Monday, September 9, 2013
I will not be at the protest this afternoon
The award to former President George W. Bush is a mistake by my school. It is one that inadvertently aids American war crimes – across Presidencies (killing by drone including innocents is also a war crime) and an authoritarian doctrine of Presidential power. It is important to protest both in terms of the coming war in Syria – an unpredictable aggression in isolation, in defiance of international law which tolerates war only in self-defense or with the approval of the United Nations Security Council. President Bush’s illegalities are the forerunner of this (if President Obama manages, against fierce public opposition, to get divided support from Congress and does not shift to a wiser policy, perhaps today support for a transfer of all chemical weapons from the Syrian government to Russia). The willingness to use force rather than to pursue peaceful settlement of disputes is the hallmark in the world of this way of conducting policy in Presidents of both major parties (President Bush is, so far, the worst in terms of crimes). It is also central to oppose the exercise of tyrannical – arbitrary, in violation of the law – "executive power."
But the protest seems overly directed against the school because of the student power issue. While I agree with student and faculty participation in important decisions, many decisions of a school are and have to be reached by the administration. This decision goes too far and is a serious mistake. But I would not protest if Jimmy Carter were today, even without consultation though I think that important, given an award for global service (or, for instance, given Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex speech though not his overthrow of the democracies in Iran and Guatemala or John F. Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I would not object to the posthumous honoring of either one). I am with Gandhi, King and Mandela on this. My aim in this is to protest evils or crimes of American foreign policy, but also to give those responsible a chance to reconsider, to recognize, where there are, in the main, decent activities (sadly, rare in American leaders and minor in Mr. Bush), to work for peace and negotiated settlements, and, if possible, for truth and reconciliation.
President Bush could do a real public service by saying that the unspeakable torture and aggression in Iraq of his administration were things that should never have been done, even facing the fear and shock of 9/11, and certainly not to be repeated by any future American leader. But, instead, it is, sadly, a fact that Mr. Bush is an unrepentant war criminal and that Presidents Obama and Bill Clinton have launched a campaign to restore Bush’s credibility in the context of not even holding hearings about American war crimes as is the Obama administration’s obligation under the Convention against Torture (and the Obama administration has tortured Chelsea Manning for a time, and persecuted those who tell the truth about the American government’s crimes, including spying on Americans). It is that – an end to crimes by Presidents, restriction of executive authority to what is mainly legal or exercised in genuinely gray areas - and not any local issue with which I am primarily concerned. I understand that many people feel strongly about the local issue and are concerned to press it. But for that reason, I will not be at the protest.