Leaning to the Left

Writing from a liberal persuasion

Archive for June, 2009

American Troops Leave Iraqi Cities…Please Remember

Posted by Beau Winiger on June 30, 2009

Today marks the first full day of American troops being absent in Iraq.  While there are still many troops and private contractors (they used to be called mercenaries, but that just sounds so barbaric), the majority of American troops have left the cities.  This is an important step in the draw down of American forces in Iraq, and a day that was celebrated by many Iraqis.  Such a momentous day in the history of the war should be used to remember what happened during this war.

In the first days, months, and years of the Iraq war there was a vocal opposition to the Iraq war.  There were many (and thankfully I count myself among them) who decried the impending war with Iraq, and were saddened by the invasion.  We saw this war as  being manufactured, a war that was embarked upon out of invention rather than necessity.  We asserted that the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction was false.  We claimed that the Bush administration was intent on pursuing a war with Iraq, and 9/11 simply provided the perfect excuse.  For these claims we were hounded as un-American and unpatriotic.  We were told that we hated our troops, and if we didn’t love America, then we should leave it.  Now, over 6 years later, we have seen our claims substantiated.  It has been released that George W. Bush himself stated that he wanted war with Iraq, it has been acknowledged by no less than Dick Cheney that there was never a tie between Iraq and al-Qaeda or 9/11, and it was quickly proven that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Despite all this there are still those who would claim that the Iraq war was a good thing since it removed Saddam Hussein from power.  While I would agree that it is indeed better for the world and Iraq that Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge, this in no way should serve as basis for claims that the Iraq war was a good thing.  This idea of ends justifying means has seemingly been swallowed by many in the public and media, and it is saddening to see such a horrific precedent as unprovoked invasion pass by intact.

Many, many changes have come about in both the world and America since the invasion first took place.  America is a different country then it was back at the start of the invasion.  There have been so many stories taking place that have easily replaced the headlines about Iraq.  The saying that everyone has heard  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana)  serves as a wake-up call to all Americans.  If we simply move on from this war, treat this day as nothing special, then we will soon find ourselves embroiled in another war with a different country.  For all the coverage that the Iraq war gets now, you would be forgiven for forgetting that we are involved in a war where many American troops have lost their lives, and tens of thousands of Iraqis have met similar fates.

So let us use this brief chance, before Iraq is once again pushed from the headlines by the recession or the death of Michael Jackson, to remember why some people detested the idea of this war from the beginning.  The Right often claims that the Left is too quick to trust the government, but they must remember that it was leftists, not those on the Right, that could not bring themselves to swallow the government’s Kool-Aid.  And the Left must remember that for all their claims of diplomacy, they too were very quick to jump on the bandwagon when it came to saber rattling.  Let the Iraq war stand as testimony to the dangers of xenophobia and blind faith.  And next time (and there will be a next time, there always is) please let us not be so quick to hurl false charges and insults at those that would dare to question war.  We are not anti-American, but rather only hope that America can remain the great country that it so often is.

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Why Obama is Taking the Right Path Towards Iran

Posted by Beau Winiger on June 18, 2009

The recent presidential elections in Iran have quickly become a divisive issue not only amongst Iranians but increasingly amongst Americans of different political parties.  Conservative politicians, most notably Sen. McCain, have begun to criticize President Obama for his stance towards the elections.  They claim that the president isn’t standing up for democracy, and that his silence is violating “an American principle” that stands up for free elections and the right of citizenry to select their leadership.  For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Sen. McCain is correct, and that is a principle that we follow at all times, although I am sure there are many countries that would have a hard time believing that (countries such as Iran).  Does that necessarily mean that the president’s relative silence regarding Iran is wrong?

Many human rights groups agree with the administration’s stance, and it is not hard to see how it would harm those that support Moussavi if they were to be seen as having the backing of the United States.  America is not the most popular country in Iran, or that part of the world for that matter, and if the U.S. were to take the side of the protester’s it would give Ahmadinejad an instant talking point.  The fact that some conservatives seem to be oblivious to this policy reveals a deep and troublesome misunderstanding of the way that the world works.  Conservatives often accuse liberals of living some fantasy world when it comes to foreign policy. but closer examination reveals that conservatives have some fantasies of their own.

Conservatives are making a dangerous judgment that people in other countries see America in the same manner that they do.  Conservatives see America as “a shining city on a hill”, a nation that has done much good throughout the world, and stands for freedom.  Those in other countries, such as Iran, see America as a colonial power that has made a practice of bullying other nations.  This is not to say one side is right, and the other is wrong.  As with so many things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.  But the truth of the argument isn’t what is important.  Rather, the perception that other countries have is what is important when making decisions.

This inclination to assume that everyone views America through the same lens Americans do has been around for a long time, and it is not exclusive to conservatives .  President Kennedy made this same mistake at the Bay of Pigs.  This viewpoint is what led to the claim that Iraqi’s would greet us as liberators.  And it is this same mistaken viewpoint, with its resistance to be changed by historical events, that is now driving conservative calls for Obama to speak out.

Imagine that the election between Obama and McCain had been contested, and there were charges of rigging being thrown around (much like the Gore/Bush election).  Now imagine that Iran spoke out in favor of Obama.  Now imagine what the conservative response would have been.  There would be immediate criticism, appealing to citizens mistrust of Iranians.  This would be the same situation which we would have if Obama were to speak out.  And it in no way helps that one of the main conservative voices on this issue was also caught on tape singing “Bomb, Bomb Iran” during the presidential campaign  does little to help any feelings of mistrust by Iranians.

None of this article was meant to argue if one viewpoint is right.  Recognition that some people might have different views of America than Americans hold is seen as weakness by conservatives, and this attitude only serves to deepen fissures in the world.  Understanding that America has done things that others view to be wrong is not weakness, but rather understanding how the world really works.  Ignoring the views of other countries is dangerous, and in the case of Iran would further harm what are already very shaky relations.

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Be Very, Very Scared

Posted by Beau Winiger on June 9, 2009

In an article in today’s Washington Times Frank Gaffney says that by “applying the standard of identity politics and pandering to a special interest that earned Mr. Clinton that distinction, Barack Hussein Obama would have to be considered America’s first Muslim president”.  Most of the “evidence” for this claim is pulled from President Obama’s recent visit to the Middle East, namely his speech in Cairo.  The article does much to expose the true problem, the Right’s use of terms meant to strike fear into the hearts of Americans.

The first issue is the actual issue being discussed, is Obama really a Muslim?  First off, no.  He’s not.  It doesn’t matter how many times you say he might be, he’s still not.  Does he show respect to a religion that a lot of the world believes in?  Yes, guilty as charged with that heinous crime of showing respect to an ancient religion.  It is a rare thing to hear conservative complain that a politician is showing respect for religion, but perhaps those commentators only have Christianity in mind when they talk about religion.

Those same commentators throw the word Muslim around as if it were a slur, synonymous to terrorist, and are seemingly making the claim that it is perfectly acceptable to judge a religion’s worth by the bad things that it has done.  Islam is no more defined by terrorism than Christianity is defined by the Inquisition.  The fact that a small minority of a population has done evil things doesn’t give you the right to disregard their religion.

And that is the issue that seems to always be overlooked in these reports that Obama is a Muslim, or that Obama sympathizes with Muslims.  Why is no one questioning the use of Muslim as a slur?  I can say with great certainty that if someone were to refer to a politician as Christian, and then use that as an argument against their fitness for office, there would be an outcry.  Yet when the term is Muslim the only discussion seems to center around whether the claim is true.

This attempt by the right to weld the term Muslim to terrorist, and then Muslim to Arab, is nothing more than an appeal to the basest of human emotions.  When times are rough, as the are now, the population becomes fearful, and when a nation is fearful, they want something specific to be scared of, and they usually won’t ask many questions.  And the Right knows that, at this point politically, the only chance they have to turn Obama’s popularity is to make him a scary Muslim secular Arab socialist dictator.

We as a nation have to demand that policy debates no longer be turned into a scare-fest.  While it is true that there are some who respond to these fear tactics, they only respond when the idea is suggested.  Just because you disagree with the president does not give you free reign to state your grievance in terms specifically used to frighten people.  A strong America can only come about by a well-informed populace, and attempts to steer the discussion from facts to scary do little to inform the populace.  Honest discussions need to be had on many different topics, but “Is Obama a Muslim” is certainly not one of those.  I find it hard to believe the Right has America’s best interest at heart when appeals to fear above all else is a rallying cry.

It was fear that allowed the Orwellian Patriot Act to be passed, and now the Right is attempting the same trick in reverse.  If a citizen has already been told what an evil terrorist dictator the current president wants to become, does it really matter anymore what his actual policy decisions are?  If you should be scared, at all times, of the president, then it stands to reason that he will never do anything good.  Our Congress, and some in this nation, let us down when the Patriot Act was passed out of nothing more than blind fear.  That act alone should be more than enough to teach us the perils of allowing fear to rule in politics.

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Abortion, Dr. Tiller, and a Runaway Argument

Posted by Beau Winiger on June 2, 2009

Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed late-term abortions, was killed this past Sunday at his church by a gunman.  This lowers the number of doctors that will perform late-term abortions to two.  Yes, only two in the entire country.  Now perhaps this is partially a result of doctors objecting to abortions of this nature, but, when you combine this with the recently reported statistic that only 13% of counties in America have access to a clinic that provides abortions, it is hard to believe that the domestic terrorism being practiced by some on the anti-choice side of the argument has nothing to do with the increasing scarcity of abortion clinics.  Doctors are performing legal procedures, and there are some, most notably Bill O’Reilly, who compare these doctors to Stalin, Hitler and al-Qaeda, and then stand back and act surprised when people gun these doctors down.

Those that would work to stop abortion through the threat or actual use of force are perpetrators of domestic terrorism, and those that encourage them in words or action are encouraging terrorism.  If you do not wish for abortion to be legal then that is your right, but please refrain from referring to those that either practice, receive, or fight for a woman’s right to her own body as murderers.  For one, murders of doctors such as George Tiller show the real consequence of words.  Were those like Bill O’Reilly directly responsible for the murder?  No.  But if you wish to claim that words and messages on TV can have no consequence then please stop arguing against violent video games, violent movies, etc., and also please be willing to make the argument that advertising, where a message is repeated over and over, does not work.  The words of a man who compared Tiller to Hitler are not directly responsible, but neither are they completely free from consequence.

Also, abortions are legal, and it is in no way agreed upon that performing an abortion is a murder.  There are many philosophical arguments that can be made concerning this (and frankly there is not enough space to run them all down here), but one that I have always respected is the argument put forth by Judith Jarvis Thomson in her classic “A Defense of Abortion”.  In this essay she argues that it doesn’t even matter if we grant that a fetus is a human (which is especially applicable in the case of late-term abortions), for even this doesn’t necessarily grant the fetus rights to the woman’s body.  I will not summarize the entire argument, but suffice to say that the crux of her argument is that even if you had sex, with the knowledge that you might get pregnant, this does not mean that a fetus therefore can use your body for the next 9 months, in the same way that no person has a right to use your body, even if that person will die without the use of your body.  And that is what the case of abortion ultimately boils down to, and what the case of Roe v. Wade ultimately hinged upon, the right to privacy.  You as a person have the right to your own body, and it is not within the scope of the government to tell you what you can or cannot do to your own body, or whatever happens to be using your body to sustain its life. 

Even many on the anti-choice side of the argument subscribe to this opinion.  The big three caveats with those that oppose abortion are cases of incest, rape, or where the woman’s health is at stake.  Why allow abortion in these cases (especially rape and incest) if the fetus is a human with the right to use the mother?  If you oppose abortion because you believe the fetus is fully human with all of the rights of a human then there is no other choice than to oppose abortion in all cases.  Otherwise you are directly (albeit unknowingly) supporting the contention by those on the pro-choice side of the argument that the fetus is not in fact fully human, or at the very least that there is perhaps a difference in the rights of the fetus vs. the mother.

Abortion is a touchy subject, and one that has very little apathetic middle ground.  You might believe one way or the other about when abortions should be performed, but you still have an opinion.  When dealing with such an emotional issue it is even more important to restrain our arguments to facts, rational arguments, as opposed to slogans and words that are meant to inflame the hearts of those on either side.  When we begin to allow emotion to guide our arguments we lose the ability to hear what the other side is saying, and in some cases we lose all desire to listen to the other side, instead resorting to violence to answer the argument.

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