I haven’t listened to a presidential speech in a while. I boycotted all of Bush Jong-Il’s speeches, and was right to do so, since listening to him simply made me angry. And up to last night’s speech on Libya, I had also ignored Barack Obama. When presidents talk, I just get angry. Last night was not much different.
Mostly it was twaddle and nonsense. Americans are not “reluctant” about using force, given the number of times we’ve gone to war since 1950 and the constant state of war since 1948. If anything, we are less reluctant about killing brown people now than we ever have been, merely because there is no other great power to threaten us if we go too far. Obama mentioned the Libyans who helped the pilot whose F-15 fighter-bomber crashed without also noting that the Marines who came to rescue the pilot fired upon those same Libyans and injured a number of them (and killed several, if I remember the reports right).
And of course there’s the idiocy of humanitarianism. I cannot even begin to express how foul and evil a justification this is for making war, the helping and bettering of others and the protection of the “innocent.” Obama stated as one justification for bombing Qaddafiy’s forces the fact that Muammar Qaddafiy used his air force to bomb civilians in cities who could not fight back. If this is a criteria for intervention, I wonder when the United States and its NATO allies will bomb Israel in defense of Gaza, which itself is regularly pounded from the air by Israeli fighter-bombers and whose people cannot adequately fight back or defend themselves against attack.
Oh, right. Never.
I have long had a disdain for much of the ethics of war in the West, with Just War Theory and all of that. I have been told I do not understand how these things work, and maybe that’s fair, but I don’t see the long, deliberative process at work that these processes of reasoning out when a government should go to war seem to require or mandate. All I see is justification after the fact, the decision to go to war first and then a self-righteous declaration that war is being fought allegedly not for our advantage, but to benefit of the people we are “helping.” George W. Bush could have given most of that speech, and it was completely in line with Obama’s intention to have America continue to dominate the world he set forth in the Nobel Peace Prize* (sic) speech. I also see essentialism at work, that the people making the decision to go to war are good people, the people they are fighting are bad people, and the people they are defending are innocent people — and it is always this way. There is never any reflection about the suffering our actions cause, and that we might not be the people we think we are, that the evil will so clearly see in others also resides in us, and is easily empowered by our self-obsession with our goodness and righteousness.
I also do not understand this focus on “innocence.” I remember from the time of the Bosnian War, meeting various Leftists in the United States and reading European Leftists who complained the Bosnian Muslims were not properly “innocent” because they (unlike European Jewry in the WWII) had the audacity to fight back, and thus were undeserving of help. Theologically, this makes utterly no sense, since in the Christian frame of ethics, none are innocent save Jesus Christ. “Innocence” should not be a requirement for assistance. But this also becomes self-serving, because we decide to justify our help by determining the people were are aiding (by bombing them) are “innocent” somehow and the people we don’t help are clearly guilty and deserve to be bombed by whoever isn’t us that’s bombing them. Again, this isn’t well-thought out prior reasoning, it’s after-the-fact justification. Always.
(Honest, I really do not understand this, and am convinced the desire to “save innocents” and inflict “justice upon the guilty” is really an excuse to exercise power, dominate others and inflict suffering upon people. I see no other reason for any of it. Helping them is only a cover for these things. If someone could explain this innocence thing, I’ll listen. I won’t be convinced, but I promise I’ll listen.)
And that last bit leads to another important point — every bleeding heart humanitarian has someone’s suffering they simply do not care about. Or are willing to empower and call righteous. (See Gaza.) So, in the end, their humanitarianism is completely situational and very selective. And they refuse to be called on this, since they are self-righteous — good people waging war to defend the innocent from evil. As an excuse to wage war, it is too noble, to attractive. It will lead, has already led, to far too much war, destruction, and domination.
Obama did touch upon the one real reason the West should act — because had Qaddafiy won two weeks ago (and if he still wins), refugees will flood not only Egypt and Tunisia, but Italy, Malta and Greece as well. Hundreds of thousands, probably more than a million. Qaddafiy would have been in charge of a broken, sanctioned, blockaded, impoverished country with few resources. Libyans would have suffered greatly under those sanctions, as Iraqis did in the 1990s. He would have had no reason to behave himself in Africa or elsewhere, and his connections with some of the world’s worst regimes would have been the only economic ties he would have been able to retain and strengthen. The material support Qaddafiy gave to Al Qaeda in Iraq beginning in 2007 would have continued, and probably also strengthened. (That many Iraqi veterans of the anti-US war in Iraq are now fighting Qaddafiy’s regime is proof that even dictators can face blowback.) Once Europe and the world more or less committed itself to supporting the rebels in their struggle to overthrow Qaddafiy, they were in.
And there is only on way this ends — with the death of most or all of the senior Libyan officials on the sanctions list of UN Security Council Resolution 1970.
I have the same argument for those who complain about the West’s “failure” to stop the Nazi efforts to exterminate European Jews in WWII: the only way to help them is to the bring the war to as quick an end as possible. You “protect” the civilians of Libya by waging a war that removes the threat as quickly as possible. That threat, as just about everyone has concluded, is Qaddafiy’s government. Obama and Nikolai Sarkozy do seem to understand that, and they do seem to be waging war toward that end (even if they are rather cagily or stupidly saying they aren’t).
So I don’t so much object to Obama’s actions as I do his language, which is dishonest, deceitful, self-righteous and self-serving in the extreme. And those words he did mean — all that crap about humanitarianism — are frightening and horrific. Because they promise war without end.
* Some people suggest Obama ought to return his Peace Prize. That isn’t fair. The Nobel committee was merely premature in giving him the award. Sitting American presidents who have won the prize — Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919 — have always done so after they waged their wars of mass destruction and slaughter (Roosevelt the Philippines War, Wilson the Great War to End All Great Wars and Make the World Safe for Democracy and Reparations). The committee acted in haste. Obama needs at least one more war, and then he will be properly eligible for the Peace Prize.