Friday, February 1, 2013

Reason #274: Crazy Ideas

At Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing yesterday for Defense Secretary, Republican Senator Ted Cruz infamously wheeled out a television set so that he could play two clips of Hagel on an Al Jazeera call-in show--one in which Israel is accused of having committed war crimes, and one where America is called "the world's bully".

Not by Hagel himself, mind you, but by callers--at issue is the fact that Hagel didn't immediately decry the two claims, and went so far as to mention that the "world's bully" caller made "a good point". I happened to be on Twitter at the time this was going on, and I witnessed a litany of television personalities quickly pointing out that all sorts of batshit stuff gets brought up by people calling in to low-rent political talk shows, and if the guests involved were expected to explicitly condemn every crazy idea that someone raised, there'd be no time for anything else.

That's a perfectly fair point right off the bat, and should be enough to forgive these "mistakes" on Hagel's part, but I want to look at these two topics a little just the same.

First of all, America absolutely is the world's bully--maybe that's been dialing down a bit in recent years, but in 2009 (when the Al Jazeera show took place) we were still fresh out of the Bush era, Iraq was still going strong, and Obama was actually dialing Afghanistan up a notch. And even with those wars wrapping up, the overall characterization still holds--raiding Bin Laden's compound without alerting the Pakistani government and conducting near-continuous Predator-drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, also without international consent or without even admitting we're doing it, may or may not be defensible acts, but they're absolutely the actions of a bully.

Whether we should be doing these things is a debate we should always be having, because the minute we don't bother second-guessing those decisions is the minute we lose sight of ourselves. And part of having that debate is at least engaging with the possibility that we should stop. Chuck Hagel was one of the first Republicans to flip on the Iraq War--that suggests a man who doesn't automatically assume American military actions are morally and strategically sound by definition, and that's exactly what I'd want from a Defense Secretary.

As for Israel--I'm not going to list specific incidents and litigate whether any one thing is technically a war crime. Israel and Palestine aren't technically at war, for one thing, and I have zero doubt that any dastardly Israeli action could--and has been--met by an equally nefarious Palestinian action.

Which is the real point here, I think--on some level, both sides have righteous and valid motivations, and both sides have committed unforgivable atrocities. Any attempt to quantify evil is a failure from the start, and no attempt to move forward in this region that doesn't begin with that understanding will ever really be successful--otherwise you're just awarding points arbitrarily. I'd also like for my Defense Secretary to understand that, and not boiling into a froth at the mere mention of anti-Israeli views is a step in the right direction.

Further Reading

Hagel faces barrage of criticism during tense confirmation hearing

U.N. Panel to Investigate Rise in Drone Strikes

Drone statistics visualised

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