CounterPunch Weekend Edition
March 29 / 30, 2008
Tough Enough to be President?
The latest protests in Tibet and crackdown by Chinese authorities have brought up the usual sermonizing in the West about Chinese government oppression and illegitimate control of the Tibetans. Although I have little love for the Chinese leaders -- I think they run a cruel system -- some proper historical perspective is called for here.
Many Tibetans regard themselves as autonomous or independent, but the fact remains that the Beijing government has claimed Tibet as part of China for more than two centuries. The United States made its position clear in 1943:
"The Government of the United States has borne in mind the fact that the Chinese Government has long claimed suzerainty over Tibet and that the Chinese constitution lists Tibet among areas constituting the territory of the Republic of China. This Government has at no time raised a question regarding either of these claims. (See "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1943, China", Department of State, 1957, p.630.)
After the communist revolution in 1949 US officials tended to be more equivocal about the matter.
Even as the Chinese were attacking Tibetan protestors, New York City Police were beating up and literally threatening to kill "Free Tibet" protestors in front of the United Nations. It's all on video.
The Washington Post recently ran a story about how the Chinese people largely support the government suppression of the Tibetan protesters. The heading was: "Beijing's Crackdown Gets Strong Domestic Support. Ethnic Pride Stoked by Government Propaganda." The article spoke of how Beijing officials have "educated" the public about Tibet "through propaganda".
That's a rather interesting concept. Imagine the Post or any other American mainstream media saying that those Americans who support the war in Iraq do so because they've been educated by government propaganda. ... Ditto those who support the war in Afghanistan. ... Ditto those who supported the bombing of Yugoslavia. ... Ditto scores of other US invasions, bombings, overthrows, and miscellaneous war crimes spanning more than half a century.
Now Germany's foreign minister has warned China that its response to the crisis in Tibet may jeopardize the Summer Olympics in Beijing. "The German federal government is saying to the Chinese government: be transparent! We want to know exactly what is going on in Tibet." He also warned China to avoid any violent measures in its standoff with Tibetan protesters. Human rights organizations have demanded that Coca-Cola, Visa, General Electric, and other international companies explain their dealings with the Chinese government as it prepares to host the Summer Games. The French Foreign Minister floated the prospect of boycotting the Games' opening ceremony because of China's response to the protests. And the president of the European Parliament said European countries should not rule out threatening China with a boycott if violence continued in Tibet.
It's nice to see the West's conscience stirred up. They're real good about such things, when the target is not one of their own, particularly against a communist country. In 1980, 62 nations -- including the United States, Canada, West Germany, Japan, and Israel -- boycotted the Olympics in Moscow because the previous year the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Four years later, the Olympics were held in Los Angeles. Not a single member of "The Free World" boycotted it, even though the previous year the United States had invaded Grenada and overthrown the government, with a lot less political justification than the Russians had for invading Afghanistan. The Grenada invasion was as much lacking in legality and morality as the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Soviet Union and 13 of its allies stayed away from the Los Angeles Olympics, but when the Russians announced the boycott they cited only security concerns. President Reagan had declared at the time of the invasion that Grenada was "a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a major military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy, but we got there just in time." One would think that Moscow would have mentioned Grenada at least for the satisfaction of throwing Afghanistan and the 1980 boycott in Washington's face. The fact that the Russians made no such mention was a measure of how unconcerned they were about the tiny island nation and its alleged future as a major Soviet military bastion. The magnitude and variety of Reagan administration lies that accompanied the invasion of Grenada may have stood as a record until the Bush administration topped it in Iraq 20 years later.
Tough Enough to be President?
Genghis Khan "too soft", Some Voters Say
A recurring theme of Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency has been that she has more of the right kind of experience needed to deal with national security and foreign policy issues than Barack Obama. Her notorious campaign ad tells us: It's three a.m. and your children are safe and asleep; but there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing; something really bad is happening somewhere; and voters are asked who they want answering the phone. Of course they should want Hillary and her marvelous experience. (If she's actually explained what that marvelous experience is, I missed it. Perhaps her near-death experience in Bosnia?)
Typical of Clinton's growing corps of conservative followers, the Washington Times recently lent support to this theme. The right-wing newspaper interviewed a group of "mostly conservative retired [military] officers, industry executives and current defense officials", who cite Mr. Obama's lack of experience in national security.
And so it goes. And so it has gone for many years. What is it with this experience thing for public office? It was not invented by Hillary Clinton. If I need to have my car repaired I look for a mechanic with experience with my particular car. If I needed an operation I'd seek out a surgeon with lots of experience performing that particular operation. But when it comes to choosing a person for political office, the sine qua non consideration is what their politics are. Who would you choose between two candidates -- one who was strongly against everything you passionately supported but who had decades of holding high government positions, or one who shared your passion on every important issue but had never held any public office? Is there any doubt about which person almost everyone would go for? So why does this "experience" thing keep coming up in so many elections?
A recent national poll questioned registered voters about the candidates' "approach to foreign policy and national security". 43 per cent thought that Obama would be "not tough enough" (probably a reflection of the "experience" factor), while only 3 per cent thought he'd be "too tough". For Clinton the figures were 37 per cent and 9 per cent. The evidence is overwhelming that decades of very tough -- nay, brutal -- US policies toward the Middle East has provoked extensive anti-American terrorism; the same in Latin America in earlier decades, yet this remains an alien concept to most American voters, who think that toughness works (even though they know it doesn't work on Americans -- witness the reaction to 9/11).
John McCain, who is proud to have dropped countless bombs on the people of Vietnam, who had never done him or his country any harm until he and his country invaded them, who now (literally) sings in public about bombing the people of Iran, and who tells us he's prepared to remain in Iraq for 100 years, is still regarded as "not tough enough" by 16 per cent and "too tough" by only 25 per cent. What does it take to convince Americans that one of their leaders is a bloody psychopath? Like the two psychos he may replace. How has 225 years of our grand experiment in democracy wound up like this? And why is McCain regularly referred to as a "war hero"? He was shot down and captured and held prisoner for more than five years. What's heroic about that? In most other kinds of work, such a record would be called a failure.
Winston Churchill said that "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." And if that doesn't do it for you, try a five-minute conversation with almost any American politician. This thing called democracy continues to be used as a substitute for human liberation.
One parting thought about Obama: Is he prepared to distance himself from Rev. Martin Luther King as he has from his own minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright? King vehemently denounced the Vietnam War and called the United States "the most violent nation in the world". Like Wright, he was strongly condemned for his remarks. As T.S. Eliot famously observed: "Humankind can not bear very much reality."
William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World's Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.