Monday, June 25, 2012

Jimmy Carter And The Sad State Of The American Way

Caption: President Jimmy Carter speaking at the LBJ Library, February, 2011.

Image credit: U.S. National Archives/Wikimedia

In a "Quote Of The Day" three weeks ago, I wrote that there were few prominent progressives these days who have openly criticized the Obama Administration's abysmal record on human rights, and on the seemingly unlimited use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, more commonly referred to as "drone") attacks on people who may or may not have had something to do with terrorism. Sunday in the New York Times, a very prominent progressive added his name to the list:

While the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change from the past. With leadership from the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.

A Cruel and Unusual Record

The op-ed was written by President Jimmy Carter. That paragraph is pure Jimmy Carter - idealistic almost to the point of not recognizing some basic truths. One of Carter's catch phrases when he was running for President was that America's foreign policy should reflect the morality of its people. I sometimes think it does even today, given what some of us think should be our foreign policy. What's more, as a read through the chapters covering our Senate's reluctant signing of the U.N. declaration on genocide in Samantha Powers' A Problem From Hell should remind us, our path to signing onto things like the U.N. Declaration has often been a rocky one.

Caption: Detainees arriving at Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Jan. 11, 2002. Just one example of how we've broken our own rules lately, because they weren't convenient.

Image credit: Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy/Wikimedia

Still, I like to think that, at heart, we're a people who want to elect leaders wise enough to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, and who will respect the rights of their own citizens even if that's a rather inconvenient practice. Neither is the case today, as President Carter goes on to remind us:

In addition to American citizens’ being targeted for assassination or indefinite detention, recent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications. Popular state laws permit detaining individuals because of their appearance, where they worship or with whom they associate.

Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable. After more than 30 airstrikes on civilian homes this year in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that are not in any war zone. We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.

These policies clearly affect American foreign policy. Top intelligence and military officials, as well as rights defenders in targeted areas, affirm that the great escalation in drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior.

A Cruel and Unusual Record

Caption: A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper UAV, in 2007. It's air power without consequences, at least for the people deciding whether to use them or not.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Wikimedia

That last paragraph explains why concern over innocent deaths isn't just some namby-pamby librul value. Every dead innocent, in a country where people are inclined to distrust us anyway, is one more blow for future terrorism. Only bigots who think that somehow other people will be cowed or subservient in situations where we wouldn't accept such things would think otherwise.

As someone who voted for John Andersen back in 1980 because he was appalled at Carter's inability to run the government, I have to say that the guy has made up for those mistakes since then. As Glenn Greenwald noted in passing, he earned his Nobel Peace Prize, in contrast to a more recent winner.

He certainly demonstrated yesterday that he still deserves that Nobel, if only by being one of the rare people among his party to dissent on this issue publicly. Of course, the man always was an idealist, and that has always made him something of an outsider. That's yet another reason to be suspicious whenever we're lectured by DC insiders about how things really work, and how we just have to be "realists". While I didn't think so quite so much back in 1980, I appreciate that idealism now.


Expat said...

In early 1994, took a page from cold war propaganda and voted with my feet. With the exception of the 2004 election which morally required anyone with the ability to vote to do so (to no avail alas). My experience with the corruption of the courts created deep injury and scars are yet raw. Carter was not of the beltway political racketeers and may be the final president to have some modicum of integrity, much gained after leaving office. Since then, marketing and propaganda have displaced rational considerations in selecting for the office, those providing the funds call the pipers tunes. The corruption of the three branches of government is complete, there are no independent bases of power from which to reverse the coup d'├ętat that has shredded the Constitution and eviscerated any treaty or law that hinders the agenda. Sooner rather than later, the rape and pillage of the country will defeat itself, it is the way of all cancers. This body politic will not survive. What is needed is a survival plan, one that is knowledgable of the ways of politics, of economics, of law, of education and all the tools needed to build a shelter where a new beginning can be started. Failing that, the prognosis is for a mean and impoverished existence in an ecological wasteland.

Cujo359 said...

I have no idea what that plan might be. The problem with chaos is that things are unpredictable, and that's where things seem to be headed.

Expat said...

So there is no far shore to chaos? Is it impossible then to navigate there? The Atlantic is unpredictable and it has been crossed innumerable times, usually successfully.

Cujo359 said...

I'm not sure how literally to take that particular metaphor, but things aren't looking too good on either side of the Atlantic right now. The U.S., Canada, and much of Europe all seem headed for the same iceberg. Some of us will just hit it sooner than others.

I suspect that eventually something positive will arise out of this mess. I just don't see how that will happen at the moment. The outlook really does seem gloomy over here. If there were millions of people in the streets protesting rather than thousands, if Obama were in serious danger of losing at the moment, or if there was a strong progressive movement of some sort out there that wasn't completely owned by the people who are causing the problems, I'd feel differently.

But that's why I keep hammering away at these basic themes. At some point, progressives have to figure out that the future will only be theirs if they're willing to make the effort and take risks. Doing things the old "safe" way isn't working, and until enough progressives figure that out, there's little chance things will change in a way we want them to.

Expat said...

The metaphor was to broaden the horizons being considered, that there are other horizons that may contain answers to the problems of the moment that command complete attention to the exclusion of all else. Obviously a different paradigm of economics is needed, but outside MMT (which I became aware of in the early to mid 60's, so it isn't so modern) there is no movement to reexamine the foundations of economics nor the subsequent development for faulty bits (commissions or omissions). Needless to point out the abysmal knowledge of history extant, today BBC has a report on Mohenjo Daro of the Indus Civilization:

which shows there is a time horizon that contains the record of the human experience, the successes and the failures; are we so sure there is nothing there of value? If that history is obscured by hubristic ignorance, how is it we shall know to look in the first instance. Our knowledge of the written record shows an even greater abyss of knowledge of the human experience, granted that the mass is greater than any one can absorb, collectively this culture is a failure (and proud of it, it seems). Some of the factors needed to construct a different paradigm were mentioned above, it is not an exclusive list by any means, mass psychology and marketing are but two realms not included originally. By happenstance had come across a book in the library, Joseph Chilton Pearce's "The Crack in the Cosmic Egg" (also, "Exploring the Crack in the Cosmic Egg"), which title suggest that there is always something beyond the universe which we are familiar, that is where the survival plan will be found.