Chalmers Johnson has died. I read Sorrows of Empire in college, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge of him. This is a pretty good overview of his work.
I remember not being impressed with Sorrows. That’s probably a function of what I wanted out of it: a good argument that there was such a thing as an American empire. His definition was looser than mine was, so I wasn’t happy. Plus, he ventured awfully close to 9/11 conspiracy theory. Thinking back, though, it was a better book than I gave it credit for. The extent to which we have military bases around the world is really astonishing and it does us little good. His warnings about what our foreign policy will lead us to resonate with me more now, as I’m less focused on intentionality and more on consequences. I also didn’t realize that Johnson was Right wing, which is a nice commentary on how Left and Right foreign policy critiques can sound pretty similar.
At this point, I think of him more like Andrew Bacevich: probably correct, but I wish he wasn’t.
I’m just going to say that while closing Guantanamo and ending the Iraq war will indeed help against al Qaeda, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 9/11 happened before all that and as long as we still have troops in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, we’re not dealing with the core of the problem. And since Obama has made no noises to that end, his impact will probably be limited. Positive, but limited.
Obama’s been in office almost a week. We seem to be on the march towards some sort of Marxist utopia where government is more transparent, we don’t run secret prisons, and we don’t torture people. Craziness.
Of course, we still have destructive policies regarding Afghanistan and Israel and a terrible economy. Which Obama won’t and can’t fix (respectively).
Could be worse.
I recently finished Andrew Bacevich’s The Limits of Power, which is an excellent book. I’ve been meaning to write a review, as Bacevich is a conservative and there are a couple points that I disagree with, but are interesting to mull over. I still may, but I have to say that this Bloggingheads discussion with Bacevich is much better than my review would be. It hits some of my issues and it’s just really interesting. So if you have an hour, go watch it.
(via Daniel Larison)
We don’t torture people, though.
Also, curse you, overzealous defenders of copyright! I wanted to link to a video of Baltar denying the occupational government tortures people. But no…
According to this guy:
Having been subjected to this technique, I can say: It is risky but not entirely dangerous when applied in training for a very short period. However, when performed on an unsuspecting prisoner, waterboarding is a torture technique – without a doubt. There is no way to sugarcoat it.
Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.
Waterboarding is slow-motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of blackout and expiration. Usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch.
What a pansy that guy is. We all know it’s just like dunking someone in a bucket of water. Our television characters do it all the time and they’re awesome.
Religious scholar Karen Armstrong is offended by ignorance of Islam:
RELIGIOUS scholar Karen Armstrong says she is defending Islam as it has been portrayed inaccurately in many ways, particularly in western countries.
She said when Islam, a religion professed throughout the world, is portrayed inaccurately and misrepresented, it offended her intellectually.
“When Islam is projected incorrectly, inaccurately and distorted, it also gives rise to fundamentalism among certain people.
Let’s just back up here. Islamic fundamentalism was quite strong before 9/11, which was before Islam became an issue to most people. After 9/11, our fuck up in Iraq has done a solid job of keeping fundamentalism strong. Inaccurate criticism of Islam is hardly something to worry about with regard to creating fundamentalists.
Armstrong, a well-known author on world religions, said owing to prejudice and hatred, millions of Jews were killed due to Germany’s Nazi atrocities during the Second World War.
This dark history happened in Germany, a western country which prides itself as being very enlightened.
“But we (the western world) seem to learn nothing (from this) as after that there were concentration camps in Yugoslavia. We seem to be heading for greater darkness,” she said.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think we’re particularly close to tossing Muslims in ovens. In fact, it looks to me like Islamic regimes are far closer to that point. Of course, it would be unfair of me to conflate radical Islamic fundamentalists and your average Muslim.
On the other hand, Armstrong has her priorities out of whack here. The fundamental barrier to a good relationship between the West and Islam is Islamic fundamentalism. What does Armstrong’s hand-wringing do to help that situation? Absolutely nothing. She’s whining about the symptoms when she should be working on defeating the cause.
Let’s start with Jay’s post. He quotes Dave Neiwert to claim that the this was “certain[ly]” a political statement:
What’s clear is that Hamilton fully intended to take as many people with him as possible; that’s why he began by targeting the dispatcher’s office, where he knew he would get police response. And considering his extremist background, it is certain this was intended as some kind of political statement. It was, by most definitions, an act of domestic terrorism.
It’s not certain. That’s a completely absurd statement. As Craig points out, that’s where the shooter’s wife works. It’s perfectly consistent with a personal rampage. It’s absolutely not anything approaching “certain.”
Jay then tries to spin the whole thing into a lesson that we should take Islamic terrorism less seriously:
Furthermore, 42% of Christians consider themselves “Christians first,” not “Americans first.”
And in a post today, Greenwald notes that Americans in general are much more likely to support the killing of civilians for political purposes (51%) than U.S. Muslims (13%) and even Iranians (16%).
Do I think that all American Christians are sadistic terrorists? Of course not. That would be a simplistic generalization based on a few isolated events. In other words, the same type of generalization that has created the idea of a worldwide “culture war” pitting “Islamicists” against “civilized nations.”
Yes, the most repressive regimes on the planet are Islamist and Islamist terrorist groups are by far the largest that are bent on attacking us. Just a few isolated incidents, ya see. No cause for alarm.
You can make the case that terrorism in general is over-hyped. It is, to some degree. But to inflate right-wing terrorism in the U.S. to anything approaching radical Islam is completely asinine. To say that Islamist thought is not in conflict with the values of civilized (I don’t like using that word here, but it works) nations (you know, human rights, liberty, democracy…) is extremely myopic.
Jay ends with some happy and useless platitudes about the fight against terrorism:
So let’s fight terrorism realistically. Through policing, not culture wars. Through prevention, not eradication. And, above all, let’s remember that the best path to fighting terror lies not through anger and authoritarianism, but with civility, diversity, and democracy.
Nonsense. Civility, diversity, and democracy have never stopped suicide terrorism. It’s been stopped by ending the conflicts at the root of it. Policing is nice, but it’s simply treading water. At least he gets points for being against authoritarianism. Curbing Islamism will take cultural reform in the Muslim world.
Now, Craig’s response. He rightly attacks the characterization of the Idaho incident. Actually, it’s a generally correct post. Except for one thing:
Now, apply Occam’s Razor to the situation. He was a violent guy with a history of domestic violence and animal cruelty. He killed his wife, and people who were associated with her. It just so happened that she worked at the courthouse. I’d put odds that if she worked at Pizza Hut, that’s where he would have gone instead of the courthouse.
But, that explanation does not fit with the left’s narrative, namely that right-wing extremists are a far worse danger than Islamists.
Where did that come from? Jay’s post? Nope. Hey, it was pulled out of thin air! It’s a fuckin’ miracle!
Another thing to note, acting like a violent asshole generally and making a violent political statement are not mutually exclusive courses of action. This could be an act of terrorism. Or it might not be. Who knows? I’ll just say that I doubt it. It is possible, however.
Let’s put it this way: yes, there are right-wing terrorists in this country. No, they shouldn’t be ignored. Yes, Islamists are a bigger threat. No, right-wing terrorism is not an equivalent danger to Islamism.
Was that so hard?
This is one of the most stunning things I’ve read in quite a while. I’ve been meaning to post about the recent PEW poll, but I wasn’t aware of those particular statistics.
So a new NIE says Iraq is inflaming terrorism. Seems pretty obvious to those who have been saying so for the past couple years.
Sadly, it doesn’t tell us what to do in Iraq. Keep fueling the fire or leave a safe haven? I still don’t know.
Apparently though, all we need to do is care a little bit less about collateral damage and have a bit more political will. How exactly does that work? We’re fighting a relatively small number people who hide among supporters throughout a very large geographical area. Some of them hide among us. Scorched earth tactics aren’t particulary useful. Take out a couple of mosques terrorists may have hidden in and we might kill a few more of them, but we kill plenty of innocent people and piss off a lot more. There really are diminishing returns here. Pretty soon, we’re killing more people than the terrorists have (oops, already there). Sure, we have better motives, but it still should cause a bit of reflection. That’s reflection, not “we will win through our steely resolve and our ability to destroying buildings with the flick of a wrist!”