June 20, 2007

Blame the Victim: Democratic Presidential Candidate Edition

I keep harping on politicians' quickness to fault the Iraqi people themselves for the chaos wrought by invasion and occupation. It's an abhorrent excuse, and its bipartisan popularity is sickening.

This morning Hillary Clinton was booed by the "hard left" (nice touch, ABC) at the Take Back America conference for passing the buck on Iraq:

"The American military has succeeded. It is the Iraqi government, which has failed to make the tough decisions that are important for their own people."

Andre Banks points to the racist underpinnings of this rationale:

Her story of a successful military operation rendered a failure by the intransigence of Iraqis who don't love democracy like we do relieves the American conscious from the guilt becoming a war of terror. And in its place she leaves a racist stereotype our nation is accustomed to: a lawless Brown person who deserves to be abandoned to their uncontrollable vice.

I'm not surprised to hear Clinton use the same ignorant rhetoric employed by her fellow hawks on both sides of the aisle. But from Edwards?

In order to get the Iraqi people to take responsibility for their country, we must show them that we are serious about leaving, and the best way to do that is to actually start leaving.

It's extremely disappointing to hear this unaccountable beltway rationalization echoed by the only candidate who has taken responsibility for a war authorization vote, the only "first tier" Democrat to boldly deconstruct the logic behind the fabricated "war on terror," the only one to issue substantive diplomatic foreign policy solutions aimed at regaining the confidence of the international community, and one who isn't afraid to confront racism head on. Such misdirected tough talk is out of character given this record of courage and leadership. Edwards' candid admission that his vote for the war was wrong positions him as the candidate best able to lead us out of Iraq by taking responsibility and making reparations. But he's squandering this opportunity by toeing the line.

I understand that it's important for politicians advocating withdrawal to dodge the backlash that would ensue from admitting that the reality is a U.S. failure. But rhetorical arguments for withdrawal cannot be couched in terms of punitive measures for those that have already experienced unimaginable suffering. This is not just irresponsible, but morally reprehensible.

If Democrats want a justification for withdrawal that is both honest and politically viable, they should talk about withdrawal as an opportunity for the Iraqi people to at last claim their inhibited right to self-determination, wrested from imperialists and despots that ruled the country since it was loosely conceived as a nation state. This is the language of empowerment, not the coward's "blame the Iraqis" tack.

The U.S. is not leaving as punishment (in fact prolonging the occupation would be just that), but because Iraq is their country--not the base of future U.S. military operations in the Middle East, as neocons would like. The U.S. has no more right to stay and decide Iraq's future course than it did in invading, no more right than Germany did to decide the fate of post WWII Europe.

Assertions that the Iraqi people brought this chaos upon themselves or that Iraqi lawmaker's lack of political will instigated the country's descent into failed state status are abhorrent. And the notion that Iraq can become a sovereign nation within the bounds of foreign occupation is laughable. This is just another manifestation of the backwards "Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down" line. The occupation must end before the Iraqi people have the opportunity to self-govern, not vice versa.

Jonathan Steele sums it up in the Guardian

...the essential point about the Iraq tragedy remains what it has been since April 2003. Bush and Blair bear the prime responsibility for the chaos their ill-conceived invasion unleashed. The problem of sectarian violence can only be solved by Iraqis. National reconciliation, if it happens, has to be Iraqi-led. But the US and Britain are not innocent bystanders, good Samaritans, or neutral guarantors against a civil war. There have been too many occasions already - from the so-called transfer of sovereignty in June 2004 to the inauguration of the first elected government in May this year - when they have said "it's up to the Iraqis now" while remaining in ultimate charge. Only when they leave Iraq will sovereignty truly revert.

June 12, 2007

File under "this is what's wrong with the movement"

When College Ends, So Does Activism
Why selling out is a depressingly rational choice for many graduates

I'm headed south to my alma mater to see my best friends graduate this weekend, and happily this article doesn't apply to them--I'm confident that they'll both make successful careers out of their commitment to the larger progressive movement. And I've been really fortunate myself to find a job that's in line with my ideals.

But I think we're the exceptions, not the rule. In the last year, I've seen too many peers--truly dedicated activists--left with no choice but to take less fulfilling, higher-paying, no-experience-required jobs in the corporate world to offset the cost of living, student loan debt, etc.

Adam Doster addresses some contributors to the private sector siphon on the progressive movements' young, energetic base:

- Outsourcing organizing campaigns to centralized intermediaries, a la Grassroots Campaigns

Under this canvassing system, young organizers become contingent labor, susceptible to low pay, long hours, no benefits and no training in the real skills necessary to succeed in building local power. In some ways, the model cultivates a culture of deprivation; young people are taught to think that sacrifice is a prerequisite for progressive change and thus they tolerate exploitation for the sake of the movement.

- Strapped with debt from the ever rising cost of education, students don't have the luxury of taking lower-paying positions.

These financial burdens disproportionately affect students of color and those from less secure economic backgrounds, whose need for job stability is generally more pressing than that of their classmates. “It’s always been hard to attract class diversity in the progressive movement. It’s largely been dominated by people who have family backgrounds that enable them, for whatever reason, to take a lower salary, particularly if they are just starting out,” says Draut. “I think the problem is that now it’s become even more challenging.” All of these factors lead even the most socially conscious graduates away from progressive politics toward less-fulfilling career fields.

As someone who falls into the category of young progressives that has the privilege of freedom from debt and a soft landing back at home, I've been afforded the optimal situation. Nonetheless, even from this best case scenario vantage point, I feel the strain of having fewer options--the shortage of entry-level positions, the majority of groups searching for candidates with years of experience, and a lower salary cap for young people who opt to dedicate their career to peace and social justice. My background is in community radio, and I'd hoped to continue in that field, at least as a journalist. But the reality became apparent all too quickly after college--I'd have to drastically shift the standard of living I'd grown accustomed to if I were to take that track. Even then, it would be unsustainable to live in the Bay Area. And burnout gets us nowhere.

Young conservatives have the luxury of a support system--paid internships, job networks, etc.--endless free lunch for the free market faithful. I'm reminded of this every time I get a glossy mailer from The Fund for American Studies.

It boils down to this--non-profit is just that. We're not going to be able to compete with the private sector because we're not in the business of competing. We're not even in business. We have a hard enough time finding sources of funding, much less marketing our ideas.

I wish I had something more reassuring to say...this has been a running theme for me this past year, transitioning from a vibrant campus community to a desk job. Should we just be resigned to the idea that working for change will remain ('scuse the Rumsfeld reference) a long hard slog for young people of conscience? I'll leave on a positive note, with some inspirational remarks from a commencement address delivered last year at the New School:

I'm scared about many things. I'm worried that I will lose my clarity of vision, and the sense of urgency I feel now. I fear that I will lose my inspiration. I fear bureaucracy. I fear the grind of going to work 9 to 5.

But when I look at you all today, at the sheer number of us, at our excitement, at our determination, I feel so inspired. We must keep each other accountable to accomplish the things we dream of doing, of revolutionizing the things we plan on changing. It's up to us - no complacency, no apathy, we're going to do it. And we will do it with style, grace, determination and dignity.

The needs in our world are overwhelming, yet we live in hope and seek to make a difference.

June 03, 2007

Blame the victim

Caught the tail end of Meet the Press yesterday, and this utterly indefensible argument by Republican strategist Mike Murphy:

MR. MURPHY: Yes. Absolutely. Nixon’s spinning in his grave. We used to be the very competent guys that run wars. Now I—my view is, our magnificent military and the Bush administration won the war, the Iraqi people have lost the politics and the peace, and now we’ve got to figure out a way to protect American interests and move on. Very big...

MR. RUSSERT: You’re blaming the Iraqi people?

MR. MURPHY: Yeah! I think it’s the truth.

MR. SHRUM: I mean, they don’t keep the troops there.

MR. MURPHY: No, but the troops are there for security so they can grow up and have a democracy, and that’s what they’re horrible at.

MR. CARVILLE: Are we—but, Mike, are we surprised that we found Iraqis when we went there?

MR. MURPHY: The war is...(unintelligible)...they light up.

MR. CARVILLE: Were we shocked when we found Iraqis when we went to Iraq? We didn’t know there were going to be Iraqi people there?

MR. MURPHY: No, no.

MR. SHRUM: Some of them don’t like us occupying their country.

MR. CARVILLE: They’re intelligent.

MR. MURPHY: Well, yeah, but we didn’t feed them the democracy, and that they’re having trouble.

MS. MATALIN: Well, what all Americans do not like is Democrats saying or anybody in this country saying, even those who are anti-war, do not like when Democratic leaders say, “This war is lost.” We are determined people. We cannot believe that this enemy that stones women and sends 12-year-olds out to behead innocents are people that are better than us.

MR. SHRUM: Mary, we’re going to stay and stay and stay and stay.

MR. CARVILLE: Correct.

MR. SHRUM: And when is it going to, when is it...

MS. MATALIN: You’re going to stay on Iraq.

MR. SHRUM: Give me some indication...

MS. MATALIN: What is your...

MR. SHRUM: Give me some indication of when persisting in a failed policy is going to yield success.

MS. MATALIN: Give me some indication of what your foreign policy positions against this 21st century enemy, what is the Democratic plan?

MR. SHRUM: Mine would be, mine would be a lot closer to the current secretary of defense who said we got to draw down the troops next year...


MR. SHRUM: ...to send a very clear message to the Iraqis that they have to get their act together, they have to make the government work.

Shrum legitimizes Murphy's despicable claim by using similar language, framing Iraq's collapse as the result of its peoples' irresponsibility--not the fruit of U.S. invasion and occupation. But don't hold your breath for hawks to own up to these fatal mistakes. What matters most to them is preserving their own reputations; admitting fault and accepting defeat is politically out of the question.

It's this hubris that paved the way for the despicable "blame the victim" strategy. I wrote about it last November, as did Thomas Ricks & Robin Wright from WaPo. Since then, the argument has reared its ugly head much more frequently. Too few are defending Iraqis and placing blame where it's due.

Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi lays it out:

I can do without having to listen to American journalists, as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle, bitch and moan about how the Iraqi government better start "shaping up" and "taking responsibility" and "showing progress" if they want the continued blessing of American military power. Virtually every major newspaper in the country and every hack in Washington has lumped all the "benchmarks" together, painting them as concrete signs that, if met, would mean the Iraqi government is showing "progress" or "good faith."

"President Bush will not support a war spending bill that punishes the Iraqi government for failing to meet benchmarks for progress," was how the AP put it.

"Among the mile markers that should be used to measure Iraqi progress is a finalized revenue-sharing agreement on current and future oil reserves," was the formulation of the Savannah Daily News.

Still other papers, like the Baltimore Sun, cast the supplemental as a means of exercising "tough love" with the lazy and ungrateful Iraqis, who to date have failed to show interest in governing their own country. "The talk around Congress," wrote the Sun, "was of putting together a bill with (probably nonbinding) benchmarks, designed to hold the feet of the Iraqi government to the fire -- or at least near the fire."

As Juan Cole put it,

"I see. The US invaded their country, abolished their army, gutted their civil service, occupied their cities, and now it is the Iraqis' fault."