Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

Hilzoy has been doing great work documenting the miscarriage of justice against the Uighurs of Guantanamo. However, when it comes to drawing conclusions from this travesty, the best she can come up with is to hope for the best:
I was brought up to believe that when I made a mistake, I should admit it and try to do whatever I could to make it right. I think this is true of me, and I think that it is true of my country. We should not let innocent people languish in prison just because we are afraid, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they might do something bad. It's foolish -- it's not as though no one will be able to keep track of the Uighurs if they are released. But more than that, it's cowardly and ignoble.

I would hope that my country is better than that. I hope that we have the minimal decency not to allow ourselves to be convinced by demagogues that we should be afraid to admit our mistakes and try to make things right. I would hope that we would actually investigate charges that people were "trained mass killers instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001" before we decided to let them rot in jail for no good reason.

I'd hope we would have the grace to do this even if the person making the charges wasn't someone who blamed liberals for a murder in which a woman cut another woman's abdomen open and stole her unborn child.

And I would hope that politicians would show some leadership and remind us that we are better than this.

This gets at one of the basic paradoxes of liberalism. While liberals often identify real problems in our social, economic and political system, their solutions to these problems are inevitably constrained by what is possible within the limits of the status quo, rather than proposing to actually change the system. And they overwhelmingly place their hopes in politicians, ignoring the fact that successful reform movements are always based in mass social movements.

Thus Hilzoy, while invoking her faith in the righteousness of her fellow citizens, never thinks to mention the current state of the anti-war movement as one of the key determinants of whether there will actually be a full repudiation of the "war on terrorism." If she had, she would have seen that it is in a truly pathetic state, with the major liberal anti-war groups like UFPJ and MoveOn declaring victory after Obama's election, refusing to criticize Obama, and demobilizing their members.

Hilzoy says that "Barack Obama wants to close Guantanamo." But what has he done to roll back the abuses of the war on terrorism so far? He has refused to prosecute Bush administration officials for their crimes and even opposes a truth and reconciliation commission. He has promised to close Guantanamo,
but he
has left open loopholes in the prohibition against torture and secret prisons and defended the government’s right to hold terrorism suspects without charge and to invoke the state secrets privilege. And he has not stopped Bush-era miscarriages of justice, such as the prosecution of Syed "Fahad" Hashmi.

Liberals need to wake up to the fact that the Democrats are the other party of capitalism and imperialism. Obama is putting a kinder, gentler face on the war on terror, but he's not changing its fundamentals. The expansion of the Afghanistan war into Pakistan, the continuation of Bush-era legal policies and the delays in withdrawing from Iraq are all evidence that with the Democrats in power, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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