Oct. 23rd, 2012

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TruthOut's excellent political columnist William Rivers Pitt has a good piece on the third presidential debate, the one in which we were supposed to learn about the candidates' views on foreign policy.

Well, we learned some things. In a moment of deja vu to Sarah Palin's failure to realize that South Africa was an actual country, not just the southern part of the African continent, there was this:

And then, only a few short minutes later, the Republican candidate for President of the United States of America, in a debate on foreign policy, said exactly this: "Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea."

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Willard Mitt Romney - a man who has been running for president since the Mesozoic Age, who has spent an enormous amount of money to surround himself with people who are supposed to explain stuff like geography to him - sat there on national television and showed us all that he still does not know how to read a map. Almost all of Iran's southern border verges on the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, giving them plenty of access to, y'know, the sea...but even if that were not the case, Syria would not be Iran's "route to the sea" because of the giant chunk of land between them called Iraq.

There were other embarrassments. But the biggest embarrassment was not for Romney but for the US, because this supposed debate on foreign policy used a definition of the term designed for children and idiots, one that to a great extent omitted such foolish notions as diplomacy, international aid, cultural outreach, human rights endeavors and trade in favor of the activities of what Orwell dubbed the Ministry of Peace.

Pitt again:

The perfect, horrible irony of this was seen when Mr. Schieffer allowed Romney to run out about a third of the clock by repeating all of his tired nonsense on the economy during a debate on foreign policy...but when the subject came around to the insanely bloated "defense" budget, Romney was allowed to call cuts to that budget "devastating." Obama, for his part, said, "The budget that we are talking about is not reducing our military spending. It is maintaining it."

Neither Schieffer, nor Romney, nor Obama dared to say anything "radical" like, "A very, very small cut in the defense budget would immediately resolve a large amount of our concern over the economy, would immediately halt all this talk of ending Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defunding public schools, closing post offices, and privatizing health care, because a very, very small cut in the defense budget would give us all the money we need, and more, to keep these things solvent. We're not actually broke, America. We just need to realign our priorities."

See how that works? Romney talks about cutting all sorts of programs, Obama fights him on it, but neither they nor the moderator has any interest in discussing the giant, bloated, over-weaponized solution sitting in the middle of the room.

Pitt quotes a paragraph by Charles Pierce of Esquire that seems to have gone viral today; certainly, I've come across it several times, including in an email circular from Alan Grayson, whom I'll further quote below. Here's Pierce's commentary (and his whole article's worth reading) on the infantile definition of "foreign policy" that seem to have come to dominate our thinking in this area:

Trade is foreign policy. The environment is foreign policy. Energy policy is foreign policy. Human rights are foreign policy. Drought is foreign policy. Starvation is foreign policy. War is generally only foreign policy when one of those other things I mentioned get completely out of control. However, as I suspect we will see argued enthusiastically from both sides tonight, war, and not its historic causes, has come to define foreign policy. Increasingly, it has come to define us as a nation as well. This is a problem that, I predict, will not be addressed at all this evening in Boca Raton, where the rich people play and the children of their gardeners fight our wars.

And here's the context Grayson gave it:

Here is a list of the topics last night: (1) Libya embassy attack. (2) War in Syria. (3) Why we shouldn't cut military spending. (4) Israel or the U.S. attacking Iran. (5) The war in Afghanistan. (6) "Divorcing" Pakistan. (7) What is the greatest future threat to our security?

In other words, seven variations on the same theme: xenophobia. Fear of foreigners.
. . .

So how is it that a "foreign policy" debate can be devoted entirely to the single, narrow subject of who is going to kill whom? It appears that the military-industrial complex has not only occupied huge chunks of the federal budget, but also huge chunks of our political discourse, and even our thinking.

Why is it that every candidate for public office keeps pressing that big, red PANIC button? Isn't there anyone out there who will try to put a little love in our hearts?

Here are some questions that should have been asked last night, but weren't:

(1) What should we do about the 10+ million undocumented people in this country, more than half of whom came here from Mexico?

(2) Speaking of Mexico, the drug war in Mexico was the most deadly armed conflict in the world last year, killing more people than the war in Afghanistan and the civil war in Syria combined. What should we do about it?

(3) We have run the largest trade deficit in the world every year for roughly the past 20 years. This year, it's half a trillion dollars, again. Other developed countries like Japan and Germany run consistent trade surpluses. What should we do about this?

(4) The United States is the only industrialized country without universal healthcare, paid vacations and paid sick leave. Why is this? What should we do about it?

(5) Climate change obviously is a worldwide issue. Should the United States participate in efforts to mitigate it? If so, how?

(6) There is tremendous suffering now in both Greece and Spain, with unemployment of 25%+. Should we do anything to help people in those countries?

(7) In poor countries, three million people die each year of respiratory infections, 2.5 million die each year of diarrhea, and two million die of AIDS. Virtually all of these deaths are avoidable. Should we avoid them?

Grayson could have extended this list very considerably, as I'm sure he's perfectly aware.

But it's not the fault of the candidates that the topic should have been so infantilized -- not entirely, anyway. To a far greater extent it's the fault of a "news" media that's in the habit of ignoring many of the most important topics voters should be considering and dumbing down the rest; the selection of questions made by last night's moderator, Bob Schieffer, both offers a snapshot of and is a product of this media-wide failure of professional responsibility. But where the fault really lies is with a widespread intellectual laziness, an assumption that the best way to solve any international problem is to drop a fucking bomb on it -- "best" because it's easiest, because it's a solution you can shout to loud applause in a bar and then go home to watch TV, your duty done.

It was this climate of apathetic ignorance that allowed the Bush II administration to lie the country into the invasion of Iraq, with the loss of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, trillions of taxpayer dollars, and an unquantifiable but very large amount of international prestige and good will as America abandoned its self-appointed beacon-of-democracy role to become a torture state. It was this climate that permitted -- that required -- the inadequacies of last night's debate.

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