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Syria ... and You

Sep 03, 2013
We don't have a dog in this fight. We don't have a side to side with. The Arab world is in deep turmoil, caught between the forces of longstanding (and often US-maintained) dictatorships and antediluvian fundamentalism. Oil is about to go through the roof (according to Kiplinger forecasts), from the current $107 a barrel now to probably $120 to $140.

If there was ever a time to call upon America's instinct for isolationism, it's now. If there was ever a time to focus our extensive innovative and entrepreneurial talents on renewable sources of energy, it's now. If there was ever a time to stifle our rush to solve the world's problems through a unilateral application of force, for which no one has yet offered a convincing scenario for success, it's now.

The people are speaking and we don't want another mideast conflict. We may, and should, and must, shed many a tear for those poor dead children laid out in their shrouded rows. But everyone's fight cannot be our fight. We don't have the prestige, the power, or the right to intervene unilaterally.

Write your representative. Tell her or him that you oppose this war. Write your senators and tell them that you oppose this war.

They may very well take us to war yet again, anyway—historical precedent does not assuage our anxieties in this regard. But if you don't speak up to your congressman and to your senators, and they go to war next week, it will, to a small extent, be your fault.

So don't just go up on Facebook and grouse to your Friends. Our nation's future, to a small but so-important extent, is in your hands.
tags: Militarism

Boston and Beyond

Apr 20, 2013
Now that both Boston bombers have been caught and the nine-days’ wonder that permeated the airways 24/7 has been stilled, perhaps we can pause a moment to remember the nameless hundreds of thousands of innocents our bombs have slaughtered over the past 12 years.

If you don’t want your heart broken, don’t go HERE to view seven of the 11 children—babies, really—slaughtered in the “fierce battle” between U.S.-led forces and the nefarious Taliban a couple of Sundays ago. And this was no anomaly. “Collateral damage” is practically the watchword of the “wars” we have fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Indonesia, Sudan, Somalia, etc., etc., over the past decade.

What ought to have been a police action—the meticulous pursuit and capture of individuals involved in an international conspiracy of religious fanatics—has instead turned into Apocalypse Now, with death raining down upon the general populations of a large slice of the world; with the abandonment of due process, the laws of war, and any human decency; with the revival of medieval confinements and tortures; and with no end in sight of vastly expensive conflicts that fill the pockets of the corporatocracy and bankrupt the public coffers.

It is not surprising that a young and impressionable boy, helplessly watching the slaughter of babies, brides, and thousands of others of his co-religionists should be led to take the awful action that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly took last week, cruelly wounding 170 people and ending three innocent lives, his brother’s life and, effectively, his own. It is only surprising that more young men and women have not done the same.
tags: Militarism

Noted With Interest, December 2009

Dec 02, 2009

Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones
By Siobhan Gorman, et al. Iranian-backed militants have been hacking into our deadly drones’ video feeds with a $25 piece of software for the last year. Our favorite quotation: “U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights.” So what’s the fuss? From The Wall Street Journal, Dec 17, 2009. Accessed Dec 17, 2009.

Our Murderers in the Sky
By Scott Ritter. “...the Afghan problem has never been a military problem....” From Truthdig.com, Dec 10, 2009. Accessed Dec 11, 2009.

Building a case for the survival of the kindest
What?! Could Ayn Rand have been wrong? Is altruism a survival mechanism after all? (We feel vindicated.) From R&D Magazine, Dec 9, 2009. Accessed Dec 10, 2009.

Liberals Are Useless
By Chris Hedges. Can you see yourself in this portrait? From Truthdig.com, Dec 7, 2009. Accessed Dec 9, 2009.

Addicted to Nonsense
By Chris Hedges. Are we all become Eloi, grist for the Morlocks? From Truthdig,com, Nov 30, 2009. Accessed Dec 5, 2009.

The Afghanistan Parenthesis
By David Bromwich. From the Huffington Post, Dec 2, 2009. Accessed Dec 2, 2009.

tags: Militarism

Posse Comitatus

Jul 30, 2009
The Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C., Sec. 1385), passed in 1878, limits the powers of the federal government to use the military for law enforcement.1 The act has allegedly been violated to a significant and alarming degree, as reported on Democracy Now on July 28, 2009.2 The story goes well beyond the outing (via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request) of a military informant, to describe scores of multi-jurisdictional intelligence fusion centers, where local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and national intelligence entities, including the military, pool knowledge and resources to combat terrorism. Pooling intelligence is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. In fact, greater cooperation among federal intelligence agencies just might have prevented 9/11. However, when those intelligence bodies are tasked with domestic spying and include military intelligence, we need to fear a great deal more than the breaking of a 130-year-old statute.

Back in February, in The Gathering Storm, I wrote, “An army unit has been stationed inside the U.S. to control ‘civil unrest.’3 Protestors at the Republican Convention are being tried as terrorists....4 A perfect storm of militarism, domestic unrest, and the criminalization of dissent is gathering. If the spectre of fascism hovered over the Bush presidency, it has come to walk the earth in the second month of an administration swept to power on what are increasingly coming to appear to be fraudulent promises of hope and change.”

We have a do-nothing Congress and a very busy Executive branch, continuing and expanding the atrocities of the Bush administration. Domestic terrorism in the form of an Oklahoma City bomber is bad enough. When our federal government gets into the business of watching, recording, harassing, and, yes, terrorizing its own people, the spectre of domestic terrorism takes on a different and altogether too horrible face.

Will we wake up when they come for the anarchists? Will we wake up when they come for the socialists? Will we wake up when they come for us?
1 Posse Comitatus Act, from Wikipedia, accessed Jul 30, 2009.
2 Declassified Docs Reveal Military Operative Spied on WA Peace Groups, Activist Friends Stunned, from Democracy Now, Jul 28, 2009, accessed Jul 30, 2009.
3 ACLU Seeks Answers on Reports of Domestic Army Deployment, from Democracy Now, Oct 22, 2008.
4 RNC Protestors Tried on Terrorism Charges Despite Acknowlegement They Didn’t Commit Alleged Acts, from Democracy Now, Feb 18, 2009.
tags: Militarism

Words of Wisdom and Warning

Apr 27, 2009
We torture.

Reclaiming America’s Soul, by Paul Krugman, from the New York Times, Apr 23, 2009
“[N]ever before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for.”

The Torture Moment, by Arianna Huffington, from the Huffington Post, Apr 24, 2009
“Since when is adhering to the laws that govern us a left-wing ‘point-of-view’?”

The Dubious C.I.A. Shortcut, by Philip Zelikow, from the New York Times, Apr 23, 2009
“[T]he methods of torment do not stack up well against proved alternatives that rely on patience and skill.”

Torturers Should Be Punished, by Amy Goodman, from truthdig.com, Apr 21, 2009
“Though [Obama] may occupy the most powerful office on Earth, there is a force more powerful: committed people demanding change. We need a universal standard of justice. Torturers should be punished.”

Time to Come Clean, by Nicholas D. Kristof, from the New York Times, Apr 26, 2009
“[T]oday’s revulsion at waterboarding is broad but fragile. And that makes it essential that the United States proceed with an independent commission to investigate harsh treatment and tally its costs and benefits.”

We Don’t Torture, with Jon Stewart, from the Daily Show, Apr 21, 2009
“We Don’t Torture. Three words that aren’t said enough, that symbolize America... No matter how bad it gets, no matter how ruthless our enemies, we don’t torture. Now, whether or not that statement is true isn’t the point. The point is, don’t f***ing worry about it.’

How can anyone who claims to be an American; who remembers—or lives among those who remember—Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot; who lays claim to being a human being with some vestige of imagination or empathy; how can we (because this includes you and me) live with this awful knowledge, that we have torn bodies, ruined lives, driven our fellow creatures to madness and suicide, in a decade-long vengeful holocaust of ineffectual bestiality that has placed us in the company of the worst monsters in history? How can we know this, and not be on the streets with pikestaffs and pitchforks, howling for the restitution of justice and the restoration of our morality?

It beggars understanding.
tags: Militarism

Arming the Bad Guys

Mar 12, 2009
The U.S. is the leading arms exporter throughout the world, accounting for over 45 percent of all the weapons transferred globally in 2007. This appalling statistic is in a report from the New America Foundation, entitled U.S. Weapons at War 2008. Among the report’s other disclosures:

  • Arms sales agreements in 2007 were triple what they were in 2005.
  • During 2006 and 2007, we supplied arms and military training to 174 countries and territories, up from 123 in 2001. (There are only 195 countries in the world.)
  • Twenty of the 27 major conflicts ongoing in 2006/07 involved one or more parties armed and trained by the U.S.
  • Over half (13) of the 25 U.S. arms recipients in the developing world during 2006/07 were either undemocratic regimes or regimes that engaged in major human rights abuses.
The report also notes how sales to putative friends, such as Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, eventually come around to being used against us as friendships go sour.

Militarism is as American as apple pie, and it seems clear from this report that we will sell arms to just about anyone. The history of our own military adventures in just our lifetime, from Korea to Iraq 2, suggest that violence is our first response to provocation of any sort. And since Korea, it has rarely if ever resulted in a lasting resolution accruing to our benefit.

We are not a pacifist. Were we a Russian at Borodino or a Yank at the Battle of the Bulge, we would have gladly blown the head off any enemy we encountered, knowing full well that our nation and our own survival were at stake. However, when they aren’t at stake, when we are there for economic gain, for political maneuvering, or even for plain old-fashioned revenge, then what we bring to the unhappy people at the receiving end of our enormous military might is simply murder, and there is no two ways about it.
tags: Militarism

Talking to the Taliban

Mar 11, 2009
The Taliban stone people to death. They harbored bin Laden while he hatched his lunatic scheme that succeeded so well. They blew up those ancient giant buddhas that stood watch over the Bamyan Valley for so many centuries. They are particularly fearful of women and when they were calling the shots in Afghanistan for a few years in the mid- to late-90s, they would not let women be treated for medical problems, let alone pursue an education.

Now, a New York Times story1 is floating the notion of talking to the Taliban, or at least to portions of it which we believe can be split off from the more militant and intransigent elements. It is worrisome to read that the administration’s thoughts on the matter are just as inchoate and hesitant as their cogitations regarding Iraq and the fiscal situation. Good intentions and a refreshingly revised estimation of America’s place in the world are no substitute for a firm sense of purpose and a clear direction in times of extraordinary crisis. Look for others to soon begin tossing around words like “floundering” and “waffling” when describing the new administration’s lack of resolve and public head-scratching over the admittedly intractable challenges it faces.

The problem, in our eyes, is not that the administration is incapable of seeing its way clear to taking a proper position in the face of its challenges. Rather, the facts of Realpolitik2 in this day of the ascendant corporatocracy argue that militarism and corporate profit must be the first consideration of an administration and legislative body that owe their very existence and makeup to those elements. And so the banks are isolated from their blunders while the people line up at the unemployment office; and our children continue to suffer and die for another useless 18 months while $200 billion more is squeezed out of a war lacking any definable tactic, strategy, or point.

But talk? Of course. Talk to anyone who will talk to us. Talk all day. Talk all night. When you are talking to someone, you are almost never shooting at them, and that can only be a good thing. Because war is not the answer, it is never the answer, unless the question is one of survival.
1 Dreaming of Splitting the Taliban, by Helene Cooper, from the New York Times, Mar 7, 2009, accessed Mar 7, 2009
2 Realpolitik, from Wikipedia, accessed Mar 7, 2009.
tags: Militarism

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Mar 09, 2009
During the campaign, it was 16 months and we’re outta there! Last week it was 18 months (on top of the one that has passed already, for a grand total of 19) and we’re outta there!1 The long national nightmare of a misbegotten military adventure, founded on a lie, costing 35,000+ casualties2 and three trillion dollars, mismanaged for six endless years, would finally be over.

All right, we were patient. We were coming to understand that this was a careful, deliberate, thoughtful president, unlike the loose cannon that had been caroming off the Oval Office walls for the past eight years. If he wanted to extend combat operations all the way to August 2010, what the hey, we would be patient and see how it went.

Then our brain kicked in. That additional detail in the Obama plan which would leave 35-50,000 troops in Iraq with combat capability after the end of “combat operations ” in August 2010 did not quite scan on our logic receptors. Furthermore, whoever heard of unilaterally setting a schedule for the end of a war a year and a half in advance? The fact that we can pretend to do so reveals just what a phony war this is. And what have we not accomplished in six years that we hope—or need—to accomplish in the next 18 months? No one has told us. And if we are still going to be fighting in 18 months, how can we possibly hope to put up a good front with fewer than a third of our present contingent, when that contingent has been inadequate to the task so far?

Our inevitable conclusions fill us with fear and trembling: As in their responses to the collapse of the world’s economies, so in the matter of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the present administration is floundering, directionless, and fully as oblivious to the needless suffering and the clear will of the people as the past one. Its proffered solutions so far lack both boldness and sufficient adequacy of scope.

The only thing we have to fear is the fearfulness of the administration itself, which “paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” What are they afraid of? Of failure. Of angering their corporate paymasters. Of admitting the error even of the error-ridden ways of their predecessors. And so their reactions to these crises are meek, inadequate, temporizing, and ultimately doomed to failure.

How desperately we hope we are wrong!
1 6 Years In, Troops Glimpse Real Path Out of Iraq, by Steven Lee Myers, from the New York Times, Mar 6, 2009, accessed Mar 7, 2009.
2 Iraq Coalition War Casualties, accessed Mar 7, 2009
tags: Militarism

The Gathering Storm

Feb 23, 2009
Seventeen thousand more soldiers are bound for Afghanistan, to join the 36,000 already there.1 Sixty-one people were killed by unmanned drone aircraft attacks over three days last week in Pakistan.2 Twenty-thousand California state workers have received notice they may be losing their paychecks this spring, while thousands more are out of work starting today after 270 state-funded transportation projects were abruptly cancelled.3 And our new top spook, Dennis Blair, a man with an odious past,4 has decided the global economic crisis is more dangerous than terrorism and, if allowed to deepen, “would contribute to unrest and imperil some governments.”5

It is apparent that Obama has chosen the Colin Powell doctrine of overwhelming force over the Rumsfeld slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am army, and that a reign of terror is about befall another long-suffering people led by a corrupt puppet regime. It will last for years, millions will die, and the very best the most Pollyanna-ish among us can hope for at the end of it all is a mangled sort of status quo ante.

Simultaneously, domestic challenges are testing our people as they have not been tested since the 1930s and possibly since the Civil War. As the middle class failed to take the draft to their bosom in the 60s, they are going to be equally unsympathetic toward the disappearance of their wealth, the new and unwelcome experience of hunger, and the knowledge that they have lost their country to a rapacious plutocracy. One day soon, they will hear the bell, they will know for whom it tolls, and they will rise.

Meanwhile, the forces of repression are moving into place. An Army unit has been stationed inside the U.S. to control “civil unrest.”6 Protesters at the Republican Convention are being tried as terrorists.7 And a man whose priorities have never included deference to the hierarchy of command or squeamishness about slaughtering unarmed innocents huddled in a church,8 a man whose most pressing concern today is “unrest,” is at the head of our national intelligence network.

A perfect storm of militarism, domestic unrest, and the criminalization of dissent is gathering. If the spectre of fascism hovered over the Bush presidency, it has come to walk the earth in the second month of an administration swept to power on what are increasingly coming to appear to be fraudulent promises of hope and change.
1 Putting Stamp on Afghan War, Obama Will Send 17,000 Troops, by Helene Cooper, from the New York Times, February 17, 2009, accessed, as were other notes in today’s entry, on February 18, 2009
2 US Drone Attacks Kill 61 in Pakistan, from Democracy Now, February 16, 2009
3 Schwartzenegger set to sack 20,000 workers in California, from The Australian, February 18, 2009
4 Blair Denies Backing Indonesian Atrocities in East Timor, from Democracy Now, January 23, 2009
5 Global Economy Top Threat to U.S., Spy Chief Says, by Mark Mazzetti, from the New York Times, February 12, 2009
6 ACLU Seeks Answers on Reports of Domestic Army Deployment, from Democracy Now, October 22, 2008
7 RNC Protesters Tried on Terrorism Charges Despite Acknowledgment They Didnít Commit Alleged Acts, from Democracy Now, February 18, 2009
8 Report: Intel Nominee Adm. Dennis Blair Knew of ’99 East Timor Church Killings Before Crucial Meeting, from Democracy Now, January 22, 2009
tags: Militarism

Pondering Israel

Feb 17, 2009
Pity the poor Jew.

Plagued by the Egyptians, plagued by the Romans, plagued by the Christians, in the 1880s so plagued by the Russians and their pogroms that a dream is dreamed of their own homeland after millennia in diaspora, and Zionism is born.

Seventy years later, after one last horrendous plague perpetrated by history’s most monstrous villain, a homeland is carved out by displacing fellow Semites from their land, assuring lasting enmity from a billion surrounding followers of Islam who hate the Jews as much as any of their erstwhile tormentors and, in this case, perhaps even with some reason. Irony doesn’t get any more ironical than that.

On top of the irony of the founding of Israel, is the greater irony that these essentially peace-loving and enlightened overachievers have themselves become a plague to generations of Palestinians whom they have displaced. Backed by American political and monetary support (the latter to the tune of $10 million a day1), Israel has developed a nuclear deterrent along with a social and cultural antipathy toward reconciliation with their victims matched only by that of the victims themselves.

An Egyptian murdered Anwar Sadat for making peace with Israel, an Israeli murdered Yitzhak Rabin for supporting the Oslo accords and other peace initiatives. Last week, two right-of-center parties tied in the latest elections, assuring the continuation of perceived irreconcilable differences between the parties.

Former President Jimmy Carter has been in tireless pursuit of peace in the Middle East for decades. His latest book, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, sets forth a rather kludged two-state solution involving, among other things, a narrow 35-mile Palestinian corridor between Gaza and the West Bank that would allow Palestinians to travel back and forth between the two sections of their country. Meanwhile, Israel continues to build new settlements on land won in the 1967 war, erect massive walls that will prove to be as onerous to their own people as they are to the people they are supposedly walling out, and tormenting the Palestinians with endless checkpoints and restrictions on services and imports in Gaza that keep its 1.5 million inhabitants in dire need.

It is a problem as intractable as any in history and, if not solved—considering Iran’s threatened nuclear buildup—could result in the Armageddon so fondly anticipated by our own religious fundamentalists.
1 Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work,” from Democracy Now, February 11, 2009, accessed February 14, 2009
tags: Militarism

The Forever War

Feb 05, 2009
We borrow the excellent title of Dexter Filkins’s excellent book1 for this item, even though the Rand Corporation refers to global hostilities over the next unspecified number of years as the Long War, as in Unfolding the Future of the Long War: Motivations, Prospects, and Implications for the U.S. Army, by Christopher G. Pernin, et al.

For those who like their downers straight, reading this report should result in as deep a depression as one could hope for. The folks at Rand imagine eight possible avenues (which they call “trajectories”) down which our military may travel in the long war, none of them promising much relief from the status quo, and some of them depicting scenarios no less daunting than a contemplation of doomsday itself. Of course, the intent of the report is to assess implications for our military should one or more of the trajectories occur, so it is not surprising that the report is shot through with dependence upon militarism.

One of the seven strategy options the report outlines, however, contains a hint of hope and relief. This is the “Underlying Causes” strategy, where the Army backs off and leaves it to the State Department, the Peace Corps, USAID, and other nonmilitaristic bodies of the U.S. government to address the socioeconomic disasters, wrought by wretched governance, which have turned most of the nations harboring terrorists into basket cases.

If we could only stop tolerating—let alone supporting—regimes which deny their own people the income, education, and freedoms that every rational human being craves, we are convinced that this reversal of longstanding U.S. policy alone would reduce global terrorism to a significant degree.
1 The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins, 2008 (accessed Feb 1, 2009)
tags: Militarism

Boeing Boeing; or, Up, Up in the Air

Feb 03, 2009
We receive a daily email from the Aerospace Industry Association which provides all sorts of news and gossip regarding the Military-Industrial Corporatocracy that runs the show here in Freedomland. A scan of the latest headlines provides a good taste of this resource, which you can sign up for here.

Boeing to be sole bidder on Air Force One
Apparently, Boeing’s only competition for the new fleet of three mega-jets for our none-dare-call-it-imperial presidency is Europe’s Airbus. When Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced legislation requiring the fleet contract be awarded to an American firm, Airbus dropped out. So look for another multi-billion-dollar non-competitive contract being awarded soon. But don’t tell Boeing. They might jack up the price. Read more at the L.A. Times: Airbus to stay out of contest for Air Force One.

Obama pledges support in first Pentagon meeting
Everything went swimmingly for militarism at Obama’s first sit-down with our boys in uniform, with nary a discouraging word apparently raised regarding the futility of force which has been demonstrated over and over again in the last sixty years. Read more in Defense News: At Pentagon, Obama Pledges Decisions “Immediately.”

Delta re-ups for federal safety program
Are we reading this right? Is Delta just now allowing their pilots to report safety violations without fear of reprisals? And other domestic carriers aren’t? Can you say “federal whistleblower laws”? Read more at Bloomberg.com: Delta, Pilots Rejoining U.S. Airline Safety Program.

Report: Pentagon pushed sole-source contract for CSAR-X
That’s a $15 billion helicopter program, for which the Pentagon pressured the Air Force into skipping open bidding in favor of—you guessed it—Boeing. Read more at AviationWeek: Pentagon Wanted Sole Source Search, Rescue.

Boeing to slash 10,000 jobs this year
Hold the phone, Jim. There may be some good news on the way.

Trains, buses lag far behind airlines on security
More than 75 percent of rail and bus systems fail to meet Homeland Security guidelines. New DHS chief Janet Napolitano will have us taking our shoes off on the Amtrak platform soon. Daily Reminder: Don’t forget to be afraid.
And that’s it for today. More juicy inside stuff about the M-I C tomorrow.
tags: Militarism

The $100 Billion Misunderstanding

Dec 20, 2008
The Pentagon Papers revealed the debacle that was the Vietnam war, and now the New York Times and the online journalism web site ProPublica have published what should be an equally incendiary document, Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience, written by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction following several years of interviews and study.

The bottom line? The reconstruction effort in Iraq has wasted over $100 billion, much of it American taxpayer money, through a combination of poor or nonexistent planning, disruptions caused by the insurgency, turf wars among uncoordinated participants, and fraud: “[A] massive waste of taxpayer dollars.”1

ProPublica provides particularly useful Excerpts from the 513-page report. They reveal that reconstruction was inadequately planned for before the invasion and ineptly pursued afterwards. In what appears to be full-fledged bureaucratic panic, agencies and offices opened and closed; administrators came and went; huge projects lay dormant halfway to completion and completed projects were not sustained; turf wars between Defense, State, USAID, the White House and others resulted in huge wastes of time and money. And through it all, an insurgency which to this day holds sway throughout Iraq played havoc with the few coordinated actions the various offices and authorities managed to mount during their short tenures.

The Inspector General concludes, “Why was so large a reconstruction program pursued in so insecure an environment? Others will have to provide that answer.”2

Obama has pledged (sort of) to disengage us from this Slough of Despond. However, he has also pledged to get us more involved in the slough to the east in Afghanistan, boosting both military and reconstruction efforts in an environment which is proving even more intractable than Iraq. If pursued, this unilateral, military response to an essentially multilateral situation calling for international policing efforts, particularly in a region which has proven time and again to be unmanageable by history’s very best managers, will be a morass into which will sink Obama and all his hope for change.

“Hard Lessons” is a road map to disaster. Nothing in the manner we have pursued our efforts in Afghanistan to date, and nothing in the announced plans of the new administration, give us reason to believe we are not still on that road.
1 Hard Lessons, pg. iii.
2 Ibid.
tags: Militarism

Fear Itself

Dec 04, 2008
They’re at it again. The headline in our local daily this morning reads, “U.S. Bio Attack in Next 5 Years Likely.”1

When outright oppression and domestic terror is off the table (although we might ask José Padilla2 to comment on that), fear is what best controls populations and renders them docile in the face of political tyranny. Cheney/Bush effectively played the fear card throughout their administration, even continuing to prevail in every area of their agenda after the Democrats assumed control of Congress in 2007.

Today the torch of fear is being passed to the next administration. The story noted above related to a report from the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism being presented today to Joe Biden, Obama's VP and First Hawk in an administration that is becoming filled with hawkish officials: Clinton, Gates, Rice.

In a pair of stories also in today’s paper,3 Obama formally introduces his choices for several high-level cabinet and White House positions. It is distressing to note that the position of Secretary of State is consistently characterized as being part of Obama’s “national security team.” National security has become a codeword for doing anything we want to anyone we like at anytime we choose, and damn the consequences. And to stamp our already hawkish-enough Secretary of State-designate with this codeword is to taint the position with unduly militaristic connotations and to downplay its true value as a great nation’s primary representative—and reassurance—to a fearful and needy world.

So it looks like it’s “Speak loudly and wield that big stick,” while scaring the pants off the populace in the home front. In other words, business as usual. And as Obama backs off his pledge to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months (the pledge now downsized to a “desire”4), we may anticipate endless war through another administration.

This is change? This is hope?
1 You can read it here: Panel: Bio attack likely in next 5 years, from Yahoo News (Associated Press), Accessed December 2, 2008, as are other footnoted sources today.
2 José Padilla (prisoner), from Wikipedia
3 You can read it here: Obama Names Team to Face a Complex Security Picture, by Karen DeYoung and Michael D. Shear, from the Washington Post, December 2, 2008
4 Obama moves from electioneering to governance with nominees, by Peter Baker, from The International Herald Tribune, December 2, 2008
tags: Militarism

The Day After

Nov 05, 2008
Let us hope today, which we are writing about on October 25, is not as horrific an aftermath as that depicted in the TV film “The Day After” 25 years ago.1

We have lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation our entire life. How can this world continue to tolerate the anxiety and the threat of these weapons? Some signs point to the possibility that it cannot and will not continue to tolerate them. Most leaders of nuclear nations have expressed interest in reducing the world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, and the U.S. is actively reducing our own.2 Nevertheless, much remains to be done to move efforts along aimed at zero nuclear weapons in a world where the global development of nuclear power for peaceful purposes is set to expand significantly in the next generation.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced a reported entitled Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: Why the United States Should Lead, by George Perkovich. Billed as “Foreign Policy for the Next President,” it sets out “four security interests that would be served by making the long-term project of abolishing nuclear weapons a central purpose of U.S. policy:

  • Preventing proliferation
  • Preventing nuclear terrorism
  • Reducing towards zero the unique threat of nuclear annihilation
  • Fostering optimism regarding U.S. global leadership
Should America one day return to rational governance, these goals could be met. The Carnegie report bears reading in order to understand the difficulties the country faces—internally and externally—in pursuing these goals.

Difficult or not, it is the ultimate responsibility of the nation that brought nuclear weapons into the world to see that they are ultimately removed.
1 The Day After (1983) (TV), from IMDB (Accessed October 25, 2008)
2 United States Reducing Nuclear Weapons at an Extraordinary Pace, by Jacquelyn S. Port, from America.gov, April 25, 2008 (Accessed October 25, 2008)
tags: Militarism

Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When

Oct 11, 2008
Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice, and some say under a gigantic mushroom cloud. We “saw in” the Atomic Age, born two months and a week after Nagasaki was destroyed, and we wouldn’t be surprised if we saw it out as well. Peacefully, if possible, but more likely in a holocaust that will leave the handful of survivors envying the dead.

Nine nations either have or are believed to have nuclear weapons today, and seven of them scare the pants off us: USA, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.1 We’re not nearly so concerned about those old foes the UK and France as we are about the other seven. The US has been rattling the nuclear sabre for over sixty years, and many of our fellow members of the nuclear club are failed states or on the verge of failure.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) maintains records in their Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB) consisting of “incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive materials.” It’s the scariest database we know of, containing, as of December 31, 2007, over 1,300 confirmed incidents since 1993. Their ITDB Fact Sheet for 2007 shows illicit activity increasing, in some cases alarmingly, over the 14-year history of the ITDB. Russia and Germany seem to be the hotbeds of illicit activity regarding highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

One hundred countries participate in the ITDB, and it is good to see the list includes all the nuclear powers except North Korea. Still, given the prognosis for a future where resource wars will almost certainly play a role in international relations, the odds are altogether too great to merit debating if a nuclear incident is in our future. It is sadly much more to the point to wonder where or when it may occur.
1 List of states with nuclear weapons, from Wikipedia (Accessed October 7, 2008)
tags: Militarism

No Respect

Aug 10, 2008
What are the consequences of arrogantly bullying one’s way into a unilateral, pre-emptive, unjustified, and hopeless conflict, then stubbornly pursuing it for six years against the wishes of the international community and even of one’s own citizens?

Among the serious consequences is the sorry fact that the U.S. finds itself becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of international relations. With our enormous military might stalemated year after year by disorganized gangs of ill-equipped street thugs, our credibility, our integrity, and our influence have steadily dissipated, not to the least degree among the very countries most affected by our present misadventure.

In a report entitled “The New Arab Diplomacy: Not With the U.S. and Not Against the U.S.,” by Marina Ottaway and Mohammed Herzallah, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace draws the following dispiriting conclusions:

In general, a growing web of diplomatic initiatives and contacts is being spun throughout the Gulf and the Levant, and the United States is not part of it ... The hard-line, confrontational policy the United States has embraced under the Bush administration has inadvertently demonstrated the limits of U.S. power ... The rejection of diplomacy has thus reduced the United States to a condition of self-inflicted powerlessness regarding many problems. The vacuum is being filled in part by U.S. adversaries—Iran, Syria, HAMAS, and Hizbollah—and in part by friendly Arab regimes, which seek to find a way forward in situations where U.S. policy has contributed to stalemate ... In this new regional diplomacy, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a major player while Egypt has sidelined itself in the waning years of the Mubarak regime, turning inward while it waits for the succession—and possibly a succession crisis—to unfold ... [M]ost Gulf countries and even Egypt no longer believe the Bush administration can contribute to solutions because of its unwillingness to talk to and negotiate with all sides and to help forge compromises ... the United States now has little leverage over the policies of even friendly countries....
A sorry legacy for the next administration to confront.
tags: Militarism

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Aug 09, 2008
That’s six trillion, 393 billion, 94 million dollars. And that’s how much we've spent—in 2008 dollars—on all the wars we’ve fought since the American Revolution. Which, at only $1.8 billion, was a bargain.

In a bit over five years, we have spent almost as much—$648 billion—fighting a losing conflict in Iraq as we spent fighting the losing conflict in Vietnam over ten years ($689 billion). We’ve spent in Iraq more than 10 times the amount spent in the Civil War—by both sides combined.

Furthermore, these estimates do not include costs of veterans’ benefits, interest paid for borrowing money to finance the conflict (and almost all the money for Iraq has been borrowed. Our nation’s grandchildren will pay for it in a starkly lower standard of living), or assistance to allies. Indeed, it has been estimated by credible economists that the Iraq boondoggle has already committed us to total spending in excess of three trillion dollars.1

All this comes from a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report (RS22926) released late last month.

Read it and weep.
1The Three Trillion Dollar War, by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes, W.W. Norton, 2008 (Accessed August 2, 2008)
tags: Militarism

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Count Me Out

Aug 08, 2008
I don’t support our troops.

I don’t write them letters or read their blogs. I don’t mourn them when they die or are disabled. I don’t grieve with their parents, who grew up during the Vietnam war and, in many cases, participated in it, and should know better—a lot better.

No, I don’t oppose the war while supporting the troops because the troops are supporting the war voluntarily, mindlessly, recklessly, by putting their lives at the service of a lying, grasping, illegal administration that should have been impeached as soon as it was clear that they knew all along that the justifications they put forth for invading Iraq were bogus.1

Our troops, for all their sacrifices (and 4,127 of them are dead and 30,324 are wounded as of today2), are willing pawns in another militaristic and imperialistic blunder by the world’s great bully. This administration has bankrupted us financially,3 and it has bankrupted us morally.4 They have torn up the greatest document the world has ever known establishing self-government by a free people. They have destroyed the symbol of our nation as a beacon to the world's oppressed who struggle in darkness toward freedom. In the memorable imagery of Robert Bly, “They are loosening the nails on Noah’s Ark.”

And we, the people, have let them do it, and our troops have been at the forefront of the enablers, without whom the bullyboy neocons could not have gotten us and our world into this unholy mess.

“What if somebody gave a war, and nobody came?”5 Maybe next time.
1“Waggy Dog Stories,” by Paul Krugman, New York Times, May 30, 2003 (Accessed August 2, 2008)
2Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, on icasualty.org (Accessed August 2, 2008)
3“Scary deficit forecast calls for straight talk,” Des Moine Register, August 2, 2008 (Accesed August 2, 2008)
4“America Is Bankrupt,” by Ronald van Raak, SP International, August 1, 2008 (Accessed August 2, 2008)
5Allen Ginsburg on Quoteland.com (Accessed August 2, 2008)
tags: Militarism

A Daughter's Death

Jul 27, 2008
She died a suicide in her barracks, says the Army. However, credible evidence exists that 19-year-old Army Pfc. LaVena Johnson died of a rape, a beating, and a gunshot wound to the head in the tent of a KBR contractor in Iraq. Now, three years later, her grieving parents are still seeking some measure of justice, applying to Representative Henry Waxman to hold hearings into their daughter’s death before his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

What I can do. What you can do.
1) Watch and listen to the interview with Johnson's parents and others conducted by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!
2) Sign a petition to Waxman which has been produced by colorofchange.org, a grassroots Internet organization seeking justice for all “colors” in America.

And Mothers: don’t let your daughters go to war. If they’re young and vulnerable and patriotic, there is much they can do on the home front without sending them into a lawless1 nest of predators.2
1An End to Iraq Contractor Immunity?, by Patrick Cockburn, on counterpunch.org, June 20, 2008 (Accessed July 26, 2008).
2The Women's War, by Sara Corbett, The New York Times, March 18, 2007 (Accessed July 26, 2008).
tags: Militarism

LaVena Johnson's Web Page

Exit Strategy

Jul 14, 2008
“Quickly, Carefully, Generously” is a report of the Task Force for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq and was released in June 2008. The Task Force, initiated by the Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA) at the Commonwealth Institute of Massachusetts, consisted of 14 experts from a variety of U.S. academic and NGO venues (and one from the University of London).

They set forth a number of initiatives similar to those recommended by the Iraq-Study Group (also called the Baker-Hamilton Commission) in December 2006, and I expect it will receive as much respect and will have as much influence on the progress of the conflict as that one did. In brief, both reports advise we begin a phased withdrawal of combat troops and engage Iraq's neighbors (especially Iran and Syria) in multilateral discussions regarding the future of the area. In addition, the PDA Task Force recommended a more substantial role for the U.N., and it set out various procedures and programs that should be instituted to make up for the damage we have done to the country, its people, and the region.

Having lived through the debacle of Vietnam (and still reeling from the realization that I am actually witnessing another such mega-misadventure in my lifetime), I entertain few illusions regarding a well-ordered—or early—retreat from this Slough of Despond. We are all aware of McCain's plans to stay in Iraq for a hundred years; and Obama is also—tragically, albeit characteristically—retreating from his hard line for withdrawal which earned him such adulation during the primaries.1

Still, the report is worth reading, if only to fantasize what it would be like for a great nation, a rich nation, a democratic nation, to do the right thing, admit the error of its ways and make just recompense. However, even if such a fantasy were practical and achievable, I wonder whether Iraq is salvageable at all as a separate entity, given the brutality, sectarian conflict, and stores of bitterness and rancor it has accumulated, under Saddam Hussein and afterward.
1"Obama fuels pullout debate with remarks," New York Times, July 4, 2008.
tags: Militarism

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Will We Ever Learn?

Jun 02, 2008
The Rand Corporation is “a nonprofit research organization providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world.”

In their sixth paper on counterinsurgency, “Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence,” they discuss the military's tendency to ignore its own counterinsurgency manuals that stress winning the hearts and minds of the populations they are struggling to subdue in favor of the old tried-if-not-so-true methods involving large-scale operations and heavy firepower. It's déjà-vu all over again as the mistakes that made Vietnam such a horror show are made again in Iraq and Afghanistan. From the report's summary:

[T]his paper casts doubt on the military's ability to truly be a "full-spectrum force," because attempting to optimize for the full spectrum of conflict may produce a force that is not particularly good at any one aspect of that spectrum.
tags: Militarism

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