Thursday, November 19, 2015

When do we get to say we told you so?

When do we get to say we told you so?  
What did we say?  
We said that people like the Mujahedeen, the Contras, and UNITA were bad news, and would continue to be bad news long after the short term politics were forgotten.  Supporting groups like that was akin to keeping a violent vicious guard dog that might kill someone.  Sort of like the right wing that denies evolution and climate change or the police that shoot to kill as a policy.  That dog can only be trusted the length the leash it will sooner or later get free of.  
Who did we say it to?  
Mostly we were talking to the people who were not making these decisions.  We were telling the common public that it was time to oppose and object.  It was on a long list of things we have been saying should be opposed and objected to.  If we had a message to the less than one percent who really make the choices that govern our lives, that message was: stop! You are going too far, even for you who seem to not know the limits of decency or even the limits of the possible. 
Who was 'we' to say it?  
It was the left in all its forms.  I was part of it, ridiculed in my youth for warning that Jimmy Carter was getting us into generational trouble and that the situation in Afghanistan was a nightmare that would continue long after the Soviet Union woke up and went home.  It was only one of many warnings, about wealth, religious fanaticism, the environment, civil rights and many other international affairs.  
I just wrote a blog saying that despite his great speech before congress, President Holland leads a government that is part of the problem.  We had no peace, it gave people no justice and now we plan to fix that with more war and injustice?  
And we have a world media that chokes on the word "imperialism".  
Continuing a lifetime of working for some kind of alternative (and at times getting some of it) I find myself reading emails the break the heart.  
One old leftist teacher writes me that she is overjoyed to see her native France join the US effort in Syria with airstrikes against ISIS.  In her dry French way, I think she has told me that my blog ended our friendship of twenty years.  Yet she was one of the people who once joined me putting out the warning that events like this were going to happen as a direct result of what the US and France was doing in North Africa and the Mid-East.  If such a person can now get swept up in the logic of violence, I ask myself how well we learned the lessons we once gave and how well we understand what we should know full well by now.  When are we going to face the realities of what our governments are doing?
Another email written in French, with a Moroccan accent, does not endorse the vicious circle, but instead tells of the death of a friend's son, a child he saw born and helped raise in one of the attacks last Friday in Paris.  That young man was lost to a war that his parents and friends had committed themselves to keep from happening.  
Other emails from kindred spirits range from talking about how France was ALREADY part of the (legal?) air strikes inside Syria against ISIS, about how it is not so great to be a Muslim in Europe and caring people who don't know that part of the world asking WTF?  We tell each other we knew.  Not exactly this, no, but we knew something like this would happen, yes.  We tell each other that we told them so.  There is no satisfaction in having been right. 
I have one friend in Paris who is the child of Holocaust survivors. He and I met working in Nicaragua and have been in solidarity ever since.  He writes me about anti-racism actions in France, supporting the people of Palestine and members of the Israeli Army who refuse to oppress.   I write him about running for office as a Green, trying to get some control over the Oakland Police and my fight against a media that chokes on the word 'imperialism’.  
In that time we have raised young men, little different from Amine, son of Taoufiq, lifelong friend of our buddy of my friend Youssef, who just died in a night club caught in the cross fire between two monsters.  
We knew, we know and we told them so.  
And we need to keep saying it.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

The president just spoke before congress.

The president just spoke before congress.  
Not our president, not our congress.  
He said a lot of the things we should all have expected from him.  
France will stand firm.  We have seen worse than this.  Life will go on, the elections will go on, the climate summit will go on and we will look to the future.  Everything one would expect from a president wrapped in the red white and blue.  
Unlike another president, he was articulate.  
He said some things I should have expected, but after so many years living in the United Stares, I no longer had those expectations.  
He gave a quick account of what happened.  
He gave a detailed account of what he has done so far.  
He said which part of international law they would base themselves on. 
He made it clear that he will be calling in the military alliances France is member of.
And call a meeting of the security council of the UN asking for a resolution. 
He told us that he will be talking with Obama and Putin about a coalition against ISIS.  
And he said what expenditures will be and is asking congress for the money.  
All that makes a lot of sense, but it is not what we have gotten used to when our own red, white and blue is being used as a wrapping.  This speech was a mix between good political skills, good administrative thinking and knowing how to make an effective public address.  
Salient points for my American ears was the commitment to legal rights and procedures.  We are not asking to waive the law, we are asking for funds to enforce it.  
One part of his request for constitutional changes was to have a different version of the state of emergency.  The current law allows the president and the military to take over civilian authorities which Holland declared simply not relevant to terrorism.  The current law was written to deal with either an armed uprising or a foreign invasion, both of which France knows about more than we do. 
He did not call it that, but he asked for the French law to have lesser version of a state of emergency to deal with this new kind of problem.  To show some national unity, he asked to have the commission of the last government serve as a departure point for the discussions leading to the legal changes that he is asking for. 
I thought when he said that this was not a clash of civilizations, but a fight between civilization and terrorism he was making a good point, well spoken, had it been true.  He made it clear that some of the perpetrators are French and that part of the problem was internal.  The president acknowledged that France is in middle of a confusing situation with many social factors in France and overseas,  yet nothing stopped ISIS from being a group that now had to be defeated.  
It was hard to criticize anything he just put out there except for the idea that French duel citizens born in France should be stripped of their citizenship if found to be convicted of terrorism or other acts of war against their country.  I like the "convicted" requirement that our government has replaced with at "determination" and a murderous air strike, but anyone on our side of the Atlantic should shudder at the idea of anyone not being a citizen in the nation where they were born.  Our history with that included chattel slavery and genocide against natives and the best it ever gave us was Japanese internment and Mexican expulsions. 
It is not hard to criticize France, including this man's government.  Have we forgotten Libya?  The first planes to hit the Gheddafi government were French.   That nation still does not have a government and a lot off it is under extremist control.  France had to step in with boots on the ground so that Mali did not go the same way.  France has been an ally of the US with this anti Syrian government policy which has led to the same thing in two countries.  
When I say under extremist control, I mean OTHER extremists than the extreme imperialist policies running around Europe and the world in which France is a partner.  One could go back to Vietnam, Algeria and the cold war, but just in more recent post Soviet times France was a big piece in shutting down the elections in Algeria, supporting a military putsch run by the same people who fought France for their independence in the 60's.  You could call this one of the first anti Islamist civil wars in the current period.  
France was a big help to the extremists of  Kosovo, taking their independence unilaterally from Serbia (and some un happy Serbs with it) after France and the other Security Council members resolved in the UN that Serbia's territorial integrity would be respected.  What did they mean by respected?  This president of France seems to have no problem with reversing such politics when it came to Serbs in Bosnia or when it comes to Russian speakers in the Eastern Ukraine.  It seems to have no problem with bombing the people of Afghanistan or Yemen and never did.  The whole support to extremists in Afghanistan against the Soviets and again after the Russians left town never happened despite French objections.  Only slightly less silent is French mention of anything critical of Israel whose treatment of the Palestinians is part  and parcel of  what might cause a young French national to go help ISIS. 
The racist idea that we westerners are civilization and that the radicals in the desert are some kind of animal sounds good when ISIS does something this radical, bloody, and outrageous.  132 dead, 300 wounded?  That is any slow day in the mid east.  That is probably a peaceful day in Syria or Yemen.  There are any number of nations where France is a partner in brutal killings from the air against people who dare to want a government that the western powers have not "determined" have a right to live.  Those people don't have a right to live either and even if we do not see it daily on our screens, they see it on their streets and in today's world, we can all see it on line, if we dare to face this truth about our times.  France joins the US saying that the Syrian dictatorship is intolerable and must go, yet any Arab knows that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are both just as bad to their people, dictatorial and intolerant as any government in Damascus or Kabul ever was. 
At the end of the 19th Century there was an inside group of major political powers who would gang up together to impose their will on nations where they did profitable business.  At the time of the Opium wars, France was a full partner, and France is a full partner today.  Today we call it the G7.  We have civil rights and some kind of democracy at home, and citizens of the dominated world have the right to do as they are told, or have our governments impose their will with violence.  
The twentieth century gave us the transition from gunboat diplomacy to drone strike diplomacy.  
This allows this modern French speaker to stream the president's speech from Congress Hall, Versailles live, in-direct telling me the most effective old lies.  The lies of omission.