Three bad things

Bradley Manning, the American soldier accused of giving information to Wikileaks, has been held without trial in solitary confinement for three months. He leaves his small cell for one hour a day. He can’t talk to anyone. And he hasn’t been charged with anything, just held.
And he’s an American citizen.
Not that I think anyone should be held without trial; it’s a violation of a fundamental right. But it’s a useful reminder that all the extreme measures our government would supposedly only use to stop foreign terrorists continually edge closer to standard operating procedure.
•Gov. Haley Barbour, in a recent profile, explained how the Citizens Councils in the 1960s South were really fine, upstanding people and not racists and how there really wasn’t much racial trouble growing up in his Mississippi town. Rick Perlstein grinds Barbour’s nostalgia to dust here.
As I wrote a few months ago, nostalgia for the days when white men ruled America seems to fuel a lot of conservative policy and politics. Barbour’s view of his youth (assuming he’s not out and out lying) seems closer to what Lance Mannion talks about: Some people assume that because their life in the fifties (or whenever) was wonderful (at least in memory), therefore life was wonderful period (I have a seventysomething friend who insists her view the 1950s were Better is objective fact, not nostalgia).
The conviction turning back the clock would fix all our problems is, unfortunately, far more likely to make them worse.
•Christian Science Monitor, my favorite major newspaper, tells us in a headling that “Hugo Chavez Tightens His Grip in Venezuela. Can the U.S. Do Anything About It?”
Not should we do anything; that question isn’t even asked; the article just discusses whether we have any options. That it’s perfectly reasonable for us to intervene in Venezuela if we so choose is taken as a given.
Okay, maybe it is logical. Chavez is left-wing, which means the USSR could use him as a launching pad for attacks on … wait. No USSR left. No vast international Communist conspiracy.
Ah, but Chavez is an autocrat, albeit he’s using constitutional means to increase his power. And the American press hates autocrats—remember when Bush started asserting that he could waive any law or Constitutional rights, we had all those newspaper headlings going “What Can We Do To Stop Bush?”—oh, wait. We didn’t, did we?
But we’ve always, always felt it our duty to defend democracy in Latin America—well, if you discount overthrowing elected leftist governments in Guatemala and Chile, and supporting dictators in Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador and Argentina. Or turning a blind eye to autocracy in our ally, Columbia (for that matter when Mexico was one-party rule for decades, we didn’t say much).
My guess is that Christian Science Monitor is simply reflecting the standard Washington wisdom that we have to do something about Chavez, which stems, I think, from several sources:
–Washington is still populated by aging Cold Warriors whose visceral response to any left-wing government in this hemisphere is hostility. Never mind whether Communism or socialism pose a threat to us in the 21st century, it’s existence has to be stamped out, ASAP!
–Sure, we’re entitled to democracy, Western Europe is entitled to it, but pissant third-world countries? The only rights they have are the ones we give them.
–We are good. Any government which opposes us must be evil. This was also an attitude formed in the crucible of the Cold War where we and International Communism were assumed to be in an apocalyptic clash where whatever we did was justified by our enemy’s vileness.
–The only real sin a foreign government can have is refusing to obey us.
Sure, plenty of people in Washington will scream about Chavez’ power grab—and he certainly is grabbing power. But we had no problems with Guatemala not only operating as a dictatorship but killing thousands of natives in a campaign of genocide (Americans there have also alleged the CIA participated in torture). Or El Salvador murdering nuns and priests who did evil things like teaching the peons to read. Or pretty much any other despot so long as they kowtow to their masters.
The standard right-wing response (in fairness, also echoed by some liberals) to such criticisms of our bloody history in South America (brilliantly parodied in the mockumetary Tribulation 99) is that well, it’s very nice for me, sitting at home, to demand the moral high-ground, but America has to live in the real world! We have to be pragmatic, and that means dealing with nasty people in our own self interest!
Jeane Kilpatrick, former UN ambassador once expressed it this way: Right-wing governments are more stable because they don’t try to fix injustice, redistribute wealth or help the poor, all of which create instability; all they want is to leave the power structure as it is, except with themselves on top. Sure, the poor will get screwed over even more, and regime enemies will die horribly, but you can’t create a stable society without breaking a few skulls, right?
This is, of course, not only hideously immoral, it’s nowhere near as smart and realistic as Kilpatrick and her ilk like to think. We pragmatically supported Saddam Hussein and ended up fighting two wars against him; we pragmatically supported Noriega in Panama and fought a war against him; we pragmatically supported the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion which transformed into al-Qaida (we also turned a blind eye to Pakistan getting nukes because we needed them, pragmatically, to support the Afghans).
Yes, we have to do business with nasty people and ugly nations—but there’s a difference between dealing with them and actively supporting them against legitimate pro-democracy movements or assuming that their enemies are our enemies. There’s a big difference between dealing with them and overthrowing a legitimate government to put them in place.
There’s also a huge difference between being “pragmatic” and “screwing other nations over to put a few more millions into American pockets.”
So no, even if we did have a way to take Chavez out, we shouldn’t.
As the blogger hilzoy once put it on Obsidian Wings, “Devastating a country for the sake of keeping one set of thugs in power and another set of thugs out of power is not worth it.”

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Three bad things

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