Civil Liberties, The Geneva Convention, MacWorld and Jihad or If they want to win this war, American liberals and conservatives have to find common ground.

Posted: May 20, 2009 in Articles
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Obama and the War on Terror (part 3 of 6)

 Camille PagliaVeteran commentator and intellectual Camille Paglia recently wrote the following with regard to the current split between conservatives and liberals in post Obama USA;


There is something dangerous afoot — an alienation that can easily morph into extremism. With the national Republican Party in disarray, an argument is solidifying among grass-roots conservatives:

Liberals, who are now in power in Washington, hate America and want to dismantle its foundational institutions and liberties, including capitalism and private property. Liberals are rootless internationalists who cravenly appease those who want to kill us. The primary principle of conservatives, on the other hand, is love of country, for which they are willing to sacrifice and die. America’s identity was forged by Christian faith and our Founding Fathers, to whose prudent and unerring 18th-century worldview we must return.”


It is precisely because I think that Ms Paglia’s observations here are in many ways correct, and I say that with respect to the perception, among conservatives that liberals are “soft” on terror.  Where I think Ms Paglia is even more acutely correct, is on her slant hereto, which she portrays as something dangerous afoot. For it is the premise of this piece that divide and conquer is the greatest threat America and the world face in this war against savage, political Islam.

I am not going to consider the allegations that liberals want to dismantle “foundational institutions and liberties” here, but rather the fear that liberals, with an overzealous focus on shared humanity as a basis for their ideology represent a dangerous shift in thinking, which shift, in turn makes them “soft” when it comes to defending the US and the world from the very real threat that is currently rearing its terrible head, in particular from the monstrosities of state in the Middle East..jihad. american flagIt’s a simple and ever present dialogue in American politics, and I will argue, a very important point when it comes to American response in this, their so far, reactionary war against terror. It is also, I will argue a very attractive and possibly effective political platform for Obama, which if used correctly could fundamentally increase his perceived ability to protect the world with a large segment of American society, and too the world, who currently fear, correctly or incorrectly about his ability to wage a successful war.

The liberal response here is tired, and I think somewhat off point. If one raises this issue, the immediate, knee jerk response is always a pointing out of how Bush “failed” in the war on terror, by invading Iraq. Also, if you hang around long enough, this argument usually ends up questioning exactly how much risk there is from the Middle East. Sometimes it degenerates into the kind of rubbish that suggests that in fact, it is conservative, strong and aggressive foreign policy that results in terrorism to begin with.

If Bush did in deed fail in the war on terror, then what is the standard? If his goal was to protect the US from yet another devastating attack like 911, then surely the absence of such is in fact testimony to success. Of course, the counter argument, steeped as it is in circular reasoning, is always the fact that there has been no such further attack is proof that the threat has been hyped up by the neo-conservatives.

Now, I am not suggesting that the entire approach was correct, and the erosion of civil rights with the advent of Patriot legislation in various acts, with all the ugly accoutrement are deeply troubling, as would the erosion of any civil rights in a war situation. But it is I suggest precisely here where Obama has a massive opportunity to turn this tired and polarized debate into something extraordinarily effective.

Consider if you will, the simple argument that an invasion of Iraq, right or wrong aside, nevertheless sends a very strong message to would be terrorists. Unfortunately so does the elimination of civil liberties. The problem is that they are conflicting messages, are they not?

ist2_347570-eagle-holding-the-american-flagOn the one hand you tell terrorists that you will not tolerate this and any further grand schemer of terror must be fully aware that any attempt will attract the almighty wrath of a superpower, food for thought indeed to any uber-jihadist.

On the other, of course, you tell the gangs of camel riding, endlessly jihading, Stone Age nut jobs that on some level they have won, considering that the loss of liberty stateside, regardless of intention is a long bumpy road into hell.

This is the great failure of the conservative approach, but lets not forget, despite this, there is always the threat that those same conservatives are ready to shed your suicidal, bombing blood with not a moment’s hesitation.


Obama has unequivocally done the right thing by focusing on civil rights in the US. His approach to torture would be admirable if it were not so basic. It’s the deeply appalling hysterical approach of conservatives within the US regarding civil liberties, the unabashed defense of torture and the two-step macabre dance of loopholes that resulted in the Guantanamo Bay fiascos that lost the moral high ground so early on in this battle.

However, the Liberal tendency to diplomacy and appeasement is deeply troubling, and this is where the conservatives have a strong case. In a real fight, the simple truth is you probably want Nixon over Carter on your side.

What is extraordinary is that this debate has been cast in “Liberal” and “Conservative” terms, for in truth, it should really not be. This is of course the great opportunity at Obama’s feet right now.

What Obama has to do here is simple; he needs to show the American people that you can fight a war, without losing civil liberties at home. And they are at war, regardless of what some commentators might suggest. Not just any war, mind you, but a full scale ideological fight to the death.

What is needed here is simply an amalgamation of two approaches, civil liberties and justice at home, respect for the conventions of war, a great dose of moral high ground and a blisteringly aggressive, massive show of strength in the Middle East.

Now on first glance that may seem somewhat simplistic, but consider that the biggest problem that hamstrings any administration at war is credibility. Bush blew that; Obama has it internationally, but not yet locally. If Obama really wants a new dispensation then he is going to have to show the Americans that when it comes to a fight, he is a prizefighter.


He hasn’t done that yet.

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