Friday, October 29, 2010

Those who Should Know Better Ignore History

This week Mikhail Gorbachev gave an interview, excerpts of which were broadcast on the PBS feed of BBC World Service News, in which he talked about Afghanistan.  Speaking from his own unpleasant experience, Gorbachev, who was in an excellent position to deliver the refrain of history being repeated by those who ignore it, suggested that a “war on terrorism” was no justification for that ignorance.  Indeed, I would not be surprised if the excerpts excluded a suggestion that the war on terrorism has clouded our ability to think clearly as much as the Cold War had done in its time.  Think of our efforts to prop up an Afghani government of questionable value strictly of the interest of keeping the country from falling into “terrorist” (more specifically, Taliban) hands.  Then think of the number of downright brutal dictatorships we supported in countries with no goal other than keeping Communists out of those countries.

This strikes me as the lens through which we should view the following report that appeared on Al Jazeera English this morning:

In a decision critics say has undermined a powerful new law, the United States has decided to turn a blind eye to four countries that use child soldiers in their armed forces.

In a brief and little-noticed announcement on Monday, the White House said Barack Obama, the president, had decided to exempt Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan and Yemen from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which prohibits funding for foreign governments' militaries if they recruit or use child soldiers.

On Thursday, Foreign Policy magazine posted  online a nine-page memo from Obama to Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, that linked the continuation of funding to US counterterrorism efforts in some of those countries.

"Everyone’s gotten a pass, and Obama has really completely undercut the law and its intent," Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times newspaper.

Of the six countries identified by the state department as having used child soldiers in 2009, only Somalia and Myanmar were not granted an exemption. Myanmar receives no military aid from the United States, but the vulnerable Transitional Federal Government of Somalia receives significant assistance. In May 2009, the United States applied for exemption from an United Nations arms embargo in order to provide Somalia with assault rifle, mortar and machine gun ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenades.

This is precisely the sort of madness that we readily associated with the previous Bush Administration.  When we voted for “change we can believe in,” we were voting for getting beyond our involvement is such a horrific amalgam of absurdity and atrocity.  Yet we have both the White House and the State Department maintaining the rules of the Bush playbook, presumably to avoid any criticism of being “soft on terrorism”

The ultimate irony is that the Research Briefing section of the Web site for the Republican National Committee ran their own account of the above story;  and they ran it under the headline “Indefensible.”  This, of course, was precisely the language that Democrats rushed to use when George W. Bush was being the “decider” in such matters.  We now are half a week away from an election at which the Republicans are doing all they can to give Obama a beating that will be impossible to ignore or rationalize.  Was it in any way “defensible” for the Administration to give the Republicans yet another stick to use in the beating?

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