Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Mercurial Rant

"Torture, you say?  I don' know nothin' 'bout no torture."
Disclaimer: this essay represents the hot-headed views of Mercurious alone, and should not be construed to speak for the other Geezers, who are reasonable men, each and every one.

I came of age in the Vietnam War era, so you'd expect me to have a bit of cynicism regarding the motivations of our government. I'm a slightly cynical guy by nature, and the late 60s would certainly help solidify that character trait for a young man. I remember having pretty bitter arguments with my dad, a navy veteran, on our foreign policy during that era, over whether our government was lying to us or not. In the end, though, Dad started wearing POW bracelets in honor of captured pilots who became political pawns.

But for all of that, as a young adult I maintained a firm belief that American stood for certain ideals—I believed that, despite the befuddlement of Johnson and the bat-shit paranoia of a guy like Nixon, America as whole genuinely stood for (and practiced) the defense of human rights and genuinely wanted to ensure that everybody around the world could pursue happiness. That cup of purple Kool-aid I had happily consumed. And frankly, my overall dovishness made plenty of room for wielding a big  military stick when you were coming to the rescue of somebody little being bullied. That, for me, was really the only reason to swing that stick.

The first gulf war, pursued by the first George Bush, was something of a shock to me, because here for the first time, our government openly ridiculed that human rights ideal espoused by Carter and others and said it openly: we're at war with Iraq because we have certain economic interests in the region—specifically the open trade of petroleum.  Perhaps I'd been naive up to that point, but it seemed me like something of a turning point at which America began to wean itself away from its principles. Or maybe just the point where it started to be honest with its reasons for wielding the stick.

Still, I expected better from our government, and there were enough times when the old ideals seemed to hold true. There were moments during the Carter, Reagan, and Clinton administrations where it seemed, indeed, that we had ideals and were champions of worldwide human rights—times when it seemed like we chose our foreign policy with human dignity, rather the economic or political benefit, as the prime motivation.

Bush II  was of course a plummet back to the Nixonian dark ages, a time when torture by water-boarding was a legitimate thing to discuss.  But then came the dawn of the Obama administration, for which I had high, high hopes indeed. Obama talked the talk like nobody since Clinton, and seemed almost as eloquent as Kennedy. He seemed to believe in the ideal, both domestically and in international foreign policy.

Fast forward 6 years. Obama is no Clinton. And one can only wonder how Obama would have handled the Cuban missile crisis.

Today's newspapers report that an archive of 55,000 photos emerging from the secret jails of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, documenting in horrifying color the physical torture leading to the death of 11,000 Syrian citizens. It is stuff that would have a perfect place in a special exhibit at a museum chronicling Nazi atrocities. Like the Nazis, the Syrian government was apparently obsessed with documenting their evil.

And yet the analysts are saying, horrifying though it all is, that this will have no impact at all on Obama's foreign policy regarding Syria, since he is now heavily invested politically in the current deal to get chemical weapons turned over and the civil war "ended." A negotiated ending, mind you, that will have Assad still in power, even while it will create talk about Nobel prizes.

What can you say about a liberal President who cannot see his way clear to forcefully and courageously, without fear of political consequences, oppose the continued reign of monster like Syrian president Assad, but instead bends to whatever seems most politically acceptable at the moment?

"Sleep pretty darling, do not cry....and I will sing a lullabyeeee" 
Now, I'm well aware that blind support of rebel factions seeking to overthrow a dictator is a tricky business, and that it often lead to even worse situations a few years later. It probably would not have been wise to airdrop thousands of stinger missiles into the hands of Syrian rebels. And our history of on-the-ground assistance hasn't been great in recent years. We frankly don't really have the stomach to get bloody anymore, even when the cause is just, as it is in this case. And when deposing a tyrant, there's the awkward reality of having to stick around and help the survivors put together something looking like a nation again. The "you broke it, you bought it"  rule of foreign policy.

So I understand why we don't want to do any of those things. It's not easy, after all, it's hard; and as a nation we no longer like to do hard.

But if America's idea of negotiated peace,  it's version of foreign policy success,  is a Syria with Bashar al-Assad still in power....we should ask ourselves what is it, exactly, that we do stand for?

Damned if I know.