Left Outside

The arsehole theory of politics

Obama, if there is a hell (which there is isn’t, luckily for him), is headed there. His drone war in Pakistan is truly dystopian, and his other infringements of civil liberties would make even Blair blush, as Conor Friedersdorf describes:

1. Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn’t “precise” or “surgical” as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. At worst, this policy creates more terrorists than it kills; at best, America is ruining the lives of thousands of innocent people and killing hundreds of innocents for a small increase in safety from terrorists. It is a cowardly, immoral, and illegal policy, deliberately cloaked in opportunistic secrecy. And Democrats who believe that it is the most moral of all responsible policy alternatives are as misinformed and blinded by partisanship as any conservative ideologue.

2. Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama’s kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done.

3. Contrary to his own previously stated understanding of what the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution demand, President Obama committed U.S. forces to war in Libya without Congressional approval, despite the lack of anything like an imminent threat to national security.

Aside immediately from stripping him of his Nobel Peace Prize – boy must the Norwegians be feeling silly now – we should ask “why Obama is doing this?” I wouldn’t argue that he is an arsehole. He doesn’t seem like an arsehole, he has done nice things for lots of poor Americans. I’ve also seen the point made innumerable times that Romney would be the same, or worse, but why?

Will Wilkinson seems to imply that the system of democracy in America is broken. You can vote for Obama and passively approve these attacks. You can vote for Romney and very likely end up with the same, or worse. Romney’s aides have suggested that if Romney were elected, one of his first acts would be to give back ‘mericans their right to torture people. Alternatively, you can offer a protest vote to a third party candidate like Gary Johnson, who actually opposes these attacks (imagine a third party more ineffectual and irrelevant than the Lib Dems and you begin to see how silly this last option is).

I disagree that democracy is broken. People are broken. How can you fix the fact that a lot of people are arseholes? Similarly to my analysis of Ian Cowie, as somebody who simply hates poor people, this analysis lacks a certain subtlety. But that is its strength. It is unsubtle because arseholes are unsubtle. Democrats are painted as weak on warmaking defence, and so Obama must appease the arseholes or face potential political annihilation.

This isn’t a feature of a failed democracy or of a failed republic or a failed anything. It is a feature of a democratic empire. One of the advantages of democracy is that people get what they vote for, good and hard.

Domestically this normally stays the hand of those with the most ludicrous ideas because people actually have to deal with the consequences of the actions. However, intrigue and murder are the rule internationally not because these policies are good, but because people don’t have to deal with the consequences of their own arseholeness. The same people who will refuse to starve their poor because they’ll riot will happily watch the poor starve abroad because they can deny them a visa.

Acting as a democratic empire the US has no choice but to sporadically accede to the demands of its arsehole faction. Sometimes, it will just be their turn to be appeased. Arseholes have no natural restraint on their actions because their victims are abroad. The US has the capacity for total destruction anywhere it likes. Eventually, inevitably, somebody is going to start bombing children in Pakistan.

The only way to prevent people dying in war is to throw hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, pilots, mechanics, engineers, consultants, etc. out of work. Give me an off switch and I’ll flick it in a heartbeat. However, while the technological ability remains to kill people, people will be killed. Arseholes don’t kill people, but armies do, so get rid of the army.

Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Politics, Science, , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Luis Enrique says:

    this is going to veer close to a defence of drones, which I don’t intend it to be. If you ask me the distance drones put between killer and killed make it too easy to make too frequent use of them. And living with drones buzzing about sounds terrifying.

    But I think it’s worth asking, what’s the counterfactual? I know in theory there’s a counterfactual in which everybody in these parts of Pakistan are left to live their lives in peace, but so long as these places are also home to whatever you want to call them, terrorists or enemy soldiers or whatever, I don’t think that’s on the cards. So if not drones, what? I did read an article saying drones were much preferred by the locals to ground assault and artillery, which tends to kill even more undiscriminatingly, which is what they have replaced. That could have just been bullshit. But what should we hope for instead – the odd raid by special forces and Pakistani police and intelligence services arresting people? Can (or will) Pakistani police and intelligence services operate in those areas, or would the army have to move in first?

  2. Luis Enrique says:

    just to be clear, why asking the question isn’t a defence of drones, if there is an option available to Obama that doesn’t constitute just letting the Taliban (or whomever) get on with it, but is less dreadful than drones, then he should take it. Or should he be taking the just let them get on with it option?

  3. Left Outside says:

    Long time no see Luis, hope you’re well.

    Is an orderly withdrawal too much to hope for? A lot of people (Taliban, warlords etc.) are making the lives of those who live in Western Pakistan a misery and they are also making life in the West more dangerous by harbouring and training potentialterrorists. What what Pakistan needs, is a functioning state and that can’t build a state when 20% or so of their country is under American bombardment. That is what has traditionally worked in subjugating people; not continual warfare. A strong state (not large, but strong in the sense of being able to project power) in Pakistan is what will defeat the Taliban, so long term the drones are a mistake. From the US point of view, they won’t be able to kill enough people. As the killing accelerates they will probably hit a point where recruitments accelerates too.

    Another point is that drones seem too good at isolating domestically the dangers of foreign entanglements. At least the gung ho in the UK have to face coffins repatriated to Wooton Bassett (or did). With drones it is too easy to be murderous. Reduce the cost of something and you’ll get more of it. This is my main worry. We saw in Vietnam that the US can inflict massive suffering and still lose. What worries me, I suppose, is that without the cost of losing their own men, the US will just keep killing and killing. Its is a very different situation, but it is still worrying to contemplate.

    Basically, I don’t think aerial bombardment is useful for state making, and state making is what needs to happen. So if the US wants a final victory it needs to invest – and by invest I mean send loads of young, poor American boys and girls to die. I’d sooner they didn’t and helped Pakistan with a Marshall plan. Like the one DeLong and Eichengreen describe, bribe the Pakistani government to enact useful reforms and lessen their dependence on the military.

  4. Luis Enrique says:

    Hi LO, likewise.

    well I agree about the desirability of a functioning state in Pakistan, and I’m with you on the second para too.

    But what does this boil down to? We want Obama to choose orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan and more or less leave them all to it. I’m sure the US can continue to try to bring about a functioning state in Pakistan, but I don’t rate their chances.

    Now it might well be that just getting the hell out and letting the Taliban and others fight it out without US interference really is the right thing to do – the last thing I am is an expert in any of this, plus I never seem sure what the moral thing to do is, but I think it’s less obviously the right thing to do. I have no idea what Obama’s exist strategy is – is keeping up pressure on the Taliban’s buddies in Pakistan, via drone war, a tactic in that regard?

    And to repeat, I’m really not trying to say the drone war is okay, I’m just wondering what the other options look like. And of course it may be that “options which as US president is likely to consider” may not overlap with the right or sensible options, because US presidents are constrained by not wanting to look like losers, or something like that.

  5. A blog comment from back in 2008 quoted by John (not Juan) Cole at Balloon Juice answers this:

    Every year in Happy Gumdrop Fairy-Tale Land all of the sprites and elves and woodland creatures gather together to pick the Rainbow Sunshine Queen. Everyone is there: the Lollipop Guild, the Star-Twinkle Toddlers, the Sparkly Unicorns, the Cookie Baking Apple-cheeked Grandmothers, the Fluffy Bunny Bund, the Rumbly-Tumbly Pupperoos, the Snowflake Princesses, the Baby Duckies All-In-A-Row, the Laughing Babies, and the Dykes on Bikes. They have a big picnic with cupcakes and gumdrops and pudding pops, stopping only to cast their votes by throwing Magic Wishing Rocks into the Well of Laughter, Comity, and Good Intentions. Afterward they spend the rest of the night dancing and singing and waving glow sticks until dawn when they tumble sleepy-eyed into beds made of the purest and whitest goose down where they dream of angels and clouds of spun sugar.

    You don’t live there.

    Grow the fuck up.

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