Thursday, August 31, 2006

What Is Complicity?

Juan Cole says that the sprinkling of cluster bombs in a civilian area right before a cease fire is a war crime. I don't know what the law is on this but it is without a doubt a moral crime.

He also says.

"The American people are complicit in these war crimes, insofar as they provided the cluster bombs and supported Olmert to the hilt in his dirty war, which was only occasionally about actually combating Hizbullah fighters (there weren't any, in a lot of the places that were bombed)."

I wish I knew what complicity was or how complicit the American people are here. America contributes to Israel, Israel buys weapons with US tax dollars and buys US weapons with US tax dollars. Do most people even know what a cluster bomb is? Does some of the excusable ignorance excuse? What about the inexcusable ignorance. Just what are your duties?

This seems like it is too far away for the American people to be complicit. I find it disturbing for two reasons. (1) It echoes Bin Ladin's claims about U.S. taxpayers. It echoes justification for terrorism in the idea that no civilians are innocent. That's a dark path to go down. It runs in both directions and turns political and military conflict into a blood feud. Also, it's not true. (2) It does not seem plausible to me and I don't think it would to most people, except those who hate the U.S. But there is some real complicity. There is some real guilt. I don't know how far it goes or what it means. I think an account of it is harder to give than some might think. I suppose this is because I doubt the average American's ability to influence his government in any meaningful way.

But when you charge complicity on matters like this--things that American people have absolutely no ability to control or perhaps even to know about, you water responsibility down in such a way that it becomes meaningless. The only good that does is that it makes you able to demonize groups of people, to vent your rage. But it doesn't do any real good if your goal is to actually get people to take responsibility, to see connections, to create change.

There needs to be some word for such a state--where voting occurs but real democracy is absent. I can't think of one. Well, clearly there are oligarchic and plutarchic elements in the U.S. but that doesn't quite capture it.

But even if you don't take on that controversial assumption you need a better account of complicity. Seeing innocent people die and have their lives destroyed, like the people in Lebanon, seeing what seems like it can only be indifference to the value of their lives, this makes us angry. I would hope it does. But I just don't think the knee jerk attempt to blame everyone in sight really accomplishes anything except to license more horrific violence.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Question of the Month

or maybe the year: What do we do when the democratic process is entirely subverted?

What do we plan to do? The last six years has demonstrated the weaknesses in our institutions--from the first and possibly second stolen election to the signing statements to the outright refusal to abide with treaties the U.S. is a signatory to, to the suspension of civil rights, to the conspiracy to torture people, to the flagrant violation of the law.

Does anyone wonder if there will be a peaceful handover? Is anyone doubting whether these people will actually leave office in the usual way? I'm really starting to wonder about this!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Good Samaritan rescuers arrested

There are many questions I have about the justness of U.S. immigration policy. One of these is how to argue that the funneling of Mexican migrants through the desert in order to discourage illegal border crossings is simply wrong.

Can you argue this without a complex economic argument? To oversimplify, because as usual, I need to do my real work--is it simply wrong?

The immigration policy leads to death. Rather horrifying death, in fact. Dying of heat exhaustion in the desert or in the trunk of a car is not a pretty thing. Yet, for each person that dies it can be said that they took a risk--there is some sort o informed consent. It is unlikely that they have no idea what might face them--although one expects they underestimate the risk. It's shocking to think they are in a situation where that risk is worth it, given their other options. But people constantly take those sorts of risks when they are poor. They work in mines or with lead paint or contaminants or do sex work when AIDS is prevalent. Those harms are often attributable to unjust economic structures--so is the death of the migrants in the desert.

So maybe it takes some kind of economic argument after all. Perhaps not a highly complex one. As much as I believe that the poverty in Mexico and Central America is tied to U.S. economic policy, I am doubtful that it is an easy thing to prove. I'm not sure it is provable. I'm not sure it is possible to prove to even a reasonable skeptic many of the claims of global justice activists with respect to clear causal connections to wealth countries in every case of poverty in the global south.

This is sort of prima facie reasoning on my part--a worry about disentangling causes. There's certainly correlations and then inference to the best explanation--maybe you can go that route. How much economics machinery does one need there?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Administration Has Committed War Crimes

Detainee abuse charges feared.

War crimes have been committed, but of course, there is no expectation of any prosecution. Yet, here is a U.S. law that could conceivably be used against those involved in detainee abuse. What about the people who wrote all those memos approving torture? Would they be liable?

No, because congress will gut this law. A law that makes the greatest sense given the U.S. self-image of 10 years ago. And now? The country is apparently supposed to accept the role of torturer.