I recently expressed to Jeremy the unlikelihood of my voting for Obama again, and listed a few reasons. He responded that he understood my disappointment in Obama and “share[d] it in some ways,” but that I was “blinded by idealism.”
In the interest of bringing discussions like this out of email and into the public, let me expand upon my argument and respond to some of Jeremy’s points. For brevity’s sake, I’ll keep it to two points.
Obama continues torture
“I’m under the impression that we have stopped waterboarding and most forms of enhanced interrogation.”
Jeremy’s impression is technically correct; President Obama signed an order on his first day in office to ban waterboarding and other techniques. But forces in the field can still employ prolonged isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, and force-feeding, techniques which have been cited as cruel and unusual. Moreover, the rendition program, in which we transfer prisoners to other countries (like Libya) to be tortured, continues uninterrupted. Most troubling is a report that the CIA has a complex in Somalia, where it directly pays guards’ salaries, and to which it brings prisoners from all over the world, god help them.
Beyond the policies themselves, the fact that Obama gave a pass to the enablers and architects of the torture program means that those choices remain open to future administrations. Because he refused to prosecute them as crimes, they have now become policy positions, on which respectable people can disagree. You have a Republican field saying they would bring back waterboarding, but if Obama were honest about how hard and dirty he’s fighting the terrorists he’d win every red vote in the country. Which brings us to our next point.
Drone bombing continues
“I support the drones, mainly because I don’t want US troops on the ground.”
This presumes that we need to attack or invade any country in which a so-called “terrorist” is found. And it blindly ignores the fact that so many civilians, even children, are killed by these sky robots of death. It is a heartless and backward policy, which is bound to result in deadly blowback for America.
“You never come up with anything as an alternative to drone strikes, you only reply with the same tired bumper-sticker ideology of ‘killing a terrorist creates more’. How will you feel when [someone] succeeds in blowing up a truck bomb in Times Square?
Sadly, something terrible like this is very likely to occur as a result of these strikes. The failed Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, very nearly pulled off the trick, and cited American drone attacks in Pakistan as one of his motivations. The drones “don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody,” he said in court.
At a meeting last month, Pashtun tribal elders described the sounds of drones hovering over their villages during the day, and launching Hellfire missiles at night. A teenager who volunteered to gather evidence of civilian deaths was killed by a drone one week later. My “alternative” to drone strikes is the absence of drone strikes. I do not believe in a military solution to the problem of terrorism; I would point out that ten years of war in Afghanistan did not prevent Faisal Shahzad from acting, but 3 years of drone strikes compelled him to act.
These are some of the foreign policy failures of Barack Obama, a president who ran on a platform of restoring America’s reputation in the Muslim world. As Jeremy said, Obama’s election bought us much goodwill in the Middle East. But that has all been squandered by his policy decisions. The evidence shows a clear and steady decline. I would argue that these trends will eventually lead to more, not less, terrorist attacks against the US.