Sep 172014

Today the US House of Representatives voted to support President Obama’s plans to assist certain “vetted” groups in Syria who are fighting the Islamic State.

ISIS is in some ways a threat, and I think that our foreign policy ought to oppose the group at every turn. But I fear that this vote will turn out to be a missed opportunity to combat a far larger threat. Congress just missed an opportunity to put the brakes on the country’s post-2001 protean and never-ending faux-existential crisis responses to terrorist groups, and the associated and inevitable domestic rule-of-law violations that are always justified by spurious government appeals to “national security.” These are the only real existential threats in any way associated with ISIS. This vote does nothing to reduce these threats, because it expresses support for vague executive branch actions against a group whose threat to the national security of the US has been overhyped.

I agree with those who oppose aiding anti-ISIS groups for the very pragmatic reasons that it’s unlikely to work, or if it does, that the victorious groups in Syria or Iraq won’t be much better than ISIS itself. I agree with those who are skeptical about our commitment to fighting ISIS, when at the same time we seem unwilling to actively confront Saudi Arabia or Qatar about those nations’ aiding and abetting of ISIS.

But those reasons pale in comparison to what I think will be the consequences of this Congressional declaration of support for an Obama administration that is pursuing active military operations against ISIS. I fear that this vote will be cited by the Administration when it gets caught assassinating an American citizen that may have traveled to Syria to fight with ISIS forces. I don’t doubt that this vote will be cited by the Administration the next time it acts to stop a lawsuit in its tracks on grounds of “national security” because, somehow, our operations against ISIS may or may not have been related, somehow.

This lack of respect for the rule of law in the name of national security is not a context in which the Congress ought to lightly approve of the executive branch’s deepening our involvement in an overseas conflict against a foe that at most poses only a dubious threat to this country’s security (a threat to some of its ‘interests’, maybe, but not a threat to its security).

Instead, Congress could have strengthened the distinction between wartime and peacetime that has been blurred by the pseudo “war” on terror by not voting to support a vague plan to provide “assistance” to armed forces in Syria that have been “vetted” by some unspecified criteria, as Justin Amash describes the amendment that was just passed. Instead, we have another expression of Congress in support of American involvement in a military response to an overhyped threat. Since 9/11, we’ve seen how two successive administrations have used these conflicts as excuses for violating the rule of law in the name of national security. This vote missed a small opportunity to change this behavior.


Nov 072012

The 2012 election is finally over.  Which means the incessant campaigning is over, at least for a little while.

My reactions to the results are mixed.  The good news: the trend in the US toward greater recognition of human rights in the realm of social and personal life shows no signs of abating.  Ballot issues in Washington, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota all were resolved in favor of gay marriage.  The troglodyte GOP candidates Todd Akin and Richard Moredoch were both defeated in otherwise solidly Republican Missouri and Indiana, respectively.  Colorado and Washington voters legalized marijuana.  The racists, homophobes, and theocrats among us continue to lose ground, and I celebrate that.

Unmanned drone firing missile

Unmanned drone firing missile

The bad news, then.  In the 2012 elections, no one who supports arbitrary government powers of assassination, indefinite detention, and warrantless wiretapping was made to pay any price whatsoever.  Disregard for the rule of law and for the separation of powers that revolted so many of us during the George W. Bush administration has dropped off the national political radar.  The government authoritarians, personified for so long by Dick Cheney (and now exemplified, tragically by Barack Obama), received another strong electoral message that their stance on civil liberties, which seemed so radical as recently as five years ago, is now uncontroversial.  Obama went a long way toward institutionalizing tyrannical government powers during his first term, and the electoral verdict for this horrifying reversal of his pre-2008 election rhetoric cemented that institutionalization.  The voters’ message was “we don’t care about, or even remember any of that stuff.”  With each passing election, rule-of-law advocates like Glenn Greenwald become ever more marginalized, without ever changing their own positions.

Looking ahead, I remain optimistic that the social right wing will continue to lose influence.  They’ve been losing ground ever since I’ve been politically aware, and nothing suggests that this trend is going to reverse itself.

Unfortunately, nothing suggests that the trend toward more and more arbitrary government police power will reverse itself, either.