Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
During his acceptance speech in Oslo when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama said, “I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world.” Few would disagree with him on this issue. However, President Obama’s analysis of the evil in the world falls far short of the breadth and depth of understanding I expect from a person of his intellect, experience, education, and resources.
While evil takes many forms, the aspects most at play in the Middle East include a virulent, radical, fundamentalist Islam and American ignorance of local cultures clashing with American foreign policy. Obama’s failure to recognize the role played by the United States in trying to bend the Middle East to its control destroys any hope of finding a lasting stability in that part of the world. As the noted and politically-conservative historian Andrew Bacevich wrote recently, “Sending U.S. troops to fight interminable wars in distant countries does more to inflame than to extinguish the resentments giving rise to violent anti-Western jihadism.”
Americans do not appreciate the family and tribal allegiances that connect people in much of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have such a militaristic world view that we automatically look for military solutions when others are more appropriate and more likely to be successful. As Scot Atran, an anthropologist who has studied cultures in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, explains, “… outsiders who ignore local group dynamics tend to ride roughshod over values they don’t grasp.” This cultural blindness usually leads to disastrous consequences.
But views like those of Bacevich and Atran, and my own, do not call for American isolationism. To the contrary, America has a moral obligation to be involved, at least indirectly, in helping to rebuild the damage done by our militarism in the Middle East for the last half-century. The failure to recognize that obligation is the failure to acknowledge the destructive role the US has played around the world in its desire for the world’s resources to benefit the multinational corporations that control our foreign policy and use our military for their own ends.
The opposite of isolationism is not war. Instead of sending more troops, we can find ways through tribal elders and indigenous groups to provide educational opportunity, build infrastructure, contribute to life-sustaining agriculture, improve access to water resources, and help satisfy the basic needs of the people we have oppressed by our military and economic power. But this development must be done on their terms, not ours. We might not like the decisions they make, but we have no right to control those decisions. Afghans have as much right to autonomy as Americans have.
The world view that President Obama took to Oslo undergirds many of the policy differences I have with him. It is a world view that will assure endless war, rather than Middle East stability. The Taliban does not threaten America, but it will kill our troops if we continue on the present course, and, by appealing to tribal, nationalistic, and religious values, it will attract more Afghans and Pakistanis to its cause in fighting the common enemy that America has become.
In other foreign policy developments in recent weeks, President Obama has failed to oppose the continued production and stockpiling of land-mines by the US, which has 10 to 15 million of them. We have not used them, apparently, since the 1991 Gulf War, but worldwide 5,000 people each year are killed or wounded by them. Under Obama’s presidency, the US has refused to sign an international agreement banning the manufacture, stockpiling, and use of land mines. During the last 22 years, 156 other nations have signed the treaty, including every country in NATO. Twelve years ago the Nobel Peace Prize went to an American in a joint award of the prize for her work against land-mines, providing yet another irony in the award of the prize to President Obama this year.
Recently, we learned that President Obama has allowed a “black jail” at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to remain open. Access to prisoners is denied to the International Committee of the Red Cross in violation of our international human rights obligations. While Obama signed an order eliminating black sites operated by the CIA, the order did not affect the Bagram site, which is operated by Special Operations forces. A similar facility continues to operate at Balad Air Base in Iraq. Torture of prisoners in these facilities has been reported by detainees who have been released from the facilities.
While President Obama has eased travel and economic restrictions with Cuba, he has done nothing to establish normal relations with that country, a change in policy long overdue as we approach twenty years since the end of the cold war with communism. Normal relations with Cuba could benefit both the US and Cuba, a country that has made great strides in educating its people and providing quality health care, against enormous odds. Normalization of US-Cuba relations would ease political tensions with many of our neighbors in Central and South America, as well.
President Obama promised to close the prison at Guantanamo, where torture and denial of basic human rights flourished during the last administration. While he has taken steps to fulfill that promise, it evidently is not a priority and he will not meet his own deadline of closing it in January 2010, a delay that calls into question his whole-hearted support for human rights.
In spite of noble words about disapproving torture and his commitment “to taking concrete actions against torture and to address the needs of its victims,” President Obama has steadfastly refused to take any action to redress Dick Cheney’s admitted approval of the torture of 36 detainees, including waterboarding, or the torture meted out under the direct authorization of President Bush, former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and others.
This past week, the Obama Justice Department took John Yoo’s side in a lawsuit over holding Yoo accountable for providing the Bush administration a legal justification for torturing detainees. Jose Padilla, a US citizen, who was arrested in 2002 for allegedly planning terrorist activity, was detained in a Navy jail on US soil for three years as an enemy combatant and was tortured as a direct result of a legal memorandum by Yoo authorizing such torture. The legal advice John Yoo gave is actionable under the principles followed at Nuremberg after World War II, as noted by constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, who pointed out this past week that Nuremberg tribunals found “lawyers and judges … guilty of war crimes in their legal advice and opinions.” They included Nazi legal advisers Wolfgang Mettgenberg, Guenther Joel, and Wilhelm von Ammon.
Obama’s Justice Department has also tried to have lawsuits dismissed under a “state secrets” argument, just as the Bush administration did on a regular basis. Obama promised that his administration would be transparent. So far, it has been instead transparently hypocritical with respect to civil rights lawsuits brought by “war on terror” detainees. It has used the “state secrets” argument to keep from revealing details about the US torture of such detainees. Obama has also refused to release photos of the torture of detainees by US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, in spite of an earlier promise to do so.
These are some of the most egregious examples of foreign policy-related positions of the Obama administration that are troubling to Americans who favor a non-militaristic role for America in the world, and who support the rule of law and transparency in government. They show that the US does not abide by the code of legal conduct it claims to follow. In fact, contrary to President Obama’s assertions in his Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, US actions are not far different from those of our adversaries. We abide by rules only when it is convenient to do so. The President’s principled words are belied by his policies both here and abroad.
There is an increasingly large gap between the Obama administration’s rhetoric on accountability and values, and the reality of what he and his administration are doing. The Bush administration would not have done much worse on these matters.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. HankinsEmail | Print