Thursday, December 31, 2009

Since 9/11, We've Embraced Our Inner Coward

The Fear Decade

By Ted Rall

December 31, 2009 "Information Clearing House" -- NEW YORK--Home of the free and the brave. Live free or die. Shoot first; ask questions later. Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out. These were the mottos of a brash, impetuous, audacious-to-a-fault nation.

That nation is dead.

Once we Americas did brave things: We sat on boats, crossing the English Channel, knowing that most of us would die on the beach in Normandy. We sat at the lunch counter in the Deep South, waiting for white goons to beat us up. We also did brave things that were stupid: When the president sent us to Vietnam, some of us went, risking death. Others went to Canada, sacrificing everything for principle. We bungee jumped. We tried New Coke. Bravery can be dumb.

But it's still brave.

Then came 9/11/01. It was the defining event of the decade that ends today, a fin-de-siècle moment for a previously proud nation's once glorious history.

The Fear Decade had begun.

Bin Laden wanted the destruction of the World Trade Center to smack oblivious Americans' upside their collective heads, to draw their attention to their nation's toxic foreign policy (especially in the Middle East), maybe even to demand that the U.S. stop propping up dictators. It didn't work.

Rather than prompt them to reassess their government's behavior, Americans got angry. Anger, as any shrink will tell you, comes from fear. And fear makes you do stupid things.

Fear of future attacks. Fear of Muslims. Of anyone wearing a turban. Foreigners. The next thing we knew, the paranoid delusionals leading us convinced us that fearful people and things were everywhere. Mail full of anthrax. Gas stations stalked by snipers. Threat levels: orange, red, etc. (but it's always orange). Avian flu. Eeek! Stop these things! Do whatever it takes!

Throwing innocent Muslim men in prison? It was worth it to (possibly, probably not) prevent one attack. Torture? We couldn't take any chances--what if the victim knew that a bomb was about to go off? Because one lunatic tried to blow up his joke of a shoe bomb on a flight from Paris to Miami, America's 800 million air travelers are ordered to take off their 1.6 billion shoes every year. Because a half-dozen Brits thought about trying to blow up planes using hair peroxide and Tang (yes, really), millions of nursing mothers were told to dump bottles containing thousands of gallons of breast milk into trashcans at airport security checkpoints. Never mind the scientists who said such plots couldn't work. And now, the most fearsome fear of all: the Paris-to-Detroit underwear bomber. Airport security is about to turn really ugly.

Governments act stupid and mean. That's normal. What the Fear Decade made different was us. It made us let the government do whatever it wanted.

Fear is irrational. As I pointed out at the time, Iraq's longest-range missiles couldn't reach Europe, much less the United States. In other words, it didn't matter if Saddam had had WMDs. It didn't matter to us, anyway. Yet we destroyed our economy and murdered two million people to invade Iraq.

I watched a legless vet, humiliated and detained by a TSA agent as he repeatedly explained why the metal detector kept going off: his body was full of titanium, courtesy of the Iraqi insurgency. I watched. So did other passengers. We said nothing.

We were afraid.

Not just at the airport. We were afraid at work. Unions were deader than dead, the government was in the hands of gangster capitalists, and the economy started tanking the instant Bill Clinton began packing his bags. We were overleveraged, maxed out and one paycheck away from losing everything. Ask for a raise? Demand longer vacations? Are you crazy, brother? Like Jews assembled in the freezing courtyard of a concentration camp, we stared straight ahead, terrified, hoping not to be noticed, to live to see the next "selection."

Fear everywhere! National Guardskids, all of 20 years old and decked out in their best Kevlar, brandishing automatic weapons taller than they are at women and children as they came out of commuter rail stations. Annoying, sure--but what if...what if...what if something happened? We heard that the government was listening to our phone calls and reading our email but instead of summoning up outrage at this brazen and illegal violation of privacy we took cold comfort in that hoary chestnut: "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."

But we were afraid. We all were. We still are.

Then we elected Barack Obama. We didn't vote for him because he was accomplished. He wasn't. Or because we liked his ideas. He hardly had any. We voted for him because he seemed so calm.

But he was afraid too. More than that, he wanted us to keep being scared--of the same exact stuff Bush had had us so frightened of! Lions and tigers and Muslims, oh my! The Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, even though the Pentagon said there were fewer than 100 Al Qaeda guys in the whole country! Iraq, still, although he couldn't quite explain why, and the bad guys who didn't do anything wrong at Guantánamo, just in case.

Now it's all fear, all the time. Fear of diseases (H1N1). Fear of evil banks (feed them or they'll go away, which would somehow be worse). We were arrogant once, loud and silly and funny and crazy as hell, and we were Americans.

Now we're timid and pissy and pissed off, and I don't recognize, much less like, what we've become.

Ted Rall is the author, with Pablo G. Callejo, of the new graphic memoir "The Year of Loving Dangerously." He is also the author of the Gen X manifesto "Revenge of the Latchkey Kids." His website is tedrall.com.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Leading an Empire in Decline: Obama’s First Year

by Lewis Seiler & Dan Hamburg

Almost a year ago, in an editorial published on this site we called on Barack Obama to be the hero our country so sorely needed. We pointed back in time to the flush of hope that greeted Bill Clinton's election in 1992, hope that was quickly dashed on the shoals of NAFTA and the Contract with America. Would Obama's early tenure follow a similar trajectory?

So far it has. Obama's first year, including the ongoing health care snafu, has served only to amplify the fact that the government of our country is run by corporations. As Ralph Nader pointed out over a decade ago, it is government "of the Exxons, by the General Motors, and for the DuPonts." Meanwhile, these corporate "persons" slyly deflect public anger back onto the government for the dysfunction and cruelty that results.

This is a society in which the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider even as the work-for-a-living class forks it over to cover bad bets made by the wealthiest. It's a society in which health care remains a privilege, tens of millions of middle-class homes are submerged and untold millions of well-paying industrial and information jobs have been outsourced. Public and private debt has reached astronomical proportions. It's a society inured to perpetual war in service to a vast armaments industry. As Rabbi Michael Lerner put it, it's a society that "leaves people hungry not only for life's necessities, but for ethical and spiritual fulfillment as well."

While the failure to reach a climate agreement in Copenhagen is being blamed on China, it was the US -- the world's lone superpower -- that lost face. Mark Lynas exposed this in the Guardian writing "The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country's foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal..."

But the most hideous manifestations of the current moral, ethical and legal swamp we inhabit -- worse even than the ongoing hijacking by Wall Street banksters -- are the nearly decade-old wars/occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. These demonstrate how far we have strayed from the nation's founding principles. Today, our patriarchs are people like Alan Greenspan, who casually admit that "The Iraq War is really about oil." In truth, as author Dallas Darling recently put it, "In the end, the Global War on Terror is really a ruse for a centuries old dream by western powers to dominate the Arabian Peninsula."

The AfPak war is more of the same. Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar's sums it up: "Once again, since the late 1990s, it all comes back to TAPI -- the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan/Pakistan/India gas pipeline -- the key reason Afghanistan is of any strategic importance to the US."

Barack Obama understands this. He also knows that beneath the soil of Afghanistan is a rich store of uranium, tungsten, molybdenum and rare earths (used for everything from TVs to wind turbines to Priuses). And the corporations that supply the missiles, the drones, the surveillance equipment, the helicopters and the fighter jets know that Obama knows this. Why else would they have made him the heavily funded presidential hopeful in history?

In fulfillment of his pledge to the armchair warriors, President Obama has just signed the largest military budget in history, larger than the combined spending of the rest of the planet. Now this military is being unleashed on a semi-literate people engaged in a decades-long civil war. Chances of "success" are slim. As Florida Democrat Alan Grayson explains, "This is an 18th century strategy being employed against a 14th century enemy."

Military intelligence inside the Obama administration estimates that there are approximately 100 al Qaeda fighters in the entire country of Afghanistan. This is the "cancer" the president says justifies sending 30,000 more troops at a cost of a billion dollars for every soldier. Once the latest Obama surge is in place, the US will have twice as many troops and contractors in Afghanistan as did the USSR at the height of their south Asian disaster.

While the elites -- economic, military and political -- hold tight to their faith in the "exceptional" character of the American imperium, pressure is building for a new narrative. "Burgeoning forces for democracy are emerging," writes Middle East scholar Mark Levine, "both in the Muslim world and across the global south." These forces were on display in Copenhagen and are now bravely gathering on the streets of Tehran. US preoccupation with the Global War on Terror has helped Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, and other Latin American countries free themselves from decades of subservience.

The new decade could even bring a resurgence of democracy here at home. If Barack Obama isn't prepared to help lead such a movement, he'll have to get out of the way. As Dylan warned a few decades back, "You'd better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Terrorism Is a Cost of Empire

by Jacob G. Hornberger

To justify the federal government’s massive post-9/11 infringements on civil liberties, the proponents of Big Government have sometimes said, “There hasn’t been another major terrorist attack on the United States since 9/11. ”

I have responded with the following: “But if there had been another major terrorist attack, you Big Government advocates would be using that as a justification for even more severe infringements on civil liberties. So, either way you go, doesn’t Big Government win? ”

No one can deny that if the guy on that international flight to Detroit had succeeded in blowing up the plane, the Big Government advocates would be using that as an argument for having the federal government crack down even more on civil liberties.

And isn’t it interesting that the massive post-9/11 crackdown on civil liberties didn’t prevent the guy from apparently almost bringing down the plane. The fact that he failed doesn’t seem to have had anything to do with any security measures taken after 9/11. U.S. terrorism agents apparently even ignored or disregarded a personal warning from the guy’s father about his son’s extremist proclivities.

Even the anti-immigrant crowd is left empty-handed. It turns out that the guy apparently was entering the country legally, confirming what I’ve been saying ever since 9/11: That if people really want to keep out terrorists, they’ve got to put a total ban on foreign tourism to the United States. They’ve got to hermetically seal the United States, just like North Korea does.

Not surprisingly, the pro-empire crowd is using the incident to show why it is more urgent than ever to continue the brutal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and to expand killing the “bad guys” to Pakistan, Yemen, and who knows where else. The idea is that the government needs to keep killing those “bad guys” over there before they come here and kill us.

But as I’ve pointed out for years, the U.S. Empire has become the world’s biggest terrorist-producing machine. The more people it kills over there, the more the ranks of those who wish to retaliate against Americans are swelled.

In other words, the pro-empire advocates say, “We’re over there to kill them before they come over here and kill us. ” But what’s actually happening is this: They’re coming over here to kill us because the Empire is over there killing them.

What this is all about is the maintenance of the U.S. Empire — the “right” of the U.S. government to impose its will on countries around the world. Those regimes that cooperate receive U.S. taxpayer money. Those who refuse to cooperate receive bombs and missiles, or sanctions, embargoes, coups, assassinations, invasions, or occupations.

What the American people need to finally realize is that with Empire comes costs, including:

1. The meaningless deaths of U.S. soldiers. (No, they’re not dying to protect our rights and freedoms here at home but rather to maintain the hegemony of the Empire.)

2. The out-of-control federal spending that is sending our nation down the road to bankruptcy through debt, taxes, and inflation.

3. The constant threat of terrorist retaliation.

4. Ever-growing infringements on civil liberties.

The only way to avoid such costs is to dismantle the Empire, end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, close all the overseas bases, and bring all the troops home and discharge them. There is no other way. Either keep the Empire and accept the costs, or restore a republic and get peace, prosperity, harmony, normalcy, and freedom.


Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

We're on a fool's errand in Afghanistan

by Vin Suprynowicz
Dec. 27, 2009
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

Peace on earth, good will toward men. Fine sentiments. But as citizens of a republic, can we really assume we'll be held forever blameless for the actions of our government?

Barack Obama, who if he were not in office would be applying for a Community Development Block Grant to stage anti-war rallies in Chicago, just authorized sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But it's OK: He promises to pull them out in 18 months -- soon enough to guarantee they can't actually accomplish anything.

A few hundred of these young American men will be sent home in coffins or with their legs blown off. A few thousand Afghans will get blowed up real good by our Predator drones and newer, follow-up flying robots, in a military enterprise that could only have been dreamed up by someone who's spent too much time playing Dungeons and Dragons in his dormitory basement. Why?

We hear a lot of side-channel whining about how, were we to pull out now, the Taliban would resume power in Afghanistan, at which point these Islamic fiends won't allow girls to go to school any more.

Here's a news flash: Half the globe (and, currently, 95 percent of Afghanistan) is ruled by benighted thugs whose customs and behavior wouldn't pass muster with the EEOC, the EPA, the National Organization for Women or PETA -- though they might find a champion in the North American Man-Boy Love Association. We can't afford to send troops to fix them all. Once the Democrats get done turning the U.S. dollar into rainbow confetti, we won't be able to afford to send them a firm note.

Both by inclination and geography, the hill tribes of Afghanistan have proven singularly resistant to the blandishments of centralized state power. The British and Russians tried to impose our version of "civilization" on this mountainous realm, on and off, for 200 years. No dice. Now Barack Obama, who so far as we know has never field-stripped a battle rifle, never commanded a Boy Scout troop on a 10-mile hike, is going to get the job done in a year and a half with 50,000 troops and some stern rhetoric?

What, precisely, would a strong, centralized welfare/police state offer the average Afghan?

Right now, the average 14-year-old Afghan male is trusted with a rifle and care of his family's fields or flocks. What he does NOT face is an arbitrary and artificial extension of his "childhood" to keep him unmarried and out of the "labor force" till he's at least 18, if not 22.

In America, the average 14-year-old male will return next week to his ongoing 12-year incarceration in the local mandatory government youth propaganda camp, subject to punishment by his union schoolmarms should he show any dangerous signs of testosterone poisoning. This is actually a pretty good training ground for the adult life he can anticipate, forking over half his earnings in permanent enslavement to a massively intrusive welfare/police state that would have appalled any American of 1909, let alone 1776.

Should the Afghans welcome the prospect of a powerful central state on the American model -- and propped up by American mercenary "contractors," shooting up rural wedding parties with robot drones straight out of "The Terminator" -- because it promises to bring them a domestic version of the American IRS, systematically looting half their annual earnings?

Should they embrace our form of government because a simple herdsman, hoping to shift some sand and rock to build a rudimentary retention basin to water his stock, could then look forward to waiting many months for bureaucrats to be dispatched from the capital, conducting "inspections" to certify that his "project" doesn't endanger any delicate archaeological study area, nor the fragile riparian habitat of some heretofore unknown but certainly "endangered" domestic Afghan weed or bug?

Oh, sing hallelujah!

But finally and most important, the Afghans are not idiots. They know that -- should there ever be a strong centralized nation-state headquartered in Kabul -- the first thing that government's "international partners" would prevail upon such a satrapy to do would be to curtail cultivation of opium and hashish, the only two profitable cash crops ever to have taken root in their stony soil (and two of God's finest gifts to a long-suffering mankind, just for the record. Doesn't Genesis instruct us that God gave us "every herb bearing seed, and every tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat"?)

We went to war in Afghanistan because the Taliban had given shelter to al-Qaida. Our best intelligence now tells us the remnants of al-Qaida -- a few hundred souls -- shelter in northwest Pakistan. So why aren't we going to war in Pakistan? (Or are we, and the American people just can't be told?) The notion that we must install a stable modern puppet regime in every land where Osama bin Laden might pop up is a fruitless game of worldwide Whac-a-Mole that could bankrupt us even sooner than Obamacare.

The real reason we're still in Afghanistan is that post-1976 Democrats are viewed, with some cause, as Marxist surrender monkeys.

Barack Obama couldn't very well expect to win a race against an actual combat veteran with the proven manly virtues of John McCain by campaigning on a platform of "turn tail and run, but offer to hold hands with our Muslim brothers, sing kum-ba-ya, and pay them billions in bribes." So he puffed up his chest and did his best impression of Winston Churchill, vowing to fight and win the "really important war" -- Afghanistan.

It was a campaign talking point, for heaven's sake, a domestic political triangulation. For this American boys must bleed to death on some cold foreign mountain?

Peace on earth, good will toward men. Bring the boys home.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal, and author of "Send in the Waco Killers" and the novel "The Black Arrow." See www.vinsuprynowicz.com/ and www.lvrj.com/blogs/vin/.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Year Iraq Was Lost for Good

By Kelley B. Vlahos

As their fellow Americans indulge in the New Year’s holiday, perhaps pausing a moment from talk about Tiger, football, and dead celebrities long enough to speculate about our prospects in Afghanistan, the last Marine combat unit stationed in Iraq is preparing to come home.

It doesn’t need to be said there will be no ticker-tape parades or long, hot-winded excursions by Tom Brokaw about today’s "Greatest Generation." Instead, these Marines will reenter our consciousness much like a husband, home from the office, walking into a cold house with no one about and maybe a scribbled note on the refrigerator door.

It’s been a long while since anyone has even debated whether "victory" was applicable to the U.S.-led invasion and subsequent seven-year occupation of Iraq. But 2009 was the year that the war’s sad fate in the history books was assured, no doubt leaving hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women to feel as though their sacrifice, and that of their comrades, has been largely unfulfilled by anything remotely resembling "one of the great achievements of mankind."

No, in addition to what the Washington Post called "one of the most unpopular wars in American history," Iraq was all but officially declared a "non-victory" in the waning days of 2008 by none other than Gen. David Petraeus, now head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), who could hardly be accused of bias against the American cause in Iraq and the Long War. His legacy depends on history looking favorably on his previous command of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq from January 2007 to September 2008. Rest assured that he is guarding it closely.

But while the debate tediously rolls on over whether the commander’s hot counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, i.e., The Surge, advanced the U.S. mission in Iraq in 2008 or just stanched the bloodletting caused by the 2003 invasion, even Petraeus is savvy enough to put things into perspective, effectively setting the tone for 2009.

"This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag, and go home to a victory parade … it’s not a war with a simple slogan," he told the BBC, in response to a question about using the word "victory," in September 2008, two months before Barack Obama won the presidency. Less than six months later, the ultimate goal in Iraq was as oblique as ever, but it was rapidly becoming past tense, as Petraeus & Co. turned to Afghanistan as the new COIN proving ground, with hardly a backward glance. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who took over as commander of the forces in Iraq, has even faded from view after a brief period of military celebrity, popping in only infrequently to make the latest declaration on whether we will stick to the 2011 withdrawal date.

Meanwhile, President Obama settled into the rigors of transition in early 2009 focused mostly on the imploding economy and his developing strategy for Afghanistan (which he had all but named "the good war" during the campaign). In April, when the president spoke to U.S. troops in Iraq on a "surprise" visit, it was clear Obama had pretty much announced this phase of the Long War was over, and he was careful not to declare "victory" by any definition we are familiar with.

“You have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country … that is an extraordinary achievement," Obama told the troops.

"It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis," he added. "They need to take responsibility for their country.”

It wasn’t exactly Truman’s proclamation of victory over the Japanese, but then again, the advancing document essentially "ending" the Iraq War wasn’t a "surrender" by the enemy, but a status of forces agreement (SOFA) signed in late 2008 by Obama’s predecessor and the Iraqi prime minister declaring that the U.S. will leave Iraq by 2011. That’s not the sort of high-caliber emotional stuff that sticks in your throat (bile doesn’t count).

So the only parades and parties we’ve seen so far broke out in June – in Iraq – when U.S. forces began leaving the cities:

From the New York Times, June 30:

"Iraq celebrated the withdrawal of American troops from its cities with parades, fireworks and a national holiday on Tuesday as the prime minister trumpeted the country’s sovereignty from American occupation to a wary public.

"Even with a deadly car bombing and other mayhem marring the day – the deadline for the American troop pullback under an agreement that took effect Jan. 1 – Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki seized on the occasion to position himself as a proud leader of a country independent at last, looking ahead to the next milestone of parliamentary elections in January."

Obama called the day a "milestone," an "important step" toward complete Iraqi independence. But it all had the feel of a slamming book. And, as exhibited in spontaneous remarks by Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell less than two months later, it is not a book that ends on a high note, at least not under a chapter titled "Victory."

"Frankly, I don’t think anybody’s too preoccupied with declaring victory," said Morell in response to a reporter who asked whether troop withdrawal equaled a declaration of victory in Iraq. "I don’t think that was – necessarily something we’ll ever do."

Even if it is absolutely true, after 4,372 U.S. deaths (as of December) and nearly 90,000 casualties, not to mention almost $1 trillion (mostly for Iraq) in American resources, his stunningly evasive and unsatisfactory words only served to highlight the perversity of invading Iraq in the first place. And it had to be a bit of an outrage to the men and women who’ve left pieces of their bodies – and minds – behind in Iraq, or the families forever missing one at the table for the holidays, or even the unemployed assembly line worker who has to pay out-of-pocket for family insurance because it’s just too damn expensive for the federal government to ensure public health care.

But no one was really paying attention in 2009, anyway.

Comparing Iraq (not to mention Afghanistan) to Vietnam is the debate du jour, yet no one talks about the most obvious congruity: our troops today are drifting home from Iraq silently, largely unnoticed in small ripples and with nothing resembling a VJ day, or even an end, on the horizon. They aren’t leaving the kind of country behind they were told they were fighting for. The only difference is many of them will be cycling back to war, either as "advisers" or "support" to Iraqi security forces, or worse, off to Afghanistan for another nebulous occupation and a victory-neutral outcome.

This overriding ethos of the nugatory state of things is alive and well in Washington for sure, helped along by media elites such as Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria. He is an expert at getting noticed for saying nothing particularly profound, and he has blown through a lot of ink making Iraq a "could be," "should be," "maybe if," "on the other hand" kind of war. He, too, will never declare victory or defeat, but he creates a lot of obfuscations to get around saying outright that Iraq is finished.

This June headline with subhead is typical: "Victory in Iraq: How we got here is a matter for history. But the democratic ideal is still within reach." What does that even mean? Zakaria went on to recall in shopworn fashion the myriad mistakes of the Bush administration (not the 2003 invasion itself mind you, but the disbanding of the Ba’athist army, shutting down the state-run institutions, etc.), noting that a vast majority of the refugees haven’t returned, that the Sunnis are still disenfranchised, there’s trouble with the autonomous Kurds, and Iraq, overall, "remains a troubled country." All true in June, and still true. But he held out hope:

"All that is left to redeem the mission is the hope of a decent outcome – a democratic Iraq that represents a new model of Arab politics, one that does not force its citizens to choose between a repressive regime and an extreme opposition. …

"This was not Barack Obama’s war. But it might well turn out to be his greatest legacy to the Arab world."

Absolutely gratuitous and empty, especially as every impulse of this administration over the last year, aided by Zakaria’s Washington friends, has been to wave Iraq good-bye in the rearview mirror.

Zakaria seems to acknowledge that, but he gives it one more try in his recent "We’re Fighting the Wrong War." In his signature fashion, he calls The Surge "a military success" but wo n’t commit to why, or whether it really matters. The ethnic and sectarian issues plaguing the country are "still unsettled." It’s dangerous, and the refugees still aren’t coming home. And yet, the "press is free" (not!); Sunni, Shia, and Kurd are negotiating their differences "peacefully" (really?); and the nation is becoming more pluralistic and democratic (are you sure?).

Zakaria still surmises that the Americans are in the best position to fix what’s broke, even though he recognizes in almost every one of his vacillating foreign policy briefs that the U.S. is responsible for the lion’s share of fatal errors, blunders, and misjudgments.

"Iraq needs a stable power-sharing deal that keeps all three groups invested in the new country. To make this happen, all three will need to compromise. And the central positive force in all of this can be the United States. … The costs of the Iraq war have been great and perhaps indefensible. But Iraq could still turn out to be an extraordinary model for the Arab world. … The Obama administration has a window of opportunity to cement these gains in 2010."

In the immortal words of Ebenezer Scrooge, "humbug still."

Zakaria’s argument is specious, since there seems to be no real commitment from the administration or Congress to turn Iraq into anything more than a gracious exit.

Looking back, it seems 2009 merely served as a necessary intermediary, providing for us the mental catwalk between the raw wounds of Fallujah, Samarra, Abu Ghraib, and The Surge and today’s quiet and sober, if not melancholy, resignation that the "mission" will never truly be achieved.

The military establishment, led by career officers and big brass like Petraeus (who looks more than ever as though he is going to fall over from the weight of the medals pinned to his breast), has eagerly – mentally and physically – moved on to Afghanistan, having already bullied the new president into expanding operations there in 2010.

But it is the enlisted men and women and the American public – those of us who still give a damn – who will acutely and viscerally recall 2009 as the year Iraq was truly lost.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for FoxNews.com and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine.

'Gott Mit Uns': Christians Excusing War

By Gary G. Kohls, MD

Editor’s Note: Seven years ago as the United States was readying for aggressive war in Iraq, President George W. Bush tamped down the bellicose rhetoric during the Christmas season to downplay the contradiction between Jesus’s message of peace and the carnage that was about to be unleashed.

Once the Christmas season had passed, Bush was back pounding the war drums – and many Christians put away their “Peace on Earth” holiday cards and joined the march toward a bloody invasion that has killed hundreds of thousands, a contradiction in Christian philosophy examined in this guest essay by retired physician Gary G. Kohls:


When Gulf War I ended (during George Bush the Elder’s presidency), General Norman Schwartzkopf, the field commander, triumphantly proclaimed, “God must have been on our side!”

Such statements aren’t unusual for glory-seeking dictators, kings, princes, presidents and generals, regardless of what religion justified their particular war, but I cringed when I heard this self-professed Christian warrior claim God’s blessings on the war that made him famous.

In his memoir, It Doesn’t Take A Hero, Schwartzkopf claimed that he kept a Bible at his bedside throughout the war.

I cringed knowing that, according to the biblical Jesus, God is never on the side of the victors. The God of love that Jesus revealed was on the side of the victims, the oppressed, the starving, the sick, the naked, the meek who were victimized by unjust power.

Jesus’s God would not be on the side of the war-makers, but on the side of the peacemakers, the compassionate and long-suffering ones who work to prevent killing and to relieve the suffering of the victims of war.

I cringed when I heard Schwartzkopf claim God’s blessings on the carnage that he helped orchestrate because similar claims have been used to rationalize killing throughout history, from ancient times to some of the darkest days of the modern era.

As the German Nazis went about their systematic purging of any and all leftist or anti-fascist groups – Jews, socialists, homosexuals, liberals, communists, trade unionists and conscientious objectors to war – they insisted that God was on their side, too.

Adolf Hitler claimed that he was doing God’s will. German soldiers, both in WWI and WWII, went into battle with the words “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us) inscribed on their belt buckles.

Invoking “Gott Mit Uns” didn’t work just on the uneducated, brain-washable and obedient citizens and conscripted soldiers of Germany. The slogan also convinced most of the educated Protestant and Catholic clergymen to comfortably proclaim from their pulpits that Hitler’s wars were endorsed by the Christian God, and therefore every military action could be justified and carried out without guilt.

Most Germans wanted to believe that Hitler’s wars had to be fought for some higher purpose, a master plan that they trusted would benefit them all by creating “Lebensraum” (living space), which would mean security for the pure Aryan race.

Aggression as Defensive

In the Nazis’ up-is-down world, the propagandists convinced average Germans that Hitler’s wars were purely defensive (“the sword has been forced into our hands”). The terrorizing of foreigners in a neighboring country, in order to steal their land, was the patriotic thing to do.

Convincing the German public to engage in murder for the state took a lot of diligent work from Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.

Goebbels had to persuade the Germans that their neighbor’s land and oil and mineral resources could legitimately be taken by any means necessary in order to realize the Fuhrer’s dream of the “Thousand-year Reich,” where perpetual peace for the privileged German people would finally be realized.

The “collateral damage” done to the innocent civilian-victims of Europe and the Soviet Union, was felt to be unavoidable, and the “disappearances” of the non-Aryan “Untermenschen," mentioned above, was orchestrated with conscienceless bureaucratic efficiency.

Bishops, priests and pastors, most of whom had taken an oath of allegiance to Hitler, told their parishioners that it was their Christian duty to join the military and fight and kill for the Fuhrer.

Resentment also played an important role in the swastika-waving terror. Most of the street-fighting militias loyal to the Nazi party’s politics were WWI veterans who had been rendered unemployable by years of horrific trench warfare experiences.

They were justifiably angry about their joblessness, poverty, physical disabilities, mental ill health, traumatic brain injuries, hunger, all worsened by the hyperinflation and impoverishment that go hand in hand with the huge costs of having standing armies and fighting perpetual wars.

Many of these unemployed veterans rushed to join the militia groups for the food, shelter and camaraderie, perhaps not realizing that they were helping to create the chaos that would destroy the liberal democratic Weimar republic, an action that would lead the world into another world war that would ultimately turn out to be suicidal for Germany.

Most German churches cooperated with, or at least did not vocally oppose, Hitler’s agenda. Pastors cheered the Fuhrer from swastika-draped pulpits or they stood by silently as the concentration camps and prisons filled with those suspected by the Gestapo of not being supportive of the regime.

All efforts to resist came too late, for the people who objected to the dictatorship were leaderless and unschooled in any nonviolent resistance actions. They had no Gandhi or Martin Luther King and were totally unprepared to act en masse.

Blessed Wars

Though Hitler’s Nazi regime represented an exceptional form of horror in theindustrialized slaughter committed during the Holocaust and related mass killings, it must be acknowledged that other countries, including the United States, have undertaken actions that have destroyed other populations and cultures, often with the blessings of religious leaders.

In the last two decades, the two Bush administrations mounted wars in the Persian Gulf region that had the consent (or acquiescence) of the majority of U.S. church leaders, with prayers from Billy Graham in the White House the night before the invasions began.

Virtually all Christian evangelical, conservative and many mainstream church leaders and their congregations were active supporters of the Bush wars.

Only four American Catholic bishops voted in opposition to Bush the Elder’s Gulf War I (at an annual conference of U.S. Catholic bishops). In Gulf War II, Pope John Paul II declared that the war was contrary to the teachings of Jesus, but most American Catholic leaders and parishioners ignored the pontiff’s warnings and supported the war. Most American Protestants did the same.

Yet, General Schwartzkopf and both Presidents Bush are in “good” company when it comes to believing that God is on their side in war. All U.S. presidents and presidential candidates in recent memory, even President Obama, end their speeches with “May God Bless the United States of America,” the equivalent of the German military’s “Gott Mit Uns.”

My Veterans for Peace friends are of the opinion that modern war amounts to legally sanctioned, highly organized mass murder and that basic training is psychological rape with serious, often permanent consequences for everybody involved: the victims, bystanders and maybe especially the soldiers.

And today, the killing is not just done by soldiers on the ground who can see the “whites of their eyes.” War is now often done from a safe distance by the high-tech “soldiering” of high-altitude bombing, supersonic jet fighters, long-range missiles (many of them computer-guided from unmanned drones), and radioactive DU armor-piercing ordnance that will continue killing for many centuries into the future.

The victims of this kind of lopsided modern warfare (for which the human targets have no defense) regard these tactics as cowardly acts.

Bureaucracies of Death

These days, wars are started and perpetuated by a huge conglomeration of war profiteers: corporations (and their lobbyists), government bureaucracies (that obediently follow orders from above), the handlers of pro-war politicians and the financial underwriters of their campaigns, the ruling class, and the Department of War/Defense which has, as job # 1, the planning and orchestrating of current and future military conflicts, whether originating from real, imaginary or invented threats.

A major unasked question is “what should be the role of religion (specifically Christianity) in the starting and perpetuation of politically motivated wars?”

If war-makers mix religion and politics by invoking God’s blessings on the cannons and the cannon fodder, shouldn’t the churches, which are supposed to be the consciences of the nation, apply core Christian ethical principles to the war question and refuse to cooperate with the slaughter of fellow children of God?

Sadly, for the past 1,700 years, Christian churches have not done so. They have largely failed in their moral obligation to teach and live the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount.

One only has to read the gruesome history of the many “holy wars” and atrocities committed in the history of Christendom, including the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the wars of the Reformation and counter-Reformation, the various genocides including the Nazi Holocaust.

While the churches have played key roles in the promotion and cover-ups of these brutalities, the churches have not been alone. Whitewashes and excuses have often come from politicians, pundits, “embedded” journalists and co-opted history-writers, especially the authors of high school textbooks.

Recall how, when military spokesmen try to explain away the deaths of non-combatants in these wars, they invoke the term “collateral damage” (the euphemism for the unintended killing and maiming of innocents in wartime) and quickly dismiss those deaths by spouting the unconvincing phrase that Schwartzkopf and all other apologists for war use: “we regret the loss of innocent life.”

And they piously mouth these equally insincere words: “our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.” The same rote phraseology too often comes from the lips of religious leaders.

Christ’s Teachings

How can the legalized mass slaughter of war, often progressing to the point of genocide, be a part of a Christian tradition that started out with a small group of inspired, oppressed and impoverished peasants who were trying to live by the highly ethical, nonviolent teachings of their pacifist leader?

Interestingly, the active pacifism of the early Christian church did prove to be successful – and even practical. During the first few centuries of Christianity, enmity and eye-for-an-eye retaliation were rejected. The Golden Rule and the refusal to kill the enemy were actually taught in the church.

Gospel non-violence was the norm, so the professed enemies of those communities of faith were not provoked to retaliation because there was nothing against which to retaliate. Rather, enemies were befriended, prayed for, fed, nourished and embraced as neighbors – potential friends who needed understanding and mercy.

The church survived the persecutions of those early years and thrived, largely because of its commitment to the nonviolence of Jesus. It was not until the church was co-opted by the Emperor Constantine in the early 4th Century that power and wealth changed the priorities of church leaders.

Today however, it is obvious that the vast majority of professed Christians have been misled, intentionally or unintentionally, into believing that they can immerse themselves in un-Christ-like realities like war and killing and somehow still be following the gentle Jesus.

Today, American Christianity is at risk of going the way of the pro-war “Christianity” of pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany, which may in the long run discredit the faith much the way Christianity lost credibility among many Germans because their churches and church leaders facilitated those destructive wars.

The vast majority of Germans before World War II were baptized members of a Christian church, but since WWII ended church membership has fallen sharply and the number of Germans attending weekly worship services is now estimated to be in the single digits.

The psychological and spiritual wounding of the soldiers and their families in the two world wars stripped the German churches of their moral standing.

Those PTSD-afflicted ex-church-going combat veterans who lost their faith in the wars, along with their traumatized families, found out much too late that they had not been warned by the very institutions that theoretically should have courageously and faithfully taken on the heavy responsibility to teach private and public morality.

Many Germans who survived the wars felt betrayed by their churches and therefore had no inclination to try to reclaim their lost faith. The churches sank toward irrelevancy.

The world would have been far better off if the Christian leaders of the world had been faithful to the ethical teachings of the gospels and quit making blasphemous appeals to God on behalf of war, whether with those “Gott Mit Uns” belt buckles or the “God Bless America” political sloganeering.

Gary G. Kohls is a retired physician who writes about issues of war, peace, justice, mental health and nonviolence and feels it is important to mix religion and non-partisan politics. One of his areas of interest and expertise is combat-induced posttraumatic stress disorder. Dr. Kohls is a founding member of the interdenominational peace group, Every Church A Peace Church (www.ecapc.org), whose stated goal is to gradually transform Christian churches back to the original form of Christianity.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christians United for War

By Philip Giraldi

December 24, 2009 "Anti War" -- As today is Christmas Eve, it might be useful for those of us who call ourselves Christians to recall the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding humility, charity, tolerance, and peacemaking. The Christian message should be particularly welcome to the American people who have borne the burden of nearly continuous warfare since 2001, resulting in the deaths of more than 5,300 Americans and hundreds of thousands of foreigners at an appalling cost to the US economy. The message is particularly appropriate for Christmas 2009 because it appears that many so-called Christian leaders are urging the United States government to take steps that will inevitably lead to a new war, this time against Iran.

On December 10th a group calling itself the Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-Free Iran sent a letter to both political parties’ leaders in Congress as well as to the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Relations committee. The letter, beginning "We write today as Christian leaders," preceded a December 15th vote in the House of Representatives in which 412 house members approved the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act of 2009, with only twelve votes opposed. The sanctions proposed by the House of Representatives and endorsed by the Christian leadership have correctly been seen by many as amounting to an act of war.

The Christian Leaders’ letter was signed by many prominent evangelicals including Christians United For Israel founder John Hagee, Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Chuck Colson, Gary Bauer of American Values, and Richard Land. Land, who appears to be the driving force behind the letter, is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. There are also several Catholics among the thirty-seven signatories, which is surprising as the Vatican has repeatedly expressed its repugnance towards the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. One signatory Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has an interesting moral compass. In defense of the Catholic priests who assaulted young boys he once explained "After all, most 15-year-old teenage boys wouldn’t allow themselves to be molested." He has also stated that "Hollywood likes anal sex" and that the film industry is controlled by "secular Jews who hate Christianity." Donohue’s signature might be a bizarre mea culpa for his nasty comments about Jews because it aligns him firmly with AIPAC on the issue of Iran, but it places him in strange company with Hagee, who hates Catholicism and has blamed the Catholic Church for the Holocaust.

The name of the umbrella group, "Nuclear-Free Iran," is particularly ironic as Iran is in fact nuclear-free. But Tehran is directly confronted by 200 Israeli nukes and an undisclosed number of American bombs on board ships and planes in the Persian Gulf. If the Christian leaders’ letter is to be taken at face value, Israeli and American nukes are apparently to be judged, ecclesiastically speaking, by a different standard than those Iran might acquire. The letter also ignored that Iran shares a tough neighborhood with non-threatening but also nuclear armed India and Pakistan and made some questionable claims, starting with the flat assertion that Iran, guided by "extremist leaders," has a nuclear weapons program. It then went on to state that Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, is destabilizing "democratic and Western leaning regimes throughout the Middle East," and it will "sell or give nuclear weapons to extremist groups." The letter claimed that Iran has "vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the earth" and concluded by calling for sanctions on refined petroleum products being sold to Tehran, to include not only the gasoline itself but also the ships transporting it and the banks and insurance companies enabling the transactions. It concluded "We speak out today on behalf of millions of Christians who believe that the interests of peace and security would best be served by our elected representatives sending a powerful signal that this tyrannical Iranian regime shall never threaten the world with nuclear weapons."

I am one Christian who is saddened by the letter because it does nothing good for either the United States or the Iranian people and reflects no moral values that I can relate to. Many of the signatories also supported the US invasion of Iraq, which, inter alia, effectively destroyed the ancient Chaldean Christian community in that tormented land. The "Nuclear Free Iran" letter is also very light on facts. Iran’s government and its policies might not be to our liking, but it is not up to Washington to stage yet another disastrous intervention in a foreign land to bring about regime change. Tehran continues to be a signatory to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and abides by the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection regime. Like it or not, it has a legal right to enrich uranium for the generation of electricity. While there are legitimate concerns about some aspects of the country’s nuclear agenda, there is no conclusive evidence regarding the existence of a secret weapons program. If Iran does eventually decide to develop a weapon it will quite likely be due to the unrelenting pressure and threats emanating from the United States and Israel. And then there is the claim that a bomb in Iran’s hands would inevitably be given to a terrorist. In the real world, it is highly unlikely that any country would spend large sums of money over many years to develop a secret weapon for deterrence purposes only to turn around and give it away. Also, if the mullahs were to give a nuclear device to a terrorist who could somehow figure out how to transport it and use it, Iran would be obliterated on the following day by the US and Israel. There is no indication that the Iranian government is suicidal.

Contrary to the claim in the letter, Iran’s admittedly fundamentalist and authoritarian leadership is far from extremist in its political ambitions. The country has behaved pragmatically ever since its revolution against the Shah in 1979 and it has not attacked anyone. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been widely and often unfairly criticized in the western and Israeli media, does not have the authority to go to war, unlike our own President Barack Obama. Iran does support Palestinian and Lebanese resistance movements against Israel but none of those groups can be described as international terrorists unless one fully accepts the Israeli definition of terrorist. From Tehran’s point of view, it is the United States, not Iran, that is the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East through its support of Kurdish, Arab, and Baluchi separatist groups that stage attacks inside Iran.

It is also difficult to discern what the democratic governments in the Middle East that Iran is allegedly undermining might be. If the reference is to Iraq, most observers would agree that in spite of occasional friction Baghdad enjoys an excellent relationship with the Ayatollahs in Tehran, almost certainly a relationship that is closer than it has with Washington. If the reference is to Israel, Iran has no ability to influence developments in that country while the often repeated claim that Tehran would wipe Israel off the map is a deliberate fabrication. Can Iran be undermining Lebanon? It is precisely because Lebanon is a democracy that Hezbollah is so strong. It is supported by many of the Lebanese people because of its resistance to Israel, just as Hamas has been democratically elected in Gaza, an election that many in the United States also would prefer to ignore.

And then there are the sanctions themselves. The so-called Christian Leaders want to put pressure on Iran to make it behave as if punishing innocent people by denying them fuel to heat their homes is a Christian value. And there are two things that they are overlooking. First, the sanctions regime that is now being urged by Congress might have to be enforced by the US Navy to be effective which dramatically raises the likelihood that there would be an incident that could quickly lead to a shooting war, hardly a Christian outcome. Second, the sanctions themselves far exceed "pressuring the regime" to make it change its ways. Forty percent of Iran’s fuel requirements are imported, mostly from the United Arab Emirates, as the country has only limited refining capacity. If successful, sanctions on energy supplies would be devastating. Think for a moment of what would happen to the United States if 40% of its gasoline and oil were to be eliminated from the marketplace. Think what the reaction of the American public would be if the shortages were the result of the hostile action of a foreign country. If the intention of sanctions is to help the so-called "reformers" inside Iran, a claim that is made in the Christian Leaders’ letter, it would ironically have the opposite effect, empowering the hardliners. Most observers rightly note that the sanctions would at a minimum ensure that no negotiations between Iran and the west could be successful. If Iran were to react aggressively to the virtual shut down of its economy, the sanctions would quickly lead to war.

So Richard Land and his friends are on record as supporting US interventionism, opposing elections when the wrong guys win, and using force to impoverish a civilian population in a country that does not threaten the United States in any way. America’s self-described Christian Leaders have again become enablers working with a Congress and media that have become addicted to war. It might be considered churlish to suggest that the Christian mission might better consist of helping the poor and saving souls without the added burden of advising politicians. It is indeed a tragedy when folks who call themselves religious leaders give the American public the usual Hobson’s choice when it comes to dealing with Iran. It is either war or more war. Not a very reassuring message at Christmas time and not exactly the legacy of the Prince of Peace.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Troops Protect Our Freedom, and Other Lies I Learned in School

By Kevin Carson

December 23, 2009 "C4SS" -- Barrack Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech included this self-congratulatory little gem:
“But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions—not just treaties and declarations—that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.”

Before Mr. Obama dislocates a shoulder patting himself on the back, maybe we should look at the record.

When it comes to guaranteeing stability and promoting democracy, the United States’ record is pretty clear. “Global security” and “stability” mean the security and stability of a particular global order guaranteed by the United States—a global order that reflects the interests of the coalition of class forces that control the American government.

The United States’ record with regard to “enabling democracy” is also clear. When it has best served the interests of the corporate world order to replace a dictatorship with a formal democracy, the United States has done so. But when it has best suited the interests of corporate power to overthrow a democracy by force, the United States government has not hesitated to do so.

A lot of American blood has, indeed, been shed in battlefields around the world. Even more blood has been shed by the people who lived in those countries, fighting American soldiers. And the wars in which all that blood has been shed have had little to do with the prosperity, freedom, or other interests of the people where the wars were fought.

The list of killing fields, stained with “the blood of our citizens”—and of many other people—is indeed a long one. It includes the millions killed by military regimes and death squads in Central America, from the overthrow of Arbenz in 1954 to U.S. support for the Contras’ terrorism in the 1980s. It includes the victims of the military dictatorships of the Southern Cone of Latin America, installed with the support of Operation Condor in the ’60s and ’70s. It includes the hundreds of thousands massacred by Suharto (with the CIA’s Jakarta station drawing up the hit lists) and millions more by Mobutu.

“Freedom,” in operational terms, has translated into whatever degree of freedom was compatible with secure profits for United Fruit Company and ITT—which wasn’t much.

More often than not, the United States has intervened to protect the corporations who own the world from the people who live in it. As Noam Chomsky put it, the Cold War in practical terms can be summed up as a war by the U.S. against the Third World, and by the USSR against its satellites, with the “threat” of the opposing superpower in both cases serving mainly as a pretext. It’s a lot like Emmanuel Goldstein described the three rival superpowers of “1984”: three sheaves of corn propping each other up, and enabling one another to defend their respective internal systems of power.

One of the most central items in the American creed is the belief that the troops “protect our freedom.” By definition, any war the United States fights is to “defend our freedoms.” Just watch the cable news shows, or read your local newspaper’s editorials on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, if you don’t believe it. If any one belief is central to the ideology of One Hundred Percent Americanism, this is it.

But it doesn’t bear much looking into. I once saw JCS Chairman Richard Myers on C-SPAN, addressing the Army War College, criticizing China (with a straight face) for having military forces beyond its “legitimate defensive needs.” This from the highest-ranking military officer in a global superpower whose military budget exceeded those of the rest of the world combined.

When most people of common sense think of “defending our country,” the first thing that comes to mind is probably defending against an actual military attack on the territory of the United States. But if you look at all the foreign “threats” the U.S. government “defends” itself against, strangely enough they mainly involve what some country on the other side of the world is doing within a few hundred miles of its own borders. Most of them don’t even have the logistical capability to project force more than a few hundred miles outside their own borders. So if you think about it, it’s only fair that the U.S. military “defend our country” and “protect our freedoms” on the other side of the world. If Uncle Sam weren’t generous enough to meet them more than halfway, we’d never get to have any wars.

Myers’ comments about China, and the nature of the other “threats” the U.S. national security state points to, provide an interesting glimpse into what “American exceptionalism” is really all about. The United States is the only country in the world that is permitted to define as “excessive military capabilities” the ability to successfully resist an American attack. The United States is the only country with the right to define as “aggression” what another country does in its own immediate vicinity on the other side of the world—while the United States itself intervenes militarily all over the globe to force others to obey its will. The United States is the only country which is allowed to define a “threat” as another country’s ability to disobey the orders of the global hegemon within a few hundred miles of its own borders. By definition, a “threat” is any country that doesn’t do what it’s told.

So when Liz Cheney criticizes Obama for not believing in American exceptionalism, she’s all wet. He believes in it, all right. As Chomsky pointed out, American liberals, as much as American conservatives, share the implicit assumption that “we own the world.” They may believe that Vietnam or Iraq was a “mistake,” but never for one second do they question the premise that the United States has the right to intervene in such cases.

Let’s get something clear. The United States’ military does not “defend our freedom.” There hasn’t been a war in my lifetime that involved a genuine foreign military threat to our freedom, and the United States government has been actively involved in suppressing freedom around the world for decades. The United States government is a threat to our freedom, and the freedom of people everywhere.

C4SS Research Associate Kevin Carson is a contemporary mutualist author and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy and Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective, both of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation and his own Mutualist Blog.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Wish ’09: Repelling the Martian Invasion

Posted By Jeff Taylor On December 14, 2009 @ 12:49 am In Economics & Empire, Philosophers & Saints

Jacksonville, AL. Just as professing Christians cannot follow Christ while serving Mammon, they are not being faithful to the Prince of Peace while glorifying Mars. It’s nothing new. The worldly principles of violence and war entered the church within its first three centuries of existence.

The invasion was largely triggered by Constantine’s supposed vision of a Chi-Rho cross in the sky encouraging him, in Greek, with the words “In this Sign, Conquer.” (ἐν τούτῳ νίκα or, translated into Latin, In hoc signo vinces.) He then proceeded to win the Battle of Milvian Bridge (312). Emperor Constantine may have been a sincere believer, but the vision sounds apocryphal. The accounts of the vision or dream by church fathers Lactantius and Eusebius are contradictory. In addition to being church leaders, the two were court historians who had a tendency to flatter Constantine.

If the story is not apocryphal, it was either wishful thinking or satanic deception. To borrow an analogy from an earlier Greek tale, Constantine went on to serve as a Trojan Horse inside Christianity. The linking of Christ and Caesar brought some short-term benefits but the long-term harm has been immense. The facilitation of war by the chaplains of power has been one sad effect.

Turning to the U.S.A.: With all of the clerical and pewful cheering on behalf of recent wars, the intertwining of cross and flag, and the blessings bestowed on every Commander in Chief by the leading evangelists of the day, it can be difficult to discern the testimony for peace by theologically conservative Christianity. This testimony can be found primarily, but not only, among the historic peace churches: the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, Schwenkfelders, Quakers, Moravians, and German Baptist Brethren. Roman Catholicism places some limits on the martial spirit with its doctrine of just war, derived from Augustine and Aquinas. Dispensationalism—one of two main sources for fundamentalism—was traditionally apolitical and encouraged neutrality in fallen, worldly activities such as warfare. This influence can be seen in figures from A.C. Gaebelein to Watchman Nee. As a young man, evangelist D.L. Moody refused to enlist in the Civil War because he was a conscientious objector. He recalled, “There has never been a time in my life when I felt I could take a gun and shoot down a fellow human being. In this respect I am a Quaker.”

Faced with the prospect of war between England and Russia, in 1885, William Booth publicly declared that every true soldier of the Salvation Army should “shut his ears to all the worldly, unscriptural, unchristian talk about war being a necessity.” He warned, “Oh, what vice, what blasphemies, what cursing, what devilries of every kind accompany and follow in the train of war.” In a subsequent War Cry editorial, Booth looked forward to the day when the Prince of Peace would abolish “this inhuman and fiendish system of wholesale murder.” The focus of the conflict between the English and Russian empires? Afghanistan. Some things never change.

The Christian statesman William Jennings Bryan was directly influenced by the great writer Leo Tolstoy. The two talked for twelve straight hours at Tolstoy’s home during Bryan’s international trip in 1903. As a result of this visit, and earlier writings, Tolstoy’s nonviolent views were spread to American Christians who were far more culturally provincial, theologically conservative, and politically mainstream than the Russian anarcho-pacifist himself. A decade later, when Secretary of State Bryan broke with Woodrow Wilson because the president was pushing the nation into World War I, he became the first holder of that high position to resign over a matter of political principle. He was also the last. In accepting the Democratic presidential nomination in 1900, Bryan said, “If true Christianity consists in carrying out in our daily lives the teachings of Christ, who will say that we are commanded to civilize with dynamite and proselyte with the sword? Imperialism finds no warrant in the Bible. The command, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,’ has no Gatling gun attachment. . . . Compare, if you will, the swaggering, bullying, brutal doctrine of imperialism with the golden rule and the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’”

On the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, in 1940, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution expressing its “utter abhorrence of war as an instrument of International policy.” The nine-point statement concluded, “Because war is contrary to the mind and spirit of Christ, we believe that no war should be identified with the will of Christ. Our churches should not be made agents of war propaganda or recruiting stations. War thrives on and is perpetuated by hysteria, falsehood, and hate and the church has a solemn responsibility to make sure there is no black out of love in time of war.” There was not a single resolution issued by the Southern Baptists during World War II or Vietnam expressing support for the president or the troops, but there were resolutions in support of conscientious objectors. The bold 1940 resolution can be found even today on the SBC website but the Southern Baptists have changed their tune . . . and their lyrics . . . perhaps even their hymnal.

As late as 1970, Francis Schaeffer, an orthodox Presbyterian, was warning, “In the United States many churches display the American flag. The Christian flag is usually put on one side and the American flag on the other. Does having two flags in your church mean that Christianity and the American Establishment are equal? If it does, you are really in trouble. . . . Equating of any other loyalty with our loyalty to God is sin.” Ironically, Schaeffer’s later writings helped give rise to the Moral Majority, with its endorsement of Constantinianism and the Mush God of American civil religion.

To their credit, Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) condemned the Iraq War as unjust in 2002-03. Unfortunately, there was no teeth to their pronouncements. I am not a Roman Catholic, but if I were, I would want my pope armed with anathemas and bulls of excommunication. What is the point of having an episcopal form of government headed by the vicar of Christ if he does not wield at least one of the two swords of Gelasius?

The supreme pontiff ought to have disciplined disobedient children like Senators Tom Daschle, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Pete Dominici, Susan Collins, and Sam Brownback. When it comes to peace, the Catholic hierarchy if often politely correct, but it is no Erasmus of Rotterdam, Dorothy Day, or Thomas Merton in denouncing militarism and the perfidy of its practitioners. Too much diffidence and compromise. That’s one of the fruit of the spirit of Constantine and a corollary of cultural synthesis. A huge bureaucracy enmeshed with worldly wealth and power is not in a position to be too radical in its opposition to the world, even when the opposition is sincere.

Without jargon or hedging, the French Catholic mathematician-scientist-philosopher-mystic Blaise Pascal put it simply centuries ago: “[Q:] Why do you kill me? [A:] What! Do you not live on the other side of the water? If you lived on this side, my friend, I should be an assassin, and it would be unjust to slay you in this manner. But since you live on the other side, I am a hero, and it is just. . . . Can anything be more ridiculous than that a man should have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?” (Pensées, V: 293-94)

Still, the peace rhetoric of the papacy is much to be preferred to the refined war mongering of Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. As Congress was preparing to give President Bush a blank check to wage war against Iraq, in October 2002, Land organized an open letter to Bush, signed by prominent evangelical Protestants, that began, “In this decisive hour of our nation’s history we are writing to express our deep appreciation for your bold, courageous, and visionary leadership. Americans everywhere have been inspired by your eloquent and clear articulation of our nation’s highest ideals of freedom and of our resolve to defend that freedom both here and across the globe. We believe that your policies concerning the ongoing international terrorist campaign against America are both right and just.” Specifically, the planned attack on Iraq was sanctified as a just war. After the bombing and invasion, Land remained confident of God’s blessing on the undertaking, writing, “I believe we are seeing in Iraq an illustration of waging a war of defense and liberation according to the criteria of just war.”

Recently, I wrote about Christmas presents for children. The fine book [1] by Laurence M. Vance entitled Christianity and War, and Other Essays Against the Warfare State (Vance Publications, 2nd ed., 2008) would be a good Christmas present for adults. Vance writes regularly for LewRockwell.com [2]. You may be a Christian—or non-Christian—who does not embrace pacifism. That’s okay. The perfect need not be the enemy of the good. Most of us can agree that most of the wars in which we have been involved during the past century have been unjustified wars of aggression and greed, having more to do with empire and monopoly than with national defense or humanitarian crusades.

In 1761, William Law, the Anglican divine who helped lead John Wesley to evangelicalism and eventually flowered as a Christian mystic, wrote about war in his final book, An Address to the Clergy. He did so with truth and eloquence. Sadly, but predictably, his condemnation of Christian war was deleted when the book was reprinted by evangelical publishers in the 1890s and 1970s. Not uplifting, too discomforting, I suppose. Law wrote,

“Look now at warring Christendom, what smallest drop of pity towards sinners is to be found in it? Or how could a spirit all hellish more fully contrive and hasten their destruction? It stirs up and kindles every passion of fallen nature that is contrary to the all-humble, all-meek, all-loving, all-forgiving, all-saving Spirit of Christ. It unites, it drives and compels nameless numbers of unconverted sinners to fall, murdering and murdered among flashes of fire with the wrath and swiftness of lightning, into a fire infinitely worse than that in which they died. . . . Here, my pen trembles in my hand. But when, O when, will one single Christian Church, people, or language, tremble at the share they have in this death of sinners?”

“. . . Again, would you further see the fall of the universal Church, from being led by the Spirit of Christ to be guided by the inspiration of the great fiery Dragon, look at all European Christendom sailing round the globe with fire and sword and every murdering art of war, to seize the possessions and kill the inhabitants of both the Indies. . . . To this day what wars of Christians against Christians, blended with scalping heathens, still keep staining the earth and the seas with human blood, for a miserable share in the spoils of a plundered heathen world! — a world, which should have heard or seen or felt nothing from the followers of Christ, but a divine love, that had forced them from distant lands and through the perils of long seas to visit strangers with those glad tidings of peace and salvation to all the world, which angels from heaven and shepherds on earth proclaimed at the birth of Christ.”

The Christmas story of incarnation and rejoicing is not only about personal salvation, about God and sinners reconciled. It is also about social reconciliation, about temporal peace and justice. As Mary said to her cousin Elizabeth “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.” As the angels sang after the birth of the Babe in Bethlehem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men!”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Return of the Antiwar Right

by Jack Hunter



The notion of defending one’s country is something patriots of all political stripes can subscribe to. But that every military action our government commits to should automatically be considered righteous and unassailable is a bizarre position for conservatives, given their natural distrust of government in every other sphere. The Wilsonian idea of “making the world safe for democracy” has never been the language of hard-headed conservative realists, but maniacal ideologues, and yet the liberal dispensation and celebration of such utopian rhetoric by the last Republican president, his party and most self-described conservatives, left the Right a confused mess.

That’s what makes sane conservatives like Congressman John J. Duncan, Jr. of Tennessee so refreshing. Says Duncan: “There is nothing conservative about the war in Afghanistan. The Center for Defense Information said a few months ago that we had spent over $400 billion on the war and war-related costs there. Now, the Pentagon says it will cost about $1 billion for each 1,000 additional troops we send to Afghanistan… Fiscal conservatives should be the ones most horrified by all this spending. Conservatives who oppose big government and huge deficit spending at home should not support it in foreign countries just because it is being done by our biggest bureaucracy, the Defense Department.”

As our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan inch closer toward the decade mark, it seems many Americans are beginning to realize that their own security, both personally and nationally, is more at risk from big government than protected by it. Support for Obama’s outrageously expensive agenda, his performance and his popularity continues to plummet and a recent Pew survey found that 49% of Americans believe the U.S. should start minding its own business globally. Says Duncan: “We have now spent $1.5 trillion that we did not have–that we had to borrow–in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eight years is long enough. In fact, it is too long. Let’s bring our troops home and start putting Americans first once again.”

Anti-War Activists Losing Patience with Obama

by Anna M. Tinsley

Abby Tomlinson voted for President Barack Obama, hoping that he would help end the war in Iraq quickly.

But the Lubbock woman said she's disappointed in what the "peace" candidate has accomplished along those lines, nearly a year after taking office.

Two wars continue. The Iraqi war may soon wind down but the Afghanistan war is escalating, with Obama's recent decision to send in 30,000 more troops.

"One of the major platforms of the Obama campaign was the move to end the war in Iraq. Many voters chose him because of that fact alone," said Tomlinson, who works in communications and marketing at Texas Tech University's College of Outreach and Distance Education. "He ran, whether he meant to or not, on a platform of peace.

"I guess we probably did put too much hope in him. I know that I did. I feel disappointed and a bit betrayed by Obama's choice to send more troops anywhere overseas. I feel like he has turned his back to those that voted him into office."

Now anti-war protesters - who have been somewhat subdued since Obama took office - are ramping up protests, bluntly reminding Obama that they expect him to fulfill his campaign promises.

They are sending letters, holding marches, even planning to set up an anti-war camp on the lawn of the Washington Monument.

"Our goal is to remind people that we still have two wars going on," said Joshua Mayer of Denton, a member of the Campus Anti-War Network at the University of North Texas. "Perhaps the anti-war movement maybe thought they could rest with Obama getting elected. A lot of people thought a Democrat would be the answer.

"But it's more important than ever to keep the movement going."

Troop status

Obama signed off on a controversial decision to send about 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, raising the total to about 100,000.

Government officials say those troops, who will increase efforts against al Qaeda militants and the Taliban, should be in place by next summer.

Obama said the troops "will increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans." Defense Secretary Robert Gates is among those defending Obama's strategy.

"What the president has announced is the beginning of a process, not the end of a process," Gates said. "And it is clear that this will be a gradual process and, as he said . . . based on conditions on the ground."

In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, 51 percent of respondents support Obama's troop surge and 55 percent say it's not a good idea to set a date to remove troops. Almost 60 percent say they don't want these troops to stay there for more than two years, and just over 30 percent say troops should come home within a year.

"Up through his public statements [this month], people wanted to believe, they wanted to be hopeful, that he would not escalate the war in Afghanistan," said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, and director of the Dallas Peace Center. "Peace activists are going to become increasingly critical of Obama now."

'Dismayed, disheartened'

Mayer didn't vote for Obama, but he said he did have hope that Obama would bring about change.

"He didn't start those wars," he said. "But he is responsible for ending them."

Some anti-war advocates say they never let up - not when President George W. Bush was in the White House and not now that Obama is there. They have been lobbying, e-mailing and visiting legislators, said Desiree Fairooz, 53, who left her family and home in Arlington in 2007 to dedicate herself to the cause in Washington, D.C.

Fairooz, a member of the anti-war group Code Pink, which formed ahead of the war in Iraq, said she voted for Obama and is disappointed in what he has done.

"We're dismayed, disheartened and disappointed," Fairooz said. "We don't feel he is doing too much different than Bush. He didn't start these wars, but he's continuing them."

Texas-size protests

Cindy Sheehan has long been a larger-than-life anti-war protester, first with Bush and now with Obama.

The California mother drew national attention in recent years with protests near Bush's Crawford ranch as she demanded to speak to him about her son's death in Baghdad. She continued, marching with protesters this year outside Bush's Dallas home, calling on the former president and his administration to be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Now she's planning to set up the anti-war camp near the Washington Monument to get Obama's attention.

"My protests have always been against the policies," Sheehan told the Star-Telegram in an e-mail. "At first I believed that the Republicans were the war party, but it became increasingly clear to me that it doesn't matter what party a president is - the policies of war continue on."

Sheehan said she thinks the war situation would be worse if Sen. John McCain were president. But now is the time for Obama to take clear action, she said.

"He should devise a plan for troop withdrawal that is as speedy as safely possible and combine economic growth and democracy building in our occupied countries with a speedy withdrawal," Sheehan said. "No occupations will save billions of dollars a month and maybe our economy could start to improve, too."

Looking ahead

As the Afghanistan war stretches out longer than World War I or World War II, anti-war activists say it's time to bring the troops home.

"If U.S. planners weren't able to get it right in eight years, what makes them think they will get it right in the next 18 months?" asked Hadi Jawad, a member of the Dallas Peace Center.

Mayer said he and others just want to call attention to the wars and ask people for their support to end them.

"There's a stigma that if you don't support the wars, you're somehow unpatriotic and un-American," he said. "I think the opposite is true.

"My greatest fear in Afghanistan . . . because it's impossible to avoid casualties . . . is that for every civilian we kill, I'm afraid it's going to breed another generation of people who hate our country."

© 2009 Star-Telegram

Soldiers, Kids Reunite, but Cameras Exploit

by Pierre Tristam

In one video, Army Master Sgt. Joseph Myers walks unannounced into his 10-year-old daughter Hanna's classroom in Texas after a long deployment. In split seconds Hanna's expression goes from blank to shock to joy to meltdown. She barely manages to make it toward her father's embrace. In another, at a Jacksonville Jaguars football game last month, Maj. Kevin Becar of the Florida Army National Guard runs out and reunites with his stunned fifth-grade son in the end zone, what the master of ceremonies calls a "complete surprise" during military appreciation day activities.

The scenes, repeated in video clips over the Web, are unquestionably heartbreaking. The weight of the moment is too much for these young hearts denied their fathers for what feels like eternities. They can't help but break down, sob, melt. Neither can we.

And that's just what's wrong with the pictures. These aren't private moments between soldier and child. Cameras are rolling, JumboTrons are flashing, cell phones are capturing YouTube versions ready for viral loops across the Internet. It's a whole production, contrived by TV news channels, sports franchises, the Pentagon -- by everyone involved but the children or, sometimes, the spouse on the receiving end of what's become Candid Camera in camouflage.

There's nothing wrong with honoring returning soldiers. That's not what's happening here. In this new genre of fabricated reunions, soldiers' service and children's emotions are being exploited at their most raw for mass audiences that, for the most part, have no idea what the soldier or his family are going through. Or are about to go through, considering the shattered mental state every third soldier returns in. The riveting encounter of hero returning to family defines the war to the public to the near-exclusion of less appealing realities.

In the Vietnam War, returning soldiers were, at times, explicitly disrespected. They were the scapegoats of the nation's anger against the war and its lying prosecutors, the military among them. Soldiers are still disrespected. This time, it's more subtle. They're patronized and manipulated in ceremonies that briefly manufacture feel-good solidarity while shielding the real price of war with cheap bombast and cheaper patriotism.

It costs nothing to say "bless the troops." TV stations and sports franchises make money off their "appreciation day" events. Unlike during Vietnam or any other wars in the country's history until then, Americans are not required to contribute men and women to an all-volunteer force, which has effectively become a praetorian institution segregated from mainstream society. Nor are Americans required to pay for the wars. During the last century's world wars and the Korean War, top tax rates were between 77 percent and 94 percent. Top rates were 70 percent or above during Vietnam. Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when rates topped off at 35 percent, there's been four major tax cuts.

Not surprisingly, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq occupy a place somewhere between indifference and ignorance for most, their stake in those wars being nil beyond video-clip tear-jerkers. Which is why there's no real opposition to a president escalating troop levels in Afghanistan, after eight years of futility, from about 15,000 for most of the decade to 100,000 by next year. Or why there's little debate over wars that have cost more than $1 trillion, so far, with no end or pay-off in sight.

Or why voyeuristic videos of soldiers coming home to their families are the standard fantasy of a nation lying to itself about honoring troops while blindly feeding the mill that returns them in whatever shape, upright, mangled or bagged.

© 2009 News-Journal Corporation

Tristam is a News-Journal editorial writer. Reach him at ptristam@att.net or through his personal Web site at www.pierretristam.com
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

$57,077.60: Surging by the Minute

by Jo Comerford

$57,077.60. That’s what we’re paying per minute. Keep that in mind -- just for a minute or so.

After all, the surge is already on. By the end of December, the first 1,500 U.S. troops will have landed in Afghanistan, a nation roughly the size of Texas, ranked by the United Nations as second worst in the world in terms of human development.

Women and men from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be among the first to head out. It takes an estimated $1 million to send each of them surging into Afghanistan for one year. So a 30,000-person surge will be at least $30 billion, which brings us to that $57,077.60. That’s how much it will cost you, the taxpayer, for one minute of that surge.

By the way, add up the yearly salary of a Marine from Camp Lejeune with four years of service, throw in his or her housing allowance, additional pay for dependents, and bonus pay for hazardous duty, imminent danger, and family separation, and you’ll still be many thousands of dollars short of that single minute’s sum.

But perhaps this isn’t a time to quibble. After all, a job is a job, especially in the United States, which has lost seven million jobs since December 2007, while reporting record-high numbers of people seeking assistance to feed themselves and/or their families. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 36 million Americans, including one out of every four children, are currently on food stamps.

On the other hand, given the woeful inadequacy of that “safety net,” we might have chosen to direct the $30 billion in surge expenditures toward raising the average individual monthly Food Stamp allotment by $70 for the next year; that's roughly an additional trip to the grocery store, every month, for 36 million people. Alternatively, we could have dedicated that $30 billion to job creation. According to a recent report issued by the Political Economy Research Institute, that sum could generate a whopping 537,810 construction jobs, 541,080 positions in healthcare, fund 742,740 teachers or employ 831,390 mass transit workers.

For purposes of comparison, $30 billion -- remember, just the Pentagon-estimated cost of a 30,000-person troop surge -- is equal to 80% of the total U.S. 2010 budget for international affairs, which includes monies for development and humanitarian assistance. On the domestic front, $30 billion could double the funding (at 2010 levels) for the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Or think of the surge this way: if the United States decided to send just 29,900 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, 100 short of the present official total, it could double the amount of money -- $100 million -- it has allocated to assist refugees and returnees from Afghanistan through the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Leaving aside the fact that the United States already accounts for 45% of total global military spending, the $30 billion surge cost alone would place us in the top-ten for global military spending, sandwiched between Italy and Saudi Arabia. Spent instead on “soft security” measures within Afghanistan, $30 billion could easily build, furnish and equip enough schools for the entire nation.

Continuing this nod to the absurd for just one more moment, if you received a silver dollar every second, it would take you 960 years to haul in that $30 billion. Not that anyone could hold so much money. Together, the coins would weigh nearly 120 tons, or more than the poundage of 21,000 Asian elephants, an aircraft carrier, or the Washington Monument. Converted to dollar bills and laid end-to-end, $30 billion would reach 2.9 million miles or 120 times around the Earth.

One more thing, that $30 billion isn’t even the real cost of Obama’s surge. It’s just a minimum, through-the-basement estimate. If you were to throw in all the bases being built, private contractors hired, extra civilians sent in, and the staggering costs of training a larger Afghan army and police force (a key goal of the surge), the figure would surely be startlingly higher. In fact, total Afghanistan War spending for 2010 is now expected to exceed $102.9 billion, doubling last year's Afghan spending. Thought of another way, it breaks down to $12 million per hour in taxpayer dollars for one year. That’s equal to total annual U.S. spending on all veteran's benefits, from hospital stays to education.

In Afghan terms, our upcoming single year of war costs represents nearly five times that country’s gross domestic product or $3,623.70 for every Afghan woman, man, and child. Given that the average annual salary for an Afghan soldier is $2,880 and many Afghans seek employment in the military purely out of economic desperation, this might be a wise investment -- especially since the Taliban is able to pay considerably more for its new recruits. In fact, recent increases in much-needed Afghan recruits appear to correlate with the promise of a pay raise.

All of this is, of course, so much fantasy, since we know just where that $30-plus billion will be going. In 2010, total Afghanistan War spending since November 2001 will exceed $325 billion, which equals the combined annual military spending of Great Britain, China, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. If we had never launched an invasion of Afghanistan or stayed on fighting all these years, those war costs, evenly distributed in this country, would have meant a $2,298.80 dividend per U.S. taxpayer.

Even as we calculate the annual cost of war, the tens of thousands of Asian elephants in the room are all pointing to $1 trillion in total war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan. The current escalation in Afghanistan coincides with that rapidly-approaching milestone. In fact, thanks to Peter Baker’s recent New York Times report on the presidential deliberations that led to the surge announcement, we know that the trillion-dollar number for both wars may be a gross underestimate. The Office of Management and Budget sent President Obama a memo, Baker tells us, suggesting that adding General McChrystal’s surge to ongoing war costs, over the next 10 years, could mean -- forget Iraq -- a trillion dollar Afghan War.

At just under one-third of the 2010 U.S. federal budget, $1 trillion essentially defies per-hour-per-soldier calculations. It dwarfs all other nations' military spending, let alone their spending on war. It makes a mockery of food stamps and schools. To make sense of this cost, we need to leave civilian life behind entirely and turn to another war. We have to reach back to the Vietnam War, which in today's dollars cost $709.9 billion -- or $300 billion less than the total cost of the two wars we're still fighting, with no end in sight, or even $300 billion less than the long war we may yet fight in Afghanistan.

Copyright 2009 Jo Comerford

Jo Comerford is the executive director of the National Priorities Project. Previously, she served as director of programs at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and directed the American Friends Service Committee's justice and peace-related community organizing efforts in western Massachusetts.
[Note: Jo would like to acknowledge the analysis and numbers crunching of Chris Hellman and Mary Orisich, members of the National Priorities Project's research team, without whom this piece would not have been possible.]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How Bush Redefined American Freedom

By JAMES BOVARD

George W. Bush is gone from Washington but his legacy, like an abandoned toxic waste dump, lingers on. Like President Franklin Roosevelt before him, President Bush helped redefine American freedom. And like Roosevelt’s, Bush’s changes were perversions of the clear vision the Founding Fathers bequeathed to us.

What did freedom mean in the era of George Bush? In Iraq in September 2004, “Camp Liberty,” a tent compound to house Iraqi detainees, was constructed next to the Abu Ghraib prison. (The torture scandal and photos had been revealed in late April.) Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller declared that Camp Liberty and other changes in the treatment of Iraqi prisoners were “restoring the honor of America.”

“Camp Liberty” was typical of the rhetorical strategy of the Bush administration: empty words in lieu of basic decency and honest dealing.

From the beginning, President Bush invoked freedom to sanctify his war on terrorism. In his Oval Office address on the night of September 11, 2001, Bush declared, “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” He pronounced authoritatively on the motives of the attackers even before the FBI and CIA knew their identities. He never offered evidence that that was al-Qaeda’s prime motivation.

Bush rarely missed a chance to proclaim that the war on terrorism was being fought to save freedom — either U.S. freedom, or world freedom, or the freedom of future generations. In 2002, he proclaimed, “We are resolved to rout out terror wherever it exists to save the world for freedom.” He contrasted freedom and terror as if they were the two ends of a seesaw. Because terror is the enemy of government, government necessarily becomes the champion of freedom. But this simple dichotomy made sense only if terrorists were the sole threat to freedom.

Once Bush proclaimed that freedom was his goal, then all opponents automatically became enemies of freedom. In the first presidential candidates’ debate with Sen. John Kerry in 2004, Bush explained away the fierce opposition to the U.S. military in Iraq: “They’re fighting us because they’re fighting freedom.”

In 1776, “Let Freedom Ring” was a response to the ringing of the Liberty Bell after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In contrast, those attending the 2004 Republican National Convention waved signs proclaiming, “Let Freedom Reign.” That was the phrase that Bush scrawled on a piece of paper in June 2004 when National Security Adviser Condi Rice informed him that sovereignty in Iraq had been transferred to Iyad Allawi, the former CIA operative Bush had chosen to head Iraq’s government. Supposedly, it took only a mere signing of a piece of paper by the U.S. occupation authority for Iraqis to have sovereignty — even though an American puppet remained at the head of the government, and even though U.S. military forces continued bombarding civilians in cities throughout the country.

Military power and freedom

For Bush, military power was practically freedom incarnate. He informed Congress in 2002 that the “Department of Defense has become the most powerful force for freedom the world has ever seen.” In his 2002 State of the Union address, after bragging about victories in Afghanistan, he proclaimed, “We have shown freedom’s power.” In an April 2003 speech to workers at the Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio, he declared, “You build the weapons you build here because we love freedom in this country.”

For Bush, the Pentagon budget was perhaps the clearest measure of America’s devotion to freedom. At an April 9, 2002, Republican fundraiser in Connecticut, he bragged that “my defense budget is the largest increase in 20 years. You know, the price of freedom is high, but for me it’s never too high because we fight for freedom.” And if the government seized all of every citizen’s paycheck — instead of only 38 percent of it — and used all the revenue to bankroll foreign military conquests, Americans would have absolute freedom.

Bush often spoke as if all he needed to do was pronounce the word “freedom” and all humanity was obliged to obey his commands. He declared in July 2003 that, because of U.S. military action in Iraq, people were “going to find out the word ‘freedom’ and ‘America’ are synonymous.” Freedom, Iraqi-style, apparently meant giving the U.S. military the right to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians and to obliterate the core of cities such as Fallujah. But the details of U.S. action in Iraq were irrelevant because of the transcendent goal Bush perennially proclaimed.

In his 2004 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Bush declared, “I believe in the transformational power of liberty: The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom.” That was a formal renunciation of much of what America had once stood for. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, warned in 1795, “Of all enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.” But, from Bush’s view, U.S. military aggression is as much a force for liberation as any political or religious ideology ever claimed in the past.

Limiting government power

Bush declared on the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that “there is a line in our time … between the defenders of human liberty, and those who seek to master the minds and souls of others.” But if the United States claims the right to attack the people of any foreign regime that refuses to swear allegiance to the latest U.S. definition of freedom or democracy, the world will see America as the aggressor shackling the minds and wills of people around the world.

The more nations that America attacks in the name of liberty, the more foreigners will perceive America as the greatest threat both to their peace and self-rule. Not surprisingly, Bush’s policies resulted in a collapse in the world’s respect for the United States.

In the 18th century, “The Restraint of Government is the True Liberty and Freedom of the People” was a common American saying.

But for President Bush, freedom had little or nothing to do with limits on government power. Bush told a high-school audience in 2002, “I will not let — your Government’s not going to let people destroy the freedoms that we love in America.” In a 2003 speech at the Bonaparte Auditorium at FBI headquarters in Washington, Bush declared, “For years the freedom of our people were [sic] really never in doubt because no one ever thought that the terrorists or anybody could come and hurt America. But that changed.” Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge reflected the attitude of the Bush administration when he announced, “Liberty is the most precious gift we offer our citizens.” If freedom is a gift from the government to the people, then government can take freedom away at its pleasure.

Respect for individual rights is the bulwark of freedom. Bush proudly declared in 2003, “No president has ever done more for human rights than I have.” But, in order to defeat terrorists, he claimed the right to destroy all rights by using the “enemy combatant” label. Justice Antonin Scalia rightly noted in 2004, “The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive.” But this was a luxury that American could no longer afford, at least according to the administration. The Bush administration fought tooth and nail to preserve the president’s boundless power to strip people of all rights on the basis of his mere assertion. The administration continually dragged its feet with respect to obeying Supreme Court decisions that limited the president’s power.

The Founding Fathers sought to protect freedom by creating a government of laws, not of men. But Bush freedom required the president to rise above federal law. The Justice Department advised the White House that the president’s power to authorize torture was not constrained by the federal statute book because of “the President’s inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign against al-Qaeda and its allies.” Justice Department memos from Bush’s first term (released this past March) make it stark that the president’s brain trust believed that the Constitution was as archaic and irrelevant as a covered wagon.

On the home front, Bush freedom meant “free speech zones” where demonstrators were quarantined to avoid tainting presidential photo opportunities. Bush freedom meant allowing the National Security Agency to vacuum up Americans’ email without a warrant. Bush freedom meant entitling the Justice Department to round up the names of book buyers and library users under the USA PATRIOT Act.

Bush freedom was based on boundless trust in the righteousness of the rulers and all their actions. Bush offered Americans the same type of freedom that paternalist kings offered their subjects in distant eras. But Bush’s supposedly lofty intentions were no substitute for the Constitution and the rule of law.

Freedom must not become simply another term for politicians to invoke to consecrate their power. Rather than stirring patriotic pride, Bush’s invocations of freedom should have set off Americans’ warning bells. It remains to be seen how much lasting damage he has done to Americans’ vocabulary and political understanding.

James Bovard serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation and is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books.