June 10, 2008
|War Biz||War and Peace|
We all know that private contractors and others have been siphoning off billions of dollars in Iraq, but nobody has really tried to put a number on the total. Now the BBC thinks they have the number: $23 billion. With a B. BBC:
A BBC investigation estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq.
For the first time, the extent to which some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding has been researched by the BBC's Panorama using US and Iraqi government sources.
A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations.
The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.
While George Bush remains in the White House, it is unlikely the gagging orders will be lifted.
To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq.
The president's Democrat opponents are keeping up the pressure over war profiteering in Iraq.
Henry Waxman who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said: "The money that's gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, its egregious.
"It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history."
In the run-up to the invasion one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth seven billion that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company, which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president.
Unusually only Halliburton got to bid - and won.
If nobody goes to jail over this, we will well and truly know that we are living in a terminally corrupt, dying empire. A kleptocracy. When war is this profitable, and nobody is held accountable, war will never stop.
Will the Democrats act? I'm guessing they won't have the stomach for it. Prove me wrong.
November 15, 2007
|"Suicide Epidemic" Among US Vets||9/11, "War On Terror" Iraq War and Peace|
A CBS news investigation has found that US veterans are committing suicide at an alarming rate, led by young veterans of the US "war on terror." Herald Sun:
The US military is experiencing a "suicide epidemic" with veterans killing themselves at the rate of 120 a week, according to an investigation by US television network CBS.
At least 6256 US veterans committed suicide in 2005 - an average of 17 a day - the network reported, with veterans overall more than twice as likely to take their own lives as the rest of the general population.
While the suicide rate among the general population was 8.9 per 100,000, the level among veterans was between 18.7 and 20.8 per 100,000.
That figure rose to 22.9 to 31.9 suicides per 100,000 among veterans aged 20 to 24 - almost four times the non-veteran average for the age group.
"Those numbers clearly show an epidemic of mental health problems," CBS quoted veterans' rights advocate Paul Sullivan as saying.
CBS quoted the father of a 23-year-old soldier who shot himself in 2005 as saying the military did not want the true scale of the problem to be known.
"Nobody wants to tally it up in the form of a government total," Mike Bowman said.
"They don't want the true numbers of casualties to really be known." [...]
"Not everyone comes home from the war wounded, but the bottom line is nobody comes home unchanged," Paul Rieckhoff, a former Marine and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America said on CBS.
It's not just the horror and stress of combat. It's hard getting most people to kill, so recruits have to be subjected to intense conditioning. The military's gotten very good at this. I read somewhere that during the Second World War, only 25% of US soldiers actually fired their weapons in battle; in Korea, it was up to 50%; in Vietnam, 95%. But people aren't machines. You change their programming, and it's hard to change it back. Too little thought is given to the large-scale consequences of taking a significant fraction of young people, conditioning them in this way, and then returning them to the general population with their whole lives lying before them. It's hard on the veterans, obviously, but it also warps the psychological climate and culture of American society as a whole, and not in a good way. Yet another uncounted cost of war.
October 29, 2007
|It's All Downhill From Here||Economy Future Politics War and Peace|
Technocrats are technocrats because they like measurable things. Thus there is a great deal of discussion of peak oil, because oil production is a measurable thing. As someone who has written about peak oil longer than most, and understood its implications better, I would be the last person to diminish the importance of physical scarcity and lessening bandwidth as a problem for the global economy. Particularly in the light of our dependence on petroleum and other carbon based forms of energy. However our present spike in oil has nothing to do with peak oil directly, but instead everything to do with a gush of dollars. Peak dollar capacity, not peak production capacity, is what is making $100/bbl the new "over/under" number among the oil traders I talk to. [...]
The present spike of oil is, to some extent, driven by offshoring and demand. This decade is really like the 1920's not the 1930's. While prosperity has not reached many in the developed world, this has been a boom time for the developing world. When America was a developing nation, we profited from similar consumption binges in the then core nations of France, Great Britain and Germany. We are making the same mistakes they did in their time in the sun.
The real reason for the spike in oil prices is the pouring of dollars into the global economy meant to bail out the banking sector without imposing any accountability on the people who run it.
The coming World War
So Bernanke pumps dollars into the system, those dollars go elsewhere, and the difference - we stagnate while others advance - makes inevitable, and at this point I say inevitable - that there will come a point where military conflict will be used by those others to evict the United States from the privileged position of having 6% of the world's population and using 25% of the world's oil. That day is coming and the question now is how many millions of people will die when it arrives. Americans have declined, and will in 2008 decline again, to do anything to stop the arrival of a real world war, to replace this fake made for cable one. There aren't many any chances left. This same was true in the 1840's and 1920's. The real instability is yet to arrive.
When it does arrive there will be several islamic states with atomic weapons and the means to deliver them. They will, as the underdogs in the conflict, have the ability politically to use these weapons, perhaps assymetrically, to bring down an order that they do not need. New York City and London are simply too tempting as targets, and the counter attack against the oil fields would destroy what we need. The arabs do not need our financial centers for much longer, we will need the oil in such a conflict.
There is at this point nothing that will be done about this. The current leadership of the US, and of Europe, is completely committed to a global conflict in the future in order to keep doing what they are doing in the present. The right that people are willing to kill for is the right to overconsume what is underpriced. The disutility of oil - in physical terms of war, pollution and scarcity - is well under priced. The price of oil will rise to just below the cost of solving the problems. It will always be a little bit cheaper to pay Saudi Arabia an oil tax not to solve the problem, than to pay ourselves to solve the problem. Just as it was always a little bit cheaper to let slavery continue than to buy it out. That is, until such time as it was clear that there were two mouths and one slice of pie. That day is inevitable, because right now many people are happily munching on the pie. Don't exclude yourself.
What's next, the short term
Short term, if you see a maniac running down the street randomly shooting people while the police look on, bet that he will keep shooting until he runs out of bullets. George Bush will keep fighting in Iraq until the second he leaves office. Congress will keep handing this maniac bullets, and the Central Bank will keep looking the other way. Don't get too attached, to your kid's left arm. [...]
Coal. Bet on coal. Coal. Coal. Coal. Coal. Why? Because both China and the US have lots of it, and will want to use that to get out of dealing with their energy problems, or face economic contraction. [...]
However, this particular farce doesn't have much longer to run, already the process of buying up the financial sector by arabs and chinese interests is proceding. That means that soon the bankers and the other elite are going to start hating this expansion as much as the rest of the country...Bet that the trough after the recession will be, as the last two have been, long, slow, and hard.
This is why I shout this now: get rid of debt, and work your butt off for every bit of money you can now, because this is the last year or so that it will be really easy to do. After that, we might have an expansion, but you won't see any advantage from it.
What can our current political leadership do? Can? Lots of things. Are? Nothing.
They after all, are getting very well paid. 2004 was the most important election in your lifetime. 2008 is the least important election in your lifetime. Nothing is going to be decided. Nothing. [Emphasis added]
Have a nice day.
September 28, 2007
|The Mother Of All Shocks||Black Ops Corporations, Globalization War and Peace|
I'm reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, and I think it's an enormously important book. One of those books that can fundamentally restructure your mental model of how the world works. A real paradigm shift. I'll have more to say about it later. Still reading.
In the meantime, John Cusack does a good video interview with Klein, here. Go watch it.
The thesis, in a nutshell, is that recent history has seen a series of conscious, highly-organized efforts to exploit shocks — economic catastrophes, natural disasters, wars, 9/11, Katrina — to jam through "reforms" that people would never tolerate otherwise. Economic shock therapy, suspension of civil liberties, the Patriot Act and Gitmo, etc., etc. But above all, disaster capitalism — privatization of all kinds of formerly public functions, extending now even to privatized war-fighting. Enormous fortunes are being made by companies that now have a vested interested in more and bigger catastrophes. And it's not only about dollars. Each shock drives us further to the right politically. In the event of another shock of national scope — another 9/11, or worse — the groundwork has been laid to fundamentally alter just about everything about how the US government functions and the rights of US citizens.
Which brings us to Iran. I've been generally skeptical that Bush/Cheney will, when all is said and done, attack Iran. I've reported the warning signs, because I think that's the responsible thing to do, but I've been skeptical. Because the results of such an attack would be cataclysmic. Surely, they're not that reckless, that self-destructive, that crazy.
One of Past Peak's readers, however, raises a terrifying question: what if that very cataclysm is the desired result. The mother of all shocks, the one that will let our world be remade in undreamed of ways, practically overnight. The mother of all shocks — but in the eyes of some, the mother of all opportunities. I'm not saying it will happen, but here's the point. Should it happen, don't let yourself be swept away in the tide of shock and horror. Don't let yourself be paralyzed by fear. Realize what you are witnessing: the deliberate instigation of a catastrophe for the purpose of creating a window where anything goes. Keep your wits about you. Recognize the shock doctrine and disaster capitalism when you see them.
That's the ultimate importance of Naomi Klein's work: a psychological innoculation before-the-fact, so that next time we won't sit by dumb-founded as the jackals move in to pick our bones clean.
Even better, let's not sit by passively beforehand and just let the shock come. War with Iran is madness. We must prevent it.
September 27, 2007
|Masculinity As Conquest||Culture Ethics War and Peace|
Making the connections:
From Stan Goff and Audrey Mantey. Goff is a veteran of the US Army Rangers, Airborne, Delta Force, and Special Forces. He served in Vietnam, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Somalia, and Haiti. Which is to say, he knows a whole lot more about combat than you or I.
Here's his advice for people considering joining the military. Excellent:
(Via Feral Scholar)
September 26, 2007
|Privatizing War||Corporations, Globalization Iraq War and Peace|
A startling piece of information from John Robb. Private military contractors probably provide almost as many "trigger pullers" in Iraq as the entire US military does:
There are currently 20,000 PMC [Private Military Company] trigger pullers in Iraq. These men are guarding facilities and key people across the country. This is likely nearly the same number of trigger pullers (as opposed to support personnel) as the entire US military currently has in the country. Without these men, the US military would barely be able to field a force large enough to patrol Baghdad. [Emphasis added]
Privatization of war-fighting is bad news for a variety of reasons. It undermines democracy, because it is infinitely easier to sell a war that's fought by mercenaries than one fought by uniformed soldiers that people still think of as their sons and daughters. It removes accountability for the conduct of the fighting, since the contractors are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It supports the creation of standing private armies and fosters the further militarization of domestic law enforcement. And it creates a built-in constituency for more war. When war is a profit center, the obvious way to grow profits is to promote war. When PMCs have soldiers on the ground (not just in Iraq, but in many hotspots around the world), they have all sorts of opportunities to drum up business.
Where is this all headed? LA Times:
[Erik] Prince, the former Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater, is straightforward about his company's goal: "We're trying to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did for the Postal Service."
Since FedEx rendered the post office irrelevant for all but the most trivial forms of mail, this means you can kiss our national security apparatus goodbye. [Emphasis added]
The Founders considered any form of standing army a grave threat to liberty. And now we're going to convert much of the standing army into a profit-making enterprise under private control.
Whatever else corporations are, they are undemocratic: what the boss says, goes. And corporations are committed to maximizing growth. So when corporations have armies — when corporations are armies — how can it end well?
September 05, 2007
|Endless War||War and Peace|
John Robb makes a chilling set of observations that to me, at least, ring true. (Note: Robb uses "moral weakness" and "moral collapse" to refer to a nation's losing the will to continue a war. Unfortunate terminology, but his main points are still valid.)
If you think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will end with this US presidency, think again. These wars will likely outlast the next several Presidents. The old Vietnam era formulas don't apply anymore. The reason is that the moral weaknesses that have traditionally limited the state's ability to fight long guerrilla wars have dissipated, and modern states may now have the ability and the desire to wage this type of war indefinitely. Here's what changed:
- A radical improvement in marketing war. The US military learned from Vietnam that it needed to be much better at marketing wars to domestic audiences in order to prevent moral collapse. It has gotten better at this, and that information operations/strategic communications capability has reached a new level of effectiveness with General Petraeus. Despite this improvement, the military and its civilian leadership still don't have the ability to garner wide domestic support for guerrilla wars beyond the initial phases. However, they do have the ability to maintain support within a small but vocal base...and the capability to trump those that call for withdrawal (by keeping the faintest glimmer of potential success alive and using fear/uncertainty/doubt FUD to magnify the consequences of defeat). In our factional political system, that is sufficient to prevent withdrawal.
- The threat that justifies the state and the perpetual war that codifies it. The ongoing threat of terrorism has become the primary justification for the existence of a strong nation-state (and its greatest instrument of power, the military) at the very moment it finds itself in decline due to globalization (or more accurately: irrelevance). The militarization of "the war against terrorism" reverses this process of dissipation, since it can be used to make the case for the acquisition of new powers, money, and legitimacy (regardless of party affiliation) — for example, everything from increases in conventional military spending to the application of technical reconnaissance on domestic targets. Of course, this desire for war at the political level is complemented by the huge number of contractors (and their phalanxes of lobbyists) attracted by the potential of Midas level profits from the privatization of warfare. The current degree of corporate participation in warfare makes the old "military industrial complex" look tame in comparison.
- The privatization of conflict. This is likely the critical factor that makes perpetual warfare possible. For all intents and purposes, the US isn't at war. The use of a professional military in combination with corporate partners has pushed warfare to the margins of political/social life. A war's initiation and continuation is now merely a function of our willingness/ability to finance it. Further, since privatization mutes moral opposition to war (i.e. "our son isn't forced to go to war to die") the real damage at the ballot box is more likely to impact those that wish to end its financing. To wit: every major presidential candidate in the field today now gives his/her full support to the continuation of these wars. [Emphasis added]
There have always been war profiteers, but where they used to provide just weapons and materiel, they now increasingly provide the very armies themselves. And where war-profiteering was once considered shameful, if not illegal, we've now got what amounts to a "war bubble", a giddy frenzy of profiteering and corruption. See, for example, Rolling Stone's The Great Iraq Swindle, where we read:
[T]here was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. "Yes — $100 bills in plastic wrap," Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about [security contractor] Custer Battles. "We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while." [Emphasis added]
This privatization of war-fighting is an extremely ominous development. Just as for-profit prisons create a built-in constituency for putting more and more people behind bars, for-profit war-fighting creates a built-in constituency for war. War becomes just another business, an especially lucrative one. It will go on and on and on.
Endless war will destroy us. Not for nothing was endless war one of the hallmarks of Orwell's 1984. Orwell lives.
July 05, 2007
|Despicable||Extremism Politics War and Peace|
Go read this, and follow its links.
These are very dangerous, very despicable people. Absolute lunatics.
January 20, 2007
|Poverty Is A Security Issue||Development War and Peace|
Economist Jeffrey Sachs, leading light of the UN's Millenium Development Goals project, points out that eradicating poverty is in the security interest of the world's rich nations. Poverty creates instability, conflict, and war. Reuters:
Curbing poverty in Third World countries will not only satisfy life and death needs for the poor but also provide security for rich nations, one of the world's best-known economists said on Wednesday.
Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to the United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals, said extreme poverty was fuelling conflicts in places such as Somalia and Sudan's Darfur region.
"Instability will grow where poverty festers in an extreme form, that's what we're seeing in the Horn of Africa. This isn't a crisis about Islam, this isn't a crisis about geopolitics, this is essentially a crisis of extreme poverty," Sachs said.
"Whether it's Darfur or Somalia or other conflict regions, people are in conflict because they're so poor they cannot stay alive — that's what needs to be addressed for security for rich countries," he told a news conference in Nairobi.
Sachs said it was targeted investments in tools like mosquito nets, medicines and fertilisers that would help in the fight against poverty.
"Africa's small-holder farmers could double or triple their crop yield within even a single season if they have access to improved inputs," he said. [Emphasis added]
Unfortunately, rich nations make an enormous amount of money supplying arms to the world — which makes for a conflict of interest, to put it mildly. The US is the biggest arms dealer by far, but all five permanent members of the UN Security Council are heavily involved. And nearly half of weapons exports go to the developing world. While instability may not be in the interest of the US population as a whole, it is very much in the interest of enormously powerful sectors of US society. Ditto for the world's other rich nations. War is big business; poverty reduction, not so much.
One more example of capitalism's fatal flaw — profitability is a poor, in fact a potentially suicidal, organizing principle for human activity: it may well be more profitable to destroy the world than to save it, and it may well be more profitable to kill people than to make them prosper. The free market can be very good at working out how to make something, but it's often not good at all at determining what to make. Actually, it's often not so good at the how either, since it fails to take account of environmental destruction and other so-called "externalities" that are left out of profitability calculations. So people can devote enormous energy and resources to making weapons, creating all sorts of toxic waste in the process, and, from the perspective of mainstream economics, their activity is entirely rational — more rational, in fact, than working for peanuts to help poor people lift themselves up. A crazy notion of "rationality," that.
January 12, 2007
|Lessons Not Learned||Iran War and Peace|
As Bush sends a second carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf, days after putting a Navy Admiral in command of two land-locked wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems clear that the intended target is Iran. Maybe the intent is to intimidate Iran, not to attack it, but it sure doesn't feel that way. The ships will be sitting ducks, inviting attack, so their presence only makes war more likely.
In modern warfare, ships don't fare well, a fact demonstrated in dramatic fashion in the Pentagon's Millenium 2002 wargame. From Wikipedia's account:
Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02) was a major wargame exercise conducted by the United States armed forces in mid-2002, likely the largest such exercise in history. The exercise, which ran from July 24 to August 15 and cost 250 million dollars, involved both live exercises and computer simulations. MC02 was meant to be a test of future military "transformation" — a transition toward new technologies that enable network-centric warfare and provide more powerful weaponry and tactics. The simulated combatants were the United States, denoted "Blue", and an initially unknown adversary in the Middle East, "Red". Most of the people on the U.S. side assumed that the adversary in the game would be Iraq, but it was later revealed that the other side was simulating the military forces of Iran, the only Middle Eastern state that most observers feel has a strong ability to counter an American military engagement.
In the early days of the exercise, Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps general Paul K. Van Riper, launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles, overwhelming the Blue forces electronic sensors, destroying thirteen warships. Soon after that offensive, another significant portion of Blue's navy was "sunk" by an armada of small Red boats carrying out both conventional and suicide attacks, able to engage Blue forces due to Blue's inability to detect them as well as expected. At this point, the exercise was suspended and Blue's ships were "re-floated". In addition, Red's command used motorcycle messengers to evade Blue's sophisticated electronic surveillance network and transmit orders to front-line troops.
There were many within the upper echelons of the Department of Defense that found the results displeasing and it was decided that the wargame should be started over. The rules of the exercise were essentially changed shortly thereafter, with the different sides ordered to follow predetermined, scripted plans of action, leading to allegations that the exercise was scripted and "$250 million was wasted". General Van Riper resigned soon after, concerned that the wargame would serve to merely reinforce an increasing notion of infallibility within the U.S. military rather than serve as a learning experience. [Emphasis added]
In a real conflict, there will be no "re-floating", no do-overs. But as Iraq demonstrates all too clearly, the US leadership hasn't learned the central lesson: technology alone doesn't win wars. Denial is subject to rude awakenings.
In an interview with Nova, General Van Riper said something very telling. In an environment where an adversary knows the US is determined to attack, its best strategy is to strike first. This is how his Red team had such success:
My belief at the outset of Millennium Challenge was that Blue believed it had a monopoly on preemption, and it would strike first. And, of course, in any war game I was familiar with up to that point, that had never been the case. The U.S. had only gone to war as a result of some aggression by an enemy, and so always had to react. Now that it was announced policy that we reserved the right to do that, the Blue force was going to take full advantage of it and plan to strike first.
So I simply stepped back and said, "What advantage is there for Red to wait for Blue to strike?" There was none. And that lead to the natural conclusion that if they're coming, and we can't persuade them not to diplomatically, then we will strike.
As I looked at an ultimatum that gave me less than 24 hours to respond to what literally was a surrender document, it was clear to me that there was no advantage in any of this diplomacy. I was very surprised that the Joint Forces Command personnel who had argued for using all of the elements of national power—the economic, the diplomatic, the political information—in some sort of coherent fashion, really came at Red with a blunt military instrument. So it was clear to me that this was not going to be negotiated, this was going to be a fight. And if it was going to be a fight, I was going to get in the first blow. [Emphasis added]
Iran is rapidly being put in the position Van Riper faced: cave or fight. No diplomacy. At some point, they may come to the same conclusion Van Riper did, that they may as well strike first. Even more likely, and therefore more dangerous, is the possibility that as more and more ships are moved to the Gulf, some freelancer will take a potshot with a missile and that will become the excuse for war. Maybe that's the point. Dangle enough targets, and sooner or later shots will be fired and war will begin.
January 08, 2007
|Bio-Weapons For The Masses||Future Global Guerrillas Science/Technology War and Peace|
Computer technology advances exponentially, as described by Moore's Law, the observation that computing power per unit cost doubles every 18 months or so. Biotechnology is increasingly an application of computing, which is one of the reasons why it, too, advances exponentially. Nanotechnology, ditto.
The rapid evolution of biotech means that before long — within a decade, certainly — individuals and small groups worldwide will have the means to develop pathogens as weapons of terror. They won't need to get their hands on anything exotic — nothing comparable to trying to acquire fissile material for nukes — and the tools, skills, and knowledge will be readily available because of their importance to private-sector biotech.
[Carlson provides] evidence that biotechnology is improving at rates equal or better than Moore's law. These "Carlson Curves" plot the reduction in cost and the improvements in productivity available to individual practitioners. This means that very soon, in less than a decade, the technologies necessary for individuals to build catastrophic pathogens will be cheap and widely available. "Labs on a chip" are in the offing. The knowledge and information necessary for developing catastrophic pathogens will be globally dispersed. As Carlson points out, work that used to require a PhD a couple of years ago is now accomplished by lightly trained technicians. Further, the low capital costs of laboratory development and its importance to the private sector means that this training and technology will be widespread. Finally, most of the information necessary for even extremely dangerous pathogens is available online. There are no material barriers to the production of biological weapons. While certain reagents are currently controlled, the manufacturing processes for these materials and their widespread usage pose few barriers to circumvention. Unlike nuclear proliferation, there aren't any natural choke points.
Robb suggests further that, analogous to what has been happening in the realm of Internet computer crime, criminal networks will arise that will "actively produce weapons of bioterror for profit, and thereby become critical contributors to the global open source war now underway."
For centuries, states held a monopoly on the means of large-scale violence. Globalization is bringing that monopoly to an end. In an era when the collective knowledge of humanity is increasingly available to anyone with an Internet connection, when people and goods are free to move pretty much anywhere in the world, overnight, and when weapons of mass destruction suddenly can be microscopic applications of ubiquitously available technology — all bets are off.
This is a recipe for scenarios with a potential lethality perhaps limited only by perpetrators' consciences. Given that large numbers of people have no conscience, it's not an encouraging picture.
October 27, 2006
|Into 5GW||Global Guerrillas War and Peace|
The nature of war is changing rapidly, morphing into what might deserve to be called "fifth generation warfare". Read John Robb's discussion, here. No point in my summarizing it: it couldn't be more succinct. The US leadership doesn't understand what's happening to them, and they are doomed therefore to fail. Being a "superpower" no longer guarantees victory, if it ever did. It's more likely a case now of "the bigger they come, they harder they fall."
October 24, 2006
|Cindy Sheehan Considers Forming A Third Party||Activism Politics War and Peace|
Joshua Frank interviews Cindy Sheehan at GNN:
Joshua Frank: Cindy, we are in the armpit of another election season and it seems that the mainstream antiwar movement is rallying behind the Democrats once again, hoping if the Dems can just recapture the House that the Republicans will finally be held accountable for all their horrible faults. Impeachment will follow and the war will end. What do you think? Where do you stand on all of this?
Cindy Sheehan: I hold very little hope that, due to the utter corruption of our electoral system, and the Republican reign of terror and fear against the American public, the Democrats will even take back one or more Houses of Congress.
Even if the Democrats take back the lower House, the potential Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) has already said that impeachment would not be "in the cards." Rep. John Conyers (D-Mi) has also backed off of impeachment rhetoric. Since Bush has said over and over again that the troops aren't coming home while he is president, it is up to us to make sure that his presidency is cut short.
We all know that the Vietnam War ended when Congress cut its funding. There is a bill that has been sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern, (D-Ma) HR4232 that cuts funding to leave our troops in Iraq, but he has very little support and even a smaller chance of getting it to the floor for a vote. I believe that most representatives don’t support the bill because they will be accused of "not supporting the troops." I believe that it is not supporting the troops to leave them in that nightmare.
Although I admire the Democrats on many issues, when it comes to war and peace, most get their pockets lined by the same corporate interests.
No matter which party has control of Congress come November, we the people have to keep the pressure up to stop the current course our country is taking.
Frank: You are currently serving on the Board of Directors for the
Progressive Democrats of America, a pro-Democrat organization that calls for reform of the Democratic Party from within. The PDA consistently ignores progressive antiwar alternatives to the Democrats. Do you think that such a position could actually hurt the antiwar movement? Should we instead be supporting antiwar candidates who want to hold both parties accountable?
Sheehan: I think that the PDA endorses candidates based on their entire platforms. Of course, I only care about candidate's record on the war and what they say about peace. I prefer to call our movement a "peace" movement, because "antiwar" is too narrow.
I think it would be great if we didn't need a PDA, if all Democrats were progressive peace candidates, but we know they are not.
I would vote for a Republican if they were calling for the withdrawal of troops and for impeachment, and I definitely think a viable third party could rein in the "two" parties we have now.
We will never have a viable third party, though, as long as we vote out of fear and not out of integrity. Instead of voting for the "lesser of two evils" we should be voting for a candidate that reflects our "beatitudes" and not the war machine's. [...]
Frank: I've heard a rumor that you may be looking to start your own third party. Is that true?
Sheehan: Yes, it is true. I think that to save our democracy our country needs a viable and credible third party. This nation was founded on rule by a few rich white males, and for all intents and purposes, we are still ruled by a corporate elite.
We need a third party that will represent all the people, not just the wealthy. [Emphasis added]
Cindy Sheehan is the kind of figure who could mobilize the passionate support needed to make a meaningful third party possible. She's the closest thing we have to a Martin Luther King or a Gandhi.
Her energy is the energy of peace, not of angry opposition. It's what we all hunger and thirst after. It's what the world desperately needs. And it's time for a woman to lead.
I hope she goes for it.
October 10, 2006
|North Korean Test A Dud?||War and Peace|
There seems to be some doubt as to whether the North Koreans did, in fact, succeed in setting off a nuclear explosion. See, for example, here, here, here, and here. The issue will likely be resolved in a few days.
September 12, 2006
|Rationalizing Our Way To Disaster||Global Guerrillas Iraq War and Peace|
John Robb talks sense, as usual:
We are now at the start of a long process of rationalization over the US defeat in Iraq. The most common of these rationalizations include: if only we had "...not disbanded the Baathist army," "...sent in more troops," or "...become better at nation-building." However, in each case the approach is one dimensional, since we tend to view ourselves as the only actors on the stage. The actions and reactions of the opposition are discounted and explained away as fluff and background noise (those pesky terrorists...).
A better, and more sane approach, is to embrace the concept that war is a conflict of minds. There are two sides. For every change in approach there will be counters mounted by the opposition. In the case of Iraq, that opposition was extremely difficult to beat since it was organized along the lines of open source warfare. This organizational structure gave it a level of innovation, resilience, and flexibility that made it a very effective opponent. Given this, the simplest explanation for the outcome in Iraq is that we were just beaten by a better opponent (the Israeli's seem to be getting this, why can't we?).
The real question we should be asking ourselves is whether or not our maximalist goals in Iraq could ever have been achieved given the capabilities of the opposition and the limited levels of commitment we were able to bring to to bear on the problem. I suspect the answer is no. The goals didn't match our capabilities and there weren't any simple tweaks to our strategy that would have changed the outcome. This was a difficult way to learn this lesson, but given our tendency towards rationalization, I doubt that it will be learned at all.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. [Emphasis added]
There's a fundamental irrationality in the Pentagon's approach to fighting this new kind of war: namely, its reliance on high-tech weapons — i.e., machines that kill — instead of methods that produce a political outcome. No amount of killing will produce the desired political outcome. Working at a political level is hard work, though — all those languages to be learned, and so on. Not much money in it, either. Way more fun and way more profit in building high-tech weapons, even if, in the long run, they cannot win. The weapons makers still get paid regardless, and if there's anything humans are good at, it's rationalizing their own self-interest.
August 22, 2006
|Garbage In, Garbage Out||Media Palestine/Middle East War and Peace|
Take a look at this shamelessly propagandistic slide show from The Jerusalem Post. Stunningly one-sided.
The problem with turning propaganda against your own population, whether in Israel, here in the US, or anywhere else, is that the short-term gains turn into long-term disaster: a population whose heads have been stuffed with phony nonsense is incapable of choosing well.
Accurate information has survival value. Garbage in, garbage out.
August 19, 2006
|Brutality Corrupts||Global Guerrillas Palestine/Middle East War and Peace|
Israelis are asking themselves why the IDF in Lebanon has failed to achieve the kind of decisive victory that was seen in past wars. One answer, surely, is that modern national armies are ill-equipped to defeat increasingly sophisticated guerrilla forces intermingled with supportive civilian populations. All the smart bombs in the world aren't much help if there aren't any suitable targets.
Tom Segev, writing in Haaretz, suggests some other hypotheses. The most interesting of these is "the internal connection between the quality of the IDF's functioning in Lebanon and the occupation and the oppression in Gaza and the West Bank." Segev:
There is a generation of soldiers whose main military experience involves the oppression of the Palestinian population in the territories; they have not been trained for real war.
Like the chief of staff, the soldiers of the occupation have developed infinite arrogance. Every private is a king in the territories: If he so wishes, he allows a Palestinian to go through the roadblock; if he so wishes, he orders him to remove his pants. The power of the occupation has implanted a profound contempt for the Palestinians in many soldiers, and this is the essence of their experience as soldiers.
The Palestinian terror and its suppression have also granted legitimacy to a very serious systematic undermining of the Palestinians' human rights. The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from their homes, as though it were permissible routine, was carried out in this spirit as well. As opposed to the past, there was almost no protest in Israel... [Emphasis added]
Actions have consequences. Chickens come home to roost. Brutality blunts and weakens the perpetrator. If you act like oafish goons, before long you become oafish goons. You forget who you were before.
Israeli brutality vis-a-vis the Palestinians is bad enough, but what the US is doing in Iraq is far worse. The impact on our national character is already being felt. The longer we continue, the more hideous the consequences will be. Call it karma, if you like, or just call it psychology. But one way or the other, we will pay.
August 14, 2006
|John Robb On What's Coming||Global Guerrillas Iran Palestine/Middle East War and Peace|
John Robb, the guy to read on fourth generation warfare and the rise of loosely-affilated, globalized, non-state forces that he calls global guerrillas, has posted an ominous analysis of what lies in store. Scary stuff. I don't know that I agree with all of it, but it's essential reading, so I'm taking the liberty of reproducing it in full:
As most readers of this blog already know, its focus is on putting the jigsaw pieces of a mega-trend together: the rise and evolutionary improvement of non-state foes. In this blog, we've tracked and analyzed everything from 9/11's terrorism to Iraq's open source warfare to Afghanistan's black globalization to Nigeria's system disruption to Hezbollah's fourth generation warfare. It's been a wild ride. Unfortunately, this process of evolution has caused a big problem. With each improvement in the capabilities of non-state groups, states have become more confused. Worse yet, they are blaming each other for the problems they are encountering with these groups.
This tension and confusion has now reached a tipping point, akin to the situation that preceded WW1. Nation-states, confused and locked into antiquated mindsets, are likely to stumble into a global war. To wit: Israel's loss to Hezbollah and the US loss of Iraq to civil war puts both countries into an untenable strategic situation. Instead of blaming themselves for an inability to reach victory, they are priming themselves for a confrontation with the perceived 'source' of the problem: Iran. As it stands right now, war with Iran is likely inevitable. It really doesn't matter whether it is caused by a US (or Israeli) air campaign against Iran, an Iranian pre-emptive special operation, or a simple error: it's on the way.
For better or worse, this impending war will not follow a familiar pattern of conflict we are used to. It will quickly evolve into something much more chaotic, an epochal conflict between non-states and states over control of vast sections of the globe. Here's how. Any attack on Iran will be constructed in a way to force regime change (my belief is that it will be an airpower EBO [effects-based operation — an attack on essential infrastructure] as we saw twice in Iraq and in a pale replica: Lebanon). When this doesn't occur quickly, and as regional chaos spreads due to Iranian counter-attacks the conflict will escalate to a ground invasion. At that point, the Iranian state will cease to exist in any recognizable form. A plethora of energized non-state foes will populate the landscape in its stead. These groups won't yield, and will bog the invasion down into a never ending counter-insurgency.
Stretched to its limit, the US and its remaining allies will not be able to stop the process of self-replication that will occur. Non-state global guerrillas, armed with the evolved capabilities analyzed on this blog, will begin a process of regional destabilization that will sweep many of the nearby autocracies into the dustbin of history. This process will in turn create more armed non-state groups and thereby more foes. Further, this war will quickly expand beyond the Middle East as these forces make attacks on global targets and other non-state groups take advantage of the resulting economic and social chaos.
Western nation-states, to bolster defenses against this chaos, will throw up barriers and enact measures in many ways akin to those of police states and totalitarian governments. This round of globalization will end, which will cause economic contraction, resource shortages, and chaos. [Emphasis added]
Strangely enough, our best hope for avoiding a catastrophe may lie with the military officer corps. The civilian leadership seems completely out of touch with the military realities, and they have shown that they don't much care what the public thinks. But if the military leadership can keep their wits about them, perhaps they can take the craziest options off the table. Let's hope they read John Robb.
August 11, 2006
|Jets And Nets||Corporations, Globalization Global Guerrillas War and Peace|
Globalization is everywhere eroding the power of nation-states. Capital flows where the terms are most favorable. Corporations pick up stakes and move where labor is cheapest and environmental regulation most lax. Nations play ball or they find jobs and money flying out the door.
Globalization undermines nation-states in another way as well: by abetting insurgencies by "global guerrillas" (John Robb's term). The nation-state's monopoly on military violence is rapidly coming to an end. As the US is learning in Iraq, and Israel in Lebanon, all the high-tech weaponry in the world doesn't count for much when your adversary is not a nation-state but a loose affiliation of guerrillas fighting a fourth-generation war. The US/Israeli style of war is actually counter-productive, since it produces a failed state where 4GW adversaries thrive.
Just as capital and corporate operations flow where the terms are most favorable, global guerrillas — and, more importantly, their know-how — flow where their enemies are most vulnerable. An essential point here is that global communications mean that global guerrillas themselves don't have to physically move from place to place to be effective. Their example moves freely, and local guerrilla "entrepreneurs" watch and learn. Know-how moves around the world at the speed of light. It's akin to "open-source" software development, as John Robb emphasizes.
It is paradoxical, and more than a little ironic, that the technology trends that have abetted Western hegemony may finally prove its undoing.
Science-fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling, ever the master of the pithy phrase, has an excellent article along these lines at Wired, where he talks about the power of "jets and nets":
If there are two technologies that have shaped the life I lead today, they're jets and nets. Affordable airfare lets me go where the action is — wherever adventure beckons, necessity compels, or duty calls — without having to establish residency anywhere. And the Internet lets me do business and stay in touch no matter where I find myself.
Cheap flights and ubiquitous worldwide communications are the stuff of globalization. Ready travel lets people oppressed at home taste the joys of free society, while the Net exposes them to the ideas and customs underpinning that social order. The effect is viral, spreading liberal values and economic growth to benighted dictatorships and hopeless pits of poverty. So it's difficult to grasp that these two innovations might also be an imminent menace to Western civilization. Yet that's the counterintuitive thesis of UK rear admiral Chris Parry, a Falklands vet, former commander of HMS Fearless, and the British military's go-to guy for identifying emerging threats.
During a recent briefing at the time-honored Royal United Service Institute — the oldest military think tank in the world, founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington — Parry imagined a future, circa 2030, in which the war on terror is still rolling along and the terrorists are winning. He describes a world so ripped up by nets and jets that sovereign nation-states like the UK are collapsing economically, politically, even physically. Then there are the people of that future, who hop from country to country and bear allegiance to none. "Globalization makes assimilation seem redundant and old-fashioned," he noted, pointing out that, rather than dissolving into the melting pot of their host nations, immigrants are increasingly maintaining their own cultural identity. Jets and nets make this possible. "Groups of people are self-contained, going back and forth between their countries, exploiting sophisticated networks and using instant communication on phones and the Internet." The result, Parry says, is "reverse colonization," in which the developing world's teeming masses conquer Western nations, as surely as the Goths sacked Rome.
It's easy to pigeonhole Parry as an isolationist — and, indeed, much of the public response to his speech came from anti-immigration wackos who said, "We knew it all along." But he has plenty of forward-thinking company in these ideas. According to a loose school of "fourth-generation warfare" theorists, connected, globe-trotting terrorists are a bigger threat to the world order than hostile nations are. The technological drivers of globalization have enabled stateless barbarians to seize the initiative. You can't keep them out by blocking the border, and the harder you smash the failed states that nurture them, the more they thrive. At the first sign of weakness, these new-wave Vandals will log on to urge their diasporic compatriots to attack you on your own soil. Failing that, they'll hop on the next flight, pick up their baggage, and sidle into Starbucks to download the latest instructions from Abu Ayyub al Masri.
Parry paints a grim picture. Still, his vision gives me an affirmative feeling about the future. If civilization is to overcome barbarism, its leaders must outthink the marauders. And the sturdy admiral's foresight is a bold step in that direction. "An analysis of trends and drivers can only go so far," he writes. "We also need to expect the unexpected — shocks will occur." He's not saying, "Kick the Arabs out of Europe"; he's saying we need to anticipate the emergence of stateless aliens and rethink how host societies can integrate them. That's a rare display of intellectual flexibility in a government official. Compare it with the Pentagon's reflexive tendency to lash out when challenged (if we can't kill bin Laden, we’ll crush Saddam) and with the Bush administration's plaint that nobody could have expected airliner attacks, Iraqi intifadas, or crumbling levees. We'll stop being blindsided when we grasp tomorrow's shocks better than the bad guys do — and that's a positive, not a negative, scenario. [...]
We live in a deeply paradoxical age, and it will take serious mental agility to navigate the years to come. Capable and imaginative people, both inside and outside of barbarity, are beginning to realize this. And for every person who does, civilization gains a better chance of survival. [Emphasis added]
There's a much bigger potential positive that may come out of all this, though not without our being subjected to considerable turbulence and suffering in the meantime. Namely, as nation-states begin to realize that they cannot defend themselves militarily from 4GW resistance, they may come to understand that their best defense is to finally deal positively, in good faith, with the underlying causes of resistance. In fact, that may turn out to be their only defense. It's like the bumper sticker says: no justice, no peace. So, for example, the way to defend against Palestinian resistance is to give the Palestinians what they should have been given long ago: a state of their own.
There's a reason why the US and Israel are attacked, but Sweden, say, is not: people have real grievances against the US and Israel. That is the source of the violence. It's likely, of course, that the US and Israel will continue to try to solve the problem militarily, but it's a losing battle, one that may, in the end, reduce US and Israeli power to tatters. Nation-states that insist on beating their heads against the wall will fall away, like General Motors, which insists on continuing to build yesterday's cars in today's (or tomorrow's) world.
Turbulent times lie ahead as things become increasingly fluid and the pace of change continues to accelerate. Stay alert out there. Adapt, or go extinct.
July 30, 2006
|Doubling Down||Iran Iraq Palestine/Middle East War and Peace|
[Israeli] Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the United States that the US would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria. [Emphasis added]
He goes on to say:
[T]here do appear to be forces in Washington — seemingly the stronger ones, with Rice just a facade — who see this whole thing as an opportunity for a grand call of double or nothing to get out of the disaster they've created in the region. Go into Syria, maybe Iran. Try to roll the table once and for all. No failed war that a new war can't solve. [Emphasis added]
That's my fear as well, that the Bush/Cheney regime has painted itself into such a desperate corner that doubling down may seem, as Billmon put it a few months back, "like the only move left on the board." Billmon:
What we are witnessing...may be an example of what the Germans call the flucht nach vorne – the "flight forward." This refers to a situation in which an individual or institution seeks a way out of a crisis by becoming ever more daring and aggressive (or, as the White House propaganda department might put it: "bold") A familar analogy is the gambler in Vegas, who tries to get out of a hole by doubling down on each successive bet.
Classic historical examples of the flucht nach vornes include Napoleon's attempt to break the long stalemate with Britain by invading Russia, the decision of the Deep South slaveholding states to secede from the Union after Lincoln's election, and Milosevic's bid to create a "greater Serbia" after Yugoslavia fell apart.
As these examples suggest, flights forward usually don't end well — just as relatively few gamblers emerge from a doubling-down spree with their shirts still on their backs.
It's depressing to think how much human suffering is caused by a handful of men with big egos. Some guys would rather take us all down in flames than admit error or defeat. But there's something unbelievably archaic about issues like war and the fate of nations being held hostage to the pyschopathology of individual men (and maybe a few women) in leadership positions. It's like we think we're still a small band of primates living in the forest somewhere: the alpha males call the shots. Time to grow up.
June 14, 2006
|Robert Newman's History Of Oil||Activism Humor & Fun Media War and Peace|
This is absolutely, bar none, the most brilliant piece of political video ever. Also the funniest. No contest.
Learn the real cause of the First World War. Learn what Salvador Dali's checkbook has to do with the Axis of Evil and the current invasion of Iraq. And many more things besides.
June 02, 2006
|Memorial Day||Poetry War and Peace|
One more from Jay Leeming.
Let me set the scene. This past Monday morning, Memorial Day, on the lakeside terrace at the Hotel Cheguamegon in Ashland, Wisconsin, on the shore of Lake Superior. A glorious breakfast with my daughter Molly and a dozen or so dear friends, some old, some new, the capstone to a wonderful celebratory weekend together. Our friend Mary has already read aloud this hilarious Leeming poem, and everyone is in high spirits. Meanwhile, in the park next door, Memorial Day festivities are underway: on the stage in the bandshell, aging veterans in VFW hats, occasional volleys as the color guard fires its salutes.
Then Mary reads this:
All historians should be supermarket cashiers.
Imagine what we'd learn;
"Your total comes to $10.66,
and that's the year the Normans invaded Britain."
Or, "That'll be $18.61, the year
the Civil War began."
Now all my receipts are beaches
where six-year-olds find bullets in the sand.
My tomatoes add up to Hiroshima,
and if I'd bought one more carton of milk
the cashier would be discussing the Battle of the Bulge
and not the Peloponnesian War.
But I'm tired of buying soup cans
full of burning villages,
tired of hearing the shouts of Marines
storming beaches in the bread aisles.
I want to live in a house
carved into a seed
inside a watermelon —
to look up at the red sky
as shopping carts roll through the aisles
like distant thunder.
The first stanza is greeted with delighted laughter, but the laughter soon fades as the awareness grows that pretty much any number one can think of — up through 2006, anyway — corresponds to some horrific battle in some unimaginably savage war.
What a strange species we are. Isn't it time we grow up?
May 27, 2006
|Making Us Safer||Afghanistan Iran Iraq War and Peace|
The International Institute for Strategic Studies' annual global security assessment says Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea threaten a "perfect storm" of simultaneous crises. Guardian:
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the west's growing confrontation with Iran, and efforts to divest North Korea of its nuclear weapons are all approaching crucial turning points that could combine to create a perfect storm of simultaneous international crises, independent defence experts said yesterday.
Launching the International Institute for Strategic Studies' (IISS) annual assessment of global security threats, John Chipman, its director general, said: "Many parts of the world are engaged in brutal combat ... Overall, the dangerous triptych of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran continues to dominate the security agenda as do the wider, iconic problems of terrorism and proliferation." [...]
Dr Chipman said the new Iraqi government faced "fundamental challenges" that could quickly overwhelm its attempts to hold the country together and invite regional intervention. "It is doubtful that a collective sense of Iraqi nationalism can survive in a context of increasing sectarian violence and the continuing security vacuum. Democracy has exacerbated Iraq's ethnic and religious tensions, with voters largely dividing along Sunni, Shia and Kurdish lines." [...]
Presenting the report, entitled The Military Balance, Dr Chipman warned of a rising Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan aimed at British and Nato troops who are replacing some US forces. "This year will be crucial for Afghanistan as well as for Nato as it expands its mission into the south," he said. "The Taliban are likely to increase their operational tempo - not least because they know that casualties among European Nato states may mobilise domestic opinion against the war." [...]
The IISS said North Korea had obtained enough plutonium to build between five and 11 nuclear weapons and long-running talks to induce Pyongyang to disarm were at an impasse.
In an implicit criticism of Washington's policy of ostracism and financial sanctions, Dr Chipman said North Korea had concluded that "the Bush administration is not serious about negotiations and [has] hostile intent". [...]
The report also highlighted growing US concerns about China's military build-up and intentions, quoting the findings of the recent US Quadrennial Defence Review. It said China was "a power at a strategic crossroads that is still pointing largely in the wrong direction and which has the greatest potential to emerge as a military rival to the US". [Emphasis added]
Everything they're doing is making us less safe, not safer. Swat hornets' nests with baseball bats and then wonder why all the stinging: not exactly a sign of intelligence.
May 06, 2006
|Rumsfeld And "The Intelligence Business"||Politics War and Peace|
When he was confronted the other day in Atlanta by CIA veteran Ray McGovern, Rumsfeld claimed he hadn't lied about Iraqi WMD. He hadn't lied, because he had been fooled by bad intelligence from the CIA. He hadn't lied, because, Rumsfeld said, "I'm not in the intelligence business." Which, of course, is itself a lie if there ever was one.
The Defense department is home to numerous intelligence agencies, which collectively dwarf the CIA. According to the official website of the US Intelligence Community:
Three major intelligence agencies in the Department of Defense (DoD) — the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) — absorb the larger part of the national intelligence budget. NSA is responsible for signals intelligence and has collection sites throughout the world. The NRO develops and operates reconnaissance satellites. The NGA prepares the geospatial data — ranging from maps and charts to sophisticated computerized databases — necessary for targeting in an era dependent upon precision guided weapons. In addition to these three agencies, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is responsible for defense attaches and for providing DoD with a variety of intelligence products. Although the Intelligence Reform Act provides extensive budgetary and management authorities over these agencies to the Director of National Intelligence, it does not revoke the responsibilities of the Secretary of Defense for these agencies. [Emphasis added]
In addition to the NSA (the largest US intelligence agency), NRO, and NGA, the DoD is home to Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, Marine Corps Intelligence, and Navy Intelligence, as well as various Special Forces and other clandestine ops capabilities. And Rumsfeld has long pushed hard to increase the Pentagon's autonomy in intelligence-gathering and clandestine ops.
In December, I noted something called the Counterterrorism Field Activity (CFIA) that seeks to centralize all counterterrorism intelligence collection inside the United States under Pentagon control.
Rumsfeld has also been extending the Pentagon's reach in human intelligence and black ops activities abroad. WaPo:
While the stature and role of the CIA were greatly diminished under Goss during the congressionally ordered reorganization of the intelligence agencies, his counterpart at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, continued his aggressive efforts to develop a clandestine intelligence operation within his department. The Pentagon's human intelligence unit and its other clandestine military units are expanding in number and authority. Rumsfeld recently won the ability to sidestep U.S. ambassadors in certain circumstances when the Pentagon wants to send in clandestine teams to collect intelligence or undertake operations.
"Rumsfeld keeps pressing for autonomy for defense human intelligence and for SOF [Special Forces] operations," said retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang, former head of Middle East affairs at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "CIA has lost the ability to control the [human intelligence] process in the community."
Now, "the real battle lies between" Negroponte and Rumsfeld, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick, a former deputy national security adviser and once a senior official at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "Rumsfeld rules the roost now." [Emphasis added]
Pretty impressive for a guy who's "not in the intelligence business."
April 17, 2006
|Imagine||War and Peace|
Imagine George Bush reciting John Lennon's "Imagine." Or, watch it here. The bitterest sort of irony.
April 12, 2006
|Going Nuclear||Iran War and Peace|
[Originally posted 4/11, but re-posted to bring it back to the top.]
If the US uses nuclear weapons against Iran, as US planners are reportedly contemplating, the real purpose will almost certainly be to break the long-standing taboo against the use of nukes. Why? Because the US is pushing hard to establish a first-strike nuclear capability vis-a-vis Russia and China. Making that threat credible requires that Russia and China be made to believe that the US is prepared to go nuclear.
An article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs explains the US's new-found nuclear primacy. It would be hard to overstate the importance of this material. You may have thought that US nuclear weapons development has been on hold since the end of the Cold War. Far from it. Out of public view, tectonic shifts in US nuclear policy and capability are underway. I've excerpted the article at some length, but I urge you to read on:
For almost half a century, the world's most powerful nuclear states have been locked in a military stalemate known as mutual assured destruction (MAD). By the early 1960s, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union had grown so large and sophisticated that neither country could entirely destroy the other's retaliatory force by launching first, even with a surprise attack. Starting a nuclear war was therefore tantamount to committing suicide. [...]
[T]he age of MAD is nearing an end. Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States' nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia's arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China's nuclear forces. Unless Washington's policies change or Moscow and Beijing take steps to increase the size and readiness of their forces, Russia and China — and the rest of the world — will live in the shadow of U.S. nuclear primacy for many years to come. [...]
Since the Cold War's end, the U.S. nuclear arsenal has significantly improved. The United States has replaced the ballistic missiles on its submarines with the substantially more accurate Trident II D-5 missiles, many of which carry new, larger-yield warheads. The U.S. Navy has shifted a greater proportion of its SSBNs to the Pacific so that they can patrol near the Chinese coast or in the blind spot of Russia's early warning radar network. The U.S. Air Force has finished equipping its B-52 bombers with nuclear-armed cruise missiles, which are probably invisible to Russian and Chinese air-defense radar. And the air force has also enhanced the avionics on its B-2 stealth bombers to permit them to fly at extremely low altitudes in order to avoid even the most sophisticated radar. Finally, although the air force finished dismantling its highly lethal MX missiles in 2005 to comply with arms control agreements, it is significantly improving its remaining ICBMs by installing the MX's high-yield warheads and advanced reentry vehicles on Minuteman ICBMs, and it has upgraded the Minuteman's guidance systems to match the MX's accuracy.
Even as the United States' nuclear forces have grown stronger since the end of the Cold War, Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal has sharply deteriorated. Russia has 39 percent fewer long-range bombers, 58 percent fewer ICBMs, and 80 percent fewer SSBNs than the Soviet Union fielded during its last days. The true extent of the Russian arsenal's decay, however, is much greater than these cuts suggest. [...]
Compounding these problems, Russia's early warning system is a mess...If U.S. submarines were to fire missiles from areas in the Pacific, Russian leaders probably would not know of the attack until the warheads detonated. [...]
To determine how much the nuclear balance has changed since the Cold War, we ran a computer model of a hypothetical U.S. attack on Russia's nuclear arsenal using the standard unclassified formulas that defense analysts have used for decades. We assigned U.S. nuclear warheads to Russian targets on the basis of two criteria: the most accurate weapons were aimed at the hardest targets, and the fastest-arriving weapons at the Russian forces that can react most quickly. Because Russia is essentially blind to a submarine attack from the Pacific and would have great difficulty detecting the approach of low-flying stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missiles, we targeted each Russian weapon system with at least one submarine-based warhead or cruise missile. An attack organized in this manner would give Russian leaders virtually no warning.
This simple plan is presumably less effective than Washington's actual strategy, which the U.S. government has spent decades perfecting. The real U.S. war plan may call for first targeting Russia's command and control, sabotaging Russia's radar stations, or taking other preemptive measures — all of which would make the actual U.S. force far more lethal than our model assumes.
According to our model, such a simplified surprise attack would have a good chance of destroying every Russian bomber base, submarine, and ICBM. This finding is not based on best-case assumptions or an unrealistic scenario in which U.S. missiles perform perfectly and the warheads hit their targets without fail. Rather, we used standard assumptions to estimate the likely inaccuracy and unreliability of U.S. weapons systems. Moreover, our model indicates that all of Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal would still be destroyed even if U.S. weapons were 20 percent less accurate than we assumed, or if U.S. weapons were only 70 percent reliable, or if Russian ICBM silos were 50 percent "harder" (more reinforced, and hence more resistant to attack) than we expected. (Of course, the unclassified estimates we used may understate the capabilities of U.S. forces, making an attack even more likely to succeed.)
To be clear, this does not mean that a first strike by the United States would be guaranteed to work in reality; such an attack would entail many uncertainties. Nor, of course, does it mean that such a first strike is likely. But what our analysis suggests is profound: Russia's leaders can no longer count on a survivable nuclear deterrent. And unless they reverse course rapidly, Russia's vulnerability will only increase over time.
China's nuclear arsenal is even more vulnerable to a U.S. attack. A U.S. first strike could succeed whether it was launched as a surprise or in the midst of a crisis during a Chinese alert. China has a limited strategic nuclear arsenal. The People's Liberation Army currently possesses no modern SSBNs or long-range bombers. Its naval arm used to have two ballistic missile submarines, but one sank, and the other, which had such poor capabilities that it never left Chinese waters, is no longer operational. China's medium-range bomber force is similarly unimpressive: the bombers are obsolete and vulnerable to attack. According to unclassified U.S. government assessments, China's entire intercontinental nuclear arsenal consists of 18 stationary single-warhead ICBMs. These are not ready to launch on warning: their warheads are kept in storage and the missiles themselves are unfueled. (China's ICBMs use liquid fuel, which corrodes the missiles after 24 hours. Fueling them is estimated to take two hours.) The lack of an advanced early warning system adds to the vulnerability of the ICBMs. It appears that China would have no warning at all of a U.S. submarine-launched missile attack or a strike using hundreds of stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missiles. [...]
Given the history of China's slow-motion nuclear modernization, it is doubtful that a Chinese second-strike force will materialize anytime soon. The United States has a first-strike capability against China today and should be able to maintain it for a decade or more.
Is the United States intentionally pursuing nuclear primacy? Or is primacy an unintended byproduct of intra-Pentagon competition for budget share or of programs designed to counter new threats from terrorists and so-called rogue states? Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy. For one thing, U.S. leaders have always aspired to this goal. And the nature of the changes to the current arsenal and official rhetoric and policies support this conclusion. [...]
Some may wonder whether U.S. nuclear modernization efforts are actually designed with terrorists or rogue states in mind. Given the United States' ongoing war on terror, and the continuing U.S. interest in destroying deeply buried bunkers (reflected in the Bush administration's efforts to develop new nuclear weapons to destroy underground targets), one might assume that the W-76 upgrades are designed to be used against targets such as rogue states' arsenals of weapons of mass destruction or terrorists holed up in caves. But this explanation does not add up. The United States already has more than a thousand nuclear warheads capable of attacking bunkers or caves. If the United States' nuclear modernization were really aimed at rogue states or terrorists, the country's nuclear force would not need the additional thousand ground-burst warheads it will gain from the W-76 modernization program. The current and future U.S. nuclear force, in other words, seems designed to carry out a preemptive disarming strike against Russia or China.
The intentional pursuit of nuclear primacy is, moreover, entirely consistent with the United States' declared policy of expanding its global dominance. The Bush administration's 2002 National Security Strategy explicitly states that the United States aims to establish military primacy: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." To this end, the United States is openly seeking primacy in every dimension of modern military technology, both in its conventional arsenal and in its nuclear forces.
Washington's pursuit of nuclear primacy helps explain its missile-defense strategy, for example. Critics of missile defense argue that a national missile shield, such as the prototype the United States has deployed in Alaska and California, would be easily overwhelmed by a cloud of warheads and decoys launched by Russia or China. They are right: even a multilayered system with land-, air-, sea-, and space-based elements, is highly unlikely to protect the United States from a major nuclear attack. But they are wrong to conclude that such a missile-defense system is therefore worthless — as are the supporters of missile defense who argue that, for similar reasons, such a system could be of concern only to rogue states and terrorists and not to other major nuclear powers.
What both of these camps overlook is that the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one — as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability, not as a standalone shield. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal — if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes, because the devastated enemy would have so few warheads and decoys left. [Emphasis added]
While we're worrying about Iraq, and maybe Iran, they're playing many moves ahead. One is reminded of Ron Susskind's quote:
[A senior administration aide told me] that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." [Emphasis added]
These people are preparing to take us down a very dark path indeed. As Bill Hicks used to ask, "How does it feel to find out we are the Evil Empire?"
Update: [11:14 PM] Consider for a moment how utterly devoid all this is of any form of democratic input. We can only discern our own country's policy with respect to something as momentous and horrific as a nuclear first-strike (and we're talking here about attacks that would, in the case of a country like Russia, have to involve many hundreds or thousands of nuclear weapons) by doing what we would do to discern another country's policy: we have to look at what kind of weapons are being developed and reverse-engineer their intended purpose.
All of this is happening far from public view, with exactly zero public input. No doubt it's entirely obvious to the Russians and Chinese what's going on. It's no secret to them. It's a secret only to the American public, and it is completely out of our control. So much for democracy.
March 06, 2006
|Question War||Activism War and Peace|
The new, improved yellow ribbon.
February 27, 2006
|Marching Into Quicksand||Iraq War and Peace|
Nobody's going to want to be the one to "lose" Iraq by ordering a US withdrawal, but somebody's going to have to do it. Meanwhile, hubris and pride keep us marching deeper into the quicksand. Two and a half millenia ago, the Greek tragedians already knew how the gods punish hubris: with nemesis — catastrophe and destruction. Stubborn denial solves nothing. The longer we procrastinate, the angrier the gods get. With good reason.
February 08, 2006
|Military Budget Growing Like Cancer||Politics War and Peace|
In the White House budget for the fiscal year ending in October 2007, Pentagon funding would increase by nearly 7 percent and, for the first time in Bush's presidency, claim more than half the government's expenditure on discretionary programs, those that get set each year. The $439.3 billion that the plan devotes to the military is 45 percent greater than the Pentagon budget when Bush took office five years ago. [Emphasis added]
But that's only a portion of military spending. WaPo:
The proposed budget is only a part of the costly national defense picture. It does not include $120 billion in planned new funding for military and other operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, $70 billion for this year and $50 billion for 2007.
That money is included in separate legislation and would come on top of the $320 billion the White House budget office said has been allocated for the wars so far, pushing costs since the start of the conflicts through early next year to about $440 billion.
The Pentagon budget also does not include $9.3 billion in the Energy Department's budget for maintaining the nuclear arms stockpile. [Emphasis added]
These people are bankrupting the country, and to what end? It's insanity. Literally.
Suppose this were put to a vote: Do you want the country to spend well over a half trillion dollars on war while social programs, environmental programs, health and education are being cut across the board? I don't think there's a snowball's chance that voters would opt for pissing the country's wealth away like this. The fact that it happens anyway tells you all you need to know about the health of American democracy.
January 24, 2006
|Nigerian Attacks On Oil Infrastructure Continue||Global Guerrillas Peak Oil War and Peace|
Following up on two earlier posts about the ability of global guerrillas to significantly impact the world-wide price of oil via attacks on oil infrastructure — now that the world has no spare oil production capacity to speak of — here's an item on the ongoing guerrilla campaign against Nigerian oil exports. AP:
Camouflage-clad attackers raided an Italian oil company's riverside offices in Nigeria on Tuesday, sparking a gunfight that left nine people dead before assailants fled by speedboat into the oil-rich delta's waterways.
The attack on Agip's offices in the southern oil center of Port Harcourt is the latest in a recent rash of violence across the restive Niger Delta that has killed nearly two dozen people, cut petroleum production in Africa's largest oil exporter and helped push up prices of crude worldwide. [Emphasis added]
They know exactly what they're doing and why: hitting the West where it's most vulnerable. We have to assume this is only the beginning.
January 23, 2006
|Economic Warfare By Targeting Systems Infrastructure||War and Peace|
More from John Robb. Iraq is teaching global guerrillas that the West's Achilles heel is systems disruption via targeted attacks against economically-important infrastructure. Robb:
Recent information indicates that the concept [of attacking the West by attacking economically-important infrastructure] has become the topic of widespread discussion among members of Jihadi forums. On these forums there is a growing realization that the only way to damage the West strategically (without a nuclear weapon) is through the destruction of critical global economic networks. Stephen Ulph of Jamestown summarizes recent activity on these forums. His group found detailed documents that provide explicit instructions on facilities and pipelines that are termed global "economic joints". For example, one set of instructions provided data on the Alaskan oil distribution infrastructure and recommendations for maximizing the value of the attack.
While this effort is still in its adolescence, Ulph has detected signs of the type of collaborative open source development we have seen among guerrilla groups in Iraq. If so, it will advance to maturity rapidly. As that happens, be prepared to see a growing emphasis on the selection of targets...that cause cascading system failures...
NOTE: It's important to remember that in this epochal war, the guerrillas don't need to achieve either an absolute moral or economic victory. All that is needed in this hyper-competitive globalized economic environment is an effort that damages the ability of the target state to compete — Adam Smith's invisible hand will quickly take care of the rest. [Emphasis added]
The most developed countries are the most vulnerable to this kind of attack, given their dependence on complex, tightly-coupled systems/networks. And given the enormous number of possible targets, defense is going to be very, very difficult.
|The Thumb On The World's Jugular||Future Peak Oil War and Peace|
World oil production is barely keeping up with demand. There's no spare capacity, no slack in the system. John Robb points out an enormously significant consequence: from here on out, global guerrillas can control the price of oil via relatively minor disruptions in the supply system. This puts one hell of a weapon into their hands. Excerpt:
The control over the price of oil is in now in the hands of global guerrillas — the open source, system disrupting, transnational crime fueled, sons of global fragmentation covered by this author. These actors can now, at will, curtail the supply of oil through low tech attacks on facilities in Iraq, Nigeria, central Asia, and India. The amount of oil effectively under their control exceeds five million barrels a day, more than Saudi Arabia's two million barrels a day of swing production.
It's important to note that this capacity to disrupt production is substantially different than any terrorist threat we have faced in the past. With terrorism, the potential of damage has always been from single large attack on a major facility or node (extremely difficult to accomplish and relatively easy to recover from). Today's threat is based on sustainable disruption — ongoing, easy, low-tech attacks that are nearly impossible to defend against (everything from pipeline destruction to employee kidnapping). [...]
This situation is merely the first stage in the larger epochal war between non-state groups and nation-states. It is by no means the worst of what we will need to deal with...In the meantime, given that the demand for oil continues to increase (due to the growth of China and India primarily) combined with the inability to bring new supplies to market, the price of oil will continue to climb. $100+ a barrel oil is not unforeseeable. [...]
The success of guerrillas to control production in Iraq and Nigeria will spawn similar developments in other locations. High on that list is Russia, the world's largest oil producer, and the Caspian Sea producers. [Emphasis added]
Guerrillas are already significantly curtailing oil exports from Iraq and Nigeria. And as Robb says, there's no stopping them. How are you going to guard thousands of miles of pipeline? Decentralized, freelance, non-state actors with their thumb on the jugular of the industrialized world. Welcome to the twenty-first century.
January 18, 2006
|Global Guerrillas And Open-Source Warfare||Future Iraq War and Peace|
The article cited in the previous post, illustrating the adaptability of the Iraqi insurgents, is also linked to by John Robb of Global Guerrillas. Robb, counter-terrorism veteran and software entrepreneur, has lots of interesting things to say about the future of warfare. See his blog, here.
Central to Robb's thinking is the idea that insurgencies around the world are increasingly decentralized, loosely-coupled, networked affairs created by "global guerrillas" who employ rapidly evolving tactics, often based on systems disruption swarms. A hallmark of the global guerrilla is open-source warfare, where the analogy is to open-source software development. Global guerrillas innovate, and their innovations are rapidly disseminated in a decentralized, viral fashion facilitated by global communications and the Internet. They learn from one another in real-time. Robb writes:
[T]he insurgency isn't a fragile hierarchical organization but rather a resilient network made up of small, autonomous groups. This means that the insurgency is virtually immune to attrition and decapitation. It will combine and recombine to form a viable network despite high rates of attrition. Body counts — and the military should already know this — aren't a good predictor of success.
...[O]ut-innovating the insurgency will most likely prove unsuccessful. The insurgency uses an open-source community approach (similar to the decentralized development process now prevalent in the software industry) to warfare that is extremely quick and innovative. New technologies and tactics move rapidly from one end of the insurgency to the other, aided by Iraq's relatively advanced communications and transportation grid — demonstrated by the rapid increases in the sophistication of the insurgents' homemade bombs. This implies that the insurgency's innovation cycles are faster than the American military's slower bureaucratic processes (for example: its inability to deliver sufficient body and vehicle armor to our troops in Iraq).
The Pentagon is big, clunky, hierarchical Microsoft; the insurgency is Linux and the Internet: rapidly mutating, highly networked, decentralized, loosely-coupled, constantly learning. The Pentagon can't keep up. In the long run (or maybe not so very long), it doesn't stand a chance.
Global communications and the Internet are changing the world at an exponential pace. It was inevitable that they would change warfare, too.
December 16, 2005
|US Torture Didn't Start With Bush||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics War and Peace|
In their zeal to point out just how bad the Bush administration is, many of its critics talk as if the pre-Bush US was a paragon of virtue. So, for example, Bush's war in Iraq has killed tens of thousands, possibly more than 100,000, Iraqis. A horrifying number, to be sure, worthy of condemnation and outrage. But let's not forget that many times that number of Iraqis died because of the Clinton administration's economic sanctions against Iraq during the 90s. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people the US and its agents killed in Central America under Reagan and Bush I, or the 3-4 million people the US incinerated in Southeast Asia under Johnson and Nixon.
Perhaps nowhere is this historical amnesia more evident than in the current discussion of the Bush administration's use of torture. As Naomi Klein reminds us, the US has been making systematic use of torture for decades. Excerpts:
[T]he US military ran the notorious School of the Americas from 1946 to 1984, a sinister educational institution that, if it had a motto, might have been "We do torture."...[It is there that] the roots of the current torture scandals can be found. According to declassified training manuals, SOA students — military and police officers from across the hemisphere — were instructed in many of the same "coercive interrogation" techniques that have since migrated to Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib: early morning capture to maximize shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food "manipulation," humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions — and worse. In 1996 President Clinton's Intelligence Oversight Board admitted that US-produced training materials condoned "execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion and false imprisonment." [...]
[T]he embrace of torture by US officials long predates the Bush Administration and has in fact been integral to US foreign policy since the Vietnam War.
It's a history that has been exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his upcoming book A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy [author of The Politics of Heroin] synthesizes this unwieldy cache of evidence, producing an indispensable and riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls "no-touch torture," based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs.
It's not only apologists for torture who ignore this history when they blame abuses on "a few bad apples" — so too do many of torture's most prominent opponents. Apparently forgetting everything they once knew about US cold war misadventures, a startling number have begun to subscribe to an antihistorical narrative in which the idea of torturing prisoners first occurred to US officials on September 11, 2001, at which point the interrogation methods used in Guantánamo apparently emerged, fully formed, from the sadistic recesses of Dick Cheney's and Donald Rumsfeld's brains. Up until that moment, we are told, America fought its enemies while keeping its humanity intact.
The principal propagator of this narrative...is Senator John McCain....McCain says that when he was a prisoner of war in Hanoi, he held fast to the knowledge "that we were different from our enemies...that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or approving such mistreatment of them." It is a stunning historical distortion. By the time McCain was taken captive, the CIA had already launched the Phoenix program and, as McCoy writes, "its agents were operating forty interrogation centers in South Vietnam that killed more than twenty thousand suspects and tortured thousands more." [...]
Does it somehow lessen the horrors of today to admit that this is not the first time the US government has used torture to wipe out its political opponents — that it has operated secret prisons before, that it has actively supported regimes that tried to erase the left by dropping students out of airplanes? That, at home, photographs of lynchings were traded and sold as trophies and warnings? Many seem to think so. On November 8 Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott made the astonishing claim to the House of Representatives that "America has never had a question about its moral integrity, until now." Molly Ivins, expressing her shock that the United States is running a prison gulag, wrote that "it's just this one administration...and even at that, it seems to be mostly Vice President Dick Cheney." [...]
Other cultures deal with a legacy of torture by declaring "Never again!" Why do so many Americans insist on dealing with the current torture crisis by crying "Never Before"? I suspect it has to do with a sincere desire to convey the seriousness of this Administration's crimes. And the Bush Administration's open embrace of torture is indeed unprecedented — but let's be clear about what is unprecedented about it: not the torture but the openness. Past administrations tactfully kept their "black ops" secret; the crimes were sanctioned but they were practiced in the shadows, officially denied and condemned. The Bush Administration has broken this deal: Post-9/11, it demanded the right to torture without shame, legitimized by new definitions and new laws.
Despite all the talk of outsourced torture, the Bush Administration's real innovation has been its in-sourcing, with prisoners being abused by US citizens in US-run prisons and transported to third countries in US planes. It is this departure from clandestine etiquette, more than the actual crimes, that has so much of the military and intelligence community up in arms: By daring to torture unapologetically and out in the open, Bush has robbed everyone of plausible deniability.
For those nervously wondering if it is time to start using alarmist words like totalitarianism, this shift is of huge significance. When torture is covertly practiced but officially and legally repudiated, there is still the hope that if atrocities are exposed, justice could prevail. When torture is pseudo-legal and when those responsible merely deny that it is torture, what dies is what Hannah Arendt called "the juridical person in man"; soon enough, victims no longer bother to search for justice, so sure are they of the futility (and danger) of that quest. This impunity is a mass version of what happens inside the torture chamber, when prisoners are told they can scream all they want because no one can hear them and no one is going to save them.
In Latin America the revelations of US torture in Iraq have not been met with shock and disbelief but with powerful déjà vu and reawakened fears...Dianna Ortiz, an American nun who was brutally tortured in a Guatemalan jail, said, "I could not even stand to look at those photographs...so many of the things in the photographs had also been done to me. I was tortured with a frightening dog and also rats. And they were always filming."
Ortiz has testified that the men who raped her and burned her with cigarettes more than 100 times deferred to a man who spoke Spanish with an American accent whom they called "Boss." It is one of many stories told by prisoners in Latin America of mysterious English-speaking men walking in and out of their torture cells, proposing questions, offering tips. Several of these cases are documented in Jennifer Harbury's powerful new book, Truth, Torture, and the American Way. [...]
The terrible irony of the anti-historicism of the current torture debate is that in the name of eradicating future abuses, these past crimes are being erased from the record. Every time Americans repeat the fairy tale about their pre-Cheney innocence, these already hazy memories fade even further. The hard evidence still exists, of course, carefully archived in the tens of thousands of declassified documents available from the National Security Archive. But inside US collective memory, the disappeared are being disappeared all over again. [...]
Already there are signs that the Administration will deal with the current torture uproar by returning to the cold war model of plausible deniability. The McCain amendment protects every "individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government"; it says nothing about torture training or buying information from the exploding industry of for-profit interrogators. And in Iraq the dirty work is already being handed over to Iraqi death squads, trained by US commanders like Jim Steele, who prepared for the job by setting up similarly lawless units in El Salvador. [...]
Lawmakers will respond to pressure by eliminating one small piece of the torture apparatus — closing a prison, shutting down a program, even demanding the resignation of a really bad apple like Rumsfeld. But, McCoy says, "they will preserve the prerogative to torture." [Emphasis added]
As Klein points out, there is something truly ominous about a society's openly embracing torture while blandly proclaiming that whatever it does is, by definition, not torture. This is the stuff of Orwell and Pravda. But let's not kid ourselves. The US, like all exceptionally powerful nations throughout history, has routinely engaged in any number of bloody crimes.
We have the opportunity now, with torture out in the open and staring us in the face, to work to end it once and for all. We must resist all moves merely to push it back into the shadows so we can once again pretend our hands are clean.
And the mention of an "exploding industry of for-profit interrogators" is particularly horrifying. Please let's not let it come to that.
November 30, 2005
|AK-47s, Rocket Launchers, And Tanks Into Plowshares||Activism War and Peace|
For that special someone on your holiday shopping list, Good Gifts (link via WorldChanging) lets you purchase an AK-47 (for £25), rocket launcher (£55), or tank (£1000) left over from the civil war in Sierra Leone. What happens then? Good Gifts:
Enterprising blacksmiths and metal workers convert them into farm implements so that a Kalashnikov becomes hoes and axe heads and a rocket launcher transforms into pickaxes, sickles and even school bells. The indisputable heavyweight champ is a tank (or a heavy duty 16 wheeler) that can provide a year's work for 5 blacksmiths, turning it into 3,000 items vital to equip a farming village of 100 families. Jobs, tools, agriculture. It isn't everyday that what you long for comes true.
Although the Good Gifts site provides few details about how it's accomplished (and how everyone's certain that the AK-47 goes to the blacksmith and not the local militia), the organization behind the site, the Charities Advisory Trust, is reputable, and several UK media outlets have profiled the Good Gifts program.
Swords into plowshares, using money received from people all over the world, made possible by the Internet.
November 08, 2005
|The Gift||Ethics Palestine/Middle East War and Peace|
The vital organs of a Palestinian boy mistakenly killed by the Israel Defense Forces last week have been transplanted into the bodies of six Israelis, after the boy's family donated his organs "for the sake of peace between peoples," Israel Radio reported.
Ahmed al-Khatib, 12, was fatally shot during clashes in Jenin last week, when IDF troops mistook the toy gun he carried for a real rifle.
Three Israeli girls, two Jewish and one Druze, underwent surgery Sunday to receive Al-Khatib's lungs, heart and liver. Twelve-year-old Samah Gadban had been waiting for a heart for five years when doctors called her family late Saturday and told them of the Al-Khatib donation. By Sunday afternoon, the Druze girl had a new heart and was recovering at Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petah Tikvah.
"This morning, I did not know anything about the boy. I only knew that the doctors said they had a heart," said Samah's father, Riad. "I don't know what to say. It is such a gesture of love...I would like for [the family] to think that my daughter is their daughter." [Emphasis added]
October 20, 2005
|War Waning Globally||War and Peace|
Now for some good news. CSM reports on a new study that shows, contrary to what must of us probably believe, wars and other forms of violent conflict worldwide are decreasing in number and level of violence. Excerpt:
...a report based on a three-year study by a group of international researchers. Contrary to widespread public perception, they find that the world is witnessing fewer wars - and those wars that do occur are killing fewer people.
The study, released Monday at the UN, also concludes that global conflict-prevention and postconflict peacebuilding efforts are becoming more numerous and more effective.
"We knew the number of wars was coming down, because that has been around in academic circles for a while, but particularly surprising is how the decline in wars is reflected right across the board in all forms of political conflict and violence," says Andrew Mack, head of the Human Security Center at the University of British Columbia. He directed the team that delivered the report.
That means that not only are interstate wars down, but so are civil conflicts, as well as other forms of political violence like human-rights abuses.
The report finds that the total number of conflicts declined by 40 percent since the cold war ended. The average number of deaths per conflict has also declined dramatically, from 37,000 in 1950 to 600 in 2002. The study found 25 civil conflicts last year - the lowest number since 1976.
Why the vast improvement? The report credits an "explosion of efforts" in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The number of UN "preventive diplomacy" missions and government-based "contact groups" aimed at resolving conflicts has risen sharply in the last decade.
Other specialists note that the number of democracies in the world is growing. And democracies, recent history suggests, do not go to war against each other. [...]
At the same time, he says that a strengthening sense of an "international community" is changing world thinking on when warfare is acceptable.
War in Afghanistan, viewed by the world as a response to an attack, was seen as legitimate, says Mr. Stoll. Iraq, judged more as a war of choice, he adds, was not. [...]
Norris says failures in Rwanda, the Balkans, and Sierra Leone in the 1990s taught the international community what doesn't work. Peacekeeping operations are now "more robust, and we're generally better at postconflict activities." [...]
[T]he findings, he says, should help debunk fears that global human security is deteriorating.
Why do those fears persist, despite countervailing evidence? Mack lays principal blame on the media, which he says dwell on conflict while paying less attention to "quiet successes" and under-the-surface trends.
And he notes that people's perceptions are slow to change. In South Africa, for example, people continue to think that murder and other violence are getting worse, even thought statistics show that those threats are decreasing. [My emphasis]
An extraordinary set of findings. Great news, which definitely runs counter to what I would have expected. You too?
If the report's authors are correct that UN efforts at conflict prevention and resolution are an important contributor to these positive trends, that's a story that needs to be disseminated widely. The propaganda here in the US is certainly that the UN is ineffectual and corrupt. This report tells another side of that story: the UN is humanity's friend. What's our answer to that? John Bolton.
And why is our perception so slanted? One might almost conclude that there are people in high places with a vested interest in keeping us afraid. You think?
October 07, 2005
|Hearing Voices||Politics Religion War and Peace|
Bush says God speaks to him. He calls him George. Guardian:
George Bush has claimed he was on a mission from God when he launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a senior Palestinian politician in an interview to be broadcast by the BBC later this month.
Mr Bush revealed the extent of his religious fervour when he met a Palestinian delegation during the Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Egpytian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, who was Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did." [My emphasis]
This is not just a person who believes God speaks to him. This is a person who believe God speaks to him, who also happens to command enough nuclear and conventional weapons to destroy the world many times over.
There is something unbelievably archaic and reckless about putting that much power in the hands of a single human being. It's like we think we're still a small band of primates living in the forest somewhere. The alpha male calls the shots.
Nobody should have that much power. Nobody. Human beings are highly fallible creatures. Sometimes, they're just flat out crazy. The only reason we accept the current state of affairs is that we are completely and foolishly in denial about its implications. But down here in the real world, not all stories have happy endings.
August 13, 2005
|Thugs In Suits||Activism Iraq War and Peace|
It has quickly become clear that Iraq is not a liberated country, but an occupied country. We became familiar with that term during the second world war. We talked of German-occupied France, German-occupied Europe. And after the war we spoke of Soviet-occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, eastern Europe. It was the Nazis, the Soviets, who occupied countries. The United States liberated them from occupation.
Now we are the occupiers. True, we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but not from us. Just as in 1898 we liberated Cuba from Spain, but not from us. Spanish tyranny was overthrown, but the US established a military base in Cuba, as we are doing in Iraq. US corporations moved into Cuba, just as Bechtel and Halliburton and the oil corporations are moving into Iraq. The US framed and imposed, with support from local accomplices, the constitution that would govern Cuba, just as it has drawn up, with help from local political groups, a constitution for Iraq. Not a liberation. An occupation. [...]
But more ominous, perhaps, than the occupation of Iraq is the occupation of the US. I wake up in the morning, read the newspaper, and feel that we are an occupied country, that some alien group has taken over. I wake up thinking: the US is in the grip of a president surrounded by thugs in suits who care nothing about human life abroad or here, who care nothing about freedom abroad or here, who care nothing about what happens to the earth, the water or the air, or what kind of world will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.
More Americans are beginning to feel, like the soldiers in Iraq, that something is terribly wrong. More and more every day the lies are being exposed. And then there is the largest lie, that everything the US does is to be pardoned because we are engaged in a "war on terrorism", ignoring the fact that war is itself terrorism, that barging into homes and taking away people and subjecting them to torture is terrorism, that invading and bombing other countries does not give us more security but less. [...]
The "war on terrorism" is not only a war on innocent people in other countries; it is a war on the people of the US: on our liberties, on our standard of living. The country's wealth is being stolen from the people and handed over to the super-rich. The lives of the young are being stolen. [...]
Our faith is that human beings only support violence and terror when they have been lied to. And when they learn the truth, as happened in the course of the Vietnam war, they will turn against the government. We have the support of the rest of the world. The US cannot indefinitely ignore the 10 million people who protested around the world on February 15 2003.
There is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at points in history and creating a power that governments cannot suppress. [My emphasis]
Find a way to act. Add your light to the sum of light. History needs you.
August 03, 2005
|T. E. Lawrence On Insurgencies||Iraq War and Peace|
T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) knew what makes for a successful insurgency — so much so, in fact, that his thinking was the gospel for legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, the commander who defeated first the French and then the Americans. Quoting from an article by James J. Scheider, professor of military theory at the School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Command and Gen. Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (link via Xymphora):
In 1946 French Gen. Raoul Salan conducted several interviews vith Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese general who planned and directed the military operations against the French that culminated in their defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu...During the 1946 interviews, Salan was struck by the influence of one man upon the thinking of Giap; that man was Thomas Edward Lawrence. Giap told Salan: "My fighting gospel is T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I am never without it." [My emphasis]
It might, therefore, be worth taking a look at what Lawrence listed as the key elements for success by an insurgency. Quoting Schneider again (reformatted as a bulleted list):
Lawrence distilled six fundamental principles of insurgency that even today have remarkable relevance.
First, a successful guerrilla movement must have an unassailable base — a base secure not only from direct physical assault, but from attack in other forms as well, including psychological attack. Second, the guerrilla must have a technologically sophisticated enemy. The greater this sophistication, the greater this alien force would rely on forms of communications and logistics that must necessarily present vulnerabilities to the irregular. Third, the enemy must be sufficiently weak in numbers so as to be unable to occupy the disputed territory in depth with a system of interlocking fortified posts. Fourth, the guerrilla must have at least the passive support of the populace, if not its full involvement. By Lawrence's calculation, 'Rebellions can be made by 2 percent active in striking force and 98 percent passively sympathetic.' Fifth, the irregular force must have the fundamental qualities of speed, endurance, presence and logistical independence. Sixth, the irregular must be sufficiently advanced in weaponry to strike at the enemy's logistics and signals vulnerabilities.
Or, to summarize: the US is completely screwed in Iraq.
July 19, 2005
|Nukes For India||War and Peace|
Yesterday, the White House agreed to provide India with nuclear technology even though India does not accept international monitoring of its nuclear facilities and is not a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The objective, apparently, is to build India up as a nuclear power to provide a strategic counterweight to China, crazy as that sounds. WaPo:
President Bush agreed yesterday to share civilian nuclear technology with India, reversing decades of U.S. policies designed to discourage countries from developing nuclear weapons.
The agreement between Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which must win the approval of Congress, would create a major exception to the U.S. prohibition of nuclear assistance to any country that doesn't accept international monitoring of all of its nuclear facilities. India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires such oversight, and conducted its first nuclear detonation in 1974.
Participants in the discussions said there had been debate within the administration about whether the deal with India — which built its atomic arsenal in secret — would undercut U.S. efforts to confront Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs. There were also concerns about how the agreement would be accepted in Pakistan, India's regional rival and an ally in the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda.
But supporters of the approach said it was an important part of a White House strategy to accelerate New Delhi's rise as a global power and as a regional counterweight to China. As part of the strategy, the administration is also seeking ways to bolster Japan's posture in the region. [...]
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) condemned the agreement as a "dangerous proposition and bad nonproliferation policy" and said he will introduce legislation to block it. "We cannot play favorites, breaking the rules of the nonproliferation treaty, to favor one nation at the risk of undermining critical international treaties on nuclear weapons," he said in a statement. "What will Russia say when they want to supply more nuclear materials or technology to Iran? You can be sure that Pakistan will demand equal treatment."
Much of the plan was conceived by Robert Blackwill, former ambassador to India and a deputy national security adviser under Condoleezza Rice, along with his close confidant, Ashley J. Tellis, a specialist on U.S.-India relations at Carnegie.
Earlier this year, Tellis laid out a broad vision for India-U.S. relations in a paper titled "India as a New Global Power." It promoted geostrategic cooperation between the two countries rooted strongly in U.S. defense and military sales to India and U.S. support for New Delhi's growing nuclear arsenal.
"If the United States is serious about advancing its geopolitical objectives in Asia, it would almost by definition help New Delhi develop strategic capabilities such that India's nuclear weaponry and associated delivery systems could deter against the growing and utterly more capable nuclear forces Beijing is likely to possess by 2025," he wrote.
The India deal had been opposed by nonproliferation officials in Bush's administration, including John R. Bolton, who was the point man on nuclear issues until March.
Bolton, Bush's nominee to become U.N. ambassador, argued that such cooperation would mean rewarding a country that built a nuclear weapon in secret, using technology it obtained under the guise of civilian power. Both North Korea and Iran are believed to have tried the same route to develop nuclear weapons. Some within the administration said the deal would be damaging at a time when the United States is trying to ratchet up international pressure on both those countries to give up their nuclear-weapons ambitions. [My emphasis]
So we're going to ratchet up a new nuclear arms race in Asia. That's our China policy. Deep thinker Condi Rice probably thinks it's just a wonderfully clever idea. God help us.
July 16, 2005
|A Reality-Based Look At Suicide Terrorism||9/11, "War On Terror" Iraq War and Peace|
University of Chicago professor Robert Pape has assembled a database of every suicide bombing attack in the world over the past 25 years. Based on this data, he has discovered that most of what we think we know about suicide bombing is wrong. Suicide bombing is not the product of Muslim fundamentalism. It is invariably a response to occupation by an outside force. If we want suicide bombers to stop targeting us, we will withdraw our troops from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Robert Pape: Over the past two years, I have collected the first complete database of every suicide-terrorist attack around the world from 1980 to early 2004. This research is conducted not only in English but also in native-language sources — Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, and Tamil, and others — so that we can gather information not only from newspapers but also from products from the terrorist community. The terrorists are often quite proud of what they do in their local communities, and they produce albums and all kinds of other information that can be very helpful to understand suicide-terrorist attacks.
This wealth of information creates a new picture about what is motivating suicide terrorism. Islamic fundamentalism is not as closely associated with suicide terrorism as many people think. The world leader in suicide terrorism is a group that you may not be familiar with: the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.
This is a Marxist group, a completely secular group that draws from the Hindu families of the Tamil regions of the country. They invented the famous suicide vest for their suicide assassination of Rajiv Ghandi in May 1991. The Palestinians got the idea of the suicide vest from the Tamil Tigers.
TAC: So if Islamic fundamentalism is not necessarily a key variable behind these groups, what is?
RP: The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign — over 95 percent of all the incidents — has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.
TAC: That would seem to run contrary to a view that one heard during the American election campaign, put forth by people who favor Bush's policy. That is, we need to fight the terrorists over there, so we don't have to fight them here.
RP: Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism, the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us.
Since 1990, the United States has stationed tens of thousands of ground troops on the Arabian Peninsula, and that is the main mobilization appeal of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. People who make the argument that it is a good thing to have them attacking us over there are missing that suicide terrorism is not a supply-limited phenomenon where there are just a few hundred around the world willing to do it because they are religious fanatics. It is a demand-driven phenomenon. That is, it is driven by the presence of foreign forces on the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. The operation in Iraq has stimulated suicide terrorism and has given suicide terrorism a new lease on life. [...]
TAC: If you were to break down causal factors, how much weight would you put on a cultural rejection of the West and how much weight on the presence of American troops on Muslim territory?
RP: The evidence shows that the presence of American troops is clearly the pivotal factor driving suicide terrorism.
If Islamic fundamentalism were the pivotal factor, then we should see some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world, like Iran, which has 70 million people — three times the population of Iraq and three times the population of Saudi Arabia — with some of the most active groups in suicide terrorism against the United States. However, there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Iran, and we have no evidence that there are any suicide terrorists in Iraq from Iran.
Sudan is a country of 21 million people. Its government is extremely Islamic fundamentalist. The ideology of Sudan was so congenial to Osama bin Laden that he spent three years in Sudan in the 1990s. Yet there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Sudan.
I have the first complete set of data on every al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from 1995 to early 2004, and they are not from some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world. Two thirds are from the countries where the United States has stationed heavy combat troops since 1990.
Another point in this regard is Iraq itself. Before our invasion, Iraq never had a suicide-terrorist attack in its history. Never. Since our invasion, suicide terrorism has been escalating rapidly with 20 attacks in 2003, 48 in 2004, and over 50 in just the first five months of 2005. Every year that the United States has stationed 150,000 combat troops in Iraq, suicide terrorism has doubled.
TAC: So your assessment is that there are more suicide terrorists or potential suicide terrorists today than there were in March 2003?
RP: I have collected demographic data from around the world on the 462 suicide terrorists since 1980 who completed the mission, actually killed themselves. This information tells us that most are walk-in volunteers. Very few are criminals. Few are actually longtime members of a terrorist group. For most suicide terrorists, their first experience with violence is their very own suicide-terrorist attack.
There is no evidence there were any suicide-terrorist organizations lying in wait in Iraq before our invasion. What is happening is that the suicide terrorists have been produced by the invasion.
TAC: Do we know who is committing suicide terrorism in Iraq? Are they primarily Iraqis or walk-ins from other countries in the region?
RP: Our best information at the moment is that the Iraqi suicide terrorists are coming from two groups — Iraqi Sunnis and Saudis — the two populations most vulnerable to transformation by the presence of large American combat troops on the Arabian Peninsula. This is perfectly consistent with the strategic logic of suicide terrorism. [...]
RP: I not only study the patterns of where suicide terrorism has occurred but also where it hasn't occurred. Not every foreign occupation has produced suicide terrorism. Why do some and not others? Here is where religion matters, but not quite in the way most people think. In virtually every instance where an occupation has produced a suicide-terrorist campaign, there has been a religious difference between the occupier and the occupied community. That is true not only in places such as Lebanon and in Iraq today but also in Sri Lanka, where it is the Sinhala Buddhists who are having a dispute with the Hindu Tamils.
When there is a religious difference between the occupier and the occupied, that enables terrorist leaders to demonize the occupier in especially vicious ways. Now, that still requires the occupier to be there. Absent the presence of foreign troops, Osama bin Laden could make his arguments but there wouldn't be much reality behind them. The reason that it is so difficult for us to dispute those arguments is because we really do have tens of thousands of combat soldiers sitting on the Arabian Peninsula.
TAC: Has the next generation of anti-American suicide terrorists already been created? Is it too late to wind this down, even assuming your analysis is correct and we could de-occupy Iraq?
RP: Many people worry that once a large number of suicide terrorists have acted that it is impossible to wind it down. The history of the last 20 years, however, shows the opposite. Once the occupying forces withdraw from the homeland territory of the terrorists, they often stop — and often on a dime.
In Lebanon, for instance, there were 41 suicide-terrorist attacks from 1982 to 1986, and after the U.S. withdrew its forces, France withdrew its forces, and then Israel withdrew to just that six-mile buffer zone of Lebanon, they virtually ceased. They didn't completely stop, but there was no campaign of suicide terrorism. Once Israel withdrew from the vast bulk of Lebanese territory, the suicide terrorists did not follow Israel to Tel Aviv.
This is also the pattern of the second Intifada with the Palestinians. As Israel is at least promising to withdraw from Palestinian-controlled territory (in addition to some other factors), there has been a decline of that ferocious suicide-terrorist campaign. This is just more evidence that withdrawal of military forces really does diminish the ability of the terrorist leaders to recruit more suicide terrorists.
That doesn't mean that the existing suicide terrorists will not want to keep going. I am not saying that Osama bin Laden would turn over a new leaf and suddenly vote for George Bush. There will be a tiny number of people who are still committed to the cause, but the real issue is not whether Osama bin Laden exists. It is whether anybody listens to him. That is what needs to come to an end for Americans to be safe from suicide terrorism. [...]
TAC: What do you think the chances are of a weapon of mass destruction being used in an American city?
RP: I think it depends not exclusively, but heavily, on how long our combat forces remain in the Persian Gulf. The central motive for anti-American terrorism, suicide terrorism, and catastrophic terrorism is response to foreign occupation, the presence of our troops. The longer our forces stay on the ground in the Arabian Peninsula, the greater the risk of the next 9/11, whether that is a suicide attack, a nuclear attack, or a biological attack.
If you are a rational person who believes in basing decisions on actual data, take careful note. Bush's "we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here" is, the data shows, the exact opposite of a rational policy. It is precisely because we fight them over there that we will have to fight them here. And the whole "flypaper" strategy is nonsense. There isn't a finite pool of "terrorists" that, if we can just drain it, the attacks will end and we'll be safe. Pape's data shows that so long as US troops remain as occupiers, there will be an endless supply of suicide bombers, a supply created by the occupation. Finally, note Pape's assertion that when the occupation ends, the attacks cease.
Of course, the real reasons for the US presence in Iraq have nothing much to do with combating terrorism. They have a lot more to do with establishing strategic control of the world's major remaining oil resources in the face of the imminent peak in world oil production, in my opinion. But most Americans who still support the US occupation of Iraq probably believe the "we fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" argument. They still buy the flypaper rationale. Bush may buy it, too, for all we know.
Pape's data shows, however, that this is just another phony justification, like the WMD that never existed. Anyone who uses that justification is a liar (whose real agenda is something else altogether), a fool, or both.
June 22, 2005
|Air Force Academy As Christian Cult||Culture Religion War and Peace|
It was with happy anticipation that retired Air Force Colonel David Antoon and his son Ryan, 18, arrived last year at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., for an orientation for accepted students. But their pride soon turned to perplexity. On the schedule was a visit to the school chapel. A loyal alumnus, Antoon remembered academy chaplains as a low-key group who made no attempt to press their brand of faith on others. But that day, before a crowd that probably included future cadets of all creeds, the chaplain at the microphone boasted about the huge popularity of Christian Bible studies, and several of his colleagues, Antoon recalls, responded, "Amen" and "Hallelujah."
"My jaw just dropped," says Antoon. "I thought, Is this the Air Force Academy or Rocky Mountain Bible College?" For this and other reasons, Ryan passed up his all-expenses-paid congressional appointment to the academy and enrolled elsewhere.
The Antoons' experience was not an aberration. This week, after a six-week barrage of allegations, the Air Force is expected to release a report based on more than 300 interviews, addressing charges that the academy is rife with an officially encouraged religious evangelization. Critics say the behaviors violated the Constitution and Department of Defense regulations — and threatened troop unity by teaching future commanders overt religious favoritism. [...]
The first stories appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette. They gained traction thanks to a July 2004 memo by a Yale Divinity School team that advised academy chaplains on rape counseling but made note of "stridently evangelical themes" in Protestant services and warned that this could "encourage religious divisions." The letter was co-signed by Captain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran chaplain at the academy. She has been reassigned to Okinawa — punishment, she claims, for speaking out, although the Air Force denies it. She has questioned the influence on the school of the many powerful Christian groups headquartered in Colorado Springs, sometimes called "Evangelical mecca." Some groups, she says, "have Bible studies and classes in which faculty members can learn how to evangelize in their opening statements to students each year." [...]
Taken together, the complaints suggest evangelical saturation. They claim that mandatory gatherings often opened with prayers and that some professors actively recruited cadets to join evangelical churches. At Christmastime some senior faculty members would sign religious ads in the base paper, including this 2003 message: "We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the world. If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us!" Revered football coach Fisher DeBerry once hung a banner in his locker room reading I AM A MEMBER OF TEAM JESUS CHRIST. He allegedly led game-day prayer "in Jesus' name." DeBerry has said he actually prayed to a "Master Coach."
The ranking evangelizer was the academy's second in command, Brigadier General Johnny Weida, a deeply religious former Thunderbirds pilot who was brought in to help restore dignity to the school after a 2003 sexual-abuse scandal. Promoting the National Day of Prayer on May 1, 2003, Weida sent a mass e-mail urging participation and noting that "the Lord is in control." He established a call-and-response routine at campus events. When he shouted "Airpower!" evangelical cadets would yell "Rock, sir!" The cheer was allegedly a reference to Jesus' words that his house is built on rock, intended to provoke curiosity among non-Evangelicals and start conversations about Christ. If so, it also verbally erased any distinction between loyalty to the Air Force and to Weida's God. [...]
As a cadet last year, Patrick Kucera, an atheist, tried filing a complaint about Christian proselytizing with the academy's Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) office. The MEO officer, says Kucera, not only discouraged the filing on technical grounds but also said he felt obliged, as a believer, "to try to bring you back to the flock." [My emphasis]
It's hard to be comfortable with the idea that a branch of the service that controls thousands of thermonuclear weapons is being turned into a cult for a Rapture-addled strain of Christianity preoccupied with apocalyptic predictions of The Second Coming. When people are convinced that they are taking their orders from God, they are capable of anything.
June 18, 2005
|Untouched By War||War and Peace|
This is interesting. It's an interactive map that lets you scroll through the years of the twentieth century to see where wars were occurring.
It's no wonder Americans are among the world's most clueless people when it comes to the reality of war. Scroll through the years, and you'll see pretty much every major region of the world touched by war again and again — with the glaring exception of North America. The other thing you'll notice is that we are, sad to say, one helluva bellicose species. Go check it out, because a picture really is worth a thousand words.
(Requires Shockwave, which can be downloaded for free here.)
June 12, 2005
|"A State Of Almost Pure Sin"||War and Peace|
Chris Hedges has spent two decades as a war correspondent in all corners of the world, so he knows what he's talking about when it comes to the reality of war. The following are excerpts from an article of his on antiwar.com. It's long but will repay a careful reading:
The vanquished know the essence of war — death. They grasp that war is necrophilia. They see that war is a state of almost pure sin with its goals of hatred and destruction. They know how war fosters alienation, leads inevitably to nihilism, and is a turning away from the sanctity and preservation of life. All other narratives about war too easily fall prey to the allure and seductiveness of violence, as well as the attraction of the godlike power that comes with the license to kill with impunity.
But the words of the vanquished come later, sometimes long after the war...[b]ut by then few listen. The truth about war comes out, but usually too late. We are assured by the war-makers that these stories have no bearing on the [new] glorious violent enterprise the nation is about to inaugurate. And, lapping up the myth of war and its sense of empowerment, we prefer not to look. [...]
There is no more candor in Iraq or Afghanistan than there was in Vietnam, but in the age of live satellite feeds the military has perfected the appearance of candor. What we are fed is the myth of war. For the myth of war, the myth of glory and honor sells newspapers and boosts ratings, real war reporting does not. Ask the grieving parents of Pat Tillman. Nearly every embedded war correspondent sees his or her mission as sustaining civilian and army morale. This is what passes for coverage on FOX, MSNBC or CNN. [...]
I have spent most of my adult life in war. I began two decades ago covering wars...I have felt the attraction of violence. I know its seductiveness, excitement and the powerful addictive narcotic it can become. The young soldiers, trained well enough to be disciplined but encouraged to maintain their naive adolescent belief in invulnerability, have in wartime more power at their fingertips than they will ever have again. They catapult from being minimum wage employees at places like Burger King, facing a life of dead-end jobs with little hope of health insurance and adequate benefits, to being part of, in the words of the Marines, "the greatest fighting force on the face of the earth." The disparity between what they were and what they have become is breathtaking and intoxicating. This intoxication is only heightened in wartime when all taboos are broken. Murder goes unpunished and often rewarded. The thrill of destruction fills their days with wild adrenaline highs, strange grotesque landscapes that are hallucinogenic, all accompanied by a sense of purpose and comradeship, overpowers the alienation many left behind. They become accustomed to killing, carrying out acts of slaughter with no more forethought than they take to relieve themselves. And the abuses committed against the helpless prisoners in Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo are not aberrations but the real face of war. In wartime all human beings become objects, objects either to gratify or destroy or both. And almost no one is immune. The contagion of the crowd sees to that. [...]
This myth, the lie, about war, about ourselves, is imploding our democracy. We shun introspection and self-criticism. We ignore truth, to embrace the strange, disquieting certitude and hubris offered by the radical Christian Right. These radical Christians draw almost exclusively from the book of Revelations, the only time in the Gospels where Jesus sanctions violence, peddling a vision of Christ as the head of a great and murderous army of heavenly avengers. They rarely speak about Christ's message of love, forgiveness and compassion. They relish the cataclysmic destruction that will befall unbelievers, including those such as myself, who they dismiss as "nominal Christians." They divide the world between good and evil, between those anointed to act as agents of God and those who act as agents of Satan. The cult of masculinity and esthetic of violence pervades their ideology. Feminism and homosexuality are forces, believers are told, that have rendered the American male physically and spiritually impotent. Jesus, for the Christian Right, is a man of action, casting out demons, battling the Anti-Christ, attacking hypocrites and castigating the corrupt. The language is one not only of exclusion, hatred and fear, but a call for apocalyptic violence, in short the language of war.
As the war grinds forward, as we sink into a morass of our own creation, as our press and political opposition, and yes even our great research universities, remain complacent and passive, as we refuse to confront the forces that have crippled us outside our gates and are working to cripple us within, the ideology of the Christian Right, so intertwined with intolerance and force, will become the way we speak not only to others but among ourselves.
In war, we always deform ourselves, our essence. We give up individual conscience — maybe even consciousness — for contagion of the crowd, the rush of patriotism, the belief that we must stand together as a nation in moments of extremity. To make a moral choice, to defy war's enticement, to find moral courage, can be self-destructive.
The attacks on the World Trade Center illustrate that those who oppose us, rather than coming from another moral universe, have been schooled well in modern warfare. The dramatic explosions, the fireballs, the victims plummeting to their deaths, the collapse of the towers in Manhattan, were straight out of Hollywood...We leave the same calling cards. We delivered such incendiary messages in Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. It was Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who in the summer of 1965 defined the bombing raids that would kill hundreds of thousands of civilians north of Saigon as a means of communication to the Communist regime in Hanoi. [...]
We never watch the agony of the dying. War is made palatable. It is sanitized. We are allowed to taste war's perverse thrill, but spared from seeing war's consequences. The wounded and the dead are swiftly carted offstage. And for this I blame the press, which willingly hides from us the effects of bullets, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, which sat at the feet of those who lied to make this war possible and dutifully reported these lies and called it journalism.
War is always about this betrayal. It is about the betrayal of the young by the old, idealists by cynics and finally soldiers by politicians. Those who pay the price, those who are maimed forever by war, however, are crumpled up and thrown away. We do not see them. We do not hear them. They are doomed, like wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness, ignored, even reviled. The message they bring is too painful for us to hear. We prefer the myth of war, the myth of glory, honor, patriotism and heroism, words that in the terror and brutality of combat are empty, meaningless and obscene.
We are losing the war in Iraq. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are pitiless to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals. Thucydides wrote of Athens' expanding empire and how this empire led it to become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. The tyranny Athens imposed on others, it finally imposed on itself. If we do not confront the lies and hubris told to justify the killing and mask the destruction carried out in our name in Iraq, if we do not grasp the moral corrosiveness of empire and occupation, if we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, if we do not remove from power our flag-waving, cross-bearing versions of the Taliban, we will not so much defeat dictators such as Saddam Hussein as become them. [My emphasis]
We must admit it to ourselves: war is "a state of almost pure sin," and it is out of that sinfulness that its enormous seductiveness, its addictive quality, arises. A great many soldiers, and civilians, too, do fall in love with war. They may hate much about it as well, but they get hooked on what for most of them will be the most vivid experience of their lives, hyper-real, filled with power and spectacle, all taboos swept aside. If people didn't find much to love in war, they wouldn't embrace it so fervidly, generation after generation, millenium after millenium.
Hedges' comments on the Christian Right, and their action-figure Jesus, are crucial as well. Besides being thoroughly un-Christian — surely, the essence of Jesus' message is what he himself actually said, as in the Sermon on the Mount, not the fevered imaginings of the author of Revelations, whoever that may have been — the preoccupation with Christ Militant and Armgageddon is exceedingly dangerous. When these kinds of tectonic currents of blood lust get moving in the collective unconscious, there really is no telling where it will end:
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Surely we can feel alive without submerging ourselves in sinfulness and death.
June 07, 2005
|Gorby: US Going Down "Blind Alley"||Iraq War and Peace|
Mikhail Gorbachev had some good advice last week for the US. Reuters:
U.S. efforts to dominate the world could end in disaster, the Reuters news agency quoted former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev as saying on Monday.
A critic of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gorbachev called for the rapid withdrawal of what he called occupation forces, warning: "The longer they stay, the worse the situation will get.
"You cannot get anywhere ... by trying to dominate," he told a meeting marking the 20th anniversary of his 1985 Geneva summit with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a turning point in then frigid East-West relations.
"That doesn't work with small countries nowadays, and even less with big ones like Russia, Iran and — heaven forbid — China. That way lies disaster," said Gorbachev, who lost his post as president when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.
"Trying to be a world gendarme today is an illusion. That is not the way ahead, but a blind alley."
Insistence by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush that it had the right to use nuclear weaponry amounted to a renunciation of the course he charted with Reagan and Bush's father in the second half of the 1980s, he said.
If Washington pursued its efforts to put a defensive [sic] weapons system in space, the 74-year-old Gorbachev told the meeting at the United Nations European headquarters, "it will spark a new arms race, with all the consequences....
"Surely it would be better if we worked together to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely and to use the resources that are freed to eradicate poverty and misery around the globe?" he asked his audience, which included U.S. diplomats. [My emphasis]
Surely it would.
June 02, 2005
|Rumsfeld's Wreckage||Iraq War and Peace|
Donald Rumsfeld's making such a mess of things that it's hard not to wonder if he's doing it on purpose. The wreckage he'll leave behind will take years to clean up, as William Lind explains on AntiWar.com:
When Rumsfeld leaves office, what will his successor inherit?
A volunteer military without volunteers. The Army missed its active-duty recruiting goal in April by almost half. Guard and Reserve recruiting are collapsing. Retention will do the same as "stop loss" orders are lifted. [...] The world's largest pile of wrecked and worn-out military equipment (maybe second-largest if we remember the old Soviet Navy). I'm talking about basic stuff here: trucks, Humvees, personnel carriers, crew-served weapons, etc. This is gear the Rumsfeld Pentagon hates to spend money on, because it does not represent "transformation" to the hi-tech, video-game warfare it wrongly sees as the future. So far, deploying units have made up their deficiencies by robbing units that are not deploying, often National Guard outfits. But that stock has about run out, and some of the stripped units are now facing deployment themselves, minus their gear. A military tied down in a strategically meaningless backwater, Iraq, to the point where it can't do much else. A perceptive reader of these columns recently wrote to me that "China has the luxury of the U.S. inflicting grievous wounds, economic and military, on itself from our commitment to spread 'democracy.'...Although the Iraqi insurgents may have the limited purpose of ending an occupation, other global actors can sit back and watch us bleed ourselves slowly to, at least, a weakened state. From that point of view, the last thing these other actors wish to see is either a victory or a quick defeat. Instead, events are proceeding nicely as they are." Exactly correct, and those other actors include al-Qaeda. Commitments to hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of future weapons programs that are militarily as useful as Zeppelins but less fun to watch. [...] A world wary of U.S. intentions and skeptical of any American claims about anything. In business, good will is considered a tangible asset. In true "wreck it and run" fashion, Rumsfeld & Co. have reduced the value of that asset to near zero. A recent survey of the German public found Russia was considered a better friend than the United States. Finally,...a lost war. We will be lucky if we can get out of Iraq with anything less than a total loss. [My emphasis]
Some people think Rumsfeld and the other neocons are letting Iraq go all to hell to precipitate a civil war, so they can fulfill the dream of Israeli hawks by splitting Iraq into three weak statelets. Hard to believe Rumsfeld would want to destroy the US military in the process, though. Much more likely: the guy's just a colossally arrogant fool. Hubris and incompetence, a lethal combination. And surely Bush/Cheney get to share the blame.
May 15, 2005
|Are We Nuts?||War and Peace|
A new whitepaper from PricewaterhouseCoopers [link via GNN] says that US expenditures on weapons in 2003 amounted to 47% of the total for the entire world. Within a year, the US share is expected to exceed 50%, if it doesn't already.
At that point we will spending more on weapons than all of the rest of the world put together, a stunningly grotesque state of affairs. Equally stunning is the fact that it's not a subject of debate — or even of basic awareness — here in the US.
Lots of noses in that trough, so lots of people with an interest in keeping the money flowing, but history is not encouraging on the question of whether democratic institutions can coexist with such a runaway military-industrial sector. The one-millionth example of how by focusing on short-term profit we sabotage our own long-term future.
May 09, 2005
|Consent Denied||Activism War and Peace|
Very much in the spirit of The Mother's Day Proclamation, a new campaign Consent Denied: Women Reject War invites women everywhere to sign a Women's Pledge to Protect and Resist:
I am not raising/did not raise my son, daughter, or the other children in my life to wage war on or to harm the sons and daughters of women anywhere. Nor will I myself ever agree to fight in war.
I will support and assist my spouse/partner, children, grandchildren, or other family and friends in registering as Conscientious Objectors and/or in refusing to serve in the US military.
Consent Denied: Women Reject War
118 ½ West 10th Street
Duluth MN 55806
And then pass it on. Send an email to your sisters, mothers, daughters, friends around the world. If each woman reading this passes it on to a half dozen other women, who pass it on to a half dozen other women, who pass it on...
The organizers hope to accumulate thousands (millions) of signed forms in ever-growing stacks (truckloads) that will be used to demonstrate to political leaders and others that henceforth women's consent for war is denied.
Every soldier and civilian killed or maimed — physically, psychologically, spiritually — in war is the daughter or son of a mother.
April 30, 2005
|30 Years||Iraq War and Peace|
Thirty years ago today, Saigon fell, marking the end of the US attack on Southeast Asia. Even now, American political mythology characterizes the US aggression in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as a "tragic mistake", a "blunder", lofty intentions somehow gone terribly wrong. As always, US motives were noble and pure — some people just refuse to be helped.
Jimmy Carter, the sainted human rights champion, once noted that the US owed Vietnam no reparations or assistance because, as he put it, "the destruction was mutual." As Noam Chomsky responded, "If words have meaning, this must stand among the most astonishing statements in diplomatic history." No kidding. But the state of US political culture is such that statements like Carter's fail to elicit so much as a raised eyebrow.
According to Robert McNamara, who should know, US forces killed 3.4 million people in Southeast Asia. That's 3.4 million more people than the Vietnamese killed here in the course of this supposedly "mutual" destruction. In the mid-80s, Noam Chomsky wrote:
The devastation that the United States left as its legacy has been quickly removed from consciousness here, and indeed, was little appreciated at the time. Its extent is worth recalling. In the south, 9,000 out of 15,000 hamlets were damaged or destroyed along with some 25 million acres of farmland and 12 million acres of forest; 1.5 million cattle were killed; and there are 1 million widows and some 800,000 orphans. In the north, all six industrial cities were damaged (three razed to the ground) along with 28 of 30 provincial towns (twelve completely destroyed), 96 of 116 district towns, and 4,000 of some 5,800 communes; 400,000 cattle were killed and over a million acres of farmland were damaged. Much of the land is a moonscape, where people live on the edge of famine with rice rations lower than Bangladesh. ... Forests have not recovered, fisheries remain reduced in variety and productivity, cropland productivity has not yet regained normal levels, and there is a great increase in toxin-related disease and cancer, with 4 million acres affected by the 19 million gallons of poisons dumped on cropland and forest in the US chemical warfare operations.
So one of the great lessons of Vietnam, a lesson of particular importance to us now, is the astonishing disconnect that exists between America's actions and its self-image. But the other great lesson, equally relevant today, is the hubris bred by wealth and military hardware — and the fact that wealth and military hardware just magnify the horror and damage we can inflict before we relearn the last great lesson of Vietnam: that even a poor and tiny country can defeat the world's wealthiest and militarily most powerful nation in a guerrilla war — or "insurrection" as we now prefer to say. How many more people will have to die so we can learn that lesson all over again?
April 21, 2005
|Ratzinger On Peace And "Preventive" War||Activism Religion War and Peace|
Whatever else may be true of the new pope, Catholic Peace Fellowship reports that as a cardinal he was a forceful critic of the Iraq war and Bush's doctrine of "preventive" war, and he intends to continue such criticism as pope. That intention, in fact, motivated his choice of the name Benedict XVI. Excerpt:
The election of Benedict XVI as pope brings hope for the continuation of peacemaking as central to the papacy. Just as John Paul II cried out again and again to the world, "War never again!" the new pope has taken the name of the one who first made that cry, Benedict XV, commonly known as "the peace pope."
The name is no coincidence. In fact, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia said Tuesday that the new pope told the cardinals he was selecting Benedict because "he is desirous to continue the efforts of Benedict XV on behalf of peace ... throughout the world."
As a Cardinal, the new pope was a staunch critic of the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. On one occasion before the war, he was asked whether it would be just. "Certainly not," he said, and explained that the situation led him to conclude that "the damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save."
"All I can do is invite you to read the Catechism, and the conclusion seems obvious to me..." The conclusion is one he gave many times: "the concept of preventive war does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church."
Even after the war [sic], Ratzinger did not cease criticism of U.S. violence and imperialism: "it was right to resist the war and its threats of destruction...It should never be the responsibility of just one nation to make decisions for the world."
Yet perhaps the most important insight of Ratzinger came during a press conference on May 2, 2003. After suggesting that perhaps it would be necessary to revise the Catechism section on just war (perhaps because it had been used by George Weigel and others to endorse a war the Church opposed), Ratzinger offered a deep insight that included but went beyond the issue of war Iraq:
"There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war'." [My emphasis]
Doubtless this aspect of the pope's message will go pretty much unmentioned in US media, unlike his stands against abortion or gay marriage. Liberal media, blah blah blah.
April 04, 2005
|MLK On War And Peace||Activism War and Peace|
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 37 years ago today.
This might be a good time to take a few minutes to listen to and/or read Dr. King's speech Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence delivered at Riverside Church, also on April 4, exactly one year before his death.
It is a great, prophetic speech — prophetic in the sense of predictive, but also in the sense of worthy of a true Prophet — and one that has as much to say to us today as it did then. As King says so eloquently, anti-war activism is inseparable from activism in support of civil and human rights and social and economic justice. Excerpt:
Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?" "Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" "Peace and civil rights don't mix," they say. "Aren't you hurting the cause of your people," they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. [...]
There is...a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. [...]
To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I'm speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that He died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life? [...]
And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.
They must see Americans as strange liberators. [...]
At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called "enemy," I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.
This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.
If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. [...]
These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.
The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing "clergy and laymen concerned" committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [...]
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies...True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. [...]
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. [...]
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.
It is an immortal speech; this is only an excerpt. It is unfortunate, though unsurprising, that this speech is so less well known than the far less militant "I have a dream" speech. It is also unsurprising, given the uncompromising nature of King's critique, that he was assassinated within a year. And if we substitute Iraq for Vietnam, we can see how little progress we have made in the interim.
One is powerfully struck, listening to the speech, by the enormous moral weight and prophetic force of King's personality and vision. Can you imagine someone of King's seriousness and depth getting a platform from which to speak such uncompromising words in today's frivolous media climate? Now, when we need it most? I cannot.
Read or listen to the speech here.
March 09, 2005
|73 And Counting||Iraq Media War and Peace|
When does Eason Jordan get his job back?
Antonia Zerbisias in the Toronto Star:
You have to wonder what Eason Jordan thinks about last Friday's attack on the car that took Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena from her kidnapping ordeal to her close call at the Baghdad airport.
Jordan is the CNN news chief who in January made controversial remarks about U.S. troops targeting journalists, comments which led to his resigning "to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy over conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq."
Alarming indeed: at least 73 and counting. [...]
In the rush to hang Jordan, the right — and their willing news twinkies in the media — seem totally unperturbed that the only place reporters feel halfway safe in Iraq is either embedded in the belly of the U.S. military beast or on a Baghdad hotel roof, shielded by satellite dishes.
And who can blame the reporters in Iraq for feeling that way?
Consider that Sgrena's car, reportedly 700 metres from the airport, had already cleared other U.S. military checkpoints. Still, it was drilled by bullets.
Although exactly how many bullets remains a mystery since, at last report, when the Associated Press asked to see the car — in which Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari was killed and another official injured — the U.S. military said it didn't know where the thing was.
Which doesn't inspire confidence in the investigation into this murky affair that the U.S. has promised to conduct.
Recall the last couple of so-called investigations into the deaths of journalists by U.S. fire.
After the April 2003 attack on Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, a place where hundreds of journalists were known to be holed up, the U.S. Army refused to release the details of its investigation. Of course, its finding cleared the U.S. of killing two cameramen: Jose Couso of Spain's Telecinco and Ukraine's Taras Protsyuk, who was working for Reuters.
A few months later, Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana — a Palestinian who had survived beatings by West Bank settlers and the Israeli army — filmed his own death by U.S. tank. That happened just moments after he had checked in with the troops, providing his coordinates.
Again, a U.S. military investigation cleared the shooters, saying they had mistaken his video camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
And so it goes. [...]
What I find really disturbing is how few American journalists are protesting what appears to be the Pentagon's callous disregard for getting out the truth, either by making it safer for journalists to do their jobs or by its own full disclosure of the facts of these killings. [My emphasis]
Why would the US target Sgrena? GNN reports:
At the time of her [earlier] abduction, Giuliana [Sgrena] was heading to an area of Baghdad where witnesses from Fallujah are staying to interview Fallujah refugees about the US assault on their city last year. Says [a source close to Sgrena]:
"She had some information about the use of illegal weapons by US forces in Fallujah that was very sensitive. A very hot topic. There were rumors of some use of chemicals and a number of weapons that are not legal — like [napalm] and phosphorus." [My emphasis]
One of the strange realities of modern warfare is that everyone — combatants (ours and theirs) and citizens (ours and theirs) — are all plugged into media 24/7, watching the war, or a highly filtered version of it, in real time. The incentive for US forces to try to control the news by intimidating or killing independent journalists is enormous. It hardly seems likely, considering what's at stake, that the military would shrink from classifying certain journalists as the enemy and acting accordingly.
Maybe Sgrena's ambush was, as one of Zerbisias' readers called it, just another "Baghdad speeding ticket," but the US version of events doesn't add up. In any case, 73 is a very large number. According to Inter Press Service, more journalists were killed in 14 months in Iraq than were killed during the entire Vietnam War, a far bloodier war that lasted more than a decade. Eason Jordan was merely saying aloud what many journalists already believe to be true.
March 06, 2005
|None Of Us Are Free||Activism Iraq War and Peace|
ICH hosts a moving video set to the great Solomon Burke song, "None of Us Are Free [If One of Us Is Chained"].
Like the song says, "If you don't say it's wrong then that says it's right."
February 28, 2005
|Reckless Disregard||Environment Iraq Politics War and Peace|
How does the US military support the troops? By poisoning them with depleted uranium (DU). Consider this piece by Project Censored award winner Bob Nichols in the San Francisco Bay View [link via ICH]:
Considering the tons of depleted uranium used by the U.S., the Iraq war can truly be called a nuclear war.
Preventive Psychiatry E-Newsletter charged Monday that the reason Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi stepped down earlier this month was the growing scandal surrounding the use of uranium munitions in the Iraq War.
Writing in Preventive Psychiatry E-Newsletter No. 169, Arthur N. Bernklau, executive director of Veterans for Constitutional Law in New York, stated, "The real reason for Mr. Principi’s departure was really never given, however a special report published by eminent scientist Leuren Moret naming depleted uranium as the definitive cause of the 'Gulf War Syndrome' has fed a growing scandal about the continued use of uranium munitions by the US Military."
Bernklau continued, "This malady (from uranium munitions), that thousands of our military have suffered and died from, has finally been identified as the cause of this sickness, eliminating the guessing. The terrible truth is now being revealed."
He added, "Out of the 580,400 soldiers who served in GW1 (the first Gulf War), of them, 11,000 are now dead! By the year 2000, there were 325,000 on Permanent Medical Disability. This astounding number of 'Disabled Vets' means that a decade later, 56% of those soldiers who served have some form of permanent medical problems!" The disability rate for the wars of the last century was 5 percent; it was higher, 10 percent, in Viet Nam.
"The VA Secretary (Principi) was aware of this fact as far back as 2000," wrote Bernklau. "He, and the Bush administration have been hiding these facts, but now, thanks to Moret's report, (it)...is far too big to hide or to cover up!"
"Terry Jamison, Public Affairs Specialist, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Department of Veterans Affairs, at the VA Central Office, recently reported that 'Gulf Era Veterans' now on medical disability, since 1991, number 518,739 Veterans," said Berklau.
"The long-term effects have revealed that DU (uranium oxide) is a virtual death sentence," stated Berklau. "Marion Fulk, a nuclear physical chemist, who retired from the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab, and was also involved with the Manhattan Project, interprets the new and rapid malignancies in the soldiers (from the 2003 Iraq War) as 'spectacular...and a matter of concern!'"
When asked if the main purpose of using DU was for "destroying things and killing people," Fulk was more specific: "I would say it is the perfect weapon for killing lots of people!" [My emphasis]
The military's reckless disregard for the well-being of its own troops (not to mention the inhabitants of the countries, like Iraq, where DU munitions are used) is truly monstrous.
56% of Gulf War veterans on Permanent Medical Disability. And the use of DU munitions is ongoing. This is how they "support the troops"? How is this not a huge, huge scandal?
February 23, 2005
|War Via Robots, Virtual Reality, And Nanomachines||War and Peace|
Inventor Ray Kurzweil on the future of warfare: one of those stories where you really kind of hope you won't live long enough to see it come true. Then again, people used to say we'd all have flying cars by now.
February 21, 2005
|High School: Militarized Zone||Culture War and Peace|
Dr. Teresa Whitehurst, psychologist and parent [via ICH]:
I learned something new yesterday. Channel One News, the "educational" TV show that my daughter Isa and millions of other American kids watch every morning at school, is busy recruiting our teenagers into the military.
"Mom, they're really aiming at the black kids, and the Hispanic kids too. I'm so sick of seeing those military ads everyday. "The Power of One", and all that lots of my friends are falling for it!" [...]
I stopped the car and asked, "Wait a minute. What do you mean when you say you're 'seeing those military ads every day'?"
"We have to watch this short thing every morning in homeroom called 'Channel One News'," Isa explained with a weary tone. "It's educational, supposedly. You know, the day's news, so we'll be up on current events. But in between the stories, there are more and more ads for the Army and the Marines." [...]
"Are you saying you're being recruited through the TV you watch during homeroom?" She nodded. I asked again, "What do your teachers think about this? What about Mr. Hitchens (not his real name), who told you privately that he's antiwar? Doesn't he say anything against it?"
"No, I think the teachers and the kids are so used to it at my school that they don't even notice anymore. I mean, the other day I was walking to Sociology class and heard the ROTC instructor telling the kids, 'Okay, this is how you hold your M-16.' The whole culture of the school is military these days, so nobody notices anything unusual about this. And I think the few teachers who aren't prowar or proBush are afraid to get in trouble if they say anything that doesn't sound pro-military."
What sort of culture colonizes the minds of its own children in this way?
January 11, 2005
|Leviathan||Iraq Peak Oil War and Peace|
If you ask me, Peak Oil is the Rosetta Stone of Bush Administration foreign policy. They believe Peak Oil's coming, and they mean to control the world's oil-producing regions before oil shortages get underway in earnest. Examine it from a Peak Oil perspective, and suddenly everything they're doing looks like part of a coherent (if misguided) overall game plan.
From Alternate Press Review comes an article that points to the same conclusion. Excerpt:
Pentagon transformation is well underway. The U.S. military is increasingly being converted into a global oil protection service. Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld has a "strategy guy" whose job is to teach this new way of warfare to high-level military officers from all branches of services and to top level CIA operatives. Thomas Barnett is a professor at the Navy War College in Rhode Island. He is author of the controversial book The Pentagon's New Map that identifies a "non-integrating gap" in the world that is resisting corporate globalization. Barnett defines the gap as parts of Latin America, Africa, Middle East and Central Asia all of which are key oil-producing regions of the world.
In what Barnett calls a "Grand March of History" he claims that the U.S. military must be transformed in order to preemptively take control of the gap, so the U.S. can "manage" the global distribution of resources, people, energy, and money. [...]
Barnett predicts that U.S. unilateralism will lead to the "inevitability of war." Referring to Hitler in a recent presentation, Barnett reminded his military audience that the Nazi leader never asked for permission before invading other countries. Thus, the end to multi-lateralism. Barnett argues that the days of arms talks and international treaties are over. "There is no secret where we are going," he says as he calls for a "new ordering principle" at the Department of Defense (DoD). Barnett maintains that as jobs move out of the U.S. the primary export product of the nation will be "security." Global energy demand will necessitate U.S. control of the oil producing regions. "We will be fighting in Central Africa in 20 years," Barnett predicts.
In order to implement this new military vision," Barnett maintains that the U.S. military must move away from its often-competing mix of Air Force-Navy-Army-Marines toward two basic military services. One he names Leviathan, which he defines as the kick ass, wage war, special ops, and not under the purview of the international criminal court. Give us your angry, video game-playing 18-19 year olds, for the Leviathan force, Barnett says. Once a country is conquered by Leviathan, Barnett says the U.S. will have to have a second military force that he calls Systems Administration. This force he describes as the "proconsul" of the empire, boots on the ground, the police force to control the local populations. This group, Barnett says, "will never come home." [...]
According to Michael Klare, professor of Peace Studies at Hampshire College, "American troops are now risking their lives on a daily basis to protect the flow of petroleum. In Colombia, Saudi Arabia, and the Republic of Georgia, U.S. personnel are spending their days and nights protecting pipelines and refineries, or supervising the local forces assigned to this mission."
Klare continues, "The DoD has stepped up its arms deliveries to military forces in Angola and Nigeria, and is helping to train their officers and enlisted personnel; meanwhile, Pentagon officials have begun to look for permanent bases in the area, focusing on Senegal, Ghana, Mali, Uganda and Kenya." The Wall Street Journal has reported that "a key mission for U.S. forces (in Africa) would be to ensure that Nigeria's oil fields, which in the future could account for as much as 25% of all U.S. oil imports, are secure." [My emphasis]
The more important the subject, the less likely it is that core motivations will be openly debated in US political culture. And so, the public discourse on Bush's foreign policy is all about the "war on terror", democratization, WMD, and so on, while the real motivations lie elsewhere and remain undiscussed.
If fossil fuel shortages start as soon and accelerate as rapidly as Peak Oil experts predict, industrial civilization may be headed for a crisis unprecedented in human history. Like starving people fighting over the last remaining crusts of bread, industrial nations will engage in a desperate struggle for the energy that remains. That's what a lot of national security planners are thinking about, though few will talk about it, which is why the article quoted above is as important as it is rare.
December 02, 2004
|Violence Against One Is Violence Against All||Environment Ethics Gumpagraphs War and Peace|
Text by Wendell Berry, photos by Gumpa:
By dividing body and soul, we divide both from all else. We thus condemn ourselves to a loneliness for which the only compensation is violence — against other creatures, against the earth, against ourselves. For no matter the distinctions we draw between body and soul, body and earth, ourselves and others — the connections, the dependences, the identities remain. And so we fail to contain or control our violence. It gets loose.
© Kent Tenney
Though there are categories of violence, or so we think, there are no categories of victims. Violence against one is ultimately violence against all. The willingness to abuse other bodies is the willingness to abuse one's own. To damage the earth is to damage your children. To despise the ground is to despise its fruit; to despise the fruit is to despise its eaters. The wholeness of health is broken by despite.
© Kent Tenney
If competition is the correct relation of creatures to one another and to the earth, then we must ask why exploitation is not more successful than it is. Why, having lived so long at the expense of other creatures and the earth, are we not healthier and happier than we are?
© Kent Tenney
Why does modern society exist under threat of the same suffering, deprivation, spite, contempt, and obliteration that it has imposed on other people and other creatures? Why do the health of the body and the health of the earth decline together? And why, in consideration of this decline of our worldly flesh and household, our "sinful earth," are we not healthier in spirit?
— From "The Body and the Earth," in The Art of the Commonplace.
The antidote: connectedness, community, caring, love.
|© Kent Tenney|
And something devalued in our monetary world: Good work. Vocation. Service. The dominant view, in Berry's words, has it that "an economy is a machine, of which people are merely the interchangeable parts." Somehow, human-created institutions take on a life of their own. Before you know it, they are chewing us up and spitting us out.
But humanity has rights. So does the earth. Let us create the world we want to live in. To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, "The world we hold in our hearts is waiting."
|Whatever Happened To Peace On Earth?||War and Peace|
A beautiful song from red-stater Willie Nelson. Listen to it here. Excerpt:
But don't confuse caring for weakness
You can't put that label on me
The truth is my weapon of mass protection
And I believe truth sets you free
And the bewildered herd's still believing
Everything we've been told from our birth
Hell they won't lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar's word worth?
And whatever happened to peace on earth?
"Thou shalt not kill." "Blessed are the peacemakers." Pretty unambiguous, if you ask me. But, as George Carlin says, what we really live by is closer to:
Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone, unless, of course, they pray to a different Invisible Avenger than the one you pray to.
Whatever happened to peace on earth?
November 20, 2004
|Lives In The Balance||War and Peace|
I'm sitting in Starbucks (wireless Internet) with tears welling in my eyes because I'm listening to a song that after all these years never fails to affect me this way: Jackson Browne's Lives in the Balance.
I've been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear
You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you've seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war
There's a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars that are fought in places
Where their business interest runs
On the radio talk shows and the TV
You hear one thing again and again
How the USA stands for freedom
And we've come to the aid of a friend.
But who are the ones that we call our friends
These governments killing their own?
Or the people who finally can't take any more
And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone?
There are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire
There's a shadow on the faces
Of the men who fan the flames
Of the wars that are fought in places
Where we can't even say the names
They sell us the President the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us every thing from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars
I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they're never the ones to fight or to die
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire
"I want to know who the men in the shadows are, I want to hear somebody asking them why..."
There are lives in the balance, lots of them. They're depending on you and me.
September 19, 2004
|State Terrorism||Iraq Media Palestine/Middle East War and Peace|
As Noam Chomsky has often pointed out, our mainstream political culture never sees state terrorism as terrorism, despite the fact that it claims many times more victims than terrorism by non-state actors.
British journalist John Pilger has an excellent piece in the New Statesman that looks at state terrorism in today's world. Excerpts, with emphasis added:
Let's look at a few examples of the way the world is presented and the way it really is. The occupation of Iraq is presented as "a mess": a blundering, incompetent American military up against Islamic fanatics. In truth, the occupation is a systematic, murderous assault on a civilian population by a corrupt American officer class, given licence by its superiors in Washington. In May, the US marines used battle tanks and helicopter gunships to attack the slums of Fallujah. They admitted killing 600 people, a figure far greater than the total number of civilians killed by the "insurgents" during the past year. The generals were candid; this futile slaughter was an act of revenge for the killing of three US mercenaries. Sixty years earlier, the SS Das Reich division killed 600 French civilians at Oradour-sur-Glane as revenge for the kidnapping of a German officer by the resistance. Is there a difference?
These days, the Americans routinely fire missiles into Fallujah and other dense urban areas; they murder whole families. If the word terrorism has any modern application, it is this industrial state terrorism. [...]
Only by recognising the terrorism of states is it possible to understand, and deal with, acts of terrorism by groups and individuals which, however horrific, are tiny by comparison. Moreover, their source is inevitably the official terrorism for which there is no media language. Thus, the state of Israel has been able to convince many outsiders that it is merely a victim of terrorism when, in fact, its own unrelenting, planned terrorism is the cause of the infamous retaliation by Palestinian suicide bombers. For all of Israel's perverse rage against the BBC — a successful form of intimidation — BBC reporters never report Israelis as terrorists: that term belongs exclusively to Palestinians imprisoned in their own land. It is not surprising, as a recent Glasgow University study concluded, that many television viewers in Britain believe that the Palestinians are the invaders and occupiers.
This next bit is very important. If you're like me, you remember hearing that Palestinian suicide bombers recently shattered a "five month lull in the violence." Here's what you didn't hear:
On 7 September, Palestinian suicide bombers killed 16 Israelis in the town of Beersheba. Every television news report allowed the Israeli government spokesman to use this tragedy to justify the building of an apartheid wall — when the wall is pivotal to the causes of Palestinian violence. Almost every news report marked the end of a five-month period of "relative peace and calm" and "a lull in the violence". During those five months of relative peace and calm, almost 400 Palestinians were killed, 71 of them in assassinations. During the lull in the violence, more than 73 Palestinian children were killed. A 13-year-old was murdered with a bullet through the heart, a five-year-old was shot in her face as she walked arm in arm with her two-year old-sister. The body of Mazen Majid, aged 14, was riddled with 18 Israeli bullets as he and his family fled their bulldozed home.
None of this was reported in Britain as terrorism. Most of it was not reported at all. After all, this was a period of peace and calm, a lull in the violence. On 19 May, Israeli tanks and helicopters fired on peaceful demonstrators, killing eight of them. This atrocity had a certain significance; the demonstration was part of a growing non-violent Palestinian movement, which has seen peaceful protest gatherings, often with prayers, along the apartheid wall. The rise of this Gandhian movement is barely noted in the outside world.
What is remarkable is that news reports in both the US and UK used the same phrases about a "five month lull in the violence." Best case, this indicates lazy journalists (on two continents?) all rehashing the same wire service story. Worst case, it indicates journalists applying talking points handed down by Israeli sources, either because the journalists want to advance Israel's agenda or simply because they trust the Israelis (non-terrorists) and don't trust the Palestinians (terrorists).
Everyone knows Chechen "terrorists" recently downed two Russian airliners and seized a school full of parents, children, and teachers. Hardly anyone knows the context, however. Pilger:
The truth about Chechnya is similarly suppressed. On 4 February 2000, Russian aircraft attacked the Chechen village of Katyr-Yurt. They used "vacuum bombs", which release petrol vapour and suck people's lungs out, and are banned under the Geneva Convention. The Russians bombed a convoy of survivors under a white flag. They murdered 363 men, women and children. It was one of countless, little-known acts of terrorism in Chechnya perpetrated by the Russian state, whose leader, Vladimir Putin, has the "complete solidarity" of Blair.
As Orwell taught us, the corruption of language leads to the corruption of thought. We need to resist, every chance we get, the nearly universal usage of the word "terrorist" to refer only to the activities of non-state actors — and only those non-state actors who oppose US interests. The usage that is most corrupting is when people just say "the terrorists" — as in: "if the US does/does not do such-and-such, the terrorists win." That usage, which one hears constantly, lumps all "terrorists" together in a nameless, undifferentiated mass. From there, it's only a small step to the Orwellian conclusion that anyone — a protestor exercising First Amendment rights, for example — who is labelled a terrorist is automatically part of that undifferentiated mass and therefore guilty of the same crimes and justifiably subject to the same treatment.
The point is not to excuse acts of violence against civilians by anyone. The point is to resist the colonization of our minds by the uncritical usage of labels that shape the political discourse before it's even begun.
September 11, 2004
|Jihadist Extremism||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Religion War and Peace|
From The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty (a book sympathetic to the Bush family) comes this profoundly shocking quote about George W's view of the "War on Terror":
"George see this as a religious war," one family member told us. "He doesn't have a p.c. view of this war. His view of this is that they are trying to kill the Christians. And we the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know." [My emphasis]
Could anything possibly be less Christ-like? How have we let this dangerous, ignorant, savage little man hijack our country? Are we, finally, just superstitious primates with guns?
I didn't sign up for this.
Gandhi: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." A-men.
Update: [Sep 11, 1:04 PM] Shortly after I posted the above, I happened to open Arundhati Roy's War Talk to the following passage:
The more the two sides try and call attention to their religious differences by slaughtering each other, the less there is to distinguish them from one another. They worship at the same altar. They're both apostles of the same murderous god, whoever he is.
She's writing about Hindus and Muslims in India, but she might as well be writing about Christians and Muslims in the "War on Terror." Each side thinks it's merely retaliating for the others' transgressions. Each side thinks God's on its side. Superstitious primates with guns.
September 08, 2004
|Malaria Drug May Trigger Aggression In Elite Soldiers||Afghanistan Iraq War and Peace|
From UPI, a chilling article looks at the possibility that Lariam, an anti-malaria drug dispensed to US soldiers, may be causing “a startling pattern of violence and suicide by America's most elite soldiers.”
At least six Special Forces soldiers have killed themselves after taking the drug. Three of those soldiers first murdered their wives.
The DOD says Lariam is safe, and attributes the suicides and murders to other factors — stress, marital problems, etc. However, according to the article:
The psychotic behavior and suicides are particularly jarring because Special Forces soldiers are highly trained and psychologically vetted. An Army study in 2000 showed Special Forces soldiers produce more of a chemical in the brain that helps them cope with and recover from extreme duress.
"It's just antithetical to their whole practice of their craft to suddenly lose control, become depressed, paranoid, hallucinate and become suicidal," said Dr. Paul Ragan, associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and a former military psychiatrist. "You have to look for some exogenous factor, some outside factor, something new in the mix that will change how they've otherwise been able to operate."
Those deaths then raise concerns about the tens of thousands of soldiers who have taken Lariam during the war on terrorism — and about dozens of suicides and a handful of murders among troops while overseas or after returning home.
The article contains some chilling anecdotes.
I found the following to be especially disturbing:
This summer, a Navy doctor at a Pentagon treatment facility in San Diego has begun to diagnose service members with permanent brain-stem damage and fingered Lariam as the apparent culprit. One Special Forces soldier diagnosed with that permanent damage said Lariam has given him homicidal and suicidal urges.
"I can tell you from my own personal experience that it goes from zero to 100 very quickly," said this active-duty soldier, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. "You're ready to take that plunge into hurting someone or hurting and killing yourself, and it comes on unbelievably quickly. It's just a sudden thought it's the right thing to do. You'll get a mental picture, and it's in full color." [My emphasis]
He said that after taking the drug he attacked his wife and considered suicide for the first time.
This is pure speculation on my part, but it's hard not to wonder if there isn’t more to the story — if it’s possible that elite soldiers are, without their knowledge, being administered a designer drug tailored to supercharge their capacity to instantly mobilize aggression.
"It goes from zero to 100 very quickly. You're ready to take that plunge into hurting someone or hurting and killing yourself, and it comes on unbelievably quickly. It's just a sudden thought it's the right thing to do. You'll get a mental picture, and it's in full color."
Haunting words, in any case.
September 07, 2004
|Second Bush Term: More Preemption||Iran Politics War and Peace|
Time Magazine reports:
Some democrats on the Hill claim that they are worried a second Bush Administration may prove more militarily aggressive than the first. One reason: a Democratic official tells TIME that a leading Pentagon hawk recently hinted that the doctrine of pre-emptive war could soon apply to potential new targets. During a private Aug. 19 conference call with Capitol Hill aides from both parties, sources say, senior Pentagon policy official William Luti said there are at least five or six foreign countries with traits that "no responsible leader can allow." [My emphasis]
At least five or six more countries? These people are insane.
July 18, 2004
|Is the Iraq War About Oil?||Essays Iraq Peak Oil Politics War and Peace|
Is the Iraq war about oil?
A number of commentators ridicule the very idea. They claim it doesn’t matter who controls Iraq’s oil, since in any case the US will have access to it as it comes on the world market. I.e., we can simply buy what we need.
This analysis completely misses the point. It’s not just a question of ensuring our cars have gas. It’s also a question of control, geopolitically and economically. (Note that this isn’t an either-or question — i.e., saying it’s about oil doesn't mean there can't also be other motives, but if Iraq had no oil and was located in an oil-poor part of the world, does anyone really think the US would have taken an interest?)
James Akins, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (and my favorite diplomat, because he seems to always speak his mind) says:
It has everything to do with oil. If we control Iraqi oil and we continue more or less to control Saudi oil then whatever Europe or the rest of the world wants in the field of energy is going to be essentially irrelevant because we will be OPEC, we will be the new OPEC. [My emphasis]
Of course, it doesn’t hurt if American oil companies (and oil infrastructure companies like Halliburton), rather than French, Russian, or Chinese companies, pocket the profits. Critics say it’s naïve to think the US would go to war just because it benefits certain US corporations. (Lots of people criticize Fahrenheit 9/11 on that basis.) But no one is saying that it’s just because of profits that we’ve gone to war — rather, it’s a contributing factor. I.e., one shouldn't ignore the domestic political influence of the energy sector, especially vis-à-vis the Bush administration.
Moreover, Saddam Hussein, during the 1990’s, signed oil exploration deals with France, Russia, and China. If UN inspections had been allowed to run their course and the UN had certified Iraq as WMD-free and lifted the sanctions with Saddam still in power, those contracts would have cut US firms out of the action. Instead, those contracts are now null and void, and UN Security Council Resolution 1483 (March 2003) has put the US and UK back in control.
It’s also a question of mindset. The Bush White House is populated with former oilmen (and women). They naturally see the world through an oil lens. It’s my guess that people like Dick Cheney are acutely aware that world oil production may be peaking, which would mean that we’re entering a time of permanent and accelerating decline in the supply of oil available on the world market. Supply declining while demand continues to increase rapidly — especially with China and India coming online — is a recipe for chronic shortages, sharply (and permanently) rising prices, and an increasingly desperate competition among nations for whatever oil is available.
This is the phenomenon referred to as peak oil. I’ll write about it at length in future posts. For now, let me just say that I think it likely that the administration knows that peak oil is inevitable and indeed may be just over the horizon, and I think it’s that realization, in part, that explains why the administration has been so anxious to use 9/11 to sell the country on invading and occupying Iraq. Dick Cheney has said, "The American way of life is not negotiable." In a peak oil world, that’s a very dangerous attitude to have.
Peak oil is one aspect of the story that has been under-appreciated and under-reported. There is another aspect, possibly equally important: namely, the critical importance to the US of ensuring that the US dollar remains the world’s reserve currency and the currency used world-wide for international oil sales. I.e., it’s not just about oil itself, it’s about making sure that oil continues to be paid for with dollars, not euros.
Keeping the dollar the universal petro-currency has been a recurring thread of US foreign policy since at least the early 1970’s. One of Saddam's sins was that he had, less than a year before 9/11, converted Iraq’s dollar reserves into euros and started selling Iraqi oil for euros instead of dollars. Several other OPEC nations, including Iran and Venezuela, seemed poised to follow suit. I’ll have more to say about the dollar vs. euro story in future posts.
For now, the point is that the US invasion/occupation of Iraq is very much about oil, but in deeper and more complex ways than are usually reported.
July 03, 2004
|Deja Vu?||Film Iraq War and Peace|
Interviewed for Errol Morris' film Fog of War (2004), Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense, 1961-68), referring to our present situation, said:
What makes us omniscient? Have we a record of omniscience? We are the strongest nation in the world today. I do not believe we should ever apply that economic, political, or military power unilaterally. If we had followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn’t have been there. None of our allies supported us, not Germany, not Japan, not Great Britain or France. If we can’t persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we’d better reexamine our reasoning. [My emphasis]
Fog of War also includes 1965 footage of McNamara saying:
This is not primarily a military problem. It’s a battle for the hearts and the minds of the people of South Vietnam. As a prerequisite to that, we must be able to guarantee their physical security.
The Vietnam war dragged on for another 10 years before the US finally saw what should have been obvious all along: we were the source of the violence. By McNamara's own estimate, the result was 3.4 million Vietnamese killed, the equivalent, he says, as a percentage of population, of 27 million US deaths.
Iraq is not Vietnam, of course, but — as in Vietnam — we've inserted ourselves into a situation where our mere presence is the cause of ongoing violence. We say the violence must end before we can leave, and then we wonder why we never end up leaving. Not exactly rational.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
June 28, 2004
|Nuclear Denial||Film War and Peace|
I watched Errol Morris' extended interview with former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Fog of War, the other night.
McNamara asked the following rhetorical question, the importance of which cannot be overstated:
Is it right and proper that today there are [still] 7500 strategic offensive nuclear warheads, of which 2500 are on 15 minute alert, to be launched by the decision of one human being?
McNamara also related an anecdote about the early 60s that can be taken to illustrate the danger of putting that kind of power in the hands of one person or a small group of people:
At the time we had a 17-to-1 strategic advantage in nuclear numbers. We’d done 10 times as many tests as [the Soviets] had. We were certain we could retain that advantage if we limited the tests. The [Joint] Chiefs were all opposed. They said the Soviets would cheat. Well, I said, how will they cheat? You won’t believe this, but they said, they’ll test them behind the moon.
The anecdote is telling in a couple of respects. For one thing, it indicates the US' true motives for backing limitations on testing. Far from being a move to promote peace, it was a move to retain a decisive advantage. The relevant aspect for the point I'm making here, though, is that it shows people can reach the highest levels of responsibility and still have exceedingly wacky and dangerous ideas. 'Behind the moon', indeed.
Forty years ago, the military leaders were crazy and the civilians acted as a moderating influence. Today, it's the other way around. Given that it's the civilian leadership that has the ultimate decision-making power, we're worse off.
Either way, it is insane (literally) that we still have thousands of thermonuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert, and it is insane (literally) that we allow one single member of our irrational primate species to have exclusive control over the button.
As McNamara stresses repeatedly, so far we've just been lucky. We can't be lucky forever.