Monday, May 30, 2011

The Failure of Political Processes as we Know Them

David Cole has a relatively short commentary piece in the latest issue of The New York Review.  The title is “Guantánamo:  The New challenge to Obama.”  It is a disturbing piece, as is clear from its sixth paragraph:

A week before bin Laden’s death, the national news was dominated by WikiLeaks’ release of hundreds of US intelligence assessments of the alleged risks posed by each of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Lost in the focus on WikiLeaks, however, was an even more revealing story in The Washington Post, detailing how President Obama has thus far failed to close Guantánamo. That story portrayed a president who at virtually every critical stage chose not to fight for what he said he believed in, and instead bowed to political pressure that left America’s values and safety compromised. If he is to build on his victory in killing bin Laden, President Obama needs to stand firm on Guantánamo and oppose Congress’s short-sighted and dangerous proposals.

Basically, this is an unpleasant corollary to the proposition I tried to pursue on Friday, “that peace in the Middle East is too serious to be entrusted to political leaders.”  That proposition was further reinforced this weekend by a polemical speech given by Michael Scheuer, former head of the unit following Osama bin Laden at the CIA, given at the Hay Festival and reported in the London Telegraph (which sponsors the Festival).

The bottom line is that, whether it has to do with issues of signification, through which we might have understood enough about bin Laden to avert the 9/11 catastrophe, or issues of legitimation, according to which what Barack Obama has called “our most cherished values” are being annihilated under our very eyes in the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, our country has, as a matter of both domestic and foreign policy, relegated all decision making to the priorities of resource allocation maintained by political power.  Today is supposed to be the day we remember those who died in battle, but we must also remember the value system strong enough to motivate a commitment to our armed forces.  We have come to a point at which none of the three branches of our government seems committed to causes worth dying for, those causes that used to be fundamental to our sense of national pride.  Both Cole and Scheuer have been perceptive enough to speak out on this problem, but does anyone have the necessary combination of acuity of perception and strength of will to do anything about it?

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