The Parallax Brief


Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

The Right is Against Fairness

A big problem with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party specifically, and the American conservative movement in general (and for that matter the extreme right-wing of the Conservative Party and movement in Britain, too) is that it is slavishly ideological. Anything is acceptable in the name of progressing the Right’s cause; nothing anyone outside the team ever does is ever good.

With this in mind, I found, via Matthew Yglesias’s consistently outstanding blog, a colossally idiotic article by James Besser concerning the possible appointment of a special envoy to aid the Israel-Palestine peace process:

“Some Jewish leaders say the very qualities that may appeal to the Obama administration — Mitchell’s reputation as an honest broker — could spark unhappiness, if not outright opposition, from some pro-Israel groups.

“Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “So I’m concerned,” Foxman continued. “I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.””

Abraham Foxman, the chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, should be ashamed: as Yglesias himself points out, the article is “incredibly stupid—nobody comes out against fairness.

But herein lies the problem with the pro-Israel lobby, and, I might say, the Right in general. They have a blinkered, ‘you’re either unequivocally with us, or you’re a sworn enemy’ approach to ideology that would make a jihadist proud, and simply can’t tolerate deviation from the play book on any matter at any stage, even if deviating is the right thing to do.

Nowhere is this tendency more evident than with Israel. So hysterical is the right’s defence of Israel, that it has become next to impossible to criticize Israel’s actions without being labeled as a terrorist sympathizer who wants to deny Israel the right to exist.

I’m nowhere near smart enough to disentangle the complex knot of issues that comprises the Israel question, but I would suggest one of the biggest roadblocks to peace is that both sides are primarily supported by absolutists who will brook no compromise or discussion. Of course, this kind of idealogical absolutism has been traditionally associated with Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Muslim extremists in general, but the sooner we realize that we have a very powerful contingent in the so-called Judeo-Christian world with similarly intractable, although diametrically opposed, views, the sooner we can sideline both sets of crazies, who would both rather see a continuation of scenes like the one depicted in the picture above than accept compromise.

That way, more reasonable types may be able to get on with the task of finding a “meticulously even-handed”, “fair” solution to what is ultimately an inhumanly destruvtive problem.


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Gaza Supplies Nauseating Reminder of the Cost of War

It would take a smarter man than I to disentangle the history, justifications, claims, emotions, propaganda and truth of the current conflict in Gaza. But while the pundits and analysts intellectualize the conflict, a war with terrible human costs is being waged.

A friend sent me a picture yesterday that beggars belief. It depicts a burnt baby being held up by an (understandably) hysterical medic. Clearly shown are the infant’s face, body, and bloody femur bones. I don’t know whether the picture is real or fake; whether it was staged or not. Neither do I apportion blame. However, it serves to remind us of the probable cost of this war.

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Bush Administration Went Exactly As Planned

The Bush Administration’s rap sheet is longer than my arm. So well catalogued are the failures that listing them all here would be superfluous, but suffice to say, from Dick Cheney’s opaque Energy Task Force in the early days, through to by far the biggest economic mess since 1929 at the end, the Bush Administration has been one, nightmarish, sparsely punctuated litany of disaster and criminality.

On this matter, today has an interesting video collage of journalists’ verdict on the Bush administration’s legacy, which briefly garners analysis on each disaster. For me, it doesn’t go far enough in its criticism, but its overt efforts to refrain from shrill invective makes it all the more damning. 

This raises an interesting question, though: the evidence strongly suggests that Bush was the worst president ever, but how exactly did it all go so very wrong? 

The best way to understand the Bush Administration, in my view, is to realize that it didn’t go wrong. In fact, it went exactly as planned. 

Take, for instance, the administration’s criminal abuse of executive power and willful disregard for the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. A significant number within the Bush Administration had been bristling for 20 years against the restrictions placed on executive power after Watergate. According to Jane Mayer in her brilliant expose of the war on terror, The Dark Side, Cheney told Bush early on that at the very least they needed to leave the office of the president ‘stronger’ than when they found it.

This conceited, authoritarian bent, rather the need to fight terrorists, gave birth to the abuses of executive power, the rip-tide roll back of individual freedoms in America and abroad, the abjuring of the legislative branch, and the disregard for international law and the Geneva Conventions that have characterized the Bush administration.

Similarly, Bush was successful in pushing through his economic and social policies, such as giving tax breaks to the rich and large corporations, and blocking additional healthcare provisions. Having so many more Americans outside health insurance, and turning a huge budgetary surplus into a deficit so big it could redecorate Solomon’s Temple, was not some form of bad luck, but a direct consequence of the successful passage of the Bush Administration’s economic and social policies.

Of course, the best example of this phenomenon is that no matter how many times the Bush Administration was warned prior to 9/11 of the dangers of Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden, they simply wanted to ignore it. Again, they were successful in implementing their ideals, namely, that Bin Laden should not be treated as a priority. 9/11 was job done for the Bush Administration as well as Al-Qaeda.

On the question of ‘how did it all go wrong,’ Vanity Fair this week is running a must-read oral history of the Bush Administration in which a plethora of senior American and foreign diplomats, politicians and bureaucrats, as well as senior figures within the Bush Administration itself, provide an insider view of the key moments of Bush’s presidency.

I’ll leave you with one quote from the article which in particular reminds us of just how pregnant with failure even the early days of the Bush Administration were. 

Richard Clarke, chief White House counterterrorism advisor:

The contrast with having briefed his father and Clinton and Gore was so marked. And to be told, frankly, early in the administration, by Condi Rice and [her deputy] Steve Hadley, you know, Don’t give the president a lot of long memos, he’s not a big reader—well, shit. I mean, the president of the United States is not a big reader?

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Why is Closing Guantanamo Bay so Difficult?

guantanamo1It is clear to me that extra-judicial captivity has no place in a civilized society. What makes us better than the despots and the terrorists is our moral code, and when we forgo that, there really isn’t much between us and the bad guys.

No doubt those on the lunatic fringes of the Right would accuse me of ‘moral relativism’, or else some other barely understood buzz-phrase. 

On this point, I would argue that the west’s (or,  if you prefer, the liberal democracies’) way of doing things is better not because we’re ‘us’ and they’re ‘them’, but because of our actions. Britain’s system of government isn’t better than, say, Iran’s just because Britain’s Britain: It is better because it offers democracy, free speech, enshrines the rule of law, etc, etc. If suddenly Britain converted to a dictatorship, repealed democracy, and crushed any dissenting voices, then we couldn’t claim to be better than Iran.

Similarly, I don’t think we can hold people in prison indefinitely, denying them their basic human rights in the process, without sacrificing some moral capital.

It certainly makes one feel less like a sandal wearing, feeble voiced peacenik to say: “Do you think you can play nice with these people?”, or “We need to fight at their level,” but it’s worth considering whether we really want to do anything on “their level.”

On that score, it should be obvious to most sane observers, that Guantanamo is an example of a moral repugnance I’d have scarcely considered possible before the neo-con kabal of moral degenerates and criminals seized the White House

However, GTMO is not only a violation of every ideal we in the West hold dear, it also has another, quite pernicious side effect. Once an individual is taken out of the judicial system, it is virtually impossible to put him back in, and all evidence acquired under torture – or advanced interrogation techniques – will be inadmissible. This means that we can never establish properly who is guilty and who is not, who did what and where, and the victims of these terrible crimes will never have the comfort of knowing justice has been done.

But, there is a final knot left to untie: GTMO is also extremely difficult to close. If one cannot put an individual back in the justice system to be tried and/or imprisoned, and one cannot release him for suspicion he may be a danger, how can one close it?

This is a question addressed far more effectively by the Financial Times’ Willem Buiter, so I thought I’d share.

It’s also one that Barak Obama is going to have to deal with more decisively when January 20th comes around. Good luck with that.

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