Wednesday, October 19, 2011

American Interests?

Glenn Greenwald has a good, if by-the-numbers piece on Obama's hypocrisy in condemning Iran for hypocrisy. It's good to have the quotations, but there's nothing really new in it; anyone who hasn't noticed Obama's hypocrisy either isn't paying attention, or doesn't want to see it.

Obligingly, an Obama apologist with the screen name JC Watts leapt into the fray. His rebuttal is also by-the-numbers, and it's worth looking at what he says for its incoherence as well as the way he regurgitates the familiar talking points.
The fact that Glenn is comfortable, no gleeful, in his assessment of false equivalence between President Obama and a Iranian theocracy, is stunning. But it shouldn't be. Glenn represents a type of liberalism that lost us every major election until Clinton. That allows chicken hawk republicans to call democratic war heroes cowards and get away with it. I have friend who believes in almost everything dems stand for and he still votes republican. Why? because when his dad came back from Vietnam dems spit on him. He can't get past it. Won't. Doesn't even try. Glenn is like those protesters.
Watts trips over his shoelaces in the first sentence, which on its face says that Greenwald was claiming a "false equivalence between President Obama and a Iranian theocracy." It's Watts who accuses Greenwald of declaring a "false equivalence" between Iran and the US -- "false equivalence" means that someone says two things are the same when they aren't. Greenwald was saying that the US and Iran claim to be different, but when it comes to a particular issue, namely supporting dictatorial states that kill their own people, they are more alike than different. So first off, Watts reveals that he doesn't know the terms he's using; he's probably parroting what he's heard from other loyalists. (Someone like the guy I discussed here, say.)

Second, which "democratic war heroes" does Watts have in mind? Not Obama; not Clinton. John Kerry was meant, I suppose, whose status as a hero is open to debate, as is that of the Republican "war hero" John McCain. Certainly George W. Bush had no war record to point to. Granted, attacking the Democrats as soft on Communism or terror is a popular Republican tactic, but the Democrats also use it when they can. But it's not at all obvious that Democratic presidential candidates have lost elections because of such accusations; it could be because of their economic policies, which they get from the Republicans. And what this has to do with Greenwald's criticism of Obama is far from clear. Again, Watts seems to have simply put together a word salad of Democratic talking points.

Third, Watts appeals to the right-wing urban legend of hippies spitting on returning Vietnam veterans. Hippies -- not "dems", unless they were wearing buttons "that said 'I AM A DEMOCRAT' to be sure he remembered which party spat on him". Several other commenters challenged Watts on the claim, which has never been documented and has been shown to be an urban legend, especially by Vietnam veteran Jerry Lembcke in his book The Spitting Image (NYU Press, 1998). Ironically it's Watts who accepts Republican propaganda on all these matters, and posits that the only way to resist it is to refrain from any criticism whatever of Democrats. (I don't believe that would work.)

Watts goes on:
We aren't Iran, we haven't been and won't be again. But there are no saints amoung state actors. There are nothing but murders and people acting in the interests of their nation. Before people ask whether killing Al- was in our interests I will point out that unlike many other places on earth, including Iran, we have elections to determine who makes that call. We select someone to represent us and our we have to live with the consequences of those choices.
First off, of course, Iran does "have elections to determine who makes that call." Iranian elections are as corrupt as American ones, of course, but they do have them. And Watts appears to be the person who doesn't want to "have to live with the consequences of those choices," not even to acknowledge the consequences.

The key to this paragraph, though, is the remark that "there are no saints among state actors. There are nothing but murders and people acting in the interests of their nation." This is generally what state apologists say when confronted with undeniable evidence of atrocities by their nation: States aren't moral actors. Ironically, people who point this out about our own state -- Noam Chomsky or Greenwald himself, for example -- will be denounced as America-hating terrorist-loving traitors. It's only acceptable to point it out in order to excuse American crimes.

Greenwald replied to Watts, who countered that he was complaining that
your entire discourse, and I include here not simply this post but your continued hectoring of the President, is based on a first principle that the US government's role is to act morally or humanistically. It isn't. Why would it be? The obligation of nationhood is self propagation. They are neither moral nor immoral they are amoral, with their own interests as the only controlling factor.
Greenwald replied:
This is absolutely not my principle at all, let alone my "first principle."
If American political and media elites admitted that the country acts in its self-interest just like every other country, then I'd stop objecting to the constant stream of propaganda and deceit about America's moral superiority and exceptionalism. It's precisely because America does operate by self-interest like every other country - albeit with more aggression and violence -- that I find the propaganda so harmful.
Taken as a principle, though, this means that Watts can't consistently criticize the government of Iran, or Syria, or any other official enemy according to Obama. (Of course he doesn't care about consistency: defending the right of the United States and its god-king is all that matters.) You can't consistently attack other states for immorality and then defend your own state by saying that states are "amoral, with their own interests as the only controlling factor." (It would be more accurate to say that it is elites' interests, not those of the general population, that are the controlling factor, but who needs accuracy when you're defending a beleaguered President?) But this sort of waffling is common if not universal in nationalist propaganda.

Under questioning by other commenters, Watts naturally insisted that he didn't mean to say that Greenwald couldn't criticize Obama, but not very convincingly. Like so many Americans, he trumpeted American freedom of dissent compared to countries like Iran, but is hostile to any American who actually exercises that freedom. To criticize a Democrat, anyway.

Watts finally (so far) addressed Greenwald:
You are tilting at windmills or swinging at phantoms. Let me assure you Pols aren't coming with the customers. There are hoops you have to jump through in order to be elected in this country, in any country. Propaganda is one of them. Saying you believe in "American Exceptionalism," is like wearing a flag pin, or going to church, synagogue or mosque. Ubiquitous and necessary but not demonstrative of conviction.
And so on. Once again he undercut himself here, as so many Obamaristas do, for if "there are hoops you have to jump through to be elected in this country", then he can't criticize Republicans either. He also tacitly or unconsciously admitted that the real Obama (as opposed to the sweet-talking campaigner) is a hypocritical murderous thug. Not quite what he hoped to achieve, I daresay.

The Salon comment system is going haywire again (though obviously not for all the other people), or I might have put most of this in comments there. But it might be convenient to have this fine example of Obama apologetics collected in one place here.