True and False Equivalences

One of the prime motivators in the persistence of outlier third parties in American politics is the equally persistent refrain that there is “no difference” between the two majoritarian parties. Last week’s airstrike in Syria would certainly seem at first glance to bear out that supposition — but does it?

By Anatole d’Ecotopia

Let’s start by dispensing with one immediate misperception: Whatever other reactions the strike merits, “surprise” is not legitimately among them. Biden ran and won on the idea that his administration would be, as much as possible, a resumption of normalcy that would make the previous four years an interregnum and an outlier — and this airstrike is as much in keeping with that promise as anything else that has occurred in this administration’s first month. Let us not forget that  Biden served as vice-president when Barack Obama normalized and extended the Bush era’s interventionism in the name of waging the “global war on terror” that Biden himself had enthusiastically endorsed as a senator in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Obama did, indeed, miss an opportunity to set an inflection point in U.S. policy that would have set a distinction between the two parties that might well have spared us the Trump Interregnum. But his failure to have done so was never a surprise. However well Obama crafted a message couched in progressive rhetoric, any perception of it being anything other than rhetoric was certainly dismissed by his pick of Biden as vice-president.

Putting aside that misperception, let’s compare this airstrike with a similar action carried out a year ago by the previous administration, evaluating both on three simple criteria: 

  • Was it effective?
  • Did it support a legitimate U.S. foreign policy objective?
  • How did it impact America’s international reputation?

In the case of the 02/25/21 strike in Syria, the answers are “probably”, “somewhat”, and “minimally”. In the case of the 01/03/20 strike in Iraq, the answers are “no”, “no”, and “badly”. It was widely seen as an irresponsible act of state terrorism, further cementing the perception that the previous administration could not be trusted to responsibly yield the power of the United States of America. Do administrations of both parties exercise American military power? Of course they do — but this only makes them “the same” in the eyes of myopic fools and pacifists.

This false equivalency only becomes more dangerous as the Republican Party continues to drift even further into dangerous territory of its own. At this year’s meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), acquitted extortionist and insurrectionist Donald Trump was literally worshipped as a golden idol (OK, chromed fiberglass– but it’s the thought that counts), permitted to repeat the lies that led to insurrection as the gathering’s keynote speaker, and had his lies further validated in workshops intended to further develop Republican strategies to carry out voter suppression.

As previously discussed, the GOP’s continued descent into madness, cultism, and conspiracy theories may yet be sufficient to drive Republicans that have retained their principles into splitting off a “center right” party in adherence to those principles. Come that day, it would make perfect sense for progressives and antiwar activists to end their own abused spouse status within the Democratic Party and form a party of the true left.

Come that day, the United States will have entered a new political epoch of what essentially amounts to parliamentarianism. The institutional and legal challenges to this level of systemic reform are formidable, but not insurmountable — but the breakup of the GOP has to happen first.

Until that day, progressives will need to bide their time… and not engage foolishly in dangerous and false equivalences.

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