Rant

Michaele wrote to the weblog the other day [3.12.2001]:

I just want to rant for a little while about how the Bush administration’s attitude about terrorism is currently being deployed to justify some horrendously incoherent foreign policy and the failure to take a morally brave and politically urgent stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Warning: this may be mildly incoherent, as I am a bit tired and angry.

We’ve all known since the W. administration first started talking about a “War on Terrorism” that the definition of terrorism and the list of terrorist organizations and their state sponsors was not based in any principled understanding of what counts as terror (versus, say, freedom fighting or legitimate acts of self-defense), but rather was based in political expediency: a combination of what our “allies” would tolerate, what was necessary to make “allies” of those governments in the first place, and what would justify only the sorts of military action that W. and his more hawkish advisors wanted to pursue anyway (that is, attacks on the Taliban and al Qaeda, and the Gulf War Redux, which is by all reports just around the corner). But until the past twenty-four hours, this peculiar understanding of who the enemy was did not seem to be wholly morally bankrupt (and has therefore had shocking credence among many of my friends and family, despite their varying degrees of distaste with the talk of war and revenge). Whatever objections one might have to war, however much W.’s frequent use of the term “evildoers” in public speeches made one think of a bad Saturday morning cartoon, it made some sense that people who have the capability and the desire to attack civilians across state borders need to be dealt with _in some manner_ because of the unpredictable threat that they pose to the security and stability of those who would be their intended targets.

Yet after W.’s speech in which he extended the moral authority of the U.S. to respond to the Taliban/al-Qaeda to Israel responding to yesterday’s horrific attacks, whatever slight moral promise that his administration’s understanding of terrorism held was completely betrayed. The administration has been flip-flopping since�January on its policy towards Israel, which has to make you wonder whether it is a matter of the much publicized conflicts between Powell and Rumsfeld/Cheney, or simply that no one with any authority in the W. administration has a clear idea of what to do in the Middle East (in part because they thought back in January that they could get away with a policy of selective American isolationism). Sometimes, the administration has condemned Israel’s ‘retaliatory’ attacks on Palestinians as going too far; sometimes it has justified Israel’s attacks. If you look carefully, there seems to be _some_ rhyme and reason to when the administration condemns Israel: when the attacks seem to be on Palestinians in general, involve a disproportionate use of military force, and result in Israeli occupation of�a particular area for some time. When the administration supports Israel, it is typically because the Israeli military has sought out specific targets and isolated them for attack (such as the Hamas leaders traveling by car a few weeks back).

However, last night’s speech by W. in essence authorizing Israel to respond forcefully to the “terrorist” attacks (in quotes because I recognize that who counts as a terrorist really does seem to be a matter of who those with the really big guns think is a terrorist, not because I do not personally condemn the attacks), combined with today’s utter _failure_ to condemn Israel’s attacks on the Palestinian Authority (which smack of war, and not war on terrorists) is a clear sign that the administration has finally abdicated any semblance of taking the moral high ground in its war on “terrorism”. One would think that W. would have learned from his father’s mistakes: taking a permissive ‘we support you-and we won’t interfere’ attitude towards how another state treats its minorities or the sovereignty of state boundaries only serves to firm up other states’ resolve in transgressing international norms. Iraq would not have invaded Kuwait without having the impression that the U.S. would not intervene. Sharon’s Israel could not have notched up the violence and the provocativeness of its attacks on Palestinians, Hamas, and now directly the Palestinian Authority without believing firmly that this would in no way jeopardize relations with its one true ally, the U.S. The absurdly self-congratulatory and self-interested definition of terror and terrorists that is sustaining U.S. actions in Afghanistan is now justifying Sharon’s brutal policy of trying to provoke Palestinians to become more and more violent, more and more politically extreme, so that he can sustain the popular support that keeps him in office, and pursue the policy of complete expulsion of the Palestinian people that he has clearly wanted from the beginning.

I don’t mean to downplay here how much we ought to be critical of how the U.S. attack on terrorism has been deployed to justify the specific way that the U.S. has responded to Sept. 11th. (As a U.S. citizen, I am deeply concerned about how the Justice Department and the executive branch are trying to increase their authority and the secrecy in which they might carry out their war). However, I think that the events of the past 24 hours call on us to be even more vigilant about how the justification of a war on terror is and can be deployed to justify the pursuit of violence over the pursuit of peace, the pursuit of relative homogeneity over the pursuit of pluralist political arrangements that aim at justice for all people living in and sharing a particular space. I originally was concerned about how the war on terror would justify the W. administration’s policies. It is clear that we also need to be concerned about how it divests the U.S. of any moral authority to condemn the clearly objectionable treatment of peoples like the Palestinians in the name of a war on terror.

I think that’s enough for now. Let the criticisms begin!

Thanks for this, and apologies for the delay in posting it on this page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *