Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thoughts on "A Tragic Legacy" by Glenn Greenwald

Last month I read the book A Tragic Legacy by Glenn Greenwald. You can check out his, usually quite insightful, blog over at Salon. The book was a fairly interesting read, at times quite amusing. It extensively analyses Bush's Manichean rhetoric and his unpopularity. At times the reading could be a bit repetitive when dealing with these topics. But despite this I would still recommend this book as a good description and critique of Bush's paradigm and policies.

One of the most relevant issues discussed in the book was US policy toward Iran. Despite Iran's aid in deposing with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran was labelled as part of the "axis of evil" along with Iran and North Korea. Later in the Bush presidency we were told, and frequently reminded, that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose "a grave threat to the security of the world" (which is probably quite true for a host of reasons). Comments like these, by now presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, were and still are quite common: "This is 1935 and [Iranian president] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is as close to Adolf Hitler as we've seen. We now know who they are--the question is who we are. Are we Baldwin or Churchill?" (As an amusing aside Greenwald documents  how overused the comparisons to Churchill and Chamberlain are by certain neoconservatives, so much so that is very hard to take them seriously). Despite the fact that at the beginning of the administration it looked as though our relationship with Iran was improving, it only got worse. Sentiments like Gingrich's, which adequately represents the neoconservative base, were entirely helpful in this regard. In fact now it's quite hostile; Iran went from helping fight the Taliban, to perhaps aiding them and as well as aiding insurgents in Iraq. How has this happened? Greenwald offers this answer:

"The president's rhetoric of threats and demonization severely exacerbates almost every Iran-related problem. By refusing to negotiate to Iran and directing unambiguous threats to it, the president (a) emboldening the very Iranian extremists whom the administration claims pose the real threat, (b) forcing the Iranians into an increasing militaristic posture, and (c) moving the U.S. ever closer to a military confrontation which--whether commenced deliberately or accidentally--could not possibly be in America's interests under any conceivable scenario."

It's by no means clear why during Bush's term we rejected Iran's offer to negotiate (though it probably has to do with Israel or US hegemonic interest in the region), but perhaps we can understand how we got ensnared by the hostile situation we are in today: by consistently refusing to negotiate and by making stupid threats. Unfortunately this legacy has continued, with Obama failing to pursue "a new way forward" with Iran despite proclamations to the contrary in his 2009 Cairo speech. Similarly in his more recent address regarding the revolutions in the Middle East, he condemned Iran for their hypocrisy:

“I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran.”

Iran certainly deserves to be condemned in this regard, but Obama failed to mention Saudi Arabia's similar actions and human rights abuses. It is rather strange for him to say this when America hypocritically preaches of the virtues of democracy while simultaneously supporting dictators in the middle east. Language like this probably causes activists like Gigi Ibrahim, to correctly point, out that the speech was "insignificant" and not at all different from what any other US president has said in the past. It seems quite obvious that it would be in our interest to improve relations with Iran, and not get ourselves stucked in another Iraq. It would be instrumental to not view Iran with Bush's Manichean lenses; they are not pure evil and neither are we pure good, especially as we "prepare to withdraw" from the region. Perhaps its to trite to assume that when fighting for political power in the Middle East we should exhaust all other diplomatic options before turning to military ones.

Obama has managed to continue (without all the "political" democratic outrage of course) most of the policies of the Bush legacy--of which policy toward Iran is just one example. As I was reading this book I had the nagging thought that A Tragic Legacy could be followed by A Tragic Legacy Part Two: Obama. Although there should be a much more clever title. Although the rhetoric has changed, the policies have not. The US is now undertaking wars in Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and most recently Somalia, has failed to prosecute the Bush torture regime, has launched an aggressive war against whistle blowers, and continued the Patriot Act amongst other things. All things Obama appeared to be against during his campaign. Glenn Greenwald has a worthwhile article on the "Great Generational Threat" which justifies a slew of wonderful policies which will arguably define the Bush and Obama presidencies. Towards the end of the article he says this:

"I long believed that the most patently irrational American policy -- the one that would cause future generations to look back in baffled disgust -- was the Drug War: imprisoning huge numbers of citizens for years and years for nothing more than possessing or selling banned substances to consenting adults.  But now I think it's this: that the U.S. Government is able to persuade the populace to continue to support and pay for blood-spilling and liberty-destroying policies in the name of Terrorism when nothing sustains and exacerbates the threat of Terrorism more than those very policies."

And that appears to be a tragic legacy (one that should be argued over at greater length); a legacy that is being continued to this day...

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