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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Column: Disrespect for civil liberties begins with American citizens

Ben Levin

Oct. 23, 2012

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

America’s foreign policy is terrible. It’s reactionary, it’s violent and it’s inhumane. The United States of America tortures — wait, excuse me, we “engage in enhanced interrogation techniques.” We imprison American citizens without due process. We murder civilians — excuse me again, “enemy combatants” — around the globe with the barest pretense of congressional approval. In a New York Times story last May, President Barack Obama’s policy toward civilian casualties was revealed as counting all military-age males in a strike zone as “combatants” unless there is posthumous evidence proving their innocence.

Let’s unpack that a bit. If you have the misfortune to be in the vicinity of a drone strike, tough luck: You’re a terrorist. Walking your dog? Too bad! You’re a terrorist! The check, the only check, on this current classification other than the president’s discretion is that you can be declared a civilian after you’ve been bombarded if “evidence surfaces.” Small compensation, I imagine, when you’ve already been vaporized.

The shoddy reasoning, suspect legality and heinous morals can be seen throughout American foreign policy. In a world where being in the vicinity of a drone strike makes you automatically guilty, can we be surprised the rights of Americans are regularly abridged? Is it any wonder hundreds of people remain in custody without trial years after President Obama vowed to restore due process? Since 2001, both parties have shown equal disrespect for the civil liberties of America and her enemies. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party once loudly complained when George Bush trampled on our constitution. Their silence now, as Obama carries out substantially the same policies as his predecessor, is as deafening as it is embarrassing.

The silence reflects a fundamental truth: American politicians long ago gave up a nuanced view of geopolitics. The black-and-white realities of World War II and the Cold War are over, but their legacies have persisted. We should be seeking to understand why the Middle East fears Israel, but instead we hear our leaders label Iran a joint on an imaginary “axis of evil” and subsequently demolish its economy with onerous United Nations sanctions.

Yet why would our politicians do anything differently? The iron rule of democracy is that popular sentiment leaks to the ruling class. Politicians, at the end of the day, are just trying to get elected. The American populace is, in its majority, unable to wrap its mind around the idea that bombing a bunch of people in the middle is not in the national interest. American militarization, American aggression and America’s maddening tendency to create its own enemies — liberals are quick to blame a troupe of actors. Corporate financiers of elections, Israel and a shadowy all-powerful military-industrial complex are regularly accused to be conspirators.

The truth is simpler and more depressing: We are the problem. Mitt Romney won votes last night warmongering Iran and threatening Russia. Obama won some of those votes back by highlighting his extralegal murder of “enemy combatants” and promising to bring China to heel. The candidates are smart: They know this is what the American people want. Candidates know foreign policy liberals won’t rock any boats, and any grassroots movement to restore our liberties will wither when labeled as “unrealistic,” as “weak,” as out of touch with the threat our enemies pose.

No change to our current foreign policy is on the horizon. The two candidates possess, for all intents and purposes, platforms that reflect the general will of the American public. Their views are united in utter disrespect to the lives of foreign civilians and the rule of law. Does that make you mad? It makes me mad. But it isn’t a conspiracy. It’s democracy. This is how it works.

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