Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why didn't Israel murder Adolf Eichmann and dump his body off the coast of Argentina?

To put the matter mildly, Israel is not a country known for its delicate sensibilities when it comes to dealing with enemies, be they real or perceived. In fact, The Middle East's Only Democracy™ is rather famous for its assorted assassinations.

While Osama bin Laden was no sweetheart, I think even the strongest defenders of his killing will freely admit that he did not play a key role in orchestrating the attempted destruction of the American people, so the man doesn't quite rise to Eichmann's standard, even if his evil was more showy than banal.

Eichmann, as the most important cog in the holocaust machinery still alive at that time, held great symbolic value. The Israeli government was deeply interested in showily "bringing him to justice," and it was willing to suspend legal norms to do so as evidenced by the operation to kidnap him from Argentina without the knowledge or consent of that country.

So far the parallels to the recent American operation in Pakistan are clear. A symbolic (but now quite harmless) enemy of the state is painstakingly and clandestinely hunted down in a neutral foreign country.

The methods by which, once found, bin Laden and Eichmann were "brought to justice" are, however, starkly divergent. One is tried and convicted in a very public manner. The other is shot in his bedclothes and dumped into the Arabian sea.

Cynics might argue that this is pedantic, that Eichmann's fate was sealed as surely as bin Laden's once he was in Israeli hands. The argument is surely credible. Israel put the holocaust itself on trial in the person of Eichmann, and they did so quite deliberately. After such a studious intertwining of man and event, they could scarcely spare their prisoner without at least partially acquitting the holocaust. No one dropped to the fainting couch when he received the first death sentence in Israeli history.

But, still. States can kill people in a variety of ways, and some betray more bloodthirsty savagery than others. The sheer lack of anything vaguely resembling adherence to any sort of legal norm in the bin Laden assassination is breathtaking not because the government killed a man without any form of due process. A quick perusal of history books (or newspapers) will reveal such murders to be common event.

No, the significance is not in the bloody act itself, but rather in the audacious, saccharine, savagely hypocritical moralizing in which the government and media have draped the whole affair. The President of the United States is now proudly and repeatedly on record that "justice" is two bullets in the head at his degree. He considers this to be undeniable evidence of our national greatness. He's sickeningly, struttingly proud of the whole thing.

Late Night Humanitarianism Update

That vile Libyan dictator cleverly disguised himself as eleven Imams in a peace delegation, but there's no fooling NATO.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Annals of Humanitarianism

It seems the NATO fleet of the coast of Libya is too busy protecting civilians in abstract sense –– by bombing them –– to find time to answer repeated pleas for help from a ship of slowly dying (civilian) refugees.

It may seem cruel, but one has to have priorities. Colonel Gaddafi has multiple surviving grandchildren, and they're hardly going to kill themselves. The agonizing death of a few dozen unimportant Africans can't be allowed to interfere with the great humanitarian mission.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Vanquishing Evil

What's so evil about Osama bin Laden?

Lots, according to the vast majority of the world's English-language commentators. Maureen Dowd lays out the charge in a remarkably puerile (yes, even for her) edition of her New York Times column, entitled Killing Evil Doesn't Make Us Evil, wherein she describes bin Laden as "a mass murderer who bragged about incinerating thousands of Americans and planned to kill countless more".

The logic is hard to argue with. Killing thousands of people is a very nasty thing to do. I would go so far as to say that even killing one person is an act that ought to be assiduously avoided. Whatever doubts there may be about bin Laden's specific crimes, he unambiguously supported the use of violence in order to achieve political goals, and I do not need any great convincing of the immorality of that stance.

So, granting Dowd's (and pretty much every other mainstream American commentator's) premise than Osama bin Laden is evil, let's consider the second half of her title's assertion, that killing evil "doesn't make us evil."

In the interest of round numbers, assume that bin Laden bore responsibility for roughly 3,000 deaths. No one alleges that he killed those victims (or anyone else) by his own hand, but the consensus view seems to be that he set the fatal plan in motion, approved of it afterwards, and at the very least wished for similar acts to occur in the future.

So, rather than running about knifing every toddler in sight as is so often
implied, the man directed an organization that ended lives at his commands. Despite the vague assumptions that permeate most coverage of anti-American violence, bin Laden justified his acts in ideological and moral terms: Like Dowd, he believed that the lives ended in furtherance of his goals were at the very worst an unavoidable sacrifice in a struggle against a very dangerous, very powerful, very evil foe.

By this standard, Osama bin Laden is hardly unique as "one of the most certifiably evil figures of our time," to use Dowd's words. He's certainly a nasty fellow, but with a bit of imagination I can think of a few other people that meet the above criteria for Official Evilness.

Consider this charming exchange that took place during the last Democratic golden age:
Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.

--60 Minutes (5/12/96)

As much as it pains me to say this, Albright is not insane, at least not in the way the term is usually used. While she clearly acknowledges her complicity in this staggeringly massive infanticide, it's not as if she herself thrust a knife into each little body. She is simply acknowledging that this massive mountain of mangled child corpses was the inevitable, maybe regrettable result of what she believes to be a defensible foreign policy.

Like bin Laden, this revered former government official has admitted her complicity in acts that resulted in massive civilian deaths. Like bin Laden, she has attempted to justify these acts and has shown nothing vaguely resembling remorse for them.

Does this make her evil? Well, her body count is certainly higher.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.

A team of highly armed soldiers may have shot Osama bin Laden twice in the head and then dumped his body into the ocean, but to suggest that an assassination took place is irresponsible conspiracy mongering. Similarly, dropping a large bomb on Colonel Gaddafi's son's house in a civilian neighborhood of Tripoli at a time when Gaddafi's was thought to be in said house was not an attempt to assassinate the leader of that country (or, I guess, his infant grandchildren). It was, rather, a legitimate military target. Why? Well, who are you going to trust? An administration spokesman in a handsomely-tailored suit, or some weird Arab? To ask the question is to answer it.

There is nothing particularly remarkable about the United States and its surrogates rampaging about the duskier quarters of the world while leaving a long smear of blood in its wake. From a generous viewpoint such behavior has been standard practice for decades. A more dour outlook would trace the violent elimination of enemy leaders (real or perceived) back quite a bit longer, as any American Indian can tell you.

What is so interesting about the most recent spat of high-profile lifetaking is the cloyingly self-righteous rhetoric of "humanitarianism" in which the Obama administration and its impressively pliable sycophants have draped it. It is not remarkable that the United States (through its pet military alliance) murdered Col. Gadaffi's son -- what is remarkable is that the murder was proudly committed in the name of, for reals, "protecting civilians."

Much is being made now of President Obama's decision not to publish pictures his latest high-profile victim's remains. I'll let the man speak for himself on his decision to refrain from dragging Bin Laden's corpse behind his chariot:
You know, that's not who we are. You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies. You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received.
Leave aside for a moment the description of an extrajudicial execution as "justice." Ignore that the man gloats over his successful hit as he demurs to produce anything so vulgar as a trophy.

To put that quote in context, consider this one -- made quite famous by indignant liberals during the Bush years -- from a "senior White House official":
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
While the arrogance displayed in the latter quote is certainly trashier than that in the former, the same calm certainty that reality is at the mercy of well-managed public perception.

If the right kind of man orders the right kind of murder in the right kind of way, and if everyone who matters believes him, it ceases to be murder.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bin Laden Delande Est

As a young man, I can't help but be surprised that Evil has been vanquished so many times in my comparatively brief lifetime. Even more impressive is that each display of vulgar triumphalism displayed by the shallow jingoes that increasingly make up the national political class manages to surpass the last one.

The murder (as shooting an unarmed dialysis patient twice in the head was once called) of Osama bin Laden is a particularly instructive case. Capitol courtiers, very much including "progressives" of all stripes, are positively beside themselves with glee due to the death of this man. From The Onion to The New York Times, unrestrained glee at history's most powerful empire pulling off a successful slaying in the outer provinces is the story of the day. The Times's Maureen Dowd goes above and beyond by (glowingly) comparing the 2009 Nobel Peace Laureate to Don Corleone, but she's still very much in line with the dominant theme.

It is an embarrassing sign of the times that I have to point out that I am not a supporter of Bin Laden or Al Qaeda, either the actual man and organization or the bizarre mythical constructs into which they have evolved in American consciousness. But as slurs to that effect are now even coming from self-identified anarchists (who just happen to exult in the violent use of state power -- no contradicton there!), one must be on the record. To put it as succinctly as I can, I do not support the use of violence to achieve one's ends regardless of whether those ends may be justified. I do not support such violence regardless of whether it is practiced by kooky religious fundamentalists with foreign names and silly beards or by suave Harvard-educated gentlemen with whom I can easily imagine sharing a nice snifter of brandy after a Brahms concert.

One just doesn't go around killing people. If, for some reason, said killing is simply unavoidable, one can at least avoid gloating.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nothing lasts forever.

Well, then. Costa Rica assents to a remarkably low-key invasion by the United States.

This stings particularly badly because Costa Rica had always struck me as something of an exemplar among the American nations, Latin or otherwise, both for abolishing its military way back in 1948 and generally conducting itself in an unusually sane and civilized manner. It was a matter of time until those practices –– combined with Costa Rica's tempting strategic location –– ran afoul with the local empire.

It's tempting to make the argument that such an effortless invasion and occupation is the inevitable result of a demilitarized society. This argument, however, is absolute nonsense. If Costa Rica had wasted billions upon billions over the last six decades to support a military ostensibly tasked with defending against, let's say, the Panamanian Menace but which spent the majority of its time launching coup after coup, what could this have done to so much as delay the juggernaut from the north?

Nothing. A vigorous armed defense against American military aggression results in needless suffering, destruction, and death. There's no denying that the Costa Rican people are about to be on the business end of a serious boning here, but what else could have been done? If you absolutely must be occupied by a foreign military empire, you might as well embrace the wise and humane doctrine of cowardice while doing it.


Edit: Like every recent Latin American intervention, this one is being done in the sacred name of the War on Drugs. Anti-Communism, like petting, is passé.