by Benjamin J. Kirby
A couple of days ago, I linked to the Conor Friedersdorf piece in The Atlantic about the ongoing drone strikes in North Waziristan and Pakistan. I called it a "must-read":
The bottom line is that through this country's ongoing unmanned Predator Drone strike program which has escalated under President Obama, we are now in the full-time business of terrorizing innocent people Pakistan. There's a horrific, ugly irony in combating terror cells with what amounts to terrorism.
To be frank, I think the article, on the heels of this Bureau of Investigative Journalism study which unsurprisingly finds that the drone strikes are causing mass trauma among civilians, misses a larger, more complex point. Maybe several points.
In the end, I offered an answer to Fridersdorf's question about whether or not my own children are terrorized by the neverending buzzing of drones overhead:
It's dramatic, I suppose, but Conor's question in the article is ultimately a fair one. No, my kids do not jump at the sound of someone knocking on the door. No, I don't live in fear that I'll be bombed out of the blue by an unseen, silent enemy.
I'm grateful every day for it. I really, really am. I live in a comfortable world, and I am truly grateful for it, and I am grateful for the life I can give my children.
What is becoming apparent is that the continued drone strike operations in Pakistan have almost nothing to do with that comfort. Indeed -- and disturbingly -- they may be contributing to just the opposite.
The point was we probably ought to stop -- or at the very least, re-think -- this whole drone strike program.
It's a troubling thing, to be sure.
But just because it's troubling, doesn't mean I won't vote for Obama.
The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans -- along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers -- just aren't valued. Alternatively, the less savory parts of Obama's tenure can just be repeatedly disappeared from the narrative of his first term, as so many left-leaning journalists, uncomfortable confronting the depths of the man's transgressions, have done over and over again.
Keen on Obama's civil-libertarian message and reassertion of basic American values, I supported him in 2008. Today I would feel ashamed to associate myself with his first term or the likely course of his second. I refuse to vote for Barack Obama. Have you any deal-breakers?
How is this not among them?
This article has been nagging at me all day. (Good thing I shared it with Matt, so he could be annoyed, too.)
First of all, if you withhold your vote, you're not actually protesting -- you're giving a vote to the other guy. Friedersdorf tells us he plans to vote for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.
Look, if you are either withholding your vote or voting for Gary Johnson or some other no-shot candidate because of the United States drone strike program in Pakistan, then you have to believe that Obama is just doing it as a terrorist act. You have to believe that he's doing it to kill and maim civilians in Pakistan and for no other reason. You have to believe that he's driven to do this perhaps by an extreme interpretation of his Christian faith. You have to believe, basically, that Obama himself is a terrorist.
I don't. I think the drone strike program is causing a lot of problems -- a lot of bad problems, as Friedersdorf reported. But I don't think Obama is doing it specifically to terrorize innocent people in Pakistan.
Indeed, Friedersdorf reported that the drones are terrorizing the civilian population. But we have to believe that this is collateral damage. It's terrible, it's awful, it is even unacceptable -- but the bombings by drones in Pakistan has to be doing something in the name of eliminating terrorists.
If it came to light that Obama was just bombing Pakistan to provoke Pakistanis, or because he was some sort of hateful extremist, not only would I not vote for him, I'd actively work against him.
But I know that becoming one of the 60%+ of people who won’t vote in this election is about the most feeble possible protest imaginable. Not to mention that “double Guantanamo” Romney’s foreign policy is far more likely to lead us to more war (with Iran for starters).
...and the latter:
If either major party offered a platform opposed to killing Pakistanis through the air, that would be great. Instead, we face a choice between someone who has continued the terrible policies of his predecessor and someone who is openly campaigning to kill even more brown people. So even on this issue, there is a slight difference.
Given the reality of American life, I can either make myself feel morally clean, vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson and effectively give 0.5 votes to Mitt Romney, a man who would destroy the rights of poor people in this country while make the life of poor people around the world even worse. Or I can swallow my pride, vote for Obama, and work to change the Democratic Party and political life in this country so we can get to a point where we don’t have a bipartisan consensus that killing random Muslims is actually a good thing.
First of all, we need to understand that a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for the failed policies of the Bush Administration, to include but not limited to more war, almost assuredly with Iran. Yes, it's horrible that innocent (by Conor's reporting) villagers in Pakistan are being driven mad and are dying needlessly from drone strikes ordered by a Democratic President.
All of this will be worse if Mitt Romney is elected.
Second of all, withholding your vote -- or voting for a sure loser, and Friedersdorf admits that Johnson will lose -- is simply not the way to communicate protest in a participatory democracy. And your vote actually matters. This is djw, also from Lawyers Guns & Money:
Erik’s recent post got me thinking about my own vote for Nader in 2000 (which, like Erik, I soon regretted). I had decided to vote for Gore weeks earlier; I’d gone to the polls with every intention of voting for Gore. I was near the end of five years of irrational rage about the Welfare Reform act, and since I couldn’t take it out on Clinton again, I took it out on Gore. That was, at the time, my “dealbreaker.” In hindsight, my rage was deeply irrational not because I was wrong about the evils of the policy, necessarily, but because I was irrationally and single-mindedly focused on Clinton. The first alternative, which I barely acknowledged at the time, would have been to focus my rage against Republican legislators, who obviously passed the damn bill. But more importantly, my rage should have been directed to a significant degree against my fellow American citizens, whose political attitudes and values rendered Clinton’s decision to sign that bill a canny political move.
Indeed, all of this is tap-dancing dangerously close to the days of Campaign 2000, when you heard more than you could bear: Gore and Bush are just alike... Yeah, and how'd that thinking work out for us?
And so registering a "protest vote" (which I maintain doesn't actually exist as a thing, because... who'd really notice?) does little but deliver even worse outcomes against which you were protesting to begin with.
Before I get to Matt's more difficult questions about "deal-breakers", let me say this: Is the drone strike program a bad idea? Yeah, probably. Almost assuredly, yes. But I don't feel as though I'm fully informed about it. Here are some hard questions we need to ask before make a serious "deal-breaker" decision regarding something as sacrosanct as our vote.
People in Pakistan are being driven mad by the constant buzzing of drones, living in fear. Okay. That's truly awful. But how many known terrorists are living in those villages now? How many have been killed in how many strikes? How many are left? To what degree did the strikes make us safer? Did they at all? Who were the terrorists killed and what were they plotting? At what level had they completed their planning, or had even begun to operationalize it?
I'm not asking those questions facetiously or snarkily. I think the answers are worth knowing before you throw your vote away in "protest." I also think there's a good chance we'll never really know the full answers, because so much of this is conducted in secret. That's too bad for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it allows people like Fiedersdorf to conveniently exclude it when writing an article for The Atlantic.
It's all very ugly, and it's not a nice thing to think about, but wouldn't it change your mind just a little bit to know that the drone strike program is driving whole villages mad, but they have also killed, say, a hundred active terrorists with plots to harm Americans? What about active terrorists who had the parts to a bomb? What about active terrorists who'd had communications with counterparts in Asia? Africa? Europe? America?
And so for my answer about "deal-breakers" and who we vote for, I once again go back to my own kids. For me, it is the environment (and I use that term broadly, to include the economic impacts as well as the impact on energy production and consumption). Obama hasn't been perfect on this issue (I had to cringe a bit in his new two-minute ad when he mentions "clean coal", a thing that has been fairly well proven to be -- mostly -- nonsense), but he's leaps and bounds better than, well, pretty much any of his predecessors until you get to Teddy Roosevelt.
If President Obama were to, overnight, somehow turn into, well, Mitt Romney, then I may well sit on my hands, or at least write in a name.
Environmental stuff matters to me because it is the thing we can do something about now -- we have the technology, we have the capacity -- but it is really about preserving the world for Emeline and Finn -- and for kids everywhere. The thing with the environment, for me, is multi-fold.
One, with respect to the bombings in Pakistan, at least we can quantify with a fair bit of accuracy the collateral damage. We know how many villages are destroyed -- worthwhile or not. With respect to the environment, we have no idea what sort of damage we will incur on any given part of the world now and more importantly in the future if we take no action. That, to my mind, is in and of itself a greater moral failing. In other words, it's worse to do nothing and not know how much you've destroyed in the future than it is to know exactly what you're destroying today. Tough call, but there you go.
Two, we know what to do. We don't necessarily agree on it, but we at least know the barriers to real reforms in environmental and energy policy. (A large part of it is big oil money and the lobbyists it buys, which is another sort of moral failing, but that's getting into the weeds a bit.)
Finally, the idea that you can "fix" the environment or not is absurd. It's an ongoing, evolving struggle. It is the kind of complex, ever-changing decision we hire presidents to make. For me, I'll be judging a successful measure of whether or not we're on the right track by seeing what kind of car my kids will drive. That's at least 13, 14 years away. Will they be driving inefficient, gas-fueld cars? Or will we have done the right things today so that my kids are driving something better tomorrow?
After all, this is really about them.
Yes, I'm talking about kids who are being bombed out of their homes in Pakistan, too.
And we all know there's only one chance for those bombings to stop and for those kids to be safe -- and that is through a second Obama Administration.