Monday, May 23, 2016

An Involuntary War President?

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards

Any day, every day, is a good day to write a letter to the people who report and analyze the news.

The piece of "news analysis" that inspired this letter (which I suggest is closer to a publicity release on behalf of the administration) can be read by clicking here.


Kevin Liptak
CNN Washington Bureau
820 First St NE
Washington DC 20002

Dear sir,

I do not yet concede that it is a vain wish or forlorn hope that we can read qualitative and critical coverage of elected power, right up to the presidency, and so today I write on your report dated today of President Obama's visits to Japan and Vietnam and the context you provided.

It is accurate to describe Obama as "an involuntary war president" only to a degree. He inherited wars that he did not initiate; he also inherited a geopolitical philosophy that perpetuates war, a system of diplomatic relations that facilitates economic activity in which companies yield profit via war or military dominance. While this historical state of international relations is not of Barack Obama's own design, and conceding that it could not be undone by one sitting president, this man's place in history is as a participant, not a critic, and so there is a reasonable argument to be made that his participation in, and indeed escalation of war in certain respects (take drone warfare for example, the undeclared and footloose prosecution of war on spontaneous targets), is not "involuntary" at all and to describe it as such fabricates an innocence that is not real.

President Obama was only three years old at the time of the Tonkin resolution, as you report, but Kissinger lives and his view of U.S. power has prevailed over presidents since Nixon, including Obama. You report positively that "the President is working to move past the scars of war to develop deeper economic, diplomatic, and even military ties." That is certainly a statement that would please the press secretary - it has an historical cadence that stops short of the moral problem. Those ties you describe are interrelated with the "scars of war" - the President cannot move past the legacy of our previous wars, and neither can the country, until we begin probing the logic of our foreign policy. Those ties are the architecture - but we need to ask what kind of houses we are building with them.

While it is fine, as Ben Rhodes states, to "look squarely at history, to have a dialogue about history," and I certainly concur with him as far as he goes, we must also look squarely at policy as history in progress. Otherwise we cannot evade being imprisoned by the past, as Rhodes put it. This is where you have a role to play. What do we mean when we speak of healing or moving past the scars of war? Can you not ask whether we mean progress toward a world where human beings do not wage wars of aggression for strategic advantage, and do not use trade and monetary policies to subjugate the peoples of other countries for profit? Can we not ask candidly whether the "healing" is simply a pivot to newly negotiated terms in economic relations, to business carrying on, even if those strategic alliances lend our solidarity and protection to regimes that wage wars of aggression, such as Saudi Arabia; even if we continue, as we have, our involvement in undermining and overthrowing democratically elected governments elsewhere and embracing oppressive new regimes that are friendlier to amoral financial interests?

These questions are less welcome by the administration, naturally; and what of it? How many people really want to retire and look back knowing that had a platform for questioning power on behalf of the people and on behalf of history, and opted instead to be pleasant and function as a publicist instead?