Broadly speaking, I accept much of the criticism many on the Glenn Greenwald Left have of the US government and its behavior abroad. I’m not an American citizen (I’m a permanent resident) and was raised outside of the US, so see things from a decidedly more internationalist perspective.
I don’t accept the mainstream perspective of US foreign policy as it is invariably based on the biased premise that American intention is good, while the rest of the world (other than official allies) is bad. We see this over and over again when it comes to foreign policy issues — the Iraq war was a noble mistake, Russia is bad, Iran is evil, Israel is good, America is a benevolent force in the world etc etc. This premise is accepted almost without question in mainstream circles, and to deviate from it makes you a communist, anti-American, traitor.
When you look at America’s impact on the world objectively though, the pretension of nobility quickly comes apart. It is a nation state seeking to solidify its own power, often at the expense of other nation states. America attacked Iraq to display its awesome military prowess after the attacks on 9/11, and sought to control and profit from its crude oil reserves. To believe otherwise is to deny what the authors of the war admitted to on record. The US also enforces crippling trade policies across much of the world that has had a devastating impact on developing countries and the most vulnerable people on earth.
America, like every other nation state, is looking out for its own interests — albeit with a lot more economic clout and firepower.
However, this does not mean that the Greenwaldian view of the US government is entirely correct. While there is much to criticize, there is also much to praise, and like every institution on earth, there are good people in the government trying to make the world a more decent place to live. Despite the coverage on The Intercept and sites like it, it is not a foregone conclusion that the American government is bad and all politicians are corporate stooges bent on paying off their powerful donors. The characterization is not without merit, but it is not the full picture and Greenwald and co. are responsible for a huge well of misinformed anger spreading through leftist circles that is becoming increasingly difficult to reason with.
Take for example a post published on The Intercept today by Jon Schwarz on why Hillary Clinton is apparently planning on screwing over working Americans by passing a corporate tax cut when she gets into power. Discussing Clinton’s plan to invest $250 billion in badly needed infrastructure, Schwarz states that Clinton and the ‘DC Hivemind’ is proposing some sort of secretive backroom deal with corporate America and the Republicans to get it done. He writes:
The Democrats want to make this happen, badly. As Orszag notes, Clinton has proposed $250 billion in infrastructure spending.
But as Orszag also notes, Republicans will absolutely refuse to appropriate new money.
That’s where Corporate America’s leverage comes in. Their plan is to “allow” the U.S. Congress to lightly tax their $2.4 trillion in overseas money and use that for infrastructure spending — as long as they get everything else they want.
Clinton has never said publicly that she will agree to this, and just this week one of her key economic advisors refused to say where she wants the money for her infrastructure plan to come from. There’s a good reason for this; as the Wall Street Journal notes, “waiting to take a position could spare her from immediate blow-back from more liberal Democrats and give her something to give away during negotiations with Republicans next year.”
Indeed, we now know from her leaked, private corporate speeches that this is exactly what she has in mind. She is fine with a “really low” tax rate on repatriated profits, and a lower corporate tax rate overall “certainly could be on the table” if it were “part of a broader package.”
Schwarz evidently believes that compromising with the Republican Party and corporate America makes Hillary Clinton a shill, and therefore a traitor to working Americans. “Even as regular Democratic voters are concentrating on beating Donald Trump, the serious people of Washington are quietly putting the wheels in motion for what those same voters will find to be a highly unpleasant 2017 surprise,” he writes.
Yes, Clinton and the dastardly centrist Democrats are salivating over the opportunity to enrich corporations and screw over blue collar Americans. Except of course “the serious people of Washington” are actually trying to get something done, as opposed to shouting about it online and watching the Republicans prevent infrastructure building that even Schwarz admits “we desperately need”.
This hardline approach to politics has yielded absolutely nothing for the past 8 years, as witnessed by the extreme opposition to literally anything the Obama administration does by the hard right and hard left. Schwarz’s plan to rebuild America apparently consists of the following strategy:
1. Demand liberals take a hardline stance without compromise.
2. Decry corrupt politicians when negotiations fall apart.
3. Claim moral authority over feckless media/those with blind fealty to power, etc etc.
It’s a convenient stance for those with no stake in the game, but for those in the trenches trying to do some good, compromising is a necessary part of politics.
Despite leftist activists characterization of Hillary Clinton and other pragmatic liberals as sociopathic servants of corporate power, they are not waking up every morning thinking about how they can screw the most vulnerable people in society. Living in DC and having friends who work on the hill, I can assure you that they don’t spend their time thinking about how many Syrian children they can kill, how many Americans can they eavesdrop on, and how much money they can make from their political careers. Of course there are exceptions to this, but by and large, they are ambitious people trying to do their best to help others and make a difference. Of course there is mixed intent — climbing the career ladder and attaining power is part and parcel of working in government, as it is in any industry. But generally speaking, you don’t become a public servant to destroy lives and get rich.
America is a huge, 238 year old, complex nation state that has an incredibly diverse array of interests, historical alliances and conflicts it is engaged in. Running it is akin to steering a giant cruise ship — turning it 2 degrees either way can have huge ramifications, and compromising to make those turns is part and parcel of keeping the ship afloat.
The leftist critique of the American political system may well turn out to be correct in the long run. It is corrupt, it is self interested, it is violent and it is an dire need of an overhaul. But is also does good. The US government provides vital services for its citizens, including public education, services for veterans, building roads, ensuring people have clean water, protecting the environment, maintaining productive relationships with other nation states, and so on and so forth. Too boot, changing it doesn’t come from refusing to compromise and allowing the most dangerous elements of America’s political classes to take over and run the show. The Democrats are not perfect, but there is no comparison when it comes to the Republican Party, as evidenced by the emergence of Donald Trump. Greenwald and his leftist militants consistently refuse to acknowledge this, and turn their otherwise valid critiques into pointless rantings aimed solely at their own acolytes.
It is all very well to oppose “the system”, but in the real world it doesn’t translate into anything tangible. Would Schwarz really deny America its much needed infrastructure investment because Hillary Clinton wants to make a deal with the companies who would pay for it? Given he writes for The Intercept, I’m guessing so. Because editorial policy à la Greenwald dictates that you make an assumption then fit the facts to reinforce your narrative.
It apparently doesn’t matter to Schwarz that the country’s infrastructure will get the desperate injection of cash it needs, only that it wasn’t achieved through his own standards of ideological purity. But then nothing ever is, because Schwarz and his activist boss always need to be fighting “the elites”, even if they are ultimately on the same side.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.