Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Value of Dissenting Opinion

One of the major reasons that I was increasingly concerned about the American economy in 2007 and 2008, to the point where I pulled a large percentage of my retirement investment fund out of stocks before the September, 2008 crash, was because I allowed myself to read dissenting opinions on politics and economics. If all I had read were the mainstream, middle-of-the-road economists, I would have been caught unawares like most other people. But I read economic contrarians like Bill Bonner and the LewRockwell website on the libertarian right, and the leftist economics on sites like Counterpunch.

So I have learned the value of looking at opinion across the political spectrum. Admittedly, it is sometimes painful, in that I see things and read ideas that I would rather not have to think about. But in the long run, it's the only way to get closer to the truth of reality.

All that to say, Alexander Cockburn's piece on Obama on his Counterpunch website this weekend is disturbing. Disturbing because I like Obama a lot and want to think well of him and agree with him. But I have to say that Cockburn's perspective has merit to it. Hence a couple of paragraphs now:

How long does it take a mild-mannered, antiwar, black professor of
constitutional law, trained as a community organizer on the South Side of
Chicago, to become an enthusiastic sponsor of targeted assassinations,
“decapitation” strategies and remote-control bombing of mud houses the far end
of the globe?

There’s nothing surprising here. As far back as President Woodrow
Wilson in the early twentieth century, American liberalism has been swift to
flex imperial muscle, to whistle up the Marines. High explosive has always been
in the hormone shot.

The nearest parallel to Obama in eager deference to the
bloodthirsty counsels of his counter-insurgency advisors is John F. Kennedy. It
is not surprising that bright young presidents relish quick-fix, “outside the
box” scenarios for victory.

Whether in Vietnam or Afghanistan the counsels of regular Army generals
tends to be drear and unappetizing: vast, costly deployments of troops by the
hundreds of thousand, mounting casualties, uncertain prospects for any long-term
success – all adding up to dismaying political costs on the home front.

Amid Camelot’s dawn in 1961, Kennedy swiftly bent an ear to the
counsels of men like Ed Lansdale, a special ops man who wore rakishly the halo
of victory over the Communist guerillas in the Philippines and who promised
results in Vietnam.

By the time he himself had become the victim of Lee Harvey
Oswald’s “decapitation” strategy, brought to successful conclusion in
Dealey Plaza, Dallas, on November 22, 1963, Kennedy had set in motion the
counter-insurgency operations, complete with programs of assassination and
torture, that turned South-East Asia and Latin America into charnel houses, some
of them, like Colombia, to this day.

Another Democrat who strode into the White House with the word “peace”
springing from his lips was Jimmy Carter. It was he who first decreed that
“freedom” and the war of terror required a $3.5 billion investment in a secret
CIA-led war in Afghanistan, plus the deployment of Argentinian torturers to
advise US military teams in counter-insurgency ops in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

(Though no US president can spend more than a few moments in the Oval
Office scanning his in-tray the morning after the inaugural ceremonies
without okaying the spilling of blood somewhere on the planet, it has to be said
that Bill Clinton did display some momentary distaste before settling
comfortably into the killer’s role. “Do we have to do this?” he muttered, as his
national security team said that imperial dignity required cruise missile
bombardment of Baghdad in 1993 in retaliation for a foiled attack on former
President G.H.W. Bush, during a visit to Kuwait. The misisiles landed in a
suburb, one of them killing the artist Laila al-Attar.)

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