests will continue.
I’m a ploughshares guy who, on the other hand, can see little common sense in not accepting that incremental improvements in a dismal status quo are, indeed, improvements, not simply the lesser of two evils. Since the beginning of his term, I’ve been impressed with President Obama’s skill in managing this impossible to manage country.
Today, most my friends on the Left (and that is where my friends are, mostly), will say about Obama’s words “there he goes again”. You can’t compromise with evil”. Of course, the other side says the exact same thing, though they define “evil” a bit differently. But the Right is more entrenched in positions of power in politics; while those on the Left migrate to fringe groups which have no power at all, except the purity of their position – a story we know all too well.
I’m sure I’ll find disagreement….
My good friend, Ehtasham Anwar, who’s just completing a year of study in the United States before going back to his South Asia home country sees this pretty clearly, I feel. He is troubled by the dichotomy he has experienced: at home in his country, signs of the U.S. “hegemony” are everywhere – us meddling in their affairs in sundry ways. Here in the U.S., on the other hand, he sees a population full of marvelous, peace-loving people. It’s a troubling contradiction to him.
Why the difference?
Can we as a country truly export our best and truest “face”, the face of Peace?
Working towards Peace: it’s well worth truly dialoguing about, often, very seriously, friend-to-friend, opponent-to-opponent. Read Just Above Sunset for a start.
Joyce D, May 28 (commenting on a Letter to the Editor in the St. Paul Pioneer Press May 28)
Original letter follows this response.
Just some quick addenda and a correction to “Blaming Obama” (Letters, May 28.) I would add to the writer’s defense of President Obama the facts that Obama successfully got the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks (GWB, it should be remembered, declared he really wasn’t all that interested in getting Osama bin Laden,) ended our heinous policy of torture, ended the misbegotten war on Iraq and is in the process of ending the war in Afghanistan. At the same time, President Obama used diplomatic means to rid Syria of most of its chemical weapons and to halt nuclear development in Iran, without committing us to more wars. He improved America’s standing in the world, he enabled millions of Americans to access affordable health care for the first time and, though the VA still has an unconscionable backlog, that backlog was dramatically decreased under Eric Shinseki’s leadership, despite the influx of war veterans and the refusal of Republicans in Congress to fund the VA adequately.
The correction: Obama did not vote against invading Iraq as a US Senator. In fact, at that time Obama was still a member of the Illinois legislature. He did, however, speak out forcefully against attacking Iraq, something few politicians had the courage to do. Our current Governor, Mark Dayton, was one of the few brave legislators who had the guts to vote against that damaging war of choice.
The Pioneer Press letter: Blaming Obama
James R. LaFaye, St. Paul
It is impossible for me to read the diatribe in Monday’s Pioneer Press “Opinions” and remain silent. The author is typical of so many hardcore anti-Obama dissidents — long on opinion and short on facts. Ever since Barack Obama became our president, his critics have been dead set on blaming everything but the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination on him. I am sure the letter writer is able to afford his own health care coverage unlike the millions of uninsured Americans who benefit from the Affordable Care Act. Its critics insist on calling it “Obamacare” simply to engender disapproval among like-minded individuals.
“Our foreign policy is a joke.” I guess he would prefer that we return to the policies of the previous administration whose response to the 9/11 tragedy — which occurred on their watch — was to invade Iraq under false pretenses when the perpetrators of this greatest domestic terrorist attack in American history were not even from that country. Maybe the letter writer is upset we haven’t invaded any more countries during Obama’s presidency, like Syria or the Ukraine, to demonstrate America’s invincible might.
Finally, although I am as deeply saddened and upset about the VA debacle as any American, to blame this situation on Obama and the Democrats is absurd. A cursory investigation of the VA’s (or its forerunner’s) history in providing health care services to our Veterans will quickly reveal a long history of malfeasance going back to the Civil War, WWl, WWll, the Korean War and Vietnam, which obviously included many Republican administrations. The current tragic conditions at the VA are only aggravated by the great number of returning disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which wars are attributable to our current president. In fact, as a senator he voted against invading Iraq.
Bruce F, May 28: I agree with you and the Sunset guy about the tribal differences between Democrats & Republicans, Obama & McCain /Romney. I also understand the incremental differences that pass for progress, which displeases me more & more as I move into the last quarter of my life. I think what your friend Ehtasham doesn’t understand is that the friendly American people don’t make foreign policy. That policy is made by corporations through officials that are elected by the friendly American people. The corporate interests are seen as our national interests. It appears to me that both Democrats & Republicans, Obama & McCain/Romney understand that. The hegemony your friend sees is directed through soft power(Obama & the Democrats) or hard power(McCain/Romney & the Republicans). Whether hard power or soft, they are meant to dominate America’s competitors. Make no mistake, hard power will be used by both Democrats & Republicans when soft power options are not effective. Although, the Republicans are less patient.
Peter B, May 30: There are competing narratives gushing at us from every screen and earbud and woofer and tweeter in our environment as the “news cycle” cycles. There is a flavor of opinion for every taste, and a level of sophistication, of nuance, of validation, to satisfy the most rigorous intellect. And not a byte of it makes any difference: let me know when the wars end, the hungry are fed, and the refugees returned. And I’m not being cynical, that is the possible future in which I live and work. I’m just not holding my breath.
Because. Because, you see, all this patter, these “competing narratives” are competing, but not for credibility, as one might assume. but solely for attention. And quantity is what matters, not quality. Any attention, as long as it is of sufficient focus and duration to pay off the advertisers and provide marketing data. That amounts to about a nanosecond apiece, about the amount of difference one person’s opinion makes in any of this. The system does not care what you think, or how you respond; they have what they want before you blink one eyeball.
This system is terribly effective at disabling any seriously dissenting view, that is, any contagion of thinking that might interrupt the parasitic extraction of wealth, by converting any such expression into yet another contender for eyeballs, drowning in the waves of professional reaction to the previous set of reactions to the carefully shallow and belated stories on the Feed. If you have trouble with this notion, get some app like Ghostery on your browser, and see how many marketing analysis ‘bots are tracking you on your favorite political websites.
Omitted from entertainments like NPR and Fox is any insight into the background of this endless repeating sequence of purportedly unrelated disasters; that, or a pale simulacrum of it, is the purview of bloggers in the hierarchic layers of op-ed websites, or bestselling authors flogging this week’s disposable insider look at the Real Deal, or indy filmmakers exposing the seamy undersides of fatcats. By the time one burrows down into the dense language of psuedo-academic think-tanks or even actual academic research, even if the funding trail is transparent, there are only about forty people in that space who can grasp such complexity, or simplicity maybe. And they’re only talking to each other.
All this is quite integral to the machinery of our modern corporate feudalism, because the main purpose of this segment of the enterprise is to entertain us. That means, occupy our attention, encapsulate public discourse; it is far more valuable commodified in the Attention Economy than for any informative content it may hold. And if you wonder how to tell if you are in one of the back-eddies or blind alleys or dead-end sinkholes of irrelevancy for intellectual discourse referred to here, don’t worry, you are: that is what the publishing industry, the telecommunications industry, the entire higher education system, and the internet, have become: that’s where you can still get paid by the word, or actually, the letter.
While we argue over whether Obama is what we think he is, or does what we think he’s doing, the global oil and banking extraction industries grind on, now seamlessly integrated with “our” government, which provides infrastructure and military backing. This is not some sinister world domination scheme concocted by some secret fraternal order. Or maybe it is: but this does not matter at all. As with all such machinery, its highest purpose, the driving force behind it, is no more than to preserve and perpetuate itself, at all costs. It has no functioning awareness or concern for humanity, its creators. Now that it is set in motion, it will run until we stop it, or until there are no commodities left to exploit. And like some retrovirus, it is very, very good at extracting energy even from serious attempts to disable it. We work for it, we feed it, and it feeds some of us, more or less.
This is a problem.