Politics & Media
Sep 28, 2012, 03:24AM

Rooting for Obama, the Murdering President

I'm On Obama's Side, But He Doesn't Deserve Reelection.

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As an obsessive presidential horserace watcher and partisan liberal Democrat, there's not much in my lifetime that's been as thoroughly satisfying as watching Barack Obama campaign. The 2008 nomination battle was a glorious slow motion, ballet-like "fuck you" to the centrist Democratic establishment, as Bill Clinton, the-most-talented-politician-of-his-generation™ was made to look like the callous, flat-footed, principle-less thug I'd always known he was. Shortly thereafter, the press was surgically removed from John McCain's ass, and the war-mongering war hero picked up his inflatable ego and staggered off the national stage, semi-sentient VP pick in toe.

And now, Mitt Romney, with a dreadful economy at his back and the unlimited resources of an engorged plutocracy in his sails, is losing, losing, losing like the losing loser that he is. Everybody says it's because he's a rotten candidate… but the fact is, every candidate who runs against Obama is a rotten candidate, because Obama is the goddamn Muhammad Ali of US Presidential politics.  He floats like a butterfly, and he stings your ass off. 

So, yeah, rooting for Obama is fun. Which is why it's a bit of a buzz kill to have Conor Friedersdorf pop up and remind me that, besides being the most talented politician of the last half-century, Obama is also an unrepentant child-murderer

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. 

Friedersdorf includes a number of links to document his piece. You can check them if you'd like. Personally, I've never been able to read an article about our drone program all the way through. I get a couple sentences in, usually, and can't stand to read the rest.

Friedersdorf might say that my unwillingness to look this in the face is a sign of my partisan hackery… and he's probably right. When Bush and Cheney tortured people to death, or randomly decided to slaughter large numbers of people halfway around the globe, I could at least feel like they were on the other side. I never voted for them… and, in fact, in 2008, voted expressly to get them and the deranged, slavering party of which they were the leaders to stop. "Hope" and "change" may sound like empty slogans, but I was hoping specifically for a world in which the US significantly reduced the volume of wholesale slaughter it performed in the name of imperial security.

And I guess I got that to some extent. Obama officially forswore torture (though whether we're still torturing or not is a more an open question than I'd like it to be). He got us out of Iraq; he didn't invade Iran. He did invade Libya, of course, directly contradicting his own stated principles, as Friedersdorf points out—but at least that was a limited and more or less successful engagement, rather than the nightmares we'd grown to expect from Bush.

Which is to say, Obama is a vicious mass murderer… but at least, as presidents go, he's a fairly effective and calculating vicious mass murderer. Andrew Sullivan, in his gushing, breathless way has been comparing Obama to Reagan—conveniently forgetting that Reagan was a corrupt fool, whose signature achievements in foreign policy were Iran-Contra and happening to be on the scene when Gorbachev turned up. Obama, it seems to me, is much more like Eisenhower, the man who quietly and cold-bloodedly imposed American hegemony from Vietnam to Iran without ever getting his hands dirty. Or at least, without letting anyone see his dirty hands.

Vietnam and Iran didn't turn out so great for us. In retrospect, Eisenhower's Cold War policy looks too clever by half. Obama's machinations in Pakistan probably won't turn out well either, certainly not for the Pakistanis.

Which, again, is something I try not to think about too much, because… well, mostly because I don't feel like there's anything I can do about it. With Bush, I could at least root for his downfall. But I'm on Obama's side. I hoped he'd fix this; he didn't. I'm not sure where else to go.

Friedersdorf has a suggestion: he wants me to go to libertarian Gary Johnson. That's who Friedersdorf will vote for. But he's able to make that decision in part because he's convinced himself that Mitt Romney would not be worse—or at least not significantly or exponentially worse—than Obama.

What about the assertion that Romney will be even worse than Obama has been on these issues? It is quite possible, though not nearly as inevitable as Democrats seem to think. It isn't as though they accurately predicted the abysmal behavior of Obama during his first term, after all. And how do you get worse than having set a precedent for the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens? By actually carrying out such a killing? Obama did that too. Would Romney? I honestly don't know. I can imagine he'd kill more Americans without trial and in secret, or that he wouldn't kill any. I can imagine that he'd kill more innocent Pakistani kids or fewer. His rhetoric suggests he would be worse. I agree with that. Then again, Romney revels in bellicosity; Obama soothes with rhetoric and kills people in secret.  

What that assessment leaves out, it seems to me, is the fact that we have actually had a Republican president fairly recently. We have some sense of what the party's priorities are and how they function when in power. Romney has not repudiated any of Bush's legacy; he has many of the same advisors. The same people who were calling for an invasion of Iraq are now calling for an invasion of Iran. And, yes, invading Iran, or Syria, would be a lot worse than anything Obama's done, at least if you believe that killing thousands or tens of thousands of people is worse than killing hundreds. It's true that you can't be sure what the future will hold—but based on recent Republican governance, and on Romney's rhetoric, I think it's reasonable to argue that he's much more likely to involve us in some catastrophic military mess than Obama.  Less-likely-to-invade-Iran is not exactly a full-throated endorsement of Obama, but it is a reason to vote for him.

Which doesn't necessarily mean I will in fact vote for him. I enjoy rooting for him. I honestly think he will be a significantly better president than Romney—because of the not-invading thing, because of domestic policy, and because the campaign has made me think that Romney is an incompetent bumbler who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the White House. But, nonetheless, I agree with Friedersdorf: Obama's civil liberties record and his drone war should be invalidating. Child murderers shouldn't be reelected.  I live in Obama's home state of Illinois, so it doesn't much matter who I vote for anyway. But it's possible I'll cast my useless ballot for Johnson, not so much in hope as in despair.

  • Noah, you have a persuasive argument here. Seriously. It's awful killing innocents. I have one question, though, that you need to answer: Imagine that you are the president. You know that terrorist ABC is planning something against us. He has successfully killed Americans before. He has chosen to hide among innocent people. Those people know who he is and choose to hide him (for the sake of this argument, put aside for a second that they may be coerced into hiding him). My question, Mr. President: What do you do?

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  • First, call George W. Bush for advice.

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  • The children didn't choose to hide them, I don't think.//But, no, I don't think Pakistani lives are less valuable than American ones, and I don't think killing hundreds now on the argument that possibly some Americans will be killed sometime in the future is either moral or hard-headed pragmatism. It's cowardice, and in the long run bad policy, since it encourages terrorism and resentment against the US.// Anyway, I don't know how useful hypotheticals like this are. If I were president, I'd cut defense budgets by 2/3 and pull American troops out of basically everywhere. I'd be telling the American people and the world that America had been an imperial power long enough, and that it was time to cut it out. I'd never get elected because I think the entire American imperialist project is an immoral disaster, and nobody would vote for me. So asking me what I would do in office seems silly.

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  • No, it isn't silly. I am not asking for your election platform. You know by my comments that I am solid Obama and a liberal. But sitting by and letting somebody cook up the next 911--people who have decided on a tactic of hiding behind innocent people--is not an answer. Saying that you be an isolationist isn't the answer. The question remains unanswered--and the broader question of whether what you would do as president doesn't answer it. I ask it again: You are president, you have unimpeachable intelligence that a group hiding in a Pakistani village is working on a dirty bomb that they will send to LA or NYC. The Pakistani government refuses to help. These people have chosen to hide behind innocent people. President Noah, what do you do?

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  • If you phrase the question so that I'm only allowed to answer in the way you'd like, then yes I haven't answered it. But I'll say it again; Pakistani lives aren't less important than American ones. Killing people because you think that sometime in the future somebody might attack you is cowardice. Insisting that you know for sure that al qaida will get us if we don't kill children is an excuse, not an argument. So, yeah; I wouldn't drop bombs on innocent people in order to protect the lives of innocent people who I happen to care more about. That's the calculus of imperialism and it's evil.//And, you know, if Obama really does think this is a reasonable calculus, then he could bring it before Congress and declare a war, which is what the constitution says he's supposed to do.// I mean, if Bush were doing this shit, would it be okay? You're arguments could easily be used to justify the Iraq war, or invading Iran, or pretty much anything. Why not just nuke the middle east? That's catch some terrorists, I'm sure. Would it be okay if we passed out umbrellas to the Israelis first?

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  • My point here Noah is that this is an incredibly complicated and complex issue that you raise with the post. 1. For one thing, I am not saying that American lives are more important than Pakistani. They are equal. And if there is reasonable belief that the actions of a group hiding amongst innocents--and purposefully doing so--endangers American lives, a great case can be made for preemption. Why are the elders who are getting pummeled by the drones not fighting against the people who are causing the U.S. to do this? 2. By the way, where is the imperialism angle here? We are not occupying Pakistan, the last I heard. 3. I agree with you that if we are not technically at war with al queda, it should be brought to congress. 4. Just as you say my argument can be used to do anything, I can say yours can be used to do nothing, in the face of solid evidence that we are in peril. That is why this is a difficult topic. As I said in my first response, I have a tremendous sympathy for your argument. 5. There were hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese innocents killed in WWII. Was that justified? My two main points here: This is an incredibly difficult and complex issues that doesn't reduce itself to the simplistic nature of your post and, secondly, the responsibility for the horrors you are assigning to Obama (or, yes, Bush) in this are shared by half or more by the Pakistani government which is not expelling these people, the terrorists who hide among innocent people and the citizens who let it happen.

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  • American imperialism is about projecting force, not occupation. Been that way for a long time. Usually liberals are the ones who point this out...unless your guy is in power, I guess.//There is pretty much no serious ethical framework I'm aware of that justifies preemptive violence against innocents. Just War doesn't. I don't think even Niebuhrian pragmatism would work, unless you really stretched it far enough to be meaningless. Talking about how it's a "difficult" issue just seems like a way of covering up the fact that we're willing to kill an unlimited number of people if they happen to be living near someone who we think might possibly be a threat to us someday. As I said, that is a cowardly calculus, and the guy who made it should not be reelected.//WW II was not an instance of preemptive warfare. So it's not really clear how that fits. If you're asking me if dropping the atomic bombs was justified, then no, it absolutely wasn't. If I believed in hell, I'd expect Harry Truman to be there when Obama finally gets to visit.

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  • Noah, wake up. I am a liberal. We are living in the age in which wars are not declared between two nations. It is a nation on one side and a bunch of stateless radicals on the other who are content to hide behind innocent people. We all know that. The ethics of whether or not it is justified in some instances to kill innocents has nothing to do with whether the war is preemptive or not (the little kids in Dresden and Hiroshima never declared war on the US). The point is that the president of the U.S. has a tremendous amount of power, so it incumbent on us to elect people like Obama and not idiots like Bush and Cheney. I am not familiar with a lot of philosophers--but know that if lived in a town where there were radicals who were going to be attacked by the U.S. drones I would get myself and my kids out of that town immediately. The debate about imperials has nothing to do with this conversation. As far as the atom bomb: More people would have died, including innocents, if we had invaded mainland Japan than died in the two atomic bombs. You are seeing this in a hopelessly naive way, in my opinion. People in power have to make excrutiating choices. YOu are seeing it from an very simplistic and unrealistic vantage point. By the way, if you feel this strongly about Obama's culpability, I guess you can't vote for him, right? I mean, he's a murderer...

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  • Holy shit. You're actually blaming the Pakistanis for being in the places where the drones are attacking them? And then pulling out the "more people would have died in the invasion of Japan" nonsense? Have you ever read anything about the Hiroshima decision? If you think Harry Truman was carefully counting potential war dead, you are living in fantasyland.//I've voted for murderers and scumbags before, I'll probably do it again. It doesn't make me happy...but it's better than convincing myself that up is down and right is wrong. I don't know if I'll vote for Obama or not...though, again, since I'm in Illinois, it won't make any practical difference either way.

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  • Where do you get that I am blaming them? The invasion of Japan "nonsense" is true or at least it would have been close. I am not saying what Truman was or was not thinking. What I am saying is that you are putting this all on Obama when what really is happening is 1. terrorists are hiding behind innocent people; 2. the pakistani government is not doing what it should do, which is police their territory and 3. have the people who live there (if they are strong enough) evict the freaking terrorists. I am not saying that we should be sending drones freely or without great consternation, but your fixation on laying this all at the feet of Obama -- whose job is to protect America--is ridiculous. The villains here are the terrorists and, as I said and continue to say, this is a very deep problem. Your reaction is that it'snot all that complex, it's all Obama's fault. My position is that he has a mooral and ethical responsbility to protect all the people he can, Americans and Pakistanis. If given a dire choice--like the one you basically refused to answer this morning--the answer has to be to protect Americans. If the Pakistani authorities want to get with the program and protect their own citizens, that would be just great. Your dislike of Obama is really odd. Just don't vote, or go third party. That's fine. But please start thinking things through a bit more clearly.

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  • It's really strange that the only villain you seem to see here is Obama.

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