Friday, December 04, 2009
Thursday, December 03, 2009
"I do not believe we have locked ourselves into leaving," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday. "But what we have done ... is to signal very clearly to all audiences that the United States is not interested in occupying Afghanistan."I admit it: I relish the image of Hillary, the pantsuit vampire of our times, acting out this well-armed community-theater adaptation of Bartelby the Scrivener.
-reported on NPR
"Get the fuck out of Afghanistan, America!"
"We would prefer not to."
Now I do not wish to reopen the old back-and-forth with Michael Bérubé. In the first place he recently made some mildly complimentary comments about yours truly and I am truly, truly that capricious and self-involved. Rather more substantively, I am immensely enjoying the recently enjoined cockfight between him and Louis Proyect, for there is nothing so wonderful as an internecine lefty-fight--with any luck, all the world's unrepentent Marxists and liberal internationalists will eventually slash each other to death with the razors tied to their feet and we can fee their unrecognizeable, bloody remains to the one pig in Afghanistan as expiation for the sins of ineffectuality and hubris. (You can guess to which side each of those is assigned.)
And yet I do wonder what the author of The Left at War has got to say about Afghanistan now. To his credit, I do not believe that Béreubé ever used that most disgusting of all clichés and called Afghanistan "the good war." But he has certainly spoken of its necessity and derided those who always opposed it as being so in thrall to a Chomskyian vision of bloody American imperialism that they (we) simply retreated in a familiar black-and-white (he would say Manichean, but I can't condone that misuse of the word or slander of a perfectly, wonderfully weird cosmology) world where America is the rote evildoer, everyone else is ground under our heel, and not even a direct attack on our own country merited a military response.
To be sure--plenty of people were making something resembling that argument! Personally, I'm sympathetic to it, although I think it simplifies. I would say more accurately that regarding the justification proferred for 9/11 by its evident architects, America's pernicious actions and influence in the "Muslim world" were real, but ultimately pretextual, and that 9/11 was in turn actual, but nonetheless mere pretext for for invading Afghanistan. That is to say, there's a certain truth to the claims that these attacks and invasions were responses to provocations, but a very limited sort of truth: a small truth told in such a way as to make it a large lie.
So. Cast backwards. It is the 9/12 Lacuna of Good Feelings and everyone has set to crying, "Something must be done!" But had you asked a lousy anarchist, fatalist, and defeatist like me where I thought we'd be in 2010, I'd have told you straight up: Still In Afghanistan, for no particular reason, with a President of one or other party making speeches that sound like self-fulfilling prophecies. Why?
Not because America is malevolent, but because America is heedless.
This is ultimately my beef with liberal internationalism. I mean, I echo its critics from the left when they accuse its proponents of white-washing America's truly execrable history as an imperial and colonial power, but I think that critique, while accurate, misses the point. Though they would perhaps not go as far as I, or the "Chomskian Left" would like, I think you will find that folks like Bérubé accede to and accept the argument that America has often behaved very, very badly and deservedly won itself enemies. They'd simply say: we wish to redirect America's power for good. But America's power can't be redirected for good because it has no moral component. It isn't malevolent either. It can't be understood as a matter of good and evil, or right and wrong. It is a product of pressures and incentives, economies and assumptions, interia and habit, circumstance and accident. I do not actually think America invaded Afghanistan because it wished to do evil, nor (more charitably) because it confused right intention with right action. I think that its invasion was all-but-predetermined, set in advance by accumulated history, triggered by a particular event, yes--but if not triggered by that, then it would have been by something else. And while I think that we are obliged to bear witness to it as a matter of individual responsibility and morality, as a matter of personal right action, I also think that the arguments we've all been having about who does or does not support it are wholly immaterial, as likewise I believe the question of whether or not America should or should not intervene in this or that conflict, genocide, civil war, or what have you in such and such part of the world and for some or other purpose are immaterial; America either will or will not, but never because of what anybody thinks.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
We were both shocked as well by Obama, who typically doesn't shy away from nuance and details, continually speaking about Afghanistan as if it is a nation in the same manner as the US or UK: But Afghanistan is, of course, not the same. The reason nation-building hasn't worked there (and will continue to not work) is because there is not a national identity to hold together the disparate tribes that comprise its population. It was strange to see such a glaring omission of so basic a fact from Obama's address, although I suppose its inclusion would elicit precisely the sort of questions that Obama hopes to avoid.Spoken by a gal who's never watched Braveheart, heard of the American Civil War, or acquainted herself with Northern Ireland. Evidently. "Afghanistan is not the same." Sister, huh?
-Melissa McEwan, chauvinist
Now, the reason that "nation-building hasn't worked" is that "nation-building" is a euphemism for foreign occupation, and there is resistence. Liberals in general seem to prefer goosey sociological explanations for why the brightness and light of representative democracy do not immediately take hold, and the plain facts of insurgency escape them. Armed Afghans do not want our army in their country, and they will keep trying to kill us until we leave. Go back to college and argue about melting pots and salad bowls, you geeks. Afghanistan is for real, and Superjesus Black Reagan just committed us for the long haul.
And what is revealed about the straw leftism of our dear Shakespearian sisters by this telling slip of the tongue? In every antiwar activista, a Satrap? If only the Afghans weren't so tribal, so primitive, we might sit down and reason together. Maybe Barack Obama could make a speech!
Oh me, oh my. What a dud! I at least expected a bit of unearned grandiloquence, a little bit of the old upward, onward, better, faster, bigger, hotter, harder, yeah! Instead we got a subliterate word soup that took thirty minutes to say what could have been said in thirty seconds. The poor liberals don't know what to do. March? Run a primary challenge? I imagine the entire electoral base of the Democratic Party pouting miserably into its soup, a spitting image of Claire Danes in the My-So-Called Life years: "God, Dad, you just make me want to die!"
Anyway, I think we can safely say that this outcome was as predictable as tides and sunsets. Plus ça change, motherfuckers.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Can the mechanical car turn against the man with the remote control? Can software revolt against its programmer? Clearly this is absurd.Spoken by a man who has never operated a copier, I say. Or tried to replace the belt on his washing machine. Or personally tried to remedy the Google redirect malaware. Or confronted a stubbornly running toilet. Of course non-sentient systems can "revolt"! To think otherwise is . . . absurd!
D'Souza has penned a three-part series (uno, dos, tres) in which he proposes to prove that there is an afterlife because he guesses it to be so. Read it for yourself, lest you think I exaggerate. He is not kidding when he calls it "the presuppositional argument." Did I mention that he calls it the presuppositional argument? Brothers and sisters, he does. The argument from I-Guess-So--it has a certain tinny ring, like a tambourine left out in a downpour.
As it turns out, D'Souza is not so much proposing a new apologia for an afterlife as he is assuming the existence of an afterlife to make a not-novel argument about the origins of human morality. Along the way, he gets confused about Copernicus, mixes up special and general relativity, literalizes Dawkins argument in "The Selfish Gene," decontextualizes and misunderstands E.O. Wilson, gets Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments to mean almost the opposite of what it says, and manages to ignore the last fifty years of biological and behavioral resarch into "altruism" and "morality" in the animal kingdom, proclaiming that "morality [has] an undeniable anti-evolutionary thrust."
It's such a mess that I feel badly for him. His "novel argument" is a bare tissue of hastily recycled forensics-team clichés, all of which ultimately wash out as: natural selection as I understand it cannot explain why humanity has come up with so many injunctions to be nice to each other, ergo heaven. Dear Dinesh, existence is not a predicate. Jesus Christ, and I thought I smoked a lot of weed in college.
Today the outrage of many of my more . . . progressive friends and acquaintances has found its outlet at Facebook, that hotbed of direct-action politics. 35,000 troops?! This is not what we elected you for, Obama, reads one prototypical message. The various hypotheses outlining how it is that the popular will of the demos gets transmogrified via voting, the blessed act, into the ol' kratia are, maybe needless to say, a source of tender amusement to this author. The idea that the--how to put it?--intentionality behind the quadrennial exercise of the main-vein franchise matters even a whit is plumb crazy. Far better to spend hours masturbating over magical sigils. No, it will not work, but at least you get to come.
As is often the case, I find my thoughts lagging a few paces behind Mister Smith on the matter, and I will steal his point about the religious sensibility of political true believers to make one of my own. You know, properly understood, the act of prayer is not an act of will, but an act of submission. Well, so too the vote, which is secular democracy's answer to the prayer. I know the popular civics texts tell us that the bosses work for us, that our little Republic is what you call an employee-owned company, but plainly that's just not case. To vote is not to give an order but to offer acclamation. You're just agreeing, ahead of time and sight unseen, to whatever it is that the bastard says, or does not say, that he's going to do.
Well-known savory beignet Michael Moore has written An Open Letter to President Obama in which he chipmunks around, threatening that millions of The Children, Who Are the Future, will flow south across the Rio Grande if Obama sends but one newly minted private to Afghanistan, the, cue music, Graveyard of Empires! I just adore the idea that by doing what he was transparently going to do all along, Obama is traducing his principles. You already ate your bowl of shit, Moore, when you pulled the lever on that blustry Tuesday. No one cares what you think. What are you gonna do, go Green? Where on earth does anyone get the idea that Obama's heart protests even as his lips say, Go.
Does David Brooks believe that America discovered counterinsurgency warfare? Does America believe that America discovered it?
Monday, November 30, 2009
I will modestly disagree with blogfriend Jonathan Schwarz when he writes, à propos The Obama AfPakWarSpeak:
The decision's been made. Now all we need is a reason!That is to say, I think that this interpretation is right in spirit but wrong in fact.
It would seem to me that the decision-making process, such as it was, the set-piece meetings held in series over the last few months, have been mere prelude to a speech. We may recall that all of the "options" presented to Obama were the same option. It would therefore seem that what we have is not so much a decision in search of a publishable reason as a speech in search of an occasion. A small distinction, perhaps, but a difference nonetheless.
While I don't agree entirely with the popular conservative complaint that Obama "governs by speechmaking," it is true that the oratorical mode is his rhetorical preference. Where circumstances have presented the opportunity for him to engage his hortatory charms, he's leapt to it. Here, the daily dullness of occupation and counterinsurgency has simply failed to provide a punctuating event convenient for the delivery of a bit of revival wisdom, and so the producers of our great democracy have done what producers do: created an event. It is no more real than the latest fluctuations of Tom and Katie. Presidential addresses are so very like the movies in any case. They get released to the critics ahead of time; a few snobs pay attention to the reviews; everyone else goes, or doesn't; likes it, or doesn't. Someone at Slate writes a column. The Steelers drop another one. Christmas arrives. What were we saying?