PDHblog This is a place for members of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i to express their thoughts, hopes and exasperations about political happenings.

April 14, 2017

ON THE WAR IN SYRIA, TULSI’s ACTIONS AND THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PROGRESSIVES

I posted this as run-on comment on someone else’s Facebook thread dealing with the war in Syria and criticizing Tulsi’s views, as well as criticizing progressives generally for not being out in the streets protesting Assad’s brutal regime.

Since I put so much time into it, I figured I would post it on this blog so more people could see it and comment. Just be (semi-)civil, will you? Trolls not welcome.

A word to help explain the immediate context: A friend had posted a link to an interview with a very thoughtful Syrian progressive, who looks very close to what we would envision a moderate Syrian opposition figure to look like, to sound like. This friend was also chastising American progressives for not launching a large anti-war movement focused upon the brutal nature of the Assad regime.

Please, do not make this too much about Tulsi, either pro or con. Let’s try to focus on principles here, not personalities.
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I disagree that it is harder today to know what is “progressive” and what is “imperialist.” It has always been true that there are brutal leaders, generals, kings, emperors, warlords doing horrible things around the world. Seriously. Give me a year when that has not been true.

But it is also true, and a lot of people seem to be wanting to ignore this, that there are other, powerful forces, whose hands are not clean, who seek to dominate other countries, other people’s, in order to extract resources, gain markets, seize land, secure ports, build bases, etc. while I will not excuse what the Japanese did during WWII, or assume the Chinese do not have a history if their own imperialism, I am rooted in the “western” experience, Western history, particularly that of Western Europe and North America. And I am a citizen of the United States of America.
As such, I have more influence (tiny though it may be) and more responsibility to make sure the drive of “my” government to dominate other countries, other people, is restrained, is fettered by my actions. Our primary responsibility is to stay the hand of US imperialism.

I am not an isolationist. I have demonstrated my internationalist bonafides in my youth by traveling through the dangerous conditions in Central America at the time the USG was sponsoring death squads and dictatorships while Reagan was president. I went to see firsthand the struggle of the people of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua against the US government’s policies. I went to the Philippines in the early years of the Aquino regime to see the benefits of 80 years of US colonialism and learn from the struggle of the Filipino people.

I am not just “an American,” I am a “citizen of the world.” And a human being.

The questions of balancing my responsibilities as both a citizen of the US, operating within the US system, within “American” society and my responsibilities as a human being, sympathetic to the condition of other human beings facing often horrible conditions and often struggling bravely is a question I have wrestled with for a long time.

Other people have wrestled with this, so there are models, principles, even laws, which can help inform this discussion. It is not as if this is the first example of a brave person in a foreign land hoping for help in the struggle against oppression. Is it “heartless” to calm one’s emotions to clarify our thinking? I think it is foolish to not do so.

Fully recognizing a lot of the intellectual frameworks for analyzing our problems have been developed by the elite, I would still hold that the framework of the “Just War” doctrine is valuable, as is the principle of “the right to national self-determination.” These ideas have been codified, imperfectly, of course, in the Charter of the United Nations and other institutions. Yes, the UN suffers from structural defects, the most obvious being the veto power of the Security Council, dominated by the world’s “superpowers” most inclined towards imperialist projects themselves.

The right to national self-determination is also an imperfect conception. What is a “nation”? What about the rights to other, sub-national groups within the territory claimed by a nation? Do they not also have rights? If so, what protects them from the brutality of a national government? What are the rights of a country’s people in a time of war? During a civil war?

I think that framework is helpful if we are trying to sort out our responsibilities. In the age of the internet, we all, especially citizens/consumers/viewers in the wealthy, dominant countries, are bombarded with information about horrible conditions in other countries and our heartstrings are tugged at.

I saw Tulsi criticized for being a “part-time peacenik.” Sorry, I think being a “part-time peacenik” is ALMOST the best we can hope for in a serious person. I say that with a hat tip to Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King and others. Nelson Mandela was a “part-time peacenik” as well.

Please don’t use that as an insult unless you are, yourself, a full-time pacifist. And IF you are a fulltime pacifist, you will likely understand how very difficult it is to maintain that stance and would not insult another person who aspires but who finds they cannot rule out the use of military force. I saw someone who insinuates they are a pacifist criticize the USG for blocking the sale of artillery to the non-ISIL, anti-Assad armed forces. (Things that make you go hmmm.)

The reason a peace movement has not arisen, marching in the streets, besieging Congress on the basis of protesting Assad’s brutal dictatorship is because it is unclear what demands we would be making on whom. Because such energy would very likely be diverted into supporting increased military violence under the banner of “humanitarian interventionism.” We have just witnessed how compassion for the victims of brutal dictators, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi being the most recent, most obvious examples, has been used to unleash mass violence by “our” imperialist government and has unambiguously MADE THINGS WORSE. Which is consistent with the guidance we find in the Just War doctrine: that using military violence is not justified unless there is a strong probability it will lead to a better outcome.

So, like it or not, Tulsi’s criticisms of the doctrine of using military violence for “regime change” is correct. Her call for an investigation by a neutral, legitimate authority of the facts surrounding the alleged chemical attack is also correct. Her insistence that the president cannot be allowed to launch a missile strike based upon a sudden shift in his attitude, without consulting congress and seeking authorization by the United Nations, is also correct.

Attempts to portray her as heartless, as an apologist for Assad (or Putin), for being a political opportunist, are noise, are “static,” distracting us from seeing things clearly. On these key, fundamental points, she is emphasizing the main principles we have previously adopted, in calmer times, as the signposts to guide us towards a just and rational policy.

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