One grim party game for election 2016 involves the question, which candidate will be the least bloodthirsty? There is no answer to be found, just educated guesses. Sen. Bernie Sanders and wildcard Donald Trump might be the least overtly, specifically hawkish candidates left, but neither of them can be trusted not to continue the warmonger status quo.
Sanders has said he will continue using drones, albeit less often than his predecessor. And Trump is no politician, and therefore doesn’t yet have blood on his hands. However, even if he has a nice habit of trashing the Dick Cheneys of the world, and occasionally saying peace-friendly things, he still also a massive ego and a desire for the US to have a military to match it. (Not to mention his apparent hunger for torture.)
Every other candidate still in the race is likely worse. Sen. Ted Cruz has gone over to both the neocon side, and the evangelical-pandering side and has been rewarded with second place in the GOP race. Sen. Marco Rubio is blessedly failing in his efforts to win the presidency, and his tripping does give you some hope that the neocon elite may not be as powerful these days. We’re left with creepy Gov. John Kasich, who speaks like a regular guy instead of a DC slime. However, in that regular guy voice he suggests that we intervene in all sorts of places, including directly against Russia.
The less said about Sen. Hillary Clinton the better. She voted for the Iraq war, she gave us the Libyan invasion, and she continues to be put many Republicans to shame with her hawkishness.
That is where we stand in 2016, staring at the crop of miserable, power-hungry people who are sure they can solve not just America’s ills, but the world’s. They are all happy to kill at least a few individuals to further their goals. None of them have taken a principled, purely anti-interventionist stance, and they are not likely to.
Now, for all the panic over the election, nobody seems to be panicking in a broad enough sense. The last three presidents have crossed so many boundaries in terms of spying at home, and has war-making abroad. Certainly, one candidate could make that worse, but what about what we have already? Why is our national attention span so short?
From Bill Clinton’s initial wiretapping and dabbling in war, to George W.’s…everything, to Obama’s assassination of Americans and constant drone warfare, we have made quick bipartisan strides towards a bloated, muscled executive branch in the last two decades. Certainly 2016 will be no exception, but focusing too much on the individuals makes it easy to forget the power behind empire.
Everyone is part of the problem, both right and left. And there may well be a presidential candidate who is less terrible than the other choices, who leads to less misery abroad, and tyranny at home. But none of them seem ready to make a real change. Because why would they? They’re the ones trying to grab the seat of ultimate power.
The thing about politics is that the horse race may have consequences, but it is also a terrific distraction from what is already going on. On March 8, Glenn Greenwald noted in The Intercept that 150 people in Somalia died from drone and manned missile strikes the previous day. These people may well have been members of the al Shaab terrorist group, but as is official policy, there is no government proof of this fact. In drone strikes, you’re a terrorist unless proven otherwise, so, really, why work very hard to prove otherwise?
The Obama administration this week promised that they would at long last release a casualty list from drone strikes soon. Certainly this is a positive sign of progress towards transparency from an administration that has made a joke out of that word – and continues to do so. However, whether that death count can be trusted to be accurate is a different matter entirely. Policy still says that if you are in the terrorist demographic, and your behavior and location fits the pattern deemed suspicious by the US, you are guilty. Even if your name is unknown. Presumably, the administration will not clarify how the hell they are permitted to launch missiles at a country with which they are not at war, because nobody seems interested in that.
In another important piece, this one over at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf elaborates on the dangerously soft ground we’ve tilled in America – ground that he says is ready to grow a real tyrant. This is not to say that Obama and Bush haven’t already stepped over lines. But the nature of law is precedent. Nobody has yet challenged Obama’s right to kill Americans. Bush’s right to indefinitely detain people in Gitmo was challenged, but the Supreme Court chimed in only to say that the detainees can challenge their status, not that the government need actually try and convict them. Every instance of warrantless spying, every drone strike for which the administration asks neither permission nor forgiveness, all of this leads to a country sitting further and further out on a rickety perch over some nasty, dictatorial terrain.
Poor Friedersdorf’s plea that we “Tyrant-Proof The White House – Before It’s Too Late” is the decent sort of bipartisanship, and is therefore unlikely to lead to much improvement. He suggests that people who fear a Trump presidency, and those who fear a Clinton one both can work to tie the hands of the executive branch. Why not worth together on that?
It doesn’t work like that. The gloss of politics and the cooing over the horse race overshadows what is already legal, either overtly or implicitly. Some things improve, it’s not all hopeless, but this idea that this two party system can lead to enough people thinking the way Friedersdorf does is overly optimistic. If the other party and its candidate and supports constitutes the enemy, then that’s where the fighting happens, away from the status quo. The evil that we’ve already got is dull, and the new threat, or the new Messiah must be the focus of breathless attention. Trump and Sanders may be the least bad options, but their devoted supporters still suggest that the race will remain about cults of personality, not principles, privacy, or peace.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and a columnist for VICE.com. She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at www.thestagblog.com.