21 December 2015

Dead Russian journalists and American foreign policy

We really are in a scary time when Donald Trump begins to sound like a foreign-policy realist. Scary or not, we should give him a little credit for forcing Russia into the 2016 presidential campaign. Vladimir Putin started this latest episode by appearing to speak approvingly of Trump during his year-end press conference. Trump's rivals promptly pressured him to repudiate Putin's praise; as yet, Trump has seen no reason to do so. On the Morning Joe program on MSNBC Joe Scarborough increased the pressure, urging Trump to recognize that Putin was a bad man. As a rule, it seems, Trump likes people who like him, but did he want the approval, and thus did he approve, of a leader who has, in Scarborough's words, killed journalists? Trump's answer was a Rorschach blot of laconic understatement: "Our country does plenty of killing, also." This was cold-blood cynicism, moral blindness, or something else. Was Trump saying that the U.S. also killed journalists? Was he equating the killing of enemies in war with the killing of journalists in one's own country? Over the last weekend Trump clarified, explaining that the killing of journalists is abhorrent, but that he's seen no evidence directly linking Putin to the several high-profile killings of Russian journalists. That put the ball back in Scarborough's court, where today he took his anger out on Katrina vanden Heuval, the editor of the Nation magazine, who chided him for turning a discussion about Russia into a discussion about Trump. Scarborough pressured her to affirm or deny that Putin was responsible for the murder of journalists. Even after she stated her position with apparent clarity -- there's no evidence that Putin ordered anyone killed, but his authoritarian policies have created a climate in which reporters can be killed with seeming impunity -- Scarborough badgered her to answer his question, his own position, perhaps modified on the spot, being that Putin was essentially responsible for those killings regardless of whether any smoking gun is ever found.

There are people who want to deal with Putin, it seems, and people who do not. If Trump is one of the former it's one of his few good points. Scarborough seems to believe that no good can come from working with Putin, and that the friendliness toward Putin that Trump expresses is ill becoming a Leader of the Free World. Scarborough speaks for many in both major parties when he lashes into Trump on this issue. That's because we have virtually a bipartisan consensus that, as an "authoritarian" leader, Putin cannot contribute to the stabilization, much less the democratization, of the Middle East. Part of this consensus is the premise that Syria's authoritarian government is a necessary if not sufficient cause of the Syrian civil war, which follows from a more general premise that authoritarian leadership is a destabilizing force everywhere on Earth. Why should this be if authoritarians are dedicated, presumably, to order above all else? The consensus answer is that authoritarians are bullies with limitless ambition, constantly pushing the limits of what they can get away with globally before someone smacks them. From this perspective, Bashar Assad is not a force for order in Syria but a disruptive force in the Middle East, as proven by his alliance with Iran and his hostility toward Israel, while Putin is less a force for order even in his own region than a disruptive threat to other nations' sovereignty and other people's freedom. This answer could be expanded upon, though I'm not sure whether anyone in the consensus would care to do so, by arguing that authoritarianism results in instability because it invites insurrections that are a human right of their oppressed perpetrators. In other words, authoritarians destabilize the world because anti-authoritarians are always fighting them. If this is a fallacy, the corrective cannot be to counsel unconditional obedience to rulers everywhere on Earth, since power always can be abused and people must be able to do something when it is abused. It would be more correct to say that other countries have no business waging war by proxy on authoritarian states, especially considering the consequences apparent in the Middle East. If that means propping up authoritarians against multinational terrorism, so be it, with nose held if necessary. Donald Trump might not even hold his nose, but in this case we shouldn't hold that against him.


Anonymous said...

Well we do kill. Should it make a difference whether the victim happened to write news articles? Is the important thing we're supposed to take away from this is that the lives of journalists are somehow more important? Perhaps that was what Trump was saying. That our government is every bit as guilty of committing outright murder as any other government and more so, probably, than most. The thing is, like it or not, some people need to be murdered.

Samuel Wilson said...

Usually when people "need to be murdered" it's not considered murder because the state determines the need, by passing a sentence or declaring war, and is ideally the only entity capable of such a determination. On the other hand, if a state decides that journalists need to be killed, other states often consider it murder because their governments (if not their citizens) don't acknowledge or can't imagine a need to kill such people. Liberals will deny that they deem journalists more important than other people, but that is what it looks like, if only because they tend to focus on individuals rather than the masses who die in war. All that aside, I appreciate your word choice at the end, since "need" and "deserve" are two different things.

Anonymous said...

Bandying semantics. Either it is permissible to end someone's life or it is not. The justifications are just nuances. A pure pacifist would say never and prove it by dying, granting him or her a hollow victory. The fact is, it is a violent world we live in. Allowing yourself to die to prove that violence is wrong may or may not work in the long run, but you will never know it.

Going through your life being completely paranoid and mistrusting pretty much everyone isn't going to work either - at least not on a societal level. But neither is going to the opposite extreme and granting trust to everyone just to prove a point.

As a rational being, I am not willing to trust people who have given me no reason to trust them and every reason not to trust them. As a human being, and an American, I also have no reason to trust or accept ANYONE who comes in to my country (as in the country of my birth, not my personal property) who isn't here to become an American.

If they wish to retain their Somalian heritage, customs, dress - there is already a place where that is prevalent. It is called "Somalia". If they wish to come into my country, part of whose very basis is a notion of religious tolerance, then them leave their intolerant religion behind and follow a new faith or better yet, no faith. Or let them stay in their nation where they are allowed to follow a religion of intolerance.

It is written that the prophet married a girl who was 6 years old and raped, err, excuse me, "consumated the marriage" when she was 9. Anyone who would follow a religion invented by a child rapist is a diseased creature and cannot ever be trusted.

Samuel Wilson said...

About trust: do you automatically trust native-born American citizens, even if you don't know them personally? If you don't know them personally, presumably they haven't given you reason to trust them. Or is your argument for a certain cultural homogeneity meant to resolve this question of automatic trust. Meanwhile, if you're going to deny trust to a religion based on scripture, do you trust any Christians or Jews? Or is something else in play that overrides the inherent untrustworthiness of their faiths and their inventors?

Anonymous said...

No, I don't. I know first hand how ignorant and uneducated most Americans are. But at least they are not muslims, followers of a religion that condemns people for refusing to believe in allah. The bottome line is, according to the Koran, islam does NOT support religious freedom. According to many muslims, islam does NOT support freedom of speech. These are two freedoms the USA is built on. We should NOT be in the habit of welcoming ANYONE who does not, whole-heartedly, support such freedoms. As I've said, show me a muslim who publicly denounces all the surahs in the koran that justify violence against non-believers and I'll show you a muslim I might be inclined to offer a little trust to. Other than that, I'd rather watch every last one of them die and their corpses rot where they fall.