Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Week in American Militarism

 The website Common Dreams is a very good resource for those interested in a wide range of progressive topics. You'll find Democrat politics articles, which aren't very critical or radical. You'll find pieces that both support Israelis right to defend itself but also condemn it as a nation that is perpetuating genocide and colonialism. There is plenty of environmental coverage and economic justice news on everything from unions, to climate change, to resource wars. For me personally, as someone who comes from an island in the Pacific that is known as the tip of the spear and an unsinkable aircraft carrier, I truly appreciate the coverage that Common Dreams provides on militarism, in particular American militarism. Naturally, their lens for filtering through the possibilities of news focuses primarily on the hotspots where Americans troops are currently bombing, fighting and occupying and so it doesn't attend much to places where the bases have existed for a long time and where the violence that persists has long been naturalized. Despite this it is a very good site for those wanting to know more about the wars that American is planning and prosecuting. 
Here are some recent articles from the site.
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Damaging Our Country from Wars of Choice

The drums of war are beating once again with the vanguard of U.S. bombers already over Iraq (and soon Syria) to, in President Obama’s words, “degrade and destroy ISIS.” The Republican Party, led by war-at-any-cost Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain, wants a bigger military buildup which can only mean U.S. soldiers on the ground.

Here they go again. Another result of Bush’s war in Iraq. Washington has already expended thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of American injuries and illnesses, and over a million Iraqi lives. The achievement: the slaying or capture of Al Qaeda leaders, but with that came the spread of Al Qaeda into a dozen countries and the emergence of a new Al Qaeda on steroids called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which has nominal control over an area in Syria and Iraq larger than the territory of Great Britain.

Still, no lessons have been learned. We continue to attack countries and side with one sectarian group against another, which only creates chaos and sets in motion the cycle of revenge and sparks new internal strife. So if slamming a hornet’s nest propels more hornets to start new nests, isn’t it time to rethink this militarization of U.S. foreign policy? It only increases the violent chaos in that region with the risk of a blow back affecting our country, such as suicide bombers attacking heavily populated public spaces. This kind of attack is very hard to stop, as we have seen thousands of times overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Richard Clarke, former White House anti-terrorism advisor to George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden wanted Bush to invade Iraq, so that more Muslims would take up arms against the U.S. and more Muslims would hate our country for its destruction of their land and people. Similarly, ISIS would like nothing better than to embroil the U.S. and our soldiers in a ground war so that it can rally more people to expel the giant U.S. invader.

Then there is the massive over-reaction by our government and its ever-willing corporate contractors. Political turmoil ensues and our democratic institutions, already weakened in their defense of liberty, due process, and the rule of law, are further overwhelmed by the policing dictates of a profitable national security state.

Randolph Bourne, a hundred years ago, wrote an essay with these words about war:
“It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense… Other values such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed…”
Benjamin Franklin understood this collective panic, when he said that people who prefer security to liberty deserve neither.

The fundamental question is whether our civil society can defend our institutions critical to maintaining a democratic society.

Will our courts fold before the over-reaching panic by the Executive Branch and its armed forces?
Will our Congress and state legislatures stand firm against sacrificing our liberty and our public budgets that serve our civil society’s necessities in the face of a police/military state’s over-reacting ultimatums?

Will our media resist hyper-focusing on the “war on terror” and give us other important news about ongoing American life?

Will our government pay more attention to preventing the yearly loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives from hospital infections, medical malpractice, defective products, air pollution, unsafe drugs, toxic workplaces and other domestic perils?

Not likely. The aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities resulted in brutal reaction. In devastating two countries and their civilians, far more American soldiers were injured and killed than those lives lost on 9/11, not to mention the trillions of dollars that could have been spent to save many lives here and repair, with good-paying jobs, the crumbling public works in our communities.

Sadly, our democratic institutions and civil resiliency are not presently prepared to hold fast with the forces of reason, prudence and smart responses that forestall a national nervous breakdown – one which happens to be very profitable and power-concentrating for the few against the many.

Consider what our leaders did to our democracy during their “war on terrorism.” Secret laws, secret courts, secret evidence, secret dragnet snooping on everyone, unauditable, massive secret spending for military quagmires abroad, secret prisons and even censored, judicial decisions that are supposed to be fully disclosed! Government prosecutors often have made shambles of their duty to show probable cause and respect habeas corpus and other constitutional rights. Thousands of innocent people were jailed without charges and detained without attorneys after 9/11.

The Al Qaeda leaders wanted to not only instill fear about public safety in America, but also to weaken us economically by tying us down overseas. Why are our rulers obliging them? Because, in a grotesque way, power in Washington and profit on Wall Street benefit.

Only the people, who do not benefit from these wars, can organize the exercise of their constitutional sovereignty to shape responses that promote safety without damaging liberty.

One percent of the citizenry diversely organized in congressional districts and reflecting the “public sentiment” can turn around, perhaps with the funding support of an enlightened billionaire or two, the Congress and the White House. Are you up to this challenge?
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and "Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us" (a novel).


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US Senate Approves $500 Million to Arm Syrian Militants

Lawmakers back president's plan to expand new war in the Middle East
Despite loud warnings from many quarters—including foreign policy experts, the anti-war left and dissenting CIA analysts—that such a move could prove disastrous, the U.S. Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to approve $500 million in government funds to help arm, train, and support so-called moderate military forces inside Syria.

The 78-22 vote—which came packaged as part of a continuing resolution for broader government spending—received bipartisan support with only 9 Democrats,  12 Republicans, and one independent (Sen. Bernie Sanders) voting against it. (See the full roll call vote here.)

Approved earlier in the week by the House of Representatives, the legislation is now headed for President Obama's desk where he is likely to sign it.

Obama has said that he does not think he needs Congressional approval for his overall strategy to confront the militant group known as the Islamic State (or ISIS) that has no taken over large swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria. Simultaneously, however, the president has tried to garner as many visible signs of support from lawmakers as possible. The votes this week offer him plenty of cover as the Pentagon continues to make plans for expected, though deeply controversial, airstrikes against ISIS targets inside Syria.

As Obama has deployed increasing numbers of ground troops back into Iraq in recent weeks and expanded the U.S. bombing campaign, lawmakers have largely stood aside.

Explaining his vote against Thursday's measure, Sen. Sanders said, “I fear very much that supporting questionable groups in Syria who will be outnumbered and outgunned by both ISIS and the Assad regime could open the door to the United States once again being dragged back into the quagmire of long-term military engagement.”

On Thursday, filmmakers at Brave New Films released a succinct anti-war video arguing against Obama's flawed strategy in Iraq and Syria, saying that the president and those who back him are making the very same mistakes that have plagued U.S. foreign policy for decades.

"Since 1980," the narrator of the films states, "we have militarily intervened at least 35 times in more than 27 countries. We keep bombing, we continue spending trillions of dollars, but we're no safer as a result."


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The God of War is on the Verge of Another Victory

Addressing the complexity of others’ brutal behavior means facing our terrifying complicity in it
Barack Obama’s central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didn’t work.

Thus: “Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.”

Hurray! God bless drones and “mission accomplished” and a million Iraqi dead and birth defects in Fallujah. God bless torture. God bless the CIA. But guess what?

“Still we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.”

So it’s bombs away again, boys—another trace of evil has popped up in the Middle East—and I find myself at the edge of outrage, the edge of despair, groping for language to counter my own incredulity that the God of War is on the verge of another victory and Planet Earth and human evolution lose again.

Obama ended his executive declaration of more war with words that the military-industrial shills have slowly managed to turn into an obscenity: “May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.”

God bless another war?

Tom Engelhardt, writing a few days ago at TomDispatch, called it “Iraq 3.0,” noting: “Nowhere, at home or abroad, does the obvious might of the United States translate into expected results, or much of anything else except a kind of roiling chaos. . . . And one thing is remarkably clear: each and every application of American military power globally since 9/11 has furthered the fragmentation process, destabilizing whole regions.

“In the twenty-first century, the U.S. military has been neither a nation- nor an army-builder, nor has it found victory, no matter how hard it’s searched. It has instead been the equivalent of the whirlwind in international affairs, and so, however the most recent Iraq war works out, one thing seems predictable: the region will be
further destabilized and in worse shape when it’s over.”

Obama’s speech is addressed to a nation with a dead imagination. Doing “something” about the Islamic State means dropping bombs on it. Bombing runs don’t inconvenience a politician’s constituents and always seem like stalwart action: a squirt of Raid on an infestation of bugs. They never kill innocent people or result in unintended consequences; nor, apparently, do they provoke an instant sense of horror, the way a beheading does.

Indeed, declarations of war always seem to lift people up. This is because they separate us from the evil that our enemies are committing. Addressing the complexity of others’ brutal behavior means facing our terrifying complicity in it—which is asking far too much of any Beltway-entrenched U.S. politician. Obama hasn’t broken in any way from his inarticulate predecessor in attempting to exploit the simplistic emotional safe haven of war and militarism.

“How do I respond when I see that in some Islamic countries there is vitriolic hatred for America?” George Bush asked during a press conference a month after the 9/11 attacks (quoted recently by William Blum in his latest Anti-Empire Report). “I’ll tell you how I respond: I’m amazed. I’m amazed that there’s such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I am—like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.”

Obama is trying to extract the same public acquiescence to military aggression from the IS beheadings of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker as Bush did from 9/11. Bush had the distinct advantage of not having himself—and the disastrous mess he created—as his predecessor. Nevertheless, Iraq 3.0 is going to become a reality, even though bombing Iraq will just strengthen IS and likely open the door to the next multi-year military quagmire.

As David Swanson laments on the website World Beyond War, speaking of the first journalist IS brutally murdered, “James Foley is not a war ad.”

“When 9/11 victims were used as a justification to kill hundreds of times the number of people killed on 9/11, some of the victims’ relatives pushed back,” Swanson writes. Linking to a video in which Foley talks about the hell and absurdity of war with filmmaker Haskell Wexler during the NATO protests in Chicago two years ago, he adds: “Now James Foley is pushing back from the grave.”

He invites us to watch Foley talk about “the dehumanization needed before people can be killed, the shallowness of media coverage” and other toxic realities of war that usually don’t show up in presidential speeches.

“We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world . . .”

I can’t believe I live in a country that still tolerates such simplistic, knife-edged rhetoric. Oh, so much evil out there! The U.S. government, in all its might and purity, has no choice but to go after it with every weapon in its arsenal. What Obama doesn’t bother to say, though perhaps in some helpless, futile way he knows, is that engaging in the game of war is always an act of defeat. And the opponents, in their brutal aggression toward each other and everyone else, are always on the same side.


Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

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The Next Round of an Unwinnable War Beckons

Bombing raids on Islamic State targets in Iraq may just make things worse.
Once again, a U.S. president vows to eliminate an extremist militia in the Middle East to make the region, and Americans, safe.

And that means it’s time again for a reality check. Having failed in its bid to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the United States is still trying to dismantle both organizations. Over the course of 13 years of war, that mission has spread to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali, and West Africa, as militant groups on two continents have adopted the al-Qaeda brand.

Contrary to normal logic, the White House wants everyone to see this failure as a badge of expertise. As President Barack Obama vowed in an interview on Meet the Press, fighting the Islamic State forces “is something we know how to do,” mainly because we’ve been battling similar groups “for five, six, seven years.”

Years of air strikes, drone-operated killings, and covert operations have brought neither peace nor safety to the region and its people. Estimates of the death toll from U.S. attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia alone range from 3,100 to 5,400, including 570-1,200 civilians. Precise figures are impossible to obtain since the strikes remain classified, and investigating drone attacks is difficult and dangerous work.

Nor has the drone campaign halted the proliferation of groups seeking to link their — usually local — agendas to the idea of a global struggle represented by al-Qaeda. Indiscriminate killing — and the constant fear of death from above — has only destroyed communities and provided easy recruitment material for extremist groups.

Obama promises that his plan to combat and destroy the Islamic State forces will also address the underlying political problems in Iraq and Syria. Such claims are tenuous, at best. What’s far more certain is that all military campaigns have unintended consequences, some of which don’t appear for many years afterward.

The Islamic State itself is largely a product of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Dismantling the Iraqi state and rebuilding it along sectarian lines produced an authoritarian government dominated by Shiite Islamists who ignored minority grievances and often suppressed dissent with bullets. The result? An entrenched civil war with no end in sight.

Although U.S. media coverage of the violence in Iraq subsided following the withdrawal of combat troops, sectarian attacks against civilians have continued. Car bombs, street assaults, and kidnappings have transformed Baghdad into a city segregated by sect. Large parts of the country, including the Sunni majority areas in the west and north, feel abandoned by the central government.

These political tensions are the reason why the Islamic State has found some support in the areas it has taken over. Bombing Islamic State targets — especially where they are embedded in communities and liable to cause civilian casualties — carries no promise of changing this dynamic for the better. It’s more likely to change it for the worse.

The Islamic State is indeed a danger to the people of the region and to efforts to resolve the political conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Yet the past decade has shown, again and again, that American firepower doesn’t solve these problems. Even if Washington manages to help destroy this al-Qaeda spinoff, the grievances that give rise to groups like it can’t be bombed out of existence.

The campaign formerly called “the War on Terror” has only proven to perpetuate both war and terror.

No amount of rebranding or wishful thinking will change that reality this time around.
Amanda Ufheil-Somers is the assistant editor of Middle East Report, published by the Middle East Research and Information Project. MERIP.org

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