Sunday, June 12, 2005

What Is Wrong With The U.S.?

While on the train to Bangalore this morning I read an especially bad op-ed piece in the Hindu on what is wrong with the United States. Money quote:

"After the invasion of Iraq, the collective punishment of Fallujah, the abuses of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram, the reckless insistence on the right to pollute the planet and the systematic asset-stripping of the developing world, people in other countries have every reason to look at the USA with fear and anger. Add on to that the current pre-eminence in Washington of right-wing Christian fundamentalists in cahoots with the oil and armaments industries, and no wonder the world is worried."

So let's see, the problem with the United States is that it is ruled by a Christian fundamentalist elite in partnership with a military-industrial complex that is regularly committing acts of torture, degrading the environment and systematically exploiting the Third World. Glad he cleared that up for the readers of India's national paper. I guess he forgot to mention that we imprison our political dissidents in gulags too.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just another example of overwrought anti-Americanism, the unifying theory of everything. What gives it traction is our own self-loathing, spewing out of American universities and mainstream media. How many Chinese or Indian inellectuals criticize their society as ours do? Muslim rage? America's fault. Global warming? America's fault. Aids? The CIA did it. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Yawn.

6/12/2005 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No offense, but why is it hard for conservatives to understand how Guantanimo and Abu Gharib have hurt America's image abroad?

6/12/2005 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Precisely which part of this critique is inaccurate? Oversimplified, yes. But that's common in op-eds. Even in US papers.

Is it untrue that the US imposed collective punishment in Fallujah, in violation of the Geneva Convention? No, that's true. And we kidnapped family members in violation of Geneva. And we threatened parents with the torture of their children in violation of Geneva. And so on.

Is it untrue that the US is engaged in a systematic policy of violation of basic human rights at numerous prison camps in Abu Grahib, Guantanamo, and several semi-secret operations run by the CIA? No, that's been well documented in the Washington Post and elsewhere. (The parallels between widely dispersed locations make the 'few rotten apples' theory of only low-level violators implausible. Also, in complete abandonment of normal law-enforcement procedures, high-ranking perpetrators were given immunity to testify against low-ranking perp. This strongly suggests a policy of preventing the investigation from reaching up the chain of command.)

Is it untrue that the US consumes a disproportionate percentage of the world's natural resources, and single-handedly killed the major accord designed to fix global warming? No, that's true.

Is it untrue that the US (like other developed countries) has participated in agreements with kleptocratic regimes in which they sold off their natural resources in a manner which did little to enrich the majority of the inhabitants or provide for long-term economic development? No, that's true.

Is it true that the current US governments is in cahoots with the oil and armaments industries? This is documented weekly in our newspapers--most recently how an oil executive re-wrote a report on global warming to favor his industry's views.

Is it true that the Christian fundamentalists are pre-eminent in Washington? I suppose that's debatable -- "pre-eminent" is quite strong. But they are certainly powerful. Not an uncommon bit of hyperbole in an op-ed.

So rather than try to ridicule this article, why not try to supply a fact -- any fact -- to rebut it?

Perhaps because in fact you can't, so it's essential to define these critiques as beneath contempt so you won't have to face them?

6/12/2005 2:02 PM  
Anonymous Tom Doyle said...

would be very interested in hearing from Professor Roger Alford why he regards the article as “especially bad.” As Anonymous noted, the Professor’s entry doesn’t explain his assessment of Mr. Marqusee’s piece. I read the full article, and I don’t think it’s especially bad. Why Professor Alford would judge it so is not apparent to me. This makes me all the more interested in learning the bases of Alford’s evaluation.


Anonymous wrote:

“So rather than try to ridicule this article, why not try to supply a fact -- any fact -- to rebut it? Perhaps because in fact you can't, so it's essential to define these critiques as beneath contempt so you won't have to face them?”

Anonymous, with all due respect, consider the ethical implications of your (albeit veiled) accusations. What would a law professor gain by publicly characterizing a writing in such negative terms, and then refusing to explain or defend her summary critique, except a bad reputation. “Especially bad” is an unusually strong criticism. At this point I assume that Alford had sound reasons for it, and I’m very interested in hearing them.

6/12/2005 7:41 PM  
Blogger Roger Alford said...

I would describe the editorial as especially bad because the entire tenor of the piece is to hold America responsible for the ills of the world. The editorial holds the United States responsible for having an unchained empire, contemptuous of the rule of law, and indifferent to non-American life. He holds America responsible for the fundamentalism, sectarian violence, gun culture, and heroin addiction in Pakistan. He offers a moral equivalency the equates Americans killing women and children and the civilian deaths of 9/11. I could go on, but this is not the America I know. Having lived abroad for years, I also do not think it is the America most foreigners know. It most certainly was not the America that most Bangalore citizens know based on my inquiries today with numerous Indians. The America they know is one that is helping them dramatically increase their standard of living and improve their lives. They literally laughed when I asked them if they fear America. They said the only thing we fear is Pakistan.

6/12/2005 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At this point, arguing that editorials like this "got it wrong" about the US is besides the point. The last 4 years have created an extraordinarily negative perception of the US among opiniated elites and regular people alike. This is the reality America must address.

Of course there will be overreaction, like this editorial. But I believe such overreactions are partly fuled by overractions on the other side -- a refusal, for example, to admit any wrongdoing, a disdain of all things multilateral, a refusal to acknowledge collective problems, etc. Do we really think that hostility for US policies will be overcome by a stubborn insistence that we're always right?

This all connects to international law because it is a system of facially neutral rules. If the US consistently embraced the international rule of law -- especially where we ended up on the wrong side of a particular norm -- we would go a long way to discrediting editorials like this. An example in the news today is Vice President Cheney's insistence that Gitmo remain open because everyone there is a hard core terrorist. Can anyone read Judge Green's opinion on the absolute absence of evidence against certain detainees --- an opinion supported by leaked US and German investigative reports -- and conclude anything other than Cheney is insulting the intelligence of those listening? We will get the world's respect when we give respect back to other nations and their systems of rules.

6/13/2005 9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah the anti-US contingent at it again.

As for statements such as "Is it untrue that the US imposed collective punishment in Fallujah, in violation of the Geneva Convention?"

Err, yes, it's untrue. And you clearly know NOTHING about the Geneva Convention, sir!! The U.S.'s advance warning to the populace, the entreaties that they leave before we invaded, the limited air power brought to bear, the proportional force used, the street-by-street tactics were ALL, repeat ALL, in response to our following the Geneva Convention. Otherwise we'd have simply leveled the town, dusted ourselves off and moved on.

"And we kidnapped family members in violation of Geneva. "

Allegation without evidence is unworthy of comment.

"And we threatened parents with the torture of their children in violation of Geneva"

Yawn... next.

6/14/2005 9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If the US consistently embraced the international rule of law -- especially where we ended up on the wrong side of a particular norm -- we would go a long way to discrediting editorials like this."

Really? Wishful thinking, sir. Since the viewpoints in the editorials aren't based on reality, how would actually "embracing int'l rule of law" change their warped view of reality?

6/14/2005 9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I said in my original post, anti-Americanism is the unifying theory of everything. I have taught international law, studied international law at one of the best laws schools in the country and worked international law issues at the departmental level for DoD and the military services. What is striking is just how wrong on the facts regarding Iraq, GTMO, Abu Grahib, terrorism, Afghanistan, etc. etc. etc. the anti-American anonymous poster really is. He or she just does not know what they are talking about, substituting ideology for what has happened, what the US has implemented, legal advice and conclusions reached. Of course, the whole world questions all of this because people who do not know what they are talking about are embedded in the universities and American media. Really sad--it is costing lives, both US and foreign, and making it more difficult to achieve every major goal of US foreign policy--growing and developing economies, sensible environmental conservation, promotion of human rights, treatment of women, etc. This is the colossal tragedy of our time--our own self-loathing and corrupted ideology cannot yield to reality. Probably cannot blame anonymous, however, likely a product of the same university system dedicated to anti-Americanism.

6/18/2005 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is astonishing about the anti-"anti-American" posters here is their ignorance of facts reported in US newspapers and on the Internet.

For example, one of the commentators above sneers at the suggestions that "we threatened parents with the torture of their children in violation of Geneva." Yet these facts were widely reported.

Need links? OK. [reprinting a newspaper article that's not online any more:] http://www.republicoft.com/index.php/archives/2004/05/21/what-it-means-about-us/

Partial quote:

A military intelligence analyst who recently completed duty at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq said Wednesday that the 16-year-old son of a detainee there was abused by U.S. soldiers to break his father’s resistance to interrogators.

The analyst said the teenager was stripped naked, thrown in the back of an open truck, driven around in the cold night air, splattered with mud and then presented to his father at Abu Ghraib, the prison at the center of the scandal over abuse of Iraqi detainees.

Upon seeing his frail and frightened son, the prisoner broke down and cried and told interrogators he would tell them whatever they wanted, the analyst said.

[snip]

Sgt. Samuel Provance, who maintained the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion’s top-secret computer system at Abu Ghraib prison, gave the account of abuse of the teenager in a telephone interview from Germany, where he is now stationed. He said he also has described the incident to Army investigators.

+++

Now, that story didn't appear in a foreign paper. That's a US soldier, speaking to a US reporter.

Facts are stubborn things...

(You can find more on this story by
Googling "Sgt. Samuel Provance" -- the Army's first response was, of course, to punish the whistle-blower...]

6/20/2005 12:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yawn. You, sir, surely aren't one of those who believes everything you read in the newspaper, are you? All of the "facts" in US and foreign newspapers ain't facts (e.g. no "plan" to win the war, "lied" about lack of WMD, "war for oil", etc.). Moreover, you must read the US Torture law and the torture convention. Just because something is distasteful or uncomfortable or mean-spirited does not mean it meets the definition of torture. In the case you cite--even if true, it is not torture under the law, but rather fraternity hijinx, more like. US and foreign law is not what you wish it were. The problem is one of perspective--people fearing John Ashcroft more than Osama Bin Laden. Citing advocacy pieces in the media as "evidence" is not that useful, as the media has so little credibility. So many people have hopped on the anti-American bandwagon in the US--mostly those who have spent their whole lives in academia or media, never exercising leadership or facing responsibility for their opinions or decisions. It is easy to sit in the bleachers and complain, but it does get tiring for those sweating on the field. I think most Americans see that, which is why people like John Bolton, reviled by academia and media, strike a chord with much of the public.

6/20/2005 7:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The above comment gets the law flatly wrong.

In fact, readers will not be surprised to learn, the Geneva conventions (and human decency) forbid threatening to torture anyone under any circumstances in order to extract information. See, for example, common article three of the Geneva Conventions. See also Section III of Geneva III

Here is part of Art. 3:

"Article 3

"In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

"1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

"To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

"(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

"(b) Taking of hostages;

"(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; "

Note that the child in the above example is clearly a hostage within the terms of this article. And the treatment -- whatever they may have done in a frat where the victim is a volunteer and can walk away at will -- is clearly an outrage in these circumstances.

Describing the the conduct as "fraternity hijinks" is either sick irony or simply a despicable lack of a moral sense.

And consider Art. 17:

"No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."

Go on - explain that away.

6/20/2005 12:22 PM  
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