Saturday, October 31, 2015

White House Fool Report: Friday news dump

Updated 11/7/2015
"A Marine monitors the flight line out of the rear of a MV-22B Osprey after completing fast-rope and rappelling training with Marine Special Operations Command, near Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, June 23, 2015." U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Orlando Perez. Via Task & Purpose.
Among the various mixed signals the administration is sending about its plan to put "several dozens" but "fewer than 50" Special Operations troops on the ground in Syria, not "advisors" but nevertheless in an "advisory capacity", is one that goes along with the way I've been trying my hardest to understand Obama's policy:
The move was meant to bolster diplomatic efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Friday reached an agreement in Vienna with countries with opposing stakes to explore “a nationwide cease-fire” and ask the United Nations to oversee the revision of the Syrian Constitution and then new elections. 
That is, the purpose of the thing is part of the peace strategy, not the war strategy, to upgrade and maintain the administration's influence on the situation as these important and even slightly hopeful talks, now including Iran, proceed, in the same way the Russian moves in Syria are meant.

Not that they won't participate on the war side, from their post inside an opposition group headquarters in northern Syria, though they won't be going anywhere else or even on patrols; their job is
not to lead the charge to take a hill, but rather to offer advice and assistance to those local forces about the best way they can organize their efforts to take the fight to ISIL or to take the hill, 
in the words of White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Which sounds like well, hm, maybe that's not so terrible, except that it is precisely something the president said would not happen, to the rage of Senator McCain and the rest of the Stupid Shit Caucus, and now it is precisely happening, so that once again we find ourselves wondering what's the next step. And the other set of mixed signals is about how the purpose of this new deployment is to destroy the Da'esh, which it obviously won't do.

Coalition airstrikes in Syria were supposed to attack only Da'esh militants and nobody else, but they've been bombing the Da'esh oil industry, not just their military installations, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said they had killed 225 civilians (in addition to 3,276 ISIS militants) in the 13 months from the beginning of operations on September 23 2014 to October 23 last week, including 65 children and 40 women (Steven D has sources that claim quite a lot more; the Pentagon has admitted up to now only to two, including Daniya, pictured below). There are 11 countries in the coalition, so it's at least mathematically possible that none of these victims were murdered by actual Americans, but that really doesn't make it OK.

Update 11/7: New York Times story by Eric Schmitt and Michael Gordon notes that practically all air strikes in Syria are carried out by US forces, so we can forget about that excuse.

I'm not even saying anything about the people being killed in Afghanistan and Iraq under direct US supervision, or Yemen or Somalia or who knows where, or the many noncombatants being murdered by the Saudi kingdom's campaign to make its dick look really, really big in Yemen, from which the US averts its eyes, even as it acknowledges giving them some indirect assistance.

Something I've been wanting to say for a while, as long as we're on the subject:

I'm a pacifist, by temperament all my life and by philosophical conviction more recently, or a believer in nonviolence if you prefer; but I am by still stronger conviction a cultural relativist, which obliges me to recognize that a non-pacifist can be a good person in his or her own ethical light, and possibly in mine as well.

It's kind of the problem faced by medieval European theologians in their love for Aristotle and Virgil and Seneca and the other sages of classical antiquity who lived lives or accomplished accomplishments of miraculous virtue living outside the revelation of the Gospel. Was it possible to love Aristotle for what he did?

I wouldn't participate in World War II, in spite of the immense evil the Allies fought against, but I can't help respecting those who did, and the argument that there wasn't an alternative, because it honestly wasn't a world in which nonviolence was a strategic possibility. At a more granular level, can I hate Franklin D. Roosevelt for the terror and death rained down on German and Japanese civilians? I don't accept the arguments that it was necessary to end the war, but no, I don't hate FDR for this, I just feel confused and sad about it.

It's kind of the problem of the tolerance I expect anti-abortion crusaders to extend to me, if they want me to think of them as civilized; if you think an abortion is a murder, I will defend to the death your right not to have one, but I think you should understand in turn that I don't think so, and I've thought it through pretty carefully, and accept that my views don't make me a bad person.

I'm always ready to think of Barack Obama as not a murderer or a bad person, because he's always made it clear that he's not a pacifist, and worked to give the impression he's not thoughtless about killing people. That's what I ask.

I mean, considerably more thoughtful than most, even to the point of being ridiculous and repellent, as with the drone program where he tries not to let anybody be killed unless he and Father Brennan know their names in advance, certainly a first in the history of the conduct of war. I just wish I knew if he really believes the CIA and JSOC take this imperative as seriously as he does, whether he naively believes they do and civilians never get killed, or cynically recognizes they don't and just allows himself to be cushioned from it, or what?

Recently Obama came out to deplore excessive school testing, not for the first time, but in a way that might be a bit effective, or maybe not—he's calling for testing to occupy no more than 2% of the school year, which sounds like a recommendation that it's OK to test them for an annual total of 24 hours, which does not sound like a huge improvement; and he doesn't seem to have had anything to say about diminishing the high-stakes character of the tests, as a threat to students, teachers, principals, and superintendents, which is to my mind a far more important issue than testing itself (that it's not being used to diagnose what the authorities could be doing better, but which underlings should be punished). But he replaces his vile and (at least formerly) test-happy education secretary Arne Duncan with a new one, John King, the former New York state commissioner, whose reputation as far as tests are concerned is just as bad. Why is he doing that? Why isn't he suggesting something a little more, ah, robust as a remedy?

As far as Syria goes, I'd like to think a real deal is being put together that will make all the horrors of the past four years seem like the past (especially because of the bringing of Iran into the process, an immediate consequence of the nuclear deal). If it happens I'm going to boast, too, that I thought it would and backed it years before Obama himself seemed to know what he had in mind. But it remains a legitimate question: Does peace really cost so many lives?

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