Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Gitmo blues

Each day I anxiously check my email inbox for the latest humorous justification of our president’s daffy policies. Last week I was regaled with an essay by Charlie Daniels explaining that the Guantanamo prison camp should be a source of pride for America.

You can follow this link, but the upshot is that these detainees are “killers and terrorists” who are being “fed well” and obtaining “quality medical care” therefore the “left” should just shut up about the unconstitutionality of the prison camp. He then takes the opportunity to bring up Bill Clinton’s deficiencies as the reason for terrorism in the first place. Daniels finishes his senseless diatribe with a potshot at (almost) all lawyers -- his lawyer, of course, is among the few reasonable ones(!) Mr. Daniels conveniently left out this reference about the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose report last fall documented torture in contradiction to both the Geneva Conventions and the US Constitution.

The essay speaks for itself on the utter inability for Bushies to find rational evidence that the current administration policies are achieving anything in accordance with the stated purpose of this nation. Therefore, they send emotional essays designed to garner support for Mr. Bush’s failing policies, such as his Maoist internment camp. I can understand carefully rationalizing Gitmo on the grounds of national security as a temporary means to an eventual end. But instead, Daniels recklessly tries to make the case that the detainees are “better off” by being incarcerated, with no hesitation at all in abrogating human rights based only on some unknown allegations and wildly implying that Constitutional and human rights can be abridged by the fiat of one man. C’mon, Charlie, you must certainly have heard of Solzhenitsyn and the Soviet Gulag Archipelago and winced at the prospect of the government’s proverbial midnight knock on the door followed by the disappearance of fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins into decades’ long internment with no day in court. As Americans who have lived through the cold war, we must all still remember the disdain with which we greeted such horror stories and a previous US president who referred to it’s perpetrators as the “evil empire.” Are we now sending our own young men and women to fight wars in order to justify similar imprisonment at the hands of our own government? On the one hand, I read such email because it keeps me abreast of what the unwashed masses are percolating through their tiny redneck minds. But frankly, some things I would rather not know; this world is scary enough without Mr. Daniels sharpening the fine point of our national misdirection.

The Bush supporters who send such trash are monolithic in their wanton lack of insight regarding history and the failures of previous empires. If only one could seek the counsel of Caesar Augustus or Winston Churchill on the folly of trying to impose outside government in the Near East. I imagine that the Bush supporters are emboldened by the recent elections in Iraq as proof of the impending success of the president’s experiment in pre-emption and imposed democracy. Any student of history will tell you that we are in the second inning of this game, and their best hitters are just warming up. The resentment and strife caused by US’ heavy-handed support of despots does not go unnoticed among the masses in that part of the world. I would recommend the reading of Thucydides’ classic The Peloponnesian Wars (or at least review the Cliff’s notes) for further evidence of the difficulties of imposed government and peace through force. For a more readable review of the history of such failed missions, John Judis’ recent Folly of Empire would be appropriate.

Somehow, however, I have a feeling that anybody who would go to the trouble of actually emailing an essay about Constitutional law by Charlie Daniels is certainly not interested in any type of intellectual distillation of history. I can imagine this person reading Daniels’ rant and thinking, “Hmmm, this makes so much sense. I just have to email it everyone I know so they can feel proud of Bush shredding the Constitution, too.” Weird.

Over the past several years, I have become amazed at the utter lack of curiosity by the most vocal Bush supporters. My email inbox has been the resting place of innumerable anti-Hillary cartoons and John Kerry jokes, but rarely is a serious policy piece sent or discussed. At times I have been encouraged that the diatribes were meant just to get a response out of the opposition (i.e., me), and perhaps that was the primary purpose of the Daniels email. But on further review of past emails and discussion, I can honestly say that almost no thoughtful discussion has taken place. I love jokes and sarcasm as much as the next guy, but an occasional Dan Henninger or Charles Krauthammer opinion could provide some meat to chew on. Instead, prior to the Iraq War in 2003, this same emailer who forwarded the Daniels piece sent an article by a stockbroker stating that we had to attack Iraq because it would have been too expensive to bring the soldiers home now after all the trouble of deploying them during the winter of 2002-03. Then, of course, the author finished his spiel about how March of 2003 was a “great time” to start buying stocks. Sales pitches by stockbrokers seem to pass for policy discussion about the most important decisions made by our president. No wonder Bush got re-elected after such a total cluster fuck of a first term.

Needless to say, I am increasingly unimpressed with the dialogue by Bush supporters such as Mr. Daniels and the current emailer. Almost all of it is sophomoric blather that is based on irrational beliefs or jingoist emotion. Whether it’s abstinence-only education and the perceived value of faith-based federal programs or the fatal miscalculation that US soldiers would be warmly greeted as “liberators” in Iraq, Bush and his ilk seem to fail on every argument. The latest salvo against the Social Security pseudo-crisis is another testament to irrational fear mongering and lack of insight. Imagine what the $200 billion dollars wasted in Iraq could have done to shore up Social Security (or Medicare, or Medicaid, or any one of about 20 federal programs that are probably in worse shape than Social Security.)

The American people are a forgiving lot. Most seem to favor the simplistic way Bush envisions the world without seeing the absurdity of it. After the US supported Saddam, the Shah of Iran and the Saudi despots for several decades, Bush and 52% of the American people actually thought that the Iraqi people would throw flower petals the as the US soldiers paraded in their tanks and half-tracks down streets of Baghdad. How simple. How beautiful. How predictably wrong. You can say what you want about Clinton, but he was never that stupid. Even the usually delusional French look downright lucid next to the Bushies.

I will wrap this up. In the future, while you are perusing the Wall Street Journal, AP reports and the Washington Post, perhaps a quick forward of a valid opinion piece would be in order. I’m pretty sure our nation doesn’t need legal advice from the country music crowd. What’s next, fellas, a personal finance seminar by Neil Bush?

1 comment:

NYC_JD said...

Charlie Daniels notwithstanding, I’m starting to see some cracks in the foundation of the usually resilient Democratic edifice of reason. My good friend Grodge, who is always very erudite on the issues of the day, may finally being showing signs of strain: to scream bloody murder over a country music star’s Constitutional surmise seems beneath you. The real story in your friend sending such an email is that the war of ideas is over. And, Mr. Grodge (or is it Dr. Grodge?), you have lost. When Joe Sixpack can support imprisonment of foreign nationals “for their own good” then the dialogue is over.

Now, I happen to agree with the “daffy” policies of the president, and I happen to respect the controversial tactics that have been undertaken to ensure their success. If there are bad actors in the world, we are not obligated to allow them to destroy us. I also believe that the Constitution is important, but as one US Attorney has said, it is not a suicide pact. The courts will decide what is Constitutional and what is not, and so far they are agreeing with the president. (The cases of US citizens being held such as Jose Padilla are murkier, and a recent court decision in South Carolina may effect a formal grand jury indictment for Padilla.) Charlie Daniels may not be a learned judge, but he is an astute student of human nature, and he has read the tea leaves of the people who buy his music CD’s: talk tough and kick ass-- I envision your buddy buying a “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag” CD as I write. I prefer Wagner or Bach, but I’m OK with kindred spirits having varying tastes: De gustibus non dsiputandem est.

I do not have any pointy-headed intellectual rationale for favoring the current tack by the president, nor can I read into the future and analyze how each scenario will play out. But I agree with Bush for one very good reason, and in fact, the only reason that matters: I think that it may benefit me directly, and conversely, it will not hurt me personally. Democracy (or republicanism to be more exact) in the USA is founded on the principle that the citizens are expected to vote in their own personal best interests, without exhausting all the “what ifs” of how every single decision by the chief executive is going to affect every single other person on the planet. The courts will determine what is allowed, and what is not, and will take into account the rights of the individuals involved. I trust that if I were spirited away by jack-booted thugs employed by the US government, then the courts would find in my favor. Why? Because I trust the system. And so does Charlie Daniels, and so should you.

The primacy of self-interest has been true throughout the history of democracy, and every conservative commentator from Ed Burke to Pat Buchanan recognizes the necessity of self-interest. Solzhenitsyn and the Chinese living under Mao, who did not have a system that they could trust, were right to dissent, defect to the West or eventually revolt. Likewise, you may do the same now if you please, but realize that you are acting in contradistinction to the conservative pro-democracy principles as articulated by our forebears. Slaveowners fought abolition, African-Americans fought for civil rights, the elderly fought for Social Security, farmers vote for farm subsidies and steel company owners vote for candidates who favor tariffs; all because they are voting for their personal self-interest. That’s American as apple pie, my friend.

I voted for Bush for myriad interests (tax cuts, oil interests, anti-terrorism, etc), but they were all my self-interests. Are there things Bush has done with which I disagree? Sure, but they are minor compared to the $40K I’ve saved in taxes and the tripling of the oil stock value in my retirement portfolio. Do I really care if a bunch of Muslims cool their heels in a prison camp for a few years while we sort out their rights? Sure, but only very secondarily to all the rest. Do I care that the US economy may suffer the consequences of budget deficits and a poorly educated underclass over the next generation? Yes, but that is remediable for me by putting my cash in Euros and getting my kids into good private schools. Would it bother me if the US becomes the policeman for the world and 75% of our federal budget goes to the military? Somewhat, and if I had young adult kids who had decreasing job prospects outside the military, or was unable to buy gold and military suppliers’ stock, then I may see the world very differently-- but there is no way for me to project those impossible feelings onto my current situation.

Back to Charlie Daniels: I’m not really sure if his motivation is to sell CD’s to rednecks or if he really feels threatened by Muslims, or if he’s being paid by the Bush administration to promote their agenda, and frankly, I do not care. The most important thing to realize is that average citizens such as your email friend are sending this out into cyberspace and such an action is a seminal event in the current war of ideas. When average Americans such as your email friend can argue that abridging another person’s rights not only benefits US citizens, but is actually beneficial to the inmate, then we have reached a point whereby the Bush administration (and by representation, I) can claim victory. My advice to you is to follow my lead, and that of the Bush family, and take the self-serving actions outlined in the preceding paragraph—it’s the only patriotic thing to do. Thank you for making me aware of this dialogue, it has made my day.
Signed, NYC_JD