The Republicans know this Rand Paul filibuster about the John Brennan confirmation really isn’t about John Brennan – it’s about dividing and conquering the Left. The anti-drone saints of the Left will gladly join Paul in attacking Obama in as noisy and public a way as possible, oblivious to the fact that Rand Paul’s not doing this to educate the president about something but to weaken him so the Tea Party can rule in his stead. There is nothing saintly about supporting America’s most reactionary senator in his right-wing speechifying, and doing so will hurt everything the anti-drone crowd claim to care about. But see if that will stop them.
There is a certain poetic justice, however, in watching as firebaggers now rush to claim Sen. Paul’s words as their own, even if they come from a man who opposes everything else on the Left’s wish list. A group which identifies everyone who opposes their initiatives as the ideological servant of the Bushes will now have to defend itself as being ideological servants of Rand Paul.
The reason I think the anti-drone crowd should take a moment to breathe and really think about whether they want to play footsie with Rand Paul is that I felt hosed during the time of the Iraq War for supporting courses of action which, at the least, made me appear to people as if I were playing footsie with George W. Bush. I regret not drawing the darkest and most visible line between what I supported in Iraq and the policies of George W. Bush – and in all seriousness, I want people to consider what I learned in their evaluation of whether someone should “just agree on this one thing” with someone like Rand Paul.
I have a complicated history regarding the wars in Iraq. I opposed Desert Storm because I believed the elder Bush to be fighting for autocratic emirs in Kuwait rather than against the injustices in Iraq which were certainly manifest even then. At the time, I argued it was clear the elder Bush was insincere about defending values of freedom and democracy because he chose not to comprehensively defeat the Iraqi Republican Guard but merely to drive them back across Kuwait’s border. The Kurds and Shia who had been targeted by the regime, and who were actively helping the coalition forces during Desert Storm, were left in the lurch by Bush, Sr., whose casis belli was simply the protecting the sovereignty of a tiny Arabian autocracy against its expansionist neighbour.
However, I supported the Iraq War. Sometimes I think I should have been supportive of Desert Storm as well, because my reason for supporting war in 2003 was that Saddam Hussein’s government was genocidal. We’ve known this since the gassing of Halabja in 1988, three years before Desert Storm, and stopping genocide is something I take to be a far more legitimate casus belli. Political events in between 1991 and 2003 had convinced me the time was right to take a harder line. I did not connect Hussein with al-Qaeda, and the “weapons of mass destruction” argument was not prominent in my reasoning for war. The main reason I supported war was that Iraq was both genocidal internally and connected to terrorism – specifically, Palestinian terrorism. Though Hussein was often described as a “secular” Arab leader, I thought that distinction was artificial, as he had often used religion to prop up his regime – this is a man who had a copy of the Koran written out in his own blood. He may not have been a religious guy, but he did know how to motivate religious extremists to do things he wanted done to people. I regarded him and the more conventional religious extremists like al-Qaeda and the Taliban allies in hostility to the US, much as Roosevelt and Stalin were allies in hostility to Germany, though neither had much of a truck with each other’s political views otherwise.
I still believe the coalition forces in Iraq did good by deposing the Hussein regime – indeed, I would love to see the remaining Ba’athist regime in Syrian brought down similarly. (Perhaps it would be better if the Syrians could do it themselves, or supported prudently from outside by sympathetic countries, as was done in Libya, but in any case, I think Syria needs the “regime change” that Iraq needed back then.)
However, because I thought something needed to be done, I demonstrated some naïveté about the people running this war in Washington. I took the younger Bush’s invasion to be, at least, the attempt to get serious about a genocidal regime never demonstrated by the elder Bush. But I did not properly consider the Washington set’s capacity for self-interested shenanigans, such as the introduction of Western corporations to the country grubbing around for lucrative “reconstruction” contracts while the population struggled with the demands of daily existence.
Talk about a “Marshall Plan for the Middle East”, which I took very seriously, was immediately forgotten the moment Bush got boots on the ground in the country. When the original Marshall Plan was put into effect in Europe, it forged durable friendships between the countries that received the aid and the United States. By tossing this talk aside, and spurning paying money in aid for paying money for more guns and more fat cat contractors, the Bush crowd proved itself to have only been floating that idea cynically to motivate foolish liberals to stay their criticism of his foreign policy. I’ve been kicking myself about that ever since – I felt tremendously hosed, and of course, the hardcore anti-war types mock anyone for ever having taken that idea seriously as something that was likely to happen. But it should have happened…if the people leading our country were as enlightened as George Marshall was, it could have happened.
I learned a lesson about “just agreeing this one time” with George W. Bush, even if it was on the subject of removing Saddam Hussein from power. Saddam _should_ have been removed from power, but I should not have stayed criticism of George W. Bush for a moment – because the way that removal proceeded caused so much harm…and I should have doubted the younger Bush’s commitment to democracy as I did, indeed, doubt the commitment of his father twelve years earlier.
There may be some portion of anti-drone politics that is sensible – I don’t reject it entirely and out of hand. It is good to stay focused, for example, on whether there are methods of confronting international terrorism that might result in the capture of terrorists rather than killing them, or on whether there actually is some possibility of negotiating that would result in peace rather than being owned by violent thugs who know just how far they can push people.
But by being willing to side with Rand Paul, I think a lot of that is going to recede into the darkness. Those who think they are striking a path for social justice with their anti-drone activism have to consider why they think as active of an opponent of social justice as Paul stands with them. They have to ask the question that I, to my everlasting shame, did not ask of George W. Bush – “How are you going to turn this noble cause I support to _your_ advantage instead of the advantage of the world? Because judging from your past behaviour, that is what you will most certainly do.”
I learned some things after Iraq. Forgive me if I think this a teaching moment.