About five days ago, President Obama gave a super-long speech explaining the the use of Drones overseas, why the Government killed Americans with Drone strikes, why Guantanamo bay is still open, why he can’t close it automatically, the future of the “War on Terror” and how the “war” should “end.” This came right around the time where an attack in London killed a man. This also comes right after the Boston bombings. Essentially, we are moving away from looking at the “War on Terror” as a war and we’re looking at it as a new normal. There will always be people that will try and kill us. We will always try and stop them.
It will help if we look at a conversation that popped up right after Obama’s speech. Glenn Greenwald wrote a piece about how the attack in London wasn’t a terrorist attack, but how it was called a terrorist attack anyway.
The US, the UK and its allies have repeatedly killed Muslim civilians over the past decade (and before that), but defenders of those governments insist that this cannot be “terrorism” because it is combatants, not civilians, who are the targets. Can it really be the case that when western nations continuously kill Muslim civilians, that’s not “terrorism”, but when Muslims kill western soldiers, that is terrorism? Amazingly, the US has even imprisoned people at Guantanamo and elsewhere on accusations of “terrorism” who are accused of nothing more than engaging in violence against US soldiers who invaded their country.
Mr. Greenwald believes that, if this really is a war, then when the other side fights back, is it terrorism? And if a Drone strike kills people in Pakistan or Yemen, is that terrorism? Or is that warfare? Mr. Greenwald was countered by Andrew Sullivan, a blogger with his own perspective.
I really have to try restrain my anger here. First off, Glenn’s adoption of the view that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amounted to “continuous violence by western states against Muslim civilians” seems a new step toward the memes of Islamist propaganda. Does Glenn really believe that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, however flawed, were deliberate attempts to kill Muslim civilians, in the way al Qaeda deliberately targets and kills Muslim civilians?
Mr. Sullivan believes that Islamic fundamentalists started this and we’ll finish this. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, as Mr. Greenwald explained in his rebuttal to Mr. Sullivan’s accusation.
He, and so many others, are deeply invested on a psychological and personal level in protecting the narrative that Islam is a uniquely violent force in the world, that Muslim extremists pose a threat that nobody else poses, and that the US, the West and its allies (including Israel) are morally superior and more civilized than their adversaries, and their violence is more noble and elevated.
Labeling the violent acts of those Muslim Others as “terrorism” – butnever our own – is a key weapon used to propagate this worldview. The same is true of the tactic that depicts their violence against us as senseless, primitive, savage and without rational cause, while glorifying our own violence against them as noble, high-minded, benevolent and civilized (we slaughter them with shiny, high-tech drones, cluster bombs, jet fighters and cruise missiles, while they use meat cleavers and razor blades).
So, who’s right? Is Glenn Greenwald right that America is as much to blame for our current foreign policy as the “terrorists?” Or is Andrew Sullivan right that we are facing bad guys and we are justified to defend ourselves and our interests? Is President Obama right to use drone strikes to kill potential murders? Or is he wrong?
I don’t have the answer to any of that, and that’s not really what this post is about.
The older I get, the more I think about my mortality. I’m not there yet, but soon, I’ll have less life to live than life I have lived. When you’re young, you have so much time you don’t really contemplate your death. It’s a billion years away and who cares? But when you turn 34 or 35 or 36, you understand that every second you have is special and that you should optimize it. So, when I hear about people getting blown up at a marathon, or when I hear about a person being hacked to death in a street in London, or when I hear about people being killed by a drone strike half way across the world, I think about it personally. That could have been me. I know the odds of me being killed in a terrorist act is pretty long, but that doesn’t make me feel better.
So, the question of who is right and who is wrong when it comes to Foreign policy is a mute one. No one is right and everyone is wrong. We are all wrong and it’s all wrong. If the President of the United States has but one option to a problem, and that option is to kill people with a missile from a flying robot, then it is all fucked and it was fucked before he even got up in the morning. If the only way to solve our problems is with violence, then it’s all wrong. When it comes to stopping a guy from blowing up a train station with a bomb strapped to his chest, the only way to stop him is to do something horribly wrong, which is killing him. The best option is to have him never put a bomb on in the first place.
My point is that there isn’t a yes or no answer. No one is on the right side of anything. When you watch the news and you’re confused and if you don’t know who is right and what to think, then you are feeling exactly what you should feel. It’s complicated and complex. It’s alright if your emotions about it are too.