Tag Archives: Iraq War

After the Bombs

Rebels inspect a pro-Qaddafi military truck after its bombing. (Photo credit: New York Times)

Five weeks after the Arab protests spread to Libya, the United States has found itself tangled in yet another Middle Eastern conflict. The question on everyone’s mind is, will this be a Gulf War or Iraq 2.0? In other words, where will we be after the bombs stop falling?

I think it’s safe to say Obama’s situation now is quite different from George Bush’s back in 2003. On a military level, Obama has been keeping his distance by not involving ground forces, choosing to instead use missiles and airstrikes. Obama’s military plan at this point seems to be to hammer Qaddafi’s forces as hard as possible without touching down on Libyan soil.

The UN’s decision to hold back the tide of Qaddafi’s advances on the rebels was intended to do two things. First, it was meant to stop further humanitarian crisis in the form of military massacres by Qaddafi’s forces. Second, the declaration was a way of legitimizing the rebellion’s government and the movement that put it in place.

And yet, as with every military intervention, this answer to the rebels’ prayers opens an entire book of new questions, particularly for the United States and Barack Obama. The president has faced harsh criticism from the left and the right for what many feel was an impulsive dive into yet another Middle Eastern crap chute. Some have even gone so far as to say that Obama’s presidency is “Bush’s third term.”

Now, although I’m a fan of the man, President Obama has made some hefty mistakes in handling the crisis in Libya. His first foible, which has compounded into the criticism he now faces, was his hesitancy in taking the Libyan humanitarian crisis as seriously as he should have. Now, I realize that I don’t stand a chance of pretending to understand all of the complex minutia and details that factor into a decision like the one he made, and how difficult it must have been, considering all the pressures on the administration about this issue. But it seems to me that the president should’ve given more initial credence to the idea of military intervention in Libya. If the idea had been on the American table earlier, there would have been more time to have serious internal discussions about it (which would hopefully resolve Congress’s beef) before launching in after a chat with Nicolas Sarkozy.

Following from this mistake was the lack of clarity on the future of the situation in Libya. While I don’t think that this is likely to become another Iraq War, US military involvement always brings up questions. The most prominent one, as I suggested in the title of this post, is what’s next? Many, including prominent members of Congress and thinkers on both sides of the aisle, have pointed out that Obama doesn’t seem to have much of an endgame in Libya. Bombs will fall for a few more days (hopefully that’s all), and Qaddafi’s forces have been and will continue to be whittled down.

But what happens after that? Now that the international community has intervened (which, even after all my hemming and hawing, I think was a good thing), how involved should it be? US administration officials have made it pretty clear that they expect the burden of this coalition to fall of the shoulders of everyone, if not mainly Britain and France. And hopefully, other nations, particularly the Arab League, will prevent this attack on Qaddafi from taking on the aspect of another assault on a Muslim country. But there’s a bigger problem than America’s Arab street cred.

The coalition’s goal in striking against Qaddafi has been to protect the civilians and rebels of Libya from the senseless violence Qaddafi would love to inflict on them. But how far can a no-fly zone and bombs take the rebellion? There’s a whole host of possible situations that could rise after the dust settles in Libya. The country might fracture into two under the pressures of enemy governments in east and west. If not removed, a vengeful Qaddafi might revert to his past terrorism, lashing out against Europe, America, and his own people. The opposition is still nascent (at best), and it remains a relatively untested force.

There are many things still up in the air where Libya is concerned, and I’ll continue to write about the situation as it develops. But for now, we can only hope that things come to the swift conclusion that the coalition is hoping for. And so, in the spirit of this post, I’ll end with the biggest question of all: What’s next for Libya?

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Filed under Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

The Unparalleled Power of Patriotism (Part 2)

Perhaps this is truer than people are willing to recognize?

This post is a continuation of an earlier one, “The Unparalleled Power of Patriotism (Part 1).” Read it first!

Looking at patriotism in this way, it’s easy to see how things can get carried away. The sense that the loss of an American life is more devastating than the loss of an Iraqi’s or any other person’s life instills Americans with a dangerous sense of superiority, of an almost racist nature.

Not only can this give Americans too much of a “proud to be an American” sense, it inherently devalues any who aren’t American!

Nationalism can take many forms, but I would say that any amount of patriotic zealotry is too much. I recently saw some of this on a blog I had the misfortune of coming across, called “Patriotic Mom.” The mom, whose name is Pamela Reece, gushes in a post about her patriotism, and how central it is to “being American.” One of the comments on the post, by one Josh Ondich, reads as follows: “Patriotism can be used as good like the National Anthem or the pledge, but has been used by dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joesph Stalin to invade countries and impose mass genocide against millions of people. using patriotism for war is using it for terror. -Peace”

Now, I thought this was a perfectly valid and fairly unbiased point. The guy was simply pointing out an observation he had made. This was Pamela’s response:

Using patriotism for war? Perhaps you have forgotten about 9/11!! Remember? When war was declared on the U.S.? We are defending America and fighting the global war on terror. Patriotism is standing by America…recite the words of the National Anthem and remember 9/11. Do this and you will understand.

United we stand!

Now, maybe I’m just blind or stupid, but it seems like this response is exactly what Josh Ondich is warning of. Besides that, Pamela Reece’s “comeback” argument illustrates perfectly the kind of fanatical, almost mindless patriotism that many Americans use to justify all kinds of evil. The line, “Patriotism is standing by America… recite the words of the National Anthem and remember 9/11. Do this and you will understand,” is particularly appalling. To me, the advice to recite our National Anthem and remember 9/11 is reminiscent of Soviet-style nationalism or the advice some Christians give: “Just pray to Jesus and you’ll understand the truth!” It shows a terrifying immaturity of thought and a dangerous unwillingness to listen to any kind of disagreement, insisting that a “good American” doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t need answers.

Perhaps more infuriating though, is a “tribute” on the left side of the page, a slideshow with images of 9/11 and the bombing of the USS Cole, which then transitions to the words “Never Forget Who Did It,” which is followed by pictures of Middle Eastern men. This victim mentality was used by George Bush to embroil the US in two devastating wars, and is still the opinion of many conservatives (particularly evangelical Christians) in the United States.

As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” I can think of few things that are more blinding than such an insistence on national superiority. Patriotism is good when it’s used to express valid pride in country and culture. But it, perhaps more than any other sentiment, can become poisonous extremely quickly. As soon as patriotism is turned into a justification or reasoning for war, torture, or other such crimes against humanity, it can become nationalist, McCarthyistic fervor, which is no better than the religious fanaticism American patriotism is so often turned against.





Filed under Human Rights, Politics & Power

Black Blood: Oil and the Value of Human Life

Our leeching dependence on oil has sapped away our value for human life.

At some point in the 19th century, a wondrous thing was created: The internal combustion engine. Though there is still dispute over who it was created by and the exact year it was finalized, this is a fair timeline for it I think. The engine never had much popularity when it was first created, as it depended on petroleum-based fuel to function. But around the middle of the century oil fields began to be discovered and depleted. And so our oil addiction began.

Since around the turn of the century (the 20th one, that is), oil has been a precious resource. Though it started its history in fairly limited use, its’ importance has grown extremely rapidly over the last century, as the vehicles, industries, and other aspects of life it has fueled grow larger and larger. Nearly every part of life, especially here in America, has become in some way dependent on our oil supply. With the incredible developments in transportation technology, oil’s importance has grown larger and larger, as our cars, airplanes, cargo ships, semi-trucks, trains, cruise vessels, helicopters, military vehicles, and a plethora of other technologies have become almost completely dependent on this fuel. Even if you leave transportation out of the picture, many other products we use in our daily life are dependent on oil as well. In the words of the US Department of Energy: “Oil is the lifeblood of America’s economy.¬† Currently, it supplies more than 40% of our total energy demands and more than 99% of the fuel we use in our cars and trucks.” (found on this page)

And beyond the repercussions we’ll face when these reserves we’re so dependent on start running out, our dependence on and high esteem for oil have elevated it to the status of a societal god. One of the most important goals of US foreign policy has become finding and securing our oil supplies, and this “black gold” has become of paramount importance in our relationships with other countries that supply our all-important oil. America is the world’s most voracious consumer of petroleum, and only about half of the oil we use comes from our own soil. The other half comes primarily from Canada, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Nigeria (see the link above for details), which enthralls us to these countries for our most important resource.

I would say, with little hesitation, that our national (and in some ways, global) obsession with oil has reduced the value we place on human life. Entire countries such as Saudi Arabia have become little more than oil fields in public thought, and US leaders are as much concerned about the oil supplies being cut off in LIbya as they are about the people being massacred there. Oil giants like BP build offshore oil rigs that they know have a high chance of failing, at the expense not just of the nature around them, but on the people in their environments too. Some would say that a primary reason George W. Bush pushed for an invasion of Iraq was to secure its lucrative oil fields, and indeed, Iraq is among the top ten oil importers to the United States. I don’t know if I would say this was Bush’s sole reason, but it certainly didn’t hold him back.

There’s a brokenness to this high value we give to oil. Behind it lies the assumption that this natural resource is somehow of higher value than the people also involved in the situation. I understand that our country has a high dependency on oil for our day to day lives, but why is this? We’ve raised our standards of living exponentially in the last century, and it’s gotten to the point where most Americans feel they are somehow entitled to a fair share (or, in many cases, far more than a fair share) of oil for their personal needs. Almost unconsciously, Americans consume vast amounts of natural resources daily, in most cases without knowing the costs to the environment and the people in that environment.

But this goes beyond oil. The American people have been living beyond their means in many ways for years now. While all of our technological super-advances of the last century (and even the last decade) have made our lives more connected, more convenient, and even more fun, this comes at a cost that few people are willing to recognize. The more resources and luxuries we come to depend on for our daily lives, the more we suffer when they’re taken away or are harder to come by, as we saw in the peak of oil prices a few years ago in the US. So maybe it’s time to cut back. Maybe it’s time to realize that our choices and luxuries have a real cost to real people. Maybe it’s time to free ourselves from this cycle.

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Filed under Environment & Nature, Human Rights