Reflecting the Obama legacy and US culture, the Time columnist says: "the bottom line is: 'whose 4-year-olds get killed?'"
On MSNBC's Morning Joe program this morning, which focused onMonday's night presidential debate, the former right-wing Congressman and current host Joe Scarborough voiced an eloquent and impassioned critique of President Obama's ongoing killing of innocent people in the Muslim world using drones. In response, Time Magazine's Joe Klein, a stalwart Obama supporter, offered one of the most nakedly sociopathic defenses yet heard of these killings. This exchange, which begins at roughly the 7:00 minute mark on the video embedded below, is quite revealing in several respects.
Here are the relevant portions of the exchange, which was triggered when regular guest Mike Barnicle announced how amazing he found it that so little public attention and debate is paid to the fact that Obama simply kills whomever he wants "without any kind of due process":
SCARBOROUGH: "What we're doing with drones is remarkable: the fact that over the past eight years during the Bush years - when a lot of people brought up some legitimate questions about international law - my God, those lines have been completely eradicated by a drone policy that says: if you're between 17 and 30, and within a half-mile of a suspect, we can blow you up, and that's exactly what's happening . . . . They are focused on killing the bad guys, but it is indiscriminate as to other people who are around them at the same time . . . . it is something that will cause us problems in the coming years" . . . .
KLEIN: "I completely disagree with you. . . . It has been remarkably successful" --
SCARBOROUGH: "at killing people" --
KLEIN: "At decimating bad people, taking out a lot of bad people - and saving Americans lives as well, because our troops don't have to do this . . . You don't need pilots any more because you do it with a joystick in California."
SCARBOROUGH: "This is offensive to me, though. Because you do it with a joystick in California - and it seems so antiseptic - it seems so clean - and yet you have 4-year-old girls being blown to bits because we have a policy that now says: 'you know what? Instead of trying to go in and take the risk and get the terrorists out of hiding in a Karachi suburb, we're just going to blow up everyone around them.'
"This is what bothers me. . . . We don't detain people any more: we kill them, and we kill everyone around them. . . . I hate to sound like a Code Pink guy here. I'm telling you this quote 'collateral damage' - it seems so clean with a joystick from California - this is going to cause the US problems in the future."
KLEIN: "If it is misused, and there is a really major possibility of abuse if you have the wrong people running the government. But: the bottom line in the end is - whose 4-year-old get killed? What we're doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror."
There are several points worth noting about this exchange:
(1) Klein's justification - we have to kill their children in order to protect our children - is the exact mentality of every person deemed in US discourse to be a "terrorist". Almost every single person arrested and prosecuted over the last decade on terrorism charges, when asked why they were willing to kill innocent Americans including children, offered some version of Joe Klein's mindset.
Here, for instance, is what the Pakistani-American Faisal Shazad said after he pled guilty to attempting to detonate a bomb in Times Square, in response to an angry question from the presiding US federal judge as to how he could possibly be willing to kill innocent children:
"Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It's a war, and in war, they kill people. They're killing all Muslims. . . .
"I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people. And, on behalf of that, I'm avenging the attack. Living in the United States, Americans only care about their own people, but they don't care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die."
The mentality of Faisal Shazad and Joe Klein are completely identical and indistinguishable: it is justified for us indiscriminately to kill even your innocent children because doing so will help stop you from killing ours.
"The call to wage war against America was made because America has spear-headed the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousands of its troops to the land of the two Holy Mosques over and above its meddling in its affairs and its politics, and its support of the oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical regime that is in control. These are the reasons behind the singling out of America as a target. . . .
"Besides, terrorism can be commendable and it can be reprehensible. Terrifying an innocent person and terrorizing him is objectionable and unjust, also unjustly terrorizing people is not right. Whereas, terrorizing oppressors and criminals and thieves and robbers is necessary for the safety of people and for the protection of their property. . . .
"The terrorism we practice is of the commendable kind for it is directed at the tyrants and the aggressors and the enemies of Allah, the tyrants, the traitors who commit acts of treason against their own countries and their own faith and their own prophet and their own nation. Terrorizing those and punishing them are necessary measures to straighten things and to make them right. . . .
"It is not enough for their people to show pain when they see our children being killed in Israeli raids launched by American planes, nor does this serve the purpose. What they ought to do is change their governments which attack our countries. The hostility that America continues to express against the Muslim people has given rise to feelings of animosity on the part of Muslims against America and against the West in general. Those feelings of animosity have produced a change in the behavior of some crushed and subdued groups who, instead of fighting the Americans inside the Muslim countries, went on to fight them inside the United States of America itself."
When it comes to justifying the killing of civilians, the only difference between the Joe Kleins of the world and Osama bin Laden is that they're on different sides. To the extent one wanted to distinguish them, one could say that the violence and aggression brought by the US to the Muslim world vastly exceeds - vastly - the violence and aggression brought by the Muslim world to the US. That's just a fact.
(2) Leaving aside the sociopathic, morally grotesque defense of killing 4-year-olds with a "joystick from California", Klein's claims are completely false on pragmatic grounds. Slaughtering Muslim children does not protect American children from terrorism. The opposite is true. That is precisely what causes the anti-American hatred that fuels and sustains terrorism aimed at Americans in the first place, as even a study commissioned by the Rumsfeld-era Pentagon recognized almost a decade ago.
The reason American 4-year-olds are in danger from terrorism - to the very limited extent they are - is precisely because those empowered in US government and media circles think like Joe Klein does. Soulless cheerleaders for indiscriminate killing like Joe Klein - who once went on national television and advocated that the US should preserve the right to launch a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran in order to stop their nuclear program, prompting host George Stephanopoulos to label that statement "insane" - are the reason there is a terrorism risk to Americans, not the solution for that risk.
If you want to understand why there is such a widespread desire to engage in violence against the US, look at Joe Klein's face and listen to his words. Every Muslim who has ever engaged in violence against the US will make that as clear as can be.
(3) This exchange is a perfectly vivid expression of the Obama legacy. Here we have a standard Democratic/progressive pundit who is one of the media's most stalwart Obama fanatics defending indiscriminate slaughter of Muslim children. Meanwhile, it's left to a former right-wing, Gingrich-era congressman to raise objections, call for more public scrutiny, and cite the moral and strategic dangers, one of the very few commentators on MSNBC - the progressive network - who has ever voiced such passionate criticism of Obama's ongoing killings.
Obama has led all sorts of progressives and other Democrats to be the most vocal supporters of unrestrained aggression, secret assassinations, and "crippling" the Iranian people with sanctions. It is completely unsurprising that the most sociopathic defense of drones comes from one of the most committed Obama supporters, and that it's now left to a former GOP Congressman to raise objections. As much as anything, that is the Obama legacy.
(4) One of the primary reasons war - especially protracted war - is so destructive is not merely that it kills the populations at whom it is aimed, but it also radically degrades the character of the citizenry that wages it. That's what enables one of America's most celebrated pundits to go on the most mainstream of TV programs and coldly justify the killing of 4-year-olds, without so much as batting an eyelash or even paying lip service to the heinous tragedy of that, and have it be barely noticed. Joe Klein is the face not only of the Obama legacy, but also mainstream US political culture.
Speaking of killing children, the Afghanistan government said this morning that a NATO operation on Saturday killed three more Afghan children, ones who were tending to livestock.
There's one other vital point to be made here. Klein says that "there is a really major possibility of abuse [of drone power] if you have the wrong people running the government" - in other words, we can trust Obama with it, but not the big bad Republicans. This was precisely what Bush followers used to say about his claimed powers of due-process-free eavesdropping and detention: maybe this would be scary if Hillary Clinton could do this, but I trust Bush to use it only against the Bad Guys.
Leaving aside the authoritarian willingness to trust certain leaders with unchecked power, this is not how the US government works. Once a power is legitimized and institutionalized, then it is vested in all presidents, current and future, Democratic and Republican. That is whyThomas Jefferson warned: "In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." Those who cheer for the unchecked power to assassinate in secret because it's Obama who currently wields that power will be the ones fully responsible when some leader they don't trust exercises it - abuses it - in the future.
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