May 09

(To read the rest of our coverage on foreign policy, the military and the presidential primaries, please click here.)

When it came time to endorse a Republican for president in the primary--we wanted to endorse candidates on both sides--Michael C and I choose Rand Paul. He supports civil liberties and opposes the burgeoning police state. More importantly, he’s an isolationist and doesn’t support needless military interventions abroad. Though we have major disagreements with his domestic policy, we agree with him on many foreign policy issues, especially compared to other Republicans.

But Michael C found this seemingly non-isolationist op-ed he wrote for Time magazine, titled, “I Am Not An Isolationist”. Did this change our minds about the once-isolationist-now-pro-intervention Rand Paul?


Despite the title, Paul doesn’t actually argue against reducing US intervention abroad but for attacking ISIS. His op-ed doesn’t refute his previous opposition to foreign entanglements, but, like us, he is bristling at a label war hawks give anyone who opposes needless military interventions. We also don’t believe him. Lines like, “I still see war as the last resort.” and “There’s no point in taking military action just for the sake of it, something Washington leaders can’t seem to understand” are actually arguments for isolationism, or at least reducing the use of military force. (And stand in stark contradiction to multiple Republicans who endorse “carpet bombing” and other indiscriminate uses of force.)   

But I noticed something else in this op-ed. Rand Paul doesn’t actually offer any solutions to defeat ISIS. Or anything different than what Obama has already done. Instead, he resorts to bland platitudes like, “If I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS...”

One of the only lines of attack Republicans have against Democrats in this upcoming campaign is the “threat” of ISIS. And you know whose fault it is? Obama’s. We could dig up a bunch of quotes from Republicans saying Obama allowed ISIS to thrive. Do we need to? It’s been a central talking point of Republicans throughout this campaign.

What would Republicans do differently than Obama? Rand Paul’s recommendations--including airstrikes, aiding the Kurds, asking Congress for military approval--are all things Obama did. And have largely worked, both in terms of stopping ISIS’s growth and actually causing them to lose territory.

His only major difference with Obama, policy-wise, is making it harder for Muslims to enter the US, which obviously won’t change the situation is Syria. Since the candidates don’t want to promise to send soldiers into the Middle East again (“boots on the ground”, as the saying goes), they’re stuck without any alternatives than what we’ve already done. (And yes, Rand Paul kept mentioning developing a better strategy. “Strategy” is a vague buzzword, like “leadership”, that politicians and pundits use when convenient.)

Still, haters gonna hate, hate, hate. Republicans don’t offer an alternative, just the fact that they’d do it better. Might as well be called the “Trump strategy”. I don’t know how I’d do it, I’d just do it better.

And that’s not actually a foreign policy.

Apr 27

(To read the rest of our coverage on foreign policy, the military and the presidential primaries, please click here.)

In our coverage of the Republican presidential candidates, we’ve been revisiting far too many topics and issues that should be settled by now, like torture, ROE, the size of the military, and so on and so on. Aside from admitting The Iraq War was a mistake, it seems the country hasn’t gained ground on becoming more tolerant (or intelligent) on foreign policy.

This list would include hate speech.

In one of my favorite series for the blog, we “Got Orwellian” on the use of hate speech towards Islamic people generally. To summarize our series:

“Muslims (even the so called “islamofascists”) aren’t animals. They aren’t less than human. They aren’t barbarians, primitives or savages. They’re people. We may hate them and what they do. They’re still human.

“We’ve been writing about language and hate speech for these last few months not because we’re grammar and usage mavens (though I am). We’re writing about language and war because words matter especially when those words sustain conflicts instead of ending them. Words actively change points of view and perceptions. Words actively shape worldviews. Language affects whether the American military ever tries to adopt population-centric counterinsurgency, or whether it decides that the enemy is an sub-human that must (and can only) be killed.”

Hate speech dehumanizes your enemy, turning your opponent into an other that exists outside of “civilized” society. Thus they become “savages”, “barbarians” or “primitive”. Trump, wanting to make the dehumanization clear, just refers to the terrorists and ISIS, as “animals”. Terrorists may commit acts of evil, but they’re still human.

Like torture, hate speech is both morally wrong and ineffective. It alienates many young Muslim men, aiding terrorists groups that rely on recruiting alienated young Muslim men to bolster their ranks. In broader terms, hate speech/racism limits America, Europe and the world’s ability to stop radical terrorists. Far too many people never bother to understand al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and other groups because they don’t even consider them human. And if you can’t accurately diagnose the disease, you can’t treat it properly.

This is a huge tactical mistake in the war on terror. But it doesn’t really matter, because as we wrote before:

“But I hate writing about tactics. Just like the debate about torture, it doesn’t matter if hate speech is ineffective; morally, it’s wrong. That’s all that matters.”

Apr 25

(To read the rest of our coverage on foreign policy, the military and the presidential primaries, please click here.)

When we started preparing our series on the Republican primaries, I was excited to dust off an idea I had about a particularly destructive Secretary of State, inspired by this excellent Zack Beauchamp piece. It would perfectly fit in a season of Republican primaries that have seen legitimate presidential candidates call for war crimes and torture.

Then the Democrats beat me to it.

At the seventh Republican debate, responding to charges about who is advising his foreign policy, Bernie Sanders criticized Hillary Clinton’s support of Henry Kissinger. This sparked a round of internet commentary reviewing the legacy of America’s favorite international relations realist.

My (Michael C) thoughts on Henry Kissinger are too long to fit into our presidential election series, because you can’t really discuss Kissinger without discussing his philosophy on international relations. And I don’t just mean realism as a foreign policy, but his philosophy on when you can use violence to help your country at the expense of others. Or put another way, when to use violence on foreigners to help your fellow citizens.

Suffice it to say, On Violence thinks the good of Henry Kissinger (SALT treaties with Russia; rapprochement with China) is outweighed by the bad (the support of war crimes and genocide).

The current candidates for President disagree with me, except for (arguably) Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton kicked off this whole brouhaha by praising Kissinger in a debate and in one of her books. (She defended this decision by saying she listens to a wide range of opinions, and values Kissinger’s experience with and knowledge of China.)

Republicans also crave his approval, without feeling the need to justify it. Politico wrote a whole article on it:

“You’re a Republican thinking of running for president. It’s a dangerous world, and your foreign policy credentials are a little thin. Time to see Henry Kissinger. Scott Walker did it. So did Marco Rubio and Chris Christie. Rick Perry paid a visit in September — he even tweeted a photo to prove it. Rubio ‘met with Kissinger a couple of times in the past, and always appreciates his insights’”

Ted Cruz posted a picture of himself on Facebook with Henry Kissinger saying he is, “honored to share a few moments with Dr. Kissinger.”

Zack Beauchamp (again, the inspiration for a series of posts I will write on the national interest versus morality) had the best summary of Kissinger’s positions and actions that would probably brand him a war criminal if charges were brought by the International Criminal Court. For the longer take, go to Christopher Hitchen’s foundational text, the aptly named, The Trial of Henry Kissinger. By their count, Kissinger could be charged with supporting mass murder in Pakistan, Argentina, Cambodia, East Timor and many African nations. Despite this, somehow Kissinger is not a pariah, but a fixture of the international relations world in Washington.

We just can’t condone that level of murder and support for dictatorships, and therefore don’t condone candidates who ignore that record.

Apr 12

(To read the rest of our coverage on foreign policy, the military and the presidential primaries, please click here.)

Back in May of 2015, Republicans decided the Iraq War was a mistake.


It started when Jeb Bush told Megyn Kelly that he would have invaded Iraq even, “knowing what we know now”. It was a bad answer, or as Seth Meyers framed it on his late night show, “I have to say, Jeb, you’re making a real Iraq out of this. And just so you know, Iraq is slang for mess, because that’s what everyone agrees it was.”

Shockingly, other Republicans agreed with Seth Meyers. Zack Beauchamp tallied up the responses for Vox: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and John Kasich all said that, if Iraq didn’t have WMDs, they would NOT have invaded Iraq. Slate added Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina to the list of Republicans who said, knowing what we know now about WMDs, they wouldn’t have invaded. Eventually, even Jeb Bush reversed himself.

Donald Trump perhaps said it best in the ninth debate:

“Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. All right?...The war in Iraq, we spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives, we don't even have it. Iran has taken over Iraq with the second-largest oil reserves in the world. Obviously, it was a mistake.”

On the one hand, “hurray” for the country finally deciding that the Iraq war was a mess. But it also shows that the media still struggles to properly discuss war and American foreign policy. Some thoughts...

1. The Iraq War is no longer debatable. That’s insanely awesome.

The Iraq War--at least America’s justification for that war--is nearing “no-longer-debatable” territory. It was a failure. No serious thinker, pundit or politician questions the non-existence of WMDs. Despite the polling numbers below, Republican presidential candidates know they can’t come out in favor of the war in Iraq or challenge the non-existence of WMDs without the majority of Americans not taking them seriously.

In the context of the truly objectionable positions many Republicans have taken on foreign policy, at least we’ve made progress, as a country, on this issue. And frankly, I’m stunned. Delighted, but stunned.

2. Rank and file Republicans--in general--still don’t believe this.

In late 2014, we wrote up one of my personal favorite posts, “Weapons of Mass Dis-information: 5 Different Books By or About Navy SEALs That Repeat the Same Misinformation”. As we wrote then, according to a YouGov poll, only 42% of Americans think Iraq didn’t have WMDs. 25% have no idea. More importantly, 62% of Republicans believe Saddam Hussein did.

Perhaps that 2012 poll is too old for you. Here’s one from early 2015: half of Republicans think Iraq had WMDs. For Republican presidential candidates to come out against the existence of WMDs, that’s both a good thing and totally mind-blowing. I’d have thought, like Obama’s “birth certificate”, they would have addressed this issue with code words. But they didn’t. That’s progress.

3. This is still the wrong question to ask.

I got so caught up with Republicans admitting that Iraq didn’t have WMDs that I completely missed the silliness of this question and the ensuing media spat. On its face, the question is misleading, or as Michael C put it, it’s like asking someone “Why do you beat your wife?”

We knew then that Iraq didn’t have WMDs, as James Fallows, Greg Sergeant, Jonathan Chait, Paul Krugman, and Peter Beinart pointed out. By framing the question as, “knowing what we know now” pretends that we didn’t “know what we knew” then. It absolves the Bush administration for cooking the intelligence books and misleading the American public. Reporters should ask, “How would you ensure you get accurate intelligence?”

4. What happened to the “Saddam was a bad guy” argument?

Marco Rubio, defending his position, pointed out that even George W. Bush wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. Except that’s not really true, at least not according to Bush’s autobiography, Decision Points (H/T to the Washington Post fact checker). As the justifications for war in Iraq fell away--there were no links to al Qaeda; we didn’t find any WMDs; the country didn’t become a democracy--George W. Bush, other administration officials, and their defenders still had one last justification: Saddam Hussein was a bad guy.

Here’s what Bush wrote in his memoir:

“But inaction would have had consequences, too. Imagine what the world would look like today with Saddam Hussein still ruling Iraq. He would still be threatening his neighbors, sponsoring terror and piling bodies into mass graves.”

The better question for today is, would a Saddam Hussein regime be better than ISIS?

I should be generous: Bush’s defenders didn’t really have any arguments left after all the other ones fell away. The irony of the Saddam was a bad guy argument is what has taken Saddam’s place: a region mired in civil war and not one but two destabilized regimes, fostering Islamic extremists and terrorism. Oh, and tons of mass graves.

5. What about the veterans?

Jeb Bush had the strangest dodge of all, trying to avoid answering anything about Iraq’s non-existent WMDs. He brought up the real victims of the debate: soldiers and veterans (with their invincibly strong approval ratings).

“I admired the men and women -- mostly men -- that made the ultimate sacrifice. So, going back in time and talking about hypotheticals -- what would have happened what could have happened, I think, does a disservice for them."

So because soldiers died in a war, we can’t discuss the decisions that led to them dying in that war? We can’t analyze a bad decision to prevent future bad decisions?

Nothing in this whole debate is more illogical than that.

Apr 06

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

Let’s imagine a hypothetical.

A President spends significant foreign policy resources--his time, his Secretary of State’s time, political capital--to build a coalition. Crafting this coalition requires cajoling, bribing, encouraging, compromising and sacrificing...on all sides. At the end of a long process, the coalition is built and decides to act.

In other words, the President is leading on the issue. Everything described above is leadership if, you know, leadership means convincing others to follow your lead. (Which it does.)

But I didn’t say what the issue was on purpose. The moment I do, well, the opposite side of the political spectrum will say it isn’t actually leadership. If the above paragraph is describing President George W. Bush building a coalition to invade Iraq--well, either President Bush building a coalition to invade Iraq--that’s leadership in the minds of Republicans. If the above paragraph described President Obama crafting a treaty on climate change or Iran’s nuclear program, that’s leadership to Democrats.

Sadly, the concept of leadership is amorphous. Imprecise. Unclear. Vague. Almost so vague as to be meaningless and unhelpful. And nothing demonstrates this better than the Republican candidates critiques of President Obama’s leadership.

John Kasich on Obama’s Leadership:

“You know, the fact of the matter is the world is desperate for our leadership. Sometimes they may -- they may make a remark here or there that we don't like, but frankly, the world needs us. And we have an opportunity now to assemble a coalition of the civilized people, those who respect civilization, the rights of women, the rights to protest, to be able to reassert our leadership all across this globe again and make sure this century is going to be the best we've ever seen.”

Rebuttal: Except that Obama has led the world on at least three major issues: Iran, climate change and free trade. And on each of those issues, he was stymied by a Republican Congress. (Or as some commentators pointed out, one half of one half of one third of America’s government prevents action for the entire world.) It turns out, the world is  desperate for American leadership, but that “leadership” fits with Democratic issues more than Republican ones.

Carly Fiorina on Obama’s Leadership:

“Ours was intended to be a citizen government. This is about more than replacing a D with an R. We need a leader who will help us take our government back....The truth is this, the big problem, we need a leader in Washington who understands how to get something done, not to talk about it, not to propose it, to get it done.”

Rebuttal: Again, it is hard not to look at Obama’s foreign policy initiatives and not see a whole lot of accomplishment. See the three issues mentioned above. But hand-in-hand with the accomplishment has been Republican intransigence. For example, the defining failure of his administration--not being able to close Guantanamo--isn’t/wasn’t his fault. Republicans refuse to close that base. You can’t adamantly oppose a sitting President on every issue, then fault him for not leading.

Jeb Bush on Obama’s Leadership:

“Serious times require strong leadership, that's what at stake right now.”

Rebuttal: We don’t have to say it again, but the times we live in aren’t that serious. They’re the greatest times in human history.

Donald Trump on Obama’s Leadership:

“No, a good deal maker will make great deals, but we'll do it the way our founders thought it should be done. People get together, they make deals.”

Rebuttal: Nonsense gibberish aside, turns out that President Obama got a deal on Iran specifically by getting people in a room together. Go to Fred Kaplan at Slate to see the specifics.

Donald Trump again on Obama’s Leadership:

"[Putin’s] running his country, and at least he's a leader. Unlike what we have in this country."

At this point, Trump is putting leadership in the same category as running roughshod over your opposition. Or dictatorship. We don’t even need to rebut that.

The issue isn’t that Obama can’t lead. It is that the definition of leadership has been warped by Republicans writ large. Saying, “We don’t like President Obama because he disagrees with us,” sounds childish and self-evident. Yes, of course the leader of the opposing party disagrees with you on most issues. “Leadership” isn’t “doing what I want”. Fred Kaplan has also covered this at Slate. Dan Drezner summed this up perfectly:

“One of the memes that political scientists like to mock to within an inch of its life is the “Why won’t the president lead?” lament that occasionally bubbles up among the pundit class. This is an easy meme to mock because, frequently, the reason the president isn’t doing the thing that the pundit wants is because of pesky structural constraints like the Constitution or pesky political constraints like the opposition party.”

Republicans usually take it as a point of pride to axiomatically oppose any policy Obama endorses. So when Obama came out in support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he was endorsing a Republican-friendly issue: free trade. That issue also required tons of leadership with other countries. So Republicans had to twist themselves in knots to somehow still insult the deal while not trying to submarine a free-trade agreement.

But it required tons of global and domestic leadership. So did keeping together a coalition of countries with competing interests to agree to stricter agreements on Iran. But Obama did it.

And he topped it off by again supporting a deal on climate change in Paris. The only thing he couldn’t control was discord at home on those same issues. But he was leading on the global stage. It may not have been the leadership Republicans wanted, but it was leadership nonetheless.

Apr 04

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

In a future post, I’ll argue that some actions are on their face/a priori immoral. (Conservatives have a big issue that qualifies in their minds.) And if some things can by their Kantian/Platonic nature be immoral, it isn’t a stretch to say genocide, murder, war crimes, torture and other horrible things are also on their face immoral, regardless of their supposed benefit to society.

I would put supporting dictatorships in that category.

Some candidates (and former candidates) for President disagree with me. Former Governors Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush and others expressed support for General Sisi in Egypt. Many of the candidates have expressed support for the monarchy of Saudi Arabia (and other dictatorial Gulf states). Donald Trump has expressed admiration for Putin and Xi Jinping. Ted Cruz and Trump have even gone so far as to not express hatred for Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi.

I don’t agree for two reasons.

First, either America was founded a set of universal ideals or it wasn’t

I have a simple piece of evidence that our Founding Fathers believed our values were universal: the Declaration of Independence [emphasis mine]. From the second paragraph:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

So America was founded on a set of ideals that the Founding Fathers wrote were self-evident and universal. More than that, it is based on the consent of the governed, that can only be derived from democratic principles. Any strong man, any dictator, any monarch, or any tyrant cannot claim that consent of the governed. If Republicans or Democrats want to support dictatorships, they are either conceding that Jefferson was wrong or ignoring our ideals or both. (And I’ll get to the wrong counter-argument about this in a moment.)

Second, to be clear, dictatorships just tend to be nasty.

It turns out Plato’s philosopher-kings just don’t exist.

Crimes against humanity--genocide, murder of innocents, violence against peaceful protestors, kidnappings, torture, stealing natural resources, rape--are staples of dictatorships. Saudi Arabia crushes democratic protests. Egypt murders innocent people. Putin silences the press. All of those dictatorships use torture.

I don’t mind saying that I don’t want to support crimes against humanity. I don’t want to support dictatorships that commit crimes against humanity. So I don’t want my government to support dictatorships. (And I can hear the critics saying, “Kidnappings? Torture? What about the United States of America?” Fair point. We shouldn’t do those things. And at least we have a democratic process to stop them and release “torture reports” and investigate. And we’re not nearly as abhorrent as any of the above examples.)

So the counter-argument that people trot out: we don’t have the resources to go around the world overthrowing dictatorships. Even the Founding Fathers knew that.

True, but I’m not asking for us to overthrow every dictatorship around the globe. There is a huge ocean of difference between passively supporting dictatorships and proactively overthrowing those same dictatorships. Just because I don’t support dictatorships, doesn’t mean I think we need to go around overthrowing dictatorships Iraq-style. Clearly when a dictatorship falls--Iraq, Libya and Syria come to mind--the aftermath is devastating. We can’t afford that.

My argument is simpler. I don’t want my government to passively or actively support any dictatorships with money, military equipment or diplomatic support. We shouldn’t give Saudi Arabia tanks to crush peaceful protests in Bahrain. We shouldn’t give Egypt millions of dollars in aid to allow it to murder civilians. We shouldn’t have propped up dictatorships around the globe during the Cold War. Whatever we get back in so called “national interest” isn’t worth the moral price.

At the very least, we shouldn’t support them with our rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Mar 23

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Police Shootings", please click here.)

Today, we’ve got five smaller thoughts on police shootings that weren’t large enough for a post, or made another post too long. (Ir)regardless, we wanted to share them with you. Consider this a “Director’s cut”, if you will, for our “Most Thought-Provoking Event of 2015”.

1. We were wrong about the Michael Brown shooting. And so are most liberals.

I should clarify: in a way, we were wrong, since many people interpreted the closing lines of our Slate piece, “The Surprising History of American Sniper’s “Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs” Speech” for (possibly) abdicating Michael Brown of any responsibility for what happened. Since we wrote that article, the Department of Justice released two reports. The first cleared Darren Wilson, saying Michael Brown, according to forensic evidence and reliable eyewitnesses, probably did go for Wilson’s gun. (The New Yorker has probably the best article on the whole thing.) And as many people pointed out, Michael Brown had just shoplifted.

Still, like Michael C wrote about the Tamir Rice shooting, it doesn’t mean the law enforcement community did the right thing. Darren Wilson was clearly over-aggressive in his handling of the entire incident. And as we wrote about in our second COIN post during this series, and as the second DoJ report made clear, the Ferguson police department engaged in systematic racism against the African-Americans in Ferguson.

And it remains an unjustified tragedy that a young man died for the crime of stealing less than five dollars worth of cigarillos.

That said, we spend a lot of time on this blog pointing out illogical or untrue things conservatives believe. In fairness, the Michael Brown shooting is a blind spot for liberals. I’ve tried to have this conversation with fellow liberals in Los Angeles about what actually happened; most don’t want to hear it.

2. Gun rights are racist.

Ironically, really. The Black Panthers inspired the gun control movement with their open-carry demonstrations in the 1960s. In response to gun control measures aimed at African-American protesters, the NRA transformed into its modern, far right, pro-guns incarnation.

But really, I’m talking about open carry gun rights.

Many modern gun rights activists have started openly carrying rifles and pistols, as an overt, in-your-face demonstration of their (believed) Constitutional rights. But frankly, if you’re black, you’d have to be insane to openly carry a gun in this country. You’re basically signing a death warrant. Think of Tamir Rice. Or John Crawford III. Or countless others. Police saw them and opened fire in seconds. If you’re black in America, carrying a gun is a license to, at best, get hassled by the police and, at worst, get shot by them.

3. A thought on crime and poverty.

Michael C and I were good kids growing up. From elementary to high school, we caused our parents little to no trouble. I got a detention, once, for being too loud. That’s about it. No drinking, smoking or premarital sex. That, of course, didn’t apply to everyone in our high school. There were kids who drank, got pregnant, died of overdoses, got bad grades, and so on. Some kids--with their church’s youth group--even stole a water truck at a construction site. But kids will be kids, and who can really blame teenagers for their actions, right? At some point, forgiveness kicks in, and you let kids grow up, which they do, becoming normal, law-abiding adults.

But a weird thing happened when those kids grew up: a bunch of them became police officers.

I remember, a few years after college, having this realization that, at least in Orange County, CA, cops spent a lot of their time chasing and patrolling themselves when they were teenagers. The difference is that most kids in Orange County still got a chance to grow up and “turn their lives around”, if that phrase even makes sense. This doesn’t apply to poor, minority communities in this country.

4. Did a sheepdog shoot a sheepdog?

Look at the Walter Scott shooting. If you buy into the analogy we’ve debunked before, you would interpret the shooting as a sheepdog (Michael Slager, a police officer) shooting a wolf (Walter Scott, who had a warrant out for his arrest) when the wolf tried to go for his taser. Then the video came out, showing Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back. Clearly a wolf (disguised as a sheepdog) shot a sheep (whose crime was not paying alimony, which shouldn’t be a death sentence). Oh, and both men were Coast Guards veterans, meaning a sheepdog-turned-wolf shot a former sheepdog.

Or maybe the analogy doesn’t make sense.

5. Remember, it’s always been this way.

Listening to music while writing up posts, I heard this:

“A young n**** got it bad cause I'm brown

And not the other color so police think

They have the authority to kill a minority

F*** that shit, cause I ain't the one

For a punk motherf***er with a badge and a gun

To be beating on, and thrown in jail

We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell

Fucking with me cause I'm a teenager...

That, of course, comes from one of the most important hip hop albums of all time, Straight Outta Compton on one of the most important songs of all time, “F*** tha Police”. I think we--white Americans--forget

that this issue is not new, despite the recent surge in news coverage. It’s always been this way. (And the response from conservatives is to rally around the police, just like they did in the 1980s when this song came out and just like they do today at Donald Trump’s rallies.)

Thank God (and cell phone technology) we’re finally seeing and (hopefully) addressing it.

Mar 21

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Police Shootings", please click here.)

I solved (well, mostly solved) the problem of police officer’s excessive use of force and power after rewatching an episode of Law and Order, specifically, the episode where Detective Green leaves the series to make Rent (the movie). After finding out that Detective Green had shot someone, Lieutenant Van Buren lays down the law to the Internal Affairs detectives, telling them point blank, “Detective Green isn’t talking to you until he has had a chance to consult his union lawyer.”

Wait, what?

See, Detective Green, in dozens of episodes, gets (tricks?) suspects into talking to him without a lawyer, or dissuades those few who do know their rights, saying things like, “You really want to get them involved?” “We can help you out if you don’t have a lawyer.” Lieutenant Van Buren often helped him, or begrudgingly relents when the suspect lawyers up in the interrogation room.

So what gives? Well, the police know that consulting with a lawyer makes it less likely that suspects will confess to something they did (or, in many cases, didn’t do). What struck me about the scene was that Lieutenant Van Buren treats the citizens of New York differently than she treats her own police officers.

It led me to a simple theory that I think would solve police shootings:

Police officers need to follow the Golden Rule.

That’s it. A huge amount of law enforcement wrongs violate this central tenet that runs through Christianity, Buddhism and countless other religions and philosophies. But the golden rule could still lend itself to interpretation. So let’s be clear on what the “Golden Rule for Policing” would mean:

Police officers must treat citizens as they would want themselves and fellow police officers to be treated.

This would have two major effects:

First, police would treat citizens better.

Think of the Laquan McDonald shooting in Chicago. From the first moment of the shooting, the police officers did everything they could to keep their fellow officers from going to jail and keep the shooting a secret. Compare that to how quickly police release mug shots for suspects for any other type of shooting or leak the suspect’s name to the media.

Instead we could craft policies and recraft our criminal justice system to take advantage of the Golden Rule. In short, the way police officers handle a police shooting is how every criminal prosecution should happen in America. A careful analysis of facts, caution in drawing conclusions, the overriding concern for the rights of the accused, the kid gloves treatment of suspects including ensuring they have legal representation and the chance to consult an attorney before they make a statement; these are the way police officers want to be treated in a criminal investigation.

In a way this is saying, “Hey, police officers, if you give your own brethren every benefit of the doubt, then you need to do the same for the citizens you serve.”

So police departments would ensure that every citizen gets the same treatment that any police officer suspected of a crime gets. That means lawyers would have to be present at every interview. No coerced interrogations. An impartial presentation of evidence to grand juries. Every suspect would get bail. The risk is fewer criminal prosecutions, but that is a risk that police officers willingly accept with their brethren on the force, so it is a risk all society should take with civilians.

Second, police would treat themselves harsher.

Ever been in a car with a police officer who gets pulled over for speeding? You know what they do? They pull out their badge. Most of the time, the cop who pulled them over will give them a pass. If they don’t, they think the cop who gave a speeding ticket to a fellow officer is a jerk. Compare that with the higher rate at which African-Americans get pulled over, stopped, searched, frisked and, in general, treated as a piggy bank by far too many communities.

Under a “Golden Rule for Policing”, officers would take much tougher stands against police misconduct. And there are much more serious issues than speeding.

Like domestic violence, which is much higher in police families than the civilian population. If the woman being abused isn’t related to a police officer, the abuser will most certainly spending the night in jail. And will probably face charges. If the suspected abuser is a police officer? Then likely nothing will happen. Police officers tend to give fellow officers the complete benefit of the doubt and don’t investigate allegations. It allows the issue to fester.

But it goes further than just domestic violence. Police officers have lied on witness statements in police shootings to protect fellow officers or themselves. Or when the official narrative is immediately overturned by camera footage, as Eric C wrote about recently. Under the “Golden Rule of Policing”, those actions are the worst betrayals of the badge.

My solution is, on its face, unrealistic. Or just very, very difficult to implement. Or too vague. But often when organizations have lost their way, focusing on their core values can be the solution. If police officers made this tenet their touchstone--as opposed to fierce loyalty to the badge--they could drastically improve the lives of all citizens in America.

A final note: this post should be a warning to every Christian police officer in America. Most police officers I would wager are conservative and religious. The Golden Rule absolutely applies to every action they take as police officers. The fact that some police officers treat citizens differently than their fellow citizens flies in the face of Jesus’ overriding maxim. Especially in a religious tradition that is based on the Golden Rule. It is literally one of two rules that Jesus said would replace all others. I hope more police officers take this to heart, especially when it comes to their fellow officers and citizens of this country.