Monday, May 24, 2010
Corporations Profit from Permanent War
By Bill Quigley
May 24, 2010 "Information Clearing House" -- US law officially proclaims Memorial Day "as a day of prayer for permanent peace."
However, the US is much closer to permanent war than permanent peace. Corporations are profiting from wars and lobbying politicians for more. The US, and the rest of the world, cannot afford the rising personal and financial costs of permanent war.
Number One in War
No doubt, the USA is number one in war. This coming year the US will spend 708 billion dollars on war and another $125 billion for Veterans Affairs - over $830 billion. In a distant second place is China which spent about $84 billion on its military in 2008.
The US also leads the world in the sale of lethal weapons to others, selling about one of every three weapons worldwide. The USA's major clients? South Korea, Israel and United Arab Emirates.
Our country has 5 percent of the world's population but accounts for more than 40% of the military spending for the whole world.
Our nation does not respect our soldiers by engaging in permanent war. War is grinding up our children. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost over 5000 US lives and tens of thousands more lives of people in those countries. Over 20% of those in our military who served in these two wars, 320,000 people, have war-related traumatic brain injuries. Suicide rates are up by 26 percent among 18 to 29 year old male veterans in the latest Veterans Administration study. Mental health hospitalizations are now the leading cause of hospital admissions for the military, higher than injuries. On any given night, over 100,000 veterans are homeless and living on our nation's streets.
Rising Costs of War
Since 2001, the US has spent over $6 trillion (a trillion is a million millions) on war and preparations for war. That is about $20,000 for every woman, man and child in the US. Iraq and Afghanistan alone have cost the US taxpayer over a trillion dollars since 2001.
No End in Sight
Earlier this month, Marine General James Cartwright, the Vice-Chair of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Army Times that the US can expect continuing war "for as far as the eye can see."
In the name of this perpetual war against terrorism the US still jails hundreds without trial in Guantanamo, holds hundreds more in prisons on bases and in secret detention world-wide, tries to avoid constitutional trials for anyone accused of terrorism, admits it is trying to assassinate an American citizen Muslim cleric in Yemen, and launches deadly drone strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen killing civilians and suspects whenever we decide.
Who benefits from permanent war?
One support for permanent war is that there are corporations in the US which openly lobby for more and more money to be invested in war. Why? Because they profit enormously from government contracts.
President Dwight Eisenhower, who believed in a strong military, warned the US about just this in his farewell address to the nation in 1961.
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
War is Big Business
War is very big business. People know that private companies are doing much more in war. In January 2010, the Congressional Research Service reported that there are at least 55,000 private armed security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and maybe many more - as many as 70,000 in Afghanistan alone.
But much bigger money is available to defense contractors. In 2008 alone, the top ten defense contractors received nearly $150 billion in federal contracts. These corporations spent millions to lobby for billions more in federal funds and hired ex-military leaders and ex-officials to help them profit off war.
For example, look at the top three defense contractors, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. They demonstrate why perpetual war is profitable and part of the reason it continues.
Lockheed Martin is the largest military contractor in the world with 140,000 employees, taking in over $40 billion annually, over $35 billion of which comes from the US government. Lockheed Martin boasts that they have increased their dividend payments by more than 10 percent for the seventh consecutive year - perfectly in line with the increase in war spending by the US. Its chairman, Robert Stevens, received over $72 million in compensation over the past three years.
Lockheed's board of directors includes a former Under Secretary of Defense, a former US Air Force Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, a former Deputy Director of Homeland Security, and a former Supreme Allied Commander of Europe. These board members receive over $200,000 a year in compensation. Its political action committee gave over a million dollars a year to federal candidates in 2009, and is consistently one of the top spending PACs in the US. They appeal to all members of Congress because they strategically have operations in all fifty states. And, since 1998, Lockheed has spent over $125 million to lobby Congress.
Northrop Grumman is a $33 billion company with 120,000 employees. In 2008, it received nearly $25 billion in federal contracts. Its chairman, Ronald Sugar, received over $54 million in compensation over the past three years.
Northrop's Board includes a former Admiral of the Navy, a former 20 year member of Congress, a former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former commissioner of the Security and Exchange Commission and a former U.S. Naval officer. The members of its board of directors received over $200,000 each in 2009. Its Pac is listed as making over $700,000 in federal campaign donations in 2009. Since 1998, it has spent over $147 million lobbying Congress.
Boeing has 150,000 employees and took in over $23 billion in federal contracts in 2008. With revenues of $68 billion in 2009, its chair, James McNerney, was paid over $51 million over the past three years. Its board members are paid well over $200,000 a year. Boeing's directors include a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, a former White House chief of staff, a former vice chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a former U.S. Ambassador and U.S. Trade Representative. It hosts the 10th largest political action committee, giving away more than one million dollars to federal candidates in 2009. Since 1998, it has spent $125 million lobbying Congress.
Time to Terminate the Permanent War
These corporations take billions from the government and profit from our perpetual state of war. They recycle some of that money back into lobbying the same people who gave it to them, and hire ex-military and government officials to help smooth the process. Their leaders make tens of millions off this work.
The trillions of dollars that it costs to wage permanent war are taxing the US economy. Yet where are the voices in Congress, Democrat or Republican, that talk seriously of dramatically reducing our military spending? President Obama and the Democrats are effectively continuing the permanent war policies of the Bush years. It is past time for change.
Remember this Memorial Day that, while thousands have been laid in their graves and hundreds of thousands wounded, private military contractors are prospering and profiting as the business of war booms.
The US should not only remember its dead but work to reverse the profitable permanent war that promises to add more names to the dead and disabled in this country and around the world.
Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Quigley77@gmail.com
Friday, May 21, 2010
By Mike Lux
May 19, 2010 "AlterNet" -- When you are in the political world, you have decisions to make every single day about who you will try to help and who you won't. In spite of the earnest quest of good technocrats everywhere, the simple fact is that there are only a few win-win solutions. Who you tax, who you give a tax break to, what programs you cut or add to, who you tighten regulations on, and who you loosen them on, what kind of contractors are eligible for government work, which school districts and non-profit groups get federal money, etc: these political decisions are generally not win-win. Instead, they mean that one group of people win, and one group of people loses. It is the nature of politics, and you can't take the politics out of politics.
The most fundamental difference between progressives and conservatives is that question of which side you are on. Conservatives believe that the rich and powerful got that way because they deserve to be, that society owes its prosperity to the prosperous, and that government's job when they have to make choices is to side with those businesspeople who are doing well, because all good things trickle down from them. Progressives, on the other hand, believe it is the poor and those who are ill-treated who need the most help from their government, and that prosperity comes from all of us -- the worker as well as the employer, the consumer as well as the seller, the struggling entrepreneur trying to make it as well as the wealthy who already have.
Usually, I might spend my time arguing which of those worldviews gives us better policy outcomes, or which is better politics, but in this post I want to focus on something else: which side the God of the Judeo-Christian Biblical tradition is on.
Between Glenn Beck's conspiracy theories about Christian social justice (Since Communists and Nazis both used the words "social" and "justice," sometimes even together, the phrase must be bad along with other words they used a lot like the, and, one, thank you, please, today, tonight, and tomorrow), Sarah Palin's "spiritual warfare," and my very fun e-mail debates with a much-beloved but sadly misguided conservative Christian relative, I have been thinking a lot about Christians and political ideology of late. As those of you who read me a lot know, I was raised in a church-oriented home, and I write about religion a fair amount. This isn't because I am conventionally religious: I decided about four decades ago that since there was no way for sure about the nature of God or the soul or all that metaphysical stuff, I wasn't going to spend much time thinking, caring, or worrying about it. If that sends one to hell, at least I'll be there with a lot of my favorite people. But I still have the social and moral teaching I learned from my upbringing embedded in me as a core part of my value system, and I still know my Bible pretty well.
That's why I am always puzzled by how people who claim to be followers of the Jesus I read about in the Bible can be political conservatives.
Now I know there are many people who have not been brought up in the Christian faith, or who were but aren't interested in it anymore. Perhaps like a great many folks, you have been turned off by all the high-profile preachers who claim to speak for Christianity but preach a brand of narrow, intolerant conservatism that you can't relate to. My view is that even if that is the case, it is still important to know something about the Christian New Testament because it is such a historical and cultural touchstone in our country. I also think it's important to have a sense of just how different the Bible is from how conservative Christians represent it. For those of you uninterested in all this, I understand why: you definitely won't want to dig into what follows. But for those of who are, here is my argument about Christianity and progressivism in politics.
Conservative Christians' primary argument regarding Jesus and politics is that all he cared about was spiritual matters and an individual's relationship with God. As a result, they say, all those references from Jesus about helping the poor relate only to private charity, not to society as a whole. Their belief is that Jesus, and the New Testament in general, is focused on one thing and one thing only: how do people get into heaven.
The Jesus of the New Testament was of course extremely concerned with spiritual matters: there is no doubt whatsoever about his role or interest in the issues of the day, that the spiritual well-being of his followers was a major interest of his. How much he was involved with or interested in the political situation of the day is a matter of much debate and interpretation. Some say it was a lot and others that it was pretty limited or, as conservatives would say, not at all. However, much of a priority or focus it was, though, if you actually read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus' main concern in terms of the people whose fates he cared about was for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast. Comment after comment and story after story in the Gospels about Jesus relates to the treatment of the poor, generosity to those in need, mercy to the outcast, and scorn for the wealthy and powerful. And his philosophy is embedded with the central importance of taking care of others, loving others, treating others as you would want to be treated. There is no virtue of selfishness here, there is no "greed is good," there is no invisible hand of the market or looking out for Number One first. There is nothing about poor people being lazy, nothing about the undeserving poor being leeches on society, nothing about how I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps so everyone else should, too. There is nothing about how in nature, "the lions eat the weak," and therefore we shouldn't help the poor because it weakens them. There is nothing about charity or welfare corrupting a person's spirit.
What there is: quote after quote about compassion for the poor. In Jesus' very first sermon of his ministry, the place where he launched his public career, he stated the reason he had come: to bring good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, to help the oppressed go free, and that he was here to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord -- which in Jewish tradition meant the year that poor debtors were forgiven their debts to bankers and the wealthy. In Luke 6, Jesus says the poor and hungry will be blessed, and the rich will be cursed. He urges his followers to sell all their possessions and give them to the poor. The one time he really focuses on God's judgment and who goes to heaven is in Matthew 25, where he says those who go to heaven will be those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison, gave shelter to the hungry, and welcomed the stranger -- and those who don't make it were the ones who refused to help the poor and oppressed.
And he was a really serious class warrior, too -- he wasn't just into helping the poor; he didn't seem to like rich folks very much. In Matthew 6, he focuses on the love of money as a major problem. In Luke 11, he berates a wealthy lawyer for burdening the poor. In Luke 12, he says that the wealthy who store up treasure are cursed by God. In Luke 14, he says if we throw a party, we should invite all poor people and no rich people, and suggests that the wealthy already turned down their invitation to God's feast, and that it is the poor who will get into heaven (a theme repeated multiple times). He says that the rich people will have a harder time getting to heaven than a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. He chases the wealthy bankers and merchants from the Temple.
I have never heard a conservative Christian quote any of these verses -- not once, and I have been in a lot of discussions with Christian conservatives, and heard a lot of their speeches and sermons. The one verse they always quote (and I mean always -- I have never talked to a conservative Christian about economics and not heard them quote this verse) is the one time in which Jesus says that "the poor will always be with us." The reason they love this quote so much is that they interpret that line to mean that in spite of everything else Jesus said about the poor, that since the poor will always be with us, we don't need to worry about trying to help them. Apparently since the poor will always be with us, we can go ahead and screw them. But Jesus making a prediction that there will always be oppressive societies doesn't mean he wanted us to join the oppressors. By clinging desperately to that one verse in the Bible, and ignoring all the others about the poor and the rich, Christian conservatives show themselves to be hypocrites, plain and simple.
The Jesus of the New Testament spent his public career preaching about the nature of God and our relationship to God, but also about how we should deal with each other. He repeatedly blessed mercy, gentleness, peacemaking, community, and taking care of each other. He lifted up the poor and oppressed, and spoke poorly of the wealthy and powerful. If anyone in modern society talked like he did, you can bet your bottom dollar that conservatives would condemn that person as a class warrior, a socialist. Jesus may not have been primarily concerned with politics, but for what politics he did have, it is virtually impossible to argue that he was anything but a progressive thinker.
I want to close on one other note here. I focused here on the Jesus of the Gospels (principally Matthew, Mark and Luke -- the Gospel of John is almost all focused on mystical spiritualism), but Jesus is not exactly the only Bible character concerned with issues of social and economic justice. All of the first five books of the Torah (the Old Testament for Christians) talk a lot about justice for the poor; the Psalms are full of verses about the helping poor; every Old Testament prophet castigates the Jewish people (and yes, their governments) for mistreating the poor. And in the New Testament, there are some dynamite passages promoting progressive thinking aside from all of the Jesus quotations I mentioned. Three of my very favorites:
Judeo-Christian scripture is a rich and complicated work of literature. Written over the course of (at least) several hundred years by dozens of different authors, there are a variety of perspectives and many times outright contradictions in the theology and the politics of the writing (if it's all inspired word for word by God, He seems to have changed his mind a lot). But one thing is extremely certain: the poor seem to be who God is most concerned about. Yes, there are a few quotations (four, if I remember right) trashing gay people, along with quite a few more about the right way to do animal sacrifice and to be careful about eating shellfish and hanging out with women who are menstruating. But mercy, kindness, and concern for the poor and the weak and the outcast seems to matter a lot more, with literally several hundred verses referencing those agenda items. If you are a progressive, that is a pretty good ratio.
© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
May 20, 2010 "Empire Burlesque" -- The American way of war is a marvelously ingenious thing. And thoroughly modern too. No more of that "don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" jazz; your modern "warfighter" (they aren't called "soldiers" anymore, you know) prefers to view his targets through, say, a computer screen safely ensconced back in the Homeland or thousands of feet in the sky, or else through the unearthly greenish glow of night-vision scopes. And open combat? Forget it. The new American way is the sneak attack on civilian homes in the dead of night. You creep up, you break in, you cap a few ragheads, then you run away. What glory! What magnificent valor!
The Washington Post reports on yet another glorious page in the annals of the exceptional nation "intended by God to be a light set on a hill to serve as a beacon of hope and Christian charity to a lost and dying world." It's the usual story. Secret "warfighters" suddenly attack a civilian compound in the middle of the night. This, not surprisingly, provokes a few shots from some of the inhabitants, who have no idea who is attacking their home. The superior firepower of the beacons of hope and Christian charity quickly overcome the piddling arms of the demonic heathens, however, and in a trice, there are dead gook – sorry, raghead – bodies all around. Including children – you've got to have children in your body count these days, if you want to be a thoroughly modern Christian beacon warfighter. Then you and your brave band of secret warriors run away and prepare for the next bold raid.
Naturally, the local losers come out and boo-hoo-hoo over their dead relatives, as if no one had ever seen their son shot to death in front of their eyes before. They trot out all their evidence that the victims had nothing to do with the "insurgents" (which is what your modern warfighter calls anyone who objects to the presence of armed foreigners prowling all over their land), they keen and wail and do all the other animalistic stuff that primitives do when one of the pack snuffs it. "Oh, I lost my son, oh my son, my precious son," etc., etc. – as if there's not a dozen more when he came from; you know how those people breed.
But anyway, here's the beauty part: if the local dorky darkies start to complain, you just say, "Hey man, we came under fire! Those monkeys shot at us when we came sneaking up on their house in the middle of the night with our guns drawn. That proves they were bad guys. We had to take them out."
That's it. That's the drill. It happens virtually every week now in Afghanistan – just as it happened time and again in Iraq, back when some guy named Stanley McChrystal was in charge of covert ops for that evil, reactionary throwback, George W. Bush. Whatever happened to old Stan anyway? Oh yeah; the nice, progressive, thoroughly modern Barack Obama put him in charge of the whole shooting match in Afghanistan, as well as the not-so-secret war of assassination in Pakistan. And oddly enough, the slaughter of civilians in both of these target countries has been rising ever since.
But hey, that's just how we roll nowadays. That's the American way of war. Creep, sneak, kill, run, lie – repeat. Sure, it only makes things worse, creates more enemies, keeps the wars going. But isn't that the point? Check it out, baby: they're piling an extra $33.5 billion of prime war pork on top of the mountain of Terror War funding already laid out for this year! And you need a whole lot of blood to wash down that meat – and a whole lot of new enemies to make sure the feast never ends.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
May 18, 2010 - The U.S. Senate is moving forward with a 59-billion-dollar spending bill, of which 33.5 billion dollars would be allocated for the war in Afghanistan.
However, some experts here in Washington are raising concerns that the war may be unwinnable and that the money being spent on military operations in Afghanistan could be better spent.
"We're making all of the same mistakes the Soviets made during their time in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, and they left in defeat having accomplished none of their purposes," Michael Intriligator, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute, said Monday at a half-day conference hosted by the New America Foundation and Economists for Peace and Security.
"I think we're repeating that and it's a history we're condemned to repeat," he said.
Intriligator also argued that the real, long-term cost of the war in Afghanistan may completely overshadow the current spending bill.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes estimated that the long-term costs - taking into account the costs of taking care of wounded soldiers and rebuilding the military - of the war in Iraq will ultimately cost three trillion dollars.
Intriligator suggested that a similar calculation for the costs of the war in Afghanistan would indicate a long-term cost of 1.5 to 2.0 trillion dollars.
"Why are we putting money into Afghanistan to fight a losing war and following the Soviet example rather than putting money into [our] local communities?" he asked.
The Senate has been under pressure to approve the spending bill before the Memorial Day recess at the end of the month.
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the 59-billion-dollar bill drafted by the committee's Chairman Daniel Inouye and Sen. Thad Cochran.
Gaining the approval of the Senate Appropriations committee may be the easy part in the push to get the bill to Obama's desk by the end of the month.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already indicated that the spending bill will face more intense opposition in the House as congressional Democrats are predicted to offer put up some resistance to the funding for Obama's 30,000 troop surge in Afghanistan.
Experts at the event today expressed their concern with both the physical cost of the war as well as the tradeoffs in spending required by the ongoing costs of fighting the Taliban insurgency.
"The climate bill, for all its defects, if it has a prayer of passing, might provide some of the money we need to keep the momentum on building a green economy going. But so could the savings from an Afghan drawdown," said Miriam Pemberton, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Intriligator emphasised the human cost of fighting a counterinsurgency campaign not just for U.S. soldiers but for Afghan civilians.
"We can't distinguish the insurgents or Taliban from the rest of population so we kill a lot of innocent civilians," he said.
A number of think tank events this week and the Obama administration's push to gain support in Congress for the supplemental appropriations bill coincided with a high-profile visit last week by Afghan President Hamid Karzai who spent four days in meetings with Obama and members of his cabinet as well as with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Karzai's trip to Washington and the warm reception afforded to him by the White House and lawmakers appeared to be part of a public relations offensive to build support in Washington for Karzai's government and Obama's troop surge.
Karzai's visit came as polls have shown a major downturn in U.S. support for the war in Afghanistan and support amongst NATO allies has been dwindling.
In early April, news emerged that Karzai, in a closed door meeting, threatened to drop out of politics and join the Taliban.
A senior Obama administration official retorted that Karzai might be sampling "Afghanistan's biggest export" - a reference to the widespread opium cultivation in Afghanistan.
The publicity campaign is facing an uphill battle this month but the administration has much to gain by putting a good face on the U.S. relationship with Karzai.
Indeed, the White House will need Karzai's cooperation if it is to get Congressional support for passing the spending bill and will require Karzai's assistance if Obama is to meet his goal of beginning U.S. troop withdrawals by mid-2011.
Karzai's trip appears to have made some progress in showing off a "reset" relationship between the Obama White House and the Karzai government but a number of voices here in Washington are raising concerns over whether a U.S. victory in Afghanistan is possible by mid-2011 or at any time in the near future.
"The fear was that if we withdraw from Afghanistan there will be civil war and external great powers will take sides. Is that worse than losing American soldiers day after day? So there's a civil war. So the regional great partners take sides. Why wouldn't they? It's their neighbours. It's their borders." said Michael Lind, policy director of the Economic Growth Programme at the New America Foundation, at Monday's conference.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
WASHINGTON - The monthly cost of the war in Afghanistan, driven by troop increases and fighting on difficult terrain, has topped Iraq costs for the first time since 2003 and shows no sign of letting up.
Pentagon spending in February, the most recent month available, was $6.7 billion in Afghanistan compared with $5.5 billion in Iraq. As recently as fiscal year 2008, Iraq was three times as expensive; in 2009, it was twice as costly.
The shift is occurring because the Pentagon is adding troops in Afghanistan and withdrawing them from Iraq. And it's happening as the cumulative cost of the two wars surpasses $1 trillion, including spending for veterans and foreign aid. Those costs could put increased pressure on President Obama and Congress, given the nation's $12.9 trillion debt.
"The overall costs are a function, in part, of the number of troops," says Linda Bilmes, an expert on wartime spending at Harvard University. "The costs are also a result of the intensity of operations, and the number of different places that we have our troops deployed."
Obama made clear Wednesday that the U.S. role in Afghanistan would remain long after troops are withdrawn, a process planned to begin in July 2011. "This is a long-term partnership," he said during a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Continued American support will be crucial as U.S. troop levels and costs in Afghanistan escalate:
* The number of U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan has risen to 87,000, on top of 47,000 from 44 other countries. At the same time, the number of U.S. servicemembers in Iraq has dropped to 94,000. By next year, Afghanistan is to have 102,000 U.S. servicemembers, Iraq 43,000.
* Afghanistan will cost nearly $105 billion in the 2010 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, including most of $33 billion in additional spending requested by Obama and pending before Congress. Iraq will cost about $66 billion. In fiscal 2011, Afghanistan is projected to cost $117 billion, Iraq $46 billion. To date, Pentagon spending in Iraq has reached $620 billion, compared with $190 billion in Afghanistan.
* Costs per servicemember in Afghanistan have been roughly double what they are in Iraq since 2005. That is due to lower troop levels, Afghanistan's landlocked location, lack of infrastructure, high cost of fuel and less reliable security. "The cost just cascades," says Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "That's always been an issue in Afghanistan."
"Iraq, logistically, is much easier," says Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress. "You get the stuff to Kuwait and just drive it up the road."
© 2010 USA Today
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
May 12, 2010 "Rawstory" -- The journalist who helped break the story that detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were being tortured by their US jailers told an audience at a journalism conference last month that American soldiers are now executing prisoners in Afghanistan.
New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh also revealed that the Bush Administration had developed advanced plans for a military strike on Iran.
At the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva, Hersh criticized President Barack Obama, and alleged that US forces are engaged in "battlefield executions."
"I'll tell you right now, one of the great tragedies of my country is that Mr. Obama is looking the other way, because equally horrible things are happening to prisoners, to those we capture in Afghanistan," Hersh said. "They're being executed on the battlefield. It's unbelievable stuff going on there that doesn't necessarily get reported. Things don't change.:
"What they've done in the field now is, they tell the troops, you have to make a determination within a day or two or so whether or not the prisoners you have, the detainees, are Taliban," Hersh added. "You must extract whatever tactical intelligence you can get, as opposed to strategic, long-range intelligence, immediately. And if you cannot conclude they're Taliban, you must turn them free.
"What it means is, and I've been told this anecdotally by five or six different people, battlefield executions are taking place," he continued. "Well, if they can't prove they're Taliban, bam. If we don't do it ourselves, we turn them over to the nearby Afghan troops and by the time we walk three feet the bullets are flying. And that's going on now."
The video of Hersh was uploaded to Michael Moore's YouTube account Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Hersh has a long history as an investigative journalist and worked for many years at The New York Times. In 1969, he broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
Monday, May 10, 2010
May 07,2010 "Lew Rockwell" -- I was surprised on my recent trip to Afghanistan that I learned so much…about the United States. I was in Afghanistan for two weeks in March of this year, meeting with a large number of Afghans working in humanitarian endeavors – the principal of a girls’ school, the director of a school for street children, the Afghan Human Rights Commission, a group working on environmental issues. The one thing that all of these groups that we met with had in common was, they were penniless. They all survived on rather tenuous donations made by philanthropic foundations in Europe.
I had read that the United States had spent $300 billion dollars in Afghanistan since the invasion and occupation of that country ten years ago, so I naturally became curious where this tremendous quantity of money and resources had gone. Many Americans had said to me that we were in Afghanistan "to help Afghan women," and yet we were told by the director of the Afghan Human Rights Commission, and we read in the recent UN report titled "Silence is Violence," that the situation for women there was growing more violent and oppressive each year. So I decide to do some research.
95% of the $300 billion that the U.S. has spent on its Afghanistan operation since we invaded the country in 2001 has gone to our military operations there. Several reports indicate that it costs one million dollars to keep one American soldier in that country for one year. We will soon have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, which will cost a neat $100 billion a year.
US soldiers in Afghanistan spend almost all of their time on one of our 300 bases in that country, so there is nothing they can do to help the Afghan people, whose physical infrastructure has been destroyed by the "30-year war" there, and who are themselves mostly jobless in a society in which there is almost no economy and no work.
Some effort is made to see that the remaining 5% of the $300 billion spent to date in Afghanistan does help Afghan society, but there is so much corruption and general lawlessness that the endeavor is largely futile. We were told by a female member of the Afghan parliament of one symbolic incident in which a container of medical equipment that was purchased in the US with US government funds for a clinic in Ghawr province, west of Kabul. It was shipped from the US, but by the time it arrived in Ghawr it was just an empty shell; all the equipment had been pilfered along the way.
Violence against women is increasing in Afghanistan at the present time, not decreasing. The Director of the Afghan Human Rights Commission told us of a recent case in which a ten-year-old girl was picked up by an Afghan Army commander in his military vehicle, taken to the nearby base and raped. He brought her back to her home semiconscious and bleeding, after conveying to her that if she told what had happened he would kill her entire family. The human rights commissioner ended the tale by saying to us the he could tell us "a thousand stories like this." There has been a rapid rise in the number of self-immolations – women burning themselves to death – in Afghanistan in the past three years, to escape the violence that pervades many women’s lives – under the nine-year US occupation.
Armed conflict and insecurity, along with criminality and lawlessness, are on the rise in Afghanistan. In this respect, the country mirrors experience elsewhere which indicates a near universal co-relation between heightened conflict, insecurity, and violence against women.
Once one understands that the US military presence in Afghanistan is not actually helping the Afghan people, the question of the effectiveness or goodwill of other major US military interventions in recent history arises. In Vietnam, for example, the country had been a colony of France for the 80 years prior to WW II, at which point the Japanese invaded and took over. When the Japanese surrendered, the Vietnamese declared their independence, on September 2, 1945. In their preamble they directly quoted the US Declaration of Independence ("All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness….").
The United States responded first by supporting the French in their efforts to recapture their lost colony, and when that failed, the US dropped 10 million tons of bombs on Vietnam – more than were dropped in all of World War II – sprayed 29 million gallons of the carcinogenic defoliant Agent Orange on the country, and dropped 400,000 tons of napalm, killing a total 3.4 million people. This is an appreciable level of savagery, and it would be reasonable to ask why the United States responded in this way to the Vietnamese simply declaring their inalienable rights.
There was a sideshow to the Vietnam war, and that is that the United States conducted massive bombing campaigns against Vietnam’s two western neighbors, Laos and Cambodia. From 1964 to 1973, the US dropped more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos in a operation consisting of 580,000 bombing missions – equal to a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. This unprecedented, secret bombing campaign was conducted without authorization from the US Congress and without the knowledge of the American people.
The ten-year bombing exercise killed an estimated 1 million Laotians. Despite questions surrounding the legality of the bombings and the large toll of innocent lives that were taken, the US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs at the time, Alexis Johnson, stated, "The Laos operation is something of which we can be proud as Americans. It has involved virtually no American casualties. What we are getting for our money there . . . is, I think, to use the old phrase, very cost effective."
One Laotian female refugee recalled the years of bombing in this way: "Our lives became like those of animals desperately trying to escape their hunters . . . Human beings, whose parents brought them into the world and carefully raised them with overflowing love despite so many difficulties, these human beings would die from a single blast as explosions burst, lying still without moving again at all. And who then thinks of the blood, flesh, sweat and strength of their parents, and who will have charity and pity for them? In reality, whatever happens, it is only the innocent who suffer."
In Cambodia, the United States was concerned that the North Vietnamese might have established a military base in the country. In response, The US dropped three million tons of ordnance in 230,000 sorties on 113,000 sites between 1964 and 1975. 10% of this bombing was indiscriminate, with 3,580 of the sites listed as having "unknown" targets and another 8000 sites having no target listed at all. About a million Cambodians were killed (there was no one counting), and the destruction to society wrought by the indiscriminate, long-term destruction is widely thought to have given rise to the Khmer Rouge, who proceeded, in their hatred for all things Western, to kill another 2 million people.
Four days after Vietnam declared its independence on September 2, 1945, "Southern Korea" also declared independence (on September 6), with a primary goal of reuniting the country – which had been split into north and south by the United States only seven months before. Two days later, on September 8, 1945, the US military arrived with the first of 72,000 troops, dissolved the newly formed South Korean government, and flew in their own chosen leader, Syngman Rhee, who had spent the previous 40 years in Washington D.C. There was considerable opposition to the US control of the country, so much that 250,000 and 500,000 people were killed between 1945 and 1950 resisting the American occupation, before the actual Korean War even started.
The Korean War, like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, was an asymmetrical war, in which the highly industrialized and mechanized US pulverized the comparatively primitive North Korean nation. One third of the population of North Korea was killed in the war, a total of three million people (along with one million Chinese and 58,000 Americans). Every city, every sizable town, every factory, every bridge, every road in North Korea was destroyed. General Curtis LeMay remarked at one point that the US had "turned every city into rubble," and now was returning to "turn the rubble into dust." A British reporter described one of the thousands of obliterated villages as "a low, wide mound of violet ashes." General William Dean, who was captured after the battle of Taejon in July 1950 and taken to the North, later said that most of the towns and villages he saw were just "rubble or snowy open spaces."
More napalm was dropped on Korea than on Vietnam, 600,000 tons compared to 400,000 tons in Vietnam. One report notes that, "By late August, 1950, B-29 formations were dropping 800 tons a day on the North. Much of it was pure napalm. Vietnam veteran Brian Wilson asks in this regard, "What it is like to pulverize ancient cultures into small pebbles, and not feel anything?"
In Iraq, Saddam Hussein came to power through a U.S.-CIA engineered coup in 1966 that overthrew the socialist government and installed Saddam’s Baath Party. Later conflict with Saddam let to the first and second Gulf Wars, and to thirteen years of severe U.S.-imposed economic sanctions on Iraq between the two wars, which taken together completely obliterated the Iraqi economy. An estimated one million people were killed in the two Gulf wars, and the United Nations estimates that the economic sanctions, in combination with the destruction of the social and economic infrastructure in the First Gulf War, killed another million Iraqis. Today both the economy and the political structure of Iraq are in ruins.
This trail of blood, tears and death smeared across the pages of recent history is the reason that Martin Luther King said in his famous Vietnam Speech that the United States is "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." Vietnam veteran Mike Hastie expanded the observation when he said in April of this year (2010) that, "The United States Government is a nonstop killing machine. The worst experience I had in Vietnam was experiencing the absolute truth of Martin Luther King's statement. America is in absolute psychiatric denial of its genocidal maniacal nature."
A further issue is that "war destroys the earth." Not only does, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1960, "Every rocket fired signify a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," but every rocket that is fired reduces the life-sustaining capacity of the biosphere. In an ultimate sense it could be argued that those who wage war and those who pay for and support war, in reality bear some hidden hatred for life and some hidden desire to put and end to it.
What are our options? The short answer is, grow up. Grow up into the inherent depth of your own existence. After all, you are a "child of the universe, no less than the trees and stars, you have a right be here." There is no viable, universally inscribed law that compels you to do as you are told to do by the multitude of dysfunctional and destructive authority figures that would demand your compliance, if you acquiesce.
"If we led our lives according to the ways intended by nature," wrote French author La Boétie in his book The Politics of Obedience," we should be intuitively obedient to our parents; later we should adopt reason as our guide and become slaves to nobody." La Boétie wrote this in the year 1552, but people today remain slaves to external authority. "Our problem," said historian Howard Zinn, "is not civil disobedience; our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty."
Do you want to spend your life paying for the death of people (executed by the US military) that you would probably have loved if you have met them? Do you want to spend your life paying for the arsenal of hydrogen bombs that could very well destroy most of the life on the planet? If not, if you want another kind of life, then as author James Howard Kunstler often suggests, ‘You will have to make other arrangements." You will have to arrange to live according to your own deepest ethical standards, rather than living in fear of the nefarious authority figures that currently demand your obedience and threaten to punish you if you do not obey their demands on your one precious chance at life.
"We must know how the first ruler came by his authority." ~ John Locke
"How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it." ~ Henry David Thoreau
Dana Visalli [email@example.com] is an ecologist, botanist and organic farmer living in Twisp, Washington.
Copyright © 2010 Dana Visalli
Friday, May 7, 2010
May 06, 2010 "AntiWar" -- Readers of my articles will know that I am extremely pessimistic about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. I do not believe for a second that the leaders of Israel actually consider Iran to be an "existential" threat but the fact that they have cried wolf so often has convinced the Israeli public that it is so. Worse still, Israel’s friends in the US have convinced the American public of the same thing even though Iran does not threaten the United States at all. Relying on a complaisant media that has fully embraced the fabricated narrative of fanatical Mullahs brandishing nuclear weapons shortly before handing them over to al-Qaeda, a majority of Americans now believes that Iran must be dealt with by force and that it already has a nuclear weapon. As in the case in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, the fictitious threat has taken on an ominous reality because the lie has been repeated often enough to appear to be truth.
I believe several things must be understood in relationship to the likely formula for initiation of such a conflict. First, in spite of the increasingly bellicose language coming from Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, I do not believe that the Obama Administration wants a war. On the contrary, I believe that the language is designed to convince Tel Aviv that the US is getting tough with Iran to preempt any possible military action. The principal advocates of war in the United States are not in the White House. They continue to belong to the Israeli lobby as given voice through its acolytes in Congress and the media.
Second, the Israeli government having sold the "existential threat" fiction does want a war, but its options are limited. It knows it can only do temporary damage to Iran and wants the United States to do the heavy lifting. That will require contriving a situation that will bring about US entry into the conflict, otherwise an Israeli attack will have only limited value, possibly slowing down Iran’s nuclear program but not stopping it while also guaranteeing that the Mullahs will make the political decision to develop a weapon.
Third, Washington has no real ability to put pressure on Israel as the White House has already made clear that it will not cut aid to Tel Aviv and will continue to use its veto to protect Israel in international fora like the United Nations.
Fourth, once the shooting begins, even if Israel starts it, both Congress and the media will demand that Washington intervene to support brave little democracy Israel. One can be sure that on the day after Tel Aviv starts a conflict Congress will overwhelmingly pass a motion approving the Israeli action and also calling on the White House to have American forces join in. The Washington Post, FOX news, and The New York Times will be beside themselves with joy.
Putting the four premises together, what does it all mean? It means that Israel will seek to start a conflict with Iran and pull the United States in. It will ignore any US calls for restraint and will attack the Mullahs with or without a pretext, whether or not Iran remains in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime (which I believe it will), and whether or not Tehran does anything aggressive. In the lead-up to such an attack, Israel will intensify its propaganda efforts and is quite prepared to lie to make a case against Iran and its friends in the Middle East region. The recent total fabrication of a case that Syria had given Scud missiles to Hezbollah is a case in point. Israel sees everyone in the region as an enemy or a potential enemy and it works very hard to make Washington see things the same way. Once the fighting starts, Washington will inevitably be drawn in with Congress and the mainstream media cheerleading the process.
So let us assume that Israel will attack Iran. After all, it is a win-win situation for them in that they will demonstrate once again to the Muslim world that they are not to be trifled with and will leave the serious fighting to the United States. I believe they will attack Iran by the shortest route, which is over Iraqi airspace. Iraqi airspace is controlled by the United States Air Force, which would undoubtedly be under orders not to shoot down the Israeli planes lest Obama find himself facing a furious AIPAC, Congress, and the press immediately thereafter. A shoot down order is just not possible given Congressional democrats’ fear of how Jewish political donors would react, not to mention the danger that the usual voices in the media would turn against the Obama administration on the eve of the midterm elections. Unless the Iranians were to react in an extremely restrained fashion, they would consider the US complicit in the attack due to the passage over Iraq and their retaliation would bring Washington into the war, which is precisely what Israel expects to happen.
The only joker in the deck for Israel is the possible unintended consequences. If the war were to go badly, with Iran, for example, using its Chinese supplied cruise missiles to sink a US aircraft carrier, the role of Israel in starting the conflict might well be challenged by many in the US, so many that even the media and Congress would have to take notice. But Israel probably considers that a remote possibility given the huge military advantage that the United States enjoys over Iran so they likely believe it to be it a risk worth taking. Also, one must consider that the hard right Israeli government of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is not necessarily a rational player that will weigh up all the pluses and minuses. Netanyahu is driven by racism, intellectual arrogance, and a belief that he can control events in the United States, all of which will be part of his decision making.
Which leads to the question of timing. There has been some talk in the media that Israel would likely "do something" by November. Why that date is being selected is not completely clear, but I believe it will be sooner and this is why: as noted above, the United States controls Iraqi airspace currently. But that control will be ceded to the Iraqi government in August when the US presence in Iraq is due to be reduced to a "garrison non-combatant" level of 60,000 soldiers and airmen. At that point, the US Air Force will no longer have autonomous authority to engage in Iraqi airspace, but the Iraqi government will be empowered to request US assistance to do so. Imagine for a moment what it would do to US credibility in the Arab world if Baghdad were to ask the US to help defend its airspace against an Israeli incursion and the US were to refuse to do so. So I think the Israelis will make their move before August. They want to entangle the United States into fighting on their behalf but they will not necessarily want to humiliate Obama while doing so.
So what can Obama do to stop this? There has been some speculation that he might send a private emissary to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu with the message that the United States does not support an Israeli attack and that Washington will both denounce the action and not back Tel Aviv. I believe that Obama has already told Netanyahu both privately and through diplomatic channels that the US opposes military action but the Israeli government no doubt regards such a warning as toothless, particularly as both Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton have asserted that Israel has a right to make its own security decisions. Any move to punish or pressure the Israelis would be blocked by Congress, so the Obama warning can be brushed off. The only option that I believe would actually work is for Obama to go public preemptively on the issue and proclaim that there is no casus belli with Iran, that any Israeli attack will not be supported by the United States and that furthermore the United States will take the lead in condemning such an act in the United Nations and in all other appropriate international fora. Is that likely to happen? I think not. And that is precisely the reason why I think a new war in the Middle East is inevitable and will take place this year, probably by August.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and a fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Yawn… How Many Times Have You Seen This Headline?
by Tom Engelhardt
After a week away, here’s my advice: in news terms, you can afford to take a vacation. When I came back last Sunday, New Orleans was bracing for tough times (again). BP, a drill-baby-drill oil company that made $6.1 billion in the first quarter of this year and lobbied against “new, stricter safety rules” for offshore drilling, had experienced an offshore disaster for which ordinary Americans are going to pay through the nose (again). News photographers were gearing up for the usual shots of oil-covered wildlife (again). A White House -- admittedly Democratic, not Republican -- had deferred to an energy company’s needs, accepted its PR and lies, and then moved too slowly when disaster struck (again).
Okay, it may not be an exact repeat. Think of it instead as history on cocaine. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, already the size of the state of Delaware, may end up larger than the disastrous Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, and could prove more devastating than Hurricane Katrina. Anyway, take my word for it, returning to our world from a few days offline and cell phone-less, I experienced an unsettling déjà-vu-all-over-again feeling. What had happened was startling and horrifying -- but also eerily expectable, if not predictable.
And, of course, when it came to our frontier wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- you remember them, don’t you? -- repetition has long been the name of the game, though few here seem to notice. With an immigration crisis, Tea Partying, that massive oil spill, and a crude, ineptly made car bomb in Times Square, there’s already enough to worry about. Isn’t there?
Still, there was this headline awaiting my return: “Afghan lawmaker says relative killed after U.S. soldiers raided her home.” Sigh.
After nine years in which such stories have appeared with unceasing regularity, I could have written the rest of it myself while on vacation, more or less sight unseen. But here it is in a nutshell: there was a U.S. night raid somewhere near the Afghan city of Jalalabad. American forces (Special Operations forces, undoubtedly), supposedly searching for a “Taliban facilitator,” came across a man they claimed was armed in a country in which the unarmed man is evidently like the proverbial needle in a haystack. They shot him down. His name was Amanullah. He was a 30-year-old auto mechanic and the father of five. As it happened, he was also the brother-in-law of Safia Siddiqi, a sitting member of the Afghan Parliament. He had, as she explained, called her in a panic, thinking that brigands were attacking his home compound.
And here was the nice touch for those U.S. Special Operations guys, who seem to have learning abilities somewhat lower than those of a hungry mouse in a maze when it comes to hearts-and-minds-style counterinsurgency warfare. True, in this case they didn’t shoot two pregnant mothers and a teenage girl, dig the bullets out of the bodies, and claim they had stumbled across “honor killings,” as Special Operations troops did in a village near Gardez in eastern Afghanistan in March; nor did they handcuff seven schoolboys and a shepherd and execute them, as evidently happened in Kunar Province in late December 2009; nor had they shot a popular imam in his car with his seven-year-old son in the backseat, as a passing NATO convoy did in Kabul, the Afghan capital, back in January; nor had they shadowed a three-vehicle convoy by helicopter on a road near the city of Kandahar and killed 21 while wounding 13 via rocket fire, as U.S. Special Forces troops did in February. They didn’t wipe out a wedding party -- a common enough occurrence in our Afghan War -- or a funeral, or a baby-naming ceremony (as they did in Paktia Province, also in February), or shoot up any one of a number of cars, trucks, and buses loaded with innocent civilians at a checkpoint.
In this case, they killed only one man, who was unfortunately -- from their point of view -- reasonably well connected. Then, having shot him, they reportedly forced the 15 inhabitants in his family compound out, handcuffed and blindfolded them (including the women and children), and here was that nice touch: they sent in the dogs, animals considered unclean in Islamic society, undoubtedly to sniff out explosives. Brilliant! "They disgraced our pride and our religion by letting their dogs sniff the holy Koran, our food, and the kitchen," Ms. Siddiqi said angrily. And then, the American military began to lie about what had happened, which is par for the course. After the angry legislator let them have it (“...no one in Afghanistan is safe -- not even parliamentarians and the president himself”) and the locals began to protest, blocking the main road out of Jalalabad and chanting “Death to America!,” they finally launched an investigation. Yawn.
If I had a few bucks for every “investigation” the U.S. military launched in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years after some civilian or set of civilians died under questionable circumstances, I might be on vacation year around.
The U.S. military can, however, count on one crucial factor in its repetitive war-making: kill some pregnant mothers, kill some schoolboys, gun down a good Samaritan with two children in his car trying to transport Iraqis wounded in an Apache helicopter attack to a hospital, loose a whirlwind that results in hundreds of thousands of deaths -- and still Americans at home largely don’t care. After all, for all intents and purposes, it’s as if some other country were doing this on another planet entirely, and “for our safety” at that.
In that sense, the American public licenses its soldiers to kill civilians repetitively in distant frontier wars. As a people -- with the exception of relatively small numbers of Americans directly connected to the hundreds of thousands of American troops abroad -- we couldn’t be more detached from "our" wars. Repetition, schmepetition. The real news is that Conan O’Brien “got very depressed at times” after ceding “The Tonight Show” to Jay Leno (again) and that the interview drove CBS’s “60 Minutes” to a ratings success.
The creation of the All-Volunteer Army in the 1970s was a direct response to the way the draft and a citizen’s army undermined an imperial war in Vietnam. When it came to paying attention to or caring about such wars, it also turned out to mean an all-volunteer situation domestically (and that, too, carries a price, though it’s been a hard one for Americans to see).
“You’ll Never See It Coming”
I came back from vacation to several other headlines that I could have sworn I’d read before I left. Take, for instance, the Washington Post headline: “Amid outrage over civilian deaths in Pakistan, CIA turns to smaller missiles.” So here’s the “good” news, according to the Post piece: now we have a new missile weighing only 35 pounds, with the diameter of “a coffee cup,” and “no bigger than a violin” -- who thinks up these comparisons? -- charmingly named the Scorpion. It has been developed to arm our drone aircraft and so aid the CIA’s air war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Pakistani tribal borderlands. According to the advocates of our drone wars, the new missile has the enormous benefit of being so much more precise than the 100-pound Hellfire missile that preceded it. It will, that is, kill so much more precisely those we want killed, and so (theoretically) not spark the sort of anti-American anger that often makes our weaponry a rallying point for resistance.
Talk about repetitious. The idea that ever more efficient and “precise” wonder weapons will solve human problems, and perhaps even decisively bring our wars to an end, is older than... well, than I am anyway, and I’m almost 66. After six-and-a-half decades on this planet and a week on vacation, I know one thing, which I knew before I left town: there’s no learning curve here at all.
Oh, and however crucial our night raids, and nifty our new weaponry, and despite the fact that we’re now filling the skies with new aircraft on new missions in our undeclared war in Pakistan, I returned to this headline in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes: “Report: Still not enough troops for Afghanistan operations.” The Pentagon had just released its latest predictable assessment of the Afghan War, which included the information that, of the 121 districts in the country that the U.S. military identifies as critical to the war effort, NATO only has enough forces to operate in 48. (U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan has nonetheless risen by 56,000 since President Obama took office.) The news was grim: the Taliban remains on the rise, controlling ever larger swaths of the countryside, and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is increasingly unpopular. What you can already feel here is the rise of something else hideously predictable -- the “need” for, and lobbying for, more American troops -- even though the latest polling data indicate that Afghan anger and opposition may be rising in areas U.S. troops are moving into.
Or what about this headline in the British Guardian that a friend emailed me as I returned? “Afghanistan forces face four more years of combat, warns NATO official.” Four more years! Doesn’t that sound repetitiously familiar -- and not as a line for Obama’s reelection campaign either. Think of all this as a kind of predictable equation: more disastrous raids and offensives plus more precise weapons for more attacks = the need for more troops plus more time to bring the Afghan War to a “satisfactory” conclusion.
Oh, and let me mention one last repetitive moment. You may remember that, in March 2004, just a year after he launched the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush appeared at the annual black-tie dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association and narrated a jokey slide show. It showed him looking under White House furniture and around corners for those weapons of mass destruction that his administration had assured Americans would be found in Iraq in profusion, and which, of course, were nowhere to be seen. "Those weapons of mass destruction,” the president joked, “have got to be here somewhere."
Hard to imagine such a second such moment, certainly not from the joke writers of Barack Obama, who appeared at a White House Correspondents' Association dinner while I was gone, and garnered this positive headline at the wonk Washington political website Politico.com for his sharp one-liners: “Obama Tops Leno at WHCD.” The accompanying piece hailed the president for showing off “his comedic chops” and cited several of his quips to make the point. Here was one of them, quoted but not commented on (nor even considered worth a mention in the main Washington Post piece on his appearance, though it was noted in a Post blog): “The Jonas Brothers are here!... Sasha and Malia are huge fans but boys don't get any ideas. I have two words for you: Predator Drones. You'll never see it coming."
The audience at the correspondents’ dinner reportedly “laughed approvingly.” And why not? Assassinate the Jonas brothers by remote control if they touch his daughters? What father with access to drone killers wouldn’t be tempted to make such a joke? We’re talking, of course, about the weaponry now associated with what media pieces still laughably call the CIA’s “covert war" or “covert missions” in Pakistan. So covert that a quip about them openly slays the elite in Washington. Of course, you might (or might not) wonder just how funny such a one-liner might seem at a Pakistani media roast.
And I wonder as well just what possessed another American president to do it again? Okay, it’s not an oil spill off the coast of planet Earth or an actual air strike in some distant land, just a joke in a nation that loves stand-up, even from its presidents. Still, I think you'll have to admit that the repetition factor is eerie.
By the way, don’t mistake repetition for sameness. If you repeat without learning, assessing, and changing, then things don’t stay the same. They tend to get worse. The thought, for instance, that either a giant oil company or the Pentagon will solve our problems is certainly a repetitive one. So is the belief that, when they make a mess, they should be in charge of "investigating" themselves and then responding. While predictable, the results, however, do not simply leave us in the same situation.
And don’t say you didn’t read it here: If American wars continue to exist as if in a galaxy far, far away, and the repeats of the repeats pile up, things will get worse (and, in the most practical terms, life will be less safe). Once we’re all finally distracted from the possibility of the Gulf of Mexico being turned into a dead sea by the next 24/7 crisis, if nothing much changes, expect repeats. After all, what happens when, in the “tough oil” era, the BPs of this world hit the melting Arctic with their deep water rigs in really bad climates?
In such circumstances, repetition doesn’t mean sameness; it means a wrecked world. And here’s the worst of it: predictable as so much of this may be, the odds are you’ll never see it coming.
© 2010 TomDispatch.com
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews. His book, The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has been thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture's crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq. He is the editor of the recently released The World According to TomDispatc: America and the Age of Empire.
Monday, May 3, 2010
‘HOW TO Tell a True War Story'' is the title of one of Tim O'Brien's master works of fiction. Telling war stories that are true has been one of the great challenges to the human imagination, from Homer to Hemingway. False war stories not only dehumanize victims and perpetrators alike, but, with glib valorization, can grease the rails of future wars. Last week, a new way to tell a false war story surfaced, and commanders themselves were the ones to decry it. The ubiquitous use of PowerPoint slides in military briefings about Afghanistan and Iraq has been tagged as a problem. Breaking down battle reports into bullets and bites, as Brigadier General H.R. McMaster told The New York Times, "can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control.''
It's worse than that. Anyone who has ever sat through a PowerPoint presentation has seen how the speaker surrenders initiative to the machine, and how the prepared breakdown of information inhibits actual thinking. Because the speaker is not thinking, neither is the audience. The mere short-hand display of ideas requires no engagement, so the speaker drones and the audience sleeps. But it's worse than that, too. The degradation of rhetoric throughout contemporary culture, epitomized by PowerPoint, means that essential capacities for thought and communication are being lost. The sound-bite reduces experience to episodes shorn of context, when understanding what matters requires a honed feel precisely for the connection between episodes.
Here is an example from E.M. Forster, whose concern was with the shape of a story: the queen died, and then the king died. That set of events, related chronologically, tells us only so much. It could be rendered as bullet points. But if, instead, the report is: the queen died, and then the king died of grief, we have moved into an entirely different realm of understanding, where attention has shifted from discrete events to the connection between them. Causality is what matters. The moral imagination is defined by awareness of how choice leads to consequence, which leads to a new and graver choice, which in turn leads to a larger and more fateful consequence. The culture of sound bites and bullets knows nothing of such spacious narrative form. This is not an aesthetic problem, but an ethical one. Only the capacity to attend to the causal connection between events separates brutes from persons. When it comes to war, the loss of that capacity is dangerous.
The US military's problem did not begin with screen technologies, laptops, and clickers. It began with the bureaucratic leveling of decision making that occurred during World War II, symbolized and abetted by the vast anonymity of the Pentagon. The war stories told there since 1945 have consistently been false. Why? Because in the cipher-creating Pentagon, individual moral agency has counted for less than blind institutional momentum. Battle order was replaced as the defining martial social structure by the organizational chart, the warrior ethos by the functionary's. Endlessly circulated interoffice envelopes replaced the officer's personally drafted action report, much as those envelopes, with their figure-eight fasteners, would eventually be replaced by e-mail. The face-to-face interaction of humans, debating urgent questions and criticizing the in-flow of intelligence, was replaced by the bite-size thought structure of electronic communications that inevitably delete complexity.
The downplaying of individual initiative in favor of group-think led to a diffusion of moral responsibility and the emergence of an impersonal dynamic over which no human authority could be effectively exercised. How else to account for the insane accumulation of nuclear weapons, or the consistently uncriticized ease with which this faceless military establishment took the nation into its sequence of unnecessary wars (Korea, Vietnam, Central America, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq I and II, Afghanistan)?
The PowerPoint imagination, with the speaker causing death-by-droning, is perfectly suited to the new technology of the drone as an actual weapon. The inflicting of hurt by an impersonal assassination machine, remotely managed with no risk to the hurt-inflictor, who is blind to the connection between "prompt global strike'' and its village-level consequences throughout the far distant war zone - such is the climax of the false war story of which we Americans are master tellers.
© 2010 Boston Globe
James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe. He is the author of "Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War."