National-Security-PolicySmall

Foreign Policy: The Big American Stumbling Block

There are a great number of issues being debated in the 2016 elections. As candidates duke it out over their party’s nomination, a subject of repeated inquiry has been foreign policy, and with good reason: absolutely no candidate on either side of the aisle has a great foreign policy position. It’s not a Republican or Democratic problem. It’s an American one.

I’m not going to waste a lot of keystrokes on the Republican side of the equation. Any of them would have a catastrophic impact on global and national security with their chest beating, xenophobia, racism, and hawkish demeanor. They’re all to happy to send our loved ones overseas to die in the name of ego. They’re already making the world a more dangerous place. Case in point: the front runner is currently featuring in terrorist recruitment videos.

But the Democrats don’t get a pass on this subject, either. Both Sanders and Clinton are problematic in their approach to foreign policy, and giving them a pass in the name of bolstering our candidate of choice is not going to help things.

Foreign policy has long been a weak spot for Sanders. Some argue it’s a function of experience. After all, while he’s not without depth on issues of foreign policy, Clinton’s got him beat by a mile when it comes to bona fides.

And his answers on foreign policy? Not fantastic to date. Some have speculated that this is due to the Clinton machine cutting off his access to credible and experienced foreign policy advisers, and are quick to insist that he’ll have strong advisers once he’s in the White House to guide him to the right answers. Unfortunately, from a strategic perspective, that’s not a great defense. After all, Clinton’s argument is that she’ll be stronger on foreign policy out of the gates, and if Sanders needs time with advisers to get on her level, that’s not going to cut against her assertions.

The notes he does hit aren’t awful, but they aren’t deep, either. We war too much, we spend too much, we should rely on other actors to handle issues within their region, and — over and over and over again — that vote against the war in Iraq. These arguments aren’t fundamentally awful, but he’s less progressive than many think.

At every turn, Sanders has supported President Obama’s military proposals: from voting to fuel Israel’s ongoing human rights abuses against Palestine to supporting ongoing drone warfare. While one can argue that taking a firm stance on these issues is not tenable in the given political climate, these positions also cut against the idea that Sanders will not be business as usual. On the subject where he has perhaps the greatest influence once in the White House, Sanders offers more of the same.

But if you think Clinton is untouchable on this subject, you couldn’t be more wrong. Sanders would likely continue to support the foreign policy seen under the Obama administration, but Clinton is a sure thing. Yes, she is experienced, but her experience reveals a candidate who is even more hawkish than Obama. More than once, she was the one at the table pushing for Obama to more aggressively intervene in crises in Syria, Libya, and Iraq, favoring more on the ground efforts and a ramp up of drone activity. She’s also spoken more than once about a desire to provide Israel with even more firepower. When it comes to potential conflict down the road, she’s all too willing to go to war. In her own words, she “will not hesitate to take military action.”

And let’s not forget who she’s turning to for advice on foreign policy: Henry Kissinger. I’m not just talking about the praise she heaped on during a review of his book. She not only looked up to his example while shaping her own views on foreign policy, but turned to him for counsel on her decisions, occasionally asking him to present his case to the Obama.

Why is it a problem that one secretary of state turn to a former secretary of state for guidance? Because Kissinger is a fucking monster. A decorated war criminal. A man who referred to bombing as a form of diplomacy. A twisted nationalist whose advocacy and efforts gave rise to some of the most terrifying political regimes in the world. He’s a stain on American history, and often regarded as the father of the sprawling beast that represents American foreign policy today, in all its messed up glory. Know who else thinks he’s swell? That would be Ted Cruz. Not great company for Clinton.

If, in Clinton’s judgment, Kissinger is an admirable man and trusted adviser, her judgment is absolute shit. Point blank.

But Kissinger didn’t get us to this point on his own. His ascent and the continuation of his philosophy in American foreign policy was fueled by the electorate’s general ignorance of global politics and cultural differences. When the public accepts “America is the best!” as a justification for hawkish foreign policy, those pushing it get their way.

And that’s why we’re looking at a presidential field today whose foreign policy is discombobulated at best and downright dangerous at worst. Until we start prioritizing global affairs literacy and history lessons outside the tint of American exceptionalism colored glasses, we won’t get the leadership on this subject we need… but we’ll certainly get what we deserve.

feminism so white

The Feminist Fail

This one’s for the women.

When I was growing up, for a silly while there, I refused to call myself a feminist. I didn’t know any better at the time. Living in a super conservative community, the only thing my history classes had taught me about feminism was bra burning, and as a teen who developed early, I needed my bras, thank you very much. (I wish I was kidding.)

Then I got to college. It didn’t take long for my views on the f-word to change. OF COURSE I was a feminist. YES to pay equality. YES to reproductive rights. YES to bodily autonomy. FUCK YOU rape culture. I was a loud, proud, in your face feminist determined to raise my daughter as such.

When I left college and began writing in earnest, though, that badge of honor grew heavier and more cumbersome. The bright and shiny feminism that had so inspired me now seemed strikingly white, painfully straight, and more than a little out of touch with the times. I was uncomfortable watching women with skin like mine telling women of color to pipe down and get in line. I remember my horror when learning about Sangers’ eugenics and the “lavender menace.”

I tried to quell my misgivings with self-assurances that it was all just a part of “growing pains” for the movement, but in the past several months, I’ve grown more uncomfortable still. The pace of that growth in an era where technology gives us the ability to connect and learn from each other in an unprecedented manner seems exceedingly slow.

I’ve watched TSwift and Miley spouting the feminist version of #AllLivesMatter as women of color in the industry lamented racial disparity. I’ve watched Meryl Streep don a shirt proclaiming, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave,” before she today shrugged off film festival diversity laments by saying, “We’re all Africans.” I’ve watched people complain about Jenner receiving attention that should be reserved for “real women.” I’ve watched women of color criticizing Sanders lambasted by men and women supporting him for advancing the “politics of division.” I’ve watched Gloria Steinem tell me that I’m only supporting Sanders for the boys. I’ve watched Madeline Albright tell me there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support Clinton while the candidate herself laughed. I’ve watched feminist friends who I respect echo the same damn things with condescension that sounds a whole lot like, “GET OFF MY LAWN” while younger voices ignore entirely the historic moment we face in today’s political climate.

And you know what I think? I think there’s a special place in hell for this kind of tone deaf feminism: this feminism that says the experiences of women are homogeneous, this feminism that thinks the movement needs a singular voice, this feminism that tells people saying otherwise to shut up and sit down.

I am all for empowering women. I am there for the ongoing battles and the battles we’ve yet to wage. But we’re going to lose the war if we keep trying to corral people onto this path that ignores the battles going on to our left and right, because that strategy leaves a lot of people behind.

You may not see color, but the economy sure does. Unemployment rates for white women in the last quarter of 2015 may have been at 4%, but it was 6.7% for Hispanic and Latina women, and 8% for Black women. White women may make $0.78 to a white man’s dollar, but Black women make $0.68 on the dollar, and Hispanic and Latina women bring in only $0.54 on the dollar. And these figures can vary dramatically by region, state, and city.

And violence against women of color is not just structural. It’s estimated that 17.7% of white women will be victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives, but the numbers are worse for women of color. Approximately 40% of Black women report encountering coercive sexual activity by the age of 18, and it is estimated that for every Black woman who reports a rape, there are 15 that do not. Anti-immigrant vitriol can frequently discourage Hispanic and Latina women from reporting, regardless of immigration status. But migrant workers know all too well the dangers they face, with more than half a million women calling the fields they work “fields of panties” due to the prevalence of unchecked sexual assault.

And there are other issues that are distinctly important for women of color that white women may not give a lot of thought to in the end. Black women are eight times more likely than their white counterparts to be incarcerated, while Hispanic and Latina women are four times more likely to face jail time. When women of limited means face the legal system, they overwhelming lose.

It’s not just about color, though; sexuality and gender identity can play a significant role in risk factors, too. Half of bisexual women and more than 64% of transwomen will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  It’s estimated that at least 20% of homeless youth are members of the LGBT community, and 41% of transwomen will attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

Let’s not forget age, either. Young women today identify as feminist in record levels. They may not have experienced the battles faced by their foremothers on the ground level, or the days before Roe v. Wade, or a world without women in politics, but they face a new set of demons. They’re the ones punching up in the face of widespread digital harassment. They’re the ones born into an economy ruined by those that came before them, a climate exacerbating the gender gap in the workforce. And their voices, in today’s political climate, are chastised for not directly aligning with women in leadership on all issues, the assumption beneath it all being that they’re not smart enough/informed enough to know what’s what. Silly little girls.

That doesn’t mean that older women don’t have unique struggles. They know, perhaps better than most, exactly what’s on the line today because it’s what they sacrificed so much for in their younger days, and are frustrated when young women remain apathetic. They’ve been hit hard by the economic downturn, as well, with wiped out retirement savings pushing them back into a workforce that doesn’t know what to do with them. Their ballooning healthcare costs are nearly incomprehensible to many younger women with relatively more robust health. The bottom line: age matters no matter which side of the spectrum you’re on.

And how about a shout out to the often dismissed women with disabilities? These are women who are statistically far more likely than other women to be assaulted, unemployed, and discriminated against, but you won’t hear much about them in feminist cannon. From forced sterilization to police violence against those with mental illness to feminist events that consistently fail to accommodate those with special needs, women with disabilities are left out in the cold at every single turn. They’re footnotes. It’s repulsive.

The point of this very surface level collection of differences is to highlight that every woman’s experience in life is unique. It’s going to be influenced by their race, their income, their sexuality, their gender identity, their location, and more. Those experiences are important, and the stories they tell should inform that fight instead of being pushed to the side if we want changes that actually make a difference. Those experiences are going to foster unique perspectives that shed light in the gaps that pepper our own. Those experiences make women as a collective so much stronger.

To argue that a feminism that does not recognize these differences and raise up the distinctive voices who can speak to them is somehow representative of the women it purports to support is breathtaking in its idiocy. When the movement and its figureheads say we only need to hear from someone that looks like them, loves like them, lives like them, they make it clear that this is not about fighting for women; it’s about fighting for women like them. It’s a demonstration of a willingness to sacrifice the women not like them to advance themselves.

So stop telling women they’re distracting from the cause when they voice an experience that deviates from the central narrative. Stop telling women they’re traitors when they dare to criticize the mainstream feminist culture. Stop telling women that the only way they can be supportive of women is if they support your woman. Stop telling women the battle they’re fighting doesn’t matter.

Just stop. Listen. It’s the only way the war gets won.

kankajpg-f5ceeb5091c57696

International Megan’s Law: A Pretty Terrible Idea

In 1994, 7 year old Megan Kanka was brutally raped and murdered by her 43 year old neighbor, Jesse Timmendequas. The news sent shockwaves across their community and the nation as a whole, not just because the crime was stomach churning, but because Timmendequas was a registered sex offender. The event spawned a series of laws across the nation — often referred to as Megan’s Law — requiring law enforcement to inform the public when a sex offender relocates to their community. On the federal level, Megan’s Law was woven into legislation requiring sex offenders to register with the state and inform the state of any moves for a determined or even infinite amount of time. The whole initiative was an effort to allow the public to protect themselves from known sex offenders.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, sex offenders frequently found themselves hard up for work or even housing as people recoiled at their designation, which ironically exacerbated the likeliness of recidivism. That’s quite a feat, given that recidivism among convicted sex offenders is statistically quite low. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of groups who argue that this practice violates the eighth amendment by punishing an individual in perpetuity for one crime. Instead of public safety, there was a rise in public vigilantes. Stephen Marshall, for instance, sought out two men on the registry and murdered them in cold blood. Michael Dodele was murdered by a local father “in protection of his son” after he discovered Dodele’s conviction, though Dodele’s crime had nothing to do with children.

And there’s another problem here: what we classify as sex crimes. There are some crimes that fit neatly in this category: rape, sexual assault, molestation. But some crimes that classify might be as simple, innocuous and stupid as urinating in public or streaking at a football game. In some cases, even the labels we recognize as legitimately heinous don’t make a ton of sense in context. A 30 year old man who forces himself on a 16 year old girl in an alley, for instance, is not the same as an 18 year old senior in high school having consensual sex with his 16 year old sophomore girlfriend, but on the registry, there often won’t be a distinction.

The sex offender registry is not an inherently terrible idea. Even the Association for Treatment of Sexual Offenders concedes that sexual offenders should be carefully reintegrated into society upon release with ample legal oversight. But until laws and the registration process are reformed, the current process is doing no one any favors.

Which brings us to today, as Congress sends President Obama what is known as an “International Megan’s Law.” This law would require that the State Department conspicuously mark the passports of anyone involved in a sex crime that involved a minor to inform other nations of their risk upon entry.

There are a lot of problems with this. We’ve already talked about how the registry conflates crimes by ignoring crimes; this is worse. Teens sexting each other would end up on this list if convicted. But beyond the fact that its application could end up being unjustly applied, there’s absolutely no evidence this would thwart the human trafficking it claims to target. And if people are being discriminated against with their names listed online, imagine what happens to those who use a passport as a form of identification. To add insult to injury, their supposed purpose is redundant. As Reason explains:

[W]hen it comes to those who have committed the most heinous crimes or are the most likely to reoffend, we already have a mechanisms in place to either prevent them from getting passports or notify foreign governments when they’re traveling abroad. The Secretary of State can deny passports to people convicted of certain sex crimes, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) “Operation Angel Watch” already notifies foreign officials when Americans convicted of certain sex crimes are traveling there.

And the reason ICE knows the travel habits of these sex offenders? Because all people on state sex offender registries—regardless of why they’re there or how long ago their crimes were committed—are required under federal law to “inform his or her residence jurisdiction of any intended travel outside of the United States at least 21 days prior to that travel.”

In other words, the only thing this law would do is exacerbate the harms that already exist in the flawed framework of sex offender registry related laws. Nice, right?

But as the legislation crosses President Obama’s desk, it seems unlikely that it would be vetoed, largely because of optics. How would it look for him to reject legislation that’s supposed to protect children from being raped?

That doesn’t mean we should accept its passage. Sexual violence survivors deserve our support, and if anything, the flaws in the current legal regime trivialize their experience. That a person having sex with someone they’re in high school with is put on the level with a brutal rape is unconscionable. That that same kid be treated with the same disdain reserved for violent rapists for potentially the rest of their natural lives is revolting. We can do better, and should.

Until then, let’s hope Obama’s constitutional law background triumphs over PR inclinations.