Saturday, December 22, 2012

Petroleum Politics and Drone Strikes

Recently I wrote an open letter to the President of the United States denouncing the CIA's use of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and an anonymous commenter criticized my pro-peace stance. All the comments can be found in the original post, but I decided to take the time to respond to nearly every question and statement posed by Anonymous. 

1. So what do you propose we do about terrorist organizations in that region recruiting, training and planning to harm us and our interests abroad?

I propose that we stop bombing them and drone striking them, stop giving dictators chemical weapons, stop spending 53 cents of every federal tax dollar you and I pay on every pay check to fund war and war preparations, bring our troops home and invest that money into our crumbling infrastructure and schools. Elites – corporate CEOs, Wall Street bankers, media moguls and the politicians whose elections they buy - resist change at every turn. But imagine how much good could be done if we invested a quarter, a third, half the military budget into humanitarianism? The ruling class isn’t interested in defense – no matter what Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or any of the corporate media say – they’re interested in domination. And they’ve got it.

2. I'm not advocating civilian deaths and collateral damage, but what's your alternative? Ground troops in the region? Or to allow these people to organize unfettered?

How about respect for the sovereignty of nations? When George H.W. Bush launched Operation Desert Storm in early 1991, one of the reasons cited for the invasion was Iraq’s violation of the sovereignty of Kuwait. It seems that this rule of international law only applies to other countries, as the U.S. has repeatedly violated it. Perhaps the fact that Iraq possesses the world’s second largest oil reserves escaped the attention of the oil-man Bush.

And who are we to fetter “these people”? The elite approach is always military, the goal is always to avoid diplomacy at all costs. Perhaps it’s those very fetters we have them in that cause the unrest in the region.

3. So do you acknowledge that there are organizations of people actively recruiting others to kill us (we'll put the protection of our "interests" aside for a moment)?

It’s true that there are abominable organizations such as al-Qaeda and al-shabaab who perpetrate unspeakably violent crimes against both military and civilian targets – acts of terrorism. However, most of the violence perpetrated in the Third World stays in the Third World. The only thing exceptional about the 9/11 attacks was that it was the first time Third World-style violence of such magnitude was perpetrated on our soil. And although the bipartisan consensus in Washington used the occasion to ramp up their already exorbitant militarism, nothing actually changed regarding the world’s balance of power and the institutions that support it.

4. Left alone, they will only grow and get stronger, thus presenting a greater risk to our safety, both at home and abroad.

5. They dislike us because we let women go to school, because we allow our children to attend school, because we have music and TV and movies and pop culture and freedom of speech, religion and expression. There is no winning the hearts and minds of these extreme elements of the world.

I’ve heard this argument many times, but never from any Muslim I’ve ever known. This reeks of Islamophobia.

6. So given that these people exist, should we just leave them alone and wait for the next attack?

Equating global military domination with “defense” is the classic elite posture indoctrinated in us all thanks to the corporate news media. Preemptive strikes do more to cause violence than to end it. The government has repeatedly acted unilaterally, defying international law, using the old doctrine of “American Exceptionalism” as a rationale for military adventures in Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific.

7. As for our interests in the region, yes I mean economic, in large part. If you drive a car that uses gasoline, I assume you value those interests as well. If we were to lose access to foreign oil tomorrow, our economy would shut down. As in an economic Armageddon that would make the recent recession seem minor. Making sure we have access to these resources couldn’t be more important.

And, today, I’m not sure it is us who are doing the exploiting, you may want to look at those who control and sell the oil. We (and China and Europe and almost every other country in the world) just buy it.

It’s true that multinational corporations don’t own the oil fields in the Middle East anymore. But thanks to “sweetheart deals” with certain governments in the region, in particular Saudi Arabi, oil companies get their crude from there at discount rates. Then Shell, Chevron and the rest sell it to us at enormous profit. And thanks to U.S. influence on Iraq’s constitutional convention, the door to foreign investment in Iraqi oilfields is wide open. Yes, “we” buy it, as you say. But we don’t buy it from “them,” we buy it from Western corporations.

8. Finally, I don’t think anyone in the government has ever claimed that we only involve ourselves in foreign affairs for humanitarian reasons. Of course we don’t.

True, the government does, at times admit its wrongdoing, but only when cornered. The usual routine is to use the corporate sponsored media to stir patriotism with portraits of individual valor and to show politicians giving speeches full of rhetorical moralizing.

9. What do we do today? Withdraw all support from Israel? Short of that, I think those folks will have a reason to hate us. And US policy isn't all to blame.

If support for Israel were the only issue involved, this argument might make some sense. Aside from that, it’s just plain reactionary. Changing our policies to reflect more humane goals and values doesn’t necessarily imply complete abandonment of Israel and other allies.

10. We played the same game in South and Central America and you don't see them trying to hijack planes. (Enter extremist Islam, I suppose.)

Citizens of Latin America, particularly Mexico, continue to respond to U.S. domination of the hemisphere, its economies and resources in their own way: immigration. Once again, another “hot button” issue can be seen in a new light if we acknowledge the history of U.S. foreign policy decisions and ask the question “what is the cause of the explosion in the Latino population in the United States over the last two decades?” Could our government’s near century of supporting oppressive dictatorships, training and arming of paramilitary groups and near-perfect record of toppling revolutionary democratic governments have anything to do with the desperate desire of our neighbors from the south to enjoy some of the fruits of our “success?”

11. And let's dig into the origins of that hate. Honestly, I think it has far less to do with us and more to do with how shitty those countries are to their people. We're the boogie man Middle Eastern leaders can rant about to distract their people from 30% adult unemployment and a wealth disparity that would make the Occupy sillies blush.

If it weren’t for the fact that we have military bases all over the region and commit acts of violence on a daily basis, and that Western economies have undue influence in setting oil prices, then calling us a mere “boogie man” might have some credence. If you were a bit more informed about the global Occupy movement, you would hesitate to brand a legitimate movement of diverse dissenters as “sillies,” particularly given the broad base of information available on the web. 30% unemployment is no joke, but why assume that if you have that information, Occupy is ignorant of it? Do you think Occupy never heard of the Arab Spring? On the contrary. Occupy was, in part, inspired by the Arab Spring.

12.  I would submit that these folks will remain a thorn in the side of the civilized world until their governments and economies improve (and their religious views moderate), which Egypt is showing us isn't happening anytime soon.

Making a blanket statement about billions of people in the historical Cradle of Civilization and its immediate environs as “the thorn in the side of the civilized world” is absurd. They’ll stop being a thorn in “our” side when we stop being the boot on their neck. Please explain what, in your view, makes the West “civilized.”

As for your comment about the people wanting democracy and equality just as much as we do, I’m not so sure about that. Electing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt doesn’t scream women’s rights to me. Remember the Palestinians elected Hamas? These people don’t have a good track record of voting for democracy, freedom and modernization.

I suppose the current unrest in Egypt proves how undemocratic "they" are. The people of Egypt elected Morsi, true. They weren’t exactly offered a cornucopia of political choice, now were they? But his recent decrees of power above the judiciary have many Egyptians calling for him to step down. All those protests, all those people on the streets, all that courage in the face of oppression, THAT IS DEMOCRACY.