When both Obama and Romney support policies that create terror abroad, it’s time Americans vote for a third-party solution.
This was previously published on New Plateaus.
President Obama is easily the most likeable president I’ve been alive to see. His leadership capabilities range from inspiring to heart-warming. He’s charismatic and has a great family.
But in areas of national defense and drug policy President Obama has been a disappointment. In fact, he’s been indefensibly terrible. In these days when his supporters are finding it tougher than ever to criticize the President for fear of him losing the election, it makes these realizations all the more important to bear in mind—so that you’re not caught up in election fever and vote for someone enforcing lethal policy. (And this includes Romney, because he’ll declare the same policies.)
The War on Drugs
Yes, law enforcement seizes a bunch of narcotics each year. They take their picture in front of a mountain of drugs and state how kids now aren’t going to get high on the stuff. But we could say the same thing if we captured a Coca-Cola truck every now and again. Never mind that while you’re posing with the seized cargo, twenty other trucks have driven by in the background. That it’s useless, though, is actually one of the more polite things one can say about the Drug War.
The federal government drops a cool $20 billion a year trying to stop people from getting high. This sounds like just another big number coming from D.C., but when broken down per deed and per person hired: officers, surveillance equipment, crop-dusting cocaine fields in Colombia, judges, prosecutors, and building and running the jails, we see that each is money spent on something not helpful to our world. (Oh, it’s also about $600 every second.)
And if drugs are the disease and the Drug War the medicine, it’s the side effects of the treatment that are worse yet.
With no courts to resolve street conflict, things are settled by violence—wherever, by whoever and to whoever that may be, resulting in murder, innocent bystanders, and dangerous people willing to take the opportunity provided by the lucrative trade. Maybe if I provided a story of a single innocent person whose house was wrongly raided or a child who was shot by a stray bullet, this might make more of an impact. Just know that this stuff happens.
And if it’s hard to be cognizant of the harm caused domestically because of the War on Drugs, it’ll be tougher for us yet to care for the death in other countries. But this is something I’m challenging you to do—because deep down, we know that a life lost in Guatemala is as tragic as a life list in Any City, U.S, and this geographically extended War has been erupting in Mexico and Central America for years.
In the list of the world’s top ten most dangerous countries, six are Latin American, each fueled for competition for the demand and market of American drug users. It’s led to news such as this: “Twenty-seven farm labourers were decapitated and had their heads strewn across a field one recent night.” read The Guardian’s website on June 28th, 2011.
This is one of many, many examples.
The White House isn’t the pulling the triggers, beheading the victims, or slaughtering the civilians down there, but as a nation supposedly empathetic to the suffering of others (that’s why we were told we got Saddam and Ghadaffi), we continue to instill policy that leads indirectly to these atrocities. And of course, this policy leads directly to the first problems mentioned above.
All this harm and death could be reduced almost immediately with decriminalization, a policy shift endorsed from writers and media across the political spectrum. Even Pat Robertson said we should decriminalize marijuana!
Knowing that the president knows all this, and assuming—which I do—that he personally advocates legalization himself, what’s left are two possibilities as to why he continues the bad fight. And it’s in these that we reveal some big problems: either he’s let advisors pull him away from good policy, or he doesn’t dare come across as being “soft” on the Drug War at the expense of losing public support. The former reveals a lack of strength to do what’s right; the latter that he’s putting re-election ahead of preventing deaths—a lack of something more crucial.
Being disappointed in a politician for putting their career ahead of others’ lives is probably like being disappointed when it gets cold in Minnesota. But it’s hard to accept this—and to be patient for a day when smart policy is implemented—when you hear such terrible stories of pure carnage going on because of this War.
In an election year, it’s easy, to isolate policy such as the Drug War and look the other way. But this isn’t the only issue—nor the worst.
United States’ bombings have become more egregious. Commonly known are the drone missile strikes. These—on their face—are lauded as stealthy and without American casualties. But though quite accurate, bombs are still bombs and mistakes get made. Scores of innocents have been killed, and making it worse, as Glen Greenwald at Salon.com stated on May 29th, 2012, is that “Obama re-defined ‘militant’ to mean all ‘military-age’ males in a strike zone.” It makes you think twice the next time you read in the press “Five Militants Shot Down in Pakistan” as this literally could mean the killing of five teenage boys at a birthday party.
Sometimes there are no word games when you simply screw up, which is what happened just days ago: “Outrage has erupted in Yemen over the killing of 13 civilians in a U.S. drone strike on Sunday.” —DemocracyNow.org, September 5th, 2012.
Then there are the actions that, using the American definition, cross into terrorist territory: shooting and bombing people who come to the aid of those of the initial strike. This was brought to light in the Wikileaks video a couple years ago and declared as official policy soon thereafter. The New York Times wrote February 5th, 2012: “at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile”; further, “the bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals.” Yep; bombing people attending funerals.
We need to stop and look at this:
This is all very strange coming from a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize, but I have a theory: I think President Obama cares deeply about the country, about its people, and in particular, issues like health care, the environment, race, income equality, women and gay rights, and immigration. But he’s so attentive to these kinds of issues that they’re over-emphasized at the expense of the issues like the ones described above. As a result, the President—as other Democrats in the recent past have done—lets hard-liners define these positions for him and doesn’t hold strong to principled stances of civil liberties and peace.
So while it’s great to champion the causes of women’s and minority’s rights, it’s tragically inappropriate to care more about improving the lives of a given group more so than about the taking of the lives of others. And I write this article as a mirror to show the President’s supporters how they, too, fall into this trap of over-emphasizing certain issues at the expense of ignoring the two biggies mentioned in this article.
A lot of factors keep voters on both sides of the political aisle trapped into supporting these trajectories. The United States has drifted toward bad policy in these areas for years. So people (sometimes admittedly) choose “the lesser of two evils”. Others, while watching the party National Conventions feel great about their support. Meanwhile, the families of the 13 Yemenis lament and moan with grief.
This all might sound like a buzz kill—especially with all the buzz surrounding the election—but the longer we fool ourselves, the more we’ll commit nonsensical support of a candidates responsible for innocent death. And in doing so, we trap ourselves under a moral ceiling when forced to justify and defend our vote by justifying and defending (or ignoring, which is no better) these terrible policies. You don’t have to tie yourself to this anchor. We can demand better.
I know it’s considered “throwing your vote away”, but there’s nothing wasteful about being independent and voting third party when going-with-the-flow is detrimental. There’s nothing wasteful about freeing yourself of the illusion that it’s a victory for the country when either Obama or Romney wins when so many people around the world lose.
Images courtesy of the author