Monday, March 11, 2013

Life Is Cheap in the New World Order

There's been some revealing reaction to Rand Paul's filibuster against the nomination of John Brennan, and specifically his opposition to the use of surveillance drones in the US of A.  Even Roy Edroso tried to walk the line between opposing drones and supporting Rand Paul.  I left a derisive comment under that post, asking why he was endorsing Paul for President in 2016, because Edroso has never been willing to let anyone else walk that line.  When Glenn Greenwald argued last year that Ron Paul (that's Rand's daddy) made some good arguments against some of our bipartisan foreign policy, Edroso couldn't read that as anything but a blanket acceptance of all of Ron Paul's positions and an endorsement of Paul's candidacy.  When Greenwald "very graciously" corrected Edroso's misreading, Edroso still couldn't quite cope: "Jesus, Glenn, why not add 'Mwah hah hah' and 'Pathetic humans! Who can save you now?' while you're at it?"  In light of all that, it was really quite bold of Edroso to write, last Wednesday:
But Obama's a politician; that's his lookout, not mine. And while I think he's better than the regular run of postwar U.S. Presidents, "having his back" does not for me extend to countenancing the assassination of U.S. citizens.
By the end of the weekend, though, Edroso was back in Obama's pocket for all intents and purposes, with his weekly Village Voice compilation of rightblogger reaction to Rand Paul.  Comments at alicublog were predictable: Stoopid Stoopid Republicans!  It was up to Glenn Greenwald to sum up Democratic reaction to the whole mess.

But what interested me were the people who reacted to this whole story by saying something like "Aha!  You only care when Americans might be killed!  You never cared when it was just foreigners who were dying."  In some cases this is no doubt true, but in cases like Glenn Greenwald it's obviously false: he's been writing for years about the US killing dusky foreigners, by drones, cruise missiles or roving patrols of soldiers.  (A similar accusation was lodged against him for writing about the torture-by-solitary-confinement of Bradley Manning: Oh, you only care when a little white gay boy is being tortured, you don't care about all the many other prisoners in solitary confinement around the country.  But Greenwald had been writing about that issue, too, all along.)

And not only Greenwald has criticized the drone program: there are plenty of left critics of Obama's crimes, and most of them attacked Bush before him, when Bush was doing similar or the same things.  On the other hand, "the conservatives whom Democrats claim most to loathe - from Dick Cheney to John Yoo to Lindsey Graham to Peter King - have been so outspoken in their defense of Obama's actions in this area (and so critical of Paul): because the premises needed to justify Obama's policies are the very ones they so controversially pioneered."

Some people have argued, on the contrary, that it's only to be expected that a government should be more concerned about the safety of its citizens than about the safety of foreigners.  To some extent, given the world we live in, I can see this.  If you get into difficulties in another country, it's reasonable to head to the American Embassy first for help.  At most, though, this doesn't license my country to actively mistreat people who aren't Americans -- and that brings me full circle.  I'm not indifferent when my country treats foreigners' lives as disposable.

But here's the thing.  I'm perfectly willing to put Americans and foreigners on an equal footing; I just want to reverse the usual priority.  I'll agree not to care when Americans kill foreigners, but then I don't intend to care when anyone -- foreigners or our own Dear Leader -- decides to kill Americans.  I began to move in this direction when Americans would try to minimize American wartime atrocities by saying "War is hell, people get hurt, so shut up."  They weren't nearly as casual about American casualties, of course.  But I don't think you get to have it both ways: if we're in an unprecedented war against a new kind of enemy, and the whole world is a battlefield, there are no non-combatants, etc., then that applies to the US and its inhabitants too.